Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New girl in the office - or- why I don't wear dresses

Got a newbie starting in our office today. I thought I'd make a good impression... by turning up late because I overslept. Then everyone told her not to believe anything I said because I'm the 'number 1 wind-up merchant', which I'd dispute but now she won't believe any of my protestations of innocence.

I introduced the new girl, Ruth, to Rowena, saying "Rowena's a very important person - because she's the other girl in the CDP team!" Rowena then told Ruth how glad she was to have another female around, and how she'd tried to get me wearing a dress so she didn't feel so alone.

"I used to," I said, "but people were intimidated by my man-rack." Which apparently was taking it too far.

Still, start as you mean to go on, as I always say.

Stop Killing Trees - the latest

I've sent another torn up credit card application back to Citifinancial. When will they get the message? This time I wrote "Stop Killing Trees!" in red marker pen on the back.

Seriously, if I set up a website devoted to returning junk mail to sender, would you sign up?

Nooooo, not the CIA!

Cardiff's International Arena is the suckiest worst gig venue ever. It has the atmosphere of a morgue... in the arctic. I think it's been designed to suck the life out of music and stifle even the best bands with negative acoustics. It was obviously thrown together by a committee of music-hating architects whose sole criteria in designing the place was to produce the WORST VENUE FOR LIVE MUSIC IN THE WORLD. Although the fact they acheived this feat probably accords them more competency than they actually had.

I often compare the CIA to the Newport Centre, which is a leisure centre. You walk in past a swimming pool. And yet, the gigs I've seen there have been fantastic (Delirious?, Counting Crows and Terrorvision). But the gigs I've seen at the CIA - an allegedly purpose-built concert venue - have felt like you're at a gig in a leisure centre. And the bands I've seen include Counting Crows on a different occasion, so it's a fair comparison between gigs. Either the Crows suddenly became woeful, or it's the venue's fault.

So it's fair to say I hate the CIA as a venue. It's drab, devoid of atmosphere, and kills live music stone cold dead. I would rather travel to a different city entirely to see a band play. So when I heard Scouting for Girls are going to play the CIA in November my initial reaction was 'Nooooo!' Then I noticed they're playing the Civic in Wolverhampton on a Saturday. Even with diesel currently costing more per litre than red wine, it'll be worth the extra expense. At least the gig experience won't be ruined by an abhorrent, soul-destroying venue.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Call it justice; call it karma

The weather was apalling for a bank holiday at the end of May, so we went round to our friends Bryan and Elaine, ordered in pizza and played The Big Taboo, which has extra 'taboo' categories, including one you have to act out with a furry puppet called Bob. (One of the actions you have to make Bob mime is breastfeeding a baby. Fun!)

Elaine is currently unemployed having been laid off by a struggling finance company, who are suddenly discovering that if you lend money to people who have managed to get themselves into debt, they might have trouble paying you back. Apparently, Elaine's former employers aren't the only ones.

Rumour has it one loan/mortagage provider tried to sell on their debts, but people wouldn't buy the whole company, so now they've got to get themselves out of the mess. And many of the companies who always said they'd never repossess a house (they'd just sell the debt on to some bastard who would!), are having to start taking property over in order to get their money back.

So, she's philosophical. Maybe it's better to be laid off and get paid for a further month while looking for a new job, than to stay in the job and get nothing if the company went under. Also, she'd be the first to say that nobody's really going to cry if loan companies start going to the wall.

For a long time these companies offering their 'lower monthly fees' and 'consolidation loans' have traded on people's anxieties to actually shove them further into debt. The 'easy credit' mentality has seen people rack up unprecedented levels of personal debt. I know several people who have simply ended up in an unmanageable situation and had to resort to IVAs or other desperate measures in order to get out of debt.

It's harsh, but the loan companies - and Carol Vorderman who promotes one of them on TV - have been complicit in offering vain hope of a way out of debt by adding to your debt, but not really explaining to people what 'combining all those debts into one easy payment' implied. Call it karma. Call it justice. Whatever you want to call it, it's coming back to bite people.

A few days ago I read a Proverb which said: "He who leads the upright along an evil path will fall into his own trap." Or, to put it another way: 'if you trick people into debt, you'll end up ensnared by debt yourself'.

The only problem is the people who will really get boned by this are the (almost) innocent people who work for the companies doing admin and other ordinary jobs.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Dedication is what you need...

