Saturday, January 31, 2009

Baroque & Roll

No - not another reference to the guy in the White House...

This is a first post about the Welsh Baroque Orchestra and their wonderful concert of Vivaldi Arias and Concertos from the Ospedale della Pieta here at St Catherine's this evening. (There will be more to come.)


Such a privilege to host these guys, such a delight to hear them play and make wonderful use of our acoustic in a totally different way to our usual musical fare. Violin concertos, cello concertos, flute - as you can see - and then arias from Juditha Triumphans, a Psalm and another vocal piece that escapes me because my programme was snaffled!

However: I do have DVD, and once I have found some time I will post excerpts here. They were great, and it just goes to show that we don't only do jazz & worship songs! The Hallelujah and the final Amen from tonight's show will certainly be finding their way here & onto our church website vey soon.

We had a decent crowd: Pontypridd isn't, I suppose, a Vivaldi kind of place. (What is a Vivaldi kind of place? Venice.) But I hope we get this great period orchestra back, because they are excellent, and it is great to have an orchestra like this coming out of the capital and playing in venues like ours. A real treat.

PS - Just made it before midnight. So talking about music means it's not just Van der Sar breaking records today. 19 is the most postings I've ever done in a month.

Van der Sar beats Death

Edwin Van der Sar, veteran goalie, today beat Death.

The announcement came up during the online match comments on the BBC website as Man Utd played Everton as follows:

1905: It's official. The 72 minutes are up and Edwin van der Sar has beaten Death. The United keeper reaches 1,104 minutes without conceding a league goal, beating the previous mark set by Reading's Steve Death in 1979.

Not quite eternal life then. But twelve games without conceding is a phenomenal achievement. Which makes the next game the 13th in the run.

Does anyone know if Dutch goalkeepers are superstitious?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Nine Holes

As I was leaving the house this morning I discovered why I keep a collection of unwanted umbrellas at the bottom of my coat stand: Mary had had hers destroyed yesterday by a drunk in the library, and as she told me this (on her way to the library today) I was able to offer her two good-as-new ones to replace it. She was delighted. She then asked where I was off to.

"Oh, just to visit one of our old people who is house bound," I said.
"Ah, that's nice," she said. "You do that kind of thing do you? How lovely!"

I confessed Gill did most of it, but as she is on Safari in Uganda...

And the person I was visiting this morning is John Murphy. John was warden when I first came here, and my total hero. In a period where no-one really got what I was about, he supported everything I did and watched my back assiduously. When I see him now, (and he's just a week shy of his 85th birthday) we talk of the church, its life, its people, its glories, its problems, and I confide in him freely. I learned to trust him. He is a good man.

But I was in for a surprise today, which I think would have quite shocked Mary. John and I had nine holes of golf.

On the Wii.

I've never played on a Wii before, so the old man had to take me through it. He loved my incompetence. We had three practice holes first - well, they would have been for real, but somehow at fourteen shots over, I managed to wipe the game... Terribly unfortunate. So we began again. And this time, I said, "I am competitive you know."

John looked at me disdainfully. "You don't say," he replied.

The first hole was still his, a birdie to a bogey. But it was closer. I hit a par at the second - whilst this time he struck a bogey. At the third he had a torrid time and went four over, which put me in the gleeful lead - a position I never thereafter gave up.

"Oh dear," I said, "that was difficult."
"That you best pastoral manner?" he enquired.
And then when he hit the bunker at the sixth I asked, "Have you played golf before?" to the man who has lived half his life walking between greens.

It was a good job I'm half his age.

Pastoral visiting has never been so much fun! But should the pastor beat the parishioners? Oh well, I'll ask Gill when she gets back from those mountain gorillas. She'll know the answer. There's probably a part of her famous Visiting Course - "Wii believe".

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Frost/Nixon is the second excellent film I've seen this year. This clip is for the original interviews, the real Frost/Nixon encounter. But the latest Ron Howard movie is engaging, gripping, well-acted and enjoyable. A good old fashioned double-hander, with two fine actors occasionally chewing the scenery.

