Wednesday 31 August 2011

Dealing with a problem you didn't know you had

Simon Robinson's latest on poor church advertising has taken me back to a visit to London last summer.

A Draytonesque character in an anorak was shouting at people in Oxford St, as they do. And he pushed a flyer in my hand. It was, as often, full of purple print and King James quotations. And in the middle of the verbiage were, referring to Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection and the redemptive benefits thereof* the words "and having dealt with the sin problem..."

"The sin problem." A problem with a theological term most people don't understand or know what it is. You may think your life lacks meaning - you may think you don't always live up to the aims you set yourself - you may wonder sometimes why you're never really happy with the things you achieve. And in all that, unless you have a certain amount of Christian education or indoctrination, you're never going to say to yourself "oo I seem to have a sin problem". And I'm not saying everyone is even like that - there are no doubt out there happy, contented, fulfilled atheists who never knew they had any kind of problem apart from the fact that their happy, contented and fulfilled lives will end one day. And given that such atheists will generally be left-brained, optimistic sorts, they've probably resolved themselves to that as well. How relieved must someone who has no concept of sin be, to discover that "the sin problem" has been dealt with? Not very relieved at all. It's a bit like when Radion brought out its new powder to stop sweaty smells when ironing. Didn't know that I had any such problem. Not least because I let the Pilgrims do the ironing - it's good for their souls.

In fact the only kind of people that might be drawn to a leaflet setting out the solution to the "sin problem" would be.. erm... Christians.In other words, my fundamentalist friend was handing out leaflets designed to appeal to people who had, to some degree or another, Christian faith already. I don't suppose he realised, when he set out for Oxford St that day, that he was targeting Christians with his evangelistic mission. But sure enough he was. After all, nobody else would have understood his leaflet.

* wording with ironic intent


Close finish in this evening's "who can look the most like a gurgoyle" competition.

From Wikimedia Commons
Marston was Highly Recommended. Although we had to put a bag on his head to stop him scaring the children. Mansfield Woodhouse a strong third place, and Preston Deanery did well to come in second. We thought Burton had surpassed himself with a face that combined confusion and sheer horror in equal amounts. But it turned out he had merely popped in to see what was going on. So the winner was Milton Ernest. After four days living on a hermit's diet of windfall apples and blackberries, it's going to be weeks before he loses that face.

Lament for the Last Day of Summer

We had a bright idea. We decided that today we were gonna ignore proper tradition and all that is right and decent, and follow the weather people's lies and pretend that today is the last day of summer. Then we thought we could celebrate the autumnal equinox on its proper day and get two end-of-summer celebrations for the price of one. We do love a festival.

But in retrospect it's not really worked out like that. Instead of a happy celebration of the good days gone by, golden days of endless sunshine and mellow evenings of soft talk and barbecues, it turned more into a time of wistful regret. The banner hanging over the garden was a real mistake, admittedly.  "The harvest is over, summer is ended, and we are not saved". The frail swallow of summer is soon to fly into the closed patio doors of autumn.

But so many summers can end like this. The wasp-blighted apples, the plum crop that failed. The barbecue where everyone got salmonella. The Pimms party where we forgot the lemonade and had to drink it neat (although that wasn't so bad). The wet grass every time you wanted to sit on it and enjoy the day. And every year the image of a perfect summer, the one we could have had but just missed.

Still, maybe next year. There's always one more drop of the summer wine....

St Aidan to Husborne Crawley

It's always nice to remember St Aidan, the man who introduced Celtic Christianity to the North of England. I like to think of him turning up on the Lindisfarne tidal causeway, bearing a basket of tea lights, a violin and a bodhran, and thereby winning over the pagan Angles with the gentle lyric mysticism. Although we must remember that Aidan succeded where his equally-Celtic successor failed. So I'm guessing that, to appeal to his Northern English would-be flock, Aidan abolished the Offertory.
I note that our own King Penda of Mercia had occasion to attack Aidan's little flock, failing due to a miracle. And on behalf of all Mid-Angles and Mercians, I would like to apologise to all Northumbrians for this unwarranted incursion into their lovely land. I will be sending a personallly-signed apology to that Embodiment of the North, Victoria Wood. But no compensation.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Hi Viz rules the World

Interested to find this BBC website article on Hi Viz. I'm intrigued by the idea that it's not attractive or trendy, and would disagree.

Here at the Beaker Folk, hi-viz (or hi-vis, if you're odd) is the liturgical wear of choice - not just for the worship leaders, but for all participants. The reason becomes clear when you consider the amount of time we spend out of doors in the dark, waiting for sunrise or watching the moon or whatever. In low light levels, it just gives us a fighting chance of not bashing into each other. In the same way that steel toe-capped boots protect you when people tread on your feet - although not so much if you accidentally kick someone in the shins.

Also, of course, when using old-fashioned torches, candles or tea lights, the use of the appropriate hi-viz for the season can add a certain touch of beauty to the ceremonial. The site of 50 or so Beaker People, glowing in the headlights of cars at the Looking over the M1 Bridge ceremony can be truly lovely. Albeit last time we caused a serious traffic jam as drivers slowed down, convinced we were the Bedfordshire constabulary.

It's also fantastically helpful at making cyclists visible either in the dark (through the reflective strips) or sunlight (through the fluorescent fabric). It's not particularly hard-wearing but then the vests retail for about £3 so we're not complaining. And thanks to the deal I did a few years ago when a safety equipment shop went bust, the Beaker Bazaar is practically guaranteed never to run out.

Bedfordshire's Patron Saint

We're having a great time at today's Festival of Progress in honour of John Bunyan. A great favourite of ours, being local and having written Allegory.

Today if Bunyan were writing I doubt not that he would have included the Temptress Internet, which would have lured Christian away with the promise of unlimited treasures of slight interest. And the dangers of the Meadow of Cynicism, where Christian would have lain chewing a piece of grass and not believing anything - until unexpectedly trampled by the Ironic Herd of Cows.

Christian would also have marched through the Pass of Liberalism to the Plains of Moral Relativism, where he would totally have lost his moral compass and with it any sense of direction.  Until finally, in the Marsh of Post-Modernism, he would finally have realised that it was his story that he needed to worry about, and that he was wasting his time trying to fit anyone else into his narrative. Then he would have pushed on to his personal Celestial City - letting others follow him if they thought it might be interesting for them.


That was quite a nice Initiation service last night. It's always good, in these financially stressed times, to get new Beaker People. And Ardwick seems a nice type and got through the Votes of Elders without being black-balled at any stage.

You may be wondering about Ardwick's name - taking a part of Manchester as your Beaker Name isn't normal. But I'm seriously thinking that the North could be ripe for a Beaker colony. Obviously, northerners aren't as rich as normal people. But some of them might be wanting to join a modern neo-coenobitic community - I hear rumours of outbreaks of tea-lights in the Vale of York, for instance. And if I installed a Beaker Leeds, say, the northerners wouldn't have so far to walk to get there.

In the meantime - for this is still just at the vision stage - we had a little controversy with Ardwick and the Sorting Hat. Ardwick wanted to go into Daisy House (devious, spiritual, gormless) but the Hat had other ideas. So Ardwick's been Sorted into Chesney Hawkes House (gormless, loyal, directionless). We're quite excited as although Chesney Hawkes has always been one of the Beaker Houses, this is the first time that it's had a member. Which makes Ardwick..... no, sorry, I can't go through with it.

Monday 29 August 2011

Shaking apples

It was today that I realised why Milton Earnest has decided he needs to be a hermit. He has worked out that it gets him out of work.

It being a Bank Holiday, I got an extra day's labour out of the Beaker People today - good news, it being cider-making time. Apart from Milton - sorry, Hugo the Hermit - who sat around meditating all day.

You can see below the exciting time that Marston Moretaine had. I'm pleased to note that he was wearing fairly good safety equipment - hi-viz, a cricket helmet and steel toe-capped safety  boots. However he still got a bit bruised. And then stung by wasps when he when he was pressing the apples later on.

Memorial Sermon for the Death of Football

And so, in the light of yesterday's events in the Premiership, we reflect that fings ain't wot they used to be, and that money has ruined football. This time is definitely the end. Just like it was definitely the end a few years ago, when Roman Abramovich bought first Chelsea and then the Premiership.

And in doing so we follow our fore-mothers and fore-fathers, fore-uncles and fore-aunties - who declared money had ruined football when Trevor Francis went for a million quid in  1979. And when Jimmy Greaves went for a quid less than 100,000 in 1961.  And when Alf Common became the first £1,000 player in 1904.

And so we reflect on the immense waste of money involved in the whole thing, the money syphoned out of the pockets of fans and into those of agents and other hangers-on. And in a moment we will light the gigantic pile of Monopoly money we have erected in Lower Paddock. We will watch until all that is left is a little ash blowing in the wind - in the Ceremony that has the strange name "Buying Torres".

And as we reflect on the obscene sums involved in football, we will agree that Arsene Wenger needs to get out and spend big and quick. Because how else can he hope to compete with the Big Boys?

