Friday, March 31, 2006

High jinks - too high for me

Brief blog this evening - must organise myself for tomorrow's activities in another persona as a singer. We're off to Stirling to spend an afternoon workshopping on Faure's Requiem and Kodaly's Missa Brevis under the direction of Stephen Cleobury of King's College Chapel Choir, Cambridge. I'll be interested to see/hear how we altos cope with the extreme range of the Kodaly - I may have to cop out of the top notes.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Mr Blethers and I - along with Mrs Heathbank - may well be the oldest singers there. As long as the voice holds out ....

I'll report on this musical junket when I've recovered.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

So there you have it ...

Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Today I got an unexpected present in the post - a coaster defining what I'm doing. Now. This very minute. Blethering. My thanks to Mary, who sent it - an eye for a gift, that one! I especially like the example of the verb - "That wee yin o' yours is an awfy blether getting'" - and reflect that perhaps the possession of a blog has just such an effect. I must be worse - having done this I shall still go and write up the (paper) diary I have kept for the past 50 years or so. Just don't ask where I keep them all.

Today I also posted on another blog in anwer to its owner, who wondered why he was bothering. I suppose to some it appears a self-indulgent practice, perpetuating one's most banal thoughts for others to flick through. But I disagree. I don't think it's any more self-indulgent than chatting in company. Social intercourse, in fact.

And now I see from bloglines that Progress Report has two new posts - my students have been busy again. Time for me to stop blethering and do some work .....

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Inveraray Pier
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Had a touristy sort of day today, involving a trip to Inveraray (pictured), a visit to an art gallery to buy prints, two visits to the excellent Brambles eatery (great home baking and superior coffee) and a stop off at loch Fyne Oysters to buy salmon and venison. We also managed a brisk trot round the castle between showers of hail.

Then it was home to the growing interest in the Process Blogging that my students are doing. I must say I can't see why it isn't glaringly obvious to anyone involved in teaching writing that the demands of a readership beyond the classroom will spark the interest of most embryonic writers; if *I* feel the need to keep posting now at my advanced age, how much more stimulating would I have found the medium in my teens?

A visit from Duffy rounded off the day. But there is a fly in the otherwise emollient ointment of my life at present:
My Ancient Person's Scotland-wide Bus pass has not yet arrived. From April 1st the highways of this realm will be flowing with liberated oldies, scooshing about gratis from Coldstream to Cromarty - but unless someone gets the finger out I, alas, will not be one of them. I have handed the form and the photo in to the taciturn man in the post office - but then silence. I have a trip to Perth coming up, and I rather fancied going on a bus with my iPod, even if it does take half a day. I fear this may not happen, though there are a couple of days left.

I'm holding my breath....

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Process blogging!

When I was still teaching, I found 'Process Writing' an excellent method of freeing up students' creativity. They worked for the first couple of sessions in pairs, each writing a paragraph - which need not necessarily be the opening of a story or other imaginative piece, but could be from the middle - and then submitting themselves to the questioning of their partner. By making sure that each subsequent paragraph held the answers to any of their partner's questions, they would produce writing that felt real and solid, based originally on some experience of their own, and left no dangling threads. When they had doen six Q/A sessions, they went on and wrote the whole piece - even if sometimes they scrapped what they'd started and began again. At the end, they conferenced, edited, tightened up their writing, and presented the finished piece to the whole group.

Now, working to that model, I'm delighted to say that the blog set up by my two private students, progress report is falling into that pattern. I'm grateful to fellow-edubloggers (or fellow writers!) for their helpful comments, not least because within the space of three days the students will have realised they have a bigger audience than just me - and an audience who are going to say more than "that's very good" - always a danger with unsupported peer assessment, especially if one partner is more proficient than the other.

I wish we could have done it this way in the classroom - all these wee bits of paper! To say nothing of the sheer noise of 30 pupils conferencing in a confined space - I used to have to send the trusties along the corridor, and even then if they became enthusiastic my colleagues would curse me as the voices rose in disputation. The efficiency of blogging the work means I can supervise, join in as required - and the stress levels for the classroom situation would have nosedived. No coming back after helping one pair along at the lift shaft only to find that wee Kevin, who was never one for writing, had refused to help his partner and had started a fight instead ....

