Friday 30 November 2012

Those new Politically-correct Council Names for Christmas

This is about getting in before the Daily Mail comes up with something less plausible. If councils were really scared of mentioning Christmas, what could we end up with?

"Twinterval" - celebrating the end-of-year occasion through the magic of Social Media.

"Yule-Kip" - a midwinter festival without upsetting the European Union!

"Bodmas" - forget the religious connotations, enjoy a mathematical spectacular. OR, celebrate Advent by remembering, "Here comes Bod".

"Celebritytide" - remember Celebritytide past, when you believed in Kerry? Or rush down to Iceland and get your buzz by eating frozen pancakes while listening to Stacey Solomon.

"The Season to be Dolly" - forget all that religious stuff. Celebrate an authentically remarkable birth through the power of genetic science.

 "Putting the Decs up" - after this Sunday, there won't be much use for Ant's mate. So why not wrap him in tinsel and stick him over the porch? A guaranteed smile for all your visitors.

"UK Gold Christmas Spectacular" - celebrate the run-up to Christmas by watching an episode of "Last of the Summer Wine" every day! Just like the rest of the year.

"The Season of Season's Greetings" - Enjoy the time around 25 December by eating, drinking, being merry, having a week off but never, never, never mentioning the word "*****mas". I nearly said it, but I think I got away with it.

"Stephen Fry-tag" - on the Fridays in December, give thanks that Stephen came to show us the power of Google.

"Frostmas" - enjoy the season while campaigning against Global Warming!

"Little Drunk-y" - the oldest of all British Yule traditions! 

"Panto-time" - remembering that, when the days are darkest, Christopher Biggins appears every year to entertain us.

"Badvent" - why not welcome the end of autumn by getting your central heating unblocked?

Traditional Scottish Liturgy

Archdruid: Hoots mon!

All: Och-aye, the noo!

Archdruid: So ye've haad yer teee?

All: Aye, aye.

Hymn: "Margaret"


All: Ah'm afreed ah've drunk yer Buckie.

Archdruid: So yer askin' fer the Malkie, so y'are.

Hymn: "The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen"

Archdruid: Is it just me, or are these ginger beards just a little bit itchy?

All: Never mind the beards, these ginger-hair-and Tam o'Shanters are worse.

Archdruid: And call me Little Ms Pedantic, but wasn't St Andrew Jewish, not Scottish?

All: True, true....

Burton: OK then! Pass me that black beard and bake me a bagel...

Archdruid: OK, that's enough racial stereotypes. Let's go before we get in any trouble.

All: And oy vay with you.

Thursday 29 November 2012

Liturgy of Relatively Slight Misfortune

Archdruid: There is a temptation not to pray for big things. Though God is great, yet our faith is weak and we so rarely see mountains move. But the sciptures command us in divers places to remember those whose misfortunes are slight, so we think maybe it might be a bit easier for a prayer to help out. So today we remember all those who will be struggling a bit - but not too much - in the slightly cold snap we're having. The response will be "We remember them."

All: We remember them.

Archdruid: We remember those who were hoping to do a bit of gardening, but now they think maybe it's a bit nippy and they'll have another cup of tea.

All: We.... what was it?

Archdruid: .... remember them.

All: Oh yeah. We remember them. Tricky, this responsive stuff.

Archdruid: We remember those who forgot to close up the greenhouse (or, as it may be, conservatory) properly, and have lost the last of the tomatoes. Or they've maybe left the tender plants out one too many days and they've got a bit black.

All: We remember them.

Archdruid: We remember those who've prayed for a space near Asda, but God in his mercy has listeneed to them but answered "no". And whose children have pinched their gloves, so they'll have to keep their hands in their pockets all the way across the car park.

All: We remember them.

Archdruid: We remember those who have cars, but no garages, and will stumble around in the cold and dark this morning defrosting their cars.

All: We remember them.

Archdruid: We remember those who, though they have garages, yet their spouses, civil partners or medium-term-but-not-yet-made-it-official common-law bedfellows have filled them with woodworking equipment, lawn-mowers, old sofas or bits of wood that might come in useful one day. Those who, although they appear garage-rich, are in fact garage-poor. Those who, like Jude gazing on the dreaming spires, or Moses looking at the promised land, can see the glory but will never reach it.

All: We remember them.

Archdruid: And for those who've forgotten to buy a new can of de-icer, and the old one ran out in May, so they're using the jewel case off a DVD to scrape the ice off.

All: We remember them.

And for people who left the car running while they were still getting ready inside, and somebody nicked the car, and they were only going up the Co-op and they don't know why they just didn't walk.

We remember them. But that's a proper problem. And it's their own fault. So we'll just remember them a little bit.

We all leave, to discover our cars have frosted over. Disaster!

Wednesday 28 November 2012

The End of the World as We Know It (Again)

I blame Steve.

The problem with people who predict the end of the world, is that they're never convinced when it doesn't happen. You want to point out that there's thousands of predictions over the years, and so far they're all wrong - and they tell you that's because this is the right one. Point out that Our Lord said nobody knows the day or the hour - and they'll tell you they have access to better Mayan texts, or access to powerful computers that Our Lord knew little about.

The Moon Gibbon Folk are convinced every month that the moon is being eaten by a giant Gibbon - and the fact that every month the moon comes back never quite convinced them. It being full moon, I was sure they'd be relaxed for the next week or so. But no. Now they think that when this blog reaches 3,000 posts, the world will end. Why 3,000 however - not 4,000 or 1,439 or 22/7  - I'm not sure. Still, this is number 2,990 and they reckon - that only leaves ten more. And then the world ends.

So I'm finding it very hard to get Internet access. My Android mysteriously disappeared earlier. And my netbook was locked with a new power-on password. In some communities this could have been a real disaster. leading to great angst on the part of the leader. But not in this community. The password was "moongibbon". And all I had to do to find my phone was call it, and follow the strains of "Orinoco Flow".

Countdown to 3,000 Posts

Just a few to go. It's gonna be so epic...

A Pointless Freebie

I noticed on Sunday that one of our newspapers (the Times, I think) was running an offer. Every paper came with a "Giant Hobbit Poster".

I may be missing something, but isn't that the same as advertising an "Average-sized Human Poster"?

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Liturgy for a Rainy Day

Archdruid: I'm singing in the rain.

All: Just singing in the rain.

Archdruid: Raindrops keep falling on my head

All: They keep falling.

Hymn: Who'll stop the Rain? (Heaven 17)


Save me, for the waters come over my head
It is as it was in the time of Noah -
The bit after everbody got washed away, that is.
The floods encompass me
The puddles encircle me
The Hus Bourne is as it were a raging torrent
The gentle, drought-struck brook of summer is now a monster.

Hey Mr Blue Sky
Please tell us why
Thou hadst to hide away for so long -
Where did we go wrong?

But you, Lord, built my house on a sandstone ridge.
(Actually it was Eileen's great-grandad, but credit where it's due for the inspiration.)
The Moot House is dry, though Soggy Bottom liveth up to its name.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of cumulonimbus,
Yet my feet are on solid ground.
And though the people of Bedford, Billing and Buckingham may fill their sandbags while they may,
Yet I will wait for Mr Blue Sky to show his face.

Hymn: Here Comes the rain again


Archdruid: With a hi-ho, the wind and the rain

All: For the rain, it raineth every day.

Archdruid: Go, and leak no more.

Monday 26 November 2012

Food-fight Service

I reckon I've just about washed all the mess off myself now.

It is a fundamental human need to share a meal. It's the thing that distinguishes us from the animals. Apart from jackals and hyenas, obviously. So I really thought this evening's "Roast Dinner Service" was a great idea. Everybody sat in the Moot House together, in a big open circle, rather than the serried ranks of the Great House dining room. And after I authorised Burton to loosen the purse-strings, Bernie had promised to cook something that wasn't recovered from the hard shoulder of the M1.

So we were sat there, the low-alcohol wine-effect grape juice was flowing, and I was eating something that looked like it might well have once lived on a farm, rather than skipped across the motorway.  I mean, wallaby? How did he get a wallaby the other week? As Bertie Wooster would put it, reason and soul flowed. And then we moved into the "creative" part of the ceremony. Each was to bring a song, a juggling act, or a favourite reading.

And then the Yorkshire pudding landed on Marston's head. I suspect that Young Keith flung it. Marston had, at that very point, just reached a particularly poignant and incomprehensible part of the recitation of some metaphysical poetry, and Young Keith had just had enough. Marston's not over-bright, but he does know how to throw a Brussels sprout. So the sprouts started flying in the general direction the pud had come from. Then the roast beetroots flew across the place - a very earthy taste, has a roast beetroot - and next thing we knew the air was full of flying vegetables. It was the tinned carrots caused the most problem - as Bernie hadn't actually taken them out of the tins prior to throwing them.

Now I'm not sure that you can technically call a meeting at which everyone gets covered in roast potato "worship". But it brought us together - into two loosely-organised "sides", at any rate" - taught us something about hardship, something about team work, something about sacrifice. And something about the viscosity of gravy.

