Tuesday 31 July 2012

Burnt by Strange Fire

Brothers and Sisters in redemption (and those presumably unredeemed hundreds who read this website for the pagan and surreal ramblings of Eileen Fitzroy Russell) - we have had a most enlivening day today at the Olympic Sinful People Come to Sticky Ends Holiday Club!

Admittedly it was strange that we had an entirely different group of children. I know not where yesterday's group went - but today we had all those who were at the Beaker Folk holiday club yesterday. They clearly recognised the godless ways and syncretistic tendencies of our neighbours. We did a quick survey of a couple of occasions of divinely ordained, sudden and definitely deserved demise in the Pentateuch.

First we considered the case of Nabad and Abihu. They offered strange fire before the Lord. We are not told in the Good Book in what way the fire was "strange" - whether it was cold, or effeminate, or a strange colour, or just looked odd. But God was displeased with it and struck those two men - sons of Aaron the Priest - dead.

We are not told how they died, but my suspicion is that the fire would have come out and consumed them. I therefore hope that we were not risking the condemnation of which we are warned in the Book of Revelation when we reproduced the demise of the sons of Aron by using a small dose of explosive in the censers.

I say "small dose". I had bought the explosive from Young Keith, who has a tendency to overdo things. Both Denzel and Ezraziah lost their eyebrows. But the children loved it. Surely, with the clapping and cheering, I thought to myself that the presentation of the Gospel, simply told, will always have the power to speak to the heart.

We then went on to the tale of Korah and his family and friends. And it was a marvellous effect as we pulled the lever on the trapdoor and Jehosaphat, fell into the pit like unto the men of Korah. I have never understood why Eileen's family felt the need to put a stage trapdoor in the middle of their family chapel. Jehosaphat played his part beautifully, although we forgot he was there and I have only just released him when his wife phoned to ask where he was. Surely he fell into the pit, but has been lifted up.

Then it was Denzel and Ezraziah's turn. Representing those who offered yet more strange fire from their censers, they disappeared into yet another pyrotechnic effect. Again, this was Young Keith's stage explosive. Ezraziah already having lost his eyebrows, he escaped as a brand plucked from the fire.

Not so Denzel, for he is an hairy man. Rushing headlong down the aisle with his beard and hair on fire, he flung himself into the baptistry to extinguish himself. Of course, in his panic he forgot that we do not leave the baptistry filled with water on the off-chance we have a sudden conversion. And so he like Jehosaphat plunged into the depths, with no water to break his fall. We rushed to throw pails of water over him. But then as the waters rose above his head we remembered that he was in head-first, and raised him once more to the land of the living, by his ankles. He is mostly well now. Although the bang on his head has caused him to think he is a Reformed Wesleyan, I am praying for him and am hopeful that both his body and soul can be healed.

Donkey Derby Day at the Holiday Club

Very strange. We got a completely different set of children at the Little Pebbles by the Sea holiday club today. They said they'd been to Drayton's holiday club yesterday but "that strange bloke and his mate with the spaghetti" had scared them.

Still, we enjoyed the Donkey Derby Day. Of course, we drew the religious analogies - the donkey Mary rode to Bethlehem. Or, rather, didn't. The donkey on the way in to Jerusalem. Balaam's ass.

And then the highlight of the day. The Donkey Derby.

Of course, we couldn't allow real donkeys. All the health and safety implications of people actually riding donkeys gave me nightmares. The RSPCA were a bit wary given our track record with guinea pigs, and we'd have needed a vet on-site. Plus that whole gambling aspect to the event. So we carried out a visualisation of the event - had everyone close their eyes and imagine what it would be like to take part in a donkey derby.

No, it wasn't very satisfactory. They say they're going back to Drayton's tomorrow.    

Quick Footwear Joke

"These are such comfy boots."

"Are they Dr Martin's?"

"No, they're mine."

Signs of Civilisation

Exciting news from Africa, where evidence is found that pushes the dawn of "Civilisation" back  another 20,000 years.

I note that the signs of "Civilisation" include poison. One would like to imagine the noble savages (or Nobel savages, given their chemistry) of the Antedeluvian period using such methods only to even up the odds on large, rampaging, dangerous animals. But, even in those prelapsarian times, I suspect they were also used to stack the odds completely when dealing with small, cunning, dangerous animals. Or "The Neighbours". As they used to sing,

"Where every prospect pleases,
And only Man is vile."

The hymn was written before Kipling pointed out that Woman could be pretty vile as well. But 40,000 years before either, we knew what Civilisation was all about. Getting the Other before they got you.

Monday 30 July 2012

Blinded by the Light

When I'm feeling a little stressy, it's always a joy to go down to the Triffidarium.

Within the triple bullet-proof glass walls, we keep the plants from which we extract the oil to power the Community. We use the most expendable Beaker Folk to keep an eye on the plants, knowing the threat they pose.

They're disorganised, spineless creatures that suck the life out of you and are gradually evolving some kind of rudimentary intelligence. If they ever get proper intelligence, they'll be dangerous.

But enough about the Beaker Folk. The triffids are pretty scary as well.

A Diet of Worms

I am afraid that today's Holiday Club theme - the King Herod mentioned in Act 12 - was strong meat for our tender attendees.

I believe they understood the moral - that a man is a man, not a God. They could see the dangers of sinful pride. They could understand that we have an jealous God, who does not give his place to any other.

But when Denzel reproduced the death of Herod Agrippa, employing a tin of spaghetti in tomato sauce, they found it rather disturbing. To be sure, we have put the Gospel before them. If they then reject it, is it our fault? Or is it theirs?

The Post-modern Punch and Judy

It's fair to say we've had a certain number of complaints over the main focus of Day 1 of "Little Pebbles by the Sea". But Hnaef was just trying to make the whole thing relevant. Frankly the whole historical concept of Punch and Judy is looking so dated these days.

So all that hitting with a stick and shouting "that's the way to do it" had to go. Instead, the first time he reached for the stick, Punch reflected that he probably had "issues" and got himself on an anger management course.

Then when Punch dropped the Baby, the puppetry Social Services arrived and removed him. This caused Judy to reflect that, in the circumstances, they might as well both go down the pub.

The inevitable string of sausages joke was rearranged to reflect modern nutritional insights. After two sausages, Judy added a number of lightly-cooked brassicas, grilled tomatos and baby sweetcorn, shouting "if you want to keep cholesterol down and ensure a high level of anti-oxidant in your diet - that's the way to do it".

Another twist came when Mr Punch attempted to hit the Policeman with his stick. The Policeman called for support, but due to a contractual problem his backup from G4S never turned up. So he Tasered Punch instead. We were reaally impressed with the resultant electrical convulsions - so realistic. Then we realised it was because Hnaef hadn't fully thought through his use of live electricity, and we quickly cut the supply.

The Hangman made his entrance, only to receive a lecture on human rights from the Shami Chakrabarti puppet. As the two of them rolled out of sight having a fight, the Devil popped up to take Punch's soul. At this point the Vicar appeared, and told the Devil that he was a mythical abstraction of the sources of misfortune and social malaise. But the Devil dragged off Mr Punch just the same.

Then Judy appeared with the Baby, announced her intention of becoming a successful small businesswoman and closed the performance with "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun". Inspiring, egalitarian and instructive. I don't know what the problem's meant to be.

Little Pebbles by the Sea

I'm really looking forward to this week's Holiday Club. "Little Pebbles by the Sea" is a week's activities based around the life of faith, with a seaside theme.

So today it's "Come on in, the water's Lovely" - a day of encouraging young people to consider the many attractions of Beakerism - no food laws, no fasting, no discipline of any kind, attractive hippy fashions and tea lights.

The song for the week is "O I do like to be beside the Son's Side". A clever play on the traditional song which we expect to get really annoying by Thursday. To be honest, I heard it twice in yesterday's rehearsal and I've reached a state of mild irritation already.

Sunday 29 July 2012

Quick Footwear Joke

Got to get to bed at a sensible time. I've been asked if I will do a special service tomorrow for Podiatrists at 8am, followed by another one for Chiropodists at 9am.

You could say I'm going to have a pair of Doctor Matins.

Nothing New Under the Sun

I have had a dramatic evening.

So intent was I on the production of a new Holiday Club programme, I completely forgot I had not started the preparation of the sermon for this evening's devotions.

It was only when Marjorie opened the study door and pointed out that the Music Group was playing their warm-up chorus for the eightieth time that I came to my senses. What was I to do? If I were the self-styled "Archdruid" of the Beaker Folk, I would have introduced a "sharing service" where everyone was allowed to  throw in their own inspirations and home-spun wisdom. But at the Bogwulf Baptists, we recognise the Priesthood of All Believers by only allowing the minister of the Word to preach.

But with a moment of sheer inspiration, as I left my study in a kind of dream I grabbed last week's evening sermon. I had a kind of idea of explaining - as was almost certainly true - that some had not truly grasped my meaning last week, and they needed it explaining again.

Brothers and Sisters, do you know - not one person after the service remarked that the sermon was vaguely familiar? Many stopped to congratulate me on the sermon - which is gratifying, although we look not for human praise - but all the same, surely somebody must have noticed?

The Olympics - Celebration of Depravity

It has been two days of turmoil and all-night working, and I am afraid it is still going on. There may be no rest for the wicked, but there is even less for the godly - or at least this would-be godly if God will only show his grace.

