Honking some encouragement

There’s a lot I love about wild geese and metaphors relating to them.  I heard more about them flying in formation and taking turns to be the leader at the Worship Central conference I went to last week.  The speaker Jock James also talked about how the geese honk to spur on the lead bird, and then how another bird will move from the slip stream to take over the lead for a while.  He also said how if for any reason a bird drops out of formation, due to illness or exhaustion, two birds from the back will fly down with them as support, and then where possible, accompany the bird back to the v grouping once they have recovered.  There’s more about some of these ideas from Ron Pereira here.

lake geeseThe sound of wild geese may not be the most melodic, but it’s certainly powerful.  Mary Oliver describes it as ‘harsh and exciting’ in her poem Wild Geese, which was read out at the end of a very inspiring keynote speech at a work conference I attended today and yesterday.  The keynote speaker Alison Phipps mentioned being part of the Iona Community as part of where she gets her emotional support and energy, as well as enjoying her garden and time knitting.  I’ve written before about how I have had spiritually nourishing times on Iona and I’m planning to return there this summer as well.  Some of the worship team from the Iona Community publish under the ‘Wild Goose Resource Group’ banner, and it was from them that I heard about the wild goose as a celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit, and I like the goose as a contrast to the gentle dove – it seems more powerful and potentially agitating, but in a good way.

The conference today and yesterday was about Troubling Research, and Alison shared powerfully from her own work including with refugee and asylum seeker groups and individuals and others from around the world.  Many of us were moved by her stories and the way she shared very personally from her life and experiences hosting refugees, including an adopted daughter from Eritrea whose incredibly difficult journey to be allowed to stay in the UK touched on extremes of humanity and inhumanity.  I was encouraged by the way Alison’s research emphatically involves, empowers and gives voice to the people she meets, and felt inspired and not a little provoked to do more myself.

One of the workshops included the chance to write based on a snoopy typewriterSnoopy cartoon, but from a different perspective.  We had just one minute to write ‘stream of consciousness’ style which definitely felt like a therapeutic opportunity, like some of the metaphor work I have done in dramatherapy in the past.  Writing from the bird Woodstock’s perspective, I saw a little friend passionately encouraging Snoopy to write and have a go and share his story.  Woodstock probably tweets more than honks, but some of the phrases are definitely ones I have used with friends and students, exhorting them to write it down – as one colleague would say, don’t get it right, get it written.

I’ve definitely got a clear role in encouraging students with their writing and research now, but actually I was feeling more like Snoopy, needing motivation and someone like an enthusiastic Woodstock who believed in me and was interested in what I have to say and the words and research papers and songs I have to share.  It was great to then go on to share some songs with one of the workshop groups at the conference today.  If you’ve read this far, dear reader, you could be a key encourager for me, so please do feedback somehow and encourage me, particularly if anything I write is of any encouragement to you.  I have been motivated to write more songs after the recent Worship Central event and will be leading one at church on Sunday, so I’m really hoping people will join in, sing or clap or honk along. Honk!

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Finding Mr Right

When I told my friends and colleagues that I was going to a Worship Central conference last week I generally kept my expectations fairly low, except, I said wistfully, you never know… I might just meet a nice single Christian man.  The chances of meeting a guy with shared faith and interests including music seemed better than usual at an event with 100 worship leaders from around the world.  Of course, I joked, he’ll probably be about 20.  The Worship Central crowd generally seem pretty young and in my general experience, Christian guys I meet nearer my own age are usually married.  All these generalisations only go so far though, as I’m not looking for a whole cohort of guys, just the right one.

The weekI was also hoping to be inspired to do some more song-writing, and hoping to hear from God one way or another.  The kids in my church have recently been practising listening to God for words for people, particularly about healing, and I’ve been impressed by how simple they have made it, encouraged by methods from the Catalyst festival and other places.  They just went through a series of questions to God to narrow down whether the word was for a man or a woman, what camp site area they were staying in, what part of the body was sick, any other identifying features.  They then were really brave in sharing these words and many people matched up to what had been heard and went forward for prayer, and some received healing.  It wasn’t 100% accurate but it was simple and built their faith to hear from God.  Seemed like something more adults should try, I thought.

