Friday, March 17, 2017

Poached Pears

Someone bought a bottle of cheap rosé to your house? You don't like it and don't want to take it to another party? Try this:

You will need:

4 ripe pears
Half a bottle of rosé
Two table spoons of dark brown sugar, preferably muscavado
Pinch of vanilla salt
Blob of butter
Tea spoon of corn-flour
Juice of half a lemon

Squeeze lemon juice into a bowl. Peel, core and quarter the pears adding and mixing to the lemon bowl as you go to prevent browning.

Heat blob of butter with the sugar on a hob until combined then add pears and lemon. Also a pinch of vanilla salt. You could use coarse salt and a drop of vanilla essence I guess but I don't know how it would taste. Stir around a bit then tip in the wine. Simmer for 25 minutes then take out the pears and set aside.

Continue to reduce the wine liquid. Add cornflour and water paste to complete, making sure the flour cooks out and go on until it thickens and reduces to your taste.

Set aside until needed than add the pears back in. Warm up, or serve cold. Greek yoghurt nice accompaniment as well as chilled lounge music. Candles and expectations also optional.

Thought for the Day

As delivered on BBC Radio Bristol's Breakfast Show an hour ago:

When I moved to the area ten years ago I realised that I had spent a lot of my previous time with younger adults. Most of my friends were my juniors.

It came as a shock to the system to mix with people my age. I found it a bit dull at first.

In the Book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Bible; what Christians call the Old Testament, we read:

'Remember my words. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.'

But later we read of a young man called Elihu, in the Book of Job. He says:

'It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right.'

I was interested in the story about children from Beckett Hall Nursery regularly visiting Osborne Court Care Home. In fact I am interested in any gathering where we manage to avoid generational groupings.

Churches are pretty remarkable places for this. There are some that have lost touch with younger members but many have not and good dialogue between young and old happens week by week.

At Trendlewood Church in Nailsea, where you find me most Sundays, our youngest member is six months old and our oldest over eighty. At Andy's Church in Backwell, a new project I am involved in, last Sunday's attendance was 30 adults and 34 children.

Remember from your childhood the adult who was always pleased to see you, never judgemental and a huge support in all you did. They were probably called Grandma or Grandpa.

So lets see if we can increase the opportunities for young and old to mix and build on the imaginative work of one nursery and one care home. Well done.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Ears - what gets into them?

In the early 90s I struggled with blocked ears for a while. Thinking they would need syringing (as it was a problem my Dad had) I went to the doctors only to be told I had ear infections in both ears. Some antibiotics cleared things up. Strange to have had painless infections but I guess these things can happen.

Wind forward ten years and I was on holiday. Coming out of the swimming pool one day the water did not clear from my ears. Couldn't shift it. Suffering quite horrid pain on the aeroplane home and the pressurised cabin I made a doctor's appointment, expecting antibiotics again would be necessary. This time I was told there was no infection or blockage but that a pressure imbalance was the likely cause. I was given a nasal decongestant to use which worked. From time to time thereafter, when my ears felt blocked, I used the decongestant and it helped.

Two years ago I had a recurrence and the nose spray made no difference. This time the triage nurse told me my ears were waxed up and I needed to use oil for a month then get them syringed. It took a few years for the patriarchal DNA to catch up with me but Dad I got there eventually.

Since before Christmas my ears have felt blocked and I have been tipping oil into them ready for a syringing appointment this week. On attending I was told that both ears were clear and I probably had some fluid at the back as the legacy of a cold virus (which I have had since early December). 'Lay off the oil for a few days' was the advice. 

So I'm back on the decongestant which seems to be working now I replaced the one that was best before 2009.

Self-diagnosis is over-rated. But going to the doctors for minor matters makes me feel guilty.

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning, trying to link several storylines from the show which are in the long paragraph towards the end:

Jesus was out of the house early to pray. Gone before the sun was up. His companions came searching. 'Everyone is looking for you' they said.

They were. There were probably queues in his village of sick people needing healing.

How did Jesus respond?

'Sorry fellers, I needed some head space?'

'Gosh where does the time go?'

'OK, let's go to work.'

None of the above.

I was chatting to someone yesterday who tends to get too busy. I'll call him John. John works and plays hard. John is more concerned with whether a challenge is interesting than whether he has time to do it.

By the end of the conversation John was already asking if there were other bits of ministry with which I needed help. I avoided the temptation to say 'All of them'.

Whether raising money for somebody else's cancer cure, spending a night sleeping in a crane or even collecting cuff-links the common link is time. It takes time to do these things. No-one ever got good at anything without giving over a chunk of time to it. Specialists are busy. The generous-hearted are busy. I would wager those who holiday on a crane next to a lively harbour-side are probably busy too. And our dam-buster war-heroes had to drop every previous priority and make their new expertise - the enemy.

So what did Jesus say? He said the remarkable, and shocking, 'Let's go somewhere else'. In Mark's Gospel, where we find this story, he prioritises preaching over healing saying, 'That is why I have come'.

Sporting expertise or built up collections have an opportunity cost. What wasn't done in order to do the thing that was.

Now. What are you here for?

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Lent Reading with a Difference

Do you want your Lenten reading to give you an opportunity for some spiritual reflection? How about changing your relaxation-reading habit for Lent?

All these (mainly) novels walk alongside Christian texts in some way, shape or form. Rather than reviewing them, although some have been reviewed here previously, I have suggested one, all-encompassing, discussion question. If you read only one make it Quarantine.

The Gospel According to the Son - Norman Mailer
The life of Jesus as he attends to the voices in his head.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ - Philip Pullman
What if the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith were actually two people?

Quarantine - Jim Crace
What sorts of people were around in the days when spiritual novices wandered off into the wilderness to fast?

Three to See the King - Magnus Mills
Would you wager your current contentment against the possibility that there may be more to life than this?

Have a Little Faith - Mitch Albon
What does faith look like from the outside?

Blind Faith - Ben Elton
Does the fact that somebody is watching you all the time change your behaviour?

The Book of Strange New Things - Michael Faber
How possible is cross-cultural evangelism without selling our culture too?

How to be Good - Nick Hornby
What does 'being good' even mean?

Even the Dogs - Jon McGregor
Could there be such a person as one without value?

The Testament of Gideon Mack - James Robertson
Is there a difference between a true story and a story that really happened?

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Thoughts on Leicester City

I have very little to go on save a few conversations and a brief highlight from one game, but that never usually stops me chucking my oar in so heads up.

Away in the Champions League last week Leicester City produced an outstanding away goal to give themselves a chance in a two-leg tie. The goal, scored on the break in their stylish counter-attacking way, involved a perfect Danny Drinkwater cross and a late-arriving Jamie Vardy putting it away. Cracking goal. Shortly after that their manager, who had led them to the Premiership title the previous season, was sacked.

The next match saw Leicester beat Liverpool 3-1. Vardy scored twice.

Some people pointed out that the sacking of the manager gave them something to prove. Well that worked then. We'll see if it continues so to do.

But I see something different. That Premiership-winning season showed us what can happen if a team has everything go like a dream. Since that can rarely be expected, Gary Lineker's offer to present Match of the Day in his pants was not one he thought he would have to keep.

All teams are trying to do what Leicester did. For few does it come right. In my judgement last season Leicester played teams in the right order. There is a right order and you want to play teams on a run of confidence-sapping defeats, with star players missing or with nothing to play for. Their team suffered minimal injuries. I reckon their defensive pairing of Morgan and Huth avoided a lot of deserved suspensions. Their style worked. Shots went in the corner of the goal rather than hitting the post.

Then they sold Kanté to Chelsea for £30m and couldn't re-invest it in anyone similar. Teams such as Leicester need to take £25m profit when they can get it. The big four will buy the players from the next ten teams, if they are vaguely any use, to keep themselves as  big four.

