Friday 31 December 2010


Mrs Hnaef has shown me that you can view electrical goods using a computer! And not only that, but you can compare different models! Average power consumption! Cubic capacity! Height! Width! Number of salad crispers!!!
After she revived me from the faint, I discovered that she'd "borrowed" my credit card as I was unconscious, and it turns out that you can buy them using this method, as well.
I intend to investigate whether some of the community expenses can be better managed "in-line": I'm sure the Archdruid will approve this New Year Resolution!
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New Year Traditions

There's nothing Beaker Folk like so much as a New Year. Indeed, we celebrate New Year at Halloween, then again at Winter Solstice, Chinese New Year, Orthodox New Year - I tell you, if we have a week without a New Year we don't feel like we're trying

But this is the English Secular New Year, so we're not going to miss this one. I'm glad to share with you a selection of our New Year traditions.

Tar barrels - At this end of the Old Year and start of the New, we like to have something to set fire to. So we saw some barrels in half, stick in some tar, set them on fire and float them out on the Duck Pond. We have no idea why we do this.

Firth of Fifth Footing - everybody tries to dance to Genesis's 1973 classic, Selling England by the Pound.  It's not natural, especially with Battle of Epping Forest, but it's tradition so we have to do it.

Throwing the Pumpkin - since we still unaccountably have some pumpkins left over from Samhain, we have the "throwing the pumpkin" competition. Although most marks are awarded for height and distance, you do get bonuses for landing them directly on some-one's head.

Going downhill in a bathtub In this of all years, to celebrate the passing of The Last of the Summer Wine, we will push the Oldest Man in the community downhill in a bathtub one extra time. Since it's dark, we will decorate the bathtub with sparklers. It looks lovely, although sometimes his bobble hat can catch fire. By the way - well done to Burk Kwouk on the OBE.

Rolling about talking gibberish - This tends to happen if we can't keep Hnaef away from the Waggle Dance.

Appling for Bob - we send Bob down the other end of the Orchard and then throw apples at him.  Bob is generally less keen on this than other members of the Community. But he lives with it because taking this part in affairs gets him out of the following tradition.....

...the choosing of the scapegoat - we look for someone a bit weird, ideally a bloke with an anorak, who's never had a proper girlfriend. Then we tell the Daily Mail where he lives. Conviction for something or another is almost inevitable before the next year's end.

Beaker Covenant Service - Cancelled

I'm sorry, but we're going to have to cancel the Beaker Covenant Service, which we had planned for New Year's Day.

Afraid the Worship Planning Group has decided there's nothing we can do with it. In tribute to my former experiences with the Extremely Primitive Methodists, I wanted to base our service on the Methodist Covenant Prayer (traditional version). I thought it would give me a nice, nostalgic feeling.

But the Worship Planning Group made so many changes in the interests of "bringing it up to date" and "making it real" that I don't think we can go forward with it.

For myself, I was concerned about "rank me with whom you will". I'm the blooming Archdruid, and I've got the hat and the house and everything. I'm not going to give up all the things that I've worked for (and many of the things that my ancestors acquired by various wrong-side-of-the-blanket liaisions) just for some start-of-the-year nostalgia.

Mr Woodhouse risked coming all the way out to the Moot House to tell us that he didn't like the sound of "put me to suffering", as that might be dangerous - and neither did Mrs Woodhouse, who was once again unable to join us due to a fit of the vapours.

Many were unhappy with the concept of being "employed by you",  the Divine being notoriously unlikely to respect the Working Hours Directive. While others were terrified by the thought of being "laid aside" as they wondered where they would find their worth in those circumstances. The idea of having "nothing" was regarded as scarily communistic.  And while our Folk frequently feel "empty", we prefer the concept of being able to fill up our spiritual tanks with convenient and efficient ceremonial - rather than being content with our lot.

And so the Beaker Covenant Prayer ended up as "Let me be full, let me have all things". Which I suppose summarises our position quite well, but to be honest I wouldn't like that to be the start-of-year ceremony.

So I guess we'll be letting off the fireworks instead, same as usual.

Thursday 30 December 2010

Good news to the People

Marjorie and I have a new evangelistic scheme! Oh my brethren (and suitably-chaperoned sisters) - this is sure to bring those who walk in darkness flocking back.

We have equipped Marjorie's Ford Focus with external loudspeakers connected to the car stereo. Instead of sullying this audioreprographic apparatus with the heathen "rock and roll", we remember who is the Rock and whose names are on the roll. And so by playing the King James Version of the Bible MP3 wherever we travel, we are equipped to bring light to the dark places - even unto the estates of Houghton Regis and Bletchley.

Being stuck in that traffic jam going towards Junction 11 of the M1 this morning was a perfect witnessing opportunity. As we played the people nearest us the complete Book of Numbers at full volume, I could see the sadness on people's faces as they realised just how far they had fallen. And as the traffic cleared and we all drove off each to our appointed destination, from the smiles in the cars nearest us I could see that they had realised the forgiveness they could receive, and were celebrating their new lives.

Elton, Christian "Voice", and the BBC

Pink News asks why the BBC got Stephen Green of Christian Voice to comment on the birth of Sir Elton John's baby.

The birth of a baby by surrogacy for a 62-year-old and a 48-year old does beg questions. But obviously in this case there's no real need to worry about whether either of Sir Elton or Mr Furnish would physically be able to bear the child at their age. And I don't want to dwell on the Mirror's interest in who was the "mother" and who the "father". That's really none of my business. I wonder whether, at 48 years of age the younger of the two, even Mr Furnish will suffer from the late nights - having relatives who didn't much enjoy the challenge of a loaded nappy at 2am when in their early 40s. But then he looks quite healthy for his age, and I'm sure they have "people" who can do the 2am calls if necessary.

But why did the BBC ask Stephen Green of Christian "Voice" to comment on this, when they wanted a "Christian" view? Surely not because there are hundreds of Anglican vicars who would have expressed joy that a child is born into this world - for surely all human life is a blessing, especially in its early years - and then muttered something about not being against gay people themselves?

The people commenting on the Pink News article seem to think that the BBC is showing itself to be anti-gay. The other possibility is that - showing  Stephen Green as the chosen Christian representative - the BBC are actually anti-Christian. For he doesn't do Christians any favour, and the BBC must know that Stephen Green will make anything else look more appealing than his own views.

Or maybe the BBC was choosing the most extreme person they could as a useful idiot, as that makes the
discussion easier. Human sexuality and reproduction are most complex and nuanced areas - so let's get in Christian "Voice" to give us the "Christian" view. We don't really understand religion anyway, so that should do.

It's a shame, being the holders of Dr Who's franchise as they are, that the BBC can't choose their representatives from all of time and space. Just imagine:

"And now to discuss the Pope's visit to Britain, we have Revd John Knox"
"Should the State subsidise the maintenance of listed religious buildings? We ask Stalin."
"Reform of Parliament? Guy Fawkes will be in our studio discussing the options."
"Over to Wallachia now, where Vlad the Impaler will be giving his views on immigration."
"A Europe of nations, or a super-state? We ask Julius Caesar where he stands."

Wednesday 29 December 2010

Single Transferable Loser

You know how it is. Christmas (as in the period from 1 December to Boxing Day) has come to an end. And you're left in "Christmas" (the period from 27 December to lunchtime on New Year's Eve). So yesterday evening, some of my friends and I got together, had a bottle of the Archdruid's favourite Beaker Mead, and played the game where you spin a bottle round, and whoever the bottle points at has to come up with a stupid idea.

This morning I woke up, thought about the ideas of last night, and realised that, without noticing at the time, we had in fact come up with a Think Tank. So we're calling it "Thinking" Beaker Folk.
The quote marks were the Archdruid's idea.

So today I'm glad to announce the following suggestion for improving the democratic process, and simultaneously reforming the House of Lords. I'm calling it "Single Transferable Loser".

Put simply, each constituency has an election the same as usual. And the winner, on the First Past The Post system, goes to the House of Commons to represent his or her constituency, just as they do now.

But the radical bit is - the second-ranking candidate in each constituency gets to go to the Upper House, the House of Lords having been abolished.

