Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sexy pink

I've blogged about sex being used in advertising before, but I think it has now officially hit a new nadir.

Two fish fingers meet a third fish finger who has a sultry feminine voice and then unzips her breadcrumbs to show her 'pink' underneath, at which point the other two fish fingers faint.

It left me thinking 'Whaaaaat?'

Someone somewhere decided the way to sell new salmon fish fingers for Bird's Eye was to turn a salmon fishfinger into a femme fatale flasher-of-the-pink.

I admit it's clever in a 'how many absinthes did you neck before you came up with that left-field idea?' kind of way. But, they're fish fingers. And sick jokes about 'fishy fingers' aside, no one wants to connect fish fingers with sex or sex with fish fingers and we shouldn't be made to connect them because some addled creative put them together in an advert for TV.

To prove I'm not making it up, you can watch it here.

Monday, March 30, 2009


I might be the last blogger in the blogosphere to blog about Jade Goody, but I was in the supermarket tonight and I was a bit overwhlemed by the number of tatty celebrity mags with 'tribute issues'. One of them (New) had an all black cover.

I recognise that it's sad when someone dies so young, and it's bound to be picked up in the gossip magazines when they are the arena she chose to live her short life in. But, still, this fetishization of tragedy is just bizarre. One of the magazines had the banner 'Farewell to Britain's brightest star'.

Really? "Britain's brightest star"? Are you insane, Mr Editor?

It's hyperbole gone mad. And hyperbole is already mad.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ask a theologian

Had a (small) older youth cell group tonight which was 'ask a theologian (i.e. me) any question you want'.

The questions (in no particular order):
Should we believe in aliens?
Should I go out drinking with my mates?
What is a 'doctrine'?
What about the dinosaurs?
What about the stuff Jesus said about adultery and divorce?
Why is the Old Testament about Israel and the Israelites?
How literally should we believe the Bible?
Should you be baptised before you take communion (because in another church they won't let you take communion unless you've been baptised)?
Why did people live to ridiculously old ages in the Bible?

Afterwards the general consensus was 'this was good - let's do it again'.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's funny when it's not your upholstery

I wiped most of the zebra drool off the interior of Viv's car after our safari trip for Irony Boy's birthday. Later Cathy said 'I don't think you're supposed to feed the zebras. Fortunately, it's not as if there's any photographic evidence of you feeding the zebra (checks camera), oh, wait...'

But you have to admit he's a cutie...

Even when he's got his nose in the car trying to mug me for treats.

Friday, March 27, 2009

And here's a question: 'If you knew...'

I've discovered that when I tell people about ambient hot dogs and other horrors from minimum wage hell they always - without exception - vow never to eat a cinema hot dog again.

That phrase: "If you knew..." is very powerful. If you knew what a cinema hot dog really was... If you knew that in a certain restaurant in Cardiff the prepped vegetarian meals are stored below the pork faggots... If you knew what a 'Coke Snake' was... and so on.

I have several friends who work for charitable organisations. Recently one of them told me that 'if he knew' what the organisation spent money on before he started working for them, he wouldn't have supported it. He still gives regularly, but he has told me that he won't increase his giving.

I know people who work handling sensitive information like credit card bills for the top people in charities who have told me they feel unable to question certain expenses even though they themselves would never claim for such things. And they seriously doubt the people who support the charities would be impressed, either 'if they knew'.

Two friends, who work as fundraisers for different charities, have told me that they would give 'allocated income' to achieve specific goals, but wouldn't raise general funds.

I think my big question is - is this unique? If you knew how any charity, or your church, spent money, would you still give to it?

Maybe that's something that should apply to all of us. I think a good general rule of thumb in life is 'If people knew what I spent on x, would I spend it?' I know before now I've decided not to buy some things because I would have to tell my lovely wife about it. How different would my personal finances be if I knew they were going to be scrutinised by other people too?

Could you open up organisations to make them more accountable too? A simple solution would be to set up a volunteer stakeholder panel and every six months give them copies of all invoices, expense claims, and bank statements and see what they say. I don't think this would be too hard to do - make it voluntary for charities and then award standards according to how 'well' money was spent. Getting the highest standards would encourage people to give knowing their money wouldn't be wasted. It could be helpful both ways, then.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I'm not saying I agree with vigilante-ism

But when a guy who has flushed 24 billion pounds of tax-payers money down the toilet and then retires with a tax-payer funded salary of £700,000 a year, it's hard to feel any sympathy when yobbos brick his house.

