Some of my more detailed reviews - books, films, theatre trips, software etc. I will also post the text of some of my sermons here.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Four Days in Suffolk - Day 3

On or second full day we had a pleasant duty to perform. Getting the Christmas presents for our friends. I have no worries about detailing it here because after years of getting the same presents none of them will be greatly surprised. We headed to the Shawcross vineyard. As we arrived a rather distracted woman also arrived, in order to avoid an accident I let her go in first, so while she was being served, we were ushered off to look at the vines.

I have no idea whether 2016 is a good year or not, but I was impressed with the yield on most of the vines.

They grow quite a few varieties, and it was a pleasant walk around the edge of the vineyard, although not at all challenging. On returning to the shop we sat outside while the tasting was prepared.  All the wines were good, but as is always the case, the final selection was a compromise.  Jo and I have very different tastes.  We had tried six different wines and then placed our order.  Having loaded the boxes into the car we were offered coffee, which was a welcome refreshment, and it being a pleasant morning we sat in the yard for a while longer.

We then drove to Framlingham to see the castle.   I thought that I had visited all the English castles, but cannot remember ever seeing this one before.  It is an impressive place, so we picked up the free audio guide and climbed the stairs for a walk around the wall. 

 When we arrived we had parked in the shade in the overflow car park with the coaches.  The castle was full of school children, most of whom were enyoing the good weather and playing on the steep banks.  I assume the trips were 'educational', but in reality just being in the castle is educational, and hopefully will spark a lot of questions.  The castle building has a fairly unusual history, as can be seen from the houses built inside the walls.  They now house the exhibition.

There is no cafe in the castle, but you can come and go as you please, so we wandered down into the town to get some sandwiches to take back to the castle to eat.  We passed plenty of places where we could have stopped, but there seemed to be no take-away until we got to the Co-op.
A short walk around the town, then back to the castle to eat our sandwiches.

After lunch we took a longer walk around the town, and came across some Alms houses, we also walked through the meadow under the castle, which it is believed was once flooded, and provided fish as well as defense.
Later we drove to Southwold and strolled along the sea front, and through the town.  We ate fish and chips from the Sole Bay Fish Company - by far the poshest take-away fish and chips I have ever had.  It came in a custome made bag, which was lined to keep the food warm and included a slice of lemon.  They also offered us some of their home made tartar sauce.  Sadly though, no protection from the gulls that constantly swooped overhead in the hope of a chip.  A lovely evening on the top of Southwold cliffs.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Four Days in Suffolk - Day 2

Following a surprisingly good night's sleep and after a good English Breakfast, we are off to Minsmere. I remember it is a rather long and strange drive out to the reserve, along narrow roads through the woods, never quite being sure where the reserve starts.  Still we get into the car park and it really isn't that busy. At the entrance we are given the map and a brief explanation of the site. We have decided to buy another pair of binoculars, for me this time, so we head for the shop first.  After a little while browsing we get offered help.  Do they watch you to decide if you're serious before offering help?  Anyway, we weren't far off what we eventually bought, and the staff kindly offered to repair Jo's pair, which they did in a few minutes, and for free.  Great service from the RSPB!
We took the longest route first, out to the mere and spent a while in various hides, only one of which had a lot of birds.  We identified a very few, and puzzled over even more, we are only beginners, but I thought we could do better.  Later I would find out why we didn't, when we got to the last hide before the walk back.  In that hide were a couple of RSPB guides, and they showed us different birds and explained how their plumage was changing for winter.  That explains the difficulty, so birds are in transition - very confusing.

On the way back to the reception area and cafe, we stopped off to visit the dig at Leiston Abbey.  Very interesting it was too.

 The Abbey had been repeatedly flooded and eventually the monks were given some land further from the sea and moved the whole Abbey 'stone by stone'.  This must have cost a fortune, but their money making schemes were quite profitable and even at the time decidedly illegal!  They seem to have diverted ships from the real port and unloaded them, and charged the appropriate taxes etc. None of that money left the Abbey, it seems.  There were various law suits against them, but that doesn't seemd to have made a difference.

We spoke to a number of the diggers and heard what they had to say.  Most were older people, so there's hope for me yet maybe.  Many had paid for the privilege, because the dig was being run by DigVentures. From discussions about how to determine what is worth getting out of the trench, to the very obvious changes in the colour of the soil, and the constant references to the ground radar that is so helpful in showing where to dig, I was fascinated. 

