Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Faith and Hope, and…?

This year in the office we are thinking a bit about what the meaning of Hope is. So here's a bit of a puzzle for you all (with no offense to the dear babies and family)

Last week, conjoined twins were born in London. They were named Faith and Hope. Today, the BBC reports that after the operation to separate them, Hope died.

Now what I'm wondering is what persuaded the twins' parents to call them Faith and Hope? And what determined which twin got which name? Did they have faith in Faith and only hope for Hope?

Did their decision about the names in some way determine the fate of the babies, or vice versa?

It intrigues me that Faith continues to survive while there turned out to be no hope for Hope.

I also wonder what happened to the third baby, Love, who never even existed. Is it because the greatest triplet is missing that the others are failing to thrive?

Monday, December 01, 2008

English: fluent

At work at the moment I am receiving the first few applications for one of the programmes that I will be running next summer. This particular programme is open to participants from all over Europe (and possibly even beyond) but will be run in English, and we are asking participants to apply in English.

One of the applications I received today declared itself to be from an applicant whose English was 'fluent'. Don't get me wrong, it was very good. But fluent it certainly wasn't. In particular because in formal statements of the applicant's experience I frequently found this word: "coz".

I've always wondered how one is supposed, on such applications, to state one's level in a language when the goalposts are not declared. After all, this particular applicant surely does have an English more 'fluent' than most of his(her) counterparts. Someone should invent a solid measurement of language level. And no, I don't mean an exam.

140-character creed

David Ker set up a challenge ten days ago. George followed suit, and Jane tagged me as one of her challenged few. So here we go. The idea is that I should create, in 140 characters (the length of a 'tweet' and worth c. 4€ to a translator) a statement that every Christian could confess, and such that, were someone to confess this sincerely, one would:
  1. Consider them to be a brother or sister in Christ.
  2. Believe that they are true believers and inheritors of eternal life.
I am also required to pass this challenge on to five people. I challenge:
Catherine, Cecily, Louisa, Iain and Daniel

Doubts about this exercise aside, I offer the following:

God is one, Holy, Mighty and Immortal,
who died for us, rose for us, and will return for us.
This is our God, and we are His people.


We are sons and daughters of God,
Inheritors through Christ of the Kingdom of Heaven.
One in the Spirit,
Channels of peace, hope, and love.

Life, death and Christmas cards

Probably, I shouldn't have been quite as enthusiastic about the snow in my last blog post.
Probably, it would have made no difference.

On Monday evening, as I was driving together with my colleague to Lyon on the "Autoroute Blanche" (so aptly named) we encountered some black ice (isn't it already clear that those two things don't mix well?!) and after hitting the motorway barriers three times, managed to emerge from a largely wrecked Peugeot in one piece. For which we were extremely thankful.

It was an adventure the full story of which does not need to be told here. Not least, it brought us to confront many thoughts that we wouldn't usually otherwise have. It brought me to reflect on all the blessings of my life, and on many happinesses that are taken rather for granted. And of course with that it made me think about the risks that we take every day. It's not as if we were recklessly driving at great speed. Nor, I suspect, were the 9 other drivers that day whose car ended up in the same state as ours did, in the same area of rural France. But chance, or whatever you like to call it (providence? God? fate?), decided that that day, we were the ones whose journey would not turn out quite as we had intended it.

It is probably the most strange experience I've had, those split seconds during which you realise that you are about to crash, and have absolutely no idea what is then going to happen, where you will be, how you will be, whether you will be.

Afterwards you have time to think. To think about all the "what if" questions. But in those moments you don't have time to think of all those, or anything except to be scared. Not scared of dying. Only scared of the million possibilities somewhere between status quo and death. Scared of the unknown.

Of course, we can avoid the unknown by avoiding 'all' risks but life is all about risks and reducing them too much just means we miss out on many great experiences. And sometimes, being 'sensible' doesn't stop you from coming into an encounter with all those things you would rather not consider.

Although this wasn't originally going to be a post about death, but rather about being thankful for life, it nevertheless reminded me of this year's CEC Christmas card. It's a controversial design, 1990s artwork, which draws a picture that must be intentionally designed to make disturbing links between life and death, love/happiness and evil/darkness. It portrays the nativity, in black and white. In the foreground, the baby, whose swaddling bands are distinctly skeleton-esque. It is watched over by Mary, hooded and with a blank face, a spectre. Behind, in the shadows of the stable, stands a 'shepherd', typical image of the messenger of death, with a staff. And to indicate that we are in a stable, in the back there is something like a 'fence', which appears as an instrument of eight daggers.

Should I assume that on Monday evening, such a messenger of death decided to play games with me? Might the shepherds be sent on missions by God to remind us of our earthly attachments?

