Thursday, 31 December 2009

Seeing out the year

I guess that 2009 has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for most of us, it certainly has been for me. I have a visit today to an Opthalmologist to investigate something that has appeared on one of my retina which has to be one of the worst ways to end any year as I have no idea what to expect or how I will respond to it turning out to be bad news. That said, the rest of the year has been a very mixed bag, with going through the selection process for ordination and dropping out at the last hurdle. The struggle to get enough business to keep the bills paid has also been a challenge, one solved by the Tehran contract and which is now apparently in the balance. If the eye doctor comes up with bad news it may be scuppered, and if the Iranians don't solve their internal problems, that could also scupper it. Time will tell I guess.

Still, 2010 is worth looking forward too. The Monk and Mausi have plans. The Monk has sold his flat (Apartment) and will move from these shores in May. He will join Mausi in the Rhinelands and they plan to marry as soon as possible thereafter. So, if I am in a condition to do so tonight, I will be raising the glass to Mausi and looking forward to our future.

Now, where did I put that German lesson.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Winter holiday

Mausi's end-of-the-year holiday is coming to an end. It's back to the saltmines next Monday. Mausi has enjoyed her quiet time up here very much. Temperatures dropped dramatically and it started to snow almost on the first day of Mausi's holiday. Mausi was very grateful that she didn't have to drive to work for some time. The roads were treacherous at times.
Temperatures dropped to -15 °C for some days. Mausi's rain water barrels had to be whacked open with an axe each day to prevent them from being damaged, which resulted in Mausi taking a shower one morning because the water trapped under an icy cover in one barrel shot out under great pressure. Good thing Mausi could immediately return into the warm house, where the central heating was working overtime.
Anyway it has been fun watching the landscape being decorated by frost and snow to make it look even more beautiful than usual.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The King Wenceslas feeling....

At least the Page's feeling. My long planned trip to the Metropolis to meet my children and enjoy a Christmas and New Year meal with them promises, if I believe the BBC weather reports, to be a marathon journey with snow, sleet and rain to complicate it. Hopefully there will be salted, cleared roads to follow - and an absence of the juggernauts that make motoring in this country a misery these days.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Sermon for St John's Day

St John the Evangelist and Apostle.
Festal Eucharist 27th December 2009

“What is that to you? You must follow me.”

+May I speak in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

John is certainly one of the most interesting of the people called by Jesus to be a disciple and apostle. We are told that he was the son of Zebedee and brother of James. We are also told that they were “fishermen” but a study of the writing left by John suggests a very well educated one – probably the term used here is a bit like referring to the founder of the Cunard Line a seaman. Certainly the boats recently excavated in Lake Galilee suggest that they were quite expensive vessels, not the sort of thing one could knock up in a backyard with a few planks and some tools. That, in turn, suggests that Zebedee may have been a man of more substantial means than we suppose and his sons probably better connected than we might suspect on a cursory understanding of the scriptures.

The letter and our Gospel readings suggest that John had a deep knowledge not only of the scriptures of the Jewish canon but a deeper understanding of the message he and the others had been entrusted with by Christ. So the “fishermen” become Apostles – from the Greek word meaning messenger. That is the thrust of our Gospel reading for today as well, for two things are happening in that conversation between Jesus and Peter, another of the “fishermen”.
Jesus is calling Peter to be a messenger and in the preceding section to that which we have read today, he cancels Peter’s denials so that the Apostle starts with a clean slate. Looking back Peter sees John following as they talk and asks –

“Lord what about him?”

And Jesus responds –

“What is that to you? You must follow me.”

Now, you may ask, “What is that to me?” The simple answer is that it means a great deal for and to us. For, in addressing Peter, Christ is addressing every one of his disciples and that includes us. It is not for us to know what any individual is called to do in service of the gospels; our concern must be what am I called to do for Christ?

