Thursday, 11 May 2017

17 out of 16 aint bad!

Like most things it began as a 'good idea', and migrated to  being 'a very good idea'.  In the cold light of dawn (well 8am) on a wet May Day Bank Holiday Monday, it had developed to being a 'we must be bonkers' sort of idea, as we set off - destination Oxfordshire, for the Open Day organised by the Bicester Branch, of the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Bellringers. Yes, for the first time in over two decades we were off on what ringers refer to as 'a tower grab', the opportunity to ring at a few new towers. Sixteen to be precise! In order to acheive this we had to move on from tower to tower, keeping up with the advertised schedule, travelling in what appeared to be ever decreasing circles around Bicester, but if you knew the area, was probably a very well thought out route.

We had intended to be on the road by 7:30am, but I am not a morning person, so that ambition had always been a tad optimistic!  The forecast indicated that the weather would improve. I took this photo at the traffic lights in Henley in Arden, as the skies were lightening, the glowing roofs indicating that change was on the way - and not just with the bells...

Our first stop was Finmere a 10cwt ground floor ring of 3 with ropes falling almost in a straight line. We purchased our £15 day tickets, which would authorise us to ring at all the towers open on the day, rather than pay £1 per tower, gambling that we would ring at all sixteen. The proceeds were for a good cause, so we were happy to be reckless...

At the first tower Plain Hunt was the extent of our ambitions. Some ringers do not bother with the rings of 3 and 4, but other than Open Days it is quite hard to get the chance to ring at towers with fewer than 5 bells, and you never know how well they have been maintained.  If there is sufficient local interest in bells they usually get augmented.

Souldern, was our second tower -  a light weight ring of six, with a tenor at 7-3-6. By now the sun had put in an appearance.  Beside the main path was a timely reminder concerning the potential slipperyness of the footpath.

The steward on duty advised us that we might need to wait as they had carried a gentlement who used a wheel chair up the tower.  Shortly afterwards, a procession of ringers trooped down the spiral staircase carrying two wheels, a seat and the occupant  - who was carried over the shoulder of his capable accomplice...This duo proceeded to ring at most of the towers on the day.  I was reminded of their determination when faced with the odd ladder to climb.  If they could manage, how could I not?

Fritwell, a 7cwt ring of four was next. Our last 'tower grab' was about 21 years ago, and navigation was by OS map.  Today we were using postcodes in the satnav to locate the towers. Here our navigation miscalculated slightly as we ended up in a close near by, and had a little bit of a walk to the church but we found it.. and a quicker way back to the car afterwards!  We could have stopped for refreshments, but we were on a mission with a schedule to keep to...and the loo was occupied.

Caversfield  was our next destination.  We spotted a row of cars as we entered the village, wound down our windows and could clearly hear the bells.  Here Stedman came to grief, but Plain Bob was successful.

Stratton Audley an 11 and a  half cwt ring of 5 were challenging.  Only one of the bells was not on plain bearings. On the bright side the church had a loo, which was much appreciated! When we met the Steward at another tower later he asked gleefully how we had liked the "gorilla bells" and yes, strong arms were definitely an asset there!

Outside the pub was a massive carved chair  which the KHT tried a for size.

Launton, a light (6-3-21) riing of six were next, accessed up an external metal staircase and then a short flight of stone steps into one of the cosiest ringing chambers I have ever visited.

Ludgershall a ring of 5 with a tenor just under 10cwt were next.  They were rung from a ringing floor accessed under the stone arches.

Below the ringing floor was a vestry type room, with these amazing carved doors.

The church also had oil lamps similar to where I ring, only these had been converted to electricity - don't tell Phil!

Brill was the last tower before lunch.  A very picturesque village with a very pleasant green featuring a very unsympathetically converted chapel, that just made you want to shout


It is sad enough when sacred buildings are converted, but to try and turn it into a suburban style home with integral garage really, really, really really does not work! The idyllic location just added insult to injury!

However, the church did have a very nice modern window inside.
This was a ground floor ring, so no climbing spidery staircases, or rickety ladders.
Cambridge was a surprise, in that it staggered to an unsatisfactory conclusion...

Lunch was eaten overlooking the magnificent windmill at Brill, before moving on to join the post lunch queue at Piddington.

Ambrosian, Charlton on Otmoor Bletchingdon, all merge into one, but I was taken with this sign on the screen at one of the churches "You are now entering the Mission field" - a salutary reminder!

