Sunday, December 23, 2007

Here it is...the spiritual bit...


God came down
Brushing the savannah with His Midas touch
Infusing the ocean with His complexity
Whispering His way into the sub-atomic spaces.

The universe sang with His joy
Each cell and quasar vibrating at His ecstatic frequency.

Still, not enough, said God; they do not see
Me, neither do they hear my voice.

So God came down
Breathing comfort and promise into the fallen and the distressed
Choosing those without a voice to speak His words
Naming those without respect to be His face.

The earth rumbled with the sound of their voices
Their stories spoke the longings of countless hearts.

Still, not enough, said God; they do not hear
Me, neither do they know my heart.

And God came down
Into the darkness and silence of a watery womb
Into the monotony of dusty roads and endless questions
Into the agony of death and the pain of rejection.

Hard hearts were melted by a single touch, lives changed
At the moment they knew themselves known.

Now they saw
Now they heard
Now they knew His heart

And God said, it is finished.
TAW Christmas 2007
Happy Christmas, all.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tinsel Overdrive

I have gone into pre-Christmas frantic mode. Today is the first day of the best of two weeks off. well, I say 'off', but what with family and church wardening duties I think I get about half an hour to myself!

Anyway, around this time of year I start setting myself ridiculous tasks, often unnecessary tinsel froth or totally unconnected to Christmas yet somehow taking on the 25th December deadline. By Christmas Day all shall be cleaned, including those items that never normally get done (the silver, the tops of picture rails, that kind of thing); all shall be tidy (pretty much an impossible task once the kids have broken up from school - and Richard, for that matter); all jobs shall be finished (e.g. the painting of walls, the sanding of furniture, the outstanding projects from work...none of these are remotely related to Christmas, but have somehow adopted the deadline artificially).

So it was that I found myself in Tesco's well before 9am this morning, and have continued at pretty much top speed until now. Just a shedload of cooking to do now. If I get through that I might hang some baubles up in the dining room, for good measure.

Now, where did I put that sandpaper...?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Leaving on a jet plane


Scene: check-in at the Easyjet desk at an airport near you. A nervous-looking older gentleman dressed in long red silk robes is carrying a small bag to the front of the queue. He is greeted by a weary young woman dressed unflatteringly in orange. Her badge informs us that her name is Stella.
Stella: Good morning Sir can you tell me your destination please?
Man: I'm not entirely sure. I set off in a westerly direction, pretty easy really since I originate from the East. But then there was rather a lot of cloud cover, and I got a bit disorientated. I think I need to head east again now.
Stella: That would be anywhere but Edinburgh then.
Man: Perfect. Whichever flight takes me the furthest.
Stella: Can I check your passport please? (He hands it over) That's fine Sir. Nice beard, you've grown it even longer since that photo.
Man: Yes, the beard seems to go with the job.
Stella: What do you do?
Man: I'm a sage.
Stella: A what, Sir?
Man: A sage.
Stella: I'm sorry, I thought that was a herb.
Man: No, no. It's a thinker, a generally wise person (Stella looks blank). A philosopher. A guru. (still blank). An astronomer. A star-gazer.
Stella. Oooh. I'm Sagittarius myself. Is it just yourself travelling today? I seem to have you down for three seats.
Man: That's a common misconception. Because of the three gifts. People always assume there are three of me. (Stella looks somewhat disbelieving). Oh, all right. The other two went skiing instead.
Stella: So...did you pack that bag yourself, Sir?
Man: Oh, yes.
Stella (she reels off): Can you confirm that you have no knivessharpimplementsaerosolsorgascylinders?
Man: Yes. I mean, no, I don't.
Stella: And that you are not carrying any liquids onto the plane, other than verified medicines for the flight?
Man: Er...I do have a bottle of myrrh.
Stella: And that's a medicine, is it, Sir?
Man: In a manner of speaking. It's for embalming. Dead bodies.
Stella: (Pause...) ...Are you planning a terminal event whilst on board, Sir?
Man: No, no...it's just that it comes as part of a set. A gift set, you see. Along with the gold. And the frankincense.
Stella: Nice. Is that from the Body Shop?
Man: Not exactly. Look, it's very important. I don't want to risk it to the hold. And I don't have time to wait in baggage reclaim. I'm running late, what with the cloud cover and the breakdown on the motorway. I never knew it was possible for a camel to have a blow-out in the fast lane.
Stella: Well, I don't know. I don't think they'll let you, but you could try putting it in one of those see-through wallet things. You'll have to pay duty on the gold though.
Man: Fine, fine.
Stella: And you're going to have to take them robes off to get through security. Do you have anything underneath them?
Man: Of course I do. It is December, and I am a wise man, you know.
Stella: Pardon me Sir, I was just asking.
Man: Not at all. Just one more thing - would it be possible for me to get a seat by the window? I'd like to keep an eye on that star...

Friday, November 02, 2007

Time and Space


I've always been a bit challenged when it comes to visualising the size of stuff. When we were buying our first home in Bristol I couldn't imagine the size of rooms, so a friend advised me to imagine that her husband (who is over 6 foot tall) was lying down in the space. Since then I have bought a further 2 properties by the simple 'two Adrians by two and a half Adrians...sounds about right' method.
So I was delighted by this little nugget of astounding information, from last Saturday's Guardian: there is so little matter inside an atom (the only matter, the sub-atomic particles, only fill a teeny-tiny fraction of the space) that if you could extract all the empty space inside all the atoms of every human being then the whole of the human race could fit into a space the size of a sugar cube. Though I'm unsure whether that still applies if all the human beings were Adrians.
This reminds me (vaguely) of another favourite nugget of astounding information, that Richard regularly uses in his classes: first stretch out your arms as wide as they will go (I think this works even better for Adrian). Let this span represent the length of time that the earth has existed. Now take a nail file, and lightly rub it across the nail of your middle finger. You have just shaved off the whole of human history.
Of course all of this is a bit mind-boggling, and a long way from being able to reduce the space I live in to a simple Adrian equation. For Douglas Adams fans out there, this may remind you of his advice: that the one thing that you cannot afford to have when living in a Universe this size is a sense of perspective.

Monday, October 29, 2007

When in Rome



Got back from 3 and a bit days in Rome late last night, or very early this morning depending on your point of view / body clock (mine went forwards and back several times over the past few days, thanks to coinciding the trip to Europe with the clocks changing for end of summertime). Things I learned while in Rome were:






  • I know nothing about multi-tasking compared with a Rome taxi-driver. Hats off to the individual who got us from the airport to our apartment whilst negotiating Rome in rush-hour at break neck speed, answering 3 mobile phones that were ringing continually and giving us a running commentary on the sights.

  • Michaelangelo didn't paint the Sistine Chapel lying on his back, he invented an arched stepped scaffold that allowed him to stand up on the job.

