Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Lies, Damn Lies (and Statistics)

I read this little snippet on the BBC News page earlier.

'Ex-Transport Secretary Stephen Byers has been cleared of lying to MPs about Railtrack but told to apologise for telling an "untruth".'

My initial response is sadly unprintable, but can you believe it?

The number one definition for 'untruth' on dictionary.com reads as follows:

'Something untrue; a lie.'.

So the little snippet from the BBC could just as easily read

'Ex-Transport Secretary Stephen Byers has been cleared of lying to MPs about Railtrack but told to apologise for telling a lie.'

What rubbish.

So, Mr Byers was dishonest. Like most of his other comrades. In my book he should be out of a job; plenty of others have forfeited all after lying and I don't see why we should put up with it.

Whilst we're on the subject of Railtrack I learned something at the weekend which made my blood boil. You may be aware that Virgin Trains are offering discounted walk-up fares on Sundays at the moment to compensate for delays. I was under the impression that these delays were caused by Engineering Works - a necessary evil which inconveniences those of us who rely on the train. But no. As I've said before the Virgin Trains franchise is run largely by the government, and apparently the lack of Sunday trains is more often than not due to RMT strikes. Just another reason why the government really shouldn't meddle with the railways.

If only Bob Crow and the other RMT baboons could be made to give up their cars every Sunday. That way they might experience what it is like for those of us who can't drive to suffer vastly increased journey times (sometimes double) and the discomfort of a bus when we've paid for a train. If that doesn't make them realise how selfish their actions are I don't know what will.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Holy Spirit and Justice

I went to a very interesting session at my church this evening at which Simon Ponsonby gave a lecture on “The Holy Spirit and Justice”. It was thought provoking to say the least and highlighted why as Christians we have a duty to care for the poor and the world around us. As someone said to me afterwards (quoting, I think, William Booth) “Sometimes we get so involved in saving people from the hell of the next world we forget to save them from the hell of this”.

I’d highly recommend downloading the MP3 when it gets posted at media.staldates.org.uk over the next couple of days. If you’re a Christian it will challenge you and encourage you to think more about social justice and social action. If you’re not a Christian it might make you realise that Evangelicals do care about ‘the social Gospel’.

Walking home however we came across someone selling the Big Issue. Spurred on by what we’d just heard we duly coughed up, only to realise that this wasn’t an official Big Issue seller. Maybe he did genuinely need money for the Night Shelter but nevertheless I felt slightly conned. This raises some interesting questions. Should we care where the money we give goes? I’d given something (albeit only a little) to someone less fortunate than me and that can only be a good thing. But could my money have been put to better use? If we all just gave to anyone who demanded money we’d feed quite a drink and drug problem for a start. But how often do we use that as an excuse not to give at all…? I wonder what God was trying to tell me through this little encounter?

Some Non-Events

I have had a very busy few days but in a slightly paradoxical way I have a few blogworthy non-events to share with you.

Let’s start with the opening of the apparently ‘new’ Superdrug store in Oxford. Superdrug is a convenient place to stock up on the essentials such as toothpaste and I needed to pay a visit last Friday (bear with me, this story does have a point). It normally opens fairly early but at 9.10am there were some people waiting outside and the doors were shut. Looking past the sign which gave the opening hours as 8.30 am onwards I noticed that the staff were all stood round inside and there was a banner across the doorway. One of the others waiting outside pointed out the poster advertising the ‘New Look’ store which opened on Friday with 10% off everything. I’m glad the posters were there because otherwise there was nothing to suggest the store was in any way ‘new’. After a minute or two a member of staff popped out to tell the assembled group that “the shop will open in 5 minutes or so – I promise this time” and then went back to her social circle. Well, I didn’t have time for this, and neither, it seemed, did anyone else. We all crossed the road to Boots.

Then there was the BBC headline “non-celebrity wins celebrity big brother”. Wow. Big deal. I didn’t see any of the show, but I feel the fact that it was won by a ‘non-celebrity’ says it all. Though from what I can tell the entrants were all ‘non-celebrities’ anyway. But I digress. Whilst I was in Leeds visiting Sam (which was great) we saw a local paper billboard at the station which proclaimed something like “Leeds girl’s Big Brother success”. My assumption was that the winning ‘non-celebrity’ came from Leeds. I don’t know how I resisted the urge to buy a copy. Then we went to York (which was also great) and there we saw a local paper billboard proclaiming “York girl’s Big Brother success”. Great. So some bimbo – who I now presumed came from somewhere between York and Leeds – shoots to ‘fame’ by ‘winning’ a ‘show’ which no-one watched anyway and suddenly it’s the most newsworthy item within some radius of her home town. However, if The Metro I picked up on the train this morning can be believed the aforementioned bimbo comes from Essex . So what’s with the Yorkshire local papers? One might even get the impression that even my new home town of Billingshurst is more exciting than Yorkshire ’s flagship cities – the local headline over Christmas was “Billingshurst Firefighters tackle shed blaze”.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Let's Talk About Jesus

I've just enjoyed a very pleasant Formal Dinner in Hall; Greek Salad followed by steak and then cheese and biscuits. Yum.

