Tuesday, 29 November 2005

why I don't have to worry about my pension

The table which accompanied this article in Saturday's Guardian isn't on the webpage, but men in the Western Isles have the 428th-best life expectancy for men in the UK - 72.2 years. Fifth-worst, to put it another way; the four worse places for men are Glasgow City (the worst, with 69.3), Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire. I don't know if moving away helps. Glasgow City is also the worst place for women, but they manage 76.4 years. Kensington & Chelsea is the best for both men (80.8) and women (85.8).

don't talk to strangers

Interesting article in Saturday's Guardian by Jenni Russell, entitled 'We have a responsibility to look out for all children - not just our own', on how adults now relate to children other than their own.

'A father I know dreads picking up his two-year-old daughter from nursery. He loves watching her run towards him, arms outstretched. The problem is her friends, who come tumbling along with her. "It's Rosie's dad!" They too have arms outstretched, faces lit up. And every time he thinks: how do I get out of this? He cannot hug them, he cannot let them kiss him, he cannot let them clamber on his knee. "Hello!" he says, standing up quickly, smiling anxiously, repelling them - and watching their puzzled disappointment.'
'It isn't just men who feel this is becoming an absolute taboo. A mother of three small girls says that she too avoids all contact with the children of strangers. "If a child falls off their bike in the park, and is screaming because they've grazed their knee, all the adults nearby freeze. You want to comfort them, but you can't react.'
'Almost imperceptibly, and without any discussion about its desirability, we have arrived at a situation where adults feel they are not allowed to interact with children, unless they are professionals, relations or friends. Evolution designed small children to be appealing, yet we are made to feel awkward for responding to them. What began as an understandable desire to protect children from the risks of sexual abuse seems to have mutated into something far broader and more disturbing: the assumption that any adult can legitimately be considered a threat to any child. What is so perverse about this is that there is so little evidence that it is true.'
'I asked five children - all of whom have travelled extensively on public transport since they were 11 - whether adults ever spoke to them. Never, they said. Whether they were being turned off a bus and left to walk two miles home because they had lost the money for their fare, whether they were being mugged, or whether they and their friends were being appallingly rowdy in the back seats, no one ever intervened. For much of the time that our children are in a public space, they are experiencing neither the support nor the sanctions of a wider society. They are being left to themselves.

'Such enforced neglect must have a negative effect on children's attitudes. If the adults you encounter every day do not return your smiles, do not dust your knees when you fall over, or do not help you when you are lost, and if you later discover that all of them are to be regarded as potential threats, then why should you grow up to care about their feelings when you chuck rubbish into their front garden or vomit into their hedge? What connections have you learned to make with the strangers who surround you?'
'It is a toxic combination, for just as adults have been forced to retreat from a generalised responsibility for socialising the young, so many of the families that retain it have either been disintegrating, or finding themselves so preoccupied with work and their own needs that there is little time left to respond to their children. The evidence of inadequate socialisation is everywhere'.

trees of britain

something I read in Saturday's Guardian seemed to imply there were only 39 kinds of tree native to Britain, which seemed a low number, and which made it even more pathetic that I can't identify any with any certainty. I blame growing up in Lewis. This Wikipedia entry lists 32 (38 if you include the large shrubs). For an online, user-updated source, Wikipedia is usually pretty reliable, and determining 'nativity' is an inexact science.

Wednesday, 23 November 2005

what are the chances of that happening?

No material errors can account for the wizardry displayed by my husband's phone when he answered it last weekend at a family party. He didn't recognise the caller's voice, so asked who it was. It was Kevin, looking for his brother, Ian. My husband said he wasn't Ian and he didn't know anyone called Kevin. The caller gave Ian's surname. My husband thought it was a joke, or a virus. There was a man across the room with that very name. He called to him. Did he have a brother called Kevin? "It's a wind-up," said Ian. But it wasn't. The telephone number of my husband's mobile had been Ian's 10 years ago and Kevin had never updated it. He'd dialled it, and the man to whom it had been allocated not only knew his brother but was standing feet away from him. What were the chances of that?
- Barbara Toner, p28, Guardian, Saturday 19 November 2005.

oil, cocoa, scams

Internet scams are thought to be Nigeria's third-largest source of hard currency after oil and cocoa.
- p28, Guardian, 19 November 2005.

