Category Archives: Food and Drink

Cornwall Holiday Highlights

One reason for light blogging in recent weeks has been pressure of work. But we have also had a fortnight’s holiday in East Looe, Cornwall. One night near the end of the two weeks I jotted down some of the highlights. Here goes:

Food – a supermarket that sells Dark – yes, dark! – Chocolate Hobnobs again.

The Smugglers’ Cott must be the best carvery we have ever visited. A choice of four meats. Not just beef, pork and turkey, but lamb, too. And the beef was offered in rare or well done joints. The kids asking for ‘a piece of crackling for my mum, please’.

Being introduced to the Baobab fruit at the Eden Project, especially when its powder is added to a Pineapple and Coconut Smoothie. The most refreshing drink of the summer, and apparently an energy booster. Will it help us keep up with Mark?

Kelly’s award-winning fish and chips. Beware the Trip Advisor reviews, many of which are based on the over-priced eat-in restaurant: the takeaway is excellent.

Moomaid ice cream: when a dairy farm made losses on milk sales, it decided to use it’s milk production differently. They tried cheese, and then struck gold with ice cream. Cornish ice cream is great anyway, but this beat anything else we tasted. No additives, so the choc mint crisp flavour is white, not green. Shame the Eden Project stopped selling it, because Moomaid wouldn’t drop their prices to uneconomic levels (they must have learned their milk-selling lesson, but how ethical and Fairtrade was the EP on this issue?).

WorshipSteve Wild trying everything to involve our children in worship at Riverside Church. Bringing Horace the Frog with him. Asking them to pick a favourite hymn (a lost cause when the church only used 1982′s Hymns and Psalms and still the 1936 Methodist Hymn Book). Purloining Jaffa Cakes for them from the refreshments area before the service ended. Mark hearing ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic‘ as an actual hymn for the first time, but nevertheless singing, ‘Glory, glory, Tottenham Hotspur‘.

Place – I’ll mention it again: the Eden Project. Stunning is an inadequate adjective. We want to return. Twice.

Looe itself: even with all the tourist shops, it retains an old charm. Fishing trawlers share harbour space with pleasure boats.

Rebekah's sand art with the word 'family'

Rebekah’s sand art

Family – aside from the four of us and Rebekah’s sand sculpture of the word ‘family’, the good was to see cousins. My cousin, his wife  and son. Debbie’s cousin , his wife and children. The bad – my mum falling and fracturing her hip on our second day here, the burden falling on my sister and her family, and us powerless at two hundred miles’ distance.

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Sabbatical, Day 77: Of Sausages And Crosses

Today, I’d like to apologise to the entire German nation. Every single one of you. By common consent, you make the finest sausages in the known universe. And I’m sure you agree.

But my kids don’t. They think I’m a liar when I tell them that German sausages are the best, and that nothing beats a bratwurst.

Why? Because today, we visited Cressing Temple for its annual St George’s Joust event. It is a wonderful celebration of all things medieval, including crafts, early musical instruments, falconry displays, York versus Lancaster battle re-enactments, and the famous joust with witty script and terrific stuntmen riding the horses. (Oh, and that other medieval theme, the Napoleonic Wars.) 

Having paid our entrance fee, we walked through the gift shop, out into the grounds and there we were greeted first of all by a series of catering concessions. I noted the existence of The German Sausage Company. I pointed it out to the children, and Debbie realised I had set my heart on a snack from there, even though we had brought a picnic. We made it our last call before leaving a highly enjoyable day.

Well, if I’m feeling charitable I have to say we might have caught them on a bad day. I also have to admit that we didn’t complain. But bratwurst doesn’t usually have the texture of half-cooked rubber. I have never seen Mark give up on a sausage so quickly. He could live on a diet of them, if we let him.

And if you ask to have bacon well done, you don’t expect it to pale pink. Because Debbie likes everything well done. She’d have ice cream toasted, if she could. The first time she met my family was for a meal in a French restaurant. She ordered a steak. When the waitress asked how she would like it cooked, she replied in one word my family has never forgotten: “Cremated.”