Score 1 for the yobbos.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The highest Christology you'll read today

Occasionally people accuse me of being a bit 'liberal' in my theology. But the truth is I'm not. I have a very high Christology, which is ironic because I much favour the Antiochene school of thought among the Church Fathers over the Alexandrian school (although I will testify The Incarnation by Athanasius is immense). If you know what I'm talking about, then kudos to you. If not, never mind... (but do read on)

I was asked to do a talk to the youth about putting Jesus at the centre of our lives and I decided to deliberately go high and try to blow their minds. Because when people did that to me at an impressionable age I got the bug to fathom the unfathomable and do theology.

Here's what I said (as posted on freelance theology). It's pretty much all Scripture. And I'd challenge any label-applying 'conservative' to tell me what's 'liberal' about it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A final story about Grandad (for now)

I managed to give my tribute to Grandad yesterday. This was the last story I told...

And I also learned from Grandad that the greatest gift you can give the people you love is the time you spend with them.
I’d like to end with one story, which has been told and retold in our family so often that it has passed from tale to fable to legend. But it’s still worth hearing, and maybe you won’t have heard this.

When Grandma and Grandad used to come and visit us in Shrewsbury when Dave and I weren’t little, but were littler that we are today, we would always greet Grandad with the same question: ‘Did you bring your old shoes, Grandad?’

I realise that may sound like a bit of an odd question for kids to ask. But the reason we asked it was this – if Grandad had brought his old shoes that meant he was going to be able to come across the road with us to the football pitches and play football. (Bear in mind he was probably in his late sixties at that point, but still – playing football with Grandad was something we really looked forward to.)

On one occasion Grandma and Grandad arrived and we eagerly asked the question: ‘Did you bring your old shoes, Grandad?’ And he hadn’t. I don’t think me and Dave were very good at hiding our disappointment, so even though he hadn’t brought his old shoes to wear, he agreed to come across the road with us to the field and play.

So, we were playing football. And Grandad swung his leg back to really leather the ball and he connected with it beautifully. But there was a really loud ‘pop’ and we wondered what had happened. The upper part of his shoe had completely disconnected from the sole, which was flapping underneath. That kind of curtailed our game, even though as the master fixer-upper he was able to loop the lace underneath and tie the shoe together.

Grandma wasn’t very impressed when we got home. Especially as Grandad then had to wear his jerry-rigged shoes to church the following day. He wasn’t embarrassed, although if I remember Grandma felt mortified. And, later we used to laugh about it. ‘It was a good game we had though,' he said. ‘Up until that point.’

If you can permit me a moment of indulgence I’d like to add something to that story. I know Grandad had a faith and it’s a faith I share. And part of that faith is the hope and the certainty that this moment in time, this parting, is not forever. I know I will see him again and he will see me, and we will recognise each other. I don’t know when that will be, but I know that compared to the length of history, it will be in quite a short time.

And in my mind’s eye I imagine that meeting. And I can almost imagine him standing there, holding a slightly lumpy bag, and smiling his slightly cheeky smile. And I’ll look at him. And I’ll look at the bag.

And I’ll ask ‘Did you bring your old shoes, Grandad?’

And I dearly hope he says yes.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Dave and I saw our first dead body today. It was Grandad lying in a coffin in a chapel of rest. We didn't know whether to go, but we both agreed afterwards that we're glad we did.

It was strange because he looked so well, as if he would wake up any time now and smile when he saw us. And at the same time it hammered home to me the fact that he had gone, and this man who has been a fixture in my life for so long is now not going to be around and somehow I have to get used to that and live on without him. I cried. And Sarah my foster-sister, who I was supposed to be making sure was alright, gave me tissues and patted my arm until I was okay again.

And he lay there with no effects of the stroke visible. He was in a suit, looking dapper as he always did on smart occasions. He looked younger than he did when I saw him last. And in death he looked dignified, which he couldn't in the hospital.

