Thursday, April 28, 2016

Abbey House Quiet Day

Got this message from Abbey House, Glastonbury today. Now nobody minds being given an unexpected  free day but if you fancy a day's peace and quiet in the company of Luke 15 then why not book in, if you're able to.

Monday 9th May - Quiet Day "Lost people matter to God" with Rev Steve Tilley

If I am being honest there are two reasons why I want to ask you to consider coming to the above Quiet Day at Abbey House. Yes, one reason is that if we don't get quite a few more people booking we will have to cancel it, and I haven't cancelled a Quiet Day yet! But the second reason is just as true - if you don't come you will miss some great input from a very talented speaker and a chance to enjoy the very special peace of Abbey House and its gardens to recharge your batteries!

Steve Tilley's Twitter blurb says he has been "disorganising religion since 1975" and his blog describes him as "possibly the most or least normal vicar you will ever meet". Not convinced enough to come yet? Talking about the input for the Day he asks "Is God more like a partying shepherd, a dancing house-cleaner or a bad dad light on discipline?"

Why not come and debate this with Steve or just enjoy the peaceful surroundings of Abbey House and the great lunches we provide?

Book by calling 01458 831112 or emailing

Yours sincerely

Rob Norman

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

I Love the C of E

I do, I do. In all its wonderful mix of stupidity and glory, I love it. Here's an example:

I have been the minister of a planted church for ten years, Although every church in the land was once planted, the idea of church planting has controversial overtones for some.

Trendlewood Church was planted by Holy Trinity, Nailsea in 1989 (Palm Sunday) to be a worshipping presence and attractional model of church in a part of town which used to be fields and became housing development.

There are only three public buildings on the estate called Trendlewood and the church has met in all of them at some time or other - two schools and a pub. There is no available land on which to build a meeting place.

Anxious to assert its own vision and direction in ministry the church spent the year 2014 seeking guidance regarding its future mission, concluding that it was called to be more independent; in fact as independent as possible.

The Diocese, through its officers, indicated that Trendlewood could not become a parish without a building and so Trendlewood has sought the maximum possible independence within this restrictive framework.

Last night the Holy Trinity and Trendlewood Annual Parochial Church Meeting (APCM) affirmed the proposal to pursue this by a massive majority.

There are very few examples within the National Church with which to compare this. Even the part of the C of E's web-site dealing with unusual pastoral arrangements has nothing directly comparable.

So, if you had to give a name to this new, exciting, emerging, unusual expression of church what would you choose?

Maybe a group of people who had spent too long switching their computers off using the start button had a propensity to give names that are the exact opposite of the style. So yes folks, if it all goes through without a further hitch, we will be:

A Conventional District

Can you imagine how much I want to insert the letters U and N prior to the second word? Yes, that much.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

How do you make decisions? Do you arm yourself with the best possible information then sit down with a cuppa and go through the details? Or do you act on hunches? Have an intuitive sense of what's wrong and what's right?

Should you vaccinate your children? Are the warnings right? Which experts should I listen to? Do I believe what I read in the papers? How do I assess risk?

And what about the relaxing things I can do that may involve substances? Cigarettes? Coffee? Beer? Nitrous oxide? Is it my decision? Should I listen to advice? Does it affect my decision if they are legal or illegal things?

Should I get fit? How? Train for a marathon? Or should I perhaps start on the easy level of a fun-run?

But have you noticed that a lot of life is about decisions? Have you heard of the Bible book of Job? Did you know that after questioning God, asking why he had suffered, apparently for no reason, the book ends with four chapters of God's questions?

Who is this that darkens my counsel? Where were you Job when I laid the earth's foundations? Who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars danced together and the angels shouted for joy?

What answer do you think Job gave after hearing a hundred such jibes? Did he own up to questioning things beyond his understanding? Or did he stand up to God and voice what he thought?

Do you think I'm going to tell you the answer? Or have you noticed, in this age of personal decision-making, that every sentence of today's thought is a question? Is it me that does thought for the day? Or is it you?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Happiest Days of My Life?

Richard Garner has been the Independent's, and more recently theipaper's education correspondent for many years. He has now retired and last Thursday wrote a fascinating retrospective on the changes upon which he has reported. I put the article on one side to consider again.

Find it here.

He notes some things of tremendous interest.

I had, for instance, forgotten that the abolition of corporal punishment in schools in 1986 was passed by only one vote. Mrs Thatcher, who would have voted against the measure, was delayed in traffic. Nice to know that traffic congestion isn't all bad. And it reminds us that Thatcher was not really a reformer at heart - she was a keep-it-as-it-is conservative in oh so many ways. Had she got there she would only have delayed the inevitable. Can't imagine the Major government ignoring such an issue, especially once they had their own mandate in 1992.

He records that the arrival of literacy and numeracy hours in the early days of the Blair government under David Blunkett's management was also a great drive upwards in standards. I reckon that the 1997 Labour Government (or New Labour as we must now remember not to call them again) had been sitting on its hands for so many years (eighteen in fact) that it did all its best work within eighteen months.

He applauds independent scrutiny of schools, noting in passing that the current chief schools inspector is proving too independent for Michael Gove's liking. The 'I thought we were friends' line ain't working. Academies will get just as much of a pasting under him as any LEA controlled school.

With some back-bench revolt afoot the current government, Garner says, may struggle to get their academisation legislation through.

And he ends with this:

'...treat teachers as professionals, not guinea pigs for constant change. After all, you wouldn't dictate to a brain surgeon how he or she should do their job, would you?'

Thanks Richard Garner. You have educated me.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


Married in 1977 we have a book of twenty wedding photographs. Yes. You heard me. Twenty. I have a lot of special memories about that day, mainly because I got to concentrate on it.

There's an article knocking around from the New Yorker. It suggests that in the future we will only look at things in order to photograph them.

I have in my possession one photograph which worries me immensely and tells me the danger of such a future.

Two weeks ago I baptised a couple of lads at church. It was a great experience and the crowd (outside on a cool March morning) watched and cheered. I baptised by immersion in a large paddling pool.

Now such a baptism involves carefully, and pastorally, making sure the candidates are fully under the water. I try not to scare them or bully them.

But one photo clearly shows me holding one lad underwater by the throat. There can be no doubt. 

Except there is. Because the crowd will tell you I did not do that. It is a passing shot. It caught my hand moving position and froze it. And there lies the danger. Not from photoshop, although that is dangerous enough, but from thinking you have captured reality when you have created it.

Try and record reality with your own eyes and brain and then see if the photographs remind you of it. This ship may have sailed.

Grumpy Old Curmudgeon

One Christmas my Grandfather - a man for whom the word dour may well have been invented - took the opportunity to moan to one of my uncles about his Christmas present the year before.

Take a moment to think what sort of person does this. Firstly he delivers a complaint about a gift and secondly has waited a year before doing it.

'That fridge thermometer you bought me last year. It doesn't work.'

'That's OK' said my uncle (a bloke we called uncle but not a real one) with a smile on his face, 'I've bought you another one this year.'

Now tell me how you feel about this if I tell you this. He was the MD of a firm that made fridge thermometers.

Given that I have (I am told) a generous nature and a cheerful disposition it says a lot about the strength of the genetic material on the other side of the family.

Gig Openings

I was fortunate enough to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers touring their first album in Birmingham in the 1970s. Hyped up for an evening of exciting rockage we wondered which of their great up tempo tracks they would open with. Maybe American Girl or Anything That's Rock n Roll.

