Tuesday 31 March 2015

How Hard Working is Your Family?

It's going to be one of those key phrases over the next six weeks. The battle-ground over which Tories and Labour will fight. And it's actually, whatever John Prescott or Michael Gove or whoever might say, down to the fact that you can get barely a fag paper between them. They're both going to cut the State and they're both gonna blame the other party for it.

The other parties have less of a problem. The Plaid message is "Free Wales and Socialism". The SNP "Free Scotland and Socialism". The Greens, "Let's all starve while huddled round the last stick of firewood in Britain". UKIP, "Let's go back to Enid Blyton's 1930s". And the Lib Dems are going with "If any us are left in Parliament, maybe we can be in coalition again".

But for the big two parties, it's down to "hardworking families". I guess this is based on the following assumptions:
- Except in North London, rich people will vote Tory, regardless.
- Old people will vote how they've always voted.
- Poor people don't vote.
- Students get up so late the polls will have closed.

So that leaves hardworking families. They may think that there's a chance that voting for one party or the other may make a difference to their lives. They may not have twigged that the difference between Labour and Conservative is that Ed Balls will tell you he's taking your money for your own good, whereas the Tories are taking your money for their own good.

But how hardworking is your family? Do you, especially, qualify for that tag? Here are the questions you must ask yourself.

Do you, or your partner, have a job? If you're a traditional family and the man works and the woman doesn't - what's the matter with her? Life isn't all milk-vomit on your shoulder and Loose Women, you know. Get out and pay taxes - we mean, work. Have you never heard of feminism?

If you're a traditional family and both parents are out at work - what's the matter with the woman?  Going out to work, leaving the children with childcare or the grandparents or asking passing glue-sniffers to keep an eye on them - irresponsible. Don't you know studies have proved that children whose mothers work are 90% more likely to like One Direction and hassle strangers outside Tesco Express? You people make me sick.

If you're a traditional family and the mother goes out to work but the father doesn't - don't you worry there's something odd about that? I mean - it's not what anyone else does, is it? Are you sure you're traditional at all? Who's wearing the flat cap in your family?

If you both have flat caps, as well as bizarre beards, fixie bikes and you work as barristas, you are strictly speaking a hipster flat-share. Politicians don't care about you.  You'll be drinking your two-thirds of a pint of lambic steam-malted cherry rye-beer when you should be voting. And standing about asking if people want squirrel milk with their Somalian Red Ferret dark roast doesn't really count as hard working, does it?

If you are gay, bravo. Nobody wants to get into the question of who goes to work, who looks after the children or what you spend your money on. It's best for the party's rep if you are just quietly approved of.

But those families with kids - not the babies.  The spotty ones. They're old enough to work aren't they? If they are over 13, the least you can do, now all the mines are closed, is send them to work in McDonald's. It won't help the spots, obviously. But still - it all keeps the economy moving. And the stumpy ones - even if they're not old enough for paid work, can't you get them knitting?

And Granny needn't think she can just sit there in front of the telly, dreaming of when London was so friendly you could leave your doors open and friendly Kray twins were on every corner, directing traffic while bobbies, two by two, gave cheery waves. Surely she can do a bit of cleaning?

So add it up. If 45% or more of the waking hours of your family, ages 13 and up, is spent in gainful employment - congratulations. You are a hardworking family.  You will be the most important people in the country for the next six weeks. And, after that, if you can just shut up, work hard, and pay your taxes?

Monday 30 March 2015

Church Profiles Explained Some More

In my previous blog to you, O blog-lovers, I discussed some labels of church traditions that are used in church profiles - those documents generally used to sell churches to potential ministers - and what they meant in reality. Some people laughed, some tutted, some resigned their ministries, and some wondered where the Charismatic Catholics were.

But that's only part of the story. There are also the words that the churches use to describe themselves, apart from the labels. The softer words. The words that can convey positive meanings to potential ministers, while hiding or foreboding an inner despair.... Here's a sampler.

A Sense of History - The Memorials get more attention than the members of the congregation.

Ambitions for Children's Work - You or your partner  must be good with children. As none of us can stand them. But apparently they're "the Future", whatever that is.

Architecturally rich - People will come from all over the country, demand you open up the church so they can spend five minutes admiring the stained glass, and leave nothing in the donations box.

At the Centre of the Community - Controlled by the Lodge.

