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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 21: The Farm, Air Miles, Slow Broadband And Good Bible Commentaries

We decided to take advantage of Mark’s improving health and a fine day to give him his first proper trip out since he contracted the tonsillitis. So with his sister we paid a trip to Marsh Farm Country Park. An hour or two there late morning was very pleasant. Once he said he’d had enough – around the time we were devouring jumbo sausages in rolls – we headed back. Mark and Rebekah played beautifully while we were there. Becky even gave her brother a ride on a tricycle made for two when he didn’t cope well with riding a solo trike.

All that good behaviour was to change when we got home. They turned into monsters, making the visit of Gemma, our family friend hairdresser, interesting. Both went within a whisker of losing their bedtime stories, but just about held on. At least it’s a sign Mark is a lot better. He just needs to regain some strength now.

In other news: the first credit card I ever had that came with a rewards scheme had Air Miles attached to it. There weren’t any other games in town at the time, so I signed up. Over the years, I racked up nearly three thousand air miles and didn’t fly a single one. Today, I had a letter from Air Miles saying they had changed the terms and conditions of the scheme. Those who didn’t add any miles in two years would have their accounts closed and forfeit their miles.

Not expecting to fly in the foreseeable future, I was about to put the letter in the shredding pile when Debbie noticed small print that said the miles could be redeemed for other things, too. Tonight, we’ve been searching the site so that we can use up most of the miles on a few attractions in London. The kids are desperate for a trip to London, especially Becky, who wants to see ‘the castle where the Queen lives’. But it looks like we could get ‘flights’ on the London Eye, along with a London Eye River Cruise, and keep some miles over to visit Thorpe Park and Chessington World Of Adventures. So if we can combine these with vouchers from Tesco Clubcard, then we ought to get a few good family days out – especially if there are any Clubcard vouchers for sightseeing bus tours in London.

On the technical front from yesterday, I’ve been tracking things down a bit more as to why our broadband speeds are so slow. Reading through support pages on our ISP’s portal, it looks like constant slow speeds indicate an IP profile that has got stuck low. Having performed various checks, I have to run the BT Speedtester three times at different times of day. However many times I tried on the desktop PC, and whether in Firefox or the evil Internet Explorer, the test got stuck. I was so thankful for my laptop. Connected via Ethernet cable to the router, the test worked first time. To abbreviate some technical statistics, our line ought to be able to connect at around 2.5 Mbps, but we have somehow been artificially limited to 0.1. Once I’ve completed those two further speed tests, I can give more information to our ISP, and hopefully someone will look into it.

Finally, one brief piece of the0logy. Anyone who sees my study will notice – apart from the mess – that I love to have a range of commentaries on the books of the Bible. I don’t have less than two on any one book, so that I can read more than one opinion (if I have time!), and in the case of John’s Gospel I have – ahem – ten. So there I was going through some old blog posts I hadn’t read, especially enjoying Chris Tilling‘s musings on theology and trivia, when I happened upon his link of the day from a fortnight ago. He had come across a website called Best Commentaries. It is in the process of aggregating reviews of commentaries. It has begun with some very conservative sources, but the webmaster left a comment at Chris’ post indicating he’s open to suggestions from other backgrounds, too. If you like finding good commentaries and dislike the expense of buying guides or subscribing to this journal and that, then this site might well be worth a look.