Friday, 23 December 2011

23 December – Enjoy

Some of the family have arrived. They helped to make mince pies this afternoon.

What more could anyone want?

I think with the imminent approach of Christmas – and the rest of the family, there’ll be no more ‘Do Nothing...’ So, see you in Church at Christmas, or on the blog in the new year

22 December – joy

Driving round the Chilterns today (last-minute shopping!) resonated with the suggestions for the day: moments that are inexplicable wonderful. The shops weren't quite as good but even here, things seemed less rushed than usual at this time of year!

Tomorrow: enjoy what you have

21 December – Faith

Will I go to Church this Christmas? Yes, at least three times. Will I be able to participate in the worship – rather than worrying about all the arrangements? I hope so! And I hope the grandchildren will go to one of the crib services – either here or in Tring. I don't expect they'll make it on Christmas Day – too busy opening presents!

Next: joy

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

20 December – Father Christmas

No question here: the grandchildren are very young – Father Christmas is real! I remember in primary school having doubts when I saw, under the red cloak, shoes and trouser turnups that looked exactly like those of one of the teachers.

Next: faith

19 December – family again

Again, not too difficult! And ‘Take yourself less seriously’ – I don’t think I’m too serious: perhaps that’s a problem! We have had some fun with the family today: one grandchild asked for a box for his sticker books and another has requested silent crackers.

Next: Father Christmas

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

18 December – family

This shouldn’t be too difficult! The implication on today’s ‘Do Nothing...’ is that family Christmases are stressful and full of disagreements. Luckily we’re not like that – or at least to date we haven’t been. But we will plan lots of joint activities so that we’ll do things together. As for a Boxing Day walk: let’s hope the weather is better than last year:

Next: family again

17 December – people

Well, I do know my next door neighbours’ names – and most of the people in the village, but that’s another advantage of living in a small community. We don’t see each other much apart from passing on the double bend or over the occasional village lunch – harvest was the last.

Stephen Cottrell talks about networks: I’m chatting to daughter Lucy as I draft this entry. And Alvin, next-door neighbour is online, too. I’m also trying to connect with an ex work colleague but she’s not watching her PC! These networks do keep us together. Ah – Ewa has woken up – she’s in Warsaw. So as well as drafting this, I’m chatting to Tring and Warsaw. The world has shrunk. I still tell the story of one of my IT Friends whose Skype webcam I helped to set up. I had an e-mail from her on Christmas day saying that she had seen her grandson in New Zealand opening his Christmas presents. Great!

The question in ‘Do Nothing...’ that asked ‘Do I only ever mix with people like myself?’ made me think. I remember having a pub lunch with a group of work colleagues on one project a while ago. I had recruited all the colleagues to the project. Over lunch it suddenly struck me that these were people just like me: perhaps it was just that we were all had similar skills. Or was it more than that?

Next: family

Monday, 19 December 2011

16 December – Charity

Choosing charities to support is a challenge: do I go for national ones or small? Ones that support local activities or abroad? I think I tend towards local ones and ones that connect somehow. What I do object to is the practice of sending cards or labels or similar ‘gifts’ on spec because although I understand the thinking behind these, I’m sure they make lots of people think they are under some obligation to support the charity. I’m afraid they go straight into the recycling bin or on the fire.

Looking back on the charities I’ve supported with my computer work, these have either been very local (youth work in the Church, Wycombe Winter Night Shelter) or ones that friends have been closely associated with (Midwifery with Altitude, Kidney Research)

And I do have some standing orders for charities, although having checked, I think I need to review the list!

Next: people

15 December – Christmas lights

I had planned to try to find some houses with extensive Christmas lights but I ran out of time (so much for ‘do nothing...’) I don’t think the extra lights temporarily installed in Church to help the choir read their music counts as Christmas lights.

Instead, I’ve done a little research into LED lights – we’re encouraged to replace our Christmas lights with LED ones. These (LED lights) have developed enormously over the last few years and are now available as replacement light bulbs for household use. I was surprised to see that the first observation of electroluminescence was made by a British researcher in 1907, well before semiconductors became widely used. The physics is fairly simple: when a current is passed through a semiconductor diode, electrons combine with holes in the material and the result is the emission of energy in the form of photons – light. The engineering is a little more complex: getting the right wavelength of the light and making the light usable isn’t easy. However, recently we’ve seen a plethora of LEDs in everyday use – as well as Christmas tree lights.

