Sunday, December 31, 2006

Farewell, Domestic Goddess, farewell 2006

It's dark again. A dark, blowy Hogmanay with further gales forecast. Before I return to the role of Domestic Goddess for one more time - cooking for a meal with a friend - I'll join the hordes who post their look back over 2006. I hate this night of the year - have done ever since I was a child. The days may be imperceptibly lengthening, but the turning year brings with it the reflection that life ain't - let us not think after these ways: so, it will make us mad.

For me, 2006 was a big year - the trip to New Zealand, the death of my friend Edgar, the wedding of Ewan and Morgane, Neil's graduation. But it was also the year in which I made a host of new contacts - some virtual, some becoming three dimensional, like David and Andrew, who no longer needs to stand sideways for me to recognise him. I still enjoy the thrill of making new contacts online - especially if they seem to appreciate what I have to say. And I still find it amusing when people much younger than I say "You have a ... what?" I wonder if there will come a day when writing a blog is as commonplace as keeping a diary - though come to think of it it's not everyone who does that either. (I have kept a diary continuously since 1958 - quite a thought!)

That's enough. I'm off now to do wonderful things with a fillet of venison from Winston Churchill, and then I'll domestic goddess it no further. A Good New Year to you all.

For the sober and literary: there are two Shakespearian references in this post. The usual rules apply.

Televised execution

Just been listening to Broadcasting House on Radio 4. They're discussing the televised execution of Saddam, which yes, I saw yesterday. I saw it at least three times, because it was there, in someone else's house, and I was there too. I've seen lynchings in movies - usually involving a horse and a tree - but, of course, this was so different. In fact, it was unlike anything in my experience, and I found it horribly disturbing.

Judicial killing. Judicial murder? I've heard a former Nuremberg prosecutor say that it shows the victims that their grievances have been taken seriously; I've heard a politician say that "of course" he didn't watch the images, as if, somehow, we're all soiled by having done so. I don't think so. I think that to avoid seeing this keeps you in movie-mode, able to push out of your mind the reality of the death penalty. Perhaps the fact that it has always in the West been carried out off-camera does the same.

Too early in the morning for me to be judicious and measured. But the very civilised nature of the proceedings - the cloth round the neck, the careful explanations, the calm demeanour of Saddam - all these underlined the horror of taking a life in cold blood. Shooting him on sight as he emerged from hiding might have been one thing - except that the Iraqis wouldn't then have been involved. I know why it was done. But I'm damned if I can feel that it was right.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Present joys

I've been tidying (just a little) before I put the Domestic G. disguise away for another year. Having assembled a neat pile of presents, I thought I'd post a pic of a few which are going to give me sustained pleasure (to distinguish them from the more instant gratification of edible/quaffable gifts, some of which are already gone forever..)

The sultry cleric in the background is on the cover of the wonderful Calendario Romano, full of pin-ups for collectors of dog-collars, a present from Mary who knows me too well. The photo album is a collection of wedding pics from the summer, taken from the vast number Flickred of the occasion - thanks to all who took them! The books? The new R.S.Thomas biography, "The Man who went into the West", Richard Holloway's "How to read the Bible", Andrew O'Hagan's novel "Be Near Me" and "Landmarks:an Ignatian Journey" by Margaret Silf. I shall perhaps blog about these when I've read them.

You will also notice the boxed set of DVDs of the wonderful "Rome" soap which I desired after seeing it last year, and a pair of amazingly comfy earphones for my iPod: I have tiny ears which complain hotly if I try to force the usual ones to stay in safely. These little beauties are Sennheisers, which cut out a great deal of noise and have graded rubber adjuster rings so that you can have different-sized ear-holes and still use them!

And the mask? A lovely Venetian one for when I've been drinking too much, perhaps ...really very flattering.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

And all was for an Apple .......

I sent a letter to Apple today - the final act, I hope, in my latest internet saga. It accompanied the Airport which arrived yesterday to replace the one I have which turned out not to need replaced. I post it here to make me feel better.
Case Number : ********

I am returning the new Airport Base Station which you sent in response to a phone call in the week before Christmas. Please note that this is the new Base Station rather than the one which I have been using for the past two and a half years. It has not even been removed from its packaging. The reasons for this are as follows:

Three weeks ago my printer stopped responding to “print” commands, despite the fact that it was still operating as a printer and had new ink cartridges. As I had neither the time nor the expertise to work out what had gone wrong, I called in a so-called local “expert”. After some time he pronounced that the printer was faulty. However, a new printer fared no better and we managed to return it. At this point I was still connected to the Internet through the Base Station.

