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.

IMG_1147 IMG_1148 IMG_1149 IMG_1150 IMG_1151

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

In which Ruth goes to America in search of art (part 2)

Day 6

And then it was Sunday. Church. Which Church? So many to choose from. On the advice of Fr Kelvin, I went to St Mark’s in the Bowry where they are doing exactly what I’d love to do if I had a big enough space and a courageous congregation. Altar in the middle of the church with chairs in circles around it. Really mixed age congregation and lots of Wild Goose music along with some modern inclusive stuff. Kind of jazzy, folky, soul feel to it. Notices at the Peace and I was welcomed and applauded. Some went up to be prayed for because it was birthday, anniversary or someone they knew was sick – just like us at The Pig!  We brought our gifts to the plate on the altar and then stayed standing around the altar for Eucharist. Glorious AMEN sung at the end, gospel style. Relaxed, prayerful, catholic, musical, inclusive, glorious.

G had gone off for a wander while I was at church and met me after and we went to sit in a wee park he’d found where some guys were playing basketball. I sat and wrote pages of my thoughts on the service. A church came by to hand out food to the homeless in the park. One of the homeless women said she had a Glock in her pocket so we took that as our cue to leave. Visited the New Museum which took modern art to the nth degree. G took part in an interactive thing where you put on goggles and you could imagine you were in a rain forest.

Then we crawled to the South St Seaport and sat in a waterfront bar for grub and a drink. The sun was out but it was cold in the shade. Then on to the Water Taxi for a birl round the island again before limping home. Sore foot is improving. Legs are not. Rush hour traffic on a Sunday seems weird. This city really never sleeps.

Sun Basketball Sun New Museum

Day 7

Lazy morning then brunch at our favourite diner. Omelette this time. Really trying to find non-carbs today. Went to the Guggenheim for more culture – $25 worth, in fact. Lovely building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and that’s about all I can say really. (No photos allowed.) 4 floors of dates on card and numbers on bits of paper and postcards all saying ‘I’m still alive’. Finally found some paintings in a side room and discovered a Picasso that I loved (Woman Ironing). Outside a busker was singing Stevie Wonder songs so we sat and listening for a while. He was the best thing about our visit.

Wandered along 5th Avenue looking at the posh shops and had an expensive coffee. Back to 42nd St and found John’s Pizza place which was recommended in all the guide books. Well worth it. Massive place, massive pizzas, massive drinks. Lots of local people and a great buzz. Then home to pack for tomorrow we leave for Philadelphia.

Heard on the news that the rabid coyote had been caught by the police. Feel kind of sad for the wee critter.

Mon Guggenheim (1) Mon pizza at John's

Day 8

Greyhound bus to Philadelphia which was quiet and took just over an hour. Our house in Dickinson St is in the southside and was lovely inside, very modern with a small roof terrace. Still no kettle. Becoming experts now with strange showers and plugs. Weather has changed and it is now hot and sunny so we decided to just wander through the neighbourhood and find out what’s going on. Bad idea. One street nice, next street scary. No way of knowing which is which. Finally found a main road and grabbed a taxi into town. Lots of graffiti on buildings which is really quite beautiful. Got my nails done by a Chinese girl in a face mask who spoke rarely but communicated by pointing and we got on fine.

Wandered round the shops and then had the obligatory Philly Cheesesteak which seems to be mince on a roll with cheese. Nice.

Tue Philly graffiti Tue Philly house Tue Philly nails (1) Tue Philly nails (2)

Day 9

Did the Hop on Hop off Tour bus round Philly. Smaller than NY but some grand buildings and a great sense of history. One road had flags from all the nations that they have a good relationship with – saw the Union Jack as well as Scottish Saltire and Welsh flag. Lunch in the hippy area, sitting out in the sun and leaving half a plateful again. Why, o why?

In the evening we had been invited to Fr Gordon Reid’s for cocktails so jumped in a taxi uptown. Really chatty taxi driver who sang God Bless America for us and on being told he had a great voice, confessed he used to sing with the Delfonics – the Philly Soul group in the 60s/70s. Then he put on his new CD and we all sang along! Now that’s what I call a taxi ride.

Fr G has recently retired as priest at St Clement’s there and once upon a time was Rector of St Michael & All Saints, although I’d never met him because he left before I joined. We have since become Facebook friends so it was good to meet him in the flesh. He has a most beautiful loft apartment in the heart of the city and had some great friends for us to meet. Even G, who had been a tad reluctant to spend the evening with ‘churchy’ folk, met some interesting people. Probably drank too much gin and ate too much smoked salmon but had a wonderful evening.

