Monday, 31 August 2015

Never let it be said British weather is unreliable.

You can be sure of rain on the August bank holiday weekend.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Mini Haha - no little injun.

Some time back I mentioned needing to replace the poor old Peugeot 307 - it had only done 120K miles, but was already beyond economical repair in terms of cost vs resale value.

Now, after years of driving cars that were designed to work for everyone else, Chris had suggested that I should find something 'for me', though of course common sense prevailed and that didn't happen, which is why there isn't a 70's Porsche 911 targa or some other impractical fanny magnet ( ;-) ) sat on our drive. However I am grateful to have had her support and encouragement to find something other than another cheap/large as possible family estate car to plod around in for the next 10 years (high point of the 307 was to see how many MPG could be squeezed out, and it once managed over 740 miles on a single 65 liter tank :p ).

Well, after much research and a few test drives I ended up having to decide between a Mazda 6 sport estate and a Mini Countryman. The practical limit I set was that whatever car was chosen, it MUST be able to take my mothers mobility scooter sideways across the boot, and Chris must be able to lift it in. That ruled out a bunch of cars that were too narrow, including a hot Volvo estate, Alfa 164 sportwagon (I was disappointed about that - gorgeous car, crazy high sill, tiny boot) a couple of smaller 4X4s and a Fiat 500L like we had in Canada last summer. I was VERY tempted by a BMW 3 series estate, but just didn't feel comfy in something quite so opulent.

The Mazda I really liked in many ways: full of toys (speech recognition to control the computer, Bose audio, cruise control & sat nav etc) and with a decent engine turning out 180bhp, it was easy to drive and potentially very quick. It was large, comfy-ish (18" alloy wheels made it a bit jiggly) but still just a bit boring and not the drivers car I'd hoped, plus there were a few signs of not being cared for as well as it might have. 

The Mini OTOH was less loaded but every bit a drivers car. Loads of feedback from the road, also jiggly but with handling that keeps the car down flat and makes you enjoy the sensation of cornering and accelerating. Space was surprisingly good inside, though bear in mind this is about the same size as a VW Golf, and the design has really caught the flavour of the original , though in a much larger vehicle

I ended up trying 3 before finding the combination of right car at right price, the first of which was just outside Oxford and too expensive (and under-spec'd) the second from a mini specialist was just a dog with stuff that didn't work and lots of damage (advertised as immaculate too!). Number 3 was good though, with mostly the right accessories and a good long service history that could be believed, Cooper D spec meant a slightly more powerful engine (same output as the pug, but revvier) and it had leather trim plus 3 seats in the rear for 'family' use.

We collected it from the dealer in Northampton around 9am on a Saturday morning 5 weeks ago, loaded it up and then went off camping at Transform 2015 in it. Confidence or foolishness? ;-)

And the verdict after 5 weeks of ownership?

It's tricky. People have kept asking if I'm pleased with it, but a simple yes or no doesn't work for me. I mentioned it's a drivers car, but it's also a car that you have to drive - there's no brainless mode, especially in traffic - and every gear change, every corner needs input and care to execute smoothly and accurately. When we had our friends with us recently we had to use 2 cars getting around, and there were times when it took work to keep up with Chris in the beetle because I needed to drive smoothly for the sake of my passengers. At the same time, when you get it right then it feels really good, and the car goes round corners on rails. 

It's idiosyncratic. For example, the key is a large fob that goes into a spring-loaded slot in the dash, and to start the car the clutch must be depressed before pushing the starter button by the key. When driving in traffic, if you stop in the queue then the engine cuts out and re-starts automatically when you put your foot on the clutch UNLESS the driver has taken their seatbelt off, in which case it won't start at all. This particular car had the 'visual boost' pack comprising a large screen in the central speedometer with information about CD/radio, car servicing, phone contact information etc. but nothing about fuel consumption or temperature: all that is confined to a small 2 line display in the rev counter above the wheel. Talking of which, the info displayed there is limited, and one has to scroll through it with button pushes, but before we sorted this out it seemed that we would see randomly selected info about temperature, fuel consumption etc in the display.

It's comfy. The leather seats have the usual adjustments plus a lumbar support that can be made more or less prominent, and off excellent support and comfort, particularly holding front seat passengers when cornering hard Rear seat passengers do have decent leg room with the rear seats (splittable 60:40 and slideable) fully back, but less support than those in the front. Suspension generally is firm, and poor Luke got bounced out of his seat a couple of times when we went over big bumps. On the motorway and at speed on other roads this makes much more sense, and the ride is good with enough compliance to be fine but without any of the softness that went with a French car. Having said that, swapping over into Chris's beetle a week or so back, that felt as if it glided over the road, which goes to show that not all German cars have a hard ride.

