Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fussy macs?

Another interesting wee glitch involving Mac apps. My pal Di and I write church reports for the local paper. Because we try to make them different from the average church report, we tend to concoct them on one of our wet walks or while recovering from same over a cuppa. She then mails them as an attachment to my Powerbook for me to forward to the paper. All very straightforward.

Well no, actually. Di uses Mail on her mac powerbook; I gave that up after the demise of my relationship with Demon and now use Googlemail on Firefox. But if I try to open the file - which I know fine well began life as a Word file - it appears as a Quicktime movie which then can't be opened. However, if I open the mail in Safari (and you'll recall I don't do this right now 'cos I can only write lower-case mails on Safari) it opens nae bother.

So, for all my friendly geeks out there: does mac only speak to mac these days?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Riding high

Rather like this photo I took today from a helicopter over St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh - the confusing symmetry of the crescents and the way you can see why it's quite a long way from the bus to the cathedral when one is late for the Synod Eucharist. The helicopter in question belonged to Jensen Button, the F1 racing driver, until about 10 months ago, and was quite alarmingly old, I felt, at more than 25 years. Apparently most helicopters are, according to the pilot - don't quite know what he meant by this, but he reserved the information till we were landing, which was probably wise.

It was interesting to contrast this flight, on a grey and decidedly blowy day, with the flight over Las Vegas four weeks ago. This felt very ... real, especially when it bumped about a bit. I had been fairly sanguine about it all after my first ride, but today's flight was more like I'd imagined. I left my insides, I think, somewhere above Arthur's Seat.

Fun, though - and the last of this year's Christmas presents. There's always Glasgow from the air, now .....

Friday, March 28, 2008

Late thoughts

Update: the gremlins are still there on Safari. I've submitted a bug report to Apple. I wonder if it'll have more effect than telling BA about the ineptitude of their lost property arrangements.

On the other hand, Skype is working beautifully - even if Neil in LA looked as if he was speaking about 2 seconds after I'd heard him. Skype has to be the best thing since sliced bread.

I've been tinkering with a poem I wrote six years ago. I realise how my lines have lengthened since then - and wonder what Larkin and Thomas felt about their early work. Did they ever want to rehash, or did they simply write another poem? Pity I can't ask them...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Very strange happenings chez blethers this evening. It all began normally enough, with one of these wee windows from Firefox advising a new update, which I duly installed and found that the quick contacts box had vanished from my g-mail account page, along with the ability to chat. Had Firefox decided that such activities were a threat to my security? Next I tried downloading the updates to my OS, including the latest version of Safari. Now, Safari hadn't supported the chat facility till now, but, advised by a friendly guru that it now did, I went ahead.

No joy. No chat - just delayed messages received when I had been, apparently, offline. But the latest horror was that when I tried to compose a new mail (using gmail on Safari) I found that every time I pressed a "shift" key, the text migrated into the subject box. Daunted, I sent an entirely lower-case mail to a recipient who will think I've lost my few remaining marbles and relaunched Firefox.

And there it was. Chat and quick contacts miraculously restored. All well. I did nothing new - just relaunched.

Safari on t'other hand is still doing very strange things with the shift keys. Anyone else had this bother - or am I especially favoured?

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Passion - retrospectively

Last night saw the final episode of the BBC production "The Passion". The above photo comes from Friday's episode and shows Mary at the foot of the Cross, and I've chosen it because the focus on Mary provided such a powerful means of engagement with what was happening. You can see much more about the film, and leave your own comments, here.

The drama succeeded on many levels, for my money, not the least because it managed to avoid crassness. It left questions unanswered and raised more, and provided thoughtful insights into the background pressures of the time. I'd not seen Joseph Mawle in other parts, which I felt was a good thing, but I realised that James Nesbitt was convincing me in the part of Pilate even though his face and voice were so familiar. Main impressions? The incredible dusty confusion of the Passover-crowded Jerusalem, the lack of ceremony with which some of the key moments were played out, the casual brutality of the crucifixion, the matter-of-fact attitude of the soldiers, the eyes of Mawle as he looked at the disciples and the gasping agony he brought to Jesus' death. And Mary, his mother, played by Penelope Wilton, in the agony of watching her "beautiful son" so tortured - a clever move, to spend such a long focus on her face at the foot of the cross, or as she ran gasping over the dusty hillside to confront the soldiers with her grief.

