Thursday, 15 June 2017

Living the Gospel

Like many people I watched with horror as the tragedy of the fire at the Grenfell Tower tower block in London unfolded. I first heard about it on the radio as I woke. Then I watched the breakfast TV news and could not believe what I was seeing. I also watched the lunchtime TV news. (More of that in a moment.)

During the general election campaign, I used Twitter more than ever before. It is a good way of getting a variety of news from various outlets as well as seeing comments from some erudite commentators. Though it must be said there are plenty not so erudite commentators on Twitter too!

Which brings me back in a way to the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower. I kept glancing at Twitter for any news updates. There was little new news in reality. But what there was, was a lot of political comment, mostly aimed at the Conservative run Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and at Conservative ministers. Much of the comment appeared to be informed (citing various news sources.) And one story showed how the residents had tried to highlight (without success) shortcomings in fire safety in the tower block.
It would have been easy to join in the debate and retweet the comments. But I chose not to do so. I didn’t feel it right to get into political point scoring on the day of such sorrow. My fingers were itching! But I did not retweet or comment.

At lunchtime, I switched on the BBC. As would be expected there was extended news coverage. Much of it was reporters retelling the same news. But one interview stood out for me. It was with the Anglican Area Dean of Kensington the Rev Mark O’Donoghue. His opening words spoke of how the churches in the area were responding, showing the compassion and love of Jesus to all people. But in his closing comments he spoke of how Christians are also expected to speak truth to power and give voice to the voiceless. This would be something that the Church would do later. (This is my synopsis of what he said. I am not claiming this to be a verbatim account.)

In the Bible, we have an account of Jesus speaking in the synagogue of his home town Nazareth. He quotes a passage of scripture from the Prophet Isaiah:

18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’[f]

Luke 4: 18 - 19 NIV

Jesus goes on to say that in him this scripture is now fulfilled. In other words, he had made it happen and will continue to make it happen.

What is proclaiming “Good News” to the poor? The “Good News” is the Gospel of Jesus. The message of Jesus. And as I see it, it comes in three parts. First and foremost, Jesus’ followers are to tell others of the Good News that Jesus loves them and wishes to save them from sin.

There is a second part of the Good News. There is a strong Christian tradition of sharing and caring. Everything Jesus said and did and told his followers to do is the Good News. Therefore, Jesus’ followers are expected to “love their neighbours”. They are expected to care for those who are poor in all manner of ways.

And Christians of all denominations are doing this in the area around Grenfell Tower. They are providing places of shelter. They are providing food and clothes. They are providing comfort. But it is not just Christians. All manner of people are bringing Good News to the poor. Sikhs have opened their temples. Muslims have opened their mosques. People of all faiths and none are sharing the Good News – although non - Christians might not think of it in those terms.

Thirdly, the Good News means that the followers of Jesus seek to right injustice. To give a voice to the voiceless. And this includes speaking Truth to Power.

The origins of the phrase “Speaking Truth to Power” aren’t certain. It may have been coined in the 1940s by an African American civil rights campaigner Bayard Rustin. Although a 1955 book “Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence” suggests the phrase might be of 18th century Quaker origin. (See John Green for a discussion of the history of the phrase.)

As John Green says, ‘“Speaking truth to power" has become a popular way to describe taking a stand, even when the people speaking truth to power are powerful themselves.’ And that is the danger.

However, in the case of the Grenfell House residents they clearly were powerless. They had published a blog explaining their concerns. But this seems to have gone unnoticed. And according to barrister Jo Maugham QC (on his Twitter feed @JolyonMaugham) the residents had tried to fight their landlords, but the residents could not afford the legal fees and were ineligible for legal aid.

The Church (by which I mean ALL Christians who collectively are Christ’s body on earth) is no longer powerful in this country. Our influence is small. (And some would say this is a good thing.) But that does not prevent us from speaking out where we see injustice. We owe it to the dead of Grenfell Tower to give our voice to those other voices who now are speaking up.

The Church has one more thing it can do and that is pray. Pray for those mourning the death of those they love; pray for those wondering what has happened to loved ones; pray for those who have been injured; pray for the emergency services; and pray for justice to be done.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

There's always someone worse off than yourself

There’s always someone worse off than yourself

A couple of years ago now, I had the privilege of getting to know John. John was a young man in his 30s. He was born with a life threatening genetic illness. Despite this for most of his life, he’d led a full life. He’d been educated in a mainstream school. He’d gone to university. He’d followed his favourite football team. And even when in his mid to late 20s the disease confined him to a wheelchair that didn’t stop him.

