Monday, August 31, 2009
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Ticket prices may have been raised at McDiarmid Park, as St Johnstone enter the big league, but there's no doubt that the entertainment level has been raised far more. The relentlessly fast, more skillful play of the premiership is in stark contrast to some of the plodding Division one games of last season, and the ability of top-flight teams like Hearts, to hold possession and build from the back, is worlds-away from some of the dreary long-ball punting we were subjected to from the likes of Stirling Albion last year. It was also good to see that the premiership has lead to bigger-crowds of away-fans coming to Perth than some of the lower-league minnows could muster; this coupled with a big turn-out of locals in the home stands, meant that there was a real atmosphere too. With entertainment this good on offer, they deserve to do well.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Changeling is an overwhelmingly, dark film, with few breathing spaces to relieve the sinister atmosphere which broods over the whole. The story of child-abduction is unspeakably dreadful, the fact that the authorities who should uphold justice and defend the rights of the oppressed, end up as further oppressors, is deeply troubling. Christine Collins is both a real historic character, and also an example of powerlessness. Deserted by her husband, bereft of her stolen child, and declared insane by the state, she is portrayed as an example of female disempowerment. Yet, aided by Rev. Briegleb, she is able to rise to challenge of defending her cause, and seeking justice.
In stark contrast to the oppressive subject matter, the film is beautifully shot. Visually it is quite compelling, and this is something that director Clint Eastwood was obviously striving to achieve. The fact that such evil occurs within a world of great beauty, is a juxtaposition which adds much to a growing sense of despair. But the coupling of beauty with Eastwood's delicately mournful soundtrack, overlaying such bleakness, makes the film a most beautiful lament, for life lost, hopes gone, and powerlessness.
A side note is that the film also forwards an intriguing set of questions in the debate (still very relevant in the USA) about use of the death penalty. Nortcutt was as eligible for such a sentence as it is perhaps possible to be; yet what information do such people take to their graves that might benefit the living, should they be coaxed to speak?
Angelina Jolie is a much criticised actress, but her portrayal of Christine Collins, is excellent. She was chosen (apparently) for the role because she looks so much the archetypal 1920s beauty, and the period costume certainly suits her - but here she compellingly portrays this lone woman under immense strain, with some power. John Malkovitch is good as the campaigning minister too, although there's something about his cold dispassionate eyes that even when he is playing a deeply sympathetic character, makes you just wonder for moment, if he's actually a serial killer!
This is a memorable film, worth watching, troubling, dark and disturbing; yet strangely delicate, compelling and thought provoking. It's no barrel of laughs, and not one for anyone with young children who suffers from nightmares - but yet as a lament for the powerless and a call to stand for justice, is absolutely gripping.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
The series itself has been something of a roller-coaster, both teams suffering from wild fits of erratic inconsistency, with both bat and ball. This is probably the key difference that will be noted in the inevitable comparisons with the summer of 2005 series, when both teams performed consistently well and the Ashes were "won". In 2009, while there were moments of heroic performance that turned the tide for one side or the other - there is a greater sense that this year the Ashes were "lost" - by heroic failures. Neither side played consistently at the top of their game for the series, and Australia was almost as poor at Lord's as England were lamentable at Headingly, only a few weeks later. Some statistician somewhere will work out how many of the woeful batting collapses we have seen from both sides this summer have been caused by batsmen being unable to leave balls wide of the off-stump, a problem no-doubt exacerbated by the prevalence of the 20-20 form of the game.
But despite that, there were some notable performances. Anderson and Panesar's battling defiance of the Australian attack on the last day at Cardiff, restored English hopes - after the Aussies had so comprehensively demolished their bowling attack in the opening match. Flintoff's spell of brutal fast-bowling at Lord's was as compelling as it was destructive, and as memorable as Strauss' big hundred. Headingly was a complete disaster for England who lost by a innings and oh....... hundreds and hundreds of runs - and was entirely devoid of hope except for the curious rejuvenation of Stuart Broad. Broad had begun the series as the new ball bowler (perhaps somewhat surprisingly), but by mid-series he was near the bottom of the pecking-order, Strauss not handing him the ball until Anderson, Flintoff, Onions and sometimes even Swann had all had a go. Yet, his series turned around in Leeds, with 6-91 with the ball, and a fine-looking 61 with the bat. Although Australia levelled the series here, setting up this week's thrilling finale, it also appears to have been the match preparation that England's man-of-the-match at The Oval required to bring his obvious potential to fruition. He ends up leading the bowling stats for the series, and with a batting average higher that Cook, Bopara, Bell, Prior and Collingwood - and mid-series suggestions of his exclusion from the team put to one side.