You see what that does? It achieves the following:
  • It provides a moderating influence on whoever wins - because if one party has a majority in the Commons (remember those?) they won't have one in the House of Seconds - by definition.
  • If there's a massive swing to the left-wing (or to libertarianism) - then by virtue of that swing, the House of Seconds will probably have gone the same way on the swing as well, reflecting the will of the people.
  • The people of the House of Seconds will be relatively whip-free - because they're losers, let's face it, and unlikely to be allowed to stand again.
  • The British like a plucky underdog, and they'll get the chance to be governed by a whole bunch of them.
  • Tactical voting will have less point - as if your choice doesn't get into the Commons, there's a good chance they'll get into the Seconds.
  • The country will be freed of another 650 politicians wandering the streets wondering what on earth they can do for a living. Let's face it, they're not up to much else other than being in Parliament.
  • Lord Sugar will be merely "that bloke off the Apprentice" again.
  • The Parliament Act will still apply, so the people we really wanted can still push through laws over the dead bodies of the Seconds if they have to.
I realise that in these circumstances the Seconds Chamber will be just as unpopulated with people who understand the real world and have had real jobs as the current House of Commons. So in addition to those elected on the Second Past the Post principle, we would "top up" the House of Seconds with the following, whom we would describe as "Talented People":
  • All Nobel Prize winners with British Citizenship
  • All living Sports Personalites of the Year
  • All winners of the Turner Prize
  • All winners of the X-factor

We feel in this way, expertise will be kept in the Second Chamber, and if bishops, friends of the Prime Minister or superannuated politicians wanted to be involved in politics, they could enter the X-factor just like everybody else.

For those who are interested in the numbers, the House of Seconds, excluding the Talented People, would look much as follows based on May's General Election figures:

Party Total
Blaenau Voice 1
Con 190
Green Belt 1
Ind 2
Ind CHC 1
Lab 149
Lab Co-op 10
LD 242
PC 6
Respect 1
SF 4
SNP 29
Grand Total 649

(numbers crunched from the Grauniad)

Archdruid Eileen draws the line at Frisians

I can tell Hnaef that until recently Peers could certainly be hired at very reasonable rates. But I don't know why Daphne's worrying about the geese.
In a panic over how long it would take to find those maids, he sent Marston off to obtain eight Friesians for them to milk. Instead, being differently-intelligent, Marston came back with a bunch of Frisians. The Community food budget is tight enough as it is, without having a bunch of Dutchmen eating us out of house and home.

Mrs Hnaef draws the line at geese

In an attempt to make up for the ... um ... marital differences that arose after what Young Keith is referring to as "Waggledance Night", I decided to let my romantic side show this Christmas. I don't often do this, as it has backfired in the past, but I was sure I was on safe ground this time. So, I checked my savings booklet, and on seeing it was fairly healthy-looking, bought Mrs Hnaef a tree for Christmas. It came with a small game bird. This went down rather well.
On the 26th, I followed up with 2 turtle doves. These were shooed outside, but seemed acceptable. Hens (even of a foreign nature) were allowed for the egg-laying capabilities they provide. The calling birds yesterday went down less well, but I'm planning to let them roost in the Moot House.
It was only _after_ she'd received the 5 gold rings this morning that Mrs Hnaef put her foot down. Apparently she doesn't want any more birds around the place: even geese (which I tried to explain make good guard-fowl). "And how much was it all going to cost?" she railed. "I dread to think how expensive those Lords a-leaping would be!"
I tried to explain that peers of the realm were cheaper than one expect, whereas finding maids around this part of the world was something of a challenge, but she was having none of it.
"Christmas stops here," she announced. And I acquiesced. I've found it's best, in the long run.
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As we settle down from the post-Yule frenzy and get seriously into contemplating the full 12 days of Christmas, this is a lovely quote on yet another blog of the often-productive and ever-interesting Yew Tree.  Few people have quite as many blogs, no matter how hard they try, and few occupy so many places on the blogroll when they get started.

Now, to the main business. I caught Daphne Hnaef trying to remove the Christmas Tree from the Refectory this morning on the grounds that "Christmas is over". Thankfully, it being rather a large tree, I heard the sound of the chains being attached to the JCB and nipped the removal in the bud.  I believe Hnaef himself has already been constrained to remove his own tree from the Deputy-Arch-Executive-Assistant-Druidical quarters. To make it quite clear, it is Christmas until 5 January. It ends no sooner, and no later, and is officially over when we burn the greenery on Twelfth Night. This is not some made-up, post-modern consumerist spirituality we're peddling here: some of our traditions go back literally years.

Monday 27 December 2010

It's the Neanderthals

Once again all the news is of Neanderthals. And not surprisingly, if they were as friendly as this Guardniuand picture suggests. But then, with his healthy mixed diet of beans and Home Sapiens, I'm sure he had a healthy bowel function which would have contributed to general all-round happiness.

A less friendly side of the Neanderthals is revealed in this article, where it turns out that a bunch of Neanderthals may have eaten some of their hairy mates.

This article tells us that Neanderthals mated with Homo Sapiens. Which is odd, because this article had previously told us that they didn't.

Maybe Neanderthals for us occupy the niche that goblins did a few hundred years ago. Mischievous, lurking in the darkness, occasionally stealing Homo Sapiens children, occasionally mating with a modern human. Or maybe the goblins were shorthand for our race memories of our hairy, bigger-brained cousins? It's hard to know. But I'll check the window locks tonight, just in case a few are lurking on the M1 hard shoulder under the new A421 flyover.

Don't have nightmares.

15 film meme

Of the making of memes there is no end.

And so, inspired by Sam and Phil and Doug:

1. Far from the Madding Crowd (Julie Christie version)
2. The Lord of the Rings (all of them)
3. The Italian Job
4. The Blues Brothers
5. Charlotte's Web (1973 version)
6. The Mission
7. Monty Python's Life of Brian
8. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
9. O Brother Where Art Thou?
10. Toy Story (1)
11. Gremlins (2)
12. Drowning by Numbers
13. Dark Star
14. Tess
15. This is Spinal Tap

And there was no-one left to tag.

Atheism is boring

I have previously used comments on atheism to express the belief that they are people too, and assert that the Nazis were not atheists, as some erroneously claim.
And in the past I have occasionally strayed onto and read articles - and made the occasional comment on - blogs of some atheists where we can find comments that are not flecked with the spittle of hate and pointless rage. For good-humoured and intelligent atheists do actually exist.

But I've realised that I've not bothered looking for quite a while. And I think that the reason is that they are just boring in the end.

Sure, there are plenty of atheist comedians out there.  I heard one last week, on Radio 5 I believe, telling us all that his wish was that his (believing) father would die an atheist. And I wondered what kind of achievement that would actually be. And wondered whether that was actually atheist evangelism as a form of the Oedipus complex. But it's kind of symptomatic of the atheism we hear in the media. A kind of intellectual parasitism - a creed that consists entirely of negatives. Of course, that means atheist comedy can be funny, but it can only be funny as long as religion exists. After which it would be... well, just empty.

Reflecting on the absurdities of religion is terrific. I do it occasionally, I am told, myself. But the reason it is fun, is because religion is actually interesting. Take Neo-paganism:  like neo-Celtic Christianity it has largely been invented over the last fifty years. It's based on wishful thinking and a deliberate re-creation of an imaginary past. It is a lovely target for satire. And it's still more interesting than atheism.

I guess it's because atheism, of itself, has nothing.  Let us take science, for science is often held up in opposition to religion.  Science is brilliant, science is scary, science opens up all kinds of avenues into great things we can do with the world. And begs all sorts of questions. Last week the Large Hadron Collider captured anti-hydrogen for the first time. Or so they say - I've not seen the pictures yet. And it asks all sorts of questions - not least what was the point? But it's fascinating stuff. And it's fascinating whether you have faith or not. In fact, it's probably more fascinating if you do have faith. Because questions about the origin of the universe - about sexual ethics - about the morality of the latest big, scary bomb - we can ask these questions and reflect on them in the light of our founding texts, of the nature of the God, god or gods we believe in (or not, if you're certain kinds of Buddhist). And then we can still follow the experiment through to see what happens next. The world is even more colourful, more rounded, more interesting.

Traditional Boxing Day - or not - Activities

Normally after a long period of "religious relaxation" like the last two days, the Beaker People would be too busy avoiding daylight and sudden sounds to get too over-excited on theological matters.

But because yesterday was Sunday, and the day before that Christmas Day, instead there's all sorts of controversy going on.