Our “expert” now phoned your help line, as I have a Protection Plan. After several hours on the phone, and conversations with, I understand, two of your experts, it was decided that the Airport was faulty and should be replaced. By this time I no longer had any internet connection on my laptop, as the Apple advice had been to change all the settings and these settings were left in such a state that I could make no sense of what had happened. (I should point out that I am not entirely witless in this department, and had set up the entire system myself on purchase.)

And so it was that on the Wednesday before Christmas I was awaiting a replacement Airport, had no internet connection and could not print. The next day my son arrived for a few days and within half an hour had fixed the entire network so that everything was once more working perfectly. Hence the return of the replacement Airport.

Your telephone help in this case turned out to be telephone hindrance, I’m afraid, and left us considerably worse off than we had been. Perhaps the routine questions they ask in this kind of case should be reviewed – or are they on rails like all other call centre operatives?

I should add, perhaps, that I spoke to a very sensible young man at Apple this morning - I suspect that their customer service bods are better than their hapless helpline ones.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A fiery Christmas

Having recovered from yesterday, I feel moved to share with anyone still sad enough to boot up their bloglines on Boxing Day a glimpse of the culinary splendour at The Blethers yesterday. I was a tad concerned that Metaxa might not burn as spectacularly as the usual cooking brandy (rather like Larkin's "washing sherry") but behold: a veritable conflagration. It tasted amazing too.

You can find the original of this, and several other photos of over-indulgence, at Christmas 2006 from edublogger. I was too busy being a domestic goddess again to do much snapping - unless the snapping at said Edublogger for getting in the way counts. But harmony reigns at The Blethers this morning, and I've almost managed to clean the spatters of turkey gravy from the interior of the fridge (don't ask). Now I intend to drink some coffee and indulge in an old-fashioned pastime.

I'm going to read a book.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Bird of dawning

Every year around 10pm on Christmas Eve I think I won't survive the combination of cooking and church, and every year the delight of it all takes over. Last night, Mr B and I stuffed the turkey - rescued from the shed, where it had reposed since Saturday, there being no room in the fridge - and headed out to Midnight Mass. The church was lit entirely by candles apart from the red overhead heaters, and seemed to be full of young people - all former pupils - back home for the holiday. The holy smoke was the best I've seen in years, and the coughers surpassed themselves.The excellent innovation of sherry at the back of the church afterwards soon sorted them out.

Here's another wee quotation for the virtual mars bar hunters:
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
Last night I finally went to bed at 3am, and outside my window a bird was singing - not the neurotic oyster-catchers down on the shore, where the lights on the promenade confuse the poor things into squeaking all night, but a real, singing bird whose song continued until I was past listening. Coincidence?

Brilliant anyway.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


After my Scrooge-like grumblings about badly-behaved weans and pathetic parents, I have to redress the balance by reporting that in our church this morning there were four children, visiting their grandma, of whose presence I knew only because I'd seen them on the way in. Two wee boys and a six year old girl behaved impeccably throughout and then joined in with a will as the entire congregation set about decorating the Advent-bare church for Christmas.

This relatively minor incident made me hopeful once more - hopeful that there are still parents who can bring up their children to behave appropriately in whatever situation they may find themselves. I don't even need to grump at David about it!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Yule Tide maunderings

Well well. Seems we poor bloggers have been banned by Argyll and Bute because we use Blogger. Apparently the reason given is "sex". I have a sneaking feeling that perhaps iGear can't spell - it could be the "...gger" bit that gets the cyber-masters hot under the collar, or wherever else they feel the heat. Never mind. Presumably someone out there will continue to look in from time to time.

I do hope so, because I've just published a new poem over at frankenstina. It arose from that chilly visit to Edinburgh last week, and is dedicated to my pals Marilyn and Fraser. (Forgot to put that in the title - shall rectify some day!)

