Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Attic Additions

The attic is starting to look like a pleasant place to sit, think, read or work. (It'll soon be a mess again once I move all thebooks up here though!)

Amazing to think it's not that long since it looked like this:


More progress on the extension to the church premises.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Gadget of the Week!

One of the dilemmas in moving the study up into the attic was going to be what to do about the broadband line. Virgin wanted £100- to move the cable, regardless of the simplicity of the task. Wireless might have worked, but might have been slow or too pricey and this old house already presents a few obstacles to portable phones which might affect wireless networks too. The perfect solution was provided however by the D3 boys. They handed me a couple of the boxes you see pictured left, and explained that they would run the broadband signal upstairs via the existing electrical circuits in the house! It works too, and seems to be really quick. I'm amazed - I didn't even know that was possible to do - never mind so simple.

It seems our whole house is already networked - and I didn't even realise it!

Friday, March 27, 2009

And now for something completely different..

John 14:15-17, the words of Jesus, set to music by Thomas Tallis:

"If you love me, you will obey my commands. I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ben Chonzie (no more deceit!)

Irvine Butterfield in his book, "The High Mountains of Britain & Ireland" describes Ben Chonzie as a "dull Munro". Cameron McNeish retorts in his "The Munros", that there are,"no dull Munros, only dull people", which seems unnecessarily harsh. Today I joined Mr Boom (a local typo of some repute) for a walk up this much maligned hill. It turned out to be anything but dull, in fact the views of Lawers, Beinn a Ghlo, The Lomonds in Fife, Vorlich and the Crianlarich hills were dramatic and expansive, and the harsh, icy wind positively bracing!

Today's walk gave me the opportunity to remove a deception from my life which has been something of a weeping sore on the conscience of my Munro chart for too long! Many years ago I attempted this hill with a friend in quite extreme winter conditions, and being somewhat under-equipped were beaten back by the weather...somewhere on the summit ridge. In almost zero visibility we failed to find the summit cairn within the time we had allotted ourselves, and instead tobogganed off the side of the hill on our bivvy-bags! Claiming to have got close enough to the summit for it to count, I duly ticked it off on my Munro-chart. However, I have always felt that this particular 'tick' was fraudulent, and almost mocking me every time I saw it!

Today, this grievous wrong was righted. I actually made the top this time - and realised just how far away from it we had been the last time I was up there. I was a bit shocked at how unfit I have become over the winter, but it was good to be back in the hills. I am however, the numpty who took his camera all the way up, but without a memory card in it!

Kinnoul Sunset II

Under the Bridge

Monday, March 23, 2009

Book Notes: Christianity and Social Service in Britain by Frank Prochaska

Frank Prochaska's "Christianity and Social Service in Modern Britain: The Disinherited Spirit" is a well-researched and pretty readable account of the church's once dominating role in social care and its path to being almost completely eclipsed by the state.

The most intriguing parts of the book are those which deal with the details of some of the most important movements in Christian education, home visiting ministries, mothers organisations, and nursing. The detailed account of Mrs Ranyard and her missionary Bible-nurses, who later became just "Ranyard Nurses" and who became state health visitors is a nice little summary of wider movements in secularisation. Similar studies in other fields are also helpful. One aspect I was under-aware of was the number of such organisations that existed throughout the inter-war years but who were finally killed-off by WWII, by migration, call-ups and through the massive bomb damage city-centre mission halls and care-facilities sustained in the blitz.

Less convincing are some of Prochaska's sweeping generalisations, which he uses to bridge between his detailed ground-level research and his over-all conclusions. In one sentence he dismisses Calvinism as a dour creed disinterested in social care. Such a stereotype might suit his purposes but Prochaska seems unaware that just such unresearched assumptions have been shown to be an entirely inaccurate portrayal of this aspect of Victorian city life by Shaw (also Oxford University Press), 2002. Likewise his attempt (p76) to see Thomas Chalmers as a social theorist moving the churches towards a more secular vision of social provision is hardly persuasive to anyone who has ever read Chalmers. The author states up-front that he is not a Christian - and at times this gives the book a sense of dispassionate objectivity, but on other occasions he allows his anti-Christian views to colour his judgement too much. In this regard the opening and closing chapters are perhaps the weakest.

