Monday, March 30, 2009

Professional or protesting?

When I was teaching in school, I used to take my form class to the registration-period assemblies that were the norm. If there was a visiting chaplain, he/she had two minutes in which to sell an impression before the bell rang and the moment was gone. The big events of the calendar were unmarked other than by a half-day at the end of term. And I thought assemblies were designed to give religion the tiniest toe-hold you could get away with within the law - and I deplored every minute of them.

Today I took part in an Easter Assembly, flying the Piskie flag along with the RC and C of S chaplains. In all, each half of the school had a half-hour slot. I put together a series of readings and meditations and poems which gave an insight into what happened in Holy Week, including a grim account of what, historically, crucifixion entailed. There were obvious parallels with the situation in the Middle East today. It was all to be delivered by pupils, who would be chosen for their reading/dramatic ability. None of this was under my control; I simply turned up today to work my iPod and read about 5 lines.

And it went exactly as I had expected. How can you expect pupils to know how to react to something new (and God, was it new to most of them) if their teachers are allowed to behave like surly adolescents? Not all of them, of course – but from where I was sitting I could clearly see an unprepossessing-looking guy sitting ostentatiously doing his marking, busily erasing something as vigorously as possible, paying not a bit of attention to anyone or anything. The readers hadn’t been rehearsed – because the drama teacher was too busy. The choir had ducked out of the promised contribution. And even when a member of staff did in fact think that this was a good idea, the remark to a child that “We’re supposed to expose you to this kind of thing” doesn’t really fit the bill.

On my way in, earlier in the morning, I was greeted by a former colleague: “I see you’re here to peddle your superstitions” – and there are no prizes for guessing where he stands. Now, I have sat through the dreary non-religious funeral of a colleague at which that same sceptic spoke at length, endeavouring to bring some sort of permanence to a memory, some sort of meaning to a retirement cut short. And I sat in the required silence, listening, not praying – not doing anything other than offer the polite response required of any adult in the situation. I didn’t accuse him of self-aggrandisement, or of attempting to reduce a life to an end-of-term entertainment. Nor, for that matter, did the other Christian colleagues sitting beside me.

I have to do further assembly-type gatherings until a new rector is found for my church. I’m already thinking how I can work on one year-group at least to undermine this culture of philistinism and ill manners. I expect adolescents to behave like that – though in fact I only saw one senior girl actually doing so, and amused myself be stopping her dead by watching her. But in these straitened times, I’d be wanting to tell teachers in the employ of the authority that they have a job to do, and that if they can’t actually do it they might care to think again about their vocation – maybe a career as a G20 protester? (I could teach them a thing or two about that too).

I have other, half-formed thoughts about this to which I shall return, but that’s enough for now. Let me just say that today’s assembly did nothing in the way of proselytising, and that if I were to attend an assembly led by a Muslim – or a careers advisor - I’d expect to behave exactly as I would with any other visiting speaker. It’s called professionalism.

By the way: the music (Missa Luba) was great over the new PA system. And seriously loud.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Looking the part

I'm off to school again tomorrow, for the Easter Assemblies. I suddenly find myself thinking about work clothes rather than prayers, for I hardly ever wear, say, a formal jacket these days. It's rather like when I returned to work after the eight years of mummyfying (no, I know the spell-check doesn't like that. Tough) and didn't actually know what to wear.

It's living here that's the problem. There seems no reason ever to wear a coat other than a waterproof; absolutely no reason to appear properly dressed in Somerfield's; certainly no reason to go for a walk in anything other than one of my many cagoules and techy trousers. After all, I'm in a seaside town - a holiday town, only no-one really comes here for holidays any more - and ever since I arrived here, from Glasgow, I've dressed as though I was on holiday. Except, of course, when I was working, when I could have been anywhere. And the new school seems to be such a very warm place that layers are essential - can't exactly strip off to the semmit, now, can we?

And that is why, tomorrow, I shall look out a jacket and a shirt and look .... purposeful.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Single-sex teaching

Well, well. It's a strange feeling to see the BBC Scotland news featuring something I did several years ago and hailing the development as something new and exciting. I'm talking about the "experiment" in Kilsyth Academy's English department, where they have decided to teach boys and girls in separate classes. They are evangelical about the positive effect on the work of all concerned.

