Pods and Blogs

Technology. The Revenge. Calling this a technology post is fraudulent in the extreme. If you could see me trying to change the font size on this blog you would know that technology in all its forms is a mystery to me.

However, I have got the hang of the following to a lesser degree – Spotify – The joy of playing the most uncool, 1970s music in my own earphones with no one to mock me cannot be overstated. ( Edison Lighthouse, Crispian St Peters, Limmie and the Family Cookin’ – they are all there and don’t even think of getting me started on Sweet).

Blogs. Is Blogging a dying art? According to Analytics, my reader numbers are up (I knew that holding people prisoner in their homes for three months would sort it) but comments are down. Speaking of incomprehensible technology – Analytics – what on earth is that about? I rarely look at it because I am afraid of pressing the wrong button which will connect me to a matrix and world chaos will ensue. I am still not entirely sure that I didn’t cause the pandemic by trying to find out why so many women in Ohio read this. I pressed buttons I didn’t understand you see. I only read a few blogs now and I miss it. I dropped one or two. There was a bossy woman who had a skincare blog which was always trying to get me to spend a small fortune to stop the march of time being written large in the bags under my eyes. Then there was a seemingly perfect woman with long legs and always clean and attentive children that had me looking into the price of hitmen on Google. If you have a blog. Please feel free to send me details. I would love to read it. I am nosy and I like to read about people.

Podcasts. I like some of these. I am a news junkie which is a weird addiction for someone who often watches the news with a sort of permanent Scream-mask expression. But, I do like news and newsy facts….

…So, this is one of the reasons I like this. Given my lack of any mathematic aptitude, you are probably surprised that I am recommending a statistics podcast but the first thing to say is that it doesn’t assume that any Maths “O” levels have been passed by its listeners. Also, the subjects are interesting and engagingly discussed. It’s only about 15+ minutes long usually. Finally, during the early weeks of the pandemic, when leaders of all political hues were taking turns to see who could come up with the wildest sets of figures, this was the place I went to to see those claims challenged.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Actually, this one has changed its name again. I think it’s just Newscast now. Initially, it was Brexitcast. It’s just news really. BBC news – which despite what lots of people on Twitter will tell you, is still striving I think to be fair and free. No-one is saying they get it all right but I still would rather have their take than a lot of daily newspapers. Anyway, there is analysis, interviews and reports. Also Katya Adler, a particular favourite of HOH.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Do you remember when cinema existed? When we all used to pay money to sit next to each other in a big room with reclining seats and watch a film? If you miss that, then this might help. (Also, if you just like lots of minute detail about film stars and their private lives – this is the place) It’s a podcast about Hollywood – its film its actors etc. Karina Longworth is a film academic and critic and I wouldn’t like to give the impression that her stories are salacious – in fact, she debunks a lot of old Hollywood gossip but it is fascinating. I know how this sounds but she did a series on Charles Manson which was serious and sober and purposely took all the so-called gloss off him. It was excellent.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Lastly, if you are a woman of a certain age I have recommended the Fortunately podcast before. Jane Garvey is a Woman’s Hour presenter and Fi Glover is also a Radio 4 person – she presents The Listening Project. They just have a chat really. I suspect that I am a bit past their target age now but I still like it. They do talk about menopause, hair dye, hairy top lips and big knickers but also anger on the Internet, misogyny in the workplace and how they coped with the lockdown (not always that well). They have guests. Top-notch some of them. (They were really thrilled when they got Anne Tyler) It’s also very funny. They seem nice. And more and more these days I find I’m a sucker for nice.

A list of petty grievances

It has been like the Riveera round here as my Grandad used to say. It has been warm and lovely and there is a lot to be grateful for. My loose (very loose) plan for this blog is to amuse and encourage where possible but so many things are getting on my nerves, I thought I could just tell you about them in a caring, sharing spirit of caring and sharing. Then, when I have done that, it will be off my chest and I will feel better. (I have of course realised that you may not feel better but needs must.)

I see that our beloved leader is now telling us all to stop working from home and go back to our offices so we can go out and spend money at lunchtimes. There is a long term plan apparently (which makes a change) and it will all be over by Christmas. Wasn’t the last time a leader said that the beginning of the First World War or something? How many years was that? I’m not encouraged – I’ll be honest.

