Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 Awards

From the books I have read, films I have seen and songs I have heard, here are my number 1s of the year!

Book of the year:
This is a bit tricky, because although I have read eight books for the first time this year, none of them have been outstanding, so I will go for one that I had read before but came back to again in the autumn. It's a fantastic story and a gripping read!

The Testament, by John Grisham
 
 
 
Film of the year:
This is much easier, although I haven't seen so many new movies this year there is a clear standout in my mind.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
 
 

Song of the year:
If it hadn't been for a request to pick up a friend at a railway station I might never have heard this song, but it has become an absolute favourite.
Bottled Up Tight
 


Monday, 29 December 2014

2014 - Another Year Gone By

Quite a lot is made of what happens post-school, but not so much post-university. Many things are just assumed, like a job. I am not one for doing something just for the sake of it, though, I would much rather find the right thing.

I began the year in the middle of my PGCE, the year heading in one direction, but soon with some uncertainties. I enjoyed teaching, but everything else that comes with the job was always just out of reach, pulling silly faces at me.

There were plenty of enjoyable moments within all of this. I visited Bristol with both of my placement schools - firstly the museum and later the zoo. I also saw my first live, professional rugby match, at the Rec and my first water polo match, at Bath Uni.

Then there were these incredible guys:

  
And there was this too!
 

 
Come July, though, I had made one decision, I was not going to become a teacher (at least not a formal, schoolly one). This of course left a lot more decisions to be made and a lot more uncertainties. It also meant me leaving the beautiful city of Bath.
 
However, having finished the busiest/craziest few months of non-stop work in my life, I put aside concerns, firstly for a day at the Trent Bridge test match;
 
 
and then for Scotland and the West Highland Way!
 



So the second half of this odd year began:
 
There was cricket,
  A day at a private hospital,
    Dropping one sister off in London,
      Helping the other move house in Newcastle,
        A wedding in Winchester,
          and amongst all this job applications, and no positive replies.
            Uncertainties.
 
I filled time helping out YFC - local and national. (Cheers for the work guys!)
 
But it all came down to my fall back option. Something I'd had at the back of my mind since about March:
 
 
 
First: Application. Then Wait, Offer, Training, Job! Christmas!
 
In the grand scheme of things it's not a huge amount of time, but it definitely feels it when you're in it. So life goes on!
 
There's been other stuff this year and a lot of other amazing people (you know who you are)! Thanks for making it another crazy, wonderful, beautiful year!
 
 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

When Santa followed God

Santa Clause - Saint Colas - St. Nicholas!   

And before that Bishop Nicholas, persecuted and imprisoned along with other Christians. In his early life he used the wealth of his deceased parents to assist anyone who needed his help, particularly the sick and children for whom he had a great love.

"Jesus said to him, 'If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.'" - Matthew 19v21

Just a thought for this Christmas.

 
 
 
 

Friday, 19 December 2014

An early Christmas present

I have completed my 11 days of training in Surrey and am now officially employed by PGL! Hurray!

From late January I will be working at Winmarleigh Hall, in Lancashire, as an Activity Instructor/Group Leader. More details, stories and pictures to follow in the new year!


Here's a few more snaps from the training:

6 in a hoop

Table Wrestling

Sunshine!
 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Day off in the Devil's Punchbowl

A day off from training resulted in a morning stroll through the Devil's Punchbowl, with the sun beaming down!

 
 














 
 

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Need To Belong

I have recently been introduced to Jean Vanier and have begun listening to some lectures he has given (which can be found on YouTube). I am delighted to hear his incredible wisdom, particularly on the subject of Belonging and the need to be connected to others. This matches the thoughts I've been having recently on relationship, some of which I wrote about in The Fight for Unification (see left hand side).

These are some of the things he has said.

"We are in a world where, in some countries, each person is seen as important, and that is a great progress in humanity, the value of the human person."

"There was a time when what was important was the group, but now there is a consciousness that each person has rights...that each person is precious."

"But on the other hand, as we have brought up the individual, we're losing a sense of belonging and the need to build something together; to be bonded together in mutual affection and love."

"And you'll find there is a tension, between belonging and inner freedom, as we can see belonging as giving security and stifling the person, but we can also see that by accentuating the person, and not accentuating the element of belonging, there can be a lot of anguish ... and loneliness, and feeling of being lost."

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Love what you got

Two friends moved into neighbouring houses.

The first arrived with enough furniture to kit out the small home and soon added to it another bed, a sofa and a large cabinet.

The second arrived with no furniture but soon acquired a kettle and a piano.

Both were very happy.

(True story)


Christmas is coming. The ridiculous Black Friday sales have gone, taking with them the worst of consumerist society and the rest of us can settle down to enjoy what we've got; homes, friends, joy.

 


 
 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Twenty events that changed a nation

I have tried, with some difficulty, to pick the key event of each of the last 20 centuries in the United Kingdom - these had to be events that happened on British soil and had an impact on the whole country.  Notice the key themes of conquest, division and unification.


