Saturday, 1 December 2012

Going, going, gone

Parting is such sweet sorry but I said goodbye to Mo this morning.  We've been through a lot together but it was time to Mo-ve on.  So long and farewell - until next time.....

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The things that dreams are made of

Some serious Dad dancing went on last night as I revelled in not being one of the oldest in a gig for once.  In fact I was probably mid-range, if anything slightly younger than most.  Age has not been kind to all of us.  Some were looking more old romantic than new, but then I caught a look at myself in the mirror and realised that I have nothing to shout about either. 

The occasion was The Human League, playing in Bristol.  The Colston Hall is a great venue; intimate, with great accoustics and facilities. 

The League (as we in the know call them) were in great nick and it was a great performance.  A few bum notes but then Dare was released in 1981, we should be grateful to still have them.  They clearly enjoyed themselves too.  Slightly bizarrely, a frequently heard comment on the way out was that, "They were better than I expected", which does make you wonder how bad paying punters expected it to be.   

It was a long held ambition to see the band, I missed the opportunity to see them years ago in Chippenham of all places because it clashed with college.  How diligent / stupid was that? What a creep I was. 

Can't swear to the set list but this one from the gig before in The Royal Albert Hall looks like it's the same.  No 'Empire State Human' (a personal favourite), 'Being Boiled', 'Hard Times', or 'Human' but you can't really quibble much with what they did.  One of the stewards told us that we were in for a surprise with something unusual as the final song.  Guess he doesn't know a lot about the band. 

A great night out, time flew, and much needed relief after a rather daft day.  Here's what they did: 

1.            Sky
      2.            The Sound of the Crowd
      3.            Open Your Heart
      4.            Heart Like A Wheel
      5.            All I Ever Wanted
      6.            The Things Dreams Are Made Of
      7.            Seconds
      8.            The Lebanon
      9.            Louise
    10.                  One Man In My Heart
    11.                  Night People
    12.                  Electric Shock
    13.                  Love Action
    14.                  Tell Me When
    15.                  Fascination
    16.                  Mirror Man

    17.                 Goodbye Bad Times
    18.                 Don’t You Want Me

Second Encore
    19.                Together in Electric Dreams

Monday, 26 November 2012

Everyday Church (1) - Aliens!

There are such things as aliens.  I should know, I am one.   That's why I don't quite fit in.  I'm a bit too different to the people around me.  They sense I'm not quite one of them and it makes them uneasy.  Which is why they sometimes get uptight around me and that comes out sometimes with mocking comments or some verbal abuse.  No, not talking about church meetings, (although...) but echoing what Peter says about Christians in his letter to the churches.  Christians are aliens, foreigners, strangers, amongst the rest of the world.  We don't fit in and so life is sometimes uncomfortable, indeed, downright dangerous in some parts of the world. 

We're reading Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis as a church leadership and I am using it as the basis for a sermon series on a Sunday too.  Fabulous book and full of good and godly wisdom.  I plan to blog through the series but would urge you to read the book.  Way better than my sermons or blog posts. 

Chapter 1 open with a survey of landscape in the western world.  Writing from a UK perspective, the tide is out.  there was a time when church attendance was much higher than it is (though, of course, that isn't the same as being a Christian), Sunday School was attended by the majority of kids and the church (for good or bad) had a great deal more power and influence than it does today. 

The last census figures (2001) show that 72% of people say that they are Christians and yet a Tearfund survey in 2007 say that 70% of people say that they have no intention of going to a church.  Something doesn't quite stack up there.  Be interesting to see what the 2011 census figures say, I believe that they are due out next month.

Stuart Murray outlines the differences between the olden days of Christendom and the situation today.  He describes the change for Christians as being:

  1. From the centre to the margins
  2. From majority to minority
  3. From settlers to sojourners
  4. From privilege to plurality
  5. From control to witness
  6. From maintenance to mission
  7. From institution to movement

As they never quite said in the Wizard of Oz:   “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Christendom anymore”.

