Wednesday 1st. January, 2014 – New Year’s day and the seventh day of Christmas 

For the first time we are gathered around the table in the lounge at the farmhouse

Happy New Year! If every day this year is as good as today then we are going to have a really wonderful year. I went back across to the farmhouse last night – everyone was playing a card game which I enjoyed as a spectator for quite a while before retiring to my bed.

Rachel got up early and set off for Bamburgh where she walked Rowan – a tradition for Rachel (setting off early with the dog on New Year’s day) which has been going for many years. I got up and joined the clan in the farmhouse for a hearty breakfast and no sooner had I finished eating than Tom and Dorothy arrived to wish us a Happy New Year. I showed Jeffrey around, even climbing into the first floor of the Hen House, and shared our plans for this year. Later his friends all came on a tour as well. Tom and Dorothy and I made our own plans as well. We’ll meet tomorrow morning at nine and the work will start again! I went out with Mix for a lengthy walk.

After an early lunch Jeffrey and his friends set off back to Edinburgh; it had been good to meet them all. By now Peter and Veronica, old established friends of Olive and Digger, had arrived. They went for a walk in the afternoon and then settled down in the lounge. It was good to see them both again. Scott and Sue also arrived to wish us a Happy New Year – the place was a-buzz with folks coming and going. I came back to the Granary and watched The Plank – I did see it all, it was a very short film, but no sooner had it ended than I fell asleep in front of the stove; well, it was New Year’s Day.

By the back of six we were all together again for a drink in the farmhouse and then we sat down for the first time around the table in the dining room – Olive, Digger, Rachel, Mum and Veronica and Peter. It was good to be around the table which had been in Luss for a while when we first went there and was afterwards in Wemyss. It’s been part of our household for many a long year.

Later in the evening, leaving everyone else to have some peace in the farmhouse, and to play a game of Trivial Pursuit, Rachel and I came back to the Granary to watch another Montalbano film (Italian detective film set in Sicily – fabulous, atmospheric and totally catching the spirit of the country). I should have gone to bed when it ended but instead I got caught up in a Law and Order UK programme before walking the dogs and coming to bed. New Year’s Day has long passed – but it was a good one and, even if the alarm clock is already warning of stormy weather, my own internal clock tells me that this is going to be a wonderful year! I hope it is for you as well.

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Tuesday 31st. December, 2013 – Hogmanay and the Sixth Day of Christmas 

Tom and Rachel at work

Woke for the last time in 2013 – a year which has been supremely eventful for me. I started the year in work with two parishes to look after and ended it retired and with only myself and my family to look to. I’ve always had projects – doing things with the boat or whatever – but the wonder of being retired is that I can now devote myself to the things I want to do. I don’t have to grab time from something else to do what I want to do. I don’t have to do what I want to do with one ear for a telephone which may call me to something more important. And so today I always knew that I would be working on the summer house – and that’s how it turned out.

I got up and walked the dog, breakfasted in the farmhouse (a leisurely breakfast is something I was never able to experience pre-retirement, now I almost take it for granted) and then Tom and Dorothy arrived and together with Rachel we set about building bookcases in the summer house. We were at it all day, or at ;least all the day-light hours (Rachel broke off to drive Mum to the hairdresser and also to collect her; Tom and Dorothy went off for lunch) but by the end of the day we had achieved a great deal with two large bookcases, one in each of the two back corners of the building.

Dorothy, Tom and Rachel (with Mix wandering into shot) in front of one of the new bookcases

Back in the house I prepared the music for Arrochar for next Sunday and spoke to Cathy on the phone before wandering over to the farmhouse where Olive’s son Jeffrey had arrived with several of his friends to celebrate Hogmanay. We enjoyed a drink with them, and then an excellent buffet meal, before I returned to the Granary to have a shower (must go into the New Year clean) and tidy up my study (must go into the New Year tidy) and make sure all of the bills are paid (must go into the New Year owing nothing). As if the change from one year to another makes any real difference – yet still doing these things is engrained in me. I must say, that with more time, it is much less of a frenetic rush than it usually is and I am looking forward to next year enormously.

Some of Jeff’s friends counting down the minutes to 2014

Back in the farmhouse we joined everyone for a drink before the Bells, another drink afterwards (and some shortbread) and then Rachel and I set off to walk the dogs. We’re back in the Granary now. It is 2014. Rachel is off to bed and I think that I will go back and join the party.

If you are reading this, I wish you a very peaceful New Year. May all your desires be fulfilled and all your wishes come true. Most of all may this be a year of peace and one in which we learn to share with those who are less fortunate than we are; a year in which the hungry are fed, the homeless are housed, refugees are welcomed and all are made to feel that they matter. It's in our hands.

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Monday 30th. December, 2013 – The Fifth Day of Christmas 

A picture of our family

This picture was taken just over a year ago at the wedding of Nick (my nephew) and Amy. But I only saw the picture for the first time when we all got together for Christmas on the 27th. of December. I thought it would be good to put it up here because it allows me to introduce everyone in the family: from the left Devon (Jeffrey’s partner), Mum, Rachel (my wife), Jeffrey (my nephew and Olive’s son), Digger (Olive’s husband), Nick (the bridegroom, my nephew and Scott’s son), Amy (Nick’s Australian bride), me, Olive (my sister), Sue (Scott’s wife), Scott (my brother) and Katie (my niece and Scott’s daughter). Now I hope that is all very clear! I’m in my clerical collar in the picture because I conducted the wedding ceremony. It was a happy occasion.

Today I got up and breakfasted before walking Mix. Then I spent all day – or at least all of the daylight hours of the day – varnishing the inside of the summerhouse (particularly the roof – which I suppose becomes a ceiling when it is inside). It was fairly unpleasant as tasks go, the varnish running back down my hand and dripping onto my hair and into my eyes. But now that it is done, it is done and the rest of the tasks will be far more fun.

I walked Mix in the twilight and then had a pleasant shower to try to become human again before relaxing in front of a screen and watching the Titfield Thunderbolt, an old 1953 comedy from the Ealing Studios: extremely gentle and a product of its time.

We all dined together in the farmhouse and then, in front of a warm stove in our lovely front room, Rachel and I watched an episode of Montalbano. I really enjoyed it and would love to be out in Italy again. In total contrast, we walked the dogs in the icy cold, admiring a clear, clear sky and all of the stars, before coming back home and going to bed. I feel that I have achieved a great deal today.

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Sunday 29th. December, 2013 – The Fourth Day of Christmas, the First Sunday of Christmas and our Forty-fourth Wedding Anniversary 

Dorothy, Tom and Mum outside Abbey St. Bathan’s Church

Today was another great day – but it didn’t turn out exactly as planned. I got up and walked the dog. After all of the winds and bad weather it was as if spring was just around the corner, not at all cold, no wind and the sun was out – a thoroughly beautiful day. I breakfasted in the farmhouse and then we set off early (9.20 a.m.) for Abbey St. Bathans, a small village to the north-east of Duns perhaps eleven or twelve miles from our house. There used to be a Church of Scotland Church here but it was sold off and a member of the community bought it and did it up. The congregation of Gavinton, in whose parish it now is, holds services here occasionally and as this was a fifth Sunday of the month the service was held here. Almost the whole worshipping congregation had come along from Gavinton for the service and a large number of folk from Abbey St. Bathans, local folk and visitors, attended. In all there were fifty-eight of us which made this comfortably the largest congregation I have been part of since I came south.

Ann, our minister, continued her programme of three-themed services, our themes for today being St. Stephen, the flight into Egypt and the massacre of the innocents. Ann sketched out Stephen’s life, reminding us that he was a Greek-speaking Jewish Christian, one of the seven deacons chosen to organise the care of the widows, orphans and the poor of the early Church community. But he was much more than that – a powerful preacher and debater who fell foul of the religious authorities, was tried and stoned to death – the first Christian martyr whose saint’s day falling immediately after Christmas day points forward to all that is to happen to God’s son. He was not only born into our world to live our life, but to die our death as well.

The second theme picked up Joseph’s dream which led to the holy family’s flight to Egypt. Jesus’ family was poor – they were also refugees. Ann read a meditation of Mary’s thoughts as she struggled to come to terms with the turn her life was taking. She had expected to give birth to God’s son, something which would be celebrated and would lead to great things. Instead she is now fleeing the country under the blanket of darkness.

Her third theme really ran in parallel with this as we were presented with the story of the massacre of the innocents, both through Bible reading and a meditation in which the wife of an innkeeper (not the one who welcomed in the weary couple) told the story of the massacre from her perspective. The arrival of the couple from Nazareth and the birth of their baby was not good news for the innkeeper's family nor their community. Instead of celebration and happiness, it led to the death of their children and the destruction of their community.

It all gave me food for thought because I have come to understand the flight to Egypt and the slaughter of the innocents as being a device of Matthew to tell his Gospel as a parallel of the Old Testament Moses story of redemption. But it is a reminder of how horrific humanity can be and a reminder that that cruelty is not something which is only a part of ancient history. Perhaps even a reminder that challenging evil can have difficult consequences for the good and the bystanders as well as for those, like Stephen, who put their heads above the parapet.

Forty-four years ago today: Rachel and I climb into a car to be driven to our reception

We didn’t stay for coffee this morning because we had to get back to Mount Pleasant. At noon Aunt Agnes (my God-mother), Martin, Jill and Eric (Jill’s Dad) arrived at Mount Pleasant. It was really good to see my cousin and his wife again. We drank coffee in the farmhouse and then toured the ‘estate’ before coming to the Granary for lunch. It was a happy time and the afternoon just flew by.

Forty-four years ago today: a family group outside St. Mary’s Church in Beverly

The plan had been that we would have a family meal this evening to celebrate Rachel and my wedding anniversary, but a phone call from the estate agent put paid to that. Someone wanted to see around Mum’s Kirkcaldy flat; Digger and Mum set off for Kirkcaldy and Rachel and I went into Berwick where we attended Evensong at Berwick Parish Church. The Church here is without a vicar (Dennis Handley will be inducted on 19th. March) but there seems to be no shortage of substitutes. The service this evening was led by Canon John Ward who spoke from the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi, reminding us that in arguments and debates about important things we can never be sure that we are right (the Church condoned slavery for many years). Debates must be conducted in love and with respect. I guess this was an apt message for the Church which has a number of important internal debates going on at present. It could equally be applied to the referendum debate on this side of the border. It is an important message because all too often disagreement leads to walls being built, so the emphasis has to be on the learning to love each other, because each of us is one of God’s children. The Christmas message just goes on and on.

The crib in Berwick Parish Church

On the way home we stopped and enjoyed fish suppers (well, actually I had a two-sausage supper) and on our return we watched a 1992 film ‘A Few Just Men’ – a court case film involving marines from Guantanamo Bay. I enjoyed it very much indeed. Mum and Digger returned from Kirkcaldy. They had liked the gentleman who came to view the flat – now all we can do is hope that he liked the flat! Rachel and I walked the dogs (the wind is beginning to get up again) and came to bed. What a fabulous day!

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Saturday 28th. December, 2013 – The Third Day of Christmas: we go to the Pantomime 

Enjoying a pre-panto drink in the theatre bar

Up and breakfasted in the farmhouse before walking Mix on largely deserted roads – the local area is clearly still on holiday. Back home I started to learn how to play my ukulele. Tom arrived and I switched role to that of apprentice joiner as we set about rebuilding the fences which had fallen down during the most recent storm. Tom was in fine form for this as he had done the same at his own home before coming to see me.

After lunch we set about hanging the door in its final position in the summer house and also experimented with a blind on one of the windows there as an alternative to curtains. It looks super. We can’t deal with the other windows as we are still awaiting the ironmongery for six of the windows which didn’t arrive with the windows.

We had an early tea at the farmhouse, eating up the leftovers from yesterday and then we all (Mum, Olive, Digger, Rachel and I) went off to Berwick to attend the pantomime Cinderella at the Maltings. I really enjoyed it. It was a real family pantomime, fresh and clever, with imaginative performances obscuring any deficiencies in the script. I missed the professional dancing chorus (such a part of the pantomimes at the Pavilion which we used to attend with the young folk form Arrochar) but the individual performances of Buttons and the Fairy Godmother, to say nothing of the other characters who were all good, more than made up for that. It goes without saying that the theatre was filled to capacity and we enjoyed a drink before the performance in the friendly theatre bar.

Olive and Mum had clearly enjoyed the show

Came back home and caught up with some bits and pieces before walking Mix and going to bed. Yet another lovely Christmassy day.

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Friday 27th. December, 2013 -- Christmas just goes on and on 

Exchanging presents in the farmhouse

What winds we had overnight! I awoke to discover that one of our fences had been blown totally over and another had a section missing from it. The wind was so strong that there was nothing we could do about it – so there was no garden for the dogs today.

In fact they didn’t miss it. We took them for a walk down towards the River Blackadder through the trees and when we returned they accompanied us to the summer house where Rachel and I spent the morning and early part of the afternoon varnishing the inside of the summer house. We completed the interior walls and the plan is to tackle the inside of the roof tomorrow. It is all great fun, especially with the wind rattling around outside.

Came inside and showered and then went across to the farmhouse where Scott and Sue, Nick, Amy and Katie had arrived laden down with Christmas gifts. It was so good to see them. Christmas toasts were drunk in champagne, gifts were exchanged, a lovely buffet meal was enjoyed by all, and there was much exchanging of news and the occasional debate (about whether Scotland should seek independence – every possible view is represented within our family) and family fun. I did rather well out of the generosity of my brother and his family returning to the Granary quite late on (the wind was still howling) with tickets for the athletics at the Commonwealth Games and a big black hat!

Back home I dealt with the music for Arrochar on Sunday and forwarded it to Neil and Jamie and then caught just a little of the cricket before bed. I could scarcely believe it when I got up this morning to discover that England had had such a good day in the field. I look forward to seeing how they get on today.

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Thursday 26th. December, 2013 – Boxing Day and a wonderful one at that! 

Christmas sunrise – taken yesterday but I forgot to put it up

This morning I slept in. Rachel got up a little after eight and even invited Mix to go out to the garden with Rowan but Mix is his master’s dog and preferred to sleep on at the foot of the bed until about ten. By that time Rachel was in Berwick for the communion service in the Anglican Church.

I got up in a leisurely fashion – it was my first really long-lie since retiring and, truth to tell, I did very little except make the fire up, fill the coal bunker and bring in logs and just potter about in a happy dwam. (I don’t care if the spell-check doesn’t recognise it: it is a perfectly good word.) In the afternoon Rachel and I set off for our Boxing Day walk. It was back to Berwick for Rachel and we wandered along the beach at Spittal. We had expected the beach to be busy but it was really quite quiet.

Rachel and Rowan on the beach at Spittal – the tide is right out

We went from Spittal to the retail park at Tweedmouth where we visited first HomeBase and then Curry’s. At HomeBase we got some bits and pieces to enable us to start on varnishing the summer house (perhaps tomorrow); at Curry’s we bought a new printer for the computer – we seem to go through printers at a tremendous rate; but once they go wrong no repair seems to last any time at all.

Back home I decided to check on the carpet that I intended to buy for the summer house with a view to popping into Duns to see if it was available at the local shop (it’s good to buy locally) but when I went on line I saw that if I bought the carpet on-line today there would be an additional twenty percent discount (off already extremely reasonable prices). I ordered the carpet and it will be delivered in a couple of days time.

Candles in the Granary lounge

Rachel lit the candles and Mum, Olive and Digger arrived to spend the late afternoon and evening with us. We exchanged presents and I was thrilled to be given a set of cricket stumps with a difference. Made by Digger, they are designed as a bathroom fitment to ensure that we never run out of toilet tissue. I also received a miniature camping gas stove (we are all electric in the Granary) to enable us to cook when the power cuts come. (Almost on cue the barometer began to drop and our clocks started ringing out storm warnings.)

The Granary is looking extremely Christmassy

Rachel had prepared all kinds of party food and we spent a long time eating and drinking. I was able to enjoy some champagne, some Madeira, some wine and some grappa without any fear of the telephone ringing to say I was required. It was such a relaxing evening. To round it all off we watched the Christmas Downton Abbey (recorded yesterday) and then, after Olive and Digger had gone off to bed, Rachel, Mum and I rounded the day off by watching the reprise of ‘Open All Hours’ which really was a tribute to Ronny Barker, and quite nostalgic.

We walked the dogs – it has got very cold – and went to bed. What a fabulous day.

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Wednesday 25th. December, 2013 – A Happy Christmas Day 

Guess what I got for Christmas

Woke and it was still very windy – we had been promised that the wind would drop overnight but here it was still exceedingly blowy and I was relieved that we still had all of our slates, the boat was still covered by its tarpaulin, the roof was on the summerhouse and the fence was still more or less in place. I showered and then walked Mix with Rachel and Rowan – everywhere was deserted and it was very quiet. Came home and changed and we set off for church.

It was a good service and the folk who were there seemed to be in families, as if parents had brought those staying with them for Christmas along to church for the service. Ann retold the manger story from the standpoint of the baby – the purpose being to underline the wonder of God choosing to be born into our world as one of us. Of course we sang all the old favourites and came out of church feeling that Christmas had arrived and that the world was a better place as a result.

A view of Holyrood Palace from Carlton Hill

Back home, Rachel and I had a snack and opened our Christmas presents. Rachel gave me a ukulele (a retired person should take up a new interest and what better than learning to play a new instrument); Tom and Dorothy gave me a tool bag (clearly they foresee a more useful outlet for my new energies)! I gave Rachel a jacket which she really fancied from the awfully posh Tweedside Tackle (which we had visited in Kelso last week). Presents opened – the dogs had their own gifts, as well – we set off in the car for Edinburgh to join the family at Jeffrey and Devon’s home.

Jeffery is my nephew. He met us when we arrived and to settle the dogs we walked up Carlton Hill which is just minutes away from his home. It was busy, lots of folk were out for a Christmas walk. We overlooked Holyrood Palace and at the other side of the hill got a grand view of Edinburgh and the Forth behind.

Custer and Jeff -- a dog and his man

In Jeff’s home we were treated to a feast – turkey, goose, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, sausages wrapped in bacon, cranberry sauce, bread sauce, two kinds of stuffing, gravy and all in such huge quantities. Afterwards there was an extended break – we needed it – while presents were exchanged and then we started again with a huge Christmas pudding which flamed for fully three or four minutes before the brandy was consumed, and a glorious trifle (my favourite and made with me in mind). It was wonderful. It was also wonderful to meet Steve (Devon’s Dad) and Nicole and Nicole’s daughter Torri, as well as Jeff’s special friends Keith and Lee – along with Mum, Olive and Digger that provides a complete rundown of everyone present.

Looking north from Carlton Hill

We set off home just after eight. Rachel had undertaken to put the chickens to bed to allow Digger and Olive to stay overnight in Edinburgh. It was a good journey home, eighty minutes door to door. I lit the stove and we watched Mrs. Brown’s Christmas on tv and a bit of Michael MacIntyre whose discussion of a visit to the dentist made me laugh out loud so much that I still have a sore chest more than two hours afterwards – I laughed, I wept, I rolled on the floor. It was so funny – the humour turning on his inability to speak properly with his mouth numbed by a dentist’s injection.

We had intended to watch the news and come to bed but before we knew it we got caught up in the Vicar of Dibley. The writers have a wonderful knack of presenting ridiculous humour but bringing it all around to something quite profound and I went to bed, having walked the dogs (the wind has now dropped), feeling that I had got a lot out of today. It has been quite, quite special and everything has contributed to that: the service in Church, the family celebration in Edinburgh, the television we watched when we came home (there was a lovely five minute slot on the BBC where the Gospel was read and ‘On Christmas night’ was sung), and the texts I received during the day from important friends. And to add to it all, Mix was on his best behaviour everywhere we went. He has become a real star.

I hope that all those who read this diary have had a really special day. Don’t let Christmas stop when the clock strikes midnight. Let’s keep it going as long as we can! I also hope that the message of the need to make our society a fairer one -- both in terms of our own country and the world as a whole -- a message proclaimed by the new Archbishop of Canterbury and also by the Archbishop of York is not lost amongst all of the celebrations. Mary's song, which we read in the lead up to Christmas, presents a vision of the world as it is meant to be and we can't welcome the baby without working for the dream.

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Tuesday 24th. December, 2013 – Christmas Eve 

Now the Christmas Tree in the farmhouse has baubles as well as lights

It is Christmas Eve and, for the first time since I retired, I feel a little strange, a little bit like a spare part. Last year I was up early with shopping to do and then so many services to get just right. I would conduct the Christmas Eve Service at half past eleven in Arrochar and a huge number of the village would come. The Church would be lit entirely by candle-light and there was a lovely feeling in the Church enhanced by the mulled wine served at the door! I would ensure that everything was ready for the Luss service as well, although it would be conducted by Bill and Rachel and I would get back from Arrochar just in time to greet some of the folk from Luss (their service lasts longer than Arrochar’s because of the Guild Choir items just after midnight). There would be no time to relax for on Christmas morning there were services at Arrochar and Luss – in Arrochar this was the best attended service of the year with few from Arrochar but loads of predominantly English folk staying in the local hotels. At the Luss the service would also be made up predominantly of visitors as the tradition there as well was to attend on Christmas Eve – but how can Christians not want to mark Jesus’ birth in their congregational family home? It has always been important to me to be in Church on Christmas morning.

The crib is out in the farmhouse lounge as well

Well, this morning I got up and walked Mix – there was snow in the air and it was quite chilly. The wind was also starting to blow. I breakfasted on bacon and egg and then went out to Duns to do some last minute shopping. To be honest I really didn’t need to, but it is what I have always done, and I’m a creature of habit particularly at this time of the year. I also had to go to Duns to pick Mum up from her hairdresser – before I set off, Tom and Dorothy popped in to see how we were. We’ll join them later in the evening for the Watch Night Service.

Back at Mount Pleasant, Scott arrived with Nick and Amy. It was a flying visit and by a little after three we had the whole complex to ourselves: Mum, Olive, Digger and Heidi the dog having left for Edinburgh to Christmas with Jeff and Devon. We will drive there tomorrow after Church.

A lovely Christmas tree – but not too many people

I visited Duns again just after three. The place looked beautiful but it was practically deserted. Normally on Christmas Eve I am jostling with last minute Christmas shoppers, or with those who are looking for last-minute bargains. I feel so sorry for shopkeepers this Christmas, the weather, the internet, the shopping malls and the recent recession have all conspired to hit them really hard.

Normally there isn’t a parking space to be had

Back home I wrapped up all of my presents – the Lessons and Carols from King’s College was on the radio. Rachel preferred to watch on television later in the afternoon. I spent the time tidying my study and wondering when I had ever had time to do something like that on Christmas Eve before. Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying this year enormously: it just doesn’t feel real. At any moment I expect the telephone to ring and tell me to get back to work. Mind you, with gales roaring all around us – the wind picked up dramatically over the course of the afternoon – it is very pleasant to be able to stay indoors.

Gavinton Church by candle-light before the service began

We dined in the Granary and watched a bit of Morecombe and Wise, followed by a new Midsomer Murder and then we cleared the kitchen as best we could so that we could leave the dogs while we went to Church. Walked them, left them comfortable and set off for the Church. The wind was howling but still there were twenty-one of us in Church for a lovely carol service during which Ann spoke of the reality and humanity of Jesus’ birth. It was really God born into our world -- a fact which was ‘as much about midwifery as it was about theology’. It was good to be with members of the congregation as we moved into Christmas 2013 – although I have to confess that my mind did drift off to Arrochar and Luss as I wondered how they were getting on and hoping that they were having as good a celebration as we were down here.

Wished Tom and Dorothy good night and wished them well on their drive south to Dorothy’s folks tomorrow (well, later on today). Drove home and discovered that the dogs had been very good indeed – things are looking up! Well, it is Christmas.

If you are reading this, I hope that you have a very happy Christmas and may God bless us all.

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Monday 23rd. December, 2013 – A Wet and Windy Day 

It is mid-day on the day before Christmas Eve and Berwick in the rain is almost deserted

Got up and pushed the dogs into the garden. I wasn’t going to the farmhouse for breakfast this morning because Olive and Digger were setting off early to do their shopping. And I wasn’t walking the dog because the plan was to take both dogs off in the car for a walk before we did our shopping. In the event the dogs and I were ready but Rachel slept in. However, we got on the road and drove first to Duns for Rachel to complete some medical and financial transactions and then we drove to Spittal where we walked the dogs on the beach. Today the beach was huge (because the tide was out); it was also very cold and with a driving wind and pouring rain (so we had the beach to ourselves). Mix was very glad to get back into the car.

We drove to Berwick to complete our Christmas shopping. Berwick was deserted so we had the pick of the shops. I spoke to several shopkeepers who felt that the weather had affected them badly. Last week it had rained and so people took to the internet to do their shopping; this week in the final run up to Christmas the rain had struck again and people were going to shopping malls or retail parks where they could shop without walking down the street and getting wet and where they could park right next to the shops. To be fair the council in Berwick had lifted all parking charges in an attempt to lure the shoppers, but it was largely in vain. One shopkeeper said to me – "I wouldn’t mind if it was because people had decided to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas but I suspect that it is just the weather". I’m sure that she was right.

We went to the Town House for brunch (remember I missed breakfast). Normally it is hard to get a table but there was plenty of room today. I enjoyed 'pigs in a blanket' and a glorious hot chocolate. Afterwards we continued with our shopping and then it was back to the car and a drive to the retail park because Rachel wanted to buy food at Marks and Spencer. Here, right enough, at the retail park the shop was crowded and we had to queue.

We drove home and Rachel set off at once to Duns to buy our ‘ordinary food’ while I talked to Mum, Olive and Digger. I discovered that my Godmother had sent me a present and, as I prepared to put it to one side to open on Christmas Day, I was told that it wasn’t a Christmas present but was a retirement gift. So I could open it! It was a Kindle – what a delightful present. I got it up and running and linked it to our broadband with the result that I can now read any book I want. Some I can buy from Amazon and with a single click they appear on the Kindle; others I can ‘borrow’ for nothing because I am a member of Amazon Prime. What a kind present and what a super present.

Rachel returned and I set off to buy some last minute things – we hadn’t gone together because someone had to look after the dogs. Again there was this Marie Celeste feeling – the Co-op was deserted, the town square was empty, it was really hard to believe that this was the day before Christmas Eve.

The farmhouse tree is up and has lights on it – the other decorations will follow tomorrow

Back home I sorted out my finances and reconciled all that I had spent and then we went across to the farmhouse for supper.

Afterwards, back in our lounge we watched an old Inspector Gently which neither of us had seen before. It was good. Then it was time to walk the dogs – the wind had blown up again and there was snow in the air. Part of our fence is down again – we’ll fix it tomorrow. It was good to get back inside. England appears to be suffering terribly from wind and storms with many trains cancelled and those that are running, are compelled to keep below fifty miles an hour. We are to share some of the bad weather tomorrow, if the forecasters are to be believed. I was glad to go to bed and read a chapter on my Kindle.

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Sunday 22nd. December, 2013 – The Fourth Sunday of Advent 

During the service this morning the fourth candle of Advent was lit

It was really cold when I got up this morning and, walking the dog, I saw lots of snow by the roadside and flooding in the fields. After breakfast, Rachel, Mum and I set off for Gavinton Church – there was more snow in Gavinton and the minister spoke of real snow and icy conditions on her way to Church.

The service was well attended (thirty-four folk, I think, which is one or two more than normal) and it was a good service. The theme, continuing on the triple theme of previous advent Sundays, was Magnificat, Joseph and Immanuel. We looked at Mary’s Song of Praise having been confronted with the angel and his message about her impending pregnancy and her willingness to respond to God’s will (a model for our own response) which in turn leads to a changed world – for it is as we respond to God’s will that the world becomes a different place. Ann read the scripture about Joseph’s dream and a meditation about his experience – the Christmas story is also a story about Joseph’s response to God’s challenge. Finally we looked at the passage from Isaiah where the birth of a child will foreshadow the salvation of his people, Ann set this passage in its historical context and explained how the mystery of the virgin birth had been created in part as the story made its way from Hebrew through Greek to the people of New Testament times. We sang some good carols and afterwards joined everyone else for coffee in the Church Hall.

There were beautiful flowers in Church this morning

Back home we set about moving furniture in the farmhouse, most notably taking a sofa from the lounge into one of the barns to make room for the dining table to be used in comfort and to make way for the Christmas Tree which Digger was to buy later in the day. I went off with Mum to a ‘cheerful Carol Singalong’ in Gavinton Village Hall. There must have been about forty-five of us, congregation and village folk (including quite a few children) in the hall and we sang carols (the words projected on the wall), watched a short nativity film from New Zealand, and enjoyed mulled wine and mince-meat pies. Later in the afternoon, after some games, Santa visited the hall with a present for each child.

Back in the Granary, I responded to an email from Neil from Arrochar and prepared additional midi files for some extra carols which they will sing on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Rachel went off to Berwick to Choral Evensong and on her return we all ate in the farmhouse. Back in the Granary we dozed in front of the stove (our home is so very warm) and then, after walking the dogs in the freezing cold, it was time for bed. It has been a lovely weekend.

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Saturday 21st. December, 2013 – Christmas Shopping 

Rachel and Rowan on St. Cuthbert’s Way at Newtown St. Boswell’s

Woke this morning and felt sorry for all shopkeepers. The wind had dropped but it was raining hard and it was a thoroughly nasty day on this one of the most important shopping days for those with shops on the high streets up and down the country. Mix and I went for a short walk – it was much too wet for a longer trek. I breakfasted and then Rachel and I set out to do some Christmas shopping. We had heard that there was a fine bookshop in St. Boswell’s but of course we went to Newtown St. Boswell’s, not the same place at all. However, our loss was the dogs gain. (Should report that I unloaded Mix from the back of the car and went to get his lead. Rachel volunteered to hold on to Mix while I sorted out the lead. The next thing I saw was Rachel flat out on the ground as something nearby had attracted Mix’s attention – but Rachel hadn’t let go!) Even so we took the dogs for a decent walk down to the river and across the bridge until we found ourselves on St. Cuthbert’s Way. We will certainly return on a better day to do more of the walk.

We made our way to St. Boswell’s and found the bookshop. There it was on the little Main Street complete with parking behind. It was an excellent shop, a little independent bookseller, with loads of choice, and an excellent display to suit all tastes. We spent ages in the shop and enjoyed it immensely.

Refuelled in the village Garage (and bought a couple of sandwiches) before continuing to Kelso where we did a bit more shopping and also found time to have a look at the Abbey – another place to return to when shopping is not so high on the agenda and more time can be spent on more important matters.

We were able to have the quickest of looks at the Abbey in Kelso.

Having visited some very interesting shops including Tweedside Tackle (a fishing shop, I understand, of some considerable renown) and a lovely little jeweller called Bridget of Edinburgh where the lady made everything herself on the premises, mostly out of silver, we set off for home allowing the TomTom to devise an extremely interesting scenic route which took us down several unmarked minor roads on our way to Mount Pleasant.

Back home we unloaded Rachel’s car of yesterday's purchases (all of the book-shelves and so on) and Scott and Sue arrived to steal some ivy for their Christmas decorations. We sat over coffee with them and Mum in the Granary, and longer with Mum after Scott and Sue set off for home. The rain continued to pour down but we are snug as bugs in our little house and couldn’t be happier or more content if we tried.

Joined the family for a lovely evening meal of ham and roast potatoes with carrots, followed by apple pie, custard and ice-cream. Back in the Granary, Rachel wrapped presents while we watched the second part of the Train Robbers film: A Copper’s Tale. It was very good: no, it was excellent, made so by good writing, a wonderful cast and an exciting tale to tell. While we were watching the drama our first snows arrived; nothing too serious but, as Google reported on its front page, winter has now arrived!

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Friday 20th. December, 2013 -- Off to Edinburgh 

There was a warm glow from the summer house as we walked the dogs last thing at night

Coincidences. I tend not to believe in them as they effect daily life, affirming the belief of the late George MacLeod that if you believe in coincidence you will have a very boring life. But some things are strange. A couple of nights ago we were talking around the table about music and old songs and someone mentioned ‘Right said Fred’ as an example of an old song which they had enjoyed. I had forgotten all about it but back in my study the next day (yesterday) I typed ‘Right said Fred’ into Spotify on the computer and up came the song, along with the information that it had been sung by Bernard Cribbins. As soon as I was reminded of the fact, I realised that I knew it (if you know what I mean). But it was such a long time ago and I hadn’t heard of Bernard Cribbins for years and years and years. Later in the afternoon while I was having something to eat, and having no book to read, I turned on the BBC i-player and accessed the most recent episode of ‘Have I got news for you’ and who should be a guest on the programme? Bernard Cribbins. Strange: what a coincidence!

Walked the dog and breakfasted in the farmhouse and then Rachel and I set off for IKEA in Edinburgh leaving Mix in the farmhouse with Olive and Digger. I was amazed at how busy the roads were, although IKEA itself wasn’t overly busy. I bought some bookshelves – the heartbreak of having to leave my wonderful library shelves behind at Wemyss – and we also bought some blinds for the windows of the summer house and then we set off for home. Rachel driving and Rowan and I cramped into half a seat: the rest taken over by shelving. We had gaily bought quite a lot because we had determined that it would fit into the Berlingo, forgetting totally about the accumulated weight of so many shelves. We drove home slowly, stopping at Asda at Dunbar so that Rowan could be walked and I could buy a sandwich for Rachel and myself.

By the time we got home it was already dark and the day was almost over. I had an email with the hymns for Arrochar for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so I spent the time before dinner preparing the music for those services and sending them off to Jamie by email. Then we ate in the farmhouse – another lovely meal – and by the time the meal was over and we returned to the Granary it was blowing a gale, again!

We watched the first part of the dramatisation of the Train Robbers tonight – it was good, well written and tightly acted. Tomorrow we plan to watch the Policeman’s Tale and see how it all unfolds. Memory plays tricks over the years and it is good to be reminded of what actually happened. Tomorrow I gather that we are going Christmas shopping – I hope that the weather has died down.

