In which Ruth reads and reads and reads…

I’ve been on holiday this week for my post-Christmas ‘and relax’. Of course it never is a total relax because you have a whole house to tidy which has been ignored for weeks with all the comings and goings of the Christmas season. There is forgotten mail to deal with, letters to open, filing to be done, the Archers to catch up with, the photocopier to repair, and a whole host of other thankless tasks to undertake.

I had plans of course. Oh yes, I had plans. Of art galleries to visit, movies to see, family to visit. Not one of them happened. And they didn’t happen because I had to wait in for parcels to be delivered, photocopier repairmen to arrive, a new church noticeboard to arrive, and a son who hasn’t got his Christmas presents yet to visit. That left one day in which I was free to go out and it was blowing a hoolie and all I managed was a visit to papa in the Twilight Home for the Bewildered.

I did, however, manage to read. And read. And it was glorious. Want to know what I read? books open

First I finished Fathomless Riches by The Revd Richard Coles, he of Saturday Live fame. The sub-title of the book is ‘Or How I Went From Pop To Pulpit’ and tells of his life as part of the duo that was the Communards with Jimmy Somerville to CofE Vicar and media darling. Of course there was drug taking, unsafe sex, parties and naughty behaviour before his ‘conversion’ experience and a huge shift into the world of religion and then ministry. To his credit he doesn’t talk about others in his book, well not in a kiss and tell way which so many memoirs do. Nor does he hold back on his own ‘sordid’ past and I found so many ways in which this could have been my story too. (Without the pop star bit of course!) The conversion and subsequent journey to priesthood was almost identical to mine, although I never did ‘go to Rome’. So I enjoyed reading his pilgrimage immensely.

I read two Inspector Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny, one before my holiday and one during. I am reading them in order and trying to savour them but I always reach for them when I know I will have time to read them in one go, or at the most over two days. I read Bury Your Dead (no 6 in the series) which was quite different from the others in that very little was set in the village of Three Pines (which is a bit like Midsomer where a small village is struck by a million murders a week, or so it seems). I think reading them in order is essential because the you get to know the characters gradually and that knowledge is so important to the storyline. There are three stories going on in this book, one linked closely to the previous book which is another reason to read them in order. The next book A Trick of the Light is set back in Three Pines and revolves around the art world and also continues the development of all the characters we know and love. I loved this book especially the Alleluia moment at the very end, which will mean nothing if you’ve not read the others. I’m not sure exactly why I love these books so much. Usually I prefer something much more bloodthirsty but I think they create such visual images for me, and who could resist the descriptions of the wonderful food? And there are some lovely spiritual messages in them, although they are not overtly religious.

the beesNow the next book is highly recommended – The Bees by Laline Paull is a most extraordinary book, full of religion and fierce courage and feminism and spirituality and… bees. You will never look at a bee in the same way again, and if you’re not a huge fan of bees then you will be by the end of this book. If World Book Day was giving away this book I would beg to take part and thrust it into everyone’s hands and plead with them to read it. If I say it is a bit like Watership Down I don’t want to put you off if you don’t like books written from the perspective of a creature, but it is worth trying something you might not normally read. Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, born into the lowest caste of bees, only fit to clean. But Flora is different. She is a fierce bee who wants to learn, to explore, to challenge the hive’s mantra of ‘accept, obey and serve’, and she does with exciting consequences. Some have compared this book to The Hunger Games or The Handmaid’s Tale but it is much more. I really couldn’t put this book down.

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne was another Christmas book which I’d wanted to read since I heard the author speak on radio of his reasons for writing the book. I was a huge fan of his Boy in the Striped Pyjamas but this is much more adult and set in Ireland from the 1970s to the current time and explores the child sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a sad book and makes uncomfortable reading, but there is honesty and truth within it which makes it a must-read. If you are in any way concerned about the celibacy issue then this will confirm all your suspicions. And it highlights starkly the loneliness of ministry which many clergy suffer. It is a novel which surprised me and at the same time made me very sad.

So there we have it. My post-Christmas reading list. I’m trying to squeeze in the next Louise Penny one before I go back to work tomorrow. Greedy, or what?


In which Ruth goes on holiday

Does anyone else find it really hard to unwind on holiday? I know of friends who suffer from migraines who spend the first few days of their holiday having a massive migraine attack. It is something about your body relaxing and letting go of a heap of tension and allowing the headache gremlins in. I don’t get a migraine but I do find myself wandering about like a lost soul, picking up books, watching DVDs, needing to tidy the house but reluctant to do the whole lot so just half-heartedly push things around from one place to another. After two days I just wish I was back at work as all the things which need to be done creep back in to my consciousness. And I get bored. Really bored. I get bored because I’m not dealing with people, I think. (Introvert friends look away now!) I want to phone Mrs So-and-so to find out how she got on at hospital. I want to do the baptism booklet that needs to be done on my first day back. I want to plan the Parish Weekend that’s coming up. Let me tell you, I really have to fight those urges when I’m on holiday. So much of ministry involves people and I miss them when I’m forced to stay away from them. Is it just me then?

