Amazon wishlist? Good!

amazon-wishlist

At seven and a half weeks away from hitting 40, I often find myself unable to focus on everyday life, as I take time to contemplate…

… what pressies I want!

I know that for some, Amazon is practically the Anti-Christ. I concede that there is some truth in this, for various reasons. Still, I have decided that their ‘wish-list’ feature is one of the ‘greenest’ ‘fairest’ ‘loving’ (etc) ways to make a list of what you want for either Xmas or Birthday.

Why? Ah, glad you asked:

 

New or used? – I find myself adding books and DVDs that I’m keen to read/view, that I’d be quite happy to receive second hand.  By asking for it ‘used’ (put a note in the comments box) not only am I making the gift cheaper for the buyer, I’m ‘recycling’ something that is already in existence, as it were.

 

Fair trade/ethical/organic – Use Amazon’s ‘Add to Wish List’ button feature to add items from other websites to your wish-list. For example: Traidcraft. Or just something you found on ebay that you fancy.

 

Goats are cool! – If you run out of ‘stuff’ that you fancy, why not add a gift that benefits others, like a goat for Africa, or bees, or school books, etc?

 

Use your friends! – Got talented mates? I have! Remember that you can add things to your list ‘free-style’:  ‘Jenny’s amazing chocolate cake’.
Or: ‘Babysitting voucher’, ‘Poem about me’, ‘Painting – just for me’, etc. It makes it cheaper (or sometimes even free) for the buyer, and let’s face it – 100 times more meaningful (for both giver and recipient) than an Oil of Ulay/David Beckham smellies gift set!

 

I am not quite the determined eco-warrior of a few years ago, and I’m not even sure that I’m in any sort of mourning over this. But what I do feel I’ve retained is the overwhelming sense that we all have far too much ‘junk’, and that the whole issue of gift-giving can be viewed as the main culprit of this tragedy, especially as we consider how rich we in The West really are.  And I fully appreciate that tiny gestures such as this don’t single-handedly save the planet, or make me the most loving Christian who’s ever lived… but hey – it’s a start!

[If you are interested in having a greener or ‘alternative’ Christmas, please check out this book below, which I have contributed to. Ta.]

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Doing-December-Differently-Alternative-Christmas/dp/1905010230

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sacred Review of Adrian Plass, by Annie, aged 37 and 3/4.


In five days time I will be the very age that Adrian is in his famous diary (famous if you’re a Christian over a certain age)… The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, aged 37 3/4.

I first read (devoured) this book when I was just 14, on Christmas day. It was given as a present to my Mum, and somehow I got hold of it and read the entire thing that very day. Being surrounded by an abundance of relatives, food, presents, games, the Queen’s speech, etc, somehow did nothing to tear me away from one of the best books I’d ever read. (And it is still one of my few very favourite books of all time.) I laughed, I cried, I cried with laughter, I giggled, chuckled and snorted… in short – I loved it.

Why? Because he held a truth-telling microscope to my world: my uber-charismatic church. Like a Christian Caulfield, he exposed the phoney-ness. But unlike Caulfield, he did it in an amusing and readable manner. His sheer irreverence was deliciously shocking to me at the time, yet oddly comforting; I wasn’t alone in my scepticism. It’s not God he mocks though – not once. No – it’s the church and the people in it, along with our idiosyncrasies, hypocritical tendencies, and all-round batty behaviour.

Recently I read it again, from start to finish, in one day. It’s not that I haven’t read it a few times between those teenage years and now, but I wondered if reading it while being his actual age would alter the experience in any way…

DOUBT: Adrian has moments of doubting himself, doubting others and doubting God. Aged 14, I thought I had it all sussed. In fact I knew I did. I rarely suffered from paranoia (now a constant companion, as it is for Adrian) and I never doubted God (because that would be a sin). Nowadays I wouldn’t recognise myself if I wasn’t frequently churning over conversations in my mind, worrying about what people think of me. And it turns out it’s not a sin to doubt God at all – my 20th year was a bit ‘iffy’ in this respect, but it all worked out in the end, for the better.