Flintoff's occasional bursts of headline-grabbing brilliance have masked a fairly ordinary series for the big-man, and an equally ordinary test finale, save for the spectacular, timely and brilliant run out of Ricky Ponting, whose partnership with the equally brilliant Mike Hussey threatened at one stage to wreck England's party. England will not miss Flintoff's frequent ludicrous dismissals at the crease, the constant worries over his fitness, and his career statistics do show plenty of bad games alongside the good ones. But they will miss some of the extraordinary moments of inspiration he has provided for his team, sometimes at critical moments. His second innings bowling at Lords was for a few short, match-changing overs, brilliant, and his final moment of glory, in hurling Ponting's stumps down from mid-on was such a typical Flintoff moment of sporting brilliance and showbiz, that it brought the whole ground (and countless people around the country) to its feet.
The second shame is that this great sporting spectacle has brought out the lunatic-fringe of the SNP, demanding that what media coverage there has been be axed in Scotland, because cricket is not a Scottish sport! This is ill-conceived knee-jerk populism of the silliest kind. For a start, cricket in Scotland is alive and well, played by thousands every week, and with significantly higher participation than Rugby that er... "Scottish" sport. That's why during the 2005 Ashes series, the live coverage gained higher viewing percentages in Scotland than in England! That the team is called "England" (but has regularly featured Scots and Welshmen) is of course a problem, but one which allows Scots to play at the very highest level under an England banner, or enter a separate Scottish team in the world cup - so one which Scottish cricketers are hardly motivated to campaign to change.
The next job for the England selectors is to assess the series and work out who will be in a position to take the team forward from here. Vaughan's team of 2005 did little after their great series, and there are some series selection issues to work through from here on.
If we to classify the players in terms of their likely inclusion in the next squad as 'certain', 'query' and 'drop', the following would be my assessment.
All that however, can wait for another day. Today, there is plenty to celebrate. Despite the best efforts of the likes of Ponting, Siddle, Hilfenhaus, Hussey, North and Johnson - we have the Ashes back. And that's fantastic!
Thursday, August 20, 2009
After Uni, and our respective marriages to fellow students, he settled in NE England - adding the 'geordie' bit of his nom de plume. Following that he became a blogger (you can read his adventures here), although his literary output has been somewhat curtailed by the growth of their family, all of whom descended on us the other day. With six kids in tow we went out for the day - after some lengthy discussion about where to go and what to do. The suggestion was raised that we could 'do one of the Lomonds', which as the forecast was reasonable seemed like a good way of ensuring that childrens' energy would be constructively (and non-violently) expended. The thought of 'doing a Lomond' filled me with a childhood horror however- not that I grew up within sight of a Lomond, either East or West let alone a Ben Lomond! Rather, when I was in my third year at Clarendon School a teacher called Mrs Rutledge had a huge stack of books filled with tedious and ever-more-tricky arithmetic exercises. These books had a photo of a Scottish peak on the front cover and were called "Lomond Maths". I can still hear Mrs Rutledge admonishing me: "get on and do your Lomond'.
Happily the childhood personality scars associated with Lomond weren't so deep that I needed psychoanalysis in order to drive to Falkland, and take the little road from the back of the village up to the car-park on the ridge - nestling between the respective Paps of Fife. Its an easy road to miss in the village, and the Doonhamergeordie's and ourselves had a bit of a hunt around the place looking for the correct turning. Once on the road the car-park is unmissable, in that it is host to Scotlands most malodorous public cludgie, evidence that attracting tourists is a low priority for Fife Council.
After successfully meeting up with the Doonhmergeordie clan, and introducing our respective children to each other, we took to the path along the ridge towards East Lomond. Countless drivers on the M90 between Edinburgh and Perth are treated to a fine view of the Lomond Hills (and the smaller Bishop's Hill) as they pass Kinross, few of them probably realise that these hills provide easily accessible, pleasant walking on gentle hills with wonderful views. The ridge to East Lomond from the car-park is broad and gentle, and only becomes steep when the summit cairn is reached, and little hands demand to be held - and the smallest people demand to be carried. The pull to the top is quickly rewarded however with views across the Forth to the Pentlands, Bass Rock and Berwick Law, to the West across the Ochil ridge, North to the lower hills around Perth and into the vast tangle of peaks in highland Perthshire, and Eastwards to the Sidlaws and their distinctive radio-masts marking the skyline by Dundee. In the immediate foreground the the land slumps steeply and ominously away to the pretty and ancient village of Falkland on one side and towards ghastly Glenrothes, that 1960s new-town and full-frontal assault on aesthetics, on the other. But as is often noted from the top of the hills, with such a glorious backdrop, 'even Glenrothes looks nice from up here'. High praise indeed.
