Saturday, 30 December 2006

terrier engineer

I've been feeling cossetted this week as BT has showered me with phone line engineers - one a day for 3 days - to cure the intermittent broadband fault.

Were they running an internal challenge to see (a) how long they could string the customer along without actually solving anything or (b) which of them could crack the mysterious broadband fault first? [Thank you Tom Allen, for the insights in your 23 December comment on getting broadband faults sorted.]

The Wednesday engineer did a thorough check on the internal line and connections and all checked out ok. He said I'd get a call to arrange another engineer visit to investigate underground (UG).

The Thursday engineer checked over what had been done and headed off to check the line between here and the exchange. Then he said it needed a UG engineer and a broadband engineer to work in tandem by isolating and testing sections of the line to find the fault, and I'd get a call to arrange the visit.

The Friday engineer went over with me all the checks, information and comments so far and was clearly frustrated by not being able to spot the solution. After 2 weeks of getting nowhere his attitude offered a glimmer of hope. He went off to see if he could do anything at the exchange ... he really didn't want this to go unsolved ...

Like everyone else in Beka's life, her partners find out that once Beka gets a case in her teeth, she hangs onto it like a terrier until it's been solved. [from Terrier by Beka Cooper]

Sometime later he called to say he'd altered something at the exchange - did I have broadband now? Well something had happened; the broadband light was coming on, but wasn't constant. The Friday engineer sound encouraged.

A few minutes later, after I'd left for my friends' house, a voicemail was left (in Tom Baker's voice) announcing that the fault had been repaired. And it has - inside two weeks!

Well done terrier engineer.

Monday, 25 December 2006

Canterbury Cathedral + time lag

[broadband back on line for a few moments at last ...]

Christmas Eve? Well actually the ITV London programme about Canterbury Cathedral was transmitted from 1.10 on Christmas morning - and yes, I was still up watching it.

Focusing on Canterbury brought to life the reading I've been enjoying in the last few days from my mother's diary of the 1940s, including descriptions of Christmas 1944 in the environs of Canterbury Cathedral.

One thing I noticed about Christmas then is that there is more carol singing in the days after Christmas day - like the evening at my mother's place on "the Thursday after Christmas" -
"Alfred (Deller) was to provide the carollers and I the hearth and refreshments ...
"... we played games and finally charades, and a good time was had by all - there were ten of us in all and they didn't go home till past 1a.m."
- and there was a carol concert in the Cathedral on 4 January. Nowadays we do all the carols before 25 December!

The scene my mother describes at the turn of that year is shot through with national and personal issues. The Second World War is raging through its fifth year and there are references to war time duties like fire watch. But what's bothering my mother more immediately is the slowness of my father to make her a proposal of marriage, and the re-appearance in Canterbury of Lois Lang-Sims. My mother knows from mutual friends the Dellers that Lois and Joseph (my father) had been romantically linked.

Anyway, he finally proposed to my mother by letter (though they lived quite close to each other!) - a letter that was "shot through the letterbox" late in the evening of 4 January sixty-two years ago - 1945 - and she rushed round the next day and gave him a hug (my words ... and not quite à la Vicar of Dibley I think).

Lois seems to bear no grudge. In her book about Canterbury Cathedral (Cassell 1979) she includes more than one credit to my father's work:
"A few weeks after VE day ... the choir which had been trained single-handedly by Joseph Poole gave a lunch-hour recital at the National Gallery in London. It was spoken of by critics as being the finest Cathedral choir in England at that time ...
"At the outset of the war [when the choir school was evacuated to Cornwall] ... there remained half a dozen small boys and five adult lay-clerks ...
"It was providential for the Cathedral to have in its Precentor an outstanding musician, who took this apparently unpromising nucleus and built up from it, in the most difficult circumstances, the foundation of the Cathedral's post-war music."
[p.64] ...

[Seems there's to be a television documentary sometime in the near future on Canterbury Cathedral, in which Lois Lang-Sims is one of the contributors.]

Saturday, 23 December 2006

real Christmas flavour

[At last! Wanted to post this yesterday and have been trying to get internet connection for 26 hours; so here it is at 23.40 on Christmas Eve, 24 December.]

It was a tonic talking to my sister this afternoon, to hear her say something to the effect that she's "icing the cake, bringing in the tree, getting down the lights (from the loft?), (and something else I've forgotten) - and all that before going for Christmas drinks with Noel". That sounds like Christmas!