To add insult, Debbie recognised the brand of orange juice I had been given. “How much did you pay?” was her question.

“A pound,” I said.

“You can get six of those for 99p in Lidl,”she withered. Profit margin is one thing, but that’s – what shall we say? Optimistic? (A little research suggests it might actually be five for £1.29, but it’s still a steep mark-up.)

Now I have to say that – being British, not German (but so were they) – I of course didn’t complain at the time. Perhaps I should have done, but since all the sausages came out of the same container, I don’t think anyone else got a better brattie than we did. So, dear German friends, I am sorry my children now have the wrong impression of your great delicacy. 

It was a disappointing end to a fun day. Rebekah and Mark talked to a woman demonstrating weaving on a medieval loom. We found a company selling dried meat, mushroom and fruit snacks. Their website doesn’t mention the fruit, but we can recommend the dried strawberry and the dried blackberry and apple. 

 

Fighting between Yorkists and Lancastrians in battle re-enactment

Fighting between Yorkists and Lancastrians in battle re-enactment

Furthermore, the afore-mentioned battle re-enactment was not only lively and fun, it was presented with an educational slant. Along the way, we learned all sorts of things about the nature of medieval warfare that were possibly surprising to many hearers.

 

Lancastrian archers in the re-enactment by the Medieval Siege Society

Lancastrian archers in the re-enactment by the Medieval Siege Society

 

 

 

 

To our surprise, Rebekah and Mark had their attention kept all through the half-hour presentation. We had to reasure Mark that the soldiers lying on the ground weren’t really dead – we’ve had a lot of death talk from him since Good Friday. But apart from that – and there’s nothing the re-enactors could have done about that – it was superb.

 

Sir Odious the Black Knight and his Swedish counterpart in the joust

Sir Odious the Black Knight and his Swedish counterpart in the joust

 

 

As for the joust itself, that was pure entertainment. Some might not like the fact that the baddie was dubbed the Black Knight, but it seemed not to be about race and more about a pun on ‘black night’. Or it could have been to do with the Black Country, since his punishment when he finally lost was to be sent to Birmingham. Nothing worse, surely.

 

 

A small falcon flies high above the falconer in the falconry display

A small falcon flies high above the falconer in the falconry display

 

Seeing a falconry display gave me an opportunity to educate the children as to the origins of our surname, which was originally something like Falconer. We were the plebs who looked after the falcons on the Laird’s estate in Aberdeenshire. The name is first found in that county around the 1200s. Medieval times, indeed.

My father has long been convinced (through a story his grandfather told him) that we came from Scotland in recent generations. To that end, Dad supports the Scotland rugby and football teams. Trouble is, we come from a part of the Auld Country called … Lincolnshire. All the way back to the early eighteenth century, there is no sign of the tartan, still less of ‘our’ clan, the Keiths.

 

Mark dressed for his photo in front of a painted backdrop of a castle

Mark dressed for his photo in front of a painted backdrop of a castle

If I can be serious about one final thing, though, it was the tragic reminder of seeing the Cross everywhere as a symbol not of suffering love but of violence and oppression. Mark and Rebekah posed in borrowed costumes for pictures in a photographer’s tent (and very good they were, too, for the price). Here, you can see Mark in knight’s garments, with his cross. I thought about the wickedness of the Crusades, their perpetration of Christendom by cruelty, and what they did to peoples who should have been shown the love of God in Christ. 

Then I thought there were hundreds, if not thousands of people at the show, and only few of them would have had that thought. Of the few who did, a good number of them would have seen it as further evidence to prove the wickedness of Christianity.

Most of the rest, though, who would have given no thought to the symbol of the cross at all. Like someone who works for our local Schools and Youth Ministries charity said at a meeting last year, most young people haven’t rejected religion. It just isn’t on their radar in the first place.

And that may be the biggest challenge facing the British church today.

