Monday, December 31, 2007

A Statement of Intent

I've been thinking recently how restrictive a 'Statement of Faith' is. On the one hand it does clarify what you believe. But on the negative side it reduces life to ticking the right boxes. "Yeah, I believe all that, so that makes me a [insert tag here]." A statement of faith is actually a statement that things will never change - you've reached your goal, you've done it all, there's nothing else left to say.

I'm very suspicious of people who make claims like that.

What I'd prefer is a "Statement of Intent" - not 'this is what I believe', but 'this is how I'm going to live'. So I've made a start. It's a bit grandiose in parts, but it's only a start, and it will no doubt evolve. It''s not an unchanging statement of faith after all.

In fact you could say the following "Statement of Intent" is too broad. Perhaps it ought to have actual specific behaviours listed - but the problem with that is, as religion always shows us, when you proscribe too heavily, people still find the wiggle room (whether it's Popes breaking faith with heretics, or a rabbi making his fifteenth "Sabbath Journey" of the day).

Broad strokes don't give you that weasel way out. And because this is my self-declared statement of intent, then it's binding to me. I've said this and unless I unsay it, it's how I intend to live.

My statement of intent

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

I will listen for the still, small voice.

I will put all I have at the disposal of the one who truly owns it.

I will use my skills and abilities and hone them in His service.

I will humbly seek instruction in the things that I cannot yet do.

I will endeavour to make the world a better place.

I will seek to add value to the lives of those around me.

I will try to consider the needs of others as if they were my own.

I will stand up for what is right, even if I stand alone (for I can never stand alone, if He stands with me).

I will speak out for those who cannot – or dare not – speak out.

I will defend those who are weaker than me.

I will stand up with courage to those who are stronger than me.

I will be a light shining in the darkness…

…and the darkness will not overcome me.

I will remember the Name of the One who saves me.

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Sunday, December 30, 2007

12 Hours Notice

So we got home after our mammoth Christmas trek and sat down with a sigh of relief. Then at about 9.30, the phone rang. T'was Matt - an old university coursemate and friend.

"You know how I'm rubbish at organising things?" he began.

"Yeeeeeeeeeeeeees," I said, as Matt is legendary for his lack of planning.

"Well, tomorrow's Emilia's Christening - and I don't think I told you about it, but we'd really like you to come..."

"Okaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay," I said, instantly realising my lie-in for the morrow was blown.

We dashed madly to Asda where we picked the only non-hideous Christening card we could find that wasn't for a boy. It depicted a puppy in a font. Cathy had a children's Bible squirreled away, so we had a great gift for the kiddiewink, and we were ready to go.

The service - at St Andrew's, Banwell, Somerset - was lovely. I was very impressed with the care shown by the congregation in welcoming the families, even to the point where Emilia's name was included in the right places in the printed order of service. The Church of England gets some bad press, but in this case the members of St Andrew's did the Anglican Communion proud. The atmosphere was slightly 'high church' but I appreciated the reverence shown and the weight it gave to what was a very special day for Matt, Nikki and their daughter.

Afterwards as I was wandering round the church, a lady started telling me about one of the stained glass windows, which showed "The apocryphal story of St Nicholas of... oh I can't remember..." "Smyrna?" I offered. "Yes," she said, quite surprised at my hitherto well-hidden historical knowledge of ecclesiastical matters.

And so, after a fantastic lunch, we headed home from England for the second day in a row, wondering what would surprise us next in our exciting life.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Urban Fox

Driving back into Cardiff today, we spotted this little fellow on the roundabout at the end of Newport Road. He was watching the cars chunter by slowly in the Christmas sales traffic. As we were stuck in the traffic we had the time to take his picture.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Muppet Marriage Advice

Cathy has a large number of Christmas CDs, which she often plays to get herself in a Christmassy mood when she's designing Christmas stuff in August. One of her CDs is the soundtrack to The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Listening to it yesterday, I reminded Cathy how back when we were discussing when to get married and whether we could afford it, she said it was like the heartbreaking scene when Scrooge's fiancee breaks off their engagement because he kept putting off the wedding until the "time was right". (Incidentally that scene and song has been cut from recent DVD editions of the film because it's so sad - which is another example of retroactively destroying a good film!)

We decided that the timing would probably never be "perfect", so we ought to go ahead and get married, and I'm glad we did because we faced enough stress in the next few years to tear us apart otherwise. The advice of Kermit et al has never steered us wrong really, and one of the messages of The Muppet Christmas Carol is stop waiting for the "perfect time" - get on and do it, or regret it forever.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Eve Eve

Does anyone else call today Christmas Eve Eve? Or is that just in our house (where the twenty-seventh is also called Boxing Day Boxing Day)?

Five things that make our Christmas a bit different to most other people's.
1) Our Santa Mr Potato Head
2) Christmas tree decorations of a) The Statue of Liberty, b) Mr Men and animals from Timbuktoo, c) Seseme Street characters, d) a giraffe saying 'Greetings from Africa', e) a crocodile delivering presents, f) M&Ms dressed as Star Wars characters
3) A Playmobil set of the three wise men
4) Plans to drive around the country seeing family on Christmas Day
5) Choc chip brioches for Christmas Day breakfast

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Well first they slice the bat real thin...

I've recently been buying Padres baseball cards on eBay and the other day I bought this Fleer 'Bat's Incredible' card featuring a piece of genuine game-used bat, as swung by Phil Nevin, onetime third baseman for the Padres.

The card is in A1 condition, but it's weird to think they bought a bat and cut it up to put slivers of wood into a trading card. It's 'authentic game-used memorabilia' but it's nowhere near the same as having a jersey you could wear, or your own bat you could play with.

I was quite impressed with one of the competitions at the ice hockey the other night where you could literally "Win the shirt off their back" - the winner could ask for his favourite player's game worn jersey and it was presented to him/her out on the ice at the end of the match. Now that's memorabilia.

Anyway, I'm quite pleased with the card, especially as Phil Nevin was actually playing for the Padres when we saw them take on the Giants in 2005. That makes the whole 'collectible for collectability's sake' thing a little more personal to me.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmassy Echo headline

I could tell it's nearly Christmas today when we drove past the papershop and one of the headlines on the Echo boards was "Man has tongue bitten off in assault."

Now obviously that's horrific. But it did make me wonder what the full story was - which I suppose is the point of the boards. I wondered if the assaulter was a man or a woman, because it's bad enough if a member of the opposite sex bit off your tongue, but, as a bloke, to think there's a french-kissing thug roaming the streets waiting to pounce on another victim is even more worrying.

And then there's the aftermath. You can imagine the reporting being something like this: "The victim described his attacker as 'mmmth phththth mmphthfth'."

Which wouldn't be much help really.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Santa Tater, climb down my chimney tonight!

Our Christmas decorating theme is "eclectic". And sitting on our computer is Mr Potato Head dressed as Santa Claus. You don't get much more "eclectic" than that.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fett Club

I bought a set of Star Wars Attacktix figures today just so I could get the Boba Fett figure to join my growing collection. I'm thinking of maybe doing a spoof stop-motion animation thing called "Fett Club", although I've seen that done in a comic book so it wouldn't exactly be original.

Anyway, I have a range of Boba Fetts from the original Kenner figure from the 1980s, through to a pewter playing token from Star Wars monopoly. And I've got him on a motorbike. Don't ask me why (it is cool, though).

If you want to see who's who, apart from the fact they're all Boba Fett of course, then go here and read the tags!

Mmmmmmmm, parsnip

On Sunday we went to the Riverside Community Market, where we met the organic veg distributors who live a few doors down from us, Blaencamel. For a bit of a laugh we bought a giant parsnip off them, modelled here by Cathy:

Of course being such a gigantic vegetable (the parsnip, not Cathy!), we thought it would be interesting to compare the mega-snip to the paltry parsnips we brought home from Asda the other day. They recognised the organic parsnip as their natural superior and prostrated themselves (see below).