Drayton Parslow turned up this morning carrying a football and asking if everyone was ready for the traditional Boxing Day football match. We told him that the football match was played yesterday, that after 90 minutes were up they buried the dead and delivered the critically injured to MK General, and could he clear off? But Drayton, who for reasons we can't quite comprehend has turned up in Hunting Pink, responded by charging down the upper floors where many Beaker Folk were still softly sleeping, blowing a hunting horn and shouting "Tally Ho".

With a group of tired and hungover Beaker People now threatening to amend the tradition and hunt Drayton across the fields and hedges of Central Bedfordshire, I was forced to call an Emergency Mini-Moot.  This in itself took a while to arrange, as Burton Dasset ploughed through the Greate Booke of Rules to work out if Emergency Mini-Moots are allowed on the feasts of apostles. He pointed out that there was nothing in the Booke to say we were allowed. We pointed out there was no mention, anywhere in the book, of us not being allowed. In which case, said Burton, whether we can hold an Emergency Mini-Moot is critically dependent on whether we adopt an Æquiprobabilist or Probabiliorist attitude towards the holding of Emergency Mini-Moots.
In the end we tied Burton up and left him in the Refectory while we got on with things.

So the question was - is today Boxing Day, as Drayton claimed, or is it "The Monday off after Christmas", as others claimed?
In the "today is not Boxing Day" corner, Marston alleged that Boxing Day is always the Feast of Stephen, and since that's never transferred from Sunday, today is therefore, being St John not the Baptist's Day, not Boxing Day.
But Drayton's argument was that Boxing Day is the traditional day for post-Christmas sports. Yesterday being a Sabbath day, when football, boxing, hunting and cricket are all forbidden to gentle Christian folk, today must surely be Boxing Day. Most people just asked us to get a move on so they could all go back to bed.

In the end there was nothing for it but to refer to the Even Biggere Webbe Page of Rules, i.e. Wikipedia.
This told us that today is the Statutory Holiday for Christmas Day, and tomorrow is the Statutory Holiday Boxing for Boxing Day. So we were all wrong.

Since today turns out to be a Statutory Holiday, several of the more activist Beaker Folk have now gone off to make Tory Statues as a traditional activity. We'll be pushing the statues off the roof of the Moot House later. Meanwhile Drayton has gone off in a huff to try and find a fox to chase around. He's not using any hounds, and he's unlikely to catch one, so we're pretty sure he's not breaking the law.

With thanks to @kneewax for the inspiration.

Sunday 26 December 2010


Quite an evening, and an early finish, for the Christmas Day Disco last night.

It seems the choice of music was the main problem. Many were expecting a nice candlelit Ceiidh in the Big Barn. Instead of which, Young Keith booked MC Ange from Luton.

Marston in particular was expecting some nice Irish music. And he didn't like it when presented with a load of tracks about hard life on the streets of Luton, of a variety that is apparently called "Stopsley Hip Hop". A heated argument ensued, and being a Lutoner of short temper, MC Ange tried to lump Marston. She missed and instead upset a tray of tea lights and essential oils onto one of the hay bales that were being used as seats.

As the Big Barn leapt into flame, there was an orderly evacuation. However in rescuing what I think are called her "decks", Ange suffered some minor charring. In order to prevent her actually catching fire some folk threw beakers of water from the holy well over her.

I missed all these events, liking to leave this kind of action to the younger dudes. However when she was brought round to see me,  she seemed quite well. In fact she said that, although still cold and wet, she felt spiritually uplifted by the holy water and the prayers, and the laying-on of hands that some spiritually minded but impractical folk had offered for her instead of getting her a towel. And she said she was sorry that the Great Barn was no more.

"Oh," I said, "did you - burn down the disco, Ange the blessed DJ?

Saturday 25 December 2010

Drayton Parslow's Christmas Message

And so, as Christmas so often does, it causes me to look back over the year. And an interesting one it has been.

After the unexpected disappearance of Eileen and the Hnaefs, I spent a while trying to persuade the Beaker People that remained to give up their neo-pagan, pseudo-Christian ways and forswear tea lights, tear down the idols in the Moot Hall and join me in embracing the Protestant faith.
What a failure. Indeed I failed as did Orwulf the Baptist when he challenged the Amersham Anglicans to a "who has the biggest miracles" competition in 1687. His prayers totally failed to cause porridge to fall from the sky, and only a rapid disappearance in the direction of the Chalfonts, where they believe in that kind of thing, saved him from a watery martyrdom.

But setting my face like flint, I made the journey to Frisby-on-Soar where I became Baptist pastor. Truly the happiest days of my life. The successful "Baptibus" campaign, where we scoured the highways and byways of Leicestershire in search of the fallen to bring into the Kingdom (I know the original Biblical image is of a feast, but I shy away from the image, containing as it does the implication that God may like fun).
And then happiest of all when Marjorie returned to me.

But truly, what God gives he takes away. And after a mistake over the zoology of 8th Century BC Judah, I found myself on my way. The Frisby Baptists brook no dissent. Or, to be more accurate, they're quite fond of dissent. It's heresy and heretics they despise. But Eileen, to give her her due, has been very kind and let me rent a room and the Chapel at very reasonable rates. With my new congregation of funambulist fundamentalist Baptists, I've a new mission and new hope.

And today, of all days.  I have a new gift to celebrate. Marjorie's term as pastor of Frisby Independent Baptists has come to an end. Apparently in her Christmas sermon this morning she suggested that avarice and gluttony are just as sinful as sexual sins - even as much as sexual sins that other people know about. And lacking any biblical evidence to prove her wrong, instead they latched onto the fact that no woman should speak or teach in church. They seem to have overlooked her gender just as long as she was not upsetting her.

So Marjorie is back, it is Christmas Day. I believe I may open a low-calorie bottle of non-alcoholic Irn Bru to celebrate. A happy Christmas to you all. Even the Frisby Baptists.

Merry Christmas from the Hnaefs

Peace and goodwill to all.
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Christmas Day

If you're reading this on Christmas Day, you've probably finished your dinner, watched the Queen on telly (if you're British and that's your tradition), then realised that, after the pud and the wine and the rest, you want away from the family for a while. If so - go and have that game of charades / watch the TV special / eat a turkey sandwich. You know you want to.
Or you're a panicking American pastor needing to find a sermon, and googling in a hurry. God bless, and I hope it goes well. I always think that "the light shineth in the darkness" is the way to go.

The Community is closed today. Normal service will be resumed shortly. But have a blessed Christmas.

Friday 24 December 2010

A poem for Christmas Eve

It is only today that I have felt a pang of nostalgia for those happy days we spent in Victorian Wessex. It seems like only last summer, and yet it was 162 years ago. Two whole generations have passed since we organised the well-attended "Three Village Idiots" performance of Nessun Dorma.

I remember young Tommy Hardy telling me about how he celebrated the traditional Victorian Christmas. On a snowy Christmas Eve - such as this one, indeed - the whole family would gather round a log fire and lose its faith. It was a simpler, more optimistic time.

Hardy wrote this poem in 1915 - a much less simple time - when faith in Progress was lost just as much as faith in God. And in many ways I feel it explains the Beaker religious philosophy.

Happy Christmas, and Gord bless us one an' all.


Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Eastenders' Carol Service

I'm afraid today's Eastenders' Carol Service has been cancelled.

Terms such as "Goodwill and glad tidings of great joy" and "as with gladness" were regarded as clearly ridiculous. And there was no way I was using the expression "we're bang out of order" as a replacement for "we have done those things we ought to have left undone".

Thursday 23 December 2010

A Christmas SatRev

A little surprising this - or maybe not.

We used the "Satrev" technology to track a rural vicar as he went between his six churches' carol and Christingle services, eight school carol concerts, three nursing homes, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
And it came out looking just like the Star of Bethlehem! Who would have thought it?

The bad news for the vicar is that he's the kind that doesn't like to let people down. So as all his churches want a Midnight Mass, same as every year, he's taking a service starting on the hour, every hour from 8pm on Christmas Eve till 1am on Christmas Day. And then starting again at 7am for another six Christmas Morning services. In normal years the good news would be then he'd have a day or two off. But not this year. Oh, no. This year there's just the six Sunday Morning services as well, although only two churches still demand evensong. So he's got off a little lightly, when you think about it.

Thought for the day - from St John of Kanty

"Fight all error, but do it with good humour, patience, kindness, and love. Harshness will damage your own soul and spoil the best cause."