Sabbatical, Day 72: Easter Is A Time For Spending

Bank Holidays can be full of energy, frustration or inertia in my experience. Today has fallen into the last of those three categories. Eschewing the idea of going somewhere big after a bad experience trying to get to Colchester Zoo one previous BH, the children suggested a return visit to Wat Tyler Country Park. However, this morning’s rain put paid to such plans and we ended up taking our picnic into Chelmsford town centre – not quite so picturesque. Some of that same picnic ended up with the pigeons and ducks courtesy of the children. OK, only the bread – nothing else.

Becky got a chance to spend some more birthday money. Like her mum, she adores that well-known craft shop, Poundland. She picked up some arty things there. She also bought an adaptation of Heidi in Waterstone’s. She loves that story. Meanwhile, Mark and I had boys’ time, heading for Camera World. I bought some camera cleaning gear and began a conversation about a first camera for His Nibs’ fifth birthday in August. Sounds like we’re heading for a Praktica.

Other than that, it’s time for things to break at present in our home. Over the weekend we had to buy a replacement DVD player and today it was the turn of our inkjet printer. The local Tesco Home Plus had a great deal on end of line stock and I picked up a Canon Pixma iP4600 for £44. No box or other packaging, with mains lead, ink cartridges, CD of software and manual all stuffed in a scruffy broken envelope. But who cares? That’s half price.

Everything goes in threes, Debbie says. The third item after the high-tech of the DVD player and the printer was, the, er, pepper mill. However much I like gadgets, I resisted the idea of a battery-powered model. Having been let down quickly by one from a supposedly reliable make, Cole and Mason, bought from Debenham’s in a sale, we went down market for a Tesco own brand.

So we seem to have spent the Easter weekend spending money. It doesn’t quite feel like an appropriate way to mark the death and resurrection of the Lord of life whose kingdom is countercultural, but we haven’t gone looking to do any of it and will have to balance the bank account later. Or seek divine assistance to that end!

Sabbatical, Day 66: Jesus Discusses The End Times, Flash Mob Worship, And Egg Ministry

more about “Sabbatical, Day 66: Jesus Discusses T…“, posted with vodpod

Third Damaris Trust video for Holy Week above. Anna Robbins explores some of the issues raised by Jesus’ teaching about the future, which he gave in the temple courts soon before his death. What does it mean that Jesus will return, and how should we live in the meantime?

…………

Found this today, thanks to following Ruth Gledhill on Twitter: guerrilla flash-mob worship in Liverpool last Sunday. (Ruth Gledhill’s blog post on the subject is here.) Here are Christians putting into practice the principles in Clay Shirky‘s ‘Here Comes Everybody‘ to create a public prophetic action. Do watch the video. It’s fascinating.

So is this the way to go? Three years ago Theo Hobson wrote a piece in the Guardian in which he said that Christianity could never avoid a ritual element, but it could avoid the ritual being controlled by authoritarian hierarchies. (HT to Third Way re the Hobson article.) This will be problematic for some in my Methodist tradition, because we appoint ministers (and, occasionally, laypeople) to preside at sacraments to ensure ‘good order’. The New Testament is concerned with good order at the sacraments, as we find when Paul addresses the chaos and injustice at the Lord’s Supper in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). However, Paul addresses the problem via teaching rather than the instatement of authorised leaders.

Thoughts, anyone?

…………

And finally for something completely different. Today, I have mostly been … boiling eggs. Debbie began something in our first Spring here three years ago that has become a little tradition. An Easter party for the children. She started it in order to help our two make friends, and now Easter is not complete without it. Egg rolling competitions, egg and spoon races (including one race for mums), an egg hunt in the garden, Easter bonnet decorating – all are essential parts of a ritual which those arch-traditionalists, our children, demand.

Normally I’m out and about whenever Debbie schedules it, but this year, with the sabbatical, I was around. I had been deputed to be ready to capture the action with my camera. Although I managed some of that near the end, you’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties,

and today was no exception. Debbie dropped Mark’s egg for the egg rolling competition just before our guests arrived. Others arrived, having forgotten to bring eggs, and one little girl only told Mummy half an hour before coming out that she needed an egg. I can safely say that, whatever my failings in other areas, I am a master at hard-boiling eggs. Just as well for someone whose introduction to cookery when he went away to college was a book entitled ‘How To Boil An Egg‘.

