Some extracts from the groom’s speech…

No, you are not reading the whole thing.  It wouldn’t make much sense if you weren’t there, especially since my job was basically to stand up, say thank you, toast the bridesmaids, and sit down.

“Right, I’m away down the kneebreakers for a pint with big Mervyn.” (Obligatory Uncle Andy joke)

“[Jo] is an amazing woman, and I am only too aware of the responsibility I have taken on.” *laughter* “That wasn’t supposed to be a joke!”

“The responsibility to love, to care, to listen, to remember the first rule: (she is always right) and the second rule (if she is wrong, see rule number 1).  And also the privilege of sharing this road we walk together, sharing the good times and the bad, never giving up, praying daily for God’s grace to treat her the way she deserves.”

“When I first met him, Brian [the best man] was anything but a railway enthusiast.  Now, if I were to say to you that he probably has more railway ephemera than me, my father and my father-in-law put together.  Sorry, Brian, that’s rule number 3: get your retaliation in first!  Doesn’t work on wives, though.”

“Just over a week ago, I picked up a voicemail from Debenhams.  They were very apologetic because the online wedding service was still out of order, and it was getting very close to our wedding date.  I rang them back, and they told me something quite remarkable.  There was precisely one thing left on our wedding list.  Wow.  You have blessed us so much, with your generosity to us in your gifts.  Thank you so much.”

“And it reminds me of that proverb [‘It is in the shelter of each other that the people live’].  As a married couple, we cannot stand alone, but in each other’s shelter, and in the shelter of those around us – you, our friends and our families, including those who can’t be here right now, our churches, Corrymeela and far beyond.

Honeymoon at large

It was an absolutely incredible weekend.

My dad playing Jo in to the processional he wrote for us.

Hugging Jo when she arrived at the front of the church and stood beside me.

The problems our mums had lighting the candles.

Being married by Jo’s sister Louise.

Paddy’s sermon.

Danny’s prayers.

Chris opening and closing the service for us.

The incredible musicianship of my dad, Luke, Lois, Alex, Malcolm, Josh and Simon.

Ada singing her brand new song specially for us.

My dad having a captive audience for a certain Toccata by Widor.

Being played out to my own little piece Celebration (now available on Soundcloud)

Being driven up through Co Antrim in the back of a brown Daimler.

That glorious dinner.

My own speech, getting to thank some very special people.

The most humbling speech I have ever experienced, when my best man told everyone exactly what he thought of me (and what everyone else had said about me too) – so encouraging.

The first dance with my wife, long prepared by Kevin Conwell.

Seeing so many friends from such long distances and having so much fun with them.

The fabulous room in the Bushmills Inn.

The blessing in the Croi at Corrymeela the next day.

The laughter and tears.

The jokes of mine that actually worked.

Registering the marriage myself rather than getting someone else to do it.

Getting my own mobile number back overnight on Monday (it’s back with my best man, as is Jo’s phone, so only the family can contact us!)

Driving to Dublin.

Getting upgraded at the City North Hotel (and given complimentary champagne, not for the first time this weekend)

Dinner at the Bushmills and at the City North.

Waiting for the plane to Zurich (then a three hour break and on to Rome!)

We were absolutely blown away.

So much love has been expressed to us and affirmation of both our lives.

The challenge will be to live up to everyone’s opinion of us!

2012 through two sets of eyes

Andy and Jo, Christmas Eve 2012This is our last Christmas before we get married.

We get married in 7.5 weeks.


Since Andy wrote his last letter on 16 February 2012, our thinking has been dominated by preparations for 16 February 2013, and this has picked up pace over the last four months, issuing save the date emails, designing wedding stationery, compiling names and addresses, and trying to figure out what we have forgotten!

The year has therefore gone by in a blur, but we’ll try and pick up some of the highlights in both our lives, with a little help from Andy’s photo collection!

The engagement ring

The engagement ring

Jo’s real engagement ring was ready just after Easter – it was made from diamonds in two family rings: her Granny Robinson’s and her Great Aunt Grace’s.  A couple of days earlier we were present at an attempt by Summer Madness to break the record for the largest number of people participating in a barefoot walk – we were short by a long way, but it was fun watching everyone walk up and down at Stormont.

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The Big Top at Glenarm, later used for Ronan Keating and Sharon Corr at the Dalriada Festival

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Rend Collective Experiment at Summer Madness

Speaking of Summer Madness, Andy enjoyed the hospitality of his future in-laws near Ballyclare, leaving me a 30 minute drive over the mountains each morning to Glenarm where we were glad to see the return of the Summer Madness Big Top (known to some as the New Horizon Pavilion!)  The atmosphere was very different, and Andy felt that God had honoured our following him in taking the festival to the King’s Hall in Belfast in how he blessed those present as we returned to the country in a very different location from Gosford Forest Park.

