Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Christmas, Monday 25th

on a cold and frosty morning...........

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Book Notes: The War on Truth by Neil Mackay

College holidays are a great time for getting into reading all the books, not on the reading list, which I have been wanting to get into all term. The latest is Neil Mackay's "The War on Truth" which is an examination of the spin and deceit that paved the way for the disastrous invasion of Iraq.

This book is infuriating reading, for two reasons. Firstly the subject matter: we knew we were being lied to, we protested and campaigned against the invasion - but were led into an bloody, illegal, immoral and globally divisive conflict by New Labour lobby-fodder. To have the process of the progress to war, and the long-term neo-con planning of the event, (an about turn after their arming Saddam against Iran) explicated in detail is as painful as it is shameful. The cost in human life in an ill-fated attempt to maintain US hegemony, in order to stave off the impending energy crisis, is not merely regrettable, it is sinful.

The book has also annoyed me though, in the way that it has been written, The author (of the Sunday Herald) has read far too much Michael Moore and is desperately trying to mimic is cocky, swaggering style. He would have done far better to let the facts speak for their ghastly selves without inserting his invasive style between the argument and the reader.

However, this is a small matter indeed, in the light of the fact that the UK has thrown away its virtuous military heritage gained from the defeat of Nazi Germany which has guided us for six decades and reverted to a Palmerstonian use of our armed forces. Worse still is the fact that whereas the 'just-war' theory (based on Christian principles stretching back as least as far as Augustine) has been jettisoned in favour of the doctrine of the 'pre-emptive strike'. Under this dark guise our governments' can lead us to war against anyone that they tell us is a threat to our security. Such a war would be questionable as it would deny the potential aggressor the option of pulling back from the brink at the last minute. However more dangerous than that is that we rely on governments to tell us when our security is threatened and to order us to war. And governments lie.

While Saddam's regime is hardly a great loss to the world, a greater tragedy is that the people of places such as Darfur are left to rot, because their evil oppressors don't happen to own the world's second largest oil reserves.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

New Toy

I have a new toy to play with, a nice little web cam! It matches one we have given to my mum for her birthday so that she can chat to all her grandchildren live on line (the ultimate silver-surfing gizmo's, surely?).

The web cam has worked pretty well so far, although as the following demonstrate, it goes all berserk in a kind of Narcissus-like way too!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Proud Dad!

Well it's been a good day or two being the father of number two son, aka "Norris". Although, as previously blogged, his last effort at appearing in a nativity play began well but descended into high farce, yesterday's public performance went really well. Not only did he sit still (!) and sing well, but there were no squabbles onstage and he wasn't overwhelmed with the irresistible urge to publicly shed his attire as previously.

What was fun was to watch him enjoying the applause and sitting down after his solo, with a grin - and then a huge sigh of relief. "Are you 'Norris' Dad?", a few people said to me at the end. A year ago when he was having hearing and behavioural problems those words would have made my heart sink with a heavy, 'what has he done now?'. It was nice that this time it was to say how well he had done.

There is a short QuickTime movie clip of him singing, available for download from another site. If friends and family want to see it, drop me an e-mail and I'll send you the URL.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Flood Gallery 4

Re: 1st picture. On balance it may not be worth risking drowning in order to clear up after your dog....
It's still raining heavily and the river is rising.

Flood Gallery 3

Bridges and flood defences getting put through their paces

Flood Gallery 2

We often go for walks on the island, on the grass through the trees! The last blurred picture is of a large round bale of straw rushing down the river. Fields up stream up the city must be really flooded if loads this size are getting washed away.

Flood Gallery 1

Not the best day they've had at the allotments!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bob the Builder Continues

When Nativity meets Striptease

Yesterday, young Norris starred as Joseph in the nursery nativity play, the highlight of which was his lovely solo rendition of 'away in a manger.' Less pleasing to all however, was his desire to then follow his vocal performance with a striptease. The coat, the shirt, the shoes were all flung aside and he was topless and reaching for his trousers before the nursery teacher (thankfully)intervened.

