Today, we give thanks to God for the life and Christian witness of Queen Elizabeth II. May God continue to bless her. The UK and Commonwealth is fortunate indeed to have her as our Monarch.
God save the Queen. The Bible commands:
‘I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people’. I Timothy 2: 1-5
I’m just back from a wonderful second visit to India – with its immense financial contradictions and severe social challenges; none more so than its population numbers. Estimates indicate that over 3,000 babies are born in India every hour!
On the teeming sub-continent, India’s already massive population continues to grow. It’s at 1.22 billion people and steadily rising. A Government initiative is designed to cap families at two children per family under the slogan ‘Small family = Happy family’, despite recent Roman Catholic opposition in states like Kerala countering with their own slogan of ‘Large family = Happy family’.
In July 2011, the BBC reported;
‘The good news is that India’s birth rate has dropped by more than half in 35 years – from 5.7 children per woman in the mid-1960s to 2.7 in 2010. Nearly a third of India’s people have lowered their fertility to replacement levels. The bad news is that India is still set to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation by 2030’.
This week, the UN Population Fund announced that the world population is about to reach seven billion. Incredible; I remember when I got married (in the late 1970’s) that it then numbered just over 4 billion!
According to a BBC web-based calculator, when I was born in the 1950’s, I was the 2,876,874,081 person alive on Earth and the 76,381,725,732 person to have lived since history began! Not sure quite how these figures are arrived at, but all good fun anyway!
This month I flew to Singapore once again. On a regular flight like this, you get to know the route pretty well. One’s routine on the flight is fixed in order to pass away the 12 or 13 hours at 39,000 feet as quickly as possible. Keeping a weather eye on the in-flight map display is just a part of that routine.
This time, it struck me forcibly that the route across these countries on the way down to the Far East represented a snapshot of the challenges and problems that face us all as members of the human race:
Europe = almost entirely secularised and experiencing massive economic turmoil.
Iran and Afghanistan = convulsed by war and civil unrest, impact of repressive regimes.
India = hugely complex, terrible poverty, rising wealth, frequent floods and earthquakes.
Malaysia and Indonesia = emerging Islamic powers.
This is a truly a big and complicated world, often hard to fully comprehend. I recognise that in being both British and Western in outlook, I bring a set of prejudices and preconceptions to my interpretation of the issues facing this planet which may or may not be right, depending on your own viewpoint. Culture clash is quite clearly inevitable!
There is a massive battle of ideas going on everywhere – Secularism versus Atheism versus Christianity versus Islam versus Hinduism versus Buddhism.
In this confusing context of the soup of competing big ideas; what is Truth? Who do you listen to and whom can you trust? For me – and without wishing to be hopelessly simplistic – it only makes sense by my belief in God, a trust in Christ and dependence on the teachings found in God’s word, the Bible. Don’t interpret that statement to equate to holding solely to an Evangelical Christian position. Faith is so much bigger than any one interpretation.
Psalm 24: ‘The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in It, the World and all who live in it’.
Listening to Liz Pilgrim, a riot-hit small retailer from Ealing on BBC R4 tonight was an inspiration, providing a strident rallying call for support to the High Street.
Events of this past week have demonstrated that the UK High Street is hurting badly – in more ways than one. Shops in riot affected areas will have an uphill struggle to get their businesses back on track. Retailers everywhere are finding it hard work to make headway against strong and adverse economic headwinds.
If these local businesses are forced to leave their High Streets, it will be very hard, if not impossible, to open them again. Does that matter? Yes, I think it does. Those communities losing local traders are negatively impacted in a considerable way. We could all do much more to help – by stopping to think whether we can buy locally, by switching our purchasing from the internet to local shops (where possible) and from chain stores and supermarkets to the local trader. Yes, there’s often a price differential and I know that we all have time constraints but there is a positive social impact.
Some of you might say that it’s already too late. It’s not. You can make a real difference locally.
So much of retail in the UK is comprised of fairly small units and these outlets provide considerable levels of local employment in so many of our towns and cities. It cannot be all about Tesco’s and Debenhams.
Use local markets wherever possible as these too continue to help commercial life to thrive in our neighbourhoods and communities. Yes, it’s hard to do this but it’s also worthwhile. At the moment, any help for smaller retailers, and sole traders in particular, is very welcome.
