Monday, December 10, 2012

We need these words.

I love words. They don't particularly love me, but I can accept that. I love words because they are one of the primary ways that we can express ourselves. Of course, a look, a touch, a smell, an action and even our appearance all communicate in one way or another. In fact, pretty much everything we do (or don't do) communicates something! But verbal communication is... well, for once I'm lost for words.

Good job then, that I came across this article entitled '25 Handy Words That Simply Don’t Exist In English'. I've picked out my favourite 14 below:

1 Age-otori (Japanese): To look worse after a haircut

2 Arigata-meiwaku (Japanese): An act someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favour, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude

3 Backpfeifengesicht (German): A face badly in need of a fist

4 Desenrascanço (Portuguese): “to disentangle” yourself out of a bad situation (To MacGyver it)

5 Forelsket (Norwegian): The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love

6 Gigil (pronounced Gheegle; Filipino): The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute

7 L’esprit de l’escalier (French): usually translated as “staircase wit,” is the act of thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it

8 Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan): A look between two people that suggests an unspoken, shared desire

9 Manja (Malay): “to pamper”, it describes gooey, childlike and coquettish behavior by women designed to elicit sympathy or pampering by men.

10 Meraki (pronounced may-rah-kee; Greek): Doing something with soul, creativity, or love. It’s when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing

11 Pena ajena (Mexican Spanish): The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation

12 Schadenfreude (German): the pleasure derived from someone else’s pain

13 Fremdschämen (German): Being embarrassed for someone who should be but isn't

14 Kummerspeck (German): refers to excess weight gained due to emotional overeating. The word literally translates as "grief bacon"

Thursday, November 22, 2012


It's was a strange feeling that I felt, holding my young daughter whilst she was writhing in pain and struggling to breathe.

It was late at night and my daughter was in a lot of pain. There was nothing else for it, it was time to call an ambulance. I tried to keep calm as my fingers fumbled on the buttons. I tried to control my voice as I explained the situation to the emergency operator, whilst in the background I could my daughters cries. The operator assured me help would soon be with us and as I hung up the phone I felt a real feeling of helplessness. My wife went to get dressed and so I took over cuddling my daughter. She was fighting for every breath, her sternum raising and falling with great difficulty. She clutched her stomach and began to vomit. She was scared and so was I.

She couldn't explain what was wrong, but something deep within her was in great panic. Whatever it is within us – that urge to breathe was being tested to it's uppermost. As she clung to me, there were a few moments when I truly thought that she might not make it. It seemed that every breath was becoming more laboured and I found myself almost waiting for her to stop. As the minutes passed while we waited for the ambulance to arrive, I began to feel angry. Didn't they know that my little girl was in desperate need? I then began to worry – perhaps in my panic I had given them the wrong address or not made myself clear?

Of course I prayed – the kind of desperate heartfelt emergency prayer that seems so natural in our times of desperation. As the minutes went by she began to calm down and although still in obvious distress, was much better by the time the medics arrived. They whisked her off to hospital and did what they needed to. I'm glad to say she is fine.

But it did get me thinking about that strange compulsion we have; the desire to survive. Our bodies are wonderfully made. They operate without our conscious thought: our hearts keep beating and we keep on breathing. I believe it is good that we have no conscious control of these things. After all, if every breathe was a struggle, would there not come a point when, in our pain and anguish, carrying on might seem like too much effort? But no, we don't have the ability to do that. Most other activities and functions require effort. But in the case of breathing it actually requires effort not to breathe. And this is due to something very basic in our design. You may attribute it to evolution, but I attribute it to a rather cunning bit of design work by God. And that, I think, is because even when we are ready to give up, He ensures we can't – it's an area where we don't have free choice, and I'm glad of that. Because life is a wonderful gift of God and we should count everyday as a blessing, embrace the life we have and make the most of it. Life is for living, don't waste it – because one day, when our breathing does finally stop, we shall meet Him and give an account for what we have done or not done with His gift of life.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I hate goodbyes.

As I look to the future, I foresee it is going to involve a lot of goodbyes.

Some will be said, but not felt. Some will not be said, but felt.

Some will be forever and some only for awhile.

But I hate goodbyes. For they signal an end, be it permanent or temporary of something that was in all probability good. So why is it 'good' bye?

"To say goodbye is to die a little."
Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is it ever good to be gullible?

Who wants to be thought as naive or gullible? Not many. But I find two laws at work in me. Firstly, there is what experience has taught me: that all people lie and deceive to some degree (however small). Secondly, that I wish that it wasn't so.

This can be illustrated by something that happened to me many years ago. On my way to work, I was approached by a complete stranger who claimed to have locked himself out of his flat and had left the oven on with food in it. He said he needed money for a cab fare to get to his sister's house to pick up some spare keys. He promised to repay me, but of course I knew that there was a high probability that he was lying. But I wanted to believe him. I wanted to believe that I was being a 'good samaritan' and that I was helping someone in their hour of need. As I pressed the money into his grateful hands I wanted to tell him that in his hands he held my faith in the good of humanity. I wanted to tell him that I was no fool and realised I would probably never see him again. On that occasion I choose to be willingly gullible in the hope that he would prove my cynicism wrong. Unfortunately he didn't.

I hoped that my extension of trust, my willingness to take a chance on him would pay off. I held this hope because I felt that if in my hour of need, I reached I might find someone willing to help me. Of course as he purchased his drink or drugs or whatever he spent the money on, he probably laughed at the fool he'd so easily duped. Would I do it again? Would I help a complete stranger in need? I would like to think I would.

I would like to say my life experience has taught me that the majority of people are honest. Sadly, experience has taught me that most people will take what they think they can get away with – and if others are silly enough to allow themselves to be conned or to make a mistake – then they deserve it.

I would suggest that in most people there are two laws at work. There is the desire to do good and be honest, but there is also the desire to take what we can for our own advantage. Essentially, it comes down to this: are people basically good or basically bad? I guess the answer changes depending on what standard we measure with or to whom we compare ourselves to. Despite this, I would still like to be able trust people; to take them at their word. Perhaps that makes me gullible and naive? Perhaps I'm just a silly optimist? Perhaps that's why I'm such a 'fan' of God? After all, Jesus said that "no one is good – except God alone." And so even when we trust people and they let us down, when we try to help people and they rip us off, there is One who will never fail, never lie and never con us. And He is good. He is God. And because I know He loves me I find within myself a strange desire to love others – even though I fail so very often.

So is it ever good to be gullible? Probably not. But is it bad to want to trust people, even if you know that by making yourself vulnerable and trying to help, you may be taken advantage of? Probably not. Because within reason, that's not being gullible, that's just being kind and gracious; and along with honesty, that's two things this world is very short on.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Problem of Pain – C.S. Lewis.

C. S. Lewis was a man of great insight and understanding. He was one of those rare men who can make great mysteries intelligable. Here's one of my favourite quotes:

"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

(C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Centenary Press, 1940, 81.)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

An ipain in the ibum.

I dislike ranting in blogs because it's boring and achieves little. However, I feel the need to rant. So I will. But promise to keep it short, if not sweet.

When I bought my top-of-the-range imac two years ago I was very excited. I had saved hard and finally it was delivered. It's been brilliant. Loved it. Awesomeness in the shape of a 27" screen – get the picture? However, it does have a fault. In fact, it has two. Firstly, ever since I have had it when it goes into power-save mode the screen begins to flicker. It's annoying and to be fair I should have sent it straight back, but I was too excited and that would have been a pain. The second problem is that during a certain period of time Apple used some dodgy hard disks from Seagate. They are now recalling all the Macs that used them and replacing the disks for free. It was only by chance that I stumbled across a thread that led me to discover this.

Apparently Apple are contacting everyone who is affected by this issue... yeah right! After entering my serial number into the Apple website I was told I am eligible for the replacement. Okay, so why wasn't I contacted? Oh no! Wait a minute – two minutes after I've entered my serial number into their website I get an urgent email from Apple telling me about the problem and that I need to take me computer in for maintenance and should not delay. How kind of them to alert me to the problem. So they advise me to contact my local Apple store and direct me to the phone number. Going well so far. After waiting over thirty minutes to talk to someone at the Kingston Apple store, I'm told that I need to google the Kingston Apple store and book an appointment online (can you just not book me in? No?). Great. And will they be able to replace the drive on the spot? No, apparently that will take between 7-10 days. And what will I do without a computer for 7-10 days? "Sorry, Sir, I don't know." Funny – BECAUSE NEITHER DO I!

