Month: March 2018

March 17, 2018

In memoriam: for Dad, who died, suddenly, on this day twenty-seven years ago:

Dad considered himself to be ‘a nobody’ – invisible and without significance beyond the sphere of his family, friends, and workmates. To me, he was, and remains, the most influential man in my life. He taught me the virtues of modesty, gentlemanliness, friendship, neighbourliness, loyalty, and not taking oneself too seriously; and the dignity of manual labour, tools and materials, and being just ordinary. Often, I’d catch him standing in the back garden and looking up at the Arael mountain, and wondered what was going through his mind.

8.00 am: A communion. The cold air pushed through the window frame and blind and circled beneath my desk, chilling me from the knees down. I prepared myself for a sally into town, to pick up prescriptions and make preparations:

The wind had picked up; it felt like a repeat of Siberia Mk 1, a fortnight ago. Shoppers shuffled in heavy coats, masked behind scarves and hoods, and focussed on getting things done and home quickly.

10.15 am: A cup of tea over preparations for the days ahead. 10.45 am: Studiology (and a second cup of tea). On, then, to the reconfiguration of the turntable and mixer array. (‘Pare down. Pare down, John!’) Maria Chavez, whose work with abstract turntablism I greatly admire, reduced her rig from two to one turntable in order to assert more control over fewer elements (in essence, one deck and a mixer). I took a leaf from her book:

1.30 pm: After lunch, on the bench, I confronted what had been Pedalboard II. My problem has always been how to create an easily assembled/dismantled pedalboard for the Eventide modulation, delay, and reverb units. I use them, sometimes at my hands and, at other times, at my feet. Adaptability was the call of the hour. (To be continued …):

On discipline. It should be:

  • hard to acquire;
  • worthwhile acquiring
  • a necessary acquisition;
  • relevant to one’s practice;
  • enabling to one’s practice;
  • regulating one’s practice;
  • responsive, organic, flexible, and growing;
  • fulfilling and enriching;
  • appropriate to one’s personality;
  • not an end in itself.

Mastery, craft, rigour, knowledge, expertise, wisdom, and dexterity: these are among the hallmarks of artists (visual, musical, and textual) whom I most admire. They practise assiduously; impose restrictions upon themselves and their work; have clear and articulable criteria and values by which to self-assess it; and get measurably better at what they do throughout their careers. Discipline is not a substitute for imagination and good ideas. But without it, the other virtues ossify and never realise their potential. There’s a great deal of difference between working within self-imposed limitations and being limited.

4.00 pm: Snow, sunshine, snow, sunshine …

5.00 pm: An end.

March 16, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: I attended to correspondence before heading out (with a vial sample of something and a five-day blood pressure account in hand) for a spot of medicalisation out in the sticks:

I remember an age when you didn’t have to suffer piped, mindless drivel – courtesy of Radio 2 – as one waited for what could be a serious conversation about life or death with the GP. (Not on this occasion, however.) Appointments beget other appointments; tests spawn further tests. But, best to keep on the safe-side of all possibilities.

Studiology. I’ve had several requests to be interviewed and videoed regarding my practice, in situ. To that end, I set up equipment zones in the studio for the purposes of demonstration, tentatively moving into guitar-work territory again, and revisiting the ‘New Song’ project. (The latter was conceived as a suite of works based upon those psalms that were written to be played on stringed instruments.) But can I find the schematics to the pedalboard array that I’d designed? Can I?:

No! Back to the drawing board. The array was modular, comprising pedalboards Pedalboards I, III & IV, and interspersed with a looper and volume pedals. So, it wasn’t too difficult to reconstruct. Finding the ‘sound’ again was trickier. I needed to insert Pedalboard II into the amp’s send/receive loop. Presently, there were an awful lot of pedals placed in series between the guitar output and the amp input. Tone was compromised. Once it’s set up, I’ll be able to leave the array on the studio floor for further trials in the weeks ahead.

Over the next few days, I would make a second attempt at processing the ‘Double Blind’ material while exploring a new mixing set-up, to control the interlacing of the two turntables. This will permit me to assign one and the other to the left and right of the stereo field. (This is something that a DJ mixer isn’t designed to do.)

After lunch, I put the array, as it then sat, to the test. The sound was terrifying – like the anguish of a thousand lost souls in hell:

From that point onwards, the task was to route the looper and add further volume pedals, so as to provide full control over the output levels at each stage of the signal chain. Beyond this, my ambition was to be as economic with the technology as I could be; and, with regard to the breadth of sound, to establish continuity and diversity in unity.