And I think that's why I'm glad I went to see him, because the illness which robbed him of so much had been defeated. And he looked like he could wake up at any time.

And in a real sense, in the world that's really real, I know he already has.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Car trouble isn't always trouble

We were driving up to Shrewsbury yesterday and just as we reached Pontypool the exhaust decided to break. After an RAC man gave us the all-clear we drove on, sounding like rude boys in a done up car, to Abergavenny. At Kwik-Fit we were told we could go back to the depot in Newport where they had the part. 'Forget that' we thought, and carried on to Shrewsbury, roaring through the countryside like city hoons on a day trip to ruralshire.

After eventually arriving in Shrewsbury I booked my car in with the family mechanic for Monday morning. Today I borrowed the parental Peugeot to drive over to Wrexham to see my Grandma. I wasn't even half way there, when the 'STOP' light came on on the dashboard, the temp guage was banging the side beyond the red, and there was blue smoke trailing from the exhaust.

Another RAC-man, who appeared deceptively young but had done six years fixing motors in the army, arrived and diagnosed that the water pipe had blown and the engine was dry. A jury-rigged fix later and we wended our way carefully back to Shrewsbury (Mum and Dad had driven to the rescue too), stopping for pancakes at a Little Chef first.

On reflection, this was a load of hassle on a weekend I could have done without it. But on the other hand, this could have happened on Tuesday when we were driving over to my Grandad's funeral. And it turned out my Grandma had forgotten I was coming and had gone out for the day anyway, so if I'd made it to Wrexham it would have been a wasted trip. So, the hassle served a purpose, and if it was going to happen it was good that it happened then.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The new word for fat

We had a conversation today at coffee time about how malted milk biscuits are sneakily bad for you because they’re full of hydrogenated fats. I commented how I have hydrogenous zones (complete with “seductive” stroking motion).

We all laughed. In fact, I laughed so much that my hydrogenous zones shook.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

New Job Title

On Friday I got a compliment from someone I did a quick sub-ed for. “You are a word wizard!” they said.

I liked that so much I took it to my boss and asked if I could have it as my new job title. He jokingly agreed. So there you have it. I’m now no longer a staff writer; I’m a word wizard. Matt even made me a sign to put up by my desk. Ironically (he says) he spelt wizard wrong.

All I need now is a hat.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Some better, and unexpected, news

So, on a day where I had some of my saddest news ever, I also heard that Cadbury's are moving their Dairy Milk brand into fair trade certification by the end of the summer, instantly trebling the amount of cocoa traded fairly from Ghana in any given year.

Compared to my other news that was completely unexpected. In the past Cadbury's have been very defensive about their trading policy. In fact, I think we still have the letter they wrote to us saying they weren't considering it as an option.

There's power in persuasion, people.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Sad but not sad; shocked but not shocked

It turns out that the next time I see Grandad will be in the next world. I got the phone call this morning from Dad before I set out to work.

I'm still processing it really. Everything seems a bit still and numb. I feel very calm.

We were expecting this to happen, yet it still feels slightly unexpected. I feel relieved for him, that he has been released from a suspended death. I know where he is now, and who he is with, and I am utterly confident I will see him again. And yet, this is a sad day for me. It's the kind of sadness you get when you hug a friend goodbye at the station, or get in the car and leave at the end of the weekend with your folks. It's the sadness of separation for an indefinite time.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Two unexpected compliments

Over the last few days I've had two unexpected compliments.

The first was on a Negotiation Skills course I went on for work. I didn't want to go, but unfortunately my negotiation skills weren't good enough for me to get out of it. The irony.

We did a group exercise in negotiating and afterwards I was complimented on my body language, particularly the way I make points by making a circle with my thumb and fore-finger to emphasise the point I'm trying to make. This is apparently an inclusive enforcing gesture. It's taught to politicians to get the point across without alienating people, but I do it naturally. The direct comparison the guy made was with Barack Obama. (Yes, really!)

I've been asked a few times if I've ever considered a career in politics and while it's tempted me in the past (enough to do Politics as an A Level subject, for example) I'm not sure it's a career I'd want to pursue. Doing something like serial trouble-maker Mark Thomas would interest me, but I couldn't sell my soul to a political party, and it's very hard to run as an independent.

