Thursday, May 30, 2013

Onto the mountain

'Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest' by Wade Davis is a big book in many dimensions. 

Physically the hardback is heavy, unwieldy reading as I stood on the train into London yesterday. It is long - I am in the early 200s and we are only embarking on Mallory's first (of three) expeditions to Everest; and, of theme. It is not simply a book about a failure to conquer the highest of peaks, but of why such an attempt was so important, at that time, when the flower of British youth had been decimated by the Great War, lost to the mud of Flanders, and society yearned for triumph without that appalling adversity. 

Conquering Everest was to help re-establish an Empire at ease with itself as it reached, as it happened, its greatest geographical extent.

The failure of that attempt is to come but the as portrait of its age, seen through the particular lens of well-heeled adventurers (as well as explorers and scientists) is beautifully done. You taste both the luxury of a beneficent life (on, as E.M. Forster would note, so many £100s of pounds a year) and the stark shadow cast upon it by the brutality of the Great War, shattering hopes and realigning comittments. 

Once again I was reminded that possibly it was so many floundering in the Flanders' hell of mud encrusted decaying bodies and with so many killed by abstract ideals and to little practical purpose, is a reason why modern day secularism is aligned with those countries that were significantly impacted by that terrible conflict. Would American exceptionalism in this regard have weathered a year or more of war (rather than the short sharp shock they, in fact, suffered)? You can only too easily see God slipping away with one's own footing in the muddy waste.

The book is beautifully vicarious for one like me who has never evinced any desire to climb anything (though the exploration gene I can recognise in myself) and that sense of extraordinary freedom it must have granted these particular men at this particular time after four years or more of a strange, horrifying confinement.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A banker's responsibility

Having helped found two banks (small but perfectly formed and directly aimed at securing financial inclusion for the 'unbankable'), one of the most puzzling aspects of our financial crisis is the assumption that it is debtors who are to blame.

This is most notable in Europe. One of the reasons why Germany is so keen on austerity for the Mediterranean South is that German banks themselves are heavily exposed to Southern lending. Default would ripple through the system upending apparent 'Northern' probity.

It is puzzling because it seems obvious to me that the decision to lend is that of the bank and, therefore, they co-own the responsibility, indeed the responsibility is more gravely their's than the borrowers.

If one of our loans went bad, obviously one's ego (and anxiety) pointed the finger at the borrower. It is their fault, how dare they etc. but calmer reflection brought you back to the obvious point that it was your decision, and reflecting on that decision individually, usually suggested to you that they were signs  intimating that you were going to make a mistake - either in the character of the borrower, the nature of their business or the market in which it sat.

It is a bank's responsibility to be wiser than in its customer in the matter of lending and paying back, that is its presumed expertise, and it appears to be a simple fact we keep forgetting in our crushing anxiety over how to get out of the mess we find ourselves in (and not go back to it when we are finally in the clear).

The old cliche that it takes two to tango (and one is the lead partner) is never more true than here.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Magic at Wittenham

A day spent at the Wittenham Clumps (and Dorchester on Thames). The Clumps stand on a hill above the Thames valley from which the views emanate as gentling spectacle shot through with modernity.

To one side is the very visible Didcot Power Station, though soon to be decommissioned and eventually dismantled, to another, distant power project which is JET - the Joint European Taurus - an experimental nuclear fusion reactor wanting to take off where Didcot's coal steps down. I thought the transiency of both would not outlive the trees, these trees or their successor trees. The natural world is transient but our makings more so.

But even the lumbering Didcot fails to dominate a vision of distant hills, a closer, meandering river and the scattered villages of Oxfordshire, most prominent of which is Dorchester itself.

Dorchester on Thames is a town out of time, bypassed by the main road, it stands in its own stillness. At the beautifully simple Abbey, they were rehearsing for an evening performance of Sir Arthur Sullivan's 'The Golden Legend'. It seemed apt - a Victorian cantata - a piece of serious music from a composer wholly secured in the popular imagination for his collaboration on comic operettas with W.S. Gilbert. A piece of music out of the mainstream in a village similarly displaced!

The Wittenham Clumps were a favourite theme of the neo-Romantic English twentieth century painter, Paul Nash. He painted them throughout his career (as above, towards the end of his life). They were endlessly suggestive (akin to Cezanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire) to exploration and offered themselves both to realistic presentation, formal exploration and imaginative transformation. This latter mode is evident in the painting above - the moon rises on the summer solstice and the magic suggested stretches beyond the natural.