1st – Roman invasion of Britain by Emperor Claudius (43)

2nd – Hadrian’s Wall is built, dividing north from south (122-)

3rdBritain divided into two provinces, Britannia Superior and Britannia Inferior, with administrative centres at London and York (214)

4thSustained raids by Picts, Irish, and Saxons. Hadrian's Wall abandoned and military commander Fullofaudes captured or killed (367)

5th – Saxons begin conquest of Britain (409)

6th – Mission of Augustine to England (597) begins spread of Christianity

7thSynod of Hertford gives the Archbishop of Canterbury authority over the whole of the English Church (672)

8th – Viking invasions begin – raids on Lindisfarne (793)

9th – Alfred, King of Wessex, halts Danish advance south in England (871) and counters by expanding his control of Merica

10th – Unification of England (959) – Edgar becomes King of England, unifying the kingdoms of      Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex. He was crowned in 973

11th – Norman conquest of England (1066) – William I crowned King of England

12th – Henry I dies, nominating Matilda his heir, but Stephen claims the throne and becomes King of England (1135) leading to civil war in later years

13th – King John, still struggling financially after Richard’s expenditure on the Crusades, makes concessions to the English barons by signing the Magna Carta (1215)

14th – Battle of Bannockburn: Scotland defeats England (1314)

15th – Battle of Bosworth (1485): Henry Tudor defeats Richard III, effectively ending the Wars of the Roses and reunifying the country, leading to greater stability, particularly financially

16th – Henry VIII breaks with Rome (1534) leading to the reformation

17th – English Civil War (1642-1649)

18th – Sir Robert Walpole becomes the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1721)

19th – Introduction of railways – First passenger line: Stockton to Darlington (1825)

20th – First general radio broadcasts (1920) - the age of communication begins
 
 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

When kids are almost right

Children are very good at being wonderfully practical and often amusingly incorrect. For example:

"In Wales you can tell it's summer, because the rain gets warmer."

Q: Define the word 'Coincide'.
A: It is a direction, as in "Coincide, it's cold out here."

Parallel lines can't meet, unless you bend them.

Q: Why did the Israelites make a golden calf?
A: Because they didn't have enough for a cow.

Mushrooms look like umbrellas because they grow when it's raining.

Q: If you stand facing North, what do you have on your left hand?
A: Fingers


Sometimes they can be nearly right!

Henry VIII had the prayer book put into English to spite the Pope who wanted to marry Catherine of Aragon.

A refugee is someone who takes charge at football matches.

Manpower is the extra strength men have more than women.

Moths eat holes.


And once in a while they are absolutely spot on!

Genius is an infinite capacity for picking brains.

Q: Name five animals that live in the rainforest.
A: A sloth and four monkeys.

Ed Miliband has been in Labour ever since he entered politics.


Friday, 14 November 2014

Kids with cameras

I was recently privileged enough to accompany a school on a trip to Warwick Castle. This was actually a trip I had made when I was their age, but there was one obvious difference: camera phones. When I went for the first time camera phones had only just been released and if anyone actually had one they certainly wouldn't have been allowed to bring it. This time, everyone (literally) had one. Therefore they didn't so much as look around the castle as photograph it. Every feature of the castle walls, waxworks, swords and bushes had to be documented, from every angle. To be honest they should just have turned the video recorder on and sellotaped the phone to their forehead, although of course this would have ruled out the possibility of 'selfies'.
     Now I should hope that they will still have learnt a significant amount about castles and they will obviously be able to have another look by browsing their numerous snaps, but I imagine their memory of the day will be significantly diminished because they never actually experienced the castle itself. They were so busy photographing it, or photographing each other in front of it, that they never actually looked at the castle itself, or spent time imagining what it would be like to have lived there hundreds of years ago. Now a few photographs are alright to jog your memory, I took a few myself, but if all you do is take pictures you won't have a memory to jog!
     The most ridiculous moment, for me, came at lunch when we went to watch a falconer put on a fantastic display with two amazing birds of prey, including a majestic Bald Eagle.



The kids, of course, watched the whole thing through their phone screens, except when a peacock came wandering around behind them. As one the cameras swung round, like the paparazzi when a superstar appears, to this relatively boring event (the peacock didn't even have his tail feathers up). It wasn't really the fact that it was a peacock that made them turn round, merely that here was something new for them to photograph. I wonder what effect this will have, as we continue to engross ourselves in the digital world and lose sight of the real one right before our eyes.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A Day to Remember

11th November 2012
 

10.41   I sit down on a bench. It’s hard and shapeless and hurts my back but I stay there.

10.43   A man sits down at the next bench. He has a small dog on a lead, but I can’t work out what breed it is. I think it's male.

10.44   The man gets out a sandwich and starts eating. He seems oblivious to everything else, including his dog who is running back and forth in front of him waiting for scraps.

10.45   The man finishes his sandwich and displays his empty hands to the dog. The dog looks crestfallen and turns away in search of other things on the ground.

10.46   The dog has wandered to the middle of the courtyard and is investigating the large, cross-shaped structure laid out for remembrance day. It is filled with earth and grass, in which people place small crosses. The dog sniffs hopefully at the grass but the man pulls him back.

