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Saturday, 17 October 2020

Sitting At A Coffee Bar...

Sitting at a coffee bar, a large cappuccino and a croissant on the table directly in front, all three having their origins outside the United Kingdom. The restaurant itself, whether it would be Starbucks or Costa Coffee, both had originated from the USA, the cappuccino from Italy, and the croissant from France. It's from this comfy seat in an agreeable atmosphere where I allow my thoughts to manifest unhindered within my head.

Thoughts from the past, plan for the future, looking for ideas to solve a problem, and there is prayer. Yes, sitting at a coffee bar with my elbows on the table and both my hands forming a cup over my face, like this I can pray without attracting attention. Anyone taking a glance would conclude that I'm deep in thought, which truly speaking, I would be.

What are the thoughts that I ponder on as I sip at the froth of the coffee? One is reminiscence. Looking back at the past, especially all the good things. Like that time in 1997 when I was backpacking Australia. What was I doing during one particular moment? Snorkelling over the Great Barrier Reef? No, I had already done that at Green Island, off Cairns and also at Low Isles, off Port Douglas. These were both coral cays reached by catamaran from the northern coast of Queensland, and there is still more of the same to do at the Whitsunday Islands, which, as I will find out, features a continental fringe reef at Heron Island, off the coast of Arlie Beach.

So what was I doing at that particular moment? Yes, sitting alone at a table at a coffee bar in a service station. This was one of many which dot the Pacific Highway while the Greyhound bus I'm travelling in, was at its one-hour service and refuelling, to eliminate any chances of a possible breakdown in the middle of nowhere. There I was, minding my own business, sipping coffee and next to it, a bread roll, somewhere between ten and eleven thousand miles away from home, on an island continent separate from the Eurasian landmass, and therefore I was unknown to anybody across the whole land - the whole of the Southern Hemisphere, perhaps.

Hey, Frank!

I looked up to see a smiling stranger standing there, looking at me as if he had recognised me, and no doubt having gotten my name right, there must be some credit to this.

"How do you know me?" I asked, feeling rather shocked.

Don't you remember? I gave you that map at that hostel in St Louis?

"Oh my!" I gasped. We then started talking. Yes, I remember the incident some twenty months previously. The privately-owned backpacker's den on the residential outskirts of the Missouri city of St Louis. How the HI USA managed to affiliate such property onto its list of Recommended Hostels is something of a mystery. Desperation, perhaps? No other hostel in the whole of Missouri? For a start, the toilet cubicles had the western bar type swing doors which deprived the user of any privacy. Woe be if you needed to defecate! Any passerby can just look in. Then the kitchen harboured a live mouse which was seen scurrying across the floor. And then to top it off, I had to keep all my groceries stored away in my rucksack next to the bed. The kitchen food pigeonholes had dead cockroaches in them which gave an unpleasant smell as well as an unappetising feel. Indeed This was the worst hostel I have ever visited, worldwide, and that is saying something.

It was in this iffy kitchen where I met and made friends with this German chap while we were cooking our evening meals. He wasn't alone back then but one of a group of two or three. We talked about our individual itineraries, and I realised that by mistake I had left the Greyhound USA map at home when I packed away all the documents and traveller's cheques. He then gave me a spare map to use throughout the rest of the trip. Furthermore, I was referred to as that crazy Englishman. All good-natured, of course. And now here we are, two years on, at a cafe on the other side of the world, by sheer chance we meet again. Indeed, God must have a sense of humour! 

I am aware that, to some of my older regular readers, I have blogged this story before. But I repeat it here for the benefit of newer readers. Then again, I can't help writing about it. A billion-to-one chance for the same two travellers to randomly meet at two different locations and at two different times, yet it has happened. The second meet happened while I was sitting at a cafeteria table sipping coffee, down under.

And such the Costa Coffee provides the ideal environment for such indulgence. And such thinking can change to the present issue, Coronavirus. Indeed, I'm aware that I have written so much about this already, but here is something new - and shocking.

Announced on last night's news bulletin:

To ease the strain on the NHS due to the pandemic, it's on the cards that admission to A&E will require pre-booking...

Both Alex and I laughed. Then I thought up this little scenario:

Alex rings the A&E Department at a nearby hospital. 

Hello, is that Accident and Emergency?
"Yes, it is. What can we do for you?"
Well, I need to make a booking for an ambulance to arrive to take my husband to A&E next Tuesday at 14.00 hours. 
"Okay, may I ask why?"
Because that's when he'll go down with a sudden, unexpected heart attack.
"Just a moment - hmm - yes, we do have an ambulance available. Oh-okay, I have booked your husband to be rushed to the hospital for an emergency procedure. Pick-up will be at your home at 14.00 hours. Bye."

Of course, the news reporter, realising the sheer impracticality of such a proposal, hastens to add:
But of course, anyone can still turn up whenever required.

Then a middle-aged male patient was interviewed in A&E at a Portsmouth hospital, testifying on what a wonderful idea this pre-booking was, explaining that he did not have to wait for the usual four hours to see a doctor, but was seen to straight after admission. How all this could work out in practice is still a mystery to me, but again, I have never claimed to have an academic thinking pattern.

And so I sit at a Costa Coffee in the town centre, watching the passerby through the wide, floor-to-ceiling windows. I feel intrigued as I watch them sauntering to-and-fro, with a few pacing as in a hurry. As for the hundreds maybe thousands over a ninety-minute period, not a single suit and tie to be seen, that is, except for any passing school uniform worn by both genders. And it wasn't even warm outside. Could these highly intelligent men be hiding as if in embarrassment? After all, this pre-booking for A&E was their idea, not from the doctors or nurses. And today, as I write, London, along with other towns across the land gets tighter restrictions in the fight against the virus.

Where we live, we are at the moment, on medium restrictions. There is no "Low". Instead, there is Medium, High, and Very High. Therefore, we are living with minimal restrictions. For now. That means I have to wear a facemask when I enter Costa Coffee or Starbucks. I must order my coffee with the facemask on. But I can remove it when I sit at the table (thank goodness!) It's as if the virus either won't or cannot reach the seating area, therefore cannot be breathed in. Or a case of a colleague and I at work together all day in an office (without wearing facemasks) but cannot have a drink together in an (air-conditioned) pub. Indeed, the virus knows exactly when and where to strike!

Only yesterday I had my normal Friday afternoon swim. Pre-pandemic, I used to follow the swim with a sauna. But not anymore, as such facilities are considered "too dangerous." Never mind that the heat in the sauna would kill the virus, and such hot air is even breathed in, therefore making unhappy any virus which could be lingering in the trachea or lungs. After all, they say a good hot sauna is good for treating a cold (another virus, apparently) but not Covid. Anyway, at the men's changing room I got talking to this other swimmer who was also towelling himself. Eventually, after he had dressed, I reached out my hand with the intention of introducing myself by means of a very British handshake, but instead, this guy retreated, as if I was the disease itself, despite that we were both very healthy and showing no signs of symptoms. What have those smartly-dressed top nobs done to our national psyche?

As I sit by the window of Costa Coffee, I am grateful, in one way or another, to have much of my life behind me. Approaching seventy, I'm not quite that agile, athletic guy I once was, running half-marathons, cycling miles across the country and competing in triathlons. But I don't want to say that I did it my way, as Frank Sinatra once sang. Instead, I would rather acknowledge God, his grace, goodness and mercy, and say that I hope I did it God's way.

One type of patronage I tend to see quite frequently in the restaurant is the Little People, who tend to make the loudest noise, their wails often shattering my daydreams. Within our present situation, I'm beginning to feel sorry for the up-and-coming generation. What kind of a world will they grow up into? Personally, I'm beginning to think that the world we are passing on to them will be riddled with a national debt which will take many years to recover from, as well as leaving behind a legacy of universal fear felt in the air, even of getting too close to each other, with handshakes frowned upon and a hefty fine imposed on anyone who attempts to hug.

Meanwhile, our oceans are becoming clogged with a new kind of pollutant, the discarded facemasks. Despite what I perceive is a general dislike of them by the public, it does look as if these gags are here to stay. When these men in suits say "Dance" then we all dance. If they say "Jump" then we all jump, no questions asked. If they say, "Wear a mask at all times, even in bed" then woe betide anyone who just might disagree! Already, according to the newspapers, it's already "No sex, please, we're ill."

