Thursday, November 30, 2006

Cut off

Woe, woe and thrice woe. This is one of the relatively few times when I feel cut off, living here on the wrong side of the Firth. The photo was actually taken a couple of days ago, when the sea wasn't causing travel problems other than sea-sickness, but today all our ferries have been off since mid-morning and it's now so dark (at four in the afternoon) that I can't see the waves any more.

And today I was planning on travelling. Not anywhere exotic, but a trip involving two ferries, to The College on Cumbrae. Now, instead, having spent the whole day hanging around waiting to see what would happen, I'm going to have to resurrect some chilli from the freezer and think about going in the morning. Very disappointing.

Worse still, the connction saga continues, with the added complications of our new telly and the Sky package. Microfilters or no, neither the installation of the Sky line nor our broadband connection have been behaving normally. Furthermore (I love that word - so portentous) I don't seem to be able to blog from flickr any more. And yes, I have updated my settings.

I might as well be living in a cave. I used to be good with an open fire ....

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Words fail me .....

Having just sat for 15 minutes trying to load beta blogger to publish an entry, I find myself so startled by the sudden appearance of the page that I've almost forgotten what I was going to post about. I had, in fact, begun to mail a reply to BT that the problem is theirs - but I'll do this first now that I'm here.

After teaching two hours intensively today on Higher Engish, and then spent 30 minutes on QuickTopic Document Review doing formative assessment on a Higher essay, I feel suddenly very ... teacherly again. I am exercised by the problems pupils carry into the Higher English course - in particular, today, the problem of a limited vocabulary. It is, I imagine, unthinkable that someone would sit Higher French without making an effort to learn new words, and words of a certain degree of sophistication so that they could get past the "je m'appelle.." mode, and yet they expect to cope with the subtleties of English literature without knowing, say, what "dreary" means. That example comes from today, but I could come up with many others - and that's before I move on to the technical language required to discuss literary technique with any degree of clarity.

Ah well. There is much to be done. I've suggested the daily read of Guardian Unlimited as a start to acquiring the necessary vocabulary - as well as the skills of the essayist. In the meantime, I find Quick Topic Document Review an excellent tool for online tuition at the moment, and am grateful to Dave Weinberger for pointing me towards it.

And now to see if I can establish sufficient connection to publish this ......

Monday, November 27, 2006

Commitment and nags

As I've bragged (or should that be brogged? - a neat amalgamation of verbs) about the success of edublogs like Progress Report I think it's only fair to acknowledge that wildbanks has been a complete failure in terms of encouraging a student to work and progress. The joyous bit for me was that I felt able to tell the parents that they were wasting their money and my time and that we should cease trading forthwith - how often did I long for that freedom in my classroom days!

I often reflect on the discrepancy between parents' ambitions for their children and the inclination of said children to do anything to fulfil these ambitions - which the child may even profess for themselves. On the other hand, it was just great when one of the Progress Report bloggers came back sua sponte with an onslaught on her Higher work - for then I was reminded of the drive created to improve and succeed.

In the end, of course, it's all a matter of commitment. Some people reach that stage of maturity earlier than others; some people have wonderful nagging parents who sacrifice their own peaceful lives to keep up the pressure. That's what I had when I was at school, and I've never ceased to marvel at the way my father - a famous Glasgow English teacher in his day - helped me with physics while my mother would do the preliminary work on my Virgil translation because I had so much homework. I hope I in turn was able to carry on the noble tradition of nag-in-chief despite the temptation to do my own thing.....

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sic transit Google

The past few days - since Wednesday afternoon, to my knowledge - I've had a completely creaky internet connection. It seems slightly better today, but not well enough to make web use anything but frustrating. Pages time out before loading; I have to make several attempts to load perfectly ordinary sites; Google is hopeless and Flickr not much better. I know of one other household, also on BT and also in my area, where they are suffering this problem, and it's happening to the two computers at The Blethers.