7.30 pm: I made a ‘test strip’* (to borrow a term from chemical photography) of some of the more obvious sonorities and moves across the pedalboards. This was in order to establish: the range of amplitude; the extent of clipping and signal distortion; the colouration of the sound within a narrow frame of reference, and its dynamics and operation within the stereo field and deep depth. The recording was made direct from the line outputs of the Yamaha THR00HD Dual amp and into an RMS Fireface UCX interface:

(‘This was an improvisation, J. No?’) I’m not convinced by it, yet. The sounds need an interpretative function – a relevance beyond themselves; a sense; a discipline. I’m ever cautious of being beguiled by the medium, of being allured by the sensuousness of sound for its own sake:

Over the past few days, I’ve been listening, regularly, to Jeff Beck’s Where Were You, which he played live at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London – in remembrance of a friend (a blessing) and in anticipation of a coming event. This is a piece that begins and ends in the heart:

*For my muse

March 15, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. I don’t presume: ‘For thou knowest not what a day may bring forth’. Therefore:

8.30 am: I had to travel to School by the alternative route, which involved power-walking uphill. I should alter my established habit more often. (Routinely breaking with routine, as it were.):

9.00 am: A tutorial cancellation gave me space for admin catch-up. (Do I ever actually catch-up?) As a young child, I used to have a nightmare in which I’d chase my mother up the hill of the terrace where we lived. The closer I got to her, the further she moved away from me (oblivious to my pursuit.) The dream has recurred in adult life.

9.30 am: As a tutor to young adults, I cannot leave the parent in me outside the studio doors. T: ‘Get some breakfast down you before coming to class! Go to bed earlier, and get up earlier! You’ll get a cold in your kidneys, wearing that!’ (Those kind of things.) S: ‘I sacked the work’. T: ‘What?’ [Sacked = rejected.] Being the older generation involves a linguistic learning curve.  T: ‘Glaciers are the colour of a frozen raspberry Slush Puppy’, I said, with due gravitas. I sensed that there ought to be more forward momentum in the studio than there was, presently. The final exhibition looms:

12.00 pm: A lunchtime consultation at the Town Committee Chambers before returning to the mothership for first year personal tutorials. I can’t/won’t compel them to turn up for appointments. But, at the same time, I don’t assume that they’re ok just because they don’t attend. (Silence and absence can be ambiguous.) Some, I’ll seek out like a Hound of the Baskerville.

3.00 pm: Homebase, and the finalisation of the week’s admin, and preparations for the week of teaching ahead. I cleared the decks, so that I could return to composition this evening.

7.30 pm: I returned to yesterday’s ruminations upon the relationship between sound and writing. There’s a verse from Habakkuk, one of the minor prophets in the Old Testament, which I’d previously dealt with, visually (and rather modestly), in the project Seal Up the Vision and Prophecy, The Pictorial Bible II (2007). It reads: ‘And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it’ (Hab. 2.2). The text neatly fuses visualisation and inscription – concepts that have recurred throughout my work, periodically, ever since. The tables mentioned in the verse probably referred to clay tablets. In the context of my current practice, they’ll reference the tables that turn the records on my decks. As I tossed and turned, struggling to get to sleep in the early hours of this morning, I considered recording myself writing out the vision on paper with a pencil. The captured sound would, thereafter, be commercially engraved on a pair of vinyl records and made ready for manipulation. And, so, the idea moved one step forward … to good knows where.

From my archive of memorabilia: Letts Schoolboys Diary 1971:

This was the only diary I’d kept, until 1982. And this was its last entry. Evidently, perseverance was not one of my strong points back then. The days leading up to 17 January revealed a 12-year old boy who was disenfranchised from education, semi-illiterate, lazy, selfish, pleasure-seeking, preoccupied with pocket money, and obsessively grieving the end of the Christmas holidays. Once I hit puberty and my teens, things got considerably worse. Thus, 1971 marked the beginning of a five-year, and a fairly comprehensive, decline. Like the Prodigal Son, I needed to be brought to my wits end before coming to my senses.

