Saturday, April 30, 2005

Waving flags or throwing spears

"Blue Flame prayer meeting". When it actually came down to it, there wasn't much enticing that needed to be done. Getting me out of my small corner and into Blue Flame was not an issue - staying there - well, that was another story!

Blue Flame prayer meeting - I don't know who put the prayer meting bit at the end. I suspect it was me. Whenever I have been told about the meetings somewhere along the line the words "prayer meeting" get attached. If it was just Blue Flame without the "prayer meeting" then it is open to anything happening. It was sold to me as a prayer meeting, and I went expecting to pray. Maybe you are catching the frustration here - I didn't really get to pray - not the seeing strongholds fall kind of prayer, not the binding up of the strongman and plundering his treasures kind of prayer, not any of that - and that was what I was up for!

This is one case of my expectations being so far away from what actually took place! I so want to say that I really enjoyed myself - I wish I could get my tongue to twist around the words and just - say it! But it just wasn't what I was looking for.

I knew that things were not what I was looking for when I introduced myself to people as Melanie. I save "Melanie" for strangers and people I am not entirely at home with. Other people, the ones I instantly feel comfortable with, get "Mel". Silly really but it acts as my social thermometer! I was glad when Cliff Lilley arrived - he was a link to the familiar! I was even gladder when Mark arrived. I don't do strangers very well. For all my extrovert tendencies, I am quite a closed book when I feel out of water.

Apparently there is nothing predictable about what happens during the meetings. Some of them are very dynamic, others a little more introspective. Some have a definite direction, other just kind of drift. I think I hit the introspective drifting version.

I have done quite a bit of thinking about it and what the problem for me was. I have got it down to a lack of trust. I didn't know the people well enough, or the set-up well enough, to feel free to do my stuff. There were times when I ached to say something. I know the stirring of the Spirit. I didn't know if I could just pick up the mike or whether I had to ask someone first - so in the end I said nothing.

I could feel that there was a unity in the sense that together we had a power and authority that is not present to the same degree when we are alone. But we stuck with "comfortable" and just missed out on something that could have been spectacular.

The music seriously did my head in! It was good music but I felt it got in the way of the real business. It became a screen that we all hid behind. It just kept going. The times it almost stopped, they would just start up again. Running through my head was a kind of mantra - "I didn't come to wave flags, I came to throw spears". To some extent I would say that what the worship did was to ignite the arrows or spears. In the films when the enemy doesn't just fire an arrow, but lights the arrow and it does so much more damage to the enemy stronghold - that is how I felt. But I didn't get to fire my arrows anywhere - it was very frustrating!

Will I ever return? Have I been entirely put off? I don't know. Introspective drifting does not appeal to me. But then again, perhaps if I had let the Spirit do His stuff in me and stopped worrying about what I was allowed to do and just did it, we might have moved into the dynamic. Sometimes all it takes is one person to do the stuff the Spirit tells them to do and things take a different turn.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Me coming out of my small corner

I am having problems blogging - I have plenty to say but the blogger refuses to publish it. I am faced with how much of an internet dummy I am when confronted with these kind of problems - I don't know enough of the technical stuff to help myself! Here goes for the umpteenth time:-

Note:- I follwed the advice they gave and it worked!

I almost made it to the gym yesterday - well, I did make it. I got changed, armed myself with a bottle of water and, clambered on the bike and that had a severe attack of the "foursies". If you are not aware of the "foursies", it is the big dipper equivalent of a drop in sugar levels. It's called the "foursies" because it usually hits me at around about four o'clock, just when I get home from school. The only cure seems to be to eat something - anything - everything - if it is remotely edible, it gets eaten. So I promptly clambered off the bike and went down to the café and ate two slices of toast.

It takes a while for the foursies to subside, so while I was letting the toast digest a little, I read through the Highland News. The one article that really caught my attention was another new church moving to Inverness - the Destiny Church! There are lots of churches in Invereness. Not just the usual denominations, but also a lot of more contemporary churches that meet in shcools and community centres. Another one...seems to me that you should be planting churches where there aren't any, not where there are already lots!

Many of these churches sing the same songs, and preach the same gospel and has the same basic structure one wonders why don't they just become one church. But then I would want them all to join my church rather than me join theirs! I have a problem with seeing things as "our" church! I am working on it - or rather God is!

