The Sabbatical begins

It seems such a long time ago. Months, maybe a year or more? Certainly the notion of a sabbatical has been bubbling away for ages and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the time. For ages I’ve wanted to put together a Lent book/blog with 40 paintings or pieces of art along with a wee meditation. I’m a visual person, you see. Yes, I love words but especially if they paint pictures. And I love art. So my plan was always to visit lots of art galleries and rummage through all my saved pics and postcards for 40 images that I could use as a guide for Lent. Something that I never have time to do when daily ministry gets in the way: the phone calls, the visiting, the liturgy, the meetings, the prayers… all the things that make up my life. So about a year I spoke to the Bishop and started making the plans, applying for grants, speaking to arty people for advice.jozef-israels-peasant-woman-by-a-hearth

I’d thought perhaps a trip to Florence and the Uffizi and perhaps Paris or Amsterdam. But the advice I was given was to go to New York and Washington. Now I shall share with you that the USA has never held any appeal for me. Nothing against them but its just not a country that I needed to visit. Give me Italy any time. But one friend after another told me how much I would love New York. And they have a great collection of art, especially Dutch and Renaissance which are probably my favourites. Gradually the excitement grew and now that Lent and Holy Week are over I am fairly bursting with alleluias and anticipation. I spoke to Son #2 about New York some time ago because he’s been twice and now he’s coming with me too which will be lovely. That will help me find our apartment again, my sense of direction not being great. Then when we looked at the map and found out that Philadelphia is in between NYC and Washington we thought we might have a few days there too.

This week is for planning and packing. Then next week we fly to NYC then Philly and Washington, traipsing round art galleries and museums and looking at lovely paintings. Huge joy! After I get back I shall head south to Gladstone’s Library to do some writing and choosing the art I love best. Perhaps there might even be a trip to Amsterdam too. Then 12 weeks from now I shall be back at work once more. 12 weeks!

I have some lovely clergy friends who are looking after my wee flock while I’m away, and I know my wonderful ministry team will take care of each other. And it will be good for them too – having a break from my preaching and nonsense. Of course, there’s always the risk that they won’t want me back…

sabbatical1Thanks also to the Alistair Haggart Bursary Fund, the Sons of the Clergy and my own diocese for grants, and my lovely flock and friends who have been so generous with gifts enabling this trip of a lifetime. I’ll be blogging, tweeting and FBing as I go so look out for those. Now back to the lists…

In which Ruth ponders Passiontide

Tomorrow we enter Passiontide. The statues will be draped with purple cloths and my heart will soar. Yes, I know it is meant to take away any distractions but I love the shape and colour of those purple bags. That one hides the processional cross – a fleurette cross, I learned recently. That one covers the crucifix which looks over me as I preach. I feel its presence still. I can almost hear the solemn pounding of a drum as the build up to Holy Week begins.

A scream rings out. It was me! I’m sure if my GP was to look back through my notes he’d find that I visit round about the same time every year telling her/him that I can’t sleep, I’m really stressed, I’ve come out in a rash, I can’t breathe. One day they will suss that there is a pattern to this and they will wisely nod and say, “It’s okay Ruth. It is just Holy Week coming. You’ve done it before and you’ll do it again. Practice mindfulness, make a list (many lists), pray for your photocopier and all shall be well.”

It is also at this time that I want to make my little flock promise that they won’t miss a single service. The drama of the most wonderful story is about to unfold before your very eyes and you really don’t want to miss any of it. If you miss a bit it would be like someone had cut a chapter out of that fabulous book you’re reading, or had removed all the blue bits from that intriguing jigsaw. Please promise me you won’t miss a bit of it.

There will be much to feed you. Processions with palms, a pilgrimage of Stations, silence and music, study and chatter, feetwashing and a shared meal, drama worthy of the greatest theatre, and a gruelling three hours of Passion. And hot cross buns too!  All of this we must undergo before we can truly ‘get’ the joy of Easter and the Resurrection.

