Monday, March 31, 2014

My return to faith.

Those who have followed my blog over the past few years will already know my spiritual journey,  which could be summarised as “conservative evangelical” to “questioning evangelical” to “disbeliever” (following the crash of my creationist beliefs) to “attempted atheist” to “tolerant liberal”. I now have to come clean and admit that I have never really been able to rid myself of my belief in God. For the simple reason that it is based on knowledge rather than faith and I can’t totally deny something that I know to be true. I have returned to my faith.

Over the past few months a number of situations have arisen where I felt uncomfortable because things were being said or done that were jarring with my knowledge of Jesus which was still smouldering away somewhere within me. This caused me to look at who I am, where I am and how I can reconcile my dislike of church and religion with what is a very real love for the things of God.

So why believe?

Well first of all it’s not about believing, but knowing.

The Scottish pattern I was brought up with is that a minister (dressed in black advocates robes complete with white tabs) stands in the pulpit and give a forensic argument for his case, expounding his evidence and asking you to agree with him. This is exactly the same as the process you get in a court of law where a jury decides what to accept, either convicting or acquitting based on the evidence put before them. Its also why many Scottish ministers had law degrees as their first degrees before studying divinity.

Legal argument is not a method of communication you will find in the bible. Jesus said “follow me”. He didn’t say “get all your ducks in a row theologically and then agree to accept various creeds”.  He said “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”. Notice the emphasis on knowing. There is no mention of going along with things for the sake of it.

I have always been uncomfortable with the addition of different doctrines to mark someone as a “true Christian”. Whether its dispensationalism or creationism or pentecostalism, people have continually added things to Christianity.

Rather like John Lennon’s:
Ev'rybody's talking about
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism,
Ragism, Tagism
This-ism, That-ism, 
It wasn’t meant to be like this. As creeds were developed new sects split off and more and more options were added to the list of what makes someone a “true believer”.

None of the people coming up with these ideas know any of it for certain, but they need to feel certain.  So they create religious systems that allow them to live in a more solid feeling world where they “know who their friends are”. This is true for many people, not just Christians. We see the same phenomenon in the the conspiracy theory community and  “truth” movement.

Its a natural human desire, but Christianity was meant to be more fluid than this. This is why it was originally described as "the way". Its about a journey, not a destination. You don't need to swallow a camel of additional "isms" to be on that journey.  Its people who make that difference in order to puff up their own self importance. And there is no difference between little faith and big faith. Jesus talked about “faith the size of a mustard seed” and he did not treat people preferentially if they believed more things than someone else.

All I know is what I know, and this is that Jesus lived and walked in Galilee, in some way was God and in some way redeemed me. How that all worked I simply don’t know. But I do know that it matters.

Secondly, the person of Christ.

I don’t normally do relationships well so the idea of having a relationship with God is quite foreign to me. However,  I do understand the concept of following someone and I find that can follow Jesus as the first disciples did. He might be quite far in the distance sometimes and I might be hobbling along at the back with my doubt and uncertainty, but I feel captivated by him as much now as when I first believed.

Thirdly, I don’t need to be able to nail everything down.

Complete knowledge of everything is impossible. We can never know everything and I am happy to acknowledge that limitation. Paul said to the Corinthian church that “we see through a glass darkly”. This doesn’t mean I don’t want to investigate things or find out more. It is part of my nature to do so - and I would argue that our enquiring nature is part of the image of God. We want to know as much as God wants to be known. I just can’t build my house on a sand of conjecture and theorising and I don’t think the church is meant to do that either. Its about simpler creeds and accepting that some things can never be known.

Fourthly, revelation.

I think all religions contain some truth, but the greatest revelation of the divine will is in Jesus Christ and his teachings. Why? Because, as the disciple John put it “We love, because He first loved us.” All goodness comes from God, whether people recognise it or not and this love, and goodness, is personified in Jesus and him giving himself up for others on the cross. This is the secret revealed to us, which is not really a secret, it's just that we often can’t see it.

Fifthly, its not about perfection.

There is no need to be perfect to be a Christian. How often have you heard, or said, “and you call yourself a Christian!”. This idea of the Christian comes from the nominal church where people sadly and often put themselves above others simply because they attended church on a Sunday. The Christian message is that nobody is perfect and everyone needs redemption. Think about this: back at the beginning Peter denied Christ three times, yet, at no time during those denials was he any less a Christian.

