Saturday, 28 July 2007

now we are four

and we celebrated in great numbers. 70 people came to our open house wedding anniversary party today, including lots of neighbours we'd not met before. Plus it only took 2 hours to clear up, which is handy as we have an open air church service on Parker's Piece in the centre of town tomorrow afternoon hot on the heels of lunch in Foxton with some old friends from Japan (former Japanese missionaries to the Japanese who returned home a couple of years ago...)

Praise God for his faithfulness in sustaining our marriage. There's a lot we've learned, and a lot we learned that still remains to be put into practice! We still love each other, possibly even more than we did back in 2003, and hardly feel a day older! xxx

Saturday, 21 July 2007

half a chicken

may be all I can get from this game. Basically my opponent is better then me! And just a few moves ago it all looked so promising...

20. gxf3 Rfd8
21. Rg4+ Kf8
22. Rg7 Ke8
23. b3 Qe7
24. Qc3 Qa3 (now my pieces are all going the wrong way!)
25. bxc4 (I think the best I can hope for is a draw based on some trick or other)

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

While thinking about music

Here is a strong blast from a more conservative Christian tradition than I am used to. This is strong stuff and there's plenty to chew on. I hope his book on the theology of music comes out soon and is affordable.

you know things are getting desperate

when your own blog appears in google when searching for Pilling or Bankole! I know I have some obscure interest, but really... Does this mean I'm going to have to do some proper research in a library now?

Dorothy Pilling

Who was she? Author of some celebrated works on harmony and plenty of small chamber pieces and songs. Teacher of composition, music history and harmony at the Royal School of Music in Manchester, now the RNCM. A friend of a much-loved elderly relative, now with the LORD, who passed some of her music on to me before she died, including a copy of the Vignettes for Piano signed by Pilling herself. But no wikipedia article or any other useful online source of info; I have no idea when she was born or died, which makes writing an intelligent programme note rather tricky.

before a fall

I have been busy counting chickens regarding this game:

1. e4 c5
2. d4 cxd4
3. c3 dxc3
4. Nxc3 Nc6
5. Nf3 a6
6. Bc4 d6 (I can't resist the pawn push after the tripled delights of the last one)
7. e5 e6 (but Charles annoyingly preferred a sound option...)
8. exd6 Bxd6
9. 0-0 Nf6
10. Bg5 0-0 (this seems a little careless. After ...Be7 he might hold the pawn and squeeze a win)
11. Bxf6 gxf6
12. Qd2 Qc7
13. Ne4 Be7
14. Qh6 Ne5
15. Nxf6+ Bxf6
16. Qxf6 Nxc4 (never happier at the board than when sacrificing)
17. Rac1 b5
18. Rfd1 Bb7 (...e5!? looked more challenging for White)
19. Rd4 Bxf3
20. gxf3 intending to swing the rook over and win lots of material through the king being pinned down somewhat. What am I missing?

Rock and Roll

A disturbing documentary, They Sold Their Souls for Rock’n’Roll, has really taken the lid off this major strand of popular culture for me. Having been raised with classical music and a few LPs of Ian White’s Psalms and Adrian Snell I’ve never really given much time to rock music, though I was dimly aware of bits and pieces of rock trivia and occasionally enjoyed Status Quo and the odd Queen track while disapproving vaguely of the mock-Satanism and general foul-mouthed metal.

The documentary comes out of a stable I am slightly suspicious of – the knee-jerk, anti-culture fundamentalist Baptists of the US (see how rude I am?). But more fool me for that attitude when it leads me to dismiss things without considering them. Its history of rock is of course selective, but it wisely stops short of ‘the music itself is bad’ and instead examines the culture of rebellion and explicit anti-Christian discourse. Drugs, seances, violence, egoism, you name it. Instead of just thinking that sort of thing whenever I happened to think about rock, heavy metal and whatnot (rarely), I saw and heard in their own words what the big names of rock (Presley, Bowie, the Stones, the Beatles, Hendrix, Morrison, etc) actually thought about life, the universe and everything. Analysis of lyrics and album art was mixed with interview footage, quotes from biographies and autobiographies, live concerts and various other bits and pieces. It was pretty scary stuff. A veritable catalogue of occultism, obscenity and tragedy, much of it self-consciously linked to Aleister Crowley and his Satanic/pagan revival work of the early twentieth century.

What does this mean for the music of the churches? Clearly I need to know more about the history of popular music, and its other roots and inspiration in gospel music of the late nineteenth century… so I shall head on to Gene Veith’s The Honky-Tonk Gospel next.

