My reading year, 2022

Too little read, but some marvellous volumes in the mix. The most satisfying were both published by Thames & Hudson: Frances Spalding’s ‘The Real and the Romantic’ and Christopher Neve’s ‘Unquiet Landscape’. There was significant overlap in each – Spalding writing about British art between the wars, Neve focussed on British artistic responses to the landscape – and both were beautifully written, expecting the reader to do so work, but providing much fresh insights interestingly revealed.

The two books by Richard Coles couldn’t have been more different. His exploration of grief, following the death of his partner offers valuable, very personal, insights and could be beneficial reading for many. His clerical detective fiction novel was hampered by a light plot and writing that was either not trying at all or trying too hard.

It was wonderful to read again a clutch of novels by both Alan Garner and Chaim Potok. Both deal with mystery, the other, place and community and both are written with surety and intelligence. It feels as if their work has been wrung out of them, but they have different ways of expressing the intimacy of their work – Garner’s prose is lean, every word pared to necessity, while Potok is expansive, working in circles that draw and ever more detailed web of divine and human connections.

Below is the full list with reviews – some extensive, some very brief.

1. The Tyseley Story, Michael Whitehouse, Lightmoor Press, 9781899889924. Being born and brought up in Hall Green, Birmingham, Tyseley was only three stops away on the local line into the city centre. Dad, being a lifelong railway enthusiast and childhood train spotter (although from LNER served haunts), regularly took me to Tyseley’s Birmingham Railway Museum open days back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While dad loved any steam locomotives he was always keen to impress upon me the pre-eminence of Gresley’s engineering. However, Tyseley locomotive shed revealed the Brunswick Green (or BR equivalent) copper-capped elegance of GWR tapered boilers and I was hooked. I never knew the GWR in its pre-Nationalisation glory, or even steam in BR days, but those were the locomotives, that was the railway company that caught my imagination. Then, years later, when I learnt about the broad gauge and the beauty of Brunel’s (Gooch’s, Dean’s) single driving wheel expresses I was totally smitten.

Strong memories remain of those early open days. A mass of men in gaberdine overcoats, suits and ties, carrying 35mm cameras on leather straps. The ground crunching with black coal, or clinker. The smell of oil mixed with steam. Stands selling railwayana with steam organs, fairground rides and traction engines at every turn. Men proudly oiling 5” gauge models, and me riding on open coaches on elevated circuits of track. And, of course, the locomotives. Prints of Clun Castle and Kolaphur graced my walls for years. I remember seeing Bishop Eric Treacey on the footplate of the Black Five locomotive named after him. If an Anglican bishop was endorsing this love of steam then I, as a devout altar boy, had the perfect excuse to be faithful to two religions. Then there was the day Sir Nigel Gresley (or was it Mallard?) was scheduled to run past at speed on the mainline and we, along with a great cloud of like-minded witnesses high-tailed it down to the locomotive works to try, with small cameras and no zoom lenses, to capture this streak of blue wonder. It was mysterious, magical and arcane – rather like Mass at our inner city Anglo-Catholic Church, where I, as boat boy, was gradually working my way up to becoming head thurifer, much as an engine shed cleaner would progress to fireman and eventually locomotive driver.

So, this book, detailing well those early days of the Tyseley preserved steam organisation, is firstly a trip of pure nostalgia. A relic of childhood. Having only recently laid my father’s ashes to rest in the cemetery just down the road from Tyseley I scanned the book’s photos with half an eye trying to catch sight of him, or even pre-school me, in the crowds. However, there is much more interest in The Tyseley Story than that. Yes, I do have a few grumbles. As someone who was fascinated by the work going on to restore Albert Hall (and who still has the 1970s Hornby loco model) but knew nothing of its transformation into an earlier incarnation, Rood Ashton Hall, until an open day visit in 2013, I would have loved to have heard more about how this original identity was discovered and the decision made to change the name. There are also a few production issues. While much of the prose is of a reasonable standard, because there are different contributors, with some articles taken from other publications, there is considerable overlap. The selection of photos is excellent (I keep going back to them); however the captions are disappointing, being simply repetitions from the main body text, often appearing side-by-side. A thorough copy-edit should have cleaned out these issues and also dealt with the page where words and letters decided to play musical chairs.

These caveats aside – and after thirty years as a bookseller I’m bound to have certain standards – this is a thoroughly informative and enjoyable read. Its strengths, apart from the photographs, centre around the insight it provides into the formation and culture of the preserved railway scene. There have been some huge battles and hurdles for our heritage railway lines and centres to overcome to get started, survive and flourish. I see many similarities with rural churches – with the general society losing touch with the past that these institutions evoke, with aging volunteers, the loss of key workers with key skills, the sense that they are keepers of ancient mysteries, with fresh environmental, financial and pandemic induced pressures. Whitehouse is, however, clear, that (just like our church communities) for railway heritage organisations to survive they must catch a forward-facing vision, one which embraces change, which, in Church terms, seeks to tell the Gospel story for a new generation. You get the feeling that his association – Vintage Trains – and Tyseley Locomotive Works are among the forefront of the organisations that will see steam railways remaining an important, visible and experienceable part of British culture right through the twenty-first century.

2. ‘The Stone Book Quartet’, Alan Garner, Collins, 9780001842892. Four short novels, first published in the 1970s, gathered into one volume that offer pinhole camera-like images of the generations of one family from the mid nineteenth century to the Second World War. Set in the Northwest of England the minutiae of rural life is seen through the eyes of four children on the cusp – of revelation, of adulthood, of purpose, of momentous world change rippling out into the little pools of their patch. We begin with a stone mason, who builds the walls of the parish, both domestic and agricultural – the boundaries that keep us safe and keep us out – as well as the vital architecture of the village – church at one end, chapel at the other. One child rebels from the family trade to become a smith because, as he discerns, at the back of every mason is a smith – the one who makes the tools the mason requires to do his work. At the quartet’s conclusion the last smith damps down the forge fire and locks the door forever. The Second World War is roaring overhead, the speed of change has accelerated, mechanisation has rendered his role redundant. But how will his grandson, who he gifts the key to the forge, find his own way in an increasingly uncertain, urbanised and pressurised world?

These early novels stand in a direct line with ‘Treacle Walker’ and other works of Garner’s late maturity. They display his signature clarity, economy of line, playful use of language, the rolling of dialect, of children’s private speech, their knowingness and their innocence, of old skills and tools that grounded a person in their place, connected them to the land on which they dwelt, the earth that gives and takes away. What’s missing, although there is a sense that it is just around the corner, is the magic naturalism of much of his later writing, the bringing alive of the myths and legends of the land, the genii loci that weave humanity into one fabric with the rest of creation. That extra layer of mythical interconnectedness is wonderful – disconcerting, but wonderful – yet the four novels of ‘The Stone Book Quartet’ prove that even without it Alan Garner is a most unnervingly beautiful, earthed and vital writer.

3. ‘English Grounds’, Andrew Rumsey, SCM Press, 9780334061144. This is a book that plays to my own interests, especially being grounded in place, in parish. As the Bishop of Ramsbury travels around the Salisbury Diocese he observes and muses, often with considerable erudition and evocative, well-placed language. History, pre-history, social, political, natural history all mix in to explore the values that shift or bind society, the units of organisation that are best placed to fulfil the remit of justice, compassion, care, a flourishing future for all. Nature intrudes, or makes its lasting presence felt and mystery edges over the plains. The land – with its own rhythms of centuries, millennia, rises into view time and again as earthing of the essential us. Rural parishes, rural villages are understood as the patient backbone of the Church of England – taken for granted, ignored, mistreated, patronised because they don’t have the flash or the cash of their suburban neighbours, yet without them the whole structure would collapse.

Mixing his wide scope of knowledge and interests together Andrew Rumsey has produced another thoughtful, challenging, book that unpicks and restitches the patchwork of parishes that criss-cross this country, reminding us of the myriad threads intertwined within and between each one to form the cloth, sometimes gaudy, sometimes rustic, sometimes more frayed than functional, that makes up our state Church.

There are some lovely turns of phrase, powerful images, pushing insights, moments where boundaries are reformed or broken. What Arran would make of being included in book titled ‘English Grounds’ I don’t know, and it is a shame that this book has been published by the academic SCM Press, rather than Canterbury Press as a paperback format with a lower cover price which would have opened it out for many more folk to enjoy.

4. ‘On a Glass Lightly’, Simon Whistler, Libanus Press, 9780948921619. Laurence Whistler, brother of the more famous Rex and father of Simon, almost single-handedly rescued the art of glass engraving in Britain. Simon was taught by his father from childhood, and in this book admits to never really feeling as if he was out of his shadow. Laurence died in 2000, and Simon in 2005, of motor neurone disease. Sadly, the art that they revived has few proponents in the UK today and there are no full-time courses teaching it. Which is a shame, because at its best glass engraving is possibly the most liminal of all the fine arts. It simultaneously holds your eye and transports you through into another dimension, space, world.

Simon, who talks of making his living through ‘scratching’ was not just an artist but also a talented professional musician, working for thirty years as a violinist in ensembles such as the English Chamber Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Eventually, the call of the glass proved stronger and from the mid-nineties until his death he devoted himself to the art.

Much of this information you can glean from the memoir part of this book, which is both honest and partial. There is much that he doesn’t say about his life, or about what really drew him to keep going with the engraving. As for the work itself, the photography in the book is excellent, but it can never do the pieces justice. You really do have to see them in situ. Many of the smal er pieces – bowls, goblets, dishes and decanters – are in private collections, so not easily viewable, however in his later years Simon focussed more on church commissions. This was something his father (with his help) had done most memorably at the ‘glass church’ of St Nicholas, Moreton, Dorset.

It is hard to describe the work, you really do need to see it. But it is exquisitely beautiful. The bowls and goblets especially make full use of the shape of the vessel and the ability to engrave all round on inside and out to create landscapes that truly transport the eye. Simon Whistler was a wonderful draughtsman with a great love of landscape and architecture who could (painstakingly, one stipple at a time) conjure worlds out of light.

Back in 1993, when we still lived in Salisbury, there was an exhibition of the work of father and son in the city museum, in the Close a few doors along from brother/uncle Rex’s former house. We visited it and were transported by the pieces – although we already knew of Laurence’s work from the examples in the Cathedral. We also heard Simon talking about his work. This must have been just before he went full time. Everything we saw was enchanting on many levels – partly because of its luminosity, partly the virtuosity of technique, but also because there was something deeply spiritual, in the manner of George Herbert, about almost every vessel and window.

5. ‘The Weirdstone of Brisingamen’, Alan Garner, HarperCollins, 9780006742937. First published in 1960, this is the title that opens the Weirdstone trilogy and I believe I have read it before, but not for nearly 50 years. So, maybe that’s why I can’t remember anything about it, just a vague unsettling feeling that there is something nasty lurking in the woodpile. This is a children’s book, but it is Alan Garner, so it possibly isn’t. The old gods of Britain are rising all along Alderley Edge, and two children, booted northwards from their soft southern family life, are caught up in the swirling midst of magic and mayhem. The Edge is pivotal as the balance between good and evil teeters, the land clagging and releasing, breathing its own presence into the bones of the tale. Brutal violence breaks the boundaries keeping the old ways and humanity from meeting, but this isn’t horror, or a thriller, nor could it be easily passed off as British magic realism. Yet there is a hint of that, of the world of myth, of glamour, always writhing round at the edges of daily experience. A gripping, satisfying and discomforting read the more I think about it the more I can see it raises about borderlands, ancient tracks and otherness.

6. ‘The Filthy Quiet’, Kate Noakes, Parthian, 9781912681020.

7. ‘Cape Town’, Kate Noakes, Eyewear Publishing, 9781908998026. Kate Noakes poetry is witty, intense, personal and caught me in the raw several times. ‘The Filthy Quiet’ unpicks a relationship, a tense, brutal unstitching of a life, skimmed with love and soaked in bitterness, but it ends with resurrection, a new love and a sensual, soaring hope. ‘Cape Town’ takes a trip across South Africa zoning down onto tiny details and scoping outwards to encompass land and skyscape. Both collections twist and glow with versatility and vibrancy.

8. ‘The Moon of Gomrath’, Alan Garner, HarperCollins, 9780007127870. Re-reading Alan Garner is a very rewarding experience. Writing of rare quality with no padding and no words out of place.

9. ‘Take this Bread’, Sara Miles, Canterbury Press, 9781848252141. Re-read to create a Lent Course for my new parishes, I found Sara Miles energy, vision and passion as fresh as ever. As she rises to the opportunities of faith and foodbanks she offers a profound and vivid challenge to traditional concepts of Church.

10. ‘Tales of a Country Parish’, Colin Heber-Percy, Short Books, 9781780724973. The Archbishop of York, when discussing the Lord’s Prayer, has distinguished between ‘living in’ and ‘living on’ the earth. ‘Living on’ might imply walking over, trampling, while ‘living in’ has connotations of rooted connection with neighbourhood and landscape. In Tales of a Country Parish Colin Heber-Percy emerges unequivocally as ‘living in’ a corner of the Savernake Forest, his longstanding home and, more recently, his place of ministry. As an accomplished screenwriter who teaches philosophy and metaphysics, he is also comfortable ‘living in’ the worlds of words, images and ideas which infuse his writing with vigour and variety, allowing his parish-centred view to speak to wider horizons.

For many clergy the enforced closure of our churches during the pandemic’s initial phases prompted urgent reappraisal of how we continued ministering, making a virtue out of distance in our contact with parishioners and in the new forms of worship we were busily devising. Colin Heber-Percy saw as vital the maintenance of existing, and the making of fresh, connections with the souls in his care. A daily reflective email became his way of keeping in touch, sharing the pain, confusion and fear of lockdown while offering spiritual support, sustenance and challenge.

This book, described by the author as both ‘a record of a remarkable year’ and ‘a hymn to a holy land’, is the result, split into four sections covering each season. In spending time that sharpened his sense of the sacred discernible in home and hillside, he created relationships that rippled out from his parishes around the world, providing solace to folk quarantined in hotels in Thailand, snowed in above the Norwegian line of the Arctic circle, or recovering from Covid in intensive care. By laying bare his own negotiations through the tangled wires sent sparking by the pandemic, he provided if not a template then a rough worksheet others might use for recalibration and restoration.

The collection encapsulates something of the disconnection and disruption many felt during this year while offering a personal perspective through the lens of the author’s individual specialisms. Initially, the story of his wife’s slow recovery from Covid earths his reflections in the quavering uncertainty we shared globally. A supporting cast of recurring characters, including an adopted stray cat and his unreliable, time-worn Seat Ibiza, provide continuity, alongside a voluminous portmanteau of philosophers and theologians whose insights gently weave a spiritual focus into meetings with potholes, petrol stations and standing stones. Pieces of music chosen to enrich each reflection are suggested at the end of each seasonal section, providing a track-list that chimes remarkably closely with my own lockdown listening. This adds an extra immersive layer to a book which shines with a sense of exploration and generosity towards others, of drawing sustenance from myriad sources while remaining firmly in touch with chalk-encrusted feet searching lost downland tracks. The spirit of Wormingford flows through Colin Heber-Percy’s writing. Long may ‘living in’ be the vocation of all parish priests; indeed, of all who share belief in the incarnation.

11. ‘Drawn to Nature: Gilbert White and the Artists’, Pallant House Gallery, 9781869827755. Beautifully illustrated, with an introduction by David Attenborough (written many years ago) and an essay by Virginia Woolf, this is not quite the book I was hoping for. In essence it is the guide to a Pallant House exhibition of modern and contemporary artistic responses to the enduring writing of ‘The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne’. The artworks are great – you’ll know many of the names: John Nash, Eric Ravilious, Gertrude Hermes, Claire Oldham, Agnes Miller Parker – and it ties in well with the exhibitions we recently saw at Salisbury Museum, one on twentieth century British wood engravers, the other on Howard Phipps. However, the book quickly peters out, leaving pages of striking, gorgeous contemporary illustrations with only the tail smoke of commentary. It is a shame, I was looking for a meaty dissection of how and why White’s relationship with his patch of countryside and his close, questioning observation of fauna and flora resonates so effectively and so creatively with artists down the centuries.

12. ‘Tattoo on Crow Street’, Kate Noakes, Parthian, 9781910409992.

