Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Malling Abbey in the Snow

After a weekend of trying pastoral encounters in which, eventually, I didn't acquit myself well at all, it was a relief to know that I was setting off for a couple of days at Malling Abbey. It didn't start that well: after pulling off the main road into West Malling High Street that is the first harbinger of the separate world you're entering, and finding my way to the guest room I would be using (it's all much easier now there's a code on the outer door so that you can get in without having to alert the attention of anyone inside), no sooner had I put down my bags than the church office called to say the alarms had gone off at the Rectory. I had to drive all the way back home again. Of course there was nothing identifiable wrong - no break-in, no fallen object that might have set the alarm off. 'It shouldn't have done that,' mused the engineer over the phone. No, it shouldn't. I returned to Kent and said the Office in my room having arrived too late to hear the Sisters sing Vespers. The reading was from the First Letter of St Peter and strangely apposite to the events of the previous few days, so I thought I would frame my reflections around verses from that text. There were several that made sense. 

The general otherworldliness of the Abbey was intensified by the snow that fell yesterday and overnight. I think it snowed during my second stay at Malling, a long while ago now, but that was little more than a dusting. This was quite a heavy blanket, accompanied, this morning, with beautiful lucid sunshine. 

Monday, 26 February 2018

"Designing for Growth"

Before that hard encounter by the roadside in Swanvale Halt I'd been at the new diocesan offices on the Research Park in Guildford. If I wanted to post about something more cheerful, they help: they aim at communicating a combination of professionalism and cuddliness: 'We're glossy and effective, but we're not going to scare you. Would you like a coffee?' I saw three coffee-consuming areas while I was there, two (as I said before) Shoreditch café-like arrangements of colourful plastic seats, one upstairs, one down, and a standing bar round the corner in the upstairs offices. I suppose coffee is the fuel that powers most social and professional interactions so it has to be present, and in fact omnipresent. This is what the main staircase looks like. It wouldn't look out of place in a recently-updated municipal museum:

I was there for a meeting of the local vocations advisors. We were informed that we have lots of ordination candidates going through to selection conferences, but also that an increasing proportion of them are being rejected, so it may be that the drive for more ordinands is resulting in people being passed up the system before they're ready. In the centre of the table was one of those multi-communication pods to allow conference calls, and I wondered how often the Diocese of Guildford needs to do that, or whether all this kit was just inherited from the University from which the Diocese is leasing the building. This new working environment will, at least for a while, make its inhabitants believe that they know what they're doing, though I wonder how long the illusion will last ...

Saturday, 24 February 2018

From a View to a Death

[Warning: I didn’t like writing this post so you may not like reading it. There are unsettling elements.]

On the way back from a meeting at Diocesan House (of which more on another occasion) and visiting a couple of parishioners in the hospital, only yards uphill from my house I noticed a squirrel by the roadside and although I wanted to believe its tail was just flicking in the wake of passing cars I suspected it had been struck by a vehicle but was not quite dead. Inspection showed this to be the case. I have killed a squirrel before, an injured one which had been discovered in the church vestry a few years ago, and so, grimly, I fetched my shovel to do the same for this one. I couldn’t bring myself to do it with cars thundering past so had to wait until the road was quiet. The squirrel flinched backwards at my first strike, which – I think – hit the ground just by its snout. This made me very shaky. I want to think that the next blow killed it, although instead of hitting its neck, it struck across the middle. The third would definitely have done it. I calmed down, dug a hole in the bank, and buried the body, and went home and prayed.

The previous occasion was clean and precise, and the animal was dispatched with a single blow across the neck. I remember looking into its dead eyes and seeing into a sort of infinity, a very strange feeling of communion. This time, it was all panicked and grotesque. I hadn’t wanted to leave the squirrel either to die slowly or, worse, to be tormented by a cat which was surely what would have happened. I suppose I could have scooped it up and taken it to the vet, but I thought I could kill it quickly: I certainly wouldn’t have tackled anything bigger. Who knows what it was thinking, whether in fact I caused it more pain and terror than would otherwise have been. Perhaps I was misled by my own inflated sense of responsibility, imagining that I have to do something about everything.

