Monday, December 29, 2008

Lucky mascot

Yesterday I saw Shrewsbury scrape a 1-0 win over Bury, which stopped the rot after three league defeats on the bounce. It was a dire game with too many overhit passes, poor defending, and even poorer shooting. The goal itself was quite good, Town's top scorer Grant Holt heading home a Drogba-esque reverse header under pressure.

But overall there wasn't much to commend it. Bury seemed a dirty team, as was proven when their central defender elbowed one of the town player in the face, off the ball and under the nose of the referee. Usually an incident like that would enrage the fans. Instead we all just sat there slightly stunned. Personally, I've never seen anything like that in a football game. The ref had no hesitation and pulled out a red card and that was the end of his match.

Town are still in the play-off places, but realistically this team would get relegated straight away if they went up. They're weak in midfield and got caught in possession too many times - once almost leading to a goal. Fortunately Bury aren't that great at finishing either, otherwise it could have been an embarassing reverse against ten men.

Still scraping a scrappy win is still a win and my record at the new stadium is now 7 games, 6 wins and 1 loss. Not bad!

Friday, December 26, 2008

You've got to make your own fun, as I said to my friend the googly-eyed carrot.

Hope you had a good Christmas. I found a new friend.

Well, what else can you do when you find a carrot with a nose, but give him a pair of googly eyes too?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All because the lady loves... a generation gap

A couple of weeks ago it was the youth Christmas fancy dress party. I could have gone as a cowardly lion, but to be honest the thought of putting on that suit again so soon made me shudder.

So we raided the wardrobe. Cathy had a black polo neck jumper she'd bought in a sale at Next. I still have the black jacket from my wedding suit (and it still fits, amazingly). A pair of black trousers, gloves, and shoes, and a black scarf later and I was almost there. All I needed was the requisite box of chocolates and I was the Milk Tray Man

I should explain who the Milk Tray Man was in case you don't know, but frankly I'm not responsible for your cultural ignorance. Besides you can always click on the handy link I've provided.

The reactions I got to my amazing costume were two-fold. From the other leaders it was "You're the Milk Tray Man? That's awesome!" And from the kids it was "You're who?" "The Milk Tray Man." "The Milk Tray... who? What did he do?"

The thing is when I started to explain it they were even more mystified. "So, he used to ski down a mountain, break into a lady's bedroom and leave a box of chcolates by her bed? He sounds like a stalker." Well, yes, when you put it like that...

Anyway, I stand by my costume choice and I'm sure you'll agree I look very suave.

Er, except when I'm trying to be!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Territorial cheese

We went on a late night shoppping trip to Tesco last night (not recommended three days before Christmas), because we needed a few staples like milk, cheese and, er, gherkins.

Anyhoo, I got some Double Gloucester cheese. Two lots because it was on linksave.

After we paid I was checking the receipt to make sure the special offers had come off and there it was: "Territorial cheese - 2 for £x". Now I've heard it called 'Regional cheese' before now when it's lumped in with the Cheshire, Red Leicester and Wensleydale, but 'territorial' sounds so much worse.

I can imagine the scene in the fridge right now - the cheese is kicking the other perishable produce. "Get away from my cheese box, you! This is my territory! You're not allowed near it!"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Guitar Zero

So Cath and I have been given Guitar Hero for Christmas (yes, yes we opened it early, I know tut tut), and I've remembered why I've never actually stuck with playing the guitar despite a couple of attempts.

I have small hands. Now they hurt.

This Basic Instructions strip about said game is one of my favourites. The third panel *is* me. (Click on it to get a bigger version - don't squint.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wahey the car has heat.

So last Friday, I took the car into the garage for them to work out why the heater wasn't working. The basic problem, it appeared, was that the heater motor was dead, no more, gone to meet it's maker, shuffled off it's mortal coil etc. etc. And the really bad news was that new one would cost £158.

My mechanic, Phil, suggested I find a replacement online, which they'd then fit. He plucked a figure at random out of the air and said 'You'll probably find one for about £30'.

So, on Monday I went spare part hunting. I found a website which links into 2500 breaker's yards across the country. You type in what part you need and what car it's for, and your details, and then you get emailed quotes. I had about 9 people get in touch with me within about three hours, but I thought I'd wait and see if any came in overnight.

Sure enough, on thr Tuesday morning, there was a new quote in my inbox, from a place which only does VW and Audi spares and it was cheaper than all the others. The price including postage was... £30.

I rang them up. "Yeah, this is for a mark III," said the guy. "It came out of a P reg. Is that OK?" Well, as my car is a P reg, that was perfect. I gave him my credit card number and asked for him to send it to me at work.

On Wednesday, it arrived at work, wrapped up in bubble wrap and a bin liner. "Is that a severed head?" asked a colleague. "Yes," I said, "of the last person who asked me about my parcels." I rang the garage asking if they could fit me in. Phil told me to bring the car in the next day and leave it with them.

So, Thursday I took the train into work (Grangetown station is right opposite the garage - handy!) and then returned after work to find the heater worked perfectly. Woo hoo! No more having to be a human demister with a wipey pad thing. In fact, it works so well I'm beginning to think the old heater motor was broken for the whole time I've had the car.

So, it took me about a week to get the heating sorted, but it saved me £128 and I felt very manly sourcing my own car parts and everything. (I've left out the part where I rang Phil and asked him what the difference was between a heater motor, a heater fan motor and a heater blower motor, only for him to laugh and say they were all the same thing, as that undermines my manly abilities.) So, yeah, it all worked out well.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rom-coms are evil

Well, maybe not evil, but not very good for your love life - according to boffins.

This lends weight to my theory that most single chicks are single because they are waiting for a white knight/Hugh Grant/Mr Darcy to whisk them off their feet in a magical jamboree of odd coincidences, fated chance encounters and smouldering passion.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Oliver Postgate RIP

I heard the sad news today that Oliver Postgate who created Bagpuss, the Clangers, Ivor the Engine and Noggin the Nog, has passed away at the age of 83. He was a great story-teller and communicator, and in many ways a hero of mine. Not only did he create some of the greatest children's TV characters ever, he did it on a minimal budget, filming in a converted farm outbuilding.

He didn't use hi-tech computer wizardry, or marketing publicity overkill. He just told stories, which had real soul. Growing up I loved Bagpuss and looking at it now, the pure simplicity of the animation was part of it's charm. But the real power of Oliver Postgate's work was in his characters - the pompous Professor Yaffle, or the cheeky mice, or Tiny Clanger being scared of froglets, or Noggin taking on the evil Nogbad, or a little steam engine who wanted to sing in the choir. Or Bagpuss, with his ever-so-catching yawn.

A lot of people don't know this, but Oliver Postgate was a pacifist and toured the country in the early 1980s showing the episode of the Clangers which never got aired on the BBC, where the little pink aliens got involved in an arms race and ended up blowing up their little moon. Of course, the Clangers' moon was really our world, just seen through different eyes, and back then there was a real danger of it being blown to hell. It took real courage to stand up against the evil of nuclear weapons, and I admire him for doing that.

Of course, "children's TV" has moved on. It's become a huge industry in it's own right. But along the way it has lost something of itself and it's own innocence. And I'm sad that Oliver Postgate has died as he seemed to understand that innocence is the vital element of childhood and when we lose it we are no longer children. That when we lose the wonder of childhood, so often it is replaced by fear.

Oliver Postgate was a story-teller. He was a creator of magical worlds. And as he moves on out of this world, he takes a little bit of that magic with him. I never met him, but I feel like I know him, because I know his creations.

I'm glad he was willing to share them with me, and thousands of children like me.

Doing well thanks

One funny thing to come out of being ill was the email which asked "How's the virus?"