I refer, of course, to the need to rewrite the Holiday Club material for next week. I had had the rather brilliant idea of basing the Holiday Club on the Olympic Games. I reckoned I had really come up with a real advantage in the all-important job of trying to persuade children to come to our Holiday Club, rather than the Beaker Folk's "Little Pebbles by the Sea", or one of the thousands of other Holiday Clubs springing up in Bedford and Milton Keynes. After all, who else could have come up with the idea? The whole Olympic thing has been very low-key. I only realised they were on the other week, when I noticed my shares in G4S had fallen in value.

So on Friday night I turned on the black-and-white television in the spare room - we have an aquarium of fish in our lounge where other people would have a television. We would rather look at the wonders of God's creation than the filth and horror that pours from the television. Although, to ensure we do not become too enamoured of God's creation and worship it instead of him, we have just a few, rather dull brown fish in it. But what did I see from the Televisual Cathode Tube?

Depravity. Socialism. A song by Queen - whose lead singer was a notorious Zoroastrian. A lesbian kiss. The S** P*****s ( I cannot even type the word, for shame).  Something called "Dizzy Rascal". Huw Edwards.  A song by a young beat musician called Mike Oldfield, which was apparently used in the film "The Exorcist". A film, I need hardly remind you, in which Roman Catholics are made out to be on the good side. A song called "Enola Gay" - how much more blatantly in favour of Same-Sex marriage could they be? Openly using the word like that. And that great seducer of our young, Paul McCartney. Not to mention music from Pink Floyd - the group that created that most insidiously evil of all lines, "I've got a bike, you can ride it if you like." Need I say more?
Needless to say, I cannot associate the good name of the Bogwulf Funambulist Baptist Chapel with this slide into perdition. And so I am writing a new Holiday Club. The toil has been great. My sermon this morning was barely of its normal quality, as I had to break off writing it after only 50 hours' work.  But the new programme - entitled "Sinful People Come to Sticky Ends" is now nearly complete. Just Thursday and Friday to write, so with divine help I should be able to get some sleep before tomorrow morning.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Corporate Hostility

Dear Readers, I have been asked to investigate the reason for so many empty seats at the Olympics. It has been an arduous job - because, after all, how can you ask somebody who isn't there? But after hacking the LOCOG computers and doing some extrapolation, I have come up with the following results. I think they speak for themselves.

The 10 Questions

It is often said by those who should know better, when discussing morality and whether it is relative or absolute, that God did not give us Ten Suggestions, he gave us Ten Commandments. In my eyes they then rather shoot their argument in the foot by driving and using electricity on Sundays, so we will skip lightly on.

Here at the Beaker Folk, we prefer to be more flexible and post-modern. Ten Commandments are very good - and generally, within a believing community, to be observed because it's foolish and against the spirit of the Community not to. Ten suggestions would be a faintly ludicrous idea. But we like the open-endedness of our own development - the Ten Questions.

Now, as I often say, there are no such things as stupid questions - only stupid questioners. So, as long as they are "open" questions - not ones to which the answer is "yes" or "no" - any ten questions must do. For the time being we'll go with the following - but of course, the beauty of this method is that there are no right or wrong questions. And there are more questions than answers. So if we get bored with them, we can change them.

  1. How soon is now?
  2. How many  roads must a man walk down? (thank you again, Douglas Adams)
  3. If a tree falls in the forest, what are the chances the Government has privatised the forest?
  4.  When will I be famous?
  5. How green was my valley?
  6. Who's David?
  7. What was Crocker's great idea in The Italian Job?
  8. War - what is it good for?
  9. Did the barber shave himself?
  10. Why do we have to have 10 questions? 
Though I have to be honest, I think number 8 may have to go. I reckon I know the answer...

The Morning After the Night Before

Has anybody seen our Maypole?

I swear it was in its usual place yesterday afternoon.

Friday 27 July 2012

That Twitter Joke

Thankfully it passed unnoticed at the time. But I've been fretting about it.

After all, it was only a tweet. But, when all's said and done, declaring somebody anethama can't really be said to be harmless. And it wasn't a joke - I really meant it at the time. Though I revoked it later, when i'd calmed down a bit.

But while threatening someone's mortal soul is surely more serious than blowing up an airport, I've no idea what English Law thinks about it. I shall have to be more cautious in future.

How Bad Science Reporting Works

Interesting example over the last few days of how bad science reporting works.

During the height of the Arctic summer, there was melting at the surface of 97% of the Greenland ice sheet. At the surface. This was accompanied by a scary graphic, showing the whole of Greenland going from white to red. The scary graphic compared the conditions of melting four days apart - showing the melting areas as red.

Jay Zwally of NASA is a guy with such a great name I'm going to make him an offer to join the Beaker People. He said "I think it's fair to say this is unprecedented".

A glaciologist - someone with more historical awareness than a spaceman - said  '...similar rapid melting occurs about every 150 years. But she warned there were wide-ranging potential implications from this year's thaw. "If we continue to observe melting events like this in upcoming years, it will be worrisome."'

So this event is now unprecedented, since we've had satellites. And has happened on a cyclical basis over history. Lora Koenig's comments were at the bottom of the article, the scary graphic at the top. The article is factually accurate as to the observation and, as to Lora Koenig's comments, about right on implications. But because of the need for impact in a news article, it's fair to say the scary, headline-grabbing stuff is at the top and some reasoned commentary at the bottom.

The story is concerning, right enough.  But the general story (ie as opposed to the Guardian's take on it) was converted into a Tweet that said, 

"3 Percent Of Greenland's Ice Sheet Remains. Time To Worry? http://aol.it/SWnIsn // How can people still be in denial about climate change?" 

If 3pc of Greenland's Ice Sheet remained, that wouldn't be time to worry. That would be time to swim. The opening ceremony that is happening in London this afternoon would be entirely aquatic.

So a concerning story, via the medium of a scare-story (follow that second link, and reconcile it to the first), became a horror story. About 75pc of the tweets I've read capture the story properly - compared to another 25pc that really don't.

The Washing Post reports, by the way, that it's the biggest melt since 1973.

Now the over-hysteria will get debunked by those who refuse to accept we're causing climate change. Everybody will get further into their left/right entrenched positions. The Guardian will get the prize for "best scary graphic of the year".  Nothing of any kind will change.

And British birds will continue to migrate south due to climate change. Yes, south.

That Opening Ceremony

Young Keirh home early this morning from the Opening Ceremony rehearsal. He's left me a note. It just says "Where did they get 6,000 Morris Dancers from?"

Thursday 26 July 2012

The Special and General Theories of Spiritual Gifting

It's occurred to me that there are wider applications to what might be called "Erika's Theorem" - that is, that the people who should be Sunday School teachers are, ideally, women - or alternatively teachers - or best of all, women teachers. So I'm going to call this the "Special theory of Spiritual Gifting". And point out that Erika didn't say 'should', I did.

This allows me to define a "General Theory of Spiritual Gifting", which states that "you should employ people to do church jobs that their day jobs show they're obviously suited for."

So - Sunday School Teachers should be women, teachers or ideally women teachers. (I'm defining "woman" as a day job here with satirical intent. It's not really a job - it's more of a calling.)

Assuming that the efficacy of sacraments, however a church defines them, depends upon the grace of God and not the officiant - I'm going to suggest that we divide ordained ministers up into "managerial, "pastoral" and "preaching", and lump them in with the lay roles that are similar.

So: Preaching ministers, Local/Lay Preachers/Readers - should be recruited from headmasters, Marketing executives and Advertisers.

Pastorally-minded ministers, Pastoral Assistants, Home visitors - clearly we're looking for nurses, social workers and psychotherapists.

Managerial ministers, Chairs of committees, Circuit Stewards - Company Chief executives or, failing that, middle-managers and councillors.

Stewards, Sidesmen/women/people/beings - that's gotta be G4S security guards.

Treasurers - we're looking at accountants. Maybe actuaries as well but, let's face it, Church Committee meetings are bad enough without the lurking thought the treasurer is calculating how many people might survive each one.

Cleaners, tea-makers, washer-uppers - following this dangerous route to its limit, that's going to be housewives and (should it not really be the empty set) - house-husbands. Or, in these days of radical diversity and multiple lifestyle options - let's just say "the one who always ends up hoovering at home".

Electoral Roll / Membership officers - local government officials.

Church Wardens - Bouncers or jobbing builders.

Tea-servers - bar staff

Jumble sale executives - people who work in supermarkets.

Flower-arrangers - gardeners or florists.

I'm sure you'll all think of many more examples. It strikes me, looking at the list now, that if we did use this method - as if anyone would - we'd be doing damage to the concept of "Sabbath". But then it also strikes me that, if we really did take "Sabbath" seriously, the Sunday Club would probably cease to exist.

One other problem, of course. We'd never be able to get hold of any sidespeople.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Opening Ceremony - Sneak Preview

Grateful to Young Keith, who somehow got himself involved in the Opening Ceremony of an event I'm legally unable to mention. And no clues as to what Young Keith's part in it is, but he came up the drive tonight after the rehearsal, in a stunning Henry VIII outfit, including beard and gout.

This opening ceremony in which he was involved was themed on "Great Britain". Which will put the people of Northern Ireland (or, at least, half of them) right out. The whole thing starts with people dressed as Sherpa Tenzing and Sir Edmund Hillary abseiling down from the roof of the stadium. Then 1,000 members of the PCS union, wearing Union Jack waistcoats and bowler hats, walk out at the last minute. They are followed by the cast of "The Only Way is Essex", right up to the point where the high heels of the women get stuck in the grass.

A line-up of former British sports stars does the polka. They include Dame Kelly Holmes, Nobby Styles, Kevin Keegan's perm and Lord Archer. They are joined by four hundred school children, dressed as playing cards, singing a selection from Lionel Bart's show tunes.