I was reading in 1 Kings about Solomon building the temple and how the stones were shaped at the quarry and at the temple site itself, the stones were just slotted into the right place without the need for a hammer to knock off any edges. The quarry that knocks off my edges and shapes me should be in my quiet times with God. My workplace does a lot of shaping too! When it comes to corporate worship or corporate prayer God should just be able to slot me in without me causing friction anywhere!

There is a hymn - a children's hymn that Joe hates. "This little light of nine" contains a line about you in your small corner and me in mine. Makes me wonder what God thinks about "small corners". Well I am trying to entice myself out of my small corner and go to the Blue Flame prayer meeting!

Monday, April 25, 2005

My World

My world is bound on all sides
By prefabricated wall
Where asbestos lurks
And sugar paper of rainbow colours
Is studded with drawing pins
And posters
Chalk dust permeates the air
And power comes with the stroke of a red pen

My world is filled on all sides
By desks that wobble
Marked and pocked
Announcing LP loves CM
John is gay, Lisa sits here
And RE is boring
In pink highlighter
Underlined in Tippex

My world is shared on all sides
By classes, groups and pairs
Of mixed ability pupils
Striving to be like each other
To stand out from the crowd
To stand up and be counted
To stand apart and be an individual
Talking, writing, listening and learning
Often ignoring
Always complaining
Resenting religion pushed down their throats

My world is seeking on all sides
A spark igniting
A light dawning
A question put
An answer given
A thought, a realisation inside
"I don't want to be a nun or a monk
But I want to explore
Something deeper
A starting point, a path to follow
A meaning to life
Here is the time, the place, the opportunity
To glimpse the unseen"

After wading through three sets of reports, I see too few sparks igniting and lights dawning!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Now is the time to worship

At the end of the meeting today, my friend Jenny came up to me. She had something she wanted to share. On a Sunday morning the worship team arrive early to set up the intruments and the run through the songs we are planning to use. It was a very warm day and the sun was pouring in the window. Mark opened the window to let some fresh air in. We just got on with the practice.

Jenny lives not too far from the school where we worship. She can usually hear us just as she is coming alongside of the school. However, this morning, with the windows open and the air so still she could hear us from her house! She said she was upstairs in the bedroom and she could hear worship music! She thought at first that perhaps someone had a radio on or a worship CD and as she listened she was lifted up in her spirit.

She said that it sounded so beautiful. Then she recognised the voices - it was us! From her bedroom, in the stillness of the morning she could hear us singing - except she said quite distinctly - "You were not just singing, you were worshipping!" Imagine people outside the church being drawn into the presence of God by the sound of our worship!

Jenny then went on to say "If I could hear your worship from where I live, I am sure my neighbours could hear it too! Perhaps they too were lifted for a while into the presence of God!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Mothballs and parma violets

Well, I exercised a bit of self-discipline this afternoon and actually completed a set of third year reports! Later on in the afternoon I continued to exercise more self control - I hovered over the chocolate display in the supermarket, but didn't buy anything! OK we all know that I shouldn't have been hovering in the first place! I tell you, if my niece decides to call off the wedding I have had it!

My oldest sister has got something else to think about other than wedding outfits for next summer. She became a granny yesterday! That makes me a great aunt, and Joe is immensely pleased to become a great uncle. He is also planning to angle for the job of godfather too. Our church doesn't do christenings, but they do dedications. Dedications don't have a specific role for godparents. His brother John is a godfather.

The names "Great Uncle Joe" and "Great Aunty Mel" have a real old smell about them, like mothballs and parma violets. Just twenty four hours ago I was just an aunty and now I have moved up a generation! Joe fears that he is heading towards sensible cardigans and a pipe.

We went "baby shopping" this morning. We managed to lose each other in Debanhams. Joe went off to look for Celtic baby-grows and bibs, while I headed over to the proper baby section. Such cute stuff for babies. We settled on a wee blue dress and a cream cardigan. Later on I spotted a poncho! I couldn't resist. Now I just need to get my act together and wrap them up and post it - I deliberately chose age 3-6 months clothes because I know how unorganised I can be!

Joe and I never found each other. We know enough about each other to know where to look, but our paths never crossed. Poor Joe gave up looking and went home on the bus! I thought he might have gone back to the car and waited for me - maybe he did!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


While doing a quick look around the internet I discovered the pope blog - an unofficial blog covering His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

Having listened to quite a few comments about the pope while driving to and from work, opinion seems to be quite divided about whether he is a good choice or a bad one. He seems to be very conservative. This is bad news for the more liberal side of the Catholic Church - no change on issues like contraception, divorce, women priests and so on. Some people expressed the idea that it was a backward step.

