Malcolm’s Blog

Our Mission Outreach Worker, Malcolm Bromhall, is putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard to be strictly accurate ) to share some thoughts and reflections.

You can also follow his Blog ‘Can I Just Say Something‘ on Facebook


Saturday 27 November Blog 88: Keeping things tidy

I don’t have a den, a man-cave, or even a shed … but I do have an office!

The office is most certainly MY domain. It’s where I write my sermons, my blogs, hold my Zoom meetings. It is mine!

And because it is mine, I can treat it as I like. So, for example, if I want to have my books in piles on the floor, then that’s my choice. And if I choose to print off the minutes of meetings they can sit on the desk, along with other important bits of paper.

Now to the outsider … and certainly to Mrs B … this might look like a bit of a mess, but to me at least it is ‘organised chaos’. I can find everything I want (well very nearly everything!).

Hence, Mrs B is effectively banned from the office. On the rare occasion that she has ventured in, her efforts are met by less than enthusiasm.

This week, however, Mrs B’s efforts to tidying-up attempts came back to bite me.

You see due to events being re-scheduled following lockdown, darling daughter had not one but two trips to the theatre this week, which meant that youngest grandson was coming to stay.

Now this is not an unusual occurrence … indeed one of our three bedrooms is known as ‘Harrison’s room’ and is packed with toys, a sofa bed and other things a nine-year-old boy needs around him.

This week was, however, was a bit of a challenge because we were also having a new bathroom installed, which meant his room was temporarily being used as a store for all things new, plus strange fixtures and fittings deemed necessary by the workmen.

Now you will recall, we have a three-bedroomed house … with bedroom number three doubling as MY office … thus, if we were to make room for an additional camp-bed for grandson, as well as a workmen’s store for various tools and bric-a-brac, then the upper reaches of Bromhall Towers would have to undergo some serious tidying up!

Last weekend I tackled the job … and I have to admit that the challenge was slightly more than I had expected! I discovered things I had forgotten about … and which were carefully re-housed.  To sum up, Harrison was able to safely camp out overnight and good progress was made on the new bathroom.

But, I have to confess, we only achieved this because we had a crew of ‘proper men’ doing the job! And thereby hangs a moral … somewhere!

Saturday 20 November Blog 87 My first journal of a lifetime!

I got a fabulous book from my youngest Grandson, Harrison. It’s called ‘Dear Grandad’ but its secret lies in two subtitles…’from you to me’ and ‘A journal of a lifetime’.

It’s largely packed with near-blank pages demanding to know “What sort of pets did you have when you were young and what were their names?” Or perhaps the more challenging “Do you think life today is better or worse than when you were young?”

It runs to just 60 questions, but I tell you what, being a stickler for ‘getting facts right’ which I suspect comes from my early career as a journalist, it’s darned hard to answer!

I’ve sought the wisdom of other family members such, as my big Sis Carole, who is so clever that she now lives in Harrogate, but she’s not been of much help. How I regret not sharing some of my innermost secrets with her sooner!

Truth is, I’ve lost touch with most of my aunts, uncles and cousins –  many of whom I wouldn’t recognise if they moved in next door — so I can’t really quiz them! And I guest that, whether we’ve got a book to finish or not, the task is as likely to get harder rather than easier as the years go by.

The back cover of this book doesn’t make things any easier with it’s promise-cum-threat that on completion it will make a ‘keepsake to be treasured forever’. Clearly then, this is serious stuff!

So I guess I’ll just crack on with my journal and, just for fun, I’ll give you one last teaser to test you all. It asks innocently: ‘With hindsight what would you do differently?’

I’m reckoning that ‘Everything’ is NOT an appropriate answer!

Saturday 13 November Blog 86: Fighting to the end of time?

Thursday was Armistice Day…and once again I couldn’t stop thinking about my Dad. In some ways, I know so much about his early years in inner city Birmingham…and yet I know so little about his time in the Royal Army Medical Corps where he served in France and Africa. I know he qualified as a Sergeant before war was declared and I guess he had just gone back to Civvy Street when his call-up papers landed on the mat.

Even when I came on the scene in 1950, the Second World War seemed like ancient history for youngsters of my generation. It would be a good few years before he could be coaxed into retelling some of my favourite stories and tales of war-time derring-do.

Then, as a know-it-all teenager, I lost count of the number of times I told him that he’d got it all wrong. If only his generation would just learn how to give peace a chance, then maybe – just maybe – there’d be no more need for fussing and fighting to fill our nightly newscasts.

All we were saying was ‘give peace a chance’.

When Dad died, we gave him full military honours. The British Legion in Sutton Coldfield made sure of that, and I guess we wouldn’t have it any other way. The way that Dad would have liked it.

It is right that we continue to honour all those who, from whatever side, sacrificed their lives for a cause they held so dear.

But I can’t help but think that now is also the time when so many young people have also got it right, when they care enough about the planet that they’d like to stick around a bit longer!

Ironically, until and unless we all learn that lesson, I fear that too many from all sides will still be fighting long after humanity has very little worth fighting for.

Saturday 6 November Blog 85: You’re never too old to make a difference

I didn’t count them, but those who did tell me that there were 20 vehicles in Joe Biden’s motorcade making its way from Edinburgh to Glasgow on Tuesday.

The shindig was a meeting of the great and not-so-good at a conference billed as the last chance to limit climate change … so did it really need that many gas guzzlers?

Alok Sharma MP, Chair of COP26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, told delegates at the opening ceremony “If we act now, and we act together, we can protect our precious planet.”

But as far as I was concerned, amidst all the ‘blah, blah, blah’, to quote young activist Greta Thunberg, it was a couple of nonagenarians who stole the show.

The Queen (who’s supposed to be off work ‘poorly’ but wasn’t going to miss out on this opportunity) gave a video address telling those who were gathered:

“For more than 70 years, I have been lucky enough to meet and to know many of the world’s great leaders. It has sometimes been observed that what leaders do for their people today is government and politics. But what they do for the people of tomorrow – that is statesmanship.”

The other lad in his nineties was Sir David Attenborough, who told delegates: “In my lifetime I’ve witnessed a terrible decline. In yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery.”

Now that’s classy stuff!

***

Her Maj also took the opportunity to share pride in her family. Speaking from the White Drawing Room at Windsor with a picture of her beloved Philip on the desk, she said: “It is a source of great pride to me that the leading role my husband played in encouraging people to protect our planet, lives on through the work of our eldest son Charles and his eldest son William. I could not be more proud of them.”

Prince Philip, of course, played a major role in the foundation of the World Wildlife Fund and served as its international president for 16 years until his retirement at the end of 1996. WWF continues to inspire and only last week our youngest grandson Harrison shared his latest communication received from the charity. He is on their mailing list because in the summer, having spent many an afternoon doing water colour painting with Nanny, he turned his artwork into postcards which he sold to raise money for WWF … indeed he raised enough to sponsor not one but two giant pandas and, to echo her Majesty, ‘I could not be more proud him.’

And I guess it is because of Harrison and all other young people that things HAVE to change. As the Queen rightly told COP26: “We are doing this not for ourselves but for our children, and our children’s children, and those who will follow in their footsteps.”

Saturday 30 October: Blog 84: The Treat behind the Trick

Tomorrow, is Halloween … the day when we’re supposed to jump out of our skins when things go bump in the night or perhaps pretend that the pint sized little herberts knocking on our doors and shouting ‘trick or treat’ really did take us by surprise.

Now many Christians refuse to participate in Halloween, wary of its pagan origins and dark, ghoulish imagery, but I’d like to suggest that rather than hide from it we embrace it … and in doing so follow in the footsteps of our forefathers.

Many of the Christian festivals we celebrate today date back to pagan celebrations. We have no evidence to say that Jesus was born in December or died around March/April time. Instead, Christmas was set to coincide with the Winter Solstice while Easter coincides with the Spring Equinox.

This high-jacking of pagan festivities was down to the early Christian missionaries who, on finding that their attempts to remove deep-rooted beliefs, traditions and customs met with resistance, started adding new ‘holy days’ or simply renaming special dates in the pagan calendar and incorporating some of the original customs in order to make their message more palatable to the natives

It was to coincide with the Celtic festival of Samhain – an ancient celebration that marked the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of winter, a time when the Celts believed the curtain dividing the living and the dead lifted to allow the spirits of the dead to walk among the living – that those early missionaries set aside a day for the remembrance of martyrs and, in doing so, ironically gave Halloween its name!

The time of remembrance began with All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day. ‘All Hallows Eve’ was contracted to ‘Hallow-e’en’ and subsequently became ‘Halloween’. So, in other words, All Saints Eve was the original Halloween alternative!

And so tomorrow I will be joining in with the festivities and will place a pumpkin outside my house, a signal that trick n treaters will be welcome at my door.

But I won’t have a ghoulish face carved into the flesh, rather my pumpkin will feature a cross, representing the light and love of Jesus shining light into the darkness.

In many churches tomorrow the Bible reading will be taken from Mark chapter 12 where Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is. His reply is ‘to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself.’

The trick therefore is to make sure you love God first… and then love for all the people that God has created sort of falls into place, and if just one young person who knocks on my door tomorrow night picks up that message of love, then it will all have been worthwhile.

Saturday 23 October Blog 83: Battling cancer with Christmas chocolate treats!

I’ve got a confession to make. Yesterday I finished munching my way through a Lindt Chocolate Advent Calendar! (Perhaps at this point I should also acknowledge that other very tasty brands are available!)

And before you start having a go at me for getting the Christmas celebrations under way a bit too soon, let me also say that the whole idea was the brainchild of Mrs B and Darling Daughter to mark each completed session of my radiotherapy treatment which, for the record, totted up to 20 doses.

I was able to award myself an extra chocolate for each of the weekends — when treatment was suspended, presumably for good behaviour!

All this meant that on Friday I completed my final dose and found a milk chocolate Father Christmas waiting to greet me when I got home.

Hopefully the radiotherapy has done its job and destroyed many of the pesky cancer cells which were causing me grief. And, whilst I didn’t actually enjoy the experience, I would like to give a huge thankyou to the NHS staff who just might have given me a wonderful pre-Christmas gift.

Of course, it’s no coincidence that when the field of radiation therapy began to become more widely known about in the early 1900s, it was largely due to the ground-breaking work of Nobel Prize–winning scientist Marie Curie. And it is the charity that bear’s her name that has provided much of the literature that I have been given over the past four weeks, explaining what to expect, what not to expect, and offering the reassurance that, no matter what, I am not alone on the journey.

I must also mention the charity Prostate Cancer UK, whose top priority is funding research to stop prostate cancer killing men. Indeed, without this charity I might not be on one of the treatments that I am currently taking … but be warned, I’ll probably be around with a begging bowl on their behalf in the not too distant future!

Saturday 16 October Blog 82: Darling Daughter, Chocolates and Fairies!

My Darling Daughter Keely was in her element, doing what she’s good at. No sooner had the team at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital prescribed a course of radiotherapy for yours truly than she was busy drawing up a transport rota involving not only herself but also her brother Toby, her husband Graham, and her mum Ali.

And so, I wasn’t too surprised to receive my list of who would be picking me up, when and from where…and I have to say that, so far, it’s run like clockwork.

But then, of course, that’s what I’d expect. Before setting up Clip n’ Climb at Bicester – which she now runs with her former police officer husband – Keely was a primary school teacher. Hence she’s no stranger to getting people to assorted venues, five days a week at various times of the day.

And I know I’m a bit older than her former charges, but I don’t think that made too much difference in Keely’s eyes. Nor did age come into the conversation when she stopped to help a young lady, of about four, who had dropped all her Percy Pig Chocolate Drops near the hospital’s Costa Coffee café, just inside the main entrance.

I’m told it went something like this.

Young Lady: Has your Daddy got a poorly tummy too?

Keely: Yes, I think so!

YL: That’s because he hasn’t got enough fairies in his tummy. But don’t worry, cos the doctors and nurses here will put more fairies in his tummy and get rid of the bad stuff and he’ll get better, like my Daddy.

K: Oh good!

YL: Do you know the only bad thing about this place? It’s the Farm. They’ve got no animals. Sometimes we have to wait around for Daddy to pick things up but there’s never any animals for us to get! (Editor: Think PHARMacy!).

Saturday 9 October: Blog 81  A blast from the past

Last night Emma Raducanu suffered a ‘shock defeat’ in her first match since her ‘fairy tale’ victory in the US Open.

The 18-year-old tennis player was beaten 6-2 6-4 in 85 minutes by the Belarusian world No 100, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, in Indian Wells, California.

I think I’m glad she didn’t win. The first lost match is behind her and, hopefully, she can now focus on her future tennis career — one which will include many victories as well as defeats — rather than to keep playing the role of ‘teen sensation’.

In many ways, much of what happens in our youth can mould the way we develop in later years. I was reminded of this recently when a friend of ours shared a post on Facebook.

Mark Allitt, together with our daughter Keely, used to work at Banbury Foyer. For those who don’t know, Foyers are described as ‘integrated learning and accommodation centres providing safe and secure housing, support and training for young people aged 16 – 25’.

Typically, many of the residents have gone off the rails in one form or another … when our daughter was working a night shift, I knew full well her mum could never fully relax until she knew she was safely home.

Mark now runs a retro clothing shop in Banbury and recently posted: ‘Before I owned Revival MK2, I was very lucky to work at the Banbury Foyer.  The young people I worked with had not always got it right … many had made mistakes and were paying a price.  At times, my colleagues and me would be banging our heads against a brick wall and sometimes end up in tears!  It was hard work, frustrating, tiring, but still the greatest buzz in the world when a young person got it right and turned things around, moved on and believed a better future was ahead.

‘Last week a lad I worked with over a decade ago came in my shop and told me how he had turned his life around.  When he left he said “I just needed you to know, Mark” and then he was gone. Never give up on a young person as many will go on to achieve great things.’

Well said Mark, and hats off to many others who have helped young people turn their lives around … you may never know what a difference your care and attention has made but I bet I guess many of those you helped talk about their Foyer days with a warm glow.

I hope so…both you and they deserve it.

Saturday 2 October: Blog 80 Who turned the tables?

I suppose it was when I became an official, fully-trained member of the Oxford University NHS Foundation Trust’s chaplaincy team that I finally lost my fear about visiting folk in hospitals. I discovered that there’s nothing like a laminated photo ID card to help you boldly go onto wards where you had hitherto felt a tad uneasy.

Last week the tables were turned when I entered the Churchill Hospital as a patient, rather than a visitor at the start of 20 days of radiotherapy … for the record these are weekdays only, I think we must get weekends off for good behaviour!

This wasn’t as bad as I imagined…ie it was painless, which for a dedicated coward is always a bonus.

The bonding process began on about day two when those of us of a certain age and sex began to recognise and to nod at one another on arrival in the waiting room. The brave among us even managed a curt “Mornin’” or a knowing smile.

After some brief preliminaries – a posh phrase for an enema – we all made our way to our designated herding bay at which point the next phase of the ‘getting to know you’ routine took place. In my case, this went something like this:

Patient A to MalcB: D’you like soccer?

Malc B:                   Yeah, I follow Birmingham City.

(Realising that the Blue nose side of the city might not be everyone’s favourite, I quickly add a bit about family support for Liverpool, Leicester, and Spurs and daughter’s support of non-league via her company’s sponsorship. Phew).

Patient A:                I can’t stand the game myself.  How about rugby?

Malc B:                   Yes, yes. I used to play the game at school. Son was a rugby coach, son-in-law played for Banbury.

Patient A:                I can’t stand the game myself.  How about cricket?

Malc B:                   (Perhaps a tad cautiously):

I was never very good at it, but ‘yes’, I always follow Test Matches and things like that.

Patient A:                I can’t stand the game myself. Never saw the point of it.

Malc B:                   (Thinks: There could by a long 20 Days or so ahead. Maybe bring a book next week.)

Saturday 25 September: Blog 79 Why ‘bad news’ always meant ‘good news’, back in the day

Long, long ago…when I was still plying my trade as a journalist on local weekly newspapers, a buddy gave me an ace tip.

“Just remember,” he said, looking around before continuing in hushed-tones lest anyone was actually listening-in to our conversation, “shortages sell newspapers”.

He looked around and tapped his nose as if he was revealing the great wisdom that would make those particular streets run with blue ink in that particular part of the West Midlands.

“Just mark my words,” he said sagely.

And I did, ever since throughout my journalistic career.

Regardless of where I was based, the headline “Blanktown faces bread crisis” always lead to panic buying. And of course, we had to localise it a bit when I worked in the north and the Scarborough Evening News ran their version of a different story: “Scarborough faces potato famine” the paper screamed.

Needless to say, chips sold well that night!

Coming right up-to-date I think it was on Thursday when newspapers started warning us of petrol shortages if we didn’t make it easier for overseas truck drivers to get the appropriate paperwork. And certainly, by Friday afternoon, it seemed that every UK car driver sandwiched us in as we formed an orderly queue, ironically just by the Petronas roundabout, to fill up our tanks.

And to the even more ironically initialled MG, the journo who first taught me the bread crisis ply, who’d have thought it would still work!

Saturday 18 September: Blog 78 Birthday treat for me and the boys

It was my birthday on Friday … and  no matter which way I did the adding up, that still made me 71! So, there was really only one thing I could do which was to party with a few bright young things whom I know … namely my three grandchildren aged 9, 10 and 12.

The thing that we all have in common is a love of football … and so thanks to Darling Daughter the stage was set for a footy and fish n chips party.

This would mean our youngest grandson, Harrison, co-hosting with mum and Dad … Keely’s husband Graham also being in charge of the Fish n Chip run … and my son Toby providing transport for his two sons led by first-born Charlie and in-betweener Benjamin.

And before you get too worried about the potential leg injuries this old man might incur, the tournament would be the XBOX-FIFA Challenge which, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept, involves sitting on the sofa with a remote control in your hands.

I suspect that despite the pre-match training I got from Harrison, I probably finished last. There we sending offs, red cards and penalties and I’m not really sure who came out on top although Toby ‘Bite Yer Legs’ Bromhall may well have finished in first place which, as I recall, he always did.

The Fish n Chips were great … so, no arguing there. And all that exertion meant the birthday boy fell sound asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow!

Saturday 11 September: Blog 77 And now for something completely different!

Did you know that spiders have ears … or at least they do according to Mrs B.

All it takes is a quick search of Google to find out her mistake, but then, as she is equally quick to point out to patients who phone into the doctors’ surgery where she works, even search engines can be wrong sometimes.

Dr Google can only be relied on for two things, scaring you witless and raising your blood pressure.

But back to spiders. Mrs B was relaxing on the sofa last night when she looked up to see not one, not two, but three arachnids sitting on the ceiling. ‘If you don’t go back outside by the morning, you’ll by Dysoned’ she warned them (other vacuum cleaners are available and I expect the overall result would be roughly the same…bad news for the spider!).

Morning came and apart from a few strings of web, the ceiling was clear. Cleaning completed, Mrs B packed away the vacuum … only to discover half an hour later the three eight legged creatures were back in position.

Which only went to prove Mrs B’s theory that there’s nothing much wrong with the spiders’ hearing, but that they are also, perhaps, just downright disobedient!

Seems to me that some folk can often take much the same attitude when it comes to faith. They believe anything they’ve read on Google, for example – and let’s face it, it IS pretty darn good – but nonetheless it does make mistakes, once in a while.  And so too do some people … frequently dismissing all the scholarship, all the fab and fresh ideas and all the teaching that has arisen through and because of the name of Jesus Christ.

I’ve seen an advance copy of the catalogue for CRE…the Christian Resources Exhibition. It takes a long overdue look at this problem and talks about the future of Christian communications with exhibitors and their guests providing a heap of talks covering such issues as Social Media made Simple; Daring to Stream; and generally, does our message need to be reinforced with a tad more get-up-and-go!

I suppose in many ways, we’ve been forced into this, like others, because churches and Christians in general have had to respond to the impact and the challenge of Covid 19.

I’ve said many times in this Blog that I’m not looking just to turn back the clock to ‘normal’, but rather to move forward having learned lots along the way. It seems that the CRE could provide many churches with fresh ways of bringing new opportunities to share their own exciting stories and opportunities with those who are still waiting to hear a most exciting message.

The CRE takes place from 12-14 October at Sandown Park, in Surrey…it could well be an investment for any church group looking to ‘freshen-up their offering.’

Saturday 4 September: Blog 76 A word in your ear!

