Tag Archives: cold

Where it all began….

The seventy-odd year old patient in one of the EMI wards at the Mental Healthcare Hospital always greeted me with, “What are you doing here, you stupid (expletive removed) old parson?”.

Then there was Bernadette, in another facility, who always groaned when I came to conduct a worship service in her Care Home. “It’s that blethering bugger – again! Why? Why?”

As “Withnail” said, “We’ve come on holiday by mistake”, so I often felt that I had stumbled into Holy Orders by accident.

Wanting to stay on at University after my MA, and interested in Ecclesiastical History, the only way to secure a grant in those days was to become a candidate for the Church of Scotland ministry.

The “Selection School”, a three day residential series of interviews and psychological and other evaluations and tests, was the “way in” on a journey that began in 1970.

At the last minute, I had cold feet. Yet I attended. And literally had cold feet…and legs, arms, torso; obviously, the Church, being perpetually skint, couldn’t afford the shillings for the meter.

As Rabbie Burns, in one of his most stinging poems, put it,

“As cauld a wind as ever blew,
A cauld kirk, and in’t but few”. (“In Lamington Kirk”)
It was grim, especially at night: icy, numbing, desolate.

There’s a Bible verse that speaks exactly of the conditions in the small cupboard of a bedroom assigned to me: Isaiah 28:20 (New International Version)

“The bed is too short to stretch out on, the blanket too narrow to wrap around you.”
The window didn’t close fully, and a freezing Edinburgh “hoolie” roared through the large gap (handy in one respect, in that, as smoking was banned on the premises, I could blow cigarette smoke out through it).

The bed was, if not short, then narrow. This was Kirk property, and, no doubt, it was designed to prevent anyone else “sharing”

I had to lie on my side. More, because of the cold, I wore my dressing gown on top of my pyjamas and socks – on my feet, naturally, but also a pair on my hands in a vain attempt to keep warm.

Was it the cold that stultified me so much that I zipped through all the various tests, in order to get first to the one bar electric fire in the library in order to thaw out?

I don’t know.

But here I am, forty something years later, a paid up member of “God’s Frozen People”

I wonder what the journey would have been had I not travelled the Ministry route….
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

“The Road Not Taken”
Robert Frost – 1874–1963 – Mountain Interval, 1920.

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The Church of Scotland Ministry Selection School (1970)

imageOK – I had changed my mind and didn’t want to join the ranks of the clergy; ministry was not for me

I had applied (after my MA) to attend Leicester University with a view to taking a year’s course in “Museum Studies” – was going to work in a Museum specialising in old artefacts……….

I guess that’s how it did turn out!  Here we are all these years later – working in a museum with a load of old artefarts!    🙂

The Church of Scotland runs a three day residential inquisition to weed out the wheat from the tares.  The pass rate isn’t too impressive for those being accepted for the ministry the first time round.

My venue for interrogation/participation/evaluation  was the former St Colms International College in Edinburgh.  It had been specifically designed as the United Free Church training Institute for the Lady Missionaries.  Dating back to the early 1900’s and designed by Gordon Lorimer Wright, an architect of great importance of this era, St Colms  was a remarkable example of an Edwardian building, with touches of the Beaux-Arts style

Let battle commence!  IQ tests, General Knowledge massively long tests (question: “Who wrote ‘The Group’? answer below… “Who was the Ettrick Shepherd?”  again see below)


Interviews with churchmen/women: (question: “If you didn’t wish to become a minister, what would you like to do?” 

 Answer: “go on a world wide cruise and, apart from fine wining and dining, would entertain passengers with my rock and roll band”

 “So you have private means?” 

 “No, not a bean!”

 “And you sing and play – what? – guitar?”

“No, I’m tone deaf and can’t even play a harmonica”

“but you just said what you’d like to do, if we didn’t accept you as a candidate for training?

“No, you asked what I’d LIKE TO DO – not if I could!)

{a similar answer to such a question was a friend saying that he’d like to play for Hibs…..  He’d LIKE TO; but when pressed, said that he had little co-ordination and couldn’t kick a ball in a straight line down a hallway!  I would have been tempted to answer that I couldn’t even score in a knocking-shop….. but that would have been a trifle de trop!} 


Also a couple of sessions with a  psychiatrist and industrial psychologist.

