Saturday, 29 September 2012

Debating a move.

With the comments debacle remaining un-sorted at this point in time, I'm debating migrating across, at least temporarily, to one of the other blogs that I started/named over the last couple of years.

Before you (those who read regularly) wonder about this secret blogging life, I can tell you that I started 2 blogs over the last 7 years. One was from an idea about a seed dying after we lost Sarah, and might have contained thoughts about fruitfulness from loss. The other was last year when, after years of "should I/shouldn't I" over getting a band together, when my music and worship life had stagnated and died, God seemed to say "OK then, if you want to", just weeks before then seeming to take me into the next stage of what He *really* had for me. Neither blog has content, although Throwing Back Starfish has one post speculating what I might do.

And both have working comments.

So I might migrate across there while I try to fix TBOTAM, probably migrating to a new template and then repairing all the damage that will cause to appearance.

Some might say "about time you updated your crappy, old fashioned blog face.

My feeling is that content IS king.

Some seem to update a couple of times a year to remain fresh and create a semi-commercial draw. Some have periods of shift out of dissatisfaction. Some just update because they have the skills and like to do that kind of thing. For me, blogging has never been about the blog face, other than it MUST be simple, easy to read and provide good access to posts over a longish period. When I read a blog, if it is written like a professional magazine article then it's unlikely I'll manage more than a few lines before switching off: a blog is, for me, a personal space rather than a pulpit or storefront.

But this blog is more than 9 years old, and I'd like it to make a full 10 years continuous posting.

Those who have my email address of facebook contact, let me know what you think.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Why do we do youth work (like we do)?

My good friend Randall (see over there on the left) posted a link to this article on google+.

One of the striking things I've noticed about youth work over the last couple of decades is how little it actually brings youngsters into the church and, if you DO see them, they don't stick around for long. Some youth groups semi-recognise this and sever the link between them and church completely, other than using the building.

Here's a quote that made me double take:

Here’s a little test I’ve developed for determining real values (which, by the way, are the driving force behind the real meaning of “Youth Pastor” in your situation): resource allocation reveals values. So, your church might say, “we have a high value on our youth pastor building meaningful relationships with teenagers.” But if your resources of time, money, energy, focus, creativity, people and space are dominantly used for prop up a Christian-y social club for teenagers with the measuring stick of how many are coming, or how many don’t leave, then that value is suspicious.

I read But if your resources of time, money, energy, focus, creativity, people and space are dominantly used for prop up a Christian-y social club for adult churchgoers, because the automatic assumption was there that a church that cared about youth would put it's resources there, and one that didn't would be building a social club for churchgoers. The idea that putting resources into youthwork might be a fruitless waste of time was a new recognition for me, even if I'd been aware of the relative uselessness of so much youth work before. "It's sharing Jesus with the kids" had always been justification of itself, and it was just a sign of how hard our area/society was that it didn't bear any fruit.

Now, youth work isn't something that I naturally gravitate toward. I have funny memories from when we were newly married, being part of a New Frontiers church in London and asking to get involved in the youth work there because that's what our previous mentors had done at that stage. So we went along, being only 21 & 19 ourselves, and after a few sessions we were allowed to lead when the current leader & church pastor was away. I forget how it went, but I'd been praying about things and felt God say certain things for certain people, to encourage them, so shared that.


Teens didn't quite understand (and we were new still) and parents were concerned. Cue closed-door chats with pastor etc about what we'd 'done' to the kids. But the curious thing was that a lot of the stuff we'd put into words came to pass, and - related or otherwise I've no idea - some of them are still involved in church and have gone on to good things. However that was the end of my 'youthwork' era.

But I am concerned when a youth group doesn't have a direct connection & feed into church, to participate in the family life and bigger picture of the church. I'm pretty sure but there's a link, almost for certain, between the disconnection between multi-generational church and the relative failure of youth work. My generation was the last to grow up as a *kid* with the church like a bigger family, at least in my experience, and our kids didn't do it very much, even though we were so very involved and active. I'm saying no more now, but want to ponder this.

Food for thought, and maybe action.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Monday, 24 September 2012

All it requires for evil to flourish is good men to stay silent

I've been thinking about this for some time now, but I seem to be seeing it again and again. A Facebook comment by Marc V (him, over there on the left, now a trained pastor) about a Ricky Gervais meme provoked me a little. A comment by Paul Mayers - another friend, no longer on the blogosphere - linking to this article made me see a little red and actually respond in some detail.