I’m excited that this year we also have the Bishop visiting on Holy Saturday to baptise and confirm. Some of my little flock have said they’d like to affirm the vows they made at their own confirmation because of the Pilgrim Course we’ve been doing. I well remember my own Confirmation classes with Fr Emsley… there was much Church history, as I recall. But at Candlemas I felt like a nun making solemn vows to promise something beyond my comprehension. And it is still beyond my comprehension…

Cross purple cloth

The Vestry Away Day

I’ve always encouraged Vestry Away Days. However, I can tell that they’re not always as enthusiastically met as I’d hoped. I know that when you work 9-5 Monday to Friday the last thing you want to do on a Saturday is go off with a bunch of churchy folk and talk even more church than you do at Vestry meetings. And I realise that not everyone is as mad about the church as I am. So I was very conscious that there may have been a few wee grumblings about our Away Day yesterday. But not on the way home, I am delighted to say.

Over the years I’ve taken some myself but I know its always better if I can get a facilitator to lead the day. An outsider always brings something fresh to the proceedings. Usually this means sitting down with that person and discussing what we hope to get out of the day. This year I sent out an email asking the Vestry what they wanted from our Away Day. I got two replies. And one who said all she could think of just now was boilers. (She’d been having a tricky time with the Gas Board, I seem to recall.) Like I said, they are busy people. So I sat down with our lovely Facilitator Claire, and told her what I hoped we’d get from the day. She came back to me with a plan and after a little tweaking it looked all good.

I know that my Vestry are busy people. They are all folk who are doers. This is a bonus in a Vestry, let me tell you. And a lot of their ‘doing’ involves food. They bake for our Afternoon Tea Services for the housebound and elderly, they cook for our Soup and Pud Lunches, they provide food and crafts for our Sales. They are always doing. So when Claire said she’d provide lunch as well for our Day, so that they could be served instead of serving that seemed just right.

So we headed east, I think, and arrived for coffee and cookies and looked around the hall where areas were marked out for worship and inspiration and writing. In the morning we thought about what was good in Christ Church, what we loved about it, where God was in it and in our community. We did this by praying, by walking, by drawing pictures, by talking and by scribbling thoughts down. We sparked off one another and one thought led to another.

Lunch was homemade soup and homemade bread and the conversations continued. Then we looked at how we could 2015-02-28 14.51.00share our enthusiasm about Christ Church with our community. Small groups went off to talk about our new Noticeboard, the Website, the Church appearance, and PR. We came back brimming over with ideas ready to be put into action. Then came the delightful Kelpie-shaped scones with jam and clotted cream. I don’t think there were any left over. We finished by going over to church for a Eucharist where we served one another the bread and wine.

On the way home one person said she really wasn’t looking forward to the day and had swithered about calling off. But she was so glad she hadn’t as it had been fun and she felt really inspired. There were lots more positive comments – especially about all the hard work our facilitator had put into making the day a success. And of course we all got to know one another just that little bit better too. And I can’t wait to get all our many flipcharts back all typed up so that we can begin the work of being Christ Church in Falkirk.

The Minister’s Cat

Dear Margaret, my deliciously eccentric organist, passed on some Lenten reading to me after a conversation about our shared love of Timothy Radcliffe. There were some worthy Lenten books in there but the ones which really caught my eye were two little books both called The Minister’s Cat. One is full of delightful Scottish words like ‘bogshaivelt’ = knocked out of shape, and ‘kirkie’ = enthusiastically devoted to church affairs. The other is full of gorgeous poetry about cats.

The Minister’s Cat is…

…AN OMNIPRESENT CATMinister's cat

Obadiah’s on the sofa;
Obadiah’s on the chair.
No, he isn’t there in person;
But they’re covered in his hair.

Obadiah’s on the carpet;
Obadiah’s on the mat.
He’s perpetually moulting,
That infuriating cat.

