Monday, February 08, 2016

Brain Malfunctions

Memes. Brain-wiring. All very fascinating. Slightly tragic too as I watch my Mum's dementia-affected brain become unwired but, as avid readers of #mumwatch will testify, not without its amusing interludes.

It can, of course be annoying. Only slightly so when, for instance, you turn to put away a piece of kitchen equipment in the place where it lived in a former house. You chuckle, say 'durr' and get on with life.

Talking of former houses, I lived in Leamington Spa for fourteen years. File this away, it will be helpful. It was ten years ago mind. I should be used to my new home.

Last Friday I visited an old friend in London. It was a lovely time. One of those occasions when you carry on as if nothing has happened even though you have not seen each other for ten years or so. I was glad to have done it and, travelling back, looked forward to an evening at home on the sofa. (I got this. There is no unhappy ending here. Relax.)

My friends live on the Bakerloo Line. Sitting in the carriage I looked up at the routeboard and counted the number of stops to my destination. Nine. I got my book out. After eight I put my book down, got my stuff together, did up my coat and alighted.

I followed the network rail signs and found myself at the mainline station but, looking up at the departure board, could not see the 4.30 to the West Country. Weird. Come to think of it I didn't recognise the station as the one I had been at that morning.

Because it wasn't.

So what had gone wrong? Let's go back to, 'Sitting in the carriage I looked up at the routeboard and counted the number of stops to my destination. Nine.'

My eyes had failed to get beyond the ninth stop because it was Marylebone. Marylebone, the station I used for fourteen years to get home from London when I lived in, you guessed it, Leamington Spa. Trains to Nailsea depart from Paddington. Which was eleven not nine.

Now you may find it helpful to know that if you allow a little extra time for a journey because of STUFF THAT HAPPENS, then it will still be 22 minutes before your train departs from two further stops up the Bakerloo line and this is plenty of time to buy another ticket, catch the tube and get off at the right stop. I caught the 4.30 from Paddington with time to spare. I could probably have walked between the stations in that time too.

But it is amazing how easily we can misdirect ourselves. Head-space. It's all smoke and mirrors in there.

Thought for the Day

A few years ago I was a guest at a Hindu wedding. I had many experiences that day which were utterly new. I loved it.

One thing will live long with me. A moment during the reception. Not the finest vegetarian curry I have eaten. Not the colourful table settings. No. It was that the three oldest women in the room were mentioned by name and stood to receive acknowledgement. It was lovely. The families had gathered from all over the world. It was clear that it might be the last chance to meet some, or all, of these women. The applause was simply for longevity. I liked the sense of respect that suggested. As we've heard. Some of our great grandmothers were war heroes.

Having faced the decision of arranging my own mother's residential care recently I am very aware of the hardship of finding the right place. I also have the greatest respect for those who keep elderly, or sick children, loved ones close by, in the family, until it is no longer safe.

So respite help is fabulous. A chance to take a break from being a full-time carer. Yet we hear that the provision of such care varies around the region. It's a problem. We want decisions taken as locally as possible but we don't want a postcode lottery on health matters. We can have clone towns or specialisation. But probably not both. Which do we want?

The great prophet and king, Solomon, was praised for asking God for a double portion of wisdom. We too pray for wisdom.

Also in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament, it says that 'Grey hair is a crown of splendour; a sign of a righteous life.' Mine's taking a while to change.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

Do you want to leave your mark in a well-known record book? Or simply to make a difference?

Do you look at base-jumpers, extreme ironers (yes, they exist) and high-wire walkers as role-models? Or bonkers?

Have you done something heroic once in your life and now retired to anonymity?

Would you jump into a freezing canal to save a life? And would you want credit for that somehow?

Maybe your sort of record would be more sedentary? Most TV box-sets watched back-to-back? Perhaps pie-eating? Or even silence? Would people pay good money for you to shut up? Not you, Emma.

I don't wish to rubbish the idea of records. But it's amazing how many there are these days. Boxer Lee Haskins is going to attempt the record for the world's highest hair cut. Would you want to do that? Well I'm not arguing.

Citius, altius, fortius - faster, higher, stronger - has its attraction for many. To be able to say, 'I was once the best at something.' Well it might be nice.

There was a woman in my previous parish, who would certainly not want her name mentioned on the radio, whose life's work was to foster life-limited babies. She also had one adopted son; a lovely lad with Down's syndrome. I'd give her a medal tomorrow.

The sad news that explorer Henry Worsley had died attempting an unaccompanied crossing of Antartica reminded us all this week that record attempts are not all a bit of fun.

The Bible insists that every member of God's creation is unique and special, record-breakers, heroes or not. Maybe all I can do is go home and carry on trying to be the best me there is. It's a thought.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Speech to the Nailsea Mountain Rescue Association Annual Dinner 22/1/16

Mr Secretary, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to address the third annual dinner of the Nailsea Mountain Rescue Team.

Only the other day I was chatting to a parishioner about the onerous responsibilities my chaplaincy required. I was greeted with the response, 'I've never heard of anyone in trouble on mountains in Nailsea.'

He seemed largely unconvinced by my reply, 'Yes, the team is very good.'

The Nailsea Mountain Rescue team - keeping Nailsea Mountain incidents out of the press for the last three years.

I wanted to report to you effectively and so I asked our wonderful secretary for some statistics which I now summarise:

In 2015 four training sessions were held.

March - The Black Horse at Clapton. Only 4 attendees - not quorate for a training walk, so due to Health & Safety regulations (and because it looked like rain), Trevor gave us a lift home.

Learning Point = wisdom

May - The George in Backwell. Well attended with 9 present including a member's son and 2 dogs. Uneventful return walk to Nailsea.

Learning point = growth

September - Failand Inn. Best walk of the year with a full moon so valley & Nailsea looked beautiful in the moonlight as we walked through the Tyntesfield estate.

Learning point = appreciation

November - The Rising Sun in Backwell. Not as muddy as in previous years, so Phil could have come along without fear of getting his white trainers dirty.

Learning point = connections

Once again the Backwell Lifeboat Association have failed to appear at any training event and the Coxswain and Mrs Coxswain are absent from the meal - something to do with looking for a new lifeboat whilst on holiday.

You will ponder that many of the training evenings involved public houses.

It is noted by the national body that some 10% of call-outs by UK rescue teams involve victims who have consumed alcohol.

I fear they have not followed through with their thinking however. Because this clearly means that 90% of the call-outs involved victims who have not consumed alcohol. Consumption of alcohol may reduce your need to be rescued by a factor of ten to one and our training sessions imply this.

In terms of rescues carried out, exactly the same number of people were rescued in 2015 as 2014. This is a level of consistency of which other teams can only dream. For instance, the Lake District Mountain Rescue team report that, 'There has been a significant increase in the number of call-outs involving walkers who have ventured onto the Lakeland fells ill-prepared, ill-equipped, and lacking experience.'

