The Dad Diaries Chapter 1: In which 2005 arrives and a card is not sent to the Emperor of Japan

Thursday, 23rd December, 2004

My diary helpfully tells me it’s the Emperor’s birthday in Japan. If I’d realised sooner I could have sent a card. The shops have been full of Christmas cards for weeks so I probably missed the Japanese Emperor birthday card section.

More importantly, it’s Christmas Eve-Eve! Jack came back from the market with four new Santa hats to replace our rag-tag, scruffy collection. He’s a thoughtful son. We will of course now have to wear them for the next week.

Wednesday, 29th December, 2004

Bought a new pair of trainers and the ABBA Gold CD. They are so underrated (ABBA, not the trainers). Can’t believe it’s 30 years since Waterloo. Can’t believe I’m old enough to say it’s 30 years since anything. Well, obviously, I’ve always been able to say that; it’s just that now I can say it for events for which I was present, well, not present (since I wasn’t actually at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest – although I could have been, it being held in Brighton and all) but, you know, alive at the time of the event which is now 30 (or whatever) years ago.

Friday, 31st December, 2004

Decided I will not wax philosophical about another year drawing to a close, where does the time go and all the rest. Instead, reminded Jack and Sarah that, once again, they’re in danger of failing to write their thank-you letters before the end of the year in which their Christmas gifts were received. Once again they argued that it doesn’t matter, that it’s not even a week since the said gift receiving and that if Christmas was in August it would be different. And besides (they continued), it’s holidays from writing and stuff (everything’s “and stuff” with them these days). I then reminded them that while they may not set great store by a £5 Boots gift voucher (which we will inevitably end up swapping for cash because they don’t want anything from Boots), Aunty Muriel and Uncle Norman were very kind to think of them at all and that ingratitude is just downright rude.

They adopted suitably penetant expressions and asked if they could do it after Friends.

Sunday, 2nd January, 2005

Played squash with F. but was rubbish.

Christmas wasn't cancelled after all

Monday, 3rd January, 2005

Took the Christmas stuff down despite it being only ninth night. It now consists of six boxes and a bag. Reminds me of that episode of The Good Life where Margot declares Christmas as cancelled “because it couldn’t be delivered”. After all, we all know you don’t need tinsel and chocolate Santas hanging on an artificial tree to celebrate the birth of Christ. Although sherry and re-runs of Morecambe and Wise always help.

Wednesday, 5th January, 2005

Sarah and Jack finally wrote their thank-you letters. I suppose it’s because they’re back at school and are allowed to do “writing and stuff” once more.

 

The Dad Diaries are fictional. Probably.

 

 

Back up your WordPress posts with Export!

The other day my iPad blogging app got confused between a brand new post I’d written and an existing WordPress post on this site. Result: When I “published” my new post, it actually overwrote the existing post. Boo. It was a fascinating one, too (as are they all, of course). Having dried my tears, I came to terms with the fact that it was irretrievably gone. All my blood, sweat and tears, vanished in an instant.

Sniff.

Anyhoo, after telling myself to get over it, I realised I had fallen victim to a risk management failure (as well as a technical one). In my other life as an IT manager, it’s my bread and butter to ensure that data we don’t want to lose is protected – sometimes, in more than one place. In this case, however, since I don’t routinely keep local copies of my posts, I failed miserably to apply my own good principles. I am suitably ashamed.

WordPressExportA quick glance around my WordPress dashboard led me to the Export tool. This downloads my precious posts to an XML file suitable for re-import to any WP site. (But, at a pinch, the raw text could also be extracted.) So hereafter, I’ll download the file at least monthly so that in the event of further human or technical glitches I can recover.

Have a good day – and don’t forget to back up your data :-)

Photo Post: Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple, Luxor, Egypt

Luxor was incredibly hot, although it was only April. By the time our tour reached Hatshepsut's Temple we were fit to drop and fed up with being harrassed by sellers and “guards” wanting money for posing for photos with you.
It was, however, a spectacular place. And although the history was fascinating, it was the lines and shapes that caught my eye. This image breaks the “rule of thirds” but still draws my eye in and puts a rather self-satisfied look on my face. Maybe the more technically-minded photographers can analyse the composition in more detail but for now it's just one of my favourite holiday snaps.

 

 

Complacency in the outside lane: My almost-collision on the M25

70

Brake lights.

Brake.

65

Brake! Brake! Brake more! Harder! How can this be happening?

50, 40, 30, 20

Not enough. More! Not too much! Don't skid! Don't hit him! Still closing!

What's behind? No time. Survived. Fifth to second. 70 to 10 in no time at all.

Oh. My. Word.

Thank you Jesus. Didn't rear-end the Toyota. Didn't get crunched by the whatever-it-was behind.

