Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Last Shall Be First

Tonight was our first Village Singers performance of the 2008-2009 concert season, or maybe it was the last concert of the 2007-2008 run.

It definitely was a reprise of our spring concert program, done at a church that couldn't fit us in last May but could this evening.

The concert went well; at least Linda our director was pleased, and she's pretty darn particular, especially about little things like harsh terminal rrrrs and people not holding legato lines or singing in their throats.

The interesting thing for me was that the venue was a church in a nearby town that's been without a pastor for a year or more. They'd had one interim pastor and I'd heard in late June that they might be looking for another. So I sent my church resume in. When I didn't hear back, following up was difficult, since the only contact information was via snail-mail in care of the church. And I admit I didn't feel it was worth it, as in August my executive presbyter enthusiastically mentioned during a committee meeting how the interim pastor had ripped out the Communion table, font, and pulpit, got rid of the hymnals, and installed the praise band's instruments front and center on the chancel. Me, I do not consider endless theologically-shallow chorusses to be a Means of Grace, so I figured that church wouldn't want me anyway.

But earlier this month I encountered some folks who know people who go to that church, and they told me my EP had gotten it totally wrong. Yes, they do have a praise band that plays sometimes, but everything else is still there, too.

Well then. Tonight was my chance to talk to someone face to face and see where things stood.

Hmm. Hymnals still in the pews. Communion table, font, pulpit, all still there on the platform, only moved aside to make room for our choir risers.

But were they still looking for a follow-on interim pastor? Had they even received my resume at all?

I found my opportunity as we were sitting in the fellowship hall, waiting to go on. I approached the elder who was expediting our performance, and asked him about it.

"Oh! I wish we'd had a chance to talk to you sooner!" Obviously, he'd never seen my resume. "We've decided not to get another interim; we think we're farther along in our search for a permanent pastor than that. But we've hired a seminary student to come in and fill our pulpit every Sunday. He starts the beginning of November."

I found out who this is: He's also the youth director at another church in the area. We voted him in as an official candidate for ministry at the presbytery meeting last Tuesday.

"He was recommended by the executive presbyter," said my informant.

Oh, gee, thanks, Mr. EP, sir, I didn't say. Thanks for the vote of confidence, not even giving them my name so they could at least talk to me.

But then I think back to that committee meeting in August, when the EP was describing how this church was proving its missional bona fides by minimizing the traditional media of church growth and nurture, e.g., the Word and Sacraments, and exalting contemporary, popular means like praise music. When it came time to recommend a steady pulpit supply for this church, that young man's name and reputation automatically must have come to him.

Or maybe my EP didn't think I'd be interested in a steady pulpit supply position.

However it was, the elder I talked to tonight asked me to give him my card anyway. "You never know," he said.

I don't expect anything out of it under the circs, but he might know somebody who knows somebody who needs an interim pastor. The more my name is out there, the better.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Tonight was the Saturday season opener for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and I was there in my seat at Heinz Hall.

Not my seat from last year: I moved up a few rows to save myself a few bucks. Some might say I have no business renewing my subscription, but at around $10 apiece for seven concerts, with an additional complimentary ticket and a $30 gas card thrown in, it'd be mendacious scrupulosity to say no.

It looked like a lot of other people were attracted in as well: the hall, orchestra and balcony, was practically filled. And by people of all ages, too. Including a lot of kids, a lot of college students, and even an infant or two-- out of whom I heard not one peep all evening.

The first piece was Short Ride in a Fast Machine by John Adams, the PSO's composer of the year. This was the third time I'd heard it in the past week or two, most recently last night on a live radio broadcast of the orchestra's season opener. I have to say I liked it better in person.

Then we had Joshua Bell playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Whoot! I've seen and heard Mr. Bell in concert several times, beginning back in the mid-'80s when he was still a teenager, and it's always a rewarding experience. To quote the ordination vows of the Presbyterian Church (USA), he played that concerto with "energy, intelligence, imagination, and love."

He was brought out for three or four curtain calls. The last time, he left his violin backstage, as if to say, "No encores tonight, sorry!" Well, we could hope, couldn't we?

Well, after throwing himself so thoroughly into that music, I suppose he was rather drained. And he was still on to sign autographs during intermission. I didn't stand in line for that; rather I took up a position on the first balcony overlooking the Great Hall and watched the queue. I get a kick out of seeing Josh Bell sign autographs, especially for kids. It's apparent to me that he remembers what it was like as a child violinist, practicing and practicing, and he likes to encourage the young ones to keep it up.

