Saturday, 29 December 2012

Letter to Monty on the passing of the old and words on stones

Dear Monty,

I have just finished reading Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell, a Christmas gift from my psychotherapist sister-in-law, and it has unleashed a flood of thoughts, appropriate to read whilst watching the deluge continue outside. In this novel Mankell explores what it is to age, how the process of ageing changes the way we see ourselves and our place in the world in regard to human relationships.

' Life is a flimsy branch over an abyss' - Mankell

I read my copy of the bible every day, chapter by chapter, it challenges me, thrills me, horrifies me. I realise that this battered, small, pocket-sized bible; read at train stations on hills and in art galleries is the personal possession that means the most to me, it will probably never belong to anyone else, it will fall apart with me.

 Waldemar Januszczak recently extolled the wonky cross and standing stones of the northern Christian tribes - each tribe has its version of Christ and Christianity - the same is so of today - layers of history of interpretation and mis-interpretation. Which version of Christ and Christianity is closest to the truth is a huge issue and brings passion and dogma to the surface with wars and rumours of wars.

I too liked the wonky cross - imperfect like me - accepted like me. Anyway I wasn't going to write about that - but how beautiful were those words on stones. My scruffy, battered, written-over (blasphemy !) bible will die with me - put it in my coffin.

When I walked with a few weeks ago we came across a stone with a quote from 2 Timothy 2 it says in my modern version :

 ' Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription : "The Lord knows those who are his"

This was written by Paul the apostle in response to quarrels about the word. Paul suggests in order to see truth, a man has to cleanse himself. Surely this has to be by personal revelation of the harm being done to our spiritual relationship by any 'wickedness' in us. Only then can a man cleanse himself. No-one else can do it, or force it into being. (although I have seen them try and even worse, have been guilty of it myself) A false repentance created out of fear will only mean future failure and more harm to the individual.

I draw a stone, and think that sometimes there are words which are better never spoken - because they bring hurt and struggle. Perhaps that is what living is all about. I, like Israel - struggle with God, I struggle with the truth, why is love such a painful thing?
The 'runes' on my stone speak of love, this is what the stone on the hill above Llangattock speaks of.
Even the stones cry out.

This is always a strange time of year, the passing of the old and the start of the 'new' with its hopes and fears.
The apostle Paul was small of stature, like me. He always called for his parchment and for a scribe to write down his letters. He was compelled to write, like many writers. There is still this compelling force - pushing the words out. My words falter and fall to the ground.

I looked at my small of stature body in the mirror last night, it has lost its definition - jowls sag, the belly sags a little. I no longer arouse desire or passion, this is a very difficult part of growing older which is rarely discussed because it brings shame. I am sorry if it offends you to mention it.

The world grinds on as trees and soil slip down the hill in Ystalyfera. The oak outside twists and flexes its bare branches as though they were made of rubber rather than the heavy dense living wood that they are. These are dark days with dark skies.
We have just celebrated Christ, the one who came to earth - born of a woman, a master builder, Jew and debater in the Synagogue and Temple, who prophesied the destruction of the building whose foundation stones now lay beneath the Dome of the Rock. He said that the new temple will be one not made with hands - what did he mean by that? This Christ child throws out difficult words for us to struggle with.

I thank God for this in-between time, a time of reflection. Christmas, a festival created to 'sanctify' the pagan festival of solstice is now a pale shadow of its former self, getting paler, thinner - less distinct year on year.

' Who despises the day of small things ?'

Perhaps living now is about holding on to the plumb line - an intention to build - but this building is one without stones. All I can do is hold on to the plumb line.

'Life is a dream impossible to pin down' - Henning Mankell

Maybe I will write to you again in the New Year.


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Letter to Monty on the flood, 'garden' and angels.

Dear Monty,

Like you we are currently experiencing flooding, not on the same scale, as we are high above the flood plain of the Tawe, but it requires sandbags to stop the burst brook coming through the front door of the old band room.

Water forms so much of our landscape, it carves and cuts through rock and soil, pouring toward the sea, it creates the character of this land.

I watch and wait. The Darren mountain forms a dark shadow opposite us, and is a reminder that we are on the edge of wilderness. Most towns border with other settlements, this one links with others in a sinuous line following the river valley with smaller and smaller communities the further North you go, eventually melting into the Brecon Beacons.

Here in Ystalyfera however, it is hard edged - a cut and bruised landscape of human struggle and industrial hunger. The land beyond the coal and the limestone in contrast is hedged and farmed.

Post industrial landscapes have a haunting quality to them, the ghost of mining can be heard in the gushing torrents off the old coal tip, and here in my small back garden - into which I bring chunks of washed out anthracite and coal measure plant fossils.

