Tuesday 4 June 2024



Frank Musgrove, who was professor of sociology at the University of Manchester when I was there as a postgraduate student in 1976-77, had a memorable line that has resonated with me from that time to this. ‘The health of a society’, he said, ‘lies at its margins’.


Becoming and being a Quaker identifies the person who has taken that path as being different from the mainstream. Quakers live at the margins of society, seeking to change themselves and the world for the better. That’s why we can be a force for good. At our best, we are the health of a society.


All of which brings us to Alan Newton, clerk at the Marazion Meeting House, who has recently accepted clerking duties within Cornwall Area Meeting. When I first met Alan my judgement was that he was a good, kind man with a quick wit and accomplished in his role as a clerk. He seemed a modest man, confident in some ways but self-effacing. Now I know his story I can appreciate his character more deeply. Alan has lived a life at the margins in a fashion which I find inspirational. More people should know about his alternative take on how to live well, how to live the good life.

Living the good life in the home that Alan built - June 2024 - Alan Newton and Beryl Brookman, with a Friend, Louise Donovan, in silhouette between them, sharing a simple lunch  

Alan was born in 1958 in Hornsey in north London before it became gentrified and posh. When he was five years old, the family moved to Wimbledon into a house that had been inherited from an aunt. Their new home was in a middle-class street with bankers and city commuters as neighbours. Alan’s dad was

Thursday 16 May 2024


Those of you who follow my blogposts will know that my journey - my odyssey through my lifetime - has been enriched by discovering the writings of Richard Rohr (Silent Compassion, 2014/2022) and Hugh McGregor Ross's analysis of George Fox as a mystic (George Fox - A Christian Mystic, 1991/2008). I have also found Ross's studies of the Gospel of Thomas a deep source of wisdom, but as yet have not read enough to create a post on these matters. Here are the relevant links:

For Ross: https://robdonovan.blogspot.com/2024/01/fruits-of-marazion-quaker-library-hugh.html

For Rohr: https://robdonovan.blogspot.com/2023/11/fruits-of-marazion-quaker-library_21.html

I can now add the ideas and writings of Martin Stanton to my list of guides to a deeper understanding of how best to make sense of the odyssey we all make by virtue of being alive. 

Martin Stanton - circa the 1980s

Making Sense (2020) is Martin Stanton's remarkable critique of mainstream psychoanalysis in its academic and clinical ideology and practice. Martin is the child declaring that the emperor's clothes are only imagined. Professor Judith E. Vida in Los Angeles hits the spot when she writes:

'Making Sense  is a radical proposal that the real life complexity of thought, emotion, and experience will always resist closure, resolution, fixing, getting over it, interpretation, diagnosis, and so-called 'normality'. Martin Stanton generates poetic new metaphors for living that are as supportive as they are expansive, providing morsels of practical wisdom, each at once juicy, sweet, and savoury - and full of new nourishment.'

I should also say at this point that I did not find Making Sense an easy book to read. Martin has more learning than I do. My grasp of Greek mythology is only basic; Martin moves with ease and fruitfully

Thursday 9 May 2024


The boundaries of our world shrank during the Covid pandemic, as did those of the rest of the world. Much of the world has now forgotten those self-protecting days of isolation - but there are still many, including Louise and myself, whose boundaries are more limited than they used to be. [The official Covid-19 Inquiry is now taking place and will eventually issue its Report; reading my work 'Dying to Know' (2022) will give you access to the bits that the official report will gloss over or leave out altogether. Press this link here if you are interested in buying a copy.]  

We no longer have the desire to cross the continent of Europe in an aircraft to reach Athens and then take a ship to cruise the Aegean to reach the holy island of Patmos, a journey we first undertook in 1988 and then repeated in eighteen of the thirty years before SARS-CoV-2 struck. These pilgrimages brought rest, rehabilitation, and a touch of wisdom - but we have moved on. The memories remain - and the inspirations.

If the motivation to travel distances has declined, the love of discovery has remined intact. It was therefore a joy to accompany our friend, Stephen Vranch, on a visit to the new exhibition at Tate St Ives, featuring the work of Outi Pieski, in March this year.  

Outi Pieski 

Outi Pieski is a Sámi visual artist based in Ohcejohka (Utsjoki), Finland. 

Pieski's paintings and installations explore several themes, including the culture and identity of the Sámi people – who live in the region of Sápmi, which now includes the

Saturday 16 March 2024


     David Olusoga is a British-Nigerian historian and broadcaster whose professorship is at the University of Manchester. In 2019 he was awarded the OBE for services to history and community integration. 

