Saturday, July 25, 2009

Psausages and Psalms - a BBQ with a difference

sausages. Bet you never thought of spelling sausages with an initial P, but it seemed quite the thing to do when coupling the psausages with psalms for last evening's bash at Holy Trinity church, Dunoon. When you take a fine musician, a fine evening, 5o or so sausages and a jolly group of people you have a recipe for success.

A singing workshop in the church saw a good proportion of the congregation learning three ways to sing psalms - plainsong, Anglican chant and plainsong with a refrain - as well as a couple of canticles, along with a bit of background history which began with the haunting sound of the earliest Jewish psalm singing realised for contemporary listeners and played on that most contemporary of instruments, the iPod. A considerable degree of unanimity of sound was achieved before the mass exit in the direction of the Rectory.

Here the Marthas had set up and lit two barbecues - who said this was man's work? - on the patio, where a non-singing Vestal had tended the flames till the workshop was over. By now they were classically white and glowing, and in no time at all, thanks to the prescience of the sausage-providers, there was a great quantity of suitably charred and well-cooked sausages - enough even for the chaps who felt they needed 4 of them.

The great secret to all this was actually fairly minimal preparation in advance. A few people earmarked for the vital components - sausages and the fabby rolls from Blacks the Baker, butter and relish - and the ample supply of wine which is a feature of gatherings at HT; the freedom to set out other things like salads and paper plates indoors; the big black bag for all the rubbish at the end - that was it. The BBQs kept the midges away far more effectively than when in the past we'd set up under the trees on the lawn, and their heat, reflected off the walls of the house, kept the patio warm well after sunset.

And when all had gone save the Vestal not-actually-virgins and the organist, the roof fund was £60 better off and it was hazily felt that perhaps we ought to do this again. Fun, huh?

Footnote: I have to report that the Ayrshire pork sausages from The Codfathers were just wonderful.
Postscript: There's a new link on the blogroll to a good site for meditation; the most recent is, coincidentally, on a psalm.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer reading, but not light

JUst finished reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. It's as well I have managed to be sufficiently summer-holiday-minded to sit reading in the garden, for if I had pursued my normal practice of doing most of my reading in bed I doubt if I'd have had much sleep recently. This story of the intertwining lives of two women - Mariam and Laila - is so gripping, so heartbreaking and so demanding that I would find myself resolutely laying it aside at 1am and turning instead to something dull - or to the traditional sheep.

Hosseini, an expatriate Afghan, writes of his country in a way that is both matter-of-fact and perceptive. He tells without obvious judgement of the treatment of women, the status of wives, the Taliban and the Communist, but does it in such a way that you know how to react in the way that his heroines do. The inevitability of Afghanistan's history means that you are not surprised by the bigger picture, but wait instead with a kind of dread to see how it will affect them. The glimpse of the woman doctor at a Caesarian delivery performed without anaesthetic in the dilapidated hospital that was all the Taliban would allow women to use told a huge tale of denial and survival, and the heroism of the women in their determination to survive was all the more remarkable in its portrayal by a male writer.

The title of the book comes from a farewell ode to Kabul by the poet Babi:
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.

I shall never feel the same again when I hear of the war in Afghanistan, or the people of Kabul.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ur Beatha Dhan Dùthaich - A Highland Homecoming

Ever since I became a member of the Scottish Episcopal Church, in the early ‘70s, I’ve been aware that it is regarded by many native Scots as The English Church. “What do you want to go to a church like that for? You’re Scottish!” In Dunoon, it helps the visitor to tell the taxi driver to go to the English church, and in Mid-Argyll certainly you’ll hear at least as many English accents as native Scots ones.

But yesterday was different, and for the first time in my church-going life I felt that I was in a truly native church, with a history and an ethos that was entirely Scottish – and Highland at that. Not the fakery of the dressing-up-for-a-wedding tartanry, but the deep-seated faith of an area which had survived persecution and emerged somehow in the 21st century with much of its tradition intact. The occasion might have been dismissed as mere tartan-for-tourists. But “A Highland Homecoming”, part of the government’s Homecoming Scotland programme, took the form of a celebration of the Eucharist in Gaelic, in St John’s Church, Ballachulish, in the presence of the assembled, international ranks of the Clan McInnes. And from the opening words - Ann an ainm an Athar, agus a'Mhic agus an Spiorad Naoimh - I was hooked.

