Sunday, 15 March 2015

Holiness in Action: God at Work

"People go out to their work and to their labor until the evening” (Ps. 104:23). 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it another way: 
"After the first morning hour [of prayer], the Christian’s day until evening belongs to work." 
Indeed, for many of us a full hour to pray before our work starts would be a blessed luxury! This balance of our time has been the same for centuries. When the Benedictine order of monks was founded on the principle of "work and prayer", where work informed prayer and vice versa, without holding one of these to be more important than the other. But have we lost this perspective today? Do we instead consider them to be totally separate activities?

Many people put a very hard distinction between work and prayer saying "I can feel God close to me when I'm in church, but God can't really be interested in what I do all day, can he? It's only what I do to pay the bills." But the Creator of the universe delights in what we do, because our work reflect the image of God himself as we engage in creating and maintaining order and beauty in God's world. 

So does God care whether the trains run on time, or if a whole community like Western Cornwall are cut off by rail because of a collapsed sea wall (as happened at Dawlish last year)? Does God care whether the law is upheld, justice is done, people are served, children are educated?

Friday, 13 March 2015

Rail electrification at last for the North?

I have previously written about the Harrogate Line and thesignificant barriers which it presents to people who want to travel between Leeds, Harrogate and York without resorting to a car, and about the difficulties that short-term thinking has presented to our efforts to improve the line (not least bridges which are not wide enough or high enough). So it’s time for some good news, and over the last few weeks there has been a flurry of it!
Firstly, engagement with bidders for the various franchises has resulted in a promise by Virgin East Coast to provide a two-hourly direct service from Harrogate to London and back (7 trains per day in each direction) which is a vast improvement on the current situation where there is only one early morning train to London and one late evening train back again.   

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Acomb Garden: Day of the Digger

This is my third post about the creation of a new community garden at Acomb Methodist Church. For the beginning of the story, see A Journey of Transformation.

A pile of logs ready for
wood-burning stoves
We had spent a productive morning two weeks ago clearing the weeds (see The Transformation Beginswhere many hands made light work, on 21st Feb we continued with tasks where a smaller number of skilled hands were needed.

Having previously addressed anything small enough to succumb to loppers and shears, this was a day for trimming branches or even whole trees where these were dead or poorly placed. For this, we needed James and his chainsaw, with half a dozen adults to move the cuttings.
The digger ready for action!

We sorted by use: really big logs in one pile to make chairs and so on, logs for wood burning stoves in another and twigs, thin branches and weeds on the bonfire.

We had a digger to level the site and remove weed roots and stumps, but I had to leave before it was digger time (I'll add some photos of the finished work another time!)

Sunday, 8 March 2015

In the Footpaths of the Pilgrim Fathers

The Pilgrim Fathers museum
in the oldest house in Leiden
(built in 1372)
Ask most people round here to name three Dutch cities, and you'll usually get some combination of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Delft and Den Haag (aka the Hague in its anglicised form). This means when I tell people that my parents live in Leiden, the next question is always "where's that?" (It's about 20 minutes south of Amsterdam and east of Den Haag).

To be fair, I didn't know where Leiden was either, until my parents moved there 5 years ago, so I thought it was time to share a little of Leiden's rich history. Leiden is an ancient city at the place where a river splits into three branches. To the extent that any river in this flat land can be said to flow (rather than simply resembling a wide, deep canal), the city is encircled by two branches of the river and the third runs through the middle, facilitating trade. Of course, this means a lot of bridges (engineer's paradise!), some of which can open to allow tall boats through to the markets.

It turns out that one thing Leiden is famous for is the Pilgrim Fathers, who settled in the city between 1609 and 1620 as refugees from England in search of religious freedom for their Puritan faith. Last week we visited a tiny museum behind one of the main shopping streets, housed in the oldest house in Leiden (dated via tree rings in the oak beams to 1372). 

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Following the Yellow Train!

“Yellow Car” is a good way to keep children quiet on long journeys, as you score points if you’re the first person to shout whenever you spot one (and other than my friend Miles, there aren’t that many yellow cars on the road. I like playing a different version when I’m out on track, because spotting the yellow train is even more rare (there is only one which covers the whole country!)

So why is it painted yellow? This is Network Rail’s colour, chosen to look like no-one else’s livery and probably also because most of the “yellow plant” (rail-mounted kit for maintaining the track and wires) and engineering trains (essentially freight trains transporting ballast or track) need to be visible in the dark, because we rail engineers rarely have the luxury of being able to do construction work during the day!

But the yellow train I like to watch out for is an HST (that’s your average intercity-type passenger train to non-trainspotters) painted bright yellow and marked “New Measurement Train” on the side. This one train is a piece of technology that has revolutionised how we maintain the UK railway because it travels the whole passenger network over a regular cycle and measures the condition of the track and the overhead wires (are they in the right place and delivering the right amount of power?), saving thousands of hours of track inspection time. 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

A Windy Wildlife Walk in Leiden

Continuing a series of irregular posts about wildlife-spotting (see also Learning to See and If There is No Home for Nature), today I went for a walk with my dad through the polder behind his house in Leiden, which means binoculars are in order.
Sheep grazing next to the lake
As always in Holland, water is never far away – there is a golf course where most of the holes are sandwiched between dykes and open water (which probably makes completing the course fairly challenging unless you have several spare balls handy!) and a nature reserve with lakes and spits of land giving lots of opportunities to spot birdlife.