Saturday, 25 October 2014


The magic chair is all but ready to sit on! This has been a major endeavour, and I will tell you why. Not particularly because of the instructions, but because we ran out of screws when two were needed to secure the back.Had we lost them? Apparently not as we made a careful search under the sofa, beneath the drawers. So the only alternative was to purchase two new screws. These were unavailable at the local hardware store, but I was advised where they may be found. So after visiting our kitchen tile shop on the industrial estate we had to drive home because I had left behind an example of the missing screws.Then we drove to the advised supplier. Shaking heads again , but they may be available back at the industrial estate, we were told.

So back we went and for the loss of 30p we obtained the missing screws. So back to the dreaded chair and as assembly proceeded and Janet followed the instructions (I am instruction blind) it was realised that we were not two screws short because they had already been inserted into the chair arm but  where different screws should be. We only came to that place at a later stage of construction! But why say so on the last  page ? Why not include those two screws with all the others? Mysteries surround us.

I should have dreamed or 'nightmared' about it, but instead I woke up full of laughter. We were in the church lounge, tightly packed round coffee tables when a little dog ran amok causing screams, various upturned tables and three very plump ladies on the floor. A gentleman from the church tried to lift one up and was led away by his wife with a suspected hernia. Of course I would not want this to happen but in dreamland it was great fun.And laughter is therapeutic and I am sure it did me good. If only we could invent a laughter pill- imagine a hospital ward full of people laughing aloud..

It is good to wake up like that and I wish I could do it every day. Also last night I woke in the middle with a familiar sense of anxiety. Sigmund Freud identified both fear and anxiety. Fear gathers around possible events that might or might not occur, perhaps an operation's success or a long car journey in bad conditions. Anxiety is much vaguer, probably does not have one thing in view but a blurred feeling of unease. They are both our problems, nasty and unpleasant. For this reason I have included a section in my little book of gathered insights about it.

Today we gather as a family- 17 of us, being 10 adults and 7 children, and of course Rosie and Ellie the two dogs. Sadly no Tuppy, Janet's cat, that passed away this week. I am sure there will be some thoughts on this tomorrow.

Friday, 24 October 2014


The longer I live the more I come across an intriguing situation. It is about two groups of people in the life of the church. One group is thoroughly religious, but show little signs of living a lively, radiant Christian life. The other group are brightly Christian but do not seem 'big' in religious duties and priorities. Those churches dominated by the former group are often staid and going nowhere(even though they are loving communities of friends). The latter fill churches with new life and vigour.

Today's newspaper reported the sad death of a famous  rock and pop musician, whose career spanned more than 50 years.He has been married three times with several children, one of these marriages fell apart when his wife could not come to terms with his conversion to Christianity. This life change happened in a railway carriage, under the influence of a group of Christians. Apparently the cleaner at Waterloo found the party on their knees. The singer announced when he got home "I've found God". I think we could improve on this theologically by saying God found him.

That was 30 years ago, and since then the singer has lived a contented life in a Sussex village, practising his faith and using his music to raise money for the village hall and primary school.Despite his lack of recent music activity, and his very recent diagnosis, he was due to produce a new album next month.

There are interesting points in this  sad situation. First the way people can step out into an entirely new Christian life. In the history of the Christian faith this sort of experience has been at the heart of its message. At the same time it must be said that many people step gently into faith, perhaps over years. There were the two stories in the Gospel. The man who made a sudden discovery, treasure in a field. Then the one who searched and searched for the precious pearl, but we guess it took quite a time.It does take me back to my opening points:Vital, living Christian faith- not just going to church- is something surely everyone should seek to enjoy.The experience of the departed pop star is evidence of that.

Then, of course, we might well add, he died in hope, he did not die in the darkness of despair. And what a prize is that?

Thursday, 23 October 2014


Two stories fill my space this morning- one true, the other fiction.

First the fiction.A new sci-fi novel has been published recently about a drug addict and drunk turned vicar who becomes a missionary to a recently discovered planet. The inhabitants of this planet are agricultural labourers in a simple township. Thanks to a vanished predecessor the people have some spiritual experiences, and the new arrival starts building a church and introducing people to the Bible.

The trouble is that life back on earth- now ravaged by economic, social and meteorological breakdown- the vicar begins to forget his former life, including family and friends.Apparently the book comes to its best part when the faith of dependents back on earth and the hero in this new planet are sorely tested. In the Review  The novel comes to its conclusion in setting out the 'rock bottom' reason why Christianity remains a necessity.I like the ideas because it sets faith into new scenarios.

Interesting perspectives, but I do not think I will pay £16 for its 549 pages.

The other story is true, and an inspiring one. A Dutch lady doctor, with children of her own, a miscarriage behind her and a current pregnancy to attend to, felt an enormous compassion for women who wanted and needed an abortion but could not have one for religious, cultural or economic reasons. So she purchased a ship which she sailed around the world offering advice, support and actual abortions. With her all female crew she has met much opposition, perhaps best illustrated by an encounter in Spain when vigilantes attempted to tow her boat out of port. The doctor soon cut the ropes a
allowing them to escape.

