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@datinglondonuk: Thu 23rd October, The Exhibit: Speed Dating at The Exhibit, 12 Balham Station Road, London, SW12 9SG. Tickets ... http://t.co/ys7PccHctf


Fairview reveals transformation at landmark development Revival in Balham - Easier (press release)

Fairview reveals transformation at landmark development Revival in Balham
Easier (press release)
“We believe we've created a development that will appeal to both the young and the young at heart in Balham. And with Help to Buy available across Revival, we can help first-time buyers to take that all-important first step onto the housing ladder.”

Time for the council to clean up its act

Dear friend,

How’s your week been? Mine seems to have gone in a flash – I can’t believe it’s Friday already. It seems like yesterday (when it was in fact last Sunday) that I had the pleasure of visiting Balham Community Church for a lively seminar with members of the congregation on the power of communities to bring about change before heading to Earlsfield Baptist Church to celebrate their 117th birthday.

Our local churches do such a fantastic job, often supporting those most vulnerable in our community and I always enjoy meeting the congregation. You can see some photos from my visits at the weekend here. If you attend a church in the area, I would love to visit. Why not get in touch and we can arrange for me to attend a service in the future?


Sadiq's column in the South London Press, 17th October 2014

Sadiq backs ParkRun campaign

A grassroots campaign calling on Wandsworth Council to allow ‘ParkRun’ to come to Wandsworth has been backed by Tooting MP and marathon runner Sadiq Khan.

Sadiq's column in the Wandsworth Guardian, 16/10/14

Full text below.

Sadiq supports Earlsfield residents in saying no to Tesco

Tesco have submitted a planning application to open a supermarket at  493-497 Garratt Lane, SW18 4SW. You can view the full application here.

Today is the deadline for submitting your objections, and so if you would like to join Sadiq in objecting to the plans you can submit your comments online here. You can also view a copy of Sadiq's objection below - and feel free to use Sadiq's wording. 


I tried to escape the confines of Balham in Oxshott - Spectator.co.uk


I tried to escape the confines of Balham in Oxshott
My London flat now has so little space in it I've begun storing stuff at the dry cleaners. Back in May, I checked a huge winter quilt in at Viking's and left it there until the weather turned colder. There just wasn't anywhere, not a single spare nook ...

Topland buys £8m residential block In Balham - Property Magazine International

Topland buys £8m residential block In Balham
Property Magazine International
In an off-market transaction Topland has acquired a block of 16 apartments in Balham for £8m. The residential block on Balham Park Road, let on assured shorthold tenancies, was bought from a private investor. Topland managing director Mark Kingston ...

How to get the best from your small group Bible study

2014-10-05 07.19.54Our small group programme re-launched last week after a break over the summer. Wonderfully we’ve got lots of people who are new to the CCB small group culture. And so I thought I’d share with you five convictions that have shaped and strengthened that over the years.

So here are five principles that’ll help you get the most from the small group experience

1. Pitch up week after week

Small groups die through non-attendance. They need everyone to be absolutely committed to being there if they’re going to have a chance of really working. The first few weeks are inevitably awkward as people get to know one another. I’m not sure there’s any way to avoid that. But the time will come when everyone feels comfortable with one another and we can’t imagine why we wouldn’t want to get together with the rest of our group. But if people are infrequent and unreliable in their attendance, sending in an apologetic text moments before the group starts, then that messes with the group vibe! There’ll sometimes be unavoidable reasons why you can’t make it. Of course. When our employers require us to fulfil a work commitment, our groups get that. But it speaks volumes if they know that, given the choice, you wouldn’t miss your group for the world.

2. Participate in the discussion

Small groups die when no one contributes. They need their group members to get involved. So don’t be a spectator simply observing what everyone else is doing. Ask your questions. Make your point. Disagree. Help the group come alive through stimulating interaction. If you just look on then it’ll be the longest ninety minutes of your life. But if you’re actively participating you’ll get to half nine, wonder where the time has gone and wish it could go on longer. Not everyone is comfortable making a contribution in a large gathering of unfamiliar people. But hopefully you’ll get to know one another as the weeks go by. And any small group leader worth his or her salt will break the group down from time to time to encourage those of us who don’t like holding forth in a group to open our mouths and say something. And the group works best when we’re all involved.

3. Prepare in advance

Small groups die from lack of application. They need their group members to be asking ‘what does understanding this mean for us?’ and ‘What does this look like in practice?’ The purpose of small groups is not merely that you understand the content of the book of Exodus, for example. A complete pagan could do that and then lecture on it. And they could get it completely right. It’s all about getting to the place where we’re thinking through and praying about the implications. But if no one has done any work on the text then the danger is that most of the group time is spent understanding what it says rather than what it means. We’re all busy. And we’ve got lots on our plate. But is it too much to ask to read through the passage we’re going to study in our group before we actually get there? Imagine how much better your time would go if everyone had made some progress in thinking about what the passage is about and what the passage implies. You could then spend much more time in your group grappling with what we’re meant to do with it.