So, just to clarify. I spent over 30 minutes on the phone, had to then book the appointment online, am going to have to waste a morning carrying 20kg of computer from my car to the shop (and presumably another morning picking it up), and then make do without a computer for over a week (baring in mind I work from home). And if I am not mistaken, I have to restore all my data and applications myself. And is any of this my fault? No, because let's face it, companies don't recall products unless they really have to. So since Apple are to blame, you would expect the least they could do was: arrange to pick it up; send out an engineer to do it at my home; be able to do it in store while I waited; or provide a suitable computer on loan. But no, Apple like to 'think different'.

In fact, they've just launched a new imac. The little tag line reads "Performance and design. Taken right to the edge." Well they've certainly taken me to the edge... and I kind of get the impression that if they could, they'd give me a little push – then they wouldn't have to mend my Mac.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ooooh it hurts.

Team High Hopes
The day of the race finally came. It was freezing; I mean frost on the windows of the car freezing. Nevertheless, off we set at 6.30am. We arrived in plenty of time, tested out the portable toilets (no explanation needed – these are universally disgusting), and then stood by the roadside slowly 'chilling' whilst we waited for the race to start. As it happened we left it too long and so ended up quite far back from the finish line.

Bizarrely, a completely unknown female competitor asked me if I could check if her rear pocket zip was closed (just above her, er, bottom). So, numbed by the cold, I observed her lift the back of her top to show me her rear pocket. I couldn't see very clearly, and feeling slightly stunned by her request, I found myself reaching out (what was I thinking?) to try and rearrange the pocket to get a better view. I gave the zip a gentle tug before realising this was probably not what she had meant and quickly retracted my ice cold hands before mumbling something to the affirmative. It felt awkward. Anyway, I have digressed.

Finally the waiting was over. The air-horn sounded and the crowd surged forward. Phil Sapey, my running mate, and I weaved through the crowds, determined not to get caught up with all the slower runners – this involved a fair bit of effort, but worth it. We ran the first mile in 6.30 minutes and we pressed on hard.

I have to confess that I suddenly discovered a strange desire to actually come first. I kept seeing other runners ahead and to be quite frank I found that irritating. But I guess you have to know your limits. So how did we do? Phil, managed a time of 56.22 minutes and I came in just 11 seconds later at 56.33. That put us in the overall positions of 36 and 40 respectively. And out of over 750 people I think that's not too poor.

The amount that the six of us have raised is now over £700 and is still growing. Plus, I attained my goal of running the race in under an hour. So it's all good – except that everything aches. But it's a contented aching :)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

1 day to go...

25 days ago, I blogged about The Race. But now that it is almost upon us it's hard to put into words how I feel about it. So far, thanks to many kind friends we will raise £462 (£568.75 including gift aid) for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, in memory of our friend. Not too shabby.

As for the actual race, I think I'm looking forward to it. Over the last three weeks, two friends and I have run 10k (6.2m) every Saturday, managing to cut our time down to 46.02 minutes. I think that's reasonable, but it's not good enough. My personal goal is to achieve the 13.2km (8.2m) in under an hour. Currently we are running a seven and a half minute mile. This means that if we can maintain that speed, we will finish the race in 61 minutes. However, considering I have never actually run over 10k, this could be challenging. Perhaps I shouldn't worry. Perhaps it doesn't matter – the money will still be raised. But it's a personal goal kinda thing.

So on the eve of the race, how do I feel? Excited and nervous, but determined. Tomorrow I will run. And I will run fast. I will run it for our friend Claire; I will run it for all of those who sponsored us; I will run it for all those still suffering with CF. But I shall also run it for myself. And come Monday morning I shall ache – but if I come in under an hour, it will be a contented ache.

To sponsor us, visit out team's fundraising page. Check back here or on Facebook tomorrow – I'll report on how we did and will no doubt include some unflattering, red faced and sweaty looking pics of us all. The only downside is that it is forecast to be 4º when we run – so maybe not so much of the sweat :(

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Acrostic love.

I think it's love.
Perhaps that's too much?

How can I resist the beauty of your form?
Or how simple you make my life?
No complications, just fun and no strife.

Everyday you are there for me.
Failing not, and full of energy.

I've never had another like you,
Vying for my thoughts and time.
Everlasting love? Is that a crime?

Friday, October 5, 2012

If I were a woman...

Now let me be very explicit. I have not now or ever had the desire to be a woman, not that being a woman is bad – it's just I'm a man and am totally comfortable and happy with that. But a curious thought occurred to me today: if I was a woman, what kind of woman would I be? A slightly strange thought perhaps, but let me explain...

I was on the train into Waterloo and sat opposite me was a girl in her twenties. Since I was engrossed in a game of Words with friends, my eyes were focussed on my phone. Unfortunately, this meant that they were also pointing in the direction of the legs of my fellow commuters. And what I couldn't help but notice was that the aforementioned girl had decided to wear a very short skirt. I don't have any particular issue with the length of people's skirts, but as she stood up to exit the train, I couldn't help but feel that it was rather a bold move on her part. There was nothing wrong with her figure, but it did set off an interesting train of thought (the skirt, not her figure). Why did she choose that skirt? Was it simply because wearing it made her feel good? Or was she wearing it in the hope that people would look at her legs? Was she heading off to an office somewhere with a particular prey in mind? Of course, it would have been inappropriate to enquire, but the seed was sown. This led me to consider the question, if I was a woman, would I wear such as short skirt? With the next logical question being: if I was a woman, what kind of woman would I be? (This of course works in reverse as well).

Let's start with the mind. Would I actually think in the same way as I do now or is my very thinking controlled by my sex? And if my thinking would be different, would that stem from nature or nurture? Obviously, one would assume that I would be attracted to the opposite sex, so indeed my mind and desires would have to be severely modified. Would I develop a strange love for shopping? Would I suddenly find myself feeling strangely incomplete unless I acquired those boots and the matching accessories? Would my inability to keep in contact with friends improve? Stereotypes, perhaps – but they are just that for a reason. But since I've strayed into the clothing arena, let's develop that thought.

When choosing my clothes for the day, what would be my driving force? To feel good? To impress men? Both? Would I even be aware of the effect my choice of clothing would have on the opposite sex? I guess I'd have to be naive not to. So what kind of clothes would I wear? Would I have any taste in choosing clothes? I fear I would be useless. But to bring us back to where we began, would I have the guts to wear a short skirt? To be honest I guess that depends on my age and figure – but presuming both were favourable – would I do it? To be honest I've only grappled with this quandary for a few minutes, but with all things considered and in the right context (I can hardly believe I'm writing this) I think I might. Okay, I'm shocked at myself. And to be honest thinking like this is like trying to get my mind to run the wrong way up an escalator – it's just not comfortable. So we'll leave it there.

I'm sure my fellow commuter had her own motives for choosing her clothing today. But one thing I'm pretty sure of, was that she'll have no idea of just where it led my thoughts (and not in a lewd way). Perhaps in the future I should just stick to playing Words with friends – my head is beginning to hurt, and it makes me thankful that I'm a man.

Addendum: This article should be taken in the spirit in which it is written – one of playful, explorative and inquisitive thought :)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The nature of love...

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails...
1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I cried.

I really should stop blogging and get on with some work. But this made me laugh more than I have for ages. But you probably had to be there...

The other night, when bedtime was approaching, I was a little peckish. Since my wife was in the kitchen I called to her, "Can you bring me something to eat please?"
"What would you like?" she replied.
"Some chocolate."
"We haven't got any."
"Yes we have, that bar of really horrible stuff that someone gave us ages ago."
"Where is it?" she asked.
"Down the bottom of the cupboard – it's that gross swirly orange chocolate."

There was some rummaging and a pause...

"OOOOOOOOIIIIII, that's the chocolate that ME and the GIRLS bought you when we came back from holiday!!!"

I laughed so much I cried. I couldn't stop. After about 30 seconds of my hysterical sobbing my wife came in with the chocolate and offered me a tissue as well. And the chocolate wasn't soooo bad after all :)

Richard Bach on friends, soul mates, love and lies.

