About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Week 17--A Trip to Lincoln

I have always wanted to visit Lincoln ever since moving to Lichfield. This is because people seldom have a clue where Lichfield is, and occasionally ask if it's in Lincoln. To be honest, you could probably fit Lichfield cathedral inside Lincoln cathedral--it's a monster. Lichfield cathedral would make a nice lawn ornament somewhere in its grounds.

As you can see from the pictures, we managed to hit upon the one cold day in the last fortnight. I overheard a couple in a teashop complaining about the weather in that typically English way (that prompts Aussies to call us whinging poms), as if it was outrageous and somebody jolly well ought to do something about it. Still, Lincoln is the kind of place that looks stunning in all weathers. It has escaped the worst ravages of 60s and 70s town planning. Possibly only Durham rivals it for drama. But I would think that. I was in Durham at an impressionable age. Like Durham cathedral, Lincoln's stands on a hill. A steep hill. In fact, the name of the main street leading up to it is boldly called 'Steep Hill'. Very good for stretching out your calf muscles after a long run I should think.

I have to admit that when it came to visiting the cathedral I had a barrier to overcome: I really object to entrance charges. I am well aware of the huge cost involved in the day-to-day running of cathedrals--everything from propping up the crumbling medieval stonework to paying the choir. I'd have to be comatose not to be aware of it, frankly, living where I do. And unlike their counterparts on the continent, English cathedrals do not receive any state funding. Lichfield is still hanging on to its free entry policy. (All very well for us, with our pocket size cathedral.) Once you start charging for admission, it's very difficult to stop doing so without a drop in revenue.

But if you are going to charge, then Lincoln seem to have adopted a good strategy. You can enter the magnificent build and go Wow! You can also go and pray in one of the chapels without paying. You can join an act of worship for free. If you do want to pay for the whole experience, you'll find that you've been issued with an annual pass. And anyway (when you've stopped being grumpy), it's money well spent. I particularly enjoyed the two rose windows at the ends of the north and south transepts. One's called 'the Bishop's Eye', the other 'the Dean's Eye'. Intriguingly, the Dean's Eye is higher than the Bishop's.

So there you are. Lincoln: a cracking good day out.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

WEEK 16--Dukan Diet Phase 3

In case you are thinking this is a bit of cheat, let me quote you an extract from Dr Dukan himself, which I hope conveys the enormity of my undertaking as I approach The Transition Stage of the Dukan Diet: 'I hope with all my heart, dear reader, that you will not stop here and that you will continue to the very end of our joint undertaking. Otherwise I will have...brought you with me into the desert and abandoned you just before you reach the oasis.' You see? I cannot give up now, just because I have reached my desired weight. The good doctor would be desole!

OK, the hard facts. I've lost 20lb. But my metabolism, like a starving beast, prowls around waiting for the opportunity to replenish its pillaged fat reserves! Hence a period Transition is needed, to defend me from myself. It will last 100 days (5 days for each pound lost) and in it a range of foods are reintroduced--2 slices of wholemeal bread a day, one piece of fruit, 2oz of cheese, one serving of pasta a week. See picture above, featuring many exciting foodstuffs from Lidl. What is that chicken doing in there? you might be wondering. It symbolises the frivolous, the very Frenchness of this diet, mes amis. I am now allowed one celebration meal a week, in which anything goes. Except binging of course. The doctor wags a finger at greed. It's all about pleasure, not sin. This is no diet for a good Protestant girl, is it?

So how do you know when you have reached your goal in terms of weight loss? I have no truck with BMI, which takes no account of my immense muscularity. Nor do I have much time for the traditional charts, as they are based on nothing more scientific than somebody's idea of what a good weight ought to be. So being a devout Anglican I opted for a liturgical method: the Dean of Lichfield Cathedral told me to stop. 'Enough! Stop this Doodah diet immediately, or you'll fall down a crack!'

Friday, 15 April 2011

WEEK 15--Learning the Can-Can

'The can-can is a high-energy and physically demanding music hall dance, traditionally performed by a chorus line of female dancers who wear costumes with long skirts, petticoats, and black stockings. The main features of the dance are the lifting up and manipulation of the skirts, with high kicking and suggestive, provocative body movements.'

According to Wikipedia. It was a slightly different story last Saturday, when the bevy of lovelies pictured above (that's me on the front row, extreme right, looking like I have an ice cube clenched in my buttocks) gathered in Bar Risa, Broad St, Birmingham for a can-can workshop. The occasion was Harriet's Hen Party. She will be marrying our cathedral organist next month. What a triumph of organisation and duplicity! It was not until the frilly skirts came out of our choreographer's hold-all that Harriet was reassured that she was not, after all, going to learn how to pole dance.

