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Archive for April, 2014

Holywell Retreat, A Place of Spiritual Inspiration on the Sussex Coast

I’ve written before in this blog about those sacred spaces which are known in Ancient Celtic terms as thin places.

View of Beachy Head from Holywell Retreat - photo credit Abigail Robinson

View of Beachy Head from Holywell Retreat – photo credit Abigail Robinson

These are places where you are led to believe that the veil between the visible and the invisible worlds is thin. They don’t have to be obviously religious places. In fact once I read of someone who had a religious experience whilst crossing London Bridge in the rush hour. For that person, London Bridge became a thin place.

A thin place may be any place where you have new or happy or inspirational thoughts. And one of my most popular topics on this blog is places I love.

But quite often, probably because our ability to tune into spiritual inspiration is hindered by stress, anxiety, tension and so on, our thin places are literally places of tranquillity where we can move apart from the preoccupations of our daily life.

the beach at Holywell Retreat - photo credit Abigail Robinson

the beach at Holywell Retreat – photo credit Abigail Robinson

Such a place for me, recently, was Holywell Retreat between Eastbourne and Beachy Head. I was there with a friend and my two teenage children just a few days ago.

The weather was mild and warm, the atmosphere still and hushed. A few people were around, but it wasn’t crowded. This was the end of the Easter holiday, and not yet the high season for tourism in Eastbourne. The sea washed over the stony beach. The white cliffs of Beachy Head were directly ahead of us.

A few people sat on benches watching the sea. It occurred to me that, had I not been planning to drive back to Warwick in a couple of hours, I could happily have stayed there all day in this dreamlike state, feeling the warmth on my skin, listening to the murmur of the sea against the pebbles on the beach, gazing at the white cliffs stretching out to the horizon.

Everything that might cause me anxiety melted away. And above all, I was present in the moment. So were my two children, as they wandered around the beach, and so too was my friend. I dare to believe that each one of us was living fully in the present, as you do in the space between sleeping and waking, when your dreams still linger with you.

Do you have a thin place? Or perhaps it is so special to you that you don’t want to reveal its location! Please share in the comments.

 

 

The Last Anglo-Saxon King and A Successful Invasion: Brutality, Beauty, and The Workings of Fate in Our Lives – in 1066

A Review of 1066 – What Fates Impose by  G.K. Holloway

1066 What Fates Impose by GK Holloway

1066 What Fates Impose by GK Holloway

I love to read a lively account of English history, and often draw principles from it that are relevant to our own lives. So when author G.K. Holloway contacted me recently to ask if I’d agree to read and review his book  1066 – What Fates Impose, I was happy to do so. The author had previously enjoyed my review of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. And having agreed to read and review the book I felt strongly enough about it to post the review on my blog.

Throughout English history, the ordinary people have never had the luxury of much to play around with by way of fate and destiny; other than the destiny they inherited to struggle day by day to live short, desperate and brutish lives. And unless you study social history, you learn only about the great “movers and shakers” rather than ordinary people.

And so it is with the events surrounding 1066, which we probably all learned about in primary school.  But read this book and you will feel close up to those dramatic and fateful events.

After a stunning opening scene, showing a remorseful William the Conqueror on his deathbed, I found the next few chapters of the book slow-going because they present a confusing array of names, with all the details of Earl Godwin and his sons, and a fickle and rather weak Edward the Confessor dishing out earldoms as it suits him, and a mix of rebellious sons, betrayal, poisonous royal advisers and ruthless conniving archbishops.

But when the stakes are high, and huge power and wealth is the prize, and the outcome will have major repercussions on history, then questions of fate and destiny become fascinating and intensely real.

The book picked up narrative pace as it moved on towards the events of 1066. In particular, the battle description at the end is brilliant, with several flashes of rich detail, engaging all the senses, together with poignant and moving touches that made me feel I was there at the thick of the battle of Hastings.

After much detailed description of carnage, brutality and sadistic violence, the end of the book came unexpectedly with a poetic beauty that I found truly moving. I was so immersed in the events that I even found myself thinking ‘I hope Harold wins’ even though I then thought ‘Of course he won’t. William wins’.