This American writer appears to have a slightly odd philosophy on life  – that 'our apparent physical limits and mortality are merely appearance' (if wikipedia is to be believed). Hmm, so it only 'appears that people die'? Perhaps, I'm taking him out of context. Anyway, whatever else he is, he does have a way with words and I wanted to squirrel these here for later pickings – could be useful sermon fodder. I don't really agree with him in a lot of what he says – but there's some nice sentiment. Cool – consider them squirrelled.

“Don't be dismayed at goodbyes, a farewell is necessary before you can meet again and meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”

“A soulmate is someone who has locks that fit our keys, and keys to fit our locks. When we feel safe enough to open the locks, our truest selves step out and we can be completely and honestly who we are; we can be loved for who we are and not for who we’re pretending to be. Each unveils the best part of the other. No matter what else goes wrong around us, with that one person we’re safe in our own paradise. Our soulmate is someone who shares our deepest longings, our sense of direction. When we’re two balloons, and together our direction is up, chances are we’ve found the right person. Our soulmate is the one who makes life come to life.”

“If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they're yours; if they don't they never were.”

“The worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves. We live in denial of what we do, even what we think. We do this because we're afraid. We fear we will not find love, and when we find it we fear we'll lose it. We fear that if we do not have love we will be unhappy.”

Do we need the bitter to appreciate the sweet?

What if life was always good? A life where everything always turned out well? What kind of people would we be if we lacked nothing, knew no frustration, difficulties or heartbreak? One would hope the answer would be 'contented, happy and fulfilled people'. But would we be?

We are amazing creatures. Our capacity to adapt is phenomenal. Not that adapting to new situations and circumstances is enjoyable – for the most part change fills us with fear and can be very traumatic. But if we're to survive we have to adapt, and so we do. Surprisingly quickly our new situation can become the norm – for better or worse. So where there is an injury, the whole body compensates. Where there is a change of income, the standard of living falls or rises. Of course some changes take weeks, months or even years to accept. Perhaps the loss of someone precious to us is one such example. But change and adapt we do.

If we happen to enjoy good health then when illness breaks that norm, we long to return to it, and for a short while appreciate our good health. When sleeping in an usual and uncomfortable bed, we long for and appreciate the comforts of home. When friends reject us or let us down we find a new appreciation for those who stay with us. It occurs to me that this runs like a thread throughout everything. When our employment, family, security, health, friendships, love or happiness is threatened we have that deep desire to see things return to the norm, to how things were, because suddenly we realise how good it was.

This of course is not just negative. Positively, where there is pain, it's removal brings relief and appreciation of our wellbeing. Where there is hunger, food never tastes so good. Where there is a broken relationship, reconciliation brings great joy. But without the negative can we really comprehend the positive? The negatives make us crave the positives, just as pain makes us desire its relief. And perhaps all these things are meant to drive us to the one who never fails, and in whom we are most fulfilled, God.

And so it is, that although no one likes to imagine themselves as ungrateful and no one desires trials or heartache... it is just possible that without the bitter things in life we might be unaware that perhaps we have adapted and accepted to a second-best norm. Pain, bitterness or heartache make us aware that things are not right, and may provide the impetus and desire to seek after that which is sweet. I don't think pain gives us meaning. That just seems perverse. But I think pain and problems can bring our focus to bear on the things that do have meaning, which we might not otherwise appreciate, and so cause us to treasure when we have them.

Count your blessings.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Am so excited...

... about Ruth! Am preaching it tonight. It's got all the ingredients of a modern day Romantic Comedy: tragedy, tears, the 'coincidental' meeting, courtship, potential heart-wrenching disaster and finally a happy ending! And as if that's not all – it's all built into God's great plan to illustrate and actually lead up to the greatest act of love ever – God giving his son, Jesus, so that we could know and love God and thus find contentment, happiness and enjoy a happy ending. And I get to preach it tonight – although it's not going to really be preaching, more a dramatic (I hope) retelling of the story. Very excited.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Apparently my taste in music knows no depths to how low it will stoop when it comes to unsophisticated musical cheese. I found myself buying Chris De Burgh's Ultimate Collection, Notes from planet earth. I knoooow!!! But what can I say? I'm a total romantic at heart and love the heart-aching, eye-filling (some might say eye-watering) songs-with-a-story that he sings. Can you beat the classic, Missing you? Now there's a song that gets stuck in your head. I love it – Fatal hesitation, Sailing away, Tender Hand... and of course the all time classic – Lady in red. Brilliant main stream heart breaking cheesy pop at its best. So I confess, it may be the musical equivalent of fast food or chocolate, but it hits the spot. And like chocolate, I just can't get enough. So rock on De Burgh. Awesomeness.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Only 26 days to go...

In the days of modern transport there are many options available to enable us to comfortably cover eight miles: car, motorbike, train, bus, bicycle... and of course, foot – although the latter two are arguably not that comfortable. So why then I have I found myself signed up, along with five friends to RUN eight miles?

Team High Hopes
We are doing in it to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, who 'deal with all aspects of Cystic Fibrosis'. Our motivation comes from the death of our friend, Claire Salter, who passed away a number of months ago. She was a very special person: genuine, caring, ambitious and kind. Although her life was a constant battle with CF, she was a constant inspiration – and she had a great sense of humour and lived a very full life. She was only a few weeks younger than me and I knew her all my life and so it seemed appropriate to do something to celebrate and remember her; something that would help others – after all, that's what she loved to do.

In the light of life and death, running eight miles seems small. But personally speaking, I've never run that far, but I'm looking forward to the challenge. And to be able to head into that challenge shoulder to shoulder with friends in the memory of another friend – that's awesome. If you want to help support the cause and sponsor us, please visit our team's sponsorship page. Our team is called 'High Hopes', for that is what we have. Bring it on!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tales from WEST: the good, the bad and the awkward.

So having just survived what will hopefully be my last Welcome Week at West, I'm back in my study with a few things to say. I'll not mention the Dodgy Doughnut, the slack McDonald's staff or the I-want-to-beat-you-to-a-pulp Welsh men – that's on Facebook. But I will mention the good, the bad and the awkward...

The Good
Chuffed cause I got there in one piece – albeit much later than planned. Managed to sign up to all my subjects and got reacquainted with my fellow students. Also had a blinding curry with a good mate – good to catch up :)

But perhaps the 'goodest' thing was that they had threatened me with having to share a room... with a complete stranger. That's not the good thing. I mean what's the etiquette for changing??? Who decides when then lights go out? What if they're really annoying? Or snore? I was in some distress as I travelled up – thankfully it all proved unnecessary – I had my OWN room, all to myself. So that was good. But what about the bad...

The Bad
Within about a day of being there, I managed to break three rules. Firstly, due to electrical problems in the kitchen I couldn't make my morning tea. So I moved the kettle into my room (my own personal private not sharing room). Apparently that is against the rules. Hello!?!? The second rule I broke was due to a lack of librarian and my library account expiring, I was forced to steal a couple of books. Getting them out was the easy part... it was returning them that was rather more tricky. Hmmm. But not really life-chaning rules to break. But what about the third rule? Well, you see I... don't think I'd better put that one into the public domain... sorry. But let's move onto the the awkward...

The Awkward 
As it happens there was a rather large contingent of students from Korea over for a short while to learn a bit of English etc. They were mostly female and this meant that the normally male dominated residence was suddenly full of femininity. Not a problem. However, what I forgot to put in the bad, was that I had a cold and had not been sleeping very well. So, dragging my body out of bed, still half asleep, as any self-respecting Englishman would do, I stumbled out into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. I had hoped that the kitchen would be empty. It wasn't. With a tea bag in one hand and some milk in the other, I blundered through the door only to be met by two slightly shocked young Korean ladies. As time stood still for a brief moment, I became aware of a gentle breeze on my chest and it occurred to me that I might be baring a little more than I should. Needless to say there was some rapid redistributing of one's dressing gown. Trying to act as if nothing was amiss (my mouth gaping as wide as my gown) I tried to rescue the situation. Alas, having not spoken yet and hindered by illness, my cheery 'hello' growled out a couple of octaves lower than usual, disappeared half-way through and so sounded like 'hurrrrrrgh.' It did little to ease the situation.

