Monday, 11 December 2017

Memory Lane

Saturday's sprinkling of snow was the dress rehearsal for Sunday's generous blessing. Both were quiet days, but for different reasons.

On Saturday the sun shone, flooding the kitchen with warmth and brightness. We pottered and prepared for Sunday, which would be one of the busiest days in the church year, and just enjoyed the sunlit peace.

Most of the leaves have now fallen from the mighty oaks just beyond our boundary. We have lost the canopy of leaves that shelter the garden during the autumn. Light reflecting off the snow further enhanced the brightness, even during hours of relative darkness.

Three o'clock in the morning seems to be a pivotal time in weather predictions. I wonder if the reasoning is that we will all be tucked up in bed and no-one will be awake to assess the accuracy of the forecasts. Who knows what time the snow actually began, but we awoke to the most significant snowfall for several years.

Access to the church is up a hill,
or a long steep hill.
Alternatively there is a very steep hill.

Many of those who live close enough to walk, would not want to risk hip and wrist. For the first time that I can recall we cancelled our services, as did the majority of the other churches in town. We all stayed home, and watched the flakes falling relentlessly from the sky. I felt like I was trapped in a computer-generated graphics file with no escape from the visual confetti.

Snow often triggers nostalgia, as we recall snowball fights and other snowy exploits from our youth. In 1964 my town was selected to be a 'new town'. I am always amazed when I go elsewhere and see factories adjacent to houses - in Redditch this doesn't happen. Development was planned and zoned. We had one of the first shopping centres, miles of footpaths with underpasses, lots of trees and an excellent road system that bewilders visitors. However, there was a price for all this investment. The town centre of my childhood was bulldozed - covered over by concrete, steel stuctures and slippery floor tiles (which have since been replaced).

A facebook page has recently appeared, sharing old photographs of the town - places I never knew and some I had forgotten. One photo that impacted me showed the rear entrance from Woollies onto Walford Street.  I had completely forgotten that these doors had ever existed, or that they came out close to the market. Seeing the photograph reminded me of the time I got left behind in Woolworth's when my mother, distracted by my younger brother, accidentally left the shop without me. I remember standing inside these doors, sobbing at my abandonment. My Mother soon reappeared, retrieved and admonished me for not paying attention! The building remains, but the rear now has an elevated goods access to the first floor of the building, the doors presumably bricked up. Walford Street has long gone, but the name lives on in Walford Walk in the Kingfisher shopping centre.

I cannot deny that there are advantages to having an indoor shopping centre, especially during the winter months, but I wish they had just provided roofing above the streets and let the town gently age, instead of inflicting such an abrasive facelift, and in the process, eradicating the past so abruptly.

Back in the 60's, new towns were needed to provide replacement homes for those living in slums. New schools were built, some of which only lasted a couple of generations before being declared surplus to requirements. It is over 50 years since the first new houses were built by the Development Corporation. Ideas on town planning have continued to evolve. The brutalist architecture, that replaced the Victorian streets, feels strangely appropriate for a change imposed by an unelected and unaccountable organisation. Change would have happened anyway, just not at such a pace, and without such apparent disregard for the past. The planner's legacy is a town with good facilities. We have much to be grateful for, but those who knew the town before, have memories of places that were indescriminately wiped off the map.

We hanker for the past, appreciate the present, and look forward to the future.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Songs For A Snowy Day

Thursday we went to bed expecting snow. I woke up around 7am, and there was nothing of note, just a few faithful flakes had settled.  Then, in the next hour or so, a myriad of celestial crystals came cascading from the clouds, covered the ground and half the schools in town suddenly shut up shop for the day!  Tough call for the schools involved, as more snow was forecast.  Being in the landlocked Midlands it is not often that we get significant amounts of snow.  It is important to keep the schools open for those who need somewhere to go, but I am all in favour of giving children the opportunity to experience playing in the snow, when possible!



Tesco is not far away as the crow flies, but we went by car to discover how bad the roads were.  Radiant sunshine meant the white stuff was swiftly melting away.  Entering the store we passed a mother with two school age children. As they passed us their faces lit up with great joy
"It's snowing!", they cried excitedly.  Their mother was not sharing their joy...








We too walked out the store to find the snow was falling once more and were very glad that we had not been seduced by blue-sky thinking, and walked...






