Sunday 31 March 2013

Nearly Half a Million Page Views

Dear Readers

I'm so excited. I've just sneaked onto the Blogger dashboard to add a new gadget.

Within the week, this website will have accumulated half a million page views since Blogger started counting! I have a sneaking suspicion that approximately half of these will be from robotic webcrawlers, but all the same - a round number is a round number. I am hoping Eileen will not notice until we have hit the magic number, as she is inclined to tell me that "stats don't matter". She is also inclined to throw potatoes at me when she is annoyed. So I am going to lock down the dashboard so she cannot remove it, and the deny all knowledge of who did it.

I have learnt this lesson well. Honesty may, in the long term, be the best policy, but in the short term it can cause potato-shaped bruises.

My Radical Theory About the Resurrection

Look, I know that, if people believe what I'm about to say, then it would turn our views on Easter - as they say - "upside down". I know this may come as a shock to many. That some will say this is just the sort or dangerous stuff that church leaders should stay well clear of. And I know that if the press got wind of my views I'd be on the front pages of the papers with headlines like "We must change our views of Easter, says Potty Archdruid."

But I've read the differing stories of the Resurrection in the Gospels. You can see the way the details are inconsistent - the number or angels, the people who go to the empty tomb, Jesus's different itinerary after leaving the Garden.

There's the vagueness of some stories about Jesus's appearances after Easter Sunday. The apparent randomness of when he turns up. The way John just goes off on a completely different storyline to the other Gospels. The story that Paul gives in 1 Corinthians, which seems to be a tidying-up.

And then on that - the fact that Paul's list is actually written before the scruffy, inconsistent, random selection of stories in the Gospels.

And I've come to the conclusion that the reason that these stories are so different, with so many loopholes and oddities, is that the story behind them is true. I don't need to tell myself that the Spirit dictated the words directly to the evangelists - not least because, if that were the case, it would suggest that a divinely-inspired, literally-true-in-in-every-word account is unaccountably full of minor discrepancies. No, I'm going to go with this being an divine story, written down several times in human handwriting.

I'm going to believe that the ideas that it was wish-fulfilment, a bizarre, 50-day, mass hallucination, a kind of spiritual consolation that became a story about a bodily resurrection - are all themselves made up - ways for failed modernists to try and persuade themselves that they could hold an unlikely belief and what they thought was a "scientific" framework in tension. I'm going to believe there are only two proper, respectable alternatives - either it's all been made up, or it's fundamentally true. And I'm going with the latter.

I'm going to accept that when Mary Magdalene - maybe a bit of s groupie, probably not a prostitute, definitely a mourning follower - gets down to the garden on that cold morning and finds a large stone in the wrong place, everything changes. For her, for the other women, for Peter, for John, for Cleophas, for James and Joses, for Paul, for you and me, for the whole of creation. Because Death has received a deadly blow, the gates of Hell are broken down, and we are free.

So I'm going to put on the scorched Hi Viz (got a bit too close to the Eternal Flame in that draught yesterday, didn't I), go out into the cold, imperfect, brutal, flawed world, and shout out the news that, against all probability, a group of women took to a bunch of broken, terrified Galileans all those centuries ago.

"He is risen!"

Saturday 30 March 2013

Melvyn Bragg "is a southerner"

Beaker Radio was today accused of blasphemy for suggesting that Melvyn Bragg was born in Islington, and is a "big soft Londoner," in a documentary that totally overturn traditional arts journalism.

The new claims, based on a notebook that Burton Dasset found in the Doily Shed, suggest that Bragg's southern ancestry was "airbrushed out of history" in order for him to make the claim that he was a "man of the people".

"In this book," said Burton, "which I'm pretty sure is authentic even though it was written 70 years after the events it describes - and in Eileen's handwriting - we hear tantalizing glimpses of how Bragg used to say "grass" to rhyme with "farce". It describes how his boyhood favourite foods were pie, mash and liquor, whelks and jellied eels."

The documentary suggests that Bragg adopted a northern persona in order to avoid being confused with Brian Sewell. Traits that gave away his southern nature - his support for the Arsenal, sensitivity to cold, and use of a bath for washing instead of storing coal - were hidden away.

Followers of Melvyn Bragg, and people who get angry about everything, were incensed at the documentary. Lord Carey said, "It is disgraceful that at this time of year, when faded TV presenters try to resurrect their careers by getting back on the box spouting imaginatively-researched drivel, somebody has to broadcast this kind of thing. Did the South Bank Show die for nothing?"

Mervyn Bargs, of Liberal Establishment Voice, urged Bragg's followers to protest to the Beaker Broadcasting Corporation. "Is nothing sacred?" asked Bargs, "if this sort of thing continues, they'll start saying Stephen Fry isn't as clever as we all pretend, next."

Taking off the doors

I don't suppose that I'll write anything better than this again. It was a response to the "RIP Jesus" trend on Twitter two years ago - which made no sense to me.

RIP Jesus?

Friday 29 March 2013

An exercise in failure

Station of the Cross, St Alban's Holborn
I don't know how the painter managed this.

It's a cleaned-up image of a crucified man. Nobody who'd been flogged and then nailed up would be this clean, that's for sure.

But the blood is on the heads of those who crucify him - and also poured out on the the ones that mourn him. It's also hanging in the darkling sky, as the horizon turns to blood.

And the angle of the head - the exhaustion on the face - the sheer failedness of the composition - it's a powerful image.

If I were half as much a failure as this guy, the image is saying, I'd be pretty down as well.

A more accurate weather forecast

A fascinating insight into the minds of the Met Office and the (till now secret) 3-month forecast they produced last spring - favouring a drier than average outlook, just before the wettest three months in history.

The Met Office says the forecast was not wrong, just probabilistic. Which is a great way of covering up the computational equivalent of sticking a pin in a list of horses.

I would therefore like to offer up my own forecast for the next 3 months.

Temperatures in April-June will, on average, be warmer than January-March. Chances are there will be less snow than in the first three months of this year. The warmest day will be pretty warm, but colder than Death Valley in midsummer.

There is a 50% chance that it will be warmer than normal, and a 50% chance that it will be cooler. Whatever it is, there is a 100% chance of a climate scientist telling us it's due to global warming, or at least of the media reporting it that way.

There is a 100% chance of the days getting longer through to late June, at which point I'm fairly sure they'll start shortening again.

Rain will mostly fall down, if it fails. Bears in the woods will do what comes naturally.

Bethany, 6am

The dawn breaks cold this springtime morning.

Some thoughts flash through of the night before. The meal, with the bread and wine. The re-telling of an old story. The waiting, sleepy, in the scented garden. The tyrants' pounce.

And now the sheep have been scattered - down here, over in town at Mark's mother's house - what was Mark doing out in the garden, running around in just a slip of cloth? And the Shepherd is taken away.

We could run today - count it all lost. Get out to the sticks, where nobody will care if we followed a failed Messiah.

Or we can trust. Maybe getting smuggled into the heart of power is the plan. Maybe he starts by taking out the Council and the Governor. By this evening, he could have set us all free.

We'll hang on today. By tonight it should all be over.

Thursday 28 March 2013

The Glasto Survivors

Nice to hear the Rolling Stones are playing Glastonbury. I believe they must be the last survivors of the original festival.

The one Joseph of Arimathea took his nephew to.

Celebrating the Courteous Nod of Peace

At this time of year when we run into the traffic of so many reconciliation events - clustering around the Spring festivals like bad social history around the Easter Bunny - people often come to me and ask, "what must we do to be saved from having to make bodily contact with other people?"

And it's a question I really have sympathy for. Let's face it, people, in the main, are ghastly. And even where they're not, you don't want them clinging onto your neck on the pretext that we are all, in some way, one body. And with some of them you get the impression that there's more of a desire to be one flesh there than you really would want to consider, if you're not a member of the Beaker Fertility People.

The Fertility People, by the way, are very glum. They reckon it's been two years since the weather was last dry and warm enough to celebrate the joys of nature. They're just slopping around in baggy sweaters and glum looks like a bunch if Presbyterians on a particularly locked-down Sunday.

But back to avoiding unwanted bodily contact at the Shaking of Hands or Cuddle of Peace. Obviously you'd think, being British, that merely standing with your arms crossed and a threatening look on your face would be sufficient to drive the hand-shakers and huggers back. Yet being notorious extroverts as many of them are, some of them will grab your hand and shake it anyway - or even insist on hugging you, regardless. In this circumstances, making your elbows as pointy as possible and driving them into their ribs may be your only limited protection. After all, you've got your arms folded so you've already lost your first line of defence.

Standing up and heading for the door whenever hugging breaks out may result in people following you out, assuming you're so overcome with the peace, love 'n' understanding of it all that you really need to be hugged somewhere quieter. So if you're beating a retreat, it's best to adopt a pained expression. Wearing an SOS medallion that says "Weak bladder sufferer" may well help in these circumstances - as will shouting "I should never have eaten that prawn madras."

