Friday, August 22, 2008

Panoramic Fun

Here's a link to Gigapan, a fun site I newly surfed to this evening. It's not the home page, but I love this view, since it shows what I didn't get to see when I trekked up Pen-y-Fan in South Wales in a fog on April Fool's Day, 1989.

Try the Search bar! Virtual trips for one and all!

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Twenty

Wednesday, 5 April, 1989
Holford to Taunton to Salisbury to London
Day Twenty

This morning at breakfast there was smoked haddock, the first time I’ve had any on this trip. It was a nice change from bacon.

The weather didn’t look too cheerful as I headed down the little road to Crowcombe and thence to Taunton. Still, we put the Beethoven sonata tape in the player and make the best of it.

In case you’re wondering, I was not going there again because Somerset's county town is such a tourist magnet. I had absolutely no cash in my purse and had to hit the NatWest to cash some Traveller’s Cheques. And I wanted to buy some Somerset cider.

Worse finding a place to park today than Sunday, not surprisingly. Finally got a slot in a half-hour zone a couple-three blocks from downtown. Hustled and managed to accomplish both goals in the nick of time. Last thing I want is a ticket.

The cider’s in a plastic jug. No temptation to take it home to America that way, though I really would’ve preferred the stoneware container.

It was after noon when I'd completed my errands and left there, so I had to skip going back to Bristol to try to see the Clifton Suspension Bridge by day. Would’ve been no improvement over last night, anyway-- cloudy again. Instead I went south on the A358 to pick up the A303 east at Ilminster, to make it as expeditiously as possible to Salisbury.

Of course I managed to get lost on the way, or I thought I was, which comes to the same thing. Backtracked thinking I’d missed the turn for the A36, wasting all sorts of time and petrol in the process, only to discover I’d been ok all along. It’s a good thing this car comes with unlimited mileage.

When I got to Salisbury I drove around till I found a place I could park for a couple hours free on Mill Road by the Queen Elizabeth Gardens. That gave me a better view of the cathedral than a close-in position would’ve, though it isn’t the angle so often painted by Constable, I think.

I walked along the water there as close as I could come, but they haven’t thought to provide a bridge whereby you can reach the cathedral from that angle. So I had to walk all the way around to the High Street after all.

First thing apparent on this fine foggy day is that the West Front is being restored. More scaffolding (do I hear a March somewhere?). You can’t have everything, though.

The interior was different from what I expected and a little disappointing as well. It seems odd to say so, but all my reading and photograph-taking had led me to believe it would be a lot more-- well, cleaner. And instead I found it neither austere, nor rich, but merely cluttered-- and mostly with tourists. A great many French ones, many of them there in student groups. But that seems to be the case in most English cathedrals I’m visiting this trip.

The dark gray Purbeck shafts of the nave and triforium are very smooth and nice, but damn, don’t they subdivide the vertical space! One horizontal band on top of the other.

The really odd thing is the Trinity Chapel, at the east end. The Purbeck shafts there are unbelievably tall and slender. They look hardly able to take the weight of the vaults, light-looking as those are.

Got a good look at the inverted arch in the eastern transept, to figure out to where the mouldings go . . . Actually, they just die into an unengaged column on each side. Not the most polished or professional solution one could imagine. I wonder at what stage those were put in.

They’re installing a new organ in the northwest transept. The case wasn’t entirely built and I could admire the big diapason ranks.

The Trinity chapel is dedicated to Prisoners of Conscience. I can’t help thinking, it’s not enough to be sincere; you can be sincerely wrong. But still, Amnesty International is right-- you can’t go jailing people just because they’re Communists or whatever. That seemed to be the case of the South American student who is their prisoner of the month.

Yes, the title does sound rather hokey, doesn’t it? At least, some of the French students really thought so. Gave them a good laugh. And me a blow to my romantic conception that all European students are such socially-aware people.

It’s not only the west front that’s being renovated, it’s the tower and roof as well. You can’t go anywhere in that church without encountering a display illustrating the need for urgent repairs. But it is imperative something be done, so I threw in a pound in addition to my admission ‘donation.’

They have one fund-raising idea which wasn’t exactly the most atmosphere-preserving activity but still is an interesting concept. They’re releading the roof and to raise money they’ve divided several sheets of the lead into boxes maybe 1-1/8" high x 4" long. For £2 you can use an electric engraving tool and inscribe your name, origin, the date, and anything else you like, within good taste and reason, and it’ll go up on the roof.