Then we chopped it up and roasted it. It was delicious!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Learning to live in Cardiff

In Sunday's Cardiff Devils match programme there was an interview with Mike Prpich (and yes I have spelt that right). I liked this quote about adjusting to life here after leaving his native Saskatchewan:

"I do like that it's not bitterly cold like it is back home, and I can deal with the rain."

Yes, indeed, it's a great place to be. As long as you can deal with the rain.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ends and means

At work today a friend and I were discussing a situation where someone we both knew had been treated quite badly by a religious organisation, which perhaps should have acted better. In fact, if they'd followed their own 'values statement', they wouldn't have done the things they did to end this guy's employment. But then, I always say, if you need to put your values in a statement, then they aren't obvious enough to people in the way you conduct yourself.

Anyway this drifted into a discussion of 'ends and means' and raised the ethical chestnut of 'do the ends ever justify the means?' Specifically, if you're seeking "Kingdom ends" does that mean you should only use "Kingdom means"? After the discussion ended I remembered a quote from Michael Foot, onetime leader of the Labour party, on the subject. A couple of google searches later and I found what I was looking for, although Foot was actually quoting a writer called Ignazio Silone. Here's what he (Foot) wrote:

"Every means tends to become an end," Silone had one of his characters write, and the physical and mental torture of both Italian Fascism and Soviet Communism were known to him as he wrote: "To understand the tragedy of human history it is necessary to grasp that fact."

"Machines which ought to be men's instrument, enslave him, the state enslaves society, the bureaucracy enslaves the state, the church enslaves religion, parliament enslaves democracy, institutions enslave justice, academies enslave art, the army enslaves the nation, the party enslaves the cause, the dictatorship of the proletariat enslaves Socialism."

"The choice and the control of the instruments of political action are thus at least as important as the choice of the ends themselves, and as time goes on the instruments must be expected to become an end for those who use them. Hence the saying that the end justifies the means is not only immoral; it is stupid."

"An inhuman means remains inhuman even if it is employed for the purpose of assuring human felicity. A lie is always a lie, murder is always murder. A lie always ends by enslaving those who use it, just as violence always enslaves those who use it as well as their victims."
In some ways, this reminds me of Nigel Wright's description of 'institutional evil' - when the institution which was set up for the benefit of human beings takes control of those human beings. In terms of religion, it's not a long step to get to Inquisitional Spain, Wahabbi Jihadism, or Pullman's Magisterium when that starts to happen.

On a moral level, I'm often more of an Economic Moralist than anything else - what makes the greatest economic sense? So, for example, the death penalty costs less than keeping a serial rapist in prison, and keeps society safer too. I actually think that's a strong moral argument, because the money you'd save by not keeping dangerous, anti-social criminals alive could be ploughed into medical research or another worthy cause.

But I'm also aware that the means will become the end. If I base my decisions on purely economic grounds, then I lose a sense of the humanity involved, by reducing all moral activity to its economic impact.

And if I pursued that course then I would lose a sense of what makes me human too, because my own self-worth would be bound up in my economic productivity. Admittedly my economic productivity could be measured on a number of different levels, but still I don't think it would paint the complete picture of who or what I am

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My year of sport

It's been a good year for me and sport. Live baseball in New York in April. A few Town games, including a trip to Wembley, and now all the thrills and spills of ice hockey.

Okay, it was only the British 'Elite' League Cardiff Devils, but it was fast-moving and exciting enough, as they forced an overtime win against the Newcastle Vipers last night.

Now, if only I'd managed to fit in a rugby game this year it would truly have been a wide world of sport.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Plumb lucky

Before I start this story you should know about "the Lanes". The Lanes were the family who lived in our house before us and dad, Geoff, thought he knew what he was doing with the old DIY. Which is why our hall has artexing which attacks you, and our old fireplaces in the living room had stone cladding stuck on them.

We plumbed in a new washing machine today.


I blame "the Lanes".

You see the new machine is a cold fill only, with dire warnings if the machine is connected to the hot infill tap. So when we eventually got the old (slightly corroded) hoses off the taps I was very careful to connect the cold tap to the new machine.

We left the machine running through it's initial programme while we took the old machine to the swanky new tip they've opened near our house (it's handy living in the less fashionable end of town - we're near soul-sucking, bank-holiday traffic generator IKEA too!). When we got back I thought "I'll just check that connection is dry," and reached down the back of the machine, whereupon I discovered the "cold" water pipe was very hot indeed.

One reinstallation later and I found myself still muttering about "the Lanes" who, it seems, couldn't put the blue and red taps on the right pipes. I reckon Geoff was half cut when he did most of his DIY. Or he was rushing to finish the job in time for the football. Muppet.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bee boop boo boo BEEP

Ever wondered how R2-D2 would pronounce your name? Type it into the R2-D2 translator and find out!

Brought to you by Jongudmund - cruising the web in work hours so you don't have to!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Golden Compass


I was quite excited by the trailer for this, having enjoyed the book it's based on, Northern Lights. But I have to say I was disappointed. The girl playing the main character Lyra was annoying and the other child actors weren't much cop either. The special effects were OK, but there was a lot of CGI blur on them. Fortunately, my fave character Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear, was well-rendered, and Sam Elliott, as Texan Aeronaut Lee Scoresby, underplayed the character perfectly.

But the rest of it was a mess. A neutered Lord Asriel (admittedly well-acted by Daniel Craig) is turned into the good guy instead of the ambiguous and dangerous character he is in the book. The altered ending playing towards this change in plot. The script for most of the film jumped around - suffering Potteritis (after the way the first couple of Harry Potter films failed to introduce anyone and assumed you'd read the books and knew who the hell everyone was), and there were plenty of 'revealing moments', when a character decides to tell his/her entire backstory for the benefit of the cinema audience. And, yeah, Nicole Kidman's character seems dangerous, but considering she's meant to be hypnotically alluring, she seems strangely sexless in this.

And there were continuity issues. One minute Iorek is bounding through the snow uninhibited by his armour. The next, he suited up and fighting off people. Where did he get his armour from? It's that kind of thing that's just irritating.

So all in all, a disappointing rating of 5/10 - catch it on telly in Christmas 2009.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Paean to Pholcodine

It's been nearly a week since I last blogged, and the cyber-silence got to my brother so much he even phoned me tonight! Those who know me know that when I shut up there's usually something wrong, and I guess the same is true of blogging (although I have been blogging under an alias here).

But why have I been incommunicado? Well, shortly after my last blog post I got sent home from work because I had difficulty breathing. My dear Dad who'd been visiting us at the weekend had somehow passed on his cough which had taken a virulent turn for the worse en route to me and had left me very short of breath. Now I'm used to being out of breath from exercise - in fact, that's one reason I don't exercise, but this was shortness of breath because I couldn't breathe in.

My doc proscribed me an inhaler and I spent the rest of the week under a blanket on the sofa, only really emerging at the weekend. Meanwhile at work, the final stages of the big shake up happened and some of my close compadres lost their jobs, which was unexpected and obviously occupied my thoughts more than blogging. Then I had a writing project over the weekend to do as a favour for the friend, plus bowling with the youth on Sunday evening, and then, oh I don't know, just stuff happening like a staff carol concert yesterday and things, and now I'm here telling you about it.

But on the plus side, I get to neck Pholcodine, which has to be my poison of choice. Ah, the warm rush as it hits the back of your throat. When we were kids my mum apparently used to have to hide the bottle so we wouldn't drink it like pop.

Pholcodine is a liquid opiate - basically opium can be split into two main drugs: codeine and morphine. Codeine's what you get in Co-codamol and drugs of that ilk, and morphine is morphine, named after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams, one of the sons of Hypnos, the god of sleep. (Morpheus is often depicted asleep on a bed surrounded by poppies and opium comes from poppies - coincidence? I think not!)

One of the best feelings I've ever had was after my appendix operation when I was mega-dosed with morphine and the pain just melted away into the night. When I woke up the next day I insisted the room had been painted pink when I went to sleep - but I was reliably told by the nurse that they hadn't repainted the ward in the night; my colour confusion was down to the morphine.

