News & features

The sea knows

For the many thousands of people who were dragged into servitude through the Atlantic surf from Elmina this fort was their last link to African continent. The stones of the rough slave quarters and the passage through the gate of no return leak sadness.

Consigned in sweetly evil trade. 
Enslaved, diseased, murdered. 
The deep bears witness. 
These also will come forth. 
The Lord will judge with equity. (Revelation 20.13)

My memory of Elmina comes from a privileged visit to Ghana aged five. I am glad I saw it as a child. Somehow the solemnity and shimmering sense of evil persists through the primary colours of childhood memories. Elmina and other relics of the trade in slaves cry ‘remember’ in the face of continuing conditions of servitude around the world and the rise of totalitarian regimes and populist politics.

The consignments of slaves for profit from Africa to the Caribbean and Americas across theMiddle Passage left The Atlantic as the grave of more than 1.8 million enslaved people [1]. Their deaths resulted from negligence, disease, murder and usage of the sea. At times the mortality of embarked slaves was 60 per thousand, per month in transit [2]. 

Human life and civilisation is deeply bound to the ocean, Our ancestors risked so much to establish economic and cultural interchange. Across millennia we have salted the ocean with bones, but the scale of human life consigned to the deep waters during The Atlantic slave trade is exceptional, perhaps unique.

And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.

Whenever the end of memory is, the writer of Revelation is clear that the dead who are held in the custody of the ocean are not beyond God’s sight and care. The deaths cried out on the day of their dying against those who profited from their enslavement. I believe they still cry out against those who benefit today from corporations, endowments, investments and systems established at the time when slavery was too often accepted as necessary and no evil in the sight of God.

Consigned in sweetly evil trade.
Enslaved, diseased, murdered.
The deep bears witness.
These also will come forth.
The Lord will judge with equity.
Revelation 20.13

A memorial plaque reading: In Everlasting Memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We the living vow to uphold this.
A memorial plaque reading: In Everlasting Memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We the living vow to uphold this. Via Wikimedia © 2012 Kurt Dundy Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0


Lovejoy, Paul E. “The Volume of the Atlantic Slave Trade: A Synthesis.” The Journal of African History 23, no. 4 (1982): 473-501. Accessed November 25, 2020.

Cohn, Raymond L. “Deaths of Slaves in the Middle Passage.” The Journal of Economic History 45, no. 3 (1985): 685-92. Accessed November 25, 2020.

News & features

Reading the signs of the times in face of pandemic

I’m a lay person who worships in the Church of England. During the disruption of the pandemic the responses in the church haven’t convinced me that as a church we are reading the signs of the times.

In this pandemic I see a call on the church to resist utilitarian approaches, and to defend the inherent value of every person: human, entire – known and loved by God.

The scale of action by every sector in the face of this pandemic highlights how our response to the Climate Crisis is timid and ineffective. Our failing in the stewardship of the earth is wickedness. It is time to re think and to return to the transforming, crucified love that overcomes all.

Finally we need to stop the squabbling and sniping in the church. To see priests setting to, one against another more and less politely, on public social forums is unedifying and distracting.

Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us.

The present pandemic is a sign and warning to all of us of the weakness of our society in the face of an emerging infection. It also is a warning in regard our use, and mostly abuse, of the of the earth’s ecosystems and its many many peoples. Among the many evils of this exploitation, it increases the probability that new emerging diseases will jump from animal hosts into human populations.

I qualify this pandemic as a warning only because in the historic scale of past pandemics COVID19 is ‘only’ a moderately destructive outbreak. It is very different, may the Lord be thanked, to the Black Death Yershina Pestis which killed between 30 and 60% of the European population in the 1400’s. Drawing the comparison is painful, difficult and provocative because of the nearness of the grief, pain, loss, and bitter tears which this pandemic has brought. It is with that bitterness and pain that I start:

Resist utilitarian ethics

It is from that grief and those bitter tears that I draw the first sign for us as a church. We must wholly resist attempts to dismiss the lives of those who have died of COVID19 as lesser, or somehow unimportant, because they had pre-existing conditions, were disabled or old. Each and every one who died was human: whole and entire, known and loved by God. To fail to do so is to slide unknowing into utilitarianism. For the church this impermissible, because the love of God manifested throughout scripture is not based on utility, or any economic good but rather in the reality of God revealed in Jesus Christ 1. Other definitions of the ‘the good’ risk, in the limit, admitting evident evils such as categorising certain peoples as ‘sub-human’, or advocating eugenic policies.