In the meantime, if you haven't received a card from The Blethers please blame my computer problems - my address list is in a label page file and the system flipped just before I printed them off. On this Yule Day (apparently it's today) I wish all non-Christians a Happy Yule , and the rest of you a happy and blessed Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Geeks and Goddesses

The Domestic Goddess decided that today merited a premature tasting of the cake iced yesterday, in celebration of the visit of a real computer expert and the subsequent recovery of all we had thought lost: two fully functioning computers, wireless connection to the printer and an apparently hale Airport base station. This wizardry took him all of half an hour, during which he seemed to be attending to his own mails as well. Now we just have to deal with the new Airport which the less-than-expert persuaded Apple we required and which is even now winging its way, fog permitting, to The Blethers. Silly thing is that the Apple Help Desk people seem to have compounded the confusion with their assistance. This is less than comforting when one is less than gifted in the geekery department - from whence cometh mine aid now?

And I suppose the answer is along these lines: why breed experts and then ask someone else? So sorry, chaps - let's just hope there are no more probs for a bit. Right now I feel a tad pathetic - but I can report that the cake tastes brilliant, gritty snow icing and all. So, unlikely a role as it may seem, I'm staying a Domestic Goddess for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Trials of a Domestic Goddess (1)

Slipping briefly (I hope) into DG role, I wish to share, gentle readers, the trials of icing the Christmas Cake in this, the Year of Our Lord 2006. The (1) in the title represents a superstitious gesture to the jealous gods who would doubltess heap more trials on my head if I even suggested there would be no more.

What I have to tell you will make most sense if you can remember snow in Glasgow - or some similar city - in the 1950s. ( I know this rules out all but a minority of the bloggership, but bear with me) Snow used to lie. For weeks. Shopkeepers would brush "their" bit of pavement, jannies would spoil good slides in the playground by putting salt on them, but given a decent, pre-global warming cold spell in January, the snow would remain, turning gradually a strange fawn colour and changing texture as it thawed and refroze, so that it resembled demerara sugar in its discoloured graininess.

Why am I telling you this? Because that's what my cake is like. It is no longer possible to buy in Dunoon the unrefined icing sugar which is the preferred taste at The Blethers. So this afternoon, having forgotten to look for the stuff when abroad in Edinburgh, I made my own. Unrefined granulated sugar in the coffee grinder. The kitchen filled with puffs of sugar, the bowl with a pale fawn dust with bits in it. By the time I'd ground a pound of the stuff, I had lost the will to be fussy. And then I added a couple of drops of 33 year old glycerine. I know this because I've had the same bottle since my first cake, when I was expecting infant number one. I think glycerine keeps.....And so it is, best beloved, that we shall have a cake iced with the snow of childhood, crunchy bits and all.

And just a faint aroma of coffee......

Monday, December 18, 2006

A sour note

I promised (threatened?) to post about that child at the carol concert the other night. I owe it to myself, let along anyone else, to get on with it. So, for starters: there was a child at the carol concert. He was, I'd say, four at most - could have been a largish three. He was sitting maybe five rows from the front, next to a woman who might well have been his grandmother. His parents were there too, but took very little interest in him or what he was up to. He had with him a set of antlers, a blanket, a soft toy and a small car. He was surrounded by adults who had paid for the best tickets in the auditorium and who presumably wanted to enjoy the exqusite and finely-balanced singing of Cappella Nova.

This child was bored about fifteen minutes before the concert began. He was obviously physically uncomfortable on the seat and growing tired and irritable. The result was that he wriggled about, wrapped himself in the blanket, waved the toy in the air, made faces and then began to communicate with Grandma. When she tried to shush him, he pinched her arm with some vigour. He was so obviously past it that I began to hope that his hapless father might remove him at the interval - but no. There they were, back again, the child still carrying on, the parents still resolutely ignoring him. At last, Grandma managed to get him settled in a semi-recumbent postition across her lap, and he fell asleep.

Now there are some things to be clear about here. This was a concert, not a church service - that's another can of worms altogether, and one I'll leave for now. People had paid for their seats and had to put up with this distraction for three quarters of the concert. It was doing the child no good whatsoever; in fact I wouldn't be surprised if the experience put him off choral music for life. He was heard to whine at one point "I don't like this music" - that was when he was writhing on the floor with his fingers in his ears. So why was he there?

Presumably because his parents were too selfish to decide that one of them should stay at home and put the child to bed where he belonged, or too idle to arrange a babysitter, or too egocentric and lacking in imagination to see how unsuited the event was for such a young child. They had the comfortable look of people accustomed to their surroundings, but seemed completely unable to deal with their own offspring. I personally believe that children need to be introduced to adult events only when they are of an age and a stage in their development where they will not spoil things for everyone around them - and this includes church services (I can feel hackles rising in cyberspace already). Parents have no right to inflict the delights of family life on everyone else; it's their choice and they should realise the limitations which parenthood bring - and the responsibilities.