A "square" of British redcoats forms around the Shot Putt circle, in a reminder of our heroic colonial past that we're not allowed to mention. Then in a tribute to our tradition of surreal humour, a Constructor Fleet hovers overhead, giving Sir Michael Caine the cue to say "Vogons! Thousands of them!" The Constructor Fleet rains down doughnuts, while aged Cockerneys reflect that it's just like the Blitz.

The stadium fills with water to a depth of three feet (a reminder of the environmental awareness of the British people, and foreboding of what awaits East London in years to come). A squad of Portugese trawlers sail across the stadium, hoovering up our British fish and then, as the water drains away, it reveals shining, four-foot-wide Big Macs leading as a set of stepping stones up to the cauldron that will cradle the Flame. The spotlight follows these cheery stepping stones back to the "tunnel" into the ground, where it is revealed that the heroic figure who is to light the flame is... Tony Blair. Our Tone ascends towards the cauldron, while Cherie follows close behind, encouraging him to trip over so she can sue the pants off the Organising Committee.

Jellied eels rain down on the assembled masses. The light of the Mount Olympus sun - transmitted by satellite and magnified by Sir Alan Sugar's new technological advancement, the magnifying glass - bounces off Tone's teeth. At just the last moment, as the shining from Blair's teeth is about to light the cauldron, John Terry parachutes down clutching Kate Moss. Kate lights the cauldron with the dog-end of her woodbine, while Terry runs off in the Sky Cycling team's kit claiming the credit. Katie Price skips through the stadium handing out free copies of her latest novel, while a selection of bankers is thrown into the water jump on the steeplechase. The occupants of the Big Brother House stay locked in the house, for which everybody is grateful.

Recruiting Children's Workers

It was Erika's comment that reminded me we're still a bit short of (unpaid) children's workers. The Little Pebbles can't continue to operate on a profitable basis if we don't keep the volunteer staff levels up.

So I asked Burton to do me a quick survey of the kind of people who lead Sunday School classes in the area, to help me identify the right demographic to do the job. He's very kindly delivered the results as a pie-chart, and I think the lesson is very clear.So we know whom we're looking for now.

People who make good Sunday School Teachers

Railway Timetables and the Beatitudes

Burton Dasset has just hit that post-holiday blues blip. He's been wandering around, looking out of windows and sighing. Normally I'd sling him out the Moot House and refuse to let him back in till he cheered up or frostbite set in - but thankfully he's brought some books of timetables back from that model railway between Minehead and Taunton.

So when I went up last night he was sat in the Library poring over the 1928 Porlock and Polzeath Line, or some such. And this morning he's fast asleep on "Sunday Timetables from Bradford and Leeds to Bournemouth". He's got a great stack of these things, so no danger of him suddenly running out.

I sometimes wonder, though, if railway timetables are not a little like the Beatitudes They're not so much a guide to when trains will run - more a sort of perfect template of what a railway should be like. They set out an ideal of where an 8am train leaving Whatnot Junction shall arrive, without at fail, at 8.31 in Doubrie South. The reality is, of course, that the train fails to achieve it - or maybe, rather than blame the train, it is the whole system at fault. So when you or I arrive at Doubrie South, puffing and panting having run to get there the regulation two minutes before the train is to leave, we discover it's not even at Whatnot Junction yet, having suffered points failure at Twing Common.

But despite the sad reality, there the timetable hangs, not upbraiding the service so much as saying "there really is a better way - you actually could be this good - given an Act of God."

Will you let that Act of God happen in your life? Will you let the trains of your heart run on time, and arrive at the right platforms with the bike section at the end you promised it would be?

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Lay Ministry - A Guide

You know how it is with most religious denominations. They want to affirm lay ministry. They want to have lay ministers. But they don't want to confuse them with real ministers - you know, minister ministers. They have to minister in a lay kind of way - that's how you tell the difference. And ministry can be very wide - including all sorts of church offices you never dreamed of - no, not those offices. Not the small, dusty rooms containing a banda machine and the church secretary. So here's a quick guide to those laity who exercise ministry. But not in a minister kind of a way. More of a lay way.

Church Steward (Methodist) - Person in smart clothes who runs things.

Door Steward (Methodist) - Person in smart clothes whose job, even for one day, is better than the life of a sinner, who has to stay away.

Circuit Steward (Methodist) - Person in smart clothes responsible for the electrical safety of the church.

Treasurer (All denominations) - Person who resigns in a huff a lot. Especially once they discover that huffs can have the tax reclaimed on them.

Organist - Ruler of all (s)he surveys. Increasingly replaced by CD players, MP3 players or, in very modern Anglican churches, barrel organs. Another person who resigns a lot, normally in a dudgeon. A dudgeon is like an underground huff.

Pastoral Assistant (Church of England)- Person who takes minutes.

Elder - Smelly green wooden object. Sorry, that's the elder tree, isn't it?

Local Preacher (Methodist)Theological Lone Ranger.

Worship Leader (All) - Somebody who requires no training. Or, sometimes, musical ability.

("Lay") Reader (Church of England) - Person suffering from extreme frustration, who gets to preach on the Sundays after Christmas and Easter when the vicar has a holiday. Constantly hoping for a (minor) accident to the vicar so they can step into the breech and preach.

Church Warden (Church of England) - Constantly fearful of a (minor) accident to the vicar, in case they have to step into the breech and preach. Responsible for the fabric of the church. No, not voile and lace. The "other" fabric.

Executive Assistant Archdruid: - Person who will never get the top job. Ever.

Deacon - In some nonconformist bodies, person awaiting the call from God to wield the (metaphorical) knife on the minister. God's Will will always call time on the minister in the end...

Sidesman/woman/person (Church of England) - No, not a clue.

Cleaners, welcomers, people who volunteer to paint, tea makers - Christ in disguise.

Liturgy of nice things

The Procession processes in. At the front, the Iconifer holds up a very nice "Pantocrator". Not one of those where Jesus looks a bit stern.  It is placed on the Icon-holding thing at the fron You know, the kind of easel jobby.

All: Ah, nice!

The Archdruid enters, wearing a new liturgical poncho. It has a picture of a chihuahua and a baby Siamese on the front, and on the back the words "The kitty shall lie down with the puppy" - in Elvish Runes with an English translation.

All: Ah, Nice!

Hnaef enters, holding before him a platter with a large cob loaf on it. The smell of fresh-baked bread permeates the Worship Space or, as it may be, rustic thatched chapel..

All: Ah, Nice!

Candles are lit - lovely unbleached wax ones. We reflect on the beauty of unadorned things.

All: Ah, Nice!

Pictures are projected on the wall - favourite grandchildren, much-loved holiday locations and a penguin on the seafront at Southend.

All: Ah, Nice!

We hear a reading of the pretty bits from TS Eliot's "Little Gidding".

All: Ah, Nice!

Some Tibetan Prayer Gongs are struck, solemnly and yet not dolefully.

All: Ah, Nice!

Cups of Earl Grey are passed round in proper bone china, not Woodsware "Beryl". Hnaef plays selections of popular show tunes on the piano.

All: Ah, Nice!

Archdruid: And have a nice biscuit?

All: Don't mind if I do.

Archdruid: Nice blessings on you!

All: And also with you!

We leave, feeling peaceful and yet, somehow, slightly hollow.

Monday 23 July 2012

A Quick Guide to Assessing New Mission Initiatives

Faeries at the Bottom of the Garden

Of course, we have to spell "Faerie" in a slightly different way here. More folksy. And, therefore, more authentic.

Another sentence in the Hitch Hiker's Guide I was much taken by the other day - it's from the point where Zaphod is trying to find the Lost Planet of Magrathea, and Ford is trying to persuade Zaphod (and Eddie, the annoying computer) that the planet is a myth. And the following, lovely and oft-quoted phrase is used to describe Ford's thoughts about Zaphod's romantic quest:
"As Ford gazed at the spectacle of light before them excitement burnt inside him, but only the excitement of seeing a strange new planet, it was enough for him to see it as it was. It faintly irritated him that Zaphod had to impose some ludicrous fantasy on to the scene to make it work for him. All this Magrathea nonsense seemed juvenile. Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"
Ford is logical, very sensible and, ironically given how often this quotation is heard, totally wrong. It is indeed the Lost Planet of Magrathea, as the team discover when it starts shooting missiles at them. There are fairies at the bottom of that particular garden.

And I guess that's where I'd come from. A garden can be very beautiful. My garden here in Husborne Crawley is - it certainly ought to be, with all the "volunteer" labour that gets put into it.

But wouldn't it be great if there were faeries at the bottom of it, too?

City Obsessed with Short-term Profits

A report will tell us that the City is obsessed with short-term profits.  This is a report by someone from the LSE, commissioned by Vince Cable.

So a report that could only have been set up to find othat ne thing out, finds that one thing out. That one thing probably being about right, in many cases. I would like to comment, only I've an urgent need to read the Vatican's mission statement.

Ooo, hang on - what's that bear doing over there in the trees?

Sunday 22 July 2012

Facebook Liturgy of "Liking"

The urge to "Like" things on Facebook is one of the greatest social rites of passage of this post-modern era. Corporations, Clubs and Organisations - indeed, even this humble retreat house and religious community. I've no idea why we do this - and neither, I suspect, have you. (But go on, give us a "like"... you know you want to...)