They might like to visit us to observe our work and copy our training and awareness-raising methodology.

That team also reported to the National Body that they lost £20,000 worth of equipment in the recent storms. Due to diligence, maintenance and forward planning our team lost no equipment in 2015.

One significant improvement on 2014 was the reduction in the number of accidental responses. No-one was offered rescue in 2015 who did not require it.

It has therefore been our most successful year yet. Please continue the good work, recruit more people to the training sessions and join me in drinking a toast to our wonderful secretary.

The secretary.


Lord God,

May we, who have come down from the mountain, rejoice that in Jesus Christ you have rescued us and provided for our every need.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Thought for the Day

This is today's BBC Radio Bristol Thought for the Day. If you want to hear how well I did the accents you will need to listen again to Claire Cavanagh from today and about 2 hours 15 minutes in. It will become available around lunchtime today.

I've lived around the Midlands, County Durham and now North Somerset. But at heart I'm a Brummie. I lived in the sort of family where any hints of a regional accent were educated out of me using the parenting tool of pure sarcasm. So you get this slightly adenoidal homeless accent you hear now.

(Brummie) I can put it on if I need to, especially back home you know, oroit, triffic, bostin'.

But moving to the land of ey up me duck where Steve Tilley became Steve Tiller, to the almost Geordie land where our next door neighbour Philip could pronounce the word (Geordie) caterpillar (repeat) without the awkward bother of consonants, I picked up a bit of this and a bit of that.

Only yesterday I lamented that my shoes had all clarts on them and saw that nobody else knew what I meant. It's bits of mud.

My mimicry of Bristolian is not honed yet. I've got the letter O sorted. So as long as I take (accent) - a photo of a potato - all is well. But not the rest.

Does it matter? Well of course our regional accents in this country are a source of pride. We are an unusual nation in that accents and dialect words change every twenty miles or so. When I'm supporting my team, West Brom (sorry City fans), I turn into a yam yam - which, as Nick Day said earlier, is how Black Country sounds to strangers.

But from the perspective of my faith - it doesn't matter. No accent, language, age, gender, sexuality, height or anything else in all creation should separate you from the love of God. So it shouldn't prevent you crossing the threshold of a church either.

(Brummie) See yer next week. Tarrarabit.

The spell-checker hated this one.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning, after successfully negotiating their heightened security procedures. Which did not extend to ensuring I did not steal my security pass. Mwahahahaha!

There was once a man who had two sons. Me actually.

Recently one of our sons moved back into our home on a temporary basis. We discovered that his definition of temporary was (beat) over two years.

With some trepidation we recently agreed to accommodate our other son and his partner, again on a temporary basis, while they recovered from several years of the cash-draining impact of starting their careers in London. Paying £1300 a month for a one bedroom flat last year.

They got new jobs in Bristol and now live back in the cheaper accommodation of Trendlewood Vicarage. We're getting on OK. Thanks for asking.

Hopefully this story of bounce-back kids will end with them having a deposit for their own place.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which I don't imagine many BBC Radio Bristol listeners have had as their pre-breakfast reading today, is quite wordy. Even the plain-language version demanded of me a lot of concentration. Articles 17 and 25 say that all human beings have the right to own property and to have somewhere safe to live. What becomes of a 'right' if to achieve it is beyond most people's finances?

In one of Jesus' parables there was another man who had two sons. And one asked for his share of the inheritance. You may know what happened next but if you don't Luke chapter 15 in the Bible has the story. It's a good one.

It may be that my sons' generation, unless blessed with well paid jobs or family-backing, will be struggling to afford to own property short of inheriting it, or even renting it in big cities.

Is that right? And if it isn't; what should be done?

Monday, January 11, 2016

RIP Thin White Aladdin Starman Hero

I managed to avoid what might have been one of the greatest disappointments of my life. A friend of mine had agreed to purchase Bowie tickets for a gig at Birmingham Town Hall. The friend was not reliable and kept telling me he had left them at home. Eventually my friend Keith and I arranged to meet him outside the Town Hall before the gig. He never showed. It was June 1973. Last month at school.

There was a tout. Although the sums will seem odd to you, we paid 50% and 75% over the marked price; £1 tickets for £1.50 and £1.75. We got in. It was a great, great gig; a performance and a cabaret. No support. It had an interval, during which I left my Upper Gallery seat and sneaked into the standing area at the back of the stalls. At one point Bowie's all-in-one gown was pulled apart, by two roadies, revealing a skimpier garment. He wore it on Top of the Pops once. My father-in-law's harrumph lives with me to his day.

I wasn't an early adopter of Bowie. Starman was my in:

There's a Starman
Waiting in the sky
He'd like to come and meet us
But he thinks he'd blow our minds
There's a Starman
Waiting in the sky
He's told us now to blow it
Cos he knows it's all worthwhile 
He told us
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie.

Bowie leant on guitarist Mick Ronson as they shared a mic in a pose that only asked questions about sexuality but answered none.

The other side of the vinyl single was the excellent Suffragette City, re-introducing wham bam thank you ma'am to the vocabulary of youth culture after a short break.

I met the current Mrs T shortly after that gig. She was one of a group of girls' school sixth formers who played Hunky Dory all the time. Andy Warhol was my favourite track.

Tributes today have used the word 'reinvention' to describe what Bowie did. In fact he seemed to me to write lots of new and innovative music, never restricted by the limits of any one genre, and he developed a character to show off that music on stage and, later, on video, each time.

We saw him again at Bingley Hall, Stafford in 1975 on a short tour. The sound system was so muffled it was two minutes in before we knew he was playing Heroes. The second half of the set was heard from the medical room as a hot day and a mosh pit got the better of my sister.

I guess he fell off my radar a little until the mid-eighties and then the amazing new sound of Let's Dance stuck Bowie back in the serious limelight.

From then on, every time you wrote him off he re-appeared. I heard his new album last Friday and it sounded amazing. The lyrics to one track, Lazarus, a character in John's Gospel resuscitated by Jesus, suggest that even death can sometimes be played with.

The stars of my youth were all only a little older than me. Which means that those who provided the soundtrack which pulled me from teenager to young adult are now departing.

When things like this happen, all too often, I play this song by a man who died too young about a man who died too young.

And looking for clothes to wear this morning I saw my brightest trousers. They are blue, blue, electric blue. Had to wear them. Later, pulling up at traffic lights, I heard a pedestrian whistling Life on Mars. This death is ubiquitous.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning, the last time with Steve le Fevre and Laura Rawlings who are both moving on to other things. Laura is getting her own afternoon show again; Steve is leaving the BBC I think. He and his wife run their own media business and I imagine this could be pretty-much full-time as well. Anyway; the script:

I used to work in a busy office. We had more fun than would probably be acceptable today. One of our favourite games was called 'rumours'. We allowed a spoof call to be overheard or left bogus papers on the photocopier.

