Thursday, January 31, 2008

Monday, January 28, 2008


Boris and The Saints

Young Boris' wish finally came true at the weekend when he was taken to a professional football match. He often plays on Saturday mornings on the training pitches under the shadow of the main stand at St Johnstone's McDiarmid Park, and has expressed frequent longings to get inside the big ground and see the real thing.

It may have been freezing cold, it may have been raining, and it may have only been St. Johnstone beating Stirling Albion 2-1 in the Scottish first division, and it wasn't exactly the beautiful game - but between 3 and 5 o'clock on Saturday afternoon, there wasn't a happier boy in Scotland. "This is a day I will never forget" he beamed!

We were both numpties however. I was a numpty because it is so long since I have been to a game that I wasn't aware of all the regulations about what you could/couldn't bring in to the ground. So part of our snacks/drinks had to be hidden behind the counter in the souvenir shop. Then Boris was a numpty because he couldn't get the hang of the tip-up seat. What seemed to defeat him repeatedly was the fact that if he stood up to cheer, the seat would tip-up and not be there for him to plunge his weight back down on to. He kept many people amused with his unintentional slapstick routine for much of the game.

Wet, shivering and £20 worse off, I retreated to the warmth of the car feeling that Dad-duties had been satisfyingly completed. All the way home, Boris read me the fixture list for the rest of the season from his programme. Maybe see you there!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lines across London

Delivered by stealth, under cover of darkness, I arrived at concrete, soulless Euston. Having slipped silently over the dark silhouettes of Beattock and Shap, I rubbed my eyes and awoke to its sulphurous glare and multi-storey-car-park charm. In a half-slept stagger I meandered its interminable platforms before descending the escalator to London's underground veins. Here, I waited until caressed by the hot foul air that announced the tube's arrival. A thousand parallel lives travel through the earth together unmet, until accidental eyes collide - to self-consciously avert. Mind the gap.

At rush-hour Vauxhall, the dark river lumbers on, while the Oval's gas-holders preside over the seething city below. Countless trains whine through the platforms, draining the suburbs of life in its daily tidal flow. Reading, Guildford, Dorking, Kingston, Portsmouth, surrender its finest to the jaws of Waterloo. The graffiti artist who once wrote 'Good Morning Lemmings' on the A40 would be moved by the ruthless efficiency they have achieved on the old LSWR.

Driven by the need to live, a stubborn weed drives its way through the tarmac, to break free into glorious air - and smells London. Fetid, dank, littered London. Crowded, bloated, screaming London. This faded Imperial bully, whose Empire once coloured half the atlas, whose marbled wealth was extracted through tyranny, can barely feed and clothe its own.

My train arrives, and takes me out through Clapham junction, across featureless leafy suburbia and towards air. Berlin had a wall, but the edge of this great city is marked by the M25 motorway. As the train glides over it, four-lanes of stationary red lights mark it's passage North, as four lanes of stationary headlamps do for the South. The cold constrictors embrace diminishes a thousand lifetimes.

It took all the effort she could muster. It took several attempts. But yet undeniably, her weak, bloodied, trembling hand was moving out from under the sheet. In an act of sheer willpower, the fractured pieces of her mind managed to connect for just long enough to instruct the hand to rise, to mine; first one, and then the other. And to me they came, seeking love, seeking presence, reassurance, connection. These old, damaged, precious hands, bruised and emaciated, gave-out an old familiar love, even as they drank in the steady drip-drip-dip that was keeping her alive. There are moments of extraordinary beauty here amongst the dread.

The night train smuggled me out of London that night. This time the power failed in my carriage and we slid through the city's fingers in total darkness, the oppressive shadowy outlines of great buildings bearing down upon us with even greater force -now that we were denied bright windows behind which to hide.