Back to normal. Back to the middle lane. Grateful. Realising.

Back off. Avoid this.

It was the M25 on a Sunday afternoon. Heavy traffic from junction 10 to Heathrow and beyond. Variable speed limits. 60. 40. “Queue Caution”. 50. 40. 40 seems to be the lowest number the signs can display, even when you can't do more than 30. Finally we're out of the variable speed limit. We pass the junction with the M4. Into the outside lane. Finally we're moving properly.

I know the 2-second rule. You should keep a 2-second gap between you and the car in front. At motorway speeds, less than that is dangerous. Less than that and the equations start to look dodgy. How fast is the vehicle in front decelerating? How good are your reaction times? How good are your brakes? And if you can slow down fast enough, what about the vehicle behind you? And the vehicle behind that one? And…

So I know the rule. But I broke it. And, thinking about it now, not for the first time. Me and about 60% of all drivers, it seems. You just watch next time you're on the motorway. The middle and outside lanes are full of cars breaking The Rule. And most of the time they – we – get away with it.

Until they don't. At which time, they crash. Because the guy in front braked hard and the guy behind couldn't brake hard enough.

This time the equations worked for me – just. I was shocked but able to react fast enough. I knew I had to brake hard but was able to avoid locking the wheels. My brakes were good enough. And I really think the Lord himself spared us a nasty accident.

In our era of quiet engines, crumple zones, airbags and ABS I think we're lulled into a false sense of security in our cars. We assume we won't crash sitting 20 yards behind another car at 70mph. Or that if we do, it won't be that bad. But we're wrong. And I have just had a motoring wake-up call.

Let's face it: If we're going to hurtle around in tin boxes running on four bits of rubber we really ought to assume it's inherently dangerous. The fact that I've not been able to drive at the speed I'd like for a few miles doesn't change that. If I can't drive at 70mph without that 2-second gap in front, I shouldn't be driving at 70mph. The only reason I'll happily preach this is because I just came perilously close to learning it the hard way. The very hard way.

Here's a bit of perspective: My journey, without all those other pesky cars, could be done in about 2 hours 30 minutes. As it was, the sheer number of people inconsiderately wanting to use the M25 at the same time as me meant the journey was about 20 minutes longer. On that near-disastrous spell in the outside lane when I was pushing along at 70mph, 5 minutes doing 65mph instead would have lengthened my journey by less than one minute.

So – don't do what I did; don't get complacent in the outside lane. Slow down, back off – and get home safely.

 

Be a more fruitful Christian: It’s not about trying harder

I came across this article on crosswalk.com that spoke exactly to the place I find myself. It's based on a book called Pursuing More of Jesus and has 13 sections. Below is the one that's spoken to me most strongly so far. I've yet to consider the others properly. What struck me most, and comforted me, was this phrase:

…you don’t have to try harder, pray more, or claim greater territory in service.

Anyway, here's that whole section. It'll certainly be uppermost in my mind and prayers today.

Pursue more of His fruit in your service. If your service for God lacks the fruit of changed lives, you don’t have to try harder, pray more, or claim greater territory in service. Instead, you should examine your personal relationship with Jesus to see how closely you’re connected to Him. It’s the quality of your connection to Jesus that will determine whether or not you’ll have the power to bear good fruit for His kingdom. The fruit you bear isn’t produced through your own efforts; it’s produced by the Holy Spirit through you as you consistently rely on God. Jesus is the Vine and you are the branches. God may sometimes choose to prune you to bear good fruit by cutting out of your life everything you depend on – except your relationship with Jesus. When you’re forced to pay attention to your relationship with Jesus because that’s all you have, your connection to the Vine gets bigger, empowering you to produce more fruit. Trust God when He prunes the branches of your life; He knows what’s best to help you grow. Pray for greater fruitfulness in your service, asking God to conform you more closely to the image of Jesus, use you to make others want to know Him better, give you opportunities to share His Gospel and give you the fruit of changed lives as a result, draw others to Himself through a Bible study you lead, or give you one person to share His love with today.

 

Some stuff I learned about God’s guidance

RECENTLY I attended a Bible week in sunny (and, yes, it was) Wales. The venue was a Pontin's holiday camp, which was decent enough – arguably somewhat down-market from rivals Butlin's but distinctly more up-market than a tent. Anyhoo, among the topics was that of God's providence – defined by Theopedia.com as God's “guardianship and care for His creatures and creation.” The same article goes on to say:

Providence means that God has not abandoned the world that he created, but rather works within that creation to manage all things according to the “immutable counsel of His own will” (Westminster Confession of Faith, V, i). By contrast, the world at large, even if it will on occasion acknowledge God to have been the world’s Creator, is at least certain that he does not now intervene in human affairs.

