Tuesday, December 26, 2006

From the Bishop

Food for thought from Richard Holloway in the Observer:

Our leaders should listen to this man of monstrous ideas

The challenges Christ set may be daunting but, in a country where Christianity is on the wane, we need to rise to meet them

In spite of centuries of confident talk about him, a halo of mystery still surrounds Jesus, whose birth we celebrate tomorrow. A great theologian of the early 20th century said of him: 'He comes to us as one unknown, without a name.' For Albert Schweitzer, whose words these are, what he finally encountered in Jesus meant the end of theology and the beginning of practical action. He tells us that after years of laborious research into his meaning and identity, he decided to become a doctor so that he might be able to work without having to talk. It has to be admitted that this is an uncommon response to the Jesus enigma, certainly within the church, which is why EM Forster sighed over 'poor, little talkative Christianity'.

The one who comes to us without a name continues to provoke torrents of language, much of it aimed at rival interpretations of his identity. Anyone who has read this newspaper during the last year will have picked up a lot of information about the current rows in Christianity, the recent big issue being gay clergy. But to ignore Jesus because of the verbal promiscuity of his followers is a failure to encounter one of the most challenging characters in world literature.

I have put it like that, because whether or not Jesus existed, and whether or not he was the son of God, he is undeniably present in a book through whose agency he can still disturb our consciences. If we can leave his metaphysical status to theologians, what is it about him that is worth paying attention to, especially if we ourselves are more than slightly allergic to religious talk?

I think there are three powerful elements in what we know about his teaching that are enduringly important and have lessons for us today. The first was his attitude towards the laws and customs by which we have chosen to organise ourselves. He did not believe they should be afforded absolute, unchanging authority over us. They were created to assist us in leading the good life, but he knew that if they were not held lightly, and with a shrewd appreciation of their provisional nature, they could easily became stupid and tyrannous.

He wanted us to be on the alert for the moment when human welfare was served not by conforming to, but by abandoning such codes. This was the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan, who violated a central prohibition of his religion by going to the aid of a Jew who had fallen among thieves.

This is a simple insight, but it has profoundly radical consequences for public life. For example, if it were being applied to Britain's misguided drug laws, five young women from Ipswich would be alive today. Forcing addicts to sell their bodies to feed their addiction, when we could prescribe them heroin and help them manage their lives better, is to accord higher value to an arbitrary law than to the sacredness of human life itself. This was the kind of cruel folly of which Jesus was witheringly critical. Historically, it is the most vulnerable members of society who have been the traditional victims of this kind of theoretical intransigence, and contemporary Britain affords many examples of its continuing power over us.

Even more difficult for us to deal with is Jesus's plea for us to love our enemies. George Steiner is particularly moving in what he says about this sublime impossibility: 'The profoundly natural impulse to avenge injustice, oppression and derision do have their place in the house of Israel.

'A refusal to forget injury or humiliation can warm the heart. Christ's ordinance of total love, of self-offering to the assailant, is, in any strict sense, an enormity. The victim is to love the butcher. A monstrous proposition. But one shedding fathomless light. How are mortal men and women to fulfil it?'

How, indeed? Yet we are witnessing the increasingly awful consequences of our inability to fulfil this monstrous proposition of love. What Steiner calls the profoundly natural impulse to avenge injustice has trapped us in a relentless cycle of violence that threatens to spiral into global conflict. The call of Jesus to love our enemies may be a human impossibility, but the paradox is that by failing to heed it, we can end up destroying ourselves along with those we hate.

Graham Greene pointed out in his greatest novel, The Power and the Glory, that hatred was a failure of the imagination. It is by failing to imagine ourselves into lives and cultures that are foreign to our own experience that we risk pulling down the house of our common humanity round our ears and burying ourselves in the rubble. One of the most poignant and tragic ironies of our time is the failure of George W Bush and Tony Blair, two of the world's most prominent Christians, to hazard this act of cultural imagination by reaching out to their enemies.

It is our inability to respond to the monstrous proposition to love our enemies that makes the third element in Jesus's teaching and example so moving. He knew that power always corrupts us, that it burns away our frail moral sense. We have discovered this ourselves over centuries of misgovernment and have tried to erect checks and balances against our fatal addiction to power. With very mixed results. Jesus's mistrust of power was so total that only the truly destitute are able to fulfil it: another monstrous proposition. Yet part of the tradition about him, and one that continues to announce itself in world literature in our day, is his compassion for those who find themselves in positions of power and who are inevitably corrupted by it.

The most perfect expression of this is found in Dostoevsky's legend of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov. During the Inquisition in Spain, Jesus comes to Seville. People instinctively recognise the man without a name and seek his counsel. The Grand Inquisitor has him arrested and comes to visit him in prison. He delivers a monologue in which he points out that people do not want the freedom Jesus brought them. They want the security of a power system, including all its necessary corruptions. They will never be able to follow Jesus's path of freedom and compassion. At the end of the old man's monologue, Jesus says nothing, but he steps forward and kisses him 'gently on his bloodless, aged lips'.

What we have here is an understanding of human nature that is both fiercely challenging and tenderly forgiving. It is why many people are still drawn to the man without a name, even though they have long since abandoned the institution that carries his memory. Thousands of them will turn up at churches throughout Britain at midnight, not quite sure why they are there, almost against their will, but responding instinctively to something they don't have words for. George Mackay Brown, who understood the fascination, probably put it as well as anyone can:

Who is the man in the last light,
At the fire-glimmer, on shore stones
Poaching fish in a pot?
It is the man they hooked
On the dead tree.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Mes Amis et Ma Famille

Earlier this year, a Mexican translator called David countered my declaration of 'I'm lucky' with, 'no, you're blessed'. For much of the year I've been pondering just what that meant. In her novel, Gilead, Marilynne Robinson's vicar states that 'blessing something does not sanctify it, but rather acknowledges the inherent sacredness in it', which I've found quite useful.

But perhaps I'm missing the obvious. In hOME this year we've looked at hospitality, using the book Radical Hospitality by Daniel Homan and Pratt Lonni Collins. I like to think I've learnt from this. But it occurs to me that this year I have the recipient of some outstanding acts of hospitality and kindness. In my travels this year (sorry about the climate change, future generations), I've been to, amongst other places, Praha, Mexico (three times), Edinburgh, Eindhoven, Dallas and I'm about to set off to Lisse in Holland. In those travels, I've been taken in by a standup Canadian on crutches and his fiancee (Patrick, if you're reading this, Happy Christmas to you and Jitka), had Wendy leave a key in a cafe for me in Edinburgh and then plied me with great tea, been gotten drunk while watching Mexican football in Monterrey, had Rebekah take me in in Eindhoven before her friends bought us dinner, and I am about to be put up by by Dutch relatives. Other people, Mike and Sarah that is, have let me their house for a year at a very cheap rate, Anita knitted me a lush scarf, Gerry played cricket for me even though England were playing Portugal at the same time, Ricardo the Mexican Numpty explained how things were 'very important', Rebekah went out of her way to take a picture of the Dan Perjovschi cartoon, Muzz opted to camp with hOME at Greenbelt, and so it went on. So many people have willingly and sometimes unwittingly contributed to making my year such a good one.

I still may not know what 'being blessed' means, but I'm pretty sure I know what it feels like for me. It's the little things that mean a lot.

Merry Christmas one and all. May there be plenty of little things for you all.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


It may be just that I grew up in the city next to the hills painted with orange firebreaks, but Russell Brown's story of his grandfather is a moving one.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

There be Spiders

The fog hasn't lifted in two days, nor has the temperature cracked positive numbers. This has contributed to giant spiders webs.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Yesterday I posted an uninformed post. In light of enlightenment, I've taken it down.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Last Word in Watches

So... the new James Bond. Having been to see it on the weekend with Tess, I've got a couple or three observations.