The Winter solstice has passed, soon light will return and 'The desired of all nations will come.' Peace is what I desire the most. I am sure that this year I have met with angels - messengers who have taught me so much.

'Are not the angels ministering spirits ?'

Peace to you Monty


( artwork photographed by

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

letter to Monty Don on 'wisdom transcending personal gain'.

Dear Monty,

11/12/12  I read an article published in the States by someone called Jed Diamond. It was shared on Twitter by Philippa Perry . The argument put forward is that mental illness is a myth - and that the whole earth is sick and needs fixing : 'The buildings are sick, the banking system's sick, the schools the streets - the sickness is out there. '

I have seen this insidious change for myself in the last 4 decades, but the process of movement toward global insanity continues at a faster pace. Belief, love, commitment, patience, rest are all being eroded by  selfishness, stress, anxiety and an inability to rest, to take stock, to think about this earth, this lung, the thing that feeds and clothes us.

The disconnect is palpable - the anxiety, stress and anger is palpable. When we become disconnected from our roots we fail to thrive.

Our roots are not connected to our genius - but to the genius of the organism of the living planet. So often we assume the planet is in our own hands to do with as we please, but I believe that it is given to us, and that this is the fundamental difference.

14/12/12  'There is no rest for the wicked' is often quoted in a glib way - but the prospect of no rest is awful. There is no rest in many parts of this world, or even in our own lives. No rest, no rest. We always have to be somewhere, to be doing something We cut one another up with words and cars and supermarket trolleys.

16/12/12  I felt so sick at the news of the quiet nurse taking her own life, and the terrible massacre at that American school. I also witnessed on the BBC Panorama how the banks treat the less well off if they get into debt. I felt so angry that a 52 year old woman with a relatively small debt as a result of getting breast cancer and having to stop work whilst getting treatment - had her home repossessed. How can that be justified?

Why are financial institutions so incapable of caring for borrowers ?  Can it not be written into their constitutions to care, to use discretion to endeavour to look after the poorest in society ? Is profit truly more important than life ? If our politicians represented love in action, faithfulness and justice I may be tempted to start voting again. However, I think they believe in bowing down to the god of the economy at all costs, and are afraid of offending the rich.

Micah the prophet wrote this about 2700 years ago :

'Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds!
At morning's light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it.
They covet fields and seize them,
and houses, and take them.
They defraud a man of his home, a fellow-man of his inheritance.'

Sorry Monty, soon I will write again of gardens. Merry Christmas ?


Sunday, 9 December 2012

Letter to Monty on wind, mountains and revelation.

Dear Monty,

'Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so ?'

I realise that there are consequences to all our actions, and that our place on this earth is fragile, we are not here forever.

There is something being said by the mountains, I heard a voice speak.

'He who forms the mountains creates the wind
and reveals his thoughts to man'

I had a thoroughly enjoyable walk in the hills above Abergavenny with Charles Hawes Walking away from the rush of roads, having time to see and hear what nature is, is just so refreshing for the soul. I believe we are meant to be connected to this earth, yet most of our lives today seem to be more and more distanced from it.  Life has become dulled by our pursuit of wealth. It seems that the economy and economic theory is to be pursued above all else for the supposed 'good' of us all.

Amos, a shepherd who started to hear the voice in the wind said this about how life starts to go astray once we pursue wealth for wealth's sake :

' When will the new moon be over that we may sell grain again
and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat,
skimping the measure
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales
buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals
selling even the sweepings with the wheat.'

'Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards
I struck them with blight and mildew
locusts devoured your fig and olive trees
yet you have not returned to me.'

What does returning mean ? Is it something fundamental to our well being to be connected, do we see our dishonesty more clearly and strive to live a more connected life ?

Here on a less profound level are some words and pictures to pay tribute to a fine day in the hills.

Two men
Grouse about
Scripture on stone
Orange Blorenge
Blue pool
Sheep like stars
And the shepherd.


How rich we truly are


Saturday, 1 December 2012

Letter to Monty - whetting the appetite for life

Dear Monty,

Three musings (or unedited drivel)

26/11/12 How can the mechanical sound of a car engine in the distance bring a sense of comfort ? Yet that sound did just that a few moments ago. Perhaps it unlocks a memory from the past, a good memory of belonging and safety within a loving family. Perhaps it is linked to my childhood spent on another hill in another house. The little end of terrace house on the hill above the sea in Swansea with its view over to the docks and the steelworks in one direction, and the curve of Swansea Bay to the Mumbles in the other.

Forgive the old pastel drawings, they serve to remind me of my roots.

There is a positive thing about growing older that gets lost - 'older and wiser' is the saying. Maybe it isn't wisdom but a distillation of experience and knowledge. The small things take on greater significance, like memories evoked by sounds. Life becomes enhanced by the brevity of it - becomes more beautiful.