The virus restriction or the crane?

And it's during times like these when belief in God and his divine creation and redemption are all looked upon with disdain, as the rise in atheist philosophy along with Darwinian evolution pushing the Bible into the realm of pseudoscience and fantasy, and therefore denying the reality of Jesus Christ, his death on the cross, his burial, his Resurrection, and his Atonement for us.

I sit in the coffee bar, a child cries, the enclosure of the restaurant amplifies his wails, which wouldn't be so obvious if outside. What kind of a world would this child grow up in? With this growing rage against God gripping the West, what hope awaits this little one?

I cup my hands over my face and quietly attempt to pray. I see no solution to all this, but I also know that everything is in his hands. Furthermore, God has already known about all this from eternity past, even long before the creation of the world, he already knew. Just as he knew of my birth and the exact number of days I will live for. Not only had he formed me in the secret part of the earth, but he knows my every move, my every thought, emotion, and motives, and I'm aware that in no way can I escape from his presence. How King David's Psalm 139 provides comfort to every believer who feels hopeless and distressed over everything that's going on around him and yet should still be thankful for all the good things God has allowed him to enjoy.

And this certainly includes travel and the chance meeting of a lost friend where no one would ever expect to see again halfway around the world.

I take a final look inside the empty coffee cup where the remains of the leftover froth of the cappuccino had congealed around the inner edge. I push the chair back, arise and make off home to be with my beloved. But I'll be back...

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Crazy! Just Sheer Crazy!

Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub. No nursery rhyme here. Rather, I'm referring to three gay men who once occupied the jacuzzi at the public spa suite located within our local leisure pool facility. And so they recline in the warm bubble bath, keeping themselves to themselves as I made use of both the steam room and the hot sauna, long before Corona meant anything other than a refreshing drink. And so, those three were seen as regular bathers before they moved out of our area, I believe, to settle in San Francisco. But even after their exit from the UK, the well-known nursery rhyme I had to recite at our primary school had taken on a new meaning. At least their names had never appeared under any scandalous headline in our local newspaper, let alone a national one. 

A Bubble Bath. Stock photo.

Rather unlike three teenagers in a car, whose names did appear in the national press, but hey, it doesn't sound so rhythmic as the three men in a tub, does it? But their story had a much greater impact than any butcher, baker or candlestick maker could ever achieve.

I'll refer to the three teenagers only by their first names, but these are their real names: William, Luca, and Ollie. William was at the wheel of a powerful BMW only days after passing his driving test. The car was a reward from his well-to-do Dad for passing the test. And then, just a few days later, William wanted to show off his brand new treasure to two of his pals and so, all three clambered in. 

The over-confident teenager put his foot down on the accelerator as the engine roared into life. Further down, the road suddenly rounds a bend, but by then it was too late. The speeding vehicle struck a grass bank, flew thirty metres through the air before hitting an electric substation. It must have been a spectacular accident, worthy of any James Bond movie stunt, but even before the car came to rest, Luca had already stepped off this planet and into eternity. Seeing his best friend with serious head injuries, Ollie, soon after, took his own life. With the car written off, only its owner got away with barely a scratch.

And so William appears in Court, wisely dressed in a white shirt and a blue and red striped tie. Much to the disgust of Luca's parents, William gets away with a six-month suspended jail term and a two-year driving ban. He is pictured walking free, thumb up and smirking under a large facemask. How is it that here in England, a shirt and tie can make such an impact on the Judge passing such a lenient sentence? It's a story I have seen and read about before. Smart dress is often worn by defendants in their hope to have their sentences mitigated.

There is something about the whole scenario, from the moment he passes his driving test to the snapshot of him leaving Court, which stirs my emotions into anger and frustration! Indeed, supposing I was the father of Luca, the passenger who was instantly killed. Here, I attempt to put myself in his place. I watch as the defendant walks out of Court with a victorious smirk. Yes, how would I feel? Never to see my son again. Watching his coffin enter the crematorium, knowing that after a short farewell service, coffin, clothing and body alike will all be reduced to ashes. 

The silence in his bedroom. A lifeless computer and play station, school books piled on a small desk, his school uniform hanging from the wardrobe door handle, his bed still unmade, pyjamas left thrown on the foot of the bed. His sports kit stashed proudly away in his chest of drawers. The silence. The stillness. Memories going back to his birth, that tiny shrill as the baby takes in his first breath, inflating his lungs for the first time ever. Watching him breastfeed at his mother's chest as she looks so lovingly at his tiny face, bathing him, listening to his crying at two in the morning, joining us at the table as he grows up. Witnessing his progress at school as well as developing into a keen sportsman. Then, as an adolescent, he passes his exams to qualify for university and who knows, a girlfriend, a wife whose own child would make us proud grandparents - but now this.

As William smirks as he leaves Court as a free man to continue living a normal life, there is something gut-wrenching about Luca's death. Oh, so unnecessary! Why, oh why did Luca entrust his life to this over-confident, smart-ass buffoon? In a fit of rage, I fight with every effort I can draw within my fibre against the strong temptation to smash my fist into his smirking mouth and force him to swallow his facemask. But instead, I just stand there, doing nothing. 

As I walk home, or back to the railway station, I thought about what would have happened had I gave into temptation. I would have ended up as a defendant and charged for Grievous Bodily Harm, or GBH. His father would have made sure that I receive the maximum sentence for daring to lay my finger on his son. And the judge would comply, throwing the book with full force at me. Indeed, to be smartly-dressed and well off seems to have big influences in making decisions. After all, if William's father can buy a BMW, just like that, as a reward gift for his son, then he can't be short of a bob or two.

The BMW featured might have looked like this.

And it's this calibre of men which has so much impact right across this nation. Here, I'm talking about the restrictions placed on us by those in authority. It isn't for me to disobey those in authority, as the Bible says, anyone who rebels against authority rebels against God, according to Paul's letter to the church in Rome (13:1-8.) But only today I read in a national newspaper that just one faceless smart guy, backed by a team of doctors, are now persuading our Government to make facemask-wearing compulsory outdoors. I browsed the comment forum under the online newspaper article to check out the general opinion. Just about everyone agrees that this new proposal is utter rubbish, even insulting, and it's nothing more than a quest for greater control without adequate scientific evidence to back it up.

It's bad enough to wear those wretched gags whilst shopping or sitting on a train. Unless the mask is washed in a Dettol antiseptic solution on a regular basis, with me, throat irritation along with coughing will follow. Although I don't agree that wearing a facemask outdoors will deplete the respiratory system of oxygen, as many in those comments think it does, I have looked carefully on the course of the pandemic throughout the last few months. True enough, around late Spring the worst in infection, hospitalisation and death rates reached its peak and they were frighteningly high. A national lockdown was enforced and all three rates dropped dramatically until it looked as if the worst was over.

Then by the end of August and into September, facemasks were made compulsory for all indoor venues including all public transport. I have noticed that the start of the second rise of infection coincided almost exactly with the introduction of and compulsive wearing of the facemask. It seems too, that only one close friend agrees with me, himself a PhD holder. 

I base this reckoning out of experience rather than listening to an expert. If I were to breathe in some coronaviruses in the air, normally they will be all expelled back into the outside air on the very next breath - before any have the chance to stick to a cell within the throat, trachea or even within the alveoli of the lungs. But if I wear a mask, then when expelling, fewer viruses will escape. Hence the idea behind facemasks, to reduce the spread of infection. But if at the same time a mass of viruses begins to pile up behind the mask, they won't be able to escape so freely into the open air. On the next intake of breath, they are sucked straight back into the throat and the rest of the respiratory system. With this back and forth of the viruses within the system, could this be behind my throat irritation, alongside the massive recent rise of infections?

Of course, with not being a doctor or a government official or MP, I don't have the authority to make a stand, but this does not deprive me of having common sense. I personally believe that the compulsive wearing of facemasks lies behind the recent sharp rise of infections. Only yesterday, after wearing a facemask to shop for groceries, I had throat irritation accompanied by coughing. Back at home, a thorough gargle with an antiseptic mouthwash gave some relief. After this, I asked my beloved to wash all our masks in a Dettol solution. 

