Earlier this year, I saw a miracle.

Not a nice, “on 34th Street” miracle, where it turns out people are nice after all and it still snows at Christmas, or a cool, scientific miracle like, I dunno, flight or evolution or rainbows, but an actual miracle, where either I and several thousand other witnesses are wrong or alternatively there actually is a God – a terrifying, electrifying, science-disobeying, life-giving, hope-creating, eternal-perspective-requiring, heaven-or-hell-sending God – and, for me, the evidence is closing in on the second, far more wonderful and uncomfortable option.

I’ve been putting off writing about it for months, because it’s such an important subject that I figured I’d need hours to write a decent post about it (that Take That one last week took an hour, and it’s just about key-changes and stuff, so I figured “you all need to accept there’s a God” would take forever), and I don’t usually have hours at a go to write. But today Kat(i)e, who’s requested this in the comments, is in luck*, cos the remote desktop on which I do most of my work isn’t working, so I’ve got until whenever they’ve resuscitated it to tell you about Mike.

(*Given the nature of this post, I have a slight suspicion that luck and the aforementioned Actual Real-Life God may have colluded about this.)

Mike is Kat(i)e’s friend in Bristol. He’s an affable Geordie in his mid-20s who likes football and Jesus and is getting over a crazy bunch of addictions. He’s one of those who have teetered over the abyss, so when he talks about Jesus “saving” him, he means it entirely literally. For a long time, though, he had a seriously bad back, because he had one of those degenerative diseases where the discs in your back shrink down and down until your vertebrae are actually rubbing against one another and it hurts like hell. In April 2010 Mike had a clever operation that takes the residual, now pretty pointless diskage (not a science term) out from between those vertebrae and fuses the bones together with various bits of nails and screws and rods and other ironmongery that would make you beep going through an airport scanner. It means quite a bit less pain but also a lot less movement. You can’t really bend down and touch your toes, or pivot (heh heh – pivot!) very far left or right, or lean backwards.

Mike recovered from his op very quickly (“well it’s Jezuz, innit, he gets me oot and aboot!”, he would tell bemused nursing staff and fellow patients), and when I met him in May it was at a Christian conference at Colston Hall that Fran and I went to. He was working on the doors at the conference, being friendly and welcoming and making sure people all had lanyards and stuff. At one point in the evening session, Bill Johnson, the guy preaching, started talking about people he thought that God was telling him were here and whom God wanted to heal.

Now bear with me. I’m a natural sceptic, I don’t like to accept things I don’t understand, and I think that our brains are the greatest gift God has given us and that the scientific method is the greatest thing humans have ever invented.

Plus, I’ve seen charlatans do this schtick before. They whip up a lot of emotion, and then reel off a list of pretty broad things (bad back, headache) that anyone could say they have and then throw in a couple of things you can’t see or prove that they’ve gone (cancer, AIDS), and they tell you that if you question them you’re questioning God. It’s horrible. It’s so horrible that I went to this conference knowing there’d be talk of healing and feeling prepared to see more manipulation, if I’m honest.

But this Johnson chap was NOTHING like that. His preaching had been warm and funny and thought-provoking and unmanipulative. He didn’t shout or issue instructions that required immediate fulfilment to “get our miracle”, or tell us that he had some kind of “anointing” – in fact he got us all praying for each other: the whole conference was very big on us praying for each other and other people. Quite democratising, which was cool. Anyway, I’m digressing. He just mentioned a number of ailments he thought God wanted to get rid of for people. Some of them were pretty broad, that almost anyone could put their hands up to, but some weren’t: one was “nerve damage going from your shoulder right down into your left arm” – and a couple of people put their hands up to THAT (presumably their right hands =o) ).

My cynicism was already feeling somewhat battered by Johnson’s character and by the precise predictions he was quite successfully making when he started talking about fused vertebrae and Kat(i)e, who’d sat next to me “so she could see my face”, said “Ohmygosh that’s Mike that’s Mike! Where’s Mike? He’s talking about Mike!” She looked around for a minute to see if she could see Mike to go and pray with him, but she couldn’t, so we settled back into watching what was going on, and then gradually moved towards people with their hands up to join the little groups of friends that were forming around them, supporting them and chatting to God about healing.

Then Johnson led us in a calm and comparatively sane-sounding prayer that God would, y’know, completely break all the rules of science and do impossible healing things to people’s bodies, and we all got a-prayin’ and asking people how their arms and legs and necks and tummies and lumps felt. In my case, I swapped numbers with a guy called Edward, who had a stomach ulcer that didn’t hurt right now but was a killer in the mornings, so he could text me if it felt any different the next day. (The next morning, bee-tea-dub, it didn’t hurt a bit. I don’t know what happened after that.)

