My baby got married

One of the greatest joys in this job is being part of those big moments in people’s lives.  And it is especially joyful when those people are part of your own family.

On Saturday my eldest son Craig married Vicky, the light of his life. It has been planned since the beginning of the year and early on it was clear that this would be a wedding with a difference. For my son is not what you might call conventional and we love him for that. However it did make the planning just a little chaotic which does not always sit well with this control freak.

The liturgy was poured over and my wordsmith son had considerable input when it came to names for the deity. From the beginning they wanted to write their own vows but as the day got closer the vows were not forthcoming. It was only the day before that they arrived and were so beautiful that they instantly made me cry. Craig loves the sea and sailing so that was a theme throughout the day and also in their vows:

Vicky said to Craig:

I vow to always remain your anchor, to bring you stability in a chaotic world
I promise to be a safe harbour for you, through the highs and the low tides, to guide you through stormy seas to calm waters
And I vow to remain by your side on our adventure as we grow old together.
And Craig said to Vicky:
I promise to always fight my way back to you from dark mountains, valleys and seas
I promise to recognise the light in you, when the darkness is blinding
You are my lighthouse and my siren, and I will always come to your song.
The wedding was small and informal. No organist, no hymns. Vicky came down the aisle on her mum’s arm to the theme from the film The Life Aquatic and later we all sangalong to Kooks by David Bowie. Craig read two beautiful love poems to Vicky and everyone sighed.
Even my lovely sister who suffers from agoraphobia managed to dope herself up sufficiently to come and sit at the back, along with her son Stevie who suffers from CRPS and although he was in horrendous pain he managed to stay for the ceremony. I know Craig and Vicky were surprised and delighted they were able to be there.
Then some of their closest friends trotted down to the Voodoo Rooms (used to be the Café Royal) for a wonderful meal and my youngest son Gareth gave a hilarious best-man speech. Unfortunately the noise from the wedding next door was such that we didn’t hear all the jokes. And then we hit the dance floor and more friends arrived to share in the joy.
I didn’t stay long after that. Three glasses of Pinot Grigio was just too much on top of all that adrenalin! It was a gorgeous day, not without its mishaps, but a day which I shall never forget.

Getting to know one another

I’ve been in post here now for about 6 weeks and it has all been about getting to know one another. Names are a problem. Always have been. I remember faces but names are as File 16-07-2016, 14 53 29elusive as the petals of the fuschia pink poppy which appeared in my garden last week. But people are very nice and can usually tell by the pained expression on my face that I’ve forgotten their name. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of a certain Provost’s book and make badges for everyone to wear. Not snappy witty sayings badges but just ‘My name is …’

This week we had a Getting to Know You evening and produced a time-line of St Fillan’s with all the past rectors’ names on it along with their dates of office. Then we filled in all our names and when we came. It was such a good night and I loved hearing all the stories and got to know everyone a little bit better. This also gave the opportunity for my little flock to tell me why they’d come to St F’s and the stories began to echo over and over again.

‘We moved here with young children and looked for a church where they’d be welcome. St F’s was that place.’

‘We tried another church but it wasn’t child friendly so when we heard about St F’s we came here and it was great.’

‘I didn’t know about St F’s because its not on a main road but someone recommended it for its friendliness and I’ve never gone anywhere else.’

‘We moved here and it was our local church and at the end of our first service I was on the coffee rota and that was that.’

‘The people are so friendly, it is small and has a real family feel about it.’

Sadly those children have all grown up, many with families of their own now. But the loyal folk have stayed and know and love one another like a family. They look out for one another, they know each other’s stories, and they care. And that is why I love small congregations. Of course I’m sure large congregations do care for one another but there isn’t that same level of intimacy that you get in a small church where you know everyone. Everyone. And everyone hopes that one day St F’s will echo with the sounds of children once more. And we have one! A child was born on St Fillan’s Day on 20 June but I can sense that the hope is for more than just the one. Well who knows?

