Copford

I was working in Colchester throughout September, and therefore had the privilege of visiting Copford at least three times. My little car also broke down in the car park, thus furnishing me with a glorious opportunity to explore. What a treasure! No one would surely expect this just a few minutes off the A12. Thank you, people of Copford.

Go to Rochester

It’s not actually that far away. I made sure that the wind was behind me and flew there in two hours. I even tracked myself: https://www.strava.com/activities/1117071900

On the way – industry old and new, historic roads, Dartford Parish Church, cobbles and awkward one-way streets, Dickens’ country pad Gad’s Hill (where he died), his old parish church in Chalk. Followed by Rochester Cathedral, Castle and Chatham Docks. What’s not to like?

 

 

Clockwise from right: Chalk church nave, Rochester Castle, the Catalpa Tree outside Rochester Cathedral, the West front of Rochester Cathedral, Chalk church tower (which can be seen from miles away!)

Driving to Birmingham 

The wheeze to Birmingham from London up the M1 can be more interesting than it first appears on google maps. First a stop at Coventry Cathedral. Moving for obvious reasons, I cannot help but feel staggered by the enormous Sutherland tapestry, moved to disbelief by the Cross of Nails, stunned to silence in the Chapel of Unity. It’s invigorating, frustrating, challenging, inspiring. The cheesy American Diner Café thing underneath is also bearable. 

Sutherland Tapestry from the Choir Stalls

View from the Nave of St. Michael


Twenty minutes up the road, through all sorts of industrial estates, and you stumble upon the enchanting and mystical village of Berkswell. According to legend, it was founded when the Saxon leader Bercul was baptised here in the 8th Century. The well, in which he was dunked, remained a source of fresh water until the late 1930’s. 

The view as you approach St. John’s Church from the east is quaint and nostalgic. A Norman chancel to the right, timber school room above the porch, and Dutch gable to the left of the Well House. 


The interior, albeit dark, is reminiscent of an Oxford Movement interior, without the gold leaf and lace. The Nave rises up three blocks of steps up to the Norman arch, into the intricately chiselled and carved chancel. I was the only visitor, and didn’t turn on the lights. The lack of any 21st century additions (yellow floor tape, plastic signage) enabled a true aura of mytique. 


Visitors seem truly welcome here. You don’t feel part of a tourist trail; every part of the church is open without supervision or even CCTV (so far as I could see). This level of trust in visitors left me feeling truly grateful to the church community who tend to this magnificent building. The famous crypt beneath is open, without entry fee. Whether the burial place of St. Mildred or not, the rib vaulting in the octagonal chamber is stupefying in it’s beauty. It is a place of true tranquility. 


I absolutely love this church and am so happy to have been able to visit it at last. And whatever you think of the extension outside, the journey from Norman architecture to the 21st century left me feeling truly optimistic about this community of worshippers. 

Life & Death, Old & New

Paul Klee’s ‘Burdened Children’

I teach music to about 400 children each week, aged 5-17. I am sadened daily by the weight that we load on their shoulders each day. I see children crushed with a negative image of adulthood and the world. From year 5 onwards (age 9-10), children are relenentlessly oppressed with exams, and fear of the results. Barely any are encouraged to have any original thought. Jealous of the freedom of children, we adults crush a child’s hopes with our own unfulfilled expectations. 

Deleuze discusses in ‘The Intensive Reduction’ that an artist should ‘render [life] visible’, and that Klee is the master of this. Never have I seen this image of childhood better expressed than in Klee’s picture ‘Belastete Kinder’, that was on display in the Tate a few years ago. 

Klee’s ‘Burdened Children’


Klee’s strength is always, for me, in his simplicity. It requires no further comment. One can stare at it for hours.

What is the answer? There are hundreds of teachers out there who work against this trend of preparing children for ‘real life’. Who let them run around, be weird, sing, shout, cry and imagine. Creative schools, painting academies, youth theatre and opera, dance. The budgets for these organisations are being cut. Head teachers have so much pressure to keep up the mark schemes of STEM subjects, that music, art and dance are sidelined or omitted entirely in our state primary schools. Bright, creative people who could be amazing teachers avoid schools, chasing money in offices instead. Would the country be healthier and happier if we encouraged our children to be funnier and more imaginative than us? Or shall we just clone ourselves, perpetuating this drudgery ad infinitum? Providing children with limitations? 

Let’s preserve innocence! Long live fantasy! Campfires! Imaginary best friends! Quirkiness! 

Grades are not the answer. Surely. Let’s sing and dance. 

