Thursday 30 June 2011

Apple seeds

Apple seeds are amazing things. A little packet of dynamite random DNA.

The scientists artificially distinguish between the so-called species Malus Domestica and Malus Sylvestris. But we know there's no real distinction. You can cross crab apples with cookers, eaters and cider apples. Oh yeah. crabs may be the chavs of the apple world - hated by the pomonophiles and looked down upon by the dessert growers - but they're lusty, fertile and always willing to help when it comes to fertilising one of they posh trees.

And Malus is amazing. What a useful tree. You can eat the eaters, cook the cookers. Make crab-apple jelly. Press the cider apples, wait a few months and drink it the juice. Cut off twigs and give them to the Earless Beaker Bunny to keep her incisors in trim. Chop the tree down and burn it - it's fantastic firewood.

And I love Malus because it's got a genetic mind of its own. You plant an apple seed - you never know what's going to grow. You plant a Golden Delicious pip, 10 years later you've a tree that produces tasty apples with a point to eat them. It can happen. Or it could be some useless seedling that you throw away. You never know with an apple. That's the point. If you drive down the A5 from Milton Keynes to Dunstable - especially down the hill that gives Hockliffe its name, where people queue up going south - there's apple trees self-set all the way down there. Even more down the M11, I notice. They must have huge traffic jams - because the trees are there because commuters have thrown apple cores out the window. The only litter with a benefit. All that genetic diversity - the next Ashmead's Kernel or Egremont Russet or Worcester Pearmain is probably, as I write, growing next to a motorway somewhere, unnoticed except in early autumn when someone remarks what a lovely colour the fruit is.

I've been thinking about church plants. And I reckon they've a strong similarity to apple pips.

"Let's have a plant", someone will say. There's many reasons why they might say this - and they're normally the wrong one. The church has outgrown its building - it does happen. Really, some churches do outgrow buildings. Or someone wants a family service and it's not allowed at the "home" church and they think - "go on, have it in the school up the road". That could happen. Or someone's decided they've their own vision for church and want to go for it. And the vicar thinks it's a good idea to let them go.

I tell you, there's all sorts of reasons for it to happen. And they're normally wrong. And yet - there's something about a plant. It's like an apple pip. The time it takes for the "parent" church (or "mother ship" in technical terms) to realise that the plant isn't what they intended can take from 6 weeks to about 3 years. But somewhere down the road, if things go wrong, they'll realise that the scion ain't like the stock. The Anglo-Catholic church that's stood at the town crossroads since King Penda was a lad has just realised it's unexpectedly mothered a kid in a hoody that's bought an electric keyboard and a bass. Or the evo church which people come from miles to worship in, accidentally plants a community church which reflects the diversity of the community, instead of the straight-down-the-line purity it was supposed to hold onto.

You can't control them. If the plant thrives but morphs - then the parent interferes, tries to change it to what it was supposed to be, might try and close it down - looks a bit sad - then shrugs and gives up. Nature's like that. Not that a Granny Smith can try to make a russet offspring all green and shiny and tasteless - but it might try if, like a parent church, it had the ability.

Of course sometimes the sapling is weak and dies. That's what happens with plants. But when it doesn't, and when it has the right soil, and the right support - enough to stop it snapping in a gale, but not such that the roots never really grow - then it grows. And what it produces can be astounding. Something nobody every imagined.

Apple seeds are amazing things.

Celebration of special relativity

Archdruid's note: It was on 30 June 1905 that Albert Einstein issued the seminal article "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies". Please don't try this at home. We do these liturgies so you don't have to.

 Hnaef is projected through the Moot House (from SW to NE) at near-light-speed. He is remarkably lengthened. Which is a mistake, as he was tall enough already. He whizzes out through the Summer Sunrise door and splats into the wall of the Doily Shed.

All: Ooooh!

Standing on a set of scales, Young Keith hurtles from the SE to the NW door. In a total contradiction to special reality, but to make the point, the scales reveal that he is now very, very heavy.

All: Ooooh!

Switching on the magnets in the Moot House walls, and making use of the steel in Burton Dasset's toe-caps, we accelerate him to relativistic speed. We accelerate Marston Moretaine in the opposite direction, using the same principle. When they collide, they form that much-sought subatomic particle - the Anti-Moron.

All: Ooooh!

The Archdruid stands up to deliver her sermon, "Relativity and the Existence of the Divine". Everyone figures that they must have been travelling very fast, as although they think the sermon lasted a very long time, the Archdruid reckons it was only 5 minutes long.

All: Zzzzzz!

In a demonstration of quantum theory, we entangle two photons. When we spin one, the other goes round in circles the other way.

A small chap with familiar eyes and moustache wanders across the Moot House.

Albert: Schtopp! Gott does not play dice!

All: Einstein a go-go!

Wednesday 29 June 2011

The Archdruid is right!

This may not surprise many people - least of all the Archdruid - but after a long discussion with Young Keith, I've come to the definite conclusion that she's entirely right with her prediction of the End.  2033 +/- 5 years she said.  Well, I can tell you the exact time (well, Young Keith can): it's going to be 03:14:07 UTC on Tuesday, 19th January 2038.  It's all to do with unsigned 32-bit integers, which are very dangerous things, particularly when you run out of them and they overflow.  Believe me (or Young Keith, anyway) - you really don't want that happening.

I know some will question whether we can know the exact time.  Well, given that the Bible is consonant with scientific fact (if you read it right, anyway, ignoring the bits that are difficult, or at least re-translating them more carefully this time, or explaining that they are just myths that represent the world-view of pre-Enlightenment peoples of the Middle and Near East to the best of their understanding within the limits of a pre-knowledge based social collective consiousness - which I know we can all agree on, except maybe Drayton), then I think should realise that the bit about "not knowing the time" is actually a simplified statement of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.  In other words, we can't know with arbitrary precision the exact position and the exact momentum of the End Time.  Given that we can work out the exact position of the Earth at that particular time, based on Newtonian Dynamics with a bit of Einsteinian relativity thrown in, then we just can't be sure of the momentum.  I'm pretty sure that's what I agreed with Young Keith, but we were at the White Horse at the time, and we'd been sitting chatting over a few pints, so it might have been the other way round.

Dating Jesus

Some of our readers may have noticed that the Archdruid forecast the End this morning. Cleverly, she got around the "no one knows the day or the hour" exemption by quoting a margin of error.

But Jonny O remarked, a propos of her selection of 33AD for the events of the first Easter and Pentecost - and I quote - 

"As a member in good standing of the Pedantic Society, I wish to point out that the anniversary is in the year AD 2034, due to basic arithmetic. See, since there was no year zero, if Jesus was born in AD 1 and lived 33 years, he would have died in AD 34, not AD 33." 

You're right, there was no year zero.
But the "conventional" year in which Jesus was born wasn't 1AD. it was 1 BC. And so, if Jesus were 33 when he died, rose, and ascended then he would have been crucified, dead, buried and ascended in 33AD.

If Jesus were 33. He was "about 30 years of age" (Luke 3:23) when he began his ministry. Which, given an Archdruidical margin of error, would mean 25-35. Maybe a bit less, but clearly not precise. It's Luke - a Synoptic Gospel - which gives this age. And Luke that places John the Baptist's ministry starting at the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius - in other words, about 29AD. But we don't know how long after John Jesus started, and we don't know really how long Jesus' ministry went on - at least three years, according to John - but the Synoptics seem to cut it all a bit short.

