Sunday 30 September 2007

What Would Jesus Sing?

Every now and then I become dispossessed of all common sense and wander into a Christian bookshop. I don't mean I don't like these places, but simply that it is a financially unsound decision to enter. But also I don't really like them. This dislike is not due to the books - books, all books, any books, are good, even Christian ones (even naff Christian ones). The financial unsoundness is due to the books.

No, the dislike is due to the everything else you find in Christian bookshops, namely, the tat. For those who have never been into such a shop, you may not be aware that Christians are the best producers of tat in the modern world. You name it, we do it. 'Jesus loves me' rubbers? Check. 'Jesus loves me' bumper stickers? Of course (I'm perfectly certain that someone, somewhere, has made a 'Jesus on board - in my heart' bumper sticker as well. I've never seen one, but I just know they will have. And it won't say 'heart', it'll have a picture of a heart.). Poorly made and not very attractive household items with Bible verses on? Tick. '4 steps to salvation combs'? Sadly, yes. 'Every man's guide to multi-tasking!! - comb your hair and get right with God, all before breakfast!' (I made that up, by the way, they don't really say that. That would take up valuable space, needed for the 4 steps).

And all available in every lurid shade of plastic you can wish for, including some you can't.

So yesterday I was in Belfast and wandered into that big Presbyterian bookshop, the one with the fancy spires and the posh shops next to it. This shop offers a little less tat than average (in terms of volume), although the range is generally of 'higher' quality and more expensive.

So anyway, I'm wandering round, trying not to buy books, and failing miserably, when I wander into the bargain section. The bargain section of Christian bookshops are always particularly good - here you find Christian books that are so bad that even Christians don't read them. They're currently doing the 'Left Behind' story books (in comic form) for 10p each - I was sorely tempted to buy the lot, mainly to avoid any poor child having them inflicted on them, but I didn't want to boost sales. So I wandered into the music section to have a little browse (incidentally, Christian bookshops are also one of the few remaining places where you can still buy tapes). And I see this CD, called something like 'Kingdom Karaoke'.

I think 'help, say it ain't so, they can't have'. Tentatively, I pick it up and turn it over. Help. They have. They have released a karaoke CD of HYMNS. For your karaoke machine. Help. These people just don't get it. Karaoke = banter (see Voxo for further details) and alcohol is pretty much a pre-requisite. Hymns = worshipping the almighty God of Heaven and thoughtful wonder is required.

Can you imagine that party? "Go on there, Rossy-boy, get up and give us a song!" "Ah no, I'm shy." "Go on go on go on" "OK. Have you any Bonnie Tyler?" "Err... no" "Queen? Elton John?" "Well, no, but we can do you the Reverend Willie McCrea." "Ah, great!" and then follow 5 minutes of cousin Ross (who only turned up because he fancies your friend and he had time to kill before things get going at The Apartment) singing "Will ye go down to the meeting hall tonight? Go down to the meeting hall and meet the king of light!" (I made that up, it's not really a Willie McCrea number, but it could easily be). Talk about pooping the party.

Even worse, maybe churches will adopt this for Sunday morning. "Let's give up on this congregational singing thing! We'll take it in turns!! Let's have Gladys up to the front!". A Thousand Tongues later, and we're understanding the joy of silence.

I'm not sure whether to despair, or stop visiting Christian bookshops.

Friday 28 September 2007

To amuse you

I'm not normally a big one for computer games, but if you're wondering how to while away your Friday afternoon, click here.

Thursday 27 September 2007

On the progress of the building work

I have come to the conclusion that it is best to simply leave one's house alone and not do things to it. I have now had no heating for 2 and a half weeks, no bathroom for one week and no lights upstairs for one week.

Having removed the bathroom last week, the builders appear to have, how shall I put this? - fecked off. This, incidentally, came but 3 days after they didn't turn up in the first place due to having all gone to Blackpool for the weekend and got too sozzled to work. Of course, it was probably best that, given that they had got themselves drunk, they didn't arrive, since they might have got confused and pulled out the kitchen instead, or something (that is literally the only way this could have got worse). Anyway, as I say, they did eventually sober up and come round, removed the bathroom and disappeared again. When I say 'removed the bathroom' I mean they took away the sink and bath, dismantled the hot press, took the walls off (I can't really explain this, you'd have to see it), did some plastering, and then went away. They left the hot water tank, which we'll return to in a moment.