St John of Kanty, feast day 23 December. Patron saint of people who are unjustly fired.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

The secret of Ed

Speaking as the former Minister for Unnecessary Spending - a post I had to rescind when I took the Chiltern Hundreds due to my non-membership of either Conservative or Lib Dem parties came to light...

I've been watching Ed Mililband very closely up to the point when I was removed from the House. And I've been pondering ever since. And now, having run his voice through a digital analyser and his facial expressions likewise, I've realised what the problem is.
When you listen to his voice, and you look at him - it's obvious once you know. Either because he promised his mum he'd be tidy, or because his partner has "explained" to him that he is going to change that certificate whether he likes it or not - don't you think maybe his tie is just a little bit too tight?


In the beginning, God created a universe so scary, stars must die screaming to make enough heavy elements to make just one small world.

And a world so scary, making the ingredients of life requires the kind of earthquakes and volcanoes that can destroy it.

And a bunch of people that just can't stop doing bad stuff, no matter how hard they try to do good stuff.

So maybe there's a kind of circularity there. Maybe it's the kind of universe where God has to take on those fragile elements, and be born into that scary world, and die, to know what it's like to live in the universe he made.

Hang onto the myrrh, Baby Jesus.


I have been pondering more theological issues, and have carried out some careful studies. I have a number of clockwork mechanisms, including 2 watches, 1 wind-up mouse, 1 clockwork truck and a comedy clown that has given me intermittent nightmares since my 3rd birthday. I also found a kitchen timer, and was about to borrow this when Mrs Hnaef, pouring herself a cherry brandy, made it clear that it was needed if we were to enjoy any desserts this Christmas. I quickly withdrew from her domain and retreated to my study to carry out my experimentation.

The outcome of my theological deliberations is that the the time of today's sunrise may well only have been predictable to within 3-15% accuracy (or 35-80%, if I was supposed to carry the 7 on the 2nd line). More worrying, if the clockwork predictability of the sunrise is based on clown clockwork, not only may the sun not have risen at all (due to a frenzied attack with a toy cricket bat around my 9th birthday), but it may also have been accompanied by Common Entrance examinations carried out with no clothes on, except a poorly tied dayboy prefect tie, or severe beatings carried out by clangers bearing the visage of our Archdruid.

I am making my way forthwith to present my findings directly to the Archdruid.
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The sun often rises

And so the solstice comes to an end. Oh the relief among the more excitable and less scientific as the world span once more into half-light this morning while we stared, freezing cold, towards the north-east.

You know it's a kind of miracle, even though you know it will happen. The world turns, and it orbits the sun.  And its axis is at an angle and it wobbles. And the days shorten and the nights grow cold. And then the days lengthen and the world grows warm. It's prosaic, it's predictable, it's as regular as clockwork. And yet it gets you there. Every day the sun rises again, as the earth and sun obey the laws of gravity that we can only describe and can't really explain. It's a bloody wonder.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Moved sideways to where he started from

Oh dear, it would appear that Hnaef's adventures on Saturday night were more disturbing than we originally thought.

A recording has come into my hands, courtesy of the Husborne Crawley Free Advertiser ("All the Husborne News" - circulation 6). It turns out that on Saturday night, under the influence of Waggle Dance and in the belief that he was going to be Archdruid of Bingley, Hnaef informed their reporter that "I've declared war on the Archdruid. She doesn't preeshate me. I'm so important I can bring down the Moot House."

What to do? Obviously in ordinary circumstances I would immediately sack Hnaef - an ironic action, since for reasons we still don't understand he seems to have been dressed as Santa Claus and "the sack" was what he started with. But the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley are a delicate coalition of freaks, losers, wannabe-mystics and power-crazed money-grabbers. To sack a representative of the former groups could destabilise the Moot House, and cause all the freaks and mystics to leave. And I want the money and power.  On the other hand, I can't allow Hnaef to continue to run the politically-sensitive Newspaper-Purchasing Committee. We all know how fraught newspaper purchasing can be in a community such as this.

I have decided to take firm action. Hnaef can keep his job, but from now on Marston will go out and buy the paper. I'm not trusting it to Daphne. Anyone who thinks Liza Minelli can hold a candle to Kirsty can't be given the important job of whether to buy the Telegraph or the Telegraph.

Good and bad news on the Moon Gibbon

Well, quite a Solstice, all things considered. So far, remembering it's not actually solstice till round about midnight and so we're going to have to get up tomorrow and do it all again. But tonight's "Darkness fear" was very moving. Indeed, some of the more impressionable Beaker People are still quivering with terror under the chairs in the Moot House.

As to the Lunar eclipse: the layer of white cloud prevented us seeing the colour of the moon, blood red or otherwise. And that kept the Moon Gibbon folk quite calm. I thought I'd calmed their fears that the Moon Gibbon, enraged, was causing the moon to run red with clanger blood.
And then I came out for a tour of the grounds round about 9am, to find a dead clanger laying on the ground. I got the wombles to bury it, which had a good side - it kept the news from the Moon Gibbon people - and a bad side. The bad side being that the wombles have declared war on the Moon Gibbon, and are trying to gather enough litter to build a rocket. My "non-existence" line on the Moon Gibbon is starting to look a little shaky.

doubting daphne

I have been reflecting on our veneration of the sainted Kirsty McColl. I am wondering if there is a Third Way. The words of both Alison Moyet and Liza Minelli have been speaking to me. I must speak to the Archdruid about my spiritual needs as I'm not sure they can be met in the normal way. Maybe I need a Flying Druid to minister to me.
These doubts remind me that as a woman, I am a weaker vessel (so if not a Beaker - I must be a party or vending cup).
Even Mr Hnaef is having doubts - I heard him say 'we must get hold of some Bryan Ferry.'
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More on "Q"

Young Keith has been explaining to me about Burton's discovery of "Q". I have had good opportunity to do a fair amount of research on this matter, given my restriction to "within 200 yards of the house, and that's only to put out the bins or de-ice the car", and have discovered the existence of of a related "M". It turns out that "M" was actually based on "C", the original head of what is now known as MI5. Sometimes it's good to have the chance to use my investigative expertise to good use, and I will be asking the Archdruid whether I may have a speaking slot at a forthcoming meeting, to further the understanding of the community. I'm planning a fairly short slot of around 90 minutes on this occasion.
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Winter Solstice

It's the shortest day of the year, when earth stands hard as iron and the sun sulks away below the horizon like a teenager disappearing into the bathroom for a 3-hour spot-squeezing session.

If you get a move on you've still time to get down to Husborne Crawley to join us in the Act of Darkness Fear.
Unless you've found this posting some time next year, in a Google search for "Gibbon Moon" or "Hitler's Underpants" or "Water Polo in East Grinstead", in which case it's probably far too late by now. Or unless you live in Fiji, where the concept of "Solstice" isn't terribly important at the best of times.

If you listen very carefully you can probably hear the sound of the Gibbon Moon Folk screaming. Try to pay no attention. They're always like that at Lunar Eclipse, and it's not even started yet. I'm just glad we only get one every few years. If we had one every month they'd be intolerable, whereas generally they're just unbearable.
On an unrelated matter, some people have been asking how my part-time degree in empathy and motivational engagement went at Cranfield University. Well, they said the lecturer got depressed because I kept telling him what a twit he was. So the bad news is, I've been taken off the course. But the good news is that they gave me the degree anyway, to stop me throwing any more books at him.

Monday 20 December 2010

"Q" and the Christmas Donkey

Dear Readers, I'm quite excited.
Although the Archdruid often claims to understand these things, I was previously unaware of the concept of "Q", the potential common source of material that can be found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke but not of Mark. But now reading Clayboy's revisiting of "Q" I am inspired. Is it possible that the Christmas Donkey - and possibly even the Little Drummer Boy and Chris de Burgh's "Spaceman came travelling", for that matter - were in Q, but Matthew and Luke both took the decision to excise them for the purposes of space? It would be a neat solution to the conundrum, and would suggest that "Q" is in fact a common source for three traditional and annoying Christmas songs, as well as two gospels.

Lunar Eclipse Total Gibbon Melt-down

Much stress among the Moon Gibbon people as they prepare for tomorrow morning's lunar eclipse. And it's not like I've not worked hard here. I've been telling them all about it for weeks.

It's a really odd thing. I've told them it's all a matter of physics and numbers. Very rational. I've drawn them diagrams of the moon and the earth and the sun, and how they all relate. I've explained all about the plane of the ecliptic. I've told them how light is refracted. I've explained how red light scatters a little and blue a lot, so only the red light gets to the moon.

