Wednesday, 21 November 2018

The F***ing Ghost

As part of my job I had to visit a remote castle on an island far North in Scotland. The castle was part of ancient defence fortifications just by the sea.

By early afternoon, we received a phone call to say that the ferry taking us to the mainland would not run that evening because of bad weather at sea and because they were expecting a storm that evening.

There was no option but to spend the night in the castle. It had been used in the past to house soldiers and there were a number of rooms ready prepared for such eventualities.

After we had supper that evening we were led to our rooms for the night. Mine was somewhere up the tower and from the window you could see the sea for miles and miles.

The sky was dark with heavy clouds and already strong winds were blowing about the castle and rain started tapping at my window.

There was no TV or radio, so I decided to read over some financial reports I had brought with me and go over the notes I had made of the meeting we had earlier in the day.

As I was concentrating, despite the noise of the wind and rain outside, I heard clearly inside the room a ripping sound. As if someone had ripped the bed sheets, or some curtain.

I was startled and jumped out of my chair. I had not imagined it. There was definitely a loud ripping sound inside my room.

The electric light flickered once or twice but remained lit. Obviously a bad connection somewhere; made worse by the wind whistling through badly fitting windows, or cracks in the walls. Whatever it was, it was not enough for me to rush out of the room; albeit I was more than a little scared.

I sat at my desk and looked around the room for I don't know what.

Then it happened again "Prrrrrrt ... Prrrrrrrt." Twice the ripping sound reverberated throughout the room.

They were followed by the most obnoxious smell you could imagine. Even worse than what you are imagining right now.

It was so bad that I wanted to vomit. I put my hand on my mouth and nose. Both to stop me vomiting and breathing. Then slowly I took small breaths through my mouth.

A few minutes later, the smell had gone. Dissipated by the continuous draught blowing throughout the room.

Nothing else happened that night. No more ripping sounds or bad smells.

The next morning at breakfast I tentatively asked my hosts if there had ever been any reports of sounds or smells in the castle.

"Oh ... the Farting Ghost must have visited your room," they laughed, "we've had reports of him every now and then. Nothing to worry about really!"

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Eccentric? Moi?


In the kitchen we have a large wardrobe, (cupboard), containing mostly pots and pans and other kitchen utensils; which explains its location in our house. Anywhere else and it would be out of place.

A few weeks ago, when everyone was out of the house, I made a big hole in the back of the wardrobe and another in the wall so that I could go into the wardrobe and out into our garden through the wall.

I put all the pots and pans back in the wardrobe/cupboard and concealed the large hole to the outside.

It was like the wardrobe in the book by C S Lewis, "The witch, the lion and the wardrobe". Once you enter the wardrobe you could go into my own garden Narnia. I mean ... if it is good enough for this Lewis fellow, it is good enough for me.

When the family got home, they complained that it was a bit draughty in the kitchen. There was a distinct wind coming from outside which rattled the cupboard's doors.

My wife ... oh, I never told you did I? My wife and I met on the net. We were both bad trapeze artists. But that's another story.

Anyway, as I was saying before I interrupted my train of thoughts ... We used to train for ages high up on the trapeze jumping from one swing to another. We often missed each other because she arrived ten minutes late. So we both fell and met on the net ... as I was saying.

Now where was I? Ah ... trains ... they are usually late these days. The other day they said the train was cancelled due to shortage of staff. Why can't they employ taller ones? One way to improve trains being late is to replace the time-tables with calendars. "The next train for London will arrive on Wednesday!" 

As I was saying ... or meant to say ... my wife discovered the hole at the back of the wardrobe and ... let's say she has no sense of humour whatsoever.

No sense of adventure either. I explained that by going through the wardrobe she would travel out into a new Narnia world in the garden; walking through sunshine, or mist or rain or whatever the weather outside might be.

Her reply will not be posted here to protect readers with a nervous disposition. She could not see why we can't walk through the back door if we wanted to visit the garden in all weathers. But she didn't say it quite this way!!!

