Bah Humbug!

I few weeks ago I visited the church where my friend Stephen is vicar. During the service, he was appealing for members of his congregation to join him carol singing around the parish, pointing out that this is probably the only time of year when you can walk around the streets singing about Jesus without getting beaten up!

This is true. Sadly, it’s also the time of year when people with no musical talent can perform in public and still get paid for it. In July, you don’t see people outside the tube station singing Gerswin’s “Summertime” hideously out of tune, do you? Well, you might, but they’re usually drunk and certainly not collecting money. But during December, it’s OK to dress up in stupid costumes and sing Christmas Carols badly.

Yesterday in the supermarket was a buch of schoolchildren who were carol “singing”. Well, I say singing, but it was more shouting with a passing resemblence to a melody and, for some reason, they were shouting/singing in cod-American accents. This was followed by a kid playing “walking in the air” extremely badly on the Saxaphone. Most of the people who were gathered around (quite a few were parents I suspect) applauded wildly. 

Of course I didn’t criticise as I’m sure I’d have got beaten up by furious parents. Normally, if you dare say anything negative, the response is something like “Aww, but they’re only children”. So bloody what?! Go home and practice and when you’re any good, then perform in public. You wouldn’t get away with this at any other time of year.

Thank goodness that’s over!

So, this evening was my “practical assessment”. This was to demonstrate that although I understand the theory of liturgy, I can do it as well.

I wanted this to be as normal as possible, so I opted for it to be this evening as I was already on the rota to officiate at Choral Evensong which meant that the service could go ahead without any disruption to anyone else. By coincidence, today is actually the 16th anniversary of my Admission and Licensing as a Reader by Bishop Roy Williamson in Southwark Cathedral. That really is coincidence though, as it hadn’t occurred to me until after the date was fixed.

I shouldn’t have been nervous about this. After all, I’ve officiated at Evensong goodness knows how many times, so why should this evening’s service be any different? I was in my own church, doing something I’m familiar with among my friends. Well, it was different, and I was nervous!

A few years ago, I was invited to lead the prayers at a big diocesan event at the cathedral, This involved standing in the pulpit, under a very bright spotlight, in front of several hundred people and with the Diocesan bishop presiding. That didn’t phase me at all, I just got up there and did it. However, this evening it was terrifying to know everything I did was being watched and scrutinised! As it happens, everything was fine.

The rehearsal of the new hymn went OK. Well, mostly anyway. Having taught it line by line, I asked everyone to stand and sing a verse all the way through. What happened next I suppose was my fault. I should have explained to the organist that I only wanted to sing one verse at this point, but I didn’t, so after we’d finished singing, he launched straight into the next verse. This is a six verse hymn, and I certainly didn’t want to sing it all the way through at this stage!

A few of the congregation and most of the choir could see what had happened here. I spent the whole of the next verse trying to catch the organist’s eye to try and stop him carrying on, but he didn’t look in my direction at all, so at the end of this verse, and before he had a chance to start playing again, I said in a loud voice “LET US PRAY!”

The organ stopped and we prayed. We then sang the hymn all the way though at the end of the service as planned.

The examiner was happy with how things went. He congratulated me on the confident manner in which I conducted the service and on the prayerful atmosphere during the intercessory prayers and went on to say how much he’d enjoyed the service.

We then went on to talk about my portfolio. This was a dossier I’d made up of the services held between Advent Sunday and Pentecost. Again, he was happy with most of it, but did have a couple of minor criticisms.

1. Considering the very rich choral tradition we have, he felt I should have emphasised the music a little more than I did

2. He felt I should have “blown my own trumpet” a little more with regard to my own liturgical role in the church, in particular the frequency of preaching, leading intercessions and leading non-sacramental worship.

I can’t really argue with either of those criticisms.

Anyway, I’m glad it’s over. After we finished, Tina and I rewarded ourselves with a curry at our favourite Indian restaurant. OK, I know the budget’s tight at the moment, but I deserved it at and damn well enjoyed it!!!

A day out in Bexhill

Well, all the written work for the course is now complete – the two essays and the Portfolio about worship in my church. This involved sitting up until 2am one night finishing it off, and a bleary voice from the bedroom calling out “Oh bloody hell, are you still up?!” It’s weird having no written work to do. For the first time in ages, I’ve nothing to feel guilty about when I’m sitting in front of the telly with a beer!

Anyway, the last bit is now the practical assessment and Viva Voce which both happen at the same time.

For the practical assessment, the examiner watches the candidate leading an act of worship. In my case, I am officiating at Choral Evensong tomorrow (Sunday) evening. As part of this assessment, I have to teach a new piece of music to the congregation.

I was wondering what to do for this. Then a few weeks ago I had a lightbulb moment. I remembered a hymn tune written by the organist at the church where I grew up and who was also a family friend. The tune came about because the Rector asked for a particular hymn to be sung. Tom (for that is his name) looked at the hymn and, while he loved the words, thought the tune was pretty dire, so went and wrote a new tune for it himself.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I tracked Tom down and asked him if he still had a copy of this tune. He did, but didn’t know where, but promised to call me back. Time went on and I heard nothing, so I was beginning to fret and think I’d need to find another piece of music. Well, on Thursday, he phoned me back to say he’d found it, so we agreed that I would go and pick it up which is what Tina and I did this afternoon.

Tom is now retired, wheelchair-bound (due to a botched operation on his back a some years ago) and living in a nursing home in Bexhill-on-Sea. The last time I saw him was at his wife’s funeral nearly nine years ago.

It was great to see him again. He was my choirmaster when I first joined the church choir at the age of 8 and as such, had a major influence on my appreciation of church music that continues to this day. He is still much the same as I remember him – slightly eccentric (as musicians often are) with hair and beard growing at all angles. We sat and chatted about old times, about music, about Real Ale – you know, all the things that really matter.

All too soon, it was time to come home. We’d had a bugger of a drive to get there and, despite choosing a different route coming back, had a bugger of a drive getting home too.

After I’ve been assessed and quizzed, that will be all the coursework complete. All I need to do then is sit and wait to find out whether or not I’ve passed.


I read other peoples wiblogs and often laugh at those people who are students (whether full or part time) who are blogging instead of writing their essay/dissertation/thesis or whatever. I know they are only blogging to put off what needs to be done, which is of course the coursework that is already overdue.

Well, now the joke’s on me. You may remember (if you’ve been paying attention) that I enrolled on a course for the study of liturgy, the outcome of this (hopefully) will be the Archbishops’ Certificate in Public Worship.

Well, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it. The lectures were fascinating. I’ve been reading some very interesting stuff in preparation for my essays. And here’s where the problem arises. The essays. I’ve never been that good at getting organised to sit down and write the damn things. I’m the same when it comes to writing sermons – they tend to get left until the last minute as well.

The art of writing a sermon is something like this:

I sit down at my desk and stare at an empty computer screen. How long I do this for depends on just how last minute I’ve left it. I then go downstairs and make a cup of tea. I then return to my desk. Then I decide, I’ll just spend a few minutes on the Ship. An hour later, I realise that I really ought to be doing some work, so I return to the blank screen that is my sermon. It’s at this stage I remember something really important that needs doing like writing a birthday card for my sister. (OK, her birthday’s months away yet, but best to get it out of the way now). After this physical exertion I need another cup of tea. After various other procrastinatory (is that a word?) deeds, I finally get around to writing something coherent for the congregation.

Well that’s what I’m doing now. One essay is now complete, but I’m still only 2000 words into a 5000 word essay about the use of psalms in Christian worship. It’s a fascinating subject. It’s just that I did say I’d get it submitted last week and, even then, I’d been granted an extension.

Ho hum, I’m procrastinating again. I really must get back to my essay. Yes! That’s exactly what I’m going to do! Right now! Well, first I’m going to write this year’s Christmas cards, but then I’m definitely going to do some work…

Six months ago today…

On 10th March I smoked my last cigarette, so that means today is 6 calendar months to the day that I’ve been a non-smoker.

Overall, I’ve found it easier than I expected. I’d thought that the toughest part would be going out for a pint. The very thought of having a drink without a smoke filled me with horror, but I coped with that OK. Same after a large meal. I still get the occasional pang, but they have been getting fewer and further between as time has gone on. The strange thing is that I get them when I’d least expect to. I’d have thought the pangs would come to me in the pub (which they don’t, and never have really). It hits me at really odd times like when I’m driving (which is strange as I didn’t smoke in the car anyway) or in church.

Well, whatever. I think I’ve really cracked it this time. I don’t miss it and really notice the smell of smoke on other people now. YEUCH!!!

I’m in the clear

Once upon a time, a long long time ago I had an accident

It wasn’t my fault, neither was it the fault of my pupil. The bus driver wasn’t looking where he was going. As a result, my car was off the road for nearly three months (during which time I had a rented Mercedes A class. I still have mixed feelings about that car).

Since then the insurance companies have been battling it out. I have made several statements, so has the bus driver. About a year ago, solicitors got involved and took yet more statements from me. About two months ago, I was given notification of a court hearing about the incident which was to be held in October. Well, this week, just over three years after the accident, I received a letter from the solicitor telling me that the Bus company’s insurers had finally admitted liability.

In other news, business seems to be ticking over quite nicely. Since going solo, I seem to be averaging one new customer per week, which is pretty healthy. I’m particularly pleased that quite a few people have found me through my website, so that proves that the hard work I put into it has paid off.

My Bank Holiday

Today was a holiday, and as mentioned in my previous entry, I went to the London Bus Preservation Society at Cobham Bus Museum. It was great! I spent the day being a big kid, riding around on buses, while Tina followed on very patiently. (She’s said that next time we go out for the day, it’ll have to be to a stately home or a garden. Well, I did drag her aound the old buses, so that’s fair enough. Almost. I think.)

Anyway, we drove to Weybridge Station knowing that car parking is limited at the museum itself, and that they run a shuttle service between the station and the museum. This was my first bus ride of the day:

As you can see, this is a Routemaster. Now, the more observant of you (well, OK, the sad anoraks like me among you) will have noticed that it looks slightly different from the standard RM – it has more of a “stub nose” and a slightly different radiator grille. This is one of the very early RMs – a prototype if you will, and I had a ride in it.

The museum itself isn’t that big, but has quite an array of old London buses dating right back to horse drawn buses:

and some other pretty old stuff too.

They aren’t just for display though. Many of them have been restored and are in good working order and today they were giving free rides.

First off, we got on another Routemaster

This one originally ran on a Green Line route.

Next, we went on one of my favourite old buses, an RF

Considering this bus is well over 50 years old, it ran incredibly smoothly – it simply purred along!

These usually ran on the outskirts of London, so I don’t really remember the red ones too much from my youth, but the Green Line used them too and they used to run through my home town. They were like this one, but green.

Next up was a ride on an RT

Many people think that the Routemaster is the utlimate “classic” London bus, but I tend to disagree. The real classic in my mind is the RT. They had their own distinctive sound and smell.

The one pictured abouve is actually an RTL, which was the Leyland version of the RT. (As I’m sure you know already, RTs were usually AEC)

Anyway, here’s another RT

We didn’t actually ride on this one, but as the RT is such a brilliant bus, I’ve included the photo anyway.

Oh well, that’s enough anorak stuff for one day. If you’re really interested, I took loads more photos which can be found here

I’m not at Greenbelt

The last time I went to Greenbelt was in 1990. Back then, it was still being held at Castle Ashby Park in Northamptonshire.

Well, this year, Tina & I were going. We’ve been threatening to for several years now, but never got around to it. This year though, we decided we were definitely going. We were supposed to be leading our youth group from church. Everything was arranged, the minbus was booked, but three weeks ago it all changed. Because of circumstances beyond our control, it had to be called off. Shame, as I was really lookinbg forward to it.

Never mind though. Last night we attended a London shipmeet at the Jugged Hare where I had some fine food and excellent ale. Tomorrow we’re going to the Cobham Bus Museum so things aren’t all bnad.

Cutting the apron strings

I’ve finally done it. Today was my last day on the franchise and on Monday I start on my own . This is one of the scariest things I have ever done!

As it was my last day, the receptionist at the office decided to throw a surprise “leaving party” for me at lunchtime. Of course, the problem with surprises is that they are just that – a surprise. I wasn’t expecting anything like this and had lessons to get to, so I was only at my own party for about 15 minutes, during which time I was able to have a slice of pizza, some of the receptionist’s home made Chicken Biryani and a few crisps. The other instructors were in a similar postion as well. I think I saw everyone, ut only for a few muinutes as a few were leaving just as I arrived and I was leaving as the rest of them arrived. Even so, handshakes were exchanged all round and I received a very nice card and a present (bizarrely, a tin of shaving cream. Are they trying to tell me something?)

I’ll be back in the office on Monday anyway, as I still have to return the roof sign and the keys to the office. My own shiny new roof sign is now ready and will be on proud display on Monday morning. Now all need is some customers….