Tag Archives: Autumn

Looking for Europe 9: Glasgow – 500 miles

October 25th

I cannot believe this is happening. I cannot believe this is happening. I cannot believe this is happening.

And yet, my alarm is ringing at 5am and I am ready to go!

This was my third time following Switchfoot on tour; it was also the first time I’d followed a UK and Ireland tour, and what has been blowing my mind since it was announced is that it comes within five months of their last visit. I have never known anything like this to happen. Having concluded that I probably wouldn’t try to follow every date on a tour again after the beautiful chaos of the last tour, I immediately went back on my word when these dates were announced. Perhaps if it involved travelling to new cities and countries I would want to spend more quality time there seeing the places I was visiting. But these shows were happening in my own country, in towns I mostly knew and was quite likely to revisit in future, so the pressure was off to go sightseeing. So tickets were booked, and travel plans forged (in that order; always buy tickets first, figure out logistics later!).

The last few days before leaving dragged by. I’ve had a countdown app on my phone since we first found out last year that they were playing BCDO here this spring. When the first of these dates was announced, during tour part one, I set it going again. Since it hit 50 days left, time has disappeared remarkably quickly; it felt as though 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 all came within a week. And then, 7 days left. Each day of that final week seemed a week long in itself! The morning of the 24th I looked at the clock on my screen at work after I’m sure being at my desk for around 5 hours, only to find it was just approaching 10am! It may have been the longest day of my life, and my mind was definitely elsewhere!

However, that 5am alarm eventually rang, and shortly afterwards I was on the train up to Glasgow, cradling a takeaway cup of tea and admiring the autumn colours as the sun came up on this beautiful day.

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I arrived in Glasgow at lunchtime, met up with my concert buddy friend from France, and we checked into the hostel with just enough time to pack our things for the show and head back out.

We caught the bus up to the university and found our way to the Queen Margaret Union. We then realised we weren’t sure exactly where we were meant to be! It was an open students’ union building with several venues inside and students coming and going continually. Clearly we weren’t meant to be outside the building, so we looked around inside, and eventually asked in the reception and were pointed in the right direction. A small group of us gathered outside the door to the room where Switchfoot were playing, but after waiting a while the staff asked us to go up and wait in the bar on the floor above until 5:30.

The wait for the VIP event to begin was somewhat awkward, a small nervous group of us waiting impatiently. I got chatting to folks, and it got even more awkward when it transpired I was following the tour and had done before, I pretty much got interviewed about the whole experience!! I didn’t mind but really hope it didn’t sound like bragging, this is all about making back many years as a fan fail and I still owe the guys a lot of belated support.

But no matter how many times I’ve met them, I admit I was freaking out a bit; for many reasons I don’t usually give them gifts, but this time I did have a birthday gift for Jon and I felt nervy about handing it to him. I also had a birthday card for him full of sweet messages from the SwitchFam, and the thing I was perhaps most anxious about handing them, yet another letter, this time just making sure they knew how political references to ‘Europe’ would be on this tour, letting them know there was no obligation to take my ‘Europe is where the light shines through’ flag on stage if they didn’t want to go there, and explaining that they were really helping me to grapple with these difficult political times, that Europe is the UK’s wound just now and that wherever we stand on it, we should be able to agree on that and try and seek the light through it.

As we waited we had some great conversations about how we’d come to know Switchfoot, about past shows we’d seen, about their music and how important it has been to us.

Time crawled past in slow motion; it was 5pm for about an hour!

Suddenly we realised that through the floor we could make out they were soundchecking Hello Hurricane! I tried to wait until we were called back down… but Jon was singing and I couldn’t stay put. I cracked and ran down to listen outside the door, and everyone else, equally desperate for an excuse, took it as a cue to move too. Oops!! 😀

Finally Chico came out to hand us our VIP passes and let us in. He didn’t ask my name. Drew had also seen me in the queue earlier and said he recognised me, and called me the queen of the UK SwitchFam, to which I said I don’t know if I can claim that, Jude isn’t here yet!

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In addition to Hello Hurricane, we heard them soundchecking Bull (In A China Shop), Love Alone Is Worth The Fight (LAIWTF), Travis’ Sing (wow, they sounded great!! This song used to be on their preshow playlist but I’ve not heard them cover it before), then we were let in for Float and I went straight to the barrier and danced like it was a concert!

