Vespers and Liturgy of Holy Saturday


Time: 2:45 Total: 4:50 Grand total: 14:15
Congregation: At least 90 because I heard Fr T count me as ’70’ at the blessing and there were twenty or more people behind me.
Crew: Altar: Fr T, both hypodiakons and two adult acolytes. We’d have liked to have the really clever boy acolyte but he’s in Ukraine at the moment celebrating Easter with family. He and his sister weren’t available to read some of the Old Testament readings either. Choir: SSSSAATB (with Intermittent Bass and Auxiliary Tenor). Another soprano, who hadn’t been to any practice, turned up halfway through the service, and Choirmistress asked me “is that S? she shouldn’t sing!” and sent her away.

Some ragged edges (Choirmistress gave a wrong cue when reading Exodus, so we got the end of the glorification wrong; I mixed up some animals in Psalm 103 but all translations have different animals anyway so it would hardly have mattered if I hadn’t called both deer and hares “hares”; one choir member sang a joyful phrase when everybody else was silent) but a wonderful service in all. Every time I’m in this service it seems to be more about the Resurrection: surely it’s Easter already!

Matins and First Hour of Holy Saturday


Time: 2:05 Grand total: 11:30
Congregation: looked as if there was hardly anybody at the beginning but we ended up at 10 or so, not counting the very populous choir.
Crew: Altar (though mostly behind and around the epitaph): Fr T and an adult acolyte. Choir: SSSSAAATB.

Rambling at times, mostly because we hadn’t practiced with everyone together so the other alto who is entitled to sing the troparia of the Lamentations (only old hands who can reliably carry a tune get to do that) and I weren’t on the same page all the time. Mistakes were made: I forgot to read the Ikos, Choirmistress gave very unfeasible notes a couple of times, Fr T skipped the troparion in the second tone at the end (but we clamored for it and got to sing it). I should have read that troparion in the First Hour instead of The Noble Joseph, come to think of it. Next year we should just have the hour in the book, troparion and kontakion and all.

We didn’t have anyone to carry the cross in the procession, only the one acolyte with the lantern, so the cross wasn’t carried. No problem — less chance to accidentally put it back among the flowers awry.


Vespers of Good Friday


Time: 1:05 Total: 5:30 Grand total: 9:25
Congregation: 40? Didn’t really count, this is a very rough estimate.
Crew: Altar: Fr T, a hypodiakon, two adult acolytes (one was late and put on a sticharion that was much too short for him but couldn’t change that in time). Choir: SSSSAAAB, sorely missed a tenor but two of the altos can sing some tenor parts and both of them did so occasionally.

Strangely this Good Friday had no conflict at all. Usually I get into some altercation because everybody’s tempers are frayed from fasting. It might have helped that I made a point of drinking a glass of water every time I happened to be in my own kitchen: made the difference between staying in one piece and falling apart.

Royal Hours and Typika of Good Friday


Time: 1:50 Total: 4:25 Grand total: 8:20
Congregation: starting out 2, growing to 5
Crew: Fr T outside the altar with a hypodiakon to handle the candlestick and the censer, Choirmistress and I in the choir so we alternated hours and I got the Typika.

This is such a wonderful understated service. I used to go with an attitude of “ah well, while I’m at it” but I love it more every year. Hearing all the Passion Gospels in full (well, except Luke who gets only the part the other ones don’t have) helps too. And psalms that don’t usually come up unless we read arbitrary psalms when Fr T is hearing confessions.

All day I’ve had a spate of being extremely practical in little things — a small blessing which I’m grateful for! For one thing, I tied the plastic thingy that supports the overflow of pages when the choir book is thicker than the lectern is wide to the base of the lectern with a length of sturdy but almost-invisible thread, so we don’t have to search for it when someone (likely to be me as I’m the usual Turner of Pages) unwisely turns a page without heeding the bleeping thing and it falls to the floor again.

Of church-cleaning, I didn’t do anything except take all the things that had accumulated inside the choir lectern out, wipe it, sort the stuff and put the useful stuff back again. Also sharpened the pencil and provided a bottle of white-out, because I found several spare bottles of white-out in my desk while searching for labels. I felt sort of called to polish copper and brass but a couple of minutes in the cellar to ask someone a question and stick the “Don’t switch off this machine!” note [1] on the dehumidifier gave me such a headache and sore throat that I went shopping instead. Many people can polish brass, but not many people can read verses and I happen to be one of the latter.