In his defence he claimed that one of the wise-men had picked up some of the straw (meant to make the stage look like a stable) and put it down the neck of his Joseph costume. Scratching frantically he was tearing off his clothes in a bid to stop the itching! The shepherds then followed this up by having a fight amongst themselves!

Even better, I am told the whole sorry affair was caught on video. Coming soon to a TV near you...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More Floods

More torential rain today meant that the River Earn was once again out of its banks and flooding the fields. Driving back today from Dunning I spotted this view and captured it in honour of a notorious river engineer who posted on here last week!

Flooring and Fish

Work continues in the kitchen, the old floor being ripped up and excavated, and then the surface prepared for new tiles to be laid tomorrow. With the kitchen out of use, we're eating sandwiches in the living room and generally enjoying the chaos and disorder erupting around us. More happily I am eating out tonight at Kerrachers, an excellent fish restaurant at which you can pay lots for their fancy menu or just tuck into their £15/head set meals. Tonight it's the latter - one of the best value for money quality meals available around here. A positive note is that this is to be shared with our church housegroup, the negative is that The War Department can't come as she's working.

Exam Reprieve!

The shock news is that it now looks as if I may have passed my exam! The confusion is because I missed a term of study (spring 06) during which they introduced a new marking scheme, and what I thought was a % grade wasn't! In addition to this when the lecturer e-mailed my result to me he appended a :-( to the grade. Uuurrrggh! I can't get hold of the lecturer to check this out though.

Exam Disaster

I'm feeling very sorry for myself this morning after getting my exam result. It is by far the worst result I have ever had in higher education, (and compared to most people I have done a lot of higher ed.) I knew the exam had not gone well- but to find out that it had gone that spectacularly badly is pretty galling given the fact that I had done a lot of work and thought I was making some good progress. I don't know if I misunderstood some central element to the course or was completely illegible, either way I am sulking at home licking my wounds.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Joseph's Eye!

Norris is getting ready to appear in the Nursery nativity play tomorrow as Joseph - a role which demands a singing solo. Sadly, his preparations have been thrown into chaos as he has acquired an acute conjunctivitis, really angry, itchy and red. Fortunately "The War Department" (for it is she) has arranged to have some eye-drops prescribed and they may have sorted it out in time for Norris to tread the boards tomorrow morning.

The last nursery performance was notable for Norris leaving the stage and walking down to the front row of the audience to angrily rebuke a woman who he felt wasn't singing suitably. Let's hope tomorrow is less memorable.


It has been brought to my attention that when I refer to my good lady on this blog as, "the wife" she finds this offensive, disrespectful and the like. I tried pointing out that I wasn't using SWMBO (she who must be obeyed) to refer to my wife, like Simon does to his! However, her objection remains intact. Any suggestions of a better title? I suspect "The termagant" might equally be vetoed by herself.

As expected

Growing up in London I was given a mental image of Scotland as a freezing cold, windy, wet place. This morning all my expectations have been met in full.

Psycho Pete Enagaged!

Last night, wife and I went to Psycho Pete and Joan's engagement party. Here's a picture of the man himself showing the world exactly why she can't resist him.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Wolfgang's Vault

Here's a great link for anyone who likes live music, "Wolfgang''s Vault" . It has a few hundred live gigs from loads of well-known bands. If you're looking for the here-today, gone-tomorrow girl and boy bands from this week's chart - you'll be dissapointed. However the list below is what is available just under the first of many pages under the letter 'A', some interesting free (registration required) listening there! A Flock of Seagulls, ABC, Aerosmith, Alabama, Alarm, The, Allman Brothers Band, The, Altered Images, America, Anderson, John, Animals, The, April Wine, Armatrading, Joan, Ashford and Simpson, Asleep at the Wheel, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Autograph, Average White Band, The .

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Return of Bob the Builder

For ages we have had the inconvenience of a step running accross our kitchen floor, making it dangerous to have chairs/stools in the kitchen. One architect, one building warrant officer, three builders and three invoices later - work has begun to rectify this.