But the fact you have "liked" something can have awful impacts. If you're hoping to be a financial accountant in the City, you may think twice before"liking" UK Uncut. A wannabe Prime Minister probably shouldn't "Like" the Legalise Cannabis Campaign. A Klu Klux Klan grand-master or whatever might regret "liking" Liza Minelli. One should think very hard before "Liking" things. These things live on your timeline - and don't really go away. That's why we've introduced this mini-Catechism for Liking - as a way to give you a short time to consider whether you really want to "like".

The Archdruid, the one who wishes to do some "liking" on Facebook (which may be "N", or as it may be "M") and at least three witnesses gather around the computer screen.


Archdruid: N, (or M and N, as the case may be) you have expressed an interest in "liking" the Barney the Dinosaur Page (or, as it may be, "The Olympics", the "Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley" or "That Fish from Marillion"). Do you agree that this is what you're planning to do?

N: I do.

Archdruid: "Liking" is intended by Facebook to be a creative relationship. The "liker" shows their appreciation for the "likee" - and promises to stick with them through thick and, let's face it, thick. For Facebookers it is an expression of approval which will last until you sort through your timeline in six months' time and discover that, in a drunken moment of nostalgia for the 1980s, you "liked" the New Romantic group  Visage. "Liking" is not a step to be taken lightly or carelessly - except, of course, if you take it lightly and carelessly. Cos let's face it, it's like marriage - easy enough to get out of these days. Frankly I was more concerned about that Bruno Mars tattoo you got last week. I therefore ask you: Do you really "like" this poxy Facebook page?

N: I do.

The liturgy of dissuasion

Archdruid: Will you enjoy seeing your name against this ridiculous organisation (or, as it may be, "stupid religious group", "cartoon arthropod" etc)?

N: I will.

Archdruid: Are you aware that your boss, your wife, your religious community leader, all your friends and that bloke you met on holiday and agreed to get in touch with on Facebook but now wish you hadn't, will all be able to see that you "like" this page?

N: I am.

Archdruid: And yet you still want to press the "Like" button?

N: I do.

Archdruid: Don't you think, given all those drunken photos you posted from Kefalonia last week, you've got enough to live down?

N: No, it's cool.

Archdruid: OK, you'd better do it then.

The ritual of Pressing the Button

N: You know, you're right. It's a bit pants isn't it?

All: And also with you.

"The Worst Spring Harvest Ever"

You know, I sometimes worry about Burton Dasset and Drayton Parslow. They've just got back from a trip to Minehead Butlins for the last few days.

Drayton says he was stunned at the number of tattoos young Christians are wearing these days. He didn't see Bishop Pete or Vicky Beeching. The Big Top was clearly a victim of the cuts, and the late-night worship event in Reds appeared to be according to the Blues Brothers tradition. The Morning Celebration in the Skyline was apparently led by Barney the Dinosaur(c). He says it's the worst Spring Harvest he's ever been to.

Meanwhile Burton tells me he came back to 256 unread emails. Some would be a bit daunted, but Burton says, at least it's a round number.

Sometimes I don't think they're the worldly men-about-town their reputation would lead you to believe.

Walking on the Moon

Thanks to Gurdur for putting me onto the Californian fire-walking event where many delegates ended up with burns. It's this kind of mimsy conference attendee - liable to all sorts of injuries and mishaps - that has caused us sometimes to refer to "conference delicates".

And I know some will rake up our own minor disaster with the "walking on water" event we held. And yes, we do hold the English record for the furthest inland point to call out the lifeboat. And I know the Health & Safety Executive pointed the finger at me. But how was I to know the delicates had so little faith? And, when all's said and done, it's not like it's that far across the duck-pond.

So these days we avoid doing anything that would seriously test what our doctrine teaches, or what our conference delicates believe. It's un-testable, and therefore infallable. From now on, we're walking on sunshine. Oh yeah. And don't it feel good?

Saturday 21 July 2012

Quiet Evenfall Service

It's a real problem for we Beaker People. You see, in essence we agree that regular worship is right - the Pouring Out of Beakers, Elevenses Elevations, Afternoon Devotions and Filling-up of Beakers. With the additions of the various seasonal festivites, which come around with stunning regularity. Sunrise, sunset - sunrise, sunset - swiftly flow the years about sums it up.

But we came across a problem quite early in the existence of our Community, and it's this - why should we bother? For as sure as harvest follows seed-time, if you miss a Pouring-out of Beakers, a Filling-up of Beakers will come along. And as long as somebody is filling up and pouring out Beakers, the sequence will be unbroken. So why not just get some schmuck to do the daily regular stuff, and everyone else can just dip in when they're feeling like this? Or, as we call it - the Anglican Model.

But I realised we can't go with this. We're a religious Community. We do things together.

But if that's the case, how could we arrange this? After all - you can't go expecting people just to turn up to stuff out of duty, can you? Where's the pay-back? And that's why we developed the basic patten of Beaker worship - whereby every Occasion has to be not merely well-executed, but entertaining - or at least interesting.

And so to tonight's Quiet Evenfall service. The tea lights were lit as the sun faded in the west. The sounds of cicadas - so redolent of the American South - were played through the Beaker PA. The Beakers had Dry Ice in them - so that, as the water from the Hus Bourne was poured into them, steam dripped off and poured away down to the floor.

There was a momentary concert when we realised that the Liturgical Dancers, who were lying on the ground ready for the Great Dance of the Seeting Sun, were choking on the excessively Carbon Dioxide-ridden air. But we dragged them out and they seemed OK in the end.

We projected various images of the dying of the light on the Moot House wall - sunsets, moonsets, flower heads going to seed, autmn leaves, flocks of birds going to roost, sheep wandering home along the little road to Bethlehem.

So now we're sitting around on the grass outside the Moot House, the smells of incense, privet flowers, tobacco plants and cut grass filling the air. It's such a perfect day, and we've enjoyed the Filling-up of Beakers so much. A thoroughly fulfilling experience.

I just have that gnawing feeling that we've forgotten something.

Introversion Cure

I'm afraid we're going to have to write off our experimental 1-day "Introversion Crash-Course Cure" after yesterday. This was a course dedicated to real introverts - not just those church-going people who answer all the questions "right" to be INFP because they think that makes them all precious and sensitive. Especially when they're ministerial types who go on to rule the Church Committees with rods of iron - and claim they're just expressing their Extroverted Tyrant secondary attribute because that's what a patriarchal society expects them to do, and they'd much rather be skipping around thinking Sublime Thoughts on a heath somewhere. But I digress.

The idea was that, by bombarding the shy-boys and girls with outward-focussed stimuli, we could drive them into a state of cognative dissonance which would heal them of their scaredy-catness. To that effect, at the Coffee Reception, the rule was that you couldn't have a biscuit unless you revealed two things about you that nobody else knew. Which, on the bright side, means we still have an intact packet of Hob-nobs.

Then the Opening Worship was meant to bring divine assistance into the meeting. So we started by asking people to introduce themselves to the person sitting next to them. Then gave everybody a solo line during the song "If I was a Butterfly (Undignified)". Then asked them to come up the front in turn, to act out their favourite book through the medium of Morris-dance.

The Plenary at the end of that session was interesting. I asked if anyone had any questions or experiences to share, and nobody had. I've not sat in silence that long since we had that "Finding Common Ground" meeting with the Fundamentalist Baptists and the Gay Evolutionary Biologists Alliance.

Then everybody was happy for a bit when we asked them to go and record their thoughts of the course so far on their Electronic Journals - a nice bit of kit Young Keith knocked up which are basically Android tablets that give the appearance of complete confidence and security. But everybody gets a (hopefully therapeutic) shock when we reveal they're all wirelessly connected to the "Thoughts Unveiler", from which we display everything they've recorded during the Shouting from the Rooftops session.

Many people were aghast at their own thoughts being displayed for all to see. But I was more stunned by what Mr Marsden was thinking. Most disturbing.... I had to go and sit further away from him.

I was most grateful to our volunteers during the "Interactions Session". This was training for when people come up to you with a forced grin, and start telling you how much God has done for them this week. I say volunteers - actually, I'd just told the members of Drayton's church that they had a chance at some prime evangelism.

The next worship session was particularly powerful. The worship-leader was one of those who constantly interferes with the flow of worship by issuing instructions such as "Now the men: Now the women: Now this lady with the teeth in the front row..." And then the sermon was a masterpiece by Sherington. Constantly using embarrassing illustrations from unlikely life-experiences. Such as "So you know it feels when you've been strip-searched by Taiwanse customs, accused of trying to smuggle a stuffed dodo into the country while accompanied by a Thai "friend"?" And then gazing around at the congregation, looking them in the eyes until he got a smile of recognition. In the event, what he got was of course a nervous giggle from a male delegate. At which Sherington smiled back and said, "so, my friend - how would you describe it?"

Then we had the session that everybody had been dreading - the "Hugathon of Peace". I announced a "five minute comfort break" just before this. By the time the Hugathon was to start, every delegate had shot out of the car park and headed for the M1. I swear the gravel's still rattling about the place now.

Friday 20 July 2012

Restructuring Beakerism For a Post-Modern World

Inspired by the report into the future. Direction of the Church in Wales, we in the Five Knolls and Manshead Hundred Beaker Federation (Incorporating the La Tene Folk of Leagrave) have been giving some serious thought to how we should face the future.

Although here in the Husborne Crawley Community we've seen steady growth over the years, I feel that's mostly due to the nature of a coenobitic community. i.e. the creeping institutionalisation of the members leaves them with what I refer to as "Hotel California Syndrome". In the wilds of the Chilterns and the MK/Bedford former brickfields, however, this happy situation does apply. Either the looser association caused by people living in their own houses, or the lack of effective and frightening leadership, means we're seeing what might fairly be called precipitate decline.

