Listening and watching

pausing from piles of paper

Spiegel im Spiegel

a cello and a piano

slowly thoughtfully


a hand lifts slowly

in the air


then gently hits the key

but it is in the pauses

that the beauty lies

and then

a touch on my shoulder

a paw tentatively rests

and pauses


have you forgotten that I’m here?

she watches the pianist

and his balletic hand

pause and listen

I tell her

listen to the pauses

that’s where the music lies.

Death is not the end

2016 has had a sad start for me. At the end of 2015 three members of my little flock died. Each one of them was shocking and heart-breaking.

G died first. I had been visiting her for over five years since I’ve been here, taking her communion in her wonderful top-floor flat with views of the Ochils. G had a wonderful sense of humour and we shared a love of the same authors so got on well right from our first meeting. However, a stroke and then the loss of sight through macular degeneration left G deeply frustrated and unhappy. When her beloved only son died earlier in the year she felt she had nothing left to live for. G only had a granddaughter left but she lived in Glasgow and we never met. The first we heard of her death was when it appeared in the newspaper. We had talked about her funeral, G and I, and I knew that she wanted a simple service of the Committal. She wanted no eulogy, no hymns because she thought nobody would be there. When you get to your nineties there are not many friends left. No matter how often I told her that friends from church would be there she was convinced that there was no point in anything ‘fancy’. We agreed on a simple service. Perhaps her granddaughter didn’t know she was a member of Christ Church. Perhaps she was convinced by the Undertaker that they could take care of it all. So we gathered in the Crematorium, we friends of G, and listened to the Undertaker read two poems and say one sentence of the Committal. It was terribly, terribly sad.

A few weeks later I got a phone call to tell me M had died suddenly, found beside her bed. I’d seen her the day before bustling along Kerse Lane heading into town as she did every day. For M loved to shop. She loved to buy presents for all her family, friends and for me. Flowers Molly 2011 She looked well the day before she died. Her death was sudden and a shock. M had a large and loving family who grieved deeply at her death. Her funeral was on Christmas Eve in church and then at the Cemetery. The church was full and there were tears and laughter. M used to do the flowers for Christ Church and I know there was great concern that we should do her proud with a glorious display. It was a difficult funeral to take and I think that was partly because I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t see her again with her full head of chestnut hair, even in her 80s – and  it was all natural, unlike my own! I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t get more tipsy glasses or a request for fluffy polar bears in the nativity. I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t see her every Thursday at Mass and be greeted with her eternal optimism.

Then there was the death of B, another huge shock. B had recently been diagnosed with cancer but it was treatable and was certainly not going to get him down. B was a character, a very private man with a loving wife, with a caustic sense of humour who never failed to make me laugh. He was People’s Warden all the time I’ve been here, loved opera and theatre, and more than anything loved to entertain with food. Afternoon Tea for the CHURCHCHRIST.RP.SERVICE.21housebound were catered for with bone china tea-sets, tiered cake plates and real linen napkins, flowers on the table, all thanks to B. His platters for the Quiz Night were famous and wherever there was food to be served, B was at the forefront organising it. After just one round of Chemo, B caught pneumonia of the worst kind. The kind which is resistant to any antibiotics. So just a few weeks after his diagnosis and after just one week of chemo he was taken into hospital, then ICU and then a few days later on the day before Christmas Eve we sat at his bedside while all the life-support was switched off. Too soon. Too soon. Again another shock that we wouldn’t see him again, taste his little amuse bouches. His funeral was the first I took in 2016 on the 6 January and we catered for his funeral tea in his memory. The joy of Epiphany was overwhelmed with sadness. A star had fallen from our skies.

Three lovely people gone. Each one a beloved child of God. Each one unique and each one a character. Each one missed by us all.