  • The Pope's bedroom looks out over the security checking queue for St Peter's.

  • The 'secret' policemen that stand in a mob outside the antimafia office (just up the road from our appartment) all look like they're part of the Mafia.

  • When in Rome, Richard suddenly starts speaking French.

  • Italians really understand chocolate icecream. It tastes of chocolate, not chocolatish.

  • 'Scrubs' dubbed in Italian is an improvement on the original.

  • There are so many ancient ruins in Rome that some have been put to pretty odd uses: we especially loved the sacred temple-come-cat sanctuary.

  • The Capuchin monks have made three rooms in their crypt entirely decorated with the bones of former monks, all arranged in beautiful patterns, and even making light fittings out of them. It's good to have a hobby.

  • Pope Julius II scandalised the Catholic world by growing a beard. Apparently someone had worked out that St Peter was clean shaven. Also there was the anxiety that the Blood of Christ might catch in facial hair during the Mass, leading to all sorts of theological hurdles.
  • Cheap Italian wine tasted much better oncc you get to the second half of the bottle.

Italy loves Halloween, hence the pumpkins here. But it seems a bit weird in hot sun.



Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pants


Well it's another long night for me as the insomnia is taking over my life again. So what better way to while away the wee small hours that write drivel for your personal edification? But not just my own drivel: this is overheard drivel.


I'm not a fan of mobile phones. A Luddite at heart, I object to this constant need to be talking to someone who's not in front of you. When I'm sat on the bus I want to hear the screech of bicycle tyres as they go under the front wheels, not the inane conversations of 30 people all telling someone who's not on the bus a) what they will eat for tea, and b) how long the bus is taking, particularly now it's going to have to stop and clean the cyclist off its wheels.


Still, this particular overheard conversation was a gem, and I have tried to reproduce it here for your enjoyment. For maximum effect please try to read it in its original South Wales accent.


The speaker is a young male, early twenties. Quite good-looking (I don't want you to stereotype him in your head). Let's call him Gareth. We pick up the action after 10 minutes of discussion, mainly about what Gareth will have for tea ('Chicken Kiev tonight. I eat chicken most nights. No, I'm not really a casserole person') and how long the bus is taking ('no, it's not too bad at this time, as long as I leave work at quarter to five it's OK, otherwise I may as well just leave it till 6). He is talking to a female, probably his mother or his girlfriend. Lucky woman.


'So I'm coming home at the weekend, and what I really need is some socks...no, I've got plenty of pants, it's socks I need...no, socks...I said I've got lots of pants. Pants. PANTS. I've got PLENTY of PANTS. No, PANTS. What happens is, we all put our washing in together, and somehow all the socks go...no, the pants come back. I've got pants. PANTS. Can you hear (he says 'yer')...can you yer me? Sorry, we're going up the Gloucester Road and I'm on T mobile, the reception's not very good...PANTS. Look, do you want me to ring you back? (There is a pause, presumably while the call's recipient considers whether this information really warrants another feat of modern technology). Oh, is that better? Yes, pants. I've got enough pants, I've got plenty of pants. It's socks I need. Well, actually I've got lots of socks, new socks, only they're not mine see? I put my socks into the wash, they disappear, and I get someone else's back. No, not the pants. I've got my own pants'.
And so on, and so on until I got off before him leaving Gareth and friend to consider two of life's great mysteries (where do all the socks go, and why do some women promote male underwear dependancy issues?)
And after all of that, you just know that Gareth's going to go home to South Wales Friday night and find a multi-pack of M&S's finest pants on his pillow.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Just keep swimming...


One of my favourite kids films is the wonderfully animated and deeply wise 'Finding Nemo'. If you haven't seen it you're in for a treat; if you have, I recommend repeat viewings. There's quotes in there for every situation: parenting, loss, love, fear, hope, and finding your way back to the ocean (all drains lead to the sea). I particularly love Dory, the little fish with short-term memory issues and all sorts of hang-ups who still manages to be the most hopeful of all the characters. She's also the one who thinks she can speak whale... anyway,Dory's motto in life is 'just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming swimming swimming...' and it's at times when things are crashing round my ears like last week that I find myself chanting that under my breath. Stopping to think about the mechanics of it all would probably result in drowning. Better to just keep swimming.
This week kicked off pretty well, with Cafe Church yesterday on 'Hospitality'. I had chance to use a quote that stayed with me from this year's Greenbelt: 'What most people are looking for in life is a safe space where they can tell their story' (Mark Yaconelli). Of course we were thinking of this in the context of church, but I've also found myself thinking about its relevance within the context of my work life. I run a nurse advice clinic for patients with long-term complex psoriasis and eczema, with all the attendant physical and psychological problems, and have the luxury of spending an hour intially with each patient. When I've had a bit of a holiday, I think I'll spend a bit of time thinking about how to create a 'safe space' that encourages these people to tell their stories. A bit less advice from me, and a bit more from them...

Friday, October 19, 2007

I don't like to moan, but...

Actually I would like to moan.
Actually I think I'm entitled.
Actually I think that, right now, after the week we've had, moaning is the only sensible thing to do - or the only thing that doesn't pose a risk to my health, at any rate.
The bad week really started three weeks ago, when my body rejected the notion that coming off long-term steroids was a good thing to do, and went into a lupus flare. Cue extreme fatigue, aching joints and muscles, a fuzzy brain and - most worryingly, since this is what put me in hospital before - reduced circulation.
Still, I kept smiling, and kept going, barring one day off to catch up with daytime telly. The steroids went up again, and the symptoms reduced a little to a manageable level. Unfortunately my waistline is going up correspondingly.
The staffing levels at work are at an all time low, I'm currently doing 2 other peoples' jobs as well as my own.
Still, I kept smiling, and I kept going.
Then I caught a bug and spent last Friday in bed - irritatingly on the day we were supposed to be going to Cornwall for a 40th birthday party weekend.
I resurrected myself on Saturday, we drove there, back again on Sunday, exhausting but lovely to see some old friends and at a fab spot at a youth hostel right on the coast.
Then things really went pear-shaped.
Tuesday Richard went down with flu.
Wednesday Jordan broke her wrist and was admitted to hospital.
Thursday Richard had to get into the hospital, despite running a high temperature, to consent Jordan for manipulation under anaesthetic, because I had a clinic I couldn't get out of. I ended up nearly crying over a computer that lost all my afternoon's work, really crying because I was so tired and so wanting to be with my family not stuck slave labouring for the NHS.
By Thursday night we were all home again, some of us tanked up on drugs, all of us taking comfort from our crutch of choice - chocolate, alcohol and rubbish TV.
Richard went back to work today, still looking a little corpse-like, and I have a headache for the 8th consecutive day. Jordan meanwhile is having to come to terms with life in a plaster cast, and Annie is just fed up of everyone else being such a misery!
I'm still smiling. But only cos I've now let myself have a good moan.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Posh's Secret Diary

By popular demand, here is the skit I did for Sunday's 'Cafe Church' on 'Belonging'. Trust me, you didn't miss anything by not being there to hear my impression. More Jade Goody than Victoria Beckham.


