Lent Thoughts – Mortality

Today’s Lent reading brought me to this from the Barefoot Theology Blog…

You, my dear human being, are not God. You, busy person, are not immortal. You, who can do so much and command so many, will go back to the dust. Thank God.

While human mortality can be stunningly difficult to accept, especially the mortality of those we love, it is a blessing.

We, frail creatures, are not all powerful; we’re not even very powerful. Without one another, we would very quickly wither away. Without God, we would simply cease to be.

Ash Wednesday, and Lent, is perhaps God’s best way of telling us to set down the world.

Set it down, and let someone infinitely more qualified carry it instead.

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Lent thoughts – stories

Stories are the style and substance of life. They fashion and fill existence. From primeval to eschatological vistas, from youthful dreams to seasoned experiences, from resounding disclosures to whispered intimacies, the narrative mode of speech prevails. Myth, parable, folk tale, epic, romance, novella, history, confession, biography – these and other genres proclaim the presence and power of the story. Phyllis Trible

So begins Trible’s Texts of Terror – a book to browse for my Lenten reading on International Women’s Day. She goes on to tell sad stories, tales of terror with women as victims.

Today I shall think of the stories I know of women who have been abused, and there are many. Too many. Women who had their power taken away from them by others. Women who held on to those stories in secret, not daring to share them in case they were not believed or thought to be weak. Women who didn’t believe in their own strength and ability to say NO. No, this is not how it should be.

We must listen to one another’s stories. To listen and believe. Our stories matter. Not just today but every day.

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Lent thoughts: You matter because you are you

My plan this Lent is to read more. To read something every day, carefully and intently, and hopefully to find something to aid me on my Lenten journey. Of course, already my plan has already failed. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and we had a Eucharist in the chapel in the morning followed by coffee and a blether in the rectory which took me up to lunch. Then I took my ashes (and lemon in a bag) and the Sacrament out to some of my housebound members. My plan was to whizz in and out, daub some ashes, share some bread and wine, chat a little and move on to the next one. Silly me. My plan should have been to go and listen to lonely people who feel that everyone has forgotten them, to listen to someone who is struggling with not being able to do what they’d like to because their body is letting them down, to listen to concerns and grumps and to pray with them. Well that’s what I ended up doing and of course I didn’t get to all I’d hoped to visit and I didn’t get home till it was dark. But that didn’t matter really. I can go next week.

Today is World Book Day and a few weeks ago a friend said ‘Why don’t we all just clear our diaries and read on that day?’ I have a Vestry meeting tonight and some prep for that, but my plan is to give a good chunk of today to just reading. I don’t have the latest recommended Lent book, but I do have a shelf of old ones. And a host of other shelves full of books, some unread, which I am sure will contain plenty material for pondering this Lent. My plan is to share some of that reading here and perhaps over on Beauty from Chaos.

Today’s reading is from a book called Pray, Love, Remember by Michael Mayne.

Many who have spent time listening with real attention to another person in need will know that frequently we find in others the familiar echo of what we know in ourselves: a deep, unsatisfied desire. It is, I believe, a kind of homesickness, a longing for the bringing to fruition of that potential for love and those natural springs of compassion that help define our humanity. The beginning and end of compassion is a question of how we see: how you see me, how I see you. This need that we share, to be seen, to be noticed and given value, is not some childish craving for attention: it is the only way we have to become our true selves. Egos are lonely, and egotism a lonely way of being, and our spirits are fed by what we freely give each other. It is not only babies who languish and grow sick if they are starved of love. I am affirmed when you notice me, when you give me your attention. However old we grow, however wise, the child we once were is always part of us and, in one way or another, every human being (far less confident that we appear, most of us) cries out or acts out – or often, disastrously stifles – their need to be recognised, perhaps forgiven, but most often simply encouraged: to know that ‘you matter because you are you’.

