Friday, January 26, 2007
Now this should be fun. I saw Gary Moore and his band several times when I was a teenager in London - but haven't been to one of his gigs for probably fifteen years. I've just noticed that he's coming up to Glasgow in May, so have grabbed myself a ticket.
Moore has covered so many musical styles in his career (rock, pop, metal, celtic, jazz-fusion, dance, and blues) and with a new album out soon, I have no idea what sort of format his gig will take. I remember one gig at which a lot of dissilusioned head-bangers came expecting to hear his hard-rock catalogue but instead were treated to an evening of blues. Personally I'm hoping that it's the blues which dominates, because I think that is what he does best.
Oxford University Press have regular sales with many of their books flogged at 75% off. Since being pointed in their direction a few years ago by Dr Stumpy Greenisland I've found them a regular source of cheap, worthwhile reading.
Their latest offerings can be found at: http://www.oup.co.uk/sale/2007/
Thursday, January 25, 2007
What do you do when, despite the fact that you have lived in Scotland all your adult life and have produced children who are self-consciously Scottish, you cannot adequately meet their demand for a Burns Supper?!
Address to a Haggis. (only part of!)
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Our efforts went something like:
(a) A splendid Simon Howie haggis was duly purchased and cooked
(b) A few clicks found this site not only told us what to do, but enabled us to download the Slekirk Grace as well as the required "To A Haggis".
(c) A few more clicks downloaded some suitable bagpipe music onto the iPod, which when plugged into the stereo enabled us to clap the Haggis in, in some style!
And we were away!
My attempts to read the Burns made the poor old fella turn in his grave (and any living Scotsman within earshot descend into fits of giggles) so it was deemed more appropriate that the wife should bring her Celtic tones to bear on the work (albeit Ulster ones) . She aquitted herself admirably too!
The downside was that little Doris was absolutely petrified by the squirl of the pipes and she howled and howled and howled. It all blended together most melodiously I thought.
As for the Haggis - it was absolutely fantastic!
Address to a Haggis. (only part of!)
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch; And then,
O what a glorious sight,
Some idiot (ie. me) decided that it would be splendid idea to have an externally vented extractor fan in the kitchen.
The cooker is on an external wall and so we bought a new hood for it complete with a ducting kit.
Lord Lucan, supplier of all trades to the aristocracy and peasantry alike, said he had the required core-er and appeared ready to do the job.
All went well as first plasterboard then polystyrene and then brick dissapeared easily and were emptied out from the drill-end. Then we approached the outer wall of our sandstone house. Well - we anticpated that the rear wall would be sandstone, like the rest of the building and were a little surprised to find that we were trying to drill through solid granite, which seemed to object to being cored and put up a stiff fight. The main problem was that when the corer had cut it's full depth and could go no further, the central piece of rock was too strong to break off.
It's about time I got into some of my Christmas presents. This one, for example, has been sitting waiting to be opened for far too long. Anyone who has enjoyed Bragg's "In Our Time" on the radio will appreciate this book, which is an accessible foray into the history of ideas. Bragg was prevented by the BBC for continuing to present 'Start the week' when he became a Labour peer, so the BBC created the series for him. This has proved to be very successful because Andrew Marr rejuvenated start the week, and Bragg has been freed in this series to explore many weird and wonderful historical tributaries to our stream of knowledge, culture and understanding.
The book has 12 short chapters each with brief notes on the composition and effects of 12 British books which have had a huge, long-lasting impact. The range of subjects looks compelling too, ranging from Shakespeare and and the Bible (hold on a minute, that's a different radio programme) to Newton and Farady, then Wollstonecraft, Stopes and Darwin.
Bragg is careful not to say these are "the" 12 books which changed the world and to claim more for his opinions than is appropriate - which is good. I like reading books like this, which can be picked up and put down easily, and read in the odd moments that family life permits. Plus, without much difficulty it broadens my knowledge, making me appear well-read for a fraction of the usual effort required.
Monday, January 22, 2007
So near yet so far. The snow is still hanging beautifully on the surrounding hills, but its attempts to 'paint the town white' as it were, have all melted within seconds of landing. Boris and Norris look longingly at their little plastic sledges and ask when the snow is coming.
I've just finished reading this collection of essays and short history of the so-called "Toronto" phenomena, the wave of extreme religious experience that swept through UK churches in the mid-1990s. The movement was controversial at the time, and it remains deeply so today. This book contains essays from a variety of perspectives, from those who unashamedly contest that this was a great blessing from God, to those who believe that it was a purely human experience, to those who would suggest that a more malign spiritual power underlay the events.