Obadiah’s on my sweaters;
Obadiah’s on my suit.
When I’m going out on business,
I could kill the little brute.

Obadiah’s on the bedspread;
On the pillow as I sleep.
If he doesn’t keep his hair on,
I shall shear him like a sheep.

I’ve been asking Obadiah,
As he grudges me his purr,
In the name of all that’s feline,
Why he’s prodigal with fur.

Obadiah, to his credit,
Has a reason for the hair:
He’s afraid he’ll be forgotten
Any time he isn’t there.

It’s a token of his presence,
When he’s temporar’ly gone;
And a comforting assurance
That his mem’ry lingers on.

by Douglas Kynoch, Scottish Cultural Press, 1994

(For Obadiah read Lucy Pussy.)

In which Ruth goes on a silent retreat but is not completely silent

Yes, it is that time again. This week was the Diocesan Retreat at Whitchester led by Barbara Glasson, Methodist minister why_botherand author. I first came across Barbara when I read her books I am Somewhere Else and Mixed-up Blessing and loved them. Barbara set up the ‘Bread Church’ in Liverpool which was a perfect example of what seems to be called Fresh Expressions – an alternative way of doing church. The title of the Retreat was ‘Why Bother?

Now, dear reader, you will know that I find these retreats a mix of agony and ecstasy. Agony because of the enforced silence and the struggle which extroverts find without an audience and unable to get to know the other retreatants better. And ecstasy because I get peace and quiet to read and knit and watch people.

Many years ago I was convinced of the notion that diocesan clergy should retreat together. You get to know a lot about people in silence. And when the bishop comes too it shows that our leaders take it seriously too. I’m told in years gone by all the clergy came – all. Those days are long gone. Each year the numbers fall as more and more clergy find their own place to retreat – some abroad, some in convents/monasteries, and some who just don’t. The venue was blamed so it was changed and that made no difference to numbers. This year there were 2 stipendiary clergy and 2 retired NSMs signed up (and one had to cancel because of ill health) and the lay retreat at the weekend was not much better, so both clergy and lay were combined with a total of eight of us.

Next year I take over as Retreat organiser so any suggestions for encouraging folk back would be most welcome.

But back to ‘Why Bother’ and Barbara Glasson… On arrival we had a discussion about how we wanted the retreat to be. In the past we have had two addresses each day along with the Daily Offices and Eucharist. The rest of the time, including meals, have been in silence. This year we were asked if we wanted the same or something different. I really had to hold back on this one. Let others speak first, Ruth (I said to myself). Don’t bully them into what you want. Someone even said that it was the complete silence which put some folk off coming – especially people who live on their own. So it was agreed by the majority that we would have a discussion straight after the address on that topic, and that we could talk at the evening meal. If you wanted silence you could avoid the discussion and sit at a separate table and I think that worked okay. Well it worked beautifully for me. What glory, what joy. Often I’ve found something in the addresses that merited a good blether after and have been left to go and journal about it instead. Not always satisfying. This worked so much better for me. And as someone who eats alone it is such a joy to have company during the evening meal and the chance to chat. (And yes, I can hear my introvert friends silently screaming at their screens.)

Barbara based her addresses on being ‘bothered':

  • Who/what do we bother about?
  • Who/what should we bother about?
  • About clergy living with being bothered.
  • About bothering being part of the Christian vocation.
  • About bothering being caring and soothing but also unsettling and provoking.
  • About being partners in bothering.
  • Why bother to be/stay Christian?
  • How do we resource ourselves to bother?
  • How to be-other.
  • About being God-botherers and Gospel-botherers.
  • Is Mission bothering?
  • About finding confidence to bother.

There was a lot of bothering going on and it was all good. In fact, I know I will never hear the word ‘bother’ again without some of the retreat coming back to me.

