Monday, May 28, 2007

Gary Moore - Live at the Glasgow Carling Academy

A tension exists within Irish blues guitarist Gary Moore, between his natural musicianship and his flamboyant showmanship. Last night at the Glasgow Carling Academy Lins and I were delighted to see that the musician won for at least 90% of the time.

When Gary Moore puts his mind to it he can be a brilliantly expressive, powerful and melodic player, constantly re-arranging his songs and solos with added twists and new interpretations. When he follows the late Albert King's advice to not play "too many notes" it frees him to play around with interesting chord progressions, long bends, deft touches and harmonic flourishes, enabling him build an extended guitar solo more convincingly than any guitarist I have heard. On slow songs such as Midnight Blues, Still got the Blues, All Your Love and I Had a Dream, and on quicker ones such as Walking by Myself, Since I Met You Baby, and Oh Pretty Woman - this was the Moore we heard - and it was stunning. It was interesting to see how much more free to improvise Moore is when not being recorded. Whereas on live albums his solos are highly studied, there was a sense that in Glasgow he was sometimes flying by the seat of his pants, with all its added excitement and spontaneous creativity.

On the other hand, sometimes Moore simply grimaces, put his head down and play lots of scales, very very fast. While I find this rather dull- it is the latter which seems to brings the crowd to their feet in rapturous wonder and he indulged in this egotistical display on 2 songs, Too Tired and Parisienne Walkways. These were however minor blemishes in what was other wise a brilliant, brilliant show.

Vocally Moore has sometimes struggled but he was on very good form tonight, and as usual he benefitted from being backed by very competent musicians of whom Brian Downey (yes - that Brian Downey) was especially good.

The crowd took a while to warm up because of a lamentable support act and an over-long interval. However by the end of the night the atmosphere was overwhelming. Moore himself clearly hadn't realised how well he was going down until at the very end the house-lights went up and he saw the crowd, clapping, stamping and waving. Surprised, he stopped introducing the band and invited the crowd to singalong to "The Blues is Alright" an invitation the near-capacity crowd accepted with glee.

Moore may look as if he has been mauled by a Tiger prior to coming on stage. But what a show he delivers once there!
"Hey, hey - the blues is alright!"

Wester Pickston Open Day

The Scottish Model Engineering Trust threw their new club railway open to the public yesterday. Lord Lucan & I took Boris and Norris up there to see the engines, the new track and speak to one of the builder-drivers we know who has put several years work into the new railway, and built and engine for it too (pictured). Needless to say, Boris and Norris thoroughly enjoyed it - and met several characters from their school and nursery classes. We'll be back for their nexr open day.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Boris is Sick as a Parrot!

Young Boris and I joined the crowd up at the church tonight to watch the Champions League Final. After being hugely dissapointed at Man Utd's loss on Saturday, my football mad seven-year-old was allowed to stay up late in the hope that Liverpool might once again overcome the odds, the pundits and a better team, in this their 2007 quest for European glory.

I still remember the final two years ago, and the scenes of ludicrous over-excitement from some Scouse friends in the church, (you know who you are!) as the so-called 'miracle of Istanbul' was played out. I won't forget the near-pandemonium that happened when Liverpool first equalised and then clinched victory in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out.

Tonight alas, it was not to be. Boris and I left the terraces (well pews anyway) and headed for home imagining what might have been. As for Boris, he was caught between the dismay of two finals going the wrong way for him in a week, and the joy of having been able to stay up far too late to watch footie on the big screen.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

'The Mad One'

Boris, Norris and Doris are blessed with two aunties who they seem to adore. The thought of seeing either of them always results in quite inexplicable levels of infant jubilation. One of these aunts must be more sensible than the other because according to Boris and Norris we have just enjoyed three days with 'the mad one'.

Needless to say I have done what I can to encourage the tarring of my sister's good name with such epithets..

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Half-Time Whistle

In 2000 world leaders, including the UK, committed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. 2007 marks the half-way point to the fulfilment of the MDGs, the "Blow the Whistle" campaign is seeking to ensure our Government and others the world over honour their promises.

Click on the picture above to visit the 'Blow the Whistle" website, which is part of the "Micah Challenge" coalition of Christian aid and development agencies and churches. The movement's name and slogan come from the Biblical prophet Micah who wrote, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Some of the Old Testament prophets wrote as the first large cities were built in Israel, and a greater division of labour meant that a proto-class system was forming. There had been many very rich individuals in the nation's history whose wealth was not wrong, but the evolving phenominon to which the later prophets announced God's displeasure was this: injustice.