So during the evening times of worship and meeting with God, when I felt like God was bringing a word or a particular passage of the Bible to my mind, I asked him who it was for.  Normally in my smaller church congregation I would have shared a Bible passage that I felt God was speaking about that seemed relevant with the whole meeting, but this was a bigger meeting with more going on.  The first night when we were encouraged to pray about healing I felt I had a word for a guy with a dark green raincoat.  I couldn’t spot that raincoat over the rest of the week – but do get in touch if you think it might be you!

On the Tuesday night, I felt God gave me a passage from yellow_tshirtthe Bible for a guy with a yellow T shirt.  Moving around the room I found the guy, passed on the (not too controversial) word and he was encouraged by it.  That felt great.  The following morning I was talking to a few people, trying to find out which of the attendees at the conference were from Germany as I am hopefully going to be spending more time there with work in the coming years (Erasmus/EU funding permitting!).  I found one guy who ended up coming from the complete opposite corner of Germany.  But he pointed me to someone else who lived much nearer where I was talking about.  In fact he was from the city near where I am going, and had links in the town where I will be working.  Oh, and he was the yellow T shirt guy who I’d had the word for the night before.  That made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  God had given me a real way in to being trusted by this guy, and we shared contact details and I really hope to see him and some of his contacts again when I go (So Gott will) to Germany.

mens-navy-official-captain-america-shield-solid-body-t-shirt-p28334-50389_mediumThat evening, God brought to my mind a passage of the Bible which could arguably have been shared with the whole group, as it really fitted with the topic of the evening and the way people were being invited to pray.  I wasn’t sure about going up the front with it, as I felt like I’d already contributed quite a lot with a part of a song during the sung worship time.  So again, I asked God who it was for, and what came to mind was the Captain America shield logo which I envisaged on someone’s shirt.  I didn’t see anyone with the Captain America logo anywhere, so I didn’t share it, but I was still really enthused as the conference ended.  There had been so much good teaching and times of worship and prayer where the Holy Spirit had moved powerfully.

I’d asked a question about supporting and mentoring women who are going into leadership roles and felt encouraged by the response to this which called on men to support these women as well as women to be role models.  One talk by Rachel Hughes on Seasons in life prompted me to look back on my life and see the way God had been building leadership training and skills throughout the different jobs and places I have been, even though I’ve mostly been in churches which haven’t encouraged this so much.  We’ve talked lately about how while young men showing leadership traits seem to get lots of invitations to be mentored and shadow church leaders in different areas, young women don’t seem to be offered the same opportunities.  Partly this may be due to there being fewer female role models or an understandable reluctance to promote intense discipling relationships between a man and a woman.  Perhaps some churches are looking for Mr Right to move into leadership ministry, while overlooking Miss, Mrs or Dr Right?

But also, maybe I’ve been waiting for Mr Right before expecting God to use me.  I know I really need support and encouragement to step out into new things for God, and part of desperately wanting a partner has been wanting someone who will see the best in me and encourage me to be what God wants me to be, while needing my support to be the best he can be for God as well.  I guess I’ve imagined my future as potentially a pastor’s wife or elder’s wife, where the opportunities to lead come as a couple.  I know how I can get burnt-out when I try to do too much on my own, and I really don’t feel called to be single.  But I also don’t want to put limits on what God wants to do through me.

Hub The Week

Thanks to my great Hub group over The Week, and to everyone at Worship Central for an amazing time.

