Thursday, December 31, 2009

My favourite films of 2009

This hasn't been a vintage year for me in terms of seeing new films. A combination of extreme busyness and Cath not being well has conspired to prevent me from going to the cinema as often as I'd like. But still I've see a few good films and as it's New Year's Eve, I thought I'd select my favourites, and disappointments, for 2009.

First up, my absolute favourite:

From the opening few minutes where an entire life of love and loss is told with very few words, but tremendous emotional impact, I knew this was going to be a slightly different 'kid's film'. True, it got a bit silly at times after that, but there were enough subplots and funny moments to laugh at, and above all, it did emotion without lapsing into sentimentality too much. Of course, there was some, because it's a movie. But overall the film was positive and life-affirming. (And I loved Doug the Dog.)

What next? Well, there have been some strong animations out this year. I really enjoyed Monsters versus Aliens, which was very funny and a bit more than your average cartoon. I also thought Coraline was very well made: a genuinely creepy storyline for kids that made me feel slightly scared at times (I don't do horror films as a rule). Surrogates was an interesting science fiction film that posed some good questions and ended at the right point in the story rather than tacking on another half an hour of meaningless explosions and stunts that some films have (The Island, anyone?). And Slumdog Millionaire lived up to the hype for me and was worthy of its Oscar successes.

But my Runner Up Film of the Year would be a tie between the franchise reboot of Star Trek and one I saw just a couple of days ago: Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law.

I admit, after Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr is my male eye candy of choice. Combined with Jude Law as bickering buddies, in a silly, but excellently well put together adventure yarn, what's not to like? I felt the film captured the spirit of the Sherlock Holmes stories that I've read, if not the letter. And as my Mum said, it was so nice to see an adaptation that turned Watson into a character, rather than a dullard to enable Holmes to explain the plot to the audience.

As for Star Trek, well, I was just bowled over by it really. I raved about it earlier in the year, and will probably get it on DVD at some point. All the points I made about it in the earlier review still stand - I liked the humour, the nods to the classic series, the acting. Just about everything worked.

So, I was surprised by how much I liked Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek, but for me the title of Most Surprising Film of the Year would have to be 17 Again, featuring teen heart throb Zac Efron. I watched this DVD with no expectations and enjoyed it a lot. There are plenty of funny jokes, Efron can act, the actors around him were very good too, and the plot was corny but the right kind of corny. Definitely better than I expected and I've even been tempted to watch it again.

On to the disappointments. Well, a few sequels fell flat for me. Fast and Furious was, bizarrely, quite slow-paced, and I don't see the point of a stunt film that uses CGI to make the stunts happen. Also to bill it as a reunion of the original cast and then kill off Michelle Rodriguez five minutes in was a bit crap. Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen simply couldn't live up to the brilliance of the original, and didn't. Ironically too many robots and not enough humans did for it.

But my worst film of the year promised much and delivered nothing. Tropic Thunder was a sprawling mess of a movie. The concept could have worked, but it just seemed the director wanted to make too many in-jokes about people in Hollywood. And the problem with in-jokes is that if you're not in on them then they just aren't funny. After about ten minutes I was done, but the movie dragged on far longer, and considering who was in it (Jack Black, Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr) has got to be a contender for worst utilisation of filmic talent ever.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

10 'Best Bits' of 2009

These aren't the only good bits, but they are ten things that made me feel good this year.

1) Getting prayed for by a Bishop before he interviewed me for a job at Lambeth Palace. (I didn't get the job but it was a great experience.)

2) Buying my first new phone in a decade. I need never be out of reach of Facebook ever again!

3) Being rated the number one presentation at our work's Staff Conference, beating all the 'star names'.

4) Being interviewed in the studio by Premier Radio. I've also done several interviews for UCB and will now be doing a monthly slot!

5) Finally getting copies of the book I wrote a chapter for in the post. (I'd written it back in 2007!)

6) Seeing The Tragically Hip in Manchester and Glasgow. And getting to sing into the mic in Glasgow - I still haven't really come down after that.

7) Getting the weather we wanted at Soul Survivor, for once.

8) Two early morning dips in the sea on our youth weekend on the Gower. The water was freezing and yet surprisingly I loved it.

9) Playing on Cathy's Nintendo Wii - getting a gold medal on Tank is one of my ambitions for 2010.

10) Cadbury's going fair trade on a growing number of their chocolates. (Okay, there's rumours they may be bought out by Kraft or the scumbags of evil Nestle, but even so one of the big boys has finally, finally, got the Fair Trade label on their chocolate and apparently others are going to follow suit.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I was someone else's highlight of the year

Just got out of our last department meeting of the year where we were all asked to say what our highlight of the year had been.

My Head of Department said that after a torturous hour and a half presentation at the staff conference, me getting up and doing my bit was his absolute highlight. "It changed the course of the day."

Of course my 'bit' included this:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Something I never thought I'd hear my Dad say...

"If you didn't see it, you can always catch it on i-Player."

Seriously, if you knew my Dad you'd have had your flabber totally gasted just like I did.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Musical review: ‘Cappuccino Girls’ at The Gate, Cardiff

Billed as ‘Sex and the City meets Desperate Housewives’ and with predominantly pink posters and other marketing, this show obviously wasn’t aimed at blokes. As my mate Ian said “It was alright… if you have ovaries.” Cathy disagreed. She has ovaries and she wasn’t keen on it.

So what was wrong? Well, technically it was very good. The songs were good, the acting was generally of a very high standard (two actors were much better than the others, but that’s always the way), the plot was okay (with some ‘twists’ you could see coming from the middle of the first act), the venue was, well, if you’ve been to The Gate, you’ll know how it looks like a good venue until you actually have to sit in it for more than five minutes.

But as a show it left me feeling dissatisfied and slightly uneasy. [[[spoiler alert]]] The concluding happy ending happens when one character comes into money – more specifically £20million – and is able to pay for a bone marrow transplant and bankroll her friend’s magazine. So, money is the answer to all of life’s problems, is it?

Well, fine and dandy if you have an estranged dad to leave you £20million, but if you don’t, it’s fair to say you’re screwed. A far more satisfying story would have been if the girls had to find a happy ending without the financial fallback of a sudden windfall. Maybe one of them would have to give up their childhood sweetheart in order to stay with her husband, the bone-marrow donor, or another scenario. It would have been a darker show, but a better one.

Every musical has a message, for good or ill, and this was no different – a father trying to make good his wrongs and set his child free. But there are other ways that could be done on stage, without the insinuated message that money sets you free and solves your issues for you.

And there’s also the edge that this was billed as a celebration of independent women, drawing strength from each other, and taking on the world. But their independence in the end stemmed from a fortune left to them by a penitent father, rendering all their independence as a result of paternalistic largesse. Instead of the respect earned by building up a magazine circulation and reputation from scratch, being bank-rolled by a millionaire friend isn’t exactly the triumph of hopes and dreams that it was portrayed as.

Hardly a celebration of emancipated womanhood.

Ultimately, Cappuccino Girls lived up to its name. Frothy like the coffee, and girls, not women, living out a fantasy where they are saved from the harsh reality of life.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Tragically Hip - Live at The Garage, Glasgow

The night after we saw the Hip in Manchester we drove North on the M6 until it became the M74 across the border in Scotland. It didn’t take too long to reach Glasgow, or to find our hotel, right in the centre.

The gig was at The Garage on Sauchiehall Street, the long main street in Glasgow with just about everything on it. Our hotel was on one of the streets off Sauchiehall Street, and was literally about 300 yards away form the venue. We walked up the street, and turned left and there it was.

Again there were several Canadians present in the crowd. I got talking to one who was incredibly excited to meet a British fan! Her partner was very chatty too, although he’d never really heard of the band.

Like the previous night, the Hip did two sets. They started off with New Orleans is Sinking – the song they’d concluded with the previous night. In a bizarre way, that made it feel like the gig was a continuation of where they left off. For the first set I left Cathy in the safety and comfort of a booth (yes, they had seats!) and pushed my way to the front of the crowd. I was ecstatic when they played Fireworks, my favourite song, which had been omitted from the Manchester set-list. They also played The Drop-off, which I love, despite containing the rudest borderline blasphemy in any Hip song.

