According the the BBC, the UK government is proposing to half the length of time that tourist visas are valid from six to three months. They are also planning to impose bonds of £1000 on families who host, in order to ensure timeous departures.
The whole visa situation in this country is a constant source of embarrassment and even anger to me. Of course there are immigration issues to be faced: I recently had an African man who came to St Silas' for a few weeks, then asked to see me to talk about getting married. When I met him and his fiancee (who was from a recently acceded European country), it became quite clear that the wedding was to help facilitate his staying in the UK. He even offered a bribe to me to help smooth the way ("In my country, you can get anything, if you have the money!"). He was less than impressed when I pointed out that he'd have to put his head above the parapet and go to the registry office before I could marry them. Obviously, presenting oneself to any authority might present a problem: I haven't seen him since.
But there are clearly issues when it comes to people who are trying to be honest and forthright. We heard last week from one of our supported missionaries who is struggling to get a visa for a pastor co-worker in Bible translation, who needs to join her here for the final stage of the work. The government isn't being too helpful, despite repeated guarantees from the heads of her organisation that this man will return to his own country. We also have the ongoing issues that one of our own families are facing. The system seems to be so inflexible and unjust.
Sadly, far from welcoming the stranger in our midst, we appear to be setting ourselves up as a most unwelcoming country. It vexes me when visiting other nations, when the welcome one receives is basically an interrogation by security officials as to why one wants entry. Admittedly, we have to take security precautions to prevent drug couriers, terrorists and potential freeloaders making their way here, but surely we can also take greater efforts to be open, generous and welcoming? Instead our system appears to assume the worst of motives for everyone wishing to come here.
The teams who work together to make our annual Carols By Candlelight service such an event excelled again last Sunday. The lighting, visuals, and choral pieces all helped create a contemporary worship experience. Particularly striking was the 'kitchen-sink' drama of the couple contemplating their Christmas as they watched the service broadcast into their living room.
It is always a huge logistical exercise - the red sash bedecked stewards helped keep us safe; the catering team kept us well fed and watered (with some fine mulled fruit juice); the technical team spent many hours setting up and taking down. Thanks to all who made it such a memorable event.
I think it was worth it.
One thought I have is whether we need to go back to having the service a little earlier in Advent? I know a lot of our students had gone home for Christmas by last Sunday and I suspect we were competing with a lot of other events in peoples' lives.
Ian McNabb's band rocked out on the last night of their tour.
We had shuffled our way right to the front, which meant a great view and that we could hear all the onstage banter.
'Go and see Beowulf 3D! It's brilliiant!' enjoined Ian as the band took the stage in their (3D) dark glasses. 'Hello, young lady!', called Ian as he did a passable impression of Eric Morecambe.
They played a lot of classic Icicle Works numbers, including a blistering 'When It All Comes Down' and 'Evangeline' right at the start. A few McNabb solo songs also appeared, as well as an improvised 'Tiger Feet'.
During 'Little Girl Lost', Mr McNabb, proceeded to bend down and give Ms GV a kiss on the hand. I think she was pleased.
They rounded off the evening with 'Wild Mountain Thyme', which Ian milked and which the crowd lapped up and bellowed out. All-in-all, a great evening's entertainment.
I spoke with several parents of young children yesterday about the difficult bits of being a parent, most notably the sleepless nights and the stress of babies being ill. I commented on how things got easier as they grow older: the problems change, but at least one gets a good night of sleep and fewer visits to the GP. What a surprise then, when GV Boy woke us up at 2am by turning our bedroom light on, complaining of feeling unwell. We called NHS 24, who advised some over-the-counter medicine, so it was off to an all night supermarket on the southside for MS GV and me. We got back at 3am, to discover our patient was fast asleep. A reassuring trip to the GP this morning and all is well.
Ahh, it's just like the old days.....and we are exhausted!
Following the flyer distribution last night, it was time for supper with GV Boy at the China Buffet King on Sauchiehall Street (me's bad, as I had a pub lunch too yesterday), before racing off to the Carling Academy to see Porcupine Tree.
Anathema (an ambiguous name if ever there was one) were in support. They aren't quite as fearsome as their name suggests. In fact, the name seems to be a bit of wishful thinking, as they look like a nice bunch of lads, who played a powerful set. They were obviously enjoying themselves, as were the crowd. Great stuff.