Late score: Manchester 13 - North London 3.

Sunday 28 August 2011

Hermitically sealed

I have to say, Milton is doing himself rather well out of his hermitry. He's change his name again - this time to Hugo. Hugo the Hermit has quite a nice ring to it, I think. And where his tin hut had a leaky roof, some well-wishing Beaker People went out and patched it up for him, while he looked beatifically at them.

He's not actually made any steps towards the re-erection of Duckhenge yet, however. Still, I suppose he needs to meditate his way into the right frame of mind. And it is Sunday.


Overcome by our discussions about Matt 16, Milton Ernest has chosen to give up his worldly goods and sacrifice all things to be an hermit. To that effect he's now living in the old tin shed down by the duck pond, and is dedicating himself to rebuilding Duck Henge, the henge monument that has been repeatedy destroyed in recent years through fire, flood, pestilence and wargs.

I'm quietly confident that he'll be back before the winter snows. And I'm also confident that I'll enjoy the Ardberg he's given up to save his soul. But I'm not so sure that I approve of the "new name" he's taken. I vetoed "Herman" as that was plainly stupid. But to be honest, I'm not so sure I approve of the new one either. What does everybody else think of "Kermit the Hermit"?

Saturday 27 August 2011

Taking up a cross

Hnaef has been sharing with me tomorrow's lectionary reading. Matthew 16:21-28. I have to say I don't approve.

Everything's going so well. Peter's just realised who Jesus is. And they can go off quietly and have a really good time, enjoying the presence of the Lord and knowing how great God is. And Jesus has to go and spoil it all. Why, when everything's going so well, does he want to muck it up so much? Why does he think it's such a good idea to go and get crucified?

Here in the Beaker Folk, we try to hold to some basic principles about religion:

1. It's enjoyable
2. It's fulfilling
3. It's fun
4. It's creative
5. It makes us feel good
6. It's relatively hygienic
7. It's life-affirming
8. It's world-affirming
9. Nobody gets hurt (unless I decide otherwise)
10. Nobody has to get nailed to anything.

And this whole "cross" thing goes against all that we stand for. Although the Resurrection's good. We like that bit. To be honest, the "cross" thing isn't too bad, as long as it's just Jesus it happens to and he's looking relatively serene in the crucifixion scene. If you're going to see a crucifixion, you don't want it to look all messy and painful. No, it's when it's us doing the sacrificing that we get more worried. Picking up your own cross, losing your life - it's all a bit kind of fundamentalist in our opinion. We like to think that when you're asked whether you want to gain the world or keep your soul, it's more a both/and than an either/or. And we're pleased to note there are many other passages of the Bible where you don't have to go carrying crosses or giving things up to be a good person. You've got to read the Bible as a whole, that's what I say.

Hysterical Re-enactment (3)

Now the riots have calmed down, the Telegraph notes that all the excitement is now going on in former colonies - our own and Italy's - and settles down to the more normal summer-time activity of reporting on exam results and silly-season stories.

Oddly enough it was an article on a man demanding the right to trial by combat on human rights grounds that led me on to a headline that only needs a three-word response.

The headline is "King Arthur's round table may have been found by archaeologists in Scotland."

And the response is "No it hasn't."

High Days and Holidays

In this rather fallow liturgical period between Lammas and Samhain, I've been asked to clarify the official naming conventions to give the impression there's something going on. I realise that in mainstream denominations it's 94th after Trinity or 4th Leap-week before Michaelmas or something, but with our more ancient tradition there's a lot more making it up as we go along.

This Saturday and Sunday are of course Wet Weekend, and I expect Beaker People to have the appropriate faces. Then will follow Manic Monday and Ruby Tuesday. Then Wednesday Darling when we remember the life and work of J.M. Barrie. On Thirsty Thursday the Beaker Folk give up ale and cider for one day, and then we have Frantic Friday.

Next weekend we will have Super Sunday and this will be followed by Blue Monday - so called because the children face their retun to school after the holidays, while the rest of us consider there's no more Bank Holidays till Christmas, and we pretended to have Swine Flu last year so can't get away with that again.

Pagan origins of a Christian Festival

It is said that, when the ancient Beaker Folk of these island felt a bit short of rain, they didn't go in for blood sacrifices. And they didn't waste their time doing too much dancing about, appealing to the heavens. No, they simply put on their best woad, left their wattle-and-daub abodes, walked up to Stonehenge, and pitched their tents for a few days' praying and camping.

Sometimes this form of sympathetic magic was so powerful they would have to swim home.

It is often said, by people who have based an entire fictitious religious history of these island on one comment by Gregory, quoted by Bede, that the incoming Christians took over pagan festivals and turned them into Christian ones. But for once, this time they are right. The Ancient Beaker Folk probably called the festival something like Elknogiswold, which was pronounced "Eggnog", or Brandsuitsnacht, pronounced "Balham". But both of those words would almost certainly have referred to the band of moss and mould growing on a wide band of canvas around the saturated bottom of the tents.

Today, Christians still celebrate the same festival, with the same aim. Being more middle-class these days, of course, they won't head off to the wild Celtic fringes of the edges of Southern England - preferring the genteel environs of Cheltenham. But they still get together, pray, watch the rain falling and get wet. And they still name the festival after the ring of mould growing round the bottom of the tents. Which is why it's called "Greenbelt".

I remember attending a Greenbelt festival in 1986 in a corner of rural Northamptonshire. The rain-prayers that year were so powerful that the place was hit by the tail-end of a hurricane. The toilets - and I use the word as  loosely as many people used the toilets - were rumoured to be full, and their contents to be on the way down the hill. In apocalyptic scenes people retrieved their tents from hedges, shoved them soaking into the boots of their cars and attempted to escape home through the quag where once a dirt track had been.

As we drove across Oxfordshire yesterday through the teeming rain I rejoiced that, once again, the rain-prayers are working.

Friday 26 August 2011

Squelching in a Field

It is of course Bank Holiday weekend. And so we thought we'd kick the weekend off with a trip to that old favourite Beaker vicinity, the Rollright Stones. What would be nicer, we thought, than standing up on the ridge, with the mystical yet strangely worm-eaten stones, and looking out across the valley. Maybe even nip over to the King Stone and see if we can see Long Compton?

What would be nicer, given the three or four inches of rain that fell, could be almost anything. Drenched grass, soaking Beaker People, damp matches with which we totally failed to light any saturated tea lights. Total lack of spiritual feelings. And if you're not going to get any nice spiritual feelings, what's the point of religion at all?

In the event, we had to lose a lot of our planned activities. Rolling downhill in barrels was cancelled. The Beaker Fertility Folk declared there was no way they would be heading off into the long grass. And the planned ceremony of laying on the grass looking up at the sky was seriously compromised. So we huddled in the coach and ate our organic wholemeal probiotic self-affirming sandwiches. Which were damp and horrible.

However, Hnaef claims, in a major geological breakthrough, to have discovered evidence that the ancient Beaker People who erected the Rollright Stones were definitely Anglicans. For reference, see the picture here which is definitely, in Hnaef's opinion, a Neolithic font.

On the way home, we saw a beautiful rainbow. And, unusually, given the light conditions, we saw where the end came to the ground. Where, you may be asking yourself, in our magical trip out to see this ancient monument, would the rainbow have come to earth? In the coffee factory in Banbury, that's where. On the whole, not a great day.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Hysterical Re-enactment (2)

Strangest thing. I just watched as an alien death fleet from the far end of the galaxy plummeted through the atmosphere in search of something to destroy. Then due to an unfortunate miscalculation of scale it was eaten by a small dog. I don't mind Young Keith's historical re-enactments, but surely there's got to be some limits?

Hysterical re-enactment

Young Keith asked me to help him with a reenactment this morning, so I said, "yes", as I've always liked the idea of historical reenactments. Mrs Hnaef won't let me join the Sealed Knot because "you'd hurt yourself, you'd get obsessive about it, and there's beer, though I suspect they call it 'ale'. And probably don't wash." So I jumped at the chance of doing some with Young Keith.

First, he asked me to lie down near my house. Then he drove a bull-dozer towards me. I got up. Quite quickly.

He told me to lie down again, but first to go and put on my dressing gown, because he'd forgotten that bit. I went and put on my dressing gown, he presented me with a cup of tea, and told me to lie down again. He then backed up the bull-dozer and drove it at me again. I got up. With, I might say, quite some alacrity for a person of my years.

This went on for a while, and there were quite a few Beaker Folk standing round and watching. Some, I noticed, were taking bets each time I lay down again and Young Keith re-started the bull-dozer.

Then the Archdruid came along with a video camera, and started filming the whole procedure, for "A Health & Safety Instruction Video". Or "just to see if he'll keep doing it", as I heard her mutter to Mrs Hnaef, who was also watching, and, I noticed, singularly failing even to try to stop Young Keith.

At this point, I got bored of the whole thing, and headed off to the White Horse for several beers. Young Keith, for some reason, had a packet of frozen beefburgers. Luckily, I had a towel.

