Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bridges old and new

Still thinking about bridges. This one is the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. (Doesn't that sound so much more romantic than 'old bridge'?) The photograph was taken in 2005. It's an amazing bridge which for centuries has been so much more than a way of getting across the river. It's a meeting-place, a market and, by the looks of this photograph, a means of defying gravity.

Yesterday I received a text from a friend who, to celebrate a significant birthday, is enjoying a short break in this wonderful city.

(I was just a teensy weensy bit jealous. I still prefer Venice to Florence but all the same it is a great place especially if you love Renaissance art. I'd love to go back some day.)

Taking short breaks, especially if they involve flying, has become a very controversial thing of late- apparently very damaging to the environment and contributing to global warming. (Of course this is something that wealthy people were always able to do. It's just a problem now because it has become affordable to so many more people.)

I guess we will all have to think very carefully about how much we travel in future. However, there are some very positive benefits to be gained in visiting 'foreign' lands... and it has a lot to do with bridges. When you have been to a so-called 'foreign' country, observed its culture, eaten its special foods and, most of all, met its people- it is so much harder to think of them as enemies. You are less inclined to fear or to fight those whom you have come to know as friends. In other words travel builds bridges and that can only be a good thing.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Over the Clyde

You know, one of the unexpected delights about starting this 'blogging' business is coming across other interesting blogs.

Thanks to one blog I visited (PRESENT) I have been introduced to a band I'd never heard of before (Over the Rhine.)

I have been enjoying listening to them (because they allow you to download a number of their tracks for free.)

The bridge here is not over the Rhine but over the Clyde. I had this great idea a while back that I would photograph ALL the bridges over the Clyde and then write a book telling the history of each bridge. That was until I realised just how many bridges there are and how hard it might be to research all of their stories. Not only that, nobody seems too sure exactly where the River Clyde really starts. It doesn't get called the Clyde until round about Abington but this is just where a number of tributaries come together.

Anyway, although I did manage to photograph a number of the bridges, I gave up on the idea of the Photo Book with stories of them all. Maybe one day...

... after I've written my first novel...

... and screenplay...

.... and collections of poems...

that is... almost certainly never.

What I do have to do before Sunday (really before Friday) is write two sermons.

Now, I wonder if I could get away with a slide show of pictures of bridges...

Monday, January 29, 2007

It'll be alright on the night...

Well, I guess that's it!
Final rehearsal yesterday went reasonably well. Just the opening night to look forward to now. Inevitably there were one or two 'snags' yesterday (that's what a dress rehearsal is for after all) but at least we didn't need a major re-write of the script or a re-think about my beanstalk 'engineering.'
It's been a fantastic individual and team effort from everyone involved and considering how few rehearsals we've actually had I am amazed at how it has all come together.
Now... if they can all just keep up the momentum for the two nights of the performances...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

This is not a rehearsal...

A cheeky smile from one of the cast (Amelia- not in costume, by the way) during last week's Panto rehearsal. Tomorrow is the final "dress rehearsal" - the last chance to iron out any problems and get things right for the opening night. Bit scary really as we haven't had nearly enough of these things called rehearsals.

But at least we've had more of them for the panto than you get in real life.
In life there are no rehearsals. The curtain is up from the moment we are born and we are on stage, ad-libbing all the way. No wonder we get our lines wrong so often and sometimes even lose the plot!
Talking of ad-libbing. I went to a Celtic Connections concert during the week - the lovely Kate Rusby and her very talented musical friends, including Roddy Woomble. It was a great gig, though at one point John McCusker was taking some time trying to re-tune his bouzouki. (Well it would take you a lot of time to do it too!) He uttered a heartfelt plea for someone else in the band to "keep talking" whereupon the accordion player (whose name I have forgotten for the moment) stepped forward and gave the Royal Concert Hall audience.... a recipe! All the ingredients, all the instructions... everything except an actual demonstration. He managed to while away a good four minutes. I think he may have a future as a TV Chef if the accordion-playing doesn't work out.
However, I better not blether here any more or I will be "ad-libbing all the way" during the sermon tomorrow morning.

