Here be dragons

Last Monday, in a community "devotion", I spoke about an experience of many years back that suggests to me that God intentionally tells us to do things he knows perfectly well that we cannot do. Biblical examples include the promise of a son to Abraham - who tried to make it happen, and Mary before Jesus' conception who wisely responded "be it unto me according to Your word".

God promised Abraham a son,
But Sarah laughed and said, "It can't be done;
I am too old," she said; "it is impossible,"
But in due time a son was born.

The Red Sea lay right in their path,
And Pharoah's army pressed them from behind;
They were so desperate, they had no place to run,
One step by faith, the seas did part!

God said to Noah, "Go build an ark;
All living things are soon to be destroyed."
The people laughed and said,
"It's not been done before,"
But those inside the ark survived.

So stagger not through unbelief,
Be strong in faith, give God the praise.
It looks uncrossable, with God it's possible,
Have patience, then in God it's done.

A similar thing happened to Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  He became a dragon easily enough through his own lust, but it was not so easy to un-dragonify. He was told to peel off his skin but however many layers he removed he was still a dragon. His attempts at least demonstrated his intent and I think that is what God looks for when He tests us with impossible tasks. For "intent" in this context you can read that much misunderstood word "faith". And so, later on, the Book says that God tested Abraham in telling him to sacrifice his son, his only son, the son of the promise.

[Eustace] "Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

"Then the lion said - but I don't know if it spoke - "You will have to let me undress you." I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know - if you've ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away."

"I know exactly what you mean," said Edmund.

"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off - just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt - and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me - I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on - and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again. You'd think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they've no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian's, but I was so glad to see them.

"After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me -"

"Dressed you. With his paws?"

"Well, I don't exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes - the same I've got on now, as a matter of fact. And then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream."

"No. It wasn't a dream," said Edmund.

It wasn't easy to rehearse the past... Back then whilst praying for a particular need in a 14 year old here, I had the very strong impression that "I should not be afraid to get involved in his life". The boy had never known a natural father and perhaps as a result had certain tendencies that rubbed others up the wrong way, like always wanting to justify himself. When I talked with other adults here and particularly with his mother and sister they all seemed to confirm that I had "heard God" and so I began to gently encourage, teach, love and discipline him, always openly and with his mother's knowledge. But what started well soon came to grief - I think he did not appreciate my endeavors and, blood being thicker, I suppose his mother heeded him rather than me. I was counselled to cease all communication with him because "it was not working". I could not, indeed still do not, agree that temporary failure meant I had been deceived, and it became a hard thing for me to accept how things had turned out. But I began to see that the task I believed I had been set was humanly impossible, and eventually I realised that, wonder of wonders, I could in fact continue to be involved in his life indirectly through prayer. Like Orual enabled Psyche to carry out her impossible tasks in Till we have Faces.  And so I distanced myself in person but set myself to repeatedly petition our Heavenly Father to be a father for him where I and his natural father had failed.

Whether my prayers have made any difference I may, of course, never know, and indeed I should not need to know. Although one part of me would like to.

Having dug up the past and re-stated my position I thought there might be some negative comments afterwards from those involved, but strangely there were none apart from one or two perfunctory "thanks for sharing".  Does this mean the matter, which seemed big at the time, no longer concerns anyone other than myself?  It concerns me now, by the way, because upon it hangs, to a large degree, my ability to hear from God. Or maybe we have moved on and it is no longer an issue. Or is it that no-one wants to open a wound - better to leave dead dogs lie. Or maybe everyone else reckons I had lost the plot back then and my speaking about it again was "just Michael again" so let's humour him?

And why do I post this personal struggle?  In my very first blog post I noted that "writing an honest blog is a bit like undressing in front of the world".  It is easier for me to write because I get so tongue-tied when speaking: even with writing I edit and re-edit something like this many times before I am happy enough to post it, and even then my style and logic is sadly lacking. The boy is a young man now and is making his own life-decisions. As for myself, I have learnt to never again get too closely involved with anyone outside of my own immediate family: once bitten twice shy.


Klein bottle and Hugo in 3D

A few evenings ago I got to scratch my itch in an opportunity to watch the film Hugo in 3D for the first time, courtesy JA. I can still rate this movie high on my would-I-ever-watch-it-again list. And to mark the event JA presented me with a Klein bottle which their 3D printer produced whilst we watched the film.