10.48   I shift slightly to relieve the ache in my back and notice two foreign tourists taking photos of the church, themselves and everything in between.

10.49   The male tourist spots the dog and comes closer to give him a scratch. The tourist smiles at the man, points to his girlfriend with the camera, then at the dog, then at himself. The man understands, but seems bemused as to why two randomers want a picture of his dog.

                        ‘Sit,’ he commands, and the dog obliges.

               The tourist sits down too on my bench and leans closer to the dog, who turns to look at him. The girlfriend begins taking pictures and I lean back to get out of the shot.

10.51   The tourist points at the dog and says, ‘Boy?’

                        ‘Eh?’ Replies the man. ‘Oh, no. Girl.’ He smiles.

                        Well that just shows how much I know about dogs.

10.53   The tourist continues to sit on the bench while his partner wanders off to find something else to photograph.

10.54   The tourist seems to be staring at the man, who is a little disconcerted until the tourist points to his chest and says, ‘What, flower?’

                           The man glances down and replies in a relived kind of way, ‘Oh, erm, poppy. It’s a poppy.’ Then, when the tourist’s expression doesn’t change, adds, ‘Do you speak English?’

                        ‘Er, no, no English.’

                        ‘Oh,’ says the man. ‘Well, poppy,’ (he points to the flower) ‘for remembrance day; today. For the war. You know, World War One.’ He is including more and more hand gestures, which even I couldn’t interpret. He points at the cross structure. ‘We remember people who died.’

                        ‘Ah, yeah,’ replies the tourist at last.

                        ‘Do you know anyone involved in the war?’ asks the man without response. ‘Erm, where you from? Where you live?’

                        ‘Taiwan,’ says the tourist pleased to hear words he recognises.

                        ‘Ah,’ says the man. ‘Well, at eleven o’clock we remember the soldiers who died.’

                        He’s still flailing his arms about but the tourist from Taiwan finally seems to be catching on.

                        ‘Okay,’ he says. ‘You know people war?’

                        ‘Well, my Granddad fought in the war, but he survived. He was lucky. But we still remember everyone who did die. Everyone stands up at eleven. In fact it’s nearly eleven now, so do you want to stand?’

                        The man explains standing up by getting to his feet and the tourist follows.

                        I get to my feet too.

10.59   Many people have gathered in the courtyard; everyone stops. The man puts a finger on his lips and looks at the tourist, who nods his head.

11.00   The bell strikes, then silence.
 
 

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Festival of Remembrance: a call for peace

Another moving and poignant Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall last night, as well as a vital call for peace. I hope the leaders of this country, who were present, will be stirred to ensure that peace is sought for in every situation, leading the way for the world in showing love for all people, and using the armed forces for acts of goodness.

I am still stirred by The Poppy Girls' rendition of The Call at last year's Festival, demonstrating the importance of the relationships between all people.

 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Bonfire Terrorist

The air has turned cold and the evening is dark
But a flame has been kindled, a fire has begun.
The wood becomes hot and soon turns to powder
But the ground, it is scorched; the fire leaves a mark.
 
And we know that it doesn't take much for a spark
To fashion a passion in the heart of a guy.
And we can remember a fellow named Fawkes
Who planned for his bite to be worse than his bark.
 
A disillusioned and desperate man, for a lark,
Turned terrorist and aimed for those in command.
But chaos cannot answer and Fawkes was found out,
So Remember Remember this night, this night.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The 3:16s

John chapter 3 verse 16 is well known. Many people could say it from memory.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (NIV)

But how about other Chapter 3 verse 16s? There are quite a few good ones!

Joel:
"The Lord will roar from Zion
    and thunder from Jerusalem;
    the earth and the heavens will tremble.
But the Lord will be a refuge for his people,
    a stronghold for the people of Israel."


1 Corinthians:
"Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?"

Ephesians:
"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being."

1 Timothy
"Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory."

2 Timothy
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."

1 John
"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters." 
 
 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

In which a young girl causes problems for her mother

Today I happened to be following a small child and her mother as they came out of a supermarket and was close enough to hear their conversation. The girl was proudly carrying an important part of their dinner in each hand, or at least she was till she dropped one of them. Fortunately it wasn't an easily breakable item.
     "Careful, love," her mother said, "that's our dinner."
     The girl just giggled and squatted down to pick it up. Then she dropped the other one.
     "Oh, come on," said her mother, collecting the second item and adding it to the shopping bag she was carrying.
     "This packet is squishy," noted the girl, matter-of-factly. Getting no response from her mother she said it again.
     After the third time her mum replied, "yes, but try not to squash it completely."
     Instead the girl reached out her arm with the packet and ran it along the wall as she walked.
     "Don't do that, love," said her mother, now sounding a little exasperated.
     "Why?"
     "Because, that's our dinner, and if you make a hole in the packet our dinner will come out and be ruined, and we don't want that do we?"
     The girl said nothing, but skipped away happily, probably to find some other way of playing with/destroying the dinner. I find that children that age are exceptionally obedient. If an adult tells them not to do something, they don't do it, they just find something else, equally disastrous, to do instead. What happiness!

