AMAZING GRACE

A repentent slave trader humbled the words of the first stanza to a modest gathering of folk at a prayer meeting on the first day of 1773.

It was barely a year since the itinerant clergyman had been admitted to Gods ministry and twenty since he had, whether by intention or fate, given up the debauchery of his previous vocation.

It would have taken more than just a shipwreck for this shattered soul to become found when once he was lost and to be able to see when once he was blind.

Here was a man who sought reconciliation with humanity, forgiveness and redemption in exchange for freedom and peace.

But he knew not if he would make it through heaven’s pearly gates while twenty thousand ghosts were haunting him day and night to his grave.

They were not going away anytime soon.

In two hundred and fifty years, the stanza has hardly been modified, though there were many additions to it by the clergyman’s own hand.

A tune was added and the stanzas formed into a hymn which in turn became a popular anthem, sung rejoicingly and reflectively by millions of people across the world of every creed.

The stanzas do not intend to convey anti-slavery sentiment and yet there are those who looked beyond the persona of the evangelist who wrote them and applied them to campaign and fight for the cause to remove chains from every man woman and child who was deemed not free.

It is a hark from a bygone era but still strikes a cord in the world today.

Slavery and Colonialism went very much hand-in-hand

And the chains were coming off.

The author of the stanzas lived for eighty-two years between the years 1725 and 1807.

He lived just long enough to see laws passed in his homeland which abolished slavery.

He wrote the lyrics for many more hymns but none more meaningful than the one which the London seaman derived from his own personal experience.

This, as you may have gathered, is the background story to ‘Amazing Grace’, written by John Newton and the inspiration for a Yorkshire member of parliament, William Wilberforce, to finally win the day for the abolition of slavery at the fourteenth attempt in 1807.

Both John Newton and William Wilberfore lost a parent in childhood.

They both claim to have seen the light when once they were blind.

They were drawn together and united for the cause of abolishing slavery.

John Newton was ironically blind in his last years but this did not prevent him reciting ‘Amazing Grace’ one more time before he died and in the presence of William Wilberforce.

This was the stanza which struck the chord on that occasion:

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail

And mortal life shall cease,

I shall possess within the veil

A life of joy and peace.

It was a surreal moment in time and a testament of faith.

Amazing Grace.

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MISS EMILY

She lived all her eighty three years in a small cottage in the woods in the heart of the Norfolk countryside.

She was the ultimate spinster and wanted for nothing.

Some locals say that she was once engaged to an American serviceman who was based at a nearby air base.

Nobody really knows.

Miss Emily was the retired Infant School Headmistress who tended her beautifully cultivated garden and wanted for nothing.

The cottage has been her life. She is accountable only to nature.

The simplicity of the lifestyle of Miss Emily cannot be underestimated.

On the cool autumn morning that she died, there can be no doubt that she had prepared and anticipated Gods calling.

There she sat, sound asleep in her rocking chair and her beloved Hilda, an ageless black cat, watching over her from her woven basket in front of the television set.

Miss Emily would not wake.

She effectively lived in a single room which served for sleeping, cooking and living.

Her only luxury was the television set which had changed many times over the years and which was positioned in the centre of the room.

The treasured Coronation Cup and Jubilee vase, always vested with fresh flowers, sit in splendid isolation on either side of the set.

The box, as Miss Emily insists to call it, was her window to the world, but to another world so far removed from her own.

Miss Emily can best be described as a tele-addict when she was not tending to her garden.

She was not anti-social but rarely engaged in conversation with the villagers.  She never bought groceries or visited the doctor if she was sick.

She did receive visitors and she did get provisions, such as were needed.

She was a kind, gentle, caring woman, was Miss Emily.

Loneliness was not a word she understood.

One particular visitor did come as frequently as she was in residence at her country home on the Sandringham estate.

She had once been an impromptu babysitter for two of her young children and had taught the youngest on how to make and fly a kite.

She had once mended the heel of the shoe of her visitor in the most rudimentary fashion and many years ago, almost when the two first met, had offered advice to the visitor on marriage to a certain foreign prince.

Betsy, as she called her visitor, would call by while walking her dogs and share a cuppa and a chocolate digestive or a buttered scone while indulging in unbridled companionship with a joke or two, a stretch down memory lane and an addiction to watching Coronation Street, a long running English soap opera.

The ageless black cat was apparently named after the character Hilda Ogden who featured for more than thirty years in the soap opera.