I am already wearing masks in shops, although it doesn’t become mandatory until next week. Some bloke behind me in the queue in the Co-op was sounding off about how ridiculous it was and how he wasn’t going to do it. I think it was for our benefit. He’s mixing me up with someone who gives a monkey’s what he thinks. I just feel that unless you have a good reason not to – you just put the mask on. I’m not really convinced that they make that much difference really but it’s not the most difficult thing to do (unless you are President Trump or half of our parliament. The last thing we want is to ruin a photo opportunity apparently).

In other news – poking my nose in where it isn’t wanted or needed. Christian author Matthew Paul Turner has come out as gay. Look – what you are is none of my business. If you are gay, then go and be gay. It’s just you were married for 14 years. You had three children and your wife gave you everything. You say this is not a new revelation for you. 14 years! At one point in that 14 years did you realise that your wife wasn’t making it happen for you? How much of her life have you taken while you have struggled with this? It’s not fair. Do I not understand this properly? Was I the only one who, when everyone was rubbing the back of Phillip Schofield’s hand and calling him brave, kept worrying about his wife who had given 20 odd years of her life to someone only to find out that it wasn’t really happening for him. It kind of makes me full of admiration for those who come out as young people.

AND THEN, as if that wasn’t enough. Last night we watched Bears About The House which was a documentary about how bears living in the wild are captured and kept in tiny cages where they are systematically tortured to have their bile removed. Because someone somewhere has decided that bear bile is Chinese medicine or something. The documentary itself was about the dedicated people that rescue these bears but after watching what they were rescued from, I am thinking of revising my earlier opinion that God did NOT send the pandemic. At least the Chinese ambassador has come on the telly and insisted that Uighur Muslims “live in peace and harmony” in China. Probably all on a day trip put when we have watched them being loaded onto those trains then.

AND, Aged Parent has gone into her “I’m really ill” mode. This means that she thinks nothing of phoning six times when she cannot get through because my phone is on silent because I am in a meeting. She is unapologetic. I have the assurance of all the health professionals that work with her that they cannot find anything wrong – other than the usual stuff but I am all too aware that the boy who cried wolf was actually right in the end and I wouldn’t like to get it wrong.

AND someone had parked in our space when we got back to the apartment last night. They literally reversed into a space with a note on the back of the wall saying “No Parking”

AND the theatre that cancelled our £180 birthday treat tickets for HOH this year has moved them to the same date in 2021 without giving us a choice or a say in the matter.


AND I’m fat.

So, what to do. I’ve no idea really. Except that HOH and I were listening about Hannah – mother of Samuel at church this morning. She was really fed up. So fed up that when she prayed, the chap in charge of the Temple thought she was drunk. (I am not comparing myself to Hannah – don’t write in). She wanted a baby. God gave her a baby but then took her up on her possibly hasty promise to give him back to God to work in the Temple as soon as he was weaned. Maybe not what she was expecting. Maybe it didn’t seem right. But she sorted her attitude out. She did what she could when she could and she kept her eyes on a very long term prize. She did what was just in a very unjust environment. She went to the temple every year with a new robe for her beloved son and eventually, things became clear. Her son became one of the great prophets and she was overrun with children. There is nothing that says that she was a miserable crow until things began to improve. She pulled it together. She was better than the stuff around her. She is an example. I could do with an example.

Have a good week.

Brainiacs

Two brainy books for you to think about. Please don’t get the idea that I have slammed through these in a week so that I can bring you full and balanced reviews on them all. I haven’t. I have been reading these on and off for a few weeks now and they do take a bit more effort than your Agatha Christie (not that Agatha Christie isn’t beautifully written and constructed but her stuff is a bit more of a page-turner). I have been challenged/convicted (do we say convicted anymore?) by my lack of attention span so I thought I might pep it up a bit and learn something useful at the same time.

Here are two books on Covid 19. (First thing that I learnt – there are lots of Coronaviruses – this particular one is called Covid-19. You are welcome). Has anyone come up to you in the last six months and said: “Where is God when this is happening?” “Why is this happening?” Have they? Really? I think you must have more of a deeply spiritual profile among your friends and the neighbours then. No one has asked me anything of the sort. There are two main approaches to this as far as I can see. One is that Covid is a scientific anomaly – just one of those things, just one of those crazy flings and we have to get on with it. The second is that we have messed about with the world so much either through environmental misuse, our treatment of animals and the natural world included or that we have behaved like money-grabbing baboons with little or no moral compass and this is what you get. You know, if we were all shaking our fist at God and shouting “Whyyyyyyy?” he could probably unravel a list as long as his mighty arm to justify why he decided to give us a bit of a kicking – if that is what he had decided to do. (Possibly a theologically unsound opinion)