When we took our seats for the second half, a PSO official stepped to the front of the stage and said, “You will notice there are more microphones than usual on the stage tonight. That’s because we’re trying to make a live recording of the Mahler Titan Symphony with our new conductor, Manfred Honeck. The Mahler has some very, very quiet passages in it, particularly in the first movement. It also has some very loud ones. So if you must cough, please control yourself and don’t do it during the quiet parts! Wait till the music gets loud, and then you may cough—discreetly.”

He bowed himself off and the music began, quietly. One bar, two bars, three bars, then, from one quarter of the hall, “Koff!” A bar or two more, then, “Koff!!” A bit more quiet music, then, “Koff! Koff!”

Oh, hell! Can’t we control ourselves for even that short a time?

And then, three seats down in my own row, a young woman was veritably possessed by the Coughing Demon: “Koff! koff! koff! Koff!! koff!! koff! koff! koff! koff!!!”

As one who’s struggled with recurrent bronchitis since the age of nine I know what it’s like to be seized by a terrible urge to hack out one’s lungs in public. But clearly, this young woman had never developed the moral and physical stricture that I call “Die First!” To be exercised only on such occasions as tonight’s, this rule says it doesn’t matter how great the drive is to let it out, I Will Keep That Cough In or Die In The Attempt.

The only time I remember failing at it was in seminary, during a Good Friday chapel service when I was supposed to be singing in the choir. The coughing incubus settled on me, I couldn’t master it, and I excused myself to the ladies’ room in the chapel basement—where I proceeded to cough up my immortal soul. My fellow choir members later told me they could hear me all the way upstairs.

My neighbor at Heinz Hall didn’t produce so stupendous a sound, but it was bad enough. And as is the way with the Coughing Demon, it didn’t drive her to it during the fortissimos, hell, no, only during the long pia-pia-pianissimi.

I wish I could have slipped her a cough drop, but the only one I had was sharing its wrapper with a spent piece of chewing gum offered me by a fellow presbyter at the very end of break at last Tuesday's presbytery meeting. Like an idiot I didn't get rid of it before we reconvened, and there I was in the Communion service with no place to put it but the tail of a cough drop paper!

The beleaguered cougher fled after the first movement and didn’t reappear. I felt sorry for her, but I hope the orchestra is trying for this recording during all three of this weekend’s performances.

I’ve only heard the Mahler 1st Symphony as it’s poured over me via classical radio, so I don’t know it that intimately. But from tonight’s performance I’d say Maestro Honeck and the Pittsburgh played it strongly and very well. It’ll be a long time before I get its lines and melodies out of my head.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lost in the Sticks

I am not a happy camper.

Today was Day Two of our western-part-of-the-synod leadership conference, and oh, yes, the camp where it was held is very rural and attractive. I wish I'd had more time to explore the paths and hills.

But today, the personal and group reflection activities had more and more to do with how we were going to put the principles we'd learned to work in our parishes, and I'm thinking, Rot it, but I don't have a parish! Oh dear, oh dear, the day is coming to an end and I'm coming to the end of what I can use now!

And never, ever, since first thing yesterday, did we talk about It, about the Pastor Competency Model.

That is, not until about twenty minutes before the end, when a guy who pastors a church in my town got up and made an argument for it. "At first I thought it was really legalistic," he said, "but then I realized you can't be a good pastor without having all fifteen of these competencies."

Yeah, maybe, sure, but these precise interview questions designed to bring out whether you have these competencies, since when are they unchangeable holy scripture? Funny, yesterday I was afraid we'd be addressing them and my lack of experience would be revealed, but today I wanted us to confront them head on so I could find out how strict and absolute they were. But nothing was officially said.

I couldn't leave without knowing. So after we were dismissed, I accompanied the official from Big City Presbytery* back to her lodgings, to ask her about it in private.

She confirmed that they instruct interview committees to use these questions not just for potential solo and senior pastors, but for associate pastors as well.

"I can see," I said, "how someone who had several years experience in ministry could answer all these satisfactorily, but what about someone, say, who's just out of seminary?"

