Good Friday

This Easter, let’s contemplate the beauty and peace that comes from forgiveness.

The Lord’s Prayer says ‘forgive us as we forgive those who [sin] against us.’ That means very simply, that if I don’t forgive others for their sins against me or my family, that they will not return that blessing. It’s another extension of that ancient principle – treat others as you wish to be treated.

We’ve all made mistakes and ‘fallen short’. Let’s remember today that Christ’s sacrifice means that we gain a fresh start – a new beginning, and that we are fortunate to be able to so.

Every day when a child wakes they have a sense of that New Beginning (perhaps something that we lose a little as we get older). The principle of gratitude is something that Jesuit colleagues have impressed upon me since I started working with them in 2019. I hope that for all of us we can feel blessed and grateful today. And let’s pray for each other, that we are able to forgive and move forward in gratitude. Perhaps this simple thought will enable us to become more successful in everything we hope to achieve.

God bless you.

A Visit to Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire.

There are many great houses scattered around the edge of Derbyshire, but one that holds a special place in Matt Scholes’ heart is Hardwick Hall.

I am fortunate to pass very close to this hill-top location on my way to and from work in Spinkhill. Recently, I took the liberty of popping in with my camera and started snapping away! We’ve been National Trust members for some time, but not everyone gets the chance to take advantage of that – particularly when we’re staying close to home. My secondary purpose though, was to model to my Digital Media students, what I meant by ‘pre-production’ work for a news article; the blend of text and photography, and the principles of language, register, and layout (I will let you be the judge of whether this serves as a good example of each).

Hardwick Hall was the Country Seat of Bess of Hardwick in Elizabethan times. It is a truly old and special place, even without any ancillary context. It’s also situated on the top of a hill, on a bluff above the valley which these days hosts the M1 (thankfully a fair way off so it’s not always clearly audible), and in past times would have hosted a highway to the South and the North. If you need somewhere to go that is conveniently situated – hosts great walks, both flat and hilly, and (crucially) has a fantastic country Pub very close by, you are in the right place.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Hardwick got its name from the village nearby, but it has an interesting past. Bess fled an ‘angry’ marriage to set up home there and she built two homes – now known as the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’, although originally they were supposed to be finished and lived in together, as two wings of a house. The old sight is just outside the National Trust’s grounds and is owned by English Heritage. It has an earie, gothic look about it these days – fireplaces hover in mid-air as they’re built into exterior walls which have lost all their timber accoutrements. The ‘new’ house sits about 100 yards behind it to the North East, further away from the edge of the bluff, but still holding commanding views from its many windows. It is this house that has the gardens, stables and grounds attached to it, and so it is this house that we will focus on.

So what is there to like about this country house, and its surroundings, that sets it apart from its rivals (like Chatsworth)? Well the footprint is clearly smaller than Chatsworth’s, the grounds less regal, but the effect it has on some visitors is somehow more profound. Perhaps it because it has managed to feel like a ‘real home’, not something out of the realms of fantasy. And I think this is down to two things:

1) The house doesn’t look overly ostentatious, despite containing some of those foibles of the rich, the initials ‘ES’ are clearly visible for all to see from the brow of the house, it lacks some of the grandeur of Chatsworth, and this is no bad thing. There is a simplicity in its straight, architectural lines which makes it somehow visually accessible, and not over-bearing. The aspect of the Front and the Rear Elevations (roughly facing West and East respectively), is very pleasing. The West facing front often catches the sun and the views of the surrounding countryside are difficult to beat; far more interesting I would argue than those of Chatsworth, which, being situated in a valley close to a water-source, has a different atmosphere, and a less commanding position. The views to the East over the Ha-ha demonstrate the importance of farming, as well as landscaping to the surrounding community, with fields for grazing, and woods too (presumably to house pheasant). The woods make a very pleasant spot for a modern-day walk.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

2) It is green, but it is not manicured. There are rules, but they’re not too strict. I remember being ushered into certain rooms and told that I must not on any account touch anything in many of the country piles that I have been fortunate enough to visit. For some reason Hardwick doesn’t have the same feel. The gardens are relaxed – you can walk on the grass, and you can take pictures from just about anywhere. There are very few signs that say ‘PRIVATE: NO ADMITTANCE’, and there is a sense of the garden and the house flowing together (through the rather attractive door that you can see in my mast-head image). When I went around the house itself a few years back I remember feeling pleased that the windows were allowed, in most cases, to let in natural light – they weren’t all covered with depressing blinds. The hall-way felt particularly relaxed, and although I know the house will have changed much since Bess herself lived in it, the Trust have done an excellent job of ensuring that it still bears her stamp, and, I like to think, her seal of approval.