This Lent, I am going to try affirming people more. Someone on Twitter said they were going to send 40 postcards this Lent to friends who they haven’t kept in touch with as much as they should. Hmm. Could I do that? Perhaps…

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The Sealwoman’s Gift: book group questions

Tomorrow our Book Group are meeting to discuss The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson. I couldn’t find any book group questions out there so I’ve created some of my own. They are:

  1. Did it alter the way you feel about this book to know it is taken from a true story? Does it matter that most of it is made up? Do you think Sally Magnusson did a good job filling in the gaps/speaking for the women whose history is seldom told?
  2. What was Iceland like in the 17th century? What did the author make alive for you? (All the details are there: dark smoke-filled hovels reeking of fulmar oil used for the lamps, with a sheep’s uterus strung across a window to keep out the wind. A fire fuelled by puffin bones, a housewife stirring a greasy mutton stew, or softening the head of a cod in whey.)
  3. What did you think of the relationship between Asta and Cilleby? Both are changed by the other. She is his property and must never forget it. What might have happened if it had continued?
  4. What did you think of the other women who embrace (perhaps some more enthusiastically than others) their new culture? What would you have done? Could you become Muslim to lose the status of slave?
  5. What was the importance of story telling in the book?
  6. Did Asta want to go home?
  7. Do you think Asta was a good mother? Could you have left your children behind?
  8. How did she feel about her own land when she got back?
  9. Did the book make you think of today’s refugee crisis? What parallels did you find?

Art of Advent – It’s all about the men

Our second Art of Advent course looked at paintings of men. Lots of men: Prophets, John the Baptist, wise men, Joseph, and some shepherds. But wait! Perhaps there were shepherdesses too! Here are the paintings we looked at…

John the Baptist in the Wilderness boschjtb

St John the Baptist in the wilderness, Hieronymus Bosch, c1489, Museum of Lazaro Galdiano, Madrid, Spain

John the B da Vinci 1513

St John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci, 1513-16, Musee du Louvre, Paris

Dream of St Joseph Philippe de Champaigne 1642

The Dream of St Joseph, Philippe de Champaigne, 1642, National Gallery London

Dream of St Joseph Georges_de_La_Tour

The Dream of St Joseph, Georges de la Tour, 1630-35, Musee des Beaux-arts, Nantes

Christ in the House of His Parents ('The Carpenter's Shop') 1849-50 by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896

Christ in the House of His Parents (‘The Carpenter’s Shop’) 1849-50 Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896 Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund and various subscribers 1921 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03584

Journey of the Three Magi to Bethlehem, 1638-1640

Journey of the three Magi to Bethlehem, 1638-40, Leonaert Bramer, New York Historical Society

The Sleep of the Kings, Gislebertus 12th c, Autun, Cath of Saint-Lazare

Gislebertus, 1125-35, Autun Cathedral

Annunciation to shepherds Wtewael

The Annunciation to the Shepherds, Joachim Wtewael, 1606, Museum of Fine Arts Houston

Art for Advent 2018

This year our Advent course is looking at the Art of Advent. We began this week with the Annunciation for that is where our story begins. The paintings we looked at are below. It wasn’t easy to choose a selection from so many beautiful and original artworks, but I tried to find some from different eras and styles. First we all talked about what we could see in the painting and that took lots of time and good conversations. Then we looked for the symbols: the lilies, the dove, the colour blue etc. Then I told them a bit about the painting and the story. We finished with a meditation I’d written and a prayer.


The Annunciation by Fra Angelico (c1450) San Marco, Florence

Annunciation Jan de Beer

The Annunciation by Jan de Beer, c1520, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid


The Annunciation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1849-1850, Tate Britain, London

Annunciation John-William-Waterhouse 1914

The Annunciation by John William Waterhouse, 1850, Tate Britain, London

Annunciation Arthur Joseph Gaskin

The Annunciation by Arthur Joseph Gaskin, 1898

annunciation Tanner

The Annunciation by Henry Tanner, 1898, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Annunciation Marianne Stokes 1900