I read a bit too – about Dying Well and about murder in a monastery. Perfect retreat reading. And I knitted.

book-chairI also dreamt about my dream retreat house which would have double beds, working en-suite toilets, meals on time, good decaff coffee and tea, beautiful chapel with gorgeous, cared-for things, lots of candles, decent showers and hairdriers, large fluffy towels, reclining or rocking chairs everywhere and an up-to-date library. For starters.

In which Ruth reads and reads and reads…

I’ve been on holiday this week for my post-Christmas ‘and relax’. Of course it never is a total relax because you have a whole house to tidy which has been ignored for weeks with all the comings and goings of the Christmas season. There is forgotten mail to deal with, letters to open, filing to be done, the Archers to catch up with, the photocopier to repair, and a whole host of other thankless tasks to undertake.

I had plans of course. Oh yes, I had plans. Of art galleries to visit, movies to see, family to visit. Not one of them happened. And they didn’t happen because I had to wait in for parcels to be delivered, photocopier repairmen to arrive, a new church noticeboard to arrive, and a son who hasn’t got his Christmas presents yet to visit. That left one day in which I was free to go out and it was blowing a hoolie and all I managed was a visit to papa in the Twilight Home for the Bewildered.

I did, however, manage to read. And read. And it was glorious. Want to know what I read? books open

First I finished Fathomless Riches by The Revd Richard Coles, he of Saturday Live fame. The sub-title of the book is ‘Or How I Went From Pop To Pulpit’ and tells of his life as part of the duo that was the Communards with Jimmy Somerville to CofE Vicar and media darling. Of course there was drug taking, unsafe sex, parties and naughty behaviour before his ‘conversion’ experience and a huge shift into the world of religion and then ministry. To his credit he doesn’t talk about others in his book, well not in a kiss and tell way which so many memoirs do. Nor does he hold back on his own ‘sordid’ past and I found so many ways in which this could have been my story too. (Without the pop star bit of course!) The conversion and subsequent journey to priesthood was almost identical to mine, although I never did ‘go to Rome’. So I enjoyed reading his pilgrimage immensely.

I read two Inspector Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny, one before my holiday and one during. I am reading them in order and trying to savour them but I always reach for them when I know I will have time to read them in one go, or at the most over two days. I read Bury Your Dead (no 6 in the series) which was quite different from the others in that very little was set in the village of Three Pines (which is a bit like Midsomer where a small village is struck by a million murders a week, or so it seems). I think reading them in order is essential because the you get to know the characters gradually and that knowledge is so important to the storyline. There are three stories going on in this book, one linked closely to the previous book which is another reason to read them in order. The next book A Trick of the Light is set back in Three Pines and revolves around the art world and also continues the development of all the characters we know and love. I loved this book especially the Alleluia moment at the very end, which will mean nothing if you’ve not read the others. I’m not sure exactly why I love these books so much. Usually I prefer something much more bloodthirsty but I think they create such visual images for me, and who could resist the descriptions of the wonderful food? And there are some lovely spiritual messages in them, although they are not overtly religious.

the beesNow the next book is highly recommended – The Bees by Laline Paull is a most extraordinary book, full of religion and fierce courage and feminism and spirituality and… bees. You will never look at a bee in the same way again, and if you’re not a huge fan of bees then you will be by the end of this book. If World Book Day was giving away this book I would beg to take part and thrust it into everyone’s hands and plead with them to read it. If I say it is a bit like Watership Down I don’t want to put you off if you don’t like books written from the perspective of a creature, but it is worth trying something you might not normally read. Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, born into the lowest caste of bees, only fit to clean. But Flora is different. She is a fierce bee who wants to learn, to explore, to challenge the hive’s mantra of ‘accept, obey and serve’, and she does with exciting consequences. Some have compared this book to The Hunger Games or The Handmaid’s Tale but it is much more. I really couldn’t put this book down.