The last tower listed was Bicester - we arrived just as the heavens opened, though from the look of the pavements this wasn't the first shower. to have passed by that afternoon. We had been watching the increasingly darkening skies for sometime, but the rain only reached us at the previous tower.

The Guild had booked the last tower, Kirtlington, for some event that didn't happen, or didn't happen there, I am not quite sure which!  As it was booked they tagged it on to the end of the Open Day.  We would have been well pleased to have got all sixteen towers, so to ring at seventeen out of sixteen was a great achievement!

Thanks to those who arranged the route, gave up their time to open the towers and to those who rang with us on the day.  The countryside was beautiful, the towers were interesting and the ropes were mainly long.  It was a great way to spend an indifferent Bank Holiday. How long until our next tower grab I wonder...?

Monday, 3 April 2017

One Ordinary Church, Fifteen Extraordinary People

A modern building sits uneasily in the middle of a 1950's council estate. A six-sided shape, complete with stainless steel spire, amidst the regulation rectangles of semi-detached and town houses. Its bricks redder, windows taller and thinner.  The hall adjacent to the church, with brickes and tiles of a similar hue to the houses, blends in, the church does not. It shouts "notice me" to those who hurry by.

Inside the church something surprising has happened.  During the last week or so fiften stations have appeared, each interpreted by a different member of the church.

Some are works of art,

others arrangements of objects.

 Some invite you to engage and respond,

others just invite you to think.

The events of Holy Week are some of the most dramatic of history.  The death of a man over 2,000 years ago should be long forgotten - except he didn't stay dead - which was somewhat inconvenient for the authorities. The pain in his side that should have finished him forever, was unable to defeat him, so he returned to be a pain in their side.

It is easy to go from the branch waving triumph of Palm Sunday one week, to the glory of the resurrection the following, without really engaging with the significance of sacrifice.  These stations help address the balance, by helping us to think through what happened.  As the stations have each been created by a different person, the style changes, and as you engage with each one you notice the small detail. Each person has been on a journey and now owns in a new way a part of the Easter Story.

Now the church sits and waits, to see who will come and visit.

The Way of the Cross

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

No longer the parent of a child

As midnight struck at the end of Tuesday, my role as parent of a child changed, for my daughter has reached her eighteenth birthday.

When my daughter was born, I fondly imagined that her birthdays would be marked by joyous gatherings and great jubilations, but such celebrations are a total anathema to her.  When she was younger, as her birthday approached, I would ask her if she would like a party, and she would decline with a look of absolute horror. If I am honest I used to think that a party would some how forge stronger relationships with her peers. The reality is because of her autism she has no need of friendships and all the demands they bring. She is far happier doing what she wants, when she wants, and not being hassled by others. Even family gatherings are complicated. She is always pleased to see her relatives, but en masse they are far too much for her.

Yesterday I asked her if she would like to go and see Beauty and the Beast.
"I would rather go and see Sing, at least THAT is a cartoon!" was her response.  Unfortunately Sing is no longer showing at our local cinema. I showed her the trailer of Beauty and the Beast, she watched with apparent interest, but declared that she still wasn't convinced that she wanted to see the film...

On the morning of her birthday she opened her presents. Her favourite was a large tome celebrating some anniversary of The Simpsons.  To celebrate her birthday we have purchased tickets to see Julius Caesar at Stratford next week,  which will be a completely new experience for her.  However, she was not really sure why she would want to go and see that....On the other hand she seemed a bit keener to go and see Beauty and the Beast today!

We arrive at the cinema and join the queue of one to buy tickets.
"And we are going to see Beauty and the Best." she reminds me.
"Great film," a dreadlocked guy behind advises her
"Oh really" she responds, looking impressed.

My daughter may have turned eighteen, but does not look it.
When it is our turn I ask for two tickets for Beauty and the Beast.
The assistant looks at me dubiously
"Two tickets?"
He looks at the KHT.
He looks at me.
"Two tickets?  You mean one and......"
He looks at the KHT "How old are you?"
The KHT NEVER voluntarily discusses her age.
Age has implications and brings expectations....
"Me? " she replies "I'm just a kid"
The cashier nods, satisfied that his suspicions are correct and she is NOT an adult, she is just a kid.
The KHT is satisfied, as despite the best intentions of her mother, no-one is seriously expecting her to be an adult.
I am satisfied as I offered to pay the full amount, but somehow saved £1.50...
The KHT LOVED the film.  Despite having real people in it, it also had a healthy dose of computer animation.