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Magician

Every year the village of East Sifin holds a Talent show, which people enter from all round the area. They rent out the little theatre and an hour before the start the room is packed with locals out for a good evening's entertainment. There will be musicians, dancers, acrobats and comedians with varying degrees of skill, but each one is applauded with gusto and no one ever feels they performed badly.
     Everyone attending gets to vote for their favourite and so the winner is chosen, but a panel of four judges is also present to provide a few comments after each act. On the panel is Mr Flanagan, current director of the local amateur dramatic society and organiser of the whole event; Mrs Merribold, who years before sang in the London Symphony Chorus;  Lucy Price, a teacher in the primary school and keen dancer; and Reverend Peters, the local vicar, known for being thoughtful and having a good sense of humour.
     There are often more than twenty acts and the evening drags on, but no one seems to mind. On this particular occasion the audience were exceptionally keen, cheering each act more loudly than the one before. It was well after 9 o'clock when the final performer entered the stage.
     "Welcome," said Mrs Merribold, beaming happily, "and what's your name?"
     "Winquist," replied the man. He was dressed in a long, black topcoat and boots and seemed strangely serious.
     "And where do you come from Mr Winquist?" went on Mrs Merribold, "I don't think I've seen you before."
     "I have travelled some way to be here," was the vague answer.
     "Okay, err," Mrs Merribold faltered slightly, "and what have you come to do?"
     "I'm a magician," said Winquist.
     "Oo, good," cut in Mr Flanagan, "we haven't had a magician yet this year. This should be an exciting end to the acts." This was met with a general cheer. The crowd were happy to cheer anything by now.
     "When you're ready then Mr Winquist," said Mrs Merribold, leaning back in expectation.
     Winquist nodded and then addressed the audience. "Thank you everyone." (Cheer) "If you'll just bear with me a moment." Quickly he whipped off his large coat and then, without blinking, drew an invisible hook in mid air and hung his coat on it.
     There was silence for a split second as the audience tried to work out what had just happened and how the trick worked. Then there was a large round of applause and more cheering.
     "Nice," said Lucy, while the vicar leaned forward.
     "Now, I thought I'd start by doing some juggling," continued Winquist as if nothing had happened. "I know you might not think juggling especially magical, but I find it fascinating."
     While he was talking Winquist reached inside his coat and pulled out three ordinary juggling balls and began rotating them through the air. The crowd watched and waited expectantly for the magic, but initially nothing seemed to happen.
     After almost twenty seconds Winquist looked over to the judges and asked, "Mrs Merribold, I'm struggling to remember, how many balls did I start off with?"
     "Three," she replied confidently.
     "Ah yes, I thought one had slipped in there."
     Lucy gasped as she caught on. "There's four now!"
     The audience began to realise what had happened, but then someone called out, "No, there's five!"
     "I can see six," said another.
     The multiplying juggling balls engrossed the crowd as they tried to keep track. The vicar, though, was watching Winquist's hands, trying to work out where the new balls were appearing from.
     The audience became increasingly excited as more and more balls appeared until someone was certain they'd counted ten.
     Winquist suddenly shouted, "This has gone too far, I can't keep up," and in a flash all of the balls were launched into the air and vanished.
     A large "ooo" swept round the room, followed by more clapping.
     Winquist was digging in his coat again and emerged with a shiny, top hat. "I like traditions," he said, still completely serious. "You can't beat simply pulling rabbits out of a hat." To prove his point he reached in and picked up not one but two rabbits and stepping off the stage handed them to Lucy and Mrs Merribold, who were delighted. The magician reached into the hat again and this time pulled out a rubber duck, which he passed to the vicar, who took it and laughed.
     "What do I get?" said Mr Flanagan indignantly, which brought on more shouts from the audience.
     "You," said Winquist, "can have this," and he handed over the top hat. "Now if you wouldn't mind holding it upside down, I think it's time these rabbits went home." Then he clapped twice and the two rabbits sprung up, hopped along the desk and jumped back into the hat.
     Mr Flanagan stared into the hat and then held it the right way up, but nothing fell out.
     "Excuse me," said Winquist, now back on the stage, "how would you like it if someone turned your house upside down?"
     Mr Flanagan looked abashed and apologised.
     "You'll pay for that, you know. You will now have to take part in my final piece of magic."
     The actor looked excited and began to rise from his seat.
     "No, no," said Winquist, "stay where you are." Then to the audience he said, "I feel that my magic so far has been cute and simple, so now I will show you something truly spectacular."
     The audience drew a breath in mutual excitement.
     The magician took a few steps back so that he stood in the middle of the stage. Then without warning he burst into flames. This time the shouts from the onlookers were cries of fear, but the fire went out almost as quickly as it had started. At the same moment there was a loud crack and the stage was empty. No magician, not coat, nothing. Then from the wings appeared a very confused looking Mr Flanagan. Everyone stared, still stunned and confused about what had happened. Mrs Merribold, however, screamed and all eyes snapped to the judges desk. There on the end seat, where Mr Flanagan had been just moments before, sat a very relaxed Winquist, complete with topcoat and hat and applauding loudly.
     "Take a bow then, Mr Flanagan," called the magician, "that was a wonderful act."
     Some of the crowd began to clap too, but the poor director continued to look dazed.

