Wednesday, 31 December 2003

We're off

to a 'grown up' new year's eve party in a few minutes. May take some pics.

In the mean time, happy new year everyone.

Tuesday, 30 December 2003

Had a great ride today.

Ben and I drove to Wales this morning for a bit of serious mountain biking at the Afan Argoed centre. Although we started off in damp and drizzle (there was slush on the windscreen) the rain stopped around Bristol and it actually got sunny here and there.

It's a fantastic place to ride, with a mix of fast open tracks and narrow twisty woodland trails. Even the climbing (we did about 1000 meters height gain) didn't seem anywhere near as bad as when we ride locally.

Although the weather was kind, it was still winter. When we got to the top a lot of the mud was frozen (easier riding for us :-)

God was gracious to us. Neither had a serious stack, although Ben came closest, miss-timing a jump and catching the side of the trail where the forest rises above it. We both managed plenty of hairy moments, with wheels sliding on corners, and in one place me having to use the 'bail out route' after taking off wrong from jumping some roots. In many places the trail is only about 12" wide, with a steep drop on one side and large rocks on the other. It certainly focusses the mind.

We got home dog tired about 6.30 tonight.

Monday, 29 December 2003

We got there.

Chris's parents got back around midnight last night, so our hunch was right. Spent the day with them. That's pretty much it.

They are getting quite obviously old now, even talking about not going abroad any more. I think that's partly a reaction to having 'duty free' stuff nicked while they were in baggage reclaim, but they are now quite 'elderly'. Walking and talking are both slow processes, and I think they've realised that things are running down. Memory is an issue too.

They live about 45 mins away. I wonder if we're going to be doing that journey a lot more soon?

One thing that was very pleasing - I managed to keep Chris's jumper (see below) a secret until we exchanged gifts. She kept commenting and sneaking off to see how it looked in the mirror upstairs. Looks like I got that one right then ;-)

In the post, this morning.

The present occupier
*Our home address*

We need to confirm your current situation

Dear Sir/madam,

Some time ago we were informed that there was no television in use at this address and therefore, that no TV license was required.

Our enquiry Officers will be visiting your home shortly to confirm that this is still the case.

If your circumstances have changed and you now use a television at this address, it is important that you purchase a TV license straight away. Watching or recording TV programs without a valid license is against the law.

A colour TV license costs £116 per year (£38.50 for black and white). The quickest way to pay is by phone etc.

If you still don’t use a TV, you needn’t take any action – but expect a brief visit from our Enquiry Officers just to confirm the situation.

Yours faithfully etc.

Great. A visit from the licensing people. We’ve never owned a TV in all the time we’ve been married. And they’ve never given up chasing us to buy a license either. At least the tone of the letter is polite these days. It used to be really dark and rather threatening. Now they actually acknowledge you might not use a set.

AFAIK these people actually have right of entry, and without a warrant too!

Sense of achievement.

I especially like doing nice things for Chris (being good to your partner is like being good to yourself, only better). I bought her a Queen DVD for Christmas, which she watched this evening. Amongst the songs on there was 'Hammer to fall'.

Now Guitarist mag happened to have an illustration of the 'Brian May' extended A chord (Aadd6 if you care) this month. And he just happens to use it for Hammer to fall (you can see it in the live bits). I'd managed to recognise it already from fiddling around trying it out. One of the songs that we sang tonight was 'Give thanks to the Lord (His love endures forever)' which just happens to be in A.

Thanks Brian, your Chord fits beautifully.

Managed to get a ride in. At last!

And the Chilterns were foul!

It started OK. Clearish skies, slippery but firm trail. Then it came to bits.

We'd cleaned the first decent climb up to Dunsmore. After the green and pond the trails just descended into quagmire. Some of it was frozen and firm, but a lot of it was soft and gloopy, particularly where horses had been through and churned it up. At the end of the what is normally a flat out, top gear trail (we were mid ringing, like it was a fair climb) was a large and unavoidable puddle.

Add cold and very wet feet to the mix.

Then we got a mix of snow, hail and sleet, riding past Chequers (yes, that Chequers). By the time we reached Cadsden I'd had enough, after about 1.5 hours riding. In the summer the whole loop of about 18 miles normally takes less time than that, and we were no more than half way round.