I decided what the heck, why not. But of course I have to be Creative. So towards the upper middle of sheet #39 (you can ask them when on a roof tour and they’ll show it to you), I have

Blogwen X--
Kansas City, USA
5 April, 1989
Gloria in Excelsis Deo

All done in a very shaky version of my Celtic lettering-- shaky due to not having eaten since breakfast (it was after 4:00 by now) and just plain nerves. Still, it was enough to excite the natives. And who knows what it’ll inspire.

I actually wasn’t feeling very Gloria in Excelsis but the attribution is appropriate, regardless of how I feel. And besides, it’s a good motto for a roof.

Obligatory visit to the cathedral shop for a postcard or two, then I strolled around the cloister. Peeked into the chapterhouse but didn’t go in-- couldn’t afford the time and didn’t care to pay the extra money.

Out the west door to admire as much of the facade as was visible behind the scaffolding. It started to rain so I skipped making a full circuit of the building.

Left the cathedral grounds and walked up the High Street in search of a phonecard box. Found one, and tried calling Royal Festival Hall about where to park for the concert this evening. But got no answer. They must close at 4:30.

Tried to locate a bakery or whatever in the immediate vicinity so I could buy something to pretend to be dinner, but with no success. So tonight we’ll live on Berlioz. No problem.

Got petrol at an off-brand station just out of town. I asked and they didn’t take traveller’s cheques, not even in pounds sterling. Very strange. Visa was all right, luckily.

Got on the A338 north (at about 5:00) to pick up the A303 past Andover and then to get the M3 near Popham. The motorway goes past Basingstoke. My dialects book says that down here it’d be taboo to say, "Basingstoke is a fine and purdy town." But I had no opportunity to take an exit and find out why that’s not the sort of thing one should say. I had other things on my mind. Making it to London in time, for one thing. And the weather, for another.

Jolly entertaining stuff, that was. It started snowing before I left Wiltshire and in Hampshire it was coming down pretty hard-- and sticking. Not on the road, though. Little chance of that with the volume of traffic. The highway code says you’re not supposed to put on your fog lamps unless there’s actually a fog. I don’t care, I turned them on anyway. Everybody, and that obviously includes me, was trucking along at 80 mph just as if nothing was unusual about the conditions and I did not want to be rearended by some half-blinded speed merchant.

Passing trucks was the most fun. You go sightless with the spray. I suppose the greatest potential hazard is coming up on people ahead who’re going more slowly than you’d thought. It was all very entertaining.

Still, I made good time and was in Richmond, around fourteen miles from the center of London, at 6:30. The rain and snow had stopped by now but I was in city traffic, of course. But inbound was moving decently, at least. Should’ve been no problem to make it to the RFH in time and with time to spare for dinner, maybe, too.

Should’ve been. But I hadn’t planned on my old nemesis, the badly-labelled road, catching up with me again. I was trying to get on the eastbound South Circular Road and thence onto the A23 into Lambeth. A very simple route. I saw a sign saying "South Circular Road, righthand lane." So I got over, and damned if there weren’t two right-turn-only lanes, with three possible turnoffs between them, all with local street names and none owning up to be the South Circular.
I gambled and yes, folks, I chose the wrong one.

Having subsequently consulted the map, I can tell that instead of turning hard right onto Clifford Avenue and thence onto West Upper Richmond Road (aka the S.C.R.), I stayed on Lower Richmond Road (a soft right), drove east along the Thames for awhile, got onto Church Road, and then in an attempt to get back to where I’d been and start over, turned left onto Castlenau. Which took me over the Hammersmith Bridge. A very prettily-painted Victorian iron affair, but where the heck was Hammersmith? I’d never heard of that part of London before.

Traffic was pretty heavy, so I had no option but to keep going till I reached a street whose name was familiar. Best course, I decided, was to follow the signs pointing towards the City center. I could find my way from there.

Everyone else had the same idea, it seemed. By the time I made it onto Cromwell Road it was nearly 7:00 and there definitely was time to check the map. Then more inching along, and here I was on Brompton Road, opposite Harrod’s. Well, nice not to be lost anymore, but gracious, is London traffic always this heavy this time of evening?