So why was I there? And why did I feel the power of this mass, given that I have about 4 words of Gaelic and none of them were used yesterday? The first is easy: the mass setting was John’s Kilbride Mass, in Gaelic, and he was playing the organ for the service. And the music suddenly sounded as if it had been written for the Gaelic words - A Thighearna, dèan tròcair oirnn. A Chriosda, dèan tròcair oirnn. A Thighearna, dèan tròcair oirnn. The second? Was it the resonance of Emsley Nimmo’s Gaelic, or the haunting beauty of the final music from the choirs – Gleann Bhaile Chaoil? Or was it because Mr B pulled out all the stops (you might say) from his distant roots and moved the entire congregation with his playing of traditional airs á la McIntosh? or the wonderful strangeness of hearing a mass setting I know by heart to words which were completely unfamiliar?

Actually I think it was a mixture of all these things, and more. And the more was symbolised, I realise, by the presence on the altar of the Appin Banner, a replica of the pale blue and gold flag which was rescued from the carnage after Culloden and returned to the area of Portnacrois and St John’s, the only banner not to be taken and burned. And the chalice used was the Appin Chalice, reputed to have been carried by the Appin Stewart Regiment in the uprising of 1745. How could I not feel the tie to the past, the essential roots of our church?

Afterwards, there was an incredible bun-fight. I don’t know how we managed it, but despite the teeming rain outside and the two portaloos in the grounds it was accomplished that people got tea and scones and cakes – and the most wonderful clootie dumpling I’ve ever tasted. The politicians – Mike Russell, Culture Minister in the Scottish Parliament and Charles Kennedy, the local Westminster MP – posed for photos and chatted amiably; Bishop Martin was interviewed for the telly – a camera had woven in and out throughout – and the Dean of Aberdeen & Orkney, Emsley Nimmo, fortified himself with a scone.

This, I realise, reads like a mixture of piece for the magazine and personal blog post. This is because my last blog on a diocesan event was transplanted wholesale into the diocesan mag, and must have confused anyone who didn’t know of its provenance. So here’s the wee blogger’s coda…

When we emerged into the rain which had been gathering in malevolence during the service, we were both shaking with knackerdom. We still had the drive home to Dunoon, through the looming and more or less drowned Glencoe, and I had a picture of us sleeping by the roadside. I even thought longingly of sailing into a hotel and ignoring the lack of a toothbrush. But whether it was the adrenaline of a successful gig which kept Mr B at the wheel, or the recounting of the interesting contacts I’d made during the afternoon, we kept going and made it in 2 hours flat.

Personally, I think it was the clootie dumpling …

Note: Photos from the event can now be seen here

Friday, July 17, 2009

Grandma's noisy night

From our bedroom
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
During our Italian holiday, the cough that had plagued me for a week in June returned with a vengeance, encouraged, I believe, by the air-con in the car. This cough was - and is - of the variety which becomes more insistent the moment you go to bed, and gave rise one night to a sequence of events which I can only imagine as belonging in one of Catriona's picture-books.

Scene: Dark bedroom, dark courtyard outside open window (in picture). Second frame: loud coughing from inside window. A dog appears round the corner. BARK. BARK. WOOFWOOFWOOF.
A cat streaks round the corner past the barking dog.
The dog gives chase, by now WOOFWOOFing uncontrollably.
Another cat joins in, then another.
The low-slung, slow-moving, roly-poly dog waddles into the courtyard. Inside the room, there is the sound of cursing, followed by another bout of COUGHCOUGHCOUGH.
The roly-poly dog joins in. GERWOOF. GERWOOF.

By now the night is hideous with the sounds of battle. An unknown number of cats have joined the fray - remember, there are 15 of them in the vicinity - and both dogs. Their paws make a drumming noise in the echoing confines of the courtyard. There seems to be no reason for any of them ever to quieten down. And no chance of sleep. It is 2am.