If so, they got me thinking, for sure. But they didn't manage to worry me.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Let it snow…

Today I returned from Brussels to Geneva by train. It was a smooth trip on the TGV and not too crowded. It had been trying to snow in Brussels, and as soon as we got outside the city, the entire Belgian countryside was white. As I crossed France, the white continued…in some places, it was snowing or sleeting onto green fields, and in some places it was snowing or sleeting onto white fields. In any case, almost all the way it was snowing in some form or other, or had done so. And I arrived back to Geneva in a sort of snow-flurry that will probably settle by the morning. I wonder how often the majority of the continent manages to get snow all at once...

Here's a picture of snowy Belgium:

Songs and memories

Last Monday, as I was walking to the ecumenical centre to go to this service, I thought about what one would choose to sing at a service to celebrate arrivals and departures. And I thought, aha, I suppose the appropriate thing would be "One more step along the world I go…" and indeed, it was. It's a song that has particular memories, because the very first time I sang it stuck (for a reason unknown to me) in my head. But that was not such a surprise, since I sing it often enough.
More surprising was the second song-related moment of remembering that happened to me this week. On Friday evening, as one does, I found myself in Brussels, practising hungarian songs with a bunch of hungarians for a mass this morning. A couple of the songs turned out to have familiar tunes, indeed, to be Hungarian versions of songs I knew (including "Seek ye first the kingdom of God"…). One of them was the round "Jesus, we adore you, lay our lives before you…" It's a song I haven't heard, sung or even thought about for years. Probably more than a decade. But singing it took me right back to my childhood, and many good memories about that time that I haven't revisited for ages.

It happens with music like it happens with smells and numerous other kinds of things…ah, the wonders of the human mind…

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Swiss things…

Shopping in Switzerland is generally rather disappointing compared to the experience in other countries. However, one thing is certainly more exciting here than in some places: yogurt.

The Swiss seem to love strange yogurt inventions, so in the yogurt row of the supermarket you can usually find coffee, coconut, chocolate brownie, linzertorte, mulled wine and other rather unusual flavours. Today I tried Apple Strudel…with bits of apple and raisins in. A strange but tasty experience, and even with a brief history of Apple strudel on the inside of the pot (in three languages, bien sur).

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Tales from Grand-Saconnex #1

So another month has gone by, and it's hard to believe that I've already been in Geneva 3 whole months. The reason I didn't write for the whole of October was not really for lack of things to say, but because most of my time was occupied with moving into this flat (finally), which involved not only doing all the paperwork, but also physically moving a whole flat-worth of furniture across town with just a small van and some willing friends…and then arranging phone line, internet, electricity, and all that. We still need to put the lights up…

Still, it all worked out and Johan (a Swedish intern in the communications office) and I are now settling in to our rather nice new abode, which is on the 5th floor, with a balcony, and just 3 minutes from a supermarket and 5 minutes from work…could be a lot worse. There's also a pub just down the road, and we're only 15 minutes walk from the airport. And the neighbours seem reasonable–what more could we want?

Amongst all that I managed to join a second choir, which hasn't started rehearsing yet–more of it when that happens. I also spent 3 very cold days in Frankfurt for a meeting, and three days on holiday visiting Prague for the first time (which was most beautiful, especially with all the autumn colours).

Posts to follow on more exciting topics once I get some more time to write creatively :)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Ecumenical World in 2029…and other new experiences

So, the Future Conference happened (and Geneva wasn't destroyed by the big bang while we were gone, to my great disappointment). It went smoothly, if not exactly the way we imagined it would, and we all had a good bit of fun (and an appropriate dose of frustration) trying to imagine CEC and the European Ecumenical Scene in 2029. Feeling that the creative possibilities had not been sufficiently explored by the participants, I drew 11 pictures related to the conference theme. Maybe one day I will publish them, but not right now (I don't have a scanner, quite apart from anything else).

Back in Geneva, it turned cold. The heating wasn't on at home or at work for several days and instead it was time to don scarves and fleeces and talk endlessly about how the autumn had arrived. There are also 6 new kittens at the ecumenical centre, which have been a common topic lunchtime conversations. They are exceedingly cute. AND the biggest news of the week after the conference was that we HAVE A FLAT. Now I shouldn't shout too loudly about that, because we haven't yet signed the paperwork. But, and we've been assured at least four times now, everything is in place for us to move in October and it's roomy and it's near work and I've *even* found a lovely family who are willing to sell us all their worldly possessions (by which I mean, mostly, furniture). So we are…nearly…sorted…*PHEW*

In fact, just around the time that I was feeling sad on account of not being able to go and sing for this with Selwyn choir, I also managed to join the English church choir here in Geneva, which seems to do some fun things, at a good standard, and where (the world is a small place) I immediately got introduced to an ex-Selwyn Organ Scholar. Geneva really is just a big melting pot. It's not managed to melt me yet though :)

After my completely crazy week of being out all the time, and the exhaustion that followed the Future Conference, I have not really been up to much recently. However, I have been busy arranging things related to our flat, thinking about holidays for later in the year, and suchlike important matters. And sleeping, which my brain tends to need after a day battling with financial support applications and constructing a website…
I have also managed to attend my first Geneva-ish event, which involved going to the International Conference Centre yesterday evening and hearing Joschka Fischer, a German political whizz, talking about the Role of the E.U. Quite interesting, especially his reflections on the current crises in the world, and where the EU stands in relation to those. A wise man indeed.