13. ‘Paris, Stage Left’, Kate Noakes, Eyewear Publishing, 9781911335429. Tattoos are not something I understand, they always seem to be the bruising of fruit, a voluntary descent into brokenness, a clouding of purity, a cock-and-balls scribbled over the page of a prayer book. No matter how shapely, intriguing, cryptic they try to be, they always offend. So ‘Tattoo on Crow Street’, a collection of poems about tattoos spied and drawn off the skin onto paper, is a challenge. But they bloom in Kate Noakes poems, inking in some details, real or imagined, of lives intersecting with hers – whether in a queue or a bar, at the hairdresser’s or on the street corner. ‘Paris, Stage Left’ breathes with personhood of the city as Kate Noakes grows into the veins of its streets and begins to make it her home. Playful, sensual, sometimes steel sharp, these are the chronicles of relationship, where the men she meets always seem to be either ciphers for, or subsumed by the twisting, rain-soaked, wine-cloaked personality of Paris. Both books glistered with a joyous immersion into life in all its variety, sometimes unpicking my eyes to the glitter I tend to dismiss as grit.

14. ‘How Village Churches Thrive’, Robert Atwell (Ed), Church House Publishing, 9781781402191. Hugh Dennis’s carefully constructed foreword to How Village Churches Thrive highlights a major conundrum for rural parishes when he describes evident affection for his local village church without once mentioning allegiance to the Christian faith. Similarly, although conversations on the streets of our benefice often include the question ‘How is the church doing?’, they seldom translate into regular engagement with our work and worship. Clearly, support for church buildings as a key component of what defines ‘a village’ persists, particularly among older residents, while the Church is still cautiously perceived as an institution with a positive impact on community life.

Simon Jenkins, who starkly described the Church of England as ‘the museum of the country’, also stated that in church he experiences only ‘the memory of faith present in an old building’. How Village Churches Thrive offers a practical guide to build on the positives of the former statement, exploring how rural churches can assist neighbourhoods to discover what it has meant, does mean and will mean to be living, connected communities. Simultaneously, through gentle probing and widespread examples of good practice, the book provides a fruitful response to the negativity of Sir Simon’s latter remark.

In ten short chapters, written by a variety of authors with a range of experience, Anglican and ecumenical, it covers ten significant areas – including extending a warm welcome, caring for God’s acre, cultivating festivals, reaching the isolated and communicating effectively. Each chapter begins by flagging up three key learning objectives and provides a brief overview of the subject, a selection of case studies and a collection of ‘Great Resources’ giving further depth and inspiration.

More detailed attention on how increasingly large multi-parish benefices might interconnect and develop as the Body of Christ, with each parish contributing skills, resources and experiences to a growing whole, would be extremely useful. However, this project is a starting point, not a fully formed roadmap for a rural renaissance, and it does a commendable job in offering both space and stimulation for individual parishes, or benefices, to envision imaginative strategies applicable to their own situations.

Having suggested to our benefice wardens and readers that this is an ideal book to work through with a PCC or whole church community, I have received an enthusiastic response and am hopeful that this timely volume will give encouragement and inspiration to many involved with growing vibrant, Gospel-centred communities in rural settings.

15. ‘The Real and the Romantic: English Art Between Two World Wars’, Frances Spalding, Thames & Hudson, 9780500518649. This is a corker. Spalding’s writing style is clear, well-structured and full of authority, easily conveyed. The conceit of dividing between Wars English art into the ‘real’ and the ‘romantic’ works. It gives Spalding space to go beyond realism and romanticism, to crossover modernism, surrealism and developments in more traditional genres and to introduce a coterie of artists – often women – not usually discussed. Strangely, for such a beautifully written book, it ends abruptly, with no real conclusion, but maybe that’s a positive as it is not really pushing a thesis, rather illuminating the range and versatility of art in a particular time frame. I will read this again – it is very readable – as it offers so much insight into painters I thought I knew, and opened my eyes to ones I had not met before.

16. ‘The Exhibitionist’, Charlotte Mendelson, Pan Macmillan, 9781529052749. Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, 2022. A truly terrible read. Not that it was badly written, simply because the characters were all so unlikable. This was meant to be relaxing holiday reading. It wound me up totally. The premise was that a married couple of artists have conflict over each other’s work – the husband always insisting that his career takes precedence, but the wife being the truly talented one. A good starting point, and probably reflecting a near universal tension in artistic relationships. However, husband Ray was so unredeemably horrible, with no saving graces whatsoever, that it nullified any attempt at complexity or character growth. A boorish, neurotic, manipulator, utterly self-obsessed, believing everything revolves around him, he was so vile, so extreme, that any of us who exhibit any degree of such tendencies would fail to see ourselves in such an overdrawn caricature. If his wife, Lucia, was such a good artist – she gets offered the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and is inclined to turn it down so as not to hurt her husband’s feelings – then why didn’t she stand up to him? You don’t get such prestigious commissions if you aren’t driven. Eldest daughter, Leah, does everything her father wishes – she is nothing without him. Younger daughter, Jess, has done the sensible thing and moved far away, but fallen in with an older man who just wants to ape her father’s ‘manliness’. Brother (by a different father), Patrick, is a ghost of a character, slipping through the story like a mist, a damp cipher of unhappiness. And while it is usually interesting seeing how writers handle the visual arts, in this case it is done by pretty much ignoring the art. I’m glad this was a library book – I’ll return it to the ‘Horror’ section.

17. ‘Full Steam Ahead, Felix’, Kate Moore, Penguin, 9781405942304. Felix is Senior Pest Controller at Huddersfield Station on the Trans Pennine Express. She is also a cat with her own Facebook page and an international host of followers. This is the second part of her story, telling more about her relationships with work colleagues and customers, her fame, her lack of success on the pigeon hunting front and how she adapts to being a line manager, responsible for the training for the Junior Pest Controller, kitten Bolt. It isn’t the best of written books – a hard copy edit could have livened up the prose and eliminated some of the more leaden phrasing – but it is an endearing, enjoyable and at times poignant read.

18. ‘Unquiet Landscape’, Christopher Neve, Thames and Hudson, 9780500295472. Landscape, as seen through the eyes of some of my favourite artists – the Nash brothers, Graham Sutherland, Eric Ravilious, David Jones, Ivon Hitchens, Stanley Spencer. But also many I wouldn’t have put in this context – Joan Eardley, Walter Sickert, Edward Burra, L.S Lowry – and several I knew little about. The writing is intense and vivid, with more than a touch of J.A. Baker, about it. It is so keenly and colourfully observed that sentences drip with meaning and ooze with mystery. There is no attempt to skewer the intangible, rather an elliptical probing of fecund territory and hazy horizons. Christopher Neve speaks from first hand contact with many of the artists and their contemporaries, and from his own work as a painter. His awareness of the limitations of words to describe art and the artistic process helps make this a more satisfying read, one which opens new vistas and allows questions, like colours, to pulse.

19. ‘Coal Black Mornings’, Brett Anderson, Abacus, 9781408710487. When Brit Pop was ascendant in the 1990s I was looking/listening in other directions, moving from No Wave and the Sub Pop label to the genres I was selling as manager of a large Classical Music CD department in a major Southampton bookshop. Oasis, Blur, Pulp and Suede completely passed me by, so while Brett Anderson’s was a name I recognised, his music was not. However, this is a fascinating, quietly written book that charts Anderson’s early life and his development as a song-writer and band member, finishing just at the point when Suede began to get noticed. As such, it details his formation and influences, providing useful material for anyone wishing to dissect his lyrics. He and I would have been living in London at around the same time, although moving in very different circles, and his descriptions of the sights and smells of the less glamourous parts of Greater London ring true. Thoughtful, generous and unmelodramatic, this is a lively, gentle introduction to an interesting life, which got me listening to the first album and, to be honest, I definitely prefer Anderson’s prose to his music.

20. Recently re-read: ‘Elidor’, Alan Garner, Harper Collins, 9780007274789. A bout of covid has given space for some reading, but whether it was wise to attack the ‘low fantasy’ or magic realism of Alan Garner at this time is a moot point. The post war Manchester world of the Watson children is, today, almost as alien and fantastical as the mythic land of Elidor that they find themselves in. However, Garner always finds a way of grounding even the most ‘other’ of his creations in mud-spattered reality, allowing the numinous to shine in the puddles reflecting the sodium glare of a city still teetering in the after effects of war.

21. Recently re-read: ‘The Owl Service’, Alan Garner, Harper Collins, 9780007127894. There is a distinct gear-change in the suspense, the tightness of the plotting and the evocation of the landscape between this book and Garner’s previous novels. There is more lurking menace and more personal tension than before, a greater feeling of outsiders being disrupted by their surroundings and a feeling of inevitability, that increases the eternal sense of jeopardy. Perhaps it is the silvern magic of the Mabinogion that grounds the story of trapped lives playing out an eternal ritual of death and life, or perhaps it is the close-sided landscape that Garner depicts with such precision, that folds over us as we read and draws us into a world and a language that continuously shivers on the edge of the numinous.

22. ‘The Reader’, Bernhard Schlink, Phoenix, 9780753823293. I came to this book without having seen the film version, but was roughly aware of the story. Still, the opening was surprising, swiftly diving into the passionate – on one side, at least – relationship that makes this novel. Essentially a two-hander, seen almost entirely through the eyes of one character, there is a simplicity to the story-telling that belies the moral and philosophical complexities that lurk beneath. I don’t know how much of the gentle flow of the prose is due to the translator, but this is an engaging, warm read with much compassion despite the difficult nature of the subject matter. It is not condemnatory, but neither does it let the horror of the situation, of the raw violence of the concentration camps, that lie at the centre of the plot, be smoothed away. It leaves you with a resolution, of sorts, but also with many questions.

23. Recently re-read: ‘Boneland’, Alan Garner, Fourth Estate, 9780007463251. Did this make any more sense than when I read it the first time? I’m not sure. Did it make the same sense? Probably not. When you are writing about the earth, the elemental, and relating it to consciousness, collective memory, universality and the universe(s), then you need many, many layers. And these are not necessarily to be unwrapped like pass the parcel, as each may itself be woven deep into the whole structure, or may shimmer and dissolve into the air. There is a plot, two plots, and many tales. There is energy, earthiness, unhooking and grounding. There are many, many questions, but few answers – unless you keep looking and are prepared for the answers to keep moving. The weirdstone retains its weirdness right to the end of the trilogy, and only a master writer could do that while also providing, allowing, some sense of conclusion (and beginning).

24. ‘The Madness of Grief’, Richard Coles, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 9781474619622. Bought on publication, I have only just got round to reading it and, as I thought I might, I have struggled to connect with it. Coles and I are both clergy of comparable age who share a first name. But that’s about where the similarity ends. He’s a round-the-world traveller, with a portmanteau of experiences. I’ve not had use for a passport, preferring the quietness of home.

I certainly don’t relate to his experience of grief (which was why the book was worth reading). Yes, I’ve held the hands of my parents as they died, and then led, and preached at their funeral services, vigorously, but decorously, swinging the thurible over their coffins. But there were no tears – people leave your life all the time, death is just one of many ways. No relationship is permanent. Friendship is a strange word whose meaning I haven’t quite figured. Yes, taking my cousin’s funeral this spring was not easy – she was a lovely person, younger than me, with teenage children. She had struggled with an awful illness and the packed church, far way from my home county, was filled with pain and emotion. I felt deeply sad then, as I have at some of the funerals I have ministered at of wonderful, vivacious people, who seemed to be only just getting into their stride. But my sadness has been more about the pain and suffering I witness in those left behind.

His habit of name-dropping people, places and products irritates me intensely. There are times when he just seems like a crass party-crashing celebrity bore, but then he is also thoughtful, insightful, perceptive and, occasionally, witty. His love for David was mighty – is mighty. Whatever words I could use about their love would be inadequate, partly because I’ve never met them, but also because it was a marriage (formally, a civil partnership) and there is a reason why the wedding ceremony is full of symbolism. Words only scratch the surface of such intense, intimate, vulnerable relationships – you have to be in it to understand it. They were obviously immensely joyful together, but also seared with pain. I do get that – the way one partner’s deep-seated, intractable illness of mind, body and spirit can bring out the worst in the other and draw down the doors of the night, daily masking the sun’s warmth and light.

At best this book articulates the lava-like physicality of his grief – whether flowing, coagulating or burning – through incident, tangential anecdote, motes of dust lit by sunbeams and a certain guarded honesty. Guarded, I would think, to protect himself, on many levels, as well as David and his family from too much prying. Perhaps, also there is an elemental need to keep his and David’s intimacy, their being as a couple, private, to preserve some of its vital energy. That feels right, honourable, while also allowing for sincerity in expressing pain, the scream that knows no name, the ululation that usurps breathing, to be made relatable for both those who have felt similar and those, like me, for whom this is foreign territory.

Is it a hopeful book? I think so. Should it be? I’m not sure. Part of the honesty, of the book’s significance, is that the rawness of grief blisters through. This is not about healing, it is more about acknowledging that everything has changed, yet the world keeps on rolling by, and you either find a way to roll with it or you don’t. It is a book worth reading and sharing, but that doesn’t take away from wishing that Richard Coles hadn’t needed to have written it.

25. ‘Lifting the Veil’, Malcolm Guite, Canterbury Press, 9781786224545. A very short book that has taken me a long time to read, and I’m not sure why. My own ennui, I guess. Anyway, this is a poetic plea to take seriously the life of the imagination as part of God’s unfolding revelation. It makes great sense and contains some very thoughtful exegesis. God is creativity, God breathed creativity into us. It is a good thing. something that has a great part to play in our exploration. searching and unravelling of who God is, why God is, what God is in relation to all creation and us. Use it or get crushed by the rigid rules of rationalism.

26. Re-read ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’, Henri Nouwen, DLT, 978023252078x. Once again a challenge, soaked in beauty, clothed in humility and shining with sometimes quiet, sometimes stark truths. Meditations on Rembrandt, his late work, The Return of the Prodigal Son’, the conjoined Biblical parables of the Prodigal Sons and each of the three main characters.

27. ‘Short Stories by Jesus’ Amy-Jill Levine, HarperOne, 9780061561030. Amy-Jill Levine describes herself as a ‘Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian Divinity School in the buckle of the Bible Belt’. She is both a Professor of New Testament Studies and a Professor of Jewish Studies, and she is not one to mince her words. In this lively exploration of nine of Jesus’s parables she breaks open standard preconceptions about first century Judaism, reclaiming the Jewishness of Jesus’s stories. Along the way she is scathing about the uninformed nature of many well-known New Testament commentators, who see Jesus as berating the faith of his fellow co-religionists when she believes he is more often trenchantly calling out social injustice. An important book for anyone who regularly preaches on the parables, which re-energises them with the provocative power that made them so memorable to Jesus’s first hearers.

28. Re-read ‘My Name is Asher Lev’, Chaim Potok, Penguin, 9780140036428. On my third reading of this beautiful and unsettling book I was more aware of the battles that both the young artistic prodigy, Asher’s, parents each face to find their own places in the world. I know some see a bleakness, even an unhealthy obsession in Asher’s pursuit to fulfil his artistic destiny, but that same single-minded determination is at play in each member of this devout Hasidic family in post war Brooklyn. It is a remarkable novel, equal to anything by the better known Jewish-American novelists of Potok’s generation.

29. ‘Back in the Day’, Melvyn Bragg, Sceptre, 9781529394450. The life of Lord Bragg from birth to his decision to accept a place at Wadham College. This is very much a book grounded in place (how often do I say that) and the knowledge that where he was born and brought up is truly home. It is a different world – post war in a working northern town within striking distance of the Lake District. There is so much going on in Lord Bragg’s head, and it is not all rosy – we have intimations of his first breakdown at 13 – but it is colourful, filled with the vigour of the community and the graft of a society that feels quite self-contained. His hard-work ethic is born in this place – not so that he can escape it, but because he wants to do the best he can, while still staying loyal to his hometown.

30. Re-read ‘The Gift of Asher Lev’, Chaim Potok, Knopf, 9780394572123. The second volume in the story of Asher Lev is well worth a read. Lev has been living in France for many years, has grown in fame as an artist, has built a life with his wife and two children and has remained faithful to his Ladover community, even though they are still wary of him. The death of his father’s brother takes him back to Brooklyn, firstly for the funeral. However, his uncle, who had been supportive of Lev’s art, had secretly bought a significant collection of contemporary art, not just his nephew’s work but also all the great’s of the twentieth century – Picasso, Matisse, Soutine, Modigliani,Chagall, et al – that his wife and children absolutely abhorred. Lev can either sell the collection, or use it to buy new works, but whatever he does any profits will go to the Ladover community. This puts him at odds with his family, and the return to Brooklyn stifles his own work. Meanwhile, the Rebbe is growing increasingly frail and there are issues about who will succeed him. As the book unfolds so Lev and the Rebbe come to realise that it is Lev’s family – his father, and his toddler son, who are the chosen ones, if Lev will give his consent. It isn’t quite as beautiful book as ‘My name is Asher Lev’, but it is full of wonderful writing and draws out the story of Lev in a thoughtful and satisfying way.