It is getting close to Christmas -- I have never looked forward to a Christmas as much as I am looking forward to this one. In the past I have been 'in charge'. It has been my responsibility to ensure that all the services and activities happen and happen as they should. I have taken that responsibility very seriously and I have felt the weight of it on my shoulders. (I do understand that God is in charge but I am sure you know what I mean: God entrusts these responsibilities to us.) This year that is gone. I am a member of a congregation and am enjoying taking part in what others have prepared. That's not to say that I don't have responsibilities, but my responsibilities now are different from before. I have made my Christmas plans so that I can be in the little Church here for the Watchnight Service and for Christmas Day -- because being a member of a congregation brings responsibilities as well. In a small congregation just a few people missing makes such a difference and I want to be part of the celebrations here. There has been a lovely lead up to Christmas -- the actual celebrations will be wonderful.

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Thursday 19th. December, 2013 – It is bright, cold and calm 

Carol singing at Longformacus – lousy photo of a grand occasion

I think it was in ‘As Time Goes By’ that we were for ever being given the weather forecast (or rather the shipping forecast) in the English Chanel by Geoffrey Palmer’s housekeeper. I seem to have become her spiritual successor. The storm of last night has all passed by. It is bright and cold and calm and everything in our estate has survived – but the wind was really noisy during the night and I see from the BBC website that many people are without power this morning.

As I lay in bed listening to the wind I found myself thinking about what I had (or hadn’t) written in my diary. As I waited last evening for Lucan to start there was a rather sentimental programme called Surprise on the channel I was waiting for. The reason for commenting on it was that two of the guests were Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean. I remember so vividly when they won their Olympic medal in 1984, twenty-nine years ago, and they really didn’t look old enough on the programme yesterday to have been champions so long ago. Skating must be good for you! It was good to watch them again.

The other thought was about the difference between crime and white-collar crime. Train robbers, rightly, get bundled into jail for lengthy periods, but those who run institutions which arguably cause far more misery through corporately doing bad things seem to survive. Can’t be right.

Walked Mix but didn’t go across for breakfast because Olive and Digger had set off early for Dundee where Olive is to pick up some examination scripts to be marked. Tom arrived and announced that the task for today was to lay the floor and that I would be doing my fair share of the work. Trembled as I have never laid a floor before but Tom is a good teacher and showed me how to hammer the boards together, nail through the tongue of the plank and then hit the nail with a nail punch to push it into the wood. It was a long, but an enormously satisfying job.

The task for today was to lay a floor

By lunch time it was almost completed so we adjourned for lunch and returned after lunch to do the final stretch – I learned a great deal more. There was still a bit of time in hand so we installed the electrics and when Rachel came home from having had her hair done, there was a lovely glow coming from the summer house. There was also a real glow of achievement coming from me!

Haven’t we done well?

Yesterday Rachel went to Dun s five times, today she only made the return journey four times. First following me as I took my car to the garage to have a new seat belt fitted, second to take Mum to the Gavinton Guild Christmas party, third to get her hair done, ands fourth to take me to collect my car. She is becoming quite a taxi service! As you’ll have gathered I got my car back with its new seat belt (£156 caused by Mix). Once I got the car back I was able to pack away all of the excess wood from the summer house into the hen house by the light from the summer house. We will not get anything major done to the summer house now until after the Christmas festivities. But what progress has been made.

After an early tea I drove up to Longformacus for the street carol singing (Tom provided the music on his squeeze-box). Longformacus is one of the congregations within our parish linking. Until very recently there were services in the church here but those have now come to an end so it was good to have carol singing around the doors here. After the carols we all went off to the Village Hall where we enjoyed mincemeat pies and cake.

The Village Hall at Longformacus

As well as congregational and village members there were several folk from a Christian Centre which works with young men who have been disadvantaged or suffer from an addiction. I enjoyed speaking both to them and to some of the staff from the centre.

Longformacus struck me as being a very odd name. It is a tiny little village six miles or so north of Duns, along a windy and lonely road. The name comes from the gaelic Longphort Mhacais and the village’s main claim to fame is that Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor is set here. Two walks – the Southern Upland Way and the Sir Walter Scott Way – both pass through Longformacus.

Back home, Rachel and I watched Where Eagles Dare. It is an old film but special to us because on the evening of our wedding, after we had set off on honeymoon, many of our guests went off to see this new film at the local cinema. (I was married in England where the celebrations were at lunch time and we left by the early evening – I dare say it is different now.) Enjoyed the film (although I was a bit taken aback at the indiscriminate killing -- were we more violent back in the 60s?, and walked the dogs before bed. Am I stiff after all that kneeling and hammering? I expect to be sore in the morning.

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Wednesday 18th. December, 2013 It was meant to be horrendous 

And now the door is hung: Digger and Tom at work

Awoke and thought how good the weather looked – the forecaster last night had said that it was all downhill for the rest of the week, with today as the worst of all. Well, it was really rather pleasant (a little bit cold, perhaps) as I walked Mix. Came home and breakfasted at the farmhouse and as I was drinking my coffee (having scoffed the bacon, egg and fried bread) Tom arrived and demanded that I went back to work on the summer house. ‘There’s lots to do, and the weather is OK.’ So we set about fitting all of the windows (albeit in a temporary fashion because the ironmongery for six of them was missing. I’ve reported it and am waiting for it to arrive.) We also hung the door and did all that was necessary to ensure that everything was plumb. Actually that short sentence took a long time to achieve. It was mid afternoon, with darkness already beginning to fall before we had everything done. All that remains (apart from the window fittings) it to fit the shingles on the roof (no hurry now that we have it all covered with roofing felt), the laying of the floor, the electrics and the varnishing. It will be done by the end of the year.

Looking back over my diary entries for the last few days I realise how fixated I have become on this summerhouse. I suppose that is a real novelty for me. I've never had the time to become totally engrossed in something like putting up a small building; of working away at something which in itself is quite trivial, which isn't part of work but which is just absolutely great fun -- and as Tom said today, we're getting quite a sense of achievement as we see the little building taking shape.

Came back in and found an email with the list of music for Arrochar’s Sunday service. Got it all prepared and emailed to Jamie so that he has time to test it all before Sunday. Then I drove Mum into Duns where she is attending the Dun’s Guild Christmas party which she will enjoy. Back at the farmhouse, I enjoyed sausages, broccoli and roast potatoes followed by rhubarb tart and custard with ice-cream. I think that I probably over ate. Came back home in time to watch the second part of ‘Lucan’ – the events surrounding the disappearance of Lord Lucan in 1974 – events which I missed because I was working in Italy at the time.

The weather is starting to turn nasty after all – a wind has blown up and there is rain in the air but not nearly as bad, so far, as I had been expecting. Found the second part of the play about Lord Lucan quite disappointing except for the fact that one of the minor characters in it was played by one of Rachel’s former students from Fife College. All the play said was he could have committed suicide, he could still be free or perhaps he was murdered – well, even I could have worked that out; but perhaps there was nothing else that could have been said.

I recorded the first part of the Great Train Robbery play in two parts – The Robber’s Tale tonight and tomorrow the Policeman’s Tale. What a strange coincidence that Ronnie Briggs should die today. Of course, as Tom reminded me today, Ronnie Biggs had a very minor role in the Train Robbery. I know that some people admired the audacity of the train robbers, I find it hard to have any sympathy for them because of the what they did to the guard on the train, hitting him so hard that his life was destroyed – still the jokes have already started: In those days people stole from the banks, now the banks steal from us! Which leads me to my final musing, why do authorities fine banks for doing wrong? And who benefits from the fines which are collected? Surely it would be better if the money confiscated was distributed to those who have been harmed by the wrong-doing, but in fact if our bank treats us badly and is fined, then we are affected for a second time by banking with a bank which now has less resources and so can provide us with less services. The world has become a strange place.

We walked the dogs and by now the weather had turned really stormy. It was still dry but the winds are very strong. The promised horrendous weather looks as if it is arriving – hope the summerhouse is still there in the morning!

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Tuesday 17th. December, 2013 – Things never go quite to plan 

Men at work on the Summerhouse roof

Woke early because I had to get Rachel off to the doctor (although the new pills she got last night mean that she is in good spirits this morning). I walked both dogs and breakfasted in the farmhouse and was ready for Tom when he arrived about 9 a.m. The task identified by him for today was to put the roof shingles on the summerhouse. However we weren’t quite sure how to do this so I was despatched to look up the maker’s instructions (rather than the summerhouse manufacturer’s instructions). The first thing I discovered was that the shingle-maker felt that it was essential that shingles were fitted on a bed of mineral felt, something the summerhouse manufacturer did not think was necessary. So I went off to Pearson’s (who are now making record profits since my arrival in Duns) to buy thirty square metres of best mineral felt and some roofing nails. Soon we were hard at work installing the roofing felt and although we worked exceedingly hard it took most of the daylight hours – we did stop for coffee and a roll – and Tom and Digger did manage to fit two of the windows while I was left hammering in nails on the roof. We discovered that although the summerhouse has eight windows, we had only been sent ironmongery for two of them; so six will have to wait until the missing bits arrive.

Digger and Tom on the roof – Digger sits and contemplates the universe while Tom deals with the affairs of the day on his telephone

In fact Rachel ended up making no fewer than five separate journeys to Duns today – to visit the doctor, to take Mum to her hairdresser, to Pearson’s to buy another ten metres of roofing felt (yes, we miscalculated), to return a damaged roll of felt to Pearson’s and get a replacement, and to collect Mum from her hairdressing appointment. As darkness fell I came back into the Granary to get warm and was caught by a number of phone calls.

The first windows have been fitted

Soon it was time for fish-pie and rice pudding (with pineapple) and afterwards a family discussion before returning to the Granary just in time to walk the dogs under a full moon before bed.

And I have to report that today we lost the ashes. It has been a series in which almost everything went wrong which possibly could. Does this mean the end of England being one of the best teams in the world? Of course not. It is a setback but England have the players to bounce back and already Ben Stokes (of Durham, of course) has started to emerge as a player to watch for the future.

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Monday 16th. December, 2013 – We start thinking about Christmas Gifts 

Berwick High Street: not as busy as I expected in the run up to Christmas

Got up and walked both dogs as Rachel is not feeling very well. Enjoyed a hearty breakfast and then spent some time in the Granary expecting a phone call which never came (when one is retired that really doesn’t matter). Went across to the farmhouse to meet some friends of Mum who had come to take her away for a day out (they went to Eyemouth and lunched at the Golf Club there). We also had to deal with our balloon booking with Virgin Balloons. Rachel was really keen to go for a balloon flight and so, way back in 2008, I ordered and paid for a balloon trip. We duly arranged the day and the site from which we would fly but then, when the day came, the weather was unsuitable and our voucher was extended for a further six months. Well, we have been making bookings which the weather has cancelled and having our voucher extended now for more than five years. Having had more than five cancellations we could have our money refunded and walk away from it but that seems like giving up. So today we discussed with Virgin a trip from either Kelso or Selkirk sometime early in 2014. We hope to have a definite date by tomorrow evening. Incidentally, Rachel has now flown in a balloon – we flew over the Valley of the Kings in Egypt almost five years ago. It was such a good experience that Rachel can’t wait to do it all again.

Balloons below us -- from our balloon in Egypt

Rachel and I loaded the dogs into the car and went off to Spittal again to run the dogs by the sea. We now have a cage for Mix in the boot and he is very happy in it because he is with us in the car. We have gone through two dog guards (or rather, he has gone through two dog guards – straight through); and he has destroyed one seat belt (which is being replaced on Thursday by the local garage). So we had little choice. But it is a big cage and Mix is only in it when he is in the car.

Mix travels in style

At Spittal Rowan loves to race alongside the sea, charging the waves as they break on the sea shore and loving it when she gets taken by surprise and ends up extremely wet. Mix prefers to walk more sedately, attached to me, but exploring everything. It is a lovely place to walk the dogs and not many people will nip across to another country just to walk their dogs!

Rowan charges the waves

From Spittal we drove into Berwick and visited the shops there on the look-out for Christmas presents. I was surprised how quiet the town was, and how empty the shops were in this the week before Christmas. Yes, it had been extremely wet overnight but today was beautiful, with the sun shining, although it was getting much colder as the day went on. We didn’t stay too long because Rachel wasn’t feeling at her best and instead we drove on to Duns where Rachel had medicine to pick up. It wasn’t ready so we drove back to Mount Pleasant and had something to eat (I used my new microwave) before Rachel popped back into Duns to get her medicine. It still wasn’t there but the chemist phoned the doctor, the doctor spoke to Rachel over the telephone and five minutes later Rachel left the shop with her medicine. Pretty good service!

Dined in the farmhouse – celery soup, chicken and roast potatoes, rhubarb pie, custard and ice-cream: no wonder I have put on six kilos since retiring. Then came across to the Granary to watch the first-quarter final of University Challenge before starting work on finding addresses so that we can send some Christmas cards. Watched the News, walked Mix and came to bed. Tomorrow we are promised a little window of good weather and I hope that we shall roof the summer house and maybe even install some windows and a door – we’ll need all the daylight we can get. But that would be progress.

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Sunday 15th. December, 2013 – The Third Sunday in Advent 

The Christmas Tree looks good in Gavinton Church

Got up as soon as the alarm went off. I had two dogs to walk as Rachel wasn’t feeling well and had wisely decided to spend the morning in bed. Back from the dog walking I showered, breakfasted and went off to church at Gavinton with Mum. Our minister, Ann, had intended to be on holiday today but family illnesses had prevented that and she was in control of the service. Over the Sundays of Advent she has been presenting us with three-stranded Sunday addresses or rather, three small addresses throughout the service. Today continued that pattern.

We started with John the Baptist and his question, sent by his disciples to Jesus, ‘Are you the one we have been waiting for?’ Jesus response was to point at what he had been doing and to put the onus back on John to make up his own mind. As followers of the one for whom the world had been waiting, the onus is on us to ensure that what people see when they look at us, reflects the Lord we follow.

From Isaiah chapter thirty five, Ann spoke of the wilderness turned into a place of plenty and the road to holiness running through it. Sometimes we are frightened of having too expansive dreams for fear that we will be let down. This passage is an antidote to those feelings – dream big, Jesus is coming, God’s Son is about to be born into our world and now all things are possible.

Finally we thought about waiting – and about how we wait – the passage used was from the letter of James, and the two classes of people used as role models were farmers and prophets. Farmers plant the seeds and they then have to wait for the harvest. But they don’t sit idly by; they tend the ground, water it and weed it and in good time the crop appears. Prophets have a message to share but they too have to work on their ‘crop’. We are waiting for the promised return of our Lord – how we wait matters. Wait with expectation and wait sharing that expectation with others. That’s one of the important themes of Christmas and one not to be missed this year. I came away with a lot to think about.

Back home I was delighted to find that Rachel was feeling much better. So much better in fact that we went out and filled in some of the little holes in the summer house with wood filler before loading the dogs into the car and setting of for Spittal near Berwick where we walked the dogs on the beach. The sea was quite wild and Rowan loved attacking the waves and cavorting in the shallow water at the edge. From Spittal we drove to Tweedmouth where we visited first HomeBase (Rachel bought a scorpion power saw with a thirty percent discount) and then Curry’s (where I bought a small microwave for just £39. We do already own more than one microwave but although we have been searching for them for close on two months we still have not identified where they are (that is the scale of the problem our removal has set us). But this little ultra basic machine will do the job until we successfully locate our own ones.

Rachel made us afternoon tea and then she set off for Berwick to attend choral evensong while I rearranged everything to find a place for the microwave and I looked after the dogs, both now wonderfully docile after their long run on the beach. On Rachel’s return we joined the rest of the family for our evening meal – and chatted a long time around the table. Coming back to the Granary, we watched an old episode of New Tricks and the news before bed – taking in Andy Murray’s appropriate accolade (after winning Wimbledon) of Sports Personality of the Year. As we walked the dogs it was almost light, such was the illumination coming from the moon. The wind is breezy (there is more to come) and there is rain in the air, but just now it is a lovely light, fresh night. It may seem a strange observation but the hours of daylight seem very short now that I am retired. I suppose that I was always so busy at this time of year that it didn’t really matter whether it was light or dark but, now that I have time to go for walks and to work on building projects and want to be out and about, darkness falling at 4 p.m. is a bit of a nuisance.

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Saturday 14th. December, 2013 – Progress before the storm 

It’s only 9 a.m. but fear of the weather to come has got us started

Woke early and for the first time found the overnight cricket score heartening rather than disappointing, just one wicket down with 85 runs on the board. Walked Mix and got ready for a nine o’clock start on the summer house with Neil, Tom, Digger, Catriona and Dorothy. There was a window before the storm of about four hours and much to do. As the wind began to blow, we completed the bodywork of the summer house, got the roof joists installed and even managed to completed the cladding of the roof. Everything is now packed inside and we shall resume operations on Tuesday.

It is all beginning to take shape

Interested observers – Rowan and Mix look on from behind their gate

We did get a coffee break – to warm our hands really

So it was real progress and I was pleased we achieved so much because, as forecast, the storm arrived and it was ferocious. Neil and Catriona left at lunch time to drive back to Yorkshire. But after work was completed around 2 p.m. those of us who were left gathered in the farmhouse for a hot drink, a filled roll and a cake. There was a real sense of achievement in the air.

The roof joists are fitted

By the time the storm arrived, progress had been made

Back in the Granary as the storm began to reach its height: would the summerhouse be OK? Yes, of course it was, but the fence behind wasn’t and we will have to rebuild part of it after Church tomorrow. Dined with Olive, Mum, Digger and Rachel in the farmhouse and chatted for ages so that by the time we returned to the Granary there was only time to catch an old ‘New Tricks’ before walking the dogs and bed. By now the storm had totally blown itself out, but the weather forecasters tell us to expect more very strong winds over the next few days and it will get very cold. Well, what do you expect? We’re building a summer house!

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Friday 13th. December, 2013 – After a slow start .... 

The lorry carrying our summer house

Arose early to walk Mix and to be ready for the delivery of our summer house. Went across for breakfast and enjoyed a hearty one with an ear cocked for a phone call to say that the summer house was approaching Duns. In fact Tom had phoned to say that he was having lunch before the lorry finally arrived; the driver’s mate arriving at the front door of the farmhouse and asking my sister if she was expecting a shed. A shed indeed! This is our summer house, bought with the gift given to us on our retirement by the folk of Arrochar and Luss – the place in which I am going to write my book, the place to where Rachel and I will escape to raise a champagne glass when the sun is shining down on the Borders.

Tom, the Clerk of Works, discusses part of the delivery with Neil

Dorothy and Catriona assume I must be photographing them rather than the materials

The driver’s mate was a real Glasgow gentleman who knew Bowling well and shared my interest in boats, so we got on like a house on fire. It wasn’t long before everything was unloaded, the lorry had left and work started on building the summer house. I had a great team: Tom, Digger, Neil, Rachel, Catriona and Dorothy. First the floorboard joists went down and then the building began to rise around them. I do believe that if we had had a full day at it then we could have completed the building but days here are very short at this time of the year and we didn’t get started until the afternoon. So I was delighted with the progress we have made. However, the forecast for tomorrow is not great: we have been promised a window without rain between about nine and one in the afternoon and then, not only will the rains come down but the winds will rise. I am hoping that we might have the walls completed and the roof on before that happens. We shall see. But what fun it all was and how clever the kit is – each of the pieces fits together like a jig-saw puzzle and, while I am helped by having some real tradesmen here, it would be possible for people without their skill levels to build the summer house: at least that’s how it looks so far, but then we haven’t reached head-height yet.

Work starts

Catriona has a thing for picture frame windows – much to Digger’s amusement

In the evening we all dined in the farmhouse before retiring to the Granary. Mum produced an article written by a former minister of Glamis recounting the story of the Kirk there. I am going to try to type it out, it's a rather faded carbon copy, because these things are too important to be allowed to disappear. Congregations are the sum total of their story, their story shapes their future and folk need to have access to that story. I suspect that is true of families as well.

Darkness falls – we will return tomorrow

Watched an episode of Rebus before bed and walked both dogs because Rachel was already in bed. I should have recorded that this morning she went off and bought chicken-wire to secure the garden (I had to stay in case the lorry arrived) and then completed the wiring up of our fences. We are secure once more.

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Thursday 12th. December, 2013 – Not quite as planned and a little disappointing 

My team (Tom and Neil) are hard at work installing services for the summer house

Today did not work out as planned. Not in any way at all! I had expected to be in Sweden taking part in a Green Pilgrimage Planning meeting – and the added joy of being in Sweden today was that I was to stay over for tomorrow and take part in the celebrations for Saint Lucia (Saint Lucy) – a festival of light and a preparation for Christmas. However, the diary commitments of other people led to the urgent business being dealt with by a conference call and the meeting itself has been put back until the New Year – which will be fine (but just a pity to have missed Saint Lucia and all the girls with garlands with lighted candles in their hair. I’ve seen so many pictures but have never seen it for myself.

All over Sweden, Norway and in some parts of Finland and Italy St. Lucia’s Day will be celebrated tomorrow. There will be processions led by one girl with a wreath of candles on her head and followed by other girls each carrying a single candle. In part it all goes back to the days when we used the Julian Calendar which had 13th. December as the day of the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year. There are several stories about St, Lucia. In one she is a Sicilian Saint who was executed around 310. In another she was a kind woman who helped Christians hiding in the catacombs during the persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian – in order to carry as much food as possible to the Christians she wore candles on her head so that both of her hands would be free. I suppose she was the patron saint of all those who wear torches fitted to their heads so that they can work in the dark with their hands free -- when we are down at the narrow boat we see lots of runners pounding the tow path at night all with their head torches looking like disciples of Saint Lucia. Clearly the festival predates Christianity in Scandinavia and centred around the winter solstice, but the story of St. Lucia has been a way of Christianising the tradition and using it to bolster the new faith in those far off days.

However, not having to make the trip enabled me to be on site for the delivery of the summer house for which we have been waiting for several weeks. Early this morning, after Mix had been walked, Tom and Neil arrived to start getting things ready for the delivery, particularly to prepare for the installation of the services. All went well and we were congratulating ourselves on the excellent day – dry and warm. However, while we were sitting having coffee the phone rang – the delivery van had broken down (its diesel tank had split) and the delivery would be delayed until tomorrow.

Workers’ Playtime

So that was a second disappointment; but I was able to do other things working around telephone calls. I went into Duns and ordered a new seat-belt to replace the one vandalised by Mix before we got him his secure cage to transport him at the back of the car and I took Tom to collect his chain-saw which had been professionally sharpened.

Mum had three friends from Galashiels to visit. They all went off to a lunch at Gavinton Church and when they returned they saw round the farm steading before setting off for home as it got dark. With unexpected time on my hands I went into the barn and found some of the furniture which Rachel had been looking for – two small desks (and the inserts for the table which Olive was wanting).

We dined together as a family in the early evening, enjoying a sherry as we gathered in the farmhouse family room and then back in the Granary I watched Question Time from Johannesburg in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death. It was interesting and reflected both the enormous distance which South Africa has travelled since Mandela became President and the enormous distance which South Africa still has to travel in the years to come.

We got a fright during the evening as Rowan escaped from the garden. Fortunately her joy was in completing the escape and having succeeded she just sat on the other side of the gate wanting to be back with us. I was surprised most of all that it was Rowan and not Mix who had identified the weakness in our defences – it was a little bit of fence which had been covered by foliage which has now died off, exposing a tiny way out of the garden. Tomorrow it will be secured!

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Wednesday 11th. December, 2013 – Christmas is getting closer 

There were crowds of people at the farm sale I attended today

Got up and walked Mix and then came back to the Granary for a shower to ensure that I was read for Tom when he called to collect me at 9.45 a.m. In the event he arrived with Dorothy and a couple of friends from Yorkshire who are staying with them for a few days. Together we all set off for the farm sale which was being held not far from here. We drove up to the farm and the first thing we saw was a field set out with items to be auctioned. There were piles of fence posts, feeding troughs, equipment for use on the farm and several tractors and other vehicles, including a very smart Landrover and a combine harvester. The auction, however, started in a huge barn in which were piles of smaller items including chain saws and lawnmowers and many items which I haven’t a clue what they were. The auctioneer moved quickly through the items getting them sold and moving on.

I liked the picture – it seemed to me to evoke Thomas Hardy

In the barn next to the auction barn there was a coffee stall where we enjoyed excellent coffee and glorious sausages in rolls. And, of course, we sat on bales of hay. I caught Dorothy and her pals enjoying the seat:

We came home, dropped Dorothy at home while Tom, Neil and I went into Duns to buy electrical cable for the summerhouse which will arrive tomorrow. I returned to the Granary where Rachel was preparing to go to Duns. So we loaded the dogs into the car, drove to Duns and visited the post office and the chemist before driving down to the town park and walking the dogs. It is an excellent park, lots of walks – some of them leaving from the park for quite long distance ambles – three tennis courts, a bowling green and as well as the war memorial, a memorial to twenty seven Polish servicemen who trained in Duns and lost their lives during the second world war. I suspect that this is why Duns is linked with a city in Poland. I will have to find out more about this. There is also a statue of Duns Scotus erected by the Francescan Order in 1966 on the seven hundredth anniversary of his birth here. John Duns Scotus was one of the great thinkers of his time. I will return to the park with my camera and at that time will write more about his life and thought. So quite a bit of homework to be done!

We went from the park to Pearsons where Rachel selected a Christmas tree. Then it was back home and on with the putting up of the Christmas decorations. Rachel always likes to ensure that our home is filled with decorations and the fact that we are not yet fully moved in has not stopped her this year. It is little short of miraculous that, unable as we are to find clothes and other important items to make ourselves at home, Rachel has succeeded in laying her hands on our Christmas decorations.

Rachel has been busy with decorations

We dined with Olive, Digger and Mum in the farmhouse and then came back to complete the decorations and tidy up the mess which putting them up creates (more so this year with Rowan anxious to lend a hand by chewing up any left over Christmas tree branch which was going a-begging). We watched the first part of a film about Lord Lucan. It presented pretty unsavoury times: I was only vaguely aware of the Lord Lucan story because in 1974 Rachel and I were living in Italy, working at the Sailor’s Rest.

Finally we walked the dogs – the lights in the windows reminded me that it will soon be Christmas and that this is going to be a very special Christmas for us all down at Mount Pleasant.

A Welcoming Window

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Tuesday 10th. December, 2013 -- A Good News Day 

Our old family favourite Christmas decorations are starting to reappear

Got up and walked Mix before breakfast and then came across to the Granary intending to finish my book (which I did this afternoon). However, on checking my emails I found the request for music for the service at Arrochar so I spent a bit of time preparing that. I enjoy doing that and now that I am retired there is no pressure of time and I have rediscovered the pleasure I got from doing it in the early years when it was all new to me.

I can’t quite remember when we started controlling the hymns at Arrochar by midi file but I’m guessing that it would be around 2002. Davina had taken ill; there was no one to play the organ and it was Christmas time. On Boxing Day I drove down to Newcastle to my brother’s home. He took me into a Boxing Day sale in the biggest organ shop I had ever seen and there we got a real bargain – a Yamaha organ that could be controlled by midi file with a floppy disk player on it. I had only the vaguest idea of what to do with it. I thought at first I would have to play each tune onto the machine (but that I could do this at home over and over again until I got it right). Then I thought I might be able to download midi files from the internet and use them. But the great breakthrough was to get a computer programme which allowed me to write hymns onto disks and play these through the computer. Nothing was too much of a problem now, no hymn was too difficult to reproduce and I thanked my good fortune in having been made to wade through so many musical theory examinations when I was young. It was being put to good use some fifty years later on. Here in my study I still have that same organ sitting behind me – the Church has progressed to an even more sophisticated one – and when I am not producing hymns then I produce Gilbert and Sullivan and sing along with the organ. (If only these machines had existed in the days of our Gilbert and Sullivan theatre group.)

In amongst my clothes, the organ I wouldn’t be without

No sooner had I prepared the music and sent it off to Jamie than the phone rang. My summer house is arriving on Thursday. Contacted Tom who said that he would be here to help unload and who told me that we would be drinking tea in the summer house by Sunday. I can’t help thinking that this might be a tad optimistic but who knows?

Went into Duns to sort out my money at the bank and when I came home I walked Mix (he had been with me in the new cage in the back of the car and behaved perfectly). After the walk I finished my book before dinner.

We ate together in the farmhouse – our little community coming together to eat, as it does every evening – and then Rachel and I came back to our home in the Granary. I spent some time in the study tracking down some information about the cutlery my mother got from America more than sixty years ago. Her Aunt, in the days following the second world war when my parents were recently married sent one place-setting every so often until they had accumulated a full set. It was really appreciated because in those days in Britain such luxuries were neither available nor affordable. The cutlery is called Queen Bess and is Tudor Silver Plate. You can still get it on ebay although it is almost always to be found in the United States.

Stopped to watch a Midsomer Murder which I hadn’t seen before and carried on to watch Law and Order UK which I really enjoy. Should really have been watching the reports of the celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life from South Africa – I caught bits of it on the news. I thought that President Obama spoke well but I was sorry that there was no European to speak about the anti-apartheid campaigns which were hugely supported here and which in part contributed to the regime change in South Africa.

Walked the dog and was surprised to discover that the wind has blown up again. This certainly seems to be rather a windy spot to live.

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Monday 9th. December, 2013 – A Long Sleep-In 

Duns looks splendid with its new Christmas Lights

Digger was taking Olive off to the station at Berwick later than usual this morning – and afterwards was continuing on to the Duns medical practice for a consultation – so Rachel and I decided last night that we wouldn’t go across to the farmhouse this morning but would instead sleep in. In the event Rachel did that better than I did. I awoke at about half past nine, got up and walked both dogs – they walk really well together now -- and when I came back Rachel was still sound asleep. She eventually woke up around half-past ten.

At the weekend Rachel had identified her large sideboard and our task for today was to liberate it from the barn, bring it into the Granary and then take the other sideboard (which we have been using) back to the barn in its place. With help from Digger we successfully achieved all of this and Rachel spent quite a bit of time transferring all of the kitchen ware from one sideboard to the other. I brought in the box containing all of our cutlery and (to get ahead of myself) spent the evening sorting it out while watching University Challenge and Panorama. The News and Newsnight were also on but honesty prevents me for saying that I saw them – the warmth of the lounge is very conducive to a little nap.

In the afternoon Rachel went to Berwick. I walked Mix here because I had to be in to receive a package from Amazon – the delivery firm here is terrific. I put in my order yesterday, I got a text yesterday to say it would be delivered today and I got another text this morning saying that it would be delivered by ‘John’ between 1.50 and 2 .50 this afternoon. It was delivered at 1.55 p.m.

The article in question was a dog cage to put in the back of my car. We have experimented with dog guards but Mix always manages to break through them and so, as a result, I have been tending not to take Mix with me when I go out in the car. He is perfectly happy getting into the cage (which is the same size as the boot in any event). In fact I had ordered a cage a little bigger than the one Rowan has but it wouldn’t fit into the car – so Rowan’s cage is now in the car and she has the new even larger one as her sleeping accommodation in the house.

I used to believe that these cages were not very kind but Rowan loves hers. It provided security for her when she was a very young puppy and now she wants to go into it at night. The rest of the day the door is left wide open and she often goes and sits in it – especially if we go out. But then she has so much freedom that I don’t suppose she bothers. Different for Mix, I don’t think that he will ever sleep anywhere other than at my feet. The dogs are getting on so well now. When Rachel is out it is quite common for both of them to crush in under my desk and roll up together – those who have known Mix over the last year will know what a change that is. He really does now treat her as his little sister (she is now quite a bit larger than him as well).

Paid for the road tax on Rachel’s Bongo today and also booked tickets for us all for the Christmas Pantomime in Berwick. Just ordering the tickets made me realise how near Christmas is – and how different it is this year with me being able to plan to go to the theatre! Rachel sent me one of these Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendars on my computer and every day I open the next page and enjoy the scene and the music and the little message which comes from the book you can find and read in the library of the Stately Home (Downton?) in which the advent scene is set.

When we walked the dogs tonight it was extremely dark and then, after we had been out for about five minutes, the moon reappeared from behind a cloud and the whole of the night sky lit up. I don’t suppose we have a street light for several miles around us and so we are more conscious of the sky than ever before. Somehow it is all very friendly.

(Should have recorded that I sat up last night and watched the end of the cricket match against Australia. England got well and truly trounced but it was good to see Matt Prior finding some form with the bat. Ever an optimist, I will be hoping for better things when the third test starts on Friday.)

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Sunday 8th. December, 2013 – The Second Sunday of Advent 

It may be damp but Rowan and Rachel are having fun as the Duns Christmas lights are turned on

Arose, walked the dog and breakfasted before travelling with Rachel and Mum to Gavinton Church for the service for the Second Sunday of Advent. Met Tom and Dorothy on the way and walked with them to the Church. The theme was John the Baptist, The Bible and Vocation Sunday. Ann, the minister, spoke about John the Baptist – somewhat of a scary man dressed in strange clothes who called people ‘snakes’ and other less endearing names – who pointed the crowds away from himself to one who was to come after him; about the Bible – translated into 2,551 languages (I think I remember that correctly, but I could be half a dozen out), and translated into 400 modern versions in the English language: perhaps we could spare a few of our many versions for the 4 – 5,000 languages into which the Bible has still not been translated? And while we are on questions, perhaps if we have several Bibles ourselves we might pass one on to someone who has none? Ann also spoke a little about the different ways in which people treated the Bible, nailing her colours to the mast (in my view, and in my words) to the more liberal wing of the Church of Scotland. Under the theme of Vocation Sunday, Ann spoke of her work with the Church of Scotland Selection Committee explaining how difficult she found it to make a judgement on other people’s calls; hardly surprising as some people were so sure of their Call while others were resisting it fiercely. But Call, she reminded us, isn’t only to the full-time ministry of the Church of Scotland but to membership and parish activity.

I found myself remembering that when I presented myself to St. Mary’s College (in the days before selection schools) Matthew Black, the Principal of St. Mary’s, spoke to me but briefly on the first occasion I met him. ‘So you want to be a minister. Well come here and stick in and we will make you into a good minister.’ I don’t know how much they succeeded. I do know that they took the task seriously but the point of my recollection is that the basic premise has changed. Now we select, then we accepted those who offered themselves and did all we could to make them into appropriate vessels for the conveying of God love through the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Over the years I recall many, many discussions with Matthew Black as he took seriously his initial commitment. If I didn’t succeed it certainly wasn’t for lack of effort on his part.