We came up with an extra one while we discussed this at a Deacons Meeting:
  • From respect to ridicule 
At one time the church and the Christian faith would be respected by most, whether people believed or not.  Now it's pretty much open season.  There's nothing new under the sun though as a first century piece of graffiti shows. 
The inscription is "Alexander worships his God." 
As Chester and Timmis write,Rather than assume we should have a voice in the media or on the high street, we need to regain the sense that anything other than persecution is an unexpected bonus.”  (40)
All a bit gloomy?   Well the situation is pretty close to the one that Peter's readers found themselves in and the church seems to have grown hugely since then.  Perhaps we just need to find a new way to do church.  Next up, Everyday Community.
Part of my reason for blogging this series of sermons is to make sure that folk from the church who miss some of them can be in the loop.  The views expressed are not necessarily those of the church, the value of a sermon can go down as well as up, terms and conditions apply.


Friday, 23 November 2012

Beneath the floorboards

Brilliant and thought provoking post from Jonty Langley here on the the difference between you and a mass murderer.  An illustration based on a song by Sufjan Stevens that would useful if you want to talk about sin, big and small. 

Thursday, 22 November 2012

I'm here till the end of the month...

I caught the kids messing around with yoghurt drinks last night. 
Had to warn them about dabbling with the Yakult.
Thought that this was original at first but a friend has pointed out that this is, in fact, a variation on a Tim Vine joke.  I read it last Christmas in his joke book (joke number 711) - nice to know that something I had read lodged in this tired old brain.

Character not reputation

I've been reading some terrific things lately.  Re-reading Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, which is looking like my book of the year, has been great and I had an excellent day with  Pete Scazzero on Tuesday on Emotionally Healthy Leadership - just the right combination of inspiring and informing and challenging. 

This quote is from a book I picked up at a conference a year ago and have finally got round to reading - that familiar to anyone else at all?  Growing Leaders by James Lawrence is something I am reading a little of each evening, it's fine stuff!   Here's a wise quote from it:

"Be more comcerned with your character than your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are." (p.123)  
Basketball Coach, John Wooden      

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Movember update

Here we are after three weeks Movembering.  Today I spent six hours on a bus load of school children, an odd way to spend a day off, and in dressing the part of a World War II schoolteacher, Brill-creamed my hair too.  Hope none of them have nightmares tonight. 

Friday, 16 November 2012

Christmas has come early!

Much excitement yesterday as I went to pick my early Christmas present.  This was a test shot that I took in the camera shop and certain camera club chums need not fear, I have not gone over to the dark side and bought a Nikon. 

I'm thrilled to have a Canon 70-200mm f.2.8 L series lens, the Mark 1 IS.  Purchased second hand but it looks like its in perfect nick.  Can't wait to get out there and put it through it's paces properly.      

Thursday, 8 November 2012


Ron Mael of Sparks

Movember is the month to grow the hair on your top lip to raise money and awareness about men's health.  Men all over the country are trying hard to grow their moustaches, women all over the country are generally pretty repelled by it.  But it's all in a good cause, for prostate and testicular cancer. 

I'm taking part for the first time this year and have started by not shaving at all before removing most of my facial hair to reveal a fairly pitiful 'tache; planning to do that at the weekend depending on how it looks by then. 

Might be brave enough to post a pic in due course, in the meantime there is a Sparks song going around my head, Moustache with the great line in the chorus, "One hundred hairs make a man".

Should really be the Movember anthem.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

My Favourite Mormon...

... as the Undertones never quite sang.

To Cardiff on Guy Fawkes night to see The Killers, and what a great night it turned out to be.  'Brandon and the Beardie Blokes' as they probably should be known as, were on great form.  They were tight and they rocked. Terrific light show, with extra fireworks thrown in as well, I suspect, given the date.  They played all the old favourites and about half of the new album, which is slowly growing on me but doesn't do it for me in quite the same way as the others.  'Deadlines and Commitments', my favourite on the album, wasn't one of the somgs they played, but hey.    

One thing, and I did check with my family that it wasn't just my middle-aged man's hearing, but my experience of the sound quality that the Motorpoint offers wasn't great.  Saw Franz Ferdinand there once and thought the same, which is a great shame because the Killers were a bit let down on that front I suspect. 

A really good gig, which would have been great if it weren't for that.  The whole family enjoyed it and that in itself makes it the most successful family gig ever. 

