Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Putting hallelujah in a box

So its a time of year for giving and thinking of others before yourself. Yeah, right. We are just as selfish as we are the rest of the year and when it comes down to it, if we don't have things the way we want it, we can get a little miffed, whether it's a preference for cranberry sauce over jelly or sitting in another room alone just to watch the Christmas tv we want to watch.

As RuthE has rightly pointed out, populist mass marketed commercialism seems to be dominating the Christmas music charts even more than usual this year, leaving some of us unimpressed at the stranglehold of commercialism and the rest rushing out (or logging on) to buy the latest X-Factor-mas No. 1. We all know who is having it their own way there.

However, on the theme of personal preference, it is interesting to note that there are at least 3 versions of the classic song "hallelujah" in the charts this week, however. Some are asking, "
Whose hallelujah is it anyway?". It seems that even with an hallelujah, everyone has their own favourite and is keen to say which one really is the best.

Perhaps with all the dynamics of that, is it stretching it too much to ask, does this reflect our desire to put life Christmas, and even hallelujah in whichever box suits us? At this of all times, the real hallelujah is owed to the One who gave up everything and humbled Himself to become one of us, whilst losing none of his Divinity. That is how much He loves the selfish people who often cannot see beyond their own noses. How can we fail to respond to that grace, despite, or even because of our flawed self-centred nature.

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even thoughIt all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but
L. Cohen

It seems approprite to give the last word to the angels, who got it about spot on:
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people on whom his favour rests" (Luke 2:13&14)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Could you pass the 11+ ?

Technically, I never did. And yet I passed it with the highest grade twice. The "problem" was that I was a year younger than most of my classmates, and in their wisdom, the BELB "back in them days" decided that meant I had to sit the test again on a special day, even though I had passed it the first time. To this day I still don't understand why nor why I was still not allowed to officially pass. Thankfully rich parents got me though the first year of "big school" until I passed yet another hurdle at the end of first year and was allowed to officially count. I'm told that these days pupils who are younger than their peers are given the opposite treatement...

Anyway, for those, and many other reasons, I am not sad to see the 11+ go. I believe 11 is a dreadful age to test children and, if they must be tested, 14 is a much more realistic age. It has never been an accurate or satisfactory system, but the problem is that it is so engrained that it has proved almost impossible to replace. Who knows what lies ahead for kids, but you might want to have a go at this fun 11+ test which the Beeb put up for us. That's if you can do it withouth your palms getting all sweaty and your breathing getting all panicy...

You'll be glad to know that I passed with 13 out of 15. Really. I actually ran out of time and guessed (wrongly) the last 2. Very revealing of both my stupidity and how hard these things were!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

When Bagpuss goes to sleep...

The sad death of Oliver Postgate was announced today. Need I say more than The Clangers, Bagpuss, Noggin the Nog (if you know that one, you are showing your age) and Ivor the Engine. I wonder what memories you have of these? I did love Ivor the Engine and his friend the dragon who lived in the firebox. I definitely loved the Clangers, even though they made very little sense, (but a little more than some kids tv these days!).

I have to say it caused me to feel a little sad that part of my childhood had gone with him. But even though little kids grow up, I guess part of us never does, (without any mention of pirates with hooks and crocodiles swallowing ticking clocks!) One girl that did grow up was Emily, you know, the one who loved the saggy old cloth cat, even though he was "a bit loose at the seams". I was amused to discover that Emily Firmin (below) is only a couple of years older than me - not sure that makes me feel older or not, but some things don't stand still! Whether or not we have kids to pass these things on to (or to tell us how old and out of touch we are), these kinds of memories are special because they are part of who we are; not so much the programmes themselves, but the situations in which and people with whom we watched them. So thank you Oliver for happy memories. RIP.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Virginal Ulster game for Mrs Sharky

My dear wife showed all her character and courage tonight and attended her first proper game of rugby, which I am glad to say was a very pleasing win by Ulster over the Scalets. I am not sure how long it will take the various extremities of our bodies to recover from standing on the baltic terraces, but it was worth it. To her credit, Mrs Sharky did enjoy the experience and we appreciated a good display from the Ulstermen, not least a fine try from Danielli which warmed our spirits, if not our toes. How long before we brave another game I wonder...?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Duke slays St George

Still a little stiff and tired with ringing ears from last night, I must experess my huge enjoyment of another Duke Special extravaganza at St. George's Market last night. The event was somewhat unusual, with a big supporting lineup introduced by local guy Paul Currie who led us through an eclecitic mix of harp music, bluegrass, comedy and rock music. The list included Paul Pilot, who was in Duke's band later on, Tim Minchin, (who appears to have been separated at birth from Duke), Cahier No. 9, The Lowly Knights (who I am sure were very good but we couldn't hear their accoustic set in the middle of the crowd!) bizzarre but entertaining New Yorker, Jason Trachtenburg

Duke's set began with 3 new ones, as he worked his way down the track list of the new CD; the striking "Mockingbird Wish Me Luck" kicked things off followed by the instant hit "Sweet Sweet Kisses" and "Those Proverbs We Made in the Winter Must End". He went on to intersperse the new with the familiar for almost 2 hours of pure genius.
If anyone had concerns that the new material would not be up to the high standard Duke Special has set, they should be properly dispelled by last night's performace. Although the crowd took a while to get into some of the quieter ones, they clicked immediately with the fun "Flesh & Blood Dance", the grower, "Let Me Go" and, of course, "Diggin' an Early Grave". All the favourites were on the set list and the band were just superb; where else can you get the unique and hillarious talents of Chip Bailey, the superb musicianship of Ben Castles, backed with great quality on drums, base, guitar (Paul Pilot) and a Hammond Organ player who wore face bandages the whole way through!?!

