Monday, 30 December 2019

A Trip to The Orkney Islands

The Orkney Islands is an archipelago off the northernmost coast of Scotland. We took a 40 minute ferry ride from John O'Groats across the Pentland Firth to get there.
I lived in the lowlands of Scotland as a child and the nearest I'd ever been to The Orkney Islands was when I went to the Edinburgh Tattoo with my parents and I was too young to remember that. I had a strong desire to visit the Orkney Islands and had to convince my husband who wasn't enamored about going to some remote area that experiences gale force winds and bleak weather for most of the year. (The Orkney Islands in latitude are only about 50 miles south of Greenland.) However, we went; the weather was better than expected - some wind and rain, but nothing exceptional and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
I was surprised to discover that there was no Gaelic influence here - no clan system or tartans. The predominant influence historically were the Vikings or Norse from Norway, who were only about a day's sailing trip away. They settled on Orkney in the late 700's displacing the Picts, and their influence is all over the place.

The Churchill Barriers - in 1939 a German submarine sank a British ship in the Scapa Flow. Winston Churchill, at that time the First Lord of the Admiralty, ordered a series of four causeways or barriers to be built to block the channels between the islands. These barriers were topped by roads which enabled better access to local communities for the Orkney residents.

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

This was one of highlights of the Orkney Islands for me. I felt like I'd stepped back into the world of Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter - it's such an atmospheric place that you really do feel like you're stepping back in time to medieval Norway.

A modern wooden statue of St Olaf that I think is a replica of the one found in the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway. The Nidaros Cathedral was built over the remains of King Olav II, the patron saint of Norway. More information here.

The Cathedral here was named after Saint Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney, also known as Magnus the Martyr. There's some history here.



The Standing Stones of Stenness - Neolithic monuments

Skara Brae, a 5,000 year old Neolithic village, was uncovered by a storm that swept the area in 1850.

Sunset as we head back to John O'Groats

Friday, 20 December 2019

A Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest by J.A. Myhre

A Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest is the story of Mu, a ten year old African boy, who has lived with his uncle after being orphaned as an infant. It is the tale of his search for identity, a search not of his own making, but one that was initiated by a very unlikely guide: a talking chameleon.
With echoes of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, a modern Pilgrim’s Progress, and Hinds Feet on High Places, Mu’s quest takes him on a journey into the unknown that is fraught with danger.
He encounters enemies in the form of his own insecurities and fears; men who know his true identity and want to keep that knowledge from him; a band of rebel soldiers who enlist him as a child soldier, and the shame that comes from his own act of betrayal.

'He had come to the moment of truth about himself, and the truth was not beautiful. But in the very act of committing the worst deed of his life, he also saw something deeper than that truth about his own soul. He saw forgiveness, forgiveness freely given when he least deserved it.'

A Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest is a well-written book that has a very real sense of place. The author has captured the feel of Africa through the descriptions of the land and the characters. It’s a modern Africa that presents some of that country’s problems in an appropriate manner for children around about age ten and upwards.
The author handled the aspect of Mu's inner world very well. Mu didn’t know his true identity and measured his worth by the way he was treated. It would make an excellent family read aloud and I think it could generate some good discussions and help to address some of these issues that children sometimes struggle with.

'Again Mu thought of his cousins and home - though objectively he had not been treated as a son, it was the only home he had known. He had, over the years, come to believe that his state of affairs was the only one possible for him, that there was some inherent defect in his person that determined his lot as a servant, scapegoat, last in line, not-quite-member of the large household.'

This book is the first in the Rwendigo series of four books. My 14 year old daughter has read the first two books and enjoyed them so I think there’s a wide age range appeal especially for anyone who enjoys adventure with a bit of fantasy/allegory. The African setting is unique and adds another dimension to the story.

Many thanks to New Growth Press for providing me a free copy of this book for review.

#3 A Christian Allegory - see 2019 Christian Greats Challenge

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Bookish Catch-up

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (1860)

The Mill on the Floss is the story of the imaginative, temperamental Maggie Tulliver and her practical and unsympathetic brother, Tom. Their father muddles through life, honest but also ignorant and belligerent. His poor judgement leads to destitution and great emotional pain for his wife and children.

‘Certain seeds which are required to find a nidus for themselves under unfavorable circumstances have been supplied by nature with an apparatus of hooks, so that they will get a hold on very unreceptive surfaces. The spiritual seed which had been scattered over Mr. Tulliver had apparently been destitute of any corresponding provision, and had slipped off to the winds again, from a total absence of hooks.’