So here I am, retired, relaxed (huh) and getting excited about edublogging. Maybe I need to get out more ....

Di? Dogs?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Mother's Day, continued

Chefs at work
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Had a trip to the big city today - well, to Leith. We only did two things, really - ate and spent money. Great.

The eating was in continuation of Mothers' Day - so I wasn't paying. The wine was an interesting and alcoholic white (whose name, sadly, I forget), and I had lightly smoked pan fried monkfish with hummous, rocket and basil oil. The accompanying plate of veg was delicious and perfectly cooked. I also had a wondrous sorbet - you'll find it on flickr. (No, not the sorbet - you know what I mean!) The two chefs work wonders in that tiny space you can see in the photo - I can't imagine doing all that in full view of the diners, but they do! If you're now drooling, I recommend this place - Fisher's, on The Shore, Leith.

After this we went shopping for a new kilt and brogues. Not for me, you understand - but it was an entertaining afternoon. As the rain thundered down - who said the East didn't have real rain? - we were treated to swatches of tartan and a selection of interesting shoes. The intricacies of tying these fancy items defeated me - I hope their new owner was paying attention!

All this self-indulgence has left me incapable of serious thought, although the conversation over lunch was very edublog-orientated: hardly surprising as edublogger was paying. I shall return to the edublogging front tomorrow.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Can't see the wood ...

Birch trees
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Well - that wasn't exactly the reaction the sermon provoked this morning - people were very responsive and entuhusiastic, if slightly deeved by the torrent of ideas I'd been assailed by while writing it. How easy it is, however, to become so entranced by each new thought that the overall shape seems to sprawl like the delightfully untamed wood I walked through yesterday. Am I closer to understanding the concept of Eternal Life? Perhaps. But my hearers ....?

Interesting, too, that there will always be someone there who seems, by his very lack of comment, to think that women should confine themselves to making the tea and arranging the flowers. I'm currently involved yet again in a discussion of women's ordination on a Yahoo group - there are people out there for whom this is still a problem. Meanwhile the church withers and perishes (more trees!) because the rest of the populace dismisses it as a haven for irrelevant navel-gazing.

But there. I've made it to the afternoon. I'm still hoping my new little bloggers will come up with some more writing before the day is out, but we remembered to change the clocks, the rain is dissuading me from going anywhere, and I have jeans to take up. And then I shall make the dinner.

Flowers for Mothers' Day have just arrived. And choccies. I shall give up on cerebral activity for the rest of the day. Flower arranging? Cooking? Seems I'm falling into line .....

Friday, March 24, 2006

Blog to the Prezz

Well, despite the rain and the biting east wind, that's been quite a good day, that has. For a start, the sermon's written. Highlighted bits and all. Now I have to think about it enough to be able to talk it - not read it. But I'm getting there.

And the teaching? Hard work - especially at teatime. Hard for the students and hard for me. I used Graham Greene to get us started - the masterly sketching in of a character, a place, an atmosphere. I noticed that one of my customers had been told to use more similes in her writing - really, a fatal injunction. Why do we do that? Any similes that turn up will be so heavy-handed and hackneyed as to drown any originality in the prose. We *must* teach the creative use of verbs, or of the unexpected, metaphorical adjective, if we are to help the students to grow. Anyway, they're away to try their hand at some writing for me. Where? On a blog. (Yay!) You can find it at progress report, where, if this works out, I hope to be keeping tags on the homework till I see them again. Of course. I'll be sad if it doesn't work - but if all were plain sailing I guess there wouldn't be a job for all the blogevangelists out there.

