Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve

I'm glad I posted my retrospective yesterday because this morning I received some news that might have coloured it slightly. Back in April, one of the guests at my 30th birthday party was Martin, the husband of one of the designers I worked with, Allison. He looked a bit peaky back then and in conversation said that he was going to the doctors to see if there was anything wrong with him.

There was.

Martin was diagnosed with stomach cancer and given a prognosis of six months with the chemo. When I last saw him, he was in Velindre hospital - the specialist cancer unit - looking very ill, but alert and happy. Although I didn't feel like I had much faith, I prayed with him. There have been lots of prayer meetings, special mentions in our prayer times in work, and regular emails.

Two days ago he took a sudden turn for the worse and was rushed into hospital where he died.

It's not as if we were exceptionally close. We met a few times before he got ill, and we saw him a few times in the past eight months. But he was a warm, kind, interested guy, with a creative artistic streak, a good sense of humour and a sincere smile. After talking to him for a few minutes, I felt like I'd known him for ages, and that's rare for me because I don't really like people that much and find it hard to make friendships.

I've heard the 'explanations' for why good people die young and none of them really help. When I was a headstrong and certain teenager I could put up a good argument why, even though God could step in and save people He would perhaps choose not to. Now I feel like grabbing him, shaking him by the cosmic shoulders and telling him, in no uncertain terms, to get in the game.

I was talking today to an older and wiser friend - a man who's been a doctor for nearly 40 years, and a believer for longer - and his honest gut opinion is that cancer is evil. It's satan's last desperate throw of the dice because satan hates human beings (I don't give satan a capital letter for a reason - see here). That doesn't help lessen the pain, but at least it gives a focus for my anger.

And I think back to what Luther said - that the only place we really see God is on the cross. And how Paul described Christ emptying himself. And I try to get my head around the idea of death and finitude and mortality becoming part of the eternal nature of God - that in that mysterious trinity, not only is death experienced for eternity, but the pain of abandonment, and the pain of harrowing loss is also part of God's nature. And I remember Peter's assertion that God didn't abandon his Son to the grave. That somehow life triumphed.

On a rollover inspirational calendar that Cath has by the computer it said this a few days ago: "Faith is seeing light with your heart, when all your eyes see is the darkness ahead."

Saturday, December 30, 2006

It's nearly 2007

With the end of 2006 now in sight, I think it’s time for a bit of a retrospective. So, here’s some of the things I’ve learned this past year.

Adcortyl is the stuff to use on mouth ulcers
Bonjela is rubbish in comparison
Coke explodes when you add a Mento
David Tennant is a better Doctor
England can have the best footie team in the world according to the pundits, but when it comes to the big stage they suck royally
Funny emails aren’t professional
Global warming means the poorest people are going to get literally washed away
‘How to be Good’ by Nick Hornby is brilliant but depressing
In a galactic war, being on the losing side doesn’t mean you fought on the wrong side (thank you, Mal Reynolds)
Japanese B-Damen instructions are easier to read in Japanese than in the ‘translated’ version
Karaoke is a great way to make a complete ass of yourself
Legoland is great, but you get odd looks if you go there without kids in tow
Mull is a great place to go on holiday, mainly because it’s almost deserted (and it's got lots of quiet, wee places to visit - like this one)
Nizlopi are possibly the coolest live band ever
Office politics means my pay won’t go up, but there’s plenty of money available to create new management positions
Poppycock cashew nut popcorn is so nice I’m salivating as I type
Queen’s Radio GaGa has never been murdered so badly as when Dave and me killed it on the Songster game
Returning to old writing projects means extensive re-writes
Sunburn is a possibility when holidaying in Scotland – no, honestly, it happened to me
Thud! by Terry Pratchett is the best book to read if you want to understand religious fundamentalism
United 93 is not the best film to watch the night before you fly to Belfast
Vox pops are frustrating, tiring, demoralising and stressful – but doing them still beats a day in the office!
Weevils live in the sewers of Cardiff, and wear boiler suits for some reason
X-Box consoles are insanely large
You can lead a workplace prayer meeting using six stress balls that you’ve ‘acquired’ at a marketing expo to illustrate your main points
Zoids are as much fun now as they were when I was a kid (actually they're more fun now because I can afford to buy the big ones!)