"Oh," she answered cheerfully, "the answers don't have to be restricted to someone's time in ministry! We figure if someone is the right kind of candidate, they will have done all these things sometime in their lives before that! Besides, the questions aren't about experience anyway, they're about competencies!"

I would beg to differ-- few of the questions leave you open to describe what you have accomplished under a given competency, they assume you have had particular experiences and accomplished certain things, in a congregational context, and call on you to describe how they went! Good things to have done if one has done them, certainly, but not all things that can be taken care of in the first years of a ministry, let alone in a student internship.

But this wasn't the time or the place to deal with the matter. She had to hurry off to another engagement. But she gave me her card and told me to ring her up to discuss it.

Will I or won't I? On one hand, it might be useful to explore what sort of answers might be considered satisfactory should I get an interview out of one or more of the feelers I've put out in Big City Presbytery.*

On the other hand, I've definitely learned from a misspent ministerial life that it's a mistake to put too much confidence in presbytery officials, especially when it involves revealing one's self-doubts. In my experience they tend to take you entirely too much at your own estimation. And when they could stand between you and getting a post, we're talking fatal error.

No, I have to face this thing and find my own way out of this forest. I need to consider how I might answer these forty-five questions if I'm ever called on to do so. And where I can't by myself, I should consult people who know me and my work to give me perspective. Maybe I've done a lot of these things and never even realized it!

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I'm thinking the Holy Spirit-- or someone-- has an ironic sense of humor.

First of all, I had a gen-u-wine, official, dizzy spell this morning when I was ironing my shirt to get ready for my continuing ed event. Had a sudden, irresistible inclination to sit right down on the floor. Whoa! I was thinking it might be even more suitable to lie down on the floor, but my dog disagreed. He shoved his body under me and made me get up. So I finished ironing the shirt, got ready, and arrived safely at the conference site-- but my head felt like someone had shaken everything out of it and pumped it full of dirty air. Not the state I wanted to be in to impress my peers with my Marvellous Potential.

Then I saw the small group lists posted on newsprint on the meeting room wall. What kind of a sick joke is this? I'd been put in with a group of some of the most intimidating people in my presbytery, some of whom have been effective in restricting my progress to a new solo call. What kind of chance would I have of proving my competence with them?

And then-- you'll love this-- I looked in the folder they gave us at registration, and there in the front pocket was a copy of the Pastor Competency Model. Yes, I wasted three hours or more last night looking for my own copy. How ironic is that?

The Pastor Competency Model was talked up by an official from Big City Presbytery* (this conference is a multi-presbytery event). She cheerfully and enthusiastically told us that they require all the churches looking for pastors in their presbytery to use it and its questions. O woe! O depression! I've got my resume in to some churches down there looking for associate pastors; what hope can there be for me under these circumstances?

But the sessions began. And my head began to clear. And though the discussions concerned the competencies dealt with in the Model, we didn't consider the interview questions at all. In fact, when we convened for our first small group session, the very pastor who'd led the general discussion over the first competency commented that any pastor who could honestly come up with good answers to all those questions would be totally amazing. And is maybe (the implication was) nonexistent?

But wouldn't you think that she, of all people . . . ? Ironic.

As is the fact that maybe in the end being in that group gave me a chance to sound halfway intelligent around some high-powered people. And to consider and treat them as I would like them to treat me.

Which might do me some service next time there's openings to be recommended for.

At least, I hope so. In this, I'm definitely not trying to be ironic.

Mai Kompittinz, Let Me Show U Itt

Tomorrow-- later today-- I'm off for a two-day pastoral leadership training event, up in the wild woods of some church camp or other an hour north of here.

I'm informed it's based on something called the Pastor Competency Model. And right now I don't feel particularly competent.

Because I obtained a copy of that document a few months ago, and I know it's around here somewhere, but I just can't figure out where.

And I'm short of printer paper and can't print out another copy from the email attachment I got from the presbytery.

So here it is, 2:30 in the morning, and I figured I could just pull this thing out of my file cabinet two hours ago and be all set, and I'm still going through folders and files and stacks and piles.

This is not a great exhibition of competence.

It's all the more annoying because when I first read this document I found it miserably demoralizing. If I remember correctly, it was formulated by some synod or other as an aid to churches seeking pastors. It lists qualities and skills a good pastor should have, and suggests questions search committees should ask candidates to determine if they have them.

