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  • The Unfortunate Action of Vandals and Other Stories

    So, a blog post begun offline "sitting at a railway station thinking about my destination." As it happens it's Warrington Bank Quay not Widnes, but I don't suppose that is ultimately relevant. I am 'homeward bound' and recorded announcement tells us that the train to Glasgow (not the one I'm booked to travel on) is delayed by 'the unfortunate action of vandals.'

    I listen incredulously, I'm sure such action isn't unfortunate: I can't imagine some poor innocent scallie accidentally did damage to whatever it was, I'm fairly confident it was deliberate. But there you go, waiting for my train there is time to type, to read, time to wonder whether to walk to the other platform where there is a coffee shop or to stay put in the quiet and comfort of the waiting room (protected by CCTV, presumably in case any other poor unfortunate vandals accidentally draw on the walls or find themselves compelled to rip out the seats...). Maybe I've just spent too much time in the company of academics the last few days!!


    University summer school usually features in my list of things to be endured rather than enjoyed. It is good to meet up with the other students and hear what they have, or have not, been up to. Beyond that I usually end up groaning and thinking 'not again please' as someone tells me about journaling, the pastoral cycle or one of a whole range of topics I'm equally qualified to teach. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised when this year's guest speaker, Jane Leach from Wesley College Cambridge took us through a three-fold exploration of 'what is truth?' from the perspective of a practical theologian. I loved having my brain stretched and although most of what was said has already passed into my subconscious, it was fun. I'm always slightly envious of those who can ask intelligent questions at the end of a talk, but it was good simply to soak it up and to hear some of my own questions echoed in her work.

    My paper, an experimental piece on reading aloud within a community of interpretation, seemed to be well received, with several people saying they'd found it interesting and enjoyable as well as two expressing interest in talking some more about the subject matter. Wow! It's probably me, but I always assume other people are infinitely cleverer than I am (despite the qualifications that suggest otherwise) and that they will instantly spot all the holes on my arguments as well as how much it's all really blagging. Maybe doctoral research is actually a qualification in advanced blagging?!

    What always intrigues me is how the connections cross research fields – someone working on a British Sign Lnaguage version of the Bible (so what is 'hearing' in a deaf context?) and someone working with new expressions of embedded faith communities (so how do we tell our story, what history do we connect to and how?) and even someone working with people in care homes where story telling (personal stories, storied remembered from before age or illness took its toll, stories read aloud). Lots of by-paths to explore if I ever find the time, and have done what I've contracted to do first.

    It was good, too, and a pleasant surprise, to discover another Baptist is now in this weird programme, and that he serves a church not so far from me in Scotland. Not only this, but he did his training placement at the Gathering Place, of which he spoke fondly. To my shame I didn't recognise him as someone who'd heard – and remembered on detail – a paper I gave at a conference in Manchester two years ago. So, one lunch time one of the tutors (David Lyall) asked is he could join the 'west of Scotland' contingent... we allowed him to ;-)


    Another recorded announcement tells us that the next Glasgow-bound train will be delayed 'due to a fault on an earlier train.' Is there a conspiracy afoot? I conclude that means it is time to go and buy a cup of tea... my train is still an hour off (one disadvantage of cheap tickets: you can't leap on the earlier train which is delayed). Still, I have a soft spot for Warrington, and there are plenty of worse places to be stranded for a couple of hours...

    Continued on the 12:27 ex-Warrington Bank Quay to Glasgow.

    Refreshed (??) with junk food I return to the waiting room in time to hear that the 12:15 to Glasgow is also delayed due to 'an obstruction on the line.' Was this, I ask myself, the faulty train I heard about earlier? Or the unfortunate work of the vandals? Or even, could it have been both?! In the end the 12:15 pendalino departs at 12:24 leaving a platform full of people clutching tickets for the 12:27 and dreading the next announcement. Amazingly it is this: 'the next train to arrive at platform 3 will be the 12:27 to Glasgow Central.' We may have to queue to get into Platform 2 (or go instead to some other platform) due to the train 3 minutes ahead of us, but we are on our way and on time.

    It's good to be heading home. The jolly Scots train manager, Kenny, announces our arrival at 'lovely Preston' and then as we enter Lancaster, and I'm beginning this very sentence, that 'we are approaching Lancaster.... don't forget to your pots and pans and prams... your raincoats... and especially don't forget your kids today.' All of which reminds me of a favourite childhood poem 'The Train to Glasgow' with its guard from Donibristle who would

    Wave his flag ands blow his whistle

    To tell the driver,

    Mr McIvor

    To start the train to Glasgow.

    The poor unfortunate vandals will be off wreaking havoc elsewhere no doubt, and I find, to my surprise, I am sorry for them after all. Sorry that they, for whatever reason, feel compelled to destroy and disrupt rather than to create and enjoy. Sorry that they can't smile at the antics of the train manager, have their brains stretched by interesting lecturers or enjoy memories of other times and other places.

    Posting... I'm back home in the comfort of my living room, amazingly my train was in 6 minutes early (according to Kenny and he must know these things) have checked the emails, read the other blogs and am ready to sleep.  Nowhere near bedtime yet, and as Chester managed neither TV nor wifi, I am about to use I-player to watch the end of The Silence. Overall a good, if tiring, few days.  And a V-E-R-Y long post.

  • St Swithin and the Practical Theologians

    I am beginning to wonder if St Swithin is the patron saint of Practical Theology.  Let me explain.

    Each year the British and Irish Association of Practical Theology (BIAPT) have a conference in July.  For the last few years, this has been followed immediately by the (allegedly compulsory) summer school for part time doctoral students working towards professional doctorates in practical theology.  And every year it rains in abundance.

    Year 1 Reading.  When we arrived it was glorious weather and we sat in the sun; by day three the campus was flooded and those travelling anywhere other than A34/M40/M1 found their routes disrupted as they travelled home.

    Year 2 I was given special permission to miss it as I in was in Prague presenting to an international audience of Baptists historians and theologians.  However, I do recall sitting outside a pub where we'd gone for tea and it poured for an hour or so.

    Year 3 Durham.  It rained all the time.  Serious rain.  Rain that flooded parts of Durham and left roads awash elsewhere.

    Year 4 Chester.  I'm off there today.  Last it night it rained pretty seriously here and the forecast shows no sign of less rain as you cross the border.

    I am therefore left to conclude that St Swithin likes practical theologians and wants to give them plenty of water for baptisms either by affusion (as it pours from the sky) or immersion (as you step into a puddle).  Well it's either that or one of our number is a rain-god in the style of the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.

    So, no blogging for a day or three but a fair bit of blagging instead.  I have a short paper to present, so hopefully people will engage with what I'm saying and the beating of rain on the roof won't drown out my voice.

    (PS I'm hoping Chester uni runs to a TV room or wifi so I can get the last part of The Silence !!!!)

  • I Found it on EBay...

    One of my projects in hand is setting up a 'welcome to Glasgow tea/event' for students arriving in September.  I've contacted local CU and SCM, canvassed views of what students would appreciate and have an idea what we might do.  Among the ideas I'm playing with is a suitable 'goody bag' or 'student survival kit' we could give away.  In the spirit of mischief I typed the latter into Ebay's item search (I sometimes do this for theology books too) and up popped this:


    student survival kit.jpg


    At £5 a go, I don't think I'll be buying them any time soon, but it's given me some ideas for we might do (and of course I will search Ebay for bits to do them!)

    And of course, in case you don't know it, here is the song...