Now - what's that in my ear?

The Flying Beefburger - a Cautionary Tale

Once upon a time in a supermarket in southern England, there were two workmates and colleagues. Let us call them Pete and Dud. Pete and Dud worked in the same section, and they were good mates.

One day, as a bit of a larf, Pete threw a beefburger at Dud (this was before we knew about Mad Cow Disease, so clearly Pete was unaware of the risks). Dud, caught unawares, failed to catch the flying disk of protein, and it hit him above the eye.

This was worse news for Dud than you might imagine. For Pete and Dud worked in the frozen foods department. The frozen burger cut Dud's head open, and Dud subsequently spent a while in Luton's finest Casualty department.

Now the thing is, nobody actually has a rule in their terms and conditions stipulating that you can't throw beefburgers at people. Or, at least, none that I know of. Maybe in the public sector, where crack teams of HR people are employed to labour long into the afternoon drawing up Terms & Conditions, there might be some such rule. Or, I suppose, in a burger manufactory, where such incidents are potentially more common, you might see a sign on the wall saying "Flying Beefburgers Can Give You A Nasty Cut - Don't Throw Them". With, no doubt, an amusing image of a flying burger.

But our supermarkets sell thousands of products. They can't have a separate rule for every product. The contract would be hundreds of pages long. So, apart from a few obvious rules such as don't turn up to work under the influence, and some stuff about not using machinery without training and not sitting too close to the bandsaw, they stick to one general one along the lines of "no pratting about". Throwing a frozen beefburger at someone definitely fits under the heading of pratting about. So Pete had, by ignoring the rules, put someone in hospital. A Disciplinary hovered before him.

Knowing what the end might be for his mate, Dud wavered long and hard before writing the description of his accident in the accident book. In the end it read "I hit my head on the racking" - which is not a disciplinary offence. So Dud had an afternoon off work, Pete kept his job, and within a week they were back to throwing frozen comestibles at each other just like old times. With Dud suffering no more than light scarring, and a dull ache above the eyebrow when the wind was in the east.

Now my point is this. Throwing a beefburger could have got Pete the sack. While hitting your head on the racking is a legitimate business activity. As a result I suspect that the actual rate of beefburger throwing, and the resultant level of injury, is woefully under-reported.

Somewhere, as I write, someone is considering padding all the racking in frozen food departments and giving warehousemen spatial awareness training. Whereas what they should be doing is training them to catch. Although, if councils ran supermarkets, some jobsworth would solve the problem by banning frozen food. But if we accepted people as they are - fallible, sinful and stupid - and mitigated the punishment if they owned up - forgave them if they repented - the world would be a more sensible place. People could learn from their mistakes. And fewer people would need stitches in their foreheads.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Belated welcome back

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away (Somerset) there was a blog from a vicar called David Keen.

He gave up after a while, apparently because he was blogging too much.

But he's back, presumably thinking he can take it or leave it alone this time.

Whatever - it's great to have David back. Well worth reading.

Autonomous Self and Safety

It strikes me, in retrospect, that this morning's comments on Health and Safety may have been construed as no more than a rant. Which is fair enough - it was to a large extent. And so to counter this I may need to do some serious theological thinking on H&S.

This thinking starts with the reflection that from dust we came, and to dust we will return. However safe we try to make ourselves, our lives will end. And that gives a kind of comparison.  If our lives were of endless natural duration, but we could lose them through accident, we would be far more careful than if our natural lifespans were 21 years - especially after the age of 20. What I'm saying is, it's all relative.

We shall have to make the assumption that we have a degree of free will. Clearly nobody has completely  free will - their actions will always be influenced by current constraints, the state of their digestion, their upbringing and so on. But, on the other hand, if we have no free will and live in a totally deterministic universe, then we may as well resign ourselves to our fate. We would have no choice but to resign ourselves to whatever a capricious Universal Will decided what might be fun. Basically, in a deterministic universe there's no point running. If you're sure to get run over by a JCB you may as well go and lay down in its path and get it over with. No point hiding in a foreign country so somebody's got to go to all the trouble and expense of shipping a JCB out there, hunting you down and running you over. Where's the fun in that? And there's no sense hiding in your bed in your fifteenth-floor flat. Fate may have to take a lot of trouble getting the JCB up the stairs, but it'll make sure it happens.

No, we must have some free will or there is no point either in Health, or Safety. And we must assume we have some kind of responsibility, for no man is an island entire of itself. If you fall from the warehouse racking then there are not just consequences for you. There are consequences for your widow or widower.  For your children. For your employer. For the lawyer whom your relict now will employ to sue the pants off the employer on a no-win, no-fee basis. For the bloke from the Health and Safety Executive, who was looking forward to slipping off early this Friday for a dirty weekend in Haywards Heath but will now have to schlep down to Daventry to inspect the white chalk outline where you previously lay. And the HSE bloke's missus isn't going to go unaffected in all this. Nor the hoteliers of Haywards Heath, who will have yet another cancelled booking to deal with. Before you know it (not that you will - because you've been scraped off the place where the white chalk outline is, and rolled up to fit in the box) there's a massive network of people all over the country mourning, making money, or with another bedroom to let, and all because you couldn't be bothered to get the airplane steps and just climbed up on the racking instead. And it's no good getting angry with you, because you're well out of it dead and left everybody else in it, you selfish so and so. Typical of you, that is, getting yourself killed and then not taking responsibility for the consequences.

Sorry.  Where was I? Ah yes.You see, contrary to popular opinion, Health and Safety is not about the total elimination of risk. If it were, we'd all be dead. As the only way to ensure we're not the unfortunate victim of a road traffic accident is to stay in bed. And if everyone did that we'd all starve. Safely.

If anyone says that the only acceptable number of accidents is zero, then they don't understand the issue. The only way for a business - even an office acting as an arms-length value-added reseller of soft cushions - not to have any accidents is to do no trade. Never to open the door. And if the supermarkets and farmers (dangerous activity, farming) and fisherpeople (very dangerous activity, fishing) and transport hauliers all adopted this theory - we'd all starve to death.

And we care deeply about keeping children safe. But between the risk of infectious diseases, or of a frightening book allergy, and the danger of little Jimmy or, as it may be, Jade skinning their knees on the playground, you can't eliminate all risk from school, without closing all the schools. And the result of that, after the country lost all competitiveness in world markets, would be that we all eventually starved to death  So you can see that the consequence of being very safe is starving to death, no matter how you look at it.

No, merely opening the door of the office in the morning - even going to the office - is taking a risk, however calculated and small. So we have to balance the good effects of industry against the risk and ill-effects of accident. And the proper role of Health and Safety is to get that balance right - keeping the risk of serious injury appropriately small while still going about our personal lives.

But there are things that weight towards the safe end. The obvious one being that the result of a serious accident of any kind is that a lawyer gets involved and it costs everyone a fortune. Whereas if we're all uber-safe, even the lawyers will starve to death. So the fear of big legal costs pushes us from the right balance point to a dangerously cowardly one. The answer in my opinion is to ban lawyers from ever going out of their houses, but apparently that increases the chances of them starving to death. And that's against Health and Safety.

Finally I will point out that among the oldest Health and Safety regulations we have is this from Dt 22:8
"When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof."
In other words, it's not telling you not to let people walk around on your roof - for they have free will, and you may have a nice view from your roof. Why shouldn't people walk around on your roof, if you let them? Obviously, you want a bit of a veto. After all - it's your roof. You don't want just anyone up there. Especially not if they have a JCB and you suspect this may be a totally deterministic universe. But after appropriate training, and signing a waiver, and wearing a hi-viz and safety goggles and hard hat, why not tell them they can go ahead - have a walk on the roof.

But some people are dim. Some don't have that aversion to falling from heights that most people have evolved. They may come from Holland or Norfolk, where having a fear of heights brings no real evolutionary advantage. So, specially for these people - or for the ones you've invited to a special "flat roof party" - put a parapet around, says the Good Book. That'll stop them inadvertently plummeting off while looking in the other direction. If they climb over the parapet - against all the training and the "Roof Instruction Manual" you gave them before letting them out - and they have removed the safety harness with which you fitted them, with its two hooks clamping them onto the safety rail you put on your parapet - if, after all that, you still see them dropping past the window with a startled look on your face - then it's their own fault. Their blood is not on your head (not, at least, unless you broke their fall). And the only people that will starve to death will be the lawyers.

Health & Safety Gone Mad

I've read with interest the BBC's report into claims that companies and councils have used Health & Safety as an excuse for banning completely reasonable activities. And I've a suspicion that the companies doing it may have other reasons than H&S for these excuses. They may have thought of a way of making money, for example. Banning people from smoking breaks on Health & Safety grounds may give you grumpy smokers in the short term, but long term a healthier workforce that will hopefully be more productive. Although smokers are cheaper to provide pensions to long-term, so I would be interested to see if companies carrying a large final-salary pension liability would be keener on allowing smoking breaks than those that have money-purchase schemes.

