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Sunday, 27 February 2011

I've a Stalker in Jesus

Spiritual Graffiti

A coincidence for me is finding out that your birthday falls on the same day as the new girl you are dating, or buying a new shirt from Primani and wearing it to a party thinking “nobody will know it only cost me £4.99”, but when you turn up, someone else is wearing the same thing and you are subconsciously forced into avoiding them, whilst offering glances with knowing eyes for the rest of the evening. What then do you make of a series of occurring coincidences, all on the same subject, in a short period of time?

My first blog post in this series of #postaweek2011 articles was entitled Faithless not Hopeless, where I looked back at my attendance at last years Alpha Course and summarised my feelings and my own view of Christianity. I spoke about how my parents and surrounding family had an unnerving faith, which I was lacking, all due to not having the belief that they share - that there is actually a son of God and that they are having some kind of relationship with Him.

I thought that was it, my one and only post about faith, religion, Christianity or otherwise, get it over and done with, write about other stuff. But since then, a series of strange events, coincidental in nature have befallen me which I list in more detail below. Am I right in believing that I have a reader of this blog who could be defined as a “Higher Power”, or am I reading much too far into normal everyday things?

Firstly, over the course of two meals, both at my parents house, I heard during the first one, belatedly my Dad’s full and frank testimony. As I mentioned in my previous post, I had snubbed his baptism as an act of childish petulance. I heard him speak openly and honestly about how he was exiled out to Iran and the relationship with God he developed over the time that he was there. On my second visit, an impromptu “come dine with me” style evening which Stephanie and I were the only non believers in a party of eight.

After a Valentines day themed desert, a choice of either a heart shaped chocolate mouse or a decadent strawberry fool, conversation turned into something deeper. Stephanie and I heard how the couple who were dining with us used their unwavering faith as a mechanism for coping with the loss of their newborn son. Tears flowed from Stephanie as she tried to understand the complexities of such a breadth of emotion and how faith empowered it, whilst I sat with not much to say - how does one ask questions about something like that?

Ordinarily I would agree with you and taken my usual sceptical stance. Of course, if you keep company with people of faith, you are going to talk about it. There is nothing unusual or coincidental here. Unless you add it to the mix of my next few weeks.

Walking from the office to Charing Cross station, amidst the tourists, with their Canon or Nikon camera’s taking photographs of the pavement and equally uninteresting things, shoppers weaving in an out of stores laden with carrier bag’s whilst aromatic smells of a thousand restaurants waft through the air, stirring the stomach through a sensuous wringer. Telltale signs of consumer excess, western commercialism.

Commuters dodging around each other under a canopy of umbrella’s, racing to get home, fighting to remain dry, unlike the tramp. I call him that, as that’s all I ignorantly know. Not street person, not homeless person or whatever is politically correct. A tramp, hiding under a coat-cum-duvet, face hidden beneath his or her hood.

It’s February, it’s biting, freezing cold and the person within this man-made cocoon that doubles up as their home must be soaked, unimaginably uncomfortable, teetering on the edge of darkness.

But sitting there on the floor outside Leicester Square tube station, as the world goes crazily on around them, I see that this person is reading a book instead! Gloved hands with the tips cut off - mittens, holding a shaking book as steady as they can, entitled “The case for Faith”.

I had to double look back, nearly collided in amongst the pedestrian carnage that surrounds Leicester Square at rush hour. I had to see it again, make sure that it wasn’t a trick of the eye - was this really a book that a person in such a dire situation would read? If you were at the bottom of the bottom and in their shoes. Would you be reading a book of this kind?

Even now, would you consider the questions and answers of faith sitting there reading this on your laptop, Ipad or mobile device?

I’d previously read “The case for God” by the same author, Lee Strobel, a book I had borrowed from Mum in an effort to discover my own answers. I know what this series of books are about. They are not considered easy reading, experts from the fields of science, history, theology, philosophy all try and understand and answer some of life’s hardest questions.

Chapter 6: If God really created the universe, why does the persuasive evidence of science compel so many to conclude that the unguided process of evolution accounts for life?

Was this sighting a coincidence maybe, or was it something more?