Ah, I hear you cry, ‘Go way somewhere!’ Well, have you seen the state of my bank balance? This year I shall indeed be going away in September on my D-Day Expedition so this July break was on a severely restricted budget. Now I could stay at home. I love my home and I could potter and read and watch and stuff but when the rectory is next door to the church it makes that more difficult. My little flock are very good at keeping away really but you do get the odd one… “I know you’re on holiday but…” or “Sorry to disturb but my key isn’t working…” And then there are the regular callers: the ones looking for money for electricity or baby food or the bus fare to granny’s funeral. They are a constant in every priest’s daily life when you live over the shop.

2014-07-06 08.25.26So this year I did potter for the first week and then went to stay with friends. First was Fr Alex and Anne at Canty Bay, just outside North Berwick. They are old friends and a great source of ecclesiastical gossip and jolly good at entertaining. For a few days we sat in the sitooterie (Scottish name for a conservatory) and blethered and watched birds at the feeder and marvelled at the skyscapes over Berwick Law and out to the Bass Rock. On Sunday I went to church with them at Holy Trinity, Haddington where Mother Anne fed my soul. So lovely to be pew fodder and relax into the Holy Mysteries.

2014-07-06 11.37.20

Then further down the east coast to stay with Mother Jennifer at Eyemouth where there were more churchy conversations and problem solving and sharing mostly over the kitchen table or out in the back garden (another bird feeder and different birds). We toodled down to Holy Island for the Lindisfarne Scriptorium’s exhibition where I made a Brigid Cross and did some colouring in. We wandered along to the church as we share an adoration for The 2014-07-08 16.50.53Journey, a beautiful wooden sculpture of monks carrying Cuthbert’s body. There was a sign outside to say that Choral Evensong was about to begin with the visiting choral scholars from St Martin-in-the-fields. We were lucky to get seats as the church filled and we were treated to some Parry, Andrewes and Wood. Throughout it all a swallow who has been nesting in the porch swooped and cried along with the singers. A perfect end to the day.

On Wednesday we went to Alnwick where Jen’s daughter lives and met her for lunch at Barter Books at the old Railway Station. If you haven’t been, you must. It is the most extraordinary secondhand bookshop with a model railway round the top of some of the bookcases. We could have spent the whole day there (and the food is great too) sitting reading or having coffee – they really have it all. I was very good and only bought two books but if I’d made sense of the filing system might have bought more.

2014-07-09 15.52.46After that we had a gawp at the castle and then a leisurely drive back up the east coast, stopping at Spittal where we had some very happy holidays as children. The beach was full of people sunning their milk-bottle legs and scoffing ice cream. We resisted both.

Home yesterday via Costco and now I am itching to get back to work. Resisting until tomorrow when I can finally get to work on that baptism…


In which Ruth has a holiday and then doesn’t

So this week I tried to use up the last of my annual leave. There were still 6 days lingering and for the past few years I’ve lost a few of those and I was determined that this year I would get them all. This was the only week which didn’t have some important diary dates and thus it was crossed out with a big bold purple cross in my Parson’s Pocketbook. (I would have 20131129_172852done a similar thing with my Google Calendar but I’ve never really quite got the hang of it. Instead I got the word HOLIDAY printed in small orange letters at the top of each page. Not the same as a big purple cross. At all.)

On Monday I shared with my Facebook friends that I did have a few tasks to complete before the holiday could begin. Things like 2 sermons, ironing, housework, expenses, read the book group book, Income tax return… that sort of thing. “Oh no you don’t!” they all screamed. “Those are not holiday things to do!” they chided. “And when do you suggest I do do them?” I muttered darkly.

For its all very well to say that our day off should be a day off where we lounge around in our onesies reading trashy novels or watching QVC in the morning, before staggering to the phone to order a carry-oot. Yes, that’s all very well if you have a Housekeeper, Secretary, Team of Clergy and Lay assistants and are up to date with all your paperwork. NOT IN MY WORLD, IT AIN’T.

Most priests I know have to use their day off for a quick hoover, some washing and ironing if you’re lucky, visit the elderly parents and then fall asleep in front of the TV missing the end of a particularly gruesome autopsy. Well, that’s my world anyway. And thus the holiday began…

I whizzed round with the hoover, skooshed a bit of polish in the air and flicked the duster over the mantlepiece in the lounge. Got slightly waylaid when I thought it might be nice to move the furniture around so that it is cosier in winter. Got some moved before my bad back screamed to me “Stop!” and I gave up. Decided I’d done enough housework. Left the room half done and thus it has remained.