I learned later there’d been a Tube strike today and so the number of cars on the street was greatly augmented. Then, too, with the snowy weather things were moving behindish, anyway. Just as well I didn’t know this when I was in the middle of it. I might have lost my nerve.

As it was I figured it was just normal London traffic and here I was in the middle of it. I might as well let the adrenalin pump away and bang along with everyone else. The experience could only be described as surreal. I got to Hyde Park Corner and it seemed like six lanes of cheerfully mindless chaos.

Did I say ‘lanes"? I was being funny. Everyone was going vaguely clockwise but that seemed to be the only coherent principle in effect. It was like being in a Mixmaster-- cars, lorries, big red busses, all scrambling in and out and miraculously, all avoiding collision. I’m usually Miss Cautious but I was weaving and darting with the rest of them. You don’t think about the implications, you just go.

But due to some scaffolding covering the street sign (affixed to the side of a building), I missed getting off onto Grosvenor Place. Back the rest of the way around, then somehow I ended up on the South Carriage Drive in Hyde Park. Off that onto Knightsbridge, then back to the Mixmaster again.

Well. Once I found Grosvenor Place I was fine for locating Westminster Bridge. And for getting to the carpark (turned out it was listed and located on the concert series brochure, which I had with me) for the Royal Festival Hall.

But by now it was 7:25. I was rather the worse for wear, and took up a further five minutes or more doing a crooked job of parking (more scrapes on the car, no doubt), changing into more presentable shoes (I was wearing a skirt already), and getting my ticket from the carpark attendant. I still had to find the Hall entrance (a real puzzle), locate the box office, and pick up my concert ticket there.

There they told me that as it was 7:35 the concert had started but that upstairs I could probably slip inside the door for the first bit.

Not really. The orchestra was just finishing "God Save the Queen" but the legalistic usher still wouldn’t let me in. Should have. There was applause going.

So I had to stay outside in the foyer for the entire first part of my Romeo and Juliet. Missed the soprano and tenor solos and all the rest of it. Berlioz Society friends Phyllis Johnson* and Renate Klein* told me at intermission that they hadn’t done a good job at all and I hadn’t missed anything by just barely getting it over the PA system. But I would’ve preferred finding that out for myself.

Got my seat for the Fete onward. It was the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by David Atherton. I am unable to give a proper review of the performance, especially because from the way Phyllis* and Renate* were going on afterwards, it was a complete flop. "Wipe this out of your mind. It wasn’t Berlioz!"

All I can say for sure is that yes, the strings sounded awfully metallic (it’s a rather dry hall, which may have something to do with it). And the baritone (Friar Lawrence), David Wilson-Johnson, had no voice to speak of, and was shouting his way through the part quite tunelessly. It made my throat hurt to hear him straining at it.

I was reminded, however, of what a jolly good operatic-type piece that formal reconciliation chorus is. It quite carries one along.

The more familiar bits probably made me feel grace towards the orchestra just because they’re by Berlioz and because they were being played at all. The others can afford to be critical-- they’ve gotten used to hearing these pieces played. But I suppose the Scene d’Amour did lack something. It wasn’t quite the rush it should’ve been. The oboe soloist was good, though.

Turned out the Queen Mother was there, in the Royal Box. She bowed to the audience at the concert’s end. It hadn’t occurred to me to even be curious about who was over there-- I was there for Hector and him alone.

There are some pretty silly things about that building but the boxes are some of the silliest. They look like little Formica-clad cabinet drawers grown gigantic and pulled out from their case. The Royal Box is basically flush but is fronted with this ridiculous vinyl-looking protective padding stuff with zigzags worked into it. Simply awful.

I was staying at Phyllis Johnson’s*, so I drove both of us over to Welbeck Street (She paid the £1.50 parking). She’s not such a hot direction-giver and we ended up on Victoria Street and who knows where when I meant to have us on Whitehall. She kept telling me to follow this or that taxi, but how could I tell if it would be heading where I wanted to go?

We did eventually make it to her neighborhood and drove around some more trying to find a meter at which to park (if you’re not at a meter you get ticketed). Thankfully, it’s free till 8:00 in the morning.

Phyllis* very kindly fed me a late supper of scrambled eggs and toast. We sat in the living room till well after midnight while she told me stories of sitting in on Colin Davis rehearsals in the '60s. Phyllis* is an American but she’s been in London since 1963 or so, ever since she got stranded here on her way to take some job in the Near East and the job was cancelled due to political unrest.