Of course, I'm glad about all this. I'm glad someone else has cottoned on to something I've known for years. Because it must be eight or nine years since I first offered to solve the gender imbalance in a yeargroup by taking a boys' class as they started S2, and five or six years since I attempted to publicise the results of this experiment. Of course, we weren't blogging then; the only computer in my classroom belonged to the now defunct Pupils' View magazine and I merely circulated memos - which obviously didn't get very far.

The news story ended with the reporter wondering how their Standard Grade results will benefit - if at all. I can tell them already - at least, if they're anything like my boys. I taught this same mixed ability class from S2 - S4 - three years together for boys whose predicted grades ranged from Credit 1 down to Foundation 5. In the event, no-one achieved a Foundation award: of a class of 30 I had 15 Credits (8 of them at Grade 1) and 15 General, of whom only two were a Grade 4. The most able boys helped the less able without the slightest embarrassment or resentment on anyone's part; every one of them found that they were able to write more effectively and express genuine emotion without fear of ridicule. One boy startled me in S4 by announcing that he had learned John Donne's Batter my heart off by heart because he thought it was "amazing", and offered to recite it to us all. Another became fascinated by Doris Lessing's The Fifth Child and wrote, off his own bat, a critical evaluation of it. So much for the fear that an all-male class would read nothing but so-called macho texts.

Many of these boys stayed with me for Higher English, though for that they were rejoined by some girls, and most of them did extremely well. One of them even comments on this blog from time to time. In all the time I taught them I looked forward to their period in the day as a time of hard work, enthusiasm, adventure and frequent hilarity.

So I wish the boys - and the girls - of Kilsyth Academy well. I hope their teachers enjoy the classes and the opportunity for some exciting cooperation. But I wish someone had told the Beeb about my class - because whatever it is, it's not a new idea.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

1984 : finis

Before drawing the curtain on my 1984, a few last thoughts. Writing about it was strangely cathartic, and I wonder if I would have felt less affected had I been able to blog about it at the time. Certainly I became aware during the fall-out period that the priest involved in making sure we wouldn't still be around our church by the time the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA (the Episcopal church in the USA) visited the congregation that autumn was terrified Mr B would bring a case of wrongful dismissal - he even had a tame lawyer on hand to dig him out of the hole. At the time no-one was interested in what had actually happened; the priest was more to be believed than those pinko peace people. Actually, that's not true: one couple invited us for dinner and asked us to tell the story.

In the end, I grew tired of the pressure. After appearing in three TV programmes - the most notable being Northern Frontier - and taking on several speaking engagements and after realising that my phone conversations were not private I decided to back off a bit and concentrate on teaching. I didn't go near the Episcopal church for several years, and I still haven't resolved that bit of my past. The people who were involved in making things unpleasant are mostly dead now, and the ones who remain are old. Their places have been taken by a new generation of Christians who practice what they preach - and yes, some of them do preach. There is a great deal more honesty around, though I never take it for granted. And most of them don't have the remotest idea of what happened during the Miners' Strike of '84. Site One has gone, and the pier where we demonstrated looks decrepit. The only Americans are holidaymakers, more or less, and their housing schemes transformed by the very Scottish gardens of their new owners.

Would I do it again? There's only one answer. Yes, I would.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lenten poem

There's a new poem over at frankenstina, actually written last week for the Lent Blog, Beauty from Chaos, where you will find many good things for this season.

The poem began in my head as I sat in church, looking at our wee congregation and thinking about the journey we all face through life.

Monday, March 23, 2009

1984 revisited : Greenham Common

Greenham Common Peace camp
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
The last act in an extraordinary year came in September, when word came that the Greenham Common Peace camp were inviting women from all over Britain to come for a day of meetings and action at the Cruise Missile base on the Common. By this time I had returned to full-time teaching, but I still had relative youth on my side and beside ... they had come to our base, and Sheena (from Dunoon CND) and I felt we owed them. All these years later, I can still call up vivid flashbacks ...

It is a fine evening, that Friday in late September, when Sheena and I drive to Glasgow to meet a bus in George Square. We leave around teatime, by which time every seat in the bus is taken. All these women, and one black labrador (gender unknown) I have a rucksack full of strange little bags of food - marmalade rolls and a boiled egg (breakfast), more substantial cheese sandwiches, fruit and so on for lunch, bits and pieces of cake, dried fruit, juice, water - and hope that we will indeed stop at service stations as promised for the missing meals. Our first stop, however, is a traffic jam in the Borders. Most of us take the opportunity for a comfort break by the road in the lee of the bus. It's all very bonding. We drive through the night, sleeping in snatches like Eliot's Magi.