Thought I might finish my new Phil Rickman book, The Magus of Hay, before starting on the Impbook group one but as soon as I sat down, it began.  For this next bit you have to imagine a small impish creature sitting on my left shoulder with a particularly wicked glint in his eye. Thus he whispered as I read my book…

So have you done your sermons then?
And you hadn’t forgotten its Advent 1 on Sunday and you need to prepare the Candle prayers?
And who is doing the greenery this year? Remember H cut through her tendons at that particularly bloodthirsty Craft Group. She can’t do them.
And the Carol Service… have you decided what carols you’re doing? You know you need to let the choir leader know before Wednesday. They have to practice, you know.
Remember that purple cloth you took to the clergy conference? If you want to use that again you’ll need to get rid of all the wax. And while we’re on about that, there is a pile of ironing lying through there.
What about the Income Tax? If you don’t get it in before December your accountant won’t be pleased. “I’ll do it every week so there’s not so much to do,” you promised last year. Ha!
And while you’re thinking about the Advent Candles and what you’re going to do, don’t forget to let the pew-sheet person know before Thursday so she can add it on.
While we’re talking about the pew sheet, did you give her the notices too, and the sick list? Wouldn’t it be easier if you did them yourself in Advent with all the extras? Well you’d better tell her then.
Ah Advent! Usually you do a little something extra. You haven’t done a little extra for a while, have you? What with those two other churches you’re looking after, you’ve made excuse after excuse. What about Compline? People like Compline. That wouldn’t take long to organise.

I turned over my page. The Magus of Hay was going to have to wait.  Would it be possible to get it all done in one day and then I could relax? Because I sure as hell couldn’t relax and read with my feet up while that little imp reminded me of all the things I had left undone and those things which I ought to have delegated and hadn’t because Lord knows everyone else is busy too.  The despair was overwhelming. (Ok, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration. But it was rather spoiling my book.)

angelmanAnd then it came to me! (I like to think there was a lovely angel on my right shoulder nudging me with his big fluffy wings for this bit. Cute, huh?)  How about if I didn’t take my holiday? How about if I just got on with all the work that had to be done but didn’t tell a soul that I wasn’t on holiday? What if I left the answering machine on and let someone take my midweek service, and just cleared the decks for Advent? Genius! I can’t tell you how happy that made me feel on Monday night when that decision was made. I could go back to work! Yay! (Did I mention I love my job?)

So it came to pass. It is nearly all done too. Well, except the ironing, and the Income Tax return. Oh, and the expenses. But I do still have tomorrow.

I will get those holidays back some time. Perhaps in Advent, two at a time. Or perhaps in January after my post-Christmas breakdown. But you know it is a small price to pay for the good feeling I have today. I think I’m nearly ready for Advent. Isn’t that what its all about?

Postscript… just as I finish typing this Son No 1 phones to ask if I can help him move the last of his stuff to the new flat tomorrow. He has a bad back too. Ach there’s no rush for that Income Tax Return, is there?

(As an aside, the Magus of Hay was rather disappointing.)

In which Ruth had a week off and didn’t do very much

It is tricky using up all your holidays when you didn’t start early enough in the year. Now I’ve got to the stage where people say, “Are you off on holiday AGAIN?”  And you immediately stutter that it was ages since the last one, or how many weeks you didn’t get last year, or how hard-working you’ve been. And because I didn’t take time at the beginning of the year I still have two weeks to take so managed one last week. Was going to go away but that didn’t happen so it was a lovely week chez moi.

Think I may have given myself a thrombosis sitting so long reading books in the first three days. I managed the Book Group one: The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman which was jolly good and didn’t take long at all. Then I read The Black Rose of Florence because it was set in Florence really. Found it a little disappointing for a thriller and not as much about Florence other than a few place names thrown in here and there. Not a mention of the Boboli Gardens either. How can you have a whodunnit without the Boboli Gardens? And finally I started Wool but am only half way through, it being small print and lots and lots of pages. It is a sort of grown up version of the Hunger Games, perhaps not so exciting but intriguing all the same.

I also did a bit of knitting for the Christmas Fair coming up. Still on the infinity evening scarves. There will have to come a point when I stop knitting them, I know. There are only so many events one goes to that require an infinity scarf after all. But once I find something I like doing I have been known to rather overdo it, in a sort of addictive way. It was the same with smoking, you may remember. (Almost a year, btw.)

Rita kitten is poorly again so there were some vet visits too. Her anaemia is back again so it looks like this will be her future. 4-5 months of okay health and then quickly descending into weakness, heart-racing, lying around. She has had all the jags this time but they’ve not made much of an impression. Last time this led to blood transfusions but I don’t think this is possible this time. As the big Maine Coon cat who lived locally and was a donor match for Rita kitten has moved away there is no other source of blood. Told today the blood bank has none either but there may be a Vet in Glasgow who has some – at about £1000. Eeek. Don’t really know what to do. Except worry.

Went to church on the Sunday of my hol to Linlithgow – my old stomping ground. It was lovely to catch up with old friends and be shocked and amazed at the size of the young people. J & R were just wee souls and now J towers over me and R is so articulate – he just ran round and round when I was there last. These people do feel like part of your family still but sort of distant relations. Made me slightly envious of all the young children they had, mind you. They did a fabulous Harvest presentation.

