Back to the future

Fifty years on, and I’m not just still reporting ladies’ luncheons clubs, I’m talking to them. A recent invitation reminded me that, half a century later, I’m back to where I started.

When I was a very small girl – four or five – I used to go visiting. On my own. To houses round about, and to old ladies, mainly (who were probably about 50). I spent ages just chatting to them, and one in particular used to let me listen to the sound of the sea in an enormous conche shell which she kept in her china cabinet. She told me her fiance had brought it for her from a distant land: he’d died in the trenches in the First World War. She had never loved anyone else, had never married, but whenever she held that shell she thought of him. It was, she said, her most treasured possession. And I was allowed to hold it, and listen to the magical sound of the sea. Continue reading “Back to the future”


Never say die

Never say “It’s really easy,” because actually it never is. Never say “Oh you’ll soon get the hang of it,” because without knowing it you’ve probably been faffing around trying to do it yourself for the past five years without realising it. And never say “All you do is . . .” because that will just drive whoever you’re saying it to bonkers. So here’s a clip from YouTube which (I hope) I’ve copied and pasted successfully. Just testing, and it is my all-time favourite film reviewer. Not that I ever get round to watching any of the films.

A poem for the Book

National Poetry Day, yesterday, I re-discovered this. It’s from James Elroy Flecker’s To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence, and it seems appropriate to the new Askrigg Village Book we’re preparing. Generations of people we will never know will read it,  just as we look back on the original, 1965, one and picture those who went before us. It’s very poignant.
“Since I can never see your face,

And never shake you by the hand,
I send my soul through time and space
To greet you. You will understand.
James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915)

From: Say Cheese! by Ann Pilling. Published by the Rookhurst Press at £8. All proceeds to St Margaret’s Church, Hawes.


Tour de France 13I don’t know which is the more depressing: seeing my hilariously captioned photograph getting precisely nowhere at the village produce show or reading the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s answers to the so-called Frequently Asked Questions re the Tour de France. I have worked out, though, which is the scarier. No prizes – where’ve I heard that before? – for guessing.
I do wonder how many people have actually rung up the National Park Authority to ask (once, never mind frequently): “Where can I swot up on my Tour de France knowledge?” or even “How many people will see the national park on TV?”? Nevertheless, the answer to the latter is quite enlightening: “A global tourism audience for a stage of over 40 million is not uncommon,” they write. I think they mean “A global audience of 40 million for one stage of the Tour . . .” but we’ll let that pass. Which brings me to the really scary and depressing bit, the numbers. I had fondly pictured a few determined young men in Lycra whizzing up the Dale on fancy bikes, and I have tried hard to convince myself this is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle that I must not miss. It is, after all, an event which has everybody else’s pulse racing faster than a Piranello, so why not mine?
Bainbridge parish council members discuss it endlessly – it’s a massive event for a small village on the route – and at the last meeting somebody quietly remarked: “Let’s not forget we’ll only see the actual cyclists for about 10 minutes. The rest will be vehicles.” What a ridiculous notion. . .
But no: here is FAQ number eight from the fact sheet: “What is the Tour Caravan?” Answer: “This is the long procession of sponsors’ vehicles – normally around 250-strong. It sets off around 2 hours ahead of the riders and makes its way slowly along the route, distributing freebies.” I especially like the “slowly,” like they’re going to have any choice.
And there’s more: “Apart from the riders, there is their support team, sponsors’ vehicles, TV and media vehicles, motorcycle support riders and motorcycle police, not to mention the helicopters flying overhead. In total, about 4,000 people.” As someone else has remarked, a total of perhaps 400 vehicles negotiating our narrow, winding lanes.
I know it was a great coup by Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, to bring this world event to our doorstep. I know cafes and restaurants and B&Bs and hotels and village shops will benefit from this mighty influx of visitors, not just now but in the future, as people worldwide see these beautiful Dales on their big screens and later come to see it for themselves.
But I have an FAQ of my own. I shall ask it frequently of myself every day between now and July, 2014: When they named this section of the race Le Grand Départ, was it really a hint to the locals? I might just act on it. And take my very funny photograph with me.



One of the reasons I stopped going to church was that, after 30 years of it, the point of intercessory prayer still defeated me. Each week we prayed for Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan and other ‘trouble spots’ in which innocent people were being needlessly slaughtered. Nobody escaped our vicarious pleas: people in earthquakes, floods, tsunamis: sick people, well people, people taking exams, people marrying, people going through what was always referred to as “the trauma of divorce,” the intercessor never knowing if it actually was a trauma or a blessed relief for all concerned. We prayed for the poor who had nothing and the rich who had a lot, pleading with God that the latter might share their great bounty. We prayed for soldiers as they went to war, for teachers as they started a new term, and for politicians that they might “have wisdom” and “work together for the good of all.” As far as I could see, people continued to die or get better quite randomly, natural disasters still claimed lives, the streets of Khabul and Baghdad, to name but two ‘trouble spots’ of thousands throughout the world, continued to run with the blood of innocents. Politicians still bawled at each other across the House of Commons or over the airwaves, showing a marked lack of wisdom and tolerance, and a lot less maturity than the average 14-year-old.