We eventually returned for Lunch.  Simple food was available, soup, jacket potatoes, sandwiches and the like.  The jacket potatoe was OK, but not that hot, and the order wasn't correct, although that was quickly fixed.  We sat just outside the cafe, but still under cover, not to keep warm, but to stay in the shade!

After lunch we walked round the other two circuits (together, shorter than the first) and saw almost nothing in the bird line at all, which was very disappointing.  We did see some rather impressive Red Admirals on the blackberry bushes, and I managed to get a reasonable picture.

On our way home we vistied the 'new' Leiston Abbey.  Still a ruin, but MUCH more to see.

According to the information plaques: "The abbey was of the Premonstratensian order, a very strict order who favoured remote locations (like Minsmere) well away from towns. The order was started in 1119 by Saint Norbet or Premontre in northern France.  The inmates wore black and white robes and were ordained priests unlike the monks of mother religious orders."

Norbet / Norbert just set me thinking - shouldn't have really!

After a walk on Thorpeness beach we headed for the Parrot and Punchbowl in Aldrinngham (where, we later found out, two of our friends were married).  We had a lovely meal, and a very long chat with some sitting at the next table, who clearly wanted someone to talk to.

Four days in Suffolk - Day 1

For various reasons our Holiday this autumn was truncated to just 3 days.  We left on Tuesday and headed to Suffolk, to a small village called Yoxford, near Saxmunden.  On the way we stopped in Wickham Market to get some lunch, and found a little tea shop - The Tea Pot Tearoom, where we had a light lunch - a ploughmans followed by a piece of cake, and a pot of tea.  Which while very nice, was a little on the expensive side. After lunch we walked around the town and vistied the church, which is our regular habit.
To our surprise it was open, so we took a look inside. What a lovely updating of an old church, I don't think I've ever seen one this good.

Outside again I was talking about how impressed I was with how they had updated the inside of the building, when I saw the notice board, and realised they had also unlocked the secrets of time travel!
As we arrived at our B&B - Oak Tree Farm, the rain had just started.  The hosts came to rescue us, and we sat in the breakfast room for about 90 minutes before the rain stopped and we could unload the car.  I had been rerading about Labrador Retrievers, and watching the bird feeder out of the corner of my eye.  Plemnty of birds, none of which seemed to mind the weather. 
Once we got into our room we had to find somewhere to eat for the night.  The Griffen didn't look like it was still open so we elected to go back to the A12 and try the Kings Head.  A nice large car park, but quite a small pub, still the importatnt thing is that they served food.  The specials board was amazing, loads to choose from , and the started in particular I struggled to choose.  Rarely do I find so many things I like, and am (just about) allowed to eat.
After a very good meal we drove out to Dunwich to see the dark skys and try out the constallations app on my phone. The app was not great, so maybe I need another, or more practice.  The dark skys are darker than at home, but still the milky way was not as bright as I have seen it (a long time ago), and the clouds soon meant we had to return to the B&B.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset

The Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset The Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book 1 especially is a real page turner as we get inside the mind of a young woman forced by her circumstances to undertake a remarkable challenge so that she can continue to do what she has been doing for much of her life - protecting her family. Seeing events through her interpretations and hearing her thoughts (or memories as I suppose they really are) mean we have a very clear view of her character. The story takes us from her 'selection' through to the end of the 74th Hunger Games.
I remember hearing the author on a radio program saying something like "what Katniss does has consequences, which is why it is a trilogy and didn't stop at one book".
Certainly at the end of the first book you cannot stop, there are too many questions about what happens next. The second book though is not such a brilliant read, but here we begin to get a feel for what is happening outside in the world, rather than just inside in the character. Is this just Katniss maturing, or is there more too it?
In the third book we are into revolution and war - a very different set up from the first two and a very different approach by Katniss. For me this third story was the hardest to read, it felt as though some of the characters needed to be removed before the end, and there were increasingly strange ways of killing them, like some sort of bizarre video game. But then that is the world she lives in! That aside there are atrocities for Katniss to come to terms with and her memories become a little fragmented it seemed (as they probably would in the real world, but I was in danger of losing track once or twice).
I read all three books in the lead up to my holiday, while I was away and in the few days after, rarely have I been so captivated by a trilogy, so having read them so close together may have skewed my view.
Highly recommended if you enjoy this genre.

