Sunday 31 January 2010

The Universal Wheel

Interesting latest experiment from Young Keith. He used an Apple iPad to give artificial intelligence to the left-over Black Hole from Christmas. It's now using its gravity to spin members of the community in a 1000-yard orbit around itself. I did tell Young Keith it wasn't big, and it wasn't clever. Turns out that in fact it's both.

Important Imbolc Innovations

Apparently Imbolc (1 Feb) is an important day for thinking about the lactation of ewes.  Not being a subject in which I have a great interest, I didn't think about it for very long.  But that didn't stop Marston Mortaine for being arrested for sheep worrying.  Thank goodness it was Young Keith's uncle the police constable that caught him.  Marston's explanation, that he was just checking if the ewes were lactating, could have got him three years if it had made it to court.  As it was I'm not sure he wasn't pulling the wool over our eyes.  He's back in the Great House now, but looking a little sheepish.  We've told him he's baa-d.  But he assures us that  his innocence is as the whitest fleece that has been dyed in lye.  Whatever that is.

Imbolc and its Christian counterpart Candlesmas (2 Feb) are halfway from Winter Solstice to Vernal Equinox.  You could see it as the North-East of the year, if you imagine Yule as the North and Midsummer as the South.  In which case we can see that, at least in these climes, although the days are getting longer they're still very cold - North-East being the coldest wind direction round here.  In the Southern hemisphere please reverse all this.  You're presumably round about the warmest time of the year, but realising that the nights are getting longer. Go and have a beer... oh, you did already.

So it is a time for celebrating the return - albeit slow - of the light.  Knowing that from here on in the days will be lengthening rapidly, the warmth starting to return and - apparently - the ewes lactating.  Did the Ancients really have nothing better to celebrate?  It's got to be a long, cold, dark winter before the lactation of the ewes becomes a matter of much excitement.  Unless, presumably, you're a sheep.

Needless to say, the Beaker People celebrate Imbolc with a nice big bonfire.  No Wicker Person this time, though.  Nor, as Marston suggested, a Wicker Sheep.  And on Tuesday we're going to be celebrating Candlesmas with a Candle-lit parade round the grounds.
We realise that Tuesday we should be getting a groundhog (or, if you prefer, woodchuck) out to see what the weather is going to be like for the next six weeks.  But we're in enough trouble with Woburn Abbey as it is.  So instead, Burton will tomorrow be facilitating a three-hour seminar in applied xylozoomathematics, at which we will be able to work out precisely how much wood a wood chuck would chuck, in the unlikely event that it would chuck wood.
Apart from that, we've got the Community PA system set up.  At exactly 6am on Tuesday it switches across from Enya to "I've Got You Babe".  And then, rather amusingly, it will happen again Wednesday.  And Thursday.  And Friday.
It promises to be a big day tomorrow, and a long week all round.

Saturday 30 January 2010

The Greatest Show on Earth

Having just finished "The Greatest Show on Earth" on the evidence for evolution (I finished reading it, that is - I believe Richard Dawkins wrote it)  - how could anyone doubt it?  An argument which marshals the evidence well and strikingly.  Blows up the whole of creationism and "Intelligent Design".  Shame none of their proponents will read it.

A few random thoughts:

  • He still comes across as remarkably vain.  Although I sometimes get the impression that, deep down, he wishes he was Douglas Adams.  But then, let's face it, don't we all wish he was.
  • The behaviour of the Ichneumon Wasp may have troubled Darwin when it came to thinking about the existence of God, but when all's said and done - it's still the Problem of Pain, just written in a striking way.  My 2-pennorth: I reckon the real problem most Victorian gentlemen had with God, is that God isn't, wasn't and never will be a Victorian gentleman.  Let's face it, he'd look ridiculous with a top hat.  God, that is.  I bet Prof Dawkins would look pretty striking.
  • Two striking illustrations against intelligent design involve the unnecessarily convoluted (in purely design terms) routes that certain bodily - well, let's say pipes - take in their journeys round the body.  The arguments are sound, but I wouldn't like to be Prof Dawkins's plumber or electrician.  You'd be forever ripping out the whole house just to install a new outside tap or light switch.
  • In the Appendix, the good Professor comments (rightly) that there are misleading results from a survey because the questions were over-polarised - you either believe in Evolution or you believe God interfered.  Ironic, really, given that his latest article in the Times involves just that kind of polarisation.  But then he could've done without the polarisation of opinion in that evolution survey, because more reasonable people would vote with him if the options were better-nuanced.

So overall, I'd rate it a curate's egg.  Read the scientific arguments, they're well put - and ignore the "jokes" and vanity.
And, for what it's worth, I reckon that penguins are at the South Pole because they all got off the Ark and turned left.  The polar bears, Noah cunningly shepherded them out to the right.  Because he knew that in fact, they can get the wrappers off.

Spam, Spam, Eggs Chips and Spam

Nipping across to the Room of Viewing to see Celebrity Mr & Mrs.  We're all very fond of Fern in the Community, although we don't see quite what Phillip Schofield brings to the party.  And what do I see but an advert for Spam.
An inspiration to us all, I thought.  I imagined Spam had gone out with half-crowns in the 1970s era - maybe that the Punk Rockers had eaten it all, or at the least that as the 1980s came round that the New Romantics had refused to sully their delicately painted lips.
But it's back!  A sure indication of the Credit Crunch, perhaps - or maybe it's been stored in silos deep beneath the Wiltshire countryside since the end of the Cold War, and is only now being released under some culinary 30 Years Rule.
But in any event.  I feel we should rejoice.  I now have a cheap form of foodstuff I can give the troops, without any more risk of roadkill-related food poisoning.  Hnaef will be happy.  Once he's recovered.

Anniversary of the Execution of Charles I, 1649

Dress code: Extra vests. 

Archdruid: Charles I.  King, Saint and Martyr?  Or megalomaniac with a Divine Right hang-up?
All:  Religious Megalomaniac?  We've already got one of those. 

The Archdruid invades the P[l]otting Shed. 
Archdruid: OK, hand over Drayton Parslow.

Speaker of the Shed: "May it please your Archdruidness, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here."

Archdruid: OK cut it out, it's a shed, not a house.  I've got a Slazenger V400 and I know how to use it.

Speaker of the Shed: OK, he's gone back to his room for a cup of team.

Archdruid:  A man who tried to impose religious tolerance at the point of a sword.  A man with Divine Right, killed by men who thought God was on their side.
All:  OK, so whose side was God on?
Archdruid: Search me.  Which ones were the Cavaliers?
Marston:  Ooh, I used to have one of those.  Or was it a Chevette?

Archdruid: You know what I'd do with Cromwell and Ireton?  I'd string 'em up.  It's the only language they understand.  Even though they're dead...
All:  They did.  Even though they were.
Archdruid:  Oh, OK.  Creepy.  Well, a plague on Ireton, anyway.
All: Yes, he got that as well.
Archdruid: Then I think we're starting to see whose side God was on.
All: Pass the frilly cuffs and wigs, Eileen!

All adjourn to the Banqueting House (formerly the Dining Room) for breakfast. 

Charles I -  King, Saint and Martyr?  Or megalomaniac with a Divine Right hang-up?  You decide.  Calls cost 4 groats.  Lines closed in 1660, but you may still be charged.

Friday 29 January 2010

Narnia Late Football Scores

Thanks to Young Keith who came back from his ill-fated invasion of Finland via that rather odd wardrobe in the Guest Suite and brought us the classified results.

Anvard Utd 2 (Col 42, Lune 56p) : West Harfang 0.
The spirit of the Archenland boys proved too much for the Giants.  Faced by the superior skill of the "Anvils", Harfang resorted to Route One.  But being 12 feet tall makes it so hard to get the nod-downs in the onion bag.  Regular penalty taker Col had to miss out on his chance of a second goal, as being brained with a giant's club tends to take the wind out of your sails even if it is in the box.

Queen of the Southern Marche 0 :  Gnome City 0
Yet another dull draw played out at the "Desert Ground".  The Gnomes did their best to wear down the south-Archenlanders but their habit of disappearing down holes in the ground made it unlikely they could ever get a decent final ball into the box.  Under the box, yes - but as the great Bricklethumb Clough famously pointed out, the game's meant to be played on the grass - not under it. The game not helped because half the Gnomes refused to leave the tunnel.