20160625_102343But it got me thinking… what if we didn’t worry about getting more children in? What if we accepted that we are a small, loving, elderly congregation who love and care for one another? Because it was the caring and the friendliness which made people stay in St F’s after their first visit. And that is just as attractive to many as a church full of lively toddlers. So I think we need to give thanks for our wrinkles and our zimmers and our creaking arthritis and rejoice that there are still some who can go skiing and ramble and do the rector’s garden. All are welcome in this place.

One of the joys here is a little group of women who go for Sunday lunch together. They each live alone and have nobody to go home and enjoy lunch with so they get together and go to the restaurant up the road where they are welcomed and known. I’ve joined this group and we have enjoyed sharing our stories.  It is wonderful ministry and I’ve got my eye on an old man who dines at the same time but sits on his own…

Of course amidst all the unpacking and settling my thoughts often stray back to another little flock in Falkirk. Birthdays and Year’s Minds in my diary pop up to remind me of those I still care for. It is so hard to walk away and not be part of the rest of their stories. I worry about M just out of hospital and is she doing too much? I think of J getting over treatment, of L getting used to living alone, of C worried about her sister stuck in an airport in Istanbul. Yes, Facebook keeps me up to date with some of them but not all. And I add them to my list of prayers and hope that our paths cross from time to time.

So my new little flock and I get to know one another better. We get used to those little ways of doing things. I’m told they are looking forward to change and so far, so good. There is lots of laughter around the place and that feels good. There is kindness and generosity and good works going on too. And I look out of my study window and see J sitting on her wee stool weeding my front garden and I give thanks. It feels like a good place to be.

In which Ruth ponders the big move

They came on Monday 30 May. Two of them. Both called Darren. They asked for no tea with two sugars. They did not desire a biscuit. (I had got supplies in.) They were not great conversationalists. But they were good packers. And pack they did. All day long. It was hot and sunny and they did nothing but pack my worldly goods into boxes.

The next day they came with two others. One had a bad back. They didn’t want tea or biscuits either. (I suspect they’ve had a bad experience in the past.) The weather was hotter and up and down the stairs they climbed carrying a whole load of junk until the van was full and they started on the next one. They never complained (in my hearing anyway) and were very professional. But I know what they were thinking. How could one woman have so much stuff? And it was after lunch time before they set off from Falkirk to Edinburgh, promising to get more men to help unload.

And I was left to look around a rectory where I was very happy. (Except for the cold and the choirnextdoor.) My study walls bore the marks of my cross collection, and in2016-05-28 12.00.06.jpg the hall I could see where all my icons hung. The carpet had a few tufty bits from when Rita was a kitten. And I think I left a fish in the freezer of the flat. Sorry about that!

After a big deep breath I jumped in the car with all the leftovers and drove to the new rectory, all fresh paint and new carpets and empty cupboards. For the next few hours I directed boxes to different rooms until you couldn’t see the new carpets any more. God bless Darren, Darren and his friends. (Yes, I gave them a tip.)

2016-06-11 19.31.30That was just over two weeks ago. Since then I’ve been Instituted surrounded by friends old and new, had a week off to unpack and sort, taken my first Sunday and midweek service, been to General Synod, met with lots of people whose names I forget, attended a Vestry meeting (90 minutes for those who keep score), loitered at a Toddler Group Summer Fair where a fire engine was promised and didn’t materialise (gutted), been greeted by many locals, been to Waitrose, moved some furniture around in the sanctuary, produced the long-waited pew sheets and learned a laser printer can do back-to-back printing, picked some rhubarb from outside my back door, had lunch with the Ladies Who Lunch, scared the Brownies, and never sat on my new garden bench once because it has rained every day. Rita kitten found a hidey hole and was terrorised for a few days and is now indignant that I’ve blocked her hiding place up with recipe books.

The new rectory is warmer and almost liveable. Yes, some kitchen drawers need to be rearranged and I’m sitting side-saddle at my desk because there’s a big box under the foot-well and nowhere else to put it. But apart from some minor things I’m almost organised. And now I can do church! Now I can plot and plan and design and imagine and love and proclaim and make friends and suss out talents and, from time to time, wonder how so-and-so back in Falkirk is getting on. It is all very exciting and has been very exhausting. And I don’t want to do it again until I retire!