But the compulsion to wear a facemask outdoors. Perhaps I could think of this:

Going back to the same illustration, here am I, walking along a street, with other people, and I expel some viruses into the air (if I have it, of course - actually it could be normal germs, a cold or a flu virus, so some other niggling pathogen). However, the chance of being breathed in by a passerby is reasonably slim, for in the open air, especially if there's a breeze, the viruses would scatter enough to make it pretty unlikely to be picked up by a passerby, unless he gets really close, almost to kissing, hence the sensibility of the two-metre distancing. But if nevertheless picked up, chances are that they will be expelled in the very next breath.

Thus, although I don't like it, to wear a facemask whilst in an enclosed space, there is some justification for this. Therefore, I wear one when required. Viruses can't scatter so freely in enclosed spaces. 

The Facemask we use.

But how I long to see our Government ministers - and the public too - loosen their reliance on these academics. How I long to see the loosening of the hold these smart guys have on us, by our own choice, this worship of the scientists and MPs behind such restrictive legislation, the robbing of our freedoms which was fought for so hard during the War years. As I see it, wearing a facemask in an enclosed space is reasonable despite the discomfort generated. But I would draw the line when it comes to wearing one outdoors. Under law.

That means if I was to walk along a footpath at a deserted beach, or a park, or in some woods, by the lakeside with very few people around, I would be breaking the law and therefore penalised, despite that there is no way I could infect anyone. Or taking the dog out for a walk. The dog has no need to wear a mask. Lucky dog! The cop would instead come after me.

To make the wearing of facemasks outdoors is sheer crazy! Most of Joe Public would agree with this. But would our ministers listen to these academics and enforce what looks to be a ridiculous law?

Indeed, three men in a tub. Three gay men in a tub. Is there any unseen fondling going on under those spa bubbles? I don't know and I don't want to know either. It's not my business. It's also illegal at a public venue. But they remain wise enough not to get caught. And no way would I snitch, even if I'm suspicious. And yes, for the record, someone tried to fondle me whilst in the bubble bath around forty years ago. I made sure he knew that I wasn't interested. But I still didn't snitch. Therefore, if I was seen without a facemask, walking in a quiet street, through a park, along the riverside or lakeside, or on a beach, I would have to depend on his goodwill not to shop me in.

Saturday, 3 October 2020

Why Laugh at Creationists?

Browsing the Internet can be an interesting experience whenever something totally unexpected comes up on the YouTube dashboard. Such is the title of a whole series of videos bearing the one title, Why do people laugh at Creationists? 

Laugh at Creationists? That's new! I thought we Creationists are ignored. Like good old Alfred Wegener. This son of a clergyman theorised that rather than remaining permanently fixed, the continents of our globe are on the move. Yet he was totally ignored by all the geologists of his day. Moving continents? How ridiculous could he get? He was ignored, maybe even laughed at. That was because Wegener was not a geologist, but a meteorologist who had an interest in geology from an amateur's perspective. According to contemporary geologists, anyone who is not in their profession should not stick his oar in. It took quite a bit of persuasion and thorough research before realising that Plate Tectonics is to accepted as valid science.

Or the case of one young doctor who, in the 1840s, was put in charge of a maternity ward at one of the top teaching hospitals in Vienna, Allegemeine Krakenaus. Here, this medic was very disturbed by the rate of mortality taking place on a regular basis - one out of every six women died, as was the case of all other hospitals of the day. Then this doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis by name, believed that some invisible agent or element was passed around from patient to patient.*

He thought up the idea that after each patient was examined, whether it was an autopsy carried out on a dead patient or checking out a living patient, the medic must wash his hands before examining the next patient. Immediately, the death rate dropped significantly from one out of every six to one out of 84.

But poor Semmelweis didn't get the praise he so richly deserved. Instead, it was scorned and belittled by lazy and prejudiced colleagues and jealous superiors. Perhaps they believed that Semmelweis had some supernatural power or that there is something magic about this constant washing, washing, washing which does not tie with science. Had he wrote and published a book on his discoveries, chances were that such a book wouldn't sell well, if at all, in the medical profession. After all, invisible element? Mythology has no place in the hard realities of science.

After such hostile treatment, Semmelweis lost his contract, and after watching the mortality rate rise again, he lost his mind and he was committed to an institution where he ended his days with a mental breakdown. Who would have ever thought that with the linking of bacteria, discovered in mould growth as early as 1676, with infection and disease could be the cause of such a high mortality rate? And Alfred Wegener, who was also ignored by his contemporaries, such life was not made easy for him either. What a ridiculous theory, this nonsense of moving continents!

Going back to YouTube. As already mentioned, there is a whole series of videos, looking to be as many as 45 of them altogether, themed Why do people laugh at Creationists? Checking the author's stats, at this time of writing, he has 276,621,362 views and 960,000 subscribers, his field also covers a much wider range of topics including his support for the UK to remain in the European Union. 

Indeed, his first video featured a student who used three false arguments to support his view of favouring Creationism. One was that the spherical orbit of the Earth around the Sun was within the Goldilocks zone, the second was that the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River was cut in just five minutes, and his third argument was that water is unique to our planet only, and does not exist elsewhere. As such, together with Flat-Earthers, we Creationists deserve to be laughed at. But on a more serious note, if I were to write a paper supporting Divine Creation which would satisfy the demands of Creation Research, then submit the paper to a team of secular scientists, one or two might give some time to answer, the rest would just ignore it altogether.

It was the student's "Grand Canyon in five minutes" theory which caught my attention and decided to answer in the comment forum. But it was not only to "prove myself" but also use this opportunity to confess my allegiance with Creationism, just as I would freely confess Jesus Christ as my Saviour. No matter, this video alone has 2,508,131 views. Therefore, I felt it was worth giving it a go if Creationism is to gain any creditability.

How wonderful it is for YouTube to allow quite a large margin to comment without being cut off. Because I had quite a bit to say. 

Firstly, I explained that the Earth's orbit around the Sun is not spherical at all, but follows the edge of a slightly elliptical plane, with the Sun not quite at the centre. Therefore, where one side of the orbit is at the Perihelion, that is, nearer to the Sun, it's winter in the UK and summer in Australia. At the other side of the orbit, known as the Aphelion, our planet is further away from the Sun during the UK summer. 

Whether this is a work of a Designer or just mere chance, I left for them to decide. But since the Southern hemisphere is mostly ocean which takes longer to warm up than the landmasses of the Northern hemisphere, if this slight eccentricity did not exist and the orbit was perfectly circular, then it's likely that much of the Southern hemisphere would be covered with a permanent ice sheet, very much like the one which covered the Northern hemisphere during the Ice Age. This could have a big impact on the existence of life, particularly with the oxygen output from the oceans.

Then, together with my hikes into the Grand Canyon and thus, my observation of the rock strata resting comfortably on granite bedrock, I concluded that these layers of limestone and sandstone were laid down by the waters of a long-gone ocean, and put forward the idea of the Noachian Flood, along with the theory that the Canyon was cut in months, possibly years, as the floodwaters drained off the rising continent, and not in five minutes. As for extraterrestrial waters, I reminded the student that since boyhood, I was aware of frozen water polar ice caps on Mars and elsewhere, and after conversion, hadn't changed my mind on this.

At the Grand Canyon, 1995.

Then about three weeks later someone contributed, asking me how vast limestones rock layers form, considering that limestone is formed out of calcite, a material gotten from the shells of marine life, if not taking millions, or even billions of years to accumulate into such rock layers.

Here I have always found this to be a problem, to be honest. Here in England, one particular type of limestone, chalk, is very common here. This stone makes up the rolling hillsides and downs of, for example, the Chilterns, the South Downs, the White Cliffs of Dover, and the rolling coastal hills which includes Ballard Down in Dorset and the Isle of Wight. I have always thought that during antediluvian days, the oceans must have had a tremendously vast population of such marine life to form such landscapes. Not forgetting the chalk seabed under the English Channel which makes the cutting and maintenance of the Channel Tunnel viable. And I haven't even included hard limestones such as Portland Stone, often used for construction.