There's a saying, that 'a watched kettle never boils'. Well, it did, but it took ages. Trying to break the embarrassed silence, I asked them about their special Korean evening that they had put on the night before. With broken English, they said it had gone well and asked if I had been there. Another moment of awkwardness – no, I had arranged to go out with a friend as I didn't know it was happening until too late. Woeful as this conversation was, it did mean they had to turn and face me again. Hmmm, let's go back to the pretending I'm not really here bit. Thankfully the kettle boiled and I made the fastest cup of tea in the history of tea making.

Time for a shower. In the aforementioned dressing gown, I dashed into the shower – sorted out the mess that was me and got out. Towel. Where's my towel? Oh, in MY own private single room. Down the hallway. Past the kitchen. Oh. So, soaking wet, and naked apart from my faithful dressing gown I poked my head out of the door and eyed the distance to my room. There was nothing to do except make a run for it. So wash bag in one hand and phone in the other (why did I think I would need my phone in the shower? "Hello! Sorry, can't talk now, I'm in the shower! ... No, can I ring you back? My phones getting wet..." fwzzzzfszzzzz) I ran, with my bathrobe tailing behind me... and guess what!?!? I made it! Back into the safety of MY room. No strangers, no Korean students, but thankfully one white dry towel.

I could go on, but I'm sure you don't want to hear about my sheep poo encounter and my return to THAT McDonalds and it's lack of soap in my hour of need. So there we go – the good, the bad and the awkward of (hopefully) my last Welcome Week at West. But there's always exam time to come...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Friendship... one day.

Last night my wife and I settled down to watch the film One Day. It's a tragic film based on a book with the same title, by David Nicholls and to my mind it presented two interesting ideas.

Firstly, the film is based around the friendship of Dexter and Emma. The are at University together, and whilst they nearly become lovers, they end up as close friends who aim to meet up on the same day every year (15 July). Their lives take them in different directions, but they always share an unbreakable bond of friendship that both enjoy and need. Throughout the twenty years the film covers, feelings inevitably fluctuate between friendship and love. What I found interesting was that no matter what they went through and who they were with, their friendship remained, sometimes strained, but it was there – an emotional link invisibly joining them together. Our friends can be like that. Sometimes we lose touch. Sometimes we don't speak for months, even years. But when reunited, if the friendship is based on a deep understanding of the hearts then it can be picked up and still work. I am thankful that I have a good number of friends like that.

The second thing that struck me was the tragedy. And here I do slightly, no, totally ruin the plot. After, many years of being 'just friends' their other relationships fall apart and they acknowledge and give into their mutual affection for each other. Life is good, but not always easy. Then through an accident one of them dies. All that time spent apart, now seems like such a waste, but there is no going back or rewind function. The unavoidable and horrible truth is that they are parted for ever.

It made me think that although good friendships can endure a lot, perhaps we shouldn't allow them to lay dormant for so long... because no one knows how long they or their loved ones have got. Depressing? Morose? Indeed, and that's the taste that the film left in my mouth. But afterall, it was only a story. As for our friends and family... that's real. Real people, real emotions, real friendships, real heartbreak, real joy. Perhaps it's time I picked up the phone or sent an email at least... because how will our friends know that we're thinking of them if we never make the time to tell them? Hmmm.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What is it with hairy armpits?

It's funny what keeps us awake at night. There I was, exhausted from a day's worth of work and woes, innocently laying my head to rest on my pillow, when a troubling thought presented itself to me. Hair. Now, I can understand the function of most areas of hair – on the arms, legs and head it acts as an early warning system for any contact and also helps preserve heat. But what about the armpits? What's the point?

In that strange place between sleep and consciousness my mind was troubled. It just seemed to serve no logical purpose (armpit hair, not my mind). And furthermore, how come in some cultures it's okay for women to sport full follicles, but in others, it's not. And let's face it, if most women in places like the US and the UK manage without it, how necessary is it?

I for one am not a fan of armpit hair. I tolerate my own, but if my wife was to abandon her usual shaving habits and decide to grow a small crop then I would find that most unfortunate. But this must be down to my cultural outlook rather than anything intrinsically wrong with under arm rugs. But for some reason our cultural seems to require women (and some men) to shave every area of their bodies... except of course the lucky hair that grows on the head. A good head of hair is something is prized – in fact whilst half the nation is intent on shaving, removing or plucking all bodily hair, the other half laments the thinning that occurs on the head. To have a full head of hair and to be hairless everywhere else is of such importance that men and women are willing to pay great sums of money to try and either cultivate or remove hair, depending on its whereabouts.

Anyway, the answer seems to be twofold. Firstly, it acts as a kind of lubricant to reduce friction. Secondly, and slightly strangely, it is to aid us in attracting members of the opposite sex. Apparently, it captures the nutrient-rich sweat and the resulting scent conveys a lot of information about the one who produced it.

So there we have it. I can sleep again, safe in the knowledge that armpit hair (and certain other areas), although not essential, does indeed have a function. But don't get me started on nasal and ear hair. I mean why when you hit a certain age does your body decide now is the appropriate time to start redirecting its precious hair growing resources from your scalp to other areas? Looks like another sleepless night coming my way...

Monday, September 3, 2012

I'm not a robot.

I wonder what was going through Marina's mind when she wrote this song? Whatever it was, this song has been going round and round my mind all day...

You've been acting awful tough lately
Smoking a lot of cigarettes lately
But inside, you're just a little baby
It's okay to say you've got a weak spot
You don't always have to be on top
Better to be hated than love, love, loved for what you're not

You're vulnerable, you're vulnerable
You are not a robot
You're loveable, so loveable
But you're just troubled

Guess what? I'm not a robot, a robot
Guess what? I'm not a robot, a robot

You've been hanging with the unloved kids
Who you never really liked and you never trusted
But you are so magnetic, you pick up all the pins
Never committing to anything
You don't pick up the phone when it ring, ring, rings
Don't be so pathetic, just open up and sing

I'm vulnerable, I'm vulnerable
I am not a robot
You're loveable, so loveable
But you're just troubled

Guess what? I'm not a robot, a robot
Guess what? I'm not a robot, a robot

Can you teach me how to feel real?
Can you turn my power on?
Well, let the drum beat drop

Guess what? I'm not a robot
Guess what? I'm not a robot

Guess what? I'm not a robot, a robot

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Insightful sound bite from Timothy Keller...

"To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial.

To be known and not loved is our greatest fear.

But to be fully known and truly loved, is well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretence, humbles us out of our self-righteouness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Psalm 86 – Help, I can't cope!

A friend of mine was going through some almost unbelievably tough times. I was looking for something to encourage them and came across Psalm 86. It's King David's cry for help when his life is in danger. In his turmoil he turns to the Lord and cries out for help. Inspired by my friend's troubles, I realised this was a Psalm that everyone needs to hear. And so tomorrow, I'll be preaching on it. It's been tough and hard going to prepare, but I pray it will be a blessing. Because at some point everyone goes through times that they don't know how to deal with and whom to turn to. The answer is to turn to the Lord, because there is no one like Him and He is abounding in love.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Why? Such a small word, but with such big implications.

I guess we've all heard the child who repeatedly ask 'why' to an adult's answer, until eventually the adult feels exasperated and throws their hands up in frustration. There are many things we may want to know the answer to. Like, Why is there pain and suffering in the world? Another question might be, Why would we expect there not to be? Sometimes we have to accept that we'll never know the answer to some of those big 'Why' questions.

When something happens, often knowing why it has happened makes a huge difference. If I am hungry but there is no food, then knowing why helps me to deal with it. If a friend acts out of character and hurts me, knowing why can be the beginning of reconciliation and acceptance. If my car won't start in the morning, although the situation hasn't changed, if I know why then although still not ideal, somehow it makes a little sense.

Questions are good. They force us on to to seek out the truth, and in some circumstances can lead to obtain a greater understanding of a situation/person we thought we had grasped, but had only partly known.

So much confusion, heartache and problems could be avoided in this world if we only took the time to sit down together and work out why. Why did we fall out? Why did I do or say that? Why did things happen that way?