Wed Philly Chinese gate Wed Philly dragon wed Philly Graffiti Wed Philly Hard rock cafe Wed Philly Liberty bell (1) Wed Philly Scot flag

Day 10

More pancakes. Just to check Philly ones were the same as NY ones, you understand. They are.

A morning in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and found the Tanner Annunciation which I love and love even more now I’ve seen it. The photo of course doesn’t do it justice. Discovered lots of American art which was new to me, as well as a host of Monets (how many paintings did he do?!), Renoir, Cezanne etc. Came out at the top of the Rocky steps and joined everyone in having my photo taken like Sylvester Stallone. No I didn’t run up them first. Really.

On to the Franklin Institute for the Art of the Brick exhibition for G. It was an incredible selection of pieces of art made from Lego. Each one even had how many bricks it had taken to make – tens of thousands in most cases. Fought our way through the thousands of teenagers in school parties too. That was fun.

Wandered back into town to find helicopters hovering around. There was recently a death of a black guy while in police custody in nearby Baltimore and Philly were holding a peaceful protest we found out. One after another police cars arrived and blocked all the streets out of town. We jumped in a taxi, cowards that we are, and couldn’t find a road that wasn’t blocked off. Looked like we were never going to get home but eventually we managed a detour and were happy to pay $13 for his trouble!

Thu lego Ascension Thu Lego Girl Pearl E Thu lego skulls Thu Rocky steps (1) Thu Tanner Annunciation Thu woman dressing

To be continued

Normandy D Day Fahrt 2014

Forty four Fahrters set off from Linlithgow on 4 September to travel together to the Chateau du Molay near Caen in Normandy on our D Day Expidition. We are Fahrters who have travelled before to many gorgeous places in Europe for fun, frolics and fahrts. (If you don’t know – Fahrt = German for travel, journey.) It was organised by my dear friend Bruce Jamieson, retired history teacher from L’gow, and a few years ago he said ‘no more Fahrts’. I suspect the organisation of these trips takes it toll on a perfectionist. However, we had heard so much about these wonderful school trips that he did with his pupils that he agreed to do one more for the 70th anniversary of D Day.

We travelled overnight on the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge in Belgium which brought hilarity in narrow bunks and much fun in the Moonlight Bar. Lunch was at the Somme estuary with ducks and the first of many baguettes with jambon and fromage. (Why can’t we get baguettes like that at home?) Our next stop was the Bayeux War Cemetery where we laid a wreath at the memorial and poppy crosses at the graves of three Linlithgow men. Fellow Fahrter John McIntosh had brought his Bose and hid behind the memorial cross and played the Last Post when we laid the wreath. As all the war graves we visited, this cemetery was beautifully kept, immaculate lawns and clean grave stones shining brightly in the hot sun. I have visited WW1 war graves at Tyne Cot and they never fail to move you deeply as the graves stretch out forever, each one telling a story of a life lost.

DDay Baeyux cem headstones  DDay Bayeux cem me put cross  DDay Bayeux cem trees

After getting lost in the hedgerows of the countryside we eventually rolled up to the Chateau du Molay in acres of beautiful countryside. The Chateau is used for school trips so the accommodation was a trifle basic and there were competitions on who would fit into which bunk bed. But we gathered in the bar, ordered local cider, and scoffed our dinner with wine galore. Who cares about a narrow bunk bed after that?

DDay Chateau bunks

On Saturday we drove to Arramanches and visited the Diarama up on top of the hill where we saw incredible footage of the D Day landings. Staggering out into the sunlight looking down on Mulberry Harbour it seemed incredible to actually be standing there on a beautiful September day remembering the deeds of that awful time. A statue of Our Lady looks peacefully down on the beaches where storms brought danger to the thousands of men who risked their lives on that day. Into Arramanche for the museum and more films and lectures on the making of the Mulberry harbour, and then lunch and a wander along Gold Beach. There are still pieces of the harbour remaining, large jagged pieces of metal sticking out of the golden sands.

