A Day with the Derby Cathedral Peregrines

Interview by Richard Palmer

peregrinesWe are always up with the light. We might go and get some early breakfast depending on what we’ve had to eat the day before. There are always one or two careless birds about at that time of the morning.

Why did we come to Derby? We came because it has the highest concentration of fast food outlets in the country. It means that there are always plenty of fat lazy pigeons and other prey about, nibbling up the crumbs. We only eat prey caught on the wing. The missus is bigger than me so she’ll go for the larger stuff, a nice bit of duck or some fishy waterfowl. I’ll stick to the smaller prey. When we’re raising a brood, the chicks are always bothering us for discarded food scraps – a kebab, a slice of pepperoni pizza or a meat pie. But we don’t allow them junk food; we only give them flight-fresh meals. And we are well aware that some people think of us as voracious and vicious hunters. But to be honest, you lot are quite happy to sit down to a nice bit of roast lamb or a juicy steak. The only difference with us is that we do our own hunting and killing.

We also like Derby because, when the chicks start to fly, we can take them out to the country very quickly, perhaps for a trip up to the Peak District to let them practice some of their aerial moves and dives. They enjoy that. As a species, we peregrines tend to keep ourselves to ourselves as families. We have some relatives that come to Belper Mill in some breeding seasons but we will give one another space and keep out of one another’s way. I’d say we all have each other’s interests at heart but let’s put it this way, we don’t exchange birthday presents.

If it’s the breeding season, life is busy. The wife and I are at it all day. She’ll do a lot of the early-days childcare, whilst I go out and get the shopping in. As I say, she’s much bigger than me so she can bring down larger prey and she’ll take over some of the food shopping as the chicks start to mature more. We want them to grow up strong and healthy and be happy in life. Therefore teaching them good hunting skills is vital. Some of our relatives get sucked into falconry and become tamed and kept in cages. It’s a nonsense and they can easily become enthralled with the celebrity lifestyle. They start to live an unhealthy and unnatural life and can soon lose sight of their purpose in life and go downhill. That’s a mug’s game. We want our kids to grow up wild and free, find a nice partner, a good hunting site, settle down and have some chicks of their own.

We’ll maybe have a rest in the heat of the day; it depends what’s happening in the air but we need to be constantly alert. Out worst enemy is you people. We know you’re watching us all the time. We’ve spotted the cameras and understand we are quite well known on Facebook and the web. But to be honest, we are not bothered by fame.  We just want to be left alone to bring up our chicks and do what we do best.

The weekends are noisier for us. Friday and Saturday nights are a bit rowdy in the city but we cope with it. There is not much that bothers us up here. Sundays are the worst. The bell-ringing starts up mid-morning and can get a bit overpowering. So we might clear off for some early lunch but the disruption doesn’t last for long.

As peregrines, we always live in high-rise accommodation, so the cathedral suits us well. We’re not quite sure what goes on in there. People seem to arrive looking guilty and downtrodden, then leave with their heads up, smiling and chatting. Strange.

At night, we’ll settle down. Sometimes there’s some night fliers come by and we’ll grab us some late supper. The floodlights help us here. And then it’s time to get some shut eye.

Do we believe in God? Of course. We have a very clear purpose in our lives. We are the fastest animal on the planet. We clear up all the less able prey and hence keep the various breeds in good shape. We recognise that people are interested in us as we are a strong breed. But we know our place in the pecking order of things. You lot seem to make life so complicated and difficult for yourselves, chasing after the wrong dreams and aspirations and getting yourselves into all sorts of trouble. We are much clearer in our purpose and calling in life and our role in the world. And we tend to live in the moment. It makes for a much more contented existence. A simple life is what we lead. You lot should try a bit more of it.