Buidling Relationships - The last minister got 10 years.

Church Magazine needs reviving - How's your writing, editing, printing and door-to-door distribution skills?

Close-knit - You know that Table of Kindred and Affinities you townies have? We've shortened that.

Conservative - We ducked the last witch in 1986. She's now the organist, as it gors.

Dedicated congregation for Daily Prayer - Doris does get a bit fixated on the minister.

Diverse - The organist is Welsh. And the Church Warden's wife is from the next village.

Ecumenical activity - The Baptists have stopped swearing at the Methodist minister. At least, on Sundays. That's an improvement, isn't it?

Everyone knows everyone else - There's only four in the congregation.

Historic Building - Are you a good fund-raiser?

In need of a Hands-on minister - The boiler's constantly breaking down.

Inner City - Look, we know it's what Jesus might be wanting. But that doesn't necessarily make it easy. You will be the only professional on the patch who doesn't go home to the suburbs at night. And possibly the only church member in that situation as well.

Many baptisms - Well, they're cheaper than weddings.

Many funerals - When they cleared people out from the Old East End, they didn't completely lose the culture.

Many weddings - Mostly between people from the EU, and people from the developing world who can't seem to remember their partners' names.

Messy Church - Pigeons and bats keep getting in.

Mix of Traditions across the Benefice - Little Tremlett has declared war on Woodby Chapel End.

Paid 75% of the Parish Share - Next year we're aiming for 50.

Patron is greatly interested in the work of the Parish - Imagine you're Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice. But will you please stop simpering?

Quarterly Benefice Service - Every 5th Sunday of the month, the congregation of 5 out of 6 parishes stays at home.

Reverent - No children.

Rich local history - There's a coven meets on the downs. Not one of the nice ones. And two of the members are on the tea rota.

Rural - You'll be accepted in about 20 years.

Strong pastoral commitment - The entire congregation needs bussing to hospital on a weekly basis. Apart from the ones in the residential home, obviously.

Solemn - See "Reverent"

Thriving village social life - Wife-swapping.

Varied Worship Tradition - After three ministers of different enthusiasms, we're liturgically and theologically bankrupt. And financially, obviously. Financially goes without saying.

Very Rural - We'll give your car a year. And the local mechanic - whom you will have to go to, as he's one of the Wardens - really only "gets" tractors.

Vibrant - Noisy

It's Not Easy Being Orange

Yeah I used to make good money, selling fruit juice at Mind-Body-Spirit conferences.

Whole, natural, organic.

I used to call it Kia-Aura.

Sunday 29 March 2015

Even the Solar Stone-Lights Cry Out

Last time I get talked into staging a "Palm Sunday" event in a shopping complex. It was meant, from our perspective, as an outreach.  And from theirs as a community event / street theatre / marketing opportunity. So in theory we were all happy.

Till Milton Ernest, in the lead role,  got carried away. Overturned all the tables in Costa.

And I dare not go back to the garden centre. Not after what happened to their fig trees. I'm sure that's not how it happened in the Bible.


"Christianity didn’t begin until a century after the crucifixion; Jesus and all his apostles died Jews"

So a takedown by Brook Wilensky-Lanford of a life of Jesus.

I guess it depends what he thinks he means by "Christianity". The early Church was all Jewish, but it wasn't long before they agreed that Gentiles could be followers of Christ without circumcision or adopting Jewish food laws. Within the lifetime of Peter, for instance, members of 'The Way" were already being called Christians.

So as long as by Christianity he doesn't mean "a movement of people who followed the teaching of, and were accepting the name of, Christ" - then what he's saying isn't necessarily drivel.

I'll leave it to you to decide.

What do we want? Better Auras. When do we want them? All Time is Now

With gratitude to the Chairman for sharing this leaflet on a Spiritual Fayre in Chipping Sodbury.

The things that worry Chairman Bill are the random apostrophes. To which the person who made the flyer would no doubt say "don't come down heavy with your Judaeo-Christian-Enlightenment ideas of grammar. This is properly spiritual. And mindy-bodily."

No. There's other things that worry me.

The Chakra Dancing Demo's - what are they demonstrating against? And if it's poverty or Giles Coren or Iraq or something - are they sure that Chakra dancing is the most efficient way of getting from the war memorial to the town hall, or whatever the route is?