In January, Andy became a provisional member of the Corrymeela community, and quickly

Corrymeela art spiral

Creating the art spiral at Corrymeela

found himself in at the deep end, as the two of us joined an intergenerational team planning the April members’ weekend, providing musical accompaniment and trying to keep ahead of logistics, besides taking a few photographs whilst amongst many other things, Jo organised an all-age art spiral.  Andy will become a full member in January.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

Our main holiday this year was in August, when we drove off to Somerset.  Unfortunately, roadworks helped us miss the HSS from Dun Laoghaire, but we got the next boat from Dublin Port – having driven across North Wales and down the M6 in torrential rain, we stopped overnight in Stoke on Trent with Jo’s father’s cousin Renée, and the next day Andy drove straight down the M42 and the M40 to escape the queues on the M5.  A very long dogleg allowed us to visit Andy’s friends Dave and Carol in Dunchurch and then Jo’s sister and brother-in-law Christine and Doug in Reading before heading west along the A303 past Stonehenge to our destination, Haselbury Plucknett.

Cheddar Gorge

Cheddar Gorge

We stayed in a lovely house owned by the parents of one of Jo’s colleagues, and over the succeeding week we visited the nearest town of Crewkerne, went to church with Andy’s fellow Spring Harvest security team member Phil in Yeovil (after missing each other in Belfast a few weeks earlier), visited Andy’s singing teacher Eve in Corsham, noseyed around Bath and Cheddar Gorge, had a bite to eat with Andy’s fellow Spring Harvest steward Ali in Bristol, and had dinner in River Cottage Deli in Axminster.

St Finbarre's Church of Ireland Cathedral, Cork

St Finbarre’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Cork

On the way home we visited Andy’s former Spring Harvest Chief Steward John, his wife Dawn and family in Newport before staying over with Jo’s friend Blanka in Caerleon and driving home via the Fishguard-Rosslare ferry.  Total: over 1400 miles.

Andy was really pleased to see Ali, Phil and John because this year and next he’s not going to Spring Harvest – getting married means we’ve both had to reprioritise what we do and spend money on.

This was not our only trip to that strange island beside Ireland: in late May/early June, we visited Glasgow (see below), Balerno (Jo’s other sister Louise) and Dumfries (Andy’s aunt and uncle Alice and David).  Jo’s brother Robert would be jealous of the beehives out the back, but Alice and David helped us choose the wine for the wedding, ordered it for us, and contributed to its cost!

Castle Archdale

A swan with a crooked neck at Castle Archdale

Other trips we enjoyed during the year included Valentine’s Day in Cork, courtesy of train tickets we won from Irish Rail on Culture Night, and a night away in Enniskillen for our second anniversary in August.  We also celebrated Jo’s dad’s 70th birthday in October.

Not only has our wedding dominated our thoughts, but we’ve also celebrated weddings, partnerships, engagements and children of a stream of friends this year.  Particular highlights included Graeme and Angie’s wedding in March, Padraig and Colleen’s celebration in April, Caryl and Trevor’s wedding in May, Holly and George’s civil partnership in May/June and Tim and Esther’s wedding in June.  We’re losing count of the number of friends having children, including Mark and Sara, Mark and Sarah, Gail and Paddy, Padraig and Colleen, in the next few weeks, Graeme and Angie, and soon Peter and Kate.

U105 Boogie Bus Tour

Andy headed to Castle Court for the end of the U105 Boogie Bus fundraiser tour for the Northern Ireland Hospice in October – this is one of of his favourite shots, featuring Brian Kennedy and some of the U105 team.

Jo is finding her work both challenging and rewarding.  As an Art Therapist for Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, working with both patients and their families, she says working with death and dying makes you appreciate how precious the gift of love is.  She curated an exhibition of work by one of her clients Matthew which ran in the Cancer Focus offices in June soon after it was renamed from the Ulster Cancer Foundation, and more recently in the Whitla Medical Building at Queen’s.  Continuing to facilitate Art Therapy groups across Belfast and County Antrim, she has also been illustrating a second children’s book for Cancer Focus, to be published in January.

Andy continues to work hard as a First Line Service Manager for the Social Security Agency. Andy moved from Windsor House in Bedford Street to James House in the Gasworks building with other colleagues – although we always work as a team anyway, it’s nice to have colleagues beside me rather than in another building!

It has also been a busy year at Strand, where Andy has now been playing piano each week for 5.5 years.  The great news is that the steelwork for the new church is up, and they are laying floor slabs and building blockwork walls – it is hoped to be in the new building by the end of 2013.  Andy is looking forward to getting back to our own services on Christmas Day – while it’s been nice to have Christmas Day off this year and last and go off to the Church of the Resurrection to see old friends, Andy is very much looking forward to celebrating and worshipping with the folks he loves and serves each week next Christmas in the new church building.

This year we started going to Christmas dinner together, with Andy’s parents John and Jill and grandma Joyce, as Jo’s parents John and Jean are in Scotland visiting Louise.  Next year we expect to be in Ballyclare, but after a long few days including Sunday morning’s Carol Service at Strand and midnight Communion in Willowfield Parish Church, it’s nice to slow down now.

2013 promises to be a pretty busy year, but for now most wedding plans are very well advanced.  Orders of Service will be made in early January, which will leave the table plan and a few odds and ends to go – Jo’s dress is being fitted finally in the New Year, and we’re looking forward to the hen party and stag do – the stag do starts this Saturday with some clay pigeon shooting, but the rest will be later in January.