The magician's act was easily the most talked about as the audience refilled their drinks and dropped their voting slips into the box. Most of them were happy enough with the act, although several seemed to think the final piece had been a little disturbing. There were many ideas as to how the coat and the juggling balls and a the hat with the rabbits were done, but no one had a clue how Winquist had vanished from the stage, while Mr Flanagan had ended up in the wings. Some suggested that Mr Flanagan must have been in on the act and just wanted a bit more stage time himself.
     "He is a good actor," said one person.
     "Well I think that's cheating," said another.
     The magician himself, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen.

After the voting had been completed and the adding up done by the judges, everyone reassembled for the announcement of the winner. Normally this would have been done by Mr Flanagan, but he was still recovering from his part in the magician's act and so handed over the honour to the vicar.
     "Thank you, again, everyone for coming," began the Reverend Peters, gripping a piece of paper tightly. The crowd, who had rediscovered their voice, cheered once more. "It has been another wonderful night. Magical, one might say," he added to a burst of laughter.
     "But now it is time to announce the winner of tonight's contest." The vicar paused slightly. "I can reveal that the champion of East Sifin's talent competition this year is," (a longer pause this time) "Emily Harraday, with her performance of 'Mama Mia'!"
     There was some surprise but it didn't stop the biggest cheer of the night as a blushing, twelve-year old, Emily tripped up to collect her prize.
     Unnoticed at the back of the theatre a man in a black topcoat slipped out of the door, smiling slightly as he pocketed the results of the vote count.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The War of Jenkin's Ear

On this day (23rd October) in 1739 Great Britain declared was against Spain. A war which was later given possibly the best name of any war in history: The War of Jenkin's Ear.

Robert Jenkins was a Welshman and a sailor, who had his ear cut off by a Spaniard; Captain Julio Leon Fandino, who suspected Jenkins of smuggling. Captain Julio then suggested that Jenkins tell the King (George II) that the same would happen to him if he was caught doing the same.

As it happened Jenkins did exactly that and Captain Julio wasn't laughing so much when the King sent in the Navy. Bizarrely this was eight years after the ear chopping incident, in which time Jenkins had shown just about everybody else his ear (now pickled in a jar), including the House of Commons, who decided that the Spanish should not be allowed to get away with it.

Then followed several years of the British battering Spanish ports (across the whole Spanish empire, including most of the Caribbean) with mixed success. Spanish pirates did quite well out of it too by attacking British ships, which led to the British taking it out on French merchant vessels. The French, however, decided not to join the war, which was probably wise.

Later the British and the Spanish forgot all about it and after 1750 actually became quite friendly.

The only disappointment I have is that the Pickled Ear wasn't used as a sort of trophy, which could be handed over to whichever side was winning. On a happier note, though, the war is still commemorated annually ... in Savannah, Georgia.

 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Favourites - films

To follow on from my previous post in which I shared some of my favourite books, I will now reveal my favourite films (in no particular order). I noticed that these five fall into very different categories and so that is how I have introduced them. Here they are:

The Epic
Dances with Wolves
As a fan of epic movies and history this easily lands high on my list. It is the story of Lt. John Dubar who chooses to go to a remote civil war outpost which turns out to be abandoned. Slowly he befriends wolves and Indians and turns his back on the military. The film is beautiful, displaying the wide plains of central America in all their glory.

The Animation
Flushed Away
An Aardman creation, which for me always bodes well, this is possibly the funniest film I have ever seen. A posh English rat is flushed down a toilet and finds himself in the underground world of the London sewers, where one fat frog is hoping to drive the rat population to extinction. Outrageous and ridiculous, I don't care who you are, this is brilliant (there are singing slugs!!!).

The Critically Acclaimed
The Shawshank Redemption
A powerful story of a man wrongfully imprisoned and quietly determined to break out. This is a film of friendship and survival and how hope can conquer fear. Wonderfully acted and nominated for seven Oscars, this really is a must see.

The Thought-provoking Drama
Pay it Forward
The intriguing tale of a boy who is challenged by his teacher to find a way to change the world and responds with his idea of 'Pay it forward'. If someone does a good thing for you, it is up to you to pass it on (rather than back), and help three other people, until the whole world has been affected. Gritty and realistic this film never fails to move me.

The Action/Fantasy
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Perhaps not the greatest film ever made, but thoroughly enjoyable. I won't bother describing the story but it is possibly the perfect, all-action, entertainment spectacle and as we know, features Johnny Depp doing what he was born to do. Mad and brilliant.

Other of my much watched movies which sadly haven't appeared in this list include: A Knight's Tale, Gladiator, We Bought a Zoo, Some Like It Hot, High Noon, Bruce Almighty, and the list could go on, but there it is. Feel free to share your favourites or offer me suggestions!


