Tuesday, 30 August 2011

All creatures great and small

I apologise if I upset you by saying one can have too much of a good thing. I have to confess to having had a surfeit of Mrs Alexander's hymn, "All things bright and beautiful". The trouble is it pops up so often as the people's choice for weddings, baptisms and even funerals. You'd have thought the days when it was staple diet of school assemblies were long gone - but of course the significant factor is that Grandma and Auntie Flo like it. ("Morning has broken" and "Lord of the Dance" took over as assembly fodder and often appear as choices, but increasingly I found couples asking for my suggestions - dangerous!)

Anyway, although I'm surfeited with the hymn, I agree with the sentiment that nature is the gift of God. Talking of creatures bright, beautiful and small we've been enjoying the company of our grandchildren for the bank holiday weekend. A highlight of their time here was visiting their aunt's horse, Dave. He is large. So grooming him was an interesting exercise!

He's a gentle giant, and so two of the girls rode him in the exercise yard. I'm amazed at the understanding that Rachel has with Big Dave. I suppose it's what all good riders have. There was an item on Countryfile on Sunday of "horse whispering" an Exmoor pony colt - very gentle and patient - and impressive. It looked a bit more like what I think our relationship with animals should be than the rather brutal behaviour often portrayed on screen. Hopefully it's a thing of the past. It's not what "dominion... over all the earth" means, though that's sadly how it was misused in the past.

On Sunday morning after church we visited the local rec - what a good facility such things are! Every local authority should have some. The girls had a whale of a time.
If this photo had a sound track, it would be full of screams about going too fast and falling off - not from Dad (well, not much)! I enjoy having family here.

It also does me good to spend time with friends. On Wednesday we had lunch on the roof of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, or rather in the dining room of the terrace there. It was beautifully sunny and warm. We were there with our good friend Elizabeth and her son Dominic. The menu was in keeping with the main exhibition about ancient Greece, excellent Greek cuisine, including Jane's and my first taste of squid.

Then we came to the desserts.... Melopita: honey cake and fresh figs. Very nice it looked too! But then came the wasps. Not just a couple, but Sennacherib's hordes. Amazing how quickly news had got round the wasp community in central Oxford! Our waitress was equally swift, and decisive. "You're going inside," she said, removing our plates. And so we followed her with the glasses and napkins. Miraculously, the wasps chose not to follow us.

The great thing about these particular friends is that they understand our situation perfectly, as Elizabeth's husband, Tim, who died in 2007, also had PLS (the slow sort of MND). For example, Dominic was very aware of my practical difficulties, and unembarrassed by them. We share a Christian faith, but more than that just get on very well personally. It was just one of those special times, which make you aware of how much love and care - and laughter - there is in our troubled world.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

In with the in-laws

After a few heavy posts it's time for something lighter. On Thursday we bade a fond farewell to Jane's parents after a short stay here. Her mum, you may recall, recently fell down six steps in their garden. She's clearly made of tougher stuff than me! She's back in one piece and going like a Duracell bunny.

One mealtime I asked her father whether he was on HMS Paladin when HMS Cornwall was sunk on 5th April 1942 in the Indian Ocean. My late uncle was on board the Cornwall as doctor. It was attacked by Japanese dive bombers and sunk within 12 minutes. My father-in-law was on the Paladin which was one of the boats which rescued the survivors. So there's the intriguing possibility that my future father-in-law met my uncle in the middle of the war, even fished him out of the sea. He told me that the Cornwall's captain had kept the men singing (mainly hymns) as they waited in the sea for rescue, hanging on to debris and floats for up to 30 hours. I imagine Uncle Paul was leading the singing.

Tuesday was warm and sunny, if you remember, and so we decided an expedition was in order, nothing too demanding - just the Oxford Botanic Gardens and then across the road to have lunch in the Old Kitchens in Magdalen College, which we thought they'd like. I think I was the most excited to find an episode of Lewis being filmed there (the fictional Morse's promoted side-kick, to be

distinguished from Magdalen's brilliant real life don, C S Lewis). Anyway there the crew were hard at work: "Let's do it again... and again..." The crime scene seemed to be on the banks or in the waters of the Cherwell. And there were the actors and extras looking extraordinarily unexcited! I got Jane to ask an assistant when the episode would be - probably no 4 or 6 in the new series. I'll obviously have to record the series.

