Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Don't do it!

I suppose it was inevitable eventually but it still really, really annoys me...
Recently I've received a number of supposed "comments" on the blog... except they are not really comments, they are links to a so-called 'virus scanner' that proceeds to tell you how many bits of spyware etc. are on your computer and how you need to download their software to protect your computer... etc. etc.
In fact it is nothing but spyware itself. I am trying to intercept these bogus comments and delete them before any of you accidentally clicks on the links but I want to warn you anyway. If you see a comment that asks you to click "here" - please don't.
If this nuisance persists I may have to introduce comment moderation which would mean that comments don't appear until I have vetted them. I'd rather not do that but if I have to I will.
In the meantime keep the genuine comments coming. It's good to know that somebody actually reads this stuff now and again.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Crema de la crema

Regular readers will know that one of my favourite places to eat is a local restaurant here called "Prego." It has become a favourite place not just for special occasions but also at other times when we have no real excuse for eating out other than that we want to.

My original 'review' of Prego (the Lanark version) included the following phrase "For an Italian restaurant, the espresso could be a bit better" which was certainly true on that particular occasion. My espresso that night did not possess the necessary "crema" which as all coffee geeks know is an absolute essential if it is to deserve the name "espresso."

However, I don't think my comments pleased the restaurant owner much, as he takes a measure of pride in the coffee he offers. (You expect nothing less from any Italian restaurateur worth his salt.)

Last week he was in the Carluke branch of Prego and insisted on making my espresso himself and offering it to me "on the house." [I noticed that he also made a point of opening a fresh bag of coffee beans for the purpose.]

Well, I can report to you that on this occasion (as on most occasions it has to be said) the espresso was certainly worthy of the name, with a healthy and delightful crema.

I realise that those of you who make do with instant coffee probably haven't a clue what I am talking about. I would also like to point out that I am not a snob in any other realm... but when it comes to coffee I know and expect only the best. And if I can produce a crema on my espresso at home then I expect my Italian barista to do the same. Thankfully, I know that he can.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Two bright pimples

"In Chittagong he would live like a prince, but here he is just doing the donkey regarded his malnourished limb, the two bright pimples above the elbow."

What do you mean it doesn't make sense??

It's what I was reading when I was away on my short break.

I had bought a book at the airport (Brick Lane by Monica Ali) and I was pretty much enjoying the story. I had reached page 320 and what you see above is exactly what I read.
Of course, my first reaction was to read it again just to see if I had missed a word or two, or simply misunderstood some clever sentence construction... but no matter how many times I read it, it still made no sense.
And then I noticed...
... after page 320 came page 273 - a page which, in fact, I had already read the day before! Soon it dawned on me that a whole section of the book had the wrong pages in it.
It was a bit of a Groundhog Day moment when I realised that I had already read this particular section...

... and then the frustration kicked in.
I wasn't going to be able to continue reading the book.
Sure, the last few pages were there... but I didn't want to read the ending without reading how the story arrived at that place. (I am not one of those people who reads the end of the book first to see how it is all going to work out. I want the author to lead me to that point.)
I've had to wait until today to get a replacement for the defective book.
Unfortunately I don't have time to read it at the moment.
I only hope I can actually remember now what happened in the first 320 pages!

Life itself can be like this some times.
Things don't always work out the way you expect them to.
Sometimes you find yourself in a dead end.
Sometimes you discover it just doesn't make sense at all.
And often it seems as if some of the pages are missing, or the wrong pages have been put into the story.
That's when you need a little bit of patience... and a lot of faith to trust that one day the story will make sense.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Would you walk by...

One of my daughters had a very lucky escape on Sunday morning. Her car spun off the road and rolled over into a field, ending up facing in the opposite direction, although back on its wheels again. Had the skid happened a few seconds earlier who knows what might have happened. As it is, she emerged from the wreck unscathed - which is more than can be said for her car which is now a total write-off.
Amazing as her good fortune was, it is not, to me, the most astonishing thing about the incident. No, I reserve that description for a group of people who witnessed the whole episode.
You see all of this took place right next to the 18th Tee of Carluke Golf Course. A group of golfers were tee-ing off at the time my daughter's car spun out of control and did its tumble across the field towards them. They paused for a few seconds to look over...

... then promptly carried on with their game!!
Can you believe it?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Up and away

My friends' house is less than 10 miles from the Kennedy Space Centre (as the crow, or pelican, flies) but about 17 miles from the launch pad 39A.
It is still close enough to ensure that you don't have to go anywhere, except to the end of the road, to get a pretty spectacular view of a launch. Unfortunately, though, I don't have the sort of zoom lenses that the professionals use to photograph the event.
If you want the real thing visit the NASA site.
The launch of Atlantis was (I think) the fifth space shot I have witnessed. (Four shuttle launches and the 1975 launch of the Viking mission to Mars are what I have seen so far. I missed the very last Apollo launch by just two days.)
It is a still, to me, an awe-inspiring sight and I have nothing but admiration for the folk who allow themselves to be strapped into that vehicle on top of millions of tons of high explosive then fired upwards into the sky.
Mind you, I think it pretty routine to strap myself into the seat of a Boeing 747-400 aircraft weighing anything up to 870,000 lbs and allow myself to be launched above the clouds, entrusting the pilots, crew and ground-staff to deliver me safely back to earth exactly as planned. I guess most people a hundred years ago would have considered this to be pretty crazy.
How long, do you think, before we see space travel as routine?