My baby was 35 too last week. 35! He, his girlfriend and I all went out for lunch. What did he want most on his Wish List for birthday presents? Star Wars Lego. Is this normal?  Last time I played with Lego it was at the Tisec flat when we were training to be priests. Not sure whose box of Lego it was (perhaps Gareth S?) but we were known to build our own sanctuaries when the studying got too much. Of course now those memories of sumptuous sanctuaries are long gone and we realise that we live with what we’re given. Cracked and crunchy tiles and all. Lego Church Top

And that was my holiday. I did sneak in a few wedding orders of service by the weekend because it was all looking rather hectic when I got back. Naughty, I know. But if you do take on looking after two churches during their interregnum then something has to go. And now a week later and the wedding is done and my day off today was spent attending the funeral of a good friend, and you realise that it is really that thing about being a priest 24/7. Ontologically and all that jazz. You do what you do because you want to, not because you have to.


In which Ruth goes over the sea to Skye

I left Falkirk at 9am on the A9 and I’ll never do that again. What a horrible road especially if you get a mobile home in front of you who won’t go above 40mph and never pulls in to the let the queue pass. In fact this was a common grump on the holiday so I’ll just get it out of the way now and we’ll say nothing more about it, okay?

Stopped at Spean Bridge Mill which is really the Edinburgh Woollen Mill under another name (as was the Portree Woollen Mill and I’m guessing any other Woollen Mill you find in Scotland). It sells the usual tartan trash, cheap tartan cashmere scarves (never at full price, always for a bargain), tins of shortbread and fudge and much in the way of Scottishness. Oh what I couldn’t do if they wanted a makeover. I was told to stop here for lunch and it is about the last place you can stop until you get to Skye. Sadly, the day I was there I reckon the chef had run off with someone more exciting and there was no lunch.

Best sign on the road was ‘Feral Goats for 2 miles’. Sadly I didn’t see any but it was quite thrilling, all the same, waiting for one to pop out from behind a rock and go.., go ‘Grr’?  Dead Bambi at the side of the road was less so. Arrived in Portree after a six hour journey, found the Piskie pub sign and my home for the next week. A warm welcome and a tour of the lovely accommodation which is the old rectory attached to the church. It is a bit like the layout here with the ground floor rooms given over to church rooms and then the upstairs being the holiday let. (Open to clergy at a great rate – sleeps 4!)

I knew there was to be no TV for the week and I was okay with that. Yes, that’s fine, I thought. I shall read and listen to music and perhaps a spot of prayer shawl knitting. There was a radio but it only got a good signal for Radio 4. Not much music then. Not any music except for Desert Island Discs actually. Oh how I missed my music. I’ll eat the lovely chocs on my pillow instead, I thought. Jolly nice they were too. Went out for a drive to find the ‘big’ Co-op. (‘Big’ is all relative really. But good old Co-op – they’ll have branches where nobody else will.)

Back to the flat after a long and tiring day. Forgot to ask for the wifi code and 3G was intermittent. I could send messages but it took too long to read and reply. A job for tomorrow. In bed by 9pm with my Kindle. Not much else to do really.

Portree harbour houses

Tuesday 6 August – The day the pipers arrived

‘Did we mention the piping competition?’ they asked when I arrived. ‘No’, said I. For two days. Bagpipes indoors for two days. For the renowned bagpiping competition. People come from all over the world, I’m told. Well good for them. Why don’t they try living above it? Because you see there were three pipers going at a time. There were the actual competition ones who were playing their hearts out in the church. I could hear them a bit and jolly nice it was. But much closer to home, and I mean very, very close, as close as someone in your next room, were the pipers who were warming up and practising. Usually two at a time. So loud that I couldn’t hear the radio or concentrate on a book. So loud it shook the china on the lovely country-style dresser. I went out.

Up and down the street of Portree I wandered. (Actually there are two streets with shops but the other one only has one shop so I didn’t count it.) Spent a little of my holiday pennies on some lovely batiq and some puffin pottery. All I wanted was a map. Back for lunch and the pipers were going strong so in the afternoon I drove north to Uig where the ferry comes and goes. Not a lot else happens in Uig. Lovely pottery though (of the puffin fame). And a petrol station. That’s about it at Uig.

On the way home found a shortcut over the Quiraing. Still haven’t sussed what Quiraing means but it seems to be hills and rocks. Quite dramatic. Small steep one track road which took all my attention and saw little of the views. Learned that many tourists haven’t learned to translate ‘passing places’.  At Staffin found a nice candle shop and a strange museum full of old tools, fossils and dinosaur footprints. The man whose collection it is, is very charming and interesting.  Went on to Elishadder Gallery for coffee and shortbread and lemon curd. What an unusual and winning combination. I learned that the name ‘Gallery’ on Skye means someone’s front room.

Got home to find the pipers had gone and learn that the Highland games take part at The Lump tomorrow. The Lump! This is turning into Father Ted country. Ten minutes later and the pipers have returned. They were just having their tea break. And on and on they tuned and skirled and puffed until 10.30pm at night. It really is very popular then. (Not with me, it ain’t.) Even after they’d gone I could still hear the bloody moaning of the pipes in my ears. Meh.

