Sunday, 28 November 2021

Litany of the Futility of Leaf-blowers

Woe am I for my lawn is covered in leaves

Behold the leaves of the ash are scattered freely across the greensward.

An offence that causes my heart to sink in distress

and a sight to cause my spirit to weep.

Tell it not in Wimbledon, whose manicured lawns are of old

or in Anfield, where St Virgil strides its field with a grace like unto the gazelle.

And so I said in my heart, I will get a leaf-blower

and then there will be no more leaves on my lawn

for they will be scatted unto the four winds

and go where nobody can find them.

But behold as soon as my lawn is clear of leaves

the four winds bring them all back.

And as soon as I bag them up

some more fall off the trees.

And so I sink down in a pile of sycamore keys 

and weep like those that go down to the pit.

Where now are the clear lawns of July?

For what did I put on fertiliser to make it grow

and then use the mower to cut it short again?

Vanity, vanity.

Even the edges that I edged so edgefully

are now blurred in damp leaves.

And my leafblower, of which I was so proud

in whom my hopes were fixed

has failed me

and mocks me in its futility.

To whom should I look for help?

Surely I will cut down all my trees

and put down Astroturf for a lawn.

And my garden shall be tidy, maintenance-free and easy to keep

But maybe just a little bit sterile.


After an idea by Claire Maxim 

Saturday, 27 November 2021

The Non-Real Vicars of Holmfirth

Got me wondering, this did. When Justin Welby commented on vicars on TV being fools or rogues, and Bryony Taylor did her piece on the subject on Jeremy Vine.

Now, I don't have the breadth of knowledge that Bryony does on this subject. But I do have one bit of depth - my specialist subject, Magnus, being "vicars in Last of the Summer Wine, 1973-2010".

Now, there's a lot of vicars in Summer Wine. Partly I suppose because there's a lot of funerals (they're old blokes, whose mates keep dying), and a fair number of weddings. But, intriguingly, as far as I can remember, no baptisms. Roy Clark don't write about Kids.

So.... here we go.... 

1973 "Of Funerals and Fish" Michael Stainton

5* Definite favourite. Stainton's vicar is superbly written and played. With a regional accent - appropriate to the much more "kitchen sink" nature of the early episodes. Witty and pastorally concerned for Clegg, who tells him, "Me bowel's playing up. God moves in mysterious ways." Having a crafty fag before a funeral, he reflects to Clegg: "I'm supposed to be giving them up. But I can hardly be seen trying to live forever." Then he sweeps off in what Clegg calls his "heavenly commissionaire's outfit".  Which is an appropriate one for the occasion - cassock, surplice and black stole. 

Clarke really started with the best.

1976 "Going to Gordon's Wedding"  John Dunbar

3* Posh as you like. Properly vested for a wedding in cassock and white stole. Uses the archetypal vicar words, "Dear me". But in control of the situation, demanding a replacement best man even as the original best man goes off to hospital.

1977 "Green Fingers" - Uncredited

2* Just says "Bless you, my son" in response to Clegg's lie that the old boys are rescuing a wounded chaffinch (they're actually stealing a giant plastic carrot, obviously). Hopefully, given the colour of stole, it's in a festal season.

1977 "Jubilee" John Horsley / Gwyneth Owen


4* First of 2 from Horsley. Posh as only a bloke who's been playing stiff-upper-lip types in war films for 100 years can be. He's trying to put on a good show for the Queen's Silver Jubilee. His wife - Lydia  - haunted by the interminable production of tea and buns - will be replaced for Horsley's next outing by Dilys Hamlett. We don't know whether Lydia died of a surfeit of buns, or a divorce and remarriage happened (unlikely in 1970s  Yorkshire vicar-land) or whether it's meant to be the same Lydia. This Lydia certainly shows great versatility- not just making tea and buns but also driving a tractor.