So, every day for a week now, I have come home and looked in vain to see what they've done. I know they come every day, because the assortment of leftover food on the living room table changes, but I can't realy see any difference (although I admit that I'm not the most DIY-aware person, so they could be doing obscure behind-the-scenes stuff that I don't notice). So last night my dad phoned them to see what's going on.

It seems they are awaiting the arrival of the bathroom window, and don't want to do too much until it arrives (quite why this is the case was not explained). My dad asked about the hot water tank and why it hadn't been taken away, and the bloke replied 'We thought we'd leave her with hot water'. Now let's think about this for a paragraph or so. Hot water... to put in what? The bath? No, that's now in the back garden, out of range of the taps and in full view of the neighbours. Unless I decide to have a David and Bathsheba moment I am unlikely to need hot water for the bath. The sink? No, that also is in the back graden. The toilet? Why? The kitchen sink? I could boil a kettle for about 1/10 of the energy used to put the immersion heater on.

Still, it was a nice thought.

Needless to say, the new downstairs room has also ground to a halt, but since it's kind of 'nice to have' rather than 'core functionality', as we say in the IT industry, I'm not so concerned about it.

Still no word from Q&B Darren.

Monday 24 September 2007

Q&B: The Turning of a Corner

I know you'll have been waiting all weekend to hear how I got on with Darren from Q&B, so I'll not keep you in suspense any longer.

Several surprises:

1. He turned up, on time, when he said he would.

2. He knew my name, and something of the background.

3. He was sympathetic to the whole story, and totally unsurprised at the attitude of the Warranty Department. He then let slip, get this, that Q&B have DISBANDED their Warranty Department because it was so incompetent!!! So complaints are now managed locally, by people such as Darren himself. This means, in a radical move, that the complaint goes straight to the person who is going to deal with it.

4. He agreed to replacing the entire set of kitchen doors, and has promised that he will contact the fitter, and get him to pick the doors up and bring them with him when he comes to fit them, so I don't have to wait in for a delivery of doors (or cupboards), and I don't have to phone the fitter myself.

I think it is fair to say we have turned a corner here; my relationship with Q&B may yet be salvaged. Darren, even if he turns out to not do anything he says, at least talks the right sort of talk, and owns a clipboard.

Friday 21 September 2007

Q&B: The Showdown

This afternoon I have Darren from Q&B coming to look at the kitchen doors. I don't think I ever expected that we would make this much progress, and am a little overwhelmed.

I would appreciate your thoughts; please, if you are not doing so already, wear your lucky pants this afternoon.

My hope, such as remains of it, is that Darren will agree that the new door is different from the others; he will admit that there is a fault with the original doors (he described it over the phone as a 'feature', as though 'front of door peels off after 3 months' is up there with 'pleasant wood-effect' and 'modern style' when one purchases a kitchen). It is my hope that he will admit this and agree to getting all the doors replaced. Naturally, this puts me into another cycle of phoning warranty departments to get things delivered and fitted and so on, so I'm not calling this the finale yet.

There is also the matter of the old old doors (the ones which were originally replaced, and which are now sitting in my living room) and the cupboard sent by Steve several months back, which is doing likewise. If Darren knows what's good for him, he'll turn up on a bike - otherwise, should he be driving anything with any storage space at all, I am jammin' those doors and the cupboard in there and he is getting rid of them.

That reminds me, did I tell you someone stole my bike? Grrr...

Monday 17 September 2007

The charity you've all been waiting for...

It will delight you all to know that Richard Dawkins has now launched his own charity, named, with an admirably cavalier disregard for accusations of opportunistic self-promotion, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (henceforth referred to as the RDF). I've been relatively quiet on the subject of Richard Dawkins lately, having become, frankly, utterly bored of him, but it would have been no less than remiss of me not to mark this particular occasion.

