Friday, June 30, 2006

Sound and silence

That was an interesting comment from Ruth to yesterday's post. I can't help feeling it's quite an omission to leave students in training to find out how to conduct funerals during their curacies. Presumably that tends to perpetuate bad practice as well as good - and is that so for other aspects of the job?

As someone who is very aware of the power of words and music, I'd make a strong plea for anyone who is to fill this vital role to have some input from an expert, even if it means importing one every academic session. Both art forms are important for their very lack of specificity; the spaces between the words of poetry are where God can speak, and music is often the bridge over which God dances into our souls. If we try to pin down the work of the Spirit in the banality of prose, we are left wondering if there is anything there at all, and if we do this at a time when listeners are wide open to receive comfort and hope then we shine the bleak light of loss on the moment.

Of course, it may be that there are clergy who will never themselves be able to feel the electricity of silence, to whom music and poetry remain a mystery. But for their sakes, and certainly for ours, I sincerely hope not.

Efficiency personified?

The Bank of Scotland has a new way of ensuring your foreign currency arrives in time for your trip abroad. How far in advance do you think you'd have to order it? I'm not talking something exotic here - I wanted Euros. I leave early on Monday morning, so I ordered mine in my local branch last Monday morning, anticipating through past experience that I'd pick them up on Wednesday - or maybe even Tuesday. But no. Apparently they are now delivered by helmeted men in a van. The van comes on the ferry. And it only comes on Tuesday and Thursday to this far-flung shore. So I got my Euros today, the last possible day I could have collected them. (As you will note, I was otherwise engaged yesterday)

The silly thing is that the Gourock branch still has currency delivered by post. I only had six large-denomination notes in my order - it'd probably cost little more than a first-class stamp to post. Certainly less than it takes to send two men and a large van on the ferry - or round by the road.

Talk about carbon footprints, anyone?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Last Rites

Bit of an emotional roller-coaster this week: after the institution, with its promise of a new day, we said farewell today to my uncle whose funeral we attended in the Borders. It was good that the minister had known him well enough to speak of him with affection and understanding, and it was good to have a chance to meet my cousins again - even if, as we remarked, this only seems to happen at funerals. It's a source of pleasure to me that though (or is it because?) we rarely see one another we seem to gel so immediately, as if that shared childhood, the memories of our parents, feed into something we are hardly aware of until an event such as today. I may be biased, but I'm glad I have such an interesting and attractive bunch of relatives!

A thought about funeral rites: how important it is that we are given a framework in which to let our emotions work. I wonder what training clergy are given in structuring these public events - are they taught about the use of poetry, silence and music to allow people to unclench? A delicate job, and a very responsible one, to help mourners who may have been run off their feet organising everything (and everyone) sit for a space and just 'be'.

But what a satisfying thing to achieve!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Holy smoke!

Well, that was a good day! Exhausting, but good. The specially-arranged weather was wonderful. Our wee church was filled with people from all over the place - Dunoon, Rothesay, Tighnabruaich, Cumbrae, Glencoe, Greenock, Alabama, California (OK - I'm cheating: they live here for now), Oban, Glasgow, St Andrews ... you get the picture - for the institution of our new Rector, Kimberly. As Bishop Martin said, the carbon footprint of this occasion was pretty enormous.

Having arrived here, all these people sang like billy-oh; our organist (Mr Blethers) has this effect on people and the music was noteable. It was great to feel the hordes behind us, and great to have to sing all these communion hymns so's they could all make their communion. We had smoke - a visiting cleric sounded extremely wistful musing on this. Smoke in the sticks is obviously a novel concept for those more centrally placed. And +Martin was conducting the first institution of his Bishopric in the church where he himself was instituted a quarter of a century ago (we're all getting so OLD!). The post-service bunfight was imposing - one of these loaves and fishes jobs where you all get a doggie bag at the end. One lady was heard to remark approvingly on the quality and quantity of the veggie options - we're such a sandal-wearing crowd.

