Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Severing a cord.

It has dawned on me that something is happening for the first time in seventeen years.  Carol and I are preparing for a few days' break, seeing family, friends and spending time on the Somerset coast.  In the usual order of packing one of the first items on the list has always been my laptop.  Always this has accompanied me so that I could snatch writing time to keep up with some deadline or other.  It has accompanied me as though attached by umbilical cord.  But NOT this time!  I realize with a jolt (and some pleasure) that there is no pressing writing commitment for the first time in recent memory.  Of course I could be doing some serious stuff but I don't need to.

Instead I am packing some paints and pastels in hopes that my recent art classes have inspired me enough to spend my time in worthwhile activity!  I know my long-retired friends will tell me that I should not be surprised at such a turn of events....that this is what retirement is all about.  However, its occurrence has suddenly crept up on me as I leave my laptop behind. It really is a wrench. I look forward to seeing what a difference it makes.

This does not mean some serious stuff does not lie ahead and I recognize that I truly enjoy the challenge of writing and speaking commitments to come.  But it will be interesting to reflect on how much I really can enjoy scribbling and washes instead.  Of course, it depends somewhat on the quality of the scribbling and washes!  I shall seek to make honest report on my return.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Still life apples

On Saturday I attempted another burst of creativity.  I participated in a three-hour workshop using pastels (at a different community college).  We were told to wear old clothes and that all necessary materials would be supplied.

Many years ago I used wax crayons for quick holiday sketches but was always disappointed by their anaemic appearance.  I wanted to see if I could overcome past experience.  Beforehand I mentioned to Carol that it was likely we would begin with a still life - like an apple.  Well, of course, having been introduced to the two contrasting mediums of chalk pastels and oil pastels we were each given an apple to draw!  Yes!  Mine was very green with a little blush of red - a rather poor specimen.  However, I set about drawing it with both kinds of pastels and was surprised by the different possibilities.

Why did we need to wear old clothes?  It became apparent as we moved on to more complex subjects that the prime method of using chalk pastels is to smudge colours with your fingers.  Within a short time you can gain very subtle shades while fingers turn disgustingly dirty.  Actually it reminded me of going down a S. Wales coalmine and discovering that everything I touched turned grimy.  I have to say the finished results were very different from my watercolour class and, in their way, quite encouraging.  One of the delights was to find that I was sitting next to one of the older ladies in the church we belong to who turned out to have quite a knack.  Yet another opportunity seized by retired and semi-retired tryers!  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Bone chilling half marathon

No, it wasn't me!   My days of marathon running are long gone but today my son Simon ran the Cambridge half-marathon again.  With two of my grandchildren we went to give support which turned out to be much more of a sacrificial effort than I expected.  Arriving (as requested) an hour before the race began we froze in heavy rain while floating on mud.  9000 competitors with supporters were trying to keep warm and/or joining immense queues for the portaloos.  It was a sea of misery with a loudspeaker exhorting competitors to stay alive and focused.  Eventually, as the mass of runners took off we tramped to the first agreed cheering point - sheltering in a shop entrance until the last moment when we burst out to cheer Simon on.

Desperately we broke away from the crowds to secure hot chocolates which brought feeling back to fingers and toes.  Then we set off for the next cheering point some two-thirds along the course on a crowded Trinity Street.  We realized that we were at least half an hour early for Simon as elite runners shot by but, with the surrounding crowds, we began to get into the spirit of the occasion.

Each runner had their name printed clearly on their vests under their numbers.  We began to shout out specific encouragement by name.  I felt particularly drawn to those who looked close to collapse and a rousing shout: 'Tom, keep going, you're doing well!'   'Susan, well done...keep going' etc. brought not only actual smiles but visible spurts of energy.  I particularly cheered every Michael, Simon, and Robert with loud partiality.   Runners were also high-fiving spectators if they were brave enough to hold out their hands.  Anton nearly lost his right hand as an enthusiastic runner took a swipe;  after that he was noticeably subdued.

Simon said that it really helped him knowing that we would be at three agreed cheering points, including the final stretch.  Over the loudspeaker, which broadcast commentary as people passed the finishing line, came the words: 'And here comes Simon with his face wracked with pain!'  He completed the 13.1 miles in 2 hours 10 minutes!   We rejoiced with him, going back for roast beef and a hot shower (at separate times!)

It obvious to see this an illustration of the race of faith with the cloud of witnesses cheering us on (Hebrews 12:1, 2) and the thought of being encouraged by name is truly cheering as we run with endurance, isn't it?



Friday, February 24, 2017

Back to School - Water Colour Class (2)

Half-term break last week brought us half-way through the course. One or two friends have asked me how I am doing and hinted they would like to see some early evidence.  I have firmly resisted, for a predictable mixture of reasons:

Realism prods me to acknowledge how unsatisfactory my early daubs are.  There are flashes where some elements seem to work together but they are often undone by clumsy brushwork and tone elsewhere in the picture. One time you achieve a passable sky with realistic clouds...but the next time its patently unrealistic.

Pride is obviously at work.....who wants to have viewers who, while showing compassion, are so clearly trying to find something positive as they struggle to give affirmation.   As the class teacher said of my first effort: 'I can see what you were trying to do!'  At least that was some crumb of comfort but it was a crumb!
Hope stirs me to look ahead with yearning that I will improve so that I can meet at least some of my expectations by the end.  Who knows?

One of you commented that I am obviously a man of many parts.  Let me honestly reply that I am yet to be persuaded that this is one of them!   But I shall go on....

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Grave disappointment

In December I mentioned a preaching tour spectacular scheduled for May 2017.  Four of us were to form a preaching team for conferences in Manila, Taipei and Seoul...all within two weeks.  Hearing that arrangements were developing full steam ahead with a deadline for materials at the end of February 2017 I pressed on eagerly and these last few weeks I have (mostly) written my address for translation.  Imagine my delight when talking with the Boston tour operator she then organized my first (business class) airline ticket to the Philippines from Heathrow.  It was becoming real.

However.....imagine my disappointment when I heard last week that the whole trip was cancelled!  Oh no!  An email shared the sad news without explanation though, of course, with much apology.  The US administrator said he was distressed by the news too.  Apparently I need to send him my address which may be published and I have to stand by because a conference opportunity in the US may open up in 2018.  But I cannot disguise my disappointment.

In the interests of full disclosure I also need to mention that Carol is exhilarated by this news.  Though expressing some sympathy for me she has never concealed her worries about me going off to foreign places without her.  Every piece of disturbing news about the three countries to be visited has reinforced her concerns and (though she is coy about admitting it)  I am pretty sure that she has been praying the trip would be cancelled!  For my own protection, of course. As one of my  friends said: 'Well, you know about the powerful prayers of a righteous person!'

Saturday, February 11, 2017

80 years young

We recently attended a 80th birthday celebration for a friend we have known for the last thirty years.  About 50 people gathered in a restaurant to enjoy the occasion and we were delighted to greet several other guests we know well and be introduced to several more.   After the meal a cake was produced and our friend made a short speech.


She thanked us all for coming and then said three things:
     I am unhappy that I am so doubled up that I now have to use sticks to walk (her arthritis is serious);
     I am very unhappy that my husband is not here. He died 10 years ago and I miss him terribly;
     BUT for the last 65 years Jesus Christ has been with me every step of the way.  I have to tell you that his friendship is the most important part of my life. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
It was a very short speech but it expressed so clearly and honestly just how she felt on her big day.


It was a timely reminder as ageing so often brings poor health and bereavement that the relationship with Christ cannot be broken - the same yesterday, today and forever.  Gratefully, I left the meal with that conviction ringing in my ears.  There's no substitute for live testimony like that!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Back to School - Watercolour Class (1)

The last four weeks I have been back to school - actually a nearby Community College - which boasts a variety of adult classes.  Though I greatly enjoyed painting in the past (that's forty plus years ago) I have never learned to use water colours.  When I saw this class posted for beginners and those with a little experience I signed up, albeit with many questions.  You know the kind!  Who will be there, who will teach and how, what will happen in ten weeks?  Ten of us started out and it seems to have settled down to around 7 or 8 - evenly divided between men and women with the average age knocked down by a younger couple.

So what happened?  I have been intrigued by how the teacher has worked with our disparate group.  First, he has gone for boldness and confidence.  He poured scorn on little brushes, small paper, and detail of any kind. "We are not maiden aunts with our little paint pads doing miniatures!' he said.  He demanded that we buy quarter imperial paper, big brushes (12 or 14 for those who know about these things!) and that we begin with big vistas and large brush-strokes.

Second, he focuses on simplicity.  He recommends three colours are all we need: cadmium yellow, cobalt blue and cadmium red.  The rest is down to mixing with basic rules of eye-level, horizon, near, middle and far distances and concentration on tone.  It's tone that matters he keeps saying!

Third, he models from the front.  Sending out details about the next picture before each class he then encourages us to paint along with him.  As he slaps the paint on at the front (and at times it just seems a slap) he distributes little gems such as the need to preserve the white paper and the changes of tone to give three dimensions.  As we follow, he walks round, to give personal encouragement, advice and sometimes rescues a problem!  Rarely does anyone lose enthusiasm!

Four, he makes plenty of room for mystery.  At the outset he explained that because water colouring works with water  there is always some uncontrollability about what may happen next.  With experience you can build expectation but you never quite know.

I know I shall have a couple of reflections as the class progresses but the class agrees that he is a good teacher....and it's much to do with these four aspects.  I cannot help thinking about implications for those of us engaged in Christian teaching.