The resurrection appearances of Jesus were played by two different actors - one near the tomb, one on the road to Emmaus - who shared only a slight resemblance to Mawle. The dream-like reality was convincing, I felt, though I was glad to see the recognisable Jesus among his disciples at the end. What did this suggest? Was it saying that they became convinced by faith? or longing? or was it simply a way to convey the strangeness of the original story - that at first Jesus was not recognised by those who had known him best?

I'd like to watch it again - but not now. Too immediate, too real. But cheers for the Beeb. It's quite something to get people actually interested in the first Easter these days, and to refuse to be hidebound by convention. Definitely the best Passion film since Pasolini's "Gospel according to St Matthew" - and that's a gap of over 40 years. A lifetime, in fact.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Paschal candle
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Joyfully we have celebrated the Resurrection. Last night, as the snow fell and put paid to the outdoor New Fire, we lit our candles and sang our hosannas, we witnessed the baptism of a twelve year old who had memorised all his responses and spoke out clearly of his wish for baptism - and I sang the longest piece of plainsong I shall ever sing, the ancient Paschal Proclamation.

And just as there were disciples who were still hiding away when the women discovered the empty tomb on that first Easter, there were church folk, neither elderly nor infirm, who were absent. Doubtless they had some reason to justify their absence for themselves, but I cannot understand them.

Just how do you decide to opt out of the most important events in the church year?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Cold passion

The triduum – the last three days in Holy Week – have their own momentum, such momentum as to make me wonder every year how people arrive at Easter without experiencing the journey towards Sunday. I’m talking religious people, of course; presumably the rest of the world spares the Passion nary a thought unless they happen to be watching the current version on the telly.

On this Good Friday afternoon, I’m already noting the characteristics of this year’s season. Last night, we celebrated the Last Supper at nine in the evening. As we entered the church, we noted new marks of vandalism in the porch – names and slogans scribbled on the doors and on the memorial cross, a small fire stinking in a corner, the water with which it had been doused staining the doormat. Encouraged to think of it in terms of the events we were recalling, I thought of the careless violence of life, the ribaldry of the thoughtless, the anger of the unloved. And somehow the familiar church didn’t feel as safe as usual, attendance less … mainstream, more outlandish than I’d been used to.

As if to underscore such thoughts, the gales seemed to attack us suddenly as we entered the phase of quiet contemplation round the Gethsemane altar. The words of the gospel reading were drowned in the sounds of great heaving gusts of air which rattled the slates high above and threatened to burst open the door. And again that sense of impending danger as the huge tree outside swayed unseen, groaning. And when it was over and the candles extinguished in the chill of midnight, we walked out into the assault of a snow flurry. The cold was intense; it might have been Christmas rather than Passiontide.

Today, as we watched at the foot of the Cross, it was even colder. Cold enough to freeze the emotions, cold enough to make us long for the brazier lit in the courtyard of the High Priest two thousand years ago.

So far, this has been a very northern triduum. No cosiness here, but a sense of threat, danger, hostility. Perhaps that is how it should be.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Sunset on the cathedral Originally uploaded by goforchris.

How do I convey the essence of a Holy Week retreat to a world which barely recognises either retreat or holiness? And how do I convey the miracle by which a small island very close to the central belt of Scotland can feel like another world, so that the return to the mainland yesterday was a painful jolt? If I fail to describe adequately the fault is mine.