Back home to minor disaster. The dogs had removed the curtains from the kitchen. I don’t know why – were they trying to get out? Were they angry at being left? I don’t know which dog it was – Mix or Rowan or both? I do know we can’t allow this to continue so I stayed at home while Olive, Digger, Mum, Rachel, Tom and Dorothy all went to Paxton House to their up-market craft fayre. They all enjoyed it very much and found lots of suitable presents for girls but few for men (it was always thus). I read my book and also caught up with the musings of the press about England’s Australian debacle, how sad is that?

I should say a little about my book. It’s called Saint’s Rest by Keith Miles who has written many, many books. Some he has written under the name Edward Marston, some Martin Inigo and some Conrad Allen. In all he has written getting on for seventy and once I have completed the one I am reading now I will have read them all. He writes a series about a golfer who stumbles into crimes to be solved; about a sports writer who does the same, about an architect from Wales in 1930s America; about an Elizabethan Theatre Company; about Commissioners of William the Conqueror investigating irregularities in the Doomsday Book; a Restoration series set in London in the 1660s and 70s; a Railway detective series set in the 1850s; a military series set during the War of the Spanish Succession; a series set during the first world war based on a police inspector in London; and a series of detective books written around the great liners which sailed around the world in the early years of the twentieth century. I found the first one I read knocked down to almost nothing in the remainder shop at the outlets in Alexandria and ever since them I have read through his canon and have enjoyed them all. They are light, well written, knowledgeable and firmly set in their different periods. The stories are also well constructed with all the twists and turns one expects from a detective story (some are more of ‘who-dunnit’ novels than others). I’m well on the way to completing the final one today and I will miss not having more to read.

The Christmas Tree lights look great

Set off with Rachel and Mum to see the Christmas lights being turned on at Duns. We were able to park in the main square, I thought that we were early but just as we walked into the centre of the square there was the sound of pipes and the pipe band came up the street, everyone dressed as Santa Claus, everyone with a full beard and moustache, and playing ‘We three Kings of Orient are’. It was magnificent. Suddenly crowds began to appear and for almost half an hour the band played – Deck the Halls, We wish you a Merry Christmas, Jingle Bells and more traditional carols as well.

The Band of Piping Santas sounded superb

Just before the time for things to start, the bank marched off, returning to lead in the ‘real’ Father Christmas in his sled pulled by a farmer’s four by four and with Lucy, the winsome lass, sitting beside Father Christmas. The President of the Rotary (I guess that’s who he was) thanked everyone who had made everything possible and Lucy pressed the plunger which turned on the lights on the huge Christmas tree in the centre of the square – the other magnificent lights around the square were already illuminated and looked superb. All the while, members of the Rotary and friends were handing out cups of mulled wine to the large crowd of local folk who were enjoying the event. In the corner of the square there was a children’s round-about doing a good trade. Everyone was having fun. I was so glad that we had gone. It was a magnificent occasion.

Lucy, the winsome lass, arrives in style with Father Christmas

Regarding my entry yesterday when I recalled the efforts of Frank Tyson in Australia (it was actually in 1955), my brother identified the calypso which was written to celebrate Tyson’s success. It can be heard here:

We all dined in the farmhouse and then, later in the evening, Rachel and I watched an episode of New Tricks which we hadn’t seen before. It was very good. We walked the dogs – the wind is getting up again, that will test our remedial works. But for now, bed calls.

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Saturday 7th. December, 2013 -- Make and Mend 

An awful photo (I must learn to use flash and to aim properly) of Digger (almost), Tom, Bill, Mum, Olive and Morag

I am going to start presenting some pictures of the different parts of Mount Pleasant. The farmhouse kitchen is undoubtedly the heart of the complex. When we came to meet with the previous owners we met them in the kitchen around the kitchen table -- and they left the table and its chairs when they moved on. There are two ways into the farmhouse. Both require you to go through the kitchen before accessing the lounge or the upstairs area of the house. It is cosy, welcoming and friendly -- and all of us meet to share our meals here. Breakfast around 9 a.m. and dinner, normally served sometime between 6.30 and 7.30 p.m. This room embodies all that we sought to achieve in our experiment in communal living and it is a very happy one.

Rose and walked Mix. It is really cold this morning. Tom arrived during breakfast: our task today is to try to put right some of the damage done by the storm a couple of days ago. First we enjoyed our breakfast and then we said good-bye to Bill and Morag; it has been wonderful having them both with us and we all hope that it will not be too long before they return.

Tom started work by fixing a baton onto the exterior wooden gate. That should hold it in place no matter the weather. Next we re-erected the fence between the Granary and the Hen House gardens. The wind had not just blown down the fence but had uprooted the posts which were embedded in concrete! We got it all re-assembled and then we screwed it back together before adding a whole battery of reinforcing posts to ensure that it won’t get blown down again. It would be good to think that this was overkill but, given the way the weather has been changing throughout the country as a whole, perhaps it is just common sense.

There was still more to do but before we could do it we went up to Pearsons to buy more fence posts and some extremely strong masonry rawlplugs. Having loaded everything into his trailer and dropped me off at the farmhouse, Tom went off for lunch and I helped Rachel who was unearthing and then unpacking and then displaying her Christmas decorations.

Soon Tom was back and we re-fixed the little gate to the farmhouse wall and then provided reinforcing for the main Granary fence. It was still standing but it had taken an awful battering.

After coffee, shortbread and lots of chat, Tom set off for home. I came up to the study having first prepared my own lunch (reheating a cheese and bean pie made for me by Olive). I am having terrible trouble with my email. I can’t even access it at present because I am getting sent so many spam messages – sixteen thousand today (that’s the figure: 16,000) and because my other (new) email address is linked to my existing address, I can’t use it either. I have contacted Andy asking him to break that link but for the present I am not able to be contacted by email. I am actually not sure that this is a problem now that I have retired. The Royal Mail works, and my telephone when I am in, and nothing is dreadfully urgent now anyway – important, yes, but that’s not the same as being urgent.

Got my study tidied and wondered why I was so very warm: I still have two large sweaters on! Read the cricket reports. We are not doing well in Australia and it all seems down to a superb session of fast bowling by Mitchell Johnson. Well, that happens. I remember (at second hand) how in the years just after the second world war, Frank Tyson did something similar to the Australians in Australia. He took seven for twenty-seven, I think it was from memory, and really shook the Australian team up. Now, it seems, the boot is on the other foot. However, Ian Bell, whom I had tipped at breakfast yesterday to make a hundred, ended up unbeaten on seventy-two.

Dined all together in the farmhouse and afterwards Rachel and I retired to the Granary where we watched an episode of New Tricks which we had missed, followed it with a short one-hour Taggart, quite reminiscent of old times. Walked the dogs and came to bed. Tomorrow is Sunday and I am looking forward to the Advent journey continuing. We are also planning to visit a Christmas Fayre at Paxton House and going in to Duns for the turning on of the Christmas lights – maybe I’ll get a chance to read my book as well!

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Friday 6th. December, 2013 – We have a very good day 

Dr. Dorothy provides reassurance to Digger and his hens

I was up early to walk Mix and when I returned Dorothy and Tom were here at the chicken run with Digger. Dorothy is something of an expert in hens and she was giving Digger’s hens a once over because he was concerned that their moulting might not have been natural. Dorothy was able to give him (and them?) reassurance.

Bill, Morag, Mum, Rachel and I (along with Mix and Rowan) set off for a day out in Rachel’s Berlingo. (Mix was in Rowan’s cage in the back – at least we had him under control).

Our first port of call was Holy Island where we visited the Priory and the Church and then we took Bill, Morag and Mum to the Heritage Centre to see the exhibition about Vikings, Lindisfarne and the Lindisfarne Gospels. They enjoyed the exhibition and the film which they saw. The dogs also enjoyed a long walk.

We drove to the Barn at Beal for lunch – another good meal (they had fed us well when we were here with Cathy a few weeks ago) but a real surprise was awaiting us when we returned to the car. Mix had escaped from the cage and was happily sitting in the front seat. He had pulled inwards one of the ends of the cage and then climbed over it and made good his escape. We put the cage together again and installed Mix once more.

At several places on our travels, flags were at half-mast to honour the memory of Nelson Mandela

We drove first to Bamburgh and then on to Sea Houses which is a mixture of real tourist shops and some very attractive shops as well. I liked the National Trust Shop and another which had some really quite interesting paintings and prints. We also saw the Christmas lights as darkness was starting to fall. We made our way home and had a drink before dinner in the farmhouse after which we retired to the Granary where Bill, Morag, Mum and Olive joined us for coffee and happy chatter until bed-time. As we walked the dogs before bed it was snowing gently. It is not forecast to last but it is really rather attractive. What a truly lovely day!

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Thursday 5th. December, 2013 – A Mighty Storm and some Sad News 

There was a fence here yesterday

I slept fitfully – not least because there was a huge storm raging around the farm steading; but also because our alarm clock has a storm warning on it and this seemed to bleep every few minutes during the night. I got up and was taken aback at the damage which had been done. Our back garden fence had been blown out of the ground and the little gate through which one moved from the courtyard to the front of the farm house had been blown off its hinges. Walking Mix I found part of the exterior fence lying in the middle of the road. I wondered how it had survived the traffic until I realised that there was no traffic. Trees had fallen and we were almost totally cut off!

One of the casualties was the chicken house -- total destroyed by the storm: but not before the hens had got out. Digger spent much of the morning rebuilding their home and trying to ensure that it was warmer than it had been before, now that the really cold weather is arriving. He filled it with fresh wood-shavings and tells us that the hens were extremely grateful.

Back in the farmhouse we had visitors: a lady with three children from Bogend Farm had parked her car in our drive and was in the farmhouse with Olive and our guests. Keri had been driving the children along to catch the school bus when a tree fell, narrowly missing her car, and also cutting off the school bus. So although Bogend is only a few hundred yards away it was totally inaccessible. We enjoyed meeting Keri and the children but while we were chatting the power went off and we were without electricity for a couple of hours or so. I realised how fortunate we are to have gas in the farmhouse and that both buildings have wood-burning stoves.

Eventually the road was cleared and we said good-bye to our neighbours. Bill, Morag and I set off for Duns so that I could show them around and also buy some bits and pieces that we were requiring. We also bought some cream cakes for the snack lunch we were to share. We all gathered around the farmhouse kitchen table for ham sandwiches, cream cakes and coffee. After sitting and enjoying the warmth of the lounge – it is very cold outside (if not snow then certainly sleet) – we set off for Gavinton for afternoon tea with Tom and Dorothy. Morag saw the goats – of interest to her because she and Bill had kept a goat earlier in their lives. We saw around Tom and Dorothy and Tom’s daughter’s home. It is a conversion of a former Free Kirk and a splendid building especially after all of the work which they have had done.

Back home, it was soon time to join everyone in the farmhouse for drinks before and then the evening meal with lots of chat and good humour. I came back to the Granary around ten to learn of the death of Nelson Mandela. The news would have saddened me because I have always admired the way he responded to the opportunities of bringing his country together after he was released from prison. But it hit me harder because of my visit to South Africa a bit more than a year ago. So many people then spoke of Nelson Mandela, we visited museums which told his story, we visited his home in Soweto, we saw how there were still huge divisions in the country but that these were now largely between the haves and have-nots, rather than between black and white. He was a true reconciler and Nelson Mandela and reconciliation will often occur in the same sentence as history records his achievements. Yes, there is still a huge way to go but the achievements so far and the manner in which these achievements have been made will only be fully understood as time passes. He was a man with great qualities.

As I walked the dogs tonight (Rachel had retired to bed) I reflected that Nelson Mandela was someone who really had changed the world. If he had urged recrimination instead of reconciliation then the whole world would be a different place today. He was a man of peace -- but that is not to say that he was not a man of strong views, stubborn and forthright. He understood that lasting peace required something for everyone, black and white and his success can be measured for me by the fact that when we were in South Africa all of the white people we met accepted that the changes which had been made were for the best -- and that further change had to come. It is a journey which has only begun: but what a journey.

I found myself remembering that when I was at St. Andrews University, in my very first year, Winston Churchill died. Our Professor of English, Professor Falconer, walked into the lecture theatre at 9 a.m. to lecture to the General English class. On this morning he came in, set down his papers, looked at us (there must have been a hundred in the lecture room) and then spoke without notes and with passion about why Winston Churchill was the greatest man of our time and of how the world would have been so very much the poorer without his life. Tomorrow morning, somewhere, I hope that someone does the same for Nelson Mandela and that those who hear will recall what was said as vividly as I recall Professor Falconer after almost fifty years. (Of course, in today's world, the television does that for all of us and there will be many tributes over the coming days.)

I should record that I was meant to meet with a lady from the BBC this morning to record an interview for Christmas. This didn’t happen as there was no transport in this part of Scotland this morning: trains were cancelled, roads were blocked and the storm raged. I don’t know whether it will be possible to be recorded at a later date. We shall see. We have planned to go to Holy Island and Bamburgh tomorrow but the weather forecast tonight suggests that the east coast should be avoided and that much of it is being evacuated. So we still plan to do something special with Bill and Morag but we are not yet sure what that will be.

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Wednesday 4th. December, 2013 – Special Visitors and a lovely meal 

Digger has been making progress with his small holding

Woke, walked Mix and breakfasted in the farmhouse. Then while Rachel drove Mum to her reading group and walked Rowan, I loaded a whole lot of boxes back into the barns – these were boxes which have been unpacked to discover what was in them and have now been packed again because we don’t have room for them in the Granary. Getting things sorted is going to be quite a performance.

Rachel returned, Mum had enjoyed her reading group and now Rachel and I set about cleaning the Granary. I thought wooden floors got dirtier than carpets but Rachel tells me that it is just that the dirt is more noticeable. Got the whole place clean and everywhere is now tidy except for the landing at the top of the stairs. Walked Mix in the fading light – the silhouettes of the trees against the sky line are absolutely magnificent. It’s not something I noticed in Argyll because of the hills all around. Here we seem to have so much more sky and you can see for miles.

The skyline from Mount Pleasant

Bill and Morag arrived to spend a few days with us. Life was made so much easier for me at Luss because of Bill and Morag – Bill, a retired minister, always was there to stand in for me when I needed him and took the initiative on many occasions; Morag ran so many of our special events, working in the kitchen or the Church or the Pilgrimage Centre as required. They are also, and more importantly, very special friends. I am so pleased to have them with us here. Tom and Dorothy, our other special friends, came along for the evening as well.

We had a splendid meal prepared for us by Olive in the farmhouse and afterwards we all sat together in the Granary in front of the stove and talked about submarines and football teams, about our adventures here in Duns, about keeping goats (Dorothy does and Morag has), about chickens and, once Mum joined us, about the History Group – Mum had been away at their meeting this evening.

Once everyone had gone to bed I stayed up to watch the start of the Adelaide Test match on television. The pitch looks flat and slow and it will be a hard slog for either team to get a result from it – at least that’s how it looks after one hour’s play!

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Tuesday 3rd. December, 2013 -- An Expedition (without going very far) 

Having climbed over many boxes, Dorothy and Rachel have found the table

Woke, walked Mix and went for breakfast – I was locked out of the farmhouse. Went back to the Granary assuming everyone had slept in. Had a banana and got ready for the day’s work: finding the dining room table and extricating it from its home in one of the barns. Just as I was about to start, Mum came looking for me to enquire why I hadn’t come for breakfast. It turns out the door had been locked inadvertently and my breakfast was waiting for me. So I went and enjoyed a late breakfast.

Then it was time to start work on finding the table. It is a special table which belonged originally to Professor Forester of New College. He wanted it to live in a manse and so he gave it to my father. (I think the truth of it was that he came to Dad’s induction at Newtyle (my father’s first charge) and was taken aback to discover that my parents had so little appropriate furniture so he gave them this table and a matching sideboard.) They graced the manse in Luss for many years until we got the huge table which had seen service in the Royal Navy. Then our table was transferred to Wemyss – it travelled in our Subaru and on the way there the rear axle broke and that was the end of the Subaru (and almost of the table as well). It travelled down to Mount Pleasant in the first removal and all that we knew was that it was somewhere in one of two barns. Tom and Dorothy arrived and all of us set out to find the missing table -- not only were there many boxes to circumnavigate but everything was covered with blue tarpaulins, and it was very dark.

Dorothy and Rachel managed to uncover it and then Tom and I joined in and succeeded in lifting it over many other items of furniture – desks, a harmonium, bookcases – and out into the light of day.

Tom and I went up to Pearsons to buy screws to reassemble the legs – the screws had been put carefully into another item of furniture with a drawer but we have no item which item of furniture or where that item of furniture might be.

Tom gets ready to lift the table top as Rachel looks on – Dorothy is horrified that I am taking a picture

Finally the table is assembled and now sits looking really good in the front room of the farmhouse – reunited once again with its sideboard.

The table where it belongs

Tom and I spent much of the rest of the day ensuring that Ianthe is wrapped up against the winter storms. It was good to be back on board. She is looking good but with so much to do it will be next summer before we are able to start work on her again. By that time we will have built the summer house, completed the hen house and created a loom room in which Sandy and Rachel can ply their weaving craft skills.

Ianthe is ready for winter

I got a telephone call from the BBC who wondered if I would agree to be interviewed about being retired. I think that their angle is speaking to folk for whom this Christmas will be different from last Christmas. I said I would be happy to take part and the presenter is coming to see me later in the week. I also got a call from the lady who plays the organ at the local church, wondering if the system we used in Luss and Arrochar might function here. She had spoken to us earlier and that was why we went to the church to experiment on Monday afternoon. I was able to report that in an emergency we would certainly be able to ensure that they were not without music although there were still things which we needed to work out to get the best from the organ.

Soon after this the Amazon delivery van brought me my purchase of a beard trimmer. It had only cost £7 .02p and I had ordered it yesterday because I still haven’t found my own one. It is somewhere in the barns but as it took a day to find a dining room table, you can imagine how long it would have taken to find a beard trimmer.

Dined in the farmhouse with Mum and Digger and then returned to the Granary to tidy – while we had been releasing the table we found all kind of other things. These got brought into the house and now we had to find places to keep them. The walls are already beginning to bulge. I found a box which said ‘Dane’s clothes’ on it. Opening it excitedly I discovered that it contained my Princeton doctor’s hood, my sea boots and my dressing gown – I could have wished for items which were a little more useful.

With enough done for this evening we stopped and watched ‘Lewis’ in front of the stove. It has got much colder today and it is lovely to relax in this way. How fortunate we are.

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Monday 2nd. December, 2013 – Technology 

The main lawn at Mount Pleasant -- Digger has cut it and today has collected all the leaves

Arose and walked Mix before breakfast and then spent this morning in a conference Skype Call with Martin and Alison from the Alliance of Religions and Conservation and Chris, a notable conservationist. The purpose of the ‘meeting’ (and what a green way of meeting this was) was to take forward our Green Pilgrimage plans for the European Chapter of this now world-wide network. I have agreed to represent the network in Scotland and I will be attending the meetings of the Scottish Pilgrim Routes Forum and making myself available to meet with pilgrimage places who would like to become involved as well as helping places already involved to develop their pilgrimage plans. I have also agreed to help to bring in a representative of pilgrimage in Wales, working closely with Chris – a meeting will be called early in the New Year and a team of interested people have already been identified. And so that I am seen to be entirely Celtic, I have undertaken to attempt to open up links with Ireland as well. There is the possibility of considerable European Funding for this project and Chris and I will try to work something up before we meet our colleagues in Sweden at the end of February. It was underlined to me again today just how much these projects tick all of the boxes for large-scale funding from Europe – they bring together so many different strands of community involvement, they involve faith communities and secular authorities, they are conservationist, they enable other activities to grow out of them, they create employment and so on. It is a wonderful opportunity and I am happy to be given the chance to be part of it. I also believe that it is a colossal opportunity for the Church – something which the church in Wales has already grasped and has appointed staff who will work to develop these opportunities.

After the conference I wrote up my notes before setting out for Gavinton Church with Rachel to have a look at the organ. It seems that the congregation sometimes struggles to find an organist and it was one of the organists who asked Rachel if we would see if it could be controlled by midi. It can – but we haven’t yet worked out the best way of doing this. In an emergency we could do it tomorrow but if it isn’t as much of an emergency as all that then we will have time to work out the best way of doing it!

Back home I started to plan some of the Green Pilgrimage activities I hope to generate in coming weeks and before I knew it, it was time to walk the dog and go for our evening meal: steak and mushroom pie with potatoes and carrots followed by ice-cream and brambles. I love brambles.

Back in the Granary we walked the dogs and went to bed very early – we have a great deal to do tomorrow. (While I was busy in the ways described, Digger was working on the garden. The lawn has been cut and today all the leaves – and there were many of them – have been collected up and added to his collection of compost.)

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Sunday 1st. December, 2013 – The First Sunday in Advent 

Gavinton Church in the winter sunshine where we celebrated the start of a new church year today

Rose, walked the dog – it had been raining but it was beautiful now – and I didn’t see a single car on the roads the whole duration of my walk. Came back and showered before breakfast and then with Mum and Rachel I set off for Gavinton Church to celebrate the first Sunday in Advent, the start of the journey towards Christmas and the beginning of a new church year. Ann, the minister, was back in post and she conducted a service on the theme of Advent, Aids and Andrew with three smaller meditations in place of the normal address. The first Advent candle was lit and the meditation centred on the promise of Jesus return but the impossibility of knowing when that was to be. Jesus didn’t know but trusted his Father, and that in turn taught the disciples about how to trust. In any event the message of advent is not about waiting but about living the faith now trusting that God will return to claim his world for his own. So the candle becomes a symbol of hope for the future and trust in the here and now. We were reminded that today is world AIDs Day – a marking day which goes right back to the 1980s. Too many people continue to suffer from AIDs, but progress is being made if only the medicines which are now available could be made accessible to all. The Church of Scotland is playing its part but there remains much to do. And, of course, yesterday was St. Andrew’s Day. Andrew, the apostle who brought his brother to faith – perhaps we all think too big and want to evangelise the world: if we all just brought our brothers to faith how the world would change. Andrew it was who brought the little boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus and enabled the crowd to be fed. Faith and food – not a bad patron saint; not a bad role model for those of us who seek to walk in his footsteps as we seek to be disciples of Jesus. The journey to Christmas has begun.

Back home Rachel learned that her ‘cello had been repaired and went off to Tom’s house (where the repairer had delivered it) to collect it and bring it home. She was delighted. I spent part of the afternoon finding out about some of the special facilities which televisions seem to have nowadays, I can access my computer and even make a Skype call through the television. After six weeks I finally got round to reading the instructions!

Saw that my friend Laurence Whitley, the minister of Glasgow Cathedral, had conducted a special service for those who had died in the helicopter tragedy on Friday night, and, of course, for their families and friends. I have a huge admiration for Laurence who is an example of all that is best in the Church of Scotland and who, from the bits I saw on television, spoke the words which needed to be heard on this difficult occasion.

In the late afternoon Rachel went off to Berwick to attend Choral Evensong. I stayed to look after the dogs and to visit with Olive, Digger and my mother. We all dined on chicken with roast potatoes and cauliflower, followed up with ice cream and brambles. In the evening we luxuriated in front of our wood-burning stove. I read my book and dozed in front of an old episode of Lewis. Soon it was time for a final walk with the dogs before bed. What a lovely day!

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Saturday 30th. November, 2013 -- St. Andrews Day 

A picture of the skyline, taken by Rachel, as daylight disappears

I awoke, walked Mix along Bramble Avenue and returned in time for breakfast. I set out this morning to discover the whereabouts of our big round table, our gate-leg table, our microwave and Rachel’s desk. I was almost totally unsuccessful. I have ascertained, I think, that none of them are in the Hen House and that therefore they are all probably in the corner barn. I have located the big round table but it will take several hours of burrowing to reach it and release it and I am supposing that the other items of furniture must be in roughly the same area. So that will be the task for the start of next week. We shall burrow deep into the corner barn and find the tables.

Rachel and I went into Duns to buy some food and ironmongery for the house. Got some light bulbs as well and came home and fitted them. Had some lunch and walked Mix again in the, by this time, gloaming. Everything is changing. The trees have all but lost their leaves, the hedges are (mostly) bare and much more of the landscape is suddenly visible as it is possible to see so many things which until now have been hidden by foliage. It is also definitely colder – not a nip in the air but just chilly. Everything remains extremely beautiful and the skies are usually spectacular. It is a time of year for trips out and then for enjoying the warmth of the fire-side.

Unfortunately we all prefer the same sofa (from the left) Dane, Rowan, Mix

You’ll see from the picture how friendly the two dogs are now – just like brother and sister and even into sharing Mix’s bed under my desk: how unthinkable was that just a month or so ago? We had intended to return to Duns tonight for the turning on of the Christmas lights; however, this has been delayed until a week tomorrow. So we shall plan to go along then.

We all dined together – our St. Andrew’s Day meal: leek soup followed by Haggis, neaps and tatties, and then by trifle. It was lovely. Digger was celebrating Raith Rovers victory over Dundee, but everyone was saddened by the helicopter crash in Glasgow. Following the meal we returned to the Granary. Rachel went to bed – her painkilling pills are tiring her – while Mix and I watched Foyle’s War. It is just as good second time around and, truth to tell, now that I am retired I have much more time and attention for television. It is like a new world.

I watched the news, naturally dominated by the crash in Glasgow, and then I walked both dogs before bed. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and to the services we will attend – that is the real joy of retiring: looking forward to attending worship which will be led by other people, being part of a congregation, concentrating on worshipping rather than on leading other people in worship. And tomorrow is the first Sunday in Advent, the start of a new Church Year. For us I can feel that if it continues as the old one has ended it is going to be a very good one in our new home with so many opportunities stretching out ahead.

Can't help remarking on how Italian our lives have become. We go about all day long engaged in our activities and ploys and then we all gather together for a lengthy evening meal during which we put the world to rights and catch up on all that everyone else has been doing before going off and doing our own thing with the remaining part of the evening. I could just have arrived in heaven!

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Friday 29th. November, 2013 – A Wonderful Day! 

Crowds begin to arrive at the Kelso Race Track

Where to start! I had set my alarm for seven – an hour earlier than retirement-rising time. Got up and washed before walking Mix and then got into appropriate clothes for standing around on a cold race track for the twice-a-year auction of farm equipment. Tom and Dorothy collected me at 8.30 and we were at Kelso soon after nine. All the items for the sale were just beginning to arrive. There was everything from tractors and four by fours, to feeding troughs and sheep pens, farm gates, lawn-mowers, chain saws, generators, wood, doors, strimmers, motor cars, sacks of logs, office furniture, cable, ploughs, harvesting equipment, wood-burning stoves and much more. Having arrived, we learned that the actual auction didn’t start until 11 a.m. so we went off to Kelso and enjoyed a coffee and a scone.

Sunshine on the Cross Keys Hotel in Kelso

I took this picture of the square in Kelso with the early morning sunshine on the Cross Keys Hotel and I include it here because later in the day Olive, Digger and Mum came to Kelso and enjoyed morning coffee in the hotel. By that time we had returned to the race course and the auction had begun. I was fascinated. The auctioneer was smartly dressed with a white coat over his collar and tie and with a deerstalker on his head. He carried something which was like the top of a walking stick in lieu, I suppose, of a hammer. He was accompanied by a number of staff – one with a list of all of the items for sale and details about these items, another whose task it was to get the details of people who bought the different items. Once it started, everything happened very quickly. The auctioneer, who was in good spirits and remained cheerful throughout, explained to us that unless he said differently at the start of an item, everything was subject to VAT and also to a 5% Buyer’s Premium. And with that we were off. We started with a ton of logs which Tom bought for a little over thirty pounds. Normally with each item the auctioneer started high and then the request for a bidder came lower and lower and lower but once someone had bid then it went straight back up again in two pound and five pound jumps – the auctioneer never stopped talking and he generated an enthusiasm which encouraged people to join in. On occasions bids were made by people with telephones strapped to their ears and always when something was sold the auctioneer rapped it with his stick and immediately moved on to the next item. Sometimes, having talked the bid up, the bidding came to a stop and the auctioneer just moved on to the next item without using his stick. These were the instances where the item had not reached its reserve price and no sale was made. Some of the items made thousands of pounds, others sold quickly for just a few pounds. Tom had hoped to buy the stove and had set himself a maximum bid of £200 but it went for £260 so he lost out on this one. The logs were loaded onto Tom’s trailer and we set off for home.

I couldn’t get a picture of the auctioneer for fear that he would think that I was offering a bid, but there were large numbers of people taking part

Back home I dealt with my post and then Rachel and I took the dogs off to Tweedmouth. This was a dual purpose outing. I needed to visit Currys to buy a small webcam for my computer because I am to share in a conference discussion relating to green pilgrimage on Monday morning and I have not as yet unpacked my old webcam (I have absolutely no idea where it might be). The second purpose was to walk the dogs at Spittal on the extensive beaches there.

Rachel walks the beach deep in thought

There were few other walkers – the light was already beginning to fade but we had a happy walk and Rowan must have run for miles happily splashing in and out of the sea. Back in the car, we drove to Mount Pleasant where soon it was time to get ready for this evening’s outing. For Rachel’s birthday Olive and Digger had bought a meal for two at the Siamese Kitchen. Tonight Rachel and I were having that meal. Neither of us had ever eaten Thai food before. We were in for a treat. Digger drove us to the restaurant just off the main square in Duns and he introduced us to the restaurant and to the extremely welcoming proprietrix. We started our meal with a mixed starter – a Thai fishcake, sati chicken, spring roll and prawn toast. We then went for a curry. I had a red curry (I had chosen well, it was delicious), Rachel had a green curry (she was equally happy). I continued with a sweet rice and mango desert while Rachel settled for jasmine tea. And all was washed down with white wine. It was a lovely evening and once we were replete, Digger arrived to drive us home. I could get used to this!

A Belated Birthday Cake

The restaurant even brought Rachel a birthday cake – and to her chagrin everyone in the restaurant sang Happy Birthday! Back home at Mount Pleasant we thanked Olive and Digger for such a splendid evening and shared a drink together. On our return to the Granary we discovered that a small bird had got into the house and – because it was so small – it took us more than an hour to find it and help it back into the wilds. I don’t know whether it or we were more relived once it had found its way into the outside world. It was very small and there it was making its way in the world all on its own. We are very fortunate to grow up and live in families with friends – though sometimes I guess we all feel like small birds trapped in big houses with no idea of how to get out.

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Thursday 28th. November, 2013 – The Journey Continues 

In Duns preparations are gathering momentum for Christmas – soon the lights will be switched on

Rose and walked Mix before breakfast and then went out to the barns to search for today’s booty. The box I chose turned out to contain my set of Punch and Judy puppets – something I hadn’t seen since we left Buckhaven almost twenty years ago. I also unearthed a bookcase which we managed to carry up the stairs and install in our bedroom. I also unearthed a large, heavy box which said ‘crystal’ on the exterior. I brought it in carefully for Rachel to unpack. It contained our collection of decanters – and with each of them a memory: one a gift from Rachel’s father to her mother before they were married; one a gift from HMS Glamorgan to Rachel and me after a successful visit to Genoa; one a ship’s decanter given to me for Ianthe, and so on. They are now sitting proudly on a tray on the grand piano – the only problem is that we haven’t as yet unearthed any glasses. At this rate I will be thoroughly moved in by 2015 – but I will enjoy everything I find.

If all of this sounds like a pretty light day, it was – partly because I went with my mother to Gavinton Church at lunch time for the congregational lunch of soup and bread and butter (and cake). I enjoyed the opportunity of getting know some of the folk from the congregation. I left Mum there for the Guild which followed the lunch and I came back to walk Mix before darkness fell and then to continue with the sorting out.

Not for long, however, because this evening we were all invited to Scott and Sue’s for our evening meal. My brother lives at Polworth, ten minutes drive from here. It was a grand meal and a happy evening. We got home just in time for my mother to catch Question Time from Falkirk. I walked the dog and went to bed. Tomorrow is going to be a first for me as Tom is taking me to my first agricultural auction at Kelso and in the evening Rachel and I are going to the Siamese Kitchen for a meal.

Thursdays are still the one day during which I feel a little bit restless. The reason without any doubt is that for many years I have spent Thursdays preparing for my services on Sundays. I looked forward to Thursdays for that very reason. I don’t mean that I started from scratch on Thursday morning and got everything done by the end of the day. I read the texts on Sunday night and then let them percolate though my mind as I walked the dog and drove the car. But Thursday was the day I put it all together. That is something I do miss – not enough to make me volunteer for pulpit supply, I am enjoying sitting in the pew too much for that. But I do miss my working Thursdays. I got an email today inviting me to a fiftieth anniversary celebration of leaving school. It’s not until next year – but that really is quite a thought: fifty years since I left school. That’s not just quite a thought – it is quite an achievement as well.

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Wednesday 27th. November, 2013 – A New Chapter Begins 

Rachel starts work on cleaning up the brass log box I unearthed in the Hen House

Rose and walked Mix before breakfast of bacon, egg and fried potato – my first breakfast of the working week as for the last two days I have been off early to the Borders Hospital. Today was different. As I wrote a couple of days ago, I have now achieved my target for November and my responsibilities for getting the Granary ready have been achieved. So today I could embark on pastures new. I emailed the summer house company to see how my order is getting on – got a reply to say it would be a few days yet before I could expect news of a delivery. I went out into the barns to see what I could find. Under piles of boxes I identified the little fridge which we had brought with us from Luss. I also saw the old brass log box which has travelled with us for years (I think it came from Rachel’s home originally) and I saw several leather boxes which Rachel is keen to bring into the Granary and to use for storage in the bedroom. So my task for today was to liberate these items. Easier said than done for all were deep down under piles of boxes and for much of the morning I felt like a miner delving for treasure. But by lunchtime I had brought them out of the Hen House and got them into the Granary. Rachel set about cleaning the log box which will take up its position beside the stove once it (the log box) is gleaming as only polished brass can do. I got the fridge upstairs to the study – there is no room for it in the kitchen – and it will be used primarily for drinks and snacks. I had to scrub out the fridge and get it all set up but it was a satisfying task and it is now loaded up with Ginger Beer (and one bottle of Champaign).

Spent most of the afternoon chatting with Mum and then set the stove so that the lounge would be warm for the evening. We all dined together in the farmhouse – Olive is home so there were five of us around the table. We ate sausages and potatoes and followed them up with rice and jam (and Digger and I added ice-cream as well). Back in the Granary Rachel and I watched an episode of Endeavour. It was one that I hadn’t seen before and it was excellent.