Monday, 9 July 2007

another obscure/important thing

is dispensationalism. Again, it's not something we know much about in the UK Christian scene - we're just not self-conscious about it and don't usually have strong opinions about it (what is it, anyway!?). But it exercises a lot of people, and makes several people a lot of money (Left Behind and associated claptrap... oops, did I reveal a strong opinion there? not very British of me) and so I thought an oblique look at things might be of interest. I haven't read this properly yet, but it looks like it will get the grey cells going. Land, Seed and Blessing by Nathan Pitchford.

these links could be a bit obscure

but sensible, reasoned discussion of the Reformed Doctrines of Grace is a tremendously important thing. Wrestling with biblical teaching on God's salvation, His sovereignty and the nature of human responsibility has been a major part of my growth as a Christian.

Lots of shrill people enter these debates, but it's nice to find a mature, measured voice once in a while. All sorts of things get a lot hotter in the US than they do over here. Everything seems bigger, if I can say that without dying of cliche. Anyhow, one notable anti-Calvinist, Dave Hunt, seems to be doing his position no favours, judging by these two reviews.... DTBS and JW.

Friday, 6 July 2007

What the Dickens

Dickens has found me rather late. Mum read The Old Curiosity Shop to me when I was very young, and of course it made me cry. But I never really liked Oliver Twist or David Copperfield, or even Great Expectations, which I watched bits of growing up. The nastiness of some of the characters really put me off - the injustice was too much to bear.

GCSE English gave me A Tale of Two Cities, which I did rather enjoy. A very good book for a teenage boy, and I didn't guess the final twist, which comes almost on the very last page, so it really made an impression on me. (I am very good at not guessing the final twist sometimes - just as I failed to spot whodunnit in Robert Altman's Gosford Park, despite it being quite obvious to most of the people I went with, and despite my extensive background in golden age detective fiction!)

Now that I'm grown up, I seem to be coping slightly better (though I still didn't watch OT) as Kate and I are making our way through various BBC adaptations. The Pickwick Papers, from the late 70s, was tremendous: not so much the iron fist in the velvet glove as the painful plum pit in the bowl of trifle. Bleak House and Martin Chuzzlewit were both superb, in their different ways, but I am enjoying Our Mutual Friend almost more than any. (Or possibly I can remember it best because I'm in the middle of it... I like that one... no, I like that one... I mean, I like that one... um...)

The hardship and the grinding poverty shock even through the double veil of fiction. And even though it may be sentimental literature, I love it. As Old Betty says, rebuking large portions of today's Britain,

"Don't you worry about me. To earn my own bread by my own labours, and keep the deadness off - what more could I want?"

piece-work surprise

There was, I infer, a tricky question on the Geography A-level paper about the relationship between earthquake magnitude and death rate. Remarkably none of the top scoring candidates I've seen got many (if any) marks on it (nor did almost anyone else), while several low-scorers got all 4 marks. They were the only ones who noticed that population density and 'development' (e.g. of infrastructure) were relevant factors.

Go figure.

Is it even legal for me to be commenting on this before August!? ;-)

Is the Qu'ran Preserved?

This should make you think.

What I find interesting about this apologetic style is not just its emphasis on 'logic' but its flavour - almost scholastic. I feel this is appropriate, given the grounding of Islamic philosophy in Aristotle, and then I wonder about the limits of logic. I guess it would interesting to look at conversion statistics and histories to see just how helpful this logical apologetic is in term of extending the kingdom, not merely buttressing it.


Having just sent off the magnum opus on gender (which ended up rather thin on the pro-socialisation arguments and the developmental psychology, as I rather took the position of assuming their overall soundness, and which I will doubtless have to revisit and edit) I am about to start on the next project...

This freelancing is quite exciting!

It's working for a great bloke on his planned textbook on the history of Christian mission to Muslims over the centuries. So, just a small noncontroversial topic, like the last one...

There is no doubt that I'm learning a lot more than I did when I was in local government.


Currently filling a little spare time with checking the arithmetic on Mr Williams' (in a former age, Williams Minor, I believe) exam marking. Surprisingly fun, and it's good for my brain and for seeing just how fast I can go - breaking down the task into its component movements, breaking several propelling pencils in the rush and shouting all sorts of numbers out.

There certainly has been a spread of marks on the Geography A-level this year. Having seen a good few hundred scripts, I shall be very interested to discover where the grade boundaries are set.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Caught in the meaning of everything

James Augustus Henry Murray (1837-1915) - what a guy.

K. M. Elisabeth Murray, Caught in the Web of Words: James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977)


Simon Winchester, The Meaning of Everything: the Story of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)

The first is a long, loving biography by his grand-daughter. Careful and scholarly, and not a fast read - every detail is fascinating. The second is rip-roaring and gripping in its structure and breadth of vision, but is let down by the over fancy prose and long-winded sentences of the sort that the lexicographers - who were, some might say, were true heroes of human endeavour - of the world's greatest dictionary of the world's greatest language would not have wanted to wade through for all their enthusiasm and tenacity....