The gardens themselves gave me plenty of opportunities to use the camera Jane gave me for my birthday, with its zoom and  close-ups. Had a bit of trouble getting into the disabled loo but am happy to report it is a good one.

Then it was over to Magdalen. For wheelchair users they have to open the main wooden doors ("otherwise reserved for the Queen" - and anyone else who needs it!). The Old Kitchens are a good place for an economical lunch in congenial surroundings (e.g. £2 for a bowl of soup, croutons and a roll). Then we wandered through the grounds (herbaceous borders better than over the road, according to one gardener amongst us) and into the chapel with its remarkable copy of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, before home.

Otherwise our time was spent together talking, puzzling over codewords and crosswords, and neglecting the TV - which I gather we in the UK watch for an average of 4.3 hours per day, to the detriment of our longevity. We should be out walking regularly instead enjoying the beautiful world we've been born into. And I reckon enjoying plenty of good company such as we've just had - and of course in the picture!

Research good news

I was interested to come across an article about research into the "direct conversion" of skin cells into nerve cells without the use of stem cells. The problem with the embryonic stem-cell route is the risk of the cells developing tumours. "In mid-August, the journal Nature published three separate papers describing methods for direct conversion of normal skin cells into nerve cells.... (In Sweden) Research leader Dr. Malin Parmar said he was surprised at how receptive the fibroblasts were to new instructions:
'We didn’t really believe this would work, to begin with it was mostly just an interesting experiment to try. However, we soon saw that the cells were surprisingly receptive to instructions.'
The Swedish team noted that using the direct conversion technique to bypass stem cells avoided the ethical problems inherent with embryonic stem cells, as well as the tendency of embryonic stem cells to form tumors. The paper was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." (from Life News)
The point of producing nerve cells is to help in researching diseases such as Parkinsons, Alzheimers, MS and MND, to see the causes and development of the diseases, which is turn leads to therapies. In my view not using embryonic stem-cells (i.e. derived from embryos with the potential for life) is entirely preferable. I don't want my cure to be at the expense of another's life.

Friday, 19 August 2011

No comment

I was interested in this item of news which I imagine is true:

Polly pulls out of atheism debate

Atheist Polly Toynbee has cancelled her debate with leading Christian apologist William Lane Craig. Toynbee, the President of the British Humanist Association, apologised for the inconvenience but said, ‘Having looked at his previous performances, this is not my kind of forum.’ Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling have already chickened out of tackling Craig as he tours the UK. The American philosopher has previously debated Anthony Flew (when he was an atheist), Lewis Wolpert, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Harris admitted that Craig is ‘the one Christian apologist who seems to put the fear of God into my fellow atheists’. Toynbee’s debate, organised by Premier Christian Radio, was due to take place at Westminster Central Hall in October. The search is now on for a suitable British replacement.
Source: The Church of England Newspaper (14/8) 

It looks to me that they've now found a replacement, atheist philosopher Stephen Law. It's part of the Reasonable Faith Tour, which includes in the absence of opponents a one-sided debate on Dawkins' The God Delusion at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford!
 Craig Tour Details

And here's an ironic YouTube video about various responses to the tour: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RC1xgS1XGSg&NR=1

Friday, 12 August 2011

Let your words be few

My feeling is that too many words about the "rioting" in our cities have already been avalanched forth for anyone's good. So I'm going to keep mine short.

I find the petition to dock benefits from people convicted in connection with the disturbances repugnant and perverse, as if depriving them of the means to live or a house to live in would achieve anything but hatred and despair.

I find the pronouncements of politicians and the media sanctimonious and self-blind. Their student japes were succeeded by scandals in their respective occupations. I've quoted Portia before in this blog:
"...Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy." We all have items of wood in our eyes, large and small.