DEATH: At 14, thoughts of death were not high on my agenda, as they are on Adrian’s. Now, they sneak up from time to time. A bit like grey hairs.

THEOLOGY: Adrian sums it up with ‘God is nice and he likes me’. When I was younger I was too quick to judge other Christians, declaring that what they were doing was wrong or, at best, ‘quite dodgy’. Now, I can see that we all mess up, at least 34.6 times per day, even me. Especially me. I now feel that if we can only cling on to the fact that God is nuts about us, we’re far more likely to live our lives as he wants us to.

The image below is my all-time favourite snippet from the diary. I’ve never been able to hear anyone talk about placing a ‘fleece’ in the same way since reading this, and never will. Which is a good thing.

It’s no secret that I used the diary as inspiration for my novel: Dear Bob (and the sequel: Love Jude). Perhaps with a dash of Adrian Mole (coming of age) and a sprinkling of Bridget Jones (singleton) slipped in with it!

Yes, I remain a true fan, and no doubt will be until I’m 99 and 3/4, and rely heavily on the audiobook version.

Sainsbury’s Rewards

Sainsbury’s Rewards.

I arrive in the car park, unsure as to where I should park… myself.
Where I’ll best fit.
Squeezing out of the car and instantly, I’m baffled.
Too much to absorb, I admit.

Soon enough, I’m settled in.
Attuned to the bright lights, the colour… the echoing din.
The noisy people.
Like bees, but less busy… with less purpose.

I marvel at the fruit and veg – a deluge of innocuous shapes.
Such aroma… I’m tempted.
I spot a mate. We have a bit of a laugh –
Some of the misshaped sweet potatoes remind us of mutual friends.

Coconut organic yoghurts stare back at me, unimpressed.
But it’s OK – instructions are included: a list, to aid me pass this test.
To help select essentials for the week ahead
(And puddings. And snacks. And wine. And…)

Barely into the tinned goods aisle and I’m hit by enthusiasm
(And a bit later, by a rogue trolley.)
If I want it, I reach out, it’s there. If it’s not, I merely have to enquire
(Or mumble a brief prayer)
I’m guided straight to it. Instant gratification.
Survey the shelves: what you see is what you get.

Later on, in a frozen realm, Confusion reappears.
I swear he’s messing with the PA,
Inserting mis-information – an assault on both ears.
Is this trip a mistake?
What seemed so effortless a few aisles ago
I now declare to be onerous… I ache.

The till’s in sight, though there’s a queue.
But standing just the other side – a guy.
I swear that he can see right through… me.

He beckons, without a single word.
But trolley’s now so laden down, with all the ‘stuff’.
And here’s what’s worse: I’ve have no purse.

He’s smiling now, and mouths: “I’ve paid… just come”.
Reluctant hands release their grip from all they’ve picked.
But somehow know that what’s ahead will far transcend the list they penned.

I’m running now – I ache no more.
He takes my hand. We leave the store.
Content that he, is my reward.

——————————————-

For a few more attempts at poetry, including some pie-winning efforts (!) visit here.

For anyone else with kids who go to camp…

Wrote this this evening, thinking of our kids at camp, that we collect tomorrow morning.
It’s very rough, but was just a good way commit my feelings to paper (blog) and also served as a cunning distraction from an essay I’m supposed to be writing!
I make no apology for the fact that it rhymes; it may be un-fashionable, but then so are most of my clothes… yet life goes on.

They packed their bags

They packed their bags (who knows with what).
We drove them there – the cord was cut.
We drove away – the tears did fall:
It’s hard to leave your kids – so tall!
They may have reached their teenage years
But that does not negate my fears
That while they are away from me
Their stay at camp might sometimes be…
Hard.

