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Life in Lockdown

3 Apr

Here in the UK we are approaching the second week of ‘lockdown’. It’s not a real lockdown because you can still go out for exercise (once a day), shopping (ideally once a day) and many people are still going to work. In Azerbaijan, you now need permission from the government to even step out your door, I’m told.

But still, it’s fairly restrictive, and it has altered my life as I expect it has yours. I’m actually on the third week of lockdown because I’m in one of these ‘vulnerable groups’ and so was able to go the supermarket during one of their restricted hours and wrestle pensioners for toilet paper. Heroism is not dead.

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Bible Hit Parade

27 Jan

I’m a bit scattered at the moment (rather than scatterbrained, as I always am) because I’m trying to learn Dutch for my research trip to Leiden; carry on writing the novel that the research trip is for; organise the next stage of my asylum seekers craft project; pitch my alchemy book to a publisher who showed a vague interest; interview people for an article I’m writing; and do my usual interpreting and translation on top. But I don’t see why I should neglect the poor blog – what’s one more plate?

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A game of patience

5 Dec

The inspiration for this post was my rather splendid new Christmas jumper, which you can see in the photo below. Christmas jumpers have become a bit of a thing in recent years (I know they were around before that, but they were mocked rather than mandatory) and I didn’t have one last year, so I decided to make one for this Christmas.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…
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By hook or by crook

23 Nov

Anyone who has seen me out and about in Glasgow recently may have spotted me, hook in hand, working away at a large blue and white object. This is my Christmas jumper which I have been crocheting for what feels like aeons (since last winter, actually, with a big break for the summer) and which I intend to finish before I go carol singing on the 7th of December.

YARN WITH CROCHET HOOKS
Image by Davina Harrison on Flickr

But crochet hooks aren’t only good for giving me repetitive strain injury, they also have a variety of household uses – so much so that I think every home should have at least one.

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Can’t do right for doing wrong

9 Nov

Those of you who follow this blog will know I’m quite into my eco-friendliness. I wrote an earlier post about my efforts to reduce plastic waste in my life, by doing things like using natural materials, switching to solid shampoo and carrying a shopping bag in my handbag. However, as with many things, being eco-friendly is much more complicated than it at first appears.

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Drowning in a tsundoku

12 Jun

There is a word in Japanese, they tell me, that means letting books pile up without reading them: tsundoku. I don’t speak Japanese, but it sounds appropriate, reminding me both of sudoku, something stressful and time-consuming, and tsunami, which is what happens when your to-read pile becomes unstable.

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Let’s play Hyndland bingo!

26 Apr

It probably says a lot about the neighbourhood of Anniesland, in Glasgow, that after spending a month here I am writing a post about Hyndland. Anniesland is a bit betwixt and between, both in a literal sense (its main landmark is Anniesland Cross, a major junction between roads that run west out of Glasgow and south to the Black Hole and the Death Star (as I like to call Govan and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital) and also in terms of character. It’s kind of west end but not posh, a bit down at heel but not cheap, not that far the city centre, but not actually close. Continue reading

Thérèse of Lisieux: No credit where it’s due

27 Jul

The latest edition of Premier Christianity magazine features my article on Thérèse of Lisieux, a French nun who had the quickest canonisation of anyone in the Catholic Church up to that date. (Canonisation is being declared a saint, in case you’re not up on the lingo.)

This the article that I mentioned was bumped from the magazine because of Billy Graham’s death, and then leapfrogged by my later article on Richard Wurmbrand. But Thérèse would have loved that. She was self-effacing to the point of being completely self-negating. Her ‘little way’, as she called her philosophy, was about denying every self-focussed impulse, however justified it seemed, and instead living a life of sacrificial love for others, to the greater glory of God.

I found the story of Thérèse of Lisieux challenging. The first challenge was learning how to spell her name, of course. But more seriously, her absolute denial of self makes you question your own ‘reasonable’ level of selfishness. When she was dying of a painful illness, those who didn’t know her well thought that she couldn’t be seriously unwell, because she was so uncomplaining. I am not that uncomplaining, to put it mildly.

I didn’t agree with Thérèse on everything. I think she took self-negation too far, to the extent that she thought it might be wrong for her to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation (specifically the scent of flowers). But there is undeniably something to strive towards in her determination “to appear happy, and especially to be so”, despite the worst of personal circumstances.

You can get a copy of Christianity magazine for free, but if you subscribe at the moment you get the first year at half price (making it less than twenty quid for the whole year), and you’ll be entered into a draw to win £200-worth of Christian books!

Of course, if you want to follow Thérèse’s example, you’d better hope that you don’t win the books. But don’t worry, if you do win them, you can just give them away. 😉

What do you really believe?