At times like this I feel a distinct sense of deja vu; we go through priests at quite a rate here in Dunoon. But this time it's different: the first woman priest in Holy T only three years after the first woman celebrant here. It's going to be an interesting journey. And that's what it's all about, really.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Trying all round

How's this for a misunderstanding? We've been trying to book a car to get us around when we go to Edublogger's wedding. We arrive at the train station in Rennes at 9.30pm. This, sadly, is 30 minutes after the Hertz office closes (and the Europcar one - they've turned us down already). We rang Hertz during our offline time and thought we'd cracked it. We could pick up a car at a Shell station. Not far - just 100 metres or so. Great.

I should have known better. We're not meant to have things work for us this month. After perusing Google Earth, Google maps, Multimap et al we were no closer to knowing where the Avenue Brebant with the Shell station was. To cut a long story short: Avenue Brebant isn't in Rennes. It's in Reims. That's the other side of France. France is a big place, and it's a long way away in the opposite direction. And no - it wasn't that we couldn't pronounce "Rennes" correctly. Maybe it was the language difficulties when you have a non-native English speaker making the booking at the Hertz end. And a Scot at this end. I'm glad I found out in time. But I'm still waiting to see if anyone will wait an extra half hour for us to get there.

And the gas boiler with which I began this blogging lark in November died on us at 1am today. Labouring fan, nasty hot smell, no pilot light, no hot water. As a result of this trauma, I am able to tell you that last night the sky never grew dark. At all.

I saw it.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

We are lost, we are lost ...

I was involved the other day in a discussion about how choirs learn music. Some well-known choirs seem to teach music by rote; even if the choristers can read music they will perform without it and everyone has to learn rather than read. I was of the opinion that this would end my choral career, as my memory is becoming less reliable by the day, but recalled the struggle I'd had in my youth to master the alto part in Tippet's "A Child of our Time". In the end, I'd learned it - so that now I can sing bits like "We are lost, we are lost" with remarkable accuracy from memory.

Hence today's photo, for which I am indebted to my bro-in-law: at this moment I was far too fraught to take photos. All I could sing was this wretched snippet of Tippet - inside my head, with what I yesterday learned is called an "earworm". We were indeed lost, as this took place on the search for the vanished Cretan mule path now hideously overgrown with strong-scented jaggies, to which I refer in a previous post. And as I sweated and cursed and coughed and spluttered in the pollen cloud I was singing in my head "We are lost .....". In at least four parts. So despite my ability to read music there is still a memory in there - it just doesn't replenish as it used to.

Another ridiculous accompaniment to my hike was the anxious call of "Help, help", which I and my sister actually uttered from time to time. Understandable in the circs? Oh yes. But I had become convinced that in some piece of literature - perhaps children's literature? - there was a creature, possibly furry, who was in the habit of pronouncing the words "Hellip, hellip." To date I have not been able to find the source of this nonsense, though several people when asked have assumed a far-away look and murmered "Mmm ....yes...but ...?"

So if there is anyone out there who can put me out of my misery and exorcise this particular niggle, the virtual Mars Bar will reappear. Until then, I shall continue to murmur "Hellip, hellip" in times of need. And we can't really have that, can we?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Excellent Women and nothing time

Two reflections after a busy day yesterday. The first came at the end of a meeting to arrange catering for a church bash. We're expecting about a hundred people to descend on us next week for the institution of our new rector, and so here you had a gathering of what Barbara Pym might have described as "excellent women". I have to add that I hardly see myself in that role, but you end up doing strange things on this pilgrimage. There we were, discussing how many "pieces" were required per person - and no, this was not "pieces" in the Glasgow sense but rather items of finger food, not a jammy sandwich but a piece of quiche or whatever. We told each other how wonderful we were, we undertook to visit supermarkets over the water and to arrange for tablecloths. All very admirable, all aimed at smoothing the path and filling the bellies of fellow-Christians.

But then we reached the end of the business. The chat began. And that chat was as loud, as worldly and as bitchy as that heard at any other gathering of women who know each other moderately well. And I joined in as riotously as any. But afterwards I felt ..... disappointed? ashamed, even? If I knew the Bible better, I could make a reference to a bit where it tells us to be different as a result of our faith. So far all I manage to do is be more aware - which makes it worse, somehow.