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne was another Christmas book which I’d wanted to read since I heard the author speak on radio of his reasons for writing the book. I was a huge fan of his Boy in the Striped Pyjamas but this is much more adult and set in Ireland from the 1970s to the current time and explores the child sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a sad book and makes uncomfortable reading, but there is honesty and truth within it which makes it a must-read. If you are in any way concerned about the celibacy issue then this will confirm all your suspicions. And it highlights starkly the loneliness of ministry which many clergy suffer. It is a novel which surprised me and at the same time made me very sad.

So there we have it. My post-Christmas reading list. I’m trying to squeeze in the next Louise Penny one before I go back to work tomorrow. Greedy, or what?

glowing-book

New Year Revolutions 2015

Jumping on the blogging bandwagon of making some New Year resolutions (though Revolutions sounds more fun) for 2015. You should know that I am not very good at keeping them, however. Last year, or was it the year before, I made a resolution not to buy any more books until I’d read the all the unread ones I have. That lasted until May. And I still have a 6ft bookcase outside my study which is positively bulging with unread books. So that brings me to my first revolution:

books and coffeeReading
This year I shall put in my diary some time for reading. For the past few months it has taken me 4 weeks to read our book group offering and occasionally I can fit in another one but I read two pages in bed and fall asleep. As for reading theology and books to feed sermons… pathetic!  So this year I shall put some time blocked out in my diary and not feel guilty at all about reading. Which leads me neatly on to my next one…

Sabbatical
From 14 April to 14 July I shall be taking my first Sabbatical. 12 weeks of time away from the parish to restore, refresh and renew myself and ministry. For years I’ve wanted to put together a Lent Book/Blog using a piece of art each day with a meditation. I am a visual person and really look forward to gazing at lovely paintings and matching them with meditations for the 40 days of Lent. I’ve taken some advice and have been told New York and Washington are the places to go to see great art so that’s where I’m headed. Then perhaps some time in Gladstone’s Library for putting it all together. My Bishop tells me there must be some rest in there too and I’m not arguing with that. Of course this is all dependent on getting some Grants to help finance it so if you know of anyone who can help…

Health and Fitness
I know! Can you believe I even have considered including this? Last year was not a great year for health but was much improved when I was sent for Pulmonary Rehab at the hospital. 6 weeks of exercise and diet left me feeling so much better and my plan is to carry on with that in the new year. I’ve been referred to the local gym and some lycra may even be purchased. Steady, Ruth! I also have liver disease (of the non-alcoholic kind, she quickly added) and was given a scary warning about losing weight (not before time, I may add) so I need to continue to eat cottage cheese and resist all cakes and biscuits on church premises. I will need your help in this, so if you see me reaching for a wee slice of malteser cake you have permission to smack my hand.

Miscellaneous
I’d like to say I will spend more time keeping my study tidy and organising it better, spending more time visiting family and friends, learning how to crochet, avoiding wasting time on stupid computer games, spending less money on purple Purple-Leather-Handbaghandbags (how many purple handbags does one woman need? really?), making time for mutual support with clergy friends, tidying up my computer files which have been desperately needing doing since I got new computer and can’t find anything, blogging more on topical issues, not leaving my tax return till the last minute, etc etc. I’d like to do all these things but suspect they are an annual hope which take more effort than I’ve ever given. Maybe this year… Oh, and stopping smoking again. Yeh that.

The Entire Bible

There’s been a Facebook post going around which is just too good to lose.

HOLY BIBLE: the TL;DR version (too long; didn’t read)  BibleBirds-300x297

GENESIS
God:  All right, you two, don’t do the one thing.  Other than that, have fun.
Adam & Eve:  Okay
Satan:  You should do the thing.
Adam & Eve:  Okay
God:  What happened?
Adam & Eve:  We did the thing.
God:  Guys…

THE REST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
God:  You are my people, and you should not do the things.
People:  We won’t do the things.
God:  Good.
People:  We did the things.
God:  Guys…

THE GOSPELS
Jesus:  I am the Son of God, and even though you have done the things, the Father and I still love you and want you to live.  Don’t do the things any more.
Healed people:  Okay!  Thank you!
Other people:  We’ve never seen him do the things, but he probably does the things when no one is looking.
Jesus:  I have never done the things.
Other people:  We’re going to put you on trial for doing the things.
Pilate:  Did you do the things?
Jesus:  No.
Pilate:  He didn’t do the things.
Other people:  Kill him anyway.
Pilate:  Okay.
Jesus:  Guys…

PAUL’S LETTERS
People:  We did the things.
Paul:  Jesus still loves you, and because you love him, you have to stop doing the things.
People:  Okay.