2 hours after starting we were back at the car, filthy and tired. I'm seriously thinking of locking the shed and leaving the whole game until the trails dry out. Lets see how we get on at Afan in Wales on Tuesday. If we get there.

Sunday, 28 December 2003

Ever felt like a bit of clay?

Today it was my turn to lead worship in the afternoon meeting. I'd sorted songs, felt I'd heard God on some things to say and was just about ready.

Got there and it all just evaporated. The cold did a major resurgence, and had to ask my good friend (and younger elder ;-) Steve Beegoo to help with the singing. What shreds of spiritual sensitivity for worship seemed to disappear at the same time. That's OK, it's His worship. Then I saw someone, and just felt God drop a word in. I was able to share (brought tears to both of us) and prayed for her with Chris.

I'm glad to be used. It's just that the shape of the vessel you are to be isn't always predictable.

We should see the outlaws tomorrow.

Chris's parents always like to go away at Christmas. A few years back they did a cruise down the US coast to Mexico. That completely put them off warm locations, and so they go to interesting European locations now.

This year they went to Norway, Flying out a few days before Christmas. They should have been back yesterday evening, however Chris's dad isn't really all that sharp on times and dates these days, and he seemed a little uncertain as to their actual return.

We tried to call them today.

3 times.

Ain't no one home.

If we can't get an answer tomorrow morning, looks like we'll be having an unexpected 'free day'.

Saturday, 27 December 2003

Sorted - I hope

We've settled on a 406 HDi estate. It's about 4 years old and slightly high mileage, but it drives really well, smooth, quiet and reasonably powerful. The first thing we tried (a 306 estate) didn't really have enough rear leg room and the engine didn't sound good, although it handled better.

We also drove half way across London to look at a used car supermarket (claim to have 5000 cars - believable). The only really suitable car was a Mundano in a foul purple colour. Didn't even bother to drive it, since it was no better than the 406, but £800 more expensive. Chris also saw a silver Volvo with cream leather interior that she thought 'looked comfy'. But it was petrol rather than diesel, and about £2500 more than the 406. Forget that one then.

It's funny. Each car we've had for the last few years has cost about the same. The BX estate cost £4700 and lasted 6 years/185,000 miles. The current 406 cost about £4400 and lasted 4.5 years/142,000 miles. The new one is £4995 and will hopefully last to the 200,000 mile point. By that time the kids should have set up their own homes and we can get something a little more exciting. Or not.

Anyway, the car should be ready in a week or so. It needs the front discs replacing (they're warped, and braking was way under par) and a ding fixed on the driver's door, plus a new battery. The paint is a bit 'flat' courtesy of too may drive through car washes, but other than that it seems good. Now we just have to pull some cash together.

That was a strange night.

I'm not a big one for dreams, but last night's sleep wasn't pleasant. Got the light out around 11ish, but just couldn't drop off, and was still awake after midnight. I really didn't want a 'Christmas all-nighter' as I've done in previous years, having been slept-out, so rolled over again and eventually fell asleep.

And that's when it all started. Ben has been playing 'Serious Sam' on the upgraded PC, which involves a lot of monster fragging. Yuk. That got combined with bits of 'Aliens' (never saw the original, didn't want to see that one either - long story from 15 years ago) plus imagining I was on a cruise ship. And there were sections of 'Terminator' in there too.

None of this is my kind of thing, and maybe that's why I didn't enjoy it. Whatever, I hate the way these things creep under the consciousness. So I've kind of slept, but it wasn't fun.

Time to go hunt cars, I guess. Where's my grenade launcher?

Tuesday, 23 December 2003

We've got to replace a car :-(

In some ways it's a good time to do it (prices are low) and it's a holiday, but it's also inconvenient.

We just feel it's time to move our Peugeot on. Not that we want anything flashy, but it's now 7 1/2 years and 140,000 miles old and and reliability is becoming an issue. Since Chris drives the car, this IS an issue. I quite like driving old nails, but she hates the risk of getting stuck.

Present choices seem to be boiling down to 4 year old cars, since we want a diesel (fuel cost reduced by 1/3) estate for extra space. Looks like it may be another Peugeot 406. Although I'm not impressed by the reliability of this one, it was one of the first in the country, and later ones should have been sorted a bit better. Another choices are Ford's Mundano (sorry, Mondeo, but like any ford, they're meant to be dead boring) which is cheapish, but of questionable build quality (again, applies to all Fords). There are also a couple of 'if only' cars - the Audi A4, Volks Passat and the Volvo V70 - which are nice, but would stretch our finances more than I want.