Mace is still illegal in this country, even when the church's most notorious hugger is heading for you. But, importantly, passive defences are allowed - particularly if you wear a notice round your neck - "Warning, this sweater contains an electric fence" will normally gain the attention. As will wearing a spiky collar. Albeit if you do put one of those on, some people may confuse you with the vicar.

A normal court injunction is probably ineffective in keeping huggers and shakers at bay - this part of the service rarely goes on for more than twenty minutes, and huggers are busy people, with a lot of personal space to invade. They're more likely to hug first and deal with the Contempt of Court case on Monday. No, a UN resolution is more likely to keep them back. Especially if you can get yourself protected by a couple of helicopter gunships.

Or you could join the Choir? Traditionally this has always been a real refuge for people who don't need bodily contact during worship. In many Anglican or Methodist choirs, you are well-protected from front and back by the extra-high stalls, while conveniently being in possession of many large music books. You can hold these firmly - thus putting off all but the most determined hand-shakers - and, in the case of a truly determined hugger, smack them over the head with the books.

In the Moot house, I have drawn a circle around the "non-contact zone". Anyone who can get there safely un-hugged, is officially protected for the rest of the Occasion.

So I hope my thoughts on personal safety during the Cuddle of Peace are helpful. Who knows, introverts and pestered people of the world? If we get this right, we may be able to get to the sort of haven where the "courteous nod of peace" is accepted as sufficient human contact for one day. But I harbour the hope that, in heaven, gratuitous eye-contact during blessings is also surely a thing of the past - wiped away like the tears in our eyes.

Hosing-down of Humans

I'm realising we've been behind the curve with this foot-washing business. Like, I just thought it was Mennonites and suchlike bearded individuals. But now even the new Pope's getting in on the act.

So I've been considering the idea of following this commandment myself. Now, obviously I wouldn't want to go getting too close to people and their feet. So I've decided to modify things slightly, while still retaining the spirit of the occasion.

So we've got our twelve volunteers, and this evening we're going to hose them down. Not in the Moot House, of course. I'm not some barbarian. We'll do it out in the Mediterranean Drought Garden, if the mud's frozen solid again.

Honestly - getting that close to people's actual feet. Can you imagine that? Bad enough when you know they'll have been washed, talcum powdered, and sprayed with Athlete's Foot linctus if appropriate before the occasion. But the disciples' feet must have been rank - calloused from all that walking, covered in dirt, sand, and probably bird droppings - and worse - from visiting the Temple.

I guess Incarnation is all very well in its way - but did it have to go that far?

Wednesday 27 March 2013

50 Years of Beeching's Pill: A Celebration of Mellifluousness and Superfluity

Notes to the Liturgy

Oh my dear Reader, if there is one thing other than a badly-added column of numbers that makes me angry, it is the name of Dr Beeching. A name that deserves to go down with Borgia, Blackbeard and Boadicea as a bringer of destruction - although Eileen tells me the latter is spelled "Boudicca", and that she is "one of the good guys". Although I still maintain that her destruction factor was on the high side. But not as much as Dr Beeching, who did more damage to the countryside than anyone before Tesco.
Not on the Marston Vale Line, as this is a real train.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Beeching Report - a paper which will go down in infamy as a triumph of short-sighted cost-saving over romance, the environment and - ultimately - a decent transport system. For who, when all is said and done, would want to be sat in a car in a jam outside Bedford on the A421, when one could be reading a vintage Bradshaw in the comfort of a carriage on the Varsity Line? Note that not all of these stations are closed - but the ones that are left, are but remnants of the wonder that was the British railway network.

Dress Code: Anoraks, Thermos flasks, notebooks and balaclavas.

Archchdruid: Cambridge; Lord's Bridge; Toft and Kingston; Old North Road; Gamlingay; Potton.

All: Sandy; Girtford Halt; Blunham; Willington; Bedford St Johns; Bedford Midland. 

Archdruid: Kempston and Elstow Halt; Kempston Hardwick; Wootton Broadmead Halt; Stewartby.

All: Millbrook; Lidlington; Ridgmont; Husborne Crawley.

Archdruid: Aspley Guise; Woburn Sands;Bow Brickhill; Fenny Stratford; Bletchley.

All: Swanbourne; Winslow; Verney Junction; Claydon; Grendon Underwood Junction.

Archdruid: Marsh Gibbon and Poundon; Launton; Yarnton; Wolvercote Junction.

All: Wolvercot Platform; Oxford North; Oxford.

Young Keith: Mornington Crescent?

All may throw British Rail sandwiches at Young Keith.

Obstacles to Ministry

Just realised today what the biggest obstacles to my ministry are.

Other people, and God.

God, because I never see the miraculous results that I clearly deserve in my ministry. I've never asked for much - just that God should grant me unlikely sources of money, or easy converts, whenever the Moot House has felt a bit empty or we're running a bit short of cash.

And other people, because they fall into two camps - those who are already Christians, and those who would never become Christians in a million years. Which makes me wonder what the point is. And all the Christians want is my attention, and for me to respect their point of view. Which, frankly, is unlikely with either group.

So I'm not expecting anything great in the way of outside help at the moment. If you want to see a new thing you've got to create it yourself.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

An Unexpected Award

I'd like to thank the Arundel & Brighton Latin Mass Society Blog for issuing me a "Liebster Award". I've no real idea what it works, and based on the rules I have worked out, I reckon that if everybody passes it on, every blog in the world will get millions of links within an hour and a half. But I am touched and honoured, so will respond to the questions.

Eleven "fun" facts about myself:

  1. I am an imaginary character, although I claim to have been at college with a number of famous people.
  2. I do not really get joy from inflicting pain on the other Beaker People. But I do feel it is good for the soul. My soul, not necessarily theirs.
  3. I always receive 100% of the votes in the Archdruidical election. Except that time when, due to miscounting, I accidentally voted more times than there are Beaker Folk.
  4. My qualifications in Chemistry (with Quantum Chemistry) out-rank anything I have ever achieved in Theology. As you might guess. This isn't really fun, or funny, but explains a lot.
  5. In sporting events, I do not regard Scotland, either Ireland or Wales as "England B" at tournaments where we get knocked out. Instead I root for Holland or Belgium. Unless it's cricket or rugby, in which case that would be pointless.
  6. I have a "tribute" birthday.
  7. I once spent a summer living in the 19th century. It wasn't unlike modern-day Hitchin.
  8.  Drayton Parslow is in a really bad mood with me, as I've stolen all his suits. 
  9. I have to avoid spirits in mixed drinks, as they all take like fruit juice to me.
  10. I like to think I have a special place for extroverts. It's a sound-proof cupboard.
  11. I think it is important that we preserve the Cockney accent.

1.      Why did you start blogging?
To expose the heresy that is Celtic Christianity, and ensure that nobody ever shreds a list of sins using an office shredder in an act of worship, ever again. And to create a market for the vast number of surplus hi-viz reflective vests I have obtained.

2.      What maintains your blogging motivation?
That stuff about the sin-shredder. And the urge to make myself laugh. Anything to cheer me up, frankly.

3.      Are you easily inspired?
No. I mostly sit around, morose, all day, before thinking up something that makes me bilious so I can write a blog post.

4.      Have you ever received a comment on the blog that made it all worthwhile?
Yes. But you need to ask more open questions. But, since I'm sure you wanted a bit more info, loads of them. Anything funny, well-researched, or supportive.

5.      Name your favourite poem and give your reasons for choosing it.
"Jenny kissed me", which expresses the sweet joy of our brief existence and uses it as a weapon against mortality. And because the irony is that the "Jenny" concerned was, by all accounts, a miserable so-and-so.

6.      Have you ever engaged in talking like a pirate on Talk Like A Pirate Day?

7.      Where is you favourite place in the world?
Great Rollright. Or Walsingham. Or Dorset. Or maybe Brittany.

8.      Who is your greatest spiritual influence?
CS Lewis

9.      If you had to recommend one book, what would it be?
The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

10.   Singing in the bath, yes or no?
Asking for a pound of sodium to be chucked in, in my opinion.

11.   Kirk or Spock?

Currency Speculation

Some people from the Island of Cyprus came to him, and said, "Tell us, is it right that we should pay our bank balances to the EU?"

And he said to them, "Bring me a Euro Note. Tell me, whose image is on it, and whose inscription?

And they answered, "Angela Merkel's".

Monty Pulls it Off

Great excitement this morning as I'm greeted by an exhausted Hnaef. He's been watching cricket all night again.

I notice that Matt Prior made an unbeaten ton last night. Well done, I say. But that achievement pales into insignificance when we consider that Monty Panesar faced five balls without getting out.

Monty, you're a true son of Bedfordshire. You're fun, you're brilliant with the ball and you managed to stay in for five balls to save a Test. We salute you, my son.

Monday 25 March 2013

A Less Dangerous Flapjack

I'm quite amazed at the news that an Essex school has banned triangular flapjacks. It's on the BBC, so I guess it's probably true.

