Sunday, August 27, 2006

I'm in the Zone today

Well actually I'm in West Wales. I'm not even sure where "the Zone" is but the title today is a quote from Monsters Inc which I watched last night (and enjoyed very much).

I've been rubbish at updating this blog recently, but hey it's August. Everyone's away and not much goes on anyway.

Earlier in the week I went househunting in Bath which was an experience. I saw a couple of houses and met some good people, but so far I've not got a definite place of residence for next year (though it's not without hope). Being new to Bath I don't yet know anybody, so it's all about meeting the people I might be living with as well. Placing an ad on the university forum and receiving various responses is worryingly reminiscent of how I imagine internet dating might work. The whole experience just lacks candlelit dinners though.

Whilst I was in Bath I also saw the most pregnant looking man I have ever seen and passed another guy whose response to my cheery "good morning" sounded as though his words were coming out backwards.

Though I am seeking a place to rent, I have it on good authority that letting a house can also be a minefield. It seems as though that a cardboard box is too good for some tenants (who ironically feel that reading and adhering to instructions is beneath them). If I had anything to do with it both tenant and letting agent would be strung painfully from the wrongly sited washing line.

Church at home (www.stmarysbillingshurst.org) is very exciting, and a new service pattern begins next Sunday. Less can be said about the church I went to this morning. The visiting vicar was possibly nuts, rambling on and on about China ("mother China") and not really saying anything worthwhile. He quoted a letter from the retiring principal of Westcott House Theological College about a generation of clergy 'who'd presided over a declining church' and I have to say he was the perfect illustration as to why the church had declined under his generation. I have a copy of Discworld Noir, a computer game based on Terry Prattchett's Discworld series which I used to enjoy playing and the vicar this morning bore uncanny resemblance to the priest portrayed in the Temple of Small Gods. That thought did at least provide me with some amusement.

Looking back to my God Slot post and the comments it generated I feel that if Dave's local church has missed the plot in a similar manner it's no wonder that the idea of God is a bit strange.

I do feel though, Dave, that in your last comment that you struggled to deny the existence of God completely, albeit that your "He's given me a wicked life" evidently contained some sarcasm. Still, if you wish to deny the existence of God and are content with believing that you are just part of a random chemical "accident" with no purpose then that's your choice. I cannot prove the existence of God but I look in awe at the natural world around me and definitely feel that there is an element of design and created order.

I wonder, Dave (and anyone else reading this who has similar viewpoints) if you've ever considered praying. It's a bit odd to harp on about how God has no time for you if you have no time for Him. And as I have related here before, I have experienced answers to prayer in my life, often in the most amazing ways. So, prayer. Now there's a challenge for you...

I've come across several classic quotes this week but I am going to end this ramble with one I've just come across in a local newspaper.

"Neil also loves cooking and growing organic vegetables - chickens and pigs may soon be seen in [his garden]."

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Some People (the world is full of them...)

Sam was driving me home last night when we came up behind a jester in a Porsche. He was one of these really annoying drivers who was inconsistent with speed, and quite slow, yet not quite slow enough to justify overtaking. Frustrated with the sporadic and unnecessary slowing down, Sam lined himself up to overtake on a short stretch of dual carriageway...and Mr Porsche put his foot down. We were (alas) not in a Porsche and it was not possible to safely overtake. Then at the end of the dual carriageway Mr Porsche braked and slowed down again.

Clearly the car was a substitute for something - he didn't have the guts or the ability to drive it well, and he evidently felt that being overtaken was not something he could cope with. Ironically however his behaviour just proved that he was small (minded) and rather than being impressed I would like to publically laugh at him for being such a gimp and evidently having more money than sense.

When you have finished joining me in mocking this person (who's silver Porsche was last seen heading in to Petworth) why not join the debate here?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

God Slot

Dave commented this week and seemed to think that it was a bit ironic for me to go to Rome and seek God. Well, fortunately for him I did not go to Rome in order to seek God. I went to Rome to sing with my college choir.

