Friday 31 October 2014

Loving Angels Instead

"7% of atheists believe in angels", the Things Unseen website tells us.

I never listen to or watch media on blogs, so I've no idea about the details. But I have two questions.

1) If an atheist believes in angels, in what sense are they an atheist?

2) What's that Subbuteo player doing on the beach?

A Reformation Day Protest

On this day in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses. Due to the nationalisation of the Holy Roman Postal Service, they didn't actually arrive until Old Lady Day, 1518.

But in remembrance of this day, we are glad to post the following 45 Whinges.
  1. The church is too cold.
  2. The minister's a woman.
  3. The hymn books smell.
  4. The Youth Group mumble when they lead the service. 
  5. The organist is too flashy.
  6. Why does the Press talk so much about sex and religion, and so little about the poor?
  7. The choir is out of tune.
  8. Don't like the coffee.
  9. The glue on the offertory envelopes tastes horrible.
  10. Barrack-room lawyer on the PCC.
  11. They won't let us sing carols in Advent. 
  12. The vicar is, apparently, a Pelagian.
  13. Which isn't so bad as the congregation are mostly Arians.
  14. Those kids are always running around.
  15. Don't like the smell of incense.
  16. Can we have little tokens to drop in the collection plate, to show we donate by direct debit?
  17. Three people died of old age during the 'Taize" intercessions. 
  18. Aaagh!  A clown in the service! Help!
  19. Why do we have to have an ecumenical service? The URC always want to preach, and the Salvation Army band always plays.
  20. The Circuit Steward won't give me a lift to meetings because we can't agree a reasonable contribution for petrol.
  21. The old pastor was better.
  22. Why doesn't somebody else clean the memorials?
  23. The flower arrangers are scary.
  24. It's a baptism on Sunday.
  25. We don't like the chairs in a horseshoe. Can we put them in a straight line?
  26. The BCP/old hymn book/ Songs of Living Waters was much nicer.
  27. The guitar solo was  8 minutes long.
  28. Why can't we sing "I Vow to Thee, my Country"?
  29. The church loos are across the graveyard.
  30. The radiant heaters on the ceiling burn the heads of bald people.
  31. The "radical" statue of Our Lady scares the kids.
  32. Why do we have Deanery services when nobody goes?
  33. The PCC meeting was three hours long.
  34. It's my turn to organise the Jumble Sale.
  35. We have to bring our own umbrellas to church for when it rains.
  36. The drummer would be about the right volume if he were playing on the other side of the graveyard. Preferably in the loo.
  37. The Minister never comes to see me.
  38. Somebody put a pumpkin in the pulpit. Oh, wait, it's the Minister.
  39. Mrs Charlton's chutney is too expensive at the Autumn Fayre.
  40. The Parish Share is impossible.
  41. There's too many notices.
  42. Why does little Agnetha always play St Mary at the Nativity? She's 42 now, and after 36 years it's time somebody else had a go.
  43. We feel really embarrassed by "interactive" sermons. 
  44. The Minister brings his dog round because he thinks it makes him seem more friendly. But the dog sheds hair on your carpet. 
  45. The sermon was too long.

Beaker Retreat Programme January-June 2015

Here at the Beaker Folk, we offer a wide range of retreat courses - both for the experienced, the Adept and the Seeker. Why not consider a short stay with us, to learn a skill or simply to relax in the ancient Bedfordshire countryside, listening to the comforting hum of the M1?

We do not advertise the prices of our retreats. Please contact us directly. This enables us to tailor the price of your stay to your individual situation - but also to ensure we always have a trained counselor on-call for when you hear what it's going to cost you.

Jan 5 - Jan 20: Orthodox Christmas

The Orthodox Bling stays up till mid-January!
Was your Christmas experience insufficiently spiritual?  Too busy worrying about the in-laws, cooking and what's on telly? Why not join us for Orthodox Christmas? With Orthodox Christmas, you can do it all again - but this time with the advantage that the entire period will be in Romanian, for added mystery! Arriving on Jan 5, you can enjoy an Orthodox Nativity Play, Orthodox Midnight Mass, the arrival of Orthodox Santa. Then on Orthodox Boxing Day, why not go into Milton Keynes* and see if the sales are still on? Then Orthodox Hogmanay is always a great delight - nothing like Haggis washed down with vodka (which we spell "wodka" for the fortnight) and retsina! And then, on Orthodox 12th Night, we finally take down the decorations. A mystical, traditional and spiritual way to celebrate the end of the 3-month Beaker Christmas Period.

12 - 15 February - "The Spirituality of Ditching" 

There's an old English tradition that you are never closer to God than when you are up to your knees in sand and clay, clearing the clag out of ditches. It's a physical metaphor for a spiritual truth and therefore - we like to tell ourselves - almost sacramental. So why not join us for the annual ditch-clearing? 

NB volunteers must be physically fit, good at obeying orders, and prepared to sign the waiver form.

28 February - 3 March - "The ancient wonder of Easter Egg Painting" 

Lent too long? Then lighten it up with a few days of painting Easter eggs the Beaker Way!
The ancient tradition of painting Easter Eggs to celebrate the Resurrection goes all the way back to Beaker Times - indeed, Easter Egg fragments were found under the Altar Stone at Stonehenge. So join us for an artistic and spiritual extravaganza. Don't worry about bringing your own eggs! Our free-range organic Beaker eggs are available at very reasonable rates, laid freshly by our own Neolithic breed of Beaker Chickens.**

Weekends in March - "Raising the Long Barrow!"

We finally have permission to inter our (cremated) dead in the Husborne Long barrow. Sadly we're still haggling over the rights to expose our d
Weather definitely won't be like this
ead to the birds of the air on raised wooden platforms, and they tell us that burning Norse-style longboats are definitely out.

So all we have to do, before we can bury deceased Beaker Folk in this holy place, is actually to build a long barrow. As a combination of physical exercise and spiritual refreshment, what could beat heaving mounds of soil and sandstone on top of each other, under the light breezes and gently sun of March?***

So come along and help us to raise the Barrow!  You'll get extra salvation points, and 10% off the cost of your own interment, when the time comes.

15-19 April - International Bodhran Festival

The instrument anyone can play! Beaker bodhran expert, Shiughavnan MacNimmie (Hnaef in a beard) will be introducing us to the deep secrets of the playing of this ancient and annoying member of the percussion family.

1 May - Wicker Man Festival

It works for Anglican churches, with their scarecrow and Christmas tree and flower festivals. A chance to show your creativity while entering into the competitive spirit, and recreating the Druidic Past.

Groups are invited to build their Wicker Men on a theme - "The Saints", "Bedfordshire", "Edward Woodward" being just three examples. At the end of the day, the winning team will receive a rosette and the best exhibits will be burnt. The team coming second last will receive a DVD of the Nicholas Cage remake. The team coming last will receive two copies of the DVD.

