Monday, March 31, 2008

Saying Goodbye to Little Grandma (1918 - 2008)

This is the short talk I gave at my Grandma's funeral on Friday. Well roughly anyway - this is what I intended to say, and managed most of!

Today, like many of you I am experiencing the perplexing collision of grief and gratitude. There is today a real sense of grief, in her passing, her no longer being here – her absence. Alongside that however there is also a huge sense of gratitude. Gratitude for having known her, her love, care, interest, encouragement and example! I am also aware that many people do not get to enjoy a grandparent for 37 years as I have (35 years for my sister!)

We are also very grateful to all of you who have come here today, for being here and sharing this important and significant occasion with us. If you had told my Grandma a year ago, how many people would come and remember her today – she just would not have believed you! If she had known how far some of you have come to be here she would have said, “you shouldn't have!”. And then she would have spent the rest of the day worrying about you getting home!

My sister and I have spent a lot of time on the phone this week, sharing memories of our Grandma. There are so many happy memories, stretching back so far. As we talked, memory after memory – too many to mention came back to us. The 1st draft of this was about an hour long!

The first thing we remembered was all the places that we explored with Grandma – and with our Grandpa when he was alive too. Penton Hook islands in the Thames, Windsor Great Park, The Copper Horse, Virginia Water, Saville Gardens, Winkworth Arboretum, Bushy Park, Woodland Gardens, St Anne’s Hill, Chertsey Lock, Laleham, Windsor Castle on the train, or on the boat from Staines! And these are just a few of the places she took us, and we explored together.

The next way we thought of Grandma was at home, initially in Parkland Grove with my Grandpa, subsequently in Chaucer Road with George. Grandma’s house in Parkland Grove was where we went for exciting sleepovers as young children, and where we went when we were off sick from school – and were looked after!

Grandma’s House was always a place of welcome. A place where we were always wanted. She was always pleased to see us – it never seemed to be an inconvenient time! And I know that this was not just something reserved for her grandchildren – because I met so many of you there too, and so many people have spoken about her always open welcoming door.

There was only one person I have ever come across who was unwelcome in her house. My sister was there with Grandma one Tuesday, George had gone out to do the shopping – when an aggressive drunken man staggered in through the front door and began shouting in the house. Facing him my sister froze, not knowing what to do. Grandma however – by this stage in her 80s, marched past her, grabbed the bloke and frogmarched him out of the door! Amazed, my sister said, “how did you do that?!” and was met with dismissive “we fought a war you know!” look from Grandma!

Significantly though – and this was Grandma, once outside and not threatening her she spoke to him, established that he was looking for directions and helped him and explained where to go!

As we talked more and more about memories of Grandma, we realised that in so many of our memories Grandma was laughing! Either smiling, chuckling or really laughing, and that fills so many of our memories – and we have seen her laugh until tears rolled down her face!

Now, every family has its different traditions! In our family, one of our most hallowed traditions was teasing Grandma – fairly remorselessly and unmercifully! Something, I hasten to say, she loved, played up to and positively encouraged. And I can still picture her face, laughing until it hurt, her face getting redder, and tears rolling down it!

On one occasion, not that long after my Grandpa had died, Grandma decided to experiment with what was intended to be a subtle, delicate, purple rinse in her hair! In fact it turned out to be rather more….., well OK – it was shocking purple! My sister and I lost sight of her somewhere at Virginia Water and went around asking people if they had seen an old lady with purple hair! When this proved to be a successful way to locate her, we never let her forget her flirtation with punk fashion!

We also loved to wind Grandma up! When my (now) wife started to visit during the University holidays, Grandma (desperate to know all the details!) would come up and say, “is she a special friend?”. I would reply, “Grandma, all my friends are special!” Simply to frustrate her insatiable curiosity!

Over so many years, we had so much fun with our little Grandma! We were so well look after! She cared for us. She worried about us. She prayed for us
She encouraged us.

But I do not want this afternoon just to think about incidents that happened and what she did. I would also like to remember some of her qualities. I would like to mention three things that her life and example have taught me:

The first is this: People matter more than things!
A cynical critic of modern life said: “We used to use things and love people, but today we love things and use people” Not my Grandma! She loved people! Valued people! She loved you – and you knew it when you visited her! Maybe because she knew what it was like to be genuinely poor as we heard in her biography which was read earlier. But what drove her life – what informed the daily choices she made - was not the accumulation of goods, but caring for and serving other people.

The second thing is this: The nature of True Beauty
We live in an age in which are bombarded with messages from the world- most obviously in advertising. The message that is thrust upon us is this, that beauty, attractiveness and value are outward things which come though opulent living, conspicuous consumption, outward adornment, and an obsession with appearance. My Grandma didn’t epitomise any of those outward things – or strive after them. Yet countless people were drawn to her. She had a warmth, a radiance, a genuine beauty that drew people to her!