She didn't like my next adventure either. I installed at the very end of our garden a chocolate dispensing machine. I bought the machine from a shop that was closing down and they had it on the side-walk outside. I got it home and installed it just by the pond at the end of the garden and filled it with all kinds of chocolates. I thought it would be a good incentive to go out for a walk in all weathers.

My wife, unhumourous as ever, did not understand my actions. I explained that it gives my walk in my private Narnia a real purpose. What is the point of going out in the garden in all weathers for no reason at all? Now I can enter the wardrobe, go through the hole at the back, and walk gently all the way to the pond and reward myself with a bar of chocolate from the machine. What's wrong with that?

I intend to invite friends and relatives and conduct tours of our garden through the wardrobe. They would all file into the kitchen and one by one enter the wardrobe and walk all the way to the chocolate machine. What fun that would be! I may even have little scenes from Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" re-enacted in various places in the garden.

Sadly, my wife has brought in reinforcement in the shape of her mother. She landed on her broom stick early this morning ... and that frightened the wildlife for miles around. The skies darkened with the multitude of birds flying away. Some were so intimidated that they returned the seeds they had taken from our garden last year. The squirrels too ... they put their nuts on the garden bench and ran away. The urban fox which visits our garden every so often committed suicide; whilst the hedgehog is in psychiatric therapy.

I suggested we also give broom-flying lessons or play quidditch like in the Harry Potter films.

No sense of adventure whatsoever, my family.

Do you think I'm eccentric?

Monday, 19 November 2018

Un-accustomed as I am ...

My boss was invited to make an after-dinner speech at a salesmen conference. He was told not to make it about work, or business, but a light-hearted talk for successful salesmen being rewarded for exceeding their targets and doing well in making profits. It should be a short funny speech to lighten the mood a little.

He did not want to do it, not knowing what to talk about. He is, after all, a serious businessman, not a comic. His colleagues encouraged him to go on. They told him to tell a few jokes about sex. That always goes down well at parties and such gatherings. They even offered to write the speech for him.

On the evening in question, he delivered the speech as he was taught by his colleagues. When he went home, his wife asked him what he spoke about. He mumbled, "Oh ... nothing much ... boating and sailing ... that sort of thing!"

A few days later I met his wife at the supermarket. In order to make conversation I said that his speech was well received the other night.

She said, "That's strange, considering he only tried it twice. The first time he was sea-sick and the second time his hat blew off!"

Sunday, 18 November 2018

For what is trust?


Many of us often pray. Sometimes, our prayers are prayers of thanks to the Lord, but, if we're honest, more often than not we pray because we're asking God for something. We may be asking God to help us find a job, get a promotion at work, better health, a good and happy marriage or whatever else we consider to be our need, or indeed our entitlement. Yes, I repeat ... our entitlement. Because many of us believe we're entitled to things just because we consider ourselves to be good. Life really isn't like that.

Many of us pray for something and in our heart we are really saying: "Come on God! You know I love you. I go to Church every now and then, and deep inside I am really good. Why don't you let me have ... (whatever we want at the time)".

As every parent knows, when children go on and on pesterring for something or other eventually, because we love them, we may well give way and answer their demands.

In fact, Jesus reminds us of this when He mentions the widow who kept pestering the judge day in day out until eventually he gave way and gave her what she wanted. (Luke Chapter 18). In this parable Jesus teaches us not to be discouraged and to continue praying to God our Father for our needs.

But what happens when we pray and wait, and wait and nothing happens? We pray for days, months, sometimes for years for something to happen to improve our lot and God does not seem to listen or answer. We don't know why. Perhaps He is busy with more urgent and pressing demands from someone else. Perhaps our demands are not such a high priority in His ever increasing in-tray. But as far as we're concerned He is not answering; and to be quite honest, we are running out of patience.

What then? When we wait and wait and nothing happens?

Is it OK to get angry with God? To stamp our foot on the ground like a spoilt child and go into tantrums throwing our toys out of the pram in protest?

I believe it is OK to be angry with God. It will not get us very far; but it is still OK.

God can take our anger. He did after all take all our anger when hanging there on the Cross. So a bit of stamping on the ground won't hurt Him that much.

But like any loving parent He will consider our demands, and if it is good for us, He will in His time and in His way respond.