8 May Julian - of Norwich Day

Spiritual superhero and inventor of the Topic chocolate bar, Mother Julian has a special place in the Beaker Community. It's in the Doily Shed, where we've hidden her picture.

Join us for this special day of meditation, as we try to work out why her feast isn't in the autumn, when there's hazel nuts about.

1-8 June - Ikon-painting, Jackson Pollock Style

This special week is for people who'd like to do proper ikon-painting but are too ham-fisted. At the Beaker Folk we stick to the motto - "All have won, all have paid, and all shall have prizes". If your St Theresa of Avila looks like Moomintroll's Mama, then join us in throwing paint at a piece of board and swearing blind it's a spiritual experience.

20-24 June - Midsummer Festival

What better way to celebrate the ancient longest day of the year, and the period through to St John's Day, than by taking part in our "Midsummer Night's Dream from Scratch"? 5 days of rehearsal, back-biting and jealousy, followed by, on the night of the 23rd, the performance itself! "Does my Bottom look big in this?" You bet!

* Milton Keynes is mostly not Orthodox.
** Subject to availability. Otherwise we buy them from Tesco.
*** May also include deep snow and frost-hardened soil.
**** Please bring a sarsen

The Custom of the Country

"It seemed as if the bonfire-makers were standing in some radiant upper story of the world, detached from and independent of the dark stretches below. The heath down there was now a vast abyss, and no longer a continuation of what they stood on; for their eyes, adapted to the blaze, could see nothing of the deeps beyond its influence. Occasionally, it is true, a more vigorous flare than usual from their faggots sent darting lights like aides-de-camp down the inclines to some distant bush, pool, or patch of white sand, kindling these to replies of the same colour, till all was lost in darkness again. Then the whole black phenomenon beneath represented Limbo as viewed from the brink by the sublime Florentine in his vision, and the muttered articulations of the wind in the hollows were as complaints and petitions from the “souls of mighty worth” suspended therein. It was as if these men and boys had suddenly dived into past ages, and fetched therefrom an hour and deed which had before been familiar with this spot. 

The ashes of the original British pyre which blazed from that summit lay fresh and undisturbed in the barrow beneath their tread. The flames from funeral piles long ago kindled there had shone down upon the lowlands as these were shining now. Festival fires to Thor and Woden had followed on the same ground and duly had their day. Indeed, it is pretty well known that such blazes as this the heathmen were now enjoying are rather the lineal descendants from jumbled Druidical rites and Saxon ceremonies than the invention of popular feeling about Gunpowder Plot.

Moreover to light a fire is the instinctive and resistant act of man when, at the winter ingress, the curfew is sounded throughout Nature. It indicates a spontaneous, Promethean rebelliousness against that fiat that this recurrent season shall bring foul times, cold darkness, misery and death. Black chaos comes, and the fettered gods of the earth say, Let there be light."

Thomas Hardy, "Return of the Native

Hallowe'en ain't what it used to be

Every year I say it, and every year it's truer. Amidst this wave of commercialism, we're losing the real meaning of Hallowe'en.

I remember the Hallowe'ens of my youth. Neo-paganism had barely been invented. The whole family would hide in the living room with a clove of garlic, a a crucifix and a borrowed exorcist. Then there were weird banging noises. And, by moving a glass around on the table, my great-aunt Edna would demand to know why we had sold off her best crockery.

And Edna wasn't  even dead.

You didn't get these big pumpkins in those days, either. We each were given a turnip to carve. At least, that's what they told us. In retrospect, what we were actually doing was peeling them. You ate a lot of turnips in the 1970s.

But now, it's been utterly commercialised. I blame that Jamie Lee Curtis. Until she got involved it was an innocent night of fearing the walking dead and sacrificing hamsters on the Five Knolls. But then she and her friends made it all look so attractive in that film, and we realised we needed to have kids in cute costumes and mass-murderers just like the States. And all the paraphernalia that goes with it - Hallowe'en cards, Hallowe'en trees, Hallowe'en plays in schools and Hallowe'en crackers.

See, deep down, I don't think there's that much threat from Hallowe'en - spiritual or otherwise. New-pagans can do whatever they do, kids can dress up as vampires - nobody's gonna be a devil worshipper as a result.

If the problem for some church leaders is that people seem more interested in ghostly cheap thrills than the deep, spiritual refreshment that you can take from the Christian religion - then maybe they should be on their knees praying for the kind of leadership and inspirational powers that can lead them to show that light is stronger than darkness, and that the greatest horror is overcome by the strongest love. The Christian message has at its heart a ghastly horror show, and a spiritual battle, where the devils were defeated, after all.

And if you want to see real, naked evil stalking the earth, you don't need to look at a kid walking up Crow Lane dressed as a witch, while her brother wanders around dressed as a giant pumpkin. Look at the hunger, the oppression, the actions of ISIS, the destruction of environments and communities where vested interests - regardless of political complexion - put power and money ahead of all else. That's real evil. Leave the kids alone. The Devil's busy elsewhere.

Thursday 30 October 2014

The (Midfield) Wasteland

August is the cruellest month
Destroying young dreams made in the transfer window,
Memory and desire, stirring
The hope of glory with speedy strikers.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Our defeats with the thought 
We could turn it round by Easter.
May surprised us, coming over the Wembley Arch
With a shower of rain; we jumped off London Midland,
And went on in sunlight, into the Harrow Road
And went into Subway, and queued for an hour.
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.
And when we were children, round my Nan's,
Watching the '74 Cup Final with Grandad, who was from the North East,
And I was a Liverpool Fan. He said, Eileen,
Eileen, the Geordies are gonna win. And down they went.
3-0.  Supermac was invisible. 
I read 4-4-2, much of the night, and subscribe to Sky Sports when it's half price.

What are the straws we clutch at, what can we hope
In a World Cup year? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, in a Panini magazine,
Rooting for Holland gives no hope, the cricket no relief,
And the commentary no hope of a goal. Only
There is shadow in this London pub,
(Come into the shadow of this London pub),
And I will show you something different from either
The England team snatching at shadows
Or the Germans sweeping all before them;
I will show you fear on 3 acres of grass.
        Who are you?
        Who are you?
        Who are you?
        Who are you?
“You took me to Anfield a year ago;
They called me the Anfield girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the fields of Anfield Road,
Your heart full from a League Cup defeat, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Dead nor Red, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of darkness, the refrain.
You're not very good you''re not very good.

Roy Hodgson, International Manager,
Mocked for his "r"s, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest coach in Europe,
By the FA, at least. Here, said he,
Is your team. The only fit midfielder,
(rested from a season on City's bench)
Here is Wayne Rooney, the Scally of the Weave,
The lad of tabloid situations.
Here is the team with a flat back four, and here a winger,
And here is the one-footed midfielder, and this player,
Who is Sturridge, has some kind of injury,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
Raheem Sterling on the pitch.
I see crowds of people, walking round the stadium.
Thank you. If you see dear Mr Rodgers,
Tell him I'll do the  medical myself:
One must be so careful these days.

