Sunday, January 23, 2022
Thursday, January 20, 2022
A funny thing happened the other day. Something that hasn't happened in January for maybe 40 years. You may ponder. I'll tell you later.
I've been retired (that's the R word) for two weeks now. I've noticed a few weird things, such as finding myself reading a newspaper on the day of its publication. Ages since that happened. Also my head. I am normally thinking ahead. Pondering what needs to happen next, tomorrow and eventually. There is currently no eventually and little tomorrow in here. I've planned supper.
I was chatting to Gary the plumber this morning, back for his annual visit to fix the toilet in our family bathroom, a place that's a triumph of style over function. Told him how I didn't want to be the sort of person who complained about trivialities. 'What, writing strongly worded letters?' he said. Exactly. Not that. Please. Let me carry on caring about the fight to save liberal democracy and not if a Waitrose carrot deteriorated faster than usual.
A local friend has just won a long-standing battle to obtain funding and permission to have his house altered to take into account the degenerative disease he has. He doesn't need it now but will do soon and when he does he won't be able to cope with the disruption of the alterations. He told me, with a twinkle in his eye, 'I don't think they realised how much time I had on my hands.' Having an empty diary gets results, sometimes. Strongly worded letters are not totally irrelevant.
Another couple of locals, in retirement, became people of such repetitive regularity that they always did a walk on Thursday, the chores on Saturday morning and the shopping on can't remember but it was time-tabled. Thing is, I can see now how having some structure provides a week with routine. Flip-side is that if it is all routine and only routine the days, so I'm told, pass very quickly and before you notice you're routinely dead. By all means have some fixed points but don't get them stuffed and mounted. I will in future read on a Tuesday (the day in my working life most likely to have had some space for study) unless you have a better offer or there is an emergency. Likewise Fridays, a rest day for the last fifteen years or so, will continue to be a day free from jobs. Our bio-rhythms mandate it.
I am good at packing up and handing over, or at least I think I am. The process of thinking about who would do various jobs I used to do helped me stop thinking about them when I finished. How do I know that thing will not be forgotten? Because I remembered to pass it on to someone who is reliable. That's the best I could do. That said, I am surprised how little I have thought about my old duties. It helps that I have received no phone calls or emails (yet) asking 'What did you do with the...?'
So my first two weeks have been relaxing and the list of things to do is getting pruned. It is nice to be able to cut down on duties and jobs. I'm not quite like a colleague who told me he was going to make a New Year's resolution to ruthlessly eliminate hurry. I asked him why he couldn't eliminate hurry slowly. But I am slowly slowing down and looking forward to a couple of weeks holiday away coming up soon.
So. The thing that was weird. Another friend invited us to come for the weekend some time before Easter. And after taking a moment to enjoy the idea of going somewhere for the weekend I found myself asking a question the answer to which I would normally know at this time of year:
'When's Easter?' I honestly didn't know.
More when we get it.
Monday, December 20, 2021
2. To support a colleague
Tuesday, December 14, 2021
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Monday, October 11, 2021
Last time I had a job other than vicar I worked as a writer. I once got paid for eight words. A building services company were happy with my slogan: 'Large enough to cope; local enough to care'.
Monday, September 06, 2021
Wednesday, September 01, 2021
Friday, August 13, 2021
Thursday, August 05, 2021
We had an interesting discussion in our house. I was gently nursing our ancient dishwasher through its final few tasks before it went to the domestic appliance graveyard. My family laughed at my efforts to turn the water off as the programme finished, which involved squeezing into the cupboard under the sink with a pair of mole-grips and a torch.
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.'
Thursday, July 29, 2021
I love reading the question and answer interviews in Sunday supplements. Given how unlikely it is that anyone will ever want to publish my answers I thought I'd have a go at the question about 'influential reads'. I reckon all books influence me, even if it is to eliminate the author from my future enquiries. But what tomes really changed me? If we are honest they are rarely the books alleged to be 'improving'.