So here's a few points I picked up in those talks. They were given by Melvin Tinker, an Anglican vicar with a gift for explaining things clearly.

How do we distinguish between “ordinary” decisions and “important” ones? What if I miss God's will? We mustn't undermine the authority & sufficiency of scripture. Within God's sovereign and moral will, we have an area of freedom. Within that, we can't get it wrong! That's why we read phrases in the New Testament like: I think, we thought, it seems advisable, I planned, I hope…

Need to recognise different decision types:

  • “Right / wrong”. There really is a godly choice to be made.
  • “Wise / unwise.” Could be lesser of two evils / greater of two goods. We should make Christ-centred decisions, not self-centred. But even when we make a bad decision there's a way back if we repent. Ps. 25:3.
  • “Who cares?” decisions. For those, there's no wrong answer. They don't warrant hours of prayer or seeking advice :-)
  • While God does have a will for us individually, we don't always need to know what it is! God gives “special” or supernatural guidance sometimes – but not normally. (Gideon & the fleece: He'd already had instruction from an angel and asked for more signs. It's not there to act as an example.)
  • Our partnership with God through prayer and obedience is about accomplishing his purpose for my life, not me determining the course of my life. My task is to get on with being a Christian where God has put me. Nothing can mess up God's sovereign will!

Another talk focused on the thorny topic of God's providence and evil – possibly one of the hardest aspects of life for anyone to deal with. If God guides me to, I may post about that one later. (Did you see what I did there?)

 

W H Smith to the rescue in kitchen calendar drama

RANDOMNESS ALERT: This post is one of those random jottings / miscellaneous musings / domestic minutiae-type stories with no obvious economic / practical / scientific / spiritual value. But don’t let that put you off. It might just make your day. Or make you grateful that you have better things to do than those written about herein…

Back in December 2012 I waxed lyrical about the joy of a physical diary, sending letters through the physical mail and putting photos in a physical album, which activities I rather cleverly grouped under the banner of The Joy of the Physical. Fourteen months later, and I have to report not one but two deeply troubling issues in my world of physical, paper-based equipment. Both, happily, now resolved.

I still write a diary. On paper. With a pen. I had spates of doing this in the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s, but then the PC came along and it all migrated to the word processor (as we used to call it). In 2005 I felt the call of the old-fashioned way and requested a big diary for Christmas. And every year since there’s been one; some A4, some A5, some week-to-page and some day-to-page. In the closing days of 2012 I lamented the lack of writing space for the weekend days in my 2012 volume and announced with satisfaction that for 2013 it was back to a page for each day. Sadly, at the start of this year I chose my own diary and again bought a compact week-to-page (or, more accurately week-to-double-page-spread). It again offered tiny space for Saturday and even tinier for Sunday.

Are you feeling my pain yet?

After two months I decided enough was enough (or, rather, not enough was not enough). I wanted more space to write. Because, based on previous years’ volumes, I suspected that the more space I had the more I tended to write. And then I had A Revelation.

Why, I asked myself, did I have to write in a diary at all? After all, diaries are primarily about forward-planning (like calendars, of which more anon). My scribbles, by contrast, are about retrospectively recording what is past (with, admittedly, some thoughts on things to come, but not from the point of view of scheduling or organising). What I write is a journal. Why attempt to predefine the maximum space for a day? Why, in fact, not simply write said journal in a notebook? Oh. My. Word. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Oh, wait…

And so my first problem is solved. Hurray. But the tale, as they say, doesn’t end there. Because in December 2013 I was distraught to discover that W H Smith were out of stock of our usual style of calendar for the kitchen. Specifically: month-to-view with tear-off weeks so that as the month progresses you get to see the first half of the next month as well. Having used this style for many years I was loath to change but decided it really shouldn’t be that big a deal. It’s only a calendar, for goodness’ sake. Off to the market, then, and a 50p month-to-view calendar. “It’ll do,” thinks I. “Although the fact that it’s an inch longer than the usual style does mean it’ll have to be tucked behind the tea bag box. That’s fine. Fine. I don’t mind. It’ll do.”

So on the wall it goes. For those same two months, we made do. Didn’t like the fact that as January advanced we couldn’t see February. Didn’t like the fact that as January ran out, the calendar disappeared behind the tea bags. Didn’t like the repeat performance in February. Decided that, no, it won’t do. It really won’t. Back to W H Smith goes I, finds the correct style in stock at £1 off. That’ll do. This too is now in service and calendar-related well-being is restored.

What a relief.

Automatic Wipers on the VW Golf: No better than the Focus C-Max

Some while ago I waxed lyrical (and irritated) about the inadequacies of the automatic wipers on my 2005 Ford Focus C-Max (a 2 litre petrol Ghia for those who like to know). If by some slim chance you don't recall that exciting post, click over to it here then come back.