At the centre of the word why sits an 'h'. That should stand for honesty. But there comes the rub. Sometimes it is very hard to ask and answer why with honesty.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Children spell love... T-I-M-E." (Dr. Anthony P. Witham)

I think Dr Witham got this so right. We try to fit so much into our lives that we can be in danger of neglecting the ones we love the most. This doesn't just apply to our children, it applies to all our relationships – whether family or friends. If we care about someone, we should try and make time for them. People are important. I need to work at this a lot more.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A time for a playlist.

Life is a funny old business. One day we can feel upbeat and positive, the next lethargic and dejected. And if you're anything like me, you can find yourself changing throughout the day!

People of a certain age will remember putting together 'mix tapes'. This was a thoroughly enjoyable activity, choosing just the right songs to hit the right notes in our lives. Of course nowadays we have playlists. Brilliant. Gone are the days of trying to fit the maximum number of carefully chosen tracks to perfectly fit onto a C-90. And let's face it, there's so much music around – music to suit whatever mood you might be in.

I believe Music to be a wonderful thing. It can instantly capture our mood, it can even change or enhance our mood. Sometimes when a song perfectly captures our situation there's nothing quite like sticking it on the stereo and singing your heart out. A book of the Bible, Ecclesiastes says this:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
And for every one of those 'times' it would probably be possible to make an accompanying playlist. I'm not sure why I have written this blog entry. If I had a point, it's gone. I'm tired and feel a bit dejected. But as for tomorrow... who knows! Life is a funny old business – but it's great.

And now, it is a time to sleep. Good night and God bless :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Private dancer

So I was at a party the other night and happened to be standing next to a couple of friends. Obviously being a party there was dancing involved – something that seems to take the average male (myself included) most of the evening to attempt. Anyway, there we were, watching our partners enjoying a jig when for some reason I thought it would be the perfect moment to confess that when home alone, I often pop on a few tracks and have a bit of a groove. My point was, that when amongst friends at a party, we should really just dance like we do when no-one's watching.
"It's briiiilllllliant," I enthused, "you know, you can dance while unloading the dishwasher, dance whilst shaving or to quote Lady Gaga – just dance! I mean you do that, don't you? When no-one is in and your favourite track comes on... and... er?"
This was followed by a rather awkward pause before they rather hesitantly uttered in perfect unison, "Er, no."
"Oh... ohhhh... um?" Persevering through my shock, which was sprinkled with embarrassment, I continued, "Well it's great. I can't believe you two have never done it before!"
"No, not really something I've ever done before."
"Nor me."
"Oh ... well you should try it sometime. It's great fun."

They viewed me with those, 'I'm-not-entirely-comfortable-with-what-your-suggesting' eyes. My case was lost.

So here and now now, let me promote the benefits of dancing solo: it's fun; it's good exercise; it can energise you; put you in a good mood; and best of all, it's free!

On the downside, I'm sure my neighbours must have seen me having a bit of a boogie. And admittedly when someone walks past the house and casually glances in through the window whilst one is in mid-move it can rather ruin one's rhythm. And if your stereo is of the puny variety then you're not going to feel the vibe. But why not give it a go? Line up some of those tracks that get your feet tapping, crank up the volume, and dance like no-one's watching – because they aren't. Most of the time.

Monday, July 9, 2012


Throughout our lives there are some really sad days. But there are some really good days too! Here was one of the good ones, when my sister and her boyfriend and my family visited lego land. Sometimes pictures speak louder than words...

Just a handy hint if you are planning to go: don't wait until closing time to visit the shop. That's what everyone else does – and then you'll get stuck in the car park queue – which had an even longer queue than the rides! 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Flatulence For Men – the new must have fragrance.

So I was on the train the other day. It was a pleasant and serene atmosphere with everyone quietly minding their own business. As the train stopped at its various stops the carriage began to fill up and a young man decided to sit next to me. He had not long been seated when a very unfortunate smell pervaded the tranquility. It was a stinker – the kind that makes you want to throw your head out of the nearest window.

Of course everyone in the vicinity began accusing each other with suspicious, but discreet glances. For some reason I felt the need to proclaim my innocence and point out that there was a high probability that the source of the stench was sitting next to me. I refrained. Alas, he didn't and let another sample of his bowel air soundlessly escape.

That got me thinking. Why is it that there is such stigma attached to the passing of wind? It's a perfectly natural occurrence and one which one hundred percent of people participate in. I would like to tentatively propose the following theory.

It smells bad. Simple, but true. But is that enough to account for the social ostracism and humiliation that can occur when you are discovered to be the culprit? Perhaps we are genetically programmed to be repulsed by anything that smells bad. This may be part of a built-in warning system, alerting those who detect a bad odour that whatever has emitted it is 'unclean' and therefore potentially hazardous. This would account for our repulsion to things that offend our olfactory organs, such as: excrement, vomit, or rotting meat. Could it not therefore be that this same warning system equates the whiff of wind with health hazards and thus we seek to be distanced from any potential contamination?

To supplement this hypothesis, it may be helpful to approach the situation from another direction. What if the odour of flatulence was in fact pleasant? People spend considerable money on purchasing perfumes in order to appear attractive and pleasing to others. If then the digestive gases were to produce a pleasant odour would they not become an attractive quality to be celebrated, rather than a repellant which most try to suppress? Those who were particularly blessed in this area would be hailed as olfactory benefactors, spreading their sweetness wherever they go. There would be no shame or humiliation, instead when the scent was sensed, you can imagine a coy smile and acknowledgment that, 'yes indeed, it was I who has brightened your day.' In a world like that, there would be no need for excessive efforts to ensure the  delivery is silent. Instead, a rich and loud pronouncement would be met with closed eyes, smiles of anticipation and deep steady inbreathing.

Perhaps there is a food supplement that could be developed to bring this about. One can imagine it being marketed as Organic perfume or Winfume or even Parpfume. There could be different scents... his and hers, the possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Camp 2012

There is a certain feeling of accomplishment when the last tent is packed away and the sun begins to set at the end of Camp. It was a good camp, with nothing too terrible going wrong. It contained all the usual ingredients: plenty of rain*, leaky tents, good food, dodgy toilets, a malfunctioning shower, wet feet, all sprinkled with a liberal helping of tiredness and garnished with the occasional sunbeam.

I was the speaker for the younger age group and had to deliver six talks in four days. I thoroughly enjoyed myself (just re-read that and think 'thoroughly' may be an exaggeration, instead, read 'sort of...') and took the children from the beginning of time, through to the Cross of Christ and then we sneaked a peak at the end of time – Jesus' return. I was rather apprehensive about how the talks would be received, but after a destroying a Nasa based inflatable globe, ruining a brand new white t-shirt and wrestling with my cross shaped jigsaw visual aid, it all seems to be worth it. For one child said to me, "The talks were brilliant" and another claimed they were "excellent." Okay, on balance another child said that they were "boring," but if at least two children thought they were brilliant, then they can't have been that bad, for which I thank God and breathe a deep sigh of relief.

So whilst my face is still glowing from the weather's best attempts to strip it of it's skin, my head hurts and I appear to ache all over, at least it seems like it was all worth it.

* I have to confess that the rain on the first night was soooooo bad that I didn't sleep. At all. So the next night I waited for everyone to go to bed before snucking into my car and driving home, to have what can only be described (and I'm borrowing an adjective popular with the kids at camp) as  'epic'. But shhhhh, don't tell anyone :)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Eurovision song contest 2012

There's nothing like it – the Eurovision song context makes me weep with laughter. For those who take it all very seriously, then musically it's a little depressing. But if you like cheesy euro pop and view it as a bit of a comedy – then tune in, sit back and enjoy. I'm seriously considering hosting a Eurovision Song Contest party this year :)

Engelbert Humperdinck
Buranovskiye Babushki
It's due to take place on 26 May and this year's contest is looking like it will prove to be a corker. Not only have we, the good old UK, dug deep into our cultural heritage to pull out a 76 year old Engelbert Humperdinck, but Russia have dug even deeper and found the Buranovskiye Babushki, with their rather amusingly entitled track, 'Party for everybody' – which is surely not one to miss! I can hardly wait...

Friday, May 11, 2012

From the frying pan, into the fire...

A few days ago, in an act of rash kindness, I offered to cook for our evening meal. This seemed like it should be a straightforward exercise. Firstly, I found a sausage casserole recipe on the BBC Good Food website. Secondly, I nipped down to Sainbury's and purchased the necessary ingredients. Thirdly, I began the preparation. Now, when I cook, I like to have everything ready and to hand in order to ensure a smooth culinary experience. To this end I usually also follow the recipe to the letter.