Climate crisis

I draw the second sign from the scale of both state and non governmental response to this pandemic. We now see both how powerful, and how limited acts by the State, companies and individuals are in facing an emergency. In sin the church has participated in the contamination of the earth and the abuse of many peoples. These acts have delivered us into another emergency: the Climate Crisis. There is no stable solution for this evil that does not require massive action by State, company and individual. It is time for us to return to the crucified love: to pray and act for the coming of that subversive kingdom of love which undermines all life built on domination and power.

Set our own house in order

In good Church of England fashion, I end with a third point. The present circumstances call us to powerful and sincere action for the life of the world. Instead we are divided. Even if the purpose of the division is the seeking of the good and the will of God, the manner of its doing invites evil among us and is profoundly discouraging.

That our priests are squabbling among one another at such at time as this is profoundly discouraging. I feel great reluctance to cooperate with ministers, who though charged to be agents of God’s purposes of love, cannot navigate the differences within the fellowship without sniping one against the other.

Finally every part of our churches local presence is going to be affected, some drastically: just as every social, commercial and state provision has been by this pandemic. Our priests bear the charge to minister among the people of England, remembering that in this they serve Christ, before whom they will be held to account. This virus makes the flaws, failures and pain of the present distortion of parishes very clear. The parish system has been regularly changed to resolve difficulty or error in the 700 years of its existence. This CoronaTide is a good and necessary time for reworking and adjustment. Because truly we all – not just our priests – will be held to account by God for what we do.

Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us.

  1. ‘Christ, Reality and Good’ in Ethics / Dietrich Bonhoeffer: translated from the German Edition, edited by Ilse Todt, Heinz Eduard Tod, Ernst Feil, and Clifford Green’ English Edition edited by Clifford J Green,; translated by Reinhard Kraus,, Charles C. West and Douglas W. Scott. ISBN 0-80006-8306-4 ↩︎
News & features

A migrant people

Humans are a migrant people. Before the land was marked, we walked into the furthest corners of the earth. By mystery even the furthest islands were settled.

It is the dust of the earth: carbon, that gives us life. In its abuse we make our stewardship pain. Pain for the earth. Pain for those who still walk. Truly we need forgiveness, for we do not know what we are doing.

The healing of our great act of earth harm begins in love. But the harm will not be swiftly healed. Among the consequences will be migrations driven by the earth’s own pain. Unimaginable numbers of people may move. Through love our own lives may be preserved; even if we too join the newly walking peoples. Love is the only security for the wanderer and alien. In love, they are not other: they are us.

Our love is powerful, yet we know its limit and passing nature. Absent love, hatred and evil grows. Evil tears our dreams, condemns people of good will, and grows in power through every insufficiency of love. The only certain hope is the love that is God. It is the security by which all peoples may live and breath, and in it is the defeat of evil from everlasting to everlasting.

Every disruption brings fresh life. Life grows in goodness and hope by means of the love which is God. God-loved life pulses with luminous joy. It is the warrant that harbour and welcome may be found. It is a living fire, to be seen, not hidden. It is needed now for our broken world.

Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon. Isaiah 55.7

First published in the Ampfield Messenger 5 September 2020

News & features

Working age social care

Time and laterally the crushing impact of Coronavirus have destroyed any illusion that resolution of the social care crisis in England can be delayed. Proposed solutions must meet ethical tests around the essential value of all people – and also be just for adults of working age who need adult social care.