Firstly, it's darker and more of a thinking man's Bond than most of its predecessors. Ok, so the thinking man's aspect might be taking it a bit far, but it did feel more like Sunday Times than News of the World. But not so far as the Guardian on Saturday (excessive use of big words and an inflated opinion of itself, and yet I still buy it. Especially if there is free DVD that I've not heard of and probably won't watch).

Secondly, ropes and testicles? Right... Was that in the original Ian Fleming novel?

Thirdly, it has some of the less subtle product placement I've seen movies. From the Sony Ericsson phones (I feel somewhat disappointed with my new SE K750i - it doesn't do half of the things Mr Bond's does), to Richard Branson in the metal detector followed by the Virgin planes landing, to the conversation on the train that went something like this:

Vesper: Nice Watch
Bond: Thanks
Vesper: Is that a Rolex?
Bond: No. It's an Omega.

It's almost as blatant as the Steve Martin/John Candy exchange in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, where Martin exchanges his Rolex and $17 for a cheap hotel room. Candy tries to follow suit....

Hotel Clerk: Do you have seventeen dollars and a nice watch?
Del: I've got two dollars... and a Casio.
Hotel Clerk: I'm afraid I'm going to have to say goodnight...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I could have modelled it

Last night Martin discovered that water was running down the side of the wall in the hall. On further inspection we noticed that the ceiling was very damp as well. We traced the water upstairs to discover that the source was the toilet beside my room. For a horrible moment we thought it was all coming from the pipe downstream of the u-bend but on closer inspection we realised that it was coming from just upstream of the cistern. On the bright side this means that I haven't effectively been urinating on the walls.

As an engineer who deals with flood modelling software it occurred to me that I could have built a computer model of the flood. But I had to call a management consultant to tell me how to fix it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Nice Wheels

A jalopy from Solitaire, Namibia April 2002.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Monday, 10:37pm

(Happy Birthday, Jane)

So it's Monday night, and it could be worse. Today I've managed good catch ups with three good friends, Kirsty the kiwi in KL, Alberto the Italian in Milan and Meredy the Canuck in London, I've played touch rugby in the fog at the Oxford Rugby Club grounds, I've had managed to get in on my flatmate Suzie's fine dinner as well as drain her bottle of 2002 Costieres de Nimes - Cellier des Vestiges Romains (which this Palestine-when-it-comes-to-wine knows nothing more about other than it was good) and my copy of Joyeux Noel arrived today. There'll be a viewing of that on Wednesday night. I've been waiting for that since Greenbelt.

I feel better for the game of touch. Since cricket ran out a few months ago I've been feeling a bit lethargic, so getting a regular run around has been good, seeing as I hate running unless balls are involved. Some may be amused to hear that I even managed to be punched in the head tonight, by a fellow aotearoa-an, no less.

On the subject of Aotearoa, Public Address have added a community site, Public Address System to their website. It's a useful (and entertaining) addition to their board. At the very least it has allowed me to see the Good night Kiwi video from the days when TV stopped at night with it's disturbingly soothing music - 'TV has finished now, now go to bed'. Fellow Kiwis/Pukekos might enjoy it...

According to forecast fox, right now in Oxford we have freezing rain.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Farewell, Young Man

Chris has gone home.

Chris has been around Oxford for the past couple of years, and over that time he has been a source of amusement to pretty much all who've had the good fortune to be in his sphere of influence. He remains a man of great humour/humor, an admirable depth of honesty and feeling, height, and for a man of such youth, a level of insight that frightens me sometimes.

For those of us in hOME, the tall Canadian will be greatly missed, although it is assumed that he will get his lanky ass back to blighty for Greenbelt '07.

Farewell, you young, good and faithful servant.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Dutch Designs

Last Friday I visited the Dan Perjovschi exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum modern art museum in Eindhoven. The exhibition is a series of quickly drawn cartoons that surround the staircase that links the first and lower floors. The cartoons are rough but to the point.

My favourite cartoon is a picture of a house crammed full of stuff (car, bike, TV, whatever). There is a man with a knapsack at the door, and the owner of the house declares 'Sorry, we're full'.

If you do a google search on the images for Dan Perjovschi you can see plenty more of his cartoons.

I followed that up by visiting s'-Hortogenbosch, where the local delicacy is the Bosch Bol, a softball sized pastry covered in chocolate and filled with sweet cream. Two of those in an hour will wire you up for the week. As well as make your heart skip.

The Saturday was spent at Interieur, in Belgium. I went with my lovely hostess, Rebekah, and her colleagues Stephan (the straight one with a desire to find the perfect hinge), and Jasper (the enthusiastic one). Interieur is a massive architectural design fair that features lots of very chic northern europeans and lots of very chic european design outfits. When it came to the Smeg stall, the very chic fridge contained beer. For the less than chic kiwi, this was reassuring. My three guides made for a very entertaining and informative afternoon. It was always very reassuring when the three agreed with me about style. I have more style than I give myself credit for...

There's a lot to like about Holland. Particularly the beer, the town centres, and the lovely lovely Dutch women. Oh yes, we like them a lot.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Stop the Demand

A week or so ago I got the following email from a friend in NZ. Last night at hOME, with the accompaniment of current favourite, Michael Franti, we acted on Sarah's request.

What language are your fears?
What language are your tears?

-Michael Franti

Hi there,
One issue that is guaranteed to make me weep is vulnerable people being trafficked to meet the demand for the purchase of sex.
The Salvation Army has instigated a global weekend of Prayer and Fasting for sex trafficking victims, due to take place this coming weekend (Friday 29 Sept to Sunday 1 Oct).I thought that you might be interested to read Stop Demand's statement in support.

Love to you all,
Sarah O'Brien
Statement to International Listserves
Stop Demand Foundation, New Zealand
September 28, 2006

Sex trafficking fuelled by male demand – Salvation Army's Prayer and Fasting Weekend

This weekend's Prayer and Fasting for victims of sex trafficking, organised by the Salvation Army throughout many parts of the world, is a praiseworthy proactive response to an unacceptable global scourge. Trafficking, mostly of young women and children for the global sex trade, is the third largest international criminal activity and a multi-billion dollar industry.

While traffickers are frequently portrayed as "evil", unscrupulous, and brutal, we are reminded that they are only intermediaries. Traffickers' lucrative earnings are made possible only through the huge global demand from sex-buying men who seek a 'smorgasbord' of mostly-female bodies of varying ages, ethnicities, and physical characteristics, to fulfil their various wants and fantasies.

Sex trafficking is preventable. It would end tomorrow, if male demand for paid sex stopped today. If there were no demand, there would be no supply. Traffickers would simply move on to another marketable commodity.

Throughout this weekend's remembrance of sex trafficking victims, let us also challenge the behaviour, attitudes and beliefs of the millions of sex-buying men who fuel sex trafficking.

Until we see a decrease in demand, sex trafficking will continue unabated.

Denise Ritchie
Stop Demand Foundation, New Zealand

Saturday, September 30, 2006

In Between Days

Today Sarah, Mike, Alex, Caragh and Mari all moved out. So for the next day I am in between housemates. It's going to be very strange not having the little people in my house (well, it's actually their house) any more.

It feels very empty right now. I'll have to take solace in that I am booking tickets next week to see them in Nepal.

I'm also enjoying Michael Franti and Spearhead, who played at Greenbelt (but whom I missed, and of whom Muzz said was excellent, and possibly the best concert he'd been to). I've been able to download a track from Yell Fire! from here, and I've ordered both the CD and DVD, the story of his visit to Baghdad, which you can preview here, from a large music chain.