Trying not to drop a clanger

My recent visit to Florida coincided happily with the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-122) - more of which another time. I have seen a Space Shuttle launch a number of times before and while it is always an exciting experience it was not (as I've said) an entirely new one to me.
However, what was new for me on this trip was the opportunity to be part of a bell-ringing ensemble. (The picture above shows my one-and-only 15 minute rehearsal for the event.)
I now have a little lapel button which proclaims a bit dubiously that I am a bell-ringer!
I had been asked to fill in for a regular member of the bell-ringing team who, unfortunately, was not able to take part that Sunday.
To my own surprise I found it a thoroughly enjoyable (if slightly nerve-wracking) experience. What I did not want to do was to muck up things for the rest of the ensemble. In spite of the fact that we were situated in the choir loft and invisible to most of the congregation I did not want to "drop a clanger" if you pardon the pun.
I did get the opportunity to have a 15 minute rehearsal/lesson which was just as well for there were three things that I discovered were essential: technique, timing, and (perhaps most important of all) teamwork.
There is a certain technique involved in making sure that your bell sounds its note clearly, only once, at the right moment in time and not for any longer (or shorter) than necessary. You have to start with the bells (one in each hand) facing upwards then in a sort of circular motion, down and up again, time it so that the clapper (clanger) strikes the bell once at the right moment, then you have to rest it against your shoulder at the right moment to dampen the sound. It's not too difficult but you do need to practise it a bit to get the knack. The most complicated bit is when you have adjacent notes to play and you have to dampen one bell at exactly the same time as you strike the other.
I was actually asked if I could play a third bell. Only having two hands that would have required me to put one down and very, very quickly pick the other up without accidentally ringing either bell. I declined.
I know my limitations!
Teamwork, as I said, is probably the most important thing because unlike any other musical instrument I have ever played no single bell-ringer can play the whole tune (unless the tune consists entirely of two notes!) but each single bell-ringer is required for the tune (and harmony) to be played at all.
Like the pianist who must co-ordinate the action of his/her ten fingers the whole group has to act as one.
It was an interesting, and educational experience; for in fact the same lessons can be applied to most group activities, and certainly to church life. Nobody can do it all, but everybody has an important part to play in the overall scheme of things.
oh... and sometimes... we do drop the odd clanger!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It's snow bad!

Sorry I've been away from the blog for the last week. I was visiting some friends who, it just so happens, live in Central Florida. Now I know what you are thinking: - why one earth would anyone want to forsake the rain and snow and frost of a Scottish February for sunny blue skies and temperatures reaching into the 80's?
I know it is inexplicable. But there you go.
When I left Edinburgh Airport last Tuesday morning it was about 7 deg Centigrade (i.e. 45 Fahrenheit.) When I arrived in Orlando just after 7pm it was 29 Centigrade (84 Fahrenheit.)
But, of course, I wasn't there for the weather... so there's no need for any of you to feel jealous.
Mind you, what I did enjoy were the sunrises. The photo above was taken at the Indian River one morning last week just after 7am.
The tranquillity of these mornings was truly therapeutic. And so too was the opportunity to catch up on long-lasting and ever meaningful friendships.
The American friends I am talking about are a retired minister and his wife, whom I have known for the last 34 years.
My friend, who is now in his 80's (years this time, not degrees!) was preaching on Sunday at the church where he had been minister for many years and which was now celebrating its 50th Anniversary. During his sermon he spoke about a number of people who had been a great influence in shaping his own life and Christian faith; people who had somehow passed on the love of God from their experience to him.
As he spoke I felt that I was part of a very long chain going right back to the command of Jesus to his disciples that they should love one another, and the following idea formed in my head:
The true apostolic succession is the passing of the love of Christ from one generation to the next.
Some journeys are definitely worth making.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Thank you for the music

From time to time we have various concerts in the Church. On Friday night we had a return visit from Stonehouse Male Voice Choir, and a thoroughly entertaining evening they gave us. An excellent performance full of good humour and good singing.
Ordinarily I think I prefer a 'choir of all the parts' but, having said that, my tastes in music are pretty eclectic, as even a quick glance at my CD collection would show.
To me music should only be divided into "good" or "bad." (Well, maybe there's a middle category of "mediocre.")
Actually in Scotland we also have the phrase "no' bad" (which believe it or not can mean any of the three, depending on the inflection in your voice and the expression on your face.)
If you say it in a downbeat way it means "it was probably alright but it didn't do anything for me, and I wouldn't want to hear it again" (which in anybody's else's book is probably a diplomatic way of saying 'pretty bad.'
If it said with a slight shrug of the shoulders it means something like "I could take it or leave it."
If it is said with a bit of enthusiasm it actually means what it says on the tin, i.e. "not bad" = "good."
All in all, it sounds like the "not proven" verdict that can be dished out in Scottish Courts which can mean anything from guilty to innocent, or somewhere in-between.
So maybe I should just have said that the Stonehouse Male Voice Choir are 'no bad' and leave you to decide for yourself which of the above applies to you; but for that you'll have to go and hear them for yourself.
You can get a wee taste from their website.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

It's snow good

Earlier this afternoon we had our first proper snowfall of the year - though not much and not for long.
I know there has been some significant snow in other parts of the country but each time it seems to have by-passed Carluke, much to the annoyance of my youngest daughter.
Well, this afternoon the snow DID fall, though (as I said) it didn't hang around for very long but it loitered enough to (temporarily) make my garden almost tidy enough to look at. That's one thing I like about the snow.
Am I the only one who thinks this... (or am I looking back with white-tinted spectacles?) but didn't we used to get quite a lot of snow in winter time in Scotland? And did it not sometimes hang around for weeks on end?
It's not difficult to convince anyone in this part of the world that global warming is a reality (of course, not in summer time: only in winter!)
Snows no' what it used to be when it used to snow.
The other thing that seems strange to me is that the less snow we have in this part of the world, the more problems it seems to cause, or at least people seem to have more difficulty in coping with it when it does appear, especially with respect to transport. Why is that, for goodness sake?