I recently overheard a few folk having a discussion about a mate who’d been diagnosed as having cancer. Regular readers will understand why my ears immediately pricked up.

After initially expressing shock and sorrow, they tried to find a joke in it all. Truth is, there’s not a lot of laughs in cancer.

So, they moved on to knocking his faith. “Where’s his God now etc etc”. Now, I don’t know of any faith that guarantees its adherents eternal life in THIS world, so I ‘tuned in’ a bit more.

It’s a funny thing that atheists seem quite happy to exercise their God-given right NOT to be ‘believe’ but are quite bullish when it comes to berating those of us who DO at least TRY to make some sort of sense to it all.

I guess we’re just supposed to roll-over and have our tummies tickled anytime anything goes wrong…but woe betide us if a situation makes us a tad angry; that would never do.

Actually, it’s a bit late to get angry about most things, and anyway, I think that, on balance, I’ve personally had far more blessings than I’ve had bad times. Certainly, I’ve been on the receiving end of more love than I deserve, of that I am sure.

Well, for now, it’s ‘rant over’, and I’ll lock away this short bulletin on morbidity to remind myself that more people die WITH my particular ‘brand’ of cancer than die OF it. In other words, it’s not necessarily a killer.

And THAT, I think, falls into the quirky category of ‘reasons to be cheerful’…so, best I just keep on smiling!

Saturday 28 August: Blog 75 Everyone’s a winner

I must admit, I’d only heard of the computer software Zoom about the same time as I’d heard the word Coronavirus. Since then, I’ve lost track of the number of meetings I’ve attended without leaving home.

It’s surprising, and maybe just a tad alarming, how much shorter ‘business meetings’ become when proceedings are carried out, and vital decisions made, ‘online.’

I’ve also attended training events, dropped in on friends in faraway places, and just about kept in touch with various folk who ‘matter’ when it comes to keeping stuff ‘going’.

But perhaps the thing which generates the most smiles and laughter is the monthly quiz, started by Mrs B to keep in touch with a few friends who have remained ‘good buddies’ over the years but who, for one reason or another, were on the brink of drifting apart as the pandemic, the demands/challenges of kids and grandkids and a general acknowledgment that pressure on time and space seemed to be stretching  friendship a bit too wide for comfort.

We don’t have many rules. In fact, I don’t think we have any…just make them up as we go along. But I so much wanted and needed the fun and fellowship of this week’s event that I just wanted to thank die-hards Mrs B, Jan and Andrew, Scott and Hazel, and Peter and Sue for ‘being there’ in a virtual kind of fashion.

Thanks also to Ian and Jo – another pair of our usual stalwarts – who were travelling back from somewhere and thus enabled Mrs B and myself to move just a tad nearer the top of the scoreboard!

If you’d like some help setting up a virtual quiz group, let me know, Meanwhile, here’s a couple of questions Mrs B and I offered this week under the heading ‘First of many’…

  1. What was the name of the first dog in space?
  2. Louise Brown was the first test tube baby. In which year was she born?

Saturday 21 August: Blog 74 A bit of a conundrum

Oh what the heck! Seems to me that nothing is easy any more…and someone in ‘Marketing’ at Waitrose House or wherever, has finally come up with a way of ensuring that, when it comes to making purchasing decisions. I can’t do right for doing wrong.

Eager beaver readers will recall that, just a few months ago, I was diagnosed with having prostate cancer. The various pills and potions I have since been taking are having a positive effect (good news) but my potassium level needs still needs to go up a tad further

As part of the new ‘healthy eating’ regime Mrs B kindly upped the number of bananas on the weekly shopping list – they’re high in potassium, you know – and I was sure we’d soon have the K issue under control (K being the chemical symbol for potassium).

As Dr Watson would have put it….it’s all very elementary!

In fact, all was going well until my nearest supermarket (who’ve already had one name-check in this blog, so that’s their lot) started selling their Fairtrade bananas already wrapped in plastic bags!

This, they proclaimed, enabled the bananas to retain ‘moisture and freshness’. Thus the product was flagged up on the bag as both ‘Fairtrade’ and ‘Not yet recycled’. So how on earth can one be eco friendly and support ethical trade!

Now, I don’t recall that back in the old days, bananas were particularly avoided for being as dry as a workman’s mouth, but this doesn’t sound too genuine to me.

However, until someone like Sir David Attenborough can force a change of mind on the suppliers’ part, I’ll just have to lump it, even if I don’t much like it.

Saturday 14 August: Blog 73 I think I’d better think it out again!

I’m sure the Olympics used to go on a bit longer than they did this time around. It seemed that no sooner had this year’s bash in Tokyo got going, than it was time for the closing ceremony! Must be something to do with Japanese efficiently, I think.

And so, whilst I know the paralympics are just around the corner – and I look forward to them immensely – perhaps we need to come up with something to fill the sporting gap.

I know that these days, true Olympians start at around 13 years of age and follow such pursuits as BMX biking and skate boarding. So, I wondered if we could have something aimed more at the older generation? Older-but-still-competitive!

I was thinking of a kind of Grumpy Gramps Olympics…and I accept that there could be a few problems here.

For example, even the word ‘Gramps’ could be taken as a bit sexist these days. And anyway, I suspect we live in a time when ‘granny’ is more likely to be called ‘nanny’ and have decidedly, rosier red cheeks.

Granddads on the other hand have developed a more serious demeanour and a tendency to be a lot more …. well, Grumpy.

Anyway, as far as new events might be concerned, I was thinking of bringing back some old favourites such as the Donkey Derby, a slow bicycle race, and perhaps a leisurely Tug of War to bring the event to a close.

On reflection, maybe I’d better think this out again.

After all, I’m told the Paralympics start on 24 August and last a full fortnight…should be plenty of time to get my fill of onscreen fitness before worrying too much about the future.

Saturday 7 August: Blog 72 Wot’s in a werd?

As a Brummie, I get quite used to people from other parts of the country having a go at us for the way in which we speak….our fabulous Brummie accents.

Usually, I must admit, they save the most cuttingly-obvious and hurtful criticisms for my friends and erstwhile neighbours living in the towns and villages that make up the Black Country and “oiv gorra say sumat…cuz it ay funnee!”

For a while, I even edited a weekly column written entirely in native Black Country dialect by a chap called Harry Harrison. This was a whole new world for me and focussed on such places as Lower Gornal and Quarry Bank.

I have to admit, sometimes, I struggled so much with this particular weekly chore that it often went out untouched…’becuz oi day rallay understand a werd ovitt’.

But then, just a few days ago, I heard that someone FROM Birmingham was having a go at someone ELSE because of the way in which THEY talked.

Digby Jones is that rarest of creatures,a posh Brummie – so posh he went to Bromsgrove School, and later read Law at University College, London.

He went on to work for Birmingham lawyers Edge & Ellison for 20 years, becoming senior partner, and was later made Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry and went on to become a member of the House of Lords, a Labour transport minister and a ‘business adviser’ to the Duke of York…

…all of which sounds pretty posh to this particular Brummie.

In his firing range is Alex Scott, the former Arsenal and England footballer, recently announced as the new host of BBC’s Football Focus, and one of the people fronting most of the station’s recent Olympic coverage.

Her crime, according to Lord Jones of Birmingham, was her inability to pronounce her ‘g’s at the end of words such as fencin’, rowin’, boxin’, kayakin’, weightliftin’  swimmin’ and the like.

As Harry Harrison might have said: “It doh mek any diffrence t’me, so doh worry `bout it babs!”

Saturday 31 July: Blog 71 How we can all be experts

Over the past week or so I’ve become an expert in all sorts of things…and it’s all down to self-help! Canoeing, cycling, gymnastics, trampolining, boxing, dressage, diving, seven-a-side rugby and swimming…these are just a few of the pursuits I’ve taken up without even leaving my home.

And I’m told it won’t be long before I’m dipping my toes into the highs, lows and essential techniques of track and field (don’t be fooled…that just means ‘athletics’ to most of us).

Yep, it’s Olympic Games time again, and for those of us who didn’t have the time, dedication, talent, natural ability or desire to get to Tokyo under our own steam, we can always rely on our television’s on/off button to equip us with the few essential phrases that might become our buzzwords for a day or two.

***

Some years ago, Ali (my wife) and I faced a bit of a problem. It was nativity time and, although we could find a sufficient number of appropriately aged ‘older youngsters’ to play shepherds, kings, angels and the like, we were a bit stuck when it came to casting the baby Jesus.

Fortunately, our friend Auntie Jan came to the rescue with the birth of her second son David…the middle-one of a trio who eventually became collectively known as ‘The Penny Boys’. And with Aunty Jan taking on the role of Mary, her parental expertise meant young David played the role perfectly.

This July, Jan and husband Andrew made two trips to Ireland, to ‘coo’ over baby Emma Janne … the newly born daughter of the now not-so-young David and his lovely wife Alison. And I have no doubt that the grandparents passed on some words of wisdom to the new parents … whether they needed them or not!

Like generations before them, I reckon they are learning to accept that most of the advice given to them by us older folk is passed on with love!

Saturday 24 July: Blog 70 With a little fun from my friends!

I guess it’s just some times, or maybe it’s just with the passage of time, that you have to admit it…a bit of help would be no bad thing.

Sad really. I’ve always preferred to be the provider of help rather than the recipient. I guess I’m just too proud to admit that I could, from time to time, do with a bit of help myself these days.

It was Mrs B who first came up with the idea…always one to be helpful! We had agreed we’d both have a day off last week to go to College Lake with our youngest Grandson, nine-year-old Harrison, so that he could try out his new binoculars.

The lake is only a couple of miles outside Tring, and is part of BBOWT — the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust – but it also had an added bonus which I nearly missed out on…on purpose!

“Didn’t you see that email I sent you?” asked Mrs B as we discussed our detailed plans shortly before the visit.

“I don’t think so,” I fibbed.

In fact, it had immediately caught my eye…especially the bit that boasted that our proposed destination had two Trampers available for those of those who had slowed down so much that they were no longer a match for a 9-year-old grandson.

Think of a kind of all-terrain shopping trolley in which you can plonk a grandad and you’ve kind of got the idea! They’re battery operated, capable of around 4mph and just the sight of grandad suddenly turning into a pretend Lewis Hamilton was enough to put the smiles back on most members of our party!

I guess many of us run into times and situations when we can’t do quite as much as we used to. Maybe it’s only temporary, but why miss out when you could be having fun?

If you know of any short-cuts do let me know…I have a trio of grandsons willing to help me put them to the test!

Saturday 17 July: Blog 69: Why I’ll keep a mask somewhere handy

When the guys and girls at the supermarket just down the road all started wearing face masks, I knew it was time to take this Covid virus thing seriously.

Up until then, I’d always thought that wearing a mask every time you just wanted to pop to the shops was a bit over-the-top… kind of ‘girlie stuff’ to be honest. Then, one by one, all the shops seemed to take it up, until grabbing your mask seemed about as natural and appropriate as just picking up your bag-for-life.

Now Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that the legal requirement to wear face coverings will no longer apply after ‘Freedom Day’…Monday, July 19.

Sounds to me that things are finally getting back to normal then. That is, assuming your idea of ‘normal’ includes a lot of pushing and shoving and a lot of making sure you are at number one in the queue.

I swear there was a time…not for long I admit…but a short time, when a lot of people seemed to be putting the other person first, rather than simply elbowing them out of the way.

However, from Monday, the public will take on the responsibility to make their own ‘informed decisions about how to manage the virus.’

It’s interesting to read the first thing all the major supermarkets have done – this includes Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Aldi, Waitrose and Lidl – which is to urge customers to continue using face masks, just to be on the safe side!

Protective screens between staff and customers will also remain ‘for the time being’ at many of their checkouts.

Maybe ‘Freedom Day’ could still become ‘Commonsense Day’ after all.

Saturday 10 July: Blog 68 – Memories that may last a lifetime

The problem with writing a blog THIS side of THAT weekend is that most of you will know by now who won the European Cup. At the time of writing…I don’t! But then,  what else is a would-be hack going to write about on a weekend when football might really be coming home…even if the match won’t actually be played until tomorrow, Sunday, July 11, and my timetable says I have to write my blog on a Saturday!

It was Caroline Reed who came to my rescue. Ah yes…sweet Caroline (geddit?).

For those who don’t know, Caroline is headteacher at Rossmere Primary School in Hartlepool who appeared on the tele and in national newspapers saying loud and proud that hers would be one of many schools giving kids a bit of extra time in bed on Monday morning to make up for any lost sleepy time on Sunday night.

Now if you go back to last week’s England extra-time win against Denmark, then Caroline’s staff weren’t the only ones to notice more absences in the classroom than usual the next morning.

She decided to give families the chance to watch the final against Italy ‘without worrying’ over the threat of an early start…even if that did mean the kids got to school a bit late next day.

So, pupils would still be able to arrive at their normal time, equally anyone arriving by 10.30am would still get a tick in the book.

Well, that sounds fair enough to me. Any gainsayers, and I guess there will be a few, need to take on board what the kids, and indeed their teachers, parents and all the rest of us, have been through over the past couple of years or so.

As one school put it: “We recognise that national events, like the final at Wembley, do not come around too often and yet they are the making of memories which can last a lifetime.”

Saturday 3 July: Blog 67 One result I wasn’t expecting!

OK, so I was kind of expecting last Tuesday’s soccer triumph over Germany. And maybe the Labour party’s election result at Batley & Spen was darn close…but it was still quite predictable!

No…the one big result which has left me somewhat perplexed this week was the decision of the Methodist Conference to change the definition of marriage and, in fact, to have TWO parallel definitions.

One will say “marriage can only be between a man and a woman” and the other that “marriage can be between any two people.”

The hope is that the dual definition will persuade conservative churches not to leave, whilst protecting ministers from discrimination claims if they refuse to marry gay couples.

Some of you reading this blog will perhaps not even know that I work for the Methodist Church. So let me say ‘loud and proud’ that I do…but in a lay, non-ordained, capacity.

We’ve been discussing the particular issue since at least 1992, so it’s certainly not a knee-jerk reaction.

What personally amazed me was that Wednesday’s vote was so overwhelming – 254 in favour, with just 46 against.

The Methodist Church is Britain’s fourth largest Christian denomination with about 164,000 members across more than 4,000 churches.

The Rev. Sam McBratney, chair of the Dignity and Worth campaign group, said: “Some of us have been praying for this day to come for decades, and can hardly believe it is now here. We are so grateful to our fellow Methodists for taking this courageous step to recognise and affirm the value and worth of LGBTQ+ relationships.”

Meanwhile, former vice-president, Carolyn Lawrence warned there was a ‘significant minority’ of Methodists who were ‘planning on leaving or resigning their membership’ as a result of the vote.

“Today is a line in the sand for many people and seen as a significant departure from our doctrine,” she said.

So that’s two very different points of view, but the fact remains that the Methodist Church has become the largest religious denomination in Britain to allow same sex marriages.

Saturday 26 June: Blog 66 Hard to put into words

Sometimes I find it really tough to put things into words. Take this blog for example. I kind of know what I want to say, but sometimes the words take a bit of time to make their way to the page.

As you might imagine, this is quite a dilemma for someone who has spent more than the last 50 years or so trying to eke out a living from journalism in one form or another.

I’ve never yet suffered from ‘blank page syndrome’…but this week I came pretty darn close.

I suddenly seemed to have dried up as far as the written word was concerned and no matter how I tried I couldn’t get a single word to make the relatively minor journey from my brain, to my computer and thus to my page.

It was then that I realised that much of the time I would normally spend chatting to others had, due to lockdown and the like, virtually run out! You see, I’m not much of a wordsmith after all…more of a plagiarist. A copycat!

And it seemed to me that the less I exchanged the odd ‘bon mot’ with those about me, the more I would struggle to put together a sentence or two that I could happily share this week.

It was earlier today (Saturday, July 26) when I scampered down to the Brackley Scarecrow Festival, to see if I could discover any word on the street. Rest assured, everyone I bumped into had something worth saying and something worth listening to.

Perhaps this then, is the biggest threat of isolation, withdrawal, pulling back from each other. It’s not that we will cease writing the occasional column or witty word. No…it could be worse than that, maybe we’ll run out of the ability to share our thought, our words, our hopes and our dreams

It was at this point that the voice of my youngest grandson came on the phone wanting to share his latest achievement….which had indeed, come originally out of disappointment, but ended up with smiles all around. Maybe the new season augurs well at Brackley Town!

Saturday 19 June: Blog 65 Thank God for Football!

I, like more than 20 million others, settled myself down on Friday evening in front of the Tv to watch England play Scotland in Euro 2020.

It still amuses me that we didn’t change the title to Euro 2021. UEFA say that the reason the name was retained was to ‘keep the vision’ of the competition.’ However, I’m sure I’m not the only cynic who thinks that it had more to do with the expense of having to change the merchandise and branding, than any vision the competition might have!

Anyway, back to Friday’s game. All day the media had been hyping up the ‘derby’ encounter. So much so that I can tell you that it was the 115th time since 1872 that footballs’ oldest rivals had faced each other.

In my family, all three grandsons were looking forward to the fixture … although I can’t help wondering if the 8pm kick off was part of the attraction – especially for the youngest one. He and I had spent the previous Sunday afternoon together when England were playing Croatia and one of us was paying far more attention to the game than the other!

However, an 8pm kick off means staying up late … and if any of them did fall asleep before the final whistle then you can hardly blame them. As I’m sure even non-football fans are aware by now, not one ball managed to hit the back the net, making it the first ever 0-0 result between the two auld rivals to take place on the hallowed Wembley turf.

But it did get me thinking about the role that church has played in football over the years.

In my hometown of Birmingham, for example, it was at a chapel in Lozells Road that members of the Young Men’s Bible Class started playing sport … initially cricket but quickly followed by football. And if I tell you the chapel was called ‘The Aston Villa Wesleyan Chapel’ you’ll quickly recognise which team grew out of those initial kick arounds. Yes, the team was named after the chapel and not the other way round!

My own team, Birmingham City can trace its origins back to the choir of Holy Trinity Church in Bordesley; The headmaster of Christ Church Boys’ School in Bolton started a Sunday School football team that was to become Bolton Wanderers; Everton can trace its roots back to St Domingo Methodist Chapel; All Hallows Church in Tottenham was instrumental in the formation of Spurs; and Manchester City might never have seen the light of day had it not been due to the vicar’s daughter at St Mark’s Church, West Gorton!

In total, it may come as quite a surprise if I tell you that nearly a third of all the clubs that have played in the FA Premier League owe their existence to church. Amen to that.

  • If you want to find out more about the churches link with football, I recommend the book ‘Thank God for Football!’ written by Peter Lupson. The version I have on my shelf was published in 2006 but it has been superseded by a new edition containing almost 120 illustrations including rare images of founders, founding churches and early teams.

Saturday 12 June: Blog 64…From roulotte to scarecrows!

Ali and I have been away for a few days. Now, any ideas we might have had about hopping on a plane and going to some far away place with a strange sounding name, had long been put on ice thanks to Covid and the seemingly daily changes being announced to foreign travel.

So, with our horizons suitably limited, we set off earlier this week to Patching in the South Downs, where we were staying at a place called the ‘Forget-me-not’ French Roulotte…and what a fab little find this was!

La Roulotte, not surprisingly, is French for ‘caravan’ and it really does combine the olde worlde charm of yesteryear with some exciting modern touches. These include gas fire central heating; a 32” Tv and DVD player; and, joy of joy, a large bubbling hot tub!

It was designed and built by co-owners Steve and Christie in 2019. You can see something of what they’ve created if you check out the Gallery section at www.southdownsroulotte.co.uk

* * *

But for now, it’s back to work, and in my case that is the work I do for and on behalf of the Methodist Churches in Brackley, Silverstone and Towcester. And it’s Brackley I’m focussing on today because, if you didn’t know, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, visited our town in 1784 and preached outside the town hall.

Fast forward to 2021 and on Saturday and Sunday, June 26 & 27, Brackley Elves will be hosting what I believe will be the town’s first Scarecrow Festival … with the theme of the Great Outdoors.

I hope the festival as whole provides a mighty fine weekend for anyone who wants a bit of fun wallowing in the sunshine for a couple of days.

OK, so I’lI admit that’s probably a bit of wishful thinking on the weather front, but I reckon the fun will be guaranteed because Brackley Elves are on the case…and whenever they’re involved in ‘fun-raising’, this bunch, who have emerged during Covid, have already shown themselves to be helping the good folk of Brackley to keep looking on the bright side of life.