‘Mrs. Tulliver was what is called a good-tempered person - never cried, when she was a baby, on any slighter ground than hunger and pins; and from the cradle upward had been healthy, fair, plump, and dull-witted; in short, the flower of her family for beauty and amiability. But milk and mildness are not the best things for keeping, and when they turn only a little sour, they may disagree with young stomachs seriously.’

I really appreciated Eliot’s evocative descriptions of the joys and pains of childhood, her detailed descriptions, and the deep Christian themes she wove into this story. Considering that the author rejected Christianity as a young woman, her writing suggests that some of the seeds that were sown when she was younger still clung to the hooks and she never quite got rid of them.
A tragic story with a tragic end.

The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge (1960)

The Dean’s Watch is beautifully written and incorporates themes of service, sacrificial love and redemption in an interesting and poignant story.
The Dean is a misunderstood man. He is thought to be proud and unapproachable but in reality he is extremely shy. He is married to a beautiful woman who is selfish and distant. He loves her dearly but his love is not reciprocated.
When he encounters Isaac the watchmaker, a crusty old fellow, the two strike up an unusual friendship which changes both of them. There are various other characters in this multilayered book. One of my favourites was the elderly Miss Montague.
At one point she was reflecting on her adolescence and thought back to the moment when she realised she’d been living in a dream world. Crippled by an accident as a youngster and neglected emotionally by her parents who were vaguely ashamed at having produced so unattractive a child, she knew back then that she would never marry and being a gentlewoman, a career was not open to her. What should she do?

'She never knew what put it into her head that she, unloved, should love. Religion for her parents, and therefore for their children, was not much more than a formality and it had not occurred to her to pray about her problem, and yet from somewhere this idea came as though in answer to her question...Could mere living be a life’s work? Could it be a career like marriage or nursing the sick or going on the stage?...So she took a vow to love.'

This is a lovely book and my 14 year old daughter really enjoyed it too.

No Highway by Nevil Shute (1948)

Mr Honey, an overlooked but brilliant scientist, is working on fatigue in aircraft structures. The story is narrated by Dr Scott, Honey’s new boss. Scott initially judges the man by his ugly, dishevelled appearance, eccentric behaviour and bizarre interests, but finds that there’s much more to him than meets the eye.
Honey has a theory that the tail of the plane he’s been testing will crack from fatigue after a certain number of flying hours but he hasn’t proved anything yet. However, on a work flight over the Atlantic he discovers that the plane he is on is the same Reindeer model that he is performing his tests on. He is interested but not alarmed until he discovers that somehow the plane has been allowed to fly hours over his estimate where fatigue would be likely to occur.
He raises an alarm with the crew but they basically think he’s crazy so when the flight makes a short stopover he uses the opportunity to put a spanner in the works, so to speak.

As usual, Nevil Shute takes an unlikely person, fills in all their little details, and makes them the centre of the story. Shute is probably the only writer I know who is able to incorporate technical detail (he was an engineer) and not lose the non-technical reader who prefers a character-driven plot  (e.g. moi) in the process. His characterisations are so well done and people such as the unlikeable Honey become characters we sympathise and identify with in Shute’s hands. Unlike many of his other books, this one has a rather happy ending!

A little quote I liked was when Dr Scott was asked what he thought of Mr Honey after he threw the spanner in the works (metaphorically speaking). Scott’s reply was:

“I think exactly as I did...I think that there’s a very fair chance that he’s right about the Reindeer tail. I think he has a very logical mind. The fact that his interests spread very wide doesn’t mean he’s mad. It means that he’s sane.”

Shroud for a Nightingale by P.D. James (1971)

The title of this book is a clever little play on words. James has set this story in a teaching hospital and I think she captures the atmosphere of the hospital system really well, even if it differs in detail  from a more modern setting.
The plot is cleverly convoluted with twists and turns; multiple murders occur and suspicion changes from one person to another.
As I’ve said numerous times before, P.D. James has a wonderful literary style. Her life experience obviously contributed to her knowledge of human nature but I often get the sense that the only person she has genuine regard for is her Chief Inspector Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh. Everyone else in her novels degenerate into nasty specimens of humanity and the reader doesn’t get into sympathy with any of them, although there were one or two characters in this book who had some redeeming qualities.
There's a good amount of tension with some dramatic events and the ending was completely unexpected. A good read, especially for anyone who has worked in a hospital setting.

Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers (1937)

Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane are married at last and set off to a quiet country house for their honeymoon.
The story starts off with extracts from the diary of the Dowager Duchess of Denver (aka Lord Peter Wimsey’s mother) and they are just delightful. She goes over some of the details of the development of the relationship between the two lovers and puts in her own funny little interjections.
It continues with snippets of gossip about the wedding from a variety of sources such as a letter written by Lord Peter’s nasty sister-in-law, Helen, who in writing to her friend observed:

‘Peter was as white as a sheet; I thought he was going to be sick. Probably he was realising what he had let himself in for. Nobody can say that I did not do my best to open his eyes. They were married in the old, coarse Prayer-book form, and the bride said ‘Obey’ - I take this to be their idea of humour, for she looks as obstinate as a mule.’

Unsurprisingly, Lord Peter and Harriet’s married life is inaugurated with a murder. The cosy cottage that Peter bought for Harriet and where they went to spend their honeymoon turns out to be not so cosy after all when the body of the previous owner is found in the cellar.
Busman’s Honeymoon is a combination of a detective novel and a romance and is an enjoyable conclusion to the long-running and tumultuous relationship between the two protagonists.

Harriet said: ‘I have married England.’

Wimsey said: ‘We’ve got to laugh or break our hearts in this damnable world.’

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers (1934)

This was a re-read for me but I’d read it so long ago that I’d forgotten many of the details.
Sayers wrote this novel after Strong Poison (where she introduces Harriet Vane) and Have His Carcase (where they work on solving a crime together) and it comes just before Gaudy Night which also features Vane. However, The Nine Tailors has no mention of Wimsey’s relationship with her.
I’ve really enjoyed the Wimsey & Vane novels and thought I might be disappointed going back to Wimsey on his own but I have to say, I found it quite refreshing. It gave Sayers the opportunity to delve into the personalities of the very engaging characters in this story and to concentrate her efforts on an intricate and baffling murder mystery.

The Nine Tailors
is set in the remote fen country of East Anglia. It is an original and very clever detective story centred around a church, its practice of the ancient craft of bell-ringing and a twenty-year old unsolved crime. ‘Nine Tailors' refers to the nine strokes which start the toll to announce to the villagers that a man has died.

‘The art of change ringing is peculiar to the English, and, like most English peculiarities, unintelligible to the rest of the world. To the musical Belgian, for example, it appears that the proper thing to do with a carefully tuned ring of bells is to play a tune upon it. By the English campanologist, the playing of tunes is considered to be a childish game, only fit for foreigners; the proper use of bells is to work out mathematical permutations and combinations.’

All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot (1973 & 1974)

This is the second volume of memoirs written by James Herriot and contains Let Sleeping Vets Lie and Vet in Harness.
James is now married to Helen, a farmer’s daughter, and they live in the little Yorkshire village of Darrowby. Its the 1930’s, Britain is on the verge of World War 2, and veterinary science is still in the dark ages in many respects.
I’ve loved these memoirs which started with All Creatures Great and Small where Herriot begins his practice in Yorkshire after his training in Glasgow. By the end of the first memoir, James and Helen were married and spent an unorthodox honeymoon carrying out tuberculin-testing. In this second memoir, they have settled into life as a married couple and James is in partnership with his former boss, Siegfried Farnon, in the veterinary practice in Darrowby.
The author is so good at combing humour and pathos in his writing. I’d be laughing at something hilarious in one chapter and in the next I’d be close to tears.
These memoirs are a window into a way of life that has passed and are great books to read aloud.

'There's another lamb in here,' I said. 'It's laid wrong or it would have been born with its mate this afternoon.'
Even as I spoke my fingers had righted the presentation and I drew the little creature gently out and deposited him on the grass. I hadn't expected him to be alive after his delayed entry but as he made contact with the cold ground his limbs gave a convulsive twitch and almost immediately I felt his ribs heaving under my hand.
For a moment I forgot the knife-like wind in the thrill which I always found in new life, the thrill that was always fresh, always warm.

The Yorkshire Dales, 2019

Thursday, 5 December 2019

The Moon is Always Round by Jonathon Gibson; illustrated by Joe Hox

This lovely picture book uses a natural occurrence, the phases of the moon, to illustrate the goodness of God. There are times when we can’t see the whole moon as it orbits the earth, but the moon is always round, regardless of whether we can see it in its entirety or not.
There are times in our lives when things happen to us that make us question or doubt God’s goodness, but although we may not see God’s goodness during hard times this doesn’t mean that God is not good in those times. God is always good, just like the moon is always round, even when we can’t see all of it.