The train accelerated as it drew me towards the windswept and happy North, and I eagerly anticipated walking home and the cold, clean, Scottish rain on my face. So I stared out of the window for the last time at dark London, this place in which wars are schemed and millions ruined; and realised that somehow this is also the setting for moments of exquisite beauty, where daily countless trembling hands meet.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Book Notes: William Wilberforce - The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner by William Hague

I have been immersed in this book for the last week or so. I was given it as a Christmas present, and I must admit when I received it I was a little surprised, and not a little sceptical (William Hague??!) .

Now however, about two-thirds of the way through I am thoroughly enjoying an excellent read. Hague has done a huge amount of research, and presents the story of the man, in the context of the political and ideological backdrop of his age, with remarkable insight and clarity of writing. The way he deals with Wilberforce's faith, is excellent too -in that he seeks to understand Wilberforce in his own terms and to not merely critique the man from without, but also to understand him from within. His discussion of the spiritual and psychological process of conversion is fascinating, as is the use of Wilberforce's diaries to demonstrate the warm-but-driven Puritan spirituality which animated every aspect of his work - from his celebrated campaign against the slave trade, his opposition to war and attempts to curb use of the death penalty - as well as his hostility to revolutionary ideas and trade unions. As one would expect, Hague is especially adept at describing the drama of the parliamentary machinations surrounding the many-decade long fight for abolition of the wicked 'trade in souls.'

Wilberforce's conviction that the spiritual and moral goals he pursued were set before him by God, were brought into sharp focus by the fact that he had a strong sense of accountability before the God who judges - and his frequent bouts of ill health. As such he lived with an urgency of purpose which meant that he tried to relentlessly pursue these goals, with a sense that the time he had in which to achieve them was diminishing.

With fascinating material on early influences, spiritual formation, his relationship with Pitt, social action, personal life, political career - this is an excellent read. While it is thoughtful in its analysis, extensive in its research and referencing, and so well paints the personal narrative onto the times in which they occurred, it does not descend into the mire of obscure academic debates and jargon -but is clearly and accessibly written. It is an excellent place to go if, like me, the film "Amazing Grace" left you full of questions about the man, his faith and the times in which he sought to work outwork it. I didn't expect it to be this good!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

All sung out.... . .

The only thing I really dislike about church these days is ... singing. I have spent my life singing in various contexts, as a child, as an adult, along with music, on my own, with others -and in various church contexts have sung probably every hymn and worship song around. It isn't simply that my voice is failing and that I cannot sing properly anymore, although that is an increasingly uncomfortable obstacle to overcome - I think it is more than that. Today for example, the kids talk was great, the times of quiet reflection and prayer were helpful, communion was meaningful, and the sermon useful, solid exegesis; however I am increasingly finding the church music a distracting obstacle to overcome in order to present myself in a worshipful frame of mind to God. What makes it worse is that I am struggling both with the musical style which we use - and some of the lyrical content offered. In short, I am sometimes invited to sing songs I don't identify with, in a musical format that makes me cringe.. sometimes deeply.

It isn't simply a case that we don't import the latest trendy worship songs from the conference circuit because these can be amongst the worse offenders. Today for example, meaningful worship was facilitated in songs such as "Great is Thy Faithfulness". I was conscious the whole time of my Grandma's failing health in the hospital, this was uplifting, and faith-nurturing. The new song sung however, was from the very bottom drawer of the "Jesus loves you Boogaloo" school of songwriting, with vacuous theology and a tune so twee it could have come from Mary Poppins. Such things make me feel almost entirely alienated, and frankly depressed.

Do you know what I would really like? A complete rest from singing in church. Even if it were only for a few months -perhaps that would rekindle my enthusiasm. Perhaps it would enable us to find other ways of expressing our praise, and it might also facilitate some serious thinking about the purpose of church music, rather than the assumption that singing is what we must always do when we meet together! (There is a biblical mandate to sing, but no indication that this must form the essential content of every meeting of believers.)

