Archive for the 'reading' Category

Postcards from far away part 4

Most of what you do on an island like this is largely weather dependant.


And the weather has not exactly been great. The west of Scotland is famous for rain and it is not prone to disappoint.

We woke to a wet, rainy day. With a bit of cold thrown in for good measure.

I left Spuddy down to the port to catch a ferry over to Mallaig. In order to reach home he has a 13 hour journey ahead. First I leave him to the ferry for a 25 min journey to the mainland. From here he gets a 5 hour train that runs from Mallaig to Glasgow. He texted and told us it was like Northern Ireland railway back in the bad old days.

At present he should be in Glasgow waiting for a bus to the airport for a flight to Belfast. He has a full iPod and a laptop and a few books. He’ll be fine I’m sure.

You could get to Capetown in less time but to get the the short distance between west Scotland and Ireland takes 13 hours.


Anyhow. That leaves be and sparky up to our own devices with a Volvo and a full tank.

We drove north east through countryside that was virtually identical to Donegal with weather to match. Some quality driving. And to be fair to Skye it finally stopped raining long enough for us to get out of the car an explore a bit.


The wind did it’s best to deter us but we weren’t to be tired. I figure if Mcdowell got blown over the cliff then I could just live off the insurance money.

We even climbed a mountain. 500 meters of mud and heather and wind. Great bant. Good photos.


Skye continues to amaze me. If I was a Celt in the 5th century I’d move back to the Mediterranean and open a casino in a principality, not move to Skye.

But it seems that they did. And they built houses and castles and farmed and subsisted and survived.

Like most things before the 18th century I’m not really sure it happened. Stranger things happen though eh?

History aside it’s a pretty place when covered in microfleece and gortex.


Now I’m in portree in a pub with no reception for the phone and every word of the Saturday Guardian. It’s the type of pub where the hairy wanderer in the corner can bring his dog too.


All good.


Salvation Tambourine

Just finished A Community Called Atonement.

Wonderful book. Despite coming under the banner of being “emergent” it managed to avoid all that horrible confabulation and neologisms that are so frequent in everything associated with the category. Or maybe I just find it all a bit technical and obscure.


Take home message – and this is pretty basic here – it turns out that there was more going on in the death and resurrection of JESUS than just substitutionary atonement. I almost feel like a heretic saying it. Even more shocking is the realisation that perhaps I don’t have this thing all sewn up and on a neat little theological plate.

This of course seems staggeringly obvious when i think about it, but for some reason this comes to me as kind of new. I try to blame this on Sunday school –  i try to blame everything I learnt about theology on Sunday school – but that’s kind of unfair. I’m pretty sure it’s not what I was taught in Sunday school but it seems to be what I’ve picked up all the same.

The book says far more useful and interesting things than that, but in my theoogical ignorance that seemed enough to start with.

(Ooh) Heaven is a place on earth

So I suppose I better follow up on the last post and the bit about “not going to heaven when you die.” Before the crowd of pitch fork waving believers break down the front door and burn me at the stake for crimes against orthodoxy.

I can only recommend NT Wright and “Surprised by Hope” as a great unpacking of the idea of the Christian hope (where almost all of the following is plagiarised from) and what the Bible actually says about “the resurrection”. There were no mental or theological gymnastics, just a little recognition of a world-view that is assumed without reference to GOD’s word.

The central point of GOD’s redemptive narrative is the death and resurrection of JESUS. I suppose all of us could be happy with that. Some of us will focus a bit more on the death, some a bit more on the resurrection, but we could all agree that neither works without the other.

The central part, to the Christian hope is that CHRIST was raised from the dead. That he was bodily raised in physical form, a physical form that was undoubtedly different from the one he’d so recently been in, but physical all the same. The Bible is quite clear about the resurrected JESUS’s physicality, along with the fact that it not so simply physical as it had been before. And what was so stunning about this is that it is made quite purposely clear that JESUS did not return as a ghost, like Casper the friendly ghost or Nearly Headless Nick. This was something quite different. Indeed a big reason why the beliefs of “the way” in the first century were so unique. Lots of people had a notion of some “spiritual” non-physical continuance of existence. No one had anything like a body physically raised.