In the meantime, we look forward to getting away to Italy on honeymoon in February.  It’s so hard to believe that it is now less than eight weeks away!

Our request this year in this our first joint Christmas letter is your prayers for us both as we approach the big day and afterwards as we bond more closely as husband and wife.  We know what it is to be surrounded by friends and family and be loved by God, and your love and prayers will therefore be your greatest gift to us this year.

Love and God bless,invite heart

Andy and Jo

Days 2 and 3

Well, we left Stoke on Trent yesterday, and headed for the M5.

An hour later, we gave up, turned up the M42, and visited friends and family instead.

It was a delight to see Dave and Carol Landers, old friends of mine from days of TEC weekends, and also occasional hosts during the trips I took around England back in the 1990s, ah those innocent days!  They have long since moved round the corner from their old house in Dunchurch to a lovely new build which I first saw three years ago.

After that, we drove down the M40 to Jo’s sister’s mother-in-law’s house.  Doug and Christine visit Anna and Rob most (if not all) Saturdays, and this was my chance to meet another five members of Jo’s extended family!  Fed and watered, we headed down the A303, past a few lumps of rock on Salisbury Plain, and got to Haselbury Plucknett about 9pm – only 22 hours late.

Today we went to Birchfield Community Church.  Opened as a Brethren church in 1964, it is now a small non-denominational fellowship in the Birchfield estate of Yeovil, and a mate of mine from Spring Harvest, Phil Macauley, is a member and was speaking this morning on how the Holy Spirit enables us for mission.

The pastor’s challenge after Phil finished was to spend time in prayer, then go out and see if we could find whom we were being pointed to in prayer.  We’re not sure if we did, but we left one lady in a local shop knowing the church was there any time she needed prayer for something – even if not today.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

After lunch, we headed into Yeovil town centre, picked up the Ultimate Beano Summer Special No.3 (reprinted content with a summer sporting theme from old summer specials and weekly comics), and finally back to the house to crash and relax.

Tomorrow we will check out Crewkerne.  I don’t promise much excitement… yet.  Maybe if I take some photographs!

On the way to Somerset…

I think I would have to admit we should have left Belfast sooner, and that was my fault.  Also, we needed a toilet break at Lusk Services.

Ultimately, the reason we missed the HSS was roadworks outside Dun Laoghaire port holding us up for 15 minutes due to a traffic jam.

So here we are on the Stena Nordica, sailing from Dublin to Holyhead, pondering dinner, and not stopping with my friends Sharon and Ian in Rowley Regis on the way through, since it will be after 10pm by the time we reach the M5.  Even if the holiday traffic is gone, we’ll not be in Somerset until after midnight.

Still, when we changed sailing we didn’t do too badly.  We got the last two seats in Stena Plus, so the premium ticket wasn’t wasted!

I’m pleased to say that the delay wasn’t wasted.  We stopped at Debenham’s in Blackrock before heading over the East link toll bridge and we saw the Tall Ships alongside further up the Liffey.  On top of that, the East link bridge was only €1 instead of €1.75, for the win.

Think I’ll go and find some grub.  This will be a long night.

Just another manic Sunday…

Sundays in a house with an organist mean early starts.  Heading down to church ridiculously early for your father to settle in, practise before the service, and generally get sorted out, while you put up hymn boards, or in later life, read the family’s Sunday Post in the car.  The battle over who got Oor Wullie and the Broons first would probably continue today, if I still lived at home.

At the age of 39, my routine is subtly different – my father is now an occasional organist, assisting as required but not playing anywhere week in, week out.  I’ve taken on that mantle, playing piano twice a week every week for Strand Presbyterian Church.

Nor am I particularly like my father when it comes to preparing for each service.  Where he got down early and practised hard, I’ve got into lazy ways.  I turn up far later than I would like, and I end up having to settle in very quickly, especially for the morning service.

So I sit at the piano, I get my books out, turn up a suitable page, and I stop.

And I wait.

Whatever way I have rushed that morning, that moment is special, and as I begin to play a worship song, it stays special.  In that moment, as I stop moving for a brief instant, I escape from the busyness of the morning.

And I play.  Play with my fingers, but also with my heart.

Presently, the minister will come to the front, and I will stop as he makes the announcements and calls everyone to worship.

Later, I will chill out, visit family, spend time with Jo, and go back to church in the evening, but from the moment I start playing until I finish playing out after the benediction, I’m at the core of my Sunday.  Joining with 80 others as I play, and we sing with our voices and from our hearts in worship.  Trying to help others focus on God.  Amazement at God’s love.  The privilege of playing every week.  Being able to do more than just stand and sing.  The obligation to not only play but to worship.  Everything being not about me.  Working with others.  Pondering new songs.  Rehabilitating the odd old song.

And the best of it all?

When I play, it may not be perfect.  I have my share of wrong notes (or sometimes the right notes in the wrong order!)  Certain songs speed up.

But I come alive.  A musician is one of the things I am born to be, and with all my imperfections, that cannot change.  And I love it.

This blog is written for the One Topic/Forty Opinions project of Belfast Bloggers Unite.