He chose Lunar.

Now this is a great song. Listen to it here

But as a show opener it was remarkable. It is filled with expectation and in the trembling vocal contains the idea that something big and loud is about to break out. It leads you to the rest of the album (which the band then played). But the song is all angst. It felt like the tune played over the PA as the lights dimmed rather than the first of the gig. Only after it had finished were the crowd addressed. Quite brilliant.

Thinking about it for no reason the other day I got to pondering the best openings to gigs I could recall. And they are all quite a while ago. Maybe beginning a gig isn't quite what it used to be. Too much ambling on, 'Hello bristol' (or wherever) and then playing. So how about:

Genesis at Reading in 1973 began with Watcher of the Skies. A huge brooding organ-filled sound. Peter Gabriel, only his head visible, eyes painted with luminous make-up, was encased in a sort of box. As the song progressed it was raised hydraulically into the festival night sky until he sang the final verse twenty feet above the stage. It was outrageous theatre only slightly dampened by the failure of the hydraulic mechanism and it taking about ten minutes to get him down again. I used to get terrible stomach cramps in those days, a mysterious late teenage thing that disappeared as mysteriously as it came. I had one that night but I can only recall the opening of the gig not the pain I was in. I like that.

The following year I saw Jethro Tull at Birmingham Odeon. The lights dimmed and a single spotlight picked out a black and white clad guitarist riffing on a black and white guitar. He was soon joined by a similarly clad bass player (what happened to stage costumes?). This guitar and bass dance around the stage continued for a while until the rest of the band joined in and we were off. Can't remember the tune, or much of the rest of the gig, except the pictures still in my head forty two years later.

In 1987 I saw The Mission at Rock City. Midway through the first tune I realised I had experienced the perfect iconic rock moment. To a mighty drum beat three, wind-machine-assisted, long haired guitarists were standing with one foot on a monitor surveying the crowd. They each had a fag hanging out of their mouth as they played Beyond the Pale.

I would add one further gig which I have only seen on DVD. Deconstructing the gig idea totally David Byrne (who else?) chose the Stop making Sense tour. He walks onto a bare stage with a huge ghetto-blaster and says 'I've got a tune I want to play you.' He presses 'play' and the drum track to Psycho Killer is heard. This is Talking Heads' best known song and usually their encore. He plays it solo, on acoustic guitar. Over the next two hours the band turns up section by section, a back-drop is added and by the end (the beginning?) there is an orchestra, visuals and everything you need for a great opening.

Your turn.



Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

Palm Sunday is the commemoration of the waving of palm branches as Jesus entered Jerusalem. My Nailsea church has its birthday on Palm Sunday. Founded on that day in 1989 we always count the festival as our anniversary. Last Sunday we were 27. 

We had baptisms and a party. It was a good day.

The week we are in now, in most western Christian churches, is known as Holy Week. It includes three special days:

On Maundy Thursday we recall Jesus' last supper with his disciples.

On Good Friday we mark his death. Hot cross buns don't capture the severity.

On Easter Sunday we have surprising and exciting news to ponder. Almost unbelievable. Chocolate eggs fall a little short of the level of celebration required.

But real events are no respecters of festivals. So people die on happy days and are born on sad ones. Yesterday as ministers, myself included, prepared material to tell the story of victory over death, some people who got up early to catch planes or trains ended their lives in waiting areas. Hard to call that a good Tuesday. 

The humdrum of our lives is full of good and bad. No disabled access. Bad. Great actor visits Bristol. Good. Animal cruelty on the increase. Bad. School students multiply £10 many-fold. Good.

This week Christians celebrate the remarkable triumph of good over evil. The bad things which happened to Jesus the preacher are not the end of his story.

Evil, however horrible it is to those who suffer, will not have the last word. For we recite the tale of one man who suffered and we ask:

Didn't he used to be dead?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Time Keeper

Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie; Have a Little Faith) uses the novel to write about spiritual matters. He answers 'What if?' questions.

And here he asks what it would be like if there was a Father Time and he had the ability and power to change lives.

The simple message, you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, is not new or profound. But the construction of this tale to deliver the message in a new, indeed challenging, way, is both.

What if someone could intervene and change the course of history? What would that be like? Would it be helpful? Would you turn back time?

Maybe this book answers the deeper question of why we don't always get what we pray for.

One of the first reads for quite a while where I have dropped everything to finish the book.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

It's hard to talk about drugs sensibly without everyone baying for blood at the first hint of liberalism. Popular public opinion has little sympathy for drug-users.

I am a drug-user. Luckily, for me, my espresso, sauvignon blanc and real ale habit is terribly middle-class and not likely to get me a criminal record.

I've got some 100% Columbian black in the fridge. Which sounds bad but it's chocolate. Grate it on ice-cream. Lovely.

I smoked cigarettes for a while when I was younger but I've never done illegal drugs. Ever. I wasn't trying to avoid them. But none of my friends used them and I never encountered them. Sheltered youth, I guess. I blame my parents.

I now know some people who have used illegal drugs. And I remind myself that a large percentage of such people manage to stop without help or intervention.

But some don't.

The work of charities, drug counsellors, social services and the few youth workers we have left is vital. They are there for those who find themselves addicted, or trapped in cyclical, and criminal, behaviour patterns to support their habits.

Personally, I very much favour a mood of decriminalisation and rehabilitation. So I hate news of funding being withdrawn to any charities who work with the marginalised.

As a follower of Jesus Christ I can't avoid the mission to care for outcasts. For he pointed to God by welcoming everyone without condemnation.

Yes, it's hard to talk about drugs sensibly without everyone baying for blood. But let's try and work out how to care for those who have lost their way in society. It will need money.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Rule 1

1. Simply stated. Clergy should never come back to work from a holiday, on a Sunday.

1. Amplified. Never come back to work from a holiday, on a Sunday, if that holiday has involved huge amounts of socialising and you relax by retreating.

1. Clarified. If you find it unavoidable to break rule 1 avoid two new presentations on the Sunday you return.

1. Emphasised. Certainly don't have a major training day input on the Monday which needs finishing and polishing on the Sunday afternoon especially if this will involve technological stress.

1. Re-emphasised. And it would be stupid to diary a routine training evening for that Monday evening.

1. But. The only acceptable exception is if said holiday will provide the love of your life with an outstanding major birthday experience.


I'll be fine tomorrow.

Watching two starlings building a nest.

Monday, March 14, 2016

God at the Movies

A list of the films referenced at today's Continuing Ministerial Training day and the issues we discussed after each clip. Clip information can be made available on request:

ACT 1 (the set up)
The Big Lebowski
How would different people tell the story of your life?

West Wing Season 2 - Episode 19
What apparently minor details in your life turned out to be really significant?

How does life work out? Do you feel like you have a plan? Or are part of someone else's?

ACT 2 (developing and escalating the conflict)
Yes Man
How would it be if you changed but for and and no for yes?

Have you ever tried to figure out a mystery?
How did it go?

The Way Way Back
Who are your friends? How did you meet?

Enemy of the State
Who is watching? Big Brother? God? What would you do if you were caught up in something, innocently?

Margin Call
What has been the cause of conflict in your life? What caused it to escalate?

What fixes a reputation? What gives a person value? What is a person worth?

Wag the Dog
Do you wear any masks or construct any alternate realities for people to believe in? Who sees the real you? The real truth?

