Do not go gentle into that good night…

Dylan Thomas1914 – 1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

dthomas


Philip Larkin – Church Going

Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

I’ve always had a special place for Larkin in my heart. I even gave my wife a copy of “An Arundel Tomb” on our wedding day.


My favourite albums of all time

Three years ago I thought about my Desert Island Discs. Now, in the post-Christmas, pre-Funeral lull, I turn my thoughts to the whole album which has meant so much to me, the LPs which I would wade into the surf to rescue…

You can tell a lot about people from their all-time top albums: not least how old they are.

The most important thing to remember as you draw judgement on my crass and sentimental list of favourite albums is that these are not the best albums ever made in my life, but the five that meant the most to me – records which got me through it all, which provided the soundtrack to my life and which were worn out my incessant playing (because all of these were vinyl, with the notable exception of One Trick Pony which was on cassette tape). It might have easily been just Bowie albums, but I have limited it to one per artist and with a couple of notable exceptions none are compilations (the Stevie Wonder album was made up of older hits, but he re-recorded them so wonderfully, it is a work of art in its own right). When I starting thinking about this list, it was a top 5, but I couldn’t stop there…

In (as they say) no particular order, the soundtrack of my life:

David Bowie – “Heroes”

Why this and no other? Why not the sublime Low or Lodger? Could I not have all three as an indivisible trilogy? No. This was the best of the Berlin albums made by Bowie/Eno. From the anthemic title track (in full, in English, for many years he started at the second verse, and it missed a lot of the melancholy as a result), to the bleak Neukoln or Sense of Doubt to my all-time favourite – the Secret Life of Arabia, this album was the quintessential Bowie. Reduced to tears in the rain one night listening to the bleak second side whilst waiting for my girlfriend, this incredible piece of music summed up being 17. My Bowie obsession was cemented with this album and it continues to this day. The fact that The Next Day features that iconic photo all but blocked out makes me very happy indeed. Bowie is back. Hail Bowie.

Update: Bowie never went away. His death in 2016 was momentous, and following what would possibly be his best album ever: Blackstar was just awesome, and made me revisit every album, every single, every bootleg I own (and believe me, that’s a lot.) but no, Heroes it is. Heroes it shall ever be. My absolute favourite album of all time, of all artists.

 

Paul Simon – One Trick Pony 

You probably weren’t expecting this from me… surely something hipper, something more seminal or important; well, to me, this beautifully written, wonderfully played soundtrack album is unhesitatingly in this list. Its slightly wistful air and chokey rhythms moved me so at the time and still do. Late in the Evening still gets my heart racing with its latin beat and the best ever song to finish the day with is the closer It’s been a long, long day. You can look down on me if you want to, but we all have to look up to the best American poet, ever.

Led Zeppelin – II 

Riffs forged on tour, stolen from great bluesmen from the past (and even stealing their writing credits), laid down with maximum effect. Yes, we all know Whole Lotta Love, but it is Ramble On, What is and what should never be and of course my favourite, the obscene Lemon Song which makes this album. Played late at night on rubbish headphones to maximise the very rudimentary stereo, this is my early music obsession. There were better, later albums from Led Zep, but this one was the breakthrough for me – about the second or third album I ever bought and I still love it. If I could peep through the bedroom door now, and spy on the 12 year old, standing in front of the mirror pretending to be (alternately) Jimmy Page or Robert Plant (or in his own mind a strange hybrid multitalented version of the two), I wonder what I would think: embarrassed? proud? bemused? Probably all three – bless ‘im, if only he realised he’d only ever learn 4 chords on a real guitar.

Various Artists – Pillows and Prayers

“Pay no more than 99p” this sampler from Indie label (when Indie labels were real labels making music independently and not just self-indulgent fronts for big business) did what it said on the tin and introduced me to bands and artists I had never heard of, to music which enthralled me and many of whom subsequently sank without trace. Yes, Everything but the Girl were there as well as Ben and Tracy in solo form, a wonderful bon mot from Quentin Crisp and a poem by Attila the Stockbroker that even now I can recite by heart (which shows that Slam Poetry is fundamentally a punk thing). It was balanced, it was beautiful and I must have snogged a dozen girls with this playing in the background. Best 99p ever spent, I reckon.