My afternoon was about going back to the computer shop to return the modem I didn't need - but this evening I can enjoy finishing the gift wrapping and messages.

wrap up well
And then I read the letter from friends in Beirut, working with All Saints Cathedral, and I'm reminded that it's good to celebrate, but it's not only about whether I'm putting up decorations or stuffing turkey ...
It is difficult to get into the “Christmas spirit” – but in another way it evokes the chaos and uncertainty of that first Christmas! With the economy so badly affected, it is definitely not a consumerist Christmas, but a time to focus on the deeper comfort and Joy of the season: EMMANUEL, God with us!

and their letter finishes with
zest pretty sweet comfort

Friday, 22 December 2006

it's a miracle we're sane*

When I got back from retreat last Sunday I found my broadband connection wasn't.

This started a daily (or twice or thrice daily) chat with BT Business Broadband helpdesk advisers, plus one or two detours to the 154 phoneline people.

The fault seems to be exactly what I experienced in April and May (yes, eight weeks) and I was hoping not to go through the struggles of last time when the fault was finally sorted on the fourth engineer visit to the house by adjusting some connection under the manhole near the house.

When you set out on the fault report odyssey, each individual on the phone is efficient and courteous - but the system .....

Anyway, after talking to about a dozen different BT adviser people over this week (and you need to allow 20-30 mins a pop), the engineer visited this morning and remembered that he'd been here in April. In fact it was he who improved the internal phone wiring near the computer. One of the difficulties is that I'm s-o-o-o-o far away from the exchange, at the edge of the viable extremity, that the connection is apparently always likely to be vulnerable and it would be more reliable if it was reduced to 0.5M instead of 1M. Anyway, he found that his modem worked 100% each time. So he was sure it must be a flaw in the old phone wiring in my house, or an unreliable modem.

I can't say it isn't - but the fact that broadband was working from June until 11 December, and this week has been working at night from about 10pm to at least 2am (quiet internet traffic times?), makes me wonder if we'll ever find the truth.

What does seem true, at least to me, is that the customer service systems in place, plus the fact that there are 3 separate companies involved, will inevitably ware the average person's nerves to a frazzle. So then it's an almighty challenge to be civil to the telephone helpdesk people who have to follow strict procedures, and are not able to change how it goes even if they want to. Do they get emotionally brutalised by emotionally exasperated customers?

(By the way, if you live in Newport Gwent and want a job, I see BT's advertising for helpdesk advisers for 'one of the world's leading communication providers'. I hope the agency name "Gumtree" isn't significant!)

I hope helpdesk advisers, with their thankless responsibility, enjoy their well-deserved and probably brief Christmas break.

[* I realise my friends might want to take issue over my claim to be sane in the first place]

Thursday, 21 December 2006

action at paul and barny's

When friend Colin dropped by yesterday after an appointment in Oxford, he told me about the enthusiasm and dynamism in his church in Birmingham (Oldbury) that's being expressed through a shared blog. The church is Paul and Barny's, and they've got an all-age common cause - to take action against modern day slavery and the trafficking of human beings for exploitation. So their blog is called stop the traffik ~ set the captives free, and it seems to act as their meeting place and joint notebook for getting things to happen. I think I'll be dropping into the blog now and again to see how it all goes (and if there's some action I want to join in).

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

a nice day out

Joined friend Mark for lunch in Guildford yesterday. Is it always true that when restaurant food portions get smaller, the size of the plates and the prices get bigger? It was quality though, and a lovely atmosphere. Thanks Mark.

Mark is Communications Director for Guildford Diocese, and back in their office I caught up briefly with John Gooding and fellow Old Elm, Bonnie Appleton, in the Mission, Evangelism and Parish Development team (snappy title). Since leaving Elmhurst Bonnie was also chaplain for the school for a while. We agreed that the nativity play written in the 40s by the founding principle, Helen Mortimer – that we all performed every Christmas term while Bonnie and I were at the school – gave us a particularly good heritage in our Christian faith. In spite of the old language of the title, “Ye serve the Lord” is a robust presentation of humanity’s relationship with God and our responsibilities to each other. It was revived last year by another Old Elm now working at St George's School, Windsor, and I took a trip out from Burford one day last week to see it presented by the school in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. I preferred the original sound of piano rather than organ accompaniment - but the performance and singing were excellent, and the simple power of the presentation got to me as much as ever.