A major omission of the book is any analysis of the movements within the churches which sapped their interest in social questions from the 1890s onwards, especially within evangelicalism which had been in the forefront of such work for over a century; these included dispensationalism, Keswick 'holiness' movements, and the burgeoning Pentecostalism. These factors merit discussion alongside the church's numerical decline and the growth of the state which are well covered.

Nevertheless this is a fascinating study into a neglected aspect of the history of the church in this country.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Boys Day

Over seven years ago, when we only had young Boris, (Norris and Doris were yet to even be considered), we had a child-care crisis. The only resolution we managed to find was that I re-arranged my hours at work (and cut them a bit) leaving me free to cover the missing day in the schedule. 'Boris' immediately named these occasions, "Boys Day" - and even though he was but a toddler we explored all kinds of places. He wasn't quite big enough for mountain-climbing, but we did have a book of all the decent waterfalls in Scotland, huge numbers of which we walked/clambered, to with him on my back in the redoubtable 'MacPac'.

Our 'boys day' jollity was rudely halted however, firstly by the appearance of further offspring and subsequently by the requirements of education. Today however has been boys-day revisited! Young Norris was very disappointed to have missed a school trip to the Glasgow Transport Museum because of a hospital appointment, so today we left little Doris at home with Mum (to do gardening!) and jumped on the train to Glasgow, and following a hasty pizza, took Glasgow's mad little underground train to Kelvinhall.

The Transport Museum is a great place, not only is it stuffed full of beautiful old steam locomotives from Glasgow's past, but it has got an amazing collection of old cars, trams, motorbikes, and model ships - memories of the Clyde's industrial heritage. Most amazingly, access to all of this is completely free, saving a few pennies with which to delight the kids in the inevitable tat-shop at the end of their tour.

Perspective is a strange thing! Looking at a Caley Single-Wheeler (that's a steam engine that's over a century old, by the way) in a museum alongside a Hillman Hunter, Talbot Horizon and a Honda 400 'super dream' exactly like the ones my Dad drove when I was a kid -was interesting. What was equally interesting was the way in which the kids saw little difference between the respective ages of these various antiquarian relics. They have tendencies to view 'the past' as being as uniform a moment in time as 'the present'. The fact that they clearly view me as a lingering irrelevance from this undifferentiated and long-forgotten era is as amusing as it is increasingly accurate.

One quiet corner of the museum has a sobering memorial to all those killed at Lockerbie.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The wife of noble character

Proverbs 31 contains this famous description of the 'wife of noble character'. Commentators have noted that King Lemuel whose oracle this is, was taught about this 'superwoman' by his mother! (31:1) She certainly had high aspirations for her son's bride and no doubt had the potential to be a fairly demanding mother-in-law.

Reading Proverbs 31 again this evening however has amazed me at just how well these famous words from the Old Testament wisdom books actually describe my own wife! Lemuel writes:
A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. (Prov 31:10-31)

Proverbs asks me to recognise 6 things about my wife.

Firstly a wife of noble character is to be valued as a rare and precious person. Lemuel writes of such a wife, "who can find?". Well, I have - and yet when I married her in 1996, I had no idea of the extent to which it was the case. She has proved to be 'more precious than rubies' and I have 'full confidence in her'.

Secondly, the text calls me to recognize and honour her industry, business acumen, hard work and career success. Anyone who knows us will know the extent to which these verses describe my wife, who endures much stress, long hours and intense labour but of whom it can be said, "she sees that her trading is profitable" and that none of her family are in need.

Thirdly, the Bible describes her as someone whose money-making abilities are not merely harnessed to the pursuit of self-agrandisement, but who "opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy." I am repeatedly humbled by my wife's continual desire to give increasingly significant sums of her very hard-earned salary to others in need, materially and spiritually, from sponsoring children in the developing world, to Water-Aid, to Christian projects to church.

Fourthly the text notes that this 'noble wife' brings 'great honour to her husband'. I am proud to be known as her husband, in all contexts, from her workplace, to the school-gate to church. Lemuel notes that as a result of her nobility, he can 'take his seat at the city gate' which refers to the 'elders' of an ancient near eastern city, in council at the city gates. I have no such power, or position, but I do know that I would not be in a position to help in the leadership of our church, if I had a wife who brought chaos, dishonour or wickedness into our home. She brings me great honour.