Seeing as he's playing at She' Bu in December I might have to go.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Blessed are the leg breakers

As Jim pointed out to me on Thursday, the Traditional Values Coalition (the largest non-denominational lobby group in the US - they represent 43,000 churches) have asked the US Senate to support the White House's call to redefine 'bodily injury' as outlined by the Geneva Convention. Essentially this will allow torture to be used to obtain information.

If I may quote from their website, where they define traditional values:

Love And Hate: The Bible teaches us that we are to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. We believe it is a loving response to oppose behaviors that destroy individuals and families. It is not loving to allow someone to kill themselves or other individuals.

Now, how exactly does that equate with calling for the use of torture?

If you read Matthew 4:12 through to the end of Matthew 7 you'll find that Jesus doesn't preach the politics of war, hate or torture.

As Jim asked them in an email last week, 'who would Jesus torture'?

The church's position in this world should be to preach the politics of peace, and the TVC position on torture is morally reprehensible.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Trinity

(Hi Lorna, don't be shy.)

Bloggers: people who would have liked to been journalists for the Guardian but simply weren't good enough. Lorna, or was it Lizzy, at the Lamb and Flag last night.

Over the past few years I've seen some rubbish movies and read some rubbish books. However through good luck and good management and good recommendations I've seen some great films recently and read some fantastic books. Last night in true Oxford fashion a bunch of folk from hOME, Staldates, Stclements and elsewhere gathered at the L&F to talk about such things. Well, we got together to chew the fat and drink (Jim's declaration towards the end of the evening of 'I'm slowly getting slaughtered here' amused me greatly), and because we are Oxford types we talked books and film.

Jim and I had begun the evening with Esme, Ron and Janine at the Phoenix to see Little Miss Sunshine. It's not a life changing film, but it is side splittingly funny. (The last film that had me slapping my thighs was Garden State). There's farce and there's ridiculousness. There's also a Jesus Figure in the shape of a heroin smoking grandfather who's advice to his grandson is to 'Fuck lots of women. Not just one woman. Lots of women'. The only downside to the evening was the unbearable heat in the cinema, which contrasted with the sign outside that proudly offered an air-conditioned bar. Clearly the air-con didn't stretch as far as the cinema itself. Although as Tim Flannery wrote in The Weather Makers, we cooking our planet to keep ourselves cool, so maybe an hour and a half of sweating through a very funny movie is not that worth moaning about. From there it was on to the Lamb and Flag for book and film group. Which brings me back to the collection of movies and books I've seen and read this year. At the risk of ranting about each one in a poorly written review, I'm just going to list them...

Erlend Loe's Naive. Super
William Sloane Coffin's Letters to a young doubter
Steven Levett's Freakonomics
Nick Hornby's A long way down
Jim Wallis's God's Politics
Jon McGregor's If nobody will speak of remarkable things
Audrey Niffenegger's The time traveller's wife
Philip Caputo's Acts of Faith
Joseph Heller's Catch 22
Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner
Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers
Rageh Omaar's The half of me

and I have on my shelf...
Jon McGregor's So many ways to begin
Andrew Smith's Moon Dust
Marilynne Robinson's Gilead
Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel (note to self, just read this bloody book and this give it back to Idris)
The Lonely Planet guide to Nepal. Yeah baby, I'm going there next year. Please feel free to point out the incongruity of going to Nepal and mentioning climate change in this rant.

and those films:
V for Vendetta
Little Miss Sunshine
Hidden Cache

To complete that little consumerism trinity of books, films and music, I've been rather disappointed with the music I've heard this year. Aside from Gnarls Barkely and the stunning Last Town Chorus cover of David Bowie's Modern Love there's not a lot that had floated my boat.

Here ends the failed journalistic rant.

Monday, September 11, 2006


My cricket season ended on the weekend. Sadly a run of bad results meant that we ended on a bit of a low, but to be honest I'm not that bothered. Wallingford's seconds achieved middlish table respectability, we won more games than last year, and as in the past three years everybody who has played for me has played in the best spirit. And yesterday in a friendly against Skandia of Southampton we managed a 90 run win.

I have put the season averages here. It's amazing how much one innings can skew ones average...

Next year I am aiming to retire my captain's cap (we'll see how that works out) and just be a minion. I'm thinking it's time for someone else to have the honour of leading and shouting 'ok, Rich, great spell! Gareth! Next over, this end!'

So to Mark Searle, Mark Cox, Wayne, Smithy, Gareth, Ben, James, Jon, Rich Hadland, Geoff, Rob Swiergon, Jamie, Ralph, Will, Johnnie, Tim, Shan, Jayasuricky, Jez Denton, Andy, Elias, Rob Smith, Bob Emmett, wee little Denton, Gerry, Sarge, Alex, Marc, Ali, Jack, Jez Hadland, Rob Coupe, Smarty and Dave, thanks very much all you've put in this year.

Friday, September 01, 2006


At the Zodiac last night Supergrass played a sold out gig to their home crowd. I was there. It was tremendous.

But what happened to the keyboard player?

Over at Dog Eat Blog, there's a new writer. He's not up to Patrick's standards. Patrick, where have you gone?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


So... my weekend began on Wednesday night in Northampton where Naomi cooked dinner for me and Emma. A very pleasant way to start a long weekend.

On Thursday morning, a number of us from hOME (Matt, Suzie, Pippa, Chris, Juliet, Jim) plus some hangers on in Muzz and John set off to the exotic site that is Cheltenham Racecourse for the Greenbelt Arts and Music festival. I've heard a lot about GB over the years, and Mark Pierson swears it is the best of them all, although he would say that...

Greenbelt at night. Stolen from Johnny Baker's flickr site.

In the five days I spent at GB I had an extraordinary time. The blend of community, the lovely blonde at the American Cookie Caravan, the teachings of John Bell from Iona, Dave Andrews, and Dave Tomlinson, the folk from Moot, the hedge inspections, the bizzare and thought provoking heresy of Ikon, the Organic Beer Tent, and the Tiny Tea Tent meant I was never short of mental or physical stimulation. The weekend also managed to include people from pretty much every circle of friends I've had over the past 15 years. There were the homies (or homos as some now call us), Muzz from Auckland, Wendy and Phil from Edinburgh, a chance meeting with Nay who now works with Muzz in Servants and with whom I spent my best summer of the nineties (number 5 in the link) in Roxburgh (strangely I got an email from Kirsty Evitt this weekend, whom I also haven't seen since about then either and was on the same expedition), as well as some other folk from Oxford.

For me the four defining moments of the festival were:
  • Dave Andrews discussion on being the change we want to see
  • Vic Theason on the myth of redemptive violence
  • Ikon's worship service (although anybody who was there will tell you that it was a piece of performance art rather than a service) and the challenge of defining belief
  • John Bell's definition of blessing
Dave Andrews was simply astonishing. He told three outrageous stories about individuals or very small groups of people can bring about change. The title of his talk is taken from a quote from Gandhi, and to Dave's line of thinking, it is simply not possible to change other people, the only person you can change is yourself. The three stories, one where a local church offered their church to the local Islamic community after their mosque was burnt down, one where a group of Indonesian Christians sought funding for advocating for the human rights of imprisoned fundamentalist muslims who had been persecuting the Christians, and one where an Australian attempted to do a citizen's arrest on his MP in response to Australia's complicity in the war on terror were retold over the weekend. As Dave said in response to the stories, it was not very Christian, but very Christ-like. More about Dave's plans can be found here. I'm still trying to work through the impact he had on me but usefully he's a very good friend of Muzz's so I'm sure I'll be seeing him again.