33AD however is generally regarded as the best bet for the Crucifixion, based on dating it as a Friday on or near Passover in line with all 4 gospels (but not necessarily the actual day of Passover, based on the Synoptics - or maybe so, along with John). Which if you calculate it back 33 years, gives you Christmas Day 1 BC. If Jesus were born at Christmas. If he were 33.

But Jesus probably wasn't born in 1BC, and almost certainly not on 25 December.

In fact, if you take the Gospel as Gospel. he would more likely have been born before 4BC (when Bad King Herod died) or in 6AD (when Quirinius was governor of Syria and there was a census).
So, Johnny O, if he were born in the year that he definitely wasn't, and if he were crucified at the age of 33 which we don't know, and if he were crucified in 32AD which he can't have been - you're dead right.

Johnny O - the secretary of the Pedantic Society phoned. He says you'll be wanting your subscription back.

Definitely the End of the World this time

I've not mentioned the Last Things for absolutely weeks. Well, the End of the World's all a bit last month, don't you think?

And I'm totally unconvinced by the Mayan Calendar 2012 theory. Although conveniently it would save us paying off the debts caused by the Olympics and then having to riot like the Greeks. As I've said before, I wouldn't trust the Mayans. Confronted with a bunch of Spaniards.carrying crucifixes and guns, the Mayans wondered whether they might be friendly. Whereas any genuinely prophetic race would have run, screaming, for their lives.

But no. This is my theory. And no-one can accuse me of bandwagonning this time.


Precisely two millennia after Pentecost. 2,000 years the church will have had to make a bit of a hash, frankly, of the Great Commission. 2,000 years of schism, squabbles and poor judgment. Of selling out to earthly rulers and ego-trips and persecution.  2,000 years - as you will be able to read into the Book of Revelation - and then God will decide he'd better do it for us. Again.

Please note that precise datings of Our Lord's earthly ministry are not available. This prophecy could be +/- 5 years. Or completely wrong. No refunds.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Forgive and forget

Well, despite our pronunciatory differences, the Archdruid entrusted me with an important mission today.  She told me that last time she rescued Young Keith from one of the trees that he is so wont to climb (and sometimes to fall out of), she noticed that there might be truffles near the base.  Today, she noted, would be a perfect day to go rooting for them.  As we have neither a truffle pig nor a truffle hound in the Community, she had decided to nominate me to the special honour of searching for them.

I had not known that there is a special uniform for truffle hunting near the bases of trees, but it turns out that there is and it is made almost entirely of tin foil, and includes a metal hat.  I was ready to go out first thing this morning, but the Archdruid kept delaying me, muttering something about how inaccurate the weather forecast was, though what relevance that had, I don't know.

In fact, she sent me out to search around the trees in my special truffle-hunting tinfoil suit and metal hat just as the thunderstorm took hold, but would brook no argument when I questioned the wisdom of the course of action, so I spent an hour searching for truffles as the lightning struck various trees, shrubs and hillocks near by.  It was quite exhilarating, and the hair on the arms stood up on end.  As, in fact, did the hair on my head, underneath the metal hat.

I only realised after I got back that I don't even really know what truffles look like.  I'd assumed they look like those lovely chocolate truffles that Mrs Hnaef likes so much, but it turns out that the Archdruid was less than pleased with the collection of owl pellets that I brought back.  Drayton, however, was ecstatic, so all's well that ends well.

Standing in Solidarity with Lyn Brown

I'm fascinated by the way that Labour MP Lyn Brown is being criticised for recruiting a "volunteer", who will do the job of a political assistant for nothing.

It's all very well slinging mud, but it's quite clear that Ms Brown has merely understood the concept of "The Big Society" - i.e. getting people to do useful stuff, and not paying for it.

I myself have adopted a similar policy. Many of our Beaker People are currently working on a Doily-Pressing volunteer scheme. And some of them, as well as putting in eight or nine hours a day banging the holes out of doilies, are giving 10% of their salaries from their day jobs to our special inflation-busting "donations" scheme. I hope people realise that this is in no way a form of exploitation - but rather that we are giving them the chance to "put something back", while learning a useful set of skills that, in a post-industrial Britain, may be all the country is fit to do one day. And we are not slave-drivers. On particularly hot days like yesterday, we provide plastic cups of water at little more than cost price in the Doily Shed, on at least a four-hourly basis.

So let's hear no more about it. The Minimum or even "Living" wage is only applicable to people who are actually paid. Free labour is free labour. And that can't be bad, however you look at it.

Cynical thought for the day

It's the people that care about stuff that we can't be bothered to care about that change the world. "This is wrong," they say. While we go - yeah, maybe, but not that wrong.

The people who care change the world. We may not like the way they changed it. But then - we didn't care that much in the first place.

A girl's best friend

I'm fretting over this post on the Science Blog.

They moved a quantum state from one atom in a diamond to an adjacent nitrogen atom.

Which begs the question.

What sort of a diamond has a nitrogen atom in it? Surely if there's nitrogen in it, it's not a diamond anymore? It's spoilt, spoilt, spoilt, spoilt. Who cares if you can move quantum states around?

Chi or not chi

Some have mocked, but they are wrong to mock.  And now that it is morning, and my head is throbbing less than it was, I will prove it to them.  I have collated two lists.  One is where the "ch" is from the Greek letter "chi", and where, therefore, the sound is "ck", or, allowably, as in the Scottish word "loch" (as pronounced by a Scottish person).  The other is where it is not, and is therefore pronounced "ch", as in "chick".  I have ignored words which have been insufficiently Anglicised, and are still too Germanic, Yiddish or Frenchy, such as "charabanc", to have been safely brought into the latter fold.

- Chi: perichoresis, Christian, chi (letter name), ichthos
- Not chi: chorizo, Ch'i (Chinese: life force), church, chocolate, French, chalice, chasuble, chest-cross (for those too squeamish to refer to a bishop's "pectoral")

Extra lists:
- Italian ones which are pronounced "ck": chianti
- Confusing ones which are pronounced "ck" which you're just going to have to learn: choir (more English version "quire", but re-spelled in the 17th Century to be more Latinate, which is fine)

If you don't know how to pronounce these words, some of which may be used in a liturgical setting (e.g. "we've run out of Communion wine, would you mind popping back home to fetch that half-bottle of chianti we had left over last night?"), then you're going to feel mightily embarassed.  This is a church matter, and of great importance.

I'm off to find my shin pads, before the Archdruid finds her Slazenger and steel-capped boots.

I have a dream

Such a worrying dream as I had. Other religious leaders might recognise it.

You know - when you can't find your vestments, you can't remember the song to announce. You suddenly realise the sermon's rubbish and you'll have to extemporise one. And the music group's in revolt. And though the building was constructed for 500 people, there's only 15 in the congregation.

Well it was like that. Only it was a dream.

Monday 27 June 2011

Pedantry. And peasantry.

There are some things that cannot go unremarked, even if the Archdruid doesn't like it. In fact, _particularly_ if the Archdruid doesn't like it.

I don't have a problem with ignorance, but I cannot countenance _intentional_ irrectitude. And I use that word advisedly.  No, I take it all back: I can't abide ignorance either. But it's more excusable than deliberate irrectitude. That smacks of peasantry. And the only excuse for that is ill-breeding. And that's not really much of an excuse, either.

Let me explain.  I was barbecuing today, and Charlii came past.  "What are you barbecuing?" she asked.  "Oh, it looks like chorizo."

Only she pronounced it "choreetzo".

I kept my cool, and my temper.  She's new.  And, I suspect, an Arminian.

