Tree of Light 2014


tree of light

It was our annual Tree of Light ceremony at work last Friday. We had about 450 stars returned to be laminated, strung and hung on the tree, which was up quite a lot from last year. Unfortunately the weather was cold and damp and we had a very low turn out for the evening switch on. There were plenty of Orders of Service, LCD candles and mince pies left over!

We have mixed feeling about it in the Office, the event is a complete nightmare to organise and takes up a lot of valuable time and energy in the most demanding months of the year. As well as the physical effort involved in processing the stars, there is the annual battle to find anyone willing to take part. This year it was harder than ever to find a choir, after six months we did eventually pin one down, only for them to drop out five days before the event. Just as we were resigning ourselves to accompanying the carols on two swanee whistles and a kazoo, the power of facebook brought us a newly formed choir, some of whose members had never sung together before. The lady in charge turned out to be a bit of Linda Snell and gradually took over most of the final arrangements  for which we were very grateful. They did a wonderful job and have volunteered to come again next year, what a result!

I was asked to read a piece for the event, which caused me a bit of heartache. There are a lot of what I consider to be maudlin bereavement poems out there, and others which have been read so often they have almost become a cliché. Coupled to this my intense dislike of the aabbccdd rhyme scheme with it’s often strained and childish rhymes, and you can appreciate my dilemma! Plus I didn’t want to have to read an overtly Christian poem. The powers that be said the choice was up to me, and didn’t know what I was going to read until I opened my mouth. I wonder if they regretted that in hindsight, as I chose to go with a poem by a Senegalese poet, which actually has the temerity to mention a big no no – the ‘d’ word!

To be honest, I do sometimes find it tiring to continually soften and blur the edges of bereavement. Sometimes I think that it can help people to actually face up to the fact that the deceased have died. They may have passed on, over, through; gone to a better place, heaven, the summerlands; be with god, the angels etc. But to do that they actually did have to physically die, it’s hard and terrible to contemplate, but there is a certain comfort to be found in confronting it. Anyway, this is the poem that spoke to my pagan heart:


Those who are dead are never gone.

They are in the thickening shadow

   The dead are not under the earth

they are in any tree that rustles

they are in the wood that groans

they are in the water that sleeps

they are in the hut, they are in the crowd

the dead are not dead.


Those who are dead are never gone

they are in the breast of the woman

they are in the child who is wailing

and in the firebrand that flames.

the dead are not under the earth.

they are in the fire that is dying

they are in the grasses that weep,

they are in the whimpering rocks.

they are in the forest, they are in the house,

the dead are not dead.


Bigop Diop


fly agaric 2

One of the problems with playing catch up is that everything is out of sync. I realised this morning whilst out doing a recce for our Alban Arthan ritual, that I haven’t posted about what we got up to at Samhuin yet!

We had our Ceremony on the Moss on Saturday 1st November. The ground was considerably more gloopy than it had been in the summer and was made worse by the machines which had churned up the main paths. A couple of us nearly lost a boot in the peat, we were jumped on by a very enthusiastic and muddy puppy, and there was a rather amusing episode as we all tried to negotiate a slope with a steep drop on one side. We were amazed  at the number of huge fly agaric toadstools in the hedgerows.

We set up the circle in the dying light and held our ritual in the darkness. I decided to have a small fire bowl. I dithered about it for a good while, as I had nightmares about setting fire to the Moss (peat fires are hard to put out!) There was a strong breeze which carried the sparks across the ground and the evening was punctuated by people jumping to stamp on them as they came to land.

For a change we performed the ritual without a script which seemed to go very well. There is nothing so cosy as a fire, even if you’re having to stand round it in a wind and occasionally huddle together over it to coax it back to life. The Moss seemed rather bleak in the darkness. There were occasional explosions of light in the distance as rockets were let off. The moon, our Bright Mother, sailed across the sky and we drank a glass of mead and ate gingerbread with the Ancestors, as we talked about those in the Summerlands we missed especially.

It was a beautiful and moving evening.


2 December 2014


“Women mourn the death of Sonu, a female stray dog who according to the residents was living in their neighbourhood for the last 18 years, as they conduct her funeral in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad. According to the residents, Sonu has been guarding the neighbourhood round the clock and was a favourite of all the residents. Veterinary doctor says Sonu died of old age”     (Reuters/Armit Dave)

I saw this in the Independent this afternoon. It brought tears to my eyes, I so wish we could have done this for our old boy when he passed …… Just thought I’d share!

More Hong Kong!



Just a few photos taken around the city centre over the week. Above a view across the harbour to Kowloon. This was the only day we had a bit of bright weather.

Govn Buildings View of the Government Buildings, the tents are part of the student protest, or Umbrella Movement.

umbrella protest 2 The students were occupying several locations around the city, including Nathan Rd in one of the main shopping areas, and the main road by the Government buildings. They had been there some weeks and the taxi drivers and bus companies were really fed up of them as they caused quite a bit of disruption. considering some of the things you hear about the Chinese police we thought they were being rather restrained. If this had been attempted in Parliament Square, London, it would never have got off the ground! It was an offence to have a tarp or cardboard to sit on in London. 