On this occasion, on health grounds, I decided to depart from the instructions and instead of frying the sausages and bacon, to grill them. Everything seemed to be going so well. I began to gently fry the onions and garlic whilst the meat was grilling. Unfortunately, what I hadn't accounted for was the combined build-up of excessive fat in the grill pan. This fat eventually decided that it had had enough and began to smoke rather violently, causing the smoke alarm to trigger. As one does in such a circumstance, I began running around opening all the windows and doors. It was at this point that my wife rang the doorbell, loaded down with bags and children. It was also at this point that the fat decided to raise the stakes and burst into flames.

I threw open the front door and ran back to the oven, which by now had quite an impressive plume of flames spewing from the front and back of the over - some of which were at least two foot high. This rather shattered my calm cooking demeanour and I must confess that I was beginning to sweat. I turned off the gas and pulled out the grill pan, unfortunately this message of cessation wasn't passed along to the fat, which was burning away with not a little vigour. From the hallway, my wife decided this would be an appropriate time to point out that the smoke alarm was going off and to enquire as to what I was doing about it. I retorted, quite calmly I think, given the circumstances, that the oven was on fire. However, she didn't seem to grasp severity of the situation and began requesting that the battery be removed from the smoke alarm. I thought it best to defer this request and continue my efforts to put out the blaze. But what to do? All the gas was turned off, but the flames were still very much present. With the addition of numerous beads of sweat, any pretence of the situation being under control was rather lost.

Meanwhile, my two daughters were really rather excited by all the commotion. My wife, having finally understood that there was indeed a fire, attempted to control their enthusiasm and keep them safe. Feeling rather foolish, I began to try and blow out the flames. Perhaps not the best approach, but it was done in the heat of the moment. Thankfully the fat began to burn itself out and combined with my huffing and puffing the flames subsided. I was rather impressed with my wife's laid back approach to it all – I suspect this is because she never actually saw just how engulfing the flames had been.

The Sausage casserole itself was actually rather good. Although, note to self: Next time, empty the fat from the bacon before starting to grill the sausages. Also, if using Bart's Hot Chilli powder, only use half a teaspoon full as it was a little bit too hot, for when I was eating it I found myself sweating for the second time that night.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How to avoid conflict

In an article I am reading in preparation for a certain up-and-coming exam, I came across some proverbs from a variety of different cultures on conflict avoidance. Here's a small selection...*

  • Of the thirty-six ways of handling a conflict situation, running away is the best. (China)
  • Money softens a dispute like water softens clay. (Nigeria)
  • A good silence is better than a bad dispute. (Russia)
  • It is best to let an offence repeat itself three times. The first may be an accident, the second a mistake, only the third is likely to be intentional. (Kongo)
  • All is never said. (Ibo)
  • In playing chess, there is no infallible way of winning, but there is an infallible way of not losing – that is not to play chess. (China)
  • If a quarrel gets too hot for you, pretend it is a game. (Hausa) 
* From A Scott Moreau, Gary R Corwin & Gary B McGee, Introducing World Mission: a Biblical, Historical and Practical Survey, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004) 275; cited from Augsburger 1992, 223-35.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

So sweet.

As my six year old daughter scaled my legs and jumped into my arms, she exclaimed, ‘You’re the best dad ever!’ This was after I’d spent most of the day writing an essay. Kids are so forgiving.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Women spend 3 hours re-doing partner's chores.

An article on The Telegraph website makes the above claim and then goes on to list a 'Top 20' of poorly performed jobs. These are obviously generalisations, but come on! Seriously?

1. Wipe worktops after washing up
If they don't look that bad why bother? Furthermore, many households use their dishcloths to do this which have been proven to harbour potentially dangerous levels of bacteria, due to being left around for too long etc. Therefore, it is highly likely that although it appears to make things cleaner, by using dirty cloths (they should be replenished daily) these women may in fact be spreading more dirt than they are cleaning up! If you're interested, apparently, we are advised to used disposable kitchen towels. 

2. Plumping cushions
Someone's only going to sit on them and flatten them. So the point is...? 

3. Straightening and flattening the duvet 
Just how many people's daily commute involves travelling through your bedroom? I can see the headlines now: SHOCK – The Neal's Duvet in Disarray!

4. Cleaning the oven 
Since we heat our food to the required to temperature to not only cook it, but also kill off any harmful bacteria, surely that same heat cleanses the oven? If we're talking about visible debris – it's not hurting anyone is it? And whose going to check inside your oven anyway? Okay, if it starts to burn, yeah, take it out – but that's okay because it's a manly thing. "Me man, me prevent fire – me hero."

5. Failing to plump pillows on the bed 
Oh please! See above comments concerning cushions.

6. Not straightening bottom bed sheet 
Unless someone does an impromptu inspection, the only people that are going to know about the state of your bottom sheet is you and your spouse (one would hope anyway!). It's when your man starts to straighten the sheets and puff the pillows that perhaps you should start to worry...

7. Not putting things into drawers tidily 
Words fail me. 

8. Not returning things to their rightful home 
Aha, but who is to decide where an item's proper place is? Perhaps the man has just decided that the place his dear partner uses for the 'thing' is not in fact suitable. He therefore chooses to re-home it, probably by keeping it in an more readily accessible place.

9. Not spacing out wet clothes whilst hanging drying 
It's all about efficiency. The more clothes you can get on a drier the better; he's just being frugal.

10. Not putting away wet dishes after washing up 
And why would you want to put away WET dishes?

11. Vacuuming in the middle of the room and not the edges 
There are different types of vacuuming. The full deep vacuum and then the 'Panic People Are Coming Round In 5 mins Vacuum'. Every vacuum doesn't have to be a deep clean - after all where do people tend to walk? Not many enter the house and then cling to the walls to spread their dirt there.

12. Ignores dirty mugs whilst washing up
Again, perhaps this is efficiency. I, myself, tend to re-use a single mug throughout the day - perhaps he hasn't finished with it...?

13. Separating darks from the lights when washing clothes
It's not always that black and white though... what do you do with the light greys and pastel colours...

14. Not pairing socks
But at least you don't end up with a sad sock because it's lost its other half.

15. Wearing shoes in the house after vacuuming
Isn't that what our guests do? You've just done your emergency vacuum, they come round and say, "Shall I take my shoes off?" And you reply, "Oh no, that's fine."

16. Leaves dirty washing on the floor next to the washing machine
It's damage control. In my experience the good lady of the house has got a master plan concerning when and how different loads are going to go in – it's practically a science. Unfortunately, not being educated in Washingology, I think the man humbly lays the garments down as close to the machine as he dare and is merely acknowledging the superior wisdom of his dear lady. Because, let's face it, if he stuffs his dark blue t-shirt into the load of whites, what's going to happen? So it could be seen as an act of thoughtfulness, care and damage control.

17. Doesn't shake clothes out when hanging them up 
Sorry, Washingology again.

18. Doesn't fold clothes before putting them away
Perhaps this is due to the specific and individual needs of each garment needing to be treated in a particular way. Get it wrong – you pay the price.

19. Doesn't decorate the bed with cushions when making it
Oh my life! Why would you do that anyway?

20. Loads the dishwasher incorrectly
Totally disagree. My duties include washing up and one quickly works out the most efficient way to use the available space in a dishwasher, ensuring the maximum amount of items are loaded, whilst allowing the washing arms to still rotate and thus everything to be cleaned. If this is not done, one ends up re-washing up. In fact, I am so passionate in my dislike for washing up, that I am the one who reloads the dishwasher after my wife has loaded it.

Now, I was going to compile a similar list of jobs that men find women don't complete satisfactorily. Unfortunately, I... erm... well... er, couldn't think of... Ahem. Let's not go there shall we!?!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Missed connections & email.

Having received Sophie Blackall's book, Missed Connections, I have been introduced to the whole concept of 'Missed connections'. This occurs when people see a stranger and realise that this could be The One. Unfortunately, as testified to by Sophie's book, a good number of folk don't take the opportunity to introduce themselves and later come to regret it. And so, not knowing the object of their affection's name, they resort to writing a missed connection advert, with the hope that their potential loved one will come across it. Confused? Just think, 'message in a bottle'.