I walked both dogs before bed (Rachel is still very stiff after her fall). Not much moon but the stars were shining really brightly and there was no one to be seen for miles around. It was absolutely beautiful. I have enjoyed today – particularly having reached the stage of starting to liberate things from the barns. The plan is to build the summer house as soon as it is delivered and to use it to store books. This will free space in the Hen House to enable us to convert this into another useable building – the work has already been started by the previous owners who actually got planning permission for all of our barns to be converted into holiday accommodation. I have no desire to have holiday accommodation but it would seem sensible to restore the barns and enable them to be used. I have no doubt that as the days go by we will come up with some ideas of what to do with the buildings but for now they are all being used to store boxes – and all of them have to emptied!

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Tuesday 26th. November, 2013 -- Continuing my week as a Chauffer 

The local Co-op in Duns where we buy our food

Up early in time to give each of the dogs a walk and Rachel a cup of tea in bed before setting off with Mum for the Borders General Hospital in Melrose so that she could attend the eye clinic there. To think that at the weekend I had never been to the Borders Hospital and now I have been there twice! Read my book in the waiting room while (appropriately) waiting for my mother. The wait was not a long one but it was nearer to mid day when we returned to Mount Pleasant.

Spent a while on the telephone with Mike who has been having a problem with the print machine at Luss. It really seems (as I have noted before) that so many of the machines at Luss have been waiting for my departure to give up the ghost – or it could be that I had learned over the years how to nurse them along and keep them going. Of course, it could also be that even the machines are just crying out for their retirement -- they have been well-used over many more years than their normal working lives. I also got an email with a list of the hymns for next Sunday at Arrochar and I transcribed them, prepared the music files and sent them off to Jamie.

At 2 p.m. I drove Mum into Duns for her regular hair appointment (moved to the afternoon this week because of the trip to hospital in the morning). Having dropped her off, I went to the Co-op to buy some fruit and cheese and to replenish my supplies of Ginger Beer. It is a small Co-op but the staff are helpful and friendly. Olive and Digger do the main shopping for our meals and they go to Berwick for this but the Co-op here is more than adequate for my needs. Came home and walked Mix (there is so little daylight at this time of year) and then drove back to Duns to collect Mum at 3.45 p.m. by which time today it was almost dark.

The main square in Duns looks very welcoming

Back home again, I went into one of the barns and brought out another box by torch-light. Discovered that it contained the games for an old Atari games machine which I must have bought more than thirty years ago – Space Invaders, Asteroids and many more. Set the machine up and ensured that all of the games were working – you’ll remember, perhaps, that I had found the console last Saturday and just a couple of the games; now I have around twenty with my particular favourites ‘Super Breakout’ which involves bouncing a ball back against a wall and dislodging bricks – the deeper you penetrate the wall, the faster the ball rebounds, and ‘Circus Atari’ which involves a see-saw which bounces a man into the sky to burst balloons – of course, you have to have the see-saw positioned below his fall to prevent him ‘splatting’ onto the ground. It was a journey back in time to an age when this was cutting-edge technology – and it was fun.

Rachel at her workstation

Rachel has taken today easy; most of the day she has been reading her book although I did snap her at her workstation. Those with keen eyesight will see that what she actually has on her computer screen is a game of patience. We dined with Mum and Digger and then came back to the Granary where we watched an episode of Montalbano – the Italian detective series set in Sicily. The programme is in Italian and it is good to hear the Italian language, even if much of it is in dialect.

Watched Newsnight, much of which was given over to the White Paper on the subject of Scottish Independence. As usual I thought that Gary Brewer wasted his opportunity of interviewing the First Minister by having too rigid a view of what he wanted to get out of the conversation. Frankly I am not much interested in what Mr. Brewer thinks, I want him to draw out what Alec Salmond believes. The interview was, it seemed to me, a missed opportunity. I found it interesting that so much of the White Paper sounded as if it were an election manifesto – a menu of offers for an independent Scotland. My first thought was that this was not what I had expected because that will be the business of those vying for power should Scotland become independent. But as I think about it, I am coming around to the view that this was quite an appropriate thing to do. The response, of course, is that many of these ‘offers’ could be delivered under devolution but that is only partly true. I was taken with the childcare plans which would enable huge numbers of women to get back into work, and who by being in work would generate the tax revenues to pay for the provision; tax revenues which in an independent Scotland would come to the Scottish Treasury. Such a move would be important for women but also tackles the real problem which Scotland has which is that we need a higher percentage of our population to be generating wealth to support an aging population. So there is much to think about and I would love to get a copy of the six-hundred-and-some-more page document and read it – something which, now that I am retired, I will have time to do! Somehow the debate has got a new edge to it for me now that we live so close to England and cross to Berwick sometimes several times a week.

Walked the dogs and went to bed.

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Monday 25th. November, 2013 – Really Good News 

A helicopter takes off from the Borders General Hospital after delivering a patient at the Accident and Emergency section

Rachel woke extremely sore and very stiff. I say ‘woke’ but in reality she hadn’t slept at all. I telephoned the doctor at 8 a.m. and an appointment was arranged for 8.50 a.m. Rachel was seen at once and after Rachel was given strong pain killers, we set off by car for the Borders General Hospital (who had been told that we were coming and so knew to expect us). There Rachel was x-rayed and examined. The fear had been that she had got a stress fracture (which would have meant immobilisation for six weeks) but the hospital was able to confirm that nothing was broken. They gave her more pills and instructed her to take things easy, not to bend down and not to lift anything – and not to go horse-riding again until she was totally recovered!

While waiting for Rachel, I saw what a busy place this hospital (based in Melrose) is. Ambulances and also the air ambulance (pictured above -- caught on my mobile 'phone) brought patients to the hospital while I watched. Happy that no serious harm had been done to Rachel's back, we drove back to Mount Pleasant, made some lunch and I finally managed to complete the sorting out of my clothes and removed some (which will have to wait until later) to one of the barns. Progress is being made. Rachel sat in front of the stove and read her book.

We dined with Mum and Digger in the farmhouse and afterwards returned to the Granary to enjoy the heat of the stove in our lounge (it was minus two outside earlier today). Caught University Challenge and part of a Two Ronnies repeat before walking both dogs – Rachel is still taking it easy – and getting to bed in time to watch the News in comfort.

Today has been a good one: Rachel has done nothing serious to her back and I have got both my study and my part of the bedroom into some kind of order, the deck has been laid for the summer house and the outside of the premises are fully dog-safe. My targets for November have largely been achieved. As in all the best computer games, I can now move on to level two. Exciting!

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Sunday 24th. November, 2013 – Could have been better! 

This is what is waiting for me at the farmhouse every morning

Rose early and walked Mix. I love walking on the roads around Mount Pleasant on a Sunday morning early, there is nothing on the roads and everything is wonderfully quiet. Went across to the farmhouse for breakfast (decided to let you see how well I am treated: bacon, egg and fried potatoes with two slices of toast and plenty of hot coffee. No wonder I have put on five kilos since retiring here).

Set off with Mum and Rachel to Gavinton Church. It was a lovely service conducted by members of the Guild and was, appropriately, on the theme of ‘Whose we are and whom we serve’ -- the address picked out two servants: Mary, the hand-maiden of the Lord, and Paul who had penned the words of the theme, a servant of the Lord. But the challenge, of course, is for us all. Enjoyed the hymns, prayers and a little sketch which added to the theme as well. Following the service we all adjourned to the hall where the Guild served brunch, the proceeds being devoted to two of the Guild projects – the Cross Reach project and Comfort Rwanda. The Guild here provides support for all of the six projects but as the project duration is for three years it concentrates on two of them each year. Seems like a good way of doing things. The service, too, was a good way of marking Guild Week.

A snap of the inside of the Church as folk began to disperse

It was good to see Ann, the minister, back after her recent cold – and I did enjoy the brunch. Back at Mount Pleasant, Rachel got ready to go horse riding for the first time in many a long year. Dorothy arrived to take her along to the riding school and I set about sorting the clothes in the bedroom. It is a task which has been hanging over my head for several days and I had promised to do it all today. In fact I got started but that was about all because Rachel returned having been thrown by her horse – she said that it was down to over-confidence on her part as she kicked the hose to try to move it from a trot to a canter and then lost a stirrup as she rounded a bend: gravity did the rest. But falling to the ground when you are sixty-eight is very different from the regular knocks which we took as children and she is very shaken and has a very sore back. I’m hoping that is all it is; we gave her frozen chips (in the packet) to try to take down any swelling and she has been lying down ever since.

Dorothy arrives to collect Rachel

Well, that’s not quite true because she staggered across to the farmhouse for an evening meal (toad in the hole followed vegetable soup and preceded ice cream and stewed apples – fabulous). I got Rachel off to bed with an electric blanket under her back and we will review the situation in the morning. I never did get the clothes sorted and even the disastrous defeat suffered by England in Australia has paled into insignificance with thinking of what might have happened when Rachel, with her history of back problems, fell off her horse. Thankfully her legs seem fine but, at the very least, she is going to be very stiff tomorrow.

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Saturday 23rd. November, 2013 -- A Day in Reverse and a Roaring Stove 

A Roaring Stove

I woke early this morning and was out walking Mix soon after eight. I got back to Mount Pleasant and wandered across to the farmhouse for breakfast to discover that the door was locked and everyone was still asleep. So Mix and I came back to the Granary and planned our day before returning for breakfast a little later on.

Up until now life has been about emptying boxes but, even although only a tiny fraction of them have been opened, we are now in the business of repacking boxes and stacking them in another barn until later on. I suppose it is inevitable two large homes into one much smaller one will only go with the greatest difficulty and there will be lots of getting organised. So today I must have packed and carried around twenty boxes and packed them into a barn, all clearly labelled and waiting for the next stage of our operations. It is actually quite exciting.

Mum and Digger went into Duns to shop and, in the late afternoon, after walking Mix, I joined the others for sherry before dinner in the farmhouse. Much later on Rachel and I returned to the Granary where our stove had created a beautifully warm living room for us to relax in. Rachel had chosen an old episode of Foyle’s War for us to watch and afterwards we got caught up in a reconstruction of the killing of President Kennedy. Then we walked the dogs and retired to bed.

A relaxed dog – Rowan takes it easy on the mat in front of the stove

I tend to make all of this dealing with boxes sound rather tedious. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Today I found the old, old (ancient really) Atari games console which plugged into the TV so many years ago. The console on which we played Space Invaders, Asteroids and Frogger and so many more. So I lost an hour ensuring that it still functioned. It did but I’m afraid I have lost all my old skills and dexterity. Will have to spend more time with it in the coming days! I also found a box with midi files of all of the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas. Plugged them in and sang through the Contrabandista (that was another hour lost – no, not lost. Greatly enjoyed in a way that I would never have dreamed of doing when I was still working.) Retirement is great – there is always tomorrow and today is about grasping the moment and doing things as they occur. I also found my old Stellarscope and, you guessed it, spent time examining the sky and identifying the stars – really nostalgic because when I was small my Dad used to take me out to the garden and identify them for me.

Top Dog – the Dogs’ Trust would be hard-pressed to recognise Mix as the terror he used to be

Got a letter this morning from the Session Clerk of Gavinton Church to say that we were now members of their congregation. It is good to belong and it will be good to worship there again tomorrow morning (by which time, I expect, England will have surrendered the first Test – well, it would be greedy to expect that absolutely everything would go my way).

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Friday 22nd. November, 2013 -- Into a Routine 

My window on the Gabba at Brisbane -- this morning was not a happy one for England

Got up and breakfasted with Olive and Digger before walking Mix and then coming back to the Granary to start work on boxes. The way it works is that I find a couple of boxes and open them. I then bring the contents to my study and in the process totally disrupt the study. I then spend ages getting the study back in order and the items from the newly opened boxes become absorbed into the house. Then I go and get another few boxes from the barn and start all over again. It is a long slow process!

Tom and Dorothy arrived to collect some of Tom’s tools and then Rachel set off for Berwick. I spent quite a while searching for some of the boxes which had my clothes in them. I found four and got them emptied and sorted. Then walked Mix in the last of the daylight.

Rachel and Rowan

Back at Mount Pleasant I continued with the sorting and then went across to the farmhouse for a sherry before dinner – we ate cheese and bean pie (one of my all-time favourites) followed by ice-cream with bramble sauce and coffee. Back in the Granary I watched an episode of Midsummer Murders while Rachel started her Christmas letter on her laptop and Rowan sat on the sofa and took an interest in all that was going on. Mix, older and more sensible, went to sleep. We walked the dogs and I went to bed. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to watch the cricket, and it wasn’t that I had lost interest after England’s dramatic collapse during last night – it was just that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. So bed calls – however, I will listen to Test Match Special and hope for something better. I likened the experience of last night as going out of the room when your football team was two nil ahead and coming back a little later to discover that your team is now losing ten two. The collapse was as dramatic as that. I wrote yesterday that you can never tell what is the state of a match until both teams have batted – those were prophetic words. Australia’s failure to reach three hundred looked bad when England marched into bat. Once they had bowled England out for a hundred and thirty odd, it looked very different indeed! It is hard to see how England can recover from here.

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Thursday 21st. November, 2013 – Wind and More Wind 

If it is too windy or wet to go for a walk, Mix and Rowan are happy chasing each other around our courtyard

It was a really blustery night – I went to bed about 2. Australia had just lost their second wicket for something in the seventies. I slept until 6 when I checked the score again and found that they had now lost six wickets. When I woke at 8 the cricket was over for the day and Australia had lost eight wickets for 273 runs. One would have guessed that this had been a good day for England but you can never tell until both sides have batted.

The rain was streaming down and the wind was still blustering, so I breakfasted before walking Mix and then I settled down to do the music for Arrochar Church. This done, I started on the clothes in the bedroom but no sooner had I started than we discovered that a few boxes which Rachel had covered with a couple of tarpaulins had lost their tarpaulins in the storm, so we brought the boxes into the house and emptied them. No harm has been done except that we now have items to deal with which we had intended to leave until later.

The rest of the ‘working’ day was spent dealing with these boxes (and quite a lot remains for tomorrow as well). We dined in the farmhouse – Olive has now returned from Dundee so we were all together which is great. I sorted out some of the finds from the boxes in the evening. This included an mp3 player with a recording of an half hour radio programme about Luss made by the BBC in either 2004 or 2005. I listened to it and would love to share it with my folk back in the Church. I had forgotten all about it but it was incredibly prophetic with great contributions from John Sinclair, Lorrain, Robbie and John and Margaret MacEachern. At the time the recording was made the Pilgrimage Centre had been recently opened but the bridge across to the glebe was still just a dream.

I had intended to watch the news and Newsnight but instead I fell asleep, waking in time to walk Mix and settle down to watch the cricket in front of a roaring stove. England polished off Australia’s tail quickly and Australia did not reach 300 which I had considered to be the least they required. However, England had only advanced to 55 for two wickets by lunch and we will need a good afternoon session if we are to gain from all of the bowlers' good work.

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Wednesday 20th. November, 2013 -- Retirement as I always imagined it 

Rachel has just added the final screw and the decking is complete

It rained all night and I wondered, as I lay in my warm bed and listened to the rain, whether we would be able to complete the decking as planned. But when I got up at eight, the sun was shining and there was a blustery wind. I walked Mix and breakfasted with Mum and Digger and while I was eating my toast (having enjoyed egg and bacon) Tom arrived to continue my apprenticeship as a deck builder. By lunchtime we had all of the decking cut and had installed the fencepost anchors at the four corners and we had ensured that everything was absolutely level. After lunch we screwed down the final lengths of decking and then were glad to get inside as the rain began to fall – in any event we were beginning to get extremely cold. But what a sense of achievement!

While Rachel went off for a hot bath, I walked Mix along the Kelso Road, back along Bramble Avenue, and back to the house by the Swinton Road. I cleaned my drill (and recharged the battery) and then packed everything away. Spent the next hour on the telephone as a number of friends caught up with me and then It was time for an early tea (mince and potatoes) before Mum was collected by a friend and set off for the Duns Guild. I came home and promptly fell asleep – partly because I have been out in the fresh air all day and partly because I was keen to have some sleep so that I could stay awake later in the evening to watch the start of the Ashes Test Series from Brisbane. I enjoyed the build up and watched the first hour in front of the stove by which time we had captured one wicket but Warner was scoring quite freely.

But this is how I imagined retirement to be – a day in the fresh air doing something I wouldn’t normally get to do and then being able to sit up and enjoy the cricket from Australia without worrying about whether I am fresh to do my job tomorrow. I’m looking forward to the whole of the Test Series and I’m looking forward to the next stage of my apprenticeship when the kit arrives and Tom, Rachel and I start work on constructing our summer house.

We have so many plans. Next to the Granary is our hen house. Eventually it will house a library and some more accommodation for those who come to visit. And then we will start on the barns .... Meanwhile Digger is developing the small holding and will soon start work on building the first of several domes which will be used to grow crops which require the assistance which such a dome will give. Life is incredibly exciting.

Should say that I am getting less aware of all that is going on in the world – watching the news and Newsnight is becoming less important – but I have been fascinated by the story of the Rev. Paul Flower, a Methodist minister, who became Chairman of the Co-operative Bank, and has got into trouble partly (according to what we are told on TV) through personal failings and partly through the failings of the bank. What has amazed me (and this will seem extremely trivial to many who read this) is that everyone is calling Mr. Flower ‘Reverend Flower’. I mean everyone: BBC presenters and reporters, people interviewed, the Prime Minister and so on. It is absolutely incorrect. ‘Reverend Paul Flower’ is OK but otherwise it really should be ‘Mr. Flower’. I know that the response will be – how inconsequential compared with what he is accused of having done – well, perhaps, but I have a thing about it and retired people have to have hobbyhorses.

All in all, today was a mixed day for the Church. The Scottish Parliament took the decision to allow same gender marriage (I believe that same gender relationships should have the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as mixed gender ones; but I cannot believe that this is marriage nor that parliament has the ability to redefine something which is so integral to human life around the world). However, today the journey towards women bishops in the Church of England took a big step forward at the meeting of the General Synod. It seems that this matter may finally be resolved in the next couple of years – I know it is still a long time, but at least things are moving forward. Talking about a couple of years, as I move from someone who has been working at the coal-face for such a long time to an observer with a growing element of detachment, I do seriously wonder if there is much of a future for the Church of Scotland. I am sure that there is a real future for Christianity in Scotland and I am sure that God has great plans for our country but now that I have time to look around I am surprised at how many ministers are on the point of retiring and at how tiny are so many congregations. There are, however, some really good things happening and these need to be celebrated by all of us. I’m looking forward to getting my summer house which will also be my office and where I hope to write. Another bonus of retirement for me is that things start to buzz around my head: fresh ideas and an enthusiasm to start work on the book I hope to write and, who knows, maybe that will make a contribution to the debate about where we are going?

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Tuesday 19th. November, 2013 – My Apprenticeship begins 

Rachel and Tom have done a grand job of creating the frame for the decking on which our new summer house will sit.

Up early, walked Mix along Bramble Avenue, breakfasted with Mum and Digger and then Tom arrived, brought here by Dorothy – and my apprenticeship began. I started the day the proud owner of a drill (bought yesterday from Pearsons), I ended up with a drill, a metre rule and a level (one of those things with a bubble in it). Our task was to build the decking platform on which the new summer house will sit. We set off for Pearson to buy more screws and knee-pads (I forgot to mention I now owned a set of knee-pads) and some back plastic to place under the decking platform. Tom set up his bench saw and along with Rachel we created the framework on which the decking would be built. It was perfectly right-angled and also totally level. We were ready to begin – but first Tom went off home with Dorothy for lunch while I completed the task of sorting out the study. It is now really quite organised.

Tom soon returned and we set to work cutting the decking to size and fitting and screwing it to the frame. After an hour or so I had almost got the hang of screwing the decking down, holding the lengths of decking as Tom fed them through the saw, and ensuring that there was an appropriate gap between the different lengths of decking. By the time the light failed we had completed half of the decking and – providing the weather holds tomorrow -- the task will be completed. Of course, if the weather doesn’t hold, then there will be other days – that’s the beauty of retirement. Now that I can see that the job will be done, and buoyed up by the realisation that we will probably be able to complete the whole project ourselves (well, Tom and Rachel are really quite skilled) I went ahead and ordered the kit for the summer house – even although I remain quite miffed that the fact that we are five miles over the English border means that I have to pay a transport surcharge. No wonder that some people are so violently nationalist. However, not to buy the summer house I want because of this would seem like cutting off my nose to spite my face; so I have paid up and put it behind me.

Dorothy, Tom and Rachel on the decking so far created

As the last of the light was fading, Rachel and I walked Rowan and Mix. Back at the Granary we fed the dogs and I cleaned the study to complete its make-over. Then we joined Mum and Digger for a delicious fish-pie followed by stewed (home-grown) apples, custard and ice cream. Later we made our way back to the Granary where we watched an episode of Midsomer Murders which we had missed when it was first shown, walked the dogs (the wind had got up and it was really cold) and were very glad to get to bed. I am already extremely stiff and I hate to think what my body is going to have to say to me tomorrow morning.

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Monday 18th. November, 2013 – Family Visitors 

Mum with her sisters, Agnes and Jean

Slept incredibly well. I’ve always slept well, the moment my head hits the pillow I am asleep; but since we moved down here I have slept even better. I suppose that it is because I am no longer on call and no longer have the responsibilities I had before. Some say that it is the change of air and perhaps it is but our bedroom is also incredibly warm – even with the heating turned off and the windows wide open: our house is marvellously insulated. Whatever the reason I am sleeping so well.

Woke, walked Mix and breakfasted in the farmhouse before driving Mum into Duns to get provisions for a picnic around the farmhouse table when Mum’s visitors arrived. We bought from the Co-op and then from the Bakers and hurried home to welcome Mum’s sisters Agnes and Jean who had been driven down by Jean’s son-in-law, Peter. After coffee (with snowballs and wagon wheels) they went on a tour of the entire premises – a tour of the house with Mum, of the Granary with Rachel, of the allotment and gardens with Digger and around the barns with me. It was time for a soup and sandwich lunch and prolonged chat before Mum’s guests had to leave (Peter had an appointment in Edinburgh at 4 p.m.). Mum had enjoyed having her sisters to inspect her new home and we had all enjoyed their visit – good to get a blether with Peter as well. (Agnes, as well as being my aunt, is also my God-mother -- a role she has always exercised extremely diligently and lovingly -- and so is doubly important to me.)

I set off for Pearsons in Duns to get the bits and pieces required for the start of our project to create a summer house tomorrow. As usual, Mix travelled in the back of the car behind the deluxe and extra-strong grill supplied by Halfords. When I came out of Pearsons, Mix was sitting happily in the driving seat as much as to say, ‘Well, I don’t think much of those prison bars.’ Back home Rachel set about a temporary repair – I think that we are going to have to have the whole of the back of the car welded.

We walked the dogs and then came back to boxes before dining with Digger and Mum in the farmhouse. Back to the Granary in time to watch University Challenge (it was a dead-heat -- what a shame that one side had to lose) after which I did some more tidying before the News and Newsnight. We walked the dogs again. The moonlight is so bright that we didn’t need a torch except to have in case a car appeared on the road. This really is a fabulous place to live and we are so very, very fortunate.

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Sunday 17th. November, 2013 – Sundays are Good! 

Bamburgh Castle from the beach

Woke again after the most amazing dreams. I was in London when I got a call to say that I was needed to come and conduct a service at Luss because there was no one else. (Well, that’s easy – I spoke on the phone to Bill last night and he was telling me that he was conducting two weddings at Luss.) It was too late to catch a train from London so I went into a garage to hire a car. Simon (from SAS in Helensburgh) was working at the garage in London. He didn’t have a car but he offered me a bicycle – only it was one you stood on, like the machines you see in some of the tourist spots around Europe. I had to find a map and then to be sure, I went into a small hardware shop where a delightful old lady sold me a compass. I set off for Luss (which for some extraordinary reason was now in Fife). I arrived just in time for the service to discover that the church had been united, not with another church, but with a lifeboat station. The congregation was upstairs in a kind of horseshoe gallery which I addressed from the pulpit (there were only six people present, two ladies and four children). No sooner had I announced the first hymn than people rushed in and launched the lifeboat and everything was drowned out in the sound of the boat descending from the church into the sea. Alarms were going off everywhere and I awoke.

Got up, walked Mix and breakfasted in the farmhouse before driving Mum and Rachel to Gavinton Church where we joined Tom and Dorothy for the morning service. It was conducted this morning by Bill Paterson, a retired minister, as Ann is still suffering from her cold. I enjoyed Bill’s service which was based on the Call of Moses: called to something he didn’t want to do (he saw it was necessary but could someone else not, please, be chosen for the task?); speaking to our generation is as important and we are often chosen for a special task. So watch out for burning bushes!

After the service we had coffee in the hall and met more of the congregation and once we had returned home we quickly set off for Bamburgh where Rachel and I walked the dogs on the beach. Rowan is so taken with the sea and loves nothing better than to frolic among the waves. Back home I lit the stove and went back to working in the study on the next stage of the sorting out process.

Rowan is fascinated by the sea

In the early evening we all (Olive, Digger, Rachel, Mum and I) piled into my car and went to Duns where we ate at the China Palace. It was absolutely excellent and we received a great welcome. Good food, huge portions and well looked-after. We came back replete and I started again on the study. Remembered it was the weekend (!) so stopped and watched some TV before going to bed.

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Saturday 16th. November, 2013 – I learn that progress means upheaval 

Nick, Amy and David

Up and breakfasted before walking the dog – this is getting to be a habit! I was so sleepy this morning and woke in the middle of a very vivid dream: I was back in the Sailor’s Rest in Genoa (my first job). I’d been sent to look after it until someone could come and run the place full-time. A whole crowd of Dutch sailors arrived looking for a film (the big 16mm films in their tin containers). They had handed one in last time they were in the port and now they needed a new one to watch on their voyage. I was in the middle of contacting British ships in the port to see if anyone had a film to give them when I woke with a start because I remembered that a friend of Mum’s was coming to collect her just after nine o’clock.

Had breakfast and saw Mum off before walking Mix. Rachel set off for Berwick to buy some hardware for the house and I started opening more boxes with clothes in them. There are far too many clothes to fit into the limited space we have so I had to start sorting them all out, which meant trying things on and making difficult decisions. And, of course, turning my room into an absolute tip once again – and only yesterday I had finally got it looking good. Ah, well!

Drove across to Scott’s home to have afternoon tea with my brother and sister-in-law, and with my niece, Katie and my nephew Nick and his wife Amy and her Dad, David, who had flown in from Australia to attend the 100th. birthday celebrations for his aunt. It was really good to see them all and to hear how well they are getting on and how much they are all enjoying life. It was especially good to renew contact with David whom I had so very much enjoyed meeting at Nick and Amy's wedding just a year ago -- the trip which brought me to the Borders and which started this amazing adventure which has resulted in us living in the Granary at Mount Pleasant. Mum had also been dropped off at Scott's home by her friend and after afternoon tea and lots of chat I drove Mum back to Mount Pleasant.

The picture at the head of today’s entry is of my nephew and his wife and her father. I had intended to include a picture of my delightful niece, Katie, but when I checked the photo I discovered that she had put her tongue out as I took the picture, presumably to prevent me being able to use it for my blog. So I have included it below in any event.


Back home, I cooked the supper which Rachel, Mum and I ate around the table in the Granary kitchen. Olive had been speaking at a conference in Aberdeen today and she and Digger had met up in Edinburgh for a meal with Jeffrey, my other nephew, and Devon. After the meal we watched the final Poirot which we had all missed on Wednesday evening. In the best traditions of the ‘who done it’ there was a real twist in the tale and I enjoyed it. There was just time to walk Mix before retiring for the night.

On the sporting front, I watched the rugby -- England against New Zealand -- as I worked on my clothes. England did well, I thought, but new Zealand won. And Sachin Tendulkar brought his Test career to an end with a resounding victory for India against the West Indies. He scored 74. I was sorry that he didn't get a century but he did well and his retirement marks the end of an era of Indian cricket (not least because he has been ever present for such a long time).

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Friday 15th. November, 2013 – And another great day. 

Our decking is delivered

Rose, breakfasted and walked Mix (yes, the order indicates that I slept in, but Oh, am I sleeping well). Then it was hard work all day to sort out clothes, emptying boxes and delighting in being reunited with old friends. Unfortunately we have a lot less room than with our two previous houses, so down-sizing can be quite painful – but all of this is spurring us on to see about developing one of our barns.

This afternoon the decking arrived for the base of our new summer house. It may seem strange to be contemplating a summer house as we approach winter but I’m using to use it as the place in which to write my book and I want to get started on that before I lose the urge (and before my publisher loses interest).

In the late afternoon I walked Mix and had a shower before setting off with Mum and Rachel for the theatre in Berwick. The sky was spectacular and I caught this picture from the bathroom window.

November sky

In Berwick we dined in the theatre restaurant – pea soup followed by fishcakes, chips and salad, followed by meringue with fruits of the forest and ice cream. Loved it. We joined the Friends of the Maltings – well, we have been here four times in the last two weeks – and went into the performance of Royal Flush. It was a one man show in two parts. The first told the story of Thomas Crapper, in his own words and told of his work in the toilet industry and his royal patronage; the second was set in more modern times, in a care centre, and, you’ve guessed it, centred around the toilet.

The little studio Theatre

Two very different performances by one talented young actor and the only thing which marred it was that we could hear the sounds from the main auditorium where a tribute band was paying homage to Bruce Springsteen – I was surprised both that the sound proofing was so inadequate and that, given that it was, such a clash of programming had been permitted. But I loved the performance of Matthew Booth who is evidently a performer in Emmerdale where he plays Paul Marsden. Sorry that there weren’t more people present. I counted just seventeen in a studio set up with seats for around fifty-five (and that included the ushers).

Drove home to Mount Pleasant and got home about eleven. The dogs were really pleased to see us. Mix had continued with the tidying up theme while we were out by emptying a rubbish sack and setting everything therein in a neat orderly row for my inspection just to make sure that nothing was being thrown out which really should have been kept. It was another good day.

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Thursday 14th. November, 2014 – First Phase completed! 

Bramble Avenue in the autumn sunshine

While the rest of the country seems to be suffering from rain, storms and high winds, here it is beautiful. I got up and walked Mix along Bramble Avenue – the sun is so low in the sky that it is very picturesque: sunshine, shadows and beautiful autumn colours.

Back home, I breakfasted and then worked all day in the study and by dinner time I had completed all of the boxes with ‘things’ in them for the study – as distinct to clothes, for this is my ‘dressing room’ as well. Tomorrow I will start on unpacking clothes but I feel that I have achieved a great deal. (I also spent a while in the farmhouse retuning Mum’s TV which lost the ability to receive ITV last night. All is now returned to normal.)

Realised that I have stopped carrying my mobile phone around with me – and I don’t seem to have the same need to check for emails every day. Well I do have a telephone landline and the post is delivered every day. I really must be unwinding!

Dinner was good. Olive is back from teaching so we were all around the farmhouse table this evening: Olive, Digger, Mum, Rachel and me. Afterwards Rachel and I watched an old ‘New Tricks’ before I walked Mix (his third walk of the day) and came up to bed. I’m raring to get at those clothes boxes tomorrow – and in the evening we are going back to Berwick to attend the theatre: the studio theatre this time, rather than the auditorium, but we are going to have a pre-performance meal at the theatre to try that out as well.

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Wednesday 13th. November, 2013 -- A Day of Two Halves: from the commonplace to the absolutely sublime! 

The dogs are always the first out of the Granary

Slept in, and so I breakfasted before walking Mix; not that he seemed to mind because he enjoys breakfast in the farmhouse. Came back to the Granary and found an email with the hymns for Sunday which I duly prepared and sent off to Neil and Jamie and then I started work on the boxes in the study. I worked at them all afternoon and actually made progress. I say I worked at them all afternoon: there were interruptions. I stopped to renew my car insurance and discovered to my delight that my premium is one third lower now that I have retired and live in the Borders (and no longer have that dreaded Glasgow post code). I also took Mix off for a substantial walk – rejoicing in the fact that we have good weather, unlike so much of the rest of Scotland. It seems to happen often – in fact maybe this little bit of Scotland is like America’s Florida: the place to come when you retire to get the best of the weather.

Stopped boxes about four thirty, had a shower and changed and an hour later Rachel and I set off for Berwick. We had a fish supper in the car and went into the Maltings to attend the first ever streamed live performance of a Royal Shakespeare Company production from Stratford. We were sharing with people all over the country and all over the world and it was stupendous. I had no idea what to expect but it was wonderful, just like being there – better really, because we got the advantage of all of the best angles and real close-ups. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, what a blessing it is to be retired! (And to have the wherewithal to go off gallivanting – my Old Age Pension arrived in my bank account today. I still wonder that every four weeks I get such a sizeable payment into my bank account just because I am old – and I get my proper pension from my employment at the end of each month as well. It is, of course, too early to tell, but first impressions are that I am much better off in retirement because when I was working we had two homes to run -- one in Wemyss and one at Luss – and because so much of my income got spent on the Manse and on my work. That’s not a complaint, just an observation as why now is so good!)

But back to tonight. The setting, the staging the casting, the acting, the play, the performance: all were superb. Our theatre was comfortable, full and happy. David Tennant made an excellent Richard II, Oliver Ford Davies was superb as the Duke of York and Michael Pennington was magnificent as John of Gaunt but, in truth, everyone was great and the play was quite modern as it discussed regime change, or the role of supreme power in a country under the guise of examining the purpose of medieval monarchy. The introduction and supplementary features provided by the Royal Shakespeare Company were as good as one would have expected from them. It was a tremendous evening and we are told that the new director intends to work right through the entire canon of Shakespeare’s work over the next six years and that every production with have one evening on which it is streamed. I can see that even in retirement a diary is going to be a sine qua non. A really happy day – tomorrow it will be back to boxes!

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Tuesday 12th. November, 2012 -- Autumn Sunshine 

Our home – bathed in Autumn sunshine

Rose, walked the dog, breakfasted and went back to the Granary. It was a glorious morning with everything bathed in autumn sunshine. My morning walk was an absolute joy – and people have started to wave to me as they pass in the car. I am beginning to feel that we belong.

