Relocation Relocation Relocation

8 09 2014

It’s been way over a year since I’ve posted anything on here, which is pretty appalling… so I highly doubt anyone will see this post anyway, but on the off chance that people are still following this blog, I thought I’d let you know that I have relocated! 

Over the past few years I’ve been producing content for a range of websites and I’ve decided to pull it all together into one place. So I’ll now be blogging at where you can expect semi-regular posts on a range of things I’m interested in: theatre, film, music, food, cookery, faith, theology and philosophy. 

If any of those things interest you too, it would be great to see you over there. 


My Reading: July 2012-2013

14 07 2013

It’s that time of the year again when I display my geeky side and cast my mind over the books I’ve read in the past 12 months.

Each year I try to justify my nerdish tendencies. This year I shan’t bother to elaborate too much – feel free to read my previous attempts here, here and here – but I’ve personally found it helpful to plan roughly what I want to read each year, so that I can ensure I’m getting a balanced diet; reading the kinds of books I might otherwise be tempted to avoid, and making sure I’m not just overdosing on one genre.

To be honest, this year I’ve not followed my plans as much as in previous years. Most of my reading has been dictated by necessity rather than choice. But with the M.A.’s completion fast approaching, I live with the hope that I may regain some sense of choice over my reading plans!

That said… a couple of observations.

  • For the first year ever I’ve reached (and exceeded) my goal of one book a week – 55 completed.
  • I’ve no idea how many books I started this year, since I’ve read copious poems, articles and chapters of books for various essays, and didn’t bother noting down the books I had neither inclination nor intention to finish.
  • A literature class bumped my fiction quota up considerably!
  • I soon realised I wasn’t going to read any drama this year, but needed to read a fair chunk of literary criticism for a class I was taking, so I switched the category title.
  • The Christian/Secular divide wasn’t easy to discern this year (how do you categorise the collected works of Gerard Manley Hopkins or T.S. Eliot for example?) so is a little arbitrary in places. It’s a division I don’t much like anyway! But it’s loosely helpful to make sure my head’s not stuck in religious literature the whole time.
  • I didn’t read any books on leadership (I find them rather boring, truth be told!) though I’ve read loads more articles and listened to podcasts on the subject this year.
  • I also didn’t complete any books on marriage, though I restarted Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. But again, I’ve read a number of articles and listened to podcasts – and spent time with my wife! And I resisted the urge to put all the books on divorce and remarriage into the ‘Marriage’ category! Skewing the stats to make the numbers look like I was a great husband, would only have provided a temporary ego boost, before you glanced down the list of books!

So here’s a rough breakdown of my how my reading faired this year, and also the list of books I read. I always intend to review books and never get round to it – but if you want my opinion on any, just ask:

Reading Breakdown

Category Aim (%) Achieved (%) Variance
Spiritual 16 10.30 -5.70
Theology 42 41.21 -0.79
Ethics/Politics/Apologetics 16 10.91 -5.09
Drama 1 8.48 7.48
Skill-Development 8 5.45 -2.55
Fiction 8 23.03 15.03
Marriage 3 0.00 -3.00
Biography 3 0.61 -2.39
Leadership 3 0.00 -3.00
Christian 75 63.64 -11.36
Secular 25 36.36 11.36