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Sunday, May 08, 2016

Serve God / Serve Gold

Two fairly long readings this morning, both on essentially the same theme, but with some different emphasises. So we're going to look at the gospel to see what Jesus says in a small extract from the Sermon on the Mount. Then take a look at what Paul says to Timothy. Has asked Timothy to look after the Church in Ephesus while he moved on to Macedonia. This letter is advice and instructions to Timothy about running and growing the church.

I will finish with a vision of how the church might look if the behaviours presented in these two passages was enthusiastically adopted by everyone in our congregation.

Now lets take a look at Matthew 6:24-34, here the first verse from the NLT, not really any different from the verse we had read this morning. Jesus is talking about slaves and their masters. That's something none of us have first hand experience of. I've worked in an organisation that had matrix management, so I worked for lots of managers – that is difficult enough, trying to juggle the requirements of various projects without having any genuine understanding of the relative priorities. But here Jesus is talking about slave masters – when you're a slave you have only the one choice: You do as you are instructed, you do not get to choose. You can no more serve two masters than you can turn yourself inside out.

“Therefore”, Jesus continues, assuming that his hearers have made the right choice, “do not worry …”. He talks about food and clothing – both things that require money, so before we continue we should get an understanding of our attitude to money.

Stumpy and Martha

A man named Stumpy illustrates how money affects people. Stumpy and his wife Martha went to the state fair every year and every year when Stumpy saw the antique bi-plane he would say, “Martha, I’d like to ride in that air-plane.” Martha always replied, “I know Stumpy, but that air-plane ride costs 10 dollars, and 10 dollars is 10 dollars. One year Stumpy and Martha went to the fair and Stumpy said, “Martha, I’m 81 years old. If I don’t ride that air-plane I might never get another chance.” Martha replied, “Stumpy, that air-plane ride cost 10 dollars, and 10 dollars is 10 dollars. The pilot overheard them and said, “Folks, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll take you both up for a ride. If you can stay quiet for the entire ride and not say one word, I won’t charge you: but if you say one word it’s 10 dollars.” Stumpy and Martha agreed and up they went. The plot did all kinds of twists and turns, rolls and dives, but not a word was heard. He did all his tricks over again, but still not a word. When they landed, the pilot turned to Stumpy and said, “By golly, I did everything I could think of to get you to yell out, but you didn’t.” Stumpy replied, “Well, I was gonna say something when Martha fell out, but 10 dollars is 10 dollars.” (From:   Attributed:Taken from Great Stories; vol. 6/Issue 24; p. 8)
It's obviously an old story, if you wanted a ride in that air-plane today it would cost you £230 per half hour.
Old or not it illustrates a particular attitude to money and I'm hoping that the attitude it illustrates is not shared by anyone here. At this point it would be a good idea to ask ourselves the question: What is my attitude to money? Because we will be coming back to that later.


Where shall we have lunch

Jesus though, moves on to remind his listeners that God provides for His creation.
In “The restaurant at the End of the Universe”, Douglas Adams writes “The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question 'How can we eat?' the second by the question 'Why do we eat?' and the third by the question 'Where shall we have lunch?'”
In Jesus time, and in some places in our time the people are still at the 'How can we eat?' stage – there was a direct relationship between the crop that was harvested and the chances of physical survival to the following harvest.
We are now at the 'Where shall we have lunch?' stage, we do not see the link between the harvest and the amount of food we have available to us, the impact of a failed harvest is a small increase in the price of some of our foodstuffs, hardly any hardship at all.
So it is much harder for us to understand what Jesus is saying. The same is true for clothes, our concern is not having sufficient clothes so that we always have something to wear, our concerns are choosing from our extensive wardrobe what will best suit the occasion, whether that be work or social, church or sporting event. Every day I wear at least two different set of cloths – one for work, and one for home – a luxury that most in Jesus time did not have.
So the birds of the air sowing and reaping and the lilies of the fields labouring and spinning does not have the same impact. By the way these are supposed to comic pictures, imagine a bird sowing seed, and a lilly at a spinning wheel. You'll have to construct the mental image, because I couldn't find any cartoons that would help, sometimes Christians are too serious.
[Pause – assist mental image]
Jesus is poking gentle fun at his hearers for their very legitimate concerns, but He has a higher message. You only have these concerns, because like the pagans you do not know the Lord your God. First worry about finding God, and His righteousness, then you will have all the things you NEED to live in this world.