For the second set I joined Cathy in the booth, where we could stand on the seats (naughty us!) and get a great view over the crowd. They began with a couple of acoustic numbers, like the night before, but played different ones, including Wheat Kings, which the crowd swayed along to. A few people even held up lighters, which is rare at gigs nowadays.

Again, Gord Downie’s interaction with the crowd was worth the ticket price alone. He told one person to lower their Canadian flag in the most egomaniacal way possible: “Don’t let your nationalism obscure people’s view of me!” His rampage off the topic in At the Hundredth Meridian included quizzing members of the audience about where their camera-phones were when security had to intervene in a scuffle. And then he did the most brilliant thing ever!

During the final song of the set (My Music at Work) he jumped off the stage into the crowd. Then he climbed up on the first booth near the front. He climbed over the seat into the second booth and hugged the large drunk lady who was standing on a table. Then he climbed into the booth next to us.

I thought ‘He won’t keep coming’. But he did. The next second he had climbed into our booth and was pointing the microphone at me in time for me to sing ‘My Music at Work’. He passed the mic to another guy, hugged the girl next to me and then jumped from the booth into the audience and pushed his way back through to the stage.

The girl next to me (who had raised her pint glass to me because I knew all the words to the bit in Hundredth Meridian where it talks about Ry Cooder) was immediately shouting into her phone. She had called Canada to tell a friend about her close encounter. Meanwhile I was just stunned. Fortunately, Cathy had got a photo of it so I knew it had actually happened!

They came back on for a short encore, and played the song that everyone had been fruitlessly shouting for in Manchester: Little Bones. Then the lights came up and we spilled out onto a fairly quiet Sauchiehall Street. I was slightly punch-drunk with excitement and texted as many people I could think of who would in any way care.

The funny thing is that after Manchester, I had wondered whether we were being silly going on to Glasgow. In the morning in Manchester Central Travelodge, I had temporarily regretted buying tickets for both nights. We’d seen them once. Was it really worth seeing them again?

Turns out it so was.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Tragically Hip – Live at Manchester Academy 3

It’s been a week now since I saw my favourite band live in Manchester and I feel I ought to write it up even though no one has heard of them or could care less really.

We arrived in Manchester and checked in at our hotel really easily. After a short wander round the Christmas markets and tea at Pizza Express, we walked about a mile south to the University Campus.

Academy 3 is a small room on the top floor of the Union Building. It had a low ceiling, a bar, a sound-desk, and just about enough room for 400 Canadians. Hip singer Gordon (Gord) Downie described it as “a bunker” during this show. It sure felt like that, particularly as the sound came at us like a wall of noise.

The reference to Canadians in the previous paragraph was intentional to reflect the ethnic diversity of the crowd. Basically, it was full of Canadians. They had an unofficial Canadian uniform on – beards, check shirts or hockey jerseys. I went to the loo during the interval and as I walked back to ‘our spot’ I didn’t hear a single British accent. It was like going to a gig in a foreign country like, er, Canada.

When we arrived there was a queue. I was surprised and checked with the doorman that we were in the right place. The Canadians in front of us were very interested in the fact that we weren’t Canadian. The girl in the group had been to several Hip concerts before, but all massive festivals. Afterwards she said this was the best gig she’d ever been too.

The band did two set lists, coming on as their own support act, and taking a half hour break in-between. If you are at all interested in what they sound like, you can hear a lot of their stuff on their website. However, even though I’ve listened to them over and over, they were something else again live. Gord Downie is a cross between a comedian and an utter mentalist, naturally entertaining and a little bit scary.

Trying to start the gig with a new song (Love is a First) and expecting people to know the words and sing along form the get go was ambitious, and didn’t really work. But things picked up after that with a rendition of Courage (the opening track of their stand out album Fully Completely).

They played a number of my favourite songs, including Bobcaygeon during a couple of acoustic numbers at the beginning of the second set, and an amazing version of At the Hundredth Meridian, which included a rambling monologue between Gord and the crowd, which was very amusing. He also held up a flag someone threw on the stage that had a Maple Leaf superimposed over a St George’s Cross, and had a tangential conversation with the person who threw it about nationalism that was three hundred years out of date, and also how he couldn’t use it as a handkerchief.

Oh, yeah, that was another thing. He sweats a lot. So he was constantly wiping his face and head with handkerchiefs that were tossed onstage by the roadies. Whenever he threw them, used, out into the crowd, there would be surge of people trying to get to them like desperate bridesmaids trying to get the bouquet at a wedding.

The gig ended on a high note with the band playing New Orleans is Sinking and the crowd jumping along. We bade farewell to the Canadians we’d met in the queue and who were driving back to York that night, and made our way back to the Travelodge, psyched up and ready for the next stop on our tour…

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Micro SD Cards and the pace of technological change

Almost two weeks ago I bought a new phone. My previous phone was one of the first ‘flip phones’ produced by Samsung, which had a ‘call screen’ on the top so you could see who was ringing you before you flipped the phone open.

My new phone is also a Samsung. It’s an iPhone wannabe with touch screen and scrolling menus and other gizmos. Like just about every phone these days it has a camera. I can get the web on it and update my Facebook status and so now I am constantly fiddling with it like a teenager!

It also has a Micro SD port to ramp up the memory. I bought a 2 gigabyte card which promised me space for 250 songs, 1200 photos, and 3 and a half hours of video. The card was tiny – about the size of my fingernail.

Just over ten years ago, when we set up our own business, Cathy and I paid a small fortune for a ramped up computer with 6 a gigabyte hard disk! At the time it was the most we could afford.

Years later we took that computer apart for spares and the hard disk was the size of a dinner plate. Now I’m carrying around a third of that space as an optional extra in my phone, and if I’d bought an 8 gig card, then I’d be carrying round a more powerful machine in my pocket than we bought for our desktop back in the day.

Monday, November 30, 2009

America's Next Top Model cult science fiction occasional character lookalike

Cathy is a fairly keen follower of America's Next Top Model (on right now as I blog this on Living TV).

One of the judges on ANTM is J. Alexander, otherwise known as Miss Jay. He's very amusing and, er, flamboyant, I guess. (Old school types will probably mutter that he's more camp than a row of tents...)

Anyway, this series he has a fairly daft-looking 'bowl cut', which looks like this:

The official pic doesn't really do it justice. But in the show, when he's moving around, he really reminds me of someone... who could it be... oh yeah!

Dwayne Dibbley!

(If you don't believe me, watch ANTM followed by a classic Dibbley episode of Red Dwarf and tell me that's not the same haircut.)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Borders Bookshops have gone into administration, and that makes me sad

Went into town today, mainly to buy a new phone (more on that later), and popped into Borders, having heard they are in serious financial trouble. As I walked in there was evidence everywhere I looked that all was not well.

To the right: completely empty magazine racks. No credit means no new mags.
Straight ahead: Yellow 20% off signs plastered everywhere.
To the left: "Closing down - everything must go" posters indiscreetly stacked up next to the entrace in readiness for the fire sale*.

I like Borders. I like the ambience. I like the fact you can sit and read comic books and no one hassles you (although I can see that my selfish comic book reading won't have helped their profit margins at all). They often have books I don't see anywhere else. They have a Starbucks inside the shop. It was the first home for our Book Group. For geeky bibliophiles, there is always something else to make you go 'ooh'.

Although they shouldn't have tried to sell DVDs. They were very expensive. Maybe they should have only stocked literary ones - book adaptations for example. But even then, DVDs are not money-spinners. They are so cheap now in supermarkets I think the day is coming when they won't be available on the high street at all. So, that was perhaps one mistake they made.

One sad thing is that I have already started talking about Borders in the past tense. (I went back and changed 'was' to 'is' in the last paragraph but one.) I have a nagging fear that they are going to be this year's big name to disappear. A victim of the credit crunch. A mundane tragedy, but tragic none the less. In some ways my visit today was a preliminary requiem.