Now then, the current Brackley Methodist church is just a few yards away from where John Wesley preached OUTSIDE the town hall all those years ago, and I’m told that, in keeping with the theme, the church’s new scarecrow will bear an uncanny likeness to Mr Wesley!

Saturday 5 June: Blog 63 On the sunny side of the street!  

During a scroll through Facebook this week I came across one of the more whimsical quotes that are so often posted. Do you know the sort I mean? Typically they’ve got words artistically placed over a picture of a waterfall or something similar!

Anyway, this one read: ‘The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude.’ Which got me thinking. As someone who’s been told off quite often lately…largely because I’ve become about as grumpy as my dad…this comes as a very stark personal warning.

I know only too well, that it’s all too easy for us to look on the gloomy side of life if we consistently adopt an outlook based on other people’s attitudes and history.

Ali, my wife, is a huge Cliff Richard fan. And I must admit, I’ve been known to visit the occasional Sir Cliff concert over the years…and not just because you never have to queue for the gents!

As Mrs B will readily tell you, Sir Cliff once sang a song called ‘Winning’ in the movie ‘Take me High’ … I think this was recorded, at least in part, in my home town of Brum!

‘Winning’ was a very optimistic song which included the line ‘You’ll never catch a glimpse of the sun, if your head is always under a cloud’… I kinda like that!

So, this week’s splash of sunshine and my genuine belief that ‘things can only get better’, mean that I promise to keep looking on the bright side of life in the days ahead.

And right now, even though I’ve still got plenty to crack on with, I think I’m going to sign off and enjoy the sunshine in our back garden. Salut!

Blog 63 On the sunny side of the street!  

During a scroll through Facebook this week I came across one of the more whimsical quotes that are so often posted. Do you know the sort I mean? Typically they’ve got words artistically placed over a picture of a waterfall or something similar!

Anyway, this one read: ‘The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude.’ Which got me thinking. As someone who’s been told off quite often lately…largely because I’ve become about as grumpy as my dad…this comes as a very stark personal warning.

I know only too well, that it’s all too easy for us to look on the gloomy side of life if we consistently adopt an outlook based on other people’s attitudes and history.

Ali, my wife, is a huge Cliff Richard fan. And I must admit, I’ve been known to visit the occasional Sir Cliff concert over the years…and not just because you never have to queue for the gents!

As Mrs B will readily tell you, Sir Cliff once sang a song called ‘Winning’ in the movie ‘Take me High’ … I think this was recorded, at least in part, in my home town of Brum!

‘Winning’ was a very optimistic song which included the line ‘You’ll never catch a glimpse of the sun, if your head is always under a cloud’… I kinda like that!

So, this week’s splash of sunshine and my genuine belief that ‘things can only get better’, mean that I promise to keep looking on the bright side of life in the days ahead.

And right now, even though I’ve still got plenty to crack on with, I think I’m going to sign off and enjoy the sunshine in our back garden. Salut!

Saturday 29 May: Blog 62 Let’s raise a glass to the NHS!

I first met Alan in the mid-1970s. Like me he was one of a small group of young journalists recruited to inject new life into a recently re-launched weekly title in Hertfordshire.

Alan is Scottish, and so was completely unintelligible to a Brummie like me. Equally, my West Midlands accent was a whole new tongue to anyone born on t’other side of Hadrian’s Wall.

But, for two guys who spoke such different languages, we got on pretty well.

I’m not sure how he got the nickname Alan McDrink but my vague recollection is that, after a typically journalistic gathering, Alan raised his glass and uttered a few unwise words along the lines of “If I have one more drink, I think I’ll collapse.”

After which, he did both!

As young journalists do, we both eventually went our separate ways. Alan took the high road back to Scotland where he worked first for local radio and later became something of a celeb on the tele!

He subsequently became a very knowledgeable, and highly respected, motoring correspondent.

The reason for writing all this is that, this week, I unexpectedly picked up on one of his Facebook posts…and I think we’ll all raise a glass to his overall sentiments. He says this….

“Spending four days last week as a guest at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee has made me appreciate once again just how lucky we are to have the NHS.

“Everyone who looked after me – the ambulance crew, the nurses, specialists and consultants in the cardiac unit were amazing.

“These people are not angels – they are highly skilled, dedicated and talented professionals who do a brilliant job and we should think ourselves so lucky to have them working on our behalf.

“I’d rather not have needed them….but I’m so glad they were there when I did.”

So, just two things I want to say to Alan McD…

Firstly, I hope you get well soon.

Secondly, let’s all raise a glass to the people you mention. I agree, they may not all be angels, but whatever it is they do, they do it mighty well!

Saturday 22  May: Blog 61 Just a family affair

Now, I know that there must be plenty of perks in being a member of the Royal Family. But right now, I can’t think of too many that I’d much want to swap for.

This came to mind this week when I started thinking of our two young princes, one of whom, Harry, was only 12 when he lost his mum, and who probably worked out even then that he would go through life as the ‘spare’ — rather than an ‘heir’.

His older brother, William, who was already towering above him, equally seemed to realise that, from now on, he’d most likely have to be the ‘sensible’ one.

And that’s the way it’s turned out. William – the prince born to be king – seems to have grown in regal stature. He’s married to an English Rose. They have got three great kids and I’m sure that, come the day, William and his wife will make a great King and Queen.

Harry on the other hand, married an American actress, had a family fall-out, and now lives in the States.

Both issued statements this week in response to the newly-published report by former supreme court judge John Dyson which criticised reporter Martin Bashir for using ‘deceitful tactics’ to secure his infamous 1995 interview with Diana, Princess of Wales…William and Harry’s mum.

William, perhaps the more diplomatic of the two, described the broadcast as: “a major contribution to making my parents’ relationship worse”. His brother, maybe in his new role as unofficial ‘royal insider’ said: “Our mother lost her life because of this, and nothing has changed.”

It is sad, but perhaps understandable, that the brothers have grown so far apart in many ways. Nonetheless, I imagine many parents will find it comforting that they both speak out in terms that their mother would endorse.

I suspect she would be proud of both of them.

Saturday 15 May: Blog 60 Time to stop the fighting

I have only been to Bethlehem once…and that was for a three-day boat trip as part of a 10-day stay in Cyprus. The Itinerary was fairly basic – one day getting there, one day being there, and one day getting back to Cyprus.

Short it might have been, but we have endless once-in-a-lifetime memories – such as following in the steps of Jesus as we walked the Via Dolorosa; entering The Church of the Nativity in Manger Square; and doing our best – but failing miserably – when it came to bartering with canny Palestinian stall holders.

On Friday this week, we saw the other side of the divided city as once again mindless violence broke out pitting Palestinians versus Jews in what seems a never-ending battle.

This time Israeli bombs were fired from air, land and sea to pound the Gaza Strip with 1,000 bombs. The tit-for-tat violence continued with ‘hundreds’ of Palestinian Hamas fighters lured into a fatal trap.

How such a beautiful country could fall time and time again into such deadly, mindless violence, I really don’t know. There seems so much spite and hatred in the region.

Egypt is said to be trying to broker a ceasefire between the two sides, although its efforts to date have so far been rebuffed. And quite honestly, I don’t rate their chances.

Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians are said to have fled their homes to avoid the increasing bombardment.

And so the body count just keeps on growing in a war that seems to know no end. Hamas fighters seem determined not to lose, while the equally dogged Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has warned that there will be no let-up from his side.

If ever prayers were needed, it is surely from both sides…and the deadline is now!

Saturday 8 May: Blog 59 How I discovered new respect for football star

On the football pitch, I never much liked Ian Wright. The Arsenal and England star always seemed a bit hot-headed for my liking. In later years, as a Tv soccer pundit he was just as arrogant…a real ‘know it all’!

So, I was surprised to discover a completely different kind of Wright portrayed in the Home Truths documentary on Thursday. This was Ian Wright’s childhood backstory of being a victim of domestic abuse – a story which is as old as the hills, but is only now being treated with the seriousness it deserves.

In a reconstruction, Wright tells how the persistently cheery ‘Match of the Day’ theme tune used to fill him with dread as his dad forced him to stand in the corner, face to the wall, whenever the show came on. This was his punishment for some real or imagined misdemeanour.

Perhaps more upsetting was where Wright himself talked about his mum who would often say she wished she’d had him ‘terminated’.

Ian’s older brother also appeared on the programme telling how he would ‘block out’ the horrible rows between their mum and dad by holding Ian’s ears down. It is perhaps no wonder that I thought he came across a tad bolshy in his years of soccer glory.

We also heard about Ian Wright’s inspirational teachers who lifted him out of what must have been a depressing time and put his feet on a ladder of opportunity, and escape from a kind of emotional poverty.

This coming week, starting on Monday, May 10 and going through to Sunday May 16, has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Week…and let’s face it, throughout the pandemic, huge numbers of people have experienced mental health problems, and most of us have friends, family, and loved ones facing a struggle.

The charity Mind is spearheading the Mental Health Awareness Campaign. You can find out more by contacting their helpline on 0300 123 3393 or taking a look at mind.org.uk.

Saturday 1 May: Blog 58: Racism and Sexism must not be tolerated

As I write this Blog on Saturday 1 May, football clubs, players, athletes and a number of other sporting bodies have begun a four-day boycott of social media in an attempt to persuade tech giants to take a stronger stance against racist and sexist abuse by users of their platforms.

The boycott of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook began at 3pm on Friday 30 April and ends on Monday 3 May at 23:59pm.

The ‘show of solidarity against online abuse’ hopes to encourage companies to take a stronger stance against racist and sexist abuse by users.

The ban has the support of Prince William who, prior to the commencement of the boycott, Tweeted: “As President of the FA I join the entire football community in the social media boycott this weekend. W,”

William’s support for the ban means that Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will not post pictures of their daughter Princess Charlotte’s sixth birthday which takes place on Sunday … traditionally the royal couple’s communications teams would normally post a photo to mark the occasion – usually on the evening before the birthday.

Racism and sexism in any form cannot and should not be tolerated and I would like to add my support to this protest. Normally my Blog is published on Facebook on Saturday afternoon … or Saturday evening if I am running behind! This week I will be delaying publication until Tuesday.

Saturday 24 April 2021: Blog 57 Two tales to think about

Story One

Two stories dominated the Tv news on Wednesday morning. I’m not sure which story broke first to be honest. But I do know that by 6am, broadcasters on this side of the channel were dancing with delight because, as Corporal Jones might say…they don’t like it up ‘em on the other side. And, of course, this was particularly true when it came to organising a new European Soccer Super League, the aim of which appeared to be to make the richest clubs, even richer.

Now as someone who, since the age of 10 has supported Birmingham City, I’m used to watching my teams go up-and-down more times than your average yo-yo. However, by around lunchtime on Wednesday all of the UK teams and most of those based in Europe had already pulled out of the new League following some rather loud protestations aimed firmly in the direction of Johnny Foreigner…wherever he was from!

Since Liverpool FC is now owned by Boston Red Sox baseball team, it’s perhaps not too hard to work out the UK overseas link, but as there are up to a dozen teams involved in the Euro League idea, I think I’ll leave the rest to you to!

Story Two

Anyway, another story which broke around Wednesday lunchtime pushed all thoughts of football and the like to the back of my mind.

The jury took less than a day to find former US Police Officer Derek Chauvin guilty of killing George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, whom officers arrested after a convenience store employee accused him of using a fake 20-dollar bill to buy cigarettes.

Chauvin was found guilty of three charges: second degree murder; third degree murder; and third degree manslaughter. He is said to have knelt on Floyd’s neck for up to nine-and-a-half minutes and to have ignored his pleas of “I can’t breathe” until Floyd subsequently died.

I don’t know what turns good cops into bad cops. I’m just glad that the good guys (and gals) still seem to outnumber the others, no matter where we meet them. So, I’ll just be grateful for that…and say ‘thank you’ to those cops everywhere who just want to be helpful.

Saturday 17 April 2021: Blog 56 The Duke of Edinburgh

Given that it was a shortened ceremony, BBC Tv was certainly making the most of it. From the crack of dawn, frontman Charlie Stayt seemed to be interviewing everyone in sight to get hidden nuggets from a story which could have been covered in half an hour.

Still, this was THAT kind of story, and if you can’t go to town when you’re covering the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh…well, it’s just not British is it?

My sister and I were talking about this the other day and, even though I’m her YOUNGER brother, neither of us could readily remember a time when there WASN’T a duke at our monarch’s side.

My guess is that he’d have been a hard act to follow. Even I gulped a couple of times when I heard a quote attributed to his wife, Queen Elizabeth.

“Grief is the price we pay for love,” she is said to have opined. And how I wish I’d have said that. Maybe one day, I will.

I suppose the final list of funeral invitees was more akin to the numbers we might attract should we pop off whilst these worrisome Covid times are still hanging about. Perish the thought but we might have to cut back on the military presence or the number of uniformed bandsmen!

Similarly, I’m not so sure the duke can really stake a claim to be the nation’s favourite grandpa…but it’s a kind of warm glow to tuck yourself in with when you go off to bed tonight.

As for me, I’ll be happy to head off for the pearly gates in a borrowed, mini-moke…provided it has a British racing green livery!

For now. I’ll just raise a glass of red to the duke tonight and thank him for all that he’s meant to his longstanding wife and the family they have raised amid all the fuss and shenanigans of the 20th and early 21st century.

Keep smiling, sir!

PS: While Ali and I were watching the royal funeral Darling Daughter and family were attending an on-line wedding ceremony. Can’t help thinking there could be a film in this … or has it already been done!!

Saturday 10 April 2021: Blog 55 End of an era

I am writing this blog on Friday afternoon. And already thousands of words have been written about the life and times of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Some will have a ring of truth about them, others will perhaps show more allegiance to a fanciful tabloid press for whom he is said to have had very little regard.

Perhaps you won’t be too surprised to learn that I fondly imagine him as something of a ‘bloke’s bloke’…one who is far more likely to call a spade ‘a spade’ than a ‘digging implement’ or any other high falutin’ phrase you might come up with.

To me, the Duke of Edinburgh is best known for the award scheme that bears his name. Although I never got remotely close to achieving a Duke of Edinburgh Award of any type — bronze, silver or gold – I have come across many youngsters who did …and they all seemed much better and considerably ‘nicer’ for the experience.

But it wasn’t just for all the ‘good deeds’ that Prince Philip seems to have won the nation’s hearts. He has also been acknowledged by many commentators for the honour, trust and love he seems to have shown to his wife and family for a period exceeding 70 years or so.

That’s some achievement!

….and thanks for your thoughts too!

Many thanks for the kind thoughts sent to Ali and myself following last week’s blog. Much appreciated.

Saturday 3 April 2021: Blog 54 Who’d have thought it?

When I started writing blogs, I never thought they’d be this tricky. I imagined I’d mostly take the mick out of everyone else and then, with a bit of luck, I’d come out with a know-it-all kind of smile on my face.

But a few week’s ago I learned something which took me by surprise. I shared it only with my nearest and dearest on condition that they kept it for their ears only.

Now, two or three weeks later, I realise that this was a pretty unfair promise I was asking them to make. So, let`s be straight, I hereby give them permission to tell whoever they like!

You see, my little secret was that I’ve recently had a health check which revealed I have prostate cancer…and my first reaction was to try to keep it a bit of a secret.

My daughter, a regular chip off the old block, responded in typical Bromhall fashion…she brought me a Prostate Cancer UK wrist band — which I’ve worn pretty much everyday since. She also brought me three pairs of Prostate Cancer UK socks which I now wear with great pride.

And my son probably doesn’t realise that he darned near brought me to tears an hour or two later when some unexpected show of affection caught me off-guard!

My nearest and dearest therefore tacitly agreed that my secret would remain just that…MY secret.

It was a few days later that I realised this was a pretty selfish attitude on my part. Some people whom I know quite well, have no one left to share their illness with, let alone their anxiety. Some people have no one left to care.

So…I’m Malcolm Bromhall, I’ve got prostrate cancer and you’re welcome to get in touch with me if you’ve got any advice or fears that you just want to share. And if, perhaps, you’ve had a recent diagnosis that you just want to talk about, I promise I’ll be all ears!

With love Malcolm

PS Darling Daughter has nicknamed my particular cancer ‘Dennis the Menace’ …it was diagnosed the same day the comic strip terror celebrated his 70th birthday!

Saturday 27 March 2021: Blog 53
Whether you’re blessed with lions or lambs…be happy!

March roars in like a lion
So fierce,
The wind so cold,
It seems to pierce.

The month rolls on
And Spring draws near,
And March goes out
Like a lamb so dear.

The above poem, which I think is generally attributed to Lorrie Hill, does much to bolster the popular image of the month of March…it roars in like a lion, but goes out like a lamb. In other words. March begins life firmly rooted in winter, but – by the time it’s finished – why, it’s darn near spring!

And that’s why, on March 21, 1981, Ali and I chose to get married at Lime Walk Methodist Church, knowing I guess, that there would be plenty of storm clouds ahead but that we could also look forward to plenty of sunshine too.

We also looked at the ‘form book’ for getting wed on March 21…which, of course, is generally regarded as the first day of Spring. If I tell you that Ali’s mum and dad were also married on March 21 and this year (2021) they celebrated 62 years of wedded bliss, you’ll understand why we were more than happy to say `yes, please’ to a bit more of the same when it was our turn to tie the knot in 1981.

By and large, that’s exactly what we got…a bit more of the same…more happiness, more blessings, more joy…with just a hint of a few tough times to keep us on our way.

So, to my in-laws, Roger and Angela, thanks for setting us a fab example, and apologies for the times when we’ve fallen a tad short of the mark.

And to anyone who’s thinking of getting wed this month or some time soon, we wish you much joy, much happiness and heaps of love in the years ahead. We hope that you too will spend more times with the lamb than you spend trying to calm down what ever wild beasts happen to come your way.

Above all…be happy!.

JUST A THOUGHT: The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that this week’s blog is No 53. This means we’ve been going for more than a year. Not sure whether this is a cause for celebration or lament…either way, ‘thanks’!

Saturday 20 March 2021: Blog 52 Proud as Punch

There was a lot to admire about this year’s Comic Relief on Friday (March 19). For a start, our regular host, Lenny Henry, was there showing off his brand new, ‘trendy’ hairdo!

Then there was the true grit of have-a-go hero Billy Monger who, you may remember, suffered a double leg amputation following an horrific racing-car accident three years ago.

Last week, he completed a unique marathon covering 18 laps of Brands Hatch on a bike; an 18 mile walk; 65 miles cycling from Birmingham to Blenheim Place; and kayaking across a very ‘choppy’ Ullswater.

After it all, Billy said: “It is rare that I feel proud of myself or what I have achieved. I am so relieved not to have let anyone down.”

Judging by his social media pages, I’d say lots of other people are proud of Billy too…and of his efforts for Comic Relief.

Another thing that caught my Tv-eye this week was one of the videos between the funny guys and the bit about some of the hard-pressed charities working behind the scenes to make good things happen.

For example, I saw a feature about Courtney – a 17-year-old, working behind the scenes at a project run by her dad, Richie, who was helping to provide food, and somewhere to live, for those in need in his city.

Countney, said of her dad, “I’m very proud of him and everything he does to help people”.

As a dad, I too was proud of Richie, and indeed of Courtney and all that they did together. It was easy to understand why she looked up to him. And he to her.

Mind you, it hadn’t always been that way. He became Courtney’s father when he was just 17, and he too was as proud as Punch. But I guess it’s not easy being a good dad when you are just 17, especially if you’re a drug addict, like Richie. It’s fair to say that new Dad went off the rails, for a while. He ended up in jail and lost touch with Courtney.

But the story does have a happy ending. Richie is ‘clean’ and now runs his charity with the help of others. The ‘helpers’ include Courtney who goes out with her Dad, ‘working the vans’ on a regular basis.

* * *

Friday wasn’t just Comic Relief Day… it was also the Feast Day of St Joseph… Jesus’s Dad. Joseph doesn’t get a lot of mentions in the Bible…and yet he is a vital role model for Jesus. Let’s face it, Joseph is the one who was willing to defy the norms of society to do God’s will. And I guess that both Jesus and Joseph were both mighty proud of that.

Saturday 13 March 2021: Blog 51 Those were the days, my friend!

You know how sometimes even half-a-memory won’t wipe itself from your mind? Well that happened to me this week… when I least expected it!