Set List
Mr Brightside
The Way It Was
Smile Like You Mean It
Heart of a Girl
Bling (Confession of a King)
Miss Atomic Bomb
Somebody Told Me
Here With Me
For Reasons Unknown
From Here On Out
A Dustland Fairytale
Read My Mind
When You Were Young

Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine
All These Things That I've Done
Battle Born

Monday, 5 November 2012

Finished! Cotswold Way - Day 10 - Pennsylvania to Bath

It seems a long time ago that I started to walk the Cotswold Way, the 102 mile route that starts in beautiful Chipping Campden, ends in beautiful Bath and takes in some pretty special scenery en route as well.  The plan was to finish this last leg three and half months ago but for reasons that are explained here that didn’t happen.  Since then some time-consuming work situations and terrible weather have kept me waiting for that elusive drier weather when I could enjoy the last ten miles or so. 

Eventually my game of chicken with the weather came to an end.  I lost.  On a Tuesday two weeks ago it was a case of either walking regardless of the weather or face the possibility that it wouldn’t happen this year, especially with the clocks changing at the weekend.  Despite seeing the forecast as foggy with very poor visibility (and they weren’t too far wrong on that score) I set out on my last leg. 

I parked up outside an old disused pub in Cold Ashton and the first thing that I did was retrace my steps to Pennsylvania the hamlet that I reached to get to my B&B last time.  It meant crossing a couple of muddy fields and pausing at the B&B a moment, reflecting how I had been there when I heard the news of my Dad being rushed into hospital.  A silent prayer of thanks before turning to re-cross those ploughed fields.

As the (boring) picture shows, it was wet and slippery and grey on the last day of the Cotswold Way, much like the first day!
On getting back to Cold Ashton I revisited Sarah at Folly Farm cafe for a great cooked breakfast and an interesting chat with a man who told me all about how he had once introduced his companions to someone: "This is my ex-wife, this is my wife and this is my girlfriend."  You do meet some interesting people on this walk. 

Cold Ashton boasts the second most impressive door that I will see on the day and because of the conditions there isn't a great deal to see and admire on the leg.  At one point, near the Lansdown Battlefield, the guide book says that I should be able to see both Severn Crossings from my vantage point but I can't even see the Severn.  Likewise, the much remarked on view over Bath from Prospect Stile is a bit non-descript in this weather. 

The weather is very still though and it's pretty good walking weather, certainly was colder some days in June and July than I was here, at the end of October.  Weston brings the surprise of some serious climbing up steep steps (always hard) just when you think that's it on the climbing stakes but they are worth it for the joy of walking through the last mile or so in Bath itself.  The city is so beautiful that you don't notice the walk. 

By the time I have detoured very slightly to be at the Royal Crescent I have, in truth, finished walking the Cotswold Way.  I did the rest without trying on the night of my stay in the city a couple of months back.  So, it's past the B&B we stayed in and through to The Circus. 

The signage for the Cotswold Way becomes much more discreet in Bath (after all, this is Bath) and consequently is a little harder to follow.  The guide book comes in handy though and before you know it you are face to face with  the place you have been aiming for all this time, Bath Abbey.   

The door is the traditional finishing point but now they have a wonderful finishing point in the pavement just before the door.  When I get there it is so new that they are still due to dedicate it two days later - with a peel of bells or something.   

The woman at the Cathedral Shop is very patient with me when I ask her where the new finish point is and takes me out to show me after signing my sheet as proof of finishing the Cotswold Way.  It's a slightly odd feeling finishing, a bit of an anti-climax, in part because I planned it differently, with friends and a hearty meal.  I hang around for a bit and then go to Costa to celebrate with a spot of tiffin - I know how to party!  I text some friends and family to tell them I have finished and it's good to get their texts and calls in response, I don't feel quite so alone.   

Afterwards I try to catch a bus that is listed but no longer seems to exist and so it's late when I finally get back to Pennsylvania.  To fill in time in Bath I have my hearty meal - Big Mac, fries, coke.  Not quite what I had in mind but nevermind. 

I'm really glad to have done this walk.  I did it as a Cotswold boy and it has always been an ambition.  In the process of walking I found out that I didn't really know the Cotswolds at all, and that I have a bit of a love / hate relationship with walking.  At it's best it was joyous and inspiring, at it's worst dour and drab.  I discovered that I prefer to walk with others but that I can cope with walking alone.   

Now, I wonder what route I will be walking next?

