Monday, February 26, 2007

Too Steep For Comfort

So I'm back home after a week with our parish ski holiday.

What? Your church doesn't do a ski trip? You should complain! And before you start thinking that Pontypridd is a bit more South Kensington than South Wales, I must point you to the excellent Goldhill Holidays, who provide a fantastic service at super bargain rates.

We had nothing but blue skies and sunshine, and if the snow wasn't brilliant, it wasn't bad either. At least a week in the sun has done me a power of good.
As for the skiing...
I had the enormous pleasure of ending up in the advanced class. I was the least accomplished skier in the group, and only blagged my way into it cos I felt a strong desire to really push myself way beyond my comfort zone and this seemed the best way to do it.
And it was great fun. Our tutor, a genial Scot named Andy, took us to all sorts of places I would never dream of skiing by myself, and taught bits of technique that I didn't have. We went off piste from day one on, which was a fairly new experience for me. And we started at "steep" and got steeper!

On the last day, we took the Lauberhorn chairlift. One of the girls wondered why we were doing this - because at the top there would only be two red (intermediate) runs, and one of the easiest black (advanced) runs in the resort. Not that I have never done a black run. And the World Cup course, of course. Oh my, I thought.
Shouldn't have worried. It was much worse. Andy took us off piste, across the mountain, to a slope he of which he said, "now this is steep", and everyone else agreed. Again, a moment's panic for me. I mean, it had all been steep for me, all week. Now they thought it was. Off piste, steep, and full of moguls - bumpy bits for the uninitiated. I can turn on moguls - but have only done it on gentle, shallow slopes. I can do steep - but have only done it on limited areas, not a huge mountainside that is beginning to induce (for the first time all week) a severe bout of vertigo. I can do limited amounts of off piste. But all three? On a slope that was far harder than any black run in the resort? Did I mention I have never done a black run?

Did I mention that I wanted to be pushed beyond my comfort zone? Was I getting my wish fulfilled? Careful what you ask for!

Off we went. Correction. Off they went. I am rooted to the spot in fear. The vertigo has taken hold and all the technique I ever had has simply flown out of my head. Poof. Gone. As the last bloke set off, I said, "I really can't do this." And he went.

Andy was alerted to my predicament by one of the girls. He shouted up the mountain - "Just traverse along to the right and do one long turn". I think the moguls were less severe to the right. And earlier in the week, we had done an off piste exercise where we had just pointed our skis downhill and let them take us on a slow turn out of the slope.

I hear his command. I understand it. I know I have to do something. And I have my own skis - which I know really well. I know that if I trust them, and dare to point them downhill, they won't just keep going, they will bite, they will pull me out of the fall-line and into a turn. If I snatch, I'll turn too quickly and fall. Not a good idea at this angle. I have to trust.
What would you do? The thing with trust is that until you act on it, it doesn't exist. Like it's bedfellow 'faith', you can think you have it, but until you have to use it - you don't really know.

It worked beautifully. Perfectly. I pointed my skis down the mountain, prayed hard, and executed one of the best turns I'd done all week. And I'll admit freely I was shaking all over by the time we reached the bottom, but Andy made a point of looking me in the eye and saying "you can do this" (great teaching manner that chap - full marks) so I went up again and did it again, with a lot less fear. And a third time, likewise.

Mind you, everybody went up for the fourth time - at which point I skiied past them and headed for the Start Bar and a coffee with something quite strong added. I mean, you can have too much of a good thing!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

It's the second day of snow here in Pontypridd. The first was fun - lots of snow overnight, then pretty morning snow followed by a bit of sun, a quick thaw, a lot of fuss and nothing. Chaos and panic, the local Tesco making £50,000 extra in a day as people filled their freezers (ironically) "just in case". All my appointments for the day were cancelled as people rang up "because of the weather" - which made sense first thing, but not really by 6pm.

This morning, it's snowing again, but there is far more traffic out and about. Clearly people have had enough fun. One day off was all they needed. Or a sunny morning's snow was more appealling than actually a snowing morning to take off.