I love the title of a sermon to be preached in the open air on Saturday: "Jesus came not for the righteous but for the riotous"!

Finally, the best discussion I've heard on the subject was first broadcast on Sky News on Wednesday:  Sky News interview. An ex-gang member, Gavin McKenna, and the leader of Target Against Gangs, Sheldon Thomas, speak with inside understanding of what I in comfortable suburbia don't have a clue about. The interviewer was struggling to get her mind round what they were saying. I don't blame her, but we still need to hear them. "We have seen more people cry over material things than over the life of a young person." If we have ears to hear, we must listen.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Things fall apart?

Is it another "long hot summer"? I suspect that's a fairly widespread fear when people look at the news pictures of the "riots" in London and other cities, and when they hear the news of the tumbling stock markets. There's a much viewed video doing the rounds of social media of a West Indian old woman berating the hooligans who are creating the havoc (http://www.twitvid.com/4JTZH). She doesn't mince her words; in fact her language is far from middle-class; so be warned if you watch it.

But for me she is verging on the prophetic. I came across the clip through my friend, Louise, in Australia. She commented: "I like this because this woman speaks with absolute authority - and has the right to. What I cannot bear is the self-righteous judgmentalism of many on Facebook making pronouncements of one sort or another into the situation. Yes, the looters are utterly wrong, violent and in some cases really stupid and thoughtless - and yes the acts are pointless and will achieve nothing. BUT where is the grace? Where is the compassion and understanding of some of the reasons why it might have escalated to this degree? Hmmmmm. Can really only cope with Facebook in v v small and occasional doses before it sends me right over the edge...!" 
Amen, sista!

There was also this uncomfortable comment from Nathanael Johnson: "Just below the surface of our well-scrubbed society, sin, selfishness and lawlessness lurk. In the last few years, we've seen some bankers robbing people blind when they could get away with it. Now that chaos has erupted, some of the poorer classes have been (surprise surprise) just as opportunistic. The clothes and haircuts change, but people are the same as they have ever been: fallen and in need of Christ. In some ways, it makes one realize what a blessing it is when human beings do keep the law and act in responsible ways." 

Monday, 8 August 2011


Well, I wouldn't quite say that, although I did enjoy two small glasses of wine, thanks to Clare, our friend from Exmouth, and John and Ness, friends from Stanford, between Monday and Saturday. So I doubt whether it was the alcohol. We've just had an amazingly good week. Amazing, because we arrived at the Bath & West Showground each day for praise and Bible study by 9.15 in the morning, leaving for our peaceful cottage about 12 hours later. Amazing, because although I wasn't exactly comfortable, that time was spent in a manual wheelchair and the pain didn't bother me. Personally I tend to believe that it was more to do with people praying for us than mind over matter. (Those who know me will agree that my mind is rather feeble when it comes to controlling my matter!)

At Sleepy Hollow
I'm reflecting more about some of the things I've come home mulling over in my new blogRoom with a view. So I'll not go on about it here except to say what an amazing wife Jane is. She did everything for me, and I mean everything. Think of going to the loo, and I've probably said enough. The showground is not exactly flat, the marquees are not that wheelchair-friendly - although there were usually willing folk to help - and Jane pushed me everywhere.

So now it's back to overcast Grove, but I'm hoping that the clouds won't blow over my spirit for some time yet. I have things to do, books to write...! However, D.v., I suspect we'll be back to the winning combination of our haven, Sleepy Hollow Cottages, and our spiritual watering hole, New Wine! Sleepy Hollow, I must add, is three delightful cottages, well off the beaten track in the Somerset levels. Highly recommended - well, we've been returning for years.
Nooze, "our" pad at Sleepy Hollow

Monday, 1 August 2011

Good news

Two nights in bed - able to get up without excessive pain - and so we're off to New Wine, a day late; but better late....

Of wider significance I've just read this exciting article by Peter Saunders: Three exciting news stories about stem cell research. I agree with him that good research is ethical research.