Meanwhile, well done Grandma for trying, and thumbs down to a couple of parents who are raising a petulant child for others to teach. But then, they'll not have the imagination to understand that either.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Primus on Civil Partnerships.

I was intending to discuss the child cryptically mentioned two posts ago, but have put that off to say hurrah! for Bishop Idris Jones, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, for his statement reported in today's Sunday Herald. The debate over civil partnerships in Scotland has led him to want to speak publicly about the fact that the different Christian denominations hold very different views on non-traditional relationships, a fact largely ignored by the public as a whole. The Roman Catholic Church is firmly against civil partnerships, a postition "unaltered and rock solid", and it now seems likely that a majority view in the Church of Scotland will go the same way.

However, said +Idris, "that is not where we are as a church", pointing out that "there are many Christians who think that the legislation on civil partnerships is appropriate and an enlightened policy that should be supported." The RC church and the C of S apparently declined to comment on his statement.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Purple Advent .....

This photo of the Advent Wreath in Holy Trinity Church, Dunoon, in the diocese of Argyll and The Isles, is specially featured for the instruction of those who favour red berries and - shudder - red candles for Advent. I have already made my feelings in the matter clear on Kelvin's blog, where a wonderfully abstruse theological argument is currently raging.

I love a church where the big issues have their place, don't you?

Clydeside Christmas?

A late start this morning after a late night - going to concerts in Glasgow tends to mean the midnight ferry and subsequent reviving with cups of tea before bed is possible. We were at Cappella Nova's 20th Carols by Candlelight, in the Barony Hall, an occasion which the choir marked by singing a selection of requests from past concerts and commissioning a new carol.

This year the new piece was an arrangement by John McIntosh (Mr B) of Dave Whyte's Clydeside Christmas Eve, with words by poet Donny O'Rourke - a gentle, questioning piece for an age in which "Faith's candle's going out". The choir sang it beautifully, making the hair stand on end with the sonorous "We still have faith in beauty" and the alto solo's (Alexander L'Estrange) quiet "When all that's certain is our doubt" and the audience reaction left us in no doubt that this was a hit.

It was good to meet Dave and Donny - we were all sitting in a row, rather splendidly - though rather strange to be so aware of the intense listening to the performance on either side of me. I need a replay - it'd be good to have a new CD, Cappella Nova! The hall was packed, and by some miracle of the loaves and fishes order it seemed as if almost everyone present managed to acquire a mince pie and mulled wine in the hectic interval.

Other memories? The lovely St Petersburg Baroque Brass Quintet, complete with antlers and rabbit ears (don't ask), John Tavener's "The Lamb", the chance to sing with the choir in the Carols for All moments. There was also a child - but I'll leave that for another post.

A great evening of great singing and considerable bonhomie. Just what should happen at this time of year, in fact!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

From the ridiculous to the sublime..

I have a confession to make. I have, in the midst of trying to be up to speed with Christmas cards and puddings (damn - I meant to do something about them this evening!), wasted enough time to gain the certificate pictured here. In the spirit of sharing and of educational enlightenment, may I direct any who haven't tried it already to the elf movie, where you chuck snowballs at a number of inanely-grinning elves. If you hit Santa - laudably dressed as St Nicholas in a scarlet chasuble - you are reprimanded and Santa protests. There is one wee elf of indeterminate age who grunts if hit, but he tends to be elusive. The sound effects are repetitive and infuriating and I can't think why I laboured to reach the expertise needed to succeed. I hope I encourage someone out there to join me in this nonsense.

On a more wholesome note, I made a barley loaf today. If that's what they had to eat at the feeding of the five thousand then jolly good it might have been. But of course there was more to it than that ....

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas medley, anyone?

Just back from a visit to Edinburgh - a heady mix of a stay with dear friends, a meeting of the Lay Learning committee of the SEC and a visit to the German Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens, where I took this rather low-quality pic on my phone. I would have had my camera had it not been for the horizontal rain on a snell wind as we left the car; actually we had a sufficiently long splash of dry to glug down a mug of scalding gluwein at the market stall and feel suddenly much cosier. We were not, however, tempted by the big wheel - it looked decidedly shoogly to me, and a sure ringer for a bout of hypothermia.

