Thursday, October 29, 2009


Mautendorf was a lovely village to stay near - but really seemed to come alive under a good snowfall.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Eritrea: Online Human Rights Petition

Many people are concerned that the usual EU principle of giving aid in conjunction with seeking improvements in human rights, has recently been waived in the case of Eritrea. The human rights situation in that country is desperate, with minorities, especially Christians, facing severe persecution when they seek to express their 'freedom of thought, conscience and religion' (As per Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Historically, such unmonitored grants have been used to further pressure dissenters into obedience to state control. If you agree that the EU should have tied the 122m Euro development to verifiable improvements in civil liberties, you may wish to add your name to the online petition calling on them to do so. You can find it at

(please note this petition is now closed)

And then it snowed...... Mautendorf

'parrently the heaviest they've had there in October for a quarter of a century

Sunday, October 25, 2009

John Lees' Barclay James Harvest Live at Perth Concert Hall

John Lees' Barclay James Harvest played a great gig in Perth Concert Hall on Friday night, featuring a strong set of classic songs, covering the full breadth of their diverse four-decade history.

The gig got off to a strange start, the sound crew having a few problems balancing the sound, and John Lees himself looking strangely flustered and distracted. At the end of the first song (Nova Lepidoptera) he explained that he'd just received a phone call ten-minutes before walking on stage to say that he'd become a grand-father!

The gig then really got started, the sound system seemed to be sorted and band stormed through their set, the highlights of which were upbeat rockers like Cheap the Bullet, and Poor Wages, delicate ballads like Galadriel, the bluesy confessional River of Dreams, as well as more proggy epics such as Mockingbird, She Said, and After the Day. On their last trip to Scotland, keyboard player Woolly Wolstenholme contracted laryngitis and couldn't sing properly which meant that the set had to be changed, and the harmony vocal department was deprived too. This time however he was in good voice, which made for a better show than 2006.

The band had clearly spent long hours in the rehearsal rooms, they were very very tight, every change, every ending worked through (except perhaps for Early Morning - a very late addition to the set). It was a great night which came to a fitting conclusion with the singalong of Hymn, and a standing ovation from the Perth crowd.

As usual, after the gig the band came out to the foyer to chat to the crowd, I always appreciate the way they take time to talk to the kids, sign programmes, answer questions - which helps to make the evening more of an occasion for them too.

It was a fabulous event and a real treat to enjoy a (much maligned!) band who can still deliver their craft with skill, verve, passion enthusiasm and humour. John Lees' Barclay James Harvest are on the UK leg of a European tour, at the following venues:

•23.10.09 Perth Concert Hall (01738 621031)
•24.10.09 Glasgow Òran Mór (0141 357 6200)
•25.10.09 Holmfirth Picturedrome (01484 689759)
•27.10.09 Cheltenham Town Hall (0844 576 2210)
•28.10.09 Milton Keynes, Stables Theatre (01908 280800)
•29.10.09 Colchester Arts Centre (01206 500900)
•30.10.09 London, Bloomsbury Theatre (020 7388 8822)
•31.10.09 Portsmouth New Theatre Royal (023 9264 9000)
•01.11.09 Canterbury Gulbenkian Theatre
•03.11.09 Norwich The Waterfront (01603 508050)

The full Perth set-list was as follows - but the band have over two and a half hours of material rehearsed and will be rotating several items over the next couple of weeks.

1) Nova Lepidoptera
2) Child Of The Universe
3) Poor Wages
4) Mockingbird
5) Iron Maiden
6) Cheap the Bullet
7) Poor Man's Moody Blues
8 ) Harbour
9) Galadriel
10) For No One
11) River of Dreams
12) She Said
13) Loving is Easy
14) The Poet
15) After the Day
16) Early Morning
17) Hymn



Up in a cable car, high into the mountains, where a long path through the snow leads to the world's biggest ice-caves, Eisriesenwelt (no photography). Deep inside the mountain, limestone caves allow water to percolate through - dripping slowly into the sub-zero caves and freezing in the most amazing shapes resembling animals, as well as great columns, of fused stalactytes/mites, made entirely of ice. Sadly they very stictly enforce the no photography rule in the cave, so if you want to see what we saw, look at some of the on-line photos in places such as this.