It’s great to enjoy British road systems when they’re running well, as they were on my route yesterday. And coming home, the winter afternoon sky was breathtakingly beautiful, with chiffon effects of orange through turquoise, pink with grey, blue and purple, and flowing patches of white or grey mist and fog. It seemed such a privilege to be travelling freely like this, and witnessing the dusk spectacle coming on. From the M40 cutting on the Chiltern ridge the vale of Aylesbury sat blanketed in plump mist populated by dark tree tops, and to the south west the emissions of Didcot power station’s cooling towers formed big grey-purple shapes rising from the white blanket.
Something like this sky near Amsterdam

Originally uploaded by Benjamin Rossen.

or Norwich

Originally uploaded by shashamane.

or Chesterfield

Originally uploaded by glowingtones.

I couldn’t stop on the motorway to catch the moments, and hoped Algo was out there somewhere plying his photographic genius …

one of Algo's from last autumn
Originally uploaded by algo.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

not going to win this thing ...

not one kiss ... and Bekibutton's notched up eighty-eight!

Sorry I'm not doing well here on this Innocent! (but I have bought lots of bottles with hats to give colleagues that special pre-Christmas splash of Innocent fruity cheer.)

Monday, 18 December 2006

into the silent land [with thankfulness]

There were two books that contributed significantly to my time at Burford last week. One was being read at meal times (lunch and supper)and it's Into the Silent Land: the practice of contemplation by Martin Laird. He's from Villanova University, PA. Laird describes how we run commentaries in our head on our issues and anxieties, or "play videos" on them, thereby building them up instead of meeting the issue/s with God silence. He emphasises that to learn the skill of contemplation is not a quick fix and there are dangers in doing a synthetic job if you don't grow into the process fully. We need to learn how to solve what he calls the "riddles" to allow us to go through each of the three doorways or levels of contemplation. The descriptions, advice and examples in the book pressed lots of helpful buttons for me. (It evidently did the same for others, because the Priory's supply of the book had already sold out before I got there.)

Described as a 'wise and compelling' book (by Dr Douglas Burton-Christie of Loyola Marymount University) I see Desmond Tutu and Rowan Williams have appreciated it too ...
This book is different. There are plenty of books on contemplation that feel rather tired--either wordy and labored or unhelpfully smooth and idealistic. But this is sharp, deep, with no cliches, no psychobabble and no short cuts. Its honesty is bracing, its vision utterly clear; it is a rare treasure.
Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury
Often they say 'you learn how to swim by swimming' but a good coach or swimming manual is essential. Equally, we could say 'you learn how to be contemplative by contemplating' and a good guide or mentor is necessary. Into the Silent Land is just that. I tried it and it works. Try it.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize
[Oxford University Press, USA]
The other book was given to me recently by a friend - I'm grateful to her, and very glad I decided to have it with me last week. It's How to Keep a Spiritual Journal: a guide to journal keeping for inner growth and personal discovery by Ron Klug. There's heaps of practical advice and suggestions in it - too much to take in all at once - but it's written in a clear and helpful way and in among the variety of spiritual exercises there's one that's proving particularly helpful to me right now.

If you're interested in spiritual journalling, the London-based Infed (informal education) site has a page on it, using Klug among other references to help you do it.

Sunday, 17 December 2006

detox of body, mind, spirit

front lawn

Just under a week at Burford Priory , and it's made all the difference to how I feel. Times of liturgy in the chapel, time to read, sleep, reflect, take photos, and times of conversation with fellow pilgrims. Oh - and good, simple food including home-grown fruit.

Blessing & tonic.

morning after rain

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

lighting up

Here's another local display that I missed last night.
The reindeers' heads move, and there's a flashing signpost in the corner to the North Pole.
Putting this up was a weekend job for the family plus brothers and sisters in law.

(Is that Santa in the living room ...?)

which light of the world?

The first Christmas light displays in my 'hood
(sorry about poor photo quality - done without tripod)...

What about the electricity bill? and global warming?

Monday, 4 December 2006

be ready

Worried about getting flu? How to get prepared for a flu pandemic.

Sunday, 3 December 2006

comfort & joy?

We had a happy and varied worship time at St Nicholas this morning, including a test to see how many ads we recognise from their slogans, checking out what we really think is important.

