Thursday, 18 January 2018

Haman's Horrible Hanging Machine

There was consternation in the camp last Wednesday during our Open the Book rehearsal.  We were scheduled to act out the story of Esther. The 'Open the Book' version condenses ten chapters down to a page and a half. If you are familiar with this story, you will know that the villain of the piece, Haman, dies rather sooner than he anticipates.  What is more, his demise comes on the very apparatus he had prepared for his enemies. Just one problem, how can we help the children, aged four to nine years, to understand this story of arrogance, hatred, potential genocide, personal ambition and death, without permanently traumatising them? Fortunately, the script interprets the pole on which our plotter planned to impale his victim, as Haman's horrible hanging machine. The snazzy name still leaves us with a death to act out. The guidebook advises a pantomime approach. Cue 'Oh no It doesn't!'

"We need to think 'Heath Robinson'!" I announce. The rest of the team look at me dubiously.
"Some cardboard cogs....and a rotating yellow duck fitted to the top of a pole!" I continue. By now they are convinced that I have lost the plot.
At the mention of the rotating duck, he who had volunteered to create our version of Haman's horrible hanging machine, hurriedly hands the task back to me
"You seem to have an idea, why don't you make it?"

Tuesday afternoon arrives, and DH remembers the task hanging over us, so to speak.
"What about this hanging machine? I don't understand how it is going to work?"
I try to explain.
"It doesn't need to actually work. It doesn't have to be capable of hanging anyone. It just needs to give the impression that it could do something. We are not really going to build a hanging machine, we are creating an illusion of a machine."  
I can tell that DH is still not convinced, but he humours me. I set to work, drawing cogs on some squares of tri-wall cardboard.
"Aren't you going to cut them out?" enquires DH.
"No!  Have you ever tried cutting this stuff? It is hard work! Scissors just dig into your hands whilst any progress is painfully slow. It also makes a horrible mess. The children can turn them even if they are still squares!"
I could have used a knife, but deep down I was afraid of accidentally cutting more than the cardboard, so I ducked out...

I find an online outline of a duck and put two sheets of bright yellow card into the paper tray of the printer. I copy the duck outline into a document. The image is then reversed and copied on to the second page. I send the file to the printer, and go and collect my beautifully printed pages....except they aren't! I have a duck both sides of one piece of bright yellow card and, to make things worse, the picture on the reverse is upside down!
Some of the parts of the whole
A few months back DH managed to get the wireless printing working on every computer in the universe household. The down-side of this achievement is that the default is now double-sided printing - unless you remember to untick the box... After twenty-five years of printing single-sided, I have consistantly failed to remember this additional quirk prior to pressing 'print'. DH smugly informs me that his computer no longer defaults to double-sided printing, as he has correctly cancelled this option sufficient times, for his computer to understand that he does not want it to print double-sided, unless he specifically instructs it to. I plead that there must be a way of setting the computer not to print double-sided. He claims that he does not know how to achieve this, and the only solution is for me to pay greater attention. You can imagine how well that went down...
I threaten the printer with Haman's horrible hanging machine and send a second copy of page two to the printer.

The ducks are then cut out, and attached to each other with my favourite craft item - double sided sticky tape, leaving a gap at the bottom to allow the pole to be inserted. A clothes airer and old curtain are added to the list of props, as is the heavyweight chain, which will clank into a metal container, providing added sound effects.  The demise of Haman will this take place out of sight, behind the curtain draped clothes airer, and three 'square' cogs, watched over by a rotating duck. Well, that was the plan...

On the day, the duck rotated, but the children with the cogs were so engrossed in the story, they forgot to rotate - did it matter? Nah!  Haman the horrible was hung, while hidden, by his 'Heath Robinson' hanging machine. No-one was traumatised, and moral of the story was that Esther took a risk, and saved her people.

Haman hoisted?
Later, I re-read the book of Esther, curious to know how the bible depicted Haman's demise. I then realised that according to the Book of Esther, horrible Haman was impaled on a 75 foot high pole. It made no mention of rotating, but all of a sudden the duck symbolised Haman in a way I had never foreseen.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Blasphemy in the Bookshop?

Forecast - wet, brightening later.