31. ‘Oil Paintings in Public Ownership: North and Mid Wales’, The Public Catalogue Foundation, 9781909475038. Does exactly what it says, cataloguing every oil (and acrylic) painting in every public institution in this area of the country. Those that aren’t photographed are described. It is a fascinating mix of local portraiture and Welsh artists from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries and contains a significant number of works by Kyffin Williams. A lovely, but heavy books.

32. ‘Murder Before Evensong’, Richard Coles, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 9781474612630. Risible. There might be a good short story in here, just, but it needs someone who can write fiction. That doesn’t seem to be Richard Coles. Coles can write – his book on grief is personal, thoughtful, coherent, vivid and full of interesting images. However, ‘Murder before Evensong’ ditches all pretence of intelligent prose, feels devoid of humour, warmth or anything that you might call ‘characterisation’. A village is roughly drawn, but is subsumed under the lowering influence of the local lord’s estate. Each person we meet is a tracing paper sketch for a cartoon – transparent, faint and devoid of breath. There is a plot, which is might, in the hands of a competent craftsman, have been interesting, but which jerks along with all the finesse of Brunel’s atmospheric railway. The most terrifying moment was turning the last page to find an advert for the next novel in the series. Everything that is good about Richard Coles – his empathy, his humour, his gentle lampooning of the faith he loves and the Church, which hasn’t always treated him well – have all been eviscerated, leaving little but vanity, an unpleasant preoccupation with the gentry and a claggy sense of his own importance.

New Music 2022

My go to music, when I need focus, is Hildegard von Bingen, who, along with Josquin des Prez, provide me with purity and perfection. Perhaps the same could be said for Sarah Davachi’s work. I’ve been listening to her music for a few years now, and each piece has drawn me more into her soundscapes, her compositions that seem deeply earthed yet able to fly with similar ethereal tangibility to one of Remedios Varo alchemical women. Seeing her live at St George’s, Brandon Hill, was a highlight of the year, the venue perfectly suited to the mystical core of Davachi’s music. In preparation for the new Swans album, due (I hope) in 2023, I’ve been listening again to their mid 80s and mid 90s albums, and there is something about Davachi that feels like the flipside of Michael Gira’s work. If I say she counterbalances his aggression with serenity that is a gross simplification for both composer/performers. Davachi’s serenity is not simpering, it feels – like with the great mystics – as if it has taken hard, mind-breaking toil to get there. Gira also can also take music to an almost Hildegardian essence, but has to crawl through mud and viscera to get there. Personally, Gira’s work resonates with me most when he involves women, who can counter some of the caricatures of extreme masculinity that he is inclined towards. A Davachi/Gira collaboration would be fascinating, as would a more equal partnership between Gira and Anna von Hausswolff, who have worked together before. Her 2022 live album provides a fine introduction to her church organ based sound – music that is never settled, always questioning, comes from deep within the earth, within the self.

Jarboe was collaborator with Gira in, perhaps his most fertile period, and it was great to have their first recording together as Skin, ‘Blood, Women, Roses’ reissued, with fresh versions of some of the songs. The new versions don’t quite work for me, but that’s probably nostalgia kicking in. It is the mix of jeopardy and crystalline brilliance that takes me back to this album time and again.

I’ve also been playing a fair bit of Nick Cave, partly because of seeing the Andrew Dominik film ‘This Much I Know to be True’ at the global cinema premiere in May and partly through reading the Cave/Séan O’Hagan book ‘Faith, Hope and Carnage’. Both film and book draw out elements of Cave’s work that have long fascinated me. For many years I’ve thought that Cave was the most theologically astute songwriter around (while Michael Gira is perhaps the most liturgically shrewd), and it is good to be able to explore this more. ‘Ghosteen’ is an intensely potent album which reveals its richness gradually through repeated listening – I didn’t pay it enough attention when it was first released. It receives extensive exploration in both book and film, which greatly add to my appreciation of the music.

While ‘This Much I Know to be True’ was top of my musical screen shows of 2022, two Glastonbury performances were almost as good. Self Esteem’s set was coruscating, an absolutely full-on show of strength, brimming with anger, energy, wit and intelligence. The same could also be said for Kendrick Lamar’s performance, an extended Agnes Dei that was the perfect closer for the festival – brimming with light and shade, with the angst of a world in crisis, with individual pain and collective torment.

There were, of course, some absolute clunkers, Jack White’s latest being especially disappointing, but best not dwell on these, nor some other favourite artists such as Tove Lo, Arcade Fire, Animal Collective, Pixies, Spiritualized, Elvis Costello, who felt off the boil.

However, what was good was excellent. It might only be an EP, but I can’t praise Lucy Gooch’s expanded edition of ‘Rushing’ enough. Not sure why, but it has a purity that deeply appeals. Most played albums were Davachi’s ‘Two Sisters’, KAINA’s ‘It was a home’, the Big Moon’s ‘Here is everything’  and the Unthanks ‘Sorrows Away’. I also adored the massive Blondie box set ‘Against the Odds; 1974-1982’. This was a huge listen, hours of alternative versions and outtakes that added greatly to my love of Blondie’s almost perfect pop. I’ve also got to mention the track ‘The things they did for me out of love’ by Yeule. It is 4 hours 44 minutes long, but it is a corker, utterly mesmeric throughout and appealed to me in much the same way as Goldie’s track ‘Mother.truth’.

All in all, there was some amazing music released, and while I managed to listen to 158 new albums, that is only scratching at the surface of what’s out there. Maybe in 2023 I’ll listen to less, but attend more. I’m already looking forward to the release of the new Swans album while hoping that there might be a full disc from Caroline Polachek.

Below is the full listing of everything new/reissued listened to, in order of rating (5-1) and then alphabetically by artist.

Davachi, Sarah – In Concert and in Residence           5

Davachi, Sarah – Two Sisters  5

Gooch, Lucy – Rushing (Expanded edition) EP         5

KAINA  – It was a home         5

Raum – Daughter (Grouper)   5

Shaw, Caroline/ Attacca Quartet – Evergreen           5

Big Moon – Here is Everything           4.5

Birch, Sofie/ Nowacka, Antonia – Languoria 4.5

Blondie – Against the Odds:1974-1982          4.5

Fratti, Mabe – Se Ve Desde Aquí        4.5

Hausswolff, Anna von – Live at Montreux Jazz Festival        4.5

Jarboe – Skin Blood Women Roses (reissue)   4.5

Preisner, Zbigniew & Gerrard, Lisa – It’s Not Too Late         4.5

Unthanks – Sorrows Away      4.5

Various – L’Aurore (Enescu, Ysaye, Benjamin, Hildegard, J.S. Bach)          4.5

Voice of the Beehive – Let it Bee (Remastered and Expanded)         4.5

Winter – What kind of Blue are you?  4.5

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool it down       4.5

Adams, Eve – Metal Bird        4

Alberga, Eleanor – Orchestral Works 4

Anchoress, The – The Art of Losing (Expanded edition)        4

Aslan, Mehmet – The Sun is Parallel  4

Aurelia Smith, Kaitlyn – Let’s turn it into sound        4

Barslev,  Nanna  –  Lysbaerer 4

Beales, Rachel Taylor – Out of this Frame     4

Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You   4

Cannell, Laura – Antiphony of the Trees         4

Cannell, Laura – We Long to be Haunted (EP)           4

Dalt,  Lucrecia – ¡Ay!  4

Dama Scout  – gen wo lai (come with me)     4

Davidson, Grace/Hildegard von Bingen – Sacred Chants      4

Donnelly, Stella – Flood         4

Emeralds – Solar Bridge (reissue)       4

Eno, Brian – Foreverandevernomore  4

Fenella – The Metallic Index   4

Forsyth, Keeley – Limbs         4

Hekla – Xiuxiuejar       4

Howley,  Elaine – The distance between heart and Mouth     4

Hurray for the Riff Raff – Life in Earth          4

Hval, Jenny – Classic Objects 4

Kikagaku Moyo – Kumoyo Island       4

Lambchop – The Bible 4

Le Bon, Cate – Pompeii          4

Let’s Eat Grandma – Two Ribbons      4

Li, Luna – Duality       4

Li, Lykke – EyeEye     4

Lotus Eater – Plasma  4

M.I.A. – Mata  4

Marquiss, Duncan – Wires Turned Sideways in Time 4

Maurseth, Benedicte – Harr    4

Orton, Beth – Weather Alive   4

Owens, Kelly Lee – LP.8        4

Pavement – Terror Twilight: Farewell Horizontal (2 hours 40 mins)            4

Polachek, Caroline – Welcome to my Island (EP)       4

Santigold – Spirituals  4

Sleater-Kinney – Dig me in: A Dig me out covers album       4

Smith, Kaitlyn Aurelia & Mosseri, Emile – I could be your dog/I could be your moon        4

Smoke Fairies – Sticks and Stones (EP)          4

Sonic Youth – In/Out/In         4

Special Interest – Endure        4

Stick in the Wheel – Endurance Soundly Caged (EP)            4

Stick in the Wheel – Stick in the Wheel present Perspectives on Tradition   4

Strummer, Joe – Joe Strummer 002: The Mescaleros Years  4

Swift, Taylor – Midnights        4

Tempus – Pole 4

Timothy, Duval – Meeting with a Judas Tree 4

Trentmøller – Memoria           4

Uchida, Mitsuko – Diabelli Variations (Beethoven)  4

Van Etten, Sharon – We’ve Been going about this all wrong 4

Wasylyk, Andrew – Hearing the Water before Seeing the Falls        4

Weather Station – How is it that I should look at the stars     4

Weyes Blood – And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow  4

Zetina, Ariel – Cyclorama       4

Alex G – God save the animals           3.5

Alvaays – Blue Rev     3.5

Animal Collective – Time Skiffs          3.5

Avery, Daniel – Ultra Truth    3.5

Belle and Sebastian – A Bit of Previous          3.5

Beyoncé – Renaissance           3.5

BIBI – Lowlife Princess: Noir            3.5

Bjork – Fossora           3.5

Christine and the Queens – Redcar les adorable étoiles (prologue)   3.5

Daphni – Cherry          3.5

Florence + the Machine – Dance Fever          3.5

Frye, Eric – Glass Top Redux 3.5

Ghosh, Arun – Secluded in Light        3.5

Girlpool – Forgiveness            3.5

Henner, Dylan – Flues of Forgotten Sands     3.5

Hurley, Michael – The Time of the Foxgloves            3.5

Ibeyi – Spell 31            3.5

Ikeda, Ryoji – Ultratronics      3.5

Jarre, Jean-Michel – Oxymore            3.5

Joyce, Molly – Perspective      3.5

Lattimore, Mary & Sukeena, Paul – West Kensington            3.5

Mahbouli, Haythem – Last Man on Earth      3.5

Memory Pearl (Moshe Fisher Rosenberg) – Music for Seven Paintings        3.5

Mitchell, Anaïs – Anaïs Mitchell        3.5

Orbury Common – The Traditional Dance of Orbury Common (EP)            3.5

Peel, Hannah, & the Paraorchestra – The Unfolding   3.5

Plains – I walked with you a ways       3.5

Power, Cat – Covers    3.5

Richards, Dawn/ Zahn, Spencer – Pigments   3.5

Riolino, Julianna – All Blue    3.5

Rosalia – Motomami    3.5

Rousay, Claire/More Eaze – Never stop texting me    3.5

Russom, Gavilán Rayna – Trans Feminist Symphonic Music            3.5

Sawayama, Rita – Hold The Girl        3.5

Schulze, Klaus – Deus Arrakis            3.5

Smile, The – A Light for Attracting Attention 3.5

Soft Pink Truth, The – Is it going to get any deeper than this?          3.5

Soundwalk Collective – The Perfect Vision Reworkings        3.5

Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen          3.5

Szymanski, Morgan & Perman, Tommy – Music for the Moon and the Trees          3.5

Tempest, Kae – The Line is a Curve   3.5

Utada, Hikaru – Bad Mode      3.5

Various – Simmerdim: Curlew Sounds           3.5

Vieux  Farka Touré  et Khruangbin  – Ali       3.5

Villain, Carmen – Only Love from Now On    3.5

Webster, Faye – Car Therapy Sessions (EP)  3.5

Wells, Emily – Regards to the end      3.5

Yanya, Nilüfer – Painless       3.5

Andy, Horace – Midnight Rocker       3

Art of Noise – Balance (Music for the Eye)    3

Art of Noise – Reduction         3

Bertucci, Lea – Xtended Vox   3

Blondie – Golden City Blue (Live 1977)         3

Can – Live in Cuxhaven 1976 3

Charli XCX – Crash    3

Claudio, Sabrina – Based on a Feeling           3

Danger Mouse/ Black Thought – Cheat Codes           3

Debit – The Long Count          3

Elvis Costello – The Boy Named If     3

FKA Twigs – Caprisongs        3

Frye, Eric – Automatic Junk Heuristic            3

Galás, Diamanda – Broken Gargoyles            3

Heart  Francesca – Eurybia     3

Honey Dijon – Black Girl Magic        3

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Omnium Gatherum   3

Lamar, Kendrick – Mr Morale and the Big Steppers  3

Lane, Iona – Hallival   3

Lo, Tove  – Dirt Femme         3

Los Bitchos – Let the Festivities Begin!         3

Lovestory, Isabella – Amor Hard-core           3

Mitski  – Laurel Hell   3

Modern Nature – Island of Noise        3

More Eaze – Oneiric   3

Panda Bear/ Sonic Boom – Reset        3

Pixies – Doggerel        3

Shygirl – Nymph         3

Soundwalk Collective – Lovotic          3

Spiritualized – Everything was Beautiful        3

Weeknd, The – Dawn FM       3

Yeule – Glitch Princess  (last track 4hrs 44 mins, 4.5)           3

Arcade Fire – WE        2.5

Lennox, Ari – age/sex/location            2.5

Pinegrove – 11:11  (a little sub REM) 2.5

White, Jack – Fear of the Dawn         2.5 Cabello, Camila – Familia      2

An angry voice and one who cried

The Madness of Grief, Richard Coles, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 9781474619622.

Bought on publication, I have only just got round to reading it and, as I thought I might, I have struggled to connect with it. Coles and I are both clergy of comparable age who share a first name. But that’s about where the similarity ends. He’s a round-the-world traveller, with a portmanteau of experiences. I’ve not had use for a passport, preferring the quietness of home.

I certainly don’t relate to his experience of grief (which was why the book was worth reading). Yes, I’ve held the hands of my parents as they died, and then led, and preached at their funeral services (both sermons can be found on this blog), vigorously, but decorously, swinging the thurible over their coffins. But there were no tears – people leave your life all the time, death is just one of many ways. No relationship is permanent. Friendship is a strange word whose meaning I haven’t quite figured. Yes, taking my cousin’s funeral this spring was not easy – she was a lovely person, younger than me, with teenage children. She had struggled with an awful illness and the packed church, far away from my home county, was filled with pain and emotion. I felt deeply sad then, as I have at some of the funerals I have ministered at of wonderful, vivacious people, who seemed to be only just getting into their stride. But my sadness has been more about the pain and suffering I witness in those left behind.

Richard Coles habit of name-dropping people, places and products irritates me intensely. There are times when he seems a smidge away from a crass party-crashing celebrity bore, but then he is also thoughtful, insightful, perceptive and, occasionally, witty. His love for David was mighty – is mighty. Whatever words I might use about their love would be inadequate, partly because I’ve never met them, but also because it was their marriage (formally, a civil partnership) and there is a reason why the wedding ceremony is full of symbolism. Words only scratch the surface of such intense, intimate, vulnerable relationships – you have to be in it to understand it. They were obviously immensely joyful together, but also seared with pain. I do get that – the way one partner’s deep-seated, intractable illness of mind, body and spirit can bring out the worst in the other and draw down the doors of the night, daily masking the sun’s warmth and light.

At best this book articulates the lava-like physicality of his grief – whether flowing, coagulating or burning – through incident, tangential anecdote, motes of dust lit by sunbeams and a certain guarded honesty. Guarded, I think, to protect himself, on many levels, as well as David and his family from too much prying. Perhaps also, there is an elemental need to keep his and David’s intimacy, their being as a couple, private, to preserve some of its vital energy. That feels right, honourable, while also allowing for sincerity in expressing pain, the scream that knows no name, the ululation that usurps breathing, to be made relatable for both those who have felt similar and those, like me, for whom this is foreign territory.