And do you know what? They hear the words "red" and "moon", they decide that this is because it is going to run with the blood of 1,000 clangers, and they run around screaming.

So I wait till they calm down. It normally takes about three days. And then I say to them, listen. This isn't a matter of mythology - it's science. The maths is proven. This is why we can calculate it in advance. It's not a shock when it happens. It's not turning to blood. I can tell you, through my calculations, that it's going to be tomorrow morning.  And then they call me a prophet. But even if they think I'm a prophet they won't really listen to me. And then they start running around screaming again.

They're out in the doily shed at the moment, building themselves a fallout shelter while wearing hard hats and knee pads. They say if the great Lunar War breaks out, and the Moon Gibbon starts throwing dead clangers about the place, it's best to make sure you're well protected.

A moving experience

That was a very moving rendition of "Walking in the air" Marston sang this afternoon.
Indeed, I moved all the way to Milton Keynes for a couple of hours to appreciate it better.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Sermon on the Magnificat

First of all, my tightrope-walking flock, I would like to apologise for using the word "Magnificat". A Latin word, and that is not a language we would generally wish to hear spoken in a church of the Reformed and Baptist traditions. Indeed, in the little patch of garden I have been allocated I have carefully translated all Latin plant names into New Testament Greek to ensure I fall not into the temptation of being baptised in the Tiber.

But that is the word by which this particular text is generally known, and I will face the use of the language this once. But of course our text today is of particular awkwardness, and I will attempt now to face it.

Firstly we have the dilemma of how we receive this text at all. For after all these are the words that were uttered, let us face it, by a woman. And we have long rejected the teaching of women in our congregations.  So how do we hear these words?  I think there are two mitigating features here. The first is that, of course, the text was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Although that now leads us into further dilemma - for if that is the case, how would we regard the teaching of a woman in our midst that claims to be inspired by the Spirit? But I think that we can be re-assured by the knowledge that the actual words we read here were written by a man - that is, the good surgeon Luke. And he will have remedied any minor theological defects or terminological inexactitudes from what was originally uttered, and converted it into inspired and mellifluous Greek.

Then we have the next issue - that all generations will call Mary "blessed". Which of course is true. She was blessed by God. Blessed to carry God's son. But just because she was called Mary, blessed and had not known a man, I see no reason to describe her as "The Blessed Virgin Mary". Simply to have been the provider of human nature to Our Lord, the one who brought him into the world, and the one who brought him up, does not in any way imply that she had any special importance. I think the best thing we can do here, as I know you have done for so long in the Independent Funambulist Baptists' Church, is move along quickly and not delve too deeply into these questions.

But now let us move onto the words that follow. The ones that are liable to cause even more concern to those of faint heart and shallow faith.

"He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats,and exalted them of low degree."

And to some - such as the "Archdruid" of the Community next door, who will hear apocalyptic in any reading of any part of Holy Scripture - or even Thomas Hardy novels, so dedicated is she to the overthrow of all things godly - this is a prophecy of the future. She sees the day when all unfair tyranny and unjust economic structures - apart from her own, I hasten to add - will be overthrown.

But how blind could one be? For behold, these words of the Blessed Surgeon, tidied up from Mary's original song, are in the past tense. The throwing down and raising up have already happened. The new order has - to a large extent - come in. The comfortable economic position in which we currently live is the blessing God has bestowed upon us for our holy, capitalist, free-enterprise spirits. But not so - you will notice - the Catholic Irish, who ran away to the foreign gods of Economic Monetary Union - flagged, you will notice, with an emblem of 12 stars. And truly they are now punished, unable even to buy a pint of Guinness to cry into.

So rejoice, brethren, and be exalted. For truly we the humble have been lifted up, and the oppressors and ungodly have been cast down. And so will it be until the End.

Now let us forget this awkward little reading as we climb upon our tightropes once more, to sing "Nearer my God to thee".

The Inevitable Nativity Play

In line with post-modern practice, we encouraged all the little children of the Beaker Community to attend as whichever character from the Nativity they wanted to be, for our "Nativity from Scratch". We love this kind of make-it-up-as-you-go-along, random informality. We counted without Beaker children. Or maybe it was just a bad throw of the statistical dice.

No shepherds. Not after those chants last year. Three wise women. No wise men, obviously. Not round here. No Marys. Who wants to try and live up to Mary? Three Josephs, all played by girls. Two wolves. One Herod, but little Arnulf insisted on playing him as a  tortured, ambivalent soul who actually quite likes children but thinks a Messiah will cause rioting on the streets of Jerusalem. The normal collection of animals, of course. A horse, a rabbit, a few chickens - who sells chicken costumes? - an ent and a zebra. Just what you'd expect in a turn-of-the-millennium Jewish stable.  Still, full marks to the narrator, Young Keith, for improvisation.

[Young Keith]: And it came to pass, in the time of Emperor August, when Qui-.. Qui... Quiribilus... some bloke was governor of Syria, that an edict was sent out that everybody should go up to their dad's city to register at a census.
And Joseph was a carpenter in Nazareth. And he took his two wolves up to Bethlehem to be registered, as otherwise the Old Testament would be wrong.

And when they came to Bethlehem, his wife Mary, who you can't see at the moment, had a baby. And they called him Jesus. And they laid him in a  manger. And the wolves protected him. In fact, they ate the other animals in the stable [fight breaks out]. And the chickens.... oo, the chickens beat up the wolves! Who would have thought that?

And there were zebras abiding in the hills. And a host of.. smurfs? Who booked the smurfs? Where are the angels? OK, OK, smurfs. A host of smurfs appeared to them, and told them there was gnus of great joy. And the gnus and the zebras went down and found the stable. And the chickens... oo, the chickens beat up the zebras as well. You don't mess with those chickens, do you?

And there were wise women a-dwelling in the woods.  And they saw a star - which looked rather like Hnaef's laser pointer - which led them towards Bethlehem. But they took a wrong turning on the Jerusalem ring road, and went to ask Herod for directions. And Herod told them he didn't like their tattoos very much, and their so-called spells were rubbish. But he was most concerned when he heard about the new king.

[Herod] To be, or not to be? Is that a question? Whether tis nobler in the mind to put armed police on the streets to cope with rebelling students, demanding that there's a new king in town? Or should I send the boys round to Bethlehem? And yet will I not go down to posterity as a man who, thinking he was doing right, was in fact a monster? I HOPE YOU'RE LISTENING, CAMERON!

[Young Keith] But the chickens and all the Josephs and Jesus went down to Egypt, where there were plagues of frogs.  But Herod applied for an extradition, and Joseph was locked up. But due to a clever lawyer and a denial-of-service attack on the pyramids, the Egyptians eventually let him out. So Herod invaded.

And Herod and his plague of frogs fought against Joseph and his chickens, in the kind of Apocalyptic event you don't expect to find in Nativity stories, apart from the one in Revelation 12. And Joseph and the chickens beat Herod and the frogs.  So Joseph and his wife (who you can't see at the moment) and all the chickens and the little baby Jesus could go back and live in Nazareth, which is a kind of anti-climax unless you read through to the end of the story. The end.

Father Christmas has landed

I've been searching everywhere for Hnaef. Thank goodness we've found him. I was getting really worried - we needed his laser-pointer for the Beaker Nativity.

I assume he fell asleep watching the Ashes in the Room of Viewing while dressed as Santa Claus. I've no idea what he's been up to, although Drayton reported seeing Santa Claus fall off the chapel roof last night. I need to apologise to Drayton, as I told him he must have imagined it and it was probably Take That.

Mr Hnaef has not come home

Mrs Hnaef
Mr Hnaef is still checked in at the White Horse and certainly has not checked in at home (or I would have noticed).
I'm sure he has just fallen into a state of rapture after Tea Light Contemplation and not fallen into a snow drift.
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Saturday 18 December 2010

Reading the signs of the times

Often times it is when we least expect it that we see something in a new way. Take today, for example. It was not a deal of snow that we received, but enough for me to realise how truly my sins are washed away, until they are as white as the very snow. 

But in search of clarity of mind, I counted the cold as a blessing and went out for a constitutional after lunch.And I saw this.

I think it may be some kind of a sign.

Noone preshiates me

Keith's nice. He's friendly. But he doesn't preshiate me. Dafvffn. Daaffnee. Daphphn. Mrs Hnaef doesn't preshiate me either.