I even wrote a (very poor) rhyme about it. All I can remember is the refrain:
Oh let me sleep, Oh sweet morphine
Oh let me sleep, Oh sweet morphine
Oh, let me sleep, and dream sweet dreams
Bid me never wake
Hmmm, morphine, codiene... the bottom line is at heart I'm an opium junkie. Now if only I'd been born 150 years ago when it was quite acceptable to get out of your head on poppy power.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Merry Xmas

A number of people who heard my talk yesterday about Xmas fell into my trap, saying they were offended that I replaced Christ with X.

A short lesson in a) Greek, and b) Christian symbology later and they all knew that X means Christ and if you try and replace Christ in Christmas by using the letter X (chi), then he's still there. I think they all enjoyed being let into the delicious irony that people who use Xmas as a 'safe alternative' don't know what they're doing.

And I got to draw a chi-rho and spell out ichthus in Greek for them. All good fun.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Name checking

Further to yesterday's post about their genius song lyric, Scouting for Girls' latest single is called Elvis Ain't Dead, which got me thinking about songs that namecheck other bands or artists.

Ironically Scouting for Girls are in direct competition with Living Colour, who released a track called Elvis is Dead back in the 90s. REM claimed "Andy's goofing on Elvis, hey baby" on Man on the Moon, and Counting Crows sang "she wants to meet a boy who looks like Elvis" on Round Here.

In fact the Crows are notable namecheckers. Two other examples spring to mind: "I wanna be Bob Dylan" (Mr Jones) and "Got Ben Folds on the radio" (Monkey). Then there's Snow Patrol urging a girl to "put Sufjan Stevens on" (Hands Open), and Bowling for Soup namechecking Nirvana, Blondie, U2, Madonna and probably loads more in 1985.

When it comes to names in titles, 'Roll Over Beethoven' springs to mind (originally By Chuck Berry but made famous by The Beatles), while currently I'm loving The Wombats tune 'Let's Dance to Joy Division'. And of course there's the classic Ballad of Tom Jones by Space & Cerys Matthews.

There's probably loads more if I really thought about it - any ideas?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Contender for best lyric ever

The Scouting for Girls album is excellent, and in 'The Mountains of Navaho', they have surely coined one of the best song lyrics ever...

"I'll never be a guy like He-Man
And I'll never be a girl like She-Ra
I'm a lonely beast like baaaaaaaaaaaaattle caaaaaaaaaaaat!"


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Jongudmund recommends

Here's a tip - check out one of the funniest sites I've been on in a while: Basic Instructions. These cartoons are often laugh out loud funny, because the dialogue is so razor sharp. ("There's no such thing as enough Mr Pibb")*

I also like the way the cartoonist, Scott Meyer, is dialoguing with his readers, experimenting in an open way with the strip and seeing if people notice/care/approve. He's also taken advice from Scott Adams, decided it hasn't worked, and then reverted back to what he does best - four panel formats. It takes guts to turn round to the world's most successful living cartoonist and say 'your advice isn't working for me', but to be fair, Scott has said the same thing.

Unfortunately, it seems the strip format which works will mean the strip won't get picked up by newspapers, which is a crying shame when you compare these 'toons with some of the drivel which passes for humour.

So that's my recommendation for you. Visit the site and prepare to laugh - particularly if you've ever wondered how you can be suave!

* Mr Pibb tastes like Dr Pepper, but is presumably named after a surgeon or a medical school drop out...

Monday, November 26, 2007


My joke about male turkeys suffering more from bird flu is on the 'more soon' tag line on Newsbiscuit. Woohoo.

(Wait for the rolling headlines to move round to it!)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Bill Bailey ~ Tinselworm

BB on David Beckham moving to LA Galaxy: "It's a bit like Adolf Hitler turning up at a BNP meeting in Tiverton."

"Ar, well, mister Hitler, your far right views are a bit out of our league, but you're very welcome!"

I'd write more but I'm feeling rough with the man flu.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Guidance seeker

A Parable

A man was in a drinking establishment with a friend complaining about his job. He said: "I'm fed up. No one has any respect for the work I do. I've poured my energy into every project I'm given, but when they moved my department round I got ranked below everyone else. The atmosphere has changed recently too. We used to be a team, pulling together; now everyone feels nervous and edgy with each other. I've seen friends who were shown the door after years of loyal service and I wonder if I'm going to be next. I know I could earn more money somewhere else and be just as happy, or at least no more miserable. I feel like I'm wasting my life and all my achievements add up to nothing..."

His friend nodded, then said: "Well, why don't you look for another job then?"

The man shrugged and said: "Well, you know, it's not that easy. I'm a god-fearer and I really can't just change my job without guidance from above."

His friend looked puzzled for a moment: "Guidance from above?" he asked.

"Yes," said the man. "Some kind of sign that I'm in the wrong place and I ought to move on."

There was a long pause and they both sipped at their drinks. Eventually the man's friend said: "I guess you're right to wait for a sign. Just because you're unappreciated, undervalued, underpaid, unhappy, and you're worried about the future and whether you'll ever make your mark in the world doesn't mean you should take matters into your own hands. But just out of interest, what kind of sign are you looking for?"

Monday, November 19, 2007

Caring husband

Cathy's had a blurgy birthday which started with a trip to our nice GP who told her that she's developed sinusitis now and will probably suffer from it for the rest of the week. Still we had birthday brioches and some nice post for her to open when we came home, and she got to open her presents from me.

I gave her a handbag made out of a recycled truck inner tube, a set of cubees (bizarre singing cuboid animals from Japan - natch), a Darth Vader rubber duck and a Peanuts calendar. No toiletries or socks from this big kid! This evening Viv and Ian popped round and gave her even more funky frivolous things, including a Play-Doh Mr Potato Head set. But she's going to wait until she can smell properly before she opens it because apparently the thing with Play Doh is 'it's all in the smell'.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Immature clown

Thanks to Connor "I hate nature!" K, the whole world can now see me reveling in visual humour of the most mature kind.

And no, I haven't grown an Afro. It's a wig, before you start...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Chastened ranter

My friend Martyn gave me a bit of perspective on my spleen-venting rant about traffic-wardens...

"They are human just like you and me. They just love doing their job and have great job staisfaction. Your hate for them is greatly appreciated by them as this only serves to further improve their job satisfaction rating.

And it isn't really their fault is it? If you hadn't parked where you shouldn't have, then the pleasure they experienced by writing out a ticket wouldn't have been possible and the hatred you now feel would not have materialsied and they would be miserable and not you.

But take it as your good deed for the day and I'm sure you will begin to feel a little better yourself. Who knows it may even help you to overcome your hatred. Next time it happens say thank you with a smile on your face, tell them you forgive them and think they do a wonderfull job for society and your satisfaction will be greater than theirs

Giving is far better than receiving (even if it is a parking ticket).

Perhaps you have a ministry in improving the lives of Traffic Wardens.

Furthermore, why not broaden your mission field and try speeding as well."

Okay then, consider me rebuked. Mutter, mutter, mutter, they're still gits, mutter...

But snapping back to reality for a second, my £20 parking fine pales into insignificance compared to the news I heard yesterday that my boss - a man who lives and breathes the ethos and values of the outfit we work for - has had his job engineered out of existence during a restructure.

And to compound the disaster for my team we're getting sucked into a vortex known as "Internal Services" where we'll be at the beck and call of people who won't know a good piece of writing or design if it bit them on the arse. Yet again the creatives are shoved into a box and told to keep quiet.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tardy invalid

After being referred to the physio department back in June, I finally had my first appointment for my dodgy ankle today. It ran over the 45 minutes they'd told me which meant I was about 15 minutes late back to my car, where I found a nice traffic warden had left me a parking ticket under my windscreen wiper.

Seriously, on the ticket it records the time my £1.50-worth of parking ran out (9.24) and the time they wrote the ticket (9.35). I got back to my car at 9.39 and there was no one in sight, which leads me to conclude the buggers slap on the fine and then scuttle back off to lurk under a nearby rock.