Fords of Beruna 3 (Puddleglum 13, 24, 86) : Ettinsmoor 0
On a pitch this muddy, only a Marsh-Wiggle would want to play football.  In the event that's just what happened.  There'll be some tobacco smoked in the marshes tonight.

Calavar Academicals 2 (Tarkaan 45, 52) : Aslan's How 0 
Once Again Aslan's How suffered from a lack of height at the back.  Goalkeeper Reepicheep was better at eating the net than guarding it.

Deathwater Island 1 (Caspian 10) : Duffer's Island 0 
Everything turns to gold for Deathwater in this  Compare the Meerkat Shield Eastern Region Final, while the Dufflepud defence is let  down by their habit of falling over every time they kick the ball.

Cair Paravel 3 (Pevensie L 24, Pevensie P 46, Pevensie S 59) : Lantern Waste 3 (Jadis 16, 41, Pevensie E (og) 90+2)
Good display once again by Oreius, Cair Paravel's Centaur back - the only player not to go in the book in a fractious game that sees "Waste" captain Jadis sent off for turning the assistant referee to stone.
Troubled Edmund Pevensey lets down Cair Paravel in what was otherwise a strong team performance.  Paravel manager Aslan "sick as a talking parrot" after the game, still refuses to put Pevensey on the transfer list.  But the smart money is still on him going to loan to Liverpool before the Transfer Window closes.  After all, he can't play football and he's got no team spirit.

The Moon and Mars

Now, astrology is for feeble minds, sad beggars and odd-bods.  Let's face it, if Russell Grant and Mystic Meg can make money out of it (I won't provide links as it will only encourage those of feeble faith and mind) then think how sad the people are they make money from.
But there is a wonder in the celestial bodies, beyond promises that you will go for a journey and meet a Glaswegian dwarf.  There's a thrill in seeing the tiny disk of red Mars, almost as bright as Sirius yet dwarfed in size and brightness in tonight's sky alongside the white serenity of the Full Moon.  Reflect on the power the lesser of these bodies (in real terms), the Moon, has upon the Earth on which we live.  Stabilising our orbit, powering the tides, inspiring awe, powering dreams - could life even have evolved without her gentle yet persistent presence?
So get out there and be amazed!  Assuming you're in the Northern Hemisphere, it's cold yet, but so what - it's beautiful. We'll be filling up Beakers all night.

The JD Salinger obituary articles digest

"The JD Salinger I never knew"..... by everbody.

Liturgy For the 25th Anniversary of Margaret Thatcher being refused an honorary degree by Oxford University

Beaker Folk assemble wearing 1980s studenty gear (college scarves, dirty jeans, anoraks, or as it may be duffel coats, tweedy coats if they think they're in Brideshead, Spandau Ballet lookalike outfits if they've wandered in from the Bullingdon by mistake).  All are to wear Gay Rights, Save the Whales or CND badges according to choice/preference, while carrying Anti-Apartheid banners and copies of Socialist Worker)

Archdruid:   Maggie!  Maggie!  Maggie!
All:   Out! Out! Out!

Archdruid:   Maggie!  Maggie!  Maggie!
All:   Out! Out! Out!

Archdruid:   Maggie!
All:   Out!

Archdruid:   Maggie!
All:   Out!

Archdruid:   Maggie!  Maggie!  Maggie!
All:   Out! Out! Out!

The Youngest Member of the Community Asks the Vital Question
Youngest Member (Keith if during school time, or, as it may be, one of the children): Who's Maggie?
Archdruid:  Oh well, that's politics.
Eggs may be thrown, before everyone heads off to the Kings Arms to elect Roland Rat as Chancellor.

Thursday 28 January 2010

JD Salinger - Farewell

I don't know how these things happen, but suddenly there's moody 19-year-old lads all over the Community, walking around in anoraks and complaining that nobody understands them.  Must be some psychic link.

Now we'll never know where the ducks go when the lagoon freezes over.

24 Hour Diplomacy Overload Brainfry

Bad news on Young Keith.  He's been playing on-line Diplomacy pretty well every hour of the day for the last few weeks, even when at work.
Now, Diplomacy is a fine game.  Suitable for developing a strategic sense, a harmless training in the gentle art of back-stabbing, a kind of chess-for-people-with-personalities.   But playing it all day and night can have a deleterious effect.

Cutting to the chase, he's invaded Finland.  A big mistake, in my opinion. Doesn't even have a supply centre.

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Bletchley Pyramid Demolished

Finest of 1970s outrages on an urban landscape, a modernists's dream, one of the ugliest items in the South Midlands. And now it's all over for Bletchley's pyramid.
In truth, it has long lost the scary concrete multi-storey car park with which it had inevitably been shackled in its original incarnation.  Maybe it lost its mystic powers at this point.  But it will still be a cause of sorrow for those who went to play the interesting games of "random squash" where you wondered which way the ball would ping out of the holes in the wall, or whether indeed the ball would stick in the piles of mud in the corner of the court.  And sometimes it would be worse than mud.

I fear for Milton Keynes now, though.  For Bletchley's was not the only pyramid in the "New City".  There is another one, in Central MK - the appropriately-named "Point".  The Point is built on Midsummer Boulevard which, like its parallel neighbour Avery Boulevard, is aligned on the Midsummer sunrise / Midwinter Sunset just like Stonehenge.
I'm a bit worried that Bletchley Leisure Centre may have been acting as a geomantic counter-weight to the immense spiritual power generated down the solar-aligned "grid roads" system - which we actually know are a cunning modernistic overlay of ley-lines.  The whole of Milton Keynes, some have suggested, is lined up to take advantage of Earth Power.  And now that the Leisure Centre has gone, perhaps the brakes are taken off.
Let's just put it this way.  Come Summer Solstice it will be no surprise to me if the centre of Milton Keynes is a desolate spiritual wasteland.  You can insert your own joke at this point.

For those who have no idea what Bletchley Leisure Centre looked like, you can see it here.

Liturgies for pregnancy

This is not a reference to the fertility rites associated with our friends with an interest in the Moon Gibbon, but a reference to the fact that it has reached my attention that the Church of England makes very little special provision in terms of liturgy for those celebrating during pregnancy. Standing around for long periods of time with ones arms in the air, with items of food in front of one would seem to be rather an obvious invitation to "morning sickness" (or "pretty-much-round-the-clock-nausea-now-get-out-of-my-way-Hnaef", as Mrs Hnaef used to refer to it). It is almost as if those preparing the liturgies for use within the Church of England had not considered women when undertaking their deliberations.

I believe that we, the Beaker Folk, have much to offer in this regard, and have requested that the Beaker Liturgy Examination Undercommittee Group Region Husbourne Crawley (BLEURGHC) investigate possible improvements to the current arrangements. I think we can confidently expect use of tea-lights (probably unscented, in this case), pebbles and comfy sofas to feature heavily. Possibly with the words "Hnaef, would you mind getting me a cup of tea while I put my feet up for a bit" as a refrain at some point.

Charles II - The Beaker Prince of Snails

It is a known fact that certain catholics revere the late Charles I* as a saint - martyred for the cause of the One True (episcopal) Church by a Puritan clique.  And who are we to decry them, given that said Puritan rat-bags went on to ban Christmas, outlaw dancing and chop down the Maypole in the Strand?

Now when you get to the late Charles's son, the late Charles II, here you are onto more solid Beaker territory.  I wouldn't like to suggest we approve of his adultery.  Not least because the Revd David would declare a campaign against this website.  But in many other respects we think he's a fine Beaker person and perfect to be declared our Patron.

Firstly because he hid in the Royal Oak to avoid Parliament's men.  You see?  Solidly Beaker in principle and practice. Other, lesser princes might have hid in a tree or something, but Charles II had the sense and style to hide in a pub.
Secondly because he, of all sovereigns of England, is associated with Stonehenge.  While still on the run from Parliament, Charles quite cheerfully went off on a trip to Stonehenge, to indulge in the traditional activities of chipping bits off**, taking off his clothes at sunrise*** and counting the stones.
Thirdly because of his interest in the pin-sized snails of Silbury Hill.  I mean, how Beaker is that?  Obscure, natural and associated with the Stonehenge Ceremonial Landscape.
And finally for his love of animals.  His dying words were "let not poor Nelly starve".  How kind a king, to think of the well-being of the elephant in the Tower of London at a time like that.

