April 2015



wine the colour of day
wine the colour of night
wine deep purple
o topaz blood

starlit son
of earth
wine, smooth
as a golden sword
wine like a spiral seashell

unconfinable in one glass
or one song, or drunk alone:
choral, gregarious
and always


from Neruda, To wine, transl. Tom Davis


‘Quite a good time to be born’ – by David Lodge


As an avid reader of biography and autobiography it is intriguing, I think, to wonder about the criteria of choice at work in the writing of such texts. Put simply, what you put in and what you leave out? What might any of us want to do if we wrote the story of our lives? What would we want to say about ourselves? What might we want to conceal? So the writing of texts goes on in life – some things are talked up, others talked down and the complexity of our inner story remains often untouched and possibly therefore unhealed.


It may be that such introspection is simply not good for us! David Lodge is well known for his novels and a character familiar to me from my time in and around the university area of Birmingham where I was the University Hospital Chaplain. His early novels had a very particular influence on my reading, mostly, as I now remember, to offer much pleasure and amusement. Lodge has an eye for the ridiculous and can certainly tell a tale! David Lodge is now 80 and he offers us the first part of his life which brings us to the age of 40 when he produced his breakthrough campus novel, Changing Places, about an American and an English academic who exchange universities for six months.


He tells his story with care and diligence as it is and without any detectable side of self-justification or excuse. He traces his roots, describes his family in careful detail and offers us an utterly unadventurous and undramatic upbringing which he describes as a “quiet, monochrome existence of unsophisticated and temperamentally cautious” young man. Not surprisingly (perhaps) he’s completely open about sex and there in the pages begins his increasingly strong alienation from Roman Catholicism as he charts his inhibitions and indeed insecurities caused, in part, by faith. There is love after a long and celibate courtship with Mary and then children including the birth of a third child, Christopher, who has Downs Syndrome.


For someone so distinguished and famous, it is refreshing to read how candid he is about how he is perceived by others. He is completely honest about being looked over for jobs and not getting them.


Although Lodge is honest about his lapses of memory, I can’t quite help but admire the detail with which he tells the story. I imagine him drawing on many boxes of family archives and photographs in order to tell the story with care. Social historians will also be grateful to Lodge for his insightful description of the fifties and sixties. Although I myself have lived through some of this time, I was surprised and even shocked at points to note what an extraordinary social revolution we have experienced in these last few decades of the twentieth century.


The reader can certainly see now that much of Lodge’s life is lodged (excuse the pun) in his novels. While I would have wanted to know more about why Lodge wrote the books that he did, there is a clever inter-weaving of the novel and the autobiography in these chapters. One cannot but marvel at a very different picture of university life which offered some space to embark on such an ambitious novel-writing career. One is also reminded of what a significant generation of English scholars the University of Birmingham nourished, including Malcolm Bradbury and Richard Hoggart. Those interested in the universities and university education will learn about how English was taught and indeed how long it took some of the newer redbrick universities to free themselves from Oxbridge models.


I like David Lodge. He isn’t much of a crusader or indeed like many other people who have written their lives, a mythmaker – he is an educationalist through and through. His distinguishing mark is his determination, a patient resolve to deal fairly with the world, to look out for his family and to enjoy what opportunities come his way. Some of the more interesting chapters are his mid sixties American tour offered by the Harknes fellowship. With all this in mind I wait with some eager anticipation the second volume and at this point simply remain grateful for an honest, reflective narrative which shows Lodge as a man full of drive, creativity and integrity.


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The manor of Hughenden is first recorded in 1086, when formerly part of Queen Edith’s lands it was held by William, son of Oger the Bishop of Bayeux, and was assessed for tax at 10 hides.

Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister (1868 and 1874–1880, and Earl of Beaconsfield 1876), whose father rented a house at nearby Bradenham, purchased the manor in 1848 with the help of a loan of 25,000  from Lord Henry Bentinck and Lord Titchfield, because as leader of the Conservative Party “it was essential to represent a county,” and county members had to be landowners. He and his wife Mary Anne Disraeli, alternated between Hughenden and several homes in London.


The present house was built towards the end of the 18th century and was of a stuccoed and of unassuming design. However, in 1862 the Disraelis had the house remodelled by the architect Edward Buckton Lamb. Lamb has been described as “one of the most perverse and original of mid-Victorian architects”. Architecturally, he had a strong interest in the eclectic; this interest is very apparent in his work at Hughenden.

Hughenden Manor, the entrance facade.


Pevsner clearly failed to appreciate what the delighted Disraeli described as the “romance he had been many years realising” while going to say that he imagined it was now “restored to what it was before the civil war.  As the house was not originally constructed until the middle of the 18th century, almost a century after the Civil War, that scenario would have been difficult.

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The house is of three floors. The reception rooms are all on the ground floor, most with large plate glass windows (a Victorian innovation) giving onto the south-facing terrace overlooking a grassy parterre with views over the Hughenden Valley.

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photographs taken by JWW March 2015




‘Strange Glory’ by Charles Marsh

It is always extraordinary to be reminded about the gaps – and sometimes very significant indeed – in our knowledge. The life and death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of these areas. Born in 1906 and executed by the Nazi regime in 1945, this is the story, the biography of a man of enormous contradictions. A German Lutheran with a high-minded and stringent theology seeks to engage in what he believes to be an essential meaninglessness caused in some part by modernism and its violence.


Born into an aristocratic, patriotic and accomplished family, Bonhoeffer decided at the age of 13 to become a theologian. There is a rigour and challenge and authenticity to his theology – a lived conviction. Faith, he stresses always, can only be found in actions of faith: “only he who obeys believes”. And it was in the actions of the entire German church, Catholics and Protestants that Bonhoeffer saw the frightening way in which they gave in to Hitler and his ideology. In his intense movement and action against Hitler, writings of all sorts, letters, fragments, sermons and poetry poured out of him. They reveal the strength of his character and his existential serenity even as things grew truly awful – Bonhoeffer suffered degrading, painful torture and was finally executed in April 1945.


Marsh tells the story with skill and a rather beautiful attention to detail which allows his reader to get inside the richness and complexity, both of the culture within which Bonhoeffer was nurtured and the ways in which his convictions were shaped and practiced.

This is a very rich and  beautifully written book  which  will illuminate  and challenge  its readers.



a stone at dawn

cold water in the basin

these walls’ rough plaster


after the hammering

of so much insistence

on the need for naming

after the travesties

that passed as faces,

grace: the unction

of sheer nonexistence

upwelling in this

hyacinthine freshet

of the unnamed

the faceless

 Amy Clampitt


Glorious Collect for Easter Eve


Grant, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of thy blessed Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,

so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with him;

and that through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection ;

for his merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us,

thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.



When Death Comes

When death comes

like the hungry bear in autumn;

when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse


to buy me, and snap the purse shut;

when death comes

like the measle-pox;


when death comes

like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,


I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:

what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?


And therefore I look upon everything

as a brotherhood and sisterhood,

and I look upon time as no more than an idea

and I consider eternity as another possibility,


and I think of each life as a flower, as common

as a field daisy, and as singular,


and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,

tending, as all music does, toward silence,


and each body a lion of courage, and something

precious to the earth.


When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom taking the world into my arms.


When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.


I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.


Mary Oliver