Shiremoor Adventure Playground

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We discovered this adventure playground today through a friend, who we met there today with her children. Obviously, this is of interest only to those in and around North Tyneside, but it’s such a great place I thought it worth writing about.

Not only is it a great adventure playground with something for all ages, it’s FREE – let me repeat that, it’s FREE! Not only THAT, but the food in the cafe is very good value for money; I bought two cheese, ham & salad wraps and two hot dogs for £2.40 in total – let me repeat (no, I’ve just done that). The staff and volunteers (including children) are also very friendly. Apart from all the usual things you’d expect to find, there’s also chickens, pigs and rabbits.

Children need to be in the open air; enjoying themselves, mixing with others, developing mental and physical skills, and understanding risk-taking in a controlled environment. All in all, well worth a visit – and it won’t be long before we’re there again!

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Information about the adventure playground can be found here.

How To Be Here (Rob Bell)

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I first became aware of Rob Bell after seeing one of his NOOMA series of short videos, a series I can wholeheartedly recommend. A previous post of mine is about one of them. He’s also an author and I’ve just finished reading his excellent book How To Be Here which focusses on living fully in the present and creating a life worth living.

It’s very easy to live life in the past; possibly dwelling on failures, regrets and ‘what might have been’ scenarios. Or perhaps we imagine that circumstances will be better in the future, and then we can achieve our goal(s). Either way, we miss the opportunity to be the best we can in the present and fail to start out on the road to fulfilment. We need to recognise that ‘we are where we are’ and seize the moment.

Rob was once a Christian pastor and uses scripture throughout (but in a new and refreshing way) which gives this book wide appeal to those of all faiths and none.

His own description of the book is as follows: Do you ever feel like you’re skimming the surface of your own existence? Like you have more options and technology and places to go and things to do than ever and yet it feels at some level like you’re missing out? Like you’re busy, but it’s not fulfilling? That’s why I’ve written ‘How to Be Here’, to help us live like we’re not missing a thing. Because that’s what we all want, right-to feel like we’re fully present, here, and nowhere else, creating a life worth living.

It’s easy to read in short sessions when you have an opportunity; I read it in spare moments on my smartphone. Let me know what you think of it if you’ve read it, or (if you’ve been inspired by this post) after you’ve read it, obviously.

Dog in an IKEA Bag

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Assuming you have a dog, how do they travel in the car with you? One of the dangers of travelling with a dog is driver distraction if they are unrestrained. Not only is this unsafe for the dog, the passengers and other road users, it can also invalidate your car insurance in the case of an accident; your insurer might not pay out because the dog should have been restrained, even if your dog wasn’t the cause of the accident.

This is how our dog Toby travels with us. Because we have three young children we recently had to upgrade to a larger car, one that has three separate seats in the back for their car seats. We also have two additional seats in the boot that can be folded away when not needed. Basically, Toby sits in an IKEA bag containing a soft dog bed (a cheap and efficient way to prevent dog hairs spreading through the car) and has a dog harness connected to a tether which attaches to the car seat belt fastener. It works for us. How does your dog travel with you?

 

The Dark Side of the Moon

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I love music and have a very wide and eclectic taste, equally at home listening to Bach, Bartok or The Beatles. Purcell, Prokofiev or Pink Floyd.

There are certain albums that have become legendary and (quite possibly) changed the course of music history. The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is clearly one, but so is Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon which celebrates its 45th anniversary this month (March 2018).

I well remember buying this album in vinyl with its iconic gatefold sleeve, which I poured over as I listened to this amazing music for the first time, wondering what a VCS3 was! Nothing quite like this had been heard before.

It’s the ultimate concept album; moving (through its roughly 43 minutes) from birth to death, describing the human condition. It still speaks to us today, and I expect people will be listening to this album long into the future. Life, time, fear, madness, money, war, suffering, solitude, withdrawal, selfishness, relationships, breakdowns, fame, politics and (ultimately) death.

Yet this merely touches the surface of what Pink Floyd manage to squeeze into this magnificent work. The themes are bleak and dark, yet the album is positive in the sense that it’s asking the listener to explore what it means to be human, to embrace our common humanity. There are some great lyrics.

