Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Somer is a-cumin in ...

...though there's nary a cuckoo to be heard through the freezing fog currently sitting over the Firth. How strange it feels, therefore, to be looking out and packing summer clothes - shorts, even, and thin T shirts. At the moment I'm finding it hard to believe that in a week or so I shall be in New Zealand, where the temperature for the past few days has apparently been in the 30s. (Actually, a week from now I shall be in the air somewhere - or maybe wandering dazedly around an airport in Sydney: I'm having great difficulty getting my head round the time zone thingy.)

My hope is that I shall be able to continue blogging from Edgar's computer - even if he *does* have a PC instead of a Mac :-0 - provided I remember my little black book with all my user names and stuff. I might even manage to post a few photos. But I love the fact that I'll be able to Skype, and to pick up my mail as usual. We may be killing the planet - but isn't technology wonderful?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Multiplying - or trying to

Actually, this is not about going forth and not really about making converts; it's about keeping bums on seats in this wee Piskie church. There was a new family - mother, father, two weans - in church this morning. The parents, Anglicans originally from England, loved the service. They've been involved in the C of S which is nearer their house in an effort to keep their family in church circles - Sunday School and the like - but they miss the Anglican service. So they were happy, and hope to return when their commitments elsewhere permit.

However, I sensed that the two children (12 and 8) were less than ecstatic. The building is pretty baltic at this time of year despite our best efforts, and as they are the first children to darken the door on several years there are no child-centered activities to get them out of at least part of the service. I remember being twelve. That was two years after my parents had allowed me to give up Sunday School and church after moving house. This seemed a good move to me!

So what now? Obviously a church in which I have felt young for over 30 years is not going to survive without new blood - but I would contend that it's not actually chidren we need to attract; it's younger adults who happen to reproduce. Their children will grow up and leave the area, as did ours, but they are just as likely to stay on as not.

When we had a choir the children who sang in it tended to be of no real church affiliation - they were there for the music. A few were confirmed, but, bright as they were, they went off to Uni and that was that. Their parents might come to hear them on special occasions - but not often.

I reckon I'm of the "come and see" school of thought on this. If people want what we have, that's all that's needed. If not, then no amount of tub-thumping is going to change their minds. But I'd like to hear from anyone with a better idea. Just remember: average Sunday congregation = 15-20.
Average age: late 50s.

The music is great. And we do incense on high days!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Bucolic Rambling

Had a perfect sort of day today - the kind of day when you can actually say, as it is happening, "I am happy. This is good." And yet it was incredibly calm. No wild excitement; the only expense that of splendid fish and chips in the bar of the Colintraive Hotel - oh, and a glass of rather pleasant red vino. We drove there for lunch with a friend who hopped over on the ferry from Bute (it takes all of two minutes); we talked; we put more logs on the fire; we observed that heat does not in fact pass through former MSPs (Mike Russell was sitting between us and the flames). We then walked briskly for over an hour along the shore road, the Kyles of Bute on our right glassy under a grey sky. Eider ducks made their Frankie Howerd noises as we approached and a heron flapped laboriously off over the water.

On two occasions dogs galloped wildly towards us only to bark and wag their tails, and the few people we saw - an old man on the road, an elderly couple in their garden - greeted us as if they'd been waiting all day for our arrival. At one point on the road we tried to walk without breathing - a tractor was spreading muck with joyous abandon and the smell was overpowering. For some reason this struck me as hilarious. By the time we returned to the car we'd walked for over two hours and it was growing dark.

When I read over the above I think of the other lives we lead - singing, travelling, meeting interesting people - and the life we used to lead, shut in a school with a thousand people where the fact that it was in the middle of lovely countryside made precious little difference to daily existence. Compared with all that, today sounds dull. It wasn't. Maybe this ties in with what I was reflecting on yesterday: we can in fact be happy with relatively little (I'm having to be cautious here - we used a car to get there, and it took 30 minutes' driving time each way) and perhaps all we need is to identify what is important. Or is that only possible retrospectively?

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Rich Young Man and the comfortable blogger

I meant to post this last night, but all my Bloggers had vanished so I went to bed and read a BOOK instead! …

How do we cope with the idea of selling all we have and giving to the poor? Can we in fact do this sort of thing in our time and place?

From this the discerning might gather I’ve been at Bible study. I find these challenging moments stick like a burr and require further thought. There is sometimes a longing for a greater simplicity in life – but I think life for us is so beset with the civilisation whose benefits we enjoy that giving everything away would merely lead to its dissolution. And then someone would have to step in and bale us out – no?