DDay Arramanches BVM  DDay Arramanches Christ  DDay Mulberry harbour remains  DDay Mulberry harbour wreck

We then drove to La Cambe German Cemetery which had a very different feel to it. The grave markers are flat not upright in dark basalt lava, not white marble. Throughout the cemetery there were groups of dark crosses and a large central memorial where you could climb to the top and look down on the graves. The memorial sits atop a mound six meters high under which lie 207 unknown dead and 89 from a mass grave. No wreaths of poppies there, but wreaths of corn and pine cones, with a harvest feel about them. Originally this area had been for American and German soldiers but after 1945 the Americans were moved to St Laurent-sur-Mer and the fallen German soldiers from there to La Cambe. There are now 21,139 German soldiers laying to rest here.

DDay La Cambe German cem overview  DDay La Cambe crosses  DDay La Cambe headstone  DDay La Cambe Memorial  DDay La Cambe wreaths

Our days were to prove very moving and breathtaking at times. Yes, there were tears at times. At times you just had to wander off on your own and spend a moment with sorrow and memories. Would I be so brave? I think not. Just before I left I had read Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, a children’s book about two brothers in the war. If you don’t know it, I can recommend it and won’t spoil the story here but it kept coming back to me as I looked at all the graves and heard the stories about incredible heroism. Whether you are a pacifist or not, you can’t help but swallow the lump in your throat.

At night, however, we gathered in the bar to reflect on the sights and stories we’d heard and then to singalong to some war songs. The young staff in the Chateau gathered at the door of the lounge marvelling at these old wrinklies enjoying themselves and singing so loudly. Gracie Fields and Vera Lynn have nothing to fear from our singing. Some of us took part in an Allo Allo sketch which Bruce had written. I was Michelle from the Resistance (‘Leezen verry carefully, I shall zay zis only once.’) with a deep and husky voice as I’d picked up a chest infection on the day before we left. More tears, with laughter this time.

After breakfast on Sunday we headed off early back to Bayeux so that some of us could visit the Bayeux Tapestry which was incredible. Not a tapestry, of course, but embroidery. I’d seen the pictures of course, but nothing compares to actually seeing the needlework up close.

We then drove on to Omaha Beach (opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan) and visited the American Cemetery and Memorial which sits on the top of the cliffs. Nothing had prepared me for the sheer size of it. As you walk from the car park you look down on Omaha beach and then walk through the Garden of the Missing where a 22-foot statue ‘The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves’ looks west on headstones. White Lasa marble crosses and Stars of David stretched in straight rows for what seemed like miles (actually 172.5 acres). Among oak trees, topiary shrubs and beds of roses they shone in the sun. There are over 9,000 headstones among whom are 45 sets of brothers, and 1,557 missing in action. Half way down the beautiful manicured paths there is a Peace chapel where Jewish and Christian iconography sit side by side. I tried sitting down there to say a wee prayer but the clicking of cameras and loud exclamations made it difficult. (Yes, I took photos too but the beauty of the Tablet is that there is no click!) At the east end of the cemetery there are two statues of Italian Raveno granite representing the United States and France.

DDay Amer Cem crosses w star  DDay Amer Cem crosses2  DDay Amer Cem Chapel  DDay Amer Cem Memorial  DDay Amer Cem chapel quote  DDay Amer Cem chapel quote2  DDay Amer Cem France statue

From there we went to the Overlord Museum at Colleville then to Pointe du Hoc.

After we stopped at Sainte-Mere-Eglise where the American paratrooper John Steel got stuck on the belltower and had to pretend to be dead, hanging there all day long, in case the Germans shot him down. At night he was able to climb into the belltower but the ringing of the bells all day had made him deaf. There is a dummy of him still hanging from the steeple! The church inside is old and shabby but it dedicated to Peace. There was some beautiful modern stained glass and I lit a rainbow candle there and said some prayers. It was Sunday, after all.

DDay St Mere Eglise  DDay St Mere Eglise belltower  DDay St Mere Eglise candles  DDay St Mere Eglise altar  DDay St Mere Eglise Mary Candles  DDay St Mere Eglise Peace Chapel

Back at the Chateau we had frogs legs and snails for dinner (deliciously like chicken and very garlicky) and then a French sing-song which provided much hilarity and even more young staff members coming to join in. There was much rolling of Rs and my fruity chest infection helped greatly with some of that.

Monday was my birthday and we packed up to move out of the Chateau as 100s of school kids were about to arrive. We drove to Pegasus Bridge and another museum. This one had lots of artefacts in cases, including an interesting one full of medical equipment. Pretty barbaric stuff. Some stayed for the film but I’d had enough and was in desperate need of a coffee so a few of us crossed the bridge to have a quick snack. There we were greeted by the grumpiest french woman I’ve ever met who practically threw the food at us, forbidding us to sit at most tables as they were set for lunch (at 10am!). No decaff (‘We only do proper coffee here.’) Then the bridge opened up to let a boat through and the rest of our party got stuck on the other side for about half an hour until the bridge opened again.