The ironic thing is we're always told to be helpful to the council and the police and whoever else, but when we need someone to give us 15 minutes grace, that grace isn't forthcoming from the greasy little retarded jobsworths employed to make everyone else's life just that bit more difficult.

One consoling thought is that 'what goes around comes around'. Apparently traffic wardens are one of the occupations most likely to develop work-related stress, depression and mental problems. Well, good. I've heard it said that a good maxim for happiness is to seek to try to make the world a better place every day. In which case the git who ticketed me deserves to be miserable and filled with self-loathing until he stops being such a complete *$%#!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Slacker theologian

After almost two months, I've finally got round to putting a new article up on freelance theology. And I only managed to find the time this evening because the free preview I was supposed to be going to with Bryan was full. Ah, well, I guess it's a more worthy use of my time.

One day I'd like to find a way to get freelance theology paying for itself. Any ideas out there how to do that without selling my soul out to google-ads? Sometimes I daydream that I could quit my job and write answers to theological queries all day, every day. How sad is that?

There's also a freelance theology Facebook group you can join if you haven't done so yet!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tired but happy

Yeah, I'm a good role model, me. A weekend away with the youth in deepest darkest Herefordshire resulted in some aches (particularly in my dodgy ankle), some pains, and more nettle stings than I've had in years. But, oh, we had fun.

Three things I'll remember...

1 ~ Chucking glow-sticks into trees to see if we could get them stuck up there (some did!)
2 ~ Trying to 'pee my name' on the embers of a fire. I managed a J, before my efforts turned into a splodge (but doing this is a nice way to warm your nethers on a cold, cold night).
3 ~ A lad called Connor who wasn't used to wide games in woods telling me "I hate nature!"

I didn't get much sleep and I was totally bush-whacked when I got home yesterday, but after a weekend like that I really didn't fancy going back to work. Who would?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Good thing Cathy prefers Ernie

According to, that really is Bert from Sesame Street posing with Osama Bin Laden (look just over his right shoulder!). But how he ended up on a poster being waved by an irate Islamist is a whole other story, which really shows the danger of stealing pictures off the internet!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Life's too short

I got about twenty minutes into tonight's episode of The Riches on Virgin 1 and I thought "This really is rubbish." It's amazing how any screenwriter could take the two sublime talents of Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver and somehow sling them together in something so stupidly mundane.

So I went and updated the Fair Do's website which I've been meaning to do for ages instead. Ah, the sweet feeling of meaningful achievement.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


I chose to do a talk with the youth today on the topic of names. As part of my research I looked up what my name meant on various websites. Obviously I knew the gist: Hebrew, root meaning 'God has given', etc.

I don't think the kids could have been less interested, until I told them that 'Jonathan' in American street-slang apparently means 'bad ass'. So now if anyone asks me what my name means, I'm going to say "'Bad Ass!' You dig?"

Yeah, I feel like Samuel L Jackson.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Another night, another Sean

I've been laughing a lot recently! We saw two comedians in two nights and they were both called Sean. First off on Thursday we saw Sean Hughes at the Sherman Theatre (or the 'Man' as Sean pointed out because half the lights were out on the sign), then last night we saw Sean Lock at St David's Hall.

It was the first time I'd been to the Sherman and it was a good venue - not too big, but not a club either. The bloke next to me fell asleep before the interval, which shows the seats were comfortable I suppose.

As you'd expect, given the time lapse, Sean's routine was very different from when we saw him about 11 years ago. He began with a bit based on his role in Coronation Street, and ended up talking about how he'd narrowly cheated death in the Tsunami. There were some good jokes along the way - muslim speed dating ("You've got lovely eyes"; "You've got lovely eyes"; "You've got lovely eyes"), working in a factory producing subliminal advertising ("We only got paid £2.00 an hour, but everyone thought it was very reasonable"), and a large number of sex jokes. I also thought his method of dissuading trick-or-treaters from knocking on his door was inspired: "I just paint the word 'paedophile' on my door in big angry red letters..."

Sean Lock was a bit different. He seemed a bit lost in a big venue, and the first half of the show was quite flat. But he livened up in the second half, talking about his cure for baldness he was taking on Dragon's Den (basically pretending his hand was hair instead) and loads of other random bits and bobs. Plus, this one has to go down in the annals as the comedy show with the most unexpected ending - as he stripped off to reveal his secret identitiy as...

...nah, I'm not going to spoil it for you. You'll just have to guess.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

On the eve of All Hallows

Given that it's Hallowe'en, it's perhaps fitting that we watched a truly frightening film in life group tonight - the documentary Jesus Camp. As an outsider, it was incredibly worrying to see full-on 'children's ministry', complete with speaking in tongues, extended prophetic prayer times and so on. Watching the children pray over a life-size cut-out of George Bush left me feeling incredibly uncomfortable. And that wasn't the only part of the film which had my skin crawling.

I guess I could sum up why it was frightening for a number of reasons.

1) Realising that, although far more extreme, there wasn't much difference between what was in the film and my own childhood experiences.
2) The stat that 75% of home-schooled children in America are Evangelical Christians, but in the film 'education' looked more like 'indoctrination'.
3) The way young children were frightened by stories of the devil and convinced they were sinners because sometimes they found it hard to believe what was in the Bible.
4) Because it left me unsure what the difference is between finding a faith and being brainwashed. (And hearing that 43% of evangelicals were 'born again' before the age of 13, doesn't help either.)
5) The absolute certainty with which highly debatable concepts were presented as fact, e.g. America is a Christian nation and should return to it's Christian roots; George Bush has been raised up by God and is surrounded by "godly" and "righteous" people.
6) The doom-laden prophecies of the semi-narrator radio host who warned of a religious take-over any time now.
7) The way it reminded me so much of the book The Handmaid's Tale, which describes what happens when the fundamentalists take over.

Jongudmund's rating on Jesus Camp: 7/10 (Be afraid. Be very afraid...)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stardust (film review)

I've been keen to see this since seeing the trailer a few months back and then finding out it's based on a book by Neil Gaiman - a British sci-fi/fantasy/horror author with a confounding story-telling style. Years ago NG did a collaborative book with Terry Pratchett called Good Omens, which I maintain is still one of the best books about the 'end times' ever written. It's a hoot too.

So, to the film. Well, Stardust is billed as 'the fairy tale that won't behave', and that's a pretty good summary. Although after Shrek, Hoodwinked and the imminent release of Enchanted, Stardust is more like a classic fairy tale than a demythologising of the genre.

In fact, it's a beautifully filmed, acted and thought through grown up fairy tale. Michelle Pfeiffer is known in our house as 'Mmmmmm, Michelle Pfeiffer' - at least by me; the effect of her Catwoman role on an impressionable 15-year old. Here she does a sterling job as a rapidly aging villain. And as the heroine fallen star Yvaine, Clare Danes simply shines.

But most of the other characters are morally ambiguous - in other words, realistic. The only dip in acting form is one-trick pony David Brent, sorry, Ricky Gervais. But it's satisfying seeing him meet a grisly end (ooh, sorry, spoiler there).

It's a good time to be a fantasy movie fan. Before Stardust, we had a trailer for The Golden Compass, the adaptation of the first of Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy. New Line, of Lord of the Rings fame, are handling it and it looks absolutely awesome.

Beowulf - the father of all fantasy stories - is on the big screen again. Enchanted is coming out soon. And even Elizabeth I is getting a Hollywood makeover into a warrior princess in an epic retelling of the Spanish Armada, which can only be classed as 'historical' in the loosest sense of the word.

Jongudmund's verdict on Stardust: 8.5/10 "Get thee to a cinema."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Lordy, I'm old

I helped out with the Sunday evening youth club last night - playing hockey and stuff. Today I've been aching in my knees, thighs, back and even my butt!

One of the kids told me not to over-exert myself, what with being old and unfit. I'd have slapped him if I'd had the strength (and the breath to get enough oxygen to my muscles).