Ben was about three years old when his Dad held him up to the window one evening and Ben pointed out the moon which was a crescent shape that night. His Dad explained that while the moon can appear in different shapes, it is always round.
From that little episode, his Dad developed a simple catechism for Ben which went like this:

Q. Ben, what shape is the moon tonight?

A. The moon is a crescent moon, or a half-moon, or a gibbous moon, or a full moon.

Q. What shape is the moon always?

A. The moon is always round.

Q. What does that mean?

A. God is always good.

One day Ben’s Dad told him that he was going to get a little sister. That night the moon looked like a banana, but his Dad reminded him that, ‘The moon is always round.’ Later on it looked like a slice of apple, then a shrivelled orange, and always his Dad would say, ‘The moon is always round.’ Even when Ben was told that his little sister wasn’t coming to live with them after all their waiting and Ben wanted to know why, his Dad said, ‘I don’t know, but the moon is always round.’

Ben’s little sister was stillborn at 39 weeks and his Dad’s simple liturgy opened up a way to talk to him about God’s goodness.
The author also points to the events of Good Friday as a concrete example for teaching children about God’s goodness in difficult times:

‘On Good Friday, when Jesus died on the cross, he experienced the most difficult of times. That day, the sun was blanked out and the whole world went dark - the darkest it has ever been. No stars twinkled. There was not even a sliver of the moon in the sky to give Jesus some light. And yet in the darkness, God showed the whole world that he was still good. Because in that moment, Jesus died for our sins, so that we could be forgiven. It’s why the day is called “Good Friday,” because even though Jesus died in the darkness, God was still good - just like the moon was still round, even though no one could see it.’

When I saw that this book had been released this year by New Growth Press, I approached the company and requested a review copy, which they kindly sent me.

I think there’s a real need of good books for children that address the grief and sense of loss that occurs when a baby is miscarried or stillborn. In my own experience, each child can be quite different in their reaction to loss. Some ask lots of questions while others don’t or aren’t able to articulate them.
I would have appreciated a resource like this to read to my children, the older ones and the younger ones. When you are dealing with your own pain it can be hard to initiate a conversation but I think that reading a book like this aloud would have helped me.

I appreciate the author’s use of a natural event with its certainty and regularity to reflect a spiritual reality, for addressing a difficult topic with clarity and tenderness, and for sharing his own story of loss in order to help others who are grieving.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Back to the Classics 2019: Wrap-up Post

This year I'm stopping at 10 books for this challenge which was hosted by Karen @ books & chocolate. I skipped the 'Comic Classic' and 'Classic Play.' I did read All Things Bright & Beautiful by James Herriot book aloud to my daughter which was a great laugh in places but it didn't qualify for this challenge as it was written in the 1970's.

These were my original ideas and the books below are what I ended up reading:

19th century Classic:
Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell

20th Century Classic: In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

Classic by a Woman: Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

Classic in Translation: On the Incarnation by Athanasius

Classic Tragic Novel: Requiem for a Wren by Nevil Shute

Very Long Classic: Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

Classic Novella: Chocky by John Wyndham

Classic From the Americas or Caribbean: The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Classic From Asia, Africa, or Oceania: The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

Classic From a Place You've Lived: Colour Scheme by Ngaio Marsh

I'd be hard put to try and choose a favourite but a few I'd highly recommend are The Homemaker, Requiem for a Wren, & Ruth. Followed closely by The Makioka Sisters & In This House of Brede.

The most difficult were On the Incarnation, not because of the author's style, which was lucid and inviting, but the subject matter; and Daniel Deronda, because George Eliot was a very intellectual & articulate woman and you almost need an art and history degree to get all her references.

Three books that had me in tears: The Homemaker, Requiem for a Wren, and Ruth.

New authors for me: Athanasius, Junichiro Tanizaki.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Chocky by John Wyndham (1968)

John Wyndham is known for his ‘logical fantasies’ which have been described as modified science fiction. I’ve previously read his The Day of the Triffids and enjoyed that. Chocky is quite a different story. It has a slower pace and doesn’t have much action to speak of but it has plenty of thoughtful and interesting ideas.

