Thursday, June 30, 2005

There's no sitting on the fence

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important - CS Lewis

(he's right, you know...)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Ludicrous!

I got my third mention on Cross Rhythms and I won the 5 CDs. Score!

And Again!

Thanks to Mike Rimmer on Cross Rhythms I've just got a second mention on air, just minutes after the first one. Bonus!

Now to deflate my head, so that I can fit through my door again...

A Moment of Fame!

I quite often listen to Cross Rhythms Radio and tonight I decided that it would be worth my while entering their "what would you do with £3m?" Prize Draw to win 5 CDs (not £3m, but nice nonetheless). I don't know yet if I've won - probably not, alas - but I did get a mention, which would have been very cool if other people I know were listening. If I had a list of things to do before I was 30, getting a mention on the radio would feature - though I've already surpassed that by getting a greeting live on German Radio last year (SWR 3 - yes, really).

Keep the comments about the class system coming - I like a healthy debate, and knowing I have readers massages my ego. Also, Anthropax, have you read my answers to your theological questions?

A few more days in the Oxford Bubble

Good morning folks!

In exchange for helping out with the BNC Open Day on Thursday, I have got free accommodation in Oxford this week, which I have chosen to take advantage of.

It's given me the chance to catch up on a bit of work, and make sure all is in order before I finally leave Oxford for the summer. I've also enjoyed the opportunity to see a few people - I had a quality coffee with Mr Youthblog this morning (thanks Ian!) and Mrs JP is working in Oxford so of course I've enjoyed seeing her.

I was reading Anthropax's blog yesterday and came across a post he'd written about the Daily Mail. He seems to have quite a detailed way of categorising people (I particularly like the idea of having a 'middle-middle class' category) and this has got me thinking about whether or not it is right to attach such labels to people. One argument is that there will always be a class system based on such things as the food you eat and whether or not you say 'napkin' or 'serviette' , but that different classes are no better or worse than others. I also thought that one of the aims of socialism was a 'classless' society, but some of the ardent socialists I've come across disagree. What do you think? What happens if, like me, you use both 'napkin' and 'serviette'? Answers on a postcard (or, alternatively in a comment below).

Back to work...

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Joy of Socks

According to an article I read in the London Metro (and which was also reported by the BBC News Page), scientists have found that "wearing socks is helpful for both genders" - and no, the article was not specifically about clothing or footwear...

The thing is, a reliable source informs me that women don't find men who wear socks in this case (especially those who wear nothing but) especially sexy.

What do visitors to my corner of the Blogosphere think?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Railway Rant

Those of you who know me will know that I whinge quite a lot about the railways. Don't get me wrong, I really love train travel, and as a non-driver I rely on it quite a bit to get around. It's just that there seems to be an awful lot of governmental bureaucracy which hampers the system.

In light of yesterday's headlines about over-crowding I feel that now is a good time to share my feelings with the world at large. The idea of a congestion charge for railways, is, quite frankly ludicrous. Just recently Tony and his cronies - who ride around in Jaguars, oblivious to everyone else - deemed it a good idea to try and price people out of their cars by using a sateliite based charging system. *cough* Big Brother *cough*. And now it seems that you will also be financially penalised for using public transport instead. At this rate I'll be charged for walking at peak times next...

I can't believe that one of the solutions is to 'scrap smaller stations and underused trains'. What really annoys me however is that the overcrowding problem is the government's fault in the first place. If they didn't interfere and had a bit of vision we'd be fine. Since privatisation, services have vastly improved, the number of people using the railway has grown hugely, and the UK still has some of the fastest growing passenger numbers in the world. And how have the government chosen to deal with this? By setting up a sub-group called the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) and letting them meddle with the system.

Let's look at what they've achieved:

1) They refused to allow Virgin Trains to run longer trains on the Cross Country routes - the very same ones which are now overcrowded. Before you blame Virgin for this, you should be aware that the Cross Country franchise is now run by the SRA in all but name.

2) Millions of pounds has been spent on the West Coast Mainline, with new track and trains capable of 140mph between London and Manchester. But the SRA have announced that they're not going to finish the upgrade for 140mph running So, after spending all that money the trains are still limited to 125mph.

