Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas peace

In this darkest part of the winter, at the end of what has been an extraordinarily turbulent and threatening year, I can’t think of anything we and our world need more than peace this Christmas. So this is what I wish you all, with gratitude for your friendship and the deep pleasure your blogs give me.

Here in our corner of Mid-Wales the baking is finished, the presents are wrapped, and the suitcase is packed, ready for an early start tomorrow, as we head off to spend Christmas with DS and his family. Wherever you may be spending your Christmas, may it be full of joy and peace.

Image:   Nativity by Duccio di Buoninsegna (c1255/60–c1318/19 Siena, Italy)
               National Gallery of Art, Washington, USA
Carol:    Stille Nacht
               Words by Josef Mohr (1792-1848)
               Music by Francis Xaver Gruber (1787-1863)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent pause for thought

On this calm, chilly November afternoon I’m sitting at my desk in my warm, somewhat untidy study. Outside DH has been taking advantage of the dry weather to do some jobs before the sun, which has been peeping out intermittently from behind the clouds all day, finally sets. The house is quiet and still, as befits the beginning of what is for me one of the most reflective seasons of the church’s year.

The peace and quiet are very welcome after what has been a very busy and often turbulent year. At home it has been an unusual year, with none of our habitual peregrinations to Scotland and France, but with substantial changes, necessitating a lot of hard work, taking place here in Wales. In the wider world it has been a year of often shocking political upset, with both the EU referendum in Britain and the presidential election in the USA plumbing new depths of misleading and vitriolic campaigning, and their results plunging our two countries into deep and prolonged economic and political uncertainty.

Into this turbulence and uncertainty comes Advent, with its message of hope and expectation, reminding us that however dark things seem there is always the promise of light and new beginnings. For me, as for most of us, it will inevitably be a busy time, with cards to write, presents to buy and lots of baking to be done. Yet I will try to hold onto this still centre of quiet and hope amid the busyness and the darkness, in anticipation of the joy of Christmas itself.

One of the pleasures of writing my annual Advent Sunday post is deciding what music to include. This year I have chosen a poem written by my friend Christine McIntosh, set to music by her musician husband John, and sung by their church choir at Holy Trinity, Dunoon, Argyll. The exquisite combination of words and music captures perfectly the expectant, trustful hope of Advent. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A flurry of endings

2016 is turning out to be a very different kind of year from its immediate predecessors. Apart from a last-minute dash to Scotland in January to make sure the house was protected from frost damage, we have remained resolutely in one place until my trip to Prague last month.

Instead of our normal travelling we have been involved in two very different journeys. By far the most significant has been the decision to sell the old house on the hill which was our home for almost forty years. It finally went on the market on the day before the EU referendum and three days later, to our complete amazement, we received an asking price offer from the very first people to view. We were very grateful for this gleam of light amid the profound gloom of the referendum result.

Given the state of the market, and knowing how long some local houses have been for sale, we had been mentally preparing ourselves for a prolonged and frustrating wait. Instead we have spent the summer dealing with all the myriad questions and details which accompany a property sale, which culminated this week with both us and the buyers signing our respective copies of the contracts. Completion will take some time, but the selling  journey has definitely reached its goal. 

The old house as we first saw it in 1973

The old house over 40 years later

Another journey which reached its goal in the last couple of weeks was the seemingly interminable saga of the conservatory. We started sending for brochures this time last year and the building work was finally completed in August. DH then worked like a trooper during my time in Prague, painting walls and laying flooring, ready for the specialist removers to dismantle his beloved snooker table, transport it down the hill and reassemble it in its new home. Since then I can usually rely on finding him in there whenever he isn’t in his usual haunts.

It’s too late now for us to fit in a short trip to France and we have too much to do to head north in November as we usually do. But we are determined that next year, come what may, we will once again be perpetually in transit.

Foundation trench heading for Australia

The walls rise...

And the roof takes shape...

He plays by day...

He plays by night...

