So, I am now the proud owner of a car. I managed to get hold of a car with a manual gearbox, and have been re-acquainting myself with the art of the clutch. Has proved extraordinarily difficult to translate many *cough* years of left-handed gear changes to the other side. Couple of times I have tried to change gear with the door handle. Several times, usually at intersections, I have stalled, which is not a failing I can blame on the location of the stick. The gearbox seems a little clunky at times, especially when going from first to second, even after a few hours behind the wheel. But it’s been fun.

Point of note: it’s intriguing that with nothing more than a driving licence acquired through making a couple of turns and stops in an automatic transmission-equipped car, I can, perfectly legally, drive off into heavy traffic in a car with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Worship times at church have been fun too. Not least because our worship leaders insist on singing songs several keys higher than I’m used to. And that’s just the male worship leaders. The song “In Christ Alone” which has made a few appearances recently, I have always played and sung in Eb. Here we have twice sung it in A. One of our worship leaders in particular seems to be possessed of a voice pitched high enough to minister to dogs and bats. Accordingly mass harmonies break out in the room during worship. At some points I am unsure if there is anyone left in the room either capable of, or willing to sing the melody. It should be said that this is Nashville, there is a significant number of talented musicians and singers in the room at any one time, and mass harmony would probably be breaking out anyway.

Apart from the appearance of songs like “In Christ Alone”, which has been around a while, most of the songs we sing are fairly new, if not brand new. Most days we will sing at least one song that has been written in-house. I have learned a few new songs here, although I’m not sure I’ve learned the melody.

There is a tendency in the most recent worship songs to include a chorus or bridge which consists entirely of “oh oh oh oh” or “whoaaa whoaaa”. I’m not going to lie. I love this. There was a time when I would have wondered about the theological profundity of such a sentence, if oh x 4 can be considered a sentence. I would have given it a short amount of thought, and decided that it scored quite low on the theological profundity scale. Probably zero, on a scale of one to ten. And dismissed it as yet another inane modern worship song.

But here’s the thing. In worship we sing songs to our heavenly Father. And God isn’t, as far as I know, impressed with our lyrical eloquence. Were I a father, and my child came to me and told me, in a childlike and grammatically incorrect way, that they loved me, would I correct their grammar, or would the sentiment of their expression move my heart?

I think the latter. And I think God’s heart is moved when we come to him worshipping with our heart rather than our head. Further, I now think “whoaaa” is a deeply profound expression of worship. And much more versatile than most words. It can express wonder, awe, love, adoration, mystery and more. When the Spirit moves you (sometimes physically) in worship, or when God takes you by surprise with a revelation during worship, “whoaaa” is probably the only apt response.

Jesus said that unless you become like a little child you cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven. God has been reinforcing the importance of this to me, and I have discovered new levels of childlikeness recently. I am learning new things about the Kingdom every day. I’m still only moving from first gear to second, and it’s still a bit clunky, but I’m getting there.

The bed, the car, and the bad-ass boyfriend

So, I am now the proud owner of a bed. A Queen bed (please, please restrain yourselves), if you will, which it would appear is the American equivalent of a kingsize bed in the UK. The British double bed is apparently called a ‘full-size’ even though it’s only one size up from the smallest, which is itself called a twin. Of course it is. Nothing could be more obvious.

I test-drove a car at the weekend, which was a lovely experience. After driving for a bit in the gathering dusk, I realized I hadn’t yet switched on the headlights, which instilled a whole new level of confidence in my passenger. This was the saleslady, called Tammy, and she had this lovely southern accent. She also had a great way of phrasing things, such as “you can turn right here” which meant “take the next left.” And right there, if you’ll forgive the play on words, is another British-US difference, not that this blog is meant to be a list of our cultural and linguistic differences, although it might continue in that vein for bit until I run out of steam, or differences, or get bored, or forget what Britain is like. A Brit would say “take a left at the lights”. An American, particularly, I feel, in the South, might say “you can go ahead and take a left at the next intersection”. A few weeks ago, or, perhaps more accurately, before I visited Nashville for the first time in May this year, I would have thought this a terribly extravagant waste of syllables and energy. Now it just seems like a more deliberate way of engaging in conversation, and reflects the joy which is taken in even the smaller details in life here. Of course, I should really point out for the benefit of my American readers that not all Brits are as culturally and linguistically repressed as me, that would be unfair. But some of them are. Oh yes.

But back to that left turn. I did feel Tammy should really have put a comma after ‘turn’, thus:

“You can turn, right here” which would have clarified her meaning somewhat, given that only a left turn was available. If I had a copy of “Eats shoots and leaves” I would have presented it to her there and then, or possibly after I had safely made the turn. I can’t remember if this incident was before or after I had come off the interstate onto the off-ramp, and was remarking how good the car was in the corners.