That segued into a song, and I was tickled to realise that we were singing "Crackers and Turkey" - better known to me as "Somebody's Birthday" which was the title song of a four-track Christmas cassette first made by the Scottish singer/songwriter Ian White in 1983 or 84. The songs are

~ It's Somebody's Birthday
~ Joyful News
~ Would you like to hold a baby?
~ Merry Christmas to you

You can download a free pdf file of each of these songs from the Ready & Willing - Children's Collection page of Ian's website, LittleMistyMusic (where you can also buy the music CD of the Children's Collection - a double album)

Ian made the original cassette with a secondary school - somewhere in the Portlethen area I think (Ian, if you see this, please correct me if I'm wrong!) - and I gave it its first radio broadcast airing on NorthSound Radio that Christmas. Then around 1987 Ian and I collaborated in a NorthSound Radio Christmas concert in the Music Hall in Aberdeen. In among readings, stories, and popular carols, the songs from the early cassette were presented by children from four local schools that Ian had worked with specially for the concert. It was a memorable evening, not least for the fact that as mc I had to make up a story about the real live lambs in the foyer escaping from their pen. Well, you have to cover technical glitches somehow without destroying the atmosphere!

Flying a flag
But in our church this morning, in the midst of all our anticipation and preparation for the Christmas festival, we were also reminded of the price paid by some today for their freedom. We have a West Papuan family among us, and they carry in their hearts the pain of knowing that fellow countrymen and women are suffering for their nationhood:
On 1st December 2004, two West Papuan men were arrested for the 'crime' of publicly raising their national flag, the Morning Star.

Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage were tried in May 2005, on charges of treason and expressing hostility towards the state, and handed down prison sentences of 15 and 10 years respectively.

Jailing people for raising a flag is unjust and unacceptable. Filep and Yusak are prisoners of conscience, and the Free West Papua Campaign is calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

We were asked to help by the simple means of signing a postcard to go to the Indonesian Ambassador. Amnesty International has recognised the two as prisoners of conscience, and the postcard information is available from the Oxford-based Free West Papua campaign site.

Perhaps we can contribute to someone else's comfort and joy?

first Sunday in Advent

Some words of Jesus to mull over ...

The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. [John 16:27]

All age worship today (first Sunday of the month) in our church in Marston.

Tony our Vicar blogs at Storyteller's World.

Saturday, 2 December 2006

December begins

December 2006 begins with sunshine, rain, floods, storm winds, leaves on the trees, leaves off the trees, car being repaired (nice car in its place), wonderful developments at work, turmoil at work ... a load of paradoxes.

There have been some good high points over the last seven days, particularly the reflective time about mission community with Andrew Jones and Jim Barker, Paul and Thaya Ashman (with William!), and Diana and John Thomas last Saturday; the visit to Burford Priory on Sunday; worship with hOME on Sunday evening; then two more days of reflection during the week with colleagues and local people interested in mission community.

We enjoyed good conversation over some meals together. We were joined by Ian Adam of MayBe, Matt Rees and Jim Barker of hOME, who caught up with Jonny Baker to talk about possibly organising Oxford Blahs sometime soon.

Yesterday, after a planning meeting with Parish Nursing Minstries UK about the 2007 symposium at Hothorpe Hall, I stopped off at Leamington Spa to enjoy an Italian lunchtime treat with my sister, her son and husband. Casa Valle has a lovely atmosphere, a very fair set lunch price, and they accommodate individual menu variations with warmth and willingness.

Yesterday evening I went along to the Wycliffe Hall carol Service at St Andrew's Church in Oxford - it was a very moving celebration weaving in music from different centuries, and with a powerful presentation by Dr Krish Kandiah of the reason for Christ's birth, and of ways of seeing Jesus through the eyes of different ages and different cultures.

My friend Jenny Ottewell has sent her Advent activity sheet with a simple drawing for colouring in. Designed to help "reflect on how God's Word speaks to us as we travel through our lives", each day there's a verse, an invitation to reflection or prayer, and a feature to colour. It can be mentally and spiritually productive to do this as you reflect on the bible verses and their relevance to life - it's the right-brain/left-brain stuff (which I first came across in 1990 when I read Walter Wink's "Transforming Bible Study".

This morning the postman delivered my kissing kit from Innocent Smoothies.
(I think Nele Schulze is well on her way to winning the game) ...

kissing kit