Outside Charing Cross station, you get an assortment of, what shall we call them - characters? Eccentrics, weirdo’s, people who don’t conform to societies perception of normal. Like the African man of a morning who will be shouting incoherently about how the government has murdered his ‘brothers’ with an array of hand drawn placards as evidence to back up his claims. Or the guy with a saxophone, busking of a evening playing a mournful jazz solo which always reminds me of the band on the Titanic playing wistfully until the last inevitable moments.

Tuesday then, the one just past, a new character standing outside Charing Cross station, nearly five years commuting and I’ve never seen him before in my life. I’d left the office quite a bit later than I normally do. Who knows, if I’d left on time I might not have seen him. But saw him I did. A fairly elderly guy, grey, tight curly hair. He was tall and quite imposing, but standing as he was. Erect, like the Statue of Liberty with his arm aloft, high above his head. Instead of the Liberty torch he held a single piece of laminated paper, with one word upon it, bright, blood red. “Jesus”.

Weirdo I thought! What’s he trying to say? What’s his point? Is he proclaiming to be Jesus or something? If I see him again I thought, I’ll ask him.

Following night, Wednesday. I left work again, not my usual time, but not as late as the night before. Around the corner from my office, walking onto Oxford Street, about to take my short cut through Soho, when in my peripheral vision, in amongst the throng of people walking in the opposite direction was a fairly elderly guy, grey, tight curly hair. Just like the night before he had again, his arm erect, he had the same sign in his hand, inscribed with the same blood red word. “Jesus”.

Thought to myself, there’s that guy again! In the whole of London, I just happen to see the same man at two different locations, on two different days at two different times - weird! Again I wondered what is his point? If I see him again, I thought once more, I’ll ask him.

Coincidental surely? Or something more?

That same night, Wednesday, I had gotten a later train than I would usually get on account of leaving the office later than normal. I sat, reading for a while as I usually do, although for once, I couldn’t read for long, too tired I’m thinking, so I have a nap instead. Wake up, approaching Dartford “Sorry ladies and gentlemen, due to a delay in service, this train will terminate here”. Whatever. I hate South Eastern trains, with a passion. They are useless, beyond useless.

I disembark, sleepy, angry and forced to wait around like the other sheep who are at the mercy of a company who aren’t fit for purpose.

Seven minutes standing in the freezing cold, waiting for the next service to Gravesend. Train finally arrives, so I embark, find a chair, sit down, well, slump, with the hump and get my phone out, vent my spleen at South Eastern through a tweet. Go onto Facebook, what are people up to? Having tea, in comfort, watching football, well Arsenal, if you want to call it that. Look out at the wind and the dark, it’s raining again, can’t see much except for the miserable weather and it’s reflection of how I’m feeling.

I realise I’m sitting on a newspaper, lets have a look at the news shall we?, I thought, understanding that there are far more significant things going on in the world other than my disrupted commute. I pick up the newspaper, it’s open already, folded over onto pages 14 and 15, I take one glance, someone has grafittied on the page. ‘No change there’ I thought, normally you will find newspapers with intelligent one liners like; “your mum’s a whore” or “for sex call” and someones number will be listed. Or in the case of photographs you’ll see Posh Spice adorned with a little goatie beard, or her husband with a male appendage hanging from his forehead. This message slightly different, read:

Spiritual Graffiti

“Please accept ‘Jesus’ problem solved”

All that I mention above flashed back before my eyes, the honesty of testimony, someone sitting on the street, on or in the verge of their darkest hours but seeking the answers in a theological book of some substance. An apparition of a man with a sign in his hand that said “Jesus” who appeared randomly twice in two days and now this, it really was the last straw! I would be wrong in saying I didn’t have a tear in my eye, but giving a wry smile, thought to myself, well, I did ask for proof!

Turning the page over, page 14 another message from the subliminal spiritualist:

Spiritual Graffiti

“Jesus loves you, Please read Bible, ‘Revelations’”

I looked through every single last page of the newspaper, no other graffiti was found. The person who wrote these messages intended for someone to read them, of course they did. But the random way in which it came to be in my possession left me looking upwards and feeling rather humble!

Is someone then, really trying to tell me something, or is it all a collection of chance and circumstance? Family members reading this that will be suggesting something spiritual, I know that. And, whilst I know what I should probably be doing by way of a response, the sceptic in me is still saying “show me one more sign”.