Certainly, as it is now possible to see, each of the apostles had a set of skills, abilities and insights that they were being called to use in our Lord’s service. Some of the Apostles used their talents uncertainly at first and others with more confidence, but they obeyed the call. John had a double task since he was called to be a both an Apostle and to take responsibility for our Lord’s mother as he stood at the foot of the cross. It was not an easy call for any of them to obey, nor is it any easier for us.

Each year it seems our faith comes under ever stronger attack from our governing classes, in the media, in literature and now on bus adverts. It is something I think the apostles would have recognised. The question for us is how do we respond? How do we counter this trend toward a twenty-four hour, seven days a week matrialistic drive to the acquisition of wealth? How do we respond to the powerful voices that seek to portray the Christmas story as a fairy tale? Or which denigrate the message of the Bible by pointing to “discovered” Gnostic texts?

I suggest that, if our faith is to have any meaning, it requires that we respond by seeking to know and understand every aspect of what we believe and why the “alternative” texts and “histories” are false. It is no good simply sitting back and leaving it to the clergy – we are the church and we are just as much disciples as the clergy or the apostles.

I began my sermon by saying that John was one of the most interesting of the disciples. I shall now explain why I say that. John’s gospel was the last to be written, it doesn’t follow the chronology of Christ’s ministry except in general outline. The purpose of it is not to provide, as the Synoptic gospels do, a “history”, but to present to us the wonderful fact that, in Christ, God became human and walked among us; that in dying, he redeemed us in a way that no sacrifice by any human could have done and that in rising from the tomb in which John, Joseph and Nicodemus had laid him, he gave us the greatest gift of all. It is a theological treatise, a history and a refutation of the arguments already arising that Christ was nothing more than another prophet, a great one it is true, but just a very good man. It is the work of a man who has given this more than just thought. It is certainly not the work of a simple fisherman, but of a man who has become an eloquent advocate of the friend, teacher and God he followed around Palestine.
I commend to you a reading of the letters John wrote. Like his gospel they are deeply personal to the writer and instructive in their content for they urge strongly the need to love one another and to work together to ensure that the truth of the gospel is carried to all who would hear it. To John the image of Jesus as “The Light” is a powerful one, one he draws from a solid grounding in the Old Testament. He uses it in his prologue to his Gospel and it occurs in the opening of the letter we read today.

“God is light. In Him there is no darkness at all.”

W e are called to walk in that light, my brothers and sisters, and, like John, we are called to be the messengers of that light. We need to listen carefully for Christ is saying to each of us –

“What is that to you? You must follow me.”


Saturday, 26 December 2009

A Christmas treat

The Abbey's musicians gave us a real treat yesterday. The choristers sang the service superbly, putting in their hearts and souls and the organists certainly put in a magnificent performance, both Ben and Carleton. No, there wasn't a duet, but there was a change of organ. It is always amusing to see the faces of our visitors when Ben and Carleton pull the switch like this. Normally Carleton conducts the choir and Ben accompanies on a Sunday or Holy Day when the Parish Choir is singing and yesterday was no exception.

So why the surprised looks from the congregation?

It works like this. Immediately after the Blessing and Dismissal, the final hymn begins. Normally the Milton Organ is used to accompany the hymns, but when the organists are ringing the changes so to speak, Carleton launches the hymn from the Grove organ out of sight from the congregation. Ben then switches off the Milton and stands up and leaves the loft in full view of the congregation ....

Those who know the different sound of the two organs quickly guess what is happening, visitors don't.

So we processed from the church accompanied by the growls and snarls of the Glorious Grove trying to keep a straight face as visiting members of the congregation peered at the empty organ loft and tried to figure out how the organ was being played. And it was certainly being played. Carleton's Recessional Voluntary was a stunner. Vierne's Finale to the 1st Symphony.

It has to be heard on the Grove I think to truly appreciate it.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas

I'd like to take this moment to wish everyone who reads this blog a very merry Christmas filled with blessings and joy and a year to come that brings everything you hope for.

May the Peace of the Christ child be with you and remain with you.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Sermon for Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass
Christmas 2009; St Mary Magdalen, Twyning.