 

Ascension Day and the St Cuthbert’s medals

Last year at Diocesan Synod Bishop John told us of plans to acknowledge outstanding service to the church by lay people and asked for suggestions of people who might be appropriate. Immediately I thought of some of my altar servers. Walter, Willie and Frank have, between them, served at the altar for over 200 years. Walter has served for 67 years, Frank for 56 years and Willie for over 70 (not all at Christ Church).

Last week on the Feast of the Ascension Bishop John came to present them with the St Cuthbert award and they proudly pinned the badges on to their cottas. It is an often unseen ministry, sacrificial and always done with great reverence. I know I couldn’t do my job without my servers propping me up, fetching glasses of water, setting up the altar, running out for new microphone batteries and forgotten sermons and spare specs, counting numbers, carrying Paschal candles without dripping wax (not always successful), reacting at the last minute to flighty changes in liturgy and all without a murmur of complaint.

And I know in the weeks and months ahead when Christ Church is in a vacancy and there are visiting clergy every week, they will gently guide them round ‘our ways’. And I know they will be appreciated just as much by them as they have been by me.

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In which Ruth looks back on her last Holy Week here

Holy Week is always emotional, exhausting (physically and emotionally), heart-breaking, agonising, messy, grumpy-making at times, and makes you dwell on loss when you’d really rather not. This was all especially true this year as it will be my last here as Rector of Christ Church Falkirk. All through the talks and discussions on the first three days of Holy Week I was so conscious that this would be the last time I’d prepare Holy Week services and try to find something new to say. But the longer you stay with a little flock, the more you get to know them and it becomes easier to ‘pitch’ the sermons, meditations, talks.

eye tearOne of the paintings I used at those first evening services was this one which I think is by Van Eyk. It is so beautifully painted, the detail so fine and realistic. I don’t even know whose eye it is. Anyone out there help? But the tear made real for me how hard it is to leave people behind and move on. When you live and work with a congregation, you get to know them so well. More than in any other job I think. You know their secrets, their hopes and desires, their weaknesses and strengths. You are emotionally involved with them and that is so hard to walk away from. So there have already been tears and I’m sure there will be more as the time comes for me to sever that tie.

On Maundy Thursday we usually wash feet here at Christ Church. They didn’t when I first came – they did hands, I think. But the bible says he washed their feet so that’s what I do. Well that’s what I usually do and it is incredibly moving (and painful when you’re an old woman who’s more than a little overweight!). But a few weeks ago I thought I was having a heart attack. It was all very dramatic and an ambulance was called and needles were plunged into my chest in case it was air in my lungs. It was none of these and I later found out I had costochondritis which is inflammation of the cartilage in my ribs. Not serious, not life-threatening, just very painful and annoying especially when you catch a cold after and sneezing and coughing feels like your ribs are broken! It won’t last for more than a few months (I hope) but I knew I couldn’t wash feet. So it had to be hands. And I know these hands so well from coming to the rail for communion. I know their hardness, their softness, their arthritic bumps and gnarls, their favourite colour of nail polish and all. I will miss those hands.

Then on Good Friday we walked the Stations of the Cross together which we’ve done often over the five and a half years since I came. Each time the journey has been different and moving and this was no different. Even the Stations themselves, given just a few years ago in memory of Fergie who used to sit in the back row and sadly died, were a reminder of the funerals I’ve taken here.

Nelia Ferreira No More The Passion of ChristFollowing that, we looked at many images of the Crucifixion to which I had written meditations. Oh that was hard. Hard to write and hard to say. Another image comes to mind, and it has tears too. It is by Neila Ferreira and is called No More, I think. Mary looking at her son on the cross and stifling a sob of agony. And that’s what I did too as I read these meditations. It is so hard to let go.

And then we went over to the hall to break our fast and scoff hot cross buns as we do every year. And nobody feels much like being jolly and chatty because of what we’ve just been through together.