"No, no," I said, hardly condescendingly, "it's Spanish.  So the z is pronounced 'th': cho-reetho."

"I'm sure it's choreetzo," she responded.

I was just drawing breath when the Archdruid came by.  "Ah, choreetzo," she commented.

It is lucky for the Archdruid that she was carrying her Slazenger cricket bat, as I was equipped with a fairly long pair of barbecue tongs.  It was lucky for me that I got the first attack in, and even luckier that I caught her off-guard and that her parry only caught me a glancing blow to the head.

The Archdruid _knows_ how to pronounce chorizo correctly.  She knows because I've told her.  Repeatedly.  And posted notes under her office door.  And displayed it with on a laser display board (borrowed from "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue") during several services in several instantiations of the Moot House.

Dances and Didgeridoos

I am intrigued to read the blogpost at The Artsy Honker in which Kathryn Rose remarks that the problem of most traditional hymns is the over-slow way in which they are played. They should be livelier, she says.

Here at the Beaker Folk, I would disagree. From our perspective the main problem with traditional hymns is that they often have a great deal of theology in them. And as Nestorius and Arius discovered, the trouble with theology is that there is so often a winner and a loser. Consider Charles Wesley's "Hark how all the Welkin Rings":

"Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,
hail the incarnate Deity!
pleased as man with men to appear,
Jesus, our Emmanuel here!"

The accusations and rows can be heard hours later, as the side that claims Charles Wesley was just being poetic throws flower-pots at the side that claims he was a thoroughgoing Docetist. Not to mention the suggestions that "man with men" could perhaps be re-written in these egalitarian times. Whereas if Charlie W. had written "I want to be out of my depth in your love", both sides could have wandered off feeling slightly queasy but otherwise completely safe from fighting.

I have a couple of suggestions to get round this.

One is to use metrical psalms exclusively. The theological arguers can't argue, because the words come - more or less - straight from the Bible. Even the Wee Frees couldn't get too upset. OK, you get the odd line that is utterly incomprehensible - but then sometimes you get something as sweet as the 18th from Sternhold and Hopkins:

3  The fiery darts and thunderbolts
       disperse them here and there;
    And with his frequent lightnings he
       doth put them in great fear.

The other great advantage of these is that you can pretty well sing them all to the same three or four tunes -the 18th in this instance being beautifully suited to the tune we normally sing "The Lord's my Shepherd" to. And that cuts down on music group practice time.

There is another way to draw attention away from the theology of the hymns, and the two are not mutually exclusive. Introduce didgeridoos. The blog title "The Artsy Honker" is, I guess, a reference to Kathryn Rose's ability with that doyen of the West Gallery repertoire, the serpent. And the serpent itself, like its successor the ophicleide, is likely to draw some attention. But just imagine - the opening few lines of "Trust and Obey". People of right attitudes and theological sensitivity are about to rush the organ and drag the organist out of the church to stop him. But then - what's that? Surely somebody has written a didgeridoo part into the hymn. All discussion of theology and musical validity is forgotten, as everyone gazes open-mouthed at the didgeridoo player.

Got to be worth a try, at least. I reckon.

A liturgy of Voiles and Tea Lights

A wordless liturgy. The sound of whale song, Enya or Coldplay may be used for background music. Or, in the absence of anything appropriately religious, maybe some Palestrina. We have prepared this liturgy as a time of watchfulness and prayerfulness, to mark Sally reaching the stage of pre-ordination retreat in her journey. A great inspiration to us in our use of voiles, tea lights and pebbles. Driftwood, lumps of flint off the beach. Sea weed. Crab apples. Hazelnuts. Oh, and blackberries. And Woodhenge, though we had to take that back.

The entry of the tea lights

The tea lightifers walk in, and arrange the tea lights on the floor in an appropriate shape - a cross, dove-shape or Celtic knot may all be suitable.

The lighting of the tea lights

The Man with the Taper lights the tea lights. In those communities where flares are worn, bicycle clips are recommended.

The laying out of the voile

About 20 yards of voile is laid in an artistic manner across the floor. Forgetting about the tea lights.
The worshippers look on in horror, as the flames leap up. Although this is in principle a wordless ceremony, the words "Oh no, not again" may be used in Lent.

Automatic fire sprinklers cut in, spraying the worshippers and voile with water.

The arrangement of the seaweed

On the return to the Moot House after the evacuation, the seaweed may be arranged in a circle around the burnt patch where the voile was.

The release of the doves

A dozen doves, symbol of peace and justice, are brought in and released from their cage. Those Beaker People particularly devoted to animal rights may stage a brief sit-down protest. Until they realise their bottoms are getting wet.

The scattering of rosebuds

The Rosa Rugosifer skips around the Moot House, scattering rose buds. She accidentally takes out a couple of stray  unicyclists.

All: [forgetting it's a wordless service]: Aaah! Rosebuds!

Rosebud the Dog, who we'd all forgotten about since the Peter Falk service, tears back into the Moot House attacking stray Beaker Folk. In the panic, people slide over on the now-wet seaweed that's lying on the floor. A number of people may skid on the hazelnuts that have been scattered around the place to remember Mother Julian.

The Moot House is evacuated again, while we go to get Rosebud's trainer. 

We stay safely outside and build a cairn.

A gentle introduction to Druidism

Now, it's lovely having Charlii with us. And it's important that, with her being a new Assistant Druid, people don't immediately start expecting her to be available for pastoral care, running the Little Pebbles group or taking the Ladies' Bright Hour that unexpectedly started up while I wasn't looking.

So please give her some space. The hosepipe has sprung a leak, so she'll mostly spend tomorrow learning how to irrigate courgette plants at the top of the Big Field, with the use of a watering can and the tap at the bottom of the field. Please don't disturb her with your spiritual worries - she's got a lot to take in.

Sunday 26 June 2011

New Assistant Druid

It being Solsticetide, we've been having the traditional round of druidical investitures.
As you know,  the tradition of the Beaker Conneksion is to give the candidates each year no idea of which community they will end up at. Indeed, neither they nor the leaders of their new communities know where they will be earning their sickles, until after the selection process, the night after investiture.

Having been wise enough during the selection process to have hung onto a pair of aces, I am pleased this evening to introduce our new Assistant Druid, Charlotte. Charlotte - or "Charlii", as she likes to be known - comes to us with a first in Theology from Quisling College, Cambridge. Which will be of invaluable use during her three-year training period with us. Especially as she is reflecting theologically on the formational qualities of banging the holes out of doilies.

We all enjoyed Charlii's first sermon, on "Interpersonal Quantum Dynamics in the Context of the Peacable Kingdom" this evening. And it's that kind of heavyweight theological reasoning that I believe will attract new, vibrant pilgrims to our Community. And not the fact that, in Young Keith's rather vulgar phrase, she is "a bit of alright".

Marcuse / Mark Hughes / J'Accuse

The results of the Marcuse / Mark Hughes poll are in.

Sparked by an unlikely pun on their two names by @MetalVicar,  the vital question was - who has heard of these people? And in a poll with all the accuracy of a Daily Express house price survey, we have the shocking results.

Mark Hughes - 47-year-old Wales International and Football manager with the nickname "Sparky" - is known by  49% of people.

The name of Herbert Marcuse - 113-year-old German Jewish left-wing philosopher (well, he would be if he were still alive) - is known by 40% of people.

The overlap between these two figures is that the frankly underwhelming percentage of 25% of respondents knew of both. Which means that one in 4 of the Twittersphere and other people would get a joke based on whether a German Jewish philosopher was being lined up as the new manager of Birmingham City. I think. It's so long ago, I can't even remember the football club now.