I listened quite carefully to his conflict with the liberation theologians. The Church should be more than a political tool, but I don't think it should be absent from politics. There is more to a person than just their spirit, and God is interested in the whole person. When no one else is speaking on behalf of the oppressed poor, surely the Church ought to be.

I think I have read too many conspiracy novels like "The Davinci Code" to trust my objectivity concerning the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.

One thing I did like was this line in one of his prayers - "I am consoled by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and how to act, even with insufficient tools." None of us a really up to the task that God sets us, but God knows that and works with us and through us anyway.

God is bigger than the purposes of man.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Just how wrong can you be?

A couple of weeks ago, Joe and I went for a drive. We had been out to Nairn for brunch and then because the weather wasn't so nice, we went for a drive. In one of the tourist books we had picked up there were a number of car tours. You follow the instructions and see things that you would never just bump into.

Remember the Wolf of Badencoh? That was the day! Three miles on from the Lochindorb was the sign post for Dulsie Bridge. The blurb in the book doesn't tell you what it looks like, so we were looking for a bridge. We have seen some nice bridges in out time. We stopped at a bridge that was beside the road. It was very humped back with a turf top to it. There was no water going under it, the river having been diverted by engineers at a later date perhaps. We took the required amount of photos - me on the bridge, Joe on the bridge, me standing next to the bridge and so on. It was a nice bridge!

Imagine our surprise when a mile down the road we came upon the real Dulsie Bridge! It was even labelled! The road dropped down towards the bridge that spanned a huge chasm, and then climbed up steeply on the other side. It was a real feat of engineering. The two bridges were incomparable - the other must have been an old drover's bridge!

We looked at each other and laughed thinking of the photos we had taken!

If we had not continued with the drive after seeing the old drover's bridge, we would have been none the wiser that there was a real Dulsie Bridge that we had missed. Seeing the real thing, we knew that the other bridge wasn't it.

When we know what the real thing looks like, we realise that what we thought was "it" really wasn't at "it" all. The real thing was much more impressive.

There are a lot of people who think they know what the Christian life is like. When they are confronted with the real thing, it is so much more impressive! There are a lot of people who think they know what God is like. When they are confronted with a real encounter with God, there is no mistaking Him!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Spiritual press-ups

I was back at the gym this morning - three times this week! I have a picture of me at my niece's wedding firmly nailed to the wall of my imagination! Slim and sylph like and wafting around elegantly!

I took my swimming cossy with me just in case I could entice myself into the pool. Enticing myself into the pool is the easy bit - pouring myself into the swimming cossy is the challenge! In the end I just stuck with the gym.

Afterwards, seeing as it was early morning I treated myself to a bowl of Kellog's Special K and a cup of tea while reading one of the glossy fitness magazines.

The article that held my interest was about making changes to your life. It began with an inspiring quotation from a writer Dimitri Bilgere.

"The sudden dawning that you want something better is the first step to making that change."

The rest of the article was about making changes. It encouraged you to use your imagination and think about what you would really like to do with your life. Then you were to get down to the practical steps of making changes - learn a foreign language, or enrol in college and learn to make hats for example, change your job through networking. The article assured me that I had at least 30 friendships I could develop. In America most people get into new careers through the people they know rather than through filling in application forms! The article even advised to broaden your experience of life and to learn to appreciate what you have by travelling to different countries. Even just "changing the people around you is enough to make life fulfilling." I wouldn't mind changing some of the people around me - my entire third year classes for a start!

Through all the advice given, nothing was said about the real solution to finding "life in all its fullness". You can change the externals of your life -make lots of hats and learn Japanese, but the problem is much deeper than that. At Living Well there are lots of people getting their physical bodies into shape - me included! That is just one part of who we are! There is a spiritual dimension that sometimes doesn't even get acknowledged.

I almost went up to the reception desk and asked if they were interested in employing a "chaplain". I once read that a shopping centre had a chaplain - so why not a fitness centre? Of course, persuading my pastor, Mark, to take on the job might not prove so easy!

Friday, April 15, 2005

"Cast Your Burdens On To Jesus"

I am kind of half way down memory lane today. I was reminded of a number of things - mostly things that I think I have let go of.

