Archive for January, 2012

If you follow my Twitter feed, you’ll have spotted that last Friday, I inadvertently parked our car in a reserved spot in a cheap carpark near to Birmingham city centre. For this minor lapse in judgement, the Vicar and I were then forced to hand over £390 in cash to retrieve our vehicle. We’d been the victims of a just-about-legal (but not for much longer) scam perpetrated by Mid-Way Parks, a car clamping outfit, who can be found all over the internet (and not in a good way). You can read the Vicar’s version of events over on his blog.

The whole episode left us not only poorer but also angry. Although I’d parked in the wrong place, we felt that the charge was totally disproportionate to the infraction. The cheery men who took our money told us that ‘someone pays a lot of money to reserve that spot’. But in all the times we’ve parked in that carpark (maybe a dozen over the last couple of years) we’ve never seen the space occupied. It certainly wasn’t when we returned to find our car missing.

In fact, Mid-Way Parks seem to have designed their carparks to entice motorists into misparking so that they can then charge them enormous amounts of money following clamping and towing. That appears to have been the experience of the many people on the forums I linked above and the THREE Facebook groups dedicated to those who feel they’ve been unfairly treated by Mr Walton Wilkins and his team.

After our adventure with the carnappers, we took the Queen (who’d just been taking a school entrance exam) to eat in a city centre restaurant. As we walked in, we were very pleased to bump into our local MP, the renowned Murdoch mauler, Tom Watson. When he asked how we were, we told him! And he informed us that there is a bill about to be brought into force that will put Mid-Way Parks out of business.

I am glad about that, but am still wondering how justice can be done. I’ve written to Tom Watson in more detail, and also Gisela Stuart, a Birmingham MP who responded to a tweet I sent to all the local MPs I could find. I was especially annoyed to have found out that despite many court judgements against Mid-Way Parks, Mr Wilkins and his staff were issued with renewed licences by the Home Office Agency the Security Industry Authority (SIA) only last August.

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This summer our lodger Rocky is marrying Bee and leaving the delights of our chilly Victorian vicarage for theological college to train as a vicar himself. When he leaves a space will open up in our attic for another Ministry Trainee (or hopefully two). Our Ministry Trainees are involved with all aspects of church life, leading work with children and youth and small groups, they visit parishioners and have many many opportunities to exercise their gifts. They truly get to see ministry from the inside. If you think you (or anyone you know) might like to spend time living in our house, serving our community and learning about God, with the added incentive of plentiful cake and some lively children for company, do get in touch.

More details are on our church website.

Lovely living accommodation

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We’ve had some great encouragements so far this year – new folk in church on Sundays and signs of spiritual hunger in all sorts of places. And yesterday we were reminded of the Lord’s presence and promises as we walked home from school: a fragile rainbow appeared right over the houses opposite the Vicarage. I managed to take a photo through our landing window, but you’ll have to look carefully to see the rainbow against the dark clouds.

Sometimes it can seem that hope here is fragile – there are challenges ahead aswell as encouragements. I need to keep reminding myself that the Lord is not fragile and that hope in him does not fade like a rainbow, but is living, secured by the resurrection of Christ.

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope 1Peter 1v3

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The Vicar bought some chimney brushes last year. We’ve found it a very cost-effective way of  ensuring that we don’t fill the living room with smoke too much. I think the set cost about £30, which is already less than we’d pay to get a sweep in. Our chimneys are quite easy to sweep as everything is contained in the woodburning stove box when it descends, although the house is three storeys, so we had to get extra rods to reach the top. Everything keeps clean as long as black bin liners are judiciously applied. Here’s the happy Vicar in his sweeping kit, displaying some of the soot, which shows up very nicely on his peely-wally Scottish hands:

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On Saturday a dear member of our congregation, who was 91 in December, was mugged as she walked out of an alleyway close to her home. Thankfully, she wasn’t that badly hurt and some brilliant passers-by came to her aid – one chap chased the mugger down the street and was able to get details of a getaway car.

We have some hope that the mugger will be brought to justice – the police were able to follow up on the vehicle, thanks to CCTV footage. Now we’re praying for our friend’s recovery and for wisdom and enough evidence for the police.