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed into the Etihad, so many,
I had not thought pot-hunting had called so many.
Prawns, on wholemeal bread, were consumed
And each man expected the natural rewards
Of throwing petrol money at overpaid stars,
Where there was always the wiping out of cheaper opposition
With a dead sound on the stroke of ten to 5.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying “Liam!
You who were with your brother in Oasis!
That Title you won with your foreign millions
Does it make you happy?  Do you need to win it every year?
Or will you lose it all if the economy crashes?
You should have kept Micah Richards in defence, that’s one we know,
Though they will find someone more reliable on the Continent.
Un joueur formidable! Les Frères Tourés!


The chair he sat in, like an airplane seat, 
Glowed by the touchline, where the grass
Held Fergie's standards from another time
In which Howard Webb looked over
(The lino hid his eyes behind the winger)
Surely, we thought, doubled the added-on time?
Flood lights shining on Giggsy's cross as
The dodgy weave of Rooney rose to meet it,
Now Van Gaalacticos, poured in rich profusion;
In strips of red, and white and black
Unfettered, playing three at the back,
But when facing a team pressing high up —troubled, confused
And drowned by the tears of those fallen
From a height, these ascended
Long ago, when they dreamed of Trebles
Flung Teddy Sheringham forward,
Snatching it back when Bayern Munich thought they were sealing.
Another victory - resigned to copper medals
Glowing green and orange, flashing in the fireworks for Fergie
In which bright light lithe Solskjaer danced
And on the Mancunian mantle was displayed
The centrepiece of Fergie's reign
The trophy that said kings of Europe
So bravely won; yet there the Glasers
Filled all the city with unquiet voices
And still they cry, and still the world wonders,
Bobby Charlton with the comb-over.
And other withered stumps of time
Sit in the director's box; staring forwards
Leaned out, leaning, wishing Fergie still ruled.
Roy Keane shuffled under the glare,
Within the changing room, the hair-drier
Spread out in fiery points
Glowed into words, then would be savagely still.

“My nerves are bad to-night. Can we hold on?
Win for me. Why do you never win? Win.
What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
Why did you think that backpass a good idea?.”

I think we are in Leeds now
Where the faithful nurse their longings.

“What is that noise?”
                      The wind howling round Elland Road.
“What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”
                      Struggling in the Championship.
You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
        I remember
                Those players that were Ridsdale's dreams
“Are you solvent, or not? Is there nothing in your head?”
O O O O that European adventure
Seemed so  magic
Now so tragic
“What shall I do now? What shall I do?
I shall go and shout for the whites
With my eyes down, so. What shall we do next season?
What shall we ever do?”
                          An early bath for the hot-headed striker.
And if it rains, that closed-in feel.
And we watch that mythic game,
Pressing lidless eyes against the encircling floodlights.

When Lil’s husband was late, I said,
I didn’t mince my words, I said to him myself,
There's gonna be a 30 minute queue down the Walton Breck Road.
There I was, heels, hair, off-to-a-wedding-frock
which I'd flung a dressing gown over,
just in case, and a distressed pigeon.
He said, I swear, I can't bear to look at you.
And no more can't I, I said, and think of poor Skrytel.,
He’s been in that team four years, he deserves a medal,
And yet Djima Traore - Champions League Winner - couldn't kick a ball straight.
Oh there is something in that, she said.
I blame that Rafa Benitez, she said, and gave me a look.
If you don’t like scouse you can have a burger, I said,
Others can pick and choose if you can’t.
She said I wouldn't mind giving Sterling some of  that tight marking.
You ought to be ashamed, I said, fancying the players.
(And him number thirty-one.)
I can’t help it, she said, pulling a long face,
All those young bodies.
(She’s forty-five already, and bored of poor George.)
I met one in a night-club once and I've never been the same.
You are a proper fool, I said.
Well, if your husband's always half asleep what can you do, she said,
What you married for once you've grown-up children?
On this Sunday afternoon at home, if we're not out before the whistle goes,
It's gonna be an extra hour to get back through the traffic.
Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight George. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, shame about the score, good night, good night.


Al Fayed’s tent is broken: the last flickers of hope
Drift and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the green pitch, unheard. Michael Jackson has departed
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Coke cans, chip boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of winter days. The stars are departed.
And their friends, the money men of  far-away cities
Watch their money sink.
By the waters of Pakistan they sit down and weep
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for the Cottage has a quieter song.
But at the back in a cold blast I hear
The slow rattle of turnstiles, and a cry of fear..

A fan crept sadly down Fulham Palace Road
Flashing a bulging belly under his replica shirt
While I was thinking about Kenilworth 70s Saturdays
Old First Division, in the "Bobbers".
Musing upon two clubs, their fortunes wrecked
And during the game as Rovers pressed them
White shirts battered on the green damp ground
And another home defeat for the season,
Rattled by their fall, year on year.
But in the side streets, waiting there
The lines of waiting motors, which shall bring
Their drivers home to rue the loss
Of the phony Pharaoh once again.
As with sad eyes
They munch their minced meat pies.

You're not singing anymore, you're not singing anymore.

You're going home
in a Millwall ambulance
You're going home
in a Millwall ambulance

Unreal City
A blue club, playing in red
Mr Tan, the Malaysian merchant
Trim-moustached, with a team full of failures
Premier adventure over, sunk out of sight
Asking me in broken English
If I'd like a glass of wine in the Director's box
Followed by a week-end watching Sky.

At the violet hour, when the eyes and hands
Reach over to the dial, when the anxious motor waits
Its engine throbbing waiting,
I the listener, though blind, driving down the lanes,
Can see the results come in
At the violet hour, the fan drives
Homeward, ten to five,
The full-time whistles blow around the country
Brighton and Hove, hanging on for the draw.
Time added on perilously played
A pitch in Liverpool, touched by the sun’s last rays,
By the dugout are piled (quick-grasped in a break in play)
Water bottles, the odd tracksuit top.
Balotelli, odd man with bib on backwards
He sulked around, we all foretold the end
No goals. He gazes, finds no  friend
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A footballers' agent’s clerk, with one bold stare,
One who makes his money betting on other's
Making even the journeyman a millionaire.
The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The transfer window opens - he weaves the dream
Endeavours to engage managers in soft addresses
With players who are unproven in some Ghanaian team
Brash and confident, he expounds at once;
"He's great going forward - ideal for the modern defence."
He demands a five-million-quid response,
Collects his ten percent with indifference.
(And I the financier have fore suffered all
Enacted in this same club over again;
I who have sat for seasons watching hopes fall
And longed for Europe, and financial gain.)
The agent goes off with no shame,
The African lad will never play a first team game.

The Director of Football looks into his glass
Hardly aware of the departed seller
He's gone for cheap weekly wages over class:
“Well now that’s done: sure he's a good feller.”
When football stoop to folly and recrimination
Sign on reputation,  promise alone alone,
"He just don't fit in our formation",
Can't play in the "hole", or up front alone.