We had a choir doing a lunchtime performance. They were the Watoto Children's Choir from Kampala in Uganda. It was described and a mix of gospel and African dance. It was incredible! It was very energetic and so in-your-face evangelistic. The audience of mostly pupils and some teachers thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing and joined in the action songs. The applause at the end was thunderous.

It was so unexpectedly enthusiastic - both from the people on the stage and from the people in the seats watching.

The action song was "Cast Your Burdens On To Jesus". I wanted to cry because it is a song that really holds strong memories for me. When I worked for one summer with Mission Ablaze in Durban, South Africa, I spent a lot of time in an orphanage in one of the black townships. The level or poverty was off the scale. The children in the orphanage ate because a group of Christians did the rounds of all the supermarkets to take the out of date vegetables and bread off their hands. This was made into stew or soup.

One of the songs that everyone in the orphanage sang was "Cast Your Burdens On To Jesus." It was all the time, when they were playing when they were just sitting, or doing homework. It just seemed that they were singing it and Jesus wasn't doing anything about their burdens because they lived in such dreadful conditions. I kept asking God, why didn't he do anything to help these people? Then God answered, "I did do something - I brought you here." I didn't do anything really great to transform anyone's life. I just let the little children sit on my knee and get cuddled. Wait a minute! Even a cuddle for someone that is not cuddled transforms their life!

You hear of people that experience something like going to a place like that and when they come home they get involved in a flurry of fundraising or campaigning. I think that is what I let go of - the chance to let the experience change me, and create in me a burning desire to make a real difference. All too soon, for me it was business as usual.

The other thing that came to mind was my experiences of teaching in a small church school in Cyprus. At Millburn, the pupils are nice enough I suppose - I have taught worse - but teaching RE to get to hear their views about religion. I teach an increasingly cynical group of people. Faith has very little part to play in many of their lives and they tend to be quite derogatory towards those who do have a faith. In Cyprus, faith underlined everything we did and was written into the very fabric of the school. Hearing those children so openly testifying about the good things God has done for them, it made me miss those church school days and realise how much I had been stained too by the cynical attitudes of the pupils around me.

The music and the enthusiasm was like a breath of fresh air, blowing away the cobwebs.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Stuck in the middle with Geoff

The drama teacher at school is planning a school trip to Dundas Castle. In June they do an outdoor play of the life of Jesus.

"Over five days in June the spectacular parkland of Dundas Castle, South Queensferry is transformed into the Holy Land of Biblical times for a dramatic production of the greatest story ever told.

"The audience follows the play through wooded valleys and by the stunning loch as over 100 actors bring the Gospels to life. What is described as Scotland's premier outdoor theatre event makes an enthralling day out for the family as the story unfolds over four hours.

"The age old features of the estate are transformed into breathtaking natural scenery as the lock becomes the sea of Galilee, the old walled garden the city of Jerusalem, and the ice house, Jesus' tomb and the scene of the resurrection."

It sounds fascinating and definitely worth looking into. The audiences are limited to 1500 (!)people per day and the performance lasts most of the day.

The last open air theatre - I was about to correct that and say ONLY open air theatre - but it isn't the only one. The most recent open air theatre I have been to was called Shakespeare in the Park. It was held in the summer in the botanical gardens in Glasgow. It wasn't just Shakespeare either. Joe and I went to see the Canterbury Tales. Having not done English to a high level at school, I am not familiar with them. I found them rather ripe and saucy, or perhaps that is just the way the troupe played them.

In the interval, the cast mixed with the audience who were seated rather uncomfortably on plastic stools. Two of them had a guitar and serenaded members of the audience. They had picked well-known pop songs and re-written the words. They were very funny. Joe got picked on. You can guarantee that in any crowd Joe will be picked on. He has that kind of look about him.

The song was "Stuck in the Middle with you." The line "Jokers to the left of me, jokers to the right of me. Here I am stuck in the middle with you." was re-written to "Shakespeare to the left of you, Shakespeare to the right, but here you are stuck in the middle with Geoff". It was a good night

The other open-air theatre that I have been to is Shakespeare - Macbeth, in an ancient amphitheatre in Cyprus. The atmosphere was awesome.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The hairs on my head

I was reading in Luke 12:7 "Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered." God's knowledge about me is very detailed. I find that quite amazing that all the stuff that God knows about me doesn't put him off loving me.

A year or two ago I cme across Bill Hybell's book "The God You Are Looking For". It is aimed at two different levels. One level is directed towards people who have no knowledge of God at all and introduces them to some of the wonderful attributes of God. The other level is aimed at people who do know God but would like to know him a little deeper. I fell into the latter category.