Here are ten. They may not be quite the top ten because I didn't want to overthink. I may do ten more later. The order, by the way, is the order in which I read them:Aboard the Bulger
Ann Scott Moncrieff
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Lesley Joan Tilley 1928-2021
Steve Tilley and Jacquie Clinton
Tuesday, July 06, 2021
Pete Paphides - Broken Greek (8/10)
Pete is a music journalist from a Greek family based in Birmingham. This autobiographical book covers his childhood and early teenage years. The pull of the music industry was strong but the peer pressure that formed his early opinions was also influential. As a Brummie who recognises both the landscape and the chart-music of my young adult years (I am older than the author) I loved this journey.
Ben Machell - The Unusual Suspect (9/10)
Ben is a newspaper columnist and feature-writer. This is the account of Stephen Jackley. He was an Asperger's student so his decision making was unconventional. Channelling Robin Hood he began, in 2007, a life of crime designed to help the poor by robbing banks and building societies. It didn't go as well as he expected.
Simon Mayo - Knife Edge (7/10)
Yes, that Simon Mayo. Page-turner, thriller, bit short on likelihood but ticked the boxes for a quick read.
Bill Bryson - The Body (7/10)
A very entertaining account of the different bits of our bodies and how progress into understanding them was made. No need to read in one go. Fit in a chapter here and there between novels. And rejoice that you were born when you were.
Val McDermid - Still Life (8/10)
The very undisputed queen of the police procedural at the top of her game.
Francine Toon - Pine (7/10)
Slow-developing, ghostly gothic Halloween weirdness in a Scottish community. Delightfully creepy with portentous moments regularly spooking the reader.
Catriona Ward - The Last House on Needless Street (9/10)
Two children, a weird guy and a cat take it in turns to narrate this story. All are unreliable witnesses at one time or another. Not so much a whodunnit as a who did what to whom and when? Brilliant.
Thursday, June 10, 2021
I'm pretty sure that most people would prefer those in their employ to be reliable. I have worked with a few crazy creatives in my time and their unreliability was something we took into account because we wanted their genius ideas on our side. We didn't mind that they occasionally forgot to wash, their desks needed police incident tape and their punctuality for routine meetings was a thing worthy of having an office sweep. I have woken two people in my working life who were asleep near their work, surrounded by pizza boxes.
If you are unreliable you will not be missed for days. Seriously injured in a ditch will become dead in a ditch unless you are unreliable but lucky. Gosh how I love chaotic but lucky people. Also, they live longer.
I am spending more waking hours than is healthy these days pondering things that may be worth handing on. The trigger was when I was asked to do an awkward burial of ashes because 'You're a safe pair of hands'. I guess I am. I am punctual. If I am late people tend to ask if everything is OK rather than look sternly at me. Which is nice. Reliable people are late sometimes. But they have good will to be so. If I say I will do something I usually do it. I got reminded in a meeting the other day to do something that was on my list to do next. Really irritating although we may note in passing that control freaks don't trust anyone, even reliable people.
A speaker at a conference I was at said that people who use trains are usually punctual. It is true but it sounds wrong. People who use trains regularly have to get themselves to a station at a particular time or they are late. Trains are sometimes late but the person was there to catch it. We generally only hear that someone has come to an event by train if they are late and explaining. Most trains are on time. Most train users don't usually feel the need to say how they travelled.
But reliability isn't only about punctuality. As a professional writer for a few years I used to hit deadlines. Had to. I wanted the fee. Part of being reliable involved, from time to time, phoning a commissioning editor and asking if there was any flexibility in the deadline. It was usually fine because they'd built in some time for emergencies. Once or twice I encountered a strict deadline and had to stay up late finishing. Because that's what reliable people do. By the way, if you want something from a writer first thing in the morning make the deadline the previous night. We consider a deadline of Monday means Monday at 11.59 p.m. You will get it before Tuesday.
Reliable people feeling they might disappoint, warn those who are depending on them at an early stage. No-one will be cross with you if you tell them you are going down with some illness and may not make it. But give the expectant recipient an extra 24 hours to make plans. Reliable people hate letting others down. The memory of so-doing haunts us.
Once you have a reputation for unreliability it will be hard to shake off. You will feel nagged. If you are unfortunate enough to be in that position my advice would be to over-communicate yourself out of it.
'Hi Fliss, I'm just calling to say I'm getting on with that piece of work you gave me and it will be finished in a few days.'
'Hi Fliss, just checking in to say the piece will be with you at the end of the week.'