People of working age who need social care are faced with a system that financial pressure has optimised to barely meet the statutory obligations that Local Authority have to older people. For the working age community the combination of the crippling means test, and the inability of care providers to reliably meet incredibly basic needs; makes much Local Authority social care a disabling, trauma producing system.

Implementation of an effective social care reform requires primary attention to the solution must reflect the changing demography of England. The needs of older people must dominate the settlement. It would though, be remiss and inequitable to leave working age recipients of social care with a system that fails them as badly as the present one does.

Just social care for working age adults means ensuring that any solutions are able to meet basic life needs of people bringing up families, contributing to society or working. For example, at present it might be difficult to get regular care at a suitable time to allow someone to commute to work, to study, or to take their child to school. That isn’t ethical, or humane. It shouldn’t happen now, and it mustn’t in the future.

There has been tentative proposals that revisions to the social care system be funded by state managed group insurance paid for by a premium: bluntly a tax, paid by all over the age of 40. However it is drawn such a scheme must cover younger adults who need care – perhaps from the day of their birth, or who acquire disability early in life. Such a scheme must be mindful that there are injuries which occur for which no personal injury claim could ever be possibly effective.

Especially in working age adults good integration between health and social care is essential. Integration doesn’t mean one side owning the other though. In fact the NHS taking over social care in another ‘visible from space’ reform that medicalises models of care and strips expertise from Local Authorities is a potential tragedy. Social care has specific connections into the community which aren’t the competence of health care. Broadly Local Authorities are generally incredibly efficient in their delivery of social care through their own staff and contractors. They have to be. The long coming crisis in social care, has forced every efficiency possible to be made. It would be foolishness to hand the complexity of social care – so very different from health delivery to the NHS.

News & features

Hiroshima 75

Down the rabbit hole into a crazy word:

75 years ago, nuclear weapons were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This first sight of the weapons of light which bring only darkness was sufficient for the Word Council of Churches to declare war with atomic arms: “sin against God and a degradation of man,” For the life of the world which is from everlasting, the time for every nation: superpowers included prohibit nuclear arms, is now

A strategist: Bernard Brodie coined two axioms about nuclear ams in 1946 which remain true until today: First that they exist, and second that their destructive power is fantastically great. Those wizards of armageddon: closeted intellectuals charged with grappling military utility from this destructive power failed. The only end of attempts to create logical schemes for the employment of nuclear weapons is a rabbit hole winding to death, destruction and certain catastrophe. There is only one way to safely address the pair of axioms. Tackle the first, not the second: disarm, disarm entirely, and disarm now.

For most of the Cold War the military plans for the employment of Nuclear Weapons could be simply characterised: Massive Attack. There was it seemed no likelihood that either side could enter a limited nuclear war without spillover, in part because with weapons each 10 – 100 times larger than that dropped at Hiroshima no sane definition of a limited attack stood scrutiny. Unaware of, or unwilling to model the ionising radiation, fire-aggregation and other effects of nuclear weapons, US planners calculated using blast effects alone. They and presumably their USSR counterparts created a level of overkill which would have devastated the world and left the ruins bouncing.

The Coronavirus pandemic has shaken the globalised world. Every excess death is a tragedy. However a virus that kills around 1:1000 is in historical terms a moderate epidemic. The Black Death at its worst killed between one third and two thirds of Europe. Dreadful though that plague was, it did not poison the earth. Nuclear arms, threaten not only megadeath, but the killing of the wind and water, the earth and sky. A major nuclear exchange ends this civilisation.

In both Russian and US circles there is renewed interest and commissioning of smaller ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons. We are told the Russians consider that it might be necessary ‘to escalate in order to deescalate’ That is, the use of overwhelming force – with ‘small’ nuclear arms might stop conflict in its tracks. In the US the claim is that certain targets are now so hard to destroy with conventional weapons, that it would be proportional to use a small nuclear weapon. As mischief is worked, arms control treaties unravel, weapons proliferate to new countries, strategists are again looking for problems to which the answer are atomic arms.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which was adopted by the United Nations in 2017 has now been ratified by 40 states, albeit not by any state with or in the process of obtaining nuclear weapons. It enters into force, binding the signatories when 50 states have ratified the treaty. Will this uprising by non-nuclear states to declare the obscenity of these weapons illegal have effect in time? Nothing is certain save that, for the life of the world this is time to put our heart and soul into the effort – wherever we live.

