10k for Kennington Choristers

I am running a 10k for the Children’s Choirs of St. John the Divine Kennington on 28th May. I have never done this before. I’m training regularly and am aiming for a time of around 40 minutes. https://www.vitalitylondon10000.co.uk/

I started working at St. John the Divine, Kennington, in 2013. The mission of the church community was to share choral music with a new generation from the local area. Since then, we have worked yearly with 70 local children each week, singing regular services and concerts. They also sang in our wedding two years ago!

The parish of St John the Divine Kennington, which runs the choirs, has levels of social deprivation higher than 93% of parishes in the country. The choirs cost £35,000 a year to run. We receive no regular funding and rely on donations and grants.

If I make my fundraising target, we woud be able to fund three places on our residential course in Cambridge in the summer.

For more about the choir, you can read this blog: https://thegoodofmusic.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/sjdk/

The sponsorship link is below.

Thanks to everyone!

Ben

www.charitychoice.co.uk/fundraiser/benvonberg-clark/vitality-10k

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Closing an Amazon Account

Have you ever tried to close an Amazon account? Having read the piece in the Guardian today about Amazon’s world dominance, I decided to cancel Prime and close my account. It’s hilariously difficult. To start with, there is no option on the site to close an account.

1) You have to find the ‘contact us’ page, accessible only through a separate web search, so far as I could see, and start a web chat with an Amazon bot.

2) You ask to close you account, and the bot asks you why. You tell them, and they ask if you are sure and aware of the disastrous consequences to your life.

3) The bot then sends you an email, which contains a long list of reasons not to close your account.

4) You then click on a link, and send another email requesting that your account be closed and all data deleted.

This was an hour ago – currently my account is still there, nothing has happened and I just got a marketing email.

How can we escape??

 

jeff-bezos-352

Reflection 2015

End of year, time for reflection. A year of rehearsals, running, concerts, brompton, tube, lessons, reflections, reading, chaos, learning, mountains, operas. An engagement, planning, excitement. Stress, breakthroughs, new birth. Year goes quickly, starts Norfolk ends Northumberland. One more Dickens to read. 2016 is marriage, new starts, ending and beginning new. I can’t wait.

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Tickencote, St. Peter’s

What remains constant: our museum of weathered stone spread throughout the land. Damp, decaying. Corrugated iron parish halls, donation boxes emptied daily, visitors’ books with joke biros, faded informative wall displays, the past and future.

 

Summed up for me today in one of the last church crawls of 2015. Drive up M11 A1, Beatles music, Today programme, exit and roll downhill. Symmetrical building well-pointed, smooth, sand coloured. Looks 18th century. Chaos of A1 pressing through our ears, church stands stoical, disinterested in 4×4 aggression. Round from south to north, open bird-door like a fruit-cage, scape it along the stone. Even with prior knowledge, nothing can prepare for the breath-taking sensation if seeing that arch up-close. Preserved through the centuries, heart-breaking and warming. A feast for the imagination. Tickencote; don’t drive up the A1 without stopping there one time.

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Norman Chancel Arch at Tickencote

 

Further up the A1, north of Newark and Lincoln, trip down memory lane to Clumber Park. Warm breeze, hundreds of people with mud. In 2010-11 I volunteered in the kitchen garden digging some things. Garden closed today, tearoom open. The chapel is something else. 1880’s unfettered Anglo-Catholicism. Sandstone and spire, a testament to a rejuvenated spirituality of a time of rapid change. The house is gone, tourists and geese reign here. Not in the chapel, however. What peace and what grandeur. 2015 can end with respectful hush.

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Clumber’s Chancel and High Altar seen through the rood screen.

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Interior of Bag Enderby, St. Margaret’s. Visited 13th December, Lincolnshire Wolds. One of my favourites for its stillness and simplicity. Font also well worth a look.

London Life: A Guide in 10 Points (in no particular order)

These are for debate; what do you think? People have been at this one for years. I presume nothing; was just thinking whilst walking from Islington to Waterloo. Maybe I should find more work?

1) Walk everywhere

It’s never really that far, and then the town with all the random lanes and squares is yours.

2) If you can’t walk, cycle

But don’t wear lycra and go really fast. Cruise along and smile at lycra people at the lights when you catch them up.

