Monday, 31 December 2007

Mother's photograph

Actually, my mother would have hated that photo. In fact, I never knew her to be pleased with any photo of herself. I'm similar to her in that respect. I think I could count on the fingers of one hand the photos of myself that I like. But then, we never see ourselves as others do. As Robert Burns wrote:
"O wad some Power the gift tae gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!"

The outward persona bears little resemblance to the inner person, that part of us which is truly ourselves. Physically, we're not the same person were were a week ago, let alone 90 or so years. The skin has sloughed off and been renewed. Bones bend, joints creak, we're less agile that we were, less able to remember, less resistant to illness. Yet inside, the me that is me is daily striving to develop, to learn, to expand, to accept newness and change. That's why, at 94, my mother was looking forward to attending computer classes in her new housing complex, so that she could use her computer "properly." As it was, until 6 months or so ago, she was quite able to send e-mails, though she didn't have full control over punctuation, capital letters or the italic key, which made some of her mails a bit of a challenge to read.

As with every death, part of the past disappears from living memory into history. I am amazed that one of her earliest memories was of seeing a German Zeppelin bomb London during the First World War. For me, that image is restricted to a flickering and jerky black & white movie. For her it was in full colour and surround sound. That world has long since gone, and now it is one more step removed.

So we have the practicalities of farewell and disposal. Today will see arrangements being finalised, now that the various offices and departments are once again open prior to another day off for New Year. We will be taking her back to Heathfield in East Sussex where she lived very happily for almost 20 years, and to a service in the old parish church. Then the "wake" will be held in nearby Burwash, in the "Kipling Room" at "The Bear". An appropriate closing of the circle, for it was in the 1930's that she nursed Rudyard Kipling's widow, Carrie, at their Burwash home, "Batemans". I think she would have been (will be?) pleased.

Saturday, 29 December 2007


Evelyn F Thornburgh
2 June 1913 - 29 December 2007

Mother always said that she didn't take a good photograph, but this seems to capture her quite well - taken last month just after she had moved into her new apartment. (And yes, she used the computer in the background, not only to play Solitaire but also to send e-mails!)

She died early this morning after a short illness, aged 94.

Support us, O Lord, all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work is done. Then, Lord, in your mercy grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last: through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Holy Innocents

The power of this image lies in the portrayal of the event in the midst of everyday life. And still it happens .... Iraq ... Afghanistan ... Pakistan ...

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

On the Feast of Stephen

I must gather my winter fu-el from the coal bunker so that I can light the fire again tonight. Nothing better than sitting in front of an open fire with mulled wine to one side as the night grows darker and the wind blows stronger.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Well, it's up, and it's a big one!

I visited our local Garden Centre in Bungay on Thursday to purchase my tree, only to find that all they had left were three that were lying dumped at the edge of the car park and looking very scruffy. And so a trip further afield was called for, and I travelled 10 miles up towards Norwich to another Centre that lies hidden off the main road. Here there were trees a-plenty, and I choose this wonderful specimin. Perfectly balanced all round, it was just slightly tall, so having got it home I had to chop off the four bottom branches to fit it into its stand, and then take about 8 inches off the top so that my glass "spike" topper would fit. And so it stands in the hall, with two sets of lights and old and new decorations, some I knew as a child, and others I have bought over the years.

This is what tree decorations should do - evoke memories. I can recall unpacking some of them with my mother many (many) years ago. Others came from a friend who was throwing them out. I haven't seen him for 25 years now, but handling the small glass baubles makes me think of the times we spent together. Newer ornaments have been bought in Belgium, and they make me recall the scents, sights and sounds of Brugge in December, with its Christmas market and "warme wijn" stalls. (I still have three boxes of chocolates from my favourite - a cheap - little shop in Brugge that I am keeping for the 12 days of Christmas - as well as a 12-inch chocolate "Black Peter" who is St. Nicholas's helper in Flanders).

So, with two Carol services down and three to go, 2 "normal" Sunday services for Advent 4, and then a Midnight Mass and Christmas morning Eucharist, it's all beginning to gather pace. Sermons are written, and organists primed. And now I've just discovered that I've run out of my home-made marmalade. I shall have to make some this afternoon!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Monday, 10 December 2007

Scribblings from the south

Away from the parishes for 24 hours for a pre-Christmas visit to see friends in Sussex, and exchange cards and presents. I enjoyed my first Christmas meal, turkey with all the trimmings, a flaming pudding, as well as nibbles and a fresh berry roulade. I feel as if I've eaten an elephant!

It's always good to see this group, most of whom I've known from 1971 when that Christmas vacation from Teacher Training College I started working at a small independant corner off-licence, "Munnery's Wine Stores". The shop changed hands (and rapidly closed) in the late 1980's, but friendships made have been friendships maintained, and we meet up a couple of times a year, mainly to celebrate birthdays, and eat ... and drink ... though as I was the driver, I was on fruit juice today.

When I was working in the shop, I could drink several Bacardi & coke in an evening without any problem. Now, just one is enough. Alcohol tolerance certainly lowers when you don't drink all that often. Two bottles of beer from our local St. Peter's Brewery, and I'm glad that I live within walking distance! Mind you, it is good stuff!

Back to Suffolk tomorrow, collecting, on the way, another friend who is staying until the weekend. Then there's the Benefice Shared Supper on Friday night (which I am hosting) at which you never know how many people are going to turn up, nor what dish (savoury or sweet) they might bring. Then two house guests for Saturday and Sunday night. It's a busy social week, on top of all the usual parish meetings (two PCC's and a clergy Chapter) and Sunday services. Then the Carol services begin! Add to this the fact that we've just learnt that the tower of one of our ancient churches is falling down, and it's going to be a busy Christmas. Joy to the World!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Invisible bluebirds

The small picture is so small that the white cliffs are invisible.

Here's a larger upload.

No longer retreating but advancing

My pre-Christmas retreat at the English Convent in Brugge was as restful as ever.

Even the Channel crossing was a lot less rough than expected. There was a super view of the receding White Cliffs of Dover as the ferry headed out for Dunkirk last Monday morning.

The Convent has a wonderfully calming atmosphere, from the sounds of distant footsteps down the corridors, to the shutting of a door or the clinking of plates in the kitchen, all carry with them the sound of a holy silence.

Life there is governed by bells. The waking bell clanking from the small bell tower at 7.00 a.m., and then the Angelus about 15 minutes later. Across the city come the echoes of other bells, monastic and secular, striking the hours and quarters, calling to worship, announcing the Mass.

The city was wet and windy this year, but still I enjoyed getting around, walking the streets, shopping for gifts and chocolates, revivingyself with a Hoegarden wheat beer or coffee, and visiting one of the Art Museums and its superb collection of Old Masters. And the Christmas lights as darkness fell made it all the more magical.