Community Carols were scheduled for 4pm, but as the Library - who were hosting the event, didn't open till just before midday, no rushed decisions could be made.  As it was all set up, it was agreed we would go ahead, and cut the event short if the weather deteriorated.

This year we had changed the format - less technology, a mixture of the sacred and secular and moved from the wind tunnel outside the Meeting Rooms, to the relative shelter of the canopy outside the library.  As the allotted time approached, folks started arriving in dribs and drabs, gathering beyond the cordoned area, which replaced the staging used in previous years. Five cones and a bit of tape was far quicker and easier to set up than staging! Less chance of anything going wrong too, as the whole construction was held together by faith and numerous plastic ties! Song sheets were passed around, deep and crisp and even, and off we went. Santa got stuck up the chimney, but Jesus Christ still triumphed!

As we sang it snowed, magic flakes spiralling to the ground - the perfect backdrop.  Fortunately we were sheltered by the canopy. The mikes and speakers of the PA were was shrouded in plastic to protect them from the elements, but still worked. I have no idea how or why, but they did. It was freezing, but fun. We sang our way through the songsheet. How the keyboard & clarinet kept going, no-one knows!  Afterwards,  we all piled into the library for hot chocolate and mince pies. The Guides offered biscuit decorating, to raise money for their forthcoming trip - always a popular attraction and much more tempting than a mince pie!

The very thing that we feared would be offputting, was the icing on the cake! Serenading snowflakes with seasonal songs - superb!



Thursday, 7 December 2017

Snow or No Snow?

The week has rushed by in a flurry of preparations. Music had to be chosen by midweek in preparation for the services on Sunday, which include the main carol service. Meanwhile, we continue to watch the weather forecast with a mixture of anticipation and dread.

Anticipation, because it has been a couple of years since we last had any proper snow. In fact, we have lived in our current house for well over two years, and have yet to see the garden with more than a sprinkling of snowflakes.

Dread, because quite frankly we do not want the inconvenience. Snow is magical, but jolly inconvenient.  It is the run-up to Christmas. We all have plans and much still to do. After all the preparation we do not want to be disappointed.

The forecast currently predicts snow from 3am to 7pm, but it is only a possibility of 30-40%. It could miss us entirely. We would all get on with our plans, relieved, but feeling slightly cheated, as beautiful snow scenes fill our news feed on social media.

Often we do not get the extremes of weather forecast. Is that because they predict the worst case scenario, or have we just been very fortunate? Who knows!

So I go to bed, to dream of magical snowflakes drifting down....who needs to count sheep!

Monday, 4 December 2017

Winter's Tale

Advent Sunday
In the morning the first candle was lit on the Advent wreath, always a sign that the countdown to Christmas has just got serious. In the afternoon we had our Christingle service and it was lovely to see new faces, as well as those support this service each year. One visitor was a girl who grew up in the church and had brought her children back so they could share the experience she had when she was their age.  It was really lovely to catch up after many years.






For many years the Christingle service has been an opportunity for the younger members to take part and it was great to continue the tradition this year.

Monday morning was beautifully sunlit - a great day for photography!  We had considered going to Hereford, but we were late starting out and need an early return, as I am working this evening. Leamington was our chosen destination.  The sat nav was set and we departed.  Then we changed our minds, and decided to go to Stratford instead. Our journey was further complicated by the fact that 'Voice Command' appeared not to have heard of Stratford. Maybe if we had addressed it in Shakespearean English, it might have been more forthcoming.  Maybe not.  Well, we knew which roads to take, so the satnav became the sackednav.

Halfway there the sun disappeared and the interesting clouds won. However, we were not going to be deterred. We selected Stratford because we wanted to do the walk by the river, clouds or no clouds!

We parked, then crossed the river towards the theatre. Workmen were dredging the canal basin. We were advised that the spoil was being taken to help construct the new Marina, scheduled to open in 5 years time.







On our wanderings we discovered the site of the new marina. Locals observing the work down river were verbal in their opinion of the local council, and it wasn't complimentary.











When we were back by the theatre we noticed filming was underway. No idea what for... If you recognise anyone let me know.







Lunch was at a branch of a chain of eateries.  The waiter was very enthusiastic and greeted each of our orders as if it was the best decision he could possibly have made. My companion ordered a toastie
"Great choice!"  
I ordered tomato quiche
"Ah Tomato!" he declared, as if had made the very quiche himself.
After he departed I expressed the opinion that he may well have been an out of work actor.