What do you think? What are a series of circumstances celebrating the same subject over a period of time called, and am I right in applying them to a divine source?

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Regeneration, not a Grave End

Gravesend

Gravesend is currently in the beginnings of a major transformation. Both the 'civic quarter' and 'transport quarter' are being redeveloped as part of a multi-million pound regeneration scheme, which will eventually see a new one-way traffic system, a new bus terminus, a vastly improved train station and much improved pedestrian areas and access routes. However, if Gravesham Council had their way, the redevelopment wouldn't stop there.

Last year, plans for Gravesend's 'heritage quarter' were rejected. These plans, put together by developer Edinburgh House included new housing, a new public square, a children's play area and enhancement of the river to include better walkways and garden areas. Also included in the grand masterplan was a controversial 32 storey residential block, which proved to be the cause of much upset and discussion amongst local residents.

As long time readers of this blog will know, I was quite forthright in my condemnation of the planned Ebbsfleet Landmark, going as far as appearing on the BBC's Politics Show to make my feelings known. The plans however were permitted, but work is yet to begin on actually building the 50m horse that was eventually chosen as the winning design.

Why then, would I take such a staunch stance over one project, but take the opposite view on something else? Particularly when I'm now having opposing views to the people who were supporting me against the Ebbsfleet Landmark?

A stones throw from my house sits a pub, The Old Prince of Orange, which until earlier this week I learnt was actually, the second pub on it's current site. The original (below) was knocked down and replaced in 1933.

The Old Prince of Orange (Original)

In it's place a new pub was built:

The Old Prince of Orange (Feb 2011)

What would a coach driver in the 1850's have said if you'd have told him that his regular watering hole, which he had stopped off on his way back from Rochester each day for the past twelve years would be knocked down 80 years from now, and that a new, bigger, more modern building would be built over the top of it and would last for another 80 years and possibly many more?

Would he have complained? Would he have written a letter to the land owner and said that modern people should leave well alone and that his pub had been around since 1633? That the new plans were a disgrace and were not considerate to the towns history, that we need to keep an old, decrepit, falling down building for the sake of keeping the town's character?

Or would he have been proud, that his pub was going to be rebuilt, that it would last another 300 years, would have another 300 years worth of stories, lives and laughter's under it's all modern new roof?

I discovered the Gravesend Yesturyear [sic] Facebook group, which contains a fascinating collection of photographs from down the years, including the one I have used above. Many of the photograph's show the town centre, a vibrant, busy, economic centre where local people used to work, shop and play.

But times change, societies change and as horrible as reality is, town centres no longer serve that purpose any more. Bluewater, Lakeside, Hemstead Valley and other out of town, purpose built shopping centres were the death knoll for small towns like Gravesend. Dartford, Strood, Chatham and Gillingham, all places modernly labelled, quite openly as “shit holes”. The first opportunity Gravesham Borough council get to regenerate and rebuild the town centre into something more modern, more suitable for twenty-first century living people start complaining, protesting and campaigning "save our town". Sorry chaps, but the town has long been lost anyway. The Gravesend of our youth is not the Gravesend of now.

I have my own memories going into town on a Saturday afternoon, pick'n'mix from Woolies and off to the cinema to see a film with friends from school, all unsupervised. Parents knew where we were and quite happy to leave us to our own devices and I'm only 30, fairly young in the grand scheme of things. People older than I, will have those memories and a lot more besides.

But whilst nostalgia is a wonderful thing, we shouldn't let it cloud our judgement. There is nothing I would like more than to see the Gravesend cinema rebuilt back to it's former glory, but it's unlikely to happen (the cinema itself is no longer there, all that's left is it's boarded up fa├žade). Would rebuilding it serve the best interests of the town, or to satisfy my own dreams of days gone by?

Yes, the 32 storey residential block was perhaps a step too far, but the rest of the scheme, all things considered was an opportunity for our town to take a step forward, instead of looking two steps back. Gravesend used to once serve a purpose, but like many a town, it's fallen under a dark cloud. Immigration and anti-social behaviour, graffiti, spitting, foul language, will still be there no matter what the town looks like. But if the town is allowed to fall further into disrepair and we continue to allow it to be neglected, it will only ever get worse.

