Life in the Lifeboat

Apologies for the lack of a blog last week. Complicated and boring reasons. Life continues here at Hargreaves Towers as usual in case you were wondering. I have spent a very thoughtful week though what with one thing and another. I know that’s not like me but there you are. We went to a wedding yesterday. It was very nice although I barely knew a soul there (significant other half’s work mate) People took pity on me and chatted and the like. The bride look lovely although the main picture I will take away from the day is the way she and the bridal party went speeding down the aisle like Usain Bolt. People were pressing their camera phones like billy-o trying desperately to get a bit of a photo as she whizzed past.
When you go to church every week, you forget how intimidating it can be. Childhood memories of miserable crows singing equally miserable songs may be strong in people’s minds as well as what may be termed as “brushes” with Christians. Some people may have tried to attend church and not found a warm welcome or found the essential message delivered in a way that was so difficult that they gave up. All of these things have happened to people I know.
I can see things from the other side as well. People with problems become Christians. We find a home and a secure place with God in a church. This may be something that we have never known. We become settled with our friends and the people that love us. When new people come in, we don’t always find the time or the inclination to talk to them because we are still dealing with our own things or just enjoying our friends’ company. The trouble is that we are in the lifeboat and many of these people are not.
I am one of the few people in the world who has not seen Titanic. I know this puts me in a minority of about ten. Still, I know people who have never seen Star Wars and I, to my shame, can quote paragraphs of dialogue from it. (Original version. No CGI and Solo shot first by the way.) The only Titanic film I have ever seen was “A Night to Remember.” It’s not that different I imagine – it doesn’t end well. My lasting memory of it is people trying to get onto lifeboats and people who were on pushing them away because they were frightened it would capsize. It was portrayed as cowardly and mean (in a very British, black and white kind of way) which of course it was. I don’t think it’s very different to what we do when we don’t welcome people into our communities properly.
It should be easy for people to come in to be with us. We should be evolving strategies and creatively thinking of light and open ways for people to come and ask the questions that they need to ask. There should be places for people to go and people for them to see. We shouldn’t wait for them to make the first move.
When I had known my significant other half for a little while – he rang up to ask me out. When I wasn’t there, he left a message with my Mum along the lines of “If she fancies a night out – tell her to give me a call.” I did call because I was mad for him but it didn’t make it right and I have made him pay for it on and off for the last twenty years! We are supposed to do the inviting. We are suppsed to show it as irresistible which it is. It’s our job to be holding out the oar for people to get hold of – not smacking them on the head with it until they go away.
So at the end of a very thoughtful week for me. I leave you with a thoughtful video. If you are one of the two people on the planet not to have seen this. I warn you. Prepare to have your brain mashed by a song that won’t go away!

The Power of Failure

Unless you have been living down a hole on the planet Zog, you will be aware that the exam results season has just drawn to a close. Male Fruit of Womb sorted his own results out this year – something about his entire future depending on it being done properly. To be quite honest, I could be quite insulted by this. No gratitude today’s young people. OK so when I picked his GCSEs up – I did get a bit lost in the school – I’ll give you that. And, embarrassingly, when I asked the way to the room where the results were I was actually standing in the doorway of the room in question. BUT, it was really badly signposted. And, I did get the results back safe and sound – eventually. Anyway, as I said he got his own results this year. (Hope you are keeping up – you will need to concentrate)  However, Fruit of Womb Two also had some results to collect this year. I will digress here actually if that’s OK with you (There’s not  lot you can do about it to be honest) I do need to say that in my day, there were CSEs, GCSEs and A levels. You took the first two then, two years later, if you so desired, you took A levels. Now people seem to be taking exams every twenty minutes or so. It’s very difficult for your average parent to keep up.
So, with our offspring away, it fell to me to collect the Girl’s exam results. The difference this time was that she would rather that I didn’t. Because she had already taken a sort of double dog dare mock exam thingy in science as part of the multi layered exam life that teenagers live in. What you have to know about our Girl is that science doesn’t exactly float her boat. She loves English and Media and Literature. She looks forward to the day when all her study life revolves around these subjects. You probably also need to know that in her Chemistry mock she was the not very proud possessor of a “U”.
It was a shock – the U. She wasn’t used to it. At this point she had a choice. She knew that she was never going to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry but did she want to be looking at the U letter when she opened the real exam results? So, she decided to do something about it. She gave up lunch hours to go to extra lessons. She went online to find out the answer to questions she didn’t understand and she revised for England. At this point – I would love to tell you that she developed a deep passionate love for Chemistry and is, at this very moment, working with top people to develop a self tan product that doesn’t need all the streaky bits rubbing off with a loofah. But that would be a lie. She went into the exam as well prepared as she could be and came out of it feeling a bit better than she did the last time but questions about how well she thought she had done were answered with an non committal “Haven’t the foggiest”
As results day approached there were lots of conversations like this
Moi   If you are away, please leave a letter for me to pick up your results.
Her   No need. I don’t need to know.
Moi   Yes you do. It’s your future. It’s important
Her   Not if Daniel Radcliffe comes and whisks me away.
Moi   Unlikely. Do the letter.
Her   (Warming to her subject) Or I get a place at RADA
Moi   Even more unlikely, you haven’t applied. I’ve done the letter. Sign it if you want to live.

