Monday, July 31, 2006

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Kids Fun

Today, Boris, Norris, Doris and I had a great day out on the Strathspey Railway. With bright sunshine, fantastic views of the Cairngorms, a nice old train with really friendly crew, the kids had a ball. There are great walks from Boat of Garten, and although Aviemore is a dump, the train is soon underway, back up the line to such pleasanter places.

Having travelled on about 10 or so of the preserved lines in the UK (which is a a little sad I realise) I'd rate this one as amongst the best. It might not have twenty gleaming mainline engines to show off, but it has the Cairngorms and the friendliest staff.

Boris and Norris love standing on the bridges while the engines go underneath, getting absolutely covered in smoke and soot.

The Curse of Bodger Derek

Bodger Derek is like the wind. We cannot see Bodger Derek, but we can see the effects of Bodger Derek everywhere we look, hence we know of his existence.
Who is the former occupant of this house who has gone through the place like a whirlwind, inflicting hamfisted botched DIY jobs in every room? Step forward Bodger Derek! Let's consider the evidence.
*A patio cleverly designed to channel rainwater through the underfloor vents (a D'Oh rating of 9)
*A patio built too high for the damp proof course to cope with. (a D'Oh rating of 9)
*Botched electrical work (D'Oh 7)
*Botched plastering (D'Oh 6)
*Covering up an inability to edge wallpaper neatly by staplegunning lengths of braid to the borders. (D'Oh 5)
* Filling in the 'air-gap' between the path and the stone wall of the house to create a bridge for damp (see photo of my excavations) (D'Oh 9)
A word of advice. Next time you are buying a house, get your solicitor to search and make sure that it has not inherited the curse of Bodger Derek.

Monday Comes Around So Soon

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Doris Joins the Monkeys

While Boris and Norris' mischevious monkeyesque behaviour has been well documented here over the last few months - today little Doris has joined in the fun. In the picture you can see her hand after she had just excavated the contents of our gas 'living flame' fire, gravel, fake coals etc. Her face and clothes were equally sooty and disgusting.

I need to find the person who told me, "the jump from two to three children is easy - you'll barely notice the difference" and give them the long overdue slap they so richly deserve.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Monday Morning Again

Who Woke Me Up At 6:45 On Sunday Morning

I'd never realised how noisy a hot-air balloon is, until this thing fired it burners repeatedly outside my house - very early on Sunday morning! There was just time to grab my new camera before it sailed away eastwards.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Holiday Highs & Holiday Lows

Thathideousfamily have once again been on our summer holidays. This year however, we stayed in the UK and avoided the delights of budget airlines, dubious provincial airports, psychopathic car-hire attendants, sunburn and dehydration; and instead braved the delights of good old Blighty. It had several highs and lows.

The wife discovered this place online, and its probably the best holiday cottage we have ever hired. Although the house is a bit smaller than it looked on the online photos, it was a fantastic little place - equipped with every comfort you could ever ask for. The kids loved playing in the burn, in the huge gardens, and down at the shore of Loch Rannoch. The owners of the estate live in the main house several hundred yards from the cottage we had and they couldn't have been more friendly, helpful or unobtrusive if they had tried! We'll definitely be back.
We had a wonderful half-day walk along the shores of Loch Ossian, in the bleak centre of Rannoch Moor, only accessible by train. We left the railway at Corrour halt, and walked the well-made track to Loch Ossian and ate our lunch by the youth hostel there. The views the length of the loch, over its tree covered island, to distant Ben Alder were just stunning. The YHA warden lives out on the moor all year round and says he loves it. Still, it must be a little bleak in February. Sadly our enjoyment of this wonderful place was cut short by the railway timetable (there is no afternoon southerly train) and we had to catch the luncthime train or wait until the evening. We went back there again later in the week to climb Beinn na Lap - and I can't wait to go back there again.
The Scottish midgie is undoubtedly the foulest creature on earth. At Rannoch this year there was little wind, and following a mild winter the midgies hung aourd us in clouds. Although the Carie estate had bought lots of the new midgie-eating machines, they were no match for this ghastly plague. I react to their bites, and despite taking every repellant and treatment available was covered in itchy irritated red lumps. There were so many in the house that we were hoovering them up in piles from the window ledges.
We caught several trains out accross Rannoch Moor, on the West Highland Railway. It well-deserves it reputation as Britains most spectacular railway line, as it winds it way high accross the Moors, between Mountains, and through snow tunnels. The constantly changing scenery is breathtaking and beautiful, and from the train you can see far more that from the car. This isn't just because this line goes nowhere near any public road for a large section of its length, from Orchy to Tulloch; but also because catching the train relieves me of driving duties and enables me to enjoy the views. The only flaw on this railway line is the infuriatingly few number of trains which run each day. The Mallaig-Fort William train which should continue to Glasgow as an afternoon service terminates there, even in peak tourist season. The best train to catch up the line though, is the morning sleeper. We got on this at about 8:30 at Rannoch, and went round to Fort William. Its a bigger, smoother, quieter, more comfortable ride than the usual chuggy-Scotrail effort, with large windows to enjoy the views. Boris and Norris were delighted when we got to Fort William, just in time to see the "Harry Potter Train" in full steam - about to take an excursion to Mallaig.