I can kind of see the point (ho ho) in going from triangular to square flapjackular cross-section. A 90 degree angle is necessarily going to be less pointy than a 60 degree one. But still - there are four sharp corners on a square flapjack. The slightly less pointedness of the points, is outweighed by the 33pc greater chance of being hit by a point.

Clearly what the school should be doing is insisting on circular flapjacks. However this would leave unused corners all over the place - most unsatisfactory in these financially straitened times.

And why do they think flapjacks are the only dangerous food? We regularly get eye injuries on "Hazelnut Day", when we all try to ping nuts off the nose of the picture of Mother Julian. That's why we introduced safety glasses. But even now, people can get nasty rubber-band whiplash on their thumbs.

I suggest Essex schools switch to pancakes. They are round, and so fly spectacularly well. But they're round before they're cooked, so you don't waste any mix. And they're soft, so they won't cut you. In fact, the only danger would seem to be if you threw an over-cooked crispy pancake. And that could leave you with a nasty bruise.

Raughrie cuts up Rough

Raughrie has just run over my foot in his wheelchair.

Why, he had asked me, was the door lock in the disabled loo so stiff?

To which, naturally, I responded that this was because he's the only one that uses the disabled loo. So it gets less maintenance than the other toilets, which are used more frequently. I suppose, thinking about it, this might have caused the workings to get a bit stiiff and rusty, and maybe that's why it was so hard for him to unlock it.

And why, Raughrie asked me, do we store all the loo rolls and cases of toilet bleach in the disabled toilet?

I explained that it's a convenient space, being right next to the toilets that everyone else uses - and being so much bigger than the other toilets.

Then, when he'd over-balanced in trying to force the lock open, and ended up laying on the floor of the loo, and unable to get up because he was pinned in by the the cases of bleach, and had a mountain of toilet rolls falling onto him off the stacks of bleach -  why, asked Raughrie, did he discover that the alarm cord - which is long enough to reach to the ground - was tied up so the end was four feet up in the air?

So I explained that it used to confuse the cleaner, who kept thinking it was the light cord. We'd all run down, thinking it was an emergency, and just find a baffled cleaner standing in the dark. So we tied it up so he wouldn't keep wasting our time.

And then Raughrie ran over my foot.

I do feel sorry for Raughrie.

It must be very frustrating, having his condition. I just wish he wouldn't take it out on the rest of us.

Rules for Calculating the Calendar

Beaker People have been asking me when it's going to be Lady Day.

A reasonable question, and one tied into the depths of Christian tradition, and the deep roots we have in both Judaism and the darker, more mysterious pre-Roman religions of these islands at the end of the Ancient world.

So the Feast of the Annunciation is dated to the traditional "real" date of Good Friday. And that is based on the Jewish Passover in the year that Jesus was crucified. And that was based on the full moon after the Spring Equinox. And that all gives us a date of 25 March. And that gives us the date of Christmas.

Or possibly vice-versa.

But 25 March this year is in Holy Week. So it has to be moved. Not the twenty-fifth itself - that would be foolish. Just Lady Day.

So given today is a Monday, and Sunday is Easter, and there's an "r" in the month, and carrying the one, and consulting in the little diary that Young Keith so kindly bought me as a Christmas present in the New Year sales, I can conclude that I've no idea when it will be Lady Day.

What do you think I am - Wikipedia?

On Caring a Fig

Our community fig trees are currently useless.

Completely snow-bound. The one under the stillicide of the Big Barn seems to be shrouded in ice, where the drips have fallen onto it and frozen.

Anyone going to visit our figs today, being hungry, would be deeply disappointed. And rather foolish. You don't pick figs in March in England - whether there's four inches of snow on the ground or not.

Jesus's fig seems a slightly different case. Sure, it's too early for figs. But the tree's looking like it should be fruiting - some trick of the weather or micro-climate making it look like you might be lucky.

And then up in Jerusalem, when all the other nations are still worshipping their pantheons of idols, this is the place where the God who can't be drawn is worshipped. The blood of animals is poured out before a God of whom there are  no sculptures. The God whose main request is a broken heart, and a repentant attitude. And these last three years there have been signs of life - green leaves of repentance. Maybe there is fruit here?

But the bustle inside the walls is a market. The money-changers, priests and Romans connive at a little money making scheme - industrialising repentance. The nation that should have borne fruit, is flowing with the sap of commerce, feeding on the poor.

Plants produce fruit when time is running short. When the plant thinks the good times are coming to an end, it prioritises seed over leaf. When it's comfortable, and it seems like the summer's gonna last forever, it puts its energy into establishing itself; building up its resources - not going for that mad dash into autumn that drags its energy out, saps its strength, but produces a crop.

So the fig tree's a symbol. The good times are running out. The Autumn's gonna be here before you know it. And beyond that the winter chill.

So is it time to produce leaves, stocking up the carbs for an eternal summer?

Or fruit, for the harvest is near? 

Sunday 24 March 2013

The Fabulous Ma Baker Boys (and Girls)

Can I refer you to Simon's review of "The Magic of Boney M"? Simon's too young to remember Boney M in their pomp. Unless the powers of Scrumpy are as magical as it's claimed. So I feel 4/10 is a little harsh on such a distinctive band. Although, if I stumbled across them in 2013 having not heard them in 1979, I might feel the same.

The thing about Boney M is, they were cheesy; their album covers were shocking; Bobby Farrell, God rest him, who pranced around on Top of the Pops, didn't even sing on the recordings. It was their "manager", Frank Farian, who did that.

They were a manufactured disco band. They had no credibility whatsoever. Their hair should have been banned under the Geneva Convention.

So why was "Ma Baker" so great?

Toilet Paper Environmental Nightmare

Just halfway through watching "River Cottage", and I'm really worried by the advert in the break.

The manufacturers of Velvet toilet paper are promising to plant three trees to replace every one they turn into loo roll. Sounds very worthy, but what are they going to do when there's nothing but trees? Logically, we'll get to the point where the world consists solely of trees and loo roll. Quite apart from us not having anywhere to live anymore (unless we live in the trees again) - all those trees will suck the CO2 out the atmosphere, and the whole planet could go bang. Nobody ever things of the environmental consequences.

The Guardian's Great Mistake

It's almost like the Guardian is going out of its way to upset all right-thinking people.

We were so taken up with the Giles Fraser piece on evangelicals, that we completely missed the much greater calumny. I refer, of course, to this article on Kelsey Grammer.

Oh, yeah, very interesting. 4 wives, blah blah, but then we get this:

"Counting his appearances in both Cheers and Frasier, Grammer played the pompous yet essentially lovable psychiatrist for two decades, from 1984 to 2004, the longest-running job in sitcom history..."
When Dr Frasier Crane first ambled into the wonder that was Cheers, Peter Sallis had been playing Norman Clegg in Last of the Summer Wine for 11 years. After Frasier signed off for the last time, Sallis went on as the redoubtable Clegg for another 6. I make that a full 17 years that Norman Clegg outlasted Frasier in continuous production.

Of course, if we were to pay attention only to the wonderful Norman, we'd miss the fact that Frasier's mere 20 years compares poorly to Ivy, played by Jane Freeman, who ran the caff for those 37 years;  Kathy Staff, whose Nora managed 35 years, with the odd break; and of course Compo, played by Bill Owen, who managed 27 years.

I admit that Frasier may have appeared in more episodes of his two sit-coms than the elderly Yorkshire folk, but that's the way it is with American series - huge teams of writers will always produce stuff faster than one bloke called Clarke.  And that is merely "most productive", not "longest-running". So "the longest-running job in sitcom history"?  Frasier barely served his apprenticeship.

Saturday 23 March 2013

Liturgy of Earth Hour

A Darkened Moot House. The Beaker Folk sit, shivering, in the dark.

The procession enters.

All: Ow! Who just trod on me?

Archdruid: Sorry about that. I thought we were going to turn the lights off after we were all in?

Burton: No. The lights are on the blink as well as the heating. And what's with the stilettos?

Archdruid: Well, it's a special occasion. Don't want to wear the steelies I use in Ordinary time. Still, best press on. It's bloomin' taters in here. May the Earth Hour be with you.

All: And also with you.

Archdruid: In this most holy of Earth Hours, we switch off our lights for an hour

All: In a futile gesture of solidarity with our tortured earth.

Archdruid: We..... what was the next bit?

All: We can't remember. These service booklets aren't much use in the dark.

Archdruid: I emailed the order of service to you. Can you get your tablets?

All leave, walking into walls in the dark, and tripping over a passing badger.

All: A BADGER???

Blundering into the Mystic River caused by melting snow, the Beaker People thrash around for a bit before getting to the Great House. A few minutes pass.

All (returning with tablets): We embrace the dark of this quiet night, returning this earth to its primeval darkness. Apart from the eerie glow of 50 tablets, obviously.


Archdruid: We repent of our 4x4s, which tear up the roads and poison the air.

All: We repent of them. But we've still got to get to work. And with all this snow, you need the traction. What we could do with, is some warmer winters.

Archdruid: We repent of air-freighting fruit and veg from the Tropics to satisfy our need to have exotic food out of season.

