A political post?

What are your hopes, what are your needs, and what can you contribute?

You won’t often see me post on political topics. This is not the first time I’ve done so, but it’s been something of a rarity.

Today I feel compelled to share a Liberal Democrat story, a short video presented by their new party leader, Ed Davey. Take a look and think about the people he talks to and the reasons he visited them.

You can read the article, or you can just watch the video below.

So – what are your hopes, what are your needs, and what can you contribute? How can you co-operate with friends and neighbours, meet needs, calm nerves, comfort hurting people? And, whatever your politics, how can you influence your chosen party to listen, hear, understand, and promote fairness, kindness, and the common good?

Elephant hawk moth

The caterpillar did something extraordinary – it mimicked a small snake

Have you ever seen an elephant hawk moth? If you live in Europe or Asia you might have spotted one of these amazing insects. In the United Kingdom they are fairly common, but perhaps not often seen. It’s a real treat to spot an adult or a caterpillar, both are amazing sights.

An elephant hawk moth male (credit: Wikipedia)
The circle marks the spot (credit OpenStreetmap)

Walking in the Cotswold Water Park recently, near the Gateway Centre on Lake 6, we spotted an elephant hawk moth caterpiller crossing the footpath (close to the grey circle in the map.

For a short time we just watched as it made its way across the path. But before it made it to the vegetation on the far side, some people appeared with a dog. The dog ran up enthusiastically to greet us and accidentally kicked the caterpiller before running off again. The caterpillar did something extraordinary – it mimicked a small snake.

Am I a caterpillar, or am I a snake?

The caterpillar crossing a stony path

For perhaps 20 seconds or so it writhed its body in a convincingly snakelike movement, and it pumped up several body segments behind the head, tucking its head down at the same time. With eye spot markings on its flanks, a scaly pattern on the entire body, and by raising up the front part of the body, it really did look the part. I wasn’t fast enough to get a photo, but I did get some video of the recovered caterpillar continuing on its way afterwards.

Searching the internet later, I found several good images of the caterpillar mimicking a small snake. Perhaps the best of these is show below.


The caterpillar looking very much like a snake (credit iSpot)

The natural world is so amazing, and so full of surprises, but mimicry is quite a common feature in both plants and animals. The European white dead-nettle has leaves that cannot sting but match the appearance of the unrelated stinging nettle very closely. Some insects look like pieces of wood, or a leaf, or a patch of white lichen, or a bird dropping. Many slugs look very much like animal droppings of various kinds, and as they move so slowly only an alert predator is likely to notice them. Predators, too, use camouflage which is not truly mimicry, but helps them merge into dappled sunshine and shade. Fish are often dark on top and silvery underneath. Sometimes they are patterned and look like the gravel bed of a stream or river.

Amazing!

See also:

Is church unbalanced?

If we learn to cooperate with one another … we will catch a view of [Jesus’] nature and so will the world around us

Part 6 of a series – What are we doing?

The good and bad of services | Index | New situation, new (old) ways >

So – Is church unbalanced? What a question! And what do I mean by unbalanced, anyway?

Let’s put it it like this. I’ve been talking most of my life about five things that seem to me to be of the utmost importance. I’ve been trying to live and grow in these five things, and I’ve always wanted to express them and share them widely. But I’ve found few who will listen, and even fewer who understand at a heart level. Here are the five things briefly described; as you read the list consider their effectiveness within church and beyond church (out in the world).

A rose with three petals missing is barely a rose at all
  • The church should spread and multiply everywhere
  • The church must speak truth into its own culture and into the culture of the world around it
  • The church should stir up desire in people’s hearts and minds, and help them find the way to live and move in truth and light
  • The church needs to nurture and encourage people, especially when they face pain, danger, hardship or doubt
  • The church should communicate in effective, memorable ways

Although the church is working in some of these ways, it doesn’t seem well-equipped to move equally in them all. What’s the problem and how can it be resolved?

Alan Hirsch, one of my favourite authors, explains this very clearly in a short video. It takes less than 11 minutes to watch, but they will be 11 minutes well spent. Can I encourage you to watch and listen as he explains where these five things come from, how they are all essential, and where they should lead us? He has analysed and expressed it all very clearly, but if you’re new to this stuff you’ll need an open and listening heart for the pattern to emerge and gel.

Alan Hirsch – 11 minutes on APEST

All of this is especially relevant to the series of articles on what we are doing in church life and how we might make some changes. We really do need the mind of Christ; our own minds alone are not up to the task. If we learn to cooperate with one another so as to allow Jesus to express himself in us and through us corporately, we will catch a view of his nature and so will the world around us. Being church on our terms will not take us any further than we have already gone, being church on Jesus’ terms will transform everything. What have we been missing?

I’d like to develop some of this in further posts. But finally, please note that Alan begins by saying, ‘One of the dimensions of movements is APEST’. We’ll discuss some of the other dimensions in future posts too.

Additional resources

The good and bad of services | Index | New situation, new (old) ways >

A card in wintertime – 2019

When the days are short and the weather is cold (or wet this year), it’s cheering to see Christmas lights in the streets. Here’s a photo of Black Jack Street in Cirencester taken on 12th December. Lovely!