I remember the events of this era well. I was a student, and many of my Christian friends were reporting strange phenomena occurring at their church meetings, most noticeably waves of laughter and people descending into 'altered states of consciousness' during which profound spiritual impressions are made upon them. It didn't happen at my church. The book is more significant than this though because it emerges as case-study for theological method, assessing the principles by which the church must weigh and critique everything she does.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book, (published under the auspices of the theological study department of the evangelical alliance) was the way that church history was used by both proponents and detractors of the movement to bolster their case (because it was clear that there was no clear biblical precedent to justify some of the more extreme practices). Jonathan Edwards' works were especially rummaged through for fragments of evidence in this regard.
Physical and psychological manifestations of spiritual occurrences are nothing new. Church history is full of countless instances where people being profoundly changed (either converted or renewed) have exhibited unusual behaviour. Historically though these have always thought to have been extraneous to the genuine work of the Holy Spirit in the soul, and even classic revivalists like Wesley and Whitefield sought to stop them in meetings as mere distractions from the message. The Toronto movement however seemed to make such unusual manifestations the centre of the experience, not seeking to control but to facilitate them. This is disturbing.
Outright dismissal of the whole movement seems to create other problems though. Things are never that simple. For instance there were many proponents of the 'blessing' who were also troubled by the way in which it was being handled, people who were seeking to be both spiritually open and critically aware, against the minority for whom 'don't question, just receive' seemed to be the modus operandi. There were many who sought constant refinement of some of the practices involved in a conscious effort to hold onto the benefits of the spiritual experiences people were having, without some of the distortions which had come with it. It was this tension that caused a rift between the different streams within the movement itself.
As in response to enlightenment rationalism Christians sometimes tried to develop an overly 'systematic' faith in a way which took the faith into the thought forms of its time; so the term "messy spirituality" has come to fore in these post-modern times. The question is the degree to which the message of Christ can be 'incarnated' within a culture or should stand in contrast to it.
Ten years later, it the legacy of the movement is mixed. Many people report that it was a time in which their lives were immeasurably enriched, many people came to faith, and look back with thanks to this movement. Others remain implacably opposed to what they see as the excesses of the movement and it's failure to reflect theologically and curb its extremes. Still others look back with disappointment at something which they thought would profoundly change the church and the country but which has done neither.
This mish-mash of genuine spirituality, psychology, some manipulation and possibly even the demonic, certainly qualifies as "messy spirituality". The problem is that it's ultimately just too messy. The problem for the non-Charismatic/Pentecostal churches remains that the presence of God traditionally encountered in word and sacrament seems invisible to our contemporaries. The problem for our Charismatic/Pentecostal friends is that the demonstrations of His presence which they profess are sometimes so divorced from the Bible and theological reflection that they can be content-less and vacuous, like the experience the Daily Telegraph reporter had at Toronto during which he felt the presence of an irresistible force and had a profound experience - but didn't connect this experience with the message of Jesus. The fissure between this and the likes of Jonathan Edwards could not be more apparent.
Friday, January 19, 2007
Young Norris (aged 4) has enjoyed visits to two hospitals today, one planned, one unplanned! First of this morning we took him to Ninewells hospital in Dundee for a check-up on his ears which was fine - even though he has lost one of the two grommets inserted last year.
The second hospital visit was less routine! I was at the counter in the Wesley-Owen shop in George Street in Edinburgh trying to find some decent materials for small group studies in the Pentateuch while Norris was bumbling around investigating things. He seemed especially taken with the sale items which were mostly garish Yuletide tat, being flogged off in January to people who aren't going to risk leaving their Merry Kitchmas preparations to the last minute.
Thinking that he was safe, I searched through the various offerings from the Christian press and was bemoaning the quality of the available studies, when Norris decided to sprint across the store. I'm not sure at what point in the ageing process the body ceases to be overwhelmed with the sudden and spontaneous need to run; however at 35 I don't have it, and at 4 Norris does. His spontaneous dashes around his immediate environment are usually fairly trouble free, however today he was wearing his big brothers shoes, which were (somewhat unsurprisingly) bigger than his feet. At full speed, his feet tangled together, he tripped and fell, spectacularly splitting open his head on the corner of a bookcase.
First there was the noise. The sound of leather-on-willow is frequently attested to have mysterious joy imparting properties. The sound of skull-on-bookshelf is equally distinctive, but lacks something of the romantic allure.
Then there was a silence. Norris crashed to the floor and lay still for a second or two. The shop also went quiet as everyone turned to look, unsure how to react.
Then there was a commotion. At the same point as the adults in the room all rushed towards Norris, he sat up. And screamed! Then he stood up and screamed. And then he screamed some more, all the while clutching his head.
Then the blood started to run out between his fingers on his forehead and to run all down his face. So not unnaturally I asked the staff if they had a first-aider on the staff who would come and assist. The staff, on balance felt that rather than getting a first aider with suitable equipment it would be more productive to panic a bit. It was good to have someone to do that particular task for me, freeing me up to look after the now frightened Norris.