That's enough for now ;-)
I leave you with this remark…

Isn't it disturbing that Googlemail succeeds in reading the contents of your inbox so as to generate relevant advertisements? It unnerves me.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Big Bang, Geneva. Be there or miss out (on the black hole)

This week in Geneva: "could unlock the secrets of the universe"

See here

I thought the answer to the universe was 42. But maybe it's a special kind of 42…

Future + Conference = Now

When people asked me what my job was in Geneva, I tended to say it was about helping to organise one conference which is happening next July. As usual, this is only a sort of truth…in fact, there are several stages in preparation for that one big conference. The first preparatory event is happening this coming week, and is called the Future Conference. Essentially, it's about the future of our organisation, and the ecumenical movement in Europe in general…as if that could be solved in 3 days ;-)
Realistically, though, it's us trying out a 'futures workshop'. We've got a bunch of international, intergenerational, intergeneric participants. And they're going to set their ideas flowing onto the walls, floors and ceilings of the conference centre, as far as I've understood. I did ask if we needed to take pasta shapes for increased collage potential, but apparently this is not required. Still, it should be exciting to observe (if not so much to administrate…) and I will hopefully be able to write something a bit more detailed after it's happened. Who knows, maybe the world's problems will be solved…

In Chamonix I saw a Tree…

At 11.15 I was in central Geneva. 10 minutes later, the tram dumped me outside a building which, had I not known better, would have looked like a station that had not been in use for a good ten years: the Gare des Eaux Vives: a French railway station in Switzerland. This is not the kind of place one expects to find in Switzerland, least of all Geneva, indeed the last time I saw a station even vaguely similar was in the middle of absolutely nowhere, in rural France near Le Puy... Still, in I went. Inside was a lino-floored hall containing six orange plastic railway seats and a pay phone. One door led to "acces au quai" and the other to "espace vente". There was no-one to be seen, no departures board, and no announcements, just a printed timetable on the wall. The railway line was overgrown, and there was an automatic ticket machine that looked like it had been there since the 1960s. Actually, it almost certainly had. Anyway, since I didn't have a ticket yet, I went through to the 'espace vente' and sat in the waiting area while an old man conversed with the one man in the ticket office about various journeys he wanted to make at some stage, and whether he could have a senior fare and a first class seat. Eventually, he finished his long ramblings. I bought my ticket for Chamonix-Mont Blanc and was told to wait patiently and that the train would be on platform 1 (which was no surprise, as there was only the one platform in use). Feeling slightly as if I had taken a step back in time, I popped to the boulangerie across the road to purchase some lunch, and then gathered with the few other people who had turned up in the waiting area. There was a sign fixed to the wall on our way out to the platform that said "Customs: nearest manned border Moillesulaz. Permission to pass with: valid ticket for travel; goods: nothing to declare." Since we then didn't pass any kind of border on the train, I guess that WAS the border.
At 12.01 a train pulled into the platform. There was no announcement, but we hopped on, and one minute later, it left. There weren't many people, so the train was quiet and I enjoyed reading my book and watching the countryside get steadily prettier as we headed towards the alps. Until, that is, one of the in-the-middle-of-nowhere stations, where a rather bizarre Tunisian man got onto the train. People often decide to talk to me on trains, and this was bound to happen at some point on the journey. In this case, it was because I was reading a book and therefore, he surmised, I must be intelligent and able to help him with his life's problems (uh-oh, thinks I, but by now it is impossible to pretend I don't understand French…). So the guy proceeds to launch into telling me his entire life story (which I will spare you) which, in short, involved a rather complex problem with some french bureaucracy (quel surprise) and ask me whether I think that he will be successful in his fight against said bureaucracy's injustices. So I told him that logically he was in the right but his chances of winning were slim. This seemed to satisfy him, and as he was only travelling two stops, he had to get off the train again. So I was able to return to my book, and the mountians, for a few minutes, before getting off the train at St Gervais Les Bains, and changing for the little mountain train to Chamonix (via some exciting viaduct scenery). At Chamonix, Helen was there to meet me and take me to her little chalet in le tour, together with her mother, uncle and walking-friend-with-broken-leg, Nick. I heard all about their last week of glacier-climbing, and accidents (yes, plural!) and then the adults headed off to take Nick to the airport, and Helen and I drank tea, watched Walk the Line, chatted and watched the rain pour down outside, before the adults were back and we went to eat lots of cheeeeeese in a restaurant just down the road. And sleep. It was just what I needed after a busy week, lovely to see Helen, and in nicer weather would be a beautiful place indeed. Hopefully I might make it back again in the ski season ;-)

An ecumenical monsoon

This last week was rather a deluge in many ways. So much so, in fact, that I didn't open the fridge once between last Sunday evening and this afternoon. Here's why…

First, on Sunday evening, George(ina) arrived to visit for the week. She had just been in Taizé where it transpired that she had been ill nearly all week…and had come to discover the delights of the ecumenical centre and the genevan bookshops. So we had some dinner and a natter to catch up on everything that had happened since we met in london in April.