*They looked exactly like the ones that appeared in Woolworths last year as that shopping chain tanked. Somewhere a signwriter is rubbing his hands with glee.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

7 things that really probably do not exist

The Mongolian Death Worm
The Golden Plates that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from (sorry, Mormons, I like you, but you have to admit, the provenance is ropey and the claim that the plates had to be returned to a celestial librarian seems a little "convenient")
Glittery vampires
The Force (ooh, controversial)
Altruistic cats
Aliens in flying saucers probing people

What would you add? (Or what of these does exist?)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

If you are thinking of picking a new religion

...then use this handy flowchart.

2 quibbles.
1) Jedi is not an option.
2) Why can't Jews like hummus?

I need to say how much I LOVE the alternative to 'atheism' and the question that gets you there.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Midnight Oil cover charity single - free to download at Amazon

Hey up. I've been a longtime fan of Midnight Oil, so it's cool their classic Beds are Burning is being covered by various people to raise money to comabt climate change.

And you can download it for free at Amazon (for a limited time). There are other tracks too. Phantom Limb are a bit funky and worth a free listen to. The Amazon downloader takes a second or so to install and then feeds the tracks directly into your iTunes or Windows Media Player depending what you got.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Seriously? I survived leaukemia for this?"

Yeah, this is turning into a blog about X Factor.

Last weekend's show featured the most toe-curlingly vomit-inducing charity single premiere I have ever had the misfortune to watch. First off it was a cover of Michael Jackson's painful attempt at an anthem for caring, 'You are not alone', which I have hated from day 1. Then it was sung by X Factor contestants, who each took a line each.

Given that it was obviously recorded a few weeks ago (else those were seriously fast costume changes for one song, then back into the outfits they'd been in all evening), it was interesting to see who only had a couple of lines, and who got to sing the stirring reprises towards the end. Obviously the key players were in the limelight, like, er, that bloke with the afro who got voted off last week. Oops.

Now it's for a good cause: Great Ormond Street Hospital. And to make sure we knrew it was for a good cause we had to watch a video featuring a little boy who had Survived Leaukemia despite the fact that his parents had been Told That He Would Die. He was very happy to be alive thanks to Gweat Ormond Stweet, as he told us in his charming lithping little boy voice.

But then, after championing the cause, the poor mite had to sit through the performance of the charity single and looked singularly nonplussed throughout. I can't blame him. Frankly, it left me hoping that a life-threatening disease would curtail my life expectancy to 'just before Christmas' so I don't have to hear that ear-offending drivellous pap played again.

But knowing my luck, that won't happen.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

At least I'm consistent in admitting that I'm inconsistent

So after my rant about the rubbish prioritising of X Factor by some people who should know better, I have to admit tonight's results show was farcical in its unfairness.

(In case you don't know, Lucie Jones got sent home after a "sing off" with Jedward. I say "sing off" but only one act actually sang.)

But rather than getting steamed up, this does kind of prove my point from yesterday. The X Factor is a manipulative distraction. And Simon Cowell knows what he's doing. Given the opportunity to get rid of one of the girls (who probably posed a more serious threat to 'his' acts) and Jedward he opted to put it to the public. Of course he wants Jedward to stay in. The column inches alone are worth thousands of pounds in free advertising for one of the biggest egomaniacs on the planet. All he has to do is slag them off and he's guaranteed to get his mug in the papers.

And if we, as the public, didn't care enough to read that tosh and discuss it in detail over lunch, and be scandalised by manufactured press-industry scandal, then the competition would be a singing competition, not a soap opera.

So, ultimately we're to blame. And we should all be feeling guilty about Lucie leaving because we've created the monster that is Jedward, and Simon Cowell isn't going to slay the beast while it's making money for him.

I say 'we'. I mean 'you'.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Sorry, no, all it shows is that your life is mediocre

I've been a bit surprised by just how seriously people have been taking X Factor this year. I know it's a popular show and all, but I think this year is the first time I've really noticed it because for the first time we've had someone in the house who is obsessed by it.

The front pages of the papers today included a story about a spat between Simon Cowell and a contestant, a hissy fit by Dannii Minogue, and more stuff about those annoying twins.

Apparently lots of people think this kind of reportage is necessary. Our incumbent lodger has decided she's not going to watch the show with certain other of our friends because, and I quote, "they don't treat it with the respect it's due."

Well, no, neither do I. Mainly because it's a bit hard to wipe your arse on the telly.

And then there's the Xtra Factor, possibly the nadir of ramschackle poorly-thought out moronicity designed to keep the gibbering proles happy in their mundane little lives. I had to sit in the same room while that show was on and could feel it sucking the intelligence out of me. I had to leave. Any longer and I would become the kind of meusli-brained human beanbag who thinks this kind of drivel in any way constitutes culture.

I don't mind seeing people sing. I think dragging out the show to two hours is a bit much, but I could just about put up with that. The thing that's really turning me off, though, is, I'm sorry to say, the fans.

It's just not that important, sorry. I enjoy it as entertaining fluff. But to get passionate about it is just daft. The world is full of injustices that should make you so angry you get off your arse and raise hell until something is done.

The mystery of who is voting for Jedward just isn't worth the ranting.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Word of the week: Slactivism

I was at a brilliant conference last Monday run for charity and third sector communications peeps (like me).

One of the seminars I was in talked about 'Slactivism'. This is activism that doesn't take a lot of work on the behalf of the participant. The example he cited was people turning their Twitter avatars green during the kerfuffle over the Iranian election to show their support for the opposition party.

It was an easy thing to do and so people did it. I think Superbadger works much the same way. Just 'sign' the email and press send. Piece of cake.

I wanna see more charities do this. I'm busy and I want to support you, so don't make it hard for me to do so.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Radio killed the theology star

Well, not quite, but I have been doing a bit of radio lately. Back in August UCB aksed me to comment as my alter ego, Jon the freelance theologian, on materialism.

Then on the back of the press release about the Robbie Williams article, I was invited back on UCB, did an interview for Trans World Radio, and was booked to do a live recording on Premier. And this week, UCB got in touch again and asked me to talk about the roots of Hallowe'en, mainly because I'd sent them a press release about my freelance theology article about ghosts.

The Premier interview is due to take place on Tuesday (3 Nov) provided there are no major disasters. I will be live from about 3.20pm. You can listen online if you're at a computer, or may be able to get it on DAB Digital Radio.

Have a listen and let me know what you think!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Another apple-related comment from Elaine, although this time real apples

It's Hallowe'en and Elaine invited us to a Hallowe'en party, where we would do traditional Hallowe'en things like apple bobbing and turnip carving (okay, maybe not that last one).

"Have you got a bowl big enough for apple bobbing?" I asked.

"Hmm, good point," said Elaine. There was a pause. "I suppose we could use the bath."

There was another pause. "When did you last clean it?"

"Er... recently."

"Yeah, I don't know if I really want to go bobbing for apples in someone else's bath..."

Friday, October 30, 2009

I guess that would be rather a limited range of products

I've been giving my friend Elaine a lift in the mornings recently, as she has been volunteering at the place I work. I also give her lifts home.

The other day we were heading home, and comparing notes about how crap and soulless the new much-hyped Cardiff Cathedral to Mammon has turned out to be.

"It's got an Apple shop, though," I said.

"An apple shop?"

"Yeah, you know, computers and iPods and stuff."

"Oh, an Apple shop. I thought you meant a shop that just sold - never mind!"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

No, you're going to drown, little girl. Sorry.

Don't know if you've seen the latest adverts to try and persuade us all to stop producing CO2, where there's a dad reading a bedtime story about the 'evil CO2 monsters' living up in the sky and how we're all going to get washed away when the ice caps melt. It ends with the kid asking "Is there a happy ending?"

I am truthfully a bit worried about global warming as my house that's oh so convenient for the Bay is only about six feet above sea level. Unlike friends of mine who live on top of hills, or far enough inland to not worry so much, I've got an elevation of six feet and about quarter of a mile until the seawater gets me.

And the thing is I think global warming is going to get worse. I base this assumption on some simple observed phenomena.
1) There are several people in this world who are easily distracted idiots who are incapable of turning off X Factor and turning on the news.
2) People are selfish and want to buy cheap crap made in China, regardless of how many emissions there are in production or transportation.
3) Stopping global warming will be expensive and no one wants to pay for it.
4) Cars are convenient and often cheaper to run than relying on public transport.
5) Burgers aren't going out of fashion any time soon.

