Friday, June 24, 2016

What's Next?

OK, here's my problem. I am out of touch. 95% of my Facebook timeline today is taken up by depressed and outvoted remainers. To some extent, despite being on holiday, I have found myself trying to minister, through social media, to a huge number of very disappointed people, mainly younger than me.

I understand why Brexit won and accept responsibility for trying to live a worthy life in a country where my views are in a minority. Done that before. Will do it again. Inclusivity and hospitality cannot be undone by a referendum.

And respect to those who have voiced their Brexit opinions and won the day. Many of them articulated clear, and unselfish, reasons for wanting out. I thought them misguided, still do, but they won.

However, digging a little deeper, I find the appalling hate-spewing racist views of those I am out of touch with. Such as those who insulted Brendan Cox's eulogy to his wife not three days dead. Or those who dismissed Rio Ferdinand's carefully-worded remain argument because he was now rich and out-of-touch, with references to the colour of his skin. Horrible language and sentiments. How do I engage with those who told both of them to  f*** off? Attempts to engage with them feel like they put my life in danger. How do I continue to engage with the guy who tweeted:

'Course I voted out. I don wanna live next door to a f***ing Turk'

It feels like the Galatians 3:28 universalism of the gospel message needs to welcome both him and the Turk. How do I do that?

I recall the words of Michael Stipe of REM, on stage in Cardiff about nine years ago. 'The thing you need to know about us' he said, 'is that we love our country but hate our government.'

I love my country (considering my country to be England) and really find loving some of the people I share the land with incredibly difficult.

It occurs to me that an Ephesians 4 church, about which I have spoken many times, welcomes thieves, slanderers, the foul-mouthed, quarrellers and the like. There are not enough unpleasant people in our churches. We need more.

On my return I think I want to ask my co-members if it is OK to go even more heavy on the inclusivity:

If you're LGB or T you're welcome
If you're a convicted criminal you're welcome
If you're not sure of all the petty theological nuances of Anglicanism you'll feel central here
If you hate Turks you're welcome
If you've had an abortion you're welcome
If you have H-A-T-E tattood on your knuckles you're welcome (fancy Sunday lunch at ours?)
If you have sought, and found, asylum, or even if you are in this country illegally, you're welcome
If you voted Brexit to claim our country back you're welcome
If you're Nigel Farage or a fan of his, you're welcome

If it works it will either be a true New Testament church or a weekly fist-fight.

Reporters welcome.

No, that wouldn't work. It's going to be difficult this getting-in-touch. Anyone else got any ideas?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

In or Out?

I voted by post last week so it is too late to change my mind. I'm terribly depressed about the European Union (EU)  referendum. Here is an issue which has a huge amount of agreement between our politicians (75% remain) and world leaders (95% remain). It was grossly irresponsible to call a referendum and allow its result to bind our behaviour. This is far too important an issue to leave to us ordinary people.

Amongst my friends there has also been a large amount of agreement. I have never picked my friends based on their political views (not deliberately anyway) but my Facebook stream is 95% remain. I have listened hard to, and engaged with, the 5%.

However some of the comments boxes have been full of vitriol from people I don't know. Seems to me that the leave campaign have appealed, successfully, to a Little England v Johnnny Foreigner distinction that doesn't exist. I was wondering yesterday if the remain campaign would have done better to say nothing and not campaign at all. Little Englanders hate being told anything and do not change their minds through rational argument.

Journalist Rod Liddle summed it up. Somehow this referendum has caught the imagination of ordinary working communities who see it as a chance to register the complaint that something, not sure what, is changing about their world and they don't like it. Few have thought it through thoroughly. Few have considered what next. Few buy the economic arguments (which 'Remain' have won solidly, again and again). Some are chanting that they are leaving while throwing empty beer bottles at French Police in Marseilles. So proud.

I'm incredibly depressed. It often happens around election time because I support a lot of minority views. But this in/out referendum has really got to me. So this will be my post on the matter and I won't tell you how to vote. I guess there are some things I need to get off my chest.

To begin with, I live in the most mono-cultural place I have ever called home. It also has one of the oldest demographics. Our Member of Parliament is Liam Fox - a 'big noise' in the Brexit campaign. So I haven't exactly heard compelling and balanced arguments on the streets and in the bars.