The Annunciation by Marianne Stokes, 1900

Annunciation Luc Oliver Merson

The Annunciation by Luc Olivier Merson, 1908, Musee Thomas-Henry, Cherbourg

annunciation-Richard Nye

Annunciation by John Collier, 2000, St Gabriel’s RC Church, Texas


Annunciation by Dan Thompson


there was a noise
a flutter
an owl perhaps?
or a bird of some kind?
I looked up
and there he was
this creature who was not an owl
but a man, or not a man,
a man with wings the colours of heaven
a heaven-sent man, an angel
“Fear not!” he cried.
But it was too late
for I feared for my life
“You will bear a child” he said
and I feared for my life
and the life of my child
for I could not imagine our future together
not then
I think I gasped
or certainly my hands flew to my heart,
my head, my side, my belly
trembling as I steadied myself
“How can this be?” I whispered
and this angel Gabriel, the messenger, told me
but I don’t remember his words now
but I know I had to answer Yes or No
Yes or No
Did I have it in me to say Yes?
Did I dare?
I dared.

PRAYER (by Angela Ashwin)

God we thank you that you made yourself known
to someone without power, wealth or status;
and we praise you for the courage of Mary,
this young woman from Galilee,
whose Yes to the shame and shock of bearing your Son
let loose the unstoppable power of love
which changed the world.

Sermon for Christmas Day 2017

This is the sermon I preached at St Fillan’s on Christmas Day. It was inspired by something John Bell from the Iona Community said when I was on the Clergy Retreat last month. It might help to know that St Fillan’s is a small, mostly elderly congregation in the south of Edinburgh.

First of all today I would like you to shout out all the characters in the Christmas story,
whether they be animal, vegetable, mineral, human or angelic.  And when I say ‘Christmas’ I mean the whole of the Christmas season.

Elizabeth and Zechariah
Wise men
Angel Gabriel
Anna and Simeon
Sheep etc

What do they have in common? What do all the people in the Christmas story have in common?
They are all old. (Except for Mary.)

We see Christmas as a time for children but in fact Christmas is a time to celebrate the old and wrinkly.  Now isn’t that a comfort?  In fact, we are in danger of infantilising the Christmas story and that might be completely false.
Let’s look at the characters again…

We have Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Anna and Simeon as the bookends of the Christmas story.
Elizabeth, too old to conceive a child, but does.  A faithful old couple.  Zechariah was an old priest, Elizabeth his old wife, both upright in the sight of God and you don’t get to be upright until you’re really old.

Then the bookends at the other end of the story are Simeon and Anna, the couple we meet at Candlemas, at Jesus’s circumcision.  We’re told they are advanced in years.
Simeon, an old priest, waiting for a sign, and Anna, a prophetess and now a widow aged 84.  So I think we can agree that they are pretty old. Unless you’re 84 or older and still going to yoga classes in which case you’re as young as you feel.

But let’s have a look at some of the other characters we mentioned.
Let’s start with the angel Gabriel.  As angels go, he is pretty old. So old in fact, he first appears to Daniel in the Old Testament and that was quite some years before this wee story where he appears to Zechariah and then Mary.  (And just as a wee aside, he also appeared to Mohammed in the Islamic faith.)  So Gabriel is definitely an old, old angel.

Then there’s Joseph.  Older than Mary, that’s for sure.  Some scholars believe he had a family before he married Mary so may have been a widower.  And we know there is no mention of him in Jesus’ adult ministry so perhaps he was dead by then. We don’t know but we do know he was old.

Then there’s Herod – the old monarch.  The Roman king of Judea who was not a very pleasant man.  He died around the age of 75, a painful death of probable chronic kidney disease, not long after Jesus’ birth. So another oldie in our story.

And then there are the shepherds.  How do we know they were old?  Well would you trust your flock of sheep to young lads who are prone to falling asleep or to old men with prostate trouble who are going to be up and down all night?  My case rests.

And finally, the wise men, the Magi. And how do you get to be wise?  By getting old, that’s how.  You don’t get a PHD at the age of 20, that’s for sure. No, you have to have lived a life of experience: seen things, done things, lived a little and then when your party days are over you get interested in astrology or patchwork or the Rainforest Alliance or whatever is your thing.  Then you get to be a wise woman or man. Only when you are old.

So who did God trust with the Christmas story?  You!  Or people like you!  God installed belief in all those wrinklies to install belief in others. When God needed things done, it was the oldies who had a part to play. And not just any old part, an important part.