M going to Bradford. That's what m going to do. To Bradford. Slike a bard with a ford, and bards are Beakerish. M only a chief assistant to the Archdruid here, but I could have my own Moooot Howse! My own one! There's a druid-sship there, n I think I'd be good druid. Brrilliant! Could have my own tea lights. N pebbles. No stupid, stupid reindeer to cleen. An tea lights. Have beakers, of course. Must have beakers. N tea lights. Tea lights.

But then, was does Keith say? What does he say? What? I'll tell you. What did he say again? He said something bout it.

Yes. I 'member. He says 'sno point going to Bradford, coz they're knocking it down. No. Not knocking it down. They're mangling it. Amangling it. Amalgamamting it. Joining it with a the other part of Yorkshire. The west part. Or the north part. S if there wasn't enough Yorkshire anyway. There won't be a Moot House in Bradford. Just one somweher else. So why to go Bradford?

But if I want to be my own druid, n my own Moot House, I can be a druid in Bradford if I want. N I don't have to ask Davnee. Daafffnn. Daffkne. Mrs Hnaef. M going on my own. Just need another beer furst. Let them try'n malgamate me!

Check-in at the White Horse

Young Keith
Young Keith just checked in at the White Horse.

Noticed Hnaef behaving very strangely, and wandering from hedgerow to hedgerow, as if looking for flowers. And buzzing to himself. Guided him to the White Horse in an attempt to get him out of the cold. He's refusing to drink anything but Wells' & Young's "Waggle Dance". Through a straw. Something about a proboscis. Am so worried about him I considered calling Mrs Hnaef. Then thought better of it.

Check in at the White Horse

White Horse
Hnaef just checked in at White Horse. Hnaef is now Mayor of the White Horse.

Ever decreasing circles

I've no idea what's going on with Hnaef.

I just had a little nap after our six-hour Kirstython. Dancing's great - but in these shoes? And when I came back out I found Hnaef in the Moot House walking round in a complex geometric formation. He told me that Daphne had him lay a load of tealights out in "a symbol of the universal pentecostical hexagon". Then he had to follow the paths through the labyrinth. Which was supposed to give him "a sense of one-ness".
One-ness with what, Hnaef couldn't actually tell me. But it seems to me that he's achieved one-ness with bee-kind. Maybe it was the waggle-dance itself, maybe the smell of burning beeswax. But he ended up thinking he was a bee. Daphne has remarked in the past that he's a bit of a drone, but this probably isn't what she was planning to achieve.
Anyway, he's buzzed off now, leaving just a pool of melted wax on the floor of the Moot House and a vague smell of honey.

Mrs Hnaef (again)

I have become increasingly concerned about Mr Hnaef's FourSquare activity - so I've had him light numerous beeswax tealights in ritual formation to remind him of the True Meaning of this time. Mayorships are meaningless - the ability to sort and arrange tea lights - priceless.
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Mrs Hnaef Makes Her Debut

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10 years

Shall I explain away my life again? 
Well it seems to me it's too far gone
To wonder where it all went wrong
I get up and I get down but I get there on my own
And I'm feeling my way
I look left and I look right and I cross this road alone
'cos I'm feeling my way home

Kirsty MacColl 

10 October 1959 – 18 December 2000

Friday 17 December 2010

Tea light theology

I realised the other day that I only occasionally refer, as it were with a glancing glance, to the theology of tea lights. Yet they are an important part of the ethos of the Beaker People and worthy of consideration.

I suppose in many ways the tea light is a paradigm of modern spirituality. I often draw the analogy to the Anglican communion wafer, or a Methodist communion glass. The wonders of industrialisation meant these small, identical tokens of spiritual refreshment could be made - and the cult of individualism made them desirable. That's your spiritual moment. No-one else's. They can get their own, just like your own. After all, they come in bags of 50.

A tea light is not morally demanding. It does not ask you to examine yourself. And, let's face it, by the light of a tea light it would be terribly tricky to examine anything. No, rather through using a tea light you provide yourself with the illusion of light, while at the same time actually allowing the dust in the darker corners to be obscured.

But it gives you the sense of something. Just a light shining in the darkness. A brave little tea light. Your own little light of yours, you're gonna let it shine. Giving comfort. Giving hope. Giving a focus. Giving, if you buy the right scented variety, a lovely Christmassy smell around the place.

Sure, it's all about you. But then if religion isn't about making yourself feel better, what's it there for?

There's no progress with a tea light. It can't move you, like poetry. It can't inspire you, like the prophets. It can't challenge you, like John the Baptist. It's just what it is. And you can be just who you are. Not becoming, not growing, not changing, not moving. Just being. Bit of Enya, you could be in a dull little suburban heaven, no threat to anyone.

Go on.  You know you want to.

Motorway Signs - Nannied while we drive

It's one of the things that annoy me most. Apart from Drayton Parslow. He annoys me most. And John Prescott. He annoys me most as well. And the way Take That turned up singing "Relight my fire" while we were trying to re-start the Eternal Flame this morning. That was really annoying.

But then there's those dot matrix motorway signs. The debris of a political elite that decided they needed the ability to tell us what to do, at all times.

Now don't get me wrong. In theory they're a good thing. If the messages tell you there may be trouble ahead, all well and good. You like to know. If the M1 signs say "Don't short-cut through Dunstable. It won't help", that would be paying for itself big style.

But mostly they just nag you. "Don't drink and drive". "Keep your distance". It's like the politariat hated the relative freedom we enjoy in motor vehicles, and decided to invade them as well. And yet they've gone further. There are some crimes - like speeding, or drink-driving, or smoking in public buildings - that the Government feels the need to tell us not to do. While other crimes - as it might be murder, or arson, or piracy - we never see a sign. When did you last go for a walk in the countryside and see a sign saying "please do not build an unauthorised housing estate in this field?

Yesterday afternoon, while Hnaef was busy checking himself in and out of the Moot House to make himself Mayor, I had reason to visit a small group, the Windmill Hill People of Wokingham. Coming back home up the M40 (I like to cut across from Bicester, for sentimental reasons, and there's roadworks on the M1) we could have done with signs saying "Don't be a prat. Slow down, it's snowing." But no, nothing that useful. Even though all around me people were smacking into the central reservation.  It did strike me that if all they're doing is freelance nagging, rather than more useful information spreading, then they could be making a few quid for the economy by renting them out instead. That stretch of the M40, for example. It could be let to local curate Revd Lesley. Just imagine the effect of coming out of the Ridgeway Cutting at Stokenchurch to see the message "No to the Covenant".

Alternatively the signs could be given over to metaphysical conundrums, such as "Is this a sign?" or "What's driving *you*?"  Or difficult multiplication sums, to keep drivers' brains alert as they're driving through the tediosity of the midlands motorway system. Or almost anything. But not "Stay awake". I know that's the idea. Give me the means to do it, not the general advice. That's all I ask.

Picture of obvious, pointless sign from Daily Telegraph.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Take That Re-union Tour

It was nice to see Take That this afternoon.
It was nice.
It was just strange that they were performing in the garage.

Then we went out to the Orchard, for the "Very Quick Filling-up of Beakers before they fill with snow or freeze". And who were singing "Shame"? Take That.

And then an hour later we sent Hnaef to put out the milk bottles. Obviously, that takes a while. What with the people with lactose intolerance. And the people with goats' milk intolerance. And the people that demand skimmed. Or full-fat. Or those strange people that swear by semi-skimmed. I mean, how odd is that? You want less fat - but not quite no fat. Just a bit of. Sorry, lost the track for a moment there. So anyway, Hnaef goes out with the bottles, and what does he find?
That's right. Take That, performing on the doorstep.

Heard screaming from the Safari Park later.  Marston nipped up a ladder and looked over the wall. Who did he see exiting, pursued by wolves? You guessed it.

It's not that I'm complaining. OK. It is that I'm complaining. Everywhere I go I see Take That. It's like those people that claim they've seen Jesus in a slice of toast, or a tree-stump or the condensation on a window. Except every time we look more closely, it really is Robbie, Jason and all the rest.

I'm holding a special prayer meeting tomorrow morning. We're taking lots of pebbles. And if Take That turn out to be the choir, we'll all know what to do.

The Mayor of all he surveys

I've been following Hnaef's progress around Husborne Crawley with a great deal of interest over the last couple of days.