And a last, joyous discovery - George Dubya knows about blogs! Take a look at this If it's all too much for you to stomach - there's reams of the stuff - I've found the relevant snip for you:

" I just got to keep talking. And one of the -- there's word of mouth, there's blogs, there's Internet, there's all kinds of ways to communicate which is literally changing the way people are getting their information. And so if you're concerned, I would suggest that you reach out to some of the groups that are supporting the troops, that have got Internet sites, and just keep the word -- keep the word moving. And that's one way to deal with an issue without suppressing a free press. We will never do that in America. I mean, the minute we start trying to suppress our press, we look like the Taliban. The minute we start telling people how to worship, we look like the Taliban. And we're not interested in that in America. We're the opposite. We believe in freedom. And we believe in freedom in all its forms. And obviously, I know you're frustrated with what you're seeing, but there are ways in this new kind of age, being able to communicate, that you'll be able to spread the message that you want to spread."

There, then, you have it. Hot stuff, eh? We've really arrived.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Learning and teaching

I never thought I'd find contextual Bible study as interesting as I have been these past weeks. I'm not sure that it doesn't tell us as much about each other as about the text under consideration - but it's a good way of making me think about passages of the gospel I had long regarded as familiar. When we begin to identify with this or that character it opens up a whole new landscape - though occasionally we go for such a ramble over this landscape that the surroundings become unrecognisable! It helps, of course, to have thoughtful and imaginative companions on this journey; it would be altogether a different matter with literal fundamentalists or even someone who simply didn't follow the path taken.

There. Does that last sentence smack of an intolerable arrogance? Maybe that's there - but I could never bear the kind of vague speculation that had no anchor in firm knowledge, and I'm very fortunate in that we rarely meet without someone there who actually knows the scholarly background to the passage. I suppose it's the recognition of my own hang-ups in this area that makes me cautious about this lay preaching lark. Not a lark, in fact. More of an eagle - or maybe an albatross.

Back in the world I have some expertise in, I will be teaching two new students tomorrow. The teaching of Writing - the sort which gets you a good grade in Standard Grade English - is quite a thought too, actually. It's one thing correcting grammatical errors and making suggestions about the effective use of tenses; quite another to start afresh on shaping style and stimulating the imaginations of people whose reading stopped when the homework became burdensome. And I've only a few weeks before they have to be able to write with flair and confidence under exam conditions - a ridiculous idea, when you think of it.

Now, I wonder if they'd like to start a wee blog?


I've just noticed an odd thing: as the screen for posting blogs comes up, the time-setting boxes appear briefly and then vanish - so it looks as if I've been posting at very odd times because I can't set the times at all. Anyone any ideas as to why this is happening? [Actually I've had to save all this - blogger had a wee cardiac arrest an hour or so ago and had to be resuscitated by these clever gnomes who do such things ....]

Navel-gazing apart - though there are those who say bloggers do little else - I must admit that my springish feelings were short-lived. In fact, out walking this afternoon I realised that the ungloved hand holding my walking pole had become like one large chilblain - blue and sore, then red, blotchy and itchy as the circulation returned. Two hours after thawing it was still visibly redder than the hand which had been safely in my pocket. And it snowed in a sort of idle, teasing way for a couple of hours.

During that time I was well out of my comfort zone previewing with my supervising group the sermon I shall give on Sunday. Quite apart from the challenge of getting to grips with the concepts of judgement and eternal life, there is the challenge of conveying all the thoughts I've put together without sending my listeners to sleep. Now this was never a problem in my teaching days - I knew my stuff inside out and mixed entertainment with education and interaction without a thought. I could engage with any of the audiences who trundled into my classroom on a daily basis, and I rarely used teaching notes - just the text under consideration. Why can't I do that on Sunday?

It's not the audience, for a start. They may be adults, but this doesn't bother me. No, it's the feeling of responsibility, the need to get it right - combined with the fact that the ideas I'm presenting, though I've arrived at them in such a way as to feel I *own* them, are relatively new to me. They're also at once complex and simple. So now I have to beat my notes into some form which will let me be the teacher I enjoyed being, rather than the lecturer whose delivery I scorned.

And I guess there's a lesson in that too.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Spring - yay!

Al fresco ..
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Now *is* that how I should spell that particular euphoric utterance? Perhaps for one of my literary tastes it should be "yea" - that's certainly the sound I want to replicate .....