This then is the story of two women of later years who had given a lifetime of service to their country and who had, odd as it may sound, a lot in common, yet their real worlds and backgrounds could not be more starkly contrasted.

The unoccupied cottage has become a silent refuge.

Hilda still takes her dormance in the cushioned basket beneath the television set and the rocking chair occasionally still rocks.

As frequently as Betsy is in residence at her country residence on the Sandringham estate in the heart of Norfolk, she walks her dogs in proximity of Miss Emily’s cottage and tends the country garden.

THE JESUIT PRIEST

Yesterday, in a coffee shop in a town in a faraway land, I met a Jesuit priest.

While drinking a capuccino latte and eating a sugar-coated cinammon doughnut, I made my one and only confession.

I confessed that I was not a catholic, that I did not know the meaning of the word, that I believed in the notion of God but not the Christian one which affiliated with Jesus as its figurehead.

Years ago, I watched ‘The Mission’ and only last week I watched ‘Silence’, directed by American Martin Scorcese.

As I understand it, the essence of both films was that a soldier of Jesus Christ, defined as a Jesuit, should go to a foreign land and spread the gospel of the Christian faith.

Or do I mean the catholic faith?

Why is it that I spell Christian with a capital letter and catholic without?

I became intrigued to learn that the supreme head of the catholic church, the Roman Pontiff himself, the Pope, elected to that position in March 2013, was a Jesuit priest.

There was a wry smile and a short shriek of laughter from the Jesuit priest sitting in my presence.

The sudden clasp of our hands and looking into each other’s eyes was a touching moment of unforgettable silence.

As I now know, the Jesuit priesthood was a religious order formed in 1534 by a Spanish soldier by the name of Ignatius Loyola.

To become a Jesuit priest, the man told me, entailed the taking of vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for a lifetime.

Jesuits, like Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines and other such religious orders, are not attached to a diocesan parish church like their secular brothers.  Nor are they accountable to bishops.

Jesuits are licensed by the Pope himself to spread the gospel, so to speak.

Forgive the abrasiveness of my thinking but I must stand to question the need at all to evangelize and apostasize in the twenty-first century to a seemingly well-educated, science-orientated, objective-thinking global populus.

And what is apostasy if it is not to be defiant based on rational opinion or belief about a system, authority or situation perceived to be different?

I could see all too clearly in the eyes of the Jesuit priest that he had abandoned nothing or no one in his absolute determination of human faith.

He was no defector,  no deserter, no whistleblower, no rebel, no mutineer, no betrayer of his nation state.

There are, of course, pockets of civilisation in underdeveloped countries but I am not dissuaded from thinking that the Jesuit Priest is overstepping the boundaries of his mission.

So why does he sit before me?

And why do I sit with him?

It was I who traced him on the internet by social media.  It was I who requested the meeting taking place between us today.

This is a Jesuit priest of the twenty first century who has a smartphone at his fingertips, an online presence, wears a baseball cap and can speak seven languages fluently.

This is my confession.

His mission has taken on a different sphere, a bit like an astronaut going into space to explore the unknown, the universe.

Yes, that is it.  Catholicism means Universal.

Except there are those Christians in the world who have declared themselves to be protestants, lutherans, anglicans, prestbyterians, orthodox.

Today is actually Sunday Twenty-Third of April.

The Jesuit Priest knows it is the celebrated birthday of William Shakespeare, the English playwright who came from the town of Stratford upon Avon.

He takes the words right out of my mouth when he refers to the harbouring of Jesuit priests in the Shakespeare family home by William’s father John and the hiding of the sacred Borromeo testament.

He has never been to England but I hail from that town and I have so many times been to the famous cottage on Henley Street where the events he vividly described supposedly took place.

His ‘take’ on the historical events were different from mine but it mattered not.

Once a lawyer, I am now an English teacher and I have a mission in my life too to teach students the English language so that they can, possibly, have a better, brighter future.

The mission of the Jesuit Priest and the English teacher, it seems, though not fused, is therefore linked and the same.  To deliver a message.

The charming young waitress serves us both a second (free) cup of coffee.  I take another bite of my delicious doughnut.

The clock on the huge white church which shadows the  square strikes eleven on this April Sunday morning.

The hearty congregation disperse into the environs of this northern Indonesian coastal city.

Sunday school, alas, was a long time ago in my life but suddenly I am reminded that catechism, another word I did not fully understand,  is no more than explaining belief as a compilation of doctrine and teachings.