All: We repent of it. Anyone fancy a piece of mango?

(Mango chunks are passed around, ironically.)

Archdruid: Especially we repent of planting a Mediterranean Drought Garden with all those half-hardy herbs and shrubs, in anticipation of warmer summers.

All: All the plants died in the frost, and the gravel got washed away when the garden flooded.

Archdruid: We repent of the three-mile round trips, when we drive every week to take the bottles to the bottle bank.

All: What do you mean? That's environmentally friendly, that is. Mother Gaia will love us for that.

Archdruid: What's that smell?

Young Keith: Oh, I thought I'd burn a few old tyres to give us a bit of warmth. It's environmentally friendly -  kind of like recycling.

The Beaker People flee the Moot House, tripping over the badger again.

All: Aaagh! A BADGER!!!

The Beaker People rush into the frozen countryside, falling into the brook, getting stuck in the mud and generally getting closer to Mother Gaia.

The Archdruid reflects that for next year's Earth Hour, she'll lay on some powerful lighting.

Victory as Failure, a Cross as a Springboard

I have to thank Peter Ould for providing this link to a Giles Fraser piece on the Cross, "Cheesus" and evangelicalism. It may not be a co-incidence that Giles Fraser refers to Rowan Atkinson's woeful sketch on Comic Relief as being "too close to comfort". Most of us thought it too unfunny for words.

But like Peter Ould, the thing that really takes me is the statement that "....the cross of Good Friday is actually celebrated as a moment of triumph. This is theologically illiterate."

No, it's not.

The cross of Good Friday is the symbol of a massive victory. It's where all the temptations to rule the cheap way, to call in the angel army, to call on Daddy to help, to go off and have a quiet life, to settle down and have a family somewhere that Jesus won't upset the authorities, to rule by conquest not by submission, are beaten. It's where the charges laid against us are nailed to the cross with the accusation above Jesus' head, and are ripped up. It's where the Devil finds that there is one human being - in our whole, failing, falling, weakened race - that will never give up, never give in, never let go.

Of course, the Cross is also a moment of failure. It's when the powers and authorities laugh and the bullies have had their day, and the snivelling cowards have bought themselves some time before the next Messiah turns up and threatens the peace again. But it is the moment when God fails like us, that shows God is truly with us. When Jesus asks God why he has forsaken him, he is absolutely where we start out. If some evangelicals have cheesy grins because they like to give a cheesy impression, others have those grins because they know, when they got as low as they could have got, there was someone else down there, despairing with them, and lifting them out. If God can die, all the ancient myths have found their completion - and all the seeds the Spirit has scattered through history have seen fruition.

And as Peter Ould points out, we don't see the Cross as a failure because we know that it doesn't stand alone. The Cross is the gateway to Hell for Jesus, as he storms down to set the captives free - as the Devil realises that he's really let the wrong bloke in this time. The Cross is the launchpad for the Resurrection, and beyond that the Ascension. It doesn't point to the sky for no reason - it's the first stage in our humanity being lifted up to heaven.

Some failure, sure. But what a victory.

Friday 22 March 2013

Winter Sunshine is now just a thing of the past

Britain's winter ended this week with further indications of a striking environmental change: winter sunshine is starting to disappear from our lives.

Sunshine, bracing walks, and the excitement of waking to find that the daffodils are already in bloom early, are all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain's culture, as colder winters - which scientists are attributing to global climate change - produce not only the occasional white Christmases, but fewer sunny Januaries and Februaries.

The first three months of 2013 were virtually free of significant sunshine in much of lowland Britain, and December brought only moderate warmth in the South-east. It is the continuation of a trend that has been increasingly visible in the past 13 years: in the south of England, this winter, it seems to have snowed all the bloody time. And when it wasn't snowing, it was cold and rainy. London's last substantial snowfall was this month.

Global warming, the heating of the atmosphere by increased amounts of industrial gases, is now accepted as a reality by the international community. Average temperatures in Britain were roughly 0°C higher in the Noughties than at the end of the Nineties, though it is estimated that they will increase by 0.2C every decade over the coming century. The years 2000-2009 were apparently the warmest decade on record. But you wouldn't know that round here. Frankly, the last hot day we can remember was around the time they invented the X-Factor.

Global warming is so far manifesting itself more in winters which are cold, rather than in much hotter summers. According to Dr Jack Frost, a senior research scientist at the climatic press release unit at the University of East Anglia ,within a few years winter sunshine will become "a very rare and exciting event".

"Children just aren't going to know what a bright, warm February afternoon is," he said.

The effects of sun-free winters in Britain are already becoming apparent. This year, for the tenth year running, there were stories of cars stranded on motorways all over Britain. "It wasn't much of a first," a spokesperson said, while taking Vitamin D to stave off rickets.

Sunbathing, once a popular sport on the fields of East Anglia, now takes place in indoor tanning salons. Marlon Morrison, of the Tan Room in Cambridge, said "a generation is growing up without experiencing one of the greatest joys and privileges of living in this part of the world - sniffing the air, and realising Spring is coming".

Snowy winters have significant environmental and economic implications, and a wide range of research indicates that people who drive too fast on country lanes are usually killed off by sharp frosts - being likely to end up in ditches. But very little research has been done on the cultural implications of climate change - into the possibility, for example, that our notion of Christmas might have to shift to include the idea it might actually snow.

Professor Jan Ulrich, an anthropologist at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, says that even if we no longer see winter sun, it will remain culturally important.

"We don't really have stable currencies in Europe any more, but they are still an important part of our culture and everyone knows what they look like," he said.

Derek Branson, at the Made-up Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Luton, says ultimately, British children could have only virtual experience of winter sunshine. Via the internet, they might wonder at sunny scenes - or eventually "feel" virtual ultra-violet light.

Bright winter days will return occasionally, says Dr Frost, but when it does we will be unprepared. "We're really going to get caught out. Sun will probably cause chaos in 20 years time," he said.

The chances are certainly now stacked against the sort of boring dry winters in cities that inspired no painters whatsoever, just the 20th century alarmist journalist Charles Onians, who wrote in "The Independent" of snowfalls being "just a thing of the past".

Not any more, it seems.

Pews Sorry Now

This business over people reserving their own seats - forever - has gone too far now.

Chester has put barbed wire around his now.

Young Keith used finger-print detection to allow only selected people to sit in his seat - if anyone else does, the bottom falls away, dumping them on the floor.  Mind you, Charlii's not impressed. She discovered that he's programmed it for himself, her, and Solway, that little blonde flautist. Young Keith's explanation that Solway might need a seat nearer to the Singing Corner when she's a bit tired after a tricky tune, has not completely poured oil on the waters as far as Charlii's concerned.

Rodrick now brings his chair home with him every day.

Jargo has managed - I have no idea how - to tame a Weeping Angel, and persuade it to guard his seat. It has the twin advantages that it keeps other people well away, and it can manipulate time to get him through sermons quicker.

While Jemma-Jay has built her own box pew, and fitted a padlock. That way, she not only gets her regular seat - she also gets to say who else she's sitting with.

I'm pondering the best way - in love - to wipe out all this selfishness and weird behaviour. But I don't want to do anything too radical today. The French Polisher is in, giving my Archdruidical throne its annual spring clean. I wouldn't like him to be in the firing line, when I wipe out everyone else's selfish insistence on personal seating locations.

Thursday 21 March 2013

On Real Authority in the Church of England

Just a hunch. But I'm thinking that, to a large extent, I've identified one of the major sources of authority in the Church of England. Possibly of more influence than the Bible, certainly than the Synod.

The clue's at the top of the page.

No, not Fawley church in particular. But you think about it. On the carefully-reasoned application of Scripture, after much consideration of Tradition, after seeking into his inmost soul and calling on the Help of the Helper, a priest decides it is time to go to Rome. A number of his flock decide to go with him. But turning round, he discovers that a number of people - as opposed to Gay/Female/Protestant Priests/Bishops as he, as completely in touch with Modern Catholic Thinking, as dedicated to a Y-Chromosomal monopoly on all things ecclesiastical - have stayed exactly where they were. They say it's a shame that he's gone, they respect his decision. But behind it all, there's just a sneaking suspicion that they wonder how he could leave the 13th Century rib vaulting behind.

Or a new priest arrives in the village. S/he is vivid, dynamic, progressive and in touch with the best theological and liturgical developments. Naturally, everybody in the parish is mortified. As Messy Churches, Electric Keyboards, drum-kits and Alpha Courses - or, alternatively, aves, rosaries and rose chasubles on Mothering Sunday - appear, the congregation are outraged. This is a New Thing to be resisted at all costs. Of course, they might fight and lose. And then, they're not going to walk out, are they? For the nearest church which is not led by this minister is 6 miles away. And it's hilly. And with all this climate change, it keeps snowing. And though there's a Methodist chapel nearby, frankly it's red-brick. And so any outraged walker-outer thinks, yeah, but in ten years' time, the minister will be gone. But the foliate heads and carved pew-ends will still be here.