Jon took a request for their second song from everyone there. He listed them back as best he could remember and asked Tim which they should play, and they agreed on Yet – which was my random request as I’d been listening to it a lot the past week and had seen it on a recent set list. He then asked whose request it had been, and there was mutual embarrassment when I sheepishly put my hand up (‘We honestly hadn’t arranged that!’)! I’m pretty sure he used my name too, which stunned me; I’m not surprised he recognises me by now but to remember my name straight away before we’d been reintroduced was special :O They spent ages setting up to play Yet, it was so sweet of them to do it. They had to work out how they were going to play it; they said they hadn’t played it in ages, though I’d seen it on a setlist from their summer tour, hence requesting it. Chad came to the front with muted drums, and Jon jammed on the harmonica, even leading us in ‘If it doesn’t break…’ the way I’d heard him do on the live album, despite there only being a few of us, it was very cool. You can watch it here.

Then it was Meet&Greet time. I got a poster signed for somebody I was planning to send some things to, then handed my gifts to Jon. I showed him the local hot sauce and chocolate coffee beans I’d put in, which again he seemed extremely enthusiastic about, despite being less jetlagged than they had been in Amsterdam! Then I showed him the card we’d made; I flicked through it to show him all the messages at a glance, highlighting one or two to him, and he seemed really touched by it. Afterwards we headed back outside to wait for the show.

The venue was very small, and a little grimy, but in my experience that can make for a great show! I went to Drew’s side of the stage, but as the venue filled I got pushed towards the centre. I had a great conversation with one of the other VIPs, a guy originally from Nigeria, about the depth of Jon’s lyrics.

A band from Sheffield called the Alvarez Kings were supporting Switchfoot for the whole tour. They played good, catchy tunes with a lot of energy; their drummer is very good, the bassist lively, and they threw in a lot of nice harmonies, plus a bit of swearing!

Then it was Switchfoot time!!

They kicked off with the full electric version of Hello Hurricane, which they haven’t played much for some time.

Keeping the energy up, they went into Stars. Part way through, Jon climbed up onto the amps, then broke from the song to get the crowd singing The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond (appropriate as they’d spent the day there), then  jumped down and went into 500 Miles by The Proclaimers!! Well, that brought the house down!! Jon barely knew it at all, but belted out as much of it as he could remember before just descending into ‘DAH DADA DAH!’, the crowd laughing and jumping and filling in his singing, it was the best! 😀

Meant To Live followed, starting with an awesome intro jam on four guitars transitioning into the opening riff, which was passed around the band between their guitars, quite a dramatic effect. It was already getting sweaty, Jon pouring water over himself!

Then he went into the crowd for Bull and worked the crowd from a railing at the back, holding a hand to balance himself. It was a lot of fun.

Tim kicked off This Is Your Life with his powerful bass riff. Jon got everyone singing ‘Yeah!’ with him as a call and response, and then as the ending of the song repeats the title question he picked out individuals in the crowd to direct that question to each time he sang it.

Drew was improvising from start of Your Love Is A Song (YLIAS). The solo began with a duet between Jon’s harmonica and Drew’s guitar, then Jon left Drew to it, and he gave us a really epic solo; there were some precious smiles between the guys.

Jon introduced the band, and then Where The Light Shines Through (WTLST), saying ‘Let’s hear it for wounds!’ He did take my flag up on stage briefly, saying ‘Glasgow is where the light shines through’, and Josh got it back to me immediately. They started with a solo, throwing in complete pauses, which was awesome! Similarly to Budapest, Jon and Drew played a sort of solo trading game with Jon playing a phrase and seeing how Drew would respond to it, and like Budapest it seemed like he was cheekily throwing him some weird ones for him to play with! And he again got the crowd singing ‘Yeah-eah-eahhhh!’ in response. This song really is incredible live.

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Clearly having fun, Jon introduced Gone by throwing in the opening riff from Chem6A! There was much forgetting of lyrics; he got the crowd to help with the first verse, holding up the mic stand to us, grinning, before taking back over and having no trouble with the rest of the song! They rocked up the ending with a drum jump.