It always remains open to question but I have got the message.

What we nearly all accept today is that there are many different intepretations of faith besides our own and we should not be so stubborn or short-sighted as to believe that ours is the only way.

Not today.  Not any day.  Not any way.

The Jesuit priest has heard my confession.

There was no farewell.  No selfie.  No bill of conscience.

My soul can be at peace because, now, today, I know the truth.

DESCRIBE A PUBLIC PARK IN MY HOMETOWN

This is an English language lesson aimed at students who may be taking a TOEFL or IELTS Speaking Test in the near future.

In this lesson, the speaking practice is to describe a public park in your hometown for one to two minutes.

Practice the following script about the Jephson Gardens in Leamington Spa.

The Jephson Gardens are a public park in the heart of my hometown Leamington Spa.

They are one of the most beautiful town parks in the country and have won many prestigious awards.

They are named after Doctor Henry Jephson who established a medical practice in the town in the nineteenth century to help cure people’s ailments with the popular spa water.

The Gardens are spread out over ten acres of farmland on the north bank of the river Leam which used to be owned by the Willes family as part of the Newbold Comyn estate.

They offer splendid views down stream to the corn mill, the priory and the parish church.

In truth, the corn mill and priory are no longer there but it does no harm to imagine as you take a relaxing stroll through the park and sit for a while on one of the fixed wooden benches.

There are many great attractions in the Jephson Gardens.

Pride and Place must surely go to the bloom of the spring flowers  and the sheer care taken in producing the floral clock is highly commendable.

There are two ornamental lakes, one next to the old mill and childrens playground which is used for boating and the other which has a fine mountain at its heart with ducks and swans splashing away on its waters.

For the botanist, there are more than a hundred different types of trees awaiting your exploration.

No English public park would, of course, be complete without traditional tea rooms, a few sculptures scattered about and memorials to remember the founder of the park and those who fought in two world wars.

There are lodging houses at each of the four entrances which afford easy and free access to the park during daylight hours.

As you might expect, the Gardens are patrolled by security and it is forbidden to ride bicycles or skateboards inside or to walk dogs unless they are on a lead with Poop-Scoops at the ready.

The modern era has seen the development of a Sensory Garden, an Aviary with Glasshouse of tropical plants and an Events Venue.

The Jephson Gardens reflects very much a bygone era from the victorian period but is as popular with visitors today as it has ever been.

Although I have moved away from Leamington in recent years, I take the opportunity to enjoy its magnificence whenever I return.

The Jephson Gardens is without doubt a great place to visit in the heart of England.

HENRY JEPHSON AND LEAMINGTON SPA

My name is Henry Jephson.

I first came to the small town of Leamington Priors in the spring of 1818 as a raw medical student with aspirations of becoming a doctor.

I was attracted by the prospect of what salted spa waters could do for healing and curing people with certain ailments and afflictions.

Back then, Leamington Priors was a town on the south bank of the river Leam with a priory extending to the Elephant Wash.

Nearby was a small post office on the corner facing the largest parish church in the county of Warwickshire and there was close proximity to the access of spa spring water.

Bath houses, Inns and a Pump room were established as one Bernie Greatheed looked to cash in on land he owned to the north of the river.

The potential for development of a parade of shops and residences constructed on a grand scale was obvious.

The Willes family owned a large swathe of land on their Newbold Comyn estate to the east with a corn mill right down by the river itself.

I qualified as a doctor and established my medical practice on the upper part of the Parade.

As my reputation spread, clients would come from far afield and stay at the nearby Clarendon or Regent Hotel.

Queen Victoria herself made an official royal visit to Leamington in 1838, just two years into her reign.

Not only did I have the privilege of meeting her but I had the honour of treating her for some of her ailments.

I am in no doubt that she fell in love with the town and returned many times subsequently, unofficially of course, for a holiday ‘to take the waters’.

Queen Victoria was instrumental, I believe, in persuading the Willes family, notably Edward Willes, to turn ten acres of the meadowland next to the river Leam into a public garden and park.

I was somewhat flattered to say the least when the gardens and park were to be named after me personally in 1846 for supposedly having put the town of Leamington Priors on the map as a health resort.

Queen Victoria did not return for another official visit until 1858 when the town was renamed as Royal Leamington Spa by royal decree.

A momentous day indeed which led to a marble statue being erected of the great lady outside the Town Hall in her honour.

How much more could I have done? … Or would I have done? ….. If I had not gone blind two years later which forced my early retirement.