To see how long before the rumour became established.

I chatted yesterday to producer Nicki about today's show. She phones contributors the day before. The point, for me, is to find out what stories will be on tomorrow's show. The point for her is to make sure I haven't forgotten.

Since 'tomorrow's news today' is a strap-line from a Bond movie not a realistic approach to breakfast show planning, we often have a slightly surreal conversation. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Most BBC Radio Bristol breakfast shows struggle to fit everything in eventually - but sometimes it looks thin the day before.

Has North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb? Will Corbyn's shadow cabinet be sorted?

Yesterday's rumours. We have answers now. Today we ask, will Ed Shearen and Justin Bieber really play Ashton Gate? Is it true?

Speculation. Rumours.

Jesus is quoted as telling people not to be alarmed when they hear of wars and rumours of wars. People often suggest that the global situation is a portent of the end of the world and the Lord's return. They get publicity for their guesswork but have all been wrong - so far.

We like trying to imagine what the future will hold but it's really only a game until the future arrives. Then the unknown becomes known. Revelation.

On which note I wish you both, Steve and Laura, the very best for the future as it reveals itself. Thanks for welcoming me in.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Football Quiz 2015

Not to be attempted, merely enjoyed:

1.a) When does 'early doors' end?

1b) After how many minutes must you stop saying a goal was scored 'after just (number) minutes'? 

2. How long will Michael Gray normally stay on subject when answering a question on Football League Tonight? Estimate to the nearest oh come on ref that was off.

3. In what month do you think Steve Evans will have his heart attack?

4. At home to Arsenal, West Brom had one shot on target and scored two goals. Assess this conversion rate giving due reverence to 'The Pulis Factor'.

5. Taking into account the length of time it took most pundits to grasp parallax how long, to the nearest never, do you think it will take them to understand the physics of 'the moment the ball is kicked'?

6. Discuss the advisability of sub-titles on football commentary with special reference to Doug Ellis wearing Hezbollah scarf.

7. 'She goes down far too easily'. To what extent must football commentators re-imagine their clichés when describing women's football?

8. 'Weebles wobble but they won't fall down.' Is this 1980s advertising slogan the best assessment of the usefulness of Ade Akinfenwa?

9. 'He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy. 'Discuss, with special reference to:

a) Saido Berahino.
b) Troy Deeney.
c) Andy Carroll.

10. Given climate change projections speculate on the most northerly ground at which Carlisle will be able to play their home games from 2020.

Monday, January 04, 2016

2015 Prizes

It is all too hard not being sent review copies of stuff or having the time and space to keep up with popular culture. It means that when I look back to decide what was the best of last year I usually discover that I spent a lot of the time catching up with previous years.

I enjoyed reading The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth but it was first published in 2013. Sub-titled 'How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase' it was a list, chapter by chapter, of rhetorical devices and how to employ them properly.

Matthew Engel's Engel's England is fun and informative as it describes England county by county; as is David Byrne's How Music Works - did you know orchestras developed so that the music's volume drowned the crowd? Neither was published in 2015 and both remain unfinished.

My favourite non-fiction work of 2015 was Jonathan Sacks' Not in God's Name which I reviewed here. The former Chief Rabbi examines the common heritage of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Dave Eggers' novel The Circle imagined life when an all-seeing internet giant took over everyone's provision and promoted complete transparency. Brilliant, but that too was published in 2013.

Tom Wolfe's Back to Blood was an epic tome which caused me the usual problems of a 700 page hardback in bed last thing at night. But I loved it. No-one writes in such bold as he. No-one makes a character crash and burn like he. No-one does redemption quite as he does. 2012 though. Wish I could keep up.

Martin Amis' Lionel Asbo was a good read. 2012. I only finished two novels actually published in 2015 and the better of the two was Chris Brookmyre's dark crime caper Dead Girl Walking. Brookmyre writes black comedies with witty observation about the state of the world as Christopher and more conventional crime stuff as Chris. This one was about a missing pop star and included some well-observed back-stage stuff about tours and inter-band jealousies.

Found some good albums this year including Blur's The Magic Whip, Calexico's Edge of the Sun and Peace's Happy People. Hate giving the award to the same band two years running so although Jaga Jazzist's Starfire deserves to win I think Everything Everything's Get to Heaven just shades it.

Star Wars V11 was a good romp and The Theory of Everything poignant. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation passed the time, as did Spectre but The Imitation Game was my film of the year.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning, a re-adapted version of a poem I wrote a few years ago.

In Japan they have a ceremony called, in translation, 'Death to the Old Year'. Before starting over they remember the bad things now behind them. So I figured I'd do a 'review and learn' on 2015:

At the end of the year
Before 2016's here
How'd you do with your Old Year’s resolutions?
Did you manage for a day?
Did you chuck them all away?
Did you keep them and they’re now an institution?

Did you promise to get fit?
Was it smoking that you quit?
Did you make someone happy with a call?
Are you driving slightly slower?
Your cholesterol is lower?
Did you keep on running once you hit the wall?

Are you now patient? Are you kind?
Do you have an open mind?
Did you tidy up your bedroom once a week?
Did you try to act your age?
Steered well clear of trolley rage?
Planned to make sure you would truth and justice seek.

Were you proud to write more letters?
Saw your elders as your betters?
Passed a mirror without checking on your looks?
Did you walk rather than drive?
Tried to be home before five?
Be determined that you finished far more books?

Made your fashion budget smaller?
Welcomed in the casual caller?
Left the toilet in a state fit for the Queen?
Washed the dishes, bathed the cat?
Tried to cut down on your fat?
Watched the City ... or a more successful team?

Did you find a good solution?
Did you start a revolution?
Made a single, simple statement of intent.
Read the Bible? Prayed your prayers?
Onto Jesus cast your cares?
You didn't? Well I'm sure it's what you meant.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

On Trust #RAGGS

One of the things that, it seems to me, makes the world a worse place, is not trusting people quickly enough. Of course if you trust 100 people you will get burned once or twice, but if you trust no-one you will end up living an isolated, hate-filled life staring out of the window looking for burglars.

My trust has been abused a few times. But let me tell you a lovely story of how trusting people can be good.

On Monday evening the dishwasher broke. Specifically, the start button broke. Everything else worked.

First thing Tuesday morning I texted the mobile of a dishwasher engineer who once visited. By the time I read her reply I was at Gloucester Services on the M5 north, on the way to visiting my Mum. The reply said:

'Amazing. I am in your road now. Will call at 11.00-11.30.'

To which I replied 'Aaaagh!' followed by the more considered, 'Can you ask my neighbours for a key? I will text them.'

At 11.00 I received another text. 'Neighbours are out. Will go and do a call in Portishead then return. I have your Laithwaite's wine delivery.'