Oh, I was tempted by a Toyota Hilux Surf - basically a crewcab with a glassed roof on the pickup section. I must have spent too much time in the US ;-)

We just need to find "the right one". It's occupying far too much of my thought life ATM, but the consequences of buying a complete duffer are financial ruin for a couple of years, and I don't want to go through all that again.

Monday, 22 December 2003

Introspection can be useful.

Virtually all my Christian life I've strongly disliked hymns and carols. Prior to that I was relatively indifferent, accepting them as a peculiar and slightly tedious part of the "Way Things Were Done In Church". It isn't just the tunes, although musically speaking they have generally (with some exceptions) seemed turgid and dull - trying to play on the emotions in a dated and crass way. But even with the 'great hymns' (Oh for a thousand tongues springs to mind) I've had to grit my teeth and get on with it, and this has remained a puzzle for me. Now I think I have some insight.

I grew up in a baptist church. One which, when eventually confronted with the idea that God might actually want to be involved in our lives, decided that it wasn't particularly keen on the idea. Hymns were for the 'main church' while songs for worship (called choruses then, usually with a look of distain) were for use outside the main congregation.

When we married we felt released to move churches, and became involved with a 'housechurch' that was on fire for God. A guy called Steve Findlater, who joined us as a new Christian summed it up for me one Sunday morning with more accuracy than I'd imagined at the time. We had sung a hymn at the start of the meeting, and Steve's comment was "I came to church to meet God, not to sing hymns". Like him, I felt that hymns and God were exclusive. Things that had died, but had not been allowed to lie down quietly. To borrow pop-parlance, a 'rave from the grave'.

I've already been back to God about this a few times, and he's spoken quite clearly about just accepting them for others, so that was kind of sorted. However I was considering this again the other day when it finally dawned on me as to why I feel the way I do. I have always associated that style of music with people actively resisting God. Obvious really, but it's taken this long for the penny to drop. I doubt that I'll suddenly develop a great love for that style of church music, but I expect not to wrestle with it whenever a hymn comes up.

Enjoy your carols, everyone ;-)

Thursday, 18 December 2003

New pictures

2 new collections up on my fotopic gallery.

Oxfordshire frosty morning

Christmas shopping in Oxfords covered market

Nothing spectacular, but who knows, you might find something to float the boat.


Ever tried using the 'Language Tool' option on Google? Well, if you translate from English to French and then from French back in to English, you can get some amusing outcomes.

I thought I'd start with Jerusalem, by Blake, and here's what I got!

And did these feet in ancient time go on the green of the mountains of England?
And was the holy lamb of God on the pleasant pastures of England seen?
And it undermines it guessed the glare ahead on our opacified hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here among these dark mills satanic?
Bring to me my extreme gold arc!
Bring to me my arrows of the desire!
Bring to me my lance!
The clouds of O, reveal!
Bring to me my carriage of fire!
I will not cease a mental combat,
nor my sleep of sword in my hand,
until we built Jerusalem in the green and pleasant ground of England

From Bikemagic. I can't think of a finer thing to do to this hymn (other than maybe forget it) philistine that I am.

Monday, 15 December 2003

Deep Joy R us.

For our Peugeot (car) we used to have 2 keys.

About 2 weeks ago our daughter lost the one key that worked the central locking system.

Last night Chris put the remaining key down before locking the car from inside.

The keys are on the back seat.

Inside the car.

Get the picture?

A replacement key would have cost about £70 (or about $120 US for those not in the UK). To break in will cost £17 for the replacement glass + £78 for fitting (daylight robbery!). The local Peugeot dealer knows a way to get in (Nah mate, I can't disclose it over the phone) and are looking forward to a little extra business.

Now the good news - I got the keys out :-)

Thanks everyone that prayed for me. Courtesy of a little leverage, some screwdrivers and an ex-coat hanger I was able to extract them. That's the grace of God.

Sunday, 14 December 2003

"Light up your life"

I remember this line from 'Carry on up the khyber'. The following line was delivered by a deadpan Sid James. "And up yours".