She’s got shelves full of scores. I looked at some before turning in, since they’re in the little spare room where I was sleeping on a foldaway bed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Are We Smiling Yet?

Sandy at Curly's Corner invited me to come round to her place and pick up this cute award, which came to her by way of her good blogging friend Carol at Charli and Me. Sandy's passing it out to everyone on her blog roll as well as anyone who stops by to read her blog. Thank you so much, Sandy!

By their example and in the spirit of their kindness, I'm also passing this lovely little award on to everyone who stops by to read my blog as well as those already on my Favorites list. Every blog I visit can give me reason to smile . . . in some way or other . . . so feel free to pick this up for yourself and pass it along.

But of course there is one tiny little catch..... The tag that goes along with the award. The tag is this: Name five songs that you are embarrassed to sing.

. . . Five songs I'm embarrassed to sing. Hoo-boy! If my pipes and my wind are working, I'm not exactly embarrassed to sing anything . . . that is, if it's actually singable and it won't scandalize the parish (when I've got a parish) . . .

But then, there are those songs I'm embarrassed to sing, where the scandal comes because I am embarrassed to sing them. Here, then, is my own Hall of Shame:

1) In the Garden. Yes, I'm aware that a lot of very nice people get a lot of comfort out of this hymn. Maybe that's you (are you smiling yet?). A lot of people also get a lot of comfort out of Sugar Frosted Flakes. The perpetrator of this religious ditty, C. Austin Miles, claims he was inspired by the story of Mary Magdalene coming to the empty tomb of Christ the first Easter morning. If so, his Mary Magdalene and Jesus of Nazareth were a pair that would warm the cockles of Dan Brown's heart. A prettier lovers' tryst you never stumbled upon. Gnostic, sentimental, unbiblical. And I'm supposed to sing this? Feh!

In the same vein is

2) He Lives. "You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!" No, you poor creature, you know He lives because the Holy Spirit has revealed that fact to you in the Holy Scriptures! Your feelings will tell you all sorts of lies. Go through some horrible tragedy, and your heart will tell you God has abandoned you, even though He's right with you all along. Feelings are great, if they fit the facts. But even if they don't, the truth of what God did in Jesus Christ keeps on going and you can grab hold of it by faith. That's how I know He lives. That's a song worth singing, not a poor pitiful piece of pietistic poetry set to a circus tune.

(So are we smiling yet?)

3) Here I Am, Lord. The basic idea of this hymn is fine. It's about responding to God's call to serve Him in the world. It's used a lot for ordination and commitment services, and appropriately, too. But there's this phrase in the chorus: "Is it I, Lord?" I'm sorry, but without fail that reminds me of what Judas said to Jesus just before he betrayed Him. And what's up with this "I will go, Lord, if You lead me"? Am I supposed to proclaim that God might call someone to do His will, then carelessly forget to guide that person into how and when and where? I sing that, and I feel like I'm putting conditions on my obedience. Before God, that's something I'm embarrassed to do.

4) Any modern "praise" chorus where you could excise the word "Jesus" or "Lord" and put in "Baby" instead, and it wouldn't make a dime's worth of difference. See my DaVinci Code reference under Embarrassing Song No. 1. Especially when I have to stand there for ten minutes singing the same damn words over and over twenty times. Are the Catholics right about Purgatory? That's where these perpetrations make me feel I am. Embarrassing.

5) Any good traditional hymn that's been bowlderized and politically-corrected by modern hymnbook editors, a la the efforts of the committee that patched together the 1990 Presbyterian Hymnal. Witness what was done to Be Thou My Vision, one of my favorites. As a woman, I was never offended by "Thou my great Father, I Thy true son." Give me credit for some sense: It's about relationship, not sex or gender. Never mind! That line is out, out, out! Ditto the parts about "High King of heaven." That title for God brought us the rich Irishness of the hymn, with its echoes of all the petty chieftains pledging fealty to the high king at Tara, now signifying the desires and demands of our lives bowing the knee to Christ as universal Sovereign. That's gone, people! We don't want to offend anybody with any reminders that there might be a hierarchy in creation, with the uncreated Lord at the top, oh, no! I'm surprised the wise editors left in the part about "Ruler of all" at the end. But I guess they knew they had to draw the line somewhere, and they wanted a ruler to draw it with.