But to my theme. The scene of charming domesticity illustrating today's post was in fact taken today as we had our lunch in the garden for the first time ... in three weeks. Doesn't sound particularly momentous, but considering that it's (a) not New Zealand but Dunoon and (b) the temperature outside is now -1ÂșC I think it was amazing to be able to sit in a T-shirt and bare feet and feel warm in my garden 10 hours ago. Instant feelings of well-being and at-one-ness with the world, feelings I've missed in the chilly weather since we came home.

If any of my NZ friends are reading this - as we arrive at the equinox, I'd love to know what time it's getting dark over there; we felt it was still summer 3 weeks ago. Here there was just a suggestion of light in the sky at 7.30pm tonight. Now the stars are shining, and Orion is back the right way up, with his sword pointing safely downwards - it's hard to believe he's visible on the other side of the world.

And I nearly forgot: there was a bee in the garden today!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Torpid thoughts

On my way home from an interesting and satisfying day in Glasgow, I decided I might blog this evening on the subject of transactional analysis, but have had to abandon such ambitions as being beyond my addled brain at the moment. Instead, I shall merely remark on the sad truth that a stimulating day seems to lead, with crashing inevitability, to an evening of stupefied torpor. Even sitting on the floor (in an attempt to stay awake for long enough to drink a cup of tea) failed - I kept finding myself keeling over in the direction of the cup, as though attempting to dive in.

I know that TA is hardly a new concept, but today was the first time I've made any attempt to use it for my own purposes. Perhaps that's what has so drained my brain - the combined effects of thought and the big city. I need to rest said brain, obviously, as further thought will be necessary tomorrow when I attempt to write a sermon for this Sunday. It's amazingly challenging to step out of one's own comfort zone and do a job for which one is only minimally qualified.

One last thing: I'm always amazed to realise that people read blog posts - especially when they leave long and thoughtful replies to them. Is the blogosphere perhaps like one of these smoky coffee-houses of the past, where the essayists of the day would gather to share ideas? Great!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Sacred facts

Couldn't resist using these neat Guardian goodies to illustrate today's maunderings: Comment is free....but facts are sacred. I've been looking at St Mark's gospel with a few mates, and yesterdays' session set me thinking - not just about the events leading up to that last passover meal, but also about the truthiness of the gospel story. (This is a new word for me - worth making the link to Wikipedia to find out).

When we began discussing, for example, the woman with the alabaster jar of precious ointment, we found in her various symbols. There was the undoubted truth of a woman's emotional reaction to the person of Jesus - and the women present related to that. But when we considered that the cost of the ointment probably amounted to the basic stipend for a year, it raised immediate questions of what we were doing paying a priest instead of "giving to the poor". And as for Judas - after realising that Judas was probably us, we began to wonder if he was a real person in the factual sense of the word, and was instead a purely symbolic - and enormously important - figure.

So: comment is free - and that, I suppose, it what we were doing. But facts? I suppose I've always felt, in adult thought at least, that the incredibly familiar bible stories were not facts quite as the Guardian would report them - because the Guardian's reporters file their stories immediately after - or even during - an event, not decades later. They would confirm their facts, even in a feature covering, say, the Second World War. By modern journalistic standards, the gospel stories would qualify as ancient morality case studies.

But golly, do they inspire comment! In recent weeks I've been reading the Psalms, and had reached the notion that they were a bit like blogs, reflecting the moods and the hopes of the blogger/psalmist. The gospels, once we get away from the "yeah, yeah, I know this bit" approach, can produce a torrent of comment to match those on the new Guardian super-blog

People are still wary of blogs, especially church people. And too many people - inside and outwith the church - are wary of actually commenting on the Bible. But is ignorance ever a good excuse?

Time for coffee!

Old haunts

River Massan
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
We walked in Glen Massan today, and I was aware that I was looking at my surroundings as if I were new to them - the effect, I suppose, of having walked a new wilderness for a month. The colours were not unlike those of Central Otago - the grass is dead and yellow after the winter, and the snow was very white on the hilltops.