I'm not saying the competencies listed aren't good to have. No. But a lot of the questions require the applicant to share some pretty darned intimate and soul-bearing stuff with a roomful of strangers. Is all this stuff really a search committee's business . . . or by asking that, do I reveal my incompetence?

Other questions call upon the candidate to report on his or her past performance to prove competency at overcoming obstacles and so on. And just reading them a few months back at my dining room table, my mind went totally blank. I mean, I know I've had experiences and dealt with the kind of issues the questions are about, but whatever could I say if I ever got asked in an interview about it? It's all lost in the murk!

Like my copy of this document. I know I have it . . . unless . . . oh, dear, I couldn't have accidently chucked it, could I?

No, I don't do that sort of thing. I keep everything, whether I like it or not.

Or did the presbytery official I got that copy from ask for it back?

Well, maybe that's what happened. And maybe I should do something competent now, like try to save paper by printing out the digital document at two pages per sheet.

. . . Oh, damn! I'm not even competent at bloody Microsoft Word, and I can't figure out how.

However, I just looked again (for the fourth time), in my Church Job Search file, and found the silly thing.

Good. We will spare at least a portion of a tree. And a smidgin of my sense of competence.

As for the training event tomorrow (this) afternoon . . . I wonder if we will be called upon to shaaarrre. I'm not exactly in the mood.

If I have to, you think I could pretend it's just a verbal blog entry?

(Sorry. That sounds really incompetent.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Twenty-One

Thursday, 6 April, 1989
London to Rochester to Canterbury to Moatenden (Kent)
Day Twenty-one

Got up and dressed in time to go feed the meter a pound or two. That was only good for an hour but that’s all the meter will give you in the daytime.

Phyllis* was already gone to her job but one or two of the roommates was rattling around. Didn’t see any of them, though.

Made myself some breakfast then got out of there, bag and baggage, around 9:00. Did not want a ticket.

I’d made no particular plans for today, but I thought I’d like to see Westminster Hall. So I muddled through the very slow London traffic, figuring I’d get down to the Parliament buildings and check out the parking and take things from there. But when I hit Parliament Square the sidewalks were lined with people behind barricades and bobbies everywhere. Parking situation didn’t look hopeful enough to even mess with. So I took the Lambeth Bridge south then started looking for the A2 to Canterbury.

This morning I took a version of Phyllis’* advice of last night. I spotted a coach with a Kent logo on it and followed it. Although the way to the A2 was fairly well marked, staying in the wake of that light green coach made things a lot easier.

I was well into the suburbs when I heard on the radio that all the hooha in Westminster was because Mikhail Gorbachev was in town today, Raisa in tow. Another good reason to skip town. That could’ve been a zoo.

The signs for Rochester came along just before the junction of the A2 with the M2. I decided what the heck, as Dr. Gendle [my Oxford medieval architecture history tutor] says the castle’s worth seeing, I might as well look it over as long as I’m here.

You go through a town called Strood first, then across a good big stretch of the River Medway, before you get into Rochester proper. The downtown is still pretty old looking but they obviously do a good deal by way of shipping. I parked the car on the street under the castle wall, opposite a marina.

The light meter on the Minolta is definitely screwy. The ring on the lens is stuck and the lollipop and stick never line up. So first item on the agenda was to find a camera store on High Street and get it checked.

The man there says the meter’s fine, if you disregard the fact that the f-stop ring on the lens is stuck. I nearly let him sell me a used exposure meter but the thought of having to fiddle with it was too tedious. Besides, I’ll see about getting the camera fixed in Oxford, this weekend. Did get a typical reading for today’s cloudy conditions and that’ll have to do. You’d think that after fifteen years of using that lens I’d be able to set it without the meter, anyway.

Well, we’ll see.

Another thing-- the camera’s case smells like beer. That’s strange, because I didn’t have it in the pub with me Tuesday night.

It was mizzling a bit when I got back to the castle. Came in by way of King John’s round turret, or rather, through the encircling wall to the left of it. The castle entrance is up some modern steps to the forebuilding. Inside you meet the admission desk and the postcard concession. Your tariff paid, you turn right to go into the castle proper-- though it’s more like going outside, since the hall and solar are now roofless all the way up.