And I can't help noticing that two places he has totally failed to "check in" to are the Archery School, and the Kitchen.

So I've been having to look after the archery students single-handed. It's not been much in fun this weather. I've been having to thaw the poor little souls out and having to point them in the right direction when they're shooting in blizzards. And then I get home with hands frosted myself, to discover that there's a great pile of crockery and Hnaef off checking into the White Horse.

Eileen says he may be Mayor of Moot House, but that's not getting him off "scraping the frost off the illuminated reindeer duty".

Moot House check in

Moot House
Hnaef just checked in at Moot House. Hnaef is now Mayor of the Moot House.

In search of the Christmas Donkey

It was the the reference to the Christmas Donkey from the Natwivity that made me ponder.

For surely we all know the story of the Little Donkey. How it carried Mary safely on her way, following a star to Bethlehem. And much is made of the heavy load it carried. And, somewhat strangely, it is exhorted to "ring out those bells tonight", which I suspect must have been terribly difficult with hooves.

So I hied me to the gospels to discover wherein the Little Donkey is mentioned. And found nothing. Not in Luke - angels, and censuses, and consuls of Syria in abundance. But no donkey. And not in Matthew. No, there is an unspecified number of wise persons but no Little Donkey. And I could not find the Nativity in Mark either. Which leads me to believe that the start of that Gospel fell off at the same time that apparently the end did. I've known that happen to books.

But there the song definitely is. And there are pictures as well.

Like this one. Although this is Giotto's Flight into Egypt, I'm sure we can assume that it's the same donkey.
File:Giotto - Scrovegni - -20- - Flight into Egypt.jpg
So we have a problem of textual history here. How do we explain the well-attested presence of the donkey, but its absence from the Bible as it currently exists?

I considered the possibility that someone had gone around the world, expunging the reference to the donkey from all copies. But had to discount it. Sure, all that circumstantial stuff in Luke 2 regarding King David could have been put in place of the original words "taking his donkey", but consider the logistics. How could anyone, even with a good grasp of languages, have got round the world changing all those Bibles? It would have required a considerable team, and then Wikileaks would undoubtedly have got hold of it.

There is a possibility that Giotto, and all the artists in his line all the way down to the present day, could have invented the donkey to add a little colour. But let's face it, that seems pretty unlikely. I think we can accept that the donkey existed. Which leads me to my third suggestion. The one that had Drayton spluttering into his low-fat sugar-free cocoa last night.

Maybe the original version of Luke's Gospel had the Little Donkey in it. As it left Luke's pen, the text had the donkey - there along side the description of the dusty road and all the rest of it. But at an early point, before the Gospel had disseminated across the empire, that line had been lost. Maybe just what I believe is called a copyist's error. The scribe's wife called in to ask what the score was at the Colosseum, the line was lost, and the donkey passed from the scriptural record, although remembered in the folk memory.

It is an intriguing question what will happen if we ever find that earlier version of the Gospel including the donkey. Will the authorities recognise it for what it is? Will new versions of the Bible be rushed out incorporating the reinstated verse? Will verse re-numbering be called for?
I am determined that we get the answer to these questions. So I am organising an archaeological expedition. We're going to dig up the entire Sinai desert looking for earlier versions of Luke's Gospel. I've worked out this could be quite an expensive operation, so I'm looking for donations.

So don't forget, just £10 will buy us a spade. £8.35 will buy me a rather snazzy pith helmet.
Will you donate? You owe it to the Little Donkey.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Moot House Check-in

Moot House

Young Keith just checked in at Moot House.

Archdruid Eileen says that she's set up Hnaef's account to update with any named Beaker folk's check-ins. Poor Hnaef's still here, now sorting tea-lights, after talking back to Mrs Hnaef, it seems.


I would like to add, for legal reasons around health and safety, a short explanation of the Archdruid's recent post. What could have been construed as an admission that she had physically thrown a teapot at Drayton actually referred, I am certain, to an occasion where she noted that he was "about as much use as a chocolate teapot".

All wounds - a rather far-reaching word, I'm sure you'd agree - that might be "inflicted" by the Archdruid, whether psychological or physical, are not of a spiritual kind, and therefore could be described as "fleshly", or "flesh wounds".

Clearly, no physical assault, real or imagined, is being referenced in the Archdruid's post.

The accusations mount

There's been a lot of rubbish talked about Drayton Parslow and the so-called "kettling".

I'd like to make it quite clear. When Drayton came to see me yesterday and bored me silly after ten minutes, I did not throw a kettle at him. It was a tea pot. And it didn't even hit him that squarely. I believe he's got away with a mere flesh wound.

Moot House check in

Moot House
Hnaef just checked in at Moot House.

Mrs Hnaef found out, and feels that I should be paying penance. It apparently "isn't an auspicious day" to be down at the White Horse while I have administrative work to do. I'm sorting pebbles.

White Horse, Husborne Crawley check in

White Horse
Hnaef just checked in at White Horse, Husborne Crawley

Just popping in for a quick one. Mrs Hnaef will never know.

Angles from the Realms of Glory

Young Keith, who has an interest in these things, has pointed out to me that someone arrived on this website yesterday having searched for "an angle of peace and goodwill".

Now I assume, dear readers, that this was a typographical inexactitude. But it did leave me wondering - what actually was the angel of elevation when they appeared to the shepherds? In other words - what was the angle from the realms of glory?

We can take a certain amount from the Biblical text1:
"An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified."

I have assumed that "the glory of the Lord"  was focussed from the angel before them. For it to shine around them, then the angel must therefore have been at a sufficient height that the glory could be directed both behind and before them. The diagram below may help.

Now the angel had to be close enough to them to be able to talk to them - and in such a way that he gave quite a lot of detailed information. So on a windy hillside in a bleak midwinter, with the frosty wind moaning, I will assume that the long diagonal shown in the diagram cannot have been more than about 20 feet. To shine the glory over the head of the tallest shepherd (we'll say 5 feet, because though they won't have been short of protein it makes the sums easier and it was the 1st Century BC) the angel would have to have been at a height therefore of at least 12 feet. Which gives us a minimum angle from the realm of glory of about 36o. Clearly the angle cannot be as high as 90o, for reasons of face-to-face communication and the modesty of the angel. I would say that for effective eye contact (and some angels have a lot of eyes) the shepherds would not want to be looking up at more than a 45o angel.

So my conclusion is that the angle from the realm of glory is somewhere between 36 and 45 degrees. And possibly this would cover the complete range of the angel choir when they all appeared together. This may not sound very important just at the moment, dear readers, but it does mean that next time you're on a darkened hillside you'll know where to look.

[1] Luke 2:8-14 New International Version  Hodder & Stoughton 1986 (the formerly nice blue leather one with the now terribly battered cover). Drayton tells me I should reference the author as "God" but I think he's probably wrong there. If you see what I mean.
[2] Angel supplied by Gospel Gifs

Moot House check in

Moot House
Hnaef just checked in at Moot House.

New venue - Moot House

Moot House.
Hnaef created a new Venue: Moot House.

Appropriate use of technology

Dear all -

Following my recent travels, I have discovered the excitements of Foursquare! Mrs Hnaef has encouraged me to check in whenever I go to any location (they're called "venues"), and then anyone can find out where I am! She says that this is "excellent use of technology", and very similar to cairn-building, and so appropriately Beakerish!

When I first broached the subject with our lady Archdruid, Eileen seemed less than impressed, but a hurried discussion, at Mrs Hnaef's prompting, seems to have changed her mind. In fact, the Archdruid even suggested a setting on my mobile telephone which allows it to update my location automatically, with no intervention from me!

I look forward to sharing my exciting journeys with you all!

Yours, Hnaef.

Single-artist meme thing

Yet another music meme but then hey it's Yule. This is from that notorious Man Utd supporter, Phil Ritchie, and the rules are:

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, answer these questions. Be as clever as you can. You can't use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It's a lot harder than you think...

Needless to say, just a short week before the 10th anniversary of her untimely death, I choose Kirsty MacColl.

Pick your Artist Kirsty
Describe yourself  In these shoes?
How do you feel England 2, Colombia 0
If you could go anywhere, where would you go  Soho Square
Your favourite form of transportation Walking Down Madison
Your best friend is  A guy walks down the chip shop, swears he's Elvis
You and your best friends are Us Amazonians
If your life was a TV show, what would it be called Can't stop killing you
What is life to you Titanic Days 
Your current relationship   Don't run away from me now
Your fear "Darling, let's have another baby"
What is the best advice you have to give Don't come the cowboy with me, Sonny Jim
I would like to die... My way home
Time of day  The end of a perfect day
My motto  Tomorrow never comes

Those with ears to be tagged, let them be tagged...