Any comment on this from all you more savvy users?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Travelling Russians

After a frustrating couple of days of slow downloads, timing-out for several web-sites and the inability to access Blethers at all some of the time, I'm typing with crossed fingers (no, not really) that we seem to have recovered. I've been seduced by Neil into adding the Twitter badge to my sidebar - not wildly useful in that no-one really wants to know what I'm doing except Mr B, and if I'm updating the badge he knows what I'm doing - but providing, in Neil's case, an explanation of why he wasn't around for me to moan at about my internet woes.

But a word more about our Russian friends, now safely in Cumbrae - kudos to the good people at The College for taking them in a day early after their brush with yesterday's weather on the Clyde. This incident underlined for me what I knew already: this is such a hard life, this touring with your music. So why do such splendid musicians have to trail round the towns and villages of Britain in winter, or leave their homes in St Petersburg every summer to perform in Italy? We're talking a minibus driven by their conductor: nae roadies, nae backup - there is no sense of pampering and they cannot afford to stay in hotels or B&Bs.

They are in this position because Russia is full of excellent singers and professional choirs - far too full for there to be audiences for their performances. The hangover from the Soviet era, in fact, when many of them received their training. Now there are no grants for young musicians and no subsidies for performers. So they come here, bringing their music to a wider audience and sending our money home to families and to impoverished students. They rely on hospitality to keep their costs down and good takings to make any kind of profit from the outlay on the hired bus (I noticed that this year's bus had Swiss plates)

I was horrified to learn of their experiences elsewhere - though not, Jurij assured me, in most of Scotland. But it must be galling to turn up to a venue to find that the responsible contact has either forgotten about publicity or not bothered to set it up; where a church which seats 500 provides an audience of 50; where the incumbent announces that he has only charged £5.oo for a ticket and intends to take half the proceeds anyway. I felt his gloom when he announced that he wasn't getting any younger, and watched him write mails to his daughter back in St Petersburg.

So why am I going on about this? I suppose I'm flagging up a point of view to counter those I've come across about visiting choirs being "too much bother" - "too demanding" - "expect you to look after them all the time". Let's put it straight: these are terrific musicians trying to earn a living by their singing. They can earn the same money creating mobile phone rings - one of last year's tenors coudn't come because this is what he's doing now and he has a girl friend. He's got a life, in other words, that he wants to live normally. But I'd rather have the singing than the ringing!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

These were the days ...(an in joke)

A couple of days ago I passed the first anniversary of this blog. I was, however, too busy to mark this, as I was hosting the fifth visit to Dunoon of Voskresenije, a professional vocal ensemble from St Petersburg. Now, reeling slightly, I offer the fruits of my experience to the blogosphere.

So: Visiting Russians? Nae bother! (A brief guide)
The key to success is keeping the visit in mind for about eight months before it happens. You need to plan your publicity and the timing of adverts and press-releases and poster-putting-up (they send the posters). You need to arrange for sufficient host-families to put up the singers for the night of the performance. You should encourage others - I do this through a church - to supply tea and buns. Emails arrive from strange places and you realise the choir is to be in the UK for at least a month before you see them. This is important, as you can't be sure that the director will be able to hijack someone's computer at each venue. You need to be able to contact other hosts in moments of crisis - even if only to find out how many singers are coming this year. And then, despite all your confident predictions, they drive like the wind and arrive before the earliest you thought possible in a hired minibus driven by the conductor, intent on the nearest loo followed by a great deal of tea. In that order.

The singers like to eat before they sing - but not a proper meal. Anything like cakes, soup, rolls ...... anything. They rehearse, briefly, in the venue. They vanish, and reappear in performance mode. And the performance? Wonderful. The sound is intense, electrifying. At one point, as the whole ensemble came together on the word "gospodin", I felt the hair rise on my head - the volume reaching a pitch I would have thought only possible with amplification. The sopranoes are petite figures with huge and wonderful voices, and the second alto, who sang a solo, seems far too slender for such a rich cello-note.

But this is not a critique - it is a "how to". It is fun to have a few words of welcome in Russian, but not necessary. It is good to have filled the venue and to have charged realistic prices for the tickets - this is not some amateur group for whom you sell tickets apologetically. It is good to remember that this is their livelihood, and not to skin off half the takings for your own purposes. The singe
rs sell CDs and Russian dolls at the interval. They take a collection for students back home. They do a couple of great encores if you clap sufficiently - this is a good idea also. And then you take your alloted Russian(s) home and give them a good meal and put them to bed, where they will stay as long as possible.