I can remember some of the books I read a t university becoming very dog-eared with over use. Bill's book has become like that! It is so easy to read and so inspiring. I was so inspired that I adapted it into a series of lessons for Sunday School. Preparing the lessons involved me reading and re-reading his words, and reading and re-reading the scriptures that he used to illustrate things. I grew just as much as the children I was teaching!

The first lesson was based on the truth that God knows everything and I wrote a little song to go with it! Digging out the words and humming the tune is bringing it all back!

My God knows everything
Everything! Everything!
My God knows everything
Everything about me


The freckles on my nose
The bunions on my toes
He's counted the hairs on my head


The words I'm gonna say
The things I'll do today
God knows the thoughts in my head

My God know everything…

Monday, April 11, 2005

"One at a time, please!

I re-acquainted myself with Living Well - knowing that I am perhaps living too well - eating too much and exercising too little. The date on my red card showed that it was sometime in November since I had last visited the gym. That is not to say that it is the last time I went at all - I don't always visit the gym, just the pool!

All of this is because my niece is getting married next summer. I have until then to shift some of the spare pounds and ounces - OK and yes stones too! It has taken years of neglect to get myself into this shape! I can remember one lunchtime discussion in the staff room about weight. I think someone said that a woman puts on half a stone every decade - well, it took me a lot less time than that to do it! Half a stone every decade sound rather much like the speed with which I will be able to loose the weight!

The Kerr family name is at stake here! It is kind of comforting to know that each of my sisters is embarking on the same quest. We were all born with a healthy appetite and very little self-control! There will be an unspoken competition to see who can look the slimmest come next summer!

I will not mention my starting weight. Stepping onto the scales, the old joke of "One at a time please!" comes to mind!

I wrote a poem, ages ago, about my Living Well experience. It has been a while since I posted a poem!

In the make believe world
Of a keep fit club
I row an invisible boat
Straining my ears to hear
The gentle lap of water
In the imaginary river
The man beside me
Rows faster
I have lost sight of him
Around the next bend.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Asking and telling

I think it was Thursday or Friday that Mark, the pastor of our church asked me to prepare a sermon "just in case" for Sunday. A friend who was lined up to speak had not been well, and "just in case" she wasn't able to be there, Mark was just covering all the bases! I kept telling myself it was "just in case" so chances are I would not be called upon to bring it.

I have been following a reading plan with some friends, designed to read through the Bible in a year. Very often I am one or two days behind and end up at the weekends simply catching up. I generally get behind because something catches my interest and I go off at tangent! My most recent tangent was thinking about how quickly the Israelites forgot. After the death of Joshua, they the next generation forgot all about the things God had done and went off and worshipped idols. It just took one generation.

The Passover that was designed to help them remember was no longer celebrated. There was supposed to be a "When your children ask you…..You will tell them." That kept the whole story alive. Except no one did any asking and no one did any telling. In my sermon I said that we did not do enough asking and telling, and talking about what God has been doing in our lives.

Afterwards, a friend, Jenny came up to me to apologise for not sharing at the front when she could have done. A couple of weeks ago, at a prayer meeting, we had been praying for her son, Leon. He seems to lurch from one chest infection to another and Jenny was not getting any help from doctors. She was made to feel that she was an over anxious mother and that Leon just had a virus which he would recover from soon. We did pray for Leon's healing, but also that she would find a sympathetic doctor - one that did not dismiss her concerns so casually. She had taken Leon back to the doctor earlier in the week. He had been given a thorough examination and specific problems had been identified. He had slightly swollen tonsils and a sinus infection. The doctor prescribed a course of medicine and Leon is making a proper recovery.

I don't have a problem with doctors - the author of one of the gospels was a doctor. He spent a lot of time with St Paul who was not a doctor. Between them both lots of people were healed of illnesses. For some it was through the touch of Paul, or his shadow falling on them. For others is was the careful examination and treatment with medicine from Luke! Just as God had given the gift of healing to Paul, to do it with touches and shadows, God also gave the gift of healing the Luke through his knowledge of medicine.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

God rubbing off onto me

I have been reading I Samuel and have got to the bit where the Israelites demand a king to lead them. Saul is chosen out of all the people, someone who is head and shoulders above everyone else. With the beginning of the monarchy, Samuel as a judge is no longer needed. Then Samuel gives his farewell speech.

