8 December 2019

Bread of Heaven

Cwm Rhondda

Guide me, O thou great redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land; 
I am weak, but thou art mighty,
Hold me with thy powerful hand;
Bread of heaven,
bread of heaven
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.

Bread of Heaven is a song from Wales. The words are by William Williams, also known as Williams Pantycelyn, an 18th century Welsh poet. The hymn took its current shape, however, around 1905, when the English version of the lyric was put to a tune entitled Cwm Rhondda (after the valley of the same name) by John Hughes, another great Welshman. The song quickly became deeply beloved of the Welsh and can be heard sung ceremonially at sporting events, especially rugby matches, as a kind of unofficial national anthem.

In Wales itself, it is generally known either as Bread of Heaven or as Cwm Rhondda.  Elsewhere it is usually referred to by the first line of the lyric, Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer.

Shortly after my mother died at the end of October, I was in Wales.  I had got up early in the morning in Bristol and driven to Abergavenny, from where, after a bap and a cappuccino from a fine Italian café, I set out to climb The Sugar Loaf, one of the most prominent and popular peaks in the Black Mountains and indeed the Brecon Beacons. The hill was originally known as Mynydd (mountain) Pen-y-fâl (top of the plateau) but the name has now disappeared in favour of the current denomination.

The Sugar Loaf is one of the three mountains around the market town of Abergavenny - the other two being Blorenge to the south and The Skirrid to the north-east. Reaching the height of 596 metres above sea level at the trig point it is not the highest mountain in South Wales but it cuts a fine outline against the sky showing off the profile which gives it its name. 

It consists mainly of old red sandstone from the Devonian period (about 416 to 360 million years ago) in common with the rest of the Black Mountains. The summit is covered with a thin layer of a quartz conglomerate, which is a hard rock and which protected the hill from being eroded away in the last ice age, when the Usk valley to the south, and the Grwyne Fawr valley to the north, were formed by glaciers.

Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through:
Strong deliverer,
strong deliverer;
Be thou still my strength and shield;
Be thou still my strength and shield.

I left the town behind in Chapel Lane, and followed the track up and into Deri Fach wood, where the path climbs through a close-knit stand of oaks for nearly a kilometre.  The trees then thinned and the route continued through bracken and gorse, brown and scrubby at this time of year.

As I reached the top of the heathy ridge the summit came into view, still a way off and high above me.  I could see why it has been named The Sugar Loaf - not that we have loaves of sugar any more, but I know that refined sugar used to be sold in moulded conical masses.  In Middle English the word loaf was used for sugar, but this came from the Old English term (hlāf) for portions of bread….

Anyway, the summit beckoned, and, somehow drawn by a primitive desire to approach heaven to wish my mother well at those pearly gates, I strove painfully up the steep slope.

It was late November, and though I had felt warm when toiling up through the woods far below, at the summit there was a bitter wind, and the ground was glittering with ice spicules.  

Not how I imagine heaven, but it was exhilarating.  It was not a day of crystal clarity, but The Skirrid loomed in and out of the clouds, and from the peak there were misty views of the hills and valleys around.

I was early enough to be alone for a spell, and inspired by Wales, by the majesty of the landscape, and by love for my mother, I raised my voice to cry out…..

Songs of praises,
Songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee;
I will ever give to thee.

On the way down I was awed by the glory of the natural world.  Distant hills, and mossy trees, a splashing stream in the idyllic beech woods of St Mary's Vale.  

I felt restored.  There is a heaven, even if it is hard to catch hold of.  Even if it is elusively always there, before us, unseen....

Less than a week later, in St Peter's church in Berkhamsted, I was joined by family and friends, and together we sang….

Bread of heaven,
bread of heaven
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.

And for a moment, fleetingly, I thought I believed that my redeemer liveth....  Or so, I wanted to feel, at least, my mother is in good hands....

In Memoriam

Anna Stella Gibbs (née McMullin)

February 21st 1923 - October 30th 2019

18 November 2019

As Time Goes By

It's still the same old story.....

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
Someone thinks they really found you

Bob Dylan
It's All Right, Ma (I'm only Bleeding)

Dear friends,

I am raising funds for the National Brain Appeal, more of which I will explain later.

The reason I wish to do this is personal, and twofold.  My mother, Anna, once McMullin but latterly Gibbs, died recently after a long and lovely life, but her last years and especially the last months were afflicted by an undiagnosed dementia which ultimately robbed her of speech, and understanding, and life.