Then suddenly Mike – friendly Geordie lanyard-checking can’t-pivot Mike – jumped on the stage and started, y’know, doing twists and leaning back and doing squats and all stuff he couldn’t have done that afternoon. The preacher gave him the mic.

“Well, what happened,” says Mike, beaming, “See I had this operation on my back four weeks ago, and it’s meant I couldn’t move me back much, and it did still hurt sometimes, but then like, when you were talking about people with fused vertebrae like, I was outside on the doors, and no-one prayed with me or owt, and I just felt all warm and tingly like, and I felt a bit sick – I’m still shaking a bit actually – and then suddenly I had movement in me back like, and…”

He broke off and did a bunch of twisty gyratey movements that you wouldn’t normally expect to see on a church stage, but given the circumstances I think we can let him off =o)

I’ve sent Kat(i)e off to find out what had actually happened to him, medically speaking. I know he was due a consultant’s appointment sometime soon after the conference, but, not really knowing Mike myself, I’m not sure what the outcome of that was. More broadly, though, the news is he’s still pain free and pivoting and continuing to straighten his life out.

I really, REALLY want to talk more about all this healing business but I’m not going to right now. This post is already nearly 1,400 words long and I want you awake for the next bit. Suffice, for now, to say that I am convinced that, in this case, God has thrown everything I believe about science and falsifiability and that sort of thing to the wind (not that my beliefs about science would have been at the forefront of his mind at the time, obviously, but you know what I mean) and broken the rules and mended Mike’s back because he loves him.

What that means is potentially that everything we all think (believers or not) about the world and God and his place in it and what he is and isn’t allowed to do, all of it, is now completely wrong.

But a thought that huge and expansive needs a second post. For now you have the story. I swear it’s true. Make of it what you will, and what you can.

I’m sorry but when did Take That become this good? Witness, if you will, exhibit A:

Now, see, I quite liked Take That the first time round. This is not cool, because I was a 14-year-old boy, and as a 14-year-old boy I was meant to be spending my lunchtimes in music practice rooms playing “Come As You Are” on a nylon-stringed acoustic and pretending I’d loved Nirvana since Bleach. (This is so far from true that I actually had to wiki what Nirvana’s first album was just then.) And whyever would a sensible boy want to do that, when the world also contained Relight My Fire, a song with literally only one thing wrong with it, and that’s the even better original version?

Because everyone would think him a big fat steaming gay bear, that’s why. So I kept it quiet and learnt the words to Smells Like Teen Spirit, like you were supposed to, even the bit at the end of the chorus, which was weird. “An albino, my libido” my bottom.

Anyway, though, I digress. Point is, Take That Mk I, with their stomping Barry Manilow covers and absurdly catchy self-referential musings on the nature of boy-band fame, were, at their best, BRILLIANT, and anyone who doesn’t think so needs to get over grunge already.

Then they came back and it was sort of nice, mid-30s mum and dad music. I’m sorry but it was. Autotune had been invented, so you could no longer hear the endearing amateurish wobbliness of their voices, which I reckon was part of the charm first time round (a bit like how the Beatles* were never that great at their instruments, and we love them for it, surely?). Also there was a lot more money being thrown at it, and all the production was terribly well compressed and balanced, and al the notes were balanced, and it was all just a bit polite.

(*Ringo in particular, love ‘im.)

Not that there haven’t been some cracking songs. Shine is nigh on the most fun your ears can have in 3’34”. On Beautiful World there’s a lovely folky little song, sung by Jason of all people, called Wooden Boat, which has the prettiest chorus you could wish for. But, I dunno, I think it’s the Autotune that bugs me really. But that’s for another day.

Because today is about saying OHMYDAYS this new song’s good. Here’s a list of reasons why.