We talk a lot of nonsense about death. I remember someone from the Catholic parish telling me how his father had died in a car accident. ‘They think he had a cardiac arrest at the wheel. They say he wouldn’t have known anything about it, but that’s just what people say, isn’t it? I can’t see how anyone can know.’ He’s right. We know nothing about it. Some deaths seem to be peaceful, and some don’t, but what’s happening in the mind of a person who is beyond communication, even when they are outwardly serene, is a mystery. The only two experiences common to human beings, birth and death, are completely unknown to us. Billions of us have undergone them and billions will, and we will never know what either are actually like. We can’t even agree entirely about what constitutes death. I have no idea whether appalling pain will usher me out of this life, or whether I won’t know anything about it. Even if I fall into a sleep which gradually becomes deeper and deeper, when I sleep now I am aware of dreaming, or not quite being asleep; what is it like to lose awareness, to be aware of losing awareness? Will I panic? Will I be afraid? Will faith be enough to help me across? Will someone do to me what I don't want, acting with the best intentions?

(I will aim at talking about something more cheerful next time.)

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Uncovering a bit of Good

While searching online for landlords locally who might be willing to accept tenants claiming benefits on behalf of someone I've been working with for a long while, I came across the website of a company based in Hornington - let's call them Ariel Lettings. They were clearly at least partly a property management company but also had a section of the website for tenants and I couldn't quite work out their business model, so I decided to pop round and visit them. I hadn't phoned up first so they were very surprised anyone had made it along the lane off the High Street to their office, identified only by a sign next to the ground floor doorbell, but kindly spoke to me for a few minutes. They're a not-for-profit enterprise that offers private landlords a management service and also guarantees rents in order to make it easier to place tenants who are homeless, vulnerably housed, or on benefits. They have quite a wide portfolio of properties across ten local authority areas, including some shared houses in Woking, Guildford and elsewhere which are projects directly supported by the councils. Once tenants are in place, Ariel can offer other sorts of support, helping them achieve advances in their situation (such as getting a tenant onto a catering course). I mentioned the case that led me to discover them in the first place, but potential tenants have to be referred to Ariel by the local authority housing department, so it's up to them to decide whether a particular individual is a priority. I was encouraged that an organisation like this exists locally, but wary of the fact that, as so often, the Council is the gatekeeper to effective help.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Enter the Adversary

If you're going to talk to a group of children about Lent, I think you have to talk about the Temptations of Jesus because that's the whole point of Lent; and if you're going to talk about the Temptations you have to grapple with the fact that the narrative has the Devil in it. I note that the Lion Storyteller's Bible, which they use at the Infant School in Swanvale Halt, doesn't go anywhere near Jesus in the Wilderness, probably quite sensibly. Once having done Dante for six-year-olds, I, however, scorn such reasonable caution, and sail towards the rocks of controversy. 

You could retell the story and miss the Devil out completely but that seems a bit of a cop-out. It's not only unfaithful to Scripture, it poses certain dramatic problems. It's a bit like the Doctor Who story The Deadly Assassin which featured Tom Baker on his own without the usual companions to whom he could explain the plot, a situation which Baker quite liked but which forced the scriptwriter, the great Robert Holmes, to pen lots of scenes with the Doctor commenting on what was going on in a strangely absent-minded way. Take out the Devil and Jesus has to talk to himself a lot, and that's no less weird. But you don't want to give the Adversary an unwonted prominence, either.

The story of the Temptations tends to throw Christians into polarisation. Conservative believers like the Devil: they enjoy the sense of drama and challenge to modern modes of thought that the Enemy brings, and so they want to defend the idea that he was really, absolutely there in the Judaean wilderness, whispering in the Saviour's ear. Liberal Christians want to say, Well, that's how they understood things at that time, and now we know better. They want to interpret the story in internal, psychological terms, and recast the Devil not as the Tempter, but as the symbol of temptation. 

I made my peace with this when I realised that the Gospel writers themselves see Jesus's Temptations as a visionary experience. This is very clear from the way the story ends, either with Jesus on top of a mountain (Matthew) or even more dramatically the parapet of the Temple (Luke), whither the Devil has 'taken him', but from which he is not returned once the Devil disappears. It's as though, perhaps, Jesus shakes his head and the experience is over. It's not unreal - that is, it's more than just an internal debate in Jesus's own mind - but nor is it something which takes place in ordinary, physical reality. It's a vision, the kind of thing induced, and in many religious traditions deliberately induced, by long fasting and sensory deprivation. And there is no mountain from which you can see all the kingdoms of the world laid out, is there?