Chatting to fans I learn that the style was the same this year but it simply didn't work so well. Final passes were misplaced. Shots narrowly missed, were well saved or hit post or bar. A bad run sapped confidence. Players got injured. Huth and Morgan were a season older and slower.

In that away goal at Sevilla I saw the season turn. That was Leicester at their best. They would probably still have beaten Liverpool who are depressing right now.

In football details are everything. You have to expect that everyone is trying to do the big things right. The detail of that away goal should have put the Leicester owners on notice to keep faith with Claudio.

Leicester City aren't a great team any more. Last season they were a little above average and this season are average. They will finish mid-table. 

My own team, West Brom, are having a remarkably good season but eighth is our rightful place and seventh the dizzying heights of ambition.

Last season was a joy for football fans because it gave us all hope. Which is stupid. It shouldn't have. Normal service is resumed. Chelsea walking it. But the teams still in the Champions League haven't experienced a Leicester moment yet. I wonder?

Rules of Rugby Union

I am very ignorant of the rules of Rugby Union with any precision - I understand the general idea is to score tries and goals. What happens in the unviewable mass of trunks and limbs known as a maul or ruck is a bit like what goes into sausages. Let's focus more on the outcome than the process eh? That ball will pop out eventually. In rugby, not sausages.

The driving maul however has given me a great sports question. Are there any other sports where a score is achieved which nobody in the crowd is able to verify?

So I found myself watching England v Italy on Sunday and there came along a development. The sneaky Italians used the rules to their advantage. Turned out the England players didn't know the rules that well and chose to ask the referee what to do, getting the now much-repeated answer 'I'm a referee not a coach.'

The Italians worked out that if you didn't gather round a tackled player then there was no ruck and if there wasn't a ruck they could stand where they couldn't stand if a ruck had formed because, there not being a ruck, there was no gameline and no offside. I think that's it. Purists hated it because it was against the spirit of the game. I loved it because one you can't be a purist about a game that involves so much physical violence and two it was within the rules so people formerly known as purists can suck it in.

There have been moments in my preferred game of Association Football where the authorities have had to answer the question 'Do we want this to be within the rules?' Loitering offside but not interfering? That's now OK. The Ernie Hunt/Willie Carr free kick routine? Not OK as it isn't a proper kick. Launching a throw-in after a hand-spring? Tough to do in confined space but allowed. Touching the goalkeeper with a feather? OK, bad example.

Now the English rugby team worked out at half-time what to do. No rule change appears necessary although rugby union law makers have itchy trigger fingers. It is simply that an interesting extra dimension has come along that the game does not have to be played the way it has always been played. Rucks are not compulsory and tackled players may not have the option of taking time to make the ball available, all the time.

Love it. Well done Italy.

Thought for the Day

Ash Wednesday. The start of Lent.

I was chatting to a colleague about giving things up for Lent. Confessing that it wasn't part of my personal pattern she asked me what it was I would give up if I was the sort who gave things up. This is the kind of deeply philosophical question that makes me like people more.

But the reason she was asking me was so she could tell me what she thought I ought to give up. This makes me like people less. She thought I should give up sarcasm - my knee-jerk response to make a joke at someone else's expense every time they spoke. Which was pointed, and probably a little bit true.

So I did. Failed three times, but thought more carefully about not putting people down for fun. Did me good.

As Easter approached, and the chocolate-starved eyed their wrapped eggs with longing, I wondered how I would celebrate the end of my fast.

I could not finish my Easter services and then leap in the car tearing round the parish in acts of drive-by rudeness. I had to let that Lent make a difference - for ever.

Imagine giving up theft for Lent and then robbing sheds again. Or stopping using your mobile whilst driving - until Easter. Don't give up something for Lent if you should give it up for good.

Tonight in a quiet service I will ash people, placing a mark on their foreheads as a reminder that from dust we all came and to dust we will all return. Those words are followed by:

'Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.'

Ash Wednesday teaches us our place in the whole scheme of things.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning, with answers to the music quiz as a footnote:

1. If I were a wealthy man I wouldn't have to work hard.
2. It's all about the money, money, money
3. Money, money, money in a rich man's world
4. It makes the world go round.
5. Share it fairly but don't take a slice of my pie.
6. Pay the butcher. Pay the baker. Pay the taxman. Pay me later.

Well that's enough shameless demonstration of pop lyrics. I'll blog the answers later. Well done if you got all six.

But today's stories on BBC Radio Bristol are incredibly cash-centric. What should your Council Tax buy? How much should you be fined for parking offences? And where does that money go? How do you raise enough money to say a proper thank-you to a hospital for saving a child's life?

At my local church I try to preach on money no more than once a year. It's at the end of November if you want to avoid it. But then, if people don't respond generously - and I'm happy to say they usually do - it would be remiss of me to wait until next November to mention it. Of course, if I do, someone will say 'You're always going on about money'.

And maybe that's the thing. It is all about the money. About a sensible discussion concerning what my taxes should buy and what I can choose to spend the rest on.

The Bible says surprisingly little about money but it usually describes it negatively aware, as one verse says, that it is a root of all kinds of evil. No. The Bible is more concerned with generosity now and treasure in heaven.

But I still quite like the idea of going to work in a tank.

Massive respect if you got number 6.

1If I Were a Rich man from Fiddler on the Roof
2Price Tag - Jessie J
3Money, Money, Money - Abba
4Money Makes the World Go Round from Cabaret
5Money - Pink Floyd

6It's Only Money (part 1) - Argent 


There has been a sudden explosion in viewing figures here which, as is often the case, does not seem to be due to any particular effort I have put into it. But welcome anyway if you are one of the 75 or so extra people a day who have popped in recently.

If you haven't the time to search online for more info about me, and you want some, then here is a bit of a mini CV:

Steve Tilley is an Associate Vicar in the Diocese of Bath and Wells. He heads up Trendlewood Church and its joint work with St Andrew's, Backwell called 'Andy's' and has responsibilities in several others.

Steve is a very experienced minister who has worked in and with a number of parishes and Christian organisations around the country. Born and brought up in Birmingham, he has been in Nailsea for the last ten years.

He is passionate about too many things including growing healthy churches, church planting, alternative worship, new ways of doing and being church, re-imagining ministry, work with young adults, training leaders, making new contacts and the performing arts. He is regularly heard on BBC Radio Bristol's Thought for the Day.

He enjoys working with the diocesan teams on vocations, mission enabling and communications.

He is married to Liz, a retail professional with her own career, and they have two grown-up sons.

In his spare time he enjoys cooking, films and TV, playing keyboards, reading modern fiction and writing (including blogging) and on social media where he tweets as @s1eve). He can bore you about West Bromwich Albion for several days.

Proclaiming Good News Down-le-Street (Grove 1991)
Various CPAS youth group resources (1993-2003)
A Day at the Cemetery (short-story, BBC Broadcast 1999)
Contributed chapters to various youth work and Christian culture books (1995-2004)
A Youthworker's Tale (SU 2003)
Mustard Seed Shavings (BRF 2012)
God's Church My Place (BRF 2013)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Black and Funny

The comedian Jimmy Carr joked:

Say what you like about IEDs but we're going to have a hell of a paralympic team.

I thought about that again recently. There was a nice little piece in theipaper last Tuesday about lovers of sick jokes. Researchers described humour as a two-staged problem solving process. It's true. All jokes involve the ability to reinterpret.

The key question, 'If you want to gauge a person's intelligence tell them a sick joke and see if they laugh.'

So, in similar style to the Jimmy Carr joke:

Doctor have you got the test results on my baby?
Well the good news is you're never going to struggle to find a parking place.