LED lights are still not as efficient as fluorescent ones – but are better than incandescent lamps. They do, however, switch on very rapidly. You may have seen recent cars with brake lights that come on very quickly, much faster than ordinary bulbs which have to warm up. There are also LED traffic lights which can be seen to switch quickly. Their life is considerable, too, provided that the operating conditions are observed: typically 35,000 to 50,000 hours compared with 10,000 to 15,000 hours for fluorescent lamps and 1,000 to 2,000 for incandescent bulbs. I’m suspicious of the compact fluorescent  lifespan: I’ve had to replace several on our outside lights, although these may be suffering from significant temperature variations.

LEDs are currently very expensive although the lifetime cost may be less than other light sources. In our kitchen we have downlighters set into the ceiling (which is low to match the rest of the house) I;ve replace some of these with compact fluorescent reflector bulbs which are fine when they are warmed up but do take 10 minutes or so to get to working condition: not very convenient when we want to pop into the kitchen to make a pot of tea! I’m looking out for LED replacements – but not at a price between £100 and £300!

If you want to read more about LEDs, I suggest you have a look at Wikipedia. And of course there’s a web site selling LED lamps -

Incidentally, we still have incandescent lights on our tree – because they haven’t failed yet – but the lights on the porch gable are LEDs.

Next: charity

Saturday, 17 December 2011

14 December – simple delights

We looked at the Nativity story a couple of days ago. Today, well, actually last Wednesday, Stephen Cottrell says ‘Take some child-like delight in what is happening around you today’ When I looked out this morning, there was a layer of snow, a clear blue sky with the sun just peeping over the horizon, and mist in the Rignall valey. I resisted the temptation to get my camera again – I have so many pictures of Little Hamden! But it was delightful. So here are some of the images I’ve captured at this time of year.

Next: Christmas lights – and I’m catching up!

13 December – overdoing the food

Yes, we all overdo the food over Christmas. As I started drafting this there was an ad on the TV for Aldi’s Four Bird Roast. Chicken, turkey, duck and goose layered with a pork, sage and onion stuffing and with a sweet marmalade glaze to complement the flavours. 

The Morrisons web site has a Big Lunch Guide. Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a juicy turkey in the centre of the table. We’ve put together lots of top cooking and carving tips from our Market Street expert Butchers to help you serve up something spectacular this year. 

Sainbury’s have Taste the Difference Norfolk Black Turkey - free-range and slower grown for extra succulence and flavour. 

Asda has 57 items under the Christmas Day main course menu.

I hope we’ll be fairly sensible!

Next: see through the story to simple delights

Friday, 16 December 2011

12 December – the nativity story

I like the suggestion that we should fill Church aisles with cow dung and horse manure during Christmas to get back to the reality of the story. We’ve seen one Nativity Play this year: Mary got rather bored and spent the latter half sucking her thumb!

However, the best story I have seen so far was sent by a neighbour: it’s really how the story would go today – have a look at this youtube video.

Next: overdoing the food

Thursday, 15 December 2011

11 December – drink

Not sure about this one!  Unsociable drinking is a problem but not one we suffer in Little Hampden now that the Rising Sun has closed. Thinking about pubs, we’ve started holding many of our Church meetings in a pub over a meal, and a modicum of drink, of course. These have been incredibly effective: we get a lot of work done and the friendly atmosphere and companionship makes a big difference. Fortunately we have a few hostelries that welcome us and we don’t seem to interfere with other customers or be too disturbed by them. Our regular Deputy Warden meeting always ends with The Grace (not the Messy one – yet)

Next: the nativity story

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

10 December – simple toys

Toys and other gifts are getting more complicated and expensive. It wasn’t really during Advent but a while ago the grandchildren had great fun making a castle out of a cardboard box, some sellotape (lots of sellotape) and a few other odds and ends. They’ve added to it over the weeks and had as much fun from this as their expensive toys.