Not so Councils. It has long been my belief that anyone of moderate talents with a love of pushing people about and a hatred of people should look for a job as a local goverment Environmental Officer. Here you can pass diktats to your heart's content, impose council facilities where you like, ban things you don't like. And blame health and safety for it all.

Or consider someone who was formerly rubbish at sports and moderate academically? A post awaits you on an LEA. Not that everyone who works in education is like this - as you can tell because if it were thus, marbles, conkers and running-about would be banned in every school in the country. Instead of which there is a light dusting of idiocy across the nation - enough to raise the blood pressure of Daily Mail readers but in fact merely sporadic, and reflecting the distribution of bureaucrats who weren't very good at games.

So Ponsonby Junior, now the Deputy Head of a middle school in the East of England, had a bad experience aged 10 when his little legs couldn't carry him all the way from the launch-board to the sandpit at long jump. Now aged 42 he takes it out on those rotters who laughed at him as he lay there with asphalt burns, by banning long jumping in case sand gets in the little one's eyes, or a cat has been using the sandpit. We all know it's rubbish, but Ponsonby blames H&S.

Little Cassandra was always rubbish at conkers - her over-protective mother always insisted she use an extra-long string because that would stop her losing an eye. Thirty years later she takes it out on the marbles-players - insisting the harmless game must be banned as a choking hazard.

During my time at the Matilda Smith-Williams school for the Daughters of Distressed Gentlefolk, I once had a tooth knocked out by a saucer, thrown through the air by someone whose parents were too poor to own a Frisbee. To this day, cups and saucers are banned for H&S reasons, which is one reason why we are the Beaker Folk.

People of Britain - this is at heart a theological matter. For what these town-hall numpties are doing is denying your human nature. Born in God's image, yet frail and fallible - what are we for if not to learn from our mistakes and to recognise that our fragility and fallibility is a pointer to the Strong Rock who is eternal and without flaw?

Next time somebody tells you that something is for H&S reasons, ask to see their Risk Assessment. And when they say you can't for Data Protection reasons, ask them, quietly and caringly, if that's because one dark day, in 1975, they forgot their kit and had to do PE in their pants. You may be surprised.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Naming and Not Shaming

It is a common belief, Brothers and Sisters, that the Internet, by opening out our view of the world, is a good thing. And of course, without the Internet people would not have the chance to read my pious and devout thoughts. But consider - godly believer or pagan groping towards the light as ye may be - consider that if you are reading these words, then even on the same page there may be ghastly and ungodly thoughts expressed by my neighbour and landlady, the soi-disant "Archdruid" Eileen.

A case in point came when I noted on the side-bar of this blog a posting on the Biblical Preaching Blog regarding identifying individuals. Naturally, I expected some kind of advice on the correct policy regarding naming and shaming notorious sinners in the congregation - what period of public repentance we should expect from them; whether we should ask them to sit in a special "naughty pew" - whether simply to ban them from the congregation, if they have not already walked out, for a period of time.

But no, it would seem instead these are guidelines about how not to embarrass named, known individuals. Well, Brothers (and suitably-guided Sisters, perhaps by a husband or pastor), my first problem with the instructions in this otherwise helpful post is that I can't remember everybody's name every time. Certainly I have a good memory for people's sins, but a poor one for names. So sometimes, instead of saying "Joe! Do you have anything you want to bring before the Lord?" I may have to resort to "Young man who came to me for advice with his attraction to his wife's sister - do you have anything you want to bring before the Lord? Apart from the obvious, of course." You can see that this is not always the best way to identify people.

So my guidance on naming people would include the following:

Do not choose people at random during the early parts of worship and ask them what good thing has happened to them this week. This is grievous to the Lord - he does not approve of "random". Instead wait, pray, and discern who to ask.

If you call someone to the front for prayer when they are going through a difficult time, and if they have not cried within five minutes, stop asking them sad questions. It isn't fair to press too hard.

When preaching, giving examples of people in the congregation is always a powerful way to show the power of prayer for healing. But there are certain ailments, even when healed, that people would rather you did not mention. I discovered this the other week.  I was celebrating Brian's being able to sit in his pew without a comfy cushion for the first time in three years, but Brian intimated to me later that he would rather I had not drawn anyone's notice to him. Naturally I rebuked him - the Lord has spoken, who will not prophesy? - but the point was taken. When he is healed of his erectile dysfunction I will warn him, and he can stay away if he would rather not be the centre of attention.

When preaching on repentance, be sensitive in what you reveal of people in the congregation. If they have repented of their sins in the last five or six weeks ago, their sin and pain may still be very raw. I would advise always leaving it six months before including the specific former sins of  congregation members in my sermons - by that stage we can be sure their repentance is strong and their restoration secure.

Naming couples with sexual problems is always wrong. You must preserve anonymity at all times in these cases. But these people need the congregation to pray for them. I'd suggest hedging it round with comments like "There is a couple in the congregation that needs prayer for their private life. I can't tell you who they are - but they have been coming to church for three years now. He has a busy job as a quantity surveyor. And they believe that having a six-year-old and a four-year-old - and the younger still in nappies - together with the wife's suspicions about his secretary -  is making them too tired. And now let us pray." You see what I have done there - helped the congregation to focus their prayers, while keeping the people prayed for anonymous.

Brothers (and Sisters, although clearly advice on leading worship and preaching will be of no use to you), I firmly believe these examples should help you to keep things earthed while maintaining discretion. Since formulating these rules myself, barely 30% of people I have named in sermons have left the congregation. And these were, I think it's fair to say, the headstrong, rebellious ones in any case.

Rock Shortage

You wouldn't think this could happen,  in a community built on sandstone, but we've run out of rocks.

We've got a very important labyrinth to build this afternoon. But between endless ceremonies where we were contemplating pebbles, the cairns that are now littering the landscape (which we cemented into place for health and safety reasons) and the seventeen labyrinths that are now all over the community grounds, we seem to be pebble-free. Alan Titchmarsh could only dream of such soil.

I'm currently negotiating with the Moot the possibility of dismantling some of the existing labyrinths - but they seem to be channeling the spirit of English Heritage here, and are arguing that every labyrinth, being a place of worship, must be preserved just as it is forever. So in the meantime if everyboday could please check their rooms? I reckon enough people will be devout in their private devotions that we will be able to patch up a reasonable, if smallish, new labyrinth. If that doesn't work, we're going to have to use some packs of Hnaef's liberal hi-vises.

Monday 22 August 2011

Sorting out Movie Night

Once again the Beaker People have been getting a bit - well, a bit too masculine. I don't know whether it was the riots or the Libyan rebellion, but people have started talking about oppression, liberation and freedom.

And so it was that we came to the Monday Evening Film Club. And I've had to do some judicious switching.

Once they were all safely in the Room of Viewing, and with the doors locked to be on the safe side, they discovered that The Blues Brothers had been substituted for the evening. With Notting Hill. Instead of them all coming out ready to go to da joint in aid of a good cause, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. I reckon we've got a good five or six days of testosterone-free pebble-considering and tea lights before us, before we need to start taking the less gentle among us into account again.

A Psalm of Celebration for the Nativity of Steve Davis (1957)

Archdruid: A tricky angle on the red.

All: Now that's quite interesting.

Archdruid: Left himself some work to get that black.

All: Now that's quite interesting.

Archdruid: He'll need a little side on this.

All: Now that's quite interesting.

Archdruid: He drops the blue into the Middle.

All: Now that's quite interesting.

Archdruid: Back for the awkward red on the bottom cush.

All: Now that's quite interesting.

Archdruid: Now nudges up safe behind the green.

All: Now that's quite interesting.

(Continues for an inordinate amount of time. Happy Birthday, Steve Davis)

Sunday 21 August 2011

Vicar living in 1960s Comments on Modern Religion

Apologies, for I just noticed this news item, although I'm sure it was big news in Gloucestershire a week or two ago.

Apparently vicar Canon Dr Jeni Parsons has said that people these days keep church "for best" - baptisms, weddings and funerals. Which may be true. She could be right, though she doesn't offer many solutions - or else the BBC have removed them from the snippets they quote, of course. But it's this sentence that caught my eye - "People use church like the parlour, it's for best".

When I was very young, people did indeed have parlours,"front rooms" or "living rooms" for best in some working-class homes. The "other room" had a dining table, armchairs, electric fire and huge (even up to 18 inch) TV somehow shoe-horned in, while the "front room" was freezing cold and resplendent with fatally-shiny linoleum and stiff, upright-backed three-piece suites in exciting new plastic fabrics.

The "room for best" didn't last, of course. Modern living put paid to them. In the old three-bed semis the kitchens and dining rooms got knocked through into kitchen-diners, or they became studies, or ready-rooms. And modern houses are too, too small with lounge-diners or lounge-kitchen-diners and everyone eats with their hands with their plates on their knees while wearing 3D glasses in front of 42" plasma screens - and simultaneously playing on their DS'es while Facebooking their mates using their Smartphones and there's no room for best rooms any more.