PAUL’S LETTERS PART II
People:  We did the things again.
Paul:  Guys…

REVELATION
John:  When Jesus comes back, there will be no more people who do the things.  In the meantime, stop doing the things.

THE END

The 12 cats of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas when I brought home my tree
My 12 cats were laughing at megrumpy-cats-christmas-cards

On the second day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the third day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the fourth day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the fifth day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the sixth day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
6 fallen angels
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the seventh day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
7 half-dead rodents
6 fallen angels
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the eighth day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
8 shattered ornaments
7 half-dead rodents
6 fallen angels
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the ninth day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
9 chewed-through light strings
8 shattered ornaments
7 half-dead rodents
6 fallen angels
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the tenth day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
10 tinsel hairballs
9 chewed-through light strings
8 shattered ornaments
7 half-dead rodents
6 fallen angels
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the eleventh day of Christmas I saw beneath my tree
11 broken branches
10 tinsel hairballs
9 chewed-through light strings
8 shattered ornaments
7 half-dead rodents
6 fallen angels
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands
and my 12 cats laughing at me

On the twelfth day of Christmas I looked at my poor tree
12 cats a-climbing
11 broken branches
10 tinsel hairballs
9 chewed-through light strings
8 shattered ornaments
7 half-dead rodents
6 fallen angels
5 shredded gifts
4 males a-spraying
3 missing Wise Men
2 mangled garlands

and my 12 cats laughing at me!

(Source unknown)

In which Ruth goes to the gym

Yes, I bet those are words you never thought you’d hear from my lips. For the past six weeks I have been going to the gym. Gasp!  But not just any gym, oh no. This is a very special gym – a gym for old fat and skinny folk who have lung problems. I was referred by my doc some time ago because I have asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) which gives me lots of chest infections and breathing problems. When the physio suggested that this gym might be a good idea, I laughed. I laughed and laughed and coughed. Me at a gym? And you’re laughing too at the very thought, aren’t you? I can sense it.

Gym cartoonI use my car for everything, even driving about half a mile to get to the car park in town when anyone could walk there in minutes. In my defence this is because cold air and wind sets me off coughing and is bad for asthma and being so fat makes it exceedingly hard work. And then it becomes a vicious cycle – fat people don’t walk, right? And waddling is never attractive. But I was assured by the phsyio that there would be other people at the classes in the same boat – we’d all be wheezy, clutching our inhalers, and many would be overweight because of the lack of exercise and overuse of steroids.

So on 4 November I set off for the hospital gym clutching my bottle of water in ‘comfortable clothes and flat shoes’ with more than a little apprehension. The gym part would take up an hour and then we’d have a talk for half-an-hour when the second group would join us and then they’d stay on for the gym when we staggered off to our cars, wobbling on achy legs and wheezing like old crones.  I looked around my group and discovered that I was in fact the only overweight one apart from one man with a big belly which might have been a hernia. (The second group had loads of plump ladies, many of whom brought their own oxygen tanks, which beat any attention seeking I might have been planning.) My group was full of painfully thin old women with deep husky voices and smokers’ coughs. I was the youngest by about 20 years. We were nervous and shy with each other and very unsure of what this gym was going to entail.