“This music crept by me upon the waters”
And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.
O City City, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street, 260
The pleasant whining of a mandoline
And a clatter and a chatter from within
Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls
Of Magnus Martyr hold
Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.

The river sweats
Blood and tears
The season's hopes
With the turning tide
Midfield tucked in
No-one wide
To cause the full-backs troubles.
Northward, West Ham
Blowing bubbles
Down Greenwich reach
Past the Isle of Dogs.
            No-one likes us
            We don't care
Geoff Hurst, Peters
Bobby Moore
The myth was born
A gilded dream
Now half-century-worn
A sainted team
United the nation
Now, disillusioned
Down time's stream
An arch instead of
Twin towers
            No-one likes us
            We don't care
“Buses and dusty trees.
Highbury bore me. White Hart Lane
Undid me. At the Boleyn Ground I squashed my knees
Into the back of a supporter who gave no evidence of a brain.

“My feet are at Gallowgate, and my heart
Ever in my mouth. After the defeat
I swore. The manager promised ‘a new start.’
We need someone else In the hot seat."

“On the Emirates.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The stars flogged to pay for the ground.
My people humble people who let in

      One Nil

To the Arsenal

Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the bright
side of



Delia the magician, six months down
Forgot the call of Old Trafford, and Swansea as well
After a season of loss.
                          A division under cover
A Yo-yo Team - as they rise and fall
They alternate hope, celebration and fear
The bottom-three whirlpool
                          Rich team or poor
O you who prime the pump and pour the cash in
Consider Delia, who was in the Premiership before.


After the flood-light white on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the park
After the agony in far-off places
The threatening and the chanting
Leicester and London and Burnley and Bolton
Of  snow far off over distant Pennines
They who came up are falling
Those who were winning are falling
Fans have little patience

Here is no water but only lager
Defeat and Decline and the endless road
The road winding to a series of humiliations
There's a mountain to climb if they're gonna stay up
If there were water they could stop and drink
Out of those fancy branded bottles, green and pink
Sweat is shed, but feet are in  quick-sand
If there were only water upon the grass
To give the ball some life, to make the passes zip
These days we can't stand - we have to sit
There is not quite silence even at Old Trafford
The faithful stand, regardless of the rules
There is never solitude for the players on the pitch
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From the seats of crumbling stands
                                If there were hope
And no failure
If there were failure
And also hope
And hope
A win
At Liverpool on the road
If there were the sound of hope only
Not the sadness
And dry hopeless singing
But hope overcoming failure
Where the winger drops the ball in the perfect spot
Dead ball, spot kick
But there is no hope

Who is the third who plays always behind them?
When I count, there are only the strikers together
But when I look ahead up the white line
There is always another one in the hole
Between the midfield and the centre backs
Pulling them out of position
—But who is that on the other side of you?

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of eternal lamentation
Who are those hoodied hordes swarming
Around endless stands, hoping in earthen jars
Ringed by the cloying stands only
What is the hope beyond the ities
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the April air
Falling towers
Swansea Liverpool Manchester
Stoke London

Drogba drew his long black hair out tight
And fell screaming on the waiting pitch
And the refereee, tiny beetle in the searing light
Whistled, and gave him a free kick
He clambered up, and turned to face the wall
And carefully ignored the jeers around the ground
Then jogged forward, leaving Fabregas with the ball
Chelsea voices singing as he headed in the rebound.

In this decayed stand within the city
Under the moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled striker, about the corner flags
There are the empty eyes of the attackers, losing at home.
They're three nil down, beyond unlikely swings.
The home fans are silent.
Only the cock of the walk with his pose and posse
Who the ***ing hell are you?
In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust
Bringing rain
The home fans, shrunken in their seats
Waited for the whistle, left, or watched the rain
Gathering over the Main stand.
The manager crouched, slumped in silence.
Then the whistle blew.
Carra: what have we learnt?
My friends, blood stirring in veins
The awful tragedy of a defence’s surrender
Which later prudence can never correct
By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms
Neville: Drogba found the key
Turned, took the defence apart 
We think of his strength, class and vision
Thinking of his whining, diving precision
Only the physio, running out on the pitch
Revived for a miracle this broken Collosus.
Carra: The Reds responded
Gamely, with pace and control
But the Blues' defence was calm, their captain responded
Gladly, marshalling his colleagues,
With waving hands

                      I sat upon my seat
Aching, with the barren season before me
Well, we can concentrate on the League Cup now.

Stamford Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poor old Chelsea.

Nil satis nisi optimum — unless we get a good offer
Superbia in proelia - Domus clamantium
You'll never walk alone. You'll never walk alone.
Ludere causa ludendi. Vim promovet insitam
Arte et labore

      Boing! Boing! Boing!


Just to say hello to the people of Sorry Watch, who have linked to this blog. Sorry Watch is dedicated to analysing the apologies of this world. And apparently didn't think mine was sincere the other week. Can't imagine why.

I can only say, if anyone was offended by their perception lack of sincerity, then I'm sorry.

Hallowe'en - the Ancient English Rituals You've Never Heard Of

It is, to the rest of the world, a time of scary leprechauns and children dressed as vampires. But in England, where All Hallows' Eve got its name, the period around Hallowe'en is littered with bizarre, terrifying and yet oddly compelling rituals.

In England, Hallowe'en came to be a spiritual time because it is the last day to have a month that starts with the letter "O". Naturally, this causes a rift in the time vortex through which the powers of drivel can sneak in. In Witney, they put blankets over cracks in the walls in case "Pumpkin-Faced Dave" sneaks in to tell them he's not a feminist. Although he does believe in equal rights for women. If Pumpkin-Faced Dave manifests in a house, you have to give him the largest T-Shirt you can find to make him go away.

The Crewkerne Pumpkin Fight is a pitched battle fought in the streets of the Somerset town with pumpkins. It is believed that it is a folk memory of the ancient Celtic tradition that the soul lives in the head. Or something. The winner of the battle is proclaimed "King Pumpkin", and goes on to meet Bayer Leverkeusen in the next round. 

The "Hobby Horse" is a popular Catholic tradition dating back to the time of Vatican 2. Former Telegraph columnists and members of the Ordinariate wander around, telling everybody that they don't trust their bishops.

In Axminster, the young men indulge in arm wrestling to determine who will be "King Cheese". Unfortunately nobody knows what duties he then has. So he wanders aimlessly round the town until Christmas, at which time they've all forgotten about it till next year. There's not much to do, in Axminster.

In Glossop, young men wrap themselves in bacon and dance around the town singing the song "I'm a perfect Christmas Accessory". This is believed to be an ancient fertility rite. Although not a very effective one, as they smell of bacon for weeks afterwards.

In Dunstable, all the pubs are decorated with Christmas trees from early August. 

In Ealing, Boris Johnson roams the streets looking for attractive women and potential voters. This is a fertility ritual, but not an ancient or pleasant one.

