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.