A Mini Semaine du Golfe

I have just returned home from this wonderful and peaceful week in the Golfe du Morbihan, including a passage out to the island of Hoëdic (insert on the map below). We were three boats, not always the same three, as a friend of my friend Frédéric has a collection of some seventeen boats!

I have already been to the famous event held every two years, La Semaine du Golfe, in 2015, 2017 and 2019. 2021 was cancelled because of the Covid pandemic. I am registered to join Flotilla 3b next May. See the official website. In 2019 there were about 1,200 vessels from three-masted ships to tiny dinghies like my Sarum. Next year, I will go with Novalis.

I left the video with my running commentary unlike my trip to northern Brittany. This is the “low end” of amateur sailing, when I think of the ongoing Golden Globe race in which several boats have come to grief or the skippers have abandoned the attempt. I just like the small and simple.

I hope you enjoy the video and the natural beauty I have lived with.

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Medieval Dystopia?

We are being bombarded by the media about the “climate emergency” and the consequences of Putin invading Ukraine and of the availability of affordable energy in the form of natural gas. We howl in the agony of worry and anxiety faced with massive changes in our lives. For many, it will take the form of no longer having the money to continue living in the world as it is. Someone living in the street no longer has access to technology or communication or even to a place to live or food to eat. He must either end his life or find temporary respite through the rare generosity of others who still have money, homes and food. A person in such a precarious situation is already living in a world without culture or technology, what we might be tempted to call a medieval hovel or simply the pre-death of destitution.

What were the Middle Ages? Historians debate the difference of values and cultural markers between, say, the late fifteenth century and the time of the French Revolution three centuries later. The demise of rationalism provided the growth medium for Romanticism and a yearning for another era, one that was responsible for the most beautiful cultural achievements – like our cathedrals. The notion of that long period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Reformation holds a different meaning for the historian and the Romantic, one like Novalis who wrote Die Christenheit oder Europa. This work is generally understood to be a parable, an analogy, to describe a state of mind and yearning rather than a historical truth.

We have not to forget that the Middle Ages was not a time when more “advanced” people retreated into a less rational and more primitive era, like the destitute person I mentioned above. The rationalist will generally consider the Middle Ages by their obscurantism and inhumanity, the barbaric way by which condemned criminals were executed for the entertainment of the crowds gathered around the gallows and the quartering block. I feel very intensely that we are returning to a fascination for darkness, the night, castles, witches and wizards, pre or post rationalism – and all the themes of many computer games.

The media carries much of the responsibility for this fear and anxiety. The eschatology associated with global warming is a part of this post-rational mindset. The ideologies of crowds are nothing new, and we have only to think of the rise of Fascism and Nazism a hundred years ago. We stand in awe in the monuments of the Middle Ages, yet we totter between the wake of the Enlightenment and the darkness of many applications of science. Frankenstein was written more than two hundred years ago in response to the consequences of a catastrophic volcanic eruption on the world’s climate – in 1816. We are in a way entering a new Romantic era. The era from 1790 to roughly 1820 marked the inspiration of poets and dreamers, but also the wildest spiritual prophecies and religious revivals in America and Europe.

I am not convinced that humanity follows trends uniformly, but rather that different values become manifest during a same historical era. There were rationalists in the fourteenth century, and there were massive witch-hunts in the era of Descartes. Nazism was defeated only fourteen years before my birth and left its black mark in the culture of Germany, Europe and the entire modern world of science and technology! Winston Churchill made a speech in 1940 in which he described the world into which Europe and the United States would be plunged if Hitler prevailed:— “the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more prolonged, by the lights of perverted science”.

The Catholicism of the Middle Ages is still with us. It suffices to visit a place of pilgrimage like Lourdes or Fatima to see the naivety of people each with their special needs, but also their absolute faith. It suffices to visit a monastery like the Benedictines of Fontgombault or Le Barroux to witness medieval liturgical life at first-hand. Their life is not a theatrical reconstruction but the life they have chosen (or which chose them). Our problem is that we have also known something else. Léon Bloy once wrote Souffrir passe, avoir souffert ne passe jamais, meaning that our life experience leaves a permanent mark on us. We yearn for the monism of medieval life and thought, but we have to realise that it was no more united than our current fragmentation. Our reflections of faith and reason are full of fallacies and traps for the unwary. Religious belief and thought were more diverse than we would like to imagine, and Islam perhaps had more influence than Christianity in the world of philosophy and science. That period was less hostile to science and rationalism than many of us would imagine. Novalis certainly sought a meaning in Christian Europe that he would never find otherwise than by analogy.

The amazing ting about the Middle Ages is that they represent a period in the past, studied by historians, but also, in the future by analogy. This is probably what was in the back of the mind of that young man between Jena university and his father’s salt mines. In thirty years’ time, when global warming has forced us all to live in northern Canada or Siberia, we won’t be building cathedrals or singing Gregorian chant, but learning to live without electricity or gas! We already find it hard to find a family doctor in the countryside. My own is Romanian and speaks English slightly better than the French in which she should be fluent to practice medicine in this country! We might be back to quacks, faith-healing and bleeding quicker than we think. We are divided between the idea of the shitty hovel and the cathedral, as today between an oligarch billionaire’s super yacht and a group of tramps dossing under a railway bridge. One author for whom I have great esteem is Umberto Eco (1932-2016), not only for that entertaining story about the monastery in Italy and the whodunnit mysteries, but also for his philosophy and analysis of human thought and language. His work is quite mysterious and very technical in its analysis. I have to confess that I am more familiar with his fiction than his more academic works.

There are certain characteristics by which we identify that age of Aristotelian and Thomist reasoning, already a forerunner of Enlightenment rationalism. What we come to call medievalism becomes an interpretive tool to examine our contemporary age and its hermeneutic, ideological distortions and fears. Umberto Eco spoke of ways to “dream” the Middle Ages – Dieci modi di sognare il Medioevo. We have in particular Millenarianism, the doom-mongering and eschatological expression and the orthodoxy of Christendom. This notion of “dreaming” the era again reminds us of Novalis’ most celebrated fragment of 1799.

We find that the Middle Ages is not a threat of the future, like the rants of Greta Thunberg and other cheap demagogues, but a reality that is already with us. Uncertainty is our companion and stability is found to be an illusion. We try to keep everything under control by classifying and labelling everything and every identity. The “new” Middle Age will be seen as a nightmare, a utopia or an epiphany. Our ideology describes us as rational, but perhaps we are rational because we are ideological. Perhaps it is in this light of our own medieval era that we would form a more objective opinion on the sixth to the sixteenth centuries. I think of the quaint harbourmaster’s office in Dinan and the superimposition of black oaken beams over modern toilets and showers. Medieval man adapted Roman ruins and Romanesque churches and modified their style and use.

Perhaps we are more ready for change than we imagine. Our uncertainty and fear bring us to a sense of determinism. We are scared of losing the identity we claim. The temptation to nationalism is still there as are other expressions of resentment.

What do I imagine happening now? Firstly, the incessant pressure from the media, politicians and demagogues is no more than vacuous claptrap. I hope that my own reflections are more based on my acquired knowledge and experience of life. My scepticism (keeping an open mind for as long as I am not convinced of something) is a great asset. My big question is whether medieval man knew he was medieval, in the way we call ourselves modern. Did he try to define and constitute life as we have done since about the time of Descartes. Did they have a notion of progress and growth that we are now losing for our very survival? I was very impressed at school on studying William Golding’s Lord of the Flies portraying a particularly pessimistic and nihilistic view of human nature. Strip away the veneer of culture and mankind becomes something worthy of death and destruction! Fortunately, humanity is also capable of love, truth, beauty, art and music, literature and discovery of nature. As a Christian humanist, I believe that good outweighs and beats evil.