Now the Jimmy Carr joke will make you laugh as long as you are sure there are no insensitive amputees in the room. Then you might worry. The first time I heard it he was telling it in Afghanistan to a group of hardened squaddies. They fell about. Its success relied on a knowledge of the risks and a willingness to embrace the reality of injured friends by laughing. If you're still trying to work out what an IED is then you've got no chance of laughing.

Yet most of us cannot imagine the circumstances in which the test-results joke is funny. We see the way the joke works, may even find ourselves briefly entertained, but have a moment of self-censure.

A few years back on social media I came across:

Research proves most suicides caused by attempting to change duvet covers

It was followed by some comments by the sickened who felt it took suicide lightly. I couldn't possibly mock. But the joke works in exactly the opposite way. It is funny because it takes the slightly annoying and awkward job of duvet-cover-changing far too seriously. And anyway, once you gotta explain it it ceases to be funny and becomes damage limitation.

A few years back a marriage preparation course produced by a Christian Home Mission agency included a list of things a couple might get up to during intimacy. One of the things was:

Cover each other in ice-cream and lick it off

I had never used the course (or wasted good ice-cream thus) but found myself in a church, seeing couples, who had been given the material. One such couple, having discussed their wedding with me, then told me in no uncertain terms that what I had done was disgusting. Disgust works very well in a female Geordie accent by the way er, man.

I pointed out that if they agreed that neither of them ever wanted to lick anything off the other then the material had served its purpose - a discussion had taken place and agreement had been reached. But no. Their disgust went beyond that. Their disgust was at the very suggestion - this was not simply something they didn't want to do but that no sensible person should ever want to do and the church had suggested it. It was an uneducated response. The course compilers may have been daft not to foresee that but it was true. This was a couple who couldn't see the world from another's point of view.

And there, I think, is the rub. See the world from another person's point of view. Those of us who walk near the edge of humour's cliff from time to time need to rely on the joke-hearers also being sensitive. Sensitive to the fact that offence may not have been the primary aim. For, to be sure, comedians cannot give offence; that is to allocate them too much power. It can only be taken.

Must dash. Those kittens won't torture themselves.

Nailsea Mountain Rescue Team

As delivered on Friday night to an expectant room most of whom stayed for the after-dinner speeches. Those unfamiliar with our work need to know that there is a long-standing and bitter rivalry between ourselves and the Backwell Lifeboat Association:

Mr Secretary, Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

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

In a year in which the world seems to have embraced the ideas of alternative facts and post-truth it may be that we are way ahead of the world, our very existence being a living and breathing example of alternative facts and post-truth and having been so for some years.

The world may think one needs mountains for a mountain rescue team but that is a very old-truth way of looking at things. Allow me to present you with some alternative facts for a few minutes:

There are two fewer attendees at this year's Annual Dinner. Neither of them were mislaid on mountains. However, due to the inadequacy of our sister organisation, we cannot guarantee that they were not drowned.

Five energetic and robust training sessions have been undertaken this year; sessions 14-18 in the history of our organisation:

Session 14 - Mar - the Jubilee, Flax Bourton
Session 15 - May - the Black Horse, Clapton in Gordano
Session 16 - Jul - George, Backwell
Session 17 - Failand Inn
Session 18 - Rising Sun, Backwell

Our secretary was apparently unable to recall the dates of these final two due to intense postprandial warm-down procedures.

It was a successful year with no rescues needed. As this is the second year in which emergency activity has been unnecessary we appear to have achieved remarkable consistency.

It may not be a coincidence that, thanks to our support by visiting once a year, the Rising Sun has been refurbished.

But we are always looking for new volunteers. He is not here this evening but we are told the Rev'd Trevor Dean will be joining the team this year. However since he is alarmingly fit, blessed with chaplaincy skills and medically proficient he may turn out to be over-qualified. I spoke to him at the gym today and he said, and I quote:

(Gasp, puff, pant, heavy bathing, Spin Class)

I think we should turn him down.

From the Royal Navy David Kay will also be joining, bringing many years of valuable naval experience to the team. We hope he will be able to share some of his knowledge with the Coxswain of the Backwell Lifeboat Association who is proficient only in excuses for missing training sessions and dinners. One of these excuses, that he is washing his hair, is wearing a bit thin now, as indeed...

The other, that he is out scouting for a new lifeboat, is one with which we can deal.

The Mountain Rescue Team often walks near to the lake after several pints of training. The new route taken by the Christmas Walk led by Mountain Rescue Team member Dave Boddy also goes via the lake to the Rising Sun, less spiritual members preferring to walk around it. A water-related accident would ruin the final stage of the walk to the Ring O Bells for debriefing purposes.

It is therefore vitally important that we support the valuable community contribution that the lifeboat service continues to provide.

Due to your generous support - we have had a whip-round - and some incredibly creative accounting, Dale (absent this evening) acquired a lifeboat with the money that the Mountain Rescue Team has raised.

I invite the secretary to make the presentation.

And I invite you to drink to his health.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol just now:

After Jesus died Peter retreated to what he knew. John's Gospel records him saying 'I'm going fishing'. It looks impulsive.

How do you make decisions? Are you intuitive like that? You don't know why you do what you do but you just do it. Or do you like some evidence and guidance?

Finding myself with a minority position in a number of recent political arguments - defeated, lost, confused - I confess to feeling in a similar position. I don't fish, but a few days back a desire for solitude and reflection was certainly high up the list of things I wanted. Please. No more news!

But later I was called to visit some people struggling with a number of tough issues and wanting to talk. And, although I squeezed the visit into an already busy evening, for an hour and a half I knew I was where I needed to be and doing what I needed to do.

Work as a priest is rewarding when that happens.

Over-loaded with information and feeling we can't do anything about refugees, poverty and global politics, I don't know how you make the decision to come out from under the duvet and face the world. Sometimes I don't quite know how I do. But we have to, if we want to get the chance to make the world a slightly better place.

The one we now call St Peter found a bigger mission than fishing. And I can keep trying to make a difference to a small number of local people where I serve. I can't do much, but I can do something. That, and of course Emma, your gentle voice, is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

On Trusting Statisticians and so on...

There was an excellent Long Read in the Guardian last Saturday about the death of statistics. In a detailed piece William Davies discussed the current environment of appealing to emotions rather than facts. Now I am sitting in the middle of the current maelstrom in which members of the liberal chattering classes whirl. I really don't know how it has come to this. But I have watched the developed western world  (if I may call it such) get here and would like to have a go at discussing why.

I am a stats nerd. I never miss More or Less on BBC Radio 4 and take longer than most people digesting (and sometimes checking) graphs and tables in papers. Current bugbear - the axis that doesn't go to zero making variations seem worse than they are. I know this is not normal. I also tend to avoid thinking with my emotions having been encouraged by endless management training courses to 'take the emotion out of it' when facing conflict. Or to put it more bluntly, a football coach once said 'Never think with your bollocks son they're not meant for that.' So I tend to look for the reassuring solidity of facts.

But in politics especially over the last thirty years facts have been used messily. Summarising political debate a few years back a friend of mine paraphrased a BBC Radio 4 interview. Imagining they were discussing a snooker ball, he said one person asserted:

This ball is completely red.

Only to get the response:

No it's not, it's completely round.

A more subtle and duller version would be (and these facts are all made up):

The cost of travelling has increased 12% year on year since the year 2000.

Responded to with:

This government has put £10bn extra into public transport, making a 15% increase in investment in real terms over the corresponding period.

You will recognise the sort of discussion. At least in the second version the divisive 'No it's not...' is missing although it is pretty much assumed.

It is not a contrary position. We may not like it but this is exactly what an 'alternative fact' is. It is quite possible for both sides to be right with stats.