[1] Also with a table of “if the humidity is below 45, tell Irina; if 45-59, setting should be Low; 60-70 Medium; over 70, High” because someone switched off the machine because they thought it had done its work –after all the humidity was 55 or so, down from 80 when we bought the machine– and it was back in the 70s when I noticed a couple of days later.

Yesterday I mentioned to a choirmate that the little notepad and the pencil are in the lectern in case someone thinks of something they’d otherwise either forget or would need to keep in their head during the rest of the service, and she was all “oh!” because she’d been annoyed with me writing things down, but she absolutely gets into the same situation quite often.


Matins of Good Friday


Time: 2:35 Grand total: 6:25
Congregation: 3-6, some staying all the time, others coming in later or leaving earlier or, in one case, both.
Crew: Clergy (outside the altar): Fr T and an adult acolyte who was instructed by the hypodiakon (who wasn’t serving and left early to nurse his vestigial bronchitis) how to ring the bell. He did fairly well, learning how to strike it softly in the course of the service but as he got tired struck it too loudly again. Choir: SSAT and for about half the service another T.

The service started very smoothly and felt very quick, but eventually it was only five minutes shorter than last year, probably because there were fewer people to venerate the Cross.

We actually started the sedalion in the fourth tone right! Probably because I remembered to virtually strike out the ordinary Amen and point to the special fits-with-it Amen. It’s a very hard piece so it was still a bit ragged, but definitely better than last year.

All of us had forgotten to get the cross from its usual place (the corner where the dead are commemorated) so when we saw “Carrying out of the cross” in the book there was a brief flurry of excitement, resulting in Auxiliary Tenor getting the cross to Fr T so he could carry it into the altar in order to properly carry it out.

It’s a good thing that the Gospel readings get shorter and shorter: the first one is four and a half chapters of John, easily twenty minutes, and the last only four verses of Matthew. This service is exhausting enough as it is.


Vespers and Liturgy of Holy Thursday


Time: 2:10 Total: 3:50
Congregation: about 5, coming and going.
Crew: Altar: Fr T, one hypodiakon and one adult acolyte. Choir: SSSAAT (Regular but Still Somewhat Trainee Tenor was holding his own very well)

Nice no-nonsense service. Afterwards, over coffee and cinnamon bread and a glass of wine, a very good conversation between Fr T and a choirmate (who is a physicist) and me about, well, the world. The sciences. The fact that some people are ignorant enough to disbelieve that a person can be a scientist and a Christian (which is not the same as a Christian Scientist!) And that both the creation story and the Big Bang are in fact models for the same thing: the beginning of the word. The same thing can be described accurately by more than one model, though models are of necessity not a complete description.

Then Choirmistress and I turned the church black — it won’t be white again until Saturday morning, and all the ordinary non-Easter white cloths can now go in the wash — and put the holder for the cross in place and filled it with flower-arranging foam. While we were doing that, a man and a woman looked in with interested faces so I said “you can come in!” and they did. We talked a bit, explained the Orthodox cross, showed off our icons of St Lebuinus, and then it transpired that they were killing time while the man’s wife/the woman’s mother was in surgery. “You can light a candle if you want!” we said, “we’ll snuff it when we leave but light it again tonight when the service starts.” And they wanted! Unfortunately we forgot to ask for the woman’s name so we could pray for her, but the church has the convenient “Thy handmaiden, whose name Thou knowest” for that.


Matins and First Hour of Holy Thursday


Time: 1:40
Congregation: 1 man and 1 woman. But they did stay the for the whole service
Crew: Altar: Fr T and 1 adult acolyte. Choir: SSSAATB! Both T and B were the non-regulars, who happen to have more experience than the regulars.

We turned the church white before the service (in the early afternoon in fact) because Choirmistress and Fr T had talked about it and decided that it’s Matins of Thursday, so it’s Thursday, so the church ought to be white already. And it did make a difference!

Wonderful singing, too. Very good start of Holy Week, at least for the choir: Fr T did Holy Unction on Monday but none of us were there for historical (it used to be a tacked-on thing that the other priest, who now belongs to a different diocese, did, and when he left some people in the congregation were so used to it that Fr T does it now but the choir wants no part of it) and emotional (as I said, the choir wants no part of it) reasons.

In the afternoon, after turning the church white and having a spare key for the bulletin-board case cut but long before the service, I was cycling to the Turkish butcher to order a leg of lamb for Sunday and suddenly something in my brain snapped me into Holy Week mode, where the world may be there but it doesn’t matter, only the great cosmic drama matters. The little things are still there, like having the key cut and ordering the leg of lamb (and those little things are somehow more important than the greater outside world), but they don’t matter in that way.

