October 30, 2008

Radio 2!  Jonathan Ross!!  Russell Brand!!!  Manuel!!!!

Hopefully now that Brand and the Radio 2 Controller have quit, and Ross has been suspended for 12 weeks without his £16000-a-day pay, hopefully things will settle down.  I hope.  Am I alone in suspecting that Gordon Brown getting involved in what is, yes, a semi-serious and downright unpleasant, but actually not all that important, affair is simply a way of making sure this a good week to bury bad news in?  Why is this all so over-archingly important when, say, matters of life and death such as the Inquest into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by officers of the Metropolitan Police are relegated to third place or lower? Maybe I’m just being cynical, but if Messers Ross and Brand have a duty, as employees of a public service broadcaster, to be careful with what they say and do then do policemen, carrying weapons, have an even firmer duty and greater responsibility to be even more careful?

And yet the news organisations just don’t seem to care. Maybe it’s because, in a small way, we probably all share a bit of guilt for what happened in the aftermath of the Stockwell shooting. Broadly speaking I’m a pacifistic soul, albeit with a belief that sometimes, yes, decisive action is necessary and yet, on 22nd July 2005, I absolutely had a ‘Gotcha‘ moment because, hearing those first reports and so much of the official line that day, I believed that the system had worked, that the good guys had stepped in and saved innocent people’s lives and that someone with a truly evil and warped sense of themselves and the world had played their hand and failed. Only, we now know, that wasn’t the case at all. By the Monday night it was clear that all the information we’d been given about Jean Charles’ actions, clothing, demeanour, even his very description, all of it was false, or, at best, exaggerated to give a retro-active justification for blunder on top of blunder that eventually built a disaster.

And I felt sick, and I still do. Sick that such a terrible thing could happen in my country and sick that I had reacted so viscerally, so joyously to the news of the death of another human being. The policemen and their organisation obviously made mistakes, bad information, poor decisions and a desperately difficult situation combined to produce a shocking result – there have been changes, and probably more to come still to address these failings; people might be punished, who knows.

But for the rest of us, us that weren’t in that carriage, weren’t in the control room spinning events to fir the Scotland Yard PR line, those of us who rejoiced in an utterly pointless death, how do we change? What ‘proceedures’ do we need to adjust so that this doesn’t happen again? It’s hard to think about, really… but Russell Brand’s quit and Jonathan Ross is being fined a huge sum of money and, as usual, Stockwell and Jean Charles de Menezes is way, way down the list, so we don’t need to think about it.

After all, if it’s not the top thing on the BBC news website then it’s not important, is it?


The unstoppable force of marketing meets reality’s immovable object

September 19, 2008

You know the power of advertising, yes?  You’re familiar with how the little tunes for ads filter into our subconscious, the insidious way that what we see on the telly becomes reality?  I confess that even someone as cynical as myself is not immune to this.  I know, major shoch, you can’t quite believe it, blah, blah, blah…

…Anyway, the point.  I was getting my breakfast this morning, and it nearly was the idyllic scene presented by, say, Kellogs.  Cereal, toast and coffee; what do all these things have in common if you’re me?  Dairy products, kept cold in our crisp clean fridge.  Milk for the Cornflakes and coffee, butter for the toast.  In the fridge.  Banter with the Mum and Dad, dear daddy’s birthday today, a few jokes as I opened the the fridge and


You know that way that thigs sometimes shift, seemingly of their own accord, while inside a sealed object?  The way they never do in a Cheerios advert.  I opened the fridge with nothing more to do than to get a pint of milk and some butter and what did I get for my trouble?  What punctured the touching famillial scene of jest and love?

Answer: an opened packet of chicken breast fillets that leapt from the confines of the fridge and were reflexively caught by yours truly.  Yes! Joy of joys!  I love chicken, I like eating it, preparing it…okay, perhaps that’s a rather utillitarian definition of ‘love’, but I digress…but I’ve discovered one thing today.  I do not, categorically, enjoy in any way, shape or form, holding very cold chicken breasts first thing in the morning when I’ve just got out of bed.