Friday, December 29, 2006

It's a nice little problem to have

The hardest part about Christmas is finding homes for all the new stuff I've been given. Artoo-Potatoo will join Darth Tater and Spud Trooper quite easily. Books go on the shelf. Nightmare stuff in with the ever-growing collection of Nightmare stuff. Clothes go in the wardrobe etc. etc.

But suddenly I've got a collection of B-Damen. After Irony Boy gave me one in our pre-Christmas House Christmas, he then found a Jap import version cheap in Yeovil for me. I also found 3 import versions in our new fancy 'out-of-town, but nearer my house now' Toys 'R' Us for the ludicrous low price of 96p each. Suddenly I have an armada of the things and I'm not really sure where to put them.
Still, I guess the hassle of finding space for all my new toys is a nice hassle to have.

Another addition to the Spud Wars family...

Monday, December 25, 2006

It's Christmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas!

I've never been considered much of a fashion guru, but at least I'm organised when it comes to seasonal underwear. The 'pigs in Santa hats' Joe Boxer shorts are on (probably not a contender for 'helps underline the real meaning of Christmas' award). The Jack Skellington socks are on. And I'm ready for a big day of Christmas fun and family togetherness.

And, in the spirit of Christmassy togetherness, Cathy's pants have 'ho ho ho' all over them. However, she wasn't chuffed when I referred to them as her "ho pants". Can't think why...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Match report: Shrewsbury 0 Barnet 1

Well this was a bust. Freezing cold night, plenty of pre-match hype, a win last time out, what could be better than a game against the 17th placed team in the division?

I'm on a run too - this season my record for Shrewsbury games is seen: 2, lost: 2, scores: both 0-1. And when I went with Dad to see table-topping Cardiff the score was 0-1 then.

But despite the defeat, this was an entertaining game, more so if you were a Barnet fan. League 2 is a tight division again, and despite their lowly position, Barnet were the better side - obviously they've taken a while to hit their stride. They were first to the ball most of the night and could actually string more then one pass together, while Shrewsbury looked inept in both boxes. The decisive goal was an amazing volley from outside the area which dipped into the top corner past Town's decidedly dodgy loanee 'keeper. Not a bad goal to lose to, even if the game was a bad one to lose.

Plus, I felt very happy for the visiting fans, who, as Dave pointed out, deserved a medal for travelling on a Friday and standing on an inhospitable terrace. They went totally nuts when the goal went in, and again about ten minutes later when the whistle went. It reminded me why I go to football games - the feeling when you win against the odds, away from home, on the longest night of the year.

I just wish I felt that feeling more often, but unfortunately I'm a Shrewsbury fan!

Friday, December 22, 2006

House Christmas

Last night we had house Christmas. This was because Viv has to work over Christmas, we're visiting rellies and Irony Boy is off to his homeland - although, technically, he isn't part of the household; he just pretends to live here when ordering stuff off the web.

One of our Christmas traditions is to watch Bernard and the Genie. It's a BBC film, written by Richard Curtis of Blackadder and Four Weddings fame, which we have on video from 1991. As you can imagine, it's a bit crackly and faded by now, so maybe it's time to lobby the BBC and get them to release a decent version on DVD.

We also opened some presents. I was given another B*Damen to keep the one I bought a few months ago happy. Or, maybe they'll fight... who knows?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

News of other projects

For the first time in a couple of months I've had time to update freelance theology, with a very seasonal post about Gabriel. This is the first new post on the new look which has come into existence thanks to my hardworking sidekick Irony Boy. The new logo was designed by Matt the designer (as I call him). (I don't know what I'd accomplish if I wasn't surrounded by talented people!)

What I'm really hoping for is some free time to add some extra stuff and answer the backlog of questions that has built up recently. But carving out time in my schedule isn't something I'm good at.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas factoid

Something that Cath and I learned at San Diego Zoo is that boy reindeer lose their antlers in the autumn, while girl reindeer keeps her antlers until well into winter, so that they can compete for food. Which means... that Santa's sleigh-team is exclusively female! Which explains why one of them is called Donna. (And before the pedants attack - you know who you are - I know it's really Donner).