On Holy Saturday we cleaned and polished and put the church back to some semblance of order for our Easter celebrations. It would be the last time I put the piggy bank under my prie-dieu, put my favourite altar cloth with the beautiful old embroidery on the altar, hoovered the plaster from the crumbly roof. All the wee things that are particular to this place. As I looked at the flowers being displayed I had a wee smile thinking of all the tulips they’ll have once I’ve gone, not having to worry about my phobia for the wretched things.

And then my alarm went off at 5am on Easter Sunday and there was a huge candle to be lit (after several unsuccessful attempts – again!) and a new Exsultet to be proclaimed, and bacon rolls to be scoffed. And I wondered what my new church will do in Holy Week and Easter and how they will celebrate the Resurrection. And in between the services one kind soul topped up the oil in my car and noticed the tyres needing inflated too so did that. Who will do that for me when I go?  Then the Easter bonnets2016-03-27 10.14.09 started to arrive and I dreaded having to choose the winner and those who wore them were glad of the protection when I got out my pump-action water pistol to make sure everyone got a soaking when they renewed their baptismal vows. And the children tooted their tooters for the Gloria all the way through the service and that was just fine. And our little table-altar with candles and chalice and paten was put in the children’s area and I watched them play with it throughout the service and gulped again at the thought that I wouldn’t be here to watch them grow up.

Then in the afternoon our frail elderly and housebound arrived for the Afternoon Tea service and I was accosted over and over again with shouts of “I’ve heard you’re leaving us! How could you?” And that was hard too because I won’t be here for the end of their stories, these lovely folk I’ve taken communion to in their homes. That Sunday was probably the last time I’ll see some of them so that was emotional.

And then I slept. I slept off and on in my chair and I ached. All clergy ache all over after Holy Week and Easter. I’m told its the same feeling you have if you run a marathon. I’m not likely to be able to compare but someone who has, says its just like that. And the rectory is a mess and there are no clean clothes and no food in the fridge and now I have to think about packing it all up. So that’s why this has been an especially emotional Holy Week. Oh don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some laughs. (Not in Holy Week, but throughout my time here.) More than some, actually. Lots. They’ve groaned at my bad jokes like nobody else. So it will be with a mixture of tears and laughter that I will remember my years at Christ Church Falkirk.

 

Rock Art

Many years ago I went to stay at Bishop’s House on Iona with friends. I can’t remember what was wrong with me (other than the usual) but I was unable to join them on long walks about the island. Instead, I would take my book and sit at the little beach at the foot of the garden. I might paddle, or sit in the shelter of some rocks and read, or just gaze across the Sound to Mull. Just like every pilgrim before or since, I gathered some pretty pebbles, knowing I’d probably never be able to carry them all home.

When I was in the local shop I spotted some enamel paints (the ones which model makers use) and thought I could paint something on those pebbles. I did some celtic crosses and friends’ names and handed them out to everyone as a wee memento. And ever since then I have painted the occasional doodle or word on little pebbles.

Then came Pinterest. If you don’t know about Pinterest, google it now. What an amazing resource. So I started to pin religious paintings, Scottish art, nice old gates and doors (a particular favourite of mine), funny quotes, nativity sets from around the world, cute cats because who doesn’t love a cute cat?, crafts to make for church… and that’s where I found my first piece of Rock Art. It was a rock, a stone, a pebble painted with beautiful patterns. I could do that, I thought. And so I did…

To begin with I made mistakes. But you learn from your mistakes. Here are some tips that I’ve learnt:

  • Acrylic paint is best but I found that a coat of Gesso does a wonderful job of preparation.
  • Brushes have to be just right and I found that brushes specifically for acrylic paints are best of all. I have a zillion brushes but I use only 3 or 4 – 2 flat ones and 2 tiny pointy ones.
  • Chalk or a pencil gives you the outline but pencil can show through light colours so don’t press too hard.
  • I use my old travel hairdryer to speed up drying if I want to move on to the next colour or do the other side.
  • Don’t put down newspapers but use plastic sheets because the paint can pick up newsprint if it’s not completely dry.
  • For outlines or fiddly bits use Sharpies pens.
  • I’m using a varnish for decoupage just because I had some but you can use exterior varnish if you want to put them outside or Mod Podge.
  • There are books you can buy for inspiration but I’ve found Pinterest has more painted pebbles than you can shake a stick at.
  • And if you make a mistake or the varnish makes the paint bleed (which it did with some black paint for some unknown reason) you can paint over and start all over again.
  • Let the shape of the rock dictate what it will become.
  • Sometimes the rock is so beautiful you don’t need to paint it all – just do a little bit.
  • If you live near a beach or river then you can find lots of nice rocks. Smooth surfaced ones are best. If you don’t have easy access your local garden centre should have River or Sea Cobbles which you should wash and leave to dry overnight before use.