That is all.

Moving forward, maybe

September 12, 2008

So, just a wee re-cap: I work with kids that don’t like me, a boss that disrespects me and colleagues, who, when they feel like it, happily stab me in the back.  Since coming back from World Youth Day at the end of July I’ve worked less than two weeks in total.  This is not good, for I’ve come to like working on a regular if not flat-out basis.  It sucks big financial eggs, too.  Not that I’m complaining – it could be, and has been, a whole lot worse.  But it’s not great.  I interviewed on Tuesday afternoon for a job and today I found out that I was insuccessful; got the usual sort of letter ‘you were a good candidate…strong field…please contact us for feedback…’ etc and that just took the wind right out of my sails.  I’d come to accept that I hadn’t got it but it’s still a pisser to actually have it in writing.  I don’t feel too bad because I reckon I actually was beaten on the day by someone more qualified as I think I played the interview pretty well.  All my recent stress has been NYA-related so with all that done with for the year I was pretty damn chilled walking into that room.  I got a good rapport going with the interviewers – witty and charming, but serious and focused – and I don’t think I froze up at any point or otherwise embarassed myself.

I just wasn’t good enough.

I should probably put ‘for that job’ in brackets up there.  I am good enough for lots of things – I hope! – I just need to find out what those things are…I’m not sure exactly where The Big Man needs me to be, or where He wants me to go right now.  I’ve recently felt pulled in some quite different and in a sense almost contradictory directions (i.e if I went for Job A then that could potentially close off Jobs H & I sometime down the line), so I’m unsure what steps I should be taking.  Should I go down the do-any-job-cos-it’s-a-job route which, right now at least, is looking very attractive, or do I wait it out, biding my time until the job comes along and sets me up for life?  This, too, is attractive for a whole different set of reasons but I promised myself that I’d be realistic – and honest – and I’m not sure if I can or should be doing that right now.

So,  what do you think?  Sorry, I missed that…what’s that you said?  ‘A blog is where you listen to me and read my thoughts, not an audience participation sport?’  Oh my, sorry.  That’s just not going to work in this case… I lack the necessary perspective on this and, frankly, I do not possess even the barest inkling of a scooby as to what I should do.  Answers on a postcard to the usual address.


Reflections on NYA2008 through the lens of what’s gone before

September 9, 2008

It occurs to me that before this weekend when Fidge asked me to blog about the Youth Assembly I had not written a blog for around 4 years.  I used to keep a blog going as a way of occupying my time when I wasn’t working due to illness and there wasn’t much else to focus on, but after a while I dropped that too.  Que sera and so on!  Since then I’ve found other ways to express myself: I’ve written sporadically over the last 2 years, beginning in November 2006 with a poem that grew from my experience of Pilgrimage to the Holy Land and witnessing the interactions between Israelis and Palestinians and conversations with people in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho and the desert.  I wrote some more poetry as the anniversary of a friend’s death approached and I wanted to express my feelings and somehow mark his passing, but after that time – December 2006 – I didn’t write again until I was asked by Fidge to help out with Youth Assembly in 2007. 

What began as a throwaway line on my part became something much more and a strange voice began to fill my head, sparking the drive to write.  And write, and write again.  Eventually the voice became Andy the Fisherman and for a while his ‘thoughts’ took over my life; working to a tight deadline I had to produce the worship materials required for the Sunday night worship and yet I felt responsible for doing his story, the story in my head, justice.  I wasn’t at NYA07 as I was attending another conference that same week and at first I was glad of this as I reckoned that, frankly, it would be terrible and I’d be laughed at – who was I to write such stuff and try and pass it off as worthy of inclusion in a service?  Or that my thoughts would be accepted by people?  Over time I became glad that I wasn’t there as the opposite was true: the Bebo page I set up for Andy was swamped with comments to the tune of ‘Andy, you changed my life!’ and I felt a great responsibility for having such an effect.   I was glad of the annonymity, especially as I heard so many stories about the worship that night, the way that my work counterpointed the drama sections, and later on as people still talked about how great Andy was, taking his story to their churches and the effect on their congregations.