Writer’s brain


I put on a coat I hadn’t worn for some time and found a folded piece of paper in the pocket: an old church bulletin. This told me when and where I’d last worn it, of course. But suppose that it had been a Clue!

I used to play detective a lot when I was a kid, that’s probably where I got the habit, but it’s useful plotting practice too. In one of the “how to be a detective” books I read at the time there was a whole chapter about figuring out facts about a person from papers and tickets in their pockets, wallet, et cetera. (I recently found a metro ticket from Paris in the middle of a book, suggesting I was reading it in Paris and stopped halfway through because it wasn’t gripping enough, and indeed I didn’t even remember the part before the bookmark. But on the other hand, I tend to keep tickets around to use as bookmarks so they often get recycled.)

So here we have a church bulletin from the Thisdenomination church in Seasidetown in the pocket of a woman’s coat. (Let’s call her Subject to avoid saying “the woman” all the time.) We probably know a couple of things about Subject already, for instance that she lives too far from Seasidetown for this to be her regular church, and that when she does go to church it’s one of a different denomination. So we can conclude that she was on holiday at the time and went to the local church, right?

Not unconditionally. If there’s anything written on the paper, for instance an email address or a phone number, Subject might have got it from the person who wanted to give it to her and didn’t have another piece of paper handy. That person could be from Seasidetown, or close enough to be in the habit of going to church there. Or they could even have been on holiday, gone to church, and slipped the bulletin in their pocket. We could track the person by the phone number or the email address and find out what their relationship to Subject is. Heck, we could track the person by their fingerprints if the paper holds them long enough while folded up in a coat pocket. If there are three sets of fingerprints, Subject’s and two others’, it’s likely that the first set belongs to the person who handed the paper to a churchgoer (the second set) and the churchgoer gave the paper to Subject.

If there’s nothing on the paper except what’s normally on a church bulletin, we’re back at our first assumption that Subject went to the Thisdenomination church in Seasidetown on that date herself. For a nice plot twist, let her have picked up the bulletin in a train and used it as a bookmark until she finished the book, still on the train, and put the paper in her pocket instead of leaving it at the back of the book.

Writer’s Brain’s companion condition, Writer’s Ear, is even more entertaining. In the swimming pool last Wednesday there were two pairs of swimmers going at more or less the same speed as me, one pair talking about work in a pharmacy and the other about travelling in Eastern Europe. Both equally interesting! I do have two ears but only one brain…

(And this morning I failed to go swimming because I was down an internet rabbit hole researching medieval waterworks and sanitation. GM’s brain rather than writer’s brain, but it comes down to the same thing.)

The dream engine knows my alignment


There was a spiffy new ticket machine at the railway station: black, chest-high, with a large slanted touchscreen like an ATM. It showed not only my ticket information (as in “you have 2 free old-lady travel days”) but also my alignment and spells.

I don’t remember what my alignment was, though I assume it was neutral good as usual — I come out neutral good on all alignment tests, though I call myself a chaotic-good cook on Mastodon.

I seemed to have three spells, but it didn’t say what the spells did, only what they were called. Too little information to determine if they were actually useful. I got home at some point and managed to access the admin interface from my laptop, and though it did have links to spell descriptions I was already at the “body asleep but brain awake” stage so I couldn’t investigate further. Bummer.

The lying-awake engine hands me a story


It wasn’t the dream engine because I was wide awake from 2:xx until at least 4:56 (I remember the succession of numbers) thinking this up. Much better than lying awake worrying.

Did I need a story? I feel I need to finish one of the things I’ve got lying around first before I can even think of starting a new one. The chance that I’ll actually write this is vanishingly small so I’m throwing it to the world so (a) I won’t forget it and (b) anyone who wants it can pick it up and use it. Please tell me if you do! I’d love to see it. And even if I do end up writing it they’ll be different anyway.

These are my thinking notes, without much effort to clean it up for clarity or consistency. I seem to have only a setting and a cast for now, no plot (but that’s usual for stories I think up). I’d hate to spoil the setting by having a destructive plot like many another story set in an idyllic village, and I don’t want a romance for the protagonist because she doesn’t want one, either.

