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22 January 2016


Ashes to ashes

AS I write, the world is still coming to terms with the death of David Bowie. Although I enjoyed most of Bowie’s music (before I even knew what a "hot tramp" might be, I used to dance and strut around my bedroom to the strains of "Rebel, rebel", then go meekly downstairs to set the table for tea and do my homework), I was amazed by the media reaction. On the day his death was announced, a full 15 minutes was devoted to the story on the BBC News at 6 p.m.

However good his music, though, I think his real talent was acting; it always seemed to me that his entire public life was a performance, complete with costume changes when the mood or the muse took him.

Much has been written about one of his last songs, "Lazarus", and many have focused on the opening line: "Look up here, I’m in heaven." Personally, I find the lines "Everybody knows me now" and "Oh, I’ll be free" much more interesting, especially coming from a man who had devoted his life to hiding himself in plain sight.

There can be no artifice in death: no disguise or mask to hide behind, one knows and one is known — what freedom!


Gie us a haggis

NEXT week, many of us will be celebrating Burns Night; the night when people from Nova Scotia to New Zealand stumble their way through such lines as "See him owre his trash, as feckless as a wither’d rash, his spindle shank a guid whip lash, his nieve a nit." I suspect that Google will be working overtime with requests for translations of Burns poetry.

For me, I relish hearing the words, whether I take in the full meaning or not; the cadences remind me of being a small child snuggled up to my father, who, with me under one arm and my brother under the other, would read to us. My favourite was Tam o’Shanter, not only for the excitement of the tale, but for the thrill of knowing that my mother deemed it unsuitable for young children. Ah, the thrill of forbidden pleasures.

As I listened, my father’s heartbeat became, to me, the sound of brave Maggie’s hooves, bearing Tam away from the motley eldritch band who were in hot pursuit. With a heroic final flourish, Maggie carries Tam to safety by leaping over a bridge — but not without losing her tail to the clutches of the winsome and speedy witch, Nannie.

When Dad died, my mother told me that she always knew when Tam O’Shanter had been our bedtime story — not because we had nightmares, but because I would spend the next day drawing horses, and asking if we could buy a grey mare, to which the answer was an emphatic "No."


Oranges and sweets

AFTER the delights of the standard Burns Supper fare of haggis, neeps, and tatties, we here at St Andrew’s can look forward to a good, healthy dose of vitamin C. Candlemas is on the horizon, and, as always, we will be having a Christingle service to raise funds for the Children’s Society.

Oddly enough, there are never any sweets left, but more often than not we collect a good few abandoned oranges after the service. This is a great delight to those of us who enjoy marmalade, and, quite literally, it spreads the joy of the season even further.


Truck v. gateway

WHAT do you get when you attempt to drive under the arch of a Grade II listed gateway in a large truck complete with ladder jutting, lance-like, over the cabin?

As the builder who was working on one of our neighbour’s houses found, when he decided to park his truck in the church car park, you get a badly damaged gateway, a broken ladder, and a rather large insurance claim.

Thankfully, nobody was hurt, which, given the obvious force of the impact, is something of a miracle.

Unfortunately, as with anything Listed, it is not just a case of rebuilding: many a "t" must be crossed and an "i" dotted; so it may be a while before the gateway is fully restored. Meanwhile, we are allowed to have it dismantled to allow safe access into the churchyard and car park, to the relief of the parents and children for whom it provides an access route to our village school.

It is a lovely primary school, and will be advertising for a new head teacher soon; so, if you know of anyone who might be interested. . .


Crown him

EACH Easter, our church tries to offer something to local schools to help them to engage with the story. Last year, we helped them to experience "The transforming power of love" with a crown of thorns that gradually became a crown of flowers. Each day, during Lent, children nominated those who had been kind or loving to others, and those children then replaced a thorn with a flower.

The feedback was positive, and the final crown became a key part of our Easter decorations in church.

It is extremely easy to source the materials, and does not require a team of volunteers, because, once the idea has been explained, the school basically runs it itself.

If your church would like to try using it with a local school, and wants some guidance, I am happy to pass on the information pack and short liturgy I produced; contact me via the Church Times, and leave an email address.


Elizabeth Figg is a former contributor to The Sign. She is married to the Vicar of Kildwick, near Keighley.

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