There will be even more to learn about sacrifice in the morning. The Beaker Folk will be giving up their spare time to scrub down the walls of the Moot House. It may be organic and natural. but pulverised potato is a very bad lining for the inside of a worship venue.

Katherine Ferrers - "Wicked Lady" of Markyate?

Markyate is a village on the road between the old Roman posting stations of Verulamium (Snorbens) and Durocobrivae (Dunstable). Today it is bypassed by the A5, but the old High St is the former "Watling Street".

Being 30 miles out of London, on a main road, Markyate was something of a haunt for highwaymen. In particular, the Sun Inn has a plaque recalling that Dick Turpin was a regular there - although there have been rougher locals since, many known to the author of this blog. But most of all, Markyate was the home of the Wicked Lady, whose story is known to some from Hollywood.

The Markyate Cell was originally the home of an anchorite - Christina of Markyate. After the Reformation the Cell became private property and, eventually, the local squire's home. One squire in particular was such a boring beggar that his wife, Katherine Ferrers - took to being what I suppose we must call in these days a Highway-person.

She terrorised Watling Street, dressed in men's clothes, but was eventually shot in the course of a raid, and died outside the secret room where she kept the clothes of her alternative career.

Of course, when an attractive woman dies in violent circumstances in an isolated house in the fields a mile from a small village, it doesn't end there. Ever since Katherine's death, there have been rumours of her ghost - wandering through Cell Park, or swinging on the trees, calling for help.

In my own life-time, there was an attempt to knock down a wall in the Cell. The story, as related second-hand to me, was as follows:

"So they knocked the wall down. They heard a noise inside. And they bricked it back up, as fast as they could."

Old legends die hard.

Sunday 25 November 2012

A Lament for the Lost Pubs of England

The Queen's Head was a lovely pub
With well-kept beer and smashing grub
The roses climbed around the door
And ancient was the flagstoned floor
The locals used to have a laugh
The Vicar'd pop in for a half
But now to drink they have to roam
The Queen's Head's now a nursing home.

Nor can they go to the Brown Cow
It isn't selling ale right now.
The price of beer drove out the fellas
Who, Tesco-bound, buy cut-price Stellas.
The Globe no longer shows the nations
But, round the back, they dig foundations
The Yorkshire Gray, where once we'd sup,
With metal sheets is boarded up.

The evening falls, across the land
returns the hungry, thirsty band
Where once they'd sink a pint at ease
Discussing shares, or pig disease,
They sit and watch "Celebrity"
drink cans of Stella, eat some tea
Then pass out watching some old bore
wake on the couch at half-past-four

and wish the British pub was here -
it's more than just expensive beer.
But thanks to supermarkets brash,
the boozers all ran out of cash.
We sit at home, in isolation,
a shrunken, drunken, lonely nation.
And if the White Horse should close down
We might as well all go and drown.

Heading for 3,000 Posts

It was as I was looking at the Blogger dashboard that I realised how close we now are to 3,000 extant posts. They have appeared over the last six or so years - although the earliest posts from this community were lost in the Time Wars, which is why the earliest post reflects a fellowship which was already being thrown out of the camp after a disaster at Pouring out of Beakers. So in fact there have been well over 3,000 posts - but the early ones do not exist, except in the dusty bowels of Google.

I remember well the day I decided we should make these chronicles public. It was at an inter-denominational event. That very day the Archimandrite, had celebrated the life of St Ephrem. A beautiful experience, in the original Syriac. I remember thinking how wonderful it must have been for Ephrem and his contemporaries, being able to worship in a foreign language like that - so much more mysterious than having to use English. A Celtic Christian sidled up and asked me what I thought of "that". And I realised that, with far less authenticity than the Syriac celebration, the Celtic Christian had struck on something much more marketable. And if Celtic Christianity was marketable, then how much more my own variety of Christianity - at once authentic, traditional and yet infinitely flexible to modern conditions? I knew instantly that I needed a blog to publicise our little fellowship.

Well, a lot of water has flowed out of Beakers since that day in 2006. The Moot House has been blown up repeatedly, Burton Dasset has gone from being a prime pain in the backside to being a fundamentalist minister. The Hnaefs and I have gone back in time and alternate dimensions, to a form of Hardy's Wessex where the characters came to life and the Great Man was just a bit-part. We have been attacked by aliens, savaged by badgers, and celebrated Earth Hour with liturgical dancing in the dark. We have prayed with pumpkins. And I have shared all this with you, to show the way our community life, based around the cycles of the seasons as it is, is grounded in truth and reflects reality. We may never be as surreal as the life in the closes of most cathedral, but we enter into the daily round of existence - mundane as it may seem - with serenity, devotion and - above all - a deep desire to achieve satisfaction and personal fulfilment, regardless of the moral consequences.

Now I just need to think of something special for the 3,000th post - some time on Wednesday or Thursday, I reckon.


In all the fuss over women bishops, there's been some suggestions that it's about "ambition". The image of a "stained glass ceiling" has been floated around. Women, says one line of thought, are fighting for their rights just like feminists in the workplace. The implication being - how un-Christian. Feminism, it suggest, is a bad secular thing, that should not be allowed in Church.

It's the ultimate defence of the patronising, of course. It suggests that women - sweet, fluffy, unworldly creatures - would be exhausted, even maybe made less womanly, by their association with the struggle up the corporate ladder. They should be patting the hands of parishioners, mopping fevered brows - maybe indulging in a little jam-making. Men, of course, are already so sunk in the sin of ambition and politicking that they might as well keep up the struggle, past the stranded female Archdeacon as she deals with housing (an appropriate female concern), and on to the dizzy heights of episcopality.

And a first response to that would be - well why shouldn't women be as ambitious as men, come to that? Why should the "Angel of the Hearth" of Victorian myth be stuck as the "Angel of the Vestry" of these new Elizabethan times? If being a bishop's a dirty job but somebody's got to do it, why shouldn't a woman do it? We don't make the Church a new society by making it less fair even than the Boardroom.

Or we could look up that spiritual hierarchy - may be the way God sees it, it's certainly the way we do - and see what's at the top of the ladder. It's not a bishop's palace, with flunkies and portraits of predecessors on the wall. This ladder leads all the way up to the top of a hill. And then it stops being a ladder and starts to be a tree. And then, as we near the top, we realise it's not just a tree - it's a cross.

That ladder should be a ladder of servanthood - where each rung is for the people who have managed to be the servants of those below it. And it strikes me that, on the whole, women are pretty good at being servants. After all, practice makes perfect.

Saturday 24 November 2012

The Game of Ironic Ultimatums

Let's play the game of "Ironic Ultimatums"

"So because one-third of the Laity in the Synod voted against this strategy for introducing women bishops, we'll ban the bishops (who are in favour of it) from the Lords.

Because we don't like the results of your democratic system, we'll ban you from our system. The one we appoint our friends to when they've been voted out, so we can make sure they've a job for life.

So if you don't change your mind, and vote the same way as the people you don't agree with, we'll take the limited power they have away from the people that you don't agree with....."

Of course, these will be the bishops that the Laity who voted against, voted against. And since, by definition, they think those bishops are a bunch of liberals, that will worry this particularly bunch of Laity... how much?

The people against women bishops must be quaking in their boots. It's good of politicians to give the Church of England freedom to decide, as long as it agrees with the politicians.

Meanwhile Frank Field has tabled a motion that, uniquely among religious movements, the Church of England should not to be allowed to discriminate on the grounds of gender. Will he be in breach of Equalities legislation himself should he win?

If Football Managers were Church Ministers

Alex Ferguson - would always add on five minutes at the end of the service in the hope that somebody might be saved. There would be a hair-dryer in the vestry.

Harry Redknapp - would be a Methodist. No, an Anglican. No, a Pentecostal. No - a Presbyterian, but only for 10 weeks.

Kenny Dalglish - would be the previous incumbent, who everyone fondly remembers. But who then returns and tries to bring back the Alternative Service Book.

Roman Abramovich - would be the Bishop who thought up Common Tenure.

Pep Guardiola - would go off on retreat. And never come back.

There would be no ordained women.

The Chelsea dressing-room  - would be the Church Committee from Hell.

Sam Allardyce - would scrap all that fiddly liturgy and fancy-dan theology, and just have rousing hymns.

There would be few black clergy, although the congregations would be largely black or Hispanic.

Queen's Park Rangers - would be one of those Baptist churches where they have a vote of no-confidence in the minister. Every month.

Brendan Rodgers - would be trying to struggle by with only one acolyte. He would introduce beautiful liturgy, but his congregation wouldn't understand it.

Jose Mourinho - would be an expert in church growth, but always moving on after falling out with the bishop.

The sermon would be replaced by "banter".

Arsene Wenger - would insist on letting the teenagers play in the Music Group, even when they were just beginners. But once they'd learnt a few chords, they'd be off to the local super-church. His church would always pay its Parish Share.

Roberto Mancini - would be checking the ads in the Church Times.

Friday 23 November 2012

The Complementarian Man's Cookbook - The BBQ

In this little venture through the world of Complementarian Cookery, I have now reached the most complementarian of all cooking - the barbecue.