I have no idea about what is going to happen with Russia and Ukraine. The “post-truth machine” has obscured everything and we cannot trust any narrative. I find it tragic, because Russia at its most noble has produced a sublime contribution to human culture. There may be no winner or loser, since it is in the interests of the West to negotiate. Germany in the early 1930’s was ruined economically, and what came out of that? Hitler. Putin chose his moment as his stroke of genius: call the West’s bluff as we started to engage the process of energy transition to solve the “climate emergency” (as if man could do anything about it). Like in the past, we can do nothing against the weather or the fury of the sea. We take ourselves for gods, but we are not. In the end, we either come to terms with Putin or we learn to go without energy (gas and electricity) and all the technology those two resources make possible.

The last time I took my little boat to sea, I had a few books with me, including Nicholas Berdyaev’s The End of our Time. It contains a chapter on the New Middle Ages as well as some reflections on Soviet Communism. His thesis begins with his observation that Renaissance humanism is exhausted and over and done with. He sees history in cycles. I begin to doubt that view, given that all cultures and all humanities exist simultaneously in all periods of time. For example, I have nothing to do with “post-modern” culture and its destruction of humanist aesthetics (musical harmony, clear language, realism in art, etc.). Perhaps history can “live” because there are survivals in a world where most of what we cherish is mercilessly trashed. Anyway, back to Berdyaev… He was describing his time – 1933, but he could have been talking to us in 2022. What has changed? What made it possible to build cathedrals, vandalise and deface them in Reformation times, guillotine the French nobility and send millions of Jews and other minorities to the gas chambers? The answer is humanity, what we all have within ourselves, our capacity for beauty, goodness – and evil.

Berdyaev tried to understand things in terms of philosophy (love of wisdom) and what I would call “proto-Romantic” mysticism, especially from German Lutheran roots. Berdyaev constantly refers to Jacob Böhme and the Ungrund, that primaeval state of darkness and indetermination that preceded even God the Creator and the Λόγος. Each day, we live a period of night when the part of the earth where we live is facing away from the sun. Shapes lose their clarity and the world becomes silent (at least out here in the countryside). Movement ceases and we are taken by sleep. It is a time of wordless longing. uncertainty and nostalgia. We are like the Israelites in exile:

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept: when we remembered thee, O Sion.
As for our harps, we hanged them up: upon the trees that are therein.
For they that led us away captive required of us then a song, and melody in our heaviness:
Sing us one of the songs of Sion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song: in a strange land?

It is the spirit of Romanticism and the increasing darkness of our own existence. The light of day, the Enlightenment or Aufklärung, can deceive us and keep us on the surface, superficial. We long for depth of spirit, a new symbolism. The beginning of this new middle age is marked by barbarism, cruelty and violence. Berdyaev wrote in 1933, but he was aware of a world that died in the trenches of World War I. Our woes of 2022 are nothing more than a continuation. We seek to return to a comfort zone, some measure of certitude, but it is not there. We wallow in darkness.

We hope that the vacuum left by man’s pride will be filled by a true discovery of freedom of the spirit. It could be that we are at the brink of a new soviet revolution using different language, or even a new form of Nazism with a completely different appearance but the same ideology. We read everything Berdyaev says about Socialism, and we recognise it in the Great Reset and the climate fanatics in their uncontrolled braying for a deconstruction without any positive plan. Christianity, like the sun before dawn, is waiting to fill our despair and nihilism with spirit and faith. It will not be the caricature of Christianity in the institutional Churches that have become forces of secularism and socialism, but something new and within each of us. The malaise is no different in 2022 than in 1933. It is the same Kali Yuga.

Without a doubt, most of us who are still alive in thirty years’ time will not be driving cars, living in a house, having access to electricity or the technology we now use. Would we even have a postal service or a telephone, or even a horse? No doubt, the oligarchs and billionaires would still have these things, plus medical and trans-humanist technology to make them able to live for centuries. The imagination is fired by any number of science fiction films. Would the new feudal lords be happy without God? Most of us, if the predictions are accurate, would die of pogroms and exterminations, pandemics, starvation and inability to adapt to a post-technical world.

What I think is more likely is that much less would change than we fear. We will adapt to extremes of climate and temperature. We will eat what is available. We will find somewhere to live if we lose our homes. Above all, we will return to God and spiritual values. What would a new Middle Age look like? More than material things, individualism and liberalism would have to go. We will have to re-learn the meaning of the Church, the mystical body of Christ, the universal communion. Art, literature and music would have to be re-invented or re-discovered. This Church can only draw us in through our freedom of spirit and our desire, not through coercion. We cannot tolerate a clerical totalitarianism, nor one of the State. God will be at the centre of our lives and desires. It won’t come about by magic, but this could take decades or centuries. Those of us alive today would be dead by then and experiencing a whole new existence. There would be a whole new attitude to work, money, class, law, justice, energy, natural resources including renewables like wind, solar and tides. This is our hope and prayer for those who will come after those of us who will be dead and probably forgotten.

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Brutal Nihilism

Without divulging the source, I read this in a forum in response to some reflections about the extreme heatwaves in various parts of the world.

“Most of us will perish in scorching heat waves lasting for months and months during the coming years! And if it would not be the heat that kills us, then most likely starvation and/or dehydration or even cannibalism – when the entire agricultural food supply chain collapses due to unviable climatic conditions, human meat will be the last resort.

Parents, be prepared to kill and eat your children… children, be prepared to kill and eat your parents… friends and neighbours, be prepared to kill and eat yourselves mutually, lovers and loved ones, be prepared to kill and eat yourselves mutually… a global Holodomor.

And there will be no God, no Jesus Christ, no Mahdi, no Messiah, no Saoshyant, no Maitreya to save us, as they are all just delusions of the human brain which desperately wants to hope, to believe – but there is no hope. Face it.

Perish, human race!

Millions and millions of years from now, eventually some other species might evolve into sapient beings, and the whole senseless dance begins once more… and so in countless liveable locations throughout the Universe, until the last red dwarf stars have faded to blackness.

Yes, Arthur Schopenhauer was so right…”

I have often reflected on the sheer irresponsibility of portraying climate change in such eschatological terms. I can only suppose that the person who wrote the above piece was influenced by something like the following:

Since the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century, man has been burning fossil fuels and producing pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. These emissions retain the heat of the sun like a greenhouse and cause average temperatures to go up. If these temperatures are recorded on a graph, the graph resembles a hockey stick. There has never been any global warming until our own time. We have about twenty or thirty years to eliminate our carbon emissions, or else we face calamities such as were never imagined in the Book of the Apocalypse! Vast numbers of people would migrate to cooler parts of the world and the sea level would reclaim much of that available land. All because of our fault…

Also see an explanation of Lord Byron’s Darkness, written in July 1816. I wonder if I detect a form of neo-Romanticism in this wave of climatic Weltschmerz. A recent book, David Higgins, British Romanticism, Climate Change, and the Anthropocene gets an interesting introduction:

This book is the first major ecocritical study of the relationship between British Romanticism and climate change. It analyses a wide range of texts – by authors including Lord Byron, William Cobbett, Sir Stamford Raffles, Mary Shelley, and Percy Shelley – in relation to the global crisis produced by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. By connecting these texts to current debates in the environmental humanities, it reveals the value of a historicized approach to the Anthropocene. British Romanticism, Climate Change, and the Anthropocene examines how Romantic texts affirm the human capacity to shape and make sense of a world with which we are profoundly entangled and at the same time represent our humiliation by powerful elemental forces that we do not fully comprehend. It will appeal not only to scholars of British Romanticism, but to anyone interested in the relationship between culture and climate change.