Setting: a remote village somewhere in Europe but probably in England, though it might have been Ireland or Wales. One of the reasons I’m not going to write this is that I don’t want to have to deal with Brexit, and I don’t know enough about rural Ireland or indeed rural anything to be able to pull this off. I’d much rather write in a setting I know either because I live or have lived in it, or because I’ve invented it. I thought at first it was going to be a realistic story and that “time stood still in [village name]” — oh, how I wish I knew [village name], I think I never knew it rather than forgetting it — was a metaphor, but it turned out that the village was caught in some kind of time-warp so that it had a village shop, pleasant pub, small school, friendly policeman, people who actually worked there instead of commuting to [nearest big city], et cetera. Sort of like the optimal microclimate in Tadfield in Good Omens.

It started out as “one of those villages where you can’t get without a car” but I resented the protagonist getting everywhere by car so I first gave her a bicycle and then invented a bus with a stop just outside the time-warp limits. Also, the cottage might include a shed with a dilapidated pedal go-kart in it, like the one I used to go to the supermarket on with my daughters on one island holiday when they were small (one daughter at a time, it was a two-person go-kart).

The protagonist: Jane Colby, possibly called Janet before she moved to the village and started calling herself by a more old-fashioned name. Though Janet is already an old-fashioned name! Her mother was a hippy who brought her up on her own until she died in Jane’s late teens, leaving her “with nothing at all except some awkward memories”. Jane is working in an uninteresting (insurance?) office job with few prospects, too much inertia to search for another job, when she gets a message from a [insert country-of-setting relevant law title here] telling her that her father died, who she’s seen literally never, and left her not only his weekend getaway in a remote village but also a decent-sized and well-invested fortune. First intimation of the time-warp is that the [law person] and his office are “like something out of a Lord Peter Wimsey novel, I was tempted to call him Mr Murbles”.

She goes to investigate Rose Cottage and finds it wonderful on the outside but horrible on the inside, “it needs unrenovating”. The only things she does want to keep are mod cons like bathroom/toilet and kitchen fixings. She’s seen a sign “T. Abbott, carpentry and renovations” on her way from the bus stop (or perhaps her friend drives her; I insist that Jane herself doesn’t drive) so she knows who to ask.

Just about the only thing Jane’s inherited from her hippy mother, though she won’t admit to it being a legacy, is that she’s interested in herbs and making her own soap and other natural cosmetics.

Other people:

Tom Abbott: sixtyish carpenter, married to Mary. He has a halo of white hair that stands out from his otherwise bald pate when he’s working hard or excited and defies any effort to pat it down.

Mary Abbott: (retired?) village schoolmistress. She’ll probably want to teach Stephen so he can stay as Tom’s apprentice instead of going back to school, where he’s very much out of place, at the end of the summer holidays. Tom and Mary may have grown-up children, or they wanted to have some and sadly never could.

Lucie: Jane’s best friend “since forever”, petite, French-looking and possibly partly French. Single because she can’t choose (Jane is single for lack of interest; this is a story with an ace protagonist, perhaps I should write it after all). Jane and Lucie have dinner together on the first Wednesday of every month and will keep it up even after Jane moves. Perhaps Lucie drives Jane to the village the first time she goes to look at the cottage. Engineer of the tiny ISP she runs together with Bill.

Bill: business talent of the ISP, “devastatingly beautiful”, “the most monogamous man in the universe”, married (now that they can) to secondary school teacher David. Both of them are friends of Lucie and Jane, and they occasionally all have dinner together, though not on the first Wednesday of the month because that’s reserved for just the two women. They’ve adopted Stephen and Claire from Haiti or some place like that with a lot of orphans (this is probably a reflection of a real-world gay couple I know who adopted two black kids from the US).

Grace: part-time secretary of the ISP, “now with the twins she’s going to be a full-time parent for a couple of years, you [Jane] can have her job if you want” but Jane doesn’t want, she has the income from the decent-sized fortune to live on and is going to do witching in Rose Cottage. Grace is probably from Jamaica or some such place.

Stephen: thirteen, autistic and dyslexic, very unhappy in school. Bill says “I’ll send you Stephen, he’s got it into his head that he wants to be a carpenter”, and when Stephen appears “from the bus stop, with a rucksack on his back and a toolbox in his hand” Tom takes him under his wings immediately, “when I was a lad like you I got prenticed to old [whoever], you can be my prentice while you’re here”. Image of black head and white head close together, Tom and Stephen talking about the work mostly with their hands, not many words needed. (Sudden worry now I write this that it confirms the stereotype that only boys are ever autistic, though Stephen is not a white boy at least.)

What plot there is: The time warp is centered on Rose Cottage. The cottage needs a witch to come into its own. Jane moves to the village permanently, after all she has little to lose in [city] (which I don’t want to be London, but possibly Manchester), and grows into that role.

What the plot needs: Conflict. Or at least something to happen rather than just exist.