The day went without a hitch. (Well I did arrive two hours early and I did get lost in the school – a bit) And I opened the letter and sitting there was a luscious A* in Chemistry.
You probably know this but maybe you need to hear it. It really isn’t the failure. It’s what you do with it. Do you resolve never to have another go in case you faff it up or do you grab your underpants with both hands, pull them up and give sorting it everything you have? Christians serve the God of the Second Chance. There is always a way back. Sometimes you have to work your way through stuff to get it right. But, the feeling you get when you open the envelope with the right result after it had all gone wrong is the best feeling in the world.

Bank Holiday Blogging

It’s the last Bank Holiday of the year before Christmas. Head of House is ministering to the needy in hospital. (They are paying him double time for it) Offspring are still recovering from sleeping in tents for a week so are both in bed. Big treat to get up early and spend decadent hour perusing favourite sites on T’Internet before the day gets going. Have just spent happy hour on moneysaving expert My favourite bits are the old style saving forums. They are running something at the moment called “Preparing for Winter” There are people out there stocking up on candles, pyjamas and slippers, Lemsip etc. They are sewing insulating blinds for the bottom of the stairs and the windows, they are making jams and chutneys and generally being proper home makers. I am hanging my head in shame. It is a good idea. The last couple of winters in Devon have been shockers. When we first moved here two snowflakes within twenty minutes would mean a Spotlight special with Justin Lee in a bobby hat and scarf on a motorway bridge keeping an eye out for the coming apocalypse. Now, we are aware that it could actually get quite cold out there. Still, it is quite difficult to believe when you have had your first cup of coffee happily sitting on the garden tool box in the sunshine, reflecting on how much your “cut and come” lettuce actually “cut and came” this year. Still I will try. Will make a list. Will check it twice and will get all squirrely. Soon. Very soon.
Love it when kids come back from youth weeks away. Friendships have been strengthened, laughing has been done until snot has come down people’s noses, relationships with God have been refreshed, squirty cream has been sprayed, fancy dress monkey costumes have been trashed. Like a sort of psychedelic heaven. This is only really what we old people used to call Fellowship. (with knobs on I know) The basic principle is the same. Getting together. Sharing. Strengthening. Praying. Learning. Eating Fish Eyes. (Alright, so the last one isn’t particularly Biblical) You cannot overstate its importance.
Friends are telling me that when son leaves for uni, he will need his own kettle, toaster, microwave etc. Doesn’t that just mean eight sets of each appliance in the kitchen? Why, when the website has reams of information on Viking raids into the city of York, how to join the Comedy Club and the opening times of the Nurse’s station – is there nothing actually helpful? I have been assured that this will be setting the tone for the next three years. Ah well, his problem, not mine.
Lastly, you know I love a tip – Don’t sleep in a wet vest – that kind of thing. I also love a bit of thrift. I do think you can take it too far. From a Marks and Spencer book – “1000 handy household hints”
Toddlers Pants. Discarded nappies can be turned into useful towelling pants for toddlers. Use two nappies per toddler.”
I’m not sure that this isn’t a false economy. You might save £1.99 on a pair of toddler shorts but how much would you need to pay out on the therapy for the poor child in later years?
Anyway. Off to get some housework done before French and Saunders come on the radio. Then I have to fit in “I was a Male war Bride”. (Cary Grant – in drag. Talk about your inappropriate crushes.) Still, like to make it look as if I have been busy when Head of House gets in from work.

The examiner..

…he say yes!!!
So A level results day came and all was well. Very well in fact and now number one son’s move to York is close to becoming a reality. And now it’s all systems go. Loans, bank accounts, accomodation. All the things you don’t like to plan ahead for, just in case. So we are off and running. Sort of. This week they are away at camp so they are pitching their tents in Dorset along with about 70 other young people. (Youth workers are one of God’s greatest gifts to the world.) So that has left son’s aged parents in charge of booking important accomodation things on the INTERNET. Arrrrgh! No pressure. Just hope we manage to book him accomodation at the right university. There is only one York in England-yes?
We are about to experience a week without offspring. I love my kids but there is a lot to be said for a week with a quarter of the usual amount of ironing, food prepared on the last minute or not at all if we just feel like a butty and no “Under Age and Pregnant”or Rage Against the Machine. Can’t say I won’t be glad to see the return of the strange smelling suitcases but this is rather nice.

