Friday, 2 December 2011

Precious word of truth

I've had encounters with ministers from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland this week, the Mayor, and a Christmas tree from Oslo.

On Wednesday, in the company of a friend from Wales, I was at the Palace of Westminster once more, where I was introduced to the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Right Rev. David Arnott, who was in parliament for St Andrew's day. Another affirming encounter, another opportunity for mutual witness, afforded by uniform.Last night, unusually, I was in uniform when Step Mum and I called into McDonalds on the way home from Songster practice, and as a result we ended up speaking to the young man who served us about what we believe, which had stirred interest.

Anyway, I rose this morning after a disturbed night's sleep not expecting what came. I stuck the television on and by chance, as I ran through the channels, noticed that 'Precious word of truth', the programme made by the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast, was on. It's a favourite of Grandma and Big Grandad's - and I used to often watch it. In fact, I tried to take Mummy to Belfast to see Pastor James McConnell a while back. He's a fabulous preacher, and an inspiring author for anyone who would preach, or plant a church.

Anyway, this morning, I put Pastor McConnell on just as he was reading from the first book of Kings. We have looked at the passage before - almost a year ago today.

I'd love for people to take the time to watch or listen to his sermon in full - but here are some quotes which caught my eye, which are not only pertinent to our circumstances but to many others, too:

"Where true ties of love exist, we seek to safeguard at any cost that which is dear to us, even at the risk of losing it ourselves. That is the character of love."
"Justice required that the other woman be punished for her lies and her fraud - she fades into history."

"If an immoral woman be merciful for the son of her body, and cannot forget her little child, how much more should every christian mother be ready to offer, when necessary, the heaviest sacrifice to deliver her child from moral ruin."

And finally, a warning:

"I know what happened to Solomon... that brilliant, beautiful, anointed young kind, grew older, lost his anointing, and he too went out into eternity. Where is he tonight?

"Solomon was promised long life, longer than this father. David died at seventy... God promised that Solomon would live longer than that; he died at 64... because he didn't keep God's covenant. The promise was conditional."
Focuses the mind somewhat!

 Love from Daddy.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Remembering our own

"The Salvation Army chorus has long been as much a part of our procedure as the march along the street. People of every type who attend our meetings expect to hear the invitation "Now we'll sing a chorus. Join in heartily!" It would be a great loss if the custom declined...

...The appropriate refrain, expressing a clearly stated idea, helps us in prayer and in praise, encourages our faith, increases our zeal, drives away doubt and adds to our spiritual vigour. The number of those who have surrendered to Christ while the believers around them have sung a chorus must run into many thousands.

Our meetings ought, therefore, to be graced often with chorus singing of one kind or another, and not only those which are for the moment in vogue

Let us sing them, old and new, to the Glory of God!"
General Carpenter, November 1945

Yesterday afternoon's meeting at the Army was notable for the fact that we exclusively used the song book - which is now something of a rarity in any Army gathering! From the relatively fervent singing around me, I drew the conclusion that I was probably not alone in enjoying this.The band augmented this musical step back in time with marches from Marshall and Gullidge.

Big Grandad and I were talking the other day about how, whilst we are not predisposed to dislike modern music, there seems to be particularly little thought given these days to the importance to fair constituency of people of good stuff, which has stood the test of time, being given continued airing in worship. Hymns which have lasted hundreds of years in some cases have suddenly been singled out in this particular generation, almost silently, for summary annihilation. All over the church, (and I am not being specific to a denomination or a congregation here!) the art of congregational singing, ie singing together as a body, is being overtaken by being sung at.

Furthermore, the original SATB arrangements of tunes like 'Diademata' and 'Praise my soul' have fallen into disuse, and 'Tucker' has been missing, presumed dead, for rather a long time already. Yes, the more recent incarnations might be a good 'romp' and more fun for the band, but what about the members of the congregation left wondering where the alto, tenor and bass parts they knew have gone, whose singing the band is accompanying?

I like our friends' mantra "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something 'Yellow, Red and Blue'" - that's the thinking I try to apply when I am leading worship.

Anyway, it's important to emphasise the good, and I for one was delighted to have the opportunity to sing choruses which were part of my Army upbringing, which have already lasted longer than most of today's crop will. They are reasonably predictable for the singer (and therefore easy to learn), they are catchy, and it is no wonder that their like inspired the internationally-renowned musical genre of the Salvation Army march, as Black Dyke's latest recording again illustrates. (Daddy hasn't got a copy yet, but notes that his favourite Army march, the Erik Leidzén's rarely-played masterpiece 'Steadily Onward' is on it!)