It was cold, and the road was very muddy - because someone has bought the glen and is creating a pond in front of the house, which in turn will be replaced by something bigger. There was a big, big lorry moving the soil from the pond hole and creating a mountain of earth across the track. Much mud indeed.

We await further development with interest. Meanwhile, my other pics can be seen, as usual, on flickr - just click on the nice one I chose for today.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Ferry chilly ...

Car Ferry
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I really must give up puns. But I feel compelled to strive to show some wit - even after a day spent driving round chilly Cowal. This trip was to Rothesay, in the interesting journey to acquire a new priest for our linked charges in Bute and Cowal. Even on a bitter evening, with wind-chill surely bringing the temperature below zero, there was beauty in the white-streaked hills contrasting with the red stripes on the Cal Mac ferry and the lowering dark sky. I don't know how it looked to our visitor, but I was glad I had my camera.

I usually post pictures of places online. Some people have a horror of the idea of their photo appearing on such a potentially public situation. But why? Is there a link to the primitive fear that somehow a photograph steals the soul? No such thought seemed to enter the mind of the man who demanded I take his picture - he was so insistent that I did take it, and you can see it on my flickr account. I doubt the subject will see it - and I wonder if he'd be pleased to know it was there. Would people who resent the invasion of their privacy represented by online publishing feel the same if their photo appeared randomly in a newspaper? Perhaps as background to a public figure, or in a random street shot? Or is it just the idea they don't like?

But now these ramblings much cease - partly because I have had a tot of a spectacularly good honey and brandy drink brought back from his travels by Edublogger and my fingers are no longer working in harmony with my thoughts. But I cannot leave without congratulating Walter and Duffy for their witty and erudite comments on yesterday's blog title. Where would a boring old blogger be without them?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Some craven scruple

Yesterday I paid a brief visit to my former place of employment (delicately put - no?). After some jolly staffroom socialising I went down to disturb a member of my own department at his marking, sitting in his mercifully empty classroom. We talked of how things were going, and I remembered the awful accumulation of marking that English teachers especially have to cope with at this time of year. No sooner have you finished one lot than you have to do reports for a quite different year group - and that's when you realise that you haven't had time to look at their work in months, because they're not sitting SQA exams and have had to be prioritised some way down the pile. So you pull out their folders and wade in desperation through perhaps three finished essays, all on different topics, and try to note down their progress as you go. Then you do the reports.
And by the time that's done you have - let's say - the Standard Grade prelim it's been decided to resit. Thirty assorted essays, some a page of pencil scrawl, some carefully-crafted and three pages long, some merely .... long. And totally unpunctuated.

If you actually paused to think about this, you'd lose the will to live. The only way to cope is to take each task as it comes, and view the completion of each as a small triumph. You must *never* think of the next bundle of work. Never. And that's what I've done for the past 23 years. Now that I don't have to do it any more, and, more importantly, have stepped far enough back to see what the job entails, I'm amazed. All that important work being done by intelligent people who have to work like automatons.

Notice that I haven't mentioned teaching here. Compared with the paperwork, teaching is fun. But I know that today there were only two demands on my time, one of which was the ironing mountain . The rest of the day I've pleased myself. And I've remembered how, from the age of 5, I've been aware of the pressures on people who were not allowed to stay at home with Mummy any more. Do you think if we thought about life at the age of 5 we'd never make it?

The snow is very wet underfoot today, but in the woods it is still beautiful. The trees, however, are like war-wounded, their limbs ripped from their trunks by the weight of Sunday's fall. Some of our usual paths are shut, with terse little notices saying "dangerous trees". Now there's a concept I did enjoy thinking about!

Oh - and the title is part of another quotation. In the absence of my dear friend Edgar, who *always* recognised my quotes, I'm looking for someone else to win the virtual Mars Bar. Clue: it's an important one!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Shrinking world

The world seemed a wee bit smaller today with a phonecall from one of our new friends in New Zealand. As I remarked at the time, it was possible to hear the Kiwi voice without even being the one holding the phone. At the same time, I'm growing aware of how many people from the most unexpected quarters have been following my travel blog - and really pleased that several of them have been getting in touch.