In this book of over 200 pages, David Olusoga has achieved what he set out to do: he has written for a readership of children the history of Black people in Britain. The version for adults had already been published to acclaim; now there is a text for younger readers - and any adult such as myself who has not read the earlier work can get so much from reading this book with its short, straightforward sentences and unearthed details. 

Professor David Olusoga - New York Times photo

I will shape this blogpost around ten points that I discovered for the first time in reading Black and

Sunday 3 March 2024


 I'm writing this blogpost on Sunday morning, 3rd March, in my study looking out on the scaffolding that appeared on Friday. Yesterday, Roofing Legacy took the roof off our home as part of a masterplan to stop the leakage of water through the ceilings of my study and the landing when the heavy rains come and the wind is blowing in a certain direction. Hopefully, no more need for buckets now. Today, they are due to put the roof back on with new tiles.

Scaffolding for the roofers 

All this roofing kerfuffle has delayed the production of this blog. My day out in Truro was last Tuesday, 27th February, and when I got home I knew I wanted to write about the day. My personal copies of Mine to Die arrived on Wednesday and the book has been very much in my thoughts. The week before, I had visited the only bookshop left in St Ives to see if they were interested in stocking my latest work whose official publication date is 28 May 2024. I showed the two women on the front desk the flyer of the front and back covers (image below) and was thrilled when one of them exclaimed: 'How extraordinary! I was looking at that image only a couple of hours ago'. She had already ordered a copy after seeing details on

Wednesday 21 February 2024


 OpenDemocracy provides some useful detail, asks the right questions - and comes up with the obvious answer:


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Thursday 15 February 2024


 I am publishing this second post on Julian of Norwich Revelations of Divine Love a day after the first post in order to give more detail about the contents of this extraordinary work. I find it breathtaking to record that this medieval book of Christian mysticism containing 87 chapters of devotions is the earliest surviving example of a book in the English language known to have been written by a woman. 

MDCLXX = 1670. This is the year of the first publication of the book. 

Julian's book is centred on the sixteen mystical visions or "shewings" she received in 1373 when she was thirty years old. She had become seriously ill, probably from a form of plague, and was not expected to survive. The visions appeared to her for several hours in one night, with a final revelation occurring the following night. Later, fully recovered, she wrote in her vernacular language, Middle English, an account of each vision, producing a manuscript now referred to as the Short Text. She then developed her ideas for decades whilst living as an anchoress in a cell attached to St Julian's Church in Norwich and completed an extended version of her writings, now known as the Long Text

Her work remained very largely unread for the best part of three centuries. The first publication of the

Wednesday 14 February 2024


 I ordered two copies of the Penguin Classics edition (1966) of Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love earlier this week in the light of the attention and interest at our Meeting House in Marazion. Referenced in vocal ministry this month, it is clear that Mother Julian's mystic insights have touched the lives of some Quakers in our community and there are others who want to know more. 

Detail from David Holgate's modern statue of Julian of Norwich, depicted holding a copy of Revelations of Divine Love. It was added to the west front of Norwich Cathedral in 2000.

My own copy of the Revelations has been with me for over forty years, even before I became a part-time post-graduate student at the University of East Anglia in Norwich between 1995 and 2003. The city of Norwich is dear both to my heart and Louise my wife who worked there as an Open University advisor; my doctoral thesis (2003) is titled: 'Drink in Victorian Norwich' and serves as a contribution to the history of the working-class and its connections with other social groups within Norwich; there would be occasions as I traversed the city as a researcher when I passed close by the site of Mother Julian's church to which her cell as an anchorite had been attached. Below is a piece written by Simon Knott in 2023 about this church. It tells you much about both St Julian church and Mother Julian - the video is a portal into her life if you imagine hard enough. In the second part of this blogpost I will expand more about her life and her spiritual insights as a mystic. 

 St Julian Church, Norwich

This crisp little church sits on one of the alleys that ran from Ber Street to King Street below. Its neighbours are mostly new apartments and houses, but for centuries this was Conesford, an industrial quarter and a port, with the tenements, inns and brothels you might expect. In the late Middle Ages, much of East Anglia's stained glass and memorial brasses were made in these narrow lanes. In the 18th and 19th Centuries this was an area of factories and warehouses, tanneries and slaughterhouses, along with the crowded slums of the workers. These days, King Street, the main road that ran through Conesford, is being gentrified, but still the urban decay of centuries clings to some of the old buildings.