And the Lay Learning? I have much to debrief on this one, but came away thinking about the balance between content and delivery systems in any sphere of learning. There's a debate into which I stuck a toe over on John Connell's blog which threw me into reflecting further on this; the tension between knowledge and the communicating of same is complicated by the problem of having to engage with an audience which, unlike school pupils, can turn away and demonstrate only indifference - even harder to deal with than hostility. And the problem of sentences like that last one is that one loses the will to live ploughing through them - could do better, Blethers!

On a lighter note, a thought about Christmas carols. As we skelped home through the incipient floods on the M8 we listened to a sampler CD of new carols. After one particularly ebullient offering, we were struck by a mental image of the Christ-child, square-faced and open-mouthed, wailing inaudibly as the heavenly hosts gave it laldy over the manger. Makes you realise how very good are some of the by now classic arrangements - a case of content not matching delivery systems in many of the new ones.

We made it home in tempest, storm and wind - another quote for the carolophile!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Celebrating Advent

Today was the Second Sunday in Advent. It rained, relentlessly. The borders in our garden were flooded and we had to wade through a massive puddle to reach the car. The wind blew ominously, making us fear for the ferries again. And yet, among all this wildness, we have had the most wonderful day.

For the first time in many years, we had a proper Advent Carol Service in Holy Trinity Church, Dunoon. I was one of a group of singers drawn from our church and St Paul's, Rothesay, a group small enough and expert enough to make great sounds together and goodness, we enjoyed the experience. Our visiting singers weren't deterred or stranded by the weather, and were followed by a group of parishioners from Rothesay, so that even on a day like this there was a congregation of 50 in the candlelit gloom. The water poured into the vestry and the back of the nave; buckets slithered on the wet floor; the draughts swept down from the tower and into the choir - but there were candles everywhere, the silences were full of the anticipation of the season, and the atmosphere was electric.

We are so blessed in the circumstances which have brought together Kimberly our new rector, Martin our singing bishop, some great readers and this wee choir - to say nothing of our organist, about whom I say less than most because he is also Mr Blethers. Our church may look scabby and leak horrendously; it may be stuck up a hill in the woods; we may have no money to do more than keep the heating on for an extra day to stave off hypothermia. But the inner fire is there, the spirit is alive, and I wouldn't have it otherwise for the world.

And our Rector makes fabby mulled wine!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Things that you can't buy ...

I may chuck something at the telly next time I see this ad - I pictured it in French as being less irritating for today, when I realised that there are mega problems associated with buying more than a Marks & Spencers' semmit with my MasterCard. It's a question of enhanced security making life difficult, not just when I tried to buy online tickets for internal flights in the US - understandable to think that someone had run off with my card there, I suppose - but today, when I tried to pay for the new telly in a local shop. That's the telly I'll be chucking things at ...

It seems that if you actually spend the amount of money that it actually would be inconvenient to have on your person, it's a problem. You can be there, have put in the correct PIN, have heard the retailer give your security numbers off the back of the card, be known personally by said retailer - who happens to own the business you're trying to pay - and still some lassie far, far away with the accent to match won't let you use the card unless you tell the retailer the first two letters of your private password so that he - not you - can pass it on. I refused to do this in a crowded shop where your business is everyone else's, so the deal was cancelled.

I then went home to a serious-sounding call-back message from my bank's security; a further 15 minutes passed before I could actually remonstrate with a real person with a Scottish accent. Apparently it was "such a big sum of money". I had no idea I was turning into a big spender - it didn't strike me as ferociously big bucks. And I'll have to go through the business of contacting them again before I go to the US because that'll be another new spending pattern.

I dunno. I guess I'll have to stuff dollars in my bra or something. Dead convenient. "For everything else there's MasterCard" - but only if it doesn't cost too much.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bonding with the new Bond

I've just enjoyed one of these days you retire for: morning coffee in Fazzi's in Glasgow, a visit to the big cinema (it keeps changing its name - was UCI) to see the new Bond film, and a late and bibulous lunch in Dino's. I have to say I enjoyed Casino Royale so much - more than any Bond movie since Doctor No, which I remember more than the guy who took me to see it in the early '60s.

