Eric and Clare's Christmas Letter, 2008

Dear Friends
What a year of contrasts! With the whole economy in chaos, the effect on many individual lives is likely to be devastating. At the same time the severity and reality of global problems such as climate change and energy provision and the urgent need for deeds rather than words has been underlined. But an optimistic note here for us has been the election of Obama.

In pondering such issues, the still small voice at the core of Christmas comes to our minds: it calls us to care for others more deeply and gives us hope that a better world is possible.

On Knoydart: Dave, Naomi & Matt --- Clive & Clare --- Andy & Cathy

Against all this, Clare and I are ever grateful for the blessings of such a wonderful family and are thrilled that all four children and Gerry will be with us at Christmas. Clare continues part-time counselling in Dundee, as well as spending time with a few friends in need of support. Andrew and Cathy lead a full and active life in Cambridge between research, teaching and adventurous holidays. Matthew is doing a year's Master's course in Community Education, which will advance his career of helping young people with social and/or mental health problems -- with his partner Colin in Edinburgh he relishes singing in a high-quality choir for 20s and 30s. Naomi is also in Edinburgh doing a post-grad diploma in speech therapy, while David is out in East Africa trying to help farmers grow better crops (at the moment Mozambique). Gerry (Eric's brother) has been incredibly helpful in practical issues as always, and his stunning photography is reaching new heights (see Eric has had a busy fulfilling year -- impossible without Clare's continuing support in countless ways.

Eric's 65th birth: Eric, Matt, Clare, Colin, Naomi, Gerald --- some of the research group

A few highlights of the year:
Eric and Clare continue to sing in St A Chorus, a 120 strong town-gown choir with a wonderful vitality due to the 40 students and the brilliant conductor (Edward) and pianist (Marilyn). [See]. Eric is president and couldn't wish for a more helpful and hard-working committee. Particularly memorable was a performance of Handel's Dixit Dominus. To Eric, singing is a wonderful relaxation (he has weekly singing lessons and also sings in the church choir) -- for evidence that singing is good for your health, see

David (Mozambique) eating sugar cane --- At Chorus David G, Edward & Eric --- Joanne and Joanne

In Nov, we attended the blessing of Joanne and Joanne's civil partnership in Winchester -- i.e., their wedding (Joanne's parents are great friends in St A) -- a joyous Christian celebration of covenant love and commitment. It was such a privilege to be able to share in this moving and happy occasion.

Our house in early November --- St Pauls: View from whispering gallery; --- Eric in full flow

The theme of Science and Religion has engaged us recently. For Eric's talk and panel discussion in St Paul's cathedral and interview on the BBC with Sally Magnusson, see and
Eric and Alan Torrance have organised 3 stimulating James Gregory public lectures this year attracting between 500 and 750 people (see
Denis Alexander on "Has science made religion redundant?",
Bruno Guiderdoni on "Islam and Science",
and John Polkinghorne on "How does God interact with a suffering world?"
In each case, there was a discussion at the dinner (see web page for transcript) and a lively visit to a local school.

On the way to Knoydart --- Meal times --- Matt, Clive, Clare, Naomi, James, Andrew, Gerry

Start of a walk ------- Views looking west

Top of one summit -- -- and another

Our holiday was in the most remote part of Scotland (Knoydart, a peninsula reached either by boat or a day's walk) -- incredibly beautiful -- we rented a "cottage" (actually a huge old manse) and were joined by the whole family, friends and cousins -- a wonderfully refreshing time of hill and coastal walking, cycling, chatting and games. (See

Research-wise, Eric is incredibly fortunate to be part of a vibrant group (now led by Alan Hood) with lots of bright young researchers -- it has been especially heartening to see the careers of Clare Parnell, Duncan Mackay and Ineke de Moortel blossom -- they are each very special. Eric is completely rewriting his old book "Solar MHD", but was distracted for 6 months by the tough job of helping a national panel assess the research of all applied mathematicians in the UK.

Start of conference --- At banquet: Sharada Srinivasan dancing; and friends (Javier Trujillo Bueno, Eric, Sharada Srinivasan, Jim Klimchuk, Siraj Hansan)

The year ended with an inspiring visit to Bangalore to an international symposium -- lots of new results -- impressive was the sense of graciousness and poise of his Indian hosts and of the Hindu culture shown in the opening ceremony, as well as the dance to Shiva at the banquet. Eric hopes in 2009 to go about daily life with less hurry & a greater sense of grace.

With very best wishes for the holiday and the coming year
Eric and Clare