You might remember this article. Anyway, I hope you read and enjoy it now. And I wish a Happy St Patrick’s Day to all my readers, whether you are Irish, English or anything else. And certainly whether you are a Protestant or a Catholic. Let’s all hope and pray Brexit doesn’t wreck the peace process.
Alpha is just one of the many events put on this week from the 6th to the 10th March, in Warrington and many other parts of the North West. I wrote about this generally in a previous blog. I hope you’ve found something that was right for you.
What is Alpha?
It is a ten-week course on the Christian faith. You don’t need ten weeks off work. It’s ten sessions, usually in an evening or late afternoon. It’s interactive. There’s a video of about twenty minutes where someone, or more than one, talks about a particular aspect of Christianity, such as God, Jesus, the Bible, the Church, Miracles…
Then there’s a discussion where everyone gets to saying what he/she thinks about the questions raised in the video and to ask their own questions. Someone leads it, but only to keep everyone on the same question, not to insist on a right answer. The idea is for each person to discover their own answer for themselves.
What’s the best bit of Alpha?
Food! There’s usually a meal at the start of each session. As each local group is a bit autonomous, I can’t promise what’s going to be on offer this time. If you’re concerned, check beforehand.
If Alpha is 10 weeks, how could it fit into a four day event?
Simples. What we had on Friday was one-off taster session so you could decide whether you want to do the full version. Even if you decided that it’s not for you, the one-off might have given you something to think about. Or you might have given everyone else something to think about!
What if you missed the Alpha event?
Or what if you don’t live anywhere near Warrington? There are Alpha courses all over the country. Look at the website.
Bring your doubts. They need exploring as much as your faith.
Tell, Serve, Give will take place all over the Diocese of Liverpool from 6th to 10th March
I have written about this in previous blogs, mainly about things happening in Warrington. The final event will be Bishop and Bubbles in St Elphin’s Church near the Town Centre, on Sunday 10th at 4 pm. It will be a time of celebration. We expect to have a lot to celebrate after all the activities of the previous few days, but Christians have always got something to celebrate! (Annoying, isn’t it, if you’re a miserable old ***?)
If you can’t make it, we’ll give you another chance.
There will be visitor-friendly services in several churches in the town that day. I’ll let try to give the details on another blog, but here’s one:
Of course, some of our churches are visitor-friendly all the time, but a lot of us will be making a special effort on that day. How about you making a special effort to come along? It might not be such a big effort once you decide to come.
Forensics have become the mainstay of TV detective dramas
Many people now think forensics are the first essential of crime investigation. Of course they are important, but are they always paramount, in real-life or fiction?
When were forensics invented?
I write historical fiction under a pseudonym and was discussing a forthcoming novel which I set in prehistoric times. Someone said that was ridiculous, because they didn’t know about fingerprints back then. Well, the police began using fingerprints only in the late 19th century. However, people had been using physical evidence before that. Read the Brother Cadfael stories by Ellis Peters, which she set in the 12th century, or the Matthew Bartholomew stories, by Susanna Gregory, who set it in the 14th century. Of course, as science generally has progressed, so forensic science has moved on too.
How can you solve a crime without forensics?
A lot of good detectives, in real life and fiction, have relied on questioning suspects and analysing the answers. They catch people out in lies or other contradictions. They apply psychology. (That’s been around since long before Dr Freud). They listened to witnesses.
Do my heroes use forensics?
In my historical novels, my heroes observe physical details as well as using the other means of detection which I mentioned above. In my modern novels, the Accounting for Murder series, my hero, Frank Hill, is an accountant, and uses his investigative skills, which he learnt in unravelling financial matters, when he is solving murders. Of course, the police are also there and provide the bulk of the forensic evidence, but they form wrong opinions about who-dun-it and Frank has to step in to prevent a miscarriage of justice.
I hope you will enjoy following Frank as he follows the trail, tortuous as it usually is, to the solution.
I said we hoped to serve the community as well as telling people about us in the Church of England in the area. You may think that most of the events were for old, or middle-aged, people. That’s because some are, and others are primarily for adults. But there are also family events. I’ll tell you about them in another blog. Overall, we hope there will be things for people of all ages.
What events will serve young people?
