Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Quote of the Day

About the turn of the millennium I began to discover the writings of Anthony Grayling. His little collections of philosophical essays on various subjects were, by and large, wonderful and occasionally a great challenge to think. How dare I feel a doctor of philosophy at the University of London might be wrong and the followers of a once-dead Galilean carpenter and his fishermen friends right.

But some of the sentences are a joy:

839. ...there is more danger to one's hopes, one's mettle, one's pride, in venturing into the battle of ideas, than in murdering a man who disagrees with you - and that doing so therefore takes proportionally more courage.

The Meaning of Things (Phoenix 2001)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Job Opportunity

Sting and Mrs Styler have been advertising for folk to help on their Italian estate with the olive and grape harvest, apparently for €262 a pop. Got me thinking:

Authentic North Somerset autumn garden experience.

Cut back the overgrown shrubbery

Remove bindweed

Regrout patio flagstones (bring own grout and trowel)

Deadhead under the guidance of head gardener

Clean and store summer tools

Tidy shed and garage

You only pay £100 a day to include bed, breakfast and a pint of cider

Lifts to station provided

Cash up front; no time wasters

Daft Sayings

This morning I'd like to nominate 'If it ain't broke don't fix it' as the most unhelpful expression ever tossed about by politicians. I've heard it a few times from the Darling mob (although not from him to be fair) and it is a recipe for disaster. Now I am not saying that devolution is definitely the answer - although it would be for an independent, non-unionist England I would vote if given a chance. Yes I know that would stick the Labour Party in the doldrums short term but we would sort it out eventually.

No, my problem is this. A far better mantra is 'Everything needs fixing'. It is the model of ministry I have worked with for the last twenty years at least. Things that are going well need as much attention as things that are broken.

Successful home groups need to multiply before they become too big for individuals to contribute.

Successful churches need to plant new ones or add congregations before they are too full.

Great youth ministries with a good team of leaders need to recruit more before the existing ones stand down.

Good preachers train, read and practice.

Complex bell-curve diagram drawn by me
And so on, and so on...

So it is pretty clear that, whatever the outcome of the Scottish referendum, there will be roughly 40-49% of the population who did not get what they wanted. And that will need fixing.

There is a bell-shaped curve to competence.

Starting out
Over the hill

All tasks and ministries and organisations follow it. Just before it peaks is the best time to intervene to improve.

If it ain't broke; fix it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Quote of the Day

There were several quotes I came across today from John Armstrong's little book 'Conditions of Love' which I appear to no longer own. Here is one of the best, summarising Aristotle:

830 ...on the whole people who are intelligent, generous, self-controlled, sociable and courageous (who don't give up too easily) are more likely to end up happy than those who lack these qualities. Happiness, therefore, depends to a large extent upon your personal qualities.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bonus (and long) Quote

I get a weekly e-digest of the news and associated media stories and quotes. Today this cropped up:

Michael Phillips Moskowitz writing for Monocle notes that too often in business, basic kindness is eschewed in the name of efficiency, speed or tooth-and-claw competition. Nice is seen as evidence of nativity (sic). Yet in all professional relationships there is such a thing as a currency of good deeds - simple favours, personal introductions, proactive generosity and pre-emptive connections. The soft power of personality and informality can outperform harder deliverables. The strongest bonds in business are often fortified through acts of personal kindness. It won’t be long before this notion of goodness becomes part of our business identities, whether they’re corporate or personal profiles. If success is increasingly determined by who and not just what you know then the manner in which we treat people may - and likely will – soon prove the key arbiter of prosperity. Celebrate other people and their accomplishments and opportunistically seek out chance to aid others. It’s not about quid pro quo but almost selflessly demonstrating an interest in others. Success, like staring at stars, is best enjoyed obliquely, even if we intuitively think it’s a straight path.

I thought it was magnificent. Last time someone went round saying be nice to each other they nailed him to a cross (Douglas Adams noted) but it may just catch on.

To receive the digest contact Editorial Intelligence Ltd by email or call 020 7759 1850. Registered in England No. 04763083

Quote of the Day

814. I am retiring as a satirist due to unfair competition from real life.

(Tom Lehrer - on hearing of Kissinger's Nobel Peace Prize)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Quote of the Day

801. We trained hard. But it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up in teams we would be reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising and a wonderful method it can be for creating an illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation.

(Petronius Arbiter. Roman Governor of Bithynia 503CE)

(Thanks for comments. Now attributed to Charlton Ogburn 1957 but apparently frequently misattributed.)

Spinning David

By the time of Jesus the verdict on Israel's great king, David, was fixed. Here is the man against whom kingship standards are measured.

So although John's gospel goes out of the way to say that Jesus comes from Galilee, and shows Jesus demonstrating from Isaiah 9 that this is just as much a messianic expectation as Bethlehem, it is still important that he is of David's line for the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke).

Which might mean we would find good things in the biblical account of the history of David. And indeed we do, in the commentaries upon it. But in 1 Samuel we find an account of a king doing as a king does - beating up the little guys, choosing the best women for his harem and holding grudges.

Consider one of the three accounts of the beginning of David's coming to the notice of the Court of Saul (there are three, and none of them makes reference to any of the others) - the story of Goliath. A later hint that the giant was killed by someone other than David and then the narrative placed in David's life (2 Samuel 21:19) is rarely referred to by preachers. Indeed 1 Chronicles 20:5 smooths over the inconsistency by suggesting Goliath had a brother. 1 and 2 Chronicles do this sort of thing a lot.

Taking the account at face value, what is the first thing that David says as he strolls onto the world stage? In the narrative of the choosing and anointing of the youngest son of Jesse, David has no lines. In the account of the harp-playing, trouble-soother of Saul's demons he has no speech either. Only in the Goliath story of 1 Samuel 17 does David speak. How does he announce himself?

'What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine?'

Yes folks, that's right. David wanders in with the line 'What's in it for me?' He may be a good-looking shepherd-boy but he has a mercenery's heart. He wants a reward.

David's ability in battle is, however, more than just legendary. Whether or not he actually discarded his bronze-age armour and used his stone-age weapon to defeat his iron-age adversary, he eventually becomes the subject of a chant 'Saul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands'.

And in a world where we are rightly horrified by beheading, the habit of collecting the foreskins of the vanquished is a bit of biblical history we also wander quickly beyond.

Cue another bit of unspun action. David asks his best mate Jonathan to lie to explain his absence from a royal banquet.

This is seen as perfectly normal behaviour by the authors. It warrants no criticism.