4. Pray in and for the group

Small groups die through lack of prayer. They need their group members to pray in them when they’re there and for them when they’re not. Small groups aren’t merely a gathering of friends with a common interest. It’s not like a five a-side footy team who happen to be committed to one another because they love playing footy. It’s a group of people committed to encouraging one another. And one principal way that we can do that is by responding in prayer. I’m not talking about the sharing of personal prayer requests, even though that’s important. I’m talking about praying in faith and repentance in the light of what the Lord has just spoken about in His word. It’s when we pray about the issues that have been raised in the study that we demonstrate that we’re serious about living with Jesus as Saviour and Lord. This is the barometer of the spiritual atmosphere in our group. It’s hard to pray in front of a group of people whom we don’t know very well. But that’ll change. And in the meantime you can serve your group by praying them in private on your own.

5. Personally care for one another

Small groups die through lack of concern for one another. They need their group members to be interested and involved in one another’s lives. I’m not talking about being meddling and intrusive. I’m talking about providing friendship, encouragement and perhaps even the gentle correction that we all need if we’re going to make progress in our Christian lives. We all have friendships. Some of us have lots of friends. And some of those will be Christian mates. But London can be a lonely place even for the most gregarious among us. And there’s something special about the bond that the Spirit creates between fellow church members. So get involved in each others’ lives in a good way!

There you go, five ways to get the best from your small group experience. But that’s not really the issue, is it? If every member of a small group was asking and answering a different question, we might not have needed this post. That question? How can I give my best to the small group experience.

What’s not to change?

HEADER-repentance1I spoke at our recent annual church dinner on the subject of repentance. A cheery night then? For sure people were thoughtful after I spoke. But a handful sought me out to express their appreciation at dealing with the issue. What follows is the text from which I meandered as the mood took me!

The theme I’d love us to think this year is the subject of repentance.

When I mentioned this to Alex, he gave me one of those looks with which I’ve become increasingly familiar over the last few months. Though very much unspoken, it clearly said ‘we won’t be doing that in Streatham!

And he might be right.

Repentance is one of those Bible words in the same category as remorse or regret. They don’t exactly conjure up a vision of the Christian life that’s instantly attractive, do they? Words like that colour the Christian life in grayscale. And who wants grey when you can have colour.

And yet, repentance is essential. In Acts 20:21, the Apostle Paul is recorded telling the Elders of the Church at Ephesus that he had ‘declared to both Jews and Greeks that they (simply) must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus’. He knew that repentance is fundamental to our Christian life.

The reason I want to talk about repentance is because I don’t think we’re very good at it! ‘But we do it every week’ was Alex’s reply when I suggested that. He was referring of course to that moment in every one of our Church meetings when we confess our sins and say words such as

Heavenly Father, you have loved us with an everlasting love, but we have gone our own way and broken your laws. We are sorry for our sins and turn away from them. For the sake of your Son who died for us, forgive us, cleanse us and change us. By your Holy Spirit, enable us to live for you, and to please you more and more; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

And I believe we mean them. But that’s corporate (it’s what we do together) and public (it’s hard to dissent) and verbal (it’s just words). We all say it because it’s the kind of thing you say in church. But I want us to think about individual, private and actual repentance. That’s much harder to do every week!

I think we’re much better at self-justification – presenting reasons why we don’t need to repent and self-deceit – pretending to everyone else that there’s nothing we need to repent of! But perhaps you think I’m being unfair or unduly harsh. Perhaps I’m just confessing my own sins. I am. But I don’t think I’m the only sinner in our church! So let me ask you some analytical questions.

  • Do you think our church is a place where it’s easy to admit that you’ve got something wrong? If so, when was the last time you confessed to something and asked for help in repenting? And if you’re struggling to think about when that was, ask yourself why!
  • Could you confess to a big sin and be as confident of receiving support and acceptance as if you’d committed a small sin? Or do you think you’d be shunned and side-lined?
  • Do you feel that you could be open about a besetting sin and get the encouragement you need to help you to repent? Or would you fear being viewed as a lesser Christian for doing so?
  • Let’s get really real for a moment. Could a wife commit adultery and be helped to repent here? Could a man be convicted for some form of abuse and be helped to repent here?

I hope so. But I’m not absolutely certain.  Are there some sins that we’d find manageable but some that would be simply beyond the pale?

If a bloke in your small group confessed to struggling with pornography and asked for your help in repenting, how would you respond? Initially we’d all be incredibly discomforted at his honesty. Deep down we might admire him. Some of the women might think he’s a borderline sexual pervert. But we’d all want someone else to be the first to respond, wouldn’t we?

Very briefly in the few minutes that remain let me define repentance, and describe what it might look like in practice

Repentance: what is it?

In his Systematic Theology, the theologian Wayne Grudem defines repentance as

‘a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ’

It involves our intellectual understanding that rejecting God’s rule over our lives is really wrong. It involves our emotional response of regret and a hatred of what we’re doing when we sin. And it involves our personal decision to turn from our sin. It’s nothing short of a complete turnaround and the reinsertion of the rightful rule of Jesus Christ into our lives.

Repentance: why does it matter?

It matters for two reasons. First and foremost, we cannot be saved without it. Scripture puts repentance and faith together as the one act of coming to Jesus Christ for salvation. Conversion involves both faith and repentance. They are two sides of the same coin. If faith is turning to Christ then repentance is turning from sin. And so when we receive Jesus as Saviour, at the very same time we’re submitting to him as Lord. When the Bible speaks about one, the other is invariably assumed. Repentance and faith can be distinguished from one another but they are never separated. They’re like the spiritual equivalent of Ant and Dec.