©Richard Palmer

This article first appeared in Outlook, Derby Cathedral’s monthly magazine, in May 2016. To view the peregrines on live webcam visit –


A Safe Place To Do Risky Things In Christ’s Service

AnglicanCathedral LiverpoolLiverpool, have you ever been? I hadn’t been there for 40 years. My wife lived there for a while so we decided to go on a city break to celebrate her birthday. The plan was to have 2 nights away, visit 2 cathedrals, 2 art galleries, 2 museums and 2 restaurants, just the 2 of us.  Well, you need a plan.
The reality turned out somewhat differently. We managed 1 night and 1 cathedral, where we enjoyed a tremendous Evensong service. It was straight after the service that my wife lost her footing on the steps leading down from the choir stalls and fell heavily to the floor. And she wasn’t getting up. We only had 15 minutes to reach our first restaurant. Come on, I thought.
But it was not to be. Quickly attended by concerned onlookers, we soon realised there was a potential serious injury here and called for an ambulance. It didn’t arrive. There were jokes about it going to the wrong cathedral (great sense of humour the Liverpudlians have) but it hadn’t. We waited for 2 long hours before the comforting sound of a siren was heard in the distance. During this time, the Dean and others managed to fish out a GP from a meeting in the cathedral and a nurse. All agreed that my wife was not to be moved. So she spent the 2 hours supine on a cold cathedral floor, looking in awe and pain at the magnificent ceiling of the cathedral. Such moments make one appreciate the sheer beauty and grandeur of such buildings, although she probably wouldn’t thank me for saying so.
Eventually after a good slug of gas and air, enough to have delivered a set of twins, I thought, my missus was scooped up into an ambulance and whisked to A&E, where we spent 3 hours getting sorted. She had to give her date of birth many times during the process and each time responded resignedly “It’s today.“
It turned out that she had fractured her greater tuberosity (a bit of the shoulder) and sprained an ankle. I never knew we all had a Greater Tuberosity. It’s a great name for a rock band or collective noun for onion farmers.
It was 11.15 pm by the time we got back to the hotel, certain that the chef would be able to rustle us up something nice to eat as we were starving hungry. But his shift had ended and I now have a certain empathy (but not a lot) for Jeremy Clarkson and his outburst at catering arrangements as we feasted on 3 packets of crisps and a Kit Kat from the Auto-Vend.  And so it was straight home the next morning, bruised and battered, but blessed to get on the train.
I had a few words with God on the train journey back. Come on, God, I remonstrated, I’m a bit miffed about this. We really needed this break. We’d had several spoilt holidays over the last 3 years and we were due this one. But actually, the gospels don’t’ say anywhere, follow me and I’ll ensure you always have good holidays and won’t fall over.  God doesn’t run the world like that; otherwise there’d be no need for Health and Safety policies in churches or notices saying Mind The Step. We’d all be very safe.
The deal is that we have the freedom and personal choice to make mistakes to do stupid things and to fall down a flight of steps if we so choose. That’s the deal. The best part of course is that however we screw things up, we are forgiven and can start all over and try again the next day. And surprisingly there has been a silver lining. It has made us just be. It has made us not try so hard, but just be, and look and listen,  something most of us don’t actually find time to do. In many ways, it is a time of constant prayer, just being. And it has taught me a lot too. My one-handed wife needs constant care. I’m getting very good with a pair of GHD hair straighteners and have in an idle moment thought about becoming a stylist.
So our city break turned into a city fracture. Sometimes it’s nice to get home.  And on the bright side, we did get to see Liverpool Cathedral. It is an awe-inspiring place, the 5th largest cathedral in the world and the largest in the UK. We were amused on returning home to read its motto ‘a safe place to do risky things in Christ’s service.’ For us, it turned out to be ‘a risky place to do safe things in Christ’s service.’
The other bright spot of the accident was the immense care of all those who attended us at the cathedral, the care and attention of the ambulance crew and all the wonderful staff at the Royal Liverpool Hospital. Our hearts were touched by all of the human kindness we encountered throughout. God was there after all.