ACT 3 (crisis and resolution)
How does God speak to you? In dreams?
How would you react if he placed an enormous task on your shoulders?

Harry Potter
What would you do with great power? Use it for good? Or not trust yourself and destroy it?

The Last Temptation of Christ
Sort truth from fiction. How much of this is biblical?

Jesus of Montreal
The story of Jesus can be so captivating that you can get really caught up in it. Have you been?

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Music Consumption

Bit of a longer piece today. Pop and get yourself a coffee. And the essay question is this; how do you consume music? Have your habits changed?

I did not grow up in a musical household. There were no musical instruments available. My parents had a pile of 78s gathering dust in the loft and a few vinyl singles and a gramophone in the lounge. I remember hearing Moon River a lot. And also Russ Conway. I liked him as a child so maybe my piano ability had its birth there. That I am only a reasonable pianist and not a great one is down to starting lessons too late. I was twelve.

I don't remember music on the radio. Sometimes on a Sunday we listened to Family Favourites, possibly waiting for the comedy to come on - Round the Horn, Beyond Our Ken - my memory is hazy.

I guess Top of the Pops (1964ff) must have started being part of my TV viewing. I recall Thank Your Lucky Stars (1961-66) with Brian Matthews on a Saturday night. It had a panel that gave a verdict on new music including a member of the public, Janice Nicholls from Wednesbury whose 'Oi'll give it foive' made my parents laugh. No idea how deeply that memory was embedded before I started writing but it just came out. Juke Box Jury (1959-67) was also on Saturday. David Jacobs asked a panel to rate a new record a hit or miss. Sometimes (cringe, cringe) the performer who had just been insulted was hiding out the back and had to meet the critics.

So my friends and I picked up on the Beatles and the Stones through the medium more of popular culture than music-loving. Aged eight you had to be able to sing 'She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah' if you wanted to pretend to know what it was all about.

There were no LPs in my house, to my memory, but one Christmas an album of Batman tunes by a band called Bruce and the Robin Rockers arrived (yes, really) and my sister and I sang along to it incessantly. Pow! Zapp! Wham!

I wasn't cool and didn't know what cool was. Secondary Education was a shock to my sheltered system. It amazed me that one could be derided for one's cultural choices. It hadn't happened before. (Parents, don't shelter your kids from any popular culture. The collision will be more violent when they hit it.) I was once caught singing along to Lily the Pink by The Scaffold (I knew all the words and thought it amusing) and mercilessly teased. I think about then I worked out that I needed to step up.

Of course those of you who know me will realise that I didn't just start buying Melody Maker and listening to Radio 1, although I sort of did but chose Sounds over MM or NME. I became a ruthless investigator. Not without a few false starts though.

There was a shop in Brum called the Diskery. It was in Hurst Street then but has been in Bromsgrove Street for a long time since. It had wall after wall of vinyl albums. I inhaled in there every Saturday morning, possibly breathing in stuff other than music. Simply listening to the conversation one became knowledgeable. The staff were discerning. Happy to sell Led Zep to hippies they also knew that, for instance, Gilbert O'Sullivan had a way with a tune. It felt new and happening but had been around since 1952. It now boasts that it is England's oldest record shop.

I bought my first two albums there. My first single had been Here I Go Again by The Hollies, which at least suggested I had a knack of recognising a decent guitar and vocal harmony effort. One album, by Frijid Pink, was purchased purely based on a heavy and interesting version of House of the Rising Sun they had released as a single. I hated the rest of the album, got rid of it, then a few years later listened again and found new depths and wished I still owned it. From then since I have never ditched an album.

The Diskery had a second-hand section. Here I found an attractive cover and, exercising a hunch, purchased Ssssh. by Ten Years After. They became my favourite band as a young teenager although they were not especially right on. They were the first band I paid to see, a gig I wrote about here. It's day seven of a post called Seven Songs in Seven Days.

Again I am unclear about dates but there were, by then, more ways to purchase music than vinyl. The stereo cassette had appeared and these, thanks to Sony and their amazing Walkman, could be listened to on the move. What many forget is that in the early years they had a serious rival - the eight track cartridge. This was an amazing device which had good sound quality but the four stereo tracks were all the same length so there was a pause and a click as the track changed no matter where the music was. I had a copy of Dark Side of the Moon which is, trust me, completely ruined by three random pauses.

Anyway I opted for the wrong contender in the supply war but was, amazingly, able to get hold of an adaptor which could play cassettes on a cartridge player. (In VHS v Betamax I was better at picking sides). But vinyl albums were my main diet.

In terms of working out what to buy or listen to I was a keen John Peel fan and listened to him in bed late at night. Music on the Noel Edmonds' Radio 1 Breakfast Show was not always rubbish but you needed to stop short of Simon Bates at 9.00 weekdays. I only ever listened to Radio 1 all day when off school sick. At this point the repetition became maddening.

And this was it for many years. I still loved singles but only bought them if the band hadn't yet made an album or didn't intend to.

I noted the arrival of CDs but stayed clear for a while; probably my experience with cassettes and cartridges influenced that. But on my fortieth birthday, in 1995, my family gave me a wonderful Kenwood CD player and my first four CDs. The Bends by Radiohead was one of them. From then on I changed format.

But I had also become distant from places where I heard new music. I began to become reliant on Q reviews (Sounds died in about 1990) learning to choose discerningly from descriptions of music type and only those titles that got four or five stars. Interestingly John Peel was still around and on many late night journeys as part of my work between 1992 and 2002 I encountered weird and wonderful music. I thank him especially for Witness (guitar indie from Wigan) and Lexis (drum 'n' bass).

My sons tinkered with grunge (not really me) but they also had interesting, and increasingly eclectic, taste. I learned stuff about hip-hop. On one, memorable, drive back to university with Junior I noted that he was playing me stuff from the 1970s I had missed and I was playing him new music.

All this time music still had a connection with touch and feel. I missed gatefold vinyl album sleeves very much but embraced the CD. I ignored the arrival of minidiscs, wisely it would seem.

In the last few years I have changed from being paper native to digitally native with my work documents, my diary, all notes and maps. I hang on to books as I like to lend them out if I enjoy them and I like the feel of knowing where I am in them.

And since Christmas I have become digitally native with music. I may have purchased my last CD. I will still buy the occasional vinyl album for reasons not unrelated to why I still like books, and I do like the vinyl sound quality, but in BBC 6 Music I have found a radio station where I like more than I dislike and in Spotify Premium (£10 a month to avoid the ads) a place to stream or save all the new music I want. In fact whereas I used to be restricted by budget to how many CDs I bought per month I now find I don't have the time to engage with all the music I can now afford.

What do you use CDs for?

'Gifts', says son senior.

Also, the algorithm used by Spotify's Discover Weekly service gives me a lovely selection of music I ought to like based on my listening preferences in the past. When I first started with Spotify I was mainly using it to seek out old music I had missed, or to hear tracks off albums buried away in the spare room. The Discover Weekly selection was then largely random, and awful, prog-rock. Now I have started exploring my four star Q reviews, using Spotify, my Discover tracks have become far more interesting. See illustration.

I did a survey of my Facebook friends. Lots of them report that they now download the digital version of a CD or vinyl album (usually provided free). A surprising number of my younger (30s and 40s) friends are Radio 2 people. One person objected to the wording of the question 'How do you consume music these days?' He didn't think of himself as a consumer.