Whoever you are, whatever faith you do or do not have, and whoever inspires you, I have some simple things to say to you:

Life is not always easy or comfortable – may you have strength, wisdom and courage to carry on despite it all. May peace and grace, joy and blessing always follow you and find room in your heart – whatever your circumstances may be.

For myself, I follow Jesus to the best of my limited ability, for more about what I do, think and believe, browse around this website. You are a welcome guest here. And here’s a true word from Jesus himself:

If you’re struggling and heavily weighed down, come to me, I’ll give you rest. Learn from me, the burden I lay on you is very light because I’m gentle and kindheartedly humble.

(Paraphrased from Matthew 11:28-30.)

Cirencester Wharf

There would have been bargaining and haggling, tobacco smoked and ale downed

Modern residents of Cirencester may not know that the town once had a wharf where canal boats tied up to load and unload goods of all kinds, including coal, manufactured goods, and timber. There were small hand-operated cranes on the quayside to help with handling heavy items.

The canal was a branch from the main Thames & Severn Canal that ran through Siddington and is currently being restored by the Cotswold Canals Trust.

So where was the wharf?

The wharf lay at the bottom of what is now Querns Hill, less than half a mile south of where Cricklade Street meets the Market Place. It was an easy trip by horse and cart for any of the businesses in the town in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and would have been a bustling hub of activity. The area was large enough to turn arriving barges for the trip back to Siddington; imagine the sounds and smells as horses were harnessed and roped for departure or released to rest and graze after arrival. Money would have changed hands as goods were loaded or unloaded from carts and dreys. There would have been bargaining and haggling, tobacco smoked and ale downed, jokes and banter and laughter, bread, cheese and meat passed around. People would have greeted one another and said their goodbyes because barges were used to carry passengers as well as goods.

Does anything remain?

Surprisingly, yes! Parts of the towpath remain as footpaths and can still be walked, though the canal has been filled in and there’s no sign of it in the area near the wharf. There are dry stone walls that were once the boundary walls of the canal; you can see these when you know what to look for. And it’s not hard to trace the route of the canal on foot.

Begin near the bottom of Querns Hill, where it meets Querns Lane and Sheep Street, find the view in the location photo below.

Location of the wharf

You are now looking at the site of the old wharf. It stretched from close to the building on the left (beyond the parked cars and the wall) across to the right hand edge of the photo. The canal leading from the wharf headed directly through the building in the centre of the photo and on through the trees in the centre.

The trees follow the line of the old canal

The photo above shows the same trees but looks back towards the wharf; the buildings on the left are close to those in the first photo. The canal would have more or less followed the line of trees from the buildings on the left right up to the yellow vehicle, and the course of the towpath remains along the garden boundaries hidden by the parked cars. Turning 180° from this view there is a house built over the route of the canal, but walking around it and crossing the road, the footpath between the houses is again the old towpath. What’s more, a dry stone wall on the left hand side of this path is almost certainly the old boundary wall that ran along both sides of the canal. The wall is high here, about 2 m, but beyond the town and in farmland the wall was only 1 m or so. It’s easy to visualise the canal here, mentally remove the tree, imagine water where the grass is, and you have it!

The old towpath and boundary wall, the canal was where the grass is

I was quite surprised to find so much remaining and still identifiable. Local history can be very fascinating and sometimes the detective work is easier than expected. It would be nice to have some of these remains marked and explained on noticeboards.

If anyone reading this is interested in helping to research the Cirencester Branch of the canal, please leave a comment below and I’ll make contact.

Related material

(Article updated 20th July 2020)

Season’s Greetings

Fresh grace and peace in your life every day

It’s that time of year again, cards have gone out and others have arrived on our doormat. I’d really like to include my blog readers. So, whoever you are, wherever you live, here’s the image that was on this year’s card:

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And what I’d like to pray for everyone reading this is that you would find fresh grace and peace in your life every day and be blessed throughout the coming year. May 2019 be the year you meet Jesus as your friend and guide. And for those who already know him, may your journey find you going deeper and further with him than ever before, in increasing faith and obedience.

Happy New Year 2019 everyone!

The photo shows Cotoneaster berries covered with hoar frost, the photo was taken in 2012 in our old front garden before we moved to Cirencester.

An old school friend

Friends are important, we humans are fundamentally social beings

At my sister’s recent book launch, I was delighted to meet an old friend from school days, Nick Henderson. Although he looks older – as, of course, I do too – his personality is entirely as I remember from the mid 1960s. We agreed to meet again this morning at the Golden Cross in Cirencester, and it was a delight.

Nick and I last met when we were both living at home and very probably still at school. For a year or two we used to hang out quite a bit. I remember going with Nick to see a local band called The Corals during a record-breaking attempt at playing non-stop without repeating any songs; the drummer, one Colin Flooks, another lad from our school year, later became famous as Cozy Powell. And yes, they did break that record – in fact they smashed it by playing for 11½ hours.