Parking tickets – what is the truth?

On 10 May, the Belfast Telegraph carried a story, based on a recent Assembly Question, that 59% of all challenged Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs – parking tickets) were being overturned. Commenters made the inference that 59% of all tickets could therefore be issued incorrectly.

I saw the story, and I remembered that DRD routinely accept challenges made on the basis that the driver had a valid Pay and Display ticket or a valid Blue (Disabled) Badge. So I asked a few questions of the Roads Service about the reasons the ticket appeals (or Challenges) succeeded.

I asked the questions on 24 June 2012 (taking my time, I know), and I got the response today (in fairness, they had to ask me for additional information on 6 July) – it makes interesting reading.

In 2011, 125,983 tickets were issued. Of that number, 16,497 (13%) were challenged, and of that number, 9,657 (59%) were successful. That is the raw data which caused all of the controversy.

Looking more closely, 4,602 challenges presenting a valid Pay and Display ticket and 3,909 challenges presenting a valid Blue Badge were accepted. So 88% of all successful challenges were because the Traffic Attendant could not see whether or not the car owner had parked legally, and that highlights that if a ticket falls off the window or dashboard or the driver honestly forgets to display his blue badge, DRD will withdraw the PCN.

Remember that if the Traffic Attendants can’t see the front of a ticket, they can’t see if it has expired, and if they can’t see the correct side of the Blue Badge, they can’t verify its validity. How can they tell the difference between two motorists whose tickets have fallen over, one of whom has an hour left on the ticket and one whose ticket expired an hour ago? The only choice for the sake of the honest motorist is to issue the ticket to both, and the honest motorist won’t have to pay it.

In another 638 cases (7%), the DRD accepted that exceptional mitigating circumstances applied. This left 508 cases (5.2% of accepted challenges) where the Traffic Attendant was objectively wrong to issue the ticket in any circumstance.

Of the 6840 unsuccessful challenges, only 323 went to tribunal, where 77 (24%) were successful.

Hold on to that figure of 508 cases, and let’s assume for the sake of argument that all 77 successful tribunal adjudications were because the Traffic Attendant was objectively wrong to issue the ticket, rather than the motorist demonstrating mitigating circumstances.

Of those 16,497 tickets challenged, a maximum of 585 tickets were proven to have been issued incorrectly, or 3.5%.

Very different from the headline of 59% incorrect tickets.

Late for a reason

Hi folks

I normally send this e-mail out in December to replace Christmas cards. For a number of reasons, I managed to do neither this time.

However, for any number of rather better reasons, today seems like a very good day to send this e-mail instead.

On the evening of 25th January, I went and dug into my jacket pocket, and got down on one knee. I’m delighted to say that Jo has agreed to marry me, and we have set the date for Saturday 16th February 2013. That is a year today!

The truth is that we had been planning this for a while – we had actually been planning the wedding for a few weeks before that, including that very night. We are using the stones from two of Joanne’s family rings – her grandmother’s and great-aunts – to make a new ring for Jo, which won’t be ready for several weeks, so I secretly ordered the claddagh ring you can see in the following photograph:

Andy and Jo

Tomorrow will be 18 months since we met, and as part of the wedding celebrations we will be having a blessing at Corrymeela on the day after the wedding. Bits and pieces of the day are falling into place nicely, and we’ll be sending more details out in the next few months.

I get to look back over the last number of years, and I can see the path, how God has walked with me through all the difficulties I have faced, all the disappointments, all the pain, all the dashed hopes, and so on. Many of you have walked with me on that path, but I have always known God is with me, and I have had (and still have) no other hope.

A long road awaits us as we work through the craziness of the next year and we prepare for the rest of our lives. I know we will not be alone as we do this.

For now, I will do my usual thing of looking back through the highlights of the year.

Spring Harvest

I hit Spring Harvest as usual in April, flying off to Bristol and getting a lift to Minehead rather than 2010’s driving odyssey. Because Easter was late last year, I actually went to the very first week of Spring Harvest, which gives you a slightly different perspective from the later weeks. I also offered to switch at late notice to the Venue Security Team as I knew they were short on volunteers in that team – while I had hoped to be stewarding, they were very glad of the offer!

Unfortunately, due to saving up of both money and leave, I’m taking a year off from Spring Harvest this year. It’ll become clearer closer to the time whether I’ll be able to go next year, but time alone will tell.

Sneaky breaks

Jo arranged with another Corrymeela member for us to get the use of a holiday cottage in Redcastle, Co Donegal over the second bank holiday weekend of May – as well as watching the Royal Wedding, we toured Inishowen, stopping at Malin Head, and took a trip to the caravan site I spent many happy weeks in the late 80s and 90s beyond Carrigart. A few weeks earlier we had won an overnight stay in the Culloden in a raffle, which we took on the first bank holiday of May – we spent more time in the spa than anywhere else, or so it felt!