There's lots of radio listening going on amongst these folk but a huge range of stations - commercial, BBC and internet only. Loads of you still use CDs, many because they are best in the car although downloading your own stuff onto iPod, SD card or phone is very common. Spotify is the strongest streaming service you use. A couple of you, probably my more musically educated friends, felt that downloading single tracks was against the spirit of what the artist intended. For that reason holding artwork and lyric sheets was also deemed important. I get this. If someone has gone to some trouble to arrange tracks in a particular order I have always felt the need to listen to them in that order for a while until I was sure.

My one regret about streaming music is that my collection will die with me. Of course I am more than my collection of tunes but, as I find when I visit people's houses and look at what is on the shelves, it says so much about you.

Change in all around I see, but not decay. Just the new normal.

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol just now:

As you have heard, today is World Books Day. If you had to dress as a favourite character from a book, who would you choose?

There are web-sites that will give you ideas. And the supermarkets stock off-the-shelf costumes.

I'm not sure teachers would recognise my hero, Douglas Adams' wonderful creation Dirk Gently - the holistic detective. He wears a brown tattered suit, a red checked shirt which doesn't match and a green striped tie which refuses to speak to either of them. He talks and eats pizza but rarely appears to listen. Or as Adams puts it, 'The traffic through his mouth was incessant. His ears remained unused in normal conversation.'

Gently believes in the ultimate inter-connectedness of all things and so if a car speeds away from a crime he will, as likely as not, follow a different vehicle in the firm expectation that their paths will cross again some day.

It makes his cases interesting and his expenses extraordinary.

In another of my favourite books, the Gospel of Mark, Jesus also constantly surprises people with his reaction to situations. He never does what they expect. One of Mark's favourite sentences, as Jesus touches the untouchable, heals the incurable, welcomes the toddler and sends the rich packing is, 'The crowd were astonished.'

For Mark there is a God, revealed in Jesus, who inter-connects all things.

I am a keen reader. A few days back I realised, with some disappointment, that I would not have time in my life to read all the books I wanted to. I tweeted this and a friend sent me a postcard the next day. It gave me today's thought, 'Life is short; read fast.'

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thought for the Day

As presented to Breakfast at BBC Radio Bristol this morning, trying to link with today's three top stories:

1. Car-parking now being planned at the new Bristol Arena when all along it had been suggested it would not.
2. Someone had put two pots of daffs and a welcome mat in a place where the homeless often sleep.
3. Football fans had joined together to form a fit club to lose weight.

The Bible begins with a couple given a garden to look after. To tend it and care for it. It will provide them with food. They work; they eat. Job done.

Didn't work out as straight-forwardly as I made that sound. Only one rule, they broke it and off they set for a life of labour. The story, once told around middle-eastern camp fires, answers universal questions:

Why is work so hard?
Why is childbirth painful?
Why do snakes slither?

Answers in Genesis chapter 3.

Disobedience got us banned from paradise and we all, the story goes, had to sleep rough once.

Step forward four millennia and we live in a convenience age. We want to park our cars nearby, to eat quickly - only noticing what that might do to our waistbands when it is too late - and we even want to avoid the awkwardness of having to step over the poor as we enter a shop.

How on earth did things get so messed up?

Now I'm a realist. There is a line between sin and suffering but it isn't a straight one. I drive regularly and over-eat from time to time. I fall short of the glory of God I'm meant to reflect. Bet you do too.

Convenience is a luxury. Our success at this civilisation thing has made it so. The car park discussion is about making sure my convenience is not at the expense of future generations. Likewise surviving on fewer calories. But the shop-doorway sleepers report points its finger at all of us. Surely in this age of convenience we ought to be able to find everyone a bed? Two pots of daffs and a welcome mat is at least a start.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Half a Brain

There's a questionnaire knocking around Facebook at the moment. I know, when isn't that true? But this one is slightly more detailed than the usual rubbish and effectively asks you left brain / right brain questions.

It is generally thought that the left brain is digital, organised and systematic whilst the right brain is in charge of imagination and creativity.

Lots of my friends who have done this have been off-the-scale right brainers. Heads not just in the clouds but peaking through looking for new worlds to explore.

And as a musician, story-writer, ideas-generator, albeit as one who is fairly organised about such things, I expected to have at least a slight right brain bias too. Not the case. I came out as 60% left and 40% right - sufficiently left-brain dominant to be described as 'digital'.

It may be that I have changed. When in the company of the highly creative I tend to organise them; when in the company of the highly-organised I tend to generate ideas.

Every single one of these 'stupid' questionnaires takes me a step further to self-understanding.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Was It OK?

Well the idea wasn't bad. Sit in a pub for an hour or so and allow folk to bring their questions about life and faith. Nothing off the table. No holds barred. No bars holed for that matter. No right or wrong answers but simply honest exploration.

First two or three went well in autumn 2014 and guests said they loved it.

Repeated with three more in spring 2015. Numbers never went beyond eight. Three regulars and me made up half of that.

The two or three genuine seekers and questioners from beyond the church gates all said it was good but no-one made a repeat visit.

Tried a different pub in Autumn 2015 but the numbers plummeted. Considered stopping but was urged to continue by most people who had been once before.

Went back to the same old pub in spring 2016 but no progress on numbers was made. This week the other three guests, all regulars, had brought no questions to discuss.

So to the sixteen folk who came at least once, and to the supportive regulars who came most of the time, thank you and goodnight.

We need to try something different. Ideas gratefully received.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Brain Malfunctions

Memes. Brain-wiring. All very fascinating. Slightly tragic too as I watch my Mum's dementia-affected brain become unwired but, as avid readers of #mumwatch will testify, not without its amusing interludes.

It can, of course be annoying. Only slightly so when, for instance, you turn to put away a piece of kitchen equipment in the place where it lived in a former house. You chuckle, say 'durr' and get on with life.

Talking of former houses, I lived in Leamington Spa for fourteen years. File this away, it will be helpful. It was ten years ago mind. I should be used to my new home.

Last Friday I visited an old friend in London. It was a lovely time. One of those occasions when you carry on as if nothing has happened even though you have not seen each other for ten years or so. I was glad to have done it and, travelling back, looked forward to an evening at home on the sofa. (I got this. There is no unhappy ending here. Relax.)

My friends live on the Bakerloo Line. Sitting in the carriage I looked up at the routeboard and counted the number of stops to my destination. Nine. I got my book out. After eight I put my book down, got my stuff together, did up my coat and alighted.

I followed the network rail signs and found myself at the mainline station but, looking up at the departure board, could not see the 4.30 to the West Country. Weird. Come to think of it I didn't recognise the station as the one I had been at that morning.

Because it wasn't.

So what had gone wrong? Let's go back to, 'Sitting in the carriage I looked up at the routeboard and counted the number of stops to my destination. Nine.'

My eyes had failed to get beyond the ninth stop because it was Marylebone. Marylebone, the station I used for fourteen years to get home from London when I lived in, you guessed it, Leamington Spa. Trains to Nailsea depart from Paddington. Which was eleven not nine.

Now you may find it helpful to know that if you allow a little extra time for a journey because of STUFF THAT HAPPENS, then it will still be 22 minutes before your train departs from two further stops up the Bakerloo line and this is plenty of time to buy another ticket, catch the tube and get off at the right stop. I caught the 4.30 from Paddington with time to spare. I could probably have walked between the stations in that time too.

But it is amazing how easily we can misdirect ourselves. Head-space. It's all smoke and mirrors in there.