The Idiot’s Guide to Doing Intercessions – Top Ten Tips

Idiot 1) Before the event
If you are doing the intercessions, you should be invited before the service to the vestry prayers. Carpe diem is the motto here. Be the first in the huddle to pray and do so fervently. Get yourself some cracking openers and closers to your prayers. The Book of Common Prayer has some belters. Memorise these. They make your prayers sound pious and deep and the quality of your words in the middle then becomes inconsequential. Use plenty of thees, thys, and thous, again to add sanctity. For example, use ‘We beseech thee’ instead of ‘We ask.’ Make sure you offer a resounding Amen to everyone else’s prayers and be sure to be the last one in the vestry to pray. You’re now on fire for the service.
2) Intercessions
This is your big break. Aim for a minimum of 10-15 minutes. With practice and good preparation, you can work this up higher. Challenge yourself to make it longer than the sermon.  After all, no-one is going to stop you midstream whilst you are at prayer. And buy a good stop watch. This way you can aim to improve your personal best on each occasion.
3) Rota
Get your name on the intercessions rota twice. In this way your turn comes round more often.
4) Lists
Make good lists of those to pray for. It is customary in some churches to start with the sovereign. This is ideal as you can then work your way down the church hierarchy – the archbishops, diocesan bishops, archdeacons, rural deans, local vicars, and you can include other local churches and denominations too, taking care to omit any dubious door-knocking sects. Don’t forget the local schools, and the Fire Department and health services – hospitals and local doctor’s surgeries add nicely to the list and should all be named individually. Also, aim to include your own specific concerns such as Transgender Rights for North Sea Trawler Men or the East Midlands Chihuahua Rescue Centre, whatever your personal crusades are. This brings important personal issues to the congregation’s attention.
5) Use an IPad or tablet
This not only makes you look cool and modern but you can cross reference your prayers with poems, bible references and so on, so that you can draw on additional materials. You can also draw up a nice analogy with Moses’ tablets of stone (a little humour always works well and shows your human side) and hence build in a little mini-sermon on how you are just like Moses bringing God’s word to his people. Nice touch, eh?
 6) The Sick
Get to church early and go round everyone to ask who is sick and needs prayer. Everyone will be so astounded by your empathetic concern for the unwell that they will each give you at least 3 or 4 names, even if it’s only for ingrowing toenails or a cold. And voilà, you have another great list for prayer. Make sure to make careful notes to avoid praying for recovery for Joe Bloggs from his recent hysterectomy. In fact a basic knowledge of medical complaints is advisable. The best advice is to avoid anything to do with the nether regions or ‘down there.’ For some reason, piles are always a cause of great hilarity.
7) Pray for the church
Don’t forget the oft neglected folk on tea rotas, maintenance teams, knitting circles etc. and check that your list of names is up to date. This is also a great point to have a swipe at the vicar, church leaders or any other group that’s got on your nerves recently. Subtlety is the best weapon, a hint or innuendo is all that is needed to rattle the opposition. So, if you’re after the flower arrangers, thank them for all their hard work and say how nice it will be to have some fresh blooms in the church next week. Also include here any personal agenda items that have been ignored by the church council. Pray for them to happen. For instance your idea for building a mixed-sex prayer sauna room in the church hall would fit nicely in this slot. And include the minutiae of your idea so that it gets a proper public airing – for instance your suggestion for two separate saunas one for the evangelicals, one for the liberals.
8) Maintaining attention
You want everyone to hang on your every word. Therefore don’t include any congregational responses as this distracts from the articulate nature of your flow. Likewise avoid any periods of silence. You want people to listen to your prayers, and not go all reflective and meditative on you.
9) PowerPoint
Yes, it would be a nice opportunity to show off your PowerPoint skills but remember everyone’s eyes will be firmly closed and you’d only have to describe what is on each slide, so not a good idea.
 10) Feedback
And finally the golden rule. Never be disappointed if you don’t receive loud congratulations over coffee after the service and in fact find people are avoiding you. This is quite common and associated with their jealousy at your efforts. It is actually a great accolade and should spur you on to even greater things.
© R Palmer 2015