36% had heard of neither person. I'm guessing they were people uninterested in left-wing philosophy and Manchester United.

I've no idea whether Mark Hughes every met Marcuse. I'm guessing the answer is "no", as Sparky was a 16-year-old wannabe footballer when the philosophy guy died. What a shame.

Metal Vicar blogs here.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Blessing of Cats Service

OK. So in retrospect not so smart.

But at the time we thought this might be the start of a better model of Pet service. Adopting an encounter with just one type of people - cat lovers - was more in line, we thought, with modern Church Growth Theory.

And I'm still, in retrospect, sure the principle was sound. It was just the execution that was flawed.

So we may do the Blessing of Cats again. But if we do, next time we won't sprinkle them with blessed water.

Who would have thought the cats would reacted like that to getting wet? Poor Ardwulf. Some of those scratches could take weeks to heal.

Beaker Half-Cut

It looks like we're in for a trying few days here.

The action by UK Uncut has inspired Brethyn to start her own, rather confused, campaign against tax avoidance. Given her rather emotion state last night when she started this movement, we're calling it Beaker Half-Cut.

She started off by beating Burton up for having a pension plan, and Redrytch for having an ISA. Outrageous examples of tax avoidance, in Brethyn's opinion. She told Burton she expects him to take all his pay home, and if he wants to save for his pension to put the money in the bank or under his bed, rather than expecting the Government to let him have free money.

Then she somehow got her hands on Rodrick's train ticket and cut it in half. She told him if he insists on working in London he shouldn't dodge fuel duties and VAT - and ordered him to drive. And also told him he shouldn't go looking for a car-share either - he should drive in his own car and pay the amount of duty he's supposed to.

But Brethyn was happy when I explained to her that we don't have charitable status, so don't collect Gift Aid on our contributions. Unlike other tax-dodgers such as Greenpeace or the Church of England. Although I tactfully avoided mentioning that this is because Beaker Holdings is registered in Grand Cayman. But in case anyone's wondering, I don't feel any guilt about this. Why shouldn't I register the company in the country where I pay tax myself? I'm only being patriotic. 

But the last straw was this morning. There was a real surprise for Joliet doing the weekly community shop at the Cash & Carry. She discovered all the UHT orange juice had been swapped for fresh - so as to ensure we paid VAT. And all the Jaffa Cakes had been removed from the trolleys and replaced with Chocolate Hob Nobs.

So enough's enough. I've had Security inflate a giant helium balloon, and we've floated her up in the air for the afternoon. If she wants to get other people paying tax that's fine by me. But I draw the line at having no Jaffa cakes, and  I don't want "bits" in the orange juice.

Getting married in the morning

Congratulations to Revds Lesley and Alan on their wedding. Hope the weather's fine and they have many happy years.

It reminds me of that old English proverb.

"Married in June, Christmas soon."

Friday 24 June 2011

Liturgy for the passing of the great Peter Falk (aka Columbo)

Archdruid: Peace be with you.
All: And also with you.

Archdruid: And now we will ask our guest speaker to read out the "word of power" for today.

Drayton Parslow: "Rosebud?" Why does it say "Rosebud" on the service sheet?

Rosebud the Dog charges into the Moot House, and is dragged out of the South East Door, clamped to Drayton's arm. Archdruid Eileen may slip the dog-owner a tenner.

One of the following may be said:

   Why did that dog get so upset when he said "Rosebud"? Surely... Ow! Ow! Someone get this dog off me!


   I must tell Mrs Columbo about this when I get home. She loves dogs.

Archdruid: And may Peace go out with you.

All: And also with you.

Archdruid: Ah.... just one more thing?

Retro Choruses Week - "Did you feel the mountains tremble?"

You may or may not have felt the mountains tremble. But you can hear the local dogs whimper, as all the streams flow as one river and the congregation attempt to hit that top note.

Quite a nice chorus in some ways. But pitched at the modern-day common pitch - the key of "what will sound good played on the CD in the car". Which means it's pitched too high for the average human being to sing. In fact, some of the top notes may even be beyond the normal human range of hearing. Not that it will stop the music group trying, no matter how tight the jeans they have to pull on, come Sunday morning.

And what kind of dance would you dance on injustice? Some kind of a polka, perhaps?

Hate everyone

I was puzzling over those words of Jesus where he says that you have to love him more than parents and children - and presumably everybody else - or you're not worthy of him.

And I thought that's fair enough. Easy. If you, like me, are surrounded by the most unutterable numpties how could you not find it easy to love Jesus more? I mean, just last week Erewash managed to Blu-tak his own hand to the table while trying to put up some posters advertising the 'Alpha Curse' he was planning to run. Loving the God-man who only comes to earth once or twice in the whole of history and, being perfect, never once had to be separated from a stack of service sheets after an accident with a stapler - that's easy by comparison.

But I've read a bit wider than just that one  verse in Matt 10 now. And it's startting to worry me. Even that bit about lifting your own cross seems to suggest that whatever level I consign the Beaker People to in my affections, I might have to put myself there. And the idea of loving neighbours and giving people cups of water and giving stuff away for the poor?

Is it just me, or is there an idea there that it's all relative. And worse, that if you love Jesus then you may find that the way you see others may be dragged upwards towards a love for him, rather than being pushed downwards by comparison?

Enough of such troubling thoughts.  Hnaef tells me that Digbreath won't walk across the fields to Aspley for some milk, because there may be a bull in the field. I'm just off to "encourage" him with the Slazenger.

Thursday 23 June 2011

When Study Groups go Bad

Sometimes you have to take a good look at your community's ongoing activities, and form a strategy. Some things may neeed pruning. Some may be high-maintenance, and yet provide little in the way of pastoral or missional growth. Some ventures may be on the verge of real growth, just given the right resource. And some may just be stupid.

And so I've decided it's time to re-organise the study and fellowship groups.

First to the Pauline Epistles study group. Given Paul's closely-reasoned arguments, it seemed like the perfect group for the real detail people - people who can get to grips with the text, really wrestle with it. And we were blessed to have Lamsbread to join the group, with his solid Koine Greek knowledge and compendious collection of dictionaries and thesauruses. But it's been three years. And meeting every week, I was really hoping they'd be a bit further forward than Romans 6 by now.

The Pebbles and Tea Lights Appreciation Society is to be split in two. To be honest, it's been that way since the mutual anathemas were issued. I've never really got to the bottom of their problems - but then I've always quite liked vanilla myself.

The Astronomy group has been suffering as well. When we set it up, we thought it was good for a Creation-affirming bunch like us to have some people who, every week, would get together to discuss how brilliant the Universe is. Give us a sense of awe, I thought. But since they realised just how big it all is it's kind of morphed into a Feelings of Worthlessness mutual support group. And we've already got the Fundie Baptists down the road if that's what you're into.

Finally, the Older Ladies' Simple Introduction to the Bible without those Nasty Hard Concepts Group.
Well, where do I start, really....? 

Quick Web Joke

I was hoping to have a bit of a refresh of the look and feel of the site. But our web designer's had some trouble with a cascading style sheet.

To be exact, it's fallen on her. Her own silly fault - I told her not to keep it on the top of the cupboard. Clue's in the name.

Retro Choruses Week - "When the Music Fades"

We've a really great arrangement for "When the Music Fades".

We're going to start it with just a bass note, and the voices picking up the first line.