Bess’ story also lends us an important lesson about resilience and determined ambition. After having spent much time and money investing in Chatsworth, she left a bad marriage (and left Chatsworth) and struck out on her own. She had married for position in society with an almost blatant dis-regard for her own happiness, and she arranged advantageous marriages for her children; hoping to secure the future of her children and protect the legacy of her family. She made friends of Queens, Elizabeth I by all accounts, and friends of many of her servants and household, who seem to have served her with an unswerving loyalty. She continued to build her home – as overseer and architect, well into her 60s. Bess was fabulously rich by the time she died, having begun life as a relatively poor land-owner’s daughter. She certainly knew that Hardwick was her home, and she made it so.

This house then, stands not only as a memorial to history, to architecture and endeavour, but also to a Derbyshire woman’s determination and commitment. As such, and with all its quirks, I cannot help but love it.

KODAK Digital Still Camera
KODAK Digital Still Camera

When you quote Fast & Furious in your draft screen-play. I can laugh at myself, it’s fine. Movie + pizza = win.

The first time I’ve written anything for a long time. On January 1st 2020 I wanted to finish my sci-fi novel by the close of the year. That went well! Still, it’s good to be typing again.

Best wishes to all writers and teachers for 2021. Here’s hoping it’s more productive in every way 🍺😉

Matt

Looking out for the Men

Men’s Health; part 1

It’s 2020. We find ourselves in a very challenging time, particularly for mental health – but as a working man and father I have to admit that I’ve found the whole Covid thing harder than I expected.

I find myself wondering how my mates are coping, whether they are or were struggling too, or whether they’re fine, and I’m just not coping as well as they are. Of course I don’t ring them to ask them how they’re doing – why would anyone do that??

I do text. Which is better than nothing.

I was grateful recently when I posted on Facebook the metaphor of clinging onto a clifftop in a gale, that one of my friends arranged a what’s app call with the chaps from Sheffield Uni. We commiserated with each other, and we even laughed. Friends are crucial to our mental health. I wonder whether they’re a tad more crucial when you have no brothers or sisters, or Aunts or Uncles? I really miss my Auntie Pam.

My family have become even more important to me in this past twelve months (not that they weren’t before), but, if I can speak for my wife too, we’re grateful to be married and already have children in this crisis that is Covid. I can’t really begin to consider what it’s been like for people who are genuinely isolated and lonely, or those who wish to get married and start life together – and can’t, or must wait.

However, perhaps there is a mis-conception that when you’re settled and have kids who don’t need to be fed by hand, you should be fine; you shouldn’t complain, and you certainly won’t feel a sense of isolation. But in my experience that’s not true. This is no plea for sympathy mind-you. I am very well aware of how lucky I am (read my previous posts). But I do wish I had more friends like N, who check in on me when they haven’t heard from me for a while; because it’s amazing how quickly you can get into a negative spiral. Just because you don’t have pain and suffering in your immediate vicinity doesn’t mean that you can’t sense that of others, or despite appreciating that you are luckier than some, still feel a pretty acute sense of unfulfillment. ‘Mid- life crisis!’ Someone yells. Hmm. Well if that’s what it is, any advice? I mean I’m very open to sensible suggestions. And I am ready to listen.

Men: we need to look after each other, regardless of age or stage. This is a tough time for everyone, regardless of our circumstances. And friends are more important than ever. Keep in touch.

God bless

Matt

‘Something’s wrong’ [being honest about challenge]

The tragic death of an experienced climber on Mount Everest who used the above phrase, and the pictures of climbers queuing whilst roped together near the summit that went viral recently, have once again shone a light on our apparently insatiable need to conquer self-doubt by completing increasingly difficult challenges.

We only need to look at the number of our friends and family who set themselves challenges related to charitable giving to recognise that the fashion of asking for donations whilst ‘pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone’ is at a fever-pitch. I write as someone who has done the very same – I do not exclude myself from this.

On the face of it (pardon the climbing pun), there is nothing wrong with any of it. We should want to support charities and it is good to push ourselves. But as with all things, there are limits and we should be very much aware of our motivation for making a decision to challenge ourselves. If it isn’t for unselfish reasons – but is aimed at getting more ‘likes’ and approval, or at satisfying our own vanity – then we have gone very wrong somewhere.

I remember a verse from the Bible that goes something like ‘do not show off your good deeds in public, but keep them quiet’ (there are similar sentiments in most religious texts), and I wonder whether this is something we all need reminding of? The point of challenging yourself is to improve yourself. But there is no need to improve yourself ‘publicly’. In some ways the real joy of improving your own education/spirituality/fitness, or whatever, is that it’s best done privately, and in the long term will have a more positive, lasting and inspirational effect on other people (when they do eventually find out), than it would were it performed in the public eye.