At 12.30 my neighbour's daughter, unaware of the text exchange, and after checking with her Mum and noting down the van registration, let the engineer in.

I received a text later from engineer saying, 'Have left you a note in kitchen.'

Returning home the note said that the dishwasher needed a new part but a temporary fix had been done. There was a bank account number to transfer the money (or I could pay the whole bill when the part arrived ). The wine delivery was on the side.

Thanks to Laithwaites, for trusting another person in a white van.

Thanks to Roni, the engineer, for a great job.

Thanks to my neighbours for checking then trusting.

Not everyone will feel comfortable letting their neighbours have keys to their house or letting engineers they have only met once be in their house alone. But those people would be doing the Christmas washing up by hand despite owning a labour-saving device.

And yes I know this is a middle-class example and not everyone has dishwashers but you do the application. I trust you.

#RAGGS = Random Acts of Good or Great Service

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Low Carbon Christmas Carol

As delivered at Trendlewood's carol service this morning:

Mr whatsisname looked out
On the feast of thingy
Traffic on the roundabout
Day was grey and dingy
Brightly shone the neighbours' lights
Carbon use was cruel
Is there something else to use
That's not fossil fuel?

Christmas Eve we're desperate now
Full of angst and sorrow
Nothing left to eat that's not
Ear-marked for tomorrow
Phone for fast food that will do
Pizza boy's called Steven
Dominos are calling round
Deep pan crisp and even.

When we have eaten enough
We turn on the tele
Watching films, we've seen before
Lip-synch at the ready
Masterchef and Strictly won
New Apprentice with crown
When you are left Home Alone
John McLean comes round.

Hero then surveyed his home
Red lights blinking why, why?
PS, Wii and DVD
All were left on stand-by
Let's turn things off and play a game
Something social to do
Put your phones down for a bit
And I'll talk to you.

Is there something happening here
That some of us are missing?
Should we ponder deeper thoughts
Whilst mistletoe-planned kissing?
What this means we might just ask
Sitting round the table
Is the clue born in a barn
Making the world stable?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas Postscript

Forgot to say that there is normally some humour in the Christmas letter that is for initiates only. My idea of a great joke is one that three people understand and at which one laughs. Last year it was about the Bishop of Stockport. This year it is so obscure I forgot where I put it.

This makes for great enjoyment for me as I write it but probably bodes badly for the stand-up career.

Christmas 2015

Our Christmas newsletter is now available. 'Hugely entertaining' says author.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Seven Songs in Seven Days

My friend Steve Couch nominated me to have a go at the seven songs music challenge. The idea is to post about seven songs that mean something to me, one a day for seven days. So here we go:

Day 1

Nutbush City Limits - Ike and Tina Turner

In 1973 the current Mrs Tilley and I were in the early stages of lifelong commitment. We had a conversation in a pub - 'The Nelson' in central Birmingham, great toasties and not yet a gay bar - about how couples had an 'Our tune' based on an item on Radio 1 DJ Simon Bates' show. We then noticed that Ike and Tina Turner's 'Nutbush City Limits' was on the jukebox; not for the first time that lunchtime.

It transpired that over a day of radio listening, TV watching, pub-going and Aston University Student Union disco visiting, we heard that tune no less than seven times.

And so, in a way that demonstrates how we manage to continue to be together 42 years later, we both hate it and see it as our theme song, exchanging knowing glances whenever it comes on. I don't think we own a copy.

By the way I am not the sort of person who uses Facebook to nominate. Some of my friends may find this interesting so just pick up the baton.

Day 2

Arc of a Diver - Steve Winwood

I am old enough to remember when radio alarm clocks were a new thing. We bought one from a colleague at work who was selling a job lot. Nothing iffy. He was a bit of a spiv but not a crook.

It didn't have a seven day setting so we had to remember to turn if off for weekends. The first Saturday I was woken unexpectedly at 6.45 a.m was saved from being a disaster by Stevie Winwood's new single, the title track from his second solo album Arc of a Diver.

We left the clock on for the duration of the song.

I didn't know at the time that the synth sound was generated by a Roland SH101 - a simple monosynth for playing lead lines - two years later I owned one. So I knew what had gone wrong when Winwood put his mandolin down on it at a live gig and accidentally pressed the inappropriately positioned on/off switch. I shouted but he didn't hear me.

Day 3

Stay with Me - The Faces

In 1972 Rod Stewart and the Faces were at the height of their powers. Rod had already been around the block a bit but Maggie May had brought him to popular acclaim in the UK. I had never been a huge fan but was a sucker for a big guitar riff. Stay With Me had such riffage and was a pretty long intro to that great one night stand lyric:

In the morning
Don't say you love me
Cos I'll only kick you out of the door.

I spent my 17th birthday in 1972 at the Great Western Express Festival at Bardney, Lincs. The Faces were headlining the third night but I was exhausted and had gone to bed. Dropping off I was aware of the excitement building for the main act (there had been a long wait). Plugging in (you had to in those days) the great Ron Wood chopped the opening chords of an extended extended opening to Stay With Me. I changed my mind.

By the time I got out of bed Rod had reached the centre of the stage and I was dressed again and ready before he uttered the first line. Great gig.

Day 4

The World Has a Heart Too - Dan Reed Network

Not quite sure how the Dan Reed Network entered my life. They weren't there for long but, not long after arriving in Chester-le-Street in 1988, I was the owner of their first album. I am pretty sure I had bought it on a whim based on a review.

I love the moment you place the needle on a record you believe might be good. Will the first track on side 1 (remember those) deliver the promise of the sleeve (remember those?) and how soon will you know?

After a pumping electronica bass and a bit of spoken vocal (rather than rap) Dan Reed's first question, 'Do you wanna stay alive?' is over in 1 minute 17 seconds. Followed by:

Class, class
Can I have your attention please
Thank you

And we're off on track two with keys and singing.

I sang along to the album that followed all the time in the north-east that my car radio/cassette hadn't been stolen.

One hugely sweaty night at Newcastle Riverside in 1990 was the only time I saw this short-lived but incredibly tight band live.

I just burnt the toast listening to it again.

Day 5

Safe from Harm - Massive Attack

In the days before I knew what trip-hop was, and not long after a period in which there were only two types of music, rock and roll, I was listening to the radio in the kitchen. Chester-le-Street would have been our home still.

And I heard this tune, Safe from Harm. A growling bass line, an undercurrent of synthy strings, and a beautiful soul voice with a great melody.

This was my introduction to Massive Attack. I don't think there was the album Blue Lines yet. So I bought a seven inch vinyl single version which I played constantly. It's never quite been on my desert island discs list but it has bubbled under for the last 25 years or so. And it has been a go-to cheerer-upper ever since. It may even have been part of the package that convinced me Bristol was a place I would like to live and work one day.