Vic Theason's talk on the myth of redemptive violence used the example of films to illustrate that by using violence as a source of redemption, we perpetuate the myth that it is the only solution. Listening to his talk and watching the clips was a bit like someone had removed the scales from in front of my eyes. When Joyeux Noel comes out on DVD next month I'll be getting a hold of it. And it made for an interesting perspective on the stunning V for Vendetta.

Ikon's performance on Sunday night (on at the same time as My Morning Jacket, damnit...) ran me close. It was useful service in that it challenged some of the things I hold, but came close to calling me a liar. As part of the performance we got a list of 50 things that one of them believed, then we had someone declare their atheism, before we each got given a piece of rice paper with I believe written on it. We were instructed to think of something we believed, then to give the paper to our neighbour, take theirs, and then eat it. We were not to tell our neighbour what we believed, nor we were to ask what they believed. It was tough enough for me to simply come up with something I absolutely believed, as paradoixical as it might sound, for me beliefs come and they go. Having battled through that, I then realised that 'I believe' was spelt I beLIEve. Yeah, thanks for that.

Lastly, I've been pondering the meaning of the word blessing all year. This was in response to my first visit to Mexico this year. I still don't know what the word means, although it was suggested over the weekend that the word derives from having a camel underneath you. Alternative answers on a postcard please. During John Bell's discussion on God Bless Adam and Steve, where he attempted to set aside any biblical justification for condemning homosexual relationships (something I would like to get to the bottom of more, as it were - insert your own innuendo here). He made the observation that blessing something doesn't add sacredness to it, rather it acknowledges the sacredness that already exists in that thing. The context here was whether or not the church should be a host for the blessing of same-sex relationships (something I'm comfortable with it doing, and something I'm sure that Ma and Pa would probably disagree with). I'm still unsure of my definition here but John's definition seemed a useful point to work from.

So all in all, a useful weekend. And you can be sure I'll be at GB next year.

And the fact that Wallingford's seconds got bowled out for 33 on Saturday doesn't bother me at all...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Societies Cross Section

I find this photo from the Guardian's guide to the 2006/2007 premiership season both fascinating and very funny. It provides an interesting example of the motto of the herd, it is so much safer in large numbers. I particularly like little Miss Prada and her Dave Grohl/Neil Young boyfriend in the front row, the air masturbating twins above to the right, the apparently airbrushed in and smiling evilly redhead above, and the very angry numpty to the left of Wayne. But my personal favourite is the bald man inspecting his mobile phone. 'Hi m8, im @ the bridge and that wanker rooney has been sent off. tosser'.

Click on the picture to get a better look.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

In the City

(Hello, Gerry)

In October 2001 I visited NYC for the first time. The timing was deliberate, the circumstances were not. The fires were still burning and the smell in lower Manhattan was like nothing I've ever smelt before. To say it was disturbing is an understatement. Amongst my wanderings I, like everybody else, made (and I guess this is the right word) a pilgrimage to Ground Zero. I recall signing my name and the word 'peace' on a banner that was strung along some iron railings.

Nearly five years later I went back to NYC on my way out to Mexico. I had to stop somewhere and I thought why not NYC. Having a few hours to kill before I could check in to my hotel (the rather dingy Hotel 17 - don't stay there, despite what their propaganda tells you) I wandered down to Ground Zero again. I guess I went for a few reasons, curious to see how it had changed, and curious to see how I'd respond to it. Now it is a large hole, surrounded by hurricane fencing. There is a timeline of the events and then a plague listing all the names of the 'heroes' that died that day. I couldn't help but think that in most other countries I've been to, that the words 'innocent victims' would be on the plague, and that 'heroes' seemed an odd choice of word. I've now doubt that there were acts of unbridled heroism that day, but everyone a hero. And I guess I got to wondering what the hijackers would think if they could see just how much the world has changed as a consequence of their actions.

A bit further on is the following sign:
And the cynic in me instantly thought, this was the World TRADE centre, right? Wouldn't it be more approriate to... But actually, I agree with the sentiments of the sign, and it was useful to stand and contemplate the events of that day and the consequences without dodging hawkers.

A couple of days later, after walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (there are some things in life doing more than once and walking across from Brooklyn to Manhattan is most certainly one of them) I found myself on Broadway looking at some iron railings and realised I was standing at the same place as I'd stood five years ago. Behind the iron railings is St. Pauls church, the oldest church in Manhattan (and in fact the oldest public building in Manhattan). It too had a timeline of events and what I came to appreciate was that is was literally across the road from the WTC. It remained untouched, despite two 420m high towers and a 170m tower falling down beside it. The trees between it and the towers were not so lucky. In the nine months following September 11 the church became a haven for, at first, emergency workers, and then afterwards, relief workers. There is a sense that the church is a shrine, but it also feels like a sanctuary. It a very moving place to visit, and the sense of a community serving its wider community is profound. Humanity serving humanity.

In a fit of clueless and inappropriate juxtaposition I went from St. Pauls to the Trump Tower. Humanity screwing over humanity.

A mother and son crossing to Manhattan

It might cost $20 to get into but MoMA is worth it. More Picasso's, Cezannes, Warhols, Matisse', Pollocks and van Gogh's than you can shake a paintbrush at. It makes me wonder if after he got well known if Pablo woke up some mornings and thought, 'I can't be bothered today, slapped a couple of triangles and a red splodge of paint and thought, yeah, that'll do'.

The advantage of MoMA over other galleries I've been to, such as the Louvre, is that there is not the crush. The comedy that is the march to see the Mona Lisa and the subseequent scrum to take its picture does not present itself in MoMA. Instead, I got to stand in front of van Gogh's Starry Night all by myself. I stood there for some time, not because I was moved by it, but simply because I could.

On Saturday night, Sasa and Maria took me round Greenwich village. They took me places I wouldn't have found on my own, including the non-capitalist bookshop and Chumley's Beer House, a place that was serving during prohibition and as a result has multiple exits and no signage.

Every now and again, the are power cuts in Auckland and people bemoan the fall of NZ into third world status. It happens in the first world too. For the whole time I was in NYC, and the days either side, large parts of Queens had no power.

A few days later, in Mexico, Andreas got me drunk again.

But remember that the city is a funny place
Something like a circus or a sewer
And just remember different people have peculiar tastes
and the glory of love, might see you through
-Lou Reed

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Comfortably Wandering

Last week I spent time in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Coming in to central Edinburgh down Christorphine Road was a weird experience. Some four years ago I used to play cricket for the Murrayfield-Dafs (or Muffs...) cricket club. Their practice ground is in the shadow of the Murrayfield Stadium. It seemed a lifetime ago that I played there. I remember being out three times in five balls in the 'let's see what the new players can do' warm-up game before the season began. At least I've progressed since then...

I had a couple of days with Wendy, which is always a good thing, as well as dinner with Kirstin and then dinner with Ruth. There was also the opportunity to go cow spotting in the city and send bovine photos to The Numpty.

On the Thursday morning I crossed the lowland belt to Glasgow for a days teaching. Teaching is often the most enjoyable part of the job as I get to meet up with people I've talked to over the phone. Some of my users ring me more often than others (I guess some people just like to talk to me... go figure) and Sal from Australia-but living in Glasgow falls into that category. After the course, her, her friend Emma (another Aussie) and I wandered out into the city. It was kinda of nice to spend time in Glasgow as I never spent much time there while living in Scotland. In fact I only visited it to go to job interviews and to catch planes to Stornaway. We began at Est Est Est, and then found dinner at The Dhabba in Merchant City. Both places worth visiting and the Murg Handi Lazeez (chicken in a cashew and pistachio suace) is definitely worth getting your teeth into. The night (and day after) in Glasgow did much to endear the city to me. The hotel Ibis in West Regent Street did much to undermine that. The worst bed I've slept on since I slept on some tree roots on the banks of the Clutha in Wanaka in 1994.