Some people say to me - "Drayton, how is that Marjory does all the cooking throughout the year, and yet the minute the Barbecue season comes round, you are suddenly the one in charge? Surely cookery is women's work, and a barbecue is simply grilling in the rain?"

And I reply - as I so often do - "Read the Bible." For in Leviticus 3 we read: 
"And Aaron's sons shall burn it on the altar upon the burnt sacrifice, which is upon the wood that is on the fire."
Today, we have no need for blood sacrifice. And yet, deep within our souls, there is still that ancient urge to burn meat on a wood fire.

And notice, dear brothers (sisters need not bother themselves, for we are speaking of mysteries here) that the people who performed this service were all men. Though the service and the sacrifice of men were all done away, yet it is still men who, armed with the appropriate utensils, head towards the fire with some meat that will shortly be poured away as ashes. What more evidence do we need?

There is also the special clothing. For Aaron and his seed wore appropriate linen cloth, and oft-times the Urim and Thummim. In the same way, although it no longer has a spiritual meaning, I have a chef's hat, and an apron saying "Sabbatarians don't do it on the Seventh Day". I have no idea what that means.

Recipe 4 - The BBQ

Ingredients - One barbecue; one bag of charcoal; 4 fl oz of petrol; some firelighters; some matches; some meat; a lot of water; a mobile telephone; the local Neighbourhood Watch

Step 1 - Arrange the charcoal on top of the firelighters, in the bowl of the barbecue. Light the firelighters.

Step 2 - Re-light the firelighters.

Step 3 - Go to Step 2.

Step 4 - Realising that the firelighters are now burnt, but the charcoal is still untouched, obtain 4 fl oz of petrol from the car.

Step 5 - Beat off the local Neighbourhood Watch representative, who thinks you are stealing petrol.

Step 6 - Pour petrol on charcoal. Light the petrol.

Step 7 - Retreat to kitchen to pour water on where your eyebrows used to be. Remember that you shouldn't use petrol to light barbeues.

Step 8 - Remember you should not leave barbecues unattended.

Step 9 - Pour copious amounts of water over the burning table where you had put all the meat.

Step 10 - Wonder what to do with all the wet meat. Realise that it will dry out if it gets warm. Put it on the barbeue.

Step 11 - Remember you are supposed to barbecue on heat, not flames. Return to kitchen to pour water on burnt hands. Reflect that having no hair on the back of the hands makes one look rather effeminate for a complementarian man.

Step 12 - Refer to Step 8.

Step 13 - Return to barbecue to discover wet meat has put the fire out.

Step 14 - Pour petrol on barbecue and re-light.

Step 15 - Remember you should have taken the meat off first.

Step 16 - Cook meat until it stops smelling of petrol.

Step 17 - Eat some of the meat.

Step 18 - Pray for healing.

Step 19 - Remove the remainder of the meat from the barbecue and bury it in the garden.

Step 20 - Eat the meat that your wife has very wisely been cooking in the oven while all this is going on.

Step 21 - Remark to your wife that she is worth more than Pearls.

Step 22 - Ask your wife to stop hitting you with that tea-tray. Explain you are not comparing her with her friend, Pearl.

Step 23 - Remember that you should not barbecue next to a car.

Step 24 - Phone the police and ask them to evacuate the village.

Common People like You

I've received this letter from the Prime Minister, of North Oxfordshire:

Dear Humph

Seeing the results of your Moot House elections has left me feeling that the Beaker People are not concerned to be representative of the British people.

I've been down the list of Mootfolk, and what is transparently obvious is that there are no Old Etonians.

Now, obviously I don't want to throw my weight around here. And I know that Hnaef went to a minor public school, and of course you were up at the 'Nose. But for obvious reasons you were never going to be allowed into the Bullers, were you? And being a member of the "Lubert Stryer Memorial Knitting Cirlcle" is not the same thing at all.

So I'm sorry, old girl. Until you get more Old Etonians into the Moot, you're not going to see any druids in the House of Lords. Your community needs to reflect the real world - the one I live in. After all, we've even got a woman in the Cabinet! Although I have to remember not to keep calling her "Nanny".

Toodle pip!


The Complementarian Man's Cookbook - Full English Breakfast

Recipe 3 - Full English Breakfast

Step 1- After evening prayers, but before retiring to sleep, remind your wife it is her religious duty to cook you a full English breakfast.

Step 2 - Awake to the delightful smell of real coffee and frying bacon.

Step 3 - Ask where the black pudding is.

Thursday 22 November 2012

A National Church

"If the Church of England wants to be a national church, then it has to reflect the values of the nation." - Sir Tony Baldry, MP.
Regardless of the results of individual votes, if the Church of England has to reflect the values of the nation then it should prefer not to be a national church.

The Complementarian Man's Cookbook - Roast Beef

Recipe 2 - Traditional Sunday Dinner

4 hours' preparation time

Step 1 - Remind your wife it is Sunday, and it is her religious duty to cook you Sunday dinner.

Step 2 - Once the roast is in the oven and she has peeled all the vegetables, take your wife to Church.

Step 3 - Worship (approx 2-3 hours).

Step 4 - Come home from Church. Relax with a cup of tea and a copy of Men are from Mars Hill, Women are from Venus.

Step 5 - Eat your Sunday dinner.


On this day when we celebrate that we managed to send most of our religious fundamentalists to America, we are having a special collection.

I reckon if we can raise about a grand, we can get Drayton Parslow on a plane to the States. If it's only a few hundred, we may have to send him "cargo".

And a happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers. May your pumpkin pie be tasty and your turkeys ever plump.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

The Complementarian Man's Cookbook - Lasagne

Brothers and sisters, it is rare that Eileen Fitzroy Russell gives me something other than pain - both physical and psychical. However, on this occasion she has dropped off for me something that I have found most valuable - a copy of The Complementarian Man's Cookbook. To be fair, it is rather muddy, and I have been drying out the pages on the radiator all day - a rather futile task. Marjory and I do not use the central heating except when the temperature falls below freezing, considering warmth a sinful luxury.

Still, the Cookbook is an invaluable aid to any complementarian man with an interest in gastronomy, and I hope it will assist any of my brothers out there in their culinary adventures.

Recipe 1 - Lasagne

Step 1 - Drive your wife to the shops to buy the ingredients.

Step 2 - Tell her it is her religious duty to cook you a lasagne.

Things we found in the Pond

It's a thing we do every year or two. Empty the pond out to see what's in there.

Thing is, it's easy to forget what's in there. The ancient Beaker Folk were in the habit of throwing artefacts into water courses - swords, shields, pots, the occasional human sacrifice. Obviously, the modern Beaker Person refrains from doing such things. But we do like to keep up the old ways. So there's barely a week goes by when we don't throw something in, when we're in the mood to be a bit spiritual but lacking imagination. The pond can get quite full - indeed, a couple of years ago I was able to walk across it. And so we drain the pond in mid-Autumn and have a check.

On this occasion, we seem to have uncovered the following objects. In retrospect, some of them might have been more use kept in the open air:

  • A fridge;
  • The headlamp from a 1977 Ford Capri;
  • Sarah Palin's political career;
  • A cuddly toy, minus one arm;
  • 3 tons of empty aluminium tea light cases;
  • A number of seashells and pebbles;
  • The output of the Elementary Ikon Drawing Class, feauring saints who looked scarily like Bruce Forsythe, Donald Duck, Alan Carr and other such celebrities;
  • The first draft of the planned publication, "The Complementarian Man's Cookbook":
  • Ricky Gervais's humility;
  • A cheese-grater;
  • The only copy of the master-plan to get supporters of women's consecration elected onto the Church of England Synod;
  • 45 copies of the Alternative Service Book - some sacrifice, that was, in 2012;
  • Some frogs (not sure these were thrown in);
  • A set of false teeth;
  • Chelsea FC's long-term strategy;
  • "Now that's what I call Brass Band music";
  • £4.25 in loose change, and rather more in Francs and Schillings.

As I say, the aluminium is worth something, and the cash of course. We've chucked the rest back. Except the cookbook, which I've given to Drayton Parslow. And the frogs. They've hopped it.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

The Use of the Typewriter

I find an interesting article on the BBC regarding people who still love typewriters.

I love an old typewriter, me. There's something very Agatha Christie about a typewriter. A typewriter brings you into direct contact with the words you are creating. You press the key - the letter appears. It is a physical joy. A connective, co-ordinated experience. It is a righteous thing, the use of a typewriter. You are not remote from the final product, as with a laptop.

Obviously, I keep mine in the attic. It's wonderful to imagine it. But you wouldn't want actually to use it, would you?

A Heated Debate

More heat than light being shed by the Telegraph, at any rate.

Apparently MPs are threatening the C of E with changing equality legislation if the vote on women bishops is not passed. Presumably, they will still do so even if the C of E does pass the measure? After all, they will still have those pesky Catholics, Easter Orthodox and Muslims to sort out? Or is the suggestion that only the Church of England nseeds fixing?

Which brings us to to the idea that, if the vote goes against, it threatens the concept of the Establishment. Well, call it just me, but it almost seems that to get rid of 1600 years of Church and State being yoked together, it would be worth the "no" vote. Just for as long as it took to get Establishment knocked on the head - the Synod could always vote "yes" afterwards.