For more theology and less ranting, you may want to look at these books. The smaller one of the two is by John C Lennox who is very clever and very good at hard sums. No, he is really. He is Emeritus Professor at Mathematics at Oxford University. Can you imagine being made to do Maths for a living? Did I ever tell you that when I passed my Maths O level, my teacher phoned my mum and told her that in fifteen years of teaching that my passing was the biggest miracle he has witnessed? Charming. (Anyway, I don’t think he was much of a teacher – the only thing I remember about him was that in one lesson he took his vest off without undoing his shirt). Professor Lennox’s book is small, succinct and well thought out. It doesn’t assume knowledge – either about virulent diseases or religion. If someone is genuinely interested, I would definitely feel happy giving this to them.

God and the Pandemic by Tom Wright. (Professor Wright is a Research Professor at the University of St Andrews and Senior Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.) This book is longer, perhaps more directed towards Christians and doesn’t really seem to spend much time addressing “Why?” at all. There seems to be a lot more geared towards – these things have happened many, many times before so, therefore (1) what took you so long? and (2) how should the church react?

There is a lot here but let me tell you what I have taken away from the book. Firstly, he has little time for Christian “Leaders” who are telling us that this is judgement in people for being too worldly, too gay, too fond of a drink or not voting the way you are told to. There were pandemics as Christianity first spread across the world and the early Christians reaction was to heal the sick, feed the hungry and hold the hands of the dying – much to the annoyance of the Romans. He backs this us with lots of historical accounts involving people called things like Plinny and Claudius Lucundus. (I may have made those names up)

The first thing he calls for is a return to Lament. To Lament is, to be sorry, to empathise and complain always should be the first reaction. We should be honest about the way things are and that they are awful before we can react positively rub down our knees and get up and be helpful.

Then he deconstructs what will be a troubling verse for many people at this time

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God,18 to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8 28

Now, he takes the verse apart and, let me be frank, I had to read it a few times to sort of get it, but he breaks the verse down and what he comes back with is more in line with the Good News Translation

“We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose.” Romans 8 28

This makes more sense to me. I remember when I was ill, a very well-meaning lady shouting “Be strong because this is all working together for your good.” under the church toilet door at me. But it didn’t feel like that. All things? Really? Well maybe. But for me, the promise that God will work for good with us in the most difficult of circumstances is not only more in line with my learned wisdom but is an equally important promise.

There’s another little telling phrase that he uses almost as a throwaway at the end of a chapter. Actions have consequences. So does inaction. These are books by cerebral men but the responses they are calling for is practical and positive and definitely worth the extra thought that reading them demands

Trying to help

So are you out and about now? Apparently, all the young people are taking the loosening of lockdown as an invitation to spend Saturday Nights fighting like Elton John on eight pints of lager. FOW1, who is a manager in a well-known chain of food/drink hostelries, says everything is fine during the day. Lots of beer garden-based, sophisticated burger/prosecco interactions. After 8 pm – it’s like one of those terrible Netflix Armageddon things where people act like they have been let out of an underground cell and must fight to the death to never to go back. Social distancing apparently becomes an alien concept and groups of twelve are coming in and moving tables together, only to be personally affronted when some poor waitress – who has been wearing a mask for her whole shift and it totally at the end of it – explains to them that sitting on each others’ knees will not be acceptable.

Where are you on the whole “mask/no mask” debate? I am wearing mine more and more in shops because I get the feeling that I should. I think they are mandatory in Scotland now which looks very decisive. I just wish I could get over the feeling that, when it comes to the Scottish government, they are more motivated by doing something/anything to look more on top of things than Westminster, rather than the actual science. (There are those that say that looking more on top of things than Westminster is not that difficult but I have nothing to say on that).

We both always wear masks to see Aged Parent. Apart from keeping her safer, the idea is that she won’t forget that there is a pandemic on and will remember to socially distance. She would probably be better with the old distancing, if she wasn’t permanently suspicious that, given half a chance, I will be rooting through her drawers and making away with her bottle of Tweed by Lentheric and her secret stash of Tim Matheson DVDs. (If you are not sure who he is, this is her favourite film of his – Holiday for Love. I think he’s very big on the Hallmark channel and is usually to be found using his acting chops to nurse beautiful women through their last days, discovering that he really always loved the girl next door or turning from a ruthless businessman to someone who finds his fulfilment wearing Arran sweaters by the beach and romancing the local waitress. Listen, don ‘t knock it – he’s probably worth squillions.) Anyway, it is a rule of trying to be useful whilst at AP’s house – cleaning, preparing snacks, unpacking shopping, that you will be followed by AP shouting – “What are you doing now? DON’T go in there!” It can be very trying.