So we're happy to publish the results of the survey, in a report we're calling "Wither Beakerism?"

1. Most respondents agreed there are too many moots. All thought that some should be closed, to allow more efficient use of resources. Everybody agreed that it was someone else's fellowship that should close.

2. People thought a greater involvement in worship-leading by non-Druids was important, to emphasise the importance of all Beaker People and take the load off the Druids. 100% of lay people were happy for laity to lead other people's services. While Druids were generally keen on lay involvement, as long as the Druids were in charge of everything and did everything.

3. There are too many Moot Houses. We should not cling to a past pattern of Beakerism, where every village had its own Moot House - the communities spend all their time fund-raising and no time on mission. However, people generally thought that their own Moot House was worth preserving, and in their local community putting a thermometer up outside the Moot House was a visible witness.

4. We need more young people.

5. We should recognise that simply wearing a pointy hat and a fake beard does not mean a Druid gets instant respect these days. Especially if your name's Eileen.

6. We need to realise that not everybody can appreciate worship that uses tea lights and pebbles. Some people prefer scented candles and voile. We've no idea how men would want to relate to God. Possibly by holding hands in a circle?

7. Generally a more informal form of worship was preferred. Some liked the idea of replacing the gendered and, frankly, patriarchal words "Father" and "Lord" for God with "Dude". When it was realised that would mean the Lord's Prayer started "Hey, Dude", only Baby-boomers in their 60s and 70s still thought it such a good idea. However, given that's 95% of the Beaker congregations, don't bet against it happening.

8. Everybody agreed the coffee's rubbish. However, faced with the thought of paying for decent coffee, even if it might be a decent form of witness, everyone agreed that the coffee's absolutely fine. (It's not. It's awful).

9. We should experiment with different service times. Maybe 8.45 or even 9.30 on a Sunday instead of 9am.

10. Above all, we must embrace the future through a radically conservative approach. That is, we must recognise the challenge of a changing world, and respond by remaining exactly the same.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Life before Electric

Just been watching the programme on Pompeii, on BBC2. And just at the end Mary Beard showed us an example of the type of oil lamp that the people in a cellar, sheltering from the volcano's effects, would have used. And it's made me think.

Obviously, it didn't do those poor souls any good. But in general, for most of the history of the human race, light has been a limited thing once the sun has gone down. Our ancestors resorted to oil lamps, candles, rushlights.

The past must have been so romantic, mustn't it? Nobody could ever have got too stressy, because the minute evening fell they'd light a candle and relax. Makes you wonder why all those wars broke out, really.

Crystal Maze Church

Great idea, having different Church "zones". The concept being that as worshippers wander from zone to zone, they pick up crystals - each of which has an alleged healing property. Calcite, for example, is said to be an effective treatment for ringworm. And as we know, in alternative healing circles "is said" is as powerful as "proven by rigourous testing, double-blind trials and 30 years' exhaustive study in the field."

The Aztec zone proved remarkably unpopular, however. Something to do with the way we confused "Aztec" and "Inca", and then showed then that human sacrifice scene on a constant loop, I reckon. That's the trouble with "ethnic", isn't it? It's not always so cuddly and "noble savage" as we'd like to think. But I should stress that wasn't a real human sacrifice. In a further bit of cultural synergy - or, as some would put it, inauthenticity - it was taken from the 1970s TV series, I CLAVDIVS.

Likewise the Industrial Zone - in theory, this is the chance to worship in the reality of modern life - a "zone" which is half motor body-shop, half the delivery bay of a Cash-and-Carry. In fact, the repeated playing of "God of Concrete, God of Steel" drives all but the most dedicated of retro-modernists out. Proof that whoever marries the Spirit of the Age looks a right raw prawn in the next, that song.

The Futurist zone was likewise a flop. Charlii chose to do this as a representation of the future of the Church. Charlii is as liberal as Hnaef in many ways, but has a different take on the future - some would say more optimistic, some less. Hnaef's "Futurist Church" last week was tolerant, inclusive, diverse, progressive and - above all - empty. But Charlii's version was ethnically varied, full and noisily singing the praises of the Lord. While organising a "Gay Cure" school, teaching that Evolution is the Devil's Genesis and promising a Porsche for every 20 hours of prayer.

So we're all holed up in the Medieval Zone. There's a nice bit of plainsong going down, the ikon-painting workshop is going a storm and the Guilds are raising some money to buy a new reredos. I'm just hoping the Reformation doesn't break out - I've still got a shed-load of Indulgences to sell.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Fifty Shades of Grim

Just had to tell Charlii off for reading 50 Shades of Grey in the Rainbow Room. I'm shocked and appalled.

I don't know what young women are thinking of these days. When I was young I would have been ashamed to be seen in public with a book that badly-written.

A more realistic novel for our times might be better called 50 Shades of Pale Ale - where every time a woman feels a bit frisky, her husband heads for the pub.

If you want to know just how badly written, by the way, I'd suggest reading @redimlah's Twitter stream. Might save you a few quid...

Beating a Retreat

Some say they find the periods of silence (or should that be Silence) the most rewarding part of a retreat. The removal of the need to speak, the chance to focus on the non-mundane - wandering around the countryside marvelling at nature.

Others, however, find the 24 Hours of Silence from mid-day Tuesday a real struggle. That's because they are forced to go within for their strength. Faced with their own thoughts, some might find they don't like what's in there.

But mostly, they struggle with the Assault Course.

After the rude awakening by klaxons, whistles and air-horns, they have to cover 800 yards across boggy territory at 5am. In the half-light, those obstacles can be particularly difficult. Especially the eight-foot wall. It can be so hard to co-operate when you're soaking wet, unable to use words and you don't know the Sign Language for "I'll climb on your back, then pull you up in return." Not one that's ever featured in an action song on Sunday morning, I guess.

Obviously, I didn't get up to see the fun myself. But I've just finished watching the video that Burton so kindly recorded, and Young Keith will extract the "best of" for the Xmas party. They're gonna love the bit where, due to the Silence rule, it was only discovered in the nick of time that Deidre wasn't waving, but drowning. And the way Oscar swung on that rope straight into Big Oak is a classic.

It's gonna be another hour and a half before we can get them to explain their reflections on the Silence. But I think, given the sleep-deprivation, pain and exhaustion, they all seem a lot more spiritual than they were.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Mice, the Universe and Everything

"The highest prime number coalesced quietly in a corner, and hid itself away for ever".

A line grabbed from the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and quite a beautiful line. I'm reading the book again, and hoping the Retreat may be over before I have to start on the fourth book in the trilogy. As Martin Joseph nearly sai, when I read So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish it makes me cry. Though Adams' genius still flashes through, it's nothing like the gleeful, surreal anarchy of the first couple of books.

The books are a masterpiece of cynism, in some respects. The Ultimate Answer is found - but what good is an answer without its question? We are humans because we constantly question everything - the world, each other, ourselves. The child's "why...?" comes back as the question to ever answer. What is matter made of? Molecules. What are molecules made up? Atoms. What are atoms made of? Protons, neutrons and electtrons. What are protons made of? 3 quarks, apparently. But what is a quark made of? Soft cheese? As Adams suggests, if we ever get the answer to the great question the whole Universe may be replaced by something even less likely.

Now bear with me here. I don't think this is heresy. But it does require a slightly different view of the atonement - one I've mentioned in the past without being drummed out of the Federation of Folksy Churches. And it's to do with God's Final Message to His Creation.

You may recall that they take Marvin, who is now many times older than the universe due to his endless time-travel, to see God's Final Message to His Creation. Carved thirty foot high, on the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains. The message is: "We apologise for the inconvenience." It's the last thing Marvin sees before he expires, an android whose pessimistic view of life, the Universe and everything has been justified.

Now, I'd like, if I may, to argue that this is one way of seeing the Cross. A common evangelical atonement theory sees the Cross as God punishing sinful human beings - but doing so vicariously, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, perfect human and Second Person of the Triune God.

But if we forget that model for a moment - maybe look more towards the theories of the Atonement that involve solidarity, a view where God comes down to join us - whatever "down" means - then there's maybe this other model. One where God says - "I know this is all a mess. Quite a large, cosmic mess. And I know that you'll blame yourselves - and, let's face it, you're not perfect. But then I knew this was all going to happen, but thought it would be worth it in the end.

And this may be the cross on which history hangs. Something vital's changed, because I'm in this with you. But it's not all suddenly going to get better because of this.  But it will in the end, it will in the end. And in the meantime:


Liturgical Crashing

Of course, I'd forgotten that the Retreat had on its schedule a Liturgical Dancing Workshop after breakfast.

They're using the Mr Collins Ballroom, which was built when this place was first erected in Queen Jane Austen's time. It's got a beautifully sprung floor, and was just the thing for half a dozen to ten young flowers of the South Midllands squirearchy looking for the perfect beau.

The floor also stands up quite well to a dozen stocky Matrons of the Shires in leggings, it turns out. Unfortunately my office is below the Ballroom and I was nearly shaken out of my skin when the first bars of "Teach me to dance to the beat of your Heart" were played. And twenty-four feet started smashing into the boards. As I say, it's a well-sprung floor but I reckon it must have bounced two feet.

For a minute I thought that we were being raided by LOCOG for being rude about Voldesport, the event that cannot be named. But now I realise there was no danger of that - how would they be able to get enough G4S employees in one place to carry out a raid?

So I've shifted my workplace this morning to the Conservatory. I'll go back to the office at lunchtime, to see how much plaster needs replacing.

Monday 16 July 2012

A Rock, an Island

It's an interesting dichotomy, isn't it? And if that's the wrong word I'll blame the predictive text on my Android.