And it heralded the beginning of the career of a game-changing band who were never quite boxable in terms of genre.

Day 6

Drummer Man - Tonight

Does anyone really have any idea why your favourite record of all-time becomes your favourite record of all time? Me neither.

This is my number one desert island disc. Part of this, for me, is that nobody else would take it. I like that this is my favourite. Mine and no-one else's. In passing I can tell you that my favourite album of all time is Sunshine by Sunshine from the early seventies and not a single track on it is in my top twenty favourite tracks. It is an album, and works as such.

So Drummer Man. Hmm. It is often noted that the punk revolution gave an opportunity for street music, kids who could shout and knew three guitar chords. But many of the people who embraced the genre turned out to be excellent musicians.

A side effect was that several years of over-produced pop were jolted back to a simplicity of song-writing; enter Tonight.

One hit wonders but a perfectly-crafted three minutes - chorus, verse, chorus, verse, instrumental break, verse, chorus, fade. It has chopped rock guitar chords, a cow bell and laughter off. Find it on YouTube with Peter Powell on Top of the Pops from 1978. Music by numbers is fine as long as you colour in the right bits.

Day 7

One of These Days - Ten Years After

I have realised that I could write a short piece a day for far more than seven records. This has led to a dilemma as to what to do seventh and finally.

There are a number of new tunes I would like to include but it feels that the ones that have lived with me half my life plus mean more than the recent ones. So, no appearances by Radiohead, The Shins, The Alabama 3 or Faithless to name but four I could write about.

So we go back to Autumn 1971. My first gig (apart from a few 'shows' which included groups in the sixties with my parents) was Ten Years After at Birmingham Town Hall. Support was an excellent singer/songwriter called Keith Christmas. Second support was a band called Supertramp (before their 'Crime of the Century' reinvention) touring their album Indelibly Stamped. It had a pair of tattood breasts on the cover. No idea why I recall that.

After the second break TYA lead singer and virtuoso guitarist Alvin Lee (RIP) walked to the centre of the stage and, without word of introduction, sang the first line, which was effectively a capella over a simple hi-hat beat:

One these days boy...

(The more he performed a number the more words Lee missed out. The encore 'I'm Going Home' consisted largely of monosyllabic grunts.)

Followed by a moment that established for ever for me the thrill of live rock and roll.


A single, fedback, reverbed guitar chord that made you wonder if the ornate plaster work at the Town Hall would survive. A music journalist later described such a sound as like scaffolding poles being dropped. True.

Gonna see my baby...


Gonna see my baby...


Come down road...

Ka-bow bow chaaaang!

Ever since then Ka-bow bow chaaaang! by countless others has kept me good company, in many forms and on many dark nights of the soul. I am grateful beyond measure.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

I was thinking the other day about the arbitrary nature of our concept of speed. Can I pack it into my 285 words and 1 minute 45 seconds?

1 mile was originally the distance covered in 1,000 paces.

An hour is one twenty fourth of the time it takes for the moon to orbit the Earth.

So exceeding 30mph means you travel more than 30,000 paces in the time it takes the moon to go 1/24th of the way round the earth.

Of course this is not covered in a speed awareness course. That would be silly.

But my own speed awareness advice stems from when I read some of the great stories of the Hebrew Bible; what Christians call the Old Testament. There I find a different concept of time.

When strangers are invited to 'Stay and eat with us' instructions are often issued to the servants to make bread and prepare the fatted animal. This is not, by any definition, fast food. Rest, care of the animals and conversation would all take place whilst waiting for the food to be ready. Nobody phoned for pizza or popped down the chippy.

A thousand new labour-saving devices since the Bible and we fill the time saved with (beat) extra labour. What changed? Why are we so anxious to be at our destination a little faster?

I can't give a detailed answer except to recite a list of qualities of Christian behaviour St Paul lists. He says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Did you spot the ones that would make us all more speed aware? Perhaps peace, patience and self-control. It would be a start.

This was followed by a brief discussion on whether this vicar had a clean licence (I do but it hasn't always been so) followed by the revelation that I am much older than I look.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Booze Cruise?

Last Saturday's Guardian Money headlined the advantages of the booze cruise and the bargains to be had.

One of its examples was a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, £6.50 in M and S and £1.30 in Pidou, Calais. What a bargain.

Hang on a second. Or, for ever.

If a bottle of wine can be sold for £1.30 and merchant, distributor, bottler and vineyard all make some money - what is the value of the contents? No more than 30p I'd warrant and that is generous of me.

Now I like a good Sauvignon Blanc but I like to taste something more than the chill. And despite my lack of ability in the tasting department I like to know that the contents are not doing me harm. At 30p a bottle I am not wholly convinced.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent Sunday 2015

Christmas turns up about now
Screams to a halt - tyre rubber in the road
Look at me

Advent walked here, carefully holding a candle

Christmas bares its soul about now
Make me happy with food, fragrance and fashion
Buy me

Advent cradles its light from the breeze

Christmas accessorises everything about now
You need two of those, extra glitter and ribbons
Box me

Advent speaks of a truth beyond packaging

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Religion and Violence

I have found this an incredibly useful book. No easy answers but lots of excellent analysis and insightful stories and illustrations.

The central section revisits some of the Genesis family narratives with great gentleness and scholarship. What did the compilers of the stories of Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel and Joseph and his brothers think they were doing? And have we, in going down the road of the scandal of particularity where God apparently chooses one over another, missed the point that always both parties get a blessing. And apart from the first example, where one party dies, they do not become enemies.

Wisdom usually whispers. The hard work of interpretation is to be preferred over the fundamentalist desire that religious texts be simple and taken at face value.

Islam, Judaism and Christianity have a common ancestor in Abraham - our future peace may well come from looking at these texts together and seeing what we have missed.

'When religion divests itself of power, it is freed from the burden of rearranging the deckchairs on the ship of state and returns to its real task: changing lives.'

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Coming Out Christian

This book deals with the way Christianity took hold in the Roman world. Not, as some might think, after three centuries of persecution and then the conversion of a Roman Emperor.

Written by an archaeologist who has made the study of Roman times his life's work, Douglas Boin shows that Christianity expanded far more subtly until Christians found themselves in positions of authority. Many continued worshipping Roman Gods and Jesus Christ.

After Constantine it is often thought that the whole of The Roman Empire turned to Christ but that is equally untrue.

This book is short, scholarly and direct. It also describes New Testament letters attributed to Paul but not actually written by him (e.g. 2 Thessalonians) as fakes. I liked that. Sometimes it was an honour to take your master's name for a scholarly work, but not if you used his name for your own polemic.

And I like that my Bible contains this kind of thing.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Disposable Poetry

Last night at Café Create we revived the poetry challenge competition so I could win it. Here is the task. A poem about ketchup to include the words:

Naughty dog

And here is the winning entry. Will take humility pills later.