But this then leads to an obvious question. If Santa's herd of reindeer are all female, does he have to hire in a stud reindeer from time to time? Or is that Rudolph's job? And where have all the male reindeer gone? Is Santa a secret exporter of venison? Hmmm.

(If Santa turned one of his reindeer into a spitroast, would it be possible to have a real Donner kebab?)

The other thing about San Diego Zoo is that they had the first panda cub to be born in the Western hemisphere. When we saw it, it was sleeping in a tree, looking like a plastic bag that had been blown there by the wind. Apart from the fact it had a paw, of course. We saw pandas doing what they do most of the time. One was eating and two were sleeping. The reason they sleep so much is because the bamboo they exclusively eat is actually toxic to them, so they have to sleep off the toxicological effects.

Shhhh, don't disturb the snoozing panda cub

Playing "Spot the hippo!" with the friendly baby hippo

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Prawn madness

Occasionally certain news stories catch my attention and bug me. Like this story about how prawns caught of the coast of Scotland are going to be shipped 12,000 miles to Thailand to be shelled, before being shipped back and sold in Scottish supermarkets. Why? Because it's cheaper to pay somebody in Thailand to shell prawns by hand than someone in Scotland to shove them through a machine.

In fact Time magazine makes the comparison that it costs $12 an hour to pay a Scottish worker (which with today's exchange rate works out at about £6), while a Thai hand-sheller only gets paid 50c a day. And the environmental impact is mad too - as Friends of the Earth put it: for the sake of a few extra quid, the prawn sellers are destroying the world.

I don't know what's the saddest aspect of this whole tale. That workers in Thailand are on 50c a day. That half a tonne of carbon will be pumped into the atmosphere for every tonne of prawns shipped round the world and back again. Or that someone somewhere has the job title 'Director of Scampi' on their business card.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Illuminated by darkness

Bit of a profound way to describe a thought I had this morning at about half 7. It was very dark this morning, and as I sat munching my wheat bisks (none of that fancy branded cereal for me) I noticed just how incredibly dark it was outside.

And then the thought struck me: What if the sun doesn’t rise today? Of course, I know that I was being ridiculous, because the earth revolves on its own axis once every 24 hours, and day was going to follow night as surely as nauseous regret follows the snaffling of a dozen mince pies. (Not that I’ve done that… recently.)

But that half moment of fear made me realise that in pre-scientific times there was no sure way of knowing, which is why the Egyptians et al used to celebrate the sunrise every day (or at least I think they did – perhaps I ought to look historical trivia like that up). And how do I really ‘know’ that stuff about the Earth on its axis, other than that I’ve been told about it and apparently there’s this invisible, un-measureable, unquantifiable thing called gravity that would stop working if the world suddenly stopped spinning. So, the sun was going to come up because we hadn’t all been catapulted off into space while we slept – what a comforting thought!

The upshot of all this frenzied brain activity was me being a bit more grateful when the sky started to lighten than I usually am.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Angel's delight

I wrote this drama a couple of years ago and my friends Doug and Michelle were the angels, hence the descriptions... I think Maria and Lewis were Mary and Joe and baby Llewellyn was Jesus, but I might be wrong about that.

Angel's Delight
Characters: Mary, Joseph (Joe) and baby Jesus, Gabriel (an angel), Gabrielle (another angel), Narrator

Scene: Mary & Joseph are sitting with the baby Jesus in a ‘manger’ (baby-seat).
Enter Narrator

Narrator: It was a long time ago, in a galaxy not too far away,
When a baby was born and laid in the hay,
Of an animal’s manger and there, in with the sheep,
His mam and his dad were too exhausted to sleep,
And under the starlight that seemed strangely bright,
They thought of what brought them to that place that night
And they talked about all the extraordinary things,
That they’d heard from the strange people with wings.

Mary: You know, Joe, I can’t really believe you stuck by me. Even now that we’re here in Bethlehem and the baby’s been born and everything. I don’t think I could have done it without you.