On Culture Night, Irish Rail were offering free return tickets anywhere on their network to whoever suggested the best piece of transport-related culture. Having mischievously suggested “Are ye right there, Michael?” by Percy French, my winning entry (one of four I think) was Belfast Central from Juliet Turner’s second album, Burn the Black Suit. We finally used our tickets from Dundalk to Cork on Monday of this week, taking a short break in the city, and visiting the English market and Cobh. Photos are still on my camera and should appear somewhere on soon.

Snappy snaps!

I had my first proper commission last year! I shot Gail and Paddy Calwell’s wedding at Belfast City Hall on Good Friday as their wedding present from Jo and myself. Inbetweentimes, I also did a pile of stills shooting for Summer Madness Summer Madness, plus a flower festival and two concerts for May Street church. The skills are building…

Singing along

(I didn’t intend to make this all being with the letter S – it just does!) We enjoyed two gigs at the Grand Opera House, one featuring Kieran Goss with Brendan Murphy and Eddi Reader, and the other with Brian Houston and the Belfast Community Gospel Choir. On the first night of the Belfast Festival, we went to see Dervish and guests at the Ulster Hall. Since one of Jo’s sisters has given us vouchers for the Grand Opera House, we will be back there before long…

The big musical news of the year was that I now have a third piece of paper concerning musical qualifications to go with my GCSE and AS Level Music – I passed Grade 5 singing with merit! My singing teacher Eve and I are planning a swap to Popular Music for the next stage – watch with interest…

Swedish sunshine

I have finally used a passport! We headed off at the end of August to Stockholm in the company of the aforementioned Kieran Goss and Brendan Murphy, although we didn’t know this until we reached baggage reclaim in Arlanda airport – they were heading off to the studio. Over nine days, we stayed with one of Jo’s Corrymeela friends and his wife, toured the museums of Stockholm, and headed north for two nights on a four hour train journey to Stiftsgården, the Church of Sweden’s retreat house/conference centre in Rättvik in central Sweden. We will be back again, but not this year – wait and see!

Well, that was 2011 and a bit in review. I’m still playing at Strand – the old building has been demolished, and we plan to start the new building soon. In the meantime we have been meeting in Victoria Park Primary School in the mornings during termtime, and in St Brendan’s Church of Ireland hall in the evenings and during the holidays. I’m also still working in IT support for the Social Security Agency.

My biggest prayer point is of course for me and Jo as our relationship deepens, for God to be with us and to lead us. I would be nowhere without him.

As ever keep in touch!

God bless


So I had this crazy idea…

A lot of very rich people have been complaining about the top rate of tax being 50% and how it stifles investment because they don’t have the money to invest because the tax man is taking it all.

My honest reaction has always been boo hoo. I have absolutely no sympathy.

More to the point, if you look at consumer demand, the government’s tax and spending policies have removed so much money from lower and middle class people that confidence has collapsed. Nobody is buying, and retail recovery will always depend on ordinary consumers. If retail is in the doldrums, there’s no point investing as manufacturers won’t have a market. The problems being global, exports won’t have much of a market either.

So if you do away with the 50% band, the likelihood is hardly a penny will be invested into business. It will exit the economy by being lodged into banks which aren’t lending.

So I had this very silly idea.

Tax relief on business investments, specifically ploughing cash directly into businesses (not playing stocks and shares, or even loans.)

If your marginal rate of income tax is 40% or higher, you get 20% relief on every pound you invest into your business.

Ordinary higher rate tax payers would see it as more income on which they only have to pay basic rate tax (20%). Top rate taxpayers would have a band at de facto 30%.

It would be interesting to see if the top rate taxpayers are willing to put their money where their mouth is.

I also had another idea. Tax all income where it is earned. If you earn it in the US and can prove it was taxed there, you don’t pay tax on it in the UK. If you earn it in the UK, no matter where you are domiciled for tax purposes, it is taxed in the UK.

That would need a revolution in tax of course, and would need coordination between all the countries affected to avoid double taxation, but would do away with tax havens at a stroke.

Those with foreign earnings in lower tax countries and domiciled here for tax purposes would also benefit, but those who currently avoid tax by being domiciled elsewhere might end up more than making up for it.

I’ve been pondering what Christians should do if God makes us rich. More on that another time, because there is much to think about with the balance of being rewarded properly for hard work (which I very much believe in) and looking after those who cannot help themselves due to circumstances outside their own control.

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Waiting for SK535

This will almost certainly be my last blog until I get back to Belfast. I’m going to try and make a point of blogging more often – I have plenty of thoughts I can inflict on the world!

Yesterday was another gorgeous day. Unfortunately we were on the move for most of it, and over two hours of that was in a very warm train without air conditioning and two opening windows. After a quick stop at Kulturhuset and ICA in T-centralen, we got back to Ropsten for the 4pm boat to Tranholmen.

Billy had told us the water was warmer than at home. Apparently not yesterday – it very much reminded me of the Atlantic and Co Donegal… We relaxed for the evening, I got a few pics of the house, and I set the alarm for 6.45am.

Since yesterday, a rather nasty low pressure area has descended upon the north sea, promising us wet weather at home as well as here. Billy, Eva, Ziggy, Jo and I therefore had a rather wet trip across Lilla Vartan, but a very loud thunderclap as we left the house was followed by one at least two miles away as we left the jetty.