The women of Chester march round the city walls, looking for any Welshmen they can find. If they find one, they present him with a small onion, and tell him to come back in February. This is likely to be a folk memory of something, but frankly nobody can be bothered to work out what.

If you sit in the church porch of Silsoe in Bedfordshire all night on Hallowe'en, you've an evens chance of getting arthritis.

Many traditions have been made safer, or more politically correct, for our modern times. The Lemon-throwing ritual of Hemsby in Norfolk, for instance, has only been in existence for twelve years, since the original Lemming Throwing was banned. Throwing lemmings over the cliffs was claimed to prevent the ancient Celtic God, Manannan Mac Lyr, from washing the cliffs away. When the RSPCA brought the initial court cases, the locals' claim that the lemmings enjoyed it was rejected. In 2012-3, Hemsby beach was washed away during severe storms. Co-incidence?

In Middleton-in-Teesdale, men dress up as Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, and run around the streets scaring old men. When they return to the "Housey-wousey"', the Brands announce they have found enlightenment and can now save the universe. Then they get frustrated that they are still unable to work the TV remote.

The village of Mears Ashby in Northamptonshire received a special dispensation from Edward VII to continue swimming suspected witches, long after the practice had been made illegal elsewhere in England. On Hallowe'en, all the local witches are thrown into the pond to see which ones float. Any found to be witches are then elected to the Parish Council. The Enlightenment never really took hold in Mears Ashby.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

The Big Banger Theory

Sometimes I think that scientific activity is like cooking a sausage in a frying pan, and worrying it's not cooked in the middle.

The only way to ensure it's cooked in the middle is either to cook the outside until it's utterly burnt, or to cut it in half and, if it's not cooked in the middle, fry the inside.

Either way, you now know the truth.

But you don't really have the fried sausage you wanted.

Meeting the Challenges of Ministry - Quiz Results

Inspired by David Keen's piece on talent and enabling, here are the answers to yesterday's "Meeting the Challenges of Ministry" quiz.

  1. The minister will just have to drive faster.
  2. The minister.
  3.  Some other church will find them.
  4. A trick question. You can't do 2 half-time posts unless the Government legislates for an 8 day week.
  5. .....always knows best.
  6. Other churches will have to contribute more.
  7. Yes, you are an exceptional case.
  8. The minister.
  9. The group cannot make any decisions until s/he gets there from the other meetings. Have a cup of tea while you wait.
  10. Somebody else's service will have to shift.
  11. The minister.
  12. No, she's too young.
  13. No. The Grest Commission applied to other people.
  14. The minister.
  15. The memorials. The current congregation won't be around long, anyway.
  16. Because it makes the choir nervous.
  17. He'll have to learn the mouth organ.
  18. Exhausted.
  19. Over her dead body.
  20. Because it didn't work last time.
  21. Because it's an innovation.
  22. It doesn't matter if nobody is there. The important thing is that it happens.
  23. The minister.
  24. Write a letter to the bishop.
  25. Only if he time travels.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Russia World Cup Emblem - A Review

The official emblem of the FIFA World Cup has been revealed. I've no idea about the usage rights, so I'll leave you to follow the link.

To me it mostly looks like a very sad ghost, gazing upwards wondering whether it has the energy to absorb somebody's soul.  Sepp Blatter's, probably.  It puts me in mind of the wraith of Stalinism, sucking the psychic energy out of the Mexican Day of the Dead, and setting out to consume Europe.

Or maybe it's meant to look a bit like the trophy.

The Ignorance of the Independent

"The Catholic Church has long had a reputation for being anti-science – most famously when Galileo faced the inquisition and was forced to retract his “heretic” theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun." - From the Independent.

That "anti-science" reputation propagated by silly statements like the above, I guess.

Let's list a few Catholics quite famous in their field, who were also of the Catholic clerical classes:
  • Gregor Mendel - monk and major pioneer in Genetics.
  • Francesco Grimaldi - priest and discoverer of the diffraction of light.
  • Gabriele Falloppio - priest and researcher into reproduction, has the tubes named after him.
  • Georges Lemaître - priest, physics professor, the man who conceived of (but didn't name) the Big Bang.
So, among others, genetics and the Big Bang theory. Things which, collectively, are claimed to disprove religion. Sure.

A few lay-people (there's lots more, obviously):
  • Amedeo Avagadro - famous for his faith being constant, like his mole.
  •  Henri Becquerel - glowed in the bath with righteousness.
  • John Eccles - neurophysiologist and saved pusson
  • Blaise Pascal - Mathematician and philosopher.
See, believing as we do in a rational, creative God, I don't reckon most Christianity is, or could ever could be, "anti-science".  Some extreme Protestants are anti- the theory of evolution, but they ain't Catholics, and they still believe that smart phones and the Internet work. It's a lazy, silly thing to say the Catholic church is anti-science. Fancy a proper, serious newspaper saying it.

The Altar Call that Never Ended

Archdruid "It's been a great time of worship, with some songs that have really spoken to us about how rotten we are, and how good God is not to have wiped us from the face of the earth already.

I mean, some of us are so loathsome by nature you wonder how God can even look at us. And, if it's you that I'm talking about, you'll know who you are.

So now I'd like everybody to sit quietly, with their eyes closed.

And if you're one of those people that feels that crumby, that foul, that you wonder how God could ever look on you - you know who you are - then very gently I'd like you to just put one hand in the air. Nobody else is looking. Not even me. Though, obviously, neither will I be needing to put my hand in the air. I'm past all that kind of thing. That's why I get to lead.

Now, I'm aware that there aren't any hands in the air at the moment..."

[Charlii: "That's because you're squinting!"]

Archdruid: "Shhh... So I'd like you to go back and think of all the rotten things you've ever, ever done.... Did you ever pull the wings off a Daddy Long Legs as a child, to try to convert it into a spider? Did you fight with your siblings? Have lustful thoughts? For the same gender? Different gender? Different species.... Did you ever take too much dinner at a self-service cafeteria and get offended when you were charged for a double portion?

Well..... Let's try this.... do any of you still feel hurts because of somebody being nasty to you? Has anybody made you feel small?

No?  OK..... let's turn to phobias....."

Light up the Fire

That's the trouble with being an experimental liturgical unit.  You never learn from the past.

I'm sure at least one of the Early Fathers must at some time have written on the dangers of marking out a labyrinth using tea lights. And, if they didn't, I must have. If Beaker liturgical history has taught us one thing, it is that you shouldn't mark out labyrinths using tea lights.

And the other thing it should have taught us - if you do mark out a labyrinth in tea lights, as part of a "Spirit of the 70s" act of worship, don't get so immersed in the recreation of that most holy of eras by walking around the labyrinth in nylon flared trousers.

Hnaef is OK, you'll be pleased to hear. Swift action included wrapping his legs in an afghan rug and beating out the flames. Daphne, in particular, took very swift action, to judge by the vigour with which she was beating them out - long after everybody else had retired to the White Horse, actually.