Fifthly the texts speaks of her 'wisdom' and the 'faithful instruction on her tongue'. My wife has proved to be a lot wiser than I had anticipated. She is perceptive, sensible and a remarkable judge of character. I tend towards self-defeating pessimism, she is more mentally robust, positive and realistic than I usually am. Yet her wisdom is not only practical, the 'faithful instruction on her tongue' extends to her spiritual life too. She has real faith, and it is a joy to hear the way in which she answers our childrens ever-expanding list of questions about the Bible, Jesus, God, the cross, or prayer.

Sixthly the text warns me that youthful beauty is a passing thing. I hope and pray that I live long with my wife to enjoy the ever-emerging inner beauty of her character. "A woman who fears The Lord is to be praised" it says, and as I write these words she is at the piano playing and singing the praises of God, singing words of adoration and worship to God, filling the atmosphere of our house with the sounds and presence of her saviour. "To Fear The Lord", is Old Testament parlance for acknowledging Him and seeking to live in His ways. This again describes my wife.

I once did a spiritual excercise in which I wrote down all the things with which I had been blessed in life, for which I had never properly thanked God. It was a useful thing to do in that it made me aware of the extent to which I had become acustomed to taking the whole world for granted. In my wife God has given me a most amazing, wonderful gift, 'more precious than rubies' indeed. The text concludes "give her the reward she deserves, let her works give her praise at the city gate". The city gate is of course the open arena of public discourse. I do not have a city gate at which to bring her such honour. I only have a blog.

Kinnoul Hill Sunset

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Comet: The Worst Customer Service In The World

A business can create the impression of competence and decency if all they are required to do is to sell boxes of kit with a suitable mark-up for themselves. The measure of a company however, is how they respond when things go wrong, when equipment fails or you have to bring service deficiencies to their attention.

Comet electricals are experts at creating the impression of professional and polite service. If you enter their store with money to spend, you are met with smiling helpful staff and useful advice. Sadly however, when something goes wrong electronically, something also goes radically wrong with the customer service too. The attentive service vanishes, the helpful offering of advice turns to groans and scowls, the open, pleasant staff become resentful, angry and seek not to help, but to deflect.

The problem at Comet is that the customer service system through their entire operation is either deliberately designed to obstruct customer satisfaction or is simply a shambolic quagmire through which it is impossible to wade. The store advises customers to phone the repair centre, who tells to you to phone another repair centre, who tells you to phone the manufacturer who in turn deny all knowledge of the issue and refer you back to the Comet head office, who then say that only the store can settle the issue. Comet's head office insist that only a local store manager can issue refunds, the store insist that only head office can do so. And so it goes on.. and on. There seems to be no-one in the organisation who has the authority to actually deal with issues and get them resolved. There are plenty of people available to read company policies out to customers (especially the bit about 28 days no longer being a legally defined 'reasonable' time to fix a faulty item), and endless call centre charm-school rejects to defend the bureaucratic time -wasting that goes on. There is though no-one but no-one who can give helpful accurate information, let alone issue the refund that trading standards say that we should have. Each person working within this wretched organisation is desperate to deflect the call and get you off the line, because they know that although they are the public face of this company - there is no-one within it who can sort issues out for customers and no incentive for the call centre operative to even try. I asked to be put on hold until someone with the authority to deal with the problem was available. They hung up.

Comet's only response is to say that we should sue them or shop elsewhere. Sadly I can't afford the time or money to do the first, I shall absolutely and certainly be doing the second. If Comet were to have a theme tune, playing on repeat in all their stores, I would suggest that they use, Gerry Rafferty's "take the money and run" - it would seem to rather nicely capture their customer service ethos.

If you shop at Comet you take a huge risk. If you are *lucky* and the product works, no problem. But be warned, once your Visa card has been charged, and the money has left your account and flowed into theirs they have absolutely no interest in providing you with decent, or polite service. They are not bothered if your equipment is lost somewhere in their hopeless system and they will rudely not help you get the issues resolved, and will refuse your legal right to a refund unless you have the wherewithal to sue.