You can tell from the way Samuel talks to the people that he has spent a lot of time with God. The grace of God just oozes out of him. He tells them just what having a king will be like and he doesn't pull any punches. He does not paint a bad picture deliberately to put them off, but just tells them the truth. In Deuteronomy there is a passage about the King, and God's instructions for the King - but God and Samuel are realists - the King will not be like that. Samuel tells them that it is something they will regret. He also tells them that God is not happy with the situation. The king isn't going to be able to do anything more for them that God cannot do already.

Then we get the grace - the reminder that even when we make bad choices God doesn't abandon us. There is always forgiveness that comes with repentance. Samuel goes on to say that he will continue to pray for them and continue to teach them - that he won't abandon them either.

It must have been a disappointment to Samuel that the people did not share the same kind of relationship with God that he had. They didn't see God the way that he did. He had not even been able to pass it on to his children.

I have that grace inside that allows people to make their mistakes and that causes me to still care for them and pray for them. I have that grace because I have the Holy Spirit residing within me - but I don't always allow it to flow and colour my actions. Like Samuel, I need to spend my time with God so that his compassion and lvce for people rubs off onto me.

Friday, April 08, 2005

9,8 and 35

The Grand National is the big race tomorrow. Most of the horses I pick tend to fall at the first fence and rarely reach the finishing post - a bit like myself I suppose! The one exception was a few years ago. I could tell you the year, but in doing so I would have to tell you old I am and I prefer not to remember that! Suffice to say it was one of the big zero birthdays that people have when they reach a certain age. We were on holiday in Paris at the time. I like to drop exotic place names in every so often.

For the past few months on my school computer on the scrolling screen saver I had the words "Earth Summit for the Grand National." I liked the name. He had been a previous winner for me in other races.

Well, just before leaving for our holiday we put our Grand National bets on at the bookies. The phrase book, or my school girl French lessons did not cover a trip to a French bookmaker. I think I had a good price at 14 -1. It was well fancied on the day mainly because it had rained a lot and Earth Summit liked to plough through mud.

Joe had put his money on Suny Bay (or Sonny Bay, or Sunny Bey, you get the idea - it was a few years back). Normally he puts on a forecast - our two horses to come first and second. He didn't do it that year - the one year when it happened.

It was a mud bath out there. Very few horses made it round and Earth Summit came first with Suny Bay romping a long way behind him at second. I can remember standing beside a newspaper kiosk near a metro station, finding out that I had backed a winner and expressing my joy in a very visible manner. I like to think I have grown up a little since then.

9,8 and 35? A number of years ago, Joe, had a dream. It was very vivid and he saw the winners of the Grand National. He didn't see the names, just the number of the horses - horse 9, horse 8 and horse 34. He was so convinced that they were going to win that he persuaded all the people in the office to do a tricast - betting that those three horses would be first, second and third. It didn't happen, but undaunted, one of his office staff reminded him that his dream did not include the year that the horses won - it could be next year, or the following year or ten years down the line. So every year, no mater the form of the horses, those three numbers are remembered!

Betting? Is that allowed? Isn't gambling a sin? does say in Pslams somwhere not to put your trust in horses!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Devil and the Wolf play chess

Here's a story to capture the imagination and put people off playing chess! The year was 1406 or thereabouts. You would be forgiven for thinking that the Wolf of Badenoch was the last of the hairy species to roam the Highlands, but he was Alexander Stewart. By all accounts he was not a nice person. His wife left him, I think, and he didn't take kindly to her leaving. He went on a rampage, killing people and burning down churches. His father forced him to make a public apology for his bad behaviour, which he did, but he wasn't very sincere about it.

One night while he was staying in one of his many castles, there was a knock on the door. It was a tall stranger who was dressed in black. The villagers crept up to the windows to get a better look and saw the Wolf and the dark stranger engrossed in a game of chess. The game went on for several hours. The stranger made a move, gave an evil laugh, cried "Checkmate! He rose from the table. Immediately the whole room was enveloped in fire.

The next morning the Wolf's men were discovered outside the castle walls. They were all burnt to a cinder as if they had all been struck by the lightening. In the banqueting hall they found the body of the Wolf. Although his body appeared unmarked, the nails in his boots had all been torn out.

"It is said to this day the Devil can sometimes be seen in the ruined castle, endlessly playing chess for the Wolf of Badenoch's soul."