We'll do the first verse like that, then when we get to "I'm coming back to the heart of worship" we'll go for a nice three-part harmony.

Then back to the verse - but this time come in with a drum break, the electric guitar fills in some lead riffs. Maybe some nice synth strings to accentuate how this isn't about the music.

Third verse - Gospel Choir, full string section and maybe - maybe just  three or four members of the horn section? Just tasteful, you know. Then crescendo to the end of the third repeat of the chorus - then repeat the chorus. We'll probably just throw the kitchen sink at the arrangement at this point. I'm not sure how we're going to fit all the timpani in, but it's gonna be worth it. And the marching brass band. That's going to be brilliant.

Then we do the "Mistletoe and Wine", as we call it. Drop out all the music, all the voices. Just one choirboy, singing "I'm coming back to the heart of worship - and it's all about you. All about you."

It's gonna be an awesome arrangement. I reckon Matt Redman would be proud.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Is Stonehenge a Temple?

How do we know that Stonehenge was a Temple? Asked Steve this morning in a comment on my rant about a Garudian blog's oddly right-wing diatribe against the people celebrating the Solstice yesterday.

What a good question. Not least because the Altar Stone never was an altar. Or, at least, it wasn't. Not until Tess of the D'Urbervilles lay upon it awaiting her sacrifice to the Chief of the Immortals). It used to stand upright, making it awful difficult for sacrificing victims on. The High Priest, Archdruid or whoever would keep falling off.  And the Beaker People who built at least part of the monument, and rearranged it for good measure, left no writing. The Celts, of course, had no part in it. They preferred to worship in Oak Groves like the savages they were. Or at least that's what the Romans tell us.

I suppose there's the following considerations.

It's in what is described as a "Ceremonial Landscape". It is surrounded by barrows in which are (or were, till scientists got there) buried hundreds of people. We can only draw analogies with what we know, but a wide-ranging burial landscape is likely to have had religious significance.

There's a "cursus" associated with it. Unfortunately, we don't know what a "cursus" is. To say it was "probably ceremonial" in Archaeological Language means "we don't know anything about it".

You can't ignore the solar alignment (feel free to ignore every other alignment, in my opinion - this doesn't meant that there weren't any, but over hundreds of years, as the angle of the inclination of the Earth's axis moved,  almost any alignment could mean something). But like many stone circles around the British Isles, eg the lovely Rollrights, Stonehenge is aligned north-east to south-west - Summer Sunrise to Winter Sunset. That's not a coincidence. In a primitive society the sun was the most important thing - heralding a time to sow, a time to reap, a time to shear sheep and a time to batten down the hatches through the winter storms with a jug of mead. No wonder so many Indo-European religions (and others) had a sun god.  Knowing, of a dark and frozen 21st December, that from now on the light is coming back - that would have been worth something. A day to thank the sun god for his/her kindness in returning, I reckon. By the way - there is another set of related buildings that share a rough alignment (approximately east-west in this case) and that's the historical churches of these islands. And they also appear to have a religious connection.

And the site was in use for thousands of years one way or another. Not during Celtic times - and not from then until relatively modern ones, when neo-paganism (or its great-uncle, dodgy Druidism) was invented. But those stones, set in their burial landscape, with their probable processional relationship via the Avenue down to the river Avon - they could be pomp and circumstance, they could be the Neolithic/Bronze Age equivalent of Crownhill Crematorium - but even Crownhill has its religious connotations. I reckon, however you look at it, it was a religious structure. And a religious structure that big has a right to be called a "temple".

Some have asked whether Stonehenge was a temple or a solar (or other astronomical) observatory. I suspect that in fact an original Beaker Person would answer by asking another question - what's the difference? A structure that regularised and predicted the movements of the heavens - that gave you confidence of where the Sun stopped every solstice - that meant you knew when the days were starting to get longer - that's going to have been both. A way for you to tap into the mind of the sun god, and join in with what he was up to.

Liturgy for the Day after the Summer Solstice

Archdruid: Nights are drawing in.

All: Soon be Christmas.

Retro Choruses Week - "O Lord hear my prayer"

A humdinger for today's "Retro Chorus".

I remember when Taizé struck. Suddenly even relatively mainstream congregations could enjoy modern music (i.e. a form of music that was probably no more than 50 or 60 years old) while still insisting they were being "serious". This song was best played over a prayer, where it could inflict maximum damage on what was going on.

To recreate the experience exactly, we will be sitting in a circle, cross-legged for those who are up to it. The lights will be dimmed and the tea lights firmly lit - in fact, I think we'll go for a big tea light in a bowl of pebbles on this occasion.

Crucially, we have managed to get hold of a guitarist with exactly the right level of expertise to accompany this. Brüdwell is normally able to pass for competent, with the use of a capo. The Em and Am chords are - quite literally - at the tips of his fingers. But the B7 is the one that makes "O Lord, hear my Prayer" work. Brüdwell is almost - but not quite reliably - able to play a B7. Sometimes he manages it, others he doesn't. Sometimes he just gets his fingers a bit wrapped up, and makes the strings buzz. As we reach the end of the verse each time, we will all be on edge as we wonder whether this one's gonna work right or not. Tonight we're gonna pray like it's 1979!

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Oppress Stonehenge's Neo-Pagan Hippies: Guardian

I was in such a good mood with the Guardian, as well. Comment is Free linked to this morning's post about the Pan in my kitchen. I was almost prepared to forgive them for Polly Toynbee.

But then I read a blog article that darkened my mood. "Save Stonehenge from Midsummer Madness", declares someone called Jonathan Jones.

Let's consider his argument -

"why is this daft festival even allowed?" he asks. Answer - because this is a free country and people, on the whole, are allowed to do what they like as long as they don't bother anyone else. And because English Heritage, quite rightly, allows it. If you don't like it, vote for the "Keep hippies out of Stonehenge" party at the next election. There isn't one - because there are no votes in it.

"In the 1980s hippies fought the police for their right to revel. So that is why it is permitted: because otherwise there would be public violence on Salisbury Plain," Mr Jones tells us. Well, if the reason for objecting to something is that people fought for their rights, then women wouldn't have the vote and the Poll Tax would still be with us. The actions of the authorities, particularly at the Battle of the Beanfield, strike me as intolerant and autocratic - picking a fight for no obvious reason. But perhaps the Guardian prefers the strong smack of authoritarianism from people in uniform?

And then to the crux of Mr Jones's argument - which has some force, in one way. He argues that (a) Stonehenge is aligned on the Midwinter, not Midsummer, Solstice and (b) The Druids never built Stonehenge.

In other words, people shouldn't be allowed to celebrate at Stonehenge because their history is bad.

To which I would respond - "So what?" I don't care if their history is bad, and the people at Stonehenge don't all claim to be Druids. They have come there in response to a sense of awe and wonder at things that they know are beyond them. The mere fact they're six months late (or early) and misinformed about Druids is neither here nor there.

Frankly if we were going to ban people from Stonehenge on the grounds that their history was bad, I'd start with certain (but not all - I wouldn't like to go in for blanket condemnations) American tourists. Apart from the one who, according to legend, thought it was due to some kind of eruption - I followed a group of them around last year and they reckoned Stonehenge must be "several hundred years old". Surely people so ignorant should be kept away from the stones, for fear they might accidentally walk straight into one and hurt themselves.

Mr Jones concludes with the following diatribe:

"The ancient stones should not be reduced to a stage for feeble pseudo-religious, pseudo-communal fantasies. There is something abusive and ugly about this annual festival of historical amnesia, a contemptuous lack of interest in the real people of past and their sublime creations."