Holiday High: Old Friends
The other great thing about not going abroad this year was that we had time to visit some old friends. Last week it was the turn of the legendary 'Solihull Five' upon whom we unceremoniously imposed ourselves for a few days of merry mayhem. Sometime in the early 1600s, John Seldon said, "Old friends are best. King James used to call for his old shoes; they were the easiest for his feet". This is certainly true in the case of the artist formerly known as Pogdalot, his charming McWife and their vast army of lovely little girls. Together their conversation is quirky and fascinating, their laughter infectious, their home welcoming and their eccenticities always endearing.

Holiday Low: The M6

The worst thing about living in Scotland is that so many people and things are at the other end of the M6! The M6 is Britain's foulest motorway. Apart from a brief respite through the Lake district and the occasional train screaming past, this road is mostly tree-lined and interminably dull. It is overcongested, far too long and its service stations ghastly souless holes into which no sane person should ever venture.

Driving down the M6 last week I thought something was odd. We were driving to our holiday, but the M6 wasn't covered in roadworks. Usually as soon as the holiday season arrives the powers-that-be make the road as impassable as possible, with billions of cones, queue's, contraflows, hold-ups and irritation. Why not this year, I wondered? Then it dawned on me, it was only the Scottish school holidays, they must be waiting until the English schools are off as well, before digging up the only motorway connecting the North and South!

Holiday High: Hadrian's Wall

On the way back Northwards we came off the aforementioned motorway at Carlisle and went to see Hadrian's wall. we drobe accross and inspected the wall and Birdoswald Fort and museum. Boris was very interested, Norris tried to be interested but was undermined by his attention span, while Doris was just happy to be out of her car seat!

The wall was built to keep the troublesome Scots out of the Roman Empire, and was the empire's North Western boundary for 300 years. Apparently the Roman's conquered Scotland but had to withdraw their troops in order to defend themselves from Barbarians invading accross the Danube. They pulled back to the border and fortified it, making England and Scotland the two distinct entities they are today. Just think, if it wasn't for the Barbarian incursion accross the Danube, we wouldn't have Alex Samond!

Holiday Low: The Great Blair Drummond Rip-Off Park!
If you like being ripped-off, you'll love Blair Drummond safari park! We were a little shocked when we saw the entry prices to Blair Drummond, but having told the kids, and driven a long way, we took a deep breath and went in. At least, we assumed, the high entry fee would cover all the activities in the park. Well, anywhere else in the world it would - but not Blair Drummond!

The sea lion show was OK - but extremely short, the animals to admire all fine, the safari drive again no problem. However, right in the centre of it all are huge, brightly coloured rides and attractions, all of which besotted the kids - and all of which cost a lot of money. Dragging the kids away from these to see animals was of course, a struggle but we managed it and they were quite taken with the large bears. Thoughtfully Blair Drummond had mounted telescopes in the viewing areas to make sure that you could see the creatures even when they were far away. However, guess what, the telescopes only operate for a few minutes at a time with the insertion of all your remaining change. The whole place is a giant money-extraction machine, even to the extent that a map to find your way around the place costs several quid.

And to think we gave up a bright sunny day in the mountains (which are better, and free!) for this! Never again.

Holiday High: Great Big God III
Great Big God III is the kids worship CD from the UK branch of the Vinyard churches. Boris and Norris absolutely love this CD, and it gets played to death in our car and at home.

I'll be completely honest, I do have one or two reservations about this CD, but I have put these aside for very good reasons.

