Clergy holidays (and what I did on mine)

Clergy do quite well for holidays. We get about 6 weeks a year, if we take them all of course. 4 weeks with Sundays and 2 without. I guess that kind of makes up for the fact that we mostly work 6 days a week at an average of 12 hours a day. (And still we feel that we haven’t done all that we should. ) So this past week has been my post-Christmass break. Every year I plan to block out weeks in my diary before they fill up and always I forget. So this was the first week I could manage after the busyness of the Christmass season. The baby Jesus can be so demanding, you know.

Although clergy do quite well for holidays, our stipend doesn’t really give us enough to actually go away on holiday. Some have found the secret locations of the cheap diocesan cottage which only those ‘in the know’ have access to. (I don’t think our diocese has any.) Some have holiday homes or caravans to which they escape. Some have working spouses who contribute to a nice holiday somewhere quiet. And some of us have none of these things and stay at home, lurking behind the net curtains (or purple voiles, in my case) jumping whenever the phone rings and having to check the answering machine anyway in case your old father has fallen out of bed again. I don’t really mind staying at home. The Lord knows there is always plenty to do. And I am never happier than with a pile of books and a few DVDs to watch. For the first 48 hours that is. Then I tend to get bored and wish I was back at work. I do love my work! But I know if we do that, we end up having nervous breakdowns and having to retreat to nice nuns somewhere to cry. (I’ve never got that bad yet, but if anyone knows where the nice nuns are, do let me know for future reference.)

The first book I read was a very short young children’s read-aloud one which I’d heard about called The Kissing Hand. Chester Raccoon doesn’t want to go to school. He wants to stay home with mummy Raccoon but Mrs Raccoon explains to him that it might not be as scary as he thinks. Then she tells him a secret which she learned from her mother, called the Kissing Hand. She kisses him on the palm of his hand and told Chester that whenever he felt lonely and needed a little loving from home he was to press his hand to his cheek and think, ‘Mummy loves you. Mummy loves you.’ And that very kiss will jump to your face and fill you with toasty warm thoughts. Etc etc. You get the drift. It made me think of God holding you in the palm of his hand so may find its way into a sermon at some point.

Holiday reading always has to include a whodunit. This one was A Very Private Grave by Donna Fletcher Crow, which I think was recommended in the Church Times but I could be wrong. Whodunits are good but an ecclesiastical whodunit is even better. This one starts off in Mirfield at the Community of the Resurrection with Felicity, a young American student studying there – one of the first women ordinands to do so.  So lots of connections for me so far. Then one of the lovely old monks gets murdered brutally and Felicity and Fr Antony, her church history lecturer, have to flee the College and try to solve the murder before they are accused of having a hand in it. They know that old Fr Dominic was exploring St Cuthbert’s life just before he died so they decide to trace St Cuthbert’s footsteps looking for clues. That takes them to Holy Island, Jarrow, Whithorn and Durham. All throughout you get excerpts from Cuthbert’s hagiography and the Venerable Bede’s opus as they follow the pilgrim’s way. So what’s not to love? Places I know, situations I can relate to – it all sounds like the perfect whodunit. Except that there was just a touch too much of Cuthbert’s story in this for me. Big chunks of the saint’s story were just a little intrusive to the story which didn’t really need so much detail. But heh, if you want a whodunit with lots of historical detail then this is the book for you. I enjoyed it and would certainly look out for more in this series of Monastery Murders (this is the first, I think).

Then I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish TV version).  I loved the Millenium trilogy which I read last year and had heard that the films were equally good. This is the version made for Swedish TV and I watched the dubbed version rather than subtitles because I was knitting at the time – and my knitting is not that good. It was really good – true to the book and pretty violent in bits. I’d definitely get the next two when they’re in the sales.

The next book was Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen. Whoever recommended this one to me, thank you. It was hilarious. I read it on my Kindle and am so glad because I know I will dip into it again and again. Janzen’s memoir is funny, sad, spiritual and educational. Just as she turned forty her husband left her for Bob who he met on Gay.com. Then she has a car accident and needs somewhere to rest, recuperate and put her life back together again. There is nothing else for it but to go back home to her mother’s welcoming arms in the Mennonite community where she grew up. Her mother is full of good advice, mostly relating to food and there are recipes at the back of the book if you fancy making Borscht soup or have any leftover cabbage. Yes, I did laugh out loud a few times and some lines were just so funny they had to be underlined for future reference (and for all Kindle readers of the book to see!) And for anyone whose husband has manic depression or leaves you for a gay lover, then this is a book you can relate to.  (And yes, mine was but he didn’t.)

