Friday, April 24, 2015

Soap and shaving!

When I was about 19 years old I decided to grow a beard. The reasoning was very simple. It was around the summer at the end of my first year at University. It wasn't just a student thing, but a response to seeing a photograph that made it look like I hadn't shaved for a day when I'd shaved a few hours earlier!

It seemed pointless going to all that effort to scrape the hair from my face if it didn't really show, so I let it grow instead. Over the years it got neater as I moved from scissors and a comb to a proper beard trimmer! Occasionally the beard disappeared, but never for long. Shaving was just too much effort.

Then, about 6 years ago I decided to try a variation and drop the full beard in favour of a goatee style. A new era of shaving began. Now, given that it had been over 30 years since I'd dragged a sharp blade across my skin, it was almost an all-new experience trying to figure out what to buy and where to get it. The opportunity of the internet presented me with a flurry of new possibilities for reducing my sensitive epidermis to a raw but smooth finish. I even bought a book!

I opted for a wet shave solution because I find the process somewhat therapeutic and relaxing, as long as it's not a last minute thing. So I set about buying a nice soap, a nice brush and most importantly a nice razor. This is where the advertising starts and stops! Meet The Shaving Shack.

It's the internet equivalent of some old-fashioned high street shop where you can browse, albeit electronically, through some amazing shaving tackle and accessories. Who knew you could buy a drip-stand for your brush in a variety of styles and colours, or that there were so many soaps and creams, lotions and potions to try.

Dragging a sharp blade across tender skin in a half-asleep state everyday is a necessity rather than a joy, so why not try and add a little refinement with something called Colonel Conk in a variety of flavours from lime to almond, whipped into a rich lather in a hand-turned beech shaving bowl! My preference is a will fat soap that produces a rich lather when the water is nice and hot.

Or you could try a nice cut-throat razor, but remember to stock up on styptic to stem the blood loss!

If you're only approach to shaving products is to grab the 5-bladed, head-swivelling, celebrity endorsed products on offer in your local supermarket then why not take a moment to check out the website and treat yourself. Or drop less than subtle hints given that Father's Day is looming in a couple of months time. You might find you begin to enjoy the experience of shaving rather than simply enduring it.

As for me, well I'm fortunate that I don't have to shave everyday to do what I do. Perhaps if I did I might have gone back to a full beard by now!!

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Grand Night Out

I must admit, and I'm guessing I'm not the only one, that when I saw the email that alerted me to the arrival of Paul Simon and Sting on stage together at the O2 I was rather surprised. Somewhat bewildered if the truth be known and a little bit intrigued. How come I'd missed the announcement last Autumn and not pondered then how interesting it might be to see these two musicians together on stage.

A short conversation with Anne and a check of the ticket standings last week and we were booked in for what turned out to be an amazing three hour non-stop concert. A mix of solo sets and duets saw the time fly by once things got started. From Roxanne to Every Breath; Homeward Bound to You can call me Al, it was a great evening's expression of the collected songbook of these two performers.

Paul Simon was everything we expected him to be and more. A few years ago we saw him on the Graceland 25th anniversary tour and as then it was great to hear him 'play' with his own songs, allowing the music to take different, yet easily recognisable, shapes. Sting was outstanding. I still think Ten Summoners Tales is one of the best albums I've ever bought, and we were not disappointed with versions of Fields of Gold and Shape of my heart.

What is it they often say in sport? Form is temporary, class is permanent. Well these two were both class acts and on great form. The odd couple they might have appeared to be, but together they entertained in wonderful style for three seemingly very short hours indeed!

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Ah, the election and all the fun of the fair!

Do we really have four more weeks of electioneering to go! Perhaps it should be only four more weeks given that this campaign seems to have been running for a year now. I thought yesterday was a fairly low point as the day began with a government spokesperson failing to correct the misrepresentation of SATS as exams that must be passed rather than assessments to support progress. All the talk about resits just goes to reinforce the idea that it's possible to fail the assessment. As I understood it SATs were never intended to do that, but politicking requires a stick with which to beat the educators and SATS are as good a stick as any.