Over the course of the meal however someone basically asked me why, if my faith is so important, do I not talk about it much. Surely, his line went, if it's that great and means that much it's selfish not to share it. Ouch. That got me thinking...

So, if you're a believer get on and talk about it. It is definitely something worth sharing and we shouldn't keep it to ourselves.

If you're not a believer, why not ask someone who is about their faith.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Great Beer Experiment: Results

I was reminded last Wednesday that I had evidently once again forgotten about my frozen beer. Well, fear not, I completed the experiment and having been reminded will now post the 'results'.

You'll be pleased to know that it made neither me nor my brother ill, and really it tasted like any other can of beer. Which is disappointing in a way as I had hoped for something more exciting. Well, obviously I didn't hope that it would make me ill, but you know what I mean.

The only thing of note is that Carlsberg Special Brew is very strong at 9% and is probably best not consumed on an empty stomach. Not that it did me any harm...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Awesome Scenes (and why Bishops shouldn't wear speedos)

Unfortunately my splurge from G&Ds last week was not recoverable but not to worry. I shall ramble in much the same way again, but without the accompaniment of a Mad Cow coffee (coffee containing a scoop of G&Ds ice-cream. mmmm).

It's been a busy couple of weeks - with more work than I'd hoped for and an application form for an MSc to be handed in. I managed it though, but this week could be potentially just as crazy. Last night was great though because it was a joint birthday and I enjoyed a quality evening, enhanced by the presence of many big names who have sadly moved on from life in Oxford. It was awesome.

I think I will talk a bit dad's induction at his new church, which some of you may have read a bit about it on Sam's blog. It an amazing occasion, and it was great to see so many friends and family. Afterwards we stood at the church door as a family to meet everyone, including the new parishoners who have been so very welcoming to us all. It was difficult though in some cases to know whether to say "Hi I'm James, nice to meet you, thank you for making me so welcome in Billingshurst" or "I haven't seen you for ages, how are you?" Rather embarrasingly I did get it wrong on one occasion but not to worry. What was fun is that finally I got to put some faces to random names from Christmas letters. You know the type - the ones addressed to the whole family even though they are people your parents only vaguely knew before you were born.

The actual induction service itself was very exciting and there was a real buzz about the place. The service proceeded interspersed with some classic hymns and the Bishop (Lindsay Urwin) gave a quality sermon. Bishop Lindsay was interviewed by Ali G some time back and he is cool. He was a very engaging and amusing preacher, and really delved deep in to the chosen passage from Phillipians. The sermon seemed shorter than it was and he made some quality points, both for my dad as the new vicar and to the people of Billingshurst as a whole. I especially liked his point about the church being in the business of making Jesus Christ of Nazareth known. "To do this we need to know and love Him ourselves, otherwise we won't know what we are talking about."

Talking of Bishops, I think that I saw the Bishop of Oxford in the swimming pool the other day - wearing a pair of speedos. Not cool.

I'd best go get on now, but before I go I want to tell you about the list of past chapel wardens I saw in Merton Chapel this morning. One of them was called Scrope Beardmore. Has anyone ever come across anyone called Scrope? Are you yourself a Scrope? If so please comment and introduce yourself.


Saturday, January 21, 2006

Trouble in the Blogosphere

It appears that I am having some technical difficulties with my blog – my last post, which was sent in via email has not appeared and I am not getting notification about comments as I should.  Grrr.


I’ll try and resolve the problems in due course, and see if I can re-post the missing items.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Travel Woes

I travelled home at the weekend for my dad's first Sunday service as vicar in his new patch. It was, incidentally, very good. I enjoyed the sermon (even if I am biased) and there were a surprising number of people in church. The atmosphere was generally very friendly, and I really enjoyed the kids' service that came later in the morning.

I was going to travel home by train, and attempt to catch up on a few things, such as my blog, en route. However, my plans were scuppered when I discovered that the line was being dug up between Didcot and Oxford (again????) and the replacement bus would have added an unbelievable 90minutes to the overall journey time. So, I went by bus to Gatwick ('The Airline') where I was picked up. It was, it has to be said, very comfortable and I did smile at the slightly cheesy safety video ("we're going to be cruising at 62mph at a height of about 4ft...exits are here....."). However, I was appalled when my request for student discount was met with "only if you're a Brookes student". What? How dare they discriminate. All that does is reinforce the false stereotype that Oxford Uni students are richer than most. Just like any Brookes student I am a full member of the NUS, and as our terms are structured in a more intense way than theirs, getting a job during term is out of the question.