Matthew is an ordinary eleven year old boy whose parents begin to get concerned when he starts talking to an imaginary friend. His younger sister, Polly, when she was around the age of five, disrupted the family for some time with her invisible friend, Piff. A family outing for a meal required a mystified waitress to add an extra chair for Piff or Polly would disturb her Dad at a critical moment in a movie by calling out from her room that Piff was in desperate need of a drink of water.
The problem was that Matthew wasn’t a five year old. He was eleven and his imaginary friend, Chocky, was asking him some very complicated questions and causing him to say some startling things.
The situation came to a head when Matthew inexplicably performed a feat that was beyond him and the media got word of it. Reporters started turning up at the family home or waylaid Matthew on his way home from school. Matthew also began to draw attention to himself by the unusual art work he was producing, something he’d never shown talent for previously. His maths teacher quizzed his parents about who was the mathematician in the family who had been teaching Matthew advanced concepts. Matthew had been getting muddled with some teaching on the binary code but when his parents showed their lack of mathematical ability the teacher was perplexed and expressed his concern that this 'new-found knowledge' was confusing Matthew.

Matthew's parents decided to take Matthew to a psychiatrist. This worthy doctor's opinion (or so he made them believe) was that there was nothing to worry about and he tried to relieve their anxiety by telling them that the fantasy would break up of itself and disperse.
However, the psychiatrist had found the problem fascinating and became excited at what he discovered when he put Matthew under hypnosis (without his parent’s knowledge or consent!). The implications to him were like finding gold.

The little blurb on the front cover of my book stars that the story is ‘disturbing in an entirely unexpected way.’ 
Chocky was first published in 1968 and it has a slightly dated feel in some ways so the part I found most disturbing was the behaviour of the psychiatrist!
Matthew’s father is the narrator and he’s quite matter-of-fact so the story stays on an even keel. I really liked the author's handling of the dynamics between father and son and the interplay between the very ordinary and the bizarre in the story.
There is some suspense, more so towards the end, but there’s also some light relief in the form of family dynamics. I think if the book had been written a few decades later, or if it was made into a movie now, it could really be quite sinister.
The ending was very science fiction-ish and unbelievable but I don’t know that it could have ended any other way. Overall it was a good read with some interesting ideas to ponder.

Chocky was a book I became aware of when I visited the Armitt Museum in Ambleside a couple of months ago and looked at some of the PNEU (Parent's National Education Union) material that had been used for students in Years 9/10.

Back to the Classics 2019: Classic Novella (153 pgs)

Sunday, 24 November 2019

On the Incarnation by Athanasius (c.296-373) - A Classic in Translation

On the Incarnation was written over sixteen hundred years ago by Athanasius, a Patriarch and Saint of Alexander, Egypt. After Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC, Greek became the most common written language due to its widespread use in government, education and literature and On the Incarnation was originally written in that language.

Bishop of Alexandria for forty-five years, Athanasius opposed Arius and his followers, who denied the divinity of Christ, in the most intense debate of the 4th century. He was banished for the position he took by both Constantine the Great and his successor.

‘Athanasius stood contra mundum ("against the world") in defense of the biblical doctrine of Christ. He opposed Arius when it seemed all the world would follow Arius's heresy. Athanasius's work remains even today the definitive statement of orthodox Trinitarianism.’

Athanasius was only about twenty-one years of age when he wrote this way back in the early 300’s AD. Maybe it was his youthful exuberance that lends a freshness to the book so that it feels as if it was written recently but it's also witty, logical, and in the words of C.S. Lewis, (who wrote the introduction to the 1946 English translation of the book that is a must read!) it is ‘a masterpiece.’

My edition of the book is only just over a hundred pages long but it is a challenging read so I’ve been reading short sections at a time over the course of this year. It’s an unusual and compelling book as the author wrote simply and lucidly while still maintaining a logical and thorough approach to his subject.

Athanasius starts off with a discussion of the origin of men, the Creation and the Fall because, ‘ as our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us.’
He then goes on to speak about the Divine Dilemma where man, who was created in God’s image, was in the process of destruction, and the rescue of mankind from corruption ‘was the proper part only of Him Who made them in the beginning.’

The Incarnation, the Resurrection, and Christ’s victory over death are discussed and then Athanasius deals with the unbelief and ridicule of the Jews and the Gentiles (non-Jews) respectively. He raises instances of signs and miracles documented in the Old Testament but points out that up until Christ there were certain things that had never occurred:

‘And the Jews who saw (the miracles) themselves testified to the fact that such things had never occurred before. “Since the world began,” they said, “it has never been heard of that anyone should open the eyes of a mam born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.”’