But I think we already knew that. Not the bit about TV’s finest early evening entertainers. The bit about the inseparability of repentance and faith. What we may not have thought about is not so much the initial act of repentance but the ongoing necessity of repentance. Repentance isn’t simply the way in to becoming a Christian it describes the way of living as a Christian. And whilst the decision to give our lives to Christ at conversion is not easy, doing that consistently is much more demanding.

And so we need a church culture in which repentance is encouraged and it’s commonplace. It ought to be normal that we repent. We’re Christians. That’s what we do. We don’t want to be a church where we’re all very good at justifying why we’re never in the wrong. And we don’t want to be a church where we all pretend that we’re not doing anything wrong.

And wonderfully we don’t have to be. Because the gospel not only requires our repentance it encourages it. Jesus assumes that we’re sinners, which is why he died for us. And he assumes that we’ll carry on being sinners, which is why he sent his Spirit to help us to live for him.

Prison Chaplains tell me that there are no guilty people in prison. Everyone says they’re innocent. That can never be the case in church, can it?

Repentance: what does it look like?

What would it look like for us to create a culture of repentance?

  • It looks like the man who’s failed to read the Bible with his kids or pray with his wife confessing to his Growth Group that’s the case.
  • It looks like the woman who’s been dating a non-Christian bloke say to her small group Bible study ‘I was wrong and I need your help to live wholeheartedly for Christ’
  • It’s the couple who only ever pitch up at church when it’s convenient making sure that nothing short of a contagious disease saying to their church leader ‘we got that wrong, we’ve been flaky and unreliable’.

I suspect our eyes might be out on stalks the first few times it really happens. But then we’d love the fact that people had been honest. And we’d do what we can to help them. And pray for them. Wouldn’t we?

I want this church to become a place where we’re all about the rightful reinsertion of the rule of Jesus in our lives. I think you do to. Together we can create a culture where repentance is expected and encouraged.

Beyond Welcoming

‘I don’t think we’re very good at getting people involved’.

Not my words. They could have been. But they weren’t this time. They came, not from a disaffected newcomer who was disappointed that we hadn’t provided her with the warm welcome she was hoping for. It was the mature reflection of a woman who’d been around at church for a while. As it happens, I agree with her.

One indication that we’re not the best at CCB at including the newcomers that the Lord has been bringing us could be their attendance over the last few weeks at our start of term events. I’m talking about things like the Autumn Bible School, the Annual Dinner, the Thanksgiving Prayer Meeting and so on. People have come on a Sunday. But they’ve not wanted to join us at the more ‘intimate’ family events.

Who’s to blame? Is it six of one half a dozen of the other? Or should we slice the percentage somewhat differently? I’m not convinced that’s a helpful approach. But what I am clear about is that there’s more that those of us who are part of the furniture could do to help incorporate newcomers into our church family.

I don’t want to teach Grandma to suck eggs. But at CCB, we don’t seem to have a surplus of octogenarians inhaling any ova! (Latin plural of ovum which, according to Microsoft Word Thesaurus, means ‘eggs’) It might be different for you at your church, which is great. So forgive me if you feel patronised but I’m going to remind us of some of the kinds of things that we could be doing to help incorporate newcomers into our particular body of Christ.

1. Seek out unfamiliar faces at church – you may have been doing church with them for donkey’s years and perhaps you should really know their names by now but every church is founded on forgiveness so we can afford to risk a few errors. Don’t let that stifle your efforts to approach people you don’t normally spend time with.

2. Engage them in conversation – ask them who they are, what they do for a living, how they came to hear of us, whether they’d normally go to a church, where home is and so on. Just ask, ask and ask. It’s the way to find out more, show an interest and get to know them!

3. Encourage them to join your Facebook group (if you have one) – I know; it’s awful isn’t it. But it’s actually a hugely effective way of getting to know people’s names as well as letting them know what’s going on. Stuff happens online. Virtual relationships get formed and then (who knows) they can be pursued in real life!

4. Get their e-mail and phone number – it’s quite forward but when the request is attached to an offer of meeting up for a coffee or dropping them a line about some of the things we do at church it won’t seem so odd.

5. Include them in an event – it could be a social event like someone’s birthday drinks or it could be an invitation to the Autumn Bible School. But we have a fairly packed church programme and a personal invitation from a member of the church family could make all the difference to them feeling included.

6. Invite them for a meal – you could meet up in town, near where they work or if you’re fortunate to have a home to which you can invite people for a meal then do that. It doesn’t have to be Sunday lunch but that’s as good a place to start as any!

This issue is a problem for us at the moment. But the bigger issue is whether we want to be part of the solution. Let’s pray that the God who has gone to incredible lengths to include us in His family might begin to see His character reflected amongst His people.

20mph zones coming to Balham and Tooting - Wandsworth Guardian

Wandsworth Guardian

20mph zones coming to Balham and Tooting
Wandsworth Guardian
The new speed limit will apply to all roads in Balham's Bedford ward and the Furzedown area of Tooting. The overall cost of making the change, including signage, is approximately £120,000. Transport spokesman, Councillor Jonathan Cook, said: “This has ...

and more »

My Sunday Highlight – Before it’s Happened!