Bringing it back down, they played Only Hope, acoustic to begin with, with the band simply adding chilled ambience. They left out the second verse and went straight into a rocked up ending, and transitioned straight into I Won’t Let You Go, which was beautifully sung with evident feeling.

A short interlude of Shadow Proves… introduced LAIWTF, and then Jon got everyone ‘oreo’ing along. Then they played (If The) House Burns (Down Tonight), dedicating it to the firefighters who have saved their homes and communities many times, and to the feeling of driving away from your home not knowing if would be there when you return, and realising that the human souls there in the car with you are worth infinitely more than all you leave behind.

Dark Horses just rocked, and they ended with When We Come Alive.

For the encore they came back on to play Float; Drew seemed to start in the wrong key but quickly adjusted. And oh the joy – they brought the bubbles and disco ball with them!! This is the first time I’ve ever known them bring the fun stage effects they use in the States with them across the pond, and it was so much fun! And of course Jon crowd surfed, and thanked us for his first proper surf since arriving here 😀 Live It Well followed, introduced as a campfire song, Jon asked us to picture it. And they finished with Dare You To Move, which was just gorgeous.

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Then there was a proper encore, and they played Where I Belong. Jon took my banner, and this time actually threw it back to me at the end! 🙂 I closed my eyes and just soaked in that end yell like I was just receiving it. At the end there were emotional thanks from Drew, and the crowd carried on singing long after the lights went up.

Overall the show felt like a truly joyful start to the tour. However the sound hadn’t been quite right; the guitars were turned up extremely loud compared to the rest, so they drowned out everything else when really going for it.

I managed to meet a couple of friends I’d only met previously online, one doing photography, and the other waiting for an aftershow, both lovely. The wait afterwards was cold!! I put on all my layers, plus the wet banner to dry it off and attempt to keep warm! But Jon did eventually come out to us. There was much joking with him about the temperature (‘You’re cold?! I’m from San Diego! This is Scotland cold!’ ‘No, this is Scotland tropical!’). He played Caroline (‘Southbound Train?’ ‘This one’s like Southbound Train… and also in the right key for my harmonica!’), Inheritance, 24 with its back story, and Your Love Is Strong. He said he’d seen a rainbow over Loch Lomond that morning and said it was like finding gold. He said these moments could be like gold, and I said that they are. He thanked us at the end, and we let him go.

My friend and I just made last bus back! We wished we’d had time for photos, it was so pretty.

We got back at 1:30am, in time for not nearly enough sleep before getting back on the early morning train back to Bristol 😛

Day 2, and I was already wondering what in the world possesses me to do this?! 😀

‘And I would take the train 500 miles, and I would take the train 500 more…’ 😀

(You can find my write ups of the spring Looking For Europe tour starting here)

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Liturgy in the waves

Whilst I’ve been quiet on the blog, I’ve got really into bodyboarding this warm sea season.

I’ve been having an occasional go for about five years now, but this is the first time it’s really got hold of me. My previous attempts were embarrassingly laughable. I’ve joked that I spent more time clinging to the underside of the board , thinking I’m sure this isn’t how it’s supposed to work and wondering what went wrong, than actually riding on top of it! And I was only half joking; upside-down boards happened far too frequently! I was scared of any waves approaching my own size or bigger. I couldn’t read the sea so waves would rear up and take me by surprise. My attempts at catching them were complete trial and error, launching at waves of any stage of formation and just hoping I didn’t fall off if I happened to time it right. And most of the times, I did fall off! But it was so much fun when I did catch one – even if at some point down the beach I did end up on the wrong side of the board.

This summer we had two consecutive weekends away in good surf spots with different sets of friends who wanted to spend time bodyboarding. Over those two weekends we had five whole days catching waves, and although I had boasted of my unfortunate talent for upside-down waveriding, I was surprised to find I was actually staying on top of the board. What’s more, over the five days, I found I was making a lot of discoveries and truly learning something each day. By the end of the first weekend I was reading the waves, knowing when to launch, and catching the majority of the waves I attempted… and pushing out further into the larger waves further out too. I learnt how to choose a good wave, how to steer, how to angle the board, and how the waves change in mood, power and difficulty from beach to beach, day to day, tide to tide. Of course I developed a new special talent for overshooting the board when launching out and sliding right over the top, and once or twice found myself barrelled head over heels under a massive breaker, momentarily wondering how I was going to escape, but on the whole it’s been going great.