We arrive in Newbury, Berks, at 5.30am. The bus drops us at the main Gate, where we can see tents and signs of not-your-average-camp in the old sofas beside small fires. By this time I feel dreadful as a full day's teaching followed by very little sleep catches up on me. Someone puts up a blue tent and invites me to lie down. When I waken again it is light, and there are voices outside. Sheena brings me a cup of hot water, boiled over a wood fire. It tastes like Lapsang Souchong and I begin to feel better. I crawl out and eat my breakfast sitting on a battered leatherette armchair as the sun slants over the camp.

We spend the morning roaming the narrow paths which follow the perimeter fence. Elizabeth, an elderly Communist lady with dyed red hair (not like mine - hers was orange) becomes incensed when a young soldier berates me and Sheena for a couple of dykes. She shrieks at him about his parentage and we drag her away. This is, after all, a peaceful protest. We are terrified by the sudden appearance of two police people on massive horses which take up the entire path, forcing us into the bushes to avoid broken toes. They laugh at us and go their way. We come to another small camp, and a painted notice telling us:
Wimmyn: don't sh*t on the Common. Sh*it in the pits.
There are no asterisks on the notice, but this is a family blog. We talk to soldiers through the wire, to policemen, to some RAF types. There are things hanging on the wire fence - baby shoes, photos, paper doves.

We are invited to join a group of women for some tea. They show us their 'benders' - tents supported on bent saplings which return to being trees when the canvas is removed. These are easier to dismantle in a hurry when the slurry-spreader comes: apparently one of the more effective means of harassment practised on the camps. We follow the fence round, and come to Blue Gate. There the thought of the Common's pits defeats us, and we trot down the road to a small pub where, alone of all the pubs in the area, the landlord welcomes Peace Women. I realise a long-held ambition and ask for "A pint of your best bitter, please". We discuss the level of stamina required for life at the camps, in the light of the fact that we're ducking out after a morning. We head back up the road.

We meet some women who came to Dunoon for the trials and whom I had last seen eating tomatoes in my back garden. There is a scene of great warmth and rejoicing, and we join them in a circle round the entrance to the base to sing songs together. There must be about 50 women there, and we share stories. By this time it is quite warm, though I realise that I'm in the kind of survival mode which prevents me from removing any layers. I feel very grubby and wonder if I smell.

The bus comes back for us at 6pm, 13 hours after leaving us, and we head off into the evening. I lie on the floor with the black labrador (sign of how desperately tired I am) and sleep all the way to Southwaite Services, where I am sufficiently revived to eat bacon and mushrooms. 4am sees us back in a George Square which is still alive with Saturday night, and we drive round over the Rest and Be Thankful, arriving in Dunoon shortly after 6am.

That evening the BBC carries the brilliant drama-documentary "Threads" and I become aware that I feel better because I've tried to do something. And every time I've viewed that film since - it's been a valuable resource - I remember that day, these women.

Friday, March 20, 2009

1984 revisited: The choir

Choir of '84
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Shortly after the Miners' Gala, our church choir, led by Mr B, took part in a festival of choral music in the Cathedral of The Isles, Cumbrae. This choir was a delight - they sang in tune and sensitively, they were well-disciplined, they read music, they had sweet voices. And, as you can see from the photo, the majority of them were children: the head chorister was about 14 when this photo was taken. In fact, the adult voices were one per part, with Mr B doubling as bass - and it occurs to me that at least two teenage choristers are missing from this photo.

What is obvious, however, is the fact that they are not happy. For this was their last trip together before the tidal wave from the activities detailed in the last few posts swept this choir away: the organist was relieved of his job and most of the choir left with him. A few stayed on with his replacement - and it is interesting now to wonder if he would have been so hastily despatched had there not been an eager wannabee waiting in the wings - but there was to follow an entirely barren period in the musical life of this church which lasted for some years.

And it's a sad fact that these children had a sudden and unpleasant encounter with the realities of church life, with the effect that most of those pictured here didn't really darken the door of a church again. But today I'm remembering them with joy and pride. They were a great bunch, and I loved singing with them.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Craig, Head Chorister. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

1984 revisited: the Miners' gala

Miners' gala
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
When I first thought of marking the 25th anniversary of the Miners' Strike, this is the photo that I was determined to find. It shows me and a pal from Dunoon CND on the back of a CND float, waiting to take our place in the Miners' Gala procession through the streets of Edinburgh to Holyrood Park. There, in a huge tent, we heard speeches from Bruce Kent and Mick McGachey - a considerably more impressive leader than Arthur Scargill ever was - and met some women who'd been in Dunoon for the action earlier in the year.