'Hi Fliss. I've just posted it first class.'
Of course, because you're now reliable, these statements need to be true or you become real lieable. Not good.
On a much larger scale, the Japanese worked tirelessly and ceaselessly on acquiring a reputation for reliability after the expression 'Made in Japan' began to be used as shorthand for shoddy in the 1960s and 70s.
If a product becomes unreliable in the eyes of the public it may well be withdrawn for a while and returned with a different name. It's a label nobody wants.
Reliable people do what they say they will do. If they think they will be unable to do something they don't offer to do it, or negotiate the arrangements. Try 'I'll do this for you if you take that off my hands'. From time to time you can put people off by charging a lot. If they call your bluff and agree to pay it either sub it out for less or decide that for that amount of cash you'll stay up all night to finish.
Reliable people don't offer wisdom about things they know nothing about. That sort of bluffing comes back to haunt you.
Reliable people are usually busy and seem to fit a lot into a day.
The word 'reliable' doesn't crop up until the sixteenth century or so. It may come from old French and Latin with its roots in 'binding back'. That word religare also gave us religion. In the Bible it is sometimes used to translate the Greek word pistos but that word encompasses faithfulness and belief. When 2 Timothy 2:2 talks about entrusting Paul's teachings to pistois people it means those who share belief and trust in Jesus.
If you are embarking on a calling to ministry don't over-commit early doors but deliver what you say you will, well and on time.
Wednesday, June 09, 2021
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
There's a moment in Pulp Fiction where Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta (Jules and Vincent) confront some minor hoodlums in a small apartment. These guys have taken something that belonged to a Mr Big who can afford really good muscle to get it back.
Whilst one of the punks is trying to blurt out an explanation Jules shoots his buddy on the sofa saying 'I'm sorry. Did I break your concentration?' Yes. That worked.
I think I have pretty high powers of concentration. Eighteen years of my life spent in open-plan offices probably made me better than most at blocking out distracting noises. Once at Eagle Star Insurance someone backed a lorry containing girders through the office window. That was a Jules moment. But conversation and background buzz? I could ignore that.
But recently I've got worse. Used to working at home alone most of the day the pandemic has delivered me with first one, and now two companions. Planning for our retirement next year we have been trying to concentrate enough on finding a place to live. Our other housemate is also house-hunting. Both of us may have been successful. We're waiting on completions. My final year in ministry is not quite the walk in the park I had planned. My concentration got shot.
To all intents and purposes I am doing OK but for two months I wasn't able to read. I'd pick up a book and read a chapter but then have no idea what I just read.
It's getting better. The habit of regular diaried reading days has been part of my DNA for 20 years now. Even if I only manage a few short chapters of some simple, but improving, books it keeps me ticking over. Not 200 pages a day with studious notes, but maybe 75/100 and some progress, a few quotes written down and a sense of personal development.
One thing that I find helpful on these reading days is variety. I'll pick 7 or 8 of the 30 books I have on the go at any one time and read a chapter from each. I'm amazed how often these chapters inform each other and feed into a grand thought about something altogether different. I begin with the shortest chapters because then, psychologically, I'll have dome three books in the first hour. I'm an easy person to fool, me.
Sometimes I share this insight with others and it is dead marmitey. Some look as if I have changed their lives for ever; others as if I am no longer connected to my trolley.
One of the cave rescuers who performed an endurance dive to rescue some lads a few years back was interviewed. The interviewer asked 'I suppose when you get to that point where you are not sure you can make it you rely on your courage.' He was corrected, and quickly. 'No. You rely on your training.'
The habits and skills you develop over your lifetime in your chosen profession will hold your hand when your concentration is no longer with you. It's your training. And with that I will pick up today's first book. Enjoy your Marmite.
Friday, May 07, 2021
Sunday, April 11, 2021
Libertarians, who do not believe any citizens should ever have to carry papers saying who they are, are wondering if that holds true post-pandemic. Should we have vaccine passports?
Authoritarians, who do not believe that crowds should ever be allowed to gather in a pandemic, are wondering if that holds true when the Queen's husband dies. Should that be an exception?
Desperation tests your principles. It sometimes tells you that they weren't principles after all.