He poses questions as if he were a lawyer speaking to a jury and then proceeds to provide answers showing the reasoning behind them. He asks why it is that the worship of the Greek gods such as Zeus and Chronos and Apollo has died out; why the wisdom of the Greeks no longer make any progress and that which used to be is disappearing, and why demons, ‘so far from continuing to impose on people by their deceits and oracle-givings and sorceries, are routed by the sign of the cross if they so much as try.’

He uses the example of a king who stays in his house and doesn’t let himself be seen. Some insubordinate fellows take advantage of this and proclaim themselves as kings, fooling the simple who, because they cannot enter the palace and see the real king, are led astray. However, when the real king emerges, the impostors are shown up for who they really are and those who had followed them now forsake them.
‘When the sun has come, darkness prevails no longer.’

The translator, who is not mentioned by name in the book, was Penelope Lawson. There are more details here.
A PDF of the book is here but it doesn't include Lewis's Introduction - you can read that here.

This book was my choice for the 2019 Christian Greats Challenge: 1)  A Book on Early Church History (up to about 500 A.D) or a book written by a key figure who lived during that time, or a biography about that person.
Back to the Classics: A Classic in Translation

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Ambleside Online Year 10: an Australian Biography - Flynn of the Inland by Ion L. Idriess (1932)

Flynn of the Inland by Ion (Jack) Idriess is a book I've used in the past for high school. I'll be using it again next year as an Australian Biography substitute in Ambleside Online Year 10.  This book reflects views on race that were acceptable for the time in which it was written but would be offensive now so I've saved it for Year 10 but it would be suitable as a read aloud for around age 13  years and up with some editing.
The book has 306 pages and contains black and white photographs and also maps in the front and back - I love a book with maps!

Ion L. Idriess (1890-1979) was Australia’s best selling author during the 1930’s to the 1950’s. A prolific and popular writer, he drew upon his diverse life experiences which included his familiarity with the Australian bush and active service during WWI  to craft his narratives. His books were so popular that they sold in the millions even during the Great Depression. Unfortunately his work is overlooked by modern critics and his contributions to Australian literature largely ignored.
Idriess was a man who obviously knew the bush and this knowledge adds authenticity to this book.
Flynn of the Inland is drama, romance, and history; a real adventure filled with wonderful characters and an unconventional protagonist who not only refused to let go of his dream but inspired others to help him make his ‘impossible’ dream a reality.

John Flynn (1880-1951) was an Australian Presbyterian minister who founded the Australian Inland Mission (somewhat of a misnomer as it included large areas around the coast) and pioneered the world's first aerial medical service (aerial ambulance) now known as the Royal Flying Doctor Service. A visionary, but also a very practical man, he pursued his dream against all odds - and the odds were indeed significant!

Idriess wrote Flynn of the Inland in order that the people of Australia could learn about the work of the Australian Inland Mission. His purpose was not to write a history of the work but to tell ‘a true story.’
There is a certain quality to his writing that allows the reader to feel an emotional attachment to the book’s characters. We travel with John Flynn on his solitary camel rides into the harsh and unforgiving outback, where he often went a fortnight without seeing a single soul.

He meets the isolated residents and hears the stories of hardship and tragedy - injuries that could have been treated easily enough with medical assistance but proved fatal from lack of earlier intervention; a young child who dies in his mother’s arms before she reaches help; women having to travel great distances to give birth.

One harrowing situation Flynn hears about is that of young Darcy who was thrown from his horse while mustering in the heart of the Kimberleys. Seriously injured, his friends harnessed up a buggy and the young man endured a dreadful ride to Hall’s Creek three hundred miles away to Mr Tuckett, the nearest person possessing some medical knowledge. But Darcy’s injuries were beyond his skill.
The nearest doctor was two hundred miles away and the patient wouldn’t have stood the drive. The only option was for Tuckett to operate under instructions via telegraph. He had no instruments or anaesthetic but it was Darcy’s only chance. Incredibly, the operation proved successful but complications set in and it became obvious that he would die unless he received specialist medical attention. Darcy’s two brothers performed an incredible feat by racing to Derby to pick up the specialist who was arriving by steamer. After over twelve days of travel the doctor arrived at Hall’s Creek only to find his patient had died the day before.

Flynn was the type of man who could befriend hardened bushmen. They were attracted to Flynn's 'muscular Christianity' and were surprised when he turned up out of nowhere to relay a message, deliver quinine to a feverish man, or conduct a christening. 

"It was a giant project, Flynn’s dream. Nothing less than to establish help, communication, and transport throughout two-thirds of a continent, two million square miles peopled by an isolated few having no political voice...His dream hinged on the cradle. First ensure that every inland woman could have her baby and her own life with it. Then educate those children, annihilate loneliness, and bring a feeling of security to the fathers, and see that all had that spiritual companionship which smooths the path of life.”