It was an extraordinary experience, both exhilarating and sad, but one where, in the midst of all the church hellishness and lack of warmth, I felt at one with so many people. (I had plenty to choose from - there were 10,000 people there). The missile on the lorry, as well as the badges with which we were adorned, made it immediately obvious where our sympathies lay, and people lining the streets cheered us as we passed. I clearly remember passing a group of miners on a street corner - we'd paused to negotiate a tight bend - and hearing one of them call out : "Save our pits, Missus!" - and I remember too thinking that I didn't know where to start.

Thatcher's Britain was a hard place for many Scots, and that June day in 1984 underlined the fact. But it was a day of intense comradeship which made me forget for a while all the stuff back home, and I think my expression shows that.

And it was a day when two ten-year-old boys were allowed by their mad mothers to ride on the back of an open lorry. Now, how many chaps have that to look back on?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

1984 : many meetings

A few moments to reflect on the strangeness of Easter 1984, and on what happens if you're an Episcopalian living in a small town when you suddenly can't attend your own church any more. I'll deal with that first. If you are still in possession of any religious faith, you have a choice: go to a church of another denomination, drive north for 50 minutes in the hope of catching a Eucharist in Inveraray, or take the ferry (and your car) and take your pick of Piskie churches in the great Over The Other Side. When you have two young children, the last is not an attractive option. I gave up for a bit, and was rescued by the kindness of a local C 0f S minister and some of his congregation who welcomed me in their study group. But it's not the same, and it's unlike living in a city.

And other strangenesses? Like the array of people who seemed entangled in my life - Kay Carmichael, the writer and broadcaster, who came to my house and tried to help with the fall-out; Captain James Bush (USN, retd) of the Center for Defense Information, who came to a local meeting and stayed the night chez moi, accompanying me to the court to hear one of the trials for himself, Col. David Pike of the Public Information branch of SHAPE who met me and another office-holder in the local CND group for lunch. And of course there was the evening when I was taken to the coal pier to be interviewed for a radio programme by George Hume and Stewart Millar - the pier because they wanted the background noise of water and seagulls; luckily it was June - and could barely speak when Hume probed about the church. (We adjourned for a G&T and tried again, with more success)

It is still obvious how strange the local situation was when seen by other eyes - and how strange it is that we made so little of it, really. When I look back at my journal (for I've been writing up my life for a very long time) what strikes me is the dispassionate tone of the writing. Maybe you can get used to anything.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

1984 revisited : No picnic

Peacewomen's picnic
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
It’s an interesting experience, appearing in court. Although I’d been a juror in the High Court in Glasgow, it wasn’t really any preparation for the strange intimacy of the local Sheriff Court, where the twenty-seven women who were arrested at the January demo were tried over the weeks after Easter. I’d had a couple of visits to earlier trials – a typical fine handed out would be £70 for painting a CND symbol on a wall, but few of the women intended to pay fines, so were facing a week in Cornton Vale instead. On the day when this photo was taken, however, I was appearing as an expert witness – expert by mere dint of being local, I might add – as well as gracious hostess to a picnic in my back garden for the women who turned up in support of their friends.

It’s fair to say that, unlike the women on trial, I enjoyed my time in court. I had a chance to point out the anomaly that had women arrested for trespassing on American property on one day of the year when at any other time you would be greeted politely and asked if you needed help to find someone. I appeared in disguise, of course – little black cotton dress (with pink rosebuds all over it), black fitted jacket, dark tights, high heels – and smiled at the Fiscal and took the oath rather than merely affirming. (On another occasion the Fiscal and I had played in the same amateur orchestra, but that’s small towns for you). At the end of my first stint in the box, he invited the Sheriff to agree that I was “a charming witness” – a claim which caused loud hilarity in the public benches. And I’m happy to say that everyone for whom I appeared got off, and to express my admiration of these young women who conducted their own defence.