But come to think of it, I find it quite sad that 'seeking God' was not a big feature of some of my visits to Rome's many churches. In fact, I would go so far to say that St Peter's angered me somewhat. This is the centre piece of the Roman Catholic church, and yet rather than focussing on God the statues of the Popes seem to be more important. Rather than being welcomed I felt that I was ushered round aggressively. Rather than encouraging an atmosphere of reverence and worship, camera flashes and talking seem to be acceptable during the services. And rather than taking the opportunity to preach the Christian message in all it's simplicity it was acceptable - encouraged even - to queue and rub the feet of a bronze statue of Peter. Idolatory aside, what happened to John 14v6?

So the irony in 'going to Rome to seek God' actually stems from the fact that I noticed God's work more outside the walls of St Peters. Just in the way that things worked out, in the way that my tiny little prayers were answered. In the evidence of God's people - Christians - throughouut the ages, even if sometimes it is corrupt and misses the point (Christians are only human, after all), and in the beauty of His creation, especially along the leafy oasis of the Appian Way.

I have also noticed God at work without having to travel to Rome - see my posts about camp in Norfolk. In fact one of the clearest answers to prayer I've seen recently came last week, on a wet and windy morning as we gathered as leaders. Someone prayed that we would have good weather for the day ahead, and almost instantaneously (I kid you not) blue sky appeared on the distant horizon. The approaching rainclouds went along both sides, but not over, the campsite and before long the skies were completely clear and the day hot and sunny.

I think I shall end this God Slot by reflecting on the events of last Thursday, and the anti-terror arrests (news did eventually reach us in Norfolk). It's difficult to supress my anger towards the people (this is a family blog for family people, but insert stronger language here if you wish) who wish to cause such senseless death and disruption. Part of me would have them all locked up or deported without question. Part of me is angry that this country is so woolly that people like Abu Hamza can burn the British flag with hateful intent and still remain in residence here. I think that stronger measures are needed to punish these people, but at the same time that alone won't discourage other extremists.

I don't know what inspires these people. Jealousy of our tolerance and freedom? The Iraq war cannot be entirely to blame; 9/11 happened first and anyone with any sense would know that a lot of Britons voted against it.

It was quite comforting earlier to hear the Delirious? track I have mentioned before: Our God Reigns. He does indeed, and I hope that some of you will join me in using prayer as the way forward in this age of increasing terror threats.

Circus Mondao

I've noticed that several people have found this blog recently by searching for Circus Mondao. I think therefore that it deserves its own post - after all there is a lot to say.

Circus Mondao is a comedy name in itself, and we knew things would be bad when we saw the name of the venue (Cookies Car Boot Field) and the advertising lorries. Handpainted, they really did claim to have good 'press revues'. However on the basis that a) it looks so bad that it must be funny and b) a huge discount was wangled with ease (being ripped off became less of a concern) we took the kids anyway.

The big top was tiny, and the ringside seats we had bartered for were - I kid you not - plastic garden chairs. Some people would have paid £16 for the privilege of sitting in them rather than on some rickety looking wooden 'stalls'. Suckers.

The artists as it turned out were the same (badly) facepainted people who tried to sell us hamburgers, candy floss and 'circus novelties' incessently before the show began.

Most of the show was dedicated to horses and the sort of thing you might see if you went to watch a horse being trained. It did have the advantage of music, but it was badly DJ-ed and skipped from one track to another sporadically. The amazing 'counting horse' could have been a highlight, but scraped the ground 8 times when asked 'how many days there were in a week'. Having worked to prevent the poor horse scraping at the ground further the trainer passed this off with "of course we all wish there were 8 days in a week, don't we".

The pygmy goats were a comic addition who didn't really impress as they were dragged around the makeshift obstacle course, and during the interval it became apparent that no-one had paid the extortionate fee for a photograph with Shrek (and his sausage dog mutant horse) for a while. We watched as the polaroid camera was dusted off and an out of focus print was handed to the mother who had paid for her child's photograph. She didn't look impressed...

There were one or two 'good' acts, including the man balancing on a ladder, and the couple who did bicycle tricks. Even the woman with the hoops was reasonable until she dropped some of them. Personally I was gutted that there was not tightrope and no trapeze.