TheCorals
The Corals during their record-breaking session, photo from The Wilts and Glos.

Nick and I talked about many things, catching up on our personal journeys over the last half century, recalling the cross-country runs that were compulsory on Wednesday afternoons at school, and thinking about Daglingworth Brook, the River Churn and how the water is channelled in and around the town. The drainage courses have changed over the years, altered for many reasons, beginning in Roman times when the town was young, and continuing right down to the present.

Friends are important, we humans are fundamentally social beings; renewing a connection after such a long gap has been a very special thing for me. More so than I had expected or imagined.

For more about Nick, take a look at his website and/or a site he edits, Anglicanism.org .

Going out on a limb?

I’m looking forward to seeing the book in due course

This is a ‘must post’, I think.

The History Girls blog
The History Girls blog

My sister, Cynthia Jefferies, has been a successful children’s author for some time; now, heading in a slightly different direction, she is about to publish her first book for adults. It’s an historical novel, The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan, set in the period after the Civil War. Cindy provides some background  in a post on The History Girls blog – you might like to swing by and read what she has to say.

I’m looking forward to seeing the book in due course, meanwhile I wish her every success with the launch.

And ‘going out on a limb’? You’ll need to check out those History Girls to find out what that refers to.

Early steps towards life

Imagine an RNA molecule that can replicate … this is already quite life-like.

I have a really exciting story for you today, especially if you are interested in the origin of life and evolution.

RNA
A section of double-stranded RNA

A recent article in the magazine Science reports that Thomas Carell, a chemist at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, has outlined a process that can generate all four of the building blocks of RNA from compounds and conditions present on the pre-biotic Earth.

Why is this significant?

To understand, we need to grasp the importance of RNA. Its cousin, DNA, is the molecule used by most living things on Earth to store the genetic information that controls their form and function. RNA is also capable of storing genetic information, and some viruses use it in exactly this way. RNA is also essential in all living forms because it acts as a go between in the production of proteins from the DNA genetic material. RNA is less stable than DNA and copying errors are more likely. For this reason, DNA is a better long-term genetic store than RNA, but RNA is more dynamic. Think in terms of DNA as a library of printed recipe books, while RNA is like hand-copied notes on scraps of paper that enable the recipes to be taken to the kitchen.

But RNA has additional tricks up its sleeve. Not only can this molecule store genetic information, it can also catalyse biochemical reactions, including the synthesis of simple proteins. RNA is a bit of an all-rounder, and it’s not so hard to imagine that quite soon after being randomly synthesised by Carell’s process, RNA molecules might be formed as the dissolved RNA bases came into contact with tiny rock templates that could act to stabilise the process.

RNA also has the potential to self-replicate. Imagine an RNA molecule that can replicate (albeit with occasional errors). This is already quite life-like. Now image the population growing in places where the Carell process was providing reliable supplies of the four bases. Some of those RNA molecules will have errors, sooner or later an error, or a combination of errors will provide a version that replicates more efficiently, or gets trapped inside a lipid membrane that protects it from breakdown, or catalyses the production of a protein that makes the RNA more efficient in some way. If all of those things happen you have something that might be regarded as an early living form – an enclosed lipid membrane with a self-replicating genetic system that can mutate and evolve. Nothing more than that would be needed to kick of an expanding array of related forms.

Voila!

The story as I describe it here is not complete and likely incorrect in many ways. I accept that. But though it’s a simplistic view, it’s also likely to be broadly correct as a bare outline. Over the next few years and decades I expect much more detail will become clear, especially detail about what is or is not possible. And I expect to see many of the steps to be experimentally demonstrated. Watch this space…

Walking the Swiss bisses

We were constantly surprised by the next unexpected vista

Every summer we go away somewhere different for a week – Donna and me along with two daughters, their husbands, and our four grandchildren. This year we stayed in a ski chalet in Haute-Nendaz in western Switzerland, just over the border from France.

Although prices are high in Switzerland, there are many wonderful compensations in terms of mountain scenery, clean streets and clean air, friendly people, and the walks. I had expected walks with big and tiring changes in elevation – and we certainly did our share of walks of that sort. But the bisses: what a wonderful experience!

Looking at a bisse
Looking at a bisse

I must admit, I had no idea what a bisse was when we drove from Geneva Airport, around Lake Geneva, and then south-west to Nendaz. I hadn’t even come across the word ‘bisse’. But we soon found a leaflet of local walks and discovered that several of them followed the local bisses. A bisse is an irrigation stream running gently downhill, almost following the contours of the mountains and hills. As a result the bisse paths are gentle and easy walking for the most part, and they wind around the slopes through woodland and meadow. The views of the mountains and valleys are spectacular; following the path through woodland and then coming out into the open again we were constantly surprised by the next unexpected vista.

The view from a bisse
The view from a bisse

All the way, the path is accompanied by the sparkling water hurrying  down its channel, sometimes shallow, sometimes deep, and sometimes disappearing into a large pipe and reappearing beside the path again a little further on. Some of these paths follow one bisse gently uphill and then pick up a different one for the return, making a lovely, circular tour through the countryside.

Further reading