Well, it was all downhill from there.  My request for a 'Flat White' was interpreted as 'tap water' It was delivered by different member of staff, who checked who the tea was for, dumped the water in front of me and legged it. I then caught the original waiters attention
"Excuse me, I asked for a Flat White, and I seem to have tap water. " 
My companion reckons that 'tap water' and 'flat white' sound the same.  My thought was that he was so busy affirming us in our choices, that he didn't actually listen.  The next problem was our food. We were adjacent to the food hatch. The chef rang the bell when food was ready to be taken to tables. Everyone was so busy clearing, welcoming and taking orders that no-one was delivering the food. The bell rang once, twice, three times. Still, it sat there.  My companion accosted a passing waiter.
"Excuse me, I think that is our food waiting and it has been there a while!"  Our food arrived with apologies. Now salad and heated lamps do not mix....  Basically what should have been hot, wasn't and what should have been cold wasn't. I also had the coleslaw that I had requested not to have....
Did I want to add a service charge? My response was lukewarm to say the least.

There were a couple of shops we wanted to visit, and a few purchases were made.





Confession time.
I nearly overran with the candle yesterday, and today it didn't get lit, as it was a chaotic teatime, with people going here and there. Tomorrow is another day...




Saturday, 2 December 2017

Treemendous...

No sooner is December here, than the Christingle service is imminent! This triggered the recruitment of a top team of church decorators, recruited at short notice, to ensure the place looked suitably seasonal for our Christmas visitors.

Our star decorators soon made a discovery, that I am sure they made last year - real trees are spikey! They prefer it if you respect their personal space - get too close and you will find out exactly why they are called pine 'needles'!

 We also discovered that:-

  • It is probably easier to start fitting the lights from the bottom of the tree, not the top.
  • The top shoot could not possibly bear the weight of a star.  
  • Lights may be trodden on multiple times but by some miracle, still work.  Do not rely on this to be so.... 
  • Decorations shatter when knelt on....

The finished tree is a joy to behold. It has not been dressed, rather it has been festooned with a cascade of snowflakes. lights, tinsel and baubles.  A delightful expression of joy, and will be much admired by many over the next couple of weeks.  Well done guys! I LOVE IT!

Meanwhile, stars have been hung - including the 'Lynda special', which is suspended from a hook in the ceiling at the centre of the church and gently winched into position. It rotates gently in the air currents, as if monitoring the presence of the Holy Spirit. Lights brighten the Foyer, which is often quite gloomy.  Random angels are dotted around the church. Shelves have been fitted into the window alcoves, lanterns and candle holders have been installed. Meanwhile, Dawn has constructed two boxes of Christingles for the service tomorrow afternoon at 4pm - plug...

In the afternoon the KHT and I visited the Christmas Fayre in the church hall, while DH was off playing his bassoon at Coughton Court. The KHT does not currently have a membership card. Instead, if she joins she can have a free ticket for her carer.  As anyone who is likely to be her carer is already a member and at times want to visit NT properties without her, then this is actually completely useless for families like ours. I asked if she could have the free membership instead, but they would not allow it, which was very disappointing.

Pick your own...
In the evening I started the annual grand double sided sticky tape project. Yes, it is time to start making Christmas Cards. I hate the point when you are about to start and are apprehensive that the results of your labours will look like something produced by a child in Reception Class. I am never that happy with the first few, then I start to see how the colours can work to enhance each other.

I starting making my own a few years back, when I failed to find any I liked on sale in the shops. This year's colour is blue - so far.  Yes, I am still obsessed with tree/star combinations, as I do wonder if the star passed over the tree(s) that were used for Jesus' cross.







Meanwhile, we have finished the second day of December and are still on track.

Unheard of.

Maybe tracking my candle burning progress is actually helping me remember to be a responsible Advent Candle user...



Friday, 1 December 2017

The Advent of Advent

Not the green door...
For the wages of nuts, seeds and drinking water, we can admire the antics of three squirrels and a variety of birds - robins, thrushes, tits, nuthatches, starlings, jays, blackbirds, goldfinches, wrens, dunnocks, sparrows, pigeons, magpies, even the odd woodpecker, plus others I have forgotten.  DH put the last of the nuts out earlier in the week, so this morning we headed off to Webbs Winter Wonderland in search of further supplies. The entrance was not looking as inviting as usual - encased in wood, as if renovations were taking place. Apparently, they had been visited by ram raiders. At least they left the trio of singing reindeer behind...