  • Yada yada Robbie’s back etc. it’s all been said but it’s a JOY to see a wild boy settle down and make peace with his past, even if he does make a mint out of it.
  • Gary Barlow writes an amazing pop song on a good day, doesn’t he? Proper varied tune in the verse, nice build-up to the chorus and then, as one reviewer put it, a chorus “that would make even Wembley Stadium feel cramped“.
  • It’s got a key change! Not a Westlife, move-it-up-a-tone-and-get-off-our-stools keychange, but an actual, proper, I’m-Gary-and-I’ve-had-music-theory-lessons modulation! Not enough of those in pop these days. Pete Waterman used to do them (there’s three per verse in I Should Be So Lucky) but they seem to have fallen out of fashion.
  • Gary’s face at 1’59” as he’s trying to row. Hilarious but understandable.
  • Get a load of the lungs on Williams and Barlow between 2’19” and 2’37”. There was a period where I thought Robbie’d smoked himself out of a voice. Apparently not.
  • The fact that they sound northern enough to rhyme “no-one understood” with “more of them than uz”. If everyone sang in their own accents pop music would be a much lovelier place (cf. Madness, Abba, Arctic Monkeys, Proclaimers etc.).
  • They don’t stop rowing. They don’t stop rowing, people! That’s what I call sticking it to the man. Not stopping rowing. Yeah! Genuinely, when I first saw that moment – little shiver down my spine. The thing is, you can’t make big statements in your videos about perseverance and keeping on keeping on and such like when you’re 20. I love that one of the biggest pop acts in the country is singing and making videos about entering middle age rather than churning out repetitive songs about clubbing.
  • The growly bass at 3’34”.

Um… yeah, that’s it. Well there’s eight reasons for you, right there, in roughly chronological video order. Well done boys. It’s not the cheeriest of songs or, in some ways, the cheeriest of videos, but I think, for what it is, it’s rather a triumph. Apparently the new album is an utterly bonkers electroglam techno stomping apocalyptic sci fi epic. That could be amazing, or rubbish. It’s in with a decent chance of the former, though, if this is anything to go by.


November 4, 2010

My friend Iain’s found the most intriguing little website. It’s called De-Noted, and it’s a collection of things people have written and drawn on active bank notes. Some of them are fun, some are a bit dark, some make you sing and some, I think, are really rather clever. Also you get the Queen in a funky origami hat.

The question is, what am I going to put on my money? In front of me are three of her Majesty’s finest notes. First three comments get written on them. No swearing ;o)


November 2, 2010

Bekki says it’s something called NaBloPoMo this month. I had no idea what that was so I looked it up and apparently it’s National Blog Posting Month. Well, thought I, why not? I haven’t been on here since, what, July? so I must surely have a month’s worth of content since then, even if some of it’s rambly. Surely!


Thing is there’s quite a lot, really. Here’s what’s happened since July 8:

  • Belmont school-age Holiday Club: dressing up as a ringmaster, daily moustache changes, pop song writing
  • Rich and Debs’s wedding: excellent cravate, wonderful batty suit man at Debenham’s, rocking hard, Debs ill
  • Luke and Ruthie’s wedding: streamers, incredible decoration, Lauren‘s taller half (lovely), Ruthie ill
  • Fran started very exciting job: YMCA, social inclusion, job-finding, Vision Days.
  • I went to Flipping Rwanda: omelettes, powdered milk, the best form of transport ever, eternal birthday candle, heat, smiles
  • CAB: advising people is VERY EXCITING; some very unlikely companies put you on hold listening to “That’s Amore“. I wish I could tell you who but I’m probably not allowed.
  • My ment… mentoree… mentee… the guy I mentor, a likeable hockey-fiend and Land-Rover-geek called Barney is admirably doing Movember, an event where men across the English-speaking world throw dignity to the wind and grow a SPONSORED MOUSTACHE in aid of prostate cancer research for the whloe of November. Barney is 17, so we’ll see how well it goes. If, along with his fluff/hair, he happens to develop something like a Just Giving page, I’ll give you the details.

Um… that’s all I have time for for now. Who knows, tomorrow you might get anything. Rwanda, Jonah Chapter 2, a story about God unfusing a man’s vertebrae from, ooh, May, anything.You could even request topics, if you felt so inclined.

Meanwhile, y’know that T-Mobile flashmob advert? If you’ve been watching X Factor you will do. Anyway, this is the full-length version. I know it’s just an advert but I dare you not to be a little bit moved by the end of it =o)

Goodness me, but Nathan is blogging, what could possibly bring him out of hibernation (estivation?)? Well, three things.

Thing one is this: would you like to feel 3 min 53 sec of pure, life-affirming, fat-beated, snarly-bassed joy? You would? Good. Well stick in some headphones and turn this up as loud as your little ears will let you. It’s Underworld’s first single in three years, so the lady who’s standing in for my indie crush on BBC 6 Music tells me, and it’s something of a corker. Video’s a nice idea too – mainly just Karl Hyde out of the band sitting in a car losing himself in the song – though arguably much better executed here.