Going nowhere
The thing is, your minister, a new Archbishop, or a minor matter like the Reformation or the Civil War, are blips on the historical timeline. They come, they go, doctrines are believed in, or rejected, or modified to be the opposite to what they were last time. The vicar can believe or not in the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Lord of the Dance or that aliens from the Andromeda galaxy are living in the Big Barn. But when's all said and done, these things will all pass. And, when they do, Aunt Doris will still be in the graveyard, and the Rood Screen will still be in rood health.

You've got to know where your certainties lie.

Authority and the Church - a Radical Re-examination

In the Beaker Folk, the matter of authority is very simply settled. They do what I say. If people tell me that's not very Biblical, I refer them to the Biblical story of Deborah, and then ask if they fancy the fight. It tends to work.

In other churches, however, authority is a more complex affair. I'd just like to consider a few examples.

The Methodists, for example, see earthly Church authority as being, for them, being exercised by Conference. On a local level there are Ministers, and over them each Circuit has a Superintendent minister. In the great scheme of things they don't actually have what other churches might regard as a great deal of authority - this is because they are terrified of the flower arrangers, and the Committee structure is sufficiently robust (ie complicated) as to make any actual decision-making pretty well impossible.

The Baptist minister, especially among the more independently-minded congregations, is pretty well the source of all authority under God for her/his congregation. They are infallible beings whose every word is to be obeyed. Until they get thrown out by the congregation for turning out to be just like all the previous ones.

In the Anglican world, it's quite simple. It is a episcopally led, but synodically governed, organisation. Which means nobody is in charge.

At a local Anglican level, where authority rests depends upon your church tradition. The more Protestant Evangelicals have a high concept of "headship" but a low view of hierarchy. Which means they want strong leadership, but only if they agree with it. At the other end, the traditionalist Anglo-Catholics have a high view of bishops, which is why if they don't like the one they've got they reserve the right to ask for another one.

Liberal Anglicans are radically tolerant of a diverse range of views, as long as they agree with their own.

I'm still trying to understand the Catholic view on authority. It strikes me that the majority just get along with the hierarchy. But they have a love for their Pope that is not, for some of them, in accordance with their view of the bishops from whom he (it is normally a "he") is drawn. In more extreme cases, those with a particularly radical love for Papal authority will decide that, if the Pope isn't all that, he can't be a proper Pope, so they'll wait to see if another comes along. There aren't many of these but, like the Westboro Baptists, sometimes it's the empty vessels that make the most noise, the squeaky wheels that get most oil, and those least like Christ who make the most fuss about being "proper" Christians. In cyberspace, no one can hear you being reasonable.

Finally, some Charismatic Christians (and some of a group that I may turn "nomadic evangelicals" are above all about finding a charismatic leader, in a charismatic church. The ideal of leadership is to be inspiring, gifted, anointed and above all temporary. Like all leadership, there is a time limit on anointedness. Anointedness conveys authority, but drips away over time like oil running down Aaron's beard. In a few months, somebody more anointed will appear in the town next door. And there's only one thing for a dedicated follower to do, when they find someone more anointed.

Reading the above, I find myself refreshed by what I see as the similarities. No matter how water-tight we want the authority of those above us to be, and no matter how much divine authority we invest in them - we reserve to walk out at a moment's notice if we decide we don't like their tie, or their spouse, or their way of pronouncing "Jungian philosophy". And I think that's healthy. We should respect our leaders in God - but don't let anyone think they've got a divine right,

Except me, of course.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Liturgy of Suddenly Discovering the Spring Equinox was Today

All: So what are we doing, on this heath....

Marston Moretaine: .... this blasted heath....

All: ...this blasted heath, at getting on for Midnight...

Marston: The Witching Hour! The Witching Hour!

All: Whatever.

Archdruid: We're celebrating the Equinox.

All: Isn't that tomorrow?

Archdruid: It turns out not. It's tonight. Or, today. Or was. It was this morning.

All: So Hnaef's Tightrope Walk over the Duckpond, celebrating the Equinoctial balance?

Archdruid: Nah, scrapped.

All: Gazing on the Midday, Midway Sun?

Archdruid: Too late. Forget it.

All: Celebrating the Sun's sojourn over the eternal equator?

Archdruid: Nah, not important. It's happened.

All: Celebrating the days getting longer, but more slowly?

Archdruid: Isn't that a bit like the rate of inflation slowing? That's too complicated for anyone.

Marston: But we're out here, on Aspley Heath. And it's dark. And there mght be a badger. (He begins to howl)

All: A BADGER? (All may start to cry, and run for the car park, tripping over log barriers and small nocturnal animals.  e.g. badgers)

Hymn: I hear the sound of rustling (and I'm worried it's a badger)

Things you don't hear about in the New Testament

  1. Building projects (except Herod's one)
  2. Property committees
  3. Jumble sales
  4. Minor disputes over liturgy
  5. Disagreements over the style of music
  6. Pipe organs
Things you do hear about

  1. Rotas (John the Baptist's father was on one)
  2. Collections (but not for the organ fund)
  3. Extravagant use of expensive perfumes
  4. Breaking bread
  5. Loving people
  6. Major disputes over food
  7. Committees 
  8. Psalms
Not sure this proves anything but I thought I'd mention it.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Advanced Techniques in Keeping People out of your Seat

I tell you, I've known Beaker Folk protective over their habitual seats. But I've never know anyone take it so far as Marti.

Marti's one of those people who have decided that a specific seat is theirs, and object to anybody else sitting there. You know, it's funny how the protection of one's preferred location for worship is one of those very few instances where people come over all un-English. Maiden great-aunts who would not normally say "boo" to a goose will stab people with curare-tipped hatpins to claim their favourite seats.

In general, this process is the best-practice in a standard customary-worship-seating-appropriation-related incident:

Marti took matters one step further, however. She was tired of throwing unsuspecting schmucks out of her seat. And she realised that some people might be sitting in her seat when she wasn't there at all, at liturgies she wasn't attending, and she didn't like that either.

And so she decided to put a little notice on her seat. It was very polite. It said "This is Marti's seat. It is protected with Smart Water. If you sit here, you will be hunted down and punished severely."

The trouble was, some people didn't believe her. And the beatings she would administer would maybe have a retrospective effect, but would only really be a deterrent to those who were not newbies. The other problem we had was that she was endlessly testing people's bottoms for the specially-labelled chemicals in the water. And that could be quite embarrassing.

She suggested the use of a radioactive marker - because she could use a Geiger counter at a distance, with less sensitive handling of the evidence required. But we vetoed that one on the grounds that it might be contravening the Geneva Convention.

So she's gone for the preemptive approach. We don't like it. It spoils the ambiance of the Moot House. And it takes a lot of care and attention. But the rottweiler is certainly effective at keeping other people from sitting on Marti's seat. She daren't try and sit there herself now. That dog's terrifying.  But at least nobody else has her seat.

Monday 18 March 2013

Liturgy on the Passing of Frank Thornton

Archdruid: Beaker People, are you free?

All: I'm free!

Mrs Slocombe: Oo, I 'ad the workmen round. They put my cat out while they did up the kitchen. I hate it when people handle...

All: No! This is not 1976!

Truly of the Yard: Of course, I'm not worried about the interview with St Peter. In the Met we learnt to make up the evidence.

Archdruid: Ah, the Great Day. When the books are opened, and the acts of all people are laid bare, and the Judge says....

Young Mr Grace: You're all doing very well!

Capt Peacock: Thank you, Mr Grace.

Thanks Frank, and all the best for the elevator ride to the top floor.

Hope in the Pope

From what I read about the new Pope he can only be a good thing.

Apparently he's going to allow women bishops, married clergy, and the Mass in E major (ie simple guitar chords). By wearing a white robe instead of a red one he's going to do away with 1600 years of Constantinian male dominated hierarchy and bring in bass communities (back to those guitars, again?) and a new, flatter, more democratic Catholicism.

I realise that some of the above may be liberal wishful-thinking, misunderstandings and/or typographical errors. But just in case, I've written him a note (on the side of a bull, which I believe is the way Catholics send letters). I've told him that if he apologises for 2,000 years of oppression of Beaker people, and allows us to retain our Beaker heritage, I will consider being his first female, nu-worship, liturgy-lite, neo-bunny-hugging-revival cardinal.

I'll even put up with wearing one of this little red hats. Seems only fair. Ecumenism's all about these little sacrifices.

Sunday 17 March 2013

Obscure archaeological pottery joke

That potter came back. He says I've ruined his social life. The only way to get the amphora off his head, apparently, was to whack it with a rubber hammer. That left him with a ringing in his ears, but that's not the worst of it.

All his mates keep laughing at him, he says. Apparently in his potting community, ending up with bits of broken pottery all over your head makes you a social outcast. So you could say he's been ostracised.

Seen but not Sherd

That was quite an eventful afternoon. When the sleet finally held off, I went for a potter in the grounds.

Well, the cheek of it. Selling "Authentic Neolithic Replica Beakers" without ensuring I got my share.

