Friday, 19 December 2008

The end of the road

It's 2003. The followign year Band Aid 20 would have the number one spot, and from then on it would be the winner of the blecch-factor. There is still, however, one last glorious swing of the British sense of going for the absurd waiting in the wings.

Originally released by Tears for Fears in 2982, 21 years later it was the surprise Christmas Number One in a cover by Gary Jules - Mad World. Today, I present the original and rather unusual video.



Meanwhile, the US have a far livlier choice, heer from a live performance - Outkast and Hey Ya!



Wherever you are, and whatever you do, have a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. I'll see you again in 2009.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Let's all meet up in the year 2000

Ah, the end of the millenium - and Britain faces a crisis in the pop charts. With one week to go to Christmas, the Christmas-Friendly "Never Had A Dream" by S Club 7 has been knocked off the nunber one spot by "Stan". Will we have a repeat of 1979 in the Christmas chart?

Nah - we have a repeat of 1993 instead, as Neil Morrisey essays his most remebered role in this timeless classic.



Acorss the pond, you show a distinct modicum of taste and discernment, as Destiny's Child are at number one with this film song.



Finally, as a special treat in this pneultimate entry, here's the song that I think SHOULD have been the Christmas number one this year. We present the winner of Britain’s Got the Pop Factor… and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly On Ice. Geraldine McQueen.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Earth, Wind and Mariah

Don't worry - there's two more of these meanderign entries after this one. The pain, however, is not about to lessen.

1995 - I had been moved sideways (and effectively demoted, but that's a story for another day) in my job, and I was one angry man. So angry, in fact, I failed to pick up the now obvious signs of a pop star seriously starting to lose the plot. Of course, with hind sight, it can be seen in the song and the video, but at the time Michael Jackson and Earth Song was a huge hit - and the Christmas number one.



Just how blown up this song was became clear in early 1996, when he performed at the Brit awards, and one man took it upon himself to air his views on the show.



Meanwhile, in the US, Mariah Carey had been number one for almost three months with two songs - this was the second one.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Heroes

Let's go forward now to 1993 - my oldest son Alastair had just turned one, and was enjoying his first proper Christmas. There were a lot of fine contenders to be the Christmas number one that year, the leading one being Take That.

However, remember what I said about never, ever underestimating the UK public taste for silly songs? You see, at number one on December 25 1993, was the first ever number one single by a non-human. Ladies and gentlemen, feast on the delight that is, Mister Blobby.



At least the US had a little more taste in their top single that week - even if it has recently being mutilated by the contestants on The X Factor. Here, with an unusual accompanying video, is Mariah Carey with Hero.



Now, as a special treat, here's the song that I can confidently predict will be the Christmas number one this year.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Compare and contrast

1988 - and I had just started going out with my future wife, Doreen. Heady, happy days - and the number one that year was a favourite of both of us.

If anyone asks in a quiz "Who has had a top tne hit single in each of the last six decades", the answer is Cliff Richards - and this was the first of his two Christmas number one's as a solo artist.



Now, we compare and contrast. Remember in the past when it's been, shall we say, "strange" songs that were number one at Christmas, the US counterpart was mainstream? Well, here we have the most christmasy number one - and in the US it's heavy metal time.

Friday, 12 December 2008

The Power of Advertising

1986 was the last Christmas I spent at home - not the best of times, either, but an interesting one for all the wrong reasons.

So, what joyous song was at number one? At this time, the fad for re-issuing old songs as singles after they were used in advertising was in full swing, particularly for jeans. Marvin Gaye's I Heard It Through The Grapevine had been a hit after appearing in a Levi;s commercial, so when they tried again with another sixties classic they hit Christmas paydirt. It only took Jackie Wilson 29 years to get to number one with this one - video by the guys at Aardmann!!



Some people ove rat Captain Comics have rightly pointed that, in the US, there wasn;t such a fuss over who was number one at Christmas there. Case in point - the number one on 25th December 1986 is actually a summer song - and one of my personal favourites. So, arm in front up, arm in front down, and do the Wilson, Kettle and Bettie....

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Of strikes and talent

Let's press on to 1983. By this time I had moved to Newcastle to study at university, and the Miner's Strike was in full swing. Given the North East of England was a hotbed of the National Union of Mineworkers, and the determination of Thatcher to break Arthur Scargill no matter the cost, I had the chance to see first hand the problems people had.

Why is this relevant to the Christmas number one, you say? Well, a group of actors got together to form a group that would hold concerts to support the miners, and they called themselves the Flying Pickets. To everyone's surprise, they got to number one for Christmas with this acappella cover of a hit for Yazoo - Only You.



Meanwhile, in the USA, a young man by the name of Michael Jackson was hitting the big time as a solo artist - only, when he was number one in December, it was a duet with an aging Liverpudlian.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

... to the Ridiculous

A quick note - a few of my US friends have commented to me how they had never heard of this idea of being number one at Christmas until they saw "Love Actually." Well, I guess we can thank Bill Nighy for that - and for the record, it was released as a single to see if it got to number one.

It didn't.

Yesterday we looked at 1979 - today let's go forward one year to 1980. At the beginning of December, John Lennon was shot dead. I still remember waking up to hear that on the news, followed by the DJ playing "Starting Over" and "Imagine". Given that, everyone expected that the late Lennon would be the Christmas number one that year in the UK.

Never, ever, EVER think the UK public acknowledge masters of music at Christmas time, not when there are grannies to buy presents for - and boy was there a ready made gift for them this year, which means this was the Christmas number one.



Mind you, we also need to look at what was topping the US chart at this time in 1980. Ladies and Gentlemen, mister Kenny Rogers.

Monday, 8 December 2008

From the sublime...

First, an apology - the last post should have said the year was 1976, not 1975. 1975, Queen were number one with Bohemian Rhapsody, which I remember from watching them live in concert on New Year's Eve on BBC 2, havign sicovered a very nive bottle of pale white liquid in the fridge.

But I digress. Let's look at 1979 - Thatcher had been elected earlier in the year, the UK felt it was coming out of a storm, and you would think we would be ready for a party, yes? Instead, this was the nation's choice of the song to celebrate Christmas with.



Foreshadowing if ever there was some. Meanwhile, in the US the feelign was obviously that escapism was the thing to go for. After all, how else do you explain this being your number one?

Saturday, 6 December 2008

A change in life

By 1975, my life had been turned sixteen different ways inside out, an dI had retreated into a shell it took some years to fight my way out of - and I still am in some ways. That Christmas was a strange one for many reasons, as was the song to get to number one. I present for your listening pleasure mister Johnny Mathis.



As for the US - well, you were obviosuly ready to par-TAY in the immediate post-Watergate years, with KC and the Sunshine Band (special concert version!)