The next watch was The Barchester Chronicles on DVD. I remember this being on the BBC way back in the early 1980s but I think I missed it for some reason. A very young and handsome Alan Rickman stars in one of his first roles as the odious Obadiah Slope, Bishop’s Chaplain in Barchester, and there are sterling performances from Donald Pleasence, Geraldine McEwan, Nigel Hawthorne and Susan Hampshire among others. The Church of England of the 18th century doesn’t fare terribly well in Trollope’s novels but there were some parallels for us to draw upon today. Ambition in the church is never a good thing. It was uncomfortable viewing but I just had to watch all 8 episodes in one go.  I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Finally, a book I’ve started but not finished. Where did I hear about this one? I can’t remember but I do know it was because it tempted me with stories of midwives, nuns, prostitutes and priests in the east end of London in the 1950s. Call the Midwife offers it all but so far I’ve only met the midwives and the nuns. It is quite incredible to read something so horrific that happened in your own lifetime and if you are at all squeamish about the symptoms of syphillis then this is not the book for you. I’ll let you know how the church fairs when I’ve finished it.

So there we have it. A little light reading, some enjoyable viewing, a few crosswords and not a lot of housework was done. And now back to work a day early because I didn’t get a chance to write the sermons or prepare for an ecumenical service I’m leading tomorrow. Hey ho.

 

The King’s Speech and The Crucible

I seem to go through phases of watching films and for past few years I really haven’t been into them at all. Partly, it is because I don’t really like going to the cinema alone so I wait and buy them on DVD and one of the boys has ‘borrowed’ the DVD player and I can’t be bothered plugging it all in and so they lie unopened. I really must start up the Film Group again and watch some movies with others.

But this week I have watched two films. The first was The King’s Speech which a few of us from Christ Church went to see. All the hype and all the blogs said it was wonderful and I would add to that. Mind you, I’d forgotten quite how loud it was at the cinema these days (and how expensive!) which assumes that everyone there is either in their dotage with ear trumpets of young and without hearing because of wearing headphones at loud volume. But soon you don’t notice the incredible volume and get into the film. Glorious it was too.  Colin Firth was excellent and his stammer very believable – and agony to watch. In fact, all the actors were superb and the little touches of humour made the subject matter much more bearable. Derek Jacobi as Archbishop Cosmo Lang was good and made me rather uncomfortable. I really enjoyed it and would watch it again like a shot.

The second film I watched was The Crucible based on the play of the same name by Arthur Miller.  It stars Wynona Ryder and Daniel Day Lewis and was incredibly powerful. Obviously I’ve heard of the play but had never read or seen it but this has made me want to see it on stage. (Miller actually wrote the screenplay for this.) It tells the story of the Salem witch trials and, let me tell you, the Church doesn’t come off terribly well in this. Ryder was wonderful in the lead role and a nasty piece of work. The feminist in me got more and more riled as the film went on because women in this Church and world don’t fare terribly well. In fact, they mostly get hanged. There! I’ve spoiled the ending for you! Worth a watch though.

Films

On my day off last week, in between making copious cups of tea (milk and two, please) for the joiner seeing to my new utility room, I realised as the day wore on that I was not actually having a day off at all. So I decided to watch a couple of films on DVD which I got for Christmass.

The Secret of Kells is a new animated film which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animation. It tells the story of a young monk named Brendan and how the Book of Kells came to be written. It is not your usual animation – more like the sort of thing you might see if you’ve indulged in too many magic mushrooms. Quite psychadelic, if you know what I mean. Very stylised. It only lasts for 72 mins but is quite exciting and I could have done with a wee bit more. I think young children would like it but there are some scary scenes.

The Miracle of Saint Ralph is a film which promises to touch your heart, mind and soul and is as funny and uplifting as Billy Elliot. Ralph is a 14 year old whose mother is dying of cancer. His father died a hero in the war and Ralph goes to a posh Roman Catholic school on the strength of that. His mother thinks that he is staying with his friend while she is in hospital but he is, in fact, living alone in the family house hocking bits and pieces to keep himself fed and clothed. Ralph is forever getting into trouble with the Head teacher and seems to be never away from the Confessional (mostly because of impure thoughts). One day his punishment is to join the school running club and he also hears about miracles in RE. His mother slips into a coma and Ralph decides that he will run the famous Boston Marathon and win, thus finding the miracle to cure her. I enjoyed it and I laughed and yes, there was a tear in my eye at the end which might have been worse if the joiner hadn’t interrupted. (The Certificate is 12 but there are quite a few mentions of sex in the beginning.)