With the noise, chatter, silliness, and occasional tears which mark a hilwalk with six-young children we enjoyed the view, some snacks and took photos before clambering back down the hill. Then the rain came, soaked us, chilled us and made the little ones a bit grumpy. Once at the car it was decided to halt the proceedings (the playpark at Loch Leven can wait) and adjourn to our house for hot chocolate and a serious assault on the chocolate cake which Mrs Hideous had taken the precaution of baking the previous evening. Time was short and they were too soon forced to head back to Falkirk, where food and grand-parents awaited. But it was great to catch up with old (and not-seen-for -years) friends and to finally meet their entertaining kids!
The following quote is a piece of his examination of contemporary medicine.
I was taken aback to read that drug trials funded by the drug-companies yield results four-times as favourable to the company as independently funded trials. That is shocking - and his suggestion that covering -up unfavourable results should be made illegal, is sensible, if doctors really are to be able to practice medicine with a credible 'evidence base'.
The other side of this book can be seen in the following quote. It is a transcript from one of his ludicrous consultations - which does contain some strong language.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Now Simmer blinks on flowery braes,
And o'er the crystal streamlets plays;
Come let us spend the lightsome days,
In the birks of Aberfeldy.
Bonie lassie, will ye go,
Will ye go, will ye go,
Bonie lassie, will ye go
To the birks of Aberfeldy!
The braes ascend like lofty wa's,
The foaming stream deep-roaring fa's,
O'erhung wi' fragrant spreading shaws-
The birks of Aberfeldy.
Bonie lassie, will ye go,
Will ye go, will ye go,
Bonie lassie, will ye go
To the birks of Aberfeldy!
The hoary cliffs are crown'd wi' flowers,
White o'er the linns the burnie pours,
And rising, weets wi' misty showers
The birks of Aberfeldy.
Monday, August 17, 2009
This is a really good day-out, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. While kids were not that interested in the bored looking birds in aviaries part of the place, the place had added some kid-friendly activities to engage them which made the kids actually look at the birds and explore all sections of the park. The best bit of the day however (which more than made up for the limited cafe) were the flying displays, in which their large collection of impressive birds of prey are let loose to fly around the valley, through the grounds, over the crowds. This was absolutely stunning. The staff who commentate these displays are not only well-informed, but hugely entertaining as well, explaining the various maneuvers the different birds make with knowledge and humour. The kids were mesmerised by the vultures swooping so low over our heads that you could touch them, by the speed of the diving peregrine falcon, by the African Fish Eagle plucking a fish from the pool in front of us, and by the elegance of the Kite's soaring on the breeze. They will also not forget donning the big leather glove to allow the beautiful owl pictured above to perch on their arm.
It was a really good day out - but if we go there again we'll try and make sure it is not during the last week of the English school holidays, as the place was somewhat over-stocked with school parties!
For as long as I can remember, I have loved open space. Growing up in London's suburbs meant that I was always aware of its absence, an awareness which was re-enforced by our family's search for it at any given opportunity. Free-time together invariably meant escaping from the Thames-valley's pressure and smog, to places such as Shaftesbury in Dorset, or the wild North Cornish Coast, to National Trust houses set in large grounds like Polesden Lacy - but if time was short, a quick trip to Windsor Great Park. I loved these places, and saved hard as a teenager to buy a bike that would bring many of them within my reach. Yesterday I found the receipt for the "F.W. Evans Tourer De Luxe (black)" on which I pedalled through as many of these landscapes as I could manage.
Windsor Great Park was the nearest place to our house that I could find that feeling of open space, that escape from the traffic and architectural overload with which the south-east had been blighted in the course of a generation. My Grandma described moving out to Ashford, Middx after WWII as moving out to a quiet village - but by the end of her life, London had caught up with her again, growing out to surround the village, deny it a shape or identity, lasoo it with the M25 and drag it into the uniformity of Londonness. But from here - I could cycle to Windsor Great Park, which had acres of grass, mature trees, deer and no cars; and I did whenever I could. There are paths and trackways through the park on which you very rarely see a soul - even today. There are remote corners of the park where even the rumbling of Heathrow can be forgotten.