Remember that God can see not only our past but our future too, and sometimes what we're asking for is not exactly what we should have. What is good for us in the long run.

So what should we really do when our prayers are seemingly unanswered. From experience, I believe we should continue praying and have patience. And then some more patience. We really need to trust Him that He knows best. Even if trust itself is stretched to the point of disbelief, we should continue to trust Him. Through gritted teeth even. Continue to trust Him just as a child trust his parents without questioning.

Difficult? Sure it is. But not impossible. I have known people whose life and whose lot has changed from bad to worse over and again. But they never gave up. They continued to trust Him.

And that's the road to Sainthood.

Saints are sinners like you and me; but they never gave up trusting Him.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Faith is not enough

In Hebrews Chapter 11 we read: To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.

But what does that really mean? What is it like to have faith, and not only to believe in a living God, Creator of all and everything, but also to be certain in that belief? Without any proof, or evidence whatsoever.

It’s as if to have faith is to believe when your common sense tells you not to.

Often Jesus said to people He has healed: Your faith has healed you. Your faith has saved you.

He taught that if we had faith as small as a mustard seed we could perform miracles.

We read in Mark 9:24 that when a father asked Jesus to heal his son, he said: I believe, Lord; help my unbelief. Jesus took pity on him and realised that the man had some faith, perhaps not enough, but at least he had some; so Jesus healed the man’s son.

This leads us to ask: Is faith enough?

We may have faith, to varying degrees, depending on who we are. But is this enough?

After all, even the devil has faith. He believes in God all-right. He even tried to tempt Jesus often enough. This proves that he has faith, and believes in God. Perhaps more than we do.

So, if faith is not enough; what is missing in our relationship with God?

Trust.

Let us consider trust for a moment. A little child does not question whether his parents care for him or not. It is intrinsically part of his nature to take it for granted that his parents love him and will take care of him. When he asks them for bread they will not give him a stone, and when he asks for fish they will not give him a serpent.

The child trusts his parents and will continue to do so as he grows up; until one day someone may betray that trust and then he’ll become more wary of those around him.

So how about us? Is our faith in God matched with an unshakeable trust that He cares for us, and no matter what happens, no matter how bad things are in our lives, He is there, beside us, all the time caring for us and ready to see us through whatever crisis we face.

Can you imagine the amount of self-control and concentration of thought we should have to believe, really believe, that not matter what happens, we trust that God loves us and cares for us enough to protect us from all evil?

Such level of trust may well be beyond what many of us can achieve; but it should not stop us from trying. Through gritted teeth even. We should pray, over and again, that we trust God that He will see us through this dark period in our lives.

Faith, no matter how great or small, as much as half a mustard seed even, may not be enough. It needs to be accompanied by an unfailing trust that our loving God will never ever let us down.

It is no point having faith in a Master who walks on water if we do not trust Him enough to follow Him.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Memories of Matilda

I came across an old photo the other day which reminded me of Auntie Matilda.

There I was a young boy wearing a multi-coloured pullover. You know the type? Several horizontal lines each a different colour – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet and then red again and so on. I looked like a proper walking rainbow.

It was a jersey which Auntie Matilda had knitted for my birthday and hideous as it was I had to wear it all day because she was visiting us for the day.

Thinking back, the main thing I remember about Auntie Matilda was her constant knitting. She always had a pair of knitting needles in hand and a bag full of different coloured balls of wool as she talked and knitted, and ate and knitted, and drank tea and knitted and did everything else imaginable as she knitted. If knitting was an Olympic Sport she’d win medals for England for her knitting.

Every birthday, Christmas, Easter, Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation or other family event was rewarded by Auntie Matilda knitting us something or other. Pullovers, scarves, hats, caps, gloves, mittens, socks, she’d knitted them all in every colour imaginable and in every kind of stitch that it is possible to knit in. She’d even knitted little cosies to keep the teapot warm, and to keep the soft-boiled eggs warm before serving them, and to keep the plates warm before serving a meal and also, would you believe, to keep the thermos flask warm when you’re out on a picnic.