Letter to Timothy

While Jesus is talking to the randomly assembled crowd, Paul has only one person in his intended audience – Timothy.
In verse 3, just before the start of our reading Paul starts talking about teachers of false doctrine. He ends by saying that such people think that godliness is a way to financial gain.
That is proof, if you ever needed it, that the prosperity gospel is a load of rubbish, indeed, all the New Testament readings that we have had recently say the same thing about it – it is a sin – pure and simple. And the poverty gospel (sell everything and give your money to the poor) is equally sinful if it is preached without a specific word of knowledge.
Jesus continues “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”

Happiness vs Contentment

The American declaration of Independence talks about “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” as inalienable rights, but Happiness is transient, and pursuing it usually means it is unattainable. We should pursue contentment, that is attainable and it is not transient because it is promised by the eternal God. Our life, our existence, comes from God, we could not bring anything into the world and we certainly can't take anything with us. So Paul says, if we have food and clothing we should be content. In his letter to the Philippians (4:11-12) Paul says “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” So Paul eventually found that God was sufficient for Him even in more extreme circumstances.

Love of Money

Now's the time to start thinking about our attitude to money again, how do we compare to Stumpy & Martha?
Paul is not thinking about slave masters when he writes to Timothy, but he still equates the love (or pursuit) of money with evil. Our society loves to bait us with mis-quotes from the Bible, and this must be one of the most common.
The KJV has “The love of money is the root of all evil”, which doesn't seem to work, because some evil is caused by, for example, jealousy, power trips, hatred and all sorts of other things. Our, more modern translation has “The love of money is the root of all kinds evil”, which is better.

The suggestion from my commentary is that the sentiment is, that there is no kind of evil to which the love of money may not lead men, once it fairly takes hold of them. (P385)
As a result, and unsurprisingly, people wander from the faith, because their love of money is greater than their love of God.
Timothy is to flee from all of this, flight is the best response to temptation – remove yourself from it presence. Instead he is to take hold of eternal life – only attainable because Jesus was killed as resurrected and therefore dedicated himself to serving God.

Man of God

There is some debate about the meaning of the phrase 'Man of God', (v11) typically used of Old Testament prophets. Does it mean all Christians, or only those in leadership roles? So is it for Timothy, Margaret, perhaps me, or is it for all of us? We know that leaders are supposed to hold to a higher level of purity and holiness, and more is required of them. Could it be that only leaders are to take such a strict attitude to money. The rest of the verse answers the question for me. “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness”. Compare this to the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5 (v22-23) “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. There really isn't a great difference, so I'll say that this passage applies to us all.
After some encouragement for Timothy, to live up to the life he is called to, Paul returns to his main topic – Money. Now we have Commands for the rich.
Before we look at those, we need to establish, once again that we, in Britain, and especially in Billericay are rich by comparison to the rest of the world. The graph shows the distribution of earnings in various categories of countries. We are in one of the Developed Countries – the EU, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. As you can see from the very thin blue line there are a few in our region who are below the $465pa threshold for absolute poverty, but there are only a VERY few.
Having established that we are indeed rich – even if we don't think we are, in truth we are – we should listen to the Commands that Paul is giving Timothy to pass on to his congregation.
Lets take a look at verses 17 to 19
1Ti 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
1Ti 6:18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.
1Ti 6:19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.


The choice is stark, and there can be no successful compromise, no third way. Whether you see it as a choice between slave masters, a choice between loves, or a choice between treasures, the choice must be made.
Which option are we going to choose? Are we going to commit to God's way, and serve him, store up our treasures for heaven, and love God above all else (the first commandment), or are we still going to count every penny and be the servants of our pay packet, and keep our treasure in the bank? - Which we know is unreliable.

Wealth Syndrome

There are two syndromes defined by psychiatrists – Sudden Wealth Syndrome and Sudden loss of Wealth Syndrome. They are both related to the stress that results from a sudden change in the amount of money available. Wealth affects you health, and not just by making certain drugs that you may need available or unavailable. That will be a greater effect, if wealth is the main target in your life.
Possession of wealth is not condemned in the Bible, and as 'money makes the world go round' (according to the Song Money from Cabaret), it is an essential part of the world we live in, so we should have some principals for acquiring money – without trying to get rich.
Here are four ways that the Bible supports (from
  1. By honest work – Proverbs 13:11; Ephesians 4:28b.
    Pr 13:11 Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.
    Eph 4:28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
  2. By fair exchange – Ephesians 4:28; Acts 5:3,4c.
    Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”
  3. By investment – Mat 25:14-30d.
    The parable of the talents.
  4. By gift – Acts 20:35
    In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
If you have any other methods that are supported by scripture, please come and discuss them with me afterwards, because I think this is the definitive list. So anything else, like gambling (playing the lottery), is a pursuit of money and is therefore a sin. i.e. not a valid activity a committed Christian.