A fellow-blogger wonders today if blogging is becoming too fashionable for serious Christian communication, because he belives that "Christian faith is at its prophetic best when it is both unfashionable and counter-cultural." But my recent experience has persuaded me that this kind of communication, allowing anyone to formulate ideas or simply to reflect on their life as they live it, is too valuable for anyone with an important message to ignore. There has been such a sense of sharing and appreciation expressed via this blog and the comments I've had over the past month that I feel I want everyone to be able to benefit from such a forum.

Today the snow has nearly all gone from the coastal areas, though the hills and glens are still white. I forgot my camera this afternoon or you would have seen a wonderfully bovril-coloured burn, hugely swollen by melting snow, thundering down the Bishop's Glen. Once more, as in Bendigo, I am thrown back on words.

Bovril. Gallons of it.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Spring, huh?

View towards Rectory
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I reckon we came home too soon. I mean - my wee daffies are all bent under a mound of snow and half of Scotland seems to have shut down: no papers in the shop by lunchtime, roads blocked by skidded lorries and bigger mounds of snow - I ask you.

Anyway, for my new friends in New Zealand, this is the view from our wee church after the Eucharist this morning. There were only five in the congregation, and we'd all had to walk varying distances to get there. Quite apart from the perilous steepness of the driveway, the church site is at the back of the town, up a hill and away from the sea. And to cap it all, the weight of snow brought down a tree right across the driveway, demolishing the phone line on the way. So from sitting in church in a thin dress a fortnight ago -and having tea on the grass outside afterwards - I found myself shivering in the choir stalls ( we abandoned the nave) in wet trousers and fur-lined boots, and having tea in the Rectory while resolutely hugging a radiator. We remembered New Zealand, however, in our prayers, and all the friends we've made there.

Update on the jet-lag: thanks to the aforementioned affliction, I was able to take some interesting shots of the snowfall at 5am. It is very cold hanging out of the window under such circumstances, but one must suffer for one's art. You can see them on flickr

And now we wait to see if the snow will clear sufficiently for us to enjoy the dinner-date we have planned. Otherwise I'll be cooking.


Saturday, March 11, 2006


Lake Pukaki from plane
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Ok, purists - I know this isn't a jet plane; it was some wee turbo-prop job with about four steps down to the ground and the wings obligingly above the fuselage so's we could see the view - but it's a lovely view and worth sharing. And I want to talk about the interesting effects of long-haul flying. If anyone out there has any explanation of the phenomenon, I'd be glad to hear from them ....

First off - it wasn't nearly so bad going out. We landed for the last time at teatime in NZ, and though we didn't really feel like tea, we had some and went to bed at quite a normal time. next afternoon, for about an hour, I felt very peculiar, but it passed and I put the slightly broken nights down to the heat and the unfamiliar bed.

But now ... well, much, much more pronounced symptoms. Apart from the stupor of my first night at home, I haven't had an unbroken night. I waken at 2am thinking it must be time to get up. I sleep shallowly, with silly dreams (last night a plane crashed on the coal pier, for instance, and the debris destroyed my roof). This morning I got up before 7am because it felt absurd to pretend to sleep when I could be doing something else. But come 3pm, I feel dizzy with exhaustion - as if, in fact, it was 4am. So far I haven't really given in to this - a trip to the supermarket was today's antidote. Hmmm.

It also interests me how after a month I'm unfamiliar with my own kitchen. I reach for things where they were in Edgar's instead of the places I've had them for years. And in the supermarket I was looking for the fabby orange juice that seemed stuffed with actual oranges. It wasn't there.

And I miss the sun. In fact, it's damned cold and miserable. I'm not used to it any more.

And it gets dark too early.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Furthermore ....

Since we came home, people have asked us what we remember most vividly about our visit to NZ. I'd have to say that for me it was the space. For a start, there are only 4.1 million people in the country, 1.5 million of whom apparently live in Auckland. New Zealand has a land area slightly greater than the UK. Most of the walks we took, we met no-one. We saw few cars away from the main roads - and even they were peaceful. (They also made the Argyll roads feel like a test bed for rugged suspensions). There were a few busier areas - our hike to the glacier had us meet people on the path and at the top, and Queenstown was much busier than we'd become used to - but if we stayed in Central Otago it was possible to imagine that this was indeed the desert parts of it resembled.