3) Observe people from exciting vantage points

Bill Bryson said he loved the arch at Hyde Park Corner. Look at all those people rushing around, then stroll off at the same speed. There are benches with awesome views all around too.

4) Find random historical corners

One of my favourites is Little Britain by the Museum of London, as it’s so peaceful but close to all of the action. Or here near Holborn, the church of St. Alban the Martyr.

The Resurrection , by St. Alban the Martyr

The Resurrection, near St. Alban the Martyr

5) Do the free things

Some are found online, many are not. Look at the rotting sign for a free lunchtime concert and go.

6) Talk to people – all of them

Some people get a little scared, but there are so many people who love a chat, many of whom are almost invisible.

7) Become a little eccentric

My dad started wearing an Austrian hunting hat to work. Made him feel a little better. Or sing in the street?

8) Be the email boss

Compartmentalise – slap the phone away and email at email time only.

9) Green Spaces

I’m typing this in Lincoln Inn Fields watching some tennis. The beech trees here are tremendous!

Lincoln's Inn Fields

Lincoln’s Inn Fields

St. George's Gardens, near Gray's Inn Road

St. George’s Gardens, near Gray’s Inn Road

10) Independent London

There are now loads of trendy apps to tell you where independent London is. It’s so much more personal and varied, and there’s so much of it around!

The King's Arms, near Waterloo, my end point!

The King’s Arms, near Waterloo, my end point!

Summer Musical Travel

One of the disarming effects of modern travel is the ease with which you can travel from place to place, without realising that you’ve actually gone anywhere. Sleep, read, watch a film, and suddenly you’re in a different place and you don’t really have any choice about it. You, the past you, have booked and paid, so you go. And then there you are.

Evensong in Cambridge, with choristers from St. John the Divine, Kennington

Evensong in Cambridge, with choristers from St. John the Divine, Kennington

This has happened to me several times this summer. I finished conducting evensong in the gloomy chapel of St. John’s, Cambridge, and found myself one sleep later in a school minibus flying across all of the lanes of the highway to Shanghai city centre. Shanghai felt liquid and close, the air so heavy that breathing felt difficult. Electric bikes without sound or light dribble along pavements; every step into a street increases your heart rate. Roads take precedence, walking has no air-conditioning and feels antiquated and unhealthy. Vast, marble facades denote new shopping centres that sprout out of almost every block, their lights alluring but harsh. The french quarter is calmer, closer, smaller, where trees dominate alongside mosquitos. The food became similar after a few days, but we remained polite. Pedestrians flow along the bund that reflects the river alongside. Murky, shallow freight ships creep along as if they have something to hide. There is light everywhere above.

My first selfie

My first selfie

We were teaching the Fauré requiem to a group of local children. The children were fantastic and keen to try anything, no matter what. Even playing me at badminton. Moaning and tiredness to a minimum, in spite of the 10 hour days. Embarrassingly, it was the staff who started to yawn first. Music was a beautifully uniting force, forming lasting bonds that managed to surpass our stark lack of linguistic capability.

Impressed?

Impressed?

One sleep after the last day of the course, and I’m with my lovely fiancée in a turf-covered cottage on the Isle of Lismore, struggling to understand the rain and the breeze. We have to light the fire. We discovered the phrase ‘The Lismore Effect’. Cloud, drizzle, sudden rays of sunshine, monastery, church with carpet, viking ruins, haunted, volcanic, desolate, peaceful, remote. Don’t go to the post office on a Wednesday afternoon. And bring lots of cash to the cafe. If you go walking along the coast, be prepared to climb. Volcanic rock sticks out everywhere, and it’s sharp. Next time I’m bringing a boat.

Lismore from Port Appin

Lismore from Port Appin

The Lismore Effect. We encountered someone holding some music on a path, called Bruce. One brief conversation, and we’re invited to dinner – a delicious potato salad despite their fishless sailing outing. Bruce plays the piano, and he loves Lieder. So we went to the local farmhouse, ascend to the attic, open the windows, and perform Dichterliebe to the crowd. We’ll remember that evening for years. Lismore: it’s very wet, but I’m sure we’ll be back.