And finally there's the suggestion that if the evangelicals who are anti-women leave, the Kingdom of God will continue - just not the Church of England. Which sounds eminently likely and, in a holy kind of way, pragmatic. So what was all the fuss about, again?

Come on, just get it sorted.

Monday 19 November 2012

Drayton's Dreadful Dilemma

Brothers and sisters, who would ever have dreamed that the simple journey from Husborne Crawley to Luton could have caused so much trouble?

I mostly blame Eileen, the soi-disant "Archdruid" from the Beaker Community next door, for the trials I have faced today. Firstly this was because of the lacerations I suffered after she set her dogs on me Saturday. However, she has assured me that this was a pure accident, caused by panic at the thought the world might really be coming to an end. And when I told her that, so far, the wounds had not started to respond to prayer, she suggested I should get them checked over by the Accident and Emergency department of a local hospital. She further recommended the Luton and Dunstable Hospital because "my niece Alesha was born there, so it must be good." I hasten to add these were not instructions - they were suggestions, as she was very keen to explain.

Being a native of Luton, Eileen offered to come with me in case I struggled with the native language, which is apparently some sub-group of Cockney. But she told me she had not been to the hospital in a while, so recommended I switch on my Satellite Navigation Equipment.

Imagine my concern, dearly beloved, as we approached the southbound ramp at Junction 13. As we waited at the traffic lights, Eileen fiddled with the SatNav, then jumped out of the car and ran back towards the village, laughing.As she ran across the junction, it struck me that she is wise to wear that hi-viz vest. However, I could not likewise change direction -I was already committed to turning right. My indicator was on, and I always let my "yes" be "yes" and my "no" be "no". So when the lights changed, I turned onto the slip road and headed south on the M1.

She had changed the voice settings on the SatNav. Instead of the manly, reassuring tones of Mark Driscoll, which I had purchased specially, I was now listening to a friendly, cheerful but resolutely female voice.

What was I to do? It is wrong for a woman to have authority over a man. But did this electronic voice count? I presumed at some point a woman must have recorded the words - so clearly this counted as me being under authority. I would have switched it off - but I was on  a motorway, and to start to change the controls while driving would not be driving carefully. What could I do?

I resolved that I would have to disobey all the commandments of this electronic navigatrix. By nudging the power cable out from the charger, I reckoned I would have no more than three or four hours of her instructions - at which point I would resort to my normal method of finding destinations - that is, prayer.

So as I came towards Luton, and she instructed me to leave the motorway, I went straight on. When she advised me to get off and turn round at Junction 10, I kept going. When she suggested I double round at Junction 6, I turned left.

As I headed round the M25 towards Kent, her demands became more strident. But, like the deaf adder that cannot be charmed, charm the charmer never so wisely, I kept going. As I approached the Dartford crossing, I had a real problem. Because, as I passed the last possible exit, she recognised that there was no turning back, and suggested I keep going over the crossing - an instruction I had no way of disobeying.

What was I to do? I could not allow this SatNav to have dominion over me. And yet the alternative was to drive the car straight off the Queen Elizabeth Bridge - which is illegal, as well as quite dangerous. My way was perilous.

Praise be to the One who protects the faithful! For just at that moment, in the third lane of the motorway heading onto the bridge over the Thames, I ran out of petrol. Remembering that we are called to turn neither to the left nor the right, I stayed in lane until I came to a halt.

By the time the police arrived, I had switched off the SatNav. This left me free to drive the right way - whichever that was, for I was many miles from home and facing in the wrong direction. But I had to wait for a breakdown truck to haul me to the nearest services, and then wait for Marjory to drive down with some money for petrol - I having handed over the money I had with me to get through the toll, and pay off the breakdown assistance man.

It turns out this evening that my dog-bites have started to heal. I put this down to divine assistance, but there is a slight possibility that the whole day I spent driving to Dartford and back may simply have proved that time is a great healer. From now on, I will memorise the map before setting out anywhere. It puts your soul in less peril.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Liturgical colours

It was rather embarrassing, at this afternoon's "Truly Madly Dibley" service, to find that some of our Beaker People were wearing rather grubby hi-viz - and some in the wrong colours!

Please note - it's pink from Samhain to Winter Equinox. Not orange. And if your pink hi-viz is a bit the worse for wear, feel free to buy a new, shiny one at the Beaker Bazaar.

Great in the Kingdom of Heaven

I've been accused of trampling on the memory of the dead, sacrilege and profaning the Holy Things.

It's a strange story. When we set up the Beaker Folk, we inherited - for want of a better word - some stuff from the Extremely Primitive Methodists of Eversholt, whose chapel had just closed. These included a Bible; the Sermons of John Wesley; a pulpit carved in the shape of a pulpit; and a brass plaque regretting the return of the Minister's son from the First World War. He was a right Romeo, by all accounts - went off to the Somme leaving behind seven broken hearts and came back to a similar number of toddlers.

We also inherited some ornamental brassware, which we use for ceremonial practises the Methodists would never have dreamed; a Sunday-school picture of Jesus as a blond, blue-eyed lad in a nightie surrounded by bunnies; some of those baize collection pockets (which we stuck on bamboo canes, and use in our Roller-Quidditch games in the summer; some Beryl crockery (natch) and an old Thermos flask, which they used to carry hot water from the Manse out to the chapel for baptisms. The Extremely Primitive Methodists were a very conservative sect, and rejected all modern conveniences in their worship, including hot water in the vestry. They were a pious bunch, always digging holes to serve as the church toilets.

Anyway, the Thermos flask sprang a leak last week, as old things do, so I threw it away. Stella's absolutely livid. But in my defence - how was I to know her grandmother donated that Thermos in memory of her own grandmother, in 1967?

Liturgy for a Frosty Morning

Archdruid: Jack Frost's been!

All: It's a bit parky.

Archdruid: Fancy some chestnuts.

All: And a nice hot coffee.

Archdruid: Wrap up warm.

All: Or you'll catch your death.

Archdruids: Seen those brass monkeys?

All: They're not very happy.

Archdruid: Beautiful patterns on the windows.


Archdruid: Crunchy underfoot.

All: Slippy on the paths, mind.


Archdruid: Nights are drawing in.

All: Soon be Christmas.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Not One Stone Left on Another

A minor disturbance just now with Drayton. He turned up outside the Great House and started shouting that one day there would be "not one stone left on another".

A meaningful and challenging text, no doubt. One that demands action. Sure enough, I acted. I set the dogs on him. At least, as he ran screaming back to his Manse, he could reflect that he was being treated like the prophets before him.

An odd sensation, though. Being more than a century old and built of sandstone and brick, it appears to be, quite literally, as safe as houses. And yet, eventually there will indeed be no stone left on another. Just a pile of debris being carted off for landfill and re-use.

I don't need that kind of apocalyptic attitude, though. That's the kind of thinking that brings reigns to an end, upends the social order and upsets the apple cart. If I'm to govern the Beaker Folk without major upsets I need calm, predictability, peace. The cycle of summer and winter, springtime and harvest. Not some fool announcing everything's gonna change. Nope, if I'm going to keep things under control, then tomorrow must be like today - or maybe slightly better. Not too much better, though. That might cost money, or give people bright ideas.

Right. So we're all calm again now. So we can go down the Moot House and fill up the Beakers, light a tea light and sign a happy song. And tomorrow morning we can go down the Moot House, pour out the Beakers and sign a happy song. And tomorrow night.... yeah, you get the pattern. Let's make sure the stones stay where they're supposed to be - one on top of another. Nothing to see here.

Science v Religion v Aliens v Smurfs

There is a simple joy to be had in a malopropism.

I read a review on the new Android Twitter App. Somebody had said it updates "aromatically"- instead of "automatically", I suppose. I chuckled at the thought of all those benzene rings swirling around in the Twittersphere. But then I stopped. Because I realised that I had thought like the chemist I once studied to be, not as the gentle, fluffy, religious leader I am supposed to be.

On hearing that my Twitter Timeline is updating "aromatically" I should really have thought of the incense-like effect of all those God-loving tweets. As someone praises God, or upholds another human being, you can imagine those tweets ascending unto heaven. While those bringing people down, getting prissy over issues or naming innocent celebs as being guilty of hideous crimes probably smell like goose-droppings and descend to the other place.

But, as I say, my first reaction surprised me. Do I really think as a scientist first and a religious person second? And if so, is that wrong?

So I was thinking about the way Science thinks, and the way people publically report it and respond to it. Science moves, for the most part, slowly and quietly and carefully. Most discoveries are small, and progress is incremental - a slightly improved vaccine here, an unsuspected weakness in the flu virus there, a quantum quirk over there. Oh - and over there. Oh - and over there, as well. Even particle physics is the progression of small victories (and disproving of wrong theories).

But it is reported differently. The weakness in the flu virus is reported as "Vaccine to kill all flu". Or a scientist is reported as heading towards curing death itself.

But, do you know, the difference between actual and reported science is not so far from the difference between actual and reported religious experience? The average human being with better evolutionary prospects is of course genetically wired to religious belief, so let's ignore our less-adapted friends and focus on those of us who out-breed them.