[*don't forget you can click on any of the photographs on this blog to get a full-size version]

Friday, January 26, 2007

Sometimes the sun sets too quickly

Tomorrow I have the sad, but privileged, task of conducting the funeral of a young man just 18 years old.

Graeme died of Duchenes Muscular Dystrophy, though his death was rather sudden and unexpected.

I don't yet know what I am going to say at the service but I think I may use the words of song I wrote many years ago when a friend of mine died at the age of 28. He was always know only by his initials and that's why the title of this song is simply "A.P"


He had so much to give,
So much love to give
So much life to live
And a heart full of love.

We saw him growing old,
A young man growing old,
And now the story’s told
Before it had begun.

We hadn’t even time to say goodbye.
He left us, Oh so quickly,
Left us asking why.
And the world kept turning
Like it hadn’t even noticed
He was gone.

Now time keeps moving on
And we’re all moving on,
Living and loving on,
No longer asking why

But we will not forget,
No we can not forget
His love is with us yet
‘cause some things never die.

We hadn’t even time to say goodbye.
He left us, Oh so quickly,
Left us asking why.
And the world kept turning
Like it hadn’t even noticed
He was gone.

(c) Iain D. Cunningham

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Sleeping Warrior

This morning I took my youngest daughter back to her University accommodation in Ayr.
It's a place I always enjoy visiting, although on this occasion I only stayed long enough to help her carry some of the boxes and other bits and pieces upstairs to the flat.

Not long after we were married, my wife and I spent two very happy years in Ayr where I worked as Assistant Minister at Ayr: Castlehill Church. So it has always been a special sort of place- especially the view out across the Firth of Clyde to the Isle of Arran.

On my return journey today as I passed Prestwick Airport the view across to Arran was particularly dramatic with the island's snow-capped peaks scraping the clouds. I couldn't resist stopping the car to take a photograph.

I'm rather embarrassed to admit, however, that even though I have seen Arran from just about every angle (and it looks fantastic from the Kintyre peninsula too) I have never actually set foot on this particular island, where our current First Minister, Jack McConnell grew up on a sheep farm.

This is something that I really must do something about- not Jack McConnell's upbringing... but my failure to visit Arran. One of these days...

By the way, for those who don't know "The Sleeping Warrior" refers to the outline of the mountain ridge that forms the spine of the island and is supposed to look like... well, a sleeping warrior...

Talking of which, it is time I went to bed...

Monday, January 22, 2007

O, no you don't....

We had a fun rehearsal for the panto yesterday. At last it all seems to be coming together.
Here some of the singers get a chance to see the action for the first time and hopefully begin to realise how the songs they've been learning fit in with the story. They seemed to be having a good time anyway.
On Saturday, in spite of my fear of heights, I was up a ladder about 15 feet from the floor (I think that's about 4.5 metres in new money) putting into effect my little 'engineering' solution to the growing of a beanstalk. We won't know if it works until Sunday's dress rehearsal. (Not that I'm a last minute person or anything like that...)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Who put the lights out?

Yes, the storms that hit parts of England yesterday were severe, and it is a real tragedy that a number of people lost their lives suddenly and unexpectedly. My thoughts and prayers go out to those affected in such extreme ways.
The loss of lives through stormy weather is relatively rare in this part of the world and, therefore, I appreciate, newsworthy.
But what I found hard to take watching today's lunchtime news on TV was how about 10 minutes of the 30 minute bulletin was devoted to non-stories about people being without electricity "for a whole 24 hours!"
[When Carluke was without any gas supplies for almost a full week last year after a contractor accidentally blew up the gas mains, it scarcely merited a mention even in local news.]

What really annoyed me was the whingeing (encouraged by leading questions from reporters) that the power had not been restored after a whole 24 hours had passed. Don't they realise that power workers have to work in extremely dangerous and unpleasant conditions to repair broken power lines, and by its very nature a severe storm causes multiple problems that are not all going to be solved overnight? And, much more seriously, don't people realise that there are millions of folk around the world who have absolutely no access to electricity, or whose supply is at best intermittent? Or what about the effects of the Tsunami on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Asia?

I wish folk in this country would stop complaining about what, in the overall scheme of things, are pretty minor discomforts.