13th July
Dear Diary
Well here we are at last in Sunny Los Angeles. Was v. pleased to see some old friends when we stepped off the plane, as most of the British tabloid photographers had gone on ahead of us. Fortunately me and David had had our hair done during the flight, and I managed to get me pout just right for all the front pages.

In the car on the way to the house we played ‘I spy someone more famous than Mummy’. Brooklyn spotted Cameron Diaz, who looked a bit rough. Cruz saw Britney Spears, who could also do with a bit of work. Then Romeo said ‘I spy daddy!’, so of course he won.

We watched the sun going down over the Hollywood sign.

I think we’re going to fit right in here.


15th July
Dear Diary
What a busy weekend it’s been! Me and David’ve hardly had time to gel our hair.
First David had to go and show his face at his new job. The other players look a bit worried, they’ve probably never seen a real footballer before. He showed them a couple of his moves, so I expect he’ll soon make friends.

Talking of new friends, Tom and Katie came round with Sherpa, or whatever their baby’s called (I can’t bear it when people pick silly names for their kids). I really like Katie, she seems really genuine and soon we were swapping addresses of our plastic surgeons and everything.

David and Tom stayed in the kitchen. I asked him what they were talking about afterwards and he said they were discussing whether using grey grouting would stop the problem of discolouration between the kitchen tiles. Oh, and whether Tom will get to be an operating Thetan if he keeps following the Church of Scientology.

It’s nice they’ve got so much in common.


18th July
Today we went out to a local restaurant for a nice quiet family meal, just us and about 20 photographers. I wanted to have something macrobiotic, like Gwynneth, but apparently I was in the wrong sort of restaurant; they only did supersizes of everything, and it wasn’t healthy. All the boys loved it. Will have to eat lettuce only for rest of week.


24th July
Dear Diary, I don’t mean to moan, but am really starting to get annoyed by being told to have a nice day all the time. Also being asked if I like it over here. And if I’m going to stay here. And if I like ‘soccer’. And if I know that Cruz is a girls name in Spain. These Americans are a bit predictable.
Still, seeing lots of Tom and Katie and little Scrunchie, and have met some other famous people too, though not as famous as us, of course. I think we’re starting to really belong here.


12th August
Funny sort of day. Went out for a drive and there wasn’t anyone waving at us. No pointing either. Romeo said, ‘Mummy, why aren’t those funny people pointing at us?’ I said don’t worry, darling, we’ll get out and go for a walkabout.

Went into a supermarket and there was Cameron Diaz, still looking a bit ropey behind the frozen peas. Still, between both of us you’d have thought we’d have managed at least one paparazzo. But nothing. Went to the checkout and the girl didn’t even look up, not even when she called for the supervisor to check the price of me plastic jugs.

These Americans just don’t do irony.

26th August.
The boys are getting ready to go to new schools. David’s started playing ‘soccer’ again. So it’s just me at home, practising me singing ready for the Spice Girls world tour (though David said: Babe, don’t worry too much. You’re the glamour. Specially now Gerrie’s let herself go all hippy).

Never mind, Katie’s still coming round quite a lot, even though they’ve got a nanny for little Sushi and she says she’s going back to work. I really like her. I’m thinking of getting a new tattoo, ‘Victoria and Katie: true friends forever’ in Arabic down my left leg. That’ll still leave me right leg for when I finally have a little girl.

Besides, I’m really settled here now, so I won’t really notice when they’ve all gone off somewhere. I’ve got me shopping channel, a fitness video to practice, and I need to work on a new pout.

Actually I like it on me own.

27th August
Dear Diary
Only 72 days until the Spice Girls meet up for the world tour…

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Balancing Act


Annie and I were overtaken by a unicyclist on the way to school this morning. Since moving house I have missed walking through the park every day, as I always enjoyed seeing the early morning exhibitionists that make use of this particular park: the ribbon-waver, the tai-chiers, the pigeon-whisperer, and the man who runs in slow motion with his knees up to his chin (a particular favourite). And especially the unicyclist. But I had always assumed he unicycled purely for pleasure. Now it looks like he uses one wheel as his main mode of transport because today he was cycling along the road clearly dressed in work clothes plus a fluorescent vest, rucksack on back, going somewhere necessary. There was something odd about the sight - surely 'necessary' and 'unicycle' don't go together? And why why WHY would anyone opt to use a unicycle as transport? The increased effort in balance and pedal power would surely put most people off. Though I bet he doesn't get his bike nicked so much.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Complimentary Medicine



I was walking through St Andrew's Park yesterday on my way to work when I looked up to see three words chalked on the gate-post: YOU ARE LOVED. It may not have been directed at me specifically (though one should never assume anything), but nonetheless it brightened my somewhat weary mood considerably and set me up for the day. No wonder one writer referred to compliments as 'verbal sunshine'.

This is the third compliment I've received recently that has had such a positive effect on me. The glazier who did our windows in our old house came round to give Richard a quote in the new house, and said 'Oh yes, you're the one with the lovely wife'. Lovely! Me! Lovely! Richard probably regretted telling me, as I went round saying 'Lovely!' at inappropriate moments for days afterwards.

The first one was my favourite, though. Out I stumbled from my sweaty tent on a sunny morning at Greenbelt, bleary-eyed from 3 days at a festival and desperate to scrub the fungus off my teeth. Whilst sharing a communal tap with a stranger she suddenly turned to me and said, 'You look amazing! You must be wearing make-up!' (I wasn't).

Yes I know - setting much store by one's appearance is very shallow, and I would far rather be thought of as lovely on the inside. But there was something about the genuine expansiveness of this stranger's compliment that really touched me, and left me smiling for the rest of the day. She may not have had her contact lenses in. She may have decided to say that to everyone who shared a tap with her throughout the festival (in which case, good for her!). But it made me think about all the times I could have given a compliment - when I appreciated something in another human being - but didn't, perhaps because I'm too embarrassed, too British. I'd like to try it more often.

Mark Twain said 'I can live two months off a good compliment'. Those three should therefore last me through till the end of February 08. But please don't let that stop you from giving me another one, and I'll try to do the same for you.

Deoxyribonucleic acid and other simple concepts


Richard and I reckon we've got the bases covered pretty well when it comes to helping the kids with their homework. By education and job training we can do maths, English, French, all the sciences (with varying degrees of success), RE, philosophy, German and Latin (the latter two to a quite pathetic standard). Through our various interests we can also make a fair stab at music, history and art history, geography, sociology, psychology, literature, politics, classics and cosmology. As we grow older we find ourselves more and more interested in the bits we didn't study - and how they all join up.