So I’m trying to move on with some of the ideas that came up over the week of training.  There’s another woman at church who is feeling motivated to lead some sort of prayer course which really seems to fit with the Prayer Course I was inspired to investigate further after some great teaching by Pete Greig.  I wrote a song based on the riff I’d sung out on the Wednesday evening, asking God to let us know more of his love for us, and for his world, and then show more of that love.  I taught it to the group at our church prayer meeting on Sunday night and have been asked to use it next time I lead worship in church.  And I still believe God can lead me to the right person at the right time.  Mr Captain America shirt was sitting in front of me on the bus yesterday morning.  I jotted down the word and gave it to him in quite a low key way and he seemed very grateful.  His partner/friend next to him got out the Bible app on her phone and found the verses, and I think they were both encouraged.  I guess if it’s a choice right now, of finding Mr Right or finding more of God’s presence and purposes for me and my life, then I need to prioritise and let God come first.

P.S. – Check out the comment below for Captain America’s side of the story! Awesome.

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Seeing what’s real

DSCF9513 editBeing a tourist is a weird experience. I enjoyed my recent trip to Italy with my mum very much, but it kind of felt like we went to Venice-land. Venice is so tourist oriented that it is too expensive for many local people to live there. Instead they live on the mainland and bus in to their jobs in hotels, restaurants and shops in the unique city where everyone travels on foot or by boat. Birmingham may have more canals but we also have exponentially more roads. Our few days in Florence were quite a shock as we suddenly had to get out of the way of many cars, taxis and the ubiquitous mopeds.

We saw beautiful buildings and gardens, museums and galleries as well as eating mostly lovely food in medium priced restaurants. I guess Venice and Florence have always catered to the more middle class travellers but it felt a bit like what was on offer was now so much more targeted. Many places clearly thrived or suffered on their TripAdvisor reviews. Most people spoke English and didn’t seem too bothered if you made an effort to speak any Italian or not (although we did try).Piazza San Marco

I’d encountered some pushy street sellers on my visits to Italy before but the selfie stick sellers were something else. At every key viewpoint or site in either city there were many men, often of African or Middle Eastern origin desperate to sell you this technical arm extension to allow you to capture yourself within the famous view you were ignoring in order to take the picture. Somehow it’s not about what you see but that you can be seen to be there. I actually did take a few selfies with my mum (using my arm) and this seemed novel enough to capture her smiling which is a rarity in a photograph. But this was a real reflection of us on a trip that we absolutely enjoyed, even while I was doubting that we were seeing the real Venice, or if the real Venice even exists to be seen any more.

We did tend to avoid the busiest parts a lot of the time, seeking out quieter restaurants and a trip out to the islands of Burano, Murano and Torcello as well as a trip out from Florence to Fiesole. However, even these were recommended by guidebooks and attracted plenty of IMG_3738tourists. Burano has to be one of the most deliberately photogenic places I have ever visited with rows of houses painted in various bright colours alongside canals and bridges. Articles I have found state how this dates back many years and is about helping fishermen to identify their houses through the fog. I’m really not sure I’m convinced as it seems like a perfect gimmick to attract tourists to visit a small place where there really isn’t that much else to look at. There were plenty of shops selling lace for which the island is famous, but I was sceptical that many of the items were particularly local.

Similarly Murano is famous for glass, and there were numerous shops here and on the main Venice islands selling jewellery and other items from the brightly coloured glass which may have been made on Murano, made from Murano glass but assembled elsewhere or inspired by Murano glass but entirely from China. Depending on your budget you could buy the genuine, authenticated item, a piece of related glassware or a cheaper knockoff – some of which looked much cheaper and nastier but others of which might have been quite convincing.

The masks which are also a part of the Venice mythology may also imported and machine formed in plastic or they may be locally made of the traditional leather or cartapesta (papier-mâché) and painted in the shop – they even had some mask painting workshops for tourists. When I went to Venice in 1999 I got chatting to a man in a mask shop who showed me more about making the cartapesta versions and I used the skills later in my drama degree and dramatherapy work. This felt like a much more genuine experience of mask making, although of course, masks by their nature allow you to put on a front and conceal what’s underneath.