Thursday, 16 October 2014

Favourites - books

To share a little bit about me I thought I'd let you know about my favourite Books and Movies, which I will do over two separate posts.

Immediately this poses problems. Firstly, to pick an out and out top book or film is just too tricky, so really these are a selection that would make it into my Top 10. Secondly, as a big Tolkien fan I should technically include The Lord of the Rings in both lists, but partly because there is more than one film, and because Tolkien produced far more than just the LotR I have decided to omit it from this list.

Here, then, are my favourite books:

Life of Pi - Yann Martel
Martel tells the story of Pi's journey across the Pacific in a life boat... with a Tiger, and uses it to consider life, religion, people and stories. Here is a novel that both messes with my head and yet also makes a lot of sense. It is a fantastic and fantastical story, beautifully described and completely gripping.

A Week in December - Sebastian Faulks
Faulks reckons this isn't his best novel, but it is the one I have enjoyed the most. In it he tells the story of a week in December in London, from the point of view of seven normal, and apparently disconnected, people. However, throughout the story their lives cross in interesting and intriguing ways, which shows just how closely we are connected to people, even when we don't realise it.

The Testament - John Grisham
Not critically acclaimed but one of the biggest selling authors of all time, and not for nothing. Grisham's stories from American court rooms are beyond gripping. This novel is probably my favourite of his in which a billionaire leaves all his wealth to an illegitimate daughter who happens to be a missionary somewhere in the Amazon rainforest. Funnily enough his other children aren't happy and his lawyer has to sort it all out.

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
Another favourite author of mine, Ishiguro is well worth looking up if you haven't already. This story of love, friendship and memory is set in a darkly skewed version of modern England and sees a collection of students come to terms with what their lives are really about and what awaits them on leaving Hailsham School.

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
A much loved classic, which I was fortunate enough to study at GCSE. This is a story of morals and how one brilliant father teaches his children to make good decisions. Set against the backdrop of racism this novel reveals different things to each reader, and on each reading, and can be enjoyed by young people and adults alike.

Other books which are high on my list but I have had to leave off include: The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, Catch 22, Captain Correlli's Mandolin, Three Men in a Boat, Atonement, The Shipping News, Azincourt, and (well I have to be honest) the Harry Potter series, all of which have gripped, thrilled and inspired me. I recommend them all!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Flirting tips from 9 year olds

Overheard a couple of girls discussing ways to get boys to like them. Here's a few of their suggestions.
 
You don't want to appear desperate so start simple.
Say "Hi" and talk about the weather.
Then talk about things they are likely to know about, such as, 'why do footballers have weird names?'
Or another good conversation starter could be, 'why do footballers earn so much?'
A good sign that they're interested is if they poke you.
Maybe a bit later on you can get his phone number but if you do you should wait for him to text you first, and then leave it a few hours before you reply.
 
 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Complaint

Gary had had enough and he grumbled to himself as he stomped his way to the complaints department. Nothing ever seemed to go right anymore and he was determined that he was going to get someone to do something about his latest problem. The complaints department had their own lobby, which was sparsely furnished and had a few boring pictures on the walls. On entering it Gary noticed he was faced with three doors. The first had a plaque that read, “Complaints for people who are just a bit annoyed.” The second door’s plaque said, “Complaints for people who want to have a rant.” While on the third door’s plaque was written, “Complaints for people who have a well reasoned argument.”
            Gary stood for a moment, perplexed; then a voice from behind him said, ‘Are you all right, Sir?’
            Gary spun round and came face to face with a well dressed man of medium height and build, who was smiling at him in a very pleasant way.
            ‘Well, it’s just that,’ began Gary looking again at the doors, ‘this wasn’t exactly what I expected, and I’m not quite sure which door I need.’
            ‘It sounds like you’re just a bit annoyed, Sir,’ said the man. ‘You want the first one.’
            ‘I’m more than annoyed,’ came back Gary, a little more loudly than he’d intended.
            ‘All right, Sir, if you’re angry maybe the second door would be best.’
            ‘I don’t want to have a rant,’ said Gary, ‘I want to make a genuine complaint.’
            ‘Ah, well then I guess you have a well reasoned argument, Sir. It’s the third door for you.’
            Gary looked sheepish. ‘Well, I wouldn’t say it’s that detailed.’
            ‘Hmm,’ replied the man, ‘may I ask what your complaint is about, Sir, maybe I could help that way?’
            ‘Err… I can’t even remember any more.’
            ‘Well then, Sir, I suggest you go away and think about it. If it’s important you could always write us a letter so that we can file it.’
            ‘Yes, that sounds like a good idea, I might do that. Thank you’
            ‘Not at all, Sir. Goodbye.’
            ‘Goodbye,’ said Gary, and left.

The man watched him walk away then crossed the lobby and taking the second door at random entered a large room filled with comfy chairs, tables of food and several guys sitting around discussing the latest football results. He headed for the drinks table and on the way over called out, ‘Oi, David, you lazy git. It’s your turn to head the next bloke off.’