Reading List

  • Alldritt, Keith – Eliot’s Four Quartets
  • Beck (ed.), James – Two Views on Women in Ministry
  • Bell, Rob – What we Talk About When we Talk About God
  • Blenkinsopp, Joseph – Wisdom and Law in the Old Testament: The Ordering of Life in Israel and Early Judaism
  • Burke, Trevor – Adopted into God’s Family
  • Camp, Claudia – Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs
  • Chandler, Matt – The Explicit Gospel
  • Copan, Paul – Is God a Moral Monster?
  • Cornes, Andrew – Divorce and Remarriage
  • Crenshaw, James L. – Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction
  • Delillo, Don – White Noise
  • Delillo,  Don – The Angel Esmeralda
  • Dell, Katharine  – Get Wisdom, Get Insight
  • Donovan, Jeremey – How to Deliver a TED Talk
  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor – Crime and Punishment
  • Duvall, J.Scott and Hays, J. Daniel – Grasping God’s Word
  • Eliot, T.S. – The Four Quartets
  • Erswine, Zach – Preaching to a Post-Everything World
  • Fee, Gordon and Stuart, Douglas – How to Read the Bible for all its Worth
  • Foster Wallace, David – Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
  • Gish, Nancy – Time in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot
  • Greene, Graham – The Heart of the Matter
  • Hybels, Bill – Just Walk Across the Room
  • Instone-Brewer, David – Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context
  • John of the Cross, St – Ascent of Mount Carmel
  • John of the Cross, St – The Dark Night of the Soul
  • Johnson, Adam  – The Orphan Master’s Son
  • Joyce, James – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Keener, Craig – …And Marries Another
  • Kramer, Kenneth – Redeeming Time: T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets
  • Kreeft, Peter – Christianity for Modern Pagans
  • Manley Hopkins, Gerard – Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • Medearis, Carl – Speaking of Jesus: The art of not-evangelism
  • Miller, Donald – Father Fiction: Chapters for a Fatherless Generation
  • Murray, John – Divorce
  • Partridge, Alan  – I, Partridge: We need to talk about Alan
  • Peers, E. Allison – St John of the Cross
  • Phillips, Caroline – The Religious Quest in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot
  • Rajan (ed), Balachandra – T.S. Eliot: A Study of his Writings by Several Hands
  • Rossiter, Joanna – The Sea Change
  • Sinnot, Alice – The Personification of Wisdom
  • Smith, Zadie – White Teeth
  • Sproul,  R.C. – Can I Have Joy in my Life?
  • Spufford, Francis – Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can make surprising emotional sense
  • Stibbe, Mark – I Am Your Father
  • Stott, John – The Cross of Christ
  • Thomas, Gary – Sacred Pathways
  • von Rad, Gerhard – Wisdom in Israel
  • Vonnegut, Kurt – God Bless You, Dr Kevorkian
  • Warren, Rick – God’s Power to Change your Life
  • Wenham/Heth/Keener – Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: Three Views
  • Westermann, Claus – Roots of Wisdom
  • Witherington, Ben – Jesus the Sage
  • Zacharias, Ravi – Jesus Among Other Gods 

Note: there’s one book missing from my list because it’s not actually been published yet. But rest assured, it will be released soon and then I won’t stop recommending it!!

Recipe: Chilli Con Carne

10 04 2013

So it’s been 8 months since I last updated this blog. Unforgiveable. But the arrival of a new batch of Cow Club beef reminded me that I’ve never typed up my chilli recipe. I know there are heated debates over what constitutes the perfect chilli, so offering my own version probably insults some sacred cows… but cows are there to be turned into chilli, and the ones from Cow Club are more sacred-tasting than most! So I’m pretty happy with this one… 

This recipe combines elements from a few that I’ve used over the years; in particular those in Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef and Heston Blumenthal’s Heston at Home (with the fiddly bits removed due to the lack of a pressure cooker!) with a good number of additions of our own. It makes a pretty big pot (which I typically serve to large groups, or freeze in batches), so you may want to shrink it down. And I prefer it done with diced steak, but it can be done equally well with mince – just make sure you drain off the fat well.

Chilli con Carne

1kg braising/stewing steak or beef mince
2 medium onions, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Olive oil
2 star anise
2 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp ground cumin
2 fresh red chillies, de-seeded and finely diced
2 red peppers, de-seeded and cut into good-sized chunks
Small stick cinnamon
500ml beef stock
187ml red wine
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 x 540g tin/bottle passata/creamed tomatoes
30g tomato purée
Juice and zest of 2 limes
3 x 410g tins of kidney beans


Set the oven to 150c.

Add oil to a heavy-bottomed pan, over a high heat, and fry off the meat to brown it. Remove it from the pan and drain off excess fat. Deglaze the pan with a splash of water, and add the beef-bitty-water to the meat so you don’t lose the flavours.