[Incidentally, the photograph was taken in Kenya in 2005, as a big storm was brewing up over the Masai Mara. Now there is one country where electricity supplies are pretty erratic and certainly not universally available.]

A not so elegant solution?

At a slightly lower cost than the Millennium Dome or the Scottish Parliament building (in fact at a total cost so far of £7.13) I think I may have come up with a solution to the 'engineering' problem I mentioned earlier in the week.

It remains to be seen, however, if it will actually work. I will keep you posted.

I enjoy problem-solving, whether it's fixing a computer problem, or just doing the crossword, or trying to make a 14foot cardboard whale (yes, I did that once, or rather twice, in two different ways-but it would take too long to tell you how or why.) I enjoy it because there is an answer to be found and there is great satisfaction to be gained in finding it.

Life itself, of course, is not so simple, and many of the issues and questions we wrestle with in our daily lives just do not have any easy answers. And sometimes no answer at all. I am often suspicious of those who claim that they do. I suspect they either do not understand the problem or they have never had to try out their proposed solution in real life.

Then again, who said life should be problem-free? Or that every question must have an answer?

*Excerpt from "Reason, Truth and God By Renford Bambrough"

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Knock down walls and build bridges instead

Now here's a piece of engineering that seriously impresses me!
It's the world famous Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
(Someone with a name like that had to turn out to be pretty special, don't you think?)
And he was only 24 years old when he designed it!
I visited the bridge in August last year and I just thought it quite amazing.

I've always had a bit of a fascination with bridges, in spite of my fear of heights- or maybe because of it?
Even the simplest and roughest of bridges seems to me to be a testament to the human spirit, the unwillingness to allow an obstacle to get in the way and hinder progress.
While most (if not all) other animals adapt to fit their environment, we human beings do our best to make the environment fit us. It's an instinct and talent that may well be our undoing, of course, if we succeed only in destroying the environment. We need to temper our ambition with a considerable amount of humility and learn to live in harmony with the planet.
That said, I still get a thrill out of seeing a magnificent example like this of technological bravery and skill.
There's another reason I like bridges. They seem to me to symbolise the task that Christians ought to be performing in the world. I say ought to, not with any presumption that we actually manage to do it very often. In fact, more often than not we only succeed in building walls that divide rather than bridges that bring together. But it is our task all the same: to knock down dividing walls and build connecting bridges.
It's no wonder that Brunel's design for spanning the Avon Gorge won the competition. It would have won it on looks alone, but the real beauty of it is what you don't see- the construction of the abutments that sustain the main piers. The secret of any strong bridge of course lies in the stability, strength and safety of the parts that bear the load.
It's true of relationships too. You have to be quite secure in yourself to reach out to others and build bridges. Wall building, on the other hand, is almost always a sign of insecurity. Just think of the "security fence" dividing Israel/Palestine just now for example.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

How do they do that...?

Another perspective on the London Eye.

I guess this must be something like the view that a fly gets sitting on the inside rim of a bicycle wheel. (Remember, though, you only get ground, or near ground level, shots from me. Unless I happen to be in an aeroplane.)

Actually, I found the engineering feat of the London Eye quite impressive. But then, that kind of thing always impresses me. (Remember also that I was brought up with Meccano!)

I could sit for hours marvelling at a bridge or a skyscraper or The Falkirk Wheel. Feats of clever engineering always provoke a bit of a "wow" response from me, especially if they are on a very large scale.... or on a very small scale.

When I was in Secondary School I used to while away my time in the Latin Class dismantling my mechanical watch. (The Casio digital watch had yet to appear on the scene.) On these occasions the only thing more marvellous than the intricate mechanism of my watch was the fact that the Latin teacher never once asked me why I was taking the thing to bits instead of listening to her - even though I sat at the desk immediately in front of her. It has always formed part of my belief in miracles that I actually passed my Higher Latin exam - even getting a "B" - when I paid so little attention in the class.

Ah, the world is full of wonders!

The so-called "argument from design" may be discredited (and rightly so, for what right have we to expect that we could ever 'prove the existence of God' by any argument) but the intricacies and complexities, balanced with the amazing simplicity, that go to make up the known universe produce an even bigger "wow" response from me, and somehow make me feel justified in holding my belief in God. Real worship is always just a big "wow!"