It's in a very healthy state, thanks. Me on the other hand...

Monday, December 08, 2008

Return to work (the aftermath)

Bit of a tiring day really, going back to work after just over two weeks off - with 8 days being sick leave. I had a clogged inbox to deal with, and a 'to do' list of mammoth proportions.

It's kind of funny that so many "urgent" emails sent to me two weeks ago don't seem so urgent now. Tomorrow I think I'll be phoning a few people asking 'do you still need this thing you were asking me for...?' With any luck the answer(s) will be 'No'.

I also got lots more praise for the panto and because we were having a 'goodbye' thing for our outgoing CEO this afternoon I got to see a few of my fellow panto stars on a social level, which was a bonus on an otherwise hard day. So far I think the only negative feedback any of us have had is that some of the characters were hard to see at the church shows because the stage isn't high enough. I guess in a way that's a positive - when people say they couldn't really see enough of what was going on.

And I got asked if I'd like to go on an Elvis-themed day trip on New Year's Day, which sounds intriguing. I guess the white jumpsuit outfit may see action again...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Road to recovery

In case people thought I'd abandoned my blogging - or died - the last two weeks I've been laid up with a very bad cold/cough. I actually had 10 days off work as a result. I was signed off right until my planned leave for the Glenwood panto, this week.

Being ill meant I missed a whole heap of things. Big thanks to Viv for filling in for me on the youth weekend away at such short notice.

Even now I've still got a bit of a cough. I seemed to spend most of my time onstage in the panto trying not to cough. For those who don't know, I was Elvis the Cowardly Lion in our own Cardiff-ised version of the Wizard of Oz. That meant I spent most of my time broiling in an all over fur suit, before changing into my Elvis garb, complete with massive quiff, for the final scene.

I lost so much water wearing my suit that for a couple of days I peed the darkest orange pee you ever did see. Thankfully now I'm rehydrated back to normal. Here are a couple of pictures, if you didn't get along to see me...


"Oh no I scared myself"

Elvis being menaced by Peggy Witchell (it's a long story) played by my fellow youth leader Emma D.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cake wrecks

Matt put me on to the Cake Wrecks blog, which is just culinary art at it's most awful. But they also showcase some amazing cakes, like these wicked cupcakes, which I think are possible the coolest cakes I've ever seen!

And at the risk of seeming like a Dalek obsessive, check out the gallery of Dalek cakes to see some cake wreckery of such awesomeness it defies adequate description. I especially like the final line referencing Empire Strikes Back: "Bad Space Snake. Bad."

Friday, November 07, 2008

Dashboard Dalek

My friend Matt has given me a car air freshener in the shape of a Dalek (apparently because his wife didn't like the smell). So now I have a little Dalek on my dashboard, who swings left and right depending on whether I'm going round a corner*.

The only drawback is that he is a bit smelly. I had to apologise to my car-pool companion the other day for the overwhelming 'fresh' scent when we got in the car to go home. Cathy has also remarked that "Daleks smell much fruitier than you'd have thought they would..."

*And, mysteriously, he sometimes just moves round eerily slowly when I'm stationary at a traffic light... Not quite sure what's happening there.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Three interesting/fun things about the US election

I’ve been feeling a certain amount of shameful joy/glee that the state of Colorado went Democrat. It’s the home of Focus on the Family and various other militantly-Republican Christian organisations, so the fact that more people there voted for Barack Obama means something significant I think.

I’m wondering how the editorial in the next edition of Focus’ ‘Citizen’ magazine will react to the results and whether Focus will now concentrate their efforts on living up to the demands of this Biblical injunction. Somehow I doubt it.

The swing to Obama was massive across the Republican heartland. I work with a guy who spent some time in Texas working for a Christian organisation and became very pro-Republican as a result. In 2004 he said that he admired George W Bush’s stance on “values” (a hard-to-define term much in use among those who have the Christian = Republican = Christian mentality).

However yesterday this same guy told me he was glad Obama won. If Obama is winning over staunch conservatives, then maybe there’s a chance the cultural battle-lines are blurring and the polarisation of American culture (which has led to Christianity marginalising itself through unblinking support by many vocal Christians for one particular party) may reverse.

The third thing is that Cathy told me Obama had promised his daughters that if they moved to the White House, they could have a puppy. How happy must they be now? No wonder as the results came in they were still beaming from ear-to-ear despite looking like they so needed to go to bed!

“Yay, Daddy’s become president! Can we get a puppy now, Mom?”

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Two good things

Firstly yesterday I had the sitcom script I wrote with Justin returned by the BBC Writer’s room with some very encouraging comments written on it, including “you demonstrate a flair for comedy that’s certainly worth developing”. The script-reader also said it made her laugh out loud at points which she said is unusual for a first-time comedy script. So, we've got some stuff to go on there, I think.

The second thing is, of course, Barack Obama’s victory in the presidential election. I felt unbelievably tense last night because I so wanted him to win (I have done ever since I read his book in the summer). I don’t think I’ve prayed/pleaded so much over one thing in absolutely ages. When the election coverage began and people started saying it looked like he was on course to win, I felt even more tense. What if it all went wrong? What if the exit polls had messed up?

Anyway, I went to bed and this morning turned on the TV to find out he had won. The feeling of relief! The sense that now things may well change, and also that ordinary Americans had actually done the right thing and voted for the right guy kind of rebuilds that faith in Americans which I for one want to have.

I’ve fallen in love with America over the last couple of years and as a nation it deserves a president who is going to encourage it to shine as a beacon of hope, freedom and democracy in a sometimes very dark world. It may take some time to take off the tarnish of the Bush years, but this is such a step forward in terms of America’s stature and the perception of America out here in the rest of the world.

I tried to explain this to my American car-pool buddy this morning, but I think it might have come across as vaguely patronising. It’s hard to explain why something like this feels like a great weight has lifted off my shoulders. It’s that elusive thing called hope.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

"She wore a halo..."

Here's a pic of Cathy as an onion ring angel at the Red Rock Brewing Co in Salt Lake City.

I love this picture.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The idiots are winning (but they'll still lose)

What gets me most about this news story about councils banning Latin terms is that most of the Latin terms they mention are now accepted English usage, like ad lib, for example. Most people wouldn't even think of it as Latin.

And as for the comment "the ban might stop people confusing the Latin abbreviation e.g. with the word "egg". " Well, maybe, but realistically, people will have to learn at some point that you spell egg with two gs.

This does seem to me to be mollycoddling people in their ignorance, rather than educating them to a position of knowledge. But maybe councils prefer keeping people in the dark, rather than empowering them with understanding. Knowledge is, after all, power. And councils don't like empowering their tax-paying citizens. It's so much easier to keep people under your thumb when they don't know they have alternatives...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Back Catalogue

As regular readers of my blog will know, I quite like the Canadian band The Tragically Hip. Unfortunately getting their stuff over here isn't that easy, so as my sister-in-law, Abby, was going on holiday to New York a few weeks ago, I asked her to hunt me down some albums. She duly did, filling two gaps in my collection.

I've done this with bands before - retroactively collecting the back catalogue - and yet again I find myself tracing the musical evolution of a particular sound. One album Ab got me was the Hip's eponymous debut, and you can see how on a few tracks the riffs and melodies were precursors to the songs which appeared on their second album, Up to Here.

But the other interesting thing is hearing the progression when you listen to their first four albums in a row. By the time you reach their fourth album, which could arguably be considered their best, they have defined their own sound to the point where playing the first and fourth albums back-to-back sounds like playing albums by different bands. But they had to produce the one in order to get to the other, and that later sound couldn't have happened without the earlier, more-amateur record being made. Well, I find it interesting...