For those who are new to this blog, and the universe in general, and haven't heard of this man, he has recently written a book called 'The God Delusion'. I suppose not everyone thinks it's nonsense, and to be fair, if you actively enjoy being told what to think and how to use dodgy logic to "disprove" God's existence while patronising anyone who has ever had the remotest contact with the world around them, then your ship may just have come in; for everyone else, it's a fairly amusing set of randomly selected factoids which take one's mind on a pleasant ramble through the very shallow end of philospohy until you get to the point where you realise he's actually serious and you throw the book out the window.

But again, I digress.

The mission statement of the charity is available on the RDF website and contains a stark warning for us all:

"The enlightenment is under threat. So is reason. So is truth. So is science, especially in the schools of America."

Now, I don't wish to downplay the number of "Christian" idiots who seem to have wormed their way into schools in the US and here. It is indeed ridiculous to be teaching children that "the entire universe... began after the domestication of the dog". On this point I agree with big Rich, and I suspect that were Jesus still walking on earth and were choosing to involve himself in matters educational, he'd have something negative to say about this too (can you imagine that Board of Governors meeting?). I am fully behind Professor D when he aspires to "[p]romot[e] science as poetry". It can, indeed, be a beautiful thing.

So far, so good.

It all takes a turn for the more sombre, though, when we discover that the Prof has been scuppered in his attempts to give what he could to "various secular and rationalist organizations" by the "major difficulties" in doing this in a tax-efficient way (am I missing something here? - don't you just sign a form?). But fear not! for there is light; why, surely and forsooth, Dawkins himself is well-promoted well-known on both sides of the Atlantic, and does he not have followers in both places?! Many of his readers are "enthusiastic and passionate about science and reason", and indeed, "some have been kind enough to attribute their enthusiasm and passion to reading [his] books". We surely cannot help but agree when he concludes, "Did I not have a duty to set up my own charitable foundation?" (I paraphrase not).

We pause briefly here, to give you time to wipe the tear from your eye and swallow the lump in your throat.

And now we turn to the key question: what will the Richard Dawkins Foundation actually do?

The aims are eleven-fold and can be read in full on the RDF website. I summarise them here for your convenience.

1. Research. Dawkins is ever-troubled by one pesky question... why on earth does anyone disagree with him? Why do so many of us take the broad road of religion and superstition, when we could instead be on the narrow way of education and intelligence? (I kid you not, he does actually say that, although I admit I have paraphrased.) I'm quite tempted to apply for one of the grants he's offering, and then survey all the intelligent Christians I know, just to screw up his statistics.

2. Education. Christians are giving money to promote Creationism, so Dawkins is going to give money to promote Evolution. I'd pity the kids who are left sitting in science class with this particular peeing contest being played out around them, but then I think back to my own schooldays and console myself with the fact that they'll all be passing notes and giggling and ignoring the teacher anyway.

3. Website. The RDF will have a website where you can buy lots of Richard's books and DVDs and follow a link to his other website where you can buy lots of Richard's books and DVDs and also see photos of him.

4. Database of lecturers. Sadly the good prof is unable to speak at everything he's invited to, but if you're organising a talk he'll give you the name of an atheist near you.

5. Merchandise. You can buy Richard's books and DVDs.

6. Publication. Dammit, he's writing more books.

7. Charitable giving by secularists to humanitarian good causes. If there's a disaster and you want to help, but you're worried about your money falling into the hands of those nasty religionists, worry no more... the RDF will provide you a list of non-religious charities. Particularly useful for those who've never heard of, for example, Google.

8. The OUT Campaign. Scared to tell everyone you're an atheist? Not sure how to "come out" in the open? The RDF has the answer - for $20, wear a T-shirt with a big scarlet "A" on it, and tell the world! As an added bonus, and I swear I'm not making this up, it also has Richard Dawkins' name underneath - worth it at twice the price!

9. Consciousness-raising about labelling children. You shouldn't call children 'Christian children' as this is well-known to scar them for life.

10. Think for Yourself. The RDF equivalent of the Sunday morning Children's Sermon. In other words, it's the bit most of the adults really listen to. Children will be encouraged to 'think for themselves'. This sounds good, but I've a feeling it won't be.

11. Conferences. The one you've all been waiting for. Actually hear the Great Bright One speak. Maybe have lunch with him. And get the books and DVDs autographed.