Is it a hopeful book? I think so. Should it be? I’m not sure. Part of the honesty, of the book’s significance, is that the rawness of grief blisters through. This is not about healing, it is more about acknowledging that everything has changed, yet the world keeps on rolling by, and you either find a way to roll with it or you don’t. It is a book worth reading and sharing, but that doesn’t take away from wishing that Richard Coles hadn’t needed to have written it.

Keeping the steam dream alive

The Tyseley Story, Michael Whitehouse, Lightmoor Press, 9781899889924.

Being born and brought up in Hall Green, Birmingham, Tyseley was only three stops away on the local line into the city centre. Dad, being a lifelong railway enthusiast and childhood train spotter (although from LNER served haunts), regularly took me to Tyseley’s Birmingham Railway Museum open days back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While dad loved any steam locomotives he was always keen to impress upon me the pre-eminence of Gresley’s engineering. However, Tyseley locomotive shed revealed the Brunswick Green (or BR equivalent) copper-capped elegance of GWR tapered boilers and I was hooked. I never knew the GWR in its pre-Nationalisation glory, or even steam in BR days, but those were the locomotives, that was the railway company that caught my imagination. Then, years later, when I learnt about the broad gauge and the beauty of Brunel’s (Gooch’s, Dean’s) single driving wheel expresses, I was totally smitten.

Photo: Q.D. Greatrex, 1969.

Strong memories remain of those early open days. A mass of men in gaberdine overcoats, suits and ties, carrying 35mm cameras on leather straps. The ground crunching with black coal, or clinker. The smell of oil mixed with steam. Stands selling railwayana with steam organs, fairground rides and traction engines at every turn.

Photo: Q.D. Greatrex, no date.
Photo: Q.D. Greatrex, 1969. I’m taking a back seat, as usual.

And, of course, the locomotives. Prints of Clun Castle and Kolaphur graced my walls for years. I remember seeing Bishop Eric Treacey on the footplate of the Black Five locomotive named after him. If an Anglican Bishop was endorsing this love of steam then I, as a devout altar boy, had the perfect excuse to be faithful to two religions.

Photo: Q.D. Greatrex, no date. Looks like I’ve lost sight of both the Bishop and my father.

Then there was the day Sir Nigel Gresley was scheduled to run past at speed on the mainline and we, along with a great cloud of like-minded witnesses high-tailed it down to the locomotive works to try, with small cameras and no zoom lenses, to capture this streak of blue wonder. It was mysterious, magical and arcane – rather like Mass at our inner city Anglo-Catholic Church, where I, as boat boy, was gradually working my way up to becoming head thurifer, much as an engine shed cleaner would progress to fireman and eventually locomotive driver.

Photo: Q.D. Greatrex, 1973. With my sister trying to work out what our dad was so enthused about.

So, this book, detailing well those early days of the Tyseley preserved steam organisation, is firstly a trip of pure nostalgia. A relic of childhood. Having only recently laid my father’s ashes to rest in the cemetery just down the road from Tyseley I scanned the book’s photos with half an eye trying to catch sight of him, or even pre-school me, in the crowds. However, there is much more interest in The Tyseley Story than that. Yes, I do have a few grumbles. As someone who was fascinated by the work going on to restore Albert Hall (and who still has the 1970s Hornby loco model) but knew nothing of its transformation into an earlier incarnation, Rood Ashton Hall, until an open day visit in 2013, I would have loved to have heard more about how this original identity was discovered and the decision made to change the name. There are also a few production issues. While much of the prose is of a reasonable standard, because there are different contributors, with some articles taken from other publications, there is considerable overlap. The selection of photos is excellent (I keep going back to them); however the captions are disappointing, being simply repetitions from the main body text, often appearing side-by-side. A thorough copy-edit should have cleaned out these issues and also dealt with the page where words and letters decided to play musical chairs.

Photo: Q.D. Greatrex, 1971. That’s more like it – proper steam royalty.

These caveats aside – and after thirty years as a bookseller I’m bound to have certain standards – this is a thoroughly informative and enjoyable read. Its strengths, apart from the photographs, centre around the insight it provides into the formation and culture of the preserved railway scene. There have been some huge battles and hurdles for our heritage railway lines and centres to overcome to get started, survive and flourish. I see many similarities with rural churches – with the general society losing touch with the past that these institutions evoke, with aging volunteers, the loss of key workers with key skills, the sense that they are keepers of ancient mysteries, with fresh environmental, financial and pandemic induced pressures. Whitehouse is, however, clear, that (just like our church communities) for railway heritage organisations to survive they must catch a forward-facing vision, one which embraces change, which, in Church terms, seeks to tell the Gospel story for a new generation. You get the feeling that his association – Vintage Trains – and Tyseley Locomotive Works are among the forefront of the organisations that will see steam railways remaining an important, visible and experienceable part of British culture right through the twenty-first century.

Photo: Q.D. Greatrex, no date. A clean scanner helps when converting slides.
Photo: Q.D. Greatrex, 1971. Honey, I shrunk the locos.

Photographs from my father’s collection of slides.

New Music 2021

New Music 2021

Another year filled with a wondrous selection of new music discoveries which made choosing a top ten difficult and almost arbitrary. Even if you knock out the KLF/NRG albums, which are not new, but have been unavailable for so that long listening to them felt like a fresh discovery, I still managed to hear over 100 of 2021’s album releases. This left time to fill my work day with Hildegard, Josquin, R3’s ‘Unclassified’ and ‘Nightwaves’ programmes plus much more from my CD shelves.

For someone who really dislikes the sound of the saxophone I seemed to hear an inordinate amount of it last year. If anyone is going to convert me to its supposed charms then it will most likely be Pharoah Sanders. Promises, his collaboration with the LSO and Floating Points was enchanting, disembodied, dancing on the edge of conscious thoughts and took me to new places. It didn’t make it into this top ten due to my ingrained distrust of an instrument that continues to make my skin crawl.

That Sarah Davachi, Grouper, Hainbach and Low didn’t hit the favourites list is purely because of the mood I was in when choosing – on another day they could have made up the first four followed by Deerhoof, Ghost Coast Choir, Fatima Al Qadiri, Self Esteem, Pauline Ann Strom and Suuns.

You’ll notice a penchant for more elegiac and instrumental works – that’s partly because I preference music that inspires my own working. More visceral pieces, such as Lingua Ignota’s Sinner Get Ready and Black Dresses’ Forever in Your Heart, needed more space and attention to absorb their confrontational challenges.

There was, of course, some car crash trash in the can. You’d do far better by hitting yourself over the head with a sock full of billiard balls than listen to Coldplay’s execrable Music of the Spheres. Duran Duran seem to have forgotten to include any musical ideas. Marianne Faithfull with Warren Ellis was a beautiful notion that disintegrated into powder with the first note. Dry Cleaning filled a whole album with one vaguely interesting concept.

Most of the rest I look forward to listening to again – if there is time.

Top Ten

1.         Godspeed! You! Black Emperor – G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END

2.         Weaver, Jane – Flock

3.         Trappes, Penelope – Penelope Three

4.         In the Echo: Field Recordings

5.         Son Lux – Tommorows III

6.         Roedelius/Dallas Acid – Mind Cinema

7.         Poppy – Flux

8.         Shostakovich and Stevenson/ Igor Levitt – On DSCH

9.         Vanishing Twin – Ookii Gekkou

10.       Lost Girls – Menneskekollektivet

The Full Alphabetical List

Al Qadiri, Fatima  – Medieval Femme

Arab Strap – As Days Get Dark

Avery, Daniel – Together in Static

Awkward Corners – Amateur Dramatics

aya – im hole

Black Dresses – Forever in Your Heart

Bnny – Everything

Bragg, Billy – The Million Things That Never Happened

Bug, The – Fire

Burch, Bex and Leafcutter John – Boing!

Cave, Nick/ Ellis, Warren – Carnage

Cave, Nick and the Bad Seeds – B-Sides and Rarities (Part II)

Chromatics – Shadow (remixes)

Clark – Playground in a Lake

Clausen, Casper – Better Way

Coldplay – Music of the Spheres

Davachi, Sarah – Antiphonals

Davachi, Sarah – Mother of Pearl

Deerhoof – Actually, you can

Del Ray, Lana – Blue Bannisters

d’Eon – Rhododendron

Drew, Eris – Quivering in Time

Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg

Duran Duran – Future Past

Eilish, Billie – Happier than Ever

English, Lawrence – Observation of Breath

Ensemble Offspring – Offspring Bites 3: En Masse

Faithfull, Marianne; Ellis, Warren – She Walks in Beauty

Floating Points/Pharaoh Sanders/LSO – Promises

Ghost Coast Choir – Ghost Coast Choir

Gillespie, Bobby; Beth, Jehnny – Utopian Ashes

Godspeed! You! Black Emperor – G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END

Gooch, Lucy – Rain’s Break (EP)

Grimes – Miss Anthropocene Rave Edition

Grouper – Shade

Hainbach – Home Stories

Hainbach – Landfill Totems

Hainbach – Schwebungssummer

Hall, Emily; Law, Michael – Nha Trang, Mini Suite (EP)

Havlovi, Irena and Vojtěch – Melodies in the Sand

Holland, Hannah – Tectonic

Hye Jin, Park – Before I Die

In the Echo: Field Recordings

Jenkins, Cassandra – An Overview of Phenomenal Nature

Kedr Livanskiy – Liminal Soul

KLF – Come Down Dawn

KLF – Sold State Logik 1

KLF – Solid State Logik 2

KLF – the White Room

Koreless – Agor

Kourtesis, Sofia – Fresia Magdalena (EP)

Krauss, Alison/Plant, Robert – Raise the Roof

Lingua Ignota – Sinner Get Ready

Lorde – Solar Power

Lost Girls – Menneskekollektivet

Low – Hey What

Lutyens, Elisabeth – Piano Works Vol 1

Mas Aya – Mascaras

Mogwai – As the Love Continues

Moor Mother – Black Encyclopedia of the Air

Moritz Von Oswald Trio – Dissent

Moss, Liela – Who the Power (Reformed)

Nayar, Rachika – Our hands against the dusk

Nayar, Rachika – Fragments (EP)

NRG, The – Live 94

Octo Octa – She’s Calling (EP)

Olafsson, Vikingur – Mozart & Contemporaries

osquinn – Drive-by lullabies

Panufnik, Roxanna – Heartfelt

Peel, Hannah – Fir Wave

Peel, Hannah – Unheard Delia (EP)

Poppy – Flux

Portico Quartet – Monument

Portico Quartet – Terrain

Quantic and Nidia Gongora – Almas Connectadas 

Radigue, Eliane – Occam Ocean Vol 3

Răn Cap Duôi – Ngù Ngày Ngay Ngày Tân The

Roedelius/Dallas Acid – Mind Cinema

Roedelius – Weites Land

Rubinos, Xenia – Una Rosa

Rush, Jana – Painful Enlightenment

Salsburg, Nathan – Psalms

Saxl, Elori – The Blue of Distance

Seater-Kinney – Path of Wellness

Self Esteem – Prioritise Pleasure

Sheldrake, Cosmo – Do (EP)

Shostakovich and Stevenson/Igor Levitt – On DSCH

Silk Sonic – An Evening with Silk Sonic

Smerz – Believer

Snail Mail – Valentine

Son Lux – Tomorrows III

Son Lux – Tomorrows Reworks

Sonne, Astrid – Outside of your lifetime

Specials – Protest Songs

St Vincent – Daddy’s Home

Strom, Pauline Anna – Angel Tears in Sunlight

Strummer, Joe – Assembly

Suuns – The Witness

Swift, Taylor – Fearless (Taylor’s version)

Swift, Taylor – Red (Taylor’s version)

Takeda, Soshi – Floating Mountains

Tomu DJ – Feminista

Trappes, Penelope – Penelope Three

Vanishing Twin – Ookii Gekkou

War on Drugs – I don’t live here any more

Wau Wau Collectif – Yaral Sa Doom

Weaver, Jane – Flock

Wednesday – Twin Plagues

Young, Neil and Crazy Horse – Barn

Yu Su – Yellow River Blue

Yves Tumor – The Asymptotical World (EP)

Reading Review of 2021

Introduction

This is the least number of books I’ve read in many a year. Whether it is the loss of my bookshops, or pandemic brain, or the pressures of a new job, I have simply found it hard to concentrate on reading. Paragraphs have become hurdles, chapters landmarks. Thankfully, the discipline of reading to write reviews for publication has kept me on my toes and there have been some highs. I’ve also subscribed to a number of (print version) magazines as well as the Church Times, which take up a fair proportion of my traditional reading time.

The most disappointing read of 2021 was Spirit of Place which was all place and little spirit. It was an interesting ride through the history of landscape painting and landscape in writing, but it barely touched upon the spiritual side of place, which needed to unpack the work of Samuel Palmer, Paul and John Nash (among others) more presciently and could have done with a fair dose of Ronald Blythe. Meanwhile, the best highs came late in the year with the little gem that is Treacle Walker and the behemoth of a biography offered by Paul Morley in From Manchester with Love. Both books arise from the Northwest – Alderley Edge and Manchester – and each carries with it a definite sense of place, but also of universal mysteries. With age anything fresh from Alan Garner is a bonus, but Treacle Walker isn’t a bon-bon, rather it is a distillation of many of themes that have concerned him throughout his writing life. Morley’s biography of Tony Wilson is breathless but not uncritical – it has an element of stream-of-consciousness, is discursive, stuffed with gamey prosody, dances around and through its subject, yet gives a credible and inspiring flavour of a flawed, driven, loyal, clever, visionary. Both books filled me with the pleasure of reading, the pleasure that used to lighten up my daily bus or train journeys and I hope they have restored some of my literary mojo ready for 2022.

The List

1. Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi, Harper Perennial, 978007790210. I haven’t been feeling the love for fiction for a while now. Partly because, as a bookseller, I’ve seen far too many poorly written, weakly plotted, tree wasting volumes infesting shop shelves. Partially because, well, the clue’s in the name ‘fiction’ – it isn’t real so what is the value to it? Perhaps also, because the last year has been stranger than any novel. I’ve also experienced a lack of access to novels, the libraries being closed. Fiction isn’t something I tend to buy, it is ephemeral, like films: when you’ve read it/seen it once, it is over, gone, done. Hence, I borrow novels from the library. They are light entertainment. They pass the time on the bus. Maybe this is why I found English Literature ‘A’ Level taxing. Reflecting on poetry was fine: poetry is created as the art of ambiguity, using words in such an amorphous way that anyone can imbue them with their own meaning and write an essay/book/course. But novels, well they’re just utilitarian crowd pleasers. They only improve society by temporarily relieving boredom.

I picked up Reading Lolita in Tehran during that brief autumn window when charity shops were open. Subtitled ‘A Memoir in Books’ it describes the time in the 1980s and 1990s during the Iranian Islamic revolution when the author was teaching Western literature to students in Tehran. I thought if anything was going to make the case for the value of fiction, then this might be it. It wasn’t. Her insights into the work of Austen, Fitzgerald, James and Nabakov left me cold. More fuel for the lit crit fire.

However, this is also a clearly written, evocative, enlightening memoir of life under an extreme form of oppression in an ancient, highly sophisticated Middle Eastern country. As a woman teaching mixed genders at college and exclusively women students at home, she describes with heartfelt, precise, piercing details the complex truth concerning life in a nation where a stray hair escaping from beneath a scarf can lead to flogging. Each of the seven students who met to discuss literature at her home is drawn with vivid, wistful details, the sometimes shocking stories of each of their lives being allowed to slowly reveal themselves. How they adapt to, resist, survive the fearsome censorship and violent intolerance of a fledgling society that simultaneously rates women as both third class citizens and as containing some immensely powerful, uncontrollable force capable of subverting or corrupting all around them, gives the book its urgency, its humanity, its fascination. What happens to Azar Nafisi, together with the survival of her students, matters far more than any neat comments about Austen’s underlying themes. While ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ has prompted me to think more about place and loyalty, identity and government, equality, law and enforcement it hasn’t erased my prickling suspicion that fiction is second rate writing.

