Friday 28 August 2015

Walnut ink

I gathered an ice cream tub full of fallen walnuts in St Nicolas' churchyard, covered them with water in a pan, simmered them for nearly three hours (I needed to top up with boiling water half way through or the pan would have boiled dry), strained the liquid off, and then simmered again for another hour.  I ended up with half a jam jar of brown ink, from which I lettered this quotation.  However poor the standard of my calligraphy, I'm inordinately pleased to have something sourced solely from one of our churchyards, and I'm grateful to my wife's interest in dyeing for sourcing the recipe from Alice Fox and for having a solid dyeing pan so that our cooking utensils did not get irredeemably stained.

Thursday 20 August 2015

Flying well

We should take credit much less often when things go well; we should beat ourselves up far less often when things go badly. 

The thought keeps returning to me for an unusually diverse numbers of reasons.  But it still remain a thought – or a clever play on words to begin a Blog post – because I know how my heart soars with a hint of praise or success and how my stomach aches when even briefly aware of a valid criticism or a recognised mistake.

I was sitting in a recent meeting of the local Voluntary Sector Forum and listening to a model for ‘social prescribing’ being set out.  A Big Lottery bid is being made for a fund to experiment with paid referrals to social activities or support to see whether these will help reduce the number of individuals who self refer repeatedly but inappropriately to health professionals.   If there is then evidence that the person’s cost to the state has reduced (evidenced by fewer GP appointments and A&E attendances) payments will be made.  

The local health service and local voluntary groups are behind this, but I just raised the question of whether the ‘payment for success’ model was really a fair one.   What if this only ever works half the time?  Does this mean voluntary groups will get paid for only half their work, in effect at only half the rate?  What if the mistake sometimes is with the person making the referral – with the best will in the world that particular person referred was unlikely to change so all the extra support given to a particularly difficult person will remain unfinanced.

I remember the dilemma of chairing the Curriculum and Quality Committee of the governing body of a Further Education College.  The external judgement, and the league table place, will be determined by outcomes tabulated as achievement, retention and success.  Occasionally the threat was even that funding would follow each success and not each start.  So do you make it harder for people to start, take fewer risks?  

Yes, it would be irresponsible to take someone on a course who brings funding with him but who we know is very unlikely to succeed.  But what if we know that half the people like her will succeed and half will fail?  And that the College is the last chance they have?  Does our fright at how Ofsted values a 50% success rate mean we should never give the opportunity?  Are we ‘outstanding’ when some of these succeed and ‘in need of improvement’ when some of these fail?

A Bishop volunteered to me recently, ‘You know you asked, a little while ago “what if, when we have done all these things, there is no change?” , well, I should have replied “That is all that was asked of you” ’. 

Near the end of Tobias Jones’ new book, I find he says much the same.  “I wouldn’t get angry with an individual for their erratic behaviour and, more to the point, I wouldn’t be proud when someone got clean or well.  We were still deeply sad when things went wrong, or hugely grateful when they went right – but solely for their sake, not ours.  We didn’t feel we were to blame or to credit.”

 There is a Church of England alternative Collect which one is free to use on any Sunday at this season “... when we prosper, save us from pride, when we are needy, save us from despair...”.

Meanwhile, a bird struck so strongly into one of our windows last week and that it left this impression; a moment earlier, it must have thought it was ‘really flying now’. 

Thursday 13 August 2015

Lyveden New Bield

A few miles beyond Fotheringhaye and Nassington is a remarkable survival of an Elizabethan / Jacobean mansion on which building suddenly stopped in 1605 on the death of its owner, Sir Thomas Tresham.

There are all sorts of obvious reasons why it might have been expected to be demolished but in fact only the wooden floors seem to have gone, leaving a clear view of how the building was structured.

A frieze along the line above the first floor windows gives the Arma Christi (symbols of Christ's Passion) which have fascinated me here and  here before, and which reveal Tresham's Catholic commitment.

And what I haven't pictured here is the number of Red Kite we found riding the thermals all around, almost as good a treat as finding the house itself.

Wednesday 12 August 2015

Nassington again

It turns out that the Parish Church is quite as special as the Prebendal Manor which we had gone to see.  Although not as extensive as those at Pickworth (which is actually not that far away), the mediaeval wall painting include the top of the 'doom' on the nave's east wall and Our Lady doing her job tipping the scales in our favour (it is her rosary which she is using to do the job).

And a good part of a Saxon Cross has been recovered from a wall with a beautifully clear crucifixion on one side and knot-work on the other which might well have worn away had it been left in place outside, reminding us of being in west Cumbria a few years ago.

Tuesday 11 August 2015


A couple of miles from Fotheringhaye, the oldest house in the county, and among the oldest in the country.  It is on the site of a Saxon hall and the main part of the building is still clearly an old hall.