I’ve been out boarding several times since to take advantage of the nice autumn sea temperatures and quieter beaches. I’ve officially got the bug!

So, is it play? Is it therapy? Or is it worship?

I think it’s definitely all three, but the mix varies depending on where the sea and I are at. It began as pure play, but it’s been healing at times too, and I’ve started to find it can be an act of worship.

A couple of Sundays ago I was in Wales with fiends. We spent the morning celebrating Harvest at St David’s Cathedral, and then went down to Whitesands Bay for the afternoon. Wowww!! I was already feeling celebratory and full of joy and thankfulness as a result of the Harvest service, but the place was so stunning and the waves so beautiful and glittery it all just overflowed. The worship on the beach felt like a seamless continuation of the worship in church.

First of all, it is nearly impossible not to bodyboard in a state of mindfulness. All the senses are involved, and you have to pay attention to what is immediately going on around you and be immersed completely in the moment, fully awake to where you are and what you are doing. You smell the sea air; your eyes feast on the colours, light, contrast, drama and movement of the sea and sky and wildlife and other beachgoers; there’s no avoiding the taste of saltwater; you hear the hiss, fizz, and roar of the waves, and your own laughter and whooping; and you feel all the textures of the sea, the sting of salt, and of cold water on hot skin, the feel of the board, soft sand, rough stones, the sometimes violent slap of waves, gentle rising and falling, warmth, wet… In the sea I am really in the now, and it is incredibly centring.

At risk of sounding clichéd, it is something like baptism with every wave or spray that breaks over me, reminding me of what is washed away and blessing me with new life.

It’s a humbling experience. In the sea I get the smallest glimpse of the size and power of its maker, and my contrasting insignificance. It’s amazing to be out in nature, surrounded by this huge unknown, unpredictable, power, tumbled about in it, but to be able to play in its edges and get to know it a little nonetheless.

I find myself full of thankfulness! It’s a grace experience, an undeserving land creature immersed in such beauty and laughter that’s completely not my own element, and seeing waves presented to me as perfect curls to play with. At its most beautiful I can never believe I’m experiencing it. Every good wave finishes in hallelujah, thank You, as it brings me to rest on the beach. More often than not I find I fetch up in a prayer posture, on my knees or face down at the edge of the surf, and thanking the sea and our God just flows, before I get up and run back in. It comes naturally, but I’ve also begun to make a conscious discipline of turning to say thank You for every good ride, as it develops in me a lasting attitude of thankfulness.

There are moments of quiet contemplative solitude…  and then there are moments of shared joy when catching the same wave, high fiving and cheering at each other’s good waves, and teaching one another skills.

At the end of a good beach day I come away full of joy, re-set, with a bigger, truer perspective on our size and significance compared to our beautiful world and the one it comes from. I am reminded so much how good the world can be, and that for all its problems, that is only ever part of the reality and there is still so much to enjoy and celebrate. We get immersed in the big news of the day, and forget that we are transient, and that some things are that much bigger and better and more lasting than we are. The sea brings me back to that truth.

I come home with waves in my mind, still feeling the rise and fall of the swell, the sea still alive before me every time I close my eyes.

Bodyboarding is no substitute for church. That day at Whitesands was made all the more meaningful following on from a service, and a service of thanksgiving in particular. But it can definitely be a powerful, playful worship experience, as the formal liturgy of church finds its way into the everyday world, and I hope I never lose that.

Being thankful

We hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time this year! This has not been an easy year at all, personally or politically, but aside from liking the tradition and fancying the cooking challenge, I wanted to do this as I felt that actually I still have a huge amount to be thankful for from the past year, and that in a time when circumstances make it harder to see the good things and feel thankful, setting aside a little time to focus on what I am truly thankful for is a good discipline. The more I’ve thought about it, the more good I’ve spotted amongst the mess, and it has left me feeling genuinely grateful for those good things and a lot more positive about the year. So; my list:

  • Time at home. My new year’s resolution this year was straightforward after last year’s wonderful chaos; to do nothing! Well, maybe not ‘nothing’, but no crazy plans, no charging around the country(/world) week after week, and to focus on spending time right here at home, with our local friends and church family, and making progress on our DIY projects. And we’ve done that! It’s been really nice being a little more settled.
  • Living in Devon. Related to the last point – we live in a nice place! It’s been good to spend more time just enjoying where we live. Our main holiday this year was to Lundy Island, an island off the north coast in a protected area, which is therefore jumping with sealife. We saw so many seabirds, seals, jellyfish, rockpoolies and dolphins, and it was beautiful – all almost on our doorstep! And the walks and beach trips we’ve done closer to home have been wonderful too. We made an effort this summer to go down to the coast on nice evenings for barbecues or chips on the beach as the sun goes down. I can’t help but be thankful that my life looks like this after years living and working in and near London, it’s a real blessing.
  • The support for our whitewashing nonviolent direct action last year. I’ve been blown away by the amount of support I and my fellow activists have received since our action last November. A huge crowd of supporters turned out to our trial, some coming a really long way to be there. There were far too many people to fit in the viewing gallery and many stood outside in driving rain for us all day, praying, holding banners and looking after us. I’m so humbled! And on top of that, when we received a (much smaller than expected) fine, friends, family and supporters crowdfunded enough to pay it off in full! We checked the amount that came in a week after the verdict, and it seemed a random amount; but then we totalled up our collective fine and realised it was the same amount to the nearest pound! Shortly after this we closed the crowdfunder early as we had exceeded our target, despite not expecting to meet it, and found the amount raised exactly covered our expenses for the action too! I am profoundly grateful to God for so fully honouring our imperfect willingness to do this, and to our supporters, both for the obvious practical help this was, but also for the solidarity of knowing we had so many people standing beside us and willing to also pay the price of speaking out on climate change.
  • Good news on climate change. Aside from the ratification of the Paris climate agreement, it seems politically that this has been a bad year for climate, as in practice the political world has barely moved into action at all, and in many cases we’re still seeing the politics moving backwards. However; more and more this year I’ve seen signs of change, almost in spite of the politics of it all. The economics are starting to shift. As renewables grow, in spite of policies that hamper them, and the combined pressure from increasingly cheap renewable energy, financial disinvestment, uncertainty over the future under international climate agreements and the cost of carbon hits the fossil fuel industries, a real practical shift away from fossil fuels has begun. We have a long way to go, and fast, but this is genuinely encouraging. We need to keep up the momentum on fossil fuel disinvestment, which is really a win-win situation, whilst at the same time urging our governments to think progressively and practically get behind this shift, which would really speed the process up.
  • Vegan abundance! Going vegan ten years ago was relatively straightforward, with plenty of choices available in ordinary shops, and at least something you could eat in most restaurants when out. But there has been such a fast shift over the last year or so! Several vegan/explicitly vegan-friendly businesses have popped up all over town, raised consciousness means I’m finding it more common for non-veggie friends to know how to make really nice things for us, little innovations the world seems to have just discovered (coconut cream makes wonderful whipped cream, chickpea water works like egg whites…) mean vegan baking has suddenly become even easier and cafes are cottoning on, and even some vegan cheese seems to be finally starting to resemble the real thing! I’m suddenly beginning to realise how much self-control I’ve lost over the years, now that what was a ‘special diet’ is becoming so mainstream; I’ve been used to luxuries being just that, and therefore jumping at the chance to indulge when the chance arose from time to time, but suddenly it seems there are easy luxuries everywhere and I have to be restrained for the sake of wallet and waistline! But at the same time, what a nice problem to have – such great news for me, and for animals and the environment 🙂
  • The mental health services. Wow am I thankful for the help that I’ve found available to me this year as I’ve found myself battling depression! I’ve heard the horror stories and know not everyone gets the help they need when they need it, even when they do seek it, but my experience has been good so I know that’s only one side of the picture. I’d love to see the day when mental health is taken as seriously as physical health, because it is, and everyone can find help. But I’m very thankful that I have a good GP, have been able to take part in a well-taught CBT course for free, and have had help from my church towards paying to see a counsellor. Each of these things have been a God-send in an unpleasant situation, and I am so thankful.
  • Supportive family and friends. And again on a related note, I am deeply thankful for the community of people I have in my life who have treated my illness as an illness, been understanding as they can be, and been there to encourage me and share advice. I feel honoured to be able to reciprocate that to others too, and am grateful to have that chance through this circumstance. It’s brought me closer to myself, to others, and to God.
  • The RSPB. Last year I was volunteering for several different charities, often on my own and with irregular hours. This year I decided to change and focus on my work with the RSPB nature conservation charity, filling my newly-free days in the week by taking on some scientific support work in their local office, which means I’m now working with others and with pretty regular office hours, and getting to use my science brain a bit. Simplifying my work this year has itself done me a lot of good; but so has the RSPB directly. Conservation is not always the most encouraging world to work in, with so many species and habitats under threat. But working with the RSPB, I see an amazing array of good news stories as hard work saving nature really does pay off. Both internally and externslly there’s a real emphasis on hope and encouragement around this. The project I’ve worked most with this year has just celebrated a milestone as a little bird we almost lost from the country has been brought back from the brink and is increasing (you can read more about that here, it’s a nice reminder that good news is out there!). But even in addition to this, the organisation takes staff wellbeing seriously (as a volunteeer I am still considered part of the staff team) and has done a lot of work to raise the profile of wellbeing and mental health and promote activities and support that can help. I’m not sure I could be working in a better environment right now!
  • Being able to ‘do autumn properly’. It’s no secret that I love autumn! I felt like I missed out on it a bit last year in my busyness, so this year I made an effort to give time to enjoying it as much as possible. So we went on holiday in the Lake District, swam and bodyboarded in the sea, went for walks in the local arboretum and elsewhere, picked up colourful leaves, made some of them into pretty decorations or collages, went birdwatching plenty to catch the migration in progress, baked for halloween and used it to pray over the world’s darkness, went to the legendary Nottingham Goose Fair (enormous cheesy funfair, and something I haven’t done since leaving home), went to an apple day and made apple fritters to celebrate, had a Thanksgiving party and a Harvest ploughman’s meal, went to a fireworks display, and planted trees in the garden. I don’t think I’ve missed anything this year, and although it’s been unusually warm and dry and the trees gave us a bit of a stop-start display this year it’s been wonderful – and I have far too many photos! 😀
  • Switchfoot. I confess, when I drafted this list, this was the first thing I wrote! A lot of bad things have happened in the world this year. But 2016 was also the year Switchfoot brought us their 10th album, Where The Light Shines Through. And in a dark year, it really has been where the light has shone through for me, not just a highlight of the year for a fan, but also an incredibly timely album full of messages of hope and strength and light, so much needed just now. This band has done more than anyone else this year to encourage me to look for the points of light breaking through the darkness, keep my eyes on the Source of my hope, and work to become where the light shines through myself.