If you agree with this please ‘like’ it and post it elsewhere and let’s help bring more footfall to our High Streets. Do we really want to live in a homogenous world? Do we want all of retail life to move online? We all have to buy ‘stuff’. The only question is; where will we actually do our purchasing?
So go on – Support your own High Street. Support your local retailer. Support your small shops. Support your local Market. You might even enjoy yourself!
Update and postscript:
The key figures for UK retail. (Source: Dept for BIS)
• UK retail sales are around £300bn, the 3rd largest in the world, after the USA and Japan.
• The retail sector generates 8% of the GDP of the UK, and 5.2% of GVA.
• The retail industry employs around 3m people. One in ten of those in employment currently work in the retail sector – the highest proportion of UK private sector employment.
• Retail is the largest private sector employer in the UK with one in ten of the workforce working in retail.
• There are 450,000 shops in the UK owned by 300,000 enterprises, including 9% (190,000) of all VAT-registered businesses.
• Shops account for more than a third of consumer spending.
• Despite being the third biggest casualty of the recession with over 6,000 insolvencies, the sector continues to grow.
• The value of overseas shoppers in London is around £2bn p.a.
• Despite strong growth in recent years, internet sales currently account for only around 7.5% of total sales.
Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the success of the past twelve months.
Here are the Top 10 blog posts as measured by Word Press. Interestingly, these represent a good resume of the content of this blog – Travel, Book Trade, Photography and Book Reviews.
Stick with me for the year ahead! Where shall we go?
PS – yep, I too am puzzled by the success of the No 1 post; ‘The Infinity Pool, Marina Bay, Singapore’? It’s been by far and away THE most popular entry of the year!
The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:
The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.
A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 7,100 times in 2010. That’s about 17 full 747s.
In 2010, there were 54 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 103 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 118mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.
The busiest day of the year was July 24th with 74 views. The most popular post that day was Book Trade; eBook sales v. Hardbacks – Hype or Tipping Point?.
Where did they come from?
The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, digg.com, twitter.com, who-will-win-fifa-worldcup-2010.com, and healthfitnesstherapy.com.
Some visitors came searching, mostly for cote d’azur, eze village, eze, marina bay sands, and queen mary 2.
Attractions in 2010
These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.
Book Trade; eBook sales v. Hardbacks – Hype or Tipping Point? July 2010
13 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,
Book Trade History; ‘Celebrating 200 years of Christian Bookselling’ – Part 1 April 2010
1 Like on WordPress.com,
Christian Book trade – 30th Anniversary; Good News Centre, Newent March 2010
Attending this month’s Charity Leaders Conference, ‘Aiming 4 Excellence’ at Swanwick gave me the perfect opportunity to experiment with conference tweeting! Only you can give the true verdict, I just enjoyed it – although some might have thought I was welded throughout to my mobile!
For those of you who missed my twitter stream (Conference Hashtag #a4e10), here it is!
Monday 29 November; at the UK Christian Charity Leaders conference in snowy Derbyshire; Aiming 4 Excellence. I’ll tweet a bit this week using #a4e10
1st Plenary with Bishop of Liverpool, Right Rev James Jones; Big society & nature of community
+James; ‘Aiming for excellence means excelling in creating a fairer society – creating a balance between need & abundance’
+James; ‘Wash one another’s feet (John 13) is the essence of true society – the big society – a mutuality of giving & receiving’
+James; ‘Big Society. Churches used to provide services from cradle to grave. Our time has come again, as the State can’t afford to’
+James; ‘Society is not bothered by a ‘fragmented’ church but whether the World religions can live together on this Planet without blowing it up’!
Evening seminar; the challenge of being a Christian employer, keeping up with employment law. Hopefully more answers than questions?
Wednesday 30 November; with 300 Christian Charity Leaders. Plenary sessions today; Prof Jim Saker, Sir Peter Vardy & Dame Suzi Leather; should be good?
Plenary 2 with Jim Slater (Professor of Retail Management) – ‘the changing socio-economic environment’
Whoops … Prof Jim Saker … Sorry!
Jim Saker; rapid overview of world-class brands. Nokia, Innocent Smoothies, Toyota, Apple, Red Bull, Obama
Jim Saker; ‘Organisations should build up social media, engage with influencers and embrace two-way online interaction’
Conference worship being led by Geraldine Latty; sensitive, worshipful, uplifting, spirit-filled
Snowing hard here in Derbyshire!