Secondly, on Monday, two new staff arrived in the office as well as many more coming back from holidays. One of these was Johan, the other intern, from Sweden, with whom I am eventually supposed to be sharing a flat. Also, the arrival of all these extra people, coupled with it being only a week before our conference and less than a week before the big Press Officers' meeting that the communications office were orgainising, necessarily meant that things got rather busier than they had been. Johan's arrival meant an invitation to eat homemade Italian at Luca's place (a good excuse for him to tidy up, apparently…) so we had the first of several crazy evenings with Sma, George, and Johan (and Luca). Yum.

Tuesday brought more stress in the office and not much excitement otherwise, although in the evening we went to Smaranda's for pizza. Which was tasty. And a good giggle. Especially as there were two large, and apparently Swedish-speaking, moths in Sma's very small apartment. Source of endless amusement…

Wednesday was raining. Hard. With thunder and lightning. And we finally got enough things working on the database for next week's conference, that we were able to create 90 individual PDF files, and attach them to 90 individual emails, together with various other attachments and a personalised blurb to go along with them. Inevitably not to be read, let alone understood, by most of those 90. Could be interesting next week! Of course, sending these things took rather a lot of time, and since the info wasn't finalised until after 4pm, this meant that (having taken a break to go and visit a flat-in the pouring rain) we didn't finish til 9. I finally went home (in the pouring rain) and found Katja and Anne-Laure still having dinner, and was lucky enough to be offered some of their yummy dinner.

Thursday was still pouring with rain, and we had website training for how to put things into the new website. Which was in a computer room with fluorescent lighting and old, fuzzy screens. Very unpleasant, and not really what we wanted on a day when we still had much to prepare for next week…but useful, of course, all the same. Stress levels were high and it was nice to be able to escape (in the rain) in the evening to have dinner with Jane and Steven in a "real house". Tasty and fun, and much chat of blogging and things ecumenical :)...and Glasgow (thanks to George).

Friday *phew* was Friday and, miracle of miracles, I even managed to make badges for next week. Wonders will never cease. Johan and I also visited *another* flat, and then Sma took us to Yvoire, which is a cute little medieval town on the lake (in France) where we sat at a mini table and ate crêpes. And laughed a lot :)

Saturday was also raining. I was not very impressed, and was even more disgruntled after a confusing conversation with the lady who runs this house about whether or not she might or then again might not actually book me in for the whole year. Anyway, saturday eventually saw me take a train to go to Chamonix, and that's a story for another post…

So where are you living at the moment? – The life of a Genevan flat-hunter

09:00 The day begins by opening firefox. There are several crucial websites that must be consulted immediately. These include easywg for flatshare offers, wrs classifieds, ghi classifieds, zannnonces and immostreet for agency adverts.

10:00 The desk is by now covered in print-outs of possible offers. All of them, save a few poky studios, cost around 1800-2000 francs per month, and are usually unfurnished. If they are cheaper than extortionate, there must be something wrong.

I begin the phonecalls. First, for a few marked "3 pièces" (3 rooms) which may or may not have room for 2 bedrooms (no living room) depending on the arrangement.
Then I phone the rest. 50% are already rented, even though the ad was only put out yesterday. 20% don't answer the phone. 20% turn out to be unsuitable. The remaining 10% are visitable, but the visit has to be this evening between 18.29 and 18.31.

13:00 Go to the ILO to look at the noticeboard, in case anything new has come up, and arrange to visit that too (if the phone is answered).

18.00 Work isn't quite finished but in order to be in the outer-outskirts where the relevant flat is, I have to leave. I see the flat, which is just as it was described on the ad. I note the name of the agency, and say thank you and goodbye.

09:00 I fax all the relevant documents through to the agency. Later that afternoon, we call the agency, who say that all the papers are in order, and we should call back next week.

Next week: We call back. They say that the owner of the flat is considering several people. Call back in a few days.

In a few days: We call again. They say there was nothing amiss with the papers, but the owner chose someone else. And so it starts…all…over…again.

Monday, August 25, 2008


This week a few of the stewards from Sibiu (EEA3) are reuniting at Taizé. I think they will have a wonderful time, and rather wish I could be there…
We'll have to go again :)

A life

I don't find it hard to meet new friends, or so I am told… so far Geneva has definitely been a good place for it. We've a small but fun and exceedingly multilingual friendship group here in the home, my colleagues are friendly, and I've joined some kind of crazy international online genevans thing, which tells you all about what's on, some of which is great–yesterday I went up a mountain with 23 other people, all ages, 10 nationalities…it was beautiful weather and very nice to get out into the proper countryside!