Hnaef reports this morning that he has no lasting damage, and no hair left on his legs. Says he's amazed by the feeling of confidence that has given him.

Monday 27 October 2014

John McCricrick: "Why David Cameron Should Wear the T-shirt"

In a surprising escalation of David Cameron's T-shirt-gate, John McCririck has become the latest celebrity to be photographed wearing Elle Magazine's "Feminist" t-shirt.

"I am, and always have been, an ardent feminist", said the former racing correspondent, "and now I've explained what that means to the Booby, she is one as well."

"In fact," continued the former Celebrity Big Brother contestant, "that I'm prepared to be this badly Photoshopped shows just what a keen feminist I am,"

The ball is firmly in David Cameron's court.

Not Wearing Feminism on Your Sleeve

Alerted by the New Statesman to the fact that David Cameron is refusing to wear one of Elle magazine's feminist T Shirts, whereas Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband wore them. I guess this raises a number of questions for me:

1)  Maybe he's a busy chap. Like Ed Miliband he has the press and back-stabbing party members to deal with. Unlike Ed, he's also running the country. And let's face it, power's been good for David Cameron.  Maybe they didn't have a big enough T-shirt. Or he didn't think he'd look good in it - unlike Ed.... Or maybe he doesn't just have to do whatever a fashion company demands.

2) If Nick Clegg ever again sacrifices whatever passes for Lib Dem principles for a share in government, will there be any Lib Dem women in Cabinet next time? Just to prove it's more than T-shirt wearing?

3) What's a paper called "New Statesman" doing banging on about equality? Consider first the plank in thine own etc.

4) Who originally didn't know the difference between Ed and David Miliband? The editor of Elle or the reporter on the New Statesman?

he knew Nick Clegg and David Miliband had agreed without hesitation,

How To Save the Church of England

  1. Rediscover the original values that mattered.
  2. Reconnect with what people are looking for.
  3. Take a serious look at the costs of trying to have a presence in every community, no matter how small. Weigh the benefits, not the costs.
  4. Return to offering the key, core essentials.
  5. Stop trying to be all things to all people - concentrate on what matters, what you're good at.
  6. Empower local initiatives by resisting the urge to impose a top-down approach.
  7. Stop making short-term financial imperatives the driving force.
  8. Resist the temptation to use staff reduction as the only way to respond to challenging conditions.
  9. Use the Intermet to its maximum potential. It is where people are, and where your competitors are.
  10. Remember that small, local units, by being closer to people and the original core values, may be more effective than large, centralised models.
  11. Divest from the Asian operation. It's only a distraction and it may raise the money to support core initiatives.
  12. Cut down on diversification into financial services, white goods and flowers.
  13. I'm sorry.
  14. I've got the Church of England confused with Tesco again, haven't I.
You probably really meant to read this article by Psephizo, didn't you?

Sunday 26 October 2014

Russell Brand - an Apology

I realise that in the past I have said some rude things about Russell Brand. I have accused him of bullying behaviour towards old age pensioners. I have often thought his only real achievement was being more talented than Jonathan Ross. Although this wasn't much of a compliment.

However I have realised over the last few years that he is quite funny. I've laughed quite a lot at his views on politics and the environment, for example.

I hasten to add that I've not seen him on stage, or read any of his books. I suspect that would only ruin my new impression of him.

The Bible

I have treasured all my life an experience I had, at the age of 18, of singing the musical setting of Newman's Dream of Gerontius. At the end of the piece, as Gerontius settles into his unspecified period of cleansing prior to being able to enter heaven, the song of the saved people of God wafts across the gloomy marshes of Purgatory in the long night watch:

Lord, thou hast been our refuge in every generation
Lord, thou hast been our refuge in every generation
Before the hills were born, from age to age,
Thou art God. Thou art God.

And those words and the ones that follow it in the Psalm of Moses seem to me to encapsulate the relationship with God which the Bible is about. The story - not just in the Bible - but the one the Bible tells.

I've no time for people who try to tell me that the  first three chapters or so of the Bible form a literal and true account of the creation of the universe in scientific terms, and none for those that tell me it's been disproved by La Maitre and Darwin. Because the people in that pointless argument are rowing over a category error. You might as well argue that the Wind in the Willows is a poor zoology book.

I'm not that keen on people who take one verse of the Bible to prove their view. It may be a bit silly to counter the idea that the Bible has a verse that says homosexual acts are wrong - by pointing out that the verse next to it condemns eating prawns. But then it's only meeting silliness with silliness. Because it's generally countering a claim made on the basis of that one verse. It's much harder, but more more important, to work through what the whole Biblical and Christian witness leads to.

I've also no real time for people who tell me that the Bible is true because the Bible says so. All Spirit may be a God-breathed, as the man said, but you've got already to believe that, to believe in the sense of that verse in that way. It's a circular argument.

But those words of Moses the man of God capture, for me, the essence. The Bible is the account of how God has always been heen the refuge of the people of God. From the days of a wandering Aramean, to the days when a bunch of Hebrews made the risky trip across the Sinai desert. From the coalescing of a bunch of tribes who gathered that their various "El"s and "Lord"s were one and the same God. From the annihilation of rival tribes to the injunction to care for the foreigner in their land, to the calling to be the Light for the Gentiles.

The tangled, sometimes confused story of how one group from within that people of God stumbled upon a man who came from God in a new, and special way. The disparate collection of tales he told and things he did. The tale of a dark Friday and a bright Sunday morning. And the strands of the letters the Church wrote, as it lived in the new power of the Spirit and tried to understand what he had said, what his life meant.

And as we live in the gap in the latter collection of books - between the end of Acts and the end of Revelation. We inhabit the story - we are part of it, because God has breathed us into it. Because I do believe that the story is God-breathed, not because it says so itself, but because it is the story of the life of the Jews and the Church, as we reach to hear from God in the words that his people have written. As we enter into worship, or struggle, or as parts of the church face persecution and oppression and death - this is our story as well. An odd collection of poems, old laws, history, myth and aspiration. This is our story, the story of our lives. We can cry "alleluia" with the psalmist, or "how long, O Lord?" We can lift our crosses, be filled with new life, look for the End to come. The Bible isn't an old, closed story written in dead languages - because we're still living in it. The last chapter isn't over, yet.

Until it is, and all the way into the never-ending glory that is the song of the love of God, we can turn to face our God, and sing with Moses.

Lord, thou hast been our refuge in every generation
Lord, thou hast been our refuge in every generation
Before the hills were born, from age to age,
Thou art God. Thou art God.

Saturday 25 October 2014

Litany of Fear for Apple Users

Archdruid: And so we await the Hour of Fear

All: The 2am clock-change

Archdruid: Will Apple users be awakened at 3 o'clock?

All: Or fall into another dimension?

Archdruid: Will they awake in Greenwich Time?

All: Or Rocky Mountain Time?

Archdruid: Is this the real life?

All: Is it just fantasy?