You make like a proper Scottish seaside landlady at breakfast - whatever your own preference, sausages and black pudding vanish along with the bacon and eggs - and deliver them back to the meeting point in good time for their departure. Often more tea has to be consumed, and more cake/rolls/whatever: a sense of stocking up in case of problems later.

And problems happen. In the middle of writing this I had a phone call from Jurij, the conductor. The gales which we had feared have prevented the sailing of the Ardrossan-Brodick ferry, and they are due to sing on Arran tonight. No gig, no accommodation = substantial loss of revenue. Last I heard, they were heading for Cumbrae. It's a wild night. I hope they make it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Slapped wrists?

In a recent post I leapt into a storm (well - a slight depression, perhaps) about the apparent barring of Blogger by Argyll and Bute. It turns out it was a technical hitch, apparently, and all is now well. Today, wrist smarting slightly, I feel the need to justify the haste with which some of us believed the worst and didn't instead seek out the technical staff to find out what was what.

For a start, of course, I'm no longer in the system. But I was in it, and my experience as an employee left me more ready to trust the former colleague who alerted me to the outage than the people in charge of deciding what we could/could not do online in school. I'd like to give a picture of the possible scenario had I still been in B7, trying to use Web2.0 technology with, say, a boisterous class of S3 mixed-ability boys.

B7 is at the end of a corridor, tucked far from the heart of the school - the office, the Resource Centre, where lurk the people who know about gaining access to forbidden sites. Into the room come 27 assorted boys: "Miss! Are we bloggin' the day?" Expectancy is high - this is right up their street and access to the department computer trolley is rationed and carefully booked in advance. Let's say they have just set up the necessary site/sites for their work and are are eager to get blogging. The laptops are distributed and started up. It is only now, ten minutes into the period, that the problem becomes apparent. Your plans are scuppered and class morale plummets - these are not thoughtful academics we're dealing with, but very ordinary kids.

So what now? Leave the room to find out what's up? Find someone who can reach the necessary techies for you? (I never knew how to do this - it was A Secret.) Or quickly think up some other computer-based activity to keep the boys cheerfully occupied while mentally reshuffling your planned work for the next week, knowing that if you abandon them for the necessary length of time the consequences could be .... interesting? Rhetorical question, huh?

Seems to me there are a few pointers here. The first might be to realise that if web-based activities are on the increase in classrooms, then web-based hiccups have to be spotted instantly and teachers informed before the point of no return - in the same way as we used to be warned about fire drills, say. And perhaps it'd be a good thing if every teacher had a quick contact line to the techies - and it's no use firing off a specualtive email in the hope of hearing something before you go home that night. If you know your resource isn't working but will work again, at least you can plan and don't look quite such a fool in the eyes of the pupils.

In my admittedly limited experience of using computers in the classroom - not through choice but because it was so cumbersome to arrange - I found it frustrating and demeaning to be treated as if I too were a pupil who was not trusted to know how to unlock the sacred mysteries. Perhaps that explains the vehemence of the reactions which now seem to have been excessive and misdirected. I think there are lessons to be learned.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Food for thought

Scotland is an amazing country. In one day we passed from the bright sun and autumn colours of the far north-east to the deep winter of Glencoe (pictured) - although the autumn leaves were still visible against the snow in several places. The first thing which struck me was the enormity of the windmills in a windfarm just south of Thurso - there are some pix on flickr which show them. It brought it home just what we have to do to our country to maintain the absurd standards of comfort on which we insist (the hotel had been so warm), just as did the huge lorries negotiating the Berriedale Braes on their way to and from the north coast towns - terrifying gradients with inadequate-looking escape runs off to the roadside.

