7.5 rpm

thoughts

From my lack of activity some may assume I’ve already bailed.

I’ve not.

Some time on the evening of 8th Jan, approximately when I needed to write my second post, our broadband connection at work was maliciously disconnected, and took approximately 10 days to get re-established. Suddenly, a whole raft of my New Year’s Revolutions became seemingly insurmountable. How, for example, was I going to use Evernote to capture ideas and plan tasks when any changes I made wouldn’t sync to my iPad? How could I possibly watch a TED talk in my lunch hour? And how was I going to run an online timebank or communicate with anyone?

Sure, that last paragraph was a little melodramatic, and of course you can still get on with plenty of other things without being plugged into the web, but it was interesting to eavesdrop on my own inner monologue – lack of internet became a lazy excuse, and although it was only the broadband at work that went AWOL, it became illogically the reason why I couldn’t blog that week. Or the next.

I should’ve re-read this excellent article which repeats the instruction that to get back into blogging, the only important thing is to just write.

So, here I am reticently cobbling together a bunch of things that I’ve been doing – reticently, because if much rather have an overall theme for this post and sadly all posts that fall into that category are still drafts or ideas (in Evernote).

A quick rundown of my New Year’s Revolutions checklist and it appears I’m actually doing rather well:
– despite not being able to sync at work I’ve still being using Evernote to capture all my ideas and tasks, and have started to be more efficient.
– I have lost on average 0.52 kg (2s.f.) per week, using the 5:2 diet
– I’ve done 2 Pilates sessions
– I’ve been on a date with Michelle. We watched ‘Into The Woods’: I loved it and she got bored after the happy ‘ending’ continued with a further 30minute twist of more singing.
– I’ve read my first book this year: ‘Foxglove Summer’ by Ben Aaronvitch. I might write about the series in a separate post, but if you want a series of novels that are suspenseful, funny, seek to create a scientific rationale for the practise of magic (a fictional one, obviously) and teach you a ton about how the police service works, check them out.
– I have been cycling as much as possible, but there has been an awful lot of frost in the mornings or warnings of minus degrees Celsius so I’ve been walking in instead some days. Safety first and all that (see the NYRs about being a good husband and long-term dad)

Some of them have shown some progress, but need a bit more attention in February:
– I’ve watched one TED video, so have a few to catch up on, but it has been awfully difficult to do this at work this month as previously explained!
– I fixed a broken front door lock within 2 days (that might sound an awful long time to fix a lock if my wife and kids were stuck inside all that time, but considering it was just that the lock kept bending/breaking our keys and we have a porch door in addition, I think that’s fairly quick). However, I still have bathroom lights to replace (Although, technically, I inherited that problem from 2014 rather than it being a new issue)
– I’ve blogged twice in January, rather than 4 times, although I did write a brass band arrangement of ‘All Creatures of our God and King’ (you’re welcome to listen to the WAV file created by the app I used, Notion, but there are 5 verses and it obviously sounds like it’s played by a computer) and created an Animoto video for our daughter Zoë’s dedication service, so it’s not like I was sitting around doing nothing instead.

And I’ve really not done much (or haven’t checked the progress) for the other two. 6 on track, 3 so-so and 2 meh. So about 7.5 rpm (revolutions per month). I’m happy with that.

I’ll end with a quote from ‘Into The Woods’ (James Corden, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine and the boy who plays Jack are all superb – check out this PDF of the screenplay if you’ve seen it and want a copy!):

CAREFUL THE WISH YOU MAKE, WISHES ARE CHILDREN.
CAREFUL THE PATH THEY TAKE– WISHES COME TRUE, NOT FREE.
CAREFUL THE SPELL YOU CAST, NOT JUST ON CHILDREN.
SOMETIMES THE SPELL MAY LAST, PAST WHAT YOU CAN SEE, AND TURN AGAINST YOU…
CAREFUL THE TALE YOU TELL. THAT IS THE SPELL. CHILDREN WILL LISTEN…

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10 New Year’s Revolutions

#1

“A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.” – Fidel Castro

I have a confession to make about New Year’s Resolutions. (Heads up – it’s not that I can’t stick to them. Bearing in mind that everyone already knows that the billions of people who set themselves New Year’s Resolutions (henceforth abbreviated to NYRs) have difficulty sticking to them, that would be a pretty lame confession).