The wife has chosen some tiles which will be laid accross the new infill and replace the cracking tiled floor in the rest of the kitchen. These are natural slate, which look very pleasant but which require treating with some foul chemical prior to their installation. The stuff painted on, apparently makes the slate resistant to grease and fluid, which would otherwise stain it. Here's a picture of Bob the Builder's assistant making our house absolutely stink of stone treatment.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"Oy, you're falling asleep!"

I sat down with the wife this evening to watch a film. Her choice. It was called "The Lake House" and starred Keanu Reaves and Sandra Bullock. It is an hour and half of my life that I will never get back, so slow and pointless that not even Sandra Bullock's doe eyes could save it. It is the sorry offspring of "Back to the Future" crossbred with "You've got mail", the kind of entertainment that ought to be made available to insomniacs on the NHS. The highlight of the film was when the wife dug me in the ribs and said "Oy, you're falling asleep!". The cinematographical gender gap was never so wide.

I am useless at exams!

Yes, I am reeling from an exam in which I didn't perform well! Although the paper was fair enough, and in line both with the content of the course and previous papers I wasn't well enough prepared (mostly due to "circumstances beyond my control"). I felt that although I knew a fair amount about the subject, and had done sufficient reading, I couldn't adequately organise my thoughts which seemed to come tumbling out onto the paper without much clarity. Hopefully my answers will be enough to avoid the dread of a resit, and my answers sufficiently legible too.

I haven't written a full-length exam for about nine years! I remember when I did my first degree, no kids, no house, no responsibilities and day after day available for concentrated study. Not anymore, with a wife and three children, grabbing odd minutes here and there to study are all I can manage - and what I am able to achieve suffers likewise.

On a more positive note I can add that the Christology module at ICC is excellent; really probing, insightful and challenging. Not only does it cover all the debates surrounding the formulations of the Nicean Creed and Chalcedonian definition, but engages critically with this tradition and its strengths and limitations as a useful and faithful contextual understanding of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

OK - here's another couple then..

The rain came down and the floods came up

When the Tay in spate, its not just a magnificent sight but also a wonderful sound. Here at the old bridge, the river thunders under the arches. The culvert where the town lade meets the river was completely submerged with the additional water bubbling up in great ripplings and churnings. The speed, depth and power of river is wonderful to watch, and it's not just our family that thinks that, last night the river bank was full of people watching, as well as the BBC reporting on the flooding. The river was within in an inch of the top of the banks, as they were before the flood defences added about 4/5 feet to their height. This means that Perth's very expensive anti-flood measures have still not really been put through their paces. A few more nights of torrential rain and we'll find out if they are a wise investment or our own local equivalent of the Scottish Parliament building...

You can always go for a stroll in the park.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The river is at bankfull, much more rain and there may be floods. The town centre will presumably be alright, behind its floodwall, but there have been 'severe flood warnings' issued for the Dunkeld area and for the River Earn too.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

wisdom from the mouths of babes

Tomorrow is the wife's birthday. The best thing about this is that the kids will enjoy making a fuss of their Mum and their Mum will enjoy the experience. The worst part of this is that it entails a shopping trip with all the kids to find suitable presents. It's not that she's hard to find things for, just that she has a tendency not to like anything we can afford....
Walking towards the shops, I discussed the options will Boris. "You could get her some jewellry", I suggested. "Dad, you don't want to spend that much!" he replied.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

For the last time...

If all goes to plan (ie I somehow manage to pass all my exams, essays etc) this will be my last winter commuting from Perth to college in Glasgow. Having studied for about five years, part-time, in order to achieve an 'umble ordinary degree, it's hard to imagine not having college as part of my life.

Although I will greatly miss the intellectual and spiritual stimulation of college, as well as the fruit gained from having the discipline of deadlines imposed upon my reading habits, there's something else I will miss - freezing cold winter mornings at Perth station. Very early in the morning, at either 6:55 or 7:12, clusters of freezing bodies huddle under the platform canopies, lost under coats and scarves. Heavy clouds of exhaled steam hang thickly around them in the damp morning air, while the smokers amongst them gasp their last intake of nicotine before the hour and half journey. Their hot stinking breath rises fast and lingers around the lights in the canopy rafters, columns of pollution reminiscent of the great Victorian railway engines this vast station was built to serve.