As Christians in the UK, particularly in the face of the madness of some sections of the Islamic world, tend to be reticent, pacifist, mealy-mouthed and cautious. It is not my nature these days to be confrontational, but sometimes we just need to stand up for righteousness, rather than keep quiet and let the wicked behave as if what they do is perfectly reasonable and acceptable.

Balanced view? How many lives should they screw up, including their own, because we tried to see their side of the argument?

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Friday, 21 September 2012

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Wot, no update?

I've been using Pear linux 4 since the spring, pretty much once my long-running install of Sabayon had gone belly up again. In that time I've seen Sabayon release 2 further updates (9 and 10 - just out) Pear linux in version 5 and recently 6 in alpha, Open SUSE has pushed out V 12.2 and there have been innumerable others from various distros I've dabbled with.

What's changed?

Mostly, Pear 'just works'.

That was also largely true of Sabayon, but while I loved the interface (KDE is so much better than OSX-alike desktop environments) the tools were much more powerful and the versions of software much more up to date, it was always a bit too bleeding-edge, and stuff just kept breaking. I get frustrated that the pear/gnome file manager hides the mp3 files on some CDs, despite them being clearly visible under KDE. It's irritating to have to make do with last years version of DigiKam GIMP if I want to continue using the standard repositories and not worry about maintaining dependencies like I might if I installed new versions myself.

But I like stuff like DVD handling. Pop a disc in the drive and it appears on the dock. Click it and you're offered the option of playing the movie, exploring etc; all completely rational stuff.It's not a big deal for me to have to hunt down the disc through the media player interface under KDE, but it IS a problem for Chris, and I want her to enjoy the machine too. And then it had become relatively slow to use too (though not as slow as my Macbook running OSX 10.5, but still annoying).

So I've stuck with Pear. So it's making me dumber. And lazy. But it works.

Yesterday I downloaded Sabayon X (Apple has a lot to answer for) burned it to DVD tonight and ran it live.

Looks nice. Crisp fonts, clear colours, clean interface. But I just simply can't be bothered with migrating all the data AND run the risk of unreliability in order to get some slightly better tools and a more powerful interface.

So, no update yet for me. I shall be trying Pear 6 when it's released on evaluation, but until then, despite my son's occasionally snarky comment about changing OSs every week, pear is staying.

And sometime I'll upload the last couple of French holiday blogposts and some images.

And then maybe even sort comments.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

I’ve been very impressed by many of the French we’ve met.

Not that I should or shouldn’t be, but they’ve almost all been so terribly nice. We did have one girl go all snooty when we bought stamps and cards, and on another occasion that we tendered a 50 euro note for a 10 euro item in a supermarket, but generally they have been really nice.

Occasionally we’ve obviously been a bit scary to approach after it was first clear we didn’t understand too well. The local accent is quite thick, and there’s a distinct difference between the accent of a northern Frenchman (I can hear the words ‘Il fait pleut’ along with a shrug) and the way French is spoken here. It’s faster, thicker and with a greater density to the tones. The result is that it takes us longer than usual to translate the spoken into written French in our minds (see previous post) and the poor waitress is greeted with blank looks to her perfectly reasonable enquiry as to what we would like to drink before ordering our meal.

But the amazing thing is, we’ve always managed to get drinks/food/fishing tackle/diarrhoea medicine (not needed this time, I’m VERY pleased to say) when needed.

It may be that they don’t get many English tourists here, and so we’re something of a novelty. And we always try to manage a bit of French. Never the less, we’ve had some of the warmest receptions, nicest smiles and helpful attitudes that we’ve ever seen in France, from the people in this area.

Why do we try to learn a language twice?

And other musings.

It is a long time since I did schoolboy French (and a little less since I tried student German) but it seems to me we always teach 2 languages at the same time.

What do I mean?

Spoken language is taught, certainly, whatever the language being imparted, but side by side with that is the written language, and they seldom seem to work side by side. I became aware of this when trying to pay for fuel to a petrol pump cashier and realised that I was trying to first translate the sounds that I had heard into written French so that I could analyse and understand it before replying.