Next: drink

9 December – Stillness

I’m even further behind and finding time is even more challenging. The suggestions for 9th December include ‘Treat yourself to a few minutes stillness today...’ ‘Listen to a piece of music or read a poem or just dare to be silent...’ It wasn’t quite what was meant but I did have several periods of stillness today: I was doing practice interviews for some year 11 students at The Misbourne. The stillness was while I listened to their achievements, aspirations, thoughts and plans. As usual a mixed bunch but some quite inspirational answers: one who writes stories to amuse herself, one who has built his own PC, one who has played basketball for the South of England, one whose answers were all well constructed, well thought through sentences, one who wants to study Physics and engineering – and enjoys art, but prefers the old masters to modern stuff.

The book says: ‘What are the things that get you back in touch with yourself? Treat yourself...’

Today was a treat.

Next: simple toys

Sunday, 11 December 2011

8 December – Homelessness

Four days behind! I really need to find time...

Thursday was about homelessness. It’s difficult to accept we have homeless people not far away but the Old Tea Warehouse in High Wycombe and the Wycombe Homeless Connection (previously the Wycombe Winter Night Shelter) are evidence that we do. One of the youth groups in Church, Reach, are doing a series of activities to help them understand what it’s like to be homeless and today they were cooking over a camp fire. It was a good day for them – cold with a little drizzle. I think they really understood the challenges of living on the streets.

Next: stillness.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

7 December – mealtimes

I’m a day late with reporting this but the reason is significant. Yesterday was about Christmas cake and mealtimes. We have delegated the former to our daughter whose two sons like doing the icing. Expect an orange cake with knights on it.

However mealtimes rang a bell yesterday. Stephen Cottrell says “Bring back mealtimes! Start a new regime where dinner is on the table at a certain time and you all sit together” For some time the gang of deputy wardens we have at the Church have met regularly over a meal to review the past month and to plan the next activities. We have an excellent local pub which reserves a corner table for us and serves super food. And we do a lot of business. The companionship engendered by the closeness of a joint meal as well as sharing ideas, suggestions, problems and solutions makes us a much closer team and we’re much more effective for it. Yesterday happened to be the day on which our December meeting was scheduled. ’Twas meant to be!

We’ve extended the mealtime meeting to lunch meetings – a different pub which has good lunchtime food and a quiet table. We’ve had a few comments and some sceptics but it works. And I think this is very much in the spirit of Do Nothing....

Tomorrow – I mean today – homelessness

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

6 December – Christmas Trees

We had the children of Little Hampden here today making decorations for our tree in the Christmas Tree Festival which opens at St Peter & St Paul, Gt Missenden, on Friday. We haven’t got the tree yet but the decorations are all angels. Stephen Cottrell says on today’s page: “What angels will visit you today? What messages are you listening to?... the word Angel means ‘messenger’. There are messages for you today.

Tomorrow: Christmas Cake and meal times

Monday, 5 December 2011

5 December – Credit

I tried one cash purchase today but failed: The Misbourne students are doing Twelfth Night and I thought it would be a fun evening and good to support them. So I rolled up at the school to buy some tickets – only to be told that they are only available online so I had to use a card.

I’m not going to cut up my credit cards. They are an easy way of paying – the only way in many cases, as with The Misbourne – and come with benefits (points, ‘free’ travel insurance...) although apart from the John Lewis vouchers most of these are of limited value. I haven’t looked at whether the new Avios scheme has any good offers  - but, of course, these won’t help me to get in touch with Christmas!

Tomorrow: Christmas Trees

Sunday, 4 December 2011

4th December – reality vs the ads

Just as I sat down to pen (ok, key) this blog entry, the John Lewis Christmas ad appeared on the TV. I’d already started looking for more background on this – is the JL ad the measure of the times? There’s a ‘Making of..’ video on the JL website – the ad cost £5m. The good thing about the JL ad is that it’s all about giving, not receiving. There’s an interesting commentary about this and other Christmas ads on the Guardian web site.

As an aside: it’s interesting that the anti-capitalist protests don’t seem to worry about retailers – that bit of capitalism is ok?

Stephen Cottrell thinks the ads are far from reality – families don’t behave like this. I think I’m very lucky that our gang are not at all dysfunctional. We’re not like the JL ads but family get-togethers are fairly stress-free. One Grandson’s suggestion to occupy himself and his mother when his school was closed last week was that they go together to have lunch at Da Vinci’s, the local Italian restaurant!