To be fair, the kids had a good time (on the whole) and it was a lot of fun, if not for the right reasons. And we didn't expect any more...

No More Gannets

Gannets is the name of the end of the day team meeting at the camp I helped out on last week. So called because after the necessary business and prayer time is over we can descend (like gannets) on the food available in the cookhouse. Mmm.

There will be no more gannets this year, not because there were some unwashed mugs left over this morning but because camp finished yesterday.

I arrived back in civilisation yesterday evening and was glad of a proper bed to sleep in. However I did have the most amazing time on camp, and I found it really rewarding.

I enjoyed taking part in all kinds of activities from Outdoor Pursuits (mmm Zip Wire) to swimming to playing chess (against some really talented people).

The spiritual programme worked well and I think that both the team and the campers got a lot out of it. For the kids, it gave them the chance in a low key way to learn about the basics of Christianity, and if they had a faith, to develop it. God was clearly at work throughout the week, and many of the kids developed hugely - not just spiritually, but in the way that they approached the activities and related to others.

I'll pick up on some of the comments I've received whilst I've been away in a later post, but for those of you who were wondering about the dress it was for a fancy-dress Narnia themed party. I had to find something to match the pigtails that I was given upon finishing finals...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Revue of the day

This morning I enjoyed the hot sunshine, strolled in to town for a cafe latte and had the most amazing ice-cream. I may as well have still been in Italy, but a glance at the numerous chip shops and a realisation that cars actually stop at pedestrian crossings put paid to that illusion.

In this weather, Norfolk is not without it's charms. Aside from getting to walk back from town along the beach, I also enjoyed seeing a steam train and buying some delicious fudge. Mmm.

This afternoon I enjoyed a trip to Circus Mondao. My first circus experience didn't fail to amuse me, but for all the wrong reasons. Despite claiming "excellent press revues" and having some pygmy goats, I was not overly surprised to find that it lacked popularity. I did however very much enjoy it, and the 'never a dull moment' ethos continues to hold true.

Defined by user

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Never a dull moment

The afternoon started on an exciting note as it was, when I went in to town and bought myself a dress. I then went with a man who wants to earn a place in the Guinness Book of Records by getting the least votes in a General Election to 'collect some weeds as decoration for our Narnia themed party'. Said 'weeds' were 10ft tall ("tree" is a more appropriate term) and we had to ride home in the trailer to ensure that they didn't fall out.

:)

Defined by user

Friday, August 04, 2006

Give Thanks with a grateful heart

On Sunday in Rome my lovely wife and I fancied some Anglican banter and set off early for the English church.

The said traditional service was not overly exciting, but the sermon was quite thought provoking. Starting from the feeding of the 5000 it focussed on God's abundant generosity and as the week has progressed I've really noticed it, even in the little things. Rome was awesome, and it all went better than I could ever have imagined. And now I've arrived to help on a camp in Norfolk. Despite terrible weather over the last week, everyone is generally in good spirits and there seems to be a really good group of campers. God has evidently been at work as well, which is exciting.

Anyhow, I have business to attend to. So from a field in Norfolk it's over and out.

Defined by user

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Roma: When some words are inappropriate

Another funny moment in Rome occurred after a couple of us had spent the day down on the Appian Way (and very nice it was too). Unfortunately, we just missed a bus and the long wait for the next one meant that we were late to that evening's rehearsal. I might have won the BNC Choir Tour "Virgin Trains Award for Punctuality" but not even my nagging wife could have done anything about it in this case.

As the two of us raced towards the Dutch Church, however, we realised to our horror that the gate at the top of the steps was locked, and that getting in could be a problem. The sight of a nun the other side of the gate provided a glimmer of hope and we sprinted up the stairs...where we realised that we had no idea how to convey in Italian that the choir we were with was inside the church and that we wanted to join them.

The situation looked pretty desperate when hand gestures and "Cantare" (which, it turns out, may mean 'you sing') failed to get us anywhere, so I turned to the guide book in search of some useful phrases. 'Choir' would have helped, as would 'Church'. Under the C-Section however, only 'condom' kept popping out of the page. Somehow I cannot think of a less appropriate situation in which to use that word.