There is definitely a connection, though I myself veer to my “Classical” side on this one.

So I am a denier or at least a sceptic? I wrote on this subject in Scepticism and Freedom of Thought just as the world was about to lock down against the mysterious virus from China. I am sometimes yelled at for being “sceptical”, and I would reply that I am indeed sceptical in that I suspend my judgement on the subject not being in possession of scientific data that I could trust is not influenced by political ideology. Science used to be sceptical until repeated experiments producing the same result confirmed a theory. Water freezes at 0°C and boils at 100°C. I also wrote Saving the Planet… the year before. I am a Romantic in terms of my love of nature and our duty to refrain from acts of pollution like throwing waste plastic into the sea. What I hate as much as plastic in the sea and smog above cities is the hysteria of people who are close to suicide and the irrationality of witch-burners. Certainly, unregulated industry, concentrations of humans in cities, the increasing use of petrol and diesel cars and other means of internal combustion-powered transport are polluting the earth and causing big problems. Perhaps we need to go back to feudalism and life like in the Middle-Ages. Remove modern medicine and hygiene and that would get the population down! I say this in cynical jest, because my first question is that of whether I would be the first to live without so much as a horse to provide basic transport for the purpose of trading or working.

I won’t attempt to go into the science, but there are sources available on the internet. Which ones do we believe, not being ourselves climate scientists? I find it easier to believe that nuclear and natural gas used to generate electricity have reduced greenhouse gas emissions more than those who want to limit everything to wind, solar, and geothermal energy. Do your own searches on Google, and I have an open-mind, except to hysteria and obscurantism. I find it ironic that Germany opposes nuclear power and is now deprived of Russian gas. Check mate. They will have to re-light the coal furnaces! Switching off the lights and heating of millions of households next January, telling the population to “eat cake”, is hardly likely to endear political authorities without military force!

Perhaps we will end up like the Morlocks in H.G. Wells’ Time Machine. Maybe the oligarch billionaires would get sufficiently organised to set themselves up as a new aristocracy and give the starving masses a choice between death or serfdom. There are many science fiction and dystopian films offering a spectrum of possibilities that would make us prefer to die. Berdyaev suggested in The End of Our Time, that there could be a new Middle Age, a Christian one. This is a recurring theme of many Romantic authors, a prime example being Die Christenheit oder Europa by Novalis written in the wake of the French Revolution. Maybe we must learn to live again without technology, medicine, mass communications, transport on demand. How many of us could adapt? Fewer than we think.

As an ordinary guy who is not a scientist, I think that we need to stop the hysteria and do what we can to slow down the degradation of the planet because of human pollution. Nuclear fission can be very dangerous but is usually safe. Nuclear fusion is a possibility, and that would solve everything. We need to get out of consumerism and reflexes that usually come with city life. We need to live more simple and frugal lives, go back to organic farming, who knows. Whatever, all that will take time and responsibility in political decisions (anyone heard about the common good recently?).

Dreher’s Benedict Option comes into my mind, but it needs to be much more thought out to adapt to more than formerly urban Americans. The author could justly rebuke me for being unfair, because he is thinking exactly along these lines. Christianity will give us hope, spirituality and morality that would be a breath of fresh air compared with the brutal nihilism I mentioned at the beginning of this article. What can we offer in response? Certainly not what is found in “junk” Christianity and the hypocrisy of institutions and their clergy. We have a long way to go ourselves.

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Homage to Brittany

This account of my cruise in North Brittany is based on my Facebook entries. I leave my viewer to look at my show of slides and videos with musical accompaniment, since a voice-over commentary would be boring!

29 July

I launched Novalis yesterday morning at Plouër sur Rance. I motored against the headwind which made it impossible to sail. My engine lost power and died when I was on anything other than tickover with the choke on. I decided not to go through the lock at Saint Malo and sailed back to Plouër with a following wind. I was resigned to having to put the boat back on the trailer and go home.

This morning, It dawned on me that there was a boat repair workshop in Plouër, so I left Novalis moored to a buoy and took the engine ashore with my tender. The young mechanic found that there was no need for new spare parts, but that the carburettor was fouled up. He dismantled and cleaned it, and then put everything back together. I had just one man-hour to pay.

This was a game-changer, and I left the Rance this evening by the lock and am now moored at Solidor, just next to St Malo. I went ashore for a little while and visited the church, a magnificent 19th century classical building. There was an organ recital, and I sat down to listen to a piece that sounded like César Franck, but was not recognisably of him. A considered eating a meal in a restaurant, but there was so much noise, people and cars. I returned to the boat.

I will go to St Cast le Guildo tomorrow on a north-westerly wind by sailing to the Ile of Cézembre and avoiding the rocks to the north of Dinard. After St Cast, it will be a new discovery for me to pass Cap Fréhel and the many isles. For the first time, I have the boat for it. The engine performed well up the Rance and against the fierce current between the lock and St Malo.

30 July

I left Solidor this morning and sailed to Saint-Cast le Guildo. I had a light NW wind and went to the Ile de Cézembre. I didn’t land. There is only a restaurant with a very rude owner, and the relics of man’s favourite activity – warfare. The island is full of bombed WWII defences and unexploded bombs. All forbidden, not that I would want to take my morning constitutional there!

As I sailed off the west of the island, I beheld the sight of a massive car ferry coming towards me. I steered toward the north of the island and started the engine for more speed. Within a minute or so, I was well out of the way. I was concerned about the ship’s wake, but it was going slow ahead. When the ship was away from me, I tacked and steered towards the Ile de Jacut and St Cast. The wind freshened but the ebb tide created a heck of a chop. The current was in my favour, but the chop made it difficult to advance close-hauled.

I arrived at St Cast this afternoon and paid for two nights at the marina. It is Sunday tomorrow and the Lord’s Day and a day for rest. This afternoon, I will try to find a grocery shop and a new bucket (the old one is leaking – “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza…” Also, the wind is forecast to be quite strong and the shore the other side of Cap Fréhel will be a lee shore. The chop there can be quite dangerous with a strong wind and contrary current. It should be more reasonable on Monday. Then I will go toward St Brieuc, which should be “plain sailing. From St Brieuc to the Ile de Bréhat, I will be close-hauling and tacking or motoring.

I recently bought a plastic tender with oars, and it has proven very useful to get from my moored boat to shore. There are lots of new things to get used to…

31 July

I wake up to Sunday morning in Saint Cast le Guildo. Yesterday afternoon, I went for a walk into the town, which has become a playground of the well-to-do and summertime holidaymakers on the beach, from children making sandcastles to young people playing volleyball and making a lot of noise. The seaside entertainment culture reminded me of Blackpool, only in the older times, there was Reginald Dixon on the mighty Wurlizer. Now it is heavy rock or whatever they call it – “Oof-ta-oof-ta”. As Charlie Chaplin said “Machine minds and machine hearts”!

Was I going to go all Augustinian about fallen human nature? I withdrew from such a judgement, since there is goodness in everyone. I brought a few books with me for these quiet days, in particular Berdyaev’s The End of our Time. He wrote this book in 1933, but could have been describing 2022! I have learned not to idolise the “good old days”. 1972 was 50 years ago and was a ghastly period as had been the 1930’s. Individualism, collectivism, man who has rejected the image of God in his soul. Already in the last years of the 19th century, Oscar Wilde wrote The Soul of Man under Socialism.