And so our account of the life of David proceeds. Mistresses and wives collected. Adultery committed. The husband of one of his female conquests bumped off by placing him on the front line. And by his death bed a list of enemies for his son Solomon to continue beating up on.

The judgement of history from the letter to the Hebrews, where great heroes of the faith are listed, is this:

'I do not have time to tell about ... David ...'

So he was not everyone's cup of tea. Our Morning Prayer lectionary walk through the life of David as told by 1 Samuel is the story of kings doing as kings do.

In Monty Python and the Holy Grail the king arrives in a village. The Pythons announced him with this timeless two lines of dialogue:

How do we know he's the king?
He ain't got shit on him.

That's the truth about ancient kingdoms. The boss avoided the shit. Others protected them from it, and once you were the king all matters of right and wrong are judged on the basis that the king must be right. And only occasionally will a prophet brave the court to challenge in the name of The Lord. Samuel, Nathan and the company of the prophets are going to be our heroes and heroines.

Yet I give the last word to musician Bono who, writing an introduction to the controversial, but brilliant Pocket Canons, said:

'That the Scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, adulterers and mercenaries used to shock me; now it is a source of great comfort.'
(Introduction to Psalms)

Wet noise

A gentle grace
Whooshing into wet
Tiny patter of little pitters
And soon the sound
Surpasses the radio
In my conservatory of percussive precipitation
Whilst on the patio
A bird bath bubbling
Water table rising slowly in this
Green unpleasant land

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Quote of the Day

This is a very topical quote, although thirteen years old, given the current focus on terrorism and atrocity around the world:

796 ...change is only possible if the powerful understand the rage that moves those who hate us so. It is certainly necessary to pursue those who commit evil acts: but it is equally important to taste the bitterness of their hatred.
(John Kennedy, Independent on Saturday, 3/10/01)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Quote of the Day

A few quotes in the latest batch of ten I indexed were from Matt Ridley's excellent book 'Genome'. Here he quotes James Watson:

784. We talk of gene therapy as if it can change someone's fate, but you can also change someone's fate if you pay off their credit card.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Quote of the Day

This from Kevin Spacey's character Buddy Ackerman in the wonderful movie 'Swimming with Sharks', where Hollywood turned in on itself with a critical eye (see also 'State and Main', 'The Player'):

775. If you aren't a rebel at twenty you've got no heart - but if you haven't turned establishment at thirty you've got no brains.

I'm aware that various versions of this have been around for a while but Hollywood allows its characters to quote without attribution; chiefly because that is what a lot of people do.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Quote of the Day

Tony Parsons was a wonderful social commentator in his 1990s heyday. He is now, mainly, an excellent novelist. Interviewed in Christianity Magazine by Gareth Sturdy in September 1999 he said this of evangelical Christianity:

765. I think the evangelical side of the church can especially frighten people away. The ones I met were really decent, likaeble people. Just their rituals - well it's a bit like canned laughter. You know, people being a little bit more ecstatic than they really are. Feigned ecstasy. It always seemed a little bit overdone to me.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Examination Time

Archdruid Eileen of The Beaker Folk of Husborne Cheney publishes regular, and hilarious, examination papers. Start here.
I have no wish to gazzump her brilliance but recently found this paper, which was for the Oakhill Extension Studies Course of Chester-le-Street in 1991. Some words have not scanned but you're an intelligent lot. I guess I would have published this wider at the time if the internet had been open.
Section 1 is General Bible Knowledge and then moving on:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Quote of the Day

No-one was reading posts entitled 'Quote Book Index' so I've changed it to the above. Here is the best of 751-760:

754. I believe in hybridity. My own better Britain is an extraordinary mix of nanny state, individual liberties, absence of deference, respect for heritage, anti-racism, meritocracy, environmentalism and belief in the transcending power of education. ...there is no party that encompasses it.
(David Aaronovitch, The Independent, 29/9/99)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Quote of the Day

I am working my way through my quote books indexing them, ten at a time. It is a task I neglect and then pick up again. Here is the best of the latest ten:

743. To say that God guides by his Spirit is to say that God guides by God. It doesn't answer the real question.
(How Does God Guide? The Briefing 72)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mr Who?

I have never done drugs. OK, OK coffee, tea, alcohol, cigarettes, cigars and a pipe. I think that's it. Never done any of the ones that are illegal although I did start smoking tobacco at an age that would have been dodgy today.

It often surprises people but I never tried cannabis. Ecstasy wasn't around when I was a yoof. There was no temptation to experiment.

I have no tattoos. Vaguely pondered the idea from time to time but never saw any idea I liked the thought of displaying permanently. My body is more like a gallery to me with a regularly changing seasonal exhibition called clothes. So the same argument deals with why nothing is pierced either. That and the dislike, generally, of unnecessary pain.

Mr Nervous?

I get addicted though. To subjects in rotation. To new games. To authors and film directors. Sports.

I recall almost bursting at school when, the night before, a friend had introduced me to a new strategy game. I couldn't wait to get home and play again, and again, and again.

When I finally retire I may get the Subbuteo out once more and play through a league season (10 minute matches - strict rules to keep goals down when playing for both sides).

Or I may do a maths degree. I was good at it once and still love numbers.

Mr Bounce?

I often wonder if this state of affairs is a matter of personality type or simply luck. I read back into my teenage self some of the things I do and prefer today. Today I love solitude but in my teens that was boring. Or was it? I could spend hours in my room playing board games whilst listening to music. Not unhappily. Today is the same.

Mr Quiet?

But I did spend several hours staring out of the window wondering where a girlfriend might come from. Eventually sussed out that in some circumstances you absolutely have to go out and meet people. Now I meet people for a living and can work in a room full of strangers.

Mr Chatterbox?

A history essay used to take two and a half albums - about 100 minutes for 500 words. The music was the only way I could cope. I find it hard to believe that I worked for several years as a writer and turning music off helped me to do 4000 words a day. But I got a history A Level.

Mr Clever?

The thing that most terrified me at school was public speaking - a class presentation aged 17 kept me awake all night. I eliminated any line of work that involved that from my enquiries at an early stage. My teenage self is amazed that I can now stand on a platform and talk to anyone, about anything, without notice or nerves.

Mr Impossible?

I like reading but do it better when in company with one other person who likes reading. Just that brief break every couple of hours to talk about what you are reading or share a drink.