But any good drama or dramatherapy student will tell you how work with masks can also be revealing, and that in portraying even a stereotypical part we may get in touch with a deeper and hidden part of ourselves. And similarly, I think there was something revealing about the Venice experience, however inauthentic. The rampant consumer culture where almost all the shops and services were targeted specifically at tourists, hotels which sought to look the part even if underlying corners were cut to reduce costs and maximise profits, IMG_3793even that selfie stick which made it all about you and looking good on social media. I think this does say something about our society and about what the average tourists wants, even while they scour the guidebooks and websites for the unspoilt corners and the authentic restaurant that is popular with locals but will also supply an attractive Instagram picture of your meal you can upload using the free wifi.

The heat was real, and the peeling paint and graffiti once you got off the main tourist tracks also seemed more real. My affection for my mum and our occasional mis-steps with public transport and baby octopuses made for a bit more reality too. While some service seemed more formulaic, there were staff in one hotel who did make more of an effort to be more personally welcoming. I guess you need an insider track to get to see the real place underneath and I have been lucky enough to get this through hospitality with more local people when I have visited Canada, Bolivia and Peru and even back in 99 when I was inter-railing, feeling more like a traveller than a tourist.

But I guess most people go on holiday to get away from real life and to experience a fantasy dream world where you don’t have to work, where it’s all about having fun, relaxing, or seeing beautiful, interesting places and things. Maybe I should stop analysing it all and just be grateful and show you some nice photographs. Even if it wasn’t real, it was lovely.

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Pitching your song

One of the things I like most about the folk club I attend fairly regularly is the frequency of singers’ nights and the encouragement to join in. I don’t think I’ve ever been with a group of people so keen to sing a chorus or refrain or harmonise on the spot to songs on themes ranging from seafaring to mining, love songs and tragedies, traditional and more recent songs in a very broad interpretation of ‘folk’ style. Even on guest nights, a few audience members are invited to sing ‘floor spots’, which last week included a visiting friend of the club who sang ‘When All Men Sing’ – a poem by Keith Scowcroft set to music by Derek Gifford. The chorus practically demands participation from the audience and we certainly obliged:

Let every man so pitch his song to help his neighbour sing along
To each and all contentment bring, when all men sing.

The song sings round the seasons of the year and mentions singing in inns (as we do), praising the Lord and singing as you work as well. I really like the sentiment of the song and it harmonises really nicely (as in this version where composer Derek Gifford is part of the group singing with Mike Nicholson). My only reservation is that the lyrics don’t quite acknowledge that your neighbour might be a woman. I wouldn’t argue that the lyrics need changing but perhaps I need to write an extra verse sometime.

A more frequent frustration to me at the moment is that some Christian songwriters and worship leaders seem not to acknowledge that around half or more of the congregation are likely to be women (or sing alto/bass). This leads to songs like Matt Redman’s recent ‘Sing and Shout’ covering a range from a mid G# to a high F#. I can sing it along in the same octave as he does but I have a lower than average female voice. The top F# (yellow/orange below) is rare, but almost the entirety of the bridge “What could be better than a grace…” is on a high E. I’m afraid I would argue that he’s pitched the song wrong in terms of allowing a congregation to sing along. Perhaps you’re supposed to shout that bit?  While the chords in G (capo 2) as he has written it are easy, putting it in D or even C would be much more singable for the whole congregation. Played in D it only goes down to a C# but the top note is a much more manageable B (all notes blue).

keys in colours

Bob Kauflin, songwriter, worship leader and author of the excellent book ‘Worship Matters’ wrote a blog post back in 2009 where he addressed the challenges of ‘Finding The Right Key To Sing In’. He suggests a general rule of keeping between a low A and a high D (blue or green above), although there may be reasons to change this if a lot of the notes are at one end of this spectrum. The most comfortable notes for everyone are probably the blue octave from C to C, so when a song doesn’t cover more than an octave there seems little excuse for it to go down as low as a G (which I love but I know it doesn’t suit everyone – yellow) or up as high as the E (also yellow) that makes up the bridge of ‘Sing and Shout’. Seriously, 23 top Es, a top F# and a C# does not make a singable refrain. I’m afraid it’s at times like this that I sit down in church and try to pray or read the Bible rather than getting cross.