Thought for the Day

A few years ago I was a guest at a Hindu wedding. I had many experiences that day which were utterly new. I loved it.

One thing will live long with me. A moment during the reception. Not the finest vegetarian curry I have eaten. Not the colourful table settings. No. It was that the three oldest women in the room were mentioned by name and stood to receive acknowledgement. It was lovely. The families had gathered from all over the world. It was clear that it might be the last chance to meet some, or all, of these women. The applause was simply for longevity. I liked the sense of respect that suggested. As we've heard. Some of our great grandmothers were war heroes.

Having faced the decision of arranging my own mother's residential care recently I am very aware of the hardship of finding the right place. I also have the greatest respect for those who keep elderly, or sick children, loved ones close by, in the family, until it is no longer safe.

So respite help is fabulous. A chance to take a break from being a full-time carer. Yet we hear that the provision of such care varies around the region. It's a problem. We want decisions taken as locally as possible but we don't want a postcode lottery on health matters. We can have clone towns or specialisation. But probably not both. Which do we want?

The great prophet and king, Solomon, was praised for asking God for a double portion of wisdom. We too pray for wisdom.

Also in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament, it says that 'Grey hair is a crown of splendour; a sign of a righteous life.' Mine's taking a while to change.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

Do you want to leave your mark in a well-known record book? Or simply to make a difference?

Do you look at base-jumpers, extreme ironers (yes, they exist) and high-wire walkers as role-models? Or bonkers?

Have you done something heroic once in your life and now retired to anonymity?

Would you jump into a freezing canal to save a life? And would you want credit for that somehow?

Maybe your sort of record would be more sedentary? Most TV box-sets watched back-to-back? Perhaps pie-eating? Or even silence? Would people pay good money for you to shut up? Not you, Emma.

I don't wish to rubbish the idea of records. But it's amazing how many there are these days. Boxer Lee Haskins is going to attempt the record for the world's highest hair cut. Would you want to do that? Well I'm not arguing.

Citius, altius, fortius - faster, higher, stronger - has its attraction for many. To be able to say, 'I was once the best at something.' Well it might be nice.

There was a woman in my previous parish, who would certainly not want her name mentioned on the radio, whose life's work was to foster life-limited babies. She also had one adopted son; a lovely lad with Down's syndrome. I'd give her a medal tomorrow.

The sad news that explorer Henry Worsley had died attempting an unaccompanied crossing of Antartica reminded us all this week that record attempts are not all a bit of fun.

The Bible insists that every member of God's creation is unique and special, record-breakers, heroes or not. Maybe all I can do is go home and carry on trying to be the best me there is. It's a thought.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Speech to the Nailsea Mountain Rescue Association Annual Dinner 22/1/16

Mr Secretary, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to address the third annual dinner of the Nailsea Mountain Rescue Team.

Only the other day I was chatting to a parishioner about the onerous responsibilities my chaplaincy required. I was greeted with the response, 'I've never heard of anyone in trouble on mountains in Nailsea.'

He seemed largely unconvinced by my reply, 'Yes, the team is very good.'

The Nailsea Mountain Rescue team - keeping Nailsea Mountain incidents out of the press for the last three years.

I wanted to report to you effectively and so I asked our wonderful secretary for some statistics which I now summarise:

In 2015 four training sessions were held.

March - The Black Horse at Clapton. Only 4 attendees - not quorate for a training walk, so due to Health & Safety regulations (and because it looked like rain), Trevor gave us a lift home.

Learning Point = wisdom

May - The George in Backwell. Well attended with 9 present including a member's son and 2 dogs. Uneventful return walk to Nailsea.

Learning point = growth

September - Failand Inn. Best walk of the year with a full moon so valley & Nailsea looked beautiful in the moonlight as we walked through the Tyntesfield estate.

Learning point = appreciation

November - The Rising Sun in Backwell. Not as muddy as in previous years, so Phil could have come along without fear of getting his white trainers dirty.

Learning point = connections

Once again the Backwell Lifeboat Association have failed to appear at any training event and the Coxswain and Mrs Coxswain are absent from the meal - something to do with looking for a new lifeboat whilst on holiday.

You will ponder that many of the training evenings involved public houses.

It is noted by the national body that some 10% of call-outs by UK rescue teams involve victims who have consumed alcohol.

I fear they have not followed through with their thinking however. Because this clearly means that 90% of the call-outs involved victims who have not consumed alcohol. Consumption of alcohol may reduce your need to be rescued by a factor of ten to one and our training sessions imply this.

In terms of rescues carried out, exactly the same number of people were rescued in 2015 as 2014. This is a level of consistency of which other teams can only dream. For instance, the Lake District Mountain Rescue team report that, 'There has been a significant increase in the number of call-outs involving walkers who have ventured onto the Lakeland fells ill-prepared, ill-equipped, and lacking experience.'

They might like to visit us to observe our work and copy our training and awareness-raising methodology.

That team also reported to the National Body that they lost £20,000 worth of equipment in the recent storms. Due to diligence, maintenance and forward planning our team lost no equipment in 2015.

One significant improvement on 2014 was the reduction in the number of accidental responses. No-one was offered rescue in 2015 who did not require it.

It has therefore been our most successful year yet. Please continue the good work, recruit more people to the training sessions and join me in drinking a toast to our wonderful secretary.

The secretary.


Lord God,

May we, who have come down from the mountain, rejoice that in Jesus Christ you have rescued us and provided for our every need.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Thought for the Day

This is today's BBC Radio Bristol Thought for the Day. If you want to hear how well I did the accents you will need to listen again to Claire Cavanagh from today and about 2 hours 15 minutes in. It will become available around lunchtime today.

I've lived around the Midlands, County Durham and now North Somerset. But at heart I'm a Brummie. I lived in the sort of family where any hints of a regional accent were educated out of me using the parenting tool of pure sarcasm. So you get this slightly adenoidal homeless accent you hear now.

(Brummie) I can put it on if I need to, especially back home you know, oroit, triffic, bostin'.

But moving to the land of ey up me duck where Steve Tilley became Steve Tiller, to the almost Geordie land where our next door neighbour Philip could pronounce the word (Geordie) caterpillar (repeat) without the awkward bother of consonants, I picked up a bit of this and a bit of that.

Only yesterday I lamented that my shoes had all clarts on them and saw that nobody else knew what I meant. It's bits of mud.

My mimicry of Bristolian is not honed yet. I've got the letter O sorted. So as long as I take (accent) - a photo of a potato - all is well. But not the rest.

Does it matter? Well of course our regional accents in this country are a source of pride. We are an unusual nation in that accents and dialect words change every twenty miles or so. When I'm supporting my team, West Brom (sorry City fans), I turn into a yam yam - which, as Nick Day said earlier, is how Black Country sounds to strangers.

But from the perspective of my faith - it doesn't matter. No accent, language, age, gender, sexuality, height or anything else in all creation should separate you from the love of God. So it shouldn't prevent you crossing the threshold of a church either.

(Brummie) See yer next week. Tarrarabit.

The spell-checker hated this one.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning, after successfully negotiating their heightened security procedures. Which did not extend to ensuring I did not steal my security pass. Mwahahahaha!

There was once a man who had two sons. Me actually.

Recently one of our sons moved back into our home on a temporary basis. We discovered that his definition of temporary was (beat) over two years.

With some trepidation we recently agreed to accommodate our other son and his partner, again on a temporary basis, while they recovered from several years of the cash-draining impact of starting their careers in London. Paying £1300 a month for a one bedroom flat last year.