Friday, 5 December 2008

The Year it really began

1973 - the year that the phenomenon of who would be number 1 at Christmas in the UK really started to take off. Glam Rock was the thing in the UK, and two bands with a fine tradition were locked in a neck and neck battle to sell most.

In the blue corner - Roy Wood, son of Birmingham, late of The Move, and his band Wizzard with a timeless ditty.



In the Red Corner, Noddy Holder, son of Walsall, and the boys of Slade with what he now calls his pension plan.



The Winner? Well, in the end, Noddy and the boys got to number one, and the song is as perennial a song at this time of year as White Christmas. As for Wizzard - they got to number four, but it's still a classic. For the record, at number two was a singer we cannot now mention for legal reasons with I love, You Love, Me Love, and at number 3 The New Seekers with I'll Never Find Another You.

Meanwhile, in the US.... Country was king, unlike the UK, so at number one was Charlie Rich with this song.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Novelty of Christmas

As I mentioned when I started this series, one of the important features of the Christmas number one tends to be that the novelty song can win through. The first occasion when that could be said to have happened in my lifetime was 1971 - and indeed, over the next few days there's going to be several examples of this.

So, 1971 - and at number one on Christmas day, a comedy legend with what turned out to be his last and greatest hit. Like many other comedians, he had a few minor hits in the 1950's and 1960's, but for time immemorial Benny Hill will be remembered for his eulogy to Ernie.



And in the US - have you noticed a certain serendipity creeping into the songs that are popular in the UK and the US for Christmas? No? Well, at number one on December 25th 1971 was this little ditty.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Songs of peace

Continuing our trek, we get to 1969 - and two very different, yet strangely similar songs.

In the UK, an Antipodean swimmer, artist and television personality revives a Civil War song and has the Christmas number one with it. In a recent program, he discovered the reason his family didn't like him singing it - it reminded them of his relatives who died in World War One. Here he sings it in a version that is being released for the Christmas number one this year.



Meanwhile, in the US, a trio of folk singers have their last number one hit with a John Denver song. Again, this is taken from a recent live show.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Christmas Day 2

Continuing the Christmas Number Ones of years in my life...

1967 - my dad had left the Army, and we moved into the house I lived in until I was 18. At number one, this little ditty from four lads from Liverpool...



And over the pond, another bunch of four fresh faced young lads were at Number one, with a song that got to number 5 in the UK.

Monday, 1 December 2008

It's CHRISSSTTTT-MMAASSSSSS!!!

Yes, that time of year has arisen again when thoughts of tasteful, subtle music cna go out of the window as we await the race for the Christmas number one in the UK.

Now, over the last efw years this has become a non-event, as the winner of the latest ITV/Cowell talent show barnstorms their way to the number one slot, but when I was but a wee lad this was something to look forward to. So, for December, let's look at what was the Christmas number one in years which were significant to me.

Starting with 1963 - the year I was born. 1963, living in the UK by that time - it has to be the Beatles with this quiet little number.



Number one in the US? That would be this one....

Monday, 24 November 2008

The Day Before

Sixteen years ago today, on the 24th of November 1992, Doreen and I were at the City Hospital in Nottingham, attending her then daily appointments at the maternity unit. Our first child was a tad late - about ten days late at that point - and the doctors were telling us that if nothing happened that night they would induce Doreen the next morning. We went home, I went into work and had my annual appraisal, then arranged to take the next day off.

About 2 am the next morning, Doreen started to have the sort of pains that make you think it's time. So we went back to the unit, only for the pains to stop. Nevertheless, we stayed there and waited.

I finally got home about 11 pm that night, after our first born son was born by Cassaerian section at 8 pm that night. It's funny the details that stay with you - I went to the Chinese takeaway down the road to get some supper, made a few phone calls, and sat down to watch The Prisoner.

Next thing I knew, it was four am.

Sixteen years later, and tomorrow Alastair celebrates his birthday. Where on earth did all the years go - will someone please tell me? By an irony worthy of the Big Man upstairs, we can't even have a proper birthday party on the day, as he has been awarded the Maths prize for his year and the awards ceremony is that night. Continuing in a family tradition - I won a couple, and Doreen's sister did as well - but it makes me even more proud of him for doing that.

There's another anniversary this week - ten years ago, I missed Alastair's birthday as I was at a meeting in London, but I got back at eight that night, we had some tea, and then the next day we packed to move from Nottingham to London. Doreen was carrying Stuart at the time, and we had a few tears and rows on the day, but eventually we set off and moved to our current house.

I must be getting older to remember these things as good if incredibly stressful times.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Desert Island Discs

I serve on a committee for a professional organisation, and sooner or later I need to provide my desert island discs to them for a magazime article. If I was to do it now, I would pick.....

Morning Town Ride - The Seekers

The first song I ever learned to sing, and i used it as a lullaby for both my boys.



Turn of a Friendly Card - The Alan Parsons Project

As a teenager - I listened to Radio 2 much more than Radio 1 (except for John Peel), and the Project always stuck with me, especially this song which came out at a hard time for me



Vienna - Ultravox

Possibly the best song never to get to number one, but for me it signifies the start of the eighties, and my awakening to so many things.



Fighter - Graham Kendrick

The title track fo rthe first Christian album I ever bought. I prefer the Graham Kendrick version, as it is a song that tipyfies my faith, but here is the better known version by Sheila Walsh.



As Tears Go By - Marianne Faithfull

Speaking of fighters - Faithfull's original version is an all time classic, but when she released Broken English, and this amazing new version was on it, I immediatly realised how much she was singing of her own life.



Innocent Man - Billy Joel

Another song from the early eighties, that spoke much of who I? was and what I wanted to be.



Eternal Flame - The Bangles

Our song - nuff said



One Day More - Les Miserables

The finale to the first act, speaks of hopes, fears, dreams, plans - a true masterpiece



Fro my luxury, I will take a wind-up transistor radio, and for my other book the complete Sherlock Holmes.

Thank you and good night.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Never forget

I'm an army brat, so Remembrance Day or Veteran;s Day, be it on a Sunday or otherwise, is important to me on many levels. This video was shown at my church today, and I offer it to remind all who view this blog why we have the freedom to do what we do.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

On the cusp of history

We are, for obvious reasons, living in a time of great importance in the history of our world. I am old enough to remember the first time man walked on the moon, and the time Skylab came crashing back down again. I remember watching the Berlin Wall come down, and the horrors of Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia. I remember Band Aid and Live Aid, and watching the Nelson Mandela birthday concert when news came through of his release. I'm barely old enough to remember hearing about Martin Luther King being assassinated, but today we saw at least part of his dream come to fruition.

As a detached observer, America in the last few days has looked very much like it did in Great Britain in 1979 and 1997 - people were just fed up, and ready for a change. It's at times like these that we see how democracy can truly work, when the people demand change through the ballot box as opposed to using guns and violence. Now they have that change - but the real question now becomes, what will that change be and how effective will it be?