Decrease the heat to medium and add more oil to the pan. Add the onion and star anise and cook for about 10 mins. If the idea of star anise puts you off, don’t worry, your chilli won’t end up tasting like liquorice. Star anise boosts the meatiness of the dish. (Check out the science from Heston here.)

Add the celery, and cook for another 8 mins. Celery isn’t necessarily a regular ingredient in chilli, but I like it. (And I also love the fact that if you cut it really quickly it sounds like you’re doing up a zip! Weird, I know…) Add the garlic and peppers – I personally prefer the pointy sweet ones, but regular peppers are fine – and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

Add the chilli, chilli powder, cumin, cinnamon stick and tomato purée and mix in well. Cook it for another 5 minutes, until it turns a dark red colour. Of course, feel free to alter the chilli quantities if you wish. This version is about right for Helen, but I like it a little spicier… see my comments at the bottom about spiced butter.

Add the red wine and reduce it by 2/3. To be honest, I think it needs more wine than this – about 400ml would be ideal – but I often just use a miniature bottle, unless I have some spare wine to hand.

Remove the star anise and discard. Add the beef stock, passata and chopped tomatoes. If you don’t want to use passata, that’s fine; double the amount of tinned tomatoes. We just like the different textures that you get from the combination of smooth passata and chunky chopped tomatoes. And Cirio have just started doing 540g bottles of passata, which are really good.

Bring up to a simmer, season and stir in the meat. Pop it in the oven for about 2 hours. The longer, slower, and lower heat you can cook it on, the better. After 2 hours, mix in the kidney beans and return to the oven for another 30 minutes.

To finish the chilli, stir in the lime zest and juice and season with salt and pepper. The lime adds a nice fresh zing to it. You may also want to stir through a square of dark chocolate too… but I don’t very often. I find it can sometimes make it a little musty, and I prefer the lime-freshness. And if you’re serving it all in one go, add chopped coriander (though if I’m freezing it, I tend to leave that out, as it goes a little odd in the freezer). Then serve however you wish; with rice, on nachos, on jacket potatoes, with bread/salad/soured cream/guacamole… This chilli is best a day or two later, so if you can, make it in advance and leave it to allow the flavours to develop.

One of the elements of Heston’s recipe that I rarely do, but which makes a really nice difference, is the addition of spiced butter. He adds some into the recipe part way through, and also allows people to stir in more at the end if they want to customise the heat of their chilli. This is a great idea if you are cooking for people who appreciate different heats (though the added butter makes it considerably less healthy!), and it gives it a nice smoky flavour and glossy shine.

Spiced Butter

2 tbsp olive oil
1½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chilli powder
1½ tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp tomato ketchup
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp Marmite
125g butter, softened to room temperature


Heat the olive oil in a pan and lightly fry the cumin and chilli powder for 90 seconds. Pour into a bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Mix it together and once it’s cool you can either pop it in the fridge to set (if you’re planning to use it that day), or roll it into a log in parchment paper and keep it in the fridge for a week, or in the freezer for a month.

Play With Your Food

22 08 2012

This evening was my turn to cook (caponata with brown rice, in case you were wondering) but no sooner had I begun than I got… well… a little distracted! What can I say? I was in a slightly whimsical mood!

So much to my wife’s displeasure, dinner was somewhat delayed. The result? Well…

Reading Analysis 2011-2012

16 07 2012

To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.’ – A.C. Grayling

What you put into you matters. Or so nutritionists tell us. Balance is essential. Too much of one food group and you end up fat, lethargic, unwell… or dead.

If that’s true of our physical wellbeing, might it not be true for our intellectual wellbeing?

Each year I try to plan my reading in order to ensure that I have a balanced diet: reading widely, reading in areas that will strengthen the areas I need to be strong in immediately, and reading things that stretch me and strengthen me for the next 5-10 years.

It’s geeky I know, but I’ve found it helpful over the past few years to plan what types of books I need to read over a year, keep a list of all the books I have read, and then analyse how balanced my reading has been. Each July I’ve set goals for how I want to divide up my reading in the next 12 months. And the time has come to analyse my reading from 2011-2012.