GBG3 is musically very strong, and although there are a couple of ropey vocals, the standard of songwriting and playing is superb throughout. The kids singing with the adults are unusually good, the lyrics exceptionally clear and the songs without exception singeable and accessible. My kids just love the sound of this album, and sing its songs all day, without any persuasion!

Why then, the reservation? Well, I think there is at least one theological howler, some clumsy lyrics and Iwould love to be able to re-balance some of the emphasies in the songs! The greatest fault in the English tongue is the fact that 'great' rhymes with 'mate', God is definitely the former, but not the latter; perhaps the obvious rhyme was just too tempting and it spoils an otherwise superb song. The constant message that the cross shows us God's love is excellent, I would just love them once in a while to go beyond that and tell the kids that the cross does more than that, it actually achieves our salvation too! I also was a bit shocked by some of the anthropomorphisms used about God, which initially struck me as irreverent.

Having said that, I am delighted that my kids are singing that the cross shows God's love. After all, his love caused the cross, and demands a response of love from me. Love is the basis of everything that happened at Calvary, and this is a good place for kids to start learning about it - they have the rest of their lives to grow into understanding more about what the cross actually acomplishes, rather than just demonstrates. As for the childish anthropomorphisms, I have had to think again. In the Bible, God frequently uses this type of condescension to communicate Himself to me, why then should he not to a child? If I think I am closer to God's stature than to that of a child I am enormously wrong! In fact, against the scale of God, I am barley bigger than a child, and if God will allow Himself to be described in adult language, then the descent to child-language is barely perceptible.

As a Christian parent I rejoice to hear my kids singing things like, "I want to be like Jesus" - exactly the kinds of values and aspirations I long to instill in them. It's good to hear them sing "I will praise you" a song which worships God in good and bad times alike, in open defiance of the prosperity error so many of the charismatics flirted with in the 1980s. I love hearing my kids singing the Palm sunday song, "Hosanna", and am moved to hear them singing a Psalm-like song in which a child brings her pain to God. I have also wondered what our neighbours have thought when their kids have gone home from our house happily singing, "My God Never Goes to Sleep"!

It's great to hear such great creativity, and musical talent, being harnessed and used for the Glory of God. My kids love this music, sing this music and talk to us about what it means. My reservations are not all wrong, but we can't deny we've been blessed by this terrific little album!

Friday, July 14, 2006

We've had a great holiday! I think the pictures speak for themselves.

The Best Coffee Shop Award

My vote for a 'best coffee shop' award would undoubtedly go to Perth's "Bean Good".

I have never tasted such well produced coffee, with such a consistent texture and taste, anywhere, ever.
I was lured into the cafe on their opening day last year as they were giving coffee away all day. Needless to say that was a BIG cafeine hit day!
At one extreme on their menu is their espresso. They serve it short, strong, smooth, powerful and with a creme that rises up fantastically from the shortest measure. At the other extreme is their enormously rich hot-chocolate, called the "chocolate soup". I like to have one of each!
My love of this coffee shop was exposed a few weeks ago when my wife went there with a friend. They immediately recognized little Doris, knew her by name and brought out her 'favourite toy'! Full marks for child-friendliness and personal service, none for discretion!
Either way, they've just launched a website:

Monday, July 10, 2006

Book Notes: Becoming Conversant with The Emerging Church by D.A. Carson

I have just finished reading Don Carson's contraversial book, "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and It's Implications".

The Emerging Church is seen by many as the answer to the most urgent need of the church in the west - to re-engage with a culture, radically alienated from the gospel. The argument is that the church is hoplessly locked into a modern-enlightenment frame of reference which neither does jutsice to the narrative nature of scripture nor engages with our post-modern times. The 'emergent' response is a 'new kind of Christian', freed from such shackles, able to engage in realistic mission, within our culture; by seriously reckoning with the contemporary cultural shift.

Much in this Carson welcomes and salutes. However, this book is an attempt to expose the movement as being one of compromise with unBiblical standards and doctrinal naivety. Carson alleges that much of the emergent movement is simply selective in its use of the Bible, and lacks integrity in its failure to be as counter-cultural as scripture demands. He sees this as being based on a non-Biblical epistemology in which truth is deemed as insufficiently knowable; and propositional truths ruled out of court despite their scriptural prominence. Finally, Carson says that the emergent conversation misreads post-modernity, and has misread 'confessional evangelicalism' too; over-reacting against unrepresentative extremes.