The other thing I would really like would be to meet with other people, read the Bible together, pray together, share needs and support one another - without a cheesy musical accompaniment....... so, see you at housegroup!!
[rant over]


Tonight I am once again praying for my little Grandma, who is very ill in hospital.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Be lion-mettled, proud and take no care
Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are;
Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until
Great Birnan Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
Shall come against him

That will never be.
Who can impress the forest, bid the tree
Unfix his earth-bound root? Sweet bodements! Good!
Rebellious dead rise never till the wood
Of Birnan rise, and our high-placed Macbeth
Shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath
To time and mortal custom......

(click photo to enlarge and read the info)

A great afternoon today on Dunsinane Hill, allegedly the castle of Macbeth, where carrying branches from Birnam hill as camouflage, Malcolm and Macduff finally killed him. There was neither murder, armies, battles nor demonic word-play to grapple with today, merely icy cold winds. Boris and Norris were in their element, enjoying the space to run and plenty of wet mud to slosh about in, and the battlements of an iron-age fort to scale.

Wonderful views from the top as well (despite the fact that it was so gloomy and overcast). The Tay rail bridge at Dundee is obvious, with the road bridge just visible in the background.

Even Dundee looks nice from up here!

Friday, January 18, 2008

What are you looking at?

After spectacularly failing his eye-tests, young Norris is now the proud owner (and wearer) of glasses. How long he is prepared to wear them (especially if teased), or how long they will remain intact and not scratched during the school day is anyone's guess! Today however he was highly amused with what appeared to be going to school in fancy dress, asking if his teacher would recognise him! Young Doris (2) has come out in sympathy with her brother and has decided that she will wear her sunglasses all day. This is probably not a remarkable show of solidarity, more an unwillingness to be left out of the game.

Last year, as you may know, young Norris had all manner of problems with his hearing - which resulted in surgery. This year it seems to be his eyesight. No points will be awarded to anyone who adds any comments to this post about Pinball.............

Wonderful Tryfan

(Thanks to Mr Mackay for the photo, of the North Top from the summit)

Tryfan was the first real 'mountain' that I ever climbed. Prior to a week in Snowdonia with a group from Strode's College, I had spent many happy days wandering across the North Downs, trekking up scarp and down dip though the rolling English weald, and also a week staggering through the peat bogs of the Peak District. Scrambling up Tryfan's North ridge to the summit stones (known as Adam and Eve) was my first exposure to, well..... exposure, nearly 3,000 glorious feet of it down to the loch below. Though the scrambling is generally straightforward, Tryfan was a new an exhilarating experience.

Going back to Tryfan again - twenty years later was great. The first time I climbed it, I was young, light, and very fit and healthy - and it was a glorious summer's day. This time, I was the oldest, fattest and weariest member of the group - and not only was it Baltic, but the top 500ft or so were covered in ice. By the time we reached the ice layer it was too far to turn back - not out of sheer stubbornness, but because it actually safer to climb the last few hundred feet and then make the easier descent route - than to try and descend the slippery North ridge! In addition to this, on previous attempts on the hill I have avoided the North top, and skirted it up the gully to the east - but Alan and his pals (several of whom are hardened Alpinists) spent a lot of effort researching the hardest routes up the thing!

When we returned to Pete's Eats in Llanberis for a well-earned cuppa I was very satisfied with the day. My fears of being left languishing as the young-fit members of Alan's climbing club disappeared over the horizon had been unfounded, and I had managed not to fall off anything too significant. Along with meeting the array of fascinating characters with whom I was walking, it was especially good to be back on Tryfan - a wonderful hill.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Man Cold

Could have been filmed on our house today..... thanks to the Solihull 5 for showing me the clip.

AJ's send-off

Seventeen characters assembled in Snowdonia this weekend to celebrate the final days of AJ as a single man. People from his Uni days, work colleagues and fellow climbers were joined by a couple of token family members like me, and his brother who had organised the whole thing. A most entertaining collection of characters they were too, some quite sensible, some eccentrics and one or two complete nutters- all lead to a most enjoyable weekend.