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Often when you talk to someone frequently the same topics come up again and again. With my little brother it's the subject of "playability" in computer games. As far as we're concerned you can forget your fancy graphics and whatnot, what really matters is whether the game is playable.

My proof, if proof were needed, is Zelda on the Super Nintendo versus Zelda on the N64. I loved Zelda on the SNES - except I can only play it with Oasis' Definitely Maybe on in the background (long story, but for me the two go together). But on the N64 it was a so-so rpg, with huge distances you had to cover to get anywhere. It didn't look as good either. Zelda on the SNES was cute. On the N64, it was humdrum. Basically the "better game" lacked playability and effectively killed off Zelda for me, although the screenshots on the Nintendo DS adverts have almost re-converted me.

Recently I've been playing PacMan on Facebook, which is further proof that graphics only get you so far and it's 'playability' that counts. PacMan has been around for almost three decades and yet it knocks many other games into a cocked hat. When I teamed up for a game of Halo with Irony Boy, I loved it, but Destroy All Humans 2 wasn't my bag. One had "playability", the other didn't. Wii Sports is the defining moment in Nintendo's triumph of "playability". Of course the graphics are something else too, but there's a reason Nintendo keep bagging awards for Wii Sports - it's simply great to play.

My favourite top thirteen most playable games
Arcade/Spectrum/other truly ancient consoles
Super Mario World
The Legend of Zelda - a Link to the Past
Super Star Wars
Game Boy
Super Mario World 2 - Six Golden Coins

Mario '64
F-Zero X
X Box
Project Gotham Racing
PlayStation 2
Zoo Puzzle
Super Mario Sunshine
Nintendo Wii

So what games do you rates most playable?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

An hour of my life I won't get back

I hate being late for things and today I managed the mother of all late arrivals, showing up late to my own house with invited guests standing shivering on the doorstep.

How did this all come about? Blame Asda. That's right. It's all their fault.

We were in Asda buying some pizzas to feed our guests, when we noticed a chap buying two Nintendo Wii consoles. It looked a bit odd, so I asked the girl on the computers and DVD desk how much the Wiis were. She said they were the amazingly low price of £99.97.

Cath and I conferred for all of a minute before deciding this was such a bargain we really had to get one. The only problem was they only had two left and they were both reserved for other customers. But the girl said if either of the other customers hadn't turned up in an hour she'd sell one to us.

There are only so many ways to kill an hour in Asda. I read a couple of magazines. Cath looked at the clothes. I found a copy of Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes in a special edition tin, and Cath said she'd give it to me for Christmas, to help me nearer my goal of owning every Tim Burton film on DVD. But still it was a drag until the hour was up.

The reservers hadn't turned up and I excitedly thought I was getting a baragin Wii. But then when they rang through the Wii, it came up at £179.97. I queried the price and the stupid shopgirl told me the price she'd originally said had been for a Nintendo DS, not a Wii.

I was tamping.

Not only had we waited a bloody age for a bargain that never was, we then had to queue up to buy all the other crap in our trolley and that made us late to get home to our waiting guests. And I hate being late, as I said. So imagine how much I hated being late for a get-together at my own house!

Friday, October 26, 2007


The latest revelation in the Madeleine McCann saga is that "friends of the McCanns" saw a man carrying (possibly) a child, which could have been Madeleine. And the papers are full of it again - the McCanns are back on the radio - when will this ever end?

I don't know how many people I've talked to about this, but it seems most people reckon there's something fishy about the whole thing. And the verdict on the media coverage is that 'Kate and Gerry', as they're known to Daily Mail readers, benefit from being middle class and reasonably photogenic. Or at least Kate does. It was a single mother friend of mine - bizarrely also called Madeleine - who said "Now if it had been me who'd left my child alone, the papers would have had a field day and I'd be in prison right now."

As far as I can see there are four main possibilities.
1 - while 'Kate and Gerry' were out eating their meal, an unidentified intruder siezed the chance to snatch a child and either a) killed her, or b) is holding her hostage still over four months later [you decide which is the most likely scenario]
2 - while 'Kate and Gerry' eat dinner, an unidentified intruder, wrongly assuming no parent would leave their children alone for the evening, broke into the apartment to nick stuff, was surprised to find the children there and then had to do something because Madeleine woke up, and so either a) killed her, or b) is holding her hostage still over four months later [again, you decide which is the most likely scenario]
3 - 'Kate and Gerry' drugged Madeleine, even though they've now denied the accusations of sedating their kids, but cocked up the dosage, then cooked up the abduction as a way of avoiding jail, while disposing of her body themselves
4 - Madeleine is safe and sound somewhere and the McCanns know where she is, but, hey, they're famous now and got to meet the Pope etc. etc. So they keep the whole mystery going.

I honestly feel exhausted to the point of boredom with this whole case. Deep down, like most people, I think a little girl is tragically dead. We don't know what happened; we might never know. The McCanns might know, although I think they don't. What they do know is what we know - the guiltiest parties in this are the parents who abandoned their daughter so they could go out for a meal.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I don't just read junk

I've finished reading my 17th book of 2007, Wraith Squadron, a Star Wars novel in the X-Wing series - low brow tat even in the genre of science fiction, but fun to read. Now though I'm working my way through what I started reading before Wraith Squadron - a collection of sermons by CH Spurgeon. This quote stood out, especially given how it was written 150 years ago:
"But just think for a moment what this foolish sinner claims; he claims the right to live in blindness! You who can see must not tell him that he is blind; if you do so he says you are infringing on his rights. He says that he has a right to lie in prison, if he chooses to do so; and if you come and hammer at the door, or shout to him through the iron bars that there has come One who can let loose the captives, he complains that you are disturbing him. Here is a man on the verge of destruction, asleep on the edge of a precipice. If you wake him, he tells you that he has a right to sleep there if he likes, and that he does not want you to rouse him up in that rough way, and talk to him about his imminent danger. If he does get up he abuses you and says, 'Mind your own business. You go your way, and let me alone.'"

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Five bands you've probably never heard of

The Tragically Hip
Their album Fully Completely is one of my all-time favourites. Killer riffs, dark snarley vocals, heavy drum lines. And they're Canadian. But I would never have got into The Hip if they hadn't collaborated on a campaign record with several other bands and I hadn't been into...

Midnight Oil
...who joined the Hip on the single 'Land'. I can't remember exactly when I started listening to Diesel and Dust repeatedly, but it was round about the time homework started getting serious and I spent a lot more time in my room with a beat-up cassette deck. (I didn't do any work, I just listened to tapes, but as long as I stayed in my room no one asked me if I'd done all my homework. And people wonder how I flunked Economics A-Level.)

I wore my tape of Diesel and Dust out in the end. Even now I know the album word for word. Their other stuff is good too. They're Australian, which is close enough to New Zealand to justify my next choice of bands you've never heard of...

The Mutton Birds
Actually only on this list because I bought a single ridiculously cheap and heard their song Dominion Road. But, man, what a song. It's amazing how hearing one song by a band can get you into them. I guess that's why bands put tracks on free tapes on the front of magazines like Vox...

Thousand Yard Stare
...what do you mean you don't remeber Vox? OK, it folded a while ago, but I still have the Vox Box free cassette which included a track from TYS. That's the original TYS, not the American band now using the name. This lot were from some incredibly dull town like Staines or somewhere, and they all had un-rock-and-roll names like Giles.

After a string of singles, they only did two full studio albums, but they're cracking. Over the years I've managed to collect just about everything they ever did in one form or another...

Dr Hook
...which would be impossible to do with Dr Hook as they've released about 25 albums over the years.

True story: we went to a signing by former Dr Hook singer Dennis Locorriere a couple of years ago and took along an old Dr Hook vinyl greatest hits album for him to sign. We got chatting to him and he put us on the guest list for his show that evening, where he was his own support act, performing an entire solo acoustic show before taking a short break, then reappearing with a full electric backing band and rocking the place out. Of all the gigs I've been to, that was probably the one which impressed me the most.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Better news on the car front

They've swapped the wheels around and decided the clanking sound was due to the badgerised front wheels being buckled, and not the drive shaft.