Begin with the island experienced in the midst of religious focus. I rise on the first day before seven. I have no responsibilities other than to be at Morning Prayer at eight-thirty. The sun is brilliant outside, and the air still and cold. I walk down the lane from the Cathedral of The Isles, two woodpeckers drumming impeccable seven-beat rolls in stereo from the cathedral woods. The seafront is deserted, the sea a glassy calm. The hills of Arran, snowcapped, beckon temptingly, but that is another kind of delight to which I shall return another day. This tiny island of Cumbrae, this little town of Millport, are transformed by a radiant morning and my own sense of growing peace. I realise I have no need, for now, of the usual distractions. And this is retreat.

And what manner of retreat am I undertaking? Not, I think, the conventional one of addresses, contemplation and prayer. Because I am there as a musician, and while others read and listen to talks, I am with my fellow-musicians in the choir stalls, rehearsing for daily Evensong. We sing, we analyse, we criticise, we sing again. And sometimes it is perfect, just for a moment, and we are satisfied, just for a moment. When we sing, it is to a gathering of no more than twelve, including ourselves, and at this time that number seems fitting. We all sit in the choir stalls, and share with and in something beyond our understanding. It is completely absorbing, so that all sense of self is vanished. It is magical. And this, too, is retreat.

Each day there is a celebration of the Eucharist. It is very simple, said apart from one hymn, sometimes including a brief address. And each day, by some chance, there are twelve people present, and not always the same twelve. But by the end of this three day period, I am aware that we are becoming a community, and that our number is somehow ideal. The rhythm of worship, meals, work and recreation seeps into my soul. And this, too, is retreat.

The day ends with Compline, the ancient service of the church, sung entirely in plainsong. We meet again in the choirstalls – singers, gardener, Warden, priest, bishop, visitors from near and far. For at least one of these, it is the first “authentic” compline he has ever experienced. The singing is quiet and totally relaxed, as the novices rely on the singers to lead and support. The rest of the church is in darkness as we pray in a pool of light. And then, insanely early by my usual standards, we go to bed.

And for the rest? In such a busy schedule, there are precious moments of sharing, laughter, hilarity even. Mealtimes, where everyone sits at long refectory tables, provide a setting for conversation that can switch seamlessly from narrow-gauge railways in Wales to our perceptions of Judas Iscariot to whether or not one of the clergy present ever cooks. (The answer is no, and he tucks into his beef cobbler with gusto). And throughout all the interaction, the rehearsing – even the moments of tension when something is not as it should be – people are so gentle with one another that I realise I cannot bear to leave.

Perhaps we are all simply frayed by everyday life. Perhaps it takes the liberation from normality to free us to be thoughtful and kind to one another, to take the time to notice what someone has done well, to read and to talk and to be aware. It would be good if this is how we could live among the pressures of ordinary life, but for now, this is what retreat can do.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Time out

Candles and stained glass
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I'm about to vanish to the smallest cathedral in Europe again - the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on the Isle of Cumbrae - for three days of Holy Week music (which I shall be singing) and meditations from +Martin. Three days in which to redeem some of the most mis-spent Lent in years; three days in which to get wellied into "The Last Week" by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan; three days in which not to blog or become mired in controversy.

Should be good - and good for me.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

BAstards or BAAstards?

Originally uploaded by danlinwood.
It's been two weeks. Two weeks since I left my personal stuff on a BA plane as it landed at Glasgow, two weeks of complete frustration verging on rage as I tried to contact someone who might be able to tell me something of its fate. Apart from the hours spent hanging on the phone, I have now visited Glasgow Airport (at a cost of £5 for parking) and spoken with two managerial types - one from BA, the other from BAA. No joy - the BA chap reckoned it would have been dumped. I think this too - probably after my rather nifty little earphones had been removed - but now want to focus on the process.

The first breakthrough came in finding the number to call Glasgow Airport: 0870 0400008. You get an automated voice giving you options, and press button 3 to get to Lost Property. You then press button 3 again to get to "property left on an aeroplane", and then button 1 to get to "property left on a BA plane". Then, at last, a phone rings. By this time hope is welling up - will a real, live person answer?