So there you have it. A truly worthy cause. We can only stand and stare in amazement that the world has had to wait so long. And of course we are humbled by Richard Dawkins' near-refusal to even mention his name in relation to this, so little does he want to look like the altruist that he is.

And I thought he was just a self-promoting twit.

Thursday 13 September 2007

The Art of the Petrol Station

Some of you will be familiar with the 'Superlatives' application on Facebook, in which you nominate friends who are most likely to do certain things. Last week I was a little taken aback to be voted 'Most likely to have a blonde moment' by my good friend Emma. On enquiring further as to the existence of any reason for casting such an aspersion upon my otherwise gleaming character, I received the two-word explanation: 'petrol stations'.

It is true that me putting petrol in my car does not tend to lead to moments of glory. This is, indeed, a skill in which I can safely be said to be 'well below average'. But it's just that they make it so darned complicated. So many things to remember: drive up to pump, get out of car, remove petrol cap, put hose thing in petrol thing, check meter is 0, squeeze handle of hose thing, remove hose thing, put cap back on, go and pay. And all have to be executed in precisely the right order, and with a level of precision that I simply don't possess when driving. Some have additional constraints: for example, one does not simply drive up to the pump and stop - no, one must stop close enough to the pump for the hose thing to reach the car, and one must be on the right side of the pump to be able to get to the petrol cap with the hose (my discovery of this is a particularly epic tale, but one which I won't go into here).

So it was with some excitement that I read recently that a Swedish company has developed a petrol station for women. Now, I do not necessarily put my ineptitude in forecourts down to my gender; indeed it is true that I have never met anyone, male or female, who has as much lack of ability in this area as I do, so there is a strong possibility that it is just me. But if I go to a petrol station where only women are allowed, it at least reduces the potential viewing figures by 50%, which must be good.

So what makes this petrol station so good? Apparently the forecourts are orange and the pumps are curvy. I would have thought it would be better to make the pumps orange, because then they'd be easier to spot and you'd be less likely to drive into them, but at least if they are curved you wouldn't do so much damage to your car (I can feel Fifi screaming and trembling when I try to drive her into a petrol station). It also has a big shop that sells salads, and nice toilets (I mean the shops sells salads and the toilets are nice, not that the shop sells nice toilets as well as salads).

This is all well and good, but I think I could do better. What would help would be if they made the pumps into, like, your best friend. So when you're standing there trying to figure out why the hose thing won't go into the car (unfortunately this is also a true story), the pump will give you a nudge and whisper 'Hey! You forgot to take the petrol cap off!' and then you can have a bit of a giggle together and pretend that everyone does that all the time. Also if all attempts to put petrol in the car were shielded from other people's view by large curtains or some such, this would help with confidence levels.

For the truly epic, Smile-proof petrol experience though, I think I need one thing: someone to do it for me. I drive in, park wherever I will, hand the keys over to a cheerful, pleasant chap who is oily enough to look like he knows about cars, but not so dirty that he messes up the seats, I say how much petrol I want, I go in and pay, maybe browse some magazines, and then come out and my car is ready.

Now that, I would pay good money for.

Tuesday 11 September 2007

A shock

Would you believe it, Q&B just phoned?! Darren is coming out next week to see the kitchen, and confirmed that there was an issue with the type of doors I got, that was making the edging peel off. I am looking down the tunnel and, hark!, I think I see light.

Q&B, Part the Third

So on Friday I get home and there's a message on the answering machine, from Chrissie from Q&B Warranty Department. She has left a number and asks me to call her back. I call on Saturday and get no reply, so I call again yesterday and get to speak to Chrissie.

She wants to check that I still need the cupboard door. I detect in this that her expectation is that I DO still need the door, and this is a pleasing change of attitude, since everyone else seems to start by assuming that it has somehow magically appeared in my house and fitted itself, and then sound surprised and a little disbelieving when I say that it hasn't done so. I explain that I bought the door myself and got it fitted, but that it is different from all the other doors and I want someone out to look at it all. I also explained that I have phoned about 8 times and every time someone says they'll get back to me, and no one ever does.