Subsequently, I’ve been to Eastbourne to sing for a week, then onto Bruges, Antwerp and Utrecht. Everyone says it, it’s very in vogue, but it’s heartwarming to spend a summer singing with people in four different countries, some prearranged, some organised on a path in the Hebrides, and witness the life-affirming power of music: its unique ability to pull us out of there here and now and experience such depths of emotion that are hard to find in a world of free WiFi. You can wake up and take stock, realise where you are, access your emotions and begin to work out where you fit in the world, and what you can do to change it.

St. Paul's, Antwerp. A few casual Rubens on the wall...

St. Paul’s, Antwerp. A few casual Rubens on the wall…

Good Friday: George Herbert

George Herbert’s Poetry is inspirational and profound regardless of religious standpoint. Here are his musings on Good Friday:

 

O My chief good,

How shall I measure out thy bloud?

How shall I count what thee befell,

And each grief tell?

 

Shall I thy woes

Number according to thy foes?

Or, since one starre show’d thy first breath,

Shall all thy death?

 

Or shall each leaf,

Which falls in Autumn, score a grief?

Or can not leaves, but fruit, be signe

Of the true vine?

 

Then let each houre

Of my whole life one grief devoure;

That thy distresse through all may runne,

And be my sunne.

 

Or rather let

My severall sinnes their sorrows get;

That as each beast his cure doth know,

Each sinne may so.

 

Since bloud is fittest, Lord, to write

Thy sorrows in, and bloudie fight;

My heart hath store, write there, where in

One box doth lie both ink and sinne:

 

That when sinne spies so many foes,

Thy whips, thy nails, thy wounds, thy woes,

All come to lodge there, sinne may say,

No room for me, and flie away.

 

Sinne being gone, oh fill the place,

And keep possession with thy grace;

Lest sinne take courage and return,

And all the writings blot or burn.

St. Margaret's Church, Westminster. Taken on Good Friday morning before Mattins.

St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster. Taken on Good Friday morning before Mattins.

Saint Mary Woolnoth: T. S. Elliot

On a walk from St. Bride’s Church on Fleet Street to Liverpool Street Station last week, I was taken with this view of a church I had not seen before:

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St. Mary Woolnoth from the North-West

St. Mary Woolnoth from the North-West

 

I then discovered that it is mentioned in Elliot’s ‘Wasteland‘.

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying, “Stetson!
You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!

 

The sheer volume of churches that surround the Bank of England and the Monument is staggering. Many of them are closed during the week but can, after the correct enquiries are made, be opened. The baroque interior of this church by Nicholas Hawksmoor certainly merits exploration!

Larkin: Church Going

Philip Larkin’s famous poem certainly provokes thought about the purpose of this blog. How long will parish churches survive? What do we look for when we go inside? Why do they attract tourists still? Why are all people silent and reverential inside, even if the building is empty? Larkin poses the problems and threats, but perhaps ends optimistically.

Dennington, Suffolk

Dennington, Suffolk

 

Once I am sure there’s nothing going on

I step inside, letting the door thud shut.

Another church: matting, seats, and stone,

And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut

For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff

Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;

And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,

Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off

My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

 

Move forward, run my hand around the font.

From where I stand, the roof looks almost new –

Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don’t.

Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few

Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce

‘Here endeth’ much more loudly than I’d meant.

The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door

I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,

Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

 

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,

And always end much at a loss like this,

Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,

When churches will fall completely out of use

What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep

A few cathedrals chronically on show,

Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,

And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.

Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

 

Or, after dark, will dubious women come

To make their children touch a particular stone;

Pick simples for a cancer; or on some

Advised night see walking a dead one?

Power of some sort will go on

In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;

But superstition, like belief, must die,

And what remains when disbelief has gone?

Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

 

A shape less recognisable each week,

A purpose more obscure. I wonder who

Will be the last, the very last, to seek

This place for what it was; one of the crew

That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?

Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,

Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff

Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?

Or will he be my representative,

 

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt

Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground

Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt

So long and equably what since is found

Only in separation – marriage, and birth,

And death, and thoughts of these – for which was built

This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea

What this accoutred frosty barn is worth,

It pleases me to stand in silence here;

 

A serious house on serious earth it is,

In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,

Are recognized, and robed as destinies.

And that much never can be obsolete,

Since someone will forever be surprising

A hunger in himself to be more serious,

And gravitating with it to this ground,

Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,

If only that so many dead lie round.