The circulation is all around the perimeter, with stairways in the corner towers. Kept having to remind myself that the stairs wouldn’t’ve been so precariously worn in the 11th and 12th Centuries. But still, the old owners had a fine disregard for the niceties, like railings and uniform riser heights, considered so necessary by 20th Century American housing codes. The National Trust has supplied the railings, but some of them were wet with paint today. It was really too bad for some of the other visitors, such as some women wearing medium-heeled shoes. With my suede waffle-stompers I was fine.

The central wall is still there, of course. I’m trying to remember if one of the shafts in it was a rudimentary sort of dumbwaiter, or if that was just the loo. Pretty fancy loo, if so.

The castle also has some nicely-carved fireplaces for the various chambers. All very up to date and civilised, for the time.

They’ve built a new roof, with a skylight, over the chapel, which is in the upper storey of the forebuilding. It looked better-preserved than the rest of the castle. It got me thinking about the religious attitudes of the old inhabitants-- were they sincere Christians or just using God (like so many of us do) as an endorser of their own plans and prejudices--in their case, the making of war on their neighbors? From our pacifistic perspective it’s easy to think the latter, but who are we to judge?

Could’ve done with less rain today. Used the flash a lot, which overcame some of the meter problems. Deliberately set it low to preserve some of the effects of the subdued lighting.

After the purchase of two or three postcards, I went out and took a look at the remainder of the castle grounds. There’s a very fine dogtooth-moulded Norman archway to the northwest-- except that it’s a restoration. I feel so ambivalent about that.

Skipped the cathedral-- no time to satisfy mere curiosity-- and returned to the High Street in search of something portable to eat. This town turned out to be remarkably short on fruit stands, which is what I really wanted. But I got a box of shortening biscuits from a grocers and a couple of disgustingly greasy pastries called Eccles cakes from a bakery and returned, dripping crumbs, to the car.

Took off at around 1:00. Tried to be creative on my route out of Rochester but I only succeeded in getting myself sequestered down a potholed, dead end lane. Back across the bridge across the Medway and through Strood, then.

Listened on the radio to the effusions of enthusiasm for Gorby and company that were coming out of London. I can’t believe the simplemindedness of some people. They probably think Mrs. Thatcher’s a spoilsport because she advises caution.

Back on the M2 and thereby to Canterbury. Cute town, lots left of the ancient city wall. But with all those generations of pilgrims and tourists you’d think they could do better regarding parking. I drove round and round and round, literally, before I found a carpark that had spaces, let alone one that was affordable. And we were talking 40p per half hour, at that.

Anyway, ditched the Astra and threaded my way though a pedestrian mall in the city center and eventually found myself at the Cathedral.

More scaffolding, lots of tourists. Expected by now, and at least it wasn’t high season.

Entered by way of the southwest porch. But I couldn’t hang about contemplating the nave, as one is required to purchase a photography permit. You get that at a little bookstall in the southwest transept. So I made my way there first.

After that, I passed between the parish altar and the massive choir screen to the northwest transept, to where it all happened in 1170.

It’s a little daunting to consider that-- there’s no doubt of it whatsoever-- in this very spot St. Thomas á Becket was murdered. And whatever you may think about the relative merits of his case and of Henry’s, there’s still the fact that Thomas was upholding as best he knew the will of God. There’s an immediacy about being there, even after these long centuries, enhanced by the evocative modern sculpture, a cross formed of two jagged swords and their scabbards, set above the altar. And behind you is the cloister door through which the four knights entered . . . Kyrie eleison!

There was also a plaque commemorating the occasion on which Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Runcie prayed there together. Very sweet and ecumenical, what?

Took the stairs down to the crypt, with its chapel and treasury. There’s a sign reminding people that that’s still part of the church, but some boys down there hadn’t got the idea. I refrained from adding my admonishments to the noise, though.

Quickly scanned the display of church plate then reëmerged back up around in the southwest transept. Being limited as to time I didn’t spend much time in the choir, rather I crossed quickly again northwards and climbed the aisle steps to the Trinity Chapel. They’re a big flight of them, but I decided that if all those people for all those centuries could make it up without complaining so could I. It was piquant to think I was making my own Canterbury pilgrimage, anyway. I liked the sense of heritage.

The glass in the Trinity Chapel is absolutely brilliant, in any way you use the word. God, those glaziers know what they were doing! 17th Century Flemish stuff is cut and paste in comparison.