Wednesday 7 August

Woken by, guess what, a pipe band in the square outside! Within minutes the piping competition downstairs began all over again. I spoke to the Pipe Major. “When will you finish today?” I asked. “Och I don’t know. It’ll finish when it finishes, you know? Just as long as there are folk to play. Perhaps about 3ish.” “3 in the afternoon?” “Och no, 3 in the morning!”  What a sense of humour these islanders have.

It being the day of the Skye Highland Games, I thought I’d have a wander and see some handsome men in kilts throwing big sticks around so off I headed for The Lump. It was indeed a Lump. As far as I could see from the Lump it was a few men jumping over a pole, some men tossing a shot putt and wee ones Highland dancing but you couldn’t see them for all the crowds doing what crowds do best – crowd. I only stayed for about half an hour before the excitement got too much for me and I thought I’d better leave before I disgraced myself.


Off to Dunvegan and then Glendale. Fabulous chowder at the Waterside Cafe and popped in to more peoples’ front rooms to adore prints and pottery and stuff. Skyeskins was lovely – a barn full of sheepskin – but a bit out of my price range. The sheepskin ‘ends’ for pussy cats were sold out so poor Lucy Pussy and Rita Kitten will have to make do with faux fur again. Get home and the piping has indeed finished. What a relief. Then I’m told the pipe band will march to the square this evening to entertain us all. I wept.  And the Highland Games Ceilidh takes place in the hall next to the church, I’m told. Indeed it did.

Thursday 8 August

I haven’t mentioned the weather yet. Well, it hasn’t been much different from the weather generally in Scotland. Four seasons in a day sometimes. The thing that makes it so dramatic here on Skye (as on Iona) is the landscape is so big and open and lends itself to dramatic cloud cover, mists coming down, and blue skies with clouds scudding along, You could happily sit with a camera in a field and click all day long.

But today was a day at home. A day for pottering and knitting and reading. I finally got the secrets of the wifi and did a bit of catching up with the outside world. I’m sure I could still hear those pipers, mind you.

Skye sun water

Friday 9 August

Headed off to Broadford today. I’m told it has lots more to see than it used to. That would be a post office/crap craft shop, Co-op, small crap-craft shed, nice candle shop, nice pricey jeweller and a petrol station. Never did find World of Wood.

Knitted lots while listening to Radio 4. Came to the conclusion that I can see why Women’s Hour was so important – and still is. Because everything else on talk radio is so macho.

Saturday 10 August

Woken at 7am by loud clattering and stomping downstairs. Had an awful thought that it was Sunday and they were getting ready for the service and I was late, but after checking I realised that no, it was Saturday. Then another set of footsteps, howls of laughter, and off they went in a car. Nice alarm. (Turns out that a few of the ladies were going on an outing to Elgin and the charity shops which requires an early start.)

Went up north again, but this time right up to Flora Macdonald’s hangout. Found some old croft museums. Came to the conclusion that a week is long enough for me to be in the country. The large moth waiting on the door when I returned half scared me to death. And I also learned that I hate holidaying alone. Ah well, such is life. Bus tours again for me.


Sunday 11 August (Pentecost 12)

Opened the bag wherein the black shoes lay and lo! The black shoes were not black but were pink. Catastrophe! No idea how it happened as I know I went to get black shoes but somehow the pink ones had obviously wanted to come and that was that. Facebook friends would have had me barefoot, in Birkenstocks, or going for the pink ones but in the end I put on the darkish purple trainers and hoped nobody would notice. As I heard people moving around downstairs I set off, alb in hand and sermon in the other. But the door was stuck. Stuck shut. I’d had a bit of trouble with this Yale lock and had taken to leaving it open when I was out as there was a lock downstairs too. But the snib was down and it wouldn’t budge. I tried a knife. I tried a loyalty card (well they seem to work in the movies) but to no avail. I opened the window and shouted and that got me frosty looks from the Presbyterians over the road. It’s funny to be stuck in a flat with such poor sound insulation but nobody can hear you scream. So I phoned the lovely lady who’d let me in, her number being the only one I had. Got her out of the shower and she came racing down and managed to open it from the other side. What a hoot!

The service went well except for the Offertory when the server appeared with a tray. Not being sure what to do, I took the wine off it and poured it into the chalice. Still not exactly sure what I should have done but judging by the look on her face that wasn’t it. Think we got away with it though. Lots of visitors who stayed for coffee and lovely homemade cakes and sausage rolls (take note Christ Church!!).

Learned that Radio 4 repeat pretty much everything on a Sunday that I’ve already heard during the week. Meh.

In the evening I was invited to another service down at Sleat where they have a monthly service from the reserved sacrament. Sr Elizabeth offered them a ‘real priest’ to do the Eucharist but that went down like a lead balloon so I joined the ranks of saints in the body of the kirk, as it were. Lovely. Home by 9pm and an early night again.

Clouds and hills

The journey home was quite uneventful. Still no sign of the Feral Goats. I’m a little disappointed. Not even much in the way of midges so that was a waste of a fiver on Skin So Soft. Came home by a different route which was much better and I even managed a stop at the Green Welly Stop.