The Micah Challenge organisation is pressuring individuals, churches and governments to respond to key areas of injustice today, such as trade, health-care, climate-change, education and sanitation. read more.... A Blow-the-Whistle postcard to send to the Prime Minister can be downloaded here, which reminds him of the commitments made in 2000 and calls on him to honour them.
(Thanks to LS for waking us up to this at church on Sunday with her very loud whistle)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Tim Keller on Suffering and the Cross

I have just listened to, and really appreciated, Tim Keller's sermon on 'suffering and the cross' which can be played using Quicktime by clicking here. The bloke who introduces him embarrassingly gushes on and on - fast forward past him. But wait for the exposition of Paul's famous 'thorn in the flesh' which comes later on.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

When is 'the public interest', personal intrusion?

One of our friends, who is a member of our church and a former child-minder of our children was very badly hurt in a cycling accident yesterday morning. Since we heard about the accident yesterday evening - our thoughts and prayers have been full of her and what her and family are enduring. It will be like that for a long time as the recovery will not be quick.
Amazingly quickly after the accident, a local newspaper had dispatched a photographer to the scene, who took some dramatic photos of her mangled bike under the front of the lorry which had hit her. I don't know if the images were printed in that paper or not - but they remain up on their website today - for all to see.

When I heard about this I was initially really annoyed. How dare they intrude in upon my friends' pain, her family's pain, my community's pain - I thought. The need for shocking pictures in order to sell newspapers seemed grubby, callous and cynical.

But then I began to wonder if there was not also a legitimate public interest in this story. If trucks are even occasionally mowing down cyclists in our streets - then we do need to know that as a society in order to respond appropriately. Perhaps shocking images do more than sell tawdry evening newspapers, perhaps they help to alert cyclists, legislators and truck-drivers alike to the horrible reality of the dangers on the road. Perhaps the hackneyed 'thousand words' of a picture is exactly what we need to see in order to bring home the reality of the tragedy.

So, I am left wondering - when does 'public interest' become 'personal intrusion', when should journalists stand back and allow the suffering the dignity of doing so quietly; and when should newspapers use as powerful prose and photos as they can find - to highlight matters of legitimate wider concern? How can we facilitate justice for victims without encouraging ambulance chasing? - would be a legal equivalent.

I'd appreciate the thoughts of the small, but erudite, readership of this blog on this.

Book Notes: Various....

Reading is both a joy and a discipline, something immensly rewarding, yet something which jostle's for a position within the busyness of life. I remember one writer describing the dangerous 'tyranny of the urgent', which so characterises contemporary life. Over at "View from the Basement", Brodie wrote an interesting piece about reading strategies, which provoked good discussion. Partly in response to that blog and partly to having a week off - my short reading drought has come to an end. It's great!

In which N.T. Wright outworks the contraversial 'new perspective on Paul' in pithy daily devotional chunks. This is thought-provoking, stirring, well-written and witty stuff, very readable and beneficial (even for those unconvinced by all of the 'new perspective' school).

In which Charles Mckean looks at the railway politics of the Victorian era. There are many books which analyse the immediate causes of the fall of the Tay bridge, (design, supervision, ironworks, workmanship) but Mckean does better by looking at the economic system which forced the rival railway companies to attempt huge civil engineering projects on shoe-string budgets - arguing that the British parliament's obsession with 'compeittion' blinded it for the need for a coherently planned rail network. He compares the French attitude in the same era and argues that their planning both prevented such catastrophe's then, and beqeathed a far more useful infrastructure to the 20th century.

In which the celebrated Croatian theologian, Miroslav Volf discusses grace and forgiveness in a world marred by evil. He reflects powerfully on his homeland, and on his own family life to illustrate what it means to say that our sins are forgiven, and atoned for, by God; and how in turn we should forgive others. I'm only a little way into this one - so far it is compelling!

Rood Pix!

Rood Awakenings is series of events as a fringe contribution to the Perth Festival of the Arts this weekend. The uniting theme in all their events is the spiritual conception that creativity is a God-given (and I would want to add God-reflecting) capacity. One of the events is a photography competition looking at everyday images of the cross (hence 'rood'). Unfortunately my Skye trip meant I missed the entry date so can't add my pictures to their gallery, so I've posted them here as my own fringe contribution to the fringe, sort of 'beyond the fringe' I suppose.

"Crown Him with Many Thorns"

This photo is of part of a fence near my house. The barbed wire that makes up the cross-piece is supposed be a challenge to the traditional golden, gilted cross seen on church buildings and altars. These domesticate the cross and rob it of it's rightful brutality. The popular hymn 'Crown Him with Many Crowns" asks the congregation to imagine the risen, exalted Christ - Philippians 2 reminds us first to look at the crown of thorns.

"Like a tender shoot"

This photo I took because of the way that the shoots of the plant growing around the frame resembled a twisted, crucified form. I hoped it would capture Isaiah's prophecy of the coming Messiah:

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

"Receive Me"

This one is based on the sorry pun about reception. The TV Aeriel on a local hotel is distinctly cruciform and makes me recall Jesus words in instituting the bread and wine as remembrances of his crucifixion, "this is my body, broken for you, ....take" He invites us to receive him.