During the recent US Presidential campaign the statistical fact came up that a massive reduction in violent crime against the person, nationwide, was being reported during the Obama administration. Challenged on this a panellist on a news show said:

Not in Chicago it isn't. Followed by, People don't feel it is like this.

John Oliver accused the guy of bringing feelings to a facts fight. Yes. He did. And I think he won.

And what do we need to say of Michael Gove's Brexit campaign rallying call that people had had enough of experts. They were, and still are, tired of the sham expertise that rubbishes the other side's stats as a matter of course. For the message received by the public is that all stats are wrong, not just those ones. It was not because of the experts that experts became mistrusted, but because the information provided by the experts was used so badly. And it was ironic that it was Gove, one who had been doing that, who called it so.

This has been an opinion piece. But it is my opinion that facts matter. If they don't then we can plaster whatever we damn well like on the side of the campaign bus. It doesn't mean we have to do it.

And finally, as a coda, those of us who believe in facts need to quadruple check the 'facts' we share, especially on social media. Trump didn't photoshop his hands and it makes us look bad to suggest so. Neither did he hold hands with our Prime Minister in a giant love-in; he helped her down some dodgy stairs. We'll do photos another day, but those things freeze movement and can make it seem permanent. Some photo editor somewhere has 99 pictures of Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich properly.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Hey. Here's a thought. Stuff changes. I know. Thank you.

So I was visiting Mum - the dementia addled, mainly deaf, partially sighted Mum who is now in residential care.

And we had a weird hour together.

At one point she mumbled and I made the mistake of saying 'Pardon'. She then said 'You what?' We disappeared into a black whole of frustrated courtesy.

And after she finally understood that it was me who hadn't heard her she had forgotten what it was she had mumbled.

But, remarkably aged 88, she can read, even without her glasses. So I wrote a few things down and she understood.

So now I have a new plan. Monday's 'Things to do' list now includes writing a letter to Mum. One side of A4 and 14 point font makes 250 words including the addresses. Not overly demanding. But possibly restoring communication.

We'll see.

Jonathan Raban

A recent interview in the Guardian told me something that I had feared - Jonathan Raban has been ill. In fact the piece chronicles his recovery from a very serious stroke in 2011.

I have taken my time reading through the Raban catalogue. Part of this may be that the idea of reaching a point where there will be no more Raban to read fills me with pain.

Some people are universally acknowledged as great authors; they often receive awards and prizes. Raban has had his share of such.

My connection started with a review. The review in a newspaper in 1999 was so enthusiastic I felt I had to order it at once in hardback. I did and read half of it over the next few nights, before sleep. Then I decided it was too good to read that way. It needed to be finished uninterrupted and not tired - preferably sitting by the sea. I did that.

Passage to Juneau is a travel book, the story of Raban repeating a yacht journey from Seattle to Juneau in Alaska, reading and reflecting on the works and diaries about the journey along the way and encountering people as he sought harbour. It was also a commentary on where he was with his relationships and a marriage coming to an end. But mostly, it was a series of sentences every one of which was better than any sentence I have ever managed. It was a writer's book. A book for people who like to write. In the company of writers I can read about almost anything. Even boats and travel.

I discovered the huge back catalogue of Raban's writings from the jacket. It was a 'Why did nobody tell me?' moment.

I chose a work of fiction next - Surveillance. Again it was an experience of great writing. It was a giant metaphor for the way, in post 9/11 USA, everybody was watching each other suspiciously. It was still relatively early in the days when prospective dates googled each other.

It was a story about journalism, secrets and relationships. I loved it.

And currently I am reading Driving Home, which is a collection of Raban's journalism in newspaper and magazine. It includes reviews of books, people and places.

You mean that's it? Indeed. So why am I writing about an author of whom I have read two and a half books? Well, it's so you get to start earlier than me. And also because of a sentence in Driving Home. Some context.

I have never heard of, nor read anything by, William Gaddis. And, in effect, the piece Raban wrote for the New York Review of Books called At Home in Babel in 1994 tells me not to bother. Speaking of two Gaddis novels Raban says:

'Scaling The Recognitions and JR, one keeps coming on the remains of earlier readers who lost their footing and perished in the assent.'

Gaddis is going to be tough going. And with other authors this sentence is cruel. In Raban's hands it is an invitation. He goes on to extract the juice from the best of Gaddis' work in such a way as to leave the Raban reader thinking they might dare become a Gaddis reader. Because Raban is, and I think this is the point, a generous writer. He writes to find the good, the best, in people, places, journeys and books. If Jonathan Raban will hold my hand I, not much of a traveller, can journey.

So even though I am new to him and inexperienced I hope he lives long enough to write so much more that, if I read slowly enough I will never run out. I think that's a prayer.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

Will you be an encourager today? Or a moaner? Will you make a difference? Or wish everybody else would change?

One of the privileges of being a vicar is of being with people at serious moments of their lives. Helping to articulate gratitude for a life. Working to plan how to have a great wedding celebration. Giving voice to those who can't pray but want to.

Thing is I am just as likely to be on the receiving end of a rant about traffic being slow, rooms being too hot or too cold and meetings going on beyond the agreed finishing time.

We all work our way through the big decisions that face us, most of us doing pretty well and logically, then, faced with someone else being stupid in a minor way, we can implode.

My own moment came this week when a lazy driver shot through a one way section of a car park rather than driving the long way round. I was really cut up.

But we can find ourselves more uptight that someone parked across our drive than about the needs of refugees. More bothered by slow traffic or Bristol City's results than the progress our great city is making year by year.

Jesus' disciples once got sent out on a mission. 72 of them. His speech as they departed was this, 'The harvest is plentiful, the workers are few, go I am sending you out like lambs amongst wolves.'

There will always be wolves - meaning opposition. But there is so much good to be done out there, such a harvest, and so few people doing it, that you can't fail if you want to join in, to make a difference.'

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Thought for the Day

As delivered this morning at BBC Radio Bristol. I also got involved in a brief discussion about reasons to be cheerful (to beat the January blues) because they had my list of 200 I published a couple of years back. Linked here and here. But the thought:

Well. Was Barack Obama a good president or bad? The 44th president of the United States made his farewell speech last night.

Statistics suggest that over the last eight years the Obama administration has made amazing progress towards eradicating poverty. Good news. But the outgoing president has said that he is frustrated by his lack of ability to control guns. Bad news.

Jesus set out his own agenda by quoting the great prophet Isaiah:

Good news for the poor
Freedom for the prisoners
Sight for the blind
Release for the oppressed

As a manifesto it's a great check-list to use when assessing someone's ministry or leadership.

It's not good news for the poor if your dwelling is rat-infested.

It's not freedom for the prisoner if no-one understands the shackles of drug-dependency.

And even if great leadership eradicates 90% of poverty, the 10% still hurt and still need to be heard. If I am hungry I will find it hard to accept that a food programme is making a remarkable difference.

And this is the reality of politics, by which I simply mean 'organising people', today. It is an endless task. There will always be people who need help. And always those who cast doubt on the motives of the aid-bringer.

Which may be why Jesus responded to the impressed locals by saying, 'A prophet is never welcome in his own town.' And it made them so mad they wanted to throw him off a cliff. Really.

And that may be why Barack Obama is thought of much more highly around the world than he is in his own country. Nevertheless, in this far off corner of a far off land, we should thank him for his service.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

2016 Review of the Year

So here we go with a look back at 2016. And it will involve a bit of  'Apart from that Mrs Lincoln what did you think of the play?' Elephants in the room, even if they stand quietly, tend to leave dents in the floorboards.

Album of the year? Well I remain of the view that in a year when Radiohead put out a new album everyone else should fight over second place. This is indeed the case. A Moon Shaped Pool is an astounding, magical, soulful, dramatic, creative and haunting piece of work. Best of the rest was Steve Mason's Meet the Humans.