Joe: Well I didn’t do much. Just let you hold my hand during it. (He massages his hand) The doctor said I should get the feeling back in a few days.

Mary: Yeah, sorry about that.

Joe: It’s OK. Just remind me not to hold your hand the next time you have a baby.

Mary: Well, if it’s yours…

Joe: It had better be mine!

Mary: I think it will. The angel said I was going to ‘be with child’ and have a son. So I guess that’s all done now.

Joe: Oh, yeah, the angel. I remember meeting the angel. It was like a dream. Maybe it was a dream. All I remember is beauty and light and long blonde hair (he sighs and look wistfully off into the distance).

Mary: Are you sure?

Joe: What?

Mary: Well that doesn’t sound like the angel Gabriel at all.

Joe: Gabrielle.

Mary: What?

Joe: You pronounced it wrong. The angel was called Gabrielle, not Gabriel.

Mary: No, he was called Gabriel and he was big and loud and spoke with a funny accent.

Joe: He? Don’t you mean she?

Mary: No, I don’t mean she. You don’t get more he than he was. He was like all the he you could be.

Joe: Are we talking about the same angel?

Enter Gabriel and Gabrielle.
Gabriel: Hi guys!

Gabrielle: You made it safely here, then.

Mary: Gabriel!

Joe: Gabrielle!

Mary & Joseph turn to look at each other.
Mary & Joe together: Oh, riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight!

Narrator: With that mystery solved, mam and dad had to smile,
At the angels who had come down to earth for a while,
One was pretty and kind and had long blonde hair,
The other was manly and loud and his head was quite bare,
Mam and dad partied with the people with wings,
And were joined later on by shepherds and kings,
While the baby slept on – his condition quite stable,
Proof of sorts that this story is no ordinary fable.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Do you want a free book about sandwiches?

No, seriously. I've got mine already. All you need to do is follow this handy link that I'm giving you to Amazon and do what they tell you to do. Then you'll never be stuck for what to stick between two slices of bread again. Hurrah.

(Oh and you'll need this code: HELLMANAMZN2 at the checkout screen to get the book free and free delivery!)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Things I've learned this week from watching QI repeats

That a rock discovered in Cummington, Massachusetts, was called Cummingtonite. Ooh er.

That, despite being a mammal, a duck-billed platypus doesn’t have mammary glands. Instead a mummy platypus ‘sweats’ milk to feed her young. And in fact, all mammary glands are evolved sweat glands. Which kind of makes most of the top-heavy girls in Loaded seem slightly less attractive.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

You know it's time to go on a diet when...

.. you’re discussing your possible costume for the upcoming ‘multinational-themed’ Christmas do and you have a conversation like this:

“Actually, I’ve got some Japanese clothes that I could wear.”

“You could come as a sumo wrestler, Jon.”

Thanks for that.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A short story for Advent

This story was performed as a dramatic reading by my friend Chris Bidder at a special Christmas service a couple of years ago.

Christmas Journey

So we travelled for miles.

Balthazar had got it into his head that the strange sign in the sky meant that a great king was going to be born and everything was packed up and we set off in a long baggage train to some foreign place.

I dunno. We ended up in this dirt-poor country that wasn’t a patch on Persia. Their capital city – well don’t make me laugh – it wasn’t up to much. And then all their holy men told us we’d come to the wrong place.

Balthazar decided that we had better move on and we went to somewhere even smaller. We hunted high and low. Man, you wouldn’t believe how many babies we squinted at. But Balthazar said no to each one and we went on to the next house or pub or shack.

Some of the guys started complaining but I knew Balthazar had never led us astray before. I must admit though, even I gave up hope of ever finding this child.

On the outskirts we discovered this barn and then we all saw the thing in the sky again so we knew we had at last found the right place.

There wasn’t much room in there but we all crammed in. I had to squat between a donkey and a goat and that donkey had travelled a few miles if you get my drift. Still, there we were, handing over these gifts to some kid who was going to be the king of nations or something. Who knows?

We went home a different way so I never got to laugh at their capital again. But I’ll always remember that trip. There was something special about that night and when I think of it, I’m proud that we went all that way.