As a child, Windsor Great Park used to give me that sense of remoteness that now only comes if I am out wandering through the Cairngorms or up some wild Torridonian ridge whilst looking out to Skye. Much as I love 'The Copper Horse' and 'The Long Walk' (above), it doesn't feel as wild as it used to! Nevertheless it is a place which overwhelms me with memories - of events and days, of life-formingly special people, some of whom are gone, some of whom I have lost touch with, some of whom walked through there again with me this summer.
As I sat at the foot of the "Copper Horse" and mulled over these things; my Dad played 'Hide and Seek' with my young children, around the vast trunks of ancient trees that will outlast us all.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Marsh argues that there have been key issues on which American Evangelicals have faced a choice between Faith and Flag, between the claims of Christ and the needs of their nation -and that on successive occasions they have chosen the flag. A particular case-study he makes is of the propaganda battle in the six months running up to the US-led invasion of Iraq, in which US Evangelicalism was a lone cheerleader for the war-effort, in the face of the near universal condemnation of the plan from the world-church. The book begins with the author discovering his local 'christian' bookshop in those days, removing Holy-Spirit, Dove of Peace badges from display, and replacing it with the Stars and Stripes!
To read Marsh's discussion of Franklin Graham's flag-waving click on the image below:
To read his discussion of Charles Stanley's pro-war propaganda click on the image below:
Marsh here accuses Stanley of the worst kind of theological liberalism; of reducing the gospel to the cheerleading department of a deeply non-Christian regime; of standing in the ignoble tradition of the court-prophets of the Old Testament. They were the ones who refused to deliver the ringing denunciations of Yahweh that fell to minority voices like Jeremiah - but sought the favour of Kings and Princes by the delivery of favourable 'prophecies' and declaring that their various schemes and machinations were the recipients of divine approval.
Marsh pleads with his fellow-believers to recover the integrity of the gospel message by de-coupling it from the religious-right movement (which has in fact merely 'used' gospel language and people for its own ends). He calls for the US church to listen more widely to the world church, to renounce its lust for power and seek again a commitment to quiet service - as a way of helping people see the Christ of the gospel, shorn of the unhelpful baggage of the GOP and its war-mongering foreign policies.
Reading this book as an 'outsider' was fascinating. I am convinced that his general thesis is exactly right, and that he is extremely perceptive and penetrating in his analysis. Obviously though, it is easier for me to (in the words of the old maxim) see the speck in my brother's eye more clearly than the plank in my own. If the use of the 'Prince of Peace' as a tool for war-mongering, stands out a mile as a being as bizarre as it is wicked to me; I wonder which aspects of my own attempts at being a disciple of Christ are equally hopelessly culturally compromised in ways of which I am blissfully ignorant? This book may have been 'just' a cheapo from the Oxford Uni Press summer sale - but it has got me thinking!
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I took the kids down to Edinburgh today to experience something of the famous Edinburgh Festival. The first great part of the day was the train ride into the city, over the Forth Bridge past the airport and into Waverley station. As usual at festival time the streets were packed with tourists, people advertising their various shows, and a bewildering array of street entertainers, artists, and people selling all manner of the weird and wonderful. We ignored all of these and marched to the Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile, to watch a children's play called Twine, the cast of which included our old friend Ross, who is part of the Tortoise in a Nutshell theatre group.
Norris (aged 7) said, "I liked Twine because it was funny and interesting. The best character was George because he kept on coming in to the stage every so often with a box of people on top - that's what made it funny. Uncle Claude pretending to be French made me laugh. I liked Uncle Claude's music and people were saying that he was pretending to be French but do not tell him because it will make him angry. I liked the chocolate cakes that they gave out at the end too!"
Monday, August 10, 2009
I think my favourite week of the year is the church youth camp, when about twenty adults, four children and thirty-five teenagers leave Perth and set up a canvas village in the countryside and live there for five eventful days. Every year the camp has a theme (usually topical) which is a focal point for all the games, competitions, awarding of both chores and rewards for behaviour - and the spiritual input too. Last year the camp took place in the middle of the Olympics, and so we explored a lot of the Bible's sporting illustrations and were busy 'running the race' and 'fighting the fight' etc. This year, as we plunge into recession the theme was 'money, money, money' - which had the added benefit of having a readily available cheesy theme tune too! The money theme worked in all the games, sports, craft competitions etc because teams could win or lose amounts of the camp currency 'The Dollop'. In the meetings, money also played a significant role because Jesus' parables use money a lot (i) as an illustration of our sin as being like a debt needing to be paid (Matt 18:21ff) and (ii)because he had lots to say about what we do with our resources in parables like that of the 'talents' or 'the rich man and Lazarus'.
