Wednesday, 27 February 2008


As Britain quaked, Mr Gnome slept. So did the HB.

How splendid to be able to report that we'd been out rescuing people from the wreckage. Honesty forbids any such claims.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday (the fourth Sunday in Lent) provides a good enough excuse to display this picture of my mother, taken in 1927 when she was nineteen.

She's on the beach at Plemont in Jersey, clearly happy and relaxed. Her dress (she'd have said 'frock') is daringly short and the arm bangle must have been totally 'the thing' all that summer.

When she was alive I had difficulty (rather selfishly) in imagining her as a child or a young woman. Much easier now, and of course old pictures like these are a great help.And here she is, in 1912, with her beloved Jumbo.

I'm not the only one to be convinced that the photographer's original compositional plan did not include a toy elephant.

I detect a glint of triumph in that firm gaze: No Jumbo? No picture!

This was taken in Toronto.

My grandfather's emigration dream was short-lived: my grandmother's homesickness brought them back to England after less than a year in Canada.The gaze again - and the grip.

This was taken in Stroud, Gloucestershire (where she was born). I guess the year is 1909/10.

This year is her centenary.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Athens of the North

'For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like.'

So said the incomparable Jean Brodie. And one hopes she might have relished this view of her glorious city captured on a crisp February morning, long, long after the end of her prime.

Saturday, 23 February 2008


A card with a Rupert Bear illustration provoked waves of nostalgia for both Gnome and HB.

At Christmas, one hoped to receive an 'annual' (Eagle, Swift, Dandy, Beano, Sooty and Sweep) - but the uber-annual was always Rupert.

I adored them, mainly I think for the strange 'otherness' of Rupert's world: like ours, and yet so unlike. The delicate colours, the homely interiors, the weird machinery - all were enchanting. Hurrah for illustrator Alfred Bestall.

Then there was the layout. Extraordinary when you think about it. Four pictures, each with a rhyming couplet beneath. Expanded prose text at the bottom in two columns. A helpful heading at the top, plus two tiny vignette figures top right and left. So you get the narrative in three forms: pictures, couplets, prose. The pattern never varied. And I've never seen it used apart from for Rupert.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Northern homage

Mr Gnome recently dropped in at the National Museum of Scotland to visit the Isle of Lewis chess figures.

Probably created in Norway in the twelfth century, the figures were discovered on the Isle of Lewis in 1831.

The compactness of the design (they are carved from walrus ivory) and the extraordinary facial expressions intrigue and inspire.

People of the HB's generation probably know them best as the inspiration for the much-loved characters in the stories of Noggin the Nog.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Ronnie and the Sacraments

This splendid book was published in 1947, to introduce Anglican boys and girls to the meaning of those symbolic, faith-related acts known as sacraments....

It's tempting to smirk at the Glen Baxter-ish glory of the (unattributed - tsk!) illustrations.

But one can't helped being touched by the straightforward earnestness of the text - and by the clarity of explanation mediated through the Blytonesque narrative.

Having said all that, one slightly yearns for the debut single of indie band Ronnie and the Sacraments....

Wise words

Mr Gnome is privileged to have regular contact with the charming and intelligent clergyman featured in this news clip.

Apologies to overseas visitors unaware of recent rumpus following comments by Mr G's lookalike guru, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Hymn to Pym

Mr Gnome, just back from Edinburgh, has been invited to take part in a curious game.

It goes like this: pick up the nearest book of more than 123 pages. Look at page 123. Copy out the fifth, sixth and seventh sentences on that page. Send said chunk of text to five other people, inviting them to do same. In the manner of one of those dreadful chain letters. But as this is a bit literary, it must be charming, rather than tedious....

Mr G scurried to the bathroom and picked up Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym.

Here we go:

'I shouldn't do any good there,' said Jane guiltily, remembering her intrusion into the choir vestry a few weeks ago of which she had told him nothing.

'I should have thought the time could have been more profitably spent in encouraging  young authors rather than in celebrating dead ones,' Nicholas declared.

'But it does encourage them,' Jane said.

There you are. 

Barbara Pym is a bit of an acquired taste. A 1950s literary lovechild of Joanna Trollope and Alan Bennett, with Jane Austen handing out stiff G&Ts at the christening party.

Mr G is now supposed to 'tag' five people. But he is not sure how to do this. He will simply tag the kind clergyman who invited him to join the game.

Friday, 8 February 2008

The call of the north...

Mr Gnome is taking a brief blog-break. He's going to Scotland.

But not to Iona, where these pictures were take in June 2007 while Mr G and the HB were visting the Iona Community.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

A good man

Regular readers of this blog (you're out there somewhere) will be aware of Mr G's admiration for the extravagantly bearded Archbishop Rowan Williams.

Though his beard is somewhat reticent, Bishop James Jones of Liverpool emerges from Mr G's episcopal scrutiny with flying colours.

Keen of mind and warm of heart, Bishop James is an admirable Christian leader - making an impact in the Liverpool diocese and beyond.

The HB has been fortunate to encounter JJ on several occasions - and has always been impressed by his insight and his clarity of communication.

And he's a genuinely humble, prayerful man.

Click here to read his recent essay 'Making Space for Grace and Truth'.

But, as Mr G is well aware, the bishop should nurture that beard....

Hide those clippers, Mrs Jones.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Humility begins at gnome...

And what of Mr Gnome's intentions for Lent?

In a brief statement issued today, Mr G outlined his plans for the coming season.

I am painfully aware of how lacking I am when it comes to humility. I have not abased myself. I'm a stranger to self-deprecation. I tend to toot my trumpet a tiny bit too much. In short, I'm a teensy-weensy bit self-regarding.

Woe is me! But I can change.

Humility here I come. Sackcloth, ashes, wailing and only minimal amounts of chocolate - bring them on!

No one is going to be more humble than me. If humility was a Nobel category, I'd be booking my ticket for Stockholm.

You think you're humble? Forget it. I'm the visible, earthly personification of meekness.

I am the humble one. Gold Medal to Mr G! Hurrah.

Lent? Sorted!
Well, hurrah for the Gnome. Er, purposeful as ever.


The season of Lent begins tomorrow, bringing its annual invitation to reflect and prepare for the extraordinary events commemorated in the days leading up to Easter....

I'll be looking at '40', the remarkable series of images created by the artist Simon Smith.

Here are the first few pictures.

You can see the full series here.

And I believe that it's possible to buy 40 in book form. Check via Proost

Friday, 1 February 2008

Carpe diem

February brings day after day of warm, tranquil, late summer weather - perfect for a hiking holiday.

Well, it does if you're fortunate enough to be in New Zealand, where I spent the whole of February 2003.

Here we are high up with Mount Cooke behind us - a motley bunch of 'trampers' (kiwi for 'hikers'), including three nurses, a doctor, a psychiatrist, a fireman, a financial analyst and a town planner.

I'm sure they were all reassured to know that I was poised to help if any of them experienced a punctuation crisis.

Memories of our travels in South Island haven't faded - glaciers, forests, mountains, beaches, wilderness, vineyards, space, beauty.

You haven't been there? If you possibly, possibly can - do go. You'll never regret it.

The invitation to make the journey came from my friend David (pictured, kneeling right), who was celebrating his remission following treatment for leukemia.

He relished every moment of our travels, absorbing the sights and sounds of that beautiful place with keen enjoyment.

David seized the day.
David died at the end of May 2006. A truly wonderful friend.