Which, I think, can be summarised as "these people are not like us." On they other hand, they have "pseudo" community. And they have far more interest in the real people of the past than Mr Jones allows - because he produces no evidence, he is free from those most awkward of objects, facts. I know they have, because I've discussed what some of them actually do think about the "real people" of the past with them, and they're not ignorant of archaeology or history, They just like their history a little idealised of a Summer Solstice - a bit like most people's attitude to Christmas.

Mr Jones's argument, as best as I can tell, is that Stonehenge should be closed to neo-pagans because they lower the tone. To which I can only say - let us consider the people who, over the last 2 centuries, have really damaged the place.

In fourth place, I would put English Heritage themselves. They have built a crappy teahouse, ugly car park and nasty toilets just across the road.

In third place, I would put the old GPO, who nearly destroyed the Heel Stone with an automated trench-digging machine in 1979.

In second place, I would put the Army. They drove a mere 5 yards from the stones before the First World War, and trashed parts of the cursus. According to rumour, they wanted the whole thing flattened to make access to Lark Hill easier.

But the prize-winners for people who have wrecked most of Stonehenge are scientists. It was a group of archaeologists who, after the First World War, destroyed half the archaeology of the place and gained practically no knowledge. Not hippies, not pagans. Scientists. Who just kept digging, even when they knew there was nothing to find. Oh yes, I know that modern scientists disown their fore-runners - tell us that they aren't like they were then. These days they're more educated, more liberal - more understanding. But let nobody tell you that scientists aren't the biggest vandals that Stonehenge has ever known.

If you want to protect Stonehenge, I say - ban scientists not pagans.

And Heaven defend us if we ever allow Jonathan Jones to decide what religious practices he thinks should be allowed.

My history in this rant is mostly sourced from Christopher Chippindale's excellent, entertaining and learned Stonehenge Complete. I personally prefer the 2nd edition, which is less rushed in its later sections. However the 3rd is more up to date, obviously.

Retro Choruses Week - There is a Green Hill Far Away (to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun")

The good news is that this morning's rain has washed away yesterday's 1980s "Big Hair". Very appropriate on a day when we needed lank, hippy-ish hair.

It was an act of genius, linking the poignant traditional hymn "There is a Green Hill" to the tune of a song about a brothel in Louisiana. But that's what someone once did. Someone for whom the word "fusion" was presumably very hip and happening.

If you want to the know what the chords should nearly have sounded like, you can follow the link. If you want to know what Rodryk's recreation actually sounded like - abysmal. It's been the ruin of many a Beaker Person. And Lord, I know I'm one. I'm off to bed. That's enough solstice all round.

Quick Pagan Solstice joke

Traditionally, the Piper at the Gates of Dawn turns up an hour late for Summer Solstice. Being a Graeco-Roman folk memory, he can never get his head around BST.

But this morning, we got back to the Great House to find he'd cooked us all breakfast while we were out. Bacon, eggs, black pud - even a bit of toast for the vegetarians.

We were hoping to thank him for all his work, but found he'd slipped off. He never stays in one place long. I guess he's a non-stick frying Pan.

Summer Solstice

One of those frustrating Solstice mornings - although, for those who believe that a little rain must fall into each life, oddly comforting.

The showers over the last couple of hours as we stood looking expectantly, waiting for the Eastern glow have left us all just slightly - but not terribly - sodden. And the Solstice dawn itself broke cloudy.  But not quite so cloudy that we couldn't see anything at all. There is very definitely something bright over there - behind that bank of white cloud.

Now morning has broken, blackbird is singing, and there is a sweetness to the wet garden. As Gussie Fink-Nottle once said - "It's a beautiful world, P.K. Purvis."

Monday 20 June 2011

Solstice roundup

As is traditional every now and then, I look at the wikio rankings and realise we've not linked to anyone lately. It's the middle of the month, and at this rate I'm going to be ranking below the Dullest Blog (see below). And so, here's a few links we think wikio might like us to be linking to.

The Dullest Blog has something happen. It's not very exciting. But you knew that.
Philip Ritchie regrets the passing of Clarence Clemons. He's quite right. A great loss.
Clayboy has a Trinitarian thought.
Catriona is excited about her holiday. If you've been following her blog, as you should have been, you'd know why.
Yewtree is poetic. In a different reality, she's also tolerant. Or possibly intolerant.
Church Mouse confirms that the "new" legal advice on bishops is really old advice. Had it been acted on a few years ago, Jeffrey John would be a bishop now, like he ought to be.
The Science Blog has some advice on an appropriate level of... ...erm... well... something.. let's just say it turns out it's not blindness you need to worry about. Warning - contains frank discussion of... well, you know...

And finally, is a new one on me. But since the discussion there was on bad Trinity analogies, well - how could you go wrong here?

Dave Walker - an apology

I would like to apologise to Dave Walker for Hnaef's recent insults regarding his drawing skill.

I have explained to Hnaef that the reason Dave draws in black and white is because he is published in Church publications. The church was really early adopting the use of the Printing Press. Indeed so much so that Bibles and religious literature formed the bulk of early printed material. However, having established its modernist cred, the Church has somewhat rested on its laurels since. It has heard of the concept of a four-colour printing process, but wouldn't want to rush into anything too quickly - maybe after it has rolled out the Overhead Projector to all its establishments.

I look forward to Dave becoming our Artist in Residence, and I just hope his stamina is up to the bike ride.

Resident Artist

Great excitement in the Community today as the Archdruid has extended the offer of the position of Artist in Residence to an "up-and-coming-young-cartoonist-whose-work-I-admire-now-just-buzz-off-Hnaef-I'm-busy".  It took me a while to find out who the artist is, but after some close investigation (and Young Keith having a look over the network logs to trace recent email traffic), it turns out that it's none other than Dave Walker!  He of Cartoon Blog ( fame!
Obviously, the Community is a-buzz - mainly because we have many middle-aged ladies who are excited by the thought of "new blood" - but I've done my own research, and it appears to me that Mr Walker may, like myself, have Anglican Leanings.  It would be very exciting to have such another in our midst.  In return for his indulging me in Anglican Discussions with me, I may also teach him how to colour in, as it seems, from a brief overview of his oeuvre, that he hasn't yet learned how to do this yet.
We await his response (well, the Archdruid does, and, by proxy, so does Young Keith), but rest assured that I will keep all interested parties up-to-date.  I plan to start him off on wax crayons, with the intention of moving to felt-tips in 6-9 months' time.

Retro Choruses Week - Shine Jesus Shine

To mark the Solstice, we're declaring this to be "Retro Choruses Week".

Today to celebrate "Shine Jesus Shine" we're all going to be wearing chunky sweaters and toothy grins.

Singing the first verse we're going to remember it wasn't so bad after all, bringing back memories of the "Squelch for Jesus", that time the heavens opened while we were walking round the quieter estates of Milton Keynes. But, as is traditional, in the third verse the music group will start mumbling as they realise they can't quite remember the words and can't see the OHP. The OHP sheet will, also in keeping with tradition, have been hand-written, in a hurry, by somebody with poor handwriting. Who doesn't possess a proper overhead projector pen.

To get that authentic "1989" feeling, we will then sing the last chorus 73 times, until we decide it's time to bury it for another 20 years.

On those congregations whose musical leaders still think this song is trendy, have mercy.

Preparing for the Solstice

You know, the great thing about liturgy in the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley is that we aim never to do the same thing twice.