When I came to know John, the disease meant that he was confined to bed in his parents’ house. (His parents nursed him day and night with some help from a local hospice.) During the two years or so I knew him, I saw how John’s body became frailer and frailer. But none of this diminished John’s outlook on life. In fact, when John heard of a mutual friend who had been diagnosed with cancer he said to his father “There’s always someone worse off than yourself isn’t there Dad?”

What an honour it was to conduct John’s funeral.

Yesterday, I was due in hospital for a fairly minor operation. I’d seen the consultant about 6 weeks ago. I’d been for my pre-operation session with various nurses. I’d been sent the letter telling me what not to eat or drink and I’d drunk the disgusting protein drinks I’d been prescribed. Come the day we were up bright and early for the drive into Bristol as I had to book in at 7am.

I was booked in and shortly after 7am a nurse came and took us through to our own waiting room. She went through a questionnaire and checked my blood pressure and temperature. Both fine. She explained there was someone else on the surgeon’s list and I’d probably go to theatre after waiting for a couple of hours.

After a couple of hours there was no news but the nurse told me to get into one of those delightful hospital gowns. I did this and even lay on the trolley ready to go to theatre. Around 11am the nurse stuck her head round the door. “There’s been a problem with the previous surgery. The surgeon will come and talk to you shortly.” Probably 20 minutes later the surgeon came in. “I’m really sorry Mr. Gray but your surgery is cancelled for today. The previous patient developed complications. The surgery ran overtime and I’m afraid there’s not enough time to deal with you before the next patient.”

I was upset and I was angry. I need this surgery! I’d got up at 5.15am to have it! And then, John’s words came to me “There’s always someone worse off isn’t there?”
The patient before me was clearly worse off than me. And presumably the one after me too or they’d have been bumped.

I’m now scheduled to have the surgery next Tuesday afternoon.

I must say, that before I heard John’s voice in my head (or was it God’s?) I found myself saying “Why wasn’t I the first on the list? Why did I have to wait?” I’ve no idea, apart from recognising that presumably the first patient was worse off than me.

There is always someone worse off than yourself.

At the moment, a dear friend of ours is entering the final stages of a terminal illness. There’s always someone worse off.

Then there are the families and friends of the 22 people murdered in Manchester by a terrorist. There’s always someone worse off.

It can be so easy to dwell on our own misfortunes that we don’t see the misfortunes of others.

Forgive me Lord for thinking about me and not thinking about others.
Forgive me Lord for forgetting there are many, many, people worse off than me.

A prayer:

God of the present moment,
God who in Jesus stills the storm
And soothes the frantic heart;
Bring hope and courage to those facing uncertainty.
Bring hope that you will make them the equal of what lies ahead.
Bring courage to endure what cannot be avoided
For your will is health and wholeness.
You are God and we need you. Amen

© A New Zealand Prayer Book 1989 by the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia

Friday, 5 May 2017

NHS - I owe you my life

I’ve thought long and hard about writing this blog, as it touches on some painful memories for me. However, I want to share this to show how important the National Health Service is for this country. And to say how worried I am for the future of the NHS if (as seems highly likely) the Conservatives are returned to power on 8th June.

2nd September 2016 proved to be a day in which my life changed (and indeed the lives of my family changed too.) It started off as a normal day. My wife and I both had a day off work because we’d been invited to attend a wedding reception in Stratford-upon-Avon that evening. Our plan for the day was that we’d go to a department store in the morning to see if they had any patio furniture in the end of season sale. Then we’d drive to Cirencester. Have lunch. Call in to see my mother-in-law and get changed at her house. Then we’d drive on to Stratford for the wedding reception.

I remember sitting at breakfast feeling a dull ache in my back. I thought perhaps I’d slept awkwardly – though I remember thinking the ache was near my kidneys. Could it be something to do with them? I decided I’d take a couple of ibuprofen They seemed to help.

We went to the department store – Leekes in Melksham. They didn’t have any patio furniture but we enjoyed browsing round for an hour. As we were leaving the store, I went to use the toilet. As I was using the toilet, I had a sudden intense pain. Really sharp. So much so that I almost blacked out. It seemed to go from front to back and was roughly in the area of my kidneys. Kidney stone??