Which is probably why Jordan will do anything to avoid asking us to help her with her homework. Last night she was stuck, needing a simple sentence to describe what DNA ia made of. I started on base pairing and the double helix with great gusto. Richard then joined in, wanting to fill in his knowledge gaps since he's never quite 'got' how DNA, genes and chromosomes relate to each other (a rare thing: me knowing something better than him). We then got my old textbook out in order to look at meiosis afresh. My poor thirteen-year-old with a homework deadline started shouting 'But all I wanted was a simple sentence!!!'

It's not the first time we've got carried away. When Jordan was 7 she asked us “Do human beings have a plug?” – seemingly a simple question with a quick answer – NO! But in answering we talked about where energy comes from – that was physics. We talked of coal, and trees, and the sun – that was biology. We discussed nuclear energy, Hiroshima, and why the war was happening in Afghanistan – that covered history and politics. We then got onto the energy of the stars and the galaxies – that was cosmology. And we talked of how we too are made of the dust of the stars, and how all energy was originally flung out from one beginning, and how we believe that that beginning was God – that was theology. No wonder Jordan started getting headaches from an early age.

I guess every child has their own cross to bear when it comes to their parents. Complicated answers to simple questions is probably one of the worst things we inflict on our kids.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Time out


Well here we are, still surrounded by a number of boxes but we know where our towels are, also our toothbrushes and our knickers (you'll be glad to know). Haven't yet managed to unpack my Bible, though I do now know where it is. Don't know if that means I'll have to resign as Church Warden. Have spent rather more time in quiet contemplation of the Dulux colour chart lately.
So after one of the more exhausting and less spiritual weeks of our lives (despite doing the 'Sit back and relax' service...there's a laugh...) we're about to redress the balance and make the annual pilgrimage to Greenbelt festival. The lovely Paul Roberts offered to take our tent up and pitch it for us, seeing as we'd spent all week pitching a somewhat bigger and sturdier tent, so the hard work is done. The sun looks fixed on shining for the duration, Richard's practised the song he's singing at the Foundation service on Friday evening, and then it's Billy Bragg! Hurrah!
This year is the first time we'll have taken both kids for the duration. I'm hoping they'll get something really positive out of it, and not just spend the whole time in the bead tent. Neither are interested in queuing up for the children's activities. They're hoping for some comedy, preferably silly poems with Paul Cookson; a film or two; the animals; and escaping any enforced traipsing round labyrinths. They also love being with adults when they're being silly. Shouldn't be difficult. Richard wants music, old friends and a mental workout. I want a bit of vegging out, just being, with and without other people.
Oh - and I'd be delighted if God showed up. Though I strongly suspect he's already got his tent pitched, and is probably waiting in the beer tent for the rest of us to get there for another hymn-singing session.








Sunday, August 19, 2007

Becoming dis-connected

We came back from 2 weeks in France last Sunday.
I went to work most the week.
We started packing up our 4-bed house in earnest on Thursday night.
We move tomorrow.
I am now almost entirely surrounded by boxes.
We are running the 'Cafe church' evening service, ironically enough with the theme 'sit back and relax'.
I no longer have the faintest idea where anything is, and have lost the ability to prioritise.
Which is why I'm spending the only spare 5 minutes I have before disconnecting the computer writing this.
I think it's www-separation anxiety.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Now we are 40

It's been nearly two
weeks since I reached the milestone that was my fortieth birthday, and there's not been a moment free to post anything about it until now. The summary is: I had a fantastic birthday. More specifically...


1. The day itself: freezing cold trip with my parents to see Tyntesfield House, cos that's what ageing forty-year-olds do - go to see National Trust properties, and eat sandwiches in the pouring rain. Seriously, it was an amazing place and I'd recommend it to any similarly ageing friends out there. I was particularly fascinated by their driving principle of keeping everything that the Gibbs family had accumulated over the years, with the upshot that every last not-so-antique jam jar - complete with Hellman's mayonnaise label, or whatever - had to be catalogued. Also pleased to hear that the Gibbs' wealth came from importing bird guano. Insert your own joke here.

2. Excellent prezzies, despite telling people not to spend money. Best surprise: Richard bought me my very own Burgess, a pen drawing of a reclining figure. I'm trying to ignore the fact that my father can only see a monkey's head when he looks at it.
3. Night out with work folk, joint do with a 30-year-old and two leavers, to Byzantium which remains one of my favourite Bristol restaurants.
4. Party at home, for which the weather miraculously improved enabling a relaxed vibe mainly in the garden. The pic shows the morning after the night before...be grateful it isn't one of me at the same time.
After all that - which was stretched out over a week - I hotfooted it to Birmingham's ICC for the week-long annual dermatology conference. Amazing building, it seemed to be comfortably accommodating a jazz festival, a schools music event, and two simultaneous dermatology conferences (one for nurses, one for medics - often we get split into separate venues cos there's so many of us). Birmingham, too, was a bit of a revelation - last time I visited it properly was around 1985, so it's improved a bit! Thursday afternoon was particularly good, I skived from the last couple of lectures to meet up with my Auntie and go shopping. We strolled through a pleasantly warm and sunny city, with 2 beaches, open-air jazz, fountains, shopping-trolley-free canals (still can't believe the 'Birmingham has more canals than Venice' claim, though) and more bars & restaurants than you could shake a stick at.
Finally made it home on Friday in time to prepare for Cafe Church yesterday, on the theme of language and God. My main role was to make bucket loads of cake. Why does so much of my life seem to revolve around cake?
Back to normal life tomorrow, two more weeks of regular work before holidays. We're hoping to hear about a moving date soon, hopefully on our return from sunny (I hope) France. Now, what sort of cakes do they do in France...?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A first time

Following on from my previous post, I'd like to share a more recent example of a 'first time' for me: the'wow' factor of seeing the art produced by a friend of mine, Helen Burgess who produces the most stunning wirework sculptures and drawings. It was a delight to see that some examples of her work are currently on display at the Bannatyne gym I drag myself along to on a regular basis, making those visits much more pleasurable (though it feels wrong to be sweating in the general vicinity of such loveliness). Do follow the link, and enjoy.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Do you remember the first time?


Daughter #1 is preparing for her grade 3 bassoon exam and an end-of-year concert. The bassoon is probably not an instrument that should take centre-stage: yet one of the concert pieces is a bassoon duet, a somewhat strange version of Delibes' 'Flower Duet' (from Lakme). On hearing her parp-parping upstairs I asked if she had heard the more conventional version, a duet for soprano & mezzo-soprano. As she hadn't, I sat her between our good speakers and put on the CD. By the end of the piece she had tears in her eyes (good girl: the only reasonable response), and I found myself envying her that 'first time' experience.