Yesterday morning I wanted to listen to the radio but sensed that Mrs T didn't. She said it was fine to turn it on but after a few minutes I got uncomfortable. I either like doing things alone or in the company of a fellow 'addict'. I hate the thought that I have conscripted someone else into my world; even someone I have been married to for 36 years. (Predictive text just changed 'married' to 'hatred'.)

Which may mean, despite the insensitivity that is the occasional tax the audience pays on wit, I am, to my surprise, quite sensitive. I want to make things better for those who want to be helped, or who don't yet know they are better off with me than without me. As soon as someone comes into the fold that is 'friendship' I, almost perversely, try to put them off by showing them what I am really like unplugged. It keeps the results down to a manageable level.

Mr Mischief?

Over the years fewer than a dozen people have opted to stay close enough for that to happen (family have lost the idea of 'opted'). In fact, helped by this thought from Ian Russell a long time ago, I transition my friends into the 'family' box. It means I make friends in the churches I lead and have no problem with this. I cannot understand those who believe distance should be kept.

Although the idea of specialist clergy has been given a lot of focus in recent years it is being a generalist - able to converse with a variety of people about many subjects - that stands you in good stead. It doesn't mean you need know anything about the subject; just enough to ask the second question and make the other person talk. My own specialism - growing missional Christian communities - is actually a generalism.

Mr Nosey?

Why am I telling you this? Well first and foremost I am telling me this, not you. I am thinking about the ingredients list and methodology that produced the dish that is me.

Secondly I was prompted by one of those twenty questions quizzes on Facebook which asked which Mr Men character you are. I know why I got my result. My answers did not make sense in relation to each other. People who like red as a colour should like garish hats and parties.

One of the strange conclusions of all this is that all the personality and team-type profiles in the world have never improved upon my horoscope. I fit 'Gemini' thoroughly.

I came out as Mr Topsy-Turvy.

I think I will charge myself twenty guineas for the consultation.

Don't Eat the Honey

For those who enjoy the weird and wonderful stories of the Old Testament, Monday's lectionary threw up a belter.

Saul's troops, led by his son Jonathan, are pursuing Philistines. Saul, who is going slowly bonkers, has commanded his men to do their work on empty stomachs and not to eat until sundown.

They are walking through a wood dripping with honey. The men resist. Somehow Jonathan does not know of his father's decree and takes up some honey with his staff. He guzzles the sweet stuff. He describes the experience as 'like brightness returning to my eyes'. He needed sugar.

Trouble is the men know the rules and tell him he is in deep trouble. Jonathan suggests otherwise and after another victory the exhausted men, following that example, eat Philistine-plundered meat, urgently 'with the blood still in it'.

Later, enquiring of the Lord as to how to proceed with the campaign, there is no answer all day (which reminds me much more of my prayer life). To find out why the Lord is displeased Saul casts lots. First between the men and the leaders (him and Jonathan). Then, when the lot falls on them, between the two of them. Two heads in a row (or equivalent) point the finger of blame at Jonathan.

Saul plans to do his son in - it's the rules - but the men dissuade him. The reputation you forge amongst those you lead, if you are a leader, will stand you in good stead on the occasions when you screw up.

It feels such an authentic tale. Why would the editors keep in the history books a tale in which the king (being bonkers) and God (being silent) are seen in such a bad light?

Truth is that the world may well be God's earth but it is in the stewardship of us idiots and we stumble along a lot of the time, seeking the will of a supreme being who is often strangely silent when we most feel we need to hear from him. Not because his word isn't available to us but because we don't listen.

The juxtaposition of a Luke passage, where Pilate throws Jesus on the mercy of the crowd and they choose against him, shows that the wisdom of crowds is not always super-smart. Even if Jesus had been found innocent Pilate would have had him whipped just for causing the inconvenience of being arrested and time-wasting.

Life is a heap of dung sometimes. You will not be judged by what you smell of but how you bear it.

Thought for the Day

As delivered on the Radio Bristol Breakfast Show this morning:

Well? Would you go to Gaza?

A businessman friend of mine routes some of his company profits into building schools and hospitals in Kenya. Another couple I know give up holiday to serve on a Mercy Ship offering treatment to people for a range of common complaints. Things we can have easily dealt with in our country but which become life-threatening in sub-Saharan Africa. I know others who serve on summer camps for disadvantaged children, paying their own way and giving up holiday. They always return physically exhausted and sign up for next year at once.

Today we have another to add as a Bristol anaesthetist heads to Gaza instead of vacation.

I rejoice at the sacrifice and goodwill of so many excellent contributors to a better world, especially in a week where, as the Archbishop of Canterbury said, despair seems to dominate our news.

Why do some seem to contribute hugely whilst others do nothing?

Perhaps it is because we feel so helpless. That our little bit of money or time won't make any difference.

But the privilege of being part of a crowd where all are good is that we only have to do a little.

St Paul suggested that we have different gifts. If it is serving, he said, then serve; if it is teaching then teach; if it is encouraging then encourage; if it is giving then give; if it is leading then lead. We should all do our bit. Today as we leave the house, let's try to make the world slightly better by the time we return.

The eighteenth century Irish Statesman Edmund Burke said 'Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.'

Monday, August 11, 2014

Quote Book Index

Continuing my trawl through my quote books and indexing them ten at a time:

739. I would rather be watching Liverpool lose than be at a conference on postmodernism ... a scam thought up by intellectuals to keep themselves in a job.
(Greg Valerio in a letter to Third Way, quoting Noam Chomsky)

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Quote Book Index 721-730

Joan Smith on journalism:

724 ...Eve got off lightly. These days, the Garden of Eden would be mobbed by reporters, desperate to get the serpent's side of the story.
(Independent on Sunday 12/4/98)


Diesel in action
A friend remarked how Steve turns into Diesel-Steve when his doggy chum comes for his holidays. I do, I guess, go on about him a lot. Maybe it is because he is ever present at anything I do at home and requires an investment of an hour or so a day for walking.

Fact is I like dogs, especially labrador retrievers, and particularly black ones. Other breeds are available.

Looking after a friend's well-behaved dog for a few days reminds me of something I really miss but also a few things I don't. The company of a loyal, obedient dog is brilliant. The sight of a retriever bombing into a bush and returning, against the odds, with a slobber-covered tennis ball is a wonder of the world. A warm body on your toes is a nice way to watch TV. But dog hair everywhere, cow-pat eating, carrying the black plastic sack of disgust and the lack of flexibility to go out all day - these things are not so good.