All 60mm of my very own Klein bottle

Most people are familiar with the Klein bottle, but not so many can follow its mathematics. Sentences like "an immersion is a differentiable function between differentiable manifolds whose derivative is everywhere injective", which occurs in Wikipedia's definition of the Klein bottle, leave me feeling I am too old...  However some attributes are more down to earth, like:

A Klein bottle has only one surface, just as a Möbius strip has only one side. But you might say that any bottle has only one surface - if you start at a point on the inside surface you can travel smoothly to the outside via the neck. The catch is that, topologically, both shapes should have zero wall thickness, just as a line is defined to have no width, and, if so, to get from inside to outside you have to negotiate an edge at the rim, and an edge is what divides two intersecting surfaces. With a Klein bottle with zero wall thickness, however, the transition from "inside" to "outside" is smooth and continuous: there is no edge, there truly is only one surface.

The Klein bottle is to a Möbius strip as a cube is to a square.  Thus a Klein bottle is properly a 4D shape, so that my very own pictured above is in fact only a 3D representation in which it must intersect itself (where the top bends over and disappears into the body) and that intersection is clearly a cheat because it creates an edge, a discontinuity which a true Klein bottle doesn't have. In 4D that intersection would, apparently, not occur thus the surface would be continuous.

I still use a 2D printer in my office. JA used a 3D printer to make my bottle. Roll on the 4D printer!

Back to Hugo: need I repeat how it is the perfect story in which each colourful and larger-than-life character is introduced in turn at the start and exeant at the end having gained in some way? Apart from Hugo Cabret who in contrast is a normal, coming-of-age kid who we love for his persistence.


The Book of Mormon

Whilst at my son's I picked up a copy of the Book of Mormon. It is a substantial tome and has perhaps 15 million adherents so it should not be dismissed without argument. I grant that Mormons generally have high moral standards but some of their beliefs are whacky to say the least. And they claim to be the one true church which is somewhat of a challenge to mainstream Christianity. As their president Joseph Fielding Smith declared: "Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen". He goes on, of course, to rule out the latter with arguments like "No impostor could have accomplished so great and wonderful a work".

I've heard a similar argument applied to Jesus although in His case I say with more justification.

I'm neither a theologian nor do I claim in-depth knowledge of the Mormon beliefs, but I can make a judgement based on the little I do know, well summarised in this link which seems to me to be a fair criticism. In addition I have bitter experience of being deceived.

I tell my grandchildren stories about Sally-Anne and her adventures with Smokey the dragon. I make them up as I go along. One of my grandchildren has a particularly vivid imagination and will play and talk make-belief for hours at a time. I note that children can handle the conflict of reality versus fiction from an early age. Our ability to imagine is truly amazing. We use it equally to create artefacts like the cell-phone and fantastic worlds like in The Lord of the Rings complete with its fictional history and languages.

Soon after we got married we met a Christian leader whom we recognised back then as having a level of "spiritual" maturity far above our own and who in consequence we then followed like disciples. I use quotes because the term is ill defined. Due, I suppose, to inertia we continued to follow him even after we began to see serious flaws in his character. You will probably know of other strong and charismatic church leaders with strong followings. One we know by repute was Sam Fife on whose teaching the Move of God was conceived. In common in these cases is the ability to "talk the hind leg off a donkey" - they preach for hours at a time with their followers lapping it up, with most of what they say being challenging and credible, but inevitably mixed with error. The listeners ought, of course, to sift all of what they hear, but we thought - how could such a mature Christian leader be in error?  But then how can respected Christian leaders at the same time also secretly be active peadophiles, alcoholics, smokers, adulterers?  The fact that humans are fallible ought not to surprise us, given our own record, but somehow the position we adorn leaders with blinkers our discernment. Similarly I often hear folk using language like "the Lord told me to..." or "I felt led to...", or even claiming to see visions, and I wonder to what extent is this really the voice of Almighty God as opposed to just a fertile imagination coloured by what they think to be true?

Joseph Smith translates while Oliver Cowdery acts as scribe.

And so I do not find it incredulous that the Book of Mormon and the other two major documents he authored came out of Joseph Smith's imagination. Perhaps he was very sincere and with good intentions, but nevertheless deceived. Perhaps he really believed he was the voice of God for the hour. It seems that folk were even more superstitious back then than now-a-days.

The three, and then eight, witnesses of the origin of the Book of Mormon, whose statements are printed in the preface to every edition, were later excommunicated and appear to have been gullible. I too have known folk adopt another's belief against their better judgement, when under strong peer pressure. And the golden plates themselves were returned to the angel Moroni so we have no other means to justify the story apart from the fact of the staggering number of adherents world-wide.

Perhaps the dividing line between reality and fantasy is rather thin in places. After all we are told that God spoke and the world came into existence: perhaps what we call reality is no more (or less) than thoughts in the mind of God.  Which would kind of explain the idea that God is outside of time.


