A useless feature? Or just useless documentation?

So what I’m doing right now, is exploring Windows 10 again, after mostly using Linux, Chromebook and iPad for the last many months. This means dusting off my Asus ZenBook, which is a nice machine, though I don’t like the keyboard as much as the really chunky one of my ThinkPad Linux box.

And here’s a thing. Yesterday evening the touchpad suddenly wasn’t responding. Aargh! Naturally the first things I do are check the settings, and then google the problem. Whereupon I find this entry from Microsoft support. I am a trusting soul, so I followed the directions about trying to update the driver, and if that doesn’t work, uninstalling it, reinstalling it, restarting the computer. All the usual steps. Nothing worked.

Eventually, somewhere in the wildlands of the WWW – and I can’t even find the place again – I found someone who said, effectively: If you have accidentally disabled the touchpad…

It turns out there is a keypress to disable the touchpad. Why? Why would anyone want to do that? Even if they were using a mouse? Apparently some people do. I have never seen any documentation about this (because of course you don’t get computer manuals nowadays); there’s nothing in the Settings; there’s not even any consistency between manufacturers about which key(s) do it; the little icons on the function keys are gnomic to say the least. I had to try most of the ones whose operations I wasn’t familiar with, before I found f9. Which does indeed toggle the touchpad off or on. This whole ‘adventure’ wasted the best part of 45 minutes, I should think. I don’t believe I am the only computer user who sometimes presses keys that inadvertently. What’s hard to believe is the difficulty of finding a solution, with so many of the responders on various internet forums wanting to promote the sledgehammer options.

New Zealand: 17. Mount Cook and Christchurch

“Will we see Mount Cook?” lots of the travellers were asking. “When will we see Mount Cook?”

“There’s a good chance,” Denis replied. “We could get lucky.”

Apparently, this isn’t the case with every tourist group. It’s all too easy for low cloud or any poor visibility to hide the highest peak in New Zealand so completely that it’s invisible even (especially?) from just a few miles away.

Mount Cook

We did get lucky. As we drove along the shore of Lake Pukaki, we had splendid views of Mount Cook which grew bigger and bigger as we got nearer. We stopped at the Hermitage Hotel for a morning break, with excellent views from the cafe terrace. Then back to the coach, past Lake Pukaki and on to Lake Tekapo for what is apparently an obligatory stop at the Church of the Good Shepherd. It’s a picturesque little stone building in a beautiful location: the east window of clear glass looks out over the lake to the mountains beyond. It’s supposed to be a place of prayer and worship, reminding people of the original settlers of this land, but also of the glory of God. Somehow I couldn’t get beyond the tourist rip-off factor. An attendant abruptly reminds you that no photography is allowed – unless you’re a professional photographer, when you will be allowed a 30-minute shoot for a mere $100. Hmm. Crowds of camera-wielding visitors can indeed detract from the holy feeling of a place. But not as much as what feels like an exaggerated commercialism.

The road then took us through the Mackenzie Country, then over Burke’s Pass, stopping at Geraldine for lunch, where we found the congregation of St Mary’s church sharing a church lunch, and happy to greet us. Then on, on, on over the Canterbury Plains, and so at last to Christchurch again.

Here we at last managed to make a short visit to the Transitional (AKA ‘Cardboard’) Cathedral

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They were getting ready for a service to mark the beginning of a new school year, for which children and parents were gathering, so we had only a few minutes to look around and take a couple of photographs.

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Behind the Cathedral is the memorial to the 185 victims of the 2011 earthquake, a moving sight which includes baby seats and wheelchairs representing the children and disabled who lost their lives.

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Other notable views of Christchurch included the ruined original Cathedral. There’s been a lot of debate about whether to build a completely new, 21st century cathedral, or to rebuild the much-loved Victorian building. It seems the conservationists have won out over those (including the Bishop) who wanted something more appropriate for contemporary worship and witness.

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And the Container Mall, where colourful shipping containers were brought in as soon as possible after the earthquake, to get the city’s commercial and business life up and running again. It’s such a feature, that as some of the shops return to rebuilt premises, other businesses are starting up in the vacated containers. I wouldn’t however recommend the container public toilets… in temperatures that were still in the upper 30s Celsius, these were not a comfortable experience.

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Even though we spent so few hours there, we loved Christchurch, reputedly the most English of New Zealand cities. And so the last day of our New Zealand holiday drew to an end.

 

Blog posts in Word

I remember it must be possible to write some text for a blog post in Word, and then publish it from Word. (For the reader who hasn’t been keeping up, it’s been a long time since I used Word very much – I’ve been using LibreOffice and Google Docs for some time, or StackEdit in a browser.) So here we go. The task is, to set this up as a post, publish it as a draft to my WordPress blog, and see what happens.

Here goes…

At the first attempt, nothing happened, I was getting unhelpful error messages. It then transpired that some time in the past I did set up Word to publish to my older blog, and had forgotten all about it, and of course those settings are no longer valid, because the blog has been removed. The Microsoft interface to set up new details looks a bit old and clunky, sort of Windows 3 style? But I got it registered after a couple of tries. And yes, it’s working: this post is hereby Published.

Stoner, by John Williams

I suspect this is an old man’s book. I don’t know that I would have known what to do with it 40 or 20 or even 10 years ago. One reader proposed as an alternative title: Life Sucks And Then You Die. But no. It’s the story of a life shot through with bitter sadness, disappointment, seeming failure, yes. But it’s also the story of a life heroically lived, and lived, as Stoner himself comes to understand, with moment by moment passion, and love. It’s not a sad or depressing book, but one that breathes quiet, considered, hope. And it has one of the best and most moving descriptions of dying (and who can do anything other than imagine what that is like?) that I have ever read.