Today's brief was searching charity shops for material suitable for adapting into costumes for Open the Book.  We have some costumes, but not many. DH has recently dug out his clanky manual Singer sewing machine and rattled up a few from a pewter grey duvet set acquired from somewhere.

We scoured google maps, searching for a destination that may have what we wanted, but not at a price that would make it cheaper to visit Primark - a place I normally avoid, being unhappy at the use of child labour to manufacture cheap goods for the western market. The concept of upcycling also appeals to me. Why do we keep producing more, when there is so much already available? Alas, only one charity shop had any textiles, and their stock did not meet the criteria of shape, colour or material suitable for costume making. We decided that the material we were seeking probably came under the classification of unfit for resale. The assistant kindly offered to keep by anything suitable for our consideration. However, as we are in Lichfield so infrequently, it would make better sense if we were to approach one of our own local charity shops and come to a similar arrangement.

It is a couple of years since we last ventured to Lichfield. Normally the cathedral is our priority and the shops get a cursory inspection in the remainder of the time available. To be honest I had no recollection of the main shopping area. We considered several eating establishments, before opting for a cafe in a bakery. We lingered over lunch, having observed that passers-by were huddled beneath the protection of brollies and hoods against the increasingly inclement weather.

The Cathedral was warm and welcoming. I lit a candle for my friend, who is having a really tough time at the moment.  I deliberately put my candle on the back row way from all the other candles, to represent the separation she is feeling from everything she knows.  Despite all this, her light still shines. I know she is greatly valued and loved by many, even if she is not aware of this at the moment.

Further up the cathedral there was a prayer point, and I added prayers for a couple of people I know who would value prayer.

On previous visits to Lichfield, the  stained glass in the Lady Chapel had all been replaced by plain, as there was a large restoration project taking place.  Today we were able to see the glass, restored and replaced, and admire the beautiful hues, and stories they illustrated.

On leaving the cathedral, we discovered that the rain had not followed the advice of the forecasters, and far from being sunny, the rain was hammering down.  We quickly made our way across to the gift shop. In conversation with the sales assistant, my fellow traveller was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath when she confessed to knowing nothing about cricket - in fact, I suspect that doubting the virgin birth, or the resurrection, may have been met with less of a reaction...

As we left the gift shop the skies were clearing, giving beautiful reflections in Minster Pool.  We wandered back into town, as I needed to make an urgent purchase ahead of a birthday next week, as you do. I didn't get precisely what I wanted, but it will be more than sufficient.

There is clearly more to see in Lichfield, we plan to return with the KHT and visit the museum. Hopefully, the work upgrading St Mary's church to rehome the library will be complete.  There is also more parkland to explore. Today was just a taster, and not just of sourdough bread!

Sunday, 14 January 2018

A Toastie in Towcester

Friday is the KHT's day off, so against her better judgement, she was dragged away from her gadgets and out into the wider world.  After the recent rain the ground was rather boggy, so we decided to head off to a town, preferably one with some independent shops that offered a variety of goods more interesting than those in the chain stores.  Our chosen destination was Towcester - a place I remembered visiting to ring about 30 years ago.  Towcester is east - we had a variety of routes to choose between, but we headed down the M40.  Last time we went, I vaguely recalled heading north, but it was a long time ago, and I remembered nothing about the town.

Most of the parking was for two hours. We found a car park that offered three hours free parking and set off, admiring the stone architecture of this small town.

We headed off towards the church - just one problem - having diverted to some shops and we found ourselves the wrong side of the busy A5.  My companion nipped across the road, I stood mesmerised by the traffic, until finally there was a lull and I was able to cross.

The church was still dressed for Christmas. An impressively tall Christmas tree dominated the nave, beautifully decorated in red and gold, which matched the welcome carpet at the entrance.  Wrapped presents and kings lurked on windowsills.  A substantial nativity scene was located in a side aisle. Meanwhile, an organ tutorial was taking place in this beautifully warmed church.

We wandered around the churchyard and could see the parkland the other side of the small River Tove, a tributary of the Ouse - a place to explore on a warmer, drier day.  An Antiques Fair in was taking place in the town hall. Old records, soft toys and bargain jewellery were on sale, but the only thing that tempted was the facilities.  A small farmers market was taking place, but I didn't fancy carrying food around with me.  We chose one of the several cafe's in the main street and ordered lunch - a warm cheese scone, a large egg and mayo baguette and a toastie in Towcester were our choices.