These thoughts dashed through my mind as I worked my way through the crowd and the heavily tattooed young men and women. What right have I to judge without judging myself? They go to the beach. I go for cruises on my boat. I hope I seek a more spiritual view and a slower life.

In the night, drunken young people bellowed at the top of their voices. Were they on a boat in the port or on the shore? There was nothing intelligible in their ravings.

To be positive, I need to go and buy some bread, say Mass (I can do so on board in a “minimalist” way) and go for a walk. The weather is overcast and cooler. I have a few little jobs to do on the boat with a few bits and pieces from the shipchandler. I will have a quiet day, and then will go to Saint-Brieuc and Bréhat tomorrow.

1 August

I arrived at Erquy (look it up on Google Maps) from St Cast le Guildo. I had a very nasty chop to Face off the Cap de Fréhel but I survived! Novalis is dried out on the beach.

2 August

The cruise continues. I left Erquy dry-out port this morning and motored WSW into the immense bay of Saint-Brieuc. After a time, some wind started coming in from the north, which allowed me to stop the engine and continue under sail. Accurate navigation is of the essence, since these waters are full of rocks! I finally avoided a whole field of underwater rocks and turned up the channel into the port of Saint-Quay-Portrieux, Port d’Armor. My plan is now to sail to the Ile Bréhat and stay there next weekend to wait out some forecast unpleasant weather. My final port of call will be Paimpol just to the south, said to be a very beautiful place. Then I will return to Erquy and carefully plan a passage round the Cap Fréhel to avoid the vicious chop I had to combat last time.

I have been looking at the weather and strong winds are announced for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I have decided to forego my visit to the beautiful island of Bréhat, and I need to go back past the Cap Fréhel to avoid dangerous conditions. By Thursday evening, I hope to be in Saint-Briac-sur-Mer which will protect me from the NE wind and waves over the weekend. I will just hole up during that time and then return to Saint-Malo and the Rance next week. I may well finish my cruise with another visit to that beautiful medieval town Dinan at the bottom of the Rance before returning to Plouër sur Rance. This new plan seems more reasonable. I have a huge distance to cover in 2 days, but I believe it is possible.

3 August

I spent no less than 9 hours at the helm as I left Saint-Quay-Portrieux and took a due-east course past the rocks affectionately called “Les Contesses”. I navigated up the Channel of Erquy. I was not able to see across the bay to begin with because of a gloomy mist. There was nearly no wind, so I motored most of the way and consumed 5 litres of petrol in my 2.6 hp outboard engine. After passing the Cap Fréhel, I met the ebb current, but was able to advance all the same. From about that point I had enough wind to sail in a full reach. Finally I reached Saint-Cast-de-Guildo and am in port for the night. I will go across the Bays of Arguenon and Lancieux to Saint-Briac-sur-Mer to hole up for 3 days (Friday to Sunday) from a strong NE wind. On Monday I will return to the Rance and spend some restful days before hauling the boat out and going home.

4 August

I am now dried out at St Briac sur Mer. We are moored bow and stern since the boats are rather close together. The NE wind has begun and will be quite strong over the next 3 days. The floating period is only about 2 hours before and 2 hours after high tide. I can leave here next Monday from 2.20 pm until 6.20 pm. It seems about right to go to the Anse de Solidor or into the port of St Malo to wait for the right time to go through the Rance dam lock. I will need to get that worked out. It all depends on the tides and being in the right place at the right time. The two bays are beautiful as I left St Cast le Guildo and was very careful about the rocks.

5 August

The wind seemed to calm a little this afternoon as I decided to leave Saint-Briac. You will understand that I took no photos.

“They are carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep. Their soul melteth away, because of the trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. (Psalm 107)

The waves were vicious as the wind blew at about 20 knots. I reefed the main and drove through the waves with my engine, which ran out of petrol almost at the entrance to the port of Saint-Malo. I hove-to and refilled the engine’s tiny fuel tank, and this was quite hard in the waves, just to keep my balance sitting on the stern with the petrol can. I restarted the engine, Took down the main which suffered a little damage. I have some sewing to do this evening! The wind is whistling through the rigging of the moored boats in the port. I took my chance with the wind and the rough sea, and I made it. It was a good test for the seaworthiness of this boat and her ballasted keel. Tomorrow, I will go into the Rance and there is a little festival at Saint-Suliac on Sunday. We often have the Fête de la Mer at this time of year, usually just before the Assumption or on the Feast itself. There are more mariner-priests than many imagine.

Here are a few photos I took yesterday of St Briac sur Mer. There’s a lot of money in those houses, even more in Dinard. I trust I have not invaded anyone’s privacy. The last photo is my mainsail under repairs. The leech (the hypotenuse not attached to the mast or the boom) needed a row of stitches, by hand with a sailmaker’s needle and special sail thread. I really would like to find a fresher mainsail of the same dimensions with a reefing line. It was an exciting time today in those big waves!

6 August

I am now moored at St Suliac. See my blog postings and the French TV series “Entre Terre et Mer”. This afternoon, I have some things to buy from the little grocery shop, and I will visit the church where there is that poignant Lady Altar where Our Lady pulls a shipwrecked sailor out of the sea. I love churches where seafarers leave their ex-votos. I wish you all a happy Feast of the Transfiguration

Here are today’s photos, entering the Rance after the lock and a visit to Saint-Suliac.There is a gap between two buildings that is so narrow that I can’t imagine a person slim enough to squeeze through, though there is a gate at the far end. I took more detailed photos of the Lady Altar in the church. Indeed the Infant Jesus is saving the shipwrecked mariner with a boathook. It is a fine but badly defaced church with heavy dark wood nineteenth-century altars and choir stalls. I am moored in the bay, but the vicious wind is creating a chop on the water – makes it difficult for me to type!

7 August

I’m still in St Suliac today and there is a little village celebration. Here is a little traditional Breton music with a couple of ladies dressed like a hundred years ago.

Some photos from my trip ashore this morning. I tried some Lançons, which is the same thing as whitebait. They are tiny eel-like fish that are rubbed in flour and deep-fried. You eat them head, bones and everything – delicious!

I decided to leave St Suliac this evening when the sun was a little less hot. The boat was tossing up and down, even moored near the weather shore. The wind was quite strong like since Friday, north to north-east, perfect anticyclone conditions. The village festival started quite nicely, but it was much more “chanson française” throughout the afternoon and crowds around the bars and food places. I didn’t go ashore in the afternoon. I read the lovely book of Berdyaev I have. His writing in 1933, without mentioning Hitler, was so prophetic about our present time. His understanding of the Russian Revolution was uncanny. I decided to go to the port of Plouër sur Rance, where the water is calmer than a cup of tea. I sailed with the genoa (big jib) alone and the vicious gusts gave me speed against the ebb current. I was quite exhilarated. I only needed to use my engine to manoeuvre in port. I will go to the medieval town of Dinan tomorrow or Tuesday and spend a couple of days there. There are some beautiful churches.

8 August

Novalis left Plouër sur Rance under genoa with the strong north-east wind funnelling down the Rance as it became narrower. I went through the lock and into the non-tidal section of the Rance. I arrived in Dinan and had the courage to climb the extremely steep medieval street from the port to the town centre. I returned to the boat and fried up some pork and sauté potatoes that I bought this morning at the supermarket in Plouër.