Suddenly a light comes on at the top of the stairs (look at the photo again). A door opens and a silhouette appears. It is la nonna - Grandma. A high-pitched torrent of Italian abuse is hurled at the miscreant beasts and a door slams.

And then, miraculously, there is silence. The cats slink off to their nocturnal prowlings, and the dogs retreat to wherever it is they sleep at night. And behind the ornamental bars, behind the geraniums, behind the mosquito mesh, I attempt to be silent, to avoid further barking, to refrain from talking to the dogs.

Now, I need an illustrator ...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Linguistic creativity

Very ladylike
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Our recent holiday in Italy brought home to me what incredible creatures small children are. Catriona, who at the moment speaks more French than English, nevertheless seemed to know that she had to speak to us in English - so would demand "book" of her Grandfather every morning before breakfast, leading him by the hand to the sofa in the morning sun which streamed through the door. And by the end of the week she had learned to say "Ciao" to all the Italians who greeted her as "bellissima bambina", though her preferred greeting remains "Hi!"

But the most memorable of her words is one which is all her own. Catriona hates having sticky hands or a dirty face - indeed, does not like anything to be messy, wet (mouillé - including the pool!) or untidy (brings on the need to "rangé" - arrange - the books, toys or whatever). Because of this urge to be clean, she is always demanding a damp wipe, like the one which which she is daintily dabbing ice cream off her face in the picture - in a cafe in Colle di Val d'Elsa. The French word for these wipes is "lingette". But usually she uses them for her hands - "mains" in French - and so she demands a "maingette".

I love it. In fact, whenever I feel my fingers sticky - like after picking up jam in Tesco - I feel the urge to wail "maingette!" Perhaps we ought to patent the name for future use. Ciao!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Apero time

As I sit languidly on the patio waiting for the chef to bring an aperitif and the footman to deal with the parasol - currently drooping over the table like a dead pterodactyl - I observe a life and death drama by the pool. The cat in the photo has just despatched one of the swifts which dart over the pool - heaven knows how he caught it - but is now sulking because a second cat has now snatched the bird and run off. I shall dwell on death no longer. Paddock calls..

Monday, July 06, 2009

Sun gear

This blogette/bloguette/whatever is really for Mrs Tosh, who provided the excellent anti-sunburn garment worn by Catriona in the photo. It's a while since I had a summer holiday here: the sun is truly fierce. There is the problem of persuading Catriona that it's ok to get it wet, but it's reassuring none the less. (Is that one word? Phone spell-check likes it not. And while being pedantic: the title of the last post was an echo of Wind in the Willows rather than anything more erudite. It's hard to be accurate in tanto discrimine rerum.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Dulce domum

This is the back of our house, with a few of the 15 resident cats in attendance. After a post prandial walk through Colle di Val d'Elsa I've realised how different the Italian experience is with a very small, attractive and sociable toddler holding your hand. And I have to report that Catriona did a great job testing the acoustics of the mercifully empty cathedral. And I'm not cooking tonight. Bliss.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Summer's lease

I'll not be blethering much over the next week or so - off to Tuscany with Mr B, as well as the Edublogger family. It's been so hot here this week that I'm looking forward to having an air-conditioned villa and the pool at the foot of the garden, The Blethers possessing neither of these amenities. I'm also looking forward to revisiting the area where we had our last foreign holiday en famille, before our weans turned into families themselves, if you get me; we stayed in this part of Tuscany during a World Cup in which Italy did rather well, and ended up in a neighbouring apartment whose inhabitants had rented a telly specially. This, you will understand, was not my choice, but was done in the spirit of bonding.

Anyway, it's arrivederci from me for now, though you might catch a blogette from my phone if there's a signal (I'm not holding my breath; it's very rural) Should I be taking "Summer's Lease" for holiday reading? Probably not. I seem to remember it cast doubts on the stability of the water supply to a holiday villa, and might induce gloom and despondency.

And that would never do. Ciao!