3) Midland Mainline are taking delivery of some new trains this month (to replace some older ones). They've been languishing for a while since being built because the SRA couldn't decide what to do with them. One minute they were going to be shortened and deployed elsewhere, the next they were going to be used on the Cross Country routes to relieve overcrowding, and eventually now they're being used as originally intended.

4) The break-up and refranchising of the Central Trains franchise has been postponed because "the SRA have not thought it through".

5) The Greater Western franchise proposals must not, according to the SRA, include plans for a replacement High Speed Train. This means that by the end of the 7 year block the current High Speed Trains will be 30-40 years old, and a replacement will still be some way off.

My final whinge is with Network Rail, another governmental group. They somehow deem it acceptable to ignore the 12-week minimum notice period for engineering works and the other day I watched some poor Aussie girl failing to book a return ticket from Edinburgh in just two weeks because "Network Rail had not yet sorted the engineering timetable". Network Rail are also responsible for the removal of several late night and early morning trains from the timetable, which has wound up a few passengers.

Still, preventing people from buying tickets does at least solve the overcrowding problem...

Monday, June 20, 2005

Back in The Blogosphere

Ladies and Gentlemen. I apologise for the lack of recent postings, but I’m pleased to announce that I’ve returned to my corner of the Blogosphere and will hopefully be posting again on a reasonably regular basis. For those of you following the theological debate I am pleased to announce that it has re-commenced.

For those of you familiar with the Oxford bubble, the reasons for my absence can be summed up in two words. 8th Week. For those of you in the real world, I’m referring to the fact that it was the last week of term, and in this case the last of the academic year. This means that it was a week packed out with punting and garden parties, with farewells as many friends move on to pastures new, and end of term deadlines for some. Others had to suffer exams – in my case, two small German exams, which after some time in the library didn’t seem to go too badly.

Currently I’m homeless – I had to relinquish the keys to my college pad yesterday – but my very hospitible friends in JW Flat 4 have allowed me to stay on their living room floor (thanks so much guys!) and enjoy a couple more days in Oxford. Reflecting on the last week, I can’t believe how quickly it’s gone. Yesterday and today have been almost unbearably humid, but nevertheless the sunshine’s been great, and I’ve enjoyed a game of croquet, a random outing in a rowing boat and just sitting in some of Oxford’s more beautiful and secluded spots. I especially liked Magdalen’s grounds, and still can’t get over the fact that it’s almost a half hour walk from one side to the other.

I also put my culinary skills to the test again, and yesterday evening was very pleasant, sat round outside with seven others eating my chicken fajitas. I was rather pleased with the result, even if I do say so myself, and reassuringly no-one has yet gone down with food poisoning.

Chez deserves another mention for being on form over the last couple of days. I’d like to thank him for the amusement he provided at dinner on Friday whilst he tried to argue that (having spilt water on them) in an ideal world it’d be acceptable for him to remove his trousers. “After all, no-one minds if blokes take their shirts off.” Fortunately we were spared any indecency…

I think I’m going to wrap up with a couple of ‘only in Oxford’ moments from the last week, as it seems a fitting way to end what has been a fantastic academic year.

Only in Oxford…

- would a different (Latin) grace at dinner be a shock to most people at the table

- would you spend time at a garden party enjoying conversation with someone called Crispin

- would you see someone stop their bike and beautifully serenade someone who’d just finished their exams

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Council Tax = Money Down The Drain

Time for another rant about Oxford Council. Or, as Kev G would probably say, Oxford Julian Council. (Don't ask, but it is conducive to being said with a bit of anger and venom).

I was attempting to cross Cornmarket Street on Monday evening and was confronted with a truck laying crowd control barriers and lots of confused people being forced to go all the way to one end of the street and back again to get across.

Behind this truck was a tipper truck and a machine scraping away the (fairly new) surface. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, for the third or fourth time since I've been in Oxford, Cornmarket has been resurfaced yet again. At least this time they didn't close it for very long. So now we have a nice new, slightly yellow, surface. Oooh. My life has been improved no end, and I'm sure that the taxpayer feels that their money has been oh so well spent.