JESUS then leaves. Where he goes the Bible is remarkably unclear about – yes to Heaven – but what/where Heaven is is left undefined. Instead we have defined as somewhere “up there” which is why Yuri could (apocryphally) say that once he got up there that there was no GOD cause he couldn’t see him anywhere.

This is where the cultural assumptions come into play. That heaven is a place (somewhere else) with white fluffy clouds and fat babies with harps and bad aim. GOD has a white beard, and a James Earl Jones voice, everyone wears sandals and JESUS never, ever looks like he’s middle-eastern. Heaven is therefore the place where we go when we die, when we will finally be free from these terrible, nasty body things and we’ll float like spirits, free from such boring demands of physicality.

These are ideas that of course have developed within the Christina tradition (centuries of Christian art will give that away) – that does not mean that they are Christian ideas. The idea that we can discard our bodies and float like spirits is good old fashioned platonism (at least a Christian interpretation of it). The idea that the soul is the only important bit of life is not a Christian idea. The soul itself is rarely mentioned in the Bible, yet it is so prevalent in all our talk from salvation to resurrection. This is gnosticism revisited. These ideas are firmly embedded in our belief system but they are not Christian.

Let me emphasise then what is Christian. In CHRIST we have the example. When we die, he promises resurrection. And this will be bodily, physical, in some form not entirely different from what we already have. Though of course there will be some fundamental differences. When we are resurrected we will be resurrected, guess where? Right here. This is the key point. We get new bodies. On a new earth. Rev 21 tells us that CHRIST returns in glory not to snatch us from the evil jaws of the creation but that he returns to rule over the redeemed and renewed creation.

When I think about that I realise I already believe that. This is hardly any new kind of heresy, it’s just that my thinking has been muddied on the whole issue. Because of the underlying cultural (not biblical) assumptions, and all the terrible songs and hymns that we sing that lead us up the garden path in terms of resurrection theology. Let me put it this way. As Christians we believe what non-Christians think that we Christians believe about life after death:

Love of mine some day you will die
But I’ll be close behind
I’ll follow you into the dark

No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped so tight
Waiting for the hint of a spark
If heaven and hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs

If there’s no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark

Death Cab for Cutie (I sang this song in my cafe gig in NZ cause I like songs that reveal what non-Christians believe about the meaning of life. Though only now I realise how far apart we are in our beliefs)

Most of you will have realised that I’ve left a bit out. That yes we die, and when CHRIST returns and makes everything new and rules on the new earth (not in heaven on the clouds with the fat babies – he’ll be bored with all that by then) that we will be with him in our cool new resurrection bodies, not floating round like disembodied shadows on the cave wall.

But what happens when we die? Do we not actually go to heaven when we die? This is where the tricky bit comes. The Bible actually has quite a bit to say about the resurrection and where it fits in. But it doesn’t say quite so much about the in-between. Is it some kind of cosmic hibernation? Paul speaks about preferring to depart and be with CHRIST. Which at first glance sounds like “going to heaven when you die” but surely he must mean something different – as it is he himself who goes on to say so much about the resurrection. Indeed CHRIST does the same. Leaving the disciples and telling them he will return. So where does he go in the mean time. He goes to “heaven” which is loosely defined though perhaps most useful as “with GOD” or “in GOD’s presence”. Beyond that the Bible does not have that much to say, at least not in specifics.

Again let me emphasise that when we die, and go wherever JESUS went to when he left the disciples, it is vital to realise that this is not the fulfilment of the Christian hope. The resurrection is the fulfilment. As NT Wright says. It is not simply life after death, but life after, life after death.

There are lots of implications of this. It’s important in that it’s a proper understanding and articulation of what the Bible says, and reveals it’s uniqueness in the hope that we cling to. That the body and the physical world itself is not evil – it is fallen, but not evil. When we die of cancer it is not that mitosis and cellular division and ultimately (well until CERN tells us otherwise) particle physics that is ingerently wrong – more that it is fallen. Our DNA itself seems part of the fall. Indeed it seems that even that will be redeemed.