So does the church want a hard-boiled minister? Here I am. Send for me.



Sabbatical, Day 42: A Day Off In Brentwood

I’ve been treating one day each week as a day off from proper sabbatical work. This week, it was today, so that we could take the children out. Given a choice, they surprised us by not opting for Marsh Farm Country Park but a visit to Brentwood. What’s the attraction? For them, the King George V Playing Fields. It has an imaginative adventure playground, and a good café serving ’99′ ice creams and other delights. 

After tiring out the monkeys there, we made for the High Street. It isn’t the most exciting High Street you’ll ever find, but it has one or two pleasures. Unusually, Debbie didn’t invade all the charity shops. We took the children to Crafty Arts in order to buy Rebekah a present to honour the hard work she put into getting her number bonds two days ago. Whilst in there, Mark spotted something he would like – pack of fridge magnets. It was a list of words that children in Years 3, 4 and 5 (ages 8-11) would be expected to know. He reeled off nearly all of them. He’s not five until August, but he is obsessed with learning and has a phenomenal memory. In case you’re wondering, I’m proud of him. 

With Mark complaining he wanted to go home, though, we insisted on one final treat. In Essex, there is a small chain of cafés called Belgique. Well, café just isn’t a sufficient word. But ‘coffee shop’ doesn’t do it justice either. Nor does ‘patisserie’, ‘sandwich bar’ or ‘chocolaterie’.

But maybe you get the picture from that array of words. The sandwiches and quiches look lovely, but we always go for the cakes. Chocolate eclairs filled with chocolate cream – definitely a cure for Mark’s tiredness on this afternoon’s evidence. Pastries with strawberries, fruits of the forest or other fruits all begged us to eat them. In an act of kindness, we obliged. The afternoon tea looks decidedly tempting, too. 

You know, it’s not the sort of place where Christians should be seen during Lent. Did I say we liked the cakes? Oh yes. So perhaps it’s time to watch again that wonderful film Chocolat, because if anything provides a theological justification for reinterpreting self-indulgence as pleasure, it’s that wonderful movie.

Oh, and by the way, their cakes are great.

Sabbatical, Day 32: Happy Birthday To Me!

Harking back to yesterday’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang reference, there’s a scene where Baron Bomburst comes into a room singing ‘Happy Birthday to me’. Yet he’s a married man with a fawning wife and an obsequious entourage. 

There would have been the odd time in my past when I would have croaked ‘Happy Birthday’ to myself when I was single and fairly isolated. No longer.

In case you haven’t guessed, it’s my birthday today, and it has been a great joy to share simple pleasures with Debbie and the children. Nothing fancy or expensive, just the joy of family love. And Mastercard can’t buy that.

When I brought the assorted teas (Rebekah and me), coffee (Debbie) and warm milk (Mark) up first thing this morning, the children were on the starting line, desperate to open my presents – gifts they had only wrapped yesterday with Debbie’s help. What fun it was to see them rip the paper with almost as much abandon as if the presents were for them and they didn’t know what was inside. 

Much as I love them, I was pleased they were both fit for school today. So after a mundane trip to B&Q for a carbon monoxide detector, Debs and I had coffee in a Wyevale garden centre and then headed for a pub she had seen advertised in the Essex Chronicle. She thought a print-out from their website would be enough to find them, but it was in the middle of nowhere and we soon ended up in the middle of a different nowhere. Oh well, resort to the Essex Street Atlas.

It was worth it. The Duck Inn was fabulous. They were advertising a ‘three courses for ten pounds’ offer. The menu was strictly limited, but the quality certainly wasn’t. For me, chicken pâté followed by fillet of salmon and finished with bread and butter pudding in vanilla cream. For Debbie, deep fried Brie, then roast chicken and finally assorted ice creams. The main courses had some beautifully cooked seasonal vegetables.

They also do a jazz night menu every few Friday evenings – three courses for fifteen pounds with live music. The normal á la carte menu is quite expensive, with main courses around fifteen to twenty pounds, but if you live anywhere near here, then it’s in the tiny hamlet of Newney Green and comes more thumbs aloft than even Paul McCartney can muster. 