Film of the year. Didn't spend as much time at the cinema as I would have liked which meant that much watching was last year's. Rogue One was excellent fun. Jack Reacher ignored the advice of the title Never Go Back and went back. People got hurt. I really enjoyed The Accountant though. I like maths, dialogue, thrills and espionage. All boxes ticked.

As previously noted I also have trouble reading books in the year of publication. So nothing from me about works that were actually published in 2016. My two favourite books of the year were as pictured.

Paul Mason was the only person I read who wrote a realistic guide to why Brexit might be a good idea - he then advised against it because the timing was wrong. In Post-Capitalism, he asserts that the era of the technological revolution has gone on too long and soon not everyone will need to work. But we will need to contribute and the world needs to work out how to pay us. I reviewed it here.

Everything Magnus Mills writes leaves me convinced I am being taken by the hand and led slowly somewhere very profound. At the end I wonder if I have read something deep, imaginative or a simple children's story. Any piece of writing that lets the reader decide what it was all about without comment - you read or hear few interviews with Mills - is a job well done. Reviewed here.

Eating out? It was the year we discovered Maitreya Social in Easton. As a seasonal, organic, local-produce, vegetarian restaurant in an ethnically diverse part of Bristol you might want to beware of catching right-onness. But the tastes are amazing. And if you don't contract a hipster beard there you certainly will do at WB at Wapping Wharf. Fish, chips and craft ale. I might have been its greatest fan/evangelist this year. By Saturday I will have taken almost everyone I like, who has visited the south-west with a mealtime to spare, there. (Takes quick break to issue another invitation.) Their Smokin' Barrels was my beer of the year.

Some honourable mentions. @porrdidgebrain entertained me on Twitter on a daily basis (sometimes hourly). Eddie Mair on Radio Four's PM made broadcasting seem an absolute breeze. As Did Danny Baker, both on Radio Five of a Saturday morning and as @prodnose on Twitter. Nacer Chadli restored my belief that there are players who will make a lung-busting run for the cause of West Brom (See his second goal in the 4-2 defeat of West Ham.)

See you at the end of 2017.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Garden Bird Watch 2016

The highlights from last year's observations:

Record number of house martins. Between 27/4 (first arrivals seen) and 13/9 (last sighting) we saw a decent population overhead which peaked at 22.

Likewise house sparrows. They seem to love especially the peanut feeders on a pyracantha bush. Maximum observed at any one time was well up this year, at 24.

First recorded observation of a nuthatch and a green woodpecker.  Also a song thrush for the first time for a few years.

Not cold enough (again) for the field birds to come near so no waxwings or fieldfare and  few goldfinches.

No sparrowhawks observed this year, which may explain the good sparrow population, although, in my experience, they would rather eat a dove.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Football Quiz of the Year 2016

An annual institution, not so much a quiz as a set of observations about the inadequacy of football punditry at all but the highest level. I resolve to pay less attention during Football on Five in future and, additionally, to mute the theme music. Attempt all questions:

1a. 'There was only one place that was going to end up.' Help this commentator by listing several places, other than the goal, star strikers have left the ball ending up.

1b. 'FA Cup 2nd round - it doesn't get any bigger than this.' Can you help the Halifax Chairman think bigger?'

2a. 'Sometimes in the Championship it's always going to happen.'

'January signings sometimes don't always work out.'

How certain was Adam Virgo of these particular eventualities?

2b. Likewise George Riley with 'Rarely a dull moment always applies to Leeds'.

3. Comment on the curse of the manager of the month award with special reference to the principle of regression to the mean. Name any pundit who would grasp this?

4. 'The light at the end of the tunnel is very strong but it is not gathering momentum.' Guess Phil Brown's physics GCSE result.

5. How many inches away must a defender be for an attacking header to be described as 'free'?

6. 'It's an audacity chip.' Can you spell the word Adam Virgo was reaching for?

7. Discuss West Bromwich Albion's ability to nurture psychologically well-balanced forwards with special reference to:

Peter Odemwingie

Nicolas Anelka

Saido Berahino

8a. 'He wants an end product on the end of things.' Where else might Michael Gray place that?

8b. Likewise, ''They are struggling for goals in front of goal.' Can you help Adam Virgo, identify other places this struggle might take place?

9. 'The robins are roaring once again.' (Football on 5 commentary) Should commentators on Bristol City brush up on their animal noises?

10. 'We've been knocking on the door and today we opened it.' Which side of the door was Justin Edinburgh?

Many thanks to the goal-line technology department for finally removing all questions about parallax from the paper.

Monday, December 26, 2016

I Am King

On Monday mornings I am king. But not today. Not on Boxing Day. No-one else can do what I do here. I know the rules. Card and paper separate. Brown paper goes with card. Food cartons also.

No black plastic because the scanner can't read it but you might get away with leaving a black top on a clear plastic bottle.

Textiles need to be separately bagged. Foil and cans sit comfortably together.

Compost the peelings. Other food waste in the brown bin. Green garden waste every month in winter then fortnight it in summer. Don't forget to buy a new green bin.

Christmas and New Year Bank holidays move everything along two days, then one day, then normal. Or back if Christmas is a weekend. Other Banks Holidays make no difference.

Don't put it out in a gale or it ends up in the porch of number 26.

If in doubt do what number 32 does. They're usually first.

Rich Gospel Investigates

As delivered at Trendlewood Church on Christmas Day. Apologies that the opening joke is a local one. You may need to fit your own in to use elsewhere. To use this in a service dress as a private eye (dark glasses, hat, raincoat with collar pulled up).

On the word intriguing – stroke your chin before speaking it
On the word suspicious - look round from side to side before speaking it
On the word mysterious - scratch your head as if puzzled

Rich was reading the letters page of his local newspaper. He found it hard to understand why people seemed so anxious about car parking spaces in a town you could walk round in an hour.

Very mysterious (head scratch).

Still, not a problem for him. Foreign supermarket chains could, under no circumstances, be enquired into by a firm that specialised in 'Paranormal, supernatural and doctrinal investigations'. He dealt with huge issues'; not Lidl ones.

As he folded the paper away he spotted an advert. He scraped the spots off again so he could read it.

Someone who can explain why my Advent calendar only goes up to 24.
Love Joanna

'This is indeed my area of expertise' he said to himself, thinking doubly deeply, although it came out as 'Well, well'.

But it was also a good question. Very intriguing (stroke chin).

When is advent? he asked. No-one answered, because he was alone. He decided to take his thoughtfulness to a coffee shop. He was in a quandary. He must have got in it absent-mindedly so he got out and found his own car.

In the local coffee shop he asked, 'When is advent?'

This time the other customers all looked at him strangely and returned to their lattés and laptops.

He noticed an Advent calendar on the wall. It started at 1 and ended at 24. Joanna was right. But he recalled that Advent Sunday was only sometimes on the 1st of December and it hadn't been this year. So that was very mysterious (head scratch).

He went round the shops. That didn't work so he went in. He bought a selection of calendars. It would probably be the only time he could put chocolate on expenses.

After careful research and some alka-seltzer he concluded that door number 7 was usually a fluffy thing, door 14 was often weird and door 24 had a baby behind it.

Nor was there any consistency. Nobody seemed to agree about the picture to put behind each window. Maybe that was why he got so many messages saying Windows was updating.

But there never was a day 25. Christmas Day. The best day was never there. Very intriguing (stroke chin).

Did people have no time for it?
Did no-one know what to put behind the door?
Was there no money to be made out of 25 door calendars?

Very suspicious (look over shoulders).

He should start a campaign for real advent calendars on which door 7 showed a woman with a 2.00 a.m. craving for pickled walnuts and door 24 had Joseph saying 'Push'.