In 1979, the UK got Margaret Thatcher, but the changes then brought misery to thousands as she sought what she felt was for the good of the country, regardless of the cost to individuals. We're seeing it again now in the UK, then years after New Labour came to power, and I do believe we'll see it the next time we have a general election in a year or two's time.

SO what next for America? I'm not sure, but Dubya is now facing the last 76 days in office, with the sure knowledge that nothing he does now (barring something stupendously brave or stupendously stupid, or maybe even both) will be noticed as much as how President-Elect Obama sets up his team.

Good luck and may your god go with you, as Dave Allen used to say.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

We apologise for the lack of news

It's been a tough week, at work and home - I came down with what is euphemistically called "Man Flu" on Friday and basically felt like crap most of the weekend. Fine in the morning, tired by the early evening and aching and shivering by bedtime. An ancient family sure (hot toddies and paracetamol an hour later) eventually did the trick, but I had so much to do this weekend there was no way I could do the sensible thing and retire to bed. Hey ho.

Doreen saw her consultant last Thursday, and is now on the waiting list for her last operation, to reduce her other breast, replace the temporary implant with a permanent one, and tattoo on a false nipple. Two days in hospital and rest after, but that should be it. That should be end of January, but before that she has the first of her now annual mammograms.

Work is a minefield of legal documents, course preparations and plain boredom at times. I know it will get better - it usually does - but it will take time.

Speaking of which, next week we're taking the holiday we should have had this summer but never got round to. Away for the weekend, then I'll take the boys places Tuesday and Wednesday. I have to go to a day-long meeting Thursday, so Firday is a family day out again. We all need this break, so I hope it's a relaxing one.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Songs we like to forget (part 3)

Continuing songs that loomed large in my youth, and yet I look back and think "Why?"

Only, for this first example, I know why. This is the song that kept "Vienna" off the number one spot in the UK, and for that he will always be remembered as the one who proved UK music buyers are strange people. Ladies and gentlemen - Joe Dolci.



The Seventies were truly a strange time for music in the UK, and one prime example of that has to be the success of the Wombles in the charts. Here is one of the more acceptable examples - Minuetto Allagretto.



I don't want to give the impression, by the way, that all seventies silly songs were bad. The following is an example from the top selling song writer in the UK of 1975 - Funky Gibbon.



A big part of my youth was watching Top Of The Pops, and a big part of that was watching Pan's People, the in-house dance group. Here's two examples o fthem at their silliest - first, Leo Sayer's Get Down.



And now doin' The Hustle.



The Scaffold next, with Lily The Pink. The Scaffold went on to greater things. The man with the glasses is Roger McGough, former Children's Laureate and poet. In the middle is John Gorman, poet and comedian. The big man is Mike McGear, Paul McCartney's brother....



Finally for today, The Four Bucketeers with The Bucket of Water song.

Monday, 13 October 2008

I believe

My friend Howard Bagby in his blog (In Purple I'm Stunning) challenge us to write down ten things we believe in. Here's my response.

1. I Believe in a creator God, in whose hands all things were created with the capacity to change and survive. That's why I don't have much time for the "Creationism vs Evolution" debate - to me, the answer is somewhere in the middle.

2. I Believe that he sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins and allow us to be reconciled with God through him. If that makes me sound like a loonie, so be it - but I know it's true.

3. I Believe that, just as there is a creator God, there is a spiritual being that we could call the Devil, who is at the heart and root of all that is wrong in this world. When people ask "Why does God allow bad things to happen", I tend to answer "I'm not sure, but he allows the Devil to walk amongst us."

4. I Believe that everyone has the right to live the life and have the belief system they chose, within the rules of society. Note that's society with a small "s" - I'm in no position to judge them, after all.

5. I Believe, having said that, that we should accept the consequences of our own actions, and seek to help those who need help. "Do unto others" is one way of looking at this - the other is "Let me get this plank out of my eye first."

6. I Believe that to make good chili, you should only use good quality steak and fresh chillies.

7. I Believe that one day, I will have to answer for my life and the decisions I made - and I'm ready to do that.

8. I Believe that it is my privilege and right to bring up my sons to be a better person than I am - and to try to help them if they want me to.

9. I Believe that everyone has some good in them, even the most nasty of us. If that is not true, then mankind is indeed doomed, but I need to look hard to see ti sometimes.

10. I Believe that the answer and the question are not mutually exclusive - although they may seem to be.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Songs we like to forget (part 2)

I don't want to think about football, but bad songs always have a place in my heart. Today, I offer five samples of songs from my childhood that I look back at now and think "Why?"

First up - from 1971 it's Falkirk's finest, Middleof the Road, with "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep". The sort of osng that made you feel good, but now you think "What the?..."



Secondly, from 1972, Jimmy Osmond. Possibly the first example of that phenomenon of the Christmas Number One being a "novelty" record. Is this the one to blame?



1976, and the original UK boys band - Our Kid.



From 1978, IIRC, the St Winifrid's School Choir with Grandma - everyone go "Awhhh"....



And for the other side, Clive Dunn (Coporal Jones in Dads Army) with Granddad in 1971



Finally, the one group that could take these songs and make them work - the Barron Knights.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Songs we like to forget (part 1)

This weekend sees the next round fo games in the 2010 World Cup qualifiyng, so for no apparent reason it brings to mind songs issued to support Scotland in their World Cup campaigns.

As it does - and now you can share in the pain...

From 1974 - Scotland, Scotland



On to 1978 - and the truly memorable Ally's Army....



1982, and the wonder that is I Have A Dream - soon to be re-recorded as a charity song...



Forward to 1998 - and the most prophetic (or is that pathetic) team song, Don't come home too soon.



Why I'm doing this I don't know - but if you're not careful I may find the English songs for tomorrow......

Monday, 6 October 2008

Keeping the faith

I'm still reading the book, but a couple of things over the last few days took me into a few sidetracks.

Coming into work, I usually have the pleasure of taking one train to an interchange, then waiting for the connecting one to my station for my office. That connecting one also goes the way the first one does, but at that time in the morning it's quicker just to get on the first one and wait at the interchange. Sometimes I get the through train, sometimes not, but the station announcer always says to get the first train "and change as necessary."

As I looked out of the window, I noticed people who I KNOW get the second train I get just standing and waiting, and I started to wonder why they did that. Were they so ingrained in their habits that they always did the same thing, even if it took more time?

Then I thought, how true is that of other things in our life? We get into a routine, into a habit, and never break out of it, however much we try.

One of my habits, however, is taking slights personally, and that is doubly true of Doreen. This weekend, she was at a woman's retreat for our church when she was asked "Did you enjoy the Baby Shower last week?"

Our pastor's son and his wife live across the road from us, and it transpired they had had a baby shower for her a week past Saturday, to which the women of the church had been identified.

Everyone except Doreen.