Complete single-mindedness is surely simpler when life is whittled down to basics. Look at the hero of Polanski’s film “The Pianist”. He seemed most able to focus on surviving when he’d lost everything – home, parents, siblings, dignity, a piano to play. His music survived in his head and he concentrated on staying alive.

Conclusion for tonight: don’t let possessions matter. Use them, but don’t worry about them. Focus on what is important – to do that I need enough. Just that.

And enough includes my laptop!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Mindless me, clever them

Is this fun?
neon c (wbrc)scrabble hRIEss
I found it on a cool site here after looking at Mousing Around - you just change the URL to your own name or whatever. All I have the brains for tonight anyway!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Charismatic bloggers?

I've been trying today to put forward a strong case for blogging as a tool in the dissemination of adult lay education in the church - especially in scattered rural/island communities. I may have over-stated my case, in fact - get a bit loud when I'm enthusiastic. But one of the points I made was that the community one builds overcomes the anonymity, up to a point, of faceless people at their keyboards; I don't "know" the people I encounter on this blog, not in the conventional sense, but feel increasingly at home sharing info and ideas with them.

However, I want to check on a further hunch: To what extent is our response to a blog post influenced by what we already know of the blogger? If, for example, the blogger is also known as a charismatic lecturer, trusted because of what they say/do in person, do we read their stuff with an increased sympathy and awareness? (I suspect the answer is "yes") And does that fact, if it is so, actually enhance the usefulness of the process, in that you can, as it were, take the speaker home with you and refer to their words at you leisure, or see what he/she has to say on other topics - and you're interested in their opinions on anything because you trust them already and feel they can help you?

If the answer to all this is in fact "yes"(which I believe) I have to say that I'd find it a great luxury to be able to test my ideas on a regular basis with someone whose ideas/learning/insights/experience I respect; in fact, I'd enjoy being a student again without the hassle of going over the water to Uni! This is the aspect I'm trying to represent - but I feel I'm bleating in a very wide open space right now. If you think schools are slow to use technology imaginatively, try a community of adults who think a mobile phone is a stage too far, or to be used only in dire emergency. And then there are the folk who refuse to have anything to do with computers .....

Courage, mon brave - le diable est mort! [Again - a prize (maybe a Mars bar??) to the first person to recognise the book this quote is from. Very much from the pre-computer age]

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Retail Rage

I dipped a toe into the world of High street techno retail today when I visited Edinburgh. I wanted a pair of comfy earphones for my beautiful new iPod nano - having nano ears I actually find the usual tiny in-ear jobs excruciatingly painful. As every second person under a certain age appears to walk about plugged into their music, I was sure I'd find what I needed.

Now, I perhaps should have heeded Neil's recent post when he commented
"Dixons - surely a definition of hell, with some strident beep echoing round the store every ten seconds and a weary collection of merchandise - was utterly useless (Can anyone tell me how, exactly, Dixons prospers? Parent company DSG International announces interim results on January 18, and I'll be very interested to see if - in today's testing high street environment - they show any signs of suffering from the dire, dire shopping experience they offer)." -
but it was raining and time was of the essence and I didn't. And so I schlepped into Dixon's in Princes Street.

I had found some of the over-ear thingys I sought, from a rather tiny variety, when I was assailed (though that's rather a strong word for the half-hearted interaction it describes) by a youth in a uniform wondering if he could help. Actually, it appeared not. Every question I asked, he peered vainly at the packaging to see if the answer was to be found there. No, there were no more models available - only this wee row I was looking at. As I succumbed and indicated I'd take the ones I first thought of, he half-heartedly gave me a bit of paper with a number on it - to give to the cashier. Apparently this would earn him Brownie points, or something.

The check-out girl had a bit more going for her. To cut a longish story short, she directed me to the row of other makes further up the shop, and I managed to find a pair which I can now reveal work a treat. But if shops will insist on employing the dull-witted and the ignorant, is it too much to ask that they be kept away from the customers until they have had at least an orientation course? Maybe the boy was an impersonator? Probably not. Anyway, I'm afraid I shopped him. Number 40, your time's up.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

If only .....

Oh dear. I really shouldn't read all these edublogs - and I shouldn't take private pupils either. Why not? Because I start enthusing about things I'd like to do in the classroom (as well as bemoaning what people still do in the name of education). I hope some digital natives take the time to read what I'm about to write - because I want to know if they see it as a Good Idea.