“In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

+ May I speak and may you hear in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

The opening paragraphs of St John’s gospel give us a powerful description of the God of creation. It is, in fact, a declaration of the Christian understanding of God. Some time ago I was given a small reproduction of a Byzantine Icon which shows Mary supporting an adult Christ who holds a scroll. The arrangement of Mary’s hands points to Christ and the scroll – this is Mary the Theotokos, the God Bearer and Christ is depicted as the Living Word in her arms.

This is the significance of the babe whose birth we celebrate tonight and tomorrow and for the next twelve days. This is how the Word became flesh – the only way that even God could assume human form and flesh – to be born and to grow as we do into adulthood.

Isaiah foretells this in the prophecy we have just heard –

“The Lord will lay bare His holy arm in the sight of all the nations.”
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews is quoting Isaiah when he writes –

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

Our crib shows us the human face of the Christmas story, our Gospel tells us the mystery that underlies it. And here the two most important aspects of this wonderful event meet in a very graphic sense for in becoming human, God has impoverished himself in the spiritual sense. From being the Word spoken at the beginning and to be spoken at the end of all things and all time, he adopted human form at a particular time and place in order to reach out to all mankind and draw us nearer to Himself.

We look and see a stable, hardly a place in which a King who transcends all earthly things and powers would choose to be born, yet that too has its place, for in a crowded Caravanseri there would be no privacy in which the birth could take place. Only in the stable could Mary deliver her child in quiet and without attracting the perhaps unwelcome attention of the other guests.

Today is the celebration of Mary’s delivery of her child, the living Word of God, the Word that was present at the beginning. There is a long road ahead of her now for she must nurture this child and bring him to adulthood so that He may fulfil the destiny He has ordained for himself. But now, on this night, delivered of her baby she may rest, safe and warm in the stall among the animals, her husband Joseph keeping watch over her.

Luke, who’s Gospel gives us a detailed description of the birth and is probably Mary’s own account, tells us that shepherds visited the stable to worship after being told of the birth by angels. Matthew also gives us this witness account and we may be sure that it did not go unnoticed or unmarked.

Of this we may be sure. The birth occurring in a stable in a caravanseri instead of in the home of Joseph’s relatives probably not far distant from the stable, is a part of God’s plan. The babe is recognised by the shepherds as being special and is recognised later by the magi – but passes unnoticed by the rich and powerful.

As John tells us –
“He came to that which was his own and his own did not receive him.”
How do we respond to the Babe? Do we come to celebrate his birth simply because it’s a nice story and it’s what we do at Christmas? Or do we come because we, like the shepherds and the magi, recognise in this infant something greater, something awesome and so wonderful it must be told to everyone?

As we celebrate the birth of this child some two thousand years ago we should be struck by the wonder of what that child is. I cannot do better than St John when he writes –
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Snow, ice, sleet, rain.....

We've had the snow, then we got the ice. Freezing rain was followed by sleet - and now we have more rain. Wonder what tomorrow will bring. At l;east the temperature has climbed from -2*C to a balmy 4*C.

A "White Christmas" seems to be off the cards now, though they are saying it will be foggy and grey. Ce la vie, I was getting tired of skating everywhere anyway.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Birthday remembrances

Today would have been my grandmother's 109th birthday. She died in 1977, confined to a wheelchair and all but unable to speak though her mind was still sharp and alert. In many ways she provided my brother and I with the mothering her daughter couldn't as the demands of earning a living and a marriage that needed constant work to keep it together militated against her.

Hector Mary Heron was a woman of great faith and tremendous patience. She never once complained as her disablities increased and the love she gave my brother and I, her husband and her family, was without limit. May she rest in peace.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Snow bound

Ironic isn't it? Everyone has this romantic image of a "white" Christmas, yet when we do get snow the whole country grinds rapidly to a halt. My local council hasn't gritted or dealt with the road and pavement outside my house and probably won't, so the surface is a sheet of ice, treacherous underfoot and all one can hear is cars slipping and sliding on it. Even more stupid is the fact that if I do anything to make the pavement round my fence safer I could be sued if any member of the public were to slip as a result - the exact opposite of the situation in Europe!