Ali was working late, so I was watching a bit of early evening tele, presented by Naga Munchetty.

Naga was fronting a Panorama programme called ‘Let’s talk race!’ which promised input from all over the place, including Birmingham which, for those who don’t know, is where I’m originally from.

Anyway, on the basis that it would pass an interesting hour so, I sat down to watch. There was the usual Brum-type scene setters – the Bullring, the Rotunda building, a bustling City Centre etc – but then the voice over added something like:

“Near the city centre lies Alum Rock…the most deprived area of Birmingham.”

YER WHAT?! I asked, somewhat loudly…(please, bear in mind, that I was alone in an otherwise empty house!)

I got my first guitar from my cousin David, who lived in Alum Rock. In fact. he loved the area so much that he even named his band ‘The Alum Rockers’… at least that’s what it said on his guitar case!

My Secondary School at that time was Saltley Grammar, although its address was Bordesley Green. In fact you had to walk from the school through Alum Rock, fringe on Washwood Heath neck-of-the-woods, and only then would you actually get to Saltley. Back in the day the area was most famous for its mass picket of a fuel depot during the 1972 miners’ strike.

Funnily enough, though, Alum Rock did have a couple of small parts to play in my teenage years. I seem to think it was there, at the No 28 bus stop just outside the Birmingham Municipal Bank, that I first chatted to Chris Morris, who was soon to become a great pal and the drummer in my schoolboy band.

It was also at Alum Rock where I got my first Saturday Job, working at the Attirey clothes shop alongside the owner Alan Jones, who subsequently, and briefly, become the band’s manager and designed our first stage jackets.

If only we had become famous there’d be a blue plaque around those parts reminding everyone that both we, and Alan, were there at some point!

Ah well…here’s to anonymity!

Saturday 6 March 2021: Blog 50 Be careful what you wish for!

Was it only last week that I suggested we should avoid the word ‘normality’ like the plague? I think it was.

‘Normalcy’, I argued, was a vastly over-rated commodity. And so you can probably imagine the kind of things I wrote about people who just wanted stuff to get back to normal!

If that includes you…then I’m sorry.

Incidentally, this Thursday’s Daily Mail includes a couple of pictures of Chancellor Rishi Sunak, one taken last year outside No 11 Downing Street. in which he appears looking diminutive amid seven colleagues; the other was taken this year where he tops 10 colleagues at the towering head of an indoor No 11 staircase.

And just to prove we ARE all capable of getting back to normal, the first page insists the Dishy Rishi’s policies will mean:

“Tax will rocket to levels not seen since the 1960s”

So, firm but fair I guess!

Mind you, tax, of course, is nothing new. The first book of the Bible, Genesis, says ‘Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years.’

Budget Day this week was on Wednesday – not that the day really mattered because most of the announcements had already been shared in the run-up to the Budget.

Back in the day, when Ali and I worked in public relations we used to host a Budget ‘party’ on behalf of a leading business advisor.

In those days, the Budget was ALWAYS held on a Tuesday, and there were NEVER any leaks… the only way to have comments to say or views to share were at one of our parties … where the news was inevitably washed down by a glass of wine and a canapé or three! Happy days!!

Saturday 27 February 2021 Blog 49
The Sun is shining…so what’s to complain about!

I’m looking out on my backyard as I write this latest missive. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and, all in all, it’s a pretty fab spring day. So…what’s my problem? Come to think of it, what’s everyone’s problem?

I mean, aren’t we just coming through what has been the worst peacetime crisis most of us have ever witnessed? In the UK alone it is reckoned that around 4 million cases of coronavirus have been confirmed, leading to around 112,000 deaths.

That’s grim by any standard and, of course, behind each and every death there is a human story of loss and heartbreak, which too many people have painfully experienced over the past 12 months.

But of late, I’ve heard other people complain that they can’t wait to get back to ‘normal’…regular readers will know that I’m not a fan of ‘normalcy’…seems to me that it’s always been a tad overrated!

In some of the phone-ins and doorstep conversations I’ve heard this week, there have been many moans about schools starting too late…or too soon. And there seems divided opinion about our treatment of older folk; ripping off young people, as opposed to giving them a good start in life; and treatment of the disabled.

All of which are very sadly ‘normal’ by the way; and I am sure we could all do better, so there are improvements all round to be made. But other things I’m looking forward to are, getting back to hugs, good company…and I guess, just being glad to have survived thus far!

…a motto to be proud of

I was delighted when my own doctors got round to my age group as ‘a patient of a certain age’ to receive the Covid jab. For one thing it gave me chance to explore the new Brackley Medical Centre! This already provides a swankey new site for the impressive Lowick Pharmacy and, coming soon, a home for the new Brackley Community Hospital.

The day I went along I also received a new vaccination card bearing a reminder to “Enjoy life” & “Protect Myself”. A motto even the Scouts would be proud of!

Saturday 20 February 2021: Blog 48 Another landlord from hell?

I suppose lots of people remember the name Peter Rachman. He came to England from Poland during the second world war. By 1962 he was a millionaire and had earned a place in the Oxford English Dictionary where “Rachmanism” was defined as “the exploitation and intimidation of tenants by unscrupulous landlords”.

Rachman was not a nice person.  Apart from his dodgy landlord scam, he also ran brothels. In fact, he didn’t come to the British public’s notice until a year after he died in 1962 when his name was mentioned in court alongside that of someone who kept both Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies as mistresses.

I suppose that, as a budding newshound, Rachman was a name and a reputation I got to hear far too frequently throughout the sixties.

I was suitably shocked therefore when I heard on tv this week more sordid stories of a ‘modern day’ Rachman. Or maybe it was several ‘Rachmans’ all plying a similar trade.

Imagine, if you will, an immigrant family, not all speaking pristine English. Some perhaps, bending the odd rule or two, to make sure they managed to settle in the land that had long represented their hopes and their dreams.

The ‘nice’ landlord showed them to their ‘new’ house. Not great, but it would do. And as they lay there, trying to sleep in their strange new environment, the ceiling paper started, to move.

Suddenly, clawing paws and enquiring noses began to rummage and search in the newly-revealed loft where rats had been encouraged to set up their nest just a few feet above the heads of their human room-mates.

Welcome to Rachmanism in 21st century Britain.

The antics of the original Peter Rachman and his likes were exposed by the BBC’s Wednesday Play in 1966. The play ‘Cathy come home’ starred Carol White and Ray Brooks. It was written by Jeremy Sandford and directed by Ken Loach in November of that year.

Some 12 million people are said to have watched it. It also became a launch pad for Shelter, the national charity for the homeless…a cause I have supported ever since.

The recent story about rats being found in lofts suggests that a few landlords have let their standards slip over the past 55 years. Maybe ‘Cathy’ and her three kids still need a safe house to call home.

After all, at a time when we’re being told to stay home, protect the NHS, and save lives, we also need to make sure that we all have homes fit to stay in.

Saturday 13 February 2021: Blog 47 Is this brave or what?

It was either very brave, or very stupid…and I’m blowed if I know which!

Earlier this week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a major review of the health service. On the plus side, he says, the plan would deliver more integration, less bureaucracy and greater support for the way in which the NHS and social care work together.

Obviously, there’s lots more detail to follow but, on the surface, it sounds fine.  Just what the doctor ordered in fact!

My big concern is the timing. How well is this going to go down on the wards? Nurses, in particular, and NHS staff in general, virtually took on saintly personae during the warmer months of 2020 as we all stood on our doorsteps each week clapping like crazy and banging on various bits of kitchen hardware just to underline our point.

And this wasn’t a protest. This was US showing our love and appreciation for all that the NHS community do on our behalf. Doctors and nurses and anyone else who counts themselves as part of the NHS Club, can justifiably walk with a bit more swagger knowing that we truly appreciate all that they do for us.

But to follow that up with a root and branch shake up of most, if not all, of what they do, might seem like something of a slap in the face.

I’m sure it’s not intended that way so let’s just hope that the rest of the review process will be carried out with a greater degree of decorum…and due regard for all those who daily put service before self.

Romance…alive and well!

Despite being one of the coldest days of the year so far, the lunchtime queue at a Brackley supermarket seemed even longer than usual on Saturday. Then we remembered the date the following day…February 14…St Valentine’s Day. Closer inspection confirmed an unusually high number of solo males in the queue, mostly wanting to buy flowers. Who says romance is dead?

Saturday 6 February: Blog 46: Nice one Captain Tom!

I felt sorry for Anglican clergyman, the Rev Jenal Robinson-Brown this week, who must surely regret describing NHS hero, Captain Sir Tom Moore, as part of the UK ‘cult of white British nationalism.’ It was, at best, a tad tactless!

The hapless cleric subsequently withdrew the quote…but not quite soon enough, as it bounced around the world at about the same time as the Captain died.

Captain Tom passed away on Tuesday, February 2, 2021. At around the same time, the Rev Robinson-Brown was appointed to serve the parish of All Hallows’-by-the-Tower, the oldest church in the City of London.

* * *

I think I would have got on well with Captain Tom. He seemed always to get things done and then worry about the hows, whys and wherefores a bit later. Of course, I don’t know that for a fact but, I guess anyone who started off a marathon by walking just 100 yards in his back garden, was made an honorary colonel by his regiment, arranged a house visit from David Beckham, chatted with F1 champion driver Lewis Hamilton, was made an official member of the England cricket team by former captain Michael Vaughan…and still found time to record a Number One hit single and be knighted by the Queen, would quite rapidly tick a lot off my list!

I guess there are many other things about Captain Tom that I could and should have brought to mind if only I’d thought a bit longer. I mean, I haven’t even touched on his war career which saw him flying over India and Burma or how he later became an instructor in armoured warfare!

After the war he worked as managing director of a concrete company and then, in his spare time I guess, got into motorcycle racing!

Yep! I can’t help but think Tom and I could get ourselves into a lot of trouble had we only met sometime in our youth! I think for both our sakes, I’m so glad we didn’t.

* * *

I was chatting about this to our daughter, Keely, shortly after Captain Tom’s death and bemoaning the fact that more adults didn’t adopt the Captain’s ‘can do’ philosophy.

She kind of agreed and then unexpectedly quoted some ancient chart song* from which she extrapolated the maxim:

“Maybe you’re never too old to make your mark on the world.”

Never too old…and, I think we would both agree, never too young. So, wherever you are on life’s great timeline, do make your mark wherever you can. Who knows, no matter where we happen to be in time, we could still help turn someone’s life around.

  • For ‘pop quiz’ geeks: the record was “I believe” by The Bachelors, released in 1964 (at least 21 years before birth of darling daughter!).

Saturday 30 January: Blog 45: At last….something to smile about!

It’s funny the things you find yourself having to remember isn’t it? I mean, I don’t know why, or indeed when, I found myself just having to remember that the Christmas sing-along ‘Frosty the Snowman’ was originally written for Gene Autry, famous as one of Hollywood’s most debonair; ‘pretend-cowboys’

‘All teeth and no stirrups’ my Auntie Joyce used to say. But I never really understood why!

Anyway, memories of Frosty – that jolly happy soul — came flooding back last weekend when, as you might recall, we had the first ‘real snow’ of winter.

My thoughts were hauled back to the time when Ali and I lived in Adderbury, virtually opposite a guy called Stewart West. Stewart was an electrician who seemed to spend the second half of every year building his ever-growing Christmas lighting display.

People came not only from the village but from here, there and everywhere to see Stewart and his glittering array of yuletide lights…they would also give generously to his collection for Katharine House, the hospice just down the road.

I was in a band called Telling Tales at the time together with Ali and our great chums Ian and Jo Hearle. The great ‘Adderbury Christmas light swich on’ soon became one of our favourite yuletide gigs!

It generated a great sense of belonging and togetherness…not exactly unheard of in village communities, but a tad more rare in the towns and cities that I’ve more often called ‘home’.

Anyway, the point is, and I knew I’d get round to it eventually, I noticed the same atmosphere creeping into the highways and byways of Brackley last weekend – the place where I currently hang my hat.

I think the snow, and its compulsory change of routine, led to something having to give and provide a break to the inevitable doom and gloom into which many of us had descended.

You just had to go outside to hear children laughing whole-heartedly, probably the best thing to do; adults joined in – because if you can’t beat ‘em you might as well join ‘em …and, if you couldn’t find a grinning child, you were as well to slap a smile on your face and say ‘hello’ to whoever you met.

Now, I know that building snowmen, sledging, having snowball fights, giggly kids and equally giggly parents are not everyone’s cup of tea, but – let’s be honest – they made a good change. So, thank you Frosty, I hope you enjoyed the unexpected appearance … meanwhile…keep smiling!

Saturday 23 January: Blog 44: My Big Sis

I phoned my Big Sis this week. Nothing too unusual in that only this time there was no answer, so I left a message on the basis that she was probably out shopping for essentials. What was unusual was that she didn’t phone back.

Now I should explain that Big Sis lives in Harrogate where, at this time of the year, rivers tend to get deeper by the minute. And I didn’t admit it of course – little bruvs don’t do that sort of thing (so don’t tell her!) – but I was just beginning to get a tad anxious when she finally got in touch. “Sorry I didn’t call back earlier,” she said, “It was the Silver Swans”. As if that explained it all.

I was racking my brains to think what she was talking about … had the floods actually reached them? was their garden now rivalling Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust? …  when she added, a tad more helpfully, ‘you know, my dance group, The Silver Swans, I never miss that’.

Ah yes…my sister’s weekly dance group! It was, of course, set in stone to all but the thickest of folk…people like me for whom one dance was pretty much the same as another.

My sis has been strutting her stuff on Zoom since last March and as we continue in lockdown, with little sign of release on the horizon, it occurred to me that February 2021 could be the ideal time to commit to taking up a new hobby.

And so, with that sort of back-drop in mind, I wish to suggest the following way forward.

Firstly, are there any folk out there who, regardless of past experience (of lack of it) would be willing to give The Silver Swans dance group a bit of a try?

The class would be via Zoom and be supported by experienced Silver Swan hatchlings who would take you through your step-ball-changes, grapevines and whatever else it is they do!

I would be more than happy to facilitate, so if you think it might be of benefit to you or any of your friends then please get in touch … I reckon it could be fun!

And if you can think of any other things we might collectively do together while separated, again please let me know. Let’s all commit to making it a Fun February.

Saturday 16 January: Blog 43: Little things mean a lot

I’ve always liked little things. I suppose the penny finally dropped on the day I accepted that 5ft 5in in my stocking feet was probably the most I could aspire to. On the same day I simultaneously started dating Clare Davidge and Elaine Daniels – surely the two tallest girls at Saltley Grammar School – and, coincidentally, decided that my drummer pal, Chris Morris, was probably my best friend ever.

OK so maybe that didn’t all actually happen on the same day, but you get the idea….and to me at least, it all seemed like the same day! Some sort of ‘right of passage’ rather than a series of events, I guess.

Incidentally, our daughter, Keely, shares her physical stature largely with me, rather than her mum. To some, she can quite often look a tiddly-tad diminutive…but don’t be fooled, she can be a tough cookie!

For example, more than a year ago she quit full-time teaching to set up her own business as MD of an indoor climbing centre. (Clip ‘n Climb in Bicester). Thanks to Government lockdowns, she’s now probably been forced to closed more than she’s been open but that hasn’t stopped her coming up with ingenious ideas to keep the business in people’s minds and creating new plans for when the doors once again re-open.

Being creative in lockdown is important for all of us – and it’s the little things that make all the difference.

Perhaps that’s phoning someone for a chat, doing someone a favour, or even, as I received this week, a good old-fashioned letter.

Ali took over home school PE on Tuesday and went for a one-on-one exercise stroll with our grandson Harrison. Admittedly, she was third choice of walking companion coming in after best chums Will and Alfie, but when you’re eight, the one person you’re allowed to meet outside is limited … and I have to say that both Nanny and grandson had a fab time.

We also met up via Zoom earlier today for a games afternoon … with Harrison marking another important victory … discovering that his Grampy (Malc) is a former professional bingo caller!

Legs 11, two little ducks 22, doctor’s orders number 9 … it’s like riding a bike, you just don’t forget!

Saturday 9 January: Blog 42: Why I won’t be sad to say farewell to Donald Trump

The trouble with spending too much time playing with the naughty boys, is that all too often you’re left hanging about with just the scallywags and the ne’er-do-wells. The good guys never get a look-in.

I was thinking of this on Friday as I tried to dig up a modicum of sympathy for the outgoing president of the United States – former premier Donald Trump. I’m beginning to think the only thing he’s likely to carry away from the White House is a much-improved golf-handicap.

I certainly couldn’t help but think that he’d spent too much time in recent months hanging out with, what my mum would have called, the ‘wrong’ sort of friends.

You know, the ones who like ‘Kaa’, the slippery snake in Jungle Book, would frequently advise ‘trust in me’, but who secretly had only their own self-interest at heart.

Like Kaa, the slippery President Trump seemed to have a rapidly changing fistful of fantasies which could be adapted to suit any occasion.

At first glance, some seemed slightly plausible, but most appeared to owe their ‘plot’ to some sort of second-rate John Le Carre, anxious to make a name for himself.

Mr Trump seemed to sway from urging his supporters to occupy the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to warning them that they’d be charged if they even thought about it come Friday.

Clearly, someone in the Trump camp DID think about it and Twitter slapped an immediate ban on whatever the president wanted to say.

All in all, there’s an amazing amount that’s happened this week. I honestly find it hard to believe it’s all happened in just one life lifetime.

I’ve never pretended to be too much of a Trump fan. On my own doorstep, I still find it hard to forgive him for the trickery of trying to set up a meeting in the White House with the parents of teenage motorcyclist Harry Dunn and his alleged killer Anne Sacoolas, who currently lives at home in America — having escaped justice by claiming diplomatic immunity.

Saturday 2 January: Blog 41: Christmas done and dusted!

Well that’s another Christmas done and dusted, and I can’t help but think that John the Baptist, the guy who got it all kicked off, probably has a lot to answer for.

The cousin of Christ, he was born before the baby Jesus and, let’s be honest, it has to be said he grew up a bit strange. He wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a big leather belt around his tummy, and he liked nothing better than to dine out on locusts and wild honey.

And he was kind of hard to understand too. I mean what was all this stuff about not being the light of the world…itself, just a WITNESS to the light? Sounds double Dutch if you ask me!

Mind you, one thing I do have to stand up for when it comes to John the Baptis … you’ve got to admit he seemed pretty darned reliable. I mean, not only was his story told in all four gospels … his coming was also predicted in both Isaiah and Malachi and he was mentioned several times throughout Acts. That’s a pretty good strike rate.

His role was summed up time and time again as that of the one who had come ‘to bring good news’.  Although, I have to admit, it frequently sounded like bad news in disguise!

I suppose I’ll just keep the Christmas nativity tableau in my mind’s eye. You know where you stand with that. I’m sure you all know the one. We’ve got the cute, clean and incredibly well-behaved baby Jesus lying in the manger; the humble. and gentle shepherds, who probably didn’t even have to wipe their feet before stepping into the stable; and then there’s the wise men bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh … and maybe as a finishing touch we could add a scattering of angels, all singing ‘Hark the Herald’ or some other appropriate Charley Wesley carol?

Of course, I guess there’s another poser … maybe we should be asking ourselves whether our world and our lives are not quite as they COULD be, are not as God wants them to be.

Often we live such busy, exhausting lives that we have become indifferent to the needs of others, and increasingly I fear, indifferent to the needs of the very planet we call home.

The good news is that our God is not indifferent. He is not indifferent to creation. He is not indifferent to the evil and the suffering in this world. He is not indifferent to life … be it yours or mine.

 

Saturday 19 December: Blog 40: In the bleak mid-winter

I suppose it would be good if I could say something nice…something positive…about all the things you’re going to be reading this weekend about the ‘Great Christmas Crackdown’. But maybe I’ll leave all that for someone else.

There’s sure to be some columnist, somewhere or other, who’s relishing the chance to slag-off a rival because his readership, not to mention his editor, is convinced that what he’s paid to do.

But you know, somewhere out in the real world, there will be a widow who will no longer be able to have Christmas lunch with her son or daughter, because one way or another, she’s found herself living in a different tier.

There will be broken promises running north to south and east to west along what we used to call the United Kingdom. And I guess the net result will be a tad more loneliness and a tad more hurt in a place they used to call home.

I think now is a good time to take stock of all the tremendous services and great facilities we have on our doorsteps… maybe we only rue their passing once they’ve gone.