While paying my sincere respects to those who have lost their lives tragically on the slopes of our highest peak over the last twelve months, and throughout history, I believe there is a warning for all of us to take away. Something is wrong.

What is wrong, is that so many individuals feel a need to conquer Everest. There are many thousands of difficulties to face in this life, without needing to add more. Unless you are professional, seasoned climber, you should go no-where near this peak – and even if you are vastly experienced you should think long and hard before attempting it.

What is wrong is that some of us feel a need to gain acceptance by fulfilling challenges that other humans have not done, or have found incredibly hard. Acceptance comes from being oneself and accepting the faults of others – from love and forgiveness; not throwing ourselves out of aircraft with a parachute strapped on, hoping that the rip-cord will work.

What is wrong is that too many of us have begun to worship ‘difficulty’ and ‘hardship’ as true tests of human character, which is a vague truth, bent by superstition, and worryingly close to the right-wing ideals of supermen and superwomen. We do not want to venture down that path again.

Human character is tested in many, many ways, in ordinary life, in the simple every-day. Human character will be defined by our reaction to these, as well as to world events, to disasters, to trials and tribulations – many of which already occur just a few hours flight away from your coffee machine and comfy sofa.

So my plea to you, is that if you really wish to be incredible, super, fantastic, amazing – if you crave more acceptance, or if you believe that you must challenge yourself, fine. You can join the military, volunteer with a charity, find a cure for a terrible disease; ride a bike, run, leap; do whatever you wish to do and whatever makes you happy. But for God’s sake, for all our sakes, don’t make a huge song and dance about it. Do it quietly and calmly, and don’t expect everyone to love you when your challenge is finished. We all have different priorities and needs, because we are all different people.

I grin ironically as I write, because I know that I have been guilty of making decisions based on the views of others myself. However, I am learning, as we learn – and we continue to believe that we increase in wisdom – I trust that we will make wiser, more careful decisions: Decisions that will preserve life, promote peace, increase happiness, motivate others to good, but never put our own selfish vanity first.

No challenge is worth your life, unless it saves many more.

God bless

Matt

Being honest [about friendship]

Only child. Brother. Sister. Daughter. Mother…

We are all part of a family, no matter how small or fragile that family might be. There is a sense of belonging. But I’ve always believed that friends can make a massive impact on our experience, every day.

The hardest thing about growing up, besides the awful dullness of adult responsibilities (home ownership, cooking, washing, DIY etc…), is surely that our friends come and, sometimes quite painfully, go.

I read a quote online earlier today – you may have seen it. It suggests that although friends come and go they are all meant to be in your story and you are meant to part of theirs. Somehow we learn from each other that it’s ok to fall out of touch but not stop caring about someone, that when eventually you meet again the old times will rush back, and that the positive memories we have of spending time with each other will never fade.

It’s ok. And to quote Robin Williams in one of his finest movie moments ‘It’s not your fault’. It’s just how it is.

So I pay tribute to all my friends, no matter where you are or what you doing, know that I haven’t forgotten, that I still have the same love for you. And even if I haven’t heard from you for ages, or we’re not even sure what each other are doing, how many kids we have or where we live, when I see you again the same smile will greet you; the same arms will be prepared to hug you close; the same eyes ready to laugh with you and if necessary cry with you. Because that is friendship.

God bless you

Mx

New feature; Being honest [about faith]

Welcome to the first installment of my new feature, ‘being honest’. This week; faith and belief.

Some people say why do you believe a bunch of fairy tales? Others ask whether Jesus was real at all? Many simply do not care what religion you have.

I am Christian because I recognise that I am flawed and like all of us, despite having the capability to be beautiful in many ways, I am also broken. How?

I make terrible errors of judgement and incredibly stupid decisions that push friends and family away, alienate me or at best severely damage my credibility.

Admittedly most of these appallingly bad decisions were made when I was feeling stressed or exhausted, but that isn’t an excuse. That’s my ‘sapien’, my frailty, my weakness. A weakness that in my view we all share.

I completely accept that I need forgiveness. The three or four worst decisions I have made (there have been many others), that hurt others – as well as myself – are permanently etched, photograph-like, in my mind. And despite this, despite the mental turmoil that followed each of these – in some cases I have gone on to make a very similar mistake again.

So either I have a massive discipline problem, a short memory, or (and I think this is it) I am a self-conscious optimist, whose default position when under pressure is introspective… and this is incredibly unhelpful when you hope to keep those around you happy. And to make matters worse I speak my mind very often without always thinking about the effect on others. Perhaps you can empathise? 

Fundamentally I am in huge trouble and I need help. The healing ‘second chance’ that Christ offers is therefore very appealing. I need to trust in him, because in some ways (not all) I cannot trust myself – nor can I trust that other people close to me will understand. Frequently they don’t, and I don’t necessarily blame them.