I owe the second and third of these to Mr Christopher Chippindale's wondrous and magisterial book, "Stonehenge Complete".  Now in its 3rd glorious edition, which I am just reading and will comment upon at the appropriate time - i.e. at the end - with a complete summary of the progress he has made from the 2nd edition.  I haven't read the the 1st edition, but I suspect it consists merely of a grainy snapshot and the words "Just a load of old stones in Wiltshire."  He has probably done some research since then.  I recommend also what must be the most pedantic Amazon review I have ever read of a book.

Since I can't guarantee that you'll have a copy of Stonehenge Complete to hand, I reproduce the late Mr Aubrey's words on the subject, which I have extracted from the Friends of the Ridgeway website.  And yes, "Charles I" is a mistake by Aubrey himself.  No surprise he should write the wrong King's number.  Well, the man had weird ideas about Druids.
Snailes are everywhere; but upon our downes, and so in Dorset, and I believe in Hampshire, at such degree east and west, in the summer time there are abundance of very small snailes on the grasse and corne, not much bigger, or no bigger than small pinnes heads. Though this no strange thing among us, yet they are not to be found in the north part of Wilts, nor on any northern wolds. When I had the honour to waite on King Charles I. And the Duke of York to the top of Silbury hill, his Royal Highness happened to cast his eye on some of these small snailes on the turfe of the hill. He was surprised with the novelty, and commanded me to pick some up, which I did, about a dozen or more, immediately; for they are in great abundance. The next morning as he was abed with his Dutches at Bath he told her of it, and sent Dr. Charleton to me for them, to shew her as a rarity"

* I am guessing that the link is a genuine website.  It reads like one.  But it looks just a little like a parody.  It's so hard to tell these days.
** I have have made this bit up.
*** And also this bit.  On the other hand, if he had a duchess nearby at the time...

Archdruidical measurability

I would like to take this occasion formally to retract any real or imagined criticism or questioning of the Archdruid in any matters whatsoever, with specific (but not particular) reference to bonuses. I am sure that any comments I may or may not have made in response to previous posts were in no sense intended to suggest any lack of respect towards the Archdruid, her liturgy, her disciplinary methods or any other aspect of her life or personality.

I highly value the Archdruid's matronage, and have no wish to "spend more time with my family". None at all, actually. I expect a press release in the near future assuring all readers of the Archdruid's "complete support".

Now, please would somebody convince Mrs Hnaef to let me have the Alka-Seltzer packet? And possibly remove Burton's review from the blog site until my slight food poisoning attack goes away?

I'll be in a quiet, darkened room, moaning. Liturgically, of course.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Achieving Measurable Spiritual Outcomes

Hnaef's comment about my receiving a bonus has caused a number of Beaker People to question just how exactly the size of my bonus is decided.  Aside from considerations that it was a tactless comment when we're trying to build Community Spirit, in the interests of openness and democracy, I would like to explain my Druidic Bonus Plan.

When the Gorsedd last got together, we agreed that it was right that we should reward creativity and enterprise in spiritual life.  However the Government's regulatory body for imaginary traditional religious communities, OfBard, got involved and it became clear that I couldn't just scoop up all the left-over tithes and stash them in the archdruidical dungaree pockets.  Not in a "Not for (Visible) Profit" association like the Beaker People.

So we agreed that a bonus would only be payable based upon my achieving identifiable Successful Spiritual Outcomes.  These had to be SMART, as the business jargon has it - that is, Specific, Measureable, Achievable, and Really Threatening.  To be honest, I blanked out a bit with near-terminal boredom at this point, and may have recalled that acronym incorrectly.

In any case, my archdruidical bonus is based on a number of measurable achievements.  You can't just get a bonus for "helping people", or "making people feel better" or "being a nice Druid".  Oh no.  Achieving targets in a measurable manner is in.  For the Financial Year 2009, I had to hit pre-defined spiritual achievement targets in the following:
  • The number of Beaker Courses delivered.  NB to count as "delivered", at least 3 people had to make it to the end of each course.  Beaker Persons were allowed to attend more than one course, but for the second and subsequent courses were defined as "helpers" and only counted as 50%.  Any course consisting entirely of people who'd been on the course before rated as an "Alpha", and therefore did not count.
  • Accredited conversions.
  • The number of people achieving a rating of 4 or higher (on a scale of 1-5) on the Spiritual Elevation Scale.
  • Average attendance at Pouring out of Beakers ceremonies *
  • Number of Pallets of Doilies sold in the Beaker Bazaar.
  • Appropriate and timely observances of the rising and setting of new, full and gibbous (not gibbon) moons.
  • People entering the Astral Plane (and returning safely.  We can't count Gloria but we hope she may rejoin her body one day. Not least because it's occupying the comfy sofa in the Library.)
  • 50% of Beaker People achieving "Sage" or above in the Entrails Examination Examination**.
  • Complete live performances of "Shepherd Moons" by our Enya tribute band, Brenda.
OfBard takes the measurement of these SSOs very seriously.  Some days, as you will remember, we could barely move for otherwise-unemployable Zoology graduates following us all around with chipboard***.  But at the end of it all, I rated a very credible 3 Golden Sickles, and was entitled to a bonus of 45% of all the money laying around from tithes.  So I pocketed that, glad to have been adjudged worthy of a measurable, accredited and well-earned bonus.
Then I shoved the rest in my rucksack to be on the safe side.  Measurable Spiritual Outcomes - doncha love them?

* We negotiated a target reduction due to the unexpected cold weather in mid-winter, when the Beakers froze and we couldn't pour them out - or, indeed, fill them up.  Although Young Keith did get his tongue frozen to one of the Beakers when we dared him to lick it.  Cheered up a cold, dull morning.
** Congratulations to Mobee, who achieved "Taragon".  But I think he may have been mistakenly included in the Children's 1960s TV Shows" course.
*** They should have been clipboards, but you know what Zoologists are like.  You can persuade them of anything.  And they paid quite well for those sheets of chipboard, as well****.
**** On an unrelated matter, anyone want to buy a job lot of surplus clipboards we seem to have acquired?  Going cheap in the Beaker Bazaar.

Burton's Beer Tasting Notes - Exmoor Beast

Since Hnaef's brought it up (the subject, that is - not the beer) - I thought I'd bring you, my loyal readers, up to speed with this most marvellous brew that is Exmoor Beast.

Fond indeed was I, many years since - much water has flowed under Waterloo Bridge since the days when, after a Tuesday-night Bridge session at the palatial offices of Mr John Lewis and Partners, I would adjourn with chums to the Weatherspoon's in Victoria Station. And many and oft a time we would quaff a cheery noggin of Exmoor Beast. So when I heard that Hnaef had ordered a firkin of same for his rather nerdy celebration of the number 555, I tell you I was thrilled. I tell you, I haven't been so excited since I managed to find my way to a pub where they were selling the legendary batch of Marston's Oyster Stout that they'd accidentally brewed with Saaz hops. And what an evening that was.

So returning to the wonderful Exmoor Beast. Just looking at it tells you a lot. Dark, dark, dark. A real, strong, traditional old London-style porter. Ironically for a beer from the West Country.
It's on the sweet side, but never sickly so. Dark, complex, with as many layers as Ruth Gledhill's journalism. Offering you more with every sip. A tasting beer, not a drinking beer - and one that keeps on giving. On the Julius scale it rates a 54 or 55 BC. And you can't say better than that.

Best music to drink it to: "How do you solve a problem like Maria"?

5/6ths of a Beast

Perceptive readers of this blog will note that the previous post took us to the mystical 5/6ths of Beast, a landmark in any cyber-coenobitic religious community's 21st century communications! The plans for a 555-tealight celebration have been put on hold until we can get Fire Inspector's approval, but all Beaker folk are encouraged to participate in a celebratory pint of Exmoor Ales' Beast (officially approved by our very own Burton Dasset), as long as they don't drink more than 5/6ths of the glass. I understand from Burton that multiple consumptions of 5/6th pints are acceptable: we will (as usual) be following his lead. And then getting lost and falling over in a ditch, if previous occasions are any indication.

Mrs Hnaef has asked me to note that she will be unable to provide transport in her new BMW afterwards as I failed to buy any more black bin-liners and she is worried about the Monothelitism.

The New Moot House

The wonders of modern construction!