1978 "Small Tune on a Penny Wassail" John Dunbar

3* Dunbar's Back! This time getting on the wrong end of Foggy's comically mishandled walking stick. No wonder he looks stern. Right colour stole for Christmas. Extra star.

1979  "Deep in the Heart of Yorkshire" - Uncredited

3* Vicar has a great time meeting the old boys who are dressed - in a manner that would now be regarded as dubious - as Native Americans. As well as Big Chief Corporal Singwriter, the tribe includes "Little Gaping Fly".  Extra star for the official "casual vicar" straw hat.

1983  "The Three Astaires " John Horsley / Gwyneth Hamlett

5* The rating is for Hamlett, brilliant as a vicaress on the edge, ranting about tea and buns through the glass of the vicarage door. While Horsley has moved on from Jubilee celebrations to organising the grand show. His nerves are in shreds as he grasps for shreds of "pizazz" while the scenery collapses.

1985 "Woollenmills of Your Mind" Steve Collins

3* Just a tiny cameo here. All the vicar has to do is walk towards the church in a very upright manner, hear Ivy's yell of "exposing his [Crusher's] foreign bodies in a catering establishment," look inquiring and also judgemental, and move on leaving a chastened Ivy. This vicar clearly had moral clout around town. 

1987 "A Short Introduction to Cooper's Rules" Nicholas Smith

4* In a transfer from "Are You Being Served", Smith plays a brilliantly feisty retired priest, who hates going for days out, and survives being kidnapped by the police and locked in a car boot.

1987 "Go with the Flow" Richard Vernon / Ann Way

4* Yet another church putting on a show - "The Tales of Beatrix Potter". This time it's Richard Vernon, who really just wants to be left alone to play with trains - a proper male-vicar stereotype- while Ann Way is his put-upon wife, worried that they've started having "poor people" (Compo and Clegg) delivered. Sharp stuff from Ann Way, pointing out that the vicar's pursuit of Christian perfection is meant to be for himself, not her.

1988 "Dancing Feet" Dennis Mawn

3* A very odd tradition at the church tea. Ever saucer has a raffle ticket attached to the bottom. That's all the vicar has to do, just read out the number - before Compo's wellies start smoking and the vicar goes from jolly master of revels to mild alarm. Gets the third star because in the service beforehand, he's correctly vested - surplice and black scarf.

1989  "Happy Anniversary, Gough and Jessie" James Beattie

3* A very upright vicar. Clearly one of those ESTP ones, as he passes around tea and buns with the best of them, and takes Gough's sudden disappearance in his stride.

1991 "Pole Star" Tony Nelson (wife uncredited)

2* "Probably the most stereotypical of stereotypical vicars, this. Gazing on a tranquil scene, he remarks upon the perfect Englishness of the view. Then tries to avert his wife's gaze as she gawps at Howard and Marina, dressed in deep sea fishing gear, leap into each other's arms.

His wife being uncredited seems a terrible injustice, as her reaction to the fishy frolics unfolding before her, while wordless, speaks volumes.

1992 "Phantom of the Graveyard" Uncredited

2* Very young clergyman looks very baffled after Howard has confused him with Marina.

1995 "Brushes at Dawn" Keith Smith

3* Lots of shouting "chop chop!" and general middle-class pushiness as he tries to - would you believe - put on a show. Again. Do these people ever do any real work? Do they never wander round church to rearrange hymn books randomly, like the vicars of Midsomer? Good to see a vicar in a cassock during the working day though, gaining the extra star.

1998 "The Only Diesel Powered Saxophone in Captivity" Martin Benson

2* Posh, with a slip-in collar.As the vicars are increasingly not in worship-related situations, you can't help but feel their standards are slipping.

2000 "Last Post and Pigeon" Gerard Hayling

3* Being a Summer Wine vicar, he wouldn't be doing anything actually religious or pastoral, would he? Instead he's organising a filmed history of the area - including roping Billy Hardcastle in as a woad-daubed Ancient Briton. But Gerard did well enough to get the gig for more episodes than any other Summer Wine vicar. He's certainly got the inoffensive pluminess off to a T.