Most people of faith have one or two, or even no, major religious experiences in their lifetime. I'm not talking about coming out of church feeling uplifted (or even downcast) - I'm talking the real earth-shattering ones - conversion, falling in love with God, baptism in the Holy Spirit, long dark tea-times of the soul. Most of us actually move along, most of the time, in a series of incremental moves - a sense of a Presence here; a strange feeling of comfort there; the strong sense that we should really stop stealing Porsches there. And when we feel these small experiences or challenges, the traditions teach us, we should measure them, check them, if you will - normalise them. What does the scripture say? What does the community say? What does the tradition - which is, after all, the community in four dimensions - say? That's how saints grow and sanctification progresses. That's how we move forward, but stay on the path.

It's when the believer ignores those checks and balances - the religious form of scientific testing - that the dangerous starts. The Beaker faith embraces many traditions, of course, which is why we may have many experiences we don't make much progress - apart from that odd one where Ragwortz became convinced she was being called to spiritual evolution into a Smurf. A terrible time we had. She went round the Community stealing all the apples, so she could an accurate picture of how tall she was.

But more seriously, it's when what looks like Science or looks like religion proceed to ignore all these checks - that's when trouble starts. A false myth of religion is when a god or gods are constantly expected to intervene in this world, in a massive way. A false myth of science is of giant leaps forward that revolutionise human experience every ten minutes, resulting in us all wearing tin-foil trousers while death is cured and war is abolished by simply building a better killing-machine than all the other scientists, who've only managed to cure death.

So in the great-jump-forward model of either, you get suicide cults, Piltdown Man, experiments on prisoners, genocide or wild claims that are eventually proven untrue. A spectacular combination of both is probably the Heaven's Gate people, who committed suicide so as to join an alien intelligence on a comet and leave behind the polluted world before it was recycled.

We don't all end up there when we abandon the simple things like verification of experience or theory. But a lot of disappointment - and a lot of Press excitement - could be avoided if we followed those simple rules. If you've a hypothesis, test it. If you've a hunch, try and prove it wrong. If you've a small jump forward, don't proclaim a revolution. If you've a new and exciting take on the scripture, you're probably wrong. Or, as the Elder put it, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God."

Friday 16 November 2012

Collect for St Pudsey

For those that wear spots, and those that don dots, and those that shave their heads, we give you thanks, O Lord.


Thursday 15 November 2012

Epitaph for a Broken Dream

You know how it is. We were having a little chat about university days today, and it took me back a quarter of a century to those salad days of my youth.

I found myself thinking about that fellow-chemist I went out with. Anorak as worn, taste for real ale, an interest in Dungeons and Dragons - he was in many ways a typical specimen of the species. It was a fleeting romance, really - eyes locking over the Bunsen burners, a surreptitious squeeze by the lab coat-rack - but I had to finish it. Some romances burn too hot to last - like a Bunsen with the air supply fully open, they burn blue-hot. Not this one, though. I just realised he was as dull as a Claisen condensation. It would be fair to say there was no chemistry. So I dumped him.

Unfortunately, he did what so many geekymale students did in those days when rejected. Found solace in Marillion. We'd be waiting in line outside the Dyson Perrins, only for him to look over his shoulder towards me and cry. Being a male chemist, he'd never actually tell me - he held his peace forever - but you could tell he was struggling to answer "why".

In the end I had to take more direct action. It was just so embarrassing - him sitting on the grass in New Quad, chewing on daffodils. The croquet-players were getting really annoyed. And being a Genesis fan myself, I knew where it could lead to once grumpy croquet-players got really riled.

So I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and told him. It was best, anyway. The parents in the Playground of the Broken Hearts were starting to get a bit alarmed at his presence. I shouted at him - "It's too late to say 'I love you'. Too late to restage the play. Abandon the relics in your playground of yesterday".

But he was overdosed on sentiment and pride. Just stood there like a martyr, carved with twisted smile. Whenever I saw him at lectures after that, he wasn't really paying attention to the blackboard. He just say there and examined the shadows on the other side of morning.

You know the worst? He never actually went solo in the game. Three weeks after that he met up with some biologist called Kay Lee. She kissed her prince and found her frog.These days he's a stable wage-earner with an expertise in polysaccharides, and she's still at home with the youngest. And I'm the ageing Miss Havisham - promised wedding now a wake. I look at Burton sometimes, see that dumb, adoring look in his face, like a disappointed Labrador. And I need to exorcise the silent scream before hitting him with the cricket bat. Sharing the geekiness, lack of personality and self-absorption of my former love he's like the epitaph to a broken dream. Sometimes, looking at him, I remember the jester that showed me tears - the script for tears.

When Worship Imitates Science

You know the the theory of the "electron hole"? Whereby a missing electron in a solid state latice emulates the behaviour of a positively-charged particle? So if all the electrons jump one way it's like one positive charge jumps the other?

It was like that at Pouring Out of Beakers this morning. Ordrey was the only one there, and she was a bit restless.

See, I knew this was a bad analogy. Good analogies always become bad ones when people don't understand what the analogised thing is all about. Just forget I ever mentioned it.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Ten Things You May Not Know About the John Lewis Partnership....

.... because only some of them are true....

  1. Within "The Partnership", only the Chairman (it is never a woman) is allowed to write with green ink.
  2. The structure of The Partnership, with elected committees of "Partners" holding the self-appointing management to account, is based on the episcopal-synodical structure of the Church of England.
  3. On "Partners' Bonus Day" each year, a chicken is sent to each branch. The chicken has been fed a piece of paper with the Bonus Percentage on it. The job of the "Branch Dispatcher" is to kill the chicken and find out the bonus. Although the John Barnes branch staff can't face the brutality, and wait for nature to take its course. They're like that round there.
  4. If a Partner (never an employee) has been with the Partnership for 5 years, it is assumed they will never leave. They are sent on a "Partnership course" to ensure all memories of the outside world are erased.
  5. Every year, the aim of the Christmas Advert is to upset the people who love the backing song. They act all nice, do the Partnership, but they've got a mean streak.
  6. Mr Waite and Mr Rose took advantage of a legal loophole to have the first gay marriage. To celebrate, they merged their names. They would totally have got away with it if they'd not named the shops after themselves. When the Archbishop of York went shopping, he twigged and got the rules changed.
  7. The company magazines have to print all letters from the Partners, as long as they're not libellous. The Management have to respond to these letters, no matter how silly they make themselves look.
  8.  The Founder, Spedan Lewis, is preserved in brandy and has a non-voting presence at every Partnership Council meeting.
  9. Whenever any customer goes through a till at a JLP or Waitrose store, the cashier presses a button to indicate whether the customer is "A proper John Lewis customer" or "Lost".
  10. The word "Partnership" is a proper adjective. It is possible for somebody to be "not very Partnership". 

That we may apply our Tweets unto Wisdom

As the Psalmist nearly put it, "Teach us, O Lord, to number our days, that we may apply our tweets unto wisdom."

It was a comment made by Lord (formerly "Sits in David Owen's Pocket Oh David") Steel that made me sit up and notice. He referred on Any Questions the other day to "the people that run the internet." It reminded me of when Burton came back fuming from a Quiz Night. He'd challenged an answer - something to do with the guage of a railway line in South Devon in the 1870s, if I remember rightly - and had been told "I got it off the Internet, so you'll have to take it up with them."

1,000 years ago, if you wanted news, I guess you kind of got it two ways. You could wander to the village spring, or have a chat with your fellow peasants at church, and you got local news. "Local" in those days being properly local - not ITV-local where people assume Husborne Crawley is local to Ipswich and King's Lynn, and yet somehow not to London or Buckingham.

And then there was the "national" news. And that would normally arrive at church as well, as the powers-that-were would use the only national network of vaguely literate people to pass on what people wanted to hear. Or there might be stern words from the local Robber-Baron regarding the penalty for poaching on his land (death), nicking his crops when hungry (death) or looking at him in a funny way (death - yeah, they had no imagination, those Robber-Barons.)

And then with the printing press there was some degree of democratization. More people could read, and there was more to read. In London this combined with enough people to print broadsheets, often quite seditious, and the Press started. But as early-modern turned into late-modern,and railways could make the Press truly national, the power of the Press centralised. Instead of your local Robber-Baron you got your Press Baron. Instead of the Pope or the King telling you what to do, it was the Times or the Telegraph or, lately, Polly Toynbee.

But there's a degree to which that's now been smashed up. The importance of a story - even just 20 or 30 years ago - was dependent on the degree to which the newspaper or TV channel aware of it wanted to push it. And the Press, for all its faults, was aware of the concept of "journalistic standards". It may not always have kept them, but it knew they existed.

But now the world is all Interwebby-interconnected. The worth of a web page, a tweet or a blogpost is not determined in this world by the pocket-depth of a proprieter, or even by its standards of truthfulness, fairness or loveliness. Its worth is determined - either in the heart of the Google algorithm or through the hive-minding of Social Media - by the weight of links.