Plenary 3; Sir Peter Vardy & son Peter Vardy; values, distinctives & challenges – faith in practice
Sir Peter Vardy on Business; ‘Have right values, live by those values, set an example, do the right thing and pursue excellence’
Peter Vardy (son) on Leadership; ‘Combine a humble approach with a ferocious drive. Look on fast pace of change as a positive’
Sir Peter Vardy; ‘Having too many charities is an issue in itself. We have an opportunity and time is right for some to join forces’
Sir Peter Vardy; ‘I urge you (UK charities) to think about joining together. You are far stronger together than being apart’
It’s been snowing hard all day here at Swanwick in Derbyshire – still snowing now – tomorrows return home looks ‘interesting’!
Plenary 4 with Dame Suzi Leather, Chair of the Charity Commission
This could get interesting! CC chair, Suzi Leather is snowbound in London so this Plenary will be via pre-recorded video link!
Sadly no speech by Dame Suzi – defeated by the weather and the technology. Instead, an interview with Geraldine Latty
Dame Suzi Leather’s Plenary Session - available here - very disappointing that the snowy weather intervened
Good night everyone – here’s hoping that we can dig out and get away in the morning. I like Swanwick but not enough to stay any longer!
Wednesday 1st December; Snow at Aiming 4 Excellence conference in Swanwick. Over a 1ft of the white-stuff this morning. What a week!
Phew; we’re out of Derbyshire. Over a foot of snow overnight. Our intrepid CEO dug out car before rest of us got up! Dedication indeed!
#a4e10 round-up; superb worship, quick-fire Saker, honest and incisive Vardy interview, disappointing Suzi Leather no-show, so much snow!
My post-tweet conference verdict?
Good overall, but not as engaging as in 2007 and badly affected by the Siberian weather.
You can view the Aiming 4 Excellence conference website here.
Hiring people is fraught with difficulty. I have always thought that interviews are something of a lottery. People who do well in interviews don’t always perform well in their jobs – and vice versa. Despite all the available interview tools and techniques, I‘ve learnt that the most realistic way is to trust one’s own instincts. When all’s said and done, it’s actually a judgement call.
I mused on the dilemma of recruiting people recently whilst reading through Mark’s gospel. There have been a number of books and studies published over the years about Jesus’ technique in choosing his disciples; the how’s, the why’s and the outcome. Like most things, its best not to push these conclusions too far but it is interesting to see how Christ went about the task of bringing his Apostles on board. There is little doubt that they were a pretty eclectic and disparate group – it must have been very hard work keeping them together.
Reading through the first chapter of Mark, I was forcibly struck by the impact on the family of Jesus’ call? I wonder what their father and the other men thought about James and John dropping everything and disappearing in this way? ‘Without delay, they left their father and followed Jesus’ (v20). We tend to concentrate on the brothers who followed (and applaud them for it) but what about those who were left, seemingly in the lurch, to carry on the family business? There are always two sides to every story and sometimes we gloss over one in favour of the other. To me, this appears to be a piece of very rushed recruitment! Preachers praise the response of these brothers but I’m unsure whether that’s the whole story here?
Mark 3 (NIV); 13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Reading chapter 3, it immediately shouts out that, of these 12 fellows, some went on to be high profile individuals, some failed entirely and others ended up as virtual nobodies. Yet all had been called and all had taken up Jesus’ challenge. I guess this probably mirrors real life. No doubt we’ve all worked with folk at both ends of the spectrum. Not everyone can be famous and some people will not always be capable of reaching the potential that others saw in them at the outset. Mixing high and low profile individuals in the same team is not easy and requires wise and resourceful management. All teams experience such highs and lows – the disciples were no different.
Jesus knew exactly ‘who he wanted’. No lists of recommendations, no psychometric testing, no profiling, no recruitment agencies – just a personal and clear choice of the people ‘he wanted’ – sounds easy doesn’t it? But, I wonder, did Jesus get some of it wrong? Should his choices have been better? Was he right to impact other people so negatively by his clear ‘choices’? Could these appointments be described as essentially indulgent?
It leaves me feeling that the manner of the appointment of the disciples leaves many unanswered questions, no matter what we may have been taught over the years. If you read on in Chapter 3, verse 21; even his family went to find him ‘to take charge of him for they said he is out of his mind’. Who said that reading and living the Gospels was easy?
Makes you think doesn’t it?