Perth boasts a station which is bizarely disproportionate for its needs, despite the massive down-sizing it has endured over recent decades. Once the centre of vast tangles of sidings and engine sheds, it was the hub of much of Scotlands network of rural railway lines, as well as the end of the North British mainline north from Edinburgh. It took part in the "race to the North" as part of the last stage in the East and West Coast mainlines attempts to achieve prominence from London to Aberdeen, and had Queen Victoria as a frequent visitor, her train often stabled on the "Royal Platform" enroute from London to Balmoral. In later days it formed one of British Rail's regional centres from which a vast area of track and train movements were organised. It was said that at Perth, where six lines met, there was never not a train in motion. It was certainly a bottle neck for rail traffic which caused signalmen no end of testing and passengers numerous delays.

Today the place is strangely silent, few trains, few passangers, few staff. The group gathering on platform one, let out a collective groan when the muffled tannoy echoes out Scotrail's apology for the late-running 7:12 service to Glasgow. This, they are helpfully informed, is due to a late-running preceeding train; an announcement as meaningless as it is insincere. Meaningless because it given them no information of any use, and insincere because they all know that Scotrail will get compensation from Network Rail for the delay - none of which will reach the pockets of the travellers on platform one. Icy cold hands dip into pockets and fumble with mobile phones, and messages are left apologising for missed apointments.

The place though, bleak, rusting, and windswept as it is, I find charming -especially very early in the morning. The place is positively oozing with history. It's not just the soot from a thousand steam engines, clinging to pillars high above the platforms, nor is the poignant memorials to railwaymen lost in wars, nor is the merely the thought that when this station was great, it was part of what made this country significant. It's also that in the half-light of the early morning (especially at 5:40am when the London sleeper arrives) if you close half-close your eyes, you can almost see the place as it was.

At squint down platform seven will see an old engine pulling trucks loaded with potatos coming down from Bankfoot. Platform three is a hive of activity as men from the Tay fisheries load hundreds of salmon and great chunks of ice into blocks. Towers of smoke rise from the west where train loads of whisky come to and from the bond, while Edwardian bobbies march uniformed prisoners from coaches towards their new accomodation at "Number One, Edinburgh Road". Coaches from Inverness are marshalled for London, Oban, Bristol, Manchester and Carlisle and under the vast canopy at the North of the station, the volunteers of the "Perth Patriotic Barrow" sign up young men to give their lives for King and Country on the western front. Then I'm sure I saw my grandparents, driving off the motorail train from London on platform five, heading for a holiday in the Highlands in a mustard yellow Austin 1100.

"The train new approaching platform is the late running 7:12 service to Glasgow Queen Street". The tannoy rudely interupts my mental time-travelling, the world comes back into focus and the proud Victorian ironwork gains a century of rust, shrubs sprout from long-neglected gutters, sidings dissappear under forests of weeds, and a shiny, quiet, brand-new train glides effortlessly into the platform. We used to have uncomfortable trains and gleaming stations, now we have gleaming trains and uncomfortable stations. Progress no doubt.

This might be my last winter waiting on platform one for the early train. I'll miss it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

Close Encounter......

On Saturday I experienced the most frightening thing I have done for many, many years. Driving down the A30 (Staines by-pass) towards the M25, a truck in front of us shed part of it's load.

From the top of the truck a rock somewhere between the size of a grapefruit and a football dislodged and came bouncing down the road towards us, like bouncing bomb. As it had started off on top of the truck and fallen a considerable height, each bounce took the object as high as my windscreen. I can still see it spinning in the air in front of my eyes.

A quick check to the right informed me that I couldn't swerve into the slow lane to avoid the object because the car alongside us was breaking hard too. Thankfully the rock thumped into our car at the low-point in its bounce - hitting our front bumper very hard - not the windscreen or bonnet which it would have done at it's highest. It all happened too quickly for my life to flash in frnt of my eyes in the traditional manner. The object turned out not to be a rock but a large, compact lump of heavy clay-like earth.