I consider myself very lucky to have been Balthazar’s camel.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Sequal to Super Mario Rampage

With 4 awesome ways to kill koopas

Free and fun Games
from Venus Arcade Free Online Games

I don’t know what people think I do in my spare time

I got back into the office today and walked right into the middle of a media problem. Someone has told assorted media types to phone us about something we don’t comment on. And there’s plenty of brown stuff hitting the fan and you-know-who is trying to clean it up.

In the middle of this chaos, I get this email from the person who inadvertently set the whole thing in motion, which says:

Also, on the subject of my press coverage, [your boss] wants a three-way with you, me and him poss on [suggested date]. Would you be able to set something like that up please?

I think the answer to that has to be no, doesn’t it?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Working with the general public

You never know what someone will say when you stick them in front of a camera. That’s the joy of doing vox pops, and today was no different.

After throwing ourselves on the mercy of the lovely Demelsa, we were allowed to film inside the Eastgate Shopping Mall in Gloucester, instead of out in the squally rain and the cold. We got a good mix of people, which was what we were looking for. However, the older generation of black passers-by were very reluctant to participate, which was a real shame. We now have an off-balance collection of mainly white people putting questions to camera.

We did have one star though – a gentleman who approached us (always a winner, those). He was given the question “Why doesn’t my wife understand me?” and was instantly up for it. “That’s my question!” he said.

Then looking at the camera, he asked, while theatrically throwing his arms around:
Why doesn’t my wife understand me? Whyyyy? What’s wrong with her? Whyyyy doesn’t she understand me? What can I dooo?

It was all I could do to keep the boom mike level I was laughing so hard. I just hope it gets used on the relationships DVD that comes out next year.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Flushed Away

If I was asked to submit an endorsement for this new venture from Aardman and Dreamworks it would be: “This is the film that made me see slugs in a whole new light.” (Because they spend the whole film either screaming, singing or slithering away in fear.)

But seriously, Flushed Away breaks new ground in animation – CG that looks like claymation. That gives it the Aardman ‘look’ with smoother lines and ‘water’, which you need if you’re going to set most of your film in the sewers of London. Fortunately this isn’t set in the sewers of Cardiff otherwise surely the Weevils would have munched their way through most of the rat population.

The film’s storyline isn’t exactly original, but the script is smart and the animation top notch, with several blink-and-you’ll-miss-it visual gags in the typical style of one of the cleverest studios around. In fact, that’s one of the best aspects of this film – it doesn’t parade its jokes in front of the camera. You have to be eagle-eyed enough to spot them. Just for once it’s nice to see a movie where the film-makers have assumed a modicum of intelligence on the part of the paying punters.

Interesting though, that even in when voicing an animated character, Kate Winslet can’t keep her trousers on…

Jongudmund’s rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, December 02, 2006

November must be the month of love (but now its gone)

A couple of my longstanding single friends have hooked up in the past few weeks, although neither have been shouting it from the rooftops. Firstly Mark informed me that he was "with woman" when he rang up about something completely unrelated. Then I had to read Lorenzo's blog to find out he'd pulled successfully too.

Lorenzo's first date - trip to the cinema - is similar to mine and Cath's a dozen Novembers ago (yes, it's been like that). But whereas Lorenzo took his date to see the new critically acclaimed Bond movie, I went with Cath to see, wait for it... Airheads!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Santa's secret identity

Cath claims that I post things she’s said on here and take credit for them. So, to assuage her accusatory nature, I feel duty bound to point out that most of today’s post was her idea.

Have you ever wondered what Santa does the rest of the year. Well, maybe he’s moonlighting as the Jolly Green Giant. Consider the evidence…

1 – both Santa and the Green Giant say ‘ho ho ho’… but to mask his other identity, Green Giant always adds “Green Giant” at the end of his ho ho ho-ing
2 – you never see Santa and the Green Giant in the same place
3 – Santa used to wear a green outfit until he was famously outfitted by Coca-Cola in an ad campaign that changed popular culture
4 – we know from Lord of the Rings that elves are tall, but in Santa’s workshop they seem really small, which makes sense if Santa is really a giant!