2001 "Hey Big Vendor" Gerard Hayling 

3* Does a good job of opening the fete while Wesley's coffee machine makes farting noises. 

2002 "A Musical Passing for a Miserable Muscroft" Sean Robertshaw 

3* Plucky young vicar continues with the interment despite Billy Ingleton's steam organ kicking off halfway through.

2005 "Who's that Mouse in the Poetry Group?" Gerard Hayling  


3* Nice bit of work from the vicar as he assumes that, if Marina is in front of him, Howard is probably hiding in the hedge.


 Conclusion

So what, if anything, have we learnt?

All the vicars are white. All but one are pretty middle-class. There is a range of ages. And all are male. Just the type of vicars you would expect from a series that, although it continued till 2010, was always stuck in a world that was suspended somewhere between in the time between the Goons and the Sex Pistols. And while the maleness was written by Roy Clark, I expect the casting decisions were ultimately with the producers.

There are, as far as I can remember, no noncomformist or Catholic ministers in the series at all. Which is odd, as Clegg is formerly chapel. But, in an ecumenical vein, Martin Benson ("Last Diesel-powered Saxophone" was Jewish, and played Fr Spiletto in "The Omen".

None of the ministers seem to be idiots - though Clegg hints that the one in "Green Fingers" is more gullible than Baptist ministers. None of them are rogues. So maybe Justin Welby ought to watch Last of the Summer Wine.

In a very real sense.


All pictures from the BBC Situation Comedy, Last of the Summer Wine. Believed to be fair use as small, low-res screenshot images to illustrate the text.

Friday, 26 November 2021

Black Friday Ain't What it Used to Be

You know, I remember the good old Black Fridays when we were kids. Back when I was young, it used to mean something. The ruddy faces of the shoppers, as they recovered from the slaps and ear-pulling in Curry's. The Tamagotchi fights that used to break out. I tell, you there was one year I saw a Cabbage Patch Doll dismembered before my eyes because 4 people grabbed the last one.

And how the little children used to wake up in expectation in the early hours Black Friday morning, clapping their hands in the hope of queuing in the dark until Debenhams opened, and Mum could get that spangly dress she'd been promising herself for the Christmas Do. The one that Mum would return two days after the Do, swearing blind it got the smell of sweat and Bacardi just when she tried it on. And then she would buy it again at 70% off in the Blue Cross at the end of January.

And the stories of the mythical IT Elves. And how they worked all night on Black Friday Eve, anxiously watching their servers for signs of strain, checking the orders were flowing through, sacrificing pigeons to the Most High Yantra, the patron deity of all those that haven't invested in their sales order processing infrastructure lately. Many is the tale of IT Elves, after a ninth pint in the nearest pub to the office, realising the app had crashed on their phone and rushing back to randomly restart services until something worked.

Happy Days.

Whereas today, Black Friday has become so spiritualized. People agonise over whether it's good for our souls, this frenzied pursuit of a few pence off something you may not really want. And it lasts a week - which is good news for the IT Elves, as they now have to spend the week in the pub, checking in case anything has gone down, but the strain has been spread.

The ever-increasing worries about whether we have given our souls for consumerism tend to dampen the fun. And the environmental damage of all those computers supporting such a brief peak, the congestion as all of Amazon's Little Helpers hit the road at the same time, the endless packaging around tiny gifts - it's quite taken all the meaning out of Black Friday.

So this year, I feel we should all consider the real meaning of Black Friday. Then get out and spend, regardless of the consequences.

So Merry Black Friday. And a Happy Cyber-Monday.

Friday, 19 November 2021

Can't be Too Careful

Message from Norag.

She says she's still not coming to the Moot House for services, as she's a bit worried about Covid still. She says it's too soon to be feel like you're safe. So better to give it a miss. 