To be fair, she has had a trying week herself. The local befriending service has arranged for her to have a girl come and sit with her once a week to talk to. These are usually young girls who are doing social care at university and are still at the stage where all old people are basically loveable rogues as far as they are concerned so it usually starts off really well. The student obviously isn’t able to start yet but everything is in place. Then AP got a call from the service. “They asked me if I was gay.” I’m taken aback for a moment I must admit but then I realise that it’s one of those diversity questionnaires that the service will have to fill out. I try to explain but, at the moment, she is still a bit suspicious. “They better not send me anyone who thinks I am gay and in the market for anything like that.” Well indeed.

This week, I tried to tell her how to switch the DVD on and off. HOH has set it so that when she has finished watching and switches it off, it automatically defaults back to the telly so she can spend happy afternoons tutting at Loose Women and getting frightened by the Covid spike in Australia. All she has to do is switch it on at the power button, put the DVD in then switch it off at the end. In a socially distanced way, I tried to help her pressing the buttons. Two buttons. On/off and open.

AP……Which do I press?

Me……That one. (Pointing from a distance)

AP……(Pushing button not even in general vicinity) This one?

Me……Nooo. It’s the one you have your finger on now but aren’t pushing.

AP……(Moving finger away from correct button) This one then?

Me……No. Why did you move your finger?

AP……(Quite snappish now) Because YOU said it was wrong. (Presses completely different button and ejects Charlton Heston before he has even got going with the first commandment)

Me……Are you doing this on purpose?

AP……I’m not convinced you have any idea how to work this. Where’s Colin? He’d better not be going through my drawers in that bathroom.

Is anyone else tired? Have a good week.

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

By John Mark Comer

John Mark Comer

Many, many years ago when I was an “O” level student and my mum and I were really getting on each other’s nerves, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and retreat to my bedroom to (a) get ahead on reading a set book and (b) try not to run with an axe at my, in those days, not so Aged Parent.

The book was Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and I read it in one afternoon. It was a revelation. The essential idea around Brave New World is not that in the future we would all be controlled by threats or guns but by distractions – constant tiny distractions to stop us thinking too deeply or getting to the bottom of anything. And here we are – hurried, hassled, fearful of missing out and with the attention spans of a particularly distracted gnat. (Just me)?

The phrase “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life” is usually attributed to Dallas Willard advising John Ortberg. This book is a sort of handbook of how to put some of that into practice. Comer was a pastor of a huge church with several campuses. (Why do they call them that? It’s annoying.) He was preaching too many times on a Sunday and more or less woke up one day and said Nope. He realised that his life was not sustainable as it was. He was too busy, too distracted and unhappy with the person that he was becoming.

The solution for him was to switch from being a follower of Jesus to an apprentice. The difference being that he would look to model himself and his lifestyle on the life of Jesus. This means he looks to build his life around principles of simplicity, community and spiritual disciplines. In practice, he embraces minimalism, doggedly puts in place a sabbath – which for him means no screens, making time for family and friends and er sex. (I didn’t ask – he told me anyway). By the way, Sabbath for him is a Saturday – he’s a preacher – he works on Sunday. He also explores the spiritual disciplines – prayer, Bible, fasting etc.

This is an immensely helpful book. It is very practical and challenging – especially on minimalism feeding into social justice i.e. our constant quest for more leading to fast fashion, sweatshops etc. He breaks down all the various components into simple but not always easily achievable actions. He encourages us to look at what it is that takes our time and ask what its value is. There are a few full-on challenges about getting rid of social media, switching your mobile to phone only and killing your tv. But there are also positive challenges around stillness, prayer and time for friendship building.

From a bit of a personal perspective, I found it a bit too groovy here and there. I’m not sure I am entirely the target audience. I’m not as up to speed as I might be on the wisdom of Biggie Smalls and whoever’s idea this font size was for the chapter on disciplines has some explaining to do.

I had to take a few deep breaths on once again being told about taking time to smell the Bible etc by a young man who cycles to work via snowflakes and daffodils and seems to find a lot of time to spend in coffee shops. But, the fact is he is right about most things and he addresses a problem that definitely needs addressing. So, even if you are a mum of three with a full-time job whose Saturdays are taken up dishwashing, ironing, meal planning with sixpence in the bank and preparing to do the whole thing again on Monday, there are still some excellent principles here.