Monday, 6 October 2014

Where the Nimlets live

The land where the Nimlets live is a mysterious place. It is hard to find and little is known about what goes on there. Many people could pass right by and never realise they had missed it. Hidden amongst trees and bordered by green hills the Nimlets live peacefully in their homes in the Neveth. It is only when they leave their country that things change.

The Nimlets dwell mostly around the shores of a large lake, known as Ialtas Mere, in the middle of which is an island. The mere is deep, but the surface is calm, glinting in the sunshine and moonlight. The island, however, is the nerve-centre of the Nimlet’s labours, and although externally it appears just as quiet as the shore, it is there that all important decisions are made.
            Into the lake run seven streams from the hills around, but out of it flows the river Ultilla. As it descends out of the Neveth the river deepens and leads southward towards the desert. For while the land of the Nimlets is fertile and full of life, beyond their borders the ground is hard and barren. The earth is cracked and dust covers everything. Sometimes storms will raise up clouds of sand and bitter winds will stir the stones, but it doesn’t rain. The people there cling to fragile lives and they barely notice anyone but themselves. They have heard only rumours of the Neveth.


Tuesday, 30 September 2014

First Dance

Two pairs of shoes meet on a polished floor. One pair dark, the other almost hidden but gleaming softly. They twitch nervously and smile, then they are still.

Other shoes gather around the edge of the floor and watch in quiet awe as the two pairs begin to tap with small steps, growing in confidence. Above them knees bend, hands meet and shoulders sway, but the shoes are doing the talking now.

The music swells and the shoes leap into new found life, twisting and shaking with joy, bringing a cheer from the onlookers. Then they meet again in the middle and it's like no one else is there.

The shoes keep time and seem to know each other so well. To the others they are almost a blur and it's hard to tell if there are two pairs or one crossing the floor.

Dance away and dance away, and those shoes will bring you home with joy in the morning.


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Student 37

We never met Student 37. He did exist, we heard him, but we never saw him, or at least not properly. We also never learnt his real name and so we referred to him by his room number. Steve says he nearly saw him one night as he came back from the kitchen but it was almost completely dark and Student 37 had his hood up. As soon as he heard Steve coming he dashed back into his room.
            We met his parents one day when they came to visit. We said hello and I was about to add ‘How’s Student 37?’ but caught myself in time, and anyway they left quickly.
            We knocked on his door and left him notes, sliding them through the gap, but there was never any reply. When we were bored we’d draw out pictures of what we thought he might look like.  Sometimes we decided he looked basically human but other times he was drawn as some kind of freakish monster with two heads or a tail.
            Steve had a girlfriend, but when we told her about Student 37 she wouldn’t come round any more because she was afraid he was spying on her. Occasionally we got other mates to visit but either they didn’t believe us or just felt freaked out and wouldn’t come back, so generally our flat was very quiet, which I guess is how Student 37 liked it.

The first few days we just thought he was incredibly shy and then we wondered if there wasn’t anyone in there at all, but after a while we were certain we’d heard noises. We came up with almost every possibility: he was a criminal, he was an undercover detective and one of us was a criminal, he was a spy, he was doing some complex scientific experiment, he was part of a scientific experiment but had escaped.
            The best idea we thought up was that he had a serious form of ME.
            ‘What’s that?’ Pete asked.
            ‘Err… oh what does it stand for?’ said Steve, who had suggested it.
            ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,’ I said.
            ‘Eh?’ replied Pete, ‘how do you get ‘ME’ out of that?’
            ‘No, CFS is just the general term, I can’t remember what ME stands for either, something long and complex no doubt.’
            ‘So, tiredness basically,’ said Pete.
            ‘Yeah, but an extreme version,’ I said, ‘no strength to move, pain, headaches and just the constant need to sleep, but without it ever refreshing you.’
            ‘I think I’ve got that,’ said Pete.
            ‘No Pete,’ said Steve, ‘you play rugby three nights a week, you definitely don’t have ME.’

At the end of the year he left, late one night. We were all around but still none of us saw him. He left his door unlocked so we went in. The room was clean and bare apart from the furniture. We hunted round for any clues that might tell us something about him but what we found instead was a note he’d left for us.
  
Sorry I never saw you, but thanks for putting up with me. You were right, I am a spy.

Pete laughed, ‘he’s joking right?
            I shrugged, ‘who knows?’


Monday, 22 September 2014

Fact

63 light years from Earth there's a planet where it rains glass sideways, in 7000km/h winds.
 
This is an unbelievable piece of human knowledge (of course it could be made up, I personally have no way of knowing, although I found out through QI and they generally know their stuff). Anyway, taking it as true, to know this fact blows my mind. How can we possibly know that?!
     As far as I can tell it is a useless fact, except possibly pointing to a creator of this vast universe, but it also suggests to me that the human race is now struggling to come up with anything remotely helpful. To be fair we have discovered and invented just about everything we need to live healthy, happy lives, it's a pity though, that such a small percentage of the world has access to such discoveries and inventions.
 
