Saturday 22 September 2007

All packed

And it's taken less space (and weight) than it looked like it would - <30kg between us.

And now ladies, a helpful tip.

Should you ever be in the happy situation of working with your loved one to pack for a holiday, communication is a facility that can smooth across potential pitfalls. And if you happen to both be *separately* packing your stuff, yet doing so at the same time, if you should choose to be really kind and helpful, packing your partners spare 'arrival day' clothes, please tell him you've done so.

Please don't assume that he'll see the absence of clothes on the bed as a sign they've been packed.

Please also don't assume that because he can't find them in all the places they might have been put, he will assume you've packed them for him.

Please don't assume he is so proud and clever that he won't consider the possibility he's been a dumb-ass and packed them by mistake somewhere incorrectly.

Please don't assume he won't unpack a lot of stuff before giving up and asking if "you might have packed them for me"?

A little communication will prevent a lot of stress, anger, inward cussing and general dis-harmony. I know us men aren't great communicators either, but it's your special skill set: make the most of it.

Have a nice trip.

Possibly the most difficult thing

has been trying to decide what to leave out.

This is odd for me, as I never have a problem - I can easily travel light, and on the last visit to the US went with hand luggage only, including laptop and space in the case.

This time there's quite a bit of kit, and we're distributing it between 2 lightweight rucksacks and 2 bags. It *should* be fine, but it *looks* way more than usual.

In less than 24 hours

Chris and I should be sat on a plane, waiting to go. This is what we'll be doing:

Day 1 Depart London for our overnight flight on the scheduled services of
Gulf Air.

Day 2 Arrive in Bangkok and transfer to our hotel. Those not flying with
the group will meet us during the day at the hotel. The rest of the day is
free to explore the city or catch up on some sleep.

Day 3 In the morning we board the BTS Skytrain for the start of our
exploration of Bangkok and a true look at the city. Next it’s a local “klong”
or canal boat followed by a public bus to our final destination,
Ratanakosin Island. Here we visit what to this day remains the home of
the Thai Royal family on Ratanakosin Island, on the Chao Phraya River,
home to the most spectacular collection of buildings in Bangkok. We will
see Wat Po, the largest temple in Bangkok, housing a 46m long, 15m
high gold-plated reclining Buddha, the Royal Palace complex and Wat
Phra Kaew, home to the Emerald Buddha and one of Thailand's most
venerated images, a carved green jade Buddha.
In the afternoon we drive 4 hours to our accommodation outside the Khao
Yai National Park.

Day 4 Today we are taken on a full day tour of the National Park starting
with an easy 5km hike during which there is the possibility of spotting
gibbons, hornbills and other wildlife. Towards the end of the morning we
emerge into grassland which gives us a beautiful view of the national
park. From here we are collected and taken to a restaurant for lunch
followed by a drive to Haew Suwat Waterfall, made famous by the movie
“The Beach”. Later in the afternoon we drive to the second highest
mountain in the park for a spectacular view of the surrounds. In the
evening we take a 1-hour night safari drive to see if we can spot any of
the nocturnal animals that inhabit the park.

Day 5 After breakfast we head to Ayuthaya, the 2nd royal capital of the
Kingdom of Siam (4 hours). At its peak the Kingdom encompassed large
parts of present day Laos, Cambodia and Burma. Diplomatic and
international trade missions found their way to Ayuthaya from countries
as far afield as Europe. It was not long before Ayuthaya became one of
the most important trading centres of the region. The population grew to
over 1 million people by the 17th Century, more than any European capital
at the same time. Following decades of wars and then a siege that lasted
nearly 2 years, Ayuthaya was invaded and destroyed by the Burmese
army. Temples were ransacked and statues of gold stolen and carried off
to Burma. Following this devastating defeat the Siamese Kingdom
relocated its capital to Thonburi (now a suburb in Bangkok) on the banks
of the Chao Praya river.
In Ayuthaya we take a gentle cycle ride through the temples that still
remain today as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Late in the
evening we board an overnight sleeper train bound for Chiang Mai.
Sleeper train

Day 6 We arrive in Chiang Mai in the early morning. Chiang Mai, a former
religious and cultural centre, was twice under the control of the Burmese,
and a strong Burmese influence is reflected in the architecture of the city.
We visit the temples and, outside the city, the hilltop temple of Doi
Suthep, the most revered Buddhist shrine in the Chiang Mai region. The
climb up to the temple is well worth the effort as on a clear day it affords
an excellent view over Chiang Mai and its striking temple landscape. In
the evening we visit the night market where many of the hilltribe's
handicrafts can be seen.