He made a mental note. Then he scrubbed his head and made the note in his pocket book, which was far more sensible. He was making no progress. He went home and looked at all the things he had noted in his pocket book. He decided to sleep on it.

He woke 30 minutes later in great pain and decided to sleep on his bed instead.

Considering he was fully fit it was odd that he slept fitfully.

Waking early he took a bath. 'Oy that's my bath' said a three inch tall, five foot wide man from down the corridor. It was his flatmate.

Instead of taking a bath he used his own shower. As the warm water refreshed him he remembered an old priest he had once met. He seemed to be a kindly old soul and had a breadth of knowledge about all things theological - especially the mysterious (head), intriguing (chin) or suspicious (shoulders). But the man was very long-winded so Rich only visited him in emergencies.

He bolted down a bowl full of wild bird seed with some milk, unaware the the garden birds were now eating muesli and enjoying it more than him.

He raced to the church where the kindly old priest worked. He was replacing a pink candle with a purple one mumbling about Mary candles. Rich had no idea who Mary Candles was.

He knew the priest was a bit deaf. As he was facing away from the door he walked right up to him and tapped him on the shoulder.

The elderly priest came round a few minutes later. Since he'd been terrified out of it Rich put him back into his skin.

'Hello Mr Gospel', said the priest, recognising him at last. 'What can I do for you?'

Rich explained about the problem with the Advent windows and how he was finding it all very mysterious (head).

The priest said, and we know he did because Rich took the precaution of recording it, having first reassured the owner of the precaution that he would give it back in a minute:

'An Advent calendar is a special calendar used to count the days of Advent in anticipation of Christmas. Since the date of the First Sunday of Advent varies, falling between November 27 and December 3 inclusive, many Advent calendars often begin on December 1, although those that are produced for a specific year often include the last few days of November that are part of the liturgical season. The Advent calendar was first used by German Lutherans in the 19th and 20th centuries but is now ubiquitous among adherents of many Christian denominations. December 25th is the first day of the season of Christmas, not the last day of the season of Advent.'

Amazing. He noted never to use liturgical, ubiquitous, adherent and denominations in the same sentence ever. But he had solved the problem.

As he left the church he saw Joe, the local paper boy.

'Hey Joe' he said 'Do you know why Advent calendars only go up to 24?'

He was looking forward to impressing Joe with his new-found knowledge. He liked impressing young people.

'Yeah', said Joe. 'It's so we can sell them next year if we over-stock.'

Trouble with trying to impress kids, thought Rich. They just don't get easily impressed.

And now he had another problem. Which answer to give Joanne?


Previous episodes of Rich Gospel Investigates Christmas can be found at:

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas Newsletter 2016

Punching above my weight for 39 years.
The annual letter from me and Mrs T is published here. Hope you enjoy it. It has photos. Such as this one.

Happy last week of Advent to you all. Please have a Happy Christmas when it finally arrives and enjoy all twelve days.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

My family have a terrible joke competition each Christmas. I expect to win as usual.

Under what tree do the shepherds sheer their sheep?

You clipped us.

What do you call an insect that doesn't know the words of songs.

A humbug.

Delivered wearing emergency nativity kit
OK I'll stop...

When Charles Dickens put the expression 'Christmas - humbug' on the lips of Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol he wasn't inventing a phrase but using the slang of his day. It meant something like 'a deception'.

Today we use it to describe a person who is not going to be drawn into something everyone else is doing.

Jokes yes, but bah humbug to Christmas jumpers, say I. Can't stand the perishing things. However...

You can donate to Save the Children's Christmas Jumper Day appeal without wearing a daft pullover. You can cough up for men's health in months other than November and without growing a terrible 'tache. You can help Motor Neuron Disease charities without jumping in a bucket of ice.

So I'm not saying bah humbug to you. Let's keep the fun in fundraising. But do try and allow people to be generous in any way they wish. Remember you can love your neighbour as yourself - your neighbour in Aleppo, Yemen or on the streets of Bristol - all year round.

It's great that there are so many events that raise awareness - it sometimes seems like every day is a special day for some charity or other. Just let's remember to keep our awareness raised when the fun is passed.

Although, talking of special months, in which month are you in most danger of amputation?

That would be Dismember.

I'll get my coat.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Thought for the Day

As delivered to the BBC Radio Bristol Breakfast Show with Emma Britton this morning:

Well it comes to the time of year when we sing carols. And people are looking forward to the BBC Radio Bristol Christmas Celebration on Monday.

And as a Christian minister I will probably get in trouble for this but some of the words of our carols really are nonsense.

For instance, when, in Once in Royal David's City, we sing:

Christian children all must be
Mild obedient, good as he

...we are learning more about Victorian parenting styles than Jesus' upbringing.

And from Away in a Manger:

The cattle are lowing
The baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

It is pure supposition that Jesus wasn't scared by the noise of cows that may or may not have been in or around his home at that time.

So what's going on? I used to get cross about all this but now, advanced in years, my tolerance has increased. What we have (beat) is a universal story.

The God I follow revealed himself in Jesus Christ, says the Bible. This is such a unique and special insight that song-writers, down the ages, have felt comfortable drawing attention to the truth by addition, embellishment and gloss.

This baby is so special, goes the story, that God made flesh is the only apt description. And he is going to live and die for everyone; so the Christmas story and songs can be all-embracing.

It's quite a liberating thought. It allows Santa, countless unlikely animals and all sorts of weird and wonderful extra characters, to be placed in worship at a manger. Not because of the baby; but because of who the baby turned out to be. And what he did.

Happy Easter everybody.

And when Emma responded by suggesting that babies in mangers raised safeguarding issues I was too slow to say 'Think Aleppo not Bristol'. Great comebacks often occur to me in the car on the way home.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

I wrote this poem last year in the pre-Christmas rush:

Christmas turns up about now
Screams to a halt - tyre rubber in the road
Look at me

Advent walked here, carefully holding a candle

Christmas bares its soul about now
Make me happy with food, fragrance and fashion
Buy me

Advent cradles its light from the breeze

Christmas accessorises everything about now
You need two of those, extra glitter and ribbons
Box me

Advent speaks of a truth beyond packaging

Operating with a sense of other-worldliness can be hard. Monday and Tuesday's Thought for the Day contributors spoke of Advent as a period of reflection, waiting, hoping. Advent asks us to wait gently while the world sits outside in its car, beeping its horn. Come on.

Does a carnival anticipate a heavenly party? Do Christmas lights speak of the one who is the light of the world? Do ambulances remind us of our humanity but that one day every tear will be wiped from our eye? Do medals for bravery emphasise the otherness of this world where there is evil but goodness can, and will, overcome it? Well, (beat) they might.

St Paul spoke of this world as seeing through a glass darkly - looking forward to seeing face to face.

The great seers and sages of the Christian past described special sites in our world as 'thin places' where God can be glimpsed more easily.

In one of his novels Philip Pullman spoke of the spirit world being accessed by a subtle knife - if you could find the right place you could cut your way though.

I hope you see God through the gaps in the rush and find yourselves in some thin places today. Peace.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Design by the Devil

Friend of mine was fond of posing this question, when running a training event for children's leaders in an old church building. How, do you think, would the devil have gone about designing a building for worship and ministry?

He would then suggest that perhaps the seating would have been made rigid and uncomfortable, the heating unreliable and the leader of any event put as far as possible from those engaging with it, maybe even up a flight of steps. If enough separation of leader and led was not established he posited a screen being built between the two to further cut down visibility. I think people got the point.

I revisited this question in a traffic queue recently as I wondered if the very Devil himself had been involved in the Southmead Hospital car-park.

Arriving, an hour or so earlier for a routine visit late afternoon, I had been unable to park not because of a lack of spaces but because the queue to leave prevented anyone from getting in.