I was disappointed to find that nobody has put it in Youtube, but of our Army readership, many will remember Roy Castle's TV series, 'Marching as to War', and the music-hall piece with Roy on the stage and Norman Bearcroft leading the instrumentalists. Tunes like 'Champagne Charlie', and 'The man on the flying trapeze' were used to illustrate how the best tunes were sneakily taken back from the devil. Our denomination, if no other, should realise that our congregational singing has drawn for so many years, successfully, on the hymnological and ecclesiological influence of the music hall and the football terraces. Congregational singing should retain the corporate element. It is, after all, something we do together!

The first chorus we sang yesterday has well and truly stuck in my head today. I found it on the Cyber-Hymnal, along with the original verses, which were hitherto unknown to me and which were in neither the 1953 nor 1986 songbooks. It's catchy, it's memorable, it conveys truth, it's personal. You can whistle it in the shower, you could sing it with a coach-load. It reminds me of Sunday night meetings of my childhood, often requested by the congregation:

God is still on the throne,

And He will remember His own;
Though trials may press us and burdens distress us,
He never will leave us alone;
God is still on the throne,
And He will remember His own;
His promise is true, He will not forget you,
God is still on the throne.
Right now, when I am facing even more bother than usual (hence the few posts in the last couple of weeks) that promise is an important one to me. Step Mum is away this week, as she will be for the next three, and not being left alone or forgotten by God is reassuring. It is as true as I hum it today as it was when a hundred of us sang it yesterday.

In the same way, I am still here, remembering my own. I still think of you every day, and I am doing more than you will ever know.

Love from Daddy

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The 'Quiet Man' becomes the 'Awkward Man'

Last night, with a flat iPhone (hence no pictures!), I attended the Centre for Social Justice's fringe featuring an interview with Iain Duncan Smith, in between more 'day-job' events.

The CSJ fringe was my first introduction to family breakdown policy, two years ago, before I realised the extent to which I would subsequently be involved. In recent weeks, they have launched a new policy paper, intent on addressing "Fatherlessness, dysfunction and parental separation/divorce" I quickly read through and annotated a copy, noting that there is lots of valuable 'carrot' and no 'stick' at all in their proposed policy approach. Whilst CMEC has powers to destroy the lives and livelihoods of parents who do not pay their maintenance, there is no way of even measuring the compliance of parents with residence, never mind penalising them for failure to act in good faith and in accordance with the law. A shame, since otherwise they make a lot of good proposals.

Anyway, as you will imagine, I not only listened intently to the Secretary of State, but wanted to ask a question in the presence of a packed room.

Asked about his further political aspirations and his return to front-line work with the coalition, he said "This is the only cabinet job I want".

He talked of the £20bn a year spent on family breakdown, and the perverse incentives provided by the benefits system. Challenged on success so far, he pointed out the size of the tanker he is trying to turn, but was blunt in his appraisal of the problem.

On government intervention in families' lives: "Government is intervening ineptly and dysfunctionally... the most dysfunctional family in the system is the government"

Regarding the riots, and the subsequent quietening-down about the causes as time passes: "My job is to be a the awkward man that keeps reminding everyone there's a problem"

At the death, I was invited to ask a question. Quoting Mr Gove's earlier words, I explained that, to my sadness, it is under this government, as the tanker is still slowing, that my little boy and other children like him had lost their Dad, and having been there at birth, men like me were gone now, despite gargantuan efforts.

IDS was, as previously, was not only gracious but kind in his response, even when the interviewer suggested that he couldn't judge who was a good father and who wasn't...

Time is tight today, but with reference to the dreadful recording off my phone, here are some quotes that should encourage us:

"A lot of fathers genuinely do play by the rules, and can't get access to their children. I fully accept that and understand that. There's a tendency in society to say 'Fathers bad, mothers good, full stop' - It's not like that; it's far more complex."

"Family law is too opague - we can't understand why judgements are made"

Speaking of interventions which the state, his preference being through the third sector, might make, he said: "Sometimes [the intervention] is stabilising the mother, because she herself is dysfunctional".

People, particularly 'Anonymous, saviour of the internet', love to claim I am all about retribution towards Mummy. A deeper inspection will tell you that I have made it clear over time that that's not what I'm about at all. (see also here).

Mummy, and other dysfunctional parents and families, are not condemned by Mr Duncan Smith. Rather, he recognises that we have to identify them to help them - and we have to remove the perverse incentives, often provided by the welfare system, which embed dysfunction, and embitter the lives of so many.