I refer to the idea that if God is Trinity, then to be made in the image of God means to live in community. And yet the Christian faith has frequently held up an individualistic experience as a kind of ideal.

From the Catholic/Orthodox side I'm thinking of Simeon Stylites, Mother Julian etc - the great hermits who were so eremitic that people flocked to see them. And from the Prods, that whole evangelical idea that, at root, salvation comes down to me, my little soul and God. No idea that I am part of the local church, the One Holy Catholick and Apostolick Church and, indeed, the Human Race. Here's my little, tiny, grubby soul, here's God and here's the great big gulf in between us. What a wretch I am! Who can save me? Well, you know the rest.

And I guess I'm feeling this most of all this evening because the Retreat people and the Beaker residents are all having an enjoyable time in the Beaker Bar (donations only, definitely not a price list for reason of HMRC).

And I feel I'm better somewhere else. After all, one of the joys of followership is being able to bitch about the leader - while one of the burdens of leadership is knowing that's the case and leaving them to it. And, examining my soul (and remembering a line from Douglas Adams) I find it's about the size of a hazelnut - but perhaps more wrinkled, like a walnut.

It doesn't seem much of a soul, this evening. And I'm thinking that one hazelnut (or even walnut) on its own doesn't add up to a hill of beans. I know that one soul - even just mine - is what would be saved if that's all there was to save. But it doesn't seem worth it, really. If Jesus were my teenage niece, Alicia, I could imagine the cry of "Effort!" going up.

So I'm going to have to let them get on with it, and hope that, although we're a community and that's how we journey, considerations are also made for those who strike out ahead, alone. If Julian's cell had walls, whoever made those walls, the architect was, ultimately inside (and the Architect was, ultimately, above). I'm not a rock, but I'll have to be an island.

3-day Mini-Retreat

I'd like to welcome this week's pilgrims to the "Get It before the Kids break saver 3-day Mini-Retreat"

Hnaef will be running the course from now on. This will mean I can concentrate on the more strategic issues of the Beaker Community - such as Burton's threat to leave. It will also explain why I may not mention the Retreat for the rest of its course. It's not that I'm ignoring them - I'll just have forgotten they exist.


10am - 10.30 - This introduction

10.30 - 11.41 - Coffee and settling into your rooms.

11.42 - 12.17 - The Ice Breaker. We throw Oscar the Soft-Play Anteater at each pilgrim in turn, and they have to explain why they paid no attention to what the previous people said, because they were making up their own speech in their head.

12.17 - 13.06.- Pilgrim's Lunch (Granary bread and wholemeal water)

13.17 - 15.45 - Hedging and Ditching. A chance to get in contact with Mother Earth and the World of Nature. With the bad weather we've had, we've had real trouble doing routine maintenance. Some of the ditches are particularly dangerous, but Pilgrims are generally more expendable than our resident Beaker Folk.

15.46 - 17.00 - Mother Julian - She had a boy's name, so what?

17.15 - 18.99 - Burton addresses us on Why Decimal Time Would be Better. This is really part of our "Time Management for Train Spotters" mini-retreat, but we needed some padding.

19.40 - Discovering we're forty minutes for Dinner (Wholemeal Bread and Granary Water).

20.00 - We split the Retreat Group into its three component parts - according to how they refer to the meal we just bolted down:  "Tea Folk", the "Dinner People" and the "Supper-eaters". If, as I suspect, the Tea Folk is just that bloke from Hersham called Alf, he is declared "Retreat Scapegoat" and accused of being a benefits scrounger. Having an identified common enemy is important to the self-conception of all groups - and sooner Alf than me.

21.00 - Compline. The reflection "How scared I am of the dark - the monsters of my mind stir and walk abroad" by Mausoline Basset.

22.00 - Quick Trip to the White Horse

23.00 - Terrified walk back, thinking of Mausoline's evocative imagery of the spirit-world of Ancient England.

Midnight - Battening-down the Hatches.

Sunday 15 July 2012

Member of Church of England "Not in a Pressure Group"

The Church of England was reeling today at the discovery that one of its members is not a member of a pressure group.

Marvin Grundy, 52, of Little Withering, is not a member of WATCH, Forward-in-Faith, Fulcrum, Reform, Changing Attitude, Affirming Catholicism or even its grumpy offshoot, Disapproving Dissent.

Being in a position of total neutrality, with no pre-formed views or vested interests, Mr Grundy is therefore being totally ignored by anybody consulting about anything in the Church of England at the moment. "You know, I just find it less stressful not being a member of pressure groups," said Mr Grundy. "I was a member of the Campaign for Real Ale for a while, but lager's not bad too, so I just kind of let it lapse." 

As a laissez-faire, unpolitical religious non-activist, Mr Grundy attends church on Sunday, receives Communion, has a cup of tea and then goes home. The rest of the week he just tries to get along with people. It is believed there may be more like him - they're just very hard to find.

Hopi Nose Candling

We're always on the lookout for potentially profitable - and when I say profitable, I do of course mean to the soul and body - new therapies and practices.

The thing is, "Hopi" ear candles are such a stupid idea in the first place. The idea that they melt your earwax is so implausible - and the fear that the hot wax, if it existed, would drain under gravity straight into your brain. Add to that the lack of scientific verification. It is, in many ways, very fertile ground for further development. And on the fertile grounds that one is born every minute, I was very keen to try out Young Keith's new idea of Hopi Nose Candles this morning. And when I say "try out", I do of course mean "try it out on Burton".

Some may question our use of Burton Dasset, on the grounds that he's just getting over chicken pox. But in defence of my scientific  methods, I would point out that his weakened state meant he was much easier to overpower.

But the use of nose candles gave us some real problems, and so we were obliged to use Young Keith's Patent Tilting Mechanism to get him upside down. At which point, with the un-lit end inserted one into each of Burton's nostrils, we watched in horror as the wax went up his nose. Or, strictly speaking, down his nose.

But we were encouraged by theefficiency of the Hopi nose candle technique over ear candles - to wit, you can stick a candle up each nostril. Which means you can get through twice as many punters in any given period of time. So we tilted Burton back the right way up, and lit them again.

I'm not sure as a spiritual method of unblocking energies (or even nasal mucous) I would encourage Hopi nose candling. But I'll tell you one thing for certain. It doesn't half remove nasal hair.

Burton has gone off to recuperate again. Some would think this proves the nose candling was a failure. But I would argue otherwise. I reckon it just proves that Burton has received such a powerful health-giving experience that he needs time to reconcile his chakras to his aura. Give it a bit of tweaking as to which end of the candle we should actually be inserting, and I really think we're onto a winner here.

St Swithin's Day

The Beaker People walk out into the Lower Meadow. They are wearing wellies and motorway hi-viz anoraks, and carrying umbrellas. The younger men (i.e. under 80) may carry planks, to enable easier walking on boggy ground.

Archdruid: Behold! What yellow orb is floating, only half-hidden by cloud?

All: A sign! A sign!

Hnaef: The sun! The sun!

All: The sun! The sun!

Archdruid: Let us join in our Pleas to Swithin.

All:  Oh Swithin, what with you being such a weather saint and all, on this your special day - please can you make it rain somewhere else? Ideally in the Southern US, where they need it. Or failing that, maybe Manchester? Only they're used to it. It's not that we're superstitious, although of course we are. But we really don't like the thought that the weather's fixed for 40 days from today, if it's gonna be like the the last 40. So, if you're really all you're cracked up to be, and if God doesn't mind us dealing with middle-men as such, rather than going direct - can you see your way to putting a word in for us? Ta. Love you. I mean, Amen.

Archdruid: And now we sing the traditional Hymn to Saint Swithin.

All: Rain, rain, go away. Come back another day. Rain, rain, go away.... 

Saturday 14 July 2012

The Morning After the Baptist Before

A bedchamber in Galilee. Morning.

Oh... what a night.

Oh my stomach. That's not good.

Ow my head. That's bad too. I wonder if it's light yet?

Ow ow ow. My eyes. My eyes. Maybe I'll keep them closed.

I tell you, night like last night - I'm going to hear all about it from John the Baptist.

John the Baptist. Hang on. Something about John the Baptist. What about John the Baptist? Last time I saw him - what was wrong?

Oh. Yeah. That. Great.

Always get carried away, don't I. Start off having a couple of drinks - end the night killing a prophet.

So... the wine. It's always the wine. A lot of wine. Ten - twelve? Too much. An unwise amount of wine.

All the lads round, of course. And Salome. Oh yeah. Salome. Nice piece of stuff, Salome. Shame she's my niece. After all, I'm not an Egyptian.

Still, a man can't help himself after a few jars, can he? Nice little sexy dancer, wine buzzing in your head - everyone does something a bit silly in those circumstances.

Although killing a prophet is hardly sticking a traffic cone on your head. Whatever that means.

Right, no more. From now on, I'm not getting drunk. I'm not showing off to my silly mates. I'm not sleeping with relatives. I'm not lusting after Salome. And I will not - repeat not - be allowing any more prophets to be put to death.

Unless, of course, they're really awkward.

The Event that Cannot be Named

It is said to have been the Twitter account of Waterstones, Oxford St who suggested that the festival of sporting competition that will shortly be taking place in an unnamed city forty miles south of Husborne Crawley and forty south-east of Oxford be referred to as "#Voldesport" - the event that cannot be named.