The Road and other things

I don’t really make New Year Resolutions but I did plan of a little more reading time this year and also some family time together. I’ve learned that you really do have to diary it in to make it happen.

This week sons #1 and #2 and I went to see The Road. #1 had just finished the book by Cormac McCarthy and #2 liked the actor playing the lead role. I didn’t expect much except some time together, albeit sitting in a row not speaking to one another but sometimes that’s the best way! It is a bleak film in more ways than one. Post-apocalyptic world where a boy and his father trek across America trying to reach the coast. I’m not exactly sure why but think it was in the hope that there is a better world there with no cannibals and armed rebels roaming around. There’s not a lot of dialogue but there is a lot of dirt and darkness and hunger. I guess the film is really about the father/son relationship and how we can change or learn from the young. #1 and #2 had very different responses to the end which I won’t share just in case you are all going to go and see it on the strength of this review – one said he was glad it had a kind of happy ending, and the other was convinced the boy was going to be eaten. That kind of sums up my boys. One ever the optimist and romantic and the other… well, what can I say about #1 (yes, you guessed correctly)? Perhaps I’ll leave it at that.

I have just finished Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant which had been on my wish list for ages and then I grabbed a copy in Borders sale.  There are nuns galore and visions and anorexia and subterfuge and herbalism galore. I loved it.

Also read Shadowmancer by GP Taylor. For some reason I think this was written by a vicar and is primarily for children but like Harry Potter etc is a good romp for grown-ups too.  This one has pirates and darkness  and folklore and was a quick read. (Not as good as HP though.) Youngish teenagers would like it, I’d think.

I’ve now started The Handmaid’s Tale which just might be our next book group read…

Avatar

Day off today and some work just has to be done but Son #2 and I did manage a trip to the Omni to see Avatar. Must confess that I was only going to keep him company and see my first 3D film, but was immensely surprised to find that I was hooked from beginning to end.  The special effects were incredible and almost unbelievable for an old duffer like me. Are you sure these weren’t real people?

Loved the fact that men were warriors but women were the spiritual ones.  (Women got to fight too.)  Son #1 said that he’d loved the effects but thought the story was weak. We didn’t find that. In fact I loved the story – saving the planet, a beautiful aboriginal spirituality, anti-war, anti-imperial, and a little bit of loving too. What’s not to like?  And the people were absolutely stunning.

Girls, go and see it. If you thought this was just a movie for the boys, you couldn’t be more wrong.

My only complaint was the flipping cost of the whole exercise! You can tell it has been a while since I have been to the cinema but 2 tickets, some juice and some nachos (which were just vile and inedible) came to £24.  Then parking was £9.80. What if we’d had a meal too? Blimey! That would have taken care of this month’s stipend!!  I wouldn’t mind so much if the cinema had been warm but I had to sit with my hat and gloves on throughout the whole thing. Brr.

Holiday update

Spent an hour in the chair with the lovely Pedro this morning having a little root canal treatment. Nothing better for your holiday enjoyment. Of course, now that he’s done it he reckons it won’t hold so I need a cap or crown. I am rather weary of the whole affair and fed up eating soft food (missing filling on other side too).

So what else have I done with this well-earned holiday?  3 DVDs have been watched while it poured rain outside. They were: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (loved the book and love the movie); Doubt (scary Meryl Streep and scary story of nuns and a priest); Quantum of Solace (not short of car/boat/plane/people chases).

I’ve also done a bit of ferrying around of Son #1 and we haven’t been near a Historic Scotland site yet. Next week…

Oh yes, and I gave up smoking. Now on Day 5 and its a breeze. Thank you Champix.

Was James Bond gay?

I have been a fan of James Bond since I was a young impressionable teenager. My friend Joey and I used to spend a lovely Saturday afternoon at the Playhouse watching a Bond double-bill. (Remember when you used to get double-bills?)  Of course the problem with that was that one of the films was always Thunderball so I reckon I knew the script off by heart. It was Sean Connery that we were really in love with (pause to sigh) but I did enjoy all the books too. And I don’t think anyone can touch him for the part of Bond, although some of them are cute to look at.  However, it certainly never occurred to me that he may be gay.