Dear reader, the answer is a resounding No. Not ever, at whatever hour of the day or night you phone. I have now lost in the mists of despair the routes by which I did talk to a helpful but brisk chap in Gatwick (but no-one answered the number he gave me) and a nice girl in Glasgow Airport who sent someone to check the relevant office for me but rang me back (yes!) with the news that there was no-one there. By this time Mr B's boarding pass was covered in phone numbers and I was losing the will to live.

I psyched myself up a bit for a visit to Glasgow Airport, but in fact the meeting with the two aforementioned chaps has been, in the end, as useless as anything else. The Customer Services Operations Manager did try the novel experiment of phoning the same chain of numbers as I had, and promised to get back to me when he found out what the correct number should be and what was going on. He rang me once to tell me he was still working on it, and I rang him when he failed to phone again. On that occasion he told me another, direct number to phone: 0141 207 9018. Guess what. No-one answers that phone either.

Did I mention that I'd also used the website to mail an enquiry? The final mail from the person who is dealing with it ended with these words: "I realise we have not met our usual high standards this time, and I hope that there will be more for you to enjoy when you next fly with us."

Maybe I shall fly with BA again. I know it was my fault that I was so dozy that I forgot my stuff. But it must happen all the time. If this is the useless procedure that BA have in place to make a perfectly reasonable attempt to contact them, there must be all sorts of lost baggage chucked into black bags. Let's just hope someone, somewhere, makes a security check first.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Glasgow belongs to ...

Spotted in Glasgow today - Buchanan Street first. This wonderfully crazy trio were publicising a St Patrick's Day event. The first we knew of it was when we were accosted by a sheep in the doorway of one of the more upmarket shops. It had an interestingly bleating voice, and referred us to St Patrick for further information. 

St Patrick, we felt, had a look of Rowan Williams about him - perhaps the beleaguered archbishop had found a less demanding way of keeping in touch with his flock? Anyway, he marched around looking suitably benign and dispensing leaflets and bonhomie.

The other photo was taken in Argyle Street, where a group of native Americans was performing.
 Just out
 of shot - I simply couldn't manoeuvre into position without being unsighted - there was a real Glasgow drunk with a grey beard worthy of St Patrick and a cap of the kind Chancellor Schmidt of Germany used to wear. He was just sober enough to stay upright, and he was dancing in a space which he appeared to have created for himself  what appeared to be a creditable imitation of the kind of dancing you see in cowboy movies. Arms in the air, he appeared completely oblivious of the crowd and the catcalls.

Only in Glasgow ...            

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Transplant surgery

At last I've gathered up the will power to install the new Mac OSX - Leopard, or whatever feline it's named for. I must say it seems to have bucked up my aging laptop no end - all working very fast at the moment, and looking strangely shiny and clear-eyed. I'm somewhat disappointed to find that iPhoto seems to be just the same as before; I was looking for the features of the new version as found in iLife. Do you only get that if you buy a new machine?

And I've returned for the moment to Safari rather than Firefox; when I last used the former there were no useful features in my Blogger posting window, and now they're all there. It seems very speedy - is this generally accepted these days?

Anyway, to anyone who has upgraded in this way, I'm open to all suggestions as to how to enjoy this to the full - until the G4 has a fatal heart attack and gives me an excuse to buy a replacement!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

All happening in Alamo

Alamo, Nevada
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
This is Alamo, Nevada. We stopped there to refuel car and bellies. There was, as far as we could see, one shop and two gas stations before the desert began again. But The Lincoln County Record - pages of which were wrapped round the Area 51 shot glasses we bought in Rachel - tells us there is more to Alamo than meets the eye.


Harvey Caplan of Pahrump wants to build an FM radio station in Alamo. Caplan is the co-founder of an Internet talk station in Pahrump and says he has an FCC permit to build a new station in Alamo within the next three years. Although he would like it to be a lot sooner than that....
.... He said his plan was to have the station to ..."be as local as possible. ... We will start as best we can, as many hours as we can, with responsible individuals who will not curse over the air.."

The technical end would be professionally run, "but the content end," Caplan said, "would be relaxed and casual. I have nice people come in and do interesting shows."