Nice car, shame about the rain-sensitive automatic wipers

In recent weeks I've been driving a relative's 2007 VW Golf (a 1.6 litre petrol in silver – one of my least favourite colours for a car, as it happens, but rest assured that hasn't prejudiced me against it in regards to what follows). And I've made a discovery: the automatic wipers are equally inadequate. Like the Ford, you have four settings: Single Wipe, Normal Speed, High Speed – and Automatic. Like the Ford, Automatic mode includes a variable “sensitivity” control. And like the Ford, it sometimes fails to respond appropriately to the rain conditions, refusing to wipe when you need it unless you switch it up a notch and back down again. Or, of course, give up and resort to a series of manual Single Wipes.

This isn't about reliability. We all know VW are renowned for reliability; indeed, they focused on it in their famous 1980's advertising campaign. No, for the highly-reliable VW and the statistically-less-reliable-but-pretty-good-in-my-experience Ford, it seems to be much more about a limitation of the technology. It's just not quite there. The sensor, the algorithm, the colour of the paint; who knows? Whatever the reason, neither model's automatic wipers can hack it in light rain, fog or snow. So there.

And why, you may be wondering, have I bothered to tell you? Well, (he said, thinking on his feet) I'm keenly aware that the two examples of this defective tech both date from the last decade. Even the newer model is seven years old. My question, to you, therefore, is this: Do you drive a car younger than seven years? If so, does it have rain-sensitive automatic windscreen wipers? If so, how do they cope in light rain, snow or fog? Please tell me they've got better. Or, if you can't honestly do that, tell me I'm entitled to my dissatisfaction and not, as a nagging doubt keeps suggesting to me, making a motoring fuss about nothing.

I look forward to your wiper-related feedback.

 

“I am Christ’s!”: Encouragement from Spurgeon

Be thou ever one of those whose manners are Christian, whose speech is like the Nazarene, whose conduct and conversation are so redolent of heaven, that all who see you may know that you are the Saviour's, recognizing in you his features of love and his countenance of holiness. “I am a Roman!” was of old a reason for integrity; far more, then, let it be your argument for holiness, “I am Christ's!”

Charles Spurgeon

 

That Community Moment when your neighbour asks you to pick up a Sunday paper

It's been a beautiful sunny winter day so far. (Aside for the grammar aficionados: according to this site, the names of seasons are only written with a capital letter when the season has been in some way personified, as in I was captivated by Winter's stark beauty / Summer's shimmering heat / Spring's unfolding beauty (dang it, already used “beauty”; never mind) / Autumn's something-or-other-something: you get the idea. Sorry, rather a long aside so soon in the story.) That being so, and being still in holiday mode, and, what's more, being in need of a replenished stock of old newspapers for various purposes domestic, I decided, unusually, to stroll down to the village shop for a Sunday paper. (For anyone confused by the “old newspaper” allusion, I should explain that the said domestic purposes range from shoe polishing (not that I polish shoes with newspaper; rather, the newspaper acts as a base on which to conduct the polishing and to collect the inevitable bits of polish, mud and other detritus) to mopping up water that accidentally leaks through the back door when not properly closed. It is a fundamental necessity of domestic life that one must have a stock of old newspapers to call on. One cannot, by definition, have old newspapers if one never acquires, at some point, new newspapers. And since we do not, as a matter of course, read a newspaper then our stock, last supplemented in about 2011, inexorably shrank until the point of disappearance. Sorry. Another long aside.)

Let me add that I genuinely wished to read the paper; the domestic stock replenishment would be merely a happy side-effect.

Anyhoooo, as I walked the few hundred yards to the shop, be-hatted, be-scarved and be-gloved (grammar aficionados make of those constructs what you will), I passed our friend's house. Theirs being an old property that sits right on the pavement, I easily spotted my friend in the kitchen and she waved. They are the neighbours we know best and have quite a close friendship with. Days before, she had called round and left us a fabulous Christmas gift (pictured), so I seized the opportunity to trot across the road to thank her for the gift.

Our Christmas gift

I explained the mission I was on and she asked me if I could do her a favour and buy her a copy of The Sunday Times, should one be available. As it turned out, there were none (I too had intended to buy a copy of TST but settled for The Independent on Sunday), so I duly returned her cash.

As I made my way home in the sunshine, I was struck in some admittedly vague, fuzzy way by the uplifting combination of the weather, the wave across the road, the request to buy the paper, the friendship we have with our neighbours, and the fact that she bought us the picture (which is full of Bible truths) although not (yet) believing herself.

So what's my point? Nothing profound – just a tiny occasion, a confluence of circumstances that I wanted to remember and thank God for. And to ask Him to bring about more of these Community Moments at home, at work and in church.

 

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