Now I think of it, I feel a great light has gone out of our lives, and a regretful kind of nostalgia for living in black-and-white and eating your dinner off an oilcloth on a chipboard table. But I don't want to go back there. So I'm going to avoid Gloucestershire. Just in case Revd Dr Parsons is actually describing life as it's lived there.

The Watford Riots

On the subject of riots, and before Hnaef gets too carried away with his idea of heading to Luton on a mission (this one's volunteer only, I've decided, and only then after sufficient counselling) - I was interested to read about the Dunstable riots.

Dunstable is always a bit different - it didn't even have a Great Fire until the 19th century - but it had a riot in 1902.  Which lasted two days. Now Dunstable in those days, before the concept of "London Overspill" was invented, had a population of three men, a straw hatter and a dog. They must have been shattered. Nor was Dunstable alone in this wave of rioting - it also broke out in Watford.

Apparently the proximate cause of the trouble was the rescheduling of the Coronation of Edward VII - the resultant street parties were likewise postponed. and the "rougher elements" of these two fine market towns were up in arms.

There was a riot down the road in Watford at the same time, and some things may seem familiar. The fact that the rioters attacked numerous shops, whose owners were nothing to do with the original complaint. The attempt to set fire to Mr Fisher's shop. That the police were over-stretched: of the 20 coppers in Watford, 10 had set off for Hemel to deal with another riot there. The women going "shopping" in the wreckage. The drafting in of emergency police reinforcements. And the way that Mr Longley carefully memorised the faces of the looters so he could identify them in court - like an Edwardian CCTV. I'm just surprised he didn't have a lightning artist with him.

It was noted that the majority of the rioters came from the slum areas of Watford. Some things never change.

Going radical tradional

The Archdruid took me aside today and Had Some Words. Then so did Mrs Hnaef. A dual-pronged attack usually means that there's something they're keen for me to change, so I went for a walk to Think About What I'd Been Told.

It appears that both the women in my life believe that I am becoming too Liberal. And maybe I've been flaunting (or "flouting", if you're Mr E. Pickles, apparently) my Anglican leanings a little too much recently.

What's confusing me is that, in a change from the usual, the Archdruid wants me to be more Biblical (after all her comments about my reading out the Morning and Evening Offices, too!), whereas Mrs Hnaef wants me to be more traditional.

And, as I was walking, I came across a sign. Well, it was less of a sign, and more a few thousand pink tabards with the writing washed off. Although I can't imagine what mistake by the shipping company caused them to have ended up in the drainage system, some seem to have overflowed.

So, here's what I'm going to do: at the Pouring Out of Beakers service tonight,  I'm going to announce a Mission. We're going to take a trip into Luton and read radical evangelical texts (Hosea, Revelation, 2 Timothy, etc.), but we're going to do it dressed in pink (for the BVM: very traditional) tabards (radical), which we're going to pretend are chasubles (trad, but we'll _all_ be wearing them: priesthood of all believers, which is very radical).

So: sorted. Everyone's going to be happy. Nothing can go wrong.

Saturday 20 August 2011

Healing Liberals

Shocked and stunned to read Pastor Valle Adurni refer to the Beaker Folk as if we have liberal Anglican tendencies. But then I remembered Hnaef's renowned tolerance, and all those pink tabards I had to get Young Keith to flush down the drain this morning, and I figured he might be right.

So I'm going to be trying to persuade Hnaef to do some proper Biblical study, instead of all that Liberal Anglican stuff about the feeding of the 5,000 really being a giant picnic. And I'm recommending this Bible Preaching website. I'm hoping that theis may get him bashing the Bible a bit more, instead of reading out of the Little Book of Calm and the Thoughts of Dr Seuss.  So I'm grateful to Rachel for the recommendation.

Concerned Folk

I've just got back from a few days away with Mrs Hnaef (more details to follow), to discover members of the community running around like frightened chickens, with handkerchiefs tied round their mouths.

I thought they might be about to riot, and were concealing their identities (though from whom, I have no idea), but it turns out that the drains have blocked up again, and they thought they were under chemical attack.

Things have gone a bit odd in my absence. Oh, and I wonder if the high-viz tabards have arrived yet.

The Riots - a Re-evaluation

I'd like to clarify the remarks I've made over the last few weeks regarding the people of our inner-cities.

You may remember that a few weeks ago I said that if the Government went ahead with its university fees policy and cut policing numbers, the cities would be a "powder-keg". And if the Government cuts caused a sharp reduction in the number of council-run youth clubs, I said, people would be bound to join "postcode" gangs and run amok. It would be all the Government's fault. The people of  London have no ability to behave morally without the provision of table-tennis tables.

Some have claimed I changed my view when it looked like the riots would have a personal cost for me. When the London rioting came within a couple of miles of a house off the Holloway Road that I inherited from my great-aunt Nora, and which I am hoping to sell for a few quid, I admit I saw a new angle on the matter. My view that the rioters were "evil and irresponsible" and that the police should use water cannon and, if necessary, sub-machine guns to restore order to the streets of Tottenham, was mentioned by other people as a little over-the-top. If I remember rightly, I justified it by saying that these people didn't know right from wrong, and hot lead was the only language they understand. I also said that the reason they lived in such poor areas with poor facilities was because the people that lived there had broken them themselves. And if they wanted new trainers they should stop sitting around on their backsides, and go and get jobs.

I am sending this post from a location in Bavaria Road, and Aunty's property is perfectly intact. However I can see that nearby areas of Holloway and Archway are in some need of improvement if this house is to make the return I want on it. So I would call on the Government to relax its spending policy, recognise that these areas need investment to recover, and give the inhabitants new trainers, table-tennis tables, university grants and a personal fitness trainer each. If they do not, the civil unrest resulting will all be the Government's fault. That John Prescott's about right.

I hope that Beaker People are now clear on the moral lead I am giving. And I hope they be similarly unconfused if trouble breaks out at a later date and I declare the need for the use of mustard gas.

Friday 19 August 2011

Giving up and starting blogging

In an outrageous twist on an old theme, Doug Chaplin has stopped blogging. And started blogging. And told a fairly awful joke. But that's fine.

Researchers Say Aliens will Fry our Brains and Turn the Earth into a Giant Space-hopper

Amazed by this article in the Guardian  about the range of possibilities of how aliens might interact with humans. These ideas include destroying us, helping us or accidentally infecting us with diseases. Although I can't help noticing that the options they've missed include mating with humans and getting their fake eyes stuck on, building pyramids, trashing Surrey, phoning home, riding BMXes, or making large circles in cornfields. So I can only conclude that these so-called "researchers" haven't actually done any research at all.

Image from Wikimedia Commons
In fact, I don't see how technically some people sitting around trying to imagine what aliens might get up to could be researchers. Since the one thing they haven't actually done is research. Because they've never met, interacted with or studied an alien. In fact I don't see how they can even be "scientists" in the strict sense of the word when doing this exercise, as science is a word meaning "knowledge", which clearly they don't have. And the essence of science is some way of testing your predictions, which they can't do.

So I think, on the whole, the Guardian headline would be better re-written as "Americans speculate about what hypothetical aliens might do, if they could get here within a meaningful time period, which they can't." Not so exciting, I know. But true. In fact, my own research has revealed that, if there are aliens exactly 30 light-years from us, they're watching the '81 Ashes series and thinking England's cricketing superiority is nailed-on for years to come.

Of Berks and Bercows

Now, I'm not plugging Big Brother. But, unusually, I am going to jump on the bandwagon here.

"Sally Bercow urged to pay Big Brother Fee to taxpayer", says the BBC. Apparently a request from Kate Hoey. To which the only reasonable response would appear to be "why"? Because she lives in a house that her husband gets rent-free, apparently.

I look forward to Kate Hoey's next demand - "Vicar's spouses urged to pay their wages to the Church of England". That should resonate in Finance Committees all over the country.

The new format for Big Brother

Every day the tabloids cover the goings-on of people we've never heard of in the Big Brother House.

Every evening the readers of those tabloids wonder where Channel 5 is.

Given this year's collection of celebrities, however, I'm very excited. The only way the concept could get any better would be if you switched off all the cameras and microphones in the house. And shut down Channel 5. And never allowed the celebrities out, ever. Just kept giving them food and pointless tasks. And then, in 100 years or so, encased the House in cement.

The Futility of Fighting Wasps

I've been told by my Ethical Advisor that I'm not allowed to use non-organic methods to deal with our wasp infestation. I'm afraid that I really let my guard down there - she somehow managed to sneak into the building despite us putting that RF chip in her neck and setting up the detection system - but I"m obliged to act on her advice. I pointed out to her that DDT is very definitely an organic chemical within the meaning of the Act, but she said I know what she means.

Anyway, we've thrown her back out in the lane (she didn"t have time to tell us whether that was ethical or not) but now we have to act.

Therefore at today's Pouring out of Jam Jars ceremony, we"re going to be putting small amounts of jam and fruit juice in the bottom of empty PET bottles, which we will be hanging up around the Orchard.