I first visited, many years ago, when I lived near by, cycling to Little Wittenham and the locks on the river and walking up to the Clumps, round to Dorchester and back. I usually went on a weekday, when all was collected and still and you had the trees and their accompanying 'iron age fort' to yourself. They became imprinted as a magical space, and they ever remain as such.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Acedia & Apathy

Kathleen Norris has developed a excellent reputation as a writer of books that are part autobiography, part spiritual reflection, part cultural critique. Her 'Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks and a Writer's Life' is no exception. In a discursive, circumambulatory way, she explores the Desert monks notion of 'acedia', its cultural history and modern relevance.

'Acedia' is not an easy concept to grasp. It was the foundational 'evil thought' in the fourth century monk and theologian, Evagrius', list of eight such patterns of thinking that together combine to lead us astray. In the medieval world, they become hardened, and reified, as the 'seven deadly sins' from the list of which 'acedia' has fallen by the way side, co-opted and supplanted by 'pride'.

'Acedia' is 'boredom' or 'lassitude' with or in what is present. 'Here', right now, is not a good and necessary place to be. 'There' might be. Let us not stick with being here, let us go there (wherever, pick your distraction).

Or, alternatively, 'Here', right now, is not a good place to be, and, frankly, no 'there' is, it will be just another 'Here', why bother moving, you can engage with life's meaning nowhere, it does not have one, let's despair.

'Acedia' has you moving betwixt distraction or despair; and, though it has always been with us, it may be a peculiarly modern affliction. Traditional societies bear patterns of shared meaning making, in their communal repetitions of known histories, shared stories and symbols that shelter us. In our ever fracturing 'post-modernity', we are left to our own devices and so the effort to engage, to share, to be at home in the world, and grateful for its gifts, is potentially harder.

Kathleen Norris notes that after the traditional remedy of 'naming our affliction' (rather than suffering it anonymously), one response is 'enthusiasm' - to repulse 'acedia' by engaging in a zealous activity that is preferable repeatable, repetitive- a monk might sing psalms or repair the hay loft, Norris sings psalms, bakes bread and walks.

But one dimension Norris misses, except a brief passage towards the end, is the importance of cultivating 'apatheia'.

Now you might think 'apathy' is a strange antidote to 'boredom' (indeed they sound perilously close) but for the Desert monks, 'apatheia' was the counterpointed opposite to, and transcender of, 'acedia'. So rather than a floppy, what does it all matter, boredom, you can have 'apatheia' which is a vigilant, awake, dynamic stillness that creates a space within where our thoughts can emerge, we can watch them and turn away from those that lead us down paths of self-destruction, 'acedia' included. It allows us to handle and navigate what is present, the 'space in mind' that liberates us from the confinement of our 'thoughts'.

Norris reading of the tradition is very Protestant (for all her communing with Catholic monks), it is an activist, practical focus on more skilful, less busy, 'doing' (as, I think, befits her nature and outlook) but there is a whole, complementary dimension, that of contemplatively 'being with' one's states of mind in a radically deepened mindful attention that eludes her, even as some of its most acute representatives, like Thomas Merton, make welcome appearances in her book. We need both how to 'be' better and how to 'do' more skilfully, less hastily. We need to believe in the possibility of the transformation of consciousness as well as in its more skilful navigation.

It is, nonetheless, a lovely, rich book for anyone, which is probably everyone, that finds themselves, periodically either frantically busy but to what purpose or stuck in a place of 'whatever' or 'so what' (or, paradoxically, I notice, in both at the same time)!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Secular icons

Today, with a friend, I went to the Pallant Gallery in Chichester, which is a jewel of a place, to see three exhibitions (and eat an excellent lunch, thank you Nick).

The one that made the deepest impression, quietly amplifying in attention and memory, were the hospital drawings of Barbara Hepworth. These she worked on in 1948. They are pictures of surgeons and nurses preparing or conducting operations.

She, and her husband, Ben Nicholson, had recently had the experience of a major health crisis with their daughter that was both stressful in itself and had come near to beggaring them in the pre-National Health Service world.

