Friday, 23 October 2020

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

I haven't talked about stuff for a long time.

 Stuff? Cars 'n tech and that sort. Y'know, stuff.

All you avid followers of this blog - the ones I imagine are out there - will know I had to replace the Mini Countryman that I'd been driving since 2014, and that we bought a Skoda Karoq 4X4 SUV. There was a time when Skoda was the car of last resort - what you'd choose if there was NOTHING else affordable (they had a model optimistically called the Rapide 130) - if you didn't mind the wheels falling off. Eventually bought by VW group, they became the 'sensible' part of VAG's output (VW badges indicated tech & sophistication, Seat indicated sporty) and although many versions have been intentionally hit with the ugly stick (Skoda Labia anyone?) the most recent releases have been a lot better.

Enough beating about the bush - is it OK?

Yes. It's softly sprung although a bit bouncy, a little vague in handling but OK, otherwise comfy and acceptably economical for a vehicle of this size. Performance is a bit Jekyll & Hyde, with a lazy, sluggish engine until the turbo spins up, at which point there's quite a lot of power. Overtaking needs planning and it's necessary to hold a lower gear for a few seconds before starting to accelerate in order to spin that turbo. This was all fine, since I'd wanted something more relaxing and laid back than the mini to drive, mostly so I'd drive more slowly and hopefully be a bit nicer to people because I couldn't be in a hurry (and I still don't really have my confidence back yet).

Last week Chris's car had to go in for a service, and the courtesy car was a 'new' Mini Countryman. This was an interesting comparison to make, because it felt MUCH larger than the model I'd previously had, and because the bonnet was flat across most of it's length it made the car feel very long in the nose. On top of that the steering was more heavily weighted and both that and the very well controlled ride worked together to give a feeling of far higher driving precision. Suddenly I missed my old mini! Picking the car up in the morning, it felt great to drive, far better handling and much more planted on the road. However on the return journey after a busy day & lots of stress it felt like harder work, being more demanding and less comfy. 

Perhaps this choice was the correct one after all.

Other things I miss from the mini is the well designed control system. My previous mini had a screen in the centre dial with the control operated from a joystick set between the seats. Changing settings, selecting music etc could be done blind, with just the briefest of glances to see what was displayed on screen. The Skoda (and other VW group cars) has a touch screen with pretty graphics and awkward, multi-layered menus that require significant concentration and a lot of reaching across from the drivers seat to operate. Other annoyances include a cruise control that's slow to adapt to road conditions and a stop-start system that stops and restarts the engine in the last few moments before the vehicle stops moving, only to stop the engine a second time. Also the reversing sensors don't stop warning when the car is no longer in reverse and the electronic handbrake that sometimes won't let go when starting forwards uphill (made worse by the laggy turbo that prevents the engine delivering power at low revs). On the motorway it's quiet and smooth, but the engine is quite growly & noisy at lower speeds.

This all sounds like grumbling, and to a small extent it is, however overall I'm pleased with the car, and it's doing what we wanted/needed.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Looking at houses in Italy, Greece, France and Spain

 I notice many of them have multiple bathrooms and often an extra toilet too. Mentioned this to Chris, she replied "It's because they're in continent there"

Very droll.

Monday, 5 October 2020

Vows of poverty?

 There's a thing about being brought up a Christian that says "thou shalt not be rich, and if you are then it's wrong and a sin". Note that I didn't say this was a biblical teaching, but it certainly underlies a lot of the 'truths' that used to be imparted and bible stories that were told. Rich man and Lazarus, camels and needles, (gates or otherwise not withstanding). Many of the words of Jesus on the topic are fairly straight forward and without nuance, although much of the OT is. My grandfather* was convinced that if God had given him wealth he would have lost control and come to a sticky (i.e. sinful) end. Certainly some of my forebears would have looked askance at the idea of personal wealth, even though there would likely have been significant jealousy within that look.

I've known of key church leaders who've determined to give away as much as they can. Historically it seems that often the call to Christ and the call to be poor go hand-in-hand (bet the missional guys keep quiet about THAT bit!).