Her life demonstrates what the Bible indicates – that true beauty isn’t external and communicated through outward things. True beauty comes from communing with God and is communicated through character!

For her, the desire to be more Christlike was not merely an ‘article of faith’ - but a reason for living!! And you will simply never understand my Grandma unless you have grasped that!

The third thing is this: What it means to be truly Great
When the history books are written of the last century I doubt my Grandma’s name will be mentioned! Instead it will be full of the names and deeds of Kings, Prime Ministers, Generals and Millionaires. But I believe that at the end of all things when GOD weighs the world in the balances of His values. True Greatness – will be seen not to have been held by those who wielded great earthly power. But by those, like my Grandma, who were faithful, humble, ordinary servants of Christ! People whose lives were shaped by Him - whose characters were moulded by Him! People like my Grandma – who never sought attention, never pushed herself forward, never issued clever put-downs or diminished others for her own gain. People whose greatest joy was quietly serving Christ – and others. This will be revealed as the meaning of true greatness. I think its what Jesus meant when he said, “The first will be last and the last will be first”!

Finally, she was a wonderful Grandma, and a wonderful example! We could not have asked for a better Grandma! Hence the collision of grief and gratitude we feel today - because of the love we have received, the fun we have had, and the example we have been set!

The hurting were drawn to her and she always offered genuine love and concern. The doubting and the lost came to her and she pointed them to Christ (and several found Him). She offered genuine love without patronising. She shared Christ humbly and openly but never forcefully.

In so doing she exemplified everything to which I aspire.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Goodbye Little Grandma
Rest in Peace

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror;
then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully,
even as I am fully known.

Pouring Money Down the Drain?

Traditionally, charities have been exempt from paying water/sewerage charges. Providing water for everything from homeless shelters to churches was seen as the very least the state could do, without burdening them with a tax to pay for it. In Scotland, at least, all that could soon change with the government's plans to axe this charitable exemption in their current review of water charging.

The government's handling of the charitable sector over the last decade has been a mixed bag. On one hand the gift-aid scheme has continued to channel a large amount of cash out of government coffers and into charitable works; on the other hand the gradual shift in emphasis from direct to 'stealth' taxes has meant that an ever reducing proportion of the overall tax burden is eligible for such benefits.

If the charitable exemption from water charging is axed as proposed, it will amount to an extra tax being imposed upon some of the most valuable work being done in our communities. In Scotland it is a de facto tax, because Scottish Water remains state owned. It is certainly the case that as we enter a probable recession, the government's revenues from business profits will tumble, their borrowing increase and they will need to claw-back expenditure from every conceivable source. The fact remains however that we still pursue foreign policy initiatives which in their scale have failed to notice our decline from being a major world player with an Empire, to being a minor European state. The UK bill in Iraq has now topped £7bn, but apparently we cannot pipe water to the CATH centre for the homeless in Perth, without taxing them.

If the general principles of this proposal seem all wrong, the details look worse. Whichever well-meaning bureaucrat was charged with the task of establishing principles for charging water rates has decided that the most equitable way of banding the properties is by 'roof area'. This bizarre and entirely arbitrary idea no doubt looks terrific when viewed from the perspective of ...... well anywhere except the real world. In practice it could mean that a large church building could be put into a very high billing-band, not because hundreds of church-members go there to bath, wash their clothes, run their dishwashers or run micro-breweries or other such water-guzzling activities, but simply because their beautiful old church has a lot of roof tiles.

If, like me, you think that the government should be recognising the value of the charitable sector and not imposing such burdens upon it, read on! There is a petition being presented to the Scottish Government, requesting that the charitable exemption from water charges be maintained. If you agree with me and wish to sign it, you can do so here. If you disagree, tell me why!

Book Notes: Pies and Prejudice by Stuart Maconie

Having extolled the virtues of a good bog-book, here's one that has amused me of late! Contrary to the expected stereotype, Maconie is a DJ who is literate, and these are his musings as he revisits his homeland "The North of England". Maconie is a proud Northerner, who despises the South and all it stands for, but one who parodies himself and admits that he lives in London and enjoys much of the southern-ness he so deprecates! The North though, is his home, and his anecdotes, observations (both present and historical) are often funny, sometimes alarming, occasionally a little crude - but all told in his trademark laconic style, and often with compelling use of language.

His travels take him through Lancashire towns (Mills and Bhuna!); to seedy Blackpool, "that great lurid behemoth of tat"; to Bury where they can't screen for colon cancer because the locals eat so much blood-laden black pudding that they show up thousands of false positives; to Liverpool whose "Beatles heritage industry.. is as sentimental and savvy as only Liverpool can be". What's lovely is that Maconie writes not like a Boris Johnson who comes from outside to mock, but writes as a local who both adores his home and finds it funny. And his book takes him on through the North-East, through cities, across mountains and moors. Hugely enjoyable light reading - this is a bog book!