It's a strange thing that we are holding an event that we should be proud of, but in the United Kingdom it is associated with expensive (non-British) beer; inefficiency in the recruitment of security staff and heavy-handed treatment of boys on bikes. Frankly all we need now is for Boris Johnson, armed with a few dozen red roses, to find himself on the loose, late at night, in the women's section of the Olympic Village. The whole shambles would then be complete.

What seems to irk most is heavy-handed brand protection. At one point the site tells us they don't mind planting schemes using colours such as red, blue or white seem to imply that they could object to our use of colours if they felt like it - do they really think they might have control over the colour red if they so chose? Well, whatever brand it is, it's taking quite a battering. I'm glad the Beaker Folk haven't chosen to sponsor it. Where's Harry Potter when you need him?

Bastille Day

Today we remember that is the National Day of our near-neighbours and traditional enemies.

On 14 July 1789 the French revolutionaries broke into the Bastille and released, well basically nobody. They killed all the aristocrats and, in the name of Equality, replaced them with the middle-class. They killed the king in the name of Liberty, replaced him with a succession of dictators and eventually an Emperor. And in the name of Fraternity, the new ruling elite (a French word, ne c'est pas) even started killing each other.

They renamed all the months, then had to put them back. They declared a Cult of the Supreme Being, and then decided maybe not. They slaughtered the people of the Vendee to prove how humane and tolerant their new world would be.

And now every year on this day they light fireworks to say what a great achievement it was. Well done, the French, I say..

Friday 13 July 2012

The Sermon on the Mullet

The mullet is one of the commonest fish in British waters. I notice that even the BBC website can't find a nice way to explain that it's not the greatest tasting fish in the world. But that gives me pause for thought.

In the world of captive animals, tasting nice is an evolutionary advantage - albeit one with individual poor outcomes for the possessors of genetic tastiness. Basically, we breed beef cattle, pigs and meat chickens for their tasty nature. And while those animals have lives that are generally fairly brief, their genes are preserved for posterity.

Whereas in wild animals, the opposite will be the case. The tasty fish - cod, haddock - are the ones we chase around the place with nets. While the mullet and other odd-tasting specimens are left in peace. Indeed, the less popular the taste the more they're left alone. Whereas the South-West of England now has seas which are devoid of pilchards.

All I can say is, if Evolution is God's way of sieving out the species, then the Common Fisheries Policy is an odd agent of the Divine Will.  And mine's a large cod with a cone of chips and mushy peas.

Scottish Food Laws

Scottish Archaeology has been turned upside down by the discovery of this runic inscription. It appears to be part of the legendary "Book Of Kelts", written by the great Pictish prophet, Malkie McMoses.

".... nor allow any Sassenach to live. But the Italians ye are to allow to settle within your cities. For they gave unto you ice cream when you were hot. And pizza when you were hungry.

12. You are not to drink of ale that contains leaven, nor of that which is warm or that which is flat. It is an English abomination.  Ye are to drink yellow beer, and it shall be nigh unto freezing - even as the snow that gatherest on the Cairngorms.

13. Not all living things are given unto you to drink. Ye shall shun the fruit of the vine - both white and red - unless it is of the Holy House that is called in the Devonian tongue "Buckfast" - which is to say, "Buckie Wine". The fruit of the vine is a soft drink. But lo, ye live in a land flowing with malt and barley. Do I need to draw ye a picture?

14. Five days ye shall drink lager. But on the 6th and 7th - hey, it's the weekend, boy!

15. You shall not eat the fruit of the courgette, nor the pea, nor the lentil. All salads shall ye dodge. And all pulse vegetables shall ye steer clear of.  Unless they're baked and in a tomato sauce.

16. All that goeth on four legs, whether it hath a cloven hoof or cheweth the cud, can ye curry. All that hath wings can ye curry also.

17. All that hath scales and swimmeth in the sea shall ye take unto the chippie. And there shall it be deep-fried in batter. And these other things may ye deep-fry: chips: pizzas: beef-burgers: spam: sausages: Mars-bars: Milky Way: but not the Crunchy, which hath a honeycomb centre which soundeth a bit healthy.

16. When you look up into the sky, and see that for the 93rd day running it raineth, or when thou art bitten by a mosquito or, as it may be, a midge - then shall ye rejoice knowing thou art a Scot, and not one of them lily-livered, posh, soft, Engli........"

Misery as Midlands Miss Out

Bad news from our Alliterative Affirmative Action Alliance. You may remember they were planning a Millennial Midlands Mission. But they've cancelled the Worksop Worship Workshop. Apparently it wasn't worth it.

Rainy Day

Poor Burton. It's not everyone goes straight from chicken pox to shingles.

Well, when I say "shingles..." What I mean is, he felt a bit recovered first thing and went for a stroll round the place. But he came round to where I was - ahem - supervising Hnaef and the emergency building team re-roofing the chicken coop in a more durable material. So when we saw Burton coming towards us, still spotty and a bit ill-looking, we threw roof tiles at him till he went away.

Yesterday we had the option today of blessing the rain we've received, and feeling for those people in the southern US who are suffering with a long-running drought - or staying in all day, moping about the rain, and playing board games.

So board games it was. We were playing the theological version of Trivial Pursuit. Categories are "Dogmatics", "Eschatology", "Redaction Criticism", "Ethics", "Soteriology" and "Entertainment".  Hnaef missed one easy chance to win, with a question about the significance of the Bowls that are poured out in Rev 17-18. He got very grumpy about it. I pointed out to him, it's not the end of the world. Although, according to the answer on the card, it is.

Thursday 12 July 2012

50 Shades of Beige

A confused phone call from Burton Dasset, who's stilll laid low and itchy with the chicken pox.

I sent him a book round for him to read while he's getting better. Well how was I supposed to know that "50 Shades of Grey" wasn't about interior decorating for accountants?

A Famine of the Word (Amos 8)

I have just put the phone down after a most distressing call from my dear friend Sydney Pegg, pastor of the Bournemouth Bountiful Baptist Church. He has been repenting in dust and ashes since Sunday. For the first time in 13 years, the Bountiful Baptists had a service in which a holidaymaking visitor did not stand up and give them "a word from God". What has he done, he was wondering, that his fellowship should be abandoned so?

I suggested they simply had no holidaymakers with them this Sunday, due to the weather. Maybe it is only visitors that have a word for them - on the principle of "a prophet in his own country"? But he was inconsolable. I shall pray for sun on the South Coast.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Church Fault-finding guide

Everyone's good at finding fault with their church.

But how often does anybody come up with some solutions? If you want to know how to adjust the vertical hold on your pastor, you may have come to just the right place...

You are drinking an unaccountably awful alcoholic drink after Evensong.You are at the vicar's Sherry Party.Accept that you're in the Church of England now, and you'd better get used to it.
You can hear sounds but can't see the words on the OHP or the leader.You are facing the wrong wayTurn round.
Your house is full of strange small people you don't recognise. You are spending too much time at church events. You have forgotten who your children are.Go home more often.
You seem to be laying, face down, on a carpet. A man is shouting "Last Orders, Please". People are treading on your fingers.You've gone out for a "swift half" with the bell ringers again, haven't you? Curl up into the foetal position and pray nobody treads on your ears.
Everybody else has disappeared suddenly.The Rapture has occurred, and you've been left behind.Nick the offering plate. Let's face it, there's nothing to lose now, is there?
The bishop is bald with a large beard and a deep voice. The vicar is a woman with four degrees and a resentful look.You are a member of the Church of England.Give it another ten years, maybe?
The coffee is awful, and served in a Woods Ware "Beryl" Cup.Situation normal for a Methodist.Grin and bear it.
People are dancing naked in the woods.You've really got carried away with the church-hopping this time.Frankly, you're on your own with this one.
The sermon is starting to make some sense.The sermon has entered its third hour. You have fallen asleep, and are hallucinating that it makes some sense.Stick with it. You're getting quality nap time, and it's all good for your soul.
Feathers and eggs are flying through the air.Birds nesting in the organ pipes again,.Put up your umbrella.
For the 754th week running, you are singing "Shine, Jesus Shine."Against all the evidence, the vicar still thinks it's trendy.After the service, detune the church guitar. Nobody will know how to get it back in.
An embarrassed lack of singing during the first hymn.They've forgotten how to switch on the OHP again.Lecture the OHP operator on the principles of electricity. Then lecture the pastor on the benefits of laptops and data projectors. Stop when you realise everyone's looking at you strangely.
It is Advent 3. The nearest member of congregation to you has turned blue.Hypothermia.Chop up a pew (not Mrs Hargrave's) and light a fire.
Small puddles are forming around you.You're running the creche.Alert the parents.
Small puddles are forming around you. The water is falling from a low height.Leaky font.Join the Baptists.
Small puddles are forming around you. The water is falling from a great height.Another hole in the roof.Put a bucket down. Sit somewhere else. Not in Mrs Hargrave's pew.
Large puddles around you. Water and tiles are falling from a great height.Freak tornado.Wait for the wind to die down. Then erect a thermometer outside the church.
Everyone is looking at you.You're the minister.Get a grip, and preach the sermon.
Despite the festive time of year, you are unaccountably very annoyed during the sermon.The vicar is telling the story (s)he has told every Christmas for the last thirty years. The one about the little boy who didn't want to be the inn-keeper.Resist the urge to shout out "Plenty of room, come on in!"
You are standing behind a table covered in old bits of household junk that nobody wants to buy.Against all common sense, you've joined the fund-raising committee.Give the treasurer some money and burn the table. It's worth 20 quid just to get the morning back.
You are surrounded by tea lights and pebbles. Somewhere in the darkness you hear the sound of a balalaika.It's the "5th Sunday of the Month Creative Liturgy Special".Watch out for inflatable dinosaurs and Chinese Lanterns.
The vicar is hovering sixteen feet in the air.Vertical hold on the blink.Bang the right-hand-side of the pulpit.
Four men, riding horses in assorted colours, are galloping round the churchyard.The visiting Adventist preacher was right then.Offer sugar lumps.
All the other people in your congregation seem extremely frail. You are a member of the Church of England.Pray for revival.
Sun is beating down on your head. Wind is blowing your hair around. Rabbits are nibbling your shoelaces.The fund-raising didn't work.Have a picnic.
Just before the service starts, an embarrassed silence has fallen. Everybody is looking at you.You are sitting in some-one else's designated spot.Let Mrs Hargrave have her seat, wait until five minutes into the first hymn, then sit down somewhere else in the knowledge that you're in neutral territory,
Your "Beetle Drive" is interrupted by a group of people clutching knives and chickens.The Property Steward has double-booked again.Suggest they move to the vestry.
The organist is playing the 65th verse of "Just as I am, without one plea".Another altar call has received no response.For the good of everyone, declare yourself saved (for the sixth time) and go forward. The bell ringers have invited you out for a quick half.
The Church Committee Meeting is entering its seventh hour.There's another light bulb gone in the gents, and they're not sure what wattage to buy.Just buy the blessed light bulb yourself. Alternatively, tweet amusing reflections on the ironic nature of your situation.

