Monday, February 27, 2023

Pivots (1)

Last Friday I spoke to a local Men's Meeting which gathers men from different churches in the area. It was a delight to meet up with several friends. My talk focused on the significance of pivots in our lives. Those moments when something unexpected happened - we met someone, circumstances suddenly shifted, or an event occurred which in retrospect was a changing point. A pivotal point. At the beginning I mentioned that recently I had to write about my life as a Baptist minister and how that forced me to reflect on such moments.

And I admit this setting with a local audience allowed some self-indulgence.  I chose two pivotal points. The first occurred in 1961 when my father moved from a church in Gloucester to Cambridge. As a sixteen year old I found myself at a new school - the County - now Hills Road Sixth Form College.  My school career in Gloucester had been uninspiring, as was my academic record.  But suddenly I was plunged into a completely different ethos.

Because I had failed Latin and French O levels the Head Teacher, Mr. Eagling, told me to retake them and the Deputy Head, Mr. Laing, offered to teach me Latin at lunchtime. As soon as I mentioned these names heads nodded with smiles of recollection. This is what I meant about the setting allowing self-indulgence. Several men had been there around my time. Actually, one man said he failed both Latin and French and the same thing happened to him!  

They also laughed at my mention of some characters there.  Martin began the same time as me and sat behind me. I thought we might be friends as newcomers but that failed totally. Later when I read his autobiography did I see just how much Martin Amis, son of Kingsley Amis, truly hated the County. A year below me was Syd Barratt of Pink Floyd fame. A delightful charismatic figure he was a brilliant artist and our paths happily crossed when I did A level art. 

But it was two teachers above all: George Barlow (history) and Peter Bryan (geography) who set the nods and smiles going.  Peter gave me a passion (that's not too strong) for physical geography.  For the first time in my life I was captivated by a school subject, and the field trips to Wales and Yorkshire. To be able to look at landscapes and understand the influences on their formation just thrilled me.  So strong was my focus  that Peter said I should study with one of the leading geomorphologists, Bruce Sparkes, at Jesus College, Cambridge.  It's an extraordinary pivot that took a fairly disinterested schoolboy into genuine passion for a subject on a surprising journey......

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Diligent and honest

A few weeks ago I noticed a donation in my bank account.  Most of the entries were debits but this credited me with over 100 pounds  A cryptic explanation alongside mentioned a church that I had preached at many months before, with a note about church flower expenses.  Somehow, the details for paying my expenses directly into my account had been used to pay the florists who provide church flowers.

I contacted the church and the surprised Treasurer replied with the church bank account details for reimbursement. She said the florist was also called Michael so wires crossed. I immediately returned the money and in her reply she congratulated me for being diligent and honest. It worried me that she had maybe experienced dishonest Baptist ministers!  Perish the thought!

I received a Christmas present with a note saying it was a joke. It's a wallet with imprinted words on its face including my name.  With wealth and power Michael comes great responsibility.  Oh yes.  With diligence and honesty of course.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Music, if you please

The saga with my son's book continues until May. In an effort to supercharge its writing, he visited us for eight days in mid-January (which I mentioned in the last post).  An exhausting trip from New York to London via Iceland!  I wondered how many days he would miss owing to jet-lag causing a shrinkage in our writing time.  However, he bounced into life quickly and suggested that we should target 5-6 hours every day! 

I had turned my garden study/shed/sanctuary into a serious work space, shoving books and papers to the side.  On one side tall IKEA racks hold my CD collection next to my old record player, speakers and vinyl collection, started 60 years ago.  He announced that he cannot work without music.  I am the opposite. Direct opposite!  Silence is essential for creativity.  But on the first day as I entered the study I found he had selected Holst's Planets and the CD was letting rip with Mars. 'Wow, Dad', he said,' I know nothing about classical music.  All my life has been spent with music. but classical music is a closed book. Can we play some of these while we work?'

How could I resist such a request?  I told him I would select some of the CDs and vinyl that his family loved.  Like his grandmother who loved Mozart, especially the piano concerti like No. 23.  I found the vinyl record she loved (with Alfred Brendel playing) and so gently, powerfully,Mozart wove his magic.  'Hey, Dad,''he said, ' I'm bidding for that very disc on eBay!'  And so he did.  JS Bach's double violin concerto, Elgar's cello concerto, Dvorak's New World Symphony were all new.   All, totally new!   How did he miss hearing them in our home when they were my constant companions, plus tens of others?  Well, in his own room he had his own (loud) music.

I am not sure listening to music really helped my writing, but I shall long treasure opening up some wonders to my son.  So this is a hard writing season but there have been some delights along the way.