It was a lovely break really. Skye is a beautiful place and much, much bigger than I thought. The flat is lovely and really nicely done out. Hard on your own though to admire scenery and drive at the same time. Next time I’d go with friends. But I finished a prayer shawl and got a bit of reading done.


Fiendish fiction read on holiday

As readers will remember, I give up reading fiction in Lent and read lots of theology instead. And jolly good it was too. The theology, that is. But I don’t half look forward to Easter Day in the afternoon when I can sit and doze with a good bloodthirsty whodunnit. Unfortunately I woke up this Easter Monday with a horrible virus and have been ill all week which has seriously curtailed my reading ability. Every time I opened the book or the Kindle I seemed to fall asleep! However, I did manage to finish a couple:

Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death by James Runcie.  You may know that James Runcie is the son of Robert Runcie, once ABofC and good egg. At least he seemed like a good egg when I met him at our Provincial Conference many, many years ago and he turned out to be really quite amusing. James Runcie has written a few books but this is his first in the clerical detective genre. Sidney Chambers is a 32 year old bachelor and vicar of Grantchester and friend of the local police Inspector. He likes jazz, cricket, cycling and people. Somehow he seems to get involved in many police cases via his Inspector friend. This book was set in the 1950s although somehow it seemed so much older than that! I’m told it is the first in a series involving Sidney Chambers which will end in 1981.

And it was lovely. Quite lovely. Just not terribly exciting or bloodthirsty. It was very much in the genre of Father Brown and was made up of six little individual stories. As always in these kind of books, real clergy are left wondering when the sermons got written and the admin done. It was probably as much as my mushy brain could cope with, mind you. The test will be whether I’d buy the next one and at the moment I’m just not sure. 3 1/2 stars. Och that’s mean. Give it 4 stars.

The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid. Now this is more like it. A really bloodthirsty whodunnit by the Scottish author. I don’t know why I haven’t read any of her books before but I did enjoy the Wire in the Blood which was on TV a few years ago with the clinical psychologist Tony Hill. I think this is the first in the series in which he features and was free with Good Housekeeping a month or so ago. I didn’t realise it was quite old – written in 1995 – and it is amazing how quickly some books can date. For example, the police didn’t seem to have mobile phones in this book and regularly had to go hunting for a phone box.

But the story was really good and really gory. A serial killer is mutilating and murdering men and leaving them in the gay ghetto. Tony has to quickly come up with the profile of the killer, working with Carol, detective inspector, and facing prejudice daily because of her gender. I told you it was dated. So those bits felt a wee bit clichéd but only because we’ve seen it on TV in this and in Jane Tennyson. There is also the added frisson of attraction between Tony and Carol which is not resolved in this book and I can’t remember if it ever does in the series of books. Nice twist at the end and superbly written. 4 stars. I’ll go and read more but the recent ones, I think.

I’m now half way through The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. This has to be one of the most surreal books I’ve read in a long time. The old man in the title climbs out of the window in his twilight home, in his slippers, and keeps walking. Half of the book is then about his adventures as he meets other misfits on the road which involve murder, kidnapping, an elephant etc. The other half of the book looks back at this old man’s life story and the people he met. These include prime ministers, presidents, and all the great and the good. It is quirky, eccentric and one of those books which probably stay with you long after you’ve read them.

Holiday reading and viewing

Well, it was a funny old holiday really. Not really a holiday at all. First there was the illness… the cough to end all coughs that has lasted longer than a cough ought to last and is so flipping tiring it is almost the cough that carries you off. So we spent day 1 of the holidays in the doctor’s surgery getting antibiotics and steroids (not the first for this cough, but don’t encourage me or we could be here all day).

Day 2 was spend doing the housework that had been severely neglected over the Advent/Christmas period. You know the sort of thing – rubber duck nativities scattered hither and thither, christmas lights to be untangled, cards to be taken down but only if you are willing to dust and I wasn’t quite at that stage, diary to be updated, etc etc.  Oh, and Rita kitten had just been ‘done’ so I had to spoil her ridiculously, although she didn’t seem in the slightest fazed by the whole drama, and carried on leaping about like a gazelle and cleverly removing her own stitches. (We always knew she’d go far, that one.)

And sleeping. Yes there was a lot of sleeping.

So I didn’t really get into reading mode until about Day 3 and I managed to get through Death comes to Pemberley by PD James. Now, I am a big fan of PD James. And I am not averse to a little Jane Austen either. So I thought that when PD James wrote a book in the style of Jane Austen, and cleverly following on from the tale of Pride and Prejudice, I thought: “What’s not to like?” But I really had to force myself to keep reading. It was okay. But I’m afraid I didn’t think it was a great PD James or a great Jane Austen. It was a 2 stars for me.

My next book was a Christmas pressie from Son #1 – The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. I’m afraid this was a bit of a struggle too to keep at but the second half did improve things a bit. I just don’t think there were any likeable characters and so I didn’t really care what happened with any of them. Except for Krystal. I ended up caring about Krystal and she was the whore.  2 stars again.