There will be some events in schools,
the World Book Day Event in St Barnabas School at 2 pm on Thursday 7th (I don’t know if there will be any great authors there, but let’s hope)
Messy Church in St Elphin’s School on Friday 8th
Grill a Bishop in St Margaret’s School also on Friday
but the big one is called Chip Kendall’s Big Praise Party in the Parr Hall on Friday 8th from 1.30 to 2.30 pm.
AND Chip is leading Active Church in Christ Church Padgate on Saturday 9th at 10 am.
Tell, Serve, Give is the name of a series of open-to-all events which Christians who are in the Church of England throughout the Diocese of Liverpool will be holding. They will mostly not be religious or formal, as we want to have fun. We often do, but not everyone knows that. As I live in Warrington, I will be blogging about events in my town, but Anglicans are doing similar things everywhere from Liverpool to St Helens and Wigan. So, if you live in any other part of the diocese, look out for events near you. You may well find a bishop joining in with local Christians, but remember they are human and want to have fun too.
Why is it called Tell, Serve, Give?
Because we want to:
tell you what we believe and what we do, and to answer your questions.
serve our communities, not only for a few days, but in the future too.
give you a warm welcome and a happy experience, and to give something of ourselves.
What is will happen for Tell, Serve, Give in Warrington?
Wednesday 6th – A song and dance & cream tea at St Paul’s, Penketh
Thursday 7th – A tea dance at the Alford Hall, Manchester Rd
Friday 8th – Reasons to Celebrate – a party
Saturday 9th – Bishop’s Bake Off – St Philips, Westbrook and at Cinnamon Brow Primary School
Saturday 9th – Big Praise Party in the Parr Hall
Sunday 10th – Songs of Praise at Christchurch, Padgate
Sunday 10th – Bishop & Bubbles at St Elphin’s
Watch this space, as I will let you know about more events and give you more details soon.
Not usually, but my hero, Frank Hill, is an accountant who finds himself investigating a murder. He can’t think of a better way to getting to meet a horse-dealer than looking at a horse he has for sale. This short story is an extract from Accounting for Murder, Book II, Old Money, which is not quite ready for publication. I am publishing this on the blog as I think it gives some insights into Frank’s character, as well as being a story in itself.
TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY A HORSE?
We told Davy and Angie how my wife, Sian, and I had got on with visiting some of their unfriendly neighbours. Angie asked, “How about Colonel Arrowsmith? He was one who didn’t like new money.”
I said, “Sorry. We haven’t found a way to get near him. “
Sian said, “My sister Cathy’s a riding instructor and knows him a bit through the horsey fraternity. She said she was going to help with that. I’ll give her a nudge.”
“That’s gentle of you.”
When she did so, Cathy replied, “He’s got a few horses for sale. I could take one of you to see him as a potential buyer.”
I agreed and Cathy contacted the colonel, arranging to take me on the Monday to look at a horse he was hoping to sell. I wondered whether I would like to own a horse. The idea appealed to me, but the cost and commitment did not. When Cathy came to collect me, I said, “I won’t have to buy the animal, will I?”
“No. You can always find fault somehow. I know it’s advertised as suitable for a novice or an experienced rider but they almost never are. It’ll soon twig that you’re not very experienced and will take advantage. Oh, don’t look so worried! I can ride him a bit first, to make sure he’s not that dangerous. You’ll be OK. It says he’s a palomino.”
“I thought he was a hunter?”
“Well, a palomino’s a colour. Supposedly the colour of a gold coin, if you’ve ever seen one. And a hunter’s a type, suitable for hunting. I suppose you could have a palomino hunter. I’ve never seen one before but there’s always a first time.”
“Would that be good?”
“I’m suspicious. I expect they’ve tried to breed a horse that looks good and will probably turn out to be a poor specimen from the practical point of view. It should be easy to find fault.”
I had done quite a bit of riding but was out of practice and was relieved when Cathy gave me a lesson on one of the riding school’s horses. It went well and I felt quite confident as we drove out to Colonel Arrowsmith’s farm, just beyond Castell Coch.
The farmhouse and outbuildings were old but well maintained. Most of the walls were white, having apparently been rendered fairly recently. The exception was a line of new brick-built stables.
The colonel was slim and of average height. He was in his fifties and wore jodhpurs and an old bodywarmer that had probably been of good quality once. He had a friendly but businesslike manner. After Cathy introduced me, he said, “So you want a hunter? Is this to be your first horse?”