This film has shed all the smoothie humour of the Roger Moore days and the growing reliance on gadgets and fancy transport, and has reverted to a much more physical style, as well as sticking much more closely to the original book, especially in the key scenes. The violence is ...very violent. Bond doesn't emerge from conflict with a smirk on his face and barely a smudge on his tux; he goes through clean shirts at a terrifying rate and sits in the shower wearing his second dinner suit of the evening after a memorable death-fest in a stairwell. The baddie is wonderfully unpleasant and has an eye problem that fair puts mine in the shade. I particularly enjoyed the fact that nearly all the technology used - by goodies and baddies alike - was familiar to me: mobile phones featured greatly, as did laptops, SMS and Photoshop. The only thing they didn't seem to do was keep a blog - but I don't suppose there was much time for blogging. Maybe M (Judi Dench) blogged on her bedside computer.....

The best bit about the film, however, is the lovely Daniel Craig (pictured). He has all you need in a Bond - blue eyes, reluctant but totally charming smile, and a body. (I'm being really, really restrained here). He does a great deal of running - see the photo - and there is a wonderful sequence near the start of the film in which he runs his socks off in pursuit of one of these amazing free runners. We see how Bond acquires his 00 status, and there is a suggestion that his later attitude towards women may evolve from what happens to him in this, the film of the first of Ian Fleming's Bond books. There is also an interesting reversal of the usual Bond/girl formula - the girl in question isn't the usual eye candy, which Bond undoubtedly is.

I'll stop there. I don't want to discourage my male readers. Just see it - preferably in a proper cinema. They even play the right tune at the end. Great stuff!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Achievers, huh?

Just came across this site, where I find one of my offspring recorded as having achieved something. (Where is the other one, I find myself asking indignantly - and it's not a wiki so I can't do anything to it). However, rather than dwell on this minor irritant, I find myself considering other FPs of our local school - the ones who will not be considered as having achieved anything much, ever. I had an interesting encounter with three of these former customers of mine today, as I returned from an equally interesting trip to Glasgow. The first two were in the Cal Mac waiting room; I had sat down fairly near them before clocking who they were.

The one who hailed me first was half cut, and swigged from a half-empty bottle of Buckie in between remarks - mostly friendly but excessively loud - which soon had the attention of every concession ferry passenger in the room. (The non-rush-hour traffic is mostly made up of old people. Like me.) He had acquired a villainous-looking scar down his cheek since I last saw him, and became alarmingly verbose within minutes. His pal, who had been in my class for years, was obviously embarrassed and eager to tell me that he himself was working hard at college and doing well, that I would be proud of him. When the drunken one went out for a smoke, the other apologised for the disturbance and seemed eager to show that he was civilised and adult and pleased to see me again.

The third lad was in the saloon when I boarded, working on diagrams in a college log-book. He was friendly, natural and proud of the work he was doing, which he was pleased to show me. Enjoyable company, in fact. He had obviously matured beyond the stage where he needed to prove himself with macho posturing or hide his embarrassment behind giggles and whispered remarks. The nadir of the afternoon came when I found myself wheeling on the drunken one and telling him not to use language such as he was shouting in my hearing. I'd been jolted out of my "normal person" mode and back into school-think. An old lady looked alarmed, but Buckfast Boy stepped back, hands spread: "Sorry, Miss. Sorry."

I relate all this partly to make sense for myself of the mindset of a boy like this. He was a nuisance in school, and he's now skiving college and annoying more powerful thugs who carved his face for him. He's about to acquire what his pal called "an ankle bracelet". As Shakespeare would say, "His eyes were set at three o' the afternoon". He told me he's going to grow up soon - but into what? All he seems to have learned is that I was not someone to mess with - and that's not going to see him far, is it?

And the visit to Glasgow? Very pleasant - lunch with
David to make up for distractions at Teach Meet 06 meant interesting conversation before I headed for the train.

And he paid - thanks, David!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Ben Gunn without the cheese

Well, that was quite a weekend! This photo of The Cathedral of The Isles, taken during Friday's lull in the frightful weather, gives no notion of the rattling slates, creaking roof timbers, guttering candles and flooded coastal roads that were to follow, nor of the fact that we would be stranded on Cumbrae by the storm and feel that by Sunday we were escaping by the skin of our teeth as we bumped across on the recently-restored Cumbrae ferry link which had been off earlier in the day. (We also had an interesting ride on the Western ferry from McInroy's point, travelling stern-first through the darkness as the sea washed down the length of the car deck, engulfing the cars at roof-height in a white-out of water and spray).

