Download the book – free

The Light Ships cover A

The next Light Ships event will be held this Saturday, 22 November, at Wrangle Church.

The main book launch, with a screening of a wonderful old film of Boston in 1943, will be at 3.00pm – but do come a bit earlier if you can, to see the exhibition and enjoy being in one of the Fenland’s loveliest churches. From 2.00pm there’ll be refreshments and an organ recital by Tony Fitt-Savage, who was organist at Sandringham for almost 40 years.

From today, The Light Ships is also available as a free download. It is a PDF file, which most computers can open with a programme like Acrobat Reader. It can be enlarged on screen for easier reading, or printed out. There are two versions: the low-resolution file takes less time to download, but the high-res file has better quality pictures. Click on the links below to save the file to your computer.

Copies of the printed books will be available on Saturday at Wrangle and the following Saturday, 29 November, at Gosberton, where the launch coincides with the church’s seasonal Christmas Tree Festival. From 1 December 2014, you can also buy copies for £5 plus postage from Transported:

Transported

Holbeach St. Marks Community Association Building,

Sluice Road, Holbeach St. Marks, Lincolnshire PE12 8HF

Phone 01406 701006 Email TransportedLauren@litc.org.uk

Books will also be available through the churches included, with all proceeds will go to church funds or supporting future arts opportunities in Boston Borough and South Holland District.

The Light Ships Book

Poetry, film and the strangeness of the recent past

A Passion for Churches (1974)2

What would you be, you wide East Anglian sky,

Without church towers to recognise you by?

John Betjeman, A Passion for Churches (1974)

It’s impossible not to look at and write about English village churches without the presence of John Betjeman. Although he will be remembered as a highly original poet, and was widely appreciated as such in his lifetime, it was his television films that made Betjeman such a recognisable figure in the 1960s and 1970s. Made in television’s salad days, before its executives thought they knew what was good, these are highly personal portraits of places and things that Betjeman loved: the seaside, trains, architecture and, repeatedly, churches.

One of the best, A Passion for Churches, is about Norfolk’s churches and it can be watched on the BBC iPlayer. In it Betjeman visits some wonderful places: Trunch, Sandringham (where Tony Fitt-Savage was organist at the time), Cley-next-the Sea.

But it’s the people who steal the show: the mothers with their children at a Wednesday afternoon Sunday School; the young couple getting married (he went on to be a Bishop of Manchester). He meets the Chaplain of the Broads, chugging about on a boat to greet the holidaymakers, a vicar dedicated to his model railway and another going out to see the men on the Smith’s Point Light Ship. There’s 6am Easter service on the quay at Lowestoft with a Salvation Army band, people singing hymns in the wind and sun. And there’s Billy West, a bellringer for 60 years, saying:

Ah that’s music in your ear, that’s music in the ear. Once that gets hold of you, I suppose that’s like smoking cigarettes; once that gets hold of you that, that’s a drug: you can’t get rid of it. There’s something about it, I don’t know what it is, but you’d go anywhere for it. If there weren’t somewhere where there were some bells I’d go crazy, I know I should. Bells are life to me. I mean, it never seems Sunday to me if we don’t hear the bells.

But it’s hearing the Norfolk in Mr West’s voice that gives that statement its poetry.

A Passion for Churches (1974)8

 

And poetry runs throughout the film as Betjeman shifts easily from prose to verse in a way no one would dare to do today.

And should we let the poor old churches die?

Do the stones speak? My word, of course they do.

Here in the midst of life they cry aloud:

’You’ve used us to build houses for your prayer;

You’ve left us here to die beside the road.’

 

Christ, son of God, come down to me and save:

How fearful and how final seems the grave.

Only through death and resurrection come;

Only from shadows can we see the light;

Only at our lowest comes the gleam:

Help us, we’re all alone and full of fear.

Drowning, we stretch our hands to you for aid

And wholly unexpectedly you come:

Most tolerant and all embracing church.

A Passion for Churches was made forty years ago. It’s not just the clothes and plummy voices that seem to belong to another age. Such public statements of belief would cause embarrassment in public life today. It’s Philip Larkin’s post-religious ‘Church Going’ rather than Betjeman’s faith that fits the tenor of the age.

Nothing is more remote than the recent past: not yet history but how we were is already unthinkably strange. Thus we live and pass and all that we believe to be normal is just more of the vast oddity of human beings.

In some churches all prayer has ceased.

St. Benedict’s, Norwich, is a tower alone.

But better let it stand

A lighthouse beckoning to a changing world.