One major reason then why I worship in a church is due to this flaw, this human, selfish, stupidity. I feel that I need grace, I need mercy and love – and I can find it here.

The Bible also gives me another explanation: the devil roams ‘like a prowling lion’ and therefore at times I’ll be influenced by ‘him’ and not by good. Thus perhaps evil is not so much inside of us as surrounding us, like poisonous gas… Sometimes we inhale at the wrong time. Christ is the gas mask, the antidote or the pure, clear oxygen of freedom.

And obviously I am not the only one who thinks so.

God bless

The Importance of Imaginings

What happens if we teach children to believe only what they can see, or prove?

Well, they would have no need for imagination. They would decide that it was unimportant. As adults we would begin to chip away at the thing many Victorians mistook for childhood innocence, but was (in my opinion) far more than that.

To imagine is not necessarily to be naive, but this is how modern humanist and scientific thinking is pushing us to believe. Accidental rhyme. So what is imagination?

For me imagination has meant slightly different things throughout my life. Perhaps it’s the same for you. For the most part it has been a delightful combination of dreams, desires, hopes, ideas, movement and images, but most often narratives: Narratives in which the obvious faults of reality can be addressed, even corrected permanently. Narratives in which, as many writers have put it, we can be who we really wish to be. And of course the clear thing about imagination is that it can be rehearsal for a later reality. One thinks of athletes who visualise winning during their training, or before a race. Even if it is rehearsal of a more interesting reality it has a clear effect on those doing the imagining (or on a reader/witness); it stimulates, prompts and entertains the imaginations of others – it is a catalyst for further imaginings. And where could those beautiful imaginings lead? They could lead to answers, inventions, literal light-bulb moments, philosophical or spiritual enlightening…

So what is the ultimate goal of these imaginings? What is the point?

To teach and instruct, to help us visualise an improved reality.

TO HELP US CHANGE THE WORLD FOR THE BETTER.

If we teach children, like Gradgrind, that facts, and nothing but facts are so valuable, as to be the only essential things worth knowing, then eventually our children will begin to think that imagination has no value. And if we succeed in doing that, it is my simply held belief that the world will destroy itself.

For if you have no need for imagination, then you have no cause to hope. If you can only see reality in its purest form, the sheer stupidity, clumsiness, and selfishness of humanity will choke you. It will be the death of hope, and the end of the human race.

Well! We’re full of laughs this evening aren’t we? But seriously, for this reason, I would encourage you to love imagination, and to cherish the imaginings of both children and adults. For each has purpose and each will help to make the world a better place. If only we let them.

Is real, earnest reading almost extinct?

Like you I read a huge range of texts and publications every day. I don’t necessarily read all of said text; I skim occasionally, and that’s ok. Not every written word needs your whole undivided attention.
Then again, I do remember (in my regular church days) the earnest, careful, heartfelt reading of verses from the Bible, and I believe that there is a lot to be said for this.
But over the last few weeks, prompted perhaps by time spent watching the news, on social media, and watching movies with my wife and family, the strong feeling has come to me that not enough people read, and too few of those that do read carefully enough. You know as I do that England (and to an extent the UK) was built on the principles of ancient Christianity as interpreted by Kings and Queens – Alfred arguably being the first, but many powers have followed. Subsequently we have been led largely by Government, and of course in all those key phases of history huge errors of judgement, and tragic disasters have occurred, caused by poor interpretation of religious teaching (the ‘rules’), or by sin; and by sin I mean greed, lust and so on… think Seven (🎥 , one word).
What evidence is there for this lack of guidance: Brexit (what an awful mess), class divide alive and kicking (2019 🤬), huge gap between rich and poor, a mass media that seem intent on leaving out the news we want to hear, and most importantly for me, Nottingham Forest have still not made it back to the Premier League. I jest.
In all seriousness though, I am certain that if we spent as much time reading our ancient texts – and understood our own history better – as a civilisation, but particularly as a country, we would make wiser decisions that would be more in the public interest and less likely to simply make the wealthy richer.
Oh I am an ‘idealist’, I can here the modern cynics smirking into their copies of the Financial Times (btw shares are for the rich because they have time to research them properly)… But I am certain that if we spent as much time reading philosophy and religion properly (without knee-jerk reactions that would make a dressage horse proud), and applying proven principles of good governance to 21st century culture and politics a) we’d be happier and b) we might start to improve our country and our lives without having to rely on a few jumped up billionaires and their clingons.
Ah, but what are ‘principles of good governance’ I hear another cynic shout… Unfortunately he has just proved my point.
As for me and my classes we will read and read again!
Love
Matt