Some principles and observations derived from yesterday’s and today’s engagements:

  • When we’re older, we make the friends that we want and need, and the friends that want and need us in return.
  • The dialogue between conception and realisation is like the dance of binary stars.
  • What do you expect your audience to apprehend in the work, and how have you ensured that they will?
  • T: ‘What constitutes resolution in terms of the problem that you’ve set for yourself?’
  • Fixations and obsessions can be turned into positive attributes: like the capacity to focus hard and long, and the power of unwavering commitment.
  • Idea: painting as meditation and prayer.
  • There’s a world of difference between scepticism and circumspection.
  • Its a PhD. But only a PhD. Your life is far more important. Retain your perspective.
  • The final undergraduate exhibition – an ideal: continuity and diversity in equilibrium.
  • An epiphany in respect to one work will have implications for them all.
  • We are prone to give up at the end of the race, in sight of the finishing line, rather than we are at the beginning.
  • Life can appear so utterly indecipherable and obtuse, sometimes.

March 14, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: To School, and the first of two PhD fine art tutorials. It thrills me to see both the student and their topic deepening. What is the nature of supervision at this level? Quite apart from providing subject and disciplinary knowledge, and advising on methodology, rigour, and progress, the task can embrace dimensions of service that at the core of our common humanity. Supervisor are tutee and tied together like two climbers assailing a sheer ice-face. Both are moving in the same direction and face the same perils. If one or the other loses their footing, then both tumble.

I suspect that someone outside of the field, eavesdropping on the discussion, would be bemused and its circuitous passage from subject-specific topics to personal anecdote to confession to tears (sometimes) to the biggest issues of existence, and back again. An hour’s engagement can be thoroughly exhausting, emotionally and intellectually, for both participants. A fragment from Eileen:

11.00 am: The PhD fine art brigade held their first ‘clandestine’ gathering, under my oversight, to discuss a matter of common import and advantage. Suffice to say, this is a new endeavour at the School, unwelcoming to the uninitiated, and strictly by invitation only. We were never there.

12.15 pm: Off to Medrus 1 (in the planetary system of Sol, I’d venture) at Pantycelyn/Penbryn (work that one out), for the annual Postgraduate Fayre. I set-up, took a bite to eat, and talked over issues related to work and parenthood with some old friends. 1.50 pm: The visitors began to arrive:

All those whom I engaged were ‘non-standard’ potential applicants, to a man and woman. They’re considering the MA Fine Art having either not undertaken a BA Fine Art or else having studied in an area other than the one they are intending to pursue. For example, several had studied illustration and graphic art and wished to move into painting. I suspect that this trend is set to grow in future years. People are, now, jumping careers in their late 20s and 30s. Nothing wrong with that, in principle. However, as a School, we need to be certain that they’re convinced of the need and possessed of the requisite aptitude for transition. But this phenomenon also makes me ponder what the BA Fine Art equips a student with in readiness for MA study, and whether those attributes can be substituted by experiences gained elsewhere. 4.00 pm: Homeward.

4.20 pm: Catch up on emails. 7.30 pm: Research admin: requests to examine, possibilities to explore, and plans to implement. I wrote to one of my former collaborators: ‘Could we do something again, but in an entirely different way?’  (I liked the openness of the proposal and closedness of the stricture.) My thoughts have returned to the visual and sonic improvisational exercises that Adam (who is studying for a PhD Fine Art at the School, presently) and I’d conducted in 2011 and 2012:

With Adam Blackburn at LiveArt: Dialogues: Improvisation Through Drawing and Sounding, School of Art, Aberystwyth University (October 14–15, 2011)

With Adam Blackburn at LiveArt: Dialogues2: Improvisation Through Drawing and Sounding, School of Art, Aberystwyth University (November 14, 2012)

Was there, in these efforts, a point of departure for something to come? I’m drawn to the sound of handwriting as a starting point. Beyond that … . One can never move other than forwards.

March 13, 2018

Steve Reich, Piano Phase (pattern 2) (1967) (courtesy of Wikicommons)

Last night, I watched the second part of Charles Hazelwood’s documentary on minimalist music: Tones, Drones, and Arpeggios. In an interview with Steve Reich, the composer advocated that, for him, music must have both integrity of structure and an emotional appeal. That’s my opinion too; the mind and the heart must be engaged together.