I especially loved this paragraph:

He had no wish to die; but there were moments, after Grace left, when he looked forward impatiently, as one might look to the moment of a journey that one does not particularly wish to take. And like any traveller, he felt that there were many things he had to do before he left; yet he could not think what they were.

And this, which I guess could be the most important question one could ask oneself about one’s life:

What did you expect? he asked himself.

Emmanuel Carrère’s The Kingdom

Emmanuel Carrère's *The Kingdom*

I’d never even heard of Emmanuel Carrère’s The Kingdom until I found a copy in the religion section of our local (independent!) bookshop. It was one of those “This looks fascinating – must take it home with me” encounters. And having taken it home and started reading, I checked out the review in The Guardian, to see what others had thought of it. The reviewer, and numbers of those who commented on the review, refer to the author’s ‘scandalous narcissism’, which many find truly off-putting. True, it’s a distasteful trait. But in his favour: Carrère does confess that this is a fault of his: a confession you can either find strangely engaging, or even more infuriating. His Ego is the most important thing for him – but after all, isn’t that true about many of the people who write personal blogs, or share their lives on social media? Narcissist he may be, but he’s an intelligent, urbane and interesting narcissist, so I didn’t mind his company for the duration of this read. (Whether I would be able to stomach him in the flesh: that’s another matter.)

So what kind of a book is this, a huge bestseller in its native France? I think we first have to recognise that it is, well, French: the kind of book we hardly have in this country. In France, after all, they respect and admire intellectuals. Whereas in the UK, intellectuals, like any kind of experts, are people our leaders and opinion-formers have taught us to distrust, disbelieve and despise.

The Kingdom is partly a memoir, recording Carrère’s conversion to Christianity in the early 1990s, his years as a devout believer, and his subsequent loss of faith, or at any rate ceasing to be a believer. Yet he is still fascinated, you might even say obsessed, by the New Testament, and by the phenomenon of Christianity. So the main part of this book is a retelling of the New Testament, in particular the early years of the Church, the life and missionary journeys of St Paul, his letters to the churches, and the work of St Luke in being the earliest ‘historian’ of the Church, later author of the gospel that bears his name, as well as (possibly?) other NT books which for all I know no one other than Carrère ascribes to him.

Is it pure fiction? Or can some of it possibly be true? Carrère himself doesn’t claim that it’s all true; only that some parts of it are believed by many scholars, that other parts are more or less speculative, along a spectrum of probable – likely – possible – at least plausible. He draws fascinating analogies with other faith movements in the course of history, notably the growth of Communism. I’m not convinced that the power plays between the Russian communist leaders, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and the like, are comparable with those between Paul and the the leaders of the Jerusalem Church… but that’s the kind of thing I mean. In other words, you may find The Kingdom fascinating, enlightening, giving you lots to think about that you’ve never thought about before. Or just plain annoying, and downright wrong. But dull? No.

For me, it was probably all of those things by turns. Carrère, to my mind, gives too much weight to what Ernest Renan had to say; but then again, that may be something to do with my sometimes sharing the Englishman’s traditional Gallophobia. Here’s my favourite (AKA, least favourite) example, talking about what really happened on the first Easter Day:

When I say that no one knows what happened, I’m wrong. What happened is very well-known, only: it’s one of two different and incompatible things according to what you believe. If you’re a Christian, you know that Jesus was raised from the dead: that’s what being a Christian means. Or you believe what Renan believed, and what reasonable people believe. That a small group of women and men — the women first — deeply stricken by the loss of their guru, started spreading the word that he’d been resurrected, and that what happened next was not at all supernatural but astonishing enough to be worth telling in detail: their naive, bizarre belief that should normally have withered and died with them went on to conquer the world, and is still shared by roughly one quarter of the earth’s population.

Apparently, according to Carrère, ‘reasonable people’ believe something even more unlikely and impossible than believers. But then: I would say that, wouldn’t I?

All in all, this is a book I’m glad to have read and to recommend. I hope you enjoy it, learn from it, argue with it and shout at its author, as much as I did. Most of all, I hope you will stop ad think about it many times as you read it, and then put it down and turn back to the New Testament, to find out what it really says.

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Christus est stella matutina

Today, May 25, the Church celebrates one of our greatest English saints: the Venerable Bede.

Grave of the Venerable Bede

Bede was a true 8th century polymath: monk, scholar, historian (‘the father of English history’) scientist, biblical commentator… As a historian, he was one of the first adopters of the newly-invented use of Anno Domini in recording dates of events. As a scientist, one of the first to note and describe the influence of the moon on the tides, and to compute the date of Easter. His work on this is one of the treasures on view in the library of Melk Abbey. As a biblical commentator, he was quoted as an authority by no less a figure than St Thomas Aquinas.

His tomb in Durham Cathedral is one of England’s Special Places for me. Above it are the words in Latin and English from his commentary on Revelation 2.28, in which Christ in glory promises to give the morning star to the one who overcomes in the Christian life, and keeps his works to the end.

Christus est Stella Matutina,

qui nocte saecum transacta

lucem vitae sanctis promitit,

et pandit aeternam.

(Christ is the Morning Star, who when the night of this world is past, gives to his saints the promise of the light of life, and opens everlasting day.)

Scholar-poet Malcolm Guite has written a sonnet in honour of Bede, using the words of this inscription.

The Morning Star, or Day Star, is a beautiful title for Jesus drawn from 2 Peter 1.19: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.”

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