RIP Alistair Alpin Innes

When I was ordained one of the first things my dad said to me was: “Jolly good, darling. Can I book you for my funeral now? Is it free to family?” (Actually it’s free to all but don’t tell him that.) For seventeen years he’s been in a Care Home with dementia and over the years we have chatted about his funeral. He’d chosen his hymns: Courage Brother Do Not Stumble and the Lord’s My Shepherd. The first one we’d never heard before but I understand it is well known in CofS circles. Dad used to sing it in the choir at Howgate Kirk in his youth and promised he’d sing the bass line from his coffin. The organist at the Crematorium said she’d play loudly and sing a long, which she did. Vigorously. We’d written down his life story as he remembered it and this is the eulogy I gave yesterday:

On the 11th April 1929 Alistair was born in Polmont to Georgina and John Innes. He had an older brother Ian, now deceased, and a younger brother Ronnie. A few years ago we all asked dad for his memories and his life story but bearing in mind he had dementia, we can’t verify all of the facts as you will hear them. If you knew him, you will know my dad was not averse to telling a good story so there is a chance that some of this may be entering the realms of fantasy but we think it is true.

His father taught at the Borstal in Polmont and then moved to be Head of the Wellington School near Penicuik. Dad remembers Penicuik seemed huge compared to Polmont. He passed his 11+ and went to Lasswade Senior Secondary and I asked him what he wanted to be when he left school. “Free of school!” was his reply. He proudly told me he started smoking at the age of seven, and pinched apples from the Headmaster’s garden and came close to being expelled for smoking in the back of the Latin class. He loved cricket and rugby and in his 4th year was made Captain of the Rugby Team. It was at school that he met my mum, Isobel, and they started going out together. I think that involved her mostly standing on the edge of a field in Penicuik watching him play rugby.

Dad and tiger moth 1952When he left school he did his National Service, first at Glencorse Barracks where he could go home every night, and then Aldershot for basic drill and then Southampton in the Royal Army Medical Corps where he trained to be a Physiotherapist. After his National Service he joined the RAF in Cranwell for officer training as a pilot and was posted for two years to Rhodesia, Kenya and Nairobi where he flew Chipmunks and Harvards. However he was invalided out for flying a plane upside down without a seat-belt, fracturing his skull and thereafter blacking out when he reached a certain height.
He loved being in the RAF – they were some of his happiest memories – and met Princess Margaret when she attended the passing out parade. Dad was delegated to dance with her, which he did – a quickstep, we’re told.

In 1954 he married my mum Isobel at St Mungo’s church in Penicuik. She worked as a mum and dadNursery Nurse in Edinburgh and he would pick her up on his Matchless motorbike and take her home for lunch and back, all in an hour! No helmets in those days and they were once stopped by the police and dad was given a ticking off for going so fast with a pillion passenger. He also once took a corner too tight and they crashed. His bike ended up in a ditch and mum on the verge. She put out her hand for him to help her up but he ran straight past her to his bike. In his defence, he did say he thought it might burst into flames.

He went back to the Wellington briefly to keep his friend Bob Crocket’s job of PT Instructor open for him when he went off to get his qualifications. Dad teaching PT! Imagine that!

There now follows a long list of jobs, not necessarily in the right order…
He went to work with the British Engine Insurance Company as an Underwriter. Then he became an apprentice Quantity Surveyor for two years but never finished his qualifications. He worked for Procter & Gamble, joining as a Rep so he could get a car, but they gave him a Ford Popular which he said he hated. With his friend Dougie Crombe they left and set up a business Innes and Crombe in Stafford Street selling costume jewellery and Scottish goods. According to my birth certificate I think I was born then when mum and dad lived in a flat in Morningside which coincided with him getting the new Ford Anglia which he loved. He joined the Scotsman as an Ad Manager where he met a lifelong friend Ali Ross.

Mum, Dad and I moved to Kingsknowe and they quickly made friends with the neighbours. My sister Carol came along and the family seemed complete. Then Dad met File 11-04-2017, 20 50 54Barbara at the Ideal Home Exhibition in Aberdeen and fell in love again. Mum and Dad got divorced and Dad insisted that his old family and new one should all get along. So Dad took my mum along for lunch on the day of their divorce to have lunch with Barbara at the Caledonian Hotel. Mum said that neither she nor Barbara could eat for nerves, but Dad tucked in to his beloved smoked salmon and kept the conversation going. And Mum and Barbara did indeed become good friends.

By this time Dad had found a new interest – advertising – and he worked for Nevin de Hurst in Walker Street. They moved to Kilmaurs Road in Newington and Lesley and Joanne came along. Lesley spent a lot of her early years in a plaster cast to keep her hips in place and he’d gaily swing her from the bar between her legs. Not recommended by the hospital, by the way.