And then this week I began my post-Christmas holiday. I was tired. Tired of death. Tired of being strong and carrying on when all I wanted to do was sit down and weep. Tired of loss. Tired of shock. I knew it would be a holiday of sleeping and reading and thinking back over these few weeks of great loss. I didn’t want to go away. I just wanted to coorie down and wallow in sadness.

bowie_aladin_sane_1000pxAnd then David Bowie died. Not a man I knew, but a man I had adored since I was a young teenager. A man whose music was the soundtrack to my life. A man who shocked my parent’s generation but who thrilled us. A man who cared nought for gender or rules and no, I didn’t understand all of his music and lyrics but I loved them all the same. I know them all still. My boys grew up listening to his music and also know and love him. That made me strangely proud. Memories of listening to his LPs on our little record player over and over again, of dressing like Aladdin Sane at the local disco, of dancing a strange dance to Rebel Rebel with my first boyfriend at a wedding, of wishing I had straight hair so I could have mine cut like his, of crying at Murrayfield when he walked on stage in that blue suit on the Serious Moonlight Tour. And I didn’t even know he was ill. I was totally unprepared for his death. I found a radio station playing all of his music and I sat in the kitchen all day and listened and sang along. Why on earth was I so moved by a pop-star’s death? Because so much of my life had been accompanied by his music. Because he had been theatre and a legend for me.

Then two days later Alan Rickman, the actor, died. Another shock. Another person whom I admired and watched avidly. That voice, that intonation, that humour. I seldom cry at movies but I did at Truly, Madly, Deeply. And his death seemed like the final nail. Too much death. Too much shock and loss.

It has been a sad year so far. Yes I know each one will live on in my memories. I will never forget G and M and B. We will keep on telling their stories. And Bowie will continue to be yelled (I won’t say ‘sung’) along to in my car and whenever I hear him. I might even make a Spotify list of my favourites. And I think I may watch all of Alan Rickman’s performances again and laugh at his Slope or Snape. Dead but not forgotten.

In which Ruth explores Spirituality (part 1)

Spirituality. What does it mean? The search for the sacred? Participating in organised religion? Or is it more personal? Yoga, meditation, silent prayer, tai chi, sweat lodges, the list goes on. Each of us could define spirituality in a different way.

Throughout my life I seem to have been searching for ‘spirituality’. As I didn’t start going to church until I was in my late 20s it has obviously not been all Christian spirituality. When I went through the selection process for ordination to the priesthood I remember telling the Selectors that my journey of different spiritualities all are important parts of my journey. They all agreed. However it has not always been so well received. Sometimes Christians just seem a little narrow minded when it comes to spirituality.

Last week I had my Ministerial Review with the Bishop (but more of that another day!). And it got me thinking about spirituality and what works for me. Do you want to hear what started it all off for me? (Apart from my love and lust for Marc Bolan which was a very spiritual thing but pretty personal.) You do? Oh good. So I thought I might blog a bit about some of the spiritualities I’ve encountered along the way. Remember we didn’t all go to Sunday School and Scripture Union.

So my first encounter of spirituality was in 1970 when I was about 14. That was the year after that great Aquarian Exposition, the Festival of Woodstock. This was also the year I fell in love with the colour purple and have worn it ever since. 1970 was a wonderful age for fashion in Edinburgh and much of it was influenced by Woodstock. Bell bottoms, cheese-cloth shirts and skirts, tie-dye, long hair with flowers and beads and bells. At the age of 14 fashion is terribly important especially when you go to an All Girls School and the uniform is truly ghastly and strictly enforced (maroon blazer, gold crest of unicorn (the only good thing about it), tussore dress and straw hat in summer). So when I saw this beautiful hippy chick walking along the Meadows in front of me, wearing a long crushed velvet rich purple skirt edged with little silver-like bells, bare feet and a flower drawn on her face, I fell in love with the colour purple. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. *sighs*

peace-love-musicAnyway, that was not the spiritual moment. No, my first dabbling in spirituality came via a friend who had the boxed set of Woodstock records. (Not many people had the full boxed set because it was terribly expensive.) The sad thing is that I can remember lots of this bit of the story but not the name of the person, the friend who introduced me to Woodstock music and my first spiritual moment. But a group of us would lie around her bedroom listening to Joe Cocker, Melanie, Country Joe and the Fish, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, and all the rest. “One, two , three, what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me cos I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam…” Funny what sticks in the memory, eh? Oh how we wanted to go to a music festival where peace and love abounded but we were just too young. Too young to wear flowers in our hair and walk barefoot in the street. Too young to smoke exotic substances but just old enough to experiment with joss sticks from Cockburn Street Market and wear badges on our blazers with peace symbols.