I don’t have any regrets as such about my life but losing my sight so early in my life is one of two things which disappointed and saddened me as a professional physician.

Here was I advocating cures to the needy but I had to accept Gods will for the impairment.

The second thing is not experiencing parenthood with my wife Mary.  I had always hoped that the ‘taking of waters’ would fix the shortfall in my married life but it was never to be.

The compensation has been, I think, in being slightly ahead of my time and being able to educate ordinary folk, both the paying clientele and the town needy, about basic healthcare.

I lived out my life at Beech Lawn, the mansion house which I had built behind the Parade in the 1830s.

I understand that after my death in 1878, my home became a Ladies Finishing School for a few years before eventually being demolished in 1946.

The town’s Fire Station is located on the site today.

Though I say it myself, the Jephson Gardens are a wonderful sight to behold at any time of year and I am extremely proud that such a ‘green flag’ legacy carries my name for generations to come.

Thank you all very much indeed for listening to my ramble, for that is surely what it is.

Be sure to visit the Jephson Gardens whenever you are passing through Royal Leamington Spa.

Thank you once again most graciously from the bottom of my heart.

IMPERSONAL PASSIVE AND ACTIVE

This is an English language lesson to practice using the Impersonal Passive and Active

There are thirty sentences to practice.  The sentences are paired together (15 pairs) so that the first sentence is passive and the sentence which follows it is active.

Practice writing and speaking the following sentences to identify impersonal passive more clearly.

The three factors which determine impersonal passive are knowledge of a fact, belief about something and speculation about something.

Here goes.

  •      It is known that the man is very rich (passive)

 

  •      The man is known to be very rich (active)

 

  •      It is believed by police that that burglar entered the house through an open window

 

  •      Police believe that the burglar entered the house through an open window

 

  •      It is said that English is easier to learn and speak than Chinese

 

  •      People say that English is easier to learn and speak than Chinese

 

  •      It is thought that aliens from outer space may have visited earth

 

  •      Scientists think that aliens from outer space may have visited earth

 

  •      It is expected that the match will be played next week

 

  • The match is expected to be played next week

 

  • It is expected that the victim will recover from her injuries

 

  • The victim is expected to recover from her injuries

 

  • It is considered unlucky to wash clothes on a Friday

 

  • Old folk say that washing clothes on a Friday is considered unlucky

 

  • It was reported on the news that a plane had crashed into the mountain

 

  • The news channel reported that a plane had crashed into a mountain

 

  • It is said that she knows more than she thinks

 

  • She is said to know more than she thinks

 

  • It is estimated that there are more than six and a half billion people living on earth

 

  • Experts estimate that there are more than six and a half billion people living on earth

 

  • It is understood that science plays a key part in advancement of mankind

 

  • We all understand that science plays a key part in advancement of mankind

 

  • It is known that the earth is round and not flat

 

  • Humans know that the earth is round and not flat

 

  • It is often said that you should not count your chickens before they are hatched

 

  • Old custom says that you should not count your chickens before they are hatched

 

  • The pursuit of happiness is regarded as absolute

 

  • Humanity regards the pursuit of happiness as absolute

 

  • It is promised by the local council that there will be no further redevelopment

 

  • The local government promise that there will be no further redevelopment

 

Sentences are expanded with adverbs or cohesive device expression  Here are some examples:

It is widely known that …

It is generally believed that …..

It is often assumed that ……..

It is usually thought that ……

According to tradition, it is said that …..  (according to is a cohesive device)

Develop your confidence and awareness of the structure of the sentences.

Good luck with your English language practice.

TWELFTH NIGHT AND THE TWELVE TENETS OF MY FAITH

Tradition and social habit derived from pagan custom die hard and there is no mirth without mischief, so they say.

When I was just a young boy, I learnt to recite the twelve tenets of my faith.

I was born into a catholic family in the middle of the sixteenth century in a provincial market town called Stratford upon Avon in the mid-shires of England.

Throughout my life, England was declared to be a protestant state and it was forbidden to practice my faith in a public place.

In fact, even practicing it at home in private was considered taboo.

I learnt English, Latin and Greek at my local Grammar School which I was privileged to attend because my Father held high office in the town.

I studied History there too which was a fascinating subject to me.  My tutor, Simon Hunt, often complimented me on my uncanny ability to comprehend details in a manner beyond my tender years.

Somehow I just knew that my passion for history plus the background of my family from farming stock and the strength of my faith would shape my adult life.