Of course, all this had its downside, and that, I’m afraid, happened in church. Because I’d arranged for some of the women to camp in the church grounds that week, I was denounced (seriously!) at the end of the Eucharist, and before we knew it our church wasn’t somewhere we felt we could go any more. A young cleric, a distinct lack of moral courage, a deeply conservative congregation and some economy with the truth left us stranded. At the time we didn’t see it coming, though hindsight - and a friendly policeman – pieced it all together afterwards. Of course there was a lot more to it than I can possibly write about, and looking back over twenty-five years it seems almost unbelievable. And it is thinking about this that led me to consider what I’d have done with this blog had I been writing it in 1984.

Only thing was: we weren’t on our own. There was a choir. Mr B’s choir. They vanished, along with us. And they deserve another post.

Friday, March 13, 2009

1984 revisited: Easter Alert

Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Easter 1985 saw the Scottish CND annual march and rally come to Dunoon. Easter Alert took place on Holy Saturday: April 21.

The rain is falling steadily as I walk down to the coal pier in Dunoon. Upstairs in the Queen’s Hall, our local MP, the Conservative John Mackay, is fending off Mr B, who is questioning him about Environmental Impact Statements and the like, while a colourful crowd pours off the ferry and mills about in the road. Eventually we march off, with me as one of the speakers at the head along with Keith Bovey and Michael Pentz. My boys are there too – chaps welcome on this occasion. We are filmed for the TV evening news (we’re home in time to see it) in Argyll Street and spirits are high as we strike out over the High road to Sandbank.

Apparently there are 2,000 marchers by the time we snake round via the American Base (Keith Bovey hands over a petition and a letter to the commander) and back along the shore road to the Black Park in Kirn. Despite my best efforts I have been unable to secure the use of the stadium: it is being used by the American Wives for some event. This makes for a good opening crack in my Welcome speech – I am the first speaker, standing on the back of a lorry with a magnificent sound system which has my words reverberating around the houses in Ardenslate. The rain has almost stopped, though I notice my children, their grandmother and Mr B still huddling under a large umbrella. I wonder if it is shame that keeps them hiding there, but by this time the crowd is laughing at my jokes and applauding the odd bit of demagoguery and I realise I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. The other speakers – Bovey, Marjorie Thomson and the actor Bill Patterson – follow; we wander round chatting as the sun comes out and begin to think of tea.

As often on such occasions, I reflect that the best bit of the day is the march. Rallies are often quite tedious, unless there are stellar speakers, and when it is over there is this sense of anti-climax. The boys, however, are keen to get home and see if they’re on telly. They are. The day has been a success, and I have discovered the joys of public speaking. I shall never be the same again.

And in the evening, at the Easter Vigil service, my no.1 son is confirmed. In the light of what will soon happen in the church, it is a strange juxtaposition. But at the time it seems a fitting end to such a day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

1984 revisited: The nick

As I commented in Monday's post, 27 women were arrested at the demo outside the American base at the beginning of 1984. As darkness fell and the majority of the demonstrators headed for the ferry through the snow that was beginning to fall, the women from Dunoon & Holy Loch CND decided that we couldn't abandon those now in police custody and agreed to meet at the local police station in an hour or so. Just time to go home, get warm, eat something (and in my case cook something first, for my chaps were panicking) and find something warmer to wear.

And so I ended up spending that Saturday evening outside the doors of the police station, wearing Mr B's duvet coat, singing loudly to encourage those held within. Every so often, the doors would revolve and spit out one of the women, released for now, uncertain of whether or not the ferries would still be running but glad to see us waiting. We took it in turns to ferry carloads to the pier, gave out chocolate, reassured them about timetables. The snow continued to fall, and we scuffed huge CND symbols on the grass. Learning that if we made enough noise the women still held inside could hear us, we made a great deal. There was in immense sense of family and responsibility. After all, these women had travelled from the south of England to demonstrate at our base - the presence of which had turned Dunoon into a garrison town, a chunk of Ardnadam into foreign territory and the Holy Loch into an obscenity - and we were grateful.

By eleven o'clock we were informed that the four women still in custody would be remaining in police cells till Monday morning. We should go home, the duty sergeant told us, not unkindly. Come back the next day if we liked - we could visit. So there I was, having my first ever chance to visit those in prison, turning up on the Sunday with cartons of orange juice, some toothbrushes, toothpaste, books. And my first ever time locked in a cell - brown gloss painted brick walls, bright red gloss on the door, bench on two walls, plastic cushioning in blue. Funny, I can't remember the individual people I visited - only their gratitude, their smiles, their resolve. They didn't seem to me worthy of incarceration, but they must have upset someone.