The other thing is that in the other album Ab got me is a card denoting me as a member of "The Hip Club". Oh, yeah.

Friday, October 31, 2008

My worst Hallowe'en ever

As it's that spooky time of year (when did Hollowe'en become such a commercial affair? Do pagans complain that it's obscuring the real meaning of Hallowe'en?) I thought I'd tell you my personal worst Hallowe'en story.

T'was a few years ago. I'm not sure how many now. I think it may even have been before me and Cath got married. Anyway, t'was Hallowe'en. I was very tired and so decided to go to bed. Shortly after I'd gone to bed, but before I'd gone to sleep, I was called back downstairs by Cathy, who was using her 'er, I think this might be serious' voice.

She had somehow fallen into a door and bashed her hand which was now incredibly painful. A trip to Casualty was called for. This was back in the day when the old Cardiff Royal Infirmary operated a casualty department, so we headed off there.

The CRI is a Victorian Gothic pile in an insalubrious part of town. It has seen better days... one would assume. To give you an idea of how sinister it is, in the past few years there have been a few episodes of Dr Who filmed there - using both the outside facade, and the interior institutional green hallways and waiting rooms. However the good folks in the BBC location department barely needed to do anything to grim it up ready for an invasion of gasmask-wearing child zombies or the like.

Anyway, so we were there in the institutional-green waiting room, waiting to be seen to. It was a Friday night as well as being Hallowe'en, so the main clientele were violent drunks or the victims of violent drunks with various bloody assault wounds. There was shouting and yelling from the drunks who had been brought in by police officers, and miserable sobs and moans from the bleeding and bruised. And it being the kind of building it was, every shout was magnified and echoed down the long hallways.

To compound the atmosphere, in the middle of the waiting room was one TV; an ancient machine mounted on one of those anti-theft brackets which look like they could double up as a torture device. As it was Hallowe'en the selected channel was showing a horror film, which was set for the most part, it seemed, in a creepy gothic hospital/asylum. All I really remember of it was that it starred Mark Hamill, and it ended rather abruptly after he chose to stab himself in the eye for some reason.

So we sat there, watching the blood ooze from Mark Hamill's eye socket, waiting for the X-Ray results to come back, and hoping we could get out of this creepy hospital, before anything worse happened to us...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You know that moment...

...when you suddenly realise that a person you thought you knew quite well could actually turn out to be a crazy person. And they know where you live...

Although I did have a good discussion the other day about the difference between 'good weird' and 'bad weird'. I'd define it like this - 'good weird' is someone who has a few strange obsessions and interests, but is an interesting person to talk to and usually has a grounded view of the universe and a high level of self-awareness. 'Bad weird' is someone who's logical thought processes aren't quite as logical as they should be, and lacks that self-critical element to take a step back and say 'hmmm, is this sensible?'.

An example of 'bad weird': there's a woman on my web html course who hadn't switched on a computer in four years before she started the course. Her reason for coming on the course is that she's doing another course and one of the ways she could submit her coursework was as a website. But she doesn't know how to create a website. So she's had to come on a course to learn how to build websites. So now she's on two courses at the same time and is struggling to do both (and telling everyone how hard things are for her).

And I sit there thinking, well a) you had other options, and b) if you don't know how to turn on a computer, maybe designing a website is a bit beyond you.

My logical thought process would have gone like this: I could submit my coursework as a website. I don't know how to design a website. I'll do my coursework a different way. For me, as a sane person, opting to submit my coursework using a method I know nothing about is illogical. The solution is to do it a different way, not to go on a extra class.

My friend Anthony suggests that this woman is actually sabotaging herself deliberately. She's afraid of failure so she chooses a tortuous method of completing her task, which makes it even harder, but when she eventually fails to hand her coursework in it won't be because she didn't know the subject, it's because she couldn't master building a website.

But my answer is: she's weird in a bad way.

Talking of weird people, my friend Terri is back from Japan and meeting several randomers and mentalists in the rural backwater she now finds herself in. Serious lol rofl lmao moments on her blog. This is the best bit so far.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


It seems fitting that for my 500th blog post I mention the 10th anniversary Thanksgiving Service we held recently for Fair Do's. I gave the address at the service, and if you'd like to read it, I've posted it up on freelance theology here. Enjoy.

Today is the sixth anniversary of Cathy's Dad's death, which is slightly shocking how fast the time has gone. In our team coffee break on Friday we were laughingly discussing how to make an impression with the in-laws, when someone asked me if I got on with my in-laws. It was awkward to know what to say, but I gently said 'Well, they're both dead.' Unfortunately there's no way gentle enough to say that without killing the conversation.

I do however have a sister-in-law, who I get on well with. In fact we're so close, we're much more like brother and sister. And like siblings do, we usually wind each other up until we want to punch each other. But, hey, that's family.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Scaredy Citrus

As is slowly becoming common knowledge, I'm taking part on an am-dram panto in December. It's the Wizard of Oz and in our version (written partly by me) the lion (played by me) is called Elvis and has a secret ambition to become a singer.

Cathy's sister rang last night and asked what we were doing. "I'm making Jon's lion costume," was Cathy's reply. There was an outburst of confusion on the other end of the phone.

"Not lime... LION." said Cathy.

Now that would be a fun version of the Wizard of Oz as Dorothy is befriended by the Cowardly Lime. Talk about giving the story a juicy twist...

Friday, October 17, 2008

“We’re reclassifying our seat locations”

No more evidence of a global economic crisis is needed than this mini-article from the email newsletter from the San Diego Padres.

Season Tickets at '07 Prices
Guarantee your seats to all the big games in 2009, at 2007 Season Ticket prices! The Padres will not be increasing Season Ticket prices for the upcoming season. Plus, through a reclassification of nearly 10,000 seat locations, about 25% of seats will go
down in price, some by as much as $8 per ticket.

Don't miss out; get your Season Tickets on Monday!

Or, alternatively:

“Oh crap, no one’s got any money any more. Slash the prices quick!”

“We can’t say ‘Prices Slashed!’ People will think we’re panicking.”

“Okay, okay, what to do, I know, reclassify the seats!”

“Yes, sir!”

Monday, October 13, 2008

"You said you didn't give a ---- about hockey..."

That's a line from a Tragically Hip song, but actually I quite like Ice Hockey. We've started doing separate boys and girls activities on Sunday nights once a month and yesterday t'was a boy's night so we took them to see Cardiff Devils versus league leaders Belfast Giants. (Prompting complaints from some of the girls who really wanted to come too!)

There were three of us (notionally) responsible adults and 23 kids. My philosophy was simple - they could go off and eat as much candy as they could get out of the candy machines, and drink whatever gruesome slush drinks they wanted and, as long as they didn't tell their parents how much sugar they'd had, I wouldn't either. But most of them were very happy to sit and watch the game instead of hunting for snacks.

It helped that the game was a real humdinger. With just one minute on the clock Cardiff scored a beautiful goal, upsetting the form book, and meaning the Giants had to come out and play. Before the end of the first period both teams had had a player sent off for fighting and Belfast had equalised. At the end of the second period it was 3-3, the Devils twice coming from behind.

The scores were still 3-3 at full time, so they went into sudden-death overtime, then to a penalty shoot out, then to sudden-death in the penalty shoot-out. Eventually the Giants edged it, scoring their penalty and Cardiff missing theirs. But in Hockey you get a point for losing in overtime, which is 1 more point than Victoria, the ardent Devils fan I work with, had predicted the Devils would get.