Sunday, 20 November 2005

knock knock

'Knock knock.'
'Who's there?'
'Control freak. *Now you say "Control freak who?"*'

- joke told by Ben Schott, Guardian, 12 November 2005.

aren't they lovely when they're asleep?

- where does she get her energy from?
- I think she saps it from us.

Wednesday, 16 November 2005

stay-at-home dads

One set of figures found by the pressure group Fathers Direct suggested there were just 445 stay-at-home dads in 1986, while the current total is now estimated at 21,000.
- The Guardian, 8 October 2005.

soap opera moral values

'... There's a tablet of commandments in soap opera (Lou Beale has them with her, I imagine, on Mount Walford) - a set of liberal values. "Be true to yourself"; "talk about your feelings"; "learn to forgive and move on"; "accept difference"; and "you're still family even after the murder/arson/substance abuse". Most of the plots of the soaps are generated when one of the characters strays from these commandments and the others rush around the Street or Square or Village trying to get them back living by these liberal values until - whoops! - another character slips and the game is on again. And again and again. The message is clear: learn these values or be ostracised by your community and banished to panto in Crewe.

'This teaching of moral values is spreading across the TV drama spectrum. The wards of Holby City now live by the same principles, as do the cops at Sun Hill. Even Billie and the Doctor had to learn this time around, in a way that Tom Baker would never have done, that "Daleks have feelings too", and "you can travel in time but you mustn't forget your family". It seems there's nowhere in time or space, or the TV schedule, that can fully escape what they call in American sitcom script meetings "hugs and learning".

'Which is odd, given that the philosophers tell us we're living in a morally relativistic age, an age when TV programmers like to scoff at the Rada vowels and patronising tone of previous eras of television. In fact TV drama today has a model of the perfect citizen it wants us to be: a liberal, sensitive, communicative person. And it wants to teach far more than drama ever did in the days of my tutor with the black polo neck. ...'

- Mark Ravenhill in The Guardian, 14 November 2005.

Interesting to see a non-Christian make the same point as Christians often do, though from a different angle.

Sven's English

'Sven's command of the English language is not as good as what it could be.'
- Trevor Francis on Radio Five Live, quoted in The Guardian, 10 October 2005.

the rabbi's chicken

I've always found it impossible to read the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer set in the European Jewish ghettos of the early 20th century because I'm too aware of the horror that is about to descend on the bickering inhabitants and find myself internally yelling, 'It doesn't matter who stole the Rabbi's chicken! Just get out of Warsaw, evil is coming!'
- Alexei Sayle, Radio Times, 10 September 2005.

what are chips made of?

'Research carried out for the foundation reveals the reality of young people's knowledge of food: more than one in three eight- to 14-year-olds do not know chips are made from potatoes. In a survey of 1,000 children, one in 10 thought chips were made mainly of oil, while others suggested eggs, flour and even apples. The 36% in the dark about chips were matched by 37% who failed to identify cheese's origins in milk.'

- The Guardian, 7 November 2005.

selection of the pupil by the school

'Why school-selection exams are unfair' - The Guardian, 10 November 2005.

'The prime minister has repeatedly promised that there will be no return to selection based on ability for secondary schools in England, but in many parts of the country current practice is entirely different from the government's rhetoric. As Fiona Millar, the ex-Blair adviser, has argued so cogently, the government's emphasis on choice has so far meant selection of the pupil by the school, not the other way around. ...

'Life involves many lotteries, but like many parents, I would have preferred my children to have avoided this one. They have not done so, which makes me think that Millar is right - bog-standard local comprehensives, adequately funded, might be preferable to the manifest unfairness we still see in Britain's schools today.'

wrong type of leaves

Notoriously, the arrival of the wrong type of leaves on the line was once blamed for rail delays. Now there seems to be a muddle over just who should clear up which leaves in a Cornish seaside town.

Cornwall county council is more than happy to pick up wet leaves from the streets of Newquay, but will not clear dry ones because it says they are the responsibility of the borough council, Restormel. It all appears to be down to what a fallen leaf really is - and when a fallen leaf becomes a dangerous leaf.

Richard Mauger, area surveyor for the county council, said dry leaves were "litter" - Restormel's responsibility. But if the leaves became wet and could present a hazard to motorists or passers-by, the county council's sweepers would act. "Wet leaves are hazardous and that is our problem," said Mr Mauger.