What's worse is this is the second time this has happened this year. In the first case, she wasn't invited but we did hear about it, and she sent a gift. This time we didn't even hear about it - and with all that's happened that hurt. A lot.

It hurt me too - so much that I did something yesterday I haven't done for over twenty years - got up and left a service, because I felt I couldn't worship without getting this off my chest. The pastor, bless him, came out and had a word with me, and was shocked at what had happened, but it still hurts that people can be so casually cruel at times.

The funny thing is, they probably thought someone else had given her an invite, so that nobody did. And if you get that line, join me in screaming in exasperation.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Whistle down the wind

I'm going to take chapters 2 and 3 together, because they both speak to the same issue - how do we express our faith when considering the politics of the country we live in.

In the second chapter of Wallis' book, he considers how we can change the political will of our leadership. He tells of how he leads people to identify politicans when in Washington - they're the ones with their fingers in the air trying to detect which way the wind is blowing. To influence them, it's no use trying to tell which way the wind is blowing, because they will move int hat direction. The real challenge is to change the way the wind is blowing.

He cites the example of Martin Luther King and his fight for the rights for Black Americans to vote to be enshrined in law. When Lyndon Johnson said it was impossible, he started marches in the south that got national press coverage - and the political attention to change the law.

In order to make the wind change, however, we need to be public in our belief, not private - which is the point of the third chapter of the book. He contends that American political parties have managed to convince people a faith in God is a private thing, and has no part to play in the moving of society generally.

Well, to misquote an old Chinese proverb, "it takes one rolling stone to start an avalanche." If we call ourselves Christian, then we say we are in a relationship with God that permeates and influences everything we do - public AND private. Be extension, therefore, we cannot begin to influence society unless we start to live our faith out - and that's a real challenge in our secular and "Rich Christian" world.

Fortunately, we have examples to consider - Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Wilberforce, Wesley and others. Think that over today when you wonder how you can change the world.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Jesus the Politician

Continuing our exploration of "God's Politics" by Jim Wallis, the first chapter is entitled "Take Back the Faith."

It's a short chapter, with a very simple message - the Christian faith is not a left- or right-wing faith, it's one that encompasses and challenges both sides of the argument. He starts with a simple statement - no-one can steal your faith from you. That's a personal matter between you and the Big Man upstairs. What has happened, rather, is that somehow one side of the political divide in America has listened "to the one that shouts the loudest" while the other has taken that as a sign they should not challenge there, but look for softer targets to hit on the other side.

Which means, regretfully, that they avoid the real issue - which is that as a Christian, we are not bound to what one person or another person says, but to look at what God says and match ourselves against that, with the security of knowing if we get it wrong and confess that, we can start again.

This quote sums up, for me, why things have gone wrong with religion in politics, both American and otherwise:-

I am always amazed by the debate over poverty, with one side citing the need for changes in social behaviour and the other for better social programs, as if the two are mutually exclusive. Obviously, both personal and social responsibility are necessary for overcoming poverty.

Let me put it another way. It's all very well telling people they need to work, but without the long term support and training, and the resource behind that, people won't be able to take the steps they need to get back to work. Equally, you can pour as much money as you want into social programs, but unless you convince others to help take that to the next step it's wasted money.

He then turns to "the Political Problem with Jesus", which can be very simply put - he doesn't do politics, he does people. Look in the Gospels at the way he treated the political power of his day - with respect, but without fear in pointing out where they were wrong. If he was around today, you wouldn't find him in the houses of power at Washington - you'd find him down at the soup kitchens and homeless shelters, meeting their needs.

In my previous post, a comment was made that the problem with Katrina was less government incompetence and more that people ignored the warnings and didn't get out. That was undoubtedly true for a lot of people there, but (and it's a big but) there were also people who were unable to get out without help with transport, and they were let down. Also, after the hurricane hit, the response by the government for the immediate needs just was not there.

So today, and I challenge myself to do this as well, think about how you can get past the politics and recognise the need.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Bi-Partisan Creator

When I was at school, we had to do a weekly class that was euphemistically called "Guidance." these days they call it "Social Awareness" or even "Citizenship", but the idea was to educate and get us thinking about issues in the our lives and the world. This class, for example, covered sex education - which consisted of the teacher regaling the all-male class of his exploits while serving in the Army in Egypt, and the importance of protection then.

I digress - one particular lesson has always stuck in my mind. The chairs in the room had been arranged in a circle, and the teacher invited a fellow student (known for his left-wing political views) to pick a seat. He then invited another student, a known Thatcherite, to take a seat opposite him.

Each of us were then asked to take a seat either to the left or to the right of one of these people, depending on how close your political views were to that person. If there wasn't room, everyone had to budge up one seat as required. I was the last person, but even then I wasn't left or right=wing, but more liberal. I took a seat in the middle, and everyone had to move one seat left or right.

As a result, the two students he had asked to sit first were now sat right next to each other. His point was clear - they were a lot closer than they thought.

Why has this come to mind? Over the summer, I picked up a book called "God's Politics" by Jim Wallis, published in 2005. Wallis is an American evangelical, and his book looks at the seeming role played by religion in American politics then, and even more so today. I'm going to read a chapter of this book each day, and like my good friend Mike Parnell recently did with a couple of books share my thoughts here.

In the introduction, he starts by making one truth very clear. "God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat". We in the UK are guilty of assuming that, because of people like Faldwell and the Moral Majority, all American Christians support Bush and are Republican. As Robin Williams would say "Horse Excrement".

Wallis postulates that the Right wing in America want to focus on certain "hot topics" - such as abortion and same-sex marriage - while ignoring the need for social support and helping those less well off. He also makes the point that, because of the apparent Christian focus on the Right, the Left seems to want to distance itself from addressing the very real role that Christians can play in social reform.

The book was written after the 2004 election, and Wallis makes this statement that Bush could both return to "social policies" rather than "faith-based decisions" and involve others in tackling injustice both at home in the US and abroad.

Consider - if that had happened, when Katrina struck New Orleans would things have been different? These last few weeks, when we've seen major financial institutions fail and a proposed multi-billion dollar bailout by the Federal Reserve, free social health-care is still a no-no for the Republican party?

Bear in mind I'm not an American, so you may feel I have no right to speak, but exactly the same questions could be asked about our British system as well.

Anyway, as I say, come back as I share my thoughts on each chapter as I read it. In six weeks, you elect your new President in the US. Take time to consider what you think, and don;t vote blindly.

Monday, 22 September 2008

High Five

Taking a line from Jeff over at My Greatest Adventure, five questions to answer. Feel free to pass the idea on...

1.) Where was I 10 years ago?

Living in a hotel in Uxbridge, trying desperately to finalise the purchase of a house in the area Doreen and I had chosen to live in before our second child came along. I'd been working down here for two months, commuting to and from Nottingham at the weekends, and it was starting to get me down something chronic.