So, new brakes notwithstanding, the car should make it through the MOT after all, and I'll have it back as soon as they find me a new set of wheels.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Britains Space figures and an ironic bag

Popped into town yesterday and bought some Britains Space figures in a fit of nostalgia for my childhood.

The retro toy dealer gave me them in a plastic bag from a butcher's shop in Penarth. So there I am, new-found vegetarian walking round town looking like I'm carrying a couple of pork chops in a plastic bag. Fortunately I was able to go to a regular shop to buy a birthday present for Cathy and get a less embarrassing bag, which I could also stash my space figures in.

For anyone out there who's a toy geek, the Britains Space range were sold in the early to mid 80s. The yellow figure is a human Starguard. The black figure is an alien. The bizarre green creatures are alien mutants and the weird bluish figures are Cyborgs. Don't ask me how I know all these things.

The alien mutants and the cyborgs are part plastic, part rubber and the rubber is incredibly tacky after all this time. The way the rubber's started to corrode makes the Cyborgs especially fearsome-looking.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

And the diagnosis gets worse...

After being told Thursday all the things which were wrong on the car and would need to be fixed for the MOT, I took the car in this morning to find out what was making the bizarre knocking noise which suddenly erupted on the way home from work last night.

Apparently the near-side drive shaft is kaput. My mechanic was very forthright and said I really needed to have a think about whether it was worth doing all the work on the car. There's no rust on it and the engine is clear as a bell, but the peripherals (brakes, the drive shaft etc.) are starting to wear out. Plus of course I've got to replace the badgerised wheels.

I reckon I've found one of the few honest mechanics around. This is the second time he's said to me, "We can fix it, but I'm not sure it's worth it. You have to decide." when he could have just told me I needed to get all the work done and then hit me with a huge bill. At least there's that silver lining on my car-shaped cloud.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Short film reviews

Last week: I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Adam Sandler and Kevin James are firemen who embark on a well-meaning scam by pretending they're married to make sure James' kids will be cared for if something happens to him. The pair have a number of surprisingly dramatic-looking fires to attend, but the real surprise is the way the film addresses homophobia.

However, Adam Sandler apparently co-wrote the script which may explain the sheer number of women he scores with. The message is 'I'm only pretending to be gay'. Given the kind of people usually classed as Adam Sandler fans such signposting is probably necessary. I do wonder how many retakes 'had' to be shot of the scene where he massages Jessica Biels' boobs.

But overall the film's watchable and has a few decent laughs in places. The only problem is, for a movie which is about acceptance, most of the genuinely gay characters are stereotypically flamboyant, but then perhaps you'd expect that in a pro-gay movie written by heterosexuals...

Jongudmund's rating: 7/10 - one to watch on DVD perhaps.

This week: Ratatouille
What do you need to know? It's by Pixar. It's another brilliant animation. It's about a rat with yearnings to be a chef and a cultured nose, who develops a symbiotic relationship with a lowly garbage boy in a restaurant kitchen and together they ascend the pinnacle of the restaurant trade. If you're not weirded out by the concept, then enjoy the cameo characters, especially Peter O'Toole as a morbidly snide food critic. Pixar rarely mess up, and although this is possibly one of their weaker films, I enjoyed it.

The trainee alien abductors in the short film which precedes it are probably worth the entrance fee alone.

Jongudmund's rating: 8/10 - go and see it, but not at a time when the cinema will be full of screaming children.

Monday, October 15, 2007

London town

Got the train up to London today for the press launch of a booklet I helped write/edit on Pester Power.

On the way I finished Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. I liked this quote:

"Why blame the dark for being dark? It is far more helpful to ask why the light isn't as bright as it could be?"

Friday, October 12, 2007

Revenge of the kamikaze badger

A couple of weeks ago I had an incident where a badger leapt out of a hedge as I drove past, and ended up under my left front wheel with an almighty bang. Two days ago I noticed my front wheel tyre was down to the wire under the tread, so I stopped on the way into work to get it replaced.

The problem is the alloy wheel has buckled slightly, so it has one squared-off edge now. The tyre-guy asked if I'd hit anything recently. "Er... a badger," I said. "Yeah, that would do it," he said (although to be fair, he added the badger probably only dealt the "killing blow" to the wheel allignment).

So, even though I've now got new tyres on my front wheels, they're going to shred pretty quickly unless I replace the actual wheels. I could buy some more alloys, but what's the point if they're going to get bent by animals with a death wish? I'll probably swap them for steel wheels, which will a) be cheaper, and b) make my insurance cheaper too, because I'll look less like a boy racer chav.

But the problems doesn't stop with needing new wheels. While changing the tyres, said tyre-guy decided to have a poke around to see if there were any other causes of abnormal wear. He showed me how springy my front wishbones are, which probably means a more expensive MOT later this month than I had planned. In a few hours I changed from being a care-free motorist to a driver of a death-trap trying to scrape together the pennies to keep his motor road-legal.

Ah, the fun and games of car ownership.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Luminous beings are we; not this crude matter."

I can't thank Irony Boy enough for doing me a DVD of clips from the films to illustrate key points in my talk on spirituality in Star Wars. He is a geek god and I owe him loads, especially given how rubbish the notes on timings were that I gave him to work from!

This was the conclusion of the talk.

So, what do the Star Wars films offer us in terms of understanding contemporary cultural spirituality? Certainly, as films, they were among the first popular expressions of what has become known as the post-modern world-view. The idea that, in an advanced, technological society, there is still room for mystery, the ‘spiritual’, and a morality based on good versus evil.

However, there are some caveats. Evil is represented mainly as a threat to freedom, rather than any particular action. Morality isn’t black and white – one of the main heroic characters is a smuggler with a history of narcotic trafficking. The concept of ‘god’ that is ‘The Force’ isn’t a transcendent, prescriptive god to be worshipped, but, in theological terms, an immanent, impersonal divinity to be used and shaped. Rather than ‘god’ seeking to transform humans, human beings in the Star Wars galaxy seek to alter the world around them by ‘changing god’.

Star Wars does, however, offer a challenge to us. We still live in a culture where science and technology seek to suppress, oppress and repress our innate awareness of the spiritual. And the materialistic emphasis of our culture separates us from the Judeo-Christian image of a transcendent, and holy, God, which many Christians hold. The idea that God may be found everywhere, binding all things together, is both Biblical and important.

The idea of a ‘god’ which works in partnership with us makes us responsible for moral decisions. And, crucially, the promise of redemption, from materialism, from ambivalent ‘sin’, and from moral evil that you have chosen to participate in, is one of the most important and compelling aspects of the whole Star Wars saga. I would suggest the redemption motif is the reason Star Wars retains it’s appeal after several decades; perhaps because, deep down, we are all seeking redemption.

Star Wars underlines that possibility of redemption, but it is something we have to actively choose, in a universe where ‘god’ gives us the freedom to make our own moral decisions. And lets us live with the consequences.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Does sex sell?

Adverts I’ve seen in the past 24 hours which have used sex to sell…
“So what do you have planned for later?” asks Martine McCutcheon, plumbing the depths of corporate soul-selling, and visiting a random bloke in a flat to advertise Tesco. “Nothing,” says the bloke, as two guys from struggle to get a mattress up the stairs.

Red Bull
Two cans of red bull are investigated by a pigeon as various items of clothing rain down around him, accompanied by giggles. Just how would you have sex in mid-air anyway?

Christina Aguilera perfume
“Sometimes it’s all you need to wear,” breathes Christina. Put some clothes on love, you’ll catch your death.

Diet Coke
Three girls jam themselves in the lift so they can be rescued by the hunky maintenance man. Now, if that was me and chicks kept jamming the lift for fun, I’d leave them there.

