I’m late I know – sorry about that. I have been to that there London to the Premier Digital Conference (see above for proper professional type menu) so it has made me late. The first thing to say is that London actually and truly hates me. For the second time in a month the line I wanted to use on the Underground was closed for repairs – not even the same line that was closed for repairs last time either! So look me in the eye and tell me that London isn’t actually out to get me. So by the time I got to the destination I couldn’t actually find the door and was just about to run off and watch Blade Runner in the Barbican when a kind doorman took pity on me and took me in.

I’m not sure that most of the event was actually aimed at me, being a solitary kind of blogger, but it was certainly full of inspiring moments. Churches seem to be quite suspicious about the digital world – the place I attend at the moment doesn’t seem to have any kind of Facebook or Twitter presence for instance but, if used properly, it can be a powerfully GOOD THING.

I listened to a team who are making Sunday mornings accessible for the elderly and the disabled through use of the Internet (I would say here that this is ok so long as every effort is made to make sure people are also kept in contact with your actual physical people as well) Also, there was a pastor who has had a Facebook post that had over 230,000 views. This is probably more to to do with the content which was about a man dying and going to heaven and then coming back, than it was about any particular digital skills but you get the point.

The thing I liked the most thought was when a lady from the Church of England said that the digital world gave people a “soft entry” into church. I think that this is very true. People’s communities are different these days. They don’t grow up around a church the way people used to. If you were interested in church you might not know where to start but if you can put the name into a website, you can find out a bit more. You can maybe see some faces of attenders or leaders, download a sermon and, hopefully if the church has done its job properly, you can find out how to get in touch if you are thinking of attending. It can be very helpful for the newbie.

Because of some administrative oversight, I did not seem to be in the running for Blogger of the Year – possibly because no-one had nominated me which was just as well as I had already booked my tickets, so I got the train home and was immensely comforted to find that I had forgotten that I had booked First Class to come home.

We have had a slightly difficult week because Aged Parent has had her annual chest infection, made worse by her refusing to go to the doctors for antibiotics because the “man downstairs” (think she meant on the ground floor of the flats rather than anyone with pointy horns) had seen on the news that they aren’t giving them out. Therefore the infection had taken hold by the time her GP told her that the antibiotic embargo did not include 80 year olds with advanced COPD. She is on the right side of everything now thankfully – eating like a horse while insisting she is only nibbling. We knew she was recovering when she was chatting in a full on sort of way with the paramedic. If you’ve never seen a Senior Citizen flirting powerfully through a nebuliser mask you haven’t lived.

I am off to London again tomorrow – for work this time. If you would like to get in touch to ask for my route so you know which tube lines to avoid – give me a shout.

I don’t know if you do Podcasts (Not even sure if it is all one word) but I just wanted to point this out to you. I am quite new to Podcasts. I usually only bother with the Mayo/Kermode Film one and Fighting Talk both from Radio 5 Live but there are apparently a wealth of amazing ones out there. All suggestions are gratefully received as usual. Mid-faith Crisis is a Christian one run by Nick Page and Joe Davies who basically just chat about faith matters. I wouldn’t say that I was in a mid-faith crisis particularly (please don’t write to my mother) but some things they talk about really do hit home for me so maybe I am – who knows? I think they have been surprised by the response there has been to the podcast. It is basically for people who are in a place in their Christian life where they are asking questions about what they believe and there seems to be a lot of people out there feeling like that.

I wouldn’t say that I agreed with every single word they say (there is a bit of an obsession with the feminine side of God but I never saw God the Father as a particularly male trait anyway – he has always been God to me – I have never really had to gender him either way. That’s not explained very well but I know what I mean) However, they seem to be lovely gentle blokes who listen to lots of different points of view and come back with a lot of wisdom. I like the way they are full of hope. Wherever people find themselves, they are confident that God has a place for them – just as they are. They are also very funny. If you are well on the side of Mrs Flushpool – this may not be for you but if you are looking for a listen every fortnight where people who are finding a different way to God or even struggling to reach him at all can share their thoughts without fear of judgement, this is well worth a listen.

This is not my favourite time of year I’m afraid containing, as it does, my least favourite festivals – Halloween and Guy Fawkes night. I am therefore going to rant a bit and then tell myself to cheer up.