28/11/12 I have been taken by your beautiful prose on the silver flood at Longmeadow. You captured in words the beauty of something centuries old - the rhythm of the living earth.

Your house is presumably spared, so the flood is a spectacle and not a disaster. Ancient houses built on flood plains can probably take a flood in their stride, unlike our modern homes. We build against nature at our peril.

A full moon casts an ellipse of silver cloud behind the firs above the mountain.

1/12/12 We move toward the middle of Winter - frost nips and rain crackles on the frozen ground.

Christ came not at Christmas - so many myths mixed with truth.

' There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land......... Because of this the land mourns and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying....
But let no man bring a charge, let no man accuse another ....... my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge'.

I think this knowledge can be seen in the pulse of the earth.


Saturday, 24 November 2012

Letter to Monty. Trees and Storms

Dear Monty,

I agree that well crafted words can create pictures, I am not so good with words but nevertheless I continue to write and make pictures.

'....his heaving breast and shaken form had long yielded to the calm that must follow all storms - emblem to humanity of the rest and silence into which the storm called life must hush at last.'
Charles Dickens


Our grandchild moves towards birth, I move towards death, the earth moves towards its purpose.

The single cell to countless cells.

The beginning and end.

The sheer beauty of it.


Sophie is here upon the face of this jewel earth.

The garden decays into Winter, back to its bones, bones that will once again be clothed with life.
The trees rest.
The grass has now become weeds. No digging or spraying, I just mow the weeds in Spring. Still it forms a green carpet under trees. Sometimes I dig out the dandelions if they halt my eye, but that is for later.
For now the bones help me to see the garden.

A collaboration between felled tree, my son and coal measure fossils create a simple sculpture reminding me of the Ancient of Days, the cycle of life.

' His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away.'


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Letter to Monty - the garden sleeps as I sleep

Dear Monty,

Three 'poems'


Let us pray

Let us Judge

Let us kill with the 'moral' high ground

Let us fire rockets

Target individuals

Let us defend the faith with swords

Jealousy consumes me

How foolish I am.


The toil of the soil

Writing books while gardens sleep

While I sleep

Sustainable energy ?

The turbines stand motionless - yet more appear on the hills

The waterfalls pound down the valley

Once turning mill wheels and looms

Wood burned.

We then dug coal

Hollowed out mountains

Then came welfare and unemployment

Are we too many with too much ?

I always want more.

'Ah how fleeting

Ah how futile'


There will be another river which flows from a new valley

There will be trees in this garden

With leaves for healing

And fruit

And in the river will be

Fishes in abundance.


Monday, 12 November 2012

Letter to Monty with a fuddled head

Dear Monty,

Remembering 11/11/12

Walking the waterfall woodland of Ystradfellte with Charles Hawes.

We saw the  sheer beauty and power of water cutting through rock - of trees grasping soil through shaped formed roots following rock contours. Colour blazed now and then - orange yellow red. Green tinge to the back of a red-breasted robin.

Mud - thundering water - waterproofs proved.

No proof or evidence for faith.

The curse is knowledge - knowledge is the curse - we know too much.

Remembering  - not the fallen dead

Though I do remember them - but do not stop - no silence.

Remembering the pain that knowledge brings

From having minds which contemplate both good - and evil

Which understand and misunderstand

Judge and misjudge

Knowing that life is finite and full of fears - joy - tears.

It means we watch ourselves grow old

Remembering youth - energy

But perhaps old age is another stage

Set for playing out  a role

'Senior citizen'

Holder of secrets - of wisdom

Knowing failure and success

Knowing the bones of ourselves

Knowing the good we have done - as well as the evil.

Perhaps we are making ready for the grave

Some do not go gently - some rage

But now - right now I am resolved

Centred by death and life - anothers' death  - the death of death and life of life

This is my remembrance day.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Letter to that man again

Dear Monty,

'Recalled to Life'

I have discovered some of my old drawings from the early eighties, when I had just started the Fine Art Degree at Portsmouth. I searched them out because a friend reminded me of my love of trees.

God moves through people in a kind of energy - a living energy that points to the source of all living things. It was this energy that I recognised first in trees ! It sounds mad but once I started to see the power of this energy, I could see it everywhere.

I could see it in the movement of ships through water, through the energy of our activities.

Through our bodies our movement.

Looking back on these drawings makes me sad, because I seem to have lost that energy in my artwork and maybe my life now, but I still see it in the hills, in the cycle of the seasons, even out of our kitchen window. I also see it in the paintings of Van Gogh and others who see beyond the obvious.

You said on Gardeners' World something like - 'Knowing your garden intimately is in the end more important than horticultural knowhow' I believe this with all my heart, and I believe it applies to life, to faith, to love, knowing intimately is more important than knowledge.