As I sat in the Starbucks today I had a sudden realisation. For a quick glance around confirmed that I was the only ‘leisure’ coffee drinker in the place. Since in this coffee house outside the Metro Centre in Newcastle, the customers were all surrounded by laptops, netbooks and phones. Business meetings predominated but singletons tapped furiously on keyboards surrounded by A4 pads creating undoubtedly the next… Starbucks
It seems then that these specialist coffee outlets have rediscovered the Georgian Coffee House. Actually the first coffee house in England was established in Oxford in 1652. However the idea soon spread to London. In time they became business hubs with no less than Lloyds of London, the London Stock Exchange, Christies and Sotherby’s all having their origins in these establishments. Whether they had the same bored and surly staff that I encountered in Starbucks today history doesn’t make unclear.
However, the earlier Restoration coffee houses had another clientele; because in that turbulent era they were the centres of political agitation and dissention. So much so, Charles II was all for closing them down. A reputation they were to reinvent in 19th Century Europe where they brought artist, writers and intellectuals together for discussion and debate. Now if Starbucks and its ilk were do that, we may indeed see a revisiting of something else – fresh thought to go with the fresh coffee.
Does our clothes show our wealth and status? Well it did in medieval China. Back then the garments and materials you wore were clearly laid down so that rank and social position was obvious. Those who were at the lower end of the spectrum wore clothing made from hemp and other vegetable fibres. But as you rose up the hierarchy you got to the silk brigade. Whether you were nobility, high up in the civil service or serving in the barmy you showed your position with a rank panel on the front of your robe. That was true of ladies was well. In fact, you can see what they looked like in this garment for a woman of rank shown in Durham University’s Oriental Museum. However, the real ‘creme de la creme’ had panels showing dragons not with four claws but five. This symbol denoted that you were in the imperial family or its staff.
So what denotes rank today? In Britain, accent still is a give away but so is dress and possessions. Who hasn’t clocked someone else’s ostentatious designer label, car marque or preference in supermarkets? In the long run probably rank panels, even in the finest silk, would be cheaper.
It is not everyday, we see something that has genuinely changed the world. But today I did and it is called Locomotion. Nowadays, it looks distinctly ‘old hat’ yet as Pete Waterman explains, when it was first seen in action it must have been as exciting and frightening as the Space Shuttle. Nevertheless, when its inventor George Stephenson let loose this contraption on the unsuspecting British and hence the globe, he was really launching the first system of public transport. and so in some ways Locomotion became less Space Shuttle and more prototype Jumbo Jet.
Of course Locomotion was the first steam locomotive to run on rails. But what I had failed to grasp prior to visiting Locomotion’s home at the ‘Head of Steam’ Museum at Darlington was that well before its first run in 1825, rail line systems were an extensive mode of transport in Georgian Britain. The only difference was that it carriages and trucks were horse drawn. Not surprising then that the first time Locomotion tasted speed was when it was carried some of the way from Newcastle to its start up point of Darlington on such a waggon.
Its first run along the Stockton to Darlington line complete with a load of coal and a carriage for the Directors of the whole project was a immediate success. So much so the coal was given away to the poor. There is no record of the passengers being charged at all let alone asked to pay the extortionate fare required today to travel on Britain’s railways.
It is ironic then that despite this little loco ushering in mass travel by train, it only pulled carriages of passengers one more time. The rest of its 40 odd years of working life was drawing coal from the Durham coal fields to provide steam for the factories and ships of the growing industrial revolution. Yet Locomotion’s efforts not only brought in that era, it helped also to power it as well.
Yesterday I was wandering around the harbour at Arbroath – that’s a small town with a long tradition of fishing here in eastern Scotland. Despite being pulled in every direction by my dog, I chatted to a fisherman mending his creels. Apparently, it has been a bad year what with the poor catches and the storms damaging his gear. In fact, pointing to a mound of creels he said every one had needed mending.
It turns out that these fishermen can have down as many as a thousand creels at a time. These original net-boxes are roped together in groups and are lifted about every 4 days. As a result it must be a full time job just heaving up the their buoyed lines, replacing bait and mending the damage. Work that seems to go on in all weathers despite the dangers.
And that makes me realise how lucky I am to be behind a screen being creative. Yet I wonder what I am not maintaining today?
This is worth thinking about!
Well these are my highly critical observations about street preaching, at least from within New Zealand.
People Type A attempt to preach on the streets to People Type B.
People Type A are different people to People Type B.
When Type A speak, Type B struggle to understand what they are harping on about. Type A conform to the injection myth which is that no matter what I say or how I say it, because it makes sense to me it will make sense to you. Therefore the more I inject information into you, the more you will hear from Jesus. Thus the louder I preach, the better the message gets.
But no matter how ‘anointed’ we think we are, people cannot make sense of a different language. Hardly half the story spurts out as Jesus is ripped out of his own context. And let’s be honest, it…
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This week will see an ever increasing attention on Rome by the world. Since Papal conclaves naturally fascinate the faithful and the unbeliever in almost equal measure. More to the point for today is that the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church will have a global influence on the future of the whole Christian Church not least in the way that those outside see it.
From that viewpoint, I have been more observant of the news than usual. Yet this has thrown up some surprises. Not least a Catholic priest in St Peter’s Square, on being asked about possible changes the new Pope might bring in, claimed that such possibilities would not happen as they were not of God. Next day, a Channel 4 commentator made clear that without changes the Roman Catholic Church and, by inference, Christianity would fizzle out.
Both speakers seemed intimate with what God thought! Yet who can? For the last lines of Minnie Louise Haskins’ often quoted poem – I said to the man at the gate of the year – are much less repeated. But they contain a warning for they are:
In all the dizzy strife,
of things both high and low
God hideth his intentions.
Let us then put our hand into the hand of God, look after the now and trust Him to take care of both the past and future.
Having spent the day involved with a youth leadership day, I suddenly realised something and it is this. With growing years, what is important is not the gathering of further facts, wider wisdom or specific techniques. It is a gradual dawning of how systems, groups and individuals work. For if time teaches anything at all, it is the sense of how to do tasks, how people will respond and why things are worth achieving in the first place. On the other hand, grey hairs do not usually equate to energy and enthusiasm, they rarely bestow boundless creativity and hardly ever inspire that absorbing curiosity which are the hall-marks of the young.
What’s to be done?
‘Simples’ as the advert says. We need to think again in the West of one world. Not just poor and rich, one background with another but young and old harnessed together in harmonious effort to turn our problems around. However, to achieve that would take real leadership and not just for a day.
As a glider pilot I just marvel at this beautiful video – I hope you do to!
Here’s to living….
Today I heard another eulogy at a memorial service. With time you pick up certain patterns. Firstly there is a broad outline of the life celebrated. Then we hear the funny stories – the little events that bring smiles of remembrance and love. But there is always mention of the trials and tribulations faced and usually conquered. The whole story of each life then is a mixture, an amalgam and a pastiche that is bitter sweet.
Well this afternoon’s service included the playing of the theme from Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse – a British detective series based around Oxford. And for the first time I noticed the depth of this music. It was a bitter-sweet tune which seemed to encapsulate not just the funny and the sad but the mystery, contradiction and enigma which is life. I was going to comment of this fact. But left it, for the music had spoken the better for me.