Other things that sometimes cause me to disengage from worship are about a different kind of pitch – more the tone of the song. Songs that focus on me and how I feel rather than on praising God, songs that are hard to understand, songs that just seem not to say much at all – these seem such a waste when there are so many better songs out there. There’s a place for songs that say how much we love God, but generally I would rather sing about his great love than my love for him. My love for God is sometimes weak, always imperfect, never as much as he deserves. In contrast his love for us is immeasurable, unchanging, awesome – no matter how I feel, I believe it is right to declare these truths about God. In fact, declaring them may help shift how I am feeling.  A great example is Matt Redman’s Holy – solid truth and pitched between C and D#.  Thank you Matt.

Particularly at the start of a time of worship I’d make a strong argument for a song that most people know, pitched in a singable key and focusing on the greatness of God or the wonderful love of Jesus. There are also some gathering songs which are particularly designed for opening worship (They often start ‘Come’).  Possibly my favourite gathering song is in Shona – Uyai Mose, made popular in the UK by the Iona Community. Using songs in other languages can be inclusive and accessible but they need to be sufficiently simple for the whole congregation to understand and learn and pronounce the words. This song only contains five different words:

Uyai mose tinamate Mwari (x3)
Uyai mose zvino.

It’s translated “Come all you people, come and praise your maker, Come now and worship the Lord”. It harmonises beautifully – when I was in a tent at Greenbelt some years ago they had the whole congregation singing in four part harmony so you could choose the part that suited your voice but actually in the book I have, all four parts fit between the recommended low A to high D except the highest cantor part which hits a few top Es. I’d say that’s pitched so everyone can sing along.

IMG_3542The guests at folk club on Friday were ‘The Foxglove Trio’ and they sang a mix of songs in English and Welsh as well as using their cellos, melodeon, whistle and guitar for a range of tunes. I enjoyed the evening although the number of songs in Welsh put me off buying their CD a bit. They did encourage us to sing along to various choruses, even teaching us a few words of Welsh. But the song that raised the roof was the floor singer I mentioned earlier with ‘When All Men Sing’. As one of the committee put it, it could have been written for the club.

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Forging your soul

Why is soul music called soul music?  This may not be a popular view but I don’t find it often reveals someone’s soul or touches mine.  There are some amazing vocalists within the genre, and some fantastic songs,  I can understand why a fusion of RnB and Gospel music is expected to be meaningful or powerful but maybe this is a big ask of artists still breaking through in the scene.  I guess we all start somewhere, and actually think there may be a freshness to some younger performers which isn’t present in the more professionally produced and popular sounds.  But is it soulful?

On Sunday evening I had an enjoyable night with some friends at Soul Live Acoustic – a new initiative from Soul Features held in the very cool new venue ‘Spotlight’ in Digbeth.  There was a really nice friendly vibe and the MC was good fun.  I was impressed with the way the night was run – I just wasn’t that keen on the music and I found it hard to explain why.  The Soul Features website claims to be a (the?) ‘Home of Real Music’.  I love a good vocalist and the different acts featured some real artistry, on vocals and instruments.  My friends seemed to enjoy it a lot as did the crowd.

I know it’s just my own subjective opinion, but to me the different acts seemed to be trying rather hard to sound like someone else or show off.  I guess when you admire other great artists then it’s natural to want to emulate something of their style and I guess if you fake it well enough you can make it.  A good forgery may be an amazing piece of art even if it isn’t original.  I couldn’t sing like most of the artists, some of whom had an amazing range or deep vocal quality.  I’ve been impressed in the past when people like The Vocal Orchestra covered R.E.S.P.E.C.T. or Son of a Preacher Man and I’ve had fun singing those songs karaoke style myself, but I’m not sure anyone expects karaoke to be moving.