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Despatch at the start of a journey

I’m sitting at my desk on a warm and humid day, the sky heavily overcast and thunder rumbling in the distance. Upstairs DH is snatching a nap after a very disturbed night. In the hall is a stack of luggage, waiting to be transferred to the car in a couple of hours, when hopefully the rain will have stopped. We will then head across to stay overnight with my mother-in-law, before DH drives me into Oxford to catch the coach for Heathrow.

Yes, after a static but very busy  summer, full of building works and house sale and interrupted by another debilitating virus, I’m finally on the move again. This time it’s not to France or Scotland, but to Prague, for a much anticipated and very welcome return visit to my friend Ricky Yates, the Anglican chaplain there, before he retires next year. I’m looking forward enormously to exploring Prague again and catching up with the friends I made on my previous two visits.

During my visit I will be taking a Sunday service in Ricky’s absence and on the other Sunday I will go with him to Dresden, where he leads a monthly service of Evening Prayer in English at the Frauenkirche, the world-famous symbol of Dresden reborn.  This time he has invited me to be the guest preacher, a hugely exciting, if rather daunting, prospect. Wish me luck.

I’ve spent a rather large number of hours in the past few weeks working on the sermons I will preach and now they are nestling in my new super-light suitcase, along with two complete sets of clerical robes, as well as an ample stock of more usual holiday wear. The freezer is full, so DH won’t starve in my absence, the hairdresser has again successfully tamed my unruly mop and I’m ready for one more adventure. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Staying put

I truly cannot believe that almost two months have gone by since I last posted, but the calendar doesn’t lie, so two months it must be. And what has she been doing with herself during those two months, I can hear you all thinking. She certainly hasn’t been reading and commenting on our blogs with any regularity, if at all. The answer is very simple. I have been busy, very busy, but with the kind of activity that doesn’t really make for rivetting (or even mildly interesting) blog posts. 

One of these was the recent move from Windows LiveMail to Outlook for dealing with my email, since Microsoft, in its wisdom, has decided to stop supporting LiveMail soon. It’s been a tedious and longwinded process, as somehow the vast majority of my very large number of stored emails were inadvertently duplicated in the process of moving across and the duplicates had to be laboriously deleted by yours truly. Sigh…  

On the positive side, it proved to be unexpectedly fascinating to go back over long-ago events, as I dealt with the emails concerning them. I’d never before thought of email as a memory store, but for me it turns out to be exactly that. I have never managed to keep a diary or a journal for longer than a few weeks, but this has proved to be almost better than a journal in many ways, because the sequence of messages captured not only my thoughts, but those of others involved. As you can guess, the deletion process took considerably longer than it need have done…

Then, of course, there are the preparations for the conservatory. The long-awaited ground-works are scheduled to start on June 2nd, and the construction of the conservatory itself will, all being well, take place in the last full week of June. As I type I can hear DH busily lifting and storing the last of the patio slabs (which were very solidly bedded in!) so that they can be reused eventually to create a small patio at the far end of the conservatory, overlooking the river. Thankfully the weather is being kind here in Mid-Wales, and we seem to be escaping the rain which is currently drenching much of Western Europe.

However,  overshadowing everything else is the major topic which has been consuming most of our time and energy since I last posted - the firm decision to put the old house up the hill on the market at last. What with getting estimates from estate agents, continuing to work on sorting and clearing the house and outbuildings, and trying to bring order to the riot of greenery which has been making a takeover bid, there hasn’t been much time or energy left for anything else.

The house will go onto the market officially as soon as the details of the sale particulars have been finalised by the agent, but, being us, we haven’t been leaving it all to the agent. Using material drafted by DH, I’ve spent a lot of time and effort in the last couple of weeks creating a website (using Blogger) to hold more information and images than any estate agent can include in normal sale particulars. It was a fiddly and sometimes frustrating process, but it finally went live yesterday, and we’re hoping it will help in the process of finding a buyer who will love the place as much as we do and be as happy there as we were for so many years.  

Beyond our own small concerns there is, of course, the looming referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, about which, you’ll be glad to note, I don’t plan to say more than this. It is a huge decision, with very long-lasting consequences, and you will probably not be surprised to hear that as convinced internationalists, DH and I are profoundly hoping Britain will vote to remain a member.