Nevertheless, where dysfunction is also manifest as disinterest, and where the 'carrot' is spurned, I do believe we need the 'stick' - and for fundamental equality before law and in the consideration of the state, of both parents. In an age of austerity, it is also noteworthy that you and your family would not be claiming any benefits if you lived with me. Should the state sponsor a child living with a parent who cannot afford them, when the other parent is capable of providing for them?

I was again grateful for the platform to remind the assembled throng of the plight of families like ours, but most of all, I was again grateful to one of the most senior politicians in the land for his personable, kindly concern, and for his keenness both to listen, and to articulate what others consider to be unspeakable truths.

Today I am back to an amount of desk work, though as here in Manchester, the clouds are gathering over that situation. In the former case, this is a bit of a blow, as I left my coat at home!

Hopefully I will have some exciting news for you later - I have a call to pay on my way home...

First up, let's see what Mr Cameron has to say, beyond telling us to pay off our credit cards - something of a sore point for me!

Catch you later.

Love from Daddy.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Coach D to the power of 3

Step Mum arrived home late last night with additions for the model railway.

We now have 3 standard class coaches (different numbers but all labelled 'D'!) and one first, for our fGW HST - probably the most emotive of the purchases we have made to populate the 'Land of make believe', since it was the train that brought you to us - and took you away again.

I got out the model of the sea wall which you and I made a start on last summer, to put it on...

The wall needs some stonework, and the beach some fresh sand, but I am reluctant to do it without you. My own model, when I have the chance to build it, will also feature a little boy on the beach, watching the trains go by.

You remain in the forefront of my thoughts, little mate. Lots is going on which I can't speak of just now, but which will become apparent soon enough.

Meantime, spare a thought for Step Mum, who again was up early this morning to catch a train from Paddington, from where you took your leave of us, seemingly for good, last year. She sent me a text to say she was in coach D, too...

We miss you. We always will.

Love from Daddy

Friday, 23 September 2011

Bear necessities

Given all the bombarding we get by adverts that feature (mostly single and rather dizzy, or known coke-head) Mums, I saw this on the telly the other night and immediately thought I should share it. Well done, Sainsburys, If I wasn't so pressed for time today I could edit a sequence of pictures and videos of our own, to match.

Only thing is, they'd be a year out of date.

Anyway, in the week that REM split up (and I was only talking about them the other day, wasn't I!), this one goes out to the Dads. Have a great weekend with your children, if you can.

Love from Daddy

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Any Happy Returns?


You were born (after much pushing, pulling, brute force and ignorance and use of cutting gear) at 0226; your first hour in this world was spent with a very proud Daddy.


After a health scare and a stay in hospital in Inverness, you got out just in time to celebrate. Friends of Daddy's treated you to a ride with the crew on the (otherwise fully booked!) steam train from Fort William to Mallaig, and you had your first visit to the cab of a steam engine - 'Black 5' 45231 - at Fort William. We played on the beach at Arisaig and blew out the candle in our tent beside the railway line.


Another year, another milestone - but changed circumstances. Your cab ride on 4953 'Pitchford Hall' at Leicester North was another birthday 'first' thanks to Uncle John the driver, and was the first time you had seen me in six weeks, during which time I had been first accused of being mentally incapable of looking after you, and then hospitalised for emergency surgery. Mummy refused to comply with the court order for contact, and we were fearful that you might not spend your birthday with me after all.

We took you to the railway, laid the tables, put up balloons, and Grandma, Big Grandad and the rest of your family from the Midlands came over to join you for a birthday party with a difference! You spoke to Mummy on the 'phone that day, and had a separate celebration with her and your maternal family.


None of the people in the picture above have seen you since December 2010.

We don't know when, or if, the next time will come.

 Happy third birthday, mate. I have sent a card, one of the several presents I have for you, and others from your paternal and church families have done the same. We have no idea whether they will reach you or whether you have any idea where we all have gone, but we have kept plenty of proof - and by the medium of this written form, I hope you will come to understand one day that you were never, ever forgotten - on this special day, or indeed any other.

God Bless You, Son

Love from Daddy - and all the other 'missing' people.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Daddy's progress

I never got as far as an account of my trip to Scotland, did I!

On the shelves in the dining room, there are two identical copies of my favourite new railway atlas. One is for my work, and the other, with many of the lines highlighted, bears an inscription, for it is yours.