Thursday, April 08, 2021
Friday, April 02, 2021
But it is Good Friday. A day we need to remember is meant to be weird. The Romans invented a cruel-spectacle execution for those it wished to use as an example. The gallows is too quick. Insurgents would not be put off by a quick death. Crucifixion is slow. It is said Jesus died in six hours - relatively quickly. The business of breaking the legs of the crucified was to prevent them from pushing themselves up to grab a breath. It hastened the slow death of suffocation. Those executed were not always taken down once dead, as Jesus was. Some were left at cross-roads and other public places to be picked at by carrion. A visual aid. This is what we will do to you if...
We have been following the story of Jesus from Mark's Gospel this year. 'The Tabloid Gospel' we have called our series although that is a bit harsh on a mainly eye-witness account containing much on which to reflect. 'Who is this man?' it keeps asking, telling stories of astounded and astonished crowds hanging on the every word of this unpredictable preacher.
And at some point in his life the destination of his journey became clear to him. One whose family knew nails and wood intimately. And at some point after his death followers tumbled to what his life meant, piecing together prophecy, preaching and pain. 'It is finished.' What is, Jesus? What?
The finish is of the quest for further clues. You can either conclude that life is meaningless or see the answer on a cross. A man, so clearly divine that his chroniclers called him 'Son of God', abandons the otherness of the spiritual world he inhabits to become one like us. There is no glib Christian answer to suffering, just a bow to its inevitability. Demand your money back if anyone sells you one.
'If you must bang your head against a wall...' said my doctrine tutor and hero Tom Smail '...bang it against the mystery of Jesus. Relevant martyrdom.'
Look no further.
Accept no substitutes.
Like no other.
No art, theology or music can do justice to this event. It is the thing that gives all other things the right to happen. They change meaning when juxtaposed. This lovely, messy, unfair world is a place we are free to inhabit because somehow God inhabited it once. We loved him yet also treated him unfairly, messily. We even have the freedom to ignore the story or take it no more seriously than an Easter food ad.
I don't send Easter cards. Well OK, one, but that is for other reasons. This is not a time for commerce. I take this hour (this year) and commit to serving this mystery for another year. I've done this for 37 years, one year at a time. This will be my last time. From next year my time is my own and need not be committed to anyone. Nine more months. Here you are.
Nine more months to the one who knows how insincere, two-faced and hypocritical are my hints to others to have faith. I call no-one. I invite them to investigate what I have investigated as thoroughly as I have and to work out how to respond after doing their own deconstruction.
Put to death by the unspiritual for allegedly claiming to be a human king.
Put to death by the spiritual for allegedly claiming to be divine.
As I try to make sense of the competing imagery I hear some Tallis, see a dead sheep or Christ on a cold, cold stone. And I hear mockery even now, that I would dare to find this important. Because it's not science, it's not cool, it's not very now and it's not monetizable. And I wonder if most people understand what the meaning of life, the universe and everything should look like. For what, if anything, do they search?
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John took some liberties with history. We do well to get that out onto the table. Not with the truth but with the reality. Mark took fewer. Some of the stuff they made up was designed to illustrate the truths they had glimpsed. They knew no other way.
Every now and again a chord seems exactly right in an 'If I knew what it meant I'd have said it not painted it' sort of way.
The music of Good Friday must be minor. The art abstract. The theology metaphorical (as all language is). Today is not a matter of history. It's far more important than that.
Friday, March 26, 2021
We have two fridges. One in the kitchen for regular stuff and one in the garage which contains rarely used cordials and aperitifs, some vegetables and a lot of beer. We call it the back fridge. We call it the back fridge because the other fridge has always been called the back fridge even though it is not in the back. It is, as I have told you and paragraph one is mighty early for repetition, in the garage and the garage is in the front of the house to be near the driveway.
The second fridge became a thing in our previous house when we got a new fridge before the other one died properly. We put the old one, with the freezer, in an unused downstairs room which was a bit like a cellar. It was a three story Victorian terrace and the third floor (lower ground) was not visible from the road. The lower-ground front room in that house had no natural light and we used it as storage space. Others who bought such houses in the street made an access space for natural light and made an extra living room but were plagued by damp problems unless they spent a fortune.