That godawful advert for Organics shampoo
The best bit about this is the cockatoo telling the aroused woman showering on the beach to ‘keep it down, love’. Cockatoos are cute. But a woman coming in the shower because she’s rubbing glorified soap on her hair raises all kind of Freudian questions.

Random mobile phone company
(see I don’t even know who this is for)
The tagline runs “Don’t let work steal the best bits of your day” as a bloke keeps leaving the office at lunchtime and is just about to kiss his beloved when he finds himself back at his desk. It’s a nicely worked advert, but then you see the bits he’s ‘missing’, including his post-coital, doe-eyed lover lying in bed, the two of them making out in the sea etc. etc. etc.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


One of the pleasures of my job is interviewing people I’m writing articles about. The other day I spoke to a chap called Oliver Nyumbu, who’s an expert on work-life blend. One of the things he said resonated particularly with me.

He said:
“When I ask people how they’re doing in their job, they tell me they’re very busy. Somehow we’ve confused being busy with being effective.”

I see that all the time in my office, but also outside it. I think one of the reasons church attendances are always reported as declining is because churches are so busy trying to keep the church going, they never stop to ask ‘is this actually effective?’

Another aspect of my job involves me choosing to carve out head-space. I do this in a number of ways, including going for a wander round the building and chatting to people, doodling in an old diary, and writing non-work things to get the words flowing out of my brain and onto the screen.

I was asked today how I can write in a limited time; how do I manage to produce stuff on demand. I can’t really answer questions like that, but I think a lot of it is to do with being honest about needing a bit of creative space. You can’t run a machine at maximum productivity at 100% of the time. It needs downtime or the whole thing will blow up in your face. So why do we think we can operate our cranial processors at maximum, every single working minute of every single working day, without the system crashing?

I guess one reason why people in charge like to see everyone busy is it gives the (sometimes false) impression that stuff is getting done. On a personal level, make-work bores me, and when I’ve had managers who think their effectiveness is measured by how busy everyone is and so start allotting random tasks, my effectiveness tends to go out the window.

At the risk of sounding big-headed, I can write to order, and produce under pressure. And the reason I can do that is because I don’t care so much whether I look busy, but I do try to ensure I’m effective. That’s one of the reasons why ‘management-by-making-you-do-stuff’ doesn’t inspire me at all. I like to be told what’s needed, and when it’s needed by, and then sent off to do it. And then I do it.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Unintelligent design

When we went to see Dara O’Briain last year he reeled off a list of funny reasons why he didn’t believe humans were created. The only one I can remember is that if we were created, then why were we made so that occasionally we bite the insides of our cheeks and hurt ourselves? What kind of mean-spirited deity thinks ‘I know, I’ll make it so they can bite the inside of their own mouths because that’ll be good for a laugh.’?

He’s got a point, but then the reverse is true too. Why would you evolve that particular talent? What evolutionary advantage would there be in occasionally lacerating your cheek interior? Unless without the risk of cheek chompage you’d end up stuffing so much in your mouth, you’d choke on it, thereby dying earlier and reducing your chances of passing on your non-cheek chomping genes to the next generation of primitive hominids…

But, then, if there was an evolutionary advantage, you’d assume that having the ability to bite your own face from the inside meant you were superior to those luckless proto-humans who couldn’t do it. That means, if you were trying to design the best kind of human being, you’d build in potential cheek-biting anyway.

So, basically, it seems we’re stuck with it. Incidentally, I ate a pointy crisp at lunch today and now the roof of my mouth is rather sore.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The other true religion*

*it's a paradoxical statement, but then I am disturbingly post-modern

A few years ago I was told to look after a work placement girl from Canada, who's dad worked for a fundamentalist Christian organisation. I was showing off how wise I was and quoted Jedi Master Yoda, "you know, from Star Wars..." "Star Wars?" she asked incredulously. "Yeah," I said. "It is the other true religion."

On Wednesday I'm going to be doing a talk on the spirituality of Star Wars. I don't want to give too much away ahead of the evening, but in terms of understanding concepts of God in a technological age, the cultural impact of the Star Wars films in my generation can't be underestimated. The conflict between materialism and spirituality predates post-Modernism as a popular movement, and certainly at the dying end of the Modern era, the films explore a definite yearning for something more than the world we can see.

So far I've got 12 clips ready from the original trilogy to illustrate my points with regards to conceiving and perceiving God; the duality of matter and force; and the mastery of evil within and the possibility of redemption.

Oh, yeah, it's going to be good.

Friday, October 05, 2007

"You can no longer post about me or my husband without prior permission!"

Apparently the Tom who posted in response to Clare and then deleted it wasn't the Tom who is married to Clare, because he can't 'work out how to do comments'... or so he claims. However, I find that a bit hard to believe, given that he has a degree in something complicated and is able to hold down a full-time job. But still, Clare insists it wasn't him, and, on pain of pain, I've agreed not to stir up any more trouble.

The clinching argument from Clare was that in the past when Tom has worked out how to leave a comment , he's signed it with a lower case 't'. So, there you go. Clearly not the same person.

Perhaps the mystery Tom would like to leave a comment this time, or at least make his blogger profile public in future so we can find out who he is.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

And in eschatalogical news...

Newsbiscuit is certainly a strong contender to be my favourite website, and if you haven't visited it yet, then perhaps this post about how Coke are sponsoring the Second Coming of Christ will convert you.

As someone who writes press releases on a regular basis, I think the quotes from the company spokesperson are particularly inspired.

You might think you got away with it

Ha! When you comment I get emailed it, so even though Tom tried to cover up the fact he was mocking Clare by deleting his comment, I have the proof tucked away in an email folder.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rejecting others

To be fair, we knew it wouldn't get on the intranet, but as the editor who commissioned the piece only to have it cruelly knocked back by 'Standards' (aka my boss, but it sounded much more Studio 60 to say 'standards'), I'm glad Lorenzo has posted his excellent 19th Century Marriage spoof on his blog. Read it and giggle.

Borders has arrived

Last night we went to the brand new Borders in town. Plus points include very comfy chairs in the comic book section, a decent religion section (I used my 20% off voucher on a theological tome which everyone else thought looked completely dull - a sure sign it'll be good), and a Starbucks. As I said, while sipping my black Tazo tea and flicking through a 25,000-word etymological dictionary, it's like a library where they actually have books you want to read. Cathy added 'And here the books are clean...'

But the highlight of the night was Elaine asking why anyone would want to go clubbing when there's such a nice bookshop to go and sit in. It's one of life's imponderables. We're toying with the idea of setting up a book group to meet there as then we'd always get discount!

And next time Dad comes down I'll know where to send him for a few hours to keep him occupied. The map section alone could probably keep him quiet and happy for a good three hours.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Rejection letter

A couple of months after I wrote to them, I received an incredibly short 'no thanks' letter from an agent today. What made me smile was the way they'd written my name in after 'Dear'. Obviously it's quicker to print off a whole load of knockback letters and fill in the names manually.

More covers

A while back I did a post about cover versions of songs I liked. Here are five more, including a cover of gone-and-long-forgotten boy band Five.

Foo Fighters: Band on the Run
Radio One are celebrating their fortieth birthday by asking loads of contemporary bands to cover songs from the past forty years. There have been some really good ones and a couple of days ago it was the Foo Fighters covering the Wings classic. And, boy was it good. I'm guessing the BBC will release the tracks on a celebratory album at some point. And I might just have to get a copy.

Terrorvision: Get on Up
I've never heard this on tape, but it was the last song of a brilliant gig Terrorvision did at The Bierkeller in Bristol on the tour promoting what turned out to be their last album. The original is, of course, by Five. I keep hoping Terrorvision's version will turn up on a posthumous release sometime (they've already had three come out!).

Tori Amos: Smells Like Teen Spirit
Take a grunge classic. Transpose it to piano. Hear it sung by Tori Amos. You can imagine how powerful this cover is.