Indeed, inside it is quite apparent how some more modern living spaces have been configured within it without quite losing the sense of the original single space.

Of additional interest to me is the fact that it is a Lincoln Prebendal Manor.  Each of the Canons of Lincoln holds a particular stall (prebend) which carries the name of the land with which it was once endowed.  I am 'Prebendary of Clifton', with predecessors who took income from some fields near the village of South Clifton on the Trent.  The Prebendary of Nassington did better - there is a large Tithe Barn in the Manor grounds in which he stored some of what came into him.

Monday 10 August 2015


A tiny village, but once the sight of a royal castle, the originally Norman mound of which is on the right.  The grandeur and position of the village church, once a much longer collegiate church, reminds me of the position of St George's Chapel in relation to the Round Tower (which also sits on an originally Norman castle mound) at Windsor.  Had this site developed in the same way, instead of a farmhouse (visible) and a row of cottages (hidden behind trees), the whole of this picture would be within modern castle walls.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Richard III was born here and Mary, Queen of Scots executed here, so it gets more than its fair share of attention from odd balls, some of whom may have been responsible for planting thistles on the castle mound (from which these lower two pictures were taken looking across the Nene).  

Monday 3 August 2015

Nothing definite was decided

The Church of England’s system of Parochial Church Councils (PCCs) is not yet a hundred years old.  I’ve been enjoying looking again at the records of the first Great Coates meetings in 1920 and 1921 in a Minute book which the church still has.

A meeting was held in the village Reading Room on 14th April 1920 to choose the first PCC.  The Rector carefully explained how each parish would have its own PCC and would send representatives to wider meetings (including what was then wonderfully termed a ‘Ruridiaconal Conference’) from which a national Church Assembly would be elected, enabled for the first time to frame new Church of England laws.  The system survives today with what are now called Deanery Synods, Diocesan Synods and the General Synod.

My favourite bit of the Minute is undoubtedly “A vote of thanks was accorded to the Chairman, Rev Canon Quirk by the Revd Frank Quirk for the clear & lucid way in which he had explained the whole matters (loud applause)”, all the better for noticing that the Revd Frank Quirk was Canon Quirk's son and Curate.  I must endeavour to revive the practice of minuting applause at the Rector's lucidity.

A decision was made that there should be equal numbers of men and women on the PCC.  I’m not sure whether this is out of recognition of women’s rights or out of a fear that the men might be outnumbered.  It wasn’t anticipated that it would usually meet more often than once a year.

The first meeting was then held nearly a year later on 4th March 1921 – just a month after Church Assembly finally approved the new PCC system.   There was tentative discussion about what the new PCC might do.  It was felt “the council perhaps may have the power to raise funds” but it was recognised that the ornaments of the church would remain the responsibility of the Churchwardens “without interference from the Council”.   It would have “a strong voice in the allocation of the offertories” although later “the chairman pointed out that the Organist’s salary and Parochial Apportionment [payments to the diocese] swallowed up a large portion of the Offertory”.  It would have “authority to dismiss the Clerk or Sexton, but had no control over the Organist”.  I nearly chose 'no control over the organist' as the title for this post.

And then the first actual item of business (a proposal for the installation of a hymn book cupboard) and straight away the first occurrence of the depressing Minute “this caused a lively discussion but nothing definite was decided”.  The repair of choir robes, the need for a new carpet and the annual garden party were the other items raised.  People did get on and deal with each of these items, although it seems Mrs Quirk was the prime mover.

The second AGM came round on 1st April 1921 with ten people present rather than the twenty seven  who had been present at the first AGM.  Here there was “a suggestion that the Church Belfry be lighted by gas as paraffin was no good”.

The PCC then met on 10th November 1921 when “gas in the belfry is much appreciated”.  There were two letters from Lincoln to consider, both with intriguing features.

First, the Diocesan Board of Finance had written to appeal for higher levels of payment from parishes.  It noted that “a great many of our clergymen were in dire want and it was a very sad state of affairs”.  The PCC thought that a system of collecting envelopes might help increase giving.  I re-read this with a dull sense of inevitability given that a Churchwarden and I went to a meeting with a member of the present Diocesan Board of Finance last week at which he went over the new Parish Share system and suggested our parish pay significantly more than it does at present and that 'support' could be given as to methods of raising this higher sum.

Secondly, there was an interaction (or, interestingly, an apparent careful avoidance of interaction) with the national scandal of the deposition of the local Archdeacon on his conviction on a charge of adultery.  “Another letter from Lincoln was read asking for monetary assistance to be given to help the Bishop pay off the outstanding debt of £1000 in connection with the Wakeford case.  It was not thought advisable to give any assistance in this matter as there are so many calls upon ones purse at the present time.”

Meanwhile, the picture shows the present temporary use of the disused oil pipe hole near the church's south door.