I know there’s a fair bit of imitation in other styles of music as well, and again, I’ve been guilty of trying to sound like Joni Mitchell (which would annoy her by recent accounts, but not so much as if I sounded cheerful).  Even when I’ve written songs I sometimes notice influences from other artists and find it hard to be truly original.  But I guess in my own typical folk/roots/singer-songwriter circles I find artists who seem more genuine somehow.  I wrote a blog post a while back called Sharing Your Soul, and I think that’s something I really value in my favourite music.  It helps that I go to venues where the artists are well chosen and there’s an honest even occasionally haphazard vibe at times.  I’m sure the team at Tower of Song would wish well to other promoters of up and coming live music and to be fair, their range of music includes plenty of blues and some Celtic soul as well.

I really don’t want to be mean-spirited to young artists who are still forging their own style or finding their audience.  I understand how critical it can feel to amass Twitter followers and YouTube views but I like it when it seems like people are actually interested to connect with you rather than just wanting to boost their stats.  I did feel a bit old at the gig – not least because I’m not used to standing up for 3 hours but also I think all the artists were younger than me.  I think my favourite track of the night was J P Cooper’s ‘Colour Me In Gold’ which had a bit more of a singer-songwriter feel to me.

It is a challenge to be authentic and there were some good attempts at tackling deeper issues including losing friends too young.  When you’re trying to perform at your best then it maybe feels like a contradiction to be the real you.  I think this definitely carries over into other areas as well – I’ve got into discussions in the past about how real Christians are being if they keep presenting themselves as the person they feel God wants them to be.  I guess the willingness to be vulnerable that I find attractive in others isn’t so easy to practice myself.  Perhaps you need a supportive audience, not someone who will criticise you for trying to sound like someone else or show off (sorry guys) but who will applaud your attempts to be genuine and encourage you to give your all.

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Staying near Iona

Although I enjoyed the experience of staying in the Abbey with the Iona Community a few years back, generally I have preferred to stay on the nearby island of Mull instead. IMG_1161I found the full on programme just a bit intense, even though you were welcome to miss out bits you felt like you were missing out. I think it’s actually more relaxing to stay in a guesthouse in Fionnphort, travel to Iona for a day or three and enjoy the sunsets over Iona from the beach on Mull, after a nice meal in the Keel Row pub.

The ferry from Fionnphort on Mull to Iona only takes ten minutes and you can get there before the first hymn has finished on the 9am service if you want to. During the summer there are short 2pm services focusing on Peace & Justice as well so it’s only the 9pm service that’s impossible as the last ferry leaves Iona at 6:30pm.

DSCF9480This year my hosts at Staffa House were Gillian and Ali, former Iona Community staff who have brought their skills in welcoming and cooking for people to a more homely scale but keeping a strong commitment to using local produce and environmental responsibility.  The very comfortable house has lovely views of the beach and is only a short walk from the ferry terminal.

I know you don’t have to go to Iona to hear from God, but in my experience it definitely helps. The founder of the current community, George MacLeod, talked about Iona being a ‘thin place’ – perhaps sensing God’s closeness through the beautiful landscape as well as the spiritual history and invited presence of the Holy Spirit. I do feel Iona is a special place, and yet, I think my attitude and the things I do when I’m there make a lot of the difference. I want to bring something of that home with me, as well as the glowing face that honestly has more to do with unexpected strong sunshine than a Moses-style encounter with God.

I spent time just sitting outside, enjoying the view. I did some fairly gentle walking, including a bit of a climb to enjoy a perspective-changing 360° panorama (up Dun I).
pan IMG_3291 I spent some time sitting in a beautiful church thinking, looking at song words, scripture and inspirational writings. I chatted to other visitors from around the world exchanging suggested places to visit. I allowed my mind to wander but made notes in a journal before I’d forgotten anything that felt particularly meaningful. And I sang songs in small places with great acoustics.

All of these are things I can do much closer to home if I only make the time and effort. I know other people might struggle to carve out time away from children or other responsibilities but I really don’t have that excuse. I could even offer to child-mind for someone else to allow them some refreshing quiet time. Perhaps we could all do with a taste of Iona from time to time.