Back home and a surprise visit from a local friend before the school run. Debbie took Rebekah for her weekly swimming lesson but I stayed home with Mark in view of his ear infection. Then we finally had our Shrove Tuesday pancakes! Plus the children had insisted on a birthday cake. An extremely sickly chocolate one. I managed three mouthfuls. They enjoyed it, along with lighting the candles. Little Becky managed a picture or two on her camera.

dscf0764Tonight has involved the mundane task of ordering tomorrow’s Tesco delivery, but has been accompanied by another birthday present. Yes, a Spurs win over Middlesbrough in the Premiership

Sabbatical work? Today? What do you think?

Sabbatical, Day 26: George Kovoor Is Mad, Myers Briggs Is Sane, Worship Is Amazing

George Kovoor is mad. It’s the title of a Facebook group, and it’s true. I discovered the group last night when the man himself sent me a friend request and it was on his profile. He is a member.

As I thought, I wasn’t able to set up an appointment with him today, as he requested yesterday. When I was here in the 1980s, you needed to ask the Principal’s secretary two weeks in advance if you wanted to see George Carey. So when I went to see the current secretary, sure enough there was no window when both  GK and I were free.

However, she made a suggestion. Why not reserve a seat next to him at lunch? The staff and students here all have yellow chits they place on tables to reserve seats in the dining room. She tore up a piece of yellow paper, wrote my name on it and told me where George sits. I went and marked the seat next to him.

It was duly a crazy conversation. Just I am very clearly an introvert, so George is as clear an extravert as you are likely to meet. He conducted simultaneous conversations with about five of us. I referred yesterday to how he has a collection of projects all in addition to being Principal here. He referred to my bookmarking of Butler and Butler‘s fairtrade clergy shirts, and it transpires he has an involvement in the marketing of clergy attire himself.

During the meal, George asked for a bottle of tabasco sauce. We expected him to use it on his chicken and spicy rice. No. He drank it directly from the bottle. Tonight, I have learned from some of the students that it is his favourite party trick, especially in front of men. However, it has given the students an idea for something when they hold a ‘superheroes day’ here in a fortnight to support Comic Relief. Pastoral confidentiality does of course mean that I cannot reveal their plans on a public blog.

At the end of lunch, he said he was sad we couldn’t match our diaries but was still keen to meet. So I’m having breakfast with him at 7:45 am tomorrow, when he gets into college.

On a calmer note, the course today has been just what I wanted when I booked it last year. I’ve taken very few notes, but so much has fallen into place. Without turning it into the psychological equivalent of a horoscope reading, my personality profile under Myers Briggs makes so much sense of my strengths and weaknesses in ministry and in other relationships. Jerry Gilpin who is teaching the course is another former Trinity student. He was in the year above me. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to catch up over coffee tomorrow. Already he’s given me some recommended reading on personality type and ministry. So far it includes Faith and Psychology by Leslie Francis, Growing Spiritually with the Myers-Briggs Model by Julia McGuinness, In the Grip by Naomi L Quenk, and he’s going to check on the title of a book by William Bridges.

I’ll sign off soon. I need to pack stuff ready for leaving here tomorrow lunchtime. Lectures start at 9:15 and I have to vacate the room by 10. I need just my morning stuff and laptop bag ready to go.

There won’t be chapel worship tomorrow morning, because the students will be worshipping in their pastoral groups. So I have worshipped together with the community for the last time. And I wanted to say this. Whatever nit-picking comments I’ve made about services this week (and that’s my personality type, too!), I have so far failed to mention the extraordinary sense of devotion and commitment to Christ that surrounds you like a magnetic field in the worship. I’m struggling for a way to express this gracefully and without sounding condemning of others, but I have missed being in a community like that. I believe that when you are in a group of Christians like that, then iron sharpens iron. Others lift the level of your discipleship. Sometimes they don’t know they’re doing it, but they do. I wonder how much of this energy gets dissipated when people leave.