The new Moot House is now available for worship.  Based on lightweight flameproof foamed concrete panels.  The new central chimney sections carry smoke from the Eternal Flame up through the circular roof.  The Eternal Flame is now burning on logs, with a backup gas supply in case the logs run out.  And a backup battery and LED in case the gas runs out.
There have been comments that the outside looks rather grubby.  This is because we have sprayed the walls and roof with a yoghurt solution to encourage moss and lichens to grow.  We want this Moot House to be part of its natural environment.  This also goes for the Husborne Spring, the brook from which we have channeled below the floor of the Moot House, where it is displayed under a smoked-glass floor in a manner which we have in no way ripped off from the ideas of a church in Plymouth.  The water then bubbles up by the Eternal Flame, to enable us to carry out Filling up of Beakers in the warm and dry in all seasons.  The brook then disappears under the glass again, and is channeled out in a North-Westerly direction, towards the setting midsummer sunrise, and out onto its natural course to the Ouse, and ultimately, the North Sea.  It makes you feel kind of connected, doesn't it?  But please can you all stop playing Pooh Sticks immediately.  It detracts from the holiness.
The new doors are based on industrial fire shutters with some automation from garage door technology built in.  I know that shiny metallic look is a bit out of character with the rest of the building, but just think how cool it's gonna look when I hit the button and they rise up just as the sun rises and just after it sets at mid-Summer and mid-Winter.
It's hi-tech, flame-proof, bomb-proof, impeccably Feng Shui-ed, in all the proper alignments, and we've thrown gallons of blessed water all over the floor.  What could possibly go wrong?

Equality Bill

As a matter of clarity, I'd like to explain that the Archdruid, in her previous post, was referring to parliamentary proceedings, rather than the charming gentleman of northern extraction by the name of William who's been known to frequent the beer gardens of local hostelries in the summer months, calling out "Ee - quality!" at ladies of various ages and states of undress.

All charges with regards to assault were dropped against the Archdruid within weeks of the alleged incident, and William's new teeth are apparently very comfortable. The Archdruid would, I'm sure, like to distance herself from any suggestion that she was commenting in any way on this matter, as such comments might be seen as falling outside the boundaries of any legal agreement which might or might not be in place.

Equality Bill

We're relieved along with members of some churches that after the Lords struck out the Equality Bill amendments we can continue to select the people who work in the Community according to our religious beliefs.

Generally, we've always checked people against Deuteronomy 23.  So Maurice the Monophysite is OK, as an Egyptian whose family have worked for mine for more than 3 generations, ever since my great-uncle Brigadier Monty Russell-Fitzroy brought Maurice's grandfather Maurice back at the end of the 2nd world war.  But we won't employ Ammonites, or even Moabites.  You could say we're quite Ruth-less on this one.

Monday 25 January 2010

Theological Compliance

I've checked out Mrs Hnaef's car's compliance with the Druidic Vestments Licencing Authority.  It would appear that it is definitely not Chalcedon-compliant - the inspectors believe it may even have a touch of Monothelitism on the undercarriage already.  However it meets Nicaea Levels I and II, and in these more tolerant days that should be more than enough.

Lobbying the DVLA

Following our great Archdruid's recent entry about Christian car suppliers, Mrs Hnaef has come to me in great distress on the subject of our current vehicular arrangements. Although seemingly unconcerned by the status of my (very serviceable) 1982 Mini Clubman (blue), she has raised concerns about her new BMW 4x4 model (in British Racing Green this year, as she has explained that she wants us to do our bit for the environment, and "going green" is very this decade).

The main concern seems to be that it may not be Calcedon-compliant. I understand that it conforms to Dolby (that talented young theologian-about-town performer of rondelays such as "Close but No Cigar", a trenchant and prophetic discussion of the salvific effects of tobacco-based products on the United States presidency), but searching BMW's "website", and that of the DVLA, yields no information about Calcedon compliance. I, personally, would support a national motor certification scheme on double predestination, but realise that Calcedon compliance should be achievable in shorter order.

I would therefore ask all readers to lobby the DVLA for a Calcedon-compliance certificate, with status to be displayed on all motor vehicle specification data by 2012, and required compliance for all new vehicles by 2015. I would be very happy to prepare the auditing materials required. I am considering standing at the next General Election on this platform, as an official representative of the BPP (Beaker People Party), subject to Archdruidical approval, and will be accepting suggestions for other planks in my forthcoming manifesto.

Christian Car Suppliers

I've just received some spam from a "Christian Car Suppliers".  Which leaves me confused and wondering.
Is it the supplier that is a Christian?  Do they only sell cars to Christians - in which case they presumably fall under the new equality legislation and will be in all sorts of trouble with Harriet Harman?
Or are the cars themselves Christian?  In which case they will presumably be cheaper to run than formerly, as these days they have a far greater interval between Services?


Much excitement in the press about our latest attendance figures showing we were slightly down in 2009.  On average our Occasions were attended by about 2% less people last year.  Or Eerwigg, to be precise.  He left to join the Guinea Pig Worshippers and never came back.
The Great Guinea Pig says this proves we are a fading force, and all Beaker People should join the Guinea Pig people.  At least, I think this is what he said.  Once again, the simultaneous translator was having trouble with the collection of squeaks, whistles and burps with which the Great Guinea Pig communicates.  But I disagree with His Squeakiness.
What we are actually seeing is a great increase in people taking part in a wider range of Beaker-related activities at different times and in different places.  Indeed, any time someone lights a tea light, burns an essential oil or looks at a pebble on the beach and goes "ooh", they're taking part in Beaker worship.  Obviously, they don't realise.  But they all count.

Sunday 24 January 2010

Anniversary of the deaths of Winston Churchill (1965) and the Emperor Caligula (41 AD)

Mabeline enjoyed this morning's commemoration of the life of Winston Churchill - particularly as we replaced the Snog of Friendship with a free-form Fighting on the Beaches.  alt.worship can be so creative.
But then she pointed out  that Winnie's death, at the age of 90, would appear to support her assertion that "Nice things happen to Nice People".  Especially since Caligula shares the deathly anniversary, and that notorious  tyrant was a relatively young man when he was assassinated.

But Mabeline's in enough trouble as it is.  The hospital people were really positive when she and the NTHNP group offered to carry out visiting - especially as she promised them that they wouldn't be going around offering to pray for people like some more pushy religious groups try to.

But of course what she hadn't mentioned was that they were planning on going from ward to ward, going up to people and asking them what they'd done to deserve such punishment.  The line "You're not very well?  I'm not surprised - you sinner!"  never helps.  I tell you, if you're in a hospital ward the last thing you want is some dreamy drip turning up, and telling you that you caused all your own problems.  Apart from anything else, they could be accused of impersonating a doctor.

Security Threat Level

After I received information that Drayton Parslow has been buying post-it notes in a stationers shop in Bletchley, I am raising the security threat from "troubling" to "fretful".  For those of you who prefer the old system, this is from Purple to Mint Julep.  Beaker People should carry on as normal - I just like to worry you from time to time.  Makes you feel like I have my finger on the pulse.

Saturday 23 January 2010

To Tim Chesterton...


Nice things happen to nice people

As if we didn't have enough sects, splinter-groups and factions already.
Mabeline (we should have thought harder before we let her choose that name) expresses herself as being totally loyalty to me as Archdruid.  However she  has felt it necessary to form a new group to bring pressure to bear on one particular item of doctrine.

It has always been a tenet of Beakerism that the brown stuff just happens occasionally.  We can rationalise it, try to find deep meanings in the omnipotence of the Creator.  We can try to read the books of our lives, we can see the signs of the times.  But in a rational world that, on the whole, keeps to the laws of Physics and Thermodynamics, stuff is going to go wrong and that's how it is.  We all get sick, we all get old, we occasionally get sacked, and we all die.  And whatever our hopes for the next life, or the next incarnation, or the Resurrection, or the next manifestion of an avatar of Cedric the Green Frog (last seen in a ditch in the Top Field in August 2008) - the fact is that life here and now is often hard, occasionally frightening and invariably terminal.  Prayer may help, but defining how, when and where it does is not easy.