Digger, Rachel, Cathy and Mum taken just before Rachel set off to drive Cathy back to civilization

This morning Cathy was setting off for home, driven there by Rachel. I ran Mum to Duns to get her hair done and then worked in the study. I have now unearthed the bunk bed! Collected Mum and brought her home and then Tom and I fitted up the bell outside the Granary and repaired the little gate. We then went off to Pearsons to buy (or rather, to order) decking for the summer house to sit on and while we were there we had a coffee and a cake (that’s what retired people do – you see I am learning quickly about this new way of life). Back home I continued with the clearing up – don’t get the impression that a great deal has been done, it is a long, slow business but I am enjoying it.

Digger has had his car at the garage today, getting new heaters for the diesel engine; Rachel has been driving all afternoon – she stopped for lunch with Cathy in Balloch and Mum has been in her upstairs sitting room. Once Rachel returned, we all dined – mince, carrots and potatoes (definitely a favourite), followed by apple pie and ice cream. I returned to boxes in the evening (and there will be plenty more waiting for me tomorrow as well). Stopped to watch Newsnight before walking Mix and retiring to bed.

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Monday 11th. November, 2013 – A day doing this and that 

I took this picture of a stone on the exterior of Fogo Church yesterday. I have no idea what it signifies -- it is a very old church. But I hope to find out!

According to my new routine, I rose, walked the dog and breakfasted in the farmhouse (on egg and bacon prepared today by Cathy). I started work on the study (that’s where the first boxes are for my attention) but soon Tom arrived to help with some of the other priorities. We went off to Pearsons to buy various different rawlplugs and screws and also to enquire about decking (on which we can then position a summer house – I know that it is the winter but I’m retired and can do what I like)! Pearsons didn’t have decking but promised more information for the afternoon. We returned to the Granary and did some calculations about the amount of decking we would require. We also hung another television screen before Tom returned home for lunch. I set about the study with gusto and also helped Rachel start the Bongo with leads from my car – she had allowed the battery to run down. When Tom returned we hung the bell by the big outside gate so that people could let us know that they wanted to come in. Then we set off to meet a friend of Tom who is a maker and repairer of stringed instruments (Martin). Rachel has a problem with her ‘cello (the sound post has fallen) and Martin will be able to fix it for her.

In the Bongo, now fully functioning again, we all (Cathy, Rachel, Tom and I) continued on to Pearsons who unfortunately did not have the information I required. Instead we went for afternoon tea/coffee and cake before returning home. Tom went off to collect his grandchildren from school and I returned to boxes. The computer was on and so was Skype and during the late afternoon I chatted first with Sameh from Egypt and then with Brian from Germany before finally speaking on the telephone to Bill and Morag. It was good to hear of the progress which Bill is making – he now attends the local gymnasium every Monday and Wednesday. I hope that they will both be down to see us soon.

Later we dined with Digger in the farmhouse and then in the evening watched University Challenge and an hour-long Poirot with Mum and Cathy while we enjoyed another cup of tea, accompanied by snowballs. After watching Newsnight and the horrific events in the Philippines, we walked the dogs (there wasn’t a car in sight the whole time we were out) and went to bed.

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Sunday 10th. November, 2013 – Remembrance Sunday 

Rachel, Cathy and Mum make their way to Gavinton Church

Rose, walked Mix, showered and changed, breakfasted and set off for the service at Gavinton Church. The minister, Ann, was indisposed and so the service was conducted by Ken Walker who was to have been sharing in a joint service elsewhere with his wife. He had been called in at the last moment to cover for Ann. I enjoyed his service which presented the contrasts which different places experience – the plain of Jezreel for example which saw great battles and also prosperity and harmony. The world is like that. We stand on history – I reflected that over this last week we have crossed back and forwards into England to visit Holy Island, to go to the theatre at Berwick, and yet, in times past this was a little bit of Britain which was fiercely fought over (as the recent Flodden commemorations record). When will we ever learn? Ken reminded us of the importance of our remembering those who had lost their lives and those whose lives were different as a result of war.

The service was followed by a simple ceremony at the war memorial at 11 a.m. and I found my mind straying to Arrochar where (I still think of them as my people) will have been standing silently at the memorial there.

Ken read the poem which was always part of our Luss remembering:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Back home we set about ransacking the barns to find Rachel’s ‘cello – eventually discovering it deep in a barn, inside one of the wardrobes there. I did a little tidying in the study and soon it was time to change back into my Sunday clothes to go off to Fogo for the Remembrance Service there at 3.30 p.m.

Fogo Kirk in the late afternoon sunshine

The Church at Fogo is a delightful old building – the pews are high and compel one to sit very upright; the congregation is small (well the population of the village is just twenty-two) but since we discovered that we belong to its parish we determined to attend today. The service was conducted by Alan Cartwright, the minister; it was quite different from the morning service, but just as meaningful with a message based on the importance of remembering and with the wreath being laid at the memorial after the service by Alan’s son in his RAF uniform. We read from Ecclesiasticus ‘Let us now praise famous men’ – which to me is always part of a remembrance service.

After the service we drove home and walked the dogs as it was just beginning to get dark. As we arrived home, Scott and Sue arrived with Sue’s parents and we all shared in afternoon tea in the farm house.

Later, after our visitors had left, we dined on home-made fishcakes and fried potatoes and beans, followed by ice cream and banana; and later still, in the granary, in front of the roaring stove, Rachel and I, with Cathy and Mum, watched the final part of Downton Abbey and the news before walking the dogs and retiring to bed. It had been a very special day.

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Saturday 9th. November, 2013 – I start to unpack 

Rachel and Cathy in the Granary kitchen -- next time I'll use flash!

Rose, walked Mix and breakfasted with Olive, Mum and Cathy in the farm house. Digger had set off for Kirkcaldy and Rachel was walking Rowan. Then I made my way to the study and started to unpack. By the end of the day the study was in total chaos but I had unpacked three boxes and the unpacking has begun. Rachel, Mum and Cathy went off to Duns, did some shopping and had a coffee at Pearsons. I took delivery of two tons of logs and filled the log bin for the winter before returning to the unpacking.

In the mid afternoon I walked Mix and then showered and changed for an early tea before driving Mum, Cathy and Olive into Berwick where we attended the Maltings to see the amateur operatic presentation of the Vicar of Dibley. We arrived early, parked outside the theatre and then had a drink in the bar before the performance began. It is a lovely building and a warm and atmospheric auditorium – the theatre has been going since 1990 but the auditorium has an older feel to it. I liked it. And I enjoyed the show as well – the play won through although I always feel that it is a bit of a shame when the intention of the cast is to imitate the performances of the television cast, to be impersonators rather than actors, but there is no doubt that that is what the audience both expected and wanted and it was a very happy evening. We were in the second front row, having only decided to get tickets at the last moment, near enough to hear the occasional prompt, but also near enough to appreciate how good some of the performances were – and I did enjoy the musical items.

We drove home and had tea and coffee in the granary before walking the dogs and going to bed. Retirement just continues to roll on – I booked tickets on line for next Friday before going to bed: a professional performance in the studio theatre at the Maltings, Royal Flush. More about that next week!

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Friday 8th. November, 2013 -- A Trip to Berwick and Dinner with Tom and Dorothy 

Berwick from the City Walls

I had intended to work on unpacking today but Rachel and Cathy decided that they would like to go to Berwick and Mum and I decided to go along as well – isn’t it good being retired? Mum and I explored a book shop (Mum had presents to buy) and then we met up with Cathy and Rachel who had been exploring charity shops for bargains. We lunched at the Maltings (I had Cullen Skink – and much of Mum’s salad) and Rachel bought tickets for a streaming from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre of Richard II on next Wednesday evening. (We got a discount because we are retired!) We visited the Town House – a gift shop and a cafe which Mum remembers from trips here with Gran in times gone by – and then we walked along the city walls getting a superb view of the Tweed and of Tweedmouth beyond.

Outside the Maltings

Now why did they drag me up here?

We drove back to Mount Pleasant and I walked Mix while Rachel delved into one of the barns. I am going to leave opening boxes until tomorrow, there really is no rush at all!

In the evening Rachel and I were taken out to dinner by Tom and Dorothy. It was a wonderful evening! We dined in a little restaurant in the middle of Duns. My starter was cauliflower fritters in a mayonnaise dip. I went on to a leek crumble with vegetables and followed it up with a raspberry crème caramel. Wonderful food and superb company. After the meal we went back to Tom and Dorothy’s home. It is looking great and they have done a lot with it. It is one of the homes that quite by chance, Olive and my Mum looked at when they were house hunting; of course, Tom and Dorothy had it off the market long before we were at the stage of making a purchase. But they have really made it their own – a cross between a family home and a depository for guitars! Tom and Dorothy gave me a wonderful painting of a steam locomotive – the Sir Nigel Gresley – they know what I like. How kind of them to want to mark my retirement! They are very special friends -- we are lucky to have so many of them.

We drove home in time to catch Newsnight, walk the dogs and collapse into bed. I am definitely getting to like this retirement thing!

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Thursday 7th. November, 2013 – A Visit to Holy Island 

St. Aiden smiles kindly at Mum

Awoke, showered, walked the dog and breakfasted before loading Mum, Cathy, Rachel, Mix and Rowan into the car and driving to Holy Island. We arrived there just before eleven and discovered that we had almost a four-hour window to cross the causeway and enjoy the island. In fact we didn’t use all of that time partly because the island was incredibly windy (Mum was left clinging to a lamppost) and partly because most things were closed because the season had obviously ended at the 31st. October. However we walked into the village and saw the Church of St. Mary which is next to the remains of the old Saxon Church and the remains of the Priory which is now looked after by English Heritage.

Inside the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin

The parish church stands on the site of the wooden church built by St. Aiden in 635 AD and it was this church which during the Anglo-Saxon period was replaced by a small stone church. It was the Benedictine monks of Durham who established this as the parish church in the twelfth century. Since the Reformation the church has been an Anglican one. Outside the priory is a statue of St. Aiden – I had initially confused it with St. Cuthbert because of his association with this place. In fact, inside the church there is a sculpture in elm called ‘The Journey’ which shows six monks taking St. Cuthbert’s body from the island on a journey across the north during the time of the Viking raids.

The leaflet in the church says that the famous saints associated with the island are Aiden, an Irish monk and remarkable missionary from Iona who founded the monastery and a school on Lindisfarne; and Cuthbert, a solitary leader and healer who struggled with the conflict between demands of the world and his calling – but there is also a bust of King Olaf of Norway who sent a letter apologising for the Viking raids which terrorised so much of this part of Britain.

A view of the Castle from the Priory ruins

We also saw a facsimile of the Londisfarne Gospels and admired the Reredos with pictures of Columba, Oswald, Aidan, Wilfrid, Cuthbert and Bede. Outside the little church the wind was blowing and we all helped each other back to the car, noticing on the way the sign outside the National Trust Shop telling us that the castle was closed. We drove as near as we could so that we could get a look at the castle and then set off for Bamburgh again aiming for the castle.

Inside the Barn at Beal -- well worth a visit

On the way we stopped at the Barn at Beal, a rather splendid restaurant for walkers and holiday makers. We were served an excellent meal (I had scampi and chips) and then we continued on our way to Bamburgh Castle. This castle too was closed – off season it is only open at the weekends – but we were able to walk around it and get a good look at it from the outside. It is so familiar not least from all of the many films in which it has appeared. (We passed the Lord Crewe Arms where Rachel and I stayed during our honeymoon.) From here we drove to Seahouses, seven miles south of Bamburgh. Mum had stayed here for a week with Dad when they were at Galashiels and came to visit their Boy’s Brigade camp.

A view of the Farne Islands from Bamburgh Castle

Having toured Seahouses – it seemed larger and more prosperous than I remembered – we drove back to Mount Pleasant. It is really good having so many places so near to where we now live.

Olive had returned from her teaching at Dundee and we all dined together in the evening. Then, Cathy and Mum came over to the Granary and we watched ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ and an episode of ‘Only Fools and Horses’ (one of my father’s favourites) while we had tea, coffee, snowballs and wagon wheels for supper. It had been a really good day.

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Wednesday 6th. November, 2013 – We travel to Coldstream 

Mum emerging from the library

Awoke and walked mix before breakfasting on bacon and egg made by Cathy in the Farmhouse. Dealt with some emails and got my blog up to date as well as preparing the music files for Arrochar’s Remembrance Service this Sunday before taking Mum into Duns to attend the reading group at the local library. Collected her an hour and a half later and noticed that outside the library there is a point to enable electric cars to be charged while their owners visit the library – that’s pretty good!

An electric car charging point outside the library

Tea at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Room

Back home we decided to go for a short outing to Coldstream which is about nine miles south of here on the banks of the river Tweed and therefore right on the boundary between England and Scotland. Cathy, Rachel, Mum and I went into a little cafe themed on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and enjoyed cream of onion soup and a sandwich (in my case cheese and pickle). We visited an Army surplus shop on the main street. In addition to selling ex-army equipment and clothes it had a splendid little museum of the second world war. We wandered around it and even sat inside an Anderson Shelter. Cathy bought a breathable and waterproof army fleece so that she is set up for the winter!

The Army Surplus Store in Coldstream

We explored the streets of Coldstream and, as the light began to fade, we returned to the car and made our way back to Mount Pleasant. I walked Mix and gave him his tea and played with some of the photographs I had taken while we were out (you can do that when you are retired)!

The Square at Coldstream

Digger had prepared an excellent dinner – pork, potato and leek ‘briquettes’ and ‘black cabbage’, followed by banana splits.

Afterwards we sat in front of the tv and watched David Suchet as Poirot in his penultimate performance in the role. Managed to stay awake for the news and Newsnight which tonight were dominated by job cuts on the Clyde and at Portsmouth, with the suggestion that the Clyde can continue to build British warships but only if it remains within the United Kingdom.

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Tuesday 5th. November, 2013 -- Fireworks 

Fireworks at Mount Pleasant -- just like when I was small

Up and walked the dog and then enjoyed breakfast with Mum and Cathy in the farmhouse. Started sorting out my finances and then drove Mum into Duns to have her hair done, returning to collect her an hour later.

Worked on my papers, getting everything in order for my retirement during the afternoon, and then, after walking Mix, we all dined together in the farm kitchen: sausages, potatoes and carrots.

In the evening Digger set off some fireworks:

Digger silhouetted against the fireworks

It really was just as I remembered it from childhood days. Afterwards we watched the concluding part of a Lewis which we had started to watch yesterday and I haven't a clue what happened as I promptly fell asleep -- I think it was coming from the cold of firework-watching to the lovely warmth of the granary lounge!

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Monday 4th. November, 2013 -- Tom takes me in hand 

Enjoying the farm house

Up and walked Mix and then breakfasted. Tom arrived and we took the big TV off the wall in order to fit extra connections behind the screen. Got the TV connected to the internet and discovered that I can now access the internet on the TV – including the BBC and ITV i-players. I spent some time on the internet: we were given a very generous cheque by our congregations when we left Arrochar and Luss. We’ve thought to spend the money on a summer house – so I wanted to see what was available and also what planning permissions were required. I discovered that as long as our summer house fulfils certain conditions about its size, position and use, no permission is required.

Tom arrived and we went off to Pearson’s to see what they had on offer in terms of summer houses. We also enjoyed coffee and chocolate at their restaurant. Then it was into Duns itself to post letters. From there we went on to Tom’s home to see his zoo – four goats, many hens – some hand-reared – 10,000 bees, two cats and one dog. Dorothy (who had been busy making coats for the goats) came back with us to Mount Pleasant to see Mum and Cathy.

Mix enjoys the farmhouse too!

Did some more research and then we dined in the farm kitchen on mince, carrots and potatoes followed by birthday cake and ice cream. In the evening we all watched a BBC2 programme in which a group of folk from P & O were moulded into a choir and then the news and Newsnight before bed.

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Sunday 3rd. November, 2013 -- I love our country Sundays 

Digger blowing out his candles -- caught by Scott on his mobile phone

Up and walked Mix on the Swinton Road, had breakfast in the farmhouse and then Mum, Cathy, Rachel and I went off to Church at Gavinton – the minister spoke about Saints, appropriately given that this is the season of ‘all saints’. After the service we had coffee in the hall before making our way home to get the Granary ready to provide drinks for everyone at noon to start the celebrations for Digger’s birthday. At noon, everyone arrived – Digger and Olive, Mum and Cathy, Peter and Veronica, Scott and Sue. Rachel had prepared an aperitivo and some nibbles.

Then we all moved to the farm house for a buffet meal: curry, sweet and sour, cheese and a large chocolate birthday cake.

Later in the afternoon Rachel and I went into Duns to walk the dogs around by Duns Castle. We got some cash from the machine to make our food contribution (it’s just like the TV series ‘Bread’ – we even have a china hen under which the cash is kept). We bought Digger’s present (a voucher from the Garden Centre to go with the books about vegetable growing given by Mix and Rowan).

While we were all sitting round the fire in the farm house, Alan Cartwright, the minister from Swinton (and also Fogo) arrived to visit. It was really kind of him and I enjoyed meeting him. It seems that we are in Fogo parish. Next Sunday there is a service at Fogo Church at 3.30 in the afternoon (it is Remembrance Sunday) and I will try to attend.

Later we enjoyed a snack meal before moving back to the Granary with Cathy and Mum to watch Downton Abbey. And then, after walking Mix, and everyone had gone to bed, I watched ‘The Dukes of Hazard’ – and enjoyed the throwback to my younger years! Realised that today is the first day that I have felt retired – I suppose that it is because I have completed my duties at Luss and also because I will now be at home in the Borders for more than just two or three days. It is going to be good! Even although it was late when I went to bed I read for quite a while, starting ‘Five Dead Canaries’ by Edward Marston. I think that I have read just about everything he has written, it is light but it is also fun and catches the mood of the period – in this case the first world war – excellently.

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Saturday 2nd. November, 2013 -- My Final Wedding in Luss Church 

Lindsay and David

Up and set the fire in the manse, checked the heating in the Church, walked Mix around the paths of the glebe which are not flooded and then got ready for the wedding. Just before it started my bridegroom from last Saturday arrived. What a panic! It seems that last Saturday after the wedding the best man had lost the marriage certificate. It was later found by Cathy on the road, but not before it had been soaked by the rain and run over by several cars. The registrar was not best pleased but had issued a second certificate for the bridegroom to get everyone to re-sign and then return to her. I suppose that it could have been worse!

David and Lindsay’s wedding was special – a bit damp, but special – and I was glad that it was so because this was my last ministerial function. By 1 p.m. – the wedding was at noon – I was retired! I caught a brief word with Morag and Bill (it was so good to see then both and then Cathy, Rachel and I, along with the dogs, set off for Luss, arriving soon after 5 p.m. We met up with Olive and Digger’s friends, Peter and Veronica, and we all shared in a lovely meal in the farm kitchen. Later in the evening Mum and Cathy joined us in the Granary where we enjoyed just relaxing in front of the stove in the drawing room. I walked Mix before bed.

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Friday 1st. November, 2013 -- A Day in transit 

Shipboard Chores

Got up about nine and after breakfast we started getting the boat in order. I took the toilet cassette off and emptied and cleaned it so that all was fresh for next time. The engine was run for two hours to ensure that the battery is full for when we return. The water and power was turned off – the taps left open to ensure that if things froze nothing would break. The stove was cleaned out and reset – I went off and bought two more sacks of coal briquettes so that there is plenty in hand for when we come to the boat next.

We set off for Luss about 12.30 and arrived around 5 p.m. It was an uneventful drive, the only hold up being at the Erskine Bridge.

At 6 p.m. we conducted the wedding rehearsal for David and Lindsay’s wedding tomorrow at noon – this will be my final ministerial act (although I will conduct a couple of weddings next year as a friend – but not in Luss Church). After the rehearsal we shared a Chinese take-away and Rachel got on with all of the music preparation which took her most of the evening. I watched an episode of Frost which I hadn’t seen before. We walked the dogs and went to bed.

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Thursday 31st. October, 2013 -- Hallowe'en 

Ilkley Moor

Slept in again before walking Mix and counting 97 boats in the marina today. Went about the ship-board chores. I emptied the toilet cassette, while the engine was charging the batteries.

We drove to Ilkley where we walked the dogs on the moor – around a pond which Rachel remembers from childhood. I ’phoned Mum because she spent her honeymoon here.

The pool at Ilkley

The town of Ilkley

On the way back to the boat we stopped at The Bull for a meal: cauliflower fritters followed by fish and chips.

Back on board, the weather turned nasty – it rained and rained so we settled down with our books. I read ‘The Treasure Hunt’ by Andrea Camilleri, and beautifully translated by Stephen Sartarelli. It is one of Camilleri’s best Montalbano books and I would recommend it to anyone. Walked the dogs and got to bed around half-past ten.

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Wednesday 30th. October, 2013 -- Getting used to canal life 

Looking down on Skipton

Really slept in! It was eleven before I got up and, after breakfast, we took the dogs to Skipton where we climbed to the top of the hill overlooking the town. It was mid afternoon before we got down to the car and drove into the town. We found a shop with all walking boots and shoes half-price, with today an extra 20% off. We each bought a couple of pairs and felt that we were really getting bargain. The market was in full swing in Skipton. I bought some licorice but one could have bought almost anything.

Climbing a style

We got back to the boat just before it got dark, for afternoon tea – well, in my case, for Pineapple juice and Eccles cake. Great!

We dined on board and then watched ‘Now you see me’ – a strange thriller based on a group of illusionists. Quite fun. Walked the dogs and went to bed.

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Tuesday 29th. October, 2013 – In Barnoldswick 

Emerging from The Young Rachel

Got up and walked the dogs to Greenberfield and back – a walk of about an hour and a half including an exploration of where the locks had originally been and chatting with a Mr. Logan on the tow path about the virtues of different sorts of dogs.

Breakfast on Board

Back at the boat we breakfasted while the engine charged the batteries. I went along to see Wayne and to pay our mooring fees for another year – remarkably these have remained constant over the three years we have been here, must be one of the best buys around.

Rachel and I, with the dogs, went off to Skipton where we found a public bridle path which we explored and from which we got a glorious view of the town.


Back in Skipton I bought Rachel’s birthday present – a pendant and ear-rings of amber – and we did some shopping before returning to the boat where we settled down with a drink and listened to the news (all about the prices of gas and electricity and discussions between the companies and a parliamentary select committee).

It was dark here by 5 p.m. and it is still only October. Admittedly it is an overcast afternoon but if it is dark at 5 p.m. in October, what will it be like by the end of December?

After dining on board, we watched a DVD bought in the afternoon – all snug with the stove burning brightly and the dogs settled down comfortably. The DVD was called Argo and told the tale of how some of the Americans from the Embassy in Iran were smuggled out of the country back in the siege of 1979/80. I remember the events well because one of the consular staff from Genoa – Bob Ode – was caught up as a hostage and was held prisoner for 444 days. I remember seeing him walk down the steps of a plane when they all arrived back in the USA.

Walked Mix and counted 43 narrow boats with people – or at least lights – on board. For a Tuesday in October that seems like a very large number. Tomorrow I will count all the boats.

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Monday 28th. October, 2013 -- We set off south 

From the Other Side of the Canal

Woke early and turned the bedroom tv on at once to see how the projected storm had developed. Confirmed gusts of 99 miles an hour in the south and five deaths (two from falling trees, two from a gas explosion caused by a falling tree and one swept out to sea); massive travel disruption and, as the day developed, 600,000 homes without power.

Olive had been driven to Berwick to catch a train to Dundee but, as it was cancelled, Digger had to drive all the way to Dundee. We footled around and I had coffee with Mum before, at 12.15, we set off for Barnoldswick and Rachel’s narrow boat, arriving at 3.40 – I was surprised that it was still such a long journey from the Borders. However, I discovered that Chester-le-Street is just 90 minutes from our house, so that bodes well for the summer.

Found the boat well, lit the stove, turned on the engine to charge the batteries, walked the dogs and settled down for an evening in the boat. We dined and then watched the latest ‘Three Musketeers’ on DVD. Based loosely on the Dumas story but with flying galleons suspended from balloons it was a great romp.

Walked the dogs and retired to bed.

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Sunday 27th. October, 2013 -- Another great Sunday. 

Rachel, the mechanic, at work on my car

Got up refreshed after that extra hour in bed. Rachel awoke with a start not realising that the clock had gone back and convinced that she was late. On discovering that she wasn’t, she went back to sleep.

I walked the dog, breakfasted and then we all (Mum, Rachel and I) drove to church at Gavinton where we met up with Tom and Dorothy and enjoyed morning service which centred on the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. (I remember preaching on the story at an induction in Riverside Church years ago). This was a parable that my Dad really didn’t like (largely because he didn't think that it was fair) and I remember arguing with him and trying to make the point that the one basic rule about parables is that they are stories designed to make one point and one point only. (of course he knew that -- but he still thought it was unfair!) It can be fun to read into parables but that’s not really why they were told. Having said that, I really enjoyed Ann's sermon and the way that it brought out what Jesus was saying in this extended passage of teaching about prayer, in fact I loved the whole service. I am constantly amazed at the depth of Luke's perception about what really matters and about what he wants his readers to understand about the Christian pilgrimage. It seems so simple; it is so deep.

Back home, Rachel fitted the dog guard and then we set off for Spittal which is the beach and village just beside Berwick. We walked the dogs along the beach and were quite surprised at how sheltered it was – the winds are strong today (in preparation, perhaps for the storms forecast for tomorrow). We went on to the shopping area where I collected my sound bar from Curry’s and bought a lawnmower from Home Base, not least because they were having a 15% off weekend. How domesticated I am becoming – and I am quite looking forward to cutting the grass when the weather improves.

The light house from the play park at Spittal

Back home I set up the sound bar and then we ate with Olive, Digger and Mum in the farmhouse and returned to the Granary so that I could deal with some emails and prepare the wedding for next Saturday and the music for Arrochar for next Sunday. That done, we watched Downton Abbey and the news which was dominated by fears about the heavy weather forecast for tonight and tomorrow morning, walked the dogs and went to bed.

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Saturday 26th. October, 2013 -- Rachel’s Birthday and We’re Working! 

Autumn in Luss

I slept in until nine and then walked Mix, lit the fire and packed Rachel’s car. Then we planted the four signs (little plaques, really) we are leaving behind – the first to the dogs buried in the garden: Kim, Radar, Fang, Juno, Skye and Holly; then, by their trees in the glebe to Rachel’s Mum and Dad, to my Dad, and to Anne. Luss has been a happy place for us both but there have been real sadnesses as well. I suppose that Luss and Arrochar and their people have carried us through them and that life is about good and about sad times as well. Planting these little plaques brought home to me that we are moving on and also that we are leaving something of ourselves as well.

Our loving and much loved friends

I showered and got changed for the wedding, relieved that the weather is fair although there are warnings about mighty storms to come – the worst to hit England, but our new home is only nine miles from the border: can we trust the wind to know where the border is?

Remembrance Trees on the Glebe

The wedding was another really special occasion and with all the rain around, the couple were extremely lucky to get in and out in the dry before setting off for their reception at the Lodge on Loch Lomond. Today the photographer was Henry who lives in the same road in Cumbernauld in which Rachel and I lived when I was a probationer assistant at the start of my career so many years ago.

Gemma and John

Rachel and I set off for Duns as quickly as we could. It is Rachel’s birthday and we wanted to have time to celebrate it at home. It was an interesting journey: road works on the M8 held us back but the radio was good. Enjoyed an episode of The Bottom Line hosted by Evan Davis with John Timpson of the Timpson Shoe and Key business as a guest. There are 800 branches (and another 300 which deal with photocopying etc). John Timpson runs it as an upside down business. Decisions are made at branch level and it is all about providing service for the customer. There is flexibility in pricing and discounts and anything that goes wrong is encouraged to be sorted out at branch level. The area managers are there primarily to ensure that the right staff is appointed and then to support them. The central headquarters (John Timpson wouldn’t care for the title I expect) is there to support the rest of the organisation. Imagination is used in the appointment of staff and opportunities are given to ex-offenders. John Timpson was challenged about giving ex-cons the job of cutting folks’ keys! But he explained that their records showed that if you gave someone a chance and trusted them that people responded to that and that the record of things going wrong was no better or worse than with folk appointed from other backgrounds. He went on to say that he thought that much of the present compulsion to have systems and rules to safeguard against the one or two bad apples prevented so many good things from happening and that this was something which society as a whole had to learn.

I found the programme entrancing. Of course I was transferring in my mind the situation to the Church. If we truly turned it upside down and left the decision-making to the parishes and saw the centre as purely a small support organisation and presbyteries as only there to provide support and enable congregations to do what they wanted to do, what a different church we would have. I’ll be turning this over in my mind for some time to come.

Back home we found that Scott and Sue (my brother and sister-in-law) waiting with Mum, Digger and Olive for a birthday meal. We enjoyed a drink, toasted Rachel in Champaign and ate well before retiring to the Granary, walking the dog and going to bed. We will get an extra hour in bed tonight. Wonderful!

(Got a phone call from Cathy to say that after the wedding she had found the marriage document on the road, soaked and run over by passing cars but, thankfully, still legible. I always make quite a thing of handing over the document to the best man -- I guess that there will be some explaining to be done to the registrar on Monday, but our registrars are kind folk and I am sure that it will be all right!)

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Friday 25th. October, 2013 -- Mexico comes to Luss 

Felipe and Rachel

Up and walked the dog around the river path – it is very wet. Lit the fire in the manse and met with Mike to show him how to work the print machine and tell him what I used to do for Remembrance Sunday – because he asked, I hasten to record, I am delighted that now I am no longer there that they do their own thing. Chris and Cathy had got the church looking beautiful and it was warm as well.

After a shower and changing into my wedding uniform I conducted the wedding ceremony – the rain eased and then stopped as the bride arrived and it remained fair for photographs afterwards. (Graham was the photographer – it is always good to see him, and his photos are always worth seeing as well.) It was a really lovely wedding, one of my favourite weddings, I think; although to be honest I love them all – but there was something special about the small numbers and the fact that the couple have waited and waited for their wedding. (A very excited couple of Chinese girls on holiday were delighted to photograph the bride as she arrived.) After the wedding everyone set off for the Duck Bay Marina for the reception.

After the wedding Rachel and I drove down to the Alexandria library so that Rachel could return all of her books; then we continued on to Dumbarton to buy a dog guard for my car, a tom-tom from Mix and Rowan for Rachel for her birthday tomorrow, and a £10 dinner for two from Marks and Spencer for tonight.

Back to Luss in time to walk Mix around the river path before conducting the wedding rehearsal for John and Gemma whose wedding will take place tomorrow. It is going to be a big wedding – another lovely couple. I’m looking forward to it already! Went back to the manse and reflected on both the privilege of sharing in folk’s weddings and on the opportunity which each wedding presents. Discussion so often tends to centre on the financial importance of weddings for the local economy or the stress and stain it places on the church but it is really about the opportunity of placing our faith right at the heart of one of the most special moments of peoples’ lives. It is quite simply what we are here for.

I watched the News and Newsnight (it is good that matters at Grangemouth are resolving)and then got caught up in a programme about magical illusions – so I went to bed late.

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Thursday 24th. October, 2013 – Back in Harness Once More 

The Borders are so very beautiful

Rose and walked Mix down the Swinton Road and along Bramble Avenue, returning by the Kelso Road. Breakfasted on fried potatoes and freshly laid egg with Mum and Digger. Olive is still not home as Dundee University has prevailed upon her to teach an additional course to their law students.

Back in the Granary I dealt with some emails and started to organise my computer now that I am again on-line. In fact I discovered that much of my new internet connection is still not functioning properly (emails etc.). I telephoned BT and they told me that it would be another two days before everything was functioning as it should. Ah well!

I drove Mum to Gavinton Church so that she could attend the monthly congregational lunch before the Guild meeting. I would like to have stayed myself but we had to set off for Luss. Mum is now thoroughly into the Guild, attending the meetings at both Gavinton and Duns and enjoying them both very much. I do not think that it will be very long before her diary is as busy down here as it was in Kirkcaldy.

Rachel and I set off for Luss. It was a good drive with both dogs behaving well. Cathy was waiting to greet us when we arrived and soon we had a fire roaring in the grate – the central heating is still not functioning. I conducted the rehearsal for the wedding of Felipe and Rachel which will be held tomorrow. Felipe is from Mexico and tomorrow’s celebration has been delayed from earlier in the year because of visa difficulties. I am so pleased to be part of this wedding.

While I completed the rehearsal, Rachel went off to collect a Chinese take-away which we enjoyed while watching an old Poirot which we had seen before but the pictures are superb, and later I watched the News: I was delighted to see that there was just a glimmer of hope for Grangemouth before we walked the dogs and went to bed.

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Wednesday 23rd. October, 2013 -- The Granary Goes On-line 

Wonderful apples growing wild in Bramble Avenue

It dawned fair – a nice surprise after all of the rain of previous days. I had given today up to the installation of our telephone as I had no idea how long it would all take. In fact after I had walked Mix and joined Mum and Digger for breakfast I had time to start on the spare bedroom, moving furniture around and, just when I had things in the greatest guddle imaginable, the telephone engineers arrived. It is always thus!

There was an immediate question: the lines to the farmhouse cross the road from a pole to the farmhouse, but was the line high enough? If not there was a problem. This became a little strange when I discovered that the join for the telephone connection came from a box beside one of our barns. From there the cable went underground to the other side of the road, went up a pole and came back over the road to our house. Would it not be easier to take the connection from the box by the side of the barn and lead it into our house? This was not possible. However the cherry-picker was able to ensure that the height across the road was adequate (5.9 metres) and once a hole had been drilled through our wall (it is more than a metre thick) we had not only a working telephone but an internet connection as well. Immediately emails regarding weddings started flooding into my system – I forwarded them on to Luss!

As the telephone engineers left, my friends Robin and Helen arrived. Robin was my Episcopalian colleague when I was at Bishopbriggs. Now they are based at Dumfries but were staying near here on holiday. It was really, really good to see them both and to hear of all that is going on in their church community. We had afternoon tea with giant cakes from the local baker in Duns.

Later, I walked the dog and had a first tidy of the bedroom before we dined and then settled down to watch the new Poirot on TV, followed by the sad news about the Grangemouth petrochemical plant and its imminent closure (unless something can be done at the last moment to save it). Finally, in the moonlight, Mix and I walked around the policies before going to bed and spending some time reading before sleep.