Native American and Dowsing - in what way do these go together? I thought dowsing was meant to be an olde English - or, at least, German Magickal - method for finding imaginary streams under people's gardens. Let's not lump People from the First Nations in with blokes called Hans with twigs of willow.

Manicures and Waxing - Now this is meant to be a mind, body and spirit show. And yes, manicures and waxing are used on parts of one's body. But I can't help worrying that people shouting in agony as they experience the worst pain they've known since childhood is not going to help the spiritual ambience. Gosh, I've had some terrible manicures. That's why we let Hnaef wear the nail varnish these days. And the waxing is going to be even worse.

"Holistic healing" I approve of. As long as people are encouraged to use prescribed drugs as well. And tell the doctor what they've been up to. And appreciate that, given the roots of the two words, "holistic healing" is a tautology. "Atomic healing" shouldn't really exist.

"Wheelchair friendly" worries me. Do wheelchairs, in the world of mind-body-spirit, have feelings? Should we be welcoming them? Isn't it more important we care for the people in the wheelchairs? After all, if the holistic healing isn't any good, they won't need the wheelchairs on the way out. It would be very wheelchair unfriendly. Suddenly these anthropomorphised wheelchairs would have no purpose.  They'd need some herbal tea's. Because, let's face it, the Indian Head isn't going to help them.

And how can you read angels? Is it like a "YMCA" thing? Do they spell out letters? Do the "mystic stalls" come and go at will, depending on the colour of the astral plane?

But most of all, I think the Chairman is right. It's the apostrophe's. I'll have three crystal's and a gross of scented tea light's.

Liturgy of the Clocks Going Forward

Archdruid: Peace be with you.

All: And with you.

Archdruid: Are you leaving already?

People leaving Dawn Service: Yes, we're from "Dancing in the dews of Dawn".

Archdruid: Sooner you than me. So who are you?

People arriving for Pouring out of Beakers: We're for "Pouring out of Beakers" at 9am.

Archdruid: And who are you with the Andean Pan Pipes?

Andean Pan Pipers: We're the Andean Pan Pipers for last night's Earth Hour. We're late because you made us hitch-hike from Paddington to "save the planet".

Archdruid: And a few quid, conveniently. So that leaves you over there - who are you?

8am BCP people: We're here for the 8am BCP communion.

Archdruid: But we're a post-modern, pre-watershed, post-Christendom worship community. We don't have an 8am BCP communion.

8am BCP people: Neither does the parish church. But at least you're open.

Archdruid: Ah well. If we're quick. 

ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid....

Saturday 28 March 2015

Not a Proper King

He's not a proper king.

A proper king would be born in a palace, or at least a posh house. Not a stable.

A proper king wouldn't ride in through the front door, of a main street of a capital city, on a donkey. If you're a proper king, you have two choices. You either enter in majesty - on a horse, with slaves and trumpets and flunkeys and the whole apparatus of state behind you. Or you enter with an army, trashing the place, torching houses, slaughtering the enemy. What you don't do is this weird thing, where you ride in - vulnerable. Challenging the powers-that-be. The ones who hate you, whom you've refused to meet half way. Telling them to do their worst. And then letting them.

A proper king wouldn't be accompanied by prostitutes and tax-collectors. They're not the sort of people a real king hangs out with, in public. In private - that's another matter. Prostitutes - they're what you use to bribe courtiers. Or, in a lonely moment, to find some peace of your own. Or to trap and blackmail the enemy. Tax-collectors: can't live without them. Where does the money come from, if not extracting it from the common people? That's how the wheels of government are oiled.  But whores and extortioners - they're for shadows, for quiet liaisons out of the view of the common people. They're not to be treated like normal people. They're not for pouring oil on your feet at polite parties. Not somebody you'd invite to sit at the table, to be your friends, to laugh and share hopes and dreams with.

A proper king wouldn't be met with palms. Not when his throne was insecure. He'd need an army. He'd need people with swords and spears and flails and slings. Not palms. Palms tell - too early - of a victory won. Of somebody who's already a king. But where does this king's power come from? Not from legions. Not from rebel bands. Not from the will of the people - they're not taking arms for him. Where does he find his power, then., if it's not from the places all kings find power?

No purple, no armies, no horses, no slaves, no money. But somewhere, a way off, a crown is being formed.  A crown for a king. A crown for this king.