Happy pebble painting! Here are some of my first attempts.

Cream and Red mandala first attempts flowers Mandalas owl and mandala Penguin and owl

Sabbatical Reading

When you have three months off work there is more opportunity for reading without falling asleep after the first page. I wondered whether I should read lots of theology because the Lord knows I have plenty of those gathering dust on my shelves but some wise person on Twitter said ‘Read fiction – you’re on sabbatical!’ so I took him at his word. And let’s not forget there is often tons of theology in fiction anyway. So here is my list of reading for the past twelve weeks. (The ones I can remember anyway.)

The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber. Missionary goes to evangelise aliens. 4 stars.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. 17th century Amsterdam, homosexuality, sugar and miniature things. 3 stars.

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor. Time travel, humour, easy to read and loads more in the series. 4 stars.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by E L Konigsburg. Children run away and hide in Metropolitan Museum of Art. Angels, Michelangelo and a fierce girl. 4 stars.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C Wrede. Another children’s book with dragons. Another fierce girl but she let the feminist side down by doing the dragon’s dishes. Good fun though. 3 stars.

Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime by Val McDermid. Fact not fiction but really interesting if you love gore. Never look at a fly in the same way again. 4 stars.

The Comforter by Margaret Hart. Written by a friend and interesting journey through counselling and spirituality and sexuality. 4 stars.

Unseen Things Above by Catherine Fox. Sex , bishops, feminists in the C of E. Wonderful romp. 5 stars.

The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader.  13th century, young woman holed up in church, world keeps interfering. 5 stars.

A Brush with Death by Elizabeth J Duncan. Wales, love and amateur sleuths. More in series. 3 stars.

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die by Marnie Riches. Amsterdam, Cambridge, secrets, fast-paced thriller. 4 stars.

Runaway by Peter May. Glasgow, London in swinging sixties, crime, putting things right. 4 stars.

The Faces of Angels by Lucretia Grindle. Florence, Boboli Gardens, honeymoon killer, art history, stalker and murder. 4 stars.

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh. Required reading for anyone who works in a hospital. Anyone. Not just doctors. 5 stars.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. A single parent, fabby children, haunted house, racism in the deep south, a trial. 5 stars.

The Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb.  1st in fantasy series, touch of T H White, bastard son, Wit and Skilling mind games, thrilling ending. 5 stars

Missing by Karin Alvtegen. Scandi crime, homeless woman, serial killer, enlists young boy to help so became slightly unbelievable, fast pace. 3 stars.

And a host of art books too many to mention.

So what good books have you read lately?

Our Book Group begged a break while I was away so they could read what they liked but I now have a few good suggestions for when I get back. Always open for more suggestions although this is my unread bookcase so I’ve plenty to keep me going. (Two deep on most shelves!)

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Is this the most expensive cat’s toy?

When Son #2 was looking after Lucy Pussy and Rita Kitten while I was sleeping in a library, they were rather stressed out. A cat-loving friend of his brought one of his cat’s toys round for them to play with. Since we got Rita Kitten Lucy Pussy has not deigned to look at a toy, let alone play with one. Which is a shame as she is now a fat-cat and could do with the exercise. So when Son #2 told me that not only had Lucy Pussy played with this new cat toy, but that they had played together, I was frankly amazed. This is something my heart has been longing for so I immediately asked for the name and set out to purchase said miracle toy.

