Friday, July 25, 2008

A few extraordinary moments

Following up on my previous post... one of the books on my summer reading list that I am really enjoying just now is the above "The Rotters' Club" by Jonathan Coe.
It's a delightful read.
Here's a short paragraph that gives another slant to what I said in the previous post. It's an extract from a story within the story, written by the main character:
"I wonder if all experience can really be distilled to a few extraordinary moments, perhaps six or seven of them vouchsafed to us in a lifetime, and any attempt to trace a connection between them is futile. And I wonder if there are some moments in life not only 'worth purchasing with worlds', but so replete with emotion that they become stretched, timeless, like the moment when Inger and Emil sat on that bench in the rose garden and smiled at the camera..."

The Elusive Butterfly

Even without a proper zoom lens it is not difficult to get good close-up pictures of flowers because, for the most part, they just sit there, perfectly still. Unlike people they don't freeze in front of a camera or put on a funny face to hide embarrassment. You don't have to ask them to smile. What you see is what you get.
Photographing a butterfly is a bit more difficult -especially without a good telephoto lens- because they never seem to stay still for more than a few seconds.
On the dunes above Embo beach in Sutherland I came across a patch of thistles which seemed to be a happy feeding ground for a whole host of butterflies.
Above is one of them.
I know it is a fritillary but I'm not 100% sure which one as (I believe) there are three kinds of fritillary found in the north east of Scotland. [Again, someone more knowledgeable correct my facts if they are wrong, please.]
I think this may be a Dark Green Fritillary.
Now - I know it doesn't look in the slightest bit green but that just proves the ingenuity of those who identify and classify things like butterflies, of which there are so many varieties. The green (apparently) is on the underside of the wings (of the male only?) I can't remember exactly what I read somewhere about them and I don't have time to check.
To get a clear enough picture [and remember to click on the picture to see it full size] I had to get in to about half a metre from it. Not easy when the butterfly refuses to sit still for more than a few seconds at a time. This one, however, was enjoying a long drink of thistle nectar and gave me just enough time to snap away.
I think it is the elusiveness and fragility of butterflies that makes them so fascinating. (I can't help feeling my age when a certain song by Val Doonican runs through my head as I type these words!! - The Elusive Butterfly of Love, for those too young or too sophisticated to know.)
I may have quoted these lines before but many, many years ago I once wrote:
"The painting of a word on paper
or the ghost of an idea
are as fleeting as the glance of light
reflected from the rippled pool,
or the wings of a butterfly
rubbed against the summer air."
(c) Iain D. Cunningham
One thing I love about photography is its ability (very occasionally) to freeze such elusive moments in time; though perhaps in the very act of doing so, the reality is distorted. Butterflies, for example, just do not sit still for as long as it took you to read these words!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Impulse buying

Last week I bought myself a new guitar!
(A Tacoma DM14C electro-acoustic if you want to know.)

I've been saving up for one for a while.
My trusty old Yamaha FG-335 acoustic has just celebrated its 30th birthday and, like myself, it is getting a bit worn around the edges - or to be more precise along the fretboard. Admittedly I have seen a lot more than 30 birthdays.
Recently the Yamaha has also been harder to keep in tune for some reason. Maybe the tuners are just worn out too.
I was amazed to discover that people still buy and sell that old Yamaha on eBay for as much as £150. It was a good guitar, and has served me well, since it was first given to me away back in 1978. It's built like a tank and has withstood a fair amount of rough handling without any major injury. Unfortunately it would probably cost £100-£150 to have it re-fretted and the fingerboard repaired or replaced, so I thought the time had come to look for a replacement.
I did my usual thing and embarked on some research into makes and models - Ibanez, Takamine, Freshman, Tanglewood, Taylor (way out of my price range!)...
I saw (and more importantly heard) Newton Faulkner play his hand-built Benjamin guitar and briefly lusted after one - though I have as much chance of ordering and owning one of them as I have of owning a Ferrari!
Tacoma were not even on my radar, until I picked this one up in the guitar shop.
Right away I loved the clean bass sound and the fine and beautifully smooth neck. It just felt right. And it sounded good- even with my playing.
But I wasn't going to make any impulsive decisions (I said to myself) and informed the salesman in the guitar shop that I was going to visit another couple of guitar stores and music shops before I made up my mind.
I left the shop and started walking towards another store - less than half a mile away.
I walked quite quickly to begin with, then found my pace slackening off - not because I was out of breath but because I was getting further away from that guitar which I'd just played. It was calling out to me like a little puppy with irresistibly-appealing big brown eyes! "You know it is me you want!!" "Remember what I felt like in your hands!"
So I turned round and walked straight back to the shop and impulsively handed over nearly twice as much as I'd set out to spend.
All of this is a perfect illustration of why shopping and I just don't go together, and why shopping is for me a rare experience.
It's been well said that "the best things in life... are not things."
Well, the thing about any well-made musical instrument is that it is so much more than a thing. It represents possibilities yet to be explored, because any musical instrument is only ever as good as the hands that play it and the mind that controls it.
A bit like our own human lives I suppose.
This was also when I realised that my own guitar-playing hasn't evolved much in the last 25 years. New guitar: new challenge! Learn some new tunes and some new techniques.
Oh - and there's another new challenge. This one won't fit into the boot of my car!
And it's not a Ferrari.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Consider the lilies of the garden

