Monday, January 15, 2007

Birthday!

At forty one, a birthday should (according to conventional wisdom) be a day for feeling down and grumpy. You're another year older (and therefore, closer to death, or at least being old and infirm), you inevitably feel disappointed with the presents you get and life seems to be one huge let down, etc, etc.

Well, that's how I am told I should feel. I have never been very good at bending to convention, unless I like the convention. The "forty something and grumpy" convention does not suite my temperament, so I ignore it. Yes, I do get grumpy at times, and yes I do shout at the TV regularly (most car ads are greeted with "it's just a car!" - and indeed most adverts get short-shrift because they are trying to tell me how inadequate I am without their product, and how much more fulfilled I would be with it - neither of which statements long experience has taught me are in the slightest bit true - ever!). But at the end of the day, life is too short and full of woe to be sad and grumpy all the time - you have to live and celebrate living every day, otherwise why live at all?!

So birthdays are for me a great excuse to catch up with friends, have a knees up eat party food, have a drink or two more than usual, and have some pressies (with which I very, very seldom am disappointed - this year a water proof wind up radio/torch and beautiful plain gold cross).

In short, I am still a big kid, and feel no shame in that whatsoever!

Now, back to work (but first a cup of tea and some of my wife's brownies - yum!)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Myopia

Looking at the news yesterday evening and this morning, you might be forgiven for thinking that the only thing happening in the world at the moment is a raging controversy over whether a (moderately unpopular) government minister is right or wrong to send her dyslexic child to a private special needs to school rather than a state school.

Meanwhile our oil supplies are being cut off by Russia, the genocide in Darfur continues with very little signs of the West intervening to stop the killing, a major new front on the War against Terror (or Terrorism) is opening in Somalia, and Afghanistan and Iraq descend in to further chaos. And that is leaving to one side global warming and the mounting crisis of the AIDS pandemic.

The British press can be be brain bogglingly myopic and petty at times.

Meanwhile many of my fellow believers (some of whom I count as personal friends) are protesting against the new sexual orientation regulations soon to go through Parliament. While I suspect that many of their anxieties about this legislation are exaggerated (but not totally), I find myself uncomfortable to see fellow believers marching against legislation that is widely perceived (however inaccurately) to be promoting justice and equality of opportunity to people. Whether or not I agree with someone's lifestyle or choices has nothing to do with what rights and dignity I extend to them as a human being. Jesus certainly seemed to reserve most of his harshest words for the religious establishment and its promotion of its own agenda to the exclusion of the needs of ordinary people (e.g. the seven woes in Matthew 23).

Meanwhile, in addition to all of the above global problems, the church in Africa lives in poverty, its congregations depleted by AIDS, malnutrition and people leaving to find work in the cities or other nations, while in other parts of the world (including Iraq, Afghanistan, China, Central and South East Asia and northern Africa) Christians are regularly imprisoned, tortured or put to death for their faith.

Are we so introverted in the British church that all we care about is threats to our own rights and status? Surely that should be the last thing on our mind - especially considering how privileged we are in this wealthy, peaceful nation of ours.

Paul got it right; we lay our rights down before God and the needs of the poor and the vulnerable (e.g. 2 Corinthians 6: 3-10). I like the bit a bout not putting stumbling blocks in people's way. I fear sometimes we come over as harsh and shrill and bigoted rather than full of grace and peace. But then again, some of that is also the way the media spins what we say.

And that, at the end of the day, is the problem - what we see of the world and how we respond to it is so shaped by the myopic lens of the media that we miss what is really going on.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Sunday is notionally meant to be the “day of rest” in Christian countries of the Northern Hemisphere and other parts of the anglophone world (and it seems in South Korea too, from my all to brief experience of the country, although with more than 33% of the population claiming membership of one or other Christian church, maybe that is not so surprising as it initially seems). But for our family at the moment it means once again a day of sorting out things for the incoming baby – such as cots (reassembling thereof) travel systems (laundering the covers thereof after a long sojourn in the garage since our son was outgrew the travel system a couple of years ago). Now I have twenty minutes before another series of "Waking the Dead" starts (I hope it is a better season than the last dismal outing of what used to be a very enjoyable, if occasionally daft crime series).