She then diversified into more adventurous items such as knitting a cover for the tables, the chairs, the TV and every other piece of furniture imaginable. We had bed-spreads made of knitting, tapestries on the wall made of knitting, toilet seat covers made of knitting and to cap it all she had a large bag made of knitting to hold her knitting wool and needles.

I guess that if you unravelled all the things she had knitted for us as a family the wool would stretch to Pluto and back several times over.

I remember as a child I’d asked my parents for a fire engine for Christmas. You guessed it … she told them not to buy me one and she knitted me a bright red fire engine!

What’s the use of that? I couldn’t run it on the floor and make fire engine noises as kids do!

As she grew older Auntie Matilda continued knitting. There was no stopping her.

I was once given two Ballet tickets by my boss.

Now let me confess straight-away that I hate ballet. I don’t see the point of a stage full of people walking on tip-toe. Why can’t they hire taller dancers and be done with it?

And I equally dislike the Opera too. It’s so unreal. It’s the only place where someone gets stabbed, or has a sword run through him or takes poison and continues to sing for at least ten minutes. And the other actors, instead of helping him out and calling an ambulance they sing even louder too. What’s all that about?

Anyway … I did not want to go to the Ballet but was coerced to take Auntie Matilda with me because she loved it so. And after all, she was my Aunt and not anyone else’s … she was from my side of the family so I had to take her.

We sat there at the balcony and as soon as the lights went out and the performance started, out came the knitting needles and the balls of wool. I swear she was knitting in tune with the music!

After the performance was over, my boss, who had influence in such circles, invited us to a private party back-stage to meet the cast, choreographers, musicians and so on.

Auntie Matilda was overheard discussing in a loud voice with the producer the benefits of having knitted tutus for the ballerinas. She also suggested knitted trousers for the male dancers!

“It’ll help keep them warm when you’re touring Scotland in winter,” she said “and it’ll also cover the revealing men’s bits … ye ken!”

I put my old photo away and said a silent prayer for Auntie Matilda now long departed.

Remember friends, when you’re in Heaven, should you see Jesus walking around with a multi-coloured scarf and bonnet you’ll know that Auntie Matilda got to Him first!

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Nun of your business

I had a most odd encounter yesterday. It was a beautiful, sunny, somewhat warm day. A bit unusual for this time of year. I sat in the park in town reading my newspaper. A few minutes later a nun came and sat on the bench near me. She was in her early fifties, I would say. She opened a lunch-box and started nibbling at her sandwich. A bit odd, I thought, a nun with a lunch box.

A moment or two later she said, "The highway to Heaven is paved with good intentions!"

"Yes," I replied with a smile, "I suppose it is."

She continued eating her lunch and then said, "It will be a glorious day when we get to meet St Peter face to face!"

I stopped reading the article about the increasing price of frying pans and said, "Yes ... I guess it will be a great day!"

She coyly sipped a drink from her thermos flask and then, hesitating, she said, "The angels in Heaven are glad they found the lost sheep!"

It was obvious now was not the time for me to discover why frying pans are so expensive. I looked up from my paper and replied politely, "I guess you're right. Although I doubt there are any animals in Heaven. I would hate to meet the Sunday roast telling me off for having eaten it!"

She looked puzzled. Hesitated again, and then asked, "Are you known as Fire Balls?"

What a cheek, I thought. It is none of her business what I am called in the privacy of my own home. I mean ... for a nun to be so direct and so personal. The Catholic Church has certainly changed from the days when I was young.

She noticed my subdued, hidden anger, silent reaction and then apologised saying, "You do look like Fire Balls. The picture I have got is all creased and you do have a lot of wrinkles on your face; a bit like a bed that's been slept in!"

I was fuming yet retained my composure. What business is it of her what the state of my bed is in and what I am called in it? I would have liked to have answered something intelligent, pointed and articulate but I did not have my dictionary with me at the time.

Before I said anything, she got up and left.

I hate it when people walk away with the last word. Not giving me a chance to respond.

"My face is wrinkly is it?" I thought to myself, "well ... your sandwiches still had the crust on!" Whatever that means ... but at least my mind had composed an answer albeit I never said it.
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