I had decided it would be nice to have a memento of our visit, but nothing had tempted me - apart from a birthday card for my husband.  However, in a small shopping arcade, we discovered a business that was a mixture of coffee shop and quirky gift shop.  A toy train wove its way beneath coffee tables.

On the wall were some small pieces of art - perfect for adding a bit of interest to the smallest room. We chose one. Now all I need to do is to find a picture framer.

Later, checking my ringing records I discovered that it was Kettering, not Towcester, I had rung at, way back in 1987!  Right county, wrong town. It also explains why we headed south today, not north!

Friday, 12 January 2018

Walking the Streets

On Wednesday we awoke to fog, which dissipated around lunch time, to give glorious blue skies and sunshine, only to reappear again as the temperature dropped.

In the evening it was the next instalment of the Mission-Shaped ministry course which has been running since September. We were the first to arrive and the Leaders informed us that we would be going outside later.  According to the handout we were looking at Evangelism.
"Great!", we thought, "They are going to expect us to go out and convert the locals."  We sat back, our arms crossed, and awaiting our impending doom.

Sure enough, we were sent out. As you would expect in groups of two or three.  However, our brief was to observe, not to convert, the local community, for which we were very grateful. They have no idea how lucky they were...

Off we went, to the left and right, exploring an urban High Street on a dark foggy January evening. Some of the retail premises were run by chains, but many of the stores appeared to be small independents.  Most had closed for the day and had their shutters firmly down, so you had to tip your head back to discover exactly what they would be purveyors of, if they were open.

Significant features of the High Street include bins and bollards. Here is DH standing waiting, as I take yet another photograph. There was also a skip at the side of the road - plenty to illustrate repentance and forgiveness  - getting rid of the rubbish in our lives.

We passed a small corner shop, the owner was sat inside, looking out in bemusement at procession of small groups of unfamiliar passers-by. A guy appeared out of one of the vaping shops, exuding a cloud of vapour. He looked at us - were we potential customers? Could we be converted to vaping? He decided not, and closed his shop door, locking it behind him as he left.

Quite a few of the Fast food outlets had illuminated "OPEN" signs, maybe there is something the churches could learn from that?

The Liberal Club, offered a very contemporary looking brick facade to the High Street. In contrast the Labour club located along a side street, looked run down, seedy and was shut. It looked as if it had been forgotten - perhaps a reflection on the demise of heavy industry within the Black Country over the past 50 years or so..

In the darkness - lights of hope shone out. Some were bright, casting illumination in otherwise darkened doorways - giving the message, do not lurk here. Some illuminations were more gentle, like the light that came from a decorative ornament on a windowsill.  Light shone out through windows, I especially liked the Spiderman curtains - the world needs more superheroes!

There were rows of homes that looked identical, but on closer inspection, there were subtle differences - like the numbers by the doors, or the hangings at the windows.

When we returned we reflected on how the areas compared to the areas we were working in.
Roller shutters - tick
Quiet at night - tick
In need of tlc - tick

Urban, suburban or rural Affluent neighbourhood or sink estate. Loneliness exists everywhere. There is potential for the church to work in all communities. Time to walk around my own neighbourhood and see what I can observe. At least I will get some exercise.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Perfect Answers

Me - Confession time - I have lost a Christmas present.  I know I have wrapped it up, but it isn't in the place that I thought I put it!
Disappointingly no-one was surprised at my predicament, but there was one ray of light...
Helpful person - That is because it is in the china cabinet!
How did they know?
Well, maybe the gift tag was a clue!
I am very grateful for their powers of observation as that saved me turning the place upside down, and a good job too, as I wouldn't have found it, so I wouldn't have known when to stop searching... Oh, it doesn't bear thinking about!

Great service at church this morning - with a surprisingly good attendance given the frost on the ground.  As it was the first service of 2018, the service leader asked what New Year's Resolutions people had made.
KHT - I am going to stop being ill!
Service Leader - How are you going to do that?
Me - Eat your greens?
Service Leader - So are you going to eat your fruit and veg?
KHT -  No! I am going to stay away from Mum and her lurgi! With that pronouncement, she moved a place away from her unhealthy mother. I did my best not to cough.