This year I thought my reading would take a hit. Having started an MA, I’ve been reading more articles or chapters of books rather than whole books. I haven’t listed those here, since I’ve dipped into well over a hundred books that I’ve never had the inclination or intention to finish. These are just the books I’ve read in full.

As it happens though, the number of books I’ve completed has increased rather than decreased, which I’m pretty happy with, especially since a number of the books are pretty enormous (Beale’s commentary on Revelation for example, was something of a beast!)

In July 2011 to July 2012 I completed 50 books; that is 3 more than last year. Annoyingly I didn’t quite make it to 1 book a week. I was tempted to read a couple of Mr Men this morning to tip me over, but resisted the urge…

82% of books were Christian, 18% secular. This is a bit out from what I had hoped. I’d originally aimed for a 70/30 split, but reading for an MA in Theology skewed that quite considerably.

The following table shows my goals for the year, how my reading broke down into each category, and the variance between my goals and achievements.

My theological reading has been more than I’d aimed for this year, on account of the fact that I wasn’t planning to study for an MA when I originally set my goals. A change of focus means that I’ve read no plays this year, and have spent less time reading books on Leadership or Skill Development. However, I’ve made a concerted effort to develop my writing this year, and have consequently found it useful to read ‘well written books’ rather than ‘books on writing well’; hence more novels.

Again, I couldn’t quite bring myself to post it here, for fear of irrevocably labelling myself a geek… but if you would prefer to see it represented as a pie chart, your wish is my command.

All this has helped me to set goals for 2012-2013. I hope to apportion my reading roughly as follows:

And in case you’re curious, here’s a list of all the books I completed this year:

Barr, James – The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality
Barnes, Julian – The Sense of an Ending
Barton, John (ed.) – The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation
Bauckham, Richard – The Bible in Politics
Beale, G.K. – The Book of Revelation (NIGTC)
Carson, D.A. – The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God
Cook, Jeff – Everything New
Cooper, John – Body, Soul and Life Everlasting
Copan, Paul – Is God a Moral Monster?
Coupland, Douglas – Miss Wyoming
Coupland, Douglas – Life Without God
DeWiit, Patrick – The Sisters Brothers
Fergusson and Fergusson, Dave and Jon – Exponential
Fergusson and Fergusson, Dave and Jon – The Big idea
Giles, Kevin – Jesus and the Father
Guinness, Os – The Call
Guinness, Michele – The Genius of Guinness
Gunton, Colin – The Promise of Trinitarian Theology
Hosier, Matthew – Sex Talks
Hosier, John – The Lamb, the Beast and the Devil
Keller, Timothy – Counterfeit Gods
Koukl, Gregory – Tactics
Lawrence, D.H. – Apocalypse
Laws, Sophie – In the Light of the Lamb
Lloyd-Jones, Martin – From Fear to Faith
Mamet, David – Writing in Restaurants
Mansfield, Stephen – Searching for God and Guinness
McEwan, Ian – The Innocent
McLaren, Brian – The Secret Message of Jesus
Mitchell, David – Cloud Atlas
Moore, Phil – Straight to the Heart of Revelation
Moraine, Jack – Healing Ministry: A Training Manual for Believers
Ponsonby, Simon – More
Rahner, Karl – On the Theology of Death
Rahner, Karl – The Trinity
Reeves, Michael – The Good God
Rollins, Peter – How (Not) to Speak About God
Rollins, Peter – Insurrection
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – In Memory of Her
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – Discipleship of Equals
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment
Smith, James K.A. – Desiring the Kingdom
Smith, James K.A. – Thinking in Tongues
Tyson, Jon – Rumours of God
Wilson, N.D. – Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl
Wilson, Andrew – If God Then What?
Wimber, John – Power Evangelism
Wodehouse, P.G. – Love Among the Chickens
Wright, Tom – Revelation for Everyone
Zacharias, Ravi – Recapture the Wonder

CCK on the BBC

23 05 2012

Just in case you’re not big on acronyms…

CCK = Church of Christ the King
BBC = British Broadcasting Corporation

…and the former is on the latter this Sunday.