I abandoned Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton which someone had recommended. It is a memoir of depression and perhaps is more interesting to people who have been through that or very close to someone who has. I don’t usually give up on a book although I have begun to come to the conclusion that life is too short to read bad books. But this one just didn’t seem to be good enough for holiday reading. Perhaps I’ll go back to it.

Then yesterday I went to see Les Miserables at the cinema. Now this gets a big 5 stars from me. For some reason, I’ve never seen the stage production although I did share a flat with an ordinand once from Gateshead who had a penchant for the soundtrack, in particular ‘The Sound of Angry Men’. I came to hate those angry men.  Nor did I know that it was an opera and that the whole thing was going to be sung and that took a wee while to get into. Especially as everyone sung so much higher than me – and that’s the men I’m talking about! But once I got past that, and the very obvious white teeth, it was absolutely riveting, moving, and rousing. I just adored it. And I’d go back tomorrow.

Last day of holiday and one has to find a church. Oh what a dilemma. I really must learn how to use a Sat Nav – and indeed buy an up-to-date one. But in the end I had to go and visit Papa and drop Son #1 off in Edinburgh so I ended up going ‘home’. Should have checked the website first! It was a Children’s Service! Woopee. You know, I think I’m just going to leave it there.

So it was a funny old holiday. It doesn’t really feel as if I’ve had a week off. The house is still not completely tidy and the back of my mind is still niggling with Lent courses. (Anyone recommend a good one?) The good thing, I suppose, is that the cough is nearly gone. Not quite but almost. I have caught up with sleep. And today I made my first ever Chicken Liver Pate. It remains to be seen if it tastes any good.

Oh and how is my New Year Resolution, I hear you cry? Well, not very well, thank you for asking. You may remember, dear Reader, that my resolution is to buy no more fiction this year. I have a bookcase and a Kindle full of unread books, not to mention all those books I’d love to read again. Someone asked me yesterday how it was going and I said ‘not too bad’. He then pointed out it was only 12 days. Blimey, it felt like I’d been at it for months. So far my Amazon wish-list has grown by 8 books. That’s not bad, is it?


In which Ruth heads to the deep south of Englandshire

The Scottish Episcopal Church is quite generous with clergy holidays, I think. We get 4 weeks and then the inside of a week (not Sundays) after Christmas and Easter. I guess that covers the 10 days of public holidays that we miss. Then of course we have a retreat and clergy conference and possible continuing training which of course our little flocks think of as holidays because we’re not there but we know better. So it gets to a point when they say, “Oh, so you’re off on holiday AGAIN?” and at that point we think we’d better not mention that we are still due a week off this year but daren’t take it!

Anyway, I did take one of those weeks and did a bit of pottering around the house and then went down south to stay with old friends at Bracknell. It was lovely to catch up with them and be taken out and about in  a lovely part of the country. This time we did Reading, Ascot, a Harvest Supper and a local garden. Nice shops, nice canal, nice dresses and hats, nice sausage rolls, nice knot garden.

I was also asked to celebrate at the Family Service at Holy Trinity, Bracknell. It is a strange thing celebrating in another church, especially when you are not familiar with the liturgy. Just as you think you know this bit there is a slight tweak to throw you off course. And I foolishly believed the chalice bearer who told me to consecrate more wine when it looked like there were only two more people waiting. Perhaps there are more in hiding, I thought, as I said a quick prayer over the flagon he’d lead me to. There was a whole lot of wine to consume at the end of that mass. But apart from that it all went terribly well and my celtic blessing made at least one woman cry. (I think that was in a good way.) Of course the microphone switch was the opposite way round from our one in CC so there was a bit of thinking I was off when I was on and thinking I was on when I was off but we get there in the end. (That’s another thing in the church that should be universal, like curtain fittings in rectories.)

Then last week they dropped me off at the Henry VIII Gate of Windsor Castle as I took part in the Clergy Consultation on Believing in Baptism at St George’s House.  This year I was asked to be a Facilitator for my little group which was fun. My brain was given a good old workout with some Augustine, Calvin and Barth as well as some New Testament and the obligatory poetry (all quite good this time, I’m glad to report). We dealt with some meaty issues too, like What is Original Sin and What is the Soul? And we considered what the church would be like if we did away with Baptism. This all lead on to discussions on when a child should receive communion and what was Confirmation for? I also picked up some nice ideas for playing around with liturgy. But sshhh don’t tell the Bishop. And we had a lovely time in Canon James’ newly refurbished house in the cloisters with a glass of rather nice plonk.

The choir in the chapel were on good form and while some complained that we didn’t get to ‘join in’ at Evensong I was quite happy to sit and let the music wash over me. It is not often you get to sit among some wonderful singers belting out Tallis. The Eucharist in the morning was in my favourite little chantry chapel with the cutest unicorn to ponder.

So all in all it has been a good break. I met some super people, I saw some wonderful things, I heard some glorious music and I was well fed in the dining room and at the Eucharist.

