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Joan Baez: The Last Leaf

I cannot claim to have been a lifetime fan or follower of Joan Baez. Not in the way I kept up with Bob Dylan over the decades since I heard him first in 1969 when I was 13. There’s the issue for me. Dylan’s songs are best sung by Dylan. Why listen to others singing them? Baez sang a lot of Dylan. That was the casually uninformed view I picked up in my teenage years, and so Joan Baez’s music never was embedded in my formative experiences of musical discovery.

There was one exception though. I have possessed, in its original vinyl and cover, her album Come from the Shadows since the mid-70s. I don’t recall whether I was given it or sought it out. It made a profound impression. Certainly I recall it rarely strayed far from the turntable in my early student years 74 -77. Baez’s voice is unique and beautiful for sure, and listening to this album I appreciated it, but it was the social justice message of the songs which really hit me. “All the weary mothers of the earth” is a lyric which became one of my lifetime earworms, even during the two decades before Spotify and the vinyl revival, when the record player and vinyl albums languished in the loft.

Earlier this week I found myself reading Elizabeth Thomson’s paen to Joan Baez: Joan Baez The Last Leaf. It was the first full day of the presidency of Joe Biden. He, of course, is an exact contemporary of Baez, only a year or two younger than her.

So here I was reading a book written for Baez’s retirement from her professional career, not unreasonably at almost 80 years old, on the day Biden was entering the pinnacle and greatest challenge of his. Singer and politician are very different careers, as Bob Dylan’s story shows. So there might not generally be any cause for comment, except as this book sets out to make very clear, Baez, whilst a musician to her core, has always been more than that.

Not ever a holder of political office, she became both an active and an iconic leader nonetheless, in the groundswell for global social justice and human rights which began to rise in the 1960s.

More than a singer of protest songs, Baez both founded and funded charities and campaigns dedicated to a vision of a better social compact and world order, in particular based on principles of non- violence she had found in her family connection with the Quakers and her friendship with Martin Luther King. Without subordinating musical integrity to political messaging, Thomson argues, Baez placed her musical gifts , her celebrated fame as a performer, and her money in the service of the cause of global justice. Amnesty International’s growth in the US owes much to Joan Baez.

Notwithstanding Reagan/Thatcher and all that has followed of rampant neoliberal capitalism and the reactionary Right, reaching its noxious apogee, really a nadir, in Trump, the star of social justice has continued to rise. It is the true and only voice of the future, if human species self-destruction is to be averted. With the election of Biden and Harris this week that star shines again.

The poetic voice of social justice has been handed on rightly to the young generation, the likes of the astonishingly talented Amanda Gorman.

Admitting openly her unabashed admiration for Joan Baez as an artist and as a human being, Thomson wants to set on record the true wonder and power of Baez’s life work. Her book has done that for me. It has made me a little regretful that I forgot somehow to keep listening to Baez in the decades I deserted her work. Perhaps too it has been a wake-up call to me, and can be for all who hunger and thirst for justice, not to lose faith, especially now, that “we shall overcome”.

Check out the book Goodreads: Joan Baez: The Last Leaf

October on the allotment

Runner beans today on Lorraine’s allotment

There are still lots of runner beans to be harvested from Lorraine’s allotment on this first day of October.

October sunshine on the sweetcorn

The maize was planted later this summer but fortunately it has managed to produce edible cobs before the end of the season. Two cobs provided us with lunch today!

Pandemic Park

On National Poetry Day 2020 I share this poem I wrote after a visit to Peckham Rye on 28th May. It was the Spring holiday week; towards the end of the initial wave of Covid-19 deaths and the full lockdown restrictions in England had been eased slightly.

Pandemic Park

In the park today

Children were running

Everywhere without a care

For their distance.

Coloured bicycles left by the paths

Pointed out

Even more fun elsewhere.

Parents were looking on


Indulging the spaces with chat

It was as if they had never emptied

And no-one was missing.

The Abbey Sutton Courtenay

Wandering recently around the village of Sutton Courtenay, where our son and family live, I was intrigued by references to a place known as The Abbey. It turns out to be a centre of spirituality with a resident community. The building itself has a medieval foundation but has never been an actual abbey, rather a manor house.