Finally, because so much is happening at the moment, we have been forced to accept that we simply cannot go to Normandy as usual this year. What with the possibility of house viewings and the need to keep the undergrowth around the old house in check, we absolutely must stay here all summer – hence the title of this post. If all goes well we hope to get across to France for a short visit in the autumn, but for this year there will be no cherries, no kittens and no year’s supply of apricot jam to make and bring home. I’d better make the one remaining jar in the cupboard last as long as possible. Even the travelling pelargoniums are staying put this year.

The big bonus of being here is watching our still newish garden blooming through the spring and summer and having the time to carry on developing it. I wonder what new treasures will show themselves over the coming weeks…?

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Heading for the hills

Observant readers of this blog may have noticed that, since our flying visit back in January, there has been no mention of Scotland in my posts. Normally at this time of year we would be well ensconced in the far North, celebrating not only Easter but also my birthday and our wedding anniversary during our stay. This year, however, we are tied to Wales by the impending construction of a conservatory, for which we need to be at home, but haven’t yet got a start date.

Of course it was lovely to celebrate Easter at the village church for the first time in a number of years, but the really big bonus was that it meant DS and Grandson#3 were able to spend Easter with us and give the new house their seal of approval. They arrived in glorious sunshine on Good Friday and luckily saw the garden and the river at their best, before the weekend’s rain and wind arrived to keep us trapped indoors for the next two days.

Not that the weather stopped us enjoying ourselves. We ate well, talked a lot and played endless card games, but it made a pleasant change to wake on Easter Monday morning to no rain and a clearing sky. On the spur of the moment DS asked if they could stay for an extra day, so to celebrate this we decided to go for a drive after lunch to show Grandson#3 some of the places his father knew as a child.

DS’s instinct is always to head for the hills and he had an ultimate destination in mind. My instinct is to visit places of interest en route, so DH took us by winding and scenic minor roads to one of these, a fascinating group of remains of a once thriving local industry – lead-mining.

Bryntail is very much the best-preserved lead-mining site in the area and gives a clear idea of what this industry once entailed. It has the added attraction of being situated in a steep-sided river valley directly below the enormous dam which helps to control the water level of a major tributary of the River Severn and mitigate the Severn’s once devastating tendency to flood the small towns downstream.

After a very interesting wander round the ruins, we went back to the car and drove to the viewpoint above the dam. This offers not only wonderful views over the lake and the lead mine remains below the dam, but also one of the stunning panoramas which are such a feature of this glorious corner of Wales.

From here we drove along the lake and through the forest which borders it until we came out onto the main road again at the far end of the lake. Soon after we turned off onto a minor road which leads up over the Cambrian Mountains towards the coast. We drove uphill past Dylife, once the site of a thriving lead-mining village, onto the high plateau and into a different world.
Here, at more than 1500 feet, the weekend’s rain had fallen as snow, and though it was beginning to melt in the afternoon sun, there was still enough to transform the landscape and enable DS and his son to have a very enjoyable snowball fight. After that the two of them headed down the track to DS’s ultimate destination, the Glaslyn nature reserve.

This is a area DS hiked and visited with his friends as a teenager, and though the going was very wet, they followed the track past the lake and up to the viewpoint, from which they had a panoramic view north-west as far as Snowdonia, more than 40 miles away. When they finally rejoined us at the car nearly two hours later, they were tired, happy and had extremely wet feet, despite wearing stout walking shoes.

Now that Grandson#3 is nearly a teenager, I foresee more visits during which DS will take him out onto the hills, just as our son-in-law does with our other two grandsons when they visit. All of them love hiking and hill-walking and there are plenty of wild, unspoiled places here to explore. Sadly my ageing knees mean that I can only accompany them over rough ground in spirit, but it’s enough to know that our love for the wonderful Mid-Wales countryside is being handed down to the next generation.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

I wish you all a very happy and blessed Easter.

Image:  ‘Noli me tangere’ by Giotto di Bondone  Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua, circa 1304-06.

Words: Edmond Budry (1854-1932)
Music: Maccabeus (adapted from the oratorio by Georg Friedrich Handel, 1685-1759)

Friday, March 25, 2016

A green hill far away

Image: Crucifixion by Edward Vardanian ( born 1953 in Artashat, Armenia and moved to the USA in 1992.)