How much easier it must be to assume such huge formations must take multiple millions of years for such rock layers to build up than for it to rapidly form under the intense pressure of a fast-moving global flood. But a Flood-based origin I'm willing to accept, whichever way it happened. To believe in the historicity of the Bible does involve swimming hard against the current of Charles Lyell's uniformitarian geology and Darwin's organic evolution which remains universally acceptable.

I'm one of a small number of Creationists who is willing to stick my neck out. Indeed, I might just be ignored, teased, laughed at, or to be made to look ridiculous but to be honest, I'll rather be a fool for the glory of God than be wise in the eyes of the world. Even in my own church, I'm not taken as seriously as a brother who is a graduate, especially in the realm of leadership or even delivering a preach. Or maybe there is this train of thinking going around among those who know me well - the "he's not capable" or "I don't think he can do that" or "I doubt he'll be successful". The reason for this is straightforward. I don't come across as one who is articulate or well educated. Fair enough.

But "in Christ, I can do all things" (Philippians 4:13.) Yea, I hold on to that. One example of this occurred back in 1980. Just a year before I was made redundant as a semi-skilled machinist in an aircraft factory (British Aircraft Corporation, which was later renamed British Aerospace) and I had trouble looking for suitable work until someone suggested going self-employed. Indeed, one or two of the Elders did not believe I could manage that, but I went ahead anyway and formed my own window-cleaning business. Yes, it was difficult at first. I struggled to make ends meet. I upset a few of my clientele. I was on the verge of throwing in the towel. I even applied for another job. When I didn't get that job and instead returned to my business, I decided to keep on persevering.

Eventually, it paid off. Throughout those 35 years, I managed to make enough not only to live reasonably well, but I was able to save up for travel. Flying to destinations such as to Israel in 1993, and then to New York in 1995 to backpack across the USA to Los Angeles, and then in less than two years later, to fly to Singapore, and then onward to Cairns in Queensland, then after backpacking the Pacific Coast with its glorious Great Barrier Reef, on to Sydney, then from there direct to Los Angeles, before returning to London on a Round-the-World experience in 1997. It was those glorious days, the explosive climax of my bachelorhood before I met and married Alex. Those days when I didn't claim a penny in benefit or low-income allowances. It pays to persevere against the odds and not throw it all in.

Another area where starting up was difficult and discouraging, and it's writing for this Blogger page! Indeed, at first, viewer numbers remained low, and it was very discouraging to see all other bloggers captivating readers by the thousands while I only picked up around 20-30 each week. Indeed, I thought, what's the use? I was even tempted to throw in the towel in this area too. After all, I'm a labourer who failed at school. Who am I, pretending to be someone I'm not?

Yet I enjoy writing, and I have always enjoyed writing since boyhood. Later, the advance of the Internet has open doors which before I could only dream about. Therefore, something of addiction grew within, until every Saturday afternoon is Blogging day. As for readership, at this moment of writing, I have more than 150,000 views. This I consider this to be a respectable number and its growing by the hundreds each week.

And now I have launched into something very new. It began while I was sitting at a Costa Coffee bar in Bracknell Town Centre with a croissant and a cappuccino coffee. There, I thought about opening a YouTube account and making videos of easy walks which older people would appreciate. And so, at Bournemouth and Swanage, I shot my first two videos. When they came out, I knew that I have a lot to learn! My camera was shaking, I got my fingers in front of the lens, I breathed heavily after climbing a hill, and maybe the video was rather monotonous, filming the same scene all the time. To a professional, these were rubbish and I knew it. But I still published them to see what happens.

The exact camera I use for YouTube Videos

Lessons learned from the past taught me not to throw in the towel. If I fail, I fail. If absolutely nobody clicks onto my channel, well, at least I gave it a go! I've tried it. Indeed, right now I can visualise with clarity all my church Elders and brothers shaking their heads in their plea to give it up now to save myself from getting hurt. This was the discouragement I have received from other church members for many years. 

But no, instead, I will carry on making videos and publish them. And as I make each one, I learn from my mistakes. And with learning and experience, real enjoyment will also bud and blossom into a beautiful flower.

Perseverance is hard. It's difficult. It can get very discouraging. But eventually, it can pay off. The same goes with my conviction that Divine Creation as recorded in Genesis will eventually pay off, despite being ignored or laughed at present. My vindication will await me in Heaven. 


* S.I. McMillen, None of These Diseases, 1963, 1980, Lakeland Publishers.

Saturday, 26 September 2020

A Self-Willed Robot in our Cupboard.

Within the last couple of days, a chilly blast of cold air blew across the country, and it's still blowing while I'm writing. In a meteorological sense, this chilly wind is caused by two atmospheric pressure circles, one area of low pressure out in the Atlantic, and the other, an area of high pressure sitting over the North Sea and over the Scandinavian Peninsula. And so these rotating masses of air act like two mechanical rotors, each spinning at opposite directions and thus, sucking cold polar air from the Arctic between them to chill the leafy South of England's semi-rural environment bang in between the two cyclones.

A typical BBC weather map showing rain.

The change in air temperature is made remarkable by its suddenness. On one day I can go out dressed in shorts and a tee-shirt, the very next day I'm dressed in long trousers and a rainproof jacket over my shirt. Not that it rained, nor that the jacket is rainproof either, despite its description, as it lets in rainwater as easily as a sieve. But it does protect from the chilly wind.

And it was a few months earlier when our landlord (not a private individual, thank goodness, but a housing association, or as it's called in America: public housing) decided to upgrade our gas central heating system from one which was easy and straightforward to manage - to one of those computerised types which I would require a four-year graduation course before I could get to grip on how it works.

Therefore those older central heating boilers which supply hot water on demand also heats up the radiators around the house simply by turning a dial fixed to the wall. Oh, so easy! Just turn the dial clockwise by a few degrees and the boiler ignites, emitting a gentle and reassuring purr as the radiators begin to warm up. And when the house is warm enough, just turn the dial anticlockwise and the whole system once again shuts down.

But not this recently-installed system, oh no! Probably taking for granted and wrongly concluding that both Alex and I are married graduates fresh out of university, this new system does not feature a dial but two wall-fixed mini-computers with its zillions of unlabelled buttons to punch and an array of screen displays which, in short, is all about having a mind of its own, knowing when to turn itself on, how long the gas burn will continue, and when it feels right to turn itself off. Indeed, the new system actually comes with a lengthy guidebook which was deemed totally unnecessary with the old manual system.

Even the guidebook itself I have found difficult to comprehend, with its jargon of technicalities which I struggle to get my head around. Even the engineer himself, who was involved with the system installation, sounded apologetic when he tried to explain the complex workings to us. Therefore, when it turned itself on just by punching a green button on one of the mini-computers, sure enough, the radiators warmed up and heated the whole house - until I began to sweat. But I wasn't able to turn the damn thing off properly until the following morning when I spotted the "Off" mode on the other wall gadget, tucked away in the boiler cupboard, and activated it. When the system shut down and the radiators started to cool, I felt immense relief.

Really, I'm beginning to wonder whether there's something going on between our landlords, the makers of this heating system and the energy supplier. A triangle of conspiracy to set up some kind of correlation in which the energy company will make the most profit while the other two receives some kind of reward or benefit - all on the customer's expense.

Which is totally pointless. When we first moved into our present home, although the wall-cavity insulation was already in place, the house had droughty single-pane windows. Almost straight away, I went up to the desk of our association office and asked whether we can have double-pane windows and doors installed which at the time would benefit our two young daughters. Amazingly, after several weeks, my request was granted. Since then, we already have two individual heaters of our own. One is a portable convection heater, which is used for upstairs if necessary. The other is a fan-booster which we use downstairs. Oh, they're so easy to use. A single turn of a dial and Wolla! The room is warm within minutes.

Our Glen fan heater is even simpler: just one dial.

All these mod-cons which makes homelife so wretchedly complicated, what is the whole purpose of this? What are they trying to prove? Why such needless complexity when simplicity is not only still available but has been thriving for so long, decades even?

And so the chills of Autumn begins to be felt, as the season personified, so each year, he rests his hand upon the shoulder of the balmy warmth of Summer and tells him to move on. Gone are the display of bare lower legs in the street, along with mere tee-shirts or even tank tops. In come long-legged trousers, ties, jackets, raincoats, all which defines our British temperate climate on our population with an annual cycle of warmth and cold.