On arrival I checked the payment system and saw the costs. I also checked that change was given. I established that I needed to use a payment system at a pay station before trying to exit.

I did my visit.

I got back to the pay station. On the walk stress point 1 reared. Reports had bothered me that 500 yard queues had built up recently because two of the three pay stations had been out of order. There was no queue but then I hit stress point 2. I had to enter my vehicle registration number at the pay station. I don't always recall my current reg although FWK 616L and UOF 247S are etched in my memory, my first two cars. Luckily an appalling obscenity is a good mnemonic for my current registration.

After paying, a message said I was free to leave and had over an hour to do it in. I was issued with no token or ticket.

I drove out, trying to leave appropriate gaps for vehicles entering the car park to get in but (stress point 3) impatient people then overtook me and blocked the gaps.

As the queue reached the exit I saw the cars stopping at a barrier. There was a machine next to it which some people touched and others didn't. Stress point 4 - had I failed to memorise a code or pick up a token?

Getting nearer I found that the machine was simply a 'call' button and that cars seemed to have to wait a while (15 secs) for the barrier to raise. I had to (stress point 5) put my faith in automatic registration plate recognition software. I also (stress point 6) had to be sure I had entered my registration number in the machine correctly. I was sure I had but in the queue the doubts built up. Was there a precise place to stop to make this easier? Who knows. The barrier rose after a brief wait.

Bearing in mind that people trying to leave this car-park are either already stressed because they have been ill and are going home, maybe still uncomfortable, or have been visiting a sick relative and are sad, might I humbly ask if hospital car-park design might be made as easy as possible for those who are in a bad way already.

I have heard of one visitor, catching up with a husband who has just had a serious illness diagnosed, having a complete meltdown and leaving a car on the grass and having to be helped by security and treated by nursing staff. Automated car-parks may well be a false economy. People in trouble want to see people who can help.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Get it in Writing

In my days of having a proper job, as a claims clerk in the insurance industry, we were encouraged all the time to get things confirmed in writing and to confirm any offers we made in writing. Writing was important. Although verbal contracts do exist and are legal, they are easily backed away from and it becomes one word against another in the absence of witnesses. Getting it in writing provided firmer evidence of a deal done.

We offer you £250 in full and final settlement of all claims for personal injury arising out of this accident. This offer is made without any admission of negligence on the part of our client. Please indicate your acceptance in writing and we will send you a cheque.

See. I can still recite it today. Sums of money have advanced a bit and cheques are antiquated but the principle remains.

In those early days as a house-owner I was introduced to the shady area of cash transactions.

Me: How much to fix the front gutter?
Builder: £90 should cover it.
Me: Can I have a written quote?
Builder: Ah. Then it will be plus VAT.

It is strange how our relationship with writing has changed. Because social media is writing or, at least, typing. A comment we might have made tongue-in-cheek, or in an offhand way down the pub is suddenly in writing. Or is it? Is that how people see it.

A few years back an irritated traveller tweeted, after appalling delays at Nottingham Airport, that he was off to blow it up. He was arrested and it took a while for a wise judge (on appeal, I recall) to see that he had been joking.

I really don't think that a lot of people see their social media outbursts as 'in writing'. Just as a young family member once told me that someone wasn't a friend but a Facebook friend (clearly having a difference in their head between the two types), I think that there needs to be a new word for posting, tweeting and updating that stops short of this being something that is being clarified 'in writing'.

You only have to look at the long string of appalling and abusive comments on certain celebrity posts to see that people seem genuinely not to have noticed that the person the subject of their opprobrium is actually listening/reading. I follow Gary Lineker on Twitter. He seems an interested and interesting character. He is not especially rude or crude and does not restrict his comments to the world of sport. People respond shamefully. By and large he reacts modestly. This exchange of views/insults reads like a conversation, albeit one with the drunk in the pub or the nutter on the bus.

And the trouble with writing is that it is not open to discussion who said what to whom. The evidence is there. This doesn't seem to dissuade the trumps of this world from saying 'I never said that'.

A few years ago I carried around a quote from Anita Roddick (her of the Bodyshop business). She said that ideas have wings. As soon as you pin them down they fail to fly. So she operated an ideas culture that didn't pin things down to paper plans too soon. Better paper planes in the air. Keep talking.

I like being part of a church where we all talk about everything all the time. Nobody is too insignificant to contribute to vision or strategy. All views can be shared and we are slow to minute them. We try to have as few secrets as possible. In this context a social media discussion has no more weight than a chat over coffee. And no less either.

That will be £50 please. For cash.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Thought for the Day

Serious thought today. As delivered this morning at BBC Radio Bristol.

I know I often wander around the lighter side of the Thought for the Day room. But not today. Not today.

I was very moved by the Shrouds of the Somme installation on College Green when I visited it last weekend. It ends today.

Rob Heard's creation represents the 19,240 men who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The first day.

I find it stops me in my tracks when I make a comparison. I think of the town where I live, Nailsea. The population is a little less than that. But imagining every single person in Nailsea falling victim to a sudden death. A whole town wiped off the map. That's the equivalent of what happened.

Everyone who died was somebody's friend, father, son, husband...

Both my grandfathers were the right age to be one of those people. They served elsewhere and survived. So I'm here.

Each hand-stitched shroud on College Green offers dignity to someone who died suddenly, violently, indiscriminately and probably without a chance to fight back. It is somehow restorative.

In one of his shorter works the poet Steve Turner wrote:

History repeats itself.
Has to.
No-one listens. 

I will be taking a funeral a little later this morning. And I will remind everyone of another, older poem a soldier wrote about his God:

Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

So why not find a response. Say a prayer. Throw a coin in a Children in Need bucket. Keep your own moment of silence.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Statistics and Cathedral Worship

As regular readers (hi Mum) know, I am a great consumer of statistics. I am no expert but one thing that bugs me above all else is when conclusions are drawn from numbers which are simply opinion.

So now the church attendance figures recently released for 2015 (we're getting faster at this, believe it or not) show that attendance at cathedral worship is up compared with many other places where a downwards trend is observed.

And immediately one or two lazy commentators suggest that this proves that modern forms of worship are failing and we should all get back in the cloisters.

It does no such thing. In fact what we see on the ground is a number of very small evening congregations being wound up due to a shortage of organists, choir-masters, choir and indeed congregation. I should just have said 'everything' but I'm a sucker for merism ladies and gentlemen.

As they wind up, some people choose to worship at other times and other places; a number simply drift away, but a few, who were mainly attracted by choral evensong, find their way to the nearest cathedral. Up go the numbers.

It should be our expectation that as things get rarer the finest expressions of them survive the longest and attract the most attention. No conclusions beyond that can be drawn.

Reading Retreat

Many of you know that, for me, a retreat to get stuck into reading is the best way for me to keep fresh. I like lectures and conferences but probably learn more with my head in a book than any other way. It also explains why I occasionally mispronounce words I have only read, never heard, and attempt to use.

I am back from a few days away. I finished four books this retreat and made a start on a few others.

Rowan Williams - Being Disciples
Rowan Williams is a poet and a wordsmith. He is also aware that nuancing words is all we got, although he wouldn't have put it that way. Nuancing gave us the Good Friday agreement.

This is a short book that demands slow reading. It contains treasure. As Williams says in chapter five, on Faith in Society:

Churches and other faith groups might be called trustees or custodians of the long-term questions, because they own a vision of human nature that does not depend on political fashions and majorities.

He gives me a quiet confidence in my own inadequacy.

Carlo Rovelli - Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
I didn't pay attention in science at school. I wish I had but was never gripped. Maybe if this had been the first set book things would have turned out differently, in physics at least. Writing in English English rather than scientific English (in translation from Italian Italian I suppose) Rovelli covers relativity, quantum, cosmology, particles, loop quantum gravity (I know), time and in a beautiful final chapter, ourselves.