My other reflection was less disturbing, and slid into my wakening brain as I trogged down the road to the pool this morning at 7.40am. I've been doing this pre-breakfast swim for a few weeks now, three mornings a week. It's no longer something particularly distinctive - just something I do. So it no longer serves as a marker on a specific day. What's the point of saying so? Simply this:

When you no longer go to work, you lose track of days. Apart from going to church on a Sunday, there are no set routines. Meetings migrate from Thursday to Friday as required. And best of all - I no longer dread the end of a holiday, or feel resentful that a weekend is over, or fret because I haven't been able to do what I wanted to in my free time. The best thing about this mode of living is the ability to do what I want to - and if that means doing nothing much, in the way I used to do when I was 15, say, so that a day simply passes ...then that's fine. There's always tomorrow.

There's one caveat, though. I need to be able to say "no" to some demands on my time, otherwise I won't have this freedom any more. I need to be as aware of the concept of "nothing time" as I was when I worked - or I'll never think again.

I think today may be a good day to start.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Summer Solstice, eh? Longest day an' that? I can't remember a worse summer day than today has been - rain, gales, temperature more suited to March, inspissated gloom. I drove us to Rothesay this afternoon to do a spot of singing in rehearsal for the service of institution next week - well, I drove to Colintraive to get the ferry. The road was flooded in several places and water pounded off the hillsides and down the ditches, while the wind had the full-blown trees thrashing about. I suppose days like this have always cropped up in the summer months, but I find them intensely dispiriting.

At least I had some exercise: the swimming is coming on nicely at 30 lengths three times a week before breakfast. My pal Di bought new goggles and now steams along faster than ever, while I pant in her wake (literally). I feel one's length must come into the equation ....

Maybe my gloom was intensified today by the realisation that I am now indeed the matriarch of my family. With the death today of my uncle, there is no-one of that generation left and I was the first of the next generation. I can remember the fun I had as a small child with my youngest uncle. Life is very brief, really. May he rest in peace.

I'll finish off with this pic of the lovely house we stayed in in Crete. It is perched on the top of a hill covered in olive groves. Down the road a bit are some orange trees and a couple of lemon trees. I snaffled a few oranges one evening to squeeze for our breakfast - we never saw anyone picking them and they were falling off the trees. This was the second time we had stayed there, but it will be our last as another house is being built further up the road - indeed, at the road end - and the solitude which we so enjoyed will not be the same. In this weather it seems a long way away. My tan is beginning to look a tad yellow - no, I didn't sunbathe: it just happened.

There's always the bottle of Holiday Skin ....

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Wish I was here ...

View from under the pines
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
But at least I'm back online, on my own Mac and able to use my photos from our holiday in Crete! I've posted them all on flickr and you can see them either by clicking on this one or by going through the panel of pics on the right hand side of the blog.

And now that I have the photos to illustrate what I'm saying, I will say now that Crete in the spring is amazing. We were there in May; the week before we arrived had been horrid, apparently, but we had fine weather the whole two weeks and by the time we left summer had arrived, with the temperature on our last day up to 38 degrees in the afternoon. We seemed to pass through the Spring weather in our first week, in which we were able to enjoy breakfast on our terrace in the sun (towards the end of our stay the butter tended to melt before breakfast was over) and go for proper walks.

The biggest of these hikes was my third walk down the Samaria Gorge (17 k) - a lovely experience this time as only 700 people were in the gorge on that day as opposed to the 2,000 we'd been among four summers ago. We were able to be alone for long spells of the day, and to hear the birds singing in the trees through which we walked. We also traversed a shorter gorge on the Akrotiri Peninsula, where we visited a deserted monastery deep within the gorge and boasting an extraordinary bridge and a chapel in a cave. Now only the goats were there to hear me ring a trinity of notes on the hanging bell.

Another walk, supposedly lasting two and a half hours, took us all of 7 hours because we were lost. The Sunflower Guide to walks in Western Crete was very specific about leaving the road past a church and striking down a path across a gorge and back to the road over a hill - but hey, there were two churches in the village and the path had disappeared under masses of fragrant but rather jaggy herbiage. We struggled on for a bit, soon becoming rather bloody and coughing our guts up in the clouds of pollen which engulfed us, but admitted defeat and returned to the road which we had already used. I think all the locals now use mopeds and trucks rather than mules and donkeys - and they use the roads and forget the jaggy paths.