Not for Mabeline.
This may well befit a woman who chose a name that seems to be a contraction of "Madeline Bassett."  No relation to Burton Dasset, of course.  But she can have a soul's-awakening look about her, if you know what I mean.
But apart from the views on the stars being God's Daisy Chain, I feel Mabeline has a somewhat more sinister viewpoint.  The defining doctrine of "NTHNP" is that Nice things Happen to Nice People.  In order to receive rewards in this world, one has to achieve "niceness".  This seems to consist of fear of giving offence, in the main part, as well as thinking nice thoughts and smiling a lot.  There is of course a corollary, with the same acronym - "Nasty things Happen to Nasty People".
Mabeline's views appear to be self-affirming.  If something bad happens to you, you have to examine your past life and identify the Nastiness that needs resolving.  Once identified, you can resolve it - by feeling a bit sorry for yourself, or by explaining to yourself that it wasn't that nasty after all - and then you will be nice again.  Obviously, if you have something else nasty happen to you, then you hadn't resolved the Nastiness well enough, or there's more buried Nastiness you've not remembered, and you'll have to feel sorry for yourself all over again.

Mabeline's new doctrine apparently exempts her and her followers from any kind of social action or interest in  charity.  If something bad happens to someone on a large scale, they clearly all deserved it and therefore are entitled to no help (which would frustrate the Divine Will).  On the other hand, if someone's having a great time then not only are they declared "Nice", but they're not in need of anything.

The worse happens when someone Mabeline knows is in real trouble and actually needs her help.  In the first instance she'll refuse to help - saying they need to resolve their Nastiness and become Nice first.  Then, if (as seems reasonable) they get shirty with her, she goes round to pour burning coals on their heads.  I don't think she's been blessed with a great scriptural exposition here, and Mabeline's family are increasingly recognisable in Hitchin as being the people who are bruised and singed.

In an attempt to persuade Mabeline out of her views, I put together the following table of world events that prove her right or wrong - on a scale of 1 to 10.

Stalin and Chairman Mao died of old age - 1/10.

Pol Pot died under arrest (possibly murdered) - 6/10 (after all, he was 70).

Hitler dies in a bunker - 7/10.

George W Bush wins two terms as US President - 4/10.

Tiger Woods hit with a golf club by his wife - 8/10 (but she should have used a wood)

Rene and Renata only have one hit - 9/10.

Simon Cowell is very rich - 2/10.

 Big Brother is to be cancelled - 5/10 (after all, it's taken 10 years).

So far, presented with this evidence that her theory is rubbish, Mabeline has commented that Simon Cowell has nice white teeth and George W does a cracking impression of Nelson Mandela.  I'll continue to work on her, however.  And meanwhile continue to mention to her the immense spiritual rewards of tithing.  I hear it's a very Nice thing to do.

Friday 22 January 2010


Strange new Alpha Course poster down on the Watling St at Hockliffe.  What can it mean?

Druids Together in Bedfordshire

Quick notes from our "Druids Together in Bedfordshire" (DIBS) meeting last night.

1.  It was agreed that we should hold weekly DIBS tea-light meetings on Wednesday evenings.

2.  Four more volunteers were needed for the "Druids Together in Mid-Beds" (DIMS) group, which has been struggling with its workload over the last few months.  In turn, DIMS sends two representatives to the DIBS group.

3.  We elected Bolgo, Elfstan and Grunewald to be members of "Druids Together in East England" (DEES)

4.  After people mentioned at last week's DIBS meeting that too many people were attending too many meetings, we set up a Too Many Meetings Task Force.  However last night we discovered that DIMs have also set up such a group ("Ampthill Too Many Meetings", or ATOM), as have "Bards together in Brickhill" (BIBS), our partner group in the Vale of Aylesbury.

5.  In view of the work of too many Too Many Meetings groups, we have set up a "Duplication of Unproductive Effort Reduction Group. (DUR)"  However we since discovered that so have "Pagans together in Luton" (PALS) and the "People for Pebbles in Pulloxhill" (PEP) group.  We are considering whether we can create a new group to co-ordinate the work of these "Duplication of Effort Reduction Groups", but we need to find some people with spare time.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Alternative parables - the Wheat and the Weeds

So there was a farmer who planted a field of wheat.  But in the night, his enemy came and scattered weed seeds through his field.  Odd behaviour, I'll grant you.  But you know what enemies are like.  They do odd stuff when you're not looking.
So when the farmer went to his field to see the wheat growing, he found that there were weeds growing in the wheat field.  And his workers said, "shall we pull out the weeds?"
And the farmer said, "No.  For lo, the wheat is genetically modified."  And he went out with his tractor and sprayed the field with glyphosate.  And the weeds withered even like unto a genuine human emotion in the Big Brother house dying in the night.  But the wheat stood untouched.  And the farmer was pleased, for he had his pristine field full of perfect, flawless wheat again.  But all the bees perished.  And the wheat stood alone in the land and was gathered into its barn in due course.

Moral: Some weeds are pretty.  And fields that only have wheat in them are really boring, aren't they?

It won't be Cricket

More concern over American goings-on.

This time at the thought of them trying their hands at cricket.
To be fair, after decades of American Mormons (sic) coming over here trying and failing to evangelise us it's about time we introduced them to our religion. But let's consider:
  • The classic version of the game is Test Match cricket. A 5-day sporting event at the end of which there may well not be a winner. 
  • A typical county attendance is four old geezers with blankets on their knees. 
  • The umpires don't get to throw hankies on the pitch at every opportunity. 
  • Instead of blokes with exciting names like Travis Perkins or Chad Ochocinco, a typical cricketer is called something like Ryan Sidebottom.
  • The average cricket cheerleader would probably be an 83-year-old bloke.
  • If Blowers started shouting around like an American wrestling commentator, he'd probably have a seizure. And in any case, everyone would wonder what the fuss was about.
  • The Americans have no concept of the traditions to do with cake, red buses passing the ground, or commentating for twenty minutes on the activities of pigeons in the outfield.
 So I suggest the following changes to make the game more interesting and Yank-relevant:

  • All that boring grass could be replaced with astroturf, and used as prime space for advertising.  
  • Even with advertising, there's far too much outfield. And the concept of an "oval" is so complex. In order to make the scores higher, and to save the need for new stadia, play the game on a pitch the size of an American Football pitch and ban singles.
  • Everyone - not just the batsmen and fielders in "silly" positions - to wear helmets and shoulder pads. And baseball catching mitts.
  • Umpires to wear giant foam hands so they can be seen better on the outfield.
  • Wicket Keepers to wear those chest protectors you see in Ice Hockey, as more valuable advertising space.
  • It's very exciting for an English spectator when a fast bowler knocks a stump out of the ground - but imagine the excitement of Monty Panesar taking a wicket if the stumps were wired to a series of rockets positioned in the sight-screen.
  • Batsmen's pads to be banned to reduce the chance of those boring LBW appeals. In fact the whole concept of LBW - complex, tedious and unncessary - could be removed if the options were hit the ball with the bat, or get very hurt.
  • Even 20-20 is a bit long for Americans. So play 10 overs aside, and reduce the players to 9 per team.
  • All games to be played at night, with fluorescent strips and a glowing ball.
  • Hurdles at either side of the wicket, which batsmen must jump when running (2s and up).
Who knows, with these changes the game could soon be our most popular cultural export since Robbie Williams!

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Shot by an evangelical gun

I'm slightly concerned (as I often am) about the outcry over the gun-sights with religious texts.  Ironically the outcry comes from the people using the guns, who are worried about how the texts will be perceived.  Obviously if you're going to be shot by an American, you'll die happier if you know it's a secular gun that did it.

Suffering, Creator and Creation

Once again this morning I have had to distinguish between Theodicy - the question of why a good creative agent would allow suffering in the world  - and The Odyssey - the tale of Ulysses' return to the bosom of his family after the Trojan War.  Whenever I mention the problem of "Theodicy", somebody only agrees and says that they should never have stolen the Golden Fleece and I have to go round all over again explaining that was Jason and the Argonauts.  Oh for the days before a post-literate congregation.

The philosophy lecturer David Bain comments on these issues on the BBC website.  And my first thought was, what right has somebody who spends all his time boring us silly while sitting in perspex boxes over the Thames, to tell us what God will and won't allow?  And then I realised I was thinking of David Blaine.  And then I noticed that Mr Blaine has been working to raise donations for the relief of Haiti.  So I feel we should forget the perspex-box showing off.  Well done, that man.

And then I thought, well Prof Bain is at Glasgow university.  So when it comes to speaking on the pointlessness of human life and unnecessary suffering, he's probably in the right place.  I myself remember that wander I had around the Gorbals a few years ago.  And I remember that guy who had his shins broken in that mugging incident while I was there.  That will teach him to pick on a defenceless archdruid.