And how did I come across this fascinating story? Joe and I had been on a car tour around Nairn. Following the carefully written instructions in the book, we came across Lochindorb, this amazing loch high up in the hills. It was very windy. In the middle of the loch, on a man made island, are the ruins of one of the Wolf of Badenoch's castles. It wasn't the castle where he apparently played chess for his soul, but it fired up my imagination all the same.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Just call me Biggles

My birthday was last month and one of my presents was a flying lesson! The day we were due to go out, sometime mid March, it was too wet and blustery - so we postponed it. I spent the whole day at school looking out of the window, and checking my watch more often than I usually do.

It was planned for late this afternoon but we got a call this morning to see if I would like to go up at lunch time. The pilot wasn't sure if the weather was going to hold up for that long. It is quite windy and blustery but with bright sunny patches. Apparently there is a special fliers forecast that tells pilots more details about air speed and wind direction and cloud density. Such short notice was good as I didn't have time to get nervous.

It wasn't a big plane. I managed to trap my finger in the door trying to get in. I read through all the checks that had to be made before starting the plane up, and more checks once we had taxied down the runway. It was very repetitive, but there again I suppose it has to be. As my husband has said often this week - "There is just a thin piece of metal between you and oblivion." He also said that he wasn't worried about my safety, but the pilot's. He can always find another wife, but doesn't think he will be able to find a computer consultant to match Chris. Chris works with Joe and flies in his spare time.

Flying is a solitary habit. I asked if he made friends with the other pilots back at the hanger (?). He says that they just clock in and head out to their planes. It was fun. It was blustery but sunny. I got to fly for about fifteen minutes! Living in Scotland, we got to see some superb views of Loch Ness and snow covered mountains. Being small I couldn't really see above the instrument panel. He said that the instrument panel was actually more important than being able to see out the front window. You kind of had to dip your nose - the plane's nose to see where you were headed every so soften. Dipping it's nose, while at the same time raising mine to look over the control panel was quite challenging. I think I kept us mostly in the right direction. Every so often Chris would say, "You have the controls" and I would have to repeat "I have the controls" - just so he knew that you knew you had the controls!

Looking at things from above is very interesting. Imagine looking down the way to see a rainbow beneath you! Seeing landmarks of the city was like looking at a model of the town. It is such a different perspective. You see where things fit in. For example I never knew just how close together the canal and the river flow through the city. I also did the predictable thing of flying over my house and taking a photo.

I also got to taxi along the runway once we had landed. Despite being as close to the pedals as possible, only the tips of my toes were touching. We swerved all over the place, narrowly missing a bunch of seagulls who thought they were sitting a safe enough distance away! Had them fooled! I have to say that not once did I catch the edge of panic in Chris's voice, not once did he need to wrench the controls from my hand - he did slap my hands a couple of times when I thought "I have the controls" when I didn't!

I thoroughly enjoyed my hour in the sky but I have to admit that I am still a bit queasy - (I get travel sickness on escalators!).

I don't think I have got bitten by the flying bug. It was nice but not something I want to add into my already busy life!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Sesame Street gardening

In true Sesame Street fashion - today comes to you courtesy of the letters G for gardening and B for blisters and the number 0 as in zero progress! Beautiful weather brings out the lawnmowers, but our garden needs more than a quick up and down with a lawnmower!

We are kind of in a remodelling mode. We have tried the jungle look for a while now and it would probably look just fine next to the Amazon forest, but being slotted in between two very garden proud neighbours it just looks a mess! The man next door has a head start in that he works for the district council nurseries - a man who knows his bulbs. Incidentally I once mistook a daffodil bulb for an onion - trying to finely chop it proved quite interesting. It was very sticky inside and didn't smell like an onion.

The man on the other side doesn't work for the council nurseries but he is great pals with the man who does and they exchange cuttings and garden gossip over the deep grass of the jungle that separates them! They are both glad that there are solid brick walls and not just a wooden fence that confines our weeds to our bit of land.

Inside of me there is a heart of a gardener straining to get out - deep inside. I appreciate flowers and shrubs and lots of colour, but I just don't know how to make it happen. I buy plants, I plant plants and then I accidentally dig them up because I forget they are plants and not just weeds! There may be a heart of a gardener, but there are no green fingers to go with it!

I would help if I didn't have a hundred other things I prefer to do instead of weeding. It is time to face up to it that gardening is not my passion. I refuse to sink to the level of gravel and tubs.