Included in the conversation topics was the mandatory 'what drives your life' question. Never a good question at the best of times and always a good question at the worst of times. My response is that there isn't a lot that drives me, except for a one litre Nissan Micra - boom boom, rather I'm generally finding myself casually wandering through my world with short moments of direction where I decide that 'I want this and that and I want it now' followed by long periods of semi-aimless wandering. Then I notice that I can no longer remember why it was I was wandering. OK, so it's a sounding a little like senility, which I'm comfortable with, and it's not very efficient, which I'm also comfortable with. And it sums up my day in Glasgow on Friday, where I decided to visit the Glasgow Cathedral (it's hard to go past a place that is also known as St Mungo's), and then decided to sit in St George's square and read Alistair Cook's Letters from America, while drowning out the traffic noise by listening to Money Mark and the Stereo MC's. Most of the time I'm completely happy doing this but every now and again some dissatisfaction creeps in. After a while that dissatisfaction starts to nag a little harder.

Tomorrow I am semi-aimless wandering in NYC. On Sunday, I'll be moving on to Monterrey. Again. Ho hum. I love my job...

The Sleepy Jackson played the Zodiac on Monday night. I arrived late as I had been umpiring my under 17 side, and only caught the last hour of the gig. It was a fair to middling experience, and Luke Steele was in good form (not that I've seen him before, so really I have no idea what form he is in normally), but he did make me laugh. However, I reckon that he is one of those people who's studio work is better kept in the studio than taken out on the road. Lovers is a GREAT album, but only ok on the road. Or does that just make me sound like a music wanker? Whatever, I'm comfortable with that too.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

For the Love of Justice (and Anita)

On Saturday, in the gentle countryside of East Sussex, Justice married Anita.

It was a celebration of a relationship that makes me smile everytime I think about it. I do believe it was the closest I've got to crying at a wedding.

The day itself was a corker. It was hot and sunny (which made my morning suit a bit cumbersome), and the wedding took place in a very typical English churcg in the very typical English village of Wadhurst. I had the honour of being an usher for the day. This provided me with a number of advantages. Firstly, I got to meet and greet everybody who came (no matter how late they arrived). Secondly, I got to be outside the church door as the bride and her entourage arrived, a view I had never seen before. Thirdly, I got to wear the aforementioned morning suit. This enabled me to look terrific. In fact I would go so far to say that this was as good as I have ever looked. This had the additional advantage of having an automatic 'in' for talking to people I like the look of. Handy... During the service, the other usher, Matt Knowles, and I even got to use our enforcer status to deal with an interrupting local. Part way through the service there was a bang, and a dishevelled looking man in a shell suit and dirty trainers came in through the door. He stood at the back and tried to get through another glass door. Matt and I, with the assiatance of another friend went up to him and tried to usher him out. No no, he claimed, I am the bell-ringer and I'm allowed to be here. Right, I thought, and I'm the Pope. With more banging of doors we managed to usher him into a small chapel at the back, where we could see him through some glass doors. As soon as he was through, he promptly opened the back door to the church and let in a whole lot of his mates. Matt and I decided that the best course of action was to leave him to it and hope that he kept quiet. Every few minutes, we would turn round and check on him. He'd always give us a smile and a wave and we'd go back to the service. The service finished up and the new family Justice disappeared up the aisle in celebration. At which point, the bells rang out.

Consider contraception allowed by the Catholic Church then, if you would.

On a sloped field in Tidebrook we gathered for the feast. One of the many beautiful things about this wedding was that there were people from many walks of life, and happily for me many of Justices and Anitas walks of life coincided with mine. It therefore allowed me to spend some time with a lot of quality people from my community. There were folk from Edinburgh, folk from London, and some folk from various parts of Oxford. Amidst the dancing and the eating there was plenty of 'Hey! Wendy!' and 'Hey! Tess!' and subsequent embaces. The whole day was in a tone of warmth and genuiness. My experience of A and J is that they create a vibe of warmth and enjoyment and the day was very much in that spirit. I have this lasting impression of Justice when he and I were in Freuds in Oxford, a bar and club that has been converted from a church, dancing to some Jazz Funk, and throughout the evening Justice had this contented smile as he cruised around the dance floor, dancing with strangers and loving every moment of it. This wedding was very similar, except without the strangers and this time all of us were dancing with contented smiles.

With a final stripping of the willow, the happy couple disappeared into their purple mini convertible and disappeared into the country night.

Since then, I have had the joys of spending a day on the Brighton beach with Wendy, Ruth, Alberto, Matt, Catherine, Joe, and Saga, an evening with the homies at the Angel and Greyhound, a day (with more to come) with Simon as I collected him from Heathrow (it is so nice to know that a very good friend from home is likely to be in Europe for the foreseeable future) and an evening with Sarah and Mike and their little ones. In the warmth of these summer days, it is more than just the sunburn from Brighton that is making me glow. There must be something in the air as most people around me seem to be feeling this at the moment. It is so good to see and hear my friends being in such fine spirits.

So to my little world out there; Cheers!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

On a Break

After a long thought process (it was while I was making tea for four, but it's been on my mind for some time now) I've decided to give this blog a wee rest. I don't know how long for but it may be for some time.


Ladies and Gentleman,

Hammer and Tongue is proud to present The Hammer and Tongue final 2005 - 2006.

Eight top quality poet/performers from around the world have qualified throughout the season. They are:

Penny Ashton
New Zealand vixen aka The Hot Pink Poet, has been flashing her Hot Pink Bits globally since 2002. Her glandular poetry is a blend of Pam Ayres, Playgirl and Playschool, so enjoy.

AF Harrold
The champ. The greatest. The one to beat. A jolly good poet in the tradition of A.F. Harrold, the famous English poet. Current undisputed Hammer and Tongue slam champion.

Mo the Peoples' Nun
The hottest holy sister on the performance poetry scene. Comedy, poetry and guilt manifested as a stand-up performer.

Miles Chambers
Bristol-based actor/writer/performer/dub poet. Recently featured in a BBC Radio 4 afternoon play.

Lizzie Mc
Lady Lizzie of Mc: Oxford's finest feminist wordsmith. The true voice of the single mum.

Alison Brumfitt
The better looking half of "Beauty and the Beast" from this years Oxford Literary Festival Live Literature Arena.

Brenda Read-Browne
Part of the Birmingham team at the Big Slam 2004. A permanent fixture on the UK performance poetry scene.

Hosted by Steve Larkin "Tongue-twisting poetry" (The Guardian) and a special guest.

Tuesday the 2nd of May at The Zodaic, Cowley Road, Oxford - doors 7:30 show 8 - 11. £5/£4 conc.
Be there and cheer on your favourite.

Friday, April 28, 2006

My Grass is Greener

Right now my little bit of the world is a great little place to be. It's been like this for a while now and there is no one thing (except for the sense that summer is coming - I think I need to stop my oft repeated claim that 'I am not bothered by the weather') that is identifiable as the cause. I've been in a good mood for as long as I can remember and that feels pretty damn good.