So next time you get great service at a local shop, or a bus driver hangs on to make sure you’re on board, do remember to say thanks and give a big smile. Don’t forget, at times like this we all need a bit of encouragement.

Now, wrap up warm and I’ll see you soon!

Saturday 12 December Blog 39: Why the Street of Ink is running a tad dry

It’s funny how times have changed. When Ali and I were running a PR consultancy in the centre of Banbury it seemed only natural that we should buy armfuls of newspapers every day just to make sure that we knew what was going on.

There were local dailies and weeklies from all over the place; bags bursting with nationals on most days, and one or two specialist trade mags to keep ourselves busy in quieter moments. At weekends we (or more accurately I) usually kept up with one or two top sports titles…well I couldn’t run the risk of Birmingham City actually winning the odd match or two whilst I wasn’t looking!

These days we normally take just a single daily newspaper on a Saturday, a couple of midweek weeklies, and that’s about it.

Could it be the Street of Ink is running just a tad dry?

***

I can’t help but think that all this gloom and doom stuff is maybe just a little over-the-top. OK so it’s confession time. You see I’ve got today’s Daily Mail in front of me and I’m looking at a two-page spread carrying four stories under the headlines: ‘Sheep farms fear No Deal tariffs will kill industry’; ‘Pound sinks as City says No Deal will cost £36bn’; ‘Driven to despair: Huge lorry tailbacks at clogged ports’; ‘Covid and Christmas are to blame for this chaos – NOT Brexit’.

You see, they’re all telling tales of misery at a time when I think most people are scared enough without the Daily Mail adding even more doom to the gloom.

I’m a believer in telling it like it is; and we probably all know people who are just about hanging on in there. But, there’s a big difference between honesty and scare-mongering. It’s important to know the difference between the two sides.

***

I guess only time will tell whether last Saturday’s Daily Mail got it right or wrong with its page one lead headed “We’ll send in gunboats”. Also on the same page was a photo caption revealing Louis, Charlotte and George looking a tad overcome as they took to the red carpet and marched into the London Palladium for an evening of festive fun with their parents … ‘Oh no they didn’t’, ‘Oh yes they did’!

Saturday 5 December: Blog 38: Turning words into action and prayer

If you’d asked me earlier this week, I’d probably have told you that when it comes to tv-viewing, I was definitely a child of the fifties.

You see, I remember television programmes like ‘Rag, Tag & Bobtail’, ‘Andy Pandy’ and the ‘Woodentops’ – which included the biggest spotty dog you ever did see – but by the time the early sixties came around I’d discovered rock n roll, and guitars and the joy of spending Saturday mornings trailing around some of Birmingham’s best loved music shops…’Watch with Mother’ just did not compete.

And I suppose I still prefer to look at what’s on ‘real tele’…you know ‘…the BBC and ITV and that sort of stuff, before I caste a glance at any of the new-fangled satellite offerings we keep being tempted by.

However, my wife Ali and I agreed to watch and listen to this year’s Shelter carol service ‘Home. Hope. Song.’ which  came from St Martin-in-the-Fields church in London’s Trafalgar Square. I must admit that, although I was sympathetic to the cause, I tuned in without too much genuine enthusiasm.

But, in case you’re thinking this is just another whinge-at-all-costs kind of blog, I feel obliged to share a few more ‘well, fancy that’ kind of facts which could cause you to think again.

* * *

You see, not only is St Martin’s a mighty fine city-centre location. it is also the very place where Shelter was founded back in 1966.

Not only did the programme feature people who had themselves been helped by Shelter, it also included ‘celebrity’ interviews with those who must thank their lucky stars that they’d never had to go knocking too hard on Shelter’s door … names like Julie Walters, Stephen Fry and Robert Rinder.

But what struck me were the Joe Soaps of this world. Ordinary, everyday people who found themselves in a mess and, rather than being able to dig their way out of it, just found the hole getting deeper and deeper.

The virtual carol concert is still available to view on Shelter’s YouTube channel (to date it has been enjoyed by over 8,700 viewers) …and I hope you too, if you can, will turn your thoughts into action and your indignation into prayers and help those in housing need to find a way of digging their way out rather than just going in deeper and deeper.

Saturday 28 November Blog 37: Why Mrs Christmas deserves a big ‘thank you’

Now, I must admit, this week has been confession time for me. You see, until now I’ve been pretty much convinced that I was up to speed as far as all this pandemic malarkey was concerned.

But this weekend has left me as confused as ever about whether it’s all getting worse or perhaps a tad better. Or maybe just middling around somewhere twixt the two.

It seems just a few days ago that we were all preparing for five days of family revels around Christmas. Now we seem to be reminded that even Grannies and Grandpas should be given as wide a berth as possible when it comes to yuletide hugs beneath the mistletoe.

Maybe it’s because I’ve finally admitted that perhaps even I could be heading towards what they euphemistically describe as a ‘vulnerable’ age group. Or maybe it’s just that I can’t keep up to speed with everything we’re all supposed to remember. Who knows.

* * *

All these thoughts, and a few more besides, were going through my mind this morning (Saturday) but I have to admit that any gloomy notions were quickly cast aside by the excited tones of my very own Mrs Christmas.

Close friends will know that Mrs Christmas is, throughout most of the year, better known as Ali…my smart-as-a-button wife. But come advent she gets super-excited and increasingly bursts into fits of giggles and uncontrollable yuletide activities.

So this morning, for example she had scrubbed the path to the front door (lest Santa come a cropper); changed the wreath on the door for something more seasonable; artistically draped a clutch of white icicle-type lights between our bedroom windows; dragged a potted Christmas tree (which had enjoyed summer in the back garden) to the front and festooned it with lights; did a weekend supermarket shop and then took me off to Buckingham Garden Centre, to buy yet more lights (red for the green climber making its way up the garage wall, and white to adorn the star above the lounge fireplace)…all this and much more, before returning home by lunchtime!

I’m worn out just by thinking of it all! I guess I’d just like to say a mega ‘thank you’ to all Mrs Christmas’s past, present and future…I’m still not sure how you do it, but I’m very glad that you do!

Lot’s of love from Malcolm…a mere bloke!

Saturday 21 November: Blog 36: Priti by name….

As a dad, I think that Pretty is a great name to give to your daughter. However, I’m sure that my own daughter, Keely — named after a Lloyds Bank cashier in Banbury — goes to bed each night giving thanks that I resisted any such temptation.

You see, I know it’s a different language and a different culture but, let’s be honest, Pretty and Priti sound much the same. And you can’t help but smile at the notion of our Home Secretary, Priti Patel, landing herself in hot water for cussing and swearing at her own staff.

It’s almost as funny as Donald Trump insisting that he won the US presidential election! Who said politics is boring?

* * *

Apart from the bru-ha-ha over Priti, most of this week took a decidedly medical direction. Ali and colleagues at Brackley Medical Centre packed their belongings in brown cardboard boxes (seems to have been a lot of that going on last week!) and moved to swanky new premises which will soon also become home to the new Brackley Community Hospital.

On Thursday, I spent a day in the Horton Hospital, Banbury undergoing a decidedly embarrassing procedure (which everyone else seemed to think I must have volunteered for). I’ll just say it probably wasn’t a pretty site, and leave the rest to your imagination!

I enjoyed some enforced R&R at home on Friday, then on Saturday I was back within shouting distance of Ali’s new medical centre desk when I was invited to the even newer Brackley Care Home, just opposite, for a meeting with the manager Sheena Croston.

If ever there was a way to end the week, then this was it. Such enthusiasm. Such energy. Such pride!

So, for all of you who are settling into new jobs, or familiar jobs in new locations, I just want to wish you well and to say ‘thank you’ for all that you are doing to bring your skills, your care and your kindness to this neck of the woods!

Saturday 14 November: Blog 35 No one likes a bad loser

So … democracy in the United States still seems to be on hold and I reckon you’re still more likely to find Donald Trump on the golf course than in the Oval Office!

I think it was only this week that I discovered he hates losing even more than he dislikes not winning. Let’s face it, that’s a rather upsetting fact for an already defeated president to take on board!

Still, moving on to more important things, it was also only this week that I learned of World Kindness Day which apparently takes place every year on November 13…that was Friday, this time round.

The idea was introduced in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement. Now, I can sense your eyes glazing over already, so let me just explain that World Kindness Day is observed in many countries including the UK, Canada, Australia, Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates and Singapore.

It is active among individuals, business organisations and schools (including some in Northants). If any readers have come across it in the past, or might like to engage in the future, please get in touch. I’m exploring various possibilities!

* * *

Kindness is also the theme of the 2020 Christmas advert launched by Waitrose partner John Lewis this week (other stores are available!).

From a simple act like rescuing a ball from a tree, to delivering food to a friend or fixing a pair of glasses, the ad shows how small acts of kindness inspire kindness in others.

Brand manager James Morrison says: “The ad shows how lots of individual acts come together. The point is to show that, no matter how insignificant it is, one little act of kindness can lead to another, and if we can all recognise that we can make a big difference to people around us.”

Amen to that. Personally, I can’t believe that anyone should reckon we have TOO much kindness knocking about…but, then, we do live in strange times!

* * *

Finally, a word of kindness from my new 2020 companion ‘mole’ created by author and illustrator Charlie Mackesy:

“The funny thing is,” said the mole “the tiniest act of kindness can save a life.”

Saturday 7 November: Blog 34 An awkward silence

It’s 10 past 10 on Saturday, November 7. By now I would normally know the subject I intended to tackle in this week’s blog. But today is different. Today, some four days after the USA’s presidential election, we still don’t really know who’s really won!

Both a ‘good riddance’ to the passing of President Trump or a cautionary note on the elevation of Joe Biden seem a tad premature…although it seems the ‘good riddance’ option seems most likely! I guess we’ll all have to carry on watching and waiting for a day or two longer.

In a way, I suppose it’s very commendable that the American election authorities seemed to agree that it was best to do what was ‘right’…rather than take the more speedy option of just getting things done!

Meanwhile, of course, Mr Trump seems to have a few more writs and unexpected surprises up his sleeve so I guess we’re all going to have to wait and see.

* * *

I suppose patience is something to which we should all try to aspire…although in my own case I accept that patience is often in short supply. In such circumstances I often tend to turn to Paul’s letter to the Romans. (Actually, I often turn to that particular letter no matter what the circumstances!)

If you’re like me, you probably have to wrestle with Romans 8: 24 & 25…but I reckon it’s well worth the effort. To me it’s an assurance that, whilst we can be confident in the here and now of our salvation, we can still look ahead with hope and trust towards the complete change of body and personality that will make us more like Christ himself.

* * *

Last words on hope, patience and things yet to come. Sixty years ago, when I was an annoying nipper aged 10, my now brother in law Mike took me to my first ever ‘proper’ football match. It was under floodlights at St Andrews, home to Birmingham City FC.

I was hooked and have remained a follower ever since. Thanks largely to foreign investment, we now have a venue ironically titled the Trillion Trophy Stadium. I’ll leave you to imagine just how many trophies the Trillion Trophy Stadium actually houses!

But as every new season kicks off, I renew my hope, patience and confidence in all that lie ahead…now, if only we could put as much faith in God.

Saturday 31 October: A lesson from the humble olive

Michael Goodwin will always by one of life’s good guys as far as I’m concerned. A permanent twinkle in his eyes and a sharp phrase or two on his lips, he’s definitely the kind of guy that you wouldn’t want to take on in open debate. Chances are, he’d always have the last word if you did!

A retired head teacher, a peace activist, a Quaker, and – most recently – a Human Rights Ecumenical Accompanier in the Middle East… Michael is what you might call a ‘good egg’.

Having given such a glowing testimonial, I should also point out that Michael was my wife Ali’s boss for many a year.

It was in retirement that he took on the role as an Ecumenical Accompanier in and around Bethlehem and olive trees moved up a notch or two on his agenda.

The olive trees of Palestine have been tended by countless generations. There is, in fact, a tree in Bethlehem, called Al-Badawi, that’s said to be more than 4,000 years old.

Perhaps then, it is no surprise that the olive tree also represents Palestinian attachment to the land and the population’s general sense of resilience and perseverance in the face of seemingly interminable land-loss.

Now all this would be fine had it not been for a Tweet Michael shared earlier this week.

It seems that the Israelis are blocking the roads giving Palestinians essential access to their much-valued olive trees. So, for example, last month farmers were given just two hours to harvest around 1,000 trees planted and growing on Palestinian land.

It’s a long and complicated battle of words but it seems that Palestinians are often prevented from harvesting their own crops growing on their own land.

Now you might think that an olive isn’t worth losing much sleep about, but let me just bombard you with a few facts and figures: Olive oil accounts for 25% of the West Bank’s agricultural exports; olive trees are said to contribute around 14% to the Palestinian economy; around 1,000 sq km of Palestinian land is planted with olive trees, because olives are resilient and can put up with harsh conditions,

* * *

I suppose that In view of the government’s lockdown announced on today (Saturday 31 October), we too have to take a lesson from the humble olive and do all we can to build up our own resilience and strength over the coming weeks.

I wish everyone of you well with that particular quest over the weeks ahead. Meanwhile I pray that you will all keep safe and stay healthy over the days ahead.

Saturday 24 October: Heroes past, present and future

It was a BBC news alert to my mobile phone which started a week in which heroes – past, present and future – seemed to feature large.

The headline on the news alert read “Spencer Davis, one of rock’s elder statesmen, dies’. I suppose my first question was how could ‘young Spence’ be dead? Followed by ‘How old did they say he was…81! Surely, that must have been a typo?

But no. Spencer Davis, the Welshman who became an adopted Brummie, really was that old.

In 1963 he had formed the group which later was to take his name…and by heck, it was one of the best bands around featuring Stevie Winwood on keyboards, guitar and vocals, brother Muff Winwood on bass, Pete York on drums and, of course, Spencer himself on guitar and vocals. Hits included ‘Keep on Running’, which knocked a Beatles double A-side off the number one spot, ‘Somebody help me’, ‘I’m a man’ and ‘Gimme some loving.’

And, if you’re into little known facts, Spencer Davis & Co also recorded the theme song to the long-running children’s Tv show ‘Magpie’ under the pseudonym of ‘The Murgatroyd Band’.

* * *

As you can guess, I was a huge fan and so I read through many of his obits and tributes that followed his demise. And that’s when, by chance, I came across one of my present-day heroes.

I first met Jim Simpson when he was a photographer with a magazine called Midland Beat. He arranged take some pics with a schoolboy band I sang with called The Individuals.

A few years later I worked for Jim’s company ,‘Big Bear Records’, and I guess that, as I had got to know him as a ‘proper gent’ with a rich musical heritage, I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find the following quote from him.

“Spencer was a lovely man,” said Jim “always very courteous and a purist about music. He was scholarly and well educated, very gentle and kind, and his tastes in music were spot on.”

I’m pleased that the passing of time and the pressures of the music business haven’t made Jim more cynical. He’s still a hero.

***

My hero for the future already has a CBE for being heroic…and he’s only 22. Marcus Rashford, backed by his no-nonsense mum, is sticking with his campaign to end child poverty.

But this isn’t pleasing everyone. Politicians seem divided on the subject, many parents take the view that, anyone choosing to have a child should be prepared to fork-out for its upkeep

Marcus knows from experience that this isn’t always possible, and lot’s of people seem to think he’s right. He’s certainly my hero for the future.

Good luck Marcus…may you continue to ruffle a few feathers for many years to come.

Saturday 17 October: When patience wears thin, just be nice!

Is it just me or are an awful lot of people getting a tad grumpier than usual? I know the nights are drawing in and that generally speaking there’s a bit more of ‘a nip in the air’, but I reckon the one thing that’s most noticeable by it’s absence is a great big dollup of ‘niceness’.

Could this be the unexpected backlash from Covid 19, I wonder? Hopes that it would miss the UK from its world-wide itinerary have been dashed.

Dreams of a wonder-drug this side of Christmas came crashing down almost as quickly as they went up.

And probably the only person most of us can name who went down with the virus but bounced back almost as quickly as mere mortals shake off the common cold, turned out to be Donald Trump! It’s no wonder we’re all a bit vexed.

In the past week alone, I’ve heard some shocking examples of people just being downright ‘nasty’ to those trying to help them. And ‘no’…I can’t give examples because that might cause more hurt and embarrassment to those who, quite frankly, have already gone through enough.

*  * *

Maybe this is all part of the mental health backlash we’ve been warned to expect as a result of being locked up, powerless and largely kept in the dark for so long.

I’m guessing that, in such circumstances even the nicest person you know could end up being a bit…well, you know…nasty!

So, here’s the deal…let’s make a pact to think twice before engaging our tongues in hurtful gossip or rude arrogance, and let’s try even harder to think of ways we can all turn nasty into nice.

I’m guessing it’s going to be a long difficult winter for many folk and maybe we can’t make it any better…but, at least, let’s not make it worse.

Saturday 10 October: Everybody needs good neighbours

I’ve just noticed…if the numbers are to be believed, I’m on Blog 30! That means I have been beavering away at this column for more than half a year! No wonder I’m increasingly scratching my head for inspiration!

Thanks to all those who regularly ‘like’, ‘love’ and even ‘share’ my blog…I guess my plan is to keep going until such time as one or other of us thinks I should stop!

Being something of an optimist, I thought I’d like to share a small, but perhaps significant, ‘good news’ story which emanated this week from my nearby neighbours James and Lucy.

It reminds us that there can be good in all things…even a worldwide epidemic.

You see, up until we started clapping on our respective doorsteps to say ‘thank you’ to our NHS colleagues, James. Lucy, Ali and I and other nearby neighbours scarcely exchanged a word.

We might occasionally nod at each other and mutter something about the state of the weather but that would be it.

Then we started clapping on our doorsteps. Well, let’s face it, there’s a limit as to how long you can do that without actually chatting, and I guess one thing just led to another.

The net result is that, in a few weeks’ time, our merry gang will be meeting up again to share a meal. I have to admit that, had it not been for the virus, we’d probably all still be at the nodding and muttering stage.

Thanks neighbours.

* * *

I got an email from Sir Cliff Richard today who, as I keep pointing out to my wife, has significantly more birthdays under his belt than me! Anyway, his email was talking about being ‘blessed by a new-born baby’!

I also got an email about drugs in the church by the ever-youthful Sarah Brighton, Chief Executive Officer of Hope UK, a charity providing drug and alcohol education and training.

Big thanks to the Christian Resources Exhibition for passing these on!  There’s no ‘live’ CRE this year but, if you’re interested, do check out creonline.co.uk/creathome to find out more about what you can follow without leaving your house…and be prepared to welcome Sir Cliff and Sarah into your front room!

All being well, next year’s CRE event will run from Oct 12-24 at Sandown Park.

Saturday 3 October: Sorry always seems the hardest word

I wonder how many of us who have gathered in large crowds or have strutted our stuff without wearing facemasks, felt just a tiddly-tad sorry for Donald Trump this week?

I thought not!

Let’s face it, it’s kind of hard to feel sorry for a man who’s so arrogant, so rude, and so wrong, even when he is a tad poorly! Thankfully, he’s SO arrogant, rude and wrong that he simply refuses to admit just how poorly he is.

To be honest, I wish him well and hope he has a full recovery from Covid-19…then I really hope he’s pounded at the polls. No excuses, no sicknotes…just a solid hammering.

You might have gathered, I am not one of his greatest fans. To my mind, he didn’t help his cause with a rather cunning plan to ensnare local mum Charlotte Charles on her visit to the White House, when he tried, and failed, to broker a peace plan between Charlotte and the lady who killed her son, Harry.

You may recall that the lady in question, an American citizen, was driving on the wrong side of the road when she hit Harry riding his motorbike (correctly) near Croughton airbase.

Now I’m sure that lots of people reading this will point me along the road to forgiveness. And I’m sure that most of them are right and, even if they’re not, they are pretty much all well-intentioned.

But it’s odd isn’t it, that whilst most of us know that it’s better to forgive than to seek retribution, it can also often be a difficult path to follow?

I was musing on this when I happened upon a couple of verses from Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 6:14-15) which, perhaps not surprisingly, immediately follows the Lord’s Prayer.

“If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

I guess that told me didn’t it?

Saturday 26 September: Have I got news for you?

Look, I’m sorry to bang on about my ‘significant birthday’ last week, but I’ve just been told of another significant event we should all pause to remember.

As some of you will know, I began my career in the late sixties working as a journalist who thought he knew everything but now recognises that he didn’t know much at all.