If I were back in my old room, even if the laptops at my disposal *were* the nasty little PCs we had, and even *if* our every move was monitered by the dastardly IGear, this is what I see. Topic: let's take Shakespeare. Julius Caesar (my hapless pupil is doing this just now). We've studied the play and now we have to get our heads round the mistakes made by Brutus so that we can write a thoughtful critical essay on the subject.

Now at this point I might well have used Group Discussion to help them share ideas. Good for the assessment of Group Talk - but less good for the retaining of ideas shared *unless* the groups get some quick-witted soul to write notes on flip chart paper. It's also quite noisy.

But what if I, at my laptop, kicked off a blog entry with the question - and perhaps a starter prompt? Now everyone in the room, each at his/her laptop or sharing between two, thinks about my starter. Perhaps they blog a quick response. Perhaps they ask a question. Everyone has to click the "refresh" button each time, say, they put something in. I suppose they could do it to command if need be. The online discussion continues till the end of the period.

At this point, normally, great chunks of what has been said are lost, supplanted by something fascinating like ... oh, let's say some demanding mathematical problem. By the time the pupils have to write that all-important piece for their Standard Grade folio, they can only remember vague snatches. "Miss - what did you say ...". But Miss has forgotten, because she says so much in a day and besides, she's not Miss, she's Mrs and she's finding senile decay creeping in.

But if it is all on the blog ....it'll all still be there! And they can access it in the Library, at home, in the class a week, a month later - when they need it for the essay, or for the redraft, or months later when they're scrabbling to make a good folio, having just realised how important it is. And the teacher would not have to rummage in the Record of Work :-( for the original question to put on the SQA label, and the pupils wouldn't need to ask, or borrow the jotter of the better-prepared sucker sitting next to them. Brilliant!

There's only one problem. I never did this. And now, I probably never will. Bum.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Early signs ...

Early signs ...
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Having read about Ewan's gig at Jordanhill, I couldn't help remembering how, at the age of 13, he was asked to deliver an in-service course to the staff of Dunoon Grammar School on the use of the new Mac computers which had recently arrived. The most memorable incident at this was the moment when he rescued the PT of Learning Support who was holding the mouse against the side of the monitor in an attempt to do something with it. Apparently she found him a sympathetic instructor.
On the back of this success, he subsequently produced a series of idiot's guides to Macs (pictured), which he then sold - I believe at 50p a throw - to his teachers. Years later they were still turning up in drawers - even after the advent of the PCs which took over in latter years. :-(
We should have guessed where he'd end up!

BTW - the photo was *not* part of the Guide - but it *is* contemporary!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Blogs and nosey Mum

On a recent post the rather anonymous Jimmy :-) made this comment about blogs - a term with which he was till recently unfamiliar:" A diary someone would keep if they still lived at home and had a very nosey Mum." I loved this - and it made me think about the activity (again!)

I recently commented myself on a blog post which seemed to me worthy of mild criticism. I hope what I said wasn't unkind - though I was clear in my mind that it was a point worth making. When I returned to the blog next day to see if I'd stirred anything, I found the post had vanished altogether. Maybe that was a Good Thing. Maybe I was being the "very nosey Mum". So what effect does the awareness of such a Mum create? If we know what we write will be read - and potentially read by a wide range of people who may not care about *our* feelings - do we then practise self-moderation so that we will not be ashamed later of what we have written today?

Seems to me this could have implications in the classroom - if we can get this idea into pupils' heads then all this apparent worry about moderation might become less acute. (No it won't. What planet am I living on? :-l)

Friday, January 13, 2006

January weather

January weather
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Having posted pics that make Dunoon look idyllic, I feel honour-bound to be honest. This is lunchtime in January. Quite the brightest it's been all day. Actually, yesterday was more dramatically awful - the spray obscured the largish building on the left at high tide - but I'm beginning to realise how easy it is to be a complete slob on days like this. It's so dark first thing that there seems little reason to open an eye, let alone actually DO anything.

To be fair to me, I have been out for food. I am clothed, and in my right mind (up to a point). I have reported on yesterday's Bible Study group findings to my Bishop via email. I have made a loaf and am now going to eat it. I have also read all the blogs I look at - and been interested by at least one blogevent. But it's hideously easy to be seduced by what I'm doing right now and forget the less enjoyable/more demanding tasks which await me. Like the big report on churches and terrorism that I'm supposed to have finished summarising. Or the more housewifely task of taking up a pair of trousers - which I've put off for two months already. They're lightweight, summer trousers - and I'll be needing them in a month.