Jesus' last recorded words from the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" have long been known as the "cry of dereliction". I went out looking for a suitably derelict cross and found this forlorn attic window on an abandoned hospital site, awaiting demolition. The sanitised crosses of cathedrals need to be balanced by cross images of abandonment, dismay, confusion and destruction to remain meaningful. I once heard a worship leader quoting the words of Jesus that 'people would be drawn to him' when he was 'lifted up' - and from this talked about the importance of worship. The irony of course is that when Jesus was 'lifted up' it was not in adoration, but on a Roman executioners gibbet.

A familiar gilded cross might speak of the deity of the Christ who saves us, but these images hopefully also speak of the human Christ who suffers with us and for us.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Scrambled Legs - Days in the Black Cuillin of Skye

I'm back from the wonderful Isle of Skye, recovering from an intensive week of walking, scrambling and climbing. Wife had bought me a week in a group with a mountain guide, for my birthday, so last Saturday I bade my farewells to the family and pointed my old car North-Westwards, with a nervous excitement.

The excitement was then rapidly dampened, firstly by the week's weather forecast which made pretty grim reading, and by the news that our guide had been caught up helping in an all-night mountain rescue and that we wouldn't be going out on the first day.

Things however soon picked up. On day two we managed a rain-soaked scramble around Sgurr a' Mhadaidh and Sgurr a' Greadhaidh, high above beautiful Glen Brittle. I was delighted to discover that the rest of the group were not superhuman fitness-machines, who would want to run up and down the steep hillsides, but were more than content with my kind of leisurely pace. It was also clear from the start that they were going to be a friendly, good-natured bunch of walking companions for the week.

The following day we went southwards to the Glen Brittle campsite, and did the long walk-in to pay our respects to the summit cairns of Sgurr nan Eag, Sgurr Dubh Morr, and Sgurr Alasdair. Our guide, George Yeomans proved to be a most excellent fellow! He showed us the different types of rock the Cuillin are made from, such as Gabbro (rough, coarse and easy to climb) and Basalt, (hard, shiny and slippery). The tiny summit of Sgurr Alasdair proved to be Basalt, and we stood on the tiny summit being bombarded with millions of tiny hail-stones, cursing our luck that the previous week's groups has enjoyed it in hot sunshine!

A monstrous headache put me out of action for much of the following day, while the rest of the party climbed Sgurr na Banadich from Glen Brittle again. Nevertheless the following day more than made up for the loss of the Wednesday as we headed for the North end of the mighty Cuillin ridge.

na Frith is a beautiful mountain - and this was our first Munro of day 4, closely followed by the brutal shape of Am Basteir adn then Sgurr nan Gillean, attained by it's savage west-ridge (pictured: top-left). I haven't rock climbed and abseiled for years, and this was a highly exposed and welcomed return to it. For a few minutes we even managed a view from this hill, a pleasure which would prove to be almost completely elusive, all week.

Our final day was less successful. Although it started well with a good walk in and then heady scramble to the summit of Sgurr Mich Coinnich our trip to the famous Inaccessible Pinnacle was a disappointment...

We arrived at the Pinn to find a huge queue waiting to get onto it! Realising that it would be several hours before we cold get climbing, we huddled into the shelter tent, in bivvy bags and tried to keep warm waiting for a turn on the infamous rocky blade. However, the large group of climbers from Totnes were not going to be hurried, and as we waited the weather deteriorated. Hail became sleet, became snow - which began to settle on the Pinn, making it dangerously slippery. Soon the climbing club gave up their ascent attempt, belayed off the Pinn declaring it too slippery in wet snow; while our guide led us safely off the mountain.

The Cuillin are the most impressive, dramatic and exposed hills I have climbed. Bleak, crumbling, frost-shattered, their array of ridges, summits and pinnacles tower above the surrounding glens in breath-taking style.

Hopefully next year I will be able to get back and climb the Inn Pinn and the other hill I missed, Sgurr nan Banachdich. Can't wait!

Monday, May 14, 2007

On Youth Hosteling..

Of all the misnomers in the English tongue, there are possibly few which stretch credulity as far as that of the "youth hostel". That the place in which I stayed, Glenbrittle Youth Hostel (pictured) is a hostel and not a hotel, is not the contentious bone! Rather it is the persistent use of the word 'youth' in their title, despite the fact that the vast majority of their clientele made their exit from this category shortly after completing their national service, that looks a little odd.