This version embarrasses me so much, I won't program this hymn without putting the unaltered version in as an insert in the bulletin. Preferably with the third verse that's always excised from American hymnals:

Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
be thou my whole armor, be thou my true might;
be thou my soul's shelter, be thou my strong tower:
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.

That's something I'll never be embarrassed to sing.

But O, Sandy! Are you embarrassed you passed this award on to me? Are we still smiling?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Church Nightmares?

As if I hadn't enough to keep me busy, I've become a Gordon Ramsay junkie. I don't have cable TV, but I managed to catch every episode of Hell's Kitchen Season 4 on And when I get time, I watch episodes of Kitchen Nightmares (UK version, of course) on YouTube.

For the uninitiated, Gordon Ramsay is a world-class, Scottish-born, f-bomb-dropping chef with twelve Michelin stars and millions of dollars per year in revenue from his various restaurants worldwide. On Kitchen Nightmares, he spends a week at some tanking restaurant somewhere and, at little or no cost to the establishment (as I understand it), works with might, main, and brain to pull them out of the soup.

Time and again, the featured restaurant is going down because the owners/head chefs have some fixed idea of what their eatery should be like, but it bears no relation to what they can actually cook and serve, what ingredients are affordable and available, or what the potential customers actually like and want. And Chef Ramsay's fix generally is, "Find out what you can do and do it attractively and well. Let your customers know what you have now that you have your act together. Stop trying to attract the type of customers who aren't out there. Stop trying to be too clever-- keep it simple and uncomplicated. And while you're at it, clean out your f*cking [sorry, wouldn't be GR without the f-word at least once] deep-freeze and kitchen!!"

But O! the nightmare! It never fails: The owners/chefs seldom listen to Ramsay. Often they sabotage what he's trying to do. They want to go on doing exactly what's got them in the mess in the first place. But O, Chef Gordon, save us! Pull our chestnuts out of the fire!!

Last Sunday, I couldn't help but think of Gordon Ramsay and Kitchen Nightmares. I was being interviewed for an Interim Pastor position at a church over in an adjacent county. And practically the first thing I heard from the interviewing committee was how wonderful it used to be with them back in the 1980s, when their youth group was bursting the church at the seams. Practically the first question I got was how good was I at relating to youth.

But do they have any teenagers among the church membership right now? Apparently very few. Are there gangs and gangs of unchurched teenagers in the church's catchment area right now? Apparently they have no idea.

Is it a good thing to be a church with a lot of families with well-involved teenaged kids? Oh, certainly, yes. But is that where this church is now? No. Are families with teenagers the type of people who are living in that area, spiritually starving for the good news of Jesus Christ? What if they're not?

But they want to hire an interim pastor who can come in for a year and miraculously revive their image of themselves as the church with all the kids. Never mind the unchurched people of whatever age who are actually there in the neighborhood and need to be ministered to. Never mind that the talents and gifts of the people of the church might go better to serve a totally different demographic. We have our image of what we want to be, and you'd better buy into it, Pastor, whether it's realistic or not!!!

I told them, yes, I'm pretty good at working with kids--if I'm allowed to be an adult and a mentor and not a superannuated ersatz-teenager buddy. But maybe, I suggested, what if the Holy Spirit just might be leading them to other fields of ministry that better fit who they are now . . . ???

I felt like Gordon Ramsay telling the owner of a pub in Lancashire to knock it off with the exotic Asian stuff out of mixes and try serving up good fresh honest pub grub for a change.

I can't take the Kitchen Nightmares analogy too far: There's one fixed item on any church's menu that can not and must not change, whether the public thinks they want it or not: Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and risen for our life. But how the church lives out that good news in 2008 may not be just as it was in 1985!

I wouldn't be surprised if they don't hire me. They also want their new IP to generate a lot of new programs, and I told them that programs have to follow needs, and be run by the members. And they're hoping their new Interim Pastor will move into the manse. No, not feasible. Not for a one-year contract. Alas! that's another dream of theirs I've destroyed.

But I can't rule them out myself. This dream-on attitude is endemic with most struggling mainline churches. It'd be the same anywhere else!

If I were to be taken on at this church, I'd have it easier than Gordon Ramsay in one way-- I'd have a year to redd up the place, where he only has a week. But it'd be a lot harder, too-- I can't overawe anybody with the ecclesiastical equivalent of twelve Michelin stars . . . and unlike Chef Ramsay, I am not permitted to cuss.