With that came the space to think. After a week, I no longer felt the need to read "holiday fiction", and was able instead to finish the more demanding and inspirational book I had taken with me. I was able to reflect at length on what was happening around me, and to put it in context. Any demands being made on me were short-term and practical; there was no juggling of commitments and no feeling that I ought to be doing something else.

So: resolution from that? To try to do what needs doing and can be done, and to leave the rest. To take time to consider my surroundings and avoid being where I don't want to be. To avoid cluttering up my mind and my life with inessentials and rubbish. And above all, to appreciate the people whom life has given me, and to make sure they know it.

And maybe I'll get back to New Zealand some day!

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Just after I posted my last entry, I had a phone call from New Zealand to tell me that our friend Edgar, with whom we had been staying, had died peacefully, surrounded by his family. Although he was ill throughout the period of our stay with him, it was his prime concern that we should have a good holiday, and my blog reflects the excellence of our stay there. As his health declined, he seemed even more determined that this should not impinge on our activities, and so it was not until our return from the trip to Rob Roy glacier that he went to hospital for the last time.

Edgar Pacey was a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, serving in the dioceses of Glasgow and Galloway and Argyll and The Isles. He was a man of immense learning and down to earth realism. For many years he was a full-time teacher in Glasgow schools, and talked often of his time in Penilee. His last work in Scotland was to hold together the congregation of his own Holy Trinity Church in Dunoon during a long vacancy. When he emigrated to New Zealand to be with his family, his church family missed him sorely.

He came home from hospital last Friday. On Saturday evening his family held a party. A wonderful party where the teenage grandchildren laughed and joked and everyone had a dram – including Edgar. When we left, it was with the sense of a man serene and confident in the love that surrounded him and the God to whom he was going. It was an exemplary and inspiring end. He died fifteen hours after we arrived home.

I count myself fortunate beyond words that he was my friend. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Home again, home again..

Mount Cook from the air
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
...hippity hop. Well, no - not much hopping after 37 hours of air travel. Much bouncing around the sky after taking off from Frankton - all these mountains make for interesting updraughts - but collected myself sufficiently to take a few pix.

And the rest of the journey? Well. The Indian Ocean is very big. So is Australia. And it was dark all the way across both - we landed in Sydney in a spectacular orange sunset and didn't see daylight again till we were leaving Dubai. That's about 16 hours of darkness, and they didn't fly past. There was a strange niff in the plane too - we fear one of our fellow-travellers either had travelled too far already or had unpleasant feet. Anyway, there was no escape. I'll not go into the details of the effect of this - except to say that much of the food they kept giving us went untouched.

The flight from Dubai to Glasgow was a joy. Bigger plane, less crowded, bright sunshine. In between bouts of drooling sleep, we were able to look down on Iran (big, dun-coloured, ridgey, lots of snow in the north), bits of the Caspian sea, the Crimea (yes - that's the Black Sea), Poland (still snowy) and a wee bit of Denmark (also snowy). Northern Europe strikes me as such a busy place after New Zealand - and after the deserted appearance of much of Iran too. The airport at Christchurch even seemed busy after the peace we've enjoyed.

Today it is raining in Dunoon. It feels cold. But there is much going on and in two hours we leave for Oban. Don't ask why. Just let's hope we don't fall into drooling sleep before we arrive.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


It's time to shut down Edgar's PC - time to finish packing - time to sleep before the 36 hour journey home (no overnight stops on this trip). We've had a very full day, which we began with a visit to a gathering of Cursillistas from the Dunedin diocese and ended with a wonderful family party.

We've made friends here - one aspect which makes me think life could be good in this part of the world. We've had a wonderful holiday - our kind of holiday, where we could walk for hours and see no-one and where no-one stared if we were dressed like tramps - or at least a pair of eccentrics. People have been unfailingly kind and welcoming, generous with invitations and absurd things like a car for the duration. In fact, so enamoured am I of the Bighorn that I fear I shall never again want to drive around in an ordinary car.