Diesel arrived without anything to fetch. No ball. I took his favourite plastic bone with me on the first walk. Its strange shape made fetching a bit complicated as he couldn't anticipate the bounce. After about half a mile he left it for me to carry and disappeared into the bushes. He re-emerged with an old tennis ball. Probs one he had lost last time he was here.

This ball was our plaything for the next few days. In the open fields he fetches it when thrown but then on the footpaths he carries it.

I have noticed that he is much better at not losing it these days. He runs ahead of me, puts the ball down, sniffs about a bit then picks it up as I pass him again and runs off a bit further.

Today is day six. All is going well until he runs up to me without the ball, as if I have it. We have a conversation. I speak fluent labrador:


Idiot man. What have you done with my ball?

(I gesture with empty palms. Diesel dashes back along the path)

(I walk on. Dog returns with no ball)

This is one of your jokes isn't it? Like when you pretend to throw it one way then throw it the other.

(I gesture again. He dashes back and doesn't return)

(I reluctantly walk back to an area of long grass by a ditch. Diesel has been known to get in the ditch, and drop the ball but as it floats he can see it and find it. He is sniffing the long grass where he has obviously left the ball. I try to find it but can't)

Idiot man

Come on. We'll have to leave it.


Are you mad?

Idiot man

(Stern voice) Come on.


Well if you're going to do your disappointed voice I'll come and cheer you up. You haven't heard the last of this.

(Walk proceeds until we get to the point where we normally play throw and fetch again.)


Where's the ball? I want to fetch the ball. Throw the ball. Go on. Throw it. Go on. I'll run a bit then stop. That normally helps you remember.

(I give the empty palms gesture)

You lost my ball!

(I dangle the lead)

OK. I'll just run on a bit and wait for you to remember where you put it.

(10 seconds pass)

Got the ball?

(8 seconds pass)

Got the ball?

(6 seconds pass)

Got the ball?

( I put him on the lead)

How come I am being punished for something that is clearly your fault?

(We return home. I go to the pet shop and purchase two new dayglo balls and, as a treat, a small bone.)

(I hand over the bone)

Open the door.

Idiot man

I'm going out.


This is torture. I'm not allowed to eat bones in the house. It's me that needs to go out; not you.

Idiot man

This house is different. Here. Eat it on your bed.


Are you mad? I'll puke.

(I go out and leave Diesel with the bone)

(I return. Idiot woman had returned first)

Idiot man

Where's the dog?

Idiot woman

He's in the garden eating his own vomit. I've cleaned his bed up.

Idiot man

He told me that would happen.

(Idiot woman makes gesture. Idiot man goes to his basket)

Monday, August 04, 2014

Quote Book Index 711-720

Indexing my quote books ten at a time and choosing the best of each ten. Hear Henri Nouwen on 'community':

714. The place where the person you least want to live with always lives.
(quoted by Christianity Today in The Briefing 189)


It is a long time since my friends and I at a 1970s church youth club remarked at how many Christian songs were about getting girlfriends - you shall go out with Joy; you will be saved by Faith.

I came to faith, aged 16-19, in a Christian environment that was full of fun and laughter. We had setbacks and disasters but we laughed more than we cried. It was 1993, when I was a conference organiser for the Church Youth Fellowships' Association (CYFA), when someone told me that an event I had organised was 'too much fun'. I had been specifically tasked with easing the debilitating seriousness the Reform / Proclamation Trust gang had inflicted on CYFA conferences. One of their number said I had gone too far.

Those thoughts came back to me last night but another quickly replaced it as a preacher, speaking on number two in a series about the fruits of the Spirit, asked the question, 'What is joy?'

In a question and answer session we quickly established that laughter wasn't joy - although joyful people often laugh a lot. We also felt that joy wasn't quite the same as happy, although joyful people might seem happy a lot of the time. The ubiquitous Pharrell Williams got played. The congregation made a mess of clapping and dancing. Just not used to it.

We ended up, I think, because my mind went a wandering on this, concluding that the word joy was about a deeper, inner contentment. It is related to certainty and assurance more than a sense of humour. It is often the case that English translations of Greek words do not do justice to their depth of meaning. Chara, the Greek word translated 'joy', also means happiness and gladness.

So far so good but then one of the conclusions, if I heard it right, was that we should look happier; that people will be more attracted to our church if the members smile. Really? Are outsiders (hate that term but feeling too lazy to do better) so shallow that they will turn away from a church event if the percentage of smiles is too low.

There are some people who always look happy and smile a lot - I am married to one and it is nice - but most people don't. I am happy. I am deeply content with my lot and in my own shoes. I like being me. I do jokes. I tell a mean story. I love craic (note spelling). I look forward to the day, enjoy problem solving and am pretty sure I cheer up more people than I depress. On Facebook yesterday there were some comments from people who love that Trendlewood Church (my responsibility) is characterised as a place of laughter.

Although there are commands to put off sad faces the word smile only appears three times in The Bible. All three references are in the book of Job and two are negative - smiling at another's misfortune. Job is not exactly a bundle of laughs although I am more convinced than ever before that it is meant to be black comedy.

Maybe it is because I am a Brummie (we tend to save smiles for emergencies). Perhaps my self-consciousness following facial injuries in a road accident aged 14 has something to do with it. I don't know. All I can say is that I will never judge your joy level by your facial muscles and ask that you similarly do not treat me that superficially.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


'Well' says the Aussie in the ad '...you wouldn't want a warm beer now would you?'

No Bruce. We wouldn't. You simply don't understand.

Bottled lagers of the Becks, Carlsberg, Fosters type are ice-brewed. For a fuller flavour, they say.

But have you ever noticed when drinking say, a pint of Stella, that about half-way down it starts to taste worse? This is because, as it warms up, nothing happens to the taste. It is no longer cold but has no new complexity of flavour developing.

Whereas a real ale, stored at the correct cellar-cold temperature, will continue to develop in the bottle and when exposed to air (being opened) the full flavour comes to the fore.

So the bottom of a pint of, say, Butcombe will taste as nice, if not nicer, than the first sip. The first gulp of ice-cold beer is magic, often, but that is as good as it gets. Bottles of that sort of lager should be very, very small. A whole pint of cellar-cold real ale will develop and become more magic as you drink it.

'Well' I reply '...you wouldn't want a dead beer now would you?'

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mummy Search

Comedian Jon Richardson says the world divides into two sorts of people - leavers and putters.

Leavers say 'Where did I leave my car keys?' They then have to search. Putters go to where they always put their car-keys on returning home and miraculously find their keys there every time.

I am a putter but last week I lost the church emergency phone. It wasn't where I always leave it.