Murray was one of those nineteenth-century polymaths (botany, loads of languages, archaeology, pedagogy, big family, bank clerk...) who make you ashamed of your narrow interests and piffling qualifications. He also saved the bloated OED project from collapse and carried it through almost to completion, sadly dying a decade before it was published, having devoted almost 50 years to it. And he was a Calvinist - a tall, thin, ginger-haired eccentric Scottish Congregationalist Calvinist, to be precise. These not-terribly-famous but exceedingly culturally-influential Christians - where would we be without them...?

Monday, 2 July 2007

Farewell Cricklade

I am a nostalgic creature at the best of times (though this is combined with an almost ruthless insouciance when it suits) so this weekend's concert was a moving one.

Cricklade College, Andover, looked after me some of the time in my GAP year, and provided a stimulating musical environment that has been very significant in subsequent years. I grew up after a fashion while I was there and learned a little about about commuting, chamber music and the opposite sex (with hindsight, more than I wanted but not enough to make me wise). I also played quite a bit of badminton, and it was nice to catch up with the retired physics teacher who, back in 1997, inspired my rarely-seen sporting side!

On Saturday a few dozen past students gathered for what will possibly be the last 'Past & Present' concert. The college theatre has been taken over by the local authority and the college itself is due to be amalgamated in the autumn with institutions miles away...

Back in February 2003, the last P&P concert, I performed Rachmaninov's Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos with Mark Ray, and this concert was partly dedicated to his memory.
So, I had to play Rachmaninov, and the Prelude in B minor seemed the most fitting work (not to mention one of the few Rach Preludes that I can play).
This went with Brahms' late E flat major Intermezzo, a less ruffled work, but no less moving.

The other performers did a great job, too. Beautiful, haunting composition aranged for piano and sax by Helen Stanley, which really transported me. A piano tribute to Mark by composer Robert Steadman, who has kindly sent me the scores of several works (sadly, I heard them too late to incorporate them in my upcoming celebration of Britich Piano Music, but I look forward to airing them soon). The big band were tremendous - I almost wish I hapd been on the ivories, but the view from the audience was pretty good (and when I was at Cricklade the Band wasn't too keen on my style and I only played for them once - too much Rachmaninov came out at the wrong times, they said!) Two singers and an amusing piano duet by Constant Lambert finished it off. Thanks are due to Lawrence Holden, former Head of Drama at Cricklade, for his untiring efforts in organising, chivying and arranging excellent B&B for me and Kate!

What struck me was that 'psychological crutch' could have been coined for irreligious funerals, tributes to the dead. Readings of poems by Christina Rosetti and Dylan Thomas do not actually bring hope to anyone, though their sentiments are powerful. What comfort they do bring is quite literally a psychological crutch - not even offering anything beyond the effect on the listener. Whereas the Christian texts familiar from times of mourning actually point beyond. Their claims demand actual scrutiny and some sort of response. To call them a psychological crutch is to beg the question.

Dvorak's Piano Trio No. 1 in G minor one of the first pieces of chamber music I ever played, and I'm currently listening to it on Radio3, the first performance I have ever come across of this significantly under-exposed work! A ravishing opening movements, with dark, sinuous melodies leads into a simple slow movement, with almost more flats than notes. The scherzo upsets everything, with its 5-bar phrases and relentless chordal accompaniment, and the finale, whose main theme recalls Schumann's Piano Quartet, almost falls over itself to get to the end, jumping, hopping and rushing.

Warminster Radio in the summer of 1998 distinguished itself by broadcasting a performance by students from Cricklade College, Andover.

The violinist in that trio, of whom I have both sad and fond memories, has doubtless gone on to a great musical things.

Of the cellist there is but passing reference on one web-page from 2005, which is a shame, as good cellists are very hard to find.

The pianist was me, who has not gone on to anything particularly great (despite some academic bluffing that looks good on paper) and remains Jack of all trades and master of none!

injustice close to home

My Turkish friend Alp, a taxi driver, was a victim of random violence on the streets of Cambridge a couple of weeks ago. This attack wasn't racially motivated, it was simply violence, the breakdown of respect for another. What is wrong with this country, where young people lash out at strangers for no reason and with no thought for consequences?

The police proved themselves to be about as useful as a chocolate canoe. Thankfully, the NHS did a rather better job with their end of things and he is pretty much recovered.

stuck record

My mind just keeps worrying away at the so-called Armenian Genocide. IcarusRedeemed has posted some interesting links. (The TallArmenianTale website he refers to is one that I have read pretty extensively, as I my opinions have swung on the issue over the last 5 years). And I think I need to turn to some scholarly books, too, starting with these ones and these ones, who don't see eye to eye.

In relation to this, and to recent murders of journalists and Christians it sounds like ultranationalism is a greater problem than Islam in modern Turkey. Only a weapon of mass forgiveness and love can heal these wounds.