Then we had to leg it out as parents were waiting outside. But it was a great night. We even got our group photo taken with the club mascot Lucy Fur, a giant cuddly devil. That's one for the rolling PowerPoint on a Sunday morning, methinks. I also got to try a pizza cone - think of a pizza base cooked into a cone and then filled with pizza topping. Fun to try once, but not recommended, mainly because you end up having to bite through the cone into red hot cheesy filling.

I think the kids enjoyed it. The best quote of the night was the lad sitting directly behind me who said, in all seriousness: "I don't think I'd like to play Ice Hockey. It seems very violent."

I quite agree. But it's a helluva game to watch and if we can swing it next term, we may very well be back!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Checking in or checking out?

About two months ago I did some freelance writing for a friend who works in the NHS. He said 'send the invoice to this guy' and I did and thought nothing more of it.

Thursday I picked up Cath on the way home from work and when we got home she picked up the post that had come while we were out.

"What's this?" she asked, as she handed me an official looking letter franked from Velindre Hospital (for those outside Cardiff that's the cancer hospital) "Is everything okay?"

I opened it up. "It's a cheque," I say.

"A check for what?"

I showed her the cheque, which made her even more confused. "Why are a hospital sending you money?" Then I remembered the thing I'd written and the invoice I sent off and suddenly it all made sense.

How we chuckled.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Another weird life event

Genuine phone conversation this afternoon:

Sian: My chickens have arrived. Do you want to come over and meet them?

Me: I'd love to, but I've got to go to the fabric shops to buy fur for my lion costume.

Am I somehow living in an American comedy-drama? Maybe the real me is lying in a coma somewhere.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

These things only happen in soap operas don't they? Er, no,...

On Tuesday a work colleague discovered that, due to a mistake in the paperwork, her marriage wasn't technically valid. I thought that only happened in badly-written movies and soaps.

Yesterday another friend told me that she was repeatedly having dreams about me, and in the latest instalment in the saga we were the new presenters of the One Show. (Which is doubly weird considering current presenters Adrian Chiles and female colleague have allegedly shacked up together)

Life is getting weird.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Have you noticed?

It seems the adverts offering easy credit have disappeared from our TV screens. You know the ones: “Have you been refused a loan elsewhere? Got bad credit ratings? Insolvency and county court judgments? Can’t afford to pay more bills? Come and rack up even more debts with Idiotloans™”

Who would have thought that an industry built on giving money to people who had a history of being unable to pay money back would have been an unsustainable business model? Or that lending money against a house which is already mortgaged to the hilt will result in there being no money to pay you back when house prices start to drop?

(Insider tip - secondary mortgage companies which give you a new massive loan to pay off all your old debts suddenly have no assets to claim. If you can’t pay your bills, your primary mortgage provider gets the money from the sale of your house, and if you’re in negative equity your secondary mortgage provider will get nothing if the primary mortgage provider has taken it all. Which is why 'consolidate your debt' companies are suddenly not touting for business. Their 'secured' loans are no longer secure.)

So I guess that’s one positive thing about the “Credit Crunch”/financial meltdown/death of capitalism - Carol Vorderman won’t be patronising us with talk of ‘one monthly payment’ and pretending that you’ll pay less under the scheme she’s pitching.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Credit crunch? Wot credit crunch?

I know the Credit Crunch™ is about banks loaning money to each other and not about consumer credit, but it still strikes me as funny that in the last couple of days I've received two credit card applications through the post.

Naturally I've given them both the 'Stop Killing Trees' treatment - ripping up all the bumf they've sent me and returning it in their prepaid envelope. The two recipients this time were Barclaycard and Citi. The Citi one in particular came with a load of junk like a booklet of terms and conditions, several smaller leaflets covered in more terms and conditions and their application form.

I imagine the thought processes in the marketing departments are 'everyone's worried about money - it's a good time to tempt them with some credit'. Or possibly 'oh crapola, people are starting to realise they can't put stuff on the never-never for ever, we'd better find some new suckers...'

Whichever way, they're getting their rubbish posted back to them.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Chiquito's Cardiff Bay

I'm umming and ahhing over whether to write a complaint letter, but while I consider it, here are a couple of comments about our dining experience Friday night.

Firstly, it took us an hour and a half to be served our main course. When I commented on this to the waitress she said it was because they were "busy" and "many people have turned up to eat". Hello? It's a restaurant. It's a Friday night. What were they expecting? I mean surely it's not a huge step of logical thought to assume people might turn up at a restaurant expecting to eat?

Plus when we got there the place was virtually deserted. Fortunately we'd had our starters before the place filled up. But the only reason the place was so full was because after our starters had come out, no one had been served with any food. Here's a tip for anyone from Chiquito's reading this - this is how restaurants work: you serve people food, they eat, pay for it and leave. If you don't serve any food, people tend to stay.

Around us were table after table of very hungry looking potential diners. And we waited, and we waited, and we waited. Some people left having just had drinks, to be replaced by more waiting hungry customers. It got so bad I began to wonder if Bob Geldof was about to release a charity single on our behalf.

Eventually, as we crossed into a new geological epoch, our food came. Given the huge wait, my chili and rice had obviously been sitting under a hot plate for too long. The rice had burned underneath into an inedible clump. The chili was tasty but had that lukewarm temperature of chili that's sat around for a while. My friend Bryan's "Chilli fries" were just oven chips with ordinary table pepper sprinkled on them.

I asked to see the duty manager, having warned my table that there might well be a scene. The waitress went off to find said manager, and returned to say she was in the kitchen helping with getting all the orders out and she was very busy. I found that staggering in terms of customer service. You've got an annoyed customer who asks to see the manager, and the manager is "too busy" to see them. How to not win repeat business in one short lesson!

It's not as if Chiquito's has no competition. New restaurants are springing up every other day in Cardiff Bay. It's not cheap either. You'd have thought that in the current climate, as people's going out funds are reduced, restaurant managers would be switched on to the need to keep customers happy and hopefully loyal.

Like I said, I think I'll be writing a letter to the Head Office.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Antisocial posties

How come on weekdays, when there's a strong chance of everyone being out in the middle of the day, the postman tries to deliver stuff at noon, but on weekends, when people are more likely to be having a lie-in, they come round and ring the bell at 8.23am?

Do they have a working policy to inconvenience the customer at every opportunity? No wonder the Post Office is struggling to stay afloat.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Laughing so hard

Well, I've been put in my place.

Discussing by email whether to play Trivial Pursuit tomorrow night with my friend Elaine, I said:

We can bring Trivial Pursuit as long as you promise not to hate me if I win (which happened last time!)

To which Elaine replied:

I promise not to hate you if you win (arrogant smart arse) as I have no thoughts of winning at all after my last humiliating game of trivial pursuit, which will go down as one of my blondest moments (and you know there is competition for that spot).

I particularly loved the way she insulted me in a smaller font as if that made it okay!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Quote of the day

"Isn't it amazing what you can accomplish
When you don't let information get in your way..."

~ Fireworks, The Tragically Hip, Phantom Power, 1998

Ironically, it was the Republicans

Well following my rant about the governmental bail out of the Wall Street banks, it seems Congress has gone and voted against the bill. Some people are already hailing it as the death of capitalism.

The big question: is that such a bad thing?

And, ironically, it was the Republicans in the main who voted against it... because it actually conflicted with their capitalist convictions (and also because the voting public has turned around and let it be known that this bail out isn't popular).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Costly compost

There's a line in The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon tells Penny that buying multi-vitamins is a waste of time because at best "you're buying the ingredients for very expensive urine". I'm beginning to feel the same way about compost.

Back in the summer, when I went to our fancy new recycling centre (aka 'the tip') to collect my bargain shiny new compost bin, I was quite excited. No more wasteful binning of potato peelings or other vegetable waste. Soon, I'd have nice fresh (you know what I mean) home-made compost to use in the garden or to give to my friend Nia who runs an allotment.