When God needs things done today who’s he gonna call?  Old people, that’s who!  All these churches, including yourselves, who have hoped beyond hope that young people would come along and save them.  Oh yes we need a Mary now and again, a good young person to say Yes to God and be obedient to his word.  But we all have a part to play in this ongoing story as well.

There probably were some other people, or at least one other person, who doesn’t get a mention in our biblical narratives.  And that’s the midwife.  When Joseph had to go to Bethlehem for the census, it was because his family were from there. And I’m pretty sure that some of his family, or the women at least, would have been there to help Mary give birth. And guess what? Midwives in those days were old too!

And we still need midwives.  When new things need to be done, God expects our encouragement.  So who has God planted in St Fillan’s to get things done?
A Gabriel, an old messenger trusted by God for important tasks?
A Joseph, a good old soul?
Some shepherds with prostate trouble?
A tyrant ruler king?
Some Elizabeths and Zechariahs, good devout people?
Some Simeons and Annas, the faithful remnant?
Some wise men and women?

Who has God planted to be the encouragers, to enable new things to happen?
Who has God planted to be the midwives, to bring new things to birth?

Well don’t look at me!
I’m far too young.

God took a huge risk in this story.  More than we ever imagined. In 1st century Palestine, one in four women died giving birth.  And one in three babies died in childbirth.  Only two out of three live but then most will have died by the age of 40.  There was a huge risk of mortality.

And there were other risks too.  Herod’s decree to slaughter all baby boys which led the family to flee to Egypt, a place not exactly friendly towards the Jews.

Then when he comes home Jesus’ own people pull him down to size and he is physically at risk of stoning.  He allows woman who are haemorrhaging to touch him, he constantly risks disease and contamination with the people he reaches out to.

What was God thinking?  This Incarnation was risky business.  God risks a lot sending his wee boy to earth.  God risks it all.

That little baby, all vulnerable and at risk of so many things, lying there in his swaddling clothes is put into the care of old people.  That little baby, with such a future in front of him, which nobody could really guess, is put into the care of old people.  It was the elderly who came to see him with their gifts because old folk are good at that.  They are not so busy with their phones and tablets and games and socialising that they think they’ll maybe do it later.  And I’m sure when that wee baby was born Mary asked her mum and her auntie and her older cousin Elizabeth what to do when he wouldn’t settle, wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t do as he was told.  This story is full and brimming over with folk just like you. You are part of this story.

God risks a lot sending his baby boy to be with us.  God risks everything.
So, my question to you this Christmas day, is what could you risk for God?
And saying you’re too old is not an option!


the journey of an icon

Last week nine of us met on the Isle of Cumbrae at the Cathedral of The Isles for an Icon Workshop. Some had been the year before and were back desperate to create another masterpiece and they were the ones to reassure us that although we thought we weren’t ‘artistic enough’ we definitely would paint an icon worthy of hanging on the walls. Our teacher was Tatiana, a young woman from Romania, who spends her life painting icons and frescoes for churches and people. She is softly spoken, gentle and the most affirming teacher I’ve ever had. Those who had been before brought copies of icons they wanted to use and Tatiana had other copies of Jesus or Mary icons if we wanted one. I wanted to do an icon of St Fillan because my church is rather plain and I felt could do with a holy picture on its walls. There is only one icon of St Fillan that I could find on the internet and really it could be of any old man and as there are many and various tales of umpteen St Fillans I reckoned nobody would dispute what he looked like.

The next day we began in the Gallery after breakfast with our blank gesso boards, pigments of beautiful colours in small pots and a wee dish with an egg and water mix. There are many stages in painting an icon and I won’t remember them all but I did photograph each stage as I went along. We began with a prayer. Yes, there is a special prayer that Tatiana uses when she paints an icon. It is to remind us that what we do is for the glory of God.

(Do you paint an icon or write an icon? In many books you will read that the correct words to us is ‘write’ but when I asked Tatiana she laughed. It’s paint, she said. But the books say write, I said. It’s the same word in translation, she said. Write is just pretentious! So I shall use the word paint here for that is what we did.)