No choir yet…but soon, hopefully…

A job

Well, some of you might be wondering what exactly it is that I'm *doing* out here. The details will mostly confuse you all, but essentially I am working in the office that is organising the next General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches…now, don't get confused, it's the organisation that's called conference, whereas the conference is called an assembly? Got that?

Good. Now the organisation is ecumenical (economical? people say…no, ec-you-men-ical), which means that most of the time we are liaising with churches, churchy type organisations, and political organisations.

My particular job, in relation to the assembly (which, by the way, will be in Lyon, one of my favourite places…) is to organise things for the 'youth', in this case mostly under 30s. Which means both young delegates sent by their churches/organisations, and stewards who come along to help out (which is the kind of thing I was doing in Romania last summer).

So far, I've been working for three weeks. We have a database, and several initial planning documents for the main assembly, I've drafted some brochures and info about the youth programmes, and we're getting to the stage where we need to put in the details. So it can only get more exciting from here on (supposing people and computers do what we want them to…;-))

We also have a preparatory conference in a few weeks' time, called the "Future Conference" which is some kind of new interactive exercise. I'm intrigued!

Friday, August 08, 2008


The swiss appear to recycle less than either the French or the Germans. How bizarre for a country so particular about detail.

Anyway, on the subject, I was just reading this.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A house

For two months I'm staying in a big hostel-house right in the old town in Geneva, by the Cathedral. It's not like having one's own place, but so far it's pretty good. Especially the roof terrace (and its view)…not *so* much the cathedral clock chiming every 15 minutes…
Here's a picture from the roof:
I'm going to have a nosey at fetes de geneve now so will write more soon…

Sunday, August 03, 2008

A journey

Here I am in Geneva. And how exactly did I get here? Not the easy way, no. Just like this:

•Taxi from home to station, along with my two sizable and rather heavy suitcases. Hmm. Why *did* I think moving house across Europe by train was a wise plan?

•"8.45 train from Cambridge". Otherwise known as the 8.35 rail replacement bus service, i.e. chaos on wheels. Thankfully the driver knew not only where he was supposed to take us, but also how to get there. Royston station was chaos central number two, where three station staff were all busy telling different people different things about which train was which. However, I chose the right one (the non-stop variety) and a polite man decided to help me get my bigger suitcase on and off the train and to chat to me while we waited an absurd 20 minutes for the thing to actually leave Royston station.

•All good at King's cross, although I wheeled across a few peoples' feet trying to get through the crowds (definitely their fault). Relatively harmless walk across to St Pancras, although it was quite a trek to get to Eurostar's area. Once there, having procured ticket from machine, through security was remarkably simple. I even found a seat in the waiting area (a small miracle).

•Trust them to have put me in the very first row of the first carriage of the Eurostar, in other words, the furthest they could *possibly* make me walk, and in addition to that they'd parked one of those trolley train things right next to the door to my carriage so that it was as awkward as possible to get luggage on. However, even without any helpful people (there were none around) I managed to get my cases into racks, and take up my seat where I had a good time listening to some teenage girls chatting and a baby mostly screaming except when expertly distracted by its mother with a full rendition of "the owl and the pussy cat".

•Eurostar's 2 hours seemed a lot longer than everyone else's. Probably because, facing backwards (as I did all day, in fact) I didn't much feel like reading as this would probably have made me feel bad. So I ate my lunch and sat. And sat. And sat. The view isn't even very good, strangely enough…

•Paris was HOT and STUFFY. The first ticket machine I went to was broken. Having stood in a queue for another one, it decided not to take coins, nor to read my card. Stupid machine. So I stood in another long queue for a real person who sold me a ticket very easily in exchange for my coins. Lovely. Then I discovered what I'd let myself in for. The RER line D was hot, dirty, and full of exceedingly unhelpful people who didn't think in the slightest about how awkward it might be for you, with two large suitcases, to move aside for them, perfectly agile beings without baggage, who could perfectly easily go around you or wait for you to get out of their way. Thankfully, I only had to go two stops. At Gare de Lyon I nearly got lost in a rabbit warren of underground escalators (by which, in order to get out, one had first to go down, and then up by a different one). However, this I did, and successfully pulled my next ticket out of the machine, in order to spend an unpleasant 1.5 hours sitting in Gare de Lyon, vaguely attempting to read my book, and otherwise just sitting. And waiting. In a hot, stuffy station. With ding ding ding ding SNCF announcements every minute. I could have left the station but it looked unbearably hot and not much more interesting in the square outside. So I stayed.