Anything of historical importance, the library, the pier are already being fondly restored. People moan about sight-lines and preserving the views, but really?! What views? Ours? Of Tilbury, of a power station and the ships that sail into Tilbury docks? Or those of said sailor's looking over to us? What would you rather look at? A collection of architecturally contrasting 1990's riverside apartments with a backdrop of a 1970's shopping centre and an intriguing church building which speaks of an older historical significance?

Or would you rather see a fresh, revitalised town, that looks 'just built', a new town, planned for a new generation, with dotted elements of history, the church, the pier, the odd pub or two. A town that evolves with time and pays careful consideration to what came before it. I know what town I'd prefer.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

A Poem for Valentine's Day

Two lovers

A blog can be a story, an article, a quote, or a picture, it can be a link or a collection of links. It can be an opinion or an assessment, a review or an analysis. It could if you wanted it to be, a song or a poem, which seeing as it's Valentine's Day, I thought I'd do something brave and share with you a piece of poetry. Even better than, I'm sharing with you a piece of poetry that I wrote myself!

A few posts back, I asked the question "£200, what would you do?" and went on to tell you about my creative writing course and my expectations for it. Well, off I went, my first week and was immediately assigned with my first task; the monthly competition:

'With St Valentine's Day taking place this month we require a poem of no more than 20 lines celebrating unrequited love. This can be in any form. To be handed in on...'

“Great!” I thought, “nothing like starting at the deep end!” But have since spent many a quiet moment thinking about what on earth I could write, in this form, about a subject I am very fortunate to have not too much experience in.

Whatever your views are on Valentines Day, whether you are an old romantic at heart and go to great lengths to make your partner feel special, or sit under the “I don't need a specific day to tell my partner I love them, I tell them everyday” cloud, is entirely up to you. But there are plenty of people out there who are deeply in love, secretly in love and going through things that I can only imagine.

Trying to put myself into that mindset took me back to my early teenage days, those awkward times when any girl so much as spoke to you, chemicals reacted, anatomical appendages extended and your heart would send your brain messages that needed to be decoded by the Enigma machine.

So I sat, at my desk, pencil in hand and threw a load of words together, baring in mind that my current written poem anthology stands at zero entries, and wrote, after much tinkering, chopping and changing, something that I felt was not only suitable enough for human consumption, but would be able to be entered into a creative writing competition without the judges collectively laughing and thinking 'who on earth wrote this?'

As a further attempt to massage my confidence I went and spoke with the agency poet laurette, an insanely intelligent chap named Rish, who read, corrected and congratulated me on a piece well done, which left me feeling rather pleased for myself and happy that I hadn't made too much of an embarrassment of myself!

In Tuesday's class I'll be forced to hand in in my completed poem, but before I do, I wanted to share it with you to pass the all important 'readers test', so with much fanfare and no further ado, I'd like to present you with, my poem, on the subject of 'Unrequited Love':

A Lover's Woe

Eternal prayer at cupid's altar
Dear father, I worship your daughter
Broken heart, torn asunder
Raindrop tears, sound like thunder
Neglect, rejection despite my affection
Intense pain, death by injection


If you'd like to comment, please do so, or even sharing your own words on the same subject would be amazing!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Deadline Day Drama & Goodbye Gary

Deadline Day

Deciding to write a blog post a week was a bit of a brave challenge, my previous postings over the years were rather more sporadic, but related to something that genuinely happened or was about to, whereas so far, I've had to think a little bit more about my content. "If I can't think of anything", I thought as I started, "I could always talk about football". Except this week, football was all I could talk about!

Last Monday was "Deadline Day", the over-hyped Sky powered non-event which normally passes without so much as a whimper, reporters spend their day camping outside top flight stadiums and/or training grounds feeding back nonsense rumours like “I can state, that David Beckham WILL NOT be re-signing for Manchester United, I repeat he WILL NOT. Although I'm hearing Ian Holloway, the Blackpool manager IS interested”. Whilst we at home, we all know it's a load of rubbish but sit engrossed as the mocu-non-drama unfolds on screen. Except last Monday, the footballing world finally went mad.

It started off with Chelsea wanting to take Liverpool's star striker Fernando Torres to Stamford Bridge. The American owners said “fine, but it will cost you £50 million”, Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch, who isn't short of a few pence signed a cheque and everything was left down to “El Nino” to decide upon how many roubles he wanted per week for his trouble.