I am writing this in the extra hour we have been blessed with because of Daylight Saving Time as eveyone in Britain puts their clocks back an hour. Unfortunately, no-one has told the dog about this and he began full throttle howling at about 5 am (or possibly 6 am. I am not sure at this point) HOH and I have taken turns to sit with him since then because of the neighbours. It’s like having babies again – except without the energy we both had back then.

I have never liked Halloween. When I was little I didn’t like the whole spooky thing. We would dress up and go to houses on the estate, knock on doors and go “Woooooo” and hope they gave us money. I remember it being cold and dark and then I remember my Father putting a stop to it because it was “legalised begging”. Many years later when I was the person opening the door, our church instructed us to give out little Jesus pamphlets with the mini Mars Bars when children came a knocking and threatening old people. All that resulted in was having to pick up lots of screwed up pamphlets from my front garden next morning. Now it’s all very clean and modern and expensive. It’s also quite disgusting some of it. If you thought there couldn’t be anything more alarming than Amal Clooney dressed as a glamorous witch you should have a look online at the “Anne Frank” Halloween costume (complete with brown tie on label) Or maybe “Sexy Lady Zombie” which appears to have more naked body parts than actual clothing and seems also to come in a size “Small” as in child-small.

Then there is Guy Fawkes night. When I was at school, this was celebrated as the survival of our democracy against those who would try to bring down the country. Children don’t seem as bothered about it now. When I was smaller but less perfectly formed, I remember seeing children dragging carts around with fully fashioned effigies. Now you are lucky if you get one stuffed leg of a pair of tights with a Barbie head on top. Probably all making virtual ones now. There are, of course, lots of complicated facets to the Gunpowder Plot and I think lots of people have been watching “Gunpowder” to gen up on it. I haven’t bothered – for my usual reasons. Anyone who knows anything about British history knows that this was a particularly brutal time. I know that I will be no good with all the executions – especially with added CGI. Apparently on the last episode it was Jew burning night. Is it just me?

I’m no historian but both Halloween and Bonfire Night are a bit the same. They are about money and power. Whether it is dragging the village wise woman/healer out into the street to torture to death so that she learns who is “top” in this society or dragging out your local Catholic/Protestant into the street to torture to death so that they learn who is “top” in this society, the causes are the same. And they usually have next to nothing to do with religious conviction and nothing at all to do with following Jesus. It’s quite annoying don’t you think?

Anyway reasons to be cheerful – after these festivals are over, Christmas is on the way – I love Christmas – but I only like it in December. I have sent for an advent book because I like advent almost as much as Christmas. Also The Crown is back – I loved the first series. Also films – loads on the way – The Thor One (can’t remember what it is called), Death of Stalin, Breathe and I wouldn’t mind seeing Blade Runner 2049 again. Am off to eat chips with candlelit ambience. Keeping it classy.

Networking. Does anyone like it? I have to do it because of my job but it is not my thing. To be fair, I do get away with it these days because I often come across the same people so there is not that terrible  ice breaker thing. I shudder when I think about myself wearing a “Hello. My name is Martha” badge and sitting in a circle. When I think of the things that I have done. I remember once kneeling on the floor of a meeting room with batteries tucked into the bend at the back of my knees. This was part of a team building exercise where I had been chosen to prove that if a battery is dead it can sometimes be coaxed into giving out a little bit more power when it has been warmed up a little. (It was a choice between back of my knees or my armpits. Ugh. It worked though) And don’t get me going on the disastrous clapping in unison ice breaker.

It will therefore be no surprise that the word Networking can bring me out in hives. It’s not just the thought of doing it although for someone as shy as me it is a major hurdle. It also that it seems like pretending. Let us all talk together like we are friends, then I will take your business card and I will remember you when I need my boiler mending and you will remember me when you need a mobility scooter.  It’s all rubbish really. However, sometimes when I walk into a room where there are strangers – especially at the moment where we are tentatively looking at making a new church our home – I sometimes wish that I was better at it.

I saw a YouTube film. In it, a young woman was explaining how she had moved to London knowing no-one and had gradually “networked” (her speech marks, not mine) her way into a friendship group she loved and a publishing job that she wasn’t particularly qualified for. She had thought carefully about how she had managed to “network” so successfully and although she admitted that she was probably happier than most to do it, she also felt that she had understood the reason why it had worked so well. She said that all she did was to be genuinely interested in the person she was talking to. She found that when she thought less about herself and more about the person she was with, she found that conversations flowed and friendships blossomed. Funnily enough, it never actually worked if she pretended she was interested, only if she did it properly. And I wonder again if it is kind of this

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it. 