Now, you might rightly point out that I am hardly within my rights to labour such a point, given that I have just spent a week in a 'youth hostel' - despite my advanced age. Indeed I did so without shame, embarrassment, or pretension of still being a 'yoof'. In fact I did so without even the need for any sense of irony that I should be making use of facilities provided "especially for the young". How so? Well, simply because for some of the time there, I was the youngest guest in attendance, and certainly lowered the average visitor age by some decades for most of it.

Dog-eared, faded, foostie copies of "The Scottish Peaks" by Poucher, held together by brown paper and string; are still in use today by dog-eared, faded, foostie men held together by similar means. They still stalk Highland Hostels in their unruly facial hair and enormous propensity for snoring - much as they did half a century ago. The one change it seems, is that their dusty hill-worn frames now come wrapped in expensive Gore-tex.

So here's to the "youth hostel", possibly the one place to which I can retreat that makes me feel like a youth.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Stumpy Greenisland at 40

I see that the hon Dr Stumpy Greenisland (sic) - for it is he, has clocked up four decades. It occurs to me that that is an awful lot of misery that has accrued both to himself, his family and friends and to the wider world, in fact that is roughly 14610 days of gloom and I really can't be bothered working out the hours. It is amazing to think, when one contemplates the man himself, that he really has only got four decades under his belt. When one considers such things as his infamous tobacco-less pipe, his minute and crumbling frame, his inhabitation of a cultural world which ceased to meaningfully exist in 1958, and his chess-game which progresses at the astonishing rate of one-move-per day, one would assume the individual concerned to be 70 at least, and have almost no chance of completing the current chess match within the confines of normal life-expectancy. So it is with a sense of quiet disbelief that we mark this point in the road, this milestone, this defining moment, this er.. descent down the concave curve of life, this expiration of the best-before date. We salute the achievement of this birthday just loudly enough to drown out the gentle music of the inevitable demise to which every day successfully navigated, brings us only ever closer.

And when we stop to consider forty years of this (thankfully) unique individual, we first note that the vagaries of providence are indeed beyond our finding out. This is indeed a cruel world. When we think of this man, what first comes to mind is the smell. For as we all know the imminent arrival of his bodily presence is usually preceded by the competing odours of foostie bookshops and snake-oil. Then we think of his arrival when we are, despite having known him for over a quarter of his many years, shocked by his diminitude which grows greater (or lesser, I suppose) with the years. Then we engage in conversation with the good Dr, a heady, even psychotic, melee of studiousness, lunacy and misery. We stand truly in awe of the breadth of the man's learning and his impressive record of academic publications, but equally rejoice in his determination not to restrict his remarks to subjects about which he knows anything at all.

We picture Dr Stumpy Greenisland in any manner of undignified poses; rolling with laughter on the floor like an inebriated chimp; staring blankly at the bottom of a whisky glass contemplating parenthood; hiding his face in the sofa contemplating the misery and futility of it all, or dancing with his children.

Ladies and Gentlemen - I give you the Hon Dr Stumpy Greenisland at 40.
Here's to another 40 wasted years.

Happy Birthday Doris

Happy Birthday little 'Doris'.

I can't believe you are two already.

Into our family you have brought love, smiles, giggles, quirkiness, bright eyes, the second strongest-will I have ever encountered, noise, tiredness, joy, thankfulness and complete, total and utter chaos. We thought that your two brothers had provided all there could ever be of these things, but you have added you own unique take on them all!
We wouldn't be without you. Happy Birthday!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

How to Eat

Tired of chewing and swallowing food? Looking for a way to waste less time at the meal-table? Always felt that there were just too many steps involved in absorbing nutrition?
Not anymore! Let young 'Doris' teach you how to save time, effort and your stomach, by absorbing food directly into the bloodstream though the face! Here she demonstrates the simple technique with a chocolate mousse.
Go on - give your poor stomach a rest, try the revolutionary Doris eating system today!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Rood Awakenings

Rood Awakenings is fringe contribution to the Perth Festival of the Arts by Christians as a celebration of creativity by artists who believe their gifts come from, and reflect their creator.
Some of my friends have been instrumental* in putting this together in Perth. Click on the image above to go to their website. Although the events and performances will be held in Perth, there is a photography competition running too, looking at images of the cross in everyday life - so any of you artistic types who read this blog from further afield please join in too.
The irony of the fact that this message has been brought to you by the least artistic person you know, is hereby humbly noted.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Playing Catch-up

This week we''ve managed to contact or heard from several old friends who haven't been heard of for years. It's been really great to hear from people, mostly from University days and to find out where they have all ended up. Some of the tales are fascinating, like the two I spoke to the other day just returned from Papua New Guinea, or the ones who now have kids we knew nothing about, or are expecting children. Then I have just had an e-mail from someone who now lives near Belfast, a place I clearly remember him telling me in which he "could not possibly live"!
It's turns out that reminiscing is one of the few things that actually improves with age.