Many a day I had spent at the forest of Arden or along the banks of the river in town where I could engage with nature and be as free as the birds I could see flying in the sky.

There was not a bird I thought I did not know or could not identify with.

When my father fell upon harsh times and I was sent away as a teenager to a catholic seminary in the north of France, one could say that it was kind of the beginning of the rest of my life.

I would step foot on the battlefield at Agincourt where my Shakespearean ancestor had fought on behalf of King Henry V.

I would visit the small town of Domremy in the north-east of France to feel some affinity with the young woman, Jeanne d’Arc,  who was born there one hundred and fifty years before me and who had left her own all too brief legacy in the annals of history.

And I would see a partridge in a pear tree for the first time.

It was a defining moment in my life when the meaning of my catholic faith came home to me, on foreign pastures.

I could readily relate why this beautiful gaming bird would spend hours in a pear tree, feigning injury as a decoy to protect her young from a constant stream of potential predators.

How odd it sounded then to hear the same chant as mine ringing in my ears but yet spoken by others with different tone and words.

The relationship between the partridge and the pear tree was considered supreme in my faith.

A partridge.  Two turtle doves.  Three French hens.  Four colly blackbirds.  Five golden ringed pheasants.  Six geese a-laying and seven swimming swans.

Memorise or forfeit I say.

The game does not, of course, end there.

Eight maids are milking to produce from the dairy.

Nine ladies are dancing to the sound of the music.

Ten lords are leaping at the prospect of winning a ladies hand but one will not be lucky.

Eleven pipers pipe the music for the ten lords and nine ladies to entwine while twelve drummers are drumming the finale, one beat for every tenet of my faith.

Only several centuries later in the year 1909 would an Englishman named Frederic Austin compose a melody which would be fitting for the chant which became labelled as ‘the twelve days of Christmas’ and which would be sung forever thereafter by protestants and catholics alike.

It seems funny now that a nonesense song of secular origin should strike such a cord.

I had a dream once but it may have been only a vision during my awakened hours.

I allowed my imagination to run a riot about a shipwreck in a faraway place which was,  in truth,  much closer to home than you might think about town folk and royalty.

Stratford upon Avon was such a wonderful place to grow up as a child.

There was an effervescence in the life of its tradesmen and craftsmen, a magic in the forest of Arden and a serenity about the Avon river which flowed calmly through the town.

Folk drank ale in the taverns, Inns accommodated visitors while mummers, pageant wagons and keepers of exotic wonders brought social entertainment to the town like never before.

An orchard was never very far away either.  Plum pudding, apple pie, pear crumble were constants on the menu.

I knew the meaning only too well of the fruits of the earth.

As a catholic, I wholeheartedly embraced both the Old and New Testament of the Christian bible, the Holy Trinity of Faith, Hope and Charity; the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Not only that but I felt at ease with the ten commandments, the ethos of the eleven disciples (excluding Judas) who followed Jesus and course the twelve tenets of my faith.

Nothing could or would change that.

The twelve days of Christmas were celebrated from the twenty fifth of December until Epihany on the 5th January.

What I had always understood this meant was that three wise men, called Magi, had come from the east and followed a bright star to bring gifts for a new born child who was proclaimed as the son of God but in reality was the first born of Judeans Joseph and Mary.

The new born child, born on 25th December, was named Joshua and was baptized with holy water on the twelfth day after his birth, 5th January.

Christians of whatever denomination, protestant or christian, would join in the revelry which climaxed on the twelfth night with gift-giving.

There always comes a time, it seems, when politics are in conflict with expression of faith to the detriment of the common man who wishes no more than to go about his daily life in peace, dignity and honour.

Catholics were perceived as a threat to the new protestant state and so it came to pass during my lifetime that the catholic manner of celebration on the twelfth night became forbidden.

A failed catholic insurrection in 1605 (better known as the Gunpowder Plot) against the new King, James I, would lead to severe constraints against catholics.

At the peak of my literary powers and I could say that William Shakespeare was a household name in theatrical circles, I would be inspired to write a play which I called ‘Twelfth Night’ .

The play was performed in private chambers first of all before a failing Queen Elizabeth and an Italian Duke, Orsino, who by special request, was given a role in the play for his own egotism.

There would be frivolity and revelry and all would be revealed in time on the twelfth night.

That would be the last twelfth night in my lifetime.

And that, my friend, is the Gospel Truth.