There was a further comment on life in these parts in the sight of the Duke of Sutherland's huge statue on a plinth high above the town of Gospie. Even after we had crossed the Dornoch Firth I could still see it - it dominates the landscape more than any windmill or radio mast - and I couldn't help reflecting on how the people of the area must feel about it. do they notice it any more? Do they still feel resentment for the fate of their ancestors? Or are the people now living there in some way a replacement for the families who were cleared from the land in the past? Dunrobin Castle is now open to visitors; we can pay to gawp at a privileged lifestyle and feel glad that our money goes to offset the cost of maintaining it - can't we? But onward and southward, for the weather will not last ...

It broke as we headed down the Great Glen. The snow which we had seen on the distant hills was now beside the road, and actually on the road in north-facing bays in Drumnadrochit, where the temperature barely rose above freezing. As we drove into Fort William the first blobs of sleet hit the car, and by the time we reached the Glencoe Visitors' Centre it was gloomy under a dark sky. I've never been in Glencoe in snow; it was an awesome sight heightened by the presence overhead of two rescue helicopters. At the highest point of the glen the snow was all around us and the mountains merged with the darkening sky as we climbed back into the warm womb of the car and headed down the road.

It snowed almost constantly from there to Loch Eck. We drove into the funnel of white shrapnel till we were dizzy, and were glad to arrive exactly eight hours after leaving Thurso. I've made the odd reference to our need for fuel to keep us going, but there is one fuel fact I have omitted. We travelled that whole 300 mile journey on a great cooked breakfast - that, and a lump of chocolate cake in Glencoe.

Economical, huh?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A first time for everything ....

Home from my wanderings, I am left at this point with the feeling that for a small country Scotland covers a big area! It took us 8 hours to come home yesterday, and I shall write about that journey later. But now I want to look back at our experience in Thurso, and all that happened there.

We arrived in the late afternoon after a drive up the A9 - the road that links Edinburgh to Thurso. The hotel in which we stayed, The Weigh Inn, doesn't appear clearly on Google Earth, but is right there on Flash Earth - see the screen shot. It was too gloomy to see much, and we were too busy socialising with the happy couple and our friends who had travelled north with us. Thurso is about the same size as Dunoon, and they have a Somerfield's (lucky them) just like us. There is a Lidl and there is to be a Tesco, so there are advantages to being there. Apart from that, it was decidedly chilly and we were glad to be indoors with the Prosecco.

The morning brought us our first view of Orkney - that's the distant land mass in the pic - and Scabster, just along the road. There was a sense of immense space, of being on the edge of things, of the long road like a string stretched behind us. But we were there for a marriage - for that's how I think of the Civil Partnership ceremony to which we had been invited. A marriage of souls who were meant to be together. The ceremony, in front of friends and family, was dignified and touching. The photo session afterwards was joyous, the few speeches happy and appropriate, the food good and the crack excellent. The disco was too loud for my taste, but that's ok - we sat in the bar with other sensitive plants and chatted, emerging for the odd dance.

In other words, it was like any other wedding celebration. The only difference was that Douglas and Peter are men. I am so pleased to have been invited to share their day, and utterly delighted that they are together. May they live long and prosper!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Heading north

I've been packing. I hate packing - but I'm looking forward to this trip. Tomorrow I shall leave by a hideously early ferry to drive to Thurso. Thurso on a November Thursday - doesn't sound a blast, but I think it will be. My first attempt to visit the extreme north coast of Scotland was thwarted by two factors: the call to sing at a special service in the Cathedral on Cumbrae and the minor inconveniences of the early stages of pregnancy (I had gone off beer. And coffee.) That was over 33 years ago and I've never been back. Now I'm going to another first for me: a civil partnership celebration. Meeting with friends as well as new people in a new place sounds like a good mix - even if it is bucketing with rain outside.

And because it's bucketing, I've been doing what I always pictured myself doing when I didn't have to go to work (apart from the packing, that is). I've sat reading for the past two hours - more of "Imperium" and a chunk of David Day's Preaching Workbook. For most of last year I felt guilty if I didn't go out and bash along in the wet at some point, but now I swim with the pre-breakfast ancients that need has subsided, just a bit.

I'll be up at 5am tomorrow - no late blogging for me tonight!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Links and pleasure

The ultra-observant reader may have spotted a new link on my blogroll - rather self-indulgently to my own new site, where I shall probably put occasional poems - occasional in both senses of the word - as the mood or the muse takes me. Probably this is simply an excuse to keep a name and URL that I liked, as well as the rather pretty new template from Blogger beta. I'll maybe park some photos there too.