So: 2008 - 0 (1, if I'm allowing QoS); 2009 -2. And we are still in January. Tonight I had a second look at Slumdog Millionaire - and it was still fantastic. Glorious. The archdeacon was off to see Parradine/Milhous, so I shall have to see if he enjoyed it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Impressive (2)

Oh my. If you have been reading the comments on the previous post, forget Derek's attempts with the golf club - somebody just tried with his Golf. Or rather, his Skoda. The full story is here.

The BBC have video of the rescue services bringing the driver out of the car in the church roof here. Which takes a little of the humour out of it - though when you read the story, recorded in typical BBC-speak, that smile comes back:

Police said the vehicle was travelling at high speed when the collision happened in Limbach-Oberfrohna on Sunday.
The 23-year-old driver missed a bend in the road and drove through a railing before careering up an embankment and flying 35 metres through the air.

Am I missing something, or is that from the script of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines?

Health warning: this is not to be attempted in Pontypridd under any circumstances.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


More wisdom from JD - though this is a bit different! Watch and enjoy. And don't get any ideas about the clock on our spire.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Agricultural Wisdom

Time again to give some column inches to wisdom found over at Farmstrong. JD has been opining for a while about the need for worship to centre on story, not text - that is, to bind us into the whole story of God, not into a preacher's 'theme for the day' (he has some great song suggestions for awkward themes though, and if you read back a couple of posts, I think you may laugh out loud). Creation, fall, redemption, resurrection, and the return of the King are ideas that JD wants to see repeated throughout our weekly worship so that we get the big ideas in our regular corporate dealings with God.

This is good stuff.

In a recent post, I posted a comment because I felt the initial post had a sentence (part of a quotation) that was apt to be mis-read, and you know how pedantic I can be. In part of his reply JD wrote:

My big contention is that we become narrated into the Story via worship that truly remembers the biblical narrative in a living (think anamnesis) Hebraic way of remembering. Jesus is our way in. Consider the implications of Baptism (the drowning of our plot and the resurrection into his plot) and the Eucharist, the continual nourishment on his Body and Blood in the power of the Spirit.

I guess you may have to read a lot of his stuff to get this, but then come back and re-read this summary. It is brilliant. I mean, brilliant. Fantastic theology. So good I want to claim it as mine - well, it is, I mean, I teach this stuff too, but perhaps not as succinctly or in these words (it's a while since St Catherine's had anamnesis mentioned in that precise word on a Sunday, though we get the concept every darned week).

I just had to post it in this form for now. When I have time I will post again, with a whole work-up of what this is about. But I LOVE it as a practical theology of how we design the service of worship for the corporate body as we encounter the living God in order to be more fully his people, filled with his Spirit and equipped for the service of the world.

A Second Inauguration

The Inaugural Concert at the BBC National Orchestra of Wales' new concert hall, the Hoddinott Hall, was held in Cardiff last night. This is a remarkable venue - it took half a Scandanavian forest to construct, and it is really a concert studio, because it works as a rehearsal and recording space for the BBC NOW, with seats for 350 people.

Yes. 350 people. A symphony orchestra and chorus, and 350 others get to listen. Well, potentially millions get to listen via the radio and the web, but 350 in person.

So - last night. The great and the good of Wales assembled. And I was in row C. (Presumably not being in the great, I scrambled in on the coat tails of the good). I have to say - it is a remarkable venue. The acoustic is warm and clear, it blooms without cloudiness, and then you get hit by a surprising clarity. I wanted to liken it to a Chandos recording, but at times it had the fullness of Decca, and then the clean-ness of Phillips. Where you sit affects the balance - I was too near the front; the piano was startlingly forwards in the mix. Next time I shall go further back. The photo is from the very back of the hall, just to give you an idea of the immediacy of the space - I snook my camera in and shot this pic before the evening began.

Anyway. The programme was designed to show off the hall and the orchestra - are you ready?

We began with a festival overture: Alun Hoddinott's Badger in the Bag. Can't hum that one? It's a riot of Celtic bombast, and a good joyful start. I didn't really hear it: I was listening to the occasion too much, feeling the glory of the first notes played before a paying crowd in this newest of Concert Arenas. A place beginning to yawn and breathe and stretch its limbs and come alive. Wonderful.