But, if ever I was in doubt over type sizes, page layout or the best use of newspaper English, then the chances are that I’d look for one or other of the Harold Evans books and take my guidance from there.

Back in those days, Evans was famous among newspaper folk for his five-volume newsroom ‘Bible’ entitled ‘Editing and Design’…in fact, some folk still have it on their book shelf and use it regularly!

Well, Sir Harold died this week aged 92, and many of us who plied our journalistic trade in the sixties and seventies will mourn his passing.

I suppose in many ways, he was a newspaperman’s newsman. He began his career as a 16-year-old on a local weekly in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. After national service he was appointed as a sub-editor on the Manchester Evening News and then, in 1961, became editor of The Northern Echo on Teesside where he waged a successful campaign to get cervical smear tests freely available on the NHS.

But it was when he took over the Sunday Times, turning the paper into a beacon for crusading journalism, that Sir Harold, and his newly-formed Insight Team, really stepped into the spotlight in their battle for the victims of Thalidomide.

The drug first appeared in the UK in 1958 and was prescribed to expectant mothers to help combat morning sickness. However, thousands of mothers across the world gave birth to children with missing limbs, deformed hearts, blindness and other problems.

Eventually, Evans’ campaign forced the UK manufacturer – Distillers Company – to increase the amount of compensation paid out to victims.

* * *

I don’t know if Sir Harold was a Christian or whether he knew the next few verses that I’m going to share. All I know is that, as I increasingly seem to be running low on future ‘significant birthdays’, the more important these verses seem to be.

They come from Isaiah 46 and are loosely interpreted as follows:

“I have carried you since you were born. I will continue to carry you even when you are old. I will take good care of you even when your hair is grey. I have made you and I will carry you. I will look after you. And I will save you.”

I don’t know about Sir H, but they’re enough to comfort me as I move a tad closer to that great newsroom in the sky!

Saturday 19 September: Why I’m running late

Bit late doing my blog this week. For those who don’t know, I’ve been celebrating my birthday. For those who think, “Well…he never looks any older” I simply say “Nice try”…and to those who still can’t fathom it out, I’ll just tell you that it was SIGNIFICANT…ie it ends in a nought!

Now, if anyone thinks that reaching a SIGNIFICANT birthday means you’re past it, can I just boast that this little birthday of mine involved a Zoom coffee morning with my sister Carole and her husband Mike…who, incidentally, used the occasion to apologise for taking me to my first Birmingham City FC football match and thus launching me on a life of disappointment as BBC Sports Report confirmed the sad news every Saturday at 5pm.

With apologies from brother-in-law graciously accepted, I then met up with daughter Keely and her husband Graham for a birthday lunch in Brackley; then it was back to our house to team-up with youngest grandson Harrison for a post-school get together; followed by an early evening visit by my son Toby and his two lads, Charlie and Ben; and finally – phew – another Zoom meet up, this time with a few special buddies who we first met at St Francis Church, Banbury.

…and I haven’t even mentioned ‘Aunty Barbara in’t north’…whose birthday greeting was equally special!

The next day Ali drove me to the beautiful town of Marlow in Bucks where she had booked a fabulous AirBnB for the night and a table at the multi-award winning gastropub ‘The Hands & Flowers’.

In short, and you can probably tell that I am still very excited, for two whole days I was spoilt something rotten! Family, friends, fab food…what more could I want?

* * *

I know that not everybody could celebrate in the way that we did. I know too that not everyone would WANT to! It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But I DO hope that everyone in the family of the church will be able to find fellowship, friendship, and indeed, sufficient food! What is it Ecclesiastes says? “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”

Those thoughts are echoed in a poem I studied at school by TS Eliot, and I was reminded of that poem as I sat beside the Thames near All Saints Church in Marlow. The grounds featured a wall bearing an inscription from Eliot’s work entitled the Four Quartets:

“Time past and time future.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”

Earlier in my career I was introduced to an American poet called Rod McKuen who wrote something very similar in his poem Stanyon Street & Other Sorrows. Describing his girlfriend sleeping under a photograph of a fisherman wearing blue he said:

“But there’s little salvage to be had in bent and broken nails, and things that might have been if I’d have wiser eyes, or been a fisherman in blue”’

Can’t help but think that Ecclesiastes might have quite like that!

Saturday 12 September: All the fuss of the fair

I’ve always loved funfairs. I think it goes back to my early school days in Birmingham when I was always taken to ‘Drakey’s Fair’ in Stechford (at least, I think that’s what it was called). I’d have a go on some or other attraction and, as I remember, I always came home with a goldfish in a plastic bag.

And yes…I know times have changed, much to the relief of countless goldfish I guess…but the magical cry of ‘the louder you scream, the faster we go’ coming from the Waltzers, still sets me all a-quiver!

Obviously, I outgrew funfairs…but my kids didn’t. Nor have their kids…my three grandsons. So these days I look forward to occasional fairground outings where my basic role is that of piggybank!

Grandkids eh?!

All of this came to mind this week as a certain amount of tension pre-empted the mid week arrival of Brackley Fair.

Broadly, the arguments seemed to fall into two camps. On one side there were those who yelled “whoopee…it’s fair time again”, and then there were others who seemed to question the wisdom of even thinking of holding a fair when the world was gripped by a pandemic, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the bubonic plague!

Regular followers of local ‘social media’ pages will know the kind of thing I’m referring to! Town mayor, Councillor Chris Cartmell, seemed to wash his hands of all responsibility. “Nothing to do with the Town Council”, he said, before swiftly referring all enquiries to the fair itself.

Now, I have to acknowledge that Councillor Cartmell knows more about this sort of thing than I do, this after all is his third crack at the mayor’s job. He is also no stranger to disappointment. The town’s ‘Classic Car Show’, which he describes as ‘very dear to my heart’ was cancelled shortly before the fair came to town.

If you DID go to the town centre funfair, I hope you had a great time, and that all is well with you. For those who like me stayed at home and watched yet another episode of ‘Midsommer Murders’, well I hope you stayed awake a little bit longer than I did!

Seriously though, in these days of facemasks and social distancing, I guess we do have to question how sensible it is to deliberately and needlessly put ourselves in harm’s way? Perhaps ‘Stay safe’ should be more than just a snappy motto!

If all else fails, you could do worse than to turn to Psalm 118 which says in one of my Bibles:
“It is better to run to the Lord for safety than to trust in human leaders.”

Saturday 5 September: Back to School

It seems like only yesterday we were saying goodbye to winter and looking forward to Spring and a glorious Summer.

Ali and I had already booked a return trip to Croatia, a country we fell in love with a few years back.

Then came Coronavirus…and everything ground to a halt. Schools all but closed, churches were shut and just about the only thing we had to look forward to was meeting the neighbours on our doorstep every Thursday as we clapped the NHS.

I knew I didn’t want to go back to ‘normal’ – if normal was the best we could get, then I reckoned it was decidedly over-rated – I just wanted everything to come back to ‘life’.

Well, this week it happened. You see, we share our street with all manner of schools catering for all ages. Within walking distance of my house, I have one infant’s school, one comprehensive school, one independent prep school, one nursery, one junior school, and one pre-school.

And, as this week progressed, most of them burst back into life with excited chatter from parents and kids alike as they made their way past our front door to one or other of these wonderful places of learning.

Now, I’ll be honest, in the past, I’ve cursed them a time or two…but this week, I realised just how much I’ve missed them …from the tearful tots, to the tearful mums dropping them off at nursery for the first time; from tough looking yoofs with shoulders somewhere up around their ears, to their bubbly girlfriends who seem to laugh and giggle their way to school…I’ve missed their presence.

Through no fault of their own, they’ve all had to come through a lot this year. And so have their parents and their teachers. So it probably won’t do us any harm if we try to sneak a bit of prayer-time into our efforts to support them.

* * *

Talking about prayer, how are YOU doing? I know that not everybody receiving this blog shares my faith. Maybe praying doesn’t come easy to you, or perhaps you think it’s a load of tosh!

That’s OK, but I also know that lots of you are really great at praying for OTHERS but a bit reticent when it comes to praying for YOURSELF, whatever your circumstances.

So, here’s something from a booklet I sometimes use. Own it all, or own it in part…that’s up to you…but however you pray it, I hope it helps.

We pray for those who this day need our prayers;
those we see around us…
those we have left at home…
family and friends near and far…
strangers and communities we will never meet or know,
but whose problems we hear of and see on our screens…
those whose life is ebbing away…consumed by old age, frailty, illness or neglect…
those who grieve deeply for lives and loves lost…
those who cause grief and chaos in society…
for them and their victims and their families….
those who are forgotten, unnoticed, unloved, unmissed…
Lord, hear our prayer. Amen

Saturday 29 August: Justice for Harry

I guess that many of you have now heard of Harry Dunn. He was the young man knocked off his motorbike near RAF Croughton a year ago this week (Thursday, August 27). He was hit by a car, driven by Anne Sacoolas, travelling in the opposite direction…Anne is an American who appeared to have told Northants Police that she had been driving on the wrong side of the road, and, crucially, that she had no intention of leaving the country. Anne was subsequently charged with causing death by dangerous driving … and then fled the UK, claiming diplomatic immunity.

Since then there have been all sorts of shenanigans going on, which got as far as the White House, and a ham-fisted attempt by President Trump to bring about some sort of solution.

However, the only things that seem to have changed are that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has plugged a loophole, thus preventing similar happenings in the future; and Anne Sacoolas has earned promotion and a new role at a CIA base in the United States.

Throughout all this, Harry’s mum Charlotte Charles, her husband Bruce along with Harry’s dad Tim Dunn and stepmum Tracey all seem to have shown the utmost dignity and tenacity.

They are not looking for revenge or any kind of payback — they simply want justice, and even then, it’s not for themselves … they want justice for Harry.

And, in this most poignant of weeks, the family has welcomed the US State Department’s commitment to work with their UK colleagues to find a mutually acceptable path forward on the anniversary of Harry’s death.

I can’t be the only one who thinks America seems to be ruled by a one-man autocracy at present, but I hope and I pray, that the combined and more measured voices of the US State Department will finally win the day.

* * *

Changing subject, for years and years I never bothered with a flu jab. I convinced myself that the only people who ever got flu, were those who had the jab.

That came to an end last year when, feeling oddly vulnerable, I decided I’d better join the queue. Once again, I didn’t get flu. But this time I did pick up all the evangelical fervour of a reformed smoker! I was telling everyone, that they HAD to have the jab.

Ironically, this year, the flu jab is mistakenly being linked with Covid 19. (The two are NOT connected and no health professional will tell you otherwise).

Anyway, sooner or later you’ll be getting a letter, or an email, telling you about this year’s flu jabs. So can I just say, do have one…and then you too can bore all your chums with news of your new-found health bonus.

* * *

Finally, if like me you’re a sucker for prayer, do spare a bit of time and space for those who are still praying for justice … for Harry’s sake. And pray too for those who give thanks for the NHS…it really does go beyond clapping our hands and being on the doorstep.

Saturday 22 August: The kids are alright, just blame the politicians

An exam-free summer must have sounded like a good idea to someone, somewhere along the line. “I know,” said the bright spark. “We’ll come up with some clever algorithm which makes kids look smart, but not too smart; damps-down grade inflation, but only a bit…oh, and it’s important that we don’t penalise the disadvantaged either.”

What could be simpler?

Well, I guess 57,000 A-level pupils could come up with an answer and even more GCSE hopefuls would have had a good stab at it. And I haven’t even started on the half-a-million or so BTec candidates who…at the time of writing…are still in the dark.

As it happened, we left the decision-making to Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, who incidentally comes from my old stomping ground, Scarborough in North Yorkshire where he attended Scarborough Sixth Form College.

Now it’s very easy to look round for someone to blame…and sorry Gavin, but it seems we don’t have to look far…however, I think it’s more important that we think about the real victims in this debacle….the kids.

After all, they’re the ones who’ve faced so much uncertainty, and in the case of the BTec students, were still playing the waiting game as I wrote this blog.

As many of you will know, I have three grandsons. Two of whom attend Junior School (one in Banbury, one in Brackley) and the other, the eldest of the three, who is about to start ‘big school’ next month.

I kind of hope that by the time they face ‘important’ exams like these, we’ll have most of the glitches all sorted out!

* * *

I read recently that countries led by women have ‘significantly better’ Covid-19 outcomes than those governed by men. This will come as no surprise to most blokes…particularly those of us who are married. We know when we’re beaten!

According to an analysis of 194 countries by the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum, the difference ‘may be explained by the pro-active and co-ordinated policy responses’ adopted by female leaders.

(My first thought entirely…ED)

It must be great news for Kamala Harris, recently adopted by the US Democratic Party as vice presidential candidate to Joe Biden has he makes his attempt to take charge of the White House where Mr Trump has overseen around 5,746,534 Covid-19 cases amounting to some 177,426 deaths.

However, it was former first lady Michelle Obama, speaking on the opening night of the Democrats’ virtual convention who grabbed the headlines when she described the President as being ‘in over his head’ adding “Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country.”

You won’t be too surprised to learn that Mr Trump disagreed!

Saturday 15 August: Lost among the heroes

On Friday, August 14, I mingled with a handful of police officers and staff at the ‘business end’ of an Oxfordshire police station. Without saying a word to anyone, I once again mused on the fact that coppers, much like teachers, are getting younger every year, and I admitted to no one, other than myself, that this could be because I’ve been around the block a time or two.

It occurred to me that I have perhaps been a police chaplain longer than some of these guys had been in grown-up trousers…or whatever the female equivalent is! And yet it is to these officers, some of whom may seem no more than youngsters themselves, that we so often turn when we need someone who is prepared to run towards danger, rather than run away from it.

The reason why we gathered on Friday, at stations across and beyond the Thames Valley, was to pay tribute to PC Andrew Harper who died a year ago on Saturday, August 15 at the hands of three teenagers who were in the process of stealing a quad bike.

Most of you will probably know that 28-year-old Andrew was married to Lissie, his long-standing girlfriend, just a month before the incident.

* * *

The service I attended was at Bicester police station; Lissie and other family members were at the Police Training Centre, Sulhamstead…about a mile from where Andrew died.

Speaking at Sulhamstead, Chief Constable John Campbell said: “We have all been deeply affected by Andrew’s death, whether we knew him personally or not.

“Andrew was a brave young officer, killed whilst doing the job that he loved. He was a good man who believed in policing. The grieving process will continue, and for Andrew’s family and closest friends, I know that there will be no sense of closure.”

Lead chaplain, the Revd Helen Arnold, described Andrew’s love of life and gift of service as giving us all values to live by.

And she added in prayer: “Cheer us with the prospect of a day when there will be no more death or parting, no pain or grief. Keep us in faith, fill us with hope, bring us peace.”

* * *

I never met Andrew Harper. But I know from photographs, he would not only have towered over me (no great challenge there) but he would also have towered over most of his colleagues too!

These days there is no minimum height requirement in UK policing…hence officers come in a variety of sizes! This can, of course, make it difficult to work out where you fit in with the great scheme of things. On Friday, I certainly knew what it was like to be lost in a room full of heroes.

Saturday 8 August: Reasons to be cheerful 

My ‘home’ church (Brackley Methodist) re-opens this week for the first time since ‘lockdown’. I hope and pray that this won’t just be a case of ‘turning back the clock’. Whilst none of us would ever want to reject any part of our heritage or turn our backs on everything and everyone who had gone before, I believe we owe it to the saints of yesteryear to take on this challenging opportunity for what it is…a new beginning, bringing with it all the hope, all the promise and all the potential of new life.

I think I’m allowed to say this because I’m rapidly approaching a ‘significant birthday’. However, an old school buddy of mine, who is six months my senior, appears to be going in the opposite direction if recent photographs are to be believed. I can only hope that he has a Dorian-Gray-type portrait tucked away in his loft!

Anyway, for him, and to give the rest of us a degree of hope, I thought I would try to dig out a few more ‘reasons to be cheerful’…incidentally, for those too young to remember, this was the title of a hit by ‘Ian Drury and the Blockheads’ in 1979.

* * *

My first trip took me back to Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast where I used to work in the early 1970s. A short while ago, 10-year-old Ravi Saini got separated from his dad when he went for a swim and drifted for an hour or so across Scarborough Bay.

Fortunately, he remembered a BBC documentary he had seen called ‘Float to Live’ which gave some life-saving advice on how to stay afloat when drowning seemed a far more likely outcome.

This week the Lifeboat Crew who rescued him invited him back to Scarborough to congratulate him on his bravery and for keeping such a calm head when most of us would have panicked.

* * *

Come with me next to Central London in June and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest which followed the death of George Floyd in the United States. You might recall a picture in the nationals next day of a white, anti BLM protester, Bryn Male, being carried to safety on the shoulders of a black personal trainer called Patrick Hutchinson. Three other men, all black, Chris Otokito, Lee Russell and Jamaine Facey formed a protective ring as Mr Hutchinson carried Mr Male, a former British Transport Police officer, to safety.

This week, the four rescuers were reunited to announce the launch of United to Change & Inspire (UTCAI). They will take responsibility for tackling issues of criminal justice, youth mentoring, mental health and physical health within their community.

* * *

Finally, I’m sure events in Beirut this week brought a tear to many an eye. And perhaps none more so than the story of Nurse Pamela Zaynouun who was knocked unconscious in the devastating blast. She came round and, amid the bloodshed and rubble, gathered three new born babies in her arms and carried them to the relative safety of the nearest hospital, about an hour’s walk away.

As has been said many times on social media since that epic journey, it just goes to show that not all angels come equipped with wings!

Saturday 1 August: A very quiet sing-song!

Can you remember the first time you heard that Coronavirus had arrived in the UK? I think it was probably around the backend of January when a couple of Chinese nationals checked into the Staycity Aparthotel in York and were soon showing symptoms. Since then, by July 31, some 303,181 cases have been reported, leading to 46,119 deaths.

Now, for all I’m a bit vague about the dates, I certainly remember the venue. Ali and I had stayed there not long before and had found it a fabulous place to lay one’s weary head!

When the early cases of Coronavirus were reported, we were all told to wash our hands more rigorously and more often. If we just did that, all might be well…or so it seemed.

Since then, social distancing, and wearing a face mask have joined our ‘must do’ armoury, giving us this week’s memorable phrase ‘Hands, Face, & Space’. Sometimes, it seems like we haven’t come too far.

In the early days of the outbreak, Boris was often on the news, washing his hands to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday to You’. It seemed so very simple…a couple of quick verses would soon sort things out.

I personally find it quite sad that we appear to have gone from singing ‘Happy Birthday’, to not singing hymns in church, and earnest debate about whether the cast of the local panto should encourage audiences to shout ‘he’s behind you’ for fear of spreading the disease

Hey ho…such is a pandemic, I guess.

* * *

Darling Daughter, whose a bit of a whizz when it comes to organising kids’ birthday parties, decided that the traditional singing of ‘Happy Birthday to You’ would have to go at the newly-reopened, Clip ‘n Climb, Bicester.

“It’s not particularly appropriate,” she opined.…and the more I thought about it, the more I had to agree. If ever a song was likely to encourage raucous community singing and lead to lots of spluttering and ‘splashing’, this was it. So, perhaps she was right…it would have to go!

The search began for an appropriate replacement soundtrack. Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happy Birthday’ got my vote…but then Darling Daughter pointed out that most of her staff weren’t even born when that came out! She eventually settled for the ‘Happy Birthday Song’ by DJ BoBo!

(No I hadn’t either, but at least the song is from this century and he’s considerably older…I’ll call that a result!)

* * *

FINAL FOOTNOTE: At the time of writing it remains to be seen whether Saturday afternoon’s FA Cup Final, between Chelsea and Arsenal, will be preceded by the traditional cup final hymn, ‘Abide with me’…shall we all just hum it anyway! At least Henry Francis Lyte will be pleased! He wrote it way back when, and may be a tad surprised to discover that it’s still going strong!

Saturday 26 July: Little things mean a lot!

It wasn’t so long ago that the last thing I thought I would need before making a trip to the local supermarket was a ‘face covering’

I didn’t own one, I didn’t know where to buy one…in fact, I’m not even sure I knew what one was. I certainly thought the only place that blokes actually wore them was somewhere in the Far East on a ‘bad air day’.

How times change when you’re battling against a pandemic!

Today, I have a natty selection of face coverings to choose from. One of my favourites is the little, bottle-green number with white polka dots on it, which tends to live in the glove box of my car…just in case!