So what has got to me? I think it is the idea that as part of the EU our 'British' lifestyle has gone to hell in a handcart. I was having breakfast with some men the other day and I challenged a lot of the Brexit statements I heard. Not because they were necessarily wrong or contained no grains of truth but because they were rash generalisations, unsubstantiated claims or glib doom-mongering.

One older guy (perhaps about 70) said that he had spent the second half of his life watching things fall apart because of the EU. I asked him to name one way he had personally suffered, 'Oh, I haven't suffered personally...' he said 'It's just that...'

I suppose my depression is at the failure of most people to take a long view with a wide-angle lens. People movements have been part of our world since people evolved and looked for food. Since the last ice-age people have moved in and out of the British Isles. I am, genetically, from mainland Europe. Not sure if my ancestors walked or came with weapons. But they immigrated. Bet your life on it.

What on earth do you think happens when a largely peaceful middle-eastern community is overrun by ISIS? Or an Afghan village by the Taliban? That's right children (sorry to be so patronising but it really is so simple a child can grasp it); people run. The labourers and unemployed run. The school-teachers and beauticians run. The plumbers run. The architects run. The solicitors run. Women, men, children, young, old, fat, thin, good and bad - all run (or walk fast) for their lives. 'Sneaky migrants', as labelled by the Daily Express, is probably a representative sample of all the above; but the fittest. The ones who survived that long a run and that dangerous a trek or boat-trip.

Is there any way we can see the referendum being about being more generous, more welcoming, indeed setting an example to the rest of Europe?

I am depressed because the debate is about what we get not what we give. I am depressed because both sides have said it will lead to chaos if we vote the other 'wrong' way. I am depressed because inconvenient statistics, thoroughly disproved, are still being banded about. Hearing one quoted the other day I suggested that the individual should not rely on the Daily Telegraph so much. 'How did you know I read the Telegraph?' she asked. Oh, I just guessed. I am depressed that the politics of repeating a lie often enough is in such fine fettle. I am depressed, so depressed, about the quality of the debate I can barely bring myself to listen to it.

I am depressed because the Sun has too much power and fails any democracy test.

I was, until I sent off my postal vote, open-minded to not voting 'remain' personally if I did find someone, anyone, who could voice a 'leave' vision that made any sort of sense.

Paul Mason came close. He gave a principled left-wing case for Brexit in the Guardian online on May 16th. But he reminded us that a Corbyn government, however unlikely that might be, would never get its left-wing agenda through as an EU nation. See Greece. Brexit would probably hand control of the soon-to-break-up UK to Gove/Johnson and a return to Thatcherism max. Workers' rights could probably go hang. But if we vote to remain it would be a vote for an ever-closer union with a Europe that has some nasties looking right on the very edge of power. Cameron's concessions, he argues, were not negligible and left a future 28 member treaty unlikely, commitments to Lisbon revisitable and the relationship with the Eurozone and European Law negotiable. For a moment there I almost liked him but then remembered he was the one who had got us into this mess in the first place.

Richard Osman nailed how I feel. 'In most debates we have to listen to people who shout the loudest or are most certain of their views. That doesn't represent most of us.' (Tweet 27/5/16)

Whatever the end result a referendum stops democracy in its tracks. We will have to move on with what looks as if it will be a 55/45 on a maximum 80% turn-out. And that, my friends, is a divided kingdom. We will need quite a bit of magnanimity from the defeated. I predict a riot. I am depressed.

USA and Guns

It's been a strange, and terribly sad, week overhearing the voices of the religious right in the American south voicing their opinions on Orlando over the social media. Bible Belt - '...where there are more prisons than Starbucks.' (Kevin Spacey's David Gale in The Life of David Gale)

These people hate the very idea of Islam. It almost seems as if some of them welcome fundamentalist terrorism happening so they can up the vehemence in their rhetoric.

These people hate 'gays'. You will not find the expression 'LGBT' in their tweets. They often gather outside LGBT events holding random verses from Leviticus.

So when an ethnic middle-eastern, USA-born, bi-polar afflicted, proclaimed gay-hater who turns out to be gay goes mad with an assault rifle in the name of Islamic fundamentalism in a club full of members of the LGBT community - well they find it hard to get their anger pitched exactly right.

Know this friends. The shares in the company who made the weapon used by the murderer apparently went up by 50% over the weekend.