•TGV. Got to love them. No steps to get on to the train (an improvement on the RER). Clear labelling on the carriages. Nice seat (though backwards). Swift and uninterrupted non-stop journey to Lyon. I felt sorry for a sweet little boy who was travelling with his very fed-up parents, and kept asking questions. "Maman, dans le tgv, on peut manger?" "Maman, dans un tgv, il faut payer?" "Oui, on a un ticket, mais il faut payer encore?" "Maman, ça faim" "Maman, j'ai faim" "Maman, pourquoi on va doucement?" etc. Thankfully he kept quiet after a bit and I didn't have to offer to entertain him with my book of tales…

• 18.53 arrive Lyon Part Dieu. Still no helpful people, indeed, quite the opposite, a whole lot of people so keen to get onto te train that I have to lump my luggage into their faces. Lovely. Next, locate left luggage place. No problem. However, left luggage place requires correct change…nay, correct change in coins only. So I change with the rather reluctant lady in the loos, and thus procure a locker big enough for both my cases at once. Yay! Liberation at last.

• Finally, after a very warm walk, I arrive (sweaty and tired) at Alexia's where (wonderful girl) she has already arranged for us to meet some friends later, and offers me a shower. Perfect.
We then go to the Epicerie for dinner (tartine avec aubergines chevre et jambon; tarte aux fraises: tres bon), and sit in Jacobins for a while while the italiani (by now two) have ice creams. And then we go to a house party in a flat with an incredible view over the Opéra. Just to see the flat–the party was not very exciting and we didn't really know anyone. So bedtime :-)

•Sunday, reveil a 10h30, brunch at 11.30 (yum), then back to the train station to pull another ticket from the machine, and collect suitcases. Yet again it is sunny and 27 degrees. The train turns out to be 11 coaches, only three of which were going to Geneva, and in those three all the luggage space was already taken. Bother. However, it was a nice modern train with a jovial conductor (though a less jovial French couple who didn't seem very impressed with how full the train was), and the line from Lyon to Geneva is *beautiful*. I'm glad I'll get to do it again a few times this year.

•Sma, bless her, was there with her car and her boyfriend :) and with the help of both, we managed not only to fit all my stuff into the boot, but also then eventually to find a way (illegal, perhaps, but functional) of getting the car right up into the old town, to avoid hills, cobbles, steps, and suchlike.
And so, 3.30pm. End of one journey. Beginning of quite another…

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Some news, finally…

So, I am now BA Hons (Cantab). It feels good :-)
Since graduation, I've been pretty busy one way or another. I spent a week in Dublin with Selwyn Choir (great fun and lots of good music), followed by a few days recording a CD which will appear on the cover of Choir and Organ Magazine sometime this coming autumn.
After that, there was a wedding (!) in Oxford, and I popped across to Switzerland to visit my new job…

Job? I hear you say. Well, I've told various people several different things over the last few months but there is now a definitive plan. Are you sitting comfortably? I will begin…

•Next weekend I move to GENEVA, where I'm spending the next 12-13 months working on youth programmes for the Conference of European Churches. Watch this space for more detail…
My address for the next two (only two so far) months is now on Facebook (as is my new email address if any of you missed out on that). Those of you who can't get it there, I'll send it soon, and if I don't, then nag me.

Meanwhile, if anyone happens to know a) of anyone with a flat/room to rent in/near Geneva
or b) of a decent choir there that I could join
both would be most welcome!

• After that (i.e. in autumn 2009) I plan to do an MA in Literary Translation at UEA. Again, more news later…

PS As for my grandmother's question "but when are you going to get married"…don't even bother watching this space for at least a couple of years ;-)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The "end"

So, I have finished my finals!

*Phew*. Four years, four massive final exams…and now a three week wait to know results. Don't worry, I have plenty to do between now and then!

I was going to write a post about where I'm going next…but I think we'd better not count our chickens before they've hatched, so that one is going on hold for a bit longer…

Selwyn things…3

The Selwyn College ducks. They are very homely in their waddling.

And Gus, of course.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Selwyn things…1

I thought I would start a series on things that I will miss when I leave this place in not very many weeks' time.

• 12.45 on a summer's day: mass exodus from the library followed by general congregation in the gardens with takeaway lunch. Obligatory ice cream for pudding.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What is the world coming to?

There are many many things that indicate (in my opinion) that society these days is in a complete mess. I couldn't possibly begin to list them all. But here is a tale:

Last Monday morning, a nice sunny spring morning such as we hadn't seen for a while, Ian and I set out upon a walk up Coniston Old Man. As we approached the mountains, the sun was glinting off patchy snow up on the tops. Ooh, snow, we thought. On we went, and we had just reached the snow line at the first col, and were considering building a snow cairn, when mist (mist?! but it was a sunny day…) began to roll in. So instead we ate a mars bar, donned some more layers, and set off up a deep crunchy snowy path to the summit. So far, so good. The summit, which we reached at 11am, was pretty snowy, but not too cold–just cold enough for us to be envious of the coffee that another couple of walkers had brought up with them. When the mist blew away, we took lots of pretty pictures of the ridge all covered in snow, and discussed how had there been any more snow up there, we probably would have wanted crampons and an ice axe. Thinking that the way down would probably be quite slippy, we armed ourselves with poles and a slow, steady step, and set off to descend the other side of the mountain (cue "oh, the bear went over the mountain…"). Sure enough, there was even more snow on this side than on the other, such that to start with it was more or less impossible to avoid walking through it, and while lower down it could be escaped, the bits one stepped in were decidedly slippy and not as deep and sticky as the lot we'd met on our way up. As we descended, we met several people on their way up, all of whom were more or less as equipped as us.
At the tarn, half way down and a couple of hundred feet below the snow line, we paused for a break. During this break, three, or perhaps four family groups passed us heading upwards. Of these (let's call them three) groups,
One consisted of two parents and three or four teenagers, wearing trainers, and a waterproof each. The adults had backpacks, presumably with a few other things in.
The other two consisted of adults with ordinary size backpacks the contents of which appeared to be almost entirely picnic. And several children wearing not only trainers but also jeans, with one light layer (non-waterproof) each.

I'm not at all against people going out for family walks, nor against a good bit of adventure (that's what we were there for). In fact, I think that such activities should be encouraged, and are being made more difficult by our rights obsessed, health-and-safety-ist, uberprotective world.

But there's a difference between adventure and blind stupidity, and I wouldn't take myself up a mountain (let alone with snow on), unless I thought I was reasonably equipped for the risks (in this case, survival bag, first aid kit, complete change of clothes, full waterproofs, three jumpers, gloves, proper walking boots, plenty of food and water, map, compass, etc). And I certainly wouldn't take someone else up it unprepared for eventualities that, on this occasion, were bound to involve mist, cold, and a lot of snow.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A thought for Lent 5

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour's love to me,
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O, who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh, and die?

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine,
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like thine!
This is my Friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend.

(Samuel Crossman)

A thought for Lent 4

It's been a busy week. This week, I have:
–Preached a sermon in chapel
–Rowed bumps
–Cut my chin open falling off my bike
–Been to two black tie dinners
–Been offered a place at UEA for next year
–Seen Selwyn The Musical (aka Alice)
–and even, done a bit of work!

And just this evening, got news of some more friends getting married!!
And it's mothering Sunday…
here are today's thoughts:

It is a thing most wonderful,
Almost too wonderful to be,
That God's own Son should come from heaven,
And die to save a child like me.
(W Walsham How)

The God of Love my Shepherd is,
And he that doth me feed;
While he is mine and I am his,
What can I want or need?

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
but yet in love he sought me,
And on his shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.

Surely thy sweet and wondrous love
Shall measure all my days;
And as it never shall remove
So neither shall my praise.

(ps 23, paraphrased by George Herbert and HW Baker)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A thought for Lent 3

Here's one for tomorrow:

For me, kind Jesu, was thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and thy life's oblation;
Thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.
Therefore, kind Jesu, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.
(Robert Bridges/J. Heermann)

A thought for Lent 2

A bit late this week…but here it is.

Then why, O blessed Jesu Christ,
Should I not love thee well,
Not for the sake of winning heaven
Or of escaping hell;
Not with the hope of gaining aught,
Not seeking a reward;
But as thyself hast loved me,
O ever-loving Lord!

(Latin, tr. Caswall)

Monday, February 11, 2008

A thought for Lent 1

I forgot to mention in that last post that for Lent, I have given up complaining. I am also trying to follow the carbon fast, the lent experiment, and love life live lent 2. And now, in addition, I shall try to put a thought a week on here. The first one is one of my favourite taizé chants. We sang it in the Sibiu taizé service and now every time we sing it it takes me right back to that evening. A very spiritual experience. Anyway, it should speak for itself:

Nada te turbe, nada te espante
Quien a Dios tiene, nada le falta
Nada te turbe, nada te espante
Solo Dios basta

Spring sunshine, syntax, singing… and a limp

So what have I been doing, so far, in 2008? Well might you ask. Here we are in the middle of week four of my penultimate term at university, and I've gone silent. Well, here, in brief, is what it looks like:
•Weekends away
Despite the fact that in first and second year I only once managed to escape from Cambridge (except when required to by choir jaunts), this term I have not only a choir weekend away coming up, but have also already been away twice. Number one was to Dublin, where I visited Ernie and met the rest of the cathedral choir, and successfully earned myself a position as Lay Vicar Choral there next year, should I go to do an mphil there (which has yet to be seen).
Number two was to Pangbourne and Oxford, via meeting Emma, Helen and Pete in London. Pangbourne, to meet up with Mylene and see where it is that she's living and working this year–seems rather nice! And then Oxford. Now, it's two years since I was last there (surprisingly) and it has changed a little–on the surface, that is. But in the crisp clear spring sunshine, it was in its full glory and it reminded me just why it was that I never wanted to leave. Plus it was lovely to catch up, if briefly, with claire and pip. Maybe I'll make it over there again before too long…any jobs going? ?
• Work-wise, I'm tied up in finishing that dissertation, of course, but also need to crack on with a lot of essays in french, one on romance syntax, and I've just translated some untranslatable Proust. Mmm.
•Parties with a limp
I've been struggling a bit to get out and about this week because on tuesday (before the legendary pancake party, not after!) I fell up the stairs and did nasty things to my toe(nail). It's getting a bit better now, but it's been restricting my movement somewhat…
•Churchy business
The last couple of days have involved a lot of churchy debates, and one incredibly good sermon given by the dean of king's (but in Selwyn chapel). I won't go into a long rant on here, because other people are much better qualified to do so, but I shall direct you to this blog of a friend of a friend of a friend's, who seems to have written something more or less approximating to sense. Maybe I will write more on it when I am feeling more lucid.
• Next year–don't ask me now, but I am thinking about it…which may be what is taking up some of my time when I ought to be writing essays!! More news when there is some. If you spot a job ad that sounds like me, send it this way…
• I also auditioned for the college music prize, went to two plays in the corpus playroom, and a few concerts here in college. And I am rowing and erging more than before because we need to get on to bumps. And I got two punctures in my bike tyres. I've been keeping busy…