Archdruid: Leaving British  Summer Time

All: No escape to GMT.

Archdruid: Will they be late for church or work?

All: Or gazing, blankly, into the darkness of 3am?

[Archdruid: Picture angular glimpses of sharp youth cutting strident shapes through the curling grey of 3am.  Hear the soaring joy of immaculate rhythms, the sublime glow of music for heroes driving straight to the heart of dance.  Follow the stirring vision and the rousing sound on the path towards journeys to glory.]

Archdruid: Let us pray that we will know what day it is tomorrow.

All: For, so addicted are we to our iPad Minis, we're not sure what today is.

Archdruid: So it's a great leap backward.

All: Into the future.

Archdruid: And now we sing the Apple Clock-Change Hymn


The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
Your old road is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

Feast of Saints Crispin and Crispinian

Archdruid: Let us celebrate this feast of Crispin and Crispinian. Patron saints of those people who mend shoes. You know, they used to have a lot in Northampton....

All: Cobblers.

Archdruid: No, it's all true...

Friday 24 October 2014

A Modern Resignation

Hi Jakki

This is to give you three months' notice of my resignation.

I've really enjoyed my time at Jackson Sprockets. It's been a chance to develop my career, to manage a budget for the first time and to be on the cutting edge of modern sprocket manufacturing technology. My colleagues are great. Team spirit is brilliant. My salary is highly satisfactory. Indeed my new employers, Flanagan Flanges, are offering me substantially less basic salary.

And the premises are lovely. Decent canteen, nice food, and a good location with parkland out the back where you can walk in summer.

But it's the email. When I started, I was a keen disciple of "inbox zero". I was delighted, every day at five-thirty, to shut down my PC knowing I had dealt with every email inquiry.

But, as the months went by, I found it harder to do. Increasingly as time went by, and I became more recognised as an authority in 4" cast-iron sprockets, people started "looping Dave in" on any email thread involving sprockets, cast iron, or anything that measured four inches. The last of these categories, you will understand, causing me most distress. And the practice of "looping in", being intended to bring more people into already pointless death-spirals of conversation, resulted in original queries about, for example, optimal sprocket production temperatures spinning off into digressions on the steel market, the need only to use A4 plastic pocket folders, and the fact that Jasmine is out of the office. 

Then there's the prats who "reply all" to messages sent out as information to the whole company. And the super-prats who then "reply all" to tell them what they've done. And the people who send you an email to confirm what you've just discussed. Or a "chase" twenty minutes after the first one to remind you they sent you an email. And the Fantasy Football League. And the recruitment consultants who apologise for contacting me "directly". Like asking a passing stranger whether I have any vacancies would be any use.

And it's fair to say you've not helped. Ironically because of your desire to include me in conversations. Every morning I come in to discover 400 emails that you've forwarded on to me, in a late-night BlackBerry frenzy,  adding merely the salutation "FYI". I tried adding a rule to put them all into a folder called "fyi", in case I ever really needed the information. But sometimes in a meeting whenever you didn't know the answer, you'd turn to me, knowing you had forwarded me an email "FYI", and expect me to know the answer.  So I've had to read them all.

By the way, Jasmine is always out of the office. Is this a cunning method to stay out of email conversations? It doesn't work. It just results in the sender copying in all four of her subordinates to see who can help. And "looping in" everybody in the original email chain. And Jasmine herself. For her information.

I've not really been productive at work for the last year. Every minute - and, actually, every minute of my evenings - has been spent trying to deal with the dark black number - ever-increasing - in brackets  next to the word Inbox". Every meeting I've attended, I have been constantly tapping on the BlackBerry (not a euphemism) dealing with emails coming in at a rate of one every thirty seconds - normally from other people in the same meetings. Oddly, my contributions to these meetings, and the value I get out of them, has not been affected. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

So, at approximately 4,000 unread emails, it's time to leave. I don't doubt that I will hit the same problem eventually at Flanagan Flanges. I just reckon it will take about 2 years until this whole futile cycle has repeated.

I an aware that you, likewise, have approximately 27,000 unread emails in your inbox. Since you deal with this issue by reading only emails from people you think are important, you won't ever read this resignation email.  One day you too will resign, and on the day you leave, you will consign this, and hundreds of thousands like with it, to the Deleted Items folder. And walk away thinking you've done a good job.

If I'm lucky, you'll still be paying me.

Best regards


And There is No Peace

"At that time King Hazael of Aram went up, fought against Gath, and took it. But when Hazael set his face to go up against Jerusalem, King Jehoash of Judah took all the votive gifts that Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, and Ahaziah, his ancestors, the kings of Judah, had dedicated, as well as his own votive gifts, all the gold that was found in the treasuries of the house of the Lord and of the king’s house, and sent these to King Hazael of Aram. Then Hazael withdrew from Jerusalem."

The Book of Kings has quite a resemblance to modern matters - bloodthirsty men claiming to rule in the name of God, kinglets running amok around the Middle East and King Jehoash playing the part of the Iraqi army.

Thomas Hardy was scathing about the way Religion looks forward to peace, while the opposite happens:

"After 2,000 years of mass
We've got as far as poison-gas."

But the Great War was about nationalism. And the scientific modernism Hardy lived gave us tanks and Hiroshima. Then atheist politics gave us Stalin's purges and the Chinese Cultural Revolution and Year Zero.

Then just a quarter of a century ago, Francis Fukuyama promised us that liberal democracy would bring us the End of History.

Yeah, that went well. Between Russian nationalism and radical islamism, we've got far more history than we can deal with. Whenever anybody tells you they've got a brilliant plan for how everything's going to be good from now on - check whether that person's philosophy is balanced like a bus on an Alpine peak.

And so we come full-circle, with Putin cast as Nebuchadnezzar and al-Baghdadi playing Hazael.

There's a special psalm for thoughts like these. As I sit in my comfortable Home Counties conservatory, watching the leaves on the Virginia Creeper glow red under an autumn sky, maybe it's not for me just now.

But for those where there's no hope; those fighting bravely in a hopeless cause, doomed to be forgotten; they're very powerful words. And they're brave, honest, shocking words to have been written in a book of religion, when everything is supposed to turn out nice again in the end. It's Psalm 88.

Ready? Here's the last bit. 

"Lord, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?
I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.
Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off.
They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together.
Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness."

It ends there.

Thursday 23 October 2014

A Hurtful Welcome

This morning's little post was an un-referenced response to a post I thought so snarky I wouldn't link to it - a sub-blog-post, if you will. My point was, if you couldn't get it, that gay people are to be welcomed as part of the family of the church, just as anybody else is. We welcome people irrespective of their differences, because it's in our diversity that we become whole, and a reflection of the diversity yet unity of the Trinity in whose image we are made.

But discussion in another place about that same blog that inspired - if that is the right word - my little piece of drivel, uncovered this far more serious and important piece from "A Queer Calling". I commend it to your notice.