As for the weekend? We were there to sing in the Advent Carol service, and there were choristers stranded who had to be in London today (Monday), so we were not alone in our anxieties. But there was another sense in which we - four of us who've sung together in the cathedral since 1968 - were on our own, and that was in the experience stakes. By now, the rest of the choir seems to be made up largely of singers young enough to be our weans, and the result for me at least is a mix of smugness and irritation. Smugness because we've done it so often that we know exactly what's required, read like pros and don't wander off in mid-piece; irritation because we were surrounded by sopranos with the voices of angels and lowly sight-reading skills and an operatic bass who had never sung in a choir before and who tended not to watch the conductor. I was quite ratty by the time the performance began (who? moi?), so the spiritual dimension was somewhat lacking, though I did manage to fit in a quiet afternoon of study (1st Samuel, anyone?) before the singing began.

I'm ratty again right now because I still can't post my photos as I want to, and lost a first version of this because of it. But there's the usual virtual Mars Bar for the first to spot the point of the title of this post.

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"?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Stifling comment

An interesting development in school sites caught my eye after I read in The Sunday Herald how schools are banning student access to RatemyTeachers. A quick trawl through the (largely illiterate) comments on the page devoted to my former place of employment showed that while the medium may change, the content does not. As far as I could see, this was the usual stuff, writ not large but potentially widely. But who will read it? Other kids in that school? A few. Their parents? Fewer still. Future employers of the staff concerned? Well, they might, I suppose - but I would hope that they would take the info with a pretty big dose of salt. Who will post? The usual suspects.

OK - I'm not involved. I don't work there any more, and as far as I can see there is only one (very positive) comment about another retired colleague. But did I listen to what pupils thought of me and my colleagues while I was in the classroom? Occasionally you'd get a misguided child attempting to tell you something unpleasant that a wee friend had said, but it's a foolish teacher who pays much heed to that kind of stuff - or indeed goes so far as to encourage it.

But it happens. All the time. You can't stop it because it's part of school life. One of the problems about using computers at all in school is keeping the kids on track, and that doesn't involve writing comments on teachers - just as when I was at school one was discouraged from filling up the boring moments by writing scurrilous notes to a pal on the other side of the room. Or - as I did, every year - writing a colour-coded key to the efficacy and likeability of my teachers for that session. I don't think there's much to be said for banning access; that merely gets the school's name added to the "Wall of Shame".

And another thought: when you live and teach in the same smallish community, you are never under the illusion that you're not discussed. You are assailed by parents in the Co-op; sometimes they phone you at home; on at least one occasion a disgruntled but misinformed parent even turned up in the dark of a November evening on our doorstep. Everyone over the age of eleven knows who you are and has an opinion of your worth - and talks about you loudly in public when the mood takes him/her. Websites? Nae bother.

But I'm out of it, and you can shout me down. Comments, please, in this public space!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

3D peak

I'm indebted to Ollie Bray for this info about a new plug-in for Google Earth, which allows you to see the Matterhorn in 3D. I spent several happy minutes last night navigating round from the Italian side - where it is called Monte Cervino - to catch the view (see pic) from Zermatt, familiar to me from a couple of visits. My fave peak in the whole world - who could ask for more?

As they say in Glasgow - it looks just like itself.


Wild seascape 1
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
This photo - of the Firth of Clyde on Thursday - gives an idea of how difficult travel can suddenly become in these parts. Actually the ferries were running, and we had just crossed from Hunter's Quay, but here we were driving through quite big lumps of sea on the coast road to Largs. A trip which appeared simple when first planned can so easily turn into a problem, and a civilised shopping spree in Ayr become a sodden scamper from one shelter to the next. Elegance? Forget it.

Another good reason for virtual communication? Absolutely. Except that there is no virtual substitute for the wind blowing the spray in your face, or for the glow when you return from a walk in the wet wilds with the rellies whom you are visiting.

Or for the taste of the wine shared at the end of your journey!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Progressing nicely..

I'm delighted to have Progress Report back online and to be able to join in SS's Higher preparation. It's interesting that she feels so happy to be blogging again - and brings it home that I am able to work with her even though I am actually away from home at the moment. Mind, I could do with having my books around me - Higher work is always that bit more demanding on the teacher! - but I can still ask the questions that a good student can use as a springboard, even if only to say "no, no - that is not what I meant at all".

Meanwhile, can I invite other edubloggers to take a look?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Younger every day

I'm away from home tonight, and had not expected to post till I return on Saturday, but I have to record that today my brain was ... 46! And what is more, I was doing the test on the Western Ferry as it heaved across the Firth of Clyde in a high sea with interruptions from the man who wanted a ticket from me. I told him I was old and didn't need one, but he still insisted on seeing my pass. I was irritated, but I suppose I should have been pleased that he didn't just look and say "Old person".