In an old Sunday Times magazine I found the following comment:

‘The novels were written in the era of the famous homosexual traitors Burgess, Maclean and Blunt, when so many MI5 agents were gay that most people must have thought it a condition of employment. Note that Bond regularly drinks pink champagne.  And how come he has an instinctive ‘gaydar’, and is always picking up signs of homosexuality in other men, including the otherwise blameless jewel expert, Mr Snowman, in Property of a Lady? Psychologists maintain this is a sure sign of a closet case.’

Do hetero men not drink pink champagne? Hmm, I’m not convinced. What about you?

Son of Man

Watched the new Son of Man DVD yesterday and it was fabulous. It was shown at the Edinburgh Film Festival this year and I missed it so have been looking out for the DVD. The cast (South African) are from The Mysteries which is another of my favourites.

It tells the story of Jesus’ life set in modern South Africa. Do watch the extras too which explains it a bit more. The music is moving (and some will be recognised by those who have seen The Mysteries). The language is Xhosa and English with subtitles (not great ones – v small) but don’t let that put you off. The image of the Pieta will stay with me for a long time. And the angels were just divine.

As the blurb says : Mel Gibson look and learn.

Your church should watch it.

Watching

Back to hospital yesterday for my check-up and all is well. There is a wee bit of inflammation and they didn’t get all the cataract out but if it grows back that can be treated with lasers. Sounds fun. But now I can drive which is really good news. I can see for miles and miles and the colours are just spectacular. And I can now read with a pair of specs from the chemist – strength 2.5 (much less than before). Can only read for 15 mins at a time and then have to rest.

So, what have I been watching on TV for the past week? Well, thank you for asking. Here is some of the list…

Father Ted (1st series) – always a joy.

Umpteen TV programmes which had been saved which included some WW1 stuff from Remembrance-tide.

Regeneration – for the second time, but a great movie.

The Last King of Scotland – didn’t think I would enjoy it but did.

The Kite Runner – sticks very closely to the book and wonderful themes of atonement.

Books I have been reading

Of course the lousy weather for my holiday meant that I couldn’t get into the garden to read, but I did manage to snatch a few hours in between catastrophes to read the following:

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
This novel is set in Tuscany in the 1950s. A young English student is tasked with uncovering the mysteries of a 400 year old memorial garden at a castle owned by a friend of his Cambridge tutor. As the mystery is uncovered – details matching with various classical texts – our student hero Adam discovers that the present day family have their own secrets. He starts to unravel those secrets, discovering what really happened when the castle was occupied by the Germans in the war.

The writing is well researched and very intelligent. Mills creates an air of menace that gets stronger as the novel progresses. But his forte is in creating believable characters with shades of light and dark. As the finger of suspicion is pointed, the suspects don’t panic and wave guns around, they don’t seek confrontation. Arguments are avoided, issues skirted. This lack of action then adds to the suspense and intrigue.

It is not a quick page-turner kind of thriller book but I enjoyed it all the same, not least because it is set in one of my most favourite parts of the world.

Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier
I have been a huge fan of TC and have loved all of her books, esp Girl with a Pearl Earring. This one is set in late 18th century and revolves around the Kellaway family who leave Dorset and set up home in London working in a circus. Their neighbour is William Blake, radical and poet.

This is not one of her best books, it has to be said. It was okay but a little predictable and the encounters with Blake didn’t leave me feeling that I had learned much about him.

If you haven’t read any of TC, don’t start with this one.

The distance between us by Maggie O’Farrell
Now, this one I loved. I have only read one other of hers – The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – but suspect I will now look out all of her others.

It tells the story of the relationship between 2 sisters: Stella and Nina, who are Italian-Scottish brought up in Musselburgh in an ice-cream shop. Alongside their story we have the story of Jake, British but brought up in Hong Kong.

MO’F seems to enjoy writing backwards and forwards in little bits so it can be a bit confusing until you tune in. However I ended up liking the way it fed me the story bit by bit. There are lots of believable characters, although I could have done with some more development on some of them.

I couldn’t put it down and stayed up late trying to finish it, failed, and got up early to get the last few chapters done before breakfast. I loved the connections with Musselburgh, Edinburgh and Portie, of course.

I also managed a couple of movies, the best of which was:

The Bucket List starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman
Two men, one rich and one poor, meet in a hospital ward where they are told they only have a few months left to live. The poor one (Morgan Freeman) has made a list of things he wants to do before he kicks the bucket, hence the title. The rich one has a much more selfish list and the money to make it happen so they get together to fulfil their last wishes.

The film is funny and full of pathos, if a little unbelievable at times. I mean, would you go off with a man you’d barely met for your last few months on this earth, leaving your family behind? But of course, this is a film about people changing and the value of friendship.