Number of people killed by guns in the UK per 100,000 last recorded full year - 0.04
Number of people killed by guns in the USA per 100,000 last recorded full year - 3.6

Ninety times more likely.

One Twitter user went through every condolence tweet from every senator and congressman and added the amount of money they had received from the gun lobby in the previous year. Eye-opening. It was a lot.

All this information is gleaned from newspapers and I have no first-hand knowledge. Apologies if any of it proves to be incorrect. It surely can't all be.

Thursday, June 09, 2016


So it seems like the family story I was told about it being a variant of Tillé and of French descent is probably wrong:

Tilley Name Meaning
variant spelling of Tilly.habitational name from Tilley in Shropshire, named from Old English telga ‘branch’, ‘bough’ + leah ‘wood’, ‘clearing’.occupational name for a husbandman, Middle English tilie (Old English tilia, a primary derivative of tilian ‘to till or cultivate’).from the medieval female personal name Tilly, a pet form of Till.

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning, responding to the news that the Southville Methodist Church building has been purchased by another faith community (The Church of England) for spiritual use:

My church has no building. Southville Methodists have a building and no people.

The problem with the church in this county is that there are too many churches. Strangely, the answer is to plant more.

Too many of the buildings are in the wrong place - where people used to live rather than where they do live. Or too close together.

But of course these structures are often grand, architecturally interesting and a meeting place for a wider group of people than the Christian community. When they close they are missed.

My church meets in a part of Nailsea that was fields when the big old churches were built. Now we minister to a large suburban housing estate and meet in a local school. We can't rely on people finding us. We have to make contacts and grow community. In fact, we're planting another one, in another school, with our friends at St Andrew's, Backwell. We're calling it 'Andy's'.

This coming Sunday we are organising a Big Picnic Lunch to celebrate the Queen's 90th birthday. If you live on Trendlewood Estate come along to Golden Valley school fields at 12.30.

OK. Shameless plug over. What's the thought for the day? Well it's this. Churches are not buildings. They are people. St Peter, the rock on which Jesus said he would build his church, was a person. Sometimes described in the Bible as a body with many parts, or as a temple of living stones, or even as a flock which needs shepherding; the church is people.

I'm glad the Southville Methodist building has a new lease of life. I know that if you took away all the church buildings in the land there would still be a church.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Two Lefts?

Whilst at College over thirty years ago a friend introduced me to the idea of two year resolutions. It was one of those 'eureka' moments for me. Why do we make resolutions on December 31st every year and why only for a year? The idea was simply to pick a thing you would like to do (positive, not 'giving up' which is negative) and try and become proficient at it in two years or so.

One of my favourite two years was the period when I tried to become ambidextrous. Up until then I was very right-sided. Nothing wrong with that. But was it holding me back?

There is something very interesting about the Latin words behind that idea of being ambidextrous. Latin for right is dexter; for left is sinister. So a right-handed person has dexterity; a left-handed is a potential danger. A person who can use both hands equally well is, literally, one with two right hands.

The learning process is full of danger. I decided not to tell anyone. I continued to be a one-footed footballer in matches but tried to use both in training. To begin with I did much simpler things with my left foot; short passes and blocks, but gained confidence. A left-footed tap in from five yards wasn't the greatest goal ever but it was my first with my left foot and it would have been harder to get my feet in the er, right position to score with my usually preferred foot.

Two moments which gave me, and only me, great pride, and which I have never shared before, are these:

St John's v Lincoln College in 1983 and a run down the left wing ending with a cross dinked up perfectly to the far post to be headed home (it wasn't).

St John's v some hall of residence that season when put through on goal I hit it early with my left on the volley and it powered into the bottom corner of the net before the keeper had made any plans to to stop me.

Other things are simpler. I pour the milk from a jug in my left hand and the tea from the pot in my right. In my day job the juxtaposition of bread, wine, plate and cup looks more balanced to the congregation if done both-handedly.

Want to learn? Deliberately position your drink vessel so you have to use your left hand.

If you have a tablet or phone that requires a swiping mechanism take a game such as 2048 or Candy Crush. Play left-handed.

Start typing with, at least, your fingers in the correct positions asdf jkl; on proper keyboards. Tablets replace ; with the return key.

Constantly ask yourself the question, 'Could I do this with my non-dominant hand?' Then try to. It's fun. It's rewarding. It's your little secret.