Thing two is: my better half Fran is on holiday for the week, and Fran-on-holiday is one of the most inspiring Bible readers I know. Here are the fruits of her latest musings. Whatever you think of the whole Bible shenannigans you must absolutely pop over and have a read.

Thing three is that this is why I blog (on the rare occasions that I do) with WordPress. They are just brilliant people and believe the Internet can be used for good, and I say more power to their elbow.

One day eventually (realistically it’ll be in August, sorry) I’ll be back on here with, most interestingly, a story called In Which Nathan Becomes Convinced That God Actually Does Do Things That Science Shouldn’t Let Him Do, And In Real Life, Too, Not Just Books.

Until then my life consists of music practices and CAB interviews (had my first observed interview with an Actual Client this week, woot!) and Belmont 5-11s Holiday Club (brilliant) and translating things. So real life, I guess =o)

Slip slop slap,


Americans! Listen up.

May 23, 2010

David Mitchell has something very important to say to you.

So the election was four days ago and we still haven’t got a Government, it’s Monday and we’ve all got to go back to work, there’ll be oil shortages across the world by 2015 and even though it’s May it’s still a bit nippy. D’you know what, though? It’s not so bad. For a number of reasons.

Firstly, there’s still a God, and he’s not stupid, nor caught unawares, nor too busy with paperwork to be bothered, nor will his people be crushed by the ideological inflexibility of liberals or the avarice of conservatives, or even by the lights starting to go out, if so they do. So screw you, fear 😉

Secondly, people are still brilliant and creative and amazing, viz

  • this beautiful animation illustrating a 12-year-old kid with Asperger’s interviewing his mum, which I found on Abraham Piper‘s brilliant 22 Words; and
  • Oh my word, this is brilliant! Do you know the movie Moon? Because you should. I haven’t time to explain it right now cos I have to go and learn to be a CAB person this afternoon but when I saw it it just haunted me – I didn’t want to think about anything else for days afterwards. Anyway, one of the many haunting things about it is its theme music (which starts about 2 min 40 of the way through here, and which you should totally go and listen to before you go any further). And today I discover that someone’s done an awesome, atmospheric trance remix of it, with big rumbly foreboding bass and a perfect level of respect for the original melody line. It’s LOVELY. If you like that sort of thing. (It also takes an age to load, so you should probably do that thing where you press pause and then come back five minutes later.)

So yeah. Chin up!

Frowny face

May 6, 2010

Having just said that I was a Lib Dem, this I knew, for the Internet told me so, I now see that my ace friend Bekki‘s hubby Rob has recently linked to this series of posts by Christian überblogger, pundit and general subcultural Colossus Adrian Warnock, which detail why he – to his own surprise as much as anyone’s – will be voting Conservative, of all things. They’re an interesting read – not least for the link to the Tory thinktank the Centre for Social Justice, who the Tories pretty much copy and paste their social policy from these days, and who seem (from the cursory glance I’ve just given them) to have some genuinely interesting and refreshingly un-Daily Mail ideas, especially on asylum, addiction and prison reform. (Although I should admit that if you go to their bit about “economic dependency” you’ll find they’re still peddling the popular idea that loads of people on Incapacity Benefit are workshy fakers, which I find MASSIVELY annoying, but you won’t find a party that dares to say different…)

So yeah. About six hours to go before I vote and it’s now a three-horse race for me. Flippin’ ‘eck, eh? If you’re as confused as I am, maybe this’ll help (hat tip to Fran):

Slightly Britanno-centric post coming up; apologies to my foreign readers (which is basically the brilliant Lauren in Texas, and even she may now be too seam-splittingly close to A Very Exciting Event to spend much time looking at English people’s blogs, so unless there are some very exotic lurkers about – and if so, hi! – I’m going to assume I’m safe).

Soooo yeah. Apparently there’s an election on. Are you going to vote? Oh go on, it’s exciting. It is! This is first time in my whole memory when we haven’t all known in advance who was going to win. There’s even the outside chance that, if we do get a change of government, we might not even be able to guess beforehand who it changes to!* OR EVEN FOR SEVERAL DAYS AFTER THE ELECTION! This must be what elections feel like in proper democracies! Ooh, I feel like… like a Belgian. It’s brilliant.

And we get to play our little part in all this drama. That’s my favourite thing about an election. All the lights, swingometers, technology and pizzazz, all the punditry, satire and spin, all the slick hair and white teeth, the greed and hubris and hope and belief  – it all comes down to this wonderfully British little world of church halls and community centres and trestle tables and little stubby pencils on strings, and small-town worthies, suddenly grand, herding nervous candidates sheepdog-like onto local stages, before intoning the mysterious numbers of your and my votes, which will decide – and I really don’t think this is much of an exaggeration – the future of this thousand-year-old country. It’s MAGIC.