8.00 am: A communion. (I’m nothing, I can do nothing, without love.) 8.30 am: Off on my first visit to the Old College, via a failed encounter with the ticket machine at the railway station. Wedding residue:

9.05 am: (I was uncharacteristically a little late.) The first two MA fine art tutorials of the day before a brief period of Starbuckery to catch-up on admin before my walk to the School for a pair of consultation meetings. An uplifting and sustaining day, for me, for now:

11.10 am: A research consultation meeting With Dr Chamberlain on a matter of mutual passion. There are connections to be made between public and academic institutions, which are presenting themselves just at the right time. My sense was that I am, presently, on the cusp of something.  12.30 pm: A consultation with the MA art historians regarding the Vocational Practice assessment elements.

2.00 pm: The start of an afternoon MA tutorials first at the School and then, Old College. There are times when soul touches soul in art teaching. I wondered whether the same is experienced in other disciplines.

5.45 pm: Homeward. 7.30 pm: Further postgraduate teaching preparation awaited me: the PhD Fine Art research writing class tomorrow.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s encounters:

  • We filter the world through our own past art.
  • T: ‘In filtering the source, you’ve amplified its emotional resonance’.
  • Creative endeavour isn’t linear; it’s circular: we often go from A to A rather than from A to Z, before beginning a new cycle – at A again.
  • Many artists of note have constructed their career by concentrating on a narrow field of action. Diversification is the refuge of the undecided and uncommitted.
  • Don’t make work for the mainstream. Make it for yourself. If the mainstream gravitates towards it, then, so much the better.
  • You don’t determine to succeed because you suspect that you’ll fail in the endeavour.
  • The passions of your youth stay with you in later life. Who you are is, in part, what you were, and what you’ll ever be.
  • The movement from internal awareness to external articulation (intuition to cognition) requires focussed introspection over time in discussion with yourself and others.
  • T: ‘You make in order to understand yourself, and you understand yourself in order to make’.
  • In the dance, let the work lead occasionally.

March 12, 2018

 And the remnant that remaineth of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remaineth, shall hang over the backside of the tabernacle (Exo. 26.12).

‘Raising the Tabernacle’,  print from the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations
in the possession of Rev. Philip De Vere, St. George’s Court,
Kidderminster, UK (courtesy Wikicommons)

The Tabernacle – the Israelite’s portable tent of worship during their sojourn in the Wilderness – was designed by God, and fashioned by two distinguished artisans (whose talent for sculpting, casting, and representation had been supernaturally enhanced for the task), and also by those with natural gifts for woodwork, metalwork, and embroidery, among other crafts. This was a sacred building that was undertaken in a spirit of reverence and wholehearted dedication. No part of anything that they made was superfluous. Even the ‘excess’ lengths of the goat’s hair curtains (the remnant that remaineth), rather than be cut off and thrown away, were put to good use as covers over the Tabernacle. This principle of thrift and economy is also evident in the narrative of the feeding of the five thousand. After the boy’s meagre means of five small barley loaves and two small fishes had been multiplied, and the people had eaten, Christ said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted’ (John 6.12). Even though Christ could have fed the whole world over and over again from that basket of provisions, he didn’t countenance a careless disregard for the leftovers. Those fragments would go towards another meal. (That’s divine ecology and good housekeeping in concert.)

And, so it is in the realms of our lived experience before God too. However, dark, perplexing, hurtful, discouraging, futile, hopeless, and meaningless a situation may be (or appear), not the smallest part of it is, in his economy, either purposeless, redundant, or disposable: ‘And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them’ (Rom. 8.28). Likewise, you may find yourself holding onto only the ‘remnant that remaineth’ of some life-changing and utterly wonderful experience that you once enjoyed. Don’t either despise or cast it aside. Gather up the fragments, and be thankful. Those pieces may go towards something equally enriching in the future.

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: As ever, the week kicked off with teaching admin. There was much to fit into this one. 10.00 am: Studiology. I reviewed ‘Men as Trees, Walking’. I was returning to my own work, after witnessing (which is a far more active and inclusive description of my engagement than suggested by ‘listening to’) the ‘Experimental Music Improvisation’ event at the Ceredigion Museum, Saturday evening:

Hearing and seeing others in action helps me to define my own practice, in contrast: what it is and what it’s not. I’ve not improvised in public since 2014. In the past, I’ve done so in collaboration with a visual artist. (I enjoy creative discussion across mediums and disciplines, in situ.) I can’t participate on occasions such as Saturday evening’s event, because my current work doesn’t warrant it. Indeed, its nature prohibits improvisation.

The tradition out of which my sound practice has emerged is studio-based painting. Like my visual art work, the sound compositions develop from a slow and deliberate process of construction and revision, following an interrogation, exposition, and redistribution of a biblical text. When I’ve conducted live, public events, it’s been with view to allowing others to access my re-situated studio and me. My objective was not to entertain or perform but, rather, to be seen to be doing.