A crown of thorns.

Earth Hour Update

Good news for this evening's Earth Hour, from a heating perspective at any rate.

I've managed to find the old tyre-burning stove in the stables. We've dragged it into the Marquee and it's steaming up nicely already. Obviously, it's well vented. That oily, black, filthy smoke it kicks out - we have to make sure we get that straight out into the open air. Visibility's going downhill fast to the east of the Community at the minute, and the traffic has slowed on the M1, I'm told. But it's clear to me that burning tyres, being otherwise a waste product, is the environmentally-sound thing to do. And it kills any lurking mosquitos.

Earth Hour - the Ceremonial Llamas Arrive

We've had a few cock ups in our preparations for Earth Hour.

In the first place, the genius who thought up erecting a marquee for this evening's events, complete with solar powered lights. And no means of storage of the electricity generated by the solar panels. It's lovely and light out there now. It probably won't be so hot at 8.30. And I mean that quite literally. The heaters are solar powered as well.

The llamas are an interesting concept. Now we are a community dedicated to diversity, harmony, authenticity and integrity in our worship traditions. Right up to the point where we realise that, in terms of religious tradition, these four words together equal a blancmange of random spirituality. If the definition of entropy is tending towards the point where the whole universe is so randomly scattered that it looks uniform, we are the heat-death of liturgy.

So we so have a number of animals wandering the grounds of the community - a few guinea pigs, in case the Guinea Pig Worshippers of Stewartby ever want another inter-faith event (we're hoping to borrow an Anglican church in South London for that - we could do with some publicity). Alpacas, for authentic Chilean spirituality. Horses, to represent the wild horse-spirits of the Angles. Deer, to represent Herne the Hunter. And rabbits, to represent Eostre, the sylph-like Queen of the May.

Obviously, we're quite scared of the horses and roe deer. And, to be honest, the muntjacs. They can give you a nasty bite. So we just let them roam the place, being representations of the wild spirit of nature and terrifying passers-by.

But when I heard that Milton Earnest had decided to fly some llamas in for Earth Hour - as a representation of the threat of deforestation, apparently - I was livid. First up, are llamas victims or criminals in deforestation? Secondly, couldn't he just have done paint jobs on a few alpacas? And lastly - how could anyone who subscribes to the woolly and pointless ethics of Earth Hour ever justify the use of plane travel? How could they? Ever? I mean, air travel is the perfect representation of the damage we do to the earth, right there. Flying to places we really don't actually need to go, while exploding fossil fuels in the upper atmosphere - how could anyone who flies celebrate Earth Hour, actually mean it, and then ever look at themselves in the mirror again? I'm looking at you, Al Gore. And you, Mike Rutherford - flying from Manchester to London for Live 8, then being all vague and public school about your massive ecological hypocrisy and then flying back after playing a few bars of "Abacab".

But my dismay was as nothing compared to Milton's when the llamas turned up. Seems he'd have trouble with his Spanish translation on the web site. He didn't get "four lovely charming llamas from the frozen heights of Peru". No. He got four hundredweight of deep-frozen llama meat from Manuel's Authentic Peruvian Deli in Luton.

Still, it's cheered me up. What could be more suitable for an Earth Night celebration than a tasty Peruvian barbecue? Obviously we'll have to use the gas-fired barbecue sets. There's no way we could fit that much meat on the Beagle 2, which we unxpectedly inherited when we discovered the Open University had put our charcoal barbecue into space.

I just wish he'd put an order in for a couple of bears while he was at it. According to CS Lewis they're very tasty. And we'd only have had to go down to Paddington to collect them.

Thursday 26 March 2015

Knocking the Roofs Off Village Churches

I have kind of stolen this off somebody on Facebook. So credit to whoever it was.  (Whoever it was - I'll credit you on Facebook).

It was to do with village churches, where the congregation may no longer be able to support a regular church life anymore. And yet the pressure, on congregation and minister (normally, but not always, Anglican) is to keep the roof on. And the church members spend their energy, and their money, on keeping the roof on - against time, weather and lead thieves.

And if you're a passing believer, or even just a passing person who likes churches, you know how it is. You've driven or cycled across the countryside, and you see there's a worshipping community in a village, and you go to the church and find out what sort of worshipping community is. And it's a community that meets at 4.15 on the fourth Sunday of the month, between Candlemass and Harvest, and the Sunday next before Christmas. And spends a lot of the rest of their time raising money to keep the roof on.