I don’t know whether it’s as unrealistic to reproduce this in the local church as it is to bring back to a congregation the ‘spiritual high’ some people experience at conferences. I’m tempted to think there is a difference here, though, because this is an ongoing, day by day, week by week community, not an annual gathering of thousands. Am I crazy to have lofty ambitions for the local church? I always have been a (failed) idealist in that cause. One of my tutors at my Methodist college, David Dunn Wilson, picked up on my tendency in this direction and told me to remember that the Church is a company of sinners. Eugene Peterson has a similar tone in his book The Jesus Way, in which he stresses the importance of forgiveness from the example of King David’s life. I agree with both of them up to a point, but Christians are more than forgiven sinners. It’s something the Methodist tradition knew in its infancy with John Wesley‘s call to ‘scriptural holiness’. Somewhere I still believe that a community of forgiven sinners also needs deep intentional aspirations to holiness.

Or am I barking?

Sabbatical, Day 25: Ash Wednesday Soup

I’m going to be nice about Iona today. Specifically about one of their confession prayers.

Yes, you read both of those sentences correctly. The confession in chapel this morning was more refreshing – and challenging – to my mind. It was modelled on the verse in Isaiah 55 where God says ‘My ways are not your ways’. It thus consisted of a series of stark contrasts between the ways of God and of humans. So we got a clearer focus on God in the confession as a result, in my opinion.

Wednesday is not a normal lecture day here. After morning chapel, students keep silence until 10 am when they meet in their pastoral groups, then at 11 they all meet together with the Principal for Community Coffee. I’m not sure what happens in the afternoons – I think it must be free for study. I decided I would observe silence with the students before taking another walk into town to buy presents for Debbie and the children.

Trinity was the first place I ever observed any extended silence, on college Quiet Days. At first it frightened me. There is something terrifyingly loud about the way one’s own thoughts invade and clamour for attention. Yet silence, with the accompanying discipline of solitude, is a sign of health and vitality in the life of the Spirit. On one of those Quiet Days, I remember deciding I would read Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s ‘Life Together‘. Figuring it was only ninety or a hundred pages, I was sure I could get through it easily in one day. I couldn’t. Bonhoeffer packed such a punch with every sentence, the book kept stopping me like brakes on a car. What I most remember is him saying that no-one is fit for community life who cannot also embrace solitude. This morning, the silence was not a ringing in my ears but a recharging of my batteries.

Then I went off present-hunting. I found an art shop and bought some little models for the children to paint. I won’t say what I bought Debbie, because she occasionally reads this blog. I just hope she likes my purchase.

Lunch was suitably spartan for Ash Wednesday: soup and bread. But it wasn’t gruel. There was a choice between carrot and coriander soup (which I normally consume by the gallon) and a fish and cream soup. Both were accompanied by two types of bread: one was a tomato bread, the other I’m not sure, but it was good. I got through two bowlfuls of the fish and cream soup. Debbie dislikes both fish and mushrooms, and they are two things I love, so if I’m not at home to eat and I get the chance, I take advantage. This one had vague similiarities with the most wonderful soup I have ever tasted: cullen skink at Sheena’s Backpackers’ Lodge cafe in Mallaig, the fishing port at the northern end of the Road to the Isles in Scotland.

At the end of lunchtime, I had the joy of spending twenty minutes or so catching up with my old tutor John Bimson.

What to do this afternoon? Still feeling very disciplined after the morning silence, I read more of Goldsmith and Wharton’s book ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You‘, especially the chapters on personality type in the church. I concentrated on those sections specific to my own personality type of INTP. Time and again, I read paragraphs and thought the authors had met me. Yes, I am someone who likes to bring new vision to a church, because I’m more about the future than the present, more big picture than fine detail.

And – apparently, my personality type often gets frustrated with regular local church ministry and ends up in sector ministry. In particular, my type often likes to engage in research. I felt another underlining of the sense I’d had at Cliff College a fortnight ago about doing a PhD. Well, no, more than that: I felt like the research idea came up and mugged me again.