Perhaps this demonstrates more clearly than anything else that we are ruled by fools and incompetents and the only beneficiaries are the lawyers.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Famine and now feast

The last twelve weeks have been difficult from a faith perspective. I miss being able to attend Mass at least once a week and twelve weeks without attending congregational worship of any sort has been a bit of a stretch. So today I have had a feast. Deacon at the Said Mass, Deacon at the Parish Eucharist and Sub Deacon for the Sung Mass. All that's left now is the Carol Service.

The last couple of days have been busy as well. Twelve weeks away from home has left a huge pile of letters, bills, cards, statements and the inevitable junk mail has to go through. It has also left a large number of things that need dealing with immediately so I've burned the phone lines and the shoe leather and have managed to shift a number of things fairly quickly. There's still a lot to do, but it's getting there. Christmas shopping is still a problem though as I haven't got a clue as to what I can get for several people on my list and time is short.

And then I got an email today from Tehran setting out the "requirements" for the industrial course we are going back to run. In essence they are demanding a course, specific to a range of conditions that are impossible to fulfil with the equipment and facilities available. Looks like the first three weeks of January will be interesting to say the least.

To the devil with it - I'm going to enjoy the next few days as much as I can.

Friday, 18 December 2009

A thought for the Christmas Season

I subscribe to a site called FanStory, a website where authors of all levels of skill can air their works and get feedback from their peerrs on the quality and effectiveness of their writing. Every now and then one discovers something written by someone who is able to articulate something so effectively you wish it could reach a wider audience. Today I am posting just such a piece here in the hope that its message will reach others and perhaps even those who are responsible for the things mentioned in the article.

The last ever Christmas by Roberta Lee

"Happy Holidays," she said with a smile in her voice. I was on the phone and couldn't see her face, but I wondered if she knew what she was really saying.

"To which holiday are you referring?" I asked her. "I'm a Christian, so I am celebrating Christmas. Do you know about Christmas?"

Her voice tightened and she squeaked out, "We're not allowed to participate in religious discussions . It might be offensive."

"Well, since you are speaking to me, and I certainly won't be offended if you answer my question...will you? Answer my question I mean?"

"I am allowed to say I celebrate Christmas my own way. My children love Santa Claus. And of course the gifts."

"Hmm, do you and your children know what Christmas is? If you aren't a Christian, why do you celebrate Christmas? Why don't you move your gift giving to Hanukkah, or Ramadan, or some other winter celebration day"or better yet, just skip the gift giving altogether? Save your money. This is a very tight economy."

Another change of tone in her voice warned me that I had offended her sense of self as she replied, "We do live in America, and Americans celebrate Christmas."

"OK, fair enough I suppose,capitalism and all that, but Christians all over the world celebrate Christmas, are you aware of that? The holiday didn't originate in America. I hope you'll take some time to learn about, and teach your children about Christmas. It really is a Christian holiday. It means something to us other than Santa Clause, hustle and bustle, and seeing who gets what present."

Silence punctuated by heavy breathing and the beep of the recorder letting me know that indeed, "This call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes."

"I'll let you go, and thanks so very much for your help. And listen Eileen, (she told me her name at the beginning of our call) you have a wonderful Christmas, I hope it's not your last." She hung up.

I know, that wasn't really fair play. She sounded as if she were young, and most likely her children were very young, "Santa age." She had probably never seen a real Christmas pageant in her know the kind with shepherds, and wise men, and Mary, Joseph, and most importantly the baby in the manger. I bet she never even wondered about the Nativity scenes that dot the shelves during the months from October until after the closeouts in January. She probably thought they were just another action set in old clothes.