Then most of the band left so that the 13 percussionists could play Edgard Varese's Ionisation. Whistle along now! Actually - it was the epitome of squeaky-burpy 20th Century music. It genuinely squeaked and burped. I think someone was playing the vacuum cleaner. There were definitely sirens. And clacking things. And drums that played rhythmically without ever producing rhythm. I did the decent thing: I felt we were supposed to laugh, so I complied.

Next, the double basses and brass and a bit of woodwind came back for a world premiere! Simon Holt's St Vitus in the Kettle. It was sort of like the "Birth" section of Prokofiev's Lt Kije, but without so good a tune or any harmonic progression. The composer (who wore his best jeans and open necked shirt for the occasion) came forwards for our applause.

The first half finished with Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, which featured the superb pianist Llyr Williams and the BBC National Chorus of Wales. It's Beethoven. It has tunes and harmonic progression. Call me old fashioned, it put me in a good mood. Llyr Williams looks uncannily like Adrien Brody, whom you may remember from The Pianist, and he does a stunningly good line in meaningful looks at the audience at the end of long runs. His playing is beautiful - flowing, glorious, Beethoven as Beethoven should be.

The second half was split between two pieces: first, the Sibelius violin concerto. This was my highlight of the evening. Baiba Skride, a Latvian in her mid twenties, was stunning. And she played well, though occasionally I worried that she would have enough of her bow to finish the piece as she kept tearing off loose strings. And the piece is glorious and was gloriously played - all that Scandanavian angst resonating with Scandanavian forest we were sitting amongst.

Finally we luxuriated in Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe, the choir wordlessly joining in, the orchestra pulsating, the extremes of dynamics playing with the hall's acoustic and our ability to cope.

The BBC NOW was better than I have heard. Conducter Thierry Fischer seems to be personable and totally in charge. I loved the whole thing. The whole thing. Chatting with the people around me was great, and catching up with Byron Jenkins was super afterwards.

If you are here in South Wales, then go to the BBC NOW site and see if there's anything you fancy. It's cheap and worthwhile. Treat yourself!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Aled's Day

Today was one of those days that people will always remember: On the 20th January 2009 I was in the Nos Da on the Riverside when Aled's book West Wing Wales was launched. And we stood round a table of fried chicken and popcorn and watched Barack Obama be sworn in as 44th President of the USA, and listened as he gave his first speech as such.

Looking around at the crowd, for a while I let the gently rising voice and its pleasing phrases and cadences escape my notice: it was the Welsh faces and their rapt attention to the screen at the end of the room that caught my imagination. This is what words can do. This is what hope can do. This is what people want - and even if, after the words had stopped and the flow of hope was, for a moment, quenched, and the politicos and campaigners and hacks and hangers on dotted through the crowd tried to hide their emotions again as they faced each other, dreams had lived a while in the silence of that space. I hope that dreams come true; they deserve to; they need to.

Aled answered questions about his experience in the States taking part in the Obama campaign, and spoke movingly of how that experience should affect political campaigning in Wales. How hopes should be listened to and encouraged, and the sin of cynicism written out of our lives. How people need to be helped to see what is possible and then granted a path that takes them there, rather than be told that change will never come and they are always going to be trapped. Those who are trapped seldom unlock their own cells, but they are still in prison and still need freedom.

For a while I wished I had taken my camera. And then I felt it right I had not. In that bar, in that mixed and "secular" crowd, I was a part of something particularly holy.

And I will not forget this day: the presenting of a leader of the Free World who can speak and plant dreams in the heart of peoples.

Aled's Day.

Be Happy

From The Times: Kaka reveals that he turned down the opportunity to be the world's richest footballer after praying about it. "I believe I have made the right choice," he said. "To have gone to Manchester City could have been a great project but in the past few days I have prayed a lot to understand what the right team would be and in the end I have decided to remain here. I don't want anything else, I just want to be well and be happy."

Well then it's a no brainer - go to Man City & be happy? "Come on, sunshine," says the Lord, "It's Man City we're talking about. And they've just bought Craig Bellamy; do you really need help with this one?"