If all the world's gold was divided equally among the population, we'd each get £589's worth.
 
There's another fact for you, although this one was true a few months ago and the world's population has increased since then. It makes no odds (obviously) but I wouldn't want the gold anyway, it is as useless to me as the fact. This world isn't run on gold any more, despite what our bank notes still say.
     Some people still try to run their own lives on money, but I prefer to run mine on friends, on the people I talk to. They do a better job of keeping me alive.
 
By the way, did you know that in 2007, 170 Swiss troops accidentally invaded Liechtenstein after getting lost on a training exercise. Honestly, humans, we're astounding.
 
 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Lines From Literature

I am currently reading The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, a classic novel set mostly on board a small yacht off the coast of Germany, and I came across this wonderful sentence:

"After much shaking of scaly hands, we sculled back to the Dulcibella, where she slept in a bed of tremulous stars."


This set me thinking about other such beautiful and fantastic lines that I have come across. So I have compiled a few of my favourites for you to enjoy!

There are the superb opening paragraphs of Dickens' novels, the best of which, I believe belongs to Great Expectations:

"My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name being Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip."


Then there are those that carry the essence of a whole book, such as that in Catch 22 by Joseph Heller:

"Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. "That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.

Or in simpler terms:

"He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt."
 
 
There are wise words, such as this line from Tolstoy's War and Peace:
 
"We can know only that we know nothing, and that is the highest degree of human wisdom"
 
 
And then there are those when I just stop reading to delight in the beauty of the language.
 
John Steinbeck opens The Grapes of Wrath with:
 
"To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth."
 
 
But my favourite comes from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald:
 
"In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars."
 



Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A summer of cricket

Sunlit days


 And floodlit nights 


 
Testing conditions



 
And dramatic delights.

 
Samit batting

 
And bowling

 
And the fresh, clean whites.
 

 New sites


And beautiful sights,


That's it for another year.
 

 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Something to live for

This is something of a cheat post, because I am pointing you in the direction of a different article, but I thought it was worth posting.

The title is "Isil's Western converts are not motivated by Islam. They are motivated by boredom." The article points out that many people joining Isil are not necessarily the ones you would expect and that often they are doing it because the western way of life no longer offers them something to live for, or indeed to die for.

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timstanley/100285161/isils-western-converts-are-not-motivated-by-islam-they-are-motivated-by-boredom/


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Character Study

A writing challenge I set myself. Enjoy!


My name is Jasper Curic. Beside me right now are Rowan Moritz, his twin sister, Rose, and Erin Loven. We have decided to write our story and after much deliberation it has been agreed that we will take it in turns to tell it from our own perspectives.
     To begin with, though, we will tell you about ourselves, but to make it more interesting each of us will write about one of the others. So here is my description of Rose Moritz:
     When I first met Rose she was in the process of winning an argument (or so she claimed) with her Dad. This involved her slamming the front  door and marching past me as I was walking up the garden path. She has long strides for someone who is not particularly tall, and she runs fast, although not gracefully. “Hi, you must be Jasper,” she said loudly as she passed. This, I have discovered, sums Rose up quite well. She is bold and brave (most of the time) and is not afraid of standing up for herself, which probably comes from having a twin brother and a mother who ran off with some guy who was in the army when Rose was only five. Sometimes she can be a bit rash but, once I got to know her, I discovered that she cares very much for all her friends and I would trust her with my life.

*          *          *

Hi. I’m Erin. I’ve had to leave the others and come and sit on the windowsill to write this. They were distracting me. I will tell you about Rowan.
     Rowan Moritz is the kind of person who within five minutes you feel as though you’ve known for years. He seems to be friends with everyone he meets and I guess this has something to do with the way he always has time for you and always listens to what you have to say. He has dark hair, like Rose, and dark eyes that sparkle when he laughs, which happens regularly. I guess he’s quite outgoing, although sometimes he tries to duck out of things and he can also be a bit forgetful. Going fishing on his Dad’s boat is one of his favourite things to do, despite nearly drowning when he was nine.

*          *          *

This is Rose. I’ll keep this brief cause I’m sure you’d much rather read about the story. Having said that, Erin, who I’m about to introduce, is amazing.
     Erin Loven is definitely the most sweet and lovely person I know. She has this wonderful, trusting nature and she likes to think about everything. She learnt to dance when she was younger and now she seems to sort of float everywhere in her long, beautiful skirts. She’s about the same size as me, but with light brown hair and soft eyes, which make all the boys melt, although genuinely I don’t think she’s even aware it half the time.

*          *          *

And I’m Rowan. I’m afraid this won’t be so well written, I never have been as good with words. Mostly I leave that to J, and now I have to write about him.
     Jasper Curic is an interesting guy. He likes exploring and finding out about things and doesn’t really mind what anyone else thinks about him. Some people might say he’s ‘well educated’ and I suppose he is knowledgeable and he always seems to have the right words, but that hasn’t stopped him getting in to trouble at times. In fact our story starts at the moment J arrived in Winmouth, and really it’s him we have to thank for having a story at all.