Monday, February 18, 2008

How to sleep during sermons whilst not discouraging the preacher

Some suggested methods....

  1. Glaze over. Does not allow you to close your eyes, but in all other important respects you can sleep. Probably best not to be on the front row for this one.
  2. Develop a habit of nodding your head, David-Gray-style, in order to infer agreement. Eyes may gradually come to a complete closure.
  3. Have a baby, and then time its feeds appropriately. Rather an extreme method unless you're already planning to have a family.
  4. Steal someone else's baby. Note: the child needs to be fairly young, and very compliant, or the opposite of sleep will occur.
  5. Slump forward, head in hands (or resting on pew in front). Only a viable option if it's not the sort of church where this is taken as a sign that you want 'ministry'.
  6. Shout 'Maranatha!' and prostrate yourself in front of the pulpit. Not one to try every week, but useful for special occasions, and very effective - it is possible to stay there for the duration of the service, as everyone will be too embarrassed or too awed to disturb you.
  7. Become the vicar. Gradually leave longer and longer significant pauses between points, during which it is quite possible to grab if not forty then at least ten winks. As you are the preacher, it is unlikely that you will become discouraged by this practice.
  8. Join the worship group, playing a large instrument that you can successfully hide behind whilst snoozing. Your choice will of course depend upon your body size and shape. Do not choose the piccolo.
  9. Develop an 'inconvenient' bowel habit that allows you to sit down somewhere nice and quiet for the duration of the sermon.
  10. Go on the church coffee rota, and take it so seriously that you need to put the kettle on at about the time the preacher stands up. Kitchens are generally nice warm places. On no account drink the caffeine until after a little nap.

Of course, I rarely need to use any of these methods, as the sermons at our church are invariably riveting and excellent (just in case the vicar reads this). But they do prove useful at the occasional wedding, licensing, ordination etc...

Friday, February 15, 2008

String Theory

I read an interesting review in Third Way magazine, of a book 'The Trouble with Physics: the rise of string theory, the fall of a science, and what comes next', by Lee Smolin. Apparently Smolin argues that physics has to some extent 'lost its way' over the past 30 years, having been caught up in its desire to find a 'grand theory of everything' (i.e. to make it all fit together, whether on a cosmic or subatomic scale) and potentially sidetracked by its focus on string theory, which remains an entirely theoretical construct of how the universe 'works'.
Now, I can fit what I understand about string theory on the back of the proverbial postage stamp (and not one of those big Christmas special ones, either); and yet I find myself strangely compelled by it. It's all those lovely BBC documentaries I've absorbed over the years, most lately with odd camera angles, jump cuts and trippy music. What I've gathered is this, in case there's anyone reading this who feels even less informed than I: string theory is a way of squaring a circle, namely that considering matter and energy as fixed points in the universe does not explain many of the seeming discrepancies that have been noted in the world of physics over the past 100 years (note: this is very similar to 'world of leather', but with less slippy surfaces). It is a way of reconciling the 'standard model', that of particles, with 'quantum mechanics', which is about cats. I think.
String theory imagines (not a very 'physics' word, this: explains why I like it) that all 'stuff' exists as impossibly tiny curled-up oscillating strings. For the theory to work it does not require the usual 4 dimensions (FOUR??! I hear you cry. Yes, 4 - 3D + time), but 10 (don't ask. That's the great thing about string theory: you can just stop trying pretty quickly). Because the strings are oscillating so rapidly they seemingly exist in different universes, parallel to one another - a great literary device, if ever there was one. It even has a whiff of time travel, breaking the understood rules of relativity. If you think this all sounds a bit Alice in Wonderland ("There's no use trying," said Alice; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."), then you're not the only one.
Of course, as with so many highly specialist and clever-clogs fields of work the media have fed us all a bit of a fib. There's no such thing as the string theory. What there is is several different theories that all play with a similar concept. And we don't seem to be any closer to discovering some 'grand theory' than we were 30 years ago. It's all pretty tricky. I've always thought that we have lifespan against us with this one - by the time someone has done all the relevant background study, and pondered all the various facets of the problem long enough to get within sniffing distance of something Really Rather Clever, they're pushing up the daisies. Which is why I think the only sane approach is this one: write something silly, and don't try so hard. I think it's fab that there are people out there with both the brains and the will to keep trying to understand it all. Personally I'll leave the Really Rather Clever stuff to Him Who Knows...

