Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Does it work for you?

According to the chat up line predictor website, my killer line that would get the ladies swooning is:
“Soccer players can go for 90 minutes and know 11 different positions. Just
thought you should know that.”

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Yes, I've flipped

It's Pancake Day. Mmmm, Betty Crocker Bisquick pancake mix...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Get 'em while they're young

Up in Shrubbery today after celebrating Grandad's 90th yesterday in Wrexham. We travelled through Bwlchgwyn which claims to be the highest village in Wales. Ironically both me and Dad disputed that fact quite independently from each other, which apparently shows that I am indeed doing what everyone jokes that I'm doing and turning into him. (There's worse fates.)

One personality trait my Dad has that I definitely have inherited is a tendency to hoard stuff. But that can be quite interesting such as when he discovered the membership cards that Dave and I had as "founder members of the family stand" at Shrewsbury Town FC. (Don't ask!)

I don't quite know why they wanted a photo of me on the card, but here it is, twenty-two seasons on. It would seem that I started with the "sullen teen" posing quite early on in life...

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Culture vulture on the loose

A week on from rocking along to Bowling for Soup, Cathy, me and the Russes enjoyed the Welsh National Opera performing Madame Butterfly. Again we were in the bargain seats and again we valued the fact that the Millennium Centre has subtitles for opera as my Italian hasn’t improved since La Boheme.

And how’s this for multicultural? An opera set in Japan where a main character is American, sung in Italian, with Welsh subtitles.

As previously, the set was very good and the performance was presumably good. People who had the look of more regular opera goers applauded enthusiastically at the end. But I did find the main male lead (who played the villainous American B.F. Pinkerton) very weak as a singer. He seemed to lack volume and charisma.

I found the undercurrent of a ‘disposable’ attitude towards the developing world was very culture-relevant. Pinkerton laughing about how he rented a property on a 999 year lease which he could cancel every month showed where the balance of power lay – and his attitude towards his bride mirrored that. She was his to use until he married a "proper American bride".

The real tragedy, as I saw it, was that Butterfly so desperately wanted to be an American, trusting her American husband to redeem her after she became a pariah for her cultural apostasy. Her betrayal by the man who never regarded her as an equal despite her sacrifices has huge parallels with contemporary corporate colonialism and is one of the most savage indictments of Western attitudes since Nick Nolte’s rant about how Africans don’t matter to the Western powers that be in Hotel Rwanda:
Colonel Oliver: [explaining why the world will not intervene] You're black.
You're not even a nigger. You're an African.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Shining wit

"I shouldn't joke about OCD, but I just can't help myself..."

That one made a couple of people laugh in the office.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Be my Valentine

One of my favourite Valentine’s Day experiences was a few years ago now, when my little brother was till at Uni. We were traveling back from the far North and stopped off to see him because he’d just been dumped and was feeling miserable. We took him out to tea at Pizza Hut where we were the only table for three in the place and the incredibly cheap candles sputtered wax all over the table in artistic patterns.

Why does this stand out? I think it’s because people can be so selfish on Valentine’s Day. It becomes all about you as a couple. I’d like to think that Cathy and I have a relationship that’s bigger than just the two of us – yes, we want to spend time together, but not at the exclusion of people who need some TLC.

Cath’s exciting gift today was a framed set of US stamps with the word “love” on; presented to her by a Mr Potato Head (which I’m sure will remind her of me). She gave me a mug that told me I was “the cat’s pajamas” – a mystifying turn of phrase that made me feel good nevertheless. Tonight our hot Valentine’s Date will be going to our life group where we’ll each be discussing a news story that’s caught our eye in the past few days.

Without wanting to spoil the surprise for anyone, my story is going to be about boffins finding the scientific equation to determine the “beer goggle effect” that makes women appear more attractive when you’ve had a few. I think the principle that I’ll draw from the story is “isn’t God great to give us beer to make ugly people more pleasing to the eye!”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Extending my vocabulary

According to Helen who I work with, her daughter calls a bra a “booby vest”.

I think I have definitely got to start using that term myself. It tells you everything you need to know about the complex and mysterious items that are women’s underwear.

Viv tells me that the German for bra is “Bustenhalter”. This, again, is a very useful word to know. (My favourite German word is “Fussballrowdie” meaning ‘football hooligan’.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

The spiritual message of shoes

One of the hazards of working in a faith based charity is being asked to do workplace prayers. I landed leading today's on "feet fitted with shoes of the gospel of peace". I started off with some pictures I nabbed off google image search (apologies if these are your photos and I didn’t credit you).

