And sing, sing your hearts out to God!

Colossians 3 15


Are you a singer? If pressed I would say that I wasn’t really much of a singer. I’m not a very tuneful sort of person. However, those of us brought up in a church tradition tend to just have it as part of our nature I think. I don’t think I have ever noticed singing as such a full-on command before. (You and I both know by now, that you are not dealing with Pauline levels of Bible knowledge when you read this blog)

A few years ago I went to a funeral at the local Salvation Army Citadel. For reasons that are too long and boring to go into here, I was there with some people from work. Like most Sally Army funerals, it was a celebration as much as anything else and I knew all the hymns so I just did what you do. Afterwards, my workmates were a bit surprised that I knew all the words etc and was singing along quite happily. (Slightly concerned by how puny my Christian witness is there, if everyone was surprised I knew how to conduct myself in a church service) I’ll be honest – I was happier having a good sing than they were – rocking from side to side and trying to sing out of the side of their mouths.

Lots of people have no idea about hymns or Christian songs now. I remember a workmate who was getting married and was having to chose hymns for the service. Well it was a hymn actually. Just the one. The vicar had more or less insisted. He was panicking because he couldn’t come up with anything at all. We had quite a long philosophical discussion about whether Elvis Presley’s “You saw me crying in the chapel” would count. My personal opinion was that it was there or thereabouts. The vicar was playing with more of a straight bat. I can’t remember what we went for in the end but I would have remembered a church full of bank clerks doing Elvis impressions so I don’t think we got to do that.

I have to admit I am a bit more of a hymn person these days. I think there are some lovely worship songs about so it’s personal opinion of course. (There are some rubbish ones too. What does “I see a near revival” mean? A near revival is no good to anyone is it really? It’s either a revival or it’s not don’t cha think? Answers on a postcard.) I am a bit over pointing at the ceiling and sort of aggressively informing God how AMAZING he is but I know people who are far more spiritual than me love it. You chose what you like but we are to sing and sing loud. We are supposed to sing our hearts out. Because it is good for us. I’m not sure why but maybe something happens when we sing. We put our bodies into it and find that the words are imprinted on us and we are lifted. This is non-scientific but is a true  thing, I am certain. We can sing in choirs or in cars. ( I am as good as Adele on my own in the car funnily enough)  There is it though. Sing. Sing your hearts out. Don’t come running to me if you don’t – I can only pass these deep and godly pearls of wisdom on. Leave that with you.

And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. Colossians 3

I know it’s not advent yet but I wondered how you were doing with your advent calendar choices? When I was a lass, an advent calendar was a picture of Mary, Joseph, Jesus and assorted shepherds, animals and wise men. These were usually pictured in a stable under a big star with everyone looking particularly beatific and having scrubbed up very well. (Suspiciously well in Mary’s case compared with how I looked when I had just given birth to my own eldest son) There were 24 windows and when you opened them there was a picture of something we all wanted for Christmas like a drum (no) or a toy soldier (nooo) or Christmas pudding (never liked ’em). If you were particularly racy and ahead of the game, you quickly moved on to having advent calendars with chocolate behind the windows. It didn’t taste very nice but chocolate is chocolate and having it before breakfast was a real bit of “Christmas is coming” decadence. And that was more or less how advent calendars stayed. (Except that most of them now have Darth Vader on them or that cartoon woman who bellows “LET IT GOOOO” at you in that Disney film I can never remember. Heaven forfend that it should actually show a stable or a donkey or the Saviour of the World)

Now though we have Social Media which is full of good things,  but also never knowingly misses an opportunity to sell something as totally essential to the those with more money than sense and  – even more unfortunately – to those who can’t really afford this kind of thing at all. We now have “The Luxury Advent Calendar”. Lets move on for a moment from the irony that the original Nativity scene shown on Advent calendars was a scene of poverty and simplicity (Sorry to keep bringing that up – Baby Jesus and all that) but the whole thing is completely doing my head in this year. Now I think that I have mentioned that I did have a bit of a foray into the Advent Calendar market a few years ago. I bought a Yankee Candle Calendar which encouraged you to light one of its little candles every night in December. I thought it might be quite festive, which it was. However, the scent made HOH cough and he kept moaning like a Grinch about his throat closing up and also they burned for ages! In the end I was considering taking the little tea lights into the back yard and battering them with sticks and vegetation like you see people doing in bush fires.