Friday, 26 October 2012


Long time, little in the way of blogging, in large part because there has been a lot going on that it would be wrong to blog about. There has been trouble at the mill which made it necessary to have a morning service of Repentance and Reconciliation on Sunday, a time to forgive one another and move on.

It was largely very successful, the weeks before had been well spent by some to have some difficult conversations that had previously been avoided. In the service we looked at what Jesus has to say about our need for reconciliation (Matthew 5.21-24) and how we go about being reconciled (Matthew 18.15-17).

That second passage in particular is very practical and clear instruction.  It’s also very scary and so we often chicken out of doing what we are told to do in these passages. 

There are things we are told not to do – don’t pretend that everything is alright, don’t slip away from church without telling anyone why, don’t grumble and gossip about the situation.  Jesus doesn’t even tell us to win the argument, just to win the person back; be reconciled.

As a leadership team we have taken good advice from others in our position (and more importantly Jesus!) and repented of listening to anonymous feedback.  This has been crippling us for some time and so we needed to make clear that we will listen to and engage with anyone who brings any complaint to us, we will make every effort to listen (a word that comes up four times in those three verses) and respond accordingly, whether it’s to explain, clarify, apologise, or whatever. 

But we will no longer respond to anonymous feedback of the nature “a lot of people think” where those people are not prepared to say who or to be identified.  (From experience, “a lot of people” can mean anything from most of the church to a single person.)  Such feedback gets us nowhere.  We don’t know who is upset, how many people are upset, why they are upset, how strongly they are upset, we don’t know who we are supposed to listen to and talk to and we have no opportunity to work together to be reconciled.  It leaves the person or people with a complaint feeling frustrated too because no-one seems to be listening or caring and nothing changes. 

So, confessions of a dysfunctional church leadership, that was how we were and we made things harder for ourselves.  We have repented, turned from old ways to new ways – better ways – and are determined to do it the way that Jesus says, face to face, graciously, gently, boldly, lovingly, honestly, openly. 

The full sermon that was preached on Sunday can be listened to here or downloaded under Reconciliation here.  Pray, all the time, that you never need it!     

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Exeter City 1 Bristol Rovers 2

Another Saturday, another Exeter City home game.  This week it is the visit of Bristol Rovers and a good crowd see a less good game.  City didn't deserve to lose but nevertheless did just that as two mistakes made for Rovers winning for the first time this season, 2-1.  Despite successive loses for the club, Exeter remain in a good position in the league and stayed fourth, a win at bottom of the table Barnet on Tuesday kept us on track.

In the past I have helped out the club photographer every now and again at home games and it's been a great experience, combining two great passions, Exeter City and photography.  I've had a couple of pictures printed in the club programme, which felt good, and another two or three used on the club website.  It's a fantastic privilege to sit pitchside and learn (still learning!) the art of capturing the action.  It's often very fast and more than once I've had to watch the highlights afterwards to see what really happened.  I've had to quickly learn to track players, a fraction out and the crowd are the only ones in focus.  Some hits, lots of misses.               

A good friend has been lending me a great quality f2.8, 70-200mm lens, which gets some great shots despite being dwarved by some of the monsters that the pros wield on matchday.  I'm saving up!  The club are very friendly and helpful - the photographer in particular is extremely good at constructive criticism - and, for me, it gives me a few hours in the week where I sit and (intensely) concentrate on something different, which is really good for me.  I do love it.  All voluntary and for fun and sometimes I've said, 'Sorry, can't make it, it clashes with work', and that has been fine all round. 

Anyhow, on Saturday, the club photographer was sunning himself on holiday so I ended up as his substitute. It was frightening and exciting and, despite coming away thinking I'd made a mess of it, a later review of my shots was more positive.  You can see what I ended up with here, Here's what I got.   If you compare them with Keith's efforts at other games, you'll see how much better he is but I felt that they were okay in the end, though a flashgun failiure in the Man of the Match presentations afterwards didn't do me any favours.

It was fun and I am more than willing to step in if I'm required and I'm available but much prefer shooting as part of a team.  I'll be much happier if, next time I'm needed, I am shooting in tandem with a proper photographer!  

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Football crazy

I've been to a lot of football this season already, all four home games in the league at Exeter City.  It's great to spend two or three hours thinking about nothing else but the game, a welcome break from the day to day pressures and problems of church life! 