Thankfully, it was a lot less wet (but not actually dry) when we reached Arlanda, and there this blog entry stops. Departure is in 35 minutes, and once again we have exit row seats for extra legroom. Even better, I’ve booked the window seat 😉

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Starting the long journey home…

Yesterday we did very little. We had breakfast, relaxed, went to prayers at 12 and 8 (in Swedish – we understood very little!) and went for a walk along the lake and into Rättvik church. We spent most of the afternoon on the jetty at the lakeside, admiring the still waters, while Jo painted the scene.

Jo’s friends Lars and Aislinn called by in the evening with their sons Ryan and Theo. Lars is from Sweden, and met Aislinn at Corrymeela. Both boys were born in NI, and are bilingual.

We met two of the Lutheran priests at Stiftsgården. Gisela has been at Stiftsgården for a long time, while Theresa has been here for two months. They appear to wear a dog collar on alternate days, when they take devotions in the chapel.

The first stage of our journey is two trains back to Stockholm, changing at Borlänge. We stay at Billy and Eva’s again tonight, and then fly back to Dublin and drive to Belfast tomorrow. We may yet visit Skansen this afternoon, the local equivalent of the folk museum at Cultra, but long journeys can be tiring and we may just go back to Tranholmen. Wait and see.

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Friday, Friday…

It is a quiet Friday morning here in Stiftsgården – Jo and I are hoping to go to the prayer time in the chapel at 12, and then visit the town of Rättvik after lunch.

Stiftsgården is owned by the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden, and is both a residential and conference centre and a small hotel. The main building has a 3 star badge.

There is both a chapel in the main building and the local parish church nearby.

Jo and I met with Nils, the director, last night, and talked about Corrymeela. There have been strong links in the past, and we batted around ideas for better links now – hopefully this will help Nils in talking to the folks in NI. It was an interesting evening.

The journey yesterday was quiet, but long enough at 3.5 hours. Sweden built most of its railways inland, so as not to scupper the boat trade along the coasts, so there is plenty of forest to see!

Stiftsgården is very close to Lake Siljan. I took a walk to the nearest garages last night, and came back along the side of the lake – the gravel path ended at a memorial to the people of Dalarna, specifically Rättvik who had fought alongside Gustav Vasa against Christian II of Denmark in the 16th Century. After that, I took what looked like a well-trodden path back to Stiftsgården which turned out to be too well-trodden – I have lovely muddy converse now which are still drying!

To be honest, at this stage Jo and I have mixed feelings about going home on Sunday. We’re really enjoying the holiday, and not necessarily looking forward to having to work on Tuesday, but part of us also wants to get home to our own stuff!

More later.

Now what was today’s little amusing story going to be…

I’ll come back to that. I’ve actually just remembered, but I’m going to make you wait until the end of this post anyway.

This time tomorrow Jo and I will be up at Stiftsgården. Not the Norwegian royal palace, but Stiftsgården Rättvik, about which I know little beyond it having links with Corrymeela and being in Central Sweden on the shore of Lake Siljan.

Today was another long day, but moving a bit more slowly as we get more and more tired (and start looking forward to our 3 hours 23 minutes train trip tomorrow). We started with a visit to Musikmuséet, which is very much interactive, with bongoes, a hammer dulcimer, a harp, electronic drums and other instruments available to try out. We moved on from there to the NationalMuseum, with its collection of artwork, and from there to Moderna muséet. Alas, the Modern Museum has most of its artwork in Mälmo, and is concentrating largely on photography for the summer, but we also got a chance to visit Arkitekturmuséet. I’ve given up translating things which you can guess!

After that, we met up with Mina, who used to be a volunteer at Corrymeela, and headed back to Billy and Eva’s where we finished the evening watching True Talent on TV3.

This is very different from the X Factor, because the audience doesn’t get to see the singer! It is divided into three groups by age, and only if over 50% of that age group votes for the singer does their seating group turn round to view and cheer them, and only if 50% of all three groups vote for them do they continue on to the next stage.

It’s all rather different from X Factor and Britain’s got talent, because although they have to pass auditions with producers and be mentored by the judges, who seem to have more credibility than the British ones (if only I could tell you what they actually say!) they are judged at this stage solely according to their voice. Not their looks, not how stupid they look on camera, but by their voice. The atmosphere round the judges is also one of cooperation rather than rivalry.

What I wonder is what will happen in later rounds – has the series already been filmed in full, and each successive round use a brand new jury, or will they logically have to revert to “seeing” juries, losing the blind element? Time will tell…

Today, on the way home on the T-bana, we were in an old train, rather than one of the new sleek ones – presumably they use these at peak times to maximise capacity. The ones we usually get are nice and modern, have air conditioning rather than opening windows, and have names. Not castles or glens like trains in Belfast, but girls’ names, like Agnetha and all sorts which I can’t remember off-hand. Each two-car train (coupled to make trains far longer) has a name painted just above the cab window before it sweeps down to the windscreen.

And that was today’s amusing little story.

More, this time from Rättvik, tomorrow. Sleep is called for.

Now for some linguistics…

One of the interesting things I have noticed while I have been here are the words that come into Scottish from the North Germanic languages which are absent from conventional English.