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Tuesday 22nd. October, 2013 -- Today I really did make a start 

Everywhere something is growing – these are berries in the hedges by the sides of the fields

Up and walked Mix – it is a rotten day and I was woken by the smoke alarm going off. It was a false alarm caused by the battery having expired. After breakfast I took Mum into Duns to get her hair done. I went off to the Golf Club to collect my membership badge. I learned that there is a driving range very close to Duns and that there is a golf professional who gives lessons – maybe that’s where I’ll start.

While Mum was getting her hair done I went and bought some bits and pieces at the Co-op where I was served by a very friendly and chatty lady – it makes a difference and I will be back. On arriving back at the Granary (with a new battery for the smoke alarm) I saw a team of BT engineers working in the road outside Mount Pleasant. I spoke to them and it seems that everything is ‘on’ for our telephone services tomorrow. I hope so!

We lunched in the Granary on bread and smoked ham and salami with grapes. I cleaned and tidied my bathroom as a precursor to starting on unpacking boxes but then Rachel wanted to go into Duns so I went with her and on my return I took Mix for a walk to Crunklaw and found a really quiet road which goes either to Gavinton or to Fogo – the Fogo trip, a very nice lady who looks after horses at the farm told me, is five miles. Sounds like a good walk for a fairer day.

Back home I really did start on my room but no sooner had I made that start than it was time to eat and afterwards I continued for a while before watching an episode of Doc Martin before catching the end of Newsnight, walking Mix and retiring to bed.

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Monday 21st. October, 2013 -- Getting Sorted Out – well just starting really 

Autumn is drawing in

Up a bit later, around 8.30 a.m. and walked Mix along the Swinton Road before breakfast with Mum and Digger. Spent the morning getting my blog up to date and dealing with lots of emails. Even here, having been away for a few days, the email programme was absolutely jammed full. I can only access them through my mother’s internet connection so I don’t like to disturb her too often. However, we are due to get our own telephone line and internet connection on Wednesday so it won’t be too long before we join the real world once more.

The seat given to us by Luss Guild

Rachel now has the Guild seat given to us by the Luss Guild on our retirement sitting outside the door of the Granary in the courtyard. We haven’t really had the weather to enjoy it yet – but it is very much admired and we never pass it without thinking of all of our friends. Sitting next to the seat is a bird bath. It was the only thing my father wanted to take from the garden of his home in Buckhaven when they left. It came to Luss and now it is here with us in the borders. I am sure that it won’t stay here: Mum would like to have it where she can see it from her morning-room window; so once the weather improves we’ll move it there.

Had some toad-in-the-hole with Digger at lunch time and then, in the afternoon, Rachel, Mum and I set off for Berwick. Mum wanted to make some purchases from W H Smith (diary for 2014), Rachel wanted to buy some bits and pieces from Tesco (brush and dust pan and other odds and ends) and I wanted to pop into Curry’s – when I bought our television a couple of weeks ago I was given a voucher for £200 provided I used it within thirty days. As we are unlikely to be here much during the latter part of this month I thought I had better spend it before it expired. I bought a sound bar for the television and a blue ray DVD player. I also bought three films: Les Miserables, the latest James Bond and the film about Abraham Lincoln. In the evening we watched Les Miserables on the new television and blue ray player. It was absolutely out of this world. When I think of the tiny black and white television on which we watched the coronation all those years ago, how the television experience has changed!

In between we dined with Mum and Digger – Scotch Broth and fish-pie, very yummy. Later we walked the dogs – no moon tonight (too many clouds) so it was very dark and I read some more of The Unusual Pilgrimage of Harold Fry in bed. I am going to get to love this new way of life.

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Sunday 20th. October, 2013 Sundays are Good 

Abbey St. Bathans from the bridge over the Whiteadder

Got up and walked Mix – the roads are totally deserted and we could be on the moon. I just love the isolation here. The fields have already changed since last week as crops are starting to grow even although we are well into the Autumn. Breakfasted in the farmhouse and then went off to Gavinton Church with Mum and Rachel.

Counting the organist and the minister, there were just twenty of us, but numbers don’t matter and it was a lovely service on the theme of the ‘unjust judge’; Ann, the minister, using her past experience as an advocate to revel in the story which is all about the contrast between human authority and God. It is good to be reminded both of God’s unceasing care and of the importance of prayer. Back home, in these now endless days, we loaded Mix and Rowan into Rachel’s car and drove to Coldingham where we walked the dogs along the beach, returning through Reston where we saw that the house which Mum used to own has been all done up and is now for sale.

Inside the Church at Abbey St. Bathans

Collecting Mum, we set off for the tiny village of Abbey St. Bathans (in the parish of Gavinton) where we attended the reopening of the little village Church. It wasn’t really what we had expected – there were no pews but it was a lovely building. It seems that a few years ago the Church felt that it could no longer afford the upkeep of the building and so it was sold to a local couple who, with help from the community, have turned the building into something quite special which will be used for community events and, from time to time, as a church. The building was full and there was a lot of enthusiasm – so things look bright for both the community and for the wider church parish.

Back home – it was still only half-past four – Scott arrived and we all sat and chatted in the farmhouse before dinner at seven, after which we retired to the Granary and watched Downton Abbey and the news before walking the dogs in the moonlight before bed.

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Saturday 19th. October, 2013 -- Wet, Wet – and a Wedding 

The Luss Water imitating the Mississippi

Up and walked the dog around the glebe. It is very, very wet and the river is running fast. Already many of the paths are flooded and it is a thoroughly nasty day. Back at the manse I popped over to the church to sort the heating, lit a coal fire in the manse (where there is no other heating) and I checked that every room was still clean and tidy. I got the apple tree (given to us by the Luss Sunday School) ready to put in the car and chatted with Alison and Elspeth as they stapled the orders of service. Cathy got the church ready for the wedding, florists arrived to do their thing, Rachel practised the music and then we loaded her car so that we could set off as soon as the 2 p.m. wedding was concluded.

Emma and Clive

It was bad luck to get such awful weather for their wedding but Emma and Clive were having a day to remember with a lovely service at Luss Church followed by a reception at the Loch Lomond Golf Club. After the service the weather eased a bit to enable photos to be taken; we got into Rachel’s Berlingo and made excellent time back to Mount Pleasant, arriving just after six, joining Mum, Digger and Olive for a splendid meal and then retiring to our new home and luxuriating in the fact that we were here – and how cosy it is. Stayed up quite late just footling about: it is good to be home.

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Friday 18th. October, 2013 -- We Get Quite a Lot Done 

Apples on the Glebe

I walked Mix around the glebe and snapped these apples growing in the little orchard. Then I continued with the manse clean-up. It is now all done and looking clean, ship-shape and quite attractive. Rachel photographed every room, they all looked so good. I met with Mike to run over some of the questions which had inevitably arisen since I had left. How can the heating system in the church be set? How does the central heating in the centre operate? How do you change ink in the Riso machine? We worked through the list and at least one person now knows as much as I do.

In the afternoon Cathy ‘dog sat’ while Rachel and I went off to the library (Rachel to return books), the Outlets (Rachel to buy shoes), Antartex (both of us buy ‘bargain – sale’ clothes, Lomond Shores (Rachel to buy dog-walking shoes) and then it was back to Luss where I walked Mix around the glebe before tonight’s wedding rehearsal for the wedding of Emma and Clive.

After the rehearsal Cathy came back to look after the dogs and to allow Rachel and I to go down to Alexandria for an evening meal with Jessie and May. It was a wonderful meal with all of my favourites – smoked salmon followed by roast beef and then raspberry pavlova with a very pleasant Chianti, and coffee to end. It was a gloriously relaxed evening – one of the most enjoyable of my retirement.

I’ve been reflecting on time. Until I retired every day, every week, every month just rushed by. No sooner did I get up then it was lunchtime and after a few moments or so it seemed it was the evening. I never had enough time and there was so much to be squeezed into each day. Now, just three weeks into retirement, time has slowed right down. I seem to have so much time. Days go on and on. There is time to think. Time to read. Time to plan. Time to walk the dog and time just to be. I want to savour this stage – for fear that it will not last.

I sat and read ‘The Unusual Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ for an hour before bed – it was already late, but so what? I have time and energy to do these things now.

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Thursday 17th. October, 2013 --- Cleaning, a Wedding and a Shopping Trip 

A Happy Wedding Couple

I walked Mix along the river path – it was wet and everything was very quiet. Then I started in earnest on the manse, cleaning the top floor and working down to the middle floor. Cathy was here and it was great to see her.

Conducted the wedding of Patricia and James – that’s their picture at the head of this entry. It was a lovely wedding and afterwards the couple and their guests set off for the Duck Bay Marina for their reception. Rachel and I set off for Braehead. Rachel needed some bits and pieces to enable her to hand over copies of all of her music files and slides for use during the services and I wanted to speak to the folk at Apple about buying a computer and a printer which will see me through my retirement. I discovered that Apple was filled with school children so I will go back next week.

We had a snack, bought some books and returned to Luss to discover that the central heating in the manse had broken down. What a good job I left a full coal bunker! We were really quite warm as we watched Poirot on television and enjoyed another snack in the evening.

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Wednesday 16th. October, 2013 -- And Off We Go Again 

The Granary as we set off again

Walked Mix and showered. There was still quite a bit of fog around and the roads were quite deserted. I spent the morning getting things done for Luss and Arrochar – preparing an order of service for printing, creating the music files for Arrochar – and soon it was time to set off for Luss. Rachel drove, Rowan slept but Mix was very restless. Still it was a good journey and we arrived in good time for the rehearsal for Patricia and James’ wedding tomorrow. While I completed the rehearsal Rachel went down to Balloch to collect a Chinese meal which we enjoyed in the Manse. It was strange to be here!

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Tuesday 15th. October, 2013 -- Canterbury Tales 

Canterbury Cathedral

Up early to attend morning prayers at the cathedral at 7.30 a.m. and then went on with Kevin to St. John’s Chapel in the cathedral for the morning communion service. I enjoyed both and realised again how much I would like to have spent time in a religious community where everything is based around the daily times of worship. Back in Italy, forty years ago, I spent time in a Benedictine monastery and developed a hankering which has never quite left me.

Where morning prayers were held

We breakfasted in the cathedral dining room – this was a really splendid breakfast: bacon, egg, hash-brown, sausage, tomato, black pudding and all washed down with orange juice and black coffee.

We met in the cathedral board room and took forward our remit to work towards the creation of a European Chapter of the Green Pilgrimage Network. We learned of other pilgrimage places within our area who are anxious to become part of the network and we started planning towards a full chapter meeting in a about a year’s time. In the meantime there is much to do and this will include promotional work within our different areas.

The meeting broke up in mid afternoon – we had been served a sandwich lunch and then we had a look around the cathedral before Chris, Kevin and I caught a train back to London.

King’s Cross Station

I had time in hand so I walked along Tottenham Court Road and down Oxford Street before returning to the station and catching the train at 7 p.m. It was an uneventful journey and the train arrived on time a little after half past ten. Rachel met me and we drove back to Mount Pleasant through quite a bit of fog. I walked Mix, had another snack, and was glad to get to bed.

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Monday 14th. October, 2013 – Back to Berwick for another Adventure 

The Market Square in Canterbury

Up early this morning to walk Mix, have a shower and be driven to Berwick in time to catch the 9.11 train to London. This train was an ‘East Coast’ and compared to last week’s ‘Cross Country’ felt extremely old. One had to open the window and lean out to open the carriage door. It was also less well cared for. Last week, every hour or so someone came along collecting rubbish (mostly generated by the very welcome refreshment cart); this week there was no such collection and refuse gradually built up as the journey progressed. Interestingly, the food on the trolley was more expensive as well -- £5 .25p for a BLT sandwich and Fanta as compared to £4 .95p. On such differences are reputations built.

The train was twenty minutes late (point failure at Peterborough -- I feel like Reggie Perrin) but I still had plenty of time to walk from King’s Cross to St. Pancras Station which is the height of luxury and more like an airport terminal than one’s everyday station – shops, restaurants and wide boulevards.

St. Pancras Station

I recollected that many years ago my father’s first job was in an office within the wonderful frontage of St. Pancras. My father started in the property and land department of the railway company which was based here and if it hadn’t been for the war then this might have been his base for many years.

The train from St. Pancras deposited me in Canterbury in the middle of the afternoon. I navigated to the cathedral using the tower as my guide – it was only ten minutes walk through the little streets and alleys of the medieval city. The picture at the top of this entry shows the city square. This picture is of the entrance to the cathedral:

The entrance to the Cathedral

I was surprised to discover that it cost £9 .50p to enter the cathedral precincts as a visitor. As one who was expected I didn’t have to pay but it is quite a hefty charge for a family to have to pay to visit church (of course, no one has to pay if they are going in to the cathedral for a service).

I checked in and as I was a bit early I went for a wander around the town. I saw one of the city gates:

One of the city gates

I also bought fish and chips which I ate leaning over this little bridge:

In the centre of Canterbury

Back at the cathedral conference centre I met up with my colleagues – Alison from the Green Pilgrimage Network, Berit from Norway, Per from Sweden, Chris – a very distinguished environmentalist from England, and Kevin from St. Albans. We were hosted by Caroline from Canterbury.

After sorting out our accommodation we went into the cathedral to share in a service of Choral Evensong led by a choir of twenty boys and twelve men. It was a very lovely service. We were then taken for a very superb meal in the cathedral dining room, beautifully served and an excellent meal: salmon and vegetables, followed by a desert and washed down with wine and coffee.

In the evening we all went out to one of the old public houses and enjoyed a couple of beers and incidentally got much of the work done for tomorrow while we sat with our beers!

Walked back and I caught this picture of the flood-lighting on the walls of the cathedral:

The Cathedral by Night

Was soon fast asleep.

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Sunday 13th. October, 2013 – A Rural Sunday (mostly) in Gavinton 

The view from the bathroom window in the Farmhouse caught my eye.

A lovely sunny Sunday morning and the wind which has been quite ferocious over recent days has disappeared. I walked Mix – there was hardly any traffic on the roads; showered and breakfasted before going with Mum and Rachel to Gavinton Church for the Harvest Festival Service which I enjoyed. Helen, the session clerk and, I believe, the presbytery clerk, spoke about practical help for those in poverty overseas and used as an example of practical help a Heath-Robinson (I don’t mean that in any derogatory way) fish farm created out of netting, bamboo poles and four empty plastic lemonade bottles. Ann, the minister, spoke about choices between eating and heating being faced in our own country. At harvest we share what we have – food and faith. It was good.

After Church we went for coffee and visited the flower festival (which was in the Church). The theme was creation – I loved this depiction of God creating human beings:

The final work of the sixth day – the creation of humanity

In the afternoon I opened my first box and started on my room. However, Tom arrived soon afterwards and set about installing our washing machine – or at least, altering the unit to allow it to fit.

Tradesmen at work

Once this was completed I set off for a walk with Mix, taking advantage of the quiet Sunday roads to walk to Fogo and back – a distance of a little over five miles. Fogo has a beautiful little church which evidently traces its history back to the eleventh century. There is a service there every third Sunday of the month. I’d love to go next week but already I feel quite committed to Gavinton.

Back home we dined early so that Mum and I could go to the Songs of Praise Service to mark the end of the flower festival. Another good service and good hymns as well. The Church was a riot of colour:

One of the colourful displays

After the service we drove back to Mount Pleasant and I got ready to go to Canterbury tomorrow. At nine we watched Downton Abbey after which I walked Mix before retiring to bed. I’m looking forward to next Sunday already.

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Saturday 12th. October, 2013 -- Our Quiet Rural Idyll 

Working on the fields opposite the Granary

The roads are very quiet on a Saturday morning so Mix and I walked along to the neighbouring farm on the Kelso Road. We admired the farm with its stock of hay and lots of pens for sheep. We looked at the ten little cottages presumably for farm workers (with what had obviously been the three outside privies) and the two new detached houses which didn’t look as anyone had as yet moved in, and we wandered down the quiet road towards Fogo.

Back home we breakfasted and then we waited for the delivery from Curry’s which arrived on time and they delivered our new washing/drying machine and our slim-line deep freeze. The washing machine didn’t quite fit – so much for them all being the same height and we had to send for Tom who was busy building a goat house for his herd of four goats – their latest acquisition. Ah, this rural life! We really are very rural here, far more rural than anywhere I have lived before. All around us are fields which are being cultivated – most of the traffic on the roads is gigantic tractors and farm implements, the purposes of some of which I can only guess. The farm workers work hard – they are in the fields as soon as it gets light and are often still hard at it long after it has got dark. Today is Saturday but that made no difference: when I walked Mix at 5 p.m. two tractors (you can see them in the picture) were still hard at work in the field across the road from where we live. We got a friendly wave from one of the drivers and it made me feel at home.

We have got the television fitted up in the bedroom now. The aerial is directed towards Berwick so we get English television upstairs and Scottish television downstairs – that way we will get every opinion on the referendum!

After a chicken dinner (with garlic bread), we retired to the Granary where we watched the Young Montalbano before bed. It had been a lovely day.

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Friday 11th. October, 2013 -- A Day of Getting Sorted Out 

Mount Pleasant from Bramble Avenue

Up and walked the dog before enjoying breakfast of bacon and egg in the farmhouse. (Walked down the road to Swinton and then turned off along a track between two fields – we call it Bramble Avenue because of the Bramble bushes there. Took a picture from a long way away of the farmhouse.) Tom arrived to erect our freeview digital television aerial and take a lead in through the bedroom window for the small television we are fitting up there. Tom has the tool for every occasion and I can see that if I am going to try to do things for myself here that the first requirement will be a set of tools. The task continued into the afternoon and involved a trip into Duns to purchase (from Howard’s Electrical Supplies) a metal pole on which to erect the aerial.

Later in the afternoon I walked Mix and then Rachel and I went into Duns to get forms to sign on at the local medical practice. We also went into Pearson’s and bought some fuel for the stove in the Granary. After a magnificent meal in the farmhouse (which included some of the cake given to us by Arrochar Church) we came back to a very warm Granary and watched an episode of Lewis – at least, Rachel watched the episode. I realised once it had finished that I hadn’t a clue who had done what to whom – but I had enjoyed the doze in the warmth on the sofa. And so, after a brief walk around the policies with the dog, to bed.

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Thursday 10th. October, 2013 -- Back to Berwick 

Rainbow over Mount Pleasant this morning

This morning I rose and walked Mix before settling down to do some chores for Luss and Arrochar. I prepared a draft Order of Service (because I have a file with the words of all of the hymns on it). I prepared music files of the hymns for Arrochar and started transferring files to Mike so that he can take over. This has been delayed because my email account (operated through my mother’s internet because we won’t have a telephone or internet until the 23rd. of October) has not been functioning as it should. Andy, however, has managed to get it all working again.

In the early afternoon, measurements having been taken, we returned with Mum to Berwick and visited Curry’s where Simon was awaiting us. We bought a new washing machine with a tumble dryer included. It cost rather more than we had intended to spend but we are getting the Granary ready for the rest of our lives. We bought a slim-line freezer and also a small flat television for our bedroom. There will be no further purchases for a long time to come but we should now at least begin to get sorted out. Back home I walked the dog.

I started trying to get a bit organised in the short while before dinner and then after a lovely meal with the whole family in the farm house, Rachel and I watched an old episode of Spooks on television. The News and Newsnight followed and then it was time for bed.

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Wednesday 9th. October, 2013 -- Travelling Home 

The View from my Bristol Bedroom

After breakfast David drove me through Bristol back to the railway station for my journey back to Berwick. On the way I again grabbed a few pictures from the car window.


There is lots of graffiti in Bristol which I learned is the home of Banksy, a famous and apparently unrevealed graffiti artist. This has encouraged other artists and many buildings are now painted as the one in the picture:

I loved seeing the old buildings as we drove past.

This is the site of the old market.

Soon we were at the station where, without any fuss at all, I caught my train and enjoyed the five-hour trip back to Berwick. I had the double seat to myself except for a brief period when I was joined by a lady journeying to see her daughter. She told me of all of her holidays cruising. I put her down as someone with a great deal of money until she told me that she and her husband were retired and had their names down for all kinds of last minute offers. They had recently sailed the Atlantic to New York (and flown home again) all for £400. Decided to explore those possibilities when I get my own telephone and internet connection later in the month.

Rachel was waiting for me when I arrived in Berwick and we went off to Curry’s to see about a washing machine with a built-in tumble dryer (our kitchen is very small) and a small upright freezer which we might squeeze in. Found another very helpful and knowledgeable assistant (Simon) who helped us and we set off for home to do some measuring.

Enjoyed a meal with Olive, Digger and Mum after walking Mix and soon it was time for bed. Who would have thought that sitting in a train reading a book could be so tiring. (By coincidence I discovered that the book I was reading ‘Pure’ was written by an author from Bristol, Andrew Miller.)

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Tuesday 8th. October, 2013 -- Setting off for Bristol 

Rachel seeing me off at Berwick Station

After walking the dog and showering, I set off for Berwick Station for a five hour train journey to Bristol. I had never been to Bristol so it was all quite exciting. The train took me through Newcastle, Durham, York, Leeds, Birmingham and Cheltenham and I arrived at Bristol in the mid afternoon. The train run by Cross Country was, I overheard one gentleman remark to his wife, ‘a superior one’. Well, it was certainly very comfortable. I had a booked seat and it was waiting for me on my embarkation. I noticed that many folk got on to the train and didn’t look at all to see if the seat they sat on was booked or not. Other people examined the signage in great detail to make sure that they were doing what was correct. The folk who didn’t bother were often the ones who then got quite annoyed when the rightful ‘owner’ of the seat arrived!

At the station in Bristol I was met by David, a friend from University days at St. Andrews.

The Station at Bristol Temple Meads

The name of the station comes from the Church of the Knights Templar – mead is a word for fields. David drove me to his home.

We drove under the Brunel Bridge ...

... and saw the ‘new’ cut which was dug by prisoners of war during the Napoleonic war. The tide was obviously right out! (These photos were grabbed through the window of David’s car and I know they leave a little to be desired as photographs.)

I was welcomed to David and Diana’s home and, after something to eat and a walk around the area to get my bearings, we set off for the evening meeting of the Bristol Anglo-Italian Circle held in the British Aerospace Workers Association building. I enjoyed meeting all of the members and spoke (and showed pictures) of my time in Genoa as minister between the years of 1971 and 1976. Back home at David’s, we dined and then I retired to bed in a lovely room in their three-floored terrace house. It had been another good day.

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Monday 7th. October, 2013 -- A Day of Gate-Building 

A gate waiting to be hung

Up and walked Mix and then back to the Granary where Tom arrived around nine. With Tom taking the lead, we erected the new farm gate to keep the dogs in the courtyard and then dismantled the small gate and Tom re-hung it with a spring to keep it closed. This all took a lot longer than it takes to write and was a real precision task – thank goodness for Tom!

We have a gate

In the afternoon I went up to Duns to visit the bank and to do a little shopping. I’d hoped to get onto my emails through my mother’s account but the system didn’t appear to be working so things will have to wait until service is resumed. I fitted up my Mum’s digital picture frame so that she can relive past holidays and then I worked in the study on a talk that I am to give in Bristol tomorrow evening. Walked Mix and soon it was time to eat again. Retirement does have its advantages!

While walking Mix (with Rachel and Rowan) watched two tractors driving along in tandem – one had a huge device for gathering potatoes and then it had a conveyor belt which delivered them into the truck being pulled by its neighbour tractor. It was all very efficient and brought back memories of the days when we got two weeks of holiday from school in Dundee so that we could gather tatties. I have many happy memories of those days – but it was very hard work.

Rachel and Tom – Experts at Work

Dined in the farmhouse and then retired to the Granary to get everything ready for my trip to Bristol tomorrow. I have never been to Bristol before so it will all be rather exciting.

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Sunday 6th. October, 2013 -- My First Retirement Sunday 

Mum and Rachel outside Gavinton Church

Up and walked the dog and then had breakfast in the farmhouse before setting off with Mum and Rachel to Gavinton Church (just four minutes up the road and recommended by Tom and Dorothy). We were made very welcome and I loved the service conducted by the minister Ann Inglis and based on the lectionary readings for today: “We have Mums and Grandmums – we need more Timothys.”

Joined the congregation for coffee in the small hall beside the Church and learned that we are probably not in Gavinton parish (the boundary seems to run down the middle of the road which passes our door and we are on the other side). But we are welcome nonetheless!

Outside the Church Hall

Back home Tom and I got the television set we had bought assembled and fitted on to the wall. Just before two the Sky engineer arrived and by half past two we had television again. I walked Mix and watched television (!) before doing some tidying in the study – I still haven’t started opening boxes – and then we all dined together in the farmhouse (toad in the hole – my favourite).

Everyone came across to the Granary to watch Downton Abbey on our new television set and afterwards it wasn’t long before we went to bed. A really lovely Sunday.

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Saturday 5th. October, 2013 -- Weddings, as usual. 

Our first couple – Louise and John

Up and started to clear up the Manse. Rachel and I had intended to start at the top of the manse and work our way downwards but there is a big event happening on Monday – a meeting of the executive of ACTS (The actions of Churches together) and so it was more important that we set about the ground floor. Everyone pitched in to help – Cathie, Rhoida, Mike, Alison, Elspeth – and by the time we left in the late afternoon the ground floor was immaculate.

The first wedding was at noon. Louise from Helensburgh to John from the United States of America, with guests from Scotland and from the United States. This was followed by the wedding of Maura and Ryan – another lovely occasion with, on this occasion, both bride and groom coming from this country, and bringing with them many guests.

Our second couple Maura and Ryan

Our third couple, David and Rhona, had travelled from Canada to be married, although Rhona is from this country and met her 'husband-to-be' at the base camp on Mount Everest. Now they live in Winnipeg where David is a surgeon.

Rhona and David

Rhona had arranged for all of her guests to arrive by boat so that they would not be at the church too early and risk arriving before the guests from the previous wedding had departed. In fact it all worked out perfectly. Everyone kept to their allotted times; all of the weddings were really happy occasions and it was a joy for me to be part of them.

Rachel was in charge of the music as usual. However, given that we will not be around in future, Rachel has been giving Carol lessons in controlling the organ. Carol sat in for two of the weddings this afternoon and is making great progress.

Carol at the organ

Once the weddings were over Rachel and I set off for Beth’s home at Muirlands where we were treated to a meal with the family. It was a special occasion on a day of special events and ever so kind. We dined in the farmhouse kitchen:

Beth, Jamie, Emma, Hannah and Katie (the arm is Rachel’s who just missed being in the picture)

After an excellent meal, Rachel and I returned to the Manse where we loaded the dogs and some bits and pieces into our vehicles and drove down to Duns, arriving around eleven at night, just in time to climb into bed.

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Friday 4th. October, 2013 -- And Back to Work! 

Mount Pleasant from the Swinton Road

I got up early and walked Mix along the Swinton Road – on the way back I took this picture of the Mount Pleasant Farmhouse with our Granary to the right and barns to the left. Today I had to return to Luss in order to conduct three wedding rehearsals, with the three weddings tomorrow. I’m happy to do that to help out, particularly now that Bill who was to look after these events has been taken unwell. I was on the road by about half-past eleven, arriving at Luss about 2 p.m. and then going off to Helensburgh to have a session with my physio. Back in Luss the wedding rehearsals started at five and ran through until eight, after which Rachel and I enjoyed a Chinese take-away before getting off to bed.

It seems incredibly odd to be back in Luss. In one sense I have never been away but the decisions are made by other people now and my responsibility is only to do the things that I have been asked to do to the best of my ability. Phone calls, emails, people with requests get forwarded on to other people and, after forty-three years of being the person with whom the buck stopped, that is quite a strange feeling.

Lorraine is the beadle for tomorrow but both Robbie and Mike came along to see me, and it was very good to see them both.

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Thursday 3rd. October, 2013 -- My first trip across the Border 

Tom and Mum on Berwick Station

Up early and walked the dog, showered and then breakfasted at eight before setting off with Mum and Tom for Berwick at 8.30 a.m. We drove just along the road and past signs announcing that now we were in England. Mum caught a train to Edinburgh where she is going to the theatre with friends (to see The Fiddler on the Roof). Tom and I went to a retail outlet where we bought a television. There are so many different televisions and we were shown them all by Chris, a very helpful assistant from Curry's who, while working, is also studying computer game design at the Open University. Chris helped us to make our choice and, as the television was not in stock, arranged for it to be delivered to the Granary on Saturday. Now Tom went off to see a friend (for a music rehearsal) and I met up with Cathy and Rachel. We had a morning coffee and then went into Home Base to work through Rachel's shopping list for the new home. Home Base had everything on the list -- pretty good! Back at Mount Pleasant we grabbed something to eat and soon afterwards Tom arrived and we mounted the wall plate for the television so that everything is in order for when the television and then the Sky engineer arrives. I then went off to the study to get things ready for the weddings I will conduct at Luss on Saturday (with rehearsals tomorrow).

Olive gave us a super meal -- vegetable soup (home-made) followed by home-made fishcakes with roast potatoes. Rachel discovered that she had lost in the removal the power cables for her laptops so panic ensued. We have made provisional arrangements for the Church music at Luss but hope to find that the cables have been left at Luss! Walked the dog and so to bed.

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Wednesday 2nd. October, 2013 -- Now I'm an old hand at this Retirement Business 

Rachel's country alarm clock

Woke early with a phone call from Morag and then walked the dog before breakfast made by Digger -- sausage and French toast. Then I borrowed Mum's phone and started trying to see about a telephone and broadband for the Granary -- and a television system as well. BT have arranged that we will be connected to the telephone system on 23rd. October -- we need to have a new line installed and we will have BT internet as well. I spoke to Sky and they were keen to get us connected to their television service. I had thought that a few weeks would have to pass but no, they will be with us on Sunday afternoon. That's great except for the fact that we don't have a television so I will have to go out tomorrow and buy a television set to which the Sky can be attached. Also spoke to the Church of Scotland who told me that they have now sorted out my pension so I can look forward to being paid for my life of leisure!

Just after lunch time Tom arrived and we set off to see about a gate for the farm courtyard. We went to a farm nearby where the farmer was obviously an agent for gates -- he had hundreds of them in what had obviously been a grain storage building. He knew exactly what we required and it will arrive to him tomorrow night and be delivered to us on Friday morning. We bought all of the fittings and brought them here so that we will be ready to fit the gate soon after it is delivered. Tom then took me on a tour of the industrial estate, the garden centre and other places which he thought I would need to know about -- we met a builder and saw the local MOT garage and eventually ended up back at Tom and Dorothy's home. What a lot they have done to it and how great it looks.

Came back to Mount Pleasant and had some afternoon tea/lunch -- Olive had now returned from her two day teaching stint in Dundee. I worked in the study sorting out many of my clothes which are now hanging on rails for the first time in several weeks. Walked Mix and then we all shared in a meal -- fish pie and stewed apples and brambles with ice cream. It was superb. Sat and talked with Mum and Cathy in the lounge of the farm house before returning to the Granary for a final burst on the clothes before bed. I can get to like this retirement business!

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Tuesday 1st. October, 2013 -- Retirement: Day One 

Tom at Mount Pleasant

It seems that this is a busy place! I was determined not to get up this morning but Bill caught me on my mobile at 8.30 and so I got up and walked Mix -- a very pleasant walk -- and what struck me at once was that I saw no people at all while I was out. For one who has been surrounded by people for the whole of my life, that was really quite remarkable. In Luss I never walked Mix without meeting and greeting at least a couple of folk.

Back home, plans were being made for the day. I found my approach to these plans quite remarkable as well. You see normally when I have been away from my parish it has been for a snatched day or two or a brief holiday but, while days remain enormously precious, now my diary is almost empty -- so I am happy to do whatever anyone wants and I won't feel that if I haven't actually achieved something of importance that the day has been wasted.

Tom arrived and I snapped him going up the stairs with his tools. he didn't feel that the folk who were decorating Mum's new upstairs sitting room were doing the work around the sink (for her cups of tea) as well as was required. So now Tom himself is on the job. He also fixed another area of fence to prevent Mix and Rowan from setting out to explore the outside world.

My job was to drive Mum to Duns to have her hair cut. It is a tiny journey -- four minutes at the most -- and when I got back to the Granary everything was as I had left it! Rachel was unpacking boxes, Cathy was in the barns rooting about for a lawnmower to attack the back garden. Cathy and I went back into Duns to collect Mum and to have a short look around the shops and we brought back with us a snack lunch which went down very well. In the afternoon I had a short siesta (and read my book) before taking Mum back into Duns to sign on at the local medical practice. There are two practices which both share the same building. One is called the Duns practice and the other the Merse practice. Mum signed on at the Duns practice and really liked the doctor (who said that he couldn't believe that she was really ninety -- who says bedside manners are a thing of the past)? Back home I unpacked a couple of boxes to show willing, and installed a big cushion for Mix to settle down on when he is in my study. I should report that Mix is settling in very well. Even after a day his barking is stopping and he is extremely happy. With Rowan he loves to run around the garden and he has accepted this new study as his place to be.

In the evening we all went off to Scott and Sue's house at Polworth Rhodes, about a ten minute drive from here. Sue gave us a magnificent meal -- salmon followed by fruit flan with cream and ice cream, and we were regaled with all that had been happening at the recent Berwick Film Festival at which Scott had been involved. It sounds like we have come to an exciting place to live.

It was good, too, to be in a home that wasn't upside down with a removal going on!

Rachel, Mum, Scott, Sue and Cathy

Back home -- and glad to go to bed after my first day as a member of the retired generation.

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Monday 30th. September, 2013 -- Our Day of Departure 

Outside the Wheatsheaf at Swinton

Awoke and walked Mix and then set about dismantling my study and cramming all of the leftovers and all of the presents we have been given into our two vehicles. It just wouldn't go and we shall be back in Luss on Friday to complete the task and also to clean the house from top to bottom. (We shall also be conducting three wedding rehearsals and, on the Saturday, three weddings.) Finally, about one in the afternoon, we set off for the Borders, Mix and I in one car and Rachel, Cathy and Rowan in the other.

I arrived just after half-past three. I unloaded my car and that was it! (Rachel didn't even unload her car.) We sat and chatted with Mum and Digger (Olive was in Dundee and Fife) and then in the early evening we set off for Swinton (three miles south) and had a meal in the Wheatsheaf Hotel dining room. It was a very pleasant meal.