Tuesday 14 December 2010

An artificial community of people wanting an ideal life

Fascinated by this article on the murder  and suicide in Celebration, Fla - the "perfect small town" created by Disney. And a couple of deaths in violent circumstances in a fairly long period of time doesn't seem so bad.

But it did leave me wondering. Where do the people of Celebration go when they want that idyllic holiday? Luton?

Festival of Festive Foliage

Archdruid's Note: the Yule gathering-in of evergreen leaves, a symbol of everlasting life and hope in the midst of a deciduous world, is of great antiquity. Some have claimed that it is Celtic or even pre-Celtic. While others might point out that the first record of this happening is about the 15th Century. Either way the Festival Of Festive Foliage is an important part of Community Life, as we prepare for the Solsticial Darkapocalypse by gathering reminders of life and growth. For without growth there is no life, and without life no growth. And without that Christmas-tree smell where would Greg Lake's "I believe in Father Christmas" have found a rhyme for "peal of a bell"?

The Festival of Festive Foliage is a word-free liturgyn. We carry out this liturgical act with a soundtrack of "Stop the Cavalry". You may like to re-create the awesome experience this engenders by playing the video below.

Act of Gathering

The Moot House is empty except for Eileen and Daphne Hnaef. In front of the Important People's Area, on the  floor of the Moot House is drawn a large round circle. Before the Ceremony started, there was a small "Making the Circle" ceremony, which was both incomprehensible and rather boring. 

Ardwulf enters, bearing a sprig of holly. He lays it in the circle and takes his accustomed place.

Drogo and Marston enter, dragging a small Yule Log. They position it in the circle and take their accustomed places.

Edith Weston enters, bearing an amaryllis in flower.  There is a disagreement over whether this strictly constitutes foliage. The Archdruid suggests it be removed, but Edith appears on the edge of tears. For the sake of a peaceable community, the Archdruid is persuaded to let it lie. Lip-readers could see that she is muttering "it's a bloody flower" under her breath.

Aelfrithe enters, bearing a poinsettia. Mrs Hnaef persuades the Archdruid that those red things aren't flowers, they're a special kind of leaf. The Archdruid agrees to let it lie.

Elrod enters, bearing a bough of pyracantha. In line with good Health and Safety practice he is wearing wicket-keeper's gloves and welder's goggles. Sadly the goggles make him completely blind, so he trips over the Yule Log and impales his ear on the holly. He removes the googles, leaves the pyracantha where he dropped it, and takes his place, dabbing his bleeding ear with a piece of tissue.

Mr Woodhouse enters, with his son Mansfield bearing an African Violet. The Archdruid requests that Daphne bring it to her "because it's so lovely and I'd like to look more closely at it". Receiving it, she pulls all the flowers off and then throws the pot at Mansfield. Mansfield ducks and it catches Elrod a glancing blow. Mr Woodhouse goes back off to the Great House, saying he knew it would be dangerous to go to a ceremony.

Eloise enters, bearing a pine bough. The Archdruid smiles and makes a sign of blessing. Eloise discovers that Elrod has stood in her accustomed place, and throws him out. Elrod isn't having a great time.

 Drayton, having been convinced there is nothing pagan at all about collecting great piles of evergreen boughs for Yule, enters, bearing one end of a piece of ivy. Ten yards behind him, Kylie holds up the other end.  They take their accustomed places.

Amelie enters, bearing a blade of grass. She sees the ivy and asks whether it's poison ivy, as she's allergic to it. Drayton tells her it's not, Amelie says how does he know? Eileen points out that poison ivy doesn't grow in the United Kingdom. Amelie says that foreign species are being introduced all the time - haven't we all heard about that manatee living in the Serpentine? Eileen tells her to sit down and shut up. Amelie takes her accustomed place.

Burton Dassett appears, dragging a 12 foot Christmas tree on a go-kart.  It gets stuck in the door. He pulls it a bit but nothing happens. Then a bit more, and it topples off the go-kart and lands on Burton. Staggering around with his head wrapped in tinsel and fairy lights (for reasons known only to himself he has pre-decorated it), Burton crashes into Elrod and they both fall to the ground. Elrod catches his hand on a broken bauble.

Hnaef, who having spent the last week in an airport terminal has joined in the seasonal spirit in more ways than one, enters. Or to be precise he hurtles into the Moot House on a tractor, pulling a decent-sized pine tree. He runs over Elrod's foot, then shoots back out through the North-East Sunrise Door, scattering Beaker Folk in all directions. In the couple of moments that it takes her to dive behind the Liturgical Focus Table, Eileen notes that Hnaef, unlike Elrod, is wearing safety trainers. He has done well.


The choir of little children break into the "choir" bit from The Darkness's "Christmas Time".

Act of Departure

Scared and dishevelled Beaker People climb back off the floor, and file off for a quick one before Filling Up of Beakers. At least the ceremony wasn't as bad or dangerous as last year. 

Monday 13 December 2010

Doubts about Blinky

The rabbits really are quite worried about little Blinky.

They say he's too small, his fur is too black and shiny and they reckon he's wearing fake ears.

In fact, they strongly suspect he's a mole.

He setteth me upon high places

I've had a number of worried Beaker People approach me concerning Drayton's approach to his own and other people's safety while repairing the roof of St Bogwulf's Chapel.

First thing to say is, yes I am pressing for him to get a move on. It's hard enough for him up there as it is, but when the snow arrives again there's a real danger that he might slip off and hurt some-one.

The good news is that Drayton's faith is keeping him going in all this. His conviction that his feet are as those of the hind means he has no fear of falling from the roof, although it makes the purchase of safety shoes tricky. While his belief that the Good News is as a lamp unto his feet means he can happily work all night. I'm not too worried about his lack of sleep as we all know that REM sleep is necessary for processing things you've learnt during the day, and Drayton never seems to learn anything.

But in accordance with good Health and Safety practice I've insisted that he wears hi-viz and a hard hat. Partly because if he falls off at least people will have a sporting chance of seeing him coming and getting out the way.  And partly because, dressed up like that he reminds me of the sort of applicant a "Village People X-Factor" would have rejected.

Sunday 12 December 2010

White Christmas?

The weatherpeople are saying that cold winds, rain, sleet and snow are on the way - maybe even stretching through Yule and to the secular New Year.

The Beaker People are ever so excited. Some are already looking out the window, hoping to see some flurries of snow. Even though I keep telling them that they'll see nothing. But then, some of them are looking out for Santa already, so hope maybe springs eternal.

The cancellation of Advent has required a certain amount of re-juggling of the schedule. I'm going to have to initiate a bit of a holding pattern while we come up with some new creative liturgy, so it's going to be pebbles 'n' tea-lights for the next few days, until I have some bright ideas. That's the trouble with cutting edge alternative worship - you can't just pull a book out, work out what day it is and follow the recipe.

Doing up the House (of God)

In many respects she is a flint-hearted, brass-necked, iron-foreheaded heretic. But still Eileen has been very kind to me.

Allowing me the use of her old family chapel was typical of her generosity. And she has only set me a few minor conditions - such as re-pointing the masonry with authentic lime mortar, once the weather is warmer. And fixing the roof - although, to be honest, that can be quite dangerous in this season, especially as she has stipulated that work can only be carried out from the outside, during the hours of darkness.  Yet I can rejoice that I know that "my steps are enlarged, so that my feet do not slip" (Ps 18:36). In due time I hope my steps will reduce in size again, hopefully once the temperature has gone up in the chapel and my feet stop swelling.

I am aware that the Beaker People have returned to the Moot House this evening for Filling up of Beakers. I was never under the impression that my chapel's popularity would abide for long - for surely the people of the earth are fickle and unfaithful, swayed as they are by offers of free doughnuts and mead.  But  the tightrope-walking Baptists are still with me - although I am still disturbed by some of their translations, as in their unlikely belief that St Paul was converted "on the rope to Damascus". And also by their refusal to use a safety net, on the grounds that "underneath are the everlasting arms".  And Kylie and Kayleigh have kindly offered once again to lead the worship group, once we can find "a suitably hunky worship leader".