It was dead.

Stevenage Borough Council have replied to my email about that tree I blogged about last week. (Read it here.)  I’d hoped there was a good reason for its removal; turns out there was.

  • Was this tree subject of a TPO? (I note it is not listed on the website here as having a post-1999 TPO, but the page does stage older TPOs are not listed.)
    No the tree was not subject to a TPO 
  • What was the reason for its removal?
    This Elm tree was dead in its entirety.
  • What investigations were made (tree surgeon report etc) into alternative courses of action such as pollarding?
    The tree has been monitored over the last two years. Last year, with the exception of very few leaves, the tree was virtually dead. The council had then no option but to look into the removal of the tree. This year (2014) there were no leaves on the tree at all. When the tree was removed on 31 August 2014, the operatives noted the advanced degree of rot and decay within the tree’s crown and trunk. If the tree had been allowed to stay, it would have posed a great risk to highway users and residents.

Post-Greenbelt spiritual stuff (whatever that means)

Greenbelt seems to be one of the rare times I feel connected to what I might call my spiritual side. Yes, I’m regularly at church, and have never let go of that whole part of my life, but have described Greenbelt as my Spiritual Home in the past (and them immediately wondered what on earth “Spiritual Home” might mean).

This year I’m taking steps to prolong that Greenbelt vibe somehow. How? By joining a house group. Now, I know some of you reading this will have no idea what a house group is, so in case that’s you, it’s basically a small group who meet up to be church together some time other than sunday. Many churches have such groups in place, and years ago I was always part of one, but it’s been a long, long time since that was the case.

It just happens that one of our house groups is run by a couple who also come to Greenbelt, and this year they mentioned it to me and invited me along… and I’ve jumped in with both feet. Some small groups like these follow bible studies, using notes or following on from whatever was being talked about in church the previous Sunday, but this group pretty much does its own thing, and they’d ordered a bunch of books by Greenbelt speakers with a view to choosing one to read and discuss together. Kind of like a book club.


And the book we’ve decided to start with is Brian McLaren’s Naked Spirituality. I’ve never actually caught Brian McLaren speaking, but the little I’ve heard about him suggests I’d like his approach, so I’m looking forward to reading it, and even more to discussing it with like-minded people. Who seem to be, incidentally, lovely.

As we didn’t really have anything to read/study/discuss at that first get-together, we watched this short video from Rob Bell. It’s a bit cheesy, but I liked the central drive about joining in with God’s music. (Disclaimer: I have no idea what ‘God’ means either.)

Greenbelt 2014. New home, same amazing festival.

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Since returning to Greenbelt Festival three years ago after a long break, I’ve never felt I have the words to do it justice. I’m just back from this year’s festival (well, I was when I started writing this), and still can’t put into words what it is that makes it such an incredibly special event. Is event the right word even? An incredibly special place? Community? Yes, that’s a bit more like it.

The new site, at Boughton House near Kettering, was beautiful. I loved being back on a greenfield site which make it feel more like a festival and less like a conference, and the grounds at Boughton were simply spectacular. The layout was much better for stumbling across things at random than the buildings at Cheltenham, I felt. Yes, there are some things that need adjusting to make some of the venues – and the site itself – more accessible but Greenbelt will be getting lots of feedback from people affected and I’m sure they’ll do everything they can to address these for next year.

There are so many things on the programme there’s simply no way to get to all the events you’d like to. I had several clashes when I read through the diary where I could easily have gone to three things at the same time. If there were three of me. Which there aren’t.

This little lot is what I managed to get up to: (if you’re not planning to read the whole thing this is probably a good place to bail out.)

Arrival day. Meeting up with friends, claiming our camping spot. Getting excited. Once site opened, first stop Make and Create, the craft tent where my son was itching to return having enjoyed it so much over the last two years. I popped out for the opening ceremony, which fell a bit flat because the band who were supposed to be taking part had been delayed, then we went to a fantastic kids’ comedy show Little Howard’s Big Show, a very clever, funny, and childishly crude stand-up comedy show where one half of the double act was an animated character on screen. We then caught some of an outdoor performance by Square Peg Circus before seeing some of Lau‘s set on Mainstage. Returning to Mainstage after bedtime (my son’s that is, not mine!), I really enjoyed what I saw of Stornoway, then went on to see Howard Read‘s second stand-up set of the day, the adult version of the show we’d seen together in the morning. Well worth it. Even if it did mean I missed Ben Castle’s Tombola Theory, who I saw sound checking in the Big Top and who sounded superb.