Stevie Wonder – Original Musicquarium

The best songs he ever wrote (before all that schmaltzy rubbish about calling to say he loved you and happy birthday and so on). This is how a Greatest Hits should be – a complete re-recording of your hits, with new insights, new orchestrations, latest production values, and wonderful songs: Boogie On Reggae WomanLiving in the City and many many more. Sublime.

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

I have a particular weakness for albums and songs which are coiled tight with emotion: Led Zep’s Lemon Song, Alanis Morrisette’s You Oughta Know and Van Morrison’s Sweet Thing are classic examples of these. This whole album is tighter than my son’s wallet, with beautiful songs of love and loss which could go on forever. Indeed, once I was listening to a CD of it and during the exqusite Madam George it kept skipping, but here’s the thing – I didn’t notice! The same riff and line kept playing over and over again, and I was still happily listening to it about 20 mins later. I will always love this record.

Rolf Harris – Sun Arise 

Rolf Harris LP

 

Yeah, I know. Operation Yewtree and all that… Well, firstly innocent until proven guilty and secondly, what I thought as a five-year-old in 1972 was very different to now. This is a wonderful 1962 comedy album, with songs which I still perform at Church cabaret evenings. Simply and cheaply made, this is mid-60s musical comedy at its best. It makes me laugh and both I and my children know every single word on it. Nick O’Teen and Al K. Hall is a masterpiece. People seem to conveniently forget what Eric Gill was like and concentrate on his fonts and engravings, maybe we should do that for Rolf…

UPDATE: This was written in 2013, before his conviction. I have had to drop performances from my cabaret routine. However, I’m not deleting my comments or my inclusion of this album because, like Eric Gill, a person is more complex than that. I don’t listen to it anymore, but it was at the time very important to me.

Delirious? – King of Fools

The only clearly Christian album in this list, and without doubt the best from Delirious? They were desperate to make the mainstream and never quite did, tried to be a bit too hip when they were a bit too old, but this album catches them at their zenith: beautiful songs, catchy rhythms and at its heart the articulation of one who has come to know Jesus. It spoke to me so loudly when I first heard it.

Magazine – Secondhand Daylight

Overplayed. Over-obscure. Rhythm of your Cruelty is possibly the best song ever written. Ever. The sparse production reminded me of Bowie. The fact you could play it to girls who’d never heard of it and then spend hours trying to understand what on earth Howard Devoto was trying to mean… I loved it. Whenever this comes round around on the random playlist I am filled with nostalgia and excitement. I will never be 16 again, but this whole album brings me right back to the Permafrost

What? No Joy Division? No Paddy Roberts? No REM? No … thing after 1997? Yeah, there are lots of great albums out there, lots of things worth listening to, lots of better songs and better production values. However, these are the ones that I loved and like the purpose of Desert Island Discs, aren’t there to show how hip or connected you are, but what has had a musical impact on your life. I am currently playing to death the latest Lorde album Pure Heroine, and keep coming back to Bowie’s 2013 comeback The Next Day but these (even Bowie tbh) will never make the classic canon of music which moved my soul: from one place to another.

This list isn’t hip… it’s just me.


Why "Human Traffic" is possibly my favourite film of all-time.

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“It’s an insane world, but I’m proud to be a part of it”

Bill Hicks

There are better films ever made: Citizen Kane, Pulp Fiction, Der Himmel über Berlin, but for sheer enjoyment, joi d’vive and a film which I can watch endlessly with memorable dialogue, vivid cut scenes and pure Zeitgeist, I can’t better 1999’s Human Traffic directed by Justin Kerrigan

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It was Kerrigan’s first film, and this shows in its many vignettes and in-jokes that he had clearly been nursing for many years to this point.

However, it is this narrative which combines a (minimalist as it is) story arc about a bunch of mates who go out on a weekend and two of them get off with each other intersperced with fantasy inserts which are so seemless as to match the flow of consciousness that is seen only in Joyce’s Ulysses or a Tarantino Movie (imagine a Pulp Fiction without violence, and setting it in Cardiff).
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Another reason why I love it is that it speaks to ME: drugs, pubs and parties in my (foul, witty, irreverent but ultimately grounded) language.

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Performances are hugely varied and many of the young cast went on to loads of other things: John Simm, Shaun Parks and Danny Dyer all rock, whereas I always thought the character of Nina (Nicola Reynolds) was simply rubbish and one-dimensional.