To make matters worse, Cornmarket is the only street in central Oxford where the surface has always been of good quality. Every other street is full of potholes. Indeed, cycling down Headington Hill not all that long ago I came across a pothole - in the cycle lane - which took out my front tyre and my front wheel. Unless I wanted to be flattened by a bus, I had no chance but to go over the pothole, and my afternoon was ruined by the need to walk home and pay money to fix my crippled bike.

If I were to pay council tax I would expect my bin to be emptied and the roads to be of reasonable quality, but to be honest, not a lot else is needed. Of course there are things such as libraries to consider, and extra curricular activities for kids, but given the number of cuts in funding to such areas I'm obviously in a minority thinking that.

What instead we have is poor quality roads (except Cornmarket), litter (except when they employ someone at 5am with the world's loudest street vacuum), traffic problems (thanks to the one-way system which requires you to go through Torquay and Keswick before you can get anywhere) and a bunch of hypocritical councillors who bang on about the need to use public transport and still whinge about the lack of central parking spaces for their meetings (yes, really).

What a joke.

On another note, apologies for the lack of too many recent postings, but life has been very busy this week. Anthropax, I will continue our theological debate in due course, fear not...

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Lazing on an Oxford Afternoon

Taking advantage of the ability I have to blog whilst out and about, I just thought I'd share with you the fact that I'm currently being punted down the Cherwell, enjoying strawberries, Pimms and the sunshine. Nice.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Eddie Irvine

As promised, here is my report from the Oxford Union on Wednesday, where Eddie Irvine, ex-Formula One driver and something of a playboy came to speak and answer questions.

Being in the Macmillan room, it was a somewhat low-key affair, with only about 40 or so people in attendance. This provided plenty of opportunity to ask questions.

Without a doubt, Eddie is cool. Very cool. In his own laid back style he shared his opinions frankly and honestly.

In the world of F1, Ferrari, apparently will always have the upper hand - they'll always attract the best drivers and sponsors. Eddie acknowledged that this did not make for a level playing field, but said that the "leveller is the fact that they are managed by Italians".

When it comes to Team Orders, he said that he would happily move over for another driver if asked - "I know I could have beaten him, and that's what counts. What's important is what I know I can achieve, I don't care about the opinion of the crowds". He was quick to point out that his preferred method of letting someone past was to invent a minor car problem and slow up for a few laps. Barichello's infamous slowing down at the last minute to let Schumacher past was met by Eddie with derision.

He didn't appear to like Bernie Ecclestone, though he said that he was a clever man and had taken advantage of the teams 'faffing around'. He pointed out that a breakaway series from Formula One is unlikely as Bernie has the TV rights for Japan, and has Ferrari's support (=TV rights for Italy), which pretty much means that he has it sewn up.

He didn't seem to like his fellow competitors either, and made it quite clear that he had no problems "walking all over them" on or off the track.

Surprisingly he's not really in to cars - I got the impression he finds driving boring, and he pointed out that there was no point in driving if you have someone else to drive for you. He likes his scooter as a good way of getting around, and really enjoys MotoCross.

Eddie likes his native Northern Ireland because he has a couple of soccer pitches and a go-kart track there, and "it's the only place where he has the infrastructure to ring up his mates at 2am for a kick about". New York, apparently, has the best women, and Miami is good if you want sunshine. His favourite Grand Prix is Monaco because he can sleep on his boat. A nice life if you can get it...

So, with boats, planes, cars, and beautiful women, is there anything missing, Eddie?

"Well, there's a few other women I'd like to have had".

Friday, June 10, 2005

More Thames Valley Time Wasting

Yesterday evening I was strolling past the Magdalen St Cinema, and I saw a police car stopped on the side of the road. It was one of the expensive (for the taxpayer) Omegas, designed for high speed work - not at all over the top for central Oxford, oh no.

Two policemen were stood behind it, writing out tickets of some description for two cyclists whom they had apprehended. The thing is, I can't see what the cyclists could have done wrong - certainly not to the extent that they deserved a fine. Unroadworthy bikes? They looked in better condition than most of the bikes you see in this place. Lack of lights? It wasn't dark enough to warrant them. Cycling down Cornmarket? It was outside the hours of restriction, as far as I know. They had possibly jumped a red light, but cyclists seem to do that all the time; why were they singled out, and why wasn't a warning good enough?