[As an aside, there was also in the book a “factoid” about the human body that the actual particles (in terms of atoms and so on) are completely exchanged for different ones over a course of around 7 years (undeniably true to some extent –  though impossible to accurately measure). We (quite literally) are what we eat. And to be delicate – dispose of, in terms of skin, sweat etc…). Fascinating. Well if you like that kind of thing.]

It means that we are not to lock ourselves into Christian self-righteous ghettoes and pray that we’ll be raptured (whatever that means…) before this horrible sinful world gets the better of us. It tells us that GOD is in the business of redemption and renewal, and that both we and the creation itself are going to be renewed and redeemed and that it’s our role to inaugarate and announce the Kingdom of GOD by decalring that JESUS is Lord over all of it.

It’s important for lots of reasons, few of which are outlined here, so perhaps it’s just an exhortation to read the book, and more importantly read the Bible, and read it withoout the Plato-goggles on.

The only reason I feel secure

Every night I spend a while trying to identify a good place to park the car to sleep. As mentioned before I can get a bit paranoid and scared of the dark, so ensuring I find somewhere I feel secure is important.

After the cinema last night, I drove round three different beaches looking for somewhere to park. On two occasions a random car turned and made me feel so uneasy I had to drive off to somewhere else. I’m sure there was nothing in it, but I knew I’d not sleep till I felt secure.

In the end I rolled up where I’d had my earlier, unsuccessful surf. It was ideally suited, far enough from the road but not too far, had civilisation in sight but civilisation didn’t really have me in sight. Perfect – so I thought.

I awoke in a panic at 5am as a dirty great trash collector pulled up to empty the bin in the car park. The guy got out and had a quick look in the car and shook his head. I smiled and went back to sleep, security is an illusion.

From Whakatane I drove west to Tauraunga, a fairly sizeable place and apparently worth a visit. I ended up at ‘The Mount’ or Mount Manganui, kind of like a wee holiday town at the base of Mt Manganui just outside Tauranga. It’s quite a summer holiday resort place so on a Friday morning in winter it was quite quiet. Fuelled with coffee and pancakes I walked up the track to the top of the mount. Reminded me of the climb up Arthur’s Seat but warmer. It was full of young, enthusiastic looking people doing some orienteering thing and even running up the tracks. I tried not to look too out of breath and sweaty as I lent against the tree for support.

Now I was left with a choice. I hadn’t really expected to get this far on my trip, so I wasn’t sure what to do with my last day. I could’ve driven 4 hours on dirt tracks to get Waikaremoana and possibly even Mahia for more surfing. But I’ve been to those places before so I figured I should really go somewhere new.

So I turned south to Rotorua. It’s the place with the lakes and all the volcanic stuff and lots of hot springs. It’s probably the most visited place in the north island. Which is of course precisely why I hadn’t been there before. It’s described in the Lonely Planet, as a tad commercialised. The LP only ever says nice things about places, reluctant to call a spade a spade, so this couldn’t have been complimentary.

So I admit I went, not wildly optimistic about the place. In the end I got there and it was big and (comparatively, to the rest of my trip) full of people. It smelt horribly of sulphur, no matter where you went. It was cloudy and there were of course no waves and no ocean.

In the end, I stopped in the car park of a supermarket, looked at the map and drove 2 hours further south to Taupo, where I at least knew there were ducks.

Taupo is the big lake in the middle of the north island. Like a smaller version of Lough Neagh, but much prettier. The town is at the north end of the lake and the south end is Ruapehu – the giant volcano we go skiing on. It’s a nice place.

I ate KFC in the car parked on the lakeside and finished off ‘the posionwood bible’ and felt wonderfully at peace and calm in the sun streaming through the window. Or it may have just been the ducks.

In the end I sat and read for 3 hours solid, and when the reading was done I just sat till the sun went down and then I drove the two hours home to Napier in the dark. Good trip. Enough said.

If the amoeba don’t get me first

I’ve had better nights sleep. And I’ve had worse. Like being crushed in 17F from Joburg to Sydney or one time cramped in the wet porch of a vango force 10 in a rainstorm in the mournes, just shivering my way through to morning.

So as I say I’ve had worse. Sleeping in my car gives me the simple satisfaction that it can be done. And I did it. Lying on your back it’s really remarkably comfortable. Tucked up in my sleeping bag staring at what I can see of the southern stars through the window.