These pictures were created, in part, out of Hepworth's gratitude for medical skill and for the birth of a National Health Service that made such skill available to all, free at the point of delivery.

The pictures of simplified forms with compassionate eyes and caring and skilled hands are like secular icons. They draw you into a world where you are suspended into the hands of others - witnessing to the reality that our lives depend on one another. They speak both of a time when such solidarity was struggled after and found and of a reality that is always present waiting to be rediscovered.

They have a beautiful luminosity - all grace is offered through light.

R. B. Kitaj's perspective, however, was more pessimistic as might befit an outsider, a Jew in the middle of the twentieth century. He could paint celebration but more likely is either a sense of foreboding or political and social criticism or both. He was a wonderful draughtsman as especially revealed in his pastels of which one example is here. Three women, possibly prostitutes, hang out together on the shore line, across the sea, obvious to only one, passes a military plane. The picture is entitled. 'The Rise of Fascism' and one of the sports of the exhibition was connecting title to subject matter (and this one happily defeats me). But the three vulnerable woman are fabulous: pensive, happily oblivious and anxious in turn.

The last small exhibition concerned a gift to the gallery of engravings, drawings and related memorabilia by Paul Nash. It was lovely to see this intimate, personal accumulation of works given by Nash to a friend over time. The engravings are wonderful, like this one: 'The Dyke by the Road' from 1922. I love their balance between being representational and recognising the abstract forms that abide in the world and through this balance achieving a beautiful simplicity of depiction. Nash was a 'neo-Romantic' and his worlds breathe with animation. There is nothing that is lifeless - everything is bound: energy in delight.

Amongst the memorabilia was a wonderful 'begging letter' for financial support for the first Surrealist exhibition in England at the base of which is a list of both the English and French organising committees - an extraordinary array of the gifted - an invitation to fund genius (and magic)!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Another day, another evening event on Syria

If you could consciously invent an humanitarian disaster that would fail to get traction on the imagination of the general public, it would be the tragic events unfolding in Syria and its neighbours.

It is not a sudden onset, natural catastrophe inflicted on people already poor who you can see as wholly blameless: an act of God (though more likely due to tectonic plates or seriously inclement weather).

It is a long drawn out, man made, political crisis with no discernable end. A civil war in which all sides carry the potential for blame: an authoritarian regime meets opposition groups, some of which are steadily being radicalised in an Islamist direction (that makes us, in 'the West', nervous and disconnected).

The people themselves, the innocent, displaced victims of conflict are from a middle income country. They may arrive in Lebanon or Jordan on the verge of destitution and traumatised but they do not look impoverished.

Nor do they come from a part of the world with which many of us have an 'instinctive' connection (and one that has had a more or less relentlessly 'bad' press - a place of trouble and strife).

The simple reality, however, is that millions of people who two years ago were leading normal, recognisable lives of hope, struggle and ordinariness find themselves, bombed, terrorised, driven from their homes, seeking safety, either elsewhere in the country or in their neighbours. One of these, Turkey, can cope. The other three - Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon cannot (however hospitable they have been to date).

Lebanon alone has received (officially) 500,000 people, 1,000,000 (unofficially) that is one quarter of the existing population of the country. Akin to 16,000,000 people turning up in the UK to live!

The gap between the funding need and the resources offered is wide and stark. We (Oxfam) need £30 million to provide 100,000s of people with clean water and sanitation and assistance in buying food and household essentials. We have raised £6 million to date, slowly and painfully, not discounting many people's wonderful generosity.

I spent this evening with a group of donors, actual and potential, listening to one of our workers in the field. At the end, she read a poem, down the telephone line from Beirut, written by a twelve year old girl, a refugee whose school had been bombed. The poem was a paean to her home in Syria written out of the pain of her displacement. It was heart breaking and real. It is one of those moments that make you lament our collective human stupidity and be deeply grateful that this is not the final accounting. We do respond, too slowly, often in too small a measure, but we respond.

Mark, our CEO, told of one family being joined by other of its members in a crowded house in Jordan, waking to find food on their doorstep, left anonymously by a Jordanian neighbour, seeing the new arrivals. That is the spirit of generosity that you hope will be eventually triumphant. May it be joined by many others. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Howards End

The epigraph to Howards End of 'Only connect...' is a famous one but what does it mean?