Last evening I attended the CWR Intercessory Prayer Evening in conjunction with Revd Joel Edwards from the Micah Challenge. I found that I couldn’t get past his first statistic and had difficulty in concentrating on the prayers due to the impact of this appalling statement: ‘As a result of recent increases in world food prices and the impact of the food futures market, potatoes in Ethiopia (a staple food) have shot up from 7p to 40p per kilo’.
I started to think about food. Imagine if that’s what you or I were paying, but in Pounds Sterling. Can you work out how you’d manage such a huge uplift in your food bill if potatoes went from £7 to £40 per bag? I couldn’t – and the thought stayed with me well into the evening. Throughout today the statistic has troubled me.
Last evening’s event at Waverley Abbey House was part of the Micah Challenge 10-10-10 Global Initiative to ‘hold Governments to account for their promise (in 2000) to halve the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty by 2015’. The Micah Challenge takes its name from the Old Testament prophet and his well known exhortation in Micah 6:8 – ‘And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’
Over the past 24 hours, I have revaluated my idea of being thankful for the food that I eat. I was brought up to say grace before every meal. But in all honesty, this has simply become a meaningless repetition. I admit that I take the availability of food for granted. I expect to be able to eat. Food is all around us. Am I thankful? Probably not. How do I know that? Because my attitude mostly says otherwise.
This morning, for the first time in a very long time, I was truly thankful for my breakfast cereal – and I told God so!
The media inform us that bread and cereal prices are on the way up after various disasters around the world have forced shortages on the world market. Will we in the UK suffer? I doubt it. Certainly not on the scale of communities elsewhere who do not have the ‘benefit’ of our western economic ‘buffers’ which largely protect us from the wildest swings in price. Not so in the developing world. Food pricing is a daily ‘life and death’ issue. Make no mistake, food pricing is both a political and a spiritual issue.
I’m horrified to read of the high levels of food waste here in the UK. Apparently, everyday we throw staggering amounts of food away in this country (an estimated 8.3m tonnes per year). This is wrong and it’s probably also ‘sinful’ (to use theological language) to misuse scarce resources in this way. Literally millions of children go to sleep each night without having had anything to eat. It’s time to do something.
On Sunday, 10th October 2010 (10/10/10), Christians around the world are invited to join up to 100 million people via the Micah Challenge to pray, act and give a voice to the global poor. For more details go to www.micahchallenge.org
You can read my earlier blog post here on a similar theme: http://eddieolliffe.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/opinion-bank-lending-a-basic-unfairness/.
For a copy of Joel Edwards book, Just Mercy (CWR) linked to the Micah Challenge, visit your local Christian bookshop or go online at http://www.cwr.org.uk/store/p-864-just-mercy.aspx
I had the misfortune to arrive back in the UK at LHR Terminal 3 on the Friday preceding this Bank Holiday weekend. Not good! I came in on a Singapore Airlines A380 with over 400 people onboard. The first problem we encountered was that only one airbridge was working or available – we never were told the reason.
So 400 people duly waited until they could vacate the aircraft via the one available exit. Can you imagine just how long that took?
Then came the grim experience of Heathrow’s Terminal 3;
- A long, long walk taking many, many minutes
- Badly lit, even dim in places
- Ceiling tiles missing exposing the service ducting
- Worn, discoloured carpets
- Long queues at immigration
- Then – to cap it all – a 40 minute wait for bags (having already waited on the aircraft for a similar length of time!)
I was surrounded by various nationalities from the flight, some clearly on their first visit to Britain. What a welcome!
BAA’s Terminal 3 really is a terrible advertisment for the UK. I was embarrassed by both the service levels and the surroundings which are overtly second-rate. Overall, T3 looks grubby and tired.
Surely, BAA can do better than this? Yes, I know Heathrow now has Terminal 5 but unless you opt for the highly priced and often subject-to-industrial-action British Airways, you will not see the inside of LHR’s newest terminal.
Visitors arriving on major world airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Virgin Atlantic and others all come into the UK via T3. What they must think of their ‘welcome to Britain’ is anyone’s guess!
By contrast, you only have to travel via Singapore’s bright, airy and efficient Changi airport to see how it can be done. After only 20 mins from touchdown, I’d cleared immigration, collected my bags and was in a cab en route into the city!
My verdict on LHR Terminal 3? Truly a national embarassment.
For my post on travelling with Singapore Airlines on the A380, see here: http://eddieolliffe.wordpress.com/2010/05/26/travel-%e2%80%93-a380-flying-from-london-heathrow-to-singapore-changi/