Christmas Praise!

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be part of the All Souls Orchestra in their most recent concert, Christmas Praise.

All Souls Orchestra

The orchestra during rehearsals


The violinists working hard during the concert

Philip Griffiths

Philip Griffiths performing ‘Long Time Ago in Bethlehem’. Philip is a Guinness World Record-Holder as the longest cast member in the same production (26 years in ‘Phantom of the Opera’)

When I lived in London (2006-2015) I was a member of All Souls Orchestra, the orchestra of All Souls Church, Langham Place in central London, which was founded over 40 years ago and is still led and conducted by the irrepressible Noel Tredinnick. I benefitted hugely from being a part of the orchestra, both in terms of improving my technical ability, and also in terms of my appreciation of music as one of God’s great gifts. The orchestra plays at a service in All Souls each month, as well as doing several concerts annually, both in London, around the country, and even internationally.

For the Christmas Praise event, we were joined by West End Has Faith, a group of Christian singers and actors who work in some of the shows in the West End of London who want to share their faith. The programme was varied, including traditional carols, dramatised songs from musicals and popular modern songs, as well as a bit of Bizet and some Gilbert and Sullivan!

The concert went very well and was, as ever, a great way of praising God and of sharing the wonder and hope of the Christmas story with those who came to hear it.


Benjamin Isaacs and Tabitha Webb as Joseph and Mary in Nativity (which was co-written by Tabitha)

We were very fortunate in that regard to have Nathan Morgan-Locke with us, who gave a really moving talk in several parts, taking us from the excitement of sharing presents on Christmas morning to the fact that the most important present exchange is the one that can happen between us and God. God gives us himself – in the form of Christ – and if we accept this gift, we can give ourselves in return to God. But it’s not an equal exchange; he contrasted the perfection of Christ with what we can offer, which seems like a sack of rubbish in comparison. As a result of that exchange we get to experience the real God and enjoy life with him.

Nathan has also been involved in developing Life Explored, an exciting new 7-session course developed by Christianity Explored Ministries, which aims to look at happiness and where it can be found.

Lasting Happiness is like the Loch Ness Monster. Most of us are convinced that it doesn’t really exist, but we like the idea that it might. We can go looking for it, but don’t get your hopes up because we all have to settle eventually. When it comes to short term happiness we’re all believers. We’ve known the joy of relationships, holidays and achievements. But lasting happiness is a different story. So why is lasting happiness so elusive? It’s often because we’re looking in the wrong places. Psalm 16 v. 11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” The lasting happiness we’re looking for is found in God himself.’ Description of Life Explored taken from their publicity.

Nathan Morgan Locke

Nathan Morgan Locke explaining the Christmas story

It was wonderful to be able to play in the orchestra again. Much of what we play is available to download from the orchestra’s website, and an example of one of Noel’s recent arrangements is shown below.

Conductor's score

Excerpt from conductor’s score of ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’

If you are interested…:

  • If you would like to hear highlights of the concert, you can listen to the broadcast at 3pm-5pm on Christmas Day and at 10pm-midnight on Boxing Day 2016 both on Premier Christian Radio.
  • In addition, Noel has recently recorded an hour-long programme in which he plays some of the highlights from the All Souls Orchestra archives, and which you can listen to here.
  • For those in Somerset or southwest England, the orchestra is coming to Lee Abbey in Devon on 10-12 March 2017. More details can be found here.
All Souls Orchestra

The orchestra at the end of the concert

The photographs in this post were taken by friends of the orchestra and were obtained from the All Souls Orchestra Facebook page, where the appropriate credits can be found.

How a swiss cheese can help us understand eye conditions

Two weeks ago I took part in a workshop on modelling age-related macular degeneration. A group of about 30 mathematicians, scientists and engineers were lucky enough to spend three days in Oxford working on aspects of this condition, including how and why it develops (currently not very well understood) and possible avenues for treatment. Macular degeneration is by far the leading cause of sight loss in this country, with others being glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy, and it is worryingly common, with about 600,000 people affected, which is about 1%. Although it can be treated, the current treatments are unpleasant and not always effective so there is good reason for doing research to try to understand what’s going on in the condition.

During the workshop I worked with a group of five others on modelling a layer of tissue at the base of the retina of the eye that might be getting blocked up in patients with macular degeneration. We looked at models of how blockages in this layer could affect the ability of large molecules to pass through it, which is needed for healthy functioning of the eye.

Group 2

The remains of group 2 at the end of the modelling camp: Jennifer Tweedy (Imperial College London), Dave Smith (University of Birmingham), Phil Luthert (University College London), Moussa Zouache (University College London), Helen Byrne (University of Oxford), (photo by Rosemary Dyson)

In our models, we were trying to simplify and idealise the real situation, in order to end up with some equations that we can use to calculate or predict something useful. The problem is that, in simplifying, one can leave out something important… so it’s a tricky business. Our first attempt was the ping pong balls model, in which we modelled the blockage as solid lumps in the layer. We soon decided that this was the wrong model, which meant we needed to try something else.  So next we tried the Swiss cheese model (or at least, that’s what Rich calls it!) in which we modelled the blockage as holes in the layer that gradually close up as stuff is deposited over a lifetime. This produced something that has potential for future development. Meanwhile we were assisted by other group members, who were looking at the problem from alternative angles.

