Thursday, April 30, 2009

Not waving but drowning

Regular visitors to this blog must be wondering if I've gone off. You may very well be correct in that supposition, but the truth is that since the Cursillo weekend I've been too exhausted/busy/preoccupied to do anything but do all the things I have to and stagger to bed. Today, for instance, I've been assisting in a flitting - all these boxes! - and earlier in the week I was too busy dealing with the fallout from a bit of thoughtlessness to be writing about it.

But I shall return - and there's surely a post from all this experience. Meanwhile bed seems very inviting ....

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mission accomplished

We survived. Don't be fooled by the excellent, jolly cake, supplied by Black's of Dunoon - all the food was of the highest quality and nothing like survival rations - but the experience of serving on team at a Cursillo weekend is not one you can repeat too often, and one which provides an example of the sheer stamina and determination of a bunch of people in late middle age who might be expected to sit around over the weekend, enjoying the Spring sunshine and congratulating themselves on not having to work any more. But goodness, do you pay for it!

And was it a success, this weekend? I think so, for the majority of the participants. It's not actually possible to evaluate the experience immediately. Some people can find the effect of the weekend overwhelming and need time to reflect. Others are overjoyed by what they find and can't wait to serve on team themselves, to fill in the other side of the experience. And still others feel distanced, alienated even, from what happens in the course of the weekend, only to show in their subsequent lives that something has changed. I know that we had participants who fall into the first two categories, and only time will show if we had the third.

But through the total exhaustion that engulfs team members - usually when they are halfway home and feel a bit as if they've been let out of prison - one thing stands out as the reward. For if only one participant tells you, maybe in a quiet, personal moment, that they have had a wonderful time, or been helped to cope with the difficulties of their ordinary life by the support they have received over the weekend, then it is all worth it. Every last, aching, sleep-deprived moment of it.

And that happened on weekend #57.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cursillo weekend

The car is packed. There is room for only two people, and the back seats are folded away. The curious might assume we were going on a camping trip, but in fact we're off to Millport, to a Cursillo weekend at The College. The contents of the car are, in microcosm, a good representation of the kind of planning and detail that goes into these weekends: only one small suitcase each for our own possessions, with the rest of the space going to everything from tartan tablecloths (carefully ironed) to piles of music. For we are serving on team, and self becomes very much the afterthought as we strive to make everything flow smoothly for the participants.

And when it's all over we'll be exhausted. I know that now. In fact, just thinking about all we have to do before then makes me tired now. But I know that once the participants arrive, once the team is really working hard, there won't be a moment to feel tired, or daunted, and that on past form we'll probably find ourselves surprised once more by the joy that took us there in the first place. Here we go ...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Calling all ostriches

Sometimes I'm struck forcibly by the choice we make in deciding whether or not to watch/read/listen to the news. Today I read in some detail of the resurgence of Nazism in Austria, in a piece accompanied by the photos of ancient Nazis in bits of wartime uniform celebrating Hitler's birthday. And this evening I watched President Ahmadinejad of Iran denounce Israel as a racist state, and heard the comment that the situation between Iran and the West could become "very serious indeed".

Suppose I had simply read a book at lunchtime, had watched something else or - just as likely - fallen asleep in front of the telly this evening? I would not have any of these stories to ponder, not have anything to trouble my sleep other than the organisation of the imminent Cursillo weekend. And yet it is possible that I am more concerned about the latter right now, simply because I can do something about it - in fact, I have to do something about it tomorrow.

Back in the '80s, my desire to do something about the presence of nuclear weapons on my doorstep got me into all sorts of bother. At the time, I wondered at the ostrich mentality of many of the people I doorstepped for CND. As I become older, it's easier in a way to stick my head in the sand of unknowing - until I think about my grandchildren. And I begin to wonder what might yet lie ahead.

Maybe I'd better just read that book ...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Nectar in a tin

I'm indebted to Neil for reminding me of the drink that was the mainstay of my childhood. Creamola Foam must have been a cheap alternative to the red cola and fizzy orange that appeared at parties and on holiday visits to caf├ęs, but my main memory of drinking it is very clear - so clear that I can taste it now - and strongly linked to one place. That place is on Arran, at a point in North Glen Sannox (not to be confused with Glen Sannox, but a less-well-known glen slightly to the north) where huge slabs of pale grey granite jut out into the very middle of the North Sannox burn. This is still one of my favourite places on earth, and will forever be associated with what would be a typical 1950s picnic: Macvitas, triangles of Dairylea cheese, floury muffins with strawberry jam, slightly flattened from their sojurn in a rucksack - and Creamola Foam, preferably orange flavour, made in a plastic tumbler with water scooped precariously from the burn.

This was Creamola Foam at its best, and it's easy to see why it was a winner for whoever was carrying the drinks: a small tin and a spoon make for much less of a load than a bottle of diluted squash. Perhaps the location explains why I recall it with such fondness, for I am now convinced that in my childhood we never drank anything like enough water and at the end of a muddy walk we'd be parched with a thirst that made this chemical concoction into nectar.

To the best of my recollection, we never bought this stuff for my own kids - though I'm open to correction if they ever read this - because I have a feeling I tasted it in later life and realised my tastes had moved on. Just as well, really - it doesn't seem to exist these days.