But it doesn't really work that way. I've discovered that actually the majority of vegetable matter that goes into the bin isn't veg peelings. It's unwanted veg. For example, half a bag of chopped and ready-to-eat salad, some past-their-prime apples, a bit of cucumber which has gone a bit too far along the road to cucumber smoothie. The list goes on.

Now when I buy an organic veg box, or some non-organic, yet convenient, veggies from Asda, there's a little part of me that thinks 'Am I just spending good money on compost ingredients?'

Hands off me tentacles

This is the picture being used for the caption competition where I work. If you've got a funny caption, then just add it in the comments.

(There was a dressing up competition on - we don't normally wear such quality clobber to work.That's Matt in the octopus outfit by the way. He made it himself. I'm wearing a lobster hat that Cathy brought back for me from Boston, although it does look more like a crab.)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Working class zero

Went to Starbucks this morning to meet someone. When I got back, Cathy asked me what I'd had.

"Grande Latte with an extra shot of expresso," I said. "Do I sound like a class traitor saying that?"

"Yes," she said encouragingly, "you do."

Class is a funny thing. My parents are very aware of their 'status'. They came from working class backgrounds and both went to university when it was the preserve of the well-off. I don't know whether they're consciously aware of it, but the way they talk about us being a 'doctor's family' shows a bit of insecurity about their status, which I'm sure is linked to being made to feel slightly inferior at university.

A comedy example, which has gone down in the annals of our family is when we were eating toegther once and mum said in all seriousness: "I'm not sure many doctor's families eat meals based around the humble sausage." The 'humble sausage' has entered our family vernacular now, if the conversation is veering towards being classist.

I guess I'm just lucky that for my generation the class system has slowly faded. True there is still a stigma attached to coming from certain places, and it's a tremendous advantage to have a good education, but generally there are more opportunities to advance on merit, rather than on who your father was.

But there is still a division between the working poor and the working wealthy. It's a different type of work for a start. I'm acutely aware, living where I do and mixing with the people I mix with, that my job is indoors and involves no heavy lifting. And we're relatively comfortable and secure, even in worrying economic times like this. But I have done my stint in Minimum Wage Hell and I can tell you that those who are stuck there aren't having it easy.

The thing is, with the exception of going to football matches before that became an acceptable thing in polite society, we were a very middle class family when I grew up. You can tell that by the expectations of my parents that me and my brother would both go to university, and in fact, that was what we both planned to do from very early on.

I can't deny my middle class upbringing, and nor would I want to. That's me and I can't help that. But I have always recognised my ancestral roots among the working class. My one grandad was a baker. My other was a miner, then a rail ganger. Both my grandmas worked in retail. I think there's a certain dignity in that - working hard to provide for your family; to see them take advantage of the opportunities offered to them as the universities opened up to the working class.

I guess my deep antagonism (hatred?) for Tony Blair stems from my deep-rooted conviction that in many respects he was a class traitor. True, he wasn't from a working-class background as far as I can tell, but those who supported him were. The unions, and the long-time Labour voters who stuck with his party when it was suicidally unelectable, have been ill-served by a Labour government.

True there have been more working class students than ever before, but their advantages have been cancelled out by apalling levels of student debt. And those families where a baker or a rail ganger are trying to put bread on the table and shoes on their children's feet, seem to be struggling to make ends meet, pay the rent or mortgage, and keep a car on the road. There is now a minimum wage, but we still have to have a tax credit system and benefits for working families, so obviously the minimum wage is below the minimum levels families need.

Blair might not have betrayed his own class (the middle class) to the same extent. But the people who looked to him as a saviour of the working man have discovered he wasn't a messiah after all. If Labour get horrifically trounced at the next election, and the odds are they will, then frankly the only people they will be able to blame are themselves. When you betray people's trust, you can't be surprised when they don't trust you any more.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"If we only had a droid" are champions

We (i.e. me, Cathy, Clare and Tom) went to the first Monday night quiz at The Gate last night and walked away the winners. Our success meant our ironic team name was wrong - we didn't need a droid after all to win our free round of drinks.

It would be great though if you could get real R2-D2 droids to help out in pub quizzes. "R2, quick - use your wireless interface and surf the net - what's the captial of Luxembourg?" (We got that one wrong, because I got it confused with Liechtenstein and said it was Vaduz)

Of course, every answer he gave would be "bee boop be boop". And I'm not sure the quizmaster general would accept that.

The meeping truth

This week's Basic Instructions strip is about the Muppets. Cathy, my Muppet-loving better half, will probably take offence, but I thought it was funny.

Actually I've just realised that calling Cathy my Muppet-loving better half implies that I'm a Muppet...

Friday, September 12, 2008

New Kids on the Comeback

So after about 15 years, New Kids on the Block have released a come-back single, Summertime. It’s a bit too late to become a summertime smash, and I doubt it would have anyway. But I have to admit the song isn’t bad. It could certainly give other pop songs a run for their money in the quest for chart success.

I was expecting it to be terrible, when Cathy told me about it. She was quite excited about it, having been a massive New Kids fan in her youth. When she found the video on Virgin Music On Demand, I agreed to watch it out of loyalty to her more than anything else. But, like I said, it was okay, bordering on alright.

The video kicks off with the ‘Kids’, all very grown up now of course, in various exotic locations, like on a yacht, in a helicopter, etc. getting a phone call, then all tipping up at a beach-side club full of scantily-clad women to perform the chorus. Like you do. There’s even some boyband dancin’ at the end to show they’ve still got it. The lyrics about ‘do you remember that summer’ are purposely designed to remind their now-growed up female fanbase of life as a 13-year old when everything was a bit simpler.

Another song I’m liking at the moment is the soundtrack to an ad for a new computer game called Mercenaries 2 (watch the ad on Youtube). I googled it and discovered that the song had been especially commissioned for the advert. You could download the full-length one from the official website, but that didn’t seem to be working. However there are other places you can get it on the web. So, now I’m rocking to it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

When it comes to words you need the human touch

The Bad Science mini-blog put me onto a story about "The Clbuttic Mistake" - how automated software is replacing words which are deemed offensive/obscene, even if those words are in the middle of other words. So you end up with sentences like this:
"President Abraham Lincoln was buttbuttinated by an armed buttailant after a
life devoted to the reform of the US consbreastution."

I particularly like the American 'Family Organisation' who decided to ensure gays were properly labelled, but then found the software was labelling runner Tyrone Gay as Tyrone Homosexual.

As a proof-reader, I'm quite glad that this proves why you need humans to proof-read. It's nice to know you're irreplaceable.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Obviously no one told Setanta

Watching Setanta Sports News this morning while eating my mini Oatibix, I was pleasantly surprised to see highlights of the England v Holland under-19 game. That wasn’t just because England won, but because the presenters hyped it up by saying “And now, action from New Meadow, where England took on Holland last night…”

When you support a lower league team, just seeing the ground on TV is relatively cool. But obviously no one has told the Setanta crew that the official name for the ground is the ProStar Stadium, and “New Meadow” has been excised from the vocabulary by the STFC marketing thought police. (Even though on the big sign next to the stadium that announces the building plans, it still says ‘Site of the New Meadow’, as Cathy pointed out when we went to the Aldershot game.)

And a shout out to mum (‘Hi, mum!’) who told me at the weekend that, just like I refer to the ProStar Stadium as the PornStar Stadium, she calls it the Prostate Stadium. Which is just as bad, if not as rude.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Unrelenting rain

As an indicator of how this summer has been apocalyptically wet, especially in the last few weeks, this story says it all. A colleague of mine was asked by his daughter, in that serious way five year olds ask questions:

“Is God trying to flood the world again?”