At the end you hear a voice saying, “There is no dark side of the moon really, matter of fact it’s all dark”. To spiritualise it, this is a picture of a Good Friday world, with the possibility of new life, but lacking the means. During Lent and Holy Week Christians reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus, with the means whereby the dark side of human nature might be redeemed. The following verses from the Bible speak about this possibility:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:1-4 & 12-17 NIV

New Year’s Resolutions 2018

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Another year has come and gone since I wrote and posted a photo of Matilda in 2016. 2017 was another special year for Naomi and I with the birth of Pollyanna in December, our very own Christmas baby. Our family is now complete; Freddy, Matilda, and Pollyanna – not forgetting our dog Toby.

Family life is so precious, albeit demanding with three children under the age of three. My resolutions for 2018 reflect this, and I hope I can do justice to them: Look after myself better (so I can be there my family and work smarter). Spend quality time with family every day. Live in the moment and worry less. Effective planning and organising in my personal and work life. Run twice a week (reaching parkrun 100 milestone if possible).

2017 Favourite Albums

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In 2017 I’ve listened to over 100 albums, mainly while working in the office at home, but occasionally I’ve had the luxury of simply relaxing and listening with headphones and a nice cuppa.

My top ten commercial albums are as follows (in alphabetical order):

Alison Krauss: Windy City
Björk: Utopia
Brian Eno: Reflection
Foo Fighters: Concrete and Gold
Jane Weaver: Modern Kosmology
Laura Marling: Semper Femina
Rick Wakeman: Piano Portraits
Robert Plant: Carry Fire
Sparks: Hippopotamus
The War On Drugs: A Deeper Understanding

The albums that just missed out reaching the top ten are the latest releases by Noel and Liam Gallagher. Let’s hope they overcome their differences and get together again soon, this would be sensational!

I’ve not listened to many live albums, but my favourite (with associated DVD) is David Gilmour: Live at Pompeii.

Whilst not being a particular favourite, I think Every Valley by Public Service Broadcasting deserves a special mention. It’s a concept album which focuses on a topic of modern history (like the band’s previous work), namely the mining industry in Wales, more specifically the rise and decline of the coal industry.

I listen, buy and download independent albums on Bandcamp, my top five are:

Cousin Silas: Landscapes
Cousin Silas & Martin Neuhold: Piano
Cousin Silas & Øystein Jørgensen: Coefficient of Variation
Linnea: Finding Light In The Dark
William Doyle: Lightnesses

Why not check these releases out and let me know what you think? Here’s looking forward to 2018’s new releases!

Christmas Thought Revisited

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After his baptism, Jesus was tempted in the desert. This might seem a strange way to start a Christmas thought, in fact it’s not as strange as at first sight. The story concerns power, it’s about Jesus being tempted to exercise power over people; ultimately he chose the power of love over the love of power. I’m reminded of the words of Jimi Hendrix: When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.

The simple message of Christmas is that God has chosen the way of love and vulnerability over power. A baby born in humble and vulnerable circumstances can’t exercise power, yet that was how Jesus came and lived.

The cover of the Christmas Salvation Army War Cry 2014 illustrates this beautifully; it’s a picture of vulnerability that sums up the incarnation in today’s world. Take a few moments to reflect on it.

The traditional story tells us how Jesus was placed in a feeding trough (manger from the French verb to eat), but in this modern nativity he’s placed in a familiar manger – a supermarket trolley! I’m not sure if this was intentional, but it caught my attention.

Finally, here’s something I read recently in the context of the feeling that Christ is being squeezed out of Christmas: The whole story of Advent is the story of how God can’t be kept out. God is present. God is with us. God shows up – not with a parade but with the whimper of a baby, not among the powerful but among the marginalized, not to the demanding but to the humble.

As we welcome Jesus this Christmas, we’re reminded that he entered our world as vulnerable as us; ultimately he nailed that vulnerability to a cross for us – all our fears, insecurities and sins. We can only marvel that he came in this way, reaching out to a world in need.