StreathamAll things being equal (ceteris paribus if my A Level Economic memory hasn’t failed me in the same way that it did in the actual exam), I already know what my Sunday highlight will be this week. The Lord willing. Somewhat unexpectedly, it has to do with Streatham. Now what were the odds of that?! But we’ll come to that in due course. First, an extended metaphor …

Last weekend Rosslyn, the kids and I were away with old university friends in Birmingham. It was a great time with great mates. Since we were so near, I decided that on the way back home we’d stop in and have a look at the place where the gang of us had met, mucked around and matured. And studied. We couldn’t have picked a worse day to visit the University of Warwick. Hundreds of parents in cars rammed to the gunwales with duvets, kettles and their kids’ favourite posters were dropping their offspring at their new residences. I’m not sure who was most anxious; the parents or their sons and daughters. No doubt the event was marked with the obligatory picture on Facebook. And one would imagine that the previous evening meals had been shared and words said to mark and celebrate the passing of a child into independence. Significant moments for a family.

On Sunday at CCB, we’re going to commission Streatham Central Church. Whilst the parallels aren’t exact (I’m not planning to drive Alex Lyell the Church Planter to his new digs, I haven’t given him a fully charged mobile phone to call me when he gets into trouble and I haven’t sat him down for a long talk about the perils of peer pressure and the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption), there are nevertheless similarities. This church plant, conceived within the loins of Christ Church Balham (now there’s an image to play with) is about to enjoy their independence. No longer will the plant be just an idea; a hope for the future. It’s about to become a reality. And we thought we should mark that in an appropriate manner.  Not this time with a celebratory meal at Pizza Express (though I did suggest this) but by commissioning those that are going and appointing Jon Stidwill as co-elder. And then on Sunday evening we’ll interview Alex about the plant so that we can pray for this work in its earliest days.

We’ve asked the whole church family to join us. This is a family celebration, even for the newest members at CCB. We want Streatham Central to know that they go with our encouragement, our support and our tears. This is a significant moment for our church family. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Lodge pop-up to bring Alps to Balham - Event Magazine

Event Magazine

The Lodge pop-up to bring Alps to Balham
Event Magazine
The Lodge will open six days a week from 25 October, located near to Balham Underground and Overground station, and will serve Londoners fondues, hot cocktails and wild game. Garcia has enlisted the help of set designer Firecracker Works to transform ...

Five Reasons to be Careful with Facebook

facebook-logo-thumbs-upHere are five reasons I need to be careful with Facebook. The idea for all of them came from Tim Chester’s brilliant little book ‘Will You Be My Facebook Friend?

I don’t always fall into the trap that these potential dangers set. But it’s difficult not to. And so I do need to navigate my online life with a fair degree of caution.

1. Facebook allows me to portray a distorted image of myself

The harsh facts of the matter are that most of us are quite dull. And we live very ordinary lives. And that’s true of me. But Facebook offers me the chance to change all that. It allows us to present an edited version of who I am and the type of life that I lead. On Facebook I am my own spin doctor. I get to decide what version of myself I portray. I select what I post. Tim Chester says we are all ‘presenting upbeat propaganda versions of our own lives’. And that’s true, isn’t it? We don’t post all the photos we’ve got of ourselves, do we? Just the ones we want to be seen. We don’t write down everything that we think or say, do we? Just the stuff we want to be read. And when we find ourselves somewhere exciting one of the first things we want to do is not enjoy what’s going on but take a picture of what’s going on so that everyone else knows what we’re doing! My life looks much more exciting online than it does in reality.

2. Facebook allows me to exercise dominion in my own world

Social media is a place where I’m in control of my social environment. Facebook allows me to gather in one place, a virtual world, all the people that I want. Facebook calls them friends. But essentially it’s my audience. And even assuming that they are all close personal acquaintances, it would be nearly impossible to gather all of them in one place in the real world. The closest I’ve come to that is my wedding and my thirtieth birthday. And in this virtual gathering of all my nearest and dearest, I’m centre stage. It’s my world. And each one of us inhabits our own world where we’re very much at the centre of what’s going on. And when we post, we’re encouraged to think that everything in the world is in fact revolving around us. I’m in control of what happens. For example, Facebook is usually not a place in which a conversation takes place with very different people. It’s a place where my friends have been gathered to look at me and admire me for who I am and what I have to say. But how very different is real life in a church family. As Tim Challies has pointed out,

‘God has placed you together with the people in your congregation. You did not choose them: God chose them. And that diversity of personalities, backgrounds, social class and ethnicities is used by God to make you grow in Christ and to display the unifying power of the cross. But in cyberspace you are God. You choose who will be in community with you. You create your own communities of convenience that mean you are never challenged. Or, if you are challenged or relationships become costly, you can just scuttle off to a new relationship. As a result we never grow up. We are permanently immature’.

3. Facebook allows me to seek approval from other people

Facebook is biased. There’s no ‘dislike’ button. It’s all so affirming and positive. And being who I am, I get a perverse sense of satisfaction from saying something negative or inappropriate on Facebook simply because it’s not allowed. I usually get admonished for it. Invariably by the wife of a former colleague. But most of us thrive on the positivity we receive from posting the latest picture of ourselves or our kids. We feel good about ourselves because others have rated us and indicated that they have with a ‘thumbs up’. That sort of approach to life encourages us to make assessments of who we are by what others make of us. For example, if my personal blog receives thousands of hits, I can feel very influential. It doesn’t. And I don’t. And if my picture receives hundreds of ‘likes’ then I can approach the day with a spring in my step. I rank myself through the lens of others’ approval. When I get it, I’m fine. When I don’t, I’m not. It can encourage horizontal comparison. I know people who refuse to use Facebook because of FOMO; the fear of missing out. They’re worried that they’ll spend the time wondering why they’ve not been invited to a party, or why they weren’t at the event where all the happy, smiley people are pictured drinking cocktails. Tim Chester puts it this way,

I am defined by other people’s gaze, what they make of my face. The Bible calls that the fear of man. Our overriding concern should be what God thinks of me. But instead my concern is what other users of social media think of me. It is their approval that matters.