I’m sorry this is a bit late this week but Morecambe decided that he would like to sleep with his head on the laptop so I left him to it. No – I have no idea either but if there is one important lesson that life has taught me – it’s that you don’t step on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger and you don’t mess about with Morecambe. (or something like that).
Actually there is another lesson that is absolutely, completely non negotiable. Be kind to strangers. There should be Country and Western songs written about it – there probably are. I don’t mean kind in the sense that you give them your PIN number or get into their car to have a look at their puppies. I mean just kind. Case in point. This morning while dragging my sorry carcass to work I noticed an older lady making conversation with two lads who were obviously employed to sort out the front garden. No big deal – she just asked a couple of questions about carnations, that sort of thing. then off she trots. As she walks three paces away they look at each other and laugh – at her. I’m almost certain that she must have heard them. A little bit of you dies inside. Heartrendingly, their radio was playing Otis Redding singing “Try a Little Tenderness”. You know, they could have been the only people she spoke to all day. What if it was your Mum or mine? Or in a few years me or you? The challenge is to live life with a level of awareness of the impact we have on those around us. There’s pressure to live life under the pressures of family, friends, wrinkles, hair dye, dust balls under the bed, Vidic being unsettled at Old Trafford, a flabby belly and the million and one other things that compete for my attention. And yet the are nano seconds and sometimes that’s all they are when I can make the choice to be a force for good, for nice, for gentleness. That’s the challenge.


New King James Version Hebrews 13:2

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.

Ah well..

…that was the quickest fortnight ever known in the history of man but there you are. Lovely holiday now over. Other members of the family are removing sharp instruments from any room I am in. Not so much about going back to work (obviously I’m VERY keen on that) no, I always get quite wistful at the end of a holiday about the passage of time. I think it’s only when you slow down that you notice how quickly the year is going. We were walking the hounds in the park last week and noticed that the leaves were falling. It’s only August for goodness sake! Anyway it’s no good shaking your fist at trees – it makes no difference to them and people look at you in a quizzical way before moving on as quickly as they can manage without actually running.

We were in London for some of the break as those of you who had been paying attention will know. We didn’t see any rioting. We stayed in Kensington and they seemed to keep it to a minimum there. We did hear a lot of police cars the first night but to be honest, we thought it was just a case of “bright lights – big city”. Well we live in Devon, and it can be a big night on Spotlight news if a sheep gets stuck on a railway line.  So, apart from some disruption to the Tube, we saw nothing. On the holiday front, highlights included “Warhorse”. It’s difficult to explain why it is so good. It’s a play about horses.. er in the war which are realised using puppets and it involves a lot of folk singing and “interesting” West Country accents. I know it doesn’t sound promising but ten minutes in you forgot the horses were puppets and it swept you along. Quite brutal in places. I had to fight the desire to run on to the stage and cut the bloomin’ horse free from the barbed wire myself at one point but certainly a night to remember. We also spent a day at Camden which is quite scary but excellent. Also, quite possibly the worst meal of my life eaten at Garfunkel’s. Not expecting the moon from there as you will apppreciate but waiter seemed to have trained at the Fawlty Towers School of Service. Actually witheld the tip, which I have never done and enjoyed doing it too. Small victory but somehow, pleasing.
We also rescued the dogs from the kennels when we got back (or the kennels from the dogs depending on your point of view) It was quite tense picking them up because we had neglected to mention that they don’t get on terribly well in a confined space and we had told them that they would be fine in the same pen. Look its 10% off if they share and we’re not made of money. Anyway, they were both alive when we got there so we paid and ran for it. Lucy, unfortunately for her, had a problem with her anal glands which involved a trip to the vets, rubber gloves and a lot of wincing on her part (and on Head of House’s part as well if I am honest) I didn’t go. I don’t do vets. I know, I know, what if Head of House said that but he doesn’t so keep your nose out.
We returned to church this morning to watch a montage of scenes from the riots. The one with the Malaysian guy being robbed as he was injured is almost impossible to watch. Found myslef being challenged about my involvement and relevance in my society. Sometimes church is seen as a bit wishy washy but I know that churches in the riot areas were front row centre in supporting their local community. It’s not terribly fashionable to give them any credit for it. I think, a bit like the England cricket team, who could only beat what was put in front of them, even if it was only a lack lustre India team. ( I sooo love Test Match Special on the radio – bit embarassing) In sort of the same way we can only grow and serve where we are planted. Not in the middle of a riot zone always. Devon was a bit short on riots (although apparently, there was a bit of a scuffle outside Poundland) but there are plenty of opportunities to serve here or anywhere really.
Finally, I draw your attention to the piece of equipment above spotted during a lovely stroll in the park. Apparently I am supposed to step up and down on it vigorously. Two comments.
1. Why would I want to?
2. No thank you.