Days 7 We drive north to Chiang Dao, 80km from Chiang Mai, set amid
forested hills. Home of many of the Hilltribes peoples of Northern
Thailand, all with their own distinct culture and dialect means it’s the
perfect area for our trek. After lunch we start our trek into these beautiful
surrounds. Sleep in a hilltribe Village house.

Days 8/9 We continue trekking for these two days. A good level of fitness
is required, as you can expect 4-5 hours walking each day. Walking from
village to village through magnificent mountain scenery we might see a
wide range of hilltribes; among them people from the Lisu, Karen, Lahu
and Shan tribes. The people are incredibly friendly and we learn of their
traditional lifestyles whilst staying in the villages. There is an elephant
ride and on the last day we spend the morning on a bamboo raft on the
Mae Taeng River. We end on day 9 by returning by road to Chiang Mai.
Hilltribe Village houses (Day 8) Guesthouse (Day 9)

Day 10 The morning is free to explore the delights of Chiang Mai on your
own, your Tour Leader is on hand to assist with arranging optional
activities. A half day cooking school is highly recommended, however, be
warned, you eat what you cook! Another great alternative is to spoil
yourself after the trek with a relaxing Thai massage. In the late afternoon
we fly to Bangkok.

Day 11 Today we transfer to the province of Samut Songkram, better
known for its floating markets. The journey takes approximately 2 hours
depending on traffic leaving Bangkok. Our first destination is the Floating
Markets, where we start our bike ride through the fruit orchards. A boat
ride through the Floating Market is an optional extra. The bike ride is over
predominantly flat terrain and is approximately 30kms long. At the end of
the ride we arrive at our accommodation for the evening, a beautiful
traditional Thai Teak house set on a klong “canal”. In the evening we
have the opportunity for a boat ride through the area to experience local
life. Homestay

Day 12 In the morning we transfer by road to Kanchanaburi (approx. 3 to
3 ½ hours). Kanchanaburi province is a pretty area and a favourite with
travellers for its caves, waterfalls and river trips. In the afternoon we take
a further cycling ride around the town. Kanchanburi is best known for the
“Bridge on the River Kwai” and you can visit the bridge itself along with
the J.E.A.T.H war museum, which is a memorial to the thousands who
were killed whilst constructing the ‘death railway’ during the Second
World War.

Day 13 Today we take a day of canoeing on the River Kwai itself and
visit the infamous Hellfire Pass, part of the Thai/Burma Railway. We
journey by minivan out to the Sai Yok area of Kanchanaburi where we
start our canoeing (after instruction) back towards Kanchanaburi on the
River Kwai. The river is wide and moves along at a gentle pace so you
have plenty of time to take in the scenery around you. Following
approximately 6 hours of canoeing we transfer back to Kanchanaburi by
minivan. Please note that starting points and exact routes taken on the
canoeing trip may vary depending on the water levels of the river.

Day 14 In the morning we drive back to Bangkok (3 hours). The rest of
the day is free for individual sightseeing or shopping. We transfer to the
airport in the evening and check in for the overnight flight to London. For
those not flying to London with the group the tour ends in the afternoon.

Day 15 Arrive London in the early morning, around 6.45am.

Ben will be here, looking after the house.

Time to go pack.

Tuesday 18 September 2007

There's a bunch of stuff

...... that I should have said, but haven't.

Saturday was fun, despite playing fairly terribly. It was nice bumping into Georgia again too - we seem to meet once a year, at the fun day. Why is that when you only see someone once in while, embarrassing things happen. Like scratching a spot on my cheek and bleeding profusely. Ho hum.

I'm also now married to a 'fit bird'. Chris cycled into Bicester and home again: around 17 miles. I think she'll be fine doing the 30km bike ride in Thailand. I think the only fitness concern we'll have is 6 hours canoeing with potentially cramped joints.

Alpha supper tonight, for the start of the Bicester Alpha course. It's kicking off with a meal at the Salvation Army hall in Hart Place at 7.00pm. We're helping with catering and washing up.

This Sunday things will be a little different. No Keyboard players and I'm not around. Mike F is doing a multimedia worship time with mixing decks, projected DVDs, a drum machine and working with Ben and Jonny who are both playing guitar through it. We ran through it last night, and it felt GOOD. Some people will probably find it 'challenging' compared to normal, but I reckon most should be able to push through that and find a fresh place to worship. I hope people encourage Mike as he's put a lot of work and prayer into this.

Friday 14 September 2007

There seems to be a gruesome party game going on

It's almost as though the newspapers are playing charades with the Mcanns, as if they'll 'fess up' if the paper guesses what happened to Madeline. It's quite grotesque.