I sat with my folder of stories and told everyone how Jesus was weak and hungry and not sure what was happening to him, because I'm sure this is all true. He would have known the stories of the Devil and wondered whether this was who was talking to him. He rejects the ideas the Devil proposes to him, rebukes him, and finally goes to begin his work. I was happy with that solution to the problem. What the children made of it is another matter, of course.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Away Again with the PCC

It was two-and-a-bit years ago that the PCC of Swanvale Halt took an Away Day to consider the Mission Plan (we're not supposed to call them that now, apparently - they are Church Development Plans, not that it matters what you call them). Over that time my thinking about how to engage in this process has shifted, but it's still vital to bring the lay leadership of the church into the business of deciding its priorities, or it just won't work at all. We'd booked Peper Harow church, which is not far away from Swanvale Halt: a medieval church, decorated by the great Pugin, which dramatically caught fire on Christmas Eve 2007 and which underwent an incredibly expensive reconstruction resulting in an absolutely gorgeous fabric, like a medieval church but spanking new with pristine tiling and ceiling paintings. Half the pompous post-Reformation monuments were unsalvable, leaving only the odd bust and cherub, and a church which is strikingly clear of clutter. As the church is only occasionally used for services, it was always intended that it should be a 'diocesan resource' available for just such things as PCC Away Days.

One of the delights of Peper Harow's restoration, as well as its loo and kitchenette, is underfloor heating. I have felt this working, but it hasn't worked as reliably as one might hope. It wasn't working this Saturday; the churchwarden had helpfully put in heaters on Friday afternoon, but as I set out from my house the car thermometer dropped from 1 degree to freezing to minus-1. Oh dear.

In fact the chill outside made the environment within the building seem all the more palatable, and it's a beautiful setting, amid the Surrey fields. As the sun got going and the time came to 'break into small groups' various Swanvale Halt members decided they were more comfortable out in the churchyard in the increasingly warm late-winter sunshine than in the church itself.

Everyone expressed a great deal of satisfaction with the day. It was good that Rev Facilitator was able to be with us again as he was in 2015, guiding us with gentle encouragement (shame he's retiring). He thinks we've come quite a long way and seem more energised and forward-looking than in the past. I now have a sheaf of papers to batter into some kind of report so that we can take it forward. A job for tomorrow ...

Friday, 16 February 2018

Bright Winter from Corfe to Studland

Last year I passed through Corfe for the first time in many years, unreasonably moved by the grey Purbeck limestone of its cottages and the gaunt Castle looming above the village, but I hadn't gone on the road from there to Studland for a long, long while, and my Mum hadn't been out that way for longer than she could remember - possibly since my Dad was alive. We were there yesterday, for a bright, clear afternoon's drive through old haunts.

It's half-term week, so there were lots of families around though the village wasn't unbearably busy. I'd forgotten that the Museum in Corfe is just a single room!

On a whim we returned not via the way we came, through Wareham, but over the ferry that links Studland on the Purbeck side of Poole Harbour to Sandbanks on the northern side. I don't think I've ever actually taken my own car over the ferry, or at least I don't have a clear memory of having done so. The ferry was changed years ago from the exhilaratingly leaky, rusty vessel I remember from childhood journeys, with its great black spots on cables that shuttled up and down to indicate the direction the ferry was about to move in, but it's still fun. The chains clank and the engines grind into life to prepare you for the two-minute journey between the headlands, and there's still an exciting stink of fuel in the air.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Into the Desert

Last year our Ash Wednesday observances were exceptionally well attended: I wasn't anticipating a repeat performance this, given the wind and rain battering the walls of the church, and we didn't get one. The only not-quite-familiar face was a young man who works at a public school locally: 'You're the only church with a lunchtime mass on Ash Wednesday for, what, fifty miles!' he explained, exaggerating in a gratifying way.

My personal priorities for Lent are two, and both arose from the mini-conference about parish mission we held a couple of weeks ago. I want to be a more restful presence (having met a priest who I found wasn't) and will make an effort to cultivate stillness and stop fidgeting, especially when praying. I will also try to be more prayerful going about the parish, intentionally calling people and events to mind as I pass houses and locations. That's aside from simply getting through the whole thing without an unconscionable breakdown in temper, an aim in which I am sometimes successful.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Closer to Home

You hear of scandals and injustices far off, and momentarily you boggle and then move on with your everyday life, because everyone is busy, and most of the time you don’t think much about things you don’t absolutely have to: there isn’t the brain-room. Then, just occasionally, something comes closer to home, and the boggling doesn’t stop, and may develop into more definite and angry feelings.