She is still joining on Zoom to the Virtual Pouring-Out-of-Beakers. But she tends to switch off video, and not because she's asleep or actually out the back.  Just because she feels a bit self-conscious. So don't worry about that.

And she watches all the Facebook recordings of sermons. Sometimes a few weeks late. But she always catches up. So don't worry about her. It's fine. She's still alongside us, via the screen, and in her prayers all the time.

And if you do want to catch up with Norag, best bet is Friday at the White Horse between 6 and 11. She's normally there. Or the Brewhouse and Kitchen in Central MK. She likes to get over on a Saturday as they're open till 1am.

So don't worry about Norag. She's fine. She's just not coming to the Moot House for services. For now. Nothing wrong with the Beaker Folk. Just making sure she stays away because of the Virus.

You can't be too careful.

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Normal has been Cancelled

Our apologies.

Normal has been cancelled.

We can't go back to normal.

The people that used to do normal are older

most are more tired

some aren't interested in what used to be normal

and some are dead.

So normal isn't normal any more.

We'd like to do you a new normal

but it's too soon

and things aren't normal.

We will let you know when things are normal

and then we'll find out what the new normal is.

But the new normal won't be normal.

Or not the normal you think is normal.

In the meantime, here's something not normal.

It's not normal

but it's the best we can do.

Our apologies.

Normal has been cancelled.


Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Mask and it Shall be Given

I've received a lot of comments about the pictures of the Great Moot in session. Apparently people were shocked to see that barely anyone was wearing a mask, even though we had 100 Druids from around the country packed into the Moot House.

I would like to reassure everyone who has raised concern that we have implemented faith as an antiviral system. Faith is a tried and trusted system that was used by, for instance, the Flagellants during the Black Death and American protestant missions during the Spanish Flu outbreak.

Yes, it is true that after the event we will be returning to our diverse communities. Where druids will then be going out to meet vulnerable people. But then many people who are at the Great Moot are vulnerable. And so we are caring for those in exactly the same way. 

Some say this might be a super-spreader event. But wasn't the rise of the early church, in a very real sense, a super-spreader event?

But we have faith. Faith in the infallibility of the Lateral Flow Test.

At the end of the day, it's about setting an example. If we don't start behaving like everything is normal, even if it isn't, how are we going to persuade people to return to their local Moot House, and sit next to someone who's been at the Great Moot, and is sure that sore throat is just a bit of acid reflux? 

So have Faith. Everything is normal. Everything is as it should be.

Keep Calm and Go to Church.

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Not at All Sleazy

I'd like to thank everyone for attending the Neo-Coenobitic Communities Conference on Climate Change over the last few days. There's been many exciting discussions about the ways in which our more nature-focused, world-affirming attitude to the environment can really show a lead in the challenges ahead of us.

The agreement on recycling at least 10% of all tea light packaging was a real achievement. We burnt some midnight oil, ironically, as we overcame the American delegates' inability to be able to spell "aluminium". But we got there. And our objective to ensure that 50% of all wind turbines be solar powered was warmly approved.

But mostly I would like to emphasise that the Beaker Folk is not a sleazy community. There is absolutely no truth in the rumour that the holding company for the community, Beaker Folk (BVI) Ltd is just a way of dodging tax and giving Young Keith a few weeks of sunny consultancy every year. And I definitely haven't given Deputy Archdruidships  to people just for the amount they have paid into Community funds. 

Just before I chase everyone out with the trusty Slazenger V400, can I assure you all that there is absolutely no reason for anyone to check out whether the Ming vase in the Library is in fact a fake, and the real one was sold off several years ago. 

No reason at all.

I am definitely not apologising for all the things I definitely haven't done wrong. 

Until tomorrow. 

Sunday, 7 November 2021

Let's Hear it for Zebedee

 I think, just for once, we should think about Zebedee.

Not exactly a major character in the Bible. But in the Gospels, he's there in the background.