But I believe there are a number of ways of looking at the issue of suffering in the universe.  And I pick a few thoughts here.  We will never know the truth until the Great Day when we stand in the Kingdom of Tea Lights, when we put down our pebbles in awe before the Rock.  But still:

The Enemy
The only mention of the Enemy that Prof Bain makes is in the context of Pat Robertson's (ibid) comments.  Yet the idea of an evil active agent in the world has been a component of many if not most religious  Weltanschauungen.  We think of the Serpent in the Garden of Eden; of Melkor at the foundation of Tolkien's world, bringing his dark music into the song of creation.  Of Loki, of Seth or of Angra Mainyu, or - within our own Husborne Crawley - of Drayton Parslow himself.  They could represent a theological and spiritual reality; the evil principle; or the personification of the freedom of creation.  Either way, the story is that a god who creates a free spiritual as well as physical creation, has allowed that free spiritual creation to affect the physical one.

The Antagonist
The reference to Tolkien makes me wonder.  Consider - no story is complete without an antagonist.  Where would Tess of the D'Urbevilles be without the evil Angel Clare ruining her life?  What would Emma be like without Mr Wodehouse's interference and trouble-making and selfishness?  How can Bridget Jones finally find Mr Darcy without having a Daniel Cleaver to deal with?  How can Kirsty be funny unless the Guy down the chip shop swears he's Elvis?

Even those stories that have no human (or, in the case of Disney's Robin Hood, leonine) antagonist have an enemy or challenge to confront - a mountain, or a sea to navigate, or a desert to cross.

In short - a story that goes "Cinderella was a girl whose sisters loved her.  One day she met Prince Charming and they got married and lived happily ever after" - is not going to sell.  We have to have the ugly sisters, the wicked witch and the dodgy uncle or nobody is going to progress.

So on a one-life-span scale there are individual senseless horrors - but on a universal one, is humanity at one side of a great war - the challenge of a story whose end could be a million, or a billion - or a trillion - years in the making?  Because it is only through the poisoned apple that Snow White gets to marry the Prince; through Mr Wickham's elopement with Lydia that Elizabeth Bennet gets her man.  (I leave aside poor Tess, who runs off with the villain to Stonehenge and is subsequently hanged).

The Story
Maybe that's the pre-condition of a universe that has freedom - itself, as well as for its inhabitants. Maybe it's got to take part in a story.  Maybe there's got to be an enemy - for now.  Maybe when stars must die for us to be made, then destruction as well as creation; suffering as well as pleasure; will always be a part of it.  Maybe the One who made this all is somehow greater, wilder, and more dangerous than we like to think.  We've seen the Father Christmas looking down on us all and just wanting everything to be well, and wondered why he doesn't live up to the billing that we  gave him.  Maybe that's not the way it was in the first place.  Perhaps the struggle is part of the game; the suffering is part of the story; and the Creator has to share in that struggle and that senselessness and that pain before the story reaches the end and we can all live happily ever after.

Tea Lights
Or - we can light a tea light, turn up the Enya and pretend that bad things don't happen to good people.  That Haitians deserve it, and God is good and all's for the best in this best of all worlds.

Some appropriate links:

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Conversion of St Paul (25 January)

Paul (aka Saul) of Tarsus.  An interesting conundrum to community-founding folk such as myself.

Saul is initially a powerful figure in the community, apparently.  Able to raise the funds and support to go on long trips with the express intent of punishing wrongdoers.  A kind of 1st century Hnaef, I suppose.

And yet... that's all given up after his encounter on the Damascus road.

Instead he gives himself up as a slave to his new Master.  Instead of the one pulling the strings, chasing the bad guys, wielding power - he ends up effectively powerless.  The sermons we read from him in the Acts, seem not the same as the stumbling orator he describes himself as in the Letters - Paul being humble?  Or Luke bigging the man up?  Either way, he seems to be depending on the Spirit, not on his official position.
In any case, we have here an example of a religious leader who voluntarily goes into exile, effectively becomes homeless and lives like a vagrant.  He has no institutional power - depending on the power given him by God and the inspiration he can achieve in letter and sermon.  I mean, he didn't even have a fixer to help with the community "living expenses".

He depends on the charity of strangers, is voluntarily imprisoned, suffers punishment without bleating, and in the end (we are told) he suffers the ultimate punishment.

I can only say, with Eustacia Vye, that he's a great bloke for the Bible but would hardly have done in real life.

Signs of Spring

The first glimpse of daylight is now visibly earlier every day.  This morning was so warm that even Hnaef only wore three sets of overcoats for the now-restored "Pouring out of Beakers".  And I saw a pheasant circling anti-clockwise over the Experimental Farm.  It can only mean one thing.  Though the Equinox is a long way off, the first stirrings of the year are taking place.
I guess that's about it for the depths of winter.

Saturday 16 January 2010

The Alternative Parable of the Good Samaritan

A keen walker was travelling on a trip from Milton Keynes to Bedford, but he fell among Millwall supporters. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. 

By chance a priest came along. And the priest rushed to the traveller's side of the road.  But being an Anglican priest, he had no money and could only offer sympathy.   And a female vicar walked over and looked at him lying there, and she asked him how he related to being beaten up and lying there half dead, and shared his pain.  Then left him there.

Then a despised Accident Claims salesman came by, and advised him how to claim compensation.  But when the claim went to court, he found that all the money they won went to the Accident Claims company, and none to the poor traveller.
And the Millwall supporters beat him up again outside the court for his trouble.

MORAL - don't go to Bedford.  It's not worth it.

The annual charity mixed rugby match

Well the pitch was just about playable for the annual Charity Mixed Rugby Match against the Guinea Pig Worshippers of Stewartby, thanks to the thaw.  Although it's fair to say everyone was exhausted after dragging themselves through all that mud.  But we were glad to have achieved a narrow 12-5 victory.  On a pitch like that, kicking was always going to be better than trying to run the ball in.

Every year we have people querying whether it's right to allow woman to take part in such a traditionally rough and violent game.  And I suppose now that argument's going to start all over again.  I can only say that Edith Weston is very sorry about that stamp she put in on the Great Guinea Pig.  And there's no way I deserved sending off for that so-called "eye gouging" incident.  And on top of all that, they've now complained about the dirty songs that Stacey Bushes was singing in the bar afterwards.  Honestly.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Scapegoat update

We've come to a conclusion at last.  In the light of his comments on the Haiti earthquake, Pat Robertson is henceforth the Beaker Scapegoat for 2010.  All bad things that happen in this community will be blamed on Pat Robertson.  It's not fair, but then, neither is claiming that an entire suffering nation has made a pact with the devil.
We won't be mentioning this again as when all is said and done, this really isn't funny.

Please Update Your Status (continued)

Gullible  10 minutes ago
Please update your status if you're gullible.  87% of people won't update their status when they're gullible, even if they're gullible.

Fantasy Land  15 minutes ago
It's a little known fact that 6 deadly diseases can be wiped out if you change your status to this.  97% of people won't update their status - and it's their fault that people continue to die from those same 6 deadly diseases.  Please will you update your status?  Or will you have have the blood of millions of people on your hands?

Birdwitt 18 minutes ago
Arthritis isn't a disease.  It's a flavour of salad dressing.  Will you please update your status to let people know that they've not got a crippling, debilitating disease but instead have a new way of spicing up their summer lunches?  98% of people aren't fooled by this.  But maybe you will be?

U2 Fan 23 minutes ago
You can change the world by updating your Facebook status.  Actually, you can't.  But you can feel like you are, from the comfort of your own living room.  Are you prepared to make absolutely no difference at all by updating your status?  94% of people don't.  But that's because they don't care.

Arfur 47 minutes ago

Sheep 1 hr 4 minutes ago
Will you update your status as a stand against Emotional Blackmail?  Emotional Blackmail blights the lives of millions, as they waste their time updating their Facebook status with meaningless memes.  95% of people won't update their Facebook status with this - even though if they don't, an angel will cry.

Merging of Communities

I have been asked by the Senior Wolf of the La Tène Folk of Luton to publish the new pattern of Ceremony Times, now they have merged with the Gaddesden and Markyate Corded Ware Folk.  This was caused by the recent discovery of the two groups that they didn't have any money.  The new group will be known as the United Folk of the Chilterns.  Ironically...