Funny how it goes.

I'm moving more and more to the 'hated' acoustic guitar for Sunday worship. There was a time when I played exclusively electric, and it sounded huge and glorious. Now it just seems to sound a bit thin and grating to me.

It may be no coincidence that God's been speaking about letting some things go....

But tonight we rehearsed for the fun day in Garth Park on Saturday. It's true I was playing louder than usual, but my 'voxy baby' little church amp was warm, smooth, fat, sparkly and wonderful sounding. After we'd finished I plugged in the other amp I'd brought - my Madamp A15 that I built a couple of years ago and never use as it's too strident for church. Before coming out it was fitted into a combo cab with a 70s Celestion G12H (for those that know and care about these things). This combination was absolutely GLORIOUS, with astonishing clarity and a very real kick-in-the-pants bass response, thanks to that speaker.

It was also staggeringly loud for a 15 watt amp through a 1X12 cab.

So if you're in Garth park on Saturday afternoon I'll be playing with Dennis Niziol and the Panic Street Preachers. Should be a hoot.

Thursday 13 September 2007

Sometimes it's fascinating

when you find others have reached somewhat similar conclusions to you, quite independently.

Like Leighton Tebay on the 'emerging church conversation'. I'm not at all sure his perception of the 'next big thing' of the 21st century is correct, but consumerism and abuse IS certain to be *one* of the key factors in 21st century theology.

And a little IT entertainment:

Although the *greater* company business is not reproductive biology, certain parts (like us) are quite intimately involved. I was contacted yesterday by one of our reps in France about hormone levels in children through their development, and provided him links to scientific papers that described how those levels varied through childhood and puberty.

So he carefully paid for and downloaded the articles, then kindly offered to send me the full text (in .pdf format).

They contained the word 'penis', and thus got bounced by the email server.

Someone is trying pretty hard, to check forbidden words in .pdf files attached to emails.

Shame they can't block emails with the words 'viagra' and 'cialis' in them, although I suppose they might be argued to be legitimate drugs.

I wonder if this post (in my coffee break) will get picked up?

Are puns locational?

For some time now we've been involved in trying to help a reproductive biology based company in the US establish a new testing methodology. It seems appropriate that a company testing fertility is located in Cummings drive.

Better than that, we've had ongoing discussions about blood samples with a senior member of that company. His email address is 'bleader@****'.

You couldn't make this stuff up (well, you could, but it wouldn't be believable).

Life subject to change without (much) notice.

In some ways things are the same, in some ways different.

I got the bike back on the road, finally, and after being a little hit-and-miss it seems OK. The old heap is still on it’s way out, but the feelings that went with it are less sharp and immediate. Glad I left it alone this long though. A new set of tyres has helped, and I'm working on narrowing my chicken-strips.

I just had dental work done – a tooth that had required major filling work over the years (including root canal cleaning and nerve removal) had worn far enough to require re-building. So it was rebuilt about 2 ½ hours ago and feel a little strange now.

BTW I should mention this was my first time back to a dentist (professionally – I loved meeting Linea last year) since ’99. However I may well now start regular checkups. Dentistry has changed a lot over the years, and the bad old days of dentists apparently seeing if they could chip your enamel with their steel instruments has gone – at least at the place I’ve been. Now – and I presume this is the upside of private dental care – they actually seem interested in trying not to hurt the patient instead of giving anaesthetics of questionable efficacy, through a large needle.

Dental care in the US and Canada may have always been more careful, of course.

I’m also oscillation between feelings of inadequacy (or having delusions of adequacy as ‘George’ would say) and realising that I’m inadequate and it’s not a problem.

More thoughts happening, but nothing solid enough to blog.

Sunday 9 September 2007

43 miles, 24 churches.

Last year around this time I did a sponsored bike ride. Once you volunteer for something there's no going back it seems. It is quite fun, to have a good excuse to just take a day out and ride through pleasant countryside.

The mileage shown below is lying - I think it's calculated on a 'there-and-back' basis - as it calculated 43 miles before creating a blog-friendly format.

Today I'm fairly bushed and *feel* like I've got a cold. Fuzzy head, mild snuffle and gently complaining body. This is all normal for me when I've pushed myself somewhat, and should disappear in a few days. Next year I'll try a different route - wonder what Paul (the other rider from the village) did?

Thursday 6 September 2007

Criticism and review.

Having written those 'mini-reviews' of films, I have realised that most apparent reviews are really just criticism - not even critique - of the flaws and weaknesses of the subject. This became more noticeable when I started considering a CD I'd bought a few weeks ago by Mary Maclean.