The reason I watch it over and over again is not for any perceived spiritual meaning other than to be reminded that “err… Life is great!” (John 10:10 in action if ever I saw it). It affirms humanity and God’s creation through the simple love of being and the desire to connect with others, through music, drugs, sex and in the end through friendship; which is frankly the best we can get.

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The soundtrack is amazing, although it really does speak to about 5 years after my own club life; and its ambivalence towards recreational drug use “party prescriptions” speak of the world and culture I inhabited back then: been there, done that and had far too many regrets over that: I love this film because I understand it.

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The pre-night-out monologue “The weekend has landed” is one of the best in cinema and ends with a classic bit of Bill Hicks. All of those Danny Dyer “Moff” dialogues (even the weird one about Taxi Driver and Peter Andre) are brilliant: simply brilliant and have entered into my inner dialogue.

However, I have been to Cardiff on the beer – a party town like few others and which look a scene from Hyronymous Bosch come to life. My key question is where are all the welsh people in this film? Almost all the main characters are not locals (and not at the Uni either which is what draws most non-Welsh people to Cardiff) It’s like a Ghost Town: packed but devoid almost of Welsh accents.

However, this is my film. It’s the one I watch on long train journeys and the one which goes through my head on replay. You must have a film like that of your own. I’ve shared mine, now you tell me yours….

(recently written after a long journey home and only just typed up from my notebook)


A GUI frontend for get_iplayer: getting the BBC Programmes your license fee has paid for

If this post is a little off topic for you, please bear with me, there will be another post about theology, mission and work with young people along in a bit…

If, like me, you sometimes need to get hold of recent news footage (in my case for Visual Intercessions – images of recent events are very useful), or just simply to archive the latest Dr Who episode (I believe I have everything from Dr Who on that backup hard disk of mine) or maybe watch Question Time later when you don’t have an internet connection, then get_iplayer is the business. It is a multiplatform series of tools to grab a given iPlayer file and save it to .mp4 or .mp3 files (if it is radio). You can get it from here. In the modern age, this is the equivalent of keeping video tapes: it’s for personal use only and anyway, my license fee has paid for this – I’m a part owner of it.

The toolkit is very techy, which doesn’t worry me, but it intimidates a lot of people, who just want a nice frontend in Windows.

So I started messing around with AutoIt – a very nice Visual Basic-like scripting language and constructed this:

get_iplayer_frontendAll you have to do is cut and paste the URL from iPlayer into the box, tick it if what you are wanting is a radio programme rather than the default telly and click the button. It does open up the program in a little box, but it just makes the downloading a bit smoother.

You can download the frontend as a ready-compiled little program from here. Note: Revised Link which now works directly. I also include the source code in there if you want to see how it is done: it’s not complex, it takes the content of what you paste in and writes it to a batch file and executes it (thus saves you the time of getting the ‘spell’ right). Download it, put it in a folder in your documents folder, right click on it and “pin to taskbar” or “pin to start” and then run it. It’s simple!

AVG Antivirus False Positive!

Our Office computer has AVG Antivirus on it and it has just thrown up a virus alert on my beautifully crafted (and virus free) program. I know it is virus free, and I wrote it on a machine running Avast and tested it on a machine running McAfee. Thankfully, I am not the only one to encounter this problem: AVG has a problem with false positives with AutoIT. Please see this thread here: http://help.lockergnome.com/security/AVG-problem-AutoIt-scripts-stop-AVG-false-positives–ftopict11559.html 

It does not have a virus in it.


Liturgy on an Android Tablet Device: a users guide

Although I have a reputation as an early adopter, and a willingness to use any technology to support the liturgy and witness of the Church, I have been careful in my use of electronics as a paper substitute for the priest. I have over time preached from a Kindle device and nowadays almost exclusively say my Daily Office from a Smartphone (extremely useful for Home Communions!)  but this season, I exclusively celebrated the liturgy using my Android Tablet. Here is how it all fits together…

Daily Office: Universalis Email

The excellent Universalis website (http://www.universalis.com/) provides web, desktop and email versions of the Readings for Mass and the Texts of the Divine Office each day. You can have this for free, but for a small subscription, you can get the whole package sent as one convenient email. No more losing ribbons, no more forgetting that obscure Saints day or getting the antiphon wrong because you have forgotten what day of the week it is. Perfect for prayer on the move, you can have the text whereever you have your smartphone. This is what I use for Home Communions now, and it is very convenient.