Then a lady (a fellow-customer) reached into her bag and brought out a few clean cloths which we put on Norris' head to stem the bleeding. It's lovely to think that if Norris achieves even minor celebrity status in years to come, these bloodied cloths will end up on ebay.
Everyone agreed that he should be taken to A&E, but I didn't know the way. So the lady with the cloths offered to drive us there. Instead of that (I didn't want a parking ticket!) we ran towards our respective cars so that I could follow her.
The shop staff stopped me to ask me to remove my hands from the cloth stopping the blood flow in order to fill out an accident report. I advised them otherwise with some emphasis.
Then we drove fast through Edinburgh, me trying to keep with her car (a non-descript Ford emblazoned with stickers advertising the Alpha course) all the way to the Sick Kids hospital. Half-way there she stopped her car, lept out, ran around the the boot and brought out from a thermos box, an ice-pack. She ran to our car with it and gave to me. Norris duly held it to his head which meant that by the time we got to the hospital most of the bleeding had stopped. Here, our new friend, showed us the way to the A&E before driving off in to the grimy Edinburgh drizzle.
In A&E a nurse cleaned out the wound. This was tricky because a lot of his hair had congealed into it, and picking this out threatened to restart bleeding. Nevertheless this was done successfully before a charming German doctor came along to glue the cut back together. Once she was done, we were left to go. A mighty relieved Dad, and a very pale looking and rather shaky little boy, headed home with a story to tell Mum!
And whoever you are shopping in Wesley-Owen in Edinburgh today with the supply of clean cloths, who showed us the way to the kids A&E in your "Alpha" stickered car. Thank you!
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Today has been... "eventful". We had a plumber doing a really small job in the kitchen, simply dropping some pipe runs a few inches so that they will tuck neatly behind the appliances. Straightforward enough you might think, and so it appeared for a good while after he had gone.
However, upon my return with Norris and Doris, from dropping Boris off at a birthday party, I noticed a strange trickle of water flowing out from underneath ourfront wall. Closer inspection revealed that the water was seeping from a crack in the rock upon which the wall is built. I assumed that we had gained a small spring, as two other houses along this stretch of road have. This explanation looked to be less likely as within five minutes several more had appeared, and after half and hour a small river issued from every crack in our front wall, clearly at mains pressure. This diagnosis was confirmed when it was discovered that there was no water supply connected to the house.
Well, Lord Lucan appeared quickly on the scene and shut all our water off, which after an hour or so, stemmed the flow through the garden. The plumbing firm then reappeared and reckon that the pressure being switched on and off was enough to completely sever a very old joint in the main water pipe to our house.
So tonight we are without water, and tomorrow the big dig-up of our garden begins - in what promises to be horrific weather.
Friday, January 05, 2007
Four-year-old Norris had the bright idea of constructing an indoor waterfall yesterday. A delightful (and truly realistsic) interior water feature can be easily achieved, by simply blocking the plug-hole of the sink with a flannel and turning the taps on just before the family head out for an hour or so...
The picture shows our feeble attempts to speed-dry the carpet with hair-dryers and fan heaters. Happily our bathroom is on the ground floor so much of the water dissappeared under the floor, unlike my parents house and the time when my sister fell asleep in the bath and flooded the living room underneath.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
It happens every year, in the middle of dark winter days, unable to get to the hills, someone buys me a mountain book for Christmas. It's not that I am ungrateful (far from it), it's just that with no immediate prospect of an escape to the Highlands, the books make me drool. And so it happens that at the beginning of January every year I pore over OS maps and mountain guides, planning hundreds of routes all over Scotland, of which I will actually manage but a handful. It has been known for me to complete mental ascents of all the Munro's within the first month of the year from my armchair.
This year is no exception. In recent days I have completed imaginary assaults on Sgurr Na Ciche, Ben Avon, Derry Cairngorm, Sgurr Thuilm, Ben More (Mull) and An Teallach (twice).
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
The New Year has brought with it the first sight of snow we've had since last Easter. The hills above the town are now suitably white, and if the pattern follows previous years, the snow-line will descend all the way down to us over the next two months.
Calm has returned to the house after a somewhat frenetic few weeks. In the last month, both sets of parents/in-laws have stayed, friends from Australia have been here, and then for a grand finale for this hospitable season we had a houseful of people for New Year.
Over the long weekend, our house bulged at the seams with six adults, seven children, 130 meals served, several pints of London pride consumed, 14 pints of milk used, a whole large sack of loo-rolls used up, several tons of logs burnt in the fire and precious few hours slept.
Altogether it was a fine way to see in the New Year, as the company, food, conversation, wit, humour and general repartee was of a low enough standard to make the whole experience thoroughly enjoyable. We count ourselves fortunate to be blessed with such an abundance of genuine eccentricity distributed so generously amongst our friends.