They got new jobs in Bristol and now live back in the cheaper accommodation of Trendlewood Vicarage. We're getting on OK. Thanks for asking.

Hopefully this story of bounce-back kids will end with them having a deposit for their own place.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which I don't imagine many BBC Radio Bristol listeners have had as their pre-breakfast reading today, is quite wordy. Even the plain-language version demanded of me a lot of concentration. Articles 17 and 25 say that all human beings have the right to own property and to have somewhere safe to live. What becomes of a 'right' if to achieve it is beyond most people's finances?

In one of Jesus' parables there was another man who had two sons. And one asked for his share of the inheritance. You may know what happened next but if you don't Luke chapter 15 in the Bible has the story. It's a good one.

It may be that my sons' generation, unless blessed with well paid jobs or family-backing, will be struggling to afford to own property short of inheriting it, or even renting it in big cities.

Is that right? And if it isn't; what should be done?

Monday, January 11, 2016

RIP Thin White Aladdin Starman Hero

I managed to avoid what might have been one of the greatest disappointments of my life. A friend of mine had agreed to purchase Bowie tickets for a gig at Birmingham Town Hall. The friend was not reliable and kept telling me he had left them at home. Eventually my friend Keith and I arranged to meet him outside the Town Hall before the gig. He never showed. It was June 1973. Last month at school.

There was a tout. Although the sums will seem odd to you, we paid 50% and 75% over the marked price; £1 tickets for £1.50 and £1.75. We got in. It was a great, great gig; a performance and a cabaret. No support. It had an interval, during which I left my Upper Gallery seat and sneaked into the standing area at the back of the stalls. At one point Bowie's all-in-one gown was pulled apart, by two roadies, revealing a skimpier garment. He wore it on Top of the Pops once. My father-in-law's harrumph lives with me to his day.

I wasn't an early adopter of Bowie. Starman was my in:

There's a Starman
Waiting in the sky
He'd like to come and meet us
But he thinks he'd blow our minds
There's a Starman
Waiting in the sky
He's told us now to blow it
Cos he knows it's all worthwhile 
He told us
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie.

Bowie leant on guitarist Mick Ronson as they shared a mic in a pose that only asked questions about sexuality but answered none.

The other side of the vinyl single was the excellent Suffragette City, re-introducing wham bam thank you ma'am to the vocabulary of youth culture after a short break.

I met the current Mrs T shortly after that gig. She was one of a group of girls' school sixth formers who played Hunky Dory all the time. Andy Warhol was my favourite track.

Tributes today have used the word 'reinvention' to describe what Bowie did. In fact he seemed to me to write lots of new and innovative music, never restricted by the limits of any one genre, and he developed a character to show off that music on stage and, later, on video, each time.

We saw him again at Bingley Hall, Stafford in 1975 on a short tour. The sound system was so muffled it was two minutes in before we knew he was playing Heroes. The second half of the set was heard from the medical room as a hot day and a mosh pit got the better of my sister.

I guess he fell off my radar a little until the mid-eighties and then the amazing new sound of Let's Dance stuck Bowie back in the serious limelight.

From then on, every time you wrote him off he re-appeared. I heard his new album last Friday and it sounded amazing. The lyrics to one track, Lazarus, a character in John's Gospel resuscitated by Jesus, suggest that even death can sometimes be played with.

The stars of my youth were all only a little older than me. Which means that those who provided the soundtrack which pulled me from teenager to young adult are now departing.

When things like this happen, all too often, I play this song by a man who died too young about a man who died too young.

And looking for clothes to wear this morning I saw my brightest trousers. They are blue, blue, electric blue. Had to wear them. Later, pulling up at traffic lights, I heard a pedestrian whistling Life on Mars. This death is ubiquitous.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning, the last time with Steve le Fevre and Laura Rawlings who are both moving on to other things. Laura is getting her own afternoon show again; Steve is leaving the BBC I think. He and his wife run their own media business and I imagine this could be pretty-much full-time as well. Anyway; the script:

I used to work in a busy office. We had more fun than would probably be acceptable today. One of our favourite games was called 'rumours'. We allowed a spoof call to be overheard or left bogus papers on the photocopier.

To see how long before the rumour became established.

I chatted yesterday to producer Nicki about today's show. She phones contributors the day before. The point, for me, is to find out what stories will be on tomorrow's show. The point for her is to make sure I haven't forgotten.

Since 'tomorrow's news today' is a strap-line from a Bond movie not a realistic approach to breakfast show planning, we often have a slightly surreal conversation. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Most BBC Radio Bristol breakfast shows struggle to fit everything in eventually - but sometimes it looks thin the day before.

Has North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb? Will Corbyn's shadow cabinet be sorted?

Yesterday's rumours. We have answers now. Today we ask, will Ed Shearen and Justin Bieber really play Ashton Gate? Is it true?

Speculation. Rumours.

Jesus is quoted as telling people not to be alarmed when they hear of wars and rumours of wars. People often suggest that the global situation is a portent of the end of the world and the Lord's return. They get publicity for their guesswork but have all been wrong - so far.

We like trying to imagine what the future will hold but it's really only a game until the future arrives. Then the unknown becomes known. Revelation.

On which note I wish you both, Steve and Laura, the very best for the future as it reveals itself. Thanks for welcoming me in.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Football Quiz 2015

Not to be attempted, merely enjoyed:

1.a) When does 'early doors' end?

1b) After how many minutes must you stop saying a goal was scored 'after just (number) minutes'? 

2. How long will Michael Gray normally stay on subject when answering a question on Football League Tonight? Estimate to the nearest oh come on ref that was off.

3. In what month do you think Steve Evans will have his heart attack?

4. At home to Arsenal, West Brom had one shot on target and scored two goals. Assess this conversion rate giving due reverence to 'The Pulis Factor'.

5. Taking into account the length of time it took most pundits to grasp parallax how long, to the nearest never, do you think it will take them to understand the physics of 'the moment the ball is kicked'?

6. Discuss the advisability of sub-titles on football commentary with special reference to Doug Ellis wearing Hezbollah scarf.

7. 'She goes down far too easily'. To what extent must football commentators re-imagine their clichés when describing women's football?

8. 'Weebles wobble but they won't fall down.' Is this 1980s advertising slogan the best assessment of the usefulness of Ade Akinfenwa?

9. 'He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy. 'Discuss, with special reference to:

a) Saido Berahino.
b) Troy Deeney.
c) Andy Carroll.

10. Given climate change projections speculate on the most northerly ground at which Carlisle will be able to play their home games from 2020.

Monday, January 04, 2016

2015 Prizes

It is all too hard not being sent review copies of stuff or having the time and space to keep up with popular culture. It means that when I look back to decide what was the best of last year I usually discover that I spent a lot of the time catching up with previous years.

I enjoyed reading The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth but it was first published in 2013. Sub-titled 'How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase' it was a list, chapter by chapter, of rhetorical devices and how to employ them properly.

Matthew Engel's Engel's England is fun and informative as it describes England county by county; as is David Byrne's How Music Works - did you know orchestras developed so that the music's volume drowned the crowd? Neither was published in 2015 and both remain unfinished.

My favourite non-fiction work of 2015 was Jonathan Sacks' Not in God's Name which I reviewed here. The former Chief Rabbi examines the common heritage of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Dave Eggers' novel The Circle imagined life when an all-seeing internet giant took over everyone's provision and promoted complete transparency. Brilliant, but that too was published in 2013.