Information about the founders of the centre at The Abbey, and its current mission, are found on its website as linked above. One of the founders was Anglican Bishop Stephen Verney whose writings influenced me in the early years of my ministry. I did not know, or had forgotten about, his role in this venture.

A varied circular walk from Hartley Wintney

The route on the map

Today Lorraine and I were looking for a 4/5 mile morning walk in green spaces where we could stride out and enjoy the surroundings without having to keep looking down to watch where our feet were being placed and within a 30 minute drive from home.

The answer was found in the Ordnance Survey app where walks have been uploaded by users. This circular walk from the town of Hartley Wintney in Hampshire fitted the bill pretty well. Including an extra quarter of a mile each way from the car park to the designated start point it came to at least 5 miles. We dawdled occasionally in places to take in the scenery and read information boards – read the map etc – so it took a full 2 hours.

The walk mostly met our criteria. The first third crosses Hazeley Heath which has a wide level central path perfect for a vigorous pace and freedom to take in the panoramic view. Later sections of the walk included unimpeded field crossings – though these would not have been so easy after wet weather. On occasions close attention needed paying to the map. There are several three-way junctions with paths converging at close angles. It was very helpful to have our exact location in the OS map app on my phone.

A less well-trodden section of the walk as it descends through woodland at the western end of the Hazeley Heath area.

Hazeley Heath is a nature reserve designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest run by the RSPB who are pursuing a current conservation program funded by the National Lottery.

Delights of Bray, Berkshire.

The Cut, a tributary of the River Thames near its mouth at Bray, Berkshire looking upstream.

I spent the morning with my wife exploring the village of Bray on the banks of the River Thames in Berkshire. I had never visited before even though it’s only a few miles from where I’ve lived for the last 23 years.

It turns out to be the place where The Cut, the river referred to in my post of 31 August, empties into the River Thames. This time I saw no fish as I peered into the water from a footbridge on a pedestrian route known as the Greenway.

Flower on Magnolia Grandiflora in the churchyard at Bray.

In the churchyard at Bray we were delighted by a magnificent example of Magnolia Grandiflora which was in flower. Large blooms were close to the footpath so we were able to take in their heavenly lemony fragrance. As we stood admiring the tree a friendly fellow-walker approached us and asked if we knew what it was. He said that he walked through the churchyard every morning on a circular route from his home in Maidenhead. He had discounted the possibility that it was a magnolia as he thought they only flowered in Spring. He was very pleased to be more informed and he could not have chosen a better passer-by to ask than Lorraine!

Bray is home to two of only 5 restaurants in Britain which have Michelin 3 stars, The Fat Duck, and The Waterside Inn. Today was not the moment to visit either of those! But we did enjoy a relaxed pub lunch at The Crown, which has a very Covid- safe set-up in its garden, with a high airy canvas canopy over a spacious outdoor seating area.

The 15th C Lych Gate at Bray churchyard

There are lots of historic buildings and structures in Bray. We were charmed by the old Lych Gate for the churchyard, incorporated into a house still occupied today.

Can Planting a Trillion Trees Stop Climate Change? Scientists Say it’s a Lot More Complicated | InsideClimate News

As much as I love trees and forests and the idea of planting trees to control global warming, I can see in this article that massive tree-planting is not the simple solution. You can’t plant trees whilst continuing to burn oil and gas. Climate change can only be slowed by reducing carbon emissions.

My restorative surprise on the last day of this lost summer.

Final rays of sunshine in our garden on the last day of the lost summer of 2020

When I woke up this morning it dawned on me it was by some accounts the last day of summer. It feels like a lost summer. My mother-in-law commented later in the day that summer seems to have gone so quickly this year. The seasonal milestones of our national and local community life were missing. No Wimbledon, no Glastonbury or Reading festivals, no Notting Hill carnival, no local fun days.

Unexpectedly nonetheless the day held a strangely comforting surprise. As I walked with my wife and her mother in a little park near home we crossed a footbridge over the stream running through it. The stream is overgrown and rarely noticed. Today we stopped and looked down into the water and were amazed to see it was home to lots of fish. The first one I noticed was astonishingly substantial for such a seemingly minor water course.

The idea that nature restores us in times of disorientation is repeated often enough to feel trite. But today for me it proved true. Seeing that large fish with its secret life in a backwater of an unremarkable field in England worked for me somehow. I felt good even on the last day of this lost summer.