Thoughts I had whilst watching the film:-

Firstly, when the beast turned back into the prince, and turns to look lovingly at his beloved, I suddenly get a glimpse of another blonde prince and his darker haired princesss - Will and Kate? I am not a great fan of the royals, so they were not upper most in my mind, but I would be interested to know if anyone else thought that.

Secondly, parallels between Gastonand the villan of Holy Week.  Gaston - the guy who tries to get his own way, forcing events to the conclusion he wants, even betrays his friend by leaving him trapped while he goes off to be a hero (according to his own definition of the word), and tries to kill the one who is more powerful.  The Judas of the storyline, reminding us that when we are self-centred we too can be like Judas.

Afterwards I asked the KHT who was her favourite character.
Would it be beautiful Belle or the beast, I wondered?
Nope it was Chip, the teacup... (Watch the film to understand who Chip is...)
"Why Chip?"
"He is young and innocent."
The KHT did not relate to either the beautiful young girl, or prince/beast/prince, but to the character who was too young to worry about the complications of relationships between men and women, to the one who most closely matched her own character, young and innocent!

I may no longer be the parent of a child, but nothing has really changed. I am still a parent.

Thursday, 2 March 2017


"They are for a very important occasion"  the KHT advises the sales assistant.
"Ooh, are you going to a wedding?" she enquires brightly.
"No." The KHT pauses for dramatic effect, "A funeral!"

A lady the KHT knew through attending college, has sadly passed away.
"Am I the Chief Mourner?" she enquires.
"No, the family are the Chief Mourners. You are just somebody who knew her."  Yet, from our families perspective, she is the Chief Mourner, as this is also the first time that the person who has died is more familiar to her, than to us. Her preparations for attending the funeral, are taken very seriously.
"I must buy some suitable funeral clothes,"  she announces to my surprise.   Normally additional items of clothing are acquired, and worn, under great sufferance. The familiar and comfortable are greatly preferred. A pair of black trousers and a white shirt are duly selected, tried on and purchased, and will be worn with her black jacket.

A few days later and she drops hints about wearing my black boots, which I refuse. After all they can not be on both my feet and hers at the same time and are several sizes too big for her.  The KHT decides that she needs some new shoes and with great trepidation I find myself shoe shopping with my daughter. What can possibly go wrong? Experience tells me that this will not be a walkover.

A pair of slip-ons are selected. Feet are duly measured and a box containing size 3 shoes appears.
The KHT places her othopedic inserts inside her shoes, and attempts to feed her feet into the openings, in a manner that would have made the ugly sisters proud. The KHT is unfamiliar with the required technique of sliding feet into this style of shoe. The assistant produces a shoe horn. The KHT spurns this modern device, and attempts to force her feet into the shoes using all of her insubstantial weight. To the relief of the shoes she succeeds before they are entirely flattened. The assistant suggest that we move up half a size to allow for the orthopedic inserts.
"How about we forget the inserts!  commands the KHT.
The assistant returns with size 3 and a half, deftly fitting the inserts, before the KHT has chance to finish removing the offending items from the size 3 shoes. The KHT sighs and tries on size 3 and a half.
"Don't forget to allow room for your little toe which does not lie quite straight," I remind her. This may be true, but it is not appreciated.
"That. Is. Why. I. Hate Shopping. With.You!" announces the KHT.
Another battle follows between the KHT and the shoes, but this time it is less of a battle and the shoes are on.
"They are fine!" she announces, "We will have these!"  The trouble is that this would be her response  even if they didn't fit. You only get one shot at shopping with the KHT, so you hope you get it right first time.
With the shoes safely positioned on her feet she goes for a walk around the immediate area of the shop, followed by a longer tour, stopping to examine various items of footwear on the way, which gives me the opportunity to try and detect any impediment in her walking.  However many parents will have encoutered the strange walking technique accorded to unfamiliar footwear.  The suitablitity of the footwear is confirmed, then I remind her of the inevitable financial transaction required, before the shoes become hers.
"Now you need to pay."
"How much are the shoes?" she enquires of the assistant.
The assistant checks.  "£42.
A look of total horror crosses the face of the KHT.
For a moment she was tempted to say 'forget the shoes', but she wants them for the funeral.
That evening she is very keen to inform everyone of her shoe shopping exploits.
"You could always have worn brown boots," say I.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

It Isn't Supposed To Be Like This!