The problem came when I tried to lie on my front – the only way I seem to be able to get to sleep. The bend in the middle tends to arch your back in ways it’s not meant to go. Either that or you just hover in the middle with all the weight on your chest and legs. I saw 3am appear with no notion of sleepiness. From 3 to 6am I think I slept. At least I dreamt so I presume I slept.

I woke to see the sky turning orange and watching the white caps on the sea. I crawled out of the car to a silent and empty beach and a glorious vista of reds and oranges as the sun came up. Alas the surf was as benign as the evening before so I popped over to the other side of the peninsula to what is described as a beach with a ‘good wave for learners’ in the surf guide Jess had given me.

So it wasn’t massive towering waves, with me tucked under the crest looking staggeringly cool. But it wasn’t shore break and it was consistent right to left break, not too far out so I didn’t have to paddle too far.

And the new board did me proud, I stood nearly every time, but still suffering from a tendency to lose the crest of the wave and be left standing on a stationary board. I like this surfing lark.

By this stage it was 8am and I’d been going for two hours. I cooked some porridge on the gas stove in the car and waxed my board – yes I know all the lingo now!

Next stop was the Morere hot springs. Geo-thermal energy is a feature of NZ geography. Exploited for either energy or making tourists smell of sulphur, it’s wonderfully popular.

This place was something out of the cold war, at least the concrete and paint was. The water was dark green with floating red bits in it. It was wonderful. The type of heat that makes you dizzy when you stand up, your baroreceptors wondering what’s going on.

I had the main complex to myself, which was also pretty cool. The guy who’d charged me the meagre sum of 5 bucks for the pleasure had also told me that there were a further 3 pools about 10 mins up a track.

Now there are few occasions when you’ll regret bringing footwear with you but my list of occasions when I’ve regretted not bringing footwear is lengthening by the day. I love going everywhere in my warehouse shorts and a t-shirt and no shoes/sandals. I just like the idea of bare feet. That sounds weird written down, I’m sure it made more sense in my head.

I am immediately regretting my decision to leave the sandals in the car but I persevere. Mostly from the thought of being embarrassed having to go past the ticket guy again and partly from some kind of masochistic tendency. Like some kind of painful pilgrimage. I’m convinced someone had been along before me and sharpened the stones.

At the end of the track were three baths of different temperatures. One was ice cold, one had a rather large and intimidating Maori guy in it who refused to acknowledge my existence (really quite unusual in NZ), and the third seemed to be heated for poaching eggs or splitting the atom. I was stuck with the third option, if only cause I was cold from the walk up in my togs and couldn’t go to the cold pool and going to the pool with the big guy in it would have been simply asking for trouble.

I eased into the (very) hot pool, wondering how long it would be before human flesh actually begins to cook. In the end I get into my knees and simply sit there with the rest of me above the water.

Given that my mate the big guy isn’t into polite conversation I search the walls for something to read. All I can find is two signs. One – beware hydrochloric acid with one of those skull symbols. Two – keep your head above water when swimming to avoid the risk of amoebic meningitis.

The second one grabs my attention and makes me immediately withdraw what little of my legs are in the water. I have no desire to get amoebic meningitis. Largely cause it’s bad form for doctors to catch diseases they’ve never actually heard of.

Pools done with, I drive on to Gisborne as the clouds roll in. I’ve been here once before, for a weekend with 20 of the docs from work all crammed in a wee beach house. Wonderful weekend. I look back a the photo of us all and realise there’s only about 5 of us left at the hospital. Maybe it was the amoebic meningitis…

I have recommendations from Forbes about a quality bookshop in Gisborne. Something I’m most excited about as there’s a definite lack of a decent bookshop in Hawke’s bay. Some people like bookshops with character with a pleasant owner with inside knowledge. Now I’m not averse to these but to be honest I prefer a good old multi-storeyed, stacked shelved, impersonal Waterstones. ‘yes i’m happy just browsing, leave me alone…’

This was somewhere in between and actually had a wonderful coffee shop attached. So despite having neither Coupland, Vonnegut nor any CS Lewis, it still scored reasonably. So between browsing (‘yes I’m still happy browsing!’) and coffee (served by a pretty American girl who was lovely and made me drop my change in confusion/embarrassment) reading my new purchases (‘the poisonwood bible’ and a Jack Kerouac book) I filled 3 hours.