Together with the threat of a second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. Alongside with Autumn claiming the throne for the next three months, there are theories passed around the academic community that the virus will thrive better in cooler weather. We see quite a massive rise in cases of new infections, at present over 6,000 per day. And these are all confirmed cases. With the numbers of untested cases, the statistics could be a lot higher. Yet, at the moment hospital admissions remain low, and the death rate from, or with, coronavirus, remain even lower, at this moment, averaging less than thirty per day.

Of course, the death rate could well shoot up to more than a thousand per day, as it was back in April here in the UK. Indeed, that could happen. Therefore our government-imposed national blanket restrictions of pubs, coffee bars and all restaurants to close by 22.00 hours, with all customers emptied from the premises before then. Which raises one or two eyebrows. I pretty much doubt that our PM coined this restriction from his own initiative. Rather, he has gotten this recommendation from advisors, both from scientists and political sources alike.

Already, I have seen the repercussions. Instead of a gradual, staggered emptying of pubs and restaurants as during normal times, there is a crowd gathering in the street, which tend to mingle freely before dispersion. Won't that encourage the rate of infection? And the wearing of facemasks under compulsion. Is this really working? Along with the rule that no more than six people are allowed to gather in our homes, gardens or any public venues. Here, I find this rather distressing, literally telling us what to do within the privacy of our own homes. Not to mention the threat of some snitch informing the police if there happens to be seven or more of us together. And there are areas in the UK when a fuller lockdown has been implemented, due to a sudden local spike of infections. Within these areas, even a home visit by a single friend is outlawed.

Many Christians will bow to such restrictions wholeheartedly, believing that they are fulfilling their duty. Others are also gripped by fear, and it's this fear which keeps close friends and even relatives away from each other. The Biblical principle of Christians sharing a meal and fellowship at another's home has all been made illegal, with heavy fines foisted on transgressors. And all this could happen in the area of the UK where I live. 

But isn't self-isolation to prevent a spread a Biblical principle? Here, history can be referred to. The Bubonic Plague of the 12th Century was ravaging out of control across Europe. People by the millions were dropping dead left, right and centre. Even the nursery rhyme Ring a Ring of Roses referred directly to this plague. The physicians of the day were totally at a loss of what to do. Therefore they turned desperately to the Church. Its leaders turned to the Bible, and have found in Leviticus 13:1-46, God giving the instruction on what to do if a patient has a contaminable skin disease or leprosy. Here, the one affected with the disease was to remain isolated from the community for seven days, with the possibility of another seven days if nothing had changed. If declared healed or making progress in recovery by the priest, he then must bathe and wash his clothes before rejoining the community.

Just one word here. Many modern versions of the Bible have the words ceremoniously clean embedded in the chapter. But the word ceremoniously does not appear in the KJV and I believe it's not in the original Hebrew either. If that is true, then the text indicates some invisible agent responsible for spreading the infection, which is true to modern science.

The Church then enforced isolation of all diseased persons from the community. It was through this method that the Bubonic plague was eventually brought under control. However, I have spotted a remarkable difference between what the Bible is instructing and how the 12th Century Church applied such principles - and the principles of isolation applied at present. That is, the instruction to restrict socialisation (including church worship) whether one is infected or not. In other words, at present, you must obey whether you have the virus or not. If only a small percentage are infected, then the Bible does not call for everyone to isolate. Therefore, what I have seen and partook in within this year, a total national lockdown seems to have been an ill wind which blows nobody any good.

Thus the inadequate testing system here in the UK, according to the media. In the Bible, everyone who had an infection had to report to a priest for a thorough examination and diagnosis. That was equivalent to a test at present. The priest was trained to be a medic in recognising a particular illness but without offering an effective cure, save to isolate. The modern test looks to be the same, a diagnosis without offering a cure. But oh, the complexities of today! For example, why aren't there far more tests carried out than at present? Why do people have to travel great distances just to get a test - and find that one isn't available after all, hence a wasted journey? And why, despite the high demand, many a test centre stands empty? And why was I refused a test when I asked for one back in the Spring?

Complications, complications - making testing for the viral infection far less effective. Exactly like the complexities in our new central heating system, making it far less useful to us than the simpler version it has replaced.


Saturday, 19 September 2020

Incredulous! This I Would NEVER Do!

I will always remember when Alex and I took our firstborn daughter to the seaside. At one of the stalls were a batch of helium-inflated dolphin balloons which was lighter than air, and so had to be retained with a cord to keep it from rising skywards. I then bought one for our daughter. Amazingly, it lasted for quite a long time.

The material which the dolphin was made of resembled coloured tin foil, if I remember, so had it accidentally come into contact with a sharp object, it wouldn't have burst with a loud POP as with a traditional balloon made of thin stretched rubber. Instead, the noise it would have made would be something like:


As the sound slowly fades, the skin begins to wrinkle as the balloon loses its buoyancy, and instead of rising, it begins to drop to the ground beneath it. A sorry-looking sight it becomes which would have been enough to make my daughter cry.

The one we bought was slightly smaller.

And so I was thinking back at that balloon as I visited a GP, asking whether I can have my breast examined to see whether it might be cancerous. Not that I believe that I could have cancer. I always believed that this disease was strictly for women. We men suffer prostate cancer instead. Come on, give me a break! Isn't prostate cancer enough to worry about? But on Alex's insistence, I checked the internet. According to a reliable health website, we men are not immune from the male version of the disease.

Thus, I lifted my tee-shirt at the doctor's request to expose my chest. He felt around the nipple and asked if I felt any pain. I answered that I didn't, but there is a sense of tenderness when touched. He also asked whether there has been any discharge. I was glad to reply No. But the doctor did notice a swelling directly under the nipple which gives it a sunken appearance - the very sight which startled Alex, my beloved, causing her to panic and basically ordering me to make an appointment for a visit to our surgery.

And so I'm due for an ultrasound scan at a hospital at the start of next month - right on our wedding anniversary, actually - of all the days of the year. Although I'm convinced that I don't have cancer, nevertheless, after the hospital appointment was set up on his computer, he then asked whether I had my annual flu jab, being over 60 years old. I replied that I hadn't, and he asked whether I would like a jab here and now.

"Yes please," I answered.
"Wait here, I need to check for supplies."
After a few minutes, he returned. 
"I have someone here with me who is about to graduate as a doctor. I need your permission for her to watch the procedure," he announced.
"Go ahead, that's no problem," I replied.
"She had never performed an injection before," the GP concluded.

As the doctor proceeded with the jab at my deltoid area and under the gaze of the post-graduate, I thought:

Oh for crying out loud, she just a short hike from being a qualified medic. And with all her training, she hadn't yet administered a jab?

I thought all this was rather incredulous! Because when my wife had breast cancer (hence her panicking over my pap condition) followed by a mastectomy, then with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, to avoid a daily call from a home nurse, I had to administer a special drug through an injection on her belly, one on alternating sides each day until the course was complete. A special yellow disposal bin was also provided to keep discarded needles away from all other household waste.

Although with the very first one, I administered the injection under supervision at the hospital oncology dept. After that, I had no problem giving her the jab at home on a daily basis for three months. And you know what? She did not deflate as that balloon dolphin would have done. And neither did I when the doc injected me. Hence my fascination at that trainee's lack of practical experience. As she watches, perhaps she was hoping I won't pop!

Incredulous? Maybe, but not the threat of a second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic which is casting a shadow over the UK. With new infections rising at rapid speed, hospitalisations are also increasing, with admissions doubling within the last week or two. It'll be interesting to watch whether the mortality graph will start rising in keeping with the other two graphs.

Poor Boris Johnson our Prime Minister! Stranded between a sea spout and a whirlpool, either he ushers in another national lockdown as he did in the Spring and watches as the Economy disintegrate with a massive rise of job-loss, or do next to nothing as he watches the Economy continues to grow alongside a ravaging spread of the virus to uncontrollable levels. Therefore he came up with something of a halfway house solution - not to gather together for more than six at a time. That means, with a large family, say one of five (Dad, Mum, with their three children), for example, if two relatives from another house were to visit, they would already be breaking the law.