Without sauce the taste of pork would
Almost certainly be awkward
Nothing red the bacon kissing
Bland and dry - there's something missing

If unadorned with sauce you ate it
You'd be discombobulated
Cowering like a naughty dog
Beneath a tasteless lump of hog

A BLT is posh nosh sarnie
But if you don't wish for a barney
To reach for sauce is automatic
Makes your butty charismatic

You bash and shake and hit and dent the
Gravity-hating condiment
I think it don't need to be proved
That all this leaves the sauce unmoved

You want a spot, you get a dollop
Hits your breakfast with a wallop
Not a pretty red-smeared tranche
It poured down like an avalanche

Which is why you all know the ditty
Long ago from some far city
'Tomato ketchup shake the bottle
None will come and then the lot'll.'

Friday, November 20, 2015

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

I lost my locker key at the gym. Not for the first time, but normally retracing my steps enables me to find where it has fallen out of my pocket. I retraced. No trace.

Earlier I had been on an exercise bike. It faced a TV screen and a number of mirrors. I saw that some women were doing Pilates on mats beyond the mirror. I noticed them because the combination of a couple of protruding upper bodies and a mirror made it appear as if two of the, not especially small examples of the female type, looked as if they were struggling to get out from under treadmills and rowers. I had chuckled. To myself, obviously.

I had finished a complete lap of the gym and covered all my tracks. I asked a number of people now on equipment I had been using if they would mind me checking. All were courteous, but no key.

I contemplated asking a guy, now on the vertical bike I had used, to check again. Standing behind him and contemplating this I noticed the floor had been mopped. I went and asked the cleaners, in my best eastern-European, if they had found a key. I found myself showing them a pair of fingers clutching a small, non-existent key. I mimed absence. Weird. Anyway no. They had found no key.

The next step, as other members of my gym report, is to go to reception and get the man with the hacksaw to come. Not yet. I hadn't properly thought like a golf ball yet.

I went back and stood behind the man on the bike. Plucking up courage to ask him to search again I raised my eyes and saw the mirror. The mirror. A mirror image. Are you there yet?

Yes folks I had clearly record the positioning of the bike I had used from the mirror. I knew where the key was. It was on the next bike. Accepting the humiliation of the look of the guy who had already been asked to search unnecessarily and was still on the next door bike, I asked a kind-looking woman to check if the cup-holder on the front of her bike contained my key. Of course it did.

It occurs to me that I have always known that things get wrongly fixed in the eyes of witnesses for all sorts of reasons. I have found another one.

Church News

This is my favourite church notice of all time:

Breakfast Run

On two Sundays per month teams from named church serve food to homeless people in named city. We are in need of toiletries, dog food and new men’s underwear. If you can help please leave your donations with the church office. If you’d like to join one of the teams please get in touch with...

We appear to serve dog food to the homeless and then cover the odour and replace the underwear.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Easter and Mark

I have an idea which I have shared briefly with a few people. It is this:

Mark's Gospel has sixteen chapters. A person of average ability, reading it to themselves, would probably be able to do it in about an hour.

Some of you are very good at images, particularly photographic. How about if we showed a slide transition of thirty-two images, two per chapter while people were reading? Thirty seconds each transition.

How about If we collated these images by asking for anyone to submit photos for consideration and releasing copyright for those so chosen?

How about if we then invited anyone to use the set with their own local music backing in Holy Week 2016?

Comments, assistance and further ideas welcome but I hope this may be achievable without a lot of people having to do a lot of work. It would be crowd-sourced.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

In the American political drama 'The West Wing' news of a coup in the imaginary African country of Equatorial Kuhndu reaches the White House. President Bartlett asks Will Bailey, one of his speech writers, 'Why is an American life worth more to me than a Kuhndunese life?' 'I don't know sir' says Will, 'but it is.'

He is commended for speaking a hard truth to power.

Last week there were terrorist atrocities in Beirut, Baghdad and Paris. The highest loss of life was in Paris but the other events were not insignificant.

Two things diminish our capacity to care - distance and repetition. A suicide bomber in a place far away where these things seem common doesn't move us the way a local one does.

Now the French are our obvious neighbours and friends. It didn't happen so far away.

A man once asked Jesus who was his neighbour. As reply he got the well-known but often misused parable of the Good Samaritan. A priest and a Levite pass by a wounded Jew but a Samaritan, a traditional enemy, does the decent thing and looks after the victim.

Jesus turns the question round. 'Who was neighbour to that man?' 'The one who had mercy on him', says the questioner. 'Go and do likewise' says Jesus.

If you want to know who your neighbour is find someone to whom you can be merciful.

My condolences, of course, to any who are personally affected by tragedy today. Maybe the most solidarity-inspired action we can take in response to the harm suffered by our neighbours in Paris, Baghdad or Beirut is not to seek vengeance but to have mercy on someone. Anyone who needs it. Go on. Pay it forward.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Ministry Tips 176-200 (That's All Folks)

Here are the final 25 tips. There may be more and I will collect them and publish if I get enough, but too many were repetitious or too closely linked to previous ones. Thanks for reading and sending comments. I am talking about a publishing offer. Nothing in writing yet.

176. Trust the projector operator; try not to look round to check what is on the screen behind you.
177. In meetings, try and make your points in two sentences. Then let someone else speak.
178. If you say 'The point is this...' the next thing that follows should be the point, not an anecdote.
179. Don't know how many points you are about to make? Go for a large number and stop short; not a small number and over-run.
180. When you say 'Any questions', collect a few before answering any.
181. Don't lead a church into reflecting your preferences; lead it into being more able to decide its own.
182. Priests don't consecrate things; they ask God to.
183. Getting people to stand in birthday order non-verbally is the finest icebreaker. Other orders are available.
184. If talk is being recorded, explain visual aids. Or make images available to the recording listeners. (Thanks Ruth Jolly)
185. When you take questions in front of large audiences, repeat them over the mic if there isn't a roving mic. (Thanks Richard Owen)
186. If you are tall, possibly intimidating, sit to chat with someone small. Also with wheelchair users. (Thanks Tim Sudworth)
187. 'I don't know' is a valid answer (and always better than bluffing). Thanks @ruth_hw
188. When bluffing, first establish the absence of expertise around the table.
189. Always make the distinction between your church and your church building. Thanks @yernaninakettle
190. Notwithstanding tip 120, best to wear your clerical collar a lot for the first six months of a new post.
191. In meetings, if you have nothing to say, don't say anything but...
192. It is not only the chair's responsibility to keep things moving.
193. When visiting non-church members do offer to pray, but always ask if that is OK first.
194. Have a good leaving do for everyone who leaves, even if you have been praying the bugger out for years.
195. Get out of the hearse when the undertaker does and accompany him/her on the last few yards walk.
196. Tell the bride and her father to walk 'as slowly as you dare'.
197. Don't display visual aids that make the opposite of your point. Visual aids help retention of the 5% of gold in your talk.
198. The God of the Hebrew Bible and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ are one ... Whatever Richard Dawkins says.
199. Don't get too precious about precision in nativity plays or theology in carols. Stick on the tea towel and sing.
200. 'In the thrombosis of the church the vicar is often the clot.' (Anon) Thank you and goodnight.

