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BLOG 21 - Stepping out, stepping in, stepping up.

Here we go again, a second lockdown starts tomorrow (5 November). But it will be, and will feel, quite different from the first. The rules will be different, especially with educational institutions and child care continuing to function, and the readiness to make individual sacrifices for the greater good seems to be reduced. How can we rekindle the community mindedness that appeared to pervade the first lockdown?

Perhaps we kid ourselves that we were all so unselfish the first time around. One rough measure my wife and I have used is the extent to which other walkers have kept out of the way when walking our dog along the many footpaths in this coastal part of Devon. Over the summer once lockdown was relaxed it was easy to blame visitors from towns who “knew no better”, but in fact from the start, when visitors were absent, by no means everyone took social distancing seriously when outside. Frequently my wife and I would have to step out into the road to keep even one metre apart from on-coming walkers. Rarely would a walker do the same for us.

But I suppose some empathy is in order. I recently had to undergo a hospital procedure. I had to have a Covid test and then self-isolate for two days before going into hospital. Stepping into self-isolation even for that period was not easy – not going for the daily paper, only walking the dog in the dark when no one else was around – trivial inconveniences compared with the plight of those who have had to shield at home for months, yet still tiresome. And as I write this I am in the middle of a further week of self-isolation after the procedure. It is really bugging me!

But if we are going to stifle the spread of the virus we must all step up to the mark and obey the rules, whatever we think of them. Suggestions that we will just have to live with Covid as we live with flu’ fail to recognise the much greater virulence of Covid and its harshly unequal effect on different regions of the UK and on different segments of the population. We need to remind ourselves of the energy and determination of our forebears who took such herculean steps to improve environmental and social conditions, and develop vaccines and treatments that virtually eliminated killers such as cholera. We must not allow ourselves to be swayed by the siren voices of those who are taken in by fake news, conspiracy theories and bad science and seek to diminish the scale of the problem – or those who despair of any remedy being found. As the first time around, we are all in this together.

Nick Saunders

Blog 20 - A Tale of Two Communities – Dorchester and Poundbury

One of the most in interesting trips from our holiday flat near Sherborne, Dorset, was the day spent in Dorchester and Poundbury. Readers will doubtless be aware of the close interest taken by Prince Charles in the development of the “new town” of Poundbury, which makes concrete (HRH would hate that expression!) Prince Charles’ strongly held views on architecture, the importance of communities and the environment. I came away feeling that there were important issues raised by both this development and the current state of the ancient town of Dorchester, which we visited later in the day.

There is much to like about Poundbury. There is a range of building styles, mostly traditional but with much variation, from small cottages to grand Georgian style squares. There is ample car parking so that there is no need for yellow lines on the road. Even the notices limiting parking time are expressed as requests rather than commands. Everywhere feels very safe. BUT…there are not many pedestrians. Few young people were to be seen, even though with lockdown schools were still closed. The square celebrating the Queen Mother was to my eyes unnecessarily grand, rather pompous frankly. The open space designated as a play area seemed rather an afterthought. And when we drove on into Dorchester it became clear that Poundbury is barely a separate town but almost an outlying district of Dorchester.
Dorchester itself seemed to be plagued by heavy traffic.

While its main claims to attract visitors are its history and museums, and its Hardy connections, the museums were closed for building work and Hardy’s house, Max Gate, was closed because of the pandemic. The shopping area was a typical British high street with many shops closed, some doubtless permanently. I did wonder if some of the substantial investment made in Poundbury could not have gone into a bypass for Dorchester and the creation of a flagship building such as an arts centre which would have been a focus for community events. But above all I wondered if the creation of a highly planned new town was the best way of creating a community. Surely an element of evolution is required? An architect friend suggested that if Poundbury planners had built in some pockets of space available to entrepreneurs to do their own thing within pretty broad boundaries that would have produced a more vibrant atmosphere, hopefully fostering greater diversity of population.

On the other hand Dorchester seemed to reflect what happens where planning becomes largely reactive, with no vision of what could be achieved. It is very much to be hoped that the Government’s promise to remove much of the detailed control of development in the current planning system heeds the lessons to be learned from Poundbury and Dorchester.
Nick Saunders

Blog 19 - Everything’s Coming Up Roses

For me one of the highlights of the summer (yes, there have been a few) has been the seemingly endless pale pink flowers on the climbing rose that covers the fence opposite my kitchen window. More by luck than good judgment I seem to have got the pruning just right, while I pruned the yellow rose on one side of it too hard and the red one on the other side not hard enough.

As well as its flowers the pink rose has a delicate perfume. I feel so sorry for those people who cannot smell the scent of flowers. The loss of the sense of smell has been much in the news lately. It is a distinctive symptom of Covid-19. It is odd that it took some time before the loss of the senses of taste and smell were added to the official list of symptoms.