So, I think the only solution is to take this personally, and abuse people who abuse the planet. After all their actions are effectively going to flood my house, the selfish gits. Be warned if you drive a 4x4 in my city.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Song lyric of the week: Muse, Knights of Cydonia

"Don't waste your time,
Or time will waste you."

That got me thinking, especially as I heard it on the radio after seeing Up, the new Disney/Pixar movie. Up is all about putting off your dreams until one day it's too late. It's made me think about a few of my personal dreams/ambitions. Some are doable. Some are dependent on getting the right breaks. But all mean I should stop wasting time.

Incidentally my Dad has raved about Up since he saw it last week. he thinks it should be required viewing for retired people. I found it very moving - as Disney/Pixar films have a habit of being - without being overly sentimental. There were also a couple of laugh out loud moments when Cathy had to 'shush' me because I was so noisy.

And I loved Doug the Dog. He was great. ("I do not like the cone of shame.")

Jongudmund's rating: 8/10 (well worth seeing)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Probably not the result they were hoping for

Okay, fair play to the people who co-ordinate the Alpha Course intro to Christianity thing, putting a poll on their home page asking people whether there was a God or not probably seemed like a good idea.

At the time of writing though the results (After over 87,000 votes) are Yes: 3%, No: 96% and Don't know: 1%. See it here (click on 'show results')

I wonder how long they will leave the poll up.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A genuine "before they were famous" moment

The X Factor is all the rage at the moment, and there's a Welsh girl on there called Lucie Jones. I was talking to my mentoree Connor the other day and he said "You know that Welsh girl on the X Factor? She used to go to my College."

And suddenly I had a realisation. Back in March, we were persuaded by musical-loving friends (Bryan and Elaine) to go and see a college production of Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim. And one of the main characters - the Witch, if you know the musical - was played by... Lucy Jones.

Now, of course, she's a big TV star (at least until her X Factor run runs out), but I saw her in a half-full community theatre when she was still a kid, although with some obvious star potential. I remember she got a big cheer when her character changed from being a hideous crone to a glamorous 'sexy witch' in a sheer red slinky outfit. She was obviously meant to be the star, although I remember at the time I thought the girl who played the Baker's Wife was very good too, if not better.

So there you go, a genuine 'I saw them before they were famous' moment. (And now she's so famous, she's changed her name to Lucie.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Even so, I'm not watching your vampire porn

My friend Elaine was very disappointed that I didn't watch the first terrestrial airing of Deep South vampire series True Blood. ("Mm gunna bite y'alls nayk!")

My main reason for avoiding it was Elaine and another friend describing it as "vampire porn". I said as much to Elaine, prompting this reply:

"Oh, it's not really that bad. The sex is very tongue-in-cheek."


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Sometimes a marketing claim could do with a little bit of self-analysis

At the venue for the Ben Taylor gig on Tuesday night there were posters for 'Nearly Dan', a tribute act to Steely Dan, playing soon.

Their tagline was "The UK's number 1 Steely Dan tribute act!"

To which my response was "Really? There's more than one Steely Dan tribute act?"

And why are they only number 1 in the UK? Are there European Steely Dan tribute acts that outshine them? I don't really know any Steely Dan songs and they may well be HUGE in Albania, or Leichtenstein or somewhere, but I doubt there's a massive industry of Steely Dan tribute acts in some overlooked back-of-beyond part of the continent.

And who gives out that award anyway? Is there a Grand Jury of Tribute Acts that passes judgement on them and enforces rankings? Thinking about it, that's the kind of thing there should be.

It just seems a very odd (and unverifiable) claim.

(And, no, I won't be going to see them...)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Gig review: Benjamin Taylor @ the Globe, Cardiff

We hadn't been to the Globe on Albany Road before. I was pleasantly surprised at its aesthetic and its intimate feel. I was also surprised that they'd have such a big name as Ben Taylor playing at such a small venue.

The support was good. Karl Morgan, a Swansea boy with plenty of family in the house, kicked the night off. He sounded very good, and with the right breaks he will go far, I think. His cover of Stevie Wonder's 'Superstitious' was excellent. I think it's harder to sound good playing a track people know than playing your own stuff, so he acquitted himself well - well enough for Cathy to buy a copy of his EP from his mum who was in charge of the money.

The second support act was Roddy Hart, again good, but I actually thought Karl Morgan was more engaging. Some of the songs were good enough to persuade me to buy his album for a fiver. But I don't think I'd go to a gig he was headlining.

And, then, finally, Benjamin Taylor (rebranding himself after being known as Ben on his first release) took the stage, accompanied for the main part of the show by David Saw. For someone known as a fairly serious singer-songwriter, he was very funny, telling stories and chatting to the audience with consummate ease. Some of his funnier songs you won't hear on his records but 'Your boyfriend is a really nice guy' and 'Dirty' both caused a lot of laughter in the crowd. I'd like to see him do a comedy album, although I can't see that happening.

Lyrically, there's plenty to digest. 'America', a recent composition, kept me transfixed as I tried to listen to what he was singing. He only played three songs off his first album, and after he told us that 'Nothing I can do' was written for his mum made it seem more meaningful. Meanwhile, if you want to hear folk that's allegedly been inspired by Outkast, you need to listen to 'Wicked Way'.

As I sat there, just relaxing into the music, it struck me that there are occasions when you just know you are in the presence of genius. I felt very lucky and very blessed to listen to him sing. We were so close to the stage it felt like it was a private gig just for us. Given his parentage (James Taylor and Carly Simon), he could be forgiven for going the commercial route. But he's doing it his own way - his own record label, his own style of music. I felt we got a glimpse into a magical soul; what used to be called the numinous.

As he signed a CD for us afterwards, I thanked him for the show. "At the risk of sounding sycophantic," I said, and then told him that we had been through some tough stuff recently and that the evening had been spiritually refreshing. He was surprised as he said they felt it had been a tough night on stage. I said 'Well, I felt blessed' and thanked him again. Music, as they say, restoreth the soul, and I felt genuinely better when I left than when I had walked in.

Not every gig is special, but this one was.

Monday, October 05, 2009

With a little help from Ian, freelance theology gets noticed

My web-savvy compadre, Ian, suggested I do a post on freelance theology about the lyrics to the new Robbie Williams song. So, slightly sceptically, I did. (If you haven't read it yet, check it out here.) It turns out it's the most popular post on freelance theology ever, and my stats have spiked from less than 10 visitors a day to over 100. Big news for me, on no budget and hardly any time.

As I wrote the article I thought this is the kind of thing that people I kind of know in the (Christian) media might be interested in, so I sent out an old-school style press release last week. It got picked up on the Inspire website, and on Christian Today, plus I have an interview on UCB tomorrow and Premier Radio (the big guns in UK Christian radio) have expressed an interest too.

But also the article has been picked up on at least three Robbie Williams fan sites - Pure Robbie (complete with discussion thread - scroll down), (that's a German site in case you didn't know), and an Italian fanblog (complete with translation into Italian!).

These sites have directed significant traffic to freelance theology. Over 100 from Inspire, 60 from - possibly because they only put on a link - and 43 from PureRobbie, even though the whole article was cut and pasted on there. And then a few bits and pieces from a few other odd sites that have mentioned it too.

The conclusion I've drawn is that to get freelance theology 'noticed' I have to react to very current stuff, preferably with wider application than just the small Christian circle. I guess what I really need are the questions to be asked, as that's the point of freelance theology. But I do want them to be genuine questions. What to do?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

And that's Jonny Danger, for the win

Total Film have got a list on their website of the top 20 Star Wars t-shirts.

Guess who's number one! *Go on, guess baby!) Oh, yeah, that's right - Feel the Force from Fair and Bare. Can you feel it!

I guess this just goes to prove that "I raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawk!"

Monday, September 28, 2009

Palindrome of the week

Got this one from the Adopt-a-word email newsletter:

The longest palindrome in the world is Finnish. It's saippuakivikauppias and it means soap-stone vendor.

Strange, huh?