Before I was injured I briefly served in the Royal Navy as a very junior officer. The Navy is responsible for the UK’s nuclear deterrent. At the time the idea that the knowledge that vengeance waited in the deep for any who struck the first blow seemed an uncomfortable, but just deterrent to secure peace. I no longer think that it is a peaceable way to make peace, and no longer a thing which I as a follower of the carpenter from Nazareth: Jesus can support.

Reading list

The Wizards of Armageddon (Stanford Nuclear Age Series) Fred Kaplan

The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War. Fred Kaplan

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Daniel Ellsberg, Bloomsbury


Subtitling on zero budget

Accessible subtitling is critical for disabled users, and increasingly essential for all users, due to the popularity muting sound while consuming social video. Producing subtitles is not difficult, and can be done for free. This guide helps explain how subtitling works and takes you through the process of creating a subtitle file at zero cost. Video is not finished until it has been subtitled or captioned.

What does a subtitle file look like?

A subtitle file connects speech in the video with text. Depending on the intent of the Caption Writer, other elements of the video may also be conveyed. Subtitles can be stored in many different digital files. The simplest is SubRip (.srt) which is accepted by Facebook and Youtube as well as semi – professional applications like Adobe Premiere Pro CC

What you need:

  • a transcript of your video
  • a video player that will display ‘Audio time units’ – i.e. time in HH:MM:SS;mS and which you are familiar with
  • a text editor (notepad will do if you are desperate)

SRT formatting is exceptionally simple. This makes it suitable for hand coding into a plain text file. The format is simply this:

  • Subtitle index (starts at zero increments +1 per subtitle)
  • Start time –> end time (h:mm:ss;ms)
  • Subtitle content (as plain text, hard line breaks are honoured on screen)
  • Blank line to terminate this subtitle
00:20:41,150 --> 00:20:45,109
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 
Lets open up this tricky passage of scripture. 

00:20:45,110 -->  00:20:50,001
The wise ones, Magi, brought gifts to the infant Christ of 
Gold Frankinsense and myrh

There is a very readable guide at Wikipedia about the format and also some formatting permitted by convention in many SRT clients

Step 1: Obtaining a transcript of your video

  • The simplest strategy is just to type one. I recommend not trying to type your transcript in SRT format to start with. Instead transcribe it into natural chunks. If you are very familiar with what was said, you may find that transcribing chunks from the end of the video and moving ‘backwards’ towards the beginning gets you a more accurate transcript.
    • This technique is great if you have poor internet upload speed, or are constrained to keep the content of the video on your local machine – for example in the developing world
    • Hand coding also works well if you have poor quality sound in the video
  • An alternative method is to use an AI speech recognition service. There are several with adequate free plans for a lot of work:
    • At the time of writing works well providing you give it clean audio. Helpfully Otter can handle multiple speakers competently.

Step 2: Splitting your transcript for best effect

Subtitling for effective communication is an art. You can’t expect to just split every n words. That creates very poor intelligibility. You want to help the viewer through the video. Your role is important and should not be rushed. Here’s an example

Christmas has come and gone and also the new year.
And if we are honest,

we would probably have to admit that most of us,
if not all of us have been feeling rather exhausted.

We do it every year, the mad rush to buy the presents before
the shop closeson Christmas Eve;.

Step 3: Adding timings

Now there is nothing to do but some hard work. In the absence of any other tools you need VLC the excellent free video player to play the video out. You need an VLC extension ‘Time’ which allows you to put the time in an useful format on screen in ms.

Simply go down the file adding in the time stamps and index numbers

Step 4: Finalise

Now name the file *.srt perhaps and you are good to go.