But I want to discuss the concept of search. How hard have you looked when you say you have looked?

Parents are all aware of children explaining they've lost things. They will say they have looked everywhere and the universal parental response is, 'So if I come into your room I won't be able to find it either.' Cue last minute checking to avoid the opprobrium of a parent finding the lost thing too easily.

My friend Ruth of this parish calls this a 'Mummy search'. All reports of lost things by her children would only become her business if a Mummy search had already been undertaken.

In our household this was called a 'Daddy search' for a couple of reasons. Firstly Mummy was often the person doing the searching for her own property with children helping, or without if it was they who had been mislaid. Secondly because, after a day alone with two lively boys aged two and four, I often came home from work to have to search for Mummy (cowering in the wardrobe with the gin bottle the favourite place).

I did a Mummy search for the lost phone, twice, with a sleep between the two.

My friend Bob, not of this parish, thinks differently. The paragraph could easily end there but I'll plough on. He invites those who have lost things to think like a golf ball.

We used to run a holiday for teenagers every year on a public school site which had its own golf course. At the end of the let we had to pay for lost golf balls and so we sent a small team onto the golf course to find balls. We encouraged them to think like a golf ball. Where would it hide if it wanted not to be seen?

After three years of this we no longer had to hire balls for we had found enough to have our own stock.

I searched thinking like a mobile phone, twice, with a sleep between the two. Recalling it was a phone and could be contacted I rang it, twice, with a sleep between the two. The call went straight to voicemail. Since I never put such a divert on the phone it was clear evidence that it had been abducted.

I fessed up and my colleagues embarked on the annoying and long-winded process of cancelling it and replacing it. This included contacting a previous administrator to ask what the account password was, working out how to change the church office out of hours message and identifying and calling the account provider. I already think I have helped us become better organised.

But I think you know what happened next.

This morning (seven days on) I opened the car glove compartment. This glove box had been previously searched twice including removing all its contents, for Mummys and Daddys know that modern technological design has made phones thin enough to slip between two pieces of car user manual. Thinking like a phone you would also imagine that a car glovebox was a safe place to be.

And there, right in the middle of the box, in clear sight, in a place it had not been during the previous two searches, was the missing, now cancelled, phone.

It was still charged (just) and although showing no service provider there was no evidence of any locks or diverts.

Sometimes there are genuine wormholes. No other explanation. Unless, of course, the phone was caught up in in the glovebox mechanism until jolted out.

Life. No way could I eat a whole one. Instead of an emergency phone which causes more problems when lost than when phoned I am publishing my mobile number.

Some of this piece may be true.

Thought for the Day

Slightly weird Thought for the Day experience today. As part of the 'Right up your Street' series, where BBC Radio Bristol focuses on a different part of the region for a week, I was asked to go to the Parish Wharf Leisure Centre in Portishead. On arrival it became apparent that nothing was set up so Tim, the reporter in charge, asked me to make a recording using his iPad. This I did. Nothing was ready by the time my slot arrived so the recording was played rather than me doing it live or inter-acting with the presenter in the studio (an encounter for which, given that it surprised me last time I was outside broadcasting, I had prepared by arriving early and thinking of things to say about the surrounding area. So at the time I would normally be delivering I was in the car driving home and I heard myself on the radio.

Today's key story was about the possibility of offering volunteers a Council tax rebate:

My late father was in the RAF. He told stories about war, avoiding the death and destruction and sticking to comedy, as many of his generation did.

On one occasion a senior officer came into the mess and announced, 'We're a bit short-staffed in the kitchen so we need some volunteers to peel potatoes.' Then, pointing, he added 'You, you and you. Off you go.'

In the RAF you had a job to do. Obey orders. The joke was the officer's use of the term 'volunteer'. Yet my Dad wasn't called up. He volunteered.

What is a volunteer? In the middle of the Commonwealth games we recall London 2012 and the brilliant job of the games makers. All volunteers.

I had to volunteer to be a vicar but then had to have that calling tested by older, wiser Christians. Now I get paid. Isn't that - a job?

Jesus once sent his disciples ahead of him. He gave them a vision for the harvest of changed lives but he offered no wage, or tax rebate. He described the work as being like lambs amongst wolves.

I applaud ideas that encourage more community involvement. Too many people keep themselves to themselves and see that as a desirable quality. And also the generous treatment of all who have served above and beyond the call of duty.

St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote a great prayer:

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Quote Book Index

The best of 701-710:

'...they have got this muesli quality to them. You feel this has got to be good for me; high fibre...'
(Tony Parsons on U2, The Late Review 6/3/97)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Quote Book Index

Got back to my quote book indexing task after a few weeks off. Best of 691-700:

697. H.L.Mencken on Puritanism, '...the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.'

Days Off

It can seem that clergy bang on about days off more than most. Maybe we do. I apologise for adding to the noise but this slightly biographical piece is me getting my head adjusted after a change.

My good friend John Gooding once told me that books about change should be called 'Negotiating the New Normal'. It was one of those occasions where the book was unnecessary as the title gave you enough to latch onto. A bit like the time management book my friend Bob never wrote called, 'If you've got time to read this book you don't have the problem'.

For the last few years I have taken Fridays off. The current Mrs Tilley (who will laugh at, rather than be offended by, that title) has been to work Monday to Friday. My Diocese has also encouraged me to take two consecutive days off once a month and recently I have become better at doing that.

My parish are sympathetic and often tell me off for answering emails on a Friday.

But in order to free up as much Saturday time as possible I have been in the habit of doing odd admin jobs on a Friday, usually first thing in the morning, because TCMT rouses me when leaving the house. For me, the important thing about Friday to re-charge has been about solitude; completely avoiding people not completely avoiding work. So I have often used the day to catch up on household tasks at a gentle pace, or a bit of reading or writing.

TCMT has just been told by a new line-manager that he expects his team to work every Saturday (they are in retail) and take a day off in the week in lieu. This may seem a harsh change but he has a much better attitude to days off and expects them to turn their phones off and not be available two days a week. Previously she has been on almost semi-permanent call.

So this last two weeks we have enjoyed each other's company together on a week day but I have discovered that I have had no solitude, done no chores and not done any of those little admin jobs on that day. I have already had an email this morning (Saturday) asking if I read the drama script sent yesterday and it is not quite 9.00 a.m.