2.) What was on my to-do list today?

Sorting out some writing assignments for work, catching up on part of a course I missed last week because I had to go to a meeting which was cancelled while I was on the course, then some housework at home before a well earned sleep

3.) What would I do if I were a billionaire?

Cry - I don't do lotteries. Seriously - pay off my mortgage, buy a larger house in the country, put enough aside to ensure the boys would be comfortable, give a sizable donation to charities and churches, then invest the rest. After all that - I'd keep on working. I like my job!

4.) Five places I've lived

Linlithgow, West Lothian (look up top for a picture); Newcastle upon Tyne; Beeston, Nottingham; Arnold, Nottingham; London

5.) Bad Habits

I don't eat well or exercise enough

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Don't Panic!! redux

This appeared on the BBC News yesterday - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7619828.stm

The usual debate will now start about how someone should not pick up on Douglas Adams' work, and how this should be left untouched. Obviously they've never seen the film of Hitchhiker's....

Eoin is a good author - I happen to like the Artemis Fowl books, and besides there is no golden law that says these characters, where the story has not been completed (no-one should ever contemplate a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird), are sacrosanct. My son, as well as the Artemis Fowl books, is reading the Young James Bond books by Charlie Higson, which are also good.

I'm also a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but one of the best of those is not a Conan Doyle one. The Doctor's Tale is by Stephen King, but you could almost believe Conan Doyle would have written it.

So rather than being like Arthur Dent and panicking at that news, let's wait and see what happens. After all, for a trilogy, five books so far is good going.

Now, who's for a game of Krikket?

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Don't Panic!!

It's been a rough week on the financial markets of the world, hasn't it?

I still remember the day known as Black Wednesday, 16 September 1992, when the financial markets in the UK last went into so severe a financial meltdown. Speculating on sterling, following the decision to enter the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), led to a run on the pound and increases that led, by the end of the day, to Bank of England lending rate of 15.5% by the end of the day.

You can read the gory details at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Wednesday

It also led to a collapse in the housing market - just as we had spent a year in our new house. It took another seven years before, when we moved to our current home, we could even get back the modest price we paid for our house.

Over the last couple of weeks, we've seen a similar adjustment take place as a result of the "sub-prime" mortgage problems a year ago. This time the hit has been taken by the major banks - two going down and out, the big mortgage lenders in the US and a major insurance company bailed out by the Federal Reserve, and talks of bank mergers in the UK to weather the storm.

The temptation is going to be there to panic, but there is one thing I have learned of over the years when it comes to things like mortgages and savings - take only the risks you can afford
and watch what you are doing.

I know there are people who have gambled and lost all - I feel their pain, as I've been in insufferable debt myself with no apparent way out. Do not judge them, but help them if you can. As for those who allowed such a thing to even take place - be careful what you grow, because you always have to clear the refuse away afterwards.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Where's the kaboom?

There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!

On Wednesday morning, at 8.30 am, the world did not come to an end by being sucked into a black hole. I'm glad of that, because at 8.30 on Wednesday morning I was driving round the Road to Hell to a meeting in Harlow, but that's beside the point.

Science is a wonderful tool for learning about and understanding our universe, but it does not have all the answers. Scientific proof is not the way to answer all the questions this crazy world throws at us.

Consider, for example, what yesterday (Thursday) was the anniversary of - 9/11. Science may have been the mechanism for causing the cataclysmic events of that day, but they were not the trigger. That was hate and fear - pure and simple. There is nothing scientific about such an emotional response to such things - it is just that. Emotional - and emotions are the most powerful thing we have to fight with.

So, while the particle beams get faster and faster, consider that they may answer some questions, but not all of them. You need to look elsewhere for some of those.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

My choice of candidate

I cannot vote in the US presidential election, but if I could this candidate would get my vote:-


Monday, 8 September 2008

September 8, 1990

At 3 pm on Saturday, September 8 1990, at Winton Place Congeregational Church, Kilmarnock, Doreen Clark and Michael Kevin Williams celebrated their wedding.

We've had good times and hard times, made mistakes and had some blazing rows, but I still love her as much as when I saw her walking down the aisle that Saturday afternoon. The fact we're still together despite some of the problems we've had is testament to the fact that Marriage is somethign you work at, not leave alone.

Happy Anniversary, Doreen.

Friday, 5 September 2008

A short note for a new time

In April 1979, I sat the first exams towards my school qualifications, and started down the road that led to the career I now have.

Next year, twenty years on, my oldest son will sit the majority of the equivalent for him, his GCSE exams. This year, however, he sat two in advance - Religious Education and Statistics. The former I never studied formally at school. The latter - well, I've made a career from that subject for over twenty years now.

Yesterday we discovered the awful truth.

He passed both with flying colours - a 'B' grade for Religiosu Education and, much to his surprise, a 'A' for statistics, given the teacher was not the best and he crammed for that one.

I'm so proud of him.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Respect

Driving into work this morning, I was listening to the radio when a story caught me by surprise for a number of reasons.

A soldier, home on leave from Afghanistan for medical reasons, tried to check into a hotel by himself for a few days holiday. When he shows his warrant card, however, he is told that the hotel has a policy not to take serving forces personnel as guests, and he is asked to leave. You can read more about the story at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/7596798.stm

Now, to take the PoV of the hotel for a moment, they may have a good reason for this policy. It may be that they have had problems in the past with forces members, and a blanket ban was their way of dealing with it. Why, then, does the hotel just say that is the case an apologise for any embarrassment caused? Because, right now, they are saying nothing.

There is, I feel, a more fundamental problem here of respect. Yes, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are unpopular here in the UK, and yes we have the right to voice whatever views we have on that. Forces personnel, however, are volunteers doing a job, and they deserve some respect for that. I say that not just as an Army Brat (which I am) but also as a human being whose brother is serving in the Army.

There may be many things I don't like about America, but their forces personnel are treated with the utmost respect and courtesy, and they don't face these issues. Heck, they walk down the street proudly in their uniforms. Here? Forces members are told NOT to wear their uniforms in nearby towns because they have been attacked just for being proud of their units.

Is it too much to ask for a little respect for these people? Because if it is, we have crossed a very dangerous and sorry line.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

On to the next level

With luck, Doreen (my wonderful wife) will have the last dressing removed today for good. On Thursday we go to see her plastic surgeon to discuss the next stage.

Putting it bluntly, that means they start to inject saline into the temporary prosthesis they gave her at the time of the operation. Over a few weeks, this has the effect of stretching the skin and shaping the breast for the final prosthesis. It also means she should feel a lot more comfortable wearing a bra. Without going into details, any ladies reading this can imagine what ti is like with two different breast sizes.

She also faces another problem this week. She works as a School Meals Assistant, or dinner lady in my parlance, but she earns less than the minimum required to pay National Insurance, so sick pay is at the discretion of her employer. She won't be back to work for a few more weeks yet, so she needs to talk to her boss about what happens.