My thoughts rumbled around inside my head and heart until they crashed into one another over my own parting, casually offered, smart-alecky remark. What if this was the last ever Christmas? What if the ACLU, our newly elected Muslim president, the nay-sayers and the ignorant succeeded in outlawing the Christmas Holy Day,the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. What if there was no more "Peace on Earth-Good Will Toward Men" allowed? No "Little Town of Bethlehem", no "O Holy Night", no "Silent Night, Holy Night" to soothe the spirit and ease thoughts of powdery snow and twinkling light gently into the dreams of every child? What if the raucous "Jingle Bells" and the nasal cacophony "Mama Got Run Over By a Reindeer" were the only songs resonating over the airways during the month of December.

Certainly the extravagance, the grandeur we Americans propitiate to during the Christmas season is a poor representation of the True Gift who came a babe, and clothed Himself in a garment of flesh; surrendering Himself for us a ransom. Regardless that our gifts are unable to compare in any way with His, yet we each yearn during that special season of the year to by some means, transcend the mortal and express the ethereal spirit most are unable to explain. There is nothing quotidian about Christmastime. We need to celebrate it. We need to celebrate Him.

I for one do not want to live in a world where the Christmas tree on the White House lawn means nothing, the star on top, an ornament--nothing more significant. Every foundational edict of my America is rooted in the Judeo-Christian ethic, an ethic that defines our humanity and provides us inspiration to respect one another regardless of race, creed, or yes--religion. Take away the ethic, take away the "Reason for the Season" we celebrate as Christmas and there is nothing remaining that is pure and noble, selfless or eternal. What does remain is the greedy, grasping, nose stuck in one's own navel, hedonistic, egocentric parody of life as it was meant to as He meant it to be.

A spirit of rebellion wells up within me, so unlike the Spirit of the Son of God whom I celebrate. He convicts me of my anger as He reminds me that nothing can remove me from His hand. This sovereign Lord, this King of Kings cannot be debunked or legislated out of existence. "The fool says in his heart, 'there is no God.'" No matter that some bitter, wrathful soul, lost in their own ignorance believes that prayer can be removed from schools or "In God We Trust" removed from sight in America. The Spirit of Christ-mas past, present, and future cannot be recanted because He who has promised to "be with us always, even unto the end of time" is faithful. He cannot be eradicated because He existed before time ever began, and He will be Himself throughout eternity.

Some may choose to bastardize "Christmas", some may choose to adulterate the genuine greeting with a weak and vitiated "Happy Holiday" or "Seasons Greetings," but I will greet everyone with the heart of the season. I will celebrate THE BIRTH OF JESUS CHRIST, THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD, who came to take away the sin of the world...and I will wish everyone a glorious, a joyful, an everlastingly true Christmas.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Home, James ....

Straight through the Park and don't spare the horses!

We are sat on our flight home to Blighty at last. Now we have three weeks to restore ourselves, sort out the accumulated problems and post - and get ready to come back to Tehran in January. Assuming no one does anything politically stupid in the meantime.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Time to go home

One of the feral dogs that has become an eager 'friend' every time we work outside at Salehabad has found a spot out of the rain, wind and snow - for the moment. We haven't the heart to tell her - but this car is scheduled for a burn in the new year. I get the feeling that she is hinting that if we would just get in and start it ...

Anyhow, we are all packed and ready to leave for the airport at 02.30 in the morning. The flight is at 06.35 but we need to be there at 04.00 and its an hours drive if the conditions, traffic-wise, permit. So we're leaving nothing to chance. Especially after having had the journey from hell this morning. We left at our usual time, no problem there, but two days ago a tunnel collapsed in central Tehran - there's no information on the news about it, but its closed a lot of streets. That has pushed all the traffic otwards onto already busy expressways and streets.

The result, this morning, was gridlock around Azadi Square after a truck and trailer overturned....