…some we need as part of our job description

…or they make us laugh

…or we wear in season, like for St Patrick’s Day

…or they make us go ‘awwwwww’

…and some people even worship shoes.

(Like my sister in law who seems to get sucked into any shoe shop she walks past by some kind of vortex.)

And shoes are something we leave behind.

Like these shoes were left behind in Dachau, Auschwitz and Stutthof.

Some thoughts on peace – from my notes, so apologies if it’s a bit disjointed

Shoes might seem an odd focus point for peace. But this was the Roman Empire, which boasted that wherever the legions marched they brought peace – the Pax Romana, enforced throughout conquered lands.

Paul is being deliberately subversive here. Comparing the peace brought to the lands groaning under Roman boots, he says ‘No, we wear the shoes of the gospel of real peace. We’re the peace-bringers not the Romans. Our peace is good news not oppression.’

And of course that was quite a dangerous message to promote at the time, and possibly today – telling a mighty Empire that real peace couldn’t be imposed by force. [Pause] That peace that comes from the threat of the sword isn’t really peace at all.

I’ve often heard it said that when it comes to peace we should aim for peace on a micro level. Peace in our families, in our teams in work, perhaps between the teams in work, in our churches (yeah, right!), in our communities. And I agree with that. But sometimes I think we downplay peace. I don’t think ‘peace’ – real peace – is about just getting on with the people we see most days and being nice. We have to have a wider view too.

Of course, it does start with us. I remember an American good friend of mine saying once how fed up he was at the casual way people made comments about ‘typical Americans’. And it’s something we can all do. But on what basis do we attack someone because of their origins – whether that’s French, German, Irish, English or Welsh?

The thing is – the reason we’re called to be peacemakers on a larger scale – is because we, as Christians, should realise, that it’s not where you’re from that matters – it’s where you end up.
In the current climate of six nations rugby, ashes humiliation and other sporting allegiances, it’s a daring statement to say that on one level, being racially proud is totally illogical – I may as well say I’m proud to have blue eyes and brown hair, as I’m proud to be British, or English, or Welsh.
I had no choice in my eye colour, my hair colour, my skin colour, my country of birth, or my genetic heritage. Why then, if I had no choice in the matter, should I rejoice in my nationality?

Am I grateful to be British? Yes.
Am I proud? No.
It makes no sense to me.

When it comes to what I’ve chosen to do with my life, I follow a Jew. A member of a race still maligned, despised and hated today. When Jesus was alive the Jews were barely tolerated by a colonial superpower. Many of his countrymen desperately wanted to be something else – in fact people across the then-known world would happily pay a fortune to call themselves a Roman. For others, the Jewish nation identity was all they had – they would fight for it and die for it. Not long after Jesus died, most of those ultra-nationalists met a disastrous end in a fortress on a desert outcrop called Masada.

Was Jesus hung up on nationality? A little bit. I guess we all are. But when his words were put into practice, one of his followers – a Roman citizen no less – said there was no distinction between Jew and Greek, that to the Jews he would be a Jew, and to the gentiles he would be a gentile. This man, Paul, was now a citizen of a far greater empire than Rome, and to be regarded as a Roman, while useful, wasn’t that important. When he wrote to other Roman citizens – in the staunchly Roman colony of Philippi – he wrote to them as "citizens of heaven", not Rome.

That same follower of Jesus instructed his fellow followers to wear the ‘shoes of the gospel of peace’. Some versions say ‘shod with the readiness of the gospel of peace’. That we are prepared, wherever we tread, to bring good news; to bring peace. We aren’t a battle-ready army preparing to crush our enemies underfoot. We walk humbly, leaving behind us gentle footprints, that mark where we have gone and don’t fade.

But those footprints of peace leave lives changed.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Bowling for Soup

BFS are hitting the big time. When we saw them 14 months or so ago, their support acts were absolute rubbish. This time round they were Wheatus (of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ fame) and Son of Dork (of ‘one of the guys used to be in Busted’ fame), and some other band I’d never heard of, and missed seeing because we were late to the gig.

But we’d only really gone to see the Soup and they didn’t disappoint. They started with their anthem about growing up in a hometown, ran through some of their better back-catalogue and a couple of songs from their new album. I pogoed/shouted along to Come Back to Texas, 1985, Almost and Girl All the Bad Guys Want as well as my favourite – introduced as a song about Eric’s mom – The Bitch Song. The new stuff sounds not unlike the old stuff, and High School Never Ends is very catchy.