We have looked at not serving Money, but serving God and trusting that He will provide all we NEED, we have looked at what we treasure, whether it is Gold or God and how to store it up, and we have considered our attitudes to money with the help of Stumpy & Martha. We have established that almost all of us fall into the category of 'wealthy', and heard how God commands us to handle our money. 
Now I want to leave you with a vision of how the Church might be if we were all to follow the commands that Timothy passed on to his congregation.


We wouldn't have to have appeals to buy things we need – like a new keyboard.
We may choose not to pay the Parish Share, rather than being unable to.
We may be able to employ a full time administrator.
We may be able to employ another youth worker, or a families worker.
We may be able to start new ministries, that we haven't even dreamt of yet.
We could support more missions in greater depth, and afford to give more than our tithe.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Review: Child 44

Child 44 Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The very first thing to comment on is the style of the printing. Dialogue is not in quotes, but italics and preceded by a long hyphen. There are no chapters in the conventional sense, the book is split up into scenes (ready for the film?).
These things take a little getting used to, but if we put presentation aside and concentrate on content the message is very different. I have lived through the lies that came out of Soviet Russia and read a little about what it was like inside. At the start of the book we see the abject poverty that existed in Stalinist Russia. Whole villages are starving to death. The first scene is about children trying to catch a cat to eat, at a time when all the cats have long ago been eaten - where has this one come from? (That piece of background has been provided for the reader, but not the characters.) The atmosphere this scene generates sets the whole tone for the book. In the next scenes, time has moved on and we are taken into into the world of the MGB (Stalin's secret police, or security service) where absolute dedication to the state is paramount and the slightest deviation or failure is rewarded with torture and death. The paranoia is well founded. Two central characters are introduced and the competitiveness between them makes for a large part of the story. Slowly their backgrounds are exposed. Sometimes this is done by a straight forward flashback scene, sometimes by revealing the characters internal thought processes. Their relationships with others, particularly around the central character (Leo Demidov) are slowly built and expanded. We begin to find out a little about Raisa, Leo's wife.
Leo is given some awful things to do - arrest people who are clearly innocent, torture them to get a 'confession' and have them killed. Then a child is murdered and Leo is given the job of covering it up - because Communist society could not possibly have murderers - there is no need to murder.
As the power games are played out, first one then the other of the rivals is on top, but things go wrong for Leo and he is moved, finally about half way through the book our detective is in the right location to begin to solve the crime. Until then there is little clue as to the main theme of the book.
That does not make the story slow at any point, with well drawn characters and a real sense of danger there is excitement from the minute the cat is discovered all the way through. Of course towards the end of the story the tension increases and there is a real chance that they will never solve the crime.
The story is based on a real criminal case, but how closely it is impossible to say. The crime itself is bizarre enough for a double episode of CSI or a BBC mini-series. The ending however, once the crime has been resolved is even more of a surprise and I wonder how close to the real events it can be, leaving as it does the possibility of a 'happy ever after' for at least some of the characters.

This is a primarily a detective story, and like all good detective story the loose ends are carefully rounded up and dealt with. It is also partly a love story, and partly a horror story, but most of all it is a story that draws you into the world in which it exists and the lives of the characters it portrays. Its description as a 'page turner' is thoroughly justified.

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The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld #41) by Terry Pratchett

Having previously read and enjoyed almost all the Discworld books, I approached this one with some trepidation. Would it live up to the rest of the series, or would it be a disappointment, and therefore affect my memory of Discworld as a whole.
While not the funniest of the novels, that award goes to the early ones, it still has some great humour. This is mostly generated by the Nac Mac Feegles - always up for a fight, never up for thinking, they provide the comedy and the muscle when it is needed. The story centres around Tiffany Aching and the return of the Elves to our world, but things have changed. No only does Granny Weatherwax die early in the story, but the Discworld has progressed and we have trains.
In many ways it is a story about a young woman (don't dare call her a girl) maturing under difficult circumstances. She has already proved her worth (in a previous book), but must now establish herself, and in the most difficult of roles - the 'head' witch.

It is a compelling read, and an up-to-date commentary on our times, it is not in the top half of the series in my opinion, and lacked a really good tense fight scene. The fight was left too late and covered in too little detail, so it was over before the struggle had hardly got under-way. Nevertheless it is a good read.