Later in the day, having switched from TV news to the radio, I heard a vox pops about the new requirement to check passports for people leaving the country via ferry and international railway termini. Apparently, according to many of the people interviewed, getting the wrong end of the stick is also a national pastime. How exactly checking a passport as you leave the country is going to stop "all these immigrants" entering the country has me confused, but that seemed to be the popular view. Perhaps we've become so confused over the whole immigration issue that we really don't know whether we're coming or going.

And then today I wake up to Conservative claims that the Labour party will be forced to do a deal with the SNP to remove Trident in order to form a government if they have to form a coalition with them, and that is somehow a stab in the back to nation. In all the confusion I'd clearly forgotten that to be antinuclear weaponry was to be unpatriotic! How sad that it's impossible to love your nation unless it has the capability of annihilating another country and doing significant long-term damage to the ecosystem in the process.

The reason this makes me angry and frustrated is because I think there's a fundamental issue being ignored in the kick-about of the debates and interviews. It's difficult to argue with the facts and figures that are presented about how well the economy seems to be doing now compared to 5 years ago. I know the numbers get massaged to show things in the best possible light, but even I would accept that things are in better shape as a whole. But someone needs to ask about the price that has been paid and by whom it has been paid to get us to this point.

I believe that the poorest in our communities have paid the biggest price. It's hard to argue against that when you have falling tax rates for the very richest and politicians who seem to run scared of the financial sector and big business. Unpaid corporation tax still outstrips benefit fraud by an enormous margin. Minimal wage rises in both the public and private sector have left many workers in a worse position than they were 5 years ago whereas little seems to have changed for CEO's of large companies. Bonuses are still paid while staff are made redundant.

Those on the right of politics would have us believe that paying tax is a bad thing. At least that's the way it looks when we hear rumours of reducing higher rate tax. Increasing the personal allowance to £12000 sounds good when you can put a figure on the number of people who won't be paying tax because of that. But it still means that some people are earning less than £12k a year. Dropping 5% of the highest rate of tax might only affect a small number of people, but I'm willing to bet it means more than £8 a week going into their pockets compared to the low end of the income scale.

Voting for me has always been about ideology and not personal gain. If paying more tax lifts more people out of poverty, provides a better healthcare system, and a better education system, then why would you not want to do that?

I'm sure there will be much more irritating and annoying posturing before polling day. I just hope enough people will see through it and not be swayed by those campaigners who want to make the election only about a referendum on Europe or immigration and not about the next 5 years of government.

Enough said!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Prophetic Voice of the Preacher

Having been "out of the pulpit", at least on a regular, week-by-week basis, for over three years now, I find myself less inclined to return for a number of reasons. Not least of these reasons is the sense of being out of touch with what needs to be said (in the context of serving a local congregation) and out of practice too. I've always seen preaching as having a prophetic element to it, and the role of the prophet has always been something that has sat in the back of my mind as I both prepared and delivered a weekly sermon.

So what is the role of the prophet? It cannot be denied that Biblical prophets spoke about coming events, about the future both near and far. From something imminent, "Go to this town and you will find...", or something more distant, " In the last days". But to reduce the role of the prophet to that of one who talks only about future events is to do the office a disservice.

It seems to me that the role of the prophet has a much more immediate context than the foretelling of future events. As I read the prophetic narratives of the Old Testament I hear the voice of the prophet describing the world as it truly is and not as society sees it. It presents us with a heavenly perspective, the world as God sees it. Humanity is called to account in the present and not some distant future as the prophet speaks out against injustice, selfishness and unrighteousness.

