Steven Wilson—December Skies (2023)

This year, musician-extraordinaire Steven Wilson was challenged by a friend why he had never written a Christmas song.

He replied that he didn’t think he had it in him to write Christmassy lyrics.

No problem, his friend told him, we’ll instruct ChatGPT to write Christmas lyrics in the style of Steven Wilson. But don’t mention Christmas. And make it feel more lonely.

This was the result. I like it better than most Christmas tracks.

NYCGB Alumni Christmas song

This has been the year for lockdown choirs and following the success of the National Youth Choir alumni’s Shenandoah project in June, we geared up in the autumn to produce something in time for Christmas.

Arranged by Louise Clare Marshall (whom many will have watched bringing in the new year last night on Jools Holland’s Annual Hootenanny), we held sectional rehearsals on Zoom in early November and videos were submitted during the final week of November, leaving about one month for our team of technicians to edit and mix the audio and video.

The video launched on Christmas Eve and, remarkably, we were featured at the end of the BBC News broadcasts that evening!

I’m so proud of what we have achieved. It’s not the same as standing in the same space and making music together but I’ll take it over nothing.

Thank you to all who were involved. To Louise, the section leaders, everyone who got involved, our wonderful team of audio and video engineers, and the rest of the NYCGB Alumni Champions Committee—some of my dearest friends in all the world.

Enjoy! And see if you can spot me on the video.

Clergy Malt Club

Image by Ersler on iStock

After the last Christmas Eve service, in church rectories and manses across the world, many clergy will sit down and pour themselves a glass of single malt whisky, take a photo and post it to social media with the hashtag #clergymaltclub.

This year, in collaboration with my good friend, the Revd David Meldrum in South Africa, we now have an official website to advertise it:

Merry Christmas

Christmas cards
Christmas cards and electric candles

A belated merry Christmas to one and all. I know that for many Christmas is a difficult time, an isolating time, so I hope you’ve had a great celebration and an opportunity to be with the ones you’ve wanted to spend it with.

It’s been a very quiet Christmas for me this year. I had Reuben, Joshua and Isaac here on Friday and Saturday (Christmas eve), watched them open their presents on Christmas morning (at a respectable time after 7:30am), before they had to travel to Argyll to spend Christmas day with their cousins.

After that I retired to bed with a stomach bug and slept for about two days, which was just what the doctor ordered after this past semester in hall.


This is the first Christmas day that I’ve ever spent entirely on my own.

I was a little apprehensive at first, when I realised that I’d be on my own, but as Christmas approached and I began to plan what I would do I settled into the idea of spending it quietly. (And on the day, being forced to sleep for much of it kind of helped.)

After the busy-ness of 2016, moving to St Andrews in January and then hitting the ground running in terms of wardennial work, not really getting much of a break during the summer, and then being thrown into a new semester with a new (and amazing) wardennial team I have really appreciated the space and solitude.

Besides sleeping, I’ve done very little.

I restrung my acoustic guitar (D’Addario EJ15 Extra light .010 to .047) and have been playing guitar over the last couple of days than I have in months. It has been cathartic and soothing. I miss playing guitar live.

I’ve listened to lots of music. Jane and the boys gave me Queen at the BBC on CD for Christmas, plus quite a bit of Lamb of God and Exodus. Good, soothing Christmas-y thrash. JJ Hrubovcak’s Death Metal Christmas (2013) got an airing on Christmas day, of course.

I’ve caught up with some podcast listening, and discovered the Comedian’s Comedian postcast, which has been fun (and also quite nice to snooze through!)

I finished watching The IT Crowd box set (series one to four), and have begun watching Blackadder Remastered The Ultimate Edition box set, which I actually got last Christmas.

I’ve played a little Call of Duty: Ghosts, which is my favourite edition of the franchise.

And I moved this blog to become my main site now. I’m trying to simplify my web presence.

Actually, that’s quite a lot, isn’t it. It hasn’t felt like that. It’s felt quite relaxed and quiet.

Gearing up again…

Having just got used to the quietness, the boys return tomorrow, and on Friday I’ll likely head down to Selkirk to see my folks. Then it’ll be time to return to work.

My Mum on Skype (and other connections)

My Mum on Skype, earlier this evening.
My Mum on Skype, earlier this evening.

This morning we got up early, carefully removed the roof box (it turns out that if the wind gusts above 50 mph then cars with roof boxes will be prevented from crossing the Forth Road Bridge… and we didn’t want to take any chances), packed the car and headed south, just as the sun was beginning to rise.

Destination: Selkirk. And more specifically, the my-Mum’s-house part of Selkirk. We were delivering presents and catching up, albeit too briefly, with relatives.

There are some members of my extended family that we’ve not seen for too long; a few had not even met Isaac, who turns three next month. Not due to any conspiracy, but simply a combination of the impracticalities of small, twinsy children, lack of sleep (a lot to do with lack of sleep), depression, back/neck injuries, and… the fact that it takes us the best part of 6 hours to just drive down there and back again. So it was lovely to catch-up, albeit too briefly. On our drive back north we popped in to see my brother Eddie at South Queensferry, to get the boys into their pyjamas and to deliver another Christmas present.

This year, for Christmas, we gave my Mum a new laptop computer (Asus X551CA, featuing a 15.6″ screen, Intel Celeron 1007U dual core CPU, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, Windows 8.1 Home).

Mum has never had a new laptop. Her last-but-one was a very generous hand-me-down from good friends of ours. Her last one was bought about ten years ago for a business that Jane and her Mum ran in Edinburgh. It was creaking at the joints: it almost panted with exhaustion running Windows 7, it would take about 15 minutes to start, the cheap webcam I had bought for it had too low a resolution and would invariably find itself pointing at the ceiling when I was trying to Skype with Mum, and the speakers were too quiet, so we’d have to Skype and phone at the same time to get both video and audio.

The new one, though, is fast: it boots in about a minute. It has a built-in high definition webcam and the speakers are loud enough for us to make a Skype-to-Skype conversation, as you can see form the screenshot above.

It’s been a good day of re-establishing connections. Hopefully we can get back down to the Borders before too long, and can start using Skype more to keep in touch.