Okay, I can handle that. In our house, there are just two of us. That means friends or relatives up to four people can still come to visit. But it was Home Secretary Priti Patel who came up with an idea so incredulous that I could not help gasping - and partaking in a discussion about it on Facebook. That is to contact the Police if your neighbour has more than six people gathered together.

That, to me, is snitching. Is it like acting as a gooseberry towards his friend who has just met his ladylove and is trying to get in between? No, it's much worse than that. Surely, as I see it, only the most miserable, nasty, jealous and despicable individual would turn a happy group to the police because there happen to be seven or eight of them together. And yet the Home Secretary herself admitted that she would do just that as if attempting to set an example.

Home Secretary of State Priti Patel.

Here, I try to put this into practicality. Let's say that my next-door neighbour has invited some guests for a garden barbeque. It's quite noisy with happy chatting filling the air backed by music. Therefore motivated by jealousy and an element of bitterness for not receiving an invitation, I go outside, and since there are no holes in the dividing fence, I have to lift my head over to count. As discreet as I try to be, I was seen by one or two in the party as I quickly popped down to hide behind the fence. I had counted seven people. And there could be more indoors. Gleefully, but with a touch of fearful anticipation, I phone the police to let them know that there is a party going on right next door with more than six people present.

After a short while, the police siren could be heard as the vehicle approaches. They alight, rush to the house and pound on the front door which is quickly answered. At best, the crowd is dispersed without further ado. At worst, the host receives a fine. After the police had gone and all is quiet, my neighbour knocks on the door, his face stern, like thunder. He doesn't hit me but gives a warning that he'll never talk to me again. Also, the key to our back door - which I gave to him should Alex have a fit whilst I'm out - is thrown back at me. It just skims past me as it lands at the far end of the hallway with a noise. He turns and walks away. Neighbourliness turned into bitter enmity.

Or on another occasion, on my way home rather late one evening. From a house in our street, several doors away, loud music could be heard. And so I knock on their door. A man in his mid-twenties, partially intoxicated, as I can smell in his breath, answers the door with the question,

"Yea? Whaddaya want?"

To which I reply:

"In obedience to our Government regarding this coronavirus pandemic, I have come to check to make sure that there are no more than six people in your house."

The host suddenly turns around and shouts back into the hallway.

"Hey - Bill, Ray, Larry, Des, we've got a snitch here. He's going to grass us to the cops!"

Five men suddenly appear whilst I could see up to half a dozen females within, with one or two following the men to where I am standing. Two or three of those guys then run out of the door to encircle me so I couldn't run away. 

"Let's duff him over!"

And so fists fly, pummelling me into a mass of bruises and bleeding wounds and even tearing my clothes in an uncontrolled frenzy. Some of the females cry and begs the assailants to stop, for I have been beaten enough. But the pummelling goes on until I lay unconscious. Finally, a kick was delivered to my head. They all run indoors and the door slams shut, leaving me lying outside. A neighbour, aroused by the commotion, calls both the police and ambulance. Eventually, arrests are made and the ambulance rushes me to the nearest hospital. 

One casualty, his distressed wife, some guys confined in police cells - none of these would have occurred had I returned home minding my own business. 

And yet, according to a Facebook discussion, one bloke indicated that he would snitch. He reminds me of the moralist who would rebuke another person aloud in public for swearing. Such a person exists and there's good reason to believe that he'll snitch on someone too. Both are Christians. And just as I believe Priti Patel's advice to be a very bad one, so these Christians should be very careful with the road they may be tempted to take.

Christians are being called to be the Salt of the Earth by their Lord Jesus Christ. By this, he means that just being present, evil is checked, just like salt applied to meat helps keep it fresh and avert putrification. But snitching does not keep evil in check, instead, it does the opposite, to stir up evil. And the fear of repercussion is never far away. And this can come suddenly, totally unexpectedly, even weeks or months after the grassing was made.

The pandemic is here and we have to live with it. Yes, I do wear a facemask when in an enclosed space, whether in a shop, a superstore, on a train or bus or as recently, whist at the doctor's surgery. Indeed, I dislike wearing it, but in obedience to the Government according to Romans 8:1-8, I wear it when required. Its purpose is to help protect others as well as myself. It's a far, far cry from grassing on someone in an attempt to keep the virus from spreading.

And as such, bad things can be thrown at us, it's part of life. But there has always been worse things, such as war and the diseases, and sometimes starvation which often follows war, all with a massive total of deaths. Or to end up as victims of a natural disaster. Like when my best friend, whilst holidaying in the Neapolitan area of Italy, went to visit both Pompeii and Herculaneum. These were cities wiped out by the AD 79 eruption of nearby Mt Vesuvius (although to the Romans, it was Monte Somma, greater in height than the present volcano.)

I have been to Pompeii myself and I too have looked upon the plaster casts of those who died in their attempt to flee from the city. But I have never been to Herculaneum, simply because during those days I was unaware of its presence. But my friend has just returned home after visiting the site. 

What he saw was some boat sheds which once looked out to sea, but now facing a high wall of pumice and volcanic ash laid by the AD79 eruption. Fronting the sheds is a manicured lawn. This was once the beach. Indeed, looking at it, it's very hard to believe.

But it's what is inside these boat sheds which tells a sorrowful, devastating story. In some of them, skeletons of those who tried to flee from the heat of the pyroclastic flow turned and entered the boat shed in a vain hope that they would escape from the intense heat. Instead, their flesh was instantly boiled away, leaving the skeleton intact, some even in a sitting position they were in when overtaken. One victim even had his brain literally metamorphosed into a piece of glass.

Skeletons in a boat shed, Herculaneum*

When taking such mortality into consideration, by comparison, our Coronavirus crises seems very mild. Unlike that of a volcanic eruption. Go too near an eruption and you're dead, regardless of age or state of health, whether Black, Asian or Caucasian, slim or obese. But the virus seems far more selective, its mortal victims tend to be among the elderly, those who already have an underlying illness, also among the obese and higher among the non-Caucasian. Indeed, taking responsibility is the duty for everyone. But for snitching or grassing up on somebody under the false cloak of Christian responsibility is a definite no-no. Go and pop a balloon instead.

*Photo was taken by Dr Andrew Milnthorpe PhD, September 2020.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

A Staycation Under a Pandemic

At last, schoolchildren don their uniforms once again after nearly six months of freedom in casual wear as they all return to the classroom. At the same time, employees return to their offices, well, at least some of them do anyway, whilst others see the pandemic as a good excuse to carry on working from home. After all, who wants to have a truculent boss breathing down the back of the neck with the words, Is that the best you can do? - thus raising stress, anxiety, even panic levels?

With one of my best friends away in Italy visiting I Scavi de Pompeii with Oak Hall, a Christian holiday group, and advising him not to dig his heel into the ground when addressing a hill with a hole at the top as Mount Vesuvius, but instead, address it as Monte Vesuvio whilst over there, Alex and I enjoyed a few days on the East Dorset coast. A staycation, one of those newly defined words which its true meaning remains unclear. Does it mean to go anywhere for more than 24 hours within the UK, or even just in England, or does it mean a respite from having to go to work yet not leaving home for more than twelve hours at a time?

Pompeii with Monte Vesuvio, visited 1973, 1982. Stock photo.

And such as the meaning of the word holidays as evolving in its original meaning from a day or a week of special religious observance to that of a week or two by the seaside, to a trip overseas to a foreign resort, usually at the Mediterranean, and lately, a long-haul international trip. At least in America, the word holiday means exactly that - a day of special religious observances such as Easter or Christmas. For trips away, they use the word vacation - to vacate the home for leisure purposes, and a word we nicked from them to use as a root word to mean to holiday in the UK.

And so the newspapers deliver one distressing news story after another. Such as today, when our Government announces with a very short notice that from tonight everyone who returns from Portugal must self-isolate for two weeks, whether anyone has the virus or not. And the amount of stress that alone inflicts. Many who have to return to work, now have to announce to their employer that they can't return on the agreed date, thus putting their jobs at greater risk. And yet, ministers from all parties, including the Tories, have cried out for our Prime Minister to have these quarantine issues replaced with individual testing at border entry, like with all other countries. Like that, everyone who is tested negative can live on as normal. But instead, our PM remains obstinate, despite the cries from the public and ministers alike.