“Yes. I like riding but keep putting off getting my own horse. I’ve made my mind up now, because I want to go hunting. A few of my clients do and I can see it wouldn’t hurt my business to move in their circles.”
“You’re probably right but a horse is a responsibility as well as a wonderful asset. You can’t just forget about it when you’ve got other pressing matters to deal with.”
“I know. Cathy’s put me straight about that. Luckily, she’ll be around to keep an eye on me and give me advice. I’ll be keeping the horse at the riding school where she works. It’s not far from my home.”
“Good. I know she knows what’s what. You are indeed lucky. Well, no use standing here talking all day. Time to meet Blackie.”
I said, “Hang on! I thought we were going to look at a Palomino.”
“And you are. A very good one. He’s called Blackie because his official name is Blackwood Golden Treasure, bred at the Blackwood Stud. His dam was a palomino Welsh cob and his sire was a grey thoroughbred. He’s not got his father’s speed but plenty of staying power and he’s a good jumper. Sure-footed too.”
He took us along the line of stables and brought out a palomino gelding. He was a beauty. Cathy studied him closely and said, “He’s got a sloping shoulder and long pasterns like a racehorse, but curved hocks for power, like a typical cob. I can see what the colonel means. Should be a good hunter.”
After he had let us have a good look at him, the colonel’s groom tacked him up and led him to the schooling arena for me to try him. Cathy tried him first and said he seemed like a safe horse for a relatively inexperienced rider.
I rode him in a few circles and tried a few changes of pace. He was responsive and well schooled. Then I took him twice around the edge of the arena, finally letting him canter quite fast. He was lively but well behaved. When I pulled him up to a halt, the colonel said, “So far so good, eh?”
Cathy asked, “What’s he like in traffic?”
“Why not let’s all go for a little hack?” With that, he called to the groom, who brought two more horses from the stables. The colonel and Cathy mounted and we all rode out onto a busy main road. The colonel led the way, followed by me with Cathy in the rear. After a while we changed the order. And again. The hunter was as happy to go first or last. Traffic was no problem. The colonel said, “How about opening them up? There’s a track we can go on where we can gallop.”
We turned off the road onto a track through a small wood. After a few minutes there was a long straight uphill stretch. The colonel said, “Who wants to go first?” We elected him. He set off at a gallop. Blackie raced Cathy’s horse until hers got in front. Then he eased up to keep about a length or two behind. Something darted out from the trees. I felt my heart miss a beat. The hunter checked his pace, let the sheep cross to the other side and put on a spurt to catch up with the others.
Back at the yard, the colonel said, ““How about trying him at a couple of jumps?”
I could not see any so I asked, “Where?”
“I mean, what about going down the track and through one of the fields? There’s a couple of jumps you can take him over if you like.”
I felt nervous but could see no way of seeming like a potential buyer of a hunter unless I tried him at speed over jumps and he had been perfectly behaved up to then. “All right. Where do I go?”
He pointed to a muddy lane leading out of the yard and said, “Just trot him down there. When you get to the bottom there’s a gate that’ll be open. Go through it and canter along the bottom of the field. Then let him open up along the long side. There’s a couple of little jumps about halfway. He knows them. Just let him take them in his stride. After that bring him down again slowly to a walk. We’ll be watching from this end.”
I had to work hard to get him to trot down the track. He seemed reluctant to leave the yard. Persistence paid and he gradually built up to a steady rhythmic pace. He stopped at the end without needing to be told and walked through the open gate. As soon as we got into the field, he came alive and I had a job keeping to a steady canter along the track worn in the grass along the bottom of the field. Once we turned the corner, he took off at a gallop along the track beside the perimeter hedge, which was punctuated by a series of trees. He ignored everything I did. I remembered Cathy’s advice on the way. She had told me to concentrate on sitting securely and in balance, to trust him to know how to look after himself and therefore me.
The first jump came up sooner than I expected. It looked big. It was a brush jump. That is a lot of leafy twigs held at the bottom in a wooden frame. He slowed the pace just before take-off and aimed at the lowest part which he cleared easily. The next jump was a nice distance beyond the first, giving horse and rider time to recover and maintain the rhythm. It was a pile of horizontal poles. We went over that in a similar style but had to stretch more, which was no problem. I was beginning to feel confident as I eyed the third jump, a pole with a ditch under it.