Blackberries and grace

I went blackberry picking today, celebrating the first day of the year that everyone else seems to wake up to the fact that it’s autumn, even though I’ve known it since that first day back in august when the light changed, the morning felt fresh, the trees began turning colours, and the birds shifted their behaviour. Autumn is the most lovely time of year.

I hear you’re technically not supposed to forage on nature reserves; but then I can’t imagine anyone being concerned about blackberries. The bramble is, as far as I know, in no danger of extinction, and every year, the plants produce fruit at a rate that even the most voracious birds are unable to keep pace with. Most of the fruit goes over and drops well before it is eaten, no matter how hard we and the wild creatures try to gorge ourselves. So I picked a box full, now in my freezer to liven up our winter pancakes, the hedges still so weighed down with fruit after I’d left that it was as if I hadn’t touched them!

Blackberries to me are a powerful demonstration of grace. For the rest of the year, brambles are neglected and persecuted plants. As well as romping through the woods and hedgerows, they easily colonise the most neglected, abandoned and abused plots of land; overgrown gardens, derelict buildings, dubious alleyways, railway lines, back yards behind rows of shops, random scraps of wasteland where people dump rubbish and scrawl graffiti. We hack them back, dig them up, curse them for encroaching on ‘our’ spaces. I certainly count myself in this – my own sorry excuse for a garden produces little else, and I’ve spent rather a lot of time this summer repeatedly cutting back thorny tendrils threatening to take root in unwanted places, not to mention the great masses of them that I spend the winter pulling out of hedges on the very same nature reserve as part of their annual maintenance. The bramble is unwanted, unloved, and even many times unnoticed.

