Wednesday, November 30, 2005


From my previous posts, it will be obvious that I had a great time at the weekend. Part of that weekend involved singing in an Advent Carol service. Advent has to be my favourite season in the Church year - this terrific sense of expectancy, in the dark of the Celtic winter, where the candle flames are a tiny flicker in the gloom. But was MY enjoyment at the expense of someone else's? There was at least one person present who, apparently, has girned her way through the two days since the service - so obviously not a happy bunny!

This leads me, slightly waywardly, into considering the difficulties of running a voluntary organisation like the church. Enthusiastic people - great, but also difficult. When does one person's enthusiasm become another's bete noir? How do you tell someone that actually their efforts are not helpful - and how do you deal with someone who makes destructive comments? who seems oblivious to hurt caused?
I suspect that traditionally the clergy have soaked up a lot of this stuff. After all, that's what they're paid for, right? (Sarcasm, here) But now that full-time priests are becoming an endangered species, more of us are becoming aware of all this fermenting that goes on beneath the smiling surface - what the poet/priest R.S.Thomas memorably referred to as "the dark filling in their smiling sandwich" ("The Priest") and feeling at a loss how to deal with it. It's easy if you revert to what for some of us are basic instincts - but these are not often helpful. The unreconstructed me would like to savage the girner with all the skill of long practice - but this would probably be A Bad Thing. So I won't.
Blogging as catharsis, eh? Great.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Voskresenije in Holy Trinity

What a weekend! Not only was I singing in a wonderful Advent Carol Service in the Cathedral of The Isles, Cumbrae - I was also involved in the organisation of the fourth visit of Voskresenije, from St Petersburg, to Holy Trinity church, Dunoon. This was their fourth visit, so Jurij Maruk, their conductor, and others who have returned with him, now feel like old friends - especially to all of us who give them hospitality in our homes.
These singers - all professionals - spend two months at a time on the road, touring in the UK and in Europe. The hire of their mini-bus - driven by Jurij - costs them £6,000, so it takes them 12 concerts merely to break even. This tour, they performed more than 40 concerts. They should be on their way home today (Monday) - Jurij intends to sleep for 3 days.
They are SUCH good value! The sound they make is very different from our singing here in the UK - something to do with the position of the larynx, apparently - and is immensely stirring. They sang excerpts from Rachmaninov's Vespers as well as the folk music of the second half, and ended with a performance of John McIntosh's arrangement of "Auld Lang Syne", which is on their last CD.
Now I want to add another photo - but as I can't work out how to do it here, I'll have to do another post!

Voskresenije in performance

Anatoly Artomonov is a rare example of a true basso profundo - his low notes are almost out of sight! Also in this photo is the youngest and newest recruit to the choir - Olga Bondarchuk.
Apparently, they found their visit to Dunoon one of their warmest venues - and warm hospitality too! I can believe the latter - but Holy Trinity? Warm? some people must be REALLY badly off!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Old Wine?

Reading Don's blog today, I couldn't help thinking about the implications of the new school building which is struggling to emerge from the mud - rather like the orcs in LOTR? Don talks about new beginnings - and I know what he means - but new beginnings won't happen without some new ideas, some truly energetic and inspiring leadership, and a real vision of what a school can be.
I'm going to stick my neck out and say that despite the obvious fact that most teachers are exhausted by the job it is vital that they are able to enjoy what they are doing. They can't do this if the clientele are disruptive and rude. What makes the pupils like this? boredom? upbringing? indifference? What can teachers do about these factors? Can't do anything about the upbringing, that's for sure.
The day of the boring teacher, however, is surely past. I can remember being bored out of my tree in some classes at school. But I was an academically inclined soul, quite content to supplement the deficiencies of my English teacher's technique with a packet of sweets - I recall Mintolas with special affection - and a book of my own under the desk. In a class of 40 it was quite possible to hide quietly and ignore everyone else. Nowadays I'd probably be much more aggressive - as indeed I was, recently, in the one meeting of an FE class I attended. Life is too short to be given a handout and then have it read, word by word, by a teacher who only has 5 adults in front of her.
If new teaching methods - blogging, for example, and podcasting - aren't adopted, that new school will be just like the old one, only smaller.