Mary Mac (as she's known round here) is a Canadian worship leader and song writer who (IMO) is producing some of the best worship songs at the moment. They've got tunes, content, emotion and decent theology - thus they are fairly unusual.

My natural instinct was to criticise the aspects of the CD that I didn't like. That would have made for a possibly entertaining, though by no means uplifting review. So instead of that I'm going to pause, hold for a bit, look for a way of saying the positive things that is more useful than "this is great" and to try to find a manner that's constructive instead of destructive.

Who knows - maybe I'll eventually be able to apply this elsewhere too?

Sometimes marketing is bizarre

Ben has a particular breakfast cereal, and as long as I remember it's been called 'Cinnamon Grahams'. In the wisdom of the smallest room it has been renamed 'Curiously Cinnamon' (they did however have the wisdom to NOT change to general appearance of the packaging - still the same colours etc).

Anyway, this prompted some spontaneous suggestions for other cereal names. Favourites were:

Felicitously Fibre

Bravely Bran

Wildly Wheat

Marvelously Muesli

Feel free to add your own below - I'm sure there are a wealth of exciting product tags waiting to burst forth through this blog.

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Is there something more annoying

than being enthroned in THAT room

in mid 'flow'

when the telephone rings

and you know the caller

needs to speak to you

but you can't go to it

until you've finished

and the process

just takes its own time.

Some people have a great sense of timing.

A first for TBOTAM

I'm slightly tempted to do a mini-film review here, having been stuck on planes for around 20 hours ish with little else to do:

300 = Sinbad meets The Lord Of The Rings with a little eroticism thrown in. 20 years ago this would have sat happily with an X cert, but now butchery is commonplace as film makers reach for greater extremes. The key parts of the story are good, and the acting strong, however the films credibility falls apart with the appearance of monstrous human characters that are utterly unfeasible. The soft porn sections (fortunately only 2 and early on) bring nothing except eye candy, and will probably keep some viewers watching, hoping they'll see more. The biggest flaw is to prop up the human story (which is one of sacrifice and strength) with daft items from the costume department. A little less splattery action would make a much more watchable film too.

Pathfinder = a scaled down '300' set in America 600 years ago. Having seen this a couple of days after 300, the similarity is striking, but the storyline and acting weaker, credibility low and the monochrome 'grittiness' obscuring rather than highlighting detail. Miss.

Ghost rider = a story so weak it should never have left the cartoon. The hero made a pact with the devil to do various unlikely things that are good for mankind. He rides a chopper wearing immaculate black leather jacket and jeans, and this plus his receding hairline makes him look like the father of the bikes owner. His girlfriend also appears at least 10 years younger, despite having been contemporaries, although with cinema who knows? This is a film with too much Hollywood theology and not enough of anything else except industrial light and magic. Miss.

There was one more, but that was so forgettable I can't remember ANYTHING about it right now. Maybe later, but for now my scathing gland is empty.

Ah yes, got it.

Shrek the third coming = a nice family film in the same mold as the rest. There's nothing really fresh here, so much as a mix and match of what's been before. There is nothing wrong with that, and the film is quite enjoyable, although with a slight sense of deja vu. Because of the lack of novelty there's little that will stick in the mind as high moments. Puss and Donkey swapping bodies was a great idea, but wasn't exploited quite enough to really sparkle. Having said that, I'm not sure how much longer I could continue watching fairy tale characters wise-cracking, no matter how good the CGI. Overall definitely worth seeing, if for no other reason than to complete the set.

Having announced

...... my return so happily, it's been quiet here.

I feel 'different' after the US trip, probably working in combination with the time away earlier this summer.

I feel the need to spend less time wondering 'what if' and surfing, more time doing.

We also need to get fitter for the trip in a couple of weeks, so both Chris and I are exercising more. Sunday morning we did a 5 mile cross country walk to break in/test out the walking boots I bought. There's a bunch of pics that I need to get up from that, plus a couple from Toronto/Webster. I've been trying to pin down where Toronto reminds me of, and realised it's like a nicer smelling version of Croydon.

But I also need to just start getting on with things again, and way too much of my time was being just idled away on the WWW.

Saturday 1 September 2007

I'm back :-)

Home at around 1.45ish - actually got around 4 hours sleep on the plane!

Out at 3.25pm to play an (unrehearsed) gig at a prison with a rock'n'roll band.

Apparently I wasn't to bad until we did American Trilogy, which I obviously didn't know. Almost fell asleep during a rapper and a black gospel group!

So here I am, with a nice curry in my tum looking forward to bed in company for the first time in a few days.