In the same paper there was news of the prospective builders for the new Alamo rodeo grounds and an advert for - I imagine - real estate near Rachel, Nevada. (If you've read my previous post you'll know about this even less likely place):

Beautiful views, excellent recreational opportunities, mild climate and peaceful environment. New subdivision with CC&Rs (whatever they are). Eight, 1 acre, buildable lots left i Phase 1, with toads*, water, power and telephone available to the lot line. Only $16,500 per lot. Financing and home construction available. View our website at

Don't all rush. Remember what they test out there - and the aliens.

Update: Sorry to disappoint - but the *toads were a typo. It should have been, boringly, roads.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Alien hunting

The long straight.
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Without a doubt, the outstanding memory I have of our Vegas trip is the day we went out into the desert. Fittingly, because we were to drive along the Extra-Terrestrial Highway which skirts Area 51, we first visited the Atomic Testing Museum, incongruously situated not far south of the The Strip in Vegas, where we browsed 50s propaganda, watched movies of nuclear tests, and sat rigid on bleachers in a replica bunker in the darkness through a simulation of such a test - complete with air-blast and special effects.

But once we'd shaken off the traffic jams and the heat of The Strip, we were in the desert, a desert which grew more and more desolate as we headed east and north for almost 150 miles to the township of Rachel, home to a shifting population of 80, some of whom make a fair job of being obsessed with aliens. Actually, the alien bit was perfectly believable - if I spent a night or two in that wonderful silence I'd see anything. The silence was profound and exquisite, making me aware of the blood singing in my ears and of how much noise we have even in our remote places. Here there is no life, no water, no birdsong, and on this day there was no wind. (We did see some black cattle wandering the range at one point, but mostly there was nothing at all). You can see the rest of my pics here.

Suddenly I realised what forty days and nights in the wilderness would be like. And how terrifying to return to ordinary life after such an experience. And I knew just a little of what the servicemen from the Desert War in WW2 meant when they said how much they'd loved a place where many of them suffered hugely. It is ironic that such an area is associated with nuclear testing - the biggest of bangs in the profoundest of silences.

As we drove home in the gloaming we could see the lights of Vegas like another world. Funny - most of the people in our hotel would probably have considered us crazy, had they heard of our day. (Though a friendly bar attendant was glad we'd gone). And for those who might ask: No. I said not one word to the test veterans at the museum about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Not a word.

But I thought plenty.

Friday, March 07, 2008

A little touch of Egypt in the night...

A touch of Egypt
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I feel the need to return to the madness of Vegas - only in the blog, mind: I couldn't have stayed there any longer without losing a few marbles as well as my shirt. I invite you to look at this calm picture of our hotel. Our bedroom windows are right in the middle of that wall of the pyramid, looking out at the Sphinx's bottom. The smoked glass and double glazing add an air of unreality to what is, in effect, the only real thing about living there: the view of the desert and the hills beyond the airport. The room is quiet; unless someone passes the door talking loudly all we can hear is the hum of the air-con.

But open that door out to the balcony, and you step into the madness again. Down below are the statues, the palm trees, the fountain, the cinema, the food hall, the Tomb of Tutankhamun, some shops - and under that, the casino floor. And on the casino floor there are hundreds upon hundreds of slot machines, all playing insistent and manic tunes which suddenly resolve triumphantly if someone scores a win. The effect is that of all the pipers playing together at the end of Cowal Games - a sort of unified bedlam. And because everyone smokes on the Casino floor, there is, despite ultra-efficient air con, the smell of cigarette smoke.

On our first, jet-lagged night, it was this which haunted me. I became convinced that the air vents were pumping the smoke into our room - I'm sure that the sense of smell is sharpened when it's dark and I was well away. We've become so used to never smelling smoke indoors that we found it almost intolerable, though I'm happy to say that I wasn't aware of it in the room after that first night.

Another thing we quickly noticed was that it doesn't matter what time day or night it is - nothing changes in the atrium below the balcony. You can get a cuppa from Starbucks at the foot of the lift (I"ll say more of that in a mo) at 3am, and there are always gamblers on the slots and at the tables. The lighting and temperature are constant. I was tempted to look outside at night only once - because I found it strangely disturbing to be in a sleepless world.