Umbrella protest offices

Ferris wheel 2This Ferris wheel is set on the harbour, in a park and sports complex. We were all set to take a ride but they’re still constructing it!

street view 3 street view 4These diagonal strips light up in the evening. While we were there, a lot of the skyscrapers were having extra Xmas lights attached to the windows. I’ve found a photo of a previous years display at BayImages.



scaffolding All the scaffolding in Hong Kong is made from bamboo. It seems to be laid on brackets attached to the side of the buildings. It’s quite an impressive sight but you wouldn’t get me up on it!

Peak Tram

peak view 2

Just a few shots of the Peak Tram. This is a funicular railway that which runs from the Admiralty district to the top of Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island. According to Wikipedia it caries 11,000 passengers a day and I can well believe it, as we had to queue an hour to get on it – going up, and going down! The two carriages hold 120 passengers.

Peak tram 2I seem to remember seeing the tram on a Blue Peter trip, or maybe some other children’s programme in my youth. It was built in 1888 for the residents of the Peak but was popular from the start and was instrumental in the development of the area. I had the impression that I was going to arrive in a wonderful park, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The ride up was brilliant, it was really weird looking out of the window and seeing the tower blocks apparently leaning at right angles to the ground. However when we got to the top instead of finding something like this:

We disembarked at the bottom of a shopping centre and had to work our way through a maze of shops and cafes.

The photo of the ‘sky platform’ is borrowed from The Peak’s official site.

What a disappointment! We did walk the path round the peak for a while which took us away from the crowds and through some trees, which was a nice change from the concrete. Unfortunately it was a rather overcast, drizzly day so the views weren’t brilliant. There was no escape from the buzz of the city either – the sound carried surprisingly well!



The Monastery had two wonderful fish ponds which housed koi and terrapins. Holly told us that she brought her Mother once a month for a day out and to feed the fish. I do love goldfish and so this little clip I took of the feeding frenzy really cheers me up, especially the sounds :) I would dearly love to have a fish pond in the garden, but Mr Stoatie isn’t very keen!

Holiday Snaps


Monastery Entrance

I didn’t mean to leave it so long before posting again, I’m finding it difficult to summon up any enthusiasm for writing after such busy workdays, which is weird because once I get started I do actually enjoy it. As you’ve probably gathered I’m still working my way through all the stuff that’s accumulated at work whilst I was away. Bogart came in today with a sick note for another four weeks. That means he will have been off ten weeks in total – if he actually makes it back in next time it runs out (I have my doubts) Of course there is no chance of getting any additional cover, so the usual frenetic run up to Xmas in the Office is going to be even worse than usual, and to top it off it’s the Big Family Christmas this year. Oh joy.

Anyway, back to our holiday, which feels like it took place about six months ago now! One of Mr Stoatie’s Aunties is Hong Kong Chinese and every couple of years she goes back on a visit. Last year she mentioned she was going again and said we ought to go too. We thought about it for a minute and said why not!

We only spent a week out there but managed to pack a lot in. The first day Auntie Sam’s sister in law came and took us out for a day. We spent the morning at a Buddhist temple which was absolutely wonderful, despite the drizzle. There were very few visitors and it had a lovely aura of a working, sacred space. There were monks performing ritual and chanting in one of the temples, and people making offerings of fruit, flowers and incense.

Detail from Entrance

Detail from the entrance gates, I love spirals.



Detail from a small pavilion, and below it’s ceiling.


Female Lion

A pair of Chinese lions guard a doorway. The female, holding down a cub, is always on the left as you look at the doors. The male, holding a ball, on the right.

Male Lion


Rooms of Remembrance

These rooms are their equivalent of our Room of Remembrance. There are photos of the deceased on slips of paper attached to holders on the walls. The room in the next building, just visible on the far right, holds shelves of paper bags containing cremated remains.

Incense burner 4

Monastery 1

Pagoda 2

Incense Burner 5

Monastery Frieze

Incense Burner 2

I would love one of these incense holders!

Detail incense burner 

Incense Burner

Dragon pillar     

 Bonsai 2

 Bonsai 3


Monastery doorway 

Monastery Temple






Roof Tiles 2

Roof Tiles

In the afternoon we visited a nature reserve. It was really beautiful and a bit of a relief after driving through the urban sprawl.  It was fascinating to see the different bird species. Some of the birds bore a close resemblance to ours in build but were different colours and sizes. You could recognise robin, starling and jackdaw shapes and behaviours. We didn’t see very much at the reserve, I think they were all taking cover from the rain! There didn’t seem to be much wildlife anywhere to be honest. A very, very few pigeons and sparrows (they get everywhere don’t they?) some sort of collared dove, the robin, some starling types, and quite a few kites gliding high up between the sky scrapers. One thing that did strike me was that there were no seagulls. It was really odd as we were on a tiny island and only ever about a quarter of a mile away from the sea.

The contrast between the city and nature was really striking, the weather meant that you could almost forget about the skyscrapers.

Bird Reserve 1

Bird Reserve 2

Bird Reserve 3


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