So the dog and I will stay wrapped up inside the house (pictured), waiting for enough of a break in the weather to brave it outside for a walk. He loves running in the snow - but like the rest of Pontypridd, only when it isn't actually snowing. Otherwise, it's the fireside, a favourite chair or bed for both of us.

And no appointments to cancel - Friday is my official day off in the week. So....

The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, and since we've no place to go - let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Renewing Wonder

This week has several highlights. A smattering of snow making me positively salivate as I look forward to the real thing at the end of next weekwhen I return to Switzerland, for one. Last night's outing with the Byron Jones band - a great experience, and I might write more about that another time. There is audio and visual proof!

But also two unexpected friendships have been renewed this week courtesy of Google. On the left, Chris Berryman, on the right, Jon Timmis.
Chris lives in Florida, but I knew him first in Maryland when I lived out there in 1990. The rather splendid photo is coutesy of the internet movie database - IMDB - (well, I had boasted about my CD being available on iTunes!) though I could have taken it off Signal Centers, the charity for disabled folk he works for. I almost didn't recognise him: he had a beard the last time I saw him, about a decade ago!
Jon lives in York, and we knew each other in Aberystwyth, where he helped me lead the church youth group, and where he was one of my real solid friends. Then I moved to Cambridge, he to Canterbury, other things happened. We lost touch. He found me via Google and the St Caths website. He looks a little greyer than I recall - and his photo is off his academic website at York University (which loses me at the first line, "My research interest is primarily in the area of Biologically inspired computing...")
We are just starting the process of getting back in touch. I hope it works: friendships are precious things, and renewing them a great gift. Unexpected voices from the past are a special delight. They bring back memories and shared journeys, which inevitably have different colours associated with them, and I love this.
My time in Aberystwyth was not all sunshine; nor was Jon's. A renewing of our friendship will take us there again, but also gives us a chance to be friends today, and I think for both of us today is brighter. I look forwards to this.
I haven't really been in touch with Chris since both of us were starting our adult professional lives in our late 20s. I expect we are both the same as we were and yet very different. I really look forwards to seeing how he has changed and grown, and to hear his take on me. And now that he is living quite close to my sister, I'm sure it won't be long before we actually meet up again rather than just do the email thing!
Time is a strange beast. Finding friends who have shared it and used it differently and now share it again fills me with a wonder I want to express but for which I have no words. It's a child-like joy.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Enjoying the moment

Every one needs little things to look forwards to. This week I am singing with the Byron Jones Big Band on Wednesday evening in Newport.

Byron has been running the band for years, and combines some pro musicians with some keen amateurs and some students from the music college in Cardiff. How he does it amazes me - just getting everyone together is hard enough. But finding new music, new arrangements and new musicians when needed - as well as new enthusiasm when you hear the same old excuses. I am full of admiration for him. You can read more about his band here.

Anyway - every now and then I get to sing with the band when the real singers take a night off, and this week is one such week. Thanks to the hard work of Malcolm Jenkins and the South Wales Big Band Society the band have a monthly gig at Burleigh Hall inNewport, a sort of Jazz Cafe; this is where I get my gig.

I even got a rehearsal... though I only got to sing one of the eight numbers I will be doing 'live'. I think that means Byron is happy I can do all the others. As long as he's still happy afterwards.

In a period when church life is as hectic as it gets, and when I am encouraging the guys in the church to be more involved and to be sharers of their faith, I think it really matters (a) that I have some fun, (b) that they see I have a three dimensional life, and (c) not everythingI do happens in the large Victorian building ten feet outside this study window!

Now: all I have to do is remember the words, the music, the rhythm, the keys, the arrangements, the intros, the endings, the timing, the nuance, the feeling, the swing, the...

Oh blow that. Charlie Parker speaking of jazz improvisation said: "Know the changes, forget the changes". It holds for jazz singing. Know the songs, forget the songs: enjoy the moment.