The stories of sub-postmasters being, they say, ill-treated at the hands of Post Office Ltd have come across my radar occasionally over the last few years. I heard a couple of reports on Radio 4 and wondered what exactly was happening. It seemed bad but remote, a few hard cases of poor communication and official hardheartedness, and I gave it no more mental space.

Then, in the autumn, a sub-postmaster not far from here, whose children I’ve met at school, was suspended by Post Office Ltd. An accounts audit – the first since he took over the business some years ago – had allegedly brought to light a significant deficit in the branch accounts. He instantly paid some £57K to make up the shortfall and began a nail-biting process of submitting paperwork, being asked for more paperwork, attending meetings in Norwich, and then being asked for more paperwork. ‘I’ve got nothing to hide,’ he said. At first the target was to get the branch reopened before Christmas, and then it became clear that wasn’t going to happen. I went to the post office in Hornington and found queues out of the door; most of the customers appeared to be there because their own closest branch was closed. The sub-postmaster was sent a letter from Post Office Ltd in January saying the money had at last been accounted for and no legal action was being taken. A fortnight later he received another letter terminating his contract: ‘there is no appeal from this decision’, it stated. Even our local MP, a Government minister, commented ‘well, that’s clearly not true’ when shown the letter at a surgery.

You might well tut and say that a community, and its priest, is always likely to assume that someone it knows is honest and being hard-done-by; and so would I, did this local drama not happen within a wider context. The context is a decade-long controversy over the Post Office’s accounting software. The Major Government in the mid-90s, exercised by the issue of benefit fraud (an understandable thing to be exercised about, in itself), put the wheels in motion for a new accounting system for Post Office branches to be devised. This was all proceeding when the Blair Government withdrew from participation, leaving a subsidiary of IT company ICL, now part of Fujitsu, to develop the system on its own. We know that private companies do everything better than the public sector, don’t we? The Horizon program was finally ready for introduction in 1999, and the problems began almost as soon as it started being used. Gradually over the years more and more sub-postmasters found Post Office Counters (then renamed Consignia, then Post Office Ltd) accusing them of fraud having discovered discrepancies in their accounts. Most were adamant that the problem lay in the system; some alleged that Post Office officials had encouraged them to submit accounts in forms that they thought were not kosher, but were assured would smooth over the apparent problems, and having complied then found themselves accused of fraud. This has now happened to hundreds and hundreds of sub-postmasters, a significant proportion of the whole network. It would, if true, represent an astonishing level of fraud and call the Post Office’s own franchising procedures into question. But is it true? Why are so few sub-postmasters ever prosecuted, merely sacked? Why aren’t they given the opportunity to defend themselves in court? Why are so many, like our local example, told no action is going to be taken against them (no legal action, mind), and then find their contracts terminated with not a word of justification, only ‘there is no appeal from this decision’?

Post Office Ltd has proved solidly unwilling to countenance the suggestion that there may be something wrong with Horizon. In 2015 it was pressured by the Government to launch an investigation, undertaken by a forensic IT firm called Second Sight. In front of a Parliamentary Select Committee, POLtd stated that it was fully co-operating with the inquiry; the chief investigator then stated blankly that this was not true, and that the team were still waiting for paperwork that they had first requested 18 months before. The day before the report was due to be issued, POLtd informed Second Sight that the inquiry was being suspended, and that they were to destroy all the paperwork they had gathered. They then issued a statement that the investigation had exonerated Horizon. This was not the impression gained from a copy of the draft report obtained by the BBC which repeatedly stated it was not possible to rule out the conclusion that the accounting system was producing substantial inaccuracies. All of this can be found on or through the Alliance for Justice for Sub-Postmasters’ website. There is currently a class action being brought by nearly 600 sub-postmasters against POLtd, which comes before the High Court in November. The judge has ordered all the paperwork gathered by Second Sight (which was not destroyed) to be turned over to the court. Presumably at this stage the truth will begin to emerge, though it may be too late for the local sub-postmaster and his family to save their business.