Do you remember your 'first time'? That moment when you heard a piece of music, looked upon a piece of art, understood an equation, were enthralled by a classic novel or felt as if you were known by a poet? I found myself remembering when I had heard the Flower Duet first - I'm not what anyone would call a classical music buff, so it was as part of a film score (if you are a classical ignoramus too you may know it from the British Airways ads of the late 1990's) and it was like a door had opened, as I had always sworn up till that moment that I hated opera and all its works. Even now it has the power to move me, although I have not the faintest idea what they're warbling about (and don't need to). I also remember reading 'Not Waving but Drowning' by Stevie Smith as a teenager and feeling that she 'got' me at that moment in a way that only Morrissey did otherwise; and a couple of years later, having the same experience with T S Eliot, and a sublime moment of wonder spent in the company of John Donne. I loved reading Jane Eyre without knowing who was in the attic. I had a similar sense of revelation the first time I understood - after two weeks of struggle - the biochemistry of photosynthesis, or less prosaically, how a leaf can turn sunlight into sugar (I'm afraid that knowledge is now lost in some dusty forgotten corner of my brain). And when I looked down a microscope and saw the chromosomes of a locust that I had killed (sorry), dissected (sorry) and generally squished physically and chemically until the code of its existence was laid out in front of my eyes.
The painting above is 'The Luncheon' by Monet. Now I just think of it as a pretty painting, quite nice but nothing I would connect with emotionally. The first time I saw a print of this was in a hospital corridor as a student nurse, waiting in X ray with a very sick patient. I had chance to look and look, like I never do now with art. I saw the dappled light on the child and the table, and the way the eye was drawn in to the sunlit path. I wanted to BE in that painting, like I never have with any other since.
I want more 'first times' like that.

Friday, June 08, 2007

No fleas on us!


I must be feeling better, because when I discovered a flea lurking under one of the cat's favourite chair today I went into de-flea overdrive. I reckon if I'd found it when I felt so ill earlier in the week, I'd have lain still and let it bite me. Still, it's been hard work - dusting, washing floors, vacuuming and washing chair covers etc etc. Then spraying insecticide throughout the house. Just what a woman recovering from an asthma flare-up needs!
The irony is, I was only doing a very light task suitable to a recovering woman still in a slightly delicate state. I decided to sort through our games & video cupboard, chucking out the things the girls have grown out of (early learning centre games; duplo; wind in the willows tapes) and the things I've grown of (cranium; geri does yoga). But in order to sit in front of the cupboard, I had to move a chair, and that's when...
At least it wasn't as bad as the last time I found a flea. That was on my head. Immediately after I'd had my hair cut. Oh, the mortification!
And the nice thing is, our house is now very, very clean. If a bit smelly, thanks to the chemical spray.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ofsted / Off colour

Not a great week in The Wheelybin. I'm off work with The Cold From Hell (can't breathe / can't sleep / faceache etc etc); We're missing Jordan, who's on a school trip at a chateau in Normandy all week, jammy so&so; and Richard's school got the Ofsted announcement on Monday. For those of you not in the know, Ofsted inspectors now fancy themselves as a crack SAS-style team - they sweep in with minimum warning, do their stuff rapidly (all in one day in this case) and leave devastation in their wake. It's supposed to be less stressful for the teachers this way. All I know is that Richard has had very little sleep, has grabbed food occasionally, and has spent most waking hours at the school over the past 48 hours (it seems much longer, due to the intense work on the timetable for much of half-term). He really needed me to hold the fort and feed him, whilst I really wanted someone to look after me, so we're both feeling a bit sorry for ourselves. Hence the lyrics below. Those of you familiar with my 'work' should know to join in, effecting your best Neil Diamond / Barbra Streisand impressions. If you can find someone of the opposite gender to do the other part, so much the better.

You don't bring me Lemsips

She: You don't bring me Lemsips
You don't plump my pillows
He: You hardly talk to me anymore
When I crawl into bed at around 2am.
Both: I remember when...
She: We used to share the sofa
And even watch Big Brother
Now after filling forms late at night -
He: And you've gone to bed, babe, you're not feeling all right -
She: Well you just roll over and turn out the light...
And you don't bring me Lemsips anymore.
He: It used to be so natural
She: (Ooo used to be...)
He: To have a conversation
She: (A con - ver - say - shun)
He: But used-to-bes don't count anymore, now I haven't the time to say more than 'goodbye'.
She: And baby I remember all the colds you've wiped up
When you've tucked me in bed and rubbed Vick on my chest
He: But now when all I want is some food and a rest
She: I'm all comatosed while you're still at your desk...
And we don't watch the West Wing
He: You don't bake me fruit cake
She: You don't bring me Lemsips anymore.


I realise that these words may leave some of you anxious for our mental state, but don't worry: we don't really watch Big Brother. But life without The West Wing? I don't think so.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Packing up

So we've sold the house; had an offer accepted on what will hopefully be the next Wheelybin; and now it's time to start the sorting, chucking and packing.

We spent a surprisingly enjoyable yet totally exhausting day on Monday - which also happened to be Richard's birthday, we really know how to celebrate in our house! - turning out the attic. Both of us are squirrels at heart, and had buried away some ten boxes or so of what is lovingly referred to as 'memorabilia' (roughly translated: junk). By the end of the day it was amalgamated into just one box. So what didn't make the cut?
  • Photos of people that we'd forgotten, that will never cross our paths again. Where these people had actually died, consigning their images to the bin felt really weird. After all, in some cases that second we took to remember who they were might be the last time that person lives on in the memory of someone on this planet. Creepy.
  • Rather a lot of letters written to each other when we were still 'courting' (yes, that's how long ago it was!) putting each other right on a variety of theological points. Looking at them afresh, I must say I still think I was right. Fortunately Richard seems to have come round to my way of thinking on most issues. Suspiciously so, in some cases...
  • Yet more letters from ex-boyfriends. Mostly moaning about schoolwork, academic work, first job, Bolton and the miseries of living there. Very little romance to be found. I have not the slightest idea why I kept them in the first place. No wonder wrangles over RT Kendall (once saved always saved - anyone remember that?) seemed like a breath of fresh air in comparison.
  • 'Just Good Friends' ('relationship' book for Christian couples pre-marriage) and 'John & Janet have sex' ('relationship' book for Christian couples post-marriage: not sure it was actually called that). We're holding out for Dave Tomlinson's 'The Post-Evangelical Marriage'.
  • My wedding headress and garter. It's bad enough remembering I wore one.

And what did we keep? Amongst other things...