2.   Seeing God in Art, Richard Harries, SPCK, 9780281083824. Thirty illustrations of great masters, icons and contemporary works, with commentary, taking us from creation to the communion of saints. Richard Harries loves art and has written well about it before – The Passion in Art being another of his books that I have enjoyed. This was disappointing for three reasons. Firstly, the layout meant that there was an inordinate amount of broken words on each page, hyphenated as they turned over, which made it unattractive to read. Secondly, the art works chosen were very traditional and on the whole obvious. Little chance to ‘tell it slant’. Finally, too often the text referred only very scantily to the art, didn’t read much into the work and only on few occasions drew something theological out of it. A good idea, but a case of ‘could do better’.

3. ‘A Sparrow’s Life’s as Sweet as Ours’, Carry Akroyd and John McEwen, Bloomsbury, 9781472967145. John McEwen’s ornithological columns for the ‘Oldie’ illustrated by Carry Akroyd’s screenprints. I’m a great fan of Carry Akroyd’s work – she evokes creatures and landscapes with maximal minimalism – clean lines, poised colours and just enough detail to lift a bird into life or a field into focus without the distractions of any extraneous clutter. Mayhap she is a contemporary descendant, development, of the very English school of land, flora and fauna observers that gave us Eric Ravilious and John Nash, amongst others. However she does it, her images sing and dance with the jizz of her subjects, while their surroundings are depicted not as decorative adiaphora, but as integral to their existence. I knew I was going to enjoy her images, what I wasn’t expecting was the light, lively and poetic touch of John McEwen’s prose which frothed with energy and information. He didn’t offer many details that were new to me, especially as there was some reliance on Mark Cocker’s ‘Bird’s Britiannica’, which I am also currently reading, however, McEwen’s telling was breezy and checkered with poetry and literary descriptions of the bird on the page. This is a lovely, restful book that I will return to again and again.

4. The Way of Julian of Norwich: A Prayer Journey Through Lent, Sheila Upjohn, SPCK, 9780281083695. Short, I’ve read it through twice already, but with plenty of insight and much to think about. Julian’s visions are as radical today as they were when she wrote her book in the 1300s. No wonder she hid the manuscript then, because if she hadn’t it would most likely have been supressed by the authorities and lost to us. This is a book about both the inclusivity of divine love and the seriousness of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. The two are intimately related as Julian understands that Christ died not as an offering for our sin but out of pure love for us.

5. The House Under the Water, Francis Brett Young, Heinemann. This has been sitting on our shelves unread for twenty or so years. Bought at a jumble sale in Salisbury because, at the time, the author was collectable. A seven hundred page novel about the fluctuating fortunes of the last members of the Tregaron family, whose ancestors had owned a hillside estate in Radnorshire for 800 years. Set late in the nineteenth century the plot revolves around impact of the industrial revolution on both the heart of Wales and the Midlands’ shires. Bicycles and motorcars are key to the family’s future, but it is the damming of their valley to provide water piped overland for the growing Midland cities that changes their lives irrevocably.

6. More Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops, Jen Campbell, Constable, 9781472106339. Been there, heard that – customers really do say strange things and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been asked for ‘Tess of the Dormobiles’ or worked with a colleague who directed a customer, asking for Primo Levi’s ‘Periodic Table’, to Women’s Health.

7. A Cross in the Heart of God, Samuel Wells, Canterbury Press, 9781786222930. Sam Wells is fast becoming the next Tom Wright, or Rowan Williams, or Alister McGrath – authors so prolific that booksellers have reserved spaces for them on their ‘New Titles’ stands. Wells, like his mentor Hauerwas, is uncompromising in his writing – in both style and content. Punches will not be pulled, nor concessions made in relation to the quavering faith and intellectual inabilities of his reader. Every time I finish one of his books I feel smaller, less confident in my own abilities. Simultaneously, I am expanded in spirit and challenged in life. Wells’s previous book on the cross, Hanging by a Thread, I found disappointing, but then, in reading the Introduction to this one, I find out that I wasn’t the target audience. A Cross in the Heart of God is a corker. The title says it all. The cross isn’t a response to the Fall, to sin, but was, is built into God’s being from before the beginning of time. There has always been a cross at the heart of God. God’s emptying and self-giving are not add-ons but integral to who God is. God has always loved us, will always love us and from the genesis of creation wanted to be with us, with us on equal terms in a relationship of true love. God with us. That’s the point. Not God for us. God with us. What more do you need to know?

8. Birds Britannica, Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey, Chatto & Windus, 9780701169079. We bought the set of Birds, Flora and Fauna Britannicas as presents for my parents. When dad downsized, he gave them back to us. Birds Britannica has been my lunch-time lockdown reading for the past year. At last, I’ve finally finished it, and it was fascinating from start to finish, even though it is fifteen years out of date and a fair amount of the material I already knew or had turned up in (openly borrowed from Birds Britannica) A Sparrow’s Life’s as Sweet as Ours, which I read earlier this year. It includes plenty of folk history about our island bird-life, some fascinating names and stories, as well as pallet loads of statistics. Many of the stats showed the downward spiral of our bird populations, which have substantially worsened since 2005 (the latest edition was published in 2020).

This is no twitcher’s diary, it places birds in their social and cultural context, reminding us how many have contributed to place names, pubs and recipes. Over the centuries we’ve eaten an awfully large proportion of our native wildlife. Historical contributions abound, from many sources, but especially the great writer naturalists, such as Gilbert White and W.H. Hudson. Hudson is out of fashion now, his prose can be at times turgid or florid, however he wrote some classics of rural observation and reminiscence – Nature in Downland and A Shepherd’s Life being two of my favourites – and, as a founder member of the RSPB, influenced the birth of our modern conservation movement. Lovely also to see Janet Kear quoted, whose book Wildfowl and Man is one of the best bird books I’ve ever read.

Once again, in Birds Britannica, we have a book that details the disjunct between humanity and the species we share this earth with. That it does so in such a beautiful, informative and entertaining way is testament not just to the skill and knowledge of the authors but also to the fragile wonders that are our resident and migrant birds – tiny lives, lived fast and under much duress. Hopefully, I won’t have had time to complete the reading of the companion Flora and Fauna before lockdown is over and I find a new job.

9. Curlew Moon, Mary Colwell, Collins, 9780008241056.

10. Coming Down the Wye, Robert Gibbings, Dent (1943). Two blue bound books, two tales of journeying, both illustrated. Curlews feature in both. One was mildly disappointing, the other was a delight. Curlew Moon tells of Colwell’s walk across Ireland and the UK to all the traditional habitats of breeding curlew. Curlew breeding numbers are in freefall (although wintering migrants make it look as if there still plenty about), so you know this isn’t going to be a happy tale, however, there is something about Colwell’s writing style and her interactions with others that jarred for me. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something was out of kilter about this book. Jessica Holm’s expert and detailed illustrations didn’t make up for deficiencies in the text – perhaps because they were too small and too grey. Colwell is passionate about doing something to change the awful wipe out of our breeding curlews, and she is getting on with that, which is great, but, for me, this book, while enlightening, sobering and evangelistic, didn’t recruit me to her specific cause.

Robert Gibbings’s wood engravings have all the immediacy, energy and impact that was missing in Jessica Holm’s. They are superbly vivid illustrations that beautifully counterpoint his tale’s many warmly observed vignettes. Gibbings a recounted his adventures in the same way that he created his engravings, they freely flow, yet are focussed and striking, giving a flavour of life on the route of the Wye through Wales. Written during war-time, when Gibbings was in the Home Guard, it rattles with the hint and hiss of conflict. It is also redolent of a lost pre-mechanisation agrarian world, where curlews lift from beneath your feet as you cross flower festooned meadows and redstarts nest above cottage windows. Curlew Moon is a reminder of stark a scorched earth of contemporary Britain. Coming Down the Wye drolly, decoratively, takes you back to the tipping point, when agricultural production began to seriously squeeze the wildness, the diversity, the goodness, out of nature.

10. Jack, Marilynne Robinson, Virago, 9780349011813. Part four of the Gilead novels. John Ames Boughton, ‘Jack’, son of a Presbyterian minister, and named after his father’s friend and fellow minister, John Ames, is the not-so-young man whose ne’er-do-well behaviour riffles through Gilead and Home, disturbing the small town equilibrium. Jack has been to prison, is a self-confessed ‘bum’, thief, drinker and general reckless chancer. He has also fallen for a young black school-teacher named Della, a love that is both reciprocated and illegal. Della’s father – a renowned pastor – and family are as disapproving of the match as is the prevailing white culture.

Pre-destination clatters through the bones of Jack’s life. He doesn’t want to be the way he is, he tries to live to harm others as little as possible and yet, he knows, just knows, that everything he does will have damaging consequences. Above all he doesn’t want to hurt Della, but then she is pregnant, her career is torn to rags and her family are about to elide her out of their history.

Robinson draws Jack with such gentle sympathy, quietly filling in the little details of his days, that I was willing him to rise above his conception of his destiny and to feel release, contentment, safety. But even when offered a break, it isn’t to be, his honesty brings fresh downfall. Jack may have done bad things, but he’s not a bad man. He’s never going to live up to the expectations be believes others (his father, his brother) have of him, yet the door of redemption is never, quite, fully closed on him. If there ever is a part five to this wonderful series then I do hope it is Della’s story and that she ushers in a new future not just for Jack, but also for the whole fractured, fevered, angry and divided nation.

11. Reimagining Britain, Justin Welby, Bloomsbury, 9781472984975. Much has changed in the world and the UK since Justin Welby’s first book Reimagining Britain was initially published in 2018, making the release of a revised and expanded second edition thoroughly worthwhile. It is a book with a bold scope, penetrating beneath layers of dis-ease, inequality and division that the double blows of Brexit and Covid-19 have exacerbated and brought to boiling point in Britain. Archbishop Welby unpacks some of the root causes of problems afflicting the basic building-blocks of society – family, health, education, housing and economics – that have risen to discomforting prominence, while clearly showing how the ways we respond to such issues are related directly to the values we hold. This gives him an entry-point to remind us of the Christian principles that underpin much of our national life. And here is where the subtitle ‘Foundations for Hope’ comes into play. Inspired by Catholic social teaching, which he describes as ‘the applied outworking of the good news of Jesus Christ in terms of social structures and social justice’, he suggests that where this teaching is lived out society flourishes, communities grow and insecurities recede. Through recourse to Scripture, social teaching and lived examples, he offers hopeful templates in each key area that have the potential to refresh a United Kingdom while also participating in the building of God’s Kingdom.

Of course, while his scope is wide-ranging, his suggested answers to deep-rooted issues are by necessity broad-brush, light on concrete policy proposals. But that, to some extent, must be so. While tackling the blight of contemporary political polarisation, this is not a political book; it (rightly I think) treads a neutral non-party line, but some might find such an approach frustrating.

However, this doesn’t stop Welby from proffering radical solutions to contentious issues, such as housing, outlining the shape of action he believes is required, showing how it might stand up to critical examination, and highlighting where it might be beneficial in promoting unity across and through communities. The Church of England’s recent report on UK housing, Coming Home, which was being prepared for publication while the Archbishop re-wrote this book, informs his thinking. He begins with the values described there: that housing should be safe, stable, sustainable, sociable and satisfying, clarifying what he means by each and going on to explain that biblical images of our flourishing in God’s presence show that ‘the purpose of housing was understood as creating communities and not merely building accommodation’. It’s about housing as homes, not investment opportunities, requiring a shift in thinking that prioritises the development of communities with thriving local economies and sustaining, life-enhancing infrastructure, while also minimising significant regional disparity in house prices thus encouraging greater mobility. This in turn stimulates the economy to prosper more equally across the country. Current competing housing markets, the Archbishop argues, ingrain inflexibility and deep injustices that cut directly against God’s will for flourishing communities. In response he provides pointers to solutions that promote resilience, stability, solidarity, subsidiarity and equality.

The impact of Brexit, Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter underpins the rewrite of a book that was already asking deep questions about the direction our countries have been taking. However, two areas left me uneasy. The Archbishop doesn’t substantially mention environmental issues until he addresses climate change directly nearly three-quarters of the way through the book. Yet unless we safeguard the integrity and the biodiversity of the planet radical reappraisals of education, housing, family, health and economics are doomed. Indeed, only when changes in these areas are directly integrated with environmental matters can a sustainable world and a truly just society blossom.

Linked to this is the Archbishop’s failure to search for economic ways forward other than capitalism. While trenchantly condemning austerity politics as a theory for the rich that crushes the poor and offering an enlightening interpretation of the parable of the talents that emphasises accountability, nowhere is there an attempt to reimagine a post-capitalist world. Tinkering with the capitalist model is not enough. The question needs to be asked whether an economic system whose success is predicated on the continual growth in markets, and thus in the increased use of finite resources, is compatible with environmental goals towards sustainability.

These two, major, caveats aside, there is much to commend in this book as a serious attempt to bring Christian principles to bear on the rebuilding of a fairer, more equitable society. Its strengths lie in drawing values and practices in line with each other, focusing on the five basic building-blocks of family, education, economics, housing and health as the means by which courageous, stable communities may flourish. Shining prophetic light on some vital truths concerning the current state of our nation, it offers future hope made possible through attending to the vision of God’s grace, justice and love.

12. Spirit of Place, Susan Owens, Thames & Hudson, 9780500252307. Artists and writers and the British landscape. A useful canter through the history of the arts and the landscape, which promises more than it delivers – or perhaps it wasn’t what I was hoping it would be. Very interesting concerning the development of landscape in the written and visual arts. But scant regard to the ‘Spirit’ part of the title, even when dealing with Samuel Palmer. Only really begins to grow into this aspect with Paul Nash Eric Ravilious and later, with Robert Macfarlane and the new writers on nature and place. Really misses its vocation by ignoring the way place weaves throughout the work of Ronald Blythe.

13. The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane, Hamish Hamilton, 9780241143810. One of the best Macfarlane books I’ve read, even though he is rather too in love with his own use of language. Humming with the spirit of place, Nash’s ‘marsh personages’ lurking in the corners of every page. Elegiac, mucky, sometimes self-righteous, disturbing, informative, ghostly and yet earthy. We are where we stand. We when we forget that our roots are in the soil we imperil ourselves and endanger the species we share this land with.

14. Crowning the Year, Tom Clammer, Canterbury Press, 9781786223395.

15. Landscape Liturgies, Nick Mayhew-Smith, Sarah Brush, Canterbury Press, 9781786223807. As a rural incumbent recently moved to a new benefice, I warmly welcome Tom Clammer’s Crowning the Year, a timely guide to aspects of rural ministry arising directly out of the author’s extensive experience. Setting the scene by describing two contrasting Gloucestershire benefices, he lays out distinctive characteristics of village church life, noting that where some see small, scattered congregations worshipping in ill-equipped, costly buildings, served by dwindling and under-resourced ministry teams, others find deeply pastoral, incarnational communities coterminous with local populations, church buildings that are valued signs of God-with-us, a higher percentage of parishioners attending than urban parishes and a significant proportion blessed with Church schools.

Such observations form a base from which to draw a theology and ecclesiology for rural ministry with a rhythm of public prayer at its heart. I especially appreciate the application of cell-church values across a rural benefice as means for exploring the challenges of balancing cell-sized numbers with the perceived desire for congregational worship. This approach feeds into a helpful framework for liturgical theology, providing practical pointers pertinent to multi-church contexts. When might ‘place’ take precedence over ‘story’ for instance?  Harvest and carol services might draw particular resonance from being embedded in their specific localities, whereas Ash Wednesday to Pentecost’s long march to the cross and resurrection may be more effective as a journey travelled together across the benefice.

Also covered is the celebration of the liturgical and agricultural years in a rural setting, albeit somewhat limited by its focus chiefly on authorised Anglican sources. While Chris Thorpe’s recent Ploughshares and First Fruits is referred to, there is no space for inclusion of either the Staffordshire Seven’s Seasonal Worship from the Countryside or the superlative resources from the Arthur Rank Centre’s ‘Germinate’ website, both of which I regularly use alongside material with contemporary Celtic origins. Nevertheless, Clammer’s is an immensely valuable title, serving both as a guide providing practitioners with fresh discipline and impetus, and as a reminder to the wider Church of the rich potential to be garnered from contemporary ministry in rural contexts up and down the land.