Church of Christ the King is a great church in Brighton, and is part of Newfrontiers, the same network to which the church I attend belongs. This Sunday, 27 May, they are hosting BBC Pentecost Praise, which will be broadcast live on BBC1.

This really should be a great service. If you’re not a churchgoer and think that having any kind of religious service clogging up a considerable portion of your TV channels can only be a bad thing, I hope you will be pleasantly surprised. The show will be just under an hour long, and should be well worth watching. It starts at 10.00am on BBC1.

Sadly (?!) I’ll be sunning myself in Italy on Sunday so will miss it, but why not check it out and let me know how it was?

What’s in my ears right now…

20 05 2012

My prolificacy has waned somewhat. I haven’t blogged for almost seven weeks, and even then my last offering was a rather inane, woeful rant about the state of the music industry and the sham that is The Voice. Rest assured I’ve not been entirely inactive. I’ve been writing three 5,000 word essays for my MA (on immortality, political interpretation of Revelation, and subordination in the Trinity), and preparing a six week series of talks on the book of Revelation. Sadly I’ve published no books, submitted no film scripts, and written no hit TV shows, but I need to keep some projects for the summer!

I often find that good music helps me through times when I need to write profusely. (In fact I have some rather bizarre predilections when it comes to music for writing, which maybe one day I’ll share if I manage to summon the strength of character to be comfortable with admitting to my quirkiness!) And I just thought I’d take a moment or two to distract me from writing things that matter, in order to share a couple of thoughts on the five albums that have helped me through the past few months of writing:

Flying Colors by Flying Colors

I decided to forgive the bastardised spelling because of the sheer quality of the music on this album. This self-titled album is the first offering from an American supergroup of some of my favourite musicians. Neal Morse (ex-Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic) is one of my absolute favourite songwriters, Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater, Transatlantic) is a powerhouse of a drummer who can do everything from blistering metal to complex prog and now, it would appear, pop! Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple) is an astonishing guitarist who I saw a few years ago with Deep Purple and whose solo albums and side-projects span a whole range of styles: folk, jazz, rock – School of the Arts is one of my favourite modern jazz instrumental albums. Dave LaRue is a monster on the bass. I’m not sure I’d been conscious of his work before, but have come to discover that he’s been ‘the guy’ who I’ve heard on a dozen tracks and thought ‘I’ve no idea who that is, but he’s brilliant.’ And Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev)… well I’d never heard of him before, but I shall have more to say on him later.

This album is a brilliant fusion of styles. The progressive rock influences are kept to a minimum and the more poppy, straight-forward rocky elements come to the fore, making this a great album for those who like world-class musicianship but find progressive music just a little too cheesy, overblown or self indulgent.

Highlights include The Storm, a powerful, perfectly crafted 4:44 pop-rock song, Love is What I’m Waiting For, which sounds very Beatles-esque and will undoubtedly bring a smile to your face, and my personal favourite Forever in a Daze, which has one of the most amazing bass solos you’re ever likely to hear. The entire album is a tour de force, full of brilliant song-writing, virtuoso soloing, and infectious melodies. The only thing I would change about it to be honest is that I would make Casey the only lead vocalist. Perhaps it’s just because I’m over-familiar with Neal’s voice (which I generally love), but I found some of the moments where the vocals switched from Casey to Neal to be a little disappointing. It just felt like a slightly jarring switch, and I think Casey’s voice was so strong that it wasn’t necessary.

Each of the musicians on this album has an insanely packed schedule, so I’m amazed they’ve found time to squeeze in a brief European tour in August and September. I cannot wait. Rarely will you hear such a talented collection of musicians putting together such a well-rounded sound that draws out elements of each of their individual styles but still manages to remain cogent.

And Casey McPherson… well…      

New Morning by Alpha Rev

…Casey is the lead singer of a group from Texas called Alpha Rev. I’d never heard of them to be honest, but as soon as I heard about Flying Colors I decided to check them out. And I think I started in the wrong place. First of all I listened to their album The Greatest Thing I’ve Ever Learned, which was ok but had a bit of a moody indie vibe that didn’t particularly grip me. So it was only a few months later that I bothered to check out any of their other music. I’m glad I did.