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Spinning me round

I’ve got so many different ideas whirling round for this blog so apologies to anyone who gets dizzy but that will be quite in keeping with my theme. I haven’t blogged in ages because there’s been a lot going on. Some of this has been very pleasant – most emphatically my trip to the west of Canada which has boasted some of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen. I took loads of photos – over 1200 in the album as well all the others I deleted as I went along, but some of the views were really hard to capture in a regular photograph. My friend and I both spent quite a lot of time trying to get panorama settings on cameras and phones to do justice to some of the finest scenery God created. Slowly rotating, trying to get the frames to join up while avoiding too many other tourists and each other in shot, we did our best to record the views which you then can’t easily display in an album or even on screen but here are some of my best ones:

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Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

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Vancouver Folk Festival, Jericho Beach Park

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Peyto Lake, Banff National Park

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Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

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Lake Louise, Banff National Park

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Bow River, The Hoodoos and Mount Rundle, Banff National Park

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View west from Calgary Tower

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Saskatchewan Crossing, Banff National Park

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Bow Lake, Banff National Park

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Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park

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From Sulphur Mountain, Banff

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Vancouver, Jericho Beach Park

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Killarney Lake, Bowen Island (near Vancouver)

As well as the views, another highlight of the trip was some of the wildlife we saw. Again I got rather carried away taking photographs, particularly of the grizzly bears on Grouse Mountain and the sea otters in Vancouver Aquarium. I loved the sea otters who are so cute and playful, somersaulting and swimming around and over each other which inspired me to collate the footage to my friend Lobelia’s chilled out cover of ‘You Spin Me Round’.

We also went to two big folk festivals in Vancouver and Calgary which included a few more traditional jigs, reels and polkas by some very talented fiddle, ukulele and mandolin players as well as blues, bluegrass, Americana, klezmer, rock, Cajun, afrobeat and so many other fusions of folk and other styles. DSCF1361Big Canadian festival audiences tend to set out their ‘tarps’ and bagsy their spot at the mainstage at the start of the day, sitting with their low deck chairs and blankets so others behind them can also see. There are some defined spaces at the edges for standing and dancing but we were quite a way back from these so I missed out on some good opportunities to polka. I used to love ballroom dancing and ceilidh dancing which often involved energetic spinning round. I’ll admit that our trip to Canada involved rather less exercise than other travellers we met – we utilised the gondola trips up to the viewpoints on Sulphur Mountain and Grouse Mountain instead of the serious hike or ‘grind’ required to climb to the tops.

One part of the trip I’ll look back on less fondly was the emotional waltzer of applying for a job in another UK university and being interviewed from the Rockies via Skype. After rushing to fit in a visit a few days before I left the UK I found that our planned accommodation for the night/morning of my interview had really unreliable wifi (not too surprising for an out of town ‘Alpine’ hostel). I prepared back up YouTube versions of my interview and presentation and changed to a fancier hotel in the main town of Banff and in the end the technology worked well and my interview was positive, except that they turned me down. I wasn’t so gutted about the specific job as disappointed that a whole new life I was imagining might be my future suddenly wasn’t an option after all.

I know there are still many other possible avenues available to me – I think it’s ‘The Girl With The Pearl Earring‘ who stands in the middle of the square in Delft, where an eight-pointed star within a circle points to so many different possible paths across the city and her life. I’d definitely consider a move to Canada if the right job turned up, and I’m heading back to Edinburgh for a quick festival flit later this week – I’ve always thought I’d love to return to Scotland one day. Another source for good panorama pictures. I was thinking of the Proclaimers ‘Beautiful truth’ song as well:

Spin me round
Bring me down
Be my sound
Don’t you leave

and while there’s the Scottish connection, it’s also about not leaving. It’s making me dizzy, but I suppose I’m not meant to take direction for the future from song lyrics. Except perhaps more sacred ones which talk about looking to the mountains and the one who made them all…

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