In one and half hours we were transformed from a bunch of hopelessly uncoordinated incompetents into... Into what, exactly? A bunch of knackered hopelessly uncoordinated incompetents who could gamely stumble their way through a 2 minute dance routine. It was indeed high energy and physically demanding; though no more so than your average martial arts session. (Interestingly, I came away with more bruises.) There was kicking. There was skirt lifting and manipulation. There were suggestive, provocative body movements. But above all, there was hilarity. Three of our number revealed themselves capable of a pretty impressive cartwheel. My contribution was a leapfrog. I have not leapfrogged in a skirt since I got catastrophically hooked up on a bollard at the age of 9, so a ghost was laid to rest there.

The verdict of the bride to be: 'I don't think I've laughed so much for ages.' I believe the stag party will be learning Cossack dancing.

Friday, 8 April 2011

WEEK 14--First Ever Karate Grading


'Are you nervous?' this was something I was asked a lot in the run-up to the grading last Sunday Morning. Answer: 'Not really.' I hesitate to say it was a piece of pish, partly because that would be vulgar, but mostly because I have no doubt that steps could be taken to ensure future gradings are hellish if I make light of the experience.

But the truth is, after judo gradings on the 1st Dan mat (i.e. people fighting for their black belt) last Sunday held few terrors. The only ghastly moment was when I asked how much it would cost and was told £80--which I believed. (£25 in fact.) To use an analogy from the world of dentistry, if novice level karate gradings are a scale and polish, judo gradings are root canal fillings. And at black belt level, they are root canal fillings when the dentist is John Geilgud off The Marathon Man.

For a start, last Sunday's examination was done within the club by our own coach. It was held in a small private room at the Leisure Centre. (Rather than in a hall the size of an aircraft hanger reeking of testosterone and populated by psychotic teenagers and blokes with half their teeth missing.) Our sensei (coach) held a brief training session before the grading to refresh us on our various waza (techniques), then we were away. For those of you interested in such things, (basically, my Mum), I came away with a level 2 pass. There are 3 pass levels, with 1 being 'teacher's pet' and 3 being 'could do better'. I gather it gets a lot harder as you progress through the grades, culminating in a 3hr exam for 1st Dan. They speak of passing out from terror and exhaustion, of bleeding toes and other things the Geneva Convention was supposed to put a stop to.

But that's a long way off, and at this point, I would gladly spend another Mothering Sunday in this manner. Our new belts were awarded yesterday night at the training session. I was warned not to wash it with my kit. Hah! I knew that already! Martial arts laundry-waza is obviously a transferable skill.

Friday, 1 April 2011

WEEK 13--Hawthorn Bud Sandwiches

When I was a little girl we used to pick and eat young hawthorn buds in the spring on our way to school. My mother told us they were called 'bread and cheese'. This is the sort of thing my mother is generally right about, and indeed, this proves to be no exception. I have in front of me Dorothy Hartley's Food in England. It has this to say: 'Hawthorn buds. The leaf buds are called by children "bread and cheese"--in Welsh, "Barra cause". Pick and use as "salading", between bread and butter.'

So I have done just that, gathering my buds along the lane to Stowe Pool. I wanted you to see the hawthorn leaves, so mine are open sandwiches. My only other deviation from Dorothy Hartley is that I washed the leaves. This was something we never bothered with when we were children, and possibly we should have done, given that we grew up under the shadow of Pitstone Tunnel Cement Works, and were probably ingesting concrete with our leaf buds.

Owing to the constraints of the Dukan diet, I am currently not eating bread. (Bread is now in sight again, but more on Dukan later.) So I invited my older son to be my taster. His verdict: (shrug) 'Tastes like bread and butter with a bit of grass on.' When he learnt that I was intending to quote him for the purposes of this blog, he revised his opinion: 'An exquisite taste sensation that blew my mind. And what's good about it is that it's a green source of food. I am going to leave now.' He watches a lot of cookery programmes.

I suspect that I should have tried this last week, when the buds were smaller and more tender. I really need to consult my younger son to get a second opinion, though perhaps his palate has been dulled by the other things he eats (pencils, Biros, paper, card, wood, TV remotes). Both my sons used to eat hawthorn buds on the way to school too, which alarmed other parents who had not, like me, grown up in the country (albeit a part of the country encased in concrete).

Having tried hawthorn bud sandwiches, I'm rather excited by the idea of foraged food sources. Here in Lichfield members of the cathedral congregation think that shopping in Lidl instead of Waitrose counts as a bold foraging endeavour. But I see from Food in England that there are whole hedgerows bursting with possibility. Hawthorn flower liqueur, rowan jelly, candied cowslips, cooked ashen keys and buttered hop tops, to name but a few.

Below, hawthorn leaves in their natural habitat. NB the hawthorn leaves are the paler ones, the others are holly, and are not so good to eat.