One day my friend announced that she was joining the Hare Krishna movement. How terribly exotic! How beautifully non-Presbyterian! How trendy and modern and unusual (and dare I say it, attention-seeking?) for even then, dear Reader, I was not averse to a little bit of limelight. Of course we had all seen those strange Hare Krishna people dancing along Princes Street in their saffron robes and tiny cymbals and drums. As they chanted ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Rama’ and smiled beatifically we wondered what these creatures were. Of course we knew it was something to do with the Hindu faith but these devotees in Edinburgh still looked distinctly Scottish underneath their exotic garb. They begged for money, they were vegetarian, they meditated and they chanted. A lot. But it was quite a sacrifice to give up life in an Edinburgh flat to go and live in a commune with a lot of strangers.

So we were full of questions for our friend. She must have been older then me, but I seem to hare_krishna_and_jesus_christ_wallpaper_jxhyremember not much over 16 or 17. Why? And it was the meditation which drew her into their arms. Meditation was very big in the 60s and 70s. It was all about finding enlightenment and encountering ‘the other’. God, we call it. Throughout my search for spirituality I encountered God many times, but not always was ‘his/her’ name ‘God’. Sometimes it was Krishna. Sometimes it involved cleansing your body (no caffeine, no alcohol, no intoxication, no meat) so that you could cleanse your mind. And who wouldn’t like to strive for mercy, truthfulness, love and peace? One day I went to the temple with her. Oh the colours! Gaudy, yes, but somehow beautiful. I seem to remember a sort of altar with statues and posters of Indian images and lots of colourful flowers, and then on the floor lay fruit and vegetables. My friend (was she called Rosie? although she had taken another name by then) solemnly gave me an orange. “This is Prasadam,” she said. If I have remember correctly, the orange became ‘prasadam’ when it was offered at the altar and blessed in prayer. It still looked like an orange but it was something more. I struggled to get my head round this. You Episcopalians will have no trouble, of course. It was merely Transubstantiation!! But I wrestled a bit with this concept, but I liked it. I liked that an ordinary thing could be transformed into something more, something special by prayers and God’s blessings. So it was not something to be eaten casually or thrown away. It was something special, something set apart.

I took the orange/prasadam home. My family were visiting, I remember. My poor old granny looked bewildered as I explained to her that this was not really an orange but something much, much more. (At her last visit I had insisted she read the lyrics of Marc Bolan’s Electric Warrior LP.) My uncle thought it was “bloody nonsense” and went out for a walk.  The rest of us shared the orange and you know it tasted like an orange. But for me, it was just a little bit more.


Bishops Old and New

Yesterday in Edinburgh the Very Rev’d Dr John Armes was consecrated and installed as Bishop of Edinburgh. The cathedral was packed full but strangely this did not make it any cosier. (I wonder what it would take to make the cathedral warm?) Clergy in 70 shades of white were squished side by side with no kneeling room and behaved reasonably well, I’d say. (A certain priest from East Lothian won the Hymn Bingo by guessing that we would have All People that on earth do Dwell. )

So what do you want to know about the event? Who was there? Oh the usual suspects. Bishops past, present and Porvu. There were some rather fetching ecumenical guests in exotic vestments and a very red Cardinal. Clergy and lay readers turned out in force, many of whom I’ve never seen in my life before. Ian Barcroft from Glasgow Diocese preached.