But the strength of a BFS gig is in the interaction between the band and the crowd, and even the band and each other. Stopping mid-song for beverage breaks and "the official BFS photo opportunity" posing time, is humorous and makes it worth going to a gig, unlike bands that just seem to want to play the same songs again and again in identikit concerts. The important point is that BFS seem to have as much fun onstage as the moshers offstage, which makes the gig fun to be a part of.

And any lead singer who launches into a rambling story about how he’s been warned not to call Welsh audiences sheep f***ers and then shouts "Good evening sheep f***ers!" has got to be a rock and roll hero.

[A big thank you to Sarah Mac who bought us the tickets for Christmas. You rock!]

Friday, February 09, 2007

Snow 2 - Frosty's Revenge

I got sent home early from work today because of the unexpected snow that surprised those soothsayers at the Met Office.

Of course, the day I get sent home would be the day I took the train into work. Fortunately Grangetown station is right opposite the garage where I’d left my car, which was now under an inch of frosty precipitation. The central locking motor has gone and it needs a new one, so it’ll be the pfaff of manually locking and unlocking doors for the near future, until they can order the motor in.

Driving in snow/slush is always fun/scary. But at least I got home at a decent time. Poor old Viv got stuck for five hours at the Coldra junction on the M4, a hideously snarled junction overwhelmed with traffic at the best of times. Valley lines 1, Motorway 0.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


So exciting, even Cath got out of bed to look at it!

Yes, that’s right. We have snow. Apart from a tricky skid in Grangetown at the beginning of my journey I loved driving in this morning. For one thing the trees and bushes were all dusted white. For another the roads were clear because most of the schools were shut and so the usual mums on the school run weren’t out.

It strikes me that the contribution to global warming caused by people driving their kids to school probably cuts down on the number of ‘snow days’, meaning that people have to drive their kids to school more frequently, increasing carbon emissions, thereby reducing the number of snow days… It’s a vicious cycle. But it could be broken if some of those little porkers were made to walk to school.

But anyway, snow. I love snow. I don’t love slush though. Especially when I step out of my car into a slush heap and it gets my sock slightly soggy. Not so good.

And the snow was an inspiration in more ways than one. Every Monday and Thursday we have an organisational prayer gathering (if people can be bothered to go to it). Today’s was on the subject of snow, co-incidentally. Actually the guy up the front, Roger (the VAT-Dodger) from Finance, admitted that he only decided what to talk about last night. At least he was honest. I’ve lost count of the number of times the person in charge has obviously panicked at the last minute, picked up their Every Day with Jesus and decided ‘you know what, this’ll do’.

It’s started to rain now, and the snow’s melting, but I reckon most of it will hang about until tonight when it will FREEZE and cause havoc. Hurrah.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Our questions define us

Gradually I’ve learned that our questions define us. Of course you can use questions for all kinds of comic laughs. There’s nothing quite as funny as a dumb question. So when someone in the office went to see the film The Queen, my question “What’s that about?” raised some hearty laughs.

But there are some other questions that will forever define some people. Like for example the question about the Rocky Horror Picture Show: “Is that the one based on Macbeth?”

Another classic is the question from Elaine: “Do they pluck chickens before or after they kill them?” (In fairness to her, some people probably do pluck them before they kill them, and we call those people BASTARDS!)

Then there’s my all-time favourite from a lady doctor friend of mine who really should remain anonymous when she asked: “Can you guess what toy I keep in my bed?”

It’s funny, but she doesn’t own any of the toys I suggested.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Why the hush?

I didn’t get the job. So I guess I can explain why I had a week off blogging and where I was last Wednesday.

You might remember I mentioned that I’d sent my CV off. A week last Friday I got a phone call from the company concerned – one Ted Baker – inviting me for an interview.

The ad had been vague. The instructions even more so. "The door is in the poster of the lobster. I’d advise you take the lift, just for the experience." Was I joining a secret society? Or a cult?

We travelled up Tuesday night, staying with Cath’s aunt in Croydon. The interview was at 8.30 – but I had no problem waking up. Nerves and excitement meant I woke up on the hour every hour throughout the night. We found the door in the lobster. The lift was an experience – with a zillion buttons to press that all said funny things or made funny noises. But before I got to the lift I’d walked into what felt like a bunker, past an animatronic wagging golden retriever and reached an empty desk that had a sign ‘Look up to Ted’. When you looked up there was a camera, a microphone and a screen. Very Alias.