While I was contemplating the Becket miracle windows the PA system came on and a man’s voice welcomed the visitors to the cathedral. It also reminded everyone that this is not only a tourist attraction but also a house of worship and prayer. After informing us when the evening service was to be, the voice requested everyone to please bow their heads for the Lord’s Prayer. I knew there were a lot of French tourists about today-- there always are, lately-- and I wondered if they’d know what was going on.

Apparently so, because although not everyone seemed actually to be praying, the noise level, blessedly, went down.

I wonder who that was on the PA. Robert Runcie himself? No, probably not . . .

I passed around then and stood before the spot where Becket’s tomb once stood. There’s nothing left of it now-- Henry VIII and his successors made sure of that. But still, at the site of the final earthly lodging of a determined and visionary cleric I was moved to pray for the ministers soon to come out of Coverdale College*, for their ministries and vocations, and especially for Nigel’s* . . . O sancte Thoma, ora pro vobis!

To the east is the Corona with its altar-- it’s roped off so you must survey the glass there from a respectful distance. The Jesse Tree window is there.

I came back round via the south aisle of the Trinity Chapel; I was disappointed to see that both St. Anselm’s and St. Andrew’s Chapels, pre-Becket parts of the Cathedral, weren’t open to visitors. But as long as I was now back on the north side, I popped out to see the cloisters. They’re elaborately fan-vaulted, and ornamented with everybody’s and everyone’s shields and arms.

The Cathedral bookstall, in the southwest transept, didn’t have as many nice postcards as I would have wanted. Still, I purchased one or two and was reminded at any rate to go visit the West Window with its image of Adam delving, before I departed. It’s some of the most ancient glass here.

Couldn’t stay much longer, though: I was afraid of getting a parking ticket. But I did pop into a souvenir shop on the High Street and got more postcards and a nicer Cathedral guidebook than they had in the church itself.

One thing they didn’t have was a copy of The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English. Nothing but modern. If it could be done with sufficient economy, it’d be neat to have an edition that was dual-language, with illuminations.

Got back to the carpark by 4:30 or so; no ticket, thank God. Got out onto the A28 and headed southwest.

I really love the names of the towns in this place! Between Canterbury and Ashford there’s actually a town called "Old Wives"! Is that the original site of the original tales?

Got the A262 then the A274 and began to look for Mrs. Deane’s guidemarks for Moatenden Priory-- except for doing it the other way round: she’d assumed I’d be coming from the north. They were good directions and I spotted the turn-off just fine. But as I wasn’t expected till 7:30 and it wasn’t even 6:00, I overshot it on purpose and drove up to Sutton Valence to see what I could do about dinner.

Not much, there. I stopped into the local pub. They weren’t serving proper dinners yet, since the cook wouldn’t be in till 6:30 or so. But I could have a beef burger for around six quid. What is this, London or something? I declined and drove down the lane to Chart Sutton. But the pub there wasn’t open yet at all.

Oh well! So I’ll be early!

Mrs. Deane, the white-haired lady who owns Moatenden Priory, didn’t seem to mind. She showed me up some narrow steps to a good sized room overlooking the back garden. It had a fireplace (plugged up, unfortunately), nice dark-wood furniture (including a glass-fronted case full of books), and two twin beds, one of which had a coverlet of patchwork deerskin, with the hair still on. The other had a synthetic thing that was more or less supposed to match it, in a fake fur sort of way.

The other people staying here, a couple from London and their grown daughter, pulled in before I could get my things out of the car. It was a pity, because otherwise I could’ve moved mine and got an unobstructed photo of the front of the house-- part of it is 12th Century.

All day I’d been wondering why the back of my Minolta smelled of beer-- and now I found out why: The lid of the jug of cider I got in Taunton yesterday morning was loose. Oh, boy, are the EuropCar people ever going to love me!

Mrs. Deane suggested I try Headcorn for supper. I’d decided that since it was my last night out I’d splurge on one. The people in the local there were rather friendlier and the prices weren’t so ridiculous. I still had to wait for the cook to arrive, though, so I retired to a table with a half pint of ale and Walter Scott and sat back to observe the goings on.

It was rather different from the Plough in Somerset. The people here came filtering in wearing jackets and ties-- good chance they’d just finished a commute from London. And when one bloke pulled out a portable phone and made a call, I almost burst out laughing, it was so incongruous. Because for all that, it still was a basic British pub, with kids running in and out (the boy may’ve belonged to the landlord) and the usual decor, enhanced in this case by airplane memorabilia.