It seems extraordinary that at a time when retailers should be fighting to maintain the loyalty of long-term customers, Comet are actively seeking to drive them away. From now on, I am going to use smaller, local firms whose may not offer such big discounts - but whose pride in their company and basic decency, integrity and competence is worth so very much more.
Comet: don't say I didn't warn you.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Get Spotified!

The latest on-line music tool that is gaining a lot of attention both in the press and by word-of-mouth is Spotify. I came across it being recommended on an online forum, and so thought I should give it a road-test. Here's what I found.

is a data-bank of music which you can play online via your PC, the sound quality is very good, the range of music on offer absolutely vast, the music streams very quickly and efficiently, and it costs.... er, nothing! It's not a 'themed' radio station in which it generates tracks it 'thinks you will like based on previously expressed preferences' rather it is a genuine on-line juke-box in which you can choose whatever you want to hear from its seemingly inexhaustible play-list. What's more, all this is available completely free.

Realistic readers will already be wanting to know what the catch is. Well there are three. The first is that Spotify only allows you to play, not download music, so you can play as long as they are functioning. The second is that they are funded not by selling music but by selling advertising space and so you have to listen to an advert every so often. The third is that it requires a small download to work, and doesn't just play through your web-browser. These however are very minor inconveniences to pay in order to be able to freely browse through their vast audio catalogue.

In the last hour, in order to relieve the bordeom of folding the washing and matching socks, I have done a few searches and found Rock, Prog, Gospel, Blues, Jazz, Classical, Folk, and Contemporary Christian Music from artists as diverse as Champion Jack Dupree, Memphis Slim, Chris Tomlin, Deep Purple, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Tallis, and of course, Barclay James Harvest. The possibilities seem endless.

This is one of the best on-line toys I have seen for ages. I wonder if the music-industry are happy about all these giveaways. Will they shut it down? My advice is to enjoy it now while you can!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

At the bridge

(trying to take a sara! style photo - and almost managing it!)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

They bought me a "study bible".....

I was given a "study bible" for Christmas, which has turned out to be a fascinating and wonderful present, perhaps somewhat to my surprise. The reason for my reservation was, I suppose, a matter of principle. I always felt slightly awkward with the text of the Bible and comment on it, being bound together (however scholarly the notes) as if this began to blur the important distinction between the two. It's the same problem that makes me treat Peterson's Bible paraphrase The Message, with a little caution. In that he actually blends his interpretation with the text itself on several occasions. In practice, he does it rather well most of the time, but as a method it has to be rather suspect! My study Bible though I have found a really useful tool, the fears unfounded and the study tools helpful - and more practical than wandering about carrying armfuls of commentaries!

In the segments which are displayed above (if the text is too small, click on the image to enlarge), a sample of the notes are displayed. The story from Matthew 21 of Jesus cursing the fig-tree reads at first glance like a inexplicable fable of messianic petulance. The study notes here are very helpful. The first box of comments explain something of the biology of the fig-tree which makes the story meaningful, transforming what looks likes spite, into a devastatingly powerful rebuke to hypocrisy. The final comments box makes some suggestions about how to harmonise the various gospel accounts, making the sensible (but useful) suggestion that Mark's account is chronological but Matthew's is more thematic. A good present this!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

JL' Barclay James Harvest Confirm Perth Date

Perth Concert Hall have confirmed that John Lees' Barclay James Harvest will be playing here in our little town on October 23rd 2009. The above YouTube clip is not an official band video, but some fans tribute, a nicely edited montage of photos and video-clips taken from the band's four-decade long career.

Two Thoughtful Links on Science and Faith

With all the attention focused on Darwin at the moment (and the irritating spectacle of dear old Attenborough misrepresenting the Bible!)I have read/heard a couple of good things on the web recently. As readers of this blog know, I am not impressed by either the fundamentalism of the new atheism which reduces all human experience to science; nor by the fundamentalism of so-called creationism which denies the validity of scientific discovery. Both, it seems to me, are locked into rigid thought systems which do not do justice to the very principles of their respective fields, human experience, language or key texts.

This link is Earnest Lucas' Faraday Lecture on Science and Faith, available both in text and audio formats.

Here, the ever contraversial Tony Campolo attacks the ethical implications of Darwinism, especially the social-Darwinism that Darwin himself spent so much of his later life promoting. This is a newpaper article, not an academic paper, stimulating nevertheless.