It started badly, 3-0 down to Morecambe in about 35 minutes on day one, but since that defeat, five wins and a draw and sitting pretty in 3rd.  Early days, obviously, but it could be a great deal worse. 

Today they are over at Southend and so I am getting slight withdrawal symptoms.  This afternoon finds me tied to the radio trying to make out the commentary on Radio Devon.  The static only adds to the atmospehere, I haven't listened so avidly to such poor reception since the days of Radio Luxembourg.        

Friday, 21 September 2012

David Byrne and St Vincent - Love This Giant

Listening to some great music this week, which I would have been unaware of had I not been listening to BBC 6 Music.  It's testimony to the excellence of this album by David Byrne and St Vincent that in the week of the new Killers album, this is what I have been listening to.  The single is the most accessible of the tracks but it's not a particularly difficult listen.  On repeated listens others are lodging into the brain, 'I Am An Ape', 'The Forest Awakes' and 'Lazarus' in particular, but the track to add to the sidebar (top right) is the single, 'Who'.   

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Sermon-o-matic

Found a great website and thought I'd paraphrase a great sermon that I heard last week.

Visit to make your own.

Friday, 14 September 2012


Not sure how I missed it but last year Stuart Townend released his album 'The Journey', and a fine listen it is too.  I already knew and loved a few of the songs, but the one that really did it for me this morning was the wonderful 'Vagabonds'.  Great track which should be played loud, preferably in a car so you can sing along without being stared at.  Or alternatively dig out your penny whistles and join in.  Click the link in the long-neglected, top right hand corner of the blog; 'Our Friends Eclectic' and turn up the speakers.  Enjoy! 

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

What a beautiful day....

Had just the best day on Saturday and to make the most of it, a long one.  Started with a six o'clock alarm call and the long ride on the underground across London to use our tickets for the Olympic Stadium on the last day of the track and field of the Paralympics. 

We had great tickets, at about the 200 metres mark of the track, 18 rows back.  This meant we saw the triple jump final and some javelin as well as the various races, including guided runners and some wheelchair races.   And being where we were I got to take a few photos too.  I was like a pig in muck!       

The atmosphere was every bit what everyone has reported, an incredible and at times moving experience.  Helped by the fantastic weather, which sent weaker members of my family looking for shade at one stage, it all added up to a terrific day out.  It's been a long time since I was in a big stadium in such hot weather, it brought to mind some of those concerts of my youth at the old Wembley.

The tickets were very fairly priced, we had the most expensive tickets for our three and a quarter hour session and that was £30 for us adults and a fiver for the marginally smaller of us.  This included our travelcards all the way across London, which (if I have read the complicated charts correctly, as a hick from the country, I may not have) would normally have been about half the cost of our tickets altogether.  A bargain, to be honest.     

Aftrewards, back to the friends we had lodged with the night before, tea and cricket on the lawn before heading back west late in the afternoon.  A fabulous day, thanks in no small part to Sebastian Coe and LOCOG who have done us proud with the Games. 
Where are all the cynics and sceptics now?  For a few weeks we've lapsed into being positive and optimistic and Britain has been an even brighter place to be.  It's been a summer holiday from the naysayers.  Sure we have problems, but perhaps we aren't in such a bad way as we tell ourselves we are.  I wonder how long we'll stay positive? 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

On Sunday I preached in church on this verse:

"Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart."   (1 Peter 1.22)

As I mulled this over and read around the verse I discovered that there are two different types of love referred to here.  The Greeks had (and, for all I know, still have) more than one word for love, depending on what kind it is.  In this verse the sincere love is philadelphia, a brotherly love, the love of a good, functional family.   The "love one another deeply, from the heart" is agape, a tougher, unconditional love. 

It seems that Peter has reason to remind the churches that as family together they should already have a brotherly love.  But now it needs to go even deeper, they need to love each other in tough times. 

I suspect that we all gave assent to this when we read it together and prayed about it afterwards.  But then two days later (just two days) we had a Church Meeting where we seemed to forget all that. 

How painfully slow we are to change. 

And how patient God is. 

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Christmas is coming...

The national poster campaign for churches this Christmas has been revealed.  Provocative and profound, I really like it.  What do you reckon?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

I give up...