(And, yes I have an adopted word - actually adopted for me by Cathy. I wrote about it here.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Yeah big whoop

John Lewis opens in Cardiff today and is being hailed as the saviour of the city centre by a toadying BBC and lickspittle politicians. (I suspect they've just cut and paste this news story from some John Lewis press release. It's hardly critical reportage.)

When IKEA opened we had a similar excitement. "Oooh, a new shop, we must go and wonder round like petit bourgois drones. Ooh, we can now buy stuff that other people in other parts of the country can buy and be as well-dressed/chic/styling as them." Or desperately unoriginal. It's the same thing.

Nobody has talked about whether the city can cope with an increase in shoppers (it can't) or what effect this will have on being able to park anywhere near the centre (good luck with that) or even the economic effects on smaller non-chain shops that actually have a soul (sod them, they're not multi-million pound companies).

Until those considerations start getting mentioned in the sycophantic press, excuse me for not getting excited about an overpriced pseudoposh unnecessary department store opening. I'm not a wannabe yuppie or social climber so I don't think I'll find much in there that interests me. Just a hunch.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Customer service

My mate Matt tipped me onto a hilarious blog containing real-life stories of the morons who are politely called customers. Check it out: Not Always Right

I've submitted my favourite ever story from when I worked at the cinema. I was on the concessions stand and a girl came up and said...

"I'd like a large cockporn please."

She then burst into embarrassed giggles. I looked down at my waist, shook my head sadly, and said...

"I think you're going to be disappointed..."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Word pair of the week: Betsu Bala

This word pair is actually anglicised Japanese, that can also be spelt/said Betsu Bara. Interestingly, Japanese doesn't have an 'R' or an 'L' so either can be used when it's anglicised, which is plobabry why steleotypes of Japanese people speaking Engrish mix them up.

Anyway Betsu Bala means 'additional stomach'. Apparently only women have them and it explains why women might not be able to finish their main course, but will have enough room for dessert. You'd use it as in the following:

"My friend Terri who has just come back from Japan couldn't finish her roast potatoes at the carvery the other night, but fortunately, while in Japan, she developed a Betsu Bala, which meant she had enough room to order the treacle sponge with the bottomless jug of custard. The pig."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Er, I think you mean "generic"

So the other day we were out for dinner and for some reason my Dad was explaining how he had proper Peugeot branded car mats and mud flaps, "not like those unisex ones you buy in Halfords."

Me: "Unisex?"

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's all a conspiracy...except it's not

Eight years on from 9/11 and how time has flown. What’s interesting for me though is how many conspiracy theories have sprung up in quite a short time.

Just to set out where I’m coming from – I don’t believe any of the conspiracy theories for two reasons. 1) As I see it, a jet plane crashing into a skyscraper is likely to destroy it without the need for thermite charges or the CIA. 2) I don’t believe large groups of people can keep secrets very well.

A lot of people would have to be involved in a conspiracy to bring down the World Trade Center. And human beings are unreliable blabbermouths. Someone would have let slip that there was more to 9/11 than the official view, if there was more to it.

Plus there’s the reasoning (if you can call it that) of the conspiracy theorists. Basically their argument runs like this: If the Government conspired to destroy the WTC, then they would deny it. So the fact that they deny conspiring to destroy the WTC ‘proves’ they did actually conspire to destroy the WTC.

Just about every conspiracy theory I have ever seen has that circular reasoning at the heart of it.

Ultimately conspiracy theories are just people looking for a ‘supernatural’ explanation for something quite mundane. We don’t want to believe that a handful of people with only rudimentary flight experience could cause such carnage, so we invent a conspiracy to make us feel safer – this must have been a huge operation with government complicity and decades of planning and so on. That’s far better than the thought that this was a random act of terror caused by a few people, which could be easily replicated.

As a race we have often created ‘supernatural’ explanations for random, frightening events that we have no control over. Whether it’s sacrificing virgins to appease the volcano gods, or throwing gold coins into rivers to ask the river spirits for safe crossing, it comes down to the same thing. We want to ‘explain’ the randomness as somehow caused by something, because that makes it less scary. We can perhaps do something to propitiate the gods (or the government) so that the danger goes away.

But the thing is, just wishing the world was a safer place doesn’t make it so.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The parable of the 100 Euro Note

A Lesson in Economics, sent to me by a friend.

It is the month of August, on the shores of the Black Sea. It is raining, and the little town looks totally deserted. It is tough times, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit.

Suddenly, a rich tourist comes to town. He enters the only hotel, lays a 100 Euro note on the reception counter, and goes to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to choose one.

The hotel proprietor takes the 100 Euro note and runs to pay his debt to the butcher.

The butcher takes the 100 Euro note, and runs to pay his debt to the pig farmer.

The pig farmer takes the 100 Euro note, and runs to pay his debt to the supplier of pig-feed and tractor fuel.

The supplier of feed and fuel takes the 100 Euro note and runs to pay his debt to the town prostitute who, in these hard times, gave her "services" on credit.

The prostitute runs to the hotel, and gives the 100 Euro note to the hotel proprietor to pay her debt for the rooms that she rented when she brought her clients there.

The hotel proprietor then lays the 100 Euro note back on the counter so that the rich tourist will not suspect anything.

At that moment, the tourist comes down after inspecting the rooms, and takes his 100 Euro note, after saying that he did not like any of the rooms, and leaves town.

No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now without debt, and looks to the future with a lot of optimism...

Monday, September 07, 2009

FREE Star Wars Lego!

The Daily Mirror are currently running a promotion giving away free Star Wars Lego. Saturday's model was a Stormtrooper on a speeder bike. I thought 'I want one of those.'

I went to the WH Smiths in town to buy a paper and pick up the model, but they had run out. Then I had a brainwave and went to the Smiths store in the Central Station. They had oodles of them. The girl on the till asked me if I had kids and if I wanted more then one. I couldn't lie and say I had kids, but I did say 'Well, if you're giving them away...' So she gave me three.

And here they are flying in formation with an Imperial dropship model I got given last Christmas. Oh, yeah, the Stormtroopers are gonna get you!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

5 things that are good about not getting a new job

Yesterday I had a job interview. Sadly I didn't get the job. But, as Cathy always says, I have to count my blessings. Here are five of them.

1) The experience. For me it was the first time I've ever been personally prayed for by a bishop - and the first time I'd ever been to a job interview that opened with a prayer. It was at Lambeth Palace in London, which I had never been too before and was simply something else. The room I did my prep exercise in felt like I was typing in a drawing room in a stately home. Not many people in the world have been able to ring the doorbell at Lambeth Palace and say 'Hi, I'm here for the interview'. Plus afterwards I walked over the Westminster Bridge and wandered round Parliament Square and Westminister Abbey, which I don't get to do every day.

2) The affirmation. Doing the prep, writing the CV, reading the references people wrote for me, just getting on the shortlist for a high profile job has encouraged me and affirmed me. When the day job feels like a grind and you keep having to sort out bitty, petty things you can believe that your skillz are petty too. I guess when someone sees potential in you, then you start to believe in yourself. My presentation was really well recieved and I held my own. It came down to secondary skills, and the Bishop's voice was full of real regret that they had had to make such a hard choice between "exceptional" candidates.

3) Feeling the love. I had a lot of people rooting for me. Some were praying, some were thinking positive thoughts, and some had their fingers crossed. But knowing so many people were on my side really gave me a confidence boost. And since I heard I didn't get it, two people have said that they are selfishly slightly glad I'm not going anywhere, which in some ways is really nice.

4) I don't have the upheaval, but I haven't settled either. I do enjoy my job (sometimes) , but there's always a danger you get in your comfort zone. At least I won't have the nagging fear that I'm settling for the easy option. I gave it a go.

5) I can finish the unfinished business. There are a few proper writing projects at work I would like to continue through to completion. Having to leave good projects mid-task would have been a bit annoying. So now I can get my head down and crack on with them.

So, yes, I'm still a little disappointed. But there are upsides to the downside.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Rare scoreline

I went with Matt to his first ice hockey match last Saturday, a pre-season friendly between the Devils and Coventry Blaze. As it was a warm-up game (no pun intended) they didn't go into overtime, so the game ended at 2-2 - an unusual scoreline for a hockey game.