I came out of the toilet feeling groggy and said to my wife she’d better drive me home. She went on ahead to the car and I followed. I got to the car and the next thing I remember was coming around on the ground. (Anne later described how I’d been leaning against the car and then slid down it as I collapsed.) I’d bumped my head (though no more than a graze) and felt very weak. Fortunately, a couple came along whose car was parked next to ours. They helped and phoned an ambulance. One of them went in to the store to find a first aider.

A first aider came and she then went inside to get a blanket as I was shivering (though it was a pleasantly warm late summer’s day.) She returned with a blanket.
Within 10 minutes a first response paramedic arrived in a car. The paramedic (a Polish man named Marcus) immediately went into action. He helped me up into this car. He checked my blood pressure (which was low). He set me up on a saline drip and radioed for an ambulance. He was told there wasn’t one available. Although he wasn’t sure what was wrong with me, he realised I need to get to hospital urgently so made the decision to take me to the Royal United Hospital in Bath (“RUH”).

(Marcus could not have known how ill I was. But if he hadn't acted as quickly as he did, things might have been different.)

We got to RUH in about 20 minutes. I was taken into Accident & Emergency. Marcus explained what had happened and I was shown into a cubicle. A nurse came and took my details and took my blood pressure and drew some blood. Anne arrived and we waited for a doctor. This is all a bit hazy but I was seen by a nurse within minutes and seen by a doctor probably within half an hour. The doctor said he wanted me to have a CT scan.

I was wheeled off to have a scan and Anne went to get a coffee. The scan lasted probably 15 minutes. As I came out of the scanner I realised that the doctor was concerned because the room seemed full of people (doctors and nurses) some of whom were carrying what I knew to be defibrillator packs. I was very gently lifted on to a trolley from the scanner and carefully wheeled back to a consulting room.

“Mr Gray we’ve found you have a very serious problem called an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm. It will need surgery at a specialist unit in Southmead Hospital in Bristol.” I had no idea what an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm was. (“Triple A” as I’ve learned it’s referred to by doctors.) I must have asked for some more information but all I remember is the doctor saying “I will be straight with you. Your chances of survival are 50:50.” (I've learned he was being generous.)

I will digress for a moment. On being told that I had a 50:50 chance of survival it would have been easy to panic or be worried. But I didn’t. I remember praying something along the lines of “God I am in your hands. Your will be done.” And I had this incredible sense of peace. I was worried for Anne and Tom. But at peace myself. I’ve come to realise since this was probably a good thing.

Having had chance to say goodbye to Anne (for the last time?) I was put in an ambulance for the journey to Bristol. I was “blue lighted” all the way. I remember the journey and I remember arriving at Southmead. But after that I have no recollection.

From bits and pieces Anne has told me I must have been taken straight to the operating theatre. There the amazing vascular surgery team at Southmead saved my life. I gather that the surgeons were on the point of finishing (having repaired the aorta) when the repair started to leak. They had to repeat the operation. However, in due course I came out of theatre and on to the Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU). Over the next few days I had another couple of operations.

I spent the best part of September on ITU. For the first 2 weeks, I was heavily sedated. I have no recollection of what was happening at all. Although during this time I had the most intense dreams / nightmares / hallucinations. And in these I now realise people who were visiting appeared. Some of the dreams were very funny. Some very very scary. But all seemed very real. So much so that I had some very odd conversations with Anne. I say conversations as I couldn’t converse due to having a tracheotomy.

For example, I was convinced at one time I was in hospital in London. Similarly, I was convinced that some American friends had arranged for me to have surgery in the USA with “the best Triple A surgeon in the world” who they knew. I was going to fly out on 21st September. I remember asking Anne about this and of course she knew nothing as it was all in my mind.

As I came out of sedation I began to realise how wonderful the doctors and nurses on ITU were. One nurse, whose name I sadly can’t remember, would put on a Lionel Richie CD when she was washing me and shaving me. She’d sing along and it made me so happy. All the nurses and doctors were fantastic with me (and I have since learned how good they were with Anne and the family.)

In my final week on ITU I started to receive some physiotherapy. During one of the surgeries, or because of the condition, I suffered a Deep Vein Thrombosis. This left my right leg paralysed. (I’ve learned since that there was a possibility that the right leg would be amputated but thankfully this didn’t have to happen.)