When Chris and I were first married, it wasn't unusual for guys to travel door-to-door trying to 'offer' investment opportunities, and they found it almost unbelievable that we had no interest in money and making more of it (wider context here - Margaret Thatcher's government was in power, greed was good and everyone suddenly discovered they could own stuff). We would politely tell them that we weren't bothered - we didn't have much anyway - and weren't worried for the future (in what I now realise was probably a slightly smug-appearing Christian way).

So it begs the question, are we called to be poor?

This has become pointed for me because we have inheritence money that needs to be invested before even more of its worth fritters away in savings schemes. When money is hidden in savings accounts, getting a little interest, you know it's being used to help others and it's invisible, just numbers on a page. If you instead invest it in something like a second home, suddenly it's very visible, in-your-face in a way only bricks and mortar can bring home. 

So back to the beginning, we automatically - I automatically - think poor. I don't think bigger picture, continuing to scratch around for odds and ends to mend and make do, because I know being well-off is wrong. In 2019 I changed camera systems, selling off the old stuff and investing significant money in new kit - and have felt underlying guilt ever since for doing so. Guilt colours decisions about money and the future in ways that are just plain dumb, and makes it difficult to make simple rational decisions. While talking with Chris the other day I realised how much my 'thinking poor' locked me into un-thinking caution and fear of losing everything because I dared to try something different.

And I don't have an answer to the question.

I could reach back into Christian double-think and say that if you're called to poverty and have faith that's where you should be then it's right for you, ditto being wealthy. But I don't think God particularly works that way, at least for most people who are just trying to get on with their lives, doing the best they can to provide. It's not a case of being full of faith that they are in the station in life that they were pre-destined to occupy (and woe betide them if they get ideas about changing that station) but trying to live by walking down the path that's in front of them as they are best able.

 Is the flip-side that if one becomes well off through application of those Christian values of hard work, diligence and personal growth then you can quietly nod & wink toward the idea of poverty while enjoying the money your hard work has earned. If you're grateful for being able to earn well, does that make it OK? Is a bit of guilt a necesary price, and a burden we should just simply carry like st. Christopher**, on our backs, knowing it will do us good in the long run?

This may be somewhat muddly - I have several slightly different strands of thought running around right now, and they may have become a little tangled. 

Guess I'm just trying to think through some of the hangups in my family history.

Just as an addendum, let me tell you that it's much easier to be poor when you're young, single-minded, determined, energetic and enthusiastic. When you're older, achey, tired, sceptical and have been broke at times in the past then the whole poverty thing looks as attractive as fish that have been left somewhere warm for a few days.


This turned out rather longer than expected for a coffee-break post.


*I'll balance this with a phrase my grandmother used to apparently quote quite frequently, that contentment with godliness was great gain. She'd had many moments anxious about money and knew a thing or 2 I reckon. Though not about managing wealth, other than the theoretical principles.

** People like to make up stories for better legends, and Christians are just people like everyone else.

Sunday, 4 October 2020

Sometimes google translate is more perceptive than it knows.

For a variety of reasons I'm looking at potential houses in Italy (no plans to move permanently yet) and many of them are in need of considerable restoration (in some cases they're literally selling a ruin). There was one I saw which only had a couple of pictures but looked OK-ish - the I read the description:

In the first outskirts of Foligno in a quiet and characteristic area, we offer a sky of about 150 square meters in total, consisting, on the first floor, of a large living area with fireplace, bedroom with walk-in closet, a bathroom, and two large bedrooms on the second floor. and second bathroom. On the ground floor the property is completed by large funds.

Was there ever a clearer admission!


 A devout Christian was caught in a flood and had to retreat upstairs to escape the rising water. A fire crew in an inflatable boat pulled up to his window and told him to climb in. "No" he replied "God will keep me safe". So the fire crew left him and concentrated on rescuing the other villagers.

