Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Skeleton Coast

Without so much as a Spanish silver dollar* to show for their three recent voyages to ports on the South coast of England (Exeter, Southampton and Bournemouth), Bristol Rovers are far from out of the woods. In fact, a 'skull and crossbones' might be used to denote those results - and it remains to be seen if our hopes of playing League 1 football next season lie buried somewhere in one of those grounds. League 2 of course isn't 'Davy Jones's Locker', nor is it '20,000 Leagues under the Sea'; but relegation to the Blue Square Premier division, only a string of bad results away, is really the football equivalent of 'walking the plank'. And although there are still points to be won, "Greavsie's Law" applies in these circumstances - "It's a funny old game". I think it was a game against Port Vale which Rovers needed to win in 2001, facing the same danger. They dominated for 90 minutes, but still lost 3-0...

'Kievska Pecherska Lavra' (my Kiev photos were a mixed bag)
Today i've reached a town called Piryatin (i kid you not), on my way, please God, to the eastern city of Kharkiv, where Mary's Meals operate. I returned to Kiev/Kyiv (Ukrainian spelling) by mini-bus on Monday and was delighted to be able to pick up my passport from the Kazakh consulate, with a one month visa. If i'm able to make it there, God-willing, i hope to apply for another Russian tourist visa, and perhaps one for Mongolia... but i mustn't get carried away**. On that visit to Kiev/Kyiv i stayed at the TIU Backpackers' Hostel, which is at least as deserving of a mention as the other place, and did some sight-seeing on Tuesday 26th April, which happened to be he 25th Anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. There is Andrijvs'kyi Uzviz, a street which winds down from a very graceful Church dedicated to St. Andrew, on the site where, according to legend, the "first-called" Apostle erected a cross. Another 'must-see' is the Kievska Pecherska Lavra (roughly translated as "Cave Monastery"), a complex of beautiful Churches and monasteries, with a network of narrow underground passageways in which generations of holy monks are buried. It is probably the most important site in Orthodox Christianity outside the Holy Land.

It seems to me that at one time, the thought of visiting Kazakhstan would call to mind the so-called 'Great Game' - the rivalry which defined the relationship between the Russia and Britain in the 19th century. In the 21st century however, it's the 'Beautiful Game' which fires the imagination of people on every continent. I believe Russia should look at 'Mexico '86' as the model for the tournament they hope to stage in 2018...

*aka a 'piece of eight'.
**i'm supposed to be walking, after all.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Mary's Miles

   On Saturday 22nd of January, St. Vincent's day, there was a little crowd of very kind people to see me off from Temple Meads station, Bristol. To Mary and Mat Martin, Paulo Nurse, Jon Bela and my folks - many thanks. At Paddington i'd arranged to meet David Hothersall, to discuss this blog. He'd brought a leaflet in French about "Monsignor Vladimir Ghika", among whose sayings was;

"Si tu sais mettre Dieu dans tout ce que tu fais, tu Le retrouveras dans tout ce qui t'arrive."*

   Our meeting was also when the idea of calling it "Mary's Miles" came up. Just to clarify, it's not actually "Mary smiles", and especially not perhaps today, which is Good Friday, when the Church commemorates the fulfilment of Simeon's prophecy, that "a sword will pierce" Our Lady's Heart. "Mary's Meals", however, is such a magnificent charity, that it may very well prompt Our Lady to smile from time to time.

"Look at the Star, call upon Mary;
With her for guide, you shall not go astray.
While invoking her, you shall never lose heart;
If she walks before you, you shall not grow weary,
If she shows you favour, you shall reach the goal."**

   Of late i've been thinking a little bit about the "backpack project" (see, because my own little backpack has been great, though one of the zips is starting to play up. I'm attached to it not least because i bought it second-hand from a shop in Lockleaze, Bristol, named after St. James (Patron of pilgrims), which happened to be the local parish church. Good zips are very important on a trip like this, and i've also been reflecting on the feathers which line my sleeping bag. It's all very well to look at birds and remark how pretty they are, and how beautifully they sing, but of course some birds are also incredibly "hard", withstanding temperatures the very idea of which would strike terror into the hearts of most humans. Hence feathers are used for things like my sleeping bag.
Independence Square, Kiev/Kyiv
   Thanks be to God, i'm in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, and have spent a very comfortable night in "Dream Hostel". Later this morning i hope to attend a Good Friday service at the nearby St. Nicholas' R.C. Church, though Catholic and Orthodox Easter, happily, coincide again as they did last year. I've often been touched by the particular warmth and generosity of people in this country, but also by their very great faith, in spite of up to 70 years of atheist communism. A standard greeting, which one often hears in the west especially, is "Glory to Jesus Christ!", to which one replies "Glory forever!". Part of the explanation for this is that soviet rule was of a shorter duration there, only around 45 years; much of western Ukraine was in Poland until World War II. Visible directly opposite here meanwhile is a huge stadium, under construction, where it is hoped that the final of 'Euro 2012' will take place - Ukraine and Poland are to host the tournament jointly.
    A word of caution to anyone heading East towards Kiev from the Ukrainian village of Vchoraishe. If your map is like mine, the next village is marked as 'Andrushki', but there is a signpost pointing you towards 'Andrushivka' as you leave the village. This is the road i took, which meant i actually spent part of Sunday evening walking West, but by that time it didn't seem worth retracing my steps. At the same shop where i bought the map, incidentally, i also bought a copy of 'Treasure Island', in Ukrainian translation, the quintessential swash-buckling adventure yarn, as a gift for the wonderful orphanage/school run by Miles Jesu in Bortnyky. I had an especially pleasant stay there at the beginning of this month - and have since been reminded of the utterly dreadful circumstances which are the fate of so many young boys (and girls) who aren't so lucky as to be taken in by places like that. For more information please contact; ''.