So I need to adjust. Urgent admin, household tasks and some solitude need to be the order of Saturday so that we can spend Friday together, unless there are weddings or social functions. I feel very privileged to have a job with such control over my time and activity. But if I spend Friday in company and then have, say, a men's breakfast, a wedding and a social Saturday night watch out for me being a bit snappy on a Sunday. It may seem only a subtle change but imagine your week if Friday and Saturday swapped after all these years. Takes a bit of getting used to.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol earlier on, the day the Commonwealth Games are due to open in Glasgow:

Do you ever realise that you've used a word for ages and never noticed what it meant?

The word of the day is Commonwealth. Funny word. Having wealth in common. As the Games continues we will say it lots. According to the 1949 Charter, the Commonwealth stands for free and equal voluntary co-operation.

Common wealth is a very biblical idea. In the early church the first Christians were described as people who 'had everything in common'. The Bible goes on to say that no-one considered any possession their own but shared everything they had. It's a long journey from there to a street like mine where everyone has an electric lawn-mower and keeps it locked in the garage on the thirteen days a fortnight it is not in use.

I'm a realist. I do not imagine a suburban utopia of shared grass-cutting apparatus is just around the corner.

There are bits about our commonwealth history of which I am not proud. Many of the commonwealth countries were invaded or conquered, the places slaves were sought or bad people sent. But the current Commonwealth of nations includes members, such as the most recent two, Rwanda and Mozambique, who were never part of the British Empire.

As we observe the games over the next days we will see winners and losers. But the big picture is to see co-operative competition. It is called the friendly games because, for the nations involved, that is the starting point.

If the only time we use the word commonwealth is where we try to beat each other at competitive sport we may have missed something. But if we were to get better at sharing the wealth. Well that's a thought isn't it?

Thursday, July 17, 2014


I read this in a Facebook post yesterday. It is only a partial quote and, as it was Facebook, I won't attribute it but I have told the writer about this post:

'... for me the general issue would not be of orientation but of conduct. Church rules on sex and marriage are clear enough for all clergy, lesbian, gay or straight. I hope ... is able, with the help of others and God, to abide by them and if so I've absolutely no problem with her having lesbian sexual orientation.'

You probably know who the writer was talking about but it is not of importance.

Most of my regular readers will know that I make a point of not disclosing my views on sexual orientation and I continue not to. The point of this post is something else which grabbed my attention - abiding by the rules.

It is not illegal for a clergy person to marry someone of the same sex. It is not legal, to solemnise such a relationship in a Church of England Church building. The bishops's guidelines on same sex marriages for clergy say:

‘...it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in Holy Orders to enter into a same sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives’ (House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance 2013).

Not illegal, but not appropriate.

This guidance gave the strongest possible hint that those who had stated their aim to do such a thing, Canon Jeremy Pemberton being the first, should expect to be disciplined. He and others have been.

The interesting question is that a number of people have chosen to openly disobey the rules, judging that their desire to marry their partner was greater than their desire not to be disciplined. They took their chances. There has not been a landslide (yet) and we do not know, obviously, how many have quietly and discretely married and are waiting to be discovered.

As the number of those disciplined slowly increases so will the view take shape that this is a bad piece of guidance. The LGBT community do have people with extraordinary gifts of empathy, compassion and general social skills and contribute good pastors to the church. As these pastors diminish so will the feeling grow that the C of E is self-destructing.

The guidance is in place, I think mainly, because the church needs to work out its relationship with other parts of the the Anglican communion where LGBTs are treated more harshly. So it will change but slowly.

And of course the Church of England is full of others, myself included, who break all sorts of rules and guidelines and are not disciplined. Because the rules I break are not about sex. We are not very good at this.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Training Days

A few weeks ago I flew to Malta using an e-ticket. I did not have to print it out at any point. I merely had to prove that I was me and offering my passport at the check-in worked fine, although the spell-checker just suggested offering my pastry, which would have been interesting. Hello, I'd like to fly, here's a custard tart. I digress. Must stop doing that in paragraph one.

So I went on Thursday to a small training event, part of a series organised by my national church through Eventbrite. I received an e-ticket. It told me to print it out before the event. I did so, which was annoying becasue it was an e-ticket, but then did not have to show it to anyone, which was worse. Neither was I asked to prove who I was. I simply signed against my name on a list at reception.

Reception. Hmm. The office of the Diocese of Bristol in Stoke Gifford is on the first floor of a building on a new business park. No travel directions were sent and my map was out of date. I still arrived ten minutes early for a 9.30 start. I was first. At 9.35 there were two of us, drinking coffee we made ourselves using a machine with slight complexities. It became apparent that nobody had expected to begin until 9.45. We eventually waited for the late-comers and started twice, at 10.00 and 10.05.

The assumption was made that a bunch of people who prefer social media, and were being trained in its better use, ought to be more enthusiastic in responding to the question 'Are you excited about today?'

This is about welcome, hospitality and joining instructions. They can alter people's expectations of the day and make them less excited about it than they would have otherwise been. Then the training work becomes a whole load harder.

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol a few minutes ago:

The General Synod of the Church of England continues to meet in York. Later today it votes once again, hopefully definitively this time, on the Women Bishops Measure. Personally, I hope it passes. My own little church has sponsored two women through ordination training recently and has a third in the pipeline. We value women's ministry and leadership. I'd love one of them to reach the top.

The journey to this point has required great patience on the part of many faithful women who feel called to leadership. But also great diplomacy on the part of the current leadership, in drafting legislation that will accommodate those who, in all conscience, feel that tradition or biblical scholarship point to a male priesthood. Keeping a variety of views as complementary rather than contradictory has always been one of the skills of my broad church.

In a previous role I used to travel the country training Church of England youth leaders. Wanting to impress the importance of the task upon some hard-pressed volunteers, who were often working with small numbers, I used to quote the late Mark Ashton:

'Jesus', he said, 'met many people in his life, but he seemed content to make a significant impact in the lives of just a few.'

Adding my own spin to that I would say, 'You may have just a few members but one of them may be a future Archbishop of Canterbury.'

After a dramatic pause for effect I would then say:

'...and I hope you're looking after her.'

It either got a laugh or a wince (it was twenty years ago).

But maybe that will get a little closer to being prophetic in a few hours time. Hope so.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

New Speak

As an example of a sentence the young me would not have had the first idea how to understand:

Sent from my Ultrafast Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini on Three

pretty much takes the biscuit.

I would have wondered when Samsung took over British Leyland and why the M had been dropped from Motorway names.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Thought for the Day

As delivered to Geoff Twentyman on The Breakfast Show at BBC Radio Bristol just now. A waxwork is being unveiled in Bath that purports to show what Jane Austen looked like. A challenge has been issued to write the letter that the unknown soldier (statue at Paddington Station) is reading:

Interesting pair of stories this morning. The waxwork imagery of Jane Austin puts a face to someone whose words we know well.

