Tag Archives: industry

29 September: Creation Season I, Our Stour

The Stour is the river that flows through Canterbury in different channels, including this one, from which L’Arche Kent draws the water for its garden project. When I looked at the photo on a large screen I almost discarded it as it shows more of the flats opposite than the river. But the river is healthy, as the weed shows, and this is confirmed by a survey a friend took part in, counting the different micro-organisms at various sites along the river.

It was not always that way. In the 19th Century Ashford’s sewage went into the river, not good for Canterbury or the schools built near the river (in those days, going downstream, St Mary’s, St Thomas’, and St Peter’s). But Canterbury tossed in sewage as well, and worse: opposite us here, where the flats now are, was the tannery, source of industrial pollution.

That has gone, the river is clean enough for trout and eels to thrive; we’ve seen both on this stretch. This would not have happened without dedicated and focused hard work, continuing to this day with the Our Stour project.

One way to help is to use water wisely; Our Stour provide some good advice for gardeners. This is part of our responsibility as stewards of creation, something to consider in this season of Creation proclaimed by Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis.

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Filed under Daily Reflections, L'Arche, Laudato si', Mission

14 August: Altering the human soul to fit its conditions


This is what is wrong. This is the huge modern heresy of altering the human soul to fit its conditions, instead of altering human conditions to fit the human soul. If soap boiling is really inconsistent with brotherhood, so much the worst for soap-boiling, not for brotherhood. If civilization really cannot get on with democracy, so much the worse for civilization, not for democracy.

Certainly, it would be far better to go back to village communes, if they really are communes. Certainly, it would be better to do without soap rather than to do without society. Certainly, we would sacrifice all our wires, wheels, systems, specialties, physical science and frenzied finance for one half-hour of happiness such as has often come to us with comrades in a common tavern. I do not say the sacrifice will be necessary; I only say it will be easy.

from “What’s Wrong with the World” by G. K. Chesterton

More wise words for our time. Many of us have had a taste of ‘village communes’ in the lockdown phase, and appreciated the estra concern shown between family and neighbours.

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30 May, Pilgrimage to Canterbury X: Verses for Pilgrims—I

pilgrim-stone

As well as our Scripture readings I have chosen a verse for each day to help our prayer.

Day 1 began at Dover Beach, with this prayer for a blessing on our feet. It comes from our old friend Fr Andrew.

O dearest Lord, thy sacred feet
with nails were pierced for me;
O pour thy blessing on my feet
that they may follow thee.

Father Andrew SDC

Day 2 led us not through desert but through England’s green and pleasant Land, though we had our dark Satanic mills in the shape of the coal mines at Betteshanger, Tilmanstone and Snowdown, all close by, not to mention the unsuccessful ones we went by yesterday. This verse is from the war poet, Robert Graves.

pithead

May we speak words of grace today, as our late friend and miner George did. Today’s walk ends in his home village of Aylesham.

Christ of His gentleness
Thirsting and hungering,
Walked in the wilderness;
Soft words of grace He spoke
Unto lost desert-folk
That listened wondering.

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January 26: Witness against nature, Browning I.

mile end4

Here is Elizabeth Barrett, writing to her fellow poet Robert Browning – the man who would become her husband. He lived at New Cross in South London, then – in 1846 – being developed for housing and industry complete with railways into London itself. Browning lived at the bottom of Telegraph Hill, sufficiently high to have held a signalling tower to semaphore military messages between Whitehall and the naval yards.

“So you really have hills at New Cross, and not hills by courtesy? I was at Hampstead once—and there was something attractive to me in that fragment of heath with its wild smell, thrown down … like a Sicilian rose from Proserpine’s lap when the car drove away, … into all that arid civilization, laurel-clumps and invisible visible fences,’ as you say!—and the grand, eternal smoke rising up in the distance, with its witness against nature! People grew severely in jest about cockney landscape—but is it not true that the trees and grass in the close neighbourhood of great cities must of necessity excite deeper emotion than the woods and valleys will, a hundred miles off?”

poppy.bridge

This bridge leads to one of Manchester’s green spaces, Fletcher Moss Park. In the Brownings’ time the River Mersey there was all but dead, since it was used as a waste disposal system by mills and factories. The upper photograph shows how the cemetery at Mile End has become a precious haven of nature. Even in Canterbury, the river flowing under the Franciscan chapel in this was once an open sewer. Much has changed for the better, there are trout there now, but the smoke Elizabeth Barrett marvelled at has been replaced by a less visible cloud of pollution from vehicles. A witness against Nature indeed!

greyfriarsfrom meadow

This is the first of an occasional series of reflections based on the letters between the Brownings.