Suddenly I noticed something worrying. In the shade of one of the trees, an apparently solid object lay across the track. It would not have been visible from the top end and the colonel was unlikely to have been aware of it. A section of fence, previously filling a gap in the hedge, had fallen at an awkward angle onto the track. The horse was not expecting it any more than I was. He slowed and lowered his head to look. It was unjumpable but I hoped he was not going to try to stop, as he would almost certainly have stumbled over it. He did not. He swerved around it and back onto the track. This caused him to change his stride, losing the rhythm and caused me to tip, almost falling over his right shoulder.
The next jump was getting very close and I was afraid we were not ready for it. I was amazed and relieved, when he put in an extra short stride and jumped at an angle, making it a much bigger and sharper jump than it should have been. I nearly lost my seat again. I was saved because he kept going and got back into his stride. If he had slowed down, I would not have. When we reached the colonel and Cathy, the horse stopped fairly abruptly but I had recovered my balance by then and was not troubled.
The colonel said, “You came up this end of the hill faster than I expected and you made hard work of the last.” I explained why. Cathy said, “You did well to cope with all that.”
“Thanks. I’m glad he’s such a good horse. He certainly knew what he was doing and reacted well to the unexpected hazard.” The hunter snorted and snatched at the bit, trying to get his head down to eat grass. I managed to restrain him.
The colonel said, “Well, that’s what you want from a hunter. Just the thing.” I knew he was right. I loved the animal. I almost wanted to take up hunting, as he had given me such confidence. I dismounted and led him back to the stables. “Well, what do you think? Is he good enough for you?” I could hardly have imagined a better horse for me if I had actually wanted one. Would I always regret missing this opportunity? I had no idea how far-reaching my next decision was to be.
“Can you give me a minute to consult with Cathy?”
“Of course. I’ll be putting him away.” He untacked the horse and led him away.
I told Cathy, “I can’t see any valid reason not to buy him but I know timewasters are not popular in the horse world. We need to think of your reputation.”
“Thanks, but what do you intend to do?”
“I could buy him. I wouldn’t have to keep him for long. He should be easy to sell.”
“Can you afford it?”
“Yes. I got paid plenty for finding Ray’s hidden fortune. I’ve not spent it yet.”
“Of course, we still need to get him vetted. Do you know a good vet?”
“I won’t tell Sian you asked that.”
I liked the idea of becoming a horseowner, if only temporarily. We all went into the house to go over the formalities. Cathy tried to get the price down a little and succeeded. The colonel made a pot of tea and brought out some biscuits. A decent selection.
Cathy said, “I think this horse is just the thing to get someone like Frank started in hunting. Don’t worry, Colonel, I’ll help him find his feet. The rider, not the horse.”
The colonel said, “Yes, quite. I’ve always loved hunting. Of course, it’s not what it was. Can’t chase a fox now, only run around after a false scent. Still, it’s fun and teaches you a lot. A lot about yourself as well as about riding.” I worried as I wondered what I was going to discover about myself.
I asked, “Have you had this place long?”
“Bought it when I came out of the Army. Was in Iraq for the invasion. Then stayed while we tried to sort out the mess we’d made. Well, not us. The damned politicians. No planning for after we got to Baghdad. Imbeciles! Came home nearly ten years ago. Wanted something to do. Always loved horses. This was an ideal place at the right time. Love it.”
Cathy said, “Why did you not go into something with horses before, instead of the Army?”
“Never gave a thought to anything else when I was young. Old military family as far back as you can go. One of my ancestors fought at Agincourt, another at Waterloo, to say nothing of two World Wars. I just followed in their footsteps. It was what was expected. Noblesse oblige.”
I thought someone called Arrowsmith was likely to have had ancestors making the arrows for the archers at Agincourt, not up the front with the nobility. However, I saw no point in raising it. I raised something more important. “Do you know the people who live in Castell Coch?” I waved a hand as if indicating its direction. It was a superfluous gesture.
“No! Don’t want to. Don’t need their sort round here. Fellow goes off to America as if Britain’s not big enough for him. Then, once he’s made his pile, comes back to lord it over us. Should see the way he swans around in that big car of his, as if he was someone.” I didn’t know whether the colonel disliked the size of the car or the way it was driven. I did know that Davy was someone. A successful actor and producer. Now hoping to be a successful film company owner. Sian would have been proud of me for exercising such restraint and diplomacy.