4. Facebook allows me to be satisfied with shallow relationships

At the last count, I think I have 761 friends. That’s nonsense.  Inevitably with most of those people I have nothing more than a superficial acquaintance. They’re not my friends, though we’re almost always friendly. But by not having to live with the limitations of a body which places me in one place at one time, social media allows me to have access to all of my friends all of the time. But those friendships are usually superficial, unlike the real face to face ones. And the danger is that if I spend all my time online interacting with my online friends, I won’t form the deep kinds of friendships that we need as human beings. Chester speaking timely wisdom once again,

Your idolatries, your selfishness, your struggles are never seen. Instead a lot of people get the sanitized version of you. Moreover most of us praise in public and rebuke in private. So, because Facebook is a public medium, people are generally going to make positive comments. Challenges to our behaviour are left unsaid. Facebook is a place to hide from real relationships.

5. Facebook allows me to escape to a less demanding world

In the real world, people make demands on me, my time, my resources and so on. But not online. My disembodied life online is a far less demanding place to inhabit than the real world. And so it’s tempting to run away and escape to an easier life for a few hours a day. But all I’m doing is temporarily suspending reality. Soooner or later I’ll need to come back to the real world. Tim Chester issued this challenge,

‘Men should be taking responsibility in their homes, workplaces, churches or neighbourhoods. But many young men today are spending hours on their Xbox and never really growing up. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with computer games. But many of us are playing with toys when we could be taking risks for Christ’s kingdom or leading the way in new gospel initiatives. Our culture encourages men not to grow up. It says: ‘Think of yourself as ten years younger than you are and you will be happy’. So men are spending evenings playing Halo when they could be serving in their youth group or moving into a needy area to serve Christ. They are opting for the pseudo-machismo of the virtual warrior rather than risk becoming warriors in the real spiritual battle’

I could spend ages preeening my Facebook profile so that I look good to my online friends. Or I could spend some time in the company of my friends doing good. But the better option of the two requires more effort. And self sacrifice hurts.

There you go. Five reasons to be careful about what and why you post on your Facbook account. And before you say it, I am aware of the irony of promoting this blog on Facebook!

Home from the Holidays

Home from Malaysia, after an epic 36 hour flight back on Emirates. KL to Dubai leg was fine. Then we boarded the A380 at Dubai at about 3.00 for the 3.45 leg back to London. At 5.45 they took us all off the plane, having been delayed (1) by customer who had checked in, then never boarded, so they had to find their luggage and take it off the plane (2) then there was a problem with the plane's computer, which they tried in vain to fix, but no joy, so got a new computer, but also didn't work. So eventually they disembarked all of us and we sat around in the airport until about 9pm, after which they said we would be leaving at 7am in the morning and would be taken to hotels. Then we queued 4 times in total for the hotel vouchers, with each counter performing one small task on the hotel voucher. Each queue took about 30  minutes. In the end, I gave up on the last queue (which for the 10 minute bus ride to the hotel), where they were using just 1 10-seater minibus to transport about 200 people, and got some dirham from the airport ATM and took me and the kids to the hotel in a taxi. One good thing about DBX - they have a special woman taxi driver queue for women travellers, which I did feel much reassured about using, compared with having to drive off into the night with a male taxi driver in a strange place that you'd never intended to be in, in the first place. Another queue at the hotel to check in, where I had to throw a wobbly because after queuing for 15 minutes to get to the head of the queue, the guy at checkin promptly went wandering off without a word of explanation. Got to the rooms, the door cards wouldn't work, so had to go back down and get them both reset. Got to bed at midnight, fell on the bed and slept till 4am, then got the kids up and were on the 4.10 bus back to the airport. Entire flight fuelled by Burger King and McDonalds. Moderate throwing up by Sam and me. Very very glad to get back to UK. There were people on that flight coming from NZ, who had already been travelling for 33 hours BEFORE the delay in Dubai. With young children. The horror.

Now busy digitising the whole of my father-in-law's CD collection, which C is gradually transferring over to our house from Wolverhampton. He is in Wolvo today, helping MIL to clear out the house, prior to her putting it up for sale and moving back to Nottingham, after FIL's funeral.

Reading Talleyrand's Memoirs and Little Dorrit. Watching Series 1 of Merlin. Listening to Moby. Planning trip to Galways to see Smiggle and fulfil girls' fantasies of riding ponies along deserted Irish strands.

First Direct Update

Earlier in the week I talked about my concerns with First Direct’s new password policy. I got an email from them about this, but it really wasn’t very reassuring.

But I kept digging. And on Thursday I got a bit more information from “^GD” on the @firstdirecthelp twitter account. It still doesn’t answer all of my questions, but I think we’re a lot closer to the truth. Here’s what I was told.