(Quotation from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning) Available from Project Gutenberg or Kindle.

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21 October: M is for Merthyr Tydfil

396px-Merthyr_Tydfil_arms

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4249407

Readers may get the impression that Agnellus has a slight obsession with Welsh and Saxon Princesses who knew their own minds and hearts. We don’t apologise! Such women may have used their privileged position to be allowed to open their monasteries and run them with minimal male oversight, but in doing so they enabled other women to live in community, to receive an education, to be able to help those who came to the abbeys for help.

Not so Tydfil – or Tudul in the accepted Welsh spelling. She was a martyr, killed, it is said, by a gang of pagans. I once helped tidy up her churchyard in the town, and rescued from the skip an angel from a broken gravestone; he or she watches over our backdoor today.

robinangel-2

Tudful was by no means the last martyr in Merthyr. With iron and coal nearby, the town was a cradle of the Industrial Revolution. People came for work as rural jobs disappeared, as famine struck in Ireland, but they lived in insanitary conditions, many dying of diseases including cholera. Human sacrifices on the altars of capitalism, as so many people around the world are today, living and working in unsafe conditions.

We’ve noted before how we are inescapably implicated in exploitation of our sisters and brothers; for instance it is difficult to avoid buying clothes and shoes produced without misusing people: at least there are Fair Trade bananas, coffee, chocolate and other foods. Their producers look after the land they work.

The old iron and coal masters did not: spoil heaps covered and poisoned fields close to the iron works or pit head; often it was many years before even birch trees would grow there. The ultimate martyrdom from this disregard of God’s creation occurred near Merthyr on October 21,1966 when a spoil heap at Aberfan avalanched down the side of the valley, taking the lives of 116 children and 28 adults, who would not have been born when someone decided to dump rock and soil on a steep slope. I met a policeman who lost his faith in God after living through that afternoon; who can blame him? But this was man’s work.

You may dispute my use of the word martyrdom, but lives were cut short through accident or disease through worship of Mammon.

The Way of Jesus puts people before profit. A good start would be the motto beneath the Saint on the arms: ONLY BROTHERHOOD IS STRONG. Provided, of course, that the sisters are not left out.

Let us grit our teeth in the face of human wickedness, and say Laudato Si’ – and give a care to our own little patches of God’s earth – ours to hand on to others better than we found it. And perhaps find a corner or two we can brighten with a little guerilla gardening or tree planting.

MMB

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19 July: G is for Valley Gardens

berlin.charlottenberg.flowerbed

Since I was small, I had always loved gardening, so when the chance came of a holiday job at the parks in Castleford, I seized it. The town council took a pride in their parks, lung-savers in an industrial landscape. As well as the mines there were glassworks, a  factory producing chemicals such as wood preservers, a coke oven and a maltings: the least offensive smell. In a heat wave the fumes gathered in the valley where the town was built on the ford. The rivers ran black. Breathing was a challenge.

Valley Gardens was our nearest park: a good park with a crown bowling green, playground for the children, lawns and lots of traditional bedding, the plants grown in the council’s own nursery. There was also raised bedding with scented plants for blind people to enjoy. And so they did.

I’m ever grateful for the skills learnt at Valley Gardens but also for the attitude to work imbibed from the older guys I worked alongside. Many had been miners and knew how to pace themselves to be productive over the whole day. They were also humble enough to put themselves through the City and Guilds Certificate training: men who knew how to handle tools, being ‘taught’ how to dig or prune before taking on specialised skills such as caring for the greens.

mermaidrose (542x408)

Recently I read that Valley Gardens, for many years the responsibility of Wakefield City council, is run-down and the play area no longer safe. A committee has been formed to revive this park. When I was there, people knew the decision makers in town. Now they are in Wakefield and need never go near Valley Gardens.

I hope the committee is supported by the community and Wakefield council so that the gardens return to their former glory.

There are parallels in church life. We need to trust people, even  those who shun responsibilities, with a mission they may fail at. Apart from Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were members of the Sanhedrin, Jesus chose women and misfits for his first generation of leaders. I don’t recall his disciples sitting exams.

Since writing this post I read an article describing how the people who use the parks the most are poorer people, people without gardens of their own. So it is poor people who take the brunt of government spending cuts in this area of life, as in so many others.

Our beds were every bit as lovely – and more so – than this semiformal planting in Berlin’s Charlottenberg Park. The Roses were a feature of Valley Gardens: the older gardeners taught me how to prune them. This is ‘Mermaid’, who needs very careful handling with her vicious thorns. But she’s lovely!

 

 

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