But it's not only connections that get missed. It's no secret that physical mail gets lost, and ends up at the 'Dead Letter Office' or as Royal Mail now call it, the 'National Returns Centre'. According to an article by the Daily Mail on March 2011, Royal Mail send about 25 million letters annually 'to the shredder'. How many people have been waiting to hear about job interviews, but have never heard? How many people have been expecting a birthday card from someone important, but due to the mysteries of missed mail, took offence at not having received one? And how many romances have failed to blossom through lost love letters? The directions that lives take, the decisions people make, the assumptions, the anger, the hurt and all that, just from missed mail.

But who writes letters these days anyway? It's all about email, well, it is for those of us who don't use Facebook anyway! And this is my reason for writing. You see, I was waiting for an email and it didn't arrive. Well, actually it, did, but not until seven hours after it had been sent. And what do you do? Do you email again, saying, 'Did you get my email?' Tricky, because you don't want to appear rude or impatient etc. But if they didn't receive your email and you don't chase it up, then someone's going to lose out on something! How many opportunities have people missed out on because the sender thought the person they'd emailed wasn't interested in coming for an interview etc, when in fact the person never received the email? You can see, the scope for problems.

And as for where missing emails (assuming they're not just in your junk or spam folder), then where do they end up? Is there some crafty email thieves randomly stealing the occasional passing packet of data? Or is there a Dead Email Office somewhere, with huge servers dedicated to storing all our lost email? And they'd be some old Emailarian who could take you round and tell you how "This is one of our oldest ones – it's a real gem, it's been here since the dawn of email in the early 1970's..."

Anyway, back to my email problems, if you have emailed me and I haven't responded, then perhaps I've just been too busy (sorry), or perhaps I've just forgotten (sorry again), or perhaps it sitting in the Dead Email Office? Whatever the reason, here's my Missed Email advert to the world: 'Sorry I missed you, I didn't get your message. Won't you try again?'

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

I like this girl's style...

Sophie Blackall is an illustrator and I loved her stuff so much that I felt compelled to order her book. Check out her blog. There's a nice little video as well :)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The downfall of dieting.

I have never been concerned about my weight. This is probably because I've always been able to eat what I like, when I liked. However, about a year ago I had a shock. I won't go into too much detail, suffice to say, as I dried myself after a shower I was horrified to see just how LARGE my stomach had become. It was not the most pleasant of discoveries and it set in motion two new and slightly peculiar behaviours.

Firstly, I began to have to Hold My Tummy In. What? Hello? How did it get to this?

Secondly, I began to watch what I ate. Nothing serious – just saying 'No' to the extra slice of cake, or foresake the pack of crisps etc. Anyway, I'm boring myself here, so I'll cut to the chase: I lost weight – and lots of it. Great, but the loss of weight brought some unexpected problems...

None of my trousers fit. Well, actually that's a lie. All the trousers that I used to wear about 15 years ago (and kept just in case) now fit. Remarkable! Unfortunately they're either all well out of fashion or worn out (why DID I keep them?). So until I can afford to replace all of my trousers, I'm walking around in trousers that are seriously a good few inches too big. These require a belt – but there does come that point when the bunching of the material starts to look rather silly AND belts seem to work with varying degrees of success. This has the unfortunate task of leading to that awfully unsightly 'hitching-up' of the trousers whilst walking. So all round, not a good look.

The second downfall of dieting I only discovered today. Over the last few weeks I have been reading about the Reformation. No seriously, it is actually really very exciting! And as I have an essay to write on the Puritans I have been reading the biography of a bloke called John Bunyan – he was awesome – one of the best preachers of the time. Well, I got so enthused at one point, that I stood up and did a little jig (try not to picture it) – which for some reason involved a vigorous waving of the arms. Where upon my WEDDING RING shot off my finger! Now, that's never happened before. Thankfully I managed to retrieve it before the wife got home, otherwise how could I have explained that? "I'm sorry my love, it just fell off!?!"

So, there you have it; the downfall of dieting is, that not only does the weight fall off – so does everything else. You have been warned.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Smile at a Stranger Experiment.

If you've ever been smiled at by a complete stranger as you've been walking along the street, then you'll know how it can bring a little happiness into even the darkest of mornings. Awhile ago my wife told about a lady that always tried to do just that - to bring a little bit of joy into people's worlds by simply sharing a smile with them. Since these are free to dispense, I thought it might be an interesting social experiment to try and smile at a stranger for 14 days. I'll update the results as they occur...

Day 1:
This was the day when this slightly strange idea first occurred to me. I was travelling by train, up to London to freelance at The Good Agency. As I was thinking through how I would go about it and what sort of person I should select as my first 'test subject', I found myself being highly amused by the whole idea. So far, so good - even if the happiness had only spread to me so far, the idea was working.

Unfortunately, the more I thought about it, the more I couldn't help but smile. And so it was, that I got off the train with a huge grin wrapped around my face. I say 'unfortunately' because I think I must have looked a little odd as I weaved through a busy Waterloo station concourse, grinning from ear-to-ear. This also didn't help my mission – how could anyone know I was smiling at them if I was smiling all the time? And so once I had wrestled my grin back into the usual London grimace, I was ready. But my walk from the station to the Agency is only about six minutes long and I had wasted half of that looking like a freak. There was no time to lose, I had to find someone to smile at... anyone would do.

It was then that I found out how incredibly hard it is to actually smile, unprovoked at a complete stranger. Just as I thought my mission had failed before it had begun, a spotted a possible target. I tried to catch her eye, rolled out a slightly hesitant smile and... she completely ignored me.

Okay, so not a great first day success, but at least I had done it. This could only get easier.

Day 2:
As there was a weekend break between day one and day two, any confidence I had gained had long since vamoosed. Never mind. As I stepped off the train, this time I squashed the smile that was wriggling to escape until it was the right time to unleash it.

I missed several opportunities as I went down the escalators (mental note for tomorrow) and managed to leave the station with no success. And once on the streets there seemed to be a lack of any suitable 'Smilees'. However, just when I thought day two was going to be lost, I spotted a target. Okay, engage courage, mentally prepare and fire.

The smile that I finally managed to produce, was not the dazzling heart warming beacon of happiness that I had intended it to be. Instead, what I managed was a slightly twitchy smirk. Needless to say, it wasn't met with a great response. I believe that the slightly more mature women did indeed notice my efforts, but responded by dropping her eyes to the ground and hurrying on by. Perhaps I need to practice smiling or maybe the answer is to have a natural smile inducing 'happy thought', ready to load at the appropriate time. I'll try that tomorrow.

Day 3:
Some of you may be wondering why I'm going into London when I am meant to be studying. There are two reasons. Firstly, because it's half-term, so my house is busy. Secondly, my old company don't mind me studying at their offices as it means I'm on hand should they need some extra help – which I charge for of course!

Anyway, day three started with me reading the Book of Revelation on the train. As we approached Waterloo we got held up at a red signal. The train was packed and in that very odd commuter way was totally silent. And for whatever reason, the silence seemed louder than usual. And then someone's phone rang. She answered; we all listened. "Hello, yes, I'm fine thank you. No, no, I'm on the train at the moment, talking." I'm not entirely sure why she felt it necessary to state that she was 'talking' as we, and presumably the person she was talking to, all knew she was talking. I think it was panic. But this was the cue for Mr Inappropriate (me) to get the giggles. You know what it's like, total silence except for one lone voice and now you have the uncontrollable urge to burst out laughing. Honestly, I was in a pickle. I found my tummy sucking in and out with the effort to be quiet, I began to involuntarily gurn and I had to hide behind my hands – the person next to me was starting to look uncomfortable.

This was a good start (apart from ruining my reading of Revelation) as I now had my 'happy thought' which could be used to inspire day three's attempt to 'Smile at a Stranger'. Remembering yesterday's thought about the opportunities afforded by the escalator, I walked confidently through the concourse... only to hear the 'I'm talking' woman on her phone again apologising for the previous phone call as the train had been 'totally silent'. Ba-ha-ha-ha!!! "No! Now I can't stop laughing and it's too early! Stop! Ok, think sad thoughts, sad thoughts. Right, that's better. Now, to escalate!" But it was broken. And if you've ever walked down a non-moving escalator, then you'll know how challenging it can be. And so it was in a slightly stumbling fashion, that I spotted a potential 'Smilee'. Happy thought engaged and... fire smile. There it goes, not my best, but under the circumstances, I thought it pretty admirable.