I would have loved to have asked the cops what was going on, but I'd have probably been banged up for the night for wasting police time.

I very much enjoyed celebrating Sam's 18th last night - it was quality and great to see the family. It also turned out not to be the only milestone; the family Volvo made it to the 100,000 mile mark. Sometime after midnight it somehow seemed appropriate to take a ride in the car before the folks left, and watch the odometer reach this important figure. Talk about bizarre.

Yes I know I'm sad.


Thursday, June 09, 2005

Happy Birthday Sam

Another birthday today! This one's important as it's Sam's 18th. Happy Birthday Sam!

I've enjoyed the good weather in the last couple of days - Oxford is particularly beautiful when the sun is shining. Apart from spending my lunchtimes chilling out in the vast expanse of Magdalen's grounds I've largely been using my time to catch up on those things which I've been putting off for ages.

I also took part in a pyschology experiment on Tuesday, which was fun. I had to have three electrodes attached to my head, and then stare at some patterns on a computer screen whilst data was taken about the electrical activity in my brain.

Last night, Eddie Irvine was at the Oxford Union, so I enjoyed going to hear what he had to say. More on that later, I think, as I need to get on now.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Is Your Horse Gay?

Last week, both student papers reported an incident in which a student from Balliol was arrested for referring to a police horse as gay, whilst on his way back from a night out. Rather drunk, he apparently told one of the mounted policemen he encountered on Cornmarket that the horse he was riding was gay. Evidently the policeman took offence to this,and a little while later the student in question was apprehended by no less than six officers, arrested and fined £80.

I can't help but feel that it was a complete waste of police time and resources, which would be bad enough if the police dealt with real crimes properly and efficiently. I remember however an incident in my first year when some of us witnessed a girl being kicked in quite badly by a very drunken male companion. Upon dialling 999 we waited almost 20 minutes for the police to arrive, in which time her male companion had had ample time to stagger away completely. At last four squad cars turned up, but they seemed more interested in discussing which of them was meant to be on a break (yes, seriously) than dealing with the poor girl lying in the road. For some reason they also seemed unsure how many girls there were meant to have been, and pursuing the guy who'd inflicted the damage was out of the question.

Fortunately the Ambulance crew who arrived did their job far more competently, but I'm sure I'm not the only one with such experiences of the police. It doesn't inspire much confidence, to be honest. I'm still wondering when Thames Valley are actually going to start 'reducing crime, disorder and fear' and stop just trying to extract as much money as they can in fines from generally harmless students.

I'm also hoping that if they could arrest the Balliol student for being a nuisance (of course he disturbed oh so many people) that they'll also arrest the council worker and his petrol powered vacuum. Yes ladies and gentlemen, he was outside my window again at 5.41 this morning, this time on my side of the street.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Happy Birthday Davey

It seems to be the week for birthdays, and my friend Davey (aka Kev G) is 21 today. Happy Birthday!

The last couple of days have been fairly mundane. I was woken up again at 5.15 today by the guy with the petrol powered street vacuum cleaner. Words fail me, particularly as today there didn't even seem to be any rubbish on the pavement - I watched him blow air around in a random manner for a good couple of minutes and feel that he achieved precisely nothing for the cleanliness of the city centre, the wellbeing of its inhabitants or the environment. I also can't understand how it can make so much noise. In the year that I've lived here I've got used to the noise of the random drunks and the drone of the buses, but this vacuum thing defies belief. Even when the guy had ambled 100yards down the street, I could still hear it above everything else!

If you're an employee of Oxford City Council, may I suggest that you employ your street cleaner man to clean up your garden at 5am tomorrow. That way you will understand why it's getting to the stage when I no longer feel responsible for my actions.

On Sunday our Chaplain hosted drinks at his new house, which is very impressive. Sat in his period living room brought about one of those classically 'Oxford' evenings, and I really enjoyed it. A friend was there who provided interesting discussion about recruitment for the Secret Service and why it would be fun to invade Calais. I was fascinated to learn that Oxbridge Dons used to (and perhaps still do) play a part in Foreign Office recruitment, and enjoyed listening to stories of past students who've 'mysteriously disappeared from all records'. Something else I learnt during the course of the evening was that none of the 20th Century British Prime Ministers ever attended any university bar Oxford or Cambridge. Interesting.