I asked, “Did you ever hear that that castle was haunted?”
“What utter bollocks.” He looked at Cathy and said, “Excuse my French. Utter nonsense. Probably something made up by some estate agent chappie trying to sell the place to some gullible Yanks.”
“I suppose you don’t believe there’s buried treasure there either.” He laughed and sent a spray of tea in front of him. He wiped his mouth and the tabletop before speaking again. “Someone really has been pulling your leg! If there’d ever been anything there, someone would’ve found it by now. Long before now. If they did, do you think they’d announce it? Not in the past. Nowadays everyone has to be open and ‘out there’ about everything. Especially Yanks. Even their clangers, they have to put out on the internet, instead of keeping mum. Bloody fools.”
As we walked to the car, I saw Cathy texting. I assumed she was confirming to the riding school that we would be needing the stable she had provisionally booked. When we got home, I realised the truth. Sian and Jane found it hilarious that I had bought a horse, apparently by accident. I tried unsuccessfully to explain my reasoning. Ian asked, “What’s so wrong with being a timewaster?”
Jane said, “You wouldn’t know. You do nothing but waste time all the time.” When she had stopped laughing at me and teasing her brother, she asked, “Did you find out anything about the colonel? Do you think he’s behind this haunting thing?”
“I don’t know. He seems what you’d expect. An army type. And horsey. Bit of a snob. He doesn’t like Davy and Angie, although he doesn’t know them. I can’t see him being so obsessed as to go to all that trouble. I don’t think he’d be capable of it either. You’d have to be very technical.”
She said, “Are you saying you’d rule him out?”
“I don’t think so. Not quite.”
“So you’ve bought a horse as a way to find out nothing you didn’t know before?”
I have written about my decision to become a Christian and about the beginnings of my journey to a real faith. Like many people, I was soon to question the validity of my decision. For many months after my conversion, I did little to implement any change, except that I joined a weekly Bible study, where I began to learn a lot.
Who asked if it was real?
It was about a year after the mission, when I went to a weekend houseparty at Weston-super-mare. We had times of worship and a visiting vicar gave some Bible-teaching, but students ran most of the meetings. Some people talked about the spiritual progress they had made in the year. They mainly talked about the way God had become more real to them. Some asked us all to ask ourselves if our faith was merely superficial.
Was my faith real?
I began to doubt. I didn’t really doubt God as much as I doubted myself. Was I a phoney? I spent many hours asking everyone what I could do to be sure. We went round in circles. By the Saturday night, I was very worried. I had a bad night, dreading the next day. We all planned to go church in the morning, mostly choosing one different from whatever we were used to, and then to hear a final talk from the visiting vicar after lunch, before we went back to Bristol.
Could I find real faith on the sea front?
On the Sunday morning, I got up early to get some time by myself with God. (Don’t say you don’t believe in miracles). I went to the front and saw the sun shining on the mud. I was alone, until a man appeared: the Reverend Lawrence Denny, our visiting speaker. As he was probably hoping to be alone with God too, I tried not to bother him, but he asked how I was. I was evasive, but he was good at his job and got it all out of me.
I got some real help.
The vicar reminded me of some of his talks. He quoted Jesus, “You are Simon, you will be Peter”, meaning God has plans for you that mean changes, but let them be the ones God wants. Don’t try to be like someone else. Jesus didn’t say, “You are Andrew (or whoever) you will be Peter,” as his plans for Andrew were different. My mistake was that I was worrying that I wasn’t like some of the other Christians who had been talking about their experiences.
What was the real issue?
Another quote was, “You did not choose me, I chose you.” Rev Denny asked if I thought God had chosen me, adding that this ‘chance’ encounter was a clue to the answer. Strangely enough, he managed to make me laugh. He was just the right person to get through to me right then. If I didn’t know God very well, he knew me! Finally, I understood that what mattered wasn’t my feelings, but my response to God. I should trust and obey him as far as I could, and let him worry about things I couldn’t control. Those words have come back to me often over the decades.
Did people in Church find God was real?