And then yesterday morning the Vicar reports that our school was broken into AGAIN this weekend. This time they got into the office, although we’re not sure if anything was taken this time. Our site manager was talking about getting CCTV cameras in after last week’s break-in. Alas, I don’t think he’d managed to install them before the weekend.

I wonder if January, when people are feeling the pinch after splurging money at Christmas, is a peak time for crime? There certainly seems to be a wave of it here in the parish just now. Mind you, there was plenty of crime before Christmas too – typing our postcode into police.uk makes for depressing reading. In November there were 5 burglaries within about 200yds of our front door. Perhaps this is contributing to the rising numbers we’ve been seeing at church of late – seeing wickedness so close up can make you wonder about who’s in charge of the world and long for God’s justice.

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Yesterday’s Parish Crimes

Well, the ones I was directly told about anyway:

  • A break-in at our church school. The third in the last fortnight. They failed to get the data projector they tried to wrench off the wall. They did take the Queen’s mp3 pink player that she’d left there so her class could listen to the Creation Song from The King, the Snake and the Promise for their topic on space and the universe. We know she shouldn’t have left it in school, and she’s not that upset, thankfully. We’re seeing it as a lesson in not leaving things behind and are praying that the burglars actually listen to the Christian music (and sermons accidentally uploaded) that comprise most of her content. Apparently the Police think that lots of thieves are after data projectors to sell to pubs and clubs before the Olympics. Another local school had a few of theirs stolen over the holidays plus a load of vandalism to deal with.
  • A mum on the way home from school told me how she’d watched the Police remove a load of cannabis plants from a house just up the road that had been raided and found to be growing weed. Another local cannabis factory scuppered, but I expect another will pop up very soon, given the local availability of the growing kit.

I wonder what I’ll hear about today? Never a dull moment on our patch…

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If one of your New Year’s Resolutions is to be a bit more socially active, I’d like to suggest a couple of campaigns that I’ve recently started following and have signed up for:

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One of the things I love about my Vicarage cooker (my treat when we moved here) is its small slow oven. The slow oven is a bit titchy – only big enough for one large pot or only a single baking sheet of meringues, but I am using it more and more for winter casseroles. Tonight I cooked sausage casserole – one of our top favourites which has a few variations but is always very popular with the kids (and grown ups too).

I make this using Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference chipolatas. I’d recommend using good quality ones as cheap ones can come out rather spongey. And you only need to use a single packet to feed a family and can get that for about £2 if there’s an offer on.

The Vicar's dinner


  • 1-2 onions, finely sliced
  • Pack of sausages
  • 2 cups (500ml) lentilles vertes or green lentils
  • Bay leaves, mixed herbs
  • Red wine (about a glassful) and stock
  • Optional – tin of tomatoes, chunked carrots

Brown the sausages in your casserole dish and then remove them to a plate or bowl whilst you pop in a little oil or butter and the onions. Leave the onions to get nice and soft then return the sausages, chopped up into bite sized chunks, to the pan. Tonight I chopped the sausages with a spatula before I removed them and fried the onions, otherwise you can slice them with a knife once removed – I recommend pinning them to the chopping board with a fork rather than fingers (I speak from experience of burnt fingers and escaping sausages).

To the onions and sausages add the lentils, bay leaves and herbs and wine and stock (I use hot water and vegetable stock powder). This evening’s casserole also included a tin of chopped tomatoes. The liquid needs to be added to a generous level above the lentils and sausages – say 5cm/2″ in your pan. This gives space for the lentils to swell and liquid to evaporate.

 Bring to the boil and then simmer for at least 1/2hr on the hob, or pop in a slow oven at about 140ºC (Gas Mark 1) for a couple of hours or more. The slow cooking method has the advantage of keeping the Vicarage kitchen warm, so this is obviously my preferred option.

I tend to check the casserole every hour or so if it’s in the oven, just to make sure that there is still enough liquid. If you’re adding carrots it’s best to do so about half an hour before the end of the cooking time, otherwise they can get a bit soggy. Add salt and pepper to taste before serving and add a little extra liquid if needed to ensure a bit of sauce to soak into the essential accompaniment of mash.

As you can see, I served the casserole with mashed sweet and normal potatoes, and some braised red cabbage. This is a great winter warmer and excellent value for money. We had leftovers that will do well with a bit of chunky bread for lunches whilst the kids are at shcool.

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