The Donut Man

Lots of fun in Blairgowrie with the kids - listening to 'The Donut Man' (children's entertainer, singer, pupeteer, and Bible-story teller) doing his thing. It was a bit too young for Boris, but nevertheless had its moments for my younger two - who especially liked his Donut (er, that's a Doughnut to you and me) puppet which is somewhat inevitably known as Duncan.


How strange that our grandfathers fought the grandparents of this lovely Austrian town.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


When some friends invited us to join them on holiday in Austria at half-term, we thought it was a great idea - except that we don't speak any German! But with Aer Lingus offering to fly us all there and back for £139- and lots of fun in great scenery awaiting, even we weren't foolish enough to decline! A really good week; great to get away for a few days! Maybe a few more pix to follow later.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mr Mischief

OK - it's not a picture of today's birthday-boy, but his little brother, Mr Mischief. Captured, as usual, charging without thought to wherever his imagination leads next... This photo is like the infamous, "what happened next" round on A Question Sport, we wait with baited breath to see what horror he will retrieve from the water - or whether he will just lose balance and roll into the pond. Mr Mischief - aka 'Norris', is creative, irrepressible, hilarious, musical, intelligent, loving, ludicrous and quite unable to make adequate links between his actions and their consequences. We always think that after each tumble he will stand up again, wiser, calmer, more contemplative, and less combustible. We continue to live in this hope!

One day when he was quite young, we urged him not to walk too close to the edge of the gorge at The Birks of Aberfeldy, over which he seemed destined to hurl himself. "what would you do if you fell over there?" we asked? "I'd turn into Buzz Lightyear and fly down to the bottom" he announced. Only of course, he wouldn't, would he? The parenting challenge we have for this daft imp, is how to channel his irrepressible energy, contain it positively without breaking his joy, sparkle and character. Parenting...? who can manage it?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Prayer for My Boy on His Tenth Birthday

Father, I thank you for the ten years I have had with my son.
As I look at him I see so much of myself looking back -
hopes, plans, dreams, abilities, failures, weaknesses, vulnerabilities.

So Lord, I pray for my boy tonight, asking that you will provide all that he needs.
Lord, give him the wisdom to navigate life, in times of joy and times of anguish.
Help him to find straight paths, in an often tangled world.
Lord give him insight into others, the ability to perceive the world from their perspective - so to love them in a Christlike way.

Lord give him insight into himself, to save him from pride, and misjudgement.
Then Lord, give him insight into you - that he might find the certain security that comes from walking with you.

Lord, bring the influences to bear on him that will help him to be a well-rounded character, emotionally whole and spiritually healthy.
Lord, may he find good friends, who will care about him, and he for them; friends who will build, not damage the formation of his character.
I pray that one such friend might one day be his wife, a woman of integrity who will stand by him through whatever life offers him, good or ill.

Lord I pray that he will identify the skills you have given him which education will hone to enable him to work usefully and productively in the world.
Lord, I pray that my boy will seek the forgiveness of his sins, and will be so filled with a sense of your forgiving grace, that he will always seek reconciliation with others, always offering forgiveness, just as he has been forgiven.

Lord I pray that as he grows he will find a place in a church fellowship that will love, accept, forgive, embrace, care and nurture him and be a spiritual home for him.
Lord I pray that he will not inherit too many of my bad habits, sins, follies and errors.
Rather that he be spared from these and protected by you.

Lord, when I look at the world, I am filled with paternal concern for my boy,
But I believe that your love for him outshines my own.
So I pray that your good hand would be upon him.
May he have a deliriously joyful birthday,
and may we have the peace of knowing that you are with him always.

Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum in London is an interesting place. We had a few hours there, with my Mum over the half-term holiday. WWII has a massive, and ongoing influence in British culture - the sacrifice and cameraderie of a nation uniting to defeat the evil of Nazism, is a compelling image of national goodness and gallantry. Indeed I remember my Grandpa talking with obvious pride and nostalgia about wartime experiences, and comrades.

For generations of us brought up on such recollections, or on the Dambusters, or The Great Escape, the sight of a Spitfire or a Lancaster can produce a satisfying nostalgia. How easy it is though to forget, in the middle of such displays that everything on show in the great hall of the Imperial War Museum, is an instrument of death. Every machine, every vehicle, every piece of equipment, every aircraft are killing machines. Every Spitfire that risked pilot and crew to down enemy bombers heading for London, or Coventry, and defend us from tyranny, spat out bullets that ripped through the bodies of mother's sons, children's Dad's, wives husbands, someones' neighbour, someone's friend. Unlike the Imperial War Museum North (in Manchester), the main part of the London exhibition has too much kit, and not enough humanity. I would maybe have felt differently if I had attended the Holocaust Exhibition on the top floor, but (afraid that my young children were neither capable of dealing with the subject - or acting appropriately in it) sadly I didn't manage that.

The kids really loved the "Horrible Histories: Terrible Trenches" exhibition though. Based on the TV/series and books, the informative, grizzly and funny exhibition engaged and educated the kids for ages; and left the adults with an interesting ethical dilemma about how long should pass before a tragedy is suitable material for satire. Everyone agreed that the death of Saxon King Edmund II, being stabbed up the rear-end by a Viking hiding in his toilet was ripe for such humour; but has long enough passed since WWI for jokes to be made about malnutrition and lice in the trenches? Here there was less agreement. Either way, the kids were happy - and learning, and asking serious questions too.

Most bizarely however, we met another family from the same school as our kids, and then found out that our kids babysitter was in the museum at the same time as us, and we missed her!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Book Notes: Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

This is a fascinating read: Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science", based on his Guardian column of that name, as recommended in Phil Hammond's amusing "Medicine Balls" book. Although it is about science, its the kind of book that an arts graduate (like me!) can read quite happily, as it's funny, fast-paced, satirical, topical but also makes some very telling points about today's culture and its relationship to 'science'.

After an introduction into what good medical trials ought to consist of, (things like large, randomised, trials with control groups to screen out placebo effects) the first major section of the book debunks a lot of the so called 'evidence' supporting much contemporary and alternative medicine (CAM). Although he scorns things such as homeopathy as scientifically dubious, and totally unproven in proper medical trials - it is the current fad of 'nutrition-ism' which is his major target. His disdain for Dr Gillian McKeith PhD ("or to give her her full academic title, ...Gillian McKeith" - ouch!) is well known. What he seeks to expose is the consistent attempts of the vitamin/nutriotionism industry to dress up new-agey cures in "sciencey-sounding-words" to convince the public that their wares are proven in normal large-scale, replicable, scientific trials.

The second major section of the book is an impressive expose of the way in which the pharmaceutical industry is less than transparent in its dealings with journals, doctors and the public. All manner of dodgy scams are exposed, from burying poor results, setting up false comparisons to make the drug look effective, tinkering with base-lines, ends points and sample-sizes to 'tweak' findings - meaning that trials funded by the company developing the drug are consistently four-times more favourable to the drug than independent research!