Finding God in a Different Place

ShakespeareHarper Lee is a very famous author. In 1960, she published her first book, To Kill a Mocking Bird. It turned out to be her only book. Until now. After 55 years, there is great excitement that a second book is about to hit the bookstalls. In a recent survey of librarians in the UK, To Kill a Mocking Bird came out as their most highly recommended book. I’d never read it until 3 or 4 years ago, so I did. Or rather I didn’t. I got a third of the way through and it just didn’t ring my bell. I don’t know why, as it deals with some very important and poignant themes. I was a bit baffled by this until I heard a famous DJ say on his radio programme one day that the same had happened to him, he just didn’t get it.
There are other things I need to get off my chest too. U2, the renowned Irish band, have sold over 150 million records worldwide. They have won 22 Grammy awards and have been labelled the ‘Biggest Band in the World.’ As a rock music fan, I should love ‘em. But I just don’t get them. I don’t own any of their music and couldn’t hum you one of their tunes if you offered me a lottery win. And then there’s Shakespeare and I’m moving into even more dangerous territory here. As an avid reader and writer, I should be head over heels in love with his writing. His use of language is sublime. But put me in a pub quiz team and I couldn’t answer one question on him, other than the name of Romeo’s lover. Watching his plays, and I’ve tried, leaves me cold.
I’m sure some of you are now incensed. If you’d said the same about The Rolling Stones, George Orwell or Dylan Thomas, I’d be mad.
But the point is this. Just because the majority see something in these matters, doesn’t mean I or you must follow the crowd. We are all individuals and we develop our own perspectives, likes and dislikes and a set of principles and preferences that get us through life. And I’m comfortable to say that I’m very sorry Harper Lee, U2 and Shakespeare (an unlikely threesome, I’ll admit) but you don’t switch me on.
The same principle stands in our faith. The defined default setting for a ‘proper’ Christian faith is daily prayer, daily readings of the Bible and not missing a Sunday service. That is blindingly obvious to some and is how they feel comfortable living out their faith. But for others, it can be just the same as my lack of empathy for Bono and his mates, it doesn’t ring their bell. For instance, I find the place where I am closest to God is in silence and meditation. That works for me but for others that would be purgatory and to be avoided at all costs.
There’s a famous song by John Paul Young, called Love is in the Air. The tune is perhaps going through your head now you’ve read that last sentence (annoying when that happens, isn’t it?). The lyrics continue ……’everywhere I look around. Love is in the air, every sight and every sound.’ There should be a similar hymn that goes ‘God is in the air, Everywhere I look around. God is in the air, every sight and every sound.’  Because if we do believe in a creator God, who created the Universe, then he is in every part of that creation. God’s DNA is in everything –  in all of us and in everything on this Earth. Therefore finding God wherever is as valid a meeting point as a church on Sunday. We may meet him in the silence, in a walk in the sunshine, on a sunset beach, petting the dog, looking at a piece of art or photograph, in the garden, reading a poem, listening to a piece of music,, in the face of a child (okay, that’s enough examples, thanks, we’ve got the general idea – Ed).
The point is that church, regular prayer and Bible reading is a default setting where many feel they have a good chance of bumping into God, just like many think that by reading or watching Shakespeare, they stand a good chance of improving their education and gaining enjoyment.
But there are other ways of prayer, worship and encounters with God that may speak to you and can be perfectly valid in your relationship with the Creator, but which may have no appeal to others whatsoever. As I said earlier, ‘Love is in the air,’ and so is God. And his love for us is everlasting and unchanging no matter what. And no matter how, and no matter where we meet him, he still loves us all. Or as Shakespeare put it when he spoke of love – ‘Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds….O no, it is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken’. Actually my wife told me those lines some years ago. There are one or two bits he wrote that I like.
© R Palmer 2015