Dad was asked to open a new branch of Dixon Compton, part of the Saatchi Group, in Leeds. They moved to live in Knaresborough and my sister Carol remembers going down to visit during the holidays and dad picking us up in an old Humber Super Snipe.
“Do you want to go faster?” he’d say.
And we’d shout “Yes!”
“Then hold on to your tin hats, put your feet in a sand bucket and I’ll tell you a story about the desert,” he’d say as he put his foot to the floor.
“And don’t tell Barbara!”
Carol says we reached the giddy speed of 105mph, all sitting on the bench front seat with not a seat belt in sight.
The family moved back to Currie when dad took over Dixon Compton Advertising Agency in George Street. These were his hey days, his cars became bigger and faster. Oh how he loved his cars. His business entertaining took him most days to the Café Royal and he was always a very generous host.

Eventually he opened his own business in Rutland Square doing advertising and File 11-04-2017, 20 52 30marketing. His clients included Peter Scott Knitwear, the Borders Development Agency, Glayva (Oh how we had fun making up Glayva cocktails for that one!), Head and Shoulders and the rumour is that Dad came up with the phrase ‘Pick up a Penguin.’
Lesley has memories of going to do secretarial work for him there. Unfortunately Dad was a little too trusting with people and his company folded when the Accountant was rather creative with his finances.

Undeterred Dad planned his next venture – and there were many. Waterless toilets featured heavily, I seem to remember. He’d meet someone in the pub who had a good idea and off he’d go on his next new business opportunity. For a few years he worked for his friend Blair at Edinburgh Cameras; and his son-in-law doing anything and everything from putting up suspended ceilings to marketing the business. Dad and Barbara separated and he moved into a flat in Haymarket.

Then in 2000 after a series of mini-strokes he had a big stroke – just the week before my finals at Edinburgh University. Quite quickly he recovered physically but we noticed that things were just not quite right. He’d had to give up his driving license when he had the mini strokes but he seemed to have forgotten this. “I’ve left my car in the car park,” he’d say when we visited. “The keys are on the dashboard.”  “No Dad,” we’d say. “You sold your car, remember?” But he never remembered that. And every time we visited, every single time, the subject of his car came up. Right up until he lost consciousness two weeks ago he was asking Joanne where his car was and did she have the keys. “They’re right here, dad,” she said. “In my bag.” And he’d relax.

He was diagnosed with vascular dementia and we realised that he wouldn’t be able to look after himself again. He went into the Tower Care Home at Murrayfield where Steve then Veronica became his Care Worker and he settled in. His short-term memory was gone, he kept forgetting his mother was dead, but he seemed quite happy. He did escape once and was found at the Ellersly Hotel across the road, having ordered a large gin, and reporting his car had been stolen. Luckily one member of staff recognised him from the family meals we had there and he was escorted back to the Tower.

File 11-04-2017, 20 50 33A few years ago the Tower closed and Dad moved to Drumbrae Care Home. Sadly, a few weeks ago he had a fall and broke three ribs which brought on pneumonia and he was taken into the Royal but it was too late and nothing could be done. He died peacefully on the 8th April, just three days short of his 88th birthday.

Really we lost our dad seventeen years ago when he had that first big stroke.
We lost his ‘life and soul of the party’ personality;
his loud infectious laugh;
his ambition and determination to be successful;
his short-term memory;
his unfailing generosity.
But occasionally we got glimpses of his wicked sense of humour as he continued to crack jokes and make cheeky remarks at inappropriate times.

Our dad was always late, never remembered a birthday unless one of his wives reminded him, and often forgot our names and we were introduced as Daughter No 1, 2, 3 or 4. He was a romantic, loved all women and was an outrageous flirt, to our eternal embarrassment when we were young. He loved his daughters, I have no doubt of that, and would have preferred that my sister Carol and I had daughters instead of sons.
He never really knew what to do with his grandsons Craig, Gareth, Davy and Stevie but I know he loved them and always asked what they were up to. Then Joanne produced his beloved granddaughter Hannah and he was over the moon. He had two precious years with Hannah as a baby before he had his stroke. Joanne remembers that he’d often arrive at her house, mid-afternoon, when she was still in her pyjamas, saying he was ‘just passing’ (which he wasn’t) and he would take over and send her off for a shower in peace and quiet. Hannah and Dad adored each other.

Our Dad had a passion for:File 11-04-2017, 20 49 08
classic cars;
classical music;
good old fashioned manners – he always stood up when a lady entered the room – it just took longer lately;
smoked salmon;
gin (with just a dash of water);
his elder brother Ian, who was also his best friend;
and the finer things in life.
And of course he will live on in all of us who follow as we each have inherited some of those genes, and I’ll leave you to work out which we each have.

He battled illness over the past seventeen years and bounced back time after time, against the odds. From his hospital bed he would grin and say, “I’ve got more damage to do yet.” But this time it was just too much, even for him.

Alistair Innes, our dad, a much loved father, brother, grandad, uncle, and friend to many of you. Today we are here to say goodbye to a man who touched all of our lives. So let us give thanks for dad’s life, and look forward with hope to what is to come. Eternal life.
This is the hope that we hold, and it’s in this hope, that we commend his soul to God, who created him in love and now receives him, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And now in a moment’s silence I ask you to bring to mind your own memories of Alistair, and give thanks for his life and love…

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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