After my talk with the vicar, and after breakfast, I went to a Brethren church. A lot of people talked about the reality of God in their lives. These were not students who had been Christians for a year or so longer than I had. These were old men who had found God real through two World Wars and a lot of hardship in between. It put things in perspective. By then, I had already made another big decision. It was to do as the vicar had said.
Did God become real to me then?
The service ended with Holy Communion, or the Breaking of Bread, as they called it. After I had received the bread and wine, I felt a real peace and a confidence that I was a Christian and my life was in God’d hands. I have had my ups and downs since, but I have never really worried that my faith was phoney.
Is Scotland real?
When I ask myself if God is real, I often remember a story a friend told me. She once went to Northern Ireland, to a beauty spot on the very North East. The guide promised you could see Scotland from there. However, it wasn’t a clear day and she couldn’t see it. The guide was most apologetic and said, “I assure you, it really is there.” My friend didn’t doubt that Scotland really was there, even on a hazy day. In the same way, God is there, whether he feels real to you or not.
Was my decision to become a Christian not the beginning?
I have written about my decision to become a Christian in my first year at university. I used to think that was the beginning. Nowadays, I look further back in my life. This does not reduce the importance of that decision or take anything away from those who influenced me at the time, and since. It just puts it all in context.
Was there a beginning during the year before my decision?
Just before I went to university, I saw the musical Fiddler on the Roof. I was impressed by the way the main character (a Jew – not a Christian) spoke to God casually, honestly and often irreverently, like an old friend. His religion was an important part of his life, but it wasn’t just the official side, it was a relationship. I also remember seeing a debate on TV where someone said people always believe what they want to believe: what makes them feel comfortable. In reply, an elderly clergyman said there were times in his life when he had wished God didn’t exist. He had been tempted to give up, but he didn’t because he knew God was real. That stuck in my mind.
Did school help or hinder the beginning of faith?
When I first became a Christian, I began to learn about the faith and I realised how little I had learnt in RI or RE and through assemblies. I had taken History as one of my A-levels, and during one term we had specialised in the Reformation. We so concentrated on the economic and political factors that little of the religious aspect came through. In the long run, that was useful, as it helped me put things in context, but it played no part in moving me along the road to faith.
Did my faith not have a beginning at home?
My parents were not atheists, but we went to church only occasionally. They didn’t talk about it much. However, an old lady who was a close friend of my parents, was a Methodist, and did talk about it sometimes. I don’t remember much detail, but know it meant something to her.
When was the beginning, out of all these moments, and what came next?
I don’t know, but I suspect they all had a cumulative influence on me. Of course, my decision to follow Christ was in itself a beginning rather than an end. I will write about the next milestones on my journey in a future blog.
Negativity is a state of mind, which includes pessimism and blame, low expectations, beating yourself up and passing the buck. You can easily fall into it, but people find they can’t climb out of it so easily.
What has negativity got to do with depression?
As I have said before, you can talk yourself into being depressed, if you see only the worst in situations, in other people and in yourself. It generates anxiety and stress, making you feel worse. You can suffer at least some of the pain for something that hasn’t happened yet and might not, because you convince yourself it will. Perhaps you fail to see the upside of failures, mistakes and setbacks, and, rather than learning from them, you wallow in them.
Where does negativity come from?
There are three main sources:
and your environment
What can you do about negativity?
You might think your personality is fixed, but you can change if you want to, if you are aware. Decide to reject negativity and look for the upside. Forgive others, forgive yourself, learn your lessons, move on.
Re-evaluate bad experiences and learn from them. Don’t accept that the past controls the future, but think how you could act or react differently next time.
Try to avoid negative people. That’s not always easy, if you’ve got a lot of negative colleagues, relatives or friends, but try to mix with a few more positive types when you can. Also, try to take negative comments with a pinch of salt, whether they are about you, about others or about life.
I have become more positive since I left work in a corporate environment, where most of us didn’t make important decisions. Since then, I have got involved with self-employed people, who accept responsibility for whatever happens and see opportunities rather than problems everywhere.
When you feel yourself getting depressed, make an effort to think more positively. General Bill Slim led the British Army in Burma in World War II. He always said things weren’t as bad as they looked, although they looked pretty bad, most of the time. Slim kept up his own spirits and those of others. Looking back, we can see that he was right. Things were not quite as bad as they looked. They seldom are.