Whereas the challenge to discuss the content of the unknown soldier's letter is to suggest words for an individual whose appearance we know well.

It is clear that looks mean a lot to some people. We do judge by appearance. It is why politicians spend so much time with image consultants (beat) and I prefer radio.

But for our classic and historical authors? I read Bill Bryson's little biography of William Shakespeare recently. He points out that there are only three reliable images of that playwright from his day, and it is likely that two of them copied the third one.

We know very little about the appearance of our biblical heroines and heroes. Michelangelo's statue of David is more about romantic masculinity than a true likeness, although the Bible tells us he was good-looking. We know next to nothing about Jesus of Nazarath's physical appearance apart from generalisations.

Some people in Athens had erected an altar to an unknown God. St Paul, stopping off there to debate in the market place, used the opportunity to speak of Jesus. God may well be unknown, distant, he suggested, but Jesus has made him known.

It was Jane Austen herself who said 'Life is but a quick succession of busy nothings.'

But the unknown soldier - Everyman - stands for sacrifice, courage and generosity of heart and spirit. We almost don't need to put words on his lips. A life all over far too quickly. Busy, but not nothing.

How do you want to be remembered? For how you looked? Or for what you did?

(Grateful thanks to Commissioning Editor Tim Pemberton for improving the punchline.)

Friday, July 04, 2014

Thought for the Day July 4th

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

Two people wake up this morning knowing that a day awaits which may be their last day of freedom for a while.

Rolf Harris, a childhood hero of mine, will be sentenced on twelve counts of indecent assault.

Andy Coulson will be sentenced for conspiracy to intercept voice-mail messages whilst he was editor of the News of the World Newspaper.

Now let me paint you a scenario. Imagine you find yourself in the position of being able to pardon one of these two men. Who is it going to be?

I don't know what you would say but we all carry round in our minds a chart of comparative wrong-doing. 'At least I'm not as bad as...' we say to ourselves.

So in prison - and Rolf Harris has been told to expect that - as a sex offender he will be looked down on by other prisoners. As a child sex offender he will be looked down on by the other sex offenders.

A judge, of sorts, once found himself in the position I placed you in. Who will he pardon? The leader of an insurrection or a popular teacher and preacher. He let the crowd be the judge and they surprised him. 'Release Barabbas', they cried, leaving Jesus to his fate.

The Bible actually says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And so whilst we might all expect, and maybe even be pleased, that today two criminals get their just deserts we might do well to pray for them. For repentance. For turning from their wicked ways.

And to pray a personal prayer too, for if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

100 Years of Reading

A review of a book first published in 1967 is, by any way of reckoning, late and so this is more about how reading it has felt.

It was Peter Carey who first introduced me to the concept of the unreliable narrator with his Herbert Badgery story-teller introducing 'Illywhacker' with the line that he was 134 years old and a habitual liar.

The narrator of 100 years is not a liar, but speaks of ordinary things and flying carpets as if they were both normal, telling the story of the village of Macondo dispassionately whether describing sex romps or massacres with a detailed and pathological gaze.

I rarely enjoyed the company of the compulsory books in English Literature. This felt like one. Paragraphs last three pages. Sentences are interminable. The dictionary was required on more than ten occasions. Get distracted by the conversation of the people in the seats behind on the train or plane, as I did, and you can accidentally read a page without registering it. Then you have no idea who is the subject of the lengthy paragraph any more. (It may have changed.)

The five generations of the founding families of Macondo often repeat names, with minor variations. I was constantly popping back to the family tree at the beginning of chapter one to get my bearings. Was that José Arcadio Buendia, José Arcadio, Arcadio or José Arcadio II? And time seems to pass weirdly. Some characters live to well into their second century, others die but you discover the book hasn't finished with them. How old are these folk? How are they counting?

It is hard to get your bearings. Where are we? The Caribbean, we learn late. When are we? There are pointers but it is not tight.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a Nobel laureate. He died recently.

It was mysterious, vaguely magical and the hardest book I have ever finished and just about enjoyed. I'm glad I did. I think.

On the jacket The New York Times says it should be required reading for the entire human race. How little that paper knows of humanity.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

What Would You Have Done?

I know you like these occasional little tales told against myself so here goes. Tell me if you would have done the same and if you would have noticed sooner.

Last night I returned home from the Standing Committee at about 10.15, poured myself a glass of wine at the end of a long first day back at work after holidays, and sat down to watch the end of the Germany vs Algeria game.

My lovely and generous wife, off to bed, changed the TV channels to the football (how cool is that?) and I observed that there were about 25 minutes left. The score was 0-0. It seemed end-to-end and exciting. The game was good, although it slowed a little, and the referee blew for what I thought was full time. The commentator said, 'Back to Adrian and the boys.'

I expected extra time but it became apparent that it was half-time not full-time. The boys were preparing to discuss the first half, after the inevitable ITV break.

During the advertisements I checked the kick-off time in my little, battered Guardian World Cup guide that I took to Gozo and back (sad eh?) and saw that the match had been due to start at 9 not 10. I wondered (are you there yet?) if some of the references to weather conditions I had vaguely picked up had led to a late start. Or maybe crowd trouble or transport problems

Then, about three adverts in, a blank screen with this message:

This content is not available on ITV+1. Please turn to ITV.

ITV+1. Oh bollocks.

After a short break the adverts continued then the panel came up and began to discuss the first half and it struck me. I had just watched the end of the first half on ITV+1, the channel my wife had accidentally tuned to. Her generosity and loveliness dipped a little.

Dilemma. The game is now over. I have missed the second half. But if it ended 0-0 I can save having to watch a dull second half and jump straight to extra time and maybe penalties. But if it has not ended 0-0 I'll have missed the possibility of watching the Germans lose.

I opted to keep watching +1, knowing that extra time would see me going to bed pretty late and penalties - well you know. Amazingly I had not looked at Twitter the whole time so decided I couldn't, obviously, do that either - even if the game was dull.

So that is why I am late with my homework for today's meeting, slept until 8.00 a.m. for the first time in a million years, and, apparently, can't type anymore.

Of course the Germans won. They woke up. Wish I could.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Holiday Reading

Not a very adventurous holiday. Just felt a bit like escaping into easy stuff. But these are the books that kept me company this last fortnight. Mark out of ten indicates escapism, enjoyment and in its genre - not simply for literature value.