This year Advent Calendars have gone off the scale. People queued outside Liberty’s to buy theirs for £175.00. I’ll say that again £175.00. There is a Jo Malone one for £300 and even the Body Shop has them for about £100. If you can think of a make-up brand – it probably has an advent calendar this year. You can get them with whisky, with Lego and with pork scratchings. (That’s sort of crisps with hair on for those who aren’t sure. I know. I know. Being British is hard sometimes) Now, if you can afford them, I don’t suppose it is such a bad thing. The stuff behind the Liberty windows adds up to approximately £500 so it is good value if you like that kind of thing. I have a couple of problems with it though. Firstly, if you can’t really afford it but all your Social Media people are waving these things at you like they are life essentials, you can get carried away. Young people are particularly vulnerable to this. Also, I kind of think that there is a time and a place. Advent is still about Christmas (just about). It’s about an event that shook the world. Even at its least spiritual it is about simplicity and love and faith. There is a certain spirit about it that Reverse Advent captures far more successfully than some You Tuber waving around a sixty quid calendar full of skincare samples that the manufacturers thought that they would never be able to get rid of and telling you that she has no idea how she ever lived without it. This is before we make people even more uncomfortable by talking about the birth of Jesus.

Advent is about lots of things. For me it is about preparation and organisation. But is is also about slowing and reading and thinking and allowing myself to become full of wonder. I have to get myself together to do it and prioritise quiet but it is worth it. Sometimes I light a candle. (Not a scary one that HOH thinks is trying to kill him.) There are Advent Candles you know. You burn down a day as you count down. Just a little light. Makes you think. Makes you quiet. That is all.

Busy ain’t it? Is everyone else the same? And it’s nothing to do with Christmas. I haven’t even thought about that – at all. To be fair – I don’t think it will take much organising. We are all very old now and the offspring would rather have money. We have even got an artificial tree (Next Sale – last year) for the first time since the kids were crawling. I’ve not really adjusted to it yet. It is sensible and everything but I just keep thinking about getting it out of the box and it being – well artificial. HOH says that if I need to come to terms with not having a real Christmas Tree, then my priorities are very skewed indeed. Cue long lecture about expense, needles in the dog’s paws, not being the one who has to drag it back from the garden centre and real life not being anything like When Harry met Sally. Blah!

I am more exercised by Aged Parent having a new kitchen fitted. Everyone in her flats is having one. I am thinking that whoever fitted the kitchen round Nigella’s house was probably under less pressure than the poor beggars fitting one round Aged Parent’s. She has got the fitters’ mobile from somewhere and keeps pestering them. When are they starting? What will they do with her fridge freezer? Will she need to move the cooker herself? Do they know how to fit cupboard doors? It won’t be like her friend’s will it because she is not too keen on that. (She signed off on the design weeks ago) When I was at Secondary School, I had a French exchange student to stay. She came from a very strict Catholic background and the excitement of being free for a fortnight meant that a lot of local boys found that they were the object of plenty of unwanted attention. In the end, I had a phone call from a boy in my class, basically asking if I could call her off. I am expecting the same kind of phone call from the kitchen fitters any day now.

I went round last week and cleared out her kitchen cupboards so the fitters can get going. This involves her standing behind me suspiciously and periodically shouting “NO! I NEED that. I really do.” Who needs eight vases? (For once – not an exaggeration) At the weekend I am clearing out the freezer ready to be moved. If I find Lord Lucan in little vacuum sealed packs I will not be surprised. HOH claims that he is working and cannot help. I am thinking of phoning the hospital to check that he didn’t “volunteer” to take someone else’s shift. I will be treating myself to pizza, wine and football on Saturday night for I shall deserve it and no-one better think about lecturing me on how many calories that is.

On a more positive note – can I just recommend Paddington 2? It is so lovely. Firstly it is beautiful to look at and it is very funny. Paddington still gets into trouble all the time but brings such joy that everyone falls under his spell in the end. Hugh Grant gives one of the performances of his career – seriously. You know when Oscars come round they will go to some la-di-dah actory-type person who plays someone with something wrong with them (mental illness, life limiting stuff, trauma etc) in which they cough a lot and pluckily overcome insurmountable odds. But Hugh will not get a mention because it’s comedy which anyone can do (really?) and it is light as air. Well, (1) thank goodness for that – I could do with a bit of light as air at the moment and (2) There is as much care and hard work goes into that type of performance as anything else out there. Just a little warning, if you can do without children in your cinematic experience, then leave this a couple of weeks. It was packed to the drawstrings with the blighters when we went. I don’t mind it myself – even if a few of them get a bit bored about a third of the way though and started doing cartwheels at the front. It all adds to the general gaiety. Vote Hugh Grant! (And pray for me on Saturday – “You will never eat monkfish vol-au-vents! Get rid of them!”)

Remembrance Sunday came around again. It is, I suppose, proof of how old I am that it seems to come around far more quickly than it used to. Another sign of old age is that, for the first time ever, the Queen delegated the laying of her wreath to Prince Charles because of her advancing years. I don’t know if you saw it but there was a bit of a social media storm around this decision with some people saying that – no matter how old the monarch – to give this job up was to disrespect the war dead. Yep, because that’s the kind of country people fought and died for – the kind of country that forces a ninety odd year old woman, with a lifetime of public service,  to stand in the November cold for half the morning before making her walk backwards down some steep stone steps after laying a heavy wreath. Good Grief.