She wants to get a job as a Teaching Assistant, but until the reconstruction is over she feels that's not possible, as she has to go into a job knowing she'll need time off in the new year. On the other hand, she doesn't want to have to leave her current job for a reason that is not her fault.

As you see, a dilemma. Still, as they say, onwards and upwards!

Monday, 1 September 2008

I have a confession to make

I have had an addiction for eight years now, but I finally managed to break it.

It started innocently enough back in 2000. I tried it a couple of times, but never really saw the point of it. Somehow or other, however, it sucked me in and before I realised what was happening I was hooked.

I would discuss it with other people, rearrange appointments to make sure I got my fix, even stay up until ridiculous hours to make sure I got the full experience.

Recently, however, I went cold turkey and, in a suprsingly painless manner, I have managed to wean myself off the addicition. It can be done with enough will power and motivation.

Yes, I have cured myself of the habit of watching Big Brother, and I praise God for it.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Time off and clearing up

One thing about taking a week off at very short notice - you get the chance to relax and really enjoy things before the excrement hits the spinning object again.

For example, I watched a lot of the Olympics - and I'm glad that the UK did so well in the sports we are excelling in at the moment - sailing, rowing and cycling, as well as a medal in the gymnastics for the first time in 100 years and two golds in the swimming pool.

A word on Michael Phelps - yes, he probably is the finest swimmer of all time. But the finest Olympian - sorry, tell that to Sir Steve Redgrave, five times gold medallist in the cox less fours.

As for other things, I spent a couple of days in the heart of Wiltshire, visiting small towns and rinking tea with my wife. We also found a shop that sold sweets in quarter pounds - sorry, 113 gram portions. Ah, sweet taste of childhood.

As for the future - Doreen still needs to attend a dressing clinic weekly, and then they start inflating the temporary implant they gave her until they get the right size. After that, they replace ti with the final implant and do some "resizing" on the other side if necessary. Another operation, but less traumatic and a shorter stay in hospital. There's also mammograms on the other breast every year for the foreseeable future.

For those who care about such things - the final examination showed the plaques had spread even more than at first thought, but no signs of changes into the nasty (?) form. So we carry on with recovery until we get back to whatever normality will be in the near future.

And now, back to work...

Friday, 8 August 2008

Elephant Hunt - the result

The Elephant is dead.

And there was much rejoicing.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

It was 26 years ago today

When I was a lad, I was very heavily involved in a youth organisation called the Boys' Brigade - like the Boy Scouts, but more firmly based in church and "discipline". Put it this way - Baden Powell's first camp was actually a group from a Boys' Brigade company.

Anyway, by the time I went to University I had been selected to go on their leadership training course, which consisted of two weeks a year apart. I attended the first week in 1981, then left home to go and study at Newcastle University.

The reasons for picking Newcastle were two-fold. Firstly, they offered me a place without needing to get certain grades in my last school exams, and the course was good. Secondly, and more subtly, I wanted to make a clean start. As a result of various things that had happened to me and my family, I was an incredibly shy and withdrawn teenager, and I thought the only way I was going to break that was to get as far away from home as practically possible.

Well, it was a good plan, but I had overlooked one small point. I had become so withdrawn and shy it was virtually impossible for me to make friends easily, so for the first few months at Uni I was a loner. Over the year, I eventually got to know some people very well, and make some friends. A number of those friends were exploring their own lives, and through a group called the Navigators had come to know Jesus as their saviour.

At the time, I called myself a christian, but I also realised they had found something else. Regretfully, my BB commitments meant I could not go to the meetings they were attending, but I attended a church with them from time to time and started to explore the issues myself. Without realising it at the time, I was slowly beginning to understand that there was something wrong, something in my life that was out of balance, but I had no idea what that was.

Until the second week of the training course in 1982.

The course was at a place called Carronvale House, an old manor house outside Larbert near Stirling. At the end of each day, there was an evening devotional, but on the Friday evening, 7th August 1982, the devotional took the form of a communion service.

The previous year, I had been lucky enough to attend an event in Denmark called Julsolejr, a massive camp held every five years for young men and women involved in organisations like the BB, and there I had attended a communion service in the open air. There had been a strange feeling that day, but I had no idea at the time what that feeling was - only that I felt happy afterwards.

On that night, 7th August 1982, I felt that feeling again. Complete, total peace, the feeling that no matter what may happen, someone was there waiting to help you, if you only asked them.

So, after the service was over, I went outside the house and looked up at the clear night sky, with the stars twinkling overhead, and I said something like the following.

"God, I've heard a lot about you, but until now I don't think I've ever really experienced your presence. But tonight, I really think you were there with me and telling em that your son died for me. I do believe you are real - so take me and help me to learn more about you. "

As a commitment prayer goes, it's probably not the most eloquent or theologically correct, but that was it. From that day on, I have called myself a Christian, and although I have made mistakes over the years and felt lots of pain, I have never regretted that decision once.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Kinda missing the point

Look back in my archives, and you will see a post on "When Religion and Politics Mix." Go on - I'll wait until you come back.....

Back? Good. I made two points there. One was on the then upcoming vote in the Church of England on women bishops. I did a follow-up on that in "Fudge".

The other was on openly homosexual priests. An anonymous commenter made this reply.

Thanks for your interesting and candid comments. Wondering if you have ever happened upon a rather unusual article titled "God to Same-Sexers: Hurry Up." I found it while visiting Google. Mack

I'll save you the search - the relevant link is http://www.ucmpage.org/jedwards.html

It's an interesting article, I grant you that - and it is an argument I have heard of before. To me however, it misses the point in a fairly big way, which is this.

Who the hell are we to presume to know what God is thinking on this matter, in terms of when he may be coming back as opposed to the actual act?

I say "Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner." The writer of this article seems to be saying "Encourage the Sinner to Sin, so that the End Times can come more quickly."

Reality check, folks - We don't know when God is coming back. In fact, Jesus himself said in Matthew 25 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come..... You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."

God wants us to repent of our sins, and some to him in that repentance, not to be encouraged to continue in their sin because we want to be in Glory with him that much more quickly.

And to those who might say "you are not seeking to advance God's kingdom", yes I am - in love for my fellow man, not in condemnation of them to a life without God. Jesus also said "Let him without Sin cast the first stone" when confronted by an angry mob wanting to stone an adulteress to death. Is what is written here really any different to that scenario? If not, then I can;t say I'm without sin - can you?

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Tusk wounds

Apologies for my absence for the last few days - the elephant that we thought had been killed had left a little present behind.

If there is anything that I like less than being around hospitals, it;s being around ER or A&E rooms, depending on where in the world you sit. So, when I came back from going with my son to football lessons on Saturday and was told I needed to take my wife to A&E, it was the start of a fun-packed few days.

Not.