It took two and a half hours to complete our journey to work, normally 55 minutes, and even then we were, at one point, travelling west away from work in order to get to the motorway that by-passes Tehran completely. Neither of us will be sorry to get home tomorrow. Now, the only question is - are my bags overweight?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Counting the hours

Yes, we are now counting the hours down to getting on that plane home. The last couple of days have been interesting from a traffic point of view. The huge traffic relieving tunnel being built under the centre of the city collapsed suddenly on Monday morning and has caused the closure of several major routes through it. That has pushed everything onto already choked alternatives and the situation isn't looking good for the next few weeks as they sort this out.

Interestingly there has been very little about it on the news.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Mountain views

From the roof of our apartment block the mountains make a magnificent sight behind the city - when you can see them at present as they are frequently hidden in heavy mist or clouds and when they do reveal themselves - the snow has invariably crept that bit closer.

It's now about a mile from us and only about 100 metres above our level. And the wind is cold .....

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Stormy view

Taken on Thursday this shows the snows descending. A few minutes later and it was snowing at the level of our roof - but melting before it hit the road below. Weird to see, the snow vanished pretty quickly but stayed higher up the slope..

Friday, 11 December 2009

Climate Conference scams

So the Climate Change Conartists are now all in the spotlight and we have to endure the BBC News 24 Non-stop blather (With suitable cuts to archive footage of melting glaciers and steaming cooling towers labelled "pollution") by all the PR people who want to convince us that handing them something like $45 trillion (In my money thats 45 million-million) so they can "redistribute" the wealth of the "industrialised" nations to the "developing" nations to stop them cutting down trees and "improve" their industries.

If the "Climate Gate" Scandal has taught us anything it is that we should be very wary of the political motive behind this proposal because it reeks of good old-fashioned communist "soak the rich" and "redistribution" philosophy. What these airheads refuse to recognise, or to admit if they are simply being cleverly devious, is that the "industrialised" world will simply impoverish itself and enrich its competitors in this moronic exrecise. And there will be no change because the root of the problem in all "developing" nations os massive overpopulation. Look about you at the areas we are told are already "feeling the effects of climate change".

The Ganges delta is one such area, but if you massively increase the number of fishermen, you will naturally see the disappearance of entire fish species and a collapse of animal and piscine populations. Likewise the flooding, the delta has always flooded. My father was there in 1943 - 45 and they had to rescue people from floods then - because it is an annual event. Its not new, what is new is the vast number of people now trying to eke a living on it and in it. That is the eco-disaster - not the falsified and distorted numbers crunched by the pseudo-science that is the AGW and IPCC "reports". Take a good look at the posts on "Watts up with that". (Link in the sidebar!) The same can be said of Ethiopia, the land there has been semi-desert since man first appeared. Yes, it has wet years and dry years, what it hasn't had until the 1960s is the massive population now trying to live off it.

Are the Polar Ice-caps melting? The evidence is far from conclusive even at the North Pole. And one of the things the "Climate Scientists" currently raking in the "research" funding from governments complicit in this scam (Presumably so they can tighten control on their taxpayers and play their dangerous social engineering games) consistently ignore and deny even is that the polar ice was considerably less than it is now in the year 1000AD period. Greenland was green then, and vines grew in Newfoundland if the Norse sagas are right. Certainly in modern Maine and Masschusetts. Will we all be submerged? Not unless the entire mass of Antarctic Ice were to melt catastrophically - all six miles thick of it. Sea levels rising? Chertopert! Too many peope living where they can be hit by floods and storm surges. We are talking millimetre rises yes, some of it because the 12,000 year long process of land rising after being pushed down by the weight of the ice in the last Ice Age is causing the South Coast of Britain at any rate to sink! Let's see the Greenstrife activists stop that happening! Preferably at their expense and not mine or my children's!

I am sick to death of the young, ignorant and oh, so focused, PR people I am seeing on the BBC - all spouting complete garbage about CO2 levels - not a shred of evidence for its effect - and all earnestly believing that the now exposed fraud of a climate model based n the rings from twelve trees in Siberia represents the past, the present and the future. I get even angrier when the BBC shows shots of the cooling towers belching steam and burbles about the "power station pumping polluting CO2 into the atmosphere to feed or energy needs." Will someone, somewhere please take them to the Advertising Standards Authority for False Representation!