These rambling reflections were prompted by the fact that I am puzzling over an engineering question myself. Just a couple of weeks to go to dress rehearsal and I haven't quite worked out yet how our giant beanstalk is going to grow up to the sky. Wish I had a fraction of the cash that was spent on the Holyrood Parliament building or the Millenium Dome! But I'm afraid this is going to be another no-budget production. (I'll let you know if I come up with solution... but only if it has worked.)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Nostalgia Trip by Helicopter

Just to prove that I haven't actually grown up here's a picture of one of the Christmas presents I received this year in my stocking - a Meccano kit helicopter.
As you can see, although it must be well over 40 years since I last had a Meccano set, I haven't lost the knack of Meccano building! It's like swimming, or riding a bike - except you don't get wet and it doesn't tire you out.
I wonder how many of these kits were bought this Christmas for real children and how many were bought as nostalgia tickets for alleged adults like myself?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Growing up

The picture is of the youngest participant at this year's Fiddle Force Winter School. Robyn was just a little over two weeks old when her Mum and Dad brought her down to Wiston.
Seeing her reminded me of how quickly time flies past - especially today, as Heather, the youngest of our children is now officially no longer a child. It seems like only yesterday since our 'baby' was born.... and now she's eighteen!
Can't write much at the moment as I am about to go out with the family for a celebration 18th Birthday meal!!
Just one comment, though.
At a meeting today in Edinburgh, which I was chairing, I happened to make a particular suggestion to the committee. (It was the Nomination Committee of the Church of Scotland - Don't ask what it does, or how it does it... it would take too long to explain.) One member of the committee remarked: "That would be the grown-up thing to do."
I wasn't sure whether to take it as a compliment or not but replied that it was probably the first time in my life that anybody had ever described any of my suggestions as "grown up" or had ever accused me of being grown up.
Ah, well, I guess we all have to grow up one day. Maybe this was my day?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Lovely Lanarkshire

The only downside to being at Wiston Lodge over the weekend, was that I wasn't able to get to the 'Lanarkshire Derby' Scottish Cup tie between Motherwell and Airdrie. The compensation for that, however, was the chance to take in some of the gentle beauty of this part of South Lanarkshire. While I was out snapping a few landscapes I tried to listen in to the football on the radio of my mini-disc player. Unfortunately the signal wasn't very good and from time to time disappeared completely. For the most part I coped with it alright, especially when I heard that Richie Foran had scored to put us into the lead. That was still the position for most of the second half as Airdrie threw everything at us to get an equaliser, and coming very close on several occasions. And then...with less than a minute to go... I lost the signal completely! It was some time later before I got confirmation that The 'Well had scraped through to the next round.
And now... the reward is a game against my old team of Greenock Morton. Having been born in the town of Port Glasgow next door to Greenock, Morton were the team I supported as a child, until we moved to Lanarkshire when I was 11. I always like to hear how they are getting on, especially as a local Carluke boy, Stewart Greacan (nephew of Tommy Gemmill) plays in central defence for the Cappielow side. This time, however, I will be hoping Morton have a bad day! Unfortunately, if it is played on the Saturday this is yet another game I am likely to miss as it will coincide with the world premiere of our church panto (more of which at a later date.)

Fiddle Force

Having had a pretty busy few days after 2007 began, with a couple of funerals and meetings in Edinburgh etc., I was really pleased to get the chance to take part in Fiddle Force Winter School 2007 at Wiston Lodge over the weekend.
Not much sleep on the Friday or Saturday night but lots of fiddle playing, some new tunes and some new friends.
Tutors this year were same as last year, the ever-entertaining Alasdair White and the always-delightful Patsy Reid.
You can see Alasdair in action on YouTube. (Actually he is pretty subdued in this clip compared to real life.)
When I first went to the Fiddle Force Winter School several years ago no one knew that I was a minister. I preferred it that way because it meant people got to know me as a person, without any preconceived ideas (or prejudices.) Now most folk have gotten over the shock of discovering what I do 'for a living' and in fact over the weekend I got involved in quite a few very interesting conversations and discussions on spiritual issues. I think it's a real pity when labels (and prejudices) get in the way of real dialogue - no matter what the context. If we just get to know (and trust) each other as people first of all, it's amazing what we can learn from each other.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Year: same old stories?