Though frankly, how drowning insects in two inches of fermenting fruit sugar is more ethical than just poisoning them is beyond me. Sometimes I suspect the old traditional ways were best. And does God care much either way? Or did Sauron make wasps by warping the nature of bees? In which case did Saruman create hornets by crossing wasps with orcs?

Thursday 18 August 2011

Metrical Psalms are back

If I may quote the Master for a moment:

On afternoons of drowsy calm
We stood in the panelled pew,
Singing one-voiced a Tate-and-Brady psalm
To the tune of "Cambridge New."
Reinstated West Gallery, Stinsford Church

Let's leave aside the whole question of why you'd want to sing "Cambridge New", which has a nice fugue effect, one-voiced -  and instead consider that what Thomas Hardy (for it is he) is reflecting fondly on is the singing of a metrical psalm to a set tune.

With the advent of the Victorian hymn-writing plague, singing the old psalms the old way went away. But you can't keep a decent tradition down. So the church musician and serpent-player Kathryn Rose (aka blogger "The Artsy Honker") has set up Psalter Commons. You can find psalms, contribute (old, out of copyright) ones - or write your own.

So come on, get down there and let's re-invent a genuine tradition!

New Folk we light a tea light for - Holy Trinity, Sutton Coldfield

You've probably noticed that my missives on this website have become worse-spelt of late. I can only apologise, and explain that it's because I've been newly introduced to the world of Mobile Web. With a dinky little Samsung Android device, running the Blogger App, I can commit my thoughts to the Blogosphere anywhere with open WiFi or a 3G connection. Even - I shudder to admit - during a dull moment in Pouring out of Beakers, or a particularly hideous Liturgical Dance.

But my Android doesn't have a decent intuitive spell checker like my Chrome Browser gives me. It has auto correct, but I've seen what that does to Hnaef's writing. And so more spelling mistakes get through.

The other thing that Mobile Web does is give you the opportunity to see a different format of website. If you visit this website, for example, using your Android (I assume you will not be wanting to use the heretical and benighted Apple variety of products) you will see a snappy mobi-lised version of this site. It has charm, efficiency and simple lines. But it doesn't have the Hardy Plot Generator, our edifying thought for the day, or the People We Light a Tea Light For. See what you lose when you trade speed and style for substance?

So as part of my quest to prove that British Religious Blogging Ain't Dead, today we're Lighting a Tea Light For Holy Trinity, Sutton Coldfield. They're fairly new on the blog, but the posts I've seen so far are full of meat and interest. They haven't posted that often, but maybe if we encourage them we will. And their site looks great on Mobi.

A Level Celebration Service

Many Beaker People have been making anxious phone calls today as they find out whether children or grand-children have got the grades they want.

Now you know how it is. If someone's lovely offspring got the grades they want then you're gonna know. If they didn't get the grades, their parents / grandparents aren't gonna want to talk about it. And if someone's own children didn't do too well but their brother-in-law's kids did - well, best stay well away from the subject.

So the A Level Celebration today won't be mentioning the exams in anyway. And anyone grinning too much will be thrown out. Now let's all show some discretion, and focus on lighting tea lights and filling up beakers.

Nativity of Brian Aldiss (1925)

As the Beaker Folk rose from their sleep a strange sight met their eyes.

Through the Long Warm of the 20th-21st centuries they had become used to the idea that it would always be warmer. Eileen had been laying plans to use the newly-opening North West Passage to make a cheap holiday in Alaska, where she had one day expected to settle down and grow grapes and honeydew melons.
But now the strange revelation - after 200 years the Ice Sun had returned. With its little scary binary double, the Sherbert Star. And the Beaker People knew they now had a century of squally showers and slight frosts ahead of them.

Already, in the unexpected chill of this August morning, new creatures were gambolling in the fields of Husborne Crawley. The Vahadim, strange antelope-like creatures that looked a little like rabbits, broke from the leather pods in which they had hibernated the previous 3 trillion years under the Big Tree. They gave themselves up to a fury of mating - the willing females rushing from male to male - until within just one hour these beautiful yet delicate creatures - constructed only from lichen and gossamer - crawled into the hedges to die. Their offspring, already larger than their parents as they fed on the sandstone and dandelions, their leather pouches forming around them, burrowed their way back under the oak, there to sleep the sleep of millennia.
The Beaker People saw all this - saw the female Wodewose return from her Gap Century and be reunited with her mate - and knew things had changed. The world was renewed again - but as some things flourished others would surely suffer.

"OK people," said Archdruid Eileen. "It's all back into the Giant Prayer Wheel. You've all got five hundred years of pushing to do."

Somewhere in the Arctic, a polar bear climbed onto a newly-forming ice shelf with joy. While in the skies above, the occupants of the pointless explorer ship watched, and wondered.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Ritual of watching for Shooting Stars

Beaker People file out of the Moot House (or, as it may be, back from the White Horse) and stand in the darkest part of the Big Paddock.

All: Which way's Perseus?

Archdruid: Over there.

All: Over where?

Archdruid: Over there. Over that way.

All: We don't know where you're talking about. Can you point?

Archdruid: No.

All: Why not?

Archdruid: Because.... because it's unlucky. [The Archdruid may blush. Although, being it is pitch black, no-one will notice]

All: Unlucky? Don't you have a science degree and aren't you a faith community leader?

Archdruid: Yes.

All: And yet you're telling us that pointing at stars is unlucky?

Archdruid: Erm. Yes.

All:  Eileen, what are you on?

Archdruid: I can't help it. You can't point at stars, it's unlucky. I refer you to G. Worthington Smith's magnum opus, "Dunstable - its history and surroundings". It's a Bedfordshire tradition.

All: Eileen, You've really lost it this time. And we still don't know which way Perseus is.

Archdruid: Over there, next to Cassiopeia.

All: You just pointed.

Archdruid: No, I just kind of... nodded my head in the right direction.

All: Pointed.

Archdruid: Nodded.

All: Pointed.

Archdruid: Nodded.

Young Keith: Is it just me, or is it a bit cold?

Stacey Bushes: And the grass is getting dewy.

All: Yeah, forget the shooting stars. Let's get in and have a cup of Bovril.

Nativity of Pierre de Fermat (1601)

Today we will be celebrating Fermat's birthday by trying to understand his work.

My theory here is that, to the average Beaker person, mathematics is a bit like faith - we don't really understand either, but take them on trust. And we like the symbols. Very powerful, are symbols.

And to make it even more spiritual, we're going to be studying Fermat's work in the original Latin. So I'm not saying today is going to be a great one for understanding things - but it'll be a marvellous one for mystery.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

What are wasps for?

A young friend asked me this question while considering the aggressiveness of wasps compared to the superiority and human-friendliness of bees.

It's an interesting question, especially coming from one with no particular faith that I'm aware of. There's clearly an underlying idea that things must have a point - a teleological purpose, if you will. Bees make honey - good enough. But what are wasps for? What an interesting question to ask - whether you're a believer or not. Although the follow-on question for a non-believer is whether anything is actually for anything.

In the great scheme of human-insect interaction, it's questionable whether wasps have been better or worse served by human beings. Wasps, of course, suffer from our hatred of their irrational, erratic and - if I may say it - waspish behaviour. If we find wasp nests in our immediate vicinity we like to have them exterminated - although we admire the intricate and beautiful geometry of their former homes once they're all dead. We're sympathetic and wistful like that. Whereas you might think bees have benefited from being our friends. But in fact we have had as much of a good effect on our "friends" the bees as Andy Coulson has had on David Cameron. Until recent times the recommended way of taking honey from bee hives was to kill all the bees first: I append below the "Honey-taking" episode from Hardy's wonderful Under the Greenwood Tree. Is that a way to treat your friends?

But of course that is all to dwell on our guilt with respect to our little six-legged neighbours. And my question was - what are wasps for?  In one sense, if I'm going to get all anthropocentric, they are actually relatively useful late in the season - they kill caterpillars and other pests, once they've got over being all shirty and hungover from eating all the fermenting windfall apples. But that's assuming that the worth of a wasp is only to be measured by how useful it is for us.

Can't we instead look at wasps and say what are they for - they're for themselves. To you and me, they may appear quite natty in their stripes, they may be impressive in the hideous way they hijack caterpillars and ladybirds. They may be impressive in the zig-zaggy flightpaths - at least up to the point when a copy of Private Eye brings their career to an abrupt and quivering end. But the wasp is the reminder that when God made the universe, (s)he wasn't just thinking about how to design it for our benefit - nice as it is, and happy as we are in the Goldilocks Zone of a sun with a billion years to run before things get scary. No, the wasp, when all's said and done, is for being a wasp. Anything else is secondary. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go. We're overwhelmed with the stung remnants of today's cider-makers. Drayton tried laying on hands but to be honest it just made matters worse. So we're going with cold  flannels and quiet prayer.