Crazy, no?

We find it much easier – well, many do anyway – to learn a written language because it does not require us to retrain our ears, minds and instincts in order to comprehend.

My initial reaction was that this is because I’ve had to learn French by reading stuff written in French during various holidays and visits, and that’s why I have this duality of understanding. However I recall when at school that everyone found the written stuff much easier because it was real and solid and interpretable through judicious use of dictionaries (no babelfish then). I put the theory to Chris and she agreed whole heartedly (and she has done conversational French classes since school too).

Now I understand why things are done this way. You have a class of unruly 11-14 year olds, and they get French lessons for 45min maybe twice a week. They are expected to go away and learn French (or German, or Spanish, or Latin, or Chinese) on their own on the days and weekends in between. Of course they have to, because you don’t have daily classes with them, and language only comes with practice and use.

No self-respecting schoolboy will do non-essential practice – he’ll do the minimum he possibly can to scrape a pass. So that will mean covering off the written stuff and then hoping he can bluff his way though any oral sections in the class if necessary. With evening classes it’s not quite the same, but having an hour once a week makes doing the oral stuff for 30min daily impossible.

So we teach 2 languages: written and oral.

There’s another catch too.

Those beastly foreigners don’t know their alphabets properly and can’t pronounce the letter’s sounds correctly. And worse still, they mangle the letters together in ungodly combinations that no decent English tongue (I’m an Austrian, so this is written with MY tongue firmly in my cheek) should ever have to be wrapped around.

And then to make it even MORE fun, teh mynd doss thet clyvir trek ov mekking sence of ninsonce. Or we read what we think is there instead of what is really written. Not a problem when you’re in a place of quiet and study, but when you’re trying to understand things on-the-fly it makes for fun.

Took me a while to read paradillas correctly as parilladas.

But there’s hope.

When we’d finally realised that the petrol pump cashier wanted me to hand over my credit card and he already knew which pump I’d used then the transaction went through fine. Without thinking I answered “merci m’sieu, au revoir”. It seems that if the analytic process is kept firmly locked away then I can say the right thing sometimes after all.

Or maybe I might simply speak the same old nonsense I do in blighty, but to a different people group.

The weather with us.

Last night we were sitting in the apartment reading quietly, when we heard distant rumbles. The promised storm that had supposedly been due earlier had finally arrived. In the distance we could see occasional flashes, followed 10 to 15 seconds (possibly more) later by the rumbles.

After one quite spectacular flash we decided to go for a walk along the promenade by the lake, to watch proceedings in the dark and open.

Things were quiet for a long time. We stood leaning on the wooden rail, looking out over the quiet waters, waiting for the next flash. Scents of pine drifted across to us from the cooling forests that are still the main income from this area. We could also smell barbecued food from the parillada restaurants further round the lake, the lakes own warm, salty odour came to us, mingled with hints of sun oil, and in one place, fish.

After we’d been down for some time the fireworks started in the distance. They were at least 5 miles away, possibly more, and we could barely hear the thunder at all. Occasionally a yellow-orange flash would leap from the clouds, sometimes branching across between clouds too. With the dark of the night, around 9.30pm, the clouds were completely invisible to us except when lit by a flash, and the air over Port d’Albret was pretty much clear except for enough haze to block the stars.

After about 20min the guys lighting the fireworks had clearly run out of stuff and we went back in, mocking the idea we would have rain.

So this morning everything had been soaked in the night.

It can’t have rained hard because we had our windows open for fresh air, and would have heard it. Never the less there were puddles of water on non-absorbant surfaces and the timber of the promenade was still dark with dampness.

We popped out around 9.30 to buy our bread for the day from one of the local bakers (une baguette traditionel s’il vous plait). The air was cool and fresh as we left the apartment, but even by the time we were heading back it had begun to warm in the strength of the sun and the humidity was very noticeable, leaving skin sticky.

Since we had enjoyed a week of rest and relaxation, mostly anyway, we planned to spend more time visiting nearby points of interest. It’s always good to pick up a little of the local flavour and way of life too, and France likes to display its life openly in its cities. So today we drove to Mont de Marsan, which is the Lande departments capital, having already seen Dax.