It's always interesting to see how other churches do things. This morning we went along to Woodville Road Baptist Church, AKA Woody-Bap, to the dedication of my friend Justin's baby boy, Jacob.

All-in-all it was a good service. The music was polished and lively. The guy co-ordinating the meeting explained that sometimes people got a bit excited during the singing, so don't get too freaked out, and the dedication was very nicely done. It was the first time I've been to a dedication where the parents gave a bit of a testimony during the service. Justin and Annabel talked about their journey to becoming parents - a journey not without it's struggles - and concluded they had learned much about trusting God during their experience. It was challenging stuff.

The speaker then gave a talk focussing on the characters of Jacob and Thomas as baby Jacob's middle name is Thomas. He talked about struggling with faith and believing anyway, which ties in nicely with his parents' testimony. I felt it was an excellent way of wrapping the service around the baby who was being dedicated, without excluding anyone from the message.

For the Anglicans/Catholics/agnostics/unbelievers who read this blog, a dedication is a non-conformist baby-naming ceremony in churches where they don't do christenings. It's one of the ways Baptists et al try and show that they're just as good as a 'proper church'. (NB - as a non-conformist by choice, I'm not saying that n-c churches aren't proper churches, but it does seem n-c churches sometimes do things out of a sense of inferiority...)

So, to conclude, I enjoyed the service. It helped that I knew a few people there and could catch up with friends too. But generally, I'd give Woody-Bap a favourable review, if I was the kind of sad person who went round reviewing churches.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

7 hours in A & E on "head injury Saturday"

When we go round to see our friend M and her daughter Roo, one of the things Roo likes to do is play hide and seek. She often likes to hide when we arrive and was so keen this time, she ran into a door and cut her forehead really badly. We heard the thump followed by screaming even though we were standing outside, and when M opened the door, Roo was gushing blood.

Once we'd cleaned off the blood it was obvious it was really deep, so we went up to casualty. Except it was head injury day. One kid had obviously come of his bike and landed on his face - multiple gashes and cuts and a big one on his temple. A 3-year old boy had a huge cut on his forehead and a shirt covered in blood. When he went in for stitches, he was stitched up for forty five minutes and apparently the doctor lost count how many he'd had.

So eventually it was Roo's turn and the doctor was so nice if ever I have to have stitches I want her sewing me up. Roo was very good and kept very still and now hopefully she'll just have a little line for a scar instead of Nike-style swoosh above her eye.

On the way home we stopped at McDonald's for fries followed by ice cream. The duty manager gave Roo her ice cream for free where she'd been to hospital for so long. It was one of those unlooked for acts of kindness which I felt incredibly grateful for. McDonald's come in for some stick at times, but after that I'm probably going to stick up for them.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Old rockers never die; they just reform for comeback gigs

Back to the Carling Academy in Bristol - this time to see Bradford's finest, Terrorvision. Four or five years after they'd called it a day they were back for a short tour and it seems they've lost none of their edge. In short, they were excellent. And they played all mine and Cath's favourite songs, including quite a few of the older ones like New Policy One, Middleman, Some People Say and Alice, What's the Matter?

The audience has aged though. It was quite interesting to see how many people had obviously come straight from work, or had dug out the vintage t-shirt from a tour back in the 90s, or simply had gone bald. We saw our first gig back in 95, so that was 13 years ago. And we were 19 then. So, if someone started following them earlier, and was a little bit older, they'd be pushing 40 now. But there was enough pogoing along to belie the advanced age of the audience.

The band had lost none of their energy, even if Mark was going a bit grey round the temples. Tony had grown his hair long again and jumped around so much he split his trousers with a high kick. Leigh had a shaved head and was trying to look like The Edge in a wraparound pair of shades. And Shutty was Shutty - with his name on his bass drum in case you didn't believe it was him.

The encore was six songs long - four of them acoustic, including Tequila. Tony said 'we could play this so it sounds like the kind of crap you hear ont' radio, but instead we're going to play it the way we think it should be played' which was much better. (There's a live version of Tequila free to download on their myspace page, but be warned it's one of the ugliest myspace pages you ever did see.)