No, it’s far more embarrassing than that. My confession is that I find it near on impossible to actually have decided what my resolutions will be by the strike of midnight that ushers in each new year. Usually, I’m still debating a few days later, and I figure that I might as well not bother if I’m gonna have to paddle  furiously in a dinghy to catch the colloquial boat with all the ‘organised’ people on it. (I’m not sure I’d want to be on a boat full of organised people, actually.)

It’s not that I’ve not given it any thought over Christmas: if anything, I’ve given it too much thought. As an ENFP I think NYRs are a brilliant annual rhythm to have (as I can encapsulate the people and ideas I consider most important in them), but I generate so many different ideas it’s really tough to whittle them down to just a memorable and realistic handful.

And then there’s the grouping! The big picture part of me that sees patterns and mnemonics everywhere won’t let me just give a list of bullet points: they’ve got to be organised in some clever way! Do I have three each under the subheadings body, mind, community? (Hmmm….one of my community ones isn’t very strong compared to the others…and I can’t have unequal sized groups…) Do I link them to the roles/responsibilities I have in my life? (Husband, dad, work…hang on which role does reading come under?) Can I fix it so that each target contains a specific number, from 1-10, then I can list them in numerical order?

You can see how choosing NYRs is a complicated business if you’re me.

(By the way, if you don’t know what an ENFP is, it’s one of the Myers-Briggs 16 personalities and I’ll inevitably be writing more about personality in future posts, as it’s one of my biggest passions.)

Anyway, this year I have decided on my 10 (or is it 9? Which sounds better?), and because I just need to get on with it (as my wife often reminds me about various things), here they are. I’ve tried to make them SMART, so I know whether I’ve achieved them by the end of 2015 and can track my progress:

  1. Get Things Done: Use the Evernote app to capture all my ideas and tasks, prioritise them according to importance and urgency, and track and evaluate my progress, in order to be more productive and efficient.
  2. Be a Dad for a Long Time: I have severe familial hypercholesterolaemia, which basically means by body has too much of the bad type of cholesterol in my blood, and that I’ve been on a high does of statins since I was 30. I’m also called to be a dad, and I want to be around as long as possible to nurture my amazing kids. So I aim to:
    • Lose 0.5kg per week, by using a combination of the 5:2 diet and eating Low GI.
    • Continue to improve my overall fitness by cycling to work at least 180 days in 2015.
    • Improve my core strength, by doing Pilates and/or the Plank so that I can sit up from a lying position
  3. Quality time with my wife: being a dad is great, and Michelle and I love spending time with our kids. But those of you who’ve been in committed relationship longer than us know that you need time to yourselves too. So I’m going to book in at least one date night per month with Michelle.
  4. Weekly Wow: Watch 1 TED (or similar) video per week. I”ve watched TED talks about stuff I’m already fascinated by and stuff I know nothing about, talks which made me laugh and ones which made me gasp, ones from which I took one simple idea and others I was enthralled by so much I looked up the speaker on Amazon and bought their book. So, I want to watch one a week to keep inspired.
  5. Read Regularly:1 book a month. I’m talking Fiction mainly here: as part of a Theology course I did a few years’ back one of the essays I had to write was on the idea that reading fiction develops your ‘moral imagination’ – i.e. by reading fiction, you put yourself in situations you’ll never experience, and come across characters you’ll never meet in real life, and by identifying with those situations and characters, you develop your ability to empathise with people who are grossly different to you.
  6.  Happy Home: I love DIY, and my wife loves a house that is clean, tidy and works. I want to up my game so that I fix any house issues within 10 days of them being identified.
  7. Find Followers: Increase my personal Twitter following by 3% each week. Simple one really. I love all things digital, but my focus has been on developing my work Twitter account. I want to put into practice what I’ve learnt to reach 1000 followers by the end of the year.
  8. Share Skills: Complete 10 skills exchanges through Sutton Shares over the year. Sutton Shares is the timebank that I coordinate, so I want to lead by example.
  9. Write Weekly: 1 blog post a week. Evaluate on 1st May to narrow blog’s focus. This is why I’m annoucing my NYRs on a blog. I love writing – poetry, songs, descriptions, emails, study guides – and have been told I’m good at it, but with all skills, the more your practise, the better you get. I also want to discover the things I write about which others like reading about, hence the May evaluation.

So that’s them. 10 9 New Year’s Revolutions (or 11, if you count the bullet points on #2…so I guess that’s 10 on average). I realise that I used double alliteration on #4-9 and not on the first three (I worked backwards and then got stuck on #3) but it’s more important they’re out there and that people can cheer me on and keep me accountable on them.

Thanks for reading.