What has shocked me in all this is that it’s possible for a public corporation – POLtd is still, officially, owned by the taxpayer – to behave in such an extra-legal fashion. It’s as though the organisation is accountable to no one – not to natural justice, not to the Government, not to the law. How did this happen? Now, I loathe most of the works of Mrs Thatcher, but one positive result of those years was a degree of increased responsiveness by public bodies to their users, increased transparency and accountability. That new world seems not to have come very near Finsbury Dials. Not yet. 

Saturday, 10 February 2018

The Devil's Jumps

The Devil’s Jumps are not far from the Devil’s Punchbowl: the Adversary was particularly active around this bit of southwest Surrey, it seems, but having had a recommendation of the Jumps as a place to go for a walk I set out there. There are three small, steep hills, the Jumps, but only one is publicly accessible. I’ve never had cause to venture west of Thursley before: the narrow lanes of stone- and brick-built cottages and farms give way to straight, pine-lined roads of modern houses, and a footpath leads off one of these which eventually takes you up to the Stony Jump. The heathy ground rises steeply, and in front of the great mound, to either side of the toiling path, are colossal fallen pines, long-dead and bleached: there’s a sort of apocalyptic feel to the landscape, as though you're ascending towards the abode of some ogre. Your reward for the long climb is a patch of grass, a plank bench, and an outcrop of rust-coloured sandstone, worn by the wind into layers and whorls. You can see quite a distance.

The sun was striving against the clouds as I headed back along the footpaths to the road. I found myself so very grateful for the fact that I was there, able to walk there and see, hear, feel, smell. And how astonishing a thing is a human being, able to process the landscape with all these senses and reflect on them. Nothing else can do this: blunt, in comparison to those of animals, though our senses are, we alone can say to ourselves, I am feeling this, others can feel something of this, this is, perhaps, what it means. This is what the language of ‘having a soul’ is maybe about.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Sorry to Break It To You, but Not All of the Bible is That Edifying

It was a long session with the Air Cadets on Tuesday: I led a group through their session on Integrity (which is one of the ATC's four Core Values), took another for Padré's Hour (which turned out to be about half an hour as other things needed to be done) and enrolled three new cadets. It was very cold outside the HQ building, which must be why the O/C forgot that I usually say a prayer after the enrolment, and led us all back inside as soon as possible. Yes, that must have been it.

I try to finish sessions with a relevant Bible story if I can, as plenty of the cadets will only have the vaguest idea what's in it. For Integrity, I summarised the story of David and Bathsheba, as it's quite long, and then read the bit where Nathan the Prophet confronts David with the truth about his bad behaviour. Five teenage boys sat with their mouths open. 'That's not much of a example to set,' offered one, which is quite true. I got the impression that their shock was as much that the Bible might contain such gritty realism as a comment on the narrative itself. 

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Pirate Maths

Part of the responsibility of being a Governor at the Infants School is, occasionally, to visit officially to examine an aspect of the school’s work. I haven’t done one for a long while and have not pressed to do so as I never feel entirely in command of the facts, struggling even to remember the names of the Teaching Assistants (I think I’ve memorised most of the teachers). But I was in school yesterday to look at how it was managing maths. I had an initial discussion with the headteacher who handed me a sheaf of background paperwork which she knew full well I should have in a file anyway but also that I wouldn’t be able to find, and then went touring around the classrooms watching what they were doing. The children, as well as the teachers, were obviously expecting that I might turn up and chatted with me about their work. Apart from a group in one class who were working on their standard tests, most children were embroiled in the start of (breathe in) Pirate Maths Week, an in-house initiative intended to make maths more attractive to pupils who might not feel very enthusiastic about it. There was a range of pirate-themed maths tasks which will produce a series of numbers that, at the end of the week, will allow a treasure chest to be ceremoniously opened in Assembly and the treasure distributed.

What actually struck me most was moving from one class which contains mostly Reception children with a smattering of Year 1’s and which was bedlam (‘Ethan, you’re not on-task, are you?’ hollered the class teacher more than once) to the top Year 2 class which was a silent oasis of 7-year-olds completing their Science projects (not Pirate Maths). ‘It happens with every group and every time we marvel at it’, the headteacher told me. ‘It’s as though over those two years they become completely different creatures’.