On Saturday, it was good to see so many people in a full-auditorium representing a breadth of communities, from hard-core experimental music geeks to liberal-minded folk wanting to submit themselves to something out of the ordinary. None were disappointed. These occasions can be frightening. Anything can go wrong (and does, frequently): there’s no guarantee that an improvisation will either lift-off the runway, or engage the audience, or conclude before the equipment packs-up. On the whole, and by far, the musicians avoided all these pitfalls:

11.00 am: I moved on to the track entitled ‘Bartimaeus’, which harmonises two biblical accounts of the same narrative, and added a percussive backdrop derived from the action of dropping the tone arm onto a record’s surface several times, and overlaying and looping the results.

1.30 pm: After email catch up, I listened again to ‘One Blind’ (which is the longest narrative in the set) and to some of the more complex percussive rhythms that I’d constructed last year. Now, I’m ready to commit to the latter as bases for further compositions. Towards the end of the afternoon, I took an initial overview of the ‘Double Blind’ source recordings.

7.30 pm: I set about designing teaching material for postgraduate classes over the next few days. This would be a demanding week on that front.

March 10, 2018

I’ll dance, when this is over;
When I live for what I have.

Lost world (on the ground, to the right, and just behind their feet, that day)*:

8.30 am: A communion. 9.00 am: (Keep going/think not feel.) I’d a morning (on standby) in which to work, before attending the university Open Day this afternoon. Time, then, to update my various professional profiles and website. It’s a tedious, repetitive, but necessary task. So much time has to be invested in ‘getting it out there’ and archiving one’s achievements (such as they are). In the end, it’ll all be tested by fire. How much will endure, I wonder.

Over the past week, I’ve listened, again, to some of my sound works going back to the late 1970s. I don’t regard the early material (made when I was 17 years of age) as juvenilia. On the contrary, the album entitled The Last Things (1977) was formative in ways that I’m only now beginning to fully appreciate. I can still listen and learn from myself. In the end, we are the best teachers that we’ll ever have.

12.40 pm: Off to the School to interview undergraduate applicants. One of our former MA students had delivered a substantial box of Cadbury’s Cream Eggs for the staff. How thoughtful! Weight will be gained.

1.30 pm: An interview. It’s heartening to know that some applicants receive practical support and systematic teaching in the use of mediums at their schools and colleges. They are, by far, the most confident interviewees. How wonderful to hear someone enthuse about paint, too. Few have this type of passion so soon in their education. My advice to them – always – is to go and see as much art in museums and galleries as time and money will afford. Other artists’ work will be your instructor long after you leave art school. So, sit under their tutelage now. Too many art schools press their students into the mould of 21st century modes and styles. We don’t. The whole history of art is their rightful heritage. That’s one of the reasons why we teach the subject. (One of the duties of custodianship.) Let the student find themselves within this rich matrix. We insist only upon:

hard work;

3.00 pm: Home. (Keep going/think not — feel.) I fell into second gear: a finalisation of Instagram tagging:

4.15 pm: I’m up-to-date, more or less, with my professional ‘face’.  Is it serving me, or I it? Life needs to be simpler in order to be more efficient and effective. 5.15 pm: Breaks!!

7.00 pm: An evening of ‘Experimental Music Improvisation’ at the Ceredigion Museum, Aberystwyth:

I left at 11.00 pm. Ruminations to follow.

*For Amy Seed

March 9, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. A demarcation. Sometimes the head is well in advance of the heart where decisions are concerned. When reason dictates, the heart must follow (eventually). Disciplining the emotions is desperately demanding; feelings and desires are hard to relinquish and subdue without stern measures. They need to be starved or else beaten into submission. Likewise, delusional thinking, misplaced optimism, and false hopes must be identified and vanquished. But getting to the roots of self-deception requires time, kindness to oneself, and patience. Forward march!

8.45 am: A surveyed the landscape of the day: teaching, admin, preparations for the week ahead, and medical matters (both today, and somewhat further down the line). (‘Do not be anxious about anything.’) 10.20 am: Medicalisation at the surgery. I came away with less blood, more anomalies, and further appointments. It’s wise to keep on top of things. (My ancestors had a short shelf-life, on the whole.) 11.00 am: Back on the teaching, research, and further medical admin trail. There were a great many ‘smalls’ to wash: tasks that were bitty but didn’t take too long to dispatch. It’s the sheer complexity of things, these days, that’s the challenge. I’m suspicious of systems of management that detract from time spent at the point of delivery.