Being brain-dead today - a result of working this morning on Bible passages to do with the nature of kingship (and the difference between "kingship" and "kingdom"!) - I'll content myself with the two pleasurable inputs these last two days. One is starting on Robert Harris' Imperium, which feels right up my via already, and the other was listening to a performance on record of Rachmaninov's Vespers.

Perhaps the Vespers was in anticipation of the return to Dunoon of Voskresenije, the vocal ensemble from St Petersburg (Wednesday 22 November, 7.30pm, Holy Trinity Church). Dunoon is not in the boondocks, despite what all you city slickers may think, and it will be perfectly possible to catch a ferry after the concert - so if you fancy a very special musical experience we'd be delighted to see you. The group are not performing in the Glasgow area this year - catch them if you can!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Not forgetting

After the weekend of remembrance, both public spectacle and the much smaller scale of a tiny church observing the silence at the morning Eucharist, I read - belatedly: Sunday is always too busy for much dissecting of the papers - that Jon Snow, the newsreader, refused to wear a poppy to read the news. He referred to "poppy fascism". And I read about this in Muriel Gray's column, and discovered that she was as critical of his words and his action as she also seemed critical of the wearing of a white poppy.

Now, I'm as fascinated by the horrors of WW1 as anyone, and took the photo above on a visit to the battlefields of The Somme, when four of us walked in silence among the many graves and stood on the crackling white stubble of the fields where men had died. I felt my heart stop at the sight of a row of figures advancing over the fields with guns sloped at the ready - the shooting season had begun, but it was a strange wrinkle in time - and looked at the photos in a museum nearby of young men made old by horror. I stood in silence in church and felt moved at the sight of our old soldier carrying the poppy wreath out to the graveyard.

But I did not wear a poppy, and it's a long time since I did. Although now we no longer have to stand and sing "God save the Queen" in our church, there was a time when we did, and as a member of the choir I was expected to lead in this. I came in for a lot of flak when I wouldn't sing - I stood, but in silence - because I didn't think the eucharist a proper place for such nationalism. I felt, in fact, that my "remembrance" was being forced on me by people with a different agenda from my own. These same people pilloried my membership of CND and labelled me a communist for my activities at the Holy Loch - then a US naval base. I used to feel angry on Remembrance Sunday, and longed for a diplomatic illness to get me off the hook.

Now we seem to have moved on - all of us. The church seems to talk with a different voice, and a bishop washes the feet of peace marchers in Edinburgh. I thought in the silence of the young men and women dead in the muddle of our foreign adventures, and of the photo in The Guardian last Thursday of the children killed by Israeli shelling in Gaza. We heard a meditative sermon on the "stories" we tell of our experience - the way a country makes sense of its recent history, in a way - and wondered how this decade's "story" will end. The armies nowadays are professional soldiers, not frightened conscripts - but the children and women who die are conscripted merely by an accident of geography. How do we make their "story" anything but tragic?

Muriel Gray talked about people's "moral posturing". I daresay I'm one of the people she despises - religious, non-poppy-wearing switherer that I am. But I will not be conscripted into going along with everyone else just because it shows solidarity, for if I did I think I'd be pharisaical.

Freedom, after all, is what it's about. Isn't it?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Back to the Stone Age in Argyll

I've just learned from a comment on Edublogs (again) that blogging is no longer allowed in Argyll and Bute educational establishments. Who actually makes these decisions? Why are the children in Argyll schools not to be allowed to use a tool that is being welcomed by innovative educators all over the world? If this is the case - and it wouldn't surprise me, I'm sorry to say - then it's small wonder that the English department of my former place of employment is currently desperate for someone to come in to teach a Higher class and an Advanced Higher class, to name but one example. If I were currently working for a more enlightened authority, wild horses wouldn't drag me into the blogless boondocks.

And of course if I were still working for Argyll and Bute Council, I'd not be blogging this, because I'd still be catching up on the paper correction work that I always refused to bring home with me. Now, if it were blogged ...