The morning after

It's the morning after Christmas. There's a candle near the window, flickering and guttering. I cross the room to see if it is one of those artificial kinds. I should have known: the LED ones don't gutter. I wonder why? I'm quite sure I could have designed something better, but I didn't and there's the catch.

It's the morning after Christmas. I've just listened to a recording of the Queen. She mentions the 75th anniversary of D-day and scenes of war atrocities flash through my mind. She talks about the effect of small steps and I am feintly encouraged for such are my own experiences. I look up the lyrics of the carol she mentions and am reminded, oh joy, that the angels are still singing whilst I step painfully...

And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

It's the morning after Christmas and still dark outside - daylight hours are short here. I wonder if I'll take a few literally painful steps outside today?  It's -10'C and falling...


Christmas eve in Alaska

Ali has this thing about Christmas being a commercialised pagan festival forcing many to get in debt, with any allusion to Christ squeezed out, and that anyway Christ wasn't born in December and therefore no respectable Christian should celebrate it.

I'm not convinced. True, over the past few days I admit I've been over stimulated: what with Wasilla's amatuer performance of "White Christmas", a drive to Anchorage to enjoy a concert in which a friend JA performs followed by dinner at his home where we discussed Jacob Collier's rendition of Moon River.

The concert highlights for me were the brilliantly performed solo "What's this?" from The nightmare before Christmas with such evocative lyrics:

What's this? What's this?

There's color everywhere
What's this?
There's white things in the air
What's this?
I can't believe my eyes

I must be dreaming
Wake up, Jack, this isn't fair
What's this?
What's this? What's this?

There's something very wrong
What's this?
There are people singing songs
What's this?
The streets are lined with
Little creatures laughing
Everybody seems so happy
Have I possibly gone daffy?
What is this? What is this?
There are children throwing snowballs

Instead of throwing heads
They're busy building toys
And absolutely no one's dead
There's frost on every window

Oh, I can't believe my eyes
And in my bones I feel the warmth
That's coming from inside
Oh, look - What's this?
They're hanging mistletoe, they kiss
Why that looks so unique, inspired
They're gathering around to hear a story

Roasting chestnuts on a fire
What's this?
What's this?

In here they've got a little tree, how queer
And who would ever think
And why?
They're covering it with tiny little things

They've got electric lights on strings
And there's a smile on everyone
So, now, correct me if I'm wrong
This looks like fun

This looks like fun
Oh, could it be I got my wish?
What's this?
Oh my, what now?

The children are asleep
But look, there's nothing underneath
No ghouls, no witches here to scream and scare them
Or ensnare them, only little cozy things
Secure inside their dreamland
What's this?
The monsters are all missing

And the nightmares can't be found
And in their place there seems to be
Good feeling all around
Instead of screams, I swear
I can hear music in the air
The smell of cakes and pies
Are absolutely everywhere
The sights, the sounds
They're everywhere and all around

I've never felt so good before
This empty place inside of me is filling up
I simply cannot get enough
I want it, oh, I want it
Oh, I want it for my own
I've got to know
I've got to know
What is this place that I have found?
What is this?
Christmas Town, hmm

JA (and others) performing at the Family Holiday Pops concert

And then the duet in which JA performs: O Holy Night with its spine-tingly "A thrill of hope... O night divine" lyrics, arranged by the concert conductor Grant Cochran with unexpected but such beautiful harmony. A piano transcription is available on the internet and I intend to figure out the chords sometime.

Jacob Collier

The Jacob Collier experience was only indirectly connected with Christmas but what got me there was: here's a young man (English, by the way, and good looking) who comes across as being "clean", expertly exploring the mechanics and soul of music and opening and freely sharing his findings with the world. Which I see as a gift he is offering me. And the giving of gifts is a Christmas theme.

And then from White Christmas, not my sort of entertainment and yet the lyrics caught me:

I think about a nursery,

And I picture curly heads,
And one by one I count them,
As they slumber,
In their beds.
If you're worried,

And you can't sleep,
Just count your blessings instead of sheep...

And whilst being driven through the streets of Anchorage I see countless decorations, festive trees (think how many LED's made this year's Christmas!), the admittedly occasional nativity scene. And though Christmas might be good business to some, a time to gorge or just family enjoyment for others, there will be few that do not know that its origin, its very name, is about the birth of Christ around which the whole of history pivots. They've tried to inoculate dating with CE and BCE but really it's too late - the stage was set 2000 years ago.

Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the son of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new-born King !"