However, it is not the return of Trevor Eve and Co. that has got me excited, for on Tuesday we see the return of Battlestar Galactica. Now, at this point the nerd in me easily takes over, but let's pause a moment before dismissing this "re-imagining" of a classic (if distinctly kitsch, nay even naff) seventies space opera. Let us put this in to a bit of a context first.

A lot of genre TV (crime and science fiction in particular) suffers from being formulaic, repetitive and derivative. When a show breaks free of those constraints, it is pure joy. Recently the US has output some of the best genre and non-genre TV drams in decades - all of which have bee mould breakers of one kind or another. The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, CSI, Murder One, 24, etc, etc. On the science fiction side we are now in the tenth and terminal series of Stargate, about to see the return in the spring of the new (improved) Dr Who for a third series (well done Russell), the recent end of Torchwood (jury's still out on that, but maybe not all Russell touches turns to gold after all), the wrapping up of Farscape and finally, the return of Battlestar Galactica. Recent years have also seen such truly inventive gems as Frefly come (and mysteriously go) to reinvigorate TV sceince fiction, which has always been the poor relation to the wirtten end of the gnere.

BSG followed hard on the heels of Firefly, but set a new tone - it has all a good sci-fi show should have to satisfy the inner-thirteen year old of most science fiction fans - good special effects,, dramatic storylines, strong characterisations, good writing. There are also the obligatory sexy women (and men) to appeal to their respective demographics. No surprises there.

What sets it above the average though is that along with all of this there is an air of stark realism. This show's main storyline is about survival - characters die, the human race is clinging by a thread to existence, and asking itself the question " do we deserve to survive in the first place". The "baddies" have just the same questions and existential doubts (further complicated by the religious differences between the notionally polytheistic (by practically secular) humans and the apparently monotheistic Cylons).

The "Good Guys" are always teetering on (and not infrequently falling over) the edge into immoral actions, while the "Bad Guys" are capable of making moral choices for the good, are able to recognise the moral consequences of their actions and are capable of feeling remorse.

All this is dressed without acres of technobabble, aliens who are just actors in rubber suits (or with Cornish pasties on their heads) and spouting silly invented languages. If anything there are times when it resembles an episode of The West Wing or 24 more than a traditional science fiction series.

Above all though, it is a powerful echo of the angst in American culture over the War Against Terrorism. As such, it not only resonates with British culture (which is equally immersed in this latest ideological war), but it also gives me hope that there are real moral questions being grappled with in America and (I hope) in the UK.

In that sense it may be not just one of the best TV dramas (genre and non-genre) around at the moment, but in terms of history, one of the defining TV series of this decade.

Meanwhile, I shall rot my brain with Waking the Dead, which has little to say, but is a pleasant enough way of passing a Sunday evening (if watching autopsies on bodies in various states of decay can be described as "fun" that is!).

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Kirk Douglas, Eat Your Heart Out!

One of the features of the last week off work has been my son's imagination. For days on end now we have had to play "Lazy Town". I will not bore you with what Lazy Town is - just follow the link if you are interested, but my son always has to be the hero - Sportacus. If I deign to call him anything else, he shouts "no, I'm Sportacus", which inevitably leads my wife or myself to retort "No, I'm Sportacus, and so's my wife/husband". This rather confused cinematic family in-joke has become one of those amusing but tiresome anecdotes that one will save up to embarrass one's children in future years (especially in front of prospective girlfriends).

So, here we are in 2007, back at work (with the epic daily commute), and spending every second or third evening up in the very confined space that we laughingly call our loft trying to arrange plastic sheeting and ice cream tubs to catch the leaks in (what several roofers have now informed is called) our central gully gutter. And my lunchtimes at work chasing up said roofers to come and give us a quote to fix the leaks. Ah, the joys of home ownership.

In between whiles I am running around after my son who still insists on being addressed as the hero of the earlier mentioned Icelandic pre-school TV phenomenon, and who insists that I am "Robby Rotten" - the arch nemesis of Sportacus (funny how in our version, Robby Rotten is the one who cuddles Sportacus downstairs after a bath, reads the bed time story and gets the night time cup of milk - rather than trying to turn Sportacus into a gibbering slob as happens in the TV version!).

Ah, the joys of family life - leaky roofs and Sportacus! Welcome 2007.