Then on Sunday, I was approached by a grinning Everton fan, and so was immediately suspicious. His opening words were, "I've been reading your blog". Many an inauspicious conversation has commenced thus! So my heart sank, and I begun to mentally recall everything posted over the last few months - trying to work out who I might have offended this time! However - as I wound down the car window to speak to him, he handed me this:

Apparently short-snippets of light reading designed for those few quiet moments a day, come ready packaged. Cheers!

Monday, March 10, 2008

More Pod Fuel!

I posted recently on a number of good things available as podcasts these days and how much I was enjoying several of them, here. Recent weeks has led to the addition of a number of useful subscriptions (all free I might add!). In what is listed I have added direct links to the provider - but all of these listed as podcasts can be found directly through iTunes too.

The BBC has the usually excellent, "From Our Own Correspondent" now available, this week featuring more from Iraq - on the quality of daily life being experienced by ordinary Baghdadi's.

Great Speeches in History, is an excellent little podcast which raids the sound archives every fortnight to add a, sometimes crackly recording, of a momentous speech. Recently they have made available the iconic "I have a dream" from Martin Luther King Jr, Churchill's first public broadcast as Prime Minister, vowing to resist Nazi oppression as German tanks roll across an as yet still resisting France, and the speech at the UN inaugurating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All fascinating stuff.

Endlessly Restless drew my attention to one of the Sunday sermons given at HTB in London (the place my wife and I attended The Marriage Course training) - and there's been some things of interest there.

The BBC is now podcasting not only news bulletins,but also local and regional news bulletins too. Tayside and Central has its own regular five minute news summary, and BBC Radio Scotland has its outdoors programme Scotland Outdoors up there too.

Not on the podcast front, but free audio downloads, Tim Keller in New York has a new series of talks outlining his approach to Christian Apologetics, which are the basis of his new book, "Reason for God". These are a thoughtful and considered discussion of Christian orthodoxy, and why he finds it coherent - in the light of the cultural questions posed by post modernity. The download page is here.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

How Advertising Actually Works

Raining Cats and Hats

So all we could do was to
And we did not like it.
Not one little bit.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Bog Book

Everyone should have a bog-book.

In common with all other humans, there are a few quiet moments every day which I spend hidden away, allowing my body to dispose of its waste (an entirely natural process, neither a passing fad, nor injurious to health). I have discovered that these need not be wasted minutes, but in fact can become time well spent, if one has been careful in selecting a suitable bog book, and left it within reach.

There are certain requirements that a good bog book must possess however. It must be the sort of easy reading that is easy to pick up and put down, to be appreciated in small amounts, and not requiring much continuity of thought. It cannot be too intellectually demanding, or concentration sapping, but works better if it is lighthearted, and well written. Maps work well, as do humorous poems, books with very short chapters, and some travel writing; novels and academic books on the other hand are disastrous bog books and should be left in the study.

So my advice for the day, my top-tip is this. Get yourself a bog book, a toilet-tome, a cludgie-companion. The smallest room in the house, need be the dullest, no more!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


"You'll never squeeze another house in there!"

-"Just watch us!"

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

You couldn't make it up..

The headline of the day is that there is industrial action looming, and a walkout planned at...... ACAS!

(incidentally, why is there only one Competition Commission?)

Monday, March 03, 2008

Anyone fancy a hillwalk or two?

A cold, grimy day on 'The Buachaille'

The walking and outdoor programme has just been announced for the year - and it looks good, with a mixture of Munro's and high-level walks for the sad-Munro-baggers amongst us, some easier low level walks, and a couple of days suitable for families too.

19 April Ben Vrackie
10 May Glen Coe (part of West Highland Way)
31 May Isle of May
21 June Bynack More, Cairngorms
26 July Sgor Gaoith and Mullach Clach a’Bhlair, Glen Feshie
23 August Beinn a’Chlachair, Geal Charn and Creag Pitridh, (nr Laggan)
30 August Millport, Cumbrae (cycle trip during C/W festival)
13 September Drymen to Balhaha, over Connick Hill (West Highland Way)
25 October Fife coastal (Part IV)

Walks usually leave from the car-park at Perth Baptist Church, and we share cars as much as possible. Times vary according to the distance to travel and the severity of the walk. These are not instructor-lead walks, and everyone going assumes responsibility for their own equipment, safety and navigation. However it is more fun to climb the hills together than all going off and doing different hills on the same day! Anyone is welcome to tag along with the eclectic characters who usually amass for such occasions!