Kindle (for the benefit for those still using one)

I don’t use my Kindle as much as I used to, which is an indicator of how fast the technology has moved on. Two years ago, I took my Kindle to the Holy Land and thanks to its Whispernet, used it to email home, update FB and Twitter all for free – no expensive data charges!

The brilliant Fr Edward Green worked out the ideal word document for displaying a homily on a Kindle. Here it is: kindleblank

If you were to save that docx document as a dotx template and put it in your Microsoft Word Teemplates folder, then you can have a new template which you can then email to your Kindle and preach from it. Create your texts in Microsoft Word as if it were paper, but using this special size and there you are!

Android Tablet

This is the where I am at the moment. The power and flexibility of a tablet is amazing: they have come on so far recently. My tablet is the Google Nexus 7: a powerful 7 inch tablet. I highly recommend this one to you all, and at under £200 it is a real bargain. I prefer the 7 inch size because it will fit in my cassock or my hoodie pocket.

I create all my liturgy as I have always done, on a PC on Microsoft Word (service sheets and posters tend to be done in Microsoft Publisher, but for my use at the altar, it remains in Word).

I save all of my key documents in the cloud using Dropbox . This is a free service and if you sign up for you free 2Gb of storage using this link, I get a little bit of extra space for a referral (please!). The advantage of saving documents in the cloud is that they are available across all your devices (in my case, a couple of laptops, my tablet and a smartphone). Update the document and the update is automatically replicated across all your devices very quickly. I also use this to share key documents securely between the staff team: you can create folders which named accounts have access to and so rotas, liturgy and other such essential admin can be properly shared: no more “oh, I didn’t get that version” because as a document is edited, all versions are updated. This is therefore a seemless way to transfer documents to your device.

I have Dropbox installed on my tablet, so can easily access ALL my Word documents (and Excel Spreadsheets etc) as and when I need them. Anywhere.

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I simply select the document I want, and Android asks me with what I wish to view the document in. There are lots of apps on the Market, and some of them may be bundled with your tablet. However, I have found that the best reader is not necessarily the best editor. I have used my tablet to write quite a lot (on the train usually) and to blog and for that OfficeSuite Pro is by far the best, but an app designed to write has the annoying habit of going into edit mode if you accidentally touch the screen. For writing and editing documents, I wholeheartedly recommend it. See here (currently only £6.20). As you will realise, if you edit a file from Dropbox on your Tablet, it becomes available everywhere – perfect!

However to view the document, ie to just read from it, I recommend the wholly free version of OfficeSuite: the OfficeSuite Viewer (download here)

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This also will view PDF files for you so is even more useful. There is no problem having both on your system, because it will ask you how you want to use it. I always select “Just Once” so I can choose whether I am viewing or editing a document.

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Once you have the document open in the Office Viewer, you can look at it two ways: as it looks on the page or as a web page. At the top, select the Menu (three dots to the right of Word Count) and select View

The Page View is exactly as the Word Document is. If you pinch-zoom the document to make it more readable, it will not wrap around. This keeps the format.

The Web View is even more useful for this purpose, because it fills the whole screen and wraps according to the size. I can therefore pinch-zoom the page to a convenient size for reading (and to fit a decent amount on screen so I am not scrolling in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer) and it wraps!

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The Reader will cope with a lot of Word formatting, including TextBoxes, which can be quite useful. In my wedding liturgy, the bride and groom’s response “I WILL” is in big letters in a box upside down. This means that I just have to tilt the tablet towards the couple to prompt them for their response.

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With Marriage, Baptism and Funerals, I create a bespoke document with all the names and prompts in place of N and M so avoiding little bits of paper getting in the way – so elegant.

If you don’t have an MC, then you can hold your tablet yourself, place it on a legillium or on the altar. Missal Stands are perfect for a Tablet, but I have also used a cushion on the altar (as some Churches do) and have also simply put the Tablet on the altar by the Corporal. At Midnight Mass the MC held my Tablet for me whilst I proclaimed the Gospel. I must admit, I was a little worried I might clonk the tablet with the thurible, but it was fine (and I am so skilled with the thurible anyway!) We both reflected afterwards how the signing and kissing of the Gospel was affected by a touch-sensitive device, but it was fine.