The obvious question that this raises is why, then, do they limit the length of the passwords. I asked and got this (three-tweet) reply.

To which, I replied

And got the response

I thought that “as a business we are satisfied” rather missed the point. And told them so.

I got no response to that. And @brunns got no response when he tried to push them for more details about how the passwords are stored.

So, to summarise what we know.

  • First Direct say they store the passwords “encrypted”, but it’s unclear exactly what that means
  • It was a business decision to limit the length of the passwords, but we don’t know why that was considered a good idea
  • It still appears that First Direct believe that security by obscurity is an important part of their security policy

I haven ‘t really been reassured by this interaction with First Direct. I felt that the first customer support agent I talked to tried to fob me off with glib truisms, but “^GD” tried to actually get answers to my questions – although his obvious lack of knowledge in this area meant that I didn’t really get the detailed answers that I wanted.

I’m not sure that there’s anything to be achieved by pushing this any further.

The post First Direct Update appeared first on Davblog.

First Direct Passwords

I’ve been a happy customer of First Direct since a month or so after they opened, almost twenty-five years ago.

One of the things I really liked about them was that they hadn’t followed other banks down the route of insisting that you carried a new code-generating dongle around so that you can log into their online banking. But, of course, it was only a matter of time before that changed.

A couple of weeks ago I got a message from them telling me that Secure Key was on its way. And yesterday when I logged on to my account I was prompted to choose the flavour of secure key that I wanted to use. To be fair to them they have chosen a particularly non-intrusive implementation. Each customer gets three options:

  1. The traditional small dongle to carry around with you
  2. An extension to their smartphone app
  3. No secure key at all

If you choose the final option then you only get restricted (basically read-only) access to your account through their web site. And if you choose one of the first two options, you can always log on without  the secure key and get the same restricted access.

I chose the smartphone option. I already use their Android app and I pretty much always have my phone with me.

Usually when you log on to First Direct’s online banking you’re asked for three random characters from your password. Under the new system, that changes. I now need to log on to my smartphone app and that will give me a code to input into the web site. But to get into the smartphone app, I don’t use the old three character login. No, I needed to set up a new Digital Secure Password – which I can use for all of my interactions in this brave new world.

And that’s where I think First Direct have slipped up a bit.

When they asked my for my new password, they told me that it needed to be between 6 and 10 characters long.

Those of you with any knowledge of computer security will understand why that worries me. For those who don’t, here’s a brief explanation.

Somewhere in First Direct’s systems is a database that stores details of their customers. There will be a table containing users which has a row of data for each person who logs in to the service. That row will contain information like the users name, login name, email address and (crucially) password. So when someone tries to log in the system find the right row of data (based on the login name) and compares the password in that row with the password that has been entered on the login screen. If the two match then the person is let into the system.

Whenever you have a database table, you have to worry about what would happen if someone managed to get hold of the contents of that table. Clearly it would be a disaster if someone got hold of this table of user data – as they would then have access to the usernames and passwords of all of the bank’s users.

So, to prevent this being a problem, most rational database administrators will encrypt any passwords stored in database tables. And they will encrypt them in such a way that it is impossible (ok, that’s overstating the case a bit – but certainly really really difficult) to decrypt the data to get the passwords back. They will probably use something called a “one-way hash” to do this (if you’re wondering how you check a password when it’s encrypted like this then I explain that here).

And these one-way hashes have an interesting property. No matter how long the input string is, the hashed value you get out at the other end is the same length. For example, if you’re using a hashing algorithm called MD5, every hash you get out will be thirty-two characters long.

Therefore, if you’re using a hashing algorithm to protect your users’ passwords, it doesn’t matter how long the password is. Because the hashed version will always be the same length. You should therefore encourage your users to make their passwords as long as they want. You shouldn’t be imposing artificial length restrictions on them.

And that’s why people who know about computer security will have all shared my concerns when I said that First Direct imposed a length restriction on these new passwords. The most common reason for a maximum length on a password is that the company is storing passwords as plain text in the database. With all the attendant problems that will cause if someone gets hold of the data.

I’m not saying for sure that First Direct are doing that. I’m just saying that it’s a possibility and one that is very worrying. If that’s not the case I’d like to know what other reason they have for limiting the password’s length like this.

I’ve send them a message asking for clarification. I’ll update this post with any response that I get.

Update (17 July): I got a reply from First Direct. This is what they said.

Thank you for your message dated 16-Jul-2014 regarding the security of your password for your Digital Secure Key.

Ensuring the security of our systems is, and will continue to be, our number one priority.

All the details that are sent to and from the system are encrypted using high encryption levels. As long as you keep your password secret, we can assure you that the system is secure. As you will appreciate, we cannot provide further details about the security measures used by Internet Banking, as we must protect the integrity of the system.

Our customers also have a responsibility to ensure that they protect their computers by following our common-sense recommendations.  Further information can be found by selecting ‘security’ from the bottom menu on our website, www.firstdirect.com

Please let us know if you have any further questions, and we’ll be happy to discuss.

Which isn’t very helpful and doesn’t address my question. I’ve tried explaining it to them again.

The post First Direct Passwords appeared first on Davblog.

Sky Broadband Update

It’s probably time for an update on my Sky Broadband situation.