   Treasure Island features Bristol of course, one of whose most (in)famous sons was one Edward Teach, aka 'Blackbeard'. To this day, Bristol's world-famous football team, playing in glorious blue and white, are known as "The Pirates"...

A very Happy Easter to one and all!

*If you take care to put God in all that you do, you will discover Him in all that arrives."
**Prayer attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

Friday, 15 April 2011


It might slightly alarm my parents if i go into details about exactly how i came to be on the road which led to this wonderful small city/town - but it is truly wonderful! A few days ago i reached a part of the Ukraine where, to my surprise, statues of Lenin are still standing. The people in general are just as nice as they are further West, but it is a little bit "wilder" - as indeed i had been warned by a friend in Lvov. It was a great surprise then to see a huge baroque, very Catholic-looking Church as i approached. Here is part of the English-language description i was directed to;

"In the 18th and 19th centuries the monastery at Berdichiv became the centre, not only of religious life and the cult of Our Lady in Ukraine, but also of culture and charity. By means of its printing press and school it played a very important role in promoting culture and education. The Shrine of Our Lady became the spiritual capital for the Roman Catholics of Ukraine. It was considered a holy place, a place of the Lord and a point of pilgrimage for those wishing to give honour to Our Lady as well as those wishing to do penance in the hopes of reconciliation with God."

For all i knew, from seeing it on the map, i thought it's chief interest might lie in the "Berdi" part of its name, which is a bit like "birdie"! Any royalists among you will be glad to know that i said a decade of the rosary in front of the Icon of Our Lady here for the intentions of the royal couple, Kate and William. On the subject of 'birdies', there've been quite a few woodpeckers recently, and it's always nice to hear their "drilling". Last night i found a berth to sleep in an abandoned sort-of look-out tower, and had a nice view of a nuthatch this morning, and might add that it was actually really comforting to hear, from there, the horn and then the whistle (especially) of trains as they approached a nearby railway crossing.

Friday, 8 April 2011


Pilgrimage is not an exact science. Does that mean it would be ideal if i was only able to use the rather drastically short-term 20-day Russian tourist visa i've just (thankfully) been able to pick up here in Lvov, to amble around the far western fringe of Russia for a few days, and then take a train to a place from which it might be possible to fly to Mexico? Not really. 20 days however is scarcely enough time to travel across Russia in a passenger aircraft, let alone on foot. As a now-fairly-seasoned pilgrim, i trust in Divine Providence, that if more walking is required of me, a way will become apparent.
On Wednesday i reached yet another famous Shrine; that of the miraculous Icon of Our Lady of Zarvanitsa, which appeared in a dream to a monk fleeing the Mongol invaders in 1240. It was especially nice to be there yesterday morning for the celebration of the Byzantine-Rite Annunciation (they accept the Primacy of Rome but still follow the Orthodox calendar - it gets rather complicated...), not least because our own national Shrine to Mary, at Walsingham, is imbued with a particular orientation to this Feast:
Statue of Our Lady of Walsingham with Cardinal Basil Hume and Pope John Paul II, Wembley Stadium, 29 May 1982
Our Lady promised,
"All who are in any way distressed or in need, let them seek me there in that little house you have made at Walsingham. To all that seek me there shall be given succour. And there at Walsingham in this little house shall be held in remembrance the great joy of my 'Salutation', when St. Gabriel told me that I should through humility become the Mother of God's Son."*

Hence actually, it seems that although pilgrimage doesn't look like an exact science at first, we may hope that in the Divine plan there is extraordinary precision in the timing and pathways which Our Lord is preparing for us. 

Before finishing i must mention my tremendous gratitude to Sir Richard Beresford-Wylie, who very kindly donated a battery-powered 'Dazer' canine deterrent device, which i haven't actually needed to use yet, but which enables me to walk with greater confidence - not least as only the other day i had my first "Little-Red-Riding-Hood-esque warning about wolves! Incidentally, a few years ago there was a great deal of negative press in Britain about 'Hoodies' - yet Robin Hood and Little Red Riding Hood (cousins?) are two of our most enduring and important cultural icons!

 *to 'Richeldis de Faverches', Lady of the Manor of Walsingham, c.1061AD.