Seriously: here is a young footballer, a notoriously greedy breed, offered the riches of Croesus, and turning them down - because he prayed, and family and home and being happy meant more than money. OK - he has more money already than most of us will ever see, but he also gives away a huge amount to lots of good causes. And on Radio Five Live I heard the other day a discussion that basically put the future of football in this kid's hands. Madness & greed and big business and Middle Eastern sheikhs on the one hand - and the hopes of ordinary people that the game could be about the game and not just about the pound signs on the other.

Kaka, bless him, prayed. And the more cynical hacks of the media look on in disbelief as the big money is actually rejected and the beautiful game lives to fight another day.

When was the last time you faced a really juicy temptation and did a surprisingly good thing instead? It's amazing how many people get blessed when we pray and value the things that are really worth something: "I have prayed a lot... I just want to be well and be happy."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hot Water

After Cafe Church last night, I was asked if there would be more video of Dances with Spaniels. Turns out not; the boy was in a gentler mood, and when I got home, was waiting faithfully like this for His Master to return.

Those of you who are more observant may notice that elsewhere on this page is a good representation of Matty's bed. This is not what it looks like. But who could be cross with such an image?

Plus, no need for a hot water bottle.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fingers of Fudge

A reunion 20 years in the making. The original Five Fingers of Fudge recording was made in 1989, and now, for Chris & Ruth Holmwood's 40th Birthday Bash, we finally put "musical differences" aside and re-formed.

The role of Andy Jack was lovingly re-created by Jez Bennett, with the Revd Dr Michael Ward, foremost CS Lewis scholar of our age, recreating the role of Spud, a role he of course first made his own back in the late 1980s. Chris & I are playing ourselves. And OK then...

Here we are at that 1989 concert. Andy on the left, Chris seated (and the only one vaguely recognisable), Spud next (yep, the self same Revd Dr Michael Ward) and y.t. on the right. Sigh. All that hair.

15 minutes rehearsal in 20 years. Made no difference. Except - age has taken its toll in other ways than hairlines and waistbands; we had to sing down a whole tone. And that was the first time we had ever toned down a performance in our lives. Ruth's father has spent 20 years asking for us to sing at his church; now he'll spend 20 years asking us not to.

Happy birthday Chris and Ruth! O yes - the other song (in which 2 single clergy compare the merits of their existence with 2 Islamist royalists). And a visual joke for asthmatics.


This is a terrific film. Terrific. If you haven't seen it, go right now. Slumdog Millionaire is simply the best film I have seen in a long time - from its visceral, barnstorming opening, to its gut-wrenching feel-good ending, it is a terrific film.

I was asked, "what kind of film is it?" and I found the question hard to answer. There is a love story, but it's not a romance. There is a police investigation, but it's not really a crime story. There are gangsters, but it's not a gangster film. Rags to riches? Maybe, but the riches are not especially the 20 million rupees on offer.

What kind of film is it? A really good one.

As a TV quiz show winner, it did strike a chord of realism with me. The reason Dev Patel knows the answers to the questions the slimy quiz master poses him lies in various experiences of his life which we see unfolding during the course of the film. For me, I think the first question that took me to my slender Weakest Link winnings was a similar experience - though no gangsters, police cells or strangely attractive Indian dancing girls were involved.

The night before I was due to drive to London to film the show, I discovered that the collar on my blue shirt was frayed. I couldn't possibly wear it on TV. But to win that show you have to wear a blue shirt - so no-one notices you against the set. At the time my finances were particularly weak (I was still paying off the debt of my Cambridge year) and buying a new shirt was not in my budget. Plus, the only place open at that time was Tesco. So I went to the store at Upper Boat, found a light blue shirt, stared hard at its £3.50 price tag, and said to myself: "Well, you have to speculate to accumulate."

Cut to the studio. Anne Robinson all in black stands behind her swivelling podium and rounds on me in the first set of questions. No-one wants to go out first. "Marcus," she snarls, "you have to what to accumulate?"

On the video you can see me smile slightly as inwardly I am fingering my cheap Tesco shirt and screaming out buy one of these.