As the weekend ended in a raw thaw, I contemplated work, normality, and a return, as it were, to Thatcher's Britain. I knew that I felt completely alienated from the government - and that normality seemed more strange than what I had just experienced. 1984 looked like being an interesting year.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dark times

As well as delving into my own past - and there's more to come - I've been reading a powerful first novel by Rachel Seiffert, The Dark Room. Shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize, this tells the story of three ordinary Germans: Helmut, a young photographer in Berlin in the 1930s; Lore, a twelve-year-old girl who guides her younger siblings across a devastated Germany after her Nazi parents are seized by the Allies; and Micha, a teacher in the 90s, obsessed with what his adored grandfather might have done during the war.

The prose is terse and sometimes ambiguous, the stories told in a vivid present, the dialogue presented with dramatic minimalism. Themes of guilt, shame and responisbility are wrestled with in story-telling that is deceptively simple. In the end you realise that no-one is completely blameless - and you wonder what has become of her characters. It made me look at the moral issues of the last century without knowing it - because I was caught up with these people.

One for your book-group or your own reading - I couldn't put it down.

Monday, March 09, 2009

1984 revisited: The Demo

Remnants of a demo
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
1984, the year of the Miners' Strike, the year Thatcher showed conclusively who ruled Britain, began with a month of wild weather. Thunder, gales, snow - the lot. And on January 21, 500 women turned up, on a raw day which brought snow by nightfall, to protest at the US navy Site One: the nuclear submarine base on the Holy Loch.

At the time, I was heavily involved in the local CND. Moving to Dunoon and living there with two young children had galvanised a political activity which had been lacking in my complacent youth; my comparatively recent discovery of God had made it even more important and I was heavily involved in the preparations for this demo. Most of the women travelled up from the peace camp at Greenham Common; the rest of us were local.

I feel a burst of dramatic present coming on ...

It is bitterly cold. The gritting lorry has passed along the shore road at the gates to the American pier - and back again - and then back in the other direction: three loads of grit. The base ship, which only sails if there is a threat of war in normal circs, has gone - on an exercise, we are told; we know better. When I arrive, there is already a fire on the pebble beach, and women - in shawls, in bundles of coats and jackets, draped in blankets - are huddled round it like refugees. You can spot the locals, as we tend to wear waterproofs and overtrousers and climbing boots, but we all look like survivors of some nameless holocaust. The only men in sight are in police uniforms, apart from two nattily-dressed gents. I approach the one in the lambskin coat and burberry scarf. He admits that he is a "posh policeman" - we decide Special Branch. It turns out that many of the police have been drafted in - from Dumbarton, we think.

We spend the day doing the crazy things one does on a demo: country dancing in the road, a great deal of singing ("Whose side are you on?", into the ear of a policeman I'm embracing at the time); there is a die-in on the road with appropriate painted outlines (they don't really take, in the grit). Some Greenham women charge the fence and are hauled away; others sit several deep to barricade the entrance and are also dragged off. The grit makes a dreadful mess of backs exposed as clothes are hauled up in the process, and my pal Winnie, in an absurd orange woolly hat, carefully notes names and times and constable numbers in her little book. She is a designated observer for the day, with instructions to avoid arrest.

Later, not having been arrested, I clamber down to paint the rocks holding up the car park. (The photo shows me sitting there, months later: I wasn't so into photography in these days, and I feared for my camera should anyone not like what I did with it). I am interviewed on film, though I'm not sure who's doing the interview, and I speak to someone from The Times - the respectable face of the demo. I marvel at the courage of some of the women - moral and physical courage. The younger ones are magnificent, and I feel middle-aged and staid.

By the time darkness falls - about 4pm on this gloomy day - there have been 27 arrests. My mother (in Glasgow) is sure I will be locked up, and Mr B, seeing my sister alone at the door in the dark, is appalled at the thought that he will have to cook the dinner for the family. By the time I get home, I am frozen and exhausted, but there are 27 women, none of them local, in the local police cells and I know I shall have to go out again.