9 August

I went to the showers of the harbour master’s office. You get in with a code they give you. This is the first time I have gone through a door into a medieval building with that unique smell of very old wood. The facilities were modern and obviously installed in an extension built in the back yard. The sun is now rising and will give us another very hot day. I have finished breakfast. I’m going up that steep street again whilst it is still cool and I will visit the church and take some photos.

Here is another visit to town in the coolness of the morning and when most visitors were in their hotels having breakfast. I went to the church of Saint-Sauveur, which is magnificent.

“The construction of St. Sauveur Basilica was commissioned around 1120 by Sir Rivallon le Roux, Lord of Dinan, on his return from the first Crusade. The church was extensively rebuilt and extended during the 15th and 16th centuries and is a successful blend of architectural styles. The lower part of facade is part of the original 12th century building. The bell tower was built during the 18th century to replace the 17th century dome which had been destroyed by lightning.”

I notice the radical reordering of the Counter-Reformation and the baroque era. The two side altars mark the place of a disappeared choir screen, and holes in the walls for the beam are a witness. The choir stalls are found in different places in the church, removed from the choir by the post-Vatican II installation of a forward altar. The organ is totally without interest.

I am in the boat cabin and there is a pleasant breeze coming into the cabin. I will go and find a moderately-priced lunch on a terrace somewhere and take a book with me. It’s now 26°C. I had lunch at a brasserie: andouille, chips and salad with a beer.

My holiday draws to a close. I already have a new translating order for the 16th and there will be others. I have to earn my living! I went out in my rowing tender to see the Rance the other side of the old bridge. I didn’t go very far because I had to row against the wind on my way back, which was easier than I thought. The tender only draws a few inches and its square bow rides above the water. To go back to Plouër sur Rance, I really need to be on the ebb tide with the calmer wind in the morning. Also I need quiet conditions to get Novalis onto her trailer albeit with a helping hand to do a bit of cranking on the trailer as I wade into the water to keep the stern straight.

10 August

I left Dinan this morning a little after 7 am to get through the lock of Le Chatelier and go with the ebb tide to Plouër sur Rance. With a north wind, it was motoring all the way. I arrived at the slipway at Plouër and went and got my van and trailer. I now have the knack of launching and recovering this boat, since I did it all alone without needing any help. I unrigged the boat in the full sunshine with only a hat to protect me. It took less than 2 hours to get home, where I am now. The house is reasonably cool with it being shut up all this time.

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For Those in Peril on the Sea

I am planning another passage in Novalis along the northern coast of Brittany at the end of July and a week or so of August. I hope to sail from the Rance, past Saint-Suliac and westwards to the Ile de Bréhat.

The tides will be moderate, so we can only hope for fair weather and a calm sea. I take great care as an amateur sailor to avoid risky situations, though they can happen like on mountains and other wild places where man experiences his fragility and the limit of his influence. There are lots of rocks, and my trusty GPS chart plotter will give me accurate position checks to avoid them.

Of course the title of this posting refers to the famous hymn Eternal Father, strong to save. The Church has always shown its concern for sailors in the Navy, Merchant Navy and fishing vessels. They take greater risks than we amateur sailors in our little sailing vessels and a less than perfect knowledge of navigation and other essential skills. There is not only this hymn, but also the touching ex-votos in the form of model ships and paintings, usually offered by sailors who survived life-threatening situations at sea and express their gratitude. There are many votive chapels in Normandy and Brittany. Here is the example of Notre-Dame de la Grâce in Honfleur. There are not only model ships, but paintings depicting storms at sea, shipwrecks and miraculous rescues.

May be an image of indoor

Another I found very poignant is the Lady Altar in Saint Suliac, a quiet port on the Rance inland from Saint-Malo.

I know these places well because I go there in my boat. In the photo here, look at the carving under the statue. Shipwrecked sailors are reaching out for help at the point of drowning. The wrecked boat and tattered sails are on the right. I find it very moving.

Eglise Saint-Suliac et cimetière

Saint-Suliac was immortalised by the French TV series Entre Terre et Mer, about the Terre Neuvas that went to Newfoundland to catch cod and store them in salt. The story is extremely poignant. The fish were caught on hooks and lines from small boats, and many of these dory boats were lost at sea. Here are the six episodes set in the 1920’s.

We see the human drama about these lewd men who found employment in this way to support their wives and children living on the north Brittany coast. They had no one to count on other than God. It was almost a survival of life in the Middle Ages, the absolute dependence of human persons on the feudal lord and the elements, their simple piety. The Captain of La Charmeuse is portrayed as a just and kind man, concerned for his men as a commander who knows that motivation and self-esteem, not flogging, makes a man he can rely on.

One again, I will sleep in my cramped cabin, which is much more comfortable than sleeping in a dinghy on hard boards under a tent. I will be able to spend nights in ports and with mains electricity to recharge my 140-watt battery, or tied to a buoy in a little cove in calm water, and use my rubber dinghy to get ashore.

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Liturgical Nihilism

For those who read French, I draw your attention to Le pape François laisse entendre que l’attachement au rite tridentin constitue un produit du nihilisme. This is a fascinating article from the French Catholic periodical La Croix by the theologian Grégory Solari.

* * *

Also see Fr Zuhlsdorf’s More on Desisdeede – Desiderio desideravi. This time through a particularly vicious lens that might be at the core of the document. This article contains a translation of the Solari article.

* * *

The idea that RC traditionalists were nihilists seems quite absurd, but I could imagine that some might be twisted in their desire for the old liturgy and, above all, the “old” social and political order. Any kind of religious fanatic can be identified with a wider “spiritual narcissism” or caricature of something from the past for the sake of individual or group identity. However, my immediate intuition is that the same could be said of the followers of Pope Francis and the post-Vatican II status quo.

Most adepts of Christianity in one institutional church or another are poorly catechised and have little knowledge of theology, the liturgy and church history. Such people are unlikely to be committed to nihilism as a philosophical paradigm. Maybe nihilism can emerge as an un-named default attitude, maybe in some people, and for reasons quite unrelated to liturgical preferences. Nihilism is generally understood as the way we relate to values. Nothing has any intrinsic value other than exterior criteria, economical, political, aesthetic, sociological, etc. For Francis, traditionalists have recourse to a notion of tradition to compensate the symbolic deficit that characterises modernity. If we try to understand the thought of Nietzsche and apply it to this question, tradition is confused with the past. Value is based on a will to power. Only Christ gives this value through the link between the lex orandi and the lex credendi. Away from the Church, in what the institutional Catholic would call schism, liturgical forms are transformed into formalism. The “neo” imitation becomes another name of the nothing. It seems to be a sophisticated argument to suggest a sacramental theology that denies any value “outside the Church”. Only the Church escapes nihilism, and the liturgy only has meaning when expressed by the ecclesial institution.

According to the author of the article, the intention of Benedict XVI in his motu proprio of 2007 was to create a situation in which the two Roman rites would coexist and enrich each other in a process of natural healing and organic development in time. According to this reasoning, Pope Benedict was mistaken in his trust in the traditionalist institutes, and Pope Francis found that they refused the rite of Paul VI. Therefore the experiment had failed and attachment to the old rite constituted a rupture between the communion of the Church and the liturgical life. The question needs a long period of critical thought with no premature conclusions.