A taste of Orkney

My holiday to Orkney was with Brightwater Tours (huge recommendation) and the luxury coach picked all 28 of us from various places in Scotland. I got on at Edinburgh with Mr & Mrs Grumpy, and an assorted group of couples and singles. Quickly I had named them in my mind: the Grumpies, the Bathgate girls (all 8 of them), the London veggie, the Perth prims, the one most likely to either fall or die (he did the former but never the latter so that just goes to show what I know), the Sad and Lonely lady, Ginger and her much older husband (who turned out to be her father), Mr Bifocals and his giggling wife, and the Trendy Antipodean amongst others. Isn’t it lovely to people-watch?

Jimmie, our coach driver, was also a fan of the old B&H so I knew that we would get the occasional smoking stop which brought the anxiety levels down a bit. He was also an excellent driver so we quickly relaxed and enjoyed the scenery as we drove north, and north, and north through four dioceses, I think. Lunch was at Inverness where I found a lovely posh shoe shop with Birkenstocks on sale and got the most comfy pair which have been barely off my tootsies since I got them (different pattern to the pic – I have lilac flowers and bit of greenery). Finally we made it to Scrabster which is as far north as I’ve ever been and on to the Hamnavoe ferry to Stromness. My little flock had warned me about the crossing to Orkney and threatened violent sea-sickness among other horrors. In fact it was as calm as a mill-pond and I stood out on the sun-deck (bit of a misnomer but at least it was dry) with a ciggie and some lovely views. We arrived at the Kirkwall Hotel at about 7.30pm and I had a wee wander along the main street in search of decent toilet paper.  Found it in the Co-op and was in bed by about 9.30pm and sound asleep.

Over the next few days I adored the Italian Chapel; stooped into Maeshowe and enjoyed the Viking grafitti; hugged more Standing Stones than I care to recall; crossed the Churchill Barriers many times and pondered how the sea could be so different on each side; spent a happy hour or so at the Orkney Winery with the most delicious Dutch man; walked for miles (yes, Walked!); looked down on Skara Brae and was just blown away (it was very windy by the coast ;-)); scampered round St Magnus Cathedral and stroked a rather lovely communion table; and happily wandered round many a gift shop, craft centre and jeweller.  On the last night some of us went to The Creel Restaurant where I ate the most delicious hand-dived scallops, lobster bisque and rhubarb compote.

I fell in love with Orkney Fudge, Orkney ice-cream with Orkney Fudge, Orkney cheese, Orkney Fudge and Orkney jewellery. And let us not forget the puffins. No, we didn’t actually see any but every gift shop had a host of them which made me very happy indeed. I do love a puffin. However, we did see seals and porpoises and many exotic birds. Sadly, there were no Twitchers on coach so we mostly argued as to whether they were seagulls or not.

The weather was amazing in that it only rained once and that was during the night. It was windy which I believe is the norm up there, and the sky could change in an instant from dark and broody to blue and fluffy.  But what skies – and what greenery. Delicious.

I came home wishing I could go again and see some more. It was a fabulous holiday and just what I needed. And Mr Grumpy just turned out to be incredibly shy, and Mrs Grumpy a joy to behold once we got talking,  so there’s a lesson learned again.


In which Ruth reveals what else she read on holiday

The Orkney trip (more of that later) meant an outing for the treasured Kindle, perfect as it is for this sort of holiday. Thankfully I am one of those people who does not vomit on the bus while reading so I managed to get four books under my belt throughout the second week of the holiday.

The first one was Relatively Guilty by William H S McIntyre, which I think is available on Kindle only.  I heard about this in the Falkirk Herald, I think, and it is by a local man  and is set in Linlithgow.  (There are 3 books in the Robbie Munro series so far.) It was a kind of murder mystery story told by a criminal lawyer and it was light, amusing and with lots of local bits to delight.  I could see this being televised.

The second book was a Novella by Hilary Mantel called Ink in the Blood: A Hospital Diary. It is  a strange little essay about a recent time in hospital and the loss of dignity that goes along with that. A must for all hospital staff.

The third book was Before I go to Sleep by SJ Watson and this was one I really couldn’t put down. It tells the story of a woman suffering from a special kind of amnesia which means that every morning she wakes up in bed with a man but does not know who he is. Each day she has to be reminded why she has no memory and starts to keep a journal on the advice of her Psychologist. This is a real psychological thriller which had me convinced the husband was the baddie, then the Pyschologist, then the husband, then… Great pace and although there were one or two annoying bits (like how come that mobile phone remained charged for so long?) they did not deter from a really good story.

The last book was One Day by David Nicholls, which to tell you the truth, I didn’t really fancy when it came out but there has been so much praise for it that I thought I’d give it a go. It was okay. Nice premise of meeting the couple on the same day every year, but I found it difficult to like the character of Dexter. Oh he was real enough, just not very likeable to begin with. Emma was lovely and I did like the way the book worked out but they could have done it a bit quicker for my liking.  Did enjoy the politics and history of the times but could have done with a wee bit more of that.