I would love to know who makes the decisions, though. And why.


Originally uploaded by goforchris.
This photo, taken yesterday on the hillside above the road out of Kimun Arboretum as dusk descended, was too good as a title pic not to use it, though in fact all I was going to reflect upon was the cheering news that my teeth appear to be in better nick now that I have more time to clean them. That's my dentist's theory anyway. Gave me a "1" for all my teeth yesterday - a sort of Credit Pass in plaque avoidance - and sent me off without even a scaling. No money needed either, then. Hurrah!

But the other exciting news came via Ewan with his link to Flash Earth. For the past year or so, I've been lamenting the fact that decent Google images of Dunoon stopped about 100 metres north of The Blethers. Now I can see my house - even tell that the image was taken in May, when the red azelea in my front garden is in bloom. Magic.

Sad, really, to have one's life so enhanced by small joys ......

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Interaction online

I've been spending some time over at Blogical Minds where Anne has been encouraging her pupils to blog and has just set up a wiki to use some of my photos from Flickr as stimulus for creative writing. This obviates the need for the pupils to access Flickr directly - it seems this lack of enthusiasm for open net access on the part of the authorities (who are they, these timid people?) is not confined to Argyll and Bute but is alive and well in the land of the free. Ironic, isn't it?

Ewan posted a comment about the function of Web 2.0 in facilitating friendships based on mutual interests and respect, and I think he's right. Do you think it'd help if Dubya was a blogger?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Learning curves

When I'd finished writing the previous post yesterday, I did a spot of Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training on my Nintendo DS Lite - got to keep Edublogger off my back! I have found that it's usually better to do this stuff in the morning; presumably that's why in primary school we spent the morning doing sums (always beginning with "mental") and spelling and left the afternoon for the quieter occupations of essay-writing and sewing. (Now there's a thing. As an English specialist I would now have to object to that, in the same way as I used to ban my Higher pupils from discussing maths in my room). However, the morning was long gone and I hadn't done my daily training. It was time to get on with it.

I discovered two interesting things. The first was actually slightly scarey: I found that when I had completed 100 sums - the "difficult" mode, including subtraction and division as well as the usual addition and subtraction - the front of my head felt .... warm. Warm in the way my ear does when I've been using my mobile phone. According to Dr K, "Quickly solving equations makes the prefrontal cortex quite active", and here I was feeling I had a hot head. Question: is your prefrontal cortex situated between your eyebrows?

And then I made the second discovery - because I went on to do the Brain Age check. For this, you have to do three randomly-selected tests (so they're not always the same): a Stroop test, plus a word memory test and a number-recoginition test were the ones last night. And my brain age had gone down to 33! Hurrah! I hadn't done the test for a week because I was unwilling to have it go back up from the 44 I'd reached - but the proof is above for all to see so I'll risk it again next week. In defence of my sparring partner who appears to be 80, I have to say that he's in the throes of composition at the moment with a deadline to meet - a sort of musical "Ready Steady Cook" - so sums and words aren't really on the agenda.

And my last discovery since last post came thanks to Bishop Martin, who keeps denying any tincture of geekery. I learned how to insert colour into my text. I've only been at it for a year - how sad is that?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Linked activities

I was sad to read my friend Don's blog post today just after I had returned from one of my infrequent visits to my old haunts at Dunoon Grammar. I was being assailed on all sides with demands that I return for English supply teaching, and though I would have said "no" anyway, because my life has filled up and there's no room for going back, the lack of access to the technology and the sites which I now use daily would actually mean that I'd have to go back in my head to the days when I was content to teach with a book and a blackboard. And that, I have to confess, I'd be unwillling to do, because one of the few things that I regret about retirement is that I never had the chance to explore the resources that Ewan, David et al promote so convincingly.

However, I am glad to report that former pupils of mine are blogging away - beginning with Neil the Blogfather himself, the aforelinked Ewan, continuing with Ben, currently blogging from Germany and Duffy, who seems to have taken a scunner at education for educators, right down to the revived Progress Report, where one of The Teens has come back to blogging to help her with her Higher English. I can't help a slight feeling of satisfaction that every one of these bloggers worked at some time on the staff of The Pupil's View, the magazine which I was dragooned into running by the now head of editorial development at Guardian Unlimited. He, of course, vanished to do that sort of thing full time, while I stayed there fitting editorial work and struggling with Aldus Pagemaker in around teaching .... but there you are.