Duke made the full use of the venue (literally, being in the crowd 3 times) and the set (including standing on top of his piano, rather precariously!) but mostly in how he fed off the electric atmopshere, as he uniquely does. He was clearly loving the experience and we loved him back, as he skillfully controlled the pace and atmosphere the whole way through and kept us longing for more right through the night, even after being on our feet almost 5 hours.

The encore, a perfect end to the evening, included a couple of fantastic cover versions, starting with Van Morrisons "Orangefield" sung a cappella and very movingly. We were treated to a unique version of "Freewheel" with Duke, his piano and a slide guitar accompanyment, which was also very powerful. Tim Minchin joined the band for the finale of "Our Love Goes Deeper that This" which left the guest singer seeming in total shock at the reaction of the audience who were, by this time, firmly in the palm of the Dukes hand.
The other cover was a powerful version of the old Specials song, "Ghosttown". The irony of this won't be lost on anyone; this song used to be an accurate description of Belfast but, as Duke said, not any more, and the emergence of St. Georges Market as a wonderful gig venue is testimony to how the city has changed and come alive. The ghosts of St Georges will have been proud that one of this city's finest musicians has taken yet another Special step forward to proving himself to be one of the best performers anywhere around.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The fine line between being salt and being ridiculous

Interesting to hear of West Sussex RC Cleric, Christopher Jamison, who has come out strongly against the Disney corporation. He accuses them of "exploiting spirituality" to sell its products and of turning Disneyland into a modern day pilgrimage site. Pointing out the tendency for Disney to give children morals, he points out their underlying aim to sell a lot of merchandise, thus making lots of money and helping to drive a materialistic culture.

Innevitably, of course, he has come in for a lot of stick over this - see Damian Thompson of the Telegraph for one, although I think his main point is that if we are to be critical of Disney in this way, there are plenty of other equally worthy targets. Many will be less balanced in their criticism of this stance, but it does cause me to ask a question. Where is the line between challenging our culture, especially with a spiritual motivation, and just looking (or indeed being) ridiculous? Of course, at times we need to be prepared to say things that are unpopular and risk ridicule.

Is it so awful that Fr Jamison has suggested true happiness may involve living more simply? Is that not a Biblical message? It is not possible to truely judge what he has said second hand from the press, but it did make me think. I wonder if I was important enough to have my comments ridiculed, would I say anthing worth making fun of?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Youth voice needs heard in an insane world

The current financial climate has caused people, especailly as they approach Christmas, to rethink their values, assess whether they are too materialistic and, as well as tightening their belt, reorder their moral and social priorities.

Ok, I wish that was true; sadly people (and by people I mean you and I) are still materialistic, consumer driven and sinfully selfish. there are degrees however, and it is always the excesses which stand out and leave us in danger of feeling complacent. Could we find a more horriffic example of that than the shocking death of a Walmart worker, tranpled to death by a stampeding crowd of "Black Friday" bargain hunters in Long Island. By the way, lest we be guilty of making him a statistic, the man's name is Jdimytai Damour. For the record, Jdimytai was 6 feet 5 and 270 pounds - not only does that make his death harder to get your head round, but there is a suggestion that his size was the very reason he was there, not because he was trained to deal with crowd, unfortunately for him.

What is the worst aspect to this? Is the most callous thing that some of the shoppers who poured over, and in fact on top of, him as they rushed on their way to scrap for a morsel of bargain?
"I look at these people's faces and I keep thinking one of them could have stepped on him," said one employee. "How could you take a man's life to save $20 on a TV?"

What about the people who even stepped on those trying to give him medical attention? Or is the most sickening thing the people who then objected when asked to stop shopping in the aftermath of the incident?

Or is it worse that there is also a link at that story, and other places on the net, where we can watch the aftermath and despearate attempts to resuscitate this poor man? Does it feed our need to have as much of the gorey detail as possible, one of the more disturbing aspects of our mass media?

Each of us needs to reexamine our attitudes in the light of this. At least there is one young person who is prepared to speak out and show that he is thoughtful and is trying to evaluate it from a more balanced perspective. A young man who goes under the nicname of KeyboardDP took 10 minutes away from his obvious love of music to show how young people are not prepared to allow such scandalous things to happen unchallenged. He has recorded a brief monologue video which, while it will not solve everyone's problems, shows a thoughtful and wise approach that many of his elders could learn from. We need to give young people more opportunites to have their voice heard as they have so much to say that is helpful.