The doctor's position is very clear: unwanted babies only increase the world's unhappiness. It all started when she worked in a field hospital to which came women bleeding and near death from 'back street' abortions. The World Health Organisation reports 22 million women a year having "unsafe" abortions, 47,000 dying as a result.But in the 1990's two modern developments came to help. One the arrival of new drugs to assist safe termination, the other the internet. The ship no longer carries out terminations but is still in use as publicity. The internet advice service receives 8,000 calls each month from desperately sad women all over the world. This number includes many from Northern Ireland where abortion is still illegal(Did you know that? I didn't). Apparently 1,000 women each year cross the sea to undergo terminations.

A wonderful idealistic story. I can feel this for myself because in 1971 my wife then needed(because of the lurking presence of cancer) a termination. But the health authority did not allow such and we had to travel out of town and pay £119.50(!) for it to be carried out. (That surgeon later introduced the world to the first 'Test tube baby' and his work has led to the IVF treatments that are available today.)

The Dutch doctor says: " If men could get pregnant there wouldn't be abortion laws" can be absolutely horrid. If women ruled the world there would be less war and horror .A strand of evidence in support: there are ten times as many men in prison for murder as women. Perhaps God endowed more of His gentleness on women than on men?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014


Kinds of minds. How I wish I had the kind of mind that could easily put things together, or be skilled in the wider enterprise of DIY. But I cannot, however hard I try. This is an immediate problem in that we have purchased a new chair from the large store which for some people is the nearest thing to heaven on earth. How does it go together? Which bit goes where? Tonight we hope to conquer it.

Last week the coat hooks in the hall fell down under the weight placed upon them. I carefully re-plugged the holes and screwed it back up. Impressive? Until that is I decided to put the coats back I realised that I had put the entire thing back on the wall upside down. So there you are. Give me a bit of philosophy or theology to summarise and it may be in order. But not wood, nails, screws. Nor is this a later life development. When I was at school attempting GCE (as it was then) woodwork and in particular dovetail joints, I was made to saw them off because they were a disgrace to the school.

I refuse to despair. 

On a more serious issue I awoke in the night feeling rather melancholy. Thoughts of death (my own) filled my thoughts. I had no remembered dream or nightmare (The only mares I had been thinking of were those that ran races with a jockey on their backs).I wondered if sometimes we dream subconsciously, and the sense of that dream is all that comes up into our minds. But do not worry for me. I quickly evoked my favourite mantra.....Recognise, Avoid or Distract. In this case it was the distraction that came to mind and I was quickly back to sleep again. It reminds me of St Paul giving a list of lovely things and telling people 'think on these things'. Our minds are our own, and we need to organise who we allow to go there.

As I have expressed before I wish I had not been born with so many question marks in my head.The wonderful story of the paralysed man helped to walk by the Polish surgical team, made me think of the New Testament stories when Jesus was healing everywhere and everyone.Question: what was at work here? Was it the power of another world making its spectacular appearance.? Perhaps that was it, unless the healer had truly unique healing powers within himself,not seen since. I favour the former explanation because that spectacular power broke through with even more startling power, so why be surprised.

But I really am not sorry for the question marks. They can lead even deeper into the truth.

I will end today on a lighter note. One of my daughters enquired re my coming birthday. What could she buy me? I got the answer in an unexpected way, because last night out in town my trousers fell down!. My outer waterproof ones I mean. No, not a belt, or braces, but some new waterproofs. Funny how the answer to some questions arrive unexpectedly!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


We are individuals and therefore all very different. Things that I cannot handle are comfortable for other people .Janet and myself agree on most television programmes, but the widely popular dance programme at weekend I cannot stand! I am not sure why, but there it is. Recognise, avoid, distract, my old mantra where the  last one isn't needed.But one observation I have on the television is the way there is so much 'in our faces'. Images are streaming at us all day long, surely having an effect on mindsets.I have not read any studies on this, but the endless images pouring into our heads must in some way detract from our truly individual selves.I watch things and find myself saying 'What has that(or they) to do with me?' The usual answer is an emphatic one- nothing at all.

We were all very sad to hear of the death of one of the country's leading and favourite actresses. Like others she had stopped the treatment which  she was undertaking. You may recall that a famous Lord lost his wife to the same horrible disease, describing the process she underwent as torture before execution. You may also recall the Bill the noble lord framed and promoted through Parliament. The good news this week is that the government have cleared the Bill to become law which, in essence, safeguards doctors from legal action when wishing to use the most up to date medicines. Sounds like good news to me.