CUSTARD (C.U./St. Andrews/Random Drama)

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So this last week I’ve been in St Andrews again, this time with Russ who was the speaker on week 1 of Forgiveness Fortnight, the Christian Union’s Mission season, and I want to share a selected hotchpotch of happenings with you.

I stayed at the house of a group of students, which, instead of being a dirty, cold, sleepless 7 days was actually a very pleasant experience. Two of the students were called Pollyanna and Arabella – it was like being in Middle Earth. In fact, one night there was a birthday party where guests had to dress as a celebrity, and I found that 1 unshaven face + long hair (see below) + 1 dressing gown + 1 cardboard sword = 1 reasonable-looking Aragorn.

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I was asked to give my testimony about why I was a Christian at a lunch bar – people pay a pound to get a good lunch – and found that 100+ people plus a couple of disbelieving/angry faces didn’t put me off. (I guess all that experience doing the same in front of teenagers in Manchester schools paid off). My other contributions to the mission week were singing the songs ‘Yellow’ (Coldplay), ‘Grace’ (U2) and ‘You Know’ (Athlete) after various talks by Russ, which seemed to go down well.

On Saturday, I was in the library most of the day working on an essay, but popped in and out a few times for food, coffee etc. It was an unusual week in that there were people scanning student ID cards as people went in and out. As I approached the girl on the Exit computer and handed her my card, I saw the word SMILE written in bold pink font across her hoodie, so I did so as she returned my card. Glancing back at her top I noticed other words, and it was only as I walked through the door that my brain registered the possibility that the phrase emblazoned across the girl’s chest had been Smile If You Love Vaginas.

Dismissing this possibility as a product of my living in a sex-obsessed world, I determined to check the phrase next time I walked past, if she was still there. She was. Slowing my stride and with a look of seriousness across my face, I approached with my card in hand, eyes ready to glance at the words of her hoodie. She looked up and beamed at me, and before I could override my brain’s natural empathy I found myself grinning back at her. Inside I was kicking myself that she had got me with such a cheap trick, but I consoled myself with the fact that I would be returning again and would have the chance to express clearly and decisively my true thoughts on the matter. Perhaps I would ask her about it and express my distaste for what she was wearing (in a library of all places!)

I sometimes wonder whether my brain is actually working for someone else who is out to bring me down. As I waited in a queue to leave the final time, I found my brain deceiving me in yet another way. Now it was trying to convince me that since vaginas were made by God, they must be a good thing; in fact, without them there would be no human life whatsoever. So by the time I got to the girl in the hoodie again, I hadn’t had enough time to make up my mind, and gave her a kind of non-committal half-smile. So much for my mature engagement in the matter.

Perhaps it was a good response though. After telling the story to a group of students, one said the jumper was a response to female circumcision (= ‘should have smiled’), the other an advert for ‘the vagina monologues’ (= ‘should have frowned’). I still don’t know either way. All I have learned from this is that I wish people didn’t wear clothing with such words written on them.

Finally, I was stopped on the street by a man outside Tesco in St Andrews. My internal monologue is in square brackets:

Man: Excuse me

Me: [can’t he see I’m wearing headphones?] Hi.

Man: I’m a monk.

Me: [So?] Great.

Man: Have you ever met a monk?

Me: [What kind of monk? Oh, he’s holding some Eastern-looking books in his hand – those kind of monks] …No.

Man: Well, we’re fundraising. Could you give us some money?

Me: [Is this punk seriously not going to bother telling me what he’s fundraising for?] …Sorry, no.

Man: Not even 1p?

Me: No.

Man: £10?

Me: [This guy does not understand economics.] NO.

Man: (obviously annoyed) Well, could you say ‘gouranga’ for me?

Me: I’d rather just keep walking.

Man: Well, you need it mate, it means ‘Be Happy’

Me: Right.

He annoyed me a lot. Because he had no idea how to approach someone nicely. Because he was arrogant enough to ask for money without explaining how it would be used. Because he was judging me for not giving him any money. Because he was as miserable as he was judging me to be. And because he was just like so many Christians are when talking about the gospel, and the most frustrating thing in the world is that Jesus seems to expect me to forgive all these wonderful people.

…Which reminds me of a lapel badge I picked up in an Indie music store a while ago, which says “Jesus loves you”, but in smaller letters continues, “…it’s everybody else who thinks you’re an ar$3hole.” Crude, yes, but somewhat profound I think too.