On 27th September (our 30th wedding anniversary) I left ITU and went to the Vascular surgery ward. I remained there for a month. The nurses and health care assistants were brilliant. Some of the nurses could have been my daughters they were that young. They gave me healthcare of course but also were there for me during the dark days when I almost felt as if I had had enough.

The vascular surgeons themselves were very good. I was seen every day. One in particular had a great attitude. He’d sit on a chair next to me and chat things through. Long gone are the days of Sir Lancelot Spratt in the “Dr in the house” films.

And the ward orderlies who brought meals became great friends.

The physiotherapists though are the ones who have since made the biggest difference. Every day I was taken for exercises. They quite literally got me back on my feet and gave me the self-belief that I would get some mobility back in time.

After a month there, a bed was found for me in the rehabilitation unit at Chippenham hospital. Cedar ward is mainly used to dealing with elderly people (often stroke victims) I was regarded I think as a bit unusual. Again, nursing and healthcare assistants were wonderful. (One healthcare assistant “John” loved rugby and we had long chats.) And the physios and occupational therapists made such a difference.

Finally, in the last week of November I came home. (Home to find that a wheelchair ramp had been installed courtesy of NHS and social services.)

I write all this to show that our NHS is a wonderful thing. It is not perfect. But we must fight for it. If we value it why don’t we let politicians know? Why don’t we say we would pay more taxes if we knew it was going to the NHS? Why don’t we tell our politicians we don’t want the NHS sold off bit by bit to Richard Branson’s Virgin Healthcare?

My paternal grandfather was called Fred Gray. Fred served on the board of a charity called Tredegar Mutual Aid. It was set up so that coal miners and their families in Tredegar in South Wales could have medical care. Everyone contributed to the fund and got healthcare consequently. (It’s not a unique scheme. The Great Western Railway works in Swindon for example had something similar.) But why I mention Tredegar Mutual Aid is that a fellow board member alongside my grandfather was the Tredegar MP Aneurin Bevan – the man credited with founding the NHS.

You could say that the NHS is in my DNA courtesy of my grandfather’s association with Nye Bevan.

Bevan said, “The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with faith to fight for it.”

Fight for it I will! I owe my life to it.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

How did I get here?

One of the thoughts I get from time to time given my condition is “How did this happen?” Or “How did I come to be in a wheelchair?” After all, on 2nd September Anne and I had our day planned out. We were going to go to look for some patio furniture in the end of season sale and then drive up though the Cotswolds stopping for lunch, to attend a wedding reception in Stratford upon Avon.

We did get to look for the patio furniture (the store we went to didn’t have any as it happens.) Then next I knew I’d collapsed, I was rushed into hospital only to wake up 3 weeks later with a right leg that was immobile. But I was alive. (From what I’ve learned since, I am fortunate to be alive as the condition that made me collapse – Abdominal Aortic Aneurism; “Triple A” – is extremely serious and survival rate is very low. In fact, every doctor I’ve seen since says at some point “You do know you’re lucky to be alive?” Yes, I do and I am grateful.)

Maybe sometime I will blog about how I processed all I went through. I don’t think I’m ready to do that yet, though I feel it might be good to do so. For now, let’s just say I am OK with what has happened but I do ask myself “How have I ended up like this?” “How did I get here?”

Medically, I have ended up like this (with limited function in my right leg) as I have Femoral Nerve Neuropathy. (Put simply the blood supply to my nerves was interrupted and they ceased working. But gradually they are starting to function again.) So, I know why but how?

There’s no answer. It was one of those things. There was no warning of me having a Triple A. I felt fine. It just happened.

And I’m pleased that is my attitude. There is no one to blame. I’m not angry at God. I don’t believe He allowed this to happen as some sort of test of my faith. I just had a leaky aorta. (In another life, I might just have to form a punk band called “Leaky Aorta”!)

It’s no point getting maudlin and saying, “Why me?” OK, I do have some days when I feel down. But I am alive! Spring is here. The birds are singing. And I have things to look forward to.

Now some of the things I am looking forward to will seem odd to you but they’re not for me so bear with me.

We have a holiday booked for the middle of May. (To a cottage in the New Forest adapted for people with disabilities.)

We have a new car coming (next week all being well.) A Honda C-RV. This will have some adaptations made for me.