4 Jun

First of all, welcome to my new subscribers who have come over from the newsletter! (And if you’re thinking, “what newsletter?”, there’s a sign-up button just over there. ➡)

My latest article for Christianity magazine is in shops now. This one is on Richard Wurmbrand, because poor Therese of Lisieux got bumped due to the death of Billy Graham. Fortunately, I can be fairly sure Therese wouldn’t mind – you’ll see what I mean when her article finally comes out.

Richard Wurmbrand, despite having a name that looks very Germanic, was actually Romanian (the “W” is soft, in fact). He is best known for having been horribly tortured and imprisoned for many years because he was a Christian pastor under the atheist communist regime, and he wouldn’t preach what he was told, report on his parishioners to the secret police and generally be a good boy. When he finally got out of the country, he exposed what was actually happening in ‘tolerant’ communist Romania.

I get the impression Wurmbrand would have been quite a difficult man (he’s dead now – died in 2001), stubborn and strong-willed – but God made excellent use of these virtues that could easily be vices. (I can’t help thinking about what the people I write about would have been like in real life – which ones you’d invite to a dinner party, and which ones you’d just send a Christmas card to.)

This article is to tie in with the 50th anniversary of the founding of Release International, which works with and for persecuted Christians around the world, and was inspired by Richard Wurmbrand. They have also brought out a 50th-anniversary edition of Wurmbrand’s book, Tortured for Christ. I suppose I should recommend that you get a copy, but I’m not going to; it’s pretty horrific in places, and things read can’t be unread. Get In God’s Underground instead. It’s also by Wurmbrand but it’s more informative and less graphic.

Wurmbrand was pretty quotable, and the title of this post refers to something he wrote:

“A man truly believes not what he recites in his creed, but only the things he is ready to die for.”

I hope never to have my beliefs tested by facing death or torture (sorry, Therese), but if it ever did come to it, I hope that I would be found to truly believe the things I say I believe. So what do you believe?

See Paris and Diet

1 Mar

The other weekend, hubbie and I went to Paris for the first time, to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Paris in the springtime is supposed to be very romantic. Of course, we are still in the Never Ending Winter® so it wasn’t really like that, but despite the gloves and big coats, we had a good time. Here are a collection of impressions and musings about Paris, for you to be enlightened by or disagree with, interspersed with random photos of Paris Metro signs, because I just really liked them. (My husband didn’t. In one of the photos you can see him hiding his face in embarrassment at my touristy snapping.)

You can get surprisingly far with schoolgirl French

In fact, I topped up my half-forgotten French with a quick Memrise course, but even so, I was astonished how much of it I was able to use. I had heard that people in Paris just take one sniffy look at you trying to speak French and then reply in English, and there were a couple of those, but mostly people were perfectly happy, even pleased, that I was trying to speak their language. And at least two people we dealt with didn’t actually speak English. Yes, even in Paris.

Paris is not as lovely as I had hoped

Probably most of the top tourist destinations are over-hyped (except Rome – Rome is amazing), but it was still a bit of a disappointment to find at the end of the trip that I didn’t really like Paris. I was disappointed in the city and also kind of disappointed in myself because I really wanted to like it. But…

  • it was pretty dirty and smelly;
  • lots of people were rude and pushy – literally, in the context of public transport;
  • waiting staff take your drinks when you’re not finished. Just because I’ve asked for the wine list, that doesn’t mean I’ve finished with my champagne. It’s called planning;
  • waiting staff make you move seats for no reason at all. Seriously, in an empty cafe they will come up and tell you that you must move one chair to the left, or you must sit facing your date instead of beside him. In one case my coffee ended up all over the floor because of an unnecessary move and I was fumingIf I’m in Paris again and asked to move, I may just say ‘non’ and see what they do about it.

It’s not all waiters, waitresses and shop staff who are condescending and pushy, but enough to leave a bad taste in the mouth. I should say, though, that most of the time we received decent, friendly service. Just keep a firm hold on your drink.

The food was amazing

Whatever we may have disliked about the weekend, the food was definitely the bit we liked best. From a seriously stuffed bagel, eaten at a grubby outdoor table, to a cosy little restaurant (Un Air de Famille – strongly recommended), to the various chocolate shops peppered around central Paris, we scoffed with abandon. The coffee was also uniformly good. I discovered that the way I take my coffee (with a splash of milk) is called noisette  in Paris (maybe the rest of France too), which saved time. The length of the coffee varied from barely more than espresso to proper coffee-cupful, but the quality was unfailing. A place with good coffee and good food can’t be all bad 🙂

But now I’m back in Glasgow, where we’re no slouch at metro signs ourselves (okay, it’s the subway, but you know what I mean), so here’s a lovely picture of Cessnock Underground. And my husband thinks I’m weird…

Cessnock Underground Station