Did you spot the weird thing in that little section? I passed over it quickly but I said, quite clearly, that the cellar room with the fridge in was the 'lower-ground front room'.
Which means, by my calculation, that although from the kitchen the cellar room was often behind you, it was never in the back. It has always been the front fridge and has been misnamed for over 25 years. We're going to start calling it by its proper name. We'll try, anyway. I wonder how long it will take. Would you bother to change your language if it was proved to be completely inappropriate? Would you work at it?
It's a good question, and why this little piece is about far more than fridges.
Monday, March 22, 2021
What the chapter break helps us miss is that another storm, this time an internal one, can be calmed by the power of Jesus. In fact it led me to my title. Despite their differences, what we see is Jesus calming 'Two Different Storms'.
To follow Jesus, I concluded yesterday, is to follow an uncomfortable, unpredictable lead through the eyes of gospel-writers who had points to make about who he was and is. Don't let our modern, numerical punctuation obscure this.
Thursday, March 11, 2021
I was once challenged by the BBC Radio Bristol presenters to base my thought on a strange item about whale vomit. I'm sorry if you're eating your breakfast. Could I? I did.
Sunday, February 07, 2021
Thursday, January 07, 2021
For the last six months I've been posting a weekly Facebook link to my highlights of the week in popular culture. Or maybe unpopular culture would be better? You know me.
On balance it is worth doing this as well though. I like trying to work out what was the best of the year, especially last year which didn't have many bests in it.
My favourite individual tunes of 2020 are on this link to Spotify. It seems to have been a year when my spirits were raised by three chords and jangly guitars. Nowt wrong with that.
For album of the year I often struggle. New music is simply music you haven't heard before. As I do not listen to much radio I quite often 'discover' music that's been around a bit. Which meant it was great to find the Billy Franks' back catalogue and Man Alive by The 4 of Us (which I had on cassette in the car in the 1990s) make their way onto Spotify. But that said I enjoyed:
EOB - Earth
Foals - Collected Remixes
HAIM - Women in Music Pt. III
Khruangbin - Mordecai
Surprise Chef - All News is Good News
Westerman - Your Hero is Not Dead
Zapatilla - Zapatilla
I read more books in 2020 than any year since records began (1988). But how many were written in 2020? Not many. Plaudits to:
Andrew Hunter Murray - The Last Day
Daisy Johnson - Sisters
Catherine Lacey - Pew
Adam Rutherford - How to Argue with a Racist
In TV/Film I caught up with many box-sets during lock-down using a Prime subscription and latterly Netflix. Like many others our favourite film of the year was Armando Iannucci's spirit-lifting The Personal History of David Copperfield.
But I found the year much-improved by Better Call Saul, Peaky Blinders, Bones (plots become increasingly improbable by Season 5), The Good Fight and Brokenwood.
I missed my couple of times a year at the Pony and Trap at Chew but found the yurt version at Breaking Bread on the Downs very acceptable for a wedding anniversary. In April the Pony and Trap at Chew is changing its focus to a foraging and training centre with meals for volunteers on the estate. But they are opening a restaurant in Bedminster. Hooray.
|Clifton Downs Yurts|
Here's to better things to review away from home in 2021.
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
I once caught myself embellishing a story to a friend who would find out what I had done. Not willing to spend the rest of my life telling two separate stories to two separate people and making sure they never met, I fessed up and rolled the story back a bit. Memorably, and forgivingly, my friend said he understood because, 'The narrative demanded it at that point'. It was a kindness. I've tried to hold off exaggeration and dishonesty ever since. One of the reasons is that your lies become your truths over time. You misremember hyperbole as fact. Not the greatest sin in the world, especially for those of us who like to think we can spin a tale, but good to be aware of what you are doing.
I've told a tale from time to time about the greatest cricket shot I ever saw.
For a few years in the summer, aged about 12-14, I went after school to Edgbaston, the Warwickshire County Cricket ground, with a few friends. I was a member but you could also get in cheaply after tea. Watching two hours of cricket was infinitely preferable to history essays and over the years I found many excellent ways to use the time after school and before eating that had nothing to do with homework. I was sitting behind the bat slightly to the left. About fine leg and five or six rows back.