And now, worn out by all these links, I shall go and see what my brain age is today.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Over the water ....

When you hear of a priest being instituted as Rector of a church these days, it ususally means he or she has just arrived there, is beginning a new job as it were. But today, my pal Kenny was instituted as Rector of St Augustine's, Dumbarton where he has been Priest-in-charge for the past 6 years or so. I wanted to be there for such a milestone on the journey of this congregation - a "cairn" on the path, as +Idris called it. It is no small achievement to complete such an ambitious restoration project and develop as a congregation during the process, but this lot have done it! I was welcomed like an old friend, invited to the buffet, talked to more people than I can remember, and had a ball. The service was full of warmth: this was not entirely down to the incredible physical warmth of the building, though it's a long time since I've been quite so cosy in an Episcopal church!

So well done, Kenny and well done St Aug's - you've done exceptional. And thank you for a great morning!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Distant shores....

At Toward sailing club 2
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
This pic was taken at the end of today's little bit of self-indulgence, if the chill of late afternoon can be truly self-indulgent rather than masochistic, after a sunset so lovely as to make us wonder (we do this periodically) why we ever leave here to go elsewhere for holidays.

Which brings me to the fact that we're off again in the New Year, having just booked a confusing number of flights to visit friends in the USA - starting in Alabama, going on to California, thence to old friends in Virginia and finally by Amtrak to New York for a few nights before returning in mid-February. I still find it quite scary having to be my own travel agent - we used the excellent Trailfinders for the transatlantic flights, the train and the hotel, but had to do the internal flights online, causing a flurry at my online banking people who seemed to think someone had nicked my credit card. I'm glad they're so vigilant, but it makes for difficulties: at one point I was worried that I'd booked the same flight for six different parties.

On quite another tack, David has thrown down a wee gauntlet in his comment on a previous post. I may yet have to come up with a snappy characterisation!

Freedom to roam

Originally uploaded by Mac44.
This was one of these perfect days when I can't bear to be indoors. The photo, hijacked from Mr B's Filckr set, shows an interesting view of the loch in the Bishop's Glen above Dunoon (and there are more lovely pix if you click on it). I am standing on the shingle at the head of the loch, which used to be the reservoir for Dunoon. We now get our water from Loch Eck, and the reservoirs have been returned to their natural state - well, sort of. There is still an alarming sluice at the other end - very dramatic after rain. But the upper reservoir, where a young CompleteTosh was intrigued by the antics of mating frogs, is gone, with the burn once more wandering through young trees, and the concrete walls and dams are slowly vanishing under brambles. Apparently the Bishop's Glen, above this most presbyterian of towns, is so called because the bishop's palace used to lie at its foot, where the primary school now stands.It's a good place to be, especially on a sunny morning when the rest of the world is at work.

The Bishop's Glen water used to be brownish, and I have no doubt it was full of interesting buglets. But it didn't taste as bad as the blue water which is even now filling my bath.

And no. I don't drink the bathwater.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Things unseen

My friend Bishop Martin has posted an excellent piece on Contemplative Intercession which coincided with the first of John Humphries' programmes about religion, in which he interviewed +Rowan Williams. There arose the question - I suppose inevitably - about what someone who prays thinks he/she is doing to influence the course of events. +Rowan voiced the idea of prayer somehow creating a "thin-ness" so that the power of love could break through into a situation. +Martin writes about visualising someone for whom one prays - but I suppose to someone who never prays all answers such as these will appear nonsensical in the literal sense of having no meaning.

One of the best hours I ever spent in my teaching career was taken up by a discussion with a class of boys about what prayer actually is to those who do it. I resorted to the analogy of phoning home when you're away from your parents - they could accept that, but it's a difficult concept to introduce to a "cold" audience. In fact, I don't know how evangelism happens - not now, anyway, and maybe not ever.

Maybe it's a case of "come and see"?