Time now to get on with some work methinks...




Monday, June 06, 2005

Zzzzzz! Zzzzzzz! Zzzzzzz!

The rather unusual title of this post is the best way I've so far come up with of describing the *loud* noise which has woken me up this 'beautiful' morning.

Apologies, dear reader, for this rather impromptu post, but I really feel the need to find some way of venting my anger. It's 5.20 on a Monday morning and below my window a joker in a fluorescent jacket has spent the last 15 minutes moving bits of rubbish around the pavement using the loudest (and probably most polluting) street vacuum thing in the known universe.

I'm going to lay the blame at the door of the council who's road sweeper has just trundled past below as I've been writing this. As if I wasn't awake enough already!

I can't stand our self-righteouss, inconsiderate, liberal 'green' (yeah, right) council at the best of times, but I really hate them now.

Time to try and get some more sleep...

Sunday, June 05, 2005

If There's One Thing We Are Called To Do

Seeing as it's Sunday I thought I would begin by briefly sharing my thoughts following church this morning, which incidentally was great. We were looking at Psalm 95 and the idea of 'worship', and I came away struck by the fact that our main calling in life is to worship God, to honour Him for who He is, and what He's done. It's so easy to busy ourselves with a multitude of things, or to stand at a distance that we perhaps don't make time for God or develop intimacy with Him in the way that he wants us to.

So there you go. This weekend has been quite a good one. Lara and Tom have both been celebrating their 21st birthdays (a belated Happy Birthday, guys) and my friend Richard was visiting, which was fun. There have been a few comic moments, notably Josh 'Chez' Down's uncharacteristically chav way of greeting some of the first years in the quad last night. I'm fairly certain that you would have had to be there to find it funny, but I thought I'd (rather pointlessly) share it with you anyway. For those of you who've not had the pleasure of meeting him, it has to be said that Josh is truly a College Legend.

Amongst all the socialising and the work (yes, really) I've also had the pleasure of seeing Mrs JP, who turns out not to have gone as mad as I'd feared. I popped round with the obligatory white carnation for her first exam tomorrow (it's an Oxford thing) and some chocolates (a necessity, it seems, to keep women happy).

Given the number of comments on the matter, I thought I had better introduce Mrs JP properly, and mention her by name, as she asked. Mrs JP refers to the lovely Jo, my college wife (though that is the only way in which we are married) and girlfriend. I refer to her as Mrs JP because I feel that she should be more than another one in the list of names in my corner of the blogosphere, and the term 'girlfriend' is unoriginal and bland. I could of course have resorted to using 'bird' but think that it (along with other words beginning with 'b') would only be of use if I wanted her to ditch me - yes, she has been reading this.

Thanks so much to those of you who've taken the time to comment on my blog - keep the comments coming, it's always much appreciated.

I hope you have a very happy Sunday evening. If you're unfortunate to have exams coming up in the next couple of days I would at this point like to wish you all the very best.

Until next time...

Friday, June 03, 2005

Cooking With JP

Afternoon folks.

I spent an hour or so earlier this afternoon with my friend Oliver baking a cake for Lara's 21st birthday - the talented people who would normally make a cake are all snowed under with exams.

Taking the recipe from the internet, we set to work in the kitchen in Christa, Tracy and Lara's flat (thanks guys!). It seemed to go well, at first, but problems ensued when trying to remove it from the baking tray. A lack of grease meant it was stuck fast, and attempts to remove it resulted in the cake crumbling a bit. We were able to rectify this with the icing, though we'd been forced to adapt the ingredients slightly and were perhaps a bit liberal with the apricot jam used as a glaze.

Still, I've not laughed so hard in ages, and it was a lot of fun.
I would at this stage like to defend my cooking however. Despite a few past disasters it has improved immensely since coming to university, and my main courses seem to have gone down well - even the very talented Lindsay has been positive about them, which is an accolade.