We contacted the police, who filled out some forms. By the time they had done that the lorry had crossed into another police force's area and so they were unable to do anything except send the neighbouring force a note (which presumably enabled them to fill in another form).

Without witnesses and with the trucking company denying even being at the scene, it seems there's little we can do except pay for the repairs.


Three Cheers for Religious Extremism!

If there is one thing about which everyone is agreed, our society must root out what is called "religious extremism". The media rant about it, polticians despise it and it is obvious fodder for political cartoonists and satarists alike. It seems that "reasonableness", "tolerance", "education" and "the law" are the tools to be used to rid the UK of this menace.

The only problem is that as yet, none of these groups has taken a moment to define what this "religious extremism" is supposed to actually be. It's not merely that the "F" word can be used to shut down any discussion about religion (fundamentalist/ism, that is), but that the word has become almost devoid of any meaningful content, and is deployed as a pejorative dismissal of any person who has stronger beliefs than the speaker! The word is therefore used as a power-tool with shifting meaning, rather than a helpful adjective with a shared understanding of its content.

A Christian who believes that The Bible is inspired by God and wishes to live by it is dismissed as a "Fundamentalist"; whereas a Muslim who believes that the Koran comes from God and wishes tolive by it, is praised as a "Moderate" if they condemn terrorism! The Evangelical Alliance is currently at loggerheads with The Daily Telegraph who juxtaposed a peaceful Christian protest led by Brain Mahwhinney with some Islamists with placards reading "Behead those who insult Islam" - inviting the reader to dismiss both as comparative examples of "religious extremism" (boo - hiss!). We urgently need a new word which distinguishes those willing to use violence to persue religious ends from believers of all faiths committed to exclusively peaceful means.

The problem with all this is not just that this agenda is used by secularists to avoid ever having to listen to any argument from a Christian perspective. The greater problem with all this is that I have met some truly wonderful genuine religious extremists in my life, and cannot join in the roar of dissaproval. Take "J" for example, an excellent surgeon who could have made a lot of money in the UK but was driven instead by his Christian faith to invest his life in delivering health care improvements to people in Asia. This is all-consuming religious extremism! Or take, "D". working hard in the centre of London offering practical help and Christian spiritual hope to some of the most deprived members of society, or "A" working with city kids with social and behavioural problems, or "R". who has dedicated his life to sharing the gospel and serving the people who come to the Christian centre he runs in inner London, or "K" helping young men get off drugs.

All of these people are genuine "religious extremists" doing what they believe God has called them to do; seriously seeking, with God's help, to serve others in a Christlike way. So let's drop this pernicious use of the term "religious extremist" as a catch-all dismissal. In truth religious extremism is an empty term, because what determines the benefit or danger to society of the believer is not their level of extremism, but the content of the religion they profess.

Take 6: Live in London

The Mrs and I had a brilliant night at The Barbican in London on Friday, where we saw Take 6 live.

The terrible photo here was taken with my phone from the back of the hall and it shows the group in full flight during their encore.

I have never heard singing like this before. Range, power, passion, delivery, style and harmonies - what harmonies! Some of the songs were funky, others soulful, many spiritual and many of them almost tear-jerkingly beautiful.

Alongside many well loved Take 6 songs such as "Spread Love" and "Mary and Martha" they also sang a beautiful version of Bill Withers "Grandma's Hands" and an absolutely stunning rendition of Twila Paris' song, "Lamb of God". Very moving indeed. Their arrangements are spellbinding and their delivery virtually flawless - an absolutely brilliant, brilliant night.

I know I was not alone in my appreciation either, there were barely any seats left in the Barbican - and the crowd went completely bezerk in their appreciation of the band and would have called them back for encore after encore, had the house-lights not come up and the 'elevator music' started to signal the end of the evening. I'd love to hear them live again.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

How Not To Build A Drain

I suspect that only the NHS builds drains as ineffective as this one at Ashford (Middx) Hospital.