Our visit to Webbs also gave the KHT the opportunity to explore their Christmas section, of which she thoroughly approves.
She gazed in wonder at the cute snow scenes.
We gaze in disbelief at the prices - £200 for that tat???
Having just liberated a dozen boxes of decorations from the loft - we know that we already have more decorations than we need, so we were well able to resist the temptation to buy yet more. However, I do have to confess to buying a new smaller Father Christmas earlier this week, which will look great on the mantlepiece. The four-foot tall version, purchased at the Gift Fair at the NEC a few years back, will probably go to the local charity shop this year, and make someone very happy.  Sorry mate, you are so last Christmas!

Then DH left us in town, so we could gaze in wonder at the decorations in the shopping centre, and do a bit of shopping. A lovely small present purchased for the youngest granddaughter, a pressy for the oldest granddaughter, and gifts for two of our favourite mature citizens...

The KHT has once more vowed to never go clothes shopping with me again, after she accidentally purchased a much needed item of clothing...  Her consolation prize was a trio of Christmas CD's, one of which definitely has potential, and I bought an Advent Candle....  Now the Advent Candle is usually the point at which I realise my magazine-perfect Christmas is not going to go to materialise, as I either mislay the blessed thing, and we spend all of December playing catch up - and failling, or forget it is lit, and burn down past day five on the first day of December...









Phew! So far, so good!

At the allotted time DH collected us up from town, before departing for a music rehearsal.  I assembled the Christmas Tree whilst the KHT reminisced about the good old days.
"Remember the old tree, it could stand on the floor... "
I say nothing. I just remember that the old house had higher ceilings, and quite often we didn't use the bottom part so it could stand on the end of the dining table in the bay window.
"Our old tree didn't come with lights already on it, we could choose our own lights..."
I remember how often the lights failed.... and remind her that it is all progress.

The KHT opens the first door on her advent calendar, the candle is lit.  Advent is under way.









Thursday, 30 November 2017

Brrrr!

Tuesday I was delivering angels to local houses, in the form of an invitation to our Christmas services. Our church is a modern six-sided building, based on the plan of a Swedish cinema. It lacks bells, smells and stained glass. It has no tower or steeple, just a stainless steel spire with a cross on top. It looks like a church if you know what a church can look like.  However, if your expectation of church is a Norman or Gothic pile, then you could easily drive past and just see a red-brick building...  If we want visitors to our Christmas services, then we have to remind the local community that we exist, and so we deliver invitations to our Christmas services.

If I am honest I have to admit that walking up to strangers homes is a bit scary, but I have had some lovely conversations with people I have met. I always tell the people what I am doing and ask if they know where the church is.  To date, I have not encountered any negativity.  If people are not interested they can just put the cards in the bin, but we always get visitors to our church as a result of delivering these invitations.

Wednesday morning saw us in school for Open the Book - acting out Bible stories for First school children - great fun.  This week the story was the Lost Sheep.  The KHT was trying to get her head around the implications of this story
KHT - So, if Jesus was the Good Shepherd, who was the bad shepherd?
Me - It's not really a story about a Shepherd, it is a story about us, and how no matter how far we have wandered off and done our own things, God never gives up on us.
KHT - What if the sheep don't want to be found?  What if they are quite happy doing their own thing, and do not want to be rescued?"
The KHT doesn't have a problem with Jesus. Her problem is that she wants freedom, but only if it is safe.  Like the sheep, she lacks the ability to adequately assess danger, and resents the limitations that have to be placed on her to keep her safe.  At the same time, she wants to be safe.

Thursday, more leaflet delivering. Despite the sunshine, it is bitterly cold, much colder than Tuesday! I am wearing gloves, but my hands still ache with the cold - triggering memories of soggy woolly gloves and snowball fights from my childhood. We pop in to Tesco to warm up. Actually we pop in to Tesco because we have no bread, not a lot of milk and I fancy some sausage rolls... We leave with three bags of shopping.  There is snow to the east of us, but none here.

The KHT is making plans for tomorrow, when the decorations come out of purdah and the loft.

Barry is also going down with a cold.  Three days in and I am bored of having a blocked nose , and long to be able to breathe normally.  Hibernation feels like an attractive option...