Given that the Blaze were in the title hunt last year and are considered one of the 'big 4', Cardiff didn't do too badly. They more than held their own, scored while they had a man in the sin bin and rode their luck at times. Plus there was fighting, which Matt as pleased about.

I'm thinking of getting into hockey, and as Matt enjoyed it enough to come back too, we might make a habit of it. We both bought souvenir pucks anyway, because, you know, you can't have enough souvenir tat. And now we can make puck jokes like 'What the puck is that?'.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Directional post: follow the link

In case you haven't seen it on Facebook, or don't follow my other myriad blogs, I updated t-shirt theology last week with a fun bit about the shirt I came up with for Fair and Bare: Feel the Force

Read the post

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Ugly Truth

A quick review of The Ugly Truth, a slightly patchy rom-com with an interesting premise that fades in the final third. Gerard Butler is a boorish, blokey TV presenter hiding a sensitive soul, while Katherine Heigl is, er, Katherine Heigl, a role she seems to be playing regularly these days.

I quite liked the film. There is a cringingly embarrassing scene involving vibrating underwear, which you kind of know is going to be a car crash, but you can't tear your eyes away. There's a bit of crudity and a few swearwords. But generally it's a straightforward rom-com. You can see where it's heading from a few minutes in and there's no twists to surprise you.

Jongudmund's rating: 6/10 Wait for it to tip up on Movies on Demand. Or Lovefilm it. (If you're the kind of person who Lovefilms, eh Jo?)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Oh, now I remember why they took Shooting Stars off the air

It isn't funny.

Over the years several people who inexplicably love Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer have tried to convince me of their comic genius. But here's the thing. I have a very simple test of what's comedy. Is it funny?

It's not that I don't 'get' Vic 'n' Bob. It's just there's a difference between being surreal and being funny, between being odd and being funny, between being outlandish and being funny, between doing something unexpected and doing something funny.

Watching the relaunched Shooting Stars tonight reminded me of that gaping hole in the "Reeves and Mortimer = Comic Geniuses" view point. They just aren't funny.

I realise I may call down the wrath of the commenters for saying it, but these 'comics' aren't comic. The emperors are naked.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Word of the day: omphaloskepsis

'Contemplation of one's navel.' (Orig from the Greek, word nerds.)

"Hey boss, I need thinking space otherwiase I won't be able to do any omphaloskepsis... and my work will suffer. I'm off to the pub."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

[C]GI Joe: The Rise of the Franchise

Tonight I've just seen GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which I imagine is the first in a series of films that are bound to end up as straight-to-DVD fodder by about GI Joe 5.

I did quite enjoy it. It was glorious dross. The script was negligible. Character development was minimal (hey, they're just action figures). It had quite a cool gizmo premise (nano-mites that can munch their way through a city) and plenty of ludicrous techware (accelerator suits, caseless gatling guns you wear on your arm, micro-submarines, plasma energy weapons, hover dropships, and so on). Plus car chases, explosions, the destruction of Paris. All good stuff. Sienna Miller and Rachel Nichols were gorgeous to watch scrapping it out too. Definitely a boy's movie.

One thing that let it down was the slightly shoddy CGI, particularly in the undersea battles. There were a few occasions when the CGI was painfully obvious, which is a bit of a disaster in an effects-driven film. But it was fun and entertaining and just about the right length, which is more than can be said for the half-hour too long Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, which just didn't really do it for me.

I wouldn't say GI Joe was a better film than Transformers 2, because that would imply Gi Joe was a good film, but I felt I enjoyed it more. And ultimately that's the acid test of this kind of noisy nonsense.

Jongudmund's ratings
GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra - 6.5/10 Worth seeing once.
Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen - 6/10 Lacked the (all)spark that made the first one so great.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Survivally Challenged

So I made it through the week at Soul Survivor. The weather was great, thanks. We had one night of rain and that was about it.

A few things stood out, mainly from one of the nightly talks by Ants Watts, a New Zealander linked to Soul Survivor in NZ. He said:

I was always told that you don't have to like people as long as you love them, but actually I think you have to love them until you like them.

We are very good at creating ways of loving people - mechanisms for loving people - we can drop food off at the food bank, and we can give items to the thrift store, and we can sponsor a child on the other side of the world. And those are good things to do. But the problem with them if that is all we do, is that we can show that we love people, and people can have their needs met, but neither of us are transformed by it.

Lots of people are trying to be 'somebody'. Lots of Christians are trying to be 'somebodies' - trying to get on the platform, to lead the worship, to do a CD, to get their book out. But do you have what it takes to be a 'nobody' for Christ? To say 'this isn't about me'?

These are how I remember him saying those things. They aren't verbatim quotes. The third one in particular struck me. I had been in a seminar given by a 33 year-old theology graduate who already had three books published and was doing seminars to a packed out room. It made me think 'Where did I go wrong'. And then I thought 'Hang on...'

On the last night I made someone cry because I asked them to just clarify a throwaway remark they'd said earlier in the week that had rested heavy on me. It turned out I identified a real hurt that needed healing. But most importantly, they needed to know that someone understood, that someone cared, that someone loved. I wouldn't have been in that first conversation if I had been a 'somebody', let alone had the opportunity to be in the second.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Male or female brain

For a reason slightly more complicated to explain than I can be bothered with, someone left a copy of Glamour magazine on my desk (oh, okay, it was because it had an interesting article in it about the negative effects of porn), and it contained a quiz to see if you, the reader, had a 'male' or 'female' brain.

Turned out I was in the middle section with a brain that combined a bit of both. Apparently that can work to my advantage as I can supposedly relate to both sexes. I'm not sure about that.

T'was an interesting article. Later on in the mag was a 'beachwear' section. I have to say my female brain kicked in as I was looking at a very attractive woman in a crochet swimsuit. "That's going to shrink in the wash," I thought.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The ups, the downs, the love of sports

Another football season dawns bright and fresh. It was perfect opening day weather too. The sunshine bounced off the brilliant green pitch so brightly I had to wear sunglasses for most of the game.

Shrewsbury had added a number of new faces to their squad and plenty had left, so there was a real mood of ‘Who knows what will happen?’ about the game. Burton were playing their first ever football league match and their 1,000+ fans in the away end seemed shoutily confident beforehand.

I must admit I felt pessimistic, but we won quite easily in the end. The first and third goals were goalkeeping errors, and the second goal was an unmarked header. Town did look a bit shaky when Burton pulled a goal back to make it 2-1, making the crowd a bit nervous.

The referee and linesman didn't help as they were exceptionally dismal. The linesman in particular missed two clear Burton offsides in the first half, and then couldn’t see a two-handed shove in the back and a blatant elbow right in front of him second half. My voice has gone slightly today as I felt the need to point out the refereeing errors to the officials. As did many in the crowd. The atmosphere turned from happy-go-lucky to furiously ugly very quickly.

But we got another goal and at the end ahd a succession of corners and chances as Burton seemed to run out of steam. So, although in one sense the scoreline flattered us, we could have ended up getting 5 or 6.

My record at the new stadium is pretty good now – I’ve seen 10 games and Shrewsbury have won 9 of them, and this was a definite improvement on the three 1-0 victories I saw last year. Maybe the team will gel into something good. We need to sign up the loan midfielder Joss Labadie though as he was our best player by a clear margin.

I don’t think Burton will go down. They played some good football and the game could have ended much better for them. This wasn’t the greatest start to league football for them, though.

My good feelings about the game then turned into disappointed despair later on that evening though, when I found out that the Padres had traded their all star pitcher Jake Peavy to the Chicago White Sox. Gutted doesn’t cover it. Cath actually said she hadn’t seen me that depressed by something in ages.

I can’t complain too much about Jake going. He has been an absolute star for the Padres, although last year he missed too many games on the DL. The White Sox are coming good and he deserves a crack at the post-season, which he won’t get with San Diego this year. Who knows, comes World Series time, maybe he’ll get a chance to shine. Good luck in the Windy City, Jake.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Good week so far

Alright the weather has been crapola, but there have been some good things so far this week.