DDay Pegasus bridge new  DDay Pegasus Bridge old  DDay Pegasus Bridge cafe

We eventually went on to Ranville Cemetery which was smaller but contained a lot of Black Watch and Argyll soldiers. We laid another wreath, played the last post, and found the last Linlithgow man. Rest Eternal grant unto them O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace and rise in glory. That was all I could think of saying when asked to lay the wreath. I found a headstone for an Army Chaplain age 30, Rev R A Cape MA, and I’m going to try and find his story.

DDay Ranville cemetery  DDay Ranville chaplain headstone  DDay Ranville memorial cross2  DDay Ranville poppy wreath

From there we drove to Ouistreham and then Merville Battery where we visited the underground bunker to experience the sound and light show which recreated what happened there on the night of 5 June 1944. The sign said ‘this show is extremely realistic representation of combat and is not recommended for children under 8, persons of a nervous disposition or suffering from heart, or claustrophobia’. I risked it and it wasn’t that scary at all. Loud rumblings certainly and a wee puff of smoke and a lot of shouting but we survived.

DDay Merville bunker  DDay Merville path  DDay Merville Museum figures

Then on to Caen Peace Museum. This was the best museum we’d visited and was modern and enormous. We watched a movie of the D Day landings and then wandered through the museum. I had time to visit the other museum which focussed on the earlier war and it was really harrowing. I got lost in it because I was on my own and got a bit panicky because it was hot and dark and was so relieved to finally find my way out. At that point I knew I’d had enough of war and museums. Best framboise tart ever and coffee to recover.

We stayed overnight at the Kyriad Memorial Hotel in Caen and was thrilled to have a double bed and a shower which didn’t throw more water out of it than in. Dinner was served by the receptionist/barmaid/waitress and it was a bit Fawlty Towers but much wine was consumed for my birthday treat, as well as getting some lovely poppy pottery stuff from my friends. That night I took my swollen ankles to bed with a litre of Evian and woke up just fine.

Tuesday saw us head off back to Belgium stopping at a huge shopping mall where some stocked up on French wine and then back to Zeebrugge for our ferry home. We watched The Longest Day movie on the bus amid exclamations of ‘Oh that’s whatsisname that was in what was it called!’ There was a beautiful sunset which dragged us out of the Duty Free with our cameras. Much perfume was purchased with birthday money and Ruth is happy once more. The cabins were very hot and stuffy and I think I kept my German neighbours awake all night with my coughing which by now sounds like the worst case of consumption ever. I’m sure I will have passed it on to all 44 of my comrades and some small part of Europe.

DDay sunset from ferry  Group photo  DDay coffee in Bayeux

Wednesday was a sad journey home, watching Saving Private Ryan on the bus. Looking back I must confess that I didn’t know very much about the D Day landings before I went but it was an incredible trip. The images spoke for themselves and I know will stay with me forever. Yes, it was sad and harrowing at times. Thankfully the crowd I was with were the sort who looked after one another in the sad times and cheered one another up at other times. My team lost in the D Day quiz on the bus back home but I think we had some of the funniest answers!

Whitchester Parish Weekend

In all the churches I’ve been rector, I’ve led silent retreats. They have never been over-subscribed but usually appreciated by the dozen or so who do attend. Even those who have never been silent before often become devotees and persuade others that they should try it. Readers will know that I myself struggle greatly with silent retreats. There are probably more blogs about my catastrophes than any other topic and I invite you to go seek them if you want a laugh. However, I do find that leading them is not quite so difficult for me – probably because I get to speak and listen and have enough in the organising to keep me busy.

Since I’ve been at Christ Church many have said that they wouldn’t come on a silent retreat and that’s fine (and quite understandable). And often the feedback after a retreat is that people just wished they had got to know one another better. Mind you, I think you can find out a lot about folk watching them in silence but that’s another topic… So this weekend we had a Parish Weekend. Not a retreat. Not silent. Just a weekend for us to get to know one another, enjoy conversations, and have fun. Hopefully.