  • All the usual photos, notes, postcards etc from so many friends that we have had the good fortune to share and grow up with. We loved reliving moments that made us laugh - and cry. My favourite find was a scrapbook kept during a fab year's flat sharing, right up to the plans for our wedding (including the seating plan - yikes! Did we really make those people sit next to them?!)
  • School reports and academic assignments where we shone. The rest got thrown away. We reserve the right to develop selective amnesia when it comes to our past.
  • Notes and doodles written and passed along the row in very dull A level General Studies lectures. The mundanity of requests to fetch cheese & onion crisps and bitchy comments about a new hairstyle capture a moment far better than any yearbook.
  • The odd - and I do mean odd - message from Richard that was supposed to be romantic, such as 'to the best thing (!) in a 50-mile radius of Birmingham, excepting perhaps Dave Pope'. Again - remember him?
  • A Christian 'relationship' book by John & Christine Noble. Trust me, it's the funniest read since the Da Vinci Code.
  • The first song I ever wrote. Music and everything. Coming soon, to a Foundation service near you...I was seven.
  • My wedding dress. The girls both dutifully tried it on, after Richard insisted it was a family tradition. He used to wear his mother's wedding dress all the time. He was probably seven, too.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Sold!


Finally! I haven't posted on this topic for a long time because it was just all too depressing and tedious for words, but today we accepted an offer on Home Sweet Home. After the weekend we'll start looking in earnest for where to move to. We've been here before - we had a buyer and had had an offer accepted - but the chain didn't progress. But I have a good feeling about this one. In the meantime we have helped Richard's parents to move house, and Annie inherited Grandma's dolls' house. She has to content herself with arranging miniature rooms whilst awaiting a bigger one for herself.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Schrodinger's cat


So we've been exploring the theory of Quantum Mechanics this week. Muffin went missing, last seen on Saturday evening. By Sunday teatime we were getting worried, since he's the cat who normally goes out for an hour at a time, and always seems to be within earshot. Had he been run over? Was he trapped? In a coma? Lost in time, wearing flared trousers and a dodgy leather jacket? (apologies if you're not a 'Life on Mars' fan...) By Monday we were all very gloomy, and kept flipping between thinking 'he has to be alive; this is the scaredy-cat who never goes anywhere far, let alone across a road', and 'that's it: he's a gonner. He's trapped somewhere, in a shed or a cellar with a jar of poison and a pot of decaying atoms' (I've always been a bit hazy on this bit of Schrodinger's feline experiment). It felt like a quantum, 50:50 kind of a thing.

So we talked to the neighbours, put up posters, posted leaflets, and some of us cried. It was a search almost Biblical in its scope. A real low point was reached when I found myself wandering through our nice residential area randomly calling 'Muffin! Muffin!', as if in desperate need of a sweet pastry product. Some people were very kind, and seemed genuinely distressed that they couldn't be of more help. Several told us tales of their cat's miraculous return, days or weeks or months later. Some started phoning for the men in white coats.

And then...(yes, you knew this had to have a happy ending...)

At 06:22 on Wednesday the phone rang. We knew the news was either very very good or very very bad...

John, a man on the road leading off ours, had just opened his cellar and a cat fitting Muffin's description had shot out (like a cat out of hell). By the time he had said this, we could hear Muffin meowing 2 gardens away.

By 06:24, he was home.

Later I spoke to Judith, the wife of John. Apparently he had woken her up at 6:30 with the joyous news, 'I think I've found Muffin'!

We don't know this man. He and his wife seem quite normal. I think I may have found a new catalyst for community living.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Pieta

Arms outstretched
Fingers curled like fallen blooms
You lie, abandoned.
I take your weight, finally
as I have not done since you were an infant
but I have longed to do ever since.
Let me take this burden now; leave us,
It is mine to bear. Mine the pain
not softened by forewarnings
but raw, and bloody, and new.
You, my son, are the seed that died
that lies forgotten in the dust of the earth.
Unless a seed dies…unless a seed dies….
I cannot think beyond this moment
I cannot feel beyond the tears
I do not want to reach out, knowing
that you will not reach for me.
Is there hope, even here, in this place?
Promised one...do your promises still hold true?
I was promised a sword to pierce my heart
And yet I see that it has pierced your own breast:
Were you given promises, too? And is there still
a fulfilment yet to come? In all my pain, there is a sense
of a beginning from this end; through all my tears, there is a glimpse
of a tomorrow.

Friday, March 30, 2007

They took him down


Before Him shall bow all who go down to the dust
and he who cannot keep himself alive. Psalm 22:29
They took him down
His crumpled, pierced body, destroyed by the world
to which he came.
Beyond hope
Beyond life
Sentenced to the dust that rose up to meet him.
Did they cry for him? Did wailing fill the air?
Were breasts beaten and clothing torn
as minds and hearts struggled to comprehend the ending of what had seemed to be a beginning?
What does the heart do when hope is extinguished?
Where does the mind run to when all the answers are removed?
There was nothing left to feel...nothing left to think...
They took him down
His crumpled, pierced body
And took it for burial.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Father Forgive





Father forgive them: they know not what they do.
They do not realise that the choices they make have such repercussions.
They do not know that it is easier to end a war than to begin it.
They do not recognise the moment when their words slice into flesh.
They know not how to raise their children without expectations weighing heavy on the shoulders of the young, so that each generation is burdened with the unfulfilled desires of the last.
Father forgive them; they live
as though unseeing, as though unhearing.
They do not recognise the song of the planets
They do not open their eyes to the specks of stardust floating in the air.
They act, they react, they pretend
that they understand, that they have comprehension of the voices
that reach out to them from across the wastelands of time and understanding.
The voices of those who have made the same mistakes, time after time,
and spent aeons in regret
that no one listened out and learned from them.
Each generation failing to know, failing to recognise the moment
when God put himself at our mercy
and stretched out his hands to break bread
to take the pain and not to rise up against it
to touch and not to harm
to accept and not expect
to know, and not be known.