My Tablet has a Wake-Sleep Cover, which turns the screen off when you close it. This does mean you have to hold it carefully but practice sorts this out. I don’t set a password so if my device does accidentally sleep, then it wakes instantly into action. I did try it without a cover, and it was okay, but I was a little anxious about dropping it (and dropping it into the font).

In summary, I can’t see me ever going back. You don’t need a torch during the Easter Vigil or Nine Lessons and Carols because it is backlit. It wastes no paper, it can be totally personalised to the service and changes can be incorporated really quickly.

I have been working from this template (with appropriate seasonal variations) for most Sundays, cutting and pasting in the collects, introductions etc Download: Sunday Mass Template for Tablet

A**le Tablets

I have always said that Blesséd was the last truly radical and subversive alt.worship group simply because we use PCs instead of Macs. I am not (as you will tell if you read this blog or follow my tweets at @frsimon) an Apple Fanboy, although I have had an iPhone (ugh!) and a Mac Mini and a Macbook, so I know how beautiful and utterly useless they are: noddy machines with expensive pricetags. If you can afford one of these things, then quite a lot of this is directly transferrable. You can still use Dropbox, (or indeed any cloud software – there is Google Drive and Microsoft Skydrive and I am sure Apple has an equivalent). I am also sure that the iPad will have a viewer that will expertly read a Word or Pages document. Take these principles and apply them as appropriate for your system.

I’m delighted with how my setup works, and I hope it works for you.

 

 


Lost in our vaults until now…

The BBC had wiped the TOTP tape from 1973, but the cameraman of the Fish-eye Lens  John Henshall kept a copy, and so this gem of a genuinely live performance has resurfaced. I have never heard this version before, even from audio, and believe me, I have everything Bowie. The distinctive riff from Love Me Do creeping in at the end makes it so distinctive. I have been a Bowie Freak since Scary Monsters, used to collect and swap the tapes before the Internet made all of that fandom redundant and what Dave Masters and I havn’t obsessed about Mr DB isn’t worth knowing. I just wish for purity’s sake, Mark Radcliffe wasn’t rabbiting over the opening riff…

Every so often, something new crops up and makes the freaks like me very happy indeed. This is turning into a very good Christmas indeed!


My Pride and Joy… for only a little while longer.

For the past few years I have kept in my shed a guilty secret. Other men go into their sheds to play with railway trains, or to build model aircraft or even whole boats, my fantasy world revolves around the making of good coffee.

eBay provided me with this wonderful vintage full size toy, which was sold by a Whole Food Shop in Canterbury and after a day trip with a parishioner, we brought it back in triumph. Serviced by a professional whose wedding I conducted, I used to go into my shed and turn on this beast of a machine and knock out a few quality espressos. No bean-to-cup, no crema-making Portafilter, just me and my barrista skills at filling, tamping and pulling. Occasionally, I get others to sample with me, and on a number of occasions during Parish events, I have been able to go into full swing, making Lattes and Cappuccinos for the ladies and gentlemen of the parish as they sat in our back garden for a parish Strawberry Tea or Barbecue. It would appear to be from the 1960’s, but if anyone else can identify the history of such a beast, then could they please let me know. I have included above the plate on the front. It must be old, it was still made in Italy… when was the last time that happened?

However, it can’t come with me. There simply isn’t space for it; or to be more accurate, there isn’t space for it with water and power, so effectively there is no room at the new vicarage and the new parish will have to forgo the pleasure of my coffee-making skills. Therefore, with some sadness, I have to put it on eBay to pass onto another coffee lover who wants the challenge of making real coffee with a real machine with a real (if unknown) history. The link to the auction is here. It ends on Friday 4th November 2011 at 3.20pm GMT

Aside:

I wonder if my new Churchwardens read this blog, and whether they are already planning the installation fresh coffee after Mass at each of the four Churches in our team. Here’s a hint. I certainly hope so. There’s no excuse for rubbish coffee (or Tea – mine’s an Earl Grey with milk, if you’re making)  in Church: it is an abomination against both God and Society.