Well, why keep the roof on? Who actually needs the roof on? If the community wants the building, but never worships there, then literally let them have the "wayside shrine" that is really what they want. Knock the roof down (and sell off the lead, obviously). Send someone round every five years, to check the walls are still safe. And, if they're not, knock those down as well. Otherwise, let the weather smooth the edges off and tumble the stones down

St Brian's, Chipping Norton, was much more picturesque after they let it fall down

People like to wander round desolate churches. There's a sense of plangent melancholy and times past that you can't get from a living building of worship. Grief, you could even have a tea light dispenser, with the funds going to the nearest viable church.

In many ways, a church with no roof is, to modern sensibilities, the equivalent of the Rollright Stones, Stanton Drew or Stonehenge - a picturesque symbol of former lives, which once held unimaginable rituals. Those who just like having the reminder can enjoy the outline of the church building - and you can still hold Harvest Festival or Christmas services in the ruins. Let's face it, the nearness to Nature might even enhance the experience.

And the local Christians can spend their time and money on a living expression of worship, in the size of community that will support a community of faith. Everyone's a winner.

That New-Look Top Gear

Fr Ted: So now, Fr Dougal - how was the milk float?

Fr D: Well, you know, Ted,  I wouldn't want to claim to be like that Einstein feller. But the milk float was great. Handled well, good visibility. The only slight problem was its tendency to explode if you went under two miles an hour.

Fr T: Next week we'll be hearing from Fr Clarke and Fr Beeching, our "Priests on a moderately-priced mobile altar." But here's what happened when Mrs Doyle and I test drove Bishop Len's car while he was being chased around the island by rabbits.


Mrs Doyle: So I've filled the car up with diesel.....

Fr T: Mrs Doyle, this is a petrol car....

Mrs Doyle: So will you have a cup of tea? It's nice and milky.


Fr T: So, Fr Jack, how was your test drive of a Volvo?

Fr J: I love my brick!

Fr T: And can you advise us on the correct manoeuvre if you are driving past a convent and some of the people who live there come out?

Fr J: Nuns! Reverse! Reverse! 

Fr T: I'd like to thank our guest star this week, Henry Sellers.  But unfortunately he had a sherry, shouted that he was bigger than the BBC, and then kicked Bishop Len up the.....


Wednesday 25 March 2015

The Martyrdom of Jeremy Clarkson

Today we mark the martyrdom of Jeremy Clarkson.

A martyr in the truest sense of word.

A witness to the truth that useless fan boys (mostly) will defend to the death your right to abuse people of other races, and deck those who fail to get you dinner late at night - because you're a Bloke.

The relics of St Jeremy Clarkson can be seen on Gold, Dave and anywhere else the BBC can sell old editions of HIGNFY and Top Gear, as long as summer, winter,  springtime and harvest endure. As long as lads race across big cities in amusing forms of transport.

And the cult of the Bloke who is entitled to do what he likes because he's a bloody Bloke? Well, that's not going to go away. Jeremy will be on Sky within six months. The Victim becomes the Victor. The bully with talent will rise again. And again. And again. Just like Jonathan Ross.

We will be selling the Holy Perm of St Jeremy in the Beaker Bazaar. It smells and it's greasy. But some people will like it. And it's not half profitable.

Things You Didn't Know About the Goddess Eostra

As we get closer to Easter, you will find you're increasingly likely to hear about the goddess Eostra/Eostre/Ostara/Aloe Vera.

You know, Eostra.  The Celtic/Anglo-Saxon Goddess of the Spring Equinox. The one who Bede referred to - and was the only person who ever did - whom we name Easter, Oestrogen and East Ham after. That Ostara.

According to Beaker legend, Ostara lived "beyond the Eastern seas." Specifically in the Belgian town named after her, Ostend. In the myth, she was an exiled queen of Austria, which of coursr was named after her. She had a great struggle with her brother, Vienna, the god of lederhosen whose followers used to yodel.As her brother regretted their battle, he called her to the see the beautiful city that his worshippers. She responded, "This means nothing to me, O Vienna."