Landscape Liturgies, Nick Mayhew-Smith and Sarah Brush’s collection of ‘resources to celebrate and bless the earth’, which draws upon wide-ranging materials from across the Christian traditions, ties in well with Clammer’s rural ecclesiology. Where the latter urges us to move outside our buildings, here we encounter prayers and liturgies to do just that. Catholic, Orthodox and Methodist rituals rub shoulders with Syrian, Celtic and Saxon rites, alongside blessings for animals, outdoor spaces, trees, rivers, seas, hill and vale, agriculture and pilgrimage – a veritable feast of texts old and new, some beautiful, some lyrical, some eccentric; but all, if used judiciously, able to ‘read’ the state of our planet today. At times the authors have elided the language (allowing imprecations against demons to be re-envisioned as warding off pollution for example), but always aiming to maximise contemporary relevance, and they are keen to remind us to adapt liturgies to suit given situations. Although the rites collected here contain a mine of information and inspiration dating back to the early centuries of the Church, they often include complex texts requiring informed and flexible handling. However, when combined with vivid and appropriate symbolic actions (sickle-throwing is unlikely to pass a risk assessment!), they offer rich foundational material for the construction of profound new rituals to suit current circumstances, from the consecration of churchyard programmes to the blessing of flood defences, or even anaerobic digestors.

Ultimately, as Robert Macfarlane reminds us in The Old Ways, ‘landscape and nature are not there simply to be gazed at; no, they press hard upon and into our bodies and minds…’ and both these timely books go a long way in moving us from being ‘on’ to being ‘in’ our landscape and to understanding that we share the fruits of the incarnation with all creation.

16. When There Were Birds, Roy and Lesley Adkins, Little, Brown, 9781408713570. Descriptions of abundance, of skies filled with larks, vast and numerous murmurations of starlings, great lines of rooks travelling miles to nightly roosts, noted in private diaries and the public media from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century, open this substantial social history of our interactions with the bird life of these isles. But early into the first chapter absence becomes as remarked upon as presence because by the 1820s commentators noticed how the increasing human population, the effects of enclosure, the clearing or draining of once inaccessible places, and subsequent planting with monoculture crops, had displaced large numbers of birds: there were fewer snipe for supper, fewer finches to cage and pest creatures – insects and rodents – had become rampant while their natural avian predators were being decimated.

Chapters covering birds as food, playthings, raw materials – for fuel, writing instruments, bedding – as vermin, sacred objects, fashion accoutrements and sport offer astute insights into our often highly unedifying treatment of our native fauna. In an age when the human population was small and methods of trapping relatively inefficient, a theology that saw the natural world as an endless abundance supplied by God for us to do with as we pleased had only modest effect on the sustainability of bird species; but once guns had become both effective and affordable, on top of  increasingly industrialised agriculture, the impact of our hunting, poisoning, caging and displacing of birds from their natural routines and habitats became noticeably detrimental.

If the twentieth century was dominated by the twin, competing tracks of chemically enhanced agri-business and rising awareness of our environmental plight, then, the authors conclude in a brief postscript, this progressively detailed scientific, ecological, aesthetic and cultural understanding of the crucial parts diverse bird species play in our lives offers hope that we can make a significant difference in halting their decline. With its wide-ranging, informative text, extensive notes and commendably comprehensive index, When There Were Birds makes its own vital contribution to our perception of our relationship with creation, providing further stimulus for us to achieve an environmental renaissance.

17. From Manchester with Love, Paul Morley, Faber and Faber, 9780571252497. A 600 page love story, ostensibly packaged as a biography of Tony Wilson – Anthony H. Wilson – TV presenter, situationist, founder of Factory Records and the Haçienda, cultural originator, band manager, eccentric businessman, Jag devotee, complicated, explosive, foolish, daring, spirited, spiritual, stoned. It is a love story of Wilson for Manchester, Wilson for Wilson, Wilson for popular music as art that matters, Morley for Wilson, Morley for the city he left, Morley for the time when pop mattered, was revolution, was art, was life, was biblical.

Brilliantly cut with a thousand, thousand facets each reflecting, refracting, focussing and diffusing many of the swirling, contradictory, chaffing, genius elements of a complicated man syringing colour, vibrancy, energy, challenge through a city grey with decay. This is a great read, warty, carbuncled, polished, shiny, but murky, gleaming and glooming all at once. It isn’t a definitive biography – of man, Manchester, or of the post war, pre social media age – but it evokes, illuminates, re-mystifies them all. I loved it from start to finish – felt a deep sadness in the closing descriptions of the shutting down of Wilson’s body as cancer took control, but it left enough sense of the gone but not forgotten to remind us all to cherish the maverick, the makers, the disturbers of the peace, the visionary.

18. Treacle Walker, Alan Garner, Fourth Estate, 9780008477790. A slim hardback with large print yet pooling the same intensity that has pumped through every Garner book I have read. There are worlds, universes, cultures, mythologies, folk histories, belief systems packed into these 70 pages, all wrapped up in a young lad’s illness. Nothing in his worlds is every quite level, the focus is always shifting and the horizon is forever hazy as one reality bleeds onto another and another. Easily readable in one sitting this little novel will take much more than that to unpack and digest. Liminality is the birthing stool, the cradle and womb for all of Garner’s writing and there is no one who does it so convincingly and so perceptively. Unsettling and lovely.

19. The Man Who Died Twice, Richard Osman, Viking, 9780241425428. Guilty pleasures time – will this be the book that gets me back into reading fiction? Having enjoyed the R4 adaptation of the first Thursday Murder Club novel, I thought I would give this a whirl. Enjoyable characters, twisty, fun plotting and a satisfying, everything tied-up ending. True, this is the sort of book I would normally get from the library rather than purchase in hard back, but as a bit of nonsense to end the year with it was terribly jolly and cheering.

20. Music of Eternity: Meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill, Robyn Wrigley-Carr, SPCK, 9780281085507. I shall need to re-read and re-read this book a chapter a day for sometime to come as it is full of spiritual riches and challenges. Many years ago, when studying at King’s College, London, I remember being shown Evelyn Underhill’s notebooks and diaries by Dr Grace Jantzen as part of a course on Mysticism. Over the years I have learnt a little more about Underhill and have found that her writings to be perceptive, approachable but not easy, she does have a tendency to push your thinking about how, when, why we meet with God. She believes that we are all able to be in touch with God if we are prepared to put in some hard work. Robyn Wrigley-Carr offers 28 carefully constructed chapters constructed from suitable extracts of Underhill’s writings, to take us on a journey into the heart of revelation. For someone writing around a hundred years ago, Underhill’s thinking is very much in tune with current needs and issues. She is positive, but challenging – meeting with God requires both taking up and letting go but has the possibility of being quite transformative.

Nature at Flax Bourton Rectory, 2006-2021.

Snakeshead Fritillaries, Flax Bourton Rectory

After fifteen years living in Flax Bourton Rectory it is time to move, which gives me the perfect opportunity to celebrate the wildlife we have encountered in this garden over one and a half decades.

While the botanical glory of the Rectory garden has been the spread of Common Spotted Orchids across the lawns (60 counted in 2021), plus the naturalisation of the front with several hundred Snakeshead Fritillaries, our low mow policy has stimulated a pleasing variety of wildflowers to give extra colour and texture while feeding an increasing diversity of fauna. With a little help Oxlips, Cowslips and Primroses are well established, Yellow Rattle has supressed the grasses – of which there a number of species – Ox-Eye Daisies have spread out of the rough areas to those more regularly mown, Self Heal and Germander Speedwell, Yarrow, Pink and White Clover, Kidney Vetch and Lesser Yellow Trefoil cover the lawns, Lesser Celandines, Lords and Ladies and Common Violets make their presence felt. There are few Buttercups, but many Daisies, some Dandelions and a small number of Hawkweeds, but not the Orange Hawkweed that adorns our neighbour’s bank. In the borders Perennial Cornflowers, Archangel and Evening Primrose pop up every year and Herb Robert does its thing.

Common Spotted Orchids, Flax Bourton Rectory

As Honey Fungus ripped through the garden so we had to adjust our planting, losing many ornamental plants, but gaining more Dog Roses and Hawthorns plus a self-seeded flowering cherry. One of the jewels of the plot is a female Yew Tree, which reaches upwards and outwards about thirty feet and is much loved by many species of birds, usually playing host to a breeding family of Great or Blue Tits. Feeding birds have enabled the Yew to seed all over the garden, meaning that the whole time we have been here we have never needed to buy a Christmas tree. While this Yew shades the area we have designated as a wildflower meadow, the ground remains damp enough for the Fritillaries to thrive, although other plants haven’t been so lucky. Of all the 1,000s of Field Poppy seeds I have scattered there over the years, only one has ever flowered and Cornflower and Corncockles have been failures, but then this isn’t a corn field. Ribwort Plantains love the site, and there is a fair smattering of Common Sorrel and Lady’s Smock, while Yarrow stalwartly sticks to the mown areas. However, Wild Carrot and Common Valerian seem to be thriving, Harebells have got a foothold and other plants appear from time to time, as well as some lush waxcap fungi in the autumn.

Azure Damselflies mating, pond, Flax Bourton Rectory

The larger pond (which is still a small pond) houses a colony of Smooth Newts, who vie for prey with nymphs of Southern Hawker Dragonflies, Azure and Large Red Damselflies, while frogs and toads are irregular visitors, preferring to lurk among the wildflowers. The occasional Banded or Beautiful Demoiselle drifting by always adds a shimmer of glamour. They tend to eschew the pond – their preference being for running water – but linger around the borders, seeking leafy vantage points exposed to sun but sheltered from wind, where they can bask. The Darters of late summer haven’t been spotted, but annually a handful of Emperor Dragonflies make their presence felt. I have even witnessed females ovipositing in the main pond, but the only large dragons seen hatching so far have been Southern Hawker. The nymphs seem to emerge out of the water during the night, sometimes crawling across to the meadow to find a suitably strong, tall stem to climb. In the morning it is a tremulous delight to find the newly hatched adult resting next to the split nymph case, wings folded over its back still only two thirds full size. Over the next few hours, especially when the sun warms them, they open all four wings out flat and vital fluids pump through the veins, expanding them and creating a rigid structure. Eventually there is a period of wing trembling before the first swift flight and then they are gone.   

Southern Hawker Dragonfly hatching from Flax Bourton Rectory pond

Dragonfly numbers have remained pretty constant since we put in the pond 10 years ago, but the volume of butterflies passing through the garden has crashed, despite the introduction of many suitable flowering plants. Tortoiseshells have become pretty much a rarity – we see far more Commas, Peacocks and Red Admirals and while both Large and Small Whites seem to be in abundance, that doesn’t compensate for the paucity of individuals of other species. Holly Blues are still vigorous and it is glorious to spot the shining through the wings of male Orange-tips, making them glow translucently with seraphic white and ecstatic orange.

Orange Tip on Fritillary, Flax Bourton Rectory

Possibly my favourite butterfly, Orange-tips are a tangible sign of spring hope as they flit across the swaying heads of the Snakeshead Fritillaries in the Meadow. And, talking of fritillaries, every year a handful of their namesakes, the large, vivid and bossy Silver-washed Fritillary, make it down from the woods in Bourton Coombe to feed on one of the many Buddleja shrubs in the garden. Nineteen species is reasonable for one garden, but really, the figures for most are tiny. As I look out there is, once again, a single male Ringlet quartering the meadow area in the vain hope of discovering a mate. Of course, the most memorable butterfly visit occurred in August 2014, when we spotted a striking caterpillar preparing to pupate at the base of a fennel plant. Six weeks later it emerged, a dazzling mirage of shape and colour, rising to fly purposefully over Parsons Mead. Identified as of the European rather than the British race of the Swallowtail Butterfly, it was still a notable record for this area, and provided the catalyst for my first book.

The Flax Bourton Swallowtail

It is only in the last three years that I have begun putting out a moth trap at various locations around the garden, hence the relatively modest figure of eighty species found, and the fact that I’ve only, so far, managed to identify sixty of them. Some, such as the Lobster Moth, have only been spotted as caterpillars, but the majority have been seen as adults. Favourites would include the day-flying Scarlet Tigers, whose caterpillars can be found in spring munching through Comfrey plants on the bank outside the front of the house. The striking red, dark brown and cream adults always seem to time their flight periods for Wimbledon fortnight. The big hawk moths – Privet and Elephant – are the most immediately impressive, but some of the others such as Bee and Hummingbird – are just as exciting as they zip around the garden in daytime. Then there are the weirdly shaped Thorns and the amazing dead twig camouflage of the Buff Tip. Along with the thrill of opening up the trap to see what is inside, there is also amazement at some of the names these moths have been given – Blood Vein, Mottled Rustic, Poplar Lutestring, Scorched Carpet. I’m not the only one to find moths fascinating – having left a camera out one night while the moth trap was alight all the footage we saw in the morning was of a neighbourhood cat swatting moths.

Buff Tip Moth, Flax Bourton Rectory

Put the moth trap out in late May and it is liable to be filled with Cock Chafers, the less elegant relative of the emerald glossy Rose Chafer, who we often find nestled in the flowering heads of artichokes. I’m not brilliant at identifying many orders of insects, but I do have my favourites. Among them are the Green Shield Bugs that overwinter in the honeysuckle outside my study window. Last autumn they were joined by a trio of Speckled Bush Crickets – two females and a male (very ‘Cabaret’) – who hid by the window at night, emerging when the sun was shining to soak up its warmth. They lasted until the first frosts, but the shield bugs are hardier: clustering together in twos and threes they manage to hold out until spring. The only other grasshopper species we have seen here are Meadow Grasshopper in the wild area, and the occasional Dark Bush Cricket in the borders. Fifteen years ago I could still make out the strident stridulation of the bush crickets, but as my hearing has deteriorated so has this pleasure and now I have to rely on the technology of a bat detector. I find that sad as I am particularly fond of them and several times – including Roesel’s Bush Cricket on Hampstead Heath and Great Green Bush Crickets above Rhossili beach – I have discovered species by sound alone.

Female Speckled Bush Cricket outside study window, Flax Bourton Rectory

But crickets aren’t the only insects of interest. Beeflies, or Humbleflies, with their distinctive flight pattern and their straight, non-retractable proboscises, are one of the mini-marvels of spring, often spotted floating over primroses, or soaking up the warmth from a sunny patch of bare soil. Turn out a bag of bark chippings and there might be a Lesser Stag Beetle strutting its stuff. With mandibles of modest proportions compared with its more well-known cousin, it is still a formidable creature and a delight to discover.

Then there are the bees. With heather and winter honeysuckle flowering throughout the coldest seasons, so long as there are a few bright days, we can safely say that we see bees every month of the year. Yes, there are fewer Honeybees around, but we see plenty of bumblebees of various species. The first year we were here a colony of bumblebees nested underground in the middle of the vegetable patch. However, a Badger found their nest and dug it up, leaving much on the surface with the bees dashing in and out. I buried it again, leaving an entrance hole, placing bricks over the top. Next morning it had been dug out again, but the bees were still trying to use it. So, I reburied it, with heavier concrete blocks over the top. That didn’t stop the Badger, who dug it up and dismantled it fully. We didn’t find another bumblebee nest for over ten years, until another colony made their home in an unused sparrow nesting box over our front door. For a couple of months the bees buzzed in and out, leaving a trail of pollen prints around the entrance to the box. This summer another brood has nested somewhere in the space between the heather along the front of the house and the front wall. When we are in the sitting room of an early evening there is a constant stream of worker bees passing the window as they enter or leave their nest.

With five sets of bee sticks in use, three in front of my study window, there is plenty of action from the Red Mason and other solitary bees. Also parasitic wasps that hang around the entrance, waiting for their moment to speed in and lay their eggs among those of the bees. For the first time this year I’ve also discovered Leafcutter Bees sharing the bee sticks with their mason relatives, plugging the entrance hole to their nest cell with carefully cut circles of leaf. Both species have to run the risk of marauding Greater Spotted Woodpeckers. Several times we have been woken by the frantic hammering of a woodpecker smashing its way into the nest cells to extract the eggs or grubs within.

Frogs were more abundant in the days when our only pond was in a barrel on the patio. Out front they prefer the wildflower area to the actual water, perhaps because there are so many Smooth Newts (38 counted once when cleaning out the pond) while Toads lurk in various damp and dark places around the whole garden. Wood Mice have been filmed by the trail camera tucking into the cat food we left out for Hedgehogs (cats and Badgers also enjoyed a saucerful of finest feline cuisine) while Hedgehogs have only been spotted intermittently. For a time, until I covered them over, Badgers used the front of house drains for latrines, and Foxes can be occasionally met sauntering up the drive. Rabbits rarely make it across the A370 while Grey Squirrels are seen only a couple of times a year. In the early days here Pipistrelle Bats were seen over the garden every suitable night during summer and autumn, but latterly they’ve not be detectable by sight or sound. Whether that is part of a cyclical movement of a colony round suitable properties in the village, or a decline in local numbers isn’t yet known.

Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Flax Bourton Rectory

The most active and visible fauna in and around this garden are birds. Most days the feeders are humming with House Sparrows, Goldfinches, Greenfinches (it has been lovely witnessing their resurgence, following their decimation by the Trichomonosis virus) Great, Blue and Coal Tits, Robins, a pair of Chaffinches and the perennial bullies – Jackdaws and Magpie. In winter and spring parties of frenetically twittering Long Tailed Tits drift through, settling on the fatballs in a tiny fuzzy pink gang. Under the feeders skulk Dunnock and Blackbird, while Wood Pigeon waddle around gobbling up anything they can grab, sometimes shadowed by their daintier, more elegant relatives, Collared Doves. Blackcaps have been regular winter visitors, but never seen between May and December, Green Woodpeckers used to feast on ants nests in the lawns, but not for the last ten years, when they have been heard but not seen. The occasional Grey Heron makes its way down to the main pond usually early in the breeding season, but it is Blackbirds and Magpies who have the time and patience to fish for newts, with moderate success.

Sparrowhawk on drive, Flax Bourton Rectory

The mewling of Buzzards high overhead never ceases to resonate and once, while perched high on a ladder, pruning apple tree whips, the Ravens cronking alarm calls caused me to peer skywards in time to spy a pair of angry corvids mobbing a juvenile Red Kite that was cowling by on high rolling thermals, heading for the channel. Once in a while a Kestrel will take a lazy shortcut over the village to get from Coombe to Showground, but the raptors most often seen are Sparrowhawks, who find the bird feeding posts convenient stops for an avian takeaway. There have been some notable encounters with Sparrowhawks, usually male, and several losses of resident song birds. Mantling hawks, plucking hawks, hawks bemused by missing a catch have all been seen and there was one who sat on a fence staring straight at us for more than twenty minutes, flashing the most fearsome gaze of rage at the kitchen window.

Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Flax Bourton Rectory

Over the years there have been changes – we no longer see wintering Brambling, or Marsh Tits, House Martins and Swallows are rarely spied and the Peregrines that nested in Stancombe Quarry have gone. Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Redwings and Fieldfares visit far less. However, Ravens are now a common sight, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers bring their fledglings to feed, Wrens continue to scold our cat, Isla, whenever she ventures forth and wintering Goldcrests skulk about the yews, occasionally dazzling us with a flash of their golden crowns.

For fifteen full years Flax Bourton Rectory garden has given us great pleasure, some (Honey Fungus) woes and many surprises – we hope it will prove to be as much of a blessing to the next residents in the house as it has been to us.

Species Lists

Dragonflies/damselflies

Azure Damselfly; Banded Demoiselle; Beautiful Demoiselle; Blue-tailed Damselfly; Common Blue Damselfly; Emperor Dragonfly; Large Red Damselfly; Scarce Chaser; Southern Hawker (many hatching in the pond) (9)

Immature Scarce Chaser, Flax Bourton Rectory

Butterflies

Brimstone; Comma; Common Blue; Dark Green Fritillary; Gatekeeper; Holly Blue; Large Skipper; Large White; Meadow Brown; Orange Tip; Painted Lady; Peacock; Red Admiral; Ringlet; Silver-washed Fritillary; Small Tortoiseshell; Small White; Speckled Wood; Swallowtail (hatched in the garden, BRERC county record) (19)

Peacock Butterfly, Flax Bourton Rectory

Moths (only those that I can name have been included, there are another 20 species I have photographed but have not been able to identify)

August Thorn; Barred Straw; Bee Moth; Blood Vein; Bright-line Brown-eye; Brimstone; Broad-bordered Bee Hawk Moth; Buff Ermine; Buff Tip; Cinnabar; Clouded Border; Common Carpet; Common Footman; Common Rustic; Copper Underwing; Dark Arches; Dark Umber; Double Square-spot; Dusky Thorn; Dwarf Cream Wave; Elephant Hawk Moth; Fan Foot; Flame Shoulder; Gold Spot; Heart and Dart; Hummingbird Hawk Moth; Jersey Tiger; Large Yellow Underwing; Lesser Yellow Underwing; Lobster Moth; Magpie Moth; Marbled Green; Marbled Minor; Mottled Beauty; Mottled Rustic; Nut Tree Tussock; Oak Eggar; Oak Hook-tip; Orange Swift; Poplar Grey; Poplar Lutestring; Privet Hawk Moth; Purple Bordered Gold; Red Underwing; Riband Wave; Rosy Footman; Ruby Tiger; Scalloped Oak; Scarlet Tiger; Scorched Carpet; Single Dotted Wave; Six Spot Burnet; Small Magpie Moth; Small Phoenix; Speckled Footman; Straw Dot; Small Waved Umber; Treble Lines; Vapourer; White Ermine (60)

Scarlet Tiger Moth, Flax Bourton Rectory

Birds (f = seen in flight from or over the garden)

Black-headed Gull (f); Blackbird; Blackcap; Blue Tit; Brambling; Bullfinch; Buzzard (f); Carrion Crow (f); Chaffinch; Chiffchaff; Coal Tit; Collared Dove; Common Gull (f); Cormorant (f); Dunnock; Fieldfare; Feral Pigeon; Goldcrest; Goldfinch; Great Spotted Woodpecker; Great Tit; Green Woodpecker; Greenfinch; Grey Heron; Greylag Goose (f); House Martin (f); House Sparrow; Jackdaw; Jay; Kestrel (f); Lesser Black-backed Gull (f); Long-tailed Tit; Magpie; Mallard (f); Marsh Tit; Mistle Thrush; Mute Swan (f); Nuthatch; Peregrine Falcon (f); Pheasant; Pied Wagtail; Raven (f); Red Kite (f); Redwing; Robin; Song Thrush; Sparrowhawk; Starling; Swallow (f); Swift (f); Tawny Owl (f); Treecreeper; Willow Warbler; Wood Pigeon; Wren (55)

Beefly, Flax Bourton Rectory

Other Insects include many species of hover fly, solitary and bumble bee and:

Beefly; Cockchafer; Common Green Shield Bug; Dark Bush Cricket; Lesser Stag Beetle; Ichneumon flies – e.g. Yellow Ophion; Lily Beetle; Meadow Grasshopper; Parasitic Wasp; Pond Skater; Red Mason Bee; Rose Chafer; Speckled Bush Cricket; Swollen Thigh Beetle; Water Beetle, Agabus bipusulartus; Water Boatman

Mating Green Shieldbugs, Flax Bourton Rectory

Amphibians

Common Frog; Common Toad; Smooth Newt

Mammals

Badger; Brown Rat; Common Pipistrelle; Common Shrew; Fox; Grey Squirrel; Hedgehog; Noctule; Rabbit; Soprano Pipistrelle; Wood Mouse

Beautiful Demoiselle, Flax Bourton Rectory

Mary Magdalene: Midwife of the Resurrection

Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy – Jean Lowe, 2020

I recently bought a painting by contemporary American artist Jean Lowe, based upon Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy’, at an auction in support of the Hepatitis C Trust. The artist, her inspiration and the Trust, a substantial proportion of whose work is with women in prison, were all good reasons why I bid on this piece, feeding into my own perception of Mary Magdalene.

There are numerous Mary’s in the Gospels and, over time, several of them, along with the woman at the well who had been married to five men (John 4), the woman caught in adultery (John 8) and the nameless woman who pours costly nard over Jesus’s feet (Luke 7), became identified with Mary Magdalene. Factor in further confusion with early Christian character Mary of Egypt, a penitent prostitute who spent thirty years in the desert clad only in her hair, repenting of her sins, and it is not surprising that Pope Gregory the Great, in 581, outed Mary of Magdala as a prostitute, a character slur that was only officially refuted by Pope Paul VI in 1969.

For centuries such labelling minimised Mary Magdalene’s role as a core member of Jesus’s team. It also gave great scope for artistic depictions, some thoughtful, many sentimental and a fair few blatantly salacious. Bare breasted Magdalenes abound – combining nudity with penitence to create images comingling eroticism with religious devotion, offering church sanctioned opportunities for the roaming eye of the male gaze.

Orazio Gentileschi frequently painted Mary Magdalene, and was not averse to showing her topless, lying delectably prone in a state of contemplation as sensual as it was spiritual. But his daughter, Artemisia, far surpassed him in both the number and the quality of her depictions of Mary. If you recall that in 1612 Orazio had charged fellow artist Agostino Tassi with the rape of his daughter and that during the ensuing investigation Artemisia was tortured with thumb screws to establish the veracity of her father’s claim, it would be easy to suggest that she identifies strongly with the maligned saint. Perhaps, but while Artemisia, whose reputation had been publicly trashed, does paint herself as Mary Magdalene, indicating some sense of self-identification, she offers a multi-faceted view. Mostly she eschews scarlet robes, a longstanding marker of the ‘fallen woman’ favoured by many male artists including her father and El Greco. Instead, she prefers white with saffron or bronze and while there is a hint of bosom, a bare shoulder overlaid by hair lying long and loose, her Magdalene’s clothes are usually voluminous and modest, figuratively concealing rather than revealing. Depictions include Mary as penitent, as the characterisation of Melancholy, in ecstasy.

Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia’s ‘Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy’ has her hands clasped tight over her knees, legs stretching forward, head tipped back allowing her hair to flow freely over the skin of her shoulders and down her back. There are few clues in the dark background as to the source of this emotion. Jean Lowe has chsoen to reference this iamge, cropping tight (the auction was ‘Art on a Postcard’ which gives you a clue to the format – 10 x 15cm), framing Mary’s head, neck, shoulders and the animated shimmer of her tresses. The effect is to divorce the viewer further from the source of Mary’s ecstasy – is it sensual, spiritual or a combination? And there’s the rub, any definition will lead to labelling – sinner or saint, whore or disciple – categorisation acting as society’s diminishing of her as an individual, as a woman. Lowe’s work often wittily critiques commodification and our consumerist mentality, subverting the notion that everything can be neatly boxed up, classified, filed away and forgotten. She reminds us to question the ways we package ourselves, our lives and others. Mary Magdalene and Christ, who have both, over the centuries, been tamed and constrained, also ask us to question the systems and structures set up to provide that packaging.

Another artist with a fondness for Mary Magdalene was Georges de La Tour, using his signature technique of chiaroscuro scenes illuminated by candlelight. Working in the Duchy of Lorraine around the same time as Artemisia Gentileschi, his Magdalenes are also blessed with free flowing long hair and off the shoulder garments, however they are also more pensive, sat in a darkened room, cradling a yellowed skull while staring at a candle flame and contemplating the brevity of life. Gone is the animation of Artemisia, the sense of energy, of a woman who is decisive, who walks the path of her own choosing. Instead, her glossy hair has lost its vivacity, her shoulders are rounded, her posture passive, and the intimation is still that her sin lies in her owning and controlling her sexuality, of being herself.

Magdalene with the Smoking Flame, Georges de la Tour

While the twentieth century finally brought about official recognition that there was no evidence to link Mary with prostitution it was too late to stop the horror of the Magdalene laundries, institutions whose severity akin to slavery was designed to stamp out any attempt at individuality or free will. Cultural conformity cruelly fed, justified and hid their abuse.

The Magdalene laundries may have been an extreme expression of the sentiment, still prevalent throughout society, that female sexuality carries an automatic presumption of guilt, but was the tendency in some modern biblical and esoteric research – that fuelled Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code fantasy – to reposition Mary as Christ’s sexual partner, the bearer of his children and his companion in his final post-resurrection resettlement in India any better? Once again, her sexuality was used to define her.

This brings us to FKA twigs 2019 album ‘Magdalene’, which draws Mary into contemporary gender politics, arguing for explicit equality for women, especially regarding relationships, the control over their own lives, bodies and sexuality. It is a beautiful, disquieting, uncomfortable work, yet despite the cogent and profound way twigs refashions Mary Magdalene as strong and independent she continues to perpetuate the myth of her as whore.  

Magdalene, FKA twigs

The New Testament offers a different story. Mary Magdalene is mentioned more times than many disciples, never as a prostitute. Luke does note that Jesus had cured her of seven demons (Luke 8:2), which may cover mental, physical or spiritual illness, even abuse, but without details we can only speculate. Was it the healing that brought her to Jesus? Maybe she had already discerned his godliness and that his vision, his kingdom transcended all the barriers, discrimination, labelling and commodification she was used to.

When Jesus is crucified all the men run away (evangelist John does allow the beloved disciple, John, to stay put), but his women followers, including Mary Magdalene, remain. Their determination recalls Shiphrah and Pauh, the Hebrew midwives who, in the early days of Israel’s story, defied despotic Pharoah’s commands to destroy all their nation’s male children (Exodus 1). On Golgotha’s slopes Christ’s women disciples exhibit the strength to see the grisly business through, witnessing the humiliation, torture and brutal death of God’s own Son. They have the nous to keep an eye on those arranging the disposal of his body. They have the courage and the respect for tradition to bring the ritual herbs and spices necessary for a proper Jewish burial. They, through Mary Magdalene, are the witnesses to the resurrection. Jewish law would deem them unreliable witnesses – untrustworthy gossips – but they are the ones God wants as birthing partners for the new creation.

At the heart of this moment is Mary Magdalene. True, Gospel writer John, does bring both Peter and John to witness the empty tomb, and allows the beloved disciple to believe that Jesus is alive, without having seen him, but then both men disappear back inside their bolted and barred bastion. Unlike Christ they are not ready for rebirth, for the breaking of boundaries, for unlocking. It is Mary Magdalene who has brought them there and it is Mary who stays. Consequently, she is the first to meet the risen Christ, the first to speak to him, the first to touch him. Could Artemisia’s image of Mary in ecstasy be that moment – or a recollection of it – the instance of her overwhelming by rapturous joy, by the unbridled, extravagant generosity of God’s grace? For the grace of Resurrection cannot be kept secret, it must be shared. Mary does just that, rushing from garden freedom to locked room to tell the quavering, querulous, questioning men the good news, and thus becoming the apostle to the apostles – a designation worth remembering as a rebalancing of the anthropocentric hierarchy of ministry. Then she is written out of history as patriarchal tradition swings into action. But the truth is in the texts, she is the one attendant at the womb of the tomb, she is the one who fills the lungs of the Resurrection with air to set its cry reverberating around the world, unchained, unboxed, unlabelled, dangerous, ecstatic, joyous and liberating.

Wearing the blind censor’s glasses

1. ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’, Azar Nafisi, Harper Perennial, 978007790210.

I haven’t been feeling the love for fiction for a while now. Partly because, as a bookseller, I’ve seen far too many poorly written, weakly plotted, tree wasting volumes infesting shop shelves. Partially because, well, the clue’s in the name ‘fiction’ – it isn’t real so what is the value to it? Perhaps also, because the last year has been stranger than any novel. I’ve also experienced a lack of access to novels, the libraries being closed. Fiction isn’t something I tend to buy, it is ephemeral, like films: when you’ve read it/seen it once, it is over, gone, done. Hence, I borrow novels from the library. They are light entertainment. They pass the time on the bus. Maybe this is why I found English Literature ‘A’ Level taxing. Reflecting on poetry was fine: poetry is created as the art of ambiguity, using words in such an amorphous way that anyone can imbue them with their own meaning and write an essay/book/course. But novels, well they’re just utilitarian crowd pleasers. They only improve society by temporarily relieving boredom.

I picked up ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ during that brief autumn window when charity shops were open. Subtitled ‘A Memoir in Books’ it describes the time in the 1980s and 1990s during the Iranian Islamic revolution when the author was teaching Western literature to students in Tehran. I thought if anything was going to make the case for the value of fiction, then this might be it. It wasn’t. Her insights into the work of Austen, Fitzgerald, James and Nabakov left me cold. More fuel for the lit crit fire.

However, this is also a clearly written, evocative, enlightening memoir of life under an extreme form of oppression in an ancient, highly sophisticated Middle Eastern country. As a woman teaching mixed genders at college and exclusively women students at home, she describes with heartfelt, precise, piercing details the complex truth concerning life in a nation where a stray hair escaping from beneath a scarf can lead to flogging. Each of the seven students who met to discuss literature at her home is drawn with vivid, wistful details, the sometimes shocking stories of each of their lives being allowed to slowly reveal themselves. How they adapt to, resist, survive the fearsome censorship and violent intolerance of a fledgling society that simultaneously rates women as both third class citizens and as containing some immensely powerful, uncontrollable force capable of subverting or corrupting all around them, gives the book its urgency, its humanity, its fascination. What happens to Azar Nafisi, together with the survival of her students, matters far more than any neat comments about Austen’s underlying themes. While ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ has prompted me to think more about place and loyalty, identity and government, equality, law and enforcement it hasn’t erased my prickling suspicion that fiction is second rate writing.