Having re-read E. M. Forster's 'best novel' (his own valuation), I realise that there are, at least, three.

The first, and dominant one, is in the sphere of human relationships. Establishing true connection is found in living a life freed of hypocrisy. Mr Wilcox cannot have a mistress and have it forgiven by his second wife and yet retreat into conventional approbation when the forgiving wife's sister is discovered as pregnant out of wedlock. Our behaviours must strive after a coherent whole. We cannot live in compartments; however, superficially, comfortable.

The second is to connect with particular places. The first Mrs Wilcox - intuitively seeing if outwardly muddled (a type of person who was to be reprised in the figure of Mrs Moore in A Passage to India) - had meant Margaret (unknowingly to become the second Mrs Wilcox) to have Howards End because the place suited her and she suited it. They mutually granted it life. It was a place whose character would anchor Margaret's. Particular places shape particular beings.

The third is to connect with the earth itself. Howards End is replete with continuous references to a world passing away, overcome by rootlessness and speed. Margaret's family home must be surrendered when its lease is up to be rendered into new apartments. The motor car's appearance (and the travel therein) renders the countryside a passing blur rather than a place to dwell. The unfortunate Leonard Bast breaks free from his servitude as clerk and an unsatisfactory marriage to venture into the nocturnal countryside, critically on foot! It is his defining adventure.

Only connect... might also suggest a pattern of meaning that the world has but which cannot be baldly stated. Forster was not, by any counts, a religious man, but he was open to mystery, a sense that what we understand by life is always and everywhere positioned beyond what we can explain. It is a world that is deeply respectful of any enterprise after understanding that does not close down into 'the' explanation - religious, moral or scientific.

Forster is a genuine liberal - the deepest value lies in the recognition that not all our values can be reconciled one with another and that the best place to be in response to this is to acknowledge it and to be in a felt compassion, a connection, one with another. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Before and after

The illustration above is of Job and his family secure in their (self) righteous assumption that all is well. They are a pious, believing family, secure in their household and followers of the law whose open text is on Job's lap.

The illustration below is of Job and his family after Job's trials at the hand of Satan, his encounter face to face with God, and the restoration and renewal of his family's life. The musical instruments of Divine inspiration which in the first plate hang, unattended, on the tree have, in the last plate of Blake's magnificent series, been taken down and Job and his family play on joyfully, serenely.

In this fine juxtaposition is William Blake's whole abiding message: nothing replaces a genuine opening to the experience of the 'divine within' and that experience is shaped both within a recognisable pattern and is wholly unique to every individual person.

Job's trial by Satan is a trial by his own 'selfhood' by his own imprisoning egotism which when burnt away, broken through, restores us to our original face, God's face, and we party!

Blake, of course, recognised that what is represented here is an 'ideal process' from which there is no going back. Most of us, including Blake himself, recognise that our journeys are usually more prosaic - we glimpse illumination, we move forward, we stumble back into our imprisoning ego, we glimpse again. A spiral upwards, taken slowly, rather than a dramatic descent and redemption.

This series of 21 plates that form Blake's visual commentary on the Book of Job is one of the great monuments of iconographic art and Kathleen Raine's commentary (in The Human Face of God) is masterly. There is another wonderful juxtaposition from a plate where Job charitably dispenses bread (with pious manner and reluctant hands) to a later plate where the restored family and friends of Job live within an economy of gift, freely offered, celebratory in its sharing. Blake continually balances the most penetrating explorations of the inward self with a recognition of their outward social consequences.

The world is remade in how we see.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Human Face of God

When I was nine or ten, my mother found me, sitting up in bed, one Saturday morning reading the Book of Job. I think this was spurred by sibling rivalry as my (elder) brother, at the time, was reading the whole Bible from cover to cover (though whether he finished it entire I cannot recall). I was captivated by the text, its strangeness and its poetry, but I doubt whether I understood very much and cannot now recall why it was this particular book I chose.

One of William Blake's last major works was his engraved illustrations to the Book of Job and Kathleen Raine in her 'The Human Face of God: William Blake and the Book of Job' gives a magisterial and compelling account of the meaning and poetry that Blake infused into these illustrations.