If we pull in towards ourselves to preserve ourselves, then maybe that is all we get – just self preservation. Nothing else. But if we forget about ourselves and look to the next person then we find ourselves and what we need. We look to support others and find that we are supported and of course, if we all do it then we will find someone else is interested in us. It’s interesting I think. We can let ourselves go a bit. Not like your Malibu fuelled Auntie Jessie did at Sheila’s wedding. We never want to speak of that again. But what if we do not look after ourselves quite so much. Don’t worry about how we are perceived and wonder what help the other person needs. Maybe our life is not ours to keep and maybe there are positive reasons for that.

We have a magazine rack in our bathroom. I’m not proud of it but it is what it is. I could pretend that it is there to provide reading material while I luxuriate in the bath by candlelight while I sip a glass of wine. However, I never actually do that. (Does anyone actually do that? I always find that the thought of it is so much better than the execution. The water goes cold and unpleasant really quickly)

Anyway, last week The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass appeared in the rack and it turned out that FOW1 had found it on his bookshelf and transported it to the bathroom, to help with his ablutions or whatever. I have not read The Secret Diary for years. I have read lots of other Adrian Plass because he’s a really good writer but I think this is more or less where it all began for him. It’s easy to underestimate this book because it’s so funny but it had a profound effect on me at the time. For those Christians who have been orbiting the earth in a spaceship with no windows for the last umpteen years and don’t know about this book, it had a huge impact when it was published. Written, I am assuming, as a deliberate parody of the Adrian Mole diaries, it concentrates on the a fictional Adrian Plass, his wife Anne and son Gerald. He’s a Christian who keeps getting it wrong, despite his best intentions and it is, quite simply, very funny. Anyone who has been a Christian for more than twenty minutes will recognise plenty of the characters in the book. Mr and Mrs Flushpool were particular favourites. They were Christians who felt very strongly that even though we are called to live in a sinful world, the best way to approach it was to turn your nose up at anything sinful. This included sport, cinema, drinking, laughing or anything else not deemed essential to making sure you were on the right side of history when the final trump sounded. The clever thing about the book was that we all knew people like that in church and, in my particular church, they had a lot of influence. I remember being very intimidated by them when I was a teenager and worrying that my clothes would come up to the desired standard on Sundays and not be too sinful. Adrian Plass blew all this away. He questioned their right to do this, swept their influence aside and affirmed again and again that relationship with God was a positive, loving thing. I think the Sacred Diary was the first place I ever read that God LIKED me.

So last week, I pinched it from the bathroom and put an evening aside to re-read it. I did it in one sitting and it wasn’t difficult because it is written so beautifully and it is so funny. I was also struck once again by how much heart there is. Adrian’s friends are all over the place but each weakness and failing is surrounded by the grace and support of the church. It is life affirming.

I went to see him live once. He seemed quiet and quite shy but again very funny. I remember he started off by asking us to turn to the person next to us and swap clothes with them. If you’ve ever had to squeeze your bottom very tight because the vicar has insisted that you turn to the stranger next to you and shout “YOU ARE AWESOME!” then you will understand how funny this was. I remember thinking that I was in safe hands.

We probably underestimate the power of humour. I remember seeing a preacher once who said that all Jesus’ shepherd parables were actually the First Century equivalent of Irish jokes. (Although I understand that it is not politically correct to say so) Shepherds were generally considered to be a bit stupid so when Jesus told stories about them leaving all their sheep to go and find a lost one, people would have been holding their sides laughing about how dim they were. It must have been very powerful when Jesus turned on a sixpence and quietly explained that this was how God was.

Sometimes living a Christian life is upsetting. Sometimes it just seems ridiculous – the people you meet, the things you are expected to do, the times when the whole thing seems to be spirit numbing. It takes a very special kind of person who can prick the Christian pompous balloon that may be weighing us down but do so in a way that is so kind and full of grace that you understand the motives of those you struggle with making you more able to deal with them. Adrian was as hard on himself as he was on anyone around him but he still ends the book secure as a God-loved person.

If you haven’t read it, you should maybe think about it. It’s still on sale virtually everywhere. You can’t borrow mine though – it’s going back into the magazine rack of shame – right next to where people can read it while having a nice sit down.