Number 245

Well, I'm afraid I just gave up in the end, it all became too much.  It wears away at you after a while and the law of diminishing returns kicks in, hard.  I started with such resolve and was determined to see it through but in the end it just didn't seem worth it.  I'll try something new and will still practice but there comes a point where you wonder why you bother.  Week in, week out, day in, day out, is there really any point?  I made my decision on Sunday and am now going public with it.

I had a new resolve at the beginning of the year, one that was strengthened by a sabbatical from my work as the pastor of a church.  It's an incredibly taxing job, whatever people might think, amazing highs and serious lows.  So it was good to take three months to recharge the batteries and I think I probably did some of my best work during this time, I had the time and space to do so.  I was able to keep things fresh for a few weeks after this as well but you (all too) soon get stuck into the old rut of not having the time or energy to do a proper job so I have quit.  A few good friends will be disappointed, they have been incredibly supportive and kind - you know who you are and I thank you - but I have no regrets about my decision. 

My project to take and post a photograph every day for the year has stalled and on 2nd September I had my first photo free day of the year.  My Project 366 became Project 245.  I just felt that the standard was heading downhill and I was posting rubbish in order to fulfil my quota.  I'm still as keen as ever, I just won't be wandering round the house at night thinking, "What can I take a photograph of tonight?"

I bow out with Number 245, Exeter City captain Danny Coles in the warm up before leading them to a terrific 3-0 win over Burton Albion.  We've moved up to second in the table. Early days but exciting ones too. 

Monday, 3 September 2012

The dangers of preaching...

When cricket umpires preach?

I was preaching yesterday about Jesus' command to 'love one another' and pointed out that this is as old as the hills, referring to where God's people were told to do this in Leviticus.  Or I tried to point that out. 

Genuine laugh out loud moment this morning on receiving this email today.  I'll leave you to look up the passages to see why:

Hi Steve,
Good sermon on Sunday morning!
If you ever preach it again though you might want to revisit the second slide in your presentation.
I think that you probably meant to quote from Leviticus 19 v 18, however the actual verse you wrote on the slide was Leviticus 18 v 19. It added a whole new perspective to the point you were making........... :-)
Best Wishes,

Friday, 31 August 2012

15 years ago

Long time no blog.  I've been on holiday for a couple of weeks and it's hard to blog when you are in a temt in a field without mobile signal, let along electricity. 

I've just noticed that today marks the 15th anniversary of Princess Diana's death, one of those 'you must remember where you were when you heard' moments.  I was in Suffolk on a weekend away with friends and had got up very early to my (at the time) only child, the one who took her GCSEs this summer!  Bleary-eyed I switched on Radio 1 (okay, so I've changed) to find sombre classical music playing.  Which threw me somewhat.  In due course the news was given, the kind of news that takes a while to sink in.  The friends we were with hadn't got children 15 years ago and so I had to play with my wee girlie for two or three hours before it was decent to wake the others and tell them. 

The rather bizarre reaction to all that then unfolded, a nation taken by surprise in it's grief.  For some years afterwards I would visit people on the local estates for the church and it wasn't unusual to find a framed picture of Diana on the mantelpiece; whether as a saint or one of the family it was hard to know.   

15 years ago was also my last day of working with students for UCCF.  It was a brilliant time, I learnt so much through working there, much of which I still use today.  It shaped me for time in church ministry as did the great church that I was a part of and went on to serve.  Because 14 years and 364 days ago I started working for a church full-time.  More simply, tomorrow is my 15 year anniversary of being paid to work in a church.  I may be middle aged but I did a lot of other things first, no bad thing in my book. 

Church ministry is a great adventure!  Some amazing highs and some serious lows but rarely a dull moment.  Actually some dull moments would be nice; just occasionally.  It's amazing that we're allowed to do this, we who are fallible, flawed, but forgiven.  I regularly marvel that God uses me to lead a church but then he has previous history on this, in the Old Testament he spoke through a donkey.  Despite the occasional escape fantasy, I really can't think of anything I'd rather do. 

15 years in, what really matters is the next 15 years.  I am grateful that I don't know what lies ahead, but in the words of Paul in Philippians 3, "one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal."     

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Buddha and the Cowboys

'Buddha and the Cowboys' might sound like a film mash up but actually it was my experience last Friday. 