Lau on the Glade StageLau on Mainstage. Photo © Trevor Coultart 2014

Back to the playhouse venue for another children’s show, Misunderstood Monsters by Half Moon Theatre. Not particularly impressed following the quality of children’s theatre over the last two years, but my son seems to have enjoyed it. A talk next, “Does Church make you Happy?“, which was interesting but really turned out to be an advert for Livability’s “Happiness Course“. We didn’t get into the next show we queued for, but caught a bit of Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies at the marvellous Canopy Stage. One of my highlights next – Hope and Social on Mainstage. I’d caught a moment of Hope and Social in 2012 and really enjoyed them, so made sure I saw the whole set this time. Damn fine band. Check them out. I then went to the discussion “Can we re-imagine marriage” hosted by Vicky Beeching. A panel of interesting and educated people talking about equal marriage in the context of “what is marriage in the first place”. Lots of interesting food for thought. Vicky Beeching herself had, of course, come out as gay just a couple of weeks before Greenbelt. To be welcomed on to the platform by a standing ovation before she’d even said a word was a tremendously affirming moment, and I feel privileged to have been part of it.

Glade Stage conga during Hope and Social's set.Spontaneous(ish) Conga during Hope and Social’s Mainstage set. Photo © Trevor Coultart 2014

Some general mooching around during the afternoon concluded with a Ceilidh (led by Flaming Nora) in the big top before bedtime. After bedtime I wandered back to Mainstage and caught the very last song from The Travelling Band (who were fab, and I wish I’d seen more) before heading to the OuterSpace Eucharist Service. What is this, I hear you ask? A communion service themed around interplanetary travel? No, not that. OuterSpace are a group whose byline is “Affirming Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans Christians, and each year at Greenbelt they hold a Eucharist service which is open to all. I’d read about the service in the programme the previous two years and seen some folk mention how welcoming and inclusive it was, so wanted to experience it for myself. Now, there’s no doubt that this was a deliberate attempt on my part to step somewhat outside my comfort zone; without saying too much, there’s no way I could have supported such a thing, say, ten years ago. I can now. As far as I can make out, this annual service seems to be OuterSpace’s major event of the year, and it was clear that many people were regulars. The service itself was pretty standard, following a broadly anglican pattern, and using well-known traditional hymns. Sharing the peace was particularly enthusiastic, and I joined in whole-heartedly. And so to bed myself, after a busy and fabulous day.

Sunday always starts with the big communion service led from Mainstage. Whilst there is a part of me that would be quite happy to skip this, there’s another part of me that keeps me going. Something about the entire MainStage arena packed with people of all manner of traditions sharing the one thing we broadly have in common.  The music was great this year, led by Mark and Levi Hummon, but much of the content passed me by as I was distracted elsewhere. I do recall that the main speaker (Mpho Tutu, daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu) just seemed to read from her book rather than give an actual ‘address’ to the crowd. Ho hum. It’s still always special, sharing communion with friends and strangers in a vast setting.

Next up was a craft and music highlight: The Utterly Butterly Ukelele Project workshop. The three of us each made a working, tuneable ukelele from an margarine tub, some wood, and fishing wire. Clever stuff and I know my wife will want to look into booking them to do something at her school. To the Playhouse in the afternoon for what I thought a remarkable show; a one-man performance from Unfolding Theatre‘s Alex Elliot called “Best in the World“. Tricky to describe, it was about being, well, the best. At whatever. A quick climb up a climbing wall, and it was time for bed. Change of routine tonight as my wife wanted to see stand-up comedian Jo Enright so I did the whole bedtime/story/settle thing back at the tent on my own, listening to the first half of Sinead O’Connor‘s headline set from Mainstage. I made it back down to the arena for the rest of her set, and I was glad I did, for it was magnificent.  She’s an interesting and odd performer, with provocative and thoughtful songs and a cracking band behind her. For my late night event I went along to another communion service. (Yeah, I know, get me, eh? Three communions in about a 25 hour period, meaning I was almost certainly The Most Holy I’ve Ever Been.)  Thing is, I hadn’t actually read the programme properly and didn’t realise I was going to a service – just saw that Dave Tomlinson (author of How to be a Bad Christian that I’d enjoyed so much from a couple of years ago) was involved and assumed it was a talk. It tuned out to be a service focused on remembering people we’ve lost, and was very thought provoking for me, in ways I’m not sure I want to mention on here unless I make it the subject of a whole blog post all of its own. So there.

Sky, evening one.The sun sets on Greenbelt at Boughton House. Photograph © Trevor Coultart 2014

It rained. Never particularly heavily, but pretty well consistently. Started in the wee small hours, and barely stopped. It’s never as nice when it’s wet; no sitting around on the grass, no casually wandering around. But it was still a good day. In to the Playhouse again for another production by Half Moon Theatre, this one “When Spring Comes” a solo dance accompanied by a fabulous instrumentalist. The dance stuff’s not my cup of tea. Next main event was the return of Folk On, who we’ve seen each of the last three years we’ve been, and who my son loves. The weather had meant a few things got moved around, and Folk On were moved from the Big Top to Mainstage, which was a good job really as the number of people that came to see them was surely more than would have got in. We happened to come across the band later in the day just as they were finishing a signing session so got them to sign a poster for my son’s bedroom which is now framed on his wall. We hung on around the Mainstage arena for the next act, Hobbit, who I gather is a fairly big name in the world of beatboxing. Extraordinary stuff, thought I’m not sure a solo beatboxer really makes a whole show. accompanying a band, I can understand. When I went back out later, I caught the last couple of numbers by Tinawaren, a saharan blues band. Great sound, but the unfamiliar interplay of the music and voices didn’t work for me. Might have done had it been sunnier.