We then traced or copied the outline of our images on to the board, including all the shadows. You’ll notice in icons that the shadows are almost shapes of different colours, not necessarily blended in as you would see in art. The faces are quite stylised with blocks of different colours to indicate shading so it was easy to outline where they would be. After we had an outline we scored over the lines with a pointy tool. This is so that when we lay the first layer of colour we can feel where the lines for shadows or outlines are. Then we had to decide where we wanted the gold leaf to go – all over the background or just the halo and other objects like books etc. I’ve heard that gold leaf is not easy to work with so I opted for a simple gold halo, if a halo can ever be simple! Later, when I saw the others, I wished that I had gone for gold all over but she who hesitates… must live with her decisions. You have to use special size to paint over the area where the gold will be, and then carefully rub it on with cottonwool pads, smoothing out the wrinkles and patching where necessary.

There was fiddly work to be done then, scraping away the bits that were where they shouldn’t be and removing the size so that paint would stick later. Throughout the day there were periods of silence as we all concentrated on our own images with just the sound of scratching and rubbing and occasionally shouts of ‘Tatiana!’ as we struggled with something we weren’t sure of. And gentle, loving Tatiana would come over and whisper “Good. Good. That’s very good” even when it clearly wasn’t. And she would show us how to fix it and step back to allow us to do it ourselves.

We did stop for lunch and reluctantly pulled ourselves away but we hadn’t even noticed that we hadn’t had a coffee break. By the time it came for Evening Prayer we couldn’t believe a day had gone by. I was also surprised at what a spiritual experience it had been from the prayer to start us off through each of the stages of preparation. I wanted this icon to be special, and yes, for the glory of God and St Fillan and St Fillan’s. I wanted it to be as good as it could be. And some of the prayers that went into it were of the ‘Help me God!’ type as well. In the evening Tatiana showed us some icons and their stories. Apparantly a beginner should always start with the Transfiguration. By 9 o’clock we were yawning our heads off and most were in bed by 10pm! Dear reader, this is not my usual experience when staying in the Cathedral of The Isles. Many a time, I’ve found myself in the library or lounge sipping Gin until the wee small hours amidst much hilarity. It is tiring work, being creative.

The next morning it was time to add some colour. This involved a bit of pigment and a bit of egg mix and some swirling with a paint brush until the colour brightened and we started to colour in our faces, hair and hands with the olive colour. There were to be no white-skinned Jesuses here! That was when we saw the benefit of scoring our outlines for the paint is dense with colour and you couldn’t see where the face ended and the hair began. Then everyone did it differently. Some worked on faces and the detail of shading and outlines, and some painted in cloaks and clothing wanting to get as much colour on as possible. Again Tatiana was on hand to guide and occasionally lean over and add a dot or a line which transformed our amateur colouring-in. We learned the names of the colours and throughout the week the most plaintive cry was ‘Is this the ochre?’, the colour most used for shadows and shading and mixing with others. We began to share with one another when we just needed a splodge of one colour and didn’t want to mix a batch, ever mindful of not wasting the precious pigments.


You’ll see that in my original picture of St Fillan he has both hands palms out. Overnight this had played on my mind. You see, even in our dreams we were thinking of our icons. How would people know it was St Fillan? Most saints have a symbol in art. St Peter has his keys, St Agatha has her boobs on a plate, St Lucy has an eye and St Fillan is usually associated with a wolf. I knew that a wolf was beyond my artistic capabilities but I also knew that when the Sunday School of St Fillan’s, many years before, had acted out the story he was known to have a beautiful crozier. The cardboard crook they made is still in existance in somebody’s garage and she produced it earlier this year on St Fillan’s Day. I think the original is in the Museum of Scotland and there are photographs of it so I told Tatiana that I’d like to add it in. With a bit of jiggery pokery, we (I say ‘we’ but it was mostly Tatiana really) added in the crozier outline and Tatiana adjusted the hand to hold it. The crook part has some distinctive markings on it and I did manage to replicate those after a fashion.