The more links you have, the greater your power. Get retweeted a million times and you could be claiming that the City of Manchester is entirely populated by squid.* The number of your links will be all-powerful. And what drives the number of links (or RT's) you get? Basically, how interesting you are - not how truthful.
And so total falsehoods about people can hit the national news, because the power of the Internet has made it so. A link in a timeline leads to a tasty morsel of gossip (Prv 18:8) and the RT is sure to follow.

I'll tell you how seductive this is. I once received a chain-letter from a fundamentalist friend, complaining about a blasphemous show (not Springer) that was touring the country and demanding that I (a) complain about it and (b) pass on the email. You may be assured that I would have done neither - even if the show had actually been touring (it wasn't). And the show wasn't even blasphemous when it had been put on.

Naturally I did what any good Christian would have done. I went round my friend's house and smashed up his router to stop him doing that sort of thing again. But the genie was out of the bottle. All his mates were now in their turn getting over-excited, and then passing the story. When I told my friend the story was untrue, he said he would probably have passed it on anyway. To warn people about this kind of show.
People - if a story's worth is measured by its links, RTs and Facebook Likes - think what you're giving weight to. If a story is libellous, cruel or downright wrong - just by linking to it you're giving it extra value.

You may think it's interesting. You may think others may think so. You may think I'm trying to interfere with the Natural Law of the Net. But we become what we tweet. If your timeline is full of gossip, falsehood and arguing - then that is who you are. If you link to an untrue allegation, you're adding to its power - even if you don't agree with it.

It may sound a bit pious, it may be a bit rich, coming from me. But try and link to something true, something valuable, something constructive. Try and build up, not constantly break down - even though the latter can be easier and more popular.The Net holds real shabby behaviour to account, quite often. It gives people a real voice, where their opinions can be weighed on their value not on the power of the person holding it. But whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure.... you know it makes sense.

*Citeh-supporting squid, of course. Utd-supporting squid all live in Surrey.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

A Celebration of Niceness

Archdruid: Nice to see you.

All: To see you, nice!

The Overhead Projection of Niceness

Archdruid: Behold! Kittens!

All: Nice!

Archdruid: Snowdrops!

All: Nice!

Archdruid: Spider's webs sparkling with dew!

All: Nice!

Archdruid: Daniel Craig!

All: Erm......

Archdruid: OK, moving on.... the Yorkshire Dales by moonlight!

All: Nice!

Archdruid: Skipton Brewery Black Gold? What's that doing there?

Burton: Nice!

Archdruid: I really must change the password on my netbook. OK... Bunnies!

All: Nice!

Archdruid: The Cornish Coast!

All: Nice!

Archdruid: Puppies in pashminas!

All: *dies of nice*

Archdruid: Frost on the Grass!

All: Nice!

Archdruid: Dawn on a clear Spring morning!

All: Nice!

Archdruid: Well, thanks for wrestling with me in prayer. Go out into the world, and be nice.

Recessional: "All Kinds of Everything"

Monday 12 November 2012

Litany Before Posting or Retweeting Absolutely Anything on Twitter

Oh Lord, help me to think about what I am going to do
before I actually do it.

For this secret knowledge is sweet
Spicy morsels of news are piquant to the tongue
Gossip makes the face to shine
And secret knowledge causes my ears to tingle.

But I know not if what I retweet is true
I just assumed it was because it is on the Internet.
And my followers are ever hungry for novelty,
and retweets make glad the human heart.

Prevent me from posting some knee-jerk reaction of the Right (or more likely Left)
which will cause me to look like a right twerp in the light of day.

Teach me, O Lord, to number my drinks
so that I may appraise my fitness to tweet wisdom.
Have I gladdened my heart too much with wine (or gin)
for my critical faculties to appraise correctly this opinion I am about to share?

For I remember that the Google Cache is forever
and the bowels of the Internet are deep and unforgiving.

And so I shall close my browser, switch off Tweetdeck
and walk slowly up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire.

I shall not consult my mobile during the night watches
Nor the smartphone in the depths of darkness
for my fuddled brain might tweet something
I will regret in the morning.

Sunday 11 November 2012

"I wish there had been more."

The quote comes from Roger Waters, on the death of his Pink Floyd band mate Richard Wright. At this time of year, when November brings remembrances, it especially strikes a chord.

  • Could've seen your nan / dad / mum / auntie - but there was an important meeting, or you had to mow the lawn?
  • Chance to take a coach tour round "Summer Wine Country" or you could get in your car and head back to your hotel, thus saving eight quid?
  • Want to sponsor a child but you'd have to seal an envelope and walk to the pillar box?
  • Could catch up with a friend for a drink - but it's a ten-mile drive and it's raining?
  • On a holiday, but it's an extra 20 quid to see the dolphins?
  • Had a talent but practice was hard?
A day is coming when all the money is written off, all the wasted time is thrown away, all the short-term conveniences are discounted. What will be left? If the answer is "I wish there had been more", what was the point? Just what was the point?

I Vow to Thee, My Country

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love:
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

I heard this hymn on the radio this morning. And I thought, "No, no, no, no, no."

To be sure, I'm proud of my country. Of the land; the people; our relative tolerance; of the earliness with which we found a balance between People and State; of our incomprehensible way of managing affairs; of our relative freedom of speech; of our justice system; of our history and our sense of humour.

But to put my country above all earthly things would require heavenly things to include an awful lot: family; friendship; truth; justice; honesty; love. It's a shocking image - to "llay upon the altar the dearest and the best." Not that shocking images are always wrong. But an altar implies a sacrifice, and the sacrifice implies someone or something to which that sacrifice is made. And there's only One worth "the dearest and the best", and that One has made it clear there's no need for any more sacrifices, thanks very much.

Take my great-great Uncle Ernie. We don't know which corner of a foreign field is his. I can, however, point you to two places where his name is written - one in Holloway and one at Thiepval. I don't know whether he was kind, or brave, but he was someone's dearest and best. He was laid on the altar of the mud and barbed-wire of the Somme. A war that started in the far-off empire of Austria-Hungary, ended in a North London boy dying at the hands of Germans, in France. In Aussies dying - and killing - in Turkey. In Germans dying on Eastern and Western fronts. Whose bloody stupid idea was that?

Look, I'm not saying we should never fight a war. But it's only ever going to be the last option. And romanticising your country makes it more likely that you'll waste its dearest and its best. And you don't lose those without the best of reasons.

The dead are to be honoured - regardless of whether their leaders were right or wrong; monsters, or those who believed there was no alternative; whether they took their countries into war for good reasons or bad, as the last straw or as the first mover. So let's honour the dead. And work and pray and argue and negotiate to try and make sure nothing like it ever happens again. And hold those in charge to account if they ever go to war when they didn't have to. Because that would be the best way of honouring them.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Confirmation Bias

Life has come to such a state of suspicion and Health and Safety obsession. The Witch Scare this morning was absolutely the last straw.

So I've decided from now on, people have to carry with them at all times proof that they are entitled and safe to carry out their alloted roles.

To this effect, tomorrow's Procession will be as follows (as well as the proof that when you prick them they bleed, and they are therefore definitely not witches:

SUNDAY CLUB LEADERS - bearing CRB certificates

TEA LIGHT BEARERS - carrying fire safety certificates as well as tea lights

BOUTROSIFERS - carrying Manual Handling certificates as well as pebbles

BAPTISTS - bearing 25m Swimming certificates

COMMUNITY NURSE - bearing First Aid certificate

JAMES BOND - carrying Licence to Kill

SEA SCOUTS - carrying certificates of seaworthiness

ORGANIST - with Grade 5 Piano certificate

CHOIR - with noise abatement order

TREASURER - carrying Certified Accountancy certificate

THURIFER - carrying certificate of gas-mask training and an inhaler

ARCHDRUID - carrying Degree in Theology from the "Higher Plains" On-line University of the Interweb.

Witch Trials

Yesterday was a bad day in the Community.

The trouble all started when Old Mrs Hegarty was accused of being a witch. Naturally we threw her in the duck pond. She floated, so was clearly a witch.

She then told us that Meuble was a witch. So we threw Meuble in the pond and she floated. 2-0 to the powers of light, so far. Obviously you can't burn witches anymore. So we put them in the stocks instead.

Rodrick then told us that Raymand was a witch. So we threw him in the duck pond. He sank, so is clearly not a witch. But he also can't swim.

So Gervaiz dodged the army of Health and Safety officials trying to stop him, jumped in, swam down to Raymand and dragged him out.

A brave move. But Raymand's a big, muscley bloke whereas Gervaiz is a little, chubby one who has to use Paintshop to make himself look fit. So we suspected Dark Arts. Sure enough, when we threw him in he floated like a hydrogen-filled rubber duck. But on the bright side he didn't explode like one. That was a Duck Race Day I'd like to forget.

Meanwhile, we'd not forgotten about how Rodrick had wrongly accused Raymand. So we threw him in, in case there was a case of deliberate misdirection going on. And Rodrick's always been a suspicious character, what with his spangly track-suit, large warty nose and goatie beard. So we threw him in. To be fair he did sink. But we're putting that down to the medallion round his neck.