It's early morning here in my son's house in Wasilla, AK: stockings pinned up on the mantelpiece, large (artificial) tree adorned with lights and baubles and gifts beneath, a heartly Christmas dinner to look forward to, and the joy of family time. No, I cannot just dismiss Christmas on the 25th of December. Perhaps there are those for whom it has no religious connotations, but I find it's doing something in my heart.


Best drone view of Wellington monument

In my last post I expressed my infatuation with the Wellington monument in Somerset. Having watched a few drone videos on the subject I vote this one the best I've seen yet. There's an internal staircase to a viewing platform with three round windows near the top and, apparently, a counterweight hangs inside the top of the monument to help balance it in windy weather. I'd like to find out more about these two details...  Whether common mortals will be allowed to ascend once the current restoration is complete is questionable.


Willand and Wellington

The Duke of Wellington got around. I fact there have been nine of him, the latest being still alive. But it was the first that most people know about and who won the victory at Waterloo in 1815. There are various monuments and other miscellania in memory of that victory - one in Phoenix Park, Dublin at 62m high, another in Trim, Co Meath, much to the chagrin of some of the locals. And the Wellington Monument, 53m high, near where Ali's mum lives and the nearby town named after the monument one supposes.  When driving to her home I habitually look out for the monument which is clearly visible from the M5, and this time I noted it was covered in scaffolding and reckoned it was worth a visit on foot. Google reckoned it was about 9.5 miles away so would be quite a challenge barefoot running.

Part of my track, monument off top right

I set off kind of hiding my intent from my alter ego (or one of them) for fear of the goal being considered too much especially in the winter. I told myself I could be just going to Uffculme. But at each crossroads I persisted in the general direction of the monument. In the event I was saved by a road closure towards the end - the road was closed presumably because of works on the monument renovation.  So I clocked up only 16.83 miles with elevation gain 484m. But I figured I could have made it there and back so, maybe in the summer...

A few days previous I had run 7.3 miles, this time to explore hitherto uncharted territory south-east of her home. Nothing of much consequence but opening up some ideas for my next visit.

Here I ascended Black Down Common, home of Culmstock Beacon, but I resisted the temptation to backtrack to the Beacon and ploughed on towards the monument.  The common is definitely worth another visit.

Black Down Common

View to the north

Note the ice!

The monument in the distance - here I turned back

Descent into sunset

Culm Davy church

Back along the river Culm and through Hunkin Wood

Approaching Uffculme

Uffculme square

Sunset at Bristol airport


Poolbeg chimneys

Another (and perhaps the last) trip to St Vincents hospital where Ali was signed off following her successful second hip operation. I parked by the sea and ran across the strand to the South Bull Wall only to have to turn around before completing it because the appointment took less time than we ad expected.  It looks like I was swimming but the tide was out and the strand is very flat.

my track 6.5 miles

Here are some photos to mark the occasion, and try not to be too bored to scroll down to the must see Youtube link at the end...

The original power station chimneys, now disused

The new power station also has twin chimneys

The red and white striped chimneys of the original power station dominate the Dublin skyline and feature in my blog post about my last run in this area. Following that run I did a bit of Googling and came up with the following Youtube video which blew my mind, also made me feel queasy just watching him get up over the edge onto the chimney's lid and then walk around the edge. Both chimneys are over 200m tall. Whilst the guy, whose name is Oliver, has been heavily criticised by the powers that be (whose lax security permitted such a prank) for such foolish behaviour I regret I have to give him full credit.

A screen shot of Oliver from his video


The Apocalyptic

An amazing thing happened today. I happened to be at the Square waiting in the car for Sarah who was attending a clinic: I tuned to Lyric fm only to discover that Liz Nolan on her "The full score" was playing the whole 80 minutes of Bruckner's eighth. I came in at the beginning of the 2nd movement (Scherzo). I had previously figured that Bruckner was not flavour of the month on Lyric!

The recording was from this years Proms where the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Andris Nelsons explore scale in a programme that sets Bruckner’s vast Symphony No. 8 (1890 version, ed. Nowak) against the meticulous detail of Bach’s organ works.


A grand day out

A grand day out with two visitors from Nantes, France, my granddaughter and a friend. The outward journey was via the M7 through the Limerick tunnel under the Shannon estuary, around the Burren, and back via Galway city. Rather than pay heavily per person to park at the visitor centre, we opted for the cliff walk car park just 3 euro. Then spent what we had saved on our supper. I would have run the length of LaHinch strand but They weren't fussed by the ocean. Click on the photos to enlarge.

LaHinch or is it LeHinch

Cliffs of Moher looking north, from the south end

Cliff traffic jam - no-one could get past her...


Leamaneh castle

Poulnabrone Dolmen

Dinner at McDonagh's, Galway city