Psychologist:  “Come in! and take a seat”

Me: “which one?”

Him:” Why do you ask that?”

Me: “I’d prefer yours as it’s a swivel one – but you’re already sitting in it….. and you’re behind a desk which would put a barrier between us” 

Him: “Tell me about yourself”

Me: “Where do you want me to start?

Him: “Wherever you like”  (clever 0ne this – the answer you give shows what is most important to you – be it trivial or profound)

Me: “The beginning or the end?  The Alpha or the Omega?”

Him: “Why that last phrase?”

Me: “It’s Biblical – Greek for Beginning and End – I thought that I’d throw in some religion, since that’s what we’re here for”

Him: “And in between the beginning and the end?”

Me: “studying, socialising, snooker – not necessarily in that order”

Him: “Women?”

Me: “Off and on”

Suddenly – swivelling round on his chairHim“Do you masturbate?”

Me, noncommittally  “um”

Him:  “You should try it – it’s great!”   (actually, I made that up)

And there endeth the interview – sort of


We also had to chair and participate in a discussion round a table in a group of six (my topic – “Are the Arts more important than Science?”)  Had to chair and let everyone else have their fair share of input keeping them in order if need by; then summing up.  Onto another candidate (with another topic)  who chaired and the rest of us participated – as you can guess, it was a long afternoon.


Isaiah wrote “For the bed is too short to stretch out on, and the covering so narrow that one cannot wrap himself in it”   (Isaiah 28:20).

The bed in my room was like that.

Very narrow (presumably to prevent a previous generation of Lady Missionaries desiring to share with a gentleman caller – mind you, there are other ways, as well as the “Missionary Position”   😦   (not funny).

But this was bad – uncomfortable and a mattress manufactured from breeze blocks

Oh, and the half-opened window wouldn’t close – at night an Arctic blast of Embra air shivered me timbers.

The bed cover was so thin that one could – should one have wished to participate in such an idiosyncratic deviance – have shot peas through it.

So, I ended up in this fridge of a room, wearing my raincoat on top of my PJs, and socks on BOTH my hands AND feet!

Cauld! Cauld! Cauld!

Oh, and I got through and started some months later to study at the University of St.Andrews, graduating in the summer of 1973 – Bachelor of Divinity in Ecclesiastical History with Honours (Second Class, upper)

“The Group” was written by Mary McCarthy and the Ettrick Shepherd was a borderer who shagged sheep and wrote poems – James Hogg

McCarthy’s debut novel, The Company She Keeps, received critical acclaim as a succès de scandale, depicting the social milieu of New York intellectuals of the late 1930s with unreserved frankness. After building a reputation as a satirist and critic, McCarthy enjoyed popular success when her 1963 novel The Group remained on the New York Times Best Seller list for almost two years. Her work is noted for its precise prose and its complex mixture of autobiography and fiction.

James Hogg (1770 – 21 November 1835) was a Scottish poet and novelist who wrote in both Scots and English. As a young man he worked as a shepherd and farmhand, and was largely self-educated through reading. He was a friend of many of the great writers of his day, including Sir Walter Scott, of whom he later wrote an unauthorized biography. He became widely known as the “Ettrick Shepherd”, a nickname under which some of his works were published, and the character name he was given in the widely read series Noctes Ambrosianae, published in Blackwood’s Magazine. He is best known today for his novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. His other works include the long poem The Queen’s Wake (1813), his collection of songs Jacobite Reliques (1819), and his two novels The Three Perils of Man (1822), and The Three Perils of Woman (1823).

Strangely, having completed the very long General Knowledge test in less than two thirds of the time, sometime later one of the mentors said to me “do you think that your knowledge of culture could be a disadvantage when working with a congregation?”  Strange thing to say!

I replied that my concept of ‘kultyer’ was standing on the terraces at Tynecastle Park on a Saturday afternoon – there were no stands in those days – and having a half-time pie and Bovril at 3.45 p.m. (games were played on a Saturday with a three o’clock kick-off….. none of this pandering to TV schedules in those days!)

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