Here is a thought which may have an impact on ideas of evangelism. God’s activity is not restricted to Christians. Depicting non Christians as damned or bad is wrong because we are all made in the image of God. We need to recognise that God is out there doing good without us or in spite of us and that some of that is being manifested through people who do not even know him. Imagine going into the world saying "look at this good and how it reflects the nature of God" rather than "look at all this evil".

So where does this leave me?

The only way I can describe it is this: I am simply Christian, not a simple Christian.

I don’t think I will ever be capable of attending a church on a regular basis. I will always be of the questioning type and that would make adhering to any church creed just for the sake of it far too difficult for me.  I also don't like big groups or loud noises, so it is probably not for me.

I will continue to live an imperfect life, but I can live it acknowledging the presence of God along side me. I am happy and content with this life and I thank God for what he has done for me. I have no desire for “more” and no feelings of inadequacy compared to others. I don’t want to be a leader and I am happy to stay a follower. An old friend of mine used to describe this practice as “living in the good of it”, and that seems a good description.

On the issue of evangelism, Christianity is a personal thing and nobody can be forced to believe it. You can create a scheme to trick people into saying they agree with you, but that is not actually faith. They have to “know” the truth and that in part comes from meeting people who are living a life which is on that journey with Jesus in spite of their weaknesses. Through that  weakness they may see the light of life.

For now I am just glad to be on the journey.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Panelbase referendum poll shows women moving to Yes

It's only one poll, but a couple of things stand out.

1. Gender

I have been following women's voting intentions in the various polls which have shown that women hold the key to the outcome of the referendum.

The Panelbase survey identifies more women as stating that they will vote Yes - up to 38% from around the 27% mark, men are on 42%. These figures do not exclude the "don't knows".

The Yes vote amongst women breaks down by age group as follows:

16-34 45%
35-54 48%
55+   29%

2. Those who don't normally vote

Of those who chose not to vote at the last election 39% would vote Yes but 44% would vote No in the referendum. This shows that if they stay at home this time it is likely to benefit the Yes campaign.


This is only one poll and Panelbase tended to be more favourable to a Yes result until recently. If this trend amongst women voters is confirmed by other polls then it probably marks a significant change in fortune for the Yes campaign.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Review of the different Denis Wick no 2 cornet mouthpieces

I played a Denis Wick 2 cornet mouthpiece from the late 80’s till 2003. Since then I have played on similarly large mouthpieces from other suppliers, but I thought I would put down some notes on the differences between the different versions of the 2 that Denis Wick have issued over the years. These are my own thoughts and are not necessarily accurate. However, they may be of use to you if you are thinking about trying one.

The Wick 2 is a formidable cornet mouthpiece of huge cup volume and throat size. It requires a robust embouchure to be able to play on it for the length of a brass band rehearsal, but it has some advantages. Mainly the fantastic tone that it produces, but also it allowing great flexibility when yu are perhaps not as warmed up as you would like to be. The Wick catalogue says that it sounds like a small bore trombone. I don’t think that’s really true, but it can sometimes make the cornet sound like a flugel horn especially when you have a tired lip. When I was using a Wick 2 I was playing for over 20 hours a week and it worked.

There have been four main types issued: the original 2 which was made on a lathe and has machining marks in it, the current style 2 (called the "Classic") which is produced on a CNC machine, the Heritage 2 and the RW2. There is also a flugel horn equivalent.

2 (old style)

The official specifications are:

  • diameter 17mm
  • rim 4.92
  • bore 4.572 (approx #14)

My one is silver plated and was made some time in the 1980’s. It has obvious machining marks inside the cup.

Scans on the Kanstul Mouthpiece Comparator show that the rim is very similar to a Bach 1.5C.
It is very rounded with a moderate bite and a fairly defined transition from the cup to the backbore.

The shank is in the smaller, older size. This is equivalent to the Bach cornet mouthpiece fitting.

Although the Maestro has no actual gap between the end of the mouthpiece and the beginning of the leadpipe) (as found in a trumpet)  the convergence of the receiver and leadpipe tapers can lead to a similar issue. On my Yamaha Maestro cornet this mouthpiece is showing all the signs of too small a gap i.e. bottom G’s are playing in tune without using triggers and the instrument gets substantially flatter as you go up the register. It also sounds fluffy. Adding a shim of paper to the shank resolves all of these these problems. When measured the shank is inserting around  2mm deeper than a Bach, Sparx or Yamaha mouthpiece.