Staffing: The new combined group will be served by the Senior Wolf of Luton, who will be joined by a Junior Wolf who lives in Kings Langley.  Kings Langley isn't actually in either of the areas concerned, but she refused to move, and she doesn't get paid or receive any kind of housing so what do you expect?

Redbourn: Pouring out of Beakers will take place every third Sunday at 4pm.  Tea Lights will be lit every first Sunday at 8 am.

Flamstead: Devotions will take place at 3pm on every Full Moon.  Every third month this will move to 2pm for no apparent reason.  Under no circumstances will Flamstead Folk join in worship with Markyate Folk, not after that incident in the Sun in 1934.

Little Gaddesden: Filling up of Beakers will take place every Saturday at 6am.  This is to give enough time for the Junior Wolf then to take the Beakers to Great Gaddesden for the 8am Pouring out of Beakers.  The Beakers will then go on to Markyate for the 10 am filling up, then on again to Pepsal End for the 3pm pouring out.

Pepperstock: The "Pepperstock Pebbles" junior group will continue to meet every Friday at 9pm.  They know it's a stupid time for a group of five-year-olds, but to be honest none of them turned up when it was a sensible time anyway, so they thought "what the heck".

Luton: The Luton group has a strong Lay team, capable of leading worship, lighting tea-lights themselves and even have two people licenced to conduct Pouring Out of Beakers.  They will therefore refuse to let the Senior Wolf lead worship anywhere else, if there is a Ceremony scheduled in Luton.  Which is unfortunate as this is all the time.

"Worship all together" - this chance for all Corded Ware and La Tène Folk to join in a celebration together will be held in Leagrave at 6pm on the 4th Friday of each month.  Nobody will attend.

The Leadership of the La Tène and Corded Ware Folk would like to announce that they are frazzled.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

(Un)intelligent Design

The title of this bulletin pays homage to the title of a chapter in Richard Dawkins' book, The Greatest Show on Earth.  Very vivid description of evolution, quite striking in places, although still suffering from his normal vanity and name-dropping.  But he describes the way in which evolution proceeds - first by a leap forward and then by fine-tuning and tinkering to make up for the flaws in the original jump.  The flaws being retained, but the fine-tuning making up for them - as in the compensation for upside-down vision or the blind spot in the eye, or eyeless fish in caves.
Which makes me very worried.

If that's how things work - giant change, then bodge and fiddle afterwards to iron out the glitches - I can only conclude that God is a computer programmer.  How scary is that?  So when it's time for the next big evolutionary leap forward - let's hope he's not set for a late night and sending out for pizza.  I can imagine him making all those design decisions, patching them up - and then coming in late next morning thinking "well it's not perfect, but it's live now."

Weather Warning

The Met Office has issued a weather warning for the East of England.

Outbreaks of rain, sleet and snow during Wednesday have left roads and pavements wet in many areas. The temperature will fall below freezing, while our incompetent government and Met Office were convinced it would never be cold again so the local authorities didn't bother buying enough salt to cover a British winter.  This will lead to the formation of widespread ice on untreated roads and pavements during the evening, overnight and during Thursday morning.  If we're lucky we'll have some salt in about June time so we can more or less guarantee no icy roads then.  Not that it would matter.  There are now so many pot holes in them you won't be going anywhere.

The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley would like to welcome you back to the New Stone Age.

How do you solve a problem like Drayton?

Using the executive powers vested in me, I've just banned Drayton Parslow's latest pressure group, "Drayton4Archdruid", whose intention was to remove me as Archdruid and replace me with Drayton.

This comes hot on the heels of yesterday's banning of his previous pressure group, "Eileen Musthavelessroom".  This was dedicated to reducing my suite of rooms to the same size as a standard Beaker Person's cell.  While the other rooms went to Drayton.

Then last week I had to ban "Beaker Folk4Drayton".

And then there was "Free Husborne Crawley".  It was ostensibly a campaign for Husborne Crawley independence.  Not as daft as you may think - we would have made a fortune charging tolls to people crossing Husborne territory to visit Woburn Abbey, and could abolish income tax in the village.  But actually it was me he wanted to free Husborne Crawley from, replacing my democratic, consensual Archdruidical rule with the tyranny of Drayton.

All in all I've banned 64 of Drayton's organisations over the last three years.  And I'm beginning to think it's not achieving anything.  At one point, realising that in fact Drayton is the only member of any of these groups, I banned Drayton Parslow.  But he just came back, claiming that his name was Milton Malsor.  Which I strongly suspect he'd just made up.  I even paid for a few days for Joe Pasquale to walk around with Drayton, saying everything for him in his silly voice.  But still he didn't see the error of his ways.

Still, [patriotic music plays in background] I will not cease from my ceaseless task, of banning all organisations which stand against me the values we all stand for - liberty, freedom, tea lights and my right to be Archdruid.

You know, it's just a long shot but I'm thinking that maybe beating him with sticks to drive out the demons might work?

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Quantitative Freezing*

I must confess, I don't really understand the problem.

When the worldwide financial system was in crisis over the last couple of years, Gordon Brown just invented some more money and the problem went away.

That being so, now we're being told that Local Authorities have to halve the salt they use on the roads - why doesn't he just invent some more salt?  Given he fixed a huge problem like the credit crunch this way, why won't it work for a little problem like some ice?

Hnaef will be out spreading imaginary salt around the courtyard tonight to get rid of the ice and snow.  So if you slip and fall over tomorrow, it's all your own fault for not believing hard enough.

* Updated - just thought of a better title..

Facebook Status

Please put this on your status if you don't copy other people's statuses. People who don't copy other people's statuses feel guilty an incredible .03% of the time, and need support. 92.6% of people (and 92.633332% of nerdy people) won't copy and paste this. Will you?

Monday 11 January 2010

Job Terms of Reference

Process, Process, Process.  The curse of the modern world.  And now, much as I try to avoid it, it's even invaded here.

At the last Moot I was asked to organise Terms of Reference for the different roles within the Beaker Folk community.  Goodness knows I tried to avoid doing it.  Writing these things down means fossilising them, setting them in stone - moving from "storming" to "norming".  Sure, it takes away my ability to make arbitrary decisions about who does what - but it also puts barriers in the way of anyone else who just wants to get up and make a difference.  Put TORs, as Burton insists on calling them, in place and suddenly they've got to fill in a form, get accreditation, pass a criminal records check and do a three-week course before they can breathe.  Although the 3-week "Breathing" course - see below - is, the Trainers assure me, massively popular.
Anyway, here we go.

Archdruid (Eileen)
The Archdruid's role is to set the standards, lead worship, define best practice in lighting tea lights, and generally carry the can.  Whenever anything goes wrong, it will because I lack vision and want to leave things as they are.  Unless I have done something ground-breaking and radical, in which case the problem will be that I can't let things lie.  I will fail to read the minute body-language and verbal signals by which the Beaker Folk around me will indicate that they are depressed, in need of support, in need of a job, about to go over the wall to the Guinea Pig Folk at Stewartby or feeling like their gifts are over- or under-used.  If my sermons are twelve minutes long they will be boring, but if they are eleven and a half minutes long they will lack substance.  I will not be the kind of strong leader that people want, because what people generally want are strong leaders that agree with them.
Additionally, I will be over-worked, unappreciated and lacking in support.  Nobody will care how I'm feeling, since they're all just there to suck the creative and caring juices from my spirit leaving me a dry husk.  My sermons will be intellectual, humorous and spiritual.  Unfortunately my hearers will be unable to relate on all three levels.  That won't be my fault - it will be theirs.

Executive Arch-Assistant Archdruid (Hnaef)
The EA-AA's  role is to maintain discipline and order in Community life.  He will organise pointless sub-committees that nobody asked for.  These sub-committees will in turn draw up TORs for themselves, arguing for months over the minutiae of the difference between a "vision" and a "mission".  By the time they have worked out what they are for, the things they are for will no longer be relevant.
Hnaef will ruthlessly and brutally stamp out any kind of intolerance in the Community, wherever it is found.

Deputy Arch-Assistant Druid (Drayton Parslow)
It is important that we have a prophetic voice in the Community.  Somebody who can stand within the leadership structures, and yet not dependent upon them.  The DA-AD's role is to provide that prophetic role. Therefore he will criticise the Archdruid at all times, especially when not in her presence, and do his best to undermine her.  His role will be to determine the Archdruid's shortcomings, publicise them to the Community and generally run her down.  The DA-AD's prophetic role will mean that he personally regards himself as above suspicion and immune to criticism.  His role is to stab the Archdruid in the back, and he regards it as a divine duty.