One problem which Carson admits is the huge variation in the subject matter - making his generalisations almost meaningless in practice.
In terms of my own view of this book, I'd make the following three points. Firstly, as I am rooted in the 'confessional' side of the equation I don't know enough to judge whether the criticisms levelled are accurate or not. I think before assessing that it would be fair to read a less critical book like Gibbs/Bolger. Secondly, however, I share Carson's view that much of what I have read from the emergent stream does misrepresent me as a 'confessional evangelical'. Thirdly, while some of this book is fairly harsh (but if correct, then fair enough) the emergents shouldn't complain too much, as their movement is deeply critical of its forebears.

All movements in recent church history, house-churches, mass-evangelism, seeker-friendly have had valid contributions to make; but have stood in need of some correction too. The emergent church claims to be romancing our culture for the gospel. If it turns out instead to be seducing the church from evangelicalism, then it too must respond to correction as graciously as its image would suggest it should.
Gibbs/Bolger is on my reading list!

Book Notes: The Joy of Hillwalking by Ralph Storer

There should be more hillwalking books like this! I have, over several years, picked up quite a few books on walking, from Poucher, Butterfield, McNeish to the standard SMC guides. Most of these are route guides, suggesting everything from campsites, to car park to lines of ascent. These have proved to be very useful over the years, and comparing and contrasting the different options offered has been fun. The SMC are the most cautious and least ambitious route-makers, McNeish in the middle and Butterfield at the other extreme. At times it seems that it is not possible to have two mountains within 30 miles of each other without him wanting to link them together into one monstrous outing!

However, before even starting I have digressed - for "The Joy of Hillwalking" is not a route-guide type of book at all. It is rather, a book which humorously reflects on the whole business of hillwalking, climbing, camping - and many aspects of life in the great outdoors.

Storer is, of course, no stranger to writing moutain guides (with dull titles like "50 more routes on Scottish Hills), but this book is his reflections on decades worth of climbs done in mountain ranges all around the world. In it we find out how much he despises the sport of bagging, his love of wind, rain, scrambles and snow, and countless hilarious scrapes he has got into on various expeditions. Not a few of which are entirely unsuitable for a junior audience. He regales the reader with tales of falls, injuries, navigational blunders, other walkers foibles, camping disasters, and flaming tents! Alongside this, he describes engagingly the wonderful sense of isolation in the hills and the love and respect for the mountains it engenders.

Storer seems to have spent every weekend and holiday in the hills, and apart from a job seems to have no ties, attachments or responsibilities to get in the way of his outdoor pursuits. If he did, perhaps he'd be a little more sympathetic to those of us for whom a Saturday Munroing is a treat, and a month-long cross-country expedition an impossibility.

Hill walking books which evoke the sheer joy of the whole thing are few and far between - and this is on occasion laugh-out-loud funny - especially if the blunder in questions in one in which you can vividly recall yourself! The only other book of this type I've come accross is "Mountain Days and Bothy Nights" - a really entertaining book on bothying in Scotland.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Boris, Norris and Doris: Munro Baggers!

Boris, Norris and Doris have all completed their first Munro, Beinn na Lap on Rannoch Moor. On a day which started in sunshine, but became increasingly cloudy, we got the train to Corrour, walked to the beautiful Loch Ossian before climbing the long western ridge of the Mountain. We spectaularly missed the feint path up the hill and our two little boys marched through the tussocky grass well. The views down the Loch towards distant Ben Alder were fantastic.

Sadly, by the time we were high on the summit ridge (which seemed to go on interminably) the view had gone and we were surrounded by cloud in falling temperatures. We didn't linger long to enjoy the moment, save for some hastily consumed chocolate, but chose a quick, steepish descent off the hill towards the end of the Loch by the youth hostel. As we headed back towards the station, a short rain shower persuaded us not to stay out playing on the moors but to get the kids to the station into shelter. Sadly, on the West Highland railway, there is no afternoon train southbound, so we had to wait until 6:30 for the next one. This wait (which had the potential to be "difficult" with three tired children) - turned out to be a great end to the day. A wonderful cafe has opened at Corrour station, with sofas, books, kids toys and nice coffee. We had our evening meal there, watching the rain lashing the mountain we had just climbed, before the evening train took us back to Rannoch, the car and a holiday cottage.

The next day in Fort William, Boris and Norris bought themselves Munro charts. Two more sad munro baggers in the making, I fear! All this is much to be encouraged!