We have been to a funeral service this morning, when the church bid farewell to one of its popular members, a lady only in her sixties. Sadly she shared the same fate as the actress referred to above.I hope we keep asking 'why?' with regard to this and other diseases, but also the even more important question 'Why not?'. I sometimes sense we are losing our ability(if we ever had it) to ask fundamental questions about many different things. Let me conclude with an example, a test I have failed to apply over the years. We hear of local wars in many different places, for example the terrible war 20 years ago in central Africa. Millions died in the hateful horror of that conflict.But who supplied these impoverished nations with the sophisticated  arms that were use to mutilate, maim and kill them?

For sure they were not made in a jungle clearing, or a back street workshop.We supplied many of them. Our companies. Our fellow countrymen.I'm thinking of the degree of hypocrisy it is to tut tut about a conflict but conveniently ignore our complicity in the situation.

It is only through questions that cures, treatments, settlements are possible.

Monday, 20 October 2014


Many of you will have heard part of the strange story I have in mind today. As you read it, do what I have done: stand back in amazement that this could happen.And then wonder why.

It was 1914 and the carnage of war was underway, lives being extinguished like flickering candles. It all started at Christmas and the sound of German carols floating across the trenches.Soon a German officer and two soldiers appeared waving a white flag, causing the British officer to appear, meet his enemies and agree to share Christmas Day with their enemies. Lager, bully beef and biscuits were exchanged and eaten and for entertainment a boxing match was arranged between a 6 foot 5 inch English soldier and a German of the same height and stature.This had, eventually to be stopped as both men were badly bruised but neither would give up.

Added to this came a football tournament with at least 15 matches being played. For want of a football, various items were used, but in one notable match England triumphed 4-1! For dinner a huge bully beef stew was shared and everyone sat round a huge fire.Then a proper football was sent for and another match played.

On Boxing Day the war resumed and soon gun fire was sounding across the trenches. 

I cannot hear a story like this and leave it- however amazing- without pondering with you what it means. A horrific war, the desire to kill sons, brothers, husbands fathers, for a doubtful political cause. Then to stop- celebrate Christmas- and soon resume the hatred again. But was it really hatred in the minds of all those soldiers who sang carols, played football and shared Christmas together? I do not think it could have been, simply because blind hatred does not simply melt away like that, and then return with vengeance. Perhaps it is blind duty? Perhaps it was the power of Christmas, Christian love breaking through for a  short time.

And if it was not hatred (and certainly not as we have seen it underneath the black flags on the news) then did that terrible war exist fuelled by simple obedience and duty? If that be the case it makes the evil less dramatic but not one jot less insidious and all pervading in its tragic and destructive force.

It made me think of the words 'The truth can be stranger than fiction'. I think that must be true here because which novelist would dare to introduce a story line with impossibility written all over it?

Yesterday we enjoyed the second celebration in 8 days, this time a ruby wedding. We enjoyed good company and found ourselves on quite a sporting table, golf, soccer, even horse racing being freely discussed.It could have been different but it worked out very nicely for us.And I think John and Margaret had a happy day, towards the end of what seems to have been an extended celebration.

Sunday, 19 October 2014


Today we are off to a Ruby Wedding celebration in Garstang.This will be a lunchtime meal time at the local Country Club, formerly the golf club. No dancing today, much to our disappointment! Before that we will attend church where the two grandchildren of family friends will be Christened, precisely as I did to the children's father more than 30 years ago. Things come round don't they?

The couple who celebrate their anniversary today were part of our life in Garstang between 1990 and 1998, and it has been good to continue our friendship since. They were good days, demonstrated by the length of our stay there, eight years rather than the usual five (when I was usually ready to move on to pastures new). The churches there are so different in nature and size to the ones that followed- Heswall in active work, here in retirement. It is undoubtedly true that the phrase 'horses for courses', in finding a church that feels like home, is important to us. I think we have been very fortunate.

And just as churches suit particular types of mind and heart, so individual faith itself is not 'off the peg' (excuse the changed metaphor) but bespoke, made to measure. On many occasions I have said to people 'do not worry if a particular style of worship, or a particular orientation of thoughts and faith, do not suit you. We are individuals and we need to demonstrate that freedom with joy, continuing to seek that church or that interpretation of faith.

Believe me, there are many expressions of faith and explanation of it, that do not meet my needs. Fortunately my current minister and I live on the same wavelength, which is a great relief. But I hear and see things from churches and people where I do not find a welcome place. I have been listening to the radio service as I type this. It was not the one advertised, and left me untouched, even quite distant from it. But someone else will have warmed to it.We are just different.( The preacher mentioned admiring  a bird of prey hovering over the road as he drove along; I could only think of the poor creature it was about to eat!).

It is getting windy here,although the sky is bright blue. We have been told that quite soon the remnants of the hurricane will be arriving on our shores so we can expect even more wind tomorrow.It should remind me that the weather we experience here is so mild compared with that faced by millions across the world.It is no bad thing to be mindful of this when we are tempted to grumble about the wind, the rain, the storm.