Tom Wolfe's Back to Blood was an epic tome which caused me the usual problems of a 700 page hardback in bed last thing at night. But I loved it. No-one writes in such bold as he. No-one makes a character crash and burn like he. No-one does redemption quite as he does. 2012 though. Wish I could keep up.

Martin Amis' Lionel Asbo was a good read. 2012. I only finished two novels actually published in 2015 and the better of the two was Chris Brookmyre's dark crime caper Dead Girl Walking. Brookmyre writes black comedies with witty observation about the state of the world as Christopher and more conventional crime stuff as Chris. This one was about a missing pop star and included some well-observed back-stage stuff about tours and inter-band jealousies.

Found some good albums this year including Blur's The Magic Whip, Calexico's Edge of the Sun and Peace's Happy People. Hate giving the award to the same band two years running so although Jaga Jazzist's Starfire deserves to win I think Everything Everything's Get to Heaven just shades it.

Star Wars V11 was a good romp and The Theory of Everything poignant. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation passed the time, as did Spectre but The Imitation Game was my film of the year.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning, a re-adapted version of a poem I wrote a few years ago.

In Japan they have a ceremony called, in translation, 'Death to the Old Year'. Before starting over they remember the bad things now behind them. So I figured I'd do a 'review and learn' on 2015:

At the end of the year
Before 2016's here
How'd you do with your Old Year’s resolutions?
Did you manage for a day?
Did you chuck them all away?
Did you keep them and they’re now an institution?

Did you promise to get fit?
Was it smoking that you quit?
Did you make someone happy with a call?
Are you driving slightly slower?
Your cholesterol is lower?
Did you keep on running once you hit the wall?

Are you now patient? Are you kind?
Do you have an open mind?
Did you tidy up your bedroom once a week?
Did you try to act your age?
Steered well clear of trolley rage?
Planned to make sure you would truth and justice seek.

Were you proud to write more letters?
Saw your elders as your betters?
Passed a mirror without checking on your looks?
Did you walk rather than drive?
Tried to be home before five?
Be determined that you finished far more books?

Made your fashion budget smaller?
Welcomed in the casual caller?
Left the toilet in a state fit for the Queen?
Washed the dishes, bathed the cat?
Tried to cut down on your fat?
Watched the City ... or a more successful team?

Did you find a good solution?
Did you start a revolution?
Made a single, simple statement of intent.
Read the Bible? Prayed your prayers?
Onto Jesus cast your cares?
You didn't? Well I'm sure it's what you meant.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

On Trust #RAGGS

One of the things that, it seems to me, makes the world a worse place, is not trusting people quickly enough. Of course if you trust 100 people you will get burned once or twice, but if you trust no-one you will end up living an isolated, hate-filled life staring out of the window looking for burglars.

My trust has been abused a few times. But let me tell you a lovely story of how trusting people can be good.

On Monday evening the dishwasher broke. Specifically, the start button broke. Everything else worked.

First thing Tuesday morning I texted the mobile of a dishwasher engineer who once visited. By the time I read her reply I was at Gloucester Services on the M5 north, on the way to visiting my Mum. The reply said:

'Amazing. I am in your road now. Will call at 11.00-11.30.'

To which I replied 'Aaaagh!' followed by the more considered, 'Can you ask my neighbours for a key? I will text them.'

At 11.00 I received another text. 'Neighbours are out. Will go and do a call in Portishead then return. I have your Laithwaite's wine delivery.'

At 12.30 my neighbour's daughter, unaware of the text exchange, and after checking with her Mum and noting down the van registration, let the engineer in.

I received a text later from engineer saying, 'Have left you a note in kitchen.'

Returning home the note said that the dishwasher needed a new part but a temporary fix had been done. There was a bank account number to transfer the money (or I could pay the whole bill when the part arrived ). The wine delivery was on the side.

Thanks to Laithwaites, for trusting another person in a white van.

Thanks to Roni, the engineer, for a great job.

Thanks to my neighbours for checking then trusting.

Not everyone will feel comfortable letting their neighbours have keys to their house or letting engineers they have only met once be in their house alone. But those people would be doing the Christmas washing up by hand despite owning a labour-saving device.

And yes I know this is a middle-class example and not everyone has dishwashers but you do the application. I trust you.

#RAGGS = Random Acts of Good or Great Service

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Low Carbon Christmas Carol

As delivered at Trendlewood's carol service this morning:

Mr whatsisname looked out
On the feast of thingy
Traffic on the roundabout
Day was grey and dingy
Brightly shone the neighbours' lights
Carbon use was cruel
Is there something else to use
That's not fossil fuel?

Christmas Eve we're desperate now
Full of angst and sorrow
Nothing left to eat that's not
Ear-marked for tomorrow
Phone for fast food that will do
Pizza boy's called Steven
Dominos are calling round
Deep pan crisp and even.

When we have eaten enough
We turn on the tele
Watching films, we've seen before
Lip-synch at the ready
Masterchef and Strictly won
New Apprentice with crown
When you are left Home Alone
John McLean comes round.

Hero then surveyed his home
Red lights blinking why, why?
PS, Wii and DVD
All were left on stand-by
Let's turn things off and play a game
Something social to do
Put your phones down for a bit
And I'll talk to you.

Is there something happening here
That some of us are missing?
Should we ponder deeper thoughts
Whilst mistletoe-planned kissing?
What this means we might just ask
Sitting round the table
Is the clue born in a barn
Making the world stable?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas Postscript

Forgot to say that there is normally some humour in the Christmas letter that is for initiates only. My idea of a great joke is one that three people understand and at which one laughs. Last year it was about the Bishop of Stockport. This year it is so obscure I forgot where I put it.

This makes for great enjoyment for me as I write it but probably bodes badly for the stand-up career.

Christmas 2015

Our Christmas newsletter is now available. 'Hugely entertaining' says author.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Seven Songs in Seven Days

My friend Steve Couch nominated me to have a go at the seven songs music challenge. The idea is to post about seven songs that mean something to me, one a day for seven days. So here we go:

Day 1

Nutbush City Limits - Ike and Tina Turner

In 1973 the current Mrs Tilley and I were in the early stages of lifelong commitment. We had a conversation in a pub - 'The Nelson' in central Birmingham, great toasties and not yet a gay bar - about how couples had an 'Our tune' based on an item on Radio 1 DJ Simon Bates' show. We then noticed that Ike and Tina Turner's 'Nutbush City Limits' was on the jukebox; not for the first time that lunchtime.

It transpired that over a day of radio listening, TV watching, pub-going and Aston University Student Union disco visiting, we heard that tune no less than seven times.

And so, in a way that demonstrates how we manage to continue to be together 42 years later, we both hate it and see it as our theme song, exchanging knowing glances whenever it comes on. I don't think we own a copy.

By the way I am not the sort of person who uses Facebook to nominate. Some of my friends may find this interesting so just pick up the baton.

Day 2

Arc of a Diver - Steve Winwood

I am old enough to remember when radio alarm clocks were a new thing. We bought one from a colleague at work who was selling a job lot. Nothing iffy. He was a bit of a spiv but not a crook.

It didn't have a seven day setting so we had to remember to turn if off for weekends. The first Saturday I was woken unexpectedly at 6.45 a.m was saved from being a disaster by Stevie Winwood's new single, the title track from his second solo album Arc of a Diver.

We left the clock on for the duration of the song.

