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.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

WEEK 44--Visit to National Memorial Arboretum

You'll see that I'm running a few weeks behind myself.  But rest assured, I've been doing new things.  Earlier in the month, for example, I visited the National Memorial Arboretum, just a few miles up the road from Lichfield.  To be totally honest, I've been before, but it was10 years ago when it was little more than a muddy field full of saplings.  

This time was able to go and look at the Wall of Remembrance, which commemorates those who have died in the service of this country since the end of the Second World War.  As I walked I kept thinking So many names, so many names! all the time knowing how tiny that number was compared with the incalculable unbearable length of wall that would be required to list the dead of the First and Second World Wars. And then you round a bend and the wall is blank.  Smooth empty stone as far as the eye can see, curving away out of sight, waiting for more names.  It's this that gets everyone.  Ask anyone who's been there, and this is what they whisper: The Blank Wall...

Part of the strength of this monument is its restraint.  There are no panels to interpret this moment for you, no Bible verses, no prĂ©cis of some humanist agenda.  It is left to the visitor to make the connections.  For those attuned to the hope of the resurrection, this may feel like an omission, but it makes the National Arboretum a more hospitable place to people of all faiths and none, as we say these days.  And it is by no means bereft of hope.  There is a gap in the wall, where (if the sun is shining) a ray of light will fall on the centre of the open space at 11 o’clock, on the 11th day of the 11th month.  And somehow the combination of this shaft of light with the empty waiting wall says—when words fail us—all that needs to be said about remembrance.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

WEEK 43--Reading Peter Pan

Never read Peter Pan?  Shame on me!  There is a very very long list of books I ought to have read but haven't.  Being a Grammar School girl I'm riddled with guilt about this.  (I once blurted out to the archbishop of Canterbury that I have never finished a single Dostoevsky novel.  He gasped.)  I chose Peter Pan as a representative of the genre, because without ever reading it, I assumed I knew it well.

That isn't the real Peter Pan in the picture above. This is Disney's Peter Pan.  When my sons were little I got to know the Disney version all too well, being a Bad Mother and in the habit of using videos as a cheap childminder.  The pope himself denounced mothers like me.  I remember thinking at the time, Well, if you'd like to pop round and entertain them educationally instead, that would be lovely, and then maybe I could have a shower?  Yes, Disney's Peter Pan.  Or rather, Petah Pen.  That's my chief memory of it, Wendy swooning about in her nightie sighing 'Oh, Peter!'  Petah Pen, naturally, was American.

If I dig on down through the strata of my memory, I uncover a much deeper layer of Peter Pan recollections.  The very first school I went to was a classic two-roomed village primary school in the village of Pitstone in Buckinghamshire.  Sounds idyllic.  We were dwarfed by Tunnel Cement, with its four, and later five, stacks belching out white dust that left the village locked like Narnia in a permanent concrete frost.  My Dad used to clean the car with steel wool.  I remember a school trip to London one December evening to see Peter Pan.  I can remember bits of it, in that slightly distant academic way akin to looking at old photos.  But occasionally I surprise myself by a memory with real interiority to it.  A pirate sitting on a toadstool chimney and burning his bottom.  Peter trying to reattach his shadow.  The real flying.  I was just five at the time.  By the time I was 8 my extreme short-sightedness had finally been picked up on.  At five, inhabiting a soft-edged world I assumed was reality, I simply couldn't see the wires.  I remember the snow swirling past the coach window in the dark on the way home.

This is what Peter Pan is about.  The real/unreal world of childhood, the blurring of fact and imagination and memory.  And about growing up, of course, and motherhood.  Stage versions of Peter Pan are remarkably faithful to J.M.Barrie's book, but there is a deep unsettling weirdness and brilliance to the text that isn't conveyed by those Christmas productions.  A kind of arch callousness aimed by turns at the child listener and the adult reader-out-loud.  Not something the modern writer of children's fiction would get past agent and editor.

If I'd read this as a child, what would I have made of it?  Would I have resented the role allocated to poor Wendy?  'Wendy, of course, [of course!] had stood by taking no part in the fight, though watching Peter with glistening eyes.'  But she did get to be the only girl in a crowd of adoring boys (tempting prospect to me, one of four daughters)  The only female apart from that cow Tinker Bell.  Who does die in the book, incidentally.  Wendy is shocked to learn Peter has forgotten who Tinker Bell is.  He dismisses her airily: '"There are such a lot of them," he said.  "I expect she is no more."'

There are some children's books that can't be read properly by adults.  If you haven't begun Lord of the Rings by the age of 14 you are probably stuffed, and will never love Tolkein.  But Peter Pan is not in that category.  However academically and distantly you read it through your adult prescription glasses, it will still surprise you with its astonishing splashes of colour, and you will be five years old again, back when everything might still turn out to be magical.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Karate Update--Improving Your Kiai

If you want to know the proper stuff about karate, you are on the wrong blog.  This is karate for the useless flailing beginner.  Couched in these terms, your kiai (pronounced 'key eye') is your scary martial arts yell.  For self-conscious English types, this is one of the major stumbling blocks in the path of getting involved in martial arts, coming behind 'poncing about in white pyjamas' and 'getting hurt'.

In judo you can get away without having a proper kiai.  People will grunt and emit a snarling yell of the kind an ordinary person might make when struggling to lift a freezer.  One of my coaches lets out a cobra-like hiss. Over the years we have come to recognise that this means she is about to throw you with a left-handed o-goshi.  I really don't have a judo kiai at all, even after more than 10 years.  The occasional girly shriek when being hoisted aloft by a large bloke is about as loud as I get.  Well, apart from the common or garden aaaargh that signals another broken toe.  Tuh, broken toe.  We don't even go to A&E with those.  They don't do anything for it, and if you turn up in a judogi they categorise it as self-harm anyway, and make you wait for hours.

But in karate you must have a good loud kiai.  Sensei warned us all very sternly at training last night that anyone with a pathetic kiai would FAIL THEIR GRADE ON 13TH NOVEMBER!  I won't be grading this time, so fortunately I wasn't called upon to demonstrate mine solo and in public.  Everyone's kiai is different.  But what should you shout, exactly?  According to Wiki, 'Modern Kiai are often written by westerners as Hi-yah!Aiyah!Eeee-yah!, or Hyah!'  I quite like the last one.  It sounds quite friendly.  'Hiya!'  Yeah: 'Hiya, I'm about to kick you in the nuts!'

For the first few weeks I experimented.  I ruled out 'FECK!' quite early on, and gradually my vague bleat settled down into something more like 'HOY!'  I see this as a logical extension of something I already felt comfortable with: the maternal 'OI!'  As in 'OI! GET BACK HERE NOW DO YOU WANT A SMACK?'  A speech therapist taught to me shout from the diaphragm rather than the throat, so as not to damage my vocal cords whilst bawling my sons out.  This has proved to be a useful transferable skill.  Your kiai should come from the diaphragm too.

But what's the point, you may well ask.  Again, I direct you to Wikipedia as a good starting place.  You will find several points listed.  Here is my favourite: a well-executed kiai will 'startle and demoralize inexperienced or shy adversaries — especially at close quarters, especially if previously unobserved.'  I may try it out during the Sharing of the Peace one Sunday in the cathedral.