Rather than describe it in detail, it’s probably fair to say that it’s like any slightly scruffy provincial city (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) with most of the hallmark French architectural styles, just like Dax, though about 1000 years younger. The highlight, from a sightseeing point of view, is the confluence of rivers La Douze and Le Midou to become La Midouze (which flows into another river further down etc etc). There are also some old buildings and a lot of sculptures of naked people dotted around, plus pleasant gardens. Good place to spend a few hours.

We came back mid-afternoon and went straight to the beach, where I spent more than an hour leaping about in the waves, pretending to be a little heroic and behaving like a teenager. It was interesting to see I wasn’t the only one with grey hair embarking on this kind of behaviour.

There’s a curious thing one can do too; a study in herd mentality. If one person starts floating in the water with their feet sticking out then other males will imitate them. It’s almost as if it’s a signal that says “I’m so cool I can cope with these little waves and just float here unperturbed”. It’s a very childish thing to do, but there always seem to be at least a couple of other guys who will quite promptly start floating with their feet out of the water too.

We also tried our new Hawaiian Tropic sun oil that smells of bananas and leaves your fingers & skin really sticky (makes handling a book a challenging affair).

And so home.

Tonight I cooked chicken pan-fried with butter, shallots and garlic, a little oregano and Maggie , then mushrooms in a crème fraiche sauce and served up with basmati rice. Pud was an excellent pear tarte, washed down with Normadie cidre and a cabernet rose.



One of the apartments down below has been hosting a party. There has been clapping and now there is singing. It sounds for all the world like a gallic version of a traditional cockney song – you can almost see the pearly kings and queens gyrating to their dulcet tones. Not quite ‘Knees up muvver brahn’ but well down that way.

Now they’re onto the drunken laughter stage, and Chris has shut the window. Looks like it’s not just the brits who ‘like a good drink’ on holiday.

I popped outside to see how they were doing, and from one of the restaurants further round the lake could be heard something like the sound of the ‘Captain Pugwash’ theme tune on an accordion and clapping in time to the music.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Sometimes it seems like the world passes through the Lande.

We keep seeing people that *remind* us of friends.

Like a woman on a bike who looked like a certain Dixie V.

Like a lass walking past who looked just like Ben's g/f.

Like the woman we saw in Dax that even dressed and walked like Jane M.


The young French males have their own particular walk. When I was a teenager we all adopted a particular "well 'ard" walk that involved swaying side to side - our school masters would ask if we'd just got off a ship. The guys here do something similar that involves walking with stiff legs and short steps. Initially Chris thought it might be from wearing flipflops, but that's not the case.

Today it was supposed to be stormy, but we've seen 28'C with a light overcast sky.


Friday, 7 September 2012

Not a holiday diary blogpost

But an observation of people.

We've seen an amazing variety of people here.

On the beach today we saw a lass that looked like a slim and lovely Helen Mirren, in at least her mid 50s, possibly older. Chris commented before I did!

At the other end of the spectrum we can reassure those in doubt that French women do indeed get fat (contrary to a particular book!).

We saw someone who would be indistinguishable from a friend of ours from behind, even down to the same clothes, the same walk and way of standing, the same hairdo - quite astonishing.

Port d'Albret is full of 'ordinary' people from France and Spain, very different from the classic holiday destinations of many English tourists. It seems that France and Spain have their equivalent to 'the Blackpool set' too.

Meeting another English-speaking person is a little like bumping into a long-lost friend, so few are there.

Not entirely unrelated, but I seem to have been reading stuff with recurring themes that make observations on people. I quite like entertaining junk: by that I don't mean 50 shades (from the little I know of that, I think that even as a schoolboy I'd have been ashamed of being caught with it in my bag - porn to be ashamed of) but classics that have now become silly but remained entertaining. One of Edgar Rice-Burroughs 'John Carter' martian series was the first and James de Mille's A strange manuscript found in a copper cylinder was the second.

Both used similar plot devices that were as bad as if they'd been Ellis Peters Cadfael series book. However the 'strange manuscript' was interesting in it's attempt to create a society that was a deliberate reversal of Victorian England, and to a degree, present society. A people are found who reject the acquisition of wealth and power, light and fresh air, where the most highly esteemed are the paupers and the most worthless those in positions of highest authority. There was also a twist in that the poorest of all paupers was so because he had outdone all in his determination to get to the top/bottom of the pile, and was as power-hungry and vicious as we might expect any politician of a cruel society to be.

