Friday, 31 August 2012

15 years ago

Long time no blog.  I've been on holiday for a couple of weeks and it's hard to blog when you are in a temt in a field without mobile signal, let along electricity. 

I've just noticed that today marks the 15th anniversary of Princess Diana's death, one of those 'you must remember where you were when you heard' moments.  I was in Suffolk on a weekend away with friends and had got up very early to my (at the time) only child, the one who took her GCSEs this summer!  Bleary-eyed I switched on Radio 1 (okay, so I've changed) to find sombre classical music playing.  Which threw me somewhat.  In due course the news was given, the kind of news that takes a while to sink in.  The friends we were with hadn't got children 15 years ago and so I had to play with my wee girlie for two or three hours before it was decent to wake the others and tell them. 

The rather bizarre reaction to all that then unfolded, a nation taken by surprise in it's grief.  For some years afterwards I would visit people on the local estates for the church and it wasn't unusual to find a framed picture of Diana on the mantelpiece; whether as a saint or one of the family it was hard to know.   

15 years ago was also my last day of working with students for UCCF.  It was a brilliant time, I learnt so much through working there, much of which I still use today.  It shaped me for time in church ministry as did the great church that I was a part of and went on to serve.  Because 14 years and 364 days ago I started working for a church full-time.  More simply, tomorrow is my 15 year anniversary of being paid to work in a church.  I may be middle aged but I did a lot of other things first, no bad thing in my book. 

Church ministry is a great adventure!  Some amazing highs and some serious lows but rarely a dull moment.  Actually some dull moments would be nice; just occasionally.  It's amazing that we're allowed to do this, we who are fallible, flawed, but forgiven.  I regularly marvel that God uses me to lead a church but then he has previous history on this, in the Old Testament he spoke through a donkey.  Despite the occasional escape fantasy, I really can't think of anything I'd rather do. 

15 years in, what really matters is the next 15 years.  I am grateful that I don't know what lies ahead, but in the words of Paul in Philippians 3, "one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal."     

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Buddha and the Cowboys

'Buddha and the Cowboys' might sound like a film mash up but actually it was my experience last Friday. 

The church premises were rented by a charity for the day and they took advantage of the summer weather to use the car park at the front for selling some of their wares and to run some stalls.  It was my favourite parishioner who alerted me to the fact that they had a stall selling various staues, including a couple of big ones of Buddha.  I had to gently point out to the organisers that this was a bit of a issue for us because, "We don't really do Buddha here" and they were lovely and apologetic and there was no issue about it at all.  

Then came the cowboys.  The charity had booked a re-enactment of some wild west heroes (they got permission from the police) having a shoot out in the car park in order to attract attention.  Well it certainly did that (though I would have thought that if you were looking to draw a crowd then the sound of gunfire might not be the best ploy.  The cowboys concerned were heard to remark that the sound of the guns bouncing off the wall around them made it really loud and apparently it was loud enough to panic the bank on the corner into thinking that a real life raid was taking place.  And I thought Church Members' Meetings could get a bit wild!

I've been lying low ever since.  The last thing we need at the moment is headlines - local or national - about a gun fight in the Baptist Church car park.      

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Swindon College, gone but not forgotten

This week saw the final demise of the old Swindon College, a place for which I have many reasons to be grateful.  Certainly not for it's architecture, or even for the fact that the wonderful XTC once played there, supporting Thin Lizzy.  No, this was the place that gave me the chance to get back into education, some years after I left school.

The received wisdom was that I would be lucky to get my O levels (younger readers are referred to Google at this point) and so I left school at 16.  A few years later, and unemployed, I turned up here to enroll for a couple of A levels at evening class.  I didn't have enough money to sign up so they asked me how much I could afford and accepted that.  I'm really grateful that they did that. 

I then spent from September to May going to two evening classes a week to study for a couple of A levels.  Most of the time I had a temporary full-time job and I studied in the evenings.  Looking back, I'm amazed that I had the dedication but I knew that I needed A levels to get into college to do something more interesting than accountancy, which I'd been doing for too long after school.

It was here that my English Literature lecturer told us this was a crash course and that if we worked hard we'd pass but we could forget about getting an A grade.  In all his years only one person had done this and she was a nun - like that proved something.  It was he who gave me a love for the poetry of John Donne.  He once broke a strike to teach us one week because he didn't feel it was fair on us part-timers trying to get back into education.  We went with him to The Beehive pub round the corner.  Quality fellow.   

It was here that my Sociology lecturer persuaded a group of us that there was no reason we couldn't apply to a university.  None of us believed him.  I played safe and had a couple of offers from teaching colleges for any kind of grades.

I collected my results with my aunt, who had registered for Sociology too.  We celebrated with cream cakes.  I got a C in Sociology and emulated the nun in Eng. Lit.  

Looking back I don't quite know how I managed it.  I wish I could thank the people that helped me on my way, without them I don't know what I'd be doing now.  As it was I got to university, met my favourite parishioner, and got to do similar kind of work as the nun. 

Swindon College, you were an ugly thing but I couldn't have done it without you.  Thank you.    

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Men's Olympic Football - Great Britain v South Korea

Well, it looks like we may have missed the best day in living memory for Team GB in the Olympics because we were at the Olympics.  Whilst Jessica, Mo and Greg were performing heroically in the Olympic Stadium, we headed west for the Millennium Stadium and the Quarter Final of the Men's Football.  

It was my first trip to the Millennium Stadium and what a venue!  I have never been to a soccer match in the States but it is how I imagined it might be there - except with 70,000 people there.  The venue is clean and modern and we were sat in the Upper Tier, in terms of the kind of football I watch at Exeter it was like being sat up on top of the roof.  It made for a different perspective, easier to read the pattern of the game but a lot harder to identify who people were.