Honey Taking, and Afterwards - from Under the Greenwood Tree, by Thomas Hardy

An apparent embarrassment of Fancy at the presence of Shiner caused a silence in the assembly, during which the preliminaries of execution were arranged, the matches fixed, the stake kindled, the two hives placed over the two holes, and the earth stopped round the edges. Geoffrey then stood erect, and rather more, to straighten his backbone after the digging.

"They were a peculiar family," said Mr. Shiner, regarding the hives reflectively.

Geoffrey nodded.

"Those holes will be the grave of thousands!" said Fancy. "I think 'tis rather a cruel thing to do."

Her father shook his head. "No," he said, tapping the hives to shake the dead bees from their cells, "if you suffocate 'em this way, they only die once: if you fumigate 'em in the new way, they come to life again, and die o' starvation; so the pangs o' death be twice upon 'em."

"I incline to Fancy's notion," said Mr. Shiner, laughing lightly.

"The proper way to take honey, so that the bees be neither starved nor murdered, is a puzzling matter," said the keeper steadily.

"I should like never to take it from them," said Fancy.

"But 'tis the money," said Enoch musingly. "For without money man is a shadder!"

Apple smashing time

Once again Apple Smashing Time is upon us, early this year thanks to an unseasonably hot Spring.

Some have complained in the past that our traditional Beaker technique for smashing apples is a litlle - well, a little basic. Is bashing bucketloads of  apples into a pulp with pieces of 2x2 really a spiritual exercise, they ask me.

To which I point out that this ancient apple-smashing technique is deeply spiritual. The rhythmic thumping of the wooden poles into the bucket is a form of meditation - freeing you from our burden of thinking. The traditional apple-smashing song, "Ho for the pomace", with its ten-minute chorus which just goes "Squish-squash Splat", likewise frees us from all rationality. And of course the occasional interlude when everyone downs tools and runs screaming from the wasps is a reminder that we are not this planet for pleasure alone. This is how our ancestors once made cider, at one with the elements for that short period of time before they succumbed to smallpox, the strangles or the ague.

Now in past years people have complained that the pilgrims who are staying for a week or weekend carry the burden of the apple-smashing, while the regular members of the Community sit around watching them and drinking Earl Grey tea. To which I would point out that we who imbibe Husborne Crawley air all the time have less need for such an intense spiritual exercise. We're exercising generosity in letting you do it. And also that, once Young Keith has pressed the apple pulp, we have the important job of keeping an eye on the barrels while the cider is fermenting.

But I can feel some kind of justice in your request for more of a buy-in to the fruits of your labour. Which is why I'm glad to announce that this year we'll be able to share the cider with any short-term Beaker People. For only £10 per small bottle (plus p+p) we'll post you a small reminder of those happy days of summer when, freed from rational thought, you happily hit apples with a lump of wood for days on end.

Monday 15 August 2011

Full of Grace

Obviously, the minute we start heading off into the subject of mariology, we are in deep theological waters. And I think of those early thinkers who, by trying too hard to understand other theological mysteries, ended up declared to be heretics - consider Arius, Nestorius or even Origen. While other people who, if they ever thought that hard would get a headache, remained orthodox and un-condemned by simple virtue of not trying so hard.

And ever hanging over theological endeavour of this kind is the threat of the Beaker Dogma Committee. Anyone found propounding beliefs that are at odds with the Basic Beaker Dogma are subject to numerous penalties, including the Splurge Gun Firing Squad, the confiscation of tea lights and the loss of druidical privileges. Thankfully, the Beaker Folk don't actually have any dogmas. Which means that the Dogma committee is mostly an excuse to have a decent meal on expenses once a month.

Because in Mary we have the chance to get into the most almighty theological row if we want it. The Immaculate Conception, who Jesus's brothers were the sons of, what exactly the Assumption (or Dormition) is all about - it's all a chance for Drayton Parslow to go all Protestant, and Catholics to stand firm in the defence of ex cathedra, and the Orthodox to carry on looking all mysterious and knowing with their 2,000 years of doing things properlyYet what is interesting, when you read a testimony as profound as Stuart's moment of illumination, is that he doesn't refer to any of those issues. He just accepts a beautiful revelation of who Mary is.

So what can I add (subject to the awful strictures of the Dogma Committee)?

That Mary is in a mythic sense a Second Eve. Where Eve provoked a man into saying "No" to God, Mary's "yes" brings into the world the Man who said "Yes". I'll go with that.

That Mary is the God-bearer - the one who brings God into the world. The one who carried the one who encompasses the whole Universe for nine months.

That Mary is not the token female who makes up for an all-male godhead. Because the godhead is not all-male, whatever the pictures show. But being in the image of God herself - distorted as it was even in her, she reflects  God as truly as any other human being. And in physically bearing God into the world, she enters into God's re-creation of the world in a unique way. The rest of us will just have to put up with being metaphorical and spiritual when we bring God into the world. Mary got to be literal and physical in doing it.

That, having plenty of time in heaven, and being a good Jewish Mother, she's a good ear to catch if we want someone to bring something to her son's attention. Let's face it, she got him to change the water into wine, didn't she?

That she's the one who provides our human unity with Jesus - his human nature he inherited through her. Her blood flowed in his veins. Her DNA was his DNA. His eyes, his hands, his flesh, his looks - all came from her.

That she suffered along with her son, and knew a rising to new life with him. Who suffers like a parent losing a child? If he felt forsaken, how bereft was she?

That she said "Yes". Whatever the fear of the future, whatever the trouble now, whatever her mum & day (the grandparents of God?) thought, whatever the dumb, hopeless look in Joseph's eyes for the next nine months. She said "Yes".

I'd better leave it at that. When I said that the Beaker Dogma Committee don't actually have any dogma, I forgot the one dogma that they enforce with ferocity and righteous zealotry - that Beaker People don't have any dogma, is itself a dogma. It's how we keep everyone liberal and smiling. So I'd better say that if you don't agree with anything I've written above, that's fine. I'll light a tea light for you anyway.

The Assumption in France

Went to France once, and arrived early in the morning of the Feast of the Assumption.

First day tried to get together some basic things - you know, food, wine, loo roll. To discover that the entire country was closed. No shops open, no petrol, no nothing. In desperation I ended up spending the GDP of a small country to buy some stale croissants and a bottle of vin ordinaire from a campsite shop during the 20-minute window when it was open.

The interesting thing is that, apart from the Muslim populations in the cities, France is as secular a society as you could hope to find. Even the relatively-devout Bretons are as doubtful as Cardiff during a crisis of faith. And yet the French took the holiday seriously. I suspect that's because the French always take having some time off very seriously - leisure-time is almost the national religion.

Maybe we've something to learn there, as we take our Smartphones on holiday and leave out-of-office messages that make it quite clear we're almost permanently available even when in deepest Provence. Having a break is good, and improves your national cooking.

Equal lights for Beaker People

It's an outrageous piece of discrimination. Poor old Goffrey has been shoddily treated by his employers. Proof that People of Faith(tm) including Beaker People are suffering persecution in this secular and godless age.

All he wanted to do, in keeping with. Beaker tradition, was to light a tea light. And now he's been suspended from the oil refinery. I can see a Human Rights case coming up here.

Assumption of the BVM

I'm looking forward to today's special event. We're going to ask him to give us a talk on his view of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I'm anticipating he's going to deliver an hour's worth of condemnation, state several times that it is idolatry and/or heresy - but at no time give any of us the slightest impression that he knows what the doctrine actually is. Could be a good morning.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Noah Fishing

You've gotta feel sorry for Noah.

All that time on the Ark. All that time free for fishing.

But by the time he'd caught two fish, he'd run out of bait.

Blessing of Caravans

Pastoral Notes: Frankly in my opinion caravans are a blessed nuisance. I'd ban them from the road between midnight and dawn. But some people like that sense of freedom and adventure, as they do their best tortoise impressions - lugging most of their home with them to a new and thrilling destination - Newquay, Eastbourne or, as it may be, Mablethorpe. And some of them even like us to bless the things. I prefer a quiet life (and also charge them a £30 Admininstration fee) so just tend to get on with this ritual. Just don't think I approve.

Archdruid: Every woman, every man
All: Join the caravan of love.

Archdruid: Stand up.
All: Stand up. Stand up.

Archdruid: Everybody make a stand.
All: Join the caravan of love.

Archdruid: Stand up.
All: Stand up. Stand up.

Hymn: 2-4-6-8 Motorway

Reading: From The Road more Annoyingly Travelled

Introduction to the Blessing 

Archdruid: Looking in fear and loathing at this collection of metal and plywood, we nevertheless recognise that it, like us, may be imperfect but somebody loves it. And so, grudgingly, we bestow this blessing upon it.

All recite the Caravan Blessing 

May it dodge the people fron Brainiac
and Jeremy Clarkson be far from it.

May it always be on a downhill slope

May it never overtake another caravan - which is going just 0.1 of a mile per hour more slowly - on the A30. [Or, as it may be, the A14. Or the A505. Or the Barton-le-Clay A6 bypass.]