To which end: who are you voting for? Because if you don’t know yet, have I got some fun toys for you! Two, basically, which pretty much do the same job in different ways.

Vote For Policies gives you a sample of the policies of the six main parties (Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, UKIP and Racist Crazies) in various different sujects (you have to choose at least for subjects), but doesn’t tell you which party’s policy is which, and asks you to rate them. Then at the end it tells you who to vote for. I came out as 75% Lib Dem, and I took this test on the Monday before the first TV debate, which means I’ve been agreeing with Nick since at least three days before it was popular. I think that makes me cool.

The second is a really interesting quiz on the Torygraph website. It asks you lots and lots of yes or no questions and then tells you who you ought to vote for from that. On this I came out as 67% of a Liberal Democrat, so there you go. Not sure which 67%, but still.

Anyhow, there you are. Go and have some fun and then for goodness’ sake, use your once-in-five-years chance to make them sweat =o)

(*Well. A boy can dream.)

(You should probably listen to Fyfe Dangerfield‘s album Fly Yellow Moon while you read this. Just because it’s good. It’s on Spotify.)

Eeerrrr… yeah, where was I? Oh, yeah, well it was quite an educational day really. We saw a sign that taught us all about different waterfowl in French:

Unfortunately most of the waterfowl I see in my daily life are from Devon and probably don’t speak French, so I still don’t know how to get their attention. There was one very useful cartoon, though, viz:

[The duck is saying: “Be reasonable, we’re perfectly capable of feeding ourselves! Just get on with having your own fun. Thanks.” The rat is saying: “Heh, heh, heh, I’m the one who benefits!”]

This taught us that:

  1. contrary to claims made on The Big Bang Theory, ducks do after all have a need for, and the ability to use, umbrellas;
  2. rats catch bread in butterfly nets, which I think is rather impressive and suggests they deserve it; and
  3. they laugh by saying “hin, hin, hin”! Which I am going to adopt as my new laugh because it is brilliant.

Then we walked through a park where you can’t pick flowers wearing gloves or take flying half-dog-half-seahorse creatures on leads:

and where only beautiful women are allowed to use the toilets:

In the park were lots of exhibits to help kids (and tourists) Discover and Learn about, like, Nature and Tree Bark and Where Stuff Is and Clever Things We Can Do With Plants. It was cool.

Fran, Discovering.

And then, right, we came through the park and into Geneva’s Botanical Gardens, which are really, really good. There’s lots of good things to look at, and, even if what there is to look at is mainly plants and trees with their names on sticks next to them, as if they’ve all just arrived at a big plants and trees conference and are having a getting-to-know-you session, it still holds your attention for having so many very different plants and trees getting to know each other and for presenting them so well. There were elegant greenhouses like this:

containing big fat exotic palmy things with fronds like this:

and cute orangey flowery things like this:

Of course, I haven’t learnt what any of these things are called, but one step at a time, I think.

But OH MY DAYS, right? Because also at the Botanical Gardens was a BIG FREAKY STEAMPUNK CAROUSEL.

Do click on the image and look more closely. Why yes, that is a stork pulling a pram! And a trike with a mustard-coloured horse’s head on the front! Not to mention the ant with the red leather seat:

And for my money, a day out isn’t a day out until you’ve hung in a wicker basket from a flying clockwork frog.

I love it. I really do. You just don’t get this sort of joyful, defiant oddness making it into a kid’s day out in Britain. How cool would we be if you did, though, eh?

Then we had extremely nice pizza (mine was ratatouille pizza, which I didn’t know you could do but it turns out it’s gorgeous), and wandered on to other bits of Geneva, which I won’t bore you with, save to say that Geneva was, as always, quirky, enchanting, cosy and expensive. When Ffjgyeflgyefjlgyelfjyglejygefgjlef volcano calms down again you should go.

Fran looking cool by the lake.

A chap who sits above the door to a sports shop in the Old Town. Being Gondebaud, King of Burgundy looks like quite a tiring job.

I want a Vespa so VERY badly.

Funky wind rainbowy things in the windows of La Clemence (laclemence.ch), the pub in the Old Town that was my second home back in the day.

Men playing chess in the Parc des Bastions. This chap is losing but putting up a valiant fight, as I remember.

The graffiti is still good.