Why be boring and repetitive, you ask yourself, when the only thing restricting you is the human capacity for imagination and creativity? How could anyone be happy with the same thing, in the same way, every week or every day or every year - when you could do something completely different every morning?

And yet, cosmology is against us. Every day, almost without fail, the sun rises in the morning. Frequently, it sets again. In the winter the days are short. In the summer - they are on the whole much longer. The summer solstice comes round every year - as it has for ages. And we rack our brains for new things to do. And fail.

So this year we're doing the same thing as normal. We're having the solstice sunset Pimms party tonight, and then tomorrow morning, in keeping with tradition, nobody will bother to get up. I do love the old ways.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Trinity Sunday

Firmly I believe and truly God is Three, and God is One;
And I next acknowledge duly Manhood taken by the Son.
And I trust and hope most fully In that Manhood crucified;
And each thought and deed unruly Do to death, as He has died.
Simply to His grace and wholly Light and life and strength belong,
And I love, supremely, solely, Him the holy, Him the strong.

Gerontius, JH Newman  

A sense of inevitable heresy

I'm afraid this morning's "Give an analogy of the Trinity without falling into demonstrable heresy" competition was a bit of a washout. All entrants were disqualified for heresy. Including Morgwyn who somehow managed to invent the heresy of thrithelitism without even trying.

Now can everyone please have another bash, and try to at least aim for Nicene compliance this time. I know this theology business seems hard, and some Beaker Folk wonder why we bother. But people died for this stuff because it's so important. And it's only this one day of the year.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Brooding on the Chaos

It was always one of our favourite lines, at Watling Street Lower School for the Children of Inebriated Gentlefolk -  "....upon the chaos, dark and rude." What was the Chaos up to, we wondered, that earned it such censure? Was it outrageously profane or unnecessarily biological? Or was it merely impolite?

But that image of the dove-like - or, for the Celtic-minded - Wild-Goose-like - Spirit, brooding like bird over the egg-like potential of the Universal Void - that has stayed with me. And I'd planned a suitable talk for tomorrow on the motherly properties of God, and the brooding, hen-like nature of the Spirit, as a suitable counter-strike against the crass militarism of the so-called "Fathers' Day". Which everyone knows is correctly called "Fathering Sunday".

But we've printed off tomorrow's service sheets, and I discover that Hnaef has used the Not Really Sexist Version of the Bible in printing the reading. So instead of a hovering / moving / brooding, columbiform / anserine Spirit, we have "a wind from God" sweeping over the waters.

This gives me all sorts of problems. Mostly because I've already prepared my spiel. Obviously I could change it to take the reading into account. I could give the Beaker People a serious explanation of the whole ruach-breath-spirit-Spirit ambivalence, and risk somebody among them actually knowing something about Hebrew. I could explain how ruach is a feminine noun, and so shows that the feminine is implicit in the Godhead. Although of course for all I know this line of reason is totally untrue. After all, "girl" is neuter in German, and we don't expect young German women to behave in a neuter way. And cats walking from France to Germany change gender, but the EU hasn't put a special clinic on the border. And of course it also invites some subordinationist to conclude that's where the feminine ought to be in the Godhead - third. Hovering about brooding while the Father is "I Am"-ing and the Word is Peaking. And then I'd be leading into a whole two-hour digression on the unity of the nature and of one substance in the Persons, and how the Father is also Our Mother and a day will have gone by before we know it. And even then I'll have to make it clear that the Holy Spirit taking the feminine gender in Hebrew isn't the reason why she was "sweeping". Not that kind of sweeping.

You see, I blame the translators of the NRSV for all my problems. Whether they think "a wind from God" is the best translation, or whether they've gone for a liberal attempt to write the Trinity out of the Creaion, I don't know. Maybe that's just as good as all the others, which have the Spirit of God brooding, hovering, moving etc on the face of the waters. But be that as it may - if the Bible's not going to say what I want it to say, where does that leave us? They should have left it somewhere near what we like and know, and then we'd all know where we are.

So I've given up on the whole thing. I've just been on the phone to my friend, Perry Koresis, and she's going to come and teach everybody a lovely Trinitarian liturgical dance. I believe there may even be ribbons involved. That should be suitable for Fathers' Day, if nothing is.

On mobile social networking

For all those followers who have received half a posting, and are wondering where the other half is, apologies. I have been trying out some 'app', as they are called, by the name of Twitterdroid or some such. It was Hnaef's idea - I think he's trying to get me out of The Great House.
But where Hnaef suffers from rotten spelling, I seem to be afflicted with "fat fingers". Or, as I must now call the condition in these precious days, "sub-optimalistically slender fingers". As a result, my post on "Brooding on the Chaos" is as stuck between universes as a particularly expendable minor Dr Who character. I hope to recover it in time for tea. But in the meantime, I hope this missive, typed by my gravitationally-challenged fingers as it is, will suffice.

The Power of the Press

Against all my warnings, they've all got really bad colds this morning.

I said - the so-called "drought" was just a media invention. The Marketing departments in Water companies have to invent them occasionally, or we forget they exist and just moan that the price of water is so high. And it's been about 6 weeks with reduced rainfall. The desertification of Mid Beds isn't going to happen just yet. And they pointed out the sand on the ground and said "Look! Desert!" And I said "Yes - in the Jurassic. Now get a grip."

And so when it started raining, the rain dances started. They said, "Can't take a chance. Want to encourage it." And I said, "That's Sympathetic Magic. Which is An Offence Unto the Lord." So they called it "Thanksgiving". Which made it officially All Right.

And last night it poured and poured. And they insisted they were Thanksgiving. I called it madness. But they danced out there anyway.

And so this morning they've all got even worse colds. They wouldn't listen. And now they just want to know why I've no sympathy. You can't win.

So if you'll excuse me, I've forty cups of Lemsip to make. But don't think I feel sorry for them.

Friday 17 June 2011

Liturgy of Friday

Archdruid: Peace be with you.

All: And also with you. Is it OK with you if we slip off a bit early?

Archdruid: Well, seeings it's Friday... what time were you thinking of?

All: And blessings to you too. Bye!

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Arrangements for St Nectan's Day

Yes, I know we like to achieve some kind of re-creation on these special days. But not today. Nectan was martyred by decapitation, like our own St Bogwulf, and that's not something we mess around with. You'll all have to wait for St Lawrence's. At least then we can aim for underdone.

Please can all Beaker People gather clutching foxgloves at St Nectan's Well. Not the real one - that's in Devon. We're going to have to make do with the paddling pool in the doily shed again. Foxgloves are St Nectan's flower and represent the blood of the saint, but that's no reason for everyone to go around shouting "uuurgh" and dropping the flowers, like you did last time.

Nectan being a Welsh saint who lived in Devon and Cornwall, use of dialects is optional. But can we aim for a slightly more specific West Country accent than the Candleford Mummerset we've been hearing on festivals of Thomas Hardy lately? Try and act like these people actually live somewhere, rather than a non-specific nowhere.

The good news for you neo-romantic types is that Nectan is known, not just as a saint, but as some kind of Celtic demi-god. So dress code is cable-knit sweaters and beards again. And break out the banjos, we're going for a ceilidh!

Thursday 16 June 2011

Celebration of 100 years of IBM

Dear Readers!  The excitement! Eileen has asked me to compose a liturgy to celebrate 100 years of International Business Machines. Although to be honest she had forgotten, until a Canon (although not a printer, ho ho) of the Church of England asked her to get one organised.
I should say that in keeping with tradition I did not write this liturgy from scratch - I copied something that did something similar. In this case a COBOL programme. COBOL 2, of course. I would not like anyone to think I was out of date or un-hip.