My own intuition is that the accusation of nihilism is a Jesuit sophism, something to be set into a whole world of clashing ideologies of the left and the right. I deeply regret the time I spent as a Roman Catholic, both as a traditionalist and a sincere effort to integrate into the mainstream Church. I perceived a toxic and diseased humanity in its quest for spiritual justification, to such an extent that I was brought to believe that I was the one who was unstable and disordered. Having had a similar experience with marriage, I set about the task of discovering myself from a clinical and a spiritual point of view. The progressivism of Francis and all the time I spent in the RC Church from the pontificate of John Paul II seemed at variance with what I sought. Perhaps I am the nihilist! I was also very ill at ease in the reactionary world of the traditionalists and their zeal to control. I am aware of my own fragility!

Over the past few days, I have been watching videos by exponents of other spiritual traditions and psychologists who are aware of the harm done by materialism and nihilism. Here is a relevant video by the gritty psychologist Richard Grannon.

Dr Ramani is specialised in the narcissistic personality disorder. I have often watched her videos in my own time of introspection and “fact-checking”.

I have no idea of whether Pope Francis and his advisors have been going along such lines of thought. If they have, they undoubtedly fall into the same narcissism and control-freakery as their adversaries. They blame liturgical rites, a pure red herring, from deeper human issues from which they believe themselves to be protected by a narrow notion of ecclesial communion.

I left that absurd and insane world, at least that is how I found it. “Cradle Catholics” would see things differently. I came from Anglican origins. I have nothing to be triumphalist about, but perhaps our liturgical diversity was a more successful expression of Benedict XVI’s idea and desire to calm the conflicts that was possible in the authoritarian structure of the RC Church. Anglicanism too is a mess, and our continuing Churches are still marginal and fragile. There are many diseased caricatures of Christianity in conflict with materialism and atheism. Both are destructive to the human spirit.

Before trusting others, we have to look into ourselves and seek the real meaning of Christ and his teaching. Spend time in nature and its beauty. Learn gratitude and a sense of wonder. I express my own love of the sea and I remember my many family outings with the dogs on the Fells of the Lake District. We need to go back to origins, the deepest meaning of the disputed notion and caricature of being born again. It is not merely the Sacrament of Baptism or an event that marks our conversion to Christ. That is too narrow and schematised in an ideology of controlling people. We need to make our own discernment and Tiefenpsychologie to find Christ within us, where he is within each of us. What will that do to our church life. Precious little remains of that unless we have the commitment and self-discipline of hermits. I think we should belong to some community in the way that I belong to the Anglican Catholic Church, aware that this is fragile – especially the further away we are geographically.

We may be tempted at times to give up that little that remains. One thing we can remember is that there is no positive alternative. Nihilism and despair are not the answer. We can all live with this contradiction in our own way, as best we can. Going to the Roman Catholic Church, its dull and boring Pope and its diseased clerocracy is no guarantee against nihilism. Being true to ourselves is.

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Behold the Sea!

This blog has suffered neglect over the past few months. The current polemics in the Roman Catholic and other churches do little more than prove the inadequacy of ecclesial institutions and the sinfulness of the most sanctimonious of the men and women involved. My life as a priest has been painfully affected by my pending divorce and the death of my parents. We are faced with the same great obstacle – the mystery of evil. It matters not what clever arguments we produce to justify evil and get God “off the hook”! The alternatives to belief are nihilism and a feeling of absurdity that leaves us in agony. I would advise more Christians to read Albert Camus to make a new approach to God that really means something more than vacuous words. We can then discover the mysticism of Jacob Böhme, Nicholas Berdyaev and Novalis in a world other than that of monotheistic fundamentalism.

Perhaps life in this world is to be compared with going to sea on a small boat, facing a vastness that reveals our insignificance. That is certainly my experience, though I take great care to choose the weather conditions that allow me to launch the boat and sail. In the following video, the sea seems benign, calm and contained by the surrounding land. The north-east wind howled between the Ile Ronde and Brest and the heavy chop made it very difficult to bring the boat about for tacking. That was the part I filmed very little for the reason of having to handle the boat.

I have not forgotten Fr Claude Barbarit, the priest for whom I crewed in a regatta in 2011.

If the sea of our ancestors inspired fear, our contemporaries seem to have mastered it. We think of those who work at sea, fishermen with reliable weather forecasting devices. Disasters still happen offshore and rescuers die helping a vessel in a storm. This saying “There are three sorts of people: those who are alive, those who are dead, and those who are at sea” is sometimes attributed to Aristotle.

Psalm 107 mentions the seasickness and the terror of those who work at sea:

They that go down to the sea in ships, * and occupy their business in great waters;
These men see the works of the Lord, * and his wonders in the deep.
For at his word the stormy wind ariseth, * which lifteth up the waves thereof.
They are carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep; * their soul melteth away because of the trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, * and are at their wit’s end.
So when they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, * he delivereth them out of their distress.
For he maketh the storm to cease, * so that the waves thereof are still.

You can’t trick the sea. It requires our truth ad loyalty. The sea is a place of courage. You have always to be available for the effort it can suddenly require from us. The sea is a place of solidarity. We challenge it together. The fraternity of the sea is experienced by mutual help, mutual respect and tolerance. The sea requires our care and attention to detail. Order must reign onboard. “Shipshape and Bristol”, the Royal Navy used to say. Disorder engenders panic. True seamen are the masters of everything we learn, and their experience is priceless. The sea is a place of beauty. Polluting it is intolerable, even the smallest piece of plastic, fishing line or spilled petrol! We are called to savour the constantly changing harmony and splendour of the sky and the sea. The sea is the most beautiful place, giving us a wide space of silence. If we are believers, our meditation affirms what we believe and opens our heart. The Star of the Sea above the horizon invites us to go that one step further. Remember that the sea is always the stronger.

La mer nous apprend la modestie”.

I leave my readers with a few lines from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman:

O vast Rondure, swimming in space,
Cover’d all over with visible power and beauty,
Alternate light and day and the teeming spiritual darkness,
Unspeakable high processions of sun and moon and countless stars above,
Below, the manifold grass and waters, animals, mountains, trees,
With inscrutable purpose, some hidden prophetic intention,
Now first it seems my thought begins to span thee.

Down from the gardens of Asia descending radiating,
Adam and Eve appear, then their myriad progeny after them,
Wandering, yearning, curious, with restless explorations,
With questionings, baffled, formless, feverish, with never-happy hearts,
With that sad incessant refrain, Wherefore unsatisfied soul? and
Whither O mocking life?

Ah who shall soothe these feverish children?
Who justify these restless explorations?
Who speak the secret of impassive earth?
Who bind it to us? what is this separate Nature so unnatural?
What is this earth to our affections? (unloving earth, without a
throb to answer ours,
Cold earth, the place of graves.)

Yet soul be sure the first intent remains, and shall be carried out,
Perhaps even now the time has arrived.

After the seas are all cross’d, (as they seem already cross’d,)
After the great captains and engineers have accomplish’d their
After the noble inventors, after the scientists, the chemist, the
geologist, ethnologist,
Finally shall come the poet worthy that name,
The true son of God shall come singing his songs.

* * *

Ah more than any priest O soul we too believe in God,
But with the mystery of God we dare not dally.

O soul thou pleasest me, I thee,
Sailing these seas or on the hills, or waking in the night,
Thoughts, silent thoughts, of Time and Space and Death, like
waters flowing,
Bear me indeed as through the regions infinite,
Whose air I breathe, whose ripples hear, lave me all over,
Bathe me O God in thee, mounting to thee,
I and my soul to range in range of thee.