It's summer in New Zealand. And I'll be there. Cheers!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Colour blind

Mr Blethers has just been taking the New Year bottles to the recycling. On this gale-shredded morning, he had an interesting encounter with the recycling operatives, whom I used to call "rubbish men", in my old, non-pc days. He was, in fact, reprimanded for being on the point of posting a green bottle into a brown bin.

And this revealed the difficulty posed by such a well-run site for someone who is as colour-blind as the afore-mentioned Mr B. Clear bottles - nae problem. But we rarely drink anything from a clear glass bottle - our preferred tipple comes in either green or brown glass. The receptacles for recycling them are also, logically, green and brown respectively. But Mr B cannot distinguish between these colours. Apparently he often stands musing over a bottle, holding it up to compare it with the bin into which he is about to chuck it. Sometimes he can feel the eyes of other denizens of the recycling world on his back. Today he was nobbled. How many green bottles have gone the way of the brown on a gloomy evening?

I shudder to think. But even more I shudder at the prospect of having to take over the bottle-binning.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Change and decay ...

Mosaic: Poseidon & Amphitrite
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
This photo of a mosaic in Herculaneum is an amazing example of something not decaying over a period of 2,000 years - it's an incredibly vivid piece of artwork. But I'm thinking right now about teeth. Do we outlive our teeth in Western society? Come to that, do we in fact outlive our joints and all? Do science and nutrition keep us alive only to be mocked by the failure of our bits?
Garn. Sad, the effect of sitting in the dentist's waiting for emergency treatment occasioned by yet another filling failure.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Still asking ....

A recent visitor to this site, Jon, made some kind remarks about blethers and commented on my post "Why the Kirk?" as raising interesting questions. But I didn't really ask them rhetorically; I really want to hear what the "hymn sandwich" diet does to help the average worshipper achieve a sense of communion in the normal dreich Sunday when there are few sparks from the pulpit and no sharing in the eucharist to look forward to.

David also had some interesting comments, but I still cannot grasp how the whole structure of the C of S service assists "active" prayer - you're sitting down, you're not actually saying anything, you don't know what the minister will say next so you can hardly meditate on his words and you can't really shut him out - or can you? (I'm using male examples only for the sake of brevity)

Come on, guys - you obviously have more to share than you have so far.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Myth vs. Reality

Watched "Troy" last night, courtesey of Ewan's present of two months of movies. Great - all that leaping and balletic heroism. But it made me think about Achilles and my previous image of this particular hero. I never read The Iliad in Greek - not *that* well-educated - but I *did* study parts of Virgil's Aeneid in Latin, including Book 2: "Infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem ...". From that, I had this idea of Achilles as almost super-human. Hector too, come to that, but with more pathos. Let's just say that Achilles cast a long shadow, and all the more so for being a fairly shadowy hero. Now, Brad Pitt's Achilles was all young man - muscles, brooding looks, sex appeal - and not at all shadowy. And to me, he was the less for our being shown him in his very human humanity.

And today is the feast of the Epiphany. The shadowy Magi enter the frame, leave their gifts and go home by another route. I know their symbolism - their story told by Matthew the Jewish writer to show how the Christ came for the Gentiles, just as the Gentile Luke told of the (Jewish) poor shepherds to represent the Jewish people. Symbols, and all the better for being mysterious. I don't want to know details - or even if there was any chance that they actually existed. This doesn't matter - because of the intrinsic truth of the symbolism.

Somehow, to me, these two examples are linked. What am I trying to say? Do we reduce everything nowadays to the ordinary and the comprehensible? Do we seek to make everything we touch familiar, ordinary, human? Do we refuse to have mysteries any longer?

I'll stick with a bit of mystery. Happy Epiphany!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Why the Kirk?

This is a deeply unfashionable subject, but it's my blog and I want to raise it:

What do people find in Church of Scotland services? Why do they go? Presumably they are Christians - but what sustenance does the service give them? If a congregation is fortunate enough to have a gifted and thoughtful preacher as their minister, then they will at least be stimulated and perhaps moved by the sermon, but other than that? Bellow five hymns, sit passively through several extempore prayers - the quality of which again will depend on the ability of the incumbent - and that's it. Unless, of course, it's one of the infrequent communion services.

I was brought up in the Kirk. One of my great-uncles was a minister. I went till my early teens and then had had enough. I'd still be unchurched, 50 years on, if that was all that was available. I was reminded of it today when an acquaintance was bemoaning the dreadful sermon he'd had to suffer - all 20 minutes of it - on Christmas Eve. He no longer goes to church on a regular basis because it is so boring.