Frankly, I wondered what I had done – what had I started?  Even as recently as June 2008 when I was talking to people about their NYA07 experiences to help me prepare for this year on the staff team, people were still telling me that Andy had had a major impact on them, that he’d told them things they’d needed to hear and made them look on what they’d been taught in a new way…  The pressure!  The responsibility!  People were doing things they’d never done before and it was all my fault!  And still I couldn’t say ‘…actually, really sorry to tell you this, but Andy is, well, me‘ and wanting to tell so many people to stop being silly and that the reason they were raving on about how good it all was, the reason they had had their lives affected, was because I needed to get Andy’s story down on paper as he was keeping me up all night.  A really selfish reason for screwing with someone’s perception of reality if you ask me, but I couldn’t live with myself while he was banging on and on and on about how he’d seen these miracles performed and how his life had been altered.

…A cognitive psychologist enters the room at this point and says ‘Actually, Andy the Fisherman was simply nothing other than Allan’s attempts to explain the different things that he had experienced.  Once he’d expressed what was really bothering him at that time, described his his faith journey and dealt with his life experiences, the cathartic ‘voice’ departed.  You shouldn’t put any stock in what he said’…

So, aye.  There was me banging out all my inner thoughts on Jesus, miracles, how we treat people, what it means to leave your safe space and venture out with no real idea of what’s going to happen, and people were lapping it up as if it was, well, Gospel truth or suchlike.  It was genuine, and I still meant every word you’ve heard or read by Andy, but I still struggle even today with the consequences.  I’m glad Chris ‘outed’ me at the dinner on Saturday because even though I’m now glad I did it, that Andy’s shut up, I’d struggle to admit that yes, it was me that did all that without someone actually pointing me out as the author.

Fame: it’s a tough business, people.  True story.

So, at long last, NYA2008: End of Part One.  How do I feel about that?  It was great to be part of the whole process, from meetings in November and January to decide the format and major themes and componenets, to the work put in since May to get our debate strand sorted out and up and running.  I thought I’d struggle with not being able to engange with the process in the same way I did as a delegate, but I was simply kept too busy by all the stuff going on to feel like I was missing out in not being able to argue point one, section 2 of a delivereance, grinding my teeth as people delayed lunch messing around with punctuation and semantics.  So it was good for my overall health.  I loved the leaps that we made this year in terms of technology, the Twittering and the blogging – I have great hope that we can use these resources more fully, if in the case of Twitter, more sensibly in the future.  It was a real honour to share time with people as they told me their stories, their openess with groups of strangers in baring their most private experiences, I give thanks to God that I was there for that, and the bravery of those people.  Watching people I’ve known for ages, some since they really were kids, seeing them now on the staff or otherwise helping out and leading workshop sessions and giving so much of themselves to others was humbling for their energy and commitment.  Making new friends, and building relationships with people in the ‘seen around but never spoken to’ category – I liked that.  As much as I love the comfort of people I’ve known for years, it’s great to see the event growing and changing as new people join in, the unexpected, the joy of a new story heard or contribution made.

Finally, I’d like to say a few words about Mark Yaconelli.  Like 99.99999999% of the Assembly, I was hugely touched by his amazing stories.  All the things I’ve felt and tried to articulate, in the discussion session I led on Friday night that didn’t go so well, Andy the Fisherman, even my deepest feelings about how I see my relationship with God and how I should interact with other people on God’s earth, Mark said it all so much better.  More power to him, and I hope to hear him speak and meet him again in the future.  We are blessed to have had him at the Youth Assembly this year and I pray that, as he has influenced us, we, in turn, have had an effect on him too.

Okay, that’s about 4 years worth of blogging right there in one go, so I think I’ll leave it for now.


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September 4, 2008

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