I don't usually resort to this sort of thing, but please boycott the Oxford Bus Company until they have decided on a fair policy for giving student discount. (I suspect that the only thing it will acheive is making me feel better, but come on, it's worth it for that).

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Problem Sheet Joy

I have just completed my first assignment of term, to what I hope has been quite a high standard. I am currently feeling very happy and quite pleased with myself, but I am a little worried that in order to complete all the questions I used up 25 double sided sheets of A4. OK so I have big writing, but even so...it doesn't bode well for when I need to complete two or even three such assignments per week as the term gets underway. As you can imagine, doing the problems has taken up a rather large chunk of my time recently.

Now to get back to exam revision for Collections on Friday :S

Sunday, January 08, 2006

"Forgive Us All..."

"...forgive us please, as we fight for this broken world on our knees".

That is the passionate cry of Martin Smith - front man of Delirious? - in the song 'Our God Reigns', taken from the new album, The Mission Bell, which I purchased back in December.

It's been a while since I talked about music on this blog and I've decided that this track is worthy of a mention. The Mission Bell is very much one of their more overtly Christian albums and perhaps slightly disappointingly it is not as accessible or as raw as some of their earlier work is. But it's really grown on me, and it's musically pretty good.

I think that 'Our God Reigns' is a particularly powerful track, despite the inclusion of some cringeworthy lyrics. It successfully combines a reflection of the mess we've made in this world with a poignant, powerful, and joyous reminder that through it all - above all, even - Our God does indeed reign.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Lib Dem Leadership

Many of you will know that I am not the biggest fan of the Liberal Democrats, and I don't think that Charles Kennedy would make a good PM. But you've got to give credit where it's due, and I respect his honesty in admitting his drink problem. It's also got to be noted that the party did get its best election result under his leadership.

My opinion of the party as a whole however has not budged an inch from rock bottom given the way that many of the members are handling the issue and not showing him any support. I think that some of the BBC Have Your Say comments have put it better than I could.

"The Lib Dems who have signed against Charles Kennedy have signed their own political death warrants. He led the party to win the most seats they had in years, yet when he admits to a problem, they all want him out. They have no idea about alcoholism if they cannot empathsise with what he has had to do yesterday. Alcoholics are usually the last to know they have a problem."

"This whole episode just goes to show how 'liberal' and 'tolerant' the Liberal Democrats really are."

Radio Show Talk Death

I read yesterday on the BBC News Page the rather tragic story of a radio show caller who passed away whilst on air.

Upon reading the article however I came across this paragraph:

"The DJ, concerned when the line went dead, abandoned the show and rushed to the man's house in the Old Swan area".

Does anyone else find this bizarre, and - dare I say it - slightly amusing, despite the obvious tragedy of the story?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Teapots and Weirdos

I have picked up vibes suggesting that "politics and religion" is not a great combination with which to start the year. This is not a dinner party, you know, but I have taken note. I have also noted that the person responsible for such comments has not yet left a greeting under my Happy New Year post...

So in racking my brains for something a bit more light hearted I have decided to relay my Christmas shopping experience in Horsham. Before you decide to stop reading now I urge you to give this particular anecdote the benefit of the doubt. It might turn out to be quite amusing. But if it doesn't, please don't sue.

So there I was, in Horsham, a town with which I was unfamiliar looking for a Christmas present for my mum. Specifically I was looking for a small two-cup teapot (I might have been at least partially responsible for the breakage of her old one). I'd not had much success in London the day before, but to be fair I'd not devoted much time to it. People, you would not believe how hard it can be to find a two cup teapot, especially one which even vaguely matches my mum's mugs.

It didn't take long for me to find something which could have spelled the end of my epic quest, but the colours weren't quite right. Plus I'd have needed to sell all of my possessions just to afford it, so I moved on. I would have come back to it as a last resort, but on a day where most shops seemed to be opening late, this one closed at 5. Nice.

Having left this shop however, I began to panic that I'd just turned down the only teapot in town. M&S and BHS both had tiny china sections and it suddenly dawned on me as well that I hadn't a clue where to start looking for teapots.

There followed an unknown period of time in which I bounced from shop to shop in desperation. If a shop looked like it sold teapots I would darken the doors, discover that any teapot it sold was unsuitable and ask the shop assisstant if they knew where else I could try. This was invariably followed by my need to ask directions, as I hadn't the faintest idea where I was.