It took twelve years of travelling and planning for Flynn’s dream to take shape. His friends often exclaimed in exasperation that he was ten, twenty, fifty years before the times but he never gave up. He fired the first shot and his dream awakened the sympathetic interest of a few people in two Australian cities and then his ideas were embraced by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. His dreams began to take on flesh.

“From his very first dream right through the years Flynn fought a long flight, a dogged fight; but no one, in bush or city, ever saw him without a smile. There were times when he knew weariness of body and bitterness of heart. No one else knew."

It wasn’t only medical services that were required. A means of reliable communication also needed to be provided and the sheer technical challenges involved were enormous. There’s a story within a story here - the invention of a ‘baby transmitter.’

“The machine could be easily carried, easily installed: it could be easily mastered by the bush mother. It was worked by pedal. The generator was simplicity itself and a marvel of efficiency. It could be phoned up from any mother station, but transmitted its own messages by Morse.”

Radio Rescue is a beautiful picture book that tells this story and explores the relationship between the John Flynn and Alf Traeger as they worked together on the idea of providing a form of communication for people in isolated areas. Enjoyable for both children and adults.

John Flynn is commemorated on the Australian $20 banknote:

Places of interest:

Information about Ion Idriess.

Timeline of the life of John Flynn

The Royal Flying Doctor Service

My choice for #6 in the Christian Greats Challenge: A Missionary Biography or A Biography of a Prominent Christian who lived any time between 1500 A.D to 1950 A.D

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Slow-Cooker Homeschool

From the time she was first able to hold a pencil my youngest child has being drawing. I used to always carry around small notebooks, mostly for my own use, whenever we went anywhere but inevitably I let her 'draw' in them when she was little to keep her occupied when we were waiting for her older siblings to finish swimming or music lessons or whatever. She filled up countless numbers of these or whatever else she found that had a blank space.
She went through phases of drawing figures that looked like something out of Ancient Egypt to focussing on legs, noses, eyes, lips, was quite weird looking through some of them. Apart from being surprised at the prolific quantity she produced, I didn't really consider she had an artistic 'gift.'

I noticed she had definite ideas about which artists she liked - Degas is one of her favourites and she has always liked to draw anything ballet related - but I made sure she also had exposure to a wide range of artists.
One day, just over a year ago, she was sitting at the kitchen bench with some music playing in the background,  drawing in her nature notebook. I noticed she was taking time, concentrating, and when she had finished and showed me what she had done I was stunned. She'd been getting more skilful with her art in recent times, but this was a step up.

I've discovered that this seems to generally be the way of things. Home education is essentially a slow movement; especially so if you follow the Charlotte Mason approach, where the focus is not on filling in the blanks or completing worksheets that have the appearance of learning.

About a month ago I sowed nineteen little punnets with a variety of seeds. The cress seeds were the first to sprout and then gradually some of the others appeared. The other day some sprouts appeared in another punnet. I'm still waiting for some signs of action in the others but I can only water them and wait.

Charlotte Mason wrote in A Philosophy of Education (Pg. 39) that "Education, like faith, is the evidence of things not seen."

We don't see what is happening beneath the soil when we sow seeds just as we don't see the internal process of a child's educational growth. We sow the seeds, provide the appropriate atmosphere, and let patience have her perfect work.

"Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give..."

This is slow-cooker home education but slow is so anachronistic to our culture!
There is a very real temptation to meddle. We want quick results, instant feedback, affirmation.
The premise of a slow-cooker is that food is cooked over an extended period of time at a low temperature. As the cooking is in process, steam condenses on the inside of the lid forming a seal which helps to retain heat. Generally, you keep the lid on during the cooking process, but in my house there's usually someone who is tempted to meddle & lift the lid to have a peek at what's inside.
You're not going to ruin a meal by lifting the lid but you may need to cook things for a bit longer if heat is lost.
If you meddled with seeds in a punnet to check out their progress you'd probably do some damage.
I think there's enough evidence of children being 'meddled with' by being unduly pushed, labelled, scrutinized, or having excessive expectations placed upon them too early to assume that it can be harmful.