Oh - the title is biblical, by the way.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Art in action

Via Ewan's blog comes this wonderful site ... sit back and enjoy! Shades of Tony Hart if you're old enough, Rolf Harris if you're not - dead inspiring anyway.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Working students?

Well, well, well. Today's Guardian tells us that it's now official: if students work at paid jobs while they are at uni, their chances of getting a first or a 2:1 are reduced by a third. I'm glad someone has at last got round to doing a proper survey on this. For the last 15 years or so I've been nagging at school pupils - especially those aspiring to a Higher English pass - to consider the relative importance of a job in Safeway against the possibility that they might get a good enough bunch of Highers not to end up working there for the rest of their lives. I might as well have saved my breath for all the difference it made - and there were plenty of teachers ready to tell me how THEY had toiled in some low-paid job through THEIR degree - and look at how well they'd done!
I have always subscribed to the idea that if you're a student, you need time not just to study but to BE. To lie on your unmade bed and stare at the ceiling, if need be. To read books that are not necessary for your course. To stay up half the night chatting with your intellectual equals - not the punters in whatever pub you're employed in. To indulge in extra-curricular activities that nourish the soul and not just the bank balance. And if you feel financially inferior as a result? Such a life as I've sketched out doesn't call for loads of dosh. You don't need to be drunk every night, or dressed to kill. (And if you're working in Safeway you'll not be drunk either, and you'll have to wear a hideous pinny) And yes, I know that Safeway has disappeared from these shores - but they're the ones I railed against all these years - and the ones with the hideous pinnies.

Life and the need to earn money come soon enough. Anyone who can put it all off should do so. For as long as possible.

BIG ship on the Clyde

BIG ship on the Clyde
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
This is the view which distracts me from my work - whether it's ironing (which I should be doing) or blogging (which I am doing). This ship appeared enormous - the rest of the river traffic was dwarfed by it, though unfortunately I was unable to include any of it in this pic.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Shades of the prison house

Yesterday I was asked if I could go back to work for a few days - English teaching, not babysitting *Biff Science - but declined the offer. I'd just been contemplating how joyous life is at the moment, and the thought of incarcerating myself, even for a few days, appalled me. It wasn't always like this. But when I look at the faces of my former colleagues, see the strain showing in someone young enough to have a further 20 years in the job, I know it's not just age speaking to me.
So what IS wrong with teaching these days? I was very good at it - let's not have any false modesty here! - but to do the job properly takes an amazing amount of energy at the best of times. And most teachers have maybe one class a day who will give them these best times - and another four who will drain them of the will to live. Twenty seven pupils. Smallish room, stuffy with the smell of wet anoraks (this is Argyll, after all) and worse. Kids without any visible means of written communication - pencil, pen, jotter. The bore of having to point out that such lack is unacceptable, day in day out. (If you simply pass them some tatty pencil and tell them to get on with it you're reinforcing bad habits, apparently). A computerised registration system (on a PC - not a lovely Mac) which crashes every time you try to access the next class list while the newly-arrived class gradually forgets why they have come and settles down for a gossip/fight/let's-fire-spitballs-at-the-ceiling session. Do you realise we haven't actually got on to the lesson yet? Haven't even taken the damn register? (Must take the register - if you forget, that'll be the day some kid skives off and gets run over when they should be safe with you)
Finally the required screen surfaces and you restore quiet. The register is done and submitted. It's perhaps ten minutes into the lesson and you haven't taught a thing. The child in the corner has started to moan quietly - and if you're a supply teacher you won't know why this is happening. The classroom assistant is off ill - "you can manage without her today, can't you?"