The book also refers to snowy ads asking ‘why is it always snowing on the adverts? Can anyone remember the last time it snowed at Christmas?’ I can: 2010, 2009. I hope this isn’t a portent of a white Christmas for 2011!

But back to connecting with the real story of Christmas. Carolyn’s story this morning was really relevant: we’re so busily inundated with info these days that we don’t stop.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

3 December – shopping again

Another day to get away from the shopping rat race. Stephen Cottrell asks to consider what we really need – not what we think we want. He suggests we try a walk in the countryside – I only have to walk outside the front door to do this!

I happened to be browsing some web sites searching for information about volunteers when I spotted a note about Hertzberg’s Two-Factor theory – which rang a bell in the context of today’s ‘Do Nothing.’ Although developed to understand what motivates employees, it seems relevant in today’s thoughts. Hertzberg says there are two sets of factors: hygiene and motivation.

Hygiene factors, if missing, lead to dissatisfaction, but in themselves don’t motivate people. They need to be there for a degree of satisfaction, but they are not what it’s all about. Motivators are what drive people, or, in today’s context, are what people need. Hygiene factors include things like living conditions, relationships with peers and, interestingly, money. The real motivators are things like achievement, recognition, responsibility, growth. Translated from the workplace, I think this goes a long way to explain the answers in Stephen Cotrell’s book – what people really wanted for Christmas: “end to violence, peace in the middle east etc”

I found another relevant reference: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which has a similar message: there are a set of basic needs which need to be met before the higher-level drivers can have an effect on people, but these basic needs do not motivate. The basic needs include breathing, food, water, security of body and of employment. Maslow’s theory says that highly motivated people go beyond the basics and are driven by ‘Being-needs’ such as morality, creativity, esteem.

I know sometime during Advent I’ll be challenged to engage with people for whom the hygiene factors or ‘deficiency needs’ are a major problem, but for today, I think I’ve been given a new outlook on things.

If you want to read more about Hertzberg and Maslin, I think the Wikipedia entries are to be trusted! Click here for Hertzberg Maslow

Tomorrow: the reality of life contrasted with the images in the ads.

Friday, 2 December 2011

2 December – Christmas shopping

Well, Stephen Cottrell today is all about shopping and avoiding getting caught up in the commercialisation of Christmas; buying the same simple present for everyone or shopping at charity shops. I did none of this! But I did manage to get away and get connected to the meaning of Christmas twice today.

First it was a wonderful Nativity play performed by a crowd of infants at school. The little ones were obviously enjoying it and really understood the story. Mary did get a little tired about it all and was sucking her thumb by the end but it was a great start to Christmas.

Later today it was the youth club The Zone. We had bought some simple Christmas decorations in Hobbycraft in Aylesbury. Several of the youngsters enjoyed making them up – sticking decorations on the trees. This again was an escape from the rush of Christmas and getting in touch with the real meaning.

But no shopping.... Tomorrow the diary is pretty clear so shopping may call!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

1 December – Advent ... do nothing again

1st December has arrived so here we go again. Day 1 starts to get things into perspective: prune the Christmas Card list, make lists of what’s important rather than of gifts. Brenda has stocked up on cards so I won’t prune too much besides, relationships are important – even those we only re-establish once a year.

The gift list made me think about what is really important: friendships, working in teams, doing things together. I found some good ‘gifts for him’ in the Sunday Times last weekend. In these straitened times, it’s rather surprising that gifts like this are on anyone’s lists. So here is a list of gifts I don’t need:

A new watch: an Omega Terra XXX Small Seconds watch £13,200. If it had a full sweep second hand I may have considered it.

A new camera: a Leica M9-P £5,395. The lens is extra – and not quoted.

Underwear: Liberty Print boxer shorts £32. Not quite in the same league as the others. My friend Ian likes Liberty print shirts so he may approve of these... but probably not.

I also had an e-mail this week – I don’t think it was a spam – offering me an Aston Martin Vantage for only £699 per month. I was tempted until I saw the small print: deposit of £29,999 and last payment of £46,512. So another gift not on the list!

Does this help to put Christmas in perspective?