I'm pleased to report that I was eventually successful, and from a random home shop I procured a small blue teapot with which my mum seemed pleased.

On my travels however I came across a character I feel is worthy of a mention. Crossing a car park, I was accosted by a wiry man with big tinted glasses. Someone who wouldn't have looked or sounded out of place in The Simpsons. He thrust a book in my direction and said in a spaced out voice "Can I interest you in a book about the future of the world? It's a novel. About the future of the world". As I made to inspect it more closely he asked if I could spare a few pennies. My response was not positive, and with that the book was withdrawn with a sigh of "Better luck next time".

In a way I regret not paying more attention to what the book was - it could have been interesting, but it's too late now.

Currently I am zipping through the Wiltshire countryside sipping tea and enjoying my train journey back from West Wales. It sure beats sitting in a car on the M4. But really I should be using my time far more productively than rambling about shopping in Horsham, so bye for now.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Creator God?

Thank you to those of you who have introduced yourself by commenting on my Happy New Year post. If you've not yet joined the masses and left your mark, then what are you waiting for? Get down there and comment now...

This post is really a short snippet just to respond to a question put forwards by Dave in his comment.

Dave asked about the idea of a God who created us, and said
"Does he decide if we are going to have minor disabilities like being flat-footed? Does he decide which political party/football team we're going to support?"

I'm afraid the answer to the first one is yes. I believe in a God who designed and created each of us, and therefore also our disabilities, minor or otherwise. It's perhaps a little difficult to accept, and maybe this is a good topic for future debate, but if God created everything about us that must include the "bad bits."

The answer to the second point is a broad no. God created us with free will, and therefore we are able to choose which football team we support etc. However, because God is omnipotent and outside time he knew before we were born what our choices would be. Many of the Biblical writers acknowledge that God knew everything about us before we were born; Psalm 139 (I think; I don't have a Bible to hand) is a good example of this.

1st Rant of The Year

2 days in to the New Year and I am already feeling the need for a little rant. No prizes for guessing the topic...

One of the election slogans bandied about by the Tories in 1997 was 'New Labour, New Strikes'. It evidently failed to win them many votes, but, surprise surprise, it has increasingly rung true.

The latest round of strikes hit the transport industry over the New Year, with both London Underground and Virgin Trains workers striking over pay. The affect in this case may not have been huge, but the principle of the whole thing still really annoys me. Incidentally, the Virgin Trains franchise in question is one of a couple controlled in a big way by our beloved government and I read somewhere that the managers who went on strike currently get paid GBP13.00 per hour - more than that earned by contempararies. Seems like some people will come up with any excuse to get New Year off.

Whilst we're on the topic of transport, I see that the Conservatives today accused Labour of not meeting most of their pledges. Again, no surprises there. There is still too much congestion and some trains are still overcrowded. Labour's response to this accusation was to declare that they had spent lots of money on the transport system in this country - I think 'double the spending of the previous government' was mentioned. I am very sceptical about these figures, and would love to know how they did their sums. But I digress. Even if they have thrown an unprecedented amount of money at the system I couldn't care less. This government wastes far too much time and effort peddling statistics and spending figures to appeal to the masses and all I want for crying out loud is a system which works.

It will also be interesting to see how this new system of choice in the NHS pans out. It has obviously not started well, with a figure today showing 80% of patients were completely unaware of the options available. But let's give it time to develop - will it be an improved use of resources or yet another gimmick to massage statistics and conceal the failings? The jury is out...

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year

OK, so that was an original title for my first post of 2006. But sometimes functionality must take precedence over form.

I could use this post to reflect on 2005 or to look forwards to 2006, but that has already been done to death in the majority of newspapers, magazines and budget TV shows and I doubt I could add much more. On a personal level this year will bring about the dreaded Finals and a new (and as yet unknown) direction to my life come the autumn. Hopefully it will be an enjoyable year and full of exciting surprises.

For those of you who spend a lot of time in the Blogosphere, you will know that it is not unusual for such landmarks as the 100th post to be celebrated. Well, I was a bit of a muppet and my 100th post just slipped by - I think I wasted it with my ramble about the Facist Clown and his colourful lorry. So, if you enjoy celebrating such landmarks then please make the most of this New Year post instead. My counter tells me that I get some visitors and it'd be nice to know who you all are; please leave a comment and say whatever you like. If you have no idea what to say then why not tell me what brand of toothpaste you use*.

Wishing you all the best for 2006...

*Disclaimer: I have no strange obsession with what toothpaste people use, but I felt that it was a suitably random suggestion for this corner of the Blogosphere. I'd also be grateful if you introduced yourself as well, as I don't really want to be stuck just with the word 'Colgate' repeated over and over.