The camp is a physically very wearying, but spiritually uplifting time. Sleeping in a tent in the rain is not exactly a refreshing way to spend the night, and playing football with sixteen year olds is potent reminder of my advancing age, by day. However, the adults and young people, all living there, working together, playing together, worshipping together, thinking together and laughing together at evening entertainment was just.. brilliant! It would be inaccurate to only say that all the teamwork and effort in putting up tents, cooking meals, planning, budgeting, risk-assessing, band practices, writing talks, planning sports competitions, organising crafts, praying, disclosure Scotland forms, parental consent forms, plumbing, wiring, hiring toilets, fiddling with laptops, preparing presentations, etc etc had been worthwhile for the effect that it had had. In fact it was much more than this, in that the teamwork in doing these things was in itself part of the reward. The fact that some of the younger people are having more and more input on both the practical and spiritual aspects of the camp and edging out some of us dinosaurs is also fabulous! I hope we can do it again in 2010!
Friday, August 07, 2009
Mrs Hideous has on occasion been heard to comment that if the sunshine could be relied upon, then she would never want to holiday away from Scotland. As I drove up the grim North road yesterday, through badly organised roadworks, behind slow trucks and caravans, with the mountains of Drumochter looking menacing and foreboding through torrents of rain - I reflected on the wisdom of her words. Sitting in traffic on the A9, in driving rain under a darkening grey sky - hardly inspires. The thought of putting on waterproofs and walking up a hill straight into the teeth of such weather was as sickening as the thought of the warmth of the bed I dragged my reluctant limbs out of that morning, was attractive. Had I not had an arrangement to meet Dr K at Glenmore Lodge, the observable weather and the gloomy forecast of rain and high winds to come would certainly have beaten me back.
Much to my surprise however, as I dropped down from Drumochter the rain began to ease. Accelerating past Dalwhinnie (the mobile roadblock of caravan coupled to underpowered car plus inept driver, turned off towards Fort William, the west coast and countless more drivers to unnecessarily delay), I noticed a patch of blue sky to the North and thought that maybe a walk was on. By the time I had got to Newtonmore the patch of blue was dominating the sky, and by Aviemore the scene, dominated by the looming Cairngorm bulk, was lit by bright sunshine. When I met Dr K. at Glenmore Lodge, he was doing serious work with the sun-cream.
Leaving sparkling Lock Morlich and its hundreds of watersports enthusiasts behind us, we took the track that runs from Glenmore Lodge alongside the Alt na Feith Duibhe to the clear green waters of the An Lochan Uaine. As is common all over the Cairngorm National Park, progress along the long miles to the hills is accelerated by the provision of excellent tracks and maintained paths. At the car, the planned waterproof layers had been dispatched to the rucksack, and within a mile or two of striding through the warm fragrant pine woodland, fleecy jumpers were similarly discarded. The track cuts through a delightful notch in the hills as it curves round to Ryvoan Bothy on the Braemar path. We forked off, away from the bothy and round into beautiful Strath Nethy, and a useful little footbridge across its broad, powerful outflow (below).
Once over the river, we took the obvious (and eroded) path which ascends the shoulder of Bynack More's long northern ridge. The path forks on the ridge, the historic right of way descending to the east of the mountain towards the Fords of Avon and the Lairig an Laiogh, and a newer Munro-baggers track towards the summit. Somewhat predictably, and in the company of several other walking parties, we struck southwards and upwards, over several rocky false-summits to the splendid viewpoint of Bynack More. In blazing sunshine, with views accross the Cairngorm massif to Cairngorm itself and distant Ben Macdui, as well as Northwards out across the vast lowlands of Speyside we eventually (revealing a startling lack of fitness) made the summit. Returning by the same route - and with no hint of the promised high winds and rain, we made Glenmore Lodge and fresh supplies of drinks, in good time, despite aching feet and the tingle of freshly tinged skin.
If the weather in Scotland was like this all the time - who'd ever go anywhere else?