St Julian's dedication is an interesting one.... he resolved to pay penance by establishing a riverside inn for travellers, and a hospital for the poor. So, he was an entirely appropriate choice of patron for the medieval priory established here in the medieval suburb of Conesford on the banks of the Wensum. It seems likely therefore that he was also the St Julian to whom this little church is dedicated.

The Priory has long gone. But although this church is a small and rebuilt building, tucked away in what is still the anonymous and relatively run down inner city, St Julian is one of the

Thursday 18 January 2024


Photo by Evangeline Shaw on Unsplash

This week some of the world’s wealthiest and most influential decision-makers are meeting in the Swiss Alps resort of Davos. 

This is for the annual World Economic Forum meeting, an exclusive Glastonbury festival for the rich and powerful.

Over 100 billionaires are registered to attend the event, alongside more than 2,500 other attendees, including heads of states, senior politicians and business leaders.

The Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, and his opposite number, Shadow Chancellor Rachael Reeves will be in attendance.

Given Hunt and Reeves’ trip to Davos, our friends at the JustMoney Movement are asking people to sign on to their open letter to them, calling for fairer taxes to tackle inequality.  You can sign the open letter here.

Stark inequality

The Davos meeting brings into sharp focus the astronomic inequality of wealth in the world. This week Oxfam released a report that shows the five richest men have doubled their fortunes in the last 4 years, while almost 5 billion people are getting poorer.

With such eye-watering collective wealth on show in Davos, it shines a light on just how much money could be raised for public spending if progressive taxes on wealth were introduced. 

Our Head of Advocacy and Policy, Rachael, spoke with Carole Walker on TimesRadio earlier this week. Check out the clip from the interview, and share it here.
Taking a stand

We’re not the only ones making the case for fairer taxes. Our friends at Patriotic Millionaires UK are putting their collective influence to work to make the case for higher taxes on wealth. 

In fact, they’ve organised a letter signed by more than 260 millionaires and billionaires imploring politicians to be brave and implement a tax on extreme wealth. A poll of high net-worth individuals in G20 countries found that nearly three quarters of millionaires support higher taxes on wealth.

Actor Brian Cox, the star of TV show Succession, is supporting the letter and said: “We are living in a second Gilded Age, billionaires are wielding their extreme wealth to accumulate political power and influence, simultaneously undermining democracy and the global economy. It’s long past time to act.”

While extreme wealth is on display in Davos, we are pushing ahead with our plans for the year to keep banging the drum for fair taxes to invest in Britain.

Monday 15 January 2024


What does it mean to be a 'Christian mystic'? This term is used by Hugh McGregor Ross in his book George Fox - A Christian Mystic, first published in 1991, the tercentenary of Fox's death. Ross's title page offers testimony from George Fox's step-sons and step-daughters, probably dated 1691, in which they say that their step-father was "deep in the divine mysteries of the kingdom of God". That would seem to qualify for being a Christian mystic. Ross offers a more formal definition which explains that a mystic is one who has had the experience that the divine Ultimate and the essence of the individual self are fundamentally one and the same. There are, however, obvious problems in finding the words to describe an ineffable experience. 

A painting of George Fox - this image has become iconic but it may not be an image of Fox, nor even of the period.

Hugh Ross (1917-2014) was a Quaker who could claim that he was a step-son of George Fox in the eighth generation. Ross also became one of the leading computer scientists of his generation yet found the time to study a range of historical documents relating to George Fox. He concluded that Fox had experienced a profound spiritual awakening in 1647, the climax of several years of mental struggle to find the truth. He also speculated that leaders in the Quaker movement which developed from this seminal event redacted the accounts of George Fox's great awakening to save him and themselves from the charges of blasphemy that soon began to hover over Fox and other Quakers.      

Hugh McGregor Ross, 88 years of age when the photo was taken in January 2006, with a copy of the 1987 Draft Proposal for ISO/IEC 10646

George Fox was born in 1624 and died in 1691, living through a century of revolution in which the world was turned upside down for so many. When he was eighteen years old the country was plunged into civil war; when he was twenty-five the king, Charles, was executed on the orders of Cromwell and the military leadership that now governed the country. The hierarchy of power in which the monarch declared he ruled as Head of State and Church by divine right, through the will of God Almighty, was now swept away. Some men and women, freed from the old order and established certainties, began to