The response? Total blank out. Yet again, my great Smile experiment had dished up a great serving of failure. But not to be deterred, a few moments later I let another one rip. Well, it wasn't so much of a rip, but rather a slow stretching of the mouth. Needless to say this was greeted with the usual response – eyes to the floor and vacant expression.

But I think I have figured out where I'm going wrong. What needs to take place is eye contact; establish a connection (yes, I'm looking at you), launch happy thought, and finally unleash the smile to end all smiles. We'll see.

Day 4:
My dear wife posted this on Facebook yesterday:

'A study in the Journal Psychological Science has revealed that momentary eye contact with a person, even if they are unknown to you, reduces stress levels, through 'human connection.' 
Daily Mail, 14th February 2012.
Thus, as I travelled in this morning, I felt somewhat encouraged in my quest to share a bit of joy into an otherwise dreary commute.

On the train from Chessington, I regularly pick up one of the many discarded copies of the Metro newspaper. Today's edition featured an article entitled, 'No longer love thy neighbour? Post it online…' According to the author, Jenni Marsh, neighbours no longer speak to each other about problems, but resort to writing 'humorous notes … which are ending up online'. One of the examples amused me, 'Your bass speakers are amazing. The bass is so rocking' that it shakes all of the buildings in the complex. We are all very impressed with your sound system. Don't even think about turning it down'. I hope my neighbours feel the same affection for my bass speakers. But it was another example that helped get the morning off to a good start, as one cheeky neighbour wrote: 'Did you guys move? Your wi-fi isn't working any more'. Now, you may not have found that funny, but I have to confess that I rather forgot myself and threw my head back, chortling to myself. It was only when I caught the surprised eye of the lady in the opposite row that I realised that I had just become one of those slightly odd people that laugh out loud on public transport. I did briefly consider that she could be today's Smilee – but if went wrong, it could be awkward as there's no escape. Nevertheless, the mood was set, today's smile was going to be a good one.

After disembarking, I was pleased to see the escalator was back to operational status. So, armed with today's wi-fi related 'happy thought', I lent slightly to the side of the person in front of me and started scanning for eye contact. And there it was, just a momentary catch, but enough time for me to whip out a quick a grin. And I know she noticed, because for a very brief moment she allowed a twitch of confusion to dance across her face before adopting the now customary blank face. But since I'd gone to all the effort of summoning up this grin, I wasn't about to let it go to waste. And so it was, that I managed to smile all the way down the escalator at every single person (including the gents!). And it was most comical to see, one-by-one, the momentary panic in people's faces, followed by 'the vacant stare' response. And so, as I descended, the grin grew wider and wider.

But I wasn't finished. As I skipped (metaphorically speaking you understand) along the streets, bolstered by my recent escapades, I noticed another potential Smilee. I searched for the eyes, as she averted them, and then out came the smile. Mine, not hers, but for a brief second I thought she might.

So, no outright success today, but I think I have an insight as to why… and I'll share that with you tomorrow...

Day 5:
Despite all my efforts, why is it proving so hard to get people to smile back? No doubt there are numerous reasons, but this may be the biggest. Let me explain...

About a year ago, I made a shocking discovery. We all have a variety of expressions that are appropriate for different occasions. And we can employ these expressions to a lesser or greater degree. For example, if we take the simple smile, I'm sure we're aware that not all smiles are equal. There is the sarcastic smile, the genuine smile, the forced smile, the polite smile, the over-the-top smile, the smirk, the grin, the teethy smile, the just-lips smile and the polite, acknowledgement smile etc. So what was my shocking discovery? That my polite, smile of acknowledgment, often used when passing colleagues in the corridors, was in fact no smile at all! I discovered it by chance, after I used it once and got no response. I therefore nipped into the gents and whilst looking in the mirror, replayed the smile. Now, it was always intended to be understated, but not non-existent. The implication being, that for most of my adult life people must have been thinking, 'How rude, he didn't acknowledge me at all!', when in fact I had always intended to convey a polite and courteous non-verbal acknowledgement.

This leads me to conclude that no matter which degree of smile I'm aiming for, they all probably lack the precise gusto intended. That combined with the fact that smiling at strangers is a rather tense and nervy exploit anyway – which no doubt has the effect of further dampening the smile – may mean that what I thought was an obvious and delightful smile, may have actually been coming across as a mere spasm of the lips. People may have even felt sorry for me, thinking I have some sort of nervous twitch. This then, could well be the reason why I haven't been able to achieve a reciprocal smile as yet – they simply don't realise I'm actually smiling.

This morning I had planned to rectify this by pulling out the most over-the-top, cheeky smile in my arsenal. However, for whatever reason, by the time I made it into Waterloo, the last thing I felt like doing was smiling. I tried, but my heart wasn't in it. And so another day of failure. I think that today, what I needed was to be on the receiving end of a smile… alas none were forthcoming.

Day 6:
Okay, I think I'm going to call this little experiment to an end, so today's update will be the last. It's not that I'll stop trying to spread a little sunshine by smiling at strangers, but just that I think the reporting of it has run it's course.

I'm still convinced that establishing eye contact prior to smiling is crucial in order to be noticed. But there lies the problem – commuters (myself included) seem to do everything possible to avoid eye contact with others. Today, even the trusty old escalator proved fruitless. I did manage to 'bless' a more mature lady with a hastily pasted on smile. She looked confused. I also, against my better judgement, smiled at a rather rough looking man – who did in fact maintain eye contact with me, but looked like he wanted to wring the smile off my face with his bare hands.

But that people don't want to make eye contact with strangers is understandable and probably pretty normal and wise. After all, if I wasn't forcing myself to smile at people, I would be just the same. In fact about a year or so ago, I happened to be in Wales, visiting my college. I had the chance to meet up with a good friend, Steve. We were walking from the college to a nearby curry house and were full of anticipation for the tasty meal that awaited us and were laughing and chatting as we caught up with each other's news in the way that good friends do.

As we walking and talking, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a person approaching from the opposite direction. And as you do, I did the quick, almost subconscious 'Do I know you scan' as we continued to chat. And since I didn't know the approaching person, I ignored her. Moments after she had passed, Steve interrupted my enthusiastic ranting, saying, "Sorry Matt, but did you know her?".
"Er, who? What? No, I don't think so... why?"
"Well it's just that she just gave you a huge beaming smile and so I thought you must know her!".
"Er... no, I don't thiiinnnk, sooooo" I said, craning my head around, starting to feel the creeping sensation that I'd just rudely ignored a fellow student. I checked with the only possible person it could have been the next day, to ensure no offence had been given. A slightly embarrassing undertaking...

"This is going to sound a little weird, but did you see me last night?"
"Erm, no I don't think so, why?" she replied. Her husband looked at me a little strangely. I then had to explain the absurd situation; the colour of my cheeks betraying my embarrassment.

What I'm trying to say in a long winded way, is that when out in public, people just don't expect to be smiled at. So even if the smile is the brightest and most genuine smile in the world, if it's not seen, it's wasted. But there have been times this week when I know my smile has been seen and although there has been no outward response, there will have been an inward one. And that, after all is the point. Not to panic people and make them think they have something unfortunate hanging out of their noses; or make them look behind themselves so see who I'm smiling at; but to create a little bit of good feeling, of sunshine and happiness on an otherwise dreary commute where everyone is too scared or miserable to  acknowledge they are surrounded by fellow human beings.

Well, I guess that brings my experiment to an end. Thank you for reading... and why not try smiling at  a stranger yourself? It's an interesting experience.

Next week's experiment is: 'The hug a stranger experiment' - people may miss a smile, but no one's going to miss that ;)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wind power.

The wind was pretty vigorous last night. Not only did it keep me awake, but it also saw fit to flip over my daughter's trampoline. Which in retaliation, lashed out and smashed one of the shed windows as it went down. I was going to leave putting it back up until the wind died down, but the trampoline (egged on by the wind) seemed to be advancing across the 'vegetable patch' towards the greenhouse. It's back where it belongs now – a PANE about the shed window though!