Curious stuff indeed, but well worth thinking about in a church context; both how we should be determined not to accumulate wealth and how we might re-shape society based on raising others above us.

The preset reading matter is a Nicky Gumbel book about revival, but it *feels* like it's aimed toward a post-alpha audience in the NG style, and is also a little dated, drawing most of its references from the late 90s and earlier.

More all about people stuff then.

When I get back I also want to obtain a copy of Frank Viola's Pagan Christianity for another take on the church in society (or possibly a take that lines up with stuff I've thought for a long time).

Anyway, that's enough blogging. Time to do some work.

A little retrospective, but....

Holiday blog (wot – anuvver?).

Oh the joy of rising at 3.30am!

What time should we get up? Well, lets work this backwards. The flight leaves at 8.10am and gate closes at 7.45. We have bags to check and want to try to get decent seats (this is easyjet, with it’s free-for-all, but old habits die hard) so need to be there 2 hours before departure. So meet & greet (these days no more expensive than long term onsite parking) is arranged at 6am. Gatport Airwick (thanks Jeremy) is about 85 miles away, so allow around 1hr45 – 2 hours travel time in the small hours (3 hours during the day). We want a shower before departing, so allow 15min each, plus 15min to assemble everything and pop it in the car, check it all off etc.

So the alarm went off at 3.30am and we were on the road around 4.15am, arriving about 5.45am for a better than expected journey. Great.

Then the plane was delayed 30min waiting for ‘paperwork’ to arrive. easyjet are slipping.

I’d slept around 30-50min the previous night, and manage a few mins on the plane too, but the flight time was only about 75min total, which again was great (and it was a real sardine special, so a short flight was an even bigger bonus). We went straight from the plane to dragging luggage round Bordeaux Merignac airport while hunting down the car hire desk.

Bordeaux to Biarritz/Bayonne was a shorter journey than I remember it, at around 200km-ish, though we had started off fairly well south of Bordeaux already. On the 2 previous occasions we’d done it I seem to remember getting to Bordeaux around 4am (one year we had a 90mph blow out just before reaching the ring road!). The Gironde estuary is enormously wide, and the main road crossed over on a huge suspension bridge with spectacular views. Once past the city the road then became dual carriageway, threading through pine forests and sandy excavations until just before Bayonne and the peage, when it would open out to reveal housing that was more Spanish than French and industrial units etc. We would arrive at the camp site around 7.30-8am.

(Note - a couple of days after arriving we did this final section of the journey in reverse. To my shock it took almost an hour to get back to the place where we turned off, confirming my memory wasn’t far out after all.)

The apartment is located in Port d’Albret, Vieux Bocau (old Bocau) that are having been a quiet fishing village before being developed heavily for French tourism. There is a large marine lake (I want to write marin lac) surrounded by apartment blocks and complexes that look like they were built in the 80s and early 90s, so around 20-30 years old, mostly in decent condition and refurbished some time in the last 10 years, some manky on the outside.

Our map of France (a large volume) didn’t have enough detail of the actual town, and even the map I’d printed courtesy of google wasn’t really cutting it – Port d’Albret is a network of small, often one-way streets, named using tiny signs and full of similar looking accommodation. At first we couldn’t make head or tail of where we were, and since check in for weekly stays was after 5pm (!) we parked up and wandered a little (just round the corner as it happened). Come the time we drove round a couple of times before finding a sign to our apartments and squeezed into the carpark of le Boucanier (well buckle my swash etc).

First impressions are the ones that last: the check in process made me think that this was Butlins a la Francais, but the girl on reception was so nice and so enthusiastic in a genuine way that we were pleased to be here. The apartment itself was, as the lass on reception described it, really nice. 2 balconies (1 in sun, 1 in shade pretty much all the time) spacious, clean and even with separate loo and bathroom.

We were really tired after our journey and the last few weeks of having so much happening, so didn’t really want to do much. There was however a large market going on in the main town, and after dinner we wandered round, more than a little dazed, marvelling at the prices (so high) and the sheer quantity of stuff being sold.

Bed was welcome.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Sunny skies and a sea at 22'C

A loving woman by my side and not too much to do. Does it get better than that?