1.15 pm: After an early lunch, I headed to the School for a full afternoon of third-year painting tutorials, plus a 5.10 pm lecture for Professional Practice. I was dogged by a profound tiredness and mild disorientation. (Pace. Pace.) I sensed the beginnings of the annual ‘mild-panic’ in the studio, which emerges when students hear the ticking clock of the weeks passing as they lurch towards the exhibition (now, just over two months away). Anxiety and worry tend to paralyse rather than motivate. The call of the hour (my end) is to encourage realism, determination, a trust in their ability, good time-management, and a steady nerve. A focussed and concerted effort will get them there.

(Pace. Pace.) By the middle of the afternoon, I began to pick up a little. A build-up of intolerances to foods that I’d imbibed while away was probably at the root. My energies were diminishing, tutorial by tutorial. At such times, I reach towards an energy that lies beyond the body. My ‘performance’ at the 5.10 pm lecture felt like a fuelless car going down a steep-hill without breaks. But it worked.

6.30 pm: A collapse on the settee. 7.30 pm: Adminy things (again).

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Two paintings (a pair); two mountains; the weather features; a world made out of paint.
  • Your maturation between 25 and 30 is far less significant than between 20 and 25.
  • Rejoice to be the outsider (sometimes).
  • What’s the spirit of the whole?
  • Art channels wackiness.
  • Think in terms of 12-finished works.
  • You’re not lost. You just don’t want to be found.

March 8, 2017

There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18.24).

The verse (or this part of it) assumes that brothers, too, stick close. As an only child, I’ve no practical experience to draw upon other than the fraternal adhesion that my sons have one to another – which is admirable and enviable. But there are other brothers, whom I know, who you’d have to involuntarily rivet to their siblings for them to be considered close. The ‘friend’ in this text is a rarity of rarities. (If you ever gain one, then, keep hold on them for dear life.) Their bond isn’t predicated upon the obligations of kinship. ‘Sticky friends’ make a disinterested commitment; they’re in the relationship for you, principally, and for the long haul.

There’s a very telling verse about a remarkable friendship shared between Jonathan (the eldest son of King Saul) and David (the former shepherd, psalmist, and, later, king): ‘The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul’ (1 Sam. 18.1). Your soul is your greatest and most invaluable asset. ‘What can anyone give in exchange for their soul?’ (Mark 8.37). Not even the whole world would be a fair trade (Mark 8.36).

‘Sticky-love’ goes deeper than deep. It’s as profound as it’s inexplicable. When Jonathan died, David paid homage to that friendship: ‘Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women’ (2 Sam. 1.26). The relationship couldn’t last forever in this life. But while it did, that bond was extraordinary, enabling, and enhancing, for both of them. So much so, that the man who’d said ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want’ experienced an intensity of distress proportionate to that love (Ps. 23.1). The loss of a great friend is a grief beyond discussion.

7.00 am. Awoke. 7.30 am: What I’d thought were chocolate cornflakes (because they were next to the Coco Pops dispenser) turned out to be Bran Flakes. (Sigh!) The day could only get better. I returned to my room – visibly shocked:

8.00 am: I packed and reviewed my travel plans for the day. 9.30 pm: Goodbye hotel! I wanted to spend more time at the cathedral before beginning my circuitous journey home.

9.45 am: A communion.

The cathedral was full of parents and toddlers, sat on the floor, playing together, and making fun-filled noises. Two men talked earnestly together in a secluded pew. Another, dozed. They were like figures from a Pieter Saenredam church interior. Before I left, I lit a candle and prayed for a remote friend: ‘that they might grow in faith, knowledge, wisdom, grace, and fruitfulness, and so become an extraordinary light in the world’:

11.11 am: After a reflective hot drink at the station café, I departed – once again leaving behind someone (notionally), and wondering whether I’d have cause to return. I’d much to consider, resolutions to put into practice, pages to turn, commitments to underscore, and realities to square. A great and definable challenge lay ahead. Last night, the Peak District and West Yorkshire had received further snowfall:

12.10 pm: I met my younger son at Manchester Piccadilly station, and headed off for Chinatown to take lunch:

For the next three hours we talked non-stop about university, the impact of the on-going strike, retirement plans, private tuition, careers, musical gear (at Dawsons), church growth, developing an audience for one’s music, vinyl records, and new architecture (in the city’s Northern Quarter). A visit to the children’s zone of Manchester City Art Gallery. He’s a little too big for the place, these days:

3.00 pm: We parted company.