So to the weekly college communion service at 5 pm. Trinity is an evangelical college, but very much what is called an ‘open evangelical‘ college. It is not hardline Calvinist/fundamentalist. Secure in a commitment to biblical authority, it believes there is value to be found in other Christian traditions, too. Today that meant the Lord’s Supper conducted in a more Anglo-Catholic style, complete with incense, processing and the like, and of course an ashing ceremony. I don’t think a real Anglo-Catholic would have recognised it as a complete facsimile, not least because the music was mainly from evangelical and charismatic sources. But it was a genuine attempt to be sympathetic. And I find the imposition of ashes to be a powerful symbolic act. It sends a tremor through me every time. I’m glad we have it in the Methodist Worship Book, too. I haven’t washed mine off yet. The only pity was that just the first half of the words were used with the imposition of the ashes: ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return’, but they forgot to say, ‘Turn from your sin and follow Christ.’

On to dinner and another great conversation with the other former lecturer of mine who is still on the staff here, John Nolland, along with his wife Lisa. John has ‘a brain the size of a planet’ and authored the three volumes on Luke’s Gospel in the Word Biblical Commentary. More recently, he has written a highly acclaimed commentary on Matthew for the New International Greek Text Commentary on the New Testament. We learned from some top-class scholars here, and so do the current students, with staff such as Gordon and David Wenham here, to name but two of many.

During the Peace in the communion service, the Principal, George Kovoor, shared the Peace with me and then continued the conversation. He invited me to book an appointment with him to chat over coffee for half an hour. The only problem is, I shall only be able to offer tomorrow afternoon, and I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he has space in his diary for then at such short notice. I’ll let you know tomorrow whether it comes off. I hope it will. He is a genial man, and if you click the link I gave to him above you’ll be exhausted just reading about him. I spoke to him on Monday, explained who I was and he told me he was a Methodist minister, too. It’s true. He is Indian, and was ordained in the Church of North India, which is a united denomination. Yesterday, he gave a notice to the community, saying that he was going to play a student at table tennis. He wouldn’t ask for prayer, because last time he played someone and asked for prayer he won, and he didn’t want an unfair advantage this time. Turns out he won anyway.

See you tomorrow.

Sabbatical, Day 24: No Sleep Till Brekkie, More Lectures And The Bristol Tourist Trail

I don’t do well on first nights in new locations. Not on the evidence of this sabbatical, anyway. Having barely slept before 4 am on my first night at Cliff College a fortnight ago, I didn’t sleep before 1:30 here, then woke at 5:30 with a vile headache. (Not that I know what a nice headache would be, you understand.) At 7 am, I decided I needed a large dose of tannin, so I took the pint-sized mug I’d brought from home and made my first tea of the day. The pain slowly subsided over a period of several hours, until it was gone by late afternoon.

Trinity does worship differently from my time. Twenty years ago, nearly everything was Alternative Service Book. Except when Paul Roberts inflicted chanted Book of Common Prayer services, that is. Though the ASB has been replaced in the C of E by Common Worship, the college seems to have themes for particular weeks. This week it’s Iona Community worship, widely popular in many parts of the British church but something that drives me nuts. I have no problem with a liturgy that emphasises social justice and makes no division between work and worship. However, I have found several of their liturgies and some of their songs hectoring and lecturing. Not only that, the confession used this morning was fundamentally inadequate. I like the mutual confession approach of Iona (service leader confesses and congregation pronounces forgiveness, then the process is reversed), so I’m not critical of everything. But this confession started from the point that we had hurt ourselves, then others, then the world. Absolutely no reference to the rupture between humans and God that is central to confession. Remind me never to use it in worship.

There were good things – not least the brief testimony of a student as to what God did in a prolonged experience of a spiritual desert. And the guy who read the Gospel reading did so with great feeling. Those were highlights.

Lectures were more relevant this morning. The operating paradigm (I’m at a theological college – out come the long words!) was still that of the large church, but I felt that more of today’s material was translatable or adaptable. We began with a session on team leadership and issues around teams. We then looked at how to run a meeting, largely taken from the old John Cleese video ‘Meetings, Bl**dy Meetings‘. Finally, a few thoughts about some common mistakes made by leaders.