I have always marked off bits of railway I have travelled on in one of the old Ian Allan pocket atlases, which predictably I can't find right now. However, I decided that a bigger one would provide a nice snapshot of the railway you used as a child, and enough space in the future to perhaps append notes of trips you made; tickets, keepsakes etc. I spent several hours carefully highlighting every mile of railway you have travelled over in your short life so far.

You've been as far south as Bournemouth, and as far north as Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh; you really are a well-travelled little lad.

My meetings being over for the day, on Wednesday afternoon I went out to try and highlight some more of my own book. The network of suburban lines around Glasgow is the busiest outside London and takes some clearing! Unfortunately, a massive signalling failure at Shields Junction stopped me from heading for the Ayrshire coast, where I need to do the Largs and Ardrossan Harbour lines.

So, armed with an SPT 'Daytripper' and my copy of Adrian Vaughan's latest book of letters by Brunel, I set off to do some of the less picturesque lines south of the river.

First stop was Neilston, where I didn't realise there was a turnback siding. As a result, I ended up having a technically banned ride into the siding and back, as I wanted to go straight back where I'd come from! Cracking out the paper timetables, I worked out a means of completing the South Glasgow routes by the end of the day, and headed back to Mount Florida to fill a 'gap', namely that between Cathcart and Newton.

To my surprise, after an elongated wait due to the ongoing problems at Shields and traincrew all being out of place, one of the new Class 380s turned up to take me to Newton, where the 'back route' to Motherwell via Hamilton briefly runs parallel to, and connects with, the main line via Uddingston. These are quite like the '350s' you have used with us in London, but a bit more comfortable. They also have the odd combination of a raked-back front and a corridor connection.

Having changed onto a more elderly unit at Newton, I carried on down to Larkhall, which hadn't been re-opened yet when I first 'bashed' Lanarkshire a few years back. It was the proud boast of the signalmen at Motherwell who look after this route, last time I visited them, that none of them had ever travelled on it!

The ongoing troubles in town saw to it that rather than having to wait for the late inbound train, the same set was sent back as a Dalmuir service. Arriving back in Glasgow Central (low level), I went straight up the escalator and back onto a Cathcart circle train, (rather like getting off a roller coaster and running round to join the queue again!) leaving me East Kilbride to cross off from the routes available. Since it was getting on and I was hungry, I left 'EK' for another day and headed back to the hotel.

I am left with only a handful of railway in Glasgow which I haven't traversed. Paisley Canal, East Kilbride, Largs, Ardrossan Harbour and Springburn are the only passenger bits remaining, excepting the line east of Airdrie which is now of course a through route to Edinburgh once more and will be crossed off next time I visit my friend in Blackridge. Things like the Chalmerston and Killoch branches, the 'Burma Road' and the Shields - High St Junction line, which never see passenger trains, will be somewhat more difficult to attain, but it's not a competition! It is, however, an interesting learning experience, not least for someone who works in the field I do, and between a good book, a seat and a constantly changing view from the window, it was a pleasant way to kill a few hours. The railways have taught me an awful lot over the years, and were a fundamental thread in my understanding of the world when I was a child. To some extent, they remain so today!

Yesterday I had more meetings to attend, and then I bid Glasgow farewell on the 1340 to Euston (seat 41 had to suffice once more!).

The West Coast Main Line is a lovely bit of railway. We all have our favourite bits; a lot of people choose the Lune  but for me it's got to be the Lower Clyde valley. My favoured seat is on the wrong side for the best views, but I grabbed some shots out of the window nevertheless as I sped south.

Clyde Bridge, looking east

The Clyde valley; imagine this setting before the M74 was built!
The Lune Gorge, the M6 mercifully out of sight...

25 minutes late due to a lineside power failure at Lancaster, I arrived back into London, where I took a few minutes on the tube to get back up to speed and into 'Londoner mode'! Straight to choir practice and home late. On the tube I passed a reminder that I have two more pieces about Ayrton Senna to publish - the film opens tonight...

Well, there you go - a couple of days in the life of your Dad. Nothing spectacular, but none of it without you constantly being on my mind. We can I'm sure go back to Scotland one day and highlight some more of your book - I hope.

Love from Daddy

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Meet you by the bear

I'm posting this message from Paddington station - by the statue of the bear himself, in fact.

Step Mum and I were talking about you last night - and about how it can be very hard living in the house we associate with you, surrounded by places and memories that centre around you. We did so much in the fleeting moments we had together last year that few places are immune from the sensation. Until you are back, there are some places I will probably avoid visiting.