3.07 pm:  I took the train back to Stockport and, from there, another (over-full one) towards Shrewsbury. 4.47 pm: Arrived, and stepped into the watering-hole seeking space as much as sustenance.

5.29 pm: The Aberystwyth leg. A chasm lies between making determinations and actually altering one’s tangible circumstances. (It’s the same tension as exists between idealism and realism.) Change must begin with ourselves and work outwards. Change must be necessary and possible. Change must be gradual and incremental. Change must be responsible, and take account of the needs of others. Change must be responsive and adaptable. Change must bring about betterment.

7.20 pm: Home! 8.00 pm: A late-evening round-up and unpacking.

March 7, 2018

6.30 am: Woke, showered, and dressed. I habitually prepare myself for the day from the outside in. 7.15 am: Hotel breakfast. ‘Oh, yum!’:

(‘Honestly, J! You’re like a child sometimes’.) I enjoy an occasional ‘full English breakfast’. (Does ‘full’ modify both ‘English’ and ‘breakfast’?) Evidently, by the size of their girth, some of the other male diners indulge themselves far more often. 8.00 am: I caught up on incoming emails and messages (for which a post-breakfast cup of tea was a welcome lubricant) before preparing to take a breath of fresh air. Today would be characterises by reflection and meetings:

Many of the chain stores were filled with inane music. It may have some relevance to young people (the target audience, I suspect), but little for the older generation. Music is turned into a mode of manipulation, to which shoppers unwittingly acquiesce. Although, it provokes this customer to turn on his heels and exit the building as soon as possible. 9.45 am: A beginning of reflection:

I thought I’d write more notes. But the conversation was largely internal. At times (when the head and the heart talked together), the discussion was without words: thinking emotions; feeling ideas. I allowed the heart to have a voice (for once).  I’ve been taught the value of coming to a problem from the heart to the head, rather than the other way round. (My usual way round.) It’s helpful to be in conversation with someone who has a polar-opposite orientation to oneself. The two perspectives are often either complementary or identical, rather than contradictory, in my experience.

Words can be too propositional, too fixive, for some purposes. Some issues in our lives cannot be reduced to, or be articulated in, statements of fact, intuition, or conviction. The older I’ve got, the more I’ve appreciated this. There aren’t always either definitive answers or clear solutions that hold true in all circumstances and at all times. Our experiences can be muddled and messy, quantumly complex, contextual, relative, ethically elastic, and utterly mystifying. (Begone crude fundamentalism!) As I ‘thought-felt’, I found myself fixing my gaze upon objects on the ceiling:

After lunch and final meetings, I returned to the hotel and located the room-service cleaner and trolley in order to secure more little buckets of awful UHT milk for my afternoon cups of tea (the bags for which I’d heroically liberated from the dining room at breakfast this morning).

There’s a verse in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Rome that opens up this concept of non-verbal articulation. It’s written in the context of God’s participation in, and commitment to, praying for us (which is remarkable in itself): ‘Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered’ (Rom. 8.26). God chooses to speak without words (in contrast to the expression of his fiat at Creation (Gen. 1.1)); his Holy Spirit intervenes through deep-feeling alone. (Bring on a doxology!)

4.20 pm: A break from the work and a walk into the city, via the cathedral:

I’m not one who believes that prayer is more effectual in ‘holy’ places. Churches have no intrinsic holiness, in my books. They’re sacred only insomuch as they are set apart for religious use – which is what ‘sacred’ means. Nevertheless, the context can be conducive. And it was, on this occasion. Strangely so. Sheffield has sunshine too, I discovered.

6.00 pm: Off in search of yet another Italian café. (It’s a phase I’m going through, clearly.) I ended up in the same restaurant eating the same meal (more or less) as I did yesterday evening. Now, what does that say about me? (‘You need rescuing!’) And I needed company. I dislike eating on my own. People look at you as though you’ve been either stood up, or recently divorced, or socially ostracised, or all three.  Me? I was just a ‘lonesome traveller’ (as Kerouac would have it).

7.00 pm: Back at my desk to catch up on the dairy and correspondence, until bedtime. (Now that was sad.):