Sunday, October 26, 2008

Signs You Are In Another Country Part I

One of the things we have really enjoyed about living in England has been the signs about the place. The English, so we are told, love to be instructed, which is the function of most signs.

The English also have a far more sophisticated approach to the (wait for it) English language than that with which most Australians function. This is the land where Yes Minister is more of an instruction manual on the uses of ambiguity and understated misdirection in daily life than an exotic excursion into purely political misuse of language a la Yes Minister in Australia. England is a country which revels both in what the English language is capable of doing, and the legitimate ambiguity and range of meaning inherent in the simplest of phrases. At times it appears that almost every game show on Radio 4 is designed for language afficondos to show off the potential of English for amusing miscommunication and skillful precision - often at the same time.

We are of the opinion that it is only this profound self-awareness of how easy it is to misunderstand even the simplest communicative act that can explain English signs. English signs are prosaic in a way that makes mere prose look like Wordsworth. They leave nothing, completely, absolutely, utterly nothing to chance. If a sign delivers information, it spells that information out in excruciating detail. More often than not it will then proceed to help the reader understand exactly how they are to respond to receiving such information. Nothing is left to chance. Every time we read a sign over here we get the impression that the writer thinks that we are idiots...on a good day.

There also seem to be more signs over here - things that would just be trusted to someone's common sense in Australia will probably have it's own sign here. This maybe because anything designed to tell an Australian what to do will suffer being ignored (at best) and altered or defaced (at worst). Either way, there is probably a serious case to be made that manufacturing signs in Australia is a waste of public money. Obeying signs is really not the Australian way. It is probably on that secret list of 'unAustralian' qualities we need to avoid.

So, we have been enjoying the signs over here, and had thought to run a sort of competition listing the top three signs we've found. But there have been so many, that we thought we'd turn it into a kind of series that we'll probably return to from time to time while we are over here. Our first offering is this set, that we believe illustrate the pedantic and multiply redundant nature of English signs.

These signs we found in Penzance (of Pirates fame). They surrounded a large pool, filled with seawater. There were a number of signs around the fence, designed to appeal to a broad range of people.

First, there is the explanation of why you should not swim in this pool after it is closed.

I can't imagine the average Aussie's attention span surviving past the beginning of the fourth line, let alone "operational procedures mean the depth of water cannot be guaranteed" which in Australia would read something more like, "water may not be the depth it appears".

Then, in case you are of a more legal mind, there is a more obscure sign explaining under which circumstances you may enter the pool and when you may not.

Note that "Opening Hours" cannot be left to the reader to interpret for themselves. It needs the explanatory phrases, "when the gates are unlocked", and "and the pool is patrolled". And that last phrase needs its own qualifier, "by lifeguards". What possible chain of events required such a careful excluding of every possible interpretive cul de sac for the basic instruction, "Do Not Enter When Pool is Closed"? After a few encounters with signs like this we begin to worry whether this country is either exceptionally lawless or exceptionally stupid and we've just been oblivious to it. We think they should have given us a sign about this at Heathrow.

Then, in case you don't understand any of this, there is a simpler version.

And finally, if this has all been rather difficult and you don't understand what all these signs are telling you, there is one with a picture.

Nothing. Completely, abolutely, utterly nothing is left to chance. Just stay out of the pool already, OK? MDB & JMB

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Baddeley's are Moving On...

From the Master of Studies that is.

Not from Oxford.

In fact, we are pleased to announce that we are staying in Oxford.

The person in our family who came up with that joke, really enjoyed it. That should clue you in as to who it might have been...

We are relieved to have a decision (you can tell by the fact that this is going up some time later than our last post suggested it might that it's been a Big Week for decision making). After a tricky time of deciphering exactly what was meant by the offer Oxford gave us, we finally got some clarity on this and could make an informed decision.

Mark has been offered a position in the MLitt programme. If his thesis written work is good and he does well in a further Greek exam (Mark's fears about his performance in the MSt exam half-way through the year appear to have been well-grounded - Oxford would like some further assurance on that front) then he'll be upgraded to the doctorate programme. As this enables Mark to keep the supervisor he had for the last year, it enables us to stay at Oxford with the people we've already begun to get to know, and as the examiners recommended Mark for the DPhil once the Greek was satisfied, we think this is a better route than taking the doctoral offers from Durham or Edinburgh.