It isn't supposed to be like this...but I am not complaining!

A cursory glance at this ecclesiastical snapshot and you may have assumed that it was taken in the summer, but look again and you can see the winter bare branches of trees.  For this picture was not taken on a sweaty summers day, but in early February. I quickly took the shot on my phone, as I hurried in to ring at the second church we visited on Saturday afternoon.

Normally the weather on this date  is unremarkable. Dull, damp, cloudy with rain - temperatures close to average for the time of year - nothing to write home about.  How do I know?  It is my birthday - shared with Alice Cooper and Norman Wisdon...oh, and Dave Hargreaves!

My mother was advised to anticipate my arrival on my father's 40th Birthday.  However, babies rarely arrive on time and I was not about to buck the trend, making my appearance two days later. I have maintained this habit of being very slightly late for most occasions throughout of my life to date.

My father's birthday was Candlemas, or Groundhog Day if you are the other side of the pond.  Year after year we would compare the weather on our birthdays. Usually the 2nd of February was bright sunny and cold.  Two days later and the weather would have changed, to damp & dreary.  This happened nearly every year!  Given that our birthdays were in the coldest part of the year, you may have thought that one or other of us would have snow on their birthday, but no. I only remember one white birthday, and that was relatively recently. We don't get a lot of snow in this part of the Midlands, usually a couple of light coverings a year, with a more substantial deposit every few years, just to keep us on our toes!

My Dad's last birthday was just after the turn of the century, about eight weeks before he slipping away in his sleep after suffering a stroke, the way he would have chosen to depart this life without any great fuss or drama. Old habits die hard, and I still find myself comparing the weather on our birthdays.  This year the second day the second month began cold and cloudy, but later the skies relented and did brighten, as the sun put in a brief belated appearance.  Two days later and we had glorious Candlemas weather with the sunshine trying its best to convince us that spring had arrived, tempting us to ignore the low temperatures, discard our coats and dive into summer!  Sun on my birthday. Beautiful blues skies! Unheard of!

It isn't supposed to be like this, but no-one was complaining, least of all, me!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Window shopping

The KHT does not like new clothes.
She prefers the familiar.
The safe.
The ones that help her to look like the KHT.
Any new items introduced into her wardrobe are by careful diplomatic negotiation.  No good buying too many, they will NOT get worn.  For example, a jumper and a hoodie are sufficient for her needs.

Sometimes she will look at totally impractical clothing, safe in the knowledge that the wearing of them will not be expected.  Browsing through the jumble sale of M & S ladies clothing after several week of the sales, she spots a top which may well look great with the right combination of other items, I just lack the vision to see what they might be...

"Hmmm," says she "What do you think of this?
I play along,
"That's a nice top."
"Wait a moment!" she declares dramatically, "Is it see through?"
"It could be" I reply
"Let me check" she announces, in the voice of one who is an expert in these matters.
Sure enough her hand is faintly visible through the fabric.
"Just as I thought! I couldn't wear that!  People might see my..."
I nod.
"Your....." I agree
There is a pause for perfect timing.
Not too long,
not to short.
Her face betrays a prospect too terrible to verbalise.
Then the conclusion is delivered with a flourish
" stomach!" she declares triumphantly.
Safe in the knowledge that no-one could ever expect THAT to be exposed.
We do not buy the top.
Not that it was the right size for either of us!

Never a dull moment shopping with the KHT.

Monday, 2 January 2017

I should be in bed

Outside, unseen, the world is imperceptibly turning white, as the frost silently breathes a crystalized coating over any surface it can reach.  Mystical lines appear of the surface of the pond.

In the kitchen the dishwasher begins its baptismal cycle, removing the detritus of dining, ready for another day of gastonomic disasters. There is nothing new.

On the street bins like silent sentries keep their watch, awaiting the early morning arrival of the refuse collectors, who will race sure-footed along the street, defying the perilous pavements.  Too soon the reversing alarm and rumble of bins will disturb my sleep.

But first I must catch up on the news;  Turkey and Trump (both equally sad), lives cut short, stories of survival. I must check the weather (cold) and lose another game (predictable).

Tomorrow is the end of the Christmas holidays. Work and college recommence.  Meetings arranged. The Bank Holiday limbo has passed, real life recommences. We put behind us thoughts of Christmas and New Year celebrations.  But first I must admit defeat. Give in and climb the wooden hill.