A Passion for Churches (1974)4

God’s Acre

Luck be a lady

Ladybirds have a special place in our hearts, reflected in their many names, and their place in popular culture. Children are captivated by their dots and red shells, and the ease of getting close to them. They are gentle, inoffensive, nurturing creatures, as suggested by the old rhyme:

Ladybird, ladybird fly away home, Your house is on fire and your children are gone…

Ladybirds are associated with good fortune in many European cultures. A Polish children’s verse ends:

Biedroneczko leć do nieba, przynieś mi kawałek chleba

Fly to the sky, little ladybird, bring me a piece of bread

In France, they’re known as ‘la bête à Bon Dieu’ – God’s creature, in English, although it doesn’t sound as pretty. There is a legend that a ladybird saved an innocent man’s life by landing repeatedly on his neck and so obstructing the executioner.

Life among the graves

This ladybird, minding its business in Moulton churchyard, is a reminder of the life that is nurtured when churchyards are not trimmed and manicured like municipal gardens. Costs and changing attitudes have helped us see long grass in churchyards not as lack of care but as a different kind of care. After all, until quite recently, it was common for sheep to graze in churchyards, which was quite appropriate since their wool had often paid for the beauty of the building.

Cherishing Churchyards Week 2014

Caring for God’s Acre is a small charity dedicated to the conservation of churchyards and burial grounds, both for their importance to people and to nature. Their website is full of valuable information and resources about conservation, and they support volunteer-led conservation projects across the UK. Between 7th and 15th June, they are holding Cherishing Churchyards Week, encouraging more people to get involved in looking after their churchyards not least to make them good homes for ladybirds, among the many other creatures in need of sanctuary in the modern world.

Links

Steeple Jackass

‘Climbing church steeples appears to have been an unusual pastime, with those conquering the climb usually leaving a ribbon for challengers to retrieve. In 1812, labourer Robert Jarvis is said to have taken this recreation to new extremes by climbing Moulton church spire with his small child in his arms and tying the infant to the weathercock with his handkerchief. Leaving the child there
 he returned to earth and went home to fetch his wife to view the spectacle and admire his skill before ascending once again and safely retrieving the child. His wife’s reaction is not recorded!’

This extraordinary story appears in Wide Horizons: A History of South Holland’s Landscape and People.

Mary Bryce, who lives in Moulton, sent me these photographs, taken from the church tower (though not the top of the spire where Robert Jarvis dangled his child); they give some sense of what the climb involved. The originals are in the collection of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society, the learned society which marked its 300th anniversary in 2010.

And the British Pathé film of Mr. C. L. Ager, though filmed in Surrey, shows that the tradition of tying a handkerchief to a weathercock was still alive in 1920. The way in which he presents the handkerchief to the vicar at the end of the film suggests the social deference that still existed too.

Wide Horizons was commissioned by South Holland District Council in 2010, written by Paul Cope-Faulkner, Hilary Healey, Tom Lane John Honnor and Liam Robinson, and published by Heritage Lincolnshire. A fascinating insight into how this part of the county came to be as it is, the book can be downloaded free from the Council’s website.

Links

PS And this is what the spire looks like from the ground up…

Moulton Church Spire

The Wrestling Parson of Moulton Chapel

Reginald Thompson, vicar and wrestler (1963)

The Rev. Reginald Thompson was 59 years old when he was filmed by British Pathé for this newsreel, in 1963. Apparently, Mr. Thompson learned his wrestling while working as a farmhand in Canada, before returning to the open prairies of southern Lincolnshire. It’s a lovely period piece, with everybody hamming it up for the camera – not least the narrator. Perhaps wrestling was always as much performance art as sport.

Does anyone in Moulton Chapel – or elsewhere – remember Mr. Thompson?  Please share any memories below.

Links

Wrestling Parson 2

 

Thanks to Rebecca Lee for showing me this film. Rebecca is a musician and sound artist who is working on another Transported commission, ‘Outside Broadcast’, which you can read about here.

 

Filming Creation

The Light Ships will produce not just a book, but a short film evoking the village church as a centre of artistic and social life. For that side of the project, I’ll be working alongside my son, Laurence, a young filmmaker who has just completed his first big commission. 

Looking for Melody is a 50 minute documentary about the recording of Sine Qua Non, an album of Serge Gainsbourg songs recast in a jazz idiom. Filmed mainly at Abbey Road Studios in London, it captures the evolution of musical creation in the hands and minds of a diverse group of musicians, engineers, and producer. It’s a process of exploration and discussion, trying things out, abandoning things that don’t work, arguing for what you hear or hope to hear, starting, stopping and starting again.

I don’t know what story The Light Ships film will tell, nor how. The heart of these projects is open-minded exploration, a journey through new land, in company and conversation with anyone who wants to come along. In its way, the process is not unlike that of musical creation documented by Laurence in Looking for Melody. That work will begin in June, once we’ve been able to do more of the background research.

In the meantime, although the subject is very different, I hope you might enjoy Looking for Melody.