Flower Arrangers*
I have to confess, I've never worked out where the Flower Arrangers came from.  One day we had none.  And no real desire for any.  The next, any free surface in any worship "space" was covered in flowers.
The Flower Arrangers' job is to put flowers onto any surface that is available, and then if they are moved to put unimportant objects in their place - for example, pulpits, worship focusses, OHPs or seating - to take eternal umbrage.
They will spend dozens of hours a week on the job, and then no matter how often they are thanked will be hurt that they're never given any consideration.
At times of fasting and abstinence, the Flower Arrangers will at first be confused by the information "no flowers".  They will then set to work anyway, providing little arrangements of twigs and dead flowers "in keeping with the season".

Worship Group
The Worship Group has a special spiritual awareness of the musical needs of the Community.  Their job is to choose the songs for each act of worship with no regard for the wishes of the Archdruid, of the season or of modern (or indeed any) taste in music.   They will play each song the number of times they decide, regardless of any gestures, hand signals or even threats of violence from the Archdruid.  If they have a choice between playing in a hard key, or making it impossible for the Community to sing a song, they will invariably choose the latter.  This is because they know that suffering is good for the soul.  Especially other people's suffering.
If they play well it will be because they are talented and inspired.  If they play badly it will be because of the poor level of spirituality of the congregation. Since the instruments consist of a tuba, a bodhran and an out-of-tune Spanish guitar,  it will tend to be "badly".

Training Group
The role of the Trainers is constantly to think up new courses they could run.  Ideally these courses will flow naturally on from each other, so that "Getting to know God" will be followed by "Getting to know a bit more about God", followed by "Getting to know quite a lot about God", all the way up to "Getting to know more about God than God knows".  They will run courses at weekends, on a weekly basis in the evenings, at lunchtimes and - for those with jobs - they will run the really useful ones at 3pm on weekday afternoons.  Whichever courses they run, they will always get the same seven people coming along.  The seven with time on their hands.

Morality Watch Group
The job of this group, in a spirit of charity and mutual well-being, is to look out for dodgy stuff and then report it to the Archdruid so I can clamp down.  When, in a liberal spirit, I decide I can't see what the fuss is about or it's none of my business, they will complain that I am going to bring judgement down on the Community.  When the chapel disappears into a black hole, they will claim it is all my fault.**

Treasurer (Burton Dasset)
The Treasurer's role is to produce detailed reams of statistics each month explaining why the members of the Community aren't donating enough money.  He will either possess a Masters' in Excel, enabling him to provide pivot charts that we don't understand, or else be completely ignorant of the principles of double-entry accountancy, and indeed arithmetic.  He will repeatedly request that he be allowed to introduce accruals into the accounting, as he thinks we won't comprehend what he's on about.  He's right.  Wittering on endlessly about his collection of beer-mats isn't part of the job.  It's just part of his personality.

World Evangelisation Committee
Responsible for organising jumble sales.

Rota Arranger
Responsible for organising the rota of which jobs people are doing for each worship Occasion.  Tasked with ensuring that nobody has more than one thing to do at a time, that nobody does the same job twice in succession, that nobody does anything they don't like to do, that people only ever get to work with their friends and that everybody has a fair crack of the whip.   Tenure of the Rota Arranger is on a six-month basis.  They have to be replaced that frequently due to exhaustion.

* This job description is for satirical purposes only.  No flower arrangers are really like this, or at least not the one I've ever met.  And I've not said this just because I'd be in fear of my life.  Although of course I am.
** OK, technically it was my fault.  But it was because I'd gone for one too many special effects in an act of worship, not because I'd ignored Young Keith pulling a barmaid in Milton Keynes).  Although, of course, I had ignored him doing that.  Wouldn't like to be thought of as judgemental... 

Sympathetic Magic

The use of Sympathetic Magic in old religions is of course well-documented.  It is believed* that one of the reasons that bonfires were lit at Samhain, Yule, Beltane, etc was to prompt the sun into offering of its own rays - that the sun god, seeing our puny fires down on earth, would be encouraged to pour out the blessings of his warmth.  At Beltane the hope was that the sun would continue to strengthen.  At Samhain, that he wouldn't dwindle away.  And at Yule, that he wouldn't disappear completely.
We retain the tradition of lighting bonfires and/or wicker people (we accept male and female wicker people of all genders and several) at various key times of the year.  Unlike our forebears, with generations of scientific training and post-modern cynicism behind us we just like lighting bonfires.

All of which may give some background to this morning's rather odd events. Encouraged by my downgrading of the snow alert, Burghley and Edith Weston, rather than hiding out from the cold, went to the opposite extreme.
Running around the courtyard dressed in bermuda shorts, flower-print tops and sunglasses could be classed as tasteless at most seasons of the year.  But in the current climate I think that "suicidally dim" might be a better classification.
Needless to say, after half an hour of chanting, laying down on the snow as if sunbathing and shouting "ooh isn't it warm", they were both struck down with hypothermia.  It would appear that the sun has resolutely refused to come out in sympathy, and our real concern is that the spirits of the snow may have regarded it as some kind of botched sacrifice to them, in which case we're all in real trouble.
All in all, the worst bit of sympathetic magic since the Prophets of Baal nicked themselves shaving.  Enjoy the link, to a "children's" page which manages to treat the mass-execution of a group of (no doubt sincere, well-meaning) people in quite a light-hearted way, I think.

* Or at least, lots of books say.  None of the old people left any writings.

Snow alert over

In line with Mr Ed Balls's advice, we are now lowering the Snow Alert from White to Off-White.  Which in short means, there are no longer any excuses.  No pulling the duvet over your head and claiming you're "snowed-in" on the East wing (OK, there was that problem with the hole in the roof but that was soon rectified.)

No, the temperature's hovering around zero, there's just the odd flake forecast, the howling wind you can feel is a figment of your imagination and stuff is back to normal.

Now chip the ice out of your beakers, get out there in the snow and worship, you wusses!

NB Hnaef will be staying in, as he just slipped over on the ice.

Sunday 10 January 2010

Burton's Beer Tasting Notes - Young's Winter Warmer

Ah, dear readers of my manifold wandering, truly many of us can recall the Young's of old. Brewed in Wandsworth, the Special in particular was a kind of revelation when you drank it. I remember the odd pint, on the way back from particularly strenuous audits, in the Square Tavern in Tolmer's Square, London. A decent pub in a surprising location. And handy for Euston Station. Which, if you're heading back to Milton Keynes from Central London, is the place to be. Oh yes, you can go to Liverpool Street, but you won't end up in CMK or Bletchley.

But by the late 90s Young's were clearly in a downward spiral. They weren't the brewery they were. And so it was no great disaster, given where things had got to, when all the production moved to Charles Wells at Bedford. A stronger financial base, a collaboration of brewing and pubs companies - and all brewed with the gentle water of the Great Ouse. The Great Ouse, holding the record for the widest river in Bedford.

And so what, gentle reader, do we make of Young's Winter Warmer, as brewed in Bedford? A dark beer - that is the first thing that strikes the eye. With an aroma of - is that liquorice? You think it may well be. Then a strong foretaste of liquorice is followed by a dominant taste of liquorish. With the after-taste being... well, liquorish, frankly. As an ale, it's an experience that is not unlike drinking boiled-up "Imps" sweets.

But as you get into the experience you realise that the liquorice is not an unpleasant taste. The roundness of the beer starts to soak into your soul. It is a full-bodied dark ale, of that there is no doubt. A resolute mouth-feel. And just the hint of - what? Liquorice? And the beer is indeed a warmer. You set out on the trek through the snow knowing you'll make it.

Overall: A rating of 6.2 on the Dasset scale.

Best music to drink it with: "I need you" by N-Dubz.

An older post than Stonehenge

I would like to thank Hnaef and Ukviewer for their sincere birthday wishes, and also Drayton Parslow for his. Drayton assures me that the card was meant to do that, but I suspect that actually the device malfunctioned.

With time and - one hopes - maturity comes a certain recherching of temps perdu. And it was delightful on this of all days to find an old bulletin on druidic matters I would like to share with you.
I owe the tip of the archdruidical pointy hat to Stroppy Rabbit, always a thoughtful commenter on neo-pagan matters. But the page itself on ley line congestion is here.