String Theory

They say the world is made of strings
Vibrating happily, they sing
Of angels, stars and unknown things:
They say the world is made of string.

The universe is made of string
Elastic bands, that just go ‘ping’
They coil and flex and stretch and fling
Ecstatically lassoing.

Your husband: string. Your children: string.
Your house and car and garden: string.
All matter, live or non-living
Is all a seething mass of string.

If stuff is string, then what’s the string?
What makes this constant wriggling?
This elementary particling
Cannot quite explain everything.

If only we could see this string!
Or feel its gentle quivering!
I fear without our monitoring
This twine will start unravelling.

And if they think this solves the riddle
Of why this world’s in such a muddle
The scientists have not a hope:
It’s all just money for old rope.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Parish Church Preservation Society

We had a gloriously sunny weekend at Lee Abbey, unbelievable weather for February. Photo is of Annie and her friend Molly enjoying the private beach, I opted to be their 'responsible adult' and kept them company for half an hour. The kids generally were a complete delight this weekend, all ages interacting and looking after one another.

I survived lots of singing, and even a banner-waving dance (by the simple trick of taking off my glasses - suddenly I could 'watch' without breaking into giggles. I knew there was a reason God had given me rather rubbish eyesight). Of course, by the end of two days even I felt pretty well-adjusted and bonded etc to my fellow parishioner. I leave you with the following (sung to the tune of the Kinks song 'We are the Village Green Preservation Society', currently being covered by Kate Rusby). As ever, it's written with the great affection I feel for the church. Especially when I've got sand-between-the-toes.

We are the Parish Church Preservation Society
God save flower rotas, polished pews and the PCC
We are the Mission Praise Appreciation Society
God save the Deanery and all Dioscesan Strategy.
Preserving the old ways from being abused

Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do.
We are the Parish Church Preservation Society
God save those that clean, sing in choir and serve coffee
We are the quiche and salad appreciation consortium
God save the bring and share and all who brung and shared for them.
We are the bended knee, the Choir of Songs and Canticles
Help save all who pray, who really just hope for miracles.
We are the Cut and Stick Storytelling Affiliate
God bless the Sunday School, and all the faithful who’re running it.
We are the birth and death, the Marriage Vow Certificate
God save the Parish Priest, the Wardens and the Bishopric.
Preserving the old ways from being abused

Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do
God save the Parish Church.

Friday, February 08, 2008


I am very much looking forward to being out of the city, at Lee Abbey for a Church Weekend away as of this evening. The downside is of course having to have breakfast with 130 other people who want to make conversation at some unearthly hour; and having to look excited about yet another 'time of worship'. Those who know me well will know that I struggle with the equation 'singing + shutting your eyes = meaningful engagement with divinity'. I wish, how I wish it did it for me, but....and yes, I do know the argument goes 'but it's not for your benefit...' But a lot of people do seem to get a lot out of it, and I would never wish to stand in their way. But it's not me. I tried. I failed. Sorry. But I digress... reason I am desperate to breathe the Devonian air is the large accumulation of dust that is currently gathering in our house. The loft conversion started on January 2nd and is going well, we now have 2 bedrooms (one very small) plus a bathroom up there that have a floor, nearly all the walls and ceilings, wires and pipes ready for lights and radiators, and a bathtub. In addition to this work we have had some electrics done elsewhere around the house, necessitating much drilling through walls; and a built-in desk created. All this has created clouds of wood, plaster and brick dust. I clean it off the surfaces every night, it's back before morning. It's like some nasty fairytale - the elves slaving away for the shoemaker perhaps, or the girl tricked into spinning every night for the tricksily-named Rumpelstiltskin. Meanwhile I keep catching viruses, one after another, and coupled with the underlying asthma I am living in a permanent fug of blocked sinuses and tightened airways.

Looking on the bright side, the building work should be finished in a couple of weeks. Just the decorating then to do. Richard is currently painting his way through the downstairs, sweeping away the previous blandness with a range of eye-popping colours. We are still debating whether to go for Easyjet Orange in the kitchen. It's very tempting to do so, if only because then we will have actually painted a rainbow - red and yellow and pink and green, orange and purple and blue are the colours of our walls. I have a sneaking suspicion we will be reverting to magnolia for the loft, as some sort of reaction to all this colour...