O Thou transcendent,
Nameless, the fibre and the breath,
Light of the light, shedding forth universes, thou centre of them,
Thou mightier centre of the true, the good, the loving,
Thou moral, spiritual fountain—affection’s source—thou reservoir,
(O pensive soul of me—O thirst unsatisfied—waitest not there?
Waitest not haply for us somewhere there the Comrade perfect?)
Thou pulse—thou motive of the stars, suns, systems,
That, circling, move in order, safe, harmonious,
Athwart the shapeless vastnesses of space,
How should I think, how breathe a single breath, how speak, if, out of myself,
I could not launch, to those, superior universes?

Swiftly I shrivel at the thought of God,
At Nature and its wonders, Time and Space and Death,
But that I, turning, call to thee O soul, thou actual Me.

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The Gas-driven Ferrograph

I have already brought up the subject of John Rothera (1916-1997) who was an alto songman in York Minster choir. The late Dr Francis Jackson (1917-2022) who was organist of York Minster remembered him.

John Rothera and his tape recorder

This anthology, containing music from the 16th century to the late twentieth, represents a part of the repertoire of the choir of York Minster in the daily sung services. The first five tracks were session recordings made by E.M.I. and issued on 78 r.p.m. Columbia records as part of the four part series An Anthology of English Church Music.

However, the majority of the recordings came about – one might say almost fortuitously – through the dedication and persistence of one who was a member of the choir for close on forty years and never lost a chance to make a tape recording of anything he considered of interest, and this included almost anything at any time. It is not easy to get at his reason for accumulating what in the end amounted to a bewildering collection of every kind of item that goes into the making of a cathedral service – not only canticles, anthems, hymns and psalms, but the reading of lessons or snippets of sermons. No stone was left unturned to procure the desired catch, and this is probably the chief attribute possessed by John Rothera (1916-1997) which enabled his amassing of things which were of interest to him, which included non-musical things such as ordnance survey maps (of which he had the complete set) countless photographs and even empty Woodbine cigarette packets (collected during his smoking days) and Bovril jars which he could not bear to throw away. This will make it clear that he lived a bachelor existence, and his activities extended far into the not-so-small hours of the night, causing his day to begin around noon, except on Sunday when he had to be roused – usually by a chorister – for the service at 10.30 a.m. His heavy Ferrograph tape recorder was permanently resident at his place in the cantoris choir stalls (where he sang for the whole of his songmanship), and a microphone slung between the two sides of the choir was a permanency for many years until it was pronounced unsightly and had to be removed.

Hence came the enormous welter of things recorded, naturally very varied in quality and always liable to be ruined by a missed lead, a flat or sharp note, coughing or other extraneous interferences but, on occasion, an acceptable or even an inspired performance. But all of them, perfect or not so perfect are the result of a live and meaningful act, not a studio product, all carefully edited, and this, one hopes, can be discerned whatever the quality of performance. Also one would hope for a certain measure of indulgence by any listener who may detect a flaw or two in a piece which was otherwise too good to reject.

It was the policy to use the best of music of all periods in the choir’s repertoire, and thus there was always a wide variety of style to feed the interests of the singers. It was also the policy to conduct items which were unaccompanied, but for the choir to look after itself when the organ was used. It is somewhat remarkable then that, unconducted, there was a high degree of unanimity for the most part, as well as inspiration proceeding from the knowledge, understanding and musicianship possessed by the individual choir members.

John Rothera’s interests were wide and varied and included taking up Greek at an advanced age under the tutelage of a student at the university who was a choral scholar in the choir. Astronomy was also one of his absorbing subjects, causing him to obtain a telescope which severely restricted his movements in his living room. He also gained permission to ride his bicycle in pedestrian areas of York on the plea of reduced walking mobility. A notice displayed on the cycle proclaimed the fact. He was always liable to make illicit recordings of orchestras, and on one occasion his persistence went too far and his tape was confiscated by the orchestra’s manager who had already issued him with a warning.

His eccentricities enlivened the scene wherever he was, and here his set purpose, his determination and staying power have left us with a wealth of material which, after the somewhat herculean task of playing them and choosing, affords us a glimpse of cathedral life and music which is absorbing and unique.

I knew John well when I was at school through our common love of English church music. One could go and visit him almost any time, and often he would be holding court with friends from the church music world, or indeed those with any common interest. He was certainly “on the Spectrum”, given his focused interests and technical talent. His machine was sometimes unkindly called the gas-driven Ferrograph. In actual fact, this was one of the most advanced and best tape recorders of its time. The recording level was set according to peak volume rather than the automatic level control on more recent recording machines, which gives a crappy result. It records via an external microphone in mono, and the type of microphone is chosen according to the intended use. John’s favourite was the “ball and biscuit”.This microphone (see the technical information if you are interested) took some of the recordings in a pair of CD’s of York Minster choir which were collated and remastered from John’s tapes. When John had to transport his heavy machine, he put it precariously on the back of his bicycle. I think I saw him do so on one occasion, but not by riding the bicycle, which would have been too dangerous. He would walk and use the bicycle as a trolley to bear the weight of the tape recorder.

Sound recording buffs often debate the virtues of analogical against digital recordings. I am not a sound engineer, and the difference of quality is extremely subtle. I have not listened to anything other than digital since a CD player took over in my life from a cassette tape recorder – in something like 1986.

Nearly fifty years after those days, I recently invested in a digital sound recorder made by Tascam, the DR-05X which was recommended to me by an English organist who is also a professional sound engineer. He was merciful on my budget! It is about the size of a mobile phone and can be hand-held or can be mounted on a tripod to avoid vibration noise.

It has given me some excellent results in my experiments in recording my house organ. Apart from stereo recording, it has all the refinements of the Ferrograph and more. There are other recorders on the market for comparison. It doesn’t flatten the rear tyre of a bicycle! It goes into a pocket and runs on two AA batteries.

On my YouTube channel Romantia Christiana, between my sailing videos, I have done some organ recordings with my mobile phone and a Logitech webcam with stereo microphone that operates through standard Windows parameters. I look forward to getting the adjustments right on my Tascam and using video editing software to synchronise the sound with a video.

Well, I am not John Rothera. My life is different from his was. People in fifty years time will have other devices – or none at all. I am grateful for the progress of technology. John taught me a lot about recording, getting the level right and the microphone in the right place – not too close and not too far. I remember the large loudspeaker in the corner of his downstairs room, which would do justice to the recordings when he played them back. “Ooh! You can hear the fundamental!” as the 16ft or even the 32ft pedal stops were caught on tape and faithfully reproduced. The fundamental is the basis of the harmonic series of any musical note. I remember that speaker as I bought a modern subwoofer for my own hi-fi. My world is digital, and John’s was analogical. Different times, different technologies.

The organist who recommended me the Tascam, Richard McVeigh, is a professional with sound and video technology. His house organ is amazing. See his videos. A full professional kit of microphones, cables and recording equipment will fill a car, let alone the back of a bicycle! The sky is the limit with the budget. I will never be a professional in this field, but I think I will get better results with my little gadget.

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Parish Catholicism

I have not written anything here since Holy Week, partly through discouragement, partly through laziness, partly through being taken up by other things. I have been trying to discern what made Christianity “work” in the past. Simply, it was the parish, a small unassuming life in a little place like a village.

Nowadays, the village has become a dormitory for people working in town and commuting by car, or a place for retired people to spend some peaceful years in the twilight of their lives. The local church is sometimes open, but more for the purpose of drying the place out so that is doesn’t deteriorate through excessive damp. A French diocese has only a few priests assigned to pastoral administrations of tens of parishes each, and it is all run in a bureaucratic manner. The daily round of Mass, Office and popular devotions is a thing of the past. My local church, a beautiful and very ancient Saxon style edifice seems only to serve for funerals (generally conducted by a lay person and without Mass) and the occasional visitor. Without this parochial incarnation, the Church is little more than an abstraction.