May its tyres never go flat
Nor its tread wear bald.
May it never be towed by anything under-powered
and especially - especially - may it never be pulled by a motor-caravan.
For such a slow-moving set-up is an offence before the world
and its portable toilet a vile smell in our nostrils.

May those drivers that curse it, while stuck behind it weaving down the A303, know that cursing is in vain, and bless it for the petrol it is saving them.

May it never be parked inadvertently too close to a cliff edge
May it never be hit by a tornado, a hurricane or a blizzard
And may its owners sit inside playing gin rummy, watching the rain streaming down its windows, all the days of their lives.

The Archdruid will pour blessed water on the sides of the caravan (Hnaef will check that she is holding a Beaker, not a brick like last time).

Hymn: We're all going on a Summer Holiday


Archdruid: Right. Now get that lump of junk off my drive. And go and annoy somebody else.

Maximilian Kolbe

70 years ago today, Maximilian Kolbe died in Auschwitz. I suggest you read about it at Linen on the Hedgerow.

No more for me to say.

Middle-aged Punk Rockers Service

Today's devotions are dedicated to the realisation that we didn't like the glimpse this week of the sort of England we thought we wanted 33 years ago. It turns out, in the words of St Jarvis, that the future that we'd got mapped out was nothing much to shout about.

And so the hymns will be:

Anarchy in the UK (to the tune "Anathemata")
White Riot (I don't really want a riot)
I'd quite like to go to Chelsea (because it's quieter there)
Babylon's Calmed Down Now
God Save the Queen (the real version - please all stand)

And we shall pray for a land [switches on stirring music] where the young are respectful. Where maiden aunts can cycle safely through the Great Smog to church. Where coppers aren't afraid to give teenagers a clip round the ear. Without using a baton. Where you can leave your back door unlocked, because there's nothin worth stealing.

A land free from unlikely piercings.  A land with fewer tattoos. Where instead of Carlsberg Special Brew and cheap pear cider, people will drink gin & tonic. A land where nobody can speak about their "rights" because they will be labelled a trouble maker. A place where the Daily Mail is recognised as the supreme arbiter of right and wrong, and Melanie Phillips is elected Queen.

Where everyone will have to do National Service. From the age of 11 to 35. Where, to simplify the legal processs, the number of prescribed sentences will be reduced to two: hanging or flogging.

Hang on. You see what happened there.  I started off musing about the fact that fings ain't what they used to be, and ended up a raving demagogue. Scrub all that. Let's just pray things get better and leave it at that. It may or may not be effective, but at least it won't be my fault.

Saturday 13 August 2011

Dicky Dawkins and the Endangered Unicorns

I'm indebted to Madpriest for the link to the research that shows that higher-educated people have more - although less traditionalist - religious belief. That certainly correlates to my experience - back in Luton and Dunstable the only Christians you were likely to meet were the vicars of St Peters or St Mary's. Whereas Oxford seemed to be full of them. I only met one other believer in the Zoology Dept, of course, and he was a member of a strange sect that only used Reverse Polish Notation. But then the Zoology Dept is that kind of place.

It was actually very well timed, as at this very moment we've a few invisible unicorns hiding away in the cellars beneath the Great House. Basically they're worried that at any moment there might be another Camp Quest-style hunt for these peaceful, friendly creatures. And they have a nasty feeling that if they managed to get caught, the atheists might be tempted to do them in and cover up the evidence. Which is, let's face it, quite easy - what with the unicorns being invisible and everything.

So we've tucked them away and we're feeding them on Flying Spaghetti Monsters. There's been a real glut this year and the Season has just opened. In fact, we're picking them off so easily we've had to make them harder to catch to make it more sport. So we're throwing tea cups at them.

While the Cat's Away

It would appear that by coming back early in the morning I have uncovered a number of "temporary improvements" I wasn't supposed to know about. So can Beaker People please sort out the following:

1) Turn the Moot House back round to face in the right direction.

2) Replace the high-tech brushed-steel jugs with the traditional terra-cotta Beakers.

3) Take down the posters of Che, Karl and Ken. And Deidre.

4) Send the Smurf costumes back.

5) Dismantle the Mighty Wurlitzer.

6) Send the Spring Harvest 1995 books back to wherever they came back (Skegness, presumably) and put the Wee Beaker Worship Books back.

7) Take the corks out of Jerome's pan pipes. He's purple enough now.

8) Put the Labyrinth back in the woodland grove. It's only confusing the shoppers, in Kingston Tesco car park like that.

9) Sack the Hawaiian ukelele band. I've no idea why anyone thought this a good idea.

10) Put the pictures of my ancestors back on the walls. Replacing them with signed photos of the Carry On team was amusing, but not for long.

11) Take the stuffed donkey out of my office chair.

I must remember not to go on holiday again. People only start trying to make their own decisions.

Liturgy to mark the passing of Robert Robinson (1927-2011)

No sooner do I get home than I find that a major star in our firmament is no longer with us. This liturgy seems the least we can do.

Entrance to silly music

Archdruid: And our next word is "Ecumenism". Who's going to tell us what that means? Marston...

Marston: "Ekku-men-izma" is a word of Italian origin. Imagine, if you will, a day in early June in Rome. Already the heat is building up, and the urge to jump in the river so inviting. So "Ekku-men-izma" is the act of swimming across the Tiber.

Hnaef: Ecumenism - is in fact a technical mathematical term. It refers to the technique used to find the lowest common denominator.

 Daphne: Ecumenism comes from two Swedish words - "Ecu" meaning a failed financial concept, and "menish", meaning "books". In time, the Swedes came to use it to mean the situation when no-one can agree what books to use, so you thrown them all out and use a method of overhead projection instead.

Archdruid: Burton, would you like to tell us which you think is right?

Burton: You know, they're all so plausible. Three such good answers in their own right. I think I'm going to have to go for a little bit of all of them.

Archdruid: And the next question is for mothers and oldest children who are members of old-fashioned nuclear familes only. Here is a chart showing the committee structure of a typical religious fellowship.

Now... can you tell me how long it would take to change a piece of carpet in the children's holding pen?

Daphne: Is it three weeks?

Archdruid: No.

Gwynnedd: Eight months?

Archdruid: No.

Elspeth: Two years?

Archdruid. No. The answer is - you will never change the carpet, as no-one will be able to agree what colour it should be. And the final question, which is for middle-class people to answer only: What is the definition of "knee-jerk reaction"?

Drayton: Is it evicting innocent people from their houses because of what other people have done?

Archdruid: Mr Dasset?

Burton: Is it shutting down the media when we want to control what's happening?

Archdruid: Mrs Hnaef?

Daphne: Is it blaming social deprivation and the removal of a grant for eighteen year olds, for causing school assistants and middle-aged men to steal TVs and smartphones?

Archdruid: Well, maybe. But it's goodnight to Robert Robinson. Would that it weren't.

Friday 12 August 2011

Nativity of Erwin Schrödinger / Glad to be Grey

A very complicated end to the day, Dear Readers, but I had such fun for most of it. It being the Nativity of Erwin Schrödinger, we Beaker People have spent most of the day jumping in and out of boxes in the great Liturgy of Doubtful Wave Forms. Thankfully, since Archdruid Eileen is away, we weren't playing with real geiger counters or dangerous chemicals this year.

For those of you who aren't up on these things, Schrödinger is famous for many things. One is his famous "Cat". Which he didn't have. As the Archdruid has pointed out in the past, it wasn't a real cat. No cats were harmed in the course of Schrödinger's experiment. For good legal reasons, I have to stress the paucity of cats in the experiment. Except imaginary cats. And if a cat is multiplied by the square root of -1 does it have a wave function at all?

But in going into the details of Herr Schrödinger, I realise I have forgotten what I really wanted to share with you.

I was wandering back from the Moot House, wiping the Wave Forms from my brow, when a snatch of Tangerine Dream told me that someone was calling my mobile telephonic apparatus. The trouble with using Phaedra as a ringtone, of course, is that it's 17 minutes until you can actually answer the phone. But when I eventually answered it, it turned out to be my charge card company.

I say "my". It actually says "Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley" on the card. But Eileen insists that it's registered in my name, and I then claim expenses. She says she prefers the indirectness of the attribution of purchases. It does causes me problems occasionally - although Eileen tells me that credit card records do have a habit of spontaneously combusting like that.

When I was told that an order had been placed for 75,000 T-shirts, naturally I phoned up the producers of T-shirts. Of course, if Hnaef (who is officially in charge) is ordering so many T-shirts, then who am I to argue with him? But still, I reckoned the motif on the shirts was a mistake. "Some People are Beaker. This Should not Present You with a Problem." There aren't that many Beaker People, and I wouldn't like to scare anyone. And Hnaef's always wanted to be part of a minority. So I thought it would be best to tweak the message - and a visit to the Asda next to Ikea yesterday gave me some inspiration. Based on the title of one of their checkouts, I revised the message to "1 in a million people or less are Beaker. This should not Present You with a Problem". And I tweaked the pink colour to something more grey - less likely to encourage outbreaks of  creativity. I'm sure Hnaef will approve all round.