Cat toySo for £12.55 (I see it has gone down in price today) I bought the originally named Cat’s Meow. It consists of a sort of robovac hard plastic thing with an attached parachute affair out of which peeks a plastic mouse’s tail. The motorised tail can be set to slow, medium, fast or random and whirls about under the parachute and cats can’t resist. So they say.

What they don’t say is that it needs batteries. A lot of batteries. And they don’t last very long. Son #2 informs me they are the rectangular ones (PP3) and you need three of them.  His friend got rechargeable ones so I had a look online but couldn’t find any chargers that did 3 at a time. In fact it wasn’t clear whether they’d even do two because they are all multi-chargers so I went to my nearby Maplins where a lovely lady said you could only get them to charge two at a time so I bought a multi-charger and three rechargeable batteries. Total cost £34.96. So that’s now a grand total of £47.51 for a piece of plastic, a flimsy tail, and enough batteries to keep my smoke alarms going for the rest of my lifetime.

Came home, ripped open all three batteries (yes, you know where this is going, don’t you?) only to find that it was not PP3 batteries at all, but C batteries that were needed. Back in the car to Maplins (but let’s leave the petrol costs out of this, shall we?)  ‘Fessed up to same nice woman that I was an idiot for listening to Son #2 and should have read the instructions and purchased three rechargeable C batteries for £13.98. A bargain as they were about to go up in price. (That’s £61.49 now if you’re interested.) Batteries installed and the motor began to whirr. And whirr and spin around like a demented robovac. That’s when I learned there is no off switch. Round and round it went as I tried to screw in the teeny tiny screw in and it kept falling out. Whirr, spin, whirr. Grab instructions to look for off switch on diagram. No, no mention of off switch. Whirr, whirr, grindy noise (that’s when I was leaning on it firmly to try and screw in teeny, tiny screw). Forced teeny, tiny screw in and know it will probably never, ever come undone again and cats appear to see what all the noise is. Cats get very excited when they recognise the Cat’s Meow and want to play before I even have tail attached. Learn from instructions that you need to undo top thing to fit parachute underneath and then reattach. This is not as easy as it sounds. Twenty minutes later we are ready to attach tail which is not easy as it whirrs round and back and forth and looks like it really shouldn’t be forced on too much or it will split plastic. Find off switch! Hurrah! (Just in case you are ever likely to purchase this most expensive cat’s toy the off switch is found if you press the speed switch from slow to medium to fast to random… and then once more for OFF!)

By now I am exhausted. And poor. The cats are champing at the bit. Put Cat’s Meow on floor and stand back to be amazed at their love of this new toy and first-time friendliness and camaraderie with one another. Lucy Pussy stands back and watches Rita Kitten romp round and round trying to catch the plastic tail. She looks disdainful. She looks sad. She looks as if her world has come to an end. Rita Kitten doesn’t care. She is having the time of her life. The parachute thing is getting bunched up but she doesn’t care one jot.

After five minutes Lucy Pussy casually walks over, closer and closer… will she play? Lucy Pussy sits on the parachute and the tail. All play comes to an end abruptly.

By this time I have been up and down, sorting the parachute, and am exhausted. The Cat’s Meow grinds and grinds trying to whip the tail around but Lucy Pussy sits resolutely firm. I nudge her off and finally they play together. For the first time in over two years. A miracle indeed!

It last all of 10 seconds when Lucy Pussy clamps her claws on the tail and game is over once more. She looks smug. Smugger than smug. Rita Kitten looks alert and ready to pounce. Eventually she gives up and lies down. She watches and waits. She has the look of Mary Magdalene about her. Has it gone forever? Will I never see the tail again? I think there is a tear.

And so it goes on. I push Lucy Pussy off and game begins again. For another 10 seconds. Repeat last paragraph again. And again.

£61.49. Dear reader, was it worth it?

cats playing

A feminist’s memorial for 9/11, New York

One of the images which has stuck with me after my visit to New York was the bronze sculpture we saw in the Cathedral of St John the Divine. It was created by Meredith Bergmann, a sculptor, feminist and poet and invited contemplation which held me when I was there and I’ve gone back to time and time again. It shows a woman with her eyes closed, holding up both hands, palms towards her face, stopping two planes. It made me think of stigmata. You can read what she says about it here.