Music? Well I have to be careful here just in case these were all +John’s choices. The mass setting was Kodaly’s Missa Brevis which, lovely though it is, wouldn’t have been my choice for such an occasion. St John’s Princes St choir had joined with the Cathedral choir and they all made a jolly nice sound. I especially loved the Durufle Ubi Caritas et amor which I first heard one Holy Week in Mirfield and have adored it ever since. The litany was especially composed by DJ Ferguson in honour of +John and the cantor was Fr Pip but as it was new we couldn’t really join in. (Well there was an attempt but it sort of died out into a kind of low hum.)  After communion we were treated to Jonathan Dove’s Seek Him that maketh the Seven Stars and Stanford’s Te Deum.

After the service was over we all gathered on the lawns in the sun and enjoyed a glass (or bottle in some cases!) of vino and canapes. Actually it was warmer out there than it had been in the cathedral. The best bit was watching all the woman in heels sinking into the damp grass and ending up at an alarming tilt. As ever it was lovely to see many old friends and make some new ones. “Hello, are you Ruth by any chance? I’m ********* and we’re friends on Twitter.”  “Oh how lovely. Now I know what you look like!”

Really it was a lovely day. Very Embra, if you know what I mean. And now we have a new Bishop and he’s coming to us first, I reckon. Well he’s coming next Sunday to do 5 Confirmations. I’ll let you know how he gets on! Let’s hear it for our new Bishop… hip, hip…


Where has the time gone?

The first LP I bought with my saved-up pocket money was Electric Warrior by T-Rex. It popped up in a window today and I noticed that it is 41 years old. How did that happen? I still have the album in a cupboard somewhere with vomit stains on the cover. (That was some party!) It had all the words on the back and I remember trying to impress my granny with them, but she was having none of it. But it was carted round various parties in those halcyon days along with Bowie’s Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Carole King’s Tapestry. The weird thing is that I still know all the words to every track – as do my boys for they became Bowie fans too.  (38 years since Diamond Dogs came out!)

40 years old and music that I still listen to. I do listen to stuff that’s a bit older too these days from the Classics to Doris Day but the radio always gets turned up for Bowie. They were played and replayed on the old Dansette with a 2p piece taped to the arm to stop it jumping. The words were memorised and lusted after and I was so pleased to learn that some of the lyrics came from a jumble of phrases cut out of paper and mixed up on the floor for Hunky Dory. They had previously made no sense to me at all and I really was beginning to think that taking drugs was the only way I was going to understand them.

So today, as the choir-next-door gathers for a medley of old-time tunes, I shall be cranking up Itunes and going back to the 70s for a glam rock time. Rock on!

Lol Robinson sings

I’ve been listening to a CD this morning entitled Songs from Lucy’s Cottage which is rather nice. The strange thing is that it is sung by a fictional character. Kind of. Readers will know I am a big fan of the Phil Rickman books featuring Merrily Watkins: single parent; Silk-Cut smoking; priest; and diocesan exorcist. Merrily’s lover is a man by the name of Lol Robinson who has developed rather nicely throughout the series of books from angst-ridden, Nick Drake fan to a man who finally has played his music in public without the help of narcotics or alcohol and has modest success.  Throughout the books we hear about songs which Lol has written or performed and here they all are.

I liked Heavy Medication Day which reflects the care which goes on in some psychiatric hospitals. Cure of Souls is haunting and stuck in my head.  The whole CD is kind of done in the style of Nick Drake (of whom I am a big fan) and is really rather nice. I shall keep listening and sure I’ll come back to it too. If you are a lover of the books, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too. (And Gomer’s voice is just how I imagined it!)

Reading, Watching, Listening


Two charity shop finds have entertained me this week. The first was my lover’s lover by Maggie O’Farrell.  We did The Vanishing Act of Esmee Lennox at the book group and enjoyed it so was happy to pick up another of hers. I actually loved the premise of this story – a woman seeing the ghost of her lover’s former lover all over the place. It was a book about emotions and jealousy and insecurity and half-truths with some exceptional writing.  The one thing that spoiled it for me was the ending so am reluctant to recommend it. No, that’s not fair – the rest of it is really good so go for it if you can bear a poor ending. Just make up your own like I did.