The Heights Hotel in Llamberis was the establishment lucky enough to be chosen for the escapade, and it proved to be more than a match for any anti-social behaviour on offer from our party. Several of the guys present had held their stag weekends here in the "Scabes Hilton" such is its reputation for low prices and willful ignorance of licensing hours.

The photo above captures AJ himself at the foot of the climb up Tryfan, expressing his appreciation to everyone for dressing him in a little foxy pink number for the climb. To his immense credit he did wear the carefully selected attire all the way to the summit, despite the startled expressions it generated on the faces of all the other climbers on the North Ridge that day!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Kandoo?? KanDON'T!!!!

Kandoo are marketed as "flushable toilet wipes", ideal one would think for helping the owners of young tender bottoms to clean their own rear-ends, thus more happily completing the ever-amusing process of toilet-training. It turns out that their product description is a little misleading however! That they are described as 'toilet wipes' rather than 'bottom wipes' is not the point in question (such a minor quibble would be pedantic) - rather, the misleading part is the claim that these are 'flushable'. In fact they have a propensity to block drains... badly!

How do I know this? Well, we were settling down to enjoy New Year, with houseful of guests, when it became apparent that our drains were blocked solid! Drain opening chemicals (in huge doses) failed to shift the blockage, as did attempting to flush it with a hose-pipe. This meant calling in the professionals, who duly appeared with day-glo jackets and high-pressure jets. These blasted though the day's waste, found and removed the cause of the problem - a collection of Kandoo wipes! "B***** Kandoo wipes, the bane of my life!" cried the drain-man, who explained that they have been advising customers not to use them, and that the makers of Kandoo are suing them to defend the reputation of their product. It appears that the definition of "flushable" to Kandoo means that a single wipe can negotiate 1 U-bend in ideal factory conditions, whereas to DynoRod, "not flushable" means "wherever we go, they jam drains up and cause no end of bother!

Independent tests reported by The Times reveled that while many ordinary toilet rolls disperse within 2-3 minutes in water, Kandoo's remained undispersed at the end of the 5-day test! No wonder, that a houseful of guests, with many young children present - all with very productive digestive tracts can cause a drains problem!

I realise that recent posts here have focused on both poo and puke, but alas such is my life!

Kandoo?? Kandon't, whatever you do!

Book Notes: Can We Believe Genesis Today? by Ernest Lucas

I believe it was Dr Stumpy Greenisland who recommended this one to me - and he is usually a reliable recommender of good reading material. As he is a scientist by trade and a Christian by conviction, books on the interplay between science and faith are very much his area, so I knew he wouldn't recommend anything unworthy of attention. What I was less sure about is whether I would understand a book (with sciency bits in it) that he suggested!

I was relieved to find though, that Ernest Lucas' two PhD's (one in science, one in theology) have not made him incomprehensible to students schooled in only one of those disciplines - but has made him rather adept at communicating between the two - at a popular level. This book is especially useful because it contains not merely his argument - but a textbook style overview of different problems in theology and science (especially as concerns Genesis) and the range of suggested solutions. He does however go on to state which of those solutions he finds most reasonable and why. I was amazed at how much science I learnt in the course of it!

It strikes me that while most books, be they theology, science, history, sociology, psychology, or whatever, explore a very narrow area of specialist knowledge in highly technical language - more interdisciplinary studies like this are needed, to explore the interfaces between such disciplines and to educate the ordinary reader as to the conclusions.

Lucas, although a molecular biologist in his scientific career, has taken a lot of time to also explore other crucial areas of science, such geology, fossil records, physics and so forth, to present the reader with an introductory guide to the current debates. A biblical critic by theological training he also presents three main ways in which the Genesis texts have been handled over the course of the last 1800 years - and suggests ways that they should be faithfully, yet responsibly read today.

This book will not satisfy the advanced student of either biblical criticism or of the scientific disciplines referred to. However as a starting point in the discussion it is most helpful. The bibliography at the end of each chapter is also helpfully annotated indicating where to go to explore more from the different positions explored there.