It is short, graspable for a non-scientist and very, very readable.

A.C.Grayling - The God Argument
I persist in consuming the output of those we might call 'the new atheists'. For it is the readers of books such as this with whom Christians will have to reason in the market place.

The difficulty for me is always that the 'religion' Grayling shoots at is often one I would also see as the target. I do not think he can imagine a Christian who does not take the Bible literally, or one who believes that morality is a human struggle and the answer is not usually beamed down from above. Even if it is we still have to engage with others in terms that allow for the incredulity that such might happen. He believes that morality, for the religious, comes only from a transcendent source such as divine command and does not arise from reflection on human realities and relationships. He's wrong.

For me, life as a Christian is life lived immersed in a different set of stories. There are not proof-texts but there are those who have gone before. There are not certainties but faith, hope and waiting. There is not separation from the way the world does its thinking; Christian and non-Christian minds are wired the same way.

But there is a man, on a cross, in the middle of human history, who points in a different direction to selfishness, pragmatism and finding someone to blame for all the trouble.

David Byrne - How Music Works
This book starts with the note that orchestras got bigger to compensate for the problem of string quartets not being heard in venues where everyone persisted in talking. It ends with the reminder that a 1969 UNESCO resolution confirms a person's right to silence,

In between music, and the industry attached to it, is dismantled before our eyes in order to be explained. The value of music to society is seen in co-operation. You can't fight if you're in time. Quoting William McNeil he says:

We don't dance because we're human as much as we are human because we dance.

Almost spiritual.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

This Week's News

I learned quite shortly after Brexit that trying to offer an analysis of several competing and complex voting intention strands was hopeless. In fact since then I have been annoyed a lot when people, usually Conservative politicians or Nigel Farage, have said 'What people voted for on 23rd June was...' because they then complete the sentence in any damn way they want:

  • Restored sovereignty
  • Take back control
  • Money for NHS
  • Immigration controls

When in fact people simply answered one question on one ballot and we cannot easily mine into their motives. Rod Liddle's, 'Something is wrong; this is how we tell them' was as close as any guess I saw and had the advantage of brevity.

So, reflecting on having been Trumped, may I draw attention to three articles which I think have the truth surrounded without any of them containing all of it:

1. Aaron Sorkin's letter to his daughter, published in Vanity Fair for an emotional take.

2. Michael Moore's analysis of why Trump won. He wrote it before the election, which is cool.

3. Paul Mason's observations of why and how politics is changing and what us lot (people such as me) should do.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Ribble Valley

We found ourselves in the very beautiful Ribble Valley. Sorry, that sounded like an accident. We meant to go there. It is a part of the country we don't know very well.

In the past we've done North Yorkshire Moors, Teesdale, Weardale, Lake District, Lancashire coast and many major northern towns and cities. It feels like we have got this part of the world surrounded without ever having entered. I did do a few training events at Whalley (pronounced Warley) over the years but never explored.

We were just down the road from Clitheroe. The Aspinall Arms at Great Mitton became a firm favourite. The Tolkien walk around the rivers Calder, Hodder and Ribble, passing Stonyhurst College, was excellent. Allegedly JRR worked on the Rings Trilogy here and named/described some places he knew locally. We got to know Booths supermarket. Their bags were the product of an excellent slogan-writer's mind - Cumbria not Umbria; Wuthering Bites.

Further afield we visited to the north of Morecambe Bay - Arnside and Silverdale - from where I took the panorama photo here.

Lovely autumn colours and not too cold yet. Great break.

Monday, October 31, 2016

What time is it?

No strangers to post-hour-change confusion, at least in the biorhythm department, today took things to new heights.

I was looking forward to a day off, brought forward from later in the week when a conference is taking place.

In the early hours of morning the alarm went off and Mrs T crept out of bed. I realised that I would not get back to sleep (I am usually stirred by her creeping) without a jimmy and therefore popped next door, semi-comatose.

Returning to my bed I found it occupied. 'I'm still here' said the occupant, sounding very much like Mrs T. Instead of dropping back to sleep I had to concentrate on the explanation - that the clock showed 4.55 and the alarm, set for 5.55 had gone off an hour early. I asked helpful clarifying questions (well I thought so) and Mrs T waited for me to hit snooze again and then left the room to get her mobile, no longer trusting the bedside alarm. I stirred as the light from the other room flooded through the open door and again when she returned to bed.

I snoozed once more and seconds later was awoken by the bedside alarm sounding at the correct time followed shortly by the phone alarm.

I think I may have slept again from 6.00 - 7.15 when coffee was produced for me. By then I had given up and started on the recycling (Monday job).

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Annual Battle

Good afternoon and welcome to the finale of this year's programme of Vynes Glebe one-on-ones. I'm Pru Nowt. We reach autumn and the annual battle between Steve the Clip and his garden pyracantha bush. Last year the plant won easily but our hero goes into battle this year with new ideas. Over to our commentator Angsty Gardner. Angsty:

Yeah thanks Pru. We hear Steve has got himself some extra gloves, is being sensible enough to wear long-sleeved clothing this year and, get this, has two saws and a set of working secateurs. But his usual stumbling block is the desire to get things over with quickly. This is often his downfall. He needs to work slowly and steadily.

And he's off and a few good clips to the outside middle making himself space to work in and up. Good start.

Now he's got the ladder and he's taking the outside branches off. He seems to be learning. 2-0. But wait, what's this? There are two branches just out of reach. He repositions the ladder but still he can't get them. He leans in at the top if the ladder - asking for trouble and - yes, as I expected a full puncture wound to the lower abdomen. 2-1.

Still, he took the last branches out. 3-1. Now all he has to do is cut them down to size and put them in his green bags. Going well. Nearly there.

It's the last minute and this is indeed injury time. He grips one of the last pieces between his knees and impales the inside of both his legs simultaneously. 3-3. Can he hang on for a draw?

And as he takes off his gloves and rolls up his sleeves he finds another set of wounds he doesn't even recall getting. That's dramatic. That's final and that's painful. He throws the gloves to the floor in frustration.

4-3 to the bush. This is Angsty Gardner handing you back to the studio.

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning on the back of a story that a Bristol Charity (ARA), which deals with gambling addiction, has seen an 80%  increase in the number of people it is helping.

The word 'addicted' has had a bad press. Google the words 'addicted to...' and you get links to sex, drugs, alcohol and gambling. But also iphones, doctor visits and hoarding. And the Robert Palmer song Addicted to Love which, it turns out, isn't about love at all.

But whether trying to get to the next level at Candy Crush Saga, or to see every televised goal scored last weekend, I note the pitfalls for those of us with easily-addicted personalities. We should keep back from the one-armed bandits.

I observe, with some dismay, the adverts on TV for easily-accessed online gambling sites. Not because it isn't a harmless pleasure. For some it is. I have put a few coins aside for a game of cards with friends from time to time. But because those who have a tendency to addictive behaviour may not notice until it is too late.

Some professional footballers have spoken of how hard it was for young men with money and long periods of boredom to avoid the lure of a bet. With disastrous consequences for family and finances.

I'll take a liberty with my Bible by changing a word. The believers were addicted to the apostles teaching. They were addicted to the fellowship. They were addicted to the breaking of bread. They were addicted to prayer. They were addicted to helping the poor.

Sound odd? That is because the word should be 'devoted' not 'addicted'. But advice lines and web-sites suggest that those with gambling devotion need to distract themselves with another activity. I welcome the availability of charities to help.

An addiction or devotion to Jesus certainly can give you a glad and sincere heart. We might as well face it. He was, and is, addicted to love.