Ruth the Physio had us sit in a circle for warm-up first. Tapping toes, stretching lunges, rolling of heads and marching on the spot and we all joined in awkwardly. This was all accompanied by disco music (which I will never hear again without starting the warm-up routine) and soon we learned who had rhythm and who did not. We also discovered that some just couldn’t do the exercises on the spot but traversed across the circle. Nobody got smacked in the gob which was a miracle really. After warm-up, we were shown the 14 exercises we would be expected to do each session: lifting weights; cycling; squats; steps; treadmill; wall presses; goalie (the most embarrassing one where you stand with your back against a wall, crouch and put your hands on your knees and then stretch out to the right as if catching a ball, back to knees, and then repeat to the left sliding up and down the wall as you go); etc. We were to begin with 10 of each and 2 mins on bike and treadmill and mark them on our sheet. On duty were Ruth the Physio and a scary pulmonary nurse who kept an eye out for bad wheezing and were ready to gently encourage us.

I began the 12 sessions with the remnant of a bad chest infection and was coughing like a dirty old woman. Several times I had to stop and have a good old cough and splutter and that’s when I learned that exercise is good for getting phlegm up. Yes, phlegm. A revolting word for something which we all get from time to time. I feel as if I am now an expert on the wretched stuff. But by the end of the first session I had managed all 14 exercises and had time to sit down and wheeze before our hour was up. I had quite a sense of achievement.

Then two days later we had to do it all over again but this time we had to increase the exercises a bit. We tentatively spoke to one another getting to know what our health problems were, and helped one another figure out how the bike worked and how to lower the seat. We stopped being quite so embarrassed about swinging our arms and sitting down and standing up at the same time. We learned that some of the weights and poles were heavier than others and all opted for the lightest ones. We learned that Jessie was too scared to go on the treadmill and preferred to walk up and down the gym floor. We encouraged one another, asking how long we’d managed to cycle for, and comparing heart rates.

The talks were all different and aimed at our health problems, and some were more useful than others. We learned about Gym smugour lungs and how they work or don’t; about diet and stopping smoking; about benefits and deep breathing; about exercise and relaxation. We took home DVDs with Angela Rippon encouraging us to exercise from our armchairs and CDs with a man speaking gently to us encouraging us to chill out. (No, I have never played the DVD nor listened to the CD but that will come as no surprise to you.)

After my first session at the gym I had an appointment in another part of the hospital for a check-up for my liver. I have something called PBC (Primary Billiary Cirrhosis) which was picked up in a blood test 5 years ago and for which I take four enormous pills every day and mostly ignore except for annual blood tests. But at this appointment I had a new kind of scan and found out that my old liver is not very wobbly at all. Wobbly livers are good, it would seem. Mine was like a lump of tough old gristly liver and riddled with fat. This is serious, you have NAFD said nice consultant. (I think this is Non Alcoholic Fatty Disease – NON Alcoholic, please note!) You must lose 4 stone. 4 stone! Just like that. (Not before time, I may add, but it still came as a bit of a shock.) However, it did seem fortuitous that I should be going to the gym at the same time as starting the radical diet.

And now here we are in my last week of hospital gym approaching my 12th session. I now cycle 10 mins and stride out on the treadmill with a gradient too! My cough has all but gone and I have lost 9 lbs. On Thursday at our last session I will be filmed for some new promotional material to encourage others to try the gym, and even heard myself saying yes to an introduction to the local gym where I’ll get a discount and can go exercise with the big boys and girls. I know! Who’d have thunk it?

I’ve made some friends too and you will be delighted to know Jessie now toddles along on the treadmill, Mary had her cataracts done and it was a great success, and Roberta is worried that it might not be a happy Christmas for her. And I can run up the stairs of the rectory and now speak when I reach the top. And I can walk into town, albeit with a scarf over my mouth, without having to stop several times and lean on the wall. Result!

And that, dear reader, is why I haven’t had time to blog for the past six weeks. It has taken quite a chunk out of my diary and I’ve had to work extra hard to catch up at this busy time of year. Will I go on to the ‘real’ gym? Who knows? Watch this space.

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