To complete my time in Gisborne (where it was now grey and raining) I wandered the empty main street with the ‘old and the bored’ and found another three bookshops – none of which sold any Kurt Vonnevgut books. The third was a wonderful second hand bookshop which was simply a unit with books piled randomly and a few seats strewn about the place. The owner said hi and offered me a cup of coffee as I entered the door.

He identified my accent as from NI (and not Scottish like most do) and when he found out I was from Portadown he told me he’d played footy with former Portadown players with names ending in McCoy or Kennedy. This was the 70’s and I wasn’t born I tell him.

He has at least heard of Vonnegut, though of course has none in stock – dying is the only way to get famous and sell books. He has never heard of Douglas Coupland. I spend a pleasant 30 mins there, wondering at how many books there could be actually written in the world. I managed to find a gem of a newspaper comic strip book, a Toni Morrisson book, a kiwi novel and a book by some Spanish guy I’ve vaguely heard of.

I drive out of town and up the coast and find the wonderful Pouawa bay which has a nice picnic area set up for free camping. I’m treated to a nice rain shower and the best rainbow I’ve ever seen. It’s 7.15 pm and I could have fallen asleep hours before now. I don’t think the ‘bed’ will cause any problems tonight. That’s if the amoeba don’t get me first…

Rugged coastline and empty beaches

I have another week off, with no specific plans or obligations. This to compensate for the 14 days straight I swapped into following this.

The east coast of the north island, once you get north of Gisborne, is largely a deserted rural, coastal community, populated by less than 5000 people. Nothing but rugged coastline and empty beaches. Bit like Donegal but with better weather and marginally better roads.

I’ve yet to make it north of Gisborne, each time being distracted to lake Waikaremoana or some other picturesque spot. This time I’m determined. Though day one completed and I’m still an hour south of Gisborne, so maybe it’s not going so well.

It is of course, the equivalent of late November here. Which means it gets dark at 5.30 pm but not that it’s cold. It’s still sunny and I’m still wearing shorts. I managed to leave the flat at 5.15 pm, after a hasty pack following the olive picking.

Previously on my little solo expeditions I’ve stayed in campsites or hostels, this time I’m trying something different. I’ve realised that my car would make a lovely one person camper van. The seats go completely flat and I’d have a secure, lit structure to sleep in.

I have the surf board (must give he/she a name) on the roof, the guitar, the gas stove and the bike. Some grub, and a bag of books and I’m off.

I’ve made it to Mahia, a former island, now a peninsula north of Napier (about 3 hours of winding roads). It’s apparently a legendary surf spot so I’m expecting great things.

The bit that took the time was finding the appropriate spot in the dark to park the car. My first bet was right out on the peninsula, miles from anything. And, while scenic (even in the dark) it was flippin windy and the sheer darkness (no moon at all) was a little bit scary. I still have this childish fear and paranoia when I’m camping and travelling by myself, that around every dark shadow is a gang of thugs willing to do vile murder upon me. Though the fear has perhaps kept me safe from harm on a few occasions.

But after a bit more searching I’ve now found the ideal spot. About 10 m from the road, about 5m from the beach in a wee hamlet of about 20 beach front houses. There’s the odd streetlight, but not enough to keep me awake. I’m parked about 10m from the ‘no camping/overnight stay’ sign. There’s symbols on it banning tents, caravans and campervans, but none of stupid Irishmen willing to sleep in their car, so I think I’ve found a loop hole.

Since arriving I’ve spent an hour on the beach in my shorts (and three layers and a woolly hat but shorts none the less!) staring at the southern stars and just able to see the white caps of the breakers in front of me. Glorious moment.

The next few hours I’ve spent eating bananas and crisps and writing and reading. So much writing in fact my eyes are dry and tired and I’m worried I’m running the battery in the car flat. It’s 11pm and the sun rises at 6.15 am when I’m sure the police will be waking me and painting an image of an Irishman in a car on the sign and putting a line through it.


July 2022