She had developed a slight infection around some of the stitches she had had, and after calling a local dressing clinic was told to go back to the A&E department of the hospital where she had the op. After a wait of only (only?) three hours, she was admitted at 8.30 Saturday night to receive what was then called "a 24 hour course of IV antibiotics."

They stopped the IV yesterday. They also removed the stitches, which may have been aggravating the problem in the first place. She's still under observation to make sure the problem does not flare up again.

So I've spent a lot of time these last few days travelling to and from the hospital - hence my absence.

We also discovered the implant she was given was a temporary one - something she wasn't told at the time.

On the plus side, her recovery otherwise continues better than expected.

More later.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

On days like these

There are days when everything seems to go well, things flow smoothly and there are no problems. Those are days to be thankful for.

And then there are days when no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try to do the right thing, nothing goes right. You trip over your own feet, the work you tried so hard to do goes wrong, you cut the blue wire instead of the red one, that sort of thing.

Lately I've been having quite a few of those days. Mainly because, I suspect, with my wife home I'm trying to walk on eggshells in size 12 Doc Martens, but partly because she is feeling down as well, and needs someone to take out her frustration on.

When I was a younger man, I liked to think of myself as a teddy bear - able to soak up all the tears and tantrums of my friends, and still able to stand there when needed. As I get older, I sadly find that even teddy bears wear out over time, and need repair every so often.

Having said that, I have to realise as well that this is something that was going to happen, and if I'm being honest I have to accept that it's not my strength I need to rely on - it's Gods.

"Take my yoke upon you, for my work is easy and my burden is light." To understand that, you have to remember that a yoke at the time of the New Testament was designed to be worn by two cattle - sharing the burden and the workload. If I have a prayer for today, it is that I remember that when days like these occur.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

B5 Review: The Gathering

In which I start to make my way through the Babylon 5 box set and share my thoughts.....

In the set, The Gathering is a stand-alone movie, so it gives me a chance to view a few things and give a few thoughts. I need to preface this with the fact that this was NOT the first episode of B5 I saw - that was The Parliament of Dreams - and it was not until they started to repeat the series in the UK that I caught this one.

Plotwise, it set up the story and the concept of Babylon 5 fairly well, but like a lit of TV pilots it does tend to try and pull a little too much in. That's not the fault of the writer or director - it's the fault of the American television system where you have to try and sell the entire concept in one pilot program, and that can cause some problems as we will see later. As an example, if you ever see the pilot for Hill Street Blues, Hill and Renko (two of the more popular and complex characters) were shot and killed in the pilot - the first proper episode had to deal with that by finding them at the end near death.

The plot revolves essentially around an attempt to assassinate one of the alien ambassadors, Kosh of the Vorlon Empire, and also introduce the other major characters.

G'Kar of the Narn Regime and Mollari of the Centauri Empire are there in almost complete form, with their mutual enmity and hatred fully formed, but even in those early days the seeds are sown of the respect that will grow as the series develops.

Delenn of the Minbari is also present, but in a harsher and different from from the series character. I found both her look and voice a bit too grating, but this was one of the things that was addressed when the series proper began.

Also conspicuous by their absence in the pilot were the diplomatic aides - all of whom went on to be important characters in the series proper.

On the human side, Commander Sinclair and Chief of Security Garibaldi are also there, but we have a different head of MedLab (Doctor Kyle) and a different Second in Command (Lt Commander Takashima). There was also a different love interest for Sinclair, Carolyn Sykes. All were meant to be recurring characters - all were replaced fro various reasons. At least Dr Kyle and Carolyn were acknowledged later - I'm not sure yet if we ever found out what happened to Takashima, although some of the things planned for her did come around with another character later.

There was also Lyta Alexander, the assigned commercial telepath. She would come back in a major way in later stories.

As pilots and introductiosn go, it;s a good action film which sets up a number of mysteries picked up in the main series.

  1. What the heck are the Vorlons?
  2. Why are Sinclair and Delenn so friendly?
  3. What is the "hole in your mind" that Sinclair hears about?
  4. Just what did Lyta see?

I give it 4 out of 5 - now for the series proper....

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Apologies - lost looking for elephants

I did mean to come back and post every day, honestly and truly I did - but when it's an hour and a half each way from the home to hospital, twice a day, things kinda get drained away, such as energy and time to post.

After the operation on Tuesday, I saw Doreen lying there, pale and sweating, oxygen tube, morphine drip and fluids in place and four drains taking gung away from the incisions.

Today - she's up and walking around, there's only one drain in place still, and God willing she will be home on Monday.

The road ahead is still long - she may be bringing that tube home with her, and if so it need sot be checked every day - but she is recovering, and that is the main thing.

We also still do not know if the elephant is well and truly dead - the signs are it is no more, but until we hear from the specialist, it's still a remote possibility it will come back and try to trample us.

We both thank those reading this for the good thoughts and prayers you have all been saying - keep it up folks, it's working!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Elephant hunting

Well, that's an ..... interesting couple of days.

I finally took Doreen into hospital at 6 pm last night - the letter said five, but at about 12 she got a call from the Bed Manager at the hospital.

"Mrs Williams, you haven't called us."

"Was I meant to?"

"It states in the covering letter that you should call us on the date of admittance."

"What covering letter?"

"The one sent with your appointment letter."

"We didn't get a covering letter, we got two appointment letters"

".................."

So they say they'll call back between 4 and 5 that night with the ward to go to.

You can see it coming - 5.15 and no call. The next ten to fifteen minutes are spent trying to get through, and finally.....

"Oh - come in to the ward on your letter."

Ugh.


She had the operation today, and so far all looks like it is going well. Nothing to report that is bad - we await biopsy results now.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Clearing out

My wife and I - well, mostly me if truth be told - are inadvertent hoarders. Some unfortunate business with the taxman some years ago means that we have kept bank statements and books going back some twenty years - but we just ran out of room for them.

So over the last week or two we've been having a clean out, which has involved a lot of shredding of documents and disposal of same.

Sidebar - our local council will recycle waste paper, but not if it is shredded as it clogs the machinery up. So, rather than using all the old statements which we are told to shred for security reasons for recycling, I had to dump them all in the communal landfill site. Something not quite right there....

Where was I? Oh yes - the only problem is you can;t shred old chequebooks, and they have account details on so you can;t dump them. So guess what I've had to do for the last few nights?

Burn them - but they gave me a chance to read them and some memories came up. The first bike we bought Alastair. The cheque we wrote for the deposit on our current house. The pram we bought before Alastair arrived, that served well for both our boys. Memories that we carry for all our life, even if they have to go up in smoke.

I've also had to clear some things out of my personal life - all the anger and fear over the Elephant, things like that. Later today, I take Doreen to the hospital for her mastectomy. I'll let you know my feelings here over the next few days.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Fudge

In a previous post, which you can find at http://justsittingandthinking.blogspot.com/2008/07/only-way-religion-and-politics-mix.html, I discussed the upcoming vote of the General Synod of the Church of England on women bishops.