Someone wrote to me on Facebook and mentioned an article based on the magical story Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – Mole, Anglicanism, and Rogationtide. He felt inspired to do so when I showed a photo of my sailing and coming up with the hackneyed quote: “Believe me my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats“. Spending a peaceful weekend on the Erdre with some other sailing enthusiasts in late May does seem quite bucolic.

To the writer of this article, Laudian parish Anglicanism seems the ideal and representative of a “bucolic” religious life of an era without electronics and few labour-saving machines. Quotes from Wind in the Willows are interspersed with quotes from the Prayer Book. There is something about Prayer Book English that suggests the plain language of Yorkshire folk, that odd sentence construction that jars with modern usage. Meekly kneeling on your knees – What else would we kneel on? There is a certain childish naivety, coming from the pen of an Archbishop of Canterbury and a theological scholar. Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort. Comfort is now the experience of sitting in a soft armchair, though the older meaning was about peace in our souls and an end to our anxiety. Hooker spoke about the peace, quietness, order and stability of religion. It is indeed an appealing notion. How many of us live all our lives in one place from the cradle to the grave. Last weekend, I was speaking to men in their 70’s telling me as a matter of pride that they had stayed in the same place as fathers of families and grandfathers for more than fifty years. Stability, like for Benedictine monks, is a virtue and something we seek against the transience of modern precarity. Stability comes from solid family roots, right choices made in life and a certain psychological health, being unconcerned with what is “above our pay grade”, but it can also lead to narrowness, intolerance, lack of imagination or sense of beauty – parochialism.

I have lived through a sequence of events in my life that have given me a more cosmopolitan attitude. Stability is a good thing, but so is the restlessness of a searching soul. I have my own memories. I can look at photos of the place where I spent my childhood, walked with my family, played. Would I want to go back to that life? Such a desire would be an illusion. It just isn’t the same word. I often daydream about times before my lifetime. What would it have been like to live in Georgian England or in the Romantic era? I will never know. I can only imagine the beautiful houses of the rich and the hovels of the poor. Our standards of health and hygiene were unknown to those long-dead people.

One great instinct of Romanticism is not to remain stuck in an immobile word, but to live eternal ideas is a succession of new worlds of imagination and beauty. I live in a beautiful place, but it is not the world of my childhood. It is how we can live with change. I have spent time in presbyteries of priests who had been in their parishes for as long as the fathers and grandfathers I mentioned. They became increasingly rare as they died or the diocesan bureaucracies pensioned them off as a relic of pre-modernity. The gap of irrelevance was increasing.

Much of modern institutional Christianity is just kitsch and ugliness. Some is based on American Evangelicalism, but the more widespread reference is corporate management, the collective over the individual and personal. It is all geared to mass urban humanity, run by and for machines. Very few people relate to such a form of institutional Christianity. We are not called to conform to it, but find our true selves where God resides. We speak of English gentleness. All we can do is to be such ourselves and not expect it from others, in particular from the “cancel culture” iconoclasts. Let us dream and imagine, for this is the essence of Christ’s Kingdom. Never mind what the others are doing!!!

I am not deluded enough to think that parish life can be restored. The whole sociology of villages has changed. I am very struck by the example of the Anglican Catholic Church’s pro-cathedral in rural England, in the form of a former Methodist chapel that became available for purchase. Bishop Mead hoped to obtain planning permission to put a very small church tower on the roof with a clock and a very small single bell. There were complaints from local people fearing for their quiet lives. The project has had to be abandoned. Unfortunately, this church is not the parish church of the village but a “foreign” community from elsewhere. Stubborn conservatism can be irrational and sometimes bloody-minded. English gentleness can be no more than an illusion. It would have been better to buy a building in a city – but with a much higher budget.

Parish life in cities is totally different, depending as it does on personal commitment rather than being a part of village sociology. City parishes are generally dynamic and well managed. Country parishes are dead, dead from the very stability that kept them alive. It is a tragic paradox.

What of the future? The tendency is towards collectivism and the abolition of the human person. We see this in populist politics of the left and right. As a social phenomenon, the future of Christianity is bleak. It no longer has the “medium” of the stable village community. It may prosper in contemporary incarnations of Romanticism, of their nature marginal, in the arts and philosophy. There are expressions of Christianity that are in themselves dynamic and vibrant, but to which I cannot personally relate. Do I have a moral right to look elsewhere? Am I being selfish when I look elsewhere?

Christ compared God’s Kingdom to leaven in bread, a principle of spiritual life in anything we do in life. St Charles de Foucault lived as a leaven in the desert, irrelevant in the midst of a Muslim society, like Bishop Mead’s church in a dormitory of middle-class English houses and non-religious people. Some would like to reconstruct Christendom, a Christian society through the ideology of integralism – the principle of the State being subject to the Church, itself political in its structure and purpose. Christ did not intend his teaching to become an ideology of force and constraint.

However, where an old-style parish is found to exist and survive, we should learn from it. It may be a seed of Christian humanity, a leaven in the bread and a mustard seed.

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Holy Week 2022

Jesus Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem

In two days is Palm Sunday and then the profoundly mysterious Holy Week containing ceremonies that we celebrate just once a year. I have to look through the ceremonies in case I have become “rusty” since last year. The space I have to do them in is radically reduced since last year. I have the tiny chapel, the landing on the top of the stairs and my library / bedroom.

Like last year, for my New Fire, I use an old cauldron with a bunch of candles glued with molten wax into a jam jar lid. It gives a small fire, but which is possible indoors without producing smoke or danger of burning the house down!

Palm Sunday will be quite straightforward with a simplified blessing of the palms and some chant from the Sarum books. The Passion of St Matthew will be read in English. Maundy Thursday is also straightforward, followed by the stripping of the altar. In the Use of Sarum, we don’t have the Altar of Repose on Maundy Thursday, but the Easter Sepulchre on Good Friday. That will be set up on the chapel window sill. I have the wooden crucifix for the Good Friday adoration of the Cross.

My Paschal Vigil will take a lot of thinking through, from the blessing of the fire and the procession of the single / triple candle from which the Paschal Candle will be lit during the Exsultet. I will read the four Prophecies from a simple metal foldable music desk. The first Mass of Easter will follow the Litanies which are quite different from the Roman one.

The alternative is to go to a Dominican-style community here in the Mayenne, the Fraternité de Saint-Vincent Ferrier. They use the old Dominican rite, similar to Sarum – – – but, they are Roman Catholics – traditionalists – and I am not. There is nothing wrong with attending services, but I fear their questions. Should I go in my cassock or completely anonymously, looking like an eccentric layman? They are good men, but they are what they are, and I am what I am, a worm and no man. Frankly I prefer to avoid the total humiliation and wonder if it would even be good for my soul! They know who I am, and I prefer to avoid the old shadows, bitterness and self-annihilation.

I shall worship in spiritual and sacramental communion with my Archbishop, with Bishop Damien and the ACC in the UK, with my brother priest in the Netherlands. I will serve in the dignity of my priestly vocation, in empathy with the suffering Christ and all who suffer and die with him at this moment. The Church is a sacramental mystery, not a political authority. She subsists even where the links are invisible and difficult to discern. The Mass and the Office build those invisible links of Communion that go far beyond institutions and human ambition. To stay in my little corner will do much more good.

I wish you all a blessed Holy Week from my tiny chapel and my solitude, asking your prayers in this wonder of the liturgy.

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