It was a beautiful day - deep and crisp and even - well actually, bright, boggy and bitterly cold!  At lunchtime, the sun shining into our kitchen made it lovely and toasty.  We had to open the door into the hall to cool the room down a bit, and warm up the hall before the thermostat kicked in and decided the house required additional heat!  Now the cat is not normally allowed free reign of the house and is restricted to the kitchen and utility. She kept looking askance at this unusually open doorway to see if she could sneak through, but to her disgust, we were keeping watch. Eventually, she stomped off outside to attack Donald Trump - the lesser well known Donald Trump the plant, not his more famous namesake.

I am sure you can work out why this particular piece of vegetation has been so named. It came as part of a landscaping package of interesting plants when the pond was installed. As it was not one we had picked ourselves we had no idea how it would develop. We nearly chucked it on the compost at the end of its first season, assuming by its colour that it had suffered a premature demise. We only realised the error of our ways when we observed a display of the very same plants in Kingsbridge. We were somewhat surprised to realise that it was actually was supposed to look dead even though it was still living. Poor Donald, was so very nearly murdered by the weapon of ignorance.

Temporary Art Installation
I wandered outside to inspect the progress of the spring bulbs. We fear, the snowdrops may have been lost in the last garden reshuffle, but the other bulbs seem to be doing well. Then I discovered it - partly thawed ice in the bird bath! Great joy! I removed the almost complete disc and put it on the table on the patio.

It was fascinating to see the ice instantly begin to melt, where it came in contact with parts of the table that had been warmed by the sun. Then the sun disappeared from view and the circle of ice stopped melting. Looking at the forecast it will be sometime late tomorrow morning before it finally defrosts. Meanwhile, we have our very own art installation, title 'Ice'. It appears to be a very accurate interpretation of frozen matter, complete with realistic-looking bubbles of air and the odd trapped leaf...

In the evening we went over to ring at the parish church.  It was well chilly.  By the time we came home the temperature had sunk to two degrees centigrade. By the time we passed the supermarket it had dropped to one degree.
"Watch as we cross the river," I said to the KHT, "It should drop to zero."
We watched, and it did.

Driving up the hill a cyclist appeared in front of us - no lights, reflective gear or helmet. He then crossed to the other side of the road, proceeding to ride up the rest of the hill on the wrong side of the road, facing any oncoming traffic.
"What sort of idiot is that?" asked DH incredulously.
"One who knows what a cyclist looks like" was the literal response of the KHT.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Epiphany Moment

KHT and the needle-bare tree
Just when I thought Christmas was done and dusted, my husband advises me that he has an exciting morning lined up for me and the KHT, helping to remove the Christmas tree from the church before the service tomorrow. The excitement didn't end there. The plan was that we would help him to stash all the Christmas gear up in the very cunningly hidden church loft. Some churches have an organ loft, but most churches don't have a loft for general storage. When we are out and about exploring churches, we often spy Christmas decorations tucked away at in the undercroft, or under the communion table.  Our is a modern church, without an undercroft, and nothing can be hidden under the Communion table, so we are very blessed to have a space under the roof where we can store items that are used less regularly. As Health and Safety regulations require more than one person to be present when a ladder is used, the KHT and I had been nominated to be ladder holders and box passers, as part of the grand ecclesiastical seasonal declutter.

The tree  - in all its apparent glory

After a month in church, the tree was looking rather sad beneath the deceptive glitz of tinsel and baubles. Many of the needles had already dropped.


There was a bit of an 'oops' moment, when the KHT misjudges how close she was to the box of decorations she had left balanced on the communion rail...

As the KHT and I removed the decorations there was the sound of pine needles falling to the floor. Echoed, rather unnervingly, by the sound of precipitation landing on the central skylight of the church. Though probably only rain, they sounded like needles of hail as they struck the polycarbonate roof.

Carpet on carpet

I had forgotten how hard it is to remove anything from a real christmas tree, without dislodging needles. By the time the tree was stripped, there was a green carpet on the green carpet...