Data Stories

Sony PXW-Z190, ffmpeg batch transcode to ProRes Quicktime: Explained

Specific guide on using ffmpeg to transcode Quicktime (ProRes) from the native MXF as recorded by Sony PXW-Z190 cameras. Also of interest to users of the PXW-Z280. For those of you desperate to cut and paste an incantation into Terminal – here you go:

 for i in *.MXF; do ffmpeg -i "$i"   -map 0:0 -map 0:1 -map 0:2 -map 0:3 -map 0:4 -c:v prores_ks -profile:v 1 -quant_mat:v 3 -qscale:v 13   "./output/${i%.*}.mov";done

Read on to understand what it does and why it works. If you’re not technical or used to Terminal – don’t worry we do it step by step.

So for the transcode we want to operate on the video stream particularly which is in h264, and transcode that to ProRes. We could do things to the audio stream but here we are just going to copy the four tracks of audio straight over.

Video transcode

Using ffprobe find the information about the zeroth stream which in this camera is the video…

Stream #0:0: Video: h264 (High), yuv420p(tv, bt709, progressive), 3840x2160 [SAR 1:1 DAR 16:9], 29.97 fps, 29.97 tbr, 29.97 tbn, 59.94 tbc    

So lets write a ffmpeg command to just make a QuickTime video file with no audio to illustrate what we are about.

ffmpeg -i INPUT.MXF -c:v prores_ks -profile:v 1 -quant_mat:v 3 -qscale 20  OUTPUT.MOV    

Exploding the command term by term

  • -c:v Selects the zeroth stream. If your video is somewhere else or there are n video streams then you need to map it / them formally
  • prores_ks selects the codec – This is one of number of ProRes options but is the one that I’ve had most luck with. Here’s a slightly despairing blog by one of the original authors: ProRes KS
  • -profile:v a preconfigured profile in prores_ks options are specified by an integer thus: -profile:v 3
    • 0 ‘proxy’
    • 1 ‘lt’ (suprisingly useful especially when output to web)
    • 2 ‘standard’
    • 3 ‘hq’
    • 4 ‘4444’
    • 5 ‘4444xq’
  • -quant_mat a preconfigured matrixes in prores_ks options are specified by an integer thus: -profile:v 3
    • 0‘auto’
    • 1‘default’
    • 2‘proxy’
    • 3‘lt’
    • 4 ‘standard’
    • 5 ‘hq’
  • -qscale Quantiser. Very broadly this is about the way the encoder picks the amount of compression per frame. Setting a fixed qscale speeds up the encode because a whole chunk of processing to get best quality is short-circuited.
  • bits_per_mb higher values will improve speed. I don’t recommend specifying both this and -qscaleat the same time because predicting the outcome gets tricky if you aren’t intimate with the maths

Audio copy

ffmpeg -i INPUT.MXF -map 0:1 -map 0:2 -map 0:3 -map 0:4 -c:a copy  OUTPUT.MOV    

Creating a straight copy over of the audio as PCM – i.e. without transcoding needs the use of the map command. There’s a better explanation of what’s going on here than I can give ffmpeg wiki some systems may struggle with the raw audio.

 Synthesising the command

ffmpeg -i INPUT.MXF -map 0:1 -map 0:2 -map 0:3 -map 0:4 -c:v prores_ks -profile:v 1  -quant_mat:v 3 -qscale:v 12  -c:a:0  pcm_alaw  -c:a:1  pcm_alaw -c:a:2 pcm_alaw -c:a:3 pcm_alaw

Note that we now need to map the video channel explicitly.

Now some magic to make I process a directory of files.