Anyway, by tea-time last night half the Community had been thrown in the pond. Amazing how these things take on a life of their own. I'm just glad it's calmed down now.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to break off. There's a mob of angry people with burning torches, banging on my door and carrying what looks like a ducking stool. I suspect I may be late for Pouring-out of Beakers.

Friday 9 November 2012

An Urgent Investigation

I'd like to thank Rodrick for running up to me this morning with a list of "facts" and challenging me to prove they are wrong. These include:

The Roswell Incident

The Banks have assaassinated every US president since Lincoln, and replaced them with lizards from the Tribble Planet

The Titanic wasn't the Titanic at all, but an identical ship that was pretending to be the Titanic

Giant intelligenr rats roam the London Underground, feeding on bits of discarded human skin and cleaners.

Obviously I can't comment immediately, as I need to set up some investigations. But I will state unequivocally that they must be true, as he read them on the Internet.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Falling off the Fiscal Cliff

Dear Friends! Such excitement regarding the Fiscal Cliff - one would almost think the American Republicans are looking for ways of punishing their fellow-countrypeople for electing Mr Obama.

But I can see the benefits of the Fiscal Cliff, as the keen Financial Ornithologist that I am. If there is a Fiscal Cliff, there must be the perfect ecosystem for Fiscal Puffins, Fiscal Guillemots and Fiscal Gulls. The Fiscal Albatrosses circle overhead while the Fiscal Puffins dive for Fiscal Herring. It is a colourful and lively environment, the Fiscal Cliff.

Rose-Tinted Glasses

Thanks to my new book, "Cod Psychology for People Who like Facile Explanations", I've now got the technical term for one of the mysteries of modern religious science.

We church fellowship leaders have always wondered about people like Old Mavis, the woman who constantly tells me that Archdruid 'Erbert at the Broch-building Folk of Bedford was a treasure who loved his  flock, worked 23 hours a day, never took a day off, and preached stunning, up-to-the-minute sermons. And knocked up self-help books in his spare time, which meant he never had to draw any wages. Likewise, during her time at the Pre-Pentecostal Fellowship of Pulloxhill, the congregation there was slain in the spirit every week and yet, while constantly falling over, never broke a bone. Except those that were miraculously healed shortly afterwards. And the music group she once led never, ever, had musical differences that resulted in pained silences, awkward break-ups, power-struggles or hand-to-hand combat with mic stands and twelve-string acoustics.

Yep, it turns out that she has a special form of selective recall that makes the past look much, much rosier than it ever really was. It's called a Photogenic Memory.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Good day to bury badly-thought-through news

"More children should be in care", say MPs

"MP was seen at care home" say former residents.

Yes there are children at risk from their parents. But "Care", even today, is apparently not always that great. Perhaps the Government should prove that "Care" is now a safe place for children, and once we've established that it's less harmful to children than some parents are, we'll talk about whether we should shift the scales in favour of Care?

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Dwindling Diversity

Diversity is all the name of the game these days - religious, ethnic, sexual practices, knitting patterns. But it's a sad case that the more it is celebrated - and the more does our society encourage it - the more it is dwindling away.

Burton Dasset has cracked open a bottle of his favourite French bière de garde - a rather sweet little Triple called "ChTi".

But Ch'Ti was not originally a beer - it is a language. Closely related to mainstream French, in this case, but distinctly more than a dialect, nonetheless. And, as the regional languages of France are, relegated to a historic relic by the French drive for standardisation. You consider the historic languages that existed - or still cling on - within the area covered by France. There's Flemish, Picard, Langue d'Oc, Provencal, Occitan, Corsican, Basque, Catalan, Breton, Franco-Provençal, Gallo and so on and so on. But the French government has for many years been dedicated to getting everyone speaking French.

I mean, you can see the benefits of this kind of standardisation. And once the the French government realises that the rest of the world is speaking English, they will surely wholeheartedly support the drive to supplant French with it throughout their departments. Then we will have the great benefit of being able to drive from Calais to the eastern fringes of Holland, without ever meeting a person who can't speak English. Gone forever will be the look of contempt as they realise that we don't really understand their language, preferring to communicate IN CAPITAL LETTERS AND S-L-O-W-L-Y.

And yet, and yet. That Bernadette of Lourdes couldn't speak French gives her a great romance, to my mind. That the people of Britanny had their own version of P-Celtic gives me a certain whimsical sadness. These languages evolved over time, as Frankish, Spanish, Celtic and Germanic peoples' folk movements ground up against each other like linguistic tectonic plates. These languages were of their place, carrying history with them. Whereas when they are all capable of sharing the information that Sylvianne la guêpe pique tout le monde, sure they'll be less likely to get stung by that vicious stripy brute, but there's a certain uncertainty and gray shading been replaced by certainty, black and white.

We still have some distinctions. To my south, the Cockney diaspora of Lu'on 'n' Dunstabwl will continue to  refer to living to the "sarf", while to the north and east, people will continue to be "frit", and to claim they are "gooin' Kettrin" when they are off to spend the day at Wickie Park. But many of the old sayings of my region are gone, like the dew before the sun, as they once said. It's a samey old world, homogenised by easy transport and electronic telecommunications. Perhaps if we keep away from Skype, and encourage people onto Twitter and Facebook - the old dialect words may still go, but at least we will all keep our accents.

Monday 5 November 2012

Taming of the Snark

It's the anniversary of when a group of men let hatred overcome humanity, and set out to kill the King. Or, to put it their way, the day a bunch of freedom fighters failed to bring a godly religion back to our islands. And to remember this day, when we commemorate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot, I have set the Beaker People a challenge.

Every time anyone says anything nasty about someone else behind their back, the person they said it to will have to write it down. At the end of the day, everybody will have to pay £5 per nasty surreptitious comment. And £10 if they don't want it read out to the person they were talking about.

There's a lot of people thinking they may be soaked for a fortune today. Four people have taken vows of silence. And I'm a bit worried myself. I've got to ensure I say everything rude to people's faces, like you're supposed to.

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Sunday 4 November 2012

The Day War Ended

The Telegraph reports that half of young Britons do not know the date of the First World War, with just 40% of them giving the date "peace was reached" as 1918.

Using the term "peace was reached" is a real weasel way of the Telegraph setting up the young people of our country for a fall. Because what that fails to mention is that the war actually ended in 1919.

If you don't believe me, consider this - the Armistice was on 11 November 1918, sure. But the Armistice was a truce. The war actually ended with the Treaty of Versailles, in June 1919. Which is why so many war memorials display the dates "1914-1919".

So the Telegraph is wrong. No news there, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Completing the Set

It was @johnthelutheran who tipped off Eileen, who passed this piece of information to me.

According to the Telegraph website, the British have now invaded 90% of all countries on earth, leaving only 22 to go.

Of course, I am not a warlike type. But I am a collector. When I realised that the only station I had not visited on the London Underground was Chesham (due to its branch-line position off the outer edges of the Metropolitan Line), I immediately bought a Travelcard, took the train in to London and then made my way to Chesham, changing at Chalfont and Latimer. It was a long and fraught journey - for the Metropolitan Line can get a bit bouncy out west of Finchley Road - but it was worth it to complete the set. I was wandering around Chesham seeking out any real ale pubs worthy of note when I met Marston Moretaine who, it turned out, works there. Had I known, I would have been saved a major trek across London and being looked at strangely by that man between Great Portland Street and Baker Street. but it was the thrill of the chase that mattered - and surely the difficulty added to the sense of achievement?

But it is the collection that matters, and not always the thrill of the chase. Which is why, given the list of countries that Britain has invaded, I would suggest we should start with Sweden. The opportunity to attack the others will no doubt arise, in the usual course of British foreign policy, but the Swedes generally get out of this kind of thing by being (a) nice and (b) neutral. In the eyes of the cold-blooded collector, of course, this means that they won't see us coming, and will probably all be in the sauna when we invade. They are also conveniently on the coast, and therefore we should be able to get the lifeboat that is all that remains of the Royal Navy up the Skagerrak (such a key sea area in Diplomacy, I think) before they have even stopped listening to Abba on the CD players in their Volvos.

Eileen has pointed out to me that the British owe Sweden an invasion in any case, as "the bloody Vikings caused enough trouble in Peterborough". So for once, we are in agreement.

So if the British Government take my advice, they should attack Sweden first. After this, Monaco is conveniently on the Mediterranean coast - and the French might be grateful to us if we help them "tidy up" their own back yard. We, after all, don't need to keep it - we just want the sticker in the album, as it were. If we can avoid any more Defence cuts, we should have all twenty-two knocked off in a decade or so.

A rainy morning

And I'm not saying it's wet today, but...

The chickens went in behind the guns and made a 20 yard advance under cover of nightfall. At this rate of progress they may be in Berlin come Christmas.

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Festival of Transferred Festivals

A packed programme today, as we try to squeeze in all the things those people who "work" have missed during the week.

Work,as I'm sure is clear from the early chapters of Genesis, is a terrible burnden. To be sure, if it didn't raise the freewill offerings and room deposits, I'd discourage people from doing it.

9am - Samhain (get there on time, we're down to our last Wicker Person).

10am - Commemorating the Glorious Departed

12 noon - Commemorating the more routinely but still worthily (and much-missed) departed.