The church premises were rented by a charity for the day and they took advantage of the summer weather to use the car park at the front for selling some of their wares and to run some stalls.  It was my favourite parishioner who alerted me to the fact that they had a stall selling various staues, including a couple of big ones of Buddha.  I had to gently point out to the organisers that this was a bit of a issue for us because, "We don't really do Buddha here" and they were lovely and apologetic and there was no issue about it at all.  

Then came the cowboys.  The charity had booked a re-enactment of some wild west heroes (they got permission from the police) having a shoot out in the car park in order to attract attention.  Well it certainly did that (though I would have thought that if you were looking to draw a crowd then the sound of gunfire might not be the best ploy.  The cowboys concerned were heard to remark that the sound of the guns bouncing off the wall around them made it really loud and apparently it was loud enough to panic the bank on the corner into thinking that a real life raid was taking place.  And I thought Church Members' Meetings could get a bit wild!

I've been lying low ever since.  The last thing we need at the moment is headlines - local or national - about a gun fight in the Baptist Church car park.      

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Swindon College, gone but not forgotten

This week saw the final demise of the old Swindon College, a place for which I have many reasons to be grateful.  Certainly not for it's architecture, or even for the fact that the wonderful XTC once played there, supporting Thin Lizzy.  No, this was the place that gave me the chance to get back into education, some years after I left school.

The received wisdom was that I would be lucky to get my O levels (younger readers are referred to Google at this point) and so I left school at 16.  A few years later, and unemployed, I turned up here to enroll for a couple of A levels at evening class.  I didn't have enough money to sign up so they asked me how much I could afford and accepted that.  I'm really grateful that they did that. 

I then spent from September to May going to two evening classes a week to study for a couple of A levels.  Most of the time I had a temporary full-time job and I studied in the evenings.  Looking back, I'm amazed that I had the dedication but I knew that I needed A levels to get into college to do something more interesting than accountancy, which I'd been doing for too long after school.

It was here that my English Literature lecturer told us this was a crash course and that if we worked hard we'd pass but we could forget about getting an A grade.  In all his years only one person had done this and she was a nun - like that proved something.  It was he who gave me a love for the poetry of John Donne.  He once broke a strike to teach us one week because he didn't feel it was fair on us part-timers trying to get back into education.  We went with him to The Beehive pub round the corner.  Quality fellow.   

It was here that my Sociology lecturer persuaded a group of us that there was no reason we couldn't apply to a university.  None of us believed him.  I played safe and had a couple of offers from teaching colleges for any kind of grades.

I collected my results with my aunt, who had registered for Sociology too.  We celebrated with cream cakes.  I got a C in Sociology and emulated the nun in Eng. Lit.  

Looking back I don't quite know how I managed it.  I wish I could thank the people that helped me on my way, without them I don't know what I'd be doing now.  As it was I got to university, met my favourite parishioner, and got to do similar kind of work as the nun. 

Swindon College, you were an ugly thing but I couldn't have done it without you.  Thank you.    

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Men's Olympic Football - Great Britain v South Korea

Well, it looks like we may have missed the best day in living memory for Team GB in the Olympics because we were at the Olympics.  Whilst Jessica, Mo and Greg were performing heroically in the Olympic Stadium, we headed west for the Millennium Stadium and the Quarter Final of the Men's Football.  

It was my first trip to the Millennium Stadium and what a venue!  I have never been to a soccer match in the States but it is how I imagined it might be there - except with 70,000 people there.  The venue is clean and modern and we were sat in the Upper Tier, in terms of the kind of football I watch at Exeter it was like being sat up on top of the roof.  It made for a different perspective, easier to read the pattern of the game but a lot harder to identify who people were.

Ah, the romance of the game...

It was a very different kind of crowd to your usual football match, a lot of young families and people who don't usually go to games, or even have a lot of interest in football, but who wanted to sample the atmosphere - which was fantastic.  One woman I spoke to who had a five or six year old with her said that it should be okay because she had brought plenty of colouring for her. 

The game itself wasn't likely to convert many of the floating voters.  The standard wasn't great - Exeter City would have given GB a run for their money - and it lacked a bit of passion and even though it went to extra time and penalties - it wasn't so exciting because, nice though it would have been to see GB win, it didn't really matter much.  Had Exeter, or even England, been playing, it would have been much more tense because I would have cared a great deal more about the result.  As it was, this was a group of players put together for the tournament, a good thing but you know...    