And then a slightly different time for me, as, after much trying, I’d finally made arrangements to spend some time with one of the Greenbelt photography team, acting as his assistant as he went round the site getting some night shots of lights in the rain. I was mainly holding an umbrella over his equipment, but also helping scope out some locations and moving things around to get better scenes. It was an interesting insight into one aspect of event photography. After that I snuck into the Playhouse for one last event – Jonny and the Baptists‘ show fresh, I believe, from the Edinburgh festival this year. And what a way to conclude the festival. They were fabulous –  a great bunch of satirical songs about life, equality, politics and other subjects strung together with humour and aplomb. Catch them if you get the chance. (Though perhaps not if you’r at all right wing in your politics as you may get offended!)

And there you have it. My Greenbelt.

Sad about a tree.

An email I sent today.

Dear Sirs*,

I noted with sadness this morning the removal of a large mature tree on Stevenage High Street, on the pavement outside Waitrose.

Aaw... wonder what it had done to deserve this?

Under the freedom of information act, may I request some details about its removal?
  • Was this tree subject of a TPO*? (I note it is not listed on the website here as having a post-1999 TPO, but the page does stage older TPOs are not listed.)
  • What was the reason for its removal?
  • What investigations were made (tree surgeon report etc) into alternative courses of action such as pollarding?
Yours faithfully,
*    Stevenage Borough Council
**  Tree Preservation Order

UPDATE: Just been pointed out to me that Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council, Tweeted a few days ago about the “Dead Elm” being removed.

I shall still be interested to hear the council’s official reply.

UPDATE 2: They’ve replied. It was dead.

Bit more on my previous post…

Okay, so it’s reached my attention that at least one person has suggested that the couple referred to in my previous post are simply seeking to make use of the church to publicise their business. I am assured, by someone in the know, and in whom I have complete trust, that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, both the church and the couple have specifically told the local newspaper that they don’t want any publicity or follow-up to last week’s article. 

That is all. 

UPDATE 21 Aug 2014: Here’s the letter from that has appeared in this morning’s edition of the Comet. 

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Why I was smiling so much in Church this morning.

Half way through church this morning, I tweeted this:

and a few people have been wondering why.

In the middle of last week, I’d read an article on our local newspaper’s website. There’s a couple locally who had been planning an engagement celebration at their church. They’re both Elvis fanatics (more than that, they’re both Elvis impersonators) and were planning to feature some Elvis music as part of the celebration. Okay so far? Well, here’s the thing: according to the article, their church, where they’d been going for over a year, had suddenly told them that they couldn’t go through with their plans, and that (to quote the article) ‘the event has been cancelled as Elvis’s music “isn’t in keeping with the message of God”. 

This is, of course, only a very brief summary of the article, but after reading it my immediate reaction was that I should show it to our minister saying “Have you seen this? Do you think we should offer to host something for them?”. Typically, however, I never got round to doing such a thing, and promptly forgot all about it.

But then this morning, what should our minister hold up but a copy of the local newspaper, which had run the story on its front page. You know what he’d done? He’d contacted the journalist, and asked him to forward an email to the couple – offering to do just that. Within an hour, they’d got in touch, met with him, and next Sunday they’ll be having a short time of our morning worship to celebrate their engagement. He then mentioned that they were there at the back of church this morning, and they got a great welcome.

And that’s why I had such a big smile on my face for the rest of the service. It just felt like we’d done the right thing. (Oh, and case it sounds like it’s just our minister I should be proud of, I gather he emailed all the elders to get there support before making the offer, and it seemed to me that the whole church this morning were very happy with what he’d done.)

Now, as an aside, I’m not in any way making any comment about what happened between the happy couple and the other church. The article, reading it again today, does seem pretty one-sided and sheds the church in a very bad light. In fact, I know one of the Elders there (having worked with him for many years) and have been to the church once to celebrate the dedication of the some friend’s children. I’m pretty certain that somewhere behind this article there must be a misunderstanding or misrepresentation; it is, after all, journalism and can’t possibly be expected to tell the whole story.

But regardless of what went before, what’s happened since is fab.

Interstingly, the local paper seem to have removed the article from their website, but here’s a link to Google’s cached version for anyone who really wants to read the whole thing:

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UPDATE: it’s reached my attention that at least one person has suggested that the couple referred to in this post are simply seeking to make use of the church to publicise their business. I am assured, by someone in the know, and in whom I have complete trust, that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, both the church and the couple have specifically told the local newspaper that they don’t want any publicity or follow-up to last week’s article.