And it was remarkable how that amphora just fitted nicely over his head like that. Though it may leave him with fairly sore ears. Anyway, he won't be back.

Baking Hot-Cross Buns for the Queen of Heaven

I know it's wrong, but I do have an abiding interest in church websites that seem kind of out-there.

And at this time of year, as we wait on the edge of an abyss of a whole raft of misinformed articles telling us that Easter is based on a pagan festival, I remembered this little gem.

The proposition, bizarre as it may sound, is that the ancient Angles and Saxons - a Teutonic race - worshipped a goddess which they picked up from the Semitic goddess Astarte/Asherah. This theory is based on a whole series of linguistic jumps, on the one, passing, possibly wrong, reference to a goddess called Eostre, by the Venerable Bede.

So, by a series of gibberish, we proceed to the inescapable logic which surely we knew all along - that Hot-Cross Buns are the modern-day descendants of the cakes baked for the Queen of Heaven.

I don't know who are or were worse, the people that made up these improbable connections in the first place, or the people that propagate them in order to pursue their own, rather weird agendas.

On Good Friday we'll eat Hot Cross Buns here in Husborne Crawley. But then we've been eating them since January. The supermarkets have been running "specials". It's not the Queen of Heaven who's doing well out of this. I reckon it's more likely Tesco.

Coming down like Dinner Plates

I should remind all Beaker Folk who keep saying "I thought this was meant to be spring" that it isn't meant to be spring. This is still meant to be winter - until 21 March, or the Vernal Equinox, when you are officially allowed to say "I thought this was mean to be spring" while standing in wet snow.

In the meantime, I rejoice that I don't have to change the picture at the top of this website.

In fact, I'm pretty sure, given last summer's weather, that I haven't changed it since last winter.

Global warming is a wonderful thing.

Saturday 16 March 2013

No such things as Stupid Questions

I've realised I've done a bit too much of the old looking out at the world and commenting on other faith groups lately. That's not really what we're here for. We're here to look quietly inward, and make a quiet buck out of other people's spiritual neediness.

So I'm pleased to say this evening's "Simple Tea Light Service" went well. The liturgy being as follows:

The Beaker People gather in the Moot House. 
We dim the lights (but not so much as to compromise Health and Safety) 
We light a tea light. 
We reflect on life for a few minutes. 
We sing "Blowing in the Wind" 
Somebody says "Is that it, then?"  
We explain that this is quite enough. We have paused, reflected, responded. And now, thanks to this supremely irrelevant - but warmly-welcomed - interruption, we have unpacked theologically. All is well, and all is well, and all manner of things are, considering the temperature, humidity, wind-chill and the northerly breeze in the Astral Plane, as well as could be expected. 
"But why do we do these things? Sorry if I'm asking stupid questions."
"Because we are Beaker Folk. These are the things that make us such. We do not struggle for empty dogma and vain theology. Others look at things that are and ask "why?" We look at things that are not, and thank goodness that most of them are not. Most of the things that are not would be absolutely terrifying, and some of them resolutely illegal in the Green Belt, if they were. Let us go and enjoy the peace of the night, and the wash of the rain on our weary, begrimed souls." 
 There are no such things as stupid questions. There are only stupid questioners.

Dispiriting Quote of the Day

" If you're a religious news journalist most of your job consists of talking to Christians so that they can tell you lies about each other." (Andrew Brown)

It's not the fact the statement is so bald and aggressive (and I may have taken it just marginally out of context, for effect). It's the fact that it's probably true that is so dispiriting. I think about the lies we tell about each other; that the other bunch don't really believe in God - that the Anglo-Catholics worship Mary; or the Catholics don't believe the Bible; or the Evangelicals are a bunch of naive schmucks who take everything in the Bible literally, never stop grinning and wear bad nylon suits. I mean - even that last one is only truly about some evangelicals.

The Guinea Pig Worshippers of Stewartby are a case in point. If Mr Brown interviewed the Grand High Guinea Pig, then somewhere in amongst the squeaks and the whistles he would hear the claim that the Beaker People once ate his little guinea pig gods. Just because we once ate his little guinea pig gods. He'll argue black is white, will the Grand High Guinea Pig.

In Rowan we Trust

Turns out I wasn't the only one thought that about Rowan Williams Bean Miliband Atkinson. Over at Anglican Memes there's another posting along the same lines. Personally I think we were both funnier than Rowan.

We no longer believe in Funny Vicars

It is, some say, a most magical time. That night, every two years, when little children sit up late, wondering if they will see Lenny Henry.  A time when people believe in miracles - maybe even secretly hoping that Ricky Gervais might be funny again.

It's a time when people can show the charitable love for others that frankly they could show the rest of the year - but it does a lot of good for a lot of people, and that's the main thing.

But it's the religious aspect that I always shy away from. The sight of Rowan Atkinson dressing up as a clergyman and trying to persuade us that the comedy we all believed in, in the 1980s, is still relevant to today's world - frankly it just makes me wonder why they bother? This is a time when the other religious leaders of his movement have moved on - realised it had no future. So Pamela Stephenson has turned to the consolations of sex psychology, and St Griff has taken to messing about in boats.

Only Rowan continues to put on the old bishop's outfit and try to persuade us that it's still funny. I know that he's tried to modernise - tried to use words like "shag" to act like he's "down with the kids". But it's not worked, let's face it.

It's time to admit that 1980s comedy isn't relevant to today's world. Dressing up as vicars belongs to a time when we still believed in Dave Allen and Derek Nimmo. These days we know we can be good, and give money to Comic Relief, without believing in Rowan.

A Real Dedication to Science

Sometimes a story can really move you.

It was thanks to Jonathan (himself, not his web page, which I have just misleadingly linked to) that I discovered that the spokesman for Large Hadron Collider - related news is Joe Incandela.

As a former research scientist, it irradiates the bivalves of the genus Cardiidae of my myocardial tissues, with photons of the infrared spectrum to hear that name. For clearly Prof Incandela has incorporated an SI unit into his surname.

It takes you back to the good old days of scientific discovery. Back then, research scientists, like Popes, chose a new name on being elected. We think of Newton, Faraday, Watt and Volta - who all named themselves after SI units. Of Fermi, Higgs and Brian Neutrino, who named themselves for subatomic particles. And then of Boyle, Hooke and Murphy, who assumed the names of famous scientific laws. This has been sadly lacking in more recent scientists like Richard Dawkins,  who have taken on the names of painful medical conditions. As we say around here, you don't want to sit on that cold step, you'll get a touch of the Dawkins.

Ah, it's a great day for science when scientists take it that seriously again.

Friday 15 March 2013

The Church Notice Board Archaeology Expedition

Dear Readers, I am not a man naturally given to anger. Indeed, Archdruid Eileen often tells me that I am barely a man at all. But today I am not happy.

It all started with Perpetua's suggestion that Eileen had missed out on the archaeology of the posters on Church notice boards. I saw Eileen's eyes lit up as she headed for me this lunchtime, threw me in her Porsche Cayenne and took me on a terrifying tour of the churches of mid-Bedfordshire.

Eventually she found what she had been looking for. A church notice board that could be accessed easily, even equipped with Young Keith's patented "Church-notice-strata-ometer". This is, to be fair,and ingenious machine. Using a combination of infra-red, X-rays and Magnetic Resonance, it can give us a three-dimensional view of the layers of notices pinned to a notice board, without taking the terrible risk of pulling out the drawing pins to see what is under there. Vital historical evidence can be lost in the event of a catastrophic "board-alanche", and that is not even to mention the danger of contamination from Plague spores in the lower levels.

The disadvantages of the Church-notice-strata-ometer are, however, twofold. Firstly, that it emits large amounts of radiation. Secondly, that it takes five hours to scan a complete notice-board, but requires constant small changes to the calibration - necessitating that the operator stand out in the damp and cold throughout the complete operation. As Eileen said, "that's why I brought you along." And then she was off to Flitwick to throne stones through the window of a former love-interest, leaving me to get the results.

I have to confess, however, that the machine does a fantastic job. This is the notice board, as visible to the naked eye:

The layers of history held within the notice board are invisible to the casual observer. If we look more closely, we may wonder how so much paper is held onto the board with just six drawing pins.
However, if we turn the notice board on its virtual side, and show you through the layers of the notices, you can see the way in which the history of the church is preserved in its papery strata - the lowest levels already merging into a form of mudstone, as the damp of the centuries permeates the paper.

We did make a couple of revolutionary discoveries. The first was the sheer depth of the "Oxford Movement" layer, as Evangelicals posted a whole series of responses to the Anglo-Catholic "Tracts for our times". The notices requesting able-bodied men for the 100 Years War made sobering reading. And the declarations of the victories at Waterloo and Trafalgar still seem to be remarkably well-preserved.

There is a clue as to a strong difference of opinion between the Evangelical and Liberal groups in the 1980s. The 1984 Mission England poster has clearly been pulled down at least once - the rip showing where the drawing pin initially went through it - and patched up with Sellotape.