Pirate-themed school activities lend themselves to ribald comment. As a parishioner said to me, ‘It’s good to know that the children are getting a grounding in the Three Aaarrrgghs’ …

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Parish Stories

The discussions we've been having for a while about encouraging vocations in churches which aren't quite from the Evangelical end of the spectrum bore some fruit yesterday when a group of clergy and laypeople gathered at a church not far from Swanvale Halt for a mini-conference, as we'd decided, not based around the model of plucking out likely victims who their incumbents think might have a vocation to do this or that, but to encourage the whole people of God in their missionary life. My role was to give a presentation thinking about the relationship between faith and locality. 

I started with Fr Wilson and the way he felt, and taught, about Haggerston, and rampaged through a book from last year Marion the curate lent me, Revd Andrew Rumsey's Parish, examining exactly the area I wanted to think about. I added a set of thoughts about how the doctrine of the Incarnation affects the way Christians, especially from the Catholic tradition, think about what they are doing in their mission, and how it provides a grounding for an approach to the idea of place and the local church community. We aren't called to have the kind of utter, absolute commitment to place and people as contemplative religious are (I gave the Sisters of West Malling as an example), but we are called to have something like that commitment, and to discover our spiritual identity through those attachments and relationships. I was told after I'd finished how radical the idea is; it shouldn't be, as it's no more than what people actually do, but to say it does row against the tide of the modern world, and, very often, of the modern Church. Everyone seemed very taken by my thoughts but there were only about 30 people there; we'll see where it all goes.

Over coffee I wandered into one of the side chapels and noticed for the first time an engraving showing what it looked like in 1841. In the background, if you look carefully, there is just visible a Doom painting on the arch: on the left, souls being weighed by St Michael the archangel, and to the right hand those found wanting being ushered Hellwards by devils. 

Now, the whole church is painted white, bleak and chill. What happened to the Doom, I asked the incumbent? He told me that in about 1962 the plaster in the chapel was flaking and stained by bat poo. The churchwardens and incumbent at the time decided that the most cost-effective way of proceeding was to scrape all the plaster off, throw it away, and paint the walls with white emulsion, which is how, after at least seven centuries, the Doom met its doom. Now all that remains is a couple of curlicues spiralling down one of the stone ribs of the roof. 'I have often had reason to rail against the diocesan authorities responsible for authorising changes to churches,' said the vicar, 'but I can see why we have them.'

Friday, 2 February 2018

Beautiful Books

Fluttering butterfly-like books suspended in display cases as though caught in time, islanded eerily in the dark: an exhibition at the Bodleian Library, Designing English, about the use of manuscripts and text in medieval England. Ms T wondered whether I wanted to see it, and I went to Oxford to do so, giving me the chance to have lunch with her and Dr Bones (who is now a psychologist, having added a MPhil to her doctorates in zoology and neuroscience) and thus save a couple of stamps writing to them both. The show was fun, although Ms T objected to the over-familiar style of the captions, preferring something a little more stern. You can squint through the glass, trying to discern the odd word of medieval English, occasionally caught out by the odd gruesome or weird illustration. 

I came back to the new café in the Weston Library (be not deceived - this is but part of the Bodleian) in the afternoon for tea with my accidental god-daughter Kaitlin, who is in her second term at Brasenose college. I'm her accidental godfather because when she was christened at Lamford there wasn't anyone available so I and Il Rettore both stood in. The last time I actually saw her, as opposed to corresponding, was at my induction at Swanvale Halt when she was 10. She is now of course 18 and a gangly young woman with big round glasses studying Classics & Sanskrit. I asked whether she was involved with anything extra-curricular: she was worrying about not having time to keep up learning Russian and Chinese, she answered. She has slipped very easily into Oxford which is nice: I am a bit ambiguous about it these days, but Kaitlin maintains that most of the university regards the management students and the denizens of the Said Business School with some disdain, so perhaps it isn't all as commercially-driven as I fear.  

Lovely as it was to see people, in fact I was there primarily to plunge through the subterranean corridor that leads from the Old Bod to the Gladstone Link and read books about 18th-century landscape gardening. Kaitlin likes working in the Gladstone Link because you have to sit at desks facing a blank white wall and there are no distractions. I must confess that as I stride down that underground corridor with my footsteps echoing around the lino and steel I can't help calling to mind the beginning of The Prisoner