The water continued to rise and the man had to climb onto the roof of his house to escape the flood. An inshore lifeboat crew pulled up to the eaves of the roof and told him to climb into the boat. Once again the man replied "No, the good Lord will look after me."

The water rose further and the man had to cling to the chimney stack to avoid drowning. A coastguard helicopter appeared and hovered overhead and the crew told him they will lower a man down to lift him to safety. The man shouts back "No! The Lord God will save me".

The water continued to rise and the man was drowned. Arriving at the gates of heaven he berated St Peter, saying "I placed my trust in the Lord, but he let me down in my hour of need!". St Peter shook his head and replied, "He sent two boats and a helicopter, what more did you want!".


It's an old joke. It's kind of funny, and kind of pointed if you've been in church a long time. ESPECIALLY if, like me in times gone by, you were expecting some divine act of rescue instead of something very ordinary and human-driven.

I'm still trying to get an understanding of "what's going on" with this God/Jesus business.

A couple of random thoughts:

I understand the problem in the story. Our rejecter of rescue wanted to see bible stuff happen, but instead 'god' (yes, it's just a story) sends boats and helicopters instead of letting him walk on water. 

The current equivalent that eats me is why, when there's all the stuff in the NT about miraculous healings, do Christians HAVE to be cured by the miracle of modern medicine. 

Or not cured, and die regardless.

Why are churches centres of spreading coronavirus instead of the place people go to get healed from sickness.

Etc. in a similar vein.


I've mentioned before, the occasion someone I once respected told me, when I'd mentioned to him that I'd once prayed for resurrection from the dead and it didn't work "it would have done if you'd been in Africa". As I said at the time, my situation could not have been more desperate in any country. If it had been down to my level of faith, well, then it's not about God's power. 


If I look at the bible and suspend the 'eyes of faith' a little, I see an enormous amount of humanity, with tiny bursts of something else just occasionally. I get that stuff is written 'that you may believe' but I want cold, hard facts, not someone else's ideas of how they thought things should have been. No, I don't do poetry either. 

My friend Marc recently put this post up about being ecumenical. There was certainly a time when I was pretty sure the way I understood was The Right Way, and that approach to theology has a long and chequered past in the church (I've had some interesting talks with my mother about Bretheren and Baptish churches in the UK over the century). So when I read church history and start to compare it with the experiences I've had over the last nearly 60 years, and particularly the last 30, I start to see the hand of man very much at work in the church. Make me wonder, how much do we build out of ourselves, and how much really is God at work.

So I just don't get it. I'm not walking away, but I really can't accept the suspension of intelligence (God-given?) and integrity required to square the circle right now. For you younger than me who've already been through your crises of faith like this, I'm just a little slow, OK.  ;-)

So much rain

 Not like the flood we had a few weeks back, where I'm told we got 3" in less than 2 hours, but it started raining Friday afternoon, continuing all day Saturday and its still raining now.

We went out for dinner last night to celebrate 39 years* of marriage. Driving through the country lanes to enter Oxford on the East side, we used a small road between Water Eaton and Marsdon - part way along, cars coming the other way started flashing us. Turned out there was water across the road, not very deep, so having a 4X4 we kept going carefully. We then passed a couple of cars stopped by the side of the road and entered some deeper water, where I had to drop down to first gear in order to keep going. Eventually came up behind a Jaguar that was creeping along, presumably because that vehicle was much lower than ours and finally made it through after a half mile or so. 

Dinner was good - we got the 'Greek' dishes (kleftico and stifado) that we'd missed in Attica (seldom on the menu, or if they were then not available) and it was nice being out again. 

But we drove back on main roads. I'm starting to think that buying a 4X4 SUV may not have been as dumb as it might have seemed.

*The thing about getting married young is that you don't really think that you'll end up like your parents, and it's kinda awkward to be older and not like you were. Being together 39 years has been fantastic: I don't subscribe to the idea that there's one person for everyone (and only one) but rather through continuous effort and some self-sacrifice you remain together on good terms and in love. It's been, and continues to be, good. Just wish we were still 20ish on the outside. ;-)