"Speculate," I reply.

Watch Slumdog. It's a fantastic film. And you'll see why that memory came back to me.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Blessings come in many shapes and sizes. I found a little video clip on my laptop of Matty playing in the garden; it made me smile, and I confess that I have missed the dog inordinately this trip. There is a Springer in resort, and he makes me think of mine every time I see him.

I guess Gill losing her cat just before New Year has also had its effect.

On Saturday night I had a super evening with Paul and Sarah Parker, pictured here from church on Sunday evening, with Maggie Gerber and I, as I took the opportunity to bless their marriage. They were married in Interlaken last September, just after St Bernard’s was closed for the autumn break, and so we promised to bless them as soon as the church opened again. It was a real delight to keep that promise, and to make a special moment for them and a few friends.

Earlier Saturday I had taken time with Jutta van Eeghen Fischer (formerly Launhardt – she asks me to point this out as last year she was blessed when after I mentioned her in my blog, someone Googling her came up with that report and picture, and then managed to get in touch with her; so now I am pleased to repeat the service with extra info!). It will be two years this week since Ernst died. I always find time spent with Jutta deeply touching, because we speak deeply of the way the Lord deals with us in all sorts of situations. And then we prayed a blessing on each other.

The Goldhill mob have arrived in Lauterbrunnen, and though St Catherine’s will not be making use of their fine services this year, it’s good to hear they have a good Welsh contingent from Glenwood, and if not to see St Catherine's at least to see St Catharine Morris, here celebrating her birthday.

At church on Sunday I met a lady who had heard me preach here three years ago and can still remember what I said. I don’t know if my sermon was really worth it, but I tell you – that lady was a real blessing to me, a true encouragement, and a gift amongst many during what has been a full but wonderful weekend.

Capped, of course by seeing on the web that Man Utd beat Chelsea 3-0. Happy days.

Then today, Monday, my final full day in Wengen for now, was spent with a group from the Ski Club following Maureen around the slopes. My final run was down one of the many Lager runs (honestly, but Lager does have an umlout): this particular one lies directly under the chairlift, and looks really scary as you ride over it. I've been dying to do it all week, and as I came down it at lunch time, I loved every moment of it. An exhilerating way to finish. Fantastic. A great blessing.

Now I'm hoping that the Heisse Marroni man will be in town at 4pm for one last time. It's a Monday, so it's only a slight chance. But it would be a nice way to round off the day.

Any chance, Lord?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Downhill Only

The DHO (“Downhill Only”) is a British ski club here with which I have a long connection; as I recently commented, I married the rep’s son seven years ago – and as Sacha’s bride, Lisa, drew up to St Bernard’s in a horse-drawn sleigh, it forever changed my perception of a “white wedding”. Paul and Maree Zvegintzov have been good friends since then to me in my stays here, and it is with due sadness that I mark their retiring from the DHO post here next month.

Paul’s successor, Sheridan, and her trainee, Rupert, persuaded me to ski with them yesterday, and I had a terrific time, skiing well past my usual sedate speeds and on runs I often ignore. Today we went on runs I always ignore, and upped the tempo. I did have a moment or two of panic, and got lost briefly, but actually it was a fantastic trip and I am delighted to have spent the last two mornings this way.

Sheridan and Rupert, together with Maureen, from the Ski Club of Great Britain (different to the DHO) and her husband Peter and I have been eating together this week in the Belvedere. Food maybe not as good as the Belle Vue – company excellent! And one evening we came back to my flat for a while, and let the conversation wander on.

The pleasure of this place is both in the beauty of the mountains, the thrill of the sport, and the joy of the friendships renewed year in year out. Supper with Maggie Gerber and Karen Jones (at Karen’s – which makes it my turn again next year) was wonderfully restoring, as Karen is always a good host. It was nice to see Andreas too, though his tales of Swiss music students were a mix of very funny and very depressing, his enthusiasm for his gadgets (watches and a remarkable CD player called a Geneva) was catching. I love that enthusiasm about him – even when it is aimed at saying he doesn’t have enough of it. He gets enthusiastic about how little enthusiasm he has. We should all have such passion about life!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Just to show that I do occasionally ski. Really. This is a trip down the very first run I ever did - and it's still one of my favourites. I love the trees, the snow, the light, the mountains peeping through, the silence of the world - and I always imagine this music, by Prokofiev, as I glide along.