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In which Ruth goes to America in search of art (part 3)

Day 11

And so to Washington DC, after a hearty French Toast breakfast, on the Greyhound bus. But this time our journey was not quite so uneventful. Instead of 6 of us rattling around a huge coach, this time the bus was full. Foolishly I kept walking up to the back of the bus looking for two seats together and there were none, which left us sitting at the back of the bus, next to the loo and the ‘bad guys’. It began with a long and loud phone call between the man behind me and the love of his life, in graphic detail. More knowledge than you ever wanted to know. Then a young guy got on, just out of prison we learned, who spoke at great length to the mother of his child about how she ought to get herself together and accept she was a mother and should get on with it. Reading my kindle became impossible as a real life soap opera was played out all around us, including some shady drug dealing in the back row. At one point an older man turned to the phone guys and told them to keep it down as G could be an undercover cop! All very exciting but lead us to agree that we’d get the train from now on and hang the cost!

We made it to our new apartment alive and unscathed – another basement but very nice indeed on Capitol Hill. Dumped our stuff and wandered down to Barracks area where restaurants of every nation jostled with one another amidst trendy boutiques. Had lunch in an American diner and opted for the healthy sounding ‘Rachel Sandwich’ which turned out to be fried bread and enough filling to keep me in calories for a week. Took the Metrol into town and what a difference from NY and Phillly. DC is clean, white, low enormous and grand buildings which take up a whole block themselves. The roads are wide avenues with 8 lanes and not a skyscraper to be found. Much more up-market and very few shops. This town is geared towards business and politics. We wandered round a sculpture garden next to the art gallery, found a book shop and then staggered home.

Fri Sculpture IMG_1718 Sat house Sat Einstein (1)

Day 12

Tried a Cheese Danish for breakfast this morning. I’m nothing if not adventurous and they have been intriguing me ever since we got here. Didn’t really get the cheesiness of it which is probably a blessing.

Got the hop-on hop-off Tour Bus and did the Capitol North and South, the White House (smaller than you might think but never meant to be as big as a palace we were told), Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial (they go in for memorials in a BIG way in DC) where we changed bus, sad to lose our hilarious guide. From there we did Constitution Avenue, the Arlington Cemetary (big and tidy and sad), Pentagon City (and it was enormous) and then back to the Martin Luther King Memorial where we had a wander and ponder.

In the afternoon we went to the National Gallery of Art, and I was glad to be out of the hot, hot sun. Sitting on top of an open-air bus does leave you rather exposed to the elements – wind, rain and snow in NY and now scorching heat. So much Dutch and Renaissance art that you wonder how much of it has come over here. Some gorgeous Vermeers to ogle and then we had a look at some American art and I discovered an artist called Andrew Wyeth and fell in love with his painting of an open window. So simple but it draws you in and I adore it.

My legs are now screaming at me to STOP PLEASE STOP! I’m tired and conscious that there is still so much to see but really feel exhausted. So much for going to the gym to get fit before I came away. 15 minutes on the treadmill has not really prepared me for walking 10-12 hours each day. I’m aware that there are huge chunks of these galleries that I’m not even looking at. Can there be such a thing as too much art?

Staggered out to a Sports Bar for large shrimp (and I mean large!) and crawled home with my swollen ankles. G went out to watch a boxing match in a local bar and I was asleep in minutes.

Sat G Lincoln Sat Grunewald Sat MLK words Sat MLK Sat Vermeer Sat Wyeth window

Day 13

Sunday again and I get to go to Church. Yay! I haven’t visited as many churches as I normally would on holiday but I’m looking forward to being pew fodder today. Later I’m meeting with an old friend who is a priest here but her church is having its AGM today so she suggests I meet her husband and go to his church – St Paul’s K Street. And gosh, was it high! Nearly all sung, accompanied by a wonderful organist and fabulous choir of 25, mostly men. Lots of anthems and very CofE. Or Anglican from 50 years ago, or more. Over coffee I was introduced to lots of arty folk, and met one of the more eccentric guides from yesterday’s bus tour – an out-of-work actor. The talk was all about their new priest who is about to join them after an interregnum of two years and it turns out to be Fr Gordon’s curate from St Clements.