Before I get to that, however, I want to talk about fudge. You know what fudge is - the soft toffee beloved of many children, that can be flavoured with many things, but at heart is basically the same in all its various forms. People like it, people hate it, I personally like a little but as I get older I can't eat as much as I may have been able to in the past.

Fudge has another meaning in the English language - to quote the Cambridge dictionary:-

fudge (AVOID) verb [T] MAINLY DISAPPROVING
to avoid making a decision or giving a clear answer about something:
The government continues to fudge the issue by refusing to give exact figures.

fudge noun [C usually singular]
She suspects that this compromise deal will be nothing more than a fudge.
It's a bit of a fudge but we could put the cost through on next year's budget.

The Synod, after an extremely long and by all accounts full-blooded debate, voted to allow the consecration of women bishops, but also to draw up guidelines for the way that they work that will, and I paraphrase, allow traditionalist priests who do not recognise women in positions of leadership to work with them.

In other words, a fudge.

It is sometimes a useful exercise, in situations like this, to think of that common phrase that kids wear on wristbands on their wrists "What would Jesus do?"

I think he would give a big sigh, stand up and remind them of a simple fact - it's not important who is in charge of your fellowship, so long as they are doing and teaching what he shared with us when he was here first time. He would remind us that there are people crying out to Him, and wanting our help as he helped us, but we're ignoring them to fight and argue over who is in charge. He'd then tell us to stop arguing and live the life He wants us to live, before turning and having a chat with the little old woman that no-one else sits with.

There is no argument - God is in charge. We're here to do his work, and if he says a woman should be in charge we chould not be arguing about it.

The Church today is like fudge - many flavours, but at heart it should be united in the same basis. More and more, I recognise that is not the case. Just as I can only tolerate so much of the sweet, so I get increasingly fed up with the continued arguments. I just want to shout "STOP!!" and point out the passage in I Corinthians 3

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each should be careful how he builds. For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ

The other problem with fudge, by the way, is it satisfies for a little while, but doesn't stave off the real hunger for long. I think the General Synod, rather than solving a very real problem, has postponed their judgement day for a later date. The problem with that is the day is going to come far faster than they think.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

A point of debate

Trekkies. Love them or hate them, we can at least talk about them and their never-ending discussions.

In particular, what was the best Star Trek series of all time? Personally, I preferred Deep Space nine, but I have to say that there is one show that beat all of them into a hat and left the rest standing.

Babylon 5 - and I've just ordered the complete box set off Amazon.

That's everything - the five series, the six films, the Crusade collection AND the Lost Tales at 40% off. Forty two disks, and a whole summer of viewing.

I'll let you know how I get on over the weeks - once I work out again the correct viewing order for the films...

We now know how big it is

The Elephant that is.

An Indian calf.

Excuse me while I go and say a few words of thanks and scream in mild delight....

Monday, 7 July 2008

Eight things I liked about Linlithgow

I grew up in Linlithgow, and I probably don't think enough about what it was like growing up in that part of Scotland. So today, I offer my eight thoughts that come first into my head while thinking about what to me will always be the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow.

1) Linlithgow Palace

Birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots no less, and dating back to the 12th Century. When the Black Death was in Edinburgh, the Royal Family decamped to Linlithgow and lived there for a couple of years. Ruined by Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army, I used to play in the ruins and spent much of my youth in Linlithgow Peel, the park that surrounds the Palace. In addition, my father was the Royal Park Constable for many years (the Peelie in local slang) so there is a family connection as well.


2) St Michael's Church

To get to the Palace, you go up a narrow hilled street, and climbing that hill you see St Michael's Church on the right. The spire is unique, and well known across the country, but in itself it is a fine example of the type of church that was built in Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries. It's not that Church I went to as a kid, however - in fact, legend has it I single-handedly stopped my family going there, but that's another story.




3) St Ninian Craigmailen Church

That would be this one. I was in the Boys Brigade company here. I sang (before my voice didn't so much break as scatter into a million tiny pieces) in the choir. I my have some disagreements with the doctrines of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, but your first church always sticks with you.




4) Cockleroi

The highest point in West Lothian is Cockeroi, an extinct volcano about three miles north of Linlithgow. As a kid I sometimes took a day to walk up to the top, have a picnic lunch and look over my home town like this picture.





5) The Grand Union Canal

Another childhood haunt was to walk along this canal, which when I was a kid was disused and falling into disrepair. Now it's a burgeoning tourist attraction. If you're ever there, pay it a visit.








6) Merker Terrace

The street I grew up in, and across the road was my school, Linlithgow Academy. Whatever talent I posses was nurtured there, so if you're looking for someone or something to blame, there's your target. There are many things about my childhood I would never want to revisit ti, but it;s the street I grew up in and for that I am always grateful.



7) Linlithgow Rose

Also near where I lived was Linlithgow Rose's home ground - the team that beat the big boys in last year's Scottish FA cup. I'm not the world's greatest footie fan, but I used to sit on my veranda at home watching them over the stadium wall.



8) The Riding of The Marches

The first Tuesday after the Second Thursday of June is Marches day, an annual holiday when the town boundaries are marked by a procession, where much quaffing of ale and other liquid consumables is undertaken. I loved it as a kid, and wish I could go once more.



Friday, 4 July 2008

African or Indian?

It's been a quiet week, but not a lazy one as we approach the date for my wife's operation.

Monday she had what is called a Sentinel Node Biopsy - essentially, they inject a radioactive isotope into her, followed later by a blue dye to identify which lymph nodes are closest to the breast she will have an operation on. These are then removed and taken analysis to confirm that the cancer hasn't turned nasty and started to spread. It's a relatively new technique, as in the past they'd have simply harvested the lymph nodes at the time of the mastectomy.

So, when we see the doctor on Wednesday, we'll find out if the elephant in the room is an African bull or an Indian calf. If it's the Indian, we have a tough few weeks ahead but we can get through it. If it's the African - well, a few words may appear here that I will regret but need to say.

If you follow my meaning.

Which you probably don't.

As a result, Doreen has been resting all week while her mum and dad and I (but mainly them for the latter part of the week) get my younger son off to school. The one saving grace has been the absence of Alastair, my oldest lad, who has been on a school trip to Paris for the week. The fun part of that was when they set off on Tuesday - early.

Very early - 5.15 in the morning, which meant a 4 AM start so that he had everything he needed with him. Having visited Montmatre, Sacre Couer and the Eiffel Tower, as well as (most importantly in his view) Disneyland Paris, he gets back tonight at about 11 - which may mean 10, but most likely means midnight. Given I will be spending the weekend shifting furniture and stripping wallpaper, I fully expect to be one of the walking dead come Sunday.

And so the day draws closer.