How to Welcome Gay People into Church - the Beginner's Guide

Leader: "The Lord be with you"

All: "And with Your spirit"

Leader: "Morning everybody. Nice to see you. If you've not got tea or coffee it's over there - have a bun. If your kids run around don't worry. The hymn is...."

Wednesday 22 October 2014

The Words Simon Jenkins Didn't Write

Simon Jenkins at the Guardian tells us why jail won't work for Oscar Pistorius.
"Oscar Pistorius was guilty. However gripped by anger, it’s difficult to accept he didn’t know whom he was likely to kill. He had a violent history and his claim that he thought he was shooting a burglar stretches credulity."
That would make it murder. If you fire several shots at someone else, you are trying to kill them.  However gripped by anger you are, if they're not trying to hurt you, that is murder. I would like to say that, if Simon Jenkins believes it was murder, then that on its own would be enough to discount everything else he has to say. I have a sneaking suspicion that, in Simon Jenkins' mind, it wouldn't.
"He killed his girlfriend"
He killed Reeva Steenkamp, two words not mentioned anywhere in this article. He killed a woman who happened to be his girlfriend. But she had her own life, dreams, experiences, name. She was not merely a being whose existence was dependent on that of a famous man.
"Given the leniency South African courts used to show towards white people killing black people, it is hard to see how the court could show leniency to a white person killing another white person."
Let's accept, for the sake of argument, that the verdict was correct. For recklessly shooting into a closed room, apparently heedless of who it was, five years would seem to be at the low end of a reasonable sentence - especially for a man who, I presume, has had his life genuinely ruined by losing the woman he presumably loved. I'm sure it has been ruined. I am also sure that a sentence that could result in him being out after 10 months is very lenient.
"Beyond the cause of consistency, imprisoning Pistorius can serve no purpose."
I wonder if such a fatuous, 6th-form-debating-society sentence could have been written in any other British paper. But let's go on.
"The purpose of depriving wrongdoers of their liberty, now that we no longer hang or flog, should be to rehabilitate them and, if not, keep them from further crime."
Rehabilitation and keeping felons from further crime are both good reasons to imprison people, although rehabilitation seems a fairly rare result. But on this basis, a seriously recalcitrant shoplifter should never be released. Actually, I met an old felon once who had spent his whole life, whenever released from pokey, immediately committing crime and, shortly afterwards, getting rearrested. I presume Simon Jenkins would never let him out. Personally, I certainly wouldn't. Getting out and having to go to all the trouble of getting caught again used to play havoc with the old bloke's routine.

But back to this case. Simon Jenkins has told us, in his first paragraph, that Oscar Pistorius shot Reeva Steenkamp because he was angry. If somebody is in the habit, when angry with his partner, of shooting her - doesn't this suggest some kind of education around the whole not-shooting-people-when-angry area might be useful? That, if we believed rehabilitation worked, then this is exactly the sort of thing the next 5 years might be useful for? And, if not, that if this man has a habit of shooting people when angry and can't be rehabilitated, well.... I refer you, on Simon Jenkins' logic, to my friend the geriatric burglar.
"That it should be “retributive”, a mere expression of society’s rage, is primitive theology. It is trotted out when no other reason for imprisonment can be imagined."
I can see nothing wrong with locking somebody up simply to punish them. If you have committed this kind of crime, you should be punished. It has fairness about it, and it expresses the revulsion that we ad human beings have for crime. It is not intrinsically fair, I reckon, to lock people up for different periods of time depending upon how malleable they are - or how malleable they can pretend to be. The taking of a life - such as Reeva Steenkamp's - demands a price. The one who commits that crime should pay it.

And I don't see this as "primitive theology". It's the reaction, I suspect, of most non-Guardian-readers, and many that do read it, to the idea that a human life - such as Reeva Steenkamp's - is utterly precious - worth far more than just a bit of retraining would ever repay. Obviously we've not been as well-educated at keeping down primitive emotions as Simon Jenkins, but then other primitive emotions - love, fear, happiness - continue to work and be accepted as legitimate.
"Imprisonment is brutalism, reflecting society’s inability to police antisocial acts"
How on earth does he think society could police this manslaughter - or, if you prefer, "antisocial act"? Should there be a Guardian columnist, equipped with soothing words, in every bathroom?
"Men such as Pistorius have had their lives ruined, their failings exposed and chance enough to reflect on their crimes and what they can do to atone for them."
Women such as Reeva Steenkamp have had their lives taken away.
"No one will be more or less “deterred” by the length of his jail sentence."
Do you know, I reckon this. If, whenever women were hurt by men, the Law took it seriously, and the men got the sentences they deserved, then the sort of men who hurt women might actually be deterred from doing it. If we let people get away with culpable homicide, abuse or murder on the grounds that they won't learn anything from being locked up, then they probably won't.

Given the way it's written, I half-wonder whether the Guardian has just indulged in the most vile piece of click-bait trolling. In case anyone was wondering, the crime featured in the Guardian's puerile piece of adolescent argument had a victim. But don't expect Simon Jenkins to tell you who she was.

Generation Z and Generation α

That's the problem with designating groups of anything with a letter - based scheme. It did for car registrations in the UK a few years ago.

When the concept of Generation X - the social cohort, not the short-lived British punk rockers - was invented, they were so named for being the 10th generation since the American revolution.

Why this then took in we English and other Europeans is beyond me. Even in England, the American revolution was little more than "in other news", as a bunch of plucky Brits fought off a largely-German colonial army.

But Gen X was a number - 10 - not a letter. So to call the people born after that Generation Y, rather than XI, was silly. Small wonder we now instead refer to "Millennials", not least as this science-fictiony term perfectly captures the alien appearance of the young-men-in-whiskers currently plaguing London and similar locations.

But if we'd continued with the X-Y pattern originally established, then we're currently about halfway through Generation Z being born.

Generation Z will be a troubled and troubling bunch. Half of them will be dedicated apocalyptics, convinced that - if they are "Z" - there is nothing to come after them. They will reject the previous 50 years of environmental angst, gleefully consuming whatever we leave them of this world's resources in the belief that after them, the Flood. The other Generation Z-ers, convinced that they are the generation that all the previous ages have been in preparation for, will just act like teenagers for their entire lives.

Meanwhile, the offspring of the Millennials will be being born. Having run out of Latin letters, they will be Generation α.

Generation Alpha will, I predict, be the ones that bring it all to an end. Addicted to small-group meetings and dinner parties, they will spend their lives deepening their spiritual awareness and driving 7-seater cars. They will know that Generation Z are sending the world to hell on a Segway but they won't care. They'll have a home in glory land that outshines the Sun - which will be a great consolation as Generation Z declares war on the Moon.

Generation α will be like an extended edition of the Great British Bake-off, set to Matt Redman music, while global nuclear meltdown occurs outside the force-fields of suburbia. Nobody else will be born in the West - Gen Z will be too busy consuming and destroying, while Gen α will never get away from finger buffets and prayer triangles.

It'll be a shame to miss it.