At one stage when Tatiana was over near me she did gently say “Are you sure you want to do this background in purple?” There was laughter around the room from those who knew me. Yes, purple. “It might be quite dark,” she softly said. Yes, purple. And I explained that St Fillan’s has purple doors (which, in case there is any doubt, were painted purple before I came.) Our local primary school wear purple uniforms so it is a kind of corporate colour for the area of Buckstone. They really had no choice but to hire me!

I think the talk Tatiana gave that night was about frescos but I’m afraid I slept through most of it. And yes, dear reader, I snored too. And woke myself up. Early bed again. It’s exhausting, this icon painting. It must be the concentration, the intense scrutiny, the creation of tiny marks to make a face good enough to pray through. And sometimes the hunt for olive pigment to paint it all over and start again. Of course it wasn’t all angst and silence. There were moments of hilarity too. Andrew’s ox who looked like a guinea pig, Gordon’s baby Jesus who looked ugly as anything before he became beautiful, Kirstin’s St Ruth who looked like a Tennant’s lager ad babe… you had to be there!

We couldn’t wait to get going next day. This was to be the day when we really finished so that varnishing could take place and all would be well for our last day when we would have a Eucharist and have them blessed. Some were further on than others. Sometimes the paint just took longer to dry. Some were panicking that they just couldn’t get things right. The plaintive cry of ‘Tatiana!’ was heard more and more throughout the land. She whirled from one icon to another muttering ‘beautiful, beautiful’ and added little touches and advised on shadows. For one so young, Tatiana is really a traditionalist at heart. She likes icons to look like icons. There is a right way of doing an icon and that was what she expected from us. Oh, we could suggest little innovations all we liked and she would quietly say, ‘Yes, I see, I see. But why don’t you do this…?’ and we’d find ourselves doing it the traditional way after all.

And traditional icons have a red border round the board, and sometimes a thin cream inner line too. Then the lettering had to go on and that was when I wished I had my calligraphy pens with me and not a very fine paintbrush. We looked at one another’s icons and gasped in amazement. How clever are we? Each one was beautiful. Guinea pigs had become oxen, the baby Jesus had become adorable, the sheep were sheep-like, the Tennant’s lager T looked fine when the other lettering was done, and only I know that St Fillan once had two hands facing out and no crozier. And bit by bit, Tatiana whispered ‘I think you’re ready to varnish now’ and then the fumes spread throughout the land.

Our talk that night was Tatiana showing us some of her own icons, modestly. And she also spoke about praying with icons. She does it every day. She told us about gazing into the face of an icon, gazing and gazing and stilling ourselves until we encountered deep peace and connection with God. She made it sound so simple. But when I gazed at some of the icons I could indeed see the glory of God. I could feel peace and serenity and God gazing back at me. And I think God was pleased with our work.

I shall never look at an icon the same again. I have a few in my collection. Most of them are paper pictures stuck on wood with lots of varnish. Now I look at the faces and the shadows and the hands and the colours. Now I look at the techniques, the gold leaf, the composition. Now I look at the faces of God and I feel God’s presence in the icon. Now I want to go and paint another icon for myself.

On our last day we painted the backs of our boards and put the special lettering which I think translates as God is Fabby. We took them carefully over to the Cathedral and one by one we brought them to the altar rail and had them sprinkled with holy water, censed and blessed. We then put them on the altar and gazed at them during the Eucharist. Icons of glory to God. Only one was missing, for Mother Anne had to leave early on our last day. We blessed hers at Morning Prayer but it doesn’t appear on the altar so I’ve shown it seperately.
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WW1 folk art

Do you remember when people had autograph books? When I was in primary school we all had them and took them in at the end of term to get our friends and teachers to sign them. It was also a time to show off any famous autographs we had. I never had any of those but I did have a very old autograph book which was my mum’s. I now think it must have belonged to one of her parents but I think the ‘autographs’ and pictures were all done by local people from Penicuik or nearby Glencorse Barracks. They are much more exotic than ‘By hook or by crook I’ll be last in this book’ or ‘did you ever discover you could write on the cover?’ which was our standard ‘autograph’.

Here are some of the War pictures, many drawn by the same man Alex Orman. Does anyone out there know anything about him?

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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…