Although she wintered in Belgium, Eostra arose in the spring, and travelled in her boat (a giant egg) to Britain. She arrived from the East on the day of Equinox, and threw her older brother, Yule, who had reigned for six months, into the ground because he dropped snow on her feet, and didn't apologise. In Beaker worship, this is remembered to this day at the confession, when the leader says the words of calling to account: Yule, be sorry."

Eostra then travelled the length of the British Isles, in her bunny-drawn chariot, distributing Creme Eggs to all the Little Children of Stonehenge. After such a long journey, her rabbit-steeds were overheated and irate. So they were known as Hot Cross Buns.

The end of Eostra's journey was another place that is still named after her - Easterhouses in Scotland. Here she would spend the spring, eating deep-fried Creme Eggs. When the shops started to fill up with tinsel and after-shave - a thing that happened earlier every year - she would rise up, and, knowing that Yule was returning to the lands of the living, flee back over the North Sea, to winter in Ostend. With, of course, just the occasional day trip to Bruges.

So there is the story of Eostra, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. You wouldn't think it possible to wrench so much from one sentence that just says "Easter is named for the goddess Eostra." But then I've read about Old Testament Form Criticism. It's amazing what you can read into something if you put your mind to it.

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Powered by Umbrage

As we search for new power sources, ever concerned that the oil is running out, coal is dirty, and global warming is bringing plagues of undetectable mosquitoes to England, one renewable resource is constantly overlooked.

The power of umbrage.

The conviction that you should have been elected to the Druidic Council by now - but they decided your face doesn't fit. The way Doris always sits in your seat. The belief that they cancelled the 6am Service specially to snub you. The knowledge that it must have been you they were trying to upset because you were the only person apart from the pastor who went to the 6am. The sneaking suspicion that they cancelled the 6am to punish you, just because you haven't actually made it to the 6am yet.

The great thing about umbrage is that, like solar power, it never runs out. In fact, it's better than solar, as there's more of it on cloudy days. There's nothing like a bit of gloomy weather to make you grumpy. And then, it defies the 1st Law of Thermodynamics.

See, the thing about umbrage is, it can make people go out of their way not to offend you. They may make slight adjustments. The pastor may agree to reinstate the 6am, if you write to the local paper saying it's been a tradition in your town since 1683. And when you win your battle, you won't be able to lay in bed of a Sunday morning, thinking about how right it is that the minister is in the chapel; all on her own, conducting a lovely service. Oh no. You will instead be aware that that other people are generating umbrage against you. Because you have been specially treated.

In the right conditions, a church can get into a Spiral of Umbrage.  This is where everything that is done to avoid offending someone, offends somebody else. And then you have the equivalent of a chain reaction. People will start to demand you rebuild your church next to the sea, on the Cornish coast, to avoid the danger of meltdown. And when you refuse, because you live 100 miles inland and it would be ridiculous to put the church by the sea - they will take umbrage. Bonus umbrage.

So we're fitting Umbrage Panels all round the Moot House. We reckon we could power half of Central Beds if we insist everybody turns to talk to their neighbour at the start of the service on Sunday. Not at the 6am, obviously. Only Umphrey goes to that. If he gets up. Maybe we should stop holding it?

No Pulling the Wool Over the UN's Eyes

As the country is divided up between Houthis, Al Qaeda, Daesh and the former president, "The UN has warned that Yemen is on the edge of civil war."

In other news, the UN said that things in Syria were "a bit tetchy", Charing Cross is "on the edge of London" and North Korea was "a cause for concern".

Monday 23 March 2015

The Evolution of Religion in a Survival Situation

The religions that died out in nations escaping from Egypt across the desert (in descending order of survival rate):
  • The people who liked polyester-cotton fabric mixes
  • The people who trimmed their beards
  • The people who didn't testify against wrongdoing
  • The people who touched unclean animals
  • The people who ate fat
  • The people with a dodgy tattooist
  • The people with an asthma predisposition who thought mildew was pretty cool
  • The people who were allowed to eat shellfish
  • The people who ate pork 
  • The people who ate hoopoes*
  • The people who went around cutting themselves in a desert in hot conditions 
  • The people who thought God wanted them to eat nothing but shellfish 
  • The people who only stole from people bigger than them
  • The people that thought they were commanded to settle down and farm on the Red Sea bed
  • The priests who didn't wear bells on their robes and made God jump.
* It took them ages to catch one, as they didn't know what it was.

Why is Julian Always Falling off his Bike? #putalidