Archive for the ‘church’ Category

Be Near Me, a  joint production between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Donmar Warehouse reached Perth last week.

Ian McDiarmid adapted this from Andrew O’ Hagan’s book, and he also starred in this disturbing piece.     The story, set in a sectarian west coast community is about Father David Anderton, a very English, Catholic priest, fond of wine, classical music …….. and the odd young boy.

Anderton, for ever scarred by the death of a close friend, Conor, in a car crash while they were at University in Oxford, sought refuge in the Church.    A good administrator, but poor priest, he was taken on reluctantly by the Glasgow Bishop only because he was intelligent, and they were short of priests.    In what was a rather improbable series of errors of judgement, he got a little too friendly with a group of difficult teenagers, including 15 year old  Mark.    Mark  ended up at the rectory, and after drink and drugs were taken, Anderton planted a kiss on the boy’s lips.   

The wider community was well represented by the rest of the actors, mostly present onstage throughout.   In a strong cast, Blythe Duff gave was particularly outstanding as Mrs Poole, Anderton’s housekeeper.    Collette O’Neill played Anderton’s mother – bright, old and wise, and still churning out her books with plenty of sex included.    There was some excellent singing, which under John Tiffany’s direction, added much to the drama.

But ultimately, this was not a comfortable play.    The very English, camp Catholic priest was very much at odds with Ayrshire working class community.      Anderton  reminded me of the English Colonel in Tunes of Glory.   And the sectarianism was present from the old down to the young.   Anderton held very different views to his peers, which we saw demonstrated in a wonderful dinner party scene.

In the end, Anderton was a lost man – he lost his job and had to do community service, but he lost his way in life:   he was challenged about what he had achieved in his church career not only by the young teenagers, but by his agnostic mother.     Ian McDiarmid gave a very convincing performance, even if what we were being asked to believe was less so at times.

And nice to see Perth Theatre very busy, and to see a good sprinkling of other actors and a director in the audience, which is always a good sign.

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12th Night – Epiphany

It was 12th night on Sunday, so the Christmas tree finally came down, the decorations got tidied away into their box and the Christmas Cards collected up.    We have had a very busy Christmas with relatives staying.

Our local church held a midnight service this year, and candlelight and incense were promised, so we went along.    The candlelight lasted only for Once in Royal, and we had to put them out after that.   Incense was used, but it was fairly minimal.   It was a good effort though, although the 1982 Liturgy really grates.

So it was a pleasure to get along to Evensong at Old St Pauls  at Epiphany.   It was a stunningly beautiful service, by candlelight throughout its 60 minutes.   We started with ceremony of Lucernarium when we all lit our candles, and this was followed by Solemn Evensong and Benediction.     The music was really well sung, and there was a massive amount of incense used during the Magnificat.   The service included time for silence  and thought – just what was needed after a busy Christmas season.

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Living in deepest darkest Perthshire, we like to visit cities on holiday, so we rented an apartment in Paris for a week.   Nice and central with the big attractions within walking distance.  

Actually, the less obvious things to do and see were as enjoyable and much less crowded than the main things.    And although we visited Notre Dame, the Pompidou Centre, Musee d’Orsay, Sacre Coeur, Saint Chapelle and took a boat trip on the Seine – all busy – we really liked the Opera Garnier, Mamottan Monet Museum, and various churches we visited.     The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees etc. will have to wait for another time.

St Eustache, 10 minutes walk north from Pont Neuf, was particularly interesting.   Half an hour before mass on Sundays, the organist gives a mini recital.   He peeps out from behind the huge instrument high above the great doors and explains what he is about to play, and then, watched by his keen organ scholars, plays wonderfully.

Apart from the seriously good food, a couple of things struck us:   Parisians just seem to know how to dress tastefully – no bare midriffs and exposed bellybuttons on show in the street here.    And few fat people – we saw no fat children at all.   Also, the Metro works reliably and is pleasant to use.

So back home after a nightmare journey:   Flybe Paris Edinburgh was cancelled (stuck flaps on the plane just before take-off), so we went to  Southampton, and then another flight to Edinburgh.   Arrived at midnight 7 and a half hours late.    One bag has been delivered home after 24 hours;   the other will hopefully follow.

But great to get away to a city for a week, and to be in Paris on Bastille Day.

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Every Perth Festival, there is a Festival service in the lovely and very ancient St John’s Kirk.   In recent years, Perth Youth Orchestra provide the music, and today was no exception.    They were amazing as usual, and a credit to their conductor and tutors.   They are off to Poland on tour in a few weeks, and will be great ambassadors for the Fair City.

The acoustic in St John’s Kirk is wonderful, and it was thrilling to hear a really big orchestra letting off steam.   The acoustic in Perth Concert Hall is pretty good, but I think I prefer the church, uncomfortable though the seating is.   

New Provost Dr John Hulbert read the old testament lesson – probably one of his first duties.    The choir, augmented with a few voices from Perth Choral Society had a bash at Easter Hymn from Cavelleria Rusticana – it wasn’t a bad attempt by any means, but this piece is a “big sing”, and the forces were really struggling a bit in places:   sopranos with the top notes, and the tenors were too few.

There was a man along the row of seats from us who must have been tone deaf.   He sang the first two hymns, and quite honestly, it was like a dog howling.    Thankfully, he did not seem to know the second two hymns.    It was a shame, but what does one do?    He was obviously a keen churchgoer, as he had his bible with him.    For many, hymn singing is a very special and inclusive part of a church service.   Perhaps someone needs to suggest politely that he sings a bit quieter, but it is a really difficult one.

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Three coffins

On Saturday there was a huge funeral service for the three members of the Melville family who were killed in a car accident.    The Kirk holds 600, and that was full with 20 minutes to go, and there was an overspill outside.    3 coffins in the kirk.

The whole community turned out, and we had visitors from way beyond our village.    The Minister was a complete star, and led the service magnificently – very difficult for him as he was a personal friend.   He even made us smile.    

Our cemetary is on the main A road out of the village, and we followed the three hearses out.   The police had closed the road completely, which made a huge difference.     At the cemetary, in complete silence we watched the undertakers carefully remove one coffin from the first hearse, set the straps underneath, and gently lower.    It took a while.    This was repeated twice more.     Then the committal, Lord’s prayer and it was all over.

As we made our way back to the village in the bright sparkling sunshine, we realised that  it is not all over – not by a long way.    We have merely just started a healing process.

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Christmas is now officially over:   the tree, holly and cards came down on the 6th January.     The tree only went up on the 22nd December as Christmas Day is the start of a 12 day festival, not the end of it.  

To mark the end, we went to a candlelit service on Sunday evening which was readings and carols for Epiphany.    The music was excellent, and the readings mostly interesting, but I really enjoyed the silences and time to think.    It was the antidote to the service we went to on Christmas morning.

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Christmas Service

Like lots of people, we always go to church at Christmas.     Normally we travel a distance to church, but at Christmas we like to go locally.   

This year, it was very much a family service, which was fine as far as it went, and great if you were under 5, but for the rest of us it was rather lacking in the true Christmas message.   

Christmas should be about the wonder of the extradordinary Christmas story:   it is  as beautiful as it is dark.     It is a celebration tinged with sadness.     Also, because it is very much a family occasion, it is a time for peace and thanks, as well as a time for reflection, paticularly when we think of those who have passed on and are no longer with us.

There was very little peace at this Christmas service at all.    It was difficult to concentrate on receiving communion with loose children playing about.   I could not hear or concentrate on the Gospel because of the noise.  

When our children were small, they had to sit still with us – and we had suitable diversions to keep them quiet if needed.    If they became difficult, they were removed – did not happen on Christmas day, but did happen elsewhere.   

I don’t like to grumble about a Christmas service, because a lot of thought and effort had been out into this one.     Perhaps next year, we may go somewhere else – pity, because I have been going to this particular service since I was 6.

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Dull November brings the blast, then the leaves go whirling past. (Sara Coleridge)

Dark November brings the fog, should not do it to a dog.    (Michael Flanders)

November is always a tricky month.   The weather is often dark and getting darker, windier, wetter and colder.     The days shorten all too abruptly.    The first decent frosts of the year teach us once again how to drive on slippery roads.     On the farm, fields become waterlogged, and roads suddenly need holes filled in.    Leaves off the trees need raking off lawns and tidied up for the winter.

If you are involved in any organisations, November is the month of meetings.   Everyone wants a meeting in November – ahead of December, which is much harder month to arrrange anything in the days before Christmas.   

In the world of work, similarly November is the countdown to Christmas and the New Year, a time typically ‘by which things have to get done’.

And yet ……… November can be stunning in the sunshine, and with crisp sparkling mornings – when we get them.    The trees are holding onto the last of their leaves.     And winter light can be amazing too.    And even wild weather can be exhilerating if you are dressed up for it.

And yet …… November is the month of rememberance:   we wear poppies every year and stop to remember those who have died for our country.   In the Church, November starts with All Souls when we remember those who have passed on, and November ends with the feast of Christ the King – the end of the Church Year. 

And yet …… the curling season is now well underway.   I have been curling twice a week in November.    Win some, lose some as ever!   It is a great winter sport.

It will be wonderful if St Andrews Day on the 30th becomes a national holiday in Scotland – a genuine reason to celebrate simply being Scottish.    I really hope that the politicians keep their hands off it.

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Christmas starts too early

Christmas starts far too early.   

It is the commercial pressure to get presents bought, decorations looked out, food planned for, cards ordered and written.    And so it goes on:  we all get sucked in a bit too soon for our liking.   Christmas charity catalogues that arrive in July/August are the worst offenders.

I have a birthday in early December, and simply refuse to think about Christmas much before then (“lucky you!” , says my wife), although the overseas cards need to get written and posted before my birthday.

Christmas is a religious festival, and for me these days, it only becomes properly meaningful if I can get to Advent services.    After Lent, Advent is perhaps the next most solemn time of year for the church.   The church I go to  when I can takes it very seriously, and allows time for reflection and thinking about Christmas to come.   There is also some wonderful Advent music that only gets sung at this time of year.     The four Sundays in Advent each have a different meaning and focus.    Christmas without Advent is like Easter without Lent.   If you are going to church on Christmas Day it is worth at least trying to make the Advent journey.

If I had my way, the christmas tree and decorations would go up on the 24th December.     This is not practical – have you tried buying spare tree bulbs on Christmas Eve?    But it will all happen “in the final few days”.       

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