The final section looks at the public misunderstanding of science -especially the way in which the media, misunderstands, distorts, sensationalises or just makes-up, a lot of what passes as scientific coverage. The media obsession with whether foods 'cause' or 'cure' cancer - with little evidence for the claims, - or claims based on lab data that has no verifiable effect on real human bodies, is ruthlessly exposed, and the worst newspapers named and shamed. Another media tactic that he deals with is the disproportionate reporting of risk. A headline might scream that 'ibuprofen doubles the risk of heart-attack' - but doubles what, and for whom? If it doubles an infinitesimally minute number, then so what? If it doubles that infinitesimally minute number for a minute fraction of at-risk people, then the risk needs to be factored down even further! Goldacre's book certainly gives the reader many laughs, but also arms them with many useful tool with which to interrogate the claims of all manner of therapies, and the journalists who report on them.

Reading isn't often both as informative - and as much fun as this!

It's Nearly Friday

John Lees' Barclay James Harvest are playing Perth Concert Hall this Friday night! I can't wait - and even better it's a hideous family outing too. The above is from "After the Day", an apocalyptic classic from the early 1970s, filmed on their last UK tour, three years ago.

In the Grounds

Final Hampton Court photo (this is not my garden!)

Two Palaces in One

Part of Hampton Court's appeal is the incongrous clash between the two styles of building - the red-brick Tudor charm of Wolsey/Henry VIII's front, (above) and the grandiose pomposity of Christopher Wren's 'little Versailles' rear (below). Thankfully William and Mary of Orange ran out of cash (and health) before they managed to demolish all the earlier parts of the palace and completely rebuild in baroque opulence.

It's a fantastic place, well worth a visit of you're in the London area. But if like me you think that family admission (including parking, gardens, maze and palace) at well more than fifty quid, is quite beyond the means of most families; you'll do what we did - settle for a walk in the grounds. While maintenance of the place must be vastly expensive, surely the nation's historical sites need to be a bit more accessible to everyone - than this?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tudor Chim-cheroos

The famous Tudor brickwork chimneys on Hampton Court Palace. Although the palace was built by Cardinal Wolsey, it was grabbed by 'Enery the Eighth after Wolsey's fall. English monarch's hung out here by the Thames, west of London for a couple of hundred years after that time, Henry probably gazed up at these chimneys whilst planning his extensions to the palace, or maybe when contemplating smashing another monastery, or his latest marital adventures.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Brian Kennedy live at the Inn at Lathones

On Sunday night, Irish singer-guitarist-songwriter Brian Kennedy played a tiny venue in Fife, the Inn at Lathones. Mrs Hideous and I were amongst the fifty people crammed in to the former stable-block, now music-venue, for his nearly two-hour set.

Kennedy, backed by Eddi Reader on vocals and occasional percussion, played a rich variety of his own material (folk and pop), songs from other bands he's worked with, classic Scottish and Irish folk tunes, and one of Reader's Burns renditions too.

I've seen Kennedy a couple of times before, and they have been mixed experiences. When solo - or with one or two acoustic musicians he has shone, when going down a more pop route with a conventional rock band, he has been good, but lacking the distinctiveness that marks him out as a great talent. At the Inn at Lathones on Sunday, he was in sparkling form. His soaring voice will always be his trademark, and he sang with range, power, delicacy, emotion and quite breathtaking control. He's a surprisingly good guitarist too, not just strumming his way aggressively through the upbeat tunes like "Curragh of Kildare" but picking his way with great sensitivity through heartbreaking numbers like "The Ballad of Killilooe".

Kennedy and Reader was a fabulous combination (she sang many of the backing vocals on Kennedy's best album The Great War of Words") and she wasn't intrusive, but added some gorgeous harmonies to the overall sound. Kennedy himself seemed more at ease playing a small venue than last we saw him, in a large hall when he looked angst ridden and ill at ease. At Lathones he was relaxed, and clearly enjoying pleasing a crowd obviously full of many of his die-hard fans. We only have a couple of his albums, yet neither Mrs H or I could think of a time in which two hours flew by so fast. A top-notch gig.