I ordered roast beef with peas and potatoes and was glad to get it, too. Can’t get it at Coverdale*.

Back at Moatenden, I sat down in the little white painted hall reading in front of its great fireplace and making faces at the little dogs that trotted in and out. That fireplace is taller than I am-- I could’ve walked right into it. The fire on its bed of ashes and coals occupied one corner-- you could just imagine pulling a chair into the other side of it.

I didn’t see any other of the company while I was there; I retired to bed around 9:30. I decided, even though I’d been sitting on the bed with the fake fleece coverlet, to sleep on the other one-- one doesn’t often get a chance to slumber under deerskin and I doubted I’d ever have such again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ow! Ow! Ow!

For the past few months, some little bubbles have been appearing around my back left wheelwell of my lovely bright red PT Cruiser. I know it'll cost a fortune to fix, so I stare at it and refuse to accept the implications and let it go.

A couple months ago, some charming person in a vehicle with a high bumper, backed into my car while it was parked, pushing in my front grille and chipping paint off it. But I can't afford to fix it and whoever it was hit it squarely and anyway, it's made of plastic and won't rust. So until I can come up with the cash, I detach and let it go.

But this afternoon I was out running some errands, and came back to my Ddraig Goch Fach (Little Red Dragon) to find this!!

What the bugger!!??

Gouged to the metal on the top of the fender! and rubber residue all over the fender's side!

I think I know what happened. Last night, between 11:00 and midnight, I heard noises outside, like a bell jingling and sort of like a car door shutting, but not exactly. My dog began to bark, and I got up and looked out my upper storey window. All I could see in the darkness was what looked like the side wheel reflector of a bicycle suddenly appearing, almost as if it had just been turned on, then rolling, rolling leftward down the street.

I didn't think anything of it then. Thought the bike was across the street. But today I can see it all: Riding with no lights. Bike tire hits and scrapes the side of my fender. Handlebar digs into its top. Blasted cyclist picks himself up and rides off under cloak of darkness, may his/her conscience eat him!

This afternoon, once this ghastly sight blasted mine eyes, I did not pass go, I did not collect $200, no, I drove directly to the body shop that did the repairs for me in May 2006 after I had a minor dispute with another driver over who should occupy a certain space on a local city street. Estimator came out and looked at the latest damage. Estimator sat at his desk writing it up. I sat there, waiting, feeling I was about to cry. I couldn't detach this time. Damn, they've injured my pretty car!

And getting this fixed is not going to be cheap. I don't dare submit it to my insurance: my rates are finally starting to come back down after the 2006 contretemps.

Ow! ow! All I can do at the moment is dab on touch up paint to cover the bare metal and keep the rain out. It looks scabby and terrible. But it can't be helped. I have to let it go, will I or nil I.

But I don't have to be happy or detached about it. My poor Little Red Dragon! Owwww!!

Monday, September 08, 2008


This evening was the first night back at community choir rehearsal since the summer's hiatus. And things look a little different in the rehearsal room.

Thanks to our director's recruiting efforts, we're up to about 66 strong this semester, and about a third of those people are new.

It will be interesting to see how well they all blend in, musically and otherwise. And how many of them drop out because they don't want to.

It can be hard, when there's such a large proportion of incomers. It can be an uphill battle to preserve a group's existing culture. I remember my theological college, where, in my third year, 45% of the students were First Years. It took much longer than it had the year before to train them in the ways of the Hall. Ways like, when everyone files into the dining hall for meals, everyone at a table pulls the benches out so all can be seated, you don't just pull out one end and plop your heavy self down and keep anyone else from getting in. Like, when you get up at dinner to refill your glass of water, you take the pitcher and get water for everyone at your table, not just yourself. Like, when the person who organizes the Prayers for Past Members comes around with the list of the college's graduates you are to pray for when it's your turn to lead chapel, you say Thank you and read through their prayer concerns, you don't go on an anti-ecclesiastical, self-centered rip about how you only believe in praying for people you see and know. If the critical mass of new people is too great, an institution can be changed altogether. Sometimes for the better, but often for the worse.

Though this choir, I suppose, doesn't depend on its members for its ethos. And with Linda in charge as musical director and drill sergeant, I suppose the incomers will be integrated. "Come back to my choir!!" she cries out when we aren't doing things her way. And with the new choristers, it will be "Come to my choir!"-- or else.