Back home I checked my emails to ensure that any which came in before I retired were dealt with. (I had to do this on my mother's computer because I have no internet access, no landline -- and no television.) I got a lovely message to say that Jackie Baillie had put down a motion of congratulation to me on my retirement in the Scottish Parliament. How kind!

Rachel was filled with the joys of getting boxes unpacked and the kitchen cleared. I decided that I would wait until I was properly retired and went to bed with a book.

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Sunday 29th. September, 2013 -- My Last Sunday 

I tried to take this surreptitiously while folk were arriving in Arrochar Church this morning -- and, as a result, I missed one half of the church!

Up at seven and started my final Sunday by walking the dog. Back to the Manse to shower and soon it was time to set off for Arrochar. It was a lovely occasion for me -- intensely sad because I was leaving, but warm and loving and very, very kind. Tom and Dorothy had come to the service as had John and Annette Christie and so many Arrochar friends. The Sunday School had asked to make a short Christian Aid presentation. It was an impressive description of what they had done to help other people with the money they had raised at a recent coffee morning but then it turned into a thank you to Rachel and me from the Sunday School and from the congregation. Rachel was given an olive tree which she will treasure and nurture down in Duns. And there was a cake!

The Cake!

The picture was taken at an Easter morning service by the pier at Tarbet -- just another of the million or so memories bouncing around in my head. Made my way down to Luss with tears in my eyes. Everywhere was awash with cars and we had quickly run out of orders of service. It was a special service during which six new elders were ordained and admitted along with Morag (who was already an elder) to the Kirk Session. The six were Muriel, Ray, Lorraine, James, Donald and Nick. They will be an enormous addition to the Session and congregation and there will be photos of all that happened at Luss when I get them from Drew, our resident photographer!

The service ended with the Sacrament of Holy Communion -- and then, totally unexpectedly, the children of the Sunday School led by Andy, who spoke beautifully, presented me with an apple tree to remember them all by. He reminded us all that the church in Luss was not about all that we did but about each other -- and it is each other: all the folk in the pews Sunday by Sunday -- who have made our adventure so exciting and so memorable. I'll love the apple tree but I don't need anything to remember our folk by.

Across in the Centre everyone had tea or coffee and soon I had to make my way back to the Church for the wedding of Greg and Catherine, a happy affair. In the Manse we then sat and talked with folk who were still around. My friend Brian's daughter Alison had travelled from Edinburgh. Earlier Sang, now minister at Alloa, was in Church, as were Rachel's cousins Mary and Donald. Mike and June were up from the Borders and so many other people. I was also delighted to see that Will, the little baby who had endured a difficult birth and for whom we had prayed for as a congregation over the last two weeks, was this week with us in church with his parents and grand parents. And just yesterday our Session Clerk had become a great grandfather again! It was really very special. The last to leave, appropriately because they do so much for me, were Bill and Morag, May and Jessie, and Cathy. Rachel and I walked the dogs and then came home and had something to eat. We watched Downton Abbey and were glad to get to bed. Today had been a difficult day but one in which we have been shown so much love and kindness. It is a day I will never forget.

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Saturday 28th. September, 2013 -- The Final Furlong 

Ben Dhu and the Strone

I snatched this view of the twin peaks of Ben Dhu and the Strone as I walked Mix along the river path early this morning. I always think of the Strone as being 'my' hill because for many months I climbed up it five times a week in order to lose weight on the instructions of my doctor. (My doctor didn't instruct me to climb the Strone, you understand -- she did tell me to lose weight and this was a very successful way of achieving that.)

This morning Drew, John, Martin, Mike and I set about clearing our many of the nooks and crannies in the church and other buildings and piling almost everything we found into a skip. Everything was soon looking very much tidier and what we have kept will be much easier to find. In the afternoon I returned to my own tidying. We won't get everything done by Monday but Rachel and I will be back in the Manse next weekend for three weddings and we will get everything finally cleaned out, tidied and vacuumed at that time.

Later in the afternoon, Tom and Dorothy arrived -- I could hear the gales of laughter from downstairs and went down to join the party. Soon, with help from Mike and Lorraine, I conducted a wedding rehearsal for Greg and Catherine who will be married tomorrow and then Dorothy and Tom came with Rachel and me for a meal at the Village Rest. I had an excellent Finnan Haddie in a white sauce on a bed of mashed potatoes and surrounded by garden vegetables. It is no wonder that the Village Rest is always so busy now, with such excellent food. I was really hungry so I also had a haggis starter and followed it all up with an ice-cream desert. I'll be needing to renew my acquaintance with the Strone very soon!

After coffee in the Manse and a bit more time in the study I retired to bed. I had intended to have a really early night but it was still eleven before I got there. It had been, as my father used to say, a good day.

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Friday 27th. September, 2013 -- Gathering Momentum 

Olivebank sets out on the start of her journey to Duns

Got up and walked Mix and by the time I arrived at the Manse, folk had arrived to take Olivebank off on the first stage of her journey to Duns. It took them no time at all to pull Olivebank onto the back of their truck and to set off for Helensburgh where Olivebank will stay with Simon while work is done on the trailer before she completes her journey to the Borders.

I went back into the study and worked through some of the tasks which were awaiting me -- and a number of people came to see me and to say 'good-bye'. I have been touched by how many people have wanted to say things to me. Roy popped in today and gave Rachel a horse-shoe from Rosa who has pulled the wedding carriage to so many ceremonies at the Church, and Bob popped in to say good-bye to Rachel because he had missed her earlier in the week when he came to visit. In the early afternoon we had the Luss School Harvest Service -- they had brought it forward so that I could share in it and I enjoyed being part of their service. They gave me a lovely Bible signed by every child (and member of staff) in the school. I appreciate their kindness.

Then it was back to work before it was time to change and go along to the Lodge on Loch Lomond for a bit of a party. I hadn't known what to expect. I had been told to be there just after seven but when we arrived we discovered that there were about one hundred and forty people present all gathered in the big function room at the Lodge and that the event was a full-scale dinner. As with everything the Lodge does, it was a superb evening, good food and a glorious company drawn from both congregations -- in fact I think that the total present was larger than the number in the combined congregations! Everything was chaired by Robbie with speeches by Jamie and by Robbie -- and we were showered with gifts: Rachel was given flowers, as was my mother. Rachel was given a chimnea (a very beautiful one at that) and I was given a hugely generous cheque. But it was the words which people spoke to me which pulled hardest at my heartstrings.

I was amazed at how far some people had travelled to be part of the evening. Hannah had left work at four and travelled from Carlyle where she is on placement as part of her training, Ross and Anne had travelled from deep in the wilds of Argyll, Isobel and Maggie had travelled from the east, Allan and Flora had travelled up to their caravan, Tom and Dorothy had travelled up from the Borders. And there were folk I didn't expect to see out tonight: Davina, and John MacEachern. Judy was there and there were so many children -- it was special to have Hannah, Katie and Emma who seem to have been part of everything that has happened while I have been here.

I sat at the table with my mind in a whirl. So many people so sad to see us going -- but it didn't matter how sad they were it was nothing at all compared to how sad we are to be leaving them: not to be leaving the place (through that is pretty fabulous) but to be leaving the people. All of them have become our very greatest of friends and we will miss them.

I guessed too that there was an element of confusion in amongst everyones' sadness. They knew what was going to happen to us -- we would be sitting in the garden at Mount Pleasant on the garden bench presented to us by the Guild by the chimnea in a garden environment which had never experienced the invasion of the west-coast midge, but what of them? It is natural to have misgivings but there is clearly no need. I have never seen two congregations which both individually and together wouldn't know the meaning of disharmony and which are totally united in being a Christian family with a place for everyone. Both congregations also have a very clear view of where they want to go. In Arrochar the aim is to be a village congregation serving its community. That's a massive objective, already fulfilled -- but it wasn't always the case. I remember going to see the Presbytery Clerk soon after I arrived and saying, "Well, I expect that you'll want us to start rebuilding the Church," only to get the response that the little hall was quite big enough for any congregation that Arrochar was ever likely to attract. The congregation proved them wrong -- a wonderful restoration job and a fabulous congregation which now has a thriving youth group and Guild and I am so proud of the young folk who have come through our Sunday School.

I remember, too, all that the rebirth of the congregation did for the village -- the building of the village hall, the winning of the Village of the Year award and so much more, all of which is now part of the story of Arrochar.

Luss too has a clearly worked out statement of where it is going and how it is going to achieve it. Important strands of the Church's mission here are welcoming the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to Luss each year, the development of the church's youth project with youngsters from all around the world, from Prince's Trust teams and from secondary schools, the work with those who come here to be married -- not because of the economic importance of weddings to the community (five million pounds was a recent estimate) but because of the missionary opportunity of being alongside people from all over our country and beyond at such a crucial time in their lives, the streaming of our Sunday services to people throughout Scotland and throughout the world as well, of course, as continuing to serve the needs of our local congregation and community.

I got a lovely email today from one of the staff of Our Lady and Saint Patrick's High School. He wrote: "Being involved with you and the community of faith in Luss has enhanced my time in Our Lady and St Patrick's and has been significant in the lives of our young people and the school. We hope that this connection will continue beyond your retirement (and indeed mine in the not too distant future) as it has been too valuable for it not to."

We were also commended for all that we do for visitors here. It started with the creation of the Pilgrimage Centre (built by Jimmy and his Arrochar team) providing a heritage centre for those who come to visit but which also provides a place for local groups to meet -- the Guild, the Cinema, the Heritage Group and so much more. It went on through the building of the Luss Bridge by the Royal Engineers and the opening up of the Glebe with its pilgrimage pathways (which in turn led to the Green Pilgrimage opportunities). Now, of course, the Church -- beautifully restored in 2002 -- is equipped with a superb sound and light show which is the envy of many churches and visitor attractions much larger than ourselves. It has become fashionable to talk about the need to 'do up' the village but the Church was engaged in doing it long before anyone else!

With all of this background the Church has little to fear. The services will continue in Arrochar and Luss just as they do today, the Glebe will continue to be open for those who come in large numbers to explore, youth groups will continue to come to stay with us in the Palace -- so proudly named after Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Rothesay's visit in 2010 during which she planted the tree which sits in front of the building. The services will continue to be streamed and people will continue to be welcomed. There will be services of Sunday worship, of baptism and marriage, there will be funerals and the Manse will continue to be the hub of so many of the activities at the heart of local community life.

I am just so sorry that I will not be part of it -- so sorry that it actually hurts! But the start of our second fifteen hundred years will be years to remember. (I think that 2010 was probably the best year of my life -- all of the celebrations, the wonderful guest preachers each with something special to say, the Rossdhu Book of Hours in our care for four months, the musical events, the pilgrimages, the historical addresses -- and most of all, the fun and the friendship of a colossal adventure.)

As I sat at table I found myself thinking too of some of the folk who weren't with us because they now celebrate on a different shore being separated from us by death. Separated yes, but sometimes they feel so close. My father was so pleased that I had come here to serve and he helped me enormously during those first months of my ministry here. Eric worked so hard for Arrochar Church -- when the presbytery tried to sell it, he insisted on 'helping' by showing prospective purchasers around. Somehow they were never so keen after Eric had told them about the graveyard, about things that went bump in the night and the feelings of the community about the prospect of losing its church. Marion raised so much of the money single-handedly for the Arrochar Church knocking on every door in the village and demanding that everyone contribute! We have some good fund-raisers in Luss. Bettie (from Arrochar) and Val (and it was really good to have both of them with us tonight) made up a ferocious team in the days when they looked after the Church and the Centre together.

I found myself thinking of Margaret and Elma, of Hamish (who spear-headed the Luss Restoration), of May Lumsden and of so many more (I knew that I shouldn't have started on this reminiscing because someone always gets left out.) I also thought of Bob who came to see me this week and who worked tirelessly on our youth projects for around five happy years. Then there are all of the folk who arrived when we needed them -- Andy with his IT skills, Bill with his communication abilities, Drew who takes the best photographs and the team of folk who have made the Manse a happy place for so many: Morag and May and Jessie and Cathy and so many more besides. And Chris who looks after the Glebe.

It is a wonderful charge -- Arrochar and Luss complimenting each other perfectly -- and in Luss in particular with such a continued influx of new blood, often as a result of weddings or of the welcome which they have received when they visited. I have been fortunate not only in having two lovely congregations but also in having two special Kirk Sessions.

So many thoughts going through my mind as I sat and looked out on the assembled company. Rachel and I have been so very, very fortunate and everything we have been able to do has been made possible in very large measure by the love and kindness with which we have been surrounded. God has been very good to us.

Having shared my thoughts, here is a view from where I sat. So many friends!

The evening was brought to a close by an unexpected visit from the Minister of Glasgow Cathedral -- our mother Church. The Reverend Doctor Laurence Whitley spoke generously about the lives of our congregations and about my ministry. He saw our parishes as being a centre of excellence and his words of encouragement were greatly appreciated by everyone present.

Must just say that Robbie had an excellent evening in the chair. He was superb, and along with Jamie, who surpassed himself in his carefully crafted speech, and with the care of the staff of the Lodge on Loch Lomond, and by some great singing from Beth Street with music provided by the organist from the United Reformed Church in Helensburgh, ensured that we all had an evening to remember.

I walked home in a dream.

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Thursday 26th. September, 2013 -- Catching up with all the last minute jobs! 

This tree in the Remembrance Garden caught my eye

It is Thursday and I have become ever so aware of how much there is still to do. I did manage to complete the paperwork -- just as well because no sooner had I done that than the computer packed up! It seems to me that everything is closing down with me. I'll take it away and see if I can get it all working again; it surely can't be just me that isn't suffering from built in obsolescence: perhaps I am but I just haven't noticed it.

Worked on all of the paperwork and could just about manage with where I have got to at a push. It took all day and then in the evening we stopped for the final meeting of the Community Council. It is the final meeting, and not because Rachel and I are moving, but because tomorrow nominations close for the new Community Council, our four year stint is up, and I am glad to have completed it. With the benefit of hindsight is it something I would like to do again? Probably not. But four years ago someone needed to do it and no one else wanted to. There were people who needed the Community Council to speak on their behalf and it gave me satisfaction that at least we were able to do that. We were joined at the meeting by Andy, our local policeman, and by George and Robert, two of our local councillors and it was a happy meeting (as they have almost invariably been).

After the meeting I watched an episode of Doc Martin before walking Mix and going to bed. Tomorrow is another day!

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Wednesday 25th. September, 2013 -- Back to School for a really happy Day 

Alison with a photograph of what the school was like when she first arrived

I awoke with much to do, and truth to tell, much of what I had hoped to do is still not done at the end of the day. After walking Mix around the glebe I started to work through the service for Arrochar on Sunday and soon afterwards Mike arrived and wanted to see around the different places at the church, centre and so on in case there was anything he needed to know for the future. Was happy to break of for a couple of hours and do that. We also planned to have a massive clear-out to the skip which is now sitting in front of the Manse.

At lunchtime Rachel and I had been invited up to Arrochar Primary School. There we were treated to a wonderful good-bye assembly by the children. Songs and memories and one, by William, I managed to get a copy of: 'My memory of you, Dane, was when you asked me to read part of the Bible at Christmas time in the Church. I was five years old. It was part of the Christmas story and it had a lovely picture of Joseph and Mary travelling on the donkey at night time. I felt really special being chosen to read. Thank you for making me feel so special.'

William's memory relates to the giant Advent Calendar with stained glass windows made by Rachel and, on the back of each door, a little Bible verse. The calendar will stay at Arrochar and I hope may be used again in the future so that it can 'tell the story' and make other children 'feel special' as well. Certainly the assembly made me feel special, and Rachel and I were given two lovely pictures chosen with great care -- one a view of Loch Lomond, the other a view of the Strone, the hill I used to trek up and down every day in an attempt to lose weight!

After the Assembly Rachel and I were given afternoon tea with cakes and we reminisced about all that Alison had achieved since she had become head teacher. I was on the selection committee which chose her and so I take special satisfaction from all that she has done! Alison showed Rachel around the school and also showed a picture of how things used to be. What a wonderful transformation -- and so many memories for me, especially of school assemblies and end of term services in the Church.

Back home, I set off for the bank to do some more sorting out of finances and then some pastoral calls before returning to the Manse and working through until seven when it was time to meet with the new elders and with Robbie and Mike in the Church to plan for the Ordination Service. Once that was done I went off to collect fish suppers for Rachel and me. We enjoyed them while watching an episode of Doc Martin then Rachel went to bed while I returned to the study to deal with more paperwork before walking Mix and retiring to bed. So much to do and so little time to do it -- how different it will soon be!

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Tuesday 24th. September, 2013 -- So busy I've almost forgotten Mount Pleasant! 

Mike, Ian and Robbie

I got up and walked the dog. Came back to the Manse and showered and it was still not eight o'clock. Got some things done before setting off for Helensburgh for my physio appointment. Came back relaxed to meet Robbie and Mike (from Luss Church) and Ian who is the interim moderator appointed by presbytery. It will be his job to look after the congregations of Luss and Arrochar after I have left and the purpose of the meeting was to sketch out some of the things which I have been doing so that Ian had some kind of an idea of what he will pick up. Early in October I expect that there will be a meeting of the two Kirk Sessions under Ian's chairmanship and they will start to make plans together. I have agreed to help with the weddings in the interim and I will be conducting all three of those scheduled for Saturday 5th. October. Mike and Robbie indicated that they would really like to have Bill appointed as their locum minister and also that they wanted services to continue the congregational participation which has been built up over the past years.

Mike set off and showed Ian around the Church and our other facilities including watching the sound and light show and admiring our Pilgrims' Palace. I set off with things to do and people to see. I also popped into the bank in Helensburgh to sort out some of the financial things I need to get in order. Back in the study I worked on the services for Sunday -- both will be very different: at Luss we are ordaining new elders and will celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion. I would have liked to have had communion at Arrochar but as the Session Clerk is away this would have been difficult. But both services will be special for me. Then, after the Luss service, there will be a wedding.

Worked well into the evening only stopping for something to eat and while we ate we watched the Young Montalbano (because when we move the recorded programmes on our Sky machine will be lost). Rachel walked Rowan and I returned to the study for a bit longer before walking Mix and falling into bed. It has been a very busy day -- but then retirement looms and, at least for a while, it may be quite different.

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Monday 23rd. September, 2013 -- Monday, and things don't go quite my way! 

One of the nicest cards I've ever received

I intended today to be a day of really hard work but it didn't turn out that way. I walked the dog, settled down at my desk and it wasn't long before Robbie telephoned to say that he and Mike were on their way to see me to talk about some of the arrangements for when I have left (how I hate even the words, never mind the concept). They arrived and we spend quite a while in discussions. May and Jessie arrived to count some of the cash which needs to get paid into the bank. Cathy arrived and opened the church for visitors. Bob arrived to say hello (well, I suppose it was really Good-bye). Whatever it was, it was particularly good to see Bob. He and I worked closely for several years building the glebe pathway, developing the Pilgrimage centre and making a go of the international youth programme. It's true to say that none of these things would have happened without Bob's efforts and I was touched that he made time to come and see me today. I hope that he, and others too, will come and visit us at the Granary when we have time to welcome them and show proper hospitality.My friend Peter arrived and took me for something to eat. He is off on holiday to Portugal tomorrow so will miss my final days here. I am sorry about that.

No sooner had Peter left than Rachel returned from seeing her cousin Mary from Comrie. We walked both of the dogs on the Glebe and then we went down to the Boat House at Cameron House to join our good friend Judy and her friends Janet and Roger. I say 'her friends' but I hope that they are really our friends as well. We've known Judy for many years and I was so pleased that she had come up from the Lake District to be in church yesterday and had brought Roger and Janet with her. Roger and Janet farm mushrooms and many years ago when we held a garden party in the manse grounds to raise funds for the new church organ they arrived laden with mushrooms which they sold to help our fund-raising efforts.

Roger, Janet, Judy and Rachel in the bar at the Boat House

It was Judy who gave me the card at the top of this entry. It was from Vivien, a friend of Judy's and a friend of ours who comes to Luss from time to time and who joins us regularly on lussonline. I've been given so many cards and letters over the last few days and I have appreciated every one of them -- I'll keep them and treasure them for ever -- but this one pulled a chord inside me. It is a lovely message 'Saving one dog will not change the world, but surely for that one dog, their world will change for ever.' You won't need me to tell you that Vivien is a doggy person and the message is powerful because it doesn't just transfer to other people but contains a universal truth as it is the antidote to the suffocating feeling of why should I try to do anything because anything I do will make such a little difference? Everything we do makes a difference for someone.

So now I am off out to take my rescue dog, Mix, for a walk before bed. It's not the day I expected but it has been a very special day.

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Sunday 22nd. September, 2013 -- A Lovely Sunday 

It didn't start out that way, in fact it was a really wet and nasty morning when I walked Mix along the river path. It was still wet when I arrived in Arrochar and it was raining when I stood at the door to shake hands with folk as they left the service at Luss. But none of that stopped it being a thoroughly lovely Sunday -- and it is the Sunday mornings with my folk in Arrochar and Luss that I will miss most when I retire. I enjoyed the service at Arrochar and there was a good turn out. In Luss the Church was virtually full and in both churches there was a super friendly atmosphere. At Luss we had a party of Canadian and American pilgrims who were journeying throughout Scotland spending time at the important Christian sites. After the service Bill and John told them our story and showed them our sound and light show before they were given soup and sandwiches in the Green Room by Morag and May. You can see from the picture that they had a good time.

My friends Simon and Eileen joined us in church and then, with a little help from Drew and Martin, Simon prepared Olivebank for her journey later in the week from Luss. Allan, one of our removal men, came back to Luss with his wife Stacey and his daughter Danielle, to show them around Luss -- the site of his three days of hard work last week. It was good to see them.

Stacey, Danielle, Allan and Rachel in the Manse Garden

Meanwhile some of the folk who live a bit away from Luss were planning the party for next weekend. It seems it will start on Friday and run through to Sunday afternoon. I think that what our folk do best is to party -- and, before you condemn it, remember that this is really quite a Biblical picture. 'What is Church like?' 'Well, it is a bit of a party and everyone is always welcome.'

John, Carol, Martin, Drew and May

Sorry that I caught John with his eyes closed! It was late in the afternoon before everyone left. It had been a lovely day and in the evening we watched the first episode of the new series of Downton Abbey before walking the dogs and retiring to bed.

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Saturday 21st. September -- A Quiet Saturday! 

The organ class in full swing -- Carol, Lindsay, Nick, Rachel and Morag -- admiring the fine sounds emanating from our organ.

Up early (well, not too early) and walked the dog. Today is one of those real treasures: a Saturday without a wedding. We did have a wedding arranged for today but serious illness in the family led to a quicker wedding nearer to home. Actually we have had three weddings cancelled within the last month, a quite unique experience -- in a couple of cases it was because the couple had decided not to get married. I suppose that it really is a blessing that they discovered that they weren't for each other before they got married -- that's a truism, everyone says it: but it really is true.

Took advantage of the day to try to work through all of the financial papers which I have relating to the Church and the different organisations with which I am involved. Discovered that many of my papers have disappeared down to Duns so things were more complicated than I imagined, but hey! in the overall scheme of things these are minor problems. I'm still celebrating in my heart about a little baby who has had a difficult birth and had to be rushed to another hospital for serious treatment and who is now making good progress. That's something important -- and praise God and be grateful for the skill of doctors and nurses, for the relief which his parents and grandparents are feeling today.

Worked through to the evening, stopping briefly for a snack with Bill and Morag who were through so that Morag could attend Rachel's organ class. Like so many things, it is not exactly as it seems. We have a wonderful organ but the keyboard is controlled by a computer, making it, I suppose, a little bit like an old fashioned pianola (you remember: a paper roll was inserted into the piano and this 'played' the keys according to a succession of holes in the roll). So the keyboards of the organ are controlled by computer leaving the operator to choose the organ stops (instruments), control the volume and the speed and turn the keyboard notation into a work of art. Rachel not only operates the organ but prepares all of the files -- the instructions for the keyboard -- and includes descants and other appropriate embellishments. But Rachel will be leaving for Duns in just a few days. The team pictured have agreed to take over the organ. To begin with Rachel will send the files by email but eventually that will be taken over in house as well.

We ate about eight and then watched the second in the series of the Young Montalbano (while the third episode was recording -- so we will be able to watch that tomorrow evening. Too much happiness!)

Realise that I have never recorded my pleasure in Durham's victory in the county championship. It really was a spectacular achievement and once I am retired I will be able to join all of the old buffers sitting watching the cricket from the pavilion and explaining to everyone that it isn't as it was in my day. They have done well.

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Friday 20th. September, 2013 -- Where has everything Gone? 

Mix has found the one comfy spot in the house!

Today has been one of the strangest days of my life. What's more, it has completely taken me by surprise. I haven't allowed myself to think past the removal and now that that has been successfully (?) completed, I can turn my attention to getting everything here in order so that I can leave my Churches in a good state for someone to take over.

Only nothing ever quite works out the way it should! Because I got stranded in Duns on Monday and had to stay the night there, I wasn't here to supervise the removal at Luss. As a result (and it is no-one's fault but mine) everything in the Manse has ended up in Duns. That includes the things that we intended to remain here; it includes the things we intended to go into the rubbish bin, and it includes the papers and so on I intended to work on during the next ten days. So I started the day in absolute consternation! Gradually some kind of sanity emerged. I will just have to work through the chaos! Started by walking the dog.

Then I got stuck into preparing the services for Sunday -- printing the Orders of Service, preparing the music for the organ, preparing the service itself and all of the scripts for those who share in the leading of the worship -- in fact all of those tasks which are such a part of my life but which will very soon become half remembered parts of a distant ritual. In the late morning Robbie and Mike arrived, closely followed by Neil and Jamie, to talk through who will pick up all of the different tasks which have been mine over so many years.

Soon it was time for a wedding -- that of Daniel and Katrina. The weather yesterday was shocking but today all was calm and fair and it was a splendid wedding. I enjoyed being part of it. Then it was back to work. The services to complete, weddings to sort out -- I have agreed to return to conduct the three weddings which will be held on 5th. October. It would be too big a baptism for whoever takes over from me and I will be delighted to share with these couples in their special day.

Rachel and I had a nostalgic walk around the glebe -- it really is looking good -- and then I went off to Balloch to collect a Chinese take-away. Once we had enjoyed that we watched the Young Montalbano on television (it belongs to the Church and was screwed to the wall, otherwise it would have been away as well) and then, after walking the dogs, we went to bed. It has been a day I will remember!

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Thursday 19th. September, 2013 -- Back to Luss 

Got taken to task by someone who reads the blog (and hasn't met me) for not putting a picture of myself on the web-site so that they can see who is writing all of this stuff. So here I am! Sixty-seven and a half-years old, retiring in eleven days time and moving from Arrochar and Luss (where I have been enormously happy) to Mount Pleasant in the Borders (where I expect to be happy as well).

Awoke on Thursday and breakfasted in the farmhouse before spending the morning starting to sort out our new home. It was bucketing with rain which made us realise just how lucky we had been over the last three days having been given a window of really good weather to complete our removal. I had the task of trying to organise our second bedroom. We have a desk and a cupboard and a small bunk-bed unit in it -- all of this is quite temporary and will be sorted out once we are back in the Borders on a more permanent basis. Rachel, meanwhile, worked in the kitchen and in the main bedroom. Around one we stopped for lunch and soon afterwards I set off for home with Mix in the back of the car. I got hopelessly lost and ended up driving through Edinburgh in the rush hour and then through Glasgow in the rush hour and arrived back in Luss about 6.15 p.m. to discover that Rachel had started the wedding rehearsal (for which I was very thankful). Once that was over we drove down to Helensburgh to spend the evening with Simon and Irene and with their friends John and Marlene from the United States. It was a lovely, relaxing evening with a glorious meal and we returned home around eleven fifteen in time to walk the dogs and go to bed. The back of the moving has now been broken and, although there are many things still to sort out, I can now see a light at the end of the tunnel (even if it is still quite dim)!

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Wednesday 18th. September -- The Third Day 

Ian, Malcolm, Stuart and Allan -- job done!

Awoke early in Luss and by 8 a.m. the second load of furniture was being loaded into the three removal vans which were at the Manse -- having returned the previous day from the Borders. There wasn't a huge amount to do but this was because so much had already been taken down and because a great deal of work had been done in the latter part of yesterday.

Soon after ten the vans were on their way. Rachel, Cathy, Rowan, Mix and I loaded ourselves into the car and set off about half an hour later -- Mix travelled in the back with Rachel, Rowan sat happily on Cathy's knee and was as good as gold. We had an uneventful journey arriving at Mount Pleasant around one in the afternoon. Olive had baked a cheese and bean pie (well several) and she fed the removal men first with pie and with bacon sandwiches and then she fed us. Rachel and I were on duty directing boxes here there and everywhere -- all kinds of things which weren't meant to come down here have arrived and there will need to be a sorting out and returning of bits and pieces as well as a getting of some skips for a total throw out as well. Rachel and I have downsized from our home in Wemyss with seven rooms and a Manse in Luss with seven rooms to a new home with three rooms -- fourteen to three, so clearly it doesn't go! So the last thing we needed was for some things which don't belong to us and some things which belong in the skip! The removal team -- who have been fabulous -- left for home about seven in the evening and afterwards Rachel, Cathy, Mum, Olive, Digger and I enjoyed an evening meal in the farmhouse with all of the ingredients of the meal from the small holding and chicken run itself.

Went to sleep (in a bed) after walking Mix.

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Tuesday 17th. September, 2013 -- The Removal Day Two 

Malcolm outside the door of the Granary and it is not yet eight o'clock!

Awoke early and was just coming to when I realised that four removal vans were driving in to the courtyard. I was panicking because I realised that I should have been going to my physio but it had gone out of my head when I discovered that I couldn't get back to Luss last night. I had no phone number for my physio but I got Rachel who managed to get my apologies to Lorna.

The removal team had left Luss before five to be down at Duns so early. At once they set about unloading their vans. The first problem was that the side-board which Olive and my Mum really wanted to have in their front room wouldn't go through the doors. Before nine a joiner was on site and a window had been removed.

It seemed that only five minutes later the side-board had been passed through the hole in the wall

and five minutes after that the window was back in position.

By now Tom the painter and decorator had arrived to continue work on Mum's new upstairs lounge, work was also continuing apace on emptying the removal vans and then Ianthe arrived on the back of one of Alan Galt's lorries.

I was enormously impressed by the skill with which the driver and his mate controlled the crane and manoeuvred Ianthe in the relatively confined space of a small courtyard filled with vans and cars.

It wasn't long before Ianthe was parked up by the wall in the corner which is to be her home for the next little while.

Soon afterwards I set off with Malcolm in his van for Luss. We joined the others at Costco for lunch and were back in Luss sometime before four in the afternoon. There were more boxes to be loaded and furniture to be carried out to the vans and then Simon arrived to pump out Olivebank who will also be moving from Luss within the next week or so.

Just about eight the removal team, Rachel and I, went up to the Village Rest for a lovely meal -- made the more delicious by how hungry and tired I was -- and then it was back to work once more before a final coffee, a walk around the village with Mix and a welcome collapse into bed.

I have to say what a wonderful team our removal men are. This could have been an horrendous experience but they are turning it into something quite special -- and how everyone is rallying round to help!

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Monday 16th. September, 2013 -- The Three Day Removal Begins 

Vans started to arrive early for the Removal Van Convention held at the Manse -- we managed five by the middle of the day!

I was up early today anxious to walk Mix before everything started to happen. I was glad that I had because the first vans arrived early -- four of them, driven by Allan and Malcolm, Ian and Stewart. Soon afterwards Sandy arrived to dismantle and collect his loom and to drive it down to the borders -- Sandy lives at Melrose and, with Rachel at Duns, they hope to do some joint projects in the coming months. Alastair -- who helped Sandy move the loom from Tarbet all those years ago, came to help with the dismantling and then it was all hands to help load the loom into the van which sandy had driven up from the borders.

Sandy with Alastair

Sandy wields a hammer while Chris looks on

Once the van was loaded I set off for the borders to help Sandy unload at the other end. Meanwhile Rachel, with help from Cathy, worked with the removal team -- Rachel took them all out for a meal at the Village Rest and everyone had a good time.

I arrived down at Duns just before 4 p.m., just a bit ahead of Sandy. Tom was waiting for me and I told him about a problem I was having with Rachel's Berlingo (which I was driving because it was filled with my clothes). It seemed that the rear off-side tyre was always just a little bit flat. Tom discovered that there was a nail in it. We thought about changing the tyre but couldn't find the tools. We even phoned the Citron dealer to ask where the Berlingo tools were installed. The dealer (in Kirkcaldy) promised to phone back but didn't. So it was decided that Tom would take the Berlingo away to get the tyre repaired and I would stay overnight and travel back to Luss with the removal men who were setting off from Luss at 5 a.m. to do a first unload before returning to Luss to pick up more items.

Sandy arrived and with help from Digger and me the loom was unloaded and then we all joined Olive and Rita (Sandy's wife) for tea in the farm kitchen. Later on we enjoyed an evening meal -- mum, Olive, Digger and me -- and after that I was happy to get my head down in the Granary. It had been an eventful day!

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Sunday 15th. September, 2013 -- The Calm before the Storm 

A view of Arrochar Parish Church

What a lovely day! It started at Arrochar where I conducted the ten o'clock service -- the lectionary presenting us with the fifteenth chapter of Saint Luke's Gospel, without any doubt my favourite chapter of Scripture. Having conducted that service and grabbed a cup of coffee with the church folk, we drove down to Luss for the morning service there at 11.45 a.m. After coffee in the Pilgrimage Centre and a chat with Bill and Morag about the week's activities (what would I do without them), Rachel and I spent some time packing boxes -- surely the end is in sight?

In the early evening Jonathan and Vivienne took us for a meal to the Loch Lomond Arms Hotel. It was good to have a chance to sit down in peace and chat with them both. This week has been so busy that we have been like ships that pass in the night. Back home we had a coffee before bed. Tomorrow the removal vans arrive!

Spoke to Mum on the telephone. She had been taken to Gavinton Church by Tom. The service had been conducted by the Minister, Ann Inglis, and Mum had enjoyed it very much -- particularly as it was a service of Holy Communion and because the common cup was offered to the congregation. She had found the congregation to be very welcoming and she was even given the church flowers for her new home. That's the way to win new members!