“Yes. It gets a little twisty here.” she replied.

That I took to be an invitation to go right on ahead and find out how good the car really was in the corners, and so I think I might have accelerated into the “twisty” bit. Oops.

“Can you tell I was in a wreck?” she enquired, her voice possibly rising in pitch just a fraction.

“Uh, I’m sorry?” I asked.

“This bit is quite TWISTY!” she continued, in a crescendo towards fever pitch, banging on my arm with a rolled up.. sales schedule, or something. I got the point and went ahead and slowed right on down.

Turns out she had been in quite a bad car accident a few years back, which instilled in me a new level of respect that she would ride shotgun with potential car buyers trying to find just how grippy their prospective purchase was in the corners. She mentioned her ex-husband in the conversation, and I wanted to ask her had she not thought about standing by her man, but being a model of self-discipline and restraint, I didn’t.

But back to the bed, so to speak. I found it (or rather AJ did) on Craigslist, which is the US version of Gumtree. Or vice versa. Anyhow, it was in search of this bed that I found myself driving into a dark deserted industrial estate in East Nashville tonight. I pulled up to the entrance of what might have been some sort of furniture storage facility, had I been able to see it properly in the dark, alongside the seller’s pickup truck, and was shown the mattress and box spring by this girl and her bad-ass-looking black boyfriend. There was no hip-hop pumping out of the pickup’s speakers, but there might have been. I had visions of me being found lying face down on said mattress with a single bullet hole in the back of my head, but perhaps I’ve watched too many of the wrong type of movies. Real life was, as ever, considerably less dramatic (I’m grateful), and twenty minutes later the pickup pulled up outside my new house in Nashville, where I am about to start renting a room. And so my brief sojourn in Franklin is almost at an end. Alyn and AJ, who probably didn’t find it quite so brief a sojourn, are looking to take on another lodger who would be willing to pay rent in root beer, cream soda and M&Ms.

Am quite excited about my move into Music City itself, and the resulting proximity to the live music scene there, not to mention some great indy coffee shops.  Cannae wait, like.

Driving tests and diapers


Following my successful foray into driving theory last Thursday, I booked my road test for the following day in a small town called Jasper (approx 3000 inhabitants), about 2.5 hours drive south of Nashville, close to Chattanooga and the county borders with Alabama and Georgia. You might think that it would be more convenient to take the test in, say, Franklin, or Nashville, or Canada, or really anywhere closer than Jasper, but I couldn’t find a test centre nearby which could fit me in any sooner than late October.

The ladies in the DMV place at Jasper were very sweet. I think perhaps they were pleased to see someone they weren’t related to.

I can’t begin to tell you how different this test experience was compared to my UK driving test in 1991. I was a little worried that the nice examiner lady would be put off by the stash of spare nappies/diapers and discarded root beer bottles in the back, but she seemed unfazed. She also declared that I would have no problem with the test. I can only presume that she took one glance at my “distinguished” appearance and realised I had clocked up a few miles behind the wheel, and was disregarding the fact that I would be driving an unfamiliar vehicle, on unknown streets, on entirely the wrong side of the road.

She was proved right though. The test consisted of a few turns at junctions. No reversing at all, never mind into a parking space, no hill start (bit redundant with an automatic box), no emergency stop. Perhaps just as well, or we might both have been wearing the diapers, so to speak.

Looks like I did just begin to tell you how different the driving test experiences were after all.

So, with Tennessee driving license in hand, the thoughts turn to what kind of car to buy. At the school we’ve been learning how to hear God’s voice, so I asked him what he thought of my idea of getting a massive twin cab pickup truck. He said he thought it was a little OTT for my needs.

So I found a reasonably priced sensible-looking car online, before discovering it didn’t have electric windows. I mean, seriously, this is supposed to be America. Can you imagine the tangle I’d get in at a drive-thru if I had to actually wind down the window first?

So, finding a car and a house are the remaining jigsaw pieces to put into place in order to settle into life here with a degree of independence, and thus reduce my sponging from my hosts and Charlene. Although living with Alyn & AJ has been, I feel, of mutual benefit. I get a roof over my head, food, a minivan (with multitudinous cup holders and spare diapers for emergencies) to drive when Charlene’s car is at the garage; they drink my root beer and get to reach their broadband supplier’s data download limit 3 days before the end of the month. Alyn is particularly pleased about this last benefit. I blame ESPN for streaming live cricket from Sri Lanka. And then there was the Ryder Cup…