2 Current (“classic” style)

The official specifications are identical to the old style, but the shank is larger. Back in the 80’s there was an option for this called the 2L for use in some cornets. This seems to have become the Wick standard and was adopted into later runs of the Besson Sovereign cornet. I don’t know why this happened, but there are two possibilities.  It could be that “gap” issues were becoming noticeable or that the original ones were designed as a compromise so they could still fit very old cornets with the even smaller receiver size. However, see the update at the end of this article.

Although it is supposed to be the same as the original version, the rim is is slightly thinner and flatter than the old style 2 - almost totally flat with a bevelled edge and a smoother transition from the cup to the back bore making articulation easier but attack more difficult.

2 Heritage

The Heritage version is identical to the current style apart from the outer shape which allows for easier articulation. I tried one and found it to play colder than the Classic version resulting in more condensation and the rim getting wet. This may be a problem for people who play with a dry embouchure.


The W does not stand for wide as with other Wick mouthpieces. RW stands for “Roger Webster”, the famous cornet player.

The official specifications are sometimes misprinted as the same as the classic version but are actually:
  • dia 17mm
  • rim 4.88mm
  • bore 4.6mm (approx #13)

According to an old Denis Wick brochure:

“Roger Webster designed series brings the skill of Denis
Wick’s top engineers into play.
Slight smoothing of the inner rim and subtle changes in
the backbore give these custom mouthpieces the sound
that every cornet player is looking for.”

The rim is nothing like the current style Wick 2 mouthpiece. It is rounder and looks wider than the current 2. It feels very like the old style 2 but with even less bite on the inner edge. It is extremely comfortable to play on. Although the throat is wider it seems to have a more defined transition from cup to throat so there is some brightness on attacks. It is more similar to the original 2 in that respect than to the current 2.

Unfortunately the RW2 has been discontinued. Roger Webster now produces his own Alliance mouthpieces and I am not sure how they compare to the Wick. I did play briefly on an Alliance 2A and found it to feel wider on my lips than a Wick 2, even though it was supposed to be smaller. This is often the case as where things are measured from and where the high point on the rim is located can make comparison difficult. The Alliance 2 rim also felt narrower and sharper. He does make a version with a wider rim, but I have not tried this.


I am mentioning this because I once met a cornet player who was mistakenly using a 2F on his cornet. This is the flugel version, but in the smaller fitting used for old Imperial or Sovereign flugel horns (the more common larger fitting flugel horns like the Yamaha require a Wick 2FL). This smaller size means that it fits a cornet. Does it work? Well up to a point. It inserts by enough and you can play on it, but the cup is about 5mm deeper and it has a totally smooth transition to the backbore like a french horn mouthpiece. This means that producing any sort of attack is a struggle. My advice is keep it and use it with your flugel.


The Wick 2 cornet mouthpiece is difficult to play on and is not going to suit many players, but if you have a strong embouchure it rewards you with a great sound across the whole register of the instrument. Because of the stamina required it is probably best suited to tutti cornet players or trumpet players who play the odd cornet solo. For principal cornets who are brave enough to try it the RW2 version is probably the best option. If you can’t find one then an old style 2 might be the next best option if you can get the gap to work, unless you like the current 2 rim shape  and can work harder on attacks.

Either way, the secret to making this huge mouthpiece work is to keep back on the pressure and control your lip aperture. If your lips spread at all you will lose definition and start to sound like a flugel.

If you are a back row cornet player then playing on a mouthpiece of this size will give you great tone in the lower register. It takes a few weeks to get used to and it will affect your upper register unless you are doing a lot of practicing, but it may be worth it for the improved tone (no more thin, reedy sounds from the back row).

Other Wick Cornet mouthpieces

If you are considering the smaller sizes of Wick cornet mouthpiece than my own experience has been that the 3 was harder to play than the 2 as it has a wider rim which I felt clamped my lip down and stopped it vibrating as easily. The 4 had a lot of advantages but I felt the bite on the inner edge was too sharp. The good thing is that most band rooms have these mouthpieces in a cupboard so you can probably try a 3 and 4 without spending any money.

Update 12th October 2014

I had the opportunity to try a brand new Wick 2 last week, straight out of the factory. It had a rounder rim than recent ones, very like the original style. It also fitted further into the receiver, although not as far as the original ones. The transition from the cup to backbore was also more defined and rather like the RW2, although the throat diameter and backbore were the same as a standard one. The sound and attack were definitely more defined and not dissimilar to the RW2 although the rim was a bit narrower.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The chronicle of my (not failed) attempt to get BT Broadband installed

I don't seem to have much luck with telecom companies. Every time I move house I seem to end up in the twilight zone and this move has been no exception.