Liturgical Dress: Big Blue Hi-Viz, dark suits.


























Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before

Nice to hear from my cousin Chas this morning.
You remember Chas? He was the church-planter in West London. Started congregations in Acton, Staines and Richmond.

But now he's stepping back from the leadership of those churches. He says he feels more called to his Ealing Ministry.
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Wednesday 15 June 2011

Xbox Drone Beta

It was the first Gulf War that seemed to introduce us to a new kind of war coverage.

Through the reach of CNN, and the intrepidity of the likes of Wolf Blitzer - surely a name that wasn't so much given as chiselled - we saw war a new way. The long-range destruction of foreign cities by cruise missiles - disembodied cities with, at least at first - no inconvenient blood and mess to be seen. Real war as video games. We were able to watch the results of the people who fight in our name, but who were fighting at ranges of hundreds of miles.

The surreal long-distance nature of this war strikes home when you read about the lives of the drone pilots. What is it about the phrase "if you push that button somebody can go away" that chills the blood so much? Whatever the rights and wrongs of the American operations in Pakistan, and whatever the operational advantages, you can see why people in Pakistan would not exactly be comfortable with these things flying around letting bombs off above their heads - imagine how you'd feel if the lorry overtaking you on the M1 was actually being driven by a trucker from an office in Bangalore. Although, come to think of it, that may be a way to reduce transport costs.

Meanwhile, my nephew Jamie has been showing me his Xbox linked up to a multi-player game called "Mop the Floor with Blood" or something equally charming. In the game, the players can run around shooting each other in real time.

Just thirty years ago, all these things seemed remote - almost impossible. But as the games become more life-like and war more game-like, and in these days when people have paid to be taken into space as tourists, the day when a Premium video game gives someone the chance to fly their very own real drone comes closer. Of course, it'll just be a game. It won't be armed. It'll just be flying around in the desert somewhere, where nobody lives, just having a play at flying.

Or at least, it will be to start with.

Blood red moon

Terrified Moon Gibbon people are crawling under the tables already, convinced that the Gibbon Moon is about to wreak destruction in the Lunar Eclipse. I'm encouraging them by telling them that the moon will go white again. And also telling them they won't be able to see the moon, because the skies are totally overcast. To which they reply, if the skies are overcast how will they be able to tell that the moon's gone white again? And then they go off for another scream.

It's a constant mystery to me. How can they accept science sufficiently to believe that the eclipse is going to happen according to a scientific prediction - and yet they can't trust it to tell them the eclipse will end? And where does this story about the Clangers spring up every time there's a Lunar eclipse? Do the Moon Gibbon Folk think there is an endless supply of Clangers up there?

It's a constant source of wonder to me, how people can live where science, religion and children's entertainment overlap and not understand the difference between the three. Ah well, nothing for it. Time to put the old pointy hat on, get outside onto the Platform of Sightings, look to the South East and wonder if there's going to be anything to see.

St Thomas de Tank Engine

Today we remember St Thomas de Tank Engine, the patron saint of talking trains and sad old blokes.

In particular we recall that St Thomas was capable of deep friendships - with St Henry, St Percy de Greene-Enginne and St James the Really Splendid Engine. What a decent chap. And St Thomas had many opportunities to show his holiness. Especially when his friends repeatedly failed to get uphill - he was always there with his willing "yes I can, yes I can". And a great traditionalist, Thomas was always on the look out for the sneaky schemes of the villainous Diesel.

Of course, we can lay a couple of complaints at St Thomas's door. The main one being misogyny. Because although St Thomas and all his mates were jolly fine engines, they were all - as far as one can tell, since I'm unaware of any way other than their names, facial appearances and the depths of their voices - all male. They lead from the front - towing behind them those bywords for female submissiveness, Annie and Clarabel. Being coaches, Annie and Clarabel were totally lacking in power and were expected to be quiet followers.

Nor is it only misogyny. For the engine-truck relationship is clearly a feudal or, at best, oppressive capitalist one. The trucks, again, have no power. They are expected to keep quiet, and do their duty. That they cause trouble to the unreconstructed bourgeois locomotives is not surprising, for it is only in civil disobedience that that can hope to establish their own footing in the power struggle.

So forget it. I don't know why I let Burton talk me into this idea in the first place. Rev W Awbry, happy birthday. But seriously, you've got to get these books up to date. Fast.

Tuesday 14 June 2011


An interesting afternoon at the Christian Buzzwords and Bandwagon Conference 11 (or, for those following on Twitter, #cbbc11). A great gig for me, not least as, being a totally virtual conference, I could attend in person.

Many people contributed to the special atmosphere at today's conference, especially the amazing Pastor Andy Ydna, a cyber-missionary in so many ways. Putting the "buzz" into bandwagon being just one of his key messages. Although I actually missed Andy's address, as for some reason my talk on "Personal Protective Equipment in the Online Environment" was scheduled for "The Tent" at the same time. I thought "The Tent" was a trendy name for an alternative venue, probably on the edgy "fringe" of the event. Instead of which, turned out I was in a tent. Although that didn't stop me putting on a riveting display of riveting, to demonstrate how physical fixing fits into a metaphysical fixation.  And I was glad to talk to Andy in the bar afterwards - although he kept looking over my shoulder in the hope that someone more famous would turn up, (@kouya, I believe, was suffering from the same thing) and tweeting @crimperman via his mobile to see how the show was going. But between that and taking calls and Skype-ing the other keynote speakers, he was kind enough to tell me about his concept of "Postmodern Pat and his black/white Schrodinger's cat".

The other buzz was about Gladys Sydalg. She had a great talk on bandwagons. Didn't understand a word of it. But I didn't care, as she was being streamed to our Android devices so we could all get in the bar quicker.
It was just as well, as I couldn't have heard anything in the main hall. Apparently the sound of people tapping on netbook and mobile keys was drowning out the keynote speakers, while the bandwidth hit  from the sheer uploading of instant reaction actually brought down Gladys's Skype link on several occasions.

So I've learnt a lot about buzzwords today. And about bandwagons. Mostly - don't get in their way. And if one gets out of control, run. I've found out that "biversity" isn't a real word, and interoperability doesn't mean two surgeons practicing on each other.

Most importantly, I've learnt that people can be very funny and creative on the web, without being cruel. I think...

And I've had one two many meads, so I'm off to St Pancras now. If anyone sees a sleeping Archdruid in steel-toe-capped shoes, can you wake me up at Bedford?

Anniversary of the Peasants' Revolt (1381), Battle of Naseby (1645) and the Mutiny on the Bounty (1789)

Today we remember three anniversaries linked by a single theme. Treachery and rebellion against lawful authority.

Lest Beaker Folk forget:

  • Wat Tyler was stabbed to death. 
  • The Parliamentary forces, although temporarily victorious and even martyring Charles I, had to come crawling back to get the Monarchy re-instated after they realised their version of ratbaggery and supposed godliness was boring, annoying and pointless. And Charles II was interesting. Ireton and Cromwell, among others, were hanged and dragged around the streets. Even though they had been dead for years.
  • The Mutineers ended their lives eating only breadfruit and living on Pitcairn Island - outwardly beautiful but in fact you couldn't even get a mobile signal. Fletcher Christian died at the age of 28 after a fight with a Tahitian.

So let us forget all mutinous talk this week, and get back into the Doily Mines and get pressing. Hnaef was only joking about the mice in there. They're rats, anyway.