The Guardian of 10 November 2005.

what is adequate compensation for grief?

Very interesting article in The Guardian of 12 October 2005 on bereavement compensation.

'... there is something troublingly illogical about the demand for more. Parents say: "No amount of money can ever compensate me for the death of my child." That is heartbreakingly true. Then: "But what they're offering is far too little."
So if £11,000 is inadequate, how much would be acceptable? How do we calculate the amount? Should it be means-tested? Should it depend on how many other children the parents have or, in the case of a spouse claiming compensation, how long the marriage has lasted? Or should we return to the first part of the parents' cry, and decide that if no amount of money can compensate for their grief, then it serves no purpose to pay them anything? The money saved could then go instead to survivors of the atrocities, who may need help for the rest of their lives.

'We could delve even deeper and ask, philosophically and logically, why a mother and father whose child has died of some dreadful disease should miss out on compensation for their grief, while children dying as a result of a crime trigger off payments to their parents. Is either grief the greater? ...'

Monday, 14 November 2005

nee naw

The blog of a despatcher in the London Ambulance Service control room.

Extract from a recent entry:
My desert-island, all-time, top ten most memorably rubbish, pointless and waste-of-time 999 calls, in no particular order.

1. “There’s a bee in my front room!” (Had it stung anyone? No. Was anyone there allergic to bees? No. It was a straightforward case of Bee In Front Room…)
2. “I’ve stubbed my toe!”
3. “I had a dream my friend has been shot. I tried to ring him but no-one answered. Can you go round and make sure he is okay?” (It was 2am, I’m not surprised no-one answered…)
4. “My cat has scratched me!”
5. “I’ve just got a new SIM card, and I don’t know the number. Could you tell me, please?”
6. “My boyfriend has a boil on his bottom and can’t sit down!” (What made this one worse was the fact that the caller kept ringing back every ten minutes bemoaning the fact we hadn’t sent an ambulance yet.)
7. “There’s a rat in my kitchen!”
8. “My child has stuck a pea up his nose!”
9. “I think I’m going to get an abscess in my mouth!” (He hadn’t actually got it yet… I guess he was thinking that prevention was better than cure!)
10. “I had an accident last week and was taken to hospital by ambulance. I’ve just been discharged, and there is blood all over the carpet. Could you come round and clean it up?”

a mind to murder

A couple of interesting things about this book by PD James from 1963:

- it's just a couple of hundred pages long, while her more recent ones are more than twice that. It seems to me that people are losing the art of writing short novels - they're so often big, fat flabby things nowadays. Perhaps that's what people want; perhaps the print is bigger.

- it's set in a psychiatric clinic, and the two methods of treatment principally mentioned, apart from analysis, are LSD and ECT.


Old line, new to me: Behind every great man there stands an astonished mother-in-law.

thou shalt do no murder 2

In the AV, 'thou shalt do no murder' appears once rather than 'thou shalt not kill', in Matthew 19:18; presumably there is a difference in the original. Probably more relevantly in this context, 'Thou shalt not murder' is how the Book of Common Prayer renders the commandment.

In searching about this on the internet I came across a site by someone who thinks that the move to 'do no murder' is a cover up to disguise the fact that we should not kill any creature, and so should all be vegetarians, as Jesus was. The loaves and the fishes? Why, surely you have heard of the Fish Plant - a sea plant from which a kind of little bread roll was made. That's what the 'fishes' in the feeding miracles was: a different kind of bread. Presumably this is also what Jesus ate twice after the resurrection, although he doesn't go into that (nor Jesus's lack of condemnation for some of his apostles' former career as fishermen). Funny old church.

Sunday, 13 November 2005

the early days of a better nation

'Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation' - usually attributed to Alasdair Gray, though it may have been an epigram in one of his books, said by someone else. Perhaps I'm simply not to prepared to accept he's up to crafting such a fine statement. I do like it.