This afternoon had an optional session. I opted out. It comprised some BBC videos on assertiveness training. While that’s an area I could do with improving in, I needed some air and some exercise to counter the effects of the much improved food. I decided I would try to find some old haunts. Off I went across the Clifton Downs, down two roads whose names may just betray Bristol’s slave trade past – Blackboy Hill and Whiteladies Road – and on down, eventually to Park Street, where I used to frequent three shops. I knew that SPCK would have been long gone after the business atrocities that have been inflicted on that chain of bookshops. Sadly, Rival Records is no longer around – I remember buying Bruce Cockburn‘s World Of Wonders in there during my first year. And the Evangelical Christian Literature bookshop is now a branch of Wesley Owen, stocking everything from N T Wright to Joel Osteen. Insert words such as ‘sublime’ and ‘ridiculous’ as you see fit. I think I’m right in remembering that ECL had been founded by George Mueller.

Not being home today means I’ve missed Shrove Tuesday with the family, but Debbie told me tonight she and the children had decided to postpone pancakes until Saturday. I’m glad they have. Pancakes and their toppings are one of those simple pleasures where it is a joy to see the fun Rebekah and Mark have. Two small pancakes with toffee ice cream here at lunch time were delicious, but no replacement for being with the children. As to toppings generally, I’m a fan of those English Provender jars – no, not the garlic, ginger or horseradish, rather the raspberry coulis or the Belgian chocolate sauce. The latter has been harder to find in the supermarkets recently, though.Looking at the website tonight, I’ve noticed they now do a Fairtrade chocolate sauce, though.

More seriously, I had to miss a hospital out-patient’s appointment Rebekah had this afternoon. Eighteen months ago she had grommets inserted in her ears after protracted episodes of glue ear and consequent poor hearing. They still haven’t solved the problem. One grommet fell out a few months ago, and today they could see congestion in it. She may have to have more grommets fitted, poor lass. Recently, we’ve let her start answering the telephone, but conversations with her are punctuated with “What did you say?”

Tonight, I’ve just spent the time quietly reading. Next stop a spot of supper then an early night, I hope, to catch up on last night.

Sabbatical, Day 19: Skate Parks, Writing Styles And … Oh Yuck

I’m going to kick off with one or two links I found today. First of all, Malmesbury Abbey has been turned into a skate park. The BBC reports it as a novelty; clearly they haven’t heard of Legacy XS.

I took a ‘What kind of writer are you?’ test and got a bizarre result:


You Should Be a Science Fiction Writer


Your ideas are very strange, and people often wonder what planet you’re from.        

And while you may have some problems being “normal,” you’ll have no problems writing sci-fi.

Whether it’s epic films, important novels, or vivid comics…

Your own little universe could leave an important mark on the world! 

Mind you, Debbie often wonders what planet I’m on. :)

Like I said, I thought it was a bizarre result. I see myself rather more journalistic.

Having said that, Mark’s illness has again meant little or no chance for proper sabbatical study today. The vomiting returned when he woke up, and we took him back to the doctor, also reporting sore throat, ear and stomach, plus a rash on his thigh and other stuff. The GP was now pretty sure he had tonsillitis and so out came the prescription for the much-unloved banana medicine (a.k.a. amoxicillin). He advised us to alternate Calpol and Calprofen to keep the pain down.

Well, the Calprofen had an immediate effect, at least until about half an hour before another dose was due each time, and this afternoon he picked up considerably while his sister, Mum and ‘Aunt Pat’ were out ten pin bowling. He even wanted something to eat at dinnertime. Knowing that big sister was getting macaroni cheese, he said he fancied some pasta. Off he went to find the tins of pasta shapes, and came back with what he wanted: Heinz Disney Princess pasta shapes in tomato sauce. Which he demolished. And they stayed down.

Until after his bath, anyway, when he gagged on amoxicillin. That, Calprofen and pasta shapes ended up sprayed on towels and elsewhere. However, we’re quietly confident he’s turned the corner. We’ll see how he gets on tomorrow.

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