Support was a band called The Sound Ex, who were refreshingly metal in their outlook, complete with guitar solos and hi-jinks on stage. They were giving out free CDs - always a winner in my book. And to be fair they weren't bad. We also bought the two albums by Tony's new band, Laika Dog, which on preliminary listens seem to be pretty good. Time will no doubt tell though; they may end up in the 'heap' of CDs we don't listen to any more.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Matt Pugh as a dancing bear

If you know my buddy Matt, or even if you don't, you really need to watch this video.

(He's the very tall bear!)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

National identity

Last night's life group discussion was on immigration. Debate got a bit heated at times too.

One of the questions we had in our sub-group was "What makes a national identity?" And I was thinking about that and I said: 'Well, it's the people, surely.' Yes, there's the cultural heritage, the historical legacy of what's gone before, but really we are responsible for the national identity.

The big questions about being British revolve for me around not so much whether we are British, but what do we want being British to be. Is our national identity what we are, or what we choose? Are we bound by what we've inherited or are we free to shape our own destiny?

So, those things we like to think characterise Britishness - the ideal of fair play, of justice, of standing up for the underdog, of doing what's right even if it's hard, of rejecting tyranny, of showing compassion for your neighbour and even your enemy - as evidenced by the many, many stories of German airmen who landed having been shot down and were immediately offered a cup of tea. All those things are actually related to who we are as people and how we behave towards others.

And if it's about choosing to live like that, then really it's not a question of colour, or where you were born.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

An interesting view on the abortion debate

Writing last week in the Church of England Newspaper, Alan Storkey suggests that men who are responsible for pregnancies should be charged either half their annual salary or £10,000 (whichever is the greater) in recompense to the women they've impregnated, if they have no intention of being a father to the child. As Alan says, it's pretty easy to determine paternity, and work out who needs to cough up the dough.

Alan goes on to predict the consequence of such a demand:
The suggestion would promote an outcry from men talking about women who were "on the make", but the remedy for this problem lies in their own pants. Really the outcry would be about a loss of male sexual autonomy, the right many men believe they have to have sex and ignore the consequences, and it would provoke strong male opposition. Yet, abortions are consequences, and men should pay recompense for the consequence of a difficult operation they have in part caused women to have.

The move needs more careful formulation than it can be given here, and it does not directly address the sanctity of life, but it does address the self-pleasing male, sowing social problems in a still male-dominated world.
What I like about this is that it's a bit out of the box. As Alan points out - one of the problems with unwanted preganancies is the attitude of feminist campaigners who know "abortions or single parenthood deeply compromise women's lives, but then they back off on the understanding that boys will be boys."

"But," says Alan, "of course, suprememly here, boys must be men. This is one of the prime responsibilities of life and it is unaddressed at law."

Of all the stuff flying around at the moment regarding the HFE bill and a lower limit on abortion, this is one of the few things I've read which I think is both clever and addresses a root cause of abortion instead of throwing a judgmentall strop once it's too late to prevent some kind of tragedy - an abortion, or the birth of an unwanted child - taking place.


After not doing any freelance theology in April, I've managed to get back to it this week, with three new posts covering...

Speaking in tongues
Self harm

It is incredible the sheer breadth of topics people ask questions about.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Scary movie

I watched the Dispatches report In God's Name tonight, mainly because the organisation I work for got badly name-checked in an article in the Sunday Telegraph and I wanted to make sure the errors weren't repeated on TV. Talk about guilt by association (and lazy journalism).

But anyway, I watched the show, which talked to scarily definite Christians about their faith. Naturally the Christians on the show included Stephen Green of Christian Voice, who seems to always turn up in reports about intolerant Christians. There was also filming in a Christian school which seemed to comprise two portakabins for classrooms, and some in-depth reportage about the Lawyer's Christian Fellowship, or, as it's portrayed, one woman's attempt to get people to vote against abortion.

I watched much of the programme with my hands in front of my eyes. It made me cringe hearing people state categorically that homosexuality is a sin "like murder or paedophilia" or that "Allah is Satan" (Stephen Green said that - expect a fatwa to be issued any time soon). And the thing is, as Cathy pointed out, they can only broadcast you saying something like that if you actually say it.

But what makes me really uncomfortable is the question "Would I be as forthright about some of the stuff I believe?" If someone put me on the spot and asked me if I believed in creation rather than evolution, would I risk looking like an idiot in the eyes of millions to answer that question truthfully? If I was asked whether I thought Islam was true or not, would I really say what I think?