Yet, despite the need for passports, tests for the virus, the likelihood of quarantine, the filling of entry forms and other border issues, there is nothing more exuberant than relaxing as the plane takes off and soars into the air, passing through thick cloud and emerging from above it, the clear sunshine overhead causing the cloud to reflect in brilliant eye-dazzling whiteness, thus quickly forgetting the grey dullness and drizzle underneath. Or on a clear day, watching the English coastline recede as the plane flies over the Dover Straits of the English Channel, only to watch the French coastline approach whilst the English side is still in view. That sensation that the UK is behind as a reminder that foreign soil is already beneath and the holiday is well underway.

I suppose it has all to do with our British cool temperate climate, which features cool wet Summers, particularly in August, in the midst of the English school holidays. Indeed, where resorts such as Morecambe, Blackpool, Filey, Brighton, Bognor Regis and many more traditional resorts were in their heyday thriving with holidaymakers as they flocked into penny-machine amusement arcades whenever it rained, the consumption of cod and chips wrapped in a couple of sheets of white paper, and the daily stroll along the windy beaches was at its heights during the fifties, the quest for sunshine opened up a world of package trips throughout the sixties.

And so the foreign holiday became less as a reserve for the well-to-do and became reachable to the common people. Ah! For the daily dose of uninterrupted sunshine! And the need for passports, visas (in some cases) the growing threat of airline strikes, watching travel companies rise and then fall (as one major aviation company, Court Line, which was also the parent company of Horizon and Clarkson Holidays, went bust in 1974) and the rise of tourist rip-offs which left many as victims of an unexpected expense, including those paid for the treatment of uninsured victims of accidents or illness whilst abroad, or not properly covered by their insurance policies, those wretched clauses found in the Small Print and easily overlooked by the holder.

At least with us, with a staycation, there are no worries about any of these border-control issues, rip-offs, airline strikes or health insurance, although it's my opinion that train travel will never hold a candle to the smoothness of a flight. I say this, although a recent change in the timetable has allowed the running of faster trains, with fewer stops and quicker journeys.

And so we arrive at Bournemouth Station after a fast and flawless journey. When we arrive at our hotel, a Whitbread-owned Premier Inn pile right in the town centre and with clear views of the coast, there were alterations which I have found to be annoying, yet realising that such is necessary during this COVID-19 pandemic. And one of these alterations was for compulsory booking for breakfast, already paid for, when checking in at reception.

A view of Bournemouth Beach from East Cliff.

Since all the more popular timeslots were already taken, we booked for 08.15 for each morning. Which means we had to wait to be seated at the entrance like at any Pizza Hut restaurant. When we were seated, it was no longer the well-cherished self-serve system characterised with this major hotel chain. Instead, it was waitress service, for which to order the food was a prerequisite. And confusion.

For two mornings in a row, due to a mix-up with another customer, the food failed to arrive. And on one of the mornings when again we had to re-order, Alex's serving arrived but not mine. When I asked about my order, I received an apology and soon after, it, at last, arrived, only it wasn't quite what I asked for. However, I just smiled and thanked the young lady for her efforts, as I have found out, the hotel restaurant had only recently re-opened after a long lockdown and the staff was barely trained. However, mornings are not the best times of the day and to one man I estimated to be in his late twenties or thirties, I had a bit of a moan.

After breakfast, I apologised for being so grumpy, just as my beloved had said recently, that I tend to be moodier in my old age than I was in the past. He turned out to be the hotel manager, and I showed interest by asking various things about running a hotel, particularly when facing extra but unnecessary expenses such as loss of keys, door lock replacements and so on. The way the conversation went, I got the impression that I was the first customer ever to see him as a human being and not as merely an object of convenience. In the end, we weren't that far from becoming friends.

But the difference between waitress service for breakfast and the normal self-service is as wide as the Grand Canyon. For me, there is something special, indeed, even romantic, about walking towards the large array of choice to fetch breakfast for my beloved, who prefers to remain at the table in her wheelchair. If there was a queue, the waiting was only momentary, for the choice was wide and easy to access. However, going back to my backpacking days, nothing was so adventurous and thrilling than to buy my own groceries to take back to the member's kitchen, then cook my own meals while at the same time talk to and make friends with a fellow traveller who is also cooking at the next stove. 

Or going back to the seventies, when all the hotels I was staying did not serve breakfast. It was easy for me to find a nearby coffee bar and bought and ate what I liked and needed. Plenty of those coffee bars in both Italy and in the USA, although back in the seventies, in America I found Greyhound Bus terminal cafeterias were great places for meals at any time of the day. Both in 1977 and 1978, no matter which city I stayed at, each morning it was straight out of the hotel, to the nearby Greyhound Bus self-service cafeteria. It was heaven!

Oh, those days. Indeed, those were the days, my friend, I thought would never end. That is, until the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

This new world of facemask-wearing in enclosed spaces including all shops, trains and buses, social distancing, to be reminded not to get too close to a stranger (as I did in neighbouring Swanage) the fixed bookings for breakfast, can't shake hands (as I would have done with the hotel manager when checking out) along with the inability to hug, all makes this beautiful world of humanity a mere shadow to what it was and which I'm so used to.

As someone recently wrote in a newspaper, encouraging us to pray hard that no world war would break out, as this generation of snowflakes, so he says, would not be able to handle it. Personally, I'm extremely fortunate to live in a war-free era of British history, and grew up to take for granted all the niceties I described above, therefore I have much to be thankful to God for. I guess much is to do with personality or temperament. The vast majority of my brothers in Christ I have ever known seem to prefer escorted or group travel, Oak Hall being on top of their list. If that is what they desire most, then may God bless them richly. For me, I prefer lone travel, which can have its own pitfalls, which are left for me to resolve.

Like the day Alex and I took a bus to Swanage. The 66-minute bus journey included the chain ferry crossing to Studland Bay, a very different scenery to Sandbanks on the other side of Poole Harbour, the world's second-largest natural harbour after Sydney Harbour. Sometime after arrival, Alex agreed to remain at the harbour for an afternoon kip while I set upon a dayhike around Peveril Point, that part of the geological phenomena I have been familiar with since I was a schoolboy.

Peveril Point, Swanage. Stock photo.

This involved going all the way around the peninsula instead of staying on the official footpath which cuts across it, in order to maximise the rewarding views across the bay. Therefore I was confronted with a challenge to scramble over some large boulders which, with a bit of calculation plus a good dollop of agility, I manage to scramble up successfully without hurting myself. The views across the fully-inhabited Swanage Bay on one side of the Point and the view of the uninhabitable Durlston Bay on the other is for me, breathtaking scenery.

And I had my video camera. For the first time ever, I hope to post the video onto YouTube. But I may need some advice from those with the experience to show me the right way to do it.

All these scenic coastlines witness of God's love for aesthetics when creating this dramatically beautiful world. And even if the pandemic has made the day-to-day living that little bit awkward, slightly less comfortable, and an apparent curtailing of our precious freedoms, yet it goes to show that God still holds the reigns, his sovereignty is fully trustworthy, and his salvation is offered to everybody who wants it. Indeed, I can be thankful in every way for our dear Lord to allow us to have a staycation in the first place, and to reveal his goodness towards us regardless of the pandemic restrictions.

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Should I Hike With A Video Camera?

I have just bought my beloved a new video camera for her birthday. And not only is she so grateful but also happy for me to have a share in using it myself. Although making videos is not my forte, having watched so many videos made by other amateurs on YouTube, it was while I was sitting alone at Costa Coffee and watching the world go by, that I thought how wonderful it would be to make a video - or a series of videos - and post them all on my YouTube channel. I wonder how many subscribers I would collect, and how many views?

And my theme? Most likely day-hiking, or as the English express it, rambling. Perhaps naming the series DayhikePensioner or something similar or more appropriate, the idea behind all this is to show the world that age is no barrier against such adventure. Rather it could slow down ageing altogether, delay the creeping onslaught of Alzheimer's, maybe even stave off weight gain. Furthermore, hiking trails tend to be away from roads carrying busy traffic, instead, passing through areas of natural beauty, including woodland, although many trails or public footpaths do begin at car parks.