46, eh?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Brain training, anyone?

Further to my acquisition of a Nintendo, I can report that addiction is gaining ground at The Blethers. No, I'm not playing games - at least, not in the sense that Duffy meant t'other day - but I am doing 100s of wee sums and reading swiftly aloud, drawing camels and rhinos from memory and realising that there are skills I once possessed which have fallen lamentably into the sere, the yellow leaf. Like multiplication tables, for example. I'm as bad at the middle bits of the middle tables (6x and 7x especially) as any struggling nine-year-old - walking speed, according to Dr Kawashima. On the cheerful side, I'm at train speed in my reading aloud, and pretty hot at remembering words - as, I suppose, you might expect.

And the purpose of all this? Well, when I asked for my "brain age" on yesterday's showing, it was 56. Today it's 52. The target is 20. And there's the competitive element - Mr B is reckoned to have one foot in the grave, brain-wise. I have a feeling that geekery comes into the equation, however, and it doesn't have any criteria for measuring musical activity. But Mr B is now talking about doing homework on his tables and has disappeared to read aloud. Madness may be just round the corner - or perhaps not.

Amusingly, the Nintendo saga (or Nintendo for Saga clients) was picked up and blogged over at ds fanboy, where many of the 11 or so comments revealed the fact that moms - as they touchingly call me - are not expected to enjoy this sort of thing. Tough.

And the Nintendo has just told Mr B; "Chris did better than you today." See what I mean?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Nintendo, not nursing homes

I had a day off yesterday - visiting Edublogger, collecting my fabby birthday present (too precious to post), lunching at the excellent Shore restaurant and coming home just in time to watch Spooks. Over lunch, we discussed, inter alia, the reasons for someone to blog. Mine are obviously different from the work-based agenda of many of the blogs I read, but I decided that as far as I was concerned I was aping the essayists whose work we used to study in school - Addson, Steele, Bacon. Maybe a touch of Pepys as well.

Actually I loved Bacon's essays, with their terribly quotable lines - "Revenge is a kind of wild justice"; "Men fear death as children fear to goe in the darke" (I'm sure I remember archaic spelling - I must have been an odd child). I once unearthed a set when I was starting off a top Credit class at the start of S3; we read a few and then I set them to write their own essay "Of Homework". The results were amazing - and the class never looked back, accepting from the off that they were going to be challenged because I thought they were up to it. The two year course was one of the best periods of my teaching life, most of it having been spent in a very ordinary comprehensive - these pupils showed how extraordinary they could be.

I look forward to seeing how far my new Nintendo DS Lite can rejuvenate my aging brain - an obvious investment in keeping me (and Mr Blethers, apparently) functioning mentally well into our old age. I shall report on my progress.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Light transformed
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Just returned from the Singing Workshop in the Cathedral of The Isles, with the Sanctus of the new Kilbride Service ringing in my ears, it is difficult to recount what the weekend meant for me. I organised it, partly to share an experience of singing, working hard and living in a wonderful place which I have enjoyed for 36 years and partly to widen the circle of those who know about the cathedral and want to return to it. I did it through and for another important element in my life, though a more recent one - Cursillo in Scotland. It seems to have been a success - and the results were pretty impressive.

Put together a group of 20 people from all over Scotland - Moray, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Argyll dioceses, from South Uist to Dalkeith - ranging in ages from 40ish to 80ish, who have never sung together before and who in some cases have never done more than sing hymns in church congregations. Work them hard for a day, with vocal exercises, with unison singing, with harmony and with plainsong. At the end of that day, before they stagger exhausted to bed, involve them in singing Compline, entirely in plainsong. On Sunday, they fill the choirstalls and sing a new communion service, on which the ink has just dried, by John McIntosh (aka Mr B, but here operating very much in his own hat) who has by now brought them to such a pitch that they barely recognise themseves. They sing Arcadelt's Ave Maria, in Latin, as a communion motet, and they realise they are achieving a unity.

It was an unlikely thing to do - but it worked. I'm really glad I thought of it (she said modestly) and that I can call on such great musicians as Mr B and our friend Alastair at the cathedral. Talking of modesty - the reading at Morning Prayer (yes - we had that too) today was from Thomas Merton, about humility. About feeling comfortable with the reasons you had done things - at least, that was one angle. This weekend felt good, to me