That will be a £30 back-hander please.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning. I prepared this thought when the Breakfast Show was having the Bristol Refugee Festival as its lead story. As it happened it got bumped in favour of the news that Broadchurch III is filming in Clevedon. I had to add in a bit of last minute explanation:

The Bristol Refugee Festival starts today.

I loved the Tom Hanks' film The Terminal. He plays Viktor who finds himself unable to enter the United States due to inadequate documentation. But because of a military coup he cannot return home. The movie follows him working out how to live and survive at the airport terminal where he becomes a minor celebrity, and improves life there.

Our hearts have been tugged on many occasions over the last few years at stories of migrants and refugees. Their home situation too terrible to stay but leaving without any definite plans for an eventual home. Staying worse than a long trip in a leaky boat.

When someone says 'Fire, get out' one doesn't necessarily carefully plan where to spend the next night. If you don't get out you may not have any further nights to spend.

The Bible is full of stories of refugees - Moses leading his people for 40 years in the wilderness, Joseph's family fleeing to Egypt to avoid famine, Jesus' and his parents escaping Herod.

Down the ages people-movements have been a key feature of life on Earth. But with borders more and more settled over the years it is tempting to shut the doors to newcomers.

The biblical concept of hospitality is to receive from the stranger by removing the barrier of hunger or cold. I offer food and shelter so I can hear your story and be blessed by your life.

The Bristol Refugee Festival celebrates the contribution of refugees.

After Jesus' death and, we believe, his resurrection, it was Christians escaping persecution who took that message to other countries. It might have been an initial burden to those who welcomed them; but then they discovered the treasure they carried.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Book of Strange New Things

Michael Faber addresses unusual ideas and raises philosophical questions but writes page-turners. In this book he follows Peter, a Christian and evangelist, who leaves his wife on earth to take the Gospel to aliens.

They seem to understand enough to want to embrace this way of seeing the world but we wonder if they are capable of such a response to the Bible (The Book of Strange New Things, as they call it).

We wonder what happened to the previous evangelist replaced by Peter, about whom little is said. And we wonder if building a church is the best use of all this spiritual energy, a question close to my own heart.

A further complication is that the affairs of earth seem to go badly wrong while Peter is away and his wife has to face economic disaster, famine and riot. Can their relationship survive the distance? Is his job worth it?

All good questions that were faced by Victorian Christian families taking the Gospel overseas. See what you think.

I have also enjoyed and been challenged by Under the Skin and The Fire Gospel by the same author. Those were relatively short works; The Book of Strange New Things is longer and develops ideas more fully.

Premiership Football and Coin-Tossing

A few years ago I played a whole Premiership season using a coin toss to decide games. The system was simple.

Heads = goal

I tossed a coin for each team and each match. I tossed until a tails came up then I stopped. The number of consecutive heads tossed was the amount of goals scored. This gave a spread of points at the end of the season which had nothing to do with skill and everything to do with luck.

The winning team had 67 points; bottom of the league 31. It would only have needed one slight change of luck, one more heads for the top team and one fewer for the bottom team and the range of points would have been a nice 30-70.

What do we learn? We learn that this season only Arsenal, with 71 points, and Leicester with 81 were better than an ordinary team with good luck might have performed. Arsenal marginally better; Leicester considerably.

Only Aston Villa, who were atrocious, were worse than an ordinary team with poor luck. Everyone else was unlucky (Norwich and Newcastle to be relegated) or lucky (Arsenal, Spurs and Man City to get in the top four). 4th to 8th, and 11th to 16th could have been much changed by a couple of offside or penalty decisions.

Leicester deserved to win; Villa deserved to go. The rest was inseparable from luck. And it explains why so many managers go on and on about referees' decisions. Because they are out of their control.

A few seasons back West Brom sacked a manager for poor results although at that point in the season the club had receieved two letters from referees apologising for mistakes; mistakes which would have led to a certain two, and possible four, more points. And a much more respectable league position.

Chelsea sacked a manger for not delivering the Champions League trophy when they lost the final on penalties and the last penalty hit the post.

Club owners make some terribly tough decisions based on luck. On the other hand who wouldn't want to employ a lucky manager?