The changing method of hastily communication is vividly demonstrated. From the 80s onwards we have evidence of the "Post-it Note Culture" - yellow sticky squares asking for volunteers, or insulting the vicar. Whereas we saw, in the 1540s, little notes saying "Henry VIII is fat", and "Give us back our monasteries."

As I say, despite the radical historical advances we have made, I am not happy. I am soaking wet. I am freezing cold. I have been dangerously irradiated. And I am deeply frustrated. Between the 11th and 12th centuries, there is a page from the treasurer's report. And it reads as follows:

Outlaie on ye vvine: xlix groattes
Outlaie on ye broot: xxii groattes
Ye totalle broot and vvine: lxxiii groattes

Dear Readers, how can I sleep tonight? Such a terrible, simple arithmetical error. And there is nothing I can do about it! Truly they were the Dark Ages.

Quick Lorry and Cider Pun

Yes, they were wild days, when I used to go and visit my cousin, who worked in the truck factory in Watford in the 80s.

Cousin Mick and his mates used to work hard all week, but they would really let their hair down at the weekend. One of his mates was a Bristolian, and he used to bring crates of his local strong cider back when he visited his parents.

Of a Friday afternoon, they'd down a few bottles of the cider, then for a bit of a laugh go back to work and see how many of them it took to pull one of the lorry cabs around the yard.

You could say they were swallowing Natch, and straining at Scammells.

If Church Architecture Guides Were Written by the Congregation not the Vicar

Welcome to St Angelo's.

It is believed that the Church is on the site of an ancient pagan site. At least, that's what that pagan told us, and she was pretty weird, so she should know.

After St Augustine and his Hippo came to England, the first church would have been built. We don't know when precisely, just "after". It would have been made of sticks, or dung, or something, so would have caught fire, or washed away.

In any case the first proper church was built in olden times and consisted of the chancel. Which is the bit at the front, or maybe the bit at the back. We know the vicar keeps going on about the "nave" and the "chancel", but we just pretend we know what he's talking about. Or maybe he's pretending he knows?

In the next phase, the nave was added, which solved one source of confusion but added another. The nave was in Perpendicular Style, which is to say the walls are at right angles to the floor. The Lady Chapel was built in an Old English style, by the Old English.

Then they all got Black Death, so nothing much happened till the Reformation.

At the Reformation, Henry VIII came round and smashed the stained glass, removed all the statues and banned Latin. This however did not make us a Protestant church, or at least not according to the vicar. He should know, as he's the only one who can remember which is the nave and which the chancel.

Under Bloody Mary a load more statues were put back, but then 90 years later they were all smashed again. The fine mural was whitewashed over by the Puritans. There were six vicars in a couple of years at that time, as you can see on the list of vicars on the wall. Some of them weren't proper Anglicans, either.

The 18th and early 19th centuries were a time of great architectural beauty. The bell tower, West Gallery, St David's Chapel, church porch and a whole host of beautiful monuments and stained glass were put in. Much to the relief of the congregation. They'd been moaning about the unglazed windows since Tudor times, but the old folks had said that there were no glass in the windows in their fathers' day, and they didn't see any reason to change now.

So by the mid 19th Century, St Angelo's was a beautiful structure, reflecting the building tastes off generations and possessing all the features we associate with an English Church.

The Victorian improvements consisted of removing the whitewash to reveal the beautiful Last Judgement mural and renovating the old box pews. And then knocking the whole building down and replacing it with the red-brick box you're currently standing in. So I suppose we'd better guide you round it.


As you came in, you will have noticed our ancient Norman Font. The Font family have lived in Sitwell Magna for 500 years, and Norman has been our Churchwarden for most of that time. He doesn't actually have a house - he just hangs around in the Church, polishing the family brasses and telling visitors about the times when the Fonts were a local force to be reckoned with.

Standing in the nave (or possibly the chancel) you will be able to see the Victorian stained-glass windows. You will notice that Mary Magdalen has particularly red hair, while St John bears a striking resemblance to a young man that Fr Jarrow was quite fond of in 1873.

Among the Victorian memorials on the Victorian walls, you will notice the framed list of vicars of St Angelo's. The list has just enough room to fit in Fr Milton when he finally retires, but after that we've a dilemma. We'll either have to buy another frame, or close the church.

The pitch-pine pews are original Victorian, but not originally for this church. As a result of successive modernising vicars over the last century, these pews came from St William's, Sitwell Parva, when they had a modernisation and Fr Clifton wanted to put things back as they were here. St Gilbert's, Sitwell-in-the-Marsh, has our original pews, while St Gilbert's are currently at St William's.

Note the pew three to the right of the door, four rows from the Formica lectern with which Fr Bromwich replaced the one that was carved out of the last elm in the Churchyard. That's Agnes's pew. DO NOT SIT THERE! Not even on a weekday. She will know, and she will hunt you down.

Try to ignore the musty smell of all the Books of Common Prayer. We're waiting till the vicar leaves, then we're going to throw away the Common Worship books and we'll try and persuade the next one that we've stuck to the BCP all along. There's an ancient well down in the village, and we throw all the new books that vicars introduce down there when they leave. ASB, Sounds of Living Water, Church Family Worship, the Roman Missal - they're all down there.

Turning right towards the nave (or possibly the chancel) you would see the Rood Screen in front of the choir stalls. You would, if Fr Eccles hadn't nailed that iconostasis to it in the 60s. He didn't actually get a faculty for it, but he's fixed it on so hard, with such terrifyingly large screws, that we daren't take it off.

At the end of the nave (or possibly the chancel) you'll see the Altar. To the right, the cupboard in the wall is what we call the "Aumbry". The PCC agreed that Fr Stockport could put one in, but the more protestant members said they'd leave if we actually used it. So we leave the door open, and keep a pot of flowers in it. It's important to keep everyone happy.

The door to the left of the Choir leads to the vestry. We keep that locked except on Sundays so you can't steal the surplices. If a dark, scary figure should emerge, looking like the Phantom of the Opera, that'll be the vicar.

We used to have processions out of the vestry, down the side of the church and up the main aisle towards the chancel/nave. But we had to give those up in these well-nourished days, when we realised only three people can fit in the vestry.

We wouldn't advise you actually to attend a service at St Angelo's - you'd never understand it, and we look at strangers a bit odd - but please feel free to drop a contribution to the building's upkeep in the money slot near the damp-distorted postcards. Please note that the safe is very well cemented into that wall, it is alarmed, marked with "Smart Water" and probably only contains 6 Pfennig and a few Smartie tops.

We hope you've enjoyed your visit to St Angelo's.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Neanderthals - Seeing is Non-Existing

"Since Neanderthals evolved at higher latitudes, more of the Neanderthal brain would have been dedicated to vision and body control, leaving less brain to deal with other functions like social networking," 
(BBC Website)

It is a louring eventide of the late autumn. A Neanderthal man sits quietly, enjoying the sights before him. On the trunk of the nearby tree - its shadowy side showing a patchwork of grays and browns - tiny lichen cling, hunkered down against the oncoming winter.  Fawn-gray rabbits gambol, while the silvery-blue brook runs through the verdant grassy meadow. In the cerise of the setting sun, the wings of migrating geese can be seen, iridescent as they chase towards the South. Beyond the geese, the clouds, heavy with snow and tinged pink with the sun-set, can be seen to be shedding the first rays of sleet of the season...


A Cro-Magnon, sneaking up with a club, could see only a dim outline. But it smelt of Neanderthal, and that was enough. Using his better social awareness, the Cro-Magnon has ensured his family can eat.

As he drags his prey off home, the Cro-Magnon wonders why the Neanderthal was sitting there in the dark.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Tweaking the nose of the little evil gods of SEO

Can I refer you to my new "404" page? If I don't, you will only find it by accident. And that would be a real waste, I reckon.

Young Keith has pointed out to me that I could equally refer you to the new "505" page. I wish I new what he was on about. It just looks to me like he's copied my "404" page.

Francis I

The Catholic Church has a new Pope. I wish him well, and pray God blesses him with wisdom, courage and compassion. We shall light a tea light for him.

Locking the Door before the Beaker Folk Bolt

I note with interest the Roman Catholic approach of locking all the cardinals into a place of worship until they come up with a resolution.

Simple, yet so effective. So I've applied the same theory to the Annual Volunteers Moot, based on the original Latin meaning of the word - "clave" meaning "key" and "con" meaning "to catch out a mug".

Basically, all the Beaker Folk have been shut into the Moot House with a list of jobs. Until I've got 4 Stewards, 6 Under-stewards, 12 Tea Light Bearers, 6 Pebble Monitors, a Sub-druid of the Wardrobe, 5 gardeners, 3 Trilithon Maintenance People, 2 Altar Alterers and 5 Coffee Makers, the door's staying locked.

If we don't get the names on the sheet by midnight, it will be time for the black smoke. Not up the chimney - just the smoke bomb I've wired up behind the Worship Focus. It should - ho-ho- focus their minds.

