MY HUSBAND had returned home from the first clergy conference of the new Anglican diocese of Leeds, and was enduring some pretty awful puns about one of the guest speakers, Professor Brian Cox, of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester.
He is probably best known to the majority of the public as the presenter of the BBC programmes The Wonders of the Solar System and The Wonders of the Universe, or Radio 4’s Infinite Monkey Cage. Those of us of a certain age, however, may also remember him as the long-haired keyboard player of the band D:Ream.
Professor Cox was at the conference to take part in a debate with the Revd Professor David Wilkinson, of St John’s College, Durham, on “Science, the Cosmos, and Human Meaning”. Having seen videos of the interviews that both Professors gave at the conference (available on YouTube), I imagine it was a fascinating debate; indeed, if my husband is representative of the 400 clergy who attended, they found it to be thought-provoking, if at times mind-boggling, and a definite highlight of the conference.
I wonder how many of the clergy noticed the T-shirt that Professor Cox was wearing under his jacket — plain black, with the words “Hertzsprung-Russell” across the chest — and whether the words meant anything to them. For me, they transported me back to a conversation I had with my nephew; sadly, he did not live to be the astrophysicist he dreamed of being as a teenager, but I remember his being alight with awe and enthusiasm as he showed me the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram of the evolution of stars.
He would have been chuffed by Professor Cox’s T-shirt.
Written in the stars
STARS have played a large part in the Figg summer this year, from sitting under the dark skies of Lochaber, nibbling midnight snacks as we picked out the constellations, to contemplating how much more difficult it is to see the stars in our light-polluted part of Yorkshire, as we kept an eye out for the Perseid shower on our silver wedding anniversary.
Number 3 Son wins the Figg star-gazing prize of 2016, however, because he managed to walk the 500-mile Camino Frances route from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela — St James of the Field of Stars, so called because, legend has it, the Galician burial place of St James was discovered in the ninth century by a hermit, Pelayo, who had a vision of a bright star, surrounded by smaller stars, pointing to the spot.
St James was then named patron saint of Spain by King Alfonso II, who built a monastery and church over the tomb. They soon became a place of pilgrimage, and so El Camino began. Apparently, before the days of reliable maps, pilgrims looked to the sky and took their bearings from the Milky Way. These days, the pilgrims are guided by cockleshell way-markers, and yellow arrows painted on to roads and buildings.
Some things won’t have changed though: I am pretty sure that bed bugs and blisters are Camino experiences that pilgrims have encountered throughout the ages; Number 3 Son suffered from both, though not as badly as some of his fellow peregrinos.
He met some intriguing people along the way, from a monk with a laugh so infectious that the day’s aches and pains were soothed away, to a Dutchman who had spent the past 17 years walking pilgrim routes, and a Japanese photographer who was gathering material for a book.
AS I write this, I am aware of another pilgrim who should now be in his second week on the Camino: Brian Zahnd, an American pastor and author who is taking his first sabbatical in 35 years of and is walking the Camino with his wife.
I came across his writing when I was sent a copy of his book Beauty Will Save the World, in which he calls for us to rediscover the inherent beauty of the gospel of Jesus. I am looking forward to reading whatever book bubbles up to the surface as a response to his Camino.
From across the pond
ANOTHER American author is staying with us at the moment: Michael Hardin, with his wife, Lorri. They are here for a few days. Michael is in the midst of a UK lecture tour, and we are delighted to have them both with us again. He is leading two evening sessions on “The Message of Paul”, and a full-day seminar on “Being a Peace Church” for us.
Michael and Lorri fit into the chaos of life in our vicarage with grace and humour, although I do remember their being perplexed by our ancient Aga and lack of food-processor or microwave when they wanted to cook a meal for us. Despite the primitive conditions, they managed to produce a very tasty meal of huevos rancheros.
Sunny side up
SADLY, if they feel moved to recreate the dish this year, we may have a problem. Egg production is down among our chooks, as two of them recently became broody and were staging a sit-in hunger-strike in the nesting box.
I moved them into the run that we have used as an isolation unit for sick hens in the past, to give them more light, as this is supposed to dampen down broodiness. Thankfully, they have started eating again; so things, as a certain mop-topped astrophysicist keyboard player might say, can only get better.
Elizabeth Figg is married to the Vicar of Kildwick, near Keighley, in West Yorkshire