From a slightly different angle, I often think of it in relation to our congregation. I especially imagine our minister at his event marking thirty years in the ministry, and how the blanks might be filled in in the paragraph about his first congregation. (Perhaps it'll still be his current congregation.) Will it be a paragraph of hard knocks, difficult lessons, reality hitting, struggles, and so on; or a paragraph of support, nurturing, encouragement, mutual growth and learning, and so on? I find it helpful and challenging to think about that. Work as if you live in the early days of a better congregation.

what the Bible doesn't say

- that Methuselah was the oldest man in the Bible (or who ever lived). His is the oldest age recorded in the Bible.
- that Simeon in Luke 2 was very old.
- that Jesus was angry when he cleansed the Temple (although that act is typically given as a key example of 'righteous anger').

thou shalt do no murder

The church we rent, like many other old church building, especially Anglican I think, has the ten commandments written on the wall. And like at least one other I've seen, rather than having 'thou shalt not kill' it has 'thou shalt do no murder', which is interesting. I'm not sure if it's sourced from a translation other than the AV, or if it's meant to convey a different nuance from the AV rendering.

more on white poppies

For some, the poppy is an uncomfortable symbol. Some pacifists feel that wearing a red poppy legitimises the very idea of war. The Peace Pledge Union has been involved in producing white poppies since the 1930s, although its production - around 35,000 a year - is a tiny seedling compared to the British Legion’s strapping specimen: 34 million red poppies are manufactured each year.
- The Guardian, 9 November 2005, G2 section.

the little ships of manhattan

We need to break organisational strangleholds on the idea of disaster-response. On 9/11, an estimated half-million people fled Manhattan in one of the largest water-borne evacuations in history. How did that happen? Barges, fishing boats, pleasure boats, ferries - all manner of watercraft carried people to safety. It wasn’t driven by an official plan. No one was in charge. Ordinary people, though terrified, boarded the vessels in an orderly way. As a rescue system, it was flexible, decentralised, and massively effective. As Sam Nunn observed at the end of the Dark Winter experiment: ‘The federal government has to have the cooperation of the American people. There is no federal force out there that can require 300,000,000 people to take steps they don’t want to take.
- article by Lee Clarke on disaster planning, The Guardian, 9 November 2005, G2, p15.

a couple of more recent minor celeb spots

(Rory McGrath was years ago)

- a couple of weeks ago, Dermot O'Leary in the back door of John Lewis one weekday morning, apologising as we manoeuvred around him.

- a couple of months ago, the guy who played the producer in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace (he also had a small part in Nathan Barley), outside Fopp (on an earlier Fopp trip I might have crossed the road with Daniel Craig, but he's got a pretty generic look - could have been anybody. But that's top secret agents for you).

rory mcgrath

Saw Rory McGrath on QI, clearly very intelligent and really very knowledgeable about a wide range of things. Yet he makes his career in low smut and innuendo. Funny old world. We saw him once, as we were leaving an Arsenal match.

Tuesday, 8 November 2005

this little chair

I was watching the first of a two-part documentary tonight on BBC1 - The Last Tommy, a documentary featuring some of the few surviving British veterans from the first world war. One man, who went over the top six times, said that each time he’d stop for a moment and pray a little prayer. ‘“Dear Lord, I am going into grave danger. Help me to act like a man, and take me back safely. Amen.” That little prayer brought me through safely, to this little chair.’

a minute's silence

We were talking about the minute’s silence on Remembrance Sundays. From a Christian point of view it’s an odd thing; according to Newsround, it was originally instituted by King George V on 11 November 1919, who made the request so that ‘the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead’. The roll of honour in the church we rent is headed ‘the glorious dead’. The minute’s silence wasn’t intended as a time of prayer, despite being instituted when our country was supposedly more ‘Christian’, but that’s probably the best way to deal with it today. Also, people tend to remember/pray for combatants and civilians of all sides, not just British servicemen, and current wars and the desire for peace, rather than just past conflicts.

Remembrance Day and poppy-wearing, used to be objected to by some people as glorifying war; that doesn’t seem to be the case any more. (You used to be able to get white poppies to demonstrate your commitment to peace, but I haven’t seen any of those in recent years either.)

no comments

During Gulf War Jr I used to read an interesting weblog by a US serviceman based over there. At least, it was interesting - full of insights into the day-to-day experience of serving behind front lines in a war zone - until he began to read his comments, whereupon the posts became comments and responses to pro/anti-war/patriotism comments. It turned from an interesting solo piece to a tedious discussion forum.