Porcupine Tree were in great form too. Their performance has been honed by all the touring this year, and to my ears it sounded perfect. We stood near the front but in the middle, unlike the last time, when we were on the barrier right at the front, and we got the benefit of better sound as a result.
They played a few old songs: 'Waiting', 'Dark Matter' and 'A Smart Kid' all got an airing which suited me fine, as they are among my favourites.
It's been a very successful year, with them picking up many new fans.The place was full and quite clearly not a few of those in attendance were unfamiliar with this older music, because some of them near us proceeded to talk loudly through the songs. They also decided to help the band by counting them in during some songs: they shouted, 'One, two three four....'. Slightly annoying, but it didn't spoil the gig for me.
More visuals by Lasse Hoile had been added to the set since we saw the band in April. These are such an integral part of a PT concert, and are at times mesmerising, at others, disturbing. Above all, they make the viewer think.
They ended the encore with 'Halo', which causes the crowd to jump up and down a lot while singing along:
God is in my fingers God is in my head
God is in the trigger
God is in the lead
God is freedom, God is truth
God is power and God is proof
God is fashion, God is fame
God gives meaning, God give pain
You can be right like me
With God in the hole you're a righteous soul
I got a halo round me, I got a halo round me
I'm not the same as you
Cos I've seen the light and I'm gaining in height now
I got a halo round me, I got a halo round me
I got a halo round my head
God is on the cellphone
God is on the net
God is in the warning
God is in the threat
Somehow, this song pierces the arrogance of religious people and reveals how faith might be viewed by those who don't share it. The irony of a large crowd singing these lyrics reminds me of the following conversation:
I don't go to the church because it's full of hypocrites.
Not quite, there's always room for one more. Why don't you come along?
We've had teams out every evening this week delivering invitations to our Christmas services. Kudos to you if you've been one of those serving in this way!
We thought we'd try something new this year, after I noticed the masses of people at Charing Cross walking home to the West End during rush hour. The idea was simply to hand out invitations in the street. We weren't sure if it would work, but four of us tried it as an experiment last night.
Nick and I stood outside Kelvin Bridge Underground station for an hour and had a very encouraging time, with a few really good conversations. One person even gave me tips on how to give the flyers out. Bethany is experienced at this, as she does it at the Edinburgh Festival. 'Don't thank people for taking an invitation, as if they are doing you a favour. Simply tell them that this is a great event and that they need to come to it!'. Good advice from someone that I'll look out for on Sunday night.
One observation we made was that people leaving the station tended to do the following: if the first person coming off the escalator declined an invitation card, those coming after them also declined. If the lead person accepted a card, those following also accepted one. Follow the leader indeed.
It's a simple little act: the Church getting out and about to gently point people to the coming of Jesus. All we needed was some camel skins, a few locusts and jars of honey. We could then have called ourselves John!
In between working quite hard, we've been getting out and about a bit more than usual: we went to a fab party on Saturday night (we had a choice of two, and were last to leave the one we went to - changed days for us!); went as a family to see the Golden Compass (possible review to follow); spoke at Tots & Co (our Toddlers and Carers group), inviting them to our Christmas services - the wee faces were delighted at Tommy the puppet; had a vestry meeting last night at which, among other things, we reviewed the pledges made so far to Building for the Future (details of which to follow, for which we are so grateful to God - the response so far has been wonderful, but we still have a considerable way to go).
My main focus this week is getting ready for our Carols by Candlelight service (Sunday @ 8pm). This will be my thirteenth year of speaking at this, and to be honest it's become the talk I struggle with most during the year, so prayers for this are valued.
And to cap it all, today is my 44th birthday (I know, I know, I don't look that ancient, thank you very much!). One of the benefits of being on Facebook - I've received more birthday greetings than usual, so thanks for that too. My birthday treat? We couldn't get tickets for Led Zeppelin, but I am going to see the Grammy-nominated Porcupine Tree with GV Boy tomorrow night (and the Icicle Works with Ms GV next Monday night).
Longstanding readers of this blog might remember this post about the embarrassing habits of our pet rabbit, Wilbur. Sadly, we found him dead in his hutch last night. It's a mark of how the GV kids have grown that they hardly batted an eyelid at the news. Last time one of our rabbits died, her grave was desecrated by a fox. No doubt Wilbur's body will meet the same fate.