Making Time for Time

As well as the Worship Committee, I'm afraid the rest of the day has been a bit hectic. I've been organising some quality-of-life sessions - for myself, and for others - and it's not really worked out.

The "Self Organisation" training seminar I was giving over-ran by an hour and a half. This meant I was late for the Time Management Course, but I dipped in for twenty minutes which meant I only made the last ten of "Making Time for God".

"Making Time for God" was a really good session, from what I could make of it. As the diary currently stands, I'm hoping to make some time for God myself, maybe next Thursday if I can sneak out of "Practising the Presence of Peace" a bit early.

Resurfacing the Worship Committee

Rats. This is what happens when you're tired and a bit confused. I was planning to restructure the Worship Committee. This afternoon's events haven't enhanced our liturgy one bit.

Transparency, Openness and NuMedia

Today''s Workshop On Transparency, Openness and NuMedia will be at 3pm in the Lead-lined Room. Among the items on the agenda will be "How can we get rid of the acronym, 'WONTON'?"

Please note that all members of the WONTON will be searched for smartphones, netbooks and other items of the modern social networking world such as pens and paper. Openness is great, but let's not waste it on everybody.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

A Very Quick Motto For the Week

Any communication that includes a reference to others as "feminazis" is not worth reading.

Unwise Sermon Illustrations (7)

"Of course, in retrospect I could have tried talking to him, showing him the error of his ways. Which might have given me something... holier to say this morning. But at the time, it felt like it was him or me. And, let's face it, he was from Watford."

The Alfie Course

Here at the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley, every year we run the "Alfie Course". The idea of the "Alfie Course" is to give open-minded enquirers the ability to find out more about Michael Caine. You can come with any views or none - as long as you don't go thinking the Jude Law version of "Alfie" or the remake of "The Italian Job" are in any sense OK.

Each week at the Alfie Course has a different title - starting from "Zulus! Thousands of 'em!" (A good thing on the Alfie Course, due to Zulus being people of an authentic ethnic origin) to the final week's "You were only supposed to bloody give up swearing" - an in-depth discussion on profanity and how best to avoid it.

In theory, being it's for the "fringe" members of the Beaker Folk, you should only do the Alfie Course once. In practice, people find that saying "I am Michael Caine" while looking over thick-rimmed glasses is so fulfilling that they come back and do it every year. And so we are now offering the "Charlie Course" as a follow-up, to unblock the log-jam of amateur Michael Caines. Not a lot of people know that.

Monday 9 July 2012

Hanging on in Quiet Exasperation

The British, slowly and unsurely, have reached the point where we're getting pretty equal as a country.

Sure, if you're born to a better-off family you'll get certain advantages in the way of nutrition, broader outlook,  education and so on. But short of abolishing the private ownership of money, it's hard to see how you'd ever truly prevent that.

And it would seem that the rich are differently treated under the tax system. But again, given the ability to make your stash, your right to hire good tax accountants is completely blind to whether you are male or female, black or white, a Tory donor or an edgy comedian.

Those who remember the game Dungeons + Dragons will know that it was inherently racist. I don't know if it's still true now - there may have been a Half-Orc Spring or a Dwarf Awakening - but it was the case in the 80s that the ability to reach unlimited Levels, whether as a Fighter, a Magic-User, or a Thief, was dependent on being a human being. There may have been exceptions, but if you remember what they were then you're sadder than I am - that's all I'm saying.

But even in the 80s, in a make-believe Mittle-Europe setting with trolls tearing up the place and Halflings existing purely for copyright reasons, I don't remember any rule that said, if you were playing a female Cleric character, you had to stop at level 2. So it seems to me the Church of England is still dragging behind a 40-year-old fantasy adventure game.

To be fair, it's in company. A woman can't be a top-flight footballer, either.

And I know that some say that the Church - whatever it may appear, from within and without - isn't about climbing up a greasy pole. That it's not about "equal opportunity", as ministry is about servanthood, not about leadership, so you can't apply equal-rights arguments to who should be bishops. But it strikes me that, if it's about equal access to servanthood, then women have even more claim - after all, who's been doing all the cooking and housework these last few millennia?

So it seems that it's all going to go round another loop, and the only mixed-blessing is that it's only the bran-eating Guardian readers and the purple-faced Telegraph adherents that will care. The rest of the population don't meet a bishop from one lifetime to the next, and probably don't care two hoots, under all those copes and mitres and stuff, whether they're male, female or Lawful Neutral.

And I've no idea what a "right" solution is. How do you reconcile the majority view of how men and women should be under God with a view that is different - albeit equally sincerely held, and frequently with more commitment? Certainly not by simply trampling over the "losers" and driving them out. That's surely not a Christian way. The last proposals from the Bishops got awfully close to my suggestion that congregations could simply vote for the bishop they liked. But in the process they simply knocked everything round for another bash. So now they're probably in for another four months of wrangling.

I know I've no suggestions here - just more moaning. But with food-banks to run, lives to be changed, late-night streets to be pastored - how come the only thing the World hears about the church is its obsession with what chromosomes the clergy have under their cassocks?

Sunday 8 July 2012

Unwise Sermon Illustrations (6)

Sometimes we can all feel ourselves to be, like those Israelites, on a pilgrimage through the wilderness.

Around us, the desert. Before us, the Ark of the Covenant. Behind us, a horde of angry Egyptians.

And it is at times like this that we must ask ourselves that simple question - what would Indiana Jones do?

Unwise Sermon Illustrations 5 - The Italian Job

"In so many ways, the Church is like a coach load of people, all screaming as the driver - i.e. the pastor - navigates his way at high speed along the winding roads of the Italian Alps. Because the pastor has vision - which is to say, the driver has a nice big window and a good view of what is coming up ahead. Whereas the passengers - i.e. the people in the church who seem to think the pastor is oh so wrong on this one - are clutching onto each other and cowering behind the seats - convinced disaster is coming.

But who's ready to throw the Mini Coopers of their former lives out through the back of the coach - knowing that they're keeping the gold that lasts forever? Who's prepared to step forward - stare over the edge of the road into the abyss with me - and say with me - "Hang on a second, lads" - because you know that we have a truly great idea? Or will you instead curl up into a foetal position and wait for the crash? Mr Lewis - sit down. You know there's no talking to the driver when this vehicle is in motion."

Chicken Pox - The Debate Continues

I've received a text from Burton. He's gone down with Chicken Pox - a painful ailment for an adult.

The doctor's advised him to rest, take some pain-killers and avoid scratching. But I know a couple of people who recommend beating sufferers with sticks to drive the demons out. For some people, the debate continues today.

Saturday 7 July 2012

Having Your Collar Felt

Sometimes, I wonder what Eileen is thinking of. She persuaded me to look at a book this evening, which she told me was a study of the variation in Baptist ministers' shirts over the last 3 centuries. It is called "50 Shades of Grey". I have read 100 pages so far, and there is no mention of clerical collars.

Unwise Sermon Illustrations (4)

"... and I know that, if you're anything like me, from time to time you'll be involved in a knife-fight in a Soho alley after spending a whole week on absinthe. And you'll find yourself wondering, 'where is God in this?' ..... No?"

Unwise Sermon Illustrations (3)

So sin is just like the LIBOR rate. It starts when we want to... to make it easier to... no, that's not right. To increase the... no, to lower... to uh... Look, it's wrong, OK? Not the LIBOR rate itself, but making it higher... lower... different to what it should be....

Stonehenge Upgraded

So I see from the Telegraph that some improvements are finally to happen at Stonehenge. English Heritage details are here.

To see the A344 closed nearby the stones will help - you know how hideous it is to view the Heelstone against the background of boy-racers hurtling along from Devizes under the influence of Wadworths 6X.  To get the visitors' centre and the current car park removed will be marvellous. And I like the idea of a "shuttle" (or the option of walking) from a relocated visitors' centre a mile or two to the stones.

But I do wonder what form the "shuttle" will take. My worst nightmare is that it'll be a dirty great bus. My hope is for floating fake sarsens, piloted by blokes dressed as Merlin, running above a maglev track embedded under the mystic, springy chalkland turf. I realise that the potential damage to archaeology of my suggestion  is enormous. But come on, surely that's a small price to pay for a fantastic Stonehenge experience?