Sermons in the - to which I belong - are not the central part of the liturgy. The Eucharist is. The prayers are well-written and familiar enough to provide a vehicle for meditation. With or without music, the service can be beautiful. The celebrant can be a wonderful preacher - but it doesn't matter so much. There is movement, congregational participation and silence. There is a sense of "other" - it is not mundane.

And there are so few of us that we all know one another. Not entirely a good thing, as we're lumbered with a lovely but scabby building to maintain. But I'd love to hear from someone out there who can tell me why I'm arrogant, self-satisfied or just plain wrong about all this.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Table Talk

One of the major topics covered in the conversations over the past two evenings of eating and socialising was that of blogging. I don't recall that I brought it up - although recollection is somewhat muddied. But what strikes me when I reflect is that I have been labouring under the delusion that blogging was a much more widely-accepted tool than it seems to be (a delusion probably fostered by my early introduction to the genre through family contacts).

The contention seemed to be that blogging was essentially fairly narcissistic, hierarchical (in that one person controlled each blog and everyone else commented) and limited in its uses. I know that this has been covered, probably ad nauseam, in other places, but this is me working it out for myself. And that's where my personal use of the medium comes in. I have always liked to think onto paper - so much so that when I was teaching I once found a carefully-argued paper on the subject of homework which I couldn't remember submitting to anyone - until I realised I'd written it for myself. So for me, this is an extension of that exercise - and maybe someone else will read this, and think "boring old fart", and pass on.

As for the notion of hierarchy: I have a feeling that as blogging has turned out to be so wonderfully easy technologically speaking, the only hierarchy involved is a much wider one - the ready access to and use of the internet. Otherwise it's surely a hierarchy of willingness - the desire to experiment, to share, to bring new interest to the old skills that English teachers like me have always tried to hammer into their pupils. After all, every Standard Grade pupil in the land has to write two essays - one factual/discursive and one creative/personal - and it's pain and grief for many of them.

There are no hard facts involved in this kind of communication. Just opinion, comment, sharing of experiences - and the expression of all this in a style the writer can be satisfied with. So maybe the big thing is that the blogger - beyond the kid stage - enjoys the exercise of crafting a piece of writing which creates a persona, explores ideas as they arrive and reaches a few others who may want to indulge in the dinner-table talk we started two nights ago.

So: are there bloggers out there for whom the act of writing is a chore? the kind of person who, say, excels at maths but hates writing an essay? (I'm heading back to the classroom here) What does that kind of person write about, if he/she exists? Answers, not on a postcard, please, but in my comment box!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Seven things I had to do before lunch .....

In the early hours of this morning, reeling from a surfeit of bubbly, I read that David had tagged me to join in this. Foolishly, I commented that I would when my head felt better - so here we go. I won't be making a habit of it, though.
Seven things to do before I die
Seven things I cannot do
Seven things that attract me to my spouse
Seven things I say most often
Seven books (or series) I love
Seven movies I watch over and over again (or would watch over and over if I had the time)
Seven people I want to join in, too.

1 Seven things to do before I die
Visit Rome; visit Athens; visit Palestine/Israel; make a second traverse of the Aonach Eagach; have someone else publish my poetry; sing Tomkins’ “When David Heard” (first alto) again, preferably with my friends; play the violin again.

2 Seven things I cannot do
Make a good scone; Sudoku; crosswords; sail in a swell without feeling deathly; eat cream; survive shellfish; resist a challenge.

3 Seven things that attract me to my spouse
He might read this; he can play the music from a film when we get home and it sounds just like the original; he’s amusing; he makes good opportunities for me to sing; we still have things to talk about; he’s clever; he’s still in good shape.

4 Seven things I say most often
John – often accompanied by an exclamation mark; have you read my blog?; was that sharp?; a four-letter unladylike Anglo-Saxon word used as an expletive; another four-letter word meaning excrement; no; I’ll just have another half glass.

5 Seven books (or series) I love
Lord of the Rings; Peter Abelard; The Human Factor; His Dark Materials trilogy; Pompeii; the Starbridge series.

6 Seven movies I watch over and over again (or would watch over and over if I had the time)
The three Godfather films; Scent of a Woman; First Contact (Star Trek); The X-Men; LotR ( I know – three films, but one book, really)

7 Seven people I want to join in, too
Di, Don, Neil; Ewan (no pressure!); John; Rob; Edgar

And I don’t think I can be bothered putting in all these links – though this is not one of the things I actually cannot do.
And I've done some of them.