When I took her to see a specialist, a while after my father, her husband of 64 years, had died in 2010, I was told that she had dementia but that it would be difficult, and ultimately of little purpose, to test her further to determine exactly what nature of dementia she had.  And so, conveniently, she was said to have Alzheimer's disease.

What difference it makes I cannot tell, but I am inclined to a different diagnosis, which is that she had Dementia with Lewy bodies, the very same that may have stolen Lear's sanity in the mists of Shakespearean tragedy.

Why do I think this?  My mother heard voices, thought people were there when they weren't (including my father).  She got up too early and then was confused that the shops/church/market stalls were not open. She was unsteady, unbalanced, and fell.  

I was called early one day, not very long after her ninetieth birthday, when her neighbours had found her bleeding from the head having fallen against a radiator in her bedroom and bursting her right eye. She had thought that someone was there.  She never lived alone in her own home again.  The operation at Moorfields, (following admission to the Accident and Emergency unit at Watford General) with anaesthesia and trauma, at the age of ninety, left her unable to reason or to look after herself.

That was over six years ago.  Her decline was steady, from smiling and talking she reduced, gradually, and, I hope to think, painlessly, to a gaunt frame in a wheeled chair, still able to chuckle and say thank you, but usually grinding her teeth and holding on, as if the world was spinning too fast.

Now she is at peace, and I am sure she is relieved.  

I am hoping, attempting, to raise funds for the national Brain Appeal.

Another reason, personally, why I wish to do this, is that my wife, Amanda, the mother of our two girls, is also affected by dementia.  This time it is a type of dementia known as Semantic Dementia.  This, as the title suggests, affects words and understanding, and now, about eight years since the symptoms became concerning, verbal communication is almost beyond us..... 

Bit by bit she declines…..

Initially Amanda was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's, and spent a year ingesting Donepezil Hydrochloride (which can cause stomach upset, cramps and sleep disturbances) as if it might make a difference. 

We don't know if it made a difference. 

There was no controlled experiment, and, as we discovered following my insistence that I didn't think this was a correct diagnosis, she didn't/doesn't have Alzheimer's.....  So the drug (at whatever cost) was useless (but at what cost?)

No, after brain scans, neurological examinations, extensive, exhausting testing, and lots of anxiety, the diagnosis was amended to Semantic Dementia, sometimes referred to as Primary Progressive Aphasia (though that, in itself, is a form of Fronto-temporal Dementia and an umbrella for more than one form of dementia.)

And these terms mean little, or nothing, to me and her, us, the family, the patients, the sufferers, the public.  They mean nothing, because there is nothing, currently, that can be done about it, and nothing, currently, that any government will do about it.  

It is a road sign.  It says One Way Street.  This way to decline and death.  

Well.  We will all die.  Yup.  And we don't exactly know when, or how.  But, for some it is unannounced, so the life flutters on until it flutters off.  As Dylan sang, 

He not busy being born, is busy dying......

But it's alright, Ma, I can make it

In Amanda's case, it has been announced, and the brain is shutting down.  


there is a reason for this subdued story telling.

I have been supporting the Alzheimer's Society for years now (and still am) but have recently found that The National Brain Appeal has a direct link with the Dementia Research Centre at University College London Hospital (UCLH) where Dr Jonathan Schott is overseeing Amanda and the progression of her disease. The specialism  here is in the rarer types of dementia, such as Dementia with Lewy bodies (as my mum probably had) and Semantic Dementia (as Amanda securely has.)

And so I want to raise money for them....

Which is where you come in.

I have produced two calendars for 2020, and I know you would love to buy one and to contribute to this worthy cause.  Both calendars are simple A4 page-to-a-month,  though they are slightly different formats and slightly different papers.  One is made up of  landscape photographs taken in the UK; the other consists of photographs taken in mainland Europe.  Either will look impressive on your wall for an entire twelve months, or would make a wonderful Christmas present, so please don't hold back.....

Each calendar cost me around £6 to produce (I am afraid I cannot compete with mass production) and there will be postage involved, so I am asking for a contribution of £10 per item, but that's a notional figure.  Any contribution (more or less, depending on what you can afford) will be acceptable (either direct to me or to my JustGiving page) in aid of: 

So, to put it simply, if you send me £10 and your name and address I will send you a calendar (indicate which one, if you have a preference)

My address is:

Richard Gibbs
75 Coleswood Road

and, since this is only a limited run (these are collectors' items), it will be on a first come first served basis.