But then… blackberries!

The neglect, the weedkiller, the hedge trimmers, the rubbish and the cursing we’ve laid on the bramble the rest of the year are repaid with an outrageous generosity; simply too much fruit! No matter what our part has been previously in the bramble’s treatment, and whether or not we are interested in tasting it, it rewards us by overproducing, wastefully showering us with fruity goodness. My garden has already produced enough berries for two large cakes, a lot of snacking, food for the birds and ever-present snails, and still has fruit ripening and dropping. I find it humbling that a simple thorn bush can be so incredibly gracious, and every year it reminds me to take seriously the even greater grace of its maker. Truly worth celebrating!

Surprisingly profound fridge poetry

I played one of those ‘what words did you use most on facebook this year’ games yesterday, and the resulting word cloud inspired a sort of ‘fridge poetry’ session, messing around with the words it gave me. Here’s the poem the came out of it…


 

 

Looking like I’m just blood

Looking like I still need life

Playing God feels weird

Faith without music never lasts

Yet no music without faith

Yes I’ve still got first love

Two names make home, where I’ll forever belong; husband and Jesus; happy things

Though I’m still feeling at sea in this strange world

I believe autumn leaves make something good, even something really beautiful, out of death

Maybe it’s an amazing place of change

I’m sometimes wondering if I’m leaves before God

Can’t go back.

I sense this big world needs peace, people still need to find life

Someone writing songs, find the words

In the sound tomorrow gets wonderful in the end, forever, finally

Maybe whole, wonderful peace is actually found around others

Inseparable but still looking for love

Make the sort of place we can talk

Help people think of good

Change arms for icecream, climate change for cats

Work till we’re feeling totally alive

A little reserve to make home for others

Make the new morning’s news amazing

Keep a sense of now

Believe something incredible

Keep hoping

Time to live this new day like a song

Autumn

It’s October; my favourite month of the year. There’s so much I love about this time of year, and I felt it all so clearly today. This was my first day back at my work helping with the maintenance of a local nature reserve, so I had the pleasure of being outside in all autumn’s gloriousness all day. The air was crisp for the first time this year, that I’ve noticed anyway, as I cycled down the canal out to the reserve, and for the first time this season I began to wish I’d brought my gloves. The trees glowed with colour, the birds sang, and the air was sweetly scented by cut grass and fallen fruit. Without a cloud in the sky it became a beautiful sunny day, hot for the time of year, and certainly hot for the physical work we were doing, but in the sunshine and blue sky the hedgerows were radiant with colour. The leaves of most trees are still only just turning but here and there one would already be in red or gold, and the hedgerows were jewelled with blackberries, hawthorn berries, sloes, apples, rosehips and guelder rose berries. I think I spent almost as much time foraging wild fruit today as I did working! I cycled home past all manner of flowers having a last go at blooming before the winter, regardless of their ‘proper’ flowering time – buttercups, vetch, mallows, daisies, hogweed, and even the apple tree in my garden! Then a gentle pink sunset setting the trees in the park across my street glowing as a great flock of rooks and jackdaws assembled in the sky above before dropping down into the trees to roost. Such a beautiful day, and such a precious time of year.

I love the autumn. It perplexes summer people, who can never understand how I could like it so much when summer is over and cold, dark winter is on its way, but I love it. Everything is changing and it feels exciting. Autumn is exuberant; summer to me seems monotonous and seems to drag. It feels like everything is holding its breath as the birds stop singing, the grass browns and the flowers fade away, waiting for autumn to come and bring the rain and wake everything up again. Then suddenly it happens, and everything breathes again; the birds begin slowly to sing again, the flowers have one last burst, the grass begins to grow again, everything produces fruit, and flocks of migrating birds appear, preparing to leave or newly arrived.