The Pass of Caradhras

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I’m off snowboarding for a week. Other than having a great time on the slopes ‘boarding and hanging out with some great friends/family, I’m hoping to get a bit of reading done, take some good photos and be inspired to write some more.

This could be me…

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…only I’ll be in all black. (The sight of me walking round the accomodation in my tight black thermal undergarments last time I prompted my companions to refer to me as ‘the Man from Milk Tray’)

The Fellowship making the journey is made up of 9 companions:

Wizards – Me

Elves (tall and thin)- Ed

Humans – Miri, Gem

Dwarves – Katiuska

Hobbits (hairy feet) – Mark, Rich, Tony, Marina

We will also apparently be being trailed by a sinister character with only a few teeth going under two names (Ewan/Doodie), and will be meeting up with another wizard who is flying there called Neville.

Getting into the spirit of things

Art, G.A. Studdert Kennedy, Photography, poetry, Politics, st andrews, The Unutterable Beauty, Theology

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I was at my second Residential Study Week at the University of St Andrews for my PGDip/MLitt. in ‘Bible and the Contemporary World‘ this week. This module is entitled ‘Theology, Art and Politics’, which is essentially studying how these three fields are interconnected – how theology affects which paintings are painted, the interplay between faith and the state, how political ideas are expressed in art, etc. I’m quite excited about what I’m going to learn. Although I’ve never really been that interested in politics, I think I have an aesthetic eye and a discerning ear and the ability to apply theology to various contexts.

Quite coincidentally, I found that during the week I managed to immerse myself in the topic extremely well – in two ways.

First, I finally put the generous voucher I received when leaving OCC to good use in purchasing an Olympus E410 digital camera. (I also managed to wangle a free £30 memory card too). As you can see from my Facebook photo album here I found the worlds of art, theology and politics mix very nicely. (I aim to open a Flickr account or similar soon.)

Second, I happened to notice a bunch of books that the university library was selling off cheap and picked up a treasure trove of 2 books on the relation of church and state (which will be excellent for my first essay), both for £1, and my new favourite book of poetry, The Rhymes of G.A. Studdert Kennedy.

If you’ve never heard of Kennedy, he was a Rev., a Padre serving in the First World War. Many of his poems have a war context, but all combine the expression of a genuine searching, wrestling, questioning Christian faith with the realities of human life. This is surely where Kennedy’s real genius lay during the war – his poems would have helped his fellow soldiers to reflect on the horrors they were facing whilst allowing them to contemplate Christ’s sympathising with their situation.

If you’ve never read his stuff, an online copy of the book I bought (and have already finished), published under the title The Unutterable Beauty, can be found here.

I recommend these for some of his best work (click on the titles:

Faith / Indifference /A Sermon / The Sorrow of God / Thy Will be Done

The Death of a Loved One

dad, death, funeral, Wes Little

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As many of the readers of this blog will know, my dad (Wes) died earlier this year. 4 weeks ago tomorrow in fact. He was 61, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the bowel and liver, and the 2 years the doctors had estimated that he had left turned into 2 months. So it was a bit of a shock when he went so soon.

I want to share my reflections on my dad, death and the effect of grief, partly as it’s cathartic for me but also because I hope it will give some of you guys an insight into something you’ll go through at some point in life.

For me, the important thing through all this has been to look after my mum (and sisters). It’s a role I naturally took on when dad went so I’ve found it OK but you sometimes feel a little bit lonely being the only man left (although I do have 2 great brothers in law (well, one’s still pending)).

When we first found out that dad had cancer I think I fairly soon came to terms with the fact that my dad was gonna die. Sure, a miracle was possible, but being someone who tends to focus on the future rather than the past (I can’t remember much of my childhood at all), I found myself in places like the shower working out who would carry the coffin at his funeral. So when he died I accepted it fairly quickly – my coming to terms with him going being helped by the fact that he hadn’t really seemed himself anyway since he’d been diagnosed – he’d liven up when friends came round to visit or he was around church, but I guess we as a family saw him acting very quiet and exhausted, watched him getting so thin, and so there was an element of relief (for me anyway) when his passing brought an end to all the pain and tiredness he’d been enduring.

There are lots of stupid little things which keep setting me off crying again. Thinking of doing any DIY from now on without him. Having family meals without him sitting to my left, laughing at my jokes. Singing anything and not hearing his voice singing exactly the same part. The prospect of moving house again without having him gladly drive across the country to help me pack and load up.

Here’s a picture of a newborn me with my dad. Yes, he had mad sideburns.