The Book of Job was a foundational text for Blake and his interpretation of it, unsurprisingly radical. In it Job is transformed through the suffering of his ignorance and the consequent divine illumination from a man secure in his self-righteousness, a follower of the letter of the law, to one who sees himself entire as carried within, and sustained by, the Divine Imagination. His is a story of a metaphysical descent to the edge of creation, where the void of matter and quantity reigns, back towards the realm of qualities that are fashioned in the Divine mind. Both journeys are intimately linked in Blake's mind because we become what we behold - our vision of the world is one both ethical and metaphysical: who we are is what we know, what we see is what we become.

It was another great interpreter of Blake's world, E.P. Thompson, who criticised Kathleen for her overly esoteric (or other worldly) interpretation of Blake's world. Thompson was concerned for how Blake's radical religion informed his politics. It is true that she does not bring this to the fore. It is not the focus of her interest but it is vividly present. At one point she notes Job (in the fifth plate) giving an elderly man a loaf of bread and uses it, highly effectively, to comment on Blake's thoughts on charity. Job's charity looks and feels like a righteous obligation, given without any abiding compassion. Blake's view of charity was that it ought to be unnecessary: why should we live in a world where any body is in need. Charity for Blake always had 'a cold connotation':

"Is this a holy thing to see
  In a rich and fruitful land
  Babes reduced to misery
  Fed with a cold and usurious hand?"

A question as apt now, sadly, as it was then.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The play of memory

When I was in the Pushkin gallery in Moscow recently, a gallery I know intimately, I was surprised to discover this fabulous painting of an old woman by Rembrandt was not there. If you had asked me at the time to swear on my mother's life (and she was with me) that this painting belonged in the Pushkin, I would have been tempted to such a wager!

But it is not! In fact, it is in Stockholm's National Gallery where I have seen it, not multiple times (as I might in the Pushkin) but, only once, on a brief visit between meetings a year or so ago!

This can be read as a testimony to the arresting nature of Rembrandt's art. The ability to create familiarity instantly. Love at first sight! It can be read as the fickleness of memory, that it plays tricks is a cliche, but cliches are only truths grown over familiar!

But interestingly I think there was another dimension at play. The major exhibition at the Stockholm gallery at the time was only too familiar namely nineteenth century Russian art. It remains a surprise to see it travelling (though it ought for being uniquely itself and of high quality and still unfamiliar).  So I was amongst friends, especially my beloved Nesterov: what could be more natural than to insert a newly loved painting (the Rembrandt) into this familiar matrix of memory and carry it over into its most likely contiguous space - the Pushkin in Moscow - down the road and over the river but close to the nineteenth century Russian arts most likely resting place at the Tretyakov!

This illustrates rather beautifully the creativity of memory: what we are beholding is not 'what happened' but a creative elaboration of our pasts, made to fit within spaces at once familiar, safe and conforming with prejudice (seen as a neutral term). The questioning of memory thus becomes not only 'what happened' but what do I need to have happened in order that it make sense and in that questioning I need a much deeper sense of my own assumptions than I would normally assume!

A painting to be loved must require familiarity (I assume) and that familiarity must come from repeated seeing (I assume) thus it must be in a place regularly visited (I assume).

All of which proved to be wholly questionable!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The necessity of being disillusioned

Two films of female awakening one based on a book I recently read: 'I Capture the Castle', one based on a book I have not read: 'Brick Lane'. Both drawing on very different visions of England.

In the former, history plays no apparent part - the whole world is the personal world of its narrator, Cassandra. In the latter, history unfolds as a shaping background, we see the startling, shattering events of 9/11, observing some of their consequences even as the focus remains squarely on the personal dilemmas of Nazneen in relation to her family and her place.

The film of 'I Capture the Castle', enjoyable as it is in its own right, coarsens the book in two ways. The first is that it makes the characters, with the exception of Cassandra herself, less likeable. Events, happenings and sayings are invented to support this, often directly against the flow of the book's unfolding narrative. In the book even the predatory photographer, Leda, comes to be begrudgingly accepted into the space of Cassandra's regard.

Second, and more importantly perhaps, the film cannot resist 'explaining things'. In the book, things happen, erupt, bump along in the mysteriousness of their humanity. Being 17, Cassandra cannot be expected to understand everything. Can we at 70? Stuff happens and the miracle of life, suggests Dodie Smith, the book's author, is that we navigate it in all its complexity, finding joy, suffering pain, coping. The film obtrudes a 'knowing narrative' that tries to create connecting linkages: everything must be neatly packaged for the audience, closing down, rather opening up, their own imaginative resources.