This works in OSX and probably works in most Linux. I’m not going to explain because why ‘$I’ works isn’t straightforward…

The only requirement here is that you probably should pre-create a directory called /output in the active directory. So if you’re working dir is
$usr/video then $usr/video/output

 for i in *.MXF; do ffmpeg -i "$i"   -map 0:0 -map 0:1 -map 0:2 -map 0:3 -map 0:4 -c:v prores_ks -profile:v 1 -quant_mat:v 3 -qscale:v 13  -c:a:0  pcm_alaw  -c:a:1  pcm_alaw -c:a:2 pcm_alaw -c:a:3 pcm_alaw "./output/${i%.*}.mov";done

Use your friend ffprobe

use ffmpeg without a solid understanding of the file you are feeding it as an input is fairly futile for all but the most straightforward cases. So first steps is always to use ffprobe to examine the input.

The bits we need from the screed of the Metadata report are the stream definitions – since they help with specifying the right options for the transcode.

 Video definition

 Stream #0:0: Video: h264 (High), yuv420p(tv, bt709, progressive), 3840x2160 [SAR 1:1 DAR 16:9], 29.97 fps, 29.97 tbr, 29.97 tbn, 59.94 tbc    

The first stream is the video – h264 encoded, colour depth 4:2:0,

N audio streams

 Stream #0:1: Audio: pcm_s24le, 48000 Hz, 1 channels, s32 (24 bit), 1152 kb/s

Then we get to the audio streams of which there are at least four – two external microphones, and two internal mics. I haven’t been able to test the Sony special interface

Mysterious fifth stream

There is a data stream which it isn’t quite clear what it does – It’s timecode related but I don’t do enough TC specific stuff to have worked out what.


Have a nature bath

In these frenetic times the #NatureBath series aids reflection, prayer, mediation and peace. This is social media for the common good. To see more or keep in touch: follow @ianwyllie on twitter.

A #WheeelyBeastFilms project. Everything you see has been filmed from a wheelchair. @IanWyllie is available for your creative interview or project around faith, disability, hope, recovery and Hampshire news.


Licensed under an Attribution, Non Commercial, No Derivatives license is in force. In principle other licenses for specific users in the sphere of disability, mental health and religion could be agreed. Please contact Ian Wyllie.

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News & features

The Hillier’s meditations

Hillier’s Gardens, are full of life at the moment, and as spring tends to summer the plants are at their flourishing best. I’ve spent a few afternoons there recently, in part to explore making some mediative reflections for Disability and Jesus, who are a user led collective doing all sorts of transformational access stuff as well as the amazing An Ordinary Office project. Do check it out.

So here are some of the very little films, from a strikingly windy gardens, rendered apparently less so by the judicious use of slow(er) mo(tion), at least as much as the PXW-Z190 will provide. It’s fair to say it’s not one of the camera’s strong points.

The gardens were very much less busy and calmer when this was shot – all handheld, which isn’t an excuse, but was an opportunity to check out the handling on the camera, which doesn’t get off a tripod much.

And finally the Woodland Pigs which were very much full grown and seem to have ‘mysteriously vanished’ with replacements due soon. Sausages anyone?″
News & features

Music therapists in the wild

Meta Killick from Living with Harmony Music Therapy, has a side gig busking in Winchester. She finds it a non threatening and impactful way of engaging people and sharing the difference music therapy can make to wellbeing and mood. 

Living with Harmony is a specialist Music Therapy practice run by Alistair Clarkson and Meta. Together they have a formidable range of expertise, but a gentle and generous approach to the power of music fully participated in to change moods, health and ultimately lives. They work in a range of residential and community settings. 

In an innovative move they are engaged in a project to explore how Music Therapy can make a positive contribution to the safeguarding of vulnerable adults. In an innovative move they are engaged in a project to explore how Music Therapy can make a positive contribution to the safeguarding of vulnerable adults

Busking doesn’t just keep the pennies rolling in. Meta finds it a useful opportunity to engage people and educate them about the benefits of Music Therapy.

She said: “I’m here busking, it’s a magnet. People come and tell me how beautiful the Harp is, and I tell them how wonderful Music Therapy is. I engage people in conversation, People like the Harp, it’s a pretty sound, and if I’m sitting down, I’m non threatening.”

Meta Killick, Winchester 3 May 2019

Here’s a longer piece of relaxing harp busking, video in the street ambience of Winchester.