I last wrote about Sky on 16th April. That was the date of their second failed attempt to connect me to their broadband. It was the date that I decided to cancel my order and go elsewhere.

First the good news. I was considering alternative providers. I called Virgin Media and they told me that I could have a 50 Mb fibre connection for an extra £2 a month over what I already paid them for my TV and phone package. And, as a bonus, they could do it within a week – still five days earlier than Sky had scheduled their third attempt at connecting me. I ordered it, they came round on the promised day and everything works fine. Very happy with them.

This then left me trying to cancel my Sky order. This was slightly complicated by the fact that Sky had successfully connected my phone line[1] and also the fact that this phone line is used for monitoring my ADT burglar alarm. I didn’t want to cancel the phone line until ADT had moved the alarm monitoring to the Virgin Media line. I explained all this to Sky and  they seemed to understand.

A chap called Andy in Sky’s customer service took it upon himself to take on the project. He took to phoning me weekly to ask me what was going on with ADT. To be honest, I got a bit lazy and it took me a while to get in touch with them.

Then my hand was forced. In the middle of May, some error lights on the burglar alarm started flashing. I called ADT to see what the problem was and they told me that it looked like the phone line was dead. I plugged a phone into the line and was able to confirm this. The phone line had been disconnected – despite my explicit instructions about not doing that until I asked for it.

I was a bit stuck. Calling Sky’s customer support from a non-Sky phone line is very expensive. And the only Sky line I had was dead. I tried their online chat facility, but the people you get on that are absolutely useless. Luckily Andy was due to call me for a progress update the following day, so I decided to wait for that.

When Andy called, I asked why they have disconnected the phone. He said that they hadn’t. He ran a few line checks and discovered a fault on the line. He offered to send an engineer to fix it. I told him not to bother and to go ahead with the cancellation. He told me that there was some problem with their systems that prevented him cancelling the contract right away but that he had reported the bug and would let me know when it was fixed.

Time passed.

Earlier this week, I wondered idly what was going on so I sent them an email asking for a progress report. A woman called and told me that my records said that someone (Andy, I assume) had been checking into my account daily and leaving notes explaining why he still couldn’t close the account.

The following day, I got a call from Andy (I’m sure it was pure coincidence that this was the day after I had chased them). He told me that the bug had been fixed and asked me to confirm that I still wanted to cancel the account. I told him that I did and he started the process. He warned me that I wold receive a few automated emails.

Within half an hour I got the first email, telling me that my services would be cancelled on Thursday 6th June. Hooray. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

The following day, I got another (presumably automatic email) offering me twelve months of free line rental if I changed my mind. Then I got the same message by text. And today I’ve got a missed call from a number which Google tells me is Sky’s customer retention department. They certainly seem keen to keep me. It’s a shame they didn’t put so much effort in back in April when they might have been able to salvage something from the disaster.

Oh, and I’ve received a bill. They want to charge me a month’s line rental for the phone line. A phone line that only ever really existed to serve a broadband connection that they weren’t able to provide. A phone line that I’ve used to make one call – the call to Sky customer services on 16th April when I first told them to cancel my order.

I’ve cancelled the old Be Broadband direct debit that they were planning to use to take the money. I’m amazed that they wouldn’t just waive those charges.

So, two months on I’m still (to some extent) a Sky customer. But the end is (hopefully) in sight.

Oh, and throughout all of this, the  @SkyHelpTeam Twitter account has been a source of much amusement. They reply to every mention, but haven’t got a clue what is going on. They use a social media customer tracker called Lithium. But they must have it configured wrong because each conversation starts with them knowing no history of this problem at all. And, having watched the product video, that’s exactly what Lithium is for.

Throughout this hold affair all of Sky customer service people (with about two exceptions) have shown themselves to be rubbish at their job.

[1] You’ll have noticed, no doubt, that we had to phone lines. The home phone (along with our TV) has been provided by Virgin Media for years. I also had another phone line for the broadband. I had this on a separate contract because it had been paid for through the limited company that I use for contracting.

The post Sky Broadband Update appeared first on Davblog.

Ritherdon Road street party promises a fun-filled day for all the family, Sunday 8th June!

RR street party 2014The Trader’s Association of Ritherdon Road invite you to join them on Sunday, 8th June for the annual street party and fun day on the pavements along the parade.  This popular event will welcome back all the favourites from previous years, including a wonderful selection of stalls selling a variety of items such as handmade silver jewellry, children’s toys, cheese deli items, knitted cushions and much more.  They look forward to welcoming back Simmons Creperie who will be dishing out freshly made authentic French pancakes, and this year there will be a traditional hog roast to delight your taste buds.

Take part in the colouring-in competition for a chance to win a signed print by Johny Midnight. Bring your best effort to Gallery Midnight on the day of the street party by 4pm, where the entries will be judged and the winners will be announced! Pick up your copy of the picture at Gallery Midnight.

Head to The French Cafe and win a bottle of wine with their ‘C’est Moi’ competition, or ‘Name that Puppy’ at Quirky Dovetail to win shopping vouchers. If you win Jacksons estate agent’s ‘Pick a street’ competition you could be the lucky winner of Johny Midnight’s limited edition ‘Tooting Lido’ print. Robbie’s Photographics want you to get creative by snapping up photos of the street party and entering them into their competition to win a bespoke canvas of your photo.