That's not exactly why I disabled comments on my weblog, and you can have comments without it descending into an unpleasant message board (I'm tempted to make a link there to an example, but I won't; suffice it to say that it's depressing that a Millwall FC message board can be more civilised than a Christian message board), but that disabling has helped me to keep my subtitle ('just notes to myself, really') in mind.

commander king-hall presents listen with mother

Kids programming isn't what it used to be. During the war, one Commander King-Hall began an edition of 'Listen With Mother' thus: 'Good afternoon. I will start by announcing the result of the poetry competition. I'm sorry to have to say that out of about 2,000 entries that were sent in, I couldn't find one that in my opinion deserves the great honour of being read out.'
- preview of a R4 documentary in Time Out, 14-21 September 2005.

tamsin greig

TO: You live in London. Why do you stay?
TG: I grew up here, about a mile from where I live now in Kensal Green. I got to Birmingham University and vowed I'd never return, then crawled my way back. There's something about London I just can't let go of. I can't imagine wanting to move out. I experience a sense of community, there's always a conversation to be had. We go to church and the kids go to school here. Maybe living in London means I can indulge my tapas appetite for people.
TO: Which church do you go to?
TG: It's an Anglican church on the road we used to live on with lots of Caribbean ladies in hats. I didn't grow up a churchgoer. I had a moment...
TO: What was the moment?
TG: I got to 30 and thought: I've done everything wrong. I've done it the world's way and I'm not happy. So I started going to church secretly. If you go, you're a fundamentalist freak, especially post-9/11. Although the Church of England are seen as moderate liberal jokesters, I think if you have a faith, it *is* fundamental. Yet we've coined the term fundamentalist to make it 'other', to be able to say 'that's wrong'. I remember when I first started going it became a dinner-party topic. One friend came up and said, 'But we just don't understand it, Tam, it's just sooo uncool.'

- part of an interview in Time Out with Tamsin Greig (who we've watched in Black Books, Green Wing and Love Soup, and Bethan doubtless heard on The Archers), 21-28 September 2005.

is the BBC full of hatred of America?

Is the BBC full of hatred of America?' Interesting little article from The Guardian of 19 September 2005. Concluding para: 'Post-Hutton, the BBC does not have the usual advantage of the man in the dock - it has to prove itself to be innocent, rather than the other way round. But there is a lesson for Tony Blair, too: be careful what you say to septuagenarian media magnates. If there is one unquestionable source of institutional bias, it is surely Rupert Murdoch and his ever biddable media outlets.'

Monday, 7 November 2005

you don't have music in your church

It annoys me when people say that we don't have music in our denomination (sometimes said even by people in our denomination): we do have music in our church services, it's musical instruments we don't have.

city size

Plato reckoned a city should be no bigger than the number of citizens who can be addressed by a single voice.
- in a book review, p19, Saturday Guardian Review, 24 September 2005.

Gives an interesting perspective on how big places described in the Bible as cities might have been (though without the context it's possible that they were much bigger in Plato's day and he was saying they should be smaller).

God doesn't change our personalities

One of Henrietta's wise sayings is that God doesn't generally change our personalities when we become Christians - we become shy Christians, or gregarious Christians, or whatever. Which is why she will talk to people in buses and cafes, and I never will.

songs which I have listened to on 'repeat' recently

(apart from ones I was trying to learn the words of)

a sailor's life
the inner light
within you without you
oxford town
desolation row

Sometimes buying a greatest hits CD reveals that the only song you know someone for is really the only good song they ever did. Exhibit A: Karl Denver, Wimoweh.

Oxford Town is possibly the most peculiar mix of grim lyrics and chirpy tune I've ever heard. (Crash Test Dummies Mmm Mmm Mmm is the same in reverse: a beautiful mournful tune tied to lyrics about the oddities of fellow pupils in schooldays.)

George Harrison once said something along the lines that when he first heard Indian music he felt like he had come home, and I kind of know what he meant. I guess I'm one of the few people (apart from him, presumably) who thinks that Within You Without You is the best song on Sgt Pepper's. And you can see how the lyrics of The Inner Light might appeal to a boy in Lewis: 'Without going out of my door, I can know all things on Earth; Without looking out of my window, I can know the ways of Heaven. The farther one travels, The less one knows, The less one really knows.'

lawrence dallaglio the choirboy

'Wasps hardman Lawrence Dallaglio has been unmasked as an angelic choirboy who sang on one of Tina Turner's biggest hits. The former England captain - all 6ft 4ins and 18 stone of him - formed part of the school ensemble that provided backing on We Don't Need Another Hero in 1985.' (BBC)