New Morning is a fantastic album. The songs are perfectly crafted and beautifully textured. This is not progressive at all – it’s just powerful, well written, pop-rock with beautiful melodies that stick in your head, great instrumentation and a real feel good vibe. Casey’s song-writing is some of the best I’ve heard in a long time, and his voice suits the music perfectly. It’s got that soaring Chris Martin kind of feeling, and in places their music does sound like how Coldplay might be if they were… well… you know… interesting!

The music is not complex in the sense of being overblown, but it is deep and many layered. The guitar tone of the solo in New Morning rips at your ears beautifully if you crank it up (2:30-2:53). Get Out really reminds me of Elbow, with soaring strings. Alone With You is a brilliant song, with a slightly lingering off beat vocal line over a driving rhythm that keeps you longing for the next line. Colder Months and Goodbye from the Start are brilliant slower numbers that bring the album to a mellow close.

Chances are you’ve never heard of Alpha Rev, which is a real shame. That should change. And if you need another reason to check them out…

New Morning B-Sides by Alpha Rev 

…normally I expect a B-Sides album to be a collection of half-baked, distinctly average songs, thrown together with little attention to detail. Off cuts that should not only have been cut off, but cut up and thrown away never to see the light of day. A treat for collectors who value rarity over quality. Not so with this. There are tracks of the New Morning B-Sides album that really should have been on the main disc. The majority of tracks here are better than the hit songs most bands put out! Not one of the offerings feels half-finished, or like it’s had less time or attention than any of those on the actual album. I downloaded it for about £3 and it’s the best £3 I’ve spent in ages!

The funny breathed vocals of the opening track are a bit odd, but the song itself is great. Don’t Seem Right displays some beautifully controlled falsetto over an otherwise powerful song. Fade opens with haunting strings that give way to an anthemic chorus, with the odd bit of stripped down bass and drum work and growly bursts of guitar here and there. Upside Down has some fun programming, and builds to an infectious, funky outro. I love the aggressive passion in Give it Up, especially with the guitar riff at the end of the song and the fun, feel-good track Labor Day along with disco beats and female gospel vocals. Stand Around is a hazard to listen to, because it sticks in my head for ages.

The only disappointment on the entire disc is one tiny editing error in Shelf Life, where a small electronic beep is left in by accident. It’s one of those things that, once you’ve spotted it you can’t stop seeing it, and it slightly takes the edge off an otherwise brilliant track.

If you’re after something new but don’t want to splash out too much money, this is a great place to start. Download it from iTunes or and I will be very surprised if you don’t end up moving on to listen to the main album, or Flying Colors.

LoveBlood by King Charles

This is an eclectic, fun, feel-good album from the eccentric-looking, flamboyant King Charles. It’s not really my usual style, but I’m enjoying this album. The lyrics are whimsical and the melodies are simple and catchy. Hearing someone singing over and over about riding around on bicycles in the rain could very easily grow dull, but there’s a kind of childish playfulness that keeps it entertaining.

The genius of the songs is the combination of simple melodies with incredibly varied, multi-layered instrumentation. All the usual instruments, plus steel drums, bagpipes and the odd banjo. Mississippi Isabel is a simple infectious track that will stick in your mind. Polar Bear alternates a kind of Boublil and Schonberg French feel and trancier synths, which makes for an eclectic mix that weirdly works, though I can’t fathom why. Lady Percy is amusing and enjoyable with its use of steel drums, and the addition of Mumford and Sons makes The Brightest Lights a decent modern-folk anthem. Despite starting out as a fairly unremarkable track, Coco Chitty has one of my favourite moments of the album, with the strings building to a powerful and catchy guitar hook.

I have mixed feelings about the lyrics. I can’t decide whether I think the constant juxtaposition of love, lust and blood in almost every song is an endearing continuity trait or an irritating repetition that belies a lack of creative breadth. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Neither do I know how I would feel about seeing him live… reviews seem to be positive, but I wonder if the live show, presumably with vastly stripped down arrangements, will be able to keep the interest that comes from the diversity of instrumentation on the album? All in all though, a fun, upbeat, quirky, feel-good album.