DH picked up the cumbersome conifer and moved hastily towards the front door with his ungainly load, before he dropped it.  However, with the tree obscuring his vision, he failed to make it through the doorway the first time - showering the surrounding area with tiny green needles that cascaded from the desiccated tree.

The second attempt through the doorway was more successful and the tree made it through the opening -though it was clear to see where it had brushed against the door frame.

An assistant arrived to help stow the gear in the loft, which was great news. I got to work clearing up the debris.  I thought I better check the Dyson to see how full it was. To my horror it was full! Totally, absolutely and utterly full!  There didn't seem to be space to fit another needle!  I was so glad I thought to look before it overheated!  The carpet has been hoovered several times over Christmas, I think that no-one has thought to empty it.

The tree was second-hand, so it was probably already dropping needles when it arrived, but it was a great blessing and we have really appreciated its presence during the Christmas period.

Hoovering up pine needles is a thankless task - you hoover, turn around and more have magically appeared on what had appeared to be a clean floor.

Epiphany has come, but all the stars have been packed away.  The tree has been removed. The tinsel and lights, stored away.

There was just one thing we forgot....

The nativity scene.

According to the Church of England, the season of Christmas does not end until Candlemas on the second day of February.  Technically the crib should stay until then.

An Epiphany moment.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Bins and Boxes

Bin collection was scheduled for the second day of January. There was just one problem - one of our December collections was delayed by a week because of the snow. The subsequent collection was scheduled a few days early to avoid the Bank Holidays at Christmas - which strangely resulted in bin collections on consecutive days!  Fast forward to the New Year and no-one was sure which bin is due to be emptied.  Normally we can work it out by looking in the bins  - one will be reasonably full, while the other is almost empty. This time around this strategy does not help, as despite being emptied only a week earlier, both bins are replete after our seasonal excesses celebrations.

I checked the website - it had not been updated, and it would appear that the people who are responsible for putting the information online, were still on holiday.
Result - standoff.
No-one wanted to put their bin out first, IN CASE THEY WERE WRONG!!!

Up the road some neighbours tried the strategy of putting both bins out.  I just hope the refuse collectors are not colourblind! Meanwhile, by careful calculations, we decided that it was dirty (black) bin week. Inspecting the troops lining the street, it would appear that the majority of our neighbours agreed - either that or they quickly wheeled out the right bin, once they realised that the balance of opinion had swung from green to black.

Christmas seems over earlier than usual this year. No soon were the empties put out after the New Year celebrations, than baubles were boxed up,
tinsel tidied away,
streamers put in storage,
and lights were languishing in lofts.
New Year's day seemed to be the signal to get rid of all that the glorious gaudiness of Christmas. Usually, we hold out until Twelth Night, but this year even we had reached the point of being ready to dedecorate - if such a word exists.  If it doesn't I would like to nominate it as my contribution to the development of the English language.

I broke the news to the KHT on New Year's Day. The next day we got the boxes down from the spare room, where they had been languishing since the beginning of December. Soon all that was left was the lights. They got another evening's grace, before the tree was also squeezed into first the storage bag and then the cardboard outer. String will be required to hold the box during the closed season. I doubt parcel tape is up to the job. The tree's girth appears to have expanded over the Christmas season, having absorbed calories by osmosis from the chocolate and other goodies, that were laid within and beneath its festive fronds.

I usually use the tinsel as padding to cushion the more delicate decorations - anything could happen between packing up and their safe storage in the loft.  The KHT takes great offence at this. I discover the boxes that were half packed have been unpacked and the contents segregated - tinsel, candles, tree hooks, ornaments all allocated their own containers.  I adjust the packing to protect the more vulnerable decorations.  The nativity set is packed away, ready for the angel to bring 'Good News again'.  Father Christmases are rounded up, the thin, the fragile and the seriously cuddly.  The lollipop trees, purchased in WH Smiths sale about twenty years ago, are returned to their increasingly dilapidated boxes.  Finally,  the KHT removes the gel stickers from her bedroom window.

In the street only the odd light lingers to remind us of our recent festivities.  We look forward to warmer days, but in reality, the majority of the colder weather probably is still ahead - if our weather is to follow normal trends. Then I reflect - this is England, anything could happen!

Begrudgingly we admit defeat and welcome in 2018.