1) Monday morning I flicked on the TV to discover we have ESPN America, one of the channels that Virgin is putting in our package now that Setanta has died, and that means WALL TO WALL BASEBALL (woo!). Pretty much any time of day there's baseball on. Which means I always have tube candy in the odd five minutes between stuff or at breakfast.

2) Then later on Monday I discovered the Tragically Hip are doing a small European tour in the autumn. Woo again! I'm seriously thinking about taking a week to follow them round the country. Anyone want to join me?

3) This morning I did an interview for UCB radio in my freelance theologian guise. They'd called me up last week to ask whether I'd be willing to talk about materialism/ possessions/ wealth etc. It seemed to go well (the presenter seemed really chuffed) and I've told the guy to feel free to come back to me if/ when they have other awkward questions and no obvious interviewees, and he said he would keep me in mind.

So all in all, not a bad week so far. I just hope this post hasn't jinxed it.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Just to clarify...

... I really enjoyed the service yesterday. I didn't find it dull. I liked the liturgy. I liked the hymns. The lady who sat next to me - Jenny - seemed very friendly and helpful. Even the tea was alright. I would thoroughly recommend people give St Mark's a go.

I only commented on the 'assumptions' thing because later it made me think about the times I do that to people.

Although having said that, getting Roger to comment is a triumph so great it's going on my CV!

End times nonsense

Further to the latest post on t-shirt theology (loaded up yesterday), which was all about how annoyed I get by Left Behind books and other rubbish of that ilk, here’s an incomplete list of things I have heard confidently preached and predicted in sermons, or seen presented quite seriously in books, or been earnestly told by well-meaning yet slightly intense people, over the last 20 years or so, relating to the end times:

~ Communism is going to take over the world as the antichrist's empire.

~ The European Union (and before that the EEC) will become the antichrist’s empire.

~ Pope John-Paul II is the antichrist. (And apparently him being dead isn't going to stop this, as he will return as a 'false prophet'.)

~ The Soviet Union is the antichrist’s empire. (That very popular theory disappeared virtually overnight, coincidentally at about the same time as the Soviet Union.)

~ After the rapture all the Jews in the world will immediately realise what a mistake they made and convert to Christianity en masse.

~ The ‘return’ of the Jews to Israel after 1948 is a mark of the end of the age. Which is why it's a good idea to encourage Jews to move to Israel from everywhere else, like Russia, Ethiopia, etc. (Except from America where life is good, obviously.)

~ The British Empire dissolved because Britain opposed the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

~ The Palestinians got what was coming to them because they were living in the land God has 'given' the Jews.

~ Barcodes are the mark of the Beast because they have three lots of six lines (which actually they don’t, as you can see by looking at a bar code).

~ We'll all end up having bar codes tattooed, or inserted as a datachip, onto the back of our hands.

~ The internet is the Beast because ‘W’ is the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and so www = 666.

~ Russia will get back on its feet and become the antichrist's empire. (Ah, right, so the whole Soviet Union is the antichrist's empire thing was just a misunderstanding. It's still those damn Russkies!)

~ Babylon will be rebuilt as the home of the antichrist.

~ Saddam Hussein is rebuilding Babylon.

~ Saddam Hussein could be the antichrist. (This one has gone a bit quiet of late.)

~ There will be earthquakes and wars and horrible things happening - usually this can be linked into anything terrible that has just happened.

~ The seasons will change. (Ooh, global warming! Global warming!)

~ America will be on the side of good because the American symbol is an Eagle and there's something nice in Revelation about eagles. Therefore America = good. QED. (Interestingly both Germany and the Czech Republic have an eagle as a national symbol. But obviously it's not them.)

~ Bill Gates is the antichrist and Microsoft is the mark of the Beast. (Mac users don't bother commenting...)

So, what similar bollocks have you heard? Leave a comment.

Sunday, August 02, 2009


I've noticed a lot of assumptions today.

Firstly, a confession. I went to a different church today because my normal church is having a reduced Sunday programme during August (assumption number 1: people don't want to do church in the summer).

So, we went to an Anglican church. I say we, I mean me and Terri, a long-term friend currently residing with us. She is looking for a church. She's Anglican. So it kind of worked us both going.

We were approached by a friendly chap who turned out to be the Lay Reader who later on ran the shebang, or whatever you're supposed to call the 'please turn to page 9' thing that the Anglican church do. That, by the way, actually turned out to be pretty easy to follow, and I quite enjoyed it. Saying a proper creed is always a bonus.

But anyway, Mr Lay Reader asked us if we were the couple who were there because our banns were being read out today. Not a bad assumption. He didn't know us from Adam and Eve, so we'll let him off. But it was amusing, although Terri may well have been offended that this stranger thought she couldn't do better than me.

Then we sat through the service, which moved along at a good pace. The sermon was based on 2 Corinthians 3, and the guy speaking did a good job exegeting it, linking it in with the faded glory of the old covenant with the prophecy of a new covenant in Jeremiah.

And then we had a cup of tea afterwards, during which time a few people told Terri that this service wasn't like their normal service which was usually "much livelier". Which was unfortunate, because Terri likes the liturgy and the collects and the Anglicanism of it all, and had quite enjoyed the service which ran through the 1974 revised prayer book. So, telling her that 'normally' it was qute different wasn't really going to sell her on the church.

It's been a useful experience really. It's left me wondering what assumptions I make about people.

Also a big shout out to Roger who reads this blog and was church warden for the day when we turned up. He greeted us very warmly, despite knowing who I was. So thanks for that, Roj! (He ended up having to read out one Scripture passage too, but that's another story...)

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Orange blush

Yeah, right, "a co-incidence" say Britvic. But then this is Tango, and I wouldn't put anything past them.

Tango can spells out obscentity (The Sun)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bucketloads to do

This weekend there's bucketloads to do - The Big Cheese in Caerphilly, some event down the Bay with fireworks, and probably heaps more. But the thing is all these free festivals are all very well, but if you go you end up being tempted to spend money and well, money is tight for me at present.

Partly that's because our household has grown to three as we do the good neighbour thing and provide a needy friend with a roof over her head. Partly it's because Cathy is too ill to work. Partly it's because we've spent a bit of money on big things (like our lovely new mattress) and also got hit by a load of bills when we came back from holiday.

But mainly it's because we haven't really been keeping track of what we're spending and it's easy to get into the habit of a few quid here, a few quid there. So, I'm not going out today because the more money I can save, the quicker I'll be able to save up for the laptop I think I need. Plus I can get on with the freelance writing I'm meant to be doing which will bring in some much needed extra cash. (Although, inspiration is lacking at the moment, obviously or I wouldn't be blogging.)

I hate worrying about money, although this week everyone at work got a cost of living pay rise. I'm going to get an extra £6 a month after tax. Woo hoo. Must. Resist. Urge. To. Spend. It. All. At. Once.

Urban Saints humour

The reason we were talking about Crusader camps, was because a group of people from Urban Saints (who used to be called Crusaders) were being shown around our building. Their guide, Brian, tried to prompt conversation and so asked us if we had any memories of Crusaders.

"That time we sacked Jerusalem was amazing," I said.

Now, on reflection that joke could have gone either way. Fortunately they thought it was funny.

Friday, July 24, 2009

On the very same day...

Talking about Crusader youth camps, Ruth followed up her comment about becoming 'the' fat designer by asking another colleague whether she ever asked people if she could borrow a padded bra.

So... one of us is fat, another is flat, what will I be?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Salad dodgers

In breaktime today, we had cake to celebrate the fact that a colleague didn't die in a horrific road accident that wrote off his car last week. (Strange, I know.)

Matt, one of our two graphic designers, refused to have a piece of cake, as he's dieting. This caused his cake-eating compatriot Ruth some consternation. "Oh, no," she said, "at this rate I'm going to be the fat graphic designer."

"Er, thanks," said Matt.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Why are some Christians a-holes?

I’m not quite sure when I put things on my blog where they’re going to go, but my buddy Justin’s response to my criticism of ‘gay for Jesus’ worship songs is very funny. I’d be tempted to try and write my own ‘manly’ worship songs too, but I’m not sure I could top his.

Also, another buddy, Jo, put me on to this article about how homoerotic worship songs are theologically unsound. It’s a great article and worth reading, but also carry on reading through the comments and you’ll understand the title of this blog post. There are some real haters out there and many of them seem to be ‘hating for Jesus’.