More recently, the i newspaper reported that the inability to smell could be a sign of incipient dementia. And it seems that dogs can be trained to identify people with a number of illnesses, at an early stage, by smelling the distinctive smell of the particular disease.

It is sad that for reasons of hygiene hospitals no longer allow visitors to bring flowers for patients. But flowers are surely essential to recuperation once danger has passed. Having sorted the essential Covid precautions, one of the first things our church committee is organising as part of our back to church arrangements for September is a new flowers rota.
A church without flowers is not a welcoming one. Our new, socially distanced, services will need all the measures we can think of to provide a warm welcome and reassurance that all practicable measures have been put in place to keep those attending safe.
So whether or not you like roses (my wife prefers paeonies) I hope you can find flowers that mean something special to you for this very strange summer season.

Nick Saunders
Nick’s blogs will be issued fortnightly in future.

Blog 18 The Sound of Silence


‘Silence is a source of great strength’ Lao Tzu*
Qualified rapture is still rapture, I thought last week. I was looking forward to the start of the BBC Promenade Concerts, due to start on Friday 17 July. “Start” being true only in a qualified sense. There would be no actual concerts in the Albert Hall for another four weeks, due to the pandemic. Instead we were to be treated to “the best of the BBC Proms” from the BBC’s extensive archive of recordings over the years. Actual concerts, with no audience,
only run for the last two weeks of the series. As it turned out, Friday 17 July turned out to be busier than expected. I forgot all about the “Beethoven mash-up” promised as the starter for the Concerts. I could, of course, have caught up with it via BBC Sounds. But lockdown has only enhanced my appreciation of digital technology so much. A quiet evening with my wife Jane and an hour watching something pretty mindless on television was a better way to round off the week. It is the same in the car. Before lockdown I looked forward to an hour’s drive to church as a great opportunity to listen to classical music. Hardly going anywhere in phase 1 of the lockdown disrupted this routine. Even after the lockdown was eased and I started to drive again, “big music” ceased to appeal. I now preferred chamber music or, increasingly, silence.

Of course as life begins to get back to something like normal, silence will be increasingly difficult to find. Raking strimmings in a march on our local nature reserve with other volunteers our peaceful morning was interrupted by the constant sound of a tractor cutting silage. Just as our landscapers finished in our garden the hammer of a drill breaking up concrete next door became a daily occurrence. The beach fills up with visitors whenever the sun comes out.

There is more traffic, and faster traffic, on the main road. And silence becomes not only harder to find but more precious. Next week we will be on holiday. We plan to do very little but be a lot. I hope you get the chance this summer to do likewise.
Nick Saunders
Blog 19 will appear in week commencing 10 August.
*Thanks to Myron Wasylyk for this reference.

Blog 17 - Want a sacred space? Make one yourself!


I wonder what you thought about the Government’s decision to allow places of worship to open for public worship from 4 July. Apart from cathedrals I think few churches have felt able to open so quickly. My own church (Plymouth UC) has decided to re-open for services in September. Services will need to be shorter, with no hymns and with other social distancing measures in place. Congregation members will need to book their places. We expect some members will still feel unable to attend. We will therefore be continuing with recorded services on YouTube (also available to all on the NUF website) and with regular Zoom gatherings. Some of these on-line events are likely to continue even after lockdown has completely ended, to cater for those who still feel unable to attend church and for those living at a distance who have joined us recently via the internet.

But we all need a place for quiet contemplation from time to time. For those of us lucky enough to have a garden and be able to get out into it, a quiet corner may be ideal if the weather is kind. For those still shielding indoors you may be lucky enough to have a spare room, or even a garage or shed. But I realise that even that may not be available. My son
and his girlfriend currently live in a rented one bedroom flat, she has been working from home while he has been preparing for the Royal Marines’ fitness tests for potential recruits. This has only been bearable because he has been able to go outside for his daily run – an unusual way to find sacred space but I think an effective one.

For those who lack a physical space in which to retreat the answer must be one of sacred time rather than space. Time to stop doing and just simply to be, to appreciate the moment. The Japanese refer to this as ichigo ichie, which can be translated as ‘once, a meeting’ and also as ‘in this moment, an opportunity’. Put simply, make every moment matter*.

Focusing on the moment, whether through meditation or exercise, mindfulness or music, can create a breathing space where for a while the pressures of the lockdown can be held at bay. Whether it’s sacred space or sacred time, let’s all try to ensure we have it for a short while every day.

Nick Saunders
*See The Book of ichiigo ichie: The Art of Making the Most of Every Moment, the Japanese
Way by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. Thanks to Joan Frost of Plymouth Unitarians
for bringing this to my notice.

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