This year will see the return of the Balham Ukulele Society and The Hayward Sisters. We’ll also be welcoming The Balham Pram Chorus and the mighty talented Del Mandel. Make sure you make your way to the photo booth to get some snaps or enter the lucky dip! The team from Party Faces will be painting the faces of fairies, butterflies, princesses and mermaids too!

Join us at the street party to show support and raise funds for this year’s chosen charity partner First Touch who support sick and premature babies at St George’sHospital.

Please join us in thanking our sponsors: Jacksons estate agent, The Balham Partnership, Gallery Midnight, Quirky Dovetail, Dee Light Bakery, The French Cafe, Bodean’s, Robbie’s Photographics, Ecole de Danse of Balham, Nappy Valley Net, Movers & Shapers, Essential Local, Feel Good Balham, T M Ryan & Sons, Balham Electrical Services, Health reCentre, Mucky Paws, The Hayward Sisters. The Ritherdon Road street party is kindly supported by the Balham Town Centre Partnership.

The post Ritherdon Road street party promises a fun-filled day for all the family, Sunday 8th June! appeared first on Balham.com.


Today I said to my daughter that I was instituting a 100% patience policy when on the roads. From now on, people can do absolutely anything - cut me up, undertake me, beep me for slowing down to avoid a cyclist, refuse to give way even when they don't have right of way, go through red lights, stop their car in the middle of the street for 5 minutes so they can chat to their friend, stop on a double red light during rush hour while they pop into a shop and think that they make it OK by putting on their hazard lights, beat the queue by going in the filter lane and then barge in at the top - and not one snarky word will pass my lips.

She snorted in a manner that I can only describe as derisive. And added, "I give you one week tops."

June/July 2014 Balham Town Centre newsletter

Read the June/July 2014 Balham Town Centre newsletter here: Balham TC Newsletter Jun Jul 2014

In this edition: Ritherdon Road Street Party, Balham Comedy Festival, The London Folkfest, Harrison’s restaurant saving £3,700 per year by greening their business, and information on business rates relief!

For more Balham stories, please see the Balham blog.


The post June/July 2014 Balham Town Centre newsletter appeared first on Balham.com.

June/July 2014 Balham Town Centre newsletter

Read the June/July 2014 Balham Town Centre newsletter here: Balham TC Newsletter Jun Jul 2014

In this edition: Ritherdon Road Street Party, Balham Comedy Festival, The London Folkfest, Harrison’s restaurant saving £3,700 per year by greening their business, and information on business rates relief!

For more Balham stories, please see the Balham blog.


The post June/July 2014 Balham Town Centre newsletter appeared first on Balham.com.

Mouse and university

The Mac is doing that thing where it randomly disables the left click button on the mouse. Then in order to fix it, you have to somehow manoeuvre yourself to mouse settings, using only whatever options are available to you by right-clicking, switch the left/right settings on the mouse, which reactivates the left-click button (but only with right-click functions), and then go back and switch the left/right settings again, back to the normal settings. Can I just say that this never happens on my crappy old Asus netbook that everybody scoffs at because it takes 10 minutes to wake up in the morning.

Well, I 'm back after a titanic struggle involving two different mice and hopeless attempts to execute functions on the Mac using only the keyboard. Why on earth do they make this so difficult? There should always be something that enables you to do most of what you want, using the keyboard alone. If the mouse functions aren't working, how on earth are you supposed to rectify it when the only way you can switch the mouse buttons is by using the mouse? Gah!

Reading that thing in the Guardian all about how Kirstie Allsop is right out of line for daring to suggest that maybe girls should have babies first and then go to university. I can kind of see what she means. I actually think that everyone, male and female, should leave school after A levels and work for five years before they go the university. Apart from people who already have a very clear idea of their vocation and need to train for years to do it, like doctors. For everyone else, if they'd already worked for five years, they would really appreciate university when they get there and have a lot better idea of what they want to do for a living, having been obliged to live in the world for a bit, rather than spending all their time at uni boozing and acting like arseholes. Mind you, tuition fees are probably changing that scenario.

But setting that aside, the problem with Allsop's suggestion is that if girls effectively don't finish uni till they are 30, because they have been off having babies, they are going to be competing with fresh young male graduates and even though an experienced worldly wise young mum is actually going to be more useful and mature than some callow male doofus, our society is set up so that the callow male doofus is the one who will get the job. For Allsop's suggestion to work, society will need to be remodelled so that women who have the baby first and then join the work force and focus on their careers are not disadvantaged relative to the chaps. Maybe that's not easy, but it's a heckuva lot easier to change society (even though it is not easy at all) than to change Mother Nature - and Allsop is quite right, the body clock is ticking and you've got a lot better chance of having a healthy baby and a healthy mum, if she has the baby in her early twenties. I speak as someone who had my kids in my 30s and had the successful career, but my setup only worked because the husband was OK with being the homemaker, while I went out and brought home the bacon.

Anyway, off out to post the direct debit form for St Paul's school fees (argh!) and buy some deodorant. And the house will be safe, because I just had proper locks fitted to all the sash windows by our lovely lovely local locksmiths Oakleys at Southfields. Before today, if you'd been so inclined, you could literally have slid open our ground floor sash windows from the outside, walked in and helped yourself to our precious valuable collection of 5 year old malfunctioning Macs and netbooks and our displays of housedust and half-used pots of Dulux brilliant white gloss.