And now we've made our farewells and are about to head back to the snow. Tonight the stars are amazing - and I think I've at last seen the Southern Cross. The Milky way is right over the garden, and Orion is still upside-down.

And the water runs down the plughole anti-clockwise. What way does it go at home?

I've never checked.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Distant Ophir

Originally uploaded by goforchris.
There were no quinquiremes, of Nineveh or anywhere else, come to that, but today we were in Ophir, once the most populous mining town in the area but today .... well, shut. People obviously live there, and the post office, still in the original building, is open for business in the mornings, but we saw not a soul. Two dogs, happily behind a wire fence, went demented with excitement at the sight of us walking down the middle of the main street - we felt once more like characters in a Western.

The eerie quality was enhanced by the howling (literally) gale, which had us shivering despite the bright sunshine. The south-east wind comes straight from the Antarctic with nothing to deflect or warm it up, and it was giving it laldy this afternoon. Even in the morning it was pretty dramatic - there's a pic over on flickr showing what it did to Lake Dunstan. We had a walk later - a couple or so miles on the Otago rail trail near Ophir, where it winds through country that seemed positively biblical. There was snow on the Pisa range, though the nearest hills, the aptly named Raggedy Range, were the more usual dust colour.

Another first today: I saw a field full of alpacas. My cup is full.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Blast from the past

Just landed.
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
At Wanaka, the area which provided the backdrop for several LotR scenes, there is a museum of fighting aircraft, the Wanaka Warbirds. Today was so grey and chilly we decided to spend the morning in a draughty aircraft hangar, and ended up standing riveted for an age on an even draughtier airfield watching this wonderful plane.

And listening to it - for one of the well-documented features of the WW2 Spitfire was the amazing growl of its Rolls Royce Merlin engine (I know - you never realised I had this laddish background knowledge, born of years of reading boys' books). I spotted a bloke heading out of the hangar towards the Spitfire with a flying helmet in his hands, and we followed him. He was strapped in - the same solicitude you see in old war movies - by the mechanic; a fire truck appeared and hovered encouragingly; there was much slow-mo turning of the engine - someone shouted "dead as the dodo" - and then suddenly a great roar and puffs of smoke and that was it. Off he taxied, belted down the runway - we'd all run like four asterisks over the carpark to be in the right place - and took off, circling around against the backdrop of the incredible mountains. Later he landed - and we were the only spectators. I even recorded the sound on my phone (I can't believe I was carrying on like this). It was rerr.

Later we thawed out in a great "Soul Food Cafe" in Wanaka, and went for what turned out to be an idyllic walk along the lakeshore. Now we've come home and lit the woodburning stove in the house - we never thought we'd get doing that! It heats the whole house on a big log - we're on our third now. Outside, it smells like incense.

But I can't see how we could fit either a woodburning stove or a Spitfire into our usual existence - or even the 4x4 Isuzu with thermonuclear protection. Life *will* seem dull!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday - early!

St Andrew's
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Today being Ash Wednesday, it seems appropriate to begin with a pic of the inside of St Andrew's (Anglican) church, where we were this morning, observing the day about 20 hours ahead of our home congregation, who tend to do this in the evening! We were able to thank Roy, who told us about the hike we did yesterday - not in this pic as he's sitting in a corner talking about it to John.

Today, we felt, was quite like a slightly changeable summer's day at home - sudden showers kept the temperature down, and we had fleeces on (with shorts!) for part of our walk along the Clutha River this afternoon. We needed my pal Di with us today to look at the wee birds - they looked like female chaffinches until they suddenly stuck their tails up in a wonderful fan. This gave them a gliding, dipping flight, and they cavorted among the willows in pairs, cheeping in an excited manner. Actually I think they were discussing us - they seemed interested, and not at all timid.

As I write, the smell of curry is gradually filling the house - a suitable dinner for a cooler evening! Perhaps autumn is on the way here - the trees are turning and the rowans heavy in the garden. Time for us wee birds to head north again.