Liverpool meanwhile, who had already been working frantically to secure the services of £23 million Luis Suarez, the precocious Uruguay international from Ajax were left with a large number 9 sized hole in their front line and needed a replacement. Step forward Mr Andy Carroll, the Newcastle talisman, who was the seventh highest goalscorer in the Championship last season, but took to the Premier League this year like a duck to water, scoring 11 times and making his England debut in November against France.

Newcastle finally accepted a mind blowing £35 million for Carroll's services and left themselves with nowhere near enough time to sign a replacement, so for now at least, they have a large amount of money burning a hole in their pockets until the summer when the transfer window reopens, whereas Liverpool, have their man, albeit at a highly inflated price.

What normally then is a day of rumour and hyperbole, last Monday for once, was a genuine event. I followed via Twitter watching sports journalists from around the UK getting themselves in a 140 character tizz as the social networks went into overdrive. BBC “Transfer clock watch” and Sky Sports News Ticker tape spewed forth information, reaction and opinion.

But now that the dust is settled, what's my view? Well as a Liverpool fan, losing Torres was a massive blow, any team in the world that lost their best player would be a blow. But Torres hasn't been himself for a long while and maybe it was for the best all round. If someone is going to offer £50 million for his services, then why not? Football is a funny, but sometimes cruel old game. It could go either way, he could lead them to the promised land of a European Cup trophy or just as equally make his debut today, get injured and never play again, like Pierluigi Casiraghi. It happens.

As for Carroll, well there has been much debate about the size of the transfer fee. £35 million, which is more than David Villa. Yes it is ridiculously high for a player of Carroll's ability and experience, but to try and put it into some kind of context, it was the last day of the transfer window where clubs will pay a premium, plus he was a Geordie playing for his hometown club, where to entice him away from his own kind adds another premium on top. Plus Liverpool and Kenny Dalgleish are investing for the next five to ten years. £35 million could seem a bargain if he has a career the club management and fans hope for him to have.

But football madness and transfer fees aside, I am actually pretty gutted. Sitting in the sun last September whilst in Ibiza for my stag weekend, watching the world go by, this guy who I thought looked like Andy Carroll walked by as we sat in a bar. I was sat upon on a ledge that was decorated with adverts for that night's party. He paused to feel one, arm outstretched just in front of my face, which I thought was quite strange considering the intimacy of it. Rather than saying “Hi, are you Andy Carroll” and wishing him well, I let him go on his way and turned around to the boys instead and asked them “Wasn't that Andy Carroll?” If I'd known that he would go on to play for England and sign for Liverpool I would have wished him all the best and brought him a pint or three!

If wishing, Andy Carroll and all the other players who began new careers in the past month all the luck and success, spare a thought for Gary Neville who announced that he would be hanging up his boots with immediate effect.

He was one of those players who started their careers at a time when I first started to become interested in football, making his debut way back in 1992. He is probably one of the highest profile players to have gone on to fulfil his career, or at least the most decorated in that time, leaving me think “My God, how old am I?”.

Yes he did play for Manchester United and yes he was an outspoken gobshite, but he epitomised everything that you would want to see from one of your own clubs players. Dedication, passion and a fight for the cause. If there was one man other than Alex Ferguson who would stick up for the interests and well being of Manchester United it would be Gary Neville, which endeared him further to the Manchester United supporters, and a figure of hate to everyone else.

Capped 85 time by England, he was England's highest capped right back, a record which anyone would be proud of. He played in THAT game against Germany in Munich, which automatically places any of those eleven players into the higher echelons of footballing godliness, as well as five major tournaments, including the oh-so-nearly European Championships in 1996.

But looking back on his career, if someone was to have brought him on transfer deadline day back in 1992, a fee based upon what they hoped he would do, rather than what he had done, how much would he have been worth?

Football is a funny old game, as a Gillingham supporter it's hard to relate to these multi-million pound expenditures, in fact, even on a human level it's hard to relate. Give me £50 million and I will show you what I could do with potential, I could fulfil a million dreams, not those of an elite few. Score goals, I could achieve goals way beyond those from six yards or 35 yard screamers. But then, nor could just I, any of us could.
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