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This is an important picture for me. You can see the glint in dad’s eye as he’s holding me. Later, when I grew up, he didn’t seem to be that affectionate with me. I think that was a lot to do with his dad having shown a similar restraint in showing emotion. And I know that a lot of people of my generation have experienced the same thing with their dad. So, I had a few things to actively work through in my relationship with him, but in the end I could say with conviction that I loved him and I knew he loved and was proud of me too. My relationship with dad was in no way bad, but the way God sorted things out is one of the reasons I believe in God so strongly. So, a little encouragement to all who have ‘issues’ with their dads (which I guess is most of you reading this): be proactive and do something about it. I’d count it a genuine privilege if you want to talk to me about it.

It’s been interesting to observe the range of my friend’s responses to the news of dad dying. I won’t mention any names here, but here are some of the responses and my reactions:

  • Some said that if I needed them, they’d drive across the country/get a plane to be with me. And I knew that they weren’t just saying that.
  • Some wrote cards to my mum (even though they don’t really know her) and some wrote cards to me with great messages inside (who I didn’t expect cards from)
  • My colleagues at one of the places I’ve worked with extremely briefly sent me a huge bunch of flowers the same day; whereas, bar 3 of my colleagues/friends, I’ve heard nothing from any of the people at one of the places I worked at for ages.
  • I’ve found out so much about my dad from people I’ve never met. So many of the comments we received in cards/Facebook/emails (there must have been about 250) highlighted similar things.

Seeing a dead body is weird. I saw dad’s twice – first in the hospital the day he died, and second, the day before the funeral at the undertakers’ chapel of rest. I’m a touchy-feely person and it didn’t feel weird to see and touch him the first time because he was still warm. The second time… well, I’d recommend you don’t touch someone who’s been dead for a few days unless you’ve got a good stomach. The icy coldness of their skin is quite a shock and leaves you feeling nauseous for the rest of the day. Sorry – that’s probably a little too much information.

The funeral day was truly excellent – I’ll remember it forever. It’s a little strange that other people probably cry more than you do even though it’s your family member. Carrying a coffin is odd. Having someone faint as the coffin disappears in the cremation lift is funny. Seeing Bromley hall packed so tightly that people are having to stand in the foyer is incredible. Hearing those hundreds of people all singing at their top of their voices is powerful. Hearing so many comments, all positive, about your dad gives you a lot of pride and gives you a great example to follow.

The first time I cried at the celebration service was when my little sister Janine was giving her tribute (I have this hard-wired reflex that makes me cry whenever someone else is getting upset). As I blew my nose with one of dad’s handkerchiefs, having forgotten that I’d turned my tie-clip microphone on for my own tribute, Janine was struggling to say that one of the little things she’d miss about him was his ‘extremely loud nose-blowing into his handkerchiefs’, and so the comic precision of the sound of me blowing my nose amplified through the PA system, and my subsequent look of genuine surprise, provided the perfect moment of relief for the hundreds of people there who were trying desperately to hold back the tears. My dad would have howled with laughter. If there was any moment of the service (even the last year) that I felt God’s presence, it was then.

I sang a song at the funeral, which seemed like the only way I could give dad my tribute. It finally came to me the day before. Here are the words:

The sky is grey, and the rain-clouds loom
I never thought you’d have to leave us quite so soon
I never got to say the half of things that I meant
So I hope that you can hear my heart and see my intent.
Life from now on will be bittersweet,
You’ll jump into my head when I’m just about to eat
And other normal things will make me recollect
But I’d rather hold onto my grief than try to forget:
You’re home, at rest
And God knows best
Cos you’re home, you’re home, you’re home
You were the glue that made us stick
The insides of the watch that makes the pieces all tick
So constant, never-changing from my moment of birth
So I’ll try and be a rock for your three angels on earth
I know you’re fine, cos you’re face to face
With the one who pours upon me his generous grace
Your pain is gone, you’re heartache free
But would you have a word, and send some healing for me?
You’re home, at peace
Where strivings cease
And you’re home, you’re home
You’re home, at rest
And God knows best
Cos you’re home, you’re home, you’re home.

MashUp Heaven

50 Cent, Abba, Mashup, Music, Outkast, Queen, Snow Patrol, The Police, YouTube

For those of you unfamiliar with the term mashup, it’s basically (in the musical sense at least) a composite of two songs – usually the music from one with the vocals of another – the best of which usually result from mixing very different musical genres. Here are a few of the better ones I’ve found. Enjoy!

Snow Patrol V The Police

Queen V Outkast

Abba V 50 Cent