We went back to Whitchester Christian Guest House just outside Hawick because they are trying to encourage more visitors and it is a lovely house. A bit too close to nature for my liking but I know others like that sort of thing. I’d planned to go from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon so that any who worked could join us. The majority were probably in the 70-80 age group but that was offset with one family with 3 year-old Eleanor. I’d planned on worship morning and night, and took along some crafts for those who didn’t want to go out hiking or whatever folk do when they go off into nature.

Unfortunately it rained all day on Saturday and although some did go out (mostly looking at overpriced cashmere) the rest of us learned how to do encaustic art and produced some masterpieces. We also made our own labyrinth which took up most of the day but everybody painted at least one leaf on the fabric. It can now be used in our own church – or if you would like to borrow a 12′ square labyrinth, do let me know.

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Worship didn’t go as well as I’d planned because I’d printed the booklets incorrectly. Page 1 was at the beginning and the correct way up, but Page 2 was at the back of the book and upside down, and so on. It was a test of ingenuity and caused some pauses in unexpected places as some shuffled back and forth with puzzled expressions. On Sunday we had a Eucharist to remember the beginning of WW1 and everyone was invited to bring a flower from the garden and lay it on the altar. (We’d pretty much got the hang of the booklet by then!)

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The only problem was nature, and I feel just a little smug about this. Breakfast was delayed by some time while the staff leapt around the dining room with a net trying to catch the two bats who had swooped in. At night they were back and forth like busy bees and this rector certainly did no wandering about outside after dusk.

We had a lot of laughs and did indeed learn more about one another. Perhaps every alternate year we ought to forgo the silence and just have fun instead.

In which Christ Church Falkirk celebrates 150 years

In 1864 Christ Church Falkirk was consecrated on the 13th of April by the Rt Rev’d F B Morrell, Bishop Coadjutor (eh?) of Edinburgh. The site of the church was given by William Forbes of Callendar and subscriptions to the extent of £1350 were obtained. Episcopalians in this area had been served by St Andrew’s Dunmore from 1850 and prior to that in various meeting places.

2014-05-31 11.53.43On Saturday 31 May we held a Festival Eucharist to celebrate our 150 years here in Kerse Lane. (13 April being Palm Sunday and rather wet so were we glad we’d moved the date for we had the most gloriously sunny day.) The planning for our big day has been going on for about a year, with Gill McMillan at the helm of the planning group. Invitations were handmade and sent to clergy past, Bishops who were once curates, old friends, ecumenical friends, Area Council colleagues, and the great and the good of Falkirk and surrounding areas.  All altar servers were invited to take part – well, you can’t have too many servers in a procession I say. Last year everyone was asked to donate £150 if they could, either as a one-off gift or as a tenner a month, and we raised over £10,000.

2014-05-31 13.27.08Bishop John came to celebrate and we had two old curates there too: Bishop Douglas Cameron (retired of Argyll & The Isles) to preach and Bishop Bob Gillies, Aberdeen and Orkney to read the gospel. Past clergy included David Bruno, Duncan McCosh, Rodney Grant, and John Penman. We had asked folk to bring along old photos of the building and the people and greatly enjoyed reminiscing about the good old days (and laughing at those perms and full heads of hair!) Bishop Douglas’ sermon was pitched perfectly and I know a lot of folk want to read it again so it will go in our next magazine for those who missed it too.

2014-05-31 15.29.08The sun shone, the bishops arrived wearing shades, and our new St Andrew’s chapel was blessed too. This little crypt chapel had fallen into serious disrepair and been used as a workshop by a past priest who was also a handyman and had become a dumping ground for all sorts of rubbish. Over the past few months we’ve had it rewired, painted, carpets laid, furniture gifted by Erskine Parish Church which recently closed, and it is now a beautiful worship space. Lots of volunteers have worked really hard to make it work and I am so proud of them.

Lunch was catered by our local College which gave the students practice to show off their skills and Elaine made us a splendid cake with a gingerbread model of the church. Everyone agreed it was a great day and so good to catch up with old friends. Let’s hope we manage another 150 years.

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In which Ruth goes into the labyrinth and comes out again

My old church in Bathgate was hosting a Labyrinth Day today so I popped over this morning to have a wee wander. I think the last one I walked was actually in Chartres Cathedral many years ago, although I had done some here before that.  This one was made by the congregation at Comely Bank and their rector Rev’d Frances had brought it over.

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In the meeting room there were tables laid out with a wooden one (with or without marbles), sandy one, a pewter one to trace with your finger, and lots to colour in or just look at. And as ever the colouring in was very popular with child and adult alike.