What can you say to that, given that all the evidence seems to point to it? I’m not sure that blaming the nonstop rain on climate change, or just the vagaries of nature, is any reassurance at all. I’m tempted to start building an ark in our back yard, just in case.

I was expecting the weather to break at the end of last week and us to be enjoying gorgeous sunshine by now. After all, the kids did go back to school at the end of last week. I thought that was how it worked - the kids go back into school and the rain stops, so they have to sit through their boring lessons wistfully gazing out of the window at the nice sunny weather. Or maybe that only ever happened when I was at school?

But the return of school hasn’t worked its magic, and we seem to be stuck in an unending grey rainscape, which may last all winter too. As this is going to be my first winter in three years au naturelle, with no drugs to lighten my mood, I’m going to investigate ways of staving off SAD. Maybe a therapeutic trip to sunnier climes is called for. I wonder if you can get one on the NHS?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

More than just a holding page

I seem to have had a lot of people comment to me personally about my "rant" about church planting and I thought I'd just tell people that if you want to know more about the new Cardiff Vineyard, the holding page now actually has content.

Although, and I don't know whether I should mention this, even though it does lend weight to my argument about local awareness being key in church planting, if you're meeting in the Millennium Stadium, it would be helpful to have a picture of the Stadium rather than the Wales Millennium Centre next to it, as the two are actually different buildings in different parts of town. Still, easy mistake to make.

Also I do think I should go on record and say I'm not bothered by the fact that it's Vineyard. I have a lot of time for Vineyard. I met some amazing friends in the first incarnation of Cardiff Vineyard. I heard Gordon Fee speak in Bournemouth, which I wouldn't have if I hadn't been in a Vineyard, and God used Vineyard to guide me to my current job. A couple of weeks ago I heard Debbie Wright, from Trent Vineyard no less, speak at Soul Survivor, and I was quite willing to listen to her, and found what she said humbling and challenging. So, it's not a Vineyard issue.

My previous post about this was actually more about the general culture of church planting found in the new streams of churchianity. And I think we have to question why we're doing this (note I said 'we' as in collectively, as in the wider Church, rather than individual churches). I don't buy into the idea that if you join an established local church you will necessarily "waste your time fighting the system" as my brother phrases it in one of his comments. Maybe, if that's the case, that says more about you, than about the church. Surely you can find one church you can work in? (It might take a while, I admit.) I do think there is some stuff here about ego and 'sacrifice' on the cheap. Sorry, it's just how I see it.

The problem is church planting is one of those sacred cows which you can't critique or question, like worship albums or speaking in tongues (or the way penal substitution is described). Hence, presumably, the name-calling in the only anonymous comment on my original post. Sure, yeah, Sanballat et al. I express reservations about another church opening up in Cardiff and that automatically lumps me in with the people who opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem. At least it was a Biblical slur, is all I can say.

Now I don't know, obviously, who left that anonymous comment. I really hope it wasn't anyone to do with the new church plant. Because if anyone really thinks their new church is equivalent to the restoration of Israel, then there probably isn't enough sarcasm in the world to change their mind. And to be honest, if your dreams are that grandiose, and they don't come true, you are going to get really badly hurt. I don't want that, I really don't.

Trust me, I've been through the dissolution of a church plant. I know how painful it can be.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fake cancer

When we were at Soul Survivor we sang this one song called 'Healer' written by an Australian guy called Mike Guglielmucci. We saw a video which featured Mike, who "wrote the song while suffering from an aggressive form of cancer", singing it for all his might with an oxygen tube in his nose. It was quite moving.

Turns out it was all a bit fake. He didn't have cancer. But he did write the song and achieve some kind of fame for his amazing faith.

I was told this today in work as breaking news, and then tonight I discovered a member of the youth had handily posted this link to the full story on my Facebook wall.

I'm not into drawing great lessons from this sort of chicanery. The people who will be most embarrassed are the people who have endorsed this stuff - mainly the 'Hillsongs' Christian Worship Industry, who are now trying to distance themselves from it, and people like Mike Pilavachi at Soul Survivor who related in good faith this amazing story to people, mainly because it was a great story. The people who will be most hurt will be the ones who sent the money now sitting in Guglielmucci's soon-to-be-audited bank acounts, or who spent hours in prayer for his healing.

But there are two very small lessons to be learned:
1) Don't believe everything you hear
2) If you make worshipping God a profitable endeavour, sooner or later something will go wrong

Incidentally, this video from YouTube is the intro to the very video we were shown at Soul Survivor, with a commentary imposed over the top. The rest of the performance has been pulled from YouTube, as Hillsongs apparently try to "deep six" it, but it keeps creeping back on...

Still, and as a final comment, it's a powerful song of faith. But watching it again, I do wonder what was going through his head as he sung that and heard his words sung back to him by the very attractive young people who seem to go to Hillsongs worship events.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A sign of the impending apocalypse

Guys we're doomed. Seriously. I've just seen a portent of the end. Shrewsbury Town won a game when they were really the second best team on the pitch. That doesn't happen - usually they lose miserably by being outplayed, or play really well but still lose unjustly. They don't chase the game and come out on top. It's the end I tell ye, the end!

Although my run spectating at the Prostar Stadium (or Pornstar Stadium as I can't help but think of it) is now looking pretty good. Since Town moved there my record is:
Games Seen: 6
Games Town have won: 5
Games Town have lost: 1

And a dodgy 1-0 win against Aldershot has also put Town top of the table. Okay it's only after 3 games, but being at the top is still being at the top. Of course, it would be hard to be at the bottom. Three massive points deductions for other clubs have made this season a bit of a non-event regarding relegation. Perhaps it's typical that when there's little danger of being relegated, Town actually start playing well!

Tha game itself was real end-to-end stuff. If the pitch hadn't been so slippy Aldershot would have scored in the first half, but their big striker fell over. Even so they watered the pitch at half time. Obviously the problem was the grass wasn't wet enough!

Shrewsbury's goal was a Grant Holt header, connecting with a low cross from the right wing. The Shots keeper didn't move as it went in, and for a split second nobody really believed it had gone in and wasn't offside or anything. Then we all went nuts and jumped up and down, as you do.

And that was it. For an open game with so much last ditch defending, it surprisingly ended at just 1-0, although for a long time I thought I was going to stretch my run of 0-0 draws to three matches, so I'm not complaining. I'm still just a little bit amazed that it was 1-0 to Shrewsbury.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Seriously, do you have nothing better to do?

The background: recently a mobile phone was stolen from my work office. It had been left lying on a desk in the IT room. As it was an 'unassigned phone', it was only a month or so later, when the bill arrived with a couple of hundred quid rung up on it, that anyone noticed...

The response is a planned "clean desk policy". I don't have anything against cleanliness. But I can't help but feeling this is a kneejerk reaction to one person's carelessness. I feel like writing a sarcastic email to our HR guy who sent round the memo which talked about the policy. If I was going to send an email, it would read something like this...

Hi N---

I read about the clean desk policy in the tidy up day memo. I realise the new policy is a reaction to the theft of a mobile phone from a desk in Garth House, but I'm not sure it's the best way to respond to that situation.

For one thing, clean desk policies mainly apply to paperwork. Now, I'm no expert on these matters, but I am fairly confident in asserting that most would-be thieves are not really going to bother with a sheaf of papers.

Also, I'm interested to know how the clean desk policy is going to be enforced, or even if it's going to be. Are people going to patrol the building after 5pm putting everything off desks into a bin? Will this be a management role? Are our managers so desperate for something to do, they need to check whether my desk is tidy? If so, I will happily occupy their time by passing them some of the work I don't have time to do. On the plus side, if they are going to bin paperwork off untidy desks, I think I've found a fantastic new way of getting rid of work I don't want to do...