It’s good for them to be away
From us, and home, for seven days.
It’s good for them to make new friends.
All this, please note, I comprehend.
I want them to explore and grow
And get some sun, and fun, although
I want them to be safe and sound,
Seeing as I’m not around…
To help.

I want them to find some bits rough,
To build them up – to make them tough.
But not so hard that they can’t cope.
This is my plea – this is my hope.
I pray they get to know God more
And learn what they are living for;
To aid them when life gets too hard.
I pray that they won’t disregard…
This.

Their sheets are washed, their rooms are clean.
The house is calm, bereft of teens.
We can’t complain that they’re afar
We’ve had a blast – the week’s been ours!
We’ve watched what we want on TV.
No Minecraft, COD or MP3.
But twelve hours more and they’ll be back
Their mud-stained clothes we’ll all unpack…
Together.


(Image from http://photoeverywhere.co.uk)

Post-Greenbelt waffle


My attempt to sum up this year’s Greenbelt, using that often overlooked, yet hugely loveable number – 4.

Gutted that I missed:
1] Adrian Plass (I’m such a fan, but wasn’t at GB on the day he spoke).
2] Jude Simpson (but at least I managed to bump into her for super brief catch-up).
3] Dave Walker‘s calendar (it had sold out by the time I got around to attempting to purchase).
4] Tea towels (Greenbelt branded ones. Again, they’d run out. Must try harder next year. Not sure I’m actually ‘gutted’ about this, more ‘slightly annoyed’).

Dead chuffed to have heard:
1] Ruth Downie (interesting talk on crime fiction).
2] Simon Morden (part 2 of his thoughts on Christian publishing, etc).
3] Andrew Philip (poetry reading that I actually understood, and enjoyed). Pic of his session, with me in attendance, here!
4] Rev Gerald Ambulance (his profound take on the current state of the Church, and some insightful comments regarding the role of women in marriage).

So glad I consumed:
1] Pie Minister pie – Heidi (goat’s cheese/sweet potato) with mash and groovy. (Read my ‘award-winning’ pie poem here.)
2] Bowl of fried potato/wine sauce and sausage, from Le Grand Bouffe.
3] Hot choc, that I managed to persuade them to add brandy to, seeing as they clearly had some as they sold coffee with brandy.
4] Pizza from the posh pizza place, as this time I went wild and paid extra for ‘all’ the toppings.

Got stuck right in:
1] Attended a ‘Student Focus’ session, (SCM). Did a creative book plug for Dear Bob, involving volunteers, weird props, jogging, masks, Pringles… you get the idea!
2] As per the past few years, did the Generous session, this year on ‘local activism’. Plugged Living Generously .
3] Donated some Dear Bobs to The Hub, for eventual distribution to teenagers at GB. (See Ben’s plan here).
4] Wrote out some Bible verses in monk-like fashion (assuming ye olde monks used i-pads with i-pens). It’s going to be presented to the Queen, no less – see my verses here.

Thrilled to natter over a cuppa with:
1] Darren Hill (after 8 years of knowing him only via phone/email/Facebook, finally met up – hurrah! He was instrumental in inflicting ‘Dear Bob’ on the general public.)
2] Jo Swinney (after knowing her… a couple of months via Facebook, finally met up)!
3] Penny Culliford (it wouldn’t be Greenbelt without at least one chatting marathon with this lady, some years we’ve managed several).
4] No cuppa, but SO pleased to grab a quick hello with fellow Subway-ers (Christian Writers’ Group): Tim R, Tim S, Jules, Paul B, Veronica Z… and those already mentioned above.

Swapped several pennies for:
1] The Insatiable Moon (Mike Riddell).
2] Paradise Now (Jari Moate).
3] A greetings card with some Christian artwork on it (with intention of framing it at some point – perhaps in the year 2017, when I’ve got a spare minute).
4] A FRANK sports water bottle, that I could then re-fill during the festival, for free!