Oh, and I'm turning into my father. This week I started making a vege garden and got quite excited about it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

He shoots... and he misses

A conversation between Muzz and myself this evening. Muzz is in Auckland, I am in Oxford:

Muzz: Working in cafe in titirangi. M N Jones is at the next table. (M N Jones is one of the finest people to play rugby for NZ and one of the finest servants of the game. But his autobiography was a bit dull).
Richard: Wow. Say Hi from me. I sat next to Thom Yorke for an hour last month.
Muzz: Who the hell is Thom York?
Richard: He sang a song called karma police and has made two of the finest albums the world will ever hear.
Muzz: Oh, the Radiohead guy. Shit I'm ignorant.

By the way, Muzz, a very happy 40th birthday, you great and beautiful man.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Random Musings

(Pointless mutterings for my benefit more than for yours)

Easter: A mix of church and tourism spent hOME and abroad. Easter Saturday at Dorchester Abbey, Easter Monday Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. Westminster Abbey memorable for the communion disaster where a elderly clergyman with limited hand control attempted to baptise me in the chalice and resulted in my dribbling on the floor of the abbey while a somewhat younger clergywoman with impecable hand control dished out the bread. Was crying out for a trading of places.

The Tower (at fifteen groat, not worth the entry price - how have I gone twice?) was spent with Malcolm of New Zealand and Fiji and his girlfriend of Cambridge (this will require some work) and a million other tourists. I should stay away from tourist attractions. They are expensive, crowded, and I feel strong urges to yell at and punch people. No doubt the sentiment is returned. But people in these sorts of places are very selfish, and clueless with it. All that stopping in the middle of the path to get inside the map. In the case of the elderly German tourist, it was not to stop in the middle of the path, but to get very upset at the person who had stopped, grab them and everyone around them, and yell 'Schnell'. I yelled "wait!" back, got pissed off and admired his lack of control. How will people learn without him? But it was very good to see Malc again and meet the girl.

Brendon McLeod of the Fugitives was back in Oxford last week. He was the QI bar for a Hammer and Tongue gig. it was good to see him without the rest of the band and he was in good form. Less could be said for the venue. The bar was good, the food average and overpriced, and the staff ambivalent to the gig surrounding them. The venue has that certain air of pretenciousness about it, as can be seen by their rules - I especially like:

Men may not approach women directly. If a lady would like to speak to you, she will let you know. Men may ask a member of staff to introduce them to a lady.

Apparently Stephen Fry has something to do with the place.

But having been away from H and T for a while it was good to hang out with Steve and the rest.

Three Kings: £3 at a chain store near you and much better and poignant at second visit.

Friday, April 14, 2006

How does it feel?

Tonight, in an act of genius creativity (is that an oxymoron?) the BBC put on the Manchester Passion. The Manchester passion is the story of Jesus as told through the music of Manchester. It featured Darren Moffit as Jesus, Tim Booth of James as Judas and Keith Allen as Pontius Pilate. Ok, so I'd only heard of Tim Booth before this evening...

But the music included James' sit down, Oasis' wonderwall and cast no shadow, Joy Division's love will tear us apart, The Stone Roses' I am the Ressurection, The Smiths' heaven knows I'm miserable now and Jesus and Judas singing New Order's blue moon on monday to each other:

"How does it feel? To treat me like you do. When you've laid your hands upon me and told me who you are."


As Pilate and Jesus sang "Because maybe, you're going to be the one that saves me" I was starting to choke up. I seem to be doing that a bit recently.

I say it again.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Lucky? I don't think so

In response to Naomi's post about being cheered up last week I offer this:

Last night WCC had its pre-cricket season dinner. It was a good night and a good chance to catch up with some friends. As second eleven captain I get to give out two awards, one being my player of the year and the other being the youth player of the year. Both were dead easy decisions, Ricky Prescott being the second eleven player of the year and Tim Treadaway being the youth player of the year. Tim won his award due to his enthusiasm in captaining the under 15 side that had a remarkable season in winning every match while the adult sides conspired to implode. He made my job as manager of the side extremely easy. As I gave him the trophy he handed me an England cricket shirt that was signed by Tim and his players. I could have cried.

Then last night I came home to this email from a guy I taught in Mexico last week:

Hi Richard

I am happy to receive the attachment, thanks a lot for your rapid response and for your help, I am very interested to use correctly the software, then I am going to star the use with a simple problems, and I hope when I found some problems (I think and y hope they will a few) I can get some help for you.

I insist, you are welcome in cuernavaca, my house is your house, you can come for vacation, it is a great place, because is near to many cities and towns very peculiars.

I`m sorry for my poor English,

Have a good weekend

I could have cried.

Over the past month or so I have has wonderful hospitality from people such as Patrick (I haven't forgotten your CD, Patrick), Jane, a bunch of people in Mexico, Grant and Rebecca in Dallas (sorry, Flower Mound) and I'm sure there are others. I remarked to David, my translator in Mexico as we took the bus between Cuernavaca and Mexico City that in my job and my life I am extremely lucky with what I have been given and what I get to do. David looked me and said, 'we're not lucky, we're blessed'. It's made me think a whole lot this past fortnight about what that means. And what I'm going to do about it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Paper Reduction

After all the 'have you been a Nazi' and 'are you planning to commit a crime or immoral behaviour' questions on the US immigration form is the following. Note the spelling mistake and Paperwork Reduction Project. You might need 'ro' click on the image to see it all.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Seven beers, a football match and some chickens

Ok, as some of you know, I've been trying to go dry. This hasn't been working out so well in Mexico. There is an expectation that I will have a drink. Or two. Or seven.

Last night I went to my first ever football match. Los Tigres of Monterrey were playing Los Tecos of Guadalajara. The tigers versus the owls. My company for the evening was Jose-Luis, one of the brothers who run the firm I am visiting in Monterrey, his nephew Mario, and two of Mario's friends. Jose Luis drives a Dodge RAM, the biggest ute/SUV/truck I've been in. Jose-Luis speaks very good English but doesn't understand a word when it is spoken back.

So we go to the stadium. Jose-Luis and his brothers are responsible for the turf here. It is good looking grass. As we climb the stairs to our seats, he introduces me to one of two people who will conspire to get me drunk. I shake hands with Andreas, our 'bartender'. Andreas is lightning quick when opening multiple bottles of Carta Blanca, one of the sponsors of the evening. Before long there is a significant pile of CB bottle tops adorning the stairs at his feet.

The Bartender

The stadium is a sea of blue and gold. 40,000 people have come to cheer on the local side, while up behind the scoreboard and right beside (or on top of) the fireworks are the thirty Tecos supporters that have dared make the trip. I'm sure their were more before the fireworks were set off. This is just one of the ploys adopted by Los Tigres to put of their opponents. Later, whenever their players have the ball, the ground announcer thanks the sponsors. These include Cemex (that enormous cement factory), Coca-Cola, Carta Blanca and the tongue twisting Peter Piper's Pizzas.

The pre-match entertainment is a continual series of cheerleaders, a barrage of teashirts into the crowd and a man wearing a spiderman shirt (sponsored by Coca-Cola) who is doing astonishing work while holding a bottle of coke and, occasionally, who I can only presume is his two year old daughter. Whether or not the coke gives him his powers is a moot point. Occasionally he leaves his daughter to perform more tricks. She is non-plussed as both teams are warming up my kicking footballs around her at high velocity.

The home fans

The action. In the far corner are Los Tigres Locos, or the crazy tigers. They sang and danced non-stop for 90 minutes

Jose-Luis, the second man conspiring to get me drunk, continues to order beer from Andreas. One for you, one for me. I am impressed that I am matching him beer for beer and increasingly disturbed that he is also my ride home. As the first half continues, Los Tigres dominate through a mixture of their own skill and the timing of the ground announcer. They get the ball in the back of the net and the stadium erupts. Jose-Luis wags his finger at me. 'No goal' he states and after a dissappointed moment we all sit back down. There is distressingly little protest from crowd and players.