And the way I have told the story I saw England and Surrey opening bat John Edrich hit a ball for six so hard that instead of lofting it a long way over the boundary it went in a straight line. I can still see the ball going from bat to row C, remaining six feet off the ground the whole journey. I have described this shot as a hook all my life. But if I close my eyes again I can't recall the delivery or the ball hitting bat, just the trajectory of the ball which my young eyes saw clearly.
John Edrich died recently aged 83. The first thing I noticed above the obituary I read in The Guardian was a picture of him playing a shot. He was playing the shot he must have played when I saw that 6. He was a left-handed bat. Left-handed.
So, I was not sitting at fine leg but third man and I did not see a hook. What I saw was more remarkable. As obituarist Peter Mason wrote on Christmas Day, Edrich was '.... a ruthless dispatcher of bad deliveries, using his strong forearms to punch the ball to midwicket or through the covers.' I saw Edrich punch the ball through the covers for six. Imagine Ben Stokes' winning shot at Headingley against Australia after that mega last-wicket partnership with Jack Leach, only played slightly higher and later so going for 6 not 4. Unbelievable. But I saw it with my own eyes. Least, I think I did.
Thursday, December 24, 2020
Privilege to do TFTD on BBC Radio Bristol for Christmas Eve today. Here's my script:
Sunday, December 13, 2020
Saturday, December 05, 2020
I think we can all agree that we need a bit of distraction right now. So let's have a row about something completely unnecessary. A song's intro is a thing of beauty in its own right. It grabs you by whatever you don't like being grabbed by and says, listen. I've never attempted a top ten of these and this is my first go; the ones that sprang to mind. Some have stories; others not so much. Lots of my favourite tunes don't count because there isn't enough intro before the vocals start. One of my first live experiences was Alvin Lee yelling 'One of these days boy...' and then following it with a guitar chord of such monstrous power that Birmingham Town hall was nearly no more. No intro.
So, counting backwards, here we go:
10. Silver Liner. Ethan Johns 2015. The chords make you think he might be about to burst into a cover of Argent's Hold Your Head Up (no bad thing) but then something much moodier and trippier breaks out.
9. Sensual Thing. The 4 of Us. 1992. Bass, guitar and drums in 25 seconds of perfect control. You know that the vocalist could say anything and it would be fine. As it happens he wants to electrify his senses, stretch his nerves and save his soul, which is a fine plan.
8. Course of the Satellite. The Vryll Society. 2018. Distorted keys start to make sense as the rhythm kicks in. That's as it should be. 35 secs for old DJs to link from the weather.
7. Speak to me/Breathe. Easy Star All Stars. 2003. A cover version should not simply be an attempt to recreate the original with precision but should add something. No-one adds more than these guys with dub reggae versions of classics. 90 seconds of sound effect intro that manages to surprise you when the offbeat kicks in. I hope the Floyd would approve.
6. A Haunting. Roots Manuva. 2005. Rodney Smith takes a minor key melody and becomes rebel eye with fortitude (come see the dude exude). Spooky.
5. Riot Radio. The Dead 60s. 2005. I love ska. This is an infectious start. One of those occasions when the first track on the first album was never bettered.
4. Jane. Jefferson Starship.1979. Eight bars of swirly keys, (pre-riff in bar 8) then crashing guitar chords for eight more to vocals. Perfect intro.
3. Money for Nothing. Dire Straits. 1985. When you're this big you can get Sting to do backing vocals on your intro. Perfect example of how to build to a climax with drum work absolutely key to this. Everything stops dead before the song starts.
2. Stay with Me. Faces. 1971. This one has a story for me. It's summer 1972, the end of my 17th birthday, and the mainstage at the festival has over-run. I am too tired to stand any longer and go to bed. From my sleeping bag I hear the opening chords of Ron Wood's guitar chop into my slumber and I get back up and enjoy two hours of Rod Stewart and the Faces singalong pub-rock madness.
1. Woke up this morning. Alabama 3. 1997. D. Wayne Love's (RIP) monologue as he walks home following three days of drinking and reflects on his mortality. Listening to John Coltrane's Epitaph he realises that his taste has moved on and he has woken up. Two minutes of story-telling intro as the theme of the song develops slowly,
Let the mayhem begin.