One thing I like about living in Scotland - the rain! It gives me the perfect reason not to do the garden.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Life is Fragile

I think there must be nothing harder than knowing that you are loosing a loved one. The times that I have lost someone, I have never been around to see it happen. There has just been the phonecall. To live with someone a see their life slowly unravelling has got to be hard. Everyone talks of the Pope's death as being something to celebrate. It happened at the end of a long and fulfilling life. No doubt, being the Pope, he had access to the best medicine and treatment available.

A friend of ours passed on the news that her husband died. It wasn't at the end of life life but in the middle. They had just planned major enovations to the house when he was diagnosed with cancer. It wan't a slow process but swift and vicious. It is just not fair.

My mother in law is another person whose life is unravelling. She had been diagnosed with some form of dementia. Everyone is a stranger to her.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

"Badges? We ain’t got no badges."

More accurately "Badge? I ain't got no badge." I always seem to miss out on the fun things they do in the main meeting because I am in Sunday School! Today, the pastor was giving out badges - empty blank badges that you could fill in yourself. I have yet to listen to the sermon (Sunday school teachers get given a copy of the sermon, so they don't miss out) so I don't know where the badges bit fits in. All I know it I didn't get one!

I was trying to get my husband to tell me about the badges bit. Apparently they paired off to pray with another member of the fellowship. Everyone has individual strengths, gifts or character traits and these formed the focus of what was written onto the badge. He was told that he was "sound" which made him feel very boring. He is not a "fad" person and doesn't join in the "in thing", in every day life, but also in church life. He has very strong views about things and considers things thoughtfully. I suppose that is what was meant by "sound".

I am not sure I actually want a badge. I don't want to be labelled. And yet I do like people to recognise things in me and encourage me. You don't need a badge to so that!

I remember getting two badges in Brownies - I joined late in life and didn't have time to earn an armful. One was an entertainer's badge for which I danced an Irish jig and recited a poem - not at the same time! The other was a hospitality badge that was earned by making a cup of tea and offering a plate of cakes around. I seem to remember washing socks, but I think that is perhaps taking hospitality a bit too far. That might not have had anything to do with the hospitality badge now that I think about it.

Surfing around the Internet, the British museum had a display of various badges and blurb about badges. "A badge is an unspoken message: an expression of identity, a signal of membership, a declaration of loyalty or a statement of belief."

I guess that means that a badge is more than just a label. I want something that is more than just a label.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Have you seen the Gowk?

Most people when it comes to borrowing stuff from their neighbours limit it to garden tools, screwdrivers and the occasional bowl of sugar! We borrow their kids! Seriously, for those of us that don't have kids of our own, limits are thrust upon us of what we can or cannot do! Earlier on this week I noticed an event advertised by the Forestry Commission - a storytelling walk in one of the local forests. I love stories and I love forests. I love the walking part of it as long as it is slow enough and not too steep. The poster specified that children were to be accompanied by adults. It didn't say that adults had to be accompanied by children, but I rather thought that was a given.

We have a number of friends who lend us their children. One set were visiting Granny, so were unavailable. Another set were recovering from heavy colds and probably better off under their duvet covers watching videos. This left us with the twins Emily and Sarah. I am so glad that their parents do not dress them alike, but even so you have to keep reciting the mantra "Emily is wearing the pink cardigan!"

I knew that the storytelling walk was just my thing, but Sarah and Emily were not so easy to convince. Of course we all know the animals are puppets and don't really talk but I would rather not be told that every time we encounter one! I want to imagine and dream and they insist on being realistic and practical!

It was good fun rooting around under fallen tree trunks, rocks and stones for worms and beetles to pretend to feed a toy badger to get him to tell us a story! Making boats out of leaves and twigs proved a little more difficult. These were floated down the stream to persuade a salmon to tell his tale. The best bit was pretending to be bats and carefully listen to the sounds around us and draw pictures. Just how do you draw wind?

The last clue to finding the gowk involved finding a tree of knowledge. According to the butterfly we were to look at the tree and we would see the gowk. It turned out that the forest rangers had strung hundreds of mirrors from the branches. I saw it coming but Sarah and Emily had come up with the idea that the gowk was made up of bits from each of the animals we had met in the forest! Their idea was much nicer and looking in the mirror hanging from the tree at my face reflected back, I felt I had been robbed of a proper ending!

Once back in the car, my two borrowed companions who had been so quietly detached for most of the afternoon erupted into tumbling commentary about every story and every animal.

There are times when I really seriously miss not having children!