So far so good. Now it gets weird.

I am getting a walking frame from my physiotherapist. (She saw me on Monday and felt I had made such good progress that it would be good to try a frame. At best only for small steps but steps nonetheless.)

I am getting a mobility scooter.

Yes, the kind I’ve always moaned about when driven by some old biddy in town. Or some old git trundling along the road at 4 miles an hour with no idea of the tailback behind him. Yes folks. I’m about to join that club.

Seriously though I am excited about the scooter. It means that when we go out Anne doesn’t have to push me in my wheelchair. It means I can have some independence. I can go out for a ride around the area we live in. I can get to Sainsbury’s. I can do some shopping which will mean I am taking some of the load off Anne’s back.

More than that, the new car will have a hoist fitted in the boot so the scooter can be lifted in and out. The new car will also be adapted so that I can drive it with my left foot.

How did I get here? Via my Sterling Sapphire Mobility Scooter of course!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

New Shoes

A highlight when I was a child was getting some new shoes. I only got new shoes when I had outgrown my previous pair or had worn them out. I tended not to wear shoes out so getting a new pair was a treat. Though on one occasion when staying with my grandparents, my grandfather noticed I had worn through the soles of my shoes. I thought this would mean a new pair of shoes. Oh no. Grandpa went to Woolworths and bought some rubber stick on soles and some glue. He “repaired” the shoes – though they dried in such a way that the soles curled up meaning the shoes were unwearable. I had to have new shoes after all. Result!

At that time I probably had a couple of pairs of shoes to my name. Black school shoes (also worn to chapel on Sunday and for playing in brass band concerts) and plimsolls (“daps”)

As I grew older into my teens I acquired rugby boots, trainers and some casual shoes. But even then, I probably had no more than 4 or 5 pairs of shoes including the rugby boots.

Times change and I now have quite a few pairs of shoes. There are 2 pairs of Loake brogues (one black, one oxblood); another pair of black shoes I use when I am taking a burial (so as not to get mud on the Loakes!); 2 pairs of walking boots (one leather, one Gore-Tex fabric); a pair of brown deck shoes for smart casual; and two pairs of golf shoes (I only need one pair but I turned up to play golf on one occasion and had forgotten my shoes and had to buy another pair!) There are others too but these are the ones that spring to mind.

However, since my illness last autumn these shoes have remained under the bed unworn. My disability means I have to wear a lower leg brace and the footplate of this device won’t fit into my normal shoes. Consequently, for the best part of 4 months I have been wearing some canvas shoes that are really glorified daps with a Velcro fastening. £10 from Asda. The height of fashion but they do the job.

Just after Christmas we did buy a pair of Clarks slip on shoes that I could get the footplate of the brace into. Unfortunately they rubbed my ankle and I got a blister which became infected. (Thankfully healing now thanks to the wonderful nurses at our GP surgery.)

The Clarks have been consigned to under the bed (at least for now.) But I needed some smarter shoes. (As a cousin of mine said when he visited me in hospital and found me wearing my daps, track suit bottoms and a sweat shirt “Blimey Dave, you like something out of ‘Shameless!’ “) On the advice of one of the nurses Anne had a look at the web site of a company called Cosy Feet. They specialise in shoes with wide fittings.

I shuddered at some of the shoes. Think of the shoes your grandad would wear. But there was one pair that looked OK. Like deck shoes but with a Velcro fastening. We ordered a pair and they turned up on the weekend. They are great! I’ve got new shoes!

I could relate to Scottish singer Paulo Nutini’s song “New shoes”

Hey, I put some new shoes on
And suddenly everything is right
I said, hey, I put some new shoes on, and everybody's smiling
It's so inviting
Oh, short on money
But long on time
Slowly strolling in the sweet sunshine
And I'm running late
And I don't need an excuse
'Cause I'm wearing my brand-new shoes

Simple things.

Several years ago, the charity Christian Aid ran a fundraiser for Lent. It was called “Count your blessings”. The idea was that for every day of Lent people in this country would compare their lives to those of someone in the third world. For example, “Most people in Africa only have one meal a day. Give 10p for every meal you have had today.” I vaguely remember that one of these was about shoes and I know it cost me a lot of money!

But now I feel blessed to have shoes on my feet. I feel blessed that the medical care I have received, and continue to receive, means I have a leg brace on my leg.