So there it is, possibly the biggest decision we'll make for several years is now done. We're putting down longer term roots in Oxford. And we couldn't be happier. Praise God. MDB & JMB

Saturday, October 11, 2008


We had an unexpected few days where we had no commitments, no looming exams and no reason to stay in Oxford. And some very kind friends offered to lend us their car.

So, we jumped in said car and took off to explore Cornwall. We stayed in a ramshackle old farmhouse which although furnished with 1970's furniture was probably older than white Australian settlement. Apart from the furiously fast traffic on the main roads, it was totally quiet. We could see the stars at night. And there were various farm animals about the place. Sheep in Cornwall seem to be roughly as stupid as sheep in Australia. There's a factoid for next time you're playing Trivial Pursuit: The Farming Collector's Edition (UK/Australian comparison version)

Everywhere was green. Luscious, deep, vivid green. Odd-shaped green fields, embraced by green hedgerows, containing large green trees... The people who owned the farmhouse looked amazed as we described the drought in Australia and how it turns things a dirty kind of yellow. Farmers in Cornwall get concerned if there is an absence of rain for more than a month.

We had a great few days - the bulk of the MSt was behind us and the Vive Voce (oral examination) still to come - which no-one could tell us how to prepare for. Jonathan really enjoyed the increased amount of space he had to explore in the farmhouse, which was several times as large as our two bedroom flat. There were lots of things to see and absolutely no need to go anywhere. We enjoyed finding a church on Sunday, and met some friends of a friend (quite randomly) and had tea with them during the week - which made it even better. It added a distinctly Christian note that hadn't been part of our experience in going to York, Wales, or Scotland.

So, here we are. Back again after our few days rest. Refreshed, and ready for a decision from Oxford as to whether they will offer Mark DPhil candidature and what preconditions they might require. (Check back here early next week if you are interested as we will post something when we have a firm indication.)

Mark has done his Vive Voce on the Wednesday just gone. It was a definite examination rather than a chat, with the examiners testing Mark's views on a couple of scholarly debates that his dissertation touched on, and seriously challenging his position that Origen's influence on third century theology is generally overestimated. We even have the results - Mark has successfully completed the Master of Studies in Theology (Patristics), with grades that, overall should qualify him for an offer. (The pleasant surprise was getting a 'First' for the dissertation given that it was written entirely while ill).

But the offer is still yet to be officially made, so there is still uncertainty to face over the next few days. But we're grateful that Mark has successfully completed the MSt and so there will be doctoral studies happening somewhere over here. And in the midst of all this, we still have the pleasant memories of a beautiful, green part of England. JMB & MDB

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Jonathan was baptised on 21st September, 2008.

Here is how he looked before the baptism.

And here he is after.

Before he was baptised, the congregation prayed...

O God, our Father, we thank You for Your great love for us and the promise You have made to us through Your Son Jesus Christ that You will be our God and the God of our children also. We ask that Jonathan will grow up trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ and knowing You as his Heavenly Father. Strengthen him with your power, and give him victory over the world, the flesh and the devil, so that he may live a life that will please You. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Which we think is a great prayer to be prayed for him, and may well adopt it to pray it for him more frequently.

The congregation welcomed Jonathan after he was baptised with these memorable words...

We welcome you, Jonathan, into this congregation of Christ's Church. Do not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, fight bravely under His banner against sin, the world and the devil, continuing as Christ's faithful soldier and servant to the end of your life.

Which we also think is a great welcome and highlights for us just how valuable things like liturgy can be. It is a very 'manly' welcome, that stresses conflict, a refusing to be ashamed, and bravery - notes that many Christians today wouldn't choose to stress if they were to craft a congregational welcome (or come up with one spontaneously, for non-liturgical traditions).

All in all, it was a great morning, and we're very grateful for what Christ has done through his death and resurrection that has caught Jonathan up because he is part of this household which is founded on these realities. Our prayer is that as he grows up we'll show him what it means to live in this grace, and he'll own it for himself.

Jonathan Dean Baddeley. Brave soldier and faithful servant of Christ. We can't think of a higher accolade we could ask for him.