Fortunately, I resisted, and after a few more hand gestures it became apparent that we weren't going to leave and the nun relented and let us through anyway.

Crumbs on Earth...


Image006[1]
Originally uploaded by JP1984.

...I didn't remove my glasses in time.

[Apologies if you don't know Nick. Apologies if you are Nick. Normal service will resume shortly].

Roma: Stared at by the local Totti


Image019a
Originally uploaded by JP1984.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sorry, but this corner of the Blogosphere has just come over all Tabloid. Don't let the lack of (almost) topless totti and poor puns fool you. What you see before you is indeed a grainy photograph of a world cup footballer, and it can't be long before I've honed my skills enough to produce quality articles as informative as the one I recently spotted in the Daily Express.

FRANCESCO TOTTI-who scored against Australia-was spotted in the same restaurant as the BNC Choir. It might shock readers to know that he was seen EATING and drinking with his friends. Famous for SCORING against Austrailia, neither Totti nor his friends were available for comment.

Hmmm.

Anyhow, I was indeed glared at by Francesco Totti. He was stood outside as I elegantly (her words, not mine) carried Miss Mugford up the street, and the look I got was priceless. I think it was one of my proudest moments.

Roma: The Wrong Church

A lot of our singing rehearsals took place in the Dutch Church in the Vatican. That in itself is kinda cool.

Halfway through the first rehearsal, people started filing in, and a priest (not, notably, wearing a black shirt) attempted to converse - initially in Spanish I think - with our organ scholar. Evidently the people had turned up for mass, and assuming that the church had been double booked, we left.

Then as we were stood on the steps contemplating what the plan was, and when we would next reconvene, the people filed out of the church again. The reason? They'd come to the wrong church...

It's easily done in Rome I guess - there are churches everywhere - but it was very funny nonetheless.

Roma: Scenes from an Italian Restaurant

For some reason on Monday there was a concert outside the Colosseum featuring Bryan Adams and Billy Joel. And it was free (one of my favourite prices).

So as I sat down with the group at a restaurant around the corner and tucked in to some authentic Italian pizza, my dinner was accompannied by some live music. We could hear the gig very clearly, and as the wine and conversation flowed it was surreal to think that "Summer of 69", "Run to You" and the other classics were actually being sung, right there, right then, by the man himself.

Following the meal we went off to our favourite Gelateria for some ice-cream (if you've never had proper Italian ice-cream you haven't lived). Miss Mugford and I then made our way towards the Colosseum as Billy Joel began his set. A walk around the Palatine (which masked the sound, alas) took us to the slopes of the Capitoline where we joined a crowd of people staring out across the forum. There in front of us was the Rostra from which Cicero delivered his speeches, the Temple of Saturn, the house of the Vestal Virgins, the Basilica Julia, and - lit up in the distance - the Colosseum. As we stared out across 2000 years of history and surveyed the beautiful scene, Billy Joel's soundtrack did not disappoint.

The final port of call was the Via Imperiali, where we joined many thousands looking towards the Colosseum and (importantly) stood beneath some big screens displaying the action from the stage. We were there for Billy Joel's encore, which was followed by a series of duets with Adams and another encore. I can't think of anywhere else in the world I would rather have been.

Roma!

I'm paying a quick visit to the Blogosphere again, having returned from Rome yesterday. I was there to sing with my college choir and it was awesome.

I was with a wonderful group of people, and with such good company in such a great place I really did have a good time.

I will get on with posting some thoughts, because - as ever - I have a lot to say. I'll try and break it down a bit though because the last Shetland post was admittedly a bit mammoth. (however, I'm sure you did read it all, Dave, and I had to leave enough for people to read whilst I went away again). You'll probably also be pleased to know that I don't intend to ramble as much as I did about Cyprus; though please do try and read those posts at some point (my ego will suffer if I don't think it was worth my effort).

For tales of Bryan Adams, Billy Joel, and a world cup footballer, stay tuned.