Nazneen's awakening is to discover that, to her surprise, she loves her husband (arranged, older, pompous, full of crushed hope and the trail of false prospects yet fundamentally kind) Yet she cannot return with him to Bangladesh when he finds all meaningful paths closed to him in England. She cannot return for her daughters' sake, nor hers. She has rejected the excitement of the younger man, of divorce and re-marriage after their adultery together (and his radicalisation after 9/11) and has realised that her younger sister, left behind in Bangladesh, has trodden a much more difficult path than her own disappointed romantic hopes had projected onto her, greatly more difficult, in fact, than her own. She turns, the film suggests, to her own resources and possibilities and to the fragmented but real life she has been given.

Both are, at heart, about more than coping with the heart's affections, of finding through 'disillusionment' more hopeful prospects - one at the outset of adulthood, one at the midpoint. Both books were written at a time of crisis - Smith's in the Second World War, Ali's in the birth of the war on terrorism - but both affirm the reality of domestic space in very different settings and the resources of that space to give life if it is lived clearly, without illusion and with small, but tender, hopes.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The monk and climate change

What does a fourth century monk, St Anthony the Great, have to teach us about climate change (or indeed ecological engagement in general)?

Sketching (in detail) an answer to this question is at the heart of Douglas E. Christie's "The Blue Sapphire of the Mind: Notes for a Contemplative Ecology".

Three things (at least) come to mind.

The first is the Desert monastic tradition's emphasis on the 'gift of tears'. The recognition that we are alienated both from our best selves and from our places. Mourning what we have lost (and what we fail to be) is a good place, felt St Anthony, to begin the task of a proper assessment of what we might intelligently be responsible for and what we might change. We are all implicated in our gathering ecological crisis, more or less. We all know places, loved and known, that are no more, erased by our ever moving 'progress'. It might be a sensible step to acknowledge this, weep for it, and cleansed by tears begin to see more clearly, more resolutely. Christie writes beautifully of how numbing our (un)conscious sense of responsibility can be, phasing into denial, what we might need is a good jolt of appropriate mourning to jump start a real felt sense of where we are now. We do not really want to recognise that we are 'all sinners' so we will deny reality. Grief is a path to a renewed sense of reality.

The second is the cultivation of attention. Do we genuinely look at the world about us with cleansed, clear eyes? What happens when we do? We begin, suggests Christie, to see the world as an inter-connected whole, beautiful and cherish-able. The monastic Desert tradition has a rich and complex tradition of how such a deepening of consciousness can be achieved through patient discipline (and a touch of grace). Even if such seeing does not, as it did for the monks, lead you through to a transcendent subject that contains and brings forth the world as gift, it does offer an invitation to a way of seeing that recognises the naturally gifted beauty in things, freed of our preconceptions (and self-centring emotions).

The third is a sense that we are both 'at home' and 'on a journey'. St Anthony exhibited great love of the mountain where he took up his hermitage yet retained a sense of abiding 'detachment' towards things. At one level, this is a paradox, and if not held together led to a Christian devaluing of this world in preference to 'the next' but if held together can make for a genuine disposition in the world: loving it but not grasping it, recognising and 'surfing' its transiency, wanting to share it with others, now and for future generations.

Christie never suggests that there is a simple translation between the Desert Fathers and Mothers and a contemporary approach to valuing our common home but he plays beautifully with the comparisons and opens out an old set of resources for renewing use, usefulness. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Leaving aside the sea momentarily, Mediterraneo is both the name of one of my favourite films (by Gabriele Salvatores) about a handful of misfit Italian soldiers who 'take control' of a Greek island emptied of its active men folk during the Second World War only to find themselves enraptured by the place (and forgotten by the war) and is now an album by the incomparable L'Arpeggiata.

I expect Christiana Pluhar/L'Arpeggiata are stalked by Early Music true believers with placards denouncing their audacity for running creative roughshod through 'authenticity'! However, thankfully for the majority, they pursue the joy of re-creation, of being faithful through making new; and, the music they make is movingly gorgeous!

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I was a very factual child who read mostly history and studied maps (and watched Westerns and documentaries). It was not until I was si...