Well, it's a New Year, but already it's hard to see what is new about it.
Back to work already with a number of funerals this week and a meeting in Edinburgh. AND... my team were beaten again by Rangers. (Unjustly, of course, since Motherwell played the better football by far and it didn't look like a penalty to me... etc. etc.)
And it is raining...
New Year: same old stories?

However, I have managed, at the last minute, to book up for the annual Fiddle Force Winter School at Wiston Lodge this weekend and am looking forward to getting the fiddle warmed up with a couple of days of non-stop playing. (Hardly played much at all this year due to a variety of circumstances.)

Of course, in one sense there is nothing "new" about any new year. All dates are just arbitrary moments in time. In fact they just exist to remind us that time never stands still and that we are always getting older... But (and I really do believe this) every moment is new and full of possibility. Of course, you have to learn to look, or the only thing that you see is what you've seen before.

letter written by Fra Giovanni, 1513

I am your friend
and my love for you goes deep.

There is nothing I can give you
which you do not have,
but there is much,
very much, that,
while I cannot give it,
you can take.

No heaven can come to us

unless our hearts find rest in today.
Take heaven!

No peace lies in the future
which is not hidden
in this present little instant.
Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow.

Behind it, yet within our reach is joy.
There is radiance and glory in the darkness
could we but see —
and to see we have only to look.
I beseech you to look!

Life is so generous a giver,
but we, judging its gifts by the covering,

cast them away as ugly,
or heavy or hard.
Remove the covering

and you will find beneath it
a living splendour,
woven of love,
by wisdom, with power.

Welcome it,

grasp it,
touch the angel's hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial,

a sorrow,
or a duty,
believe me,
that angel's hand is there,

the gift is there,
and the wonder of
an overshadowing presence.

Our joys, too,
be not content with them as joys.
They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose,

so full of beauty–beneath its covering–
that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.

Courage, then, to claim it,

that is all.
But courage you have,
and the knowledge that we are
all pilgrims together,
wending through unknown country, home.

And so, at this time, I greet you.

Not quite as the world sends greetings,
but with profound esteem
and with the prayer
that for you now and forever,
the day breaks,
and the shadows flee away.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Stormy Weather


Well 2006 stomped out with a bit of a temper! Gale force winds and driving rain. Nothing new for Scotland, of course, but it seemed to be pretty severe last night. (The picture was taken in the afternoon just as the storm was beginning to build up some steam.)

Maybe it was because I was actually trying to go somewhere. I was trying to take one of my daughters to Strathaven but Strathaven was doing an even better job than Carluke of keeping out foreigners. Just about every road into the town seemed to be blocked by a flood or a fallen tree. Why is it that the trees which are uprooted by storms nearly always seem to fall across a road? (no doubt there will be some scientific explanation.)

Eventually by making a long detour using tiny roads that only just made it onto my map we got through to Strathaven with a certain sense of triumph. Maybe I should apply for a job on the Pony Express (heroes in my boyhood)? Only problem is I don't ride a horse (would they let me use my car?) Worse still, riders had to weigh less than 125 lbs. No chance of that! Especially not at this time of year.

But, the best thing is that in spite of the storms and the obstacles we got through. Perhaps there's a message in that for the New Year that has just begun. Who knows what storms and obstacles lie ahead? A bit of determination and perseverance helps to keep you going - not to mention some very heroic roadworkers last night out clearing fallen trees with their bulldozers!Thanks, guys!

Whatever lies on the road ahead, may you find a safe way through.

God will make a way,
Where there seems to be no way
He works in ways we cannot see
He will make a way for me
He will be my guide
Hold me closely to His side
With love and strength for each new day
He will make a way,
He will make a way.

By a roadway in the wilderness,
He'll lead me
And rivers in the desert will I see
Heaven and earth will fade
But His Word will still remain
He will do something new today.

God will make a way,
Where there seems to be no way
He works in ways we cannot see
He will make a way for me
He will be my guide
Hold me closely to His side
With love and strength for each new day
He will make a way,
He will make a way.

Don Moen