Blunderbuss – Jack White

I never got on with The White Stripes, primarily because of the drumming, which made me feel somewhat like I was on an aeroplane with a bored child kicking repeatedly and aimlessly into the back of my chair…

But this solo album is great! There’s no doubt that Jack White is a great songwriter, and I love that he has surrounded himself with some great musicians for this album including, yes, decent drummers. As a result, the music is rich and well crafted, with jazzy elements here and there. Yet it still hasn’t given up its rawness. This is no highly polished album – the drums echo like they were recorded in a tunnel, the cymbal work seems a bit haphazard, and the vocals aren’t autotuned to hell. So it’s still got a kind of raw, in your face feel to it, which I appreciate.

I was surprised at how much the piano comes to the fore above the guitar work, and how varied the instrumentation was; some songs being incredibly stripped down, and others packed with layers: double bass, pedal steel, mandolin and clarinets all make an appearance.

That said, there are some strong guitar driven tracks and some of the solos have a gut-wrenching crunchiness to them, which is enjoyable. Sixteen Saltines oozes angst – the music video is thoroughly depressing, but fascinating, I love the solo in Take Me With Me When You Go, I Guess I Should Go To Sleep could have come straight off a Beatles album, and Weep Themselves to Sleep is, for me, the standout track of the album, with the catchy piano motif, the sung-spoken vocals and the brilliant tone of the guitar solo.

All in all, a great album that’s a bit more rocky and raw than the other offerings, and better when I’m in need of something a bit more miserable… Which I occasionally do.

The Voice: A Complaint and a Solution

4 04 2012

I’m not really one for TV talent shows, but even I watched one episode of The Voice. To this moment I don’t really recall why; some kind of paralysis must have taken over my hand and rendered it unable to operate a control to change the channel. The paralysis certainly spread to my brain as I watched…

It seems to me that no matter how virtuous-sounding the concept may be, it is inherently flawed. Yes, I think people should be judged on their voices, not on the whole voice-looks package. But do I think that The Voice is achieving that goal? Not in the least…

The contestants were invited to compete by talent scouts, who presumably made some kind of aesthetic judgment about them (hence none of the current contestants are particularly unpleasant to look at and there is a relatively balanced selection: male-female, black-white, old-young etc). The entire crew and studio audience (who cheer wildly to indicate their preference) are able to see the individuals as they perform. In fact, the only people in the entire nation who are unable to see their faces are the four judges, who presumably know that they’re not going to be landed with an impossible act to market, since someone somewhere has already prescribed some kind of guidelines for who gets invited to compete in the first place.

What’s more, beyond the ‘blind’ audition stage, everyone is fully visible! So in that sense, it becomes no different whatsoever to any other TV talent show.

I’m not criticising them for trying – it’s a laudable principle – they just didn’t think it through. And I would like to propose my own solution: The Bag.

What better way to make a show completely impartial than to have the contestants, from day one until the final moment, wear a bag over their head? No pre-selections, no talent scouts, just enormous blind auditions, with thousands of bag-bedecked hopefuls longing for a place. Bag style, colour and brand would be regulated to ensure that nobody be prejudged by their choice of attire; in fact, perhaps a large, padded body bag is required so that no judgment can be made on clothing, skin colour or body shape.

A small hole would be permitted for the mouth to allow singing without too much muffling, but not so large a hole that the judges are able to judge someone based on the aesthetics of their teeth.

The bags would remain right through the auditions, the boot camp and the live shows. Strict security would be employed to stop paparazzi sneaking shots of people out of their bags (the cost for security personnel would be offset by the amount saved on hair and makeup) and even in between shows, contestants would not be allowed to remove the bag.

To avoid judgment being on the basis of dancing skills, contestants on The Bag would perform whilst shackled to a chair. Not even their feet would be permitted to tap, lest it disclose something about their sense of rhythm.