Update: Neil assures me I did indeed buy it for him - he wouldn't have mentioned it otherwise.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Talking with the gardener

Is he real? and can I trust
the joy which sears across my soul
with such delicious pain?
The light is white, a curtain sparkling
so that I can barely look, can
hardly see the face I love.
Am I remembering? But the voice
which said my name – my given name –
it is the same, the cadences
which bring my heart to song each time.
My tears still well, the picture flows
and changes as the light refracts
– why do I weep? He asked me that
and yet I cannot bear to say
that what is joy for all the rest
is not enough without the touch
which now I know I cannot have.
I would not have run, that night
of horror when the others fled –
not while he still breathed and stood
and spoke and suffered with that kiss
which I could never give.
So what is real? Is this enough
to share with joy and tell the world
that death can have no final word?
I cannot say. I need to hold,
to smile, to talk, to love, to be –
the shadow moves. The joy recedes
becomes more patient, calmer now
and I, alone among the trees
must share my moment with the rest
and know it is no longer mine.
But I was here. I loved. I lost.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday reflection


Does it feel real? Crouching
in the evening chill while
leaves overhead silver in the breeze
I struggle for wakefulness
even in this cold. He is not asleep
but staring in the dark closes the eyes
on my blank mind. A sudden cough
startles but the numbness returns.
A lone insect whirrs and in the city
a child calls for its mother
as the feet stir the dead leaves
and the torches come
and the kiss betrays. Lord,
I whisper, I should have watched.

Is it real? The weight of wood
is real enough, but my bearing it
seems beyond bearing and cannot be.
The slow steps seem not mine,
but made by someone
I cannot bear to inhabit. The nails
oh the nails
hotly sliding through the jolt
the hammer makes
in my body in my body
in my body in my body
two strokes each
the strokes of an expert -
it is done. Up, up – lifted up and over
the heads of the crowd I see
the city in the noon light and know
this eternity will not last long
but is it real?

It is finished. Is it
accomplished? Your words, Lord.
The emptiness is there still
as the untimely darkness covers
my failure to attend. The cross still
stands, but empty now. Empty.



Altar of repose
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Midnight. The church is quiet, dark. The sacrament is gone from the altar of repose, and shortly the candles will be extinguished, though already it feels as if the light has left Gethsemane. It is cold. The disciples have fled in disarray, and the night moves towards the new day.

The watch is over.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Not rolling stones then

It is the Wednesday of Holy Week. The day before Maundy Thursday, when for the hours before midnight the sacrament will rest on an altar decorated with moss and tiny trees and candles, many candles. But today it is only Wednesday, and two women are to be seen heading up the hill opposite the gates to Benmore Gardens. They are accompanied by two rampant spaniels, and their pockets bulge strangely.

Some way up the hill, they pass a fallen tree and come to an abrupt stop, exclaiming in delight. The tree is draped with curtains of moss, and it is this which has caught their attention. Moments later, they have produced plastic carrier bags from their bulging pockets and filled two of them with the moss. They then continue uphill. Later, they can be seen scrambling precariously up a steep bank to reach some particularly succulent sphagnum. It seems to matter little that they are not in their first youth, nor that they are rapidly becoming somewhat dishevelled. They press on, each now burdened with two bags. They are laughing as they speculate what any passer-by might think. Escaped lunatics? Eccentric campers with their shopping? But in all the years in which they have done this, they have never met a soul. No-one has ever had to wonder.

This day, however, is graced by fleeting sun. It is, after all, April. The schools are on holiday, and there are trippers in the land. People who have come to Cowal to walk the forest paths, in these straitened times, rather than flee to the Canaries. And so it is that a host of such travellers appears on the path. The first four pass quickly, perhaps because they have dogs who may become entangled with the rampant spaniels. But the remaining two greet the women… pause …and then it comes.

“What have you got in the bags?”
“We thought it might be shopping.”

And they laugh. And so Mrs Heathbank and Mrs Blethers – for our mad women are indeed the writer of this blog and her pal - have to come clean, for the first time in ten years. And the great thing is that it is a joyous moment, that the strangers think it sounds a wonderful thing, that they regret that they are only visiting for the day. We tell them that they are the first people ever to ask about the bags of moss, and the woman tells us:
“Don’t mind me – I’m just a nosey bitch.” And then she gives us a hug, for good measure, and we part as if we had known each other for years.

A good day, I think.

I wonder slightly about the change in person at the end of this account, but it doesn't work if I keep it in 3rd person. Purists can save their comments for another time...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Out of the deep?

A quick post to show I'm still alive, as I set off in the rain for Cumbrae and Choral Evensong, for which we haven't yet begun to practise. Practise as a group, that is, for I've just been singing through my own alto parts with Mr B playing/singing bass. And the joy is that as we ran through Boyce's All the ends of the World I could hear in my head the wonderful suspensions, the resolved crunching moments in my own part, and felt that perhaps after all I was entering into my own Holy Week. And then there is the psalm - Out of the Deep - to that great dark setting by Walford Davies. I can't wait.

And yet I can't help reflecting how that whole week, as Jesus headed towards what he knew was to come, ordinary people were busily doing their thing all around him. Maybe the disciples felt stressed by the crowds, the fuss, the carry-on in the Temple, the approaching Passover. Busy, busy, busy. Just like the rest of us. But today I shall switch my life off and concentrate. Just got to travel there first.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

To see the object

There's a poem over on frankenstina which I wrote a while ago while thinking about a friend who had died. However, it seems to have become as much a meditation on faith, for that is how it communicated with several people who were unaware of the original stimulus.

An interesting exercise in "seeing the object as in itself it really is": my first essay in Ordinary English at University dealt with the necessity of considering only the text and not muddying the waters with background information. I don't think I wrote a very good essay ...