Half time and it is still nil-nil. Spiderman is back with his coke bottle, but his daughter is absent. Presumeably she has gone to bed and not been knocked out by a football. Suddenly some bales of hay are laid out all over the field. Two teams of children appear at each end, one in white the other in red. The ground announcer shouts 'uno, dos, tres!' and a man in a cowboy hat releases something. For a minute I can't work out what it is, until I realise it is a chicken. The two teams chase the chicken across the field until one scrags it to the ground and holds it aloft triumphantly. They go back to their places, and with an 'uno, dos, tres!' they're off again. I find myself cheering for the chicken. On its third attempt, it jumps the ditch that surrounds the field and gets away. After another chicken is found, the teams are back at it, and eventually the nasty white team from the far end emerge victorious, 4-2.

Somewhere here is the chicken.

The battle for the football resumes and this time Los Tigres are playing towards our end. They completely dominate but are thwarted time and time again by the Tecos goalkeeper. Suddenly it is fulltime and Los Tecos escape with a draw. No goals, no fights, no yellow cards even, but a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Jose-Luis pays the bartender, who shakes my hand profusely. Jose-Luis and I have knocked back 14 Carta Blanca between us.

The cups. Jose-Luis would place the new beer cup inside his old beer cups as he drank. I tried this but only managed to spill beer down my shirtfront.

We negotiate traffic and on the affirmative answer to Jose-Luis's question 'you like beef' we go and find a restaurant. As we sit down, he orders another beer. I have obviously been influenced by spiderman as I order a coke. As Jose-Luis starts his beer he points to it and says 'twelve. Four before the game, seven during the game and now this'. The man who is driving me home has drunk a dozen beers without having a visible effect. My seven beers have removed my fear, so I accept his ride home.

I can't say that no chickens were harmed in the making of this blog.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

You're welcome

A wee add from the United Church of Christ in America can be found here.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Parque Fundidora

My hotel in Monterrey is adjacent to the Parque Fundidora. This park used to be an iron foundry before it went bankrupt due, according to Esteban, the idleness of the workers. Something about clocking in, going home, and then coming back to clock out.

Much of the foundry has been turned into trees and grass, but scattered in amongst the trees are preserved machine tools and pipe work. In the middle of the park is a large piece of the original foundry that is being repaired. It is not being repaired to be functional, rather as a monument/sculpture. In addition there is a chimney from the factory that Esteban proudly claims to have been involved in the restoration of.

Near the large piece of the factory are two large buildings that originally were used to cast iron. The huge machines are still there (and have also been restored) but in place of ironworking is artwork. It all combines to make for a rather striking juxtaposition and an utterly rewarding place to spend time.

On the subject of heavy industry, I have learnt today that one of the huge industrial complexes that I can see out my window is the largest cement works in Latin America. The other is a very large brewery. I sampled their produce this evening after the local dish that is cabrito. I am dubious that it was worth the decrease in air quality. The cabrito, on the other hand.... Bueno.

It Hurts

Apparently Apple are introducing volume control on iPods. There is a fear that they might be irreversibly damaging hearing.

Some guy called John Kiel Patterson, of Louisiana, "is suing Apple in the US District Court in San Jose, California. He says his iPod is capable of generating more than 115 decibels, a dangerous noise level, and is not safe for prolonged use."

Is it just me or is it very hard to have sympathy for him? He did this to himself, and now he wants to have someone take the blame for it. I'm sitting here, in the Holiday Inn in Monterrey listening to my iPod, and if it's too loud, I turn it down. It's not exactly rocket science...

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Language of Paradse

Ok, so Rhys was right. The language that is spoken in Mexico is Spanish and not Mexican. I have a colleague who was sure they were subtly different, but I have been corrected. For the three days I was in Cuernavaca I had a translator, David. David, who is a wonderful man, insists that the language of Mexico is Spanish and not Mexican.

I was wrong

I was also wrong when I stated that more often than not the western way of doing things is garbage. Ok, well not so much wrong so much as it being the case that I got carried away. Sometimes the western way of doing things is a garbage, but the garbage in the water here made me sick. Thank the good lord (or proctor and gambol) for Pepto-Bismol.

Rhys, again I was wrong.

I was also wrong about the height of Cuernavaca. It is 1540m above sea level. The pass between Mexico City and Cuernavaca is 3100m, or 10140 feet. This, I am sure, is the highest I have ever been without the aid of cabin pressure and Boeing Industries. Not so far from Mexico City is El Popo, the second highest mountain in Mexico at 5610m and an active volcano. Climbing this would allow me to achieve one the four things I stupidly said I wanted to do before I die.

Today, and till Tuesday, I am in Monterrey. The day dawned smoggy. Outside my window appear to be two very large industries. The air is grey and the mountains impossible to see.

Yes, Rhys, I was wrong.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Paradise Regained

For the second time this month I am in a place where I don't speak the language. This time I am in Cuernavaca, Mexico. It is about an hour and a half from Mexico City (or about the time it takes to see the new Herbie movie that stars Lindsay Lohan because, in Mexico, the intercity buses show movies and serve you food. In fact, a Mexican bus is a far more comfortable journey than, say, an Scandanavian Airways flight from London to Oslo. Who would have thought that? And... I wasn't even in first class. The movie was slightly longer than the journey, which I am sure is a shame for some people, but for me, this was less of an issue. The movie was dubbed into Mexican but I am sure I could tell what was going on).

Being in Mexico is much like it was for me when I visited Banjar, Indonesia. I find it very humbling to be here. I love the busyness of the people here and the suave and confident nature of those I see.

So, Cuernavaca. It is higher in Altitude than Snowdon, and about a kilometer lower than Mexico City. This is a mind warp. It is a lovely wee town, from what I have seen of it. I am teaching and staying at IMTA, the local hydraulic authority. The grass is greener here. The only place I have worked that is more pretty was the summer spent calibrating piezometers in the Hunua Ranges. Photos to come later, suffice to say that there are lots of green trees, lots of birds, (both varieties) and a surprising tranquility. It is hot in the day, cool in the evening. The people I am staying with, Esteban from my company, and David who is my translator, are lovely and give me constant grief about how much I like the Mexican women and how Salma Hayek is ordinary in the context of other Mexican women. I cannot disagree.

Last night was spent playing tennis with Esteban against some locals. We won the first set, they won the second, through myn fatigue, my desire to belt every ball and their cunning use of their rackuets to deflect the ball to where I wasn't. It was flood lit and all was peaceful.

Tonight some indian kids have been invited to play basketball on the IMTA court.

Tonight I also went down the IMTA offices where one of the admin girls had a machine that generates authentic air tickets. I wonder where I can get one of those.

It makes me think that more often than not, the western way of doing things is, as Esteban would say, garbage.

Mexico has been a wonderful place to visit. I guess the company helps. And I haven't touched a single drop of tequila.


It distresses me that in this country I am scared to drink the water. It distresses me a great deal more that for the vast majority of the people they don't have that choice. I think I have learnt somewhat from my experiences in Banjar last December in that I am doing as the locals do and the consequences be damned. But it makes me very angry that we let the status quo here exist. Give more money to wateraid, please. And give your governments hell about preventing people from reliable access to drinkable water. Grrrr.

To cap the environmental thing off, I am reading the book 'The Weather Makers' by some guy I think is called Tim Flannery. I haven't finished the book, but as a counterpart to Michael Crichtons 'State of Fear' it makes for an interesting balance. Where MC sees Global Warming as scare mongering, TF pretty much regards the earth as close to being cream crackered. It has made for pretty miserable reading and probably not the best thing to study while sitting on an aeroplane. I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out. Or perhaps I'm not.