Will we get black marks if we don't tidy our desks? Will there be a grading system and prizes for the tidiest desk? Realistically, will this policy achieve anything other than making managers look petty-minded and fussy?

Just out of interest, if you haven't had anything valuable stolen from your desk, ever, do you still have to conform to the clean desk policy?

Don't you think this policy is a severe over-reaction? Why penalise everyone for one person's mistake?

As you can probably tell, I think this new policy is silly. I don't know about you, but I prefer to be treated as a grown up at work. If I wanted to be treated like a five year old, I'd go back to school.

Thanks for reading my annoyed rant. I'm sure it won't achieve anything, but I'm hopeful it might.

Lots of love and hugs and stuff


I doubt I'm going to send this email, but as a number of work peeps look at my blog, who knows where my remarks may end up...

(And if they agree with me, maybe those peeps will comment, instead of referencing my blog over lunch)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Soul Survivor

It was very wet a couple of days and very muddy the rest. Trying to sleep in a tent with what sounds like a power shower drumming on canvas just above your head is nigh on impossible. But I survived.

Some highlights
  • Feeling really reconnected with God, especially through the worship times.
  • The kids from our group going forward at the request of the platform to pray for random people they didn't know, and realising we are coaching fearless young people
  • Hearing one lad play the worship song he wrote after coming on our youth weekend away back in June
  • The challenge to love the church - God says "Love me; love my kids"
  • A seminar on lust/pornography which was probably the best talk I've ever heard on keeping your thought-life pure
  • Watching over 600 kids stream forward to commit their lives to Jesus during the week
  • Despite the rain and the wind and the cold and the mud and the boggin' toilets/showers, at the end of the five days almost all the kids seemed sad to be going home... and I kind of did too (although it was nice to get home to my lovely wife and civilised living)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A new Cardiff Vineyard? How nice.

So apparently, two years or so after the first incarnation of Cardiff Vineyard folded, a group of people are moving down from Nottingham Trent Vineyard to plant a Vineyard church in Cardiff. Figures vary depending who you talk to – ten couples, 15 couples, or about twenty-five people. But anyway, they’re coming. There’s even a holding page for a website.

My feelings are mixed on this. I don’t care much if people want to launch a Vineyard in Cardiff, although I would suggest they make sure they know who they’re dealing with in the Vineyard’s local area leadership. Without wishing to sound bitter, the fixer fixed us good and proper when we had problems. In retrospect, perhaps that was our own fault. If the issue is one of communication, perhaps you shouldn’t follow the advice to stop communicating.

But I think generally, my antipathy for the whole church plant thing is affecting me more. For all it’s faults, Cardiff Vineyard 1 was a natural, organic group, which arose because people already in Cardiff wanted a Vineyard church. Cardiff Vineyard 2 is a group of people who don’t live in Cardiff moving here to evangelise us heathens (or at least that’s what it feels like).

Truth is we have church plants in abundance in Cardiff. They range from the five-year old New Frontiers church, through to the one round the corner from my house, the Bay Church. There are adverts on buses and in the Metro for the Healing Church – a bold name, if ever there was one, and given their advertising budget, pretty well funded. And just today we had a flyer through the door from the New Hope Centre in Grangetown, whoever they are.

The Vineyard church planters are going to have their work cut out to make their presence felt. And it’s hard to see what they will be offering that’s so different. Contemporary worship is commonplace in Cardiff’s churches, the charismata are in abundance, people are already working with the poor and dispossessed, and there are churches, which emphasise grace (I go to one).

Also, what will Cardiff Vineyard 2 offer that’s so vital that we have to have yet another church set up to do it? The redundancy in running another church is immense – all the things that have to be done to fulfil the programme of the church which are all being done in another church down the road, and across the city a hundred times over. The Church Universal has never quite grasped the concept of efficiency.

So there isn't really a case of "need" for another church plant in Cardiff. However, there are other reasons beside "need" for planting churches. Vineyard as a movement doesn’t have any churches in Wales that I know of. Perhaps there’s a felt need for Vineyard to cover the whole of the UK. Certainly I think the third wave streams of church are seeing the success of New Frontiers – which has put church planting at the forefront of it’s ministry – and maybe people are scared of being left behind.

Ten years ago, when the church I grew up in joined NFI (as it was), there were very few New Frontiers churches outside the home counties and London. The leaders from the Bedford church referred to Shrewsbury as ‘our church in the north’. Now New Frontiers are everywhere. Vineyard, which has a slightly longer history, have been well and truly left behind in terms of size, and also in influence.

And then there’s the fact that some people like to plant churches. It feels great to be ‘sent out’, to be doing the ‘Lord’s work’. And it’s so much nicer to be doing that in a nice, British city, which is a bit hip (the Dr Who effect) and has plenty of coffee houses which serve a decent latte. Yeah we can ‘do the stuff’ but still get a frappuccino on the way to the skate park. Because we’re cool and living out the gospel you know.

Okay, I’m being nasty about church planters there. But there is that question of why Cardiff? Why not some shithole in Turkmenistan? Church planting in the UK isn’t an easy option, but it’s a damn sight easier than heading off with a real missionary agency to somewhere the kids still die of diphtheria, and you’re lucky a hyena doesn’t eat your chickens at night.

So, I have reservations about this church plant because Cardiff is bursting at the seams with churches and church plants, and I would question the motives behind church planting anyway. But there's also my experience of life in a church plant. Cathy and I joined Cardiff Vineyard on the recommendation of a friend who knew there was a Vineyard in Cardiff and knew we were in Cardiff and we were church-less. But one of the things you soon learn in any newly-founded church is that the main source of growth are disaffected Christians from other churches.

Just about everyone in Cardiff Vineyard 1 who joined after I did had prior experience in church. I’m pretty sure most of the people who were there before I joined could say the same. Church plants are a magnet for Christians who don’t fit anywhere else. Now that might make us sound like a bunch of freaks, and some of us were. The reason I was there is because I didn’t fit into a previous church. I don’t think I’m a freak, but other people may disagree.

And the prior experience brings it’s own problems in terms of expectations (‘I thought this time church would be different’), theology (I vividly remember the talk given by one guy about the end times which was so bizarre it was almost comical), and baggage. Maybe one of the reasons we found it so hard to trust each other is because our trust had been abused in other places. Ironically, maybe our desire to be able to trust made betraying us so much easier…

And on a final point, how much is the church planting phenomenon really just an outworking of good old protestant arrogance? We’ve got the ‘truth’ and we won’t compromise. We’re the ‘true church’. Of course, we’d never say that, but secretly we all think it. Those other Christians down in Cardiff, worshipping God in their churches, advancing the Kingdom in their communities, they don’t really know what they’re talking about. They haven’t been to our kind of church yet! (Soto voce: They probably aren’t even proper Christians at all.)

Yeah, I’m paraphrasing. But in a bizarre way it’s a good experience for anyone thinking missionally to be on the receiving end of mission. How patronised would you feel if any church decided your version of church wasn’t good enough and they had to set up their own?

Now, some church plants are needed. And some church plants work out wonderfully – people find Christ, communities are transformed, God is glorified. I don’t have an issue with church planting where there’s a desperate need. I just don’t see that need here. It doesn’t matter that it’s Vineyard and I have history there. The only reason I’m commenting on Vineyard planting a church here is because people know that I have history and keep telling me about it.

It could be any church plant and my comment would be the same. Why are you coming? And I’m sorry, but I think you ought to have a good reason. But I suspect you don't.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A gentleman is always thorough

Our lunchtime conversation today...