Chrissie is very helpful and seems unsurprised by this. Which is unexpected. So she has emailed someone who will contact me and come out and see the kitchen to put it right.

After I hang up, I realise that I have once agreed to let them call me back. I never learn.

Incidentally, the building work is progressing well - I now have an extra room, although it does not yet have a roof. My mother has taken my father in hand and ordered him to stop phoning me every evening to find out what's been done and issue me with a new set of instructions, so that's good.

Spider-horse has not reappeared, and the builder claims he can pull strings in Phoenix and get the heating installed sooner (sooner, this is, than the 10 days promised). I have chosen my bathroom (this was not difficult, I want a bath, sink and toilet, in white, and quite small, so there was not much to be decided).

So things are looking up. Apart from, obviously, the rest of life, which is still causing stress. But at least I'll have heating again soon.

Thursday 6 September 2007

On the departure of Spider-horse, and other miscellany

Spider-horse has departed. Not from this life, but from my house. He made good his exit via the bathroom window on Saturday evening, thanks to Sir Dave and his faithful sidekick, The Boy Marno. I am pleased about having my bathroom back, but mindful of the old saying: "spiders do not come in ones, they come in thousands".

Instead of spider-horse, I now have a flock of builders, who are building me a sun room (allegedly - so far they have delivered a cement mixer and some sand). I have no heating, and all my possessions are occupying a small space in the corner of my living room, which is a tad frustrating when I have cause to use either my possessions or my living room. I'm also a little concerned about having such a pile of stuff so idly sitting around - if I was spider-horse and looking for a way back in, that pile of stuff is the kind of place I'd choose as a hidey-hole.

I have also been scuppered by Phoenix Gas, who were supposed to send Ray round on Tuesday night to discuss the installation of heating. Of course, Ray did not turn up (my cynical side is resigned to this by now - Q&B has done a lot to temper my happy-go-lucky attitude to such things). So now I am expecting Dave to come tonight (not Sir Dave, Dave from Phoenix).

Incidentally, I was reading through some previous blog posts and wondering whether I come across as quite cynical. In real life I'm practically all sweetness and optimism (kind of), but I wonder whether people who only know me via my blog would realise that. Or do you all think I'm a cynical manic-depressive with a sarcastic (yet pleasingly witty) edge?

So, onto something positive: our week of prayer in church. I'm continually delighted by the creativity and vision of our prayer team, and yet again they've put together a programme of prayer evenings which has been imaginative and stimulating. It has been a pleasure to go each evening and join with others for prayer at the start of our church's year. Last night we went on a prayer walk round the local area, praying that God will work to bless and protect our community. Superb.

Plus, it has got me out of the house with no heating every night this week. Dang.... cynicism sneaking in again.... must stop it stop it stop it.

Saturday 1 September 2007

Five Go On A Saga Holiday

First up, I'm sorry if I don't smell quite so pleasant as usual. The spider-horse is still in the bath, and I have been unable to wash. I checked on Google, and it says spiders can live for up to a year. The only hope is that, since presumably they are not born the size of horses, this one must be at least a few months old already. Alternative accommodation may, however, have to be arranged. Fortunately I'm getting a new bathroom soon (from Q&B again - ha! My inane and mindless optimism never ceases to delight me), so it may just be a case of removing the spider-horse with the bath.

Onwards, however, and it seems that the week which saw the promise of the re-launch of the Wispa has another thrill up its sleeve - the re-launch of that ever-jolly quintet, the Famous Five. Not merely a remake of the old stories, ho no. According to today's Guardian (incidentally, on my weeks off I have discovered that newspapers are still available in their old-fashioned ink-on-paper format. How deliciously quaint. But I digress again.), there are plans to make a new TV series in which the Five are reunited in their middle age, to solve a new "complex modern mystery".

As a life-long Enid Blyton fan, I am almost hysterical with excitement. It's almost worth getting a TV for. But the Daily Mail (of which, one can be sure, it will turn out that Julian at least is an avid reader) sounds a note of caution: "There are fears that seeing the carefree crime-fighters saddled down with adult concerns - at least one of the team is likely to be divorced, say insiders - could destroy the youthful innocence of the brand."