And there is one character whose sadistic murder of a mother and child whilst pillaging along the south east coast of England is so scrupulously examined I longed for him to get his come-uppance. But he doesn’t. Instead, he wins glory, royal gratitude, a large parcel of land in Devonshire and a wife and two sons. So much for ‘the way of the wicked’ perishing.

A fantastic evocation of a period of history that can seem very dry in our early school lives. But this book engages us emotionally in these events, bringing us up very close, refreshing our sense of perspective, causing us to reflect on the workings of irony in our own lives, when all our expectations are defeated and we face the reality of the least likely outcome.

Philosopher Tramps, Fall-Guys and Authority Figures in BBC 2 Sitcom ‘Rev’

I’ve loved many TV sitcoms over the years and have attended sitcom writing workshops when I aspired to write sitcoms myself. I think it’s true to say that a few sitcom characters have influenced my own fiction. My current favourite is Rev (BBC 2 Monday 10pm). Our family has watched every episode of the 2 previous series and is now enjoying series 3 broadcast on BBC 1 on Mondays at 10pm.

the cast of BBC 2 sitcom Rev (photo credit bbc.co.uk)

the cast of BBC 2 sitcom Rev (photo credit bbc.co.uk)

There’s much in common between a novelist and a sitcom writer, and as a story-writer I like to ask myself why Rev is so compelling and so good on several levels.

The top ingredients seem to be authentic situations and sharp characterisation. I’ve written before about archetypal characters in fiction.

Here’s a selection of characters who particularly appeal to me as archetypes:

In Rev we have  an endearing main character (the Revd. Adam Smallbone, played by Tom Hollander) who is modest, self-effacing, well-intentioned but hapless: he’s supposed to be in a position of authority but often seems to be a bit of an underdog – the fall-guy. And yet there is an underlying message which tells a different story.

Then there’s Colin (played by Steve Evets), the unemployed alcoholic, who we often see sitting on the bench outside the church with the Rev. We love Colin so much because he’s an archetypal philosopher tramp.  Words of wisdom and insight come from the most unlikely mouth, along with foul language, tales of drug-peddling and the low life.

Then we have the cunning Mick |(played by Jimmy Akingbola), an oddball drug addict and street loafercunning and opportunistic, always calling at the vicarage door and making contradictory claims and asking for – but never receiving – money. Until, that is, he hits on inspiration – by bringing back the child Rev left in the grocery store, insisting on exchanging the child for money, and threatening to tell “the nasty Mrs Vicar” what Adam has done.

We have the Archdeacon (played by Simon McBurney), sardonic, high-handed, revelling in his status higher up the church hierarchy than Adam, and sometimes rivalling the Spanish Inquisition in his interrogations and threats to Adam that his church might be closed down; he’s the authority figure who’s always on Adam’s case, ditches him unexpectedly out of taxis, and accepts offers of tea then ends up throwing it away. And yet again there’s another message; the moments when the Archdeacon relents, the revelation and the twist in the relationship when Adam unexpectedly meets him with his gay friend out of working hours…

Then there’s Roland Wise, the media vicar, (played by Hugh Bonneville). He answers his mobile during his “Transforming Church” course and tells Adam, “Oh it’s Michael Burke pestering me to do The Moral Maze again.” and accuses Adam of having “conflicting personality blocks” on his Myers Briggs personality type indicator test; to which Adam replies, “That’s because I filled it out as Jesus.”

And finally I might mention Nigel, Adam’s Lay Reader (played by Miles Jupp), whose main problem is that he’s a bit ‘anal’ and pedantic. He takes himself too seriously, he always tries to play by the rule-book, and would really like to be in Adam’s position. Occasionally his frustration causes him to break out, but usually when he does he ends up being reprimanded or overruled in some way.

One of the most effective elements of Rev is the voiceovers. We hear the thoughts in Adam’s head as he talks to God. “People like rules. If Christianity had as many rules as Islam, perhaps my church would be full too,” and “Why does the church want me to be a businessman rather than a vicar?” and “I bend over backwards to try and please everyone and I end up pleasing no-one… maybe that’s what You want, me in a lot of trouble. Jesus liked trouble.”

And the truth is that Adam is good-hearted, caring, unpretentious and real.

I hope you too enjoy this brilliant sitcom. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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