It's (probably) economical. The first couple of tanks of fuel are never going to be representative of what a new car can deliver, and this one has required very different technique for driving than the Pug. With that car one would accelerate up to speed, let the car settle and then gently back off on the accelerator to just before the point when the car would decelerate. It seemed that this was designed in somehow, and with care, instead of getting 40mpg at about 65mph one could get 60+mpg on a flattish road. Remember I said the mini was a car that must be driven? The throttle control is really precise, so after accelerating to the chosen speed, any backing off results in the car going slower There is no slack, no vague or economical zone, and the engine does just what it's been told. So far I seem to be seeing an average of around 45mpg vs 53mpg for the Pug.

It's got long legs. They geared this thing TALL, probably for economy and emmissions, but it again makes for a challenging drive, especially when pulling away, and there's no chance of slipping the clutch in on tickover and giving a generous bootful to just power away, because it either just creeps away (still not as gutless as a Ford Focus though!) or, worse, stalls. Gotta drive it away from a standstill too. The upside of this is that you can hang on to a gear while accelerating and, with the revvy nature of the engine, it just keeps pulling when other cars run out of breath. 3rd is good for 80mph without strain, which is as fast as I've been so far. 4th gives the same revs as 5th used to in some of the earlier diesel cars I've owned and 5th is higher than the Pug top gear, plus there's a 6th too for motorway cruising. 

So this afternoon, while it was raining, I gave it a wash.

Washing cars seems pointless most of the time, especially round here, as within days they get coated with mud again and a thin layer seems to offer more protection. ;-)  But with a new car it's good to wash it at least a couple of times to increase familiarity and have a chance to check the vehicle over. So I found a couple more stone chips that I'd not spotted before, water has been getting into the front foglights, and they need cleaning out & sealing before winter. Other than that it seemed pretty good. And I washed Chris's car for her too. :-)

So overall it's a demanding little beast to drive, but I'm glad I made the change now. Another 10 years time and I'll be ready for something fat, squashy and effortless, while keeping fond memories (I hope) of Mini Haha.

Sorry for the phone cam pic.

I'm leading worship this morning

That's not a boast, but after the posts about the Holy Spirit being present and evangelicalism & entertainment it makes me ask of myself "how am I going to do this?".

Is it enough to invite God to come at the start of the meeting, or does there need to be more knee-time? Is it better to prepare a song list well in advance (the 'well' being variable, depending on who you are) or to sit down at 6.30am on Sunday and get something, fresh from the Spirit?

There are plenty more questions one could ask - and I have - but there's also a point where you have to say "Lord, I've done what I can, but for this to actually mean anything then YOU have to turn up and make a difference". And while my head knows different, my heart says that without God being directly involved then I might as well stay in bed with my wife or go shopping/running/walking etc instead of going to the nice Christian club for a bit of karaoke.

OTOH I'm quite looking forward to our meeting this morning.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Psalms can be 'funny' in The Message.

Courtesy of

47 1-9 Applause, everyone. Bravo, bravissimo!
    Shout God-songs at the top of your lungs!
God Most High is stunning,
    astride land and ocean.
He crushes hostile people,
    puts nations at our feet.
He set us at the head of the line,
    prize-winning Jacob, his favorite.
Loud cheers as God climbs the mountain,
    a ram’s horn blast at the summit.
Sing songs to God, sing out!
    Sing to our King, sing praise!
He’s Lord over earth,
    so sing your best songs to God.
God is Lord of godless nations—
    sovereign, he’s King of the mountain.
Princes from all over are gathered,
    people of Abraham’s God.
The powers of earth are God’s—
    he soars over all.

I was looking up psalm 47 to use for this morning's meeting, and biblegateway was still set to display The Message version. Methinks someone had a bit of fun crafting this particular translation.

What does church make you think of?

Is it a nice place to go? Is it comfortable, a little smart and witty with clever observations from the preacher, a great, tight band covering cool newish worship music, and all run to clockwork?

Would you feel OK sat there on a nice fat chesterfield leather sofa with a glass of wine in your hand, happily watching proceedings as they ran as smoothly as a TV show?

Would you feel GOOD in there?

How would you feel if it was a bit awkward, the band wasn't very loud and so you had to sing as well, as part of the worship? Would gaps and pauses make you feel embarrassed or self-conscious, even worse if someone near you prayed aloud, read a scripture or - horrors - thought God was saying something? And how about if the person preaching threw their notes away because they felt that wasn't what God wanted you to hear, and instead you got something a bit rambly but like God was talking to you?

How about if, instead of nodding assent to well-rounded prayers, you found yourself face-down on the floor?

Something in me likes the former, but something in me loathes it even more and loves the latter. I struggle to get up early and spend time with God, but when I do, it's often face-down on the floor, because that's where I need to be. I don't want the stifling, life-removing, slick production values of a TV show in church, but rather the need to get face-down, so that when I leave I can be face-upward and know I've met God in a way I can't do just alone in my livingroom.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

25 years ago today around this time...........