So the ":Climate/Save the Planet" mob at the UN want $45 trillion of our money. Not out of my pocket. Let's see the colour of your money first, I have no intention of funding the Bank Accounts of the Developing Nations leadership in Switzerland any more than I am doing already.

Here's a solution to all this - ship the entire Climate Change Movement scientists and all their supporters to one of their "at risk" nations. When they can demonstrate that they have reveresed the problems there of corruption, over population and exploitation they always want to blame us for - maybe I'll sit down and listen to the rest of their "Chertopert"!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Final week ....

By this time next Thursday we hope to be sat on our flight home. Its been a long twelve weeks, though we have all seen places and met people that have made it more enjoyable. In fact we can say that we have made quite a few friends here. There is also a sense of unreality in some of the things we have seen and done - like having to evict a nest of puppies from under one of our units before we set fire to it.

These are the one's who haven't been quietly "adopted" by the students, workers and farmers round here, there were originally twelve of them....

Another indicator I guess of the different approach to life is the builder's accomodation on building sites and the training centre is no exception. I have no doubt that this is the same as it was in the time of Darius or even probably Cyrus. The first thing to happen on any site is the building, with mud bricks and scraps of iron, timber and roofing sheets, of a simple "house" divided into several small rooms all accessed from outside. A small enclosure on one end provides an ablution space (Bucket of water that can be poured over you in the privacy of the enclosure) and cooking is done on an open fire or a small portable stove in front of this in fine weather or indoors in wet and cold. Furniture seems to be optional and usually homemade or salvaged. When the work is completed, the bricks are taken down and carted off to the next site ...

Having one of these next to our burn units has been educational. Here we are furnishing rooms that are better built and better furnished than our builders enjoy - and then we burn them. On a couple of occassions some of "our" furniture has vanished overnight. Yes, its annoying, but we can hardly begrudge its use (most of it is pretty awful anyway) to a bunch of guys who have nothing and little hope of improving their lot.

Living here and observing the lives of such a broad range of people and their hopes, fears and ambitions certainly gives a wider perspective to the Biblical story that we mark at this season.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Hey, baby, it's cold outside!

Well the snowline has descended to our apartment block's level which means the streets higher up have even more. We seem to be right on the boundary between the snow and the rain and its alternating between the two. The mountains are now blanketed in the white stuff and I'm glad I can spend the next two days in doors without having to face the traffic (Still horrendous but now more so!) and take some time out to catch up on several things.

Only seven more days before we fly home, my only concern is the amount of tasks awaiting me and the shortness of the time I will have to deal with it all! This is going to be tight.

Meantime, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. As long as the flights still run next Thursday at 06.35....

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Descending snow line ....

No, I haven't go a picture, its a bit too misty and the view is obscured - but the snowline is now down to just above the level of the highest apartments up the slope behind us. The last two days have been heavily overcast and the rain at our level is snow higher up. Hills that were not snow covered at the beginning of the week are now. And the wind is definitely colder. As soon as there is a clear day I want to try and get a picture, but it isn't likely to be before Thursday at present appearances.

The dry ground is now muddy here and the farmer opposite the Training Centre is busy harvesting the turnip crop. Crop rotation is obviously something deeply ingrained here, as he has ploughed, harrowed and planted a winter crop already - presumably one that that likes the snow and needs the water that is available in winter.

And the good news for us is that it is now nine days to our flight home. Personally I can't wait. Its been fun in some ways, and its certainly paying the bills for the moment. But I'm also conscious of the very large number of things now urgently requiring my attention at home. Not to mention my beloved old Paddy Cat who has probably given me up for lost.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Tense in Tehran

For the moment we still have the internet and the phone, although there is reportedly a large anti-government demo in progress. We did have a lot of warning about it and last night there were people standing on the rooftops chanting, the traditional form of protest here. That said, where we are accomodated and where we are working we have seen and heard absolutely nothing further.