I'll Find my way Home

It was Young Keith who kindly fixed up my record player the other day. Oh, how the Beaker Folk have complained as the scratchy sounds of the Commodores have blasted out across the precincts of Husborne Crawley. I noticed that my brother had left a few records from his collection down in the Library, so a couple of hours of early AC/DC didn't go amiss. Although it did draw complaints from Drayton Parslow. He's asked me to pass on his comments, which I do agree with in non-metal-related circumstances. So can I assure you all that Hell is, indeed, a bad place to be.

But at least AC/DC had a clear theological position. Because in my quieter moments I've been reverting to some Jon and Vangelis. Vangelis, you may remember, is the chubby bloke who made Chariots of Fire. While Jon (Anderson) is the skinny bloke out of Yes. That's how you tell them apart.

Their music was kind of early-Enya. Lots of vaguely spiritual feelings evoked, while never being too specific. In many ways a lot like Beaker theology. Or the chorus "I want to be out of my depth in your love". Which has the advantage, almost unique in Christian musical culture, of being completely vague as to the object of the devotion. Basically, it's a song that depends on context to be meaningful at all, Still, I digress.

So what J&V (if I may be so informal) taught me was this. You can have a slightly-spiritual experience, a sense that all's right with the world and the stars are God's daisy-chain, without any moral or theological content whatsoever. You can conjure up far and mystic horizons, without saying what makes them mystic. You can behold with awe Stonehenge on a misty morning and gasp at the sheer something-ness behind it - not just its age, but its mystery. The way it speaks of fears and aspirations we cannot, for all of some researchers' mundanity, grasp.

And what it gives us is the Nameless. I can build the Beaker Folk on Nameless, because it inculcates all the "right", saleable religious emotions of wonder, numinousness, joy. Without the inconvenient feelings like guilt, unworthiness and fallibility which would require valuable pastoral time, or real moral effort, to address.

I try not to let people peer too deeply into their souls. They might not like what they find. And in like manner I try not to let them think too hard about what Stonehenge and its environs might represent. Because if it's Neolithic and Bronze Age people's encounters with the Nameless, that's only because I don't know what Name they gave the forces they believed they encountered. Whatever those forces were, they were believed to be powerful enough to drag sarsen stones across Marlborough Downs. That Nameless one was apparently worth long years working out precisely where the Sun's annual journey began and ended.

It's that Nameless wonder that keeps the theology light and the spirituality worry-free. But sometimes when the Beaker Folk say they think there must be more, do I take the chance and say - go on, put a Name to this? The trouble is, if they do that there are consequences - decisions to make. Instead of a floaty "now" there's an eternity hanging in the balance. And the Beaker person has to decide whether an abstract faith in something is enough - or whether they need to get more specific.

At this point I normally find it's best to put some Enya on. Even spirituality-lite has its depths. And it might keep them placid for a few more years.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Castles in the Air

On the subject of the King James Version, I note that its translation of John 14:2 is "In my Father's house are many mansions".

Nick Clegg is an atheist. Good news for him. If he were a believer, he'd have an expensive afterlife to look forward to, although Heaven would have a well-funded welfare state.

Tolerant Extremism

When you go through the list, the number of different churches that claim only they can get you to heaven, or that they are the unique only church, is quite high.

The Catholics have always had fairly exclusive claims. But even they seem prepared to believe that some of their more separated brothers and sisters are still saved, if baptized and rightly believing.

Whereas this bunch, for example, reckon that Benedict is a dangerous liberal for wishing a rabbi well. Actually, I think they used the words "raging apostate". To be fair, they've a downer on Protestants as well.

Then this group from Canada  seem to think every version of Christianity except their own is false. And they don't have a fellowship within a sensible distance of Husborne Crawley, which is a bit frightening for those of us who want to be saved. But at least they don't believe that you need to read the King James version...

.... whereas this King James Only group do. I think. They may well be a spoof, as I'm pretty sure I've seen spoofs just like this in the past. Or maybe that was Drayton Parslow's old blog.

So I've just picked three church groups that all believe the others are destined to a smoky eternity. I could have found dozens, or even hundreds, like it. But if I'm the sort of earnest person who wants to know they're saved, which could I choose? They all seem equally (im)plausible in their explanations as to why they're the only ones. They all argue their case from Scripture, or so they claim. But I'd have a two out of three chance of a severe case of infernal warming even if these were the only church groups going.

So I'm going to reflect on what they all seem to be missing in their invocation of textual technicalities, which is the love of God, expressed through the life, death and unexpected life again of Jesus Christ. I'm going to believe that God, being basically English at heart, is a believer in fair play and giving everyone a decent chance. I'm going to throw myself on the mercy of that loving God. And I'm not going to care what denomination I, or anyone I love, is a member of. And then I'm going to wish all denominations well, even the ones that denounce me for being a false prophet, wolf in druid's clothing, NRSV-reader or other abomination destined for perdition. Because I know Jesus loves me more than they do. And he couldn't understand a word of the King James Bible.

Nativity of John Aubrey

We were going to celebrate the Nativity of John Aubrey - Antiquary, Folklorist, Diarist, Gossip - by digging a circle of holes and then filling them in again.

But the ground's too hard. So Aubrey will just have to celebrate his own birthday.

At least if the weather's rotten on William Stukeley's birthday, we can celebrate by going to Stewkley.

Odds-on Pope

I'm disturbed to discover from Vicky Beeching that Ladbroke's are offering odds on the next Pope. Just seems wrong, somehow.

As someone raised on the tales of PG Wodehouse, it also raises visions of all the forms of cheating that can potentially go on in anything that involves betting. A nod from the Vatican stable boy that one of the Cardinals is off his feed could make all the difference.

And then there's the danger of John McCrirrick getting involved - maybe pointing out that a filly has never been known to win this particular event.

Thankfully the Cardinals are all locked away, and there wasn't much chance for any dodgy bookies to get them to bowl three wides in the second over, or deliberately get a yellow card for not speaking Latin or whatever.

But I'm left with two worrying images. One is of a disembodied Ray Winstone appearing, to tell the assembled, astounded cardinals that "it's all about the in-play." The other is of Chris Kamara, standing in St Peter's Square, looking in the wrong direction as that little bloke runs up behind him and steals his towel.

Religion and betting really shouldn't mix.

Celebration of nearly-Spring at the Spring

The Celebration of nearly-Spring at the Spring is cancelled.

Sprint's out of order. Too much ice. We're rescheduling to June, when we might have a chance.

Blooming global warming.

Monday 11 March 2013

Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons

I was all agog for the big Stonehenge prog on C4 last night. I always love to guess what things we've known for ages will be presented in a portentuous voice as earth-shattering facts that "will turn our current understanding upside down." But first up, I presume that Prof Brian Cox wasn't available. I'm guessing if Prof Parker Pearson was in a 1980s pop group, it was probably Genesis? He constantly looked worried - as if aware of how thinly his research was being spread. He's probably a good archaeologist, whose sensible research got a bit - well, sexed-up, I guess.

So, I can't be bothered to summarise the programme. Instead let me approach this via the via negativa:

We already knew Stonehenge wasn't all built at once, in what would be the "present" arrangement if most of it hadn't fallen down. We knew the bluestones were erected first, in a wide circle, which was later dismantled  and rearranged within the sarsens. But then we've known this all for years.

We already knew that people were buried at Stonehenge. That's why there are neo-pagans protesting about the "ancestors" being removed for research.

We also already knew that the contents of the Aubrey holes were dug out by Col Hawley, and all the remains - including human remains - dumped in "graves". If anything, the programme was kind to Hawley's memory - he was a dutiful plodder who wasn't even the one who guessed about the Aubrey holes (that was his assistant did that), and just dug - relentlessly and largely pointlessly, destroying the archaeology - for years.

If you say evidence of Orcadians at Stonehenge shows a "pan-British" culture, while evidence of someone from the Alps at Stonehenge means an invasion, you don't know how far Orkney is from Salisbury. (Not as far as the Alps, but far enough). And you've recast the past in the shape of the modern political situation.

Stonehenge as cemetery, solar observatory or temple is not an either/or/or proposition. In the same way that an English medieval church is a burial place, aligned on the sunrise, and a place of worship.

A change of burial practice does not necessarily mean an invasion. Otherwise, archaeologists in 3,000 years will wonder what invasion caused 20th Century Britons to change from burial to cremation, and guess it may have been the "Tesco" culture that brought it about.

Men and women have been known to be part of the same religious communities - right up to the English Middle Ages. Hannington in Northamptonshire had a nice example, still reflected in the architecture of the church.

Mind you, barbecued pork ribs are nice. I'm glad we got that cleared up.

And, in passing, I've a suspicion that we're missing the whole point of Durrington Walls. It's clear now that the reason the Ancient British spent two months a year there, drinking, feasting and celebrating, was not that they broke off occasionally to put up Stonehenge. No. Clearly, taking advantage of the opening-up of communications routes, they got a bunch of Eastern Europeans to do that while they kept partying. The Amesbury Archer wasn't Swiss - he was a Slovak.