I can't remember what I was doing, except it revolved around another baby.

Time has gone so quickly, yet so slowly too.

Sunflowers again.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

We've had a great week.

Our good friends, Marc and Dixie, plus Madeline, Luke and Olivia stayed with us last week - the house is quiet and empty without them, and we really enjoyed their company.

Naturally we visited places with them and took pictures, and I'd like to present one of my favourite photos from that time, involving a certain 'Winnie'.

Transform 2015 - a perspective.

A couple of weeks back we were at Transform 2015 – the bible-week offered by the Salt and Light group of churches, of which Bicester Community Church is part.

We have been going to bible-weeks for a long time now (since 1979) and seen a lot of different things, organisations and ways of doing stuff. Some have been big at 10,000 plus, and some, like this one, quite small at less than 2000. The bible-week has often been the place where the organisation that is responsible for that particular church group lays out its vision for the next year, and this was no exception, but there’s something that concerns me, and I’ll come right out with it: I’m afraid that Salt and Light is no longer working like a single organism, and is increasingly embracing evangelical values while letting go of its spiritual roots. I don’t want to unpack that in a public place like this, so I’ll park it here, but I am not alone in having concerns about these things.

So, what was the worship like? Isn’t that something everyone goes for?

It was very loud, very powerful, lots of coloured lights and smoke, very high quality musicianship and singing. PA was a bit iffy the first couple of days (reverb on lead vocals was iffy ALL the time) and then better speaker placement helped. If it had been a gig with a favourite band then one would probably have been happy in the end, after a rocky start. And that should tell you something from the aspects I’m not mentioning.

OK then, how about the speakers? Weren’t there some big names from the evangelical world there?

Yup, there were.

I fell asleep several times during the preaching: on a couple of guys that were shouty, one lady who was quiet and gentle and one who had some amazing stories but was often a bit strident. Maybe I’m getting old and have ‘rose-tinted hearing aids’. Some of the guys said some good things, one wittily repeated the stories he used in Christianity Today magazine and had also put in his books (available on special offer, just while I’m here).

Don’t get me wrong, there was some good stuff there, I made notes during several messages and think I probably heard God talking to me. I was really glad when 5 guys responded to an altar call one night, even though that speaker had been one I slept through.

Then there was a seminar for those with creative gifts (initially I'd understood it to be a worship seminar) from a guy who was clearly anointed to lead worship..... where he mentioned how one can feel short-staffed and lacking in personnel with a team of 60 to run the stage, lighting, sound and multimedia as well as the band. He was trying to show how he understood what it was like to be in a small church with just a couple of musicians.

There’s a nagging going on, that phrase about having started with the Spirit……

Or maybe I’ve become old, cynical, jaded, burned out in trying to help lead a difficult church, desensitised through personal failure and lack of spending time with God.

It’s not like many of the guys in leadership here are strangers that I can throw stones at in ignorance. I’m on first name terms with quite a few, although most that I know best are around retirement, and recognise them as men of God, spiritual, mature, wise, good and upright. And yet I also wondered if I were seeing a theology shaped by society, rather than the bible first and foremost, like the leader who tore me a new one about how women must be in leadership when I tried to talk to him at a friends wedding 4 years ago.

Maybe this should make me more sympathetic toward the Anglican church - or harsher in my assessment of it. God, please save Salt and Light from becoming another denomination.

Was that a bird, a plane? Nope, that was a blogpost.

You may have noticed a lack of photographs appearing in the blog, and indeed a general lack of blogging. There are several reasons for this, partly connected and partly not.

I may have mentioned already that we decided that the business was not going to work on an ongoing basis, and that really required that I get a job or 2. And having managed to do that, it is obvious that I should have less free time for many things, including taking and processing pictures. I have been noticing a decline in my desire to blog anyway, simply because the original driver for that – community – is no longer present, and unlikely to return. The blogosphere has become a marketing medium, and I have been a little slow to catch on that personal blogs are probably now pointless. .

And talking of pointless, I love having photos printed; holding a print in your hand confirms that the image you created is now real and physical, rather than being a suggestion of possibilities on a computer. I guess an un-printed image isn’t *real* to me.

But again there’s a rub.

Chris once asked “What are you going to do with all those pictures?” and as much as I like to flatter myself, to a large degree the hobby is pointless. No-one is going to buy the pictures unless I market myself hard (fat chance) and they might not buy them anyway. I can inflict them on a few polite friends to whom I donate prints in exchange for some kind words, though it is possibly unfair to present others with junk not of their own choosing, that they can’t easily discard because it was a gift.

So I’ve mostly stopped taking pictures too, though I shall take more when we go on holiday, simply for the memories and because the scenery will be quite different from anything in the UK.