The interviewer, Craig, seemed a friendly guy. He knew his stuff on branding, and seemed genuinely interested in me – assessing whether I’d fit, I guess. TB seemed to be that kind of place. Either you’d fit or you wouldn’t. I think he knew that I ‘got’ the mystique surrounding the great man himself, and how the brand was wrapped in the persona, but then the persona also carried the brand.

The job, when he explained it to me, was far more complicated than I envisioned from the ad. If I’d known beforehand what the job was, I’d have steered my answers more towards that direction, so maybe I did miss a bit of an opportunity there. But that’s the thing with interviews. There’s always something else you could have said, or something you could have phrased differently or emphasised to a greater degree, and on some level it isn’t helpful to beat yourself up about it. Overall I said what I said and I felt I was ‘me’ and if I can’t get the job as ‘me’ then there’s no point trying to be somebody else, getting the job and then having to live life as a fake.

So, am I disappointed? Yes, of course I am. It would have meant living in London at least five days a week. It would have meant a huge upheaval and huge change. But the job as it was eventually explained to me sounded absolutely amazing. Huge. Challenging. Totally absorbing. I think I would have loved it, if I faced the fear and gone for it.

On a final note – I was incredibly calm, all things considered. After the initial panic on the Friday I rang my bro and he said he’d pray that the door would either swing wide open or swing shut (answered prayer there, then). On the Sunday we rocked up at church and on the stage was a door. A real wooden door in a doorframe; a prop for the speaker who was quoting from Revelation chapter 3 – "I have placed before you an open door which no one can shut." I guess I knew that whatever happened it was all in somebody’s plan.

[Of course, that could have been just a coincidence, but as Cath pointed out, how many umpteen thousand sermons have we heard between us and when have either of us ever seen an actual door used to illustrate a point.]

So, it’s disappointment, but tinged with slight relief. It’s not my decision whether to up sticks and move to the ‘big smoke’ or not. I feel I did my best. And I feel calm about it. Not gutted, not glad. Just fair to middling.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Spring fair

Cream-crackered today after our annual trip as directors of Fair Do’s to the Spring Fair in Birmingham’s NEC. We saw about 20 stalls and placed orders with 4 new suppliers, which was all very exciting. But it was tiring and, thinking about it, because you’re walking past stall after stall of interesting product, it’s visually stimulating all day so the processing bit of the brain doesn’t get to switch off.

A few years ago there were about half a dozen potential fair trade suppliers at the Spring Fair. Now there are many more and the product variety is far greater. Fair trade just seems more prominent everywhere – including Virgin Trains, which only serve fair trade tea and coffee from their onboard cafes as far as I could see.

I guess that’s the sea-change. Fair trade has gone from being the minor preserve of tree-hugging loons and caring campaigners with a stall at the back of the church. It’s gone into the mainstream and flourished. I was interviewed a while ago about fair trade and was asked to sum up the ‘struggle’. I said "We’ve won. Not that there isn’t a long way to go, but we’ve won." People ask about fair trade now. They consider where their products come from, how they’re grown, how they’re made. It’s entered the mindset of a huge swathe of people.

And when companies like Nestle feel the need to bring out a fair trade brand, or Tesco, or Asda, or any of the other monolithic corporate antichrists, then you know that you’ve won. Because when ‘they’ decide they ought to join you it’s because they’ve realised that they can’t beat you.

I love the smell of fair trade coffee in the morning. It’s the smell of… victory.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

When stunts go bad

Saturday night and Irony Boy and I are flicking through the cable channels doing the three second judgment call on the dross that was on. That was until we started watching ‘When Stunts Go Bad’, car crash TV at its finest.

I think my favourite bit was when two Russian pilots in a flight display team crashed their Migs into each other. Both ejected safely, even though one plane was ripped in half and turned into a fireball before cratering the tarmac.

But then, the defining moment. One of the pilots has landed safely, his parachute billowing around him. As he lands he already has a cigarette between his lips. He steadies himself and steps out of the harness, lights up, shrugs his shoulders at the camera and saunters off as if that sort of thing happens every day.

No comment for the camera. No smile. Just a nonchalant drag of nicotine and a shrug. How cool is that cat?

After When Stunts Go Bad we teamed up for a co-op game of Halo2 and I found out that using two joysticks at the same time is as confusing as hell.