BBC news reports from Turkey are interesting, but there is nothing live to go by.

Watch this space, I'll post of there is more.

Meantime we are looking forward to getting home in just on ten more days. The folk we are working with are super, we couldn't ask for nicer people to work alongside. Even the people on the street are warm and friendly, its not unusual to be stopped in a shop and asked where you are from and then engaged in friendly conversation, albeit in broken English. But, lets face it, home is home. Twelve weeks away from it is a long time.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Happy St Nicholas Day

St Nicholas of Smyrna, now in modern Turkey, was bishop there in the early history of the church. It is his example of giving gifts to those who needed help that is the model for our gift giving at Christmas and other times. He is also the model of Santa Claus - more propery Sinta Klaus, the Dutch version of Saint Nicholas - and some of our traditions.

The traditional red coat may be a confusion of traditions as well, since it is the colour used by the church to depict a martyrdom and Nicholas was not in Western tradition, a martyr.

Today is the day in Holland that "Struwel Pieter", a rather scary figure, visits homes and checks on which children deserve presents. In some traditions as well, it is this day that gifts are exchanged and not on the 25th. Whichever tradition you follow, remember Nicholas, and remember who he was following in his generosity to others. It is an example we do well to follow.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

More from Karsan

More pictures from Karsan and the stunning heritage of the "great houses" that are preserved there. The sense of history as one surveys this country is almost overwhelming. The pictures show some of the vault decoration in the Merchant's House. It is original and unrestored - stunning to think it is more than 200 years old.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Blogging from Tehran

Is fraught with interruptions and to be honest we are working so hard that it is sometimes difficult to remember to post something. For one thing we do not have internet access at work. This was promised weeks ago, but using a MacBook has its disadvantages, especially when the host has a system that requires the installation of a Microslosh program in order to access their systems login .... The MacBook simply refuses to even consider it. Probably rightly.

Some of the other guys have access, but it is slow and erratic, so I don't bother while I'm at the office. Besides we have enough to do just to run the courses anyway as we have some support, but it is usually restricted by language barriers. Much easier to just do it yourself.

It is interesting to see what is reported here and how it is reported. I am strongly reminded of political science lectures from my distant past in which it was pointed out that a common tactic for a government unpopular at home and in trouble to "invent" all sorts of external "enemies" and to play up external threats. So the vote in Switzerland, hardly what I would term a typical example of the west, as "Islamaphobia" and "proof" that Islam is under attack in, and by, the west. I am constantly told here that "freedom of worship" is practiced, yet Christian Churches, and there are quite a number, are generally run down, locked and well hidden. Mosques, on the other hand, are everywhere being built, renovated, or enriched - all with a "Mosque Tax" imposed and collected centrally and available only to the Mosque committees. The people here are told that this is the way the western democracies fund the promotion of Christianity and the "war" on Islam.

Likewise the seizure and freeing of the yacht and its crew in this week is "spun" in the same way our Labour Government "spins" and filters the news at home. No wonder people everywhere are losing faith in their governments and politicians have lost everyone's trust.

Yet, one cannot but be aware of the pride of the people in the street in their heritage and their hopes, not dissimilar from our own, in a bright and free future for themselves and their children. It is surely not such a far fetched ambition? Perhaps if we could actually get a media that is free of political bias, interested in telling the truth and not in spinning the bad for political and financial gain we might begin to understand one another better.

But that is probably far too much to wish for!

Thursday, 3 December 2009


Some of the decorated walls in the Merchant's House in Karsan. Considering the house has stood open to the elements for the last 140 years it is a tribute to the original craftsmen that these are still visible.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


The symetry of the buildings is amazing, they are grand, they are designed to impress - and they are several hundred years old. This picture was take in the reception hall of the house built by the family who collected the tax for travel to Esfahan from Karsan. The position was a hereditary one and the house reflected the "perks" of a tax collector at this time.

Nice post - if you can get it.