Words: Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)        Music: Horsley  (William Horsley, 1774-1858)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

We apologise…

…for this unplanned break in transmission.  Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.  

When I first started coughing during my trip to Belgium, I could never have dreamt it would take me so long to get over the chest infection which had hit me.  But all things come to those who wait and thankfully I’m now well again at last and trying hard to catch up with all the things I should have been doing during the past few weeks.

One big task which I’ve now started to tackle is to unpack and sort the boxes of books which I accumulated during the almost thirty years of my active ministry, many of which I no longer use and for which in any case we simply don’t have space. Some I will keep, some I will offer to colleagues if they want them, and the rest will go to a charity which supplies books to theological students overseas who cannot afford to buy the books they need.

So far I’ve emptied and sorted some twenty boxes of books and am now taking a break, as DS and Grandson#3 are coming to spend the Easter weekend with us, as our poor daughter-in-law is going to be very busy at work. Once Easter is over I’ll make a start on the long-delayed posts about my trip before tackling even one more box of books – I promise.

In the meantime I’m crossing fingers and toes that the weather forecasters have got it wrong. After a nicely dry fortnight, they are promising rain for the Easter weekend - a typical British bank holiday, in other words. I think our recently-neglected stock of board games may come in handy once again…

Images via Google

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Serendipity is a wonderful thing

Forty-four years ago this summer, almost entirely by chance, DH and I made a move which would change our lives forever. He was close to completing his professional training and was looking for his first qualified post and I had finally decided that I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher (my first choice of profession) and would become a librarian instead.

Our children were still very young, but it wouldn’t be too long before DS would be old enough to go to school and we wanted to be settled before this important stage was reached. So in the winter of 1972, I began to apply to library schools and DH began to apply for posts in the areas in which those library schools were located. I was lucky enough to receive several offers of places and we waited anxiously to see if and where DH would be fortunate enough to be offered a job.

Two of the library school places were in cities: Liverpool, in the north-west of England, not very far from where I was born and had grown up and Newcastle upon Tyne in the north-east, where DH had spent his childhood. The third was in Wales, just outside Aberystwyth – terra incognita for both of us. Indeed my first ever visit to Wales was for the interview for my library school place – arriving on the milk train from Shrewsbury.

Despite my tiredness and the tension of the forthcoming interview I can still remember how bowled-over I was by the beauty of the landscape through which the train travelled between Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth and also how impressed I was by the brand-new college of librarianship at which I was interviewed. Now the question of where DH would be offered a job acquired a new urgency for me, as yet again I had fallen in love with a place at first sight, though this time it was a landscape, rather than a city.

To cut a long story short, DH was offered a post about 40 miles from my library school (but what a commute!) and in the summer of 1972 we moved to Wales. After a very demanding but happy year at library school, I was offered my first professional post in the same local authority area as DH and we moved across the Cambrian Mountains to put down roots in the quiet, beautiful and unspoiled part of Mid-Wales where we still live.

It may have been a lucky chance which brought us to Wales, but it will always be home to us now.  Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus! Happy Saint David’s Day to you all.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

First impressions

After months and even years of planning and anticipation, my trip with my sister to the battlefields of the Western Front proved to be a hugely interesting and deeply moving experience. After three packed days of visits, two of them in glorious sunshine and the third in the snow, we travelled back to the UK last Friday, tired but very content.

Next morning DH collected me and drove me home, with my head whirling with a kaleidoscope of impressions, my camera laden with almost 450 images, my suitcase full of laundry and my poor lungs feeling very sorry for themselves, thanks to a nasty chest infection which ambushed me and several other members of our party partway through the trip.

It’s taking me a while to recover, but I’ve finally dealt with the laundry, downloaded the photos and am just about thinking clearly enough to start to organise all my impressions and memories. Though it feels like I have enough material for a book rather than a few blog posts, at this stage I’m not even going to use words. In their place is a selection of images, which hopefully capture something of the essence of our trip - of cemeteries and memorials, of landscapes and the remnants of war that still scar them. The words will come later, when I can find the ones I need.