Personal experience includes through-hiking. That is, having at least one on-route overnight stop. Such hikes here in the UK include the West Coast Path from Bournemouth to Weymouth (although the trail proper starts at Studland Bay, on the other side of Poole Harbour which itself is crossed by a chain ferry) with stops at Swanage and Lulworth Cove YHA hostels. Such a hike takes on challenging hills, especially those between Kimmeridge Bay and Lulworth Cove, yet the views are spectacular, with the sea always in view, as the trail lining the clifftop nearly all the way.

Although Lulworth Cove YHA hostel is a mile inland and had in my day restricted opening hours, the spectacular reward after such a strenuous hike is the view of Stair Hole, just a little way past the Cove itself. The wall of twisted Portland Stone is breached by the sea, which floods the little enclosed cove at high tide. Further west along the coast, over another hill, the famous Durdle Door arch awaits, a venue for summer thrillseekers who uses it for their dangerous game which has claimed casualties - tombstoning, while the rest of the year, crowds of uniformed students from different schools assemble to learn about its geological significance.

Stair Hole, Dorset, UK.

There is one downside issue with this trail. That is, it's only accessible during school holidays, as the section between Kimmeridge Bay and Lulworth Cove is owned by the Ministry of Defence for use as a rifle range, and therefore closed to the public during school term. 

I have completed day-hikes from Bournemouth to Swanage several times, and through-hikes from Bournemouth to Weymouth, I think, twice. Also, an interesting day-hike is a loop starting and finishing at Swanage. The outward route is the Coast Path to Chapman's Pool, a small but spectacular cove surrounded by high cliffs. From here the hiker turns inland and joins the Priest's Way, a public footpath leading back into Swanage, passing through a delightful postcard village of Worth Matravers. Alex and I did this loop together during our courting days a few months before our wedding.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the Dorset Coast has always been my hiking Garden of Eden.

But other UK venues where I hiked includes the Hadrian's Wall Trail linking Carlisle to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with overnight stops at YHA Haltwhistle and Hexam hostels. Although not quite coast-to-coast, this walk took in the remains of the Roman wall which marked the northern boundary of the entire Roman Empire. Forts, known as Chesters, were evenly spaced every Roman mile along the wall, one of them a town in its own right, with their famous thermae as well as well-preserved latrines, together with the usual military facilities, all within the typical playing-card rectangular enclosure. This particular fort was the most well-preserved ruin in the whole of Roman Britain. This was the only hike I did with two other close church friends, one a financial adviser who takes care of my pension, and the other an accountant who directed my tax returns.

Although the other two were probably fitter than I was (they played squash against each other regularly) one of them pulled out about two-thirds of the way through, thus missing out on the crushingly boring flat countryside 20+ mile hike along a dead-straight road into Newcastle.

The final hike I completed alone was about a month before our wedding, and that was at the Lake District from Kendal to Keswick in about a week, with YHA Keswick hostel being the very last hostel I stayed at before tying the knot, after which I never saw the inside of a hostel again. It was also on this hike when I stood on the summit on one of the mountains overlooking one of the lakes when the whole environment darkened as a result of a partial solar eclipse.

Overseas, a one-stop Rim-to-River-back-to-Rim hike was completed at the Grand Canyon twice, the first in 1978 and again in 1995. In 1997, a day-hike I took at the Blue Mountains National Park allowed access to tumbling waterfalls amidst high cliffs, eucalyptus trees, and rainforest vegetation. By contrast, less than a year later in 1998, I managed the Manhatten Broadway day-hike from near Harlem to Battery Park.

Grand Canyon Hike, September 1995.

Going back into 1973 in Italy, the Ercolano Station to the crater of Mt Vesuvio was a day-hike never to be forgotten, whilst in 1981 the Cinque Terre loop starting and finishing at Monterosso Station was worth the train journey from Viareggio, as this walk rewarded me with spectacular views of small harbour villages clinging to the rocky cliffs of the rugged coastline.

With a plethora of hiking experiences and now in possession of a new video camera, the temptation to open a YouTube account I find quite alluring. Therefore joining those younger men and women who have made hiking their full time living and attracting millions of viewers. Had I remained single, this could have been a golden opportunity. But as a husband and a carer to one whom I love dearly and is partially disabled, I am aware that leaving her at home while I spend days away is far from my heart. Indeed, there are those who are married and yet earn their living on making and publishing videos of their lone travel by combined sponsorship and viewer support, I am also aware that a certain level of professionalism is required.

Such as narration. Whilst talking, the flow of speech is generally poor. Not only do I have an accent which could spoil the clarity of what I'm trying to say, but there are often gaps which are filled with sounds such as -er- -um- -y'know- and such which would have turned off any listener. Then there is technology, which I must admit, I still find it difficult to get my head around. One example is editing before publishing. Many of these travellers film themselves walking away along the trail, leaving the camera behind. Of course, he then turns and returns to collect his camera. But that bit we don't see, for it has been edited out.

Videos of traveller's experiences do make delightful viewing, whether it's hiking or using public transport, whether by train, bus or by air or even on a boat, one category of videos so far hadn't appeared, and that is of cycling. Maybe a video camera fixed onto the handlebars? But would it make viewing interesting? What is there about a road scene, constantly overtaken by motorised traffic? Maybe that's why I haven't come across any videoes of cycling, unless Google brings them to my attention.

The benefits of hiking are to appreciate the natural scenery where the hike is set. Whether it would be Dorset, the Lake District, Italy, Australia, or the Grand Canyon, it's to acknowledge the glory of God by means of the beauty of creation. And here I find missing in all those videos about cross-country hiking or day-hiking. Despite the dramatic beauty of the mountains, the lakes, creeks, waterfalls, the forest and coastal features, not one of these videos acknowledge as being the work of an intelligent Designer. But in any of these videos, I might not have to wait too long before hearing the word evolve. By watching nature programmes whether, through a video or a BBC documentary, any hint of an intelligent Designer is immediately dismissed.

In the YouTube video library, there could be as many as fifty videos bearing the title, Why Do People Laugh At Creationists? - all in one series. On Part One, a student explains why he believes in Creation. He mentions the spherical orbit of the Earth around the Sun, that water cannot exist other than on our planet, and that the Grand Canyon was formed in literally just five minutes. As far as sceptics are concerned, this student has put himself on the same level as a Flat-Earther, dishing out embarrassment to all Creationists in the atheist's eyes.

Therefore in the comment forum under the video, I wrote a rather lengthy piece which within, I admitted that I was a Creationist myself and that the student featured in the video lacked basic education.

Basically, I explained that as one who believes in an intelligent Designer, the Earth's orbit is not a sphere at all but a slightly elliptical plane, with the Sun not quite at the centre. Therefore, on one side of the orbit, known as the Perihelion, the planet is closer to the Sun, and this occurs during our winter at the Northern hemisphere and during the Antarctican summer. Six months later, at the Aphelion, the Earth is further away from the Sun during our summer at the Northern hemisphere. I went to explain that this eccentricity of the Earth's orbit is essential in sustaining life, as most of the landmasses are on the Northern hemisphere, with the Southern hemisphere mainly of the ocean. Since land warms up quicker than the ocean, it means the oceans are nearer the Sun when required, or else, a huge permanent ice sheet would form on an extensive part of the Southern hemisphere, not unlike the Ice Age which covered the Northern hemisphere soon after the Noachian deluge.

Waterfalls like this one at Blue Mountains N.P. Stock Photo.

I also explained that as a boy, I was already aware of the frozen water icecap at both the Polar regions of Mars, and I have never changed my mind on this issue. And as for the Grand Canyon, I explained that the sedimentary rock strata resting comfortably on a granite bedrock were laid down by a huge quantity of water. Could this water be from the Noachian Deluge? And the Canyon was cut, not in five minutes but over several months, maybe even years.

And the response? So far, absolute zilch! There are times when being ignored is far worse than being laughed at.

Indeed, as a Creationist, I may have an understanding of the Bible and its relation to science. But as for modern technology, well, it will be a lot less easy to get my head around, especially with a video camera.

Perhaps one day some bright spark will write a book, An Idiot's Guide to Shooting Videos, but whether such a book will ever appear on the bookshelf - meanwhile, I hope I can film some videos of some short but interesting hikes in the future.