Cheryl (talking about the venue for the staff conference) "And if you want to play there are six table tennis tables."

Me (trying to be clever) "You can do what on the table tennis tables?"

Roger (who wasn't listening to me) "Will we have enough time?"

There's a man who knows what it takes to please a lady. Roger, we lesser men salute you.

They might say it's the runner up, but IMO it's a win

Fail blog has launched 'Burn of the Week' for commenters who get slam-dunked by another commenter.

This week's runner up is one of the funniest things I've ever read. I was in work and I had my forehead on the desk I was laughing so hard.

Then I saw this selection of artwork and I couldn't stop laughing again. I guess if your brief in school is to "Finish the Picture" and you don't like drawing cats, then you just have to lump it. Or not. I'm pretty sure this response is a sign of wayward genius.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Cardiff v Ajax

So my football-watching season begins with a 0-0 draw on a wet and windy Friday night. It wasn’t a bad game, but, obviously, it could have been better.

Ajax had a ton of chances and should have made more of them. They seemed very happy to muck around in the area - dinking chips when they should have blasted the ball, or trying backheeled passes which missed the team-mate steaming into the box. They did force a couple of saves from the Cardiff keeper, and the City strikers made a hash of a few good chances too. On balance 0-0 was a fair result.

We sat in the rickety wooden-seated grandstand of Ninian Park. As this will be Cardiff’s last season at NP before they migrate a few hundred yards west to their new stadium, it was an experience of minor historical import. Although it seems the majority of people in the stand couldn’t a) read seat numbers, or b) arrive on time for the kick off. The stewards were still sorting people out twenty minutes into the game.

Randomly, the two guys sitting next to us turned up twenty-five minutes into the match, a little drunk, and a little shouty. They then stumbled off when the half time whistle went and didn’t return. I imagine they were too busy trying to drink the club bar dry.

It’s plain to see why Cardiff need a new stadium. Queuing up for the inadequately sized toilets at half time in a narrow concrete corridor, the beergut of the guy behind me was firmly pressed into the small of my back. If there was a fire the only way out would be down and onto the pitch, but the gangways are small and dimly lit.

Sometimes fans with a hankering for old-time footie before big money ruined the game moan about ground moves. But realistically, for many clubs it’s time to move on. Sitting in bum-numbing, knee-bashing seats in a stand which could easily induce claustrophobia isn’t the ideal way to watch football.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Biology is not her strong point

One of the crueler sides of my personality is laughing at people who are sillier than myself. It’s a trait I share with my friend Cheryl who told me today about her housemate, who is fretting slightly because her period is late.

Said housemate decided that she’ll go to the doctor on Monday if she still hasn’t come on. Cheryl tries to calm her down, by telling her that if you’re stressed, which she is, it’s perfectly normal to have some variance in your cycle, and be a bit late.

Housemate accepts this advice and then says: “My mum did say there were five weeks in this month…”

Yeah, that’s not how it works, dear.

The (far too) Dark Knight

I didn’t like this as much as I thought I would. In fact, I’m not sure whether I liked it at all.

True, our appreciation of the movie wasn’t helped by the half hour queue for tickets, or the queue inside to get into the auditorium. Or by the sozzled older couple behind us who kept trying to tell us how they hadn’t had to queue for the cinema since they were kids, during the War. But this was a film I was eagerly anticipating, and had been for weeks. Why did I feel so let down?

Well, first off, it’s unrelentingly dark. Batman Begins had plenty of humour to balance the darkness of the storyline. There were a couple of comic moments in this one, but really not enough.

Much had been made about Heath Leger’s performance as the Joker. It was very high grade acting - enough to make you forget it was Heath Ledger you were watching. But this Joker was truly horrible, using a knife as his principle weapon because it was "slower" and therefore more satisfying.

The Joker’s obsession with knives was a focal point of the film, and a disturbing one. (At one point he empties his pockets in custody, and places a row of knives onto the table.) Given the current climate of fear surrounding stabbings and knife crime, I’m surprised this film got such a low age certificate. On top of the discussion about how stabbing a person is a much more satisfactory way to kill them, there are three occasions where the Joker holds a knife in someone’s mouth as he threatens them.

It’s a bad, bad time to be talking about bad, bad crimes and those scenes should have been cut.

Batman himself, takes on the role of Dark Knight as opposed to Harvey Dent as Gotham’s White Night. But when a hero beats up an unresisting villain, as Batman does with the Joker in a police cell, we know we’ve moved somewhere else as a society. This simply isn’t right. Batman’s subsequent noble willingness to become a hate figure in order to preserve the reputation of the tragic Harvey Dent, is less of a sacrifice simply because he has already become an amoral monster.

And the use of two villains in superhero movies really has to stop. It didn’t work in Spider-Man 3. It didn’t work in any of the earlier Batmans, with the exception of Batman Returns. It’s just not good movie-making practice. You end up with a wasted storyline and an under-used character when you try and squeeze two villains into one film. When Dent becomes Two-Face, he has about ten minutes in which to be evil enough to merit Batman’s attention. That’s not long enough for the tragedy of a fall from grace to be accurately communicated to the audience.

It also lengthens the film well beyond any reasonable time. If you can’t tell the story in two hours, then you’ve failed as a story-teller. They could have left out Dent’s subsequent reinvention as Two-Face and left him on a hospital bed. They could have had Dent become a villain by killing the Joker in revenge. There were so many better ways to end this film than the way they did.

So, for all those reasons, The Dark Knight failed. I left the cinema feeling oppressed and depressed by it - partly because it didn’t live up to it’s hype; partly because it chose to be oppressive. I can’t really recommend it to anyone.

And that perhaps is the biggest shame of all.

Jongudmund’s Rating: 5/10

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A good polemic

I don't normally agree with everything my brother says (often just to annoy him), but I agree with every point he makes in this reasoned polemic against "Prosperity Teaching".

I'd add an eleventh one - it breeds criminality in the people who push it. Which is why so many big name televangelists are having their ministries investigated for abusing the tax system (aka tax fraud) in the US at the moment. Or went to prison back in the 80s. Or got busted hooking up with hookers.

But hey, if you can get them on the theology, that's even better.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Monday, July 28, 2008

Changeable weather

Off to a course for the day today in Bristol, with my colleagues Matt and Ruth. We ate lunch on the grass on the Cathedral Green in lovely sunshine.

When we were waiting for our train home the rain was beating down on the station roof so hard we could barely hear each other speak. When a train pulled into the station the rain sleeted off it so violently it was redirected more than six feet under the platform roof, soaking the poor punters who were waiting there. Fortunately we were far enough away to stay dry and when our train came the rain had eased a bit.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Taking the fight back to the Triffids

Six boxes (and I mean hefty boxes) later and most of our 'garden' is in skips down the 'civic waste amenity site'. It was a real slash and burn effort - on both sides. The brambles gave as good as they got, and we had to contend with hot sun too.

But in the end we cleared some significant ground, reclaimed the patio, demossed the concrete and even had time to chat to our neighbours too. Our next objective is the demolition of the slowly collapsing old shed, and maybe a full frontal weedkiller assault on the buddleia. We hope to have secured our targets before Winter, and come the Spring we will be able to control the entire area.

I don't like gardening. Which is why I think of it as war.

One neighbour, who's house backs onto ours from the next street, and who I've never seen before, was harvesting blackberries from the bramble thicket between our houses. He was standing on his shed roof to do so and asked us in all seriousness if we were just moving in, such was the magnitude of our work. I hadn't the heart to tell him we've been here 13 years less a week...

Friday, July 25, 2008

New Batmobile design revealed

If you can't wait to see what Batman's driving in the Dark Knight, here's a spoiler...

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