Gainsborough’s Daughters. Can be seen for free in the National Gallery.

St. Peter and St. Paul, Kedington

I had the time before a concert on Friday to pop into this sublime building. It is quite simply breathtaking. The Victorians have had their inevitable say in the renovation in the 19th century, but the whole atmosphere and feel of the interior remains remarkably unspoilt. The first part of the church to capture my attention is the children’s school pews at the back, complete with peg hooks. It is like nothing I have seen before in a church, and reminds one that churches always were hubs of community, not merely a ceremonial building used for Sunday Mass. A Minstrel’s Gallery lies between these two sets of pews, that were designed to segregate children by gender. The Master’s seat looks ominously on. One doubts that the lessons were that dynamic.

 

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Children’s School Pews

The church is lit by some bizarre skylights that would be at home in a barn. These are a product of the 19th century but are effective and not too clumsy. They’ve also been beautifully restored. The whole interior, in fact, is tasteful and has not been tampered with or spoilt, as have some famous churches in Suffolk (Framlingham comes to mind). The Barnardiston pew and tombs are untouched, and remind one of Dennington nearer the coast. It is gloriously cluttered. The font lurks awkwardly near a pillar on the north side. Betjeman may have called this a ‘village Westminster Abbey’; it comes with the added delight of a complete lack of insensitive tourists, no entry fee and a feeling of proximity to the past that the Abbey cannot achieve nowadays. It is a well-worn space, and is approachable because of that.

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Font, Nave, Skylights

The village is also delightful. The church seems a hub of the place still. It lies near a brook with a charming meadow path near an old watermill. Pub, shop, new building lie next to 18th century cottages. Beautiful but not affected. This one is a must-see.

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The approach to the Nave. This church is OPEN! Hurrah! 

Stoke by Nayland

Tree of Jesse Door


This church is amazing, and is the community hub of the town. There’s a weekend of concerts there THIS weekend. Children from local primary schools, amateurs and young professionals. Everyone enters the church via that Tree of Jesse door. I love Suffolk’s churches. And they are used in an imaginative way and ensures their survival. 

Tewksbury, Crickley Hill, Churchdown

Whilst teaching on the Junior Choral Course, we’ve been able to leave campus in the early morning to take in some of the stunning local scenery and architecture. Wednesday to Tewksbury Abbey, and this morning to sunrise at Crickley Hill, where we read poetry of Gurney and then journeyed down through the valley to Churchdown. The church of St. Bartholomew rises above the valley floor and affords a spectacular view from the East end back to Crickley. Here are some photos. 

The View from Churchdown

Sunrise at Crickley

Lady Chapel at Tewksbury

Tewksbury Nave

Two Years

After two years of study at Trinity, I’ve now finished and got the results. Two years of:

Nerves, self-doubt, exhilaration, comradery, joy, fear, lessons, coaching, cycling, teaching, tears, laughter. 2 lessons a week, coachings, language classes, dietary situations, gardening, 6 operas, 20 miles cycling a day, tours, Shanghai, USA, Switzerland, learning lyrics, recording, conducting. Singing with amazing pianists from all over the EU- Portugal, Italy, Holland, Germany, Austria, France, UK. 

I’ve moved house and married the most wonderful woman I’ve ever met. Become an uncle. 

Thank you to Sophie Grimmer and Helen Yorke, Rianka, Edgar, Francesca, Ashley and everyone at Trinity for two amazing years. Here’s to more amazing music in the years to come. 

King Charles Court

Tetbury: St. Mary the Virgin

The Annunciation as you enter the west doors

New internal west door, recently blessed by the Bishop

Semi-cloister

Planting by the East window

Wild Flowers in the churchyard

The local bookshop


Tetbury is a lovely village. The church is everything a village church should be: a community hub and, visably, remains the active spiritual centre of the village. There is a very active and loving community of volunteers, a heritage exhibition of the town back to its founding in the 7th century, and a choir. The church also sponsors a choral scholar and an organ scholar. 

The church was rebuilt in the 18th century, early neo-gothic. Impressive array of box pews, if that’s your thing. New art by the west door, a new door. Quite arresting as you enter, for either good or bad reasons. It’s an inspiring community with a strong sense of mission. The fact that the nearby bookshop plays Bach on the stereo and lets you sit and browse for as long as you want is a definite bonus. 

The churchyard is a haven of wildlife. It’s partly carefully maintained, with straight edges and careful, often interesting planting. Around the north side, nature is set free and wild flowers and garlic is in abundance. It is a place where families spend the afternoon on a May bank holiday; it is blissful.