The first one I noticed the other day is the Swedish word for child, barn – like the Scots word bairn, and one I noticed two hours ago – bra for good, like the Scots braw.

It’s a very small world.

This morning felt a little like a return to London, because Spårvägsmuséet (the Transport Museum) is like Covent Garden Transport Museum in some ways. There are cabs of T-banan trains, but there are no simulators to teach you how to drive a Tube tram.

It’s very interesting, because it’s too easy to forget that Sweden changed sides of the road in 1967, but the museum’s stock of right hand drive buses quickly brings this into focus.

We also had the chance to admire the Lego in Leksaksmuséet, the toy museum in the same building. I owned many of the sets on display, and most of the others had been on my wishlist – I still have most of the pieces of those sets, but the instructions are long lost.

Afterwards, we headed into Gamla Stan again. Lunch outside Nobelmuséet was followed by the Changing of the Guard before we visited the Cathedral, including their statue of St George and the Dragon, commissioned by Sten Sture to commemorate the Battle of Brunkeberg in 1471, perhaps representing himself as St George and King Christian I of Denmark as the Dragon, and Sweden the maiden Sture was defending.

After a visit to Postmuséet (surely you don’t need a translation?) we headed into the main city again, got some food to feed Billy and Eva and some ice cream for us, and headed back to Tranholmen. Tomorrow we are going to head for some art galleries, and who knows what else in our last full day in Stockholm – on Thursday we head to Rättvig for two days.

Ej Upp lass…

I find the instructions in T-bana stations amusing. Ej Upp is Swedish for “Not Up”, but it’s pronounced like an English Northerner saying “Ey oop, lass!” I would share the joke, but it’s probably not funny…

This morning we bought our tickets for the Kungsholmen Rund boat tour, and visited Nordiska Muséet – a celebration of the Nordic people and their culture over 400 years – everything from housing to clothing, toys etc. Part of the exhibition includes commentary from the Sami people on the experiments in eugenics carried out on them.

After lunch we called into Vasamuséet – the new final resting place of the famous ship that sailed and sank on the same day in 1628, as it was too narrow and hopelessly top heavy. It was raised from the bed of Stockholm harbour in 1961.

We finally got going on the boat tour this afternoon! It was a slow run round Kungsholmen (the King’s Island) – so called because there already exists Drottningholm (the Queen’s island) and a Knight’s Island, so the King of the day decided to call it after the rank, rather than himself. We also went along Langholmen. A very enjoyable 50 minutes, but after it we were glad to get onto the T-bana to Ropsten and back onto the bus ferry to Tranholmen…

Tomorrow we hope to go the Transport Museum and revisit Gamla Stan. Photos from today and yesterday are currently uploading!

Busman’s holiday…

Well, I am now an internationally noted pianist.

This evening, we went to St James’ Church in Stockholm, as planned, and sat down to discover that their organist had been delayed due to a road traffic accident… so muggins here volunteered to play piano.

There followed an interesting hour and a half of sightreading and changing of hymns as the minister (a Scottish lass married to a Swede) and I worked out what we could do in mid-service. It was a delight to do, though, and I hope the result honoured God.

I hope to get a week off next Sunday!

The rest of the day… I spent this morning sorting out photographs (see the results on my flickr) and then Eva went with us to the Photographic gallery (Fotografiska). We had an interesting walk round – highlights included Liu Bolin’s “The Invisible Man” exhibition, where Liu has painted himself to hide himself in the picture – in some pictures he is more obvious than others – and Jacob Felländer’s “I want to live close to you” exhibition. Jacob visited twelve cities, including London, New York, Mumbai, Paris and Dubai, and used modified cameras which only advanced 35mm film by 10mm at a time to overlap images. Other exhibitions included “Northern Women in Chanel” and some of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work.

After that, Eva dropped us off near the City Hall (Stadshuset) where we had hoped to go on the Historical Canal Tour (Kungsholmen Runt), but all tickets had already been sold. After ice cream, Jo and I visited the City Hall, which looks very like a church from the side, but very different from the inside. There is a large oak in the main courtyard – the building dates back to the 1930s and is made of red brick, and is built on the site of a mill – which reminds me of Belfast City Hall being built on the site of the Linen Hall. After that we grabbed a quick snack before church, and the rest is history.

Tomorrow we hope to get on that boat tour. Billy and Eva have suggested we take the 76 bus from Ropsten, which apparently does a grand tour around the most direct route, but after that we will hit the museums. Forecast isn’t great for tomorrow, so indoors may be rather popular for us!

Day 2 in Sweden

Well, here we are, and it is not tomorrow morning by any stretch of the imagination – although photographs will have to wait until then!

This morning, Billy was pup-sitting a neighbour’s westies, so he, Jo and I took them for a walk round the island.

Tranholmen is not quite free from the internal combustion engine, but they are very much limited to excavators being used in construction, lawnmowers and possibly a tractor. Cars are banned, and bicycles and shanks’ ponies are the order of the day.