Thursday, March 15, 2007


Psalm 22:14 : I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast...you lay me in the dust of death.
Luke 23:33 : When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals.
Three years have I toiled in the dust and the heat of this land.
Thirty-three years of walking amongst this beloved and recalcitrant race:
Now there is nothing left to do
but endure, and count down the moments
until I rest my head and body in death.
I, who held newborn stars in the palm of my hand
and trod the galaxies in my pursuit of beauty;
I now stretch out my arms to receive the blows of metal on metal, driven
through my very flesh. I surrender
my hands, my feet, to a different pursuit; they are no longer mine to control
but are abandoned to the whim of evil.
My flesh is not my own; it belongs to this place now,
given over to the pain and degradation of punishment,
keeping company with those despised or forgotten by polite society.
I will be raised up
stretching wide my arms to embrace even this -

Monday, March 12, 2007

Stripping bare


John 19:23 : ...they took his clothes and divided them...
Philippians 2:5-8 : ...he emptied himself...
To Strip: To take or pull clothing off. To denude, lay bare, to empty completely.
To deprive, despoil, divest, dismantle.
To loot, pillage, plunder, rob, ransack.
They have stripped you bare, Lord.
They have robbed you of your covering, even the mocking robe. You stand
quietly, dignified even, despite the little dignity afforded you.
They have taken away everything they can - your respectability,
your status, your security. Perhaps they were never there to take.
you emptied yourself, long before these representatives of humanity
laid their hands upon you. An offering, not a ransacking. Your choice,
Not ours.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Women of Jerusalem


Luke 23: 27 - 31
Dear hearts, do not weep now.
Let me whisper it: there is pain to come.
To live is to suffer. To be human is to know loss,
and dark days, and darker hours before the dawn.
Hold me now, for a moment; cling fast
and do not let go. Whisper it again
to your children, to yourselves:
There is pain to come. That much is inevitable. Do not pretend otherwise.
But remember this: I know it too.

Simon


Matthew 27: 32 : As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.


I cannot pretend that I come willingly.


I imagined myself as a spectator, perhaps cheering, maybe jeering. This participation isn't me.


Now I have blood on my hands, splinters and callouses; the war wounds of a kindness that I did not choose. The pounding relentless noise of a thirsty crowd in my ears. The overwhelming weight upon my shoulders, the weight of a sentence that isn't mine.


There is hot dust underfoot. The feet of the crowd form a walkway, a tunnel towards the hill. I can see my feet, slipping and staggering under the enforced burden. I see too his feet, walking lightly towards their inevitable fracturing. Our feet fall in step; he slips as I slip, staggers as I stagger. The weight is shared now. For a brief moment of time it is not his burden, nor mine: it is ours. Then it is taken from me, and is no longer mine.


He walks off, more slowly than I; I remain, feeling light and no longer wanting to watch. I am still part of it, my thoughts remaining with him even though he has gone on ahead.


I am compelled.


Pilate


The following thoughts are based on the traditional idea of following the stations of the cross, and are in some part inspired by the images that accompany them. These are the stations from Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, sculpted by Sean Rice. There are 14 such sculptures, and greater minds than mine have already written meditations based upon them. I have chosen 8 that particularly spoke to me; I hope they help you too, in this season of Lent. I will post them all over the next couple of weeks.
Matthew 27: 15 - 26
I wash my hands of you, Man God.
You stand there, unmoved by my vascillations.
Refusing to cooperate with my well-drawn plans
Denying me the answers to my well-chosen questions.
Failing to show me a way out
that would put an end to this state of doubt and indecision.
You speak of truth: what is truth?
How can I find it, when you will not speak?
You leave me no option but to deny you, to turn away,
to leave you to your fate.
How can I be culpable?
I who recognised your goodness, your innocence
I who tried to protect you.
Your eyes speak of suffering; your body seems to tense
Anticipating the pain and the indignity to come.
Yet you are silent, still;
like the ocean as it draws back
Anticipating the turning of the tide.
I wash my hands of you, Man God:
If you will not speak, then
I will no longer speak for you.

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Every time I think life in the Wheelybin is hectic enough, someone cranks up the gear and we end up running even faster just to stand still.

Last week saw the performances of the play Jordan has been rehearsing since Christmas, 'Alice and the Jabberwock'. The director had very sensibly cast 2 Alices, one for part one (in Wonderland) and one for part two (the Looking Glass). Jordan was Alice two, so had to deal with Jam Tomorrow, 6 Impossible Things, and a Vorpal Sword (what is a vorpal sword, anyway?). She also had 2 solos to sing. Not bad for a kid who was, until recently, terrified to stand in front of an audience, and wouldn't open her mouth to sing.

Last week also saw Bristol Dermatology Centre hosting the South West & Wales conference. It was the first time we had laid on a concurrent conference for specialist nurses, and was an organisational nightmare. As well as that pressure, I was one of the main speakers for the nurses bit (shoehorning 6 hours of material into half an hour? Hmmm... talking of impossible things...). The conference finished with a meal at 6:30pm, I arranged with a very helpful taxi driver to get me across town to the school for the second half of 'Alice' so I turned up there a bit tired & emotional.

We have also recently started a new venture at church. Every third Sunday we are helping to run a 'Cafe Church' instead of the normal evening service (7pm St Matts Kingdown, if you're interested). Its a great opportunity to get to know people, discuss issues of interest, be a bit creative, listen to cool music (but no singing!), participate in some contemplative worship, be fairly silly, and eat lots of cake. Pretty much my favourite things to do. The last one was on healing, and we had a competition to see which table had been the 'most healed' (judged on the collective length of scars). Next week it's the turn of 'Temptation'. Perhaps we'll make the cakes, but refuse to let anyone eat them.

Other pressures at the moment? Well, I am still continuing on my quest to redicover my waistline, visiting the gym 3 times a week... we've sold our house, have had an offer accepted but are waiting on the vendors finding somewhere to go... Richard's mum is in hospital in London, finally getting the specialist treatment she needs... I've got to prepare a presentation for the bigwig managers in the primary care trusts for Friday, justifying the money they spend on dermatology nursing (this time fitting 1 hour's info into 5 minutes. Ho hum...)... and I think I may have just agreed to take on something extra at church. Because life really wasn't impossible enough.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Anglicans (apologies to Robbie Williams)

To get the most out of this post, please sing out loud. Don't pretend you don't know the tune. Or that you're too cool. You know you're not. You know you want to. Do it now, and give everyone a laugh. I promise you'll feel better for it.

I sit and wait
As the choir sings songs so out of date
And do we see
This is where we’ll all still be
When we’re grey and old?
‘cos I’ve been told
that salvation isn’t bought or sold
so when I’m sitting in my pew
thinking deep thoughts as I do
before taking wine and bread…
I’m loving Anglicans instead.

And through it all they offer me protection
A little love and affection
Whether I’m right or wrong
And down the sea of doubt
Wherever it may take me
I know this church won’t break me
When I come to call, they won’t forsake me…
(da da da da da…)
I’m loving Anglicans instead.

When I’m feeling weak
And my faith is on a losing streak
I look around
And see those whose doctrine’s not quite sound
But I know this is my place
For me the others are a waste
And when all is done or said…
I’m loving Anglicans instead.

Just let me say, I’m keen on orthodoxy
And I think the Pope looks quite foxy
Whether he’s right or wrong
But on the other hand, should I start feeling fundamentalist
I’d rather root canal with a dentist
It’s really not my plan. I’ll stick with the C of E…
I’m loving Anglicans instead.