We (family and I) were also a-weeping and a-wailing that for the first time in six (ish) years we didn’t get to camp/hang out with our buds Lori and Richard Passmore (and kids). Boo and double-boo.

Overall though, it was simply superb to wander around the site and soak up the oh-so-familiar (yet ever ‘fresh’) GB atmos with my gorgeous family, including my fab sis – a real live Cheltenham local.

A few pics can be viewed here.

So how was GB11 for you?!

Greenbelt (lite)

I’ve opted for ‘Greenbelt Lite’ this year. Not because I’m opposed to the full-fat version… in fact I’ve been, with the family (from Thurs—>Tues) for the past eight years! But this year I’m there for the Sunday and Monday only.

On Sunday evening (8pm, Galilee) I’ll be at a ‘Student Focus‘ session: University Survival Skills, plugging Dear Bob, naturally, but also hopefully participating in the promised chocolate brownies. If you’re a student, get your-fabulous-self on down there… 6 copies of Dear Bob are being GIVEN away as prizes!

Then on Monday, I’ll be involved with the Generous talk: ‘Get Down Your Local’, about local activism (The Kitchen, 2pm) where, just to be consistent, I’ll be plugging another book (one I co-authored): – Live Generously.

You are probably unaware that Greenbelt have changed their policy this year, and on the ‘talks’ page of their website (listing all this year’s GB speakers) the MOST important speakers are at the very bottom of the page, rather than at the top. The fact that Rob Bell is at the top is clearly some sort of admin error.

I aim to see: RS Downie, Simon Morden, Andrew Philip (all on this page) Jo Swinney and Rev Gerald Ambulance. This also appeals to me. Gutted I’ll miss: Adrian Plass/Milton Jones. Am I sad that I’ll miss the workshop ‘Parenting Teenagers’? Not sure. If you’re there, please take notes (include a few pictures – I get bored easily). But mostly I’ll just be wandering around the site, with various friends/family, soaking up the fabulous GB atmos, wondering if I can afford a trendy fairly-traded organic t-shirt with a bible verse printed on it… then deciding that I probably can’t, and ending up in the queue for pies.

To bee, or not to bee…


What have I been up to recently?
Well, it’s most kind of you to enquire, especially without any prompting – clearly, you were brought up to have impeccable manners!

The last few months before we broke up (from school) were ridiculously busy. At times I reminded myself of one of those insanely industrious bees in ‘Bee Movie’. Here’s why:

PGCE – After many, many years of saying: Well, I really ought to do a PGCE… but I don’t think I can handle it, I’ve finally caved. Still not sure if I can handle it, but I’ll soon find out. This Sept I start a two year PGCE in post-16 education. Worlds away from the primary school surroundings I’ve been oh-so-used to over the past nine years (teaching assistant). My teaching placement is teaching Skills For Life, Literacy. This involves teaching literacy to adults, from very basic skills through to GCSE level literacy. But I’d love to get involved with teaching Religious Studies at AS/A2 Level also. I’ve prepared for and attended two interviews, which both involved lengthy Numeracy/literacy tests, and attended a SFL lesson, just to see what I’m letting myself in for!

GCSE marking – I have become an Assistant Examiner for OCR, and have now marked 700 GCSE Religious Studies papers for them. Hard work, more time consuming than I could possibly have anticipated… but surprisingly stimulating!

SPREE – we took our Church youth group camping at SPREE, jointly run by Urban Saints (formally known as ‘Crusaders’… so pleased they changed their name!) and SWYM. Again, a lot of work, but well worth it. It rained nearly the entire weekend, but FReD (our group) appeared to enjoy themselves no end.

Now it’s the Summer hols (6 entire weeks off work – HURRAH for jobs in education) I’m feeling very chilled out; laid back to the point of lying down, as the expression goes… and I have been (lying down) in the garden to catch those few rare rays and boost my Vitamin D levels, on several occasions.