We also were able to swim in the sea by our second week. The air was warm but the sea a bit like Tighnabruaich on a fine August day - chilly till you were in. It was never crowded.

Writing this on a bleak June evening just before the longest day - the temperature outside is 10 degrees celsius - has transported me back a month. It was wonderful. I love Crete. I shall go again.

But my next wanderings will be to France. Watch this space ...

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Holding my breath ...

No. I'm not. I think I'd turn blue in the face if I did. But I'd like to think that this will be my last post from a hijacked PC: theoretically BT will take over our line from tomorrow and we should be able to get online on Tuesday. I've reached the stage of not believing any more - a cyber atheist - but am ready to be proved wrong.

I'm sitting in a house on the East Bay promenade. The sea is dark grey and gurly looking, and the high tide makes it look as if I'm on a boat with the water surging past the railing - I can only see the road in between if a car passes. My feet are damply clammy after ploughing through the wet grass at the neolithic site at Ardnadam.

But church this morning was lovely. Hugh's prayers for his last Sunday with us were totally apposite. We wish him well, in spades.

The midges were there too. Millions of them. Best to hold my breath after all ...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Moving on

I'm moving - in cyberspace anyway. If you are someone who is used to mailing me at my demon address, please note that this will not be operational for much longer. I've opened a google mail account in the meantime and will get round to contacting you shortly.

We're moving to BT after the most appalling nonsense with our ISP of some 14 years, Demon. I've lost count of the hours spent on the phone to India ( I suppose), being asked to perform the same procedures over and over again. The problem lies with the system rather than with the unfailingly polite help-line operatives: they have to ask the questions on their card, and it is impossible actually to engage in a conversation. I was tempted to ask one of them how many people had died of a heart attack in the middle of a session on the helpline, just to see what he'd ask me to do next. When we finally got through to someone who could operate independently and actually talk with us instead of at us, we initiated the business of severing our connection with Demon.

The truly devoted among my readers will note that this all began with an amazing electrical storm, which hit Dunoon on May 4th. Since then we've been offline. We still are. We spent two weeks persuading Demon that the modem had been fried, and the rest of the time (a) waiting for a replacement and (b) failing to get it to work either. Expert advice (local) tends to be that this modem too is non-functional (supply vulgar expression of your choice). Our idea now is that we should marry up our internet and our telephone provider - perhaps we can get some joined-up thinking as a result.

And after all this I shall need another holiday.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Guardians of ...what?

I’ve been thinking more about what I really wanted to say at the SEC Synod the other day. The thing about having a rush of blood to the head and leaping to your feet to let one of the bees out of your bunnet is that you only have two minutes allowed for the process and you spend some of it telling everyone who you are and addressing the chair politely and according to the proper formula.

One of the things I did manage to slip in was a reference to Guardian Unlimited - and this was not merely maternal pride and prejudice. I realise through seemingly endless discussion that an aspect of blogging which strikes fear into the trembling hearts of the uninitiated is the apparent freedom of people to say what they like. In public. Where it is open to all to comment. A bit like Jesus, maybe? But I digress. What I meant by referring to the Guardian site is that on its newsblog you have authoritative writers doing what they’ve always done : writing about topics in which they have some expertise, or about which they have something interesting to say. Now, I don’t know how far what they say is moderated or edited – but this is presumably a part of the business of being a journalist. The point is that anyone is then free to react to what they’ve said, in public – and to have their opinion in turn debated by other readers. If comments are offensive or out of order in some way, they are removed by someone at The Guardian who is in a position to do this. There may also be some comment made about the direction the discussion was taking.

At Synod there were limited chances for Joe/Josephine Delegate to speak on the issues discussed. Next chance will be in another year. Hardly vibrant, eh? Cold porridge het again, I’d say. Would it not be A Good Thing if issues like, say, the new Baptismal Rite had been the subject of a vigorous online debate during the past year, so that the members of the hardworking Liturgy Committee weren’t required to deal with the opinions that had been backing up since the draft of the new rite was put out for discussion?