The whole island is wooded, with gravel paths, and the vast majority of houses are wooden. Many are now lived in 12 months a year, but at one time more would have only been summer houses. As I noted yesterday, Billy and Eva’s house is beautifully warm.

It is linked to the mainland in Spring, Summer and Autumn by a ferry to Ropsten, or your host’s boat. In the winter, they erect a bridge, and the lake freezes over anyway.

After the walk, Billy accompanied us on our first visit to Stockholm city, and took us on a long walk round Gamla Stan – the old city, and also the site of the Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace is quite curious – unlike, say, Buckingham Palace, the public can get very close to it physically. Hopefully pictures I’ll take during the week will show you how close. Perhaps if we’re there at the right time of day, we’ll get to see the changing of the guard as well.

Before we even got there, though, we had noticed a number of zombies around Stockholm C(entral). These undead followed us into Gamla Stan, but the good, or disappointing news, depending on your point of view, was that it was all an arts event as part of the Stockholm Festival.

Tomorrow we are pondering a canal tour and then the 6pm English service in St James’s Church (Sankt Jacobs Kyrka), Stockholm – but first sleep and a long quiet morning!

Oh yes…

Got the wireless connection working!

The other thing to mention is that never mind all the kids in Belfast going to meet Jedward or One Direction… we trumped the lot of them by running into Kieran Goss and Brendan Murphy (ex The Four Of Us) at Arlanda Airport. They had been on our flight from Dublin, and were heading to do some recording – we had enjoyed their concert with Tom Paxton, Eddi Reader (ex Fairground Attraction) and Maura O’Connell in the Grand Opera House back in April!

I expect that to be the end of the namedropping… for now!

Delayed by the need for sleep…

Well, yesterday I left the British Isles for the first time in my life.

We left the City North Hotel after a nice breakfast at 9am, checked in, and took the long walk to gate 105. Quite why the gate numbers are lower the further away you go from check-in I dunno, but we got there and settled down to wait.

We watched the 11.05 Copenhagen flight leave, and I helped a kid find Mater and a hydrofoil from Cars 2 which kept flying off the table between us (to my and his parents’ amusement) and then we left Ireland on the 11.50 flight.

The MD82 was nice and comfortable, and the raspberry muffin I bought was lovely- smelled great, tasted better.

We touched down in Arlanda ahead of schedule, and got our bags by 3.45pm local time (that’s 2.45pm real time). Our host Billy took us down the E4 to Stockholm and to the jetty where he keeps his speedboat.

Unfortunately, by then it was chucking it down, but he got us into the boat, and across to Tranholmen.

It’s a bit early for first impressions, but Billy and Eva’s house is beautiful – made from wood and actually very warm. Pictures will follow once I take some, but I’m having trouble connecting from my MBP to Billy’s wireless network and I’m writing this on my iPhone!

To cut a long story short, I was shattered and in bed and sleeping well before 9pm. It’s still raining outside, but I think we’re going to get a walk today, then hit the old town (Gamla Stan) after lunch. More later.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.

Oh, what a glorious day…

Tomorrow, for the first time in my life, I leave the British Isles and their territorial waters.

Oh, and today Jo and I had ice cream at the Gelateria in Bray.

That’s it.

… you want more?

Oh all right then.

This morning we stopped at Tesco in Greystones for the makings of a picnic before hitting the road to Enniskerry. Missing out Powerscourt because we are doing this on a budget, we headed on past Glencree to Sallygap and down along the military road to Laragh and then into Glendalough.

Glendalough is quite curious. Although the Church of Ireland has twelve dioceses, it has a lot more than fourteen cathedrals, because as well as Belfast Cathedral (built for the then united Dioceses of Down, Connor and Dromore) and St Patrick’s Cathedral (the National Cathedral), the twelve present dioceses were once divided into (at least) 35 smaller dioceses. At one time, all of them would have had their own cathedral, and indeed, to this day, the Diocese of Clogher has two cathedrals (one in Clogher and one in Enniskillen), making it unique among the dioceses that have never been split.

The Church of Ireland Directory notes a considerable number of cathedrals that have closed or been destroyed, including one which was destroyed by fire in the 12th Century. However, it makes no mention of Glendalough Cathedral at all, even though it was also destroyed before the Reformation (by the English Army in the 14th Century as it happens). I think it may have ceased to have been a cathedral in 1215, however, when Dublin and Glendalough dioceses were united, which makes things a little different… as well as the method of its destruction.

From Glendalough, we went down the Vale of Avoca to Arklow, and from thence along the coast road to Wicklow, and the N11 to Bray, where we hit the gelateria. Jo has pics of the two ice creams – she had a small chocolate ice cream, and I had an extra large mint choc chip. Look out for them on facebook soon.

After that, we hit the M50 and M1 to the City North Hotel. A nine-day trip is at the point where it is nearly cheaper to stay at a hotel offering free parking for guests for the duration of their trip than to pay for Airport parking, and I think that as a result we are effectively getting a free night’s accommodation, and only paying for breakfast. Dublin Airport was offering me parking at nearly €80, which is no joke.

Tomorrow morning – I leave the British Isles and their territorial waters for the first time in my life. Oh hang on, I’ve already said that, haven’t I?