Is my embarrassment when watching that programme actually shame that I wouldn't be seen dead on a programme like that?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Nostalgic twinge

I felt a nostalgic twinge about the church I used to go to today. It's weird to think about the time I spent in Barnabas, at a number of venues across Shrewsbury. There was the old Barnabas centre, above a pub at the back end of Mardol. It had a long main room you could play a decent game of football in on a youth night, except that the carpet would strip the skin off your hands and knees if you ever felt on it at speed.

And for a while we were 'aliens and strangers', pitching up at a variety of venues like the Music Hall in The Square, the careworn main hall of the Wakeman School, Springfield Hall in Sutton Farm (when we had two congregations), and then the current centre in Coleham.

I remember the intensity of some services - where there were 'words' and 'tongues' and all manner of goings on. I saw an exorcism one night, with shrieking and thrashing about until it was over. And I wonder what happened to all those 'words' and 'pictures' which were shared. What was their long-lasting effect? I know at one time people tried to write down all the 'prophetic words'. Does anyone have a record? Does anyone still refer back to them?

And at the time there was a sense of being part of something bigger - this was it, happening now. But actually, today it all seems so long ago, as if it was all seen by a different person in a different life. That's what nostalgia is - a looking back tinged with a regret that those experiences are in the past. Nostalgia is a recognition of distance; distance caused by time (the fourth measurement of distance).

But there's also a sense of sadness. Those words were spoken in the context of a community which, for one reason or another, has changed. People move on. People who were once central to the ongoing prophetic life of the church drift out of being part of church life. People die. Not wishing to sound cruel, but some people stagnate, never moving on from old battles and old arguments as if they cannot bear to let go of the past, even if the past is poisonous to them.

And some of us grow up from wide-eyed kids who believed we knew what was right into wearier souls who have discovered that actually the answers produce more questions and sometimes the only thing you can do is ask the question and wait and see if you get an answer. And I guess such melancholy is another root cause of nostalgia. Life seemed so much simpler back then. Like TV, you knew what you were watching when you watched in black and white. But high definition colour can sometimes feel confusing. It can trick the eye and strain the brain trying to keep up.

It's a complicated emotion, nostalgia. And I'm not convinced it's a particularly good one to indulge. Yes, I need to look back, but I also need to look forward. If I truly believed that such a dynamic life isn't happening now, or couldn't happen in the future, then I may as well give up. Looking back over my personal history, and remembering the things I've heard, and seen, and felt, is not the prime reason for my faith today. It can't be - because those things are long-gone; the evidence of the past can only show me what happened in the past.

Faith is based on what I've known in the past, what I see today and what I hope for tomorrow as a result. Maybe in the future those hoped-for things will become part of my past and I'll feel nostalgic about them then. Who knows? But if I'm only ever looking backwards, it will be challenge to walk forwards. And whether I want to dwell in the past or not, the only way I can move is forwards, and I'll move in that direction no matter how desperately I cling to memories of times past.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

"Our" Cup final

At long last a real cup final - between two teams who haven't won much for ages and for whom winning the FA Cup would be something special. For the first time in years, this was a cup final I planned to watch and I wasn't disappointed. Alright, Cardiff lost, but it was a very close game and there was enough attacking play to keep me interested.

A lot has been said about this being the first cup final since 1991 to feature two clubs outside the 'top 4', and the first time since 1995 that the winning team would be outside the top 4 and would have an English manager. The winner was also going to have won it for the first time since before the Second World War, which when you think about it, underlines the sheer weight of history football carries with it. In terms of a social phenomenon, there are few, if any, institutions which have retained such popularity for so long.

But for me the day was special when they sang the Welsh national anthem, and Cathy asked "Are those people booing our national anthem?" I guess that's when you know the assimilation is complete; when the national anthem becomes yours.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Lunch with the A Team

One of the (many) benefits of working from home is TV at lunchtime. Today I got to watch the second half of an A Team episode on Bravo before getting back to writing.

The weird thing was Bravo had it tagged as a 'new episode'. New to Bravo, maybe, but given the show is over 20 years old it seemed a very strange thing to do. I suppose there might be some poor sap somewhere who can only receive Bravo. In which case he must wondering what the next enthralling episode of this amazing new action series will be about!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Films beginning with I

I borrowed I Am Legend on DVD the other day, as it was one of those films I wanted to see but never quite got to the cinema while it was out. Having read the book previously, I kind of knew they would have changed the ending, and the reviews I’d read had confirmed that suspicion.

So it was refreshing to find the ending is a bit downbeat. The biggest change isn’t vampires into ‘dark-seekers’, or locating an actual source of the plague in a manufactured viral cancer cure. The biggest change is turning the ‘legendary status’ of the main protagonist into that of a hero. In the book he becomes a legend in that by the end of the book, he is now the monster.

One thing which was weird is that I watched it with Irony Boy who had no clue that there were monsters in it, until the first ones showed up. Obviously he’d missed that aspect of the plot amid all the hype.

Anyway, and on to a second film seen with Irony Boy which begins with I - and that is Iron Man. Clare had previously stuck her neck out to claim this was better than Transformers, and it’s a worthy claim. Certainly, it’s the first film since Transformers which I’d pay money to watch again in the cinema.

Although there isn’t too much new in the plot - friend and mentor betrays hero, life-changing event, superhero has to fight former friend at the end - the scripting is good, with enough humour to keep the movie going. I always find Robert Downey Jr incredibly watchable, and he can easily carry a film like this, so there are no worries on the acting part. Gwyneth Paltrow does a good job as his assistant and Jeff Bridges manages to play the part of chief antagonist without hamming it up too much.

There’s a teasing clip after the credits introducing the rest of the Marvel SHIELD franchise too. And as long as they can keep Downey Jr in the suit, there’s no reason why the Iron Man franchise can’t run and run. It’s certainly the best superhero film since Batman Begins, and raises the bar for The Dark Knight due out later this year.

Meanwhile we got a trailer for another film beginning with I - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which looks like it’s going to be plenty of fun, and also Prince Caspian, which kicks on the Narnia franchise this summer as well (and looks very good from the trailer).

But one movie I’m really looking forward to is Kung Fu Panda. We had a teaser spot last night in amongst the trailers and it looks hilarious! And it’s not a sequel or a comic book adaptation! Originality in Hollywood - what’s going on?

Jongudmund’s ratings
I Am Legend - worth a watch, 7/10
Iron Man - a definite must-see, 9/10

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More bogus science words used to flog beauty products

From a L'Oreal advert for a wrinkle-firming product: "now with Pro-retinol A and fibro-plastyl".

Or as Cathy summed it up: "Polyfilla for your face!"

I really hate the way people use sciencey-sounding words to market stuff. I did love Newsbiscuit's reportage about L'Oreal's Nobel Prize win though!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Scouts in Bondage

I wonder what kinds of search entries will bring people here with a blog post title like that…

Anyway, I’ve been reading this book recently. Well, I say reading, because it’s mainly just pictures of covers from books from yesteryear with laughable titles. Or, as the blurb on the book says, “Titles which may cause vulgar minds to misapprehend their content.”

I think my favourite book is 'Invisible Dick', where you not only get a comedy cover, but also a chapter list to laugh at, especially “Chapter 2: The Vanishing Helmet.” But there are some other gems, like ‘How to Recognise Leprosy’, and ‘The Corpse Came Too!’

Besides the fact that since many of these books were published certain words have attained a different meaning, it’s also notable how many were published by Christian book-houses. We can perhaps forgive ‘The Day Amanda Came’ or ‘Willie’s Ordeal’, but surely there has always been some humour in a title like ‘Christie’s Old Organ’. And as for ‘The Captain’s Bunk – an Adventure Story for Boys’, all that can be said is ‘hmmmmm!’

Anyway, I thoroughly recommend you get yourself a copy if you need a good giggle, as it has reduced several of my friends to paroxysms of laughter. It’s also made me consider scouring the bookshelves more closely in junk and charity shops to see if I can spot a few humorous titles to start my own collection…

Thursday, May 08, 2008

900 000 Lego studs = VFM and fewer arguments!

I've been overly busy of late, firstly with arrangements for the Fair Do's Fashion Show, then with playing Lego Star Wars II with Cathy.

The first passed off without too many hitches, even if it was hard work. The second one is getting easier, especially since we found and purchased the 'Invincibility' extra. Easily the best 900 000 lego studs I've ever spent!

Cathy will moan about me mentioning this, but now we're invincible my excitable Wookiee co-gamer won't accidentally shoot me in the back (and to be fair Boba Fett won't blow her up with a thermal detonator), which means we argue less while playing.