I've promised Mrs JP that I will cook for her at some point but she's been at home revising, so I've not had the chance recently. She is unfortunately a vegetarian, which complicates matters a bit. Beyond pasta and sauce - which is a cop out - I've not come across many 'easy' veggie dishes. Suggestions would be most welcome.

Talking of Mrs JP she's coming back to Oxford later, and I'm looking forward to seeing her. I'm slightly worried that she has gone completely mad though. Really she has. Exam stress however is an adequate excuse, and they'll be over soon enough.

I've noticed that I have a wide and varied readership, and I'd like to thank you all for taking the time to peruse my blog. If you haven't already, please leave a comment and say hi.

AnthroPax has started an interesting theological discussion attached to one of my earlier posts. Currently centred around Paul and prostitutes, your input would be much appreciated.

Und jetzt muss ich meine deutsche Hausaufgaben machen. Bis Bald!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Live from Merton St

My first entry whilst 'out and about' comes to you live from Merton St. amidst crowds of people seeing the History finalists out of their exams. The number of people is unbelievable; as my friend Rob has just noted "the historians do no work for three years, and the world and his wife still turn out to meet them."

Although I caught up with a few people - including some from BNC and Keble - I've spectacularly failed to meet Sam from New College or the Magdalen bunch - sorry guys!

I have however had the pleasure of bumping in to the one and only Marcus Walker.

Right dear readers, time to work my way back to college and continue reading 'Atomic Spectra'.

Testing Email Publishing

Apparently I can post via email, which means I can theoretically post from anywhere I like using my telephone.  How cool…

An Evening With Geri Halliwell

Rather worryingly this is my second post in a week which mentions the Spice Girls, but let's not dwell on that too much.

I've just returned from listening to Geri Halliwell address the Oxford Union, which was fun. It's always interesting to see people like this and hear what they have to say.

Geri waffled a lot about life's purpose, and the like without really saying anything useful, so in many ways it was like a reading of a poor self-help book. On the whole however, she came across well. Well spoken, and with a typical Watford accent she was obviously very experienced at dealing with the media and handled questions well, even if she did cop-out of some of the more difficult ones.

What impressed me most however was the fact that when asked she sang an impromptu couple of verses from a forthcoming song, and I discovered that, contrary to popular opinion, she can actually sing. Without so much as even a microphone to mask her voice it actually sounded rather good.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

You Gotta Go There To Come Back

Indeed you have. My profound title for this morning's entry comes from the Stereophonics album with the same name. I love such statements, and the cool name was one of the driving forces behind my buying the album at the weekend. Well, that and the fact it was only £5. I've always liked the Stereophonics, and so far I've not regretted buying one of their albums.

I also bought a Jeff Buckley album for £5, purely because lots of people I've come across recently seem to really like his music - £5 was a small price to pay for seeing what the fuss was about. Again, JP's verdict is a good one, though I would love it if someone could tell me what the song 'Hallelujah' is all about. I've heard rumours it's about someone who's suicidal, which is probably even worse than being about transvestite prostitutes.

Away from the world of music, chapel yesteday gave me something to think about "Bless those who persecute you" is something I struggle with. I heard someone recently expand on the idea of loving your enemies, and he pointed out that it doesn't just mean tolerating them. Praying for them shouldn't be about praying that they'd leave you alone or whatever but should be about praying for them. Personally I find it the idea of praying that God would bless and provide for someone that I'd really rather he just blasted with a thunderbolt quite hard.

Religion and politics are the two topics of conversation which it is occasionally a good idea to shy away from. In my corner of the Blogosphere however, I don't really care about etiquette. I've already touched upon religion, and I'm now going to dip my toes in to the world of politics.

I've been trying to keep up with all the fuss about the EU constitution, and am coming to the conclusion that it's all a bit of a farce. At the moment our beloved President Blair seems intent on playing the French 'Non' vote down, and maybe even avoiding a referendum in this country to save face. In the long term however, the Brussels Bureaucrats are going to do everything they can to get their way, and that can only mean another series of votes if it doesn't get through this time. Personally I like the quip I found on the BBC News Page - 'To paraphrase Henry Ford, you can vote which ever way you like, so long as it is yes'. How apt.

Now it's time to get back to work, and I'd like to leave you with a link to Sam's Blog, which made me smile this morning.