But that, as they say in all the best tales, is another story.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Milestones, not millstones

Sometimes you realise you've passed a milestone when it's already in your past. Other days, there's that sudden excitement when you realise that this, this very moment, constitutes such a marker. And today was such a day. Our little congregation has come so far, and today a new lay leader presided over a service of communion from the reserved sacrament for her first time. She was outwardly serene and calm, and the support from the twenty or so in the congregation was tangible. And I found as I preached a sermon over which I worried I might not have spent enough time that it flowed irresistibly from the bullet-pointed list I'd prepared and I was enjoying myself.

We are not yet without a priest, but the vacancy will be upon us before we know it. It's going to be interesting, and on today's showing, exciting. But I'm even more convinced that we shall never be able to go back to the way we were. Father will never know best again.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

25 years on

So it's been 25 years. I was listening this morning to an item about the miners' strike - 25 years ago. I hadn't realised, any more than several of the miners' wives who were speaking. Ok, I'm not married to a miner, but that year - 1984 - was Orwellian in its strangeness, retrospectively. And so many things happened which did involve me that I'm going to do a bit of retrospective blogging. I've fished out some photos of significant places and incidents, and when I've scanned them I shall have a bash at some posts about the year that so many things changed for ever.

Watch this space.

Friday, March 06, 2009

To blog or not to blog?

Every now and then, I'm surprised to learn that someone is a regular reader of this blog. Sometimes they leave a comment; at others they say something which shows a knowledge of what I've been thinking about. However it comes about, each one adds to the experience of blogging, because when you know you have a readership it's bound to have an effect on what you write. I've said this before, in a post about self-conscious bloggers, but it's weighing on me right now, and for reasons not unconnected with yesterday's post.

Suppose in the next year we end up with a bishop of whom I heartily disapprove, whose whole life is lived contrary to what I think is right. (OK - it might be less extreme than that, but let's go the whole hog). Let's imagine a homophobic bishop. Am I going to blog about how distasteful, how plain wrong, I think he is (for such a bishop would surely be male)? After all, I'm not employed by the church, and am under no constraints other than the usual ones of libel.

The last time I was particularly ruffled by a situation in the local church, it proved quite difficult to make my voice heard. Now I have this powerful tool, and I have a readership. And I'm inviting that readership to say what they think, now. Before the situation arises. Speak!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Choosing the route

Beinn Ime
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I spent yesterday and Tuesday in Oban - hence the photo, taken on our drive home through wonderfully dramatic scenery after the snow. I was attending the Diocesan Synod, the annual gathering which hears how the money's going, who's doing what, and decides who will try to do what in the forthcoming year. That sort of thing anyway.

It was the last item on that little list which was a bit depressing: there are so few stipendiary clergy in the diocese these days that the choice when it comes to, say, choosing the group to consider who might be our next bishop is, well, limited. But it was a relief to me to hear it spelled out clearly during one debate that we must ordain young people to be priests, for a church served entirely by people of retirement age is indeed going to be a church of retired people.

The road ahead may look as if it's leading straight into difficult terrain, but we have to keep moving forward. Whether it's in the choice of bishop or the appointment of a new rector for my own church, we cannot revert to the church of the '50s - no matter how cosy that might seem. For in the event, I think it'd be no cosier than the Arrochar Alps look in my photo.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Mills of God?

Ok, I admit it. I'm feeling just a little smug. Let me explain. I was taking a quick look at the site of the Scottish Episcopal Church" - just to see if there was any news of interest before I head off to our diocesan Synod tomorrow. And there I found the main item of news to be the re-appearance of the Lent Blog to which I referred the other day. Quite apart from the fact that it's good to see a blog to which I contribute being highlighted, there's the whole business of blogging within the church.

It seems only yesterday, though it's more like three years, since I was being patronised at General Synod for my enthusiastic (and public) endorsement of blogging as a means of communication and ministry. It is exactly a year since I addressed the Diocesan Synod on communications, and in particular Web 2.0-type communications, and was variously laughed at, quietly, ignored and berated by people who seemed to have no intention of ever taking up any of my suggestions. But I shall obviously just have to wait. The more far-flung parts of this diocese - the ones with most to gain from internet use - obviously have a long journey to make before they catch up, but today's news story gives me hope.

It's these Mills of God, isn't it - they grind kinda slowly, even now.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Brief encounter with an egg to fry

There's a new egg to fry over at Frying an Egg, the micro-story-writing blog. I've had a bash, and realised yet again what a fierce discipline it is to stick within 100 words. (I didn't, quite).

This one ends with a train pulling out of a station. Do pop over and have a bash; you'll see how to a couple of posts down if you've not been there before.