Personal prayers fared no better. My children passed or failed exams, were successful or otherwise in relationships, did or didn’t realise ambitions. Childhood traumas had me so frequently on my knees there were burn marks on the carpet. They survived the traumas. Yet my first husband died of cancer despite the prayers of me and entire congregations in various parts of the country. I’ve had friends who were “miraculously” cured of cancer thanks – or so they said – to the fervent prayers of friends, only to die several months or years later when the disease returned with a vengeance. Devout worshippers suffered random catastrophes as often as did atheists who at least were not burdened with the dreaded “why me?” question. Prayer, it seemed, changed nothing. And the odd thing was that I somehow never expected it to. I thanked God when things went right (just in case they started going wrong) but it never occurred to me to blame him when they didn’t. That’s just how things were: it was, we were told, “the mystery of God.” He got the credit for the good stuff, I blamed myself for the bad.

One of the most chilling Roald Dahl stories I ever read was ‘Genesis and Catastrophe,’ based on fact. It tells of Klara, an Austrian peasant woman who has just given birth to a son. She has already lost her first three children in infancy and is terrified the same fate will befall her fourth. “I have prayed so hard that he will live, Alois,” she tells her husband. “Every day for months I have gone to the church and begged on my knees that this one will be allowed to live . . . He must live, Alois, he must, he must. Oh God, be merciful unto him now,” she pleads, through choking sobs. Her prayer is answered, the baby lives. The woman is Mrs Hitler and the baby is Adolf. Thanks be to God . . .

For me prayer and our expectations of it depend on your view of God. If God is all powerful then of course God will be responsible for everything and therefore fair game to blame or thank.

If God is love. then wherever love is that is where God is and therefore God is limited by humanity’s ability to let in love and let love do its work. The question is whether God is responsible for all, or does God hope for a relationship with us that is based in love? The picture of Christmas and Easter must tell us something about how God is involved in this world and if it does then that is the beginning of the wisdom of prayer and the understanding of God’s power.

If we see God as you have described then there will always be a time when prayers are not answered, but if we see God in partnership with the world through loving relationship then ‘prayer’ is something else and all the suffering and evil is based in something else. Ann Chapman.

When I was Vicar of Askrigg – a phrase I continually use to preface some profound insight – the lay people were asked to offer the prayers of Intercession. We had distinguished lay people, amongst them Mary Wilson (the Bishop’s widow). Week on week I found them heading up their requests to the Almighty with the problems of Northern Ireland. This led me to pen a note and pin it to the church door. “There will be no more prayers in this Church for Northern Ireland until somebody does something about it.” There was criticism of this notice and of the pretentious style of its presentation.
The newly formed Wensleydale Rotary Club heard of the problem and invited me to arrange a visit to Northern Ireland to meet with young people of Protestant and Catholic tradition and see if we could arrange a holiday at the newly opened Low Mill outdoor centre for 30 young people. At that time visiting homes in downtown Belfast made one uneasy: I felt like praying for myself as well as the situation. When the young people came to Askrigg and visited our homes, farms and churches ( the Catholic priest kindly celebrated Mass in Saint Oswald’s for his half of the flock) I found there was no easy way; prayer was a first and last resort
As I have tried to find the structure and furniture to grasp my relationship with Eternal God I have found silence and suspense is useful but I have also found it helpful to formulate my concerns and place them before Him. What happens, happens; what is, is; what He will do, He will do; but I like to think I have at least mentioned it to Him.
My wife, Judith, and I think Oswald’s Outlook is great and we send love and greetings to you all.
Malcolm Stonestreet


female symbolLunch is over. “Put the lid on the casserole,” demands Ian, having devoured the delicious fish soup he had forced me to make. “Bacteria will get in if you leave it off.” I obey instantly: we are married, after all. Earlier he made me get up and clean the house in preparation for the potential buyers who were coming to look round. (We are having to sell because he doesn’t want to live here any more). “I’ll take the dogs out,” he announced. When I went into the hall, begging to be allowed to accompany him, he had two dog leads in his hand. I knew what that meant. I had to stay behind. There really was no choice. Maud and Harry, the two border terriers he had forced me to buy when what I really wanted was more children, fixed me with a look of withering contempt. He has turned them against me.
It was  2007 when Ian decided we would get married. I tried to resist, I really did. My independence was important to me and I had my career to think about. “I’m sorry,” he said at the time. “I know you don’t want to do this, but I need somebody to care for me in my old age and you’ll do fine.” He planned the wedding, designed and issued the invitations, booked the photographer, organised the reception, even chose the honeymoon destination – Belgium, via Eurostar, because he likes trains.
Of course I wanted to go somewhere exotic like China or India involving a long-haul flight (I’ve never been on a long-haul flight: Ian won’t let me) but of course I went along with his plans. Why? Because – I’m sorry, but I’m finding this really hard to type; my fingers are trembling on the keyboard – I was scared: although I may look like a strong, independent woman with a mind of my own, deep down I’m just a weak and pathetic little wife. Feminism? Women’s rights? That’s fine for all those bossy women who can stand up for themselves, but not for people like me. We know our place. Must dash. He’s demanding his tea.