Of course it would. 'Nuff said. For now anyway.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Duck broken

I didn't just break my duck at Synod today - I think my will to live got a bit broken too. But I did speak, very, very briefly - guess why? Because the Provincial Web Site was under discussion, and I felt moved to put in a plea for interactivity. I wasn't the first person to use the word "blog", because a previous speaker had suggested that Martin Luther had really done a sort of blog, but the reaction was depressingly familiar.

It seems that the very openness of this kind of communication is too difficult to handle. People might say unguarded things which other people might then read and be misled by. Oh. That's it, then. Like Guardian Unlimited, I suppose? (Sorry - I've forgotten the html for a link, and I'm still not chez moi) Or is it that basically we lack the confidence to recognise that there will always be people to whom you don't listen, and other folk who are daft enough not to know that? There are of course issues about undesired comment - but people who don't themselves blog don't know that we all deal with this perfectly well using the facilities provided, and that deleting unwanted stuff isn't rocket science. And no-one who doesn't blog understands the diversity of acquaintance that the medium opens up, and the possibilities for initiation offered by what can be anonymous participation in discussion.

I'll keep plugging away. I'm happy to realise that old - and new - acquaintances know about my doings because they read this stuff, and I welcome comment on it. At least here I can have the last word - unlike in Synod, where random speakers can always be swept aside by paternalistic closing remarks.

But it's funny that I still come away feeling like a rebellious teenager ....

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Update ...

Have abandoned The Blethers and come to the misty East (why does a lovely summer day have to end like a scene from "Hound of the Baskervilles"?) where I can play on my hosts' PC without feeling pressured to deal with my mail and go!

The saga of Demon and the Blethers continues with the thrilling development of actually talking to a native English speaker who managed to hold a few words of unscripted conversation with Mr B. The burden of his message was that he had no words suitable to react to the way we'd been dealt with. There seemed a suggestion that a refund might be in the offing also. But nothing will happen till at least Monday now, so I'll stop worrying. I always remember someone pointing out to me that hope was much less trying than despair, so I'm practising calm despair for now.

And perhaps that's a suitable frame of mind for Synod ...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Random moanings

Another brief wail of despair ... The new modem arrived today, and our hearts quickened a little with anticipation. Was the long drought of the mind about to end? (sorry - that's a quote from R.S. Thomas, I think) How foolish we were. Of course it didn't work. More fruitless hours on the phone, which then died of overuse.

We dumped the helpline and asked a local expert. He gave us the information that some 240 people in the Dunoon area - to his knowledge - have had to have their phone lines replaced all the way back to the pole since that storm. The storm, by the way, seems to have happened in another life. I grow old, I grow old ....

And now I have to go to the Synod in Edinburgh. The joy is that I shall be staying with a friend who has broadband. If I stay sober I may bob up again - or should that be blog up?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Last goodbyes

It's strange how we need our rites to help us cope with the losses and changes in our lives. We can know that someone has died, but if we have not been in the position to be with that person all the time, it is possible to pretend - even if only intermittently - that it hasn't happened. I guess that's a major function of a funeral rite - because that brings it home, and makes us acknowledge that the person, the solid reality that was our friend, is no longer a part of our ordinary lives.

Yesterday our the ashes of our friend Edgar were buried in the graveyard of the church where he served his last ministry before emigrating. The sun shone and the birds sang and it was unbearably beautiful - and as the casket was lowered into the earth and the soil scattered and then shovelled in and the turf replaced the finality of this particular rite struck me with new force. The Edgar who had been so very alive in this place had gone, and this was our way of closing the chapter. He'd have enjoyed the service immensely, I think - and had a good sing - and the last thing he'd have wanted would be regrets. But faith or no faith, we miss the person we knew and feel the emptiness more keenly now that we have completed the ceremony.

We shall not forget him.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Still here - just

A snatched moment on a borrowed PC - again. The good news is that a new modem is on its way. The bad news is it hasn't arrived yet. And then we'll have to get it going .... And the final bad news is that I seem to have broken my toe. It's a strange black colour and hurts unless I sit like a lady and do nothing. This just isn't me. Especially when I can't blog. I shall indulge in a proper rant when I have my own machine - enough to say now that we feel we really have been wrestling with Demons!

Busy weekend ahead. I may not even miss my Mac for a day or two ....