This afternoon Chris really wanted Christmas lights outside. Simple one might think. But these lights require a transformer, which must be INSIDE. And the cables to plug into this have large plugs, meaning it won't be possible to drill a small hole somewhere and feed them through.

So muggins decides it's time to run power to the shed.

Well, it all went more-or-less flawlessly, and our outside lights are up. The only exciting moment was after I'd run the cable and fitted the socket in the shed. I came inside and wired the plug on the other end. This was plugged into an RCCB unit, which I'd pressed the 'Test' button on. This press was important, because when I plug in it trips the whole house :-/ Visions of re-doing the job ran through my head as I switched back on. However once everything was re-set it was fine.

Yesterday I put up the lights that run up the stairs for the sake of both my daughter and wife.

Christmas spirit? Well I do have a bottle of whiskey now.

Humbug ;-)

BTW I've just seen a gritting lorry go past. Any chance of snow tomorrow?

Friday, 12 December 2003

Existence today seems rather strange.

Did the 4+ hour drive back from Newcastle last night in the dark. Courtesy of the lurgy and being away from home I had relatively little sleep the previous night, so used a caffiene stimulant drink on the way back to keep awake (it works, but makes everything a bit unreal). Slept OK last night, but 6 hours max as I had to be up at 5.20 to get Ben out by 6.30. Then drove to a petrol station in Bicester to fill up before getting to work, an hour after leaving home. And it's still dark.

It's times like this that the real world seems a long way away.

And why is it when you're in a new city, pron always appears in front of you? Actually I know the answer. Whether it's a news agent (WH Smith was supposed to have stopped selling it a couple of years ago) or a DVD hire shop, or even a filling station, the stuff just pops up all the time. Managed to walk away from it though; the spirit was willing but the flesh was strong. Must have just been the grace of God, 'cos I'm sure it wasn't my own strength.

While on that topic, we had a visit here (work) from someone from the US a while back. He made an interesting comment, about how pron in the UK is softer than the US, and how it seems to be in the context of a relationship. He was disappointed! Makes me worry about what kind of legacy the US (Canada too?) is building for itself. If they really have detached sex and relationship from eachother (as is starting to happen here) then I suspect social meltdown is not far away. Makes a mockery of the idea of the US being a moral country.

Yours, blearily. The ancient (feeling) mariner.

Wednesday, 10 December 2003

Big white world

No, I'm not a Marylin Manson fan. We have freezing fog here, and everything as far as the eye can see (not far) is white. Dishwasher salt works well on the path - it was so slippery that I nearly fell this morning. Lots of warm water required to thaw the car screen.

At least the sun is starting to burn through, so maybe the drive to Newcastle won't be so bad afterall. When it's foggy here people tend to drive about 40mph. Not ideal when you've 250 miles to go, although better than hitting something.

Tuesday, 9 December 2003

Yay - I'm going.

Mountain biking in Wales on Dec 30th. Probably, anyway.

Afan Argoed. Manmade trails on a Welsh mountainside, probably in the snow. Some of the best trails in the UK, and with a new section (the skyline trail) recently opened, this should be brilliant. Last time I went there we just HAD to go back and re-ride certain parts of the course. It's not stupidly steep like Coed y Brenin, just fast and twisty with well placed drops and jumps.

My lasting memories were of belting down the trail where it twists from the top, keeping up behind a guy on a downhill bike, my first river crossing and of anticipating the final lump at the end of the trail so that I could jump off the top like I meant it.

Can't wait. Must build up the fitness in anticipation.

Pulled a sickie today

and stayed at home. I'm still not getting over things, and although I feel OK-ish most of the time sitting still I get periods of confusion and dizziness when standing.

Worst of all is boredom.

I'm really grateful that I don't have a broadband always-on connection. The temptation to surf for things I know I should not see would be far greater than is good for me. At least with daytime dialup it's unreasonably expensive and keeps me off the net.

Tomorrow afternoon I'm driving to Newcastle again - 4 1/2 hrs. Hopefully by the time I get to the customer on Thursday I'll be semi-permanently lucid ;-)

Monday, 8 December 2003

An interesting week for Ben

He's just started a week of work experience.