I also read that one of the reasons she had given it up this year was because Prince Phillip had retired and she preferred to stay with him on a day that is very emotional for both of them. This is incredibly touching I think. I am not much of a monarchist but I am a very big Queen Elizabeth the Second – ist.

On a less edifying note, my son, who works part time in a bar had to deal with some ex-sailors who came in today. Plymouth is a big military city and there is a huge event on the Hoe by the War Memorial. The group came in straight after the event, obviously drunk and swearing like – well like sailors. As he works in a family pub where children are eating Sunday lunch etc. he politely asked them to stop to which one of them replied “Who do you think you are – telling me what to do? I’m a veteran and I’ve just been to the memorial service.” Now I am all for gratitude but does anyone else think it a little weird that a a record of military service means it is ok to drop the F bomb in front of grandmothers and babies? I suppose that remembrance means different things to different people.

Whatever remembrance is – it certainly isn’t a feeling that now we are safe; despite such an all consuming sacrifice. Yesterday 60, 000 people marched on Warsaw chanting “Europe will be white” and “Clean Blood”. Last week, a militant atheist walked into a Baptist church in Texas and gunned down the Christians who had been supporting the wife and child he had been abusing. When the babies began to cry, he targeted them specifically. The President of the United Stares is upset because the leader of a rogue nuclear power called him old and felt it was ok to retaliate with a “fat” jibe.  And still no-one seems to have done anything about a Shelter report which warned that over a million households could be homeless by 2020 because of high rents and universal credit problems. (Possibly too busy abusing young interns – desperate to make their way in the world and too frightened to say “no”) It can become difficult to look at what people sacrificed and whether we can match up to any of it.

In a couple of weeks Advent will be starting and, all over the country, little people in Sunday Schools will be holding up laminated cards and reading out in their best loud voices

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
   And the government will rest on His shoulders;
   And His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
   Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6)

Jesus was very quick to say that he didn’t bring the kind of peace the world brings which is just as well really because that seems to be a bit of a rubbish peace. But he does give some ideas of a different kind of peace. Maybe it is the peace that faith brings in the most difficult of circumstances. Maybe it is the peace that comes from following a man who turned human values upside down wherever he went. Maybe it comes from doing the right thing and swimming against the tide even though, as he warned us, it would get us into trouble. Maybe it comes from giving a gentle answer when you are unjustly accused because you know that, in the end, man’s opinion of you is not that important after all. The list is endless. We maybe have something to have a go at there; a way to go out and make peace happen.



To London again for work this time. I am getting slightly better at that there London now but I am still learning. These are some of the things I have learnt this time.

  1. Although, at first glance it may have seemed sensible to book your hotel near to the railway station because it would be quite late when you arrived. It may have been wiser for the hotel to be on the main road. That way, you wouldn’t have to walk down back streets, passing men in smoking Turkish cigarettes in shop doors, looking like they have killed before.
  2. The Tube is a wonderful thing but it takes longer than you think – especially if – like me – they seem to pull the shutters down on the line you need as you are walking towards it. It is therefore not a “Good Thing” to get distracted by statues of Mountbatten or possible herons in St James’ Park. (See above)
  3. Mobile phone earphones are very very marvellous. All those years struggling to hear the man on Google Maps shouting directions and suddenly I discover that if you plug earphones in – you can hear everything and you don’t end up on street corners facing the wrong way and wondering who moved The Institute of Engineers.
  4. I must try and look at my diet when I am away. After countless sandwiches on the run, I found myself craving hot food on Paddington Station. Options were limited so I bought a Burger King Chicken Sandwich. A Burger King! I haven’t eaten there for 60 years! At least. It was rubbish as well. I don’t know how all these international jet setters keep their diet fairly healthy.

Anyway, all back safe and sound now until Exeter on Friday but that is much more manageable. Hopefully.

Just a couple of things to tell you about. We went to the flicks a couple of times this week. Firstly to see the Thor movie. (It’s called something else but I can’t remember what – if you are bothered enough, I know you can look it up) It was really good, very funny. I have to admit that I didn’t know who half the people in it were supposed to be (it’s Marvel – it’s a whole universe) but I really enjoyed it. And all human life should have Jeff Goldblum annotating it. He may well be the funniest man alive and I’m not even sure if he means to be.

Can I also recommend Murder on the Orient Express? I have to say first that I love Kenneth Branagh and all his works but ignore that. For me this was probably always going to be a winner because of the Branagh factor and the Agatha Christie thing and I love those 70s movies where you recognised everyone but the cat. Some of the more highbrow critics have been a bit sniffy about it saying that there is no characterisation. Bah! There are approximately 58 suspects stuck on a train – we would be there all day. It’s beautiful to look at, it rattles along, everyone seems to be having a lovely time and it is that most old fashioned of things – a family film. For some reason it’s really Christmassy as well. Take the family on a family Christmassy night out.

Finally, can I ask? When does Advent start? I have got a book on Advent and it starts with Week 1 which is no help to me. Is there a start date or do I have to count back? Any help gratefully received. I thank you.