Now, Guardian writer Marina Hyde rather callously hopes that it is Julian's marriage "that imploded", but I don't know. In the books, you will recall, it was Dick who always seemed to assert a strange attraction over the wandering gypsy girls - a power which, surely, can only lead to trouble. Julian, I suspect, became chief of police in a pleasant rural setting somewhere, but has now taken early retirement and devotes his time to giving road safety lessons to chavs in the local primary school. I have to agree with Hyde when she says she imagines Julian as being "not desperately keen on reality television, among several thousand other things". As ever, Julian's role in the new series will be to provide the ready cash (although probably for fast cars and international flights rather than ice creams and new torch batteries).

Dick, on the other hand, may well have have become the black sheep of the family for a time... his 'frightful' language, commented on by Anne in one book ("'Darn it!' said Dick. 'Dick!' said Anne, shocked to hear her brother using such a frightful swear word.") may well have taken him into rather less pleasant company. Of course, he'll have turned out all right in the end, after a sharp talking-to from Julian, and much pleading from Anne. Moreover, since at least one of the "new millenium" Five will need to be a forensics expert, my money for that one's on Dick.

Everyone will expect Anne to be the nice little housewife she was shaping up for, but this neglects to take into account the strength of her emotions when stirred. This is the girl who, in "Five on Kirrin Island Again" (book 6, I believe), abandoned a scoundrel at the bottom of a quarry with a broken ankle, shouting back over her shoulder 'you're a wicked, wicked man'. There was a firey heart in Anne, which any prospective husband will do well to have spotted. I'd say it's worth a bet that she at least had a fling with Alf the fisher-boy (you will remember him as the one who used to get George's boat ready each summer; never once was it ready when she wanted it, but always, always the paint had dried in time for them to row off and catch the kidnappers), but I can't imagine Julian allowing that to develop into anything more serious. No, Anne will have become a nurse, married a sensible and slightly older chap from the next village, and be happily settled in Kent. Of course, Anne will have her contacts from the past - and I don't think it's unreasonable to say that an old boyfriend might re-surface.

Incidentally, how any of the above three can be expected to turn out all right is, of course, a mystery - having spent their entire lives either at boarding school or on an island being chased by smugglers, scoundrels and the ubiquitous 'foreigners', with parents who turned up only briefly and infrequently.

And then, of course, there is George. Good grief. First, of course, we must remember that Timmy will no longer be with us. There must, naturally, be a descendant (otherwise it would be the Famous Four), but George will have had to weather the grief of seeing Timmy off to the great kennel in the sky, and can it be hoped that she will have come out the other side as a stronger, more mature person? Apparently a number of commentators have idly surmised that George will turn out to never have married (really, what gives them that idea? Or do I hear a civil partnership in the offing?). Aged 52, George, I suspect, is still a student. She's never quite got around to handing in her thesis (which is something to do with some kind of obscure art that nobody gives a toss about), but has a large house and vegetable garden in which she grows, amongst other less legal things, her own vegetables. As ever, George's role in the plot will be to do a lot of stamping around and throwing tantrums, during which she'll lob a 3-week-old copy of 'The Guardian' at Dick and it'll accidentally disappear down a rabbit hole. Some plot lines just keep re-surfacing.

George's parents will no doubt still be alive - Uncle Quentin simply by forgetting to die, and Aunt Fanny determinedly sticking by him, feeding him soup and tidying his 'important documents'. He will no doubt be aggrieved that his way of producing non-polluting energy from nothing (which, I assure you, was actually completed at the end of the afore-mentioned 'Five Go To Kirrin Island Again') has not been taken up by the world, but he has now settled for a quiet life and is working on 13-dimensional string theory instead.

One wonders, too, what kind of world the modern-day Famous Five will live in. No longer will it be acceptable for someone to be deemed a criminal merely because they are 'foreign' or beacuse they 'belong to a circus'. The local waifs who frequently turned up in rags and without fail found the secret entrance to the castle/high tower/cave/dungeon will now be knife-wielding chavs, more likely to block the Five in a rabbit hole and steal their wallets than to be won over by Dick's charm and turn out to know the local hills like the backs of their dirty hands. In any case, we can be sure that Julian's big car will have sat-nav.

And can you even still buy ginger beer?