Leicester fans enjoy your party. You absolutely deserve it. No-one else should rejoice. And Villa should despair and offer opponents a coin toss rather than playing the game for the next couple of seasons. Might work.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol just now:

Some years back my wife, Liz, was helping a customer apply for interest-free credit.

'Sorry', said the lady looking at the housing options section, '...there isn't a space here for my accommodation.'

So, 'Where do you live?' Liz asked.

'In a castle' the customer said.

Liz ticked the box marked 'other' much to the annoyance of the woman, who clearly wanted to put castle on the form somewhere.

As one of the clergy of the Diocese of Bath and Wells I occasionally get to drive into Wells Palace, across the drawbridge, and park in the grounds. Feels good.

Last March, hiring a large manor house for family and friends to celebrate a key birthday, of course we took a picture of us standing in the doorway. Who wouldn't?

I'm an Englishman and I sometimes wish a castle was my home.

I'm also a Christian vicar, a follower of the teaching of Jesus, a nomadic preacher from 2,000 years ago who relied on the hospitality and welcome of others. So, as I get to live in a bigger house than I could afford, I feel a moral duty to welcome others in - and I try to.

I'm not great at economics, but this I know. Rare things are expensive. Scarcity raises the price. Cheap diamonds sound dodgy.

So if we have a home, our castle, we shouldn't pull up the drawbridge and pour oil on the heads of visitors. Or deny ownership to others.

People have a fundamental human right to shelter. But this isn't the first time my thought for the day has ended up asking what happens when shelter is too expensive for more than a few.

Apparently even people who own castles need credit these days.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Eurovision 2016

'I like to live tweet comments on Eurovision. The Twitter feed makes it all worthwhile. Here are all the comments together:

In preparation for #Eurovision  I am listening to the surprising and awesome beauty of A Moon Shaped Pool.

If you want to join in my fun then I will be using #Eurovison

Easier to say, 'One or two moments may not contain flashing images.' #Eurovison

Belgium. Another one bites the disco. Several important pop clichés. Acceptable. #Eurovison

Czech Republic starts with 'I've made mistakes with the monsters in my head'. Self-fulfilling prophecy?  #Eurovison

Netherlands - 'I'm going nowhere and I'm going fast' an equally apposite opening. Piano playing different notes to the pianist.  #Eurovison

Azerbaijan - amazing lighting but 'Gonna take a Miracle'. Male dancers request pictures of their outfits are deleted at midnight. #Eurovison

Hungary - when you hit something that hard you really expect a noise. No key changes yet but welcome to whistling. #Eurovison

Italy - first non-English song? Oh no. She changed half-way through. Tuning issues. #Eurovison

Israel - We are all made of stars? Breathy. Not Moby though #Eurovison

Bulgaria - criminal trousers, bit of an Irish whistle, not as catchy as we were led to expect. In fact unhumable #Eurovison

France - I thought the French were down on English. Sorry doesn't rhyme with glory. Bit catchy. #Eurovison

Oops. @judemunday tells me that was Sweden not France but he was called Frans. You drop your guard for a moment... #Eurovison

Germany - she's wearing ALL the clothes #Eurovison

Sure this is France now. Woo oo oo oo oo always goes down well in the arena. Half in English too. Got a chance but that last note #Eurovison

Poland How does a country get to the point where it thinks this best represents them? Key-change, frock-coat and hell of a hairdo #Eurovison

Australia - strong voice but song sucked. Doubt if #Eurovison will be at 4.00 a.m. next year.

Cyprus, trying anything to lose the Greek vote. A bit of rock in the jolly Foreigner sort of way.  #Eurovison

Serbia - this is such complete, pure Eurodross I expect it will win. Big ballad with a key change. #Eurovison

Lithuania - I blame Gary Barlow. Got a chance. #Eurovison

Croatia - #Eurovison audiences can be dangerous but wearing an ammo-pouch is a bit OTT. Oh wait. Someone undressed her a bit.