One of my sisters has a fantastic garden.
A few years ago it was little more than a field in the highlands of Scotland. Now it is an oasis of colour and beauty. The transformation is the product of lots of creative imagination and lots and lots of constant hard work.
The whole garden is quite amazing but I usually like to home in on individual plants or objects because there is often as much great beauty and interest to be found in the small things as in the big picture.
The flower photographed above was one of my favourites this 'summer.'
I am no expert (certainly not when it comes to actually WORKING in the garden!) but I believe this may be a variety of Zantedeschia or arum lily. I'd be happy to be corrected by anyone who knows otherwise.
These flowers are not exactly shy and retiring are they? They almost SHOUT at you to notice them. And why not? Even the plant world seems to have its celebrities enjoying their moment of fame.

[Don't forget to click on the picture to see it full size.]

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Going and Coming

One of the first things I noticed about Trigony House Hotel was the lintel above the main doorway. Carved into the stone were the words:
The Lord bless thy going out and thy coming in.
A slightly more interesting and unusual 'welcome' sign than the ones you find at the entrance to most modern hotels!
Given the order of the 'prayer' (i.e. beginning with going out and ending with coming in) I wondered if it had more to do with wishing guests a good shooting expedition than simply welcoming them to the lodge for the first time but somehow, for me, it set the tone for our mini retreat.
Of course perhaps it is meant as a variation of the old Scottish way of saying goodbye "Haste ye back!" ...i.e. once you've gone, we hope you come back again soon.
Then again - maybe it's just because in the Psalm from which this is a virtual quotation (Psalm 121) going comes before coming.
I better stop rambling now because I don't know whether I'm coming or going!

Calm between the storms

On Sunday I was preaching about some of the 'storms' of life that inevitably come our way, sooner or later. Given the recent 'summer' we have been 'enjoying' of late some might have been forgiven for thinking that I was just talking about the weather. But, of course, I meant it metaphorically.
Sometimes these 'storms' can be emotional or even spiritual tempests that threaten to overwhelm you altogether. At other times it might just be, as for myself recently, a whirlwind of activity or busyness.
Either way, any opportunity for calm is very welcome.
I have been very busy lately, especially with funerals and weddings, but on Sunday evening into Monday we had the opportunity to find some calm between the storms spending some time at the lovely oasis of tranquillity that is Trigony House Hotel
Whether it was the comfortably large room, the really excellent food, the beautiful garden and surrounding countryside... or just the extra large bed... it was a truly restful overnight stay. But perhaps most refreshing of all is just having friendly staff that serve you willingly and even gladly.
It reminded me that Jesus gave his disciples some very powerful and thought-provoking examples of service (like washing his disciples' feet) to show that he had come to serve not to be served, but he also set an example of allowing people to serve him. I am sure this helped to give him the strength he needed to do all that he did- that along with his frequent retreats into the quietness of the hills.
O let the summer come...

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Reader

Sometimes the act of writing comes very easily. You get an idea and the words spill out almost by themselves. Such times however are almost as rare as hen’s teeth.

Most of the time, it is just plain hard work. Sometimes it even seems a totally impossible task. The blank sheet of paper, or worse the blank computer screen, taunts you and mocks your lack of inspiration.

I find that by this time of year I am running almost on empty. And yet my role as a preacher demands the production of something new (or nearly new) every Sunday. I know when I am needing my holiday. And I know what I have to do when I do get the time off. I need to read: not write— just read for the sheer enjoyment of it.

I’m a bit of a binge reader actually. Once I get started I tend to devour book after book.

I’ve already gathered together some of the books I intend to take on holiday with me. I know I won’t get through them all but I don’t want to run out either. So I’ll take more than I need and (if past experience is anything to go by) I will still find a bookshop and buy some more.

To be honest, I have started my binge, although I won’t be on holiday for some weeks yet. Ironic, perhaps, that the first volume on my holiday booklist is called “The Reader.” by Bernhard Schlink.

No comments on it until I’ve finished… except to say that it is already a pretty good read.

Now back to that blank computer screen: I’ve a sermon to write!