It’s funny being a priest in someone else’s church. The temptation is to sit and watch with a critical eye, noitcing the practicalities of how the liturgy is done and why. I’m trying not to do that, but to enjoy being in the pews and being fed myself during this sabbatical time. It reminded me of the time I spent Holy Week at Mirfield months before I was ordaining and thought that this would be the last time I’d get to sit and be fed for a long time. Although I adore leading worship it has been nice to not be responsible for checking the rotas, organising all the bits and pieces before a service, and all the rest. However whenever I am sitting in the pews my own little flock comes to mind and I remember them far, far away and wonder how they are doing. Prayers are offered and candles lit.

After church we went to meet Elizabeth Orens at a lovely Greek restaurant where finally the portion sizes were more manageable. Perhaps we should have done this all along and not gone ‘American’ for all our grub. Lovely meal washed down with a few Bellinis. There is such a difference between DC and NY and we had long conversations about art and the church which was just perfect.

Met up with G after and had to go into town to buy another suitcase for all the booty we’ve bought. Mainly prints, books and posters for me. Where I’m going to hang them is another matter altogether.

Day 14

Up early, fruit salad for breakfast, and on to the Amtrak train back to NYC. Comforable, leg room, no drug deals, no noisy phone calls, just three hours of shoogliness. Not sure why American trains are more shoogly than ours but there we have it. Stepped out of Penn Station to the noisy hubbub that is NY and it was hot. Now I understand why they all leave the city, if they can afford it, and go to the hills or the coast in summer. Fortunately our hotel for our last night is just over the road and up we go to the 25th floor. Sadly our view is of the hotel next door.

Find out the other galleries I’d wanted to visit are closed today so we just go for a wander. Back on the street with the thousands of yellow cabs and tooting horns and shouting of Scripture or phone calls or inner voices, I realise I’ve missed New York. Healthy sandwich from nearby deli (half did me so I gave the other half to a homeless guy who immediately asked for money instead!) and we sat in the park soaking up the exhaust fumes and sounds of the city. Pottered about, going back to Rockefeller Plaza and then to John’s Pizzeria again at Times Square. The sun went down, the lights went on and the noise didn’t abate one bit. We watched the hip-hoppers, the women painted in stars and stripes, the police and all of the big melting pot which makes up this exciting city. I never really wanted to come to NY but find that I love it. I will miss the buzz, the excitement, the people and the friendliness. I’ve never felt scared, except perhaps in Philly briefly, and amazingly have not witnessed one crime. How we have not seen a car accident is truly a miracle. I’ve been asked if I was Australian and my purple hair has been appreciated by about a thousand folk who told me so. I’ve learned that nobody seems to make and drink coffee at home but buys it out and drinks as they walk and work. It has been a trip of a lifetime.

Mon2 hotel Mon2 policehorse Mon2 taxis Mon2 Times Square (1)

Day 15

Our last day so we had a long lie and then ate at the diner in the hotel. I’ll miss the continuous coffee and the maple syrup on everything. My legs look I have blown them up with a pump and painted them red and I show them to the pharmacist who couldn’t care less. We wander around taking it all in until it is time to head back to Newark airport. Security is much less strict and not a sniffer dog in sight. Nobody cares what we’re taking out of the country it seems. G’s suitcase is too heavy so we have to do a bit of jiggery pokery to get it all through. Duty free is not terribly exciting so we enjoy a last snack before boarding our plane to take us home. This time we’re leaving early evening and will be home in the morning so it seems as if it will be a longer flight.

Sadly there are not enough headphones so I don’t get to watch a movie on the way home. We have a grumpy lady sitting next to me and it is all rather low-key really. So I drink lots of water, jiggle my wee fat legs incase a clot settles in and kills me, and doze off and on with my bright pink I LOVE NY neck pillow. We arrive in Scotland at 7.30am where it is pouring rain and freezing cold. Eddie is there to pick me up and allows me to chatter all the way home to Falkirk.

Tue2 plane