Nope. I'm glad I'm sitting here now writing about it instead of doing it up the road. Later I shall go up the glen and cut greenery for the Advent Wreath in church. After that I shall look at some music I shall be singing at the weekend. The Christmas cake is in the oven. I should be sorry for the people who will have "Please Takes" today because I'm not working - and I am, because an extra class can be the last straw when you're knackered - but not THAT sorry.

And there's a Parents' Evening tonight. My cup is full!

*Biff Science - the wonderful self-description of a class who are not sufficiently accomplished to take a Standard Grade class in Chemistry, Physics or Biology, but instead study a General Science course.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

JFK Anniversary

Just realised that this is the day John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. November always strikes me as the month for remembrance - whether of saints, souls or war dead - so I'll remember me on that day. Final year at secondary school, stayed late for orchestra practice (it was a Friday), visited grandmother after dinner - and she had a telly. We didn't. The screen was black, with the globe turning. I think there was some quiet music - just to tell you the TV wasn't burst? then the news - and later, the famous film by an onlooker. Edited, to cut out the fact that the fatal shot came from in front of the presidential limo.
I saw live on TV the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald - Sunday afternoon, I think - but it was the papers on the Monday morning that I remember most: the photos of Jackie Kennedy in the blood-stained suit (couldn't see the red blood or the pinkness of the suit,as papers were monochrome, like the TV), holding LBJ's hand as he took the oath. I remember it made me feel sick, and I skived off school until mid-morning, when I could bear my own company no longer and went in to have someone to talk to.
Was it being young that made me so affected by this? Nothing has had the same effect since - car-crash curiosity, yes, but not that terrible feeling of involvement. Maybe the world was still relatively "young in deed", as Macbeth put it.
Well, we're growing up - fast.

Genius ...

That's it. I'm going to get a job with Scottish Gas. The Gas Man came, as promised, and confirmed my (MY) diagnosis of the problem. A long flue, a very cold night, cold air rushes heavily down the flue, swamps feeble heat of fire left on "low" to warm the room where we were not sitting, fumes can't make it to the top of the flue and instead flop into the room. Result - screaming carbon monoxide detectors.
So we've got our fire back. And we've just heard that the cost of gas is rising - by 50%? Before we know it, we'll be huddling over an open fire burning scraps of wood and potato peelings. Oh - and maybe a coal briquette. We burned them, apparently, when I was two and there was a shortage of proper coal. But then there had been a war. Oops - are we in the aftermath of another one?


Sitting here at an hour when sleep would be sensible I'm thinking back to the chaos of Saturday evening when all our carbon monoxide detectors started screaming and had us running round like headless chickens trying to shut them up. (They don't have "off" switches, these things) With the loudest one shoved under a cushion, we rang the emergency number. "Switch off all gas appliances, turn off the gas at the meter, open windows and doors, evacuate the property (it was zero degrees outside), don't switch any electric switches on or off .... by this time we were gibbering. Were our lips turning blue? Was creeping paralysis affecting us? (no - we were still running aimlessly from room to room)
Eventually a nice man turned up - yes, at 11.30 on a Saturday night. He made soothing noises. He isolated the offending fire. It's only a year old, but it is obviously ailing. He stuck a big label on it - danger of death or some such wording.
Perhaps Scottish Gas will come and check it tomorrow. We have a contract which promises same day attention, but it only works if you have no other source of heat, and preferably a dicky heart as well. We felt truly humbled when they put it to us that we were fine because we didn't meet these stringent conditions. They don't actually appear on the contract, but hey, it's winter, it's cold, they're busy.
We shall see.

Quite therapeutic, this blogging caper.....

Monday, November 21, 2005

Nice photo

This is a view of Loch Striven, taken on a wonderful frosty morning last week - when I was enjoying the novel experience of doing what I wanted when I wanted to. But really I'm just working out how to do things on this blog.