I own two properties a flat and a house. The flat had BT Broadband, the house Virgin Media cable. Virgin are using traffic shaping which means that if you stream a movie for more than an hour in the evening they cut your speed from 20 mbit to 1.5 mbit and the film starts buffering. This was not the case with my BT ADSL at the flat which was always a steady 12 mbit. The Virgin modem was also at the wrong end of the house and needed moved. As I was not using the internet at the flat I decided to move the BT service to the house, get the router in the right place and then discontinue Virgin at a future date. Nothing difficult in this as there as already a disused BT socket in the correct place in the house and it was in use until quite recently as a business line.

When I placed the order BT wanted to charge a reconnection fee, but offered free connection if I switched to Infinity. I As Infinity 2 was only £2 more than my current monthly bill I decided to go for this upgrade and placed the order on 31st January.

Here is how events have unfolded since then:

31st January
Placed order via BT web site.

13th February 
Router arrived in the post. It would have fitted through the letterbox, but postman rang the bell. Unusually I was in. Just as well.

14th February
Engineer arrived.
Got service working to the cabinet, but was unable to find a circuit that was working between the cabinet and the pole outside the house. Had to refer it to another type of engineer.

18th February
Phoned BT.
Told it would be completed on 20th, engineer to call between  1pm and 6pm.

20th February
Engineer came, put a tracer on, took it away again. Still no service.

21st February
Phoned BT
Told that engineer would call on  the 24th to complete the installation. Was promised one month free as compensation plus credit on my bill for the days the service was not active.

24th February
1:57 text to say there was a delay due to engineers dealing with storm damage and engineers visit was cancelled
2:30 I went out
2:45 Engineer put card through door to say he had come.

I think this was the point where their provisioning process could no longer cope with my situation.

I phoned and was promised an appointment at a time that would suit me. I said that Friday 28th was the only time I could do.

26th February
Call from India saying engineer appointment would be Thursday 27th. Apparently the Friday was impossible for some reason. The person did not understand my previous agreement with BT about this.
I reluctantly accepted the Thursday 27th appointment on the basis that this would be it finally fixed. BT confirmed this by text and email to me:

Hello - This is a message from BT. This is to confirm the engineering appointment to install your broadband service is on 27/02/2014. Your order reference number is VOLxxxxxxxxxxx  Thank you for choosing BT

27th February
Engineer did not turn up.
Logged into order tracking system and it said appointment was for 13th March!

Phoned BT and they confirmed that email and text refering to appointment on 27th had been sent in error. I complained and issue was escalated to a manager. They said they would contact me between 8am and 8pm on Friday 28th to arrange a specific time for an engineer so I would not have to take time off work again.

28th February
No call from BT.

It is now 15 days past the original installation date and I still have no broadband.

I will update this article as the story unfolds.

1st March
Called BT, they said they had been unable to contact me by phone. Arranged appointment for Tuesday 4th March.

4th March
Checked online and appointment listed for today between 1pm and 6pm. However, activation not scheduled until 13th March, which will be four weeks since the original activation date.

4th March
Engineer called at 1:45pm to say there were no notes so could I explain. I explained the whole story. He came round and tested it and it was all working at 68mbps. He didn;t see any reason for a 13th march activation date so he got me to  I plug the router in and do the initial sign on.

It has never given me more than 25mbps. It has varied a bit during the settling in process and is currently:

BT Infinity 2 speed
down - 21.05    up - 18.83

Compared to my other line:

Virgin 20mbps speed
down - 19.14       up - 1.11

However, there is no traffic shaping in force so I can stream movies no problem in the evening.

The speed issue is probably down to the poor overhead wire quality. I am not sure I have the energy to argue with BT at the moment over this. I may take it up in the future as from reports I have seen there are few people getting less than 50mbps on Infinity 2.

8th March
Contacted by BT Care who had seen my tweets and offered direct help to resolve it which I intended to follow up with on Monday 10th.

9th March
Sunday night and watching iPlayer. The home hub failed, orange flashing light, then rebooted itself.

10th March
Tested the speed and was getting 74 mb/s download and 18 mb/s upload.

As the problem has resolved itself for now I have responded to BT that it is fixed.

Overall Results
Even at the lower speed I was not getting any reduction in speed when streaming movies. I have been able to use Netflix, Lovefilm and iPlayer on full HD without any buffering at any time I wanted to (using Xbox 360 through a wired ethernet connection). This is a huge improvement over Virgin Media cable. I have also had fewer problems connecting to XBox Live.