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Saturday 14th. September, 2013 -- A normal Saturday at Luss! 

A typical Luss Wedding scene.

It wasn't really a typical day for us because we had our usual appointment with boxes which had to be filled. But for Luss it was a fairly typical day -- a wedding in the Church (often there are two or even three) and loads of visitors who have come to explore our beautiful little village.

I got a break from 'boxing' when my friend Peter arrived for coffee -- he was actually out looking for peat for his fire but popped in for a chat as well. The wedding went well and after some more time spent working through the house I drove down to Balloch to collect a Chinese meal for Rachel and me -- and soon after eating it we went to bed.

Spoke to Mum on her telephone -- it was a new phone which she had bought today and was trying out -- now she will be wearing it out! Mum told me that she was going to one of the local churches tomorrow -- evidently there are two local churches, one in Duns and one in Gavinton. Mum has friends in both so hasn't yet decided where she will go. I suspect that we are in the parish of Gavinton so I expect that there is where I will go. I can hardly have spent the whole of my ministry extolling the virtues of the parish system and then go elsewhere! However, we will see.

Some superlative cricket results -- Durham with an incredible win over Derbyshire which takes us well clear of the top of the Championship (you'll gather that I am a member and a supporter of Durham County Cricket Club) and England with a last over victory over Australia which sets up the final decider on Monday beautifully. I do hope that game is not affected by the weather.

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Friday 13th. September, 2013 

After yesterday's blitz on boxes I thought that today would be easier; but I woke with my body telling my brain that it really couldn't cope with another day like yesterday. Well it was never going to be that way anyway because there were a number of duties which had to be undertaken today. I now begin to understand why they say that retiring is quite stressful -- I have to work right up to the 30th. September, but I also have to have moved out by that date and as my job (shorthand for calling) takes every minute of every day, this is really quite hard!

Today I did fill some boxes but I also conducted a funeral at Cardross Crematorium. It was the funeral of Robert Fulton who was for many years the village joiner in Arrochar. I also conducted a wedding rehearsal for tomorrow's wedding at Luss and then I had a conference meeting to discuss the moving of my boat 'Ianthe' from Bowling to the borders. Tom has been active on my behalf and Jimmy who has been working on the boat delivered some spare marine timber to the house to be taken south. It seem that Ianthe will be in the borders before I am, and Simon is also arranging for 'Olivebank' to leave the manse in the next few days -- what a lot of really super friends I have. In fact I'm getting letters all the time from people who want to tell me how they will miss us when we have gone -- and even to say that we have added to their lives while we have been here. It is quite humbling.

Bill and Morag arrived this afternoon and decided that we were both looking tired so they took us out for a meal and absolutely wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. How fortunate we are!

Meanwhile down in the borders Mum, Olive and Digger continue to get the house into some kind of order. Mum is delighted with her new upstairs lounge and even more pleased to have a telephone again. I tried to get through many times but she was always engaged. I think that speaking on the telephone is her favourite activity. I'm reminded of the old BT advert, 'It's good to talk'.

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Thursday 12th. September, 2013 -- Boxes! 

Boxes, boxes, everywhere -- and scarcely a place to sit!

There is little to write about today. There was to have been a wedding but the couple decided not to get married so today Rachel and I filled boxes and carried them around the house. I ended up more tired than I can ever imagine and there is still so much more to do. After twelve hours hard at it we flopped down on a vacant piece of furniture and had a snack, walked the dog and went to bed.

The glebe continues to look good -- yesterday I took this picture of the tree planted by our friend Anne in memory of her father. She has since died herself but she would be so pleased to see all of the berries on her tree. As well as the memory garden (which is getting ever larger) we have now designated a little bit of the glebe in memory of pets. It has come in response to a request and it is alongside a new pathway which will tell the story of Saint Francis, so it is really all very appropriate.

Anne's Dad's Rowan Tree

Down in the borders, Mum, Olive and Digger continue to get things in order. They have done their first large shop in Berwick and Mum now has her computer up and running. Continuing on the theme of trees, Digger harvested his plums today and Olive is looking for interesting ways of serving plums. I suggested plum crumble (served, of course, with ice cream). I include the suggestion here in the hope that when we are down next week that it may have been acted upon and that plum crumble is on the menu!

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Wednesday 11th. September, 2013 -- Pilgrims from Kirkcaldy 

Some of the 'over-flow' from the dining room into the lounge!

We had a lovely day in Luss today. I rose early and walked the dog and was concerned that it really was rather wet. Normally this wouldn't have mattered but today it did because today we were being visited by around forty members of the Guild of Bennochy Parish Church in Kirkcaldy. No ordinary Guild this, for Bennochy was the Guild to which my mother belonged before she set off for Mount Pleasant and, had she not just moved, then I am sure that she would have been with us today.

For newcomers to this blog, Guild visits are very much a part of the activities of Luss Parish Church. After our celebration year of 2010 we decided that we would keep the celebrations going for a little while longer by inviting Guilds from all over Scotland to come and visit. We would provide afternoon tea, show them around our Church, our Pilgrimage Centre, our Glebe Pilgrimage Walks and share with them something of our pilgrimage adventure. So many Guilds have come to join us and take advantage of this invitation that what was intended to be part of our programme for 2011 is now still going strong in 2013!

After afternoon tea at lunch time because later in the afternoon our ladies (and one gentleman) were going to dine at Bannockburn, everyone came across to the Church where we told them our story and showed them the sound and light show which seeks to tell the story of Luss Church in just seven minutes.

Some of the ladies gathered in the Church for the sound and light show -- I forgot to ask everyone to smile!

Everyone is doing better in this picture -- I must have remembered to ask everyone to smile

After time in the church, we set off in three groups to visit the Loom Room (where Rachel demonstrated the weaving of the Luss (St. Kessog) tartan on an old, 1820 Armstrong loom), the Heritage Centre in the Pilgrimage Centre, and the Green Pilgrimage Room. We also visited the Pilgrim's Palace (home to our young folk when they stay with us) and, of course, the Glebe where we walked the Kessog pathway together, returning to the car park in time for everyone to board their bus and set off for Bannockburn where their high-tea awaited them. All my fears about the weather had been proved to be unfounded as no sooner was lunchtime past than the sun came out and everything was beautiful -- and warm as well.The sun was still shining as we waved our friends off on the next stage of their journey. It had been another good visit.

I returned to the manse where all of our helpers had coffee together after the activity of the day and then, once they had left, I retired to the study to catch up on work which had to be done, before stopping for a meal with Rachel, and with Jonathan and Vivienne who had been out for the afternoon on their sailing boat.

Down at Mount Pleasant my Mum got her new telephone-line and she is once more back on broadband: so look out world.

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Tuesday 10th. September, 2013 -- Through a Glass Darkly 

I was out in front of the Manse at Luss saying good-bye to Robin and Glenys who have been with us for a few days when I saw the two dogs, Rowan and Mix, looking through the window. I knew the sun was shining on the window and I knew my reflection would appear in the picture but still I thought I would snap the dogs before, seeing me, they rushed for the front door -- and I rather like the result.

Both Rowan, the little border collie puppy of around four and a half months, and Mix, the nine-year-old rescue-dog mongrel with a bit of Doberman in him, have, of course, already visited the Granary and have inspected their new home. Both seemed to be pleased with what they saw but here in this picture they are watching as Rachel and I said good-bye to Glenys and Robin whom we met last year when we were in South Africa so that I could deliver the annual Saint Columba lecture, first in Johannesburg and then at Capetown. It was a good experience and it has been good to catch up with Robin and Glenys. The real surprise for me occurred last night as I was walking with them around the village. They were talking about their niece and her husband, a dentist from Kirkcaldy, and I suddenly realised that they were talking about Donald who, many years ago when I lived in Buckhaven, was not only my dentist, but my golfing partner and a fellow member of a local Gilbert and Sullivan company in which we both sang. It really is a very small world!

Rachel (centre) with Glenys and Robin.

Before saying good-bye, I had been in Helensburgh at my physio -- what a difference she is making to my tired old body. My posture is improving and I feel so much better. After the departure of our South African friends, I dealt with some pastoral matters, answered emails, prepared services, went down to Balloch to meet Jonathan and Vivienne who have come up to Loch Lomond with their boat and who will be staying with us for a few days. Then it was off to see folk before returning to the manse to continue with work in the study.

In the evening there was a meeting with some of the congregation of Luss at which we discussed the role of an elder in the Church of Scotland and looked at the challenges and opportunities facing our congregations in the coming months and years. It was a good meeting. Rachel, meanwhile, was out searching the highways and byways of Luss, along with half the population of the village, for a missing dog (not one of ours on this occasion). There was a happy ending to the story as the dog ran by (and then into) the manse and was able to be reunited with its by now distraught owners -- and in true Biblical fashion, there was general rejoicing at the return of the lost prodigal.

Down at Mount Pleasant the work of moving-in has continued apace. Mum is now happy in her upstairs sitting room and tomorrow is the great day when she gets her new telephone-line and her broadband and will be able, once more, to be in touch with the world.

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Monday 9th. September, 2013 -- Making Things Safe! 

A view of the Granary back garden now securely fenced and dog-proof!

While I am up in Luss Tom has taken charge of having the back garden at the Granary securely fenced in. This means that once we get down to the Granary the dogs will be able to wander in and out of the house without any worry about them running away, getting caught on the road, or disturbing animals -- and there is clearly lots of room for them here. The photo was taken by Dorothy and sent to me by email.

Meanwhile I continued to work in Luss -- there are lots of people who have issues they think I can help with and who would like to speak with me before I retire. I started work on the services for Sunday because there will be little time later in the week and I started tackling some of the paperwork which has to be done before I retire. Of course, there were boxes to be filled as well, and so the packing marathon continues.

In the evening we went out for a meal with Robin and Glenys from South Africa -- they took us to The Stables in Alexandria and I enjoyed Cullen Skink followed by a beef burger covered in blue cheese (with ice cream and chocolate sauce to help it all down)! It was a pleasant evening. Spoke to Mum on the telephone. She is enjoying her new upstairs sitting room (and her television). A friend of Tom is coming at the weekend to see about painting her new sitting room. Things are beginning to take shape.

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Sunday 8th. September, 2013 -- Another Busy Sunday! 

This is a picture of one of the Churches which is in my care until the end of this month. I have actually been minister here for almost fifteen years -- and they have been happy, happy years.

Luss Church sits in the village of that name, on the banks of Loch Lomond. The tiny village welcomes around 750,000 visitors each year and the role of the Church community is to share in that welcoming and to help those who come merely as visitors to leave as pilgrims.

That isn't as fanciful as it sounds because Luss has long been a pilgrimage place. Its story goes right the way back to the year 510 when a Celtic missionary called Kessog came to Luss to bring Christianity to the people who lived on the banks of Loch Lomond. He didn't come because Loch Lomond was a beautiful place to be but because this was where three of the ancient Scots Kingdoms met and if one wanted to be a missionary this was the place to be.

As well as teaching the folk of Luss about God's love for them, Kessog set out on a number of missionary journeys, one of which saw him travel around the south of Loch Lomond, north through Callander and Comrie and away up to the north east of Scotland were he visited Elgin before making his way to Inverness (where North Kessock remains as a reminder of his journey).

In 520 Kessog was murdered by druids a mile and a half south of Luss and buried here. It is hardly surprising that Luss became a place of pilgrimage as people came to the burial place of such a great man to seek his help in reaching the ears of the Almighty. That dark age pilgrimage seems to disappear into the mists of time but it emerged again in 1314 after the battle of Bannockburn. King Robert had come to Luss to pray at the Church before the battle and had appropriated Kessog's bishop's staff to carry before his troops on the day of the battle -- he had also come because there was wood for his archers on one of the local islands. The battle was, of course, a huge success and on 18th. March, 1315 King Robert returned to Luss and gave thanks for his victory at the Church, also awarding a three-mile girth of sanctuary around the Church -- three miles in every direction (over land and water) in which people were free from the rigours of the law unless they had committed a capital crime -- in recognition of the importance of Kessog to the Scottish troops. It is little wonder that Luss became again a place of pilgrimage. In fact so many people came to Luss on pilgrimage that in 1429 Luss Church was raised to the level of a prebend of Glasgow Cathedral -- a mark of its growing importance.

Of course, pilgrimage died out at the time of the Reformation in Scotland (it reached Luss in 1562) but it quickly became clear to us that Luss today with its thousands of visitors would be not dissimilar to Luss then with its thousands of pilgrims. The only difference is that today we welcome tourists, then they welcomed pilgrims. Our task was clear -- to help present day visitors become pilgrims. How we have set about that over the last ten years is a story in itself but it is one which I will share as this diary progresses. Suffice it to say for the present that we have built a Pilgrimage Centre and designed a series of pilgrimage walks on the twenty-five acre glebe which sits behind the church and across the little river known as the Luss Water. With these facilities we welcome visitors, run an international youth project, work with local secondary schools and Prince's Trust teams, conduct weddings for couples from around the world and from the church we broadcast our Sunday services to a congregation drawn from more than fifty countries each week.

But I really set out to describe today's activities. We started with our two morning services -- first at Arrochar at 10 in the morning and then at Luss at 11.45 a.m. At Luss there are always lots of visitors; in Arrochar this is rarer although today we did have a couple who were celebrating their sixty-eighth wedding anniversary and were on holiday in the village. It was good to have them with us. After the Luss service, while everyone was having coffee in the Pilgrimage Centre, I met with couples who were planning to be married here -- four couples this week and two couples who had been married here and had come back to tell us how they were getting on (one couple bringing with them their lovely little baby).

As soon as I was finished with wedding couples I met a family for whom I will be conducting a funeral later on in the week. Together we drew up a service and we worked out the life-story which I will relate as part of the celebration of Robert's life.

As this family left a party of pilgrims from the Roman Catholic Church community in Cardross arrived. We shared in afternoon tea in the Pilgrimage Centre, went to the Church for prayers and to see the sound and light show telling the story of our Church and then we set out to the glebe to walk one of the Pilgrimage routes. The weather was far from kind and the pilgrimage journey was shorter than it would otherwise have been. But that didn't matter because our visitors will return for a full pilgrimage adventure later on.

Bill, Morag, Cathy and I got everything tidied away and as they all left Robin and Glenys from South Africa arrived at the manse. We all went off to the Village Rest for something to eat -- I had haggis followed by haddock and chips, washed down with diet coke -- and then we came back to the manse for coffee and chat.

Walked Mix and went to bed. It had been a full day and a happy one!

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Saturday 7th. September, 2013 Back in the Parish with twenty-three days to go. 

Here is another view of the Granary from its garden.

I'm back in Luss and you can read that 'twenty-three days to go' in two ways, both of which are true. Twenty-three days and I will be able to start to do some of the things that I'm looking forward to doing down in Duns -- but only twenty-three more days to continue with the work which has been my life and which I love and continue to love! So no wonder I am a little confused.

This morning I prepared services for tomorrow in Arrochar and Luss. Then there was a wedding to conduct and after that I went up to Arrochar to see a couple in the congregation who are really good friends of mine. Back to the Manse to arrange a funeral for next week and then just a bit of time before a couple arrived from South Africa -- Glynis and Robin whom I met at St. Columba's Church in Johannesburg where I delivered a lecture last year. We dined with them and then, after I had walked the dog, it was time for bed.

Spoke to the family down at Mount Pleasant. Mum has decided to have a sitting room upstairs -- it's a lovely, light room and not only does it have a water supply for teas and coffees but it has a working television aerial point so she can start to catch up with 'Neighbours'. The three of them (Mum, Olive and Digger) joined Scott and Sue at the Siamese Kitchen for a Thai meal this evening. By all accounts everyone had a very enjoyable meal.

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Friday 6th. September, 2013 -- 'Things that go Bump in the night'. 

We all breakfasted together in the farm kitchen. I should say that by this time I had taken Mix for a very lengthy walk, had enjoyed a glorious shower and had been to the Duns Golf Course and joined! (I'd seen a web-site advertising the fact that they were having an open day tomorrow with a special rate for those who came along to join. So I contacted them and said I couldn't come tomorrow because I was still working but could I take advantage of their special offer and they said, 'Yes'.) I explained that I hadn't golfed since I lived in Fife but I think that they are desperate for members and I would love to learn to play again. The lady in the office who welcomed me -- and I did feel welcome -- was called Lorraine and she told me that pensioners day was Wednesday (it might have been Tuesday I didn't take it in as I haven't really got used to think of myself in those terms). The golf course is nine minutes drive from the Granary.

Anyway here we are around the breakfast table. Mum was extremely sleepy because she had been woken at 3.15 a.m. convinced that there was a prowler in the house. After an hour of listening and worrying she got up determined to confront the nocturnal visitor who turned out to be a cat! She hollered for Olive and Digger who evidently sleep soundly and it was some little time before they could be raised and the cat evicted from the property -- by which time Mum was ready to move back to Kirkcaldy.

We spent the rest of the morning moving in a wardrobe for Mum, setting up her computer -- broadband arrives with her new phone line next Wednesday -- and carrying furniture around. By the time we left at lunchtime Mum was almost organised.

Rachel and I drove back to Luss in my car with both dogs in time to conduct a wedding rehearsal, have something to eat, walk the dogs and retire to bed. Just now it doesn't matter which bed, all are equally comfortable and it is really good to climb in and fall asleep!

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Thursday 5th. September, 2013 'Starting to Get Organised' 

This isn't a very good picture -- I took it on my telephone -- but it summed up today. Mum sitting in one of her rooms in the farmhouse emptying boxes. The farmhouse is a very large house and is being shared by my sister and her husband and my mother. The ground floor centres around a large farm kitchen, a huge lounge and a bedroom, a morning room and a very attractive bathroom with all of the facilities. My mother has taken over the bedroom and morning room as her domain and although she has another bedroom upstairs she is adamant that in general she wishes to remain on the ground floor.

Upstairs there are no fewer than five bedrooms as well as a study and, of course, all of the bathroom facilities. They will all have plenty of room and there will be loads of room for visitors as well.

While Mum toiled with her boxes, Olive and Digger moved furniture, and Rachel and I met with Tom and a local handyman to arrange to have additional fencing installed in order to ensure that one part of the garden was totally secure so that Mix and Rowan could be allowed to enjoy the garden without fear of them going walk-about. The work will be done on Monday.

We also started to bring furniture into the lounge. It wasn't the carrying of the furniture which was the problem. It was the finding it first -- raking through barns until we had identified the things we were looking for. In fact it was well into the evening before we had the lounge as Rachel wanted it to be. In between times we had been on a shopping expedition to Duns -- it really is just five minutes away -- and had enjoyed an excellent meal in the farmhouse kitchen.

Afterwards we all went back to the Granary for coffee and after everyone had left I took this picture of how the lounge had ended up. Doesn't that wood-burning stove look inviting?

It was good to get down onto our futon and fall asleep.

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Wednesday 4th. September, 2013 -- D-Day! 

My sister has been counting down from sixty-two days (the time she sold her home and became homeless) and now the great day had arrived. Mum travelled down in the removal van with Malcolm and Allan; Olive and Digger drove from Luss, setting out in good time to be at the Borders before 2 p.m. (the hand-over time) and Rachel and I set off in our own vehicles laden down with bits and pieces (and loads of food) as well as with a dog each and arrived about quarter to three.

Mum's removal men, Allan and Malcolm, were fabulous and I would recommend them to anyone. It really didn't take them long to unload all of Mum's possessions and furniture and move her into the farmhouse -- her bit of the farmhouse is the bit you see at the right of the picture above. Meanwhile Olive and Digger started unloading their furniture from one of the barns (there are four big barns)while Rachel and I contented ourselves with unrolling a matrass and setting it out on the floor of our bedroom.

Once Mum's furniture had been dealt with Malcolm brought our grand piano from another of the barns and set it up in our lounge:

That's all the furniture we had for day one -- a grand piano and a matrass. But we were happy as pigs in muck! (which I've always thought was very impolite to pigs).

At seven our first guests arrived -- in addition to my Mum, Olive and Digger, we welcomed my brother Scott and his wife Sue; and Tom and Dorothy who live just a few moments away from Mount Pleasant. Our home -- the granary -- is the building in the photo at the head of this entry.

Here is a view from the other side:

All we had in our lounge was the grand piano but Rachel had made a lovely meal of Italian antipasto, followed by pansotti and several different sauces, followed by cheese and birthday cake (it was my sister's birthday, just to add to the celebrations) and my sister-in-law, Sue, had brought along a superb trifle. We drank German prosecco brought to us by our friend Brian when he was across recently and had a great evening. We had arrived and my mother, sister and her husband had now moved in -- and we were in the Granary and it is wonderful.

Just to tell you a bit about the Granary: there is a lovely kitchen, a very large lounge and a shower room on the ground floor and on the first floor there are two bedrooms both with their en suite facilities, one with a shower and one with a bath. Once we get them furnished I'll post pictures but that will be a little while yet. It was good to collapse onto our futon and soon I was asleep.

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Tuesday 3rd. September, 2013 -- D-Day Minus One 

Mum standing outside her home after most of her possessions have been packed and put into two large removal vans in preparation for the journey to the Borders tomorrow morning.

Today I drove across to Fife to be with my mother while the removal men moved in to pack up and take away her furniture and possessions. The removal firm is a fabulous one. It is called 'AM Moving' and is local to Fife. Of course, you can read the name in two different ways: first of all it is a description of what is going on and the second makes sense only when you know that the names of the two partners are Allan and Malcolm. Both are just great and made everything so easy for Mum. I took a picture of her with Malcolm in the kitchen. You can see the boxes behind them, filled with all the kitchen utensils -- the cupboards really are bare:

Meanwhile, next door Allan was carefully packing all of Mum's ornaments. You can see part of the bubble-wrap in the right of the picture. Nothing was too much trouble and everything was done with such care:

There was time for several cups of coffee. One of Mum's neighbours had brought in sandwiches, chocolate biscuits and a large apple tart. Eventually everything had been packed into boxes and the boxes had been packed into the two removal vans. Allan and Malcolm set off for home promising to return tomorrow morning to ensure that the final items (Mum's bed and so on) were carefully stowed before the convoy set off for the Borders.

I loaded Mum into my car and took her first down to Buckhaven to have a look at her old home -- the sun was shining and it really did look good:

and then back to Kirkcaldy to the hairdresser to ensure that she looked her best for her arrival at Mount Pleasant tomorrow morning.

I got a message from our solicitor, Grant, to say that all of our funds had been transferred to the solicitor for the sellers and so we are all set to go. Exciting? You bet -- it has been a long time coming but now we have just about got there. One more night and then we all set off for our new home. (Rachel and I will return to Luss, our home for the rest of the month, but at least we will have seen what our new home looks like and Rachel will be able to plan where everything will go.)

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Monday 2nd. September, 2013 -- D-Day Minus Two 

It's Monday and we become the owners of our new home on Wednesday at 2 p.m. I got confirmation from our solicitor today that all of the money was sitting in his account just waiting for him to press the button and it will transfer to the present owners. I understand that happens sometime tomorrow to enable them to complete their purchase in England.

Today we continued to put things in boxes -- well Rachel did, as I was kept busy dealing with the telephone and with all kinds of people who needed to speak to me. We managed to get my mother's telephone transferred to the new house and my sister and her husband also have a telephone line; we shall make do with our mobiles until we get settled.

The picture at the top of this entry is of the farm complex from a distance. In front you see the farmhouse itself where my mother, my sister and my brother-in-law will live. The building to the right (you only see the end of it) is our granary. That's what it is, a former granary now converted into a lovely little house just right for the two of us. Mind you, we also have the rest of the barns which will be used for storage (although we have some grandiose plans as well). The small-holding area is behind the barns and belongs to Olive's husband -- he has promised us that we won't have to buy vegetables ever again: we'll see.

Back in Luss I am still coping with the good-byes. Not just the good-byes to folk I know but also through the newspapers. The Lennox Herald printed a kind good-bye to me. I quote it here:

Luss minister Rev Dane Sherrard announces retirement
Aug 30 2013 by Jenny Foulds, Lennox Herald

A popular minister — who has married more than 1,000 couples at his quaint church — has announced his retirement.

Rev Dane Sherrard will conduct his last service at Luss Parish Church at the end of next month after 42 years as a Church of Scotland minister and nearly 15 years leading the congregations of Luss and Arrochar.

The 67-year-old told the Lennox Herald of his joy at being part of the community — which he calls the best days of his life — and sadness at leaving it all behind for a new life in the Scottish Borders.

Speaking from his home before announcing his retirement to his congregations on Sunday, he said: “I am going to write a letter and give it to each person in the church because I won’t be able to stand up and talk about it — this has been my life and it will be difficult to leave behind.

“It has been an adventure and if there was any way of me not having to retire, I would do it.

“However, we are moving to a farm steading with my mother and sister and I need to pay the sum required now to buy the property which means I have to retire.

“I am going to miss many, many aspects of life at Luss. The weddings have been very special and every day I get messages from the people I have married.”

He added with a smile: “But I am not going to miss brides who are late. Last year, I spent the equivalent of two working weeks waiting for them to arrive.”

Now he fears what the future may hold for Luss and the businesses which rely on weddings at the church as he predicts these nuptials in the village may come to an end once he leaves.

He said: “The new minister will take on the congregations of Luss, Arrochar and Kilmaronock which is a big task and means a lot of things are going to have to stop.

“I doubt it will be possible for a minister to look after another church and conduct weddings. If that disappears I will be sorry.

“I am also sorry for the local businesses which will lose out. People come here from all over the world.

“This afternoon, half of the visitors at a wedding I conducted were from Greece and they will stay for a few nights, eat at the local restaurants, go for a ride on the seaplane and go home with souvenirs, wearing their kilts.

“I know that’s not church business but the task of the church is to help to create the kingdom of God where it is and that’s all about people having jobs and in a rural economy, that is desperately important.”

As well as the weddings, Dane has been an influential and integral part of the community, helping to shape Luss as a tourist and pilgrimage destination. The story began on a rare day trip to Inveraray in 1998, whilst a busy minister in Bishopbriggs.

The outing changed his and wife Rachel’s life forever. The couple made a stop in Arrochar and Dane was drawn to the once dilapidated parish church.

He said: “The closer we got to the church, the more run down it was until we were able to see holes the size of footballs in the windows.

“The pews were piled on top of each other and the organ was covered in a plastic bag.

“We bumped into a woman walking her dog and she mentioned there wasn’t a minister at the church and the presbytery was considering knocking the church down.

“When we got into the car, Rachel said, ‘we will be here by Christmas won’t we?’”

Dane took up his post months later and never looked back.

He reflected: “I have seen an enormous amount of change I have been lucky to be part of. It has been wonderful here.”

Dane has helped put Luss on the world map and, amongst other projects, he shaped the celebrations in 2010 for the 1,500 year anniversary to mark St Kessog bringing Christianity to Luss and has welcomed thousands of pilgrims from across the world.

He also set up an internet broadcasting service at the church allowing people from across the globe tune into Sunday services.

Now he is looking forward to taking a back seat and intends to write a book as well as indulging in his love of sport and opera.

He added: “I am going to watch cricket. I’m a member of Durham Cricket Club so it’s no accident we are moving closer!

“I hope to do some sailing and I am a Gilbert and Sullivan fanatic too so hope to find more time for that."

The Sunday Post concentrated more on the future of weddings at Luss:

Threat to weddings on the bonnie banks

Reverend Dane Sherrard, of Luss Church, who is about to retire. He fears for the future of the church, as there are fewer vicars nowadays.

More than 100 couples a year tie the knot at scenic Luss Parish Church on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Celebrity marriages in the past have included Deal Or No Deal presenter Noel Edmonds, Scots supermodel Kirsty Hume and former STV presenter Sarah Heaney.

But the retirement of the parish minister may pose a threat to the future of weddings at the scenic kirk.

Pension rules mean Rev Dane Sherrard, 67, is having to quit his job at the end of this month.

He fears a shortage of ministers will mean his successor will have to take on an extra parish, slashing the time available for marriage ceremonies at Scotland’s most popular wedding venue.

“I’ve had two churches to look after — Arrochar and Luss,” said Rev Sherrard.

“If they are linked to a church in another parish then that’s going to make it very difficult for the weddings to continue.

“I would certainly be very sad about that.

“When I came here we were only allowed to marry people who came from the parish. But so many people from all over wanted to wed here we persuaded the Presbytery.

“Now it’s not unusual to have three weddings a day and 40% of the parties come from abroad.”

Such is the scenic beauty, two years ago Rev Sherrard banned “cuckoo” newlyweds who were disrupting ceremonies by showing up outside to have their wedding photos taken.

The village, formerly location for STV’s Take The High Road, attracts 750,000 visitors a year.

“The economic impact of the things the church does, in terms of welcoming visitors and pilgrimage as well as weddings, runs into millions of pounds,” said Rev Sherrard.

“All of the accommodation in the village and round about is involved in big weddings, as well as restaurants, kilt hire, photographers, florists and much more.”

The church is so famous Scottish Enterprise helped fund its own TV system to broadcast weddings to viewers abroad.

People in more than 50 countries now tune in for the regular Sunday services.

“I would have been happy to carry on working, my congregation would have been happy to have me and there’s a shortage of ministers in the Church of Scotland,” added Rev Sherrard.

“But I chose to save through the pension fund and the rules are that I have to retire to get my savings.

“It will be a wrench, although I’m looking forward to the next chapter.”

Wedding photographers would be among those hard hit by any major cutback in numbers.

“The weddings have done a great deal of good for the area,” said photographer Graham Wilson, who was himself married at Luss Parish Church.

“I don’t think for one minute there will be the same number of weddings.

“A survey a few years back said the average wedding brought £34,000 to the area so there is a lot of money to be lost.

“It would be much missed.”

A Church of Scotland spokesperson said: “We are committed to providing a minister at Luss and our forward plan indicates that it may be linked with another congregation.

“It will be for the Interim Moderator to make the necessary arrangements to conduct those weddings which are currently scheduled for Luss Parish Church and to develop a policy for handling new enquiries.”

Again it was kind, but I doubt that it will endear me to the Presbytery! Both of the papers published rather nice photos of me -- I mention it here because normally Rachel says that I take a very bad photo because I haven't yet learned how to smile at a camera (when she is feeling more generous she says that it is because my beard makes me look glum)!

Anyway, Olive and Digger have arrived back at the manse where they are staying until Wednesday morning. Tomorrow I expect to drive over to my mother's to ensure that her packing goes smoothly and the next day is Wednesday. What an adventure -- but the newspaper articles got it right: I wish I was having this adventure but was still able to return to my vocation here in Arrochar and Luss; that would be to have everything and I suppose that folk are seldom so lucky as that.

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Sunday 1st. September, 2013 -- D Day Minus Three 

It is Sunday the first of September, 2013 the start of a month for which I am paying the Church of Scotland £500 to be allowed to work as Parish Minister in Arrochar and Luss. Strange? Yes, of course it is -- but as you read my daily diary and get to know me better you will discover that many things are strange: but many are really good and quite exciting as well.

I suppose a word of explanation would do well as a start. I am a sixty-seven year old Church of Scotland parish minister (so I am well past my sell-by date). I have been working at Arrochar and Luss (two lovely little parishes, one on Loch Long and one on Loch Lomond, both in Argyll) for more than fourteen years. I expected to be working for longer (but that really is another story).

A year ago my sister Olive and her husband Robert (usually known in the family as Digger) decided with my mother that they would seek a home in which they could live together and the ideal place for this communal living was deemed to be the Scottish Borders, not least because my brother Scott and his wife Sue had recently moved there and Mum fancied the idea of having all her family around her. Rachel (my wife) and I were down at my brother's home, in part in preparation for their son Nicholas' wedding (to Amy). I had been told of this house which both Sue and my sister had seen and really quite liked. 'It's a farm steading,' I was told, 'or at least it is a farmhouse abutted by a former granary which has been converted into a luxury holiday home and the rest of the courtyard is surrounded by barns -- it would be just ideal for you.' It was with an open mind that I allowed my brother to take me along to have a look over the fence at this property. And that's what we did. But while we were looking over at the farmhouse, Lothian (the owner) was looking back at us. 'Would you like to come and have a proper look,' he said. And so we did. However, as we talked it became apparent that Lothian and his wife Maureen were just about to take the house off the market. It hadn't sold and they disliked the uncertainty of not knowing if the house was to be sold.

I wondered if they might be prepared to work with us on a long term deal to buy the farmhouse? We certainly weren't going to be in a position to buy his lovely property for a while but if Rachel and I went in with my sister and my mother and we all managed to sell our houses, it just might be possible. Lothian suggested that it was certainly something that they would consider.

And so the adventure began. My sister put her home on the market and we put our West Wemyss home on the market. This was a bit of a wrench because we had got our home just right for our retirement and my study was a dream study with bookcases lining every wall. But there was clearly no way that my sister and my mother could buy the house on their own and the idea of us all living together in a commune with my brother just ten minutes away was really rather exciting.

There were many moments during the year when I was convinced that our plans would come to nothing and there were moments when I thought that Lothian and Maureen would give up on us but we nursed it along and things began to happen. First my sister's home in Kirkcaldy sold and this was closely followed by the sale of our West Wemyss home. Mum's house hadn't sold but we managed to put together a financial package to make it all work. It involved me drawing down some of my lump sum from my pension, generated by my savings over the last twenty-five years. I had thought that there wouldn't be any problem in this, after all I was now well past sixty-five, but I discovered that although the government had relaxed its rules to encourage pension trustees to be flexible in allowing folk access to their pension funds the Church of Scotland had decided not to take advantage of this flexibility. If I wanted my lump sum I had no option but to retire. And so that's what I have done. There is no way that I could stand in the way of this wonderful family opportunity. My retirement is at the end of September and the Church agreed to advance me my lump sum for twenty-seven days and charged me £500 for the privilege! So that's how I come to be paying £500 to work for this month. But it will be worth it.

And in just three days we shall get the keys of this new property and my mother, my sister and her husband will move in. And, of course, we shall be there along with our two dogs -- Mix a nine-year-old rescue dog (you'll learn more about him as time goes by) and Rowan -- a sixteen week old Border Collie belonging to Rachel.

Oh, and the picture at the head of this entry, it's the entrance to Mount Pleasant. It didn't seem quite right to show you the property itself until it is ours. So watch this space.

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