As soon as it went to penalties we all knew what would happen.  Poor Daniel Sturridge, at least Stuart Pearce knows how he feels.  The journey home was ridiculously long, though they battled gamely to get us to our Park and Ride it took over an hour's queueing and then it was a slow drag to the M4.  The journey saw us get home at 1.45am but it was worth it.  In the words of someone fairly local to Cardiff, we can echo, "I was there."

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Cotswold Way - Day 9 - Old Sodbury to Pennsylvania

This old tree makes for great shelter in Doddington Park.

There are amber weather warnings issued for the day that I am due to walk Day 9 of my route but the plan is for completion on the last Friday/Saturday of my sabbatical, so there's no wriggle room.  My game of chicken with the weather is well and truly lost and I must carry on regardless.  My sister, under no such constraint bails out of walking with me but I don't blame her, and actually, it turns out for the best.

The original plan was to walk to Cold Ashton but the B&B is booked up and so I will be finishing a little earlier in Pennsylvania.  It makes for a short walk.   I could now complain about the conditions and research the rainfall but if you're living in Britain in 2012 you know what sort of a summer we're having.  Suffice to say that it was wetter under foot here on Leg 9 than when I was walking back in April.  I finished soaked through. 

A couple of shots taken in light drizzle rather than steady rain.  Both in Doddington Park.

The church building in Tormorton was a good place to repack my bag and eat an energy bar, say a prayer and resolve to move on and keep walking.  They had a lovely carpet and I already have wet muddy boots so no chance to explore.   

This is the last shot I took today, note the car headlights, windscreen wipers on, plenty of spray and gloom.  All at lunchtime in July.

There is, however, a definate highlight that will stick with me long into the future.  Shortly after walking over the bridge crossing the M4 motorway and walking the width of a field from it's traffic, I look up from the path to see a deer standing watching me not more than 25 or 30 yards away.  We meet each others gaze for a few moments before he bounds off ahead of me and then crosses my path and takes off towards the motorway.  It is a magical moment.  I have no prove of this encounter, my camera deep in my dry rucksack but it was a magnificent sight.

The B&B is reached quite early in the day as the weather encouraged just putting your head down and stepping up the pace.  There was no-one to talk to all day except a woman cutting the grass outside Dryham Park, and in that wonderfully English way of ours we joke about the weather and move on.  I finally give in to the iPod for the first time on my walk and remember a "Rain" playlist that I'd put together for a recent family barbeque.  It does the trick and raises my spirirts.   

There is no pub in Pennsylvania anymore.  There is no pub in Cold Ashton anymore either.  But there is a wonderful woman in Cold Ashton called Sarah who does meals for walkers in the evening if they pre-book.  When I get there I discover that I am the only one to have prebooked and so I feel like royalty as I dine on wonderful garlic mushrooms and chicken curry, all washed down with selections of Bath Ales afterwards.  It really is a terrific meal and she's a great host.  All this and photography magazines to read as well.  I feel very local signing her visitors book amongst the Norwegians, Dutch and Americans - sometimes it feels like the rest of the world are more interested than the Brits in the Cotswold Way.

I feel ready for the last day of the walk tomorrow, where I am to be walking with Andy again and we'll be meeting our wives in Bath for a meal to celebrate.

The B&B that I almost stay in, is an oddity.  Very friendly people but I am a little troubled that virtually the first thing I notice is the UKIP tea-towel, something I've never seen anywhere before (I do lead a very sheltered life).  My discomfort is heightened further when I check out and ask them to order me a taxi, which they do in super quick time, but they tell me they have ordered me an English driver rather than all the Poles that are working round here at the moment.  It's odd - to say the very least - to be saying such things when your business relies on entertaining so many walkers from overseas. 

I've had to check out though because I've had a phone call.  My Dad has suddenly been taken ill and I am in that taxi to get to his hospital bedside late at night.  For a few days it all looks touch and go but mercifully he seems on the road to recovery now four weeks later; out of hospital and just beginning to get out and about.  This is why I've not blogged a lot or updated my Cotswold Way progress.  It's also why I have yet to complete the walk.  In the last month we've had some glorious weather and sometime soon I will complete the leg from Pennsylvania to Bath.  But in the meantime some things are a lot more important.