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hamsters and Hagelslag

(just to clarify, there were no hamsters, they are for rhetorical effect only)

Better late than never, so a mere month since my visit to Amsterdam, I finally find a moment to write about it. I flew out with Easyjet (terrible, I know, but the government should reinstate student grants if they want us to travel by train) and my first experience of the Netherlands this time round was what felt like a 5km walk through Schipol airport. However, everything in the Netherlands works the way it ought to (with the exception of the ticket machines that, like in France, accept coins or cards but no notes. How silly), and so I found that it was very simple to buy a ticket, walk to the platform, board the train, and be moving in 30 seconds, in the right direction. Perfect. I was amused to discover that what appeared to be the only other passenger in my carriage decided to make a remark to me in Dutch (it was all Dutch to me…) but it didn't seem to disturb him that I just smiled back and said nothing! Ten minutes later I miraculously succeeded in meeting Iain at centraal station, at which point all was no longer Dutch. Phew!
A short walk via China Town brought us to the grand abode that is the Mission House. Therein dwell many (I think there are 8 but they always seem to be more) lovely volunteers who spend their days helping the disadvantaged of Hamsterland, as I like to call it. When I arrived they were drinking port and playing Halli-Galli while listening to the "top 2000" on the radio…it turned out that this was a pretty typical picture of what life in the Mission House is like! Over the days that I lived there I was fully accepted into their little community and enjoyed the amusement of shifting the table footie set, cooking for half an army, eating many oliebolle, and seeing a delivery of a good half ton of bread to their kitchen, not to mention the New Year's Celebrations!
December 31st took us to Utrecht, where we met up with Elise, a fellow EEA3-steward of mine, and then went to find the Miffy museum only to remember that it was Monday, and to get scared off by some rather dramatic fireworks that were emanating from the square next door. However, the little walk was not in vain, beacuse we found a street called A B C…
…I still haven't found XYZ street though…

Back in Amsterdam, we threw ourselves into preparations for the big new year's eve party, which proved an immense load of fun, populated by dutch, french, british, germans, hungarians…you see, everyone who was anyone was at the Mission House Party (well, okay, not quite *everyone*). At about 11 we made a move towards the Dam Square, where we joined 25000 people. It was a bit of a squash, to say the least. However, armed with elbows and champagne bottles we managed to squeeze ourselves a spot from which to view the explosion of festivities at midnight, as well as all the various random fireworks going off all over the place (this is the only night the Dutch are allowed fireworks, and they are allowed, apparently, to do what they like with them). Afterwards the party continued for a good while, and with much fun had by all, despite our somewhat dubious attempts to relieve Zoe's thumb from huge amounts of pain (she'd shut it in a door…).
Sleep wasn't a big feature of that night, but nevertheless, very early (yes, it was early) the next morning I awoke to Iain's jolly announcement that in 15 minutes we were leaving to go to the sea. "Yes, yes…"I reply, then "Eh? 15 minutes?!" Sure enough we went to the sea, the trains weren't working quite as well so it took us an unpleasant 2 hours to reach Den Haag (which, I was reliably informed later by our dutch companions, means "By the Hedge". Silly name for a capital city!). Still, we made it to the beach just in time for Kim and Iain to take part in the Dutch people's ritual dip in the north sea event, and partake in some free pea soup. They joined 9,998 others. Mad mad people. Still, they certainly didn't have a hangover any more after that!
The afternoon was spent wandering around the Hague with Anna-Meta, Marjolein, Kim and Iain, where we decided to write to the Queen and ask if we could come and live in her palace for a while. There wasn't much to do, although we did (luckily) find a nice café that was open for lunch. Back in Amsterdam, Iain and I spent a day being tourists, and visiting the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum and wandering around the lovely streets of Amsterdam. Lovely, if rather chilly for the picnic lunch!

A great trip! I even learnt the odd word of Dutch…