Karen Andreola shares some wise advice in her book, 'A Charlotte Mason Companion' that is helpful for focussing on the things that matter when we're struggling with the slow cooking aspect of education:

"Be sure that your children each day have:

*  Something or someone to love
*  Something (worthwhile) to do
*  Something to think about"

My husband and I met and married while we were going to a church in a different part of the city. Our children were born while we were part of that community and we had long-term friendships, some of them going back twenty years and more. We re-located and moved to another church when our eldest was ready to start university and our youngest was only two years of age. Within a short time I was  frustrated that I hadn't made any real friends and felt isolated. We met up with some friends who had gone through a similar experience a few years before we did and one of them said a wise thing that I took to heart:

"A twenty year relationship takes twenty years to develop. You won't find it in six months" Simple and true and something I needed to remind myself of again and again.

Education, that "…series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits" doesn't happen overnight.

Years of listening to a shrieking violin and then all of a sudden it begins to sound like music. Good music!

Watching a child flounder from one end of the pool to another and then overnight, or so it seems, they are a pleasure to behold as they skim through the water in style. 

Talking to your child about controlling his temper, yet again...and one day, many years later you see the fruit of self-control playing out in his life. Something you thought you would never see.

Listening to 'a' 'a...m' 'am' interminably or a child tripping over every second word while internally you fret that they will continue through life illiterate. None of mine are illiterate despite my earlier fears. 

This is where your educational philosophy really matters. It should help to focus our direction and assure us we're on the right track or direct us back to where we should be. (For an example of applied philosophy see A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason. A brief summary of how the philosophy works is here.)

God moves in a mysterious way
  His wonders to perform:
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
  And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
  Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
  And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
  The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
  In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
  But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
  He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
  Unfolding every hour:
The bud may have a bitter taste,
  But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
  And scan His work in vain;
God is His own Interpreter,
  And He will make it plain.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

'Nature will not give up her secrets to the man in a hurry.'

We have this tree at the bottom of our long driveway. I pass it at least once a day when I check the mailbox and I've noticed it had some deep pink/crimson flowers on it from time to time and that it was evergreen. And that was it.
Not long ago Moozle was looking around the garden and cut off a small section from it to draw in her nature notebook. She asked me if I knew what it was but I didn't have a clue. That wasn't good enough so I went searching and to cut a long story short, I found out that it was a Port Wine Magnolia. I was a bit disgusted with myself because I'd seen this plant before and should have recognised it. It's position on our driveway obscures it a little and keeps it in shade but it has flowers that I didn't think to smell. Port Wine Magnolia flowers smell like a fruity chewing gum or banana paddlepops. So there are many different ways to help identify plants if you're not always hurrying past them.

Moozle's drawing of a Wedge-tailed Eagle. We saw one standing by the edge of the road on a trip we did inland a few years ago. I think the word 'awesome' is so often misused but it fits the description of this Australian bird. It certainly takes your breath away to see it in real life in the open. It has such iconic legs but Moozle decided to concentrate on the head with this drawing...

My Husband and I had our 32nd Wedding Anniversary  nearly 2 weeks ago so we went out for breakfast together and then had a walk through some gardens nearby where some beautiful Australian natives were in flower.

Grevillea - Australian native as is the yellow grevillea below but I think both are cultivars

My neglected nature notebook... I decided after looking through some student's work at the Armitt Museum last month that I'd make a regular effort to journal my nature sightings and thoughts but leave drawing/painting until I get the opportunity and time. Today I drew the brown cuckoo dove that flew up to our verandah a couple of weeks ago to visit me when I was having a quiet moment all on my ownsome.

A Superb Lyrebird next to our house - I'd heard what I thought was numerous birds carrying on in the bush but it wasn't until I caught sight of this one that I realised I'd been duped. I'm not sure if this is a female lyrebird because we saw it later (unless there's another one) displaying its long filmy tail and dancing around so presumed it was the male. I wish we'd caught it on video!


In Nature Studies in Australia, William Gillies gives us this advice: 'To enable the student who has been absorbed with the investigation of a corner of Nature to bring his pet subjects into relation with other parts of Nature, and all the parts into relation with the whole, the poets who deal with nature should be read and re-read.'

He uses an example from Botany where a student might study the details of a dandelion. He suggests that afterwards the student reads a poem such as James Russell Lowell's To the Dandelion. Here is the last verse of the poem, which I think contains a powerful image:

How like a prodigal doth nature seem
When thou, for all thy gold, so common art!
Thou teachest me to deem
More sacredly of every human heart,
Since each reflects in joy its scanty gleam
Of heaven, and could some wondrous secret show,
Did we but pay the love we owe,
And with a child’s undoubting wisdom look
On all these living pages of God’s book.

Flannel Flowers