I have so many more memories of autumn than of any other time of year. I think it’s because my senses seem so much more awake and I feel alive in a new way, so I pay more attention. But it’s always been a significant time of year. It begins for me in mid August as the first signs of change appear in nature and the year seems to wake up. I remember getting excited as a child when the leaves on the trees in the garden first began to turn during the summer holidays, and the chestnut tree dropped its first conker of the year. I looked out for it each year so I could go out to thank the tree for it! Then everywhere I went I’d be picking up tree seeds and planting them to see how many tree species I could get to grow. These days, I’m out foraging blackberries and looking for the first migrating birds, trying to record the date I last spot a swift and watching numbers of wading birds on the estuary increase week by week. September is a month of reunions. There was a lot I disliked about going back to school but I did look forward to seeing everyone again – especially since I went through a couple of hopeless crushes both at school and university! And the geek in me looked forward to the new year’s lessons. It’s also often been marked by reunions of SPEAK friends too, as we’ve held a lovely chilled out skill sharing weekend together. The sea is at its warmest in early autumn, and once the schools have restarted the beaches become so much quieter, so M and I always try and make time for beach days. October gained its place in my heart early on as it was the time of year for fairgrounds, family holidays and harvest parties. Growing up in Nottingham, the legendary Goose Fair was a highlight of my year (now I have moved away I still miss it!), one of the biggest funfairs in the country. It occupies a large city park with enormous numbers of silly rides, a famous vintage carousel, and lots of great fairground food, and we used to make an evening of it every year as a family, leaving with bags of doughnuts and brandy snaps and helium balloons as it grew dark and the lights shone brightly. We often went on holiday together at half term, usually finding a cosy cottage with an open fire somewhere wild. And then harvest parties, my family’s answer to Halloween, where me and my friends would get together to play silly fruit and vegetable related party games, eat a ploughman’s meal with homemade hedgehog-shaped bread, and usually end up playing very silly fantasy games and/or dancing to the funniest song we could find in my parents’ music collection! Fun times 🙂 And then November – bonfire night and fireworks, which these days involves me and my husband cooking far too much campfire food in the garden and seeing what fireworks displays we can spot for free from outside! But there was always a really spectacular display at my first university too, which me and my friends loved going to see. M and I have made it a tradition to go on a pilgrimage to find great displays of autumn leaves in November, when the colours reach their best. And thanks to our various transatlantic connections we’ve also imported the tradition of holding Thanksgiving celebrations – even if not on the day itself! Since it’s my favourite season I like to stretch my definition of it as far as possible to capture all its magic – beginning in mid August, as defined by nature, and ending at the winter solstice, as defined astronomically, therefore taking in the very last of the autumn colour, shortening days and sparkling fairy lights before I finally have to accept winter’s arrival.

Perhaps surprisingly autumn means a time for new starts for me. I’ve three times moved to a new town, and each time it’s been in the autumn. The last move two years ago was a major upheaval, leaving my job commuting to London to move for M’s new job, moving away from most of our friends but to a lovely part of the country and a much more relaxed way of life. M and I first met properly and became friends at this time of year – now somehow 10 years ago! It was November 4 years ago I first saw Switchfoot play live, which was a profoundly life-changing experience, not just because it forever confirmed me as a megafan but also because I came away buzzing with poetic inspiration for the first time. I may still be a very imperfect poet, but it has been so freeing to be able to put words around my feelings sometimes, something I was very rarely able to do before. And although October was already my favourite month, it now has a particularly special meaning to me as every October 24th is another anniversary of the day I first met Jesus, and He saved my life, and effectively brought me to life for the first time; it marks another year of life and grace.

Autumn speaks deeply to me too in many ways I haven’t yet really managed to put words around. It’s one of the most powerful demonstrations of grace that I know of, as nature over-provides, even for those of us who spend the rest of the year fighting her; the most abused and neglected patches of land produce flowers, autumn leaves and tonnes of blackberries. The nights draw in, reminding us that the day is finite and we should make the most of it before hurrying home to warmth. Beauty rises as everything falls; imperfection is never more beautiful than in autumn, as death and decay produce the wonderful colours, scents and exquisite leaf skeletons, bare trees, mushrooms, and eventually new life. All is revealed, and it is incredible.

I could go on. What have I missed? Wild fruit and autumn leaves, colours, scents, golden light, long shadows, the constantly changing feel of the air, the light and the weather, migrating birds, frosts, mists, sparkles, sunsets, fires, pumpkins, tree hugging, fireworks, planting seeds, harvesting food, cold birdwatching trips, kicking leaves, getting the winter woollies out for the first time, real outdoor work, storms… Can you feel it?