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning, a day when they were discussing a joint meeting of four local councils to consider future housing needs in the area:

The Canadian author Douglas Coupland said:

'When someone tells you they've just bought a house, they might as well tell you they no longer have a personality. You can immediately assume so many things: that they're locked into jobs they hate; that they're broke; that they spend every night watching videos; that they're fifteen pounds overweight, that they no longer listen to new ideas.'

It's amazing, with publicity like that, anyone would want to settle. But we need somewhere to live.

I grew up in a house my parents inherited from my grandfather, a man I never met. He went to prison for business fraud. I was in my mid-forties before I realised I may have benefited from the proceeds of crime. My Dad had never spoken of it.

Jesus, equally down on homes, is reported as saying, 'Foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.' Emphasising that the lot of a travelling preacher is much more about faith in God for food and shelter than about home-owning. Not living the dream but certainly living the message. And he knew - people are more suspicious of travellers than settlers.

Where should we put new homes? I don't know but I'm glad it's being discussed. I was fortunate growing up and feel for those who want a place of their own.

The Bible speaks of welcome, hospitality to the stranger and inclusivity as key Christian values. I commend everyone to drop any knee-jerk opposition to newcomers. Nimbyism is selfish and, just maybe, a sign that Coupland was right. If once we've settled down we become reluctant to invite new people, with new ideas to join us - we shouldn't.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

RIP Don Humphries

Sad to hear of the passing of the man responsible for my coming to faith and being ordained. This is not an obituary. It is an appreciation of someone who I was profoundly influenced by for about fourteen years but haven't really stayed in touch with. I think my story may be echoed by many others.

When I first met Don I was sixteen and he was a curate in his late twenties. He was serving his title (as the expression goes) at my home church of St Stephen's, Selly Hill. I did not go to church but responded to an invitation to a Youth Service, run and promoted by the church youth group he led called Cross Section. The week after the service Don called round to my house to follow up. He invited me to a games night and a Bible Study. He also spent most of the time watching Wimbledon on the tele, specifically asking my Mum not to turn it off, and, when he came in from work, arguing with my Dad about the proof of the existence of God. Don wore a leather jacket which made me think he was cool for a vicar and my unconvinced Dad must be wrong.

The curate's house at 114 Cherrington Road was a semi-detached with three bedrooms. I was once there for a Bible study with 78 members (we counted them). We broke into three groups - one in the lounge, one in the dining room and one in Don's bedroom. I think some people sat in the front garden and smoked. Do not read 2015 Safeguarding advice back into 1971.

In the holidays (when not doing houseparties) he got the youth group to do decorating jobs around the church and hall. We even decorated a probation hostel.
The Cross Section programme card for the summer I joined and a venture badge
Don managed to get young people from Selly Oak Boys School and King Edward's (direct grant, examination entry) happy in each other's company. There are probably more people in full-time ministry from a non-Christian background as a result of Don's ministry than any other clergyperson in the C of E. CYFA groups do not have to be mono-cultural.

For his thirtieth birthday the girls of Cross Section took Don shopping and bought him a second pair of trousers. He wore them for many years.

Don was an evangelist. He challenged everyone to Christian commitment. Everyone. His methodology was delightfully simple. He ran CYFA (Church Youth Fellowships Association) houseparties, now called Ventures, in the school holidays. He persuaded you to go. If you were too old to be a member he got you to help cook. He knew that on the houseparties you would hear two talks a day on aspects of the Christian life with one strong challenge to turn to Christ and a further one to wholeheartedness. He gave these two talks himself. He wanted you to reach such a stage of committed faith by age 18 that you could become a leader. He told Liz not to commit to me until I shared her faith.

Once 'promoted' to leader he trained you as a leader. After a few years of leadership he asked you to consider ordination. He did this to me in a gym equipment store room in 1978 as we were putting chairs away.

He insisted that speakers keep to a precise length but never managed it himself.

Here's the funny thing. There is a small army of us out here, who learned things under Don's tutelage and pretty-much decided never to do most of them that way. I have an image in my head of me doing lunchtime notices at Clarendon and Don snapping his fingers to make me go faster. I was trying to learn wit while he taught speed. His houseparties ran to a tight timetable. We also joked that his gift of encouragement ran to 'Steve, may I encourage you never to do that again.'

But we did learn that he hated stuffy rooms. Entering any room we could usually anticipate the command to 'Open the windows'.

He taught us wisely how to set up a room for a meeting. Chairs should face the dullest wall.

We also learned that once the houseparty leaders had got all the young people to bed those not with them in dorms went out for Chinese food.

His Bible study methodology was to ask a million questions. If he didn't agree with an answer he'd ask what anyone else thought.

The inside pages
In the leaders meeting after the morning meeting on the venture everything from the previous day was reviewed. So that we learned from all the mistakes and so that speakers learned to take criticism. It was a harsh environment but we learned not to be too defensive about errors.

Throughout his next three appointments, as chaplain at Warwick University, Vicar of Christ Church, Bedford then Holy Trinity, Cambridge, recruiting people to houseparty work continued to be the thrust of his evangelistic ministry, alongside recruiting teams to run missions around the country. Others will say more about that period of his life, his family and ministry.

Don did not enjoy good health. A nasty pancreatitis in the mid 70s required major surgery. In later life he endured Parkinson's Disease. Brandishing a knife, with a hand tremble, to cut the wedding cake at his marriage to Sarah he remarked to us all, 'There may be casualties'.

Don was a third generation of houseparty leader following Eric 'Bash' Nash at Iwerne Minster in the 1940s and 50s then Ken Habershon at Limpsfield in the 1960s and 70s. In 1985 Bob and Ann Clucas, Dunc and Gilly Myers and us Tilleys joined generation four (begun, I believe, by Steve Allen and Steve Wilcockson) when we started Great Ayton. I stopped in 2002 but Bob and Ann continue, although the venture has moved sites many times.

Don taught us to be leaders by joining in a project to do something for young people. We were taken away not for lectures and reading but to work in a team. We worked ridiculously hard and faced some unbelievably difficult situations. We learned to work out what to do because we were trusted at a young age to get on with it. In 1984 he was unwell on day one so he told (not asked, told) me to lead the venture. He had prepared me for this moment in a thousand brief conversations. I wasn't overawed. He also told the team I was in charge. I was then the same age he had been when I met him.

We discussed and prayed a lot. You will note the regularity of prayer on the term card for Cross Section.