Succesful small-to-medium enterprise businessman, by the look of it. Not only has he got his sons in the business, but he's also got hired men. So trade is brisk at the moment. And, if times get hard, he'll let the hired men go. And he and his sons will pull together to weather the economic storm.

Until today. 

Jesus comes along. Makes James and John not so much an offer they can't refuse as one that Zebedee can't even understand. "Stop catching sardines and start catching people." What on earth does that mean, Zebedee thinks, as the lads jump out the boat and head off after the young prophet.

Still, he's a successful businessman. It seems he has contacts - or contracts - with the people at the Temple. As much later John will use those contacts to slip into the high priest's courtyard during Jesus's show trial.

And in theory he now has two fewer mouths to feed. As the lads are off across the country.

In practice, not so much some, I suspect.

There's a woman mentioned fleetingly in the Gospels named Salome. Not to be confused with Herod's famous stripping step-daughter, who got John the Baptist killed. Salome is there at the crucifixion. She's there when they go to treat Jesus's body with spices on Easter Sunday. And it appears, comparing the accounts of the crucifixion, she's also the mother of James and John. And one of the women who followed Jesus from Galilee, and "ministered" to him.

So the odds are, Zebedee has quietly been funding a fair chunk of Jesus's mission.

And while it's all going down in Jerusalem, there's Zebedee, at the lake, fishing with the hired men. Making money that the family are spending on this Jesus. 

After the Resurrection, there seems to be a bit of a lag during which James and John and Peter decide they might go back and do some fishing.

And you can imagine Zebedee. "You're back then? Is everything normal again now?" 

And after that encounter and the miraculous catch of fish, and Jesus restoring Peter and all the rest of it, James and John are like - nah, not really. And Salome's, you'd never believe what we saw in the garden. Don't see why you should - neither did all the others we told.

And Zebedee, quite likely, will have known the grief of his son's martyrdom - St James was killed by the sword, at the instructions of Herod, in about 44AD. And if he was still alive then, he will have wept to have lost his son, and maybe mourned those simple days when they were just catching fish and sending them off to Jerusalem.

And maybe he will also have rejoiced through his tears that his son was counted worthy to suffer like their Messiah, and known he would see him again at the Resurrection.

So let's hear it for Zebedee. In a world of people who make themselves great by puffing themselves up, pushing themselves forward, trying to make things happen their way - he didn't. He's like someone who privately supports the church, but doesn't want to make a fuss. Someone who knows his gifts, and sticks to them, even though they're not showy and nobody wants to praise him and he doesn't want praise. Someone who quietly carried on fishing for sardines. So his sons could go and catch people for the Kingdom.

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

A Beaker Guide to Lucifers

 News in from the States (where else) that a reporter with Newsmax (which else) has claimed Covid vaccines contain luciferase, which she says is being used as trackers. The clue that this is evil being that Lucifer is a name given to the Devil, in the King James version of the Bible. 

"How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!"

 I mean, where to start, really? First up - in the Hebrew the name just means Morning Star. Which we would call Venus. But Latin name means "Light Bearer" - hence lucifer. There's likely all sorts of mythology around this in the Canaanite background.

But that brings us to the chemicals that fireflies etc use to power their glow. Luciferins. Given the same Latin derivation, of light-bearer. 

But luciferins aren't used in the day time. That would be a waste of energy. So to control their glow, they use enzymes called luciferases. Which like all "ase" enzymes actually break down the things they're named after - amylases break down complex carbohydrates into sugars, proteases break down proteins into amino acids and so on. So if luciferases were really in anyway related to Old Nick, they would break him down. Which is a good thing.

It also means that if luciferases were to be used to track you, you'd glow in the dark.

So a quick guide for you:

Lucifer: A name for the Morning Star, boxes of matches, or possibly the Devil. Also more popular than Nigel.

Luciferin: The power source chemicals for a firefly.

Luciferase: Enzymes that oxidise luciferin to create light.

Luciferade: What to make if life gives you Lucifers.