I’m also quite fond of the ‘fishing gnomes’ creation – a gift from my wife — and I defy anyone not to fall in love with the delightful NHS ‘rainbow’ face covering which I wear as a salute to my friend Gemma and her chums at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, where she is a nurse.

Of course, I also wear it with pride for everyone involved with the Brackley Community Hospital, and Brackley Medical Centre, both of which are set to open/relocate later this year.

* * *

I guess there have been masses of changes since the words coronavirus, covid-19, and pandemic entered our everyday lexicon. And I know that some of these changes have proved truly heartbreaking for those involved.

But while I have no wish to make light of any of these, I do want to tell you about a bit of trivia which has made a huge difference to me and a few of my buddies who perhaps ran the risk of heading into the ‘long lost’ category.

* * *

Until a few months ago I’d never really heard of ‘Zoom’. All I knew was that it was an early eighties’ hit by an American group called ‘Fat Larry’s Band.’

Now, of course, I know that it’s a clever bit of software that has allowed me to attend all sorts of meetings that I’m not actually at, to take part in various district training events, and even pop in to see my friend Hilary as she led worship in York….and all this without leaving home.

The great thing is that it’s also enabled us to ‘meet up’ with our friends from Ilkley, Northern Ireland, Kings Sutton, Banbury, Brackley and elsewhere for a fortnightly quiz night which, again, doesn’t involve any physical travel!

I don’t want to be too soft about this (well…my mates might be reading) but I do know that this ‘gathering of the gang’ has been such a special experience that we’ve decided to continue it on a monthly basis as we journey out of lockdown!

Incidentally, I worked out this week that when the gang’s all here, we span three generations, which provides proof…as if it were necessary…that while some of us might be a tad older….we’re still none the wiser!

Saturday 18 July: If you can’t be strong…it’s OK to show your weakness!

On Thursday, I watched part of the memorial service held at Manchester Cathedral to pay tribute to folk in and around the city who had died as a result of the coronavirus epidemic.

Social distancing meant that only 70 people were invited to attend the service, but hi-tech jiggery-pokery meant that there were many more who, like me, were able to watch it ‘live streamed’ in homes and offices around the country…and I guess, around the world.

The service was devised for people of all faiths and none…a time when people of all colours and backgrounds could gather together to say ‘thank you and farewell’ to loved ones, as well as to folk they perhaps didn’t know, but who had tragically died when they put service before self.

I’ll be honest…I felt the first tear drop running down my cheek when the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, told both the actual and virtual congregation: “We have all seen the world through new eyes during this time, and we can all pray together and use the insights we have gained from this time to make the world a better place where we each value each other more, and think more about what we can give, rather than what we can take.”

Well, I discretely wiped my eyes and cheerfully reminded myself that the lockdown was lifting…but then I it occurred to me that for many folk, this statement could seem more like a threat than an opportunity. The relaxation of lockdown isn’t universally welcomed by those who are feeling lost and lonely..

* * *

It was the Samaritans who came to my rescue. (I wonder how many people have had cause to say that in their lifetimes?)

They obligingly put out a release reminding everyone that if they were feeling anxious or worried about lifting lockdown…then it’s OK! They’ve even gone on to give a whole heap of practical ways in which we can all help ourselves to cope.

Please, please, please do check it out HERE (and remember even if you don’t have family or friends close by, you are never alone. You can call the Samaritans any time day or night on 116 123 or use the link above. Alternatively, of course, contact your local church.

You’ll also find some wise words about worrying…or rather not worrying…at Matthew 6: verses 25-34

Finally, here are a few words about strength and weakness from my favourite book of the moment ‘The Boy, the mole, the fox and the horse’ published last year by Penguin Random House and written by Charlie Mackesy.

“When had you been at your strongest?” asked the boy.
“When I have dared to show my weakness,” said the horse.

Smart philosopher that horse!

Saturday 11 July: Humour in all things

I have to confess that ‘Humour in all things’ is a phrase I often use to explain why I sometimes laugh at the most inappropriate moment.

I had such an occasion earlier today (Saturday, July 11) when I received the latest copy of ‘The Connexion’ which I have to say is a mighty fine magazine produced by the Methodist Church.

This latest edition is headlined ‘Sing a new song’ and I suppose looks at different ways Methodism can continue to be ‘church’ to a post Covid-19 population.

It offers a litany that worship leaders might use which includes the verse:
“And now we know something new.
We know that church is not committees, agendas and buildings.
It is us in homes, streets, hospitals throughout the world.
God is teaching us a new song for a new land.”

…a worthy sentiment, until I read that this particular litany had been given the green light by the ‘Liturgy and Worship Subcommittee.’

I hope my fellow Methodists will forgive me for yet another outburst of inappropriate laughter!

* * *

Talking about the pandemic…some of you may know that our Darling Daughter set up her own business last autumn.

‘Clip ‘n Climb Bicester’ does what its name suggests…it offers (safe) indoor climbing adventures for young people ranging from pre-schoolers and their mums/dads, to older brothers and sisters and all other ages and persuasions from twenty-something fitness freaks to Ali’s mum, who’s a sprightly 84.

Darling Daughter’s business was among the first to shut down as the nation came to grips with the Coronavirus outbreak…and, ironically, it was one of the last to be given the green light to re-open, which it will do on July 25.

Even more ironic, she has in the meantime been awarded a Visit England ‘We’re good to Go’ industry charter mark, showing that Clip ‘n Climb Bicester meets government and public health guidance on Covid-19 and that they have all the required health and safety processes in place to safely reopen.

I know that lots of businesses would be able to tell similar stories, but I’d like to ask you all to remember in your thoughts and prayers all those who have ‘kept the faith’ and made costly changes and improvements to ensure they were ready to open at the drop of a hat.

In particular, I’d like to thank the young lady who was so keen to be among the first to reach new heights at Clip ‘n Climb Bicester, that she persuaded her family to put off, for a couple of hours at least, their holiday departure on Saturday, July 25 so that she could be among the first to go climbing!

* * *

Well, that’s the end of my personal advert, and of my admission of unashamed love for the Methodist Church…warts and all. Speak to you all again next week.

Saturday 4 July: 100 days of lockdown

Earlier this week (Tuesday, June 30 ) we all ‘celebrated’ 100 Days of lockdown. Now, I’ve put quotation marks around ‘celebrated’ because it doesn’t seem the right word to use…I just can’t think what to put in its place!

On Tuesday, there was definitely a sense of a victory against the odds…a touch of the Dunkirk spirit. And I guess that with ‘100 days’ under our belts, and the pubs given the green light to open up at the weekend, it probably did seem like a time to celebrate and roll out the barrel!

Come Friday, however, the day on which I’m writing this blog, Tuesday’s shine is already looking a tad tarnished. The last I heard, more than 11,000 job losses had been announced. Retailers, airlines, sandwich chains…you name it, they had all been giving staff their P45s.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump had been busy buying up a world supply of Remdesivir, a medicine that works well for Coronavirus patients. (I was delighted to discover later that in the UK we tend to use Dexamethasone which is not only cheaper but just as effective…and there’s still plenty left!).

Now, I’m sorry if you’re a bit of a Donald Trump fan, but this week he rather let himself down on the vexed issue of the Lone Ranger’s Mask! He told reporters that he had nothing against anti-virus masks. He even wore one himself.

“I looked like the Lone Ranger,” he said.

* * *

Now those of us of a certain age, will remember the ‘masked stranger’ and his sidekick Tonto who together combed the wild west, righting all manner of wrongs.

As someone who often wore his Lone Ranger mask with pride, I can only assume that the President must have had his the wrong way up!

The mask that’s supposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus is supposed to cover your mouth and nose…the Lone Ranger’s mask, on the other hand, covered the area around his eyes! I think that’s a case of fake news, Donald!

* * *

Anyway, this weekend the UK government will lift many of the restrictions introduced as part of our battle with Covid-19. Pubs will re-open, we can go to the cinema, and maybe even follow that with a visit to our favourite restaurant.  But we can’t go to the gym, we can’t pop down to the local swimming pool, and we can’t support our local theatre or take to the stands at our favourite football club.

So, let’s be glad that things are getting a bit better…but let’s not throw away any new found freedoms through loutish or anti-social behaviour in a society as a whole..

And whatever we’re doing, let’s spare a thought for those in business who cannot, as yet, open the doors and welcome us in. Maybe as soon as they do, we should show them that they, and the services they provide, are valued…maybe then we can welcome EVERYONE back to our community.

Saturday 27 June: Let’s do better than going back to ‘normal’

Sorry about this, but if anyone else tells me – whether it’s on TV,  radio. or even in chance conversation — that they can’t wait to get back to ‘normal’, I’m likely to have a fit of the screaming abdabs.

Oh I know what they mean…they want everything to be like it was before, and I’m sure there must be plenty who take that view; some with good reason, perhaps.

But before we all drift back to some halcyon time when summers were longer and people were so much nicer, let’s just take a reality check.

I think we owe it to our children (and our children’s children) to pass on a world that’s a tad better than the one we inherited.

When I was born, in 1950, and for many subsequent years, World War II was something we only witnessed through black-and-white movies screened at the ABC Minors’ Club on a Saturday morning.

There, in the sugar coated re-tellings of some of the conflict’s harsh facts, the good guys (us) always won, and the bad guys (them) always lost.

Fast forward to the start of the recent, and ongoing, coronavirus pandemic. Much of society seems to function on very similar lines to those old time movies, namely: ‘in all things, look after number one’ and, in case that doesn’t work, ‘remember to do unto others before they do it unto you.’

It seems a kind of hopeless, and indeed helpless, strategy for life. And I pray, and believe, that we can all do much better than that.

* * *

Reading the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:1-12) this week reminded me that you don’t necessarily have to be first in the queue or top of the heap to get your rewards. I was particularly encouraged by verse 5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” and verse 7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

I got to thinking about all these ‘blessings’ on Tuesday as Ali and I strolled around St James Lake in Brackley and enjoyed this week’s heatwave. A couple of things really chuffed me…like the number of people who said ‘thank you’ as we simply bobbed out of their way to enable them to continue their walk unimpeded. Or the strangers who greeted us with a smile as if to acknowledge our mutual existence and our enjoyment of the occasion.

If ever I needed a foretaste of the ‘new normal’, then those smiling folk on their lakeside stroll certainly gave me a glimpse of what things could be like. Bless ‘em all, that’s what I say!

Saturday 20 June: A hair raising tale!

Confession time. Until this week, I probably knew more about the story of Samson and Delilah from Welsh singer Tom Jones than I did from the Old Testament.

All that changed last Sunday (June 14) when I decided I really must succumb to that most recent of temptations…the lockdown haircut!

For obvious reasons, this required the assistance of Mrs B who has no previous male hairdressing experience, either with me, or indeed, with any of the younger Bromhall’s…we have three grandsons: Charlie, Ben and Harrison.

My decision was, indeed, a high-risk strategy. None-the-less, electric hair-clippers were ordered on Sunday, delivered on Monday, and put to use on Tuesday. For the record, I should say that neither Ali nor I swore, exchanged angry words, or fell out in any way throughout the whole process! A lockdown miracle if ever there was one.

It’s true that there were times when I wondered whether having my silvery-locks trimmed by the woman I love would herald the depletion of all my Action-Man-type strengths…but then, I quickly realised that I had never had such strengths in the first place.

I did, however, take the opportunity to find out more about Samson and Delilah as portrayed in the Old Testament.

* * *

You’ll find their story in Judges 13-16 and one thing that struck me is that when you read Samson’s tale from start to finish, he appears to waste most of his strength on practical jokes and getting out of scrapes!

He eventually gave it up altogether to satisfy Delilah, the woman he loved, and he spent his last days grinding grain in an enemy prison.

Definitely a touch of ‘wasted potential’ there, I reckon. Seems he totally under-valued his impressive God-given gifts and abilities.

However, if we fast forward to his one and only mention in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:32) there’s no mention of his heroic feats of strength; nor indeed of his spectacular failures.

He is simply listed, alongside others, who ‘through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised’.

* * *

I guess if we take a good look at the ‘Samson’s Story’ then the one thing it teaches us is that it is never too late to start again.

However badly we may have failed in the past, we can always ‘let go…and let God’.

I find that quite encouraging. And, if nothing else, I hope you’ll remember it next time you’re tempted to ask some inexperienced, wannabe barber to give you a ‘short, back and sides’!

Saturday 13 June: Tell it like it is

Last summer, Ali and I spent a few days in the city of Liverpool. To be honest, for me at least, the whole trip was a bit of a homage to the Beatles

In intermittent rain, we boarded an open top bus which took us past the house where John Lennon was raised; we paused briefly at the iconic gates of Strawberry Fields, and of course, we journeyed along Penny Lane, where there really is a barber…but I doubt he had ‘a photograph of every head he’s had the pleasure to have known.’

Our guide for this particular excursion was a typical Scouser with a suitable tale for every landmark and even the odd burst of song which he accompanied with a few chords on his guitar.

“Penny Lane,” he assured us, “took its name from James Penny, an 18th century slave trader.”

Now perhaps we should have known better that to take the words of a tour guide at face value…but that’s just what we did and most of us ‘tut-tutted’ our way round the rest of the journey.

Clearly we weren’t the only ones to be taken in by this urban myth. Just this week, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, vandals got to work with spray cans and black paint to deface road signs identifying one of Liverpool’s most famous thoroughfares because of its alleged murky links with the slave trade.

It now seems that the graffiti attack may have been a case of mistaken identity. Historians and politicians alike say there is little evidence that wealthy James Penny had any links at all with this suburb on the south side of Liverpool.

In fact, Mayor Joe Anderson, says it’s far more likely that its name came from a historic toll bridge that ‘cost of penny’ to cross!

* * *

Seriously though, Liverpool treats its history with due respect…and it doesn’t deliberately cut corners when it comes to relatively recent times. It strives to ‘tell it like it is’.

For example, the city has it’s own International Slavery Museum which doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to explaining how it got much of its 18th century wealth.

At the time of writing the museum is shut because of the coronavirus outbreak, but it’s website offers some fantastic ‘virtual tours’…well worth a peek!

Matthew 5:37 sums it up neatly in a short passage which reminds us that it’s wrong to tell porkies or to try conning people to believing that which they shouldn’t.

So, my motto for the week…let’s just ‘tell it like it is’.

Saturday 6 June: Heroes & Villains

Now, I know there will be exceptions, but — by and large – the Covid-19 outbreak has revealed more heroes than villains in our community. Those of us who’ve spent weeks clapping on our doorsteps, haven’t done so to show our support for the bad guys…it’s the heroes, our emergency workers, who’ve been earning our support.

Knowing who we’re supposed to clap and cheer, and who we’re supposed to boo and hiss, is one way to help us recognise the heroes, and maybe the villains, in our communities.

However, this week, the brutal killing of George Floyd has thrown the distinction between good guys and bad guys well and truly back into the melting pot.

I guess it’s at this point that I should own up to the fact that for several years I have been a police chaplain, so I suppose it’s difficult to pretend I come at this with a completely open mind.

I make no apologies for this…in the UK I’m broadly on the side of police as upholders of law and order, However, when I look around the world I see too many examples of police brutality and police officers being used to uphold corrupt regimes.

On May 25, 2020, it is alleged that, in the United States, George Floyd was pinned down for 8 minutes 46 seconds by an officer who knelt on his neck. George subsequently died.

The officer, and three of his colleagues, have since been fired by the police in Minneapolis, and all four face legal charges relating to second degree murder.

Since the alleged assault, various protests and demonstrations have taken place in cities around the world under the ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner.

Sadly, and unusually, this was the third death involving high-profile public debate to have impacted on me one way or another in the past 12 months.

The first was on August 15, 2019 when Thames Valley roads policing office, Andrew Harper, aged 28, was dragged more than a mile to his death as he investigated a burglary at Sulhampstead in Berkshire.

A second trial is due to start shortly after the first was halted when three jurors went down with coronavirus in March this year.

On August 27, 2019, Harry Dunn, a 19-year-old from Charlton, died as he made his way home on his motorbike near the American base at RAF Croughton. He was hit by a car driven by US citizen Anne Sacoolas who is said to have admitted driving on the wrong side of the road. She subsequently claimed diplomatic immunity and fled back to the States.

Three very different cases which, maybe, promote very different responses in us all. However, I hope that in all three cases the words of God, as set out in Micah 6, ring true, and that all of us, no matter how high or how low, will learn:

“To act justly and to love mercy
And to walk humbly with our God.”

Saturday 30 May: Zoom around to our place!

It was my wife’s birthday last Monday.Darling Daughter had spent months arranging what sounded like a fab ‘girlie day out’, which included Crazy Golf in Oxford, and cocktails at some swish rooftop bar. Guests were invited from near and far…in fact, in one case, from ‘so far’  that the return trip would even have made a government advisor’s outing look like nothing more than  ‘popping out to the shops’.

(I should perhaps stress that the birthday in question ended in a ‘zero’…we don’t do this kind of thing every year!).

Anyway, the recent you-know-what epidemic meant that all our plans went out of the window…not that Darling Daughter was to be defeated!

She teamed up with her 8-year-old son to launch a dawn attack on the house, bedecking it with birthday balloons; she arranged a mid-morning photoshoot in front of the house with the delightful (and very talented) photographer Caroline Rushton; and even linked me up with a firm called Feast, who delivered a tasty ’Datebox for Two’ for Mrs B and I to enjoy at our leisure.

Darling Daughter also organised a bizarre lunchtime picnic for her and her mum…complete with politically-correct ‘social distancing’. In short, then, she’d more than earned her place at the ‘virtual party’ we held in the evening which, just as in the original Plan A, included guests from near and far.

Over the past couple of months or so I’ve become quite a devotee of ‘virtual’ events. I’ve attended, and/or hosted, virtual quiz nights, virtual staff meetings, virtual circuit meetings, virtual church services…even popped up to York to attend one a couple of months ago. Coming up soon we’ve got a virtual ‘Murder Mystery Party’ to look forward to!

* * *

The basic thing about all this ‘virtual’ stuff is that you don’t actually have to be there…you just log in via your computer!

There’s no travel time! No need to tidy up before your guests arrive…and no need for any elaborate catering. We all just come as we are and share whatever’s on our mind.

Now…does that remind you of anything? Try this from Matthew 6…it’s the bit where Jesus says::

25 I tell you not to worry about your life. Don’t worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food or clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky! They don’t plant or harvest. They don’t even store grain in barns. Yet your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren’t you worth more than birds?

Now that works for me…and it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a virtual world or something much closer to home!

Saturday 23 May: A round of applause for all the lonely people?

I wonder when we first decided that infants and junior schools were ‘safe places’ to be? Seems to me that they’ve always been a tad dangerous.

It was at junior school in Birmingham where I ended up losing my footing on what we called ‘dead man’s belly’…a wibbly-wobbly slide produced by the previous night’s snow flurry.

I have a sneaky feeling that it was around the same time – and definitely the same place – where I became very envious of a classmate who had amassed an unbelievable number of signatures on his first ever plaster cast … oh, how I wished I had a limb in plaster!

Looking back, it seems to me that infants and junior schools were essentially just accidents waiting to happen.

I suppose I have to accept that I’m of an age where we built up our resistance to things like MMR infections primarily through contracting the very conditions we were worried about…seems to me that we convinced ourselves it was much better to catch something nasty than to have a jab that might fight it off in the first place!

There was always a full house for our ‘chicken pox parties’…might as well get that one out of the way too!

Nowadays, everything seems a bit different. We expect ‘perfect’ to be the ‘norm’…so we certainly don’t expose our kids to any unnecessary risks.

Of course, I agree with the sentiment but perhaps I worry a bit about the kind of society we’re nurturing…is it one in which we’re just not able to face up to adversity?

This thought was going through my mind the other day when I heard that nice Dutch-lady-turned-adopted-Londoner Annemarie Plas announce that she thought it was probably time to call it a day when it came to ‘clapping carers’ … something she had essentially pioneered about nine weeks ago.

Now, I knew we’d have to stop one day but surely not yet? And then someone reminded me off all the people for whom this Thursday night ritual had provided a sense of purpose to their lives; had, perhaps for the first time in a long time, connected them to the community around them and given them a sense of belonging. Perhaps a belief that their voice — or maybe their handclap — really could make a difference.