The second compliment was on the youth weekend away when one of the other leaders, "Edna", a teacher by trade, asked me if I'd ever done teacher training or been a teacher. She was really surprised when I said no, because according to her I was doing everything right in communicating with the kids, holding their attention and getting my message across. I felt a bit embarrassed really because it's quite a thing when someone in any industry tells you that you would be good at the job they do.

Again, teaching is something which I've considered. In fact, my dear old dad still brings up the possibility of me going into education on a regular basis. I think he thinks it might be my real calling. But realistically I would hate teaching as a career. Most of my friends who are teachers are burning out and any joy they had for the job has long since leached away. One or two still like getting up for work, but most don't. And I think it would kill me slowly too.

I get to talk to the kids in the youth about things which really matter. Subjects with an eternal applicability. Why anyone would want to teach kids stuff that doesn't matter or that they're not passionate about beats me. But then I guess that may be why so many teachers fail their students.

Still it's nice to know I have a couple of potential career options open if I fancy a change.

Monday, March 02, 2009

And reason number 10 why Peter Griffiths was wrong…

My good lady wife reminded me of another assertion by Peter Griffiths at The Great Fair Trade Debate which either completely missed the point or was a deliberate misrepresentation (your call).

10) Peter Griffiths claimed that fair trade is about paying higher prices so that some of the money goes to the producer. Again, not quite right. Some fairly traded products are more expensive than unfairly traded equivalents. But then many companies who trade, even in this country, tend to drive the hardest bargain they can. Promising one price, then offering a lower price at harvest time is one classic trick.

But what about those fairly traded products that are cheaper than their equivalents? They do exist. What’s going on there, in Peter Griffiths’ view of the fair trade world?

If fairly traded products do cost more, there are often a number of different reasons for that. Trying to trade across geopolitical trade tariffs and barriers are reasons for higher prices. Simple economies of scale play a part too. Nestle dominate the world coffee market and can drive down their prices if they want to (guess whether they do or not), but they also have their own packaging plants and can fill chartered planes with coffee. They don’t have to pay a third party to have their coffee packaged and transported, so it’s cheaper for them to get the coffee to market.

Plus, ‘fair trade’ is more than just ‘we pay more money’. Yes, sometimes there is a ‘fair-trade premium’. But at its heart, ‘fair trade’ is about sustainable relationships – where the buyers pay the agreed-on negotiated price and don’t try to wiggle out of it later, where long-term trading relationships matter, and where producers are often paid some of the money upfront so they don’t have to go into debt while the crops are growing or the products are being made.

Thinking that ‘fair trade’ is all about money, and not realising that actually it is a life-affirming dynamic, is the kind of error made by the kind of person who doesn’t understand that human beings trade with other human beings – and trade is just one of many human relationships. Or, to put it another way, the kind of person who extrapolates behaviour based on the premise that everyone behaves like automatons, then wonders why there complex models don’t work in the real world. Or, to put it a third way, a person who is a classically trained economist.

And just to set the record straight, because my good lady wife told me I’d got one of my facts wrong, the chap from the Windward Islands wasn’t actually from a co-operative. He was a member of the Windward Islands Farmers Association (WINFA), which works on behalf of the farmers e.g. to get the Fair Trade Mark on their bananas.

But even if he wasn’t from a co-operative, he still (rightly) took offence at Peter Griffiths’ assertion that someone in the developing world would automatically steal if they had the opportunity. But then that statement was based on an anecdote, and according to Peter Griffiths, anecdotes don’t count as evidence…

And finally…
I stood up and said something at the debate, challenging Peter Griffiths on a couple of these things. Obviously when I sat down I thought of several more things I could have said. That always happens.

Anyway, Cath has told me that she met people at a fair trade fair at the weekend who commented that what I said was helpful. When she went into the shop at the weekend, one of her co-workers said that she’d heard I’d stood up and made a good point. Fame.

But my encouragement to you is speak up and speak out in those situations where you just know you have to speak up and speak out.

Take courage, because other people want to, and will love the fact that you have.

And the more of us who do it, the more other people will.

And the brighter we shine, the more we roll the darkness back.