Plus, at the end, is a restaurant with the world's best apple fritters.

Next: a short video of me actually evangelising...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Happy Drei Koenigs Tage!

Though (obviously) there weren’t necessarily drei, and they really weren’t koenigs.

Yesterday I got round to putting my skis on. Familiar runs – Mannlichen a couple of times, then over to Kleine Sceidegg, and down to Wengen. Nice to feel my legs working, and some semblance of technique in place. Perhaps a fastest first day, and certainly a safe one. I started with the bit at the top of the red at Mannlichen which always scares me – it rolls as well as falls, and it’s the combination of the two angles on the slope which gets me. But it was remarkably fine, and good to do first.

Back in Wengen, I bumped into Christoph and Claire Ebbinghaus. They had been in church on Sunday evening, and Christoph had recognised me from leading worship at one of the Wycliffe/Regents Summer Schools a few years back in Oxford. He pastors a Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland, and after hot chocolate at Rocks Cafe, we then all walked across the valley from Grutschalp to Murren. Beautiful, but cold! It was lovely to chat of our fellowships, and our vision for what God has called us to be a part of. I think his people are blessed to have him and Claire lead them through these days.

On Sunday evening, on the pretext of thinking about the Wise Men who worshipped the infant Jesus, I had preached on Romans 12.1-2 (six verses less than I had set Stewart Franklin, though of course he had the option to settle on what he liked; I really only touched on Romans 12.1) as a way of defining worship. Funny, every time I come back to Romans I see something new. First time I did a long teaching session on Romans at St Catherine’s I found my great exposition of Righteousness (right relationship with God); second time, I found its rightful counter-weight in a balanced understanding of Sin (the broken relationship, and the things of brokenness that come from it). And in an almost throw-away line on Sunday night I suddenly encapsulated the core of all that teaching into three words: sin, righteousness, and the thing that enables the journey between the two – sacrifice.

Sacrifice, not as in giving something up – a theology of loss; nor as in appeasing an angry God in order to make him happy (like the prophets of Baal tried to do); but rather sacrifice as in the Old Testament understanding of “lifting up” the best of creation to the Creator in order to demonstrate that the greatest things of this world are nothing in comparison with knowing him. We hold the things of the broken order up to the God of restoration, and in this healing act of worship, this sacrifice, there is a sign of the Sacrifice that will bring the healing of all. “I, when I am lifted up, will draw all people unto myself.”

What mercy! And, in view of such mercy, Paul urges us (Romans 12.1) to offer our whole lives, not just a restricted part, a restricted understanding, a limited selection of acts or songs or deeds as an ongoing and living sacrifice: Christ has written the hymn, and we are called to sing it. This is worship that makes sense: not loss, not appeasement (what travesty), but singing Christ’s salvation’s song after him.

And perhaps our worship too may draw others to the life that is therefore more and more?

Today is really quite cold. Not much skiing for me. But here are some snowflakes on my jacket sleeve. Thought you might like something gratuitously pretty!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Matt Who?

I guess we'll find out. Sounds like he has a good theatrical background - I mean, they have cast an actor, not a face, despite his lack of years. And though I have never been a fan of a younger Doctor, I suppose I should reserve judgement at least until I have spoken to someone who might have taught him English...

And then till we see the chap do his thing. After all, what did any of us know of David Tennant really? And how terrific is he? And how glorious that we do have four more episodes of the best of Doctors so far.

Is it a sign that you are getting old when someone who is 903 looks so young?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Happy New Year

Well, getting to Wengen was a bit more of an adventure than I’d hoped for. I knew flying EasyJet was a risk...

Though to be fair, it wasn’t exactly their fault that the snow in Geneva was so bad that whilst we were in the air, Geneva airport was closed. So we were diverted to Lyon, where we waited (on the runway) for four hours till Geneva re-opened. Which would have been OK, apart from the further four hour train journey I had to Wengen, and now I had no train times for that journey as I’d only printed out the morning schedule. At least we had made it to Switzerland in time for me to be able to get to Wengen the same day.