So I think I’m going to keep on clapping and hope that the hundreds of nurses, doctors, administrators, care workers, police officers, fire officers, paramedics and ambulance staff won’t mind if, this week at least, I also put my hands together, not only for the heroes, but also for those whose participation means that, once again, they really do have a voice which deserves to be heard in our community.

Saturday 16 May: My kind of guys!

You may already know that this coming week (May 18-24) has been dubbed Mental Health Awareness Week. Now, I know that weeks such as this are usually a long time in the planning but, I have to say, this one in particular could scarcely have been more timely placed on the calendar.

In fact, the Mental Health Awareness Foundation, the organisation behind the idea, reckons that the week ahead could be the most important one they’ve every hosted, and you probably don’t need me to tell you why…but I’m going to anyway.

The foundation’s research confirms what many of us already had a vague ‘gut feeling’ about…namely, that protecting our mental health is going to be central to us coping with and recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, with the psychological and social impacts likely to out last the physical symptoms of the disease.

No surprises there then, but what did surprise me, very pleasantly I should say, was the theme the foundation had chosen for the week ahead. It’s something I think that we can all relate to….’kindness’.

I think I could do worse than to quote the foundation’s Chief Executive Mark Rowland, who said: “We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity.

“It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. Wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practise to be fully alive.”

***

Now, I have a long standing buddy who has taken to reading this blog in recent times — well let’s be honest, it’s only been going for a couple of months — anyway, I think it’s fair to say he doesn’t necessarily agree with my views on faith! If fact he’s probably yelling at his laptop even now reminding me that Christians don’t have an exclusive deal when it comes to kindness.

And I would have to say “Yep, you’re darn right there, mate.”

It seems to me that kindness is something we can all give and, indeed receive, regardless of whether we would describe ourselves as people of faith or not.

I’m going to quote another high flyer right now. These words come from Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England.

I’ve never me the chap, but I guess it’s reasonable to assume that he’s a fairly hard-nosed sort of fella, but just listen to what he had to say about the subject: “Now is a time to put values above valuations. We must seize this time to shape a society that tips the balance in favour of good mental health, for all of us, but especially for those who are most vulnerable.”

The good thing is, it’s dead easy to join in — just try to be a little kinder…simple!

Saturday 9 May: Everybody needs good neighbours

It was a bad time to suffer an attack of ‘writer’s block’. Feeling rather smug, I had climbed the stairs to my office-at-home (aka the boxroom) last Thursday morning some 24 hours ahead of my usual schedule for writing this blog.

But, when Ali came home at the close of business, I still had a blank screen in front of me. In the olden days, I would at least have been knee-deep in screwed-up paper, kicked about in frustration. Maybe old technology had some advantages, after all!

Ali and I sat outside awhile generally chewing the fat, and me squirming uncomfortably when she asked the inevitable “What have you been up to today, then?”

Truthfully, and based on the evidence, I would have to reply ‘Not a lot’ but we kept on chatting anyway…and here are the eventual consequences.

Somewhere in the conversation it occurred to me that what had really been lacking that day was ‘people’. It’s ‘people’ who provide me the words via the things they say or do, or just by being the kind of people they are.

Now, I didn’t see anyone last Thursday…which was kind of deliberate because I wanted to spend the time hammering on my laptop – and whilst some people might need to lock themselves away in splendid isolation before their creative juices start flowing, I clearly need a bit of outside help!

Just see what happened during the next 24 hours….

As is now tradition, at 8pm we went outside to ‘clap the carers’ and once again spotted two sets of nearby neighbours also putting their hands together. “When this is all over,” said one neighbour, “we ought to have a party, right here in the street”.

Ali (always one for a party!) suggested we should hold it next day…VE Day…and so, at 8pm on Friday, that’s exactly what we did. We suitably be-decked the house in red, white and blue, Ali sported a posh frock, and I gave my Union Jack kipper tie one more outing!

This time there was no hand-clapping – just a bit more time getting to know each other better, and of course, singing the obligatory “We’ll meet again”.

Lockdown and the Coronavirus have, of course, been devastating for so many, but for those of us lucky to survive, I’d like to think that the re-discovered concept of good-neighbourliness and friendship has been given a new lease of life. Those we have lost deserve no less.

* * *

It occurs to me that for a man who spent so much of his time ‘on the road’, Jesus knew quite a lot about neighbours:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment,” he told his followers in Matthew 22, adding: “And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.”

A challenge, and not a bad philosophy, for us all!

Saturday 2 May: Laptops ancient and modern!

Let’s face it…the Covid-19 figures don’t make great reading.

By and large, I’m a ‘Humour in all things’ sort of chap, but even I have to agree there’s some grim statistics going the rounds.

My early years, and indeed, some of my early politics, were overshadowed by the war in Vietnam. The conflict began in 1955 (the year I started school) and ended in 1975 (the year after my second child, Toby, was born).

Now, I think I’m right in saying that, within weeks of Coronavirus taking hold in the United States, the death toll in that country exceeded 58,220…that’s more than the number of Americans killed in two decades of battling in Vietnam.

Makes you think…but I guess there’s all sorts of anguish hidden behind both sets of head counts…along with all sorts of heartaches and oceans of tears.

My sincere hope, and my prayer, is that we will all see much more of the love, care, thanks and protection that have been part of our regular UK street scene in recent times.

To all those who comfort and care for us – from the nurses, and doctors and their various back-up teams; to those who look after our daily needs – the postmen, the binmen and all those who deliver to our doors; to the friends and the family who hold us in their thoughts and prayers – and to so many others — let’s say ‘thank you’ as we in turn take time to remember all those whom they love and who in turn, love them.

* * *

Do you ever think that these Corvid-littered times are getting increasingly ‘stressy’? I know I do…and I’m increasingly convinced I’m not alone!

So, why on earth it ever occurred to me that now would be a great time to order a new laptop, I guess I’ll never know.

All I needed was something like the old one…slightly less ‘clunky’ perhaps, but by  and large, the same! What I got was a whole new box of tricks which I swear would even have had Bill Gates scratching his head!

Sadly, the Bible doesn’t have too much to say about laptops…be they ancient or modern. But I’ve found a couple of ‘go to’ verses which kind of fit the bill, especially if you just add three or four words to clarify things!

Here then is Romans Chapter 8 verses 38-39…with any essential editorial additions shown in brackets!

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation – (not even a new laptop) — will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.”

Amen…that, at least, seems to work for me!

Saturday 25 April: Who’s in the driving seat?

Many years ago, back in my days as a journalist, I had the pleasure of working on the Scarborough Evening News in North Yorkshire where I was introduced to the delights of Tadcaster Ales, sea fishing…and placard writing!

Now, for those who don’t know, ‘placards’, or ‘placs’, were those sales-inducing posters (aka bills or billboards) positioned next to the newspaper seller’s pitch which often gave him his ‘cry’ for the day.

(Just before this time I spent a few months on a training course with a fellow journo called Sinclair Newton, who worked on the Worcester Evening News. Sinclair assured us that his newspaper’s distribution team included one fervent salesman who would shout out to anyone who cared to listen “Man found dead in a matchbox…read all about it.” Sold out every time!)

In Scarborough, we had no such cover-all cry but we were, nonetheless encouraged to come up with appropriate sales lines which would do their bit to maximise daily revenue.

In those days, from about Whit Week onwards, it seemed that every self-respecting northern town would have its own ‘factory fortnight’ when major employers would shut down and everyone would head to the coast for a week or so. It was Whitby for the well to do, Bridlington for those on a tight budget, and Scarborough, for anyone in the middle

Hence, for about six weeks, we would know that, as far as placards were concerned, it was a case of one size fits all. Hence…

‘Urgent message for Northern holidaymaker’

This was guaranteed to give a short-term sales boost…even if it did refer to a Page Six filler giving just one paragraph concerning an hitherto unsung chappie from Leeds, Sheffield or Bradford…or anywhere else north of Birmingham. In a way, I suppose it’s a bit of a variation on ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’.

My time in Scarborough came back to mind on Friday morning just as I was catching up with Donald Trump’s remarks on the Covid-19 Crisis and his backing for domestic bleach as a possible antidote.

(Please don’t try either of this remedy at home!)

I guess we’d all agree that Covid-19 is a Bad Thing. But, I also believe that it’s brought out some of the best in those around us. Maybe it was Thursday night’s ‘clapping for carers’ or the pooling of ideas that led to the starting of drug trials in Oxford that same day. More likely, I suppose, it’s going to be any number of similar events that will eventually lead us closer to a Corvid-19 solution.

I for one, think I will certainly put my trust in any of the latter before I reach out for a large bottle of Domestos.

* * *

The problem with us all, I guess, is that we like to think we’re in control…maybe, we’re not in the driving seat, but we sure as heck think we know how to steer!  However, speaking personally, I’d like to think that someone much wiser than me is in overall charge of the journey.

So, I’m just going to defer to Proverbs 3:5 which gives a timely reminder of who is really in control.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” says the proverb writer, “and lean not on your own understanding.”

Makes sense to me!

Saturday 18 April: How Captain Tom kept me on my toes!

It’s fair to say, I was just beginning to get a bit bored with the whole darn thing. Isolation, social distancing, even getting to know the nice family over the road thanks to the weekly ‘clap the carers’ sessions….it was all starting to wear a bit thin.

But then along came a 99 year-old chap from Yorkshire who, with his newly-oiled Zimmer frame, had set out to walk 100 lengths of his garden to mark his 100th birthday, from which he hoped to raise £1,000 for the NHS.

A noble endeavour…especially for a soon to be centenarian! Yes, the legend that is Captain Tom Moore was beginning to roll. World-class sportsmen, leading politicians, singer and radio presenter Michael Ball, even the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge…they were all quick to sing his praises. There were even calls to make him a ‘knight of the realm’. Good luck, Captain Tom!

Now, in my journalist days, I used to live in Yorkshire which is probably why my ears pricked up when I heard Captain Tom described as a ‘proud Yorkshireman’…even though he now lives further way from that fine county than even I do.

But, it turns out that Tom was actually born and bred in Keighley, a town in West Yorkshire, about 10 minutes’ drive from Ilkley (‘moor bah’tat’ etc). He trained as a civil engineer, and then enlisted in the army at the start of the second World War, rising to captain and serving in India and Burma.

Soldiers from the Yorkshire Regiment formed a guard of honour as Tom completed his 100 laps. At the time of writing (Saturday, April 18) he had raised more than £21million…and was still going strong!

* * *

Coincidentally, Jan and Andrew (great friends of ours from days gone by), joined us from Ilkley on Friday to take part in a quiz (or more accurately a ‘virtual quiz’) which brought  together a whole bunch of other friends from times past, together with our daughter, son-in-law and youngest grandson.

The re-union theme is set to continue on Sunday, and extends even further than we’d expected.

For instance, did you know that earlier this year, Ali and I spent a few days in Liverpool where we took the almost compulsory Beatles Tour. This included a trip to Strawberry Fields, a place made famous in the John Lennon classic ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.

Now, if you were to visit the BBC Songs of Praise Facebook Page, you’d find that Strawberry Fields is to be featured in tomorrow’s programme in an item on diversity. But scroll a little further and you’ll find the programme is also to include insights from Anna Herriman.

Anna is blazing a trail to be the first female deaf preacher to use British Sign Language in the Methodist Church. I’m told that some of the clips were made at Kidlington Methodist Church, where I have previously worked, others were filmed at Wesley Memorial Church, where, before working for the Methodist Church, I worked for Christian Aid.

My colleagues at Christian Aid included a young lady called Hilary Blake, who I later discovered was about to become a Local Preacher. Now…here’s the coincidence…the first time I heard Hilary preach was at Kidlington Methodist Church where I was eyeing up the place before being interviewed. The second time will be…tomorrow (Sunday)! Hilary is leading an online service on behalf of the Central Methodist Church, York …where she now lives and works!

Once again, it will be a voice from the past leading me forward!

Saturday 11 April: Zooming off to the next meeting!

I suppose in canine terms, I’m best described as something of an ‘old dog’. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still young enough to be taught a few new tricks…it’s just that you may have to explain them to me a time or two before the penny finally drops!

Even this blog, now in its fourth week, only came into being after several years of thinking ‘I’ll get round to that that one day’. And it took a worldwide epidemic — with its still-growing strike rate and accompanying lockdown – to convince me that ‘one day’ might as well be now.

Actually, I’m amazed at how many ‘new’ ideas I, and people like me, have come to terms with in this Covid-19 phase were all struggling through.

For example, up until a few weeks ago, I’d never even heard the now ubiquitous Zoom. (A clever bit of software which allows you to join loads of others at must-attend gatherings without ever leaving your desktop or the kitchen table…what’s more, it’s free!)

So far, it’s enabled me to attend a church business meeting and an afternoon tea party (coffee in my case…but when it’s all ‘virtual’ who cares!).Thanks to Zoom I’ve also been able to record Bible readings for a Sunday morning church service and take part in a Good Friday reflection based on the passion narrative set out in St John’s Gospel.

I think it’s fair to say I’m ‘sold’ on the possibility of adding Zoom to my toolbox.

My mum-in-law – who, as custom dictates is a tiddly-tad older than me – has made even more progress. Pre-coronavirus, she was strictly a Word doc or email sort of person. But just before strict isolation, my wife, her eldest daughter, introduced her to the delights of Facebook…mum-in-law has now renewed and revived relationships with friends and family in various parts of the world as she continues to build up her ‘followers’ here, there and everywhere.

I shouldn’t be surprised if we were all invited to a ‘virtual reunion party’ sometime soon!

* * *

Of course, change isn’t everybody’s cup of tea and I suppose that’s certainly true when it comes to matters of faith and trying to weave together the disparate views and aspirations of churchgoers.

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that the Church of England was getting itself in a bit of a tiz over the introduction of women vicars. Now, even the appointment of new women bishops doesn’t come as that much of a surprise to us.

This summer, the Methodist Church at its annual conference in June, was to have considered feedback from churches throughout the UK on the report ‘God in Love Unites Us’ which includes a recommendation to enable people of the same sex to marry in church.

However, whilst the Covid-19 epidemic might have forced the likes of me and my mum-in-law to come to terms with new technology a little more speedily, it has, understandably, had the opposite impact on the Methodist Conference which is now, temporarily, on hold. I guess for all of us, it’s a case of: ‘Watch this space!’

Saturday 4 April: A Face in the Crowd

Do you remember when it was OK to be in a crowd? Of course, now we’ve got the risk of Coronavirus we’re not allowed to have crowds any more. Two of a kind, that’s the rule…and even they must be two metres apart!

But back in the day, crowds were something you’d either love or hate. My wife, Ali, was always uneasy in crowds. A kind of claustrophobia, I suppose.

I quite enjoyed ‘em…but I’m not daft. I know that crowds can change from being best mates to worst enemies in a matter of seconds.

Back in my days as a newspaper reporter, I remember mingling with a crowd on a picket line at a local factory. I was there to cover an industrial dispute and it was all very amicable. Lots of dark humour, but nothing ‘nasty’.

Then some folk from out of town arrived. And it was clear they were intent on stirring up trouble. Me and my photographer were definitely the enemy!

I remember they tried to wrestle the camera out of my mates’ hands. The crowd that had been such a jovial bunch, suddenly changed to something far more menacing.

Overall, I’ve been in a lot of crowds and most of them were good natured. And there is something very special about being part of a big crowd…especially when you’ve all got something in common.

Back in 1986, I was part of what was probably the biggest crowd I’ve ever part of. It was at Wembley, and Oxford United were playing Queen’s Park Rangers in the final of what we then knew as the Milk Cup.

United won, watched by a crowd of 90,396…which included me and my son Toby. A jolly day was had by all…and much of that was thanks to the good-natured banter among the rival supporters.

* * *

One way or another, crowds played an important part in the life of Jesus. And you can imagine the crowd that must have gathered as he made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday…a day Christians will still think about at the start of Holy Week 2020 this Sunday (April 5).

When I think about the people who gathered on that first Palm Sunday, I often wonder if they were the same folk who had made up the crowd at Bethlehem, some 30 years or more before. That crowd that filled the streets to such an extent that there was no room in any of the inns for a heavily pregnant young woman.

Anyway, back to that first Palm Sunday crowd. ‘Hosanna. Hosanna’ they shouted. ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord’.

So where did it all start to go wrong?  When did the chant change from ‘Hosanna’ to ‘Crucify him’?

I want you to imagine another crowd now.  See if you can picture this in your mind’s eye. It’s the biggest crowd you’ve ever seen. And it’s made up of

every man, woman and child that there’s ever been. It stretches back and back and wider and wider as far as the eye can see…and there at the front is Jesus.

But look a little closer because YOU’RE in that crowd and I’m in that crowd too. And all the people that we know and love, and have known and have loved, are also in that crowd.

Now, just imagine the crowd slowly getting smaller. Suddenly you can see where it ends. We started off with countless millions, now perhaps we have a few thousand. And still it shrinks.

Finally everyone’s gone….except you. But you are not alone. Because Jesus is still there. He’s there for you. Right by your side. You see, he didn’t die for an anonymous multitude but for countless individuals. For you and for me.

With Jesus we are never just a face in the crowd. We’re special. But equally, we’re never alone. As we step out into Holy Week, at this most frightening of coronavirus times, let’s remember that whatever we might be going through, he’ll always be there beside us.

Saturday 28 March: 

It was last Friday (March 20) that Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered all our pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants and nightclubs to call last orders.
Now, as someone who’s been known to frequent a variety of such venues – and oftimes with a degree of gusto — I have to say the order came as a bit of a blow.
But hang on a minute, wasn’t this particular order kind of important? Wasn’t this part of our crucial battle in the war against coronavirus? Yep, this was definitely life and death stuff. Things couldn’t get much worse…but then they did!
Following a weekend of sunshine when half the world seemed to set off for the nearest bit of beach or hint of greenery, Boris went even more serious when he used his Monday night broadcast (March 23) to introduce even further restrictions.
The headline writers called it a ‘lockdown’… although, that was not a word that passed Boris’s lips in his speech to the nation!
Nevertheless, I guess we all got the drift. With just a handful of exceptions we were confined to barracks. We could shop for ‘necessities’ – as long as we didn’t make a habit of it; could take a bit of exercise – a walk, a run, or a cycle ride; and we could look after our own medical needs, and indeed those of others.
Pretty much everything else was out of bounds and, of course, no matter what we got up to, we had to make sure we left at least two metres (about 6ft) between us and the nearest person to us.
It’s all good common sense sort of stuff…but it made pretty grim reading.

* * *

However, just when you thought this week’s news wasn’t going to give us too much to smile about, along came a very smiley, Dutch-born lady called Annemarie Plass.
She’s the one who got us all clapping our hands, and generally making a racket on our doorsteps to show our support and appreciation for the NHS.
There were no special words to say, and the only reason for putting our hands together was to make a noise! In fact, all we had to do was to believe. Believe that somehow or another our rowdy rumpus would make a difference.
It reminded me of a story from John’s gospel (John 4:43 -54) where Jesus healed the son of a Roman official without the merest hint of a sign or wonder. It just needed the official to believe.
Now I must admit, I was one of the cynics who, at the start of last week, wondered whether our doorstep antics would make the slightest bit of difference and I even doubted whether anyone would turn out to give it a try.
But, remembering that my wife now works for the NHS, I thought I’d better give it a go.
Well, my wife wasn’t the only one who got a lump in her throat when we went outside and started clapping on the doorstep. It seemed we had joined an unseen, ragamuffin orchestra making a din in the streets all around us.
No, it wasn’t a miracle…just the sound of ordinary people showing their appreciation to all those forgotten heroes who are rightly proud to work for the NHS.
Glad tidings of great joy.

Saturday March 21:

In week when we’ve all been trying to get our tongues around words like Coronavirus and COVID-19, it’s kinda easy to forget that Sunday (March 22) is Mothering Sunday.

My childhood memories of this day all seem to revolve around posies for mum and doing the washing up after Sunday lunch.

But these days, when so many of us are fearful about the future and there is uncertainty all around us, I guess we’re all tempted to turn our thoughts to the skies in a despairing kind of way.

This year, Churches Together in England are calling all of us to light a candle, and maybe say a prayer, as we think of our mums and try to get our heads around the reality and implications of this hitherto unknown virus which seems to be bringing almost everything to a

standstill.

So at 7pm this Sunday, I encourage you all to light a candle – or turn on one of those battery powered thingies – as a visible celebration of all that our mums did for us and as a symbol of the light of life, Jesus Christ…our hope for better things ahead.