Mark Billingham
From the Dead
Nice little thriller. Woman comes out of ten year jail term for having her husband killed. Then he turns up. Page turner. Bit of a twist. (6)

William Boyd
Spy thriller. Beautifully written. Flitting backwards and forwards between modern Cotswolds and Second World War, a woman finds out who her mother really is, what she did in the war and who still remembers. (7)

Dave Eggers
A Hologram for the King
Sparse prose and slow moving. Salesman Alan Clay, in Saudi Arabia trying to clinch a deal, has to do a lot of waiting around for the people to whom he needs to present. Has the USA lost the knack of impressing foreigners? Have the Chinese somehow got it? If you like Magnus Mills you'll love this. (8)

Susan Hill
The Shadows in the Street
A Simon Serailler whodunit. Prostitutes disappear. Many characters with motives are sketched out. The Deanery Close is full of manoeuvring. Not as well done as P.D.James but good fun nonetheless. (7)

John Grisham
Theodore Boone - The Activist
Although not explained on the cover this is a Grisham children's novel. Now I quite like such books. Good to have some to recommend to younger readers. Not this one. Wanted thirteen year old Boone to die horribly. He is an adult who has been drawn as a child, behaving as adults would wish. This is horrid children's writing. An adult writing a book about a child to keep children in order. (4)

Lee Child
Never Go Back
Jack Reacher goes back to meet a woman who he can only say 'Has a nice voice'. Amazing. Turns out she's a looker, fancies him and can also take care of herself. 500 pages later the world is slightly safer, several motel rooms have been abused, the bad guys have their fingers broken and I am back in Gozo, poolside. Can't complain. (6)

David Sedaris
I'd recommend hearing Sedaris read some of his prose before embarking on a story collection. He has one of those voices that makes you expect something funny. You won't be disappointed. At least five laugh-out-loud moments and I never do that because then you have to explain or read to the other residents and you can't do the accent. The final story, from which the collection is titled, is his adventures with some nudists. 'The absence of clothing made it very hard to describe people. You couldn't say 'Who's the uncircumcised gentleman with all the hair on his ass?''(7)

Kate Atkinson
One Good Turn
In Edinburgh during the festival a few people witness a road-rage incident. Not everyone who has something to report does so because they were up to no good themselves. Then the witnesses start disappearing. Good combo of whodunit and whatdidtheydo. (7)

Gabriel Garcia Marcquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Well you friends and followers know that I try to take something improving with me on holiday. Maybe a classic that I missed or the work of a lauded writer who is known to be hard going. Don't say 'What kind of a holiday is that?' Especially if you go skiing and come back with broken bits. Yes you. You know who I'm talking to. Suffice to say that I'm glad I read it, will probably never read anymore by Marcquez (who recently passed away), quite enjoyed it but, and it's a big but, this is the hardest book I've ever finished. Three page paragraphs and forty word sentences are the norm. Will write a longer post on the impact of this later. (8)

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Although I have no recollection of ever meeting anyone who actually had somebody's eye out with that, I recall being warned about the possibility on several occasions. Raspberry canes, in the wrong hands, must be the world's deadliest anti-ocular device.

Lectures about risk were regular. Walk downstairs properly not on the outside of the bannisters. Don't run with a drink in your hand. Don't hit your sister with that whatever was to hand.

In fact I paid little attention to those rules and the only occasion in my childhood I can recall attending Selly Oak Accident Hospital was preceded by the statement 'Mum I dug up an old light bulb.' I still have the scar in the palm of my left hand. Don't run excitedly to your mother with an old light bulb in your hand. Good advice that but I had never been given it.

In fact my parents had a strange attitude to risk. Living in a massive old Victorian house, much of which had fallen into disrepair, was a permanent adventure and we were allowed to play with things we found. Hide and seek could include an oily inspection pit in the garage. Building games took place with old bits of rough wood leading to splinters. Many of the planks we found had nails sticking out of them but nobody seemed to mind as long as we had a tetanus jab from time to time and always cleaned any wounds with Dettol.

The one thing that was an absolute no was playing in the front. In the street. This was not, as far as I could tell, because of the risk of abduction. Such things were not heard of in the early sixties and even the Moors murders failed to make a mark since the moors were in the north and it was well known that northern murderers never came south of Derby.

Neither was it a risk of car accident. Oakfield Road is a long straight suburban road where you could see and hear a car approaching easily and if you couldn't the gene pool would surely find other ways of removing you. In fact Oakfield Road was used by a local garage as a brake-testing strip in the days when that was done by mechanics not computers. It was a long, straight road with a thirty mile an hour limit where many drivers were expecting to jam on their brakes at some point. I doubt if there was a safer street in Brum.

No. The problem with playing out was that it was common. The sort of thing the people in Croydon and Luton Road did. And my mother required me, if going down to the shops, not to walk down Croydon Road for fear that I might catch working-classness.

I thought about this afresh today having observed a couple of builders place their ladder in the road on a busy blind corner. Then they proceeded to remove a piece of rotten wood and replace it with a stone lintel. Gloves to protect from splinters? Pah. Eye protection and face masks from the brick dust and chips? No way. Protective footwear? One had bare feet and the other wore flip-flops.

Discussing Gozitans' maniacal approach to risk - apprentice builders have to walk round the top of an uncompleted house wall before the roof is in place to show they are made of the right stuff - I recall the words of a travel rep some years back, 'Last week a priest fell down a hole; what can you do?'


When visiting a Catholic Church on Gozo male tourists in shorts are often turned away because to show that much leg (hairy or otherwise) is deemed disrespectful. Women, likewise, are required to borrow a shawl to cover those shoulders and a wrap to cover their knees.

But at weddings, one of which we watched today from the safety of a piazza cafe, whilst the men all turn up in sharp suits, and even the local farmers wear what is probably their only tie, the younger women turn up in vertiginous heels, bare shoulders and tight dresses which barely cover their knickers if pulled down with that little shimmy movement women in too-short skirts often manoeuvre through. Not that I stare.

I'd post a photo or two but I swear the porn filters would reject them.

Maybe the priests need something to look at through a wedding, especially on a Sunday with four masses to do as well.

Anyway the country that rips you off with Catholic tat has got a strange line on respect. Churches are the only place on the Maltese Islands we have ever been treated badly.

I'm sitting here waiting for the fashion show to come out of church again. It was all the wife's idea. I'm just a reluctant conscript. She took a photo of the bride getting out of the car.