Lily Allen: Oh My God
This is from the Mark Ronson album 'Version'. If you haven't heard it yet find someone who's got a copy and borrow it. What producer Mark Ronson has done is ask a whole bunch of people to cover various songs. I'm not a huge fan of Lily Allen, but I do like the Kaiser Chiefs, and the combination somehow just works. Other tracks I really like on the album include Amy Winehouse singing 'Valerie' by the Zutons, and a cover of the Smiths classic 'Stop Me'.

Hootie and the Blowfish: Please, Please, Please, Let me get what I want
Speaking of Smiths covers, this one from H&tB's collection of unreleased and live tracks is pretty good.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Informative postcards

I swear my Dad manages to fit more information onto a postcard than any other human being alive. Not only does he tell me what the weather has been like every day he's been away, but also every conference seminar he's gone to, every one my mum went to, who the speakers were, what he thought about what they said, what mum thought about the seminars she went to, the other sights he went to see with mum, the things he saw without mum, and even where they ate buns when they stopped for refreshments.

The slightly worrying thing is that I know he's now going to phone me and tell me all about it again. So, if I don't pick up when you ring me in the next couple of days, yes I am screening my calls. Don't take it personally.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Head cold

Came home from work today at lunchtime as I'm developing a head cold. Yesterday I had the classic sore throat which got worse during the day, despite an overdose of Strepsils. Today it's a bunged up nose. I'm predicting I'll be a snot factory tomorrow.

On Wednesday I sat in a meeting next to a bunged up sneezer who was quaffing Lemsip. I remember quite clearly bemoaning the fact that some people will come into work no matter how ill they are and spread the germs around. I was assured by said person she was not infectious because by the time you exhibit the symptoms, you're past the infectious stage. Yeah, whatever.

I think my current state is living disproof of that theory.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Shoot 'Em Up

This was our choice for "violent man's-movie night" and it wasn't bad. (We're not violent men, it's just a violent movie written for men...). I was hoping it would be this year's Crank, but no such luck. It seems they had a choice between hiring extra stuntmen or hiring a script editor. They went with the stuntmen.

Still, Clive Owen was reasonable as Mr Smith, the mysterious antihero who rescues a preganant woman, delivers her baby (using a gun to sever the umbilical cord - nice...), and then is left holding said baby, trying to protect it from would-be killers. Monica Belluci turned in a decent performance as the lactating hooker Smith ropes in as a wet nurse - once he's got rid of her nappy-wearing customer*. And Paul Giamatti escapes indie-film hell to play a bad guy for once. I think I was the only one to pick up on the "F--- you sideways!" reference.

Taken straight, this film is rubbish, but if you treat it as a comedy, it's hilarious. Smith is more than just a crack shot, he's a carrot-munching wisecracker, who can bring a woman to orgasm, while offing gun-toting bad guys at the same time. A true hero in every sense of the word. The storyline itself is preposturously convoluted, but everything about this film - stunts, acting, and script - is equally daft.

The film has blood, gore, killing, mayhem and swearwords (including some created by shooting a neon sign) aplenty. It's a recipe for success and makes it highly enjoyable to boot. But perhaps not one to take the missus to.

Our next violent man's-movie night will probably be to see another Brit in high-octane carnage. Jason Statham is teaming up again with Jet Li for War. Bring it on.

*Film trivia question - without looking her up on IMDB, in which 18-rated film did Monica Belluci play a prostitute in 2004?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Two things I've learned today

1 - eating crisps and playing Pacman on Facebook gets your keyboard all greasy.

2 - there's still an archive of football articles I wrote about six years ago out there on the inter-web, including the classic Is Football a Religion?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Down with the youth

Out with the older youth today for the first time. It seems kids are actually as ignorant as they seem. A discussion about musical idols led to the question 'who was in the Beatles?' Ok, fair play, they got two, and suggested Elvis Presley to boot. But then...

"And the other one was Ringo Starr..."

"Really? What a stupid name - Rainbow Star."

"RINGO Starr."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

More factoids...

This time culled from, er, Time.

There are 90 guns for every 100 citizens in the USA, making it the most heavily armed country in the world. The country with the next highest aresenal of civilian arms is India. With 4 guns for every 100 people. Four and a half million guns are purchased in the USA every year. Worldwide, only eight million guns are produced a year.

Scientists have used sugar-eating microbes from the ocean to convert food into electricity. Apparently a cup of sugar can power a 60-watt bulb for 17 hours.

And this gem of a story made it into the most emailed section of BBC News despite being almost 2 years old: Jogging your way to saggy breasts
(It's top quality research which incidentally is sponsored by a sports bra manufacturer)

I'm sure you said...

Another one of those coffee time convos today.

Mark: I've got a diving lesson tonight.
Carol: I didn't know you couldn't drive.
Mark: DIVING lesson.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My Ground Zero story

It's hard to believe it's six years since 9/11.

Earlier this year I visited Ground Zero, which has apparently gradually shrunk as parts of it are redeveloped. Opposite the site where the Twin Towers stood is St Paul's Chapel, which I think is the oldest church in New York. The chapel became an emergency room following the terrorist attacks, and then a place to eat and crash out for those working through the debris several storeys underground. In the chapel are a large number of displays about the aftermath of 9/11, photos of the church workers and volunteers who gave up their time to care for the rescue workers who still had to toil on even though there was no hope of rescuing any more survivors.

St Paul's Chapel was where George Washington worshipped on a regular basis - in fact Washington's private pew was kept as a kind of monument to the first president. But with space at a premium, the church leaders decided they'd have to use Washington's pew as if it was any other part of the church.

Because Washington suffered with foot problems in his life, they turned the pew area into a podiatry station. As you can imagine after 12 hour (or more) shifts down in the rubble, workers were footsore. Damp conditions didn't help and there were numerous bits of rubble or metal which could scratch or pierce a worker's foot.

What you need to know is that Americans are very aware of their history. It isn't as long a history as most European states, but they celebrate it with far more reverence than we do. So, converting the pew was a big deal. But they managed to turn it into a useful treatment point, which didn't preserve a historical event, but used it as an inspiration to create a further bit of history.

I'm not sure there are many churches in the world which would do that. But perhaps there should be.

And that's my Ground Zero story.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Two completely unrelated factoids

I saw these in this week's issue of The Week.

Factoid 1
Women who have their breasts surgically enhanced are three times more likely to commit suicide than other women.

Which leads me to ask: is having surgery a contributory factor to suicide, or are women who are depressed/stressed/emotionally imbalanced drawn to extreme methods of reinvention, e.g cosmetic surgery? Or is is just that having a breast enlargement is an indicator that you're stuck in a lifestyle that it's hard to exit from (e.g. the porn industry) and so the "only way out" is suicide?

Factoid 2
In 1935, 7.5% of Germans were members of the Nazi party; among teachers that figure was nearly one-third.

Which begs the question: are teachers more likely to become Nazis, or are Nazis more likely to become teachers? And is there a discernible difference?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A depressing tally

Driving back last night from Shrewsbury I hit a badger. It seemed to leap out from the hedge into my front wheel with a resounding bang and a thud. I thought it was a dog or a sheep or something because all I saw was a flash of white before it disappeared below the bonnet of my car with a thump.

Even though I'm an animal lover it adds to quite a depressing tally of wildlife roadkill. Once when I was driving home from Weston two baby foxes were on the carriageway. They seemed to want to play with the headlights of the car and wherever I moved on the road they moved too, until I slammed on my brakes, but it was too late to avoid hitting at least one of them. Then up in Scotland once, a squirrel dashed out and ended up under my wheel with a sickening crunch.

And now I've got a badger on my conscience too.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Chinese greeting

Up to Shrewsbury for a very brief there-and-back-in-a-day visit, partly to deliver some fruit juice (long story) and also because it was my foster-sister Sarah's birthday. The folks decided to get in Chinese food, and when we got back from the takeaway, we realised they hadn't put the sweet and sour chicken in for the meat-eaters.

I drove back to the takeaway and when I walked in the girl on the counter recognised me and said quite loudly: "Chicken Balls!"

I said: "Well, I'm known by many names..."