My third novel (Christian, Chick Lit, adult) – is currently still a mere file on my computer (and would be gathering dust, if a computer file had the ability to do such a thing) and not sitting pretty on the bookshop shelves, where I’d much rather it took up residence (before being bought by millions, obviously). I am starting to get it ‘out there’, and believe me, you’ll be the first to know if/when I get an offer. Meanwhile, I’m doing the most sensible thing… starting on a fourth novel. Yes, non-writery types would substitute the word ‘sensible’ with ‘insane’, but it’s just something I feel compelled to do. Who knows when I’ll have the time to write, as I’ll be working/studying every day from Sept, but where there’s a brain full of ideas, and a computer… there’s a way.

And what about you? What ‘bee’ going on with you right now…?

Cross Rhythms interview (website)

The recent radio interview I did for Cross Rhythms has now made it to their website: click here.

(For more about the interview itself, see here)

I’ve done lots of (more than 10, less than my age) interviews in the past, but wonder if this is the first one where my ‘audio’ has been transcribed into text. It’s interesting to see the difference between the two; if I’d been writing the answers rather than saying them, word choice would have been quite different, I imagine (and already I can sense that although this is interesting to ME, it is quite likely boring both the shoes and socks off the rest of you… sorry!).

Not convinced I said I was once a “tough member of my youth group”… makes it sound as though I used to beat up the leaders every other week, just for kicks!

Granted, I’m still using the piccie of me that was taken 8 years ago. How much longer can I get away with the pretence that I still look like this?
Hopefully a couple more decades, at least.

P.S. Check out the excessive use of semi-colons in the transcript… I thought I was the one with an unhealthy addiction to them.
(But surely forgiveable as transcripts are tricky animals to tame.)

‘Cross Rhythms’ interview

The UK Christian radio station Cross Rhythms recently invited me aboard for an interview. (I spoke at their festival back in 2003, and was interviewed by them, on air, in that same year also.)

The topic was the ‘Dear Bob’ novels, that were first published 8 years ago. Thus, it was a bit like someone enquiring as to my opinions regarding nappy changing, even though my kids are now 11 and 13! But in a good way. I’m always chuffed to bits to have those books reviewed or to be asked about them, in any context; it keeps ‘Jude Singleton’ alive, and reminds me of the fun I had penning her (fictional) story.

When it was aired, they cut out one of the questions:
Who was Jude based on?
Part of my answer was that, to some extent, Dear Bob was autobiographical. But then I paused and wondered if I’d pronouned it properly… did I say ‘autobiographal’, omitting the ‘ic’ syllable towards the end? But self-correction didn’t appear to be an option, so I pressed on regardless. Naturally, this has haunted me since, prompting me embark on a frantic Google search, to check if I could get away with it, had I made that omission (which revealed: fat chance).

Had it been in the final cut and had I actually said it incorrectly, I was planning on establishing a movement, on behalf of writers everywhere, to shorten all multisyllabic words related to the profession. After all, all writers concede that time is a valuable resource – why waste it saying long words when you can use shorter ones? Who has the time to say ‘autobiographical’ (SEVEN syllables)… not me, clearly! I even considered taking the cause to a higher level to see what could be done. Kate Middleton is probably hunting for worthy campaigns to back, bless ‘er…

But nay, the question and answer were given the chop anyway, so whether or not I committed such a blunder will remain forever a ‘radio-archive’ style mystery (a little-explored literary genre).

See here for other radio stations I’ve been interviewed on. (At bottom of the page.)

Click here to email Kate directly, regarding the surplus syllables you’d like to see brutally extracted from words, to give us all more time to enjoy life.
(just kidding!)

Here is the interview itself… a time-efficient 4 mins long… and if you check your email or Facebook messages whilst listening, you’ll not in any way feel as though it’s 240 seconds down the drain…