But the prophet doesn't stop there. Having described the world as it, the prophet goes on to describe how it should be, how it could be. In other words, the prophet tells us what's wrong and what needs to happen to put it right. He, or she, shows us the right things to do and how to do things right. There is, in the prophetic voice, a call to action, a call to make a difference, to change something.

All of this comes through the promoting of God's Spirit of course, that goes without saying. Preaching without the Spirt at work is pointless, but preaching without a prophetic edge is probably going to reduce the practice to recycling a teaching programme. I've been around church long enough to hear the constant refrain that what the church needs is more and better teaching. More exposition of the scriptures.

Well let's be honest, we've some pretty good teaching over the last few centuries and I'm guessing many of our churches are pretty well educated. I'm not sure we need more of that. I am sure that we need more experience, more active engagement with God's mission and plan. For that to happen we need to hear a louder, clearer call from the prophet.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Club Therapist

In about three weeks time the rugby season comes to an end and I'll have completed my first year as the therapist for a local lower league rugby club. We have one league match left and the possibility of three cup matches, the first this weekend.

We've had a good season. An understatement given that the team got promoted last year losing only one game and so far this season they haven't lost a league game. That's two seasons without losing a home game, quite an achievement. In fact the goal at the start of the season was simply to do enough to stay in the league.

I can't take any credit for the team's performance, although given the amount of tape I've put around ankles, thumbs, shoulders and knees, I made my own contribution!

I've really enjoyed the season. I've learnt a lot, dealt with a few situations I've not come across before. I've been able to apply my skills as a therapist and learn some new ones. I've watched nervously from the sidelines as the team has had to defend its line and shared the frustration of players and spectators alike when passes haven't gone to hand or scoring opportunities have been lost.

Not everyone would want to spend their time standing in the wind and rain of a cold and wet winter Saturday afternoon, giving their time either for free or for a fairly nominal fee. Clubs at this level rarely have the financial resources to offer a competitive rate. On the other hand, it's a great way to extend your skills. If you can afford to do it, then I'd say give it a go. I got involved by being asked by the new club coach whom I'd met previously.

After the end of the season the team has a couple of months off and then pre-season training starts in July. Hopefully, if I'm involved with the pre-season training, we will be able to do some work that might help reduce some injury risks. I might even do some fitness work or functional movement stuff with them if I get the chance.

And who knows where it might lead. Perhaps in a couple of years time I'll actually be making a reasonable living out of it all!!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Dreaming of a workshop

I was pottering around the garage earlier today, thinking about the partition wall we want to build and sorting out some of the timber to use to build it. As I pottered I thought about how I'd turn the larger part of the garage into the workshop I've always craved.

I'm not a big woodworker, but I've always wanted to develop a space where I can be creative and make things as the need and fancy takes me. I've even drawn up some plans for a multi-use workbench incorporating my drill stand, a mitre saw and storage space for tools.

Along with the dream plan, there's a dream list of things I'd like to have in there. This includes a sharpening system like the Scheppach Tiger. This is a wet and dry system with jigs to help put a keen edge on a wide range of blades. I'd even sharpen the kitchen knives and garden shears!

It would certainly get some use given the 15 chisels, 5 hand planes and 1 or 2 other sharp implements at my disposal!

After sharpening comes the possibility of a saw table. I have a circular saw (actually I had 3 but I've just given one away), and I've worked out a simple way to make repetitive cuts on a bench, but a table saw might be nice. Similarly a nice piece of kit to have would be a planer thicknesser.

Whether I'd go for a stand-alone saw like this, or a bench top one that I could build a rolling cabinet for that would also house the planer I don't know.

And while I think about, maybe a sanding machine would be a nice touch!

How far I'll get I don't know. At the moment the garage is full of bits and pieces, timber, old garden chairs, insulation left over from the log cabin project and lots of tennis kit. If I get the partition built and then build some shelves and cupboards into the utility end of the space, then the workshop end might start to take shape. I've seen an idea for making some insulation panels for the up-and-over door to help make it less draughty.

Here's to the dream!