Wednesday 7 December 2011


It seemed a strange word when we first came across it. Now it's an essential part of the vocabulary. Get ready for the freeze. As Steve in the marina office put it – what you've got is a floating garden shed. Do something about anything you don't want damaged by ice and frost.

We were caught out last year – still in the process of buying Erin Mae when winter struck at the start of December. Even if we'd known what to do, we didn't have the authority. A new calorifier was part of the cost. So I've been up to Engineering to arrange things and learn what I can along the way. Year-round liveaboards may face challenges in the ice, but at least they're keeping the boat warm by living in it.

Getting ready for winter – sounds like a metaphor. Maffi complained at being 61, in spite of the birthday greetings. There's a few on the cut can give him a year or two! But winter doesn't just strike those who've stopped having birthdays. The days can close in on people much younger – I'm thinking of the sad passing of Gary Speed, and Ronnie O'Sullivan's renewed career comments. Even Bones can muse on the darkness (or otherwise) of the soul.

Some have written about "the dark night of the soul" as being something through which you can come to know God more profoundly. It never sounds a particularly attractive way to get better acquainted with the Almighty. But, whatever, learning how to face winter seems a part of wisdom we can't afford to ditch.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Christmas tree

Last Sunday week I held hands with a stranger about my own age and hirsuteness as we sang Christmas songs and walked clockwise and, on the next verse, anti-clockwise, round the newly-lit Christmas tree in front of Oslo university. He said he'd been doing this for forty years. On the steps of the university a fine Salvation Army band played the carols for everyone to join in, a civic representative read the story of Jesus' birth from Luke's gospel, a local primary school choir sang their part, and my youngest grandchild got perilously close to the tuba. The whole of Oslo (it seemed) had gathered to celebrate the official start of the Christmas season and walk back and forth round the tree.

It was the sort of occasion which is becoming much rarer in Britain, I think, where people can be seriously and happily celebratory, without the need to be raucous or cynical or to turn everything into a joke. We had just one joke – from the mayor who, when the lights failed to come on at the right moment, commented that they were of a much greener variety this year!

At the end of a year in which Norway had to cope with the horrific, tragic events of 22nd July, it was good to see something profound surfacing, and people coming together to sing the older story.

Monday 5 December 2011


Yesterday, in the morning service at a nearby church, two friends of ours renewed their marriage vows. We'd been at this sort of thing before, where after 25/30/40 years of life together, a couple wanted to re-affirm what they had said at the start. But this was different. The last four years have been difficult. Various issues surfaced and led to a separation. The house was sold, finances were difficult, times were tough. But, crucially, both of them had the right sort of support from people who walked with them through the difficulties, without taking sides, being honest without being judgmental.

At first there seemed little hope of a reconciliation. Where trust had been challenged, time for reflection was needed. For them to come to yesterday required courage. Courage to admit wrongdoing, faith to build again. But they got there. For those of us who had been close, it was very moving to listen to the promises they made to each other, before God. These were not standard promises from a prayer book, wonderful as those are. They had written them specially for the occasion, in the light of the past and looking with renewed joy and hope to the future.

Most marriages face challenges at some point and so many, sadly, succumb. To see our friends rebuilding was a thrilling experience of the preciousness of contrition, forgiveness and restoration.