Real names would be replaced by numbers to restrict people researching their looks via Facebook and Google, gloves would be worn to stop fingerprint tracing, and when speaking, contestants would have their voices manipulated with microphone effects in order to conceal their true identity.

Stringent steps would be taken in order to stop family members giving the game away, identifying their loved ones and providing voters with photographs or loveable anecdotes to sway their decision. Contestants who were successful in making it through the first audition would not be told there and then, but would be kidnapped some days later; their family members led to believe that they had been murdered and dumped in a lake, so that they weren’t tempted to reveal any details that might affect the public’s decision.

Only at the very final moment, when the winner is announced, would the bag be removed and the nation would get to see for the first time the bearer of the pure, perfect voice, unsullied by other trivial matters such as looks, personality, personal hygiene or other performance-related abilities.

(Then perhaps a follow-up vote would give the public the choice whether the performer should remain unveiled, or spend the rest of their pop careers back under-wraps!)

It’s an infallible idea… now to whom do I pitch it?

Lest you think I’m being lazy…

28 03 2012

My blogging has ground to a halt, it would appear… Distressed by the fact that the fact that the front page of the blog still tells you what I created as Christmas gifts, and what I cooked for New Year, I felt the need to reassure you that my writing hasn’t curled up and died. I’ve just been writing at various other places and on slightly less frivolous matters than I tend to here.

So in case you’ve missed me (and more importantly so I can at least have something on this blog with a ‘March’ date stamp on it) here are a few things I’ve written recently which you may enjoy:

  • review of Andrew Wilson’s latest offering, If God Then What?
  • Some comments on ‘The God Issue’ of The New Scientist
  • Not strictly speaking a written piece, but my face on celluloid talking about Guinness (some writing did go into the script!)
  • And a (not very interesting) blog about a (significantly more interesting) series of Easter Week Bible studies which ChristChurch London is producing next week. So that’s the equivalent of six blog posts coming in the next week, which makes me feel a little more happy about my general prolificacy! You can check out those posts each day of next week at, follow ChristChurchLdn on Twitter or sign up for the emails.

Plus I’ve also completed an essay on a Christian view of immortality, and begun some research on Revelation. So who knows… maybe some of those musings might materialise in the next few weeks too. I’d also like to develop some material I taught recently on preaching, truth and beauty, and am sketching ideas for something book length – though I have many ‘ideas for something book length’ and nothing remotely near book length to show for them. So who knows?

Anyway – job done. I now have something listed under entries for March, and I can retreat to my state of thinking about writing… Until the end of April, “adieu!”

Dawkins, Fraser, Bartlett and shibba… uh… shibbol… um…

17 02 2012

I have little to say on the Dawkins-memory-lapse that has not already been said. So instead of gloating, musing or a combination of the two, allow me simply to quote my favourite fictitious president:

President Bartlett: There are questions as to the veracity of your claim to the asylum […] How did you become a Christian?

Jhin-Wei: I began attending a house church with my wife in Fujian. Eventually, I was baptized.

President Barlett: How do you practice?

Jhin-Wei: We share bibles – we don’t have enough. We sing hymns. We hear sermons. We recite the Lord’s Prayer. We are charitable.

President Bartlett: Who’s the head of your church?

Jhin-Wei: The head of our parish is an 84 year old man named Wen-Ling. He’s been beaten and  imprisoned many times. The head of our church is Jesus Christ.

President Bartlett: Can you name any of Jesus’ disciples? If you can’t, that’s okay. I usually can’t  remember the names of my kids, or for that matter…

Jhin-Wei: Peter, Andrew, John, Phillip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, Thaddeus, Simon, Judas and James. Mr. President, Christianity is not demonstrated through a recitation of facts.  You’re seeking evidence of faith, a wholehearted acceptance of God’s promise for a better world. “For we hold that man is justified by faith alone” is what St. Paul said. “Justified by faith alone.” Faith is the true… uh, I’m trying to… shibboleth. Faith is the true shibboleth.

President Bartlett: Yes, it is. And you sir just said the magic word in more ways than one.

(The West Wing: season 2, episode 8, Shibboleth)