Don's commentary on our work was often critical, but he made good people great. He ironed out the minor faults with direct words.

I am profoundly grateful to him. What Would Don Do? has been a helpful question to accompany thirty years of ordained ministry.

OK everyone. That's enough reading.

Washing up.

Don's funeral will be on Tuesday 10th November.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Thought for the Day

I used to be quite intimidated down at my local gym. Everyone looked so fit.

I expect there are tired limbs today. Some of the 6500 runners in yesterday's inaugural Bristol-Bath Marathon were equipped and experienced enough to wake up without stiffness this morning.

Others will have strained every sinew to do something remarkable for themselves.

Yesterday our church was looking at one of Jesus' stories. After the parable of the rich fool, where he criticises a man for building bigger barns to store his surplus when he could have been generous, Jesus tells his listeners not to worry about tomorrow, food or clothing.

Not - don't plan. Not - don't care. Not - don't act.

But, don't worry. Easy to say; hard to hear.

It is true that you can't add an hour to your life by worrying. Whilst you can add several days to it by eating well and exercising.

Is the massive upsurge of interest in getting sponsored to run marathons a way of not worrying? Particularly in situations where I cannot do anything to help.

I can't do anything about my friend's illness. But perhaps I can raise money for the cancer charity which means so much to her. Certainly more use than worrying.

I may not be able to do much about my family finances right now. But running in the countryside is free and good for me.

I may not be able to do much about improving my image, fashion-wise. But everyone looks the same in running gear.

I used to be quite intimidated down at my local gym. Then I realised that we are all united in doing something good for our health. Worrying - no. Caring - oh yes.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Forgive me

Forgive me for I may have sinned. Or I may have simply been speaking on behalf of the whole of the rest of the world. Here is the conversation that just happened to the best of my memory:

Me: Hello, Steve Tilley speaking

Caller: Could I speak to Mr Tilley please?

Me: Yes, Steve Tilley speaking.

Caller: My name is calling from Lloyds Bank. I'm ringing in connection with a letter we sent you about Payment Protection Insurance in December 2013. Before we go any further can I ask you a couple of security questions? What is your date of birth?

Me: I'm not going to answer security questions to a complete stranger over the phone.

Caller: If you ring 0800 1510292 it will confirm who I am.

Me: Look. I did make a PPI claim which was handled and settled by an agent. If you want to talk about it that is fine.

Caller. I'm sorry Mr Tilley I cannot proceed with this call unless you answer security questions. You need to phone that number first.

Me: I don't have time to waste doing that. You have my address so you can write to me. You have my mobile so you can text me.

Caller: I'm sorry I'm not allowed to do that.

Call ends.

For the record, I have been a customer of Lloyds Bank for 42 years.

Monday, October 12, 2015


The way American lawyers go at a corporate negligence case is a wonder to behold. A wolf-pack cornering a wounded prey is not a strong enough image.

And in some cases this is good. In the manner of a John Grisham thriller (only a good lawyer can fix anything) American attorneys have moved the world on. Only American lawyers seem to have managed to corner FIFA into admitting that perhaps all was not well with an organisation most of Europe thinks is corrupt but no-one in Europe has been able to lay a glove on. That is excellent.

But there seems, from my distant view across the pond, to be no difference in their approach to such an adversary and a company such as VW. Now I love VW. I have owned five in my life and have also had two Audi A3s, which are just VWs in better clothes.

This crisis over emissions-test fixing (not qualitatively different from painting the walls before the Queen visits or preparing a better lesson for Ofsted) is a slur on a company with an otherwise excellent reputation. My mind understands why all such cases should be treated the same; my heart wants to allow the investigation to be done gently because reputation counts for something and when the chief of VW says this was done by a couple of rogue engineers I tend to believe him. Because of reputation.

To put it another way. I am almost always punctual. When I am not I find people tend to ask if everything is OK rather than telling me off. In this environment I find it easier to tell the truth if I have erred. I am usually forgiven. And it makes me determined to keep my reputation for the future.

Hard questions can, I put it to you, be phrased in a gentle manner without losing their power.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Ministry Tips 151-175

151. Putters & leavers. Putters find things where they put them. Leavers wonder where they left them. Thanks @RonJichardson 
152. 'Ideas have wings' (Anita Roddick). Talk about things lots before writing down. These days, treat social media as talking.
153. Do everything as if an expert in the field is watching, or may walk in on you.
154. You don't have to visit all the sick - just make sure the sick get visited.
155. You are allowed no more than two 'rebuke' sermons a year. One or none is better.
156. One sermon a year on stewardship is enough unless you offer a short series on different aspects. Only one on money.
157. To engender guilt in a congregation try saying 'You do not take prayer seriously enough' in some form.
158. However hard you try most ordinary people will not understand the clergy's relationship with free time.
159. Interns, placement students and visitors will ask you great questions. Listen to them and thank them.
160. Everything needs fixing. Best to do it before it's broken.
161. Re-organisation is the illusion of progress.
162. Tradition is the illusion of permanence. (Woody Allen)
163. Try and avoid too many sermon illustrations that accidentally ostracise single people.
164. Pray for people more often than when they are sick.
165. Always review everything. It's the first part of planning.
166. Pioneers have the gift of not fitting in. (Jonny Baker) Try not to make them. There's gold in them there hills.
167.  You can do a legal wedding in about seven minutes; everything else is a cultural preference.
168. If you are punctual leave the seats near the door for those who are not. Thanks for reminder Jeremy Fletcher.
169. Keep sentences short and avoid too many three syllable words in communication which sells your organisation.
170. Vicarage decorating is work.
171. When fixing a pastoral appointment tell people how long they have got.
172. Prepare a couple of emergency assemblies.
173. Try and have as few things as possible you object to at weddings and funerals.
174. Try and make a Sunday the last day of your holiday rather than the first.
175. #ministrytip 7 applies to your email inbox too.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The nicest ever... 1. Cuppa

Sometimes, when a nice cup of tea is particularly nice, my mind goes back to the benchmark for nice cups of tea. It was forty six years ago.

I was an army cadet aged fourteen. At the end of what is now called Year Nine we went on a week's camp to Watchet. After a particularly gruelling morning we had a break and queued up at a canteen booth to buy drinks. It turned out that the only drink I could afford, disappointingly, was a mug of tea.

The woman in the booth praised me (whilst giving the eye to my wealthier friends with their cans of pop). 'Well done,' she said 'a nice cup of tea will refresh you.' Funny how some memory memes stay with you. I can still hear her slightly posh accent. Maybe it was a WI stall or something. I also felt like one of the soldiers (who all had tea) rather than one of the cadets.

Thing is, she was right. After a hot summer yomp a sugary tea did refresh me. It was brilliant. I dispensed with the sugar within a few years of that but still recall the experience whenever a cup of tea hits the spot. Few do.

Next week. The nicest ever potatoes.