My listening year: New Music 2020

If reading was tough this year, listening to music wasn’t. Yes, I had loads of great gigs lined up, and, no, none of them happened, but 2020 was crammed with so much wonderful music that it was hard to keep up.

As you can see from the full list, I managed to listen to 200 of 2020’s new releases. Some received only one hearing, others were on heavy rotation. In between there was plenty of Beethoven, Liszt and Hildegard. Reams and reams of Hildegard. You can’t go wrong with Hildegard, you really can’t – especially when writing sermons or prepping liturgy. There was also R3’s Night Tracks and Unclassified, which provided the jumping off point for exploring quite a few albums.

Spending so much time at my desk trying to write had a natural tendency to shift my musical choices towards instrumental works, especially experimental electronica. I do enjoy Aidan O’Rourke’s minimalist folk, and you’ll see 15 albums of his here. It was wonderful to listen to the whole set of his 365 series, taut vignettes, each in response to a single story in James Robertson’s volume ‘365: Stories’ (each story is 365 words long). Must read the book, sometime.

There is a far smattering of ‘classical’ music in this list, headed, at the start of the year, by Vikingur Olafsson’s melding of Debussy and Rameau, French composers from strikingly different periods. I was struck by the clarity of Olafsson’s piano, but also his evident love for the music and for the interplay that occurred through the juxtaposition of these two composers. This was an album which kept rising up the play list throughout the year, unlike Sean Shibe’s guitar versions of Bach’s Lute Suites, which felt tame, without bite. Much more satisfying were both the Labeque sisters recording of Philip Glass’s Les Enfants Terrible and Jenny Lin’s rendering of Glass’s piano works. Indeed, there was much Glass listened to this year – he provides a clear link with many of the more experimental electronic artists I was dipping into. Something about his edgy yet constrained freneticism and the crystalline, molecular structures of repeated patterns, chimed strongly with the swirling year. However, the keyboard album of 2020 was Paradiso plays Paradisi, Anna Paradiso’s recording of Pietro Domenico Paradisi’s harpsichord works; truly delightful music that brims and bubbles with vitality.

Among the other classical releases I picked up on, by far the most intriguingly titled was Cyrillus Kreek, The Suspended Harp of Babel. It was also a disc of immense lushness, Kreek being an Estonian composer of the generation preceding Arvo Pärt, best known for his ardent collecting, rescoring and recording of the music of his homeland – from liturgy to folksong. This collection of a mix of sacred and secular songs is mysterious, mesmerising and enchanting. I also enjoyed Lisa Gerrard’s version of Henryk Gorecki’s Third Symphony. There was something about Gerrard’s singing that raised the symphony above the sentimental sobfest I’d written it off as, when the 1992 recording with Dawn Upshaw became a surprise bestseller.

There were dozens of big name artists who released albums this year, most of whom I ignored. Of the elder rock gentry, both Bob Dylan’s and Neil Young’s album’s were interesting but grabbed neither heart or mind. Moving down the generations, Wire and Cabaret Voltaire neatly spliced into the discomfort of the year, both producing fine music that challenged and pleased. The Pet Shop Boys were entertaining, clever and yet forgettable, A Certain Ratio said nothing new, Sonic Boom (remember him) was lovely to hear from after so long but didn’t seem to have grown very much and Faithless need Maxi Jazz. Brian Eno, on the other hand, was another on the heavy play list, especially the expanded version of Mixing Colours.

Some albums just didn’t gel – The Chicks Gaslighter being one – and there were a few complete misses. I suspect IDLES wouldn’t like to be mentioned in the same sentence as The Strokes, but both their albums felt, to me, dismally contrived. Grimes has become far too ordinary for my taste, but I’ll keep listening to her for the impact her first three albums – Geidi Primes, Halfaxa and Visions – made on me.

I was on safer territory with some of the No Wave names of my youth. Thurston Moore’s By the Fire was good, but too similar to 2019’s stunning Spirit Counsel, and totally shown up by the release of a recording of Sonic Youth live in Moscow in 1989, which itself was taken to the wire by the stonkingly wonderful Minutemen Studio Zzz, Los Angeles ’82. It is always good to hear from Yo La Tengo, so two new EPs, or short albums, was good for those times of pensive introspection, which were multitudinous in 2020. It was also lovely to hear from Jarboe again, but then I think her work with Swans is far more essential than her solo output.  The real revelation was Jim O’Rourke’s collaboration with Kassel Jagger – In Cobalt Aura Sleeps – which is dark and grounded and overwhelmingly gorgeous, and which drove me to Kassel Jagger’s equally wonderful Swamp/Thing. If I see a legacy of No Wave in contemporary composers, then Liturgy might contain it: Origin of the Alimony pulses with a luxurious mix of noise and order.

A slew of my personal favourite contemporary artists came up with material that pleased me immensely, such as Julianna Barwick, Sarah Davachi, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Anna von Hausswolff, while it was great to see Waxahatchee receiving major press attention – I’ve followed her music since 2013’s Cerulean Salt. On the other hand, I’m a tad irked that so many end of year lists put Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters top, but only because I don’t like being on trend. It is a marvellous album – tense and relaxed, vivid and dark, energetic and enigmatic, and I had earmarked it as my 2020 number one way back in the spring.

Both Autechre and Son Lux released two albums a piece, and I’m glad they did, as they’ve kept me going throughout the year, as has Fenne Lily’s Breach and CoH’s Music Vo. Yves Tumor gets more interesting with every release and Ambar Lucid came close to pipping Fiona Apple to the top spot. I don’t know why, but Garden of Lucid, resonated deeply.

A couple of big finds for me were Andrew Heath and Roedelius. Hans-Joachim Roedelius was born in 1934 and his music comes from the Germany of Faust, Can and Tangerine Dream. You may find hints of all three in his music, but it is very much his own, especially the Selbsportrait series which he began to release in 1979. You could say that this sound world is internalised, singularly personal, but it feels more ‘everyman’ in its scope and has accompanied me through many dark days of the last year. Andrew Heath’s music makes more use of found sounds, could be easily described as immersive and chimes with the themes of landscape I’ve recently been exploring in reading an art (as do Julianna Barwick, Jim O’Rourke, Kassel Jagger and many of the other artists I follow). Another contender for the top spot, one which I’ve played and played, and which is filled with organic shapes, earthed in the poetry of floral, fauna, geology, is Pantha du Prince’s Conference of the Trees. Try it, it is utterly bewitching. Or, if you want something with a more tangible starting point, listen to Jenny Sturgeon’s songs reflecting Nan Shepherd’s classic book of natural connections The Living Mountain.

There is so much more I could say about this list, but little time, and anyway, the best thing is to go and listen for yourself. I’m looking forward to hearing fresh material from the likes of Torres, Skylar Gudasz and Helen Vogelsinger, who have especially grabbed my attention, while I’m also always pleased to find something new, but comforting from such as Tiny Leaves. All in all, and despite multifarious horrors pandemic and political, 2020 was a fantastic year for music, and the innovation, invention, skill and vision of many of these composers, musicians and artists has been vital in seeing me through it.

Here’s the list of my new music listening during 2020:

1975 – Notes on a Conditional Form

A Certain Ratio – ACR loco

ADULT. – Perception is/as/of Deception

Altopalo – farawayfromeveryoneyouknow

Alva Noto – Xerrox, Vol.4

Another Sky – I Slept on the Floor

Apple, Fiona – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Arca – @@@@@

Arnaulds, Olafur – Some kind of peace

Aurelia Smith, Kaitlyn – The Mosaic of Transformation

Autechre – Plus

Autechre – Sign

Avery, Daniel – Love+Light

Barwick, Julianna – Healing is a Miracle

Barwick, Julianna – Healing is a Miracle, extended version

beebadoobee – Fake it Flowers

Beth, Jehnny – To love is to live

Bridgers, Phoebe – Punisher

Brubaker, Bruce & Cooper, Max – Glassford

Bruckner – Mass in E Minor (Stephen Cleobury)

Bulbils – Bulbils

Bulbils – Florakinesis

Bulbils – Funnel

Bulbils – Fossil

Bulbils – Egg

Bulbils – Enemy

Bulbils – Donkey

Bulbils – Mounds

Bulbils – Spring

Cabaret Voltaire – Shadow of Fear

Cabeki – De qui grattacieli erano mervavigliosi

Caminiti, Evan – Varispeed Hydra

Caribou – Suddenly

Chant Electronique – Chant Electronique Vol 1

Christine and the Queens – La Vita Nuova Remixes

Christine and the Queens – La Vita Nuova (ep)

Chromatics – Faded Now

CoH – Music Vo

Collins, Shirley – Heart’s Ease

Coverdale, Kara-Lis – Grafts (Expanded reissue)

Darkstar – Civic Jams

Davachi, Sarah – Cantus, Descant

Davachi, Sarah – Figures in Open Air

Davachi, Sarah – Laurus

David-Guillou, Angeles – A Question of Angles

David-Guillou, Angeles – Sans Mouvement

Dillon, Beatrice – Workaround

Disclosure – Energy

Dream Girls – So When You Gonna…

Dua Lipa – Club Future Nostalgia (DJ Mix)

Dylan, Bob – Rough and Rowdy Ways

E.M.M.A. – Indigo Dream

Eartheater – Phoenix: Flames are Dew Upon My Skin

Electrocute – Tiger Toys

Elgar – Cello Concerto/ Anna Clyne – Dance (Inbal Segev)

Eno, Brian – Film Music 1976-2020

Eno, Brian & Eno, Roger – Mixing Colours

Eno, Brian & Eno, Roger – Mixing Colours Expanded

EOB (Ed O’Brien) – Earth

Faithless – All Blessed

Ferreyra, Beatrice – Echos+

Fourtet – Sixteen Oceans

Garcia, Nubya – Source

Georgia – Seeking Thrills

Glass, Philip – King Lear

Glass, Philip – Les Enfants Terrible (Katie and Marie Labeque)

Glass, Philip – Musical Offering

Glass, Philip – Piano Works (Jenny Lin)

Glass, Philip – Strange Energies (Sandersky)

Glass, Philip – Violin Concerto No 2

Glenn-Copeland, Beverly – Live at Le Guess Who?

Gooch, Lucy – Rushing EP

Gordon, Geoffrey – Cello Libris

Gorecki, Henryk – Symohony No. 3 (Lisa Gerrard, Genesis Orchestra)

Grimes – Miss Anthropocene

Gunn-Truscinski Duo – Soundkeeper

Haim – Women in Music, Part III

Halo, Laurel – Possessed

Hausswolff, Anna von – All Thoughts Fly

Haydn – Cello Concertos (Natalie Clein – live)

Heath, Andrew – A Trace of Phosphor

Heath, Andrew – The Alchemist’s Muse

Hen Ogledd – Free Humans

Hopkins, Jon – Singularity

Horse Lords – The Common Task

I Still Play (Nonesuch Compilation – Timo Andres and others)

Ichmouratov, Airat – Symphony ‘On the ruins of an Ancient Fort’

IDLES – Ultra Mono

Jagger, Kassel – Swamp/Things

Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song

Jarboe – Illusory

Jones, Zora – Ten Billion Angels

Kalkun, Mari – Ounaaia Album

Kraja – Sommar (EP)

Kreek, Cyrillus – The Suspended Harp of Babel

Lanterns on the Lake – Spook the Herd

Lee, Okkyung – Yeo Neun

Lerkenfeldt, Lisa – Collagen

Leya – Flood Dream

Lily, Fenne – Breach

Lim, Lisa – Extinction Events and Dawn Chorus

Liturgy – Origin of the Alimony

Lomelda – Hannah

Longbardi, Luca & Kurumilian, Vladimir – The Rome Session – Live at Monk.

Lovely Eggs – I am Moron

Lucid, Ambar – Garden of Lucid

MacMillan, James – Organ Works

MacMillan, James – Symphony 5

Mae Power, Brigid – Head Above the Water

Masma Dream World – Play at Night

Masotto, Laura – Here and Now

Masotto, Lorenzo – Home

McKee, Maria – La Vita Nuova

Mediterraneo: Lady Blunt Collection

Minutemen – Studio Zzz, Los Angeles ’82

Moby – All Visible Objects

Monk, Meredith – Memory Game

Moore, Denai – Modern Dread

Moore, Thurston – By the Fire

Mr Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny

My Velvet Cage (A Tribute to Venus in Furs)

No Master, No Servant – Love Transforms Us, but into What?

Obel, Agnes – Myopia

Ockeghem – Masses Vol 2 (Beauty Farm)

Olafsson, Vikingur – Debussy-Rameau

Olsen, Angel – Whole New Mess

O’Rourke, Aidan – 365 Complete Works 1

O’Rourke, Aidan – 365 Complete Works 2

O’Rourke, Aidan – 365 Complete Works 3

O’Rourke, Aidan – 365 Complete Works 4

O’Rourke, Aidan – 365 Complete Works 5

O’Rourke, Aidan – 365 Complete Works 6

O’Rourke, Aidan – 365 Complete Works 7

O’Rourke, Aidan – 365 Complete Works 8

O’Rourke, Aidan – 365 Complete Works 9

O’Rourke, Aidan – 365 Complete Works 10

O’Rourke, Aidan – 365 Complete Works 11

O’Rourke, Aidan – 365 Complete Works 12

O’Rourke, Aidan – 365 Complete Works 13

O’Rourke, Aidan – 365 Complete Works 14

O’Rourke, Aidan – 365 Complete Works 15

O’Rourke, Jim / Jaeger, Kassel – In Cobalt Aura Sleeps

Ott, Christine – Chimères (pour Ondes Martenot)

Palmer, Amanda & Friends Present Forty-Five Degrees

Pantha du Prince – Conference of Trees

Paradisi, Pietro Domenico – Paradiso Plays Paradisi (Anna Paradiso)

Part, Arvo – Stabat Mater: Choral Works

Pet Shop Boys – Hotspot

Phillips, Grant-Lee – Lightning, Show Us Your Stuff

Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs – Visceral

Pinnock, Naomi – Lines and Spaces

Porridge Radio – Every Bad

Porter, Roy – Kistvaen

Pramuk, Lyra – Fountain

Prez, Josquin des – Masses: Missa Herculean Dux Ferrari, etc. (Tallis Scholars)

Riley, Terry – Cologne 1974

Roedelius – Draft und Dran

Roedelius – Selbstportrait Wahre Liebe

Roedelius – Tape Archive Essence 1973-1978

Rousay, Claire – A Heavenly Touch

Rouse, Christopher – Symphony No 5, Supplica, Concerto for Orchestra

Sarah Louise – Floating Rhododendron

Sawayama, Rina – Sawayama

Scott-Heron, Gil / McCraven, Makaya – We’re New Again

Shibe, Sean – Bach Lute Suites (on Guitar)

Sigur Ros – Odin’s Raven Music

Sith, DM & Sith, David – Waving 1-4 (ep)

Skylar Gudasz – Cinema

Soccer Mommy – Colour Therapy

Son Lux – Tomorrows I

Son Lux – Tomorrows II

Sonic Boom – All Things Being Equal

Sonic Youth – Live in Moscow (April 1989)

Squarepusher – Be Up a Hello

St Sigfrid’s Official- Celebremus Karissimi

Sturgeon, Jenny – The Living Mountain

Sun Ra Arkestra – Swirling

Susanna – Baudelaire & Piano

Swift, Taylor – evermore

Swift, Taylor – Folklore

The Big Moon – Walking Like We Do

The Chicks – Gaslighter

The Soft Pink Truth – Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?

The Strokes – The New Abnormal

This is the Kit – Off Off On

Tiny Leaves – Alone, Not Alone

Torres – Live in Berlin

Torres – Silver Tongue

Tumor, Yves – Heaven to a Tortured Mind

US Girls – Heavy Light

Vancolen, Arno – 6 Fragments

Vasteras Sinfonietta – The Nightingale

Vinikour, Joey – L’Unique (Couperin)

Vogelsinger, Helen – Contemplation

Walker, Simeon – Windows

War on Drugs – Live Drugs

Ward Thomas – Invitation

Wares – Survival

Warren, Johanna – Chaotic Good

Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud

Weinberg – Symphonies Nos 2 and 21

White Poppy – Paradise Gardens

Wire – Mind Hive

Wyatt, Jaime – Neon Cross

Ylang Ylang – Interplay

Yo La Tengo – Sleepless Night (EP)

Yo La Tengo – We Have Amnesia Sometimes

Young, Neil – Homegrown

Zapatilla – Zapatilla