So don't fear if you hear

A foreign sound in your ear

It's alright, Ma, I'm only sighing

Bob Dylan
It's all right, Ma (I'm only bleeding)


Richard and Amanda

The National Brain Appeal raises funds for Queen Square

We help to provide much-needed funds to support The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology – together known as Queen Square. This is one of the world’s leading centres for the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with neurological and neuromuscular conditions. These include stroke, multiple sclerosis, brain cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia.

You can help Richard GIBBS raise money for this great cause by donating directly to their fundraising page - https://www.justgiving.com/Richard-GIBBS13?utm_source=Sharethis&utm_medium=fundraisingpage&utm_content=Richard-GIBBS13&utm_campaign=pfp-email&utm_term=YMN76m3aw.

JustGiving sends your donation straight to The National Brain Appeal so that they can put your generosity to good use!

Thank you for your support! 


The National Brain Appeal
Box 123
Queen Square
020 3448 4724

26 October 2019

Flanerie in Bold Monochrome

Un flâneur a Paris

The crowd is his domain, just as the air is the bird's, and water that of the fish. His passion and his profession is to merge with the crowd. For the perfect [flâneur], for the passionate observer it becomes an immense source of enjoyment to establish his dwelling in the throng, in the ebb and flow, the bustle, the fleeting and the infinite.....
Charles Baudelaire
The Painter of Modern Life

Paris. L'Être et le Néant: Being and Nothingness....  Benchmarks of life and the living.....

The destiny of every walking man is to immerse himself in the panorama surrounding him, to the point of becoming one with it and, ultimately, to vanish.
Federico Castigliano
Flâneur: The Art of Wandering the Streets of Paris

....the city’s modernity is most particularly defined for him by the activities of the flâneur observer, whose aim is to derive ‘l’éternel du transitoire’ (‘the eternal from the transitory’) and to see the ‘poétique dans l’historique’ (‘the poetic in the historic’).

Christopher Butler 
Early Modernism: Literature, Music and Painting in Europe 1900 – 1916

In Les Galeries nationales of Le Grand Palais, Resolutely Modern Toulouse-Lautrec entertains the shadows. Deep absences of colour stand before the being, and the nothingness.....

Encouraged by his photographic passion [and the success of Degas], electrified by the world of modern dancers and inventions, Lautrec never ceased to reformulate the space-time of the image. 

While on the street, optical illusions abound....

And in contrast a limo passes by, with all the sparkle and the grandeur of a leaping salmon, almost obscuring the eyes of wonder.....

In a quiet bar, a quiet un-american sits, confident that his golden era is to come.....

On the Île de la Cité work proceeds apace to restore Notre Dame in time for President Macron's 21st birthday.....

While in the nearby Sainte Chapelle, something of the medieval survives..... 

And so, walking on, for ever in search of magic.....

Looking for that indefinable something we may be allowed to call 'modernity'.....

The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world "picturesque."
Susan Sontag
On Photography

And in that picturesque world, we find fleeting forms of beauty, the ephemeral, the characteristic traits of modernity.....

Ahhh!  The blessed saints....


There are reasons to be optimistic.....

Reasons to try to distil the bitter or heady flavour of the wine of life....

To be away from home and yet to feel at home anywhere; to see the world, to be at the very centre of the world, and yet to be unseen of the world, such are some of the minor pleasures of those independent, intense and impartial spirits, who do not lend themselves easily to linguistic definitions.....

Charles Baudelaire 
The Painter of Modern Life

The pleasure we derive from the representation of the present is due, not only to the beauty it can be clothed in, but also to its essential quality of being the present.....

Charles Baudelaire
The Painter of Modern Life

Jeff Koons
Bientôt nous plongerons dans les froides ténèbres; 

Adieu, vive clarté de nos étés trop courts!

Charles Baudelaire
Les Fleurs du Mal

*    *    *

The term flâneur has the basic meanings of “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, “loafer”—which itself comes from the French verb flâner, which means “to stroll”.

The term was used by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) to refer to someone who observes the city or their surroundings, experiencing physical strolling but also thinking and seeing philosophically. Walking for walking's sake and not in a hurry just to get from one place to another.