2pm - In Memory of Laika

4pm - Liverpool against Newcastle (in the Room of Far-off Visions)

6pm - Nativity of Art Garfunkel. Anthem: Bright Eyes (Arr: John of Dunstable).

8pm - Guy Fawkes

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Saturday 3 November 2012

The Priority of Q?

Drayton's got me musing now. A total one-off, I realise. But still, it's a teaser.

You're probably aware that Drayton Parslow, being the good Funambulist Baptist that he is, is convinced that the most perfect collection of God's words to us - at least if you happen to be an Anglophone - is the King James Version of the Bible. Although not the Apocrypha, obviously. He scorns my view that more modern versions are more accurate, as what could be more accurate than perfect? In Drayton's view, finding an earlier Greek New Testament text, say, would be further from the truth, especially if the reading differed more from the KJV than the Textus Receptus.

And I say to him - how can this be right? Surely if the text is earlier, then it is closer to what the original writer wrote - and so more like the word God spoke to the original author. To which Drayton responds that God is the original author, and the KJV is the normative text, not the version that Luke or, as it may be, John the Elder, wrote down.

And I was going to have another go at him and then I thought to myself... what about Q? If it existed, is Q then more authentic than Luke or Matthew?

For those who have real lives, and who couldn't be bothered to click the link above, I should probably explain that Q is the putative source of the material that is in Matthew and Luke's Gospels, but not in Mark. So for example the Beatitudes, the Lord's Prayer, the Wise and Foolish Builders.

So let's say that somewhere in the Sinai desert, an Arab goatherd wanders into yet another cave and finds Matthew's study. His first edition is in pride of place, with evidence that a lot of copying has taken place. But in a neat pile, preserved by the dryness and steady temperature of the cave, there are a few other scrolls. When they are investigated they turn out to be Mark's Gospel; Q; a nativity narrative including the Magi, the scribbled note "no clue as to how many Wise Men - best be vague" and a list of resurrection appearances. A short letter to Matthew from Luke contains the enigmatic comment "well, maybe it was a plateau then?"

What would go into the next version of the English Bible? Matthew? Q plus the other fragments? My gut feel says Matthew, because that's what the Church decided. But I'd put Q in the Appendix, to be on the safe side.

In Memory of Laika (1957)

Archdruid: Today we remember Laika, bravest dog of all.

All: She soared like a star into heaven.

Archdruid: She sailed like a bird around our blue orb

All: And touched the face of God.

Archdruid: We will now have a one-minute "wuff" in memory of Laika.

All: Wuff! Wuff! (Continues for one minute)

Hymn: I lost my heart to a star-ship trooper.

Burton: I bet she was looking forward to a walk when she got back!

Archdruid: Oh no, she never got back....

Burton: What, so she's still up there? They must have packed an enormous amount of supplies in that rocket.

Archdruid: There's no easy way to say this, Burton. She lasted a couple of hours.

Burton: There was an accident?

Archdruid: She was always meant to die.

Burton: Oh. Can we stop this now? I'd just like to go and.... ponder what the scientists thought they were doing.

Archdruid: Yes. I think it's a good idea if we all do.

All exit.

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Friday 2 November 2012

Beaker Missionary Society Closes

I"m sad to announce the closure of the Beaker Missionary Society.

When it was set up, the BEAMS had two objectives: to spread the Beaker faith, and to share the benefits of Western Civilisation around the world. But we've had doubts about the latter for ages, and the Beaker faith says all religions probably lead to the same God, if there is one, anyway.

So we've decided there's not much point paying for people to fly to the other side of the world, tell people they're  fine, then fly back.

Frankly, it's become a bit embarassing. The last two came back having converted to Pentecostalism.

Thursday 1 November 2012

If Country Pubs were run like Country Churches

Paul Pintes is the landlord of a number of pubs in West Barsetshire. Every time the pub chain threatens to close a pub, the villages are up in arms and, through fierce control of the planning laws, manage to keep them open.

On Monday lunchtimes, Paul runs the Wheatsheaf at Crabtree Parva. Of course, nobody ever comes in on Monday lunchtimes.

On Monday evenings, he runs the Red Lion at Plumstead Episcopi from 6 till 8. Then he rushes across to the "Little House" at Allington for half an hour, and then on to the Green Dragon at Crabtree Canonicorum. The "Dragon" has a great reputation for food. Or did, but nobody eats at 9 at night in Crabtree Canonicorum. And he can't leave the Red Lion till 9 because Big Len, the one and only local, has Tuesday as his long-alley skittles night.

Tuesdays, he has the day off. Which means he spends all day doing the accounts. But that's a lot less stress than normal.

But then Wednesday is murder. He runs the Black Dog at Ullathorne from 12 till 2, then gets across to the Half Moon at Ullathorne for the afternoon session. Then schleps all the way out to the Scatcherd Arms in Boxall, where the locals always demand a lock-in on Wednesday nights.

Which is bad news, because it's Thursday that the dray comes round. Paul spends all day following it around the villages, unloading the barrels (keg only - there's no way he can keep cask) and begging the driver to wait for him at each village. In the evening, he's in charge back at the Wheatsheaf, but he falls asleep behind the bar and hopes the locals are honest.

Fridays are busy days at all Paul's pubs. If he moves really quick he can get to about half of them. Thankfully he can get a barmaid to cover in one, and the old bloke who lives next to the Scatcherd Arms will cover for him.

Saturday he spends half his time at at the Sow and Pigs in Framley. He has to cook as well as serve, but it's his busiest time of the week. He has to chuck the customers out at 4, though. There's always a disco on at the Hog's Head in Hogglestock in the evening, and he's got to set up the decks and DJ. He does at least have a part-time barmaid to cover, though.

When he gets home on a Saturday night, he sits up till 3am on the Internet, writing the questions for the Sunday Night Quiz at the Scatcherd Arms. Of course, the evening at the Scatcherd isn't the first thing he does. First he has to cook the Sunday lunches at the Red Lion.

Of course, every village is very pleased to have its own pub. They just wish Paul could find some way to have it open a bit more often.

Grass-roots from the top-down

An article from Andrew Brown highlights the issues of the Church of England in the countryside. And yet the title: "Wanted: new Archbishop of Canterbury - must have plans to fill the pews" seems to contradict the general tenor of the article that managerialism has failed. If the managerial model has failed, how will central planning help?

Andrew lists a number of problems for the rural church:

  • The inability to afford the necessary number of stipendiary ministers.
  • The inability to pay for the upkeep of ancient, listed buildings - buildings that are, in any event, too big for the congregations.
  • A disconnect between village churches and village communities.
  • The migration of the young to towns

These of course aren't just problems for the rural church. The Post Office, and village shops, are in much the same state. You could list a remarkably similar set of problems for the rural pub:

  • The price of labour.
  • The cost of maintenance of ancient buildings - particularly when compared to the value of their beer gardens for development as "executive housing"
  • People in villages would rather buy their beer and wine at Tescos and watch X-factor.
  • The migration of the young to clubs and super-pubs in towns

As Andrew notes, the logical thing for rural churches to do would be what the pubs are doing. i.e. close down until there are few enough left that they can be supported by the punters available. Yet the resistance to a country church closing is even greater than that to the pub going. And because communities "own" the church in the way they don't the pub, they'll stay open, defying gravity, pretty well until the last member has died. At which point the building will be Somebody Else's Problem. It's incredible how few Church of England church buildings close. And unlike the pubs, you can't sell off the "gardens" for new housing. The church, more than the pub, retains the memory of former members - and the former members as well.

So I don't know what it is that the new bloke (for bloke, of course, it will be) will be able to do about this. A top-down style, as suggested by the title of the article, won't work. A campaign to close the smallest churches would be ignored at the grass-roots. The withdrawal of paid ministers from such parishes will put an unbearable load on the ones that are left - and cause the retired ministers to soldier on, ever older, in order that every parish may have its Sunday Eucharist.

Personally I blame the "Parish and People" movement. By its expectation that the regular form of worship in a Church of England church should be communion, and should be every Sunday, and should be (give or take) 9am, it put an intolerable load on the church just when it definitely wasn't able to bear it. It made sure the church service was too early for the non-committed to think about going (on a Sunday morning, when sleeping off a boozy Saturday at the now-non-existent village pub). It meant vicars tearing around increasingly-large benefices on exhausting Sunday morning circuits. It then made the available service the one that explicitly marks off the "in" from the "out" at the end. It gave the Church the kind of church it wanted - and didn't worry about the effect on the non-Church.

It may be too late for many village churches - the rural C of E may be going the way of the rural Methodists and Congregationalists. The active members may be too old for the change, and for the effort required. But maybe there's still time for some to respond. Move the Mass to a warm house, in the evening, during the week, instead of the house-group or Bright Hour or some such. Move the service to 11 o'clock. Move the service to the pub - if there still is one - it's warm in there. Do something. Do the right thing for the place. But don't add new stuff while refusing to lose old things - that's just making things worse, and wearing everybody out.

Or leave things as they are. Let the church building die with its last parishioner. Maybe that's just the natural way of things. And if it is, in some places, accept it. Old things do die in the end.