(Waiting for my bag at the airport, having sat patiently for hours with nothing to do on the plane, I turned & saw Simon – Matty’s vet! He has a place in Chamonix and was on the same flight. Remarkable, though of course going through my mind was that if anything happens to Matty whilst I am away Jane & Teg won’t be able to take Matty to see him...)

Part of the deal being chaplain for two weeks here in Wengen is that the Tourist Office provides evening meals in one of the local hotels. Week one – Hotel Belle Vue. Really excellent food, and of course night one was Sylvester – the Swiss name for New Year’s Eve – so it was a very special meal, beginning at 8pm (when I arrived) and lasting till 11.30pm. I genuinely lost count of the number of courses. Quail, foie gras, lobster, steak, and the most amazing dessert buffet remain in my memory – as do the two wonderful French-Swiss families sitting next to me who insisted that I should join their table for the night: Antoine, Caroline, Jean-Yves and Francoise were the parents, and there were six kids, the eldest of which can only have been around ten; all the kids stayed up all night, and all were wonderfully behaved, playing in an adjacent room between courses and returning for the food. These were families that knew how to eat together!

It snowed beautifully that night. Gloriously picture book night-time snow. Childhood dream weather.

And in the morning? Sunshine and blue skies and perfection. I pottered about, eventually leaving the flat and going up to the church, where I worshipped for a while before finding the wonderful Maggie in Central Sport. Great to see her! So good to come here and find lovely friendships. I wandered up to Chalet Breithornblick and found Jane and Paul as well, which was also a delight, and will spend more time with them tonight. They are such wonderful people and always an encouragement. A quick dash into town found the DHO hut open, and familiar faces there – always a pleasure to find Paul Zvegintzov.

I spoke to Gill on the phone. There is sadness in Florida: Sammy the cat died. Ben loved that cat. They buried him outside, and put a little St Francis on the spot. O, how I feel for them. There is nothing that can take away the pain of losing a pet. I hope they know how much God’s love touches them at times like these. Truthfully, though the full pain of losing Charlie has subsided, I still shed the occasional tear, now, nearly six years on. I still miss him. I wish I was there with them. But Gill knows my heart is there, and my prayers, and Lord I beg you comfort them today. Please.

Back in Wengen, after supper, we had a group from Oak Hall in church, with a really nice New Zealander speaking to them about letting God love them and carry them and work through them. Then I found my way over to the Falken where Maggie was with Roger Scoones (here on a short break, but doyen of Wengen chaplains), having drinks with some friends, so I joined them there.

The first Bible passage I read this year was Isaiah 60. The whole thing struck me freshly, how the Lord brings restoration to those who need it, how he changes the hard times to glory, how he blesses his people, and how the whole thing shows his grace and his glory, but in particular it was the words, “I will make peace your governor and righteousness your ruler” that stayed with me.

I often feel that peace is a visitor; one I welcome, and then miss for a while as I struggle on with life. And though I preach about righteousness till I am (and everyone around me is) blue in the face, the truth of living in that right relationship with God and trying to live that out with those around can sometimes be – less than easy?

Recently I spent time with an old person who was trapped in a character flaw. They had been a certain way all their life, and now in very old age, though they could see the problem, they could not even bring themself to want to change or to accept that God might help them. Often I have noted that in old age, people are as they were when young – but more so.

When I am old, I do not want to be waiting for peace to visit; struggling to live in right relationship but truthfully fighting frustration or anger or fear or a thousand other things. So I have been praying that the Lord would help me get these things more sorted now. As sorted as they can be, at least, in my life. Know what I mean? I don’t want to pretend that I live in heaven now and that everything will be perfect tomorrow because I said a prayer today.

And then I read those words: “I will make peace your governor and righteousness your ruler”. I do not know a timescale or a mechanism, and I do not have a technique or a plan, but I have a God who hears my prayers and answers with promises that I will trust.

Happy New Year.