Russia - coming to a hotel pool during your holiday every day this summer. Clever visuals. Key change. Winner so far. #Eurovison

Spain - not for me but loads of energy and lots of stabbed keys as expected in Eurodisco #Eurovison

Latvia - nice to have a different synth sound, this one as per 1980s Japan; rest a bit predictable #Eurovison

How do you end up with a diagonal vpl? #Eurovison

Ukraine - this is really good. Dubstep beat. Anxious vocal. No chance. #Eurovison

I love Malta but they put a lot of pressure on the relationship. #Eurovison

Georgia - what Oasis would have sounded like without the Gallaghers #Eurovison

Austria -   Before singing SAW stuff like this you must be in a soap for five years. It's the rules. #Eurovison

UK - really nice tune. Take That feel. One of the best chord sequences of the night. #Eurovison

Armenia - lots of female solo singers this year? Big lungs and a fiddle. #Eurovison

So I like Belgium, Sweden, Russia, Ukraine and UK #Eurovison

It takes 26 #Eurovison tunes to make you realise Justin Timberlake has talent. Respect.

This spoof is the best thing since my own #Eurovison song in 2006:

La la la got force fed in
And my sweet song became a din

Should win.

Before this next tweet can I just say what a brilliant job you've done and what a great show it's been #Eurovison

Just to remind you I said:

Ukraine - this is really good. Dubstep beat. Anxious vocal. No chance. #Eurovison

Crazy, crazy competition.

We meet next year in Ukraine.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


The economics of industrial capitalism comes in waves of roughly fifty years, argues Paul Mason. Each period ends with advancement that leads to a step-change. He identifies these as:

1790-1848 Factory system, steam-powered machinery and canals.

1848-mid1890s Railways, the telegraph, ocean-going steamers, stable currencies and machine-produced machinery.

1890s-1945 Heavy industry, electrical engineering, the telephone, scientific management and mass production.

Late 1940s-2008 Long cycle transistors, synthetic materials, mass consumer goods, factory automation, nuclear power and automatic calculation.

Late 1990s-date (therefore overlapping) Network technology, mobile communications, a truly global marketplace and information goods.

Within the last phase he identifies the seeds that will (must?) lead to post-capitalism. From the freeware on which much computer work is undertaken to Wikipedia putting encyclopedia sales staff out of work, more and more stuff has no pecuniary value. But the last wave has had an extended shelf-life, due inter-alia to the opening of huge new markets in China and India with money to spend. It will end.

Alongside this he has an urgency about climate change. He tells us that we must get used to the idea of leaving 80% of the world's fossil fuel in the ground and untouched; yet the oil companies are valued on the basis that 80% will be accessed. If there is no future for the world in 2050 (a real possibility) then there is no need for a post-anything.

We need to plan for our own redundancies in the sense that fewer and fewer of us will in future need to be paid to work but the world needs us to contribute. 'Once information technology pervades the physical world, every innovation brings us closer to the world of zero necessary work.' How do we solve this?

Well given his Guardian columnist credentials it won't surprise many to learn that the right will pull up the drawbridge against any or all of his ideas. But the final chapter is strongly argued that pretty soon there will be no choice. Public ownership. Profit no longer the motive. The end of greed. Save the world. That sort of thing.

It was legislation that stopped the big corporations from child labour and slavery. Only legislation will get rid of McJobs and make multi-nationals care about the environment. What's the alternative?

Well-written and challenging by the economics editor of Channel 4 news.

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

I occasionally walk into glass doors. In one Nailsea church they open automatically to enter. But you have to press a button to leave. Clever. Stops children escaping. The price is a sore nose for the old and stupid such as me.

At Gloucester Services recently I noticed an older gentleman cursing that his hand drier wasn't working. Because he was holding his hands over a stainless steel waste-bin. Being generous, it looked a bit like the hand-driers of a few years back. He had not recognised the sleek air-blade driers on the wall. I gently assisted him without making him look a fool. After all, that will be me in a few years' time. If I haven't knocked myself senseless on doors.

I am delighted that justice appears to have been done for the family of Melanie Road, a teenager murdered in 1984. Her killer, Christopher Hampton, pleaded guilty after DNA evidence linked him to the crime. Hampton, now 64, will probably spend the rest of his life in prison.

In 1984 we were a decade from mobile phones being commonplace. No-one could have foreseen then that this unsolved murder would eventually be concluded with a swab from the mouth of Hampton's daughter in respect of an unrelated matter. We get cross with progress but forget what benefits it brings.

Take away those years of technology and a wise biblical author once wrote that we do not know what tomorrow might bring. We don't. But they added that we should not worry about it. Well, not if we are living innocently and righteously. But if you left DNA evidence at a crime scene 30 years ago it might be appropriate to be worried right now.

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.