I didn't know at the time that the synth sound was generated by a Roland SH101 - a simple monosynth for playing lead lines - two years later I owned one. So I knew what had gone wrong when Winwood put his mandolin down on it at a live gig and accidentally pressed the inappropriately positioned on/off switch. I shouted but he didn't hear me.

Day 3

Stay with Me - The Faces

In 1972 Rod Stewart and the Faces were at the height of their powers. Rod had already been around the block a bit but Maggie May had brought him to popular acclaim in the UK. I had never been a huge fan but was a sucker for a big guitar riff. Stay With Me had such riffage and was a pretty long intro to that great one night stand lyric:

In the morning
Don't say you love me
Cos I'll only kick you out of the door.

I spent my 17th birthday in 1972 at the Great Western Express Festival at Bardney, Lincs. The Faces were headlining the third night but I was exhausted and had gone to bed. Dropping off I was aware of the excitement building for the main act (there had been a long wait). Plugging in (you had to in those days) the great Ron Wood chopped the opening chords of an extended extended opening to Stay With Me. I changed my mind.

By the time I got out of bed Rod had reached the centre of the stage and I was dressed again and ready before he uttered the first line. Great gig.

Day 4

The World Has a Heart Too - Dan Reed Network

Not quite sure how the Dan Reed Network entered my life. They weren't there for long but, not long after arriving in Chester-le-Street in 1988, I was the owner of their first album. I am pretty sure I had bought it on a whim based on a review.

I love the moment you place the needle on a record you believe might be good. Will the first track on side 1 (remember those) deliver the promise of the sleeve (remember those?) and how soon will you know?

After a pumping electronica bass and a bit of spoken vocal (rather than rap) Dan Reed's first question, 'Do you wanna stay alive?' is over in 1 minute 17 seconds. Followed by:

Class, class
Can I have your attention please
Thank you

And we're off on track two with keys and singing.

I sang along to the album that followed all the time in the north-east that my car radio/cassette hadn't been stolen.

One hugely sweaty night at Newcastle Riverside in 1990 was the only time I saw this short-lived but incredibly tight band live.

I just burnt the toast listening to it again.

Day 5

Safe from Harm - Massive Attack

In the days before I knew what trip-hop was, and not long after a period in which there were only two types of music, rock and roll, I was listening to the radio in the kitchen. Chester-le-Street would have been our home still.

And I heard this tune, Safe from Harm. A growling bass line, an undercurrent of synthy strings, and a beautiful soul voice with a great melody.

This was my introduction to Massive Attack. I don't think there was the album Blue Lines yet. So I bought a seven inch vinyl single version which I played constantly. It's never quite been on my desert island discs list but it has bubbled under for the last 25 years or so. And it has been a go-to cheerer-upper ever since. It may even have been part of the package that convinced me Bristol was a place I would like to live and work one day.

And it heralded the beginning of the career of a game-changing band who were never quite boxable in terms of genre.

Day 6

Drummer Man - Tonight

Does anyone really have any idea why your favourite record of all-time becomes your favourite record of all time? Me neither.

This is my number one desert island disc. Part of this, for me, is that nobody else would take it. I like that this is my favourite. Mine and no-one else's. In passing I can tell you that my favourite album of all time is Sunshine by Sunshine from the early seventies and not a single track on it is in my top twenty favourite tracks. It is an album, and works as such.

So Drummer Man. Hmm. It is often noted that the punk revolution gave an opportunity for street music, kids who could shout and knew three guitar chords. But many of the people who embraced the genre turned out to be excellent musicians.

A side effect was that several years of over-produced pop were jolted back to a simplicity of song-writing; enter Tonight.

One hit wonders but a perfectly-crafted three minutes - chorus, verse, chorus, verse, instrumental break, verse, chorus, fade. It has chopped rock guitar chords, a cow bell and laughter off. Find it on YouTube with Peter Powell on Top of the Pops from 1978. Music by numbers is fine as long as you colour in the right bits.

Day 7

One of These Days - Ten Years After

I have realised that I could write a short piece a day for far more than seven records. This has led to a dilemma as to what to do seventh and finally.

There are a number of new tunes I would like to include but it feels that the ones that have lived with me half my life plus mean more than the recent ones. So, no appearances by Radiohead, The Shins, The Alabama 3 or Faithless to name but four I could write about.

So we go back to Autumn 1971. My first gig (apart from a few 'shows' which included groups in the sixties with my parents) was Ten Years After at Birmingham Town Hall. Support was an excellent singer/songwriter called Keith Christmas. Second support was a band called Supertramp (before their 'Crime of the Century' reinvention) touring their album Indelibly Stamped. It had a pair of tattood breasts on the cover. No idea why I recall that.

After the second break TYA lead singer and virtuoso guitarist Alvin Lee (RIP) walked to the centre of the stage and, without word of introduction, sang the first line, which was effectively a capella over a simple hi-hat beat:

One these days boy...

(The more he performed a number the more words Lee missed out. The encore 'I'm Going Home' consisted largely of monosyllabic grunts.)

Followed by a moment that established for ever for me the thrill of live rock and roll.


A single, fedback, reverbed guitar chord that made you wonder if the ornate plaster work at the Town Hall would survive. A music journalist later described such a sound as like scaffolding poles being dropped. True.

Gonna see my baby...


Gonna see my baby...


Come down road...

Ka-bow bow chaaaang!

Ever since then Ka-bow bow chaaaang! by countless others has kept me good company, in many forms and on many dark nights of the soul. I am grateful beyond measure.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

I was thinking the other day about the arbitrary nature of our concept of speed. Can I pack it into my 285 words and 1 minute 45 seconds?

1 mile was originally the distance covered in 1,000 paces.

An hour is one twenty fourth of the time it takes for the moon to orbit the Earth.

So exceeding 30mph means you travel more than 30,000 paces in the time it takes the moon to go 1/24th of the way round the earth.

Of course this is not covered in a speed awareness course. That would be silly.

But my own speed awareness advice stems from when I read some of the great stories of the Hebrew Bible; what Christians call the Old Testament. There I find a different concept of time.

When strangers are invited to 'Stay and eat with us' instructions are often issued to the servants to make bread and prepare the fatted animal. This is not, by any definition, fast food. Rest, care of the animals and conversation would all take place whilst waiting for the food to be ready. Nobody phoned for pizza or popped down the chippy.

A thousand new labour-saving devices since the Bible and we fill the time saved with (beat) extra labour. What changed? Why are we so anxious to be at our destination a little faster?

I can't give a detailed answer except to recite a list of qualities of Christian behaviour St Paul lists. He says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Did you spot the ones that would make us all more speed aware? Perhaps peace, patience and self-control. It would be a start.

This was followed by a brief discussion on whether this vicar had a clean licence (I do but it hasn't always been so) followed by the revelation that I am much older than I look.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Booze Cruise?

Last Saturday's Guardian Money headlined the advantages of the booze cruise and the bargains to be had.

One of its examples was a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, £6.50 in M and S and £1.30 in Pidou, Calais. What a bargain.

Hang on a second. Or, for ever.

If a bottle of wine can be sold for £1.30 and merchant, distributor, bottler and vineyard all make some money - what is the value of the contents? No more than 30p I'd warrant and that is generous of me.

Now I like a good Sauvignon Blanc but I like to taste something more than the chill. And despite my lack of ability in the tasting department I like to know that the contents are not doing me harm. At 30p a bottle I am not wholly convinced.