A final random observation about the US. I spent two days there with Grant Rebecca, enjoying their wonderful hospitality in Dallas. I enjoyed being back in the US, things were pretty much as I remembered. G and R talked about transplants. This confused me till it came clear that they were talking about people forced from their homes by Hurricane Katrina. It seemed all rather like Judge Dread. Very sterile and impersonal. Or is that simply because to call them refugees be too much of a blow to US pride?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

This little blogger went to...


Off to the land of Tequila in the morning. Work requires me to go there.

I know, it's rough.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

World Water Day

Today is World Water Day. My favourite charity, WaterAid, is proposing that people donate an hour of todays wages to them.

You can read (and do) more about it here.

More from WaterAid:
"22 March 2006 will mark the 14th United Nations World Water Day. On this day WaterAid will be commiserating the fact that in 2006, one sixth of the world's population still do not have access to clean, safe water. This World Water Day, WaterAid is encouraging the public to take a minute to consider the 1.1 billion people who do not have access to clean, safe water. During the course of that minute, four children will have died of water-related-diseases. This is not inevitable and it certainly isn't acceptable"

Go on go on go on.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Grace and Favour

In Cesky Krumlov is the church of Sv Vit. Along with the castle it is one of two dominant buildings in th town. I wandered into the church on Thursday morning. Inside the entrance is the obligatory donation box. There is a sign attached that reads: 'May God bless you for your donation towards renovating our church'. I have two thoughts about this. Firstly, I'd like to think that my blessings weren't tied to my donations, and vice versa. Secondly, I think I'd rather they just charged me an entry fee. I'd be happy to pay, as I am seeking shelter from the storm, and it is a pretty place to stand for a few minutes.

Favour shouldn't be on sale from the Church.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The B Line to Zlicin

The B Line to Zlicin is kind of like the Piccadilly line to Heathrow, but on a better underground system.

Photo's from Prague and Cesky Krumlov, but without the cool alphabet.

Hood ornament for a Skoda

Cesky Krumlov in the snow...

A pack, a hrad and a cow.

A blank canvas...

That I had to fill.

What it says on the tin.

Many hands...

The bear moat at Cesky Krumlov. The only bears I saw here, came in the kegs you can see in the middle of the picture. Maybe the bears threw a keg party and were hungover.

The bus to Rozmberk. A superstitious man would have spotted something amiss here.

The Castle/hrad at Rozmberk. I came to see this. I ended up standing in the cold.

I tried to seek sanctuary at the local church, but gaining entry to it presented somewhat of a problem.

I resent that I live in a culture where these sorts of instructions for being in a park are required.

The art gallery in Cesky Krumlov. Fantastic building with utterly unaccessible and probably communist art. Had I known the art was so bad I probably would... have still gone, 'cos it did use up some time, and was warm. Miserable git.

The view from my bedroom in Cesky Krumlov. The Vltava is in front.

Dinner tables in Prague.

The patience of a saint. Imagine being in this weather in only a robe.

Charles Bridge. Note the dedicated beggar.

The Prague hrad in the snow. Pretty...

Solo kiwi on the Charles Bridge.

More on the Charles Bridge

The Karlstejn hrad

The Karlstejn Railway Station.

The only non-pornographic picture by Saudek that I could post...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Cutting mz losses

This post, for mz amusement onlz, is tzped using the uk kezboard, rather than using the cyech buttons.

I§ve decided to cut mz losses and go back to Prague. The Harrz Potter film was in Cyech, but one of the lovelz lovelz ladies at the TIC came and found me before it started, gave me mz monez back and apologiyed profuselz. Ahhh... falling in love again. So no smugness available last night. Instead I walked up to the castle again, plazed in the snow and went to bed. It could§ve been worse.

Mz bus leaves at +ě"+épm todaz and takes about š hours to get to Prague. Tonight I am going back to the expat bar and talking English. Happz dazs.

Don§t get me wrong, českz krumlov is a beautiful beautiful place, with great people at the TIC, and I would definitelz come back to it again, but NOT bz mzself1. I§d recommend it to a friend... Bz the waz, that last but one sentence was dedicated to Tazlor Mali, because I used definitelz and beautiful in the same sentence.

Achtung! Statistics!

David Slack at Public Address has linked to a 'Would you be a Nazi' Test. It's a small test with, I suspect, loaded questions and limited psychology or science, but it's worth doing. And... It is also completely worth reading his post. For further discussion, go and see the movie Crash.

Here's how I turned out:
The Everyday German
You are 69% brainwashworthy, 36% antitolerant, and 38% blindly patriotic
Had you lived in Germany in the 1930s, you'd have probably just gone along with the flow. Men with guns are surrounding the house next door? The bagel place on the corner's gone? Hmm...whatever. The data show you're a decent person who's willing to listen to what people of authority tell you. That's what most people are, and in most times and most places, that's ok. But not then; not there. The sad conclusion: you would've missed your Jewish friends, but you would've done nothing about it. Seriously. But rest assured, you would've forgiven yourself eventually.

Oh dear...

And back to his post, I agree with him about John Clarke. Legend. I completely relate to this:

but the man still talks in interviews about the momentary excitement of finding a capital Z as you scan a page - and the anticipation that the letters "ealand" may accompany it.

Maybe I am more patriotic than I think I am.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Hell will be not be open

WTF was I thinking when I decided to take a holiday in the Czech Republic in winter. Don't get me wrong, it is very beautiful here, and the snow on everything is beautiful, and well, cold, but if I don't get to speak English to someone soon other than to the wonderful people at the Tourist Information Centre (these people are really good) then I am going to go mad. There is almost nobody here who has more than a few sentences of English. The only tourists I see here are large groups of Japanese tourists who descend for a few hours and then leave. Every day brings a couple more busloads. I am very jealous of them. The Czech Republic is a lovely place, filled with lovely people, but, damnit, right now I need some companionship.

Today, to make a change from trudging around in the snow in Český Krumlov, I decided to trudge around in the snow in Rožmbeck, a small village about 24km up the Vltava. The bus ride up there was very beautiful, past the snow covered banks of the river, where pine forests come down to the water's edge, and where some of the trees (and surprisingly big ones at that) have buckled and broken under the weight of the snow. Eventually the bus pulled into Rožmbeck and I alighted, only to discover that Rožmbeck had apparently closed for the winter. I stood on the bridge and stared at the river for a bit, before wandering up the path to see what I could of the famed castle here. The answer? Bugger all. So I wandered back to the bridge and threw snow into the water. This excited some ducks as they thought I was throwing in bread. Fat chance, if I had bread I would have eaten it to keep warm. The snow that I threw into the river didn't melt, the water was that cold. I stood some more, before tramping up and down by the bus stop, that helpfully didn't have a timetable and waited. An hour and a half passed. Occassionally I would walk back to the bridge to tease the ducks. Then I cleared all the snow and ice off the seat at the bus stop. Hell, it was something to do. An old Czech crone came up and waited with me. This was very reassuring. Some more time passed.

A bus came.

Back in the village I bought a day old Guardian for the equivalent of two quid. I read it all and did both crosswords while drinking tea and eating food.

Tonight I am having a beer or two and then I am going to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. One of the lovely ladies at the TIC here assures me it will be in English. I hope so. And if and when it is I am going to feel bloody superior at being able to understand it all.

I am sure that Hell is not all fire and brimstone. Oh no, it is cold and it is damp. And it is closed, for all eternity.

My next holiday will be spent somewhere hot. Cricket season be damned (to a cold closed village), I'm sick of taking my holidays in winter.