Hey, I put some new shoes on
And suddenly everything is right

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Thanks for the memories

An ice breaker game loved of management training days often included getting those on the course to say something about themselves that others mightn’t believe. It always seemed to me that everyone else on the courses I attended had jumped out of planes or climbed Mount Everest. Some of these could have been exaggerations of course. But being a truthful sort of chap the one I gave was “I once appeared on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall with a band.” Or “A band I played in gave a televised concert broadcast on TV.”

I can assure you dear reader these are both true. But perhaps you are wondering how this could be? The assumption on the course was that the band I was in must have been some kind of pop or rock band. Whereas the band in question was a brass band – the Crosskeys Junior Band.

We appeared at the Royal Albert Hall having got through to the finals of the Schools Proms. (November 1981 if memory serves me correctly.) Then in July 1982 we were asked to take part in a series of brass band concerts to be recorded by Yorkshire Television. Both were exciting, but it is the Yorkshire TV concert that has stayed in the memory.

The band (of around 30 – mainly teenagers) was put up in a 4-star hotel for two nights. The concert was recorded in the St George’s Hall Bradford. I think the programme was an hour long. Allowing for adverts and the compere’s links we played for around 45 minutes. I do remember though that we were on stage for close on 2 hours as there were some retakes as the director wanted a better angle or wasn’t happy with the lighting or some other excuse.

What has brought this to mind is that the compere of the concert was Peter Skellern. And you may have heard that Peter Skellern recently died aged 69.

Skellern had a brief pop career in the 1970s. He reached number 3 in the charts with “You’re a lady” in 1972. This song featured Grimethorpe Colliery Band. And Skellern’s other minor hits all featured brass band music. And his clear love of brass bands led Yorkshire TV to invite him to host the series of concerts.

The internet will tell you what he did over the years. He performed in shows with Richard Stillgoe featuring trademark witty songs. (I saw one of these shows in London in 1986.) He wrote music for films and TV. He wrote choral music.

A few months ago, Peter Skellern came to mind and I Googled him. I was saddened to hear that he had a brain tumour but I was interested to read that he been ordained as a priest in the Church of England in October 2016.

I thought about writing to Peter Skellern but didn’t get around to it. By way of this blog I’d like to thank him for his part in creating a very happy memory. God bless you Peter Skellern. May you rest in peace and rise in glory.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

They laughed when I sat down at the piano ....

One thing I’m trying to do whilst off sick, especially as it gets the brain going, is to learn the piano.

This will be my fourth attempt at learning the piano.

I had probably a year's worth of lessons when I was 6 or 7. I was making some progress – despite not wanting to practise. But then my piano teacher decided he would pass his younger pupils on to one of his older pupils. For some reason, I didn’t like the new teacher and eventually I was allowed to give up. My year paid off though as I could read music which gave me a head start when I joined the local brass band. I played brass instruments for next 10 or so years.

As I grew older I regretted not having carried on with the piano. So much so that when in my late 30s I was left a sum of money by an elderly aunt, I bought a piano and started some lessons. I had to start completely from scratch – although being able to read music helped (even if I had to think about the bass clef.) These were going well and I felt I was making progress. But then work intervened. I was working away from home for a month and had to miss some lessons and then got a promotion to head office which meant we moved.

After a space of a couple of years, I decided to try once more. I found a teacher and we go on well. Again, I felt as if I was making some progress. But this time my teacher had to stop as she had a baby. By the time she was back taking pupils I had received my call to ministry and was up to my eyes with theological studies.

Now, after a gap of perhaps 15 years I am starting once more. Again, I am having to start from scratch. This time though, I like my teacher, I don’t intend to have to move with work and it is highly unlikely my teacher will become pregnant given she is a lady of a certain age shall we say! I should have no excuses.

I am enjoying the challenge and it is a challenge. There is the challenge of the learning the piano anyway. And added to this is the challenge of low concentration levels. Unlike before I am not watching the clock when I sit down to practise. I carry on as a long as I want to. However, I find that after 20 minutes or so my concentration goes. I start to make mistakes and it is time to stop. I am sure though that learning the piano in this way will help my sluggish brain.

My dad (who is a good pianist and church organist) asked me recently how things were going with the piano. "They’re going OK" I said. "What about the left hand?" "Not too bad – the only trouble is when I combine it with the right hand!"

All the right notes. Not necessarily in the right order.