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I had completely forgotten how long it takes to walk the labyrinth. It always seems much longer than you think. I tried to walk it slowly and meditatively which is not my normal pace. Not that I am a sprinter, you understand! My mother always said I plodded rather than walked. I paused at all the corners and junctions to think about all the times I have to make choices. The joy of the labyrinth is that there is only one way to go. God’s way. As I got to the centre I stood barefoot and tried to let go of all that weighs me down. No, not my hips. All the ‘stuff’ I carry around unnecessarily – the petty bits and bobs that wander around my head when I try to sleep, the little worries of which I can do nothing, the things that don’t concern me but I have to put my tuppence in… all that kind of thing. I was also carrying in the concerns of a friend and was delighted to leave them at the centre and hand them over to God.

Our text today was the Road to Emmaus and the lovely Morag had baked a loaf of bread. The smell was tantalising as it came out of the bread mixer and the children ran round offering us a piece while it was still warm just as I emerged from the labyrinth refreshed and renewed. (Heartburn to follow.)

And they recognised him in the breaking of bread. 

It really was a lovely peaceful morning. Meeting old friends, laughing over felt-tip pens and crumbs of bread. I really should look after my own spiritual life better. Feed myself.

I’m going to get Frances to bring her labyrinth to Christ Church soon and hope we might make our own at our Parish Weekend in August.

In which Ruth gets physical

There is nothing quite like Holy Week for making you ache in places you didn’t even know existed. It is so ‘physical’ all that standing and bending and washing and stripping (yes, stripping!) and waiting and dusting and polishing and all the rest that makes up Holy Week in church. Oh, and my brain hurts too. And let me tell you how hard it is to write an Easter sermon when you are hurting and aching and still in the depths of Holy Saturday.

It really begins with the footwashing. I don’t know how many I did this year but it was much more than in the past. This is not a complaint, by the way. There is nothing I like better than washing my little flock’s feet. It is an honour and a privilege. But next year I’m either going for a milking stool to sit on or gardeners’ knee pads in place under my alb. Or maybe one of those lovely prayer stools… As a result my knees feel like those of Elizabeth who has never been able to kneel at the altar and is now in a wheelchair. How tempting is that wheelchair! I even chickened out of a full prostration at the Altar of Repose for fear that I’d never get up again. Certainly not gracefully.

Good Friday was long but well attended. It began with the early delivery (7.30am) of the hot cross buns from Oliphants the Bakers. How I resisted one for breakfast, I’ll never know. But there is something quite beautiful about the church in all its starkness, naked of all adornments. I wouldn’t want it every week, you understand. But when it lies empty on Good Friday it certainly focuses the mind.

Today we began in church again for Morning Prayer, the last time we’ll say it together until Advent which seems such a long time away. I do so love having someone to say the Office with. Then it was a mad frenzy of polishing and dusting and wheezing (and an out-of-date inhaler!) and all the rest to make the church as beautiful as possible for tomorrow. There’s been a slight hiccup with the Paschal Candle transfer which I’m waiting to attend to. (I have told them I’ve never done it before as there was always a wise wee pixie to help out, but it looks like my time has come.)

And I ache. From head to toe I hurt. It seems churlish to mention it but there it is. But it is all worth it – or rather, it will be tomorrow morning. But for the moment, a transfer, some paracetamol, a small snooze, and before you know it the dawn will arise and who knows what will happen then?

Gardenof Repose

The Photocopier Prayer

It is that time again. The time when all clergy and church administrators up and down the land look for this prayer.

Parish secretaries and their rectors, too,
Thinking of the bulletins that will ensue,
Drop to their knees and begin to quake,
Praying their copiers will stay awake
Through Maundy Thursday and the rest;
Without behaving as if possessed.
Rectors wonder with uncertainty,
“Should I have purchased the extended warranty?”
Misfeeds, toner woes and a paper jam
Always seem to accompany the Paschal Lamb.
Why this happens is a great unknown
A mystery worthy of the bishop’s throne.
So stoke the incense, say your prayers;
anything to stave off copier repairs.
As the dark shadows of Tenebrae now approach;
may your copier behave without reproach.
And as we begin the Good Friday fast,
May it wait ‘til Low Sunday to breathe its last.

And here is today’s offering from the bowels of our lovely new photocopier all ready to fold and staple. But that’s for another day. Holy Week is almost under control. Almost.

photocopying