The lifts are called Inclinators - we take inclinator 4 to our room - because they run up the corners of the pyramid, and they slope. This is unsettling, particularly after a frozen margarita or two. New arrivals look worried as they tilt gently into one another; the rest of us are only worried when the lifts misbehave and scoot up and down in a random fashion. You use your door key - a card with well-endowed girls on it - to activate the lift. No keys appear to have any well-endowed chaps on them.

Despite the extreme oddity of all this, we were saying "shall we go home now?" by the end of our time there, and realised it had become home. But as I opened my suitcase in snowy Dunoon and smelled the smoky air wafting from everything I'd worn, I was glad to be back in a country where fresh air came through an open window and smoking was no longer considered normal. My washing machine has worked overtime since then.

And, for those who care, Mr B and Master B (senior) both won at the slots and cashed it in. I, on the other hand, played my winnings away ...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Just back from Oban and about to crawl into bed - but first, a moment of reflection. My efforts yesterday seemed to be fraught with gremlins before I even came to the point - a hearing aid which played a silly tune throughout while its owner remained blissfully unaware, a pneumatic drill starting up outside. And then there was the unwillingness to listen to a whole point when I happened to hit on a raw nerve. It reminded me of the kind of pupil who is so anxious that their point will be heard that they strain every nerve into putting up their hand eagerly and in doing so shut out everything but their own concern - so that they hear nothing beyond the trigger-point. It seems worse, somehow, in adults - though I found some amusement in treating the recalcitrant like school children by telling a couple to stop blethering. (Thanks, Hugh, for playing along!)

And the end result? It seems from the responses after the group sessions that there is in fact a willingness to learn, a desire for suitable training and an interest in identifying suitable technology for specific purposes. Having read Kimberly's Google notes, I feel more hopeful - though as I picked up the glossy magazine that I had hoped would be replaced by a PDF file I couldn't help reflecting on how far we still have to go.

A footnote to the occasion was that our host for the night felt compelled to offer hospitality to a 14 stone St Bernard called Bailey, who would otherwise have spent a very cold night in his owner's car. He has now recovered from the effects of having said Bailey sit on his feet.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Vain Hope?

This is me, exhorting the representatives of the Episcopal Church in Argyll and The Isles on the merits of Web 2.0 technology. I may be flogging a dead horse, but it's still laughing at the moment.

Update: I'm indebted to Robin B for this link - obviously I'm not alone in my near-despair.

Monday, March 03, 2008

New York, Vegas-style

New York, New York!
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I'm off to Oban in the morning (snow permitting) to talk to the Diocesan reps about wired ways to save money and miles - but I shall be back to share my take on Vegas when the Synod is over. Meanwhile, this photo shows one of the absurdities of The Strip - the New York skyline replicated above the casino resort New York New York. There is a permanent memorial to the 9/11 firecrew victims built into a new wall under Lady Liberty, in which signed t -shirts which originally hung there have been displayed in cases. That little area is quite solemn. The rest is not.

My photos are beghinning to appear here. But now - mind on other things. Concentrate!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Distraught of Dunoon

Home from the bright lights (and were they bright!) to a blizzard, a temperature of 3ÂșC and a sticking z (just found that out). And I'm almost too distraught to blog, having abandoned on the floor of the plane from London this morning a bag containing my reading specs (the ones I look at the laptop through), my book (half-read) and, worst of all, my diary. Not the one with the appointments in it, but the one with my life in it. I can't bear it.

And though there was a man at Gatwick able to tell me it hadn't turned up there when the plane returned, the phone at Glasgow rang and rang. Unlike Vegas, Glasgow shuts down on Sunday. All very right and holy, I'm sure, but deeply frustrating.

Normal service will be resumed when I get my specs back. Meantime, the photos are beginning to go up on flickr and I have the Diocesan Synod to prepare for. Joy.