I've never been to the Inn at Lathones before, and its not somewhere that you'd stumble across, located between St Andrews and Cupar in the depths of Fife. It's where Mundell music have re-located their gigs to from The Famous Beinn Inn in Glenfarg. It's a great little venue too - and if this gig was indicative of the quality on offer, I'll be back.

The following clip (from the inevitable YouTube) is a video of his from 1990. Alternatively see

Book Notes: Adventures on the High Teas by Stuart Maconie

I loved Maconie's previous outing - his 'love letter' to the new North of England, his homeland, "Pies and Prejudice", it was witty, charming and somehow seemed to reek of passionate authenticity. I was intrigued to see that in the follow-up volume, the quintessentially 'northern' broadcaster had travelled across 'middle England' searching for its identity, probing its history and traversing its landscape.

The results are not what I had expected. After a few disparaging remarks in Pies and Prejudice, unfavourably comparing the the soft south with the gritty North - I was expecting plenty of derision here. But while I expected the full weight of Maconie's 'Northern' eloquence to be directed against a parody of Daily Mail reading, 'disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' caricatures - in fact Maconie was a better writer than this. His book explores the swathes of England that actually exist, rather than the popular parody that lingers in the minds of too many journalists -and others who have never actually lived there. He is in turn, bemused, surprised, charmed and delighted by much of what he finds, and visits many places with which I am familiar in his travels.

The only problem with the book is that it just doesn't sound like Stuart Maconie! While Pies and Prejudice is impossible to read without hearing his voice in your mind as you read - it was sometimes hard to imagine that this was all actually written by him at all! While P&P was all pathos, memory, passion, and written with immense personal knowledge - this book is stuffed full of well... competent research. While Pies and Prejudice was curiously moving, this one is .. just rather nice. Perhaps that though was the point. Adventures on the High Teas was a pleasant and amusing way to meander away a few spare moments, but not in the same class as his previous outing. It was also a startling contrast to the last book I read on England, in every conceivable way.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Psalm for the Day

Psalm 133
(A song of ascents. Of David)

1 How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!

2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron's beard,
down upon the collar of his robes.

3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.

Friday, October 02, 2009

A Puritan's Prayer

I read this 'Puritan's Prayer' today and was moved, not merely by its truth, timeliness, relevance and profound insight, but by the fact that its warm spirituality glows through the somewhat archaic language. This prayer is certainly not the last word on penitent prayer as there is little or nothing here about penitence towards people we have sinned against. Such sins too sear the conscience and burden the soul - and bring us to prayer and confession. Nevertheless, the clarity of thought and language here most poignantly gives voice to deep convictions.

O Lord of grace,
I have been hasty and short in private prayer,
O quicken my conscience to feel this folly,
to bewail this ingratitude;
My first sin of the day leads into others,
and it is just that thou shouldst withdraw
thy presence
from one who waited carelessly on thee.
Keep me at all times from robbing thee,
and from depriving my soul of thy due worship;

Let me never forget
that I have an eternal duty to love, honour
and obey thee,
that thou art infinitely worthy of such;
that if I fail to glorify thee
I am guilty of infinite evil that merits infinite punishment,
for sin is the violation of an infinite obligation.

O forgive me if I have dishonoured thee,
Melt my heart, heal my backslidings,
and open an intercourse of love.
When the fire of thy compassion warms my
inward man,
and the outpourings of thy Spirit fill my soul,
then I feelingly wonder at my own depravity,
and deeply abhor myself;
then thy grace is a powerful incentive
to repentance,
and an irresistible motive to inward holiness.

May I never forget that thou hast my heart
n thy hands.
Apply to it the merits of Christ’s atoning blood
whenever I sin.
Let thy mercies draw me to thyself.
Wean me from all evil, mortify me to the world,
and make me ready for my departure hence
animated by the humiliations of penitential love.

My soul is often a chariot without wheels,
clogged and hindered in sin’s miry clay;
Mount it on eagle’s wings
and cause it to soar upward to thyself.