Swiss cheese

How a block of swiss cheese can help solve problems in the eye (a small portion of our whiteboard at the end of the workshop).

We were put up in magnificent rooms in Wadham College, and, even better, there was also time for a bit of sightseeing in the form of a walking tour around the city centre on the first evening.

Visiting the sights

Visiting the sights in Oxford: Krystyna, Rodolfo, Mariia and me with the Bodleian Library in the background

After the conference my long-term collaborator Rodolfo Repetto from Italy and his student Mariia Dvoriashyna from Ukraine came back to Shapwick so that we could make some progress with a paper we are writing. We took them to a pub in Godney, which we discovered to be a village that makes Shapwick look well connected!

Meal at Godney

Enjoying a meal at the Sheppy in Godney: Rich, Rodolfo, Mariia and me

I have attended several mathematical study groups over the years, and even organised one myself in 2009, which was hard work, but rewarding! They are a great way to learn techniques for tackling mathematical modelling problems, as they are one of the few chances we have to work so closely with a range of other people as we develop a new model.

Gill and Ian’s wedding

A couple of weeks ago, Rich and I had the privilege of attending the wedding of my good friend Gillian Overend to Ian Jones. I met Gill as a fellow leader on Basecamp in 2009, which is a Christian summer camp whose aim is to encourage young christians in godliness and leadership skills. It takes place every year in a National Trust centre at High Wray in the Lake District just to the west of Lake Windermere, and there are around ten leaders and 16 young people aged 16-20. On alternate days we work for the National Trust on things like building footpaths through bogs, or chopping down and burning rhododendron trees . On the intermediate days we do activities like walking and kayaking. There are small Bible study groups and a big meeting every evening with a Bible talk. I went back to Basecamp in 2011 and 2013, in which years Gill acted as an excellent overall leader of the camp!

Gill looking useful

Gill looking useful at Basecamp in 2011 – path building at the Kirkstone Pass. Photo by unknown Basecamp member

Ian and Gill

Walking out of the church! Photo by Rich

Ian and Gill got married in the church where Gill’s father is vicar, although another vicar took the service so that Gill’s dad could focus on his father-of-the-bride job. The church is in Billinge, which is in historic Lancashire, but is now part of modern day Merseyside. Although we set off really early (for us), there had been a major accident on the M6 causing long delays, and we ended up trailing in behind the bride!

The service itself was really joyful, and Rich and I appreciated the sense of God’s presence within it. We were impressed by the address on Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, which was given by the comedian Ian Macdonald, as it was thoughtful and highlighted some of the priorities that are relevant to marriages in the 21st century.

Rich and Jen

Rich and Jen at the reception. Photo by John Southcombe

The day also provided a chance to catch up with some other old friends: Nicola Morris, much revered cook at Basecamp, John and Dawn Southcombe and Hilary Gardner who were all a lot of fun to be around and have inspirational stories of their own faith journeys.

Gill’s attention to detail meant that at the reception we were put on the same table as a family who live in Kenilworth, which is where I grew up. Tim is the churchwarden of St John’s Church in Kenilworth, and it was exciting to hear about the major building project they are currently undertaking. Tim and Fiona’s twin daughters Rhian and Sian were also there celebrating – one day after their own 21st birthdays! I also particularly enjoyed the beautiful piano music at the service and reception, which was played by two of Ian’s friends.

Our table at the reception

Our table at the reception: Ian, Rhian, Sian, Fiona, Hilary, Dawn, John, Nicola, Jen. Photo by Rich

We left before the dancing, much to Rich’s relief, and headed back down to Somerset. Lots of people had reassured us that, at that hour of the evening, the journey back would be much easier than our long journey up. Four-and-a-half hours later and several sets of roadworks later we weren’t so convinced about that, but as we finally got to bed at 1.30am, we agreed that it had been a most excellent day and we were so pleased to have been invited.

My first blog post (by Jennifer): I couldn’t resist sharing these photos…

We meet up with my mother, brother Andrew, sister-in-law Rachael and their children Sophie (3) and George (nearly 1) every so often. The photos from two of our recent trips (at the end of September and beginning of November) came out really well, so we wanted to share them! All photos were taken by my brother Andrew Siggers, which is why there are none of him unfortunately!

Rachael and George

Rachael and George

Rich learning to live with three generations of Siggerses!! Left to right: Mum, Rich, Sophie (being tickled by her mischievous uncle), Jennifer, George

Rich learning to live with three generations of Siggerses!! Left to right: Mum, Rich, Sophie (being tickled by her mischievous uncle), Jennifer, George

Rich, George (learning to clap!), Jen and Sophie

Rich, George (learning to clap!), Jen and Sophie

Sophie and George playing nicely!

Sophie and George playing nicely!

How to keep George happy!

How to keep George happy!

How to keep Sophie happy!

How to keep Sophie happy!

George hasn't seen his mummy for a few hours (but he still looks very cute!)

George hasn’t seen his mummy for a few hours (but he still looks very cute!)

We calculated that this was the way to balance our masses! Left to right: Rich, George, Sophie, Jen

We calculated that this was the way to balance our masses! Left to right: Rich, George, Sophie, Jen