And furthermore, I’ve tried dunking with the Baptists
Tree-hugging with the alt worshippists
It was too much like hard work
So here I’ll stand, creed and hassock notwithstanding
These Anglicans aren’t too demanding
I’m becoming quite a fan. Especially of Rowan….
I’m loving Anglicans instead.

They won’t forsake me…
I’m loving Anglicans instead.


There. Feeling better? I know I am. Actually this expresses the deep affection I really do have for Anglicanism. And I really have hugged a tree. There are photos. But ironically, of course.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

This way lies madness

I was delighted by a piece of news last night on't telly about a 'computerised flat' (I think that's what they called it) for 'older people, possibly with dementia, or struggling with forgetfulness and not really safe to live on their own'. The idea is a 'smart home' that senses what reminders it needs to give you so you can live life safely.

It goes like this. Elderly person wakes in the night and sits up in bed. Regardless of whether they're intending to get up - they might be reaching for a drink, stretching, or wanting to contemplate the futility of life in an upright position - the light over their head comes on, as does the bathroom light because the 'house' assumes they need the loo. It they dare to not lie down, or worse, to get up and not go to the toilet, a disembodied female version of Stephen Hawking tells them 'it is 3am. Time to be in bed'.

If they leave the cooker on the voice tells them 'the kitchen needs attention' (but is strangely vague on the type of attention required. They could presumably spend their last precious hour cleaning out the fridge while the house burns down).

All this HAL-like care seems guaranteed to send anyone teetering on the brink of reality into a downward trajectory. Although Richard and I were quite keen to consider the technology for ourselves. He frequently leaves the oven on. And I have been known to wander the house at all hours of the night in a surreal state whilst tanked up on high dose steroids. Could be just what we're looking for.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Superfiasco

Hurrah! I'm back in the wonderful world of virtual friendships, after yet another protracted stay at the computer hospital for this rickety old collection of wires and microwhatsits. I'm also out the other side of Januaryitis, being instead afflicted by extreme busyness and behaving in a similar fashion to a hamster on his wheel (though without the tendency to stuff my breakfast cereal into my cheeks and save it till later). ANYWAY...

Like much of the country, including the Archbish and most of the population of Manchester itself, I was somewhat surprised to hear that Manchester had been successful in its bid to build the first Supercasino in the UK. Though in hindsight, it was never really going to be Blackpool. Poor old Blackpool just isn't shiny enough, happy enough, or convinced of its own grooviness enough to impress. Still, I'm finding this whole concept of a Supercasino in Britain difficult to envisage. The talk is of a 'Las Vegas' style affair...but really? We couldn't do it, we're too self-conscious as a race. Putting it in Blackpool would have softened the whole thing round the edges, would have made it UK-palatable; we like our leisure with a bit of cheesiness, a bit of knowing irony or failing that with a bit of adversity. Make it difficult to get to, to engage with, to endure. Make the environment uncomfortable, the food terrible, the staff rude, the queues unending, the clientele unbearable. That's why we love Disneyland Paris so much.

Someone on 'Mock the Week' quipped that as a nation we are addicted to eBay; so how will we cope when tempted by the large sums of money offered by a Supercasino? How can we control our gambling impulses in such a situation when we get excited at the prospect of bidding for a second-hand pair of pyjamas? Of course there are many for whom the gambling impulse will quickly spiral into an out-of-control habit, faced with such a candy-store. But surely most of us, in our typical British fashion, are more likely to be thrilled by those second-hand pyjamas? eBay offers us so much of what we as a nation crave: nostalgia (I was excited to an unseemly extent by the discovery that one of my favourite games of my 70s childhood, 'Haunted House', is freely available on eBay. I don't need to buy it; it's enough to know it's there); cheapness (there are things on eBay we never knew we wanted until we saw that only £1.99 is being asked. Plus £50 P&P); goofiness (a vintage tupperware cracker box? a taxidermied grey squirrel? Excellent!); and - there it is again - a certain amount of adversity. We like to catch that deadline, chase down that bargain, watch those bids however much it interrupts our lives. An eBay that fitted in entirely with our schedule just wouldn't be the same. And a Supercasino that just sits there, waiting for us to turn up and play at our convenience, all shiny and happy and groovy...well, it's not really very British, is it?

In his book 'Beyond Words' (another grumpy old man tirade), John Humphrys points out the absurdity of an advertisement for a 'National Lottery Subscription'. According to the leaflet, a subscription means 'You'll never have to worry about forgetting to buy a Lottery ticket!' From what I can see (never having bought a ticket myself) it's the 'worrying' that's the whole point. Whether it's holding up an entire checkout queue while you scratch your card, or going round the office collecting the weekly syndicate dosh, the worry seems to make the whole thing that little bit more onerous and hence that little bit more British. We embrace awkwardness, uncertainty and disappointment. It's bred into us as a natural consequence of living with the British weather. The most popular gamble for citizens of this country seems to be: shall I leave the house without an umbrella? Or, if I take a jumper...(whisper it now)...will I be too hot?

Friday, January 12, 2007

January Blues

I got them Jan - ooo - air - eee Blooooz, mama...

What is it with this month? We go into Christmas all jolly jolly jolly, then a few grey days and soggy wrapping paper later and we're all down in the dumps. Admittedly the 'no nice food, lots of exercise and back to work with a vengeance' regime probably doesn't help. Normally I don't feel any seasonal depression setting in until February (a terrible 'non' month, ages since Christmas and still more ages to go until Spring) but this year it's hit me early. I blame the weather. Though it's even more depressing to think that I'm so fickle as to feel out of sorts just because of a bit of rain.

So what's going to cheer me up? Well, to help me shake things off, here's a few thoughts...
  • Tomorrow I'm going into work to move from a teeny tiny office for 4 people into a bigger storeroom. Still for 4 people, but I get my own desk, and any untidiness will therefore be of my own making.
  • We now have almost all the series (except the inferior 6th one) of The West Wing - best TV EVER - on DVD; and we've found a nerds west wing website that allows us to find out every tiny bit of info we ever wanted on every single episode, e.g. music used, cultural references etc. I know, sad, but...keeps us happy
  • The 'for sale' board goes up on our house on Monday. Actually I'm finding this really hard, but I'm trying to be excited about it. Work with me, people.
  • I only put 2 pounds on over Christmas. A couple more stressful weeks and it'll be off again.
  • However...we still have shedloads of chocolate left over. The good stuff, too. At our rate of rationing, should see us into, ooo, July?
  • The wind blew down a large and ugly shrub at the front of our house. It looks much better, now!
  • Our computer tried very hard to die and go to heaven over the Christmas hols, but - glory be! - it has been miraculously restored, thanks mainly to the ministrations of a very nice techie guy who worked all over New Year for a pittance. Hurrah!
  • Thanks to global warming it'll be Spring by February. And Christmas again in about 6 months time.