He'd like to design cars for a living, having an interest in graphic arts and mechanical and adrenaline inducing things. So he's got a week of shadowing someone at the BMW-Mini factory, which sounds like it's going to be fun. So far he's been checking over a new car fresh off the line (under guidance, of course) and out for a test drive. Tomorrow he's going to Silverstone with the team that are testing a new model.

Now the downside - He's got to be at the Oxford factory at 7.30am, and he has to pick up another lad first, who lives 25 mins in the wrong direction. Bed time for the chauffeur then :-/

Mr. Grumpy today.

Back to work, having had major lurgy at the w/e. Snappish, grumpy and generally unpleasant, I've not been a good specimen to work with. And the face/headache is growing again.

Wonder if I can be sick enough to justify sitting at home tomorrow? I'm sure the office will be a much nicer place without me sniffing, coughing and mumbling.

Sunday, 7 December 2003


Realised I've actually been blogging interactively for a long time. And have made real friendships too, although it helps to have met in meatspace. The majority of what I post is on the BM forum. That may be why I blog less and post more. Sure, it's an area I particularly enjoy, but I also know (and, dare I say it, love some of the people) too.

I'm not alone.

Poor Leighton seems to be suffering too.

G' mornin.

I've just got up. I have a cold, complete with sinusitis. I got fed up the feeling that someone was pushing a sharp piece of metal into my cheekbone - woke me up every 10 mins or so. On top of that made the mistake of watching the 2 towers. Dreams full of horsemen getting hacked to bits by orcs and vice verse don't make for a pleasant slumber. Interferon has a lot to answer for.

Anyway, having got up I find that the cold capsules have a limit on how many can be taken, and I've exceeded the dose. On top of that I've run out of whiskey (2 or 3 bottles a year is 'fair use' I reckon). The port I've just opened appears corked, but it doesn't matter because I can barely taste it anyway. At least there's something good about it.

'Scuse me, one side has just started to drain........ Catch that drip!

Now off to answer Linea from last week and then look up reviews of Heritage guitars. Just found what may be my next instrument, up for sale in Texas, and I want to make sure it's the right one before I engage in trying to sort things at a distance of 10,000 miles.

Hope you're all keeping better than me.

Friday, 5 December 2003

Good morning.

The last standard has been dispensed. The last email has been sent. Everything is ready for later this morning.

I'm still at work, but not for much longer. Back in 7 hours though.


Thursday, 4 December 2003

A little balancing act......

is what life is at the mo.

Work vs family
Health vs strength
Leisure vs tasks
Wants vs needs
People vs God

I'm not sure which causes most sweat. I seem to be majoring in all of the left hand items, while variously trying to satisfy the right hand ones.

The last item became a bit more pointed last night, after the church meeting. As a church we have been trying to push the people into being more pro-active during worship. Previously our worship times were lead from the front, and although sometimes people did bring songs, scriptures and prophetic words, over the last couple of years it has been getting less and less. Just before the summer God clearly said to pause and re-focus on Him. So we've done that (and have been outside our comfort zones ever since ;-). Worship was also no longer 'lead', but instead was simplified so that someone would start the meeting with a song (usually me) and then I'd just carry it on guitar. In September we added a keyboard back, and have jsut started having someone to 'facilitate' worship. It is still very minimalistic though.

I've been leading the worship team for a couple of years now, and in the 12 months leading up to that we were getting together once a fortnight to spend time worshipping, praying and just being together. That time stopped over the summer, and when the autumn came round I really didn't feel the freedom to re-start things - it was on hold along with everything else. Last night I was talked to by a good friend (who's also the drummer) telling me that we really HAD to start getting back together, how people were on the verge of leaving etc. I know there are a number of other people that were singing and playing previously that are struggling now, and particularly missing our midweek meetings.

The question I have is: Do I re-start or wait. I know it will bless people and my instinct is to do it, but I need to hear from God on this, and the old spiritual ears seem as blocked up as my natural ones ATM. I also struggle with my motives because I preferred the worship front lead, but never perceived a problem of the people interacting - if people are going to 'go for it' then a decent band actually helps them.

When in trouble or in doubt,
Run in circles, scream and shout.
(traditional British rhyme, wot I made up 5 mins ago).

Wednesday, 3 December 2003

I'b god a code id by dose



Cough, cough.

I'll blog more when things are a bit less busy and I'm a bit healthier.