The second book was The Miracles of Santo Fico by D L Smith. This is a book about love and miracles and forgiveness set in a forgotten village in Tuscany.  Father Elio is having a spiritual crisis and Leo orchestrates a miracle to set things right. There is humour and a light touch to what would be great holiday reading.


This week I have watched the first series of Black Books, the comedy series with Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig co-written with Graham Linehan (Father Ted). I had forgotten quite how funny this is so there has been much clutching of stitches. (And it was only £9.88 for the boxed set of 3 series so not to be missed.)

My sister loaned me a boxed set of The Lakes which was a series on BBC1 in the late 90s by Jimmy McGovern. I couldn’t understand why I had never even heard of this until I remembered that I didn’t watch TV from 1996-2000 which were my University years. Us oldies needed to study, study, study into the wee small hours. The series was set in the Lake District so beautiful views and back-drops but was very dark.  Murder, mayhem, sex and more sex, rape – it was all there by the bucketload. Good though.

Son #1 persuaded me to get The World’s Fastest Indian and we watched that one night. It stars Anthony Hopkins as a New Zealander (bad accent Anthony) who wants to enter the world speed record on a motorcycle – the Indian of the title. This is such a feel-good movie and really heartwarming. (Film group will see it soon!)

Also have watched the 1st series of Life on Mars which also passed me by. I was more than a little disappointed to find that I now have to watch the second series to find out if he gets back or not.  However, it was mildly amusing and passed an hour or so.


Oh such joy since I discovered Spotify.  I’m sure it was one of the young people in the SEC who mentioned it in a blog or on Facebook and I’m so glad they did. Now I get to listen to all my favourite music on my computer without changing cds etc.  Found lots of my old vinyl on it which is probably unplayable now, having moved house a dozen times and they are still living in the garage. The ads are short and fairly unobtrusive too so bearable. Download it now! You won’t regret it.

And who have I been listening to?  Well since you ask… Bach, Dr Hook, Nick Drake, Faure, Barbra Streisand and Craig Armstrong.


Books and Music

A few books I’ve been reading lately, and also some new music to ponder…

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs.  Now I wouldn’t have picked this book myself but as it was forced upon me by a friend and told it was really good and I would love it… well what can you do?  Actually it was quite a good read with a few empowering women bits.  And if you are into knitting it will make you smile here and there.

A Darker Doman by Val McDermid.  This was my first Val McDermid and I don’t really know why she isn’t more widely publicised.  I thought this was just as good as Rankine. Might it be a woman thing? Anyway this story linked up the disappearance of the daughter and grandson of the richest man in Scotland 25 years ago with the Miner’s Strike of 1984. I loved it.

Family Ties by Malcolm Goldsmith.  As Malcolm is known to many of us as priest, campaigner of the spirituality of dementia, prayer and Myers Briggs, and facilitator of our mid-ministry course, then it was a delight to discover that he had written his first work of fiction. This is about relationships and family tensions and I loved it. (Bits of church in there too.)

The Great Lover by Jill Dawson. Just finished this one and still not sure. It tells the story of Rupert Brooke, poet and captor of hearts of men and women alike. It sort of lost momentum for me as it went on but an interesting insight into a complex man.  Quite a bit of sex too. (Not that that’s a bad thing!)

And what have I been listening to?

Well, thanks to Maggi Dawn I have found 2 cds which can be used as reflective mood music on those occasions when you want a group to settle down.

The first one I got was Craig Armstrong Piano Works. There are some beautiful and haunting pieces on this. Lots of ‘I know that tune’ moments too.  I’ll be buying more from this guy.

The second was Mnemosyne by Jan Garbarek and The Hilliard Ensemble. If you like the sound of a sax and medieval chamber music intertwined then this is for you. Little flock, you shall hear more of this I promise. It is just glorious.

Finally, I’ve been listening (and boogying on down) to Fischy Music’s Down to Earth.  Readers may remember that Fischy Music came and played for us at the end of Junior Church term. We had a great time learning to sign the new songs and having a laugh too. J has requested that we have them on Sundays too so I’ve been revisiting them to see which to have first.