Yesterday I went to the Ian Allan shop in Waterloo, and a few yards from the shop I stopped in my tracks realising it was the first time I'd been to the 'Model Railway Shop' since I took you there. I had to get in and out, pausing only to grab a picture of your favourite bit of the shop (where all the 'N' gauge track is kept!) as a focus for my thoughts later.

It is here, though, by the bronze bear, that I feel the closest to you. Least inhibited. Best able to just breathe deeply and experience my feelings. It has become a focal point for me to stop what I am doing, when I'm in London, and to think of you, and to have hope.

Almost every time you came to London last year, we visited Paddington.

At first, you were really quite scared of him, and would wave from a distance so long as you didn't have to get too close. Over time though, he became a constant in your understanding of the world and your life; seeing 'Panton' meant seeing Daddy, and vice versa. In the end, you were taking me to see him as soon as we got off the tube.

Over many visits, you hugged him, tried to open his suitcase, pick his nose, named all the parts of his body(!) - and when it came to leave London for what I feared, rightly, might be the last time, you said goodbye, planted a kiss on his nose and wished him a 'Happy Christmas'.

For me, burdened with more knowledge than you, it was a happy place either to celebrate your arrival back with me, or to take the edge off the horrible process of boarding the train at six minutes past the hour. Every time I took you back to Devon, I would return five or six hours later, and as I headed for the Bakerloo line, a glance to my right would remind me that Paddington was still there, standing sentinel over the 'lawn'. At a time in my life when people were often transient, he was always to remind me of you, without moving or saying a word - a silent witness to everything we were going through. Sometimes, that was the kind of friend I needed - a bronze bear can be a very sympathetic 'listener'.

On days like today, I just sit on his plinth, and think of all the happy times we shared here. The tourists must often wondered why there is a misty-eyed young bloke in a suit sat looking at him!

I am here today because I needed another model of the statue, which you can only buy here, as a gift for someone who has done an awful lot for us over the last year or so.

'Long lost family' is on again tonight. At every reunion, they ask where they would like it to take place. Some of the choices relate to the last place they saw one another, or some other special place where they dreamed of being reunited.

I know from work that Network Rail can be pretty mercenary about such things when they have plans, but I reckon our friend will be left in peace for a good few years yet.

I am not ruling out coming after you, Son, neither am I accepting what Mummy has done, nor giving up. That's part of what this blog is about. But if it is the case that you ever need to come and find me, after however many years or miles, I'll meet you by the bear.

We will be here on your birthday, every year, and every January 6th, so far as we are able, to remember and pray for you. I've just bought your 3rd birthday card...

Love from Daddy - and Paddington.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The importance of seeing Ernest('s house)

I'm a little late back from my lunch today, just passing through Tottenham Hale (which 'Digital Doris' tells me has step-free access!) on the 'Vic'.

Amidst all the madness, I have been trying to do things at lunchtimes which don't involve work or legal drafting. Today, having posted our census form, I dug out the 1911 census forms relating to our family, of which I bought copies when they were released.

William was your Great, Great, Great Grandfather - and I've just visited his house - I think!

A century ago this week, William, his wife Francis and seven of their eight children were living in York Road, in Walthamstow. William was a 'Paperhanger' - which we think referred to wallpapering rather than bill-posting, since others described him as a painter and decorator.

Ernest, his son, then 18, was working as a Draper's Assistant, and was to become your great, great grandfather. His daughter, your direct relative, was born, lived and died in the period between when his name was entered on the form above and when I read it as the first member of our family to do so in almost a century.

Of course, this year's census asks rather more of us than was the case back in 1911. I will only be able to find out so much about our ancestors of a century ago. Ironically, though, this year's form didn't give me any opportunity to record the fact that I am your father, or that I have a child at all - or to give qualitative information to explain our current circumstances.

In common with many people, I told them to 'Mind their own' regarding religion, and generally showed the disdain for the process you would expect from someone being harmed daily by the state.

I don't know if you will be around in 2111, or indeed if the originals will be kept for people to view - possibly only the data will remain. But if our descendents care to look, and are able to, I have left on the form a gesture of remembrance of you, to interest the genealogists of the future, and to provide clues to their heritage.

I wonder what Ernest and William would make of you and me if they met us today. The world has undoubtedly changed a lot since they lived in the unassuming house I briefly visited today. Perhaps, I pondered as I returned to work, it is not so much seeing where we have been that shapes us, but realising that one day, others might look back in our direction, to seek out who, and what, we were.

I wonder what they will make of us...

Love from Daddy.