Ah, the romance of the game...

It was a very different kind of crowd to your usual football match, a lot of young families and people who don't usually go to games, or even have a lot of interest in football, but who wanted to sample the atmosphere - which was fantastic.  One woman I spoke to who had a five or six year old with her said that it should be okay because she had brought plenty of colouring for her. 

The game itself wasn't likely to convert many of the floating voters.  The standard wasn't great - Exeter City would have given GB a run for their money - and it lacked a bit of passion and even though it went to extra time and penalties - it wasn't so exciting because, nice though it would have been to see GB win, it didn't really matter much.  Had Exeter, or even England, been playing, it would have been much more tense because I would have cared a great deal more about the result.  As it was, this was a group of players put together for the tournament, a good thing but you know...    

As soon as it went to penalties we all knew what would happen.  Poor Daniel Sturridge, at least Stuart Pearce knows how he feels.  The journey home was ridiculously long, though they battled gamely to get us to our Park and Ride it took over an hour's queueing and then it was a slow drag to the M4.  The journey saw us get home at 1.45am but it was worth it.  In the words of someone fairly local to Cardiff, we can echo, "I was there."

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Cotswold Way - Day 9 - Old Sodbury to Pennsylvania

This old tree makes for great shelter in Doddington Park.

There are amber weather warnings issued for the day that I am due to walk Day 9 of my route but the plan is for completion on the last Friday/Saturday of my sabbatical, so there's no wriggle room.  My game of chicken with the weather is well and truly lost and I must carry on regardless.  My sister, under no such constraint bails out of walking with me but I don't blame her, and actually, it turns out for the best.

The original plan was to walk to Cold Ashton but the B&B is booked up and so I will be finishing a little earlier in Pennsylvania.  It makes for a short walk.   I could now complain about the conditions and research the rainfall but if you're living in Britain in 2012 you know what sort of a summer we're having.  Suffice to say that it was wetter under foot here on Leg 9 than when I was walking back in April.  I finished soaked through. 

A couple of shots taken in light drizzle rather than steady rain.  Both in Doddington Park.

The church building in Tormorton was a good place to repack my bag and eat an energy bar, say a prayer and resolve to move on and keep walking.  They had a lovely carpet and I already have wet muddy boots so no chance to explore.   

This is the last shot I took today, note the car headlights, windscreen wipers on, plenty of spray and gloom.  All at lunchtime in July.

There is, however, a definate highlight that will stick with me long into the future.  Shortly after walking over the bridge crossing the M4 motorway and walking the width of a field from it's traffic, I look up from the path to see a deer standing watching me not more than 25 or 30 yards away.  We meet each others gaze for a few moments before he bounds off ahead of me and then crosses my path and takes off towards the motorway.  It is a magical moment.  I have no prove of this encounter, my camera deep in my dry rucksack but it was a magnificent sight.

The B&B is reached quite early in the day as the weather encouraged just putting your head down and stepping up the pace.  There was no-one to talk to all day except a woman cutting the grass outside Dryham Park, and in that wonderfully English way of ours we joke about the weather and move on.  I finally give in to the iPod for the first time on my walk and remember a "Rain" playlist that I'd put together for a recent family barbeque.  It does the trick and raises my spirirts.   

There is no pub in Pennsylvania anymore.  There is no pub in Cold Ashton anymore either.  But there is a wonderful woman in Cold Ashton called Sarah who does meals for walkers in the evening if they pre-book.  When I get there I discover that I am the only one to have prebooked and so I feel like royalty as I dine on wonderful garlic mushrooms and chicken curry, all washed down with selections of Bath Ales afterwards.  It really is a terrific meal and she's a great host.  All this and photography magazines to read as well.  I feel very local signing her visitors book amongst the Norwegians, Dutch and Americans - sometimes it feels like the rest of the world are more interested than the Brits in the Cotswold Way.

I feel ready for the last day of the walk tomorrow, where I am to be walking with Andy again and we'll be meeting our wives in Bath for a meal to celebrate.

The B&B that I almost stay in, is an oddity.  Very friendly people but I am a little troubled that virtually the first thing I notice is the UKIP tea-towel, something I've never seen anywhere before (I do lead a very sheltered life).  My discomfort is heightened further when I check out and ask them to order me a taxi, which they do in super quick time, but they tell me they have ordered me an English driver rather than all the Poles that are working round here at the moment.  It's odd - to say the very least - to be saying such things when your business relies on entertaining so many walkers from overseas. 

I've had to check out though because I've had a phone call.  My Dad has suddenly been taken ill and I am in that taxi to get to his hospital bedside late at night.  For a few days it all looks touch and go but mercifully he seems on the road to recovery now four weeks later; out of hospital and just beginning to get out and about.  This is why I've not blogged a lot or updated my Cotswold Way progress.  It's also why I have yet to complete the walk.  In the last month we've had some glorious weather and sometime soon I will complete the leg from Pennsylvania to Bath.  But in the meantime some things are a lot more important.   

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Answered prayer

Very excited last night to hang around while some of our musicians rehearsed.  The church has been praying for musicians for at least seven years (I know that I started some six months before I arrived).  The good and faithful people that have served for so many years - decades - are now no longer able to get up in the organ seat and at the beginning of this year we were able to start using a very simple (but good quality) band with piano, drums and voice.  As you can see from the picture, there are now even more options and the quality is just fantastic.  Can't wait for Sunday, just hope the sermon is up to standard!