I really don’t understand that mentality. You disagree with someone, so say you disagree. ‘I think you’re wrong and here’s why’ is all fair enough. But to verbally attack someone for not loving Jesus the way you think Jesus should be loved (even if that means 'unthinkable' manlove) is bizarre.

It’s tempting to dismiss this kind of flaming as an American thing, but it’s not exclusively American. A friend of mine was brought nearly to tears by an unjust flaming he received in a Welsh Evangelical magazine (published by) a couple of years ago. And with haters who are also Christian, there’s no right of reply, and no editorial balance. Heathens are fair game, and if you don’t agree with my narrow blinkered view of Christianity then you’re obviously a heathen.

Maybe it’s a church culture thing. A church that preaches a gospel of hate will rear disciples who hate, and encourage them to spew forth their hate and condemnation on a hateful world. Stand up to those bullies and suddenly you’re not a “real” Christian, or even worse, you’re discriminating against Christians with your anti-Christian views.

One of the most interesting bits of the God Delusion was the section when Richard Dawkins reproduced all the hate mail he had received from Christians. Twisted gloating letters full of joy that one day Dawkins would wake up in hell. Those letters made me ashamed of my fellow Christians and want to stick up for Dawkins. Okay, I think he’s wrong, but that doesn’t mean he should be treated with contempt or subjected to hate mail. Especially not in the name of Jesus Christ.

So, my question is, why do some Christians behave like complete arseholes? Of course, you might ask that of me, given that I’ve just slagged off people who slag off people (and used the word arseholes to boot). But I don’t think calling some Christians out on their bad behaviour is going to drag the name of Jesus through the mud as much as letting people carry on hating in his name.

Or have I missed something?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Possibly one of my favourite freelance theology questions ever

"If Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand in heaven, where does the Holy Spirit sit?"

Read the answer here

Incidentally, if you aren't part of the freelance theology Facebook group yet - how about joining? Better still, invite all your friends to join too. That would be fab.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

This is that song I was talking about

A while back I mentioned Christian worship songs that make men sound gay for Jesus. I couldn't find the lyrics to the one I meant. Well, now I have and here they are...
By your side I would stay
In your arms I would lay
Jesus, lover of my soul
Nothing from you I would with-hold

Lord I love you and adore you
What more can I say?
You cause my love to grow stronger
Every passing day

Hmm, Ecce Homo indeed. Astonishingly this was written by a husband and wife team. Strange, yet true.

When I lost my head at Alnwick Castle...

Nah, this guilloutine looks perfectly safe - *thunk*

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fight the power

Yeah, yeah, I hung with Mark Thomas. (And he loved my t-shirt!)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Guess the book

At book group the other night this is how I reviewed a book I've recently read.

"Not wanting to sound like a paedophile - and I realise that's a terrible way to start a sentence - but I did kind of understand what [the author] was driving at..."

Can you guess the book?

Friday, June 26, 2009

North Pole report

Not seen any polar bears yet although it is surely just a matter of time. Gloriously sunny yesterday but overcast today.

Stopped off en route to take in some culture - Romeo & Juliet at the Ludlow Festival. Juliet was a tomboy. Not entirely convinced. The actor playing Romeo did well. It's a drippy part to play but he managed to inject some manliness into it. And the fella playing Mercutio did well as well, delivering the dreaded Queen Mab speech with manic gusto so that it felt like speech and not a speech. Too often with the well-known speeches the actor breaks out of character to deliver their monologue. Not so here. Although how any Juliet can keep a straight face saying "Romeo, Romeo.." I don't know.

We head further North tomorrow into the trackless wastes of Northernshire. Catch you later.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Think 'position'

Recently we've had a new programme at work of putting up 'encouraging posters'. I'm not dissing the posters, before you think 'oh here goes Jon on one of his cynical rants', mainly because I worked on them.

But I'm not responsible for putting them up and whoever is has some odd ideas of what qualifies as premium display space.

So, what would you choose?

a) Blank wall above a lightswitch, or b) side of a filing cabinet where it will be obscured every time someone opens the neighbouring cupboard
a) Blank wall above the photocopier (where a lot of people stand staring at the wall while they wait for the photocopying to finish), or b) side of the coffee machine which can only be seen if you approach the coffee machine from a dead-end corridor
a) Unoccupied pinboard in the staff break room, or b) side of the vending machine

The verdict.
Mostly 'a' - wow you've got some idea of how to display things so people will see them and hopefully read them. Better keep you off the project.
Mostly 'b' - here you go, stick these posters up!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Choose Your Weapon"

Been there, done that, worn the t-shirt.

That's right folks. Shirt #3 is posted.

Friday, June 12, 2009


I like this quote that I found today (and I'd hope I'm a realist).

"An idealist believes the short run doesn't count. A cynic believes the long run doesn't matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run."
- Sydney J. Harris

Thursday, June 11, 2009

When the self-editing process fails

You may find this hard to believe given half the things I say, but I do have a 'self-editing' mode. I often bite back the really stupid/insensitive/crude/banal things that pop into my head. Today I was a witness when someone else's mouth was running faster than their self-editor.

We were in a meeting where a manager was outlining a new process, which seems great. "However," he said, "the only nigg-" and then he stopped and put his hand to his mouth.

He could have rescued it and said "ul" - 'the only niggle', but that wasn't what he was going to say and we all knew it, especially when, after a shocked one-second-that-felt-like-an-eternity pause he said, embarrasedly, "in the woodpile, is..." and explained the drawback to the system.

To his credit he looked very red in the face and he did catch himself. And he was willing to admit that he had almost said something pitifully medieval that could cause offence. But it was still one of those nasty surprises that left us all sitting there wondering whether we had really heard what we had heard.

There never were many rascialist analogies in the English language. 'Nigger in the woodpile' was one of the few, although my Dad says he remembers his mother asking for 'Nigger Brown' cotton in a haberdashers when he was small. It was the official colour, named that by the manufacturer. When people complain about the passing of the good old days they forget the latent institutionalised racism.

But what do you do when someone casts around for an analogy and begins to use a bad one without thinking? Do you take offence? Do you make a formal complaint? Do you have a quiet word? Do you laugh out of sheer shock and embarrassment? Or do you do what my friend Ross did and ask loudly "Who says we're a white, middle-class organisation then?"

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The next t-shirt article is up

Wow, that week went fast. But anyway, post # 2 is up on t-shirt theology - all about looking better when you're naked.

Check it out here.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Euro elections

I normally keep a tally of what we get through the door at election time, so here goes:

Liberal Desperates: 4 bits of bumf, slagging off everyone else as usual but with no discernible policies. I think their tagline should be "We hate everyone and want to tell you about it." Their local guy Dominic Hannigan comes across as a real moaner. An egotist too. All the election stuff is about him and he's not even standing.

Labour: 2 glossy brochures, both with a picture of Rhodri Morgan in his garden with a cup of tea, looking like that jolly old uncle who you suspect tops up his tea with a tipple when no one's looking. Bless.

The Conservatives: a glossy brochure and a rubbishy pamphlet. David Cameron features heavily. Interesting claim that "Conservatives fought for a new trade deal focussed on the needs of the poorest countries and respect for human rights." Leopards and spots come to mind.

Plaid: 1 bit of bumf with a real focus on local issues. Free buses in Cardiff city centre, new trains, and a campaign to save the Vulcan pub in Splott. Not really the biggest issues in Europe, are they? I did like their bit about how we need to stop creating 'identikit towns' with new developments. Fully agree with that.

UKIP: The first 2 bits of electoral bumf we received, one of which was a teensy bit racist. Also purloined Winston Churchill to their campaign, which is a bit unfair as he's dead and can't sue them for using his image without permission.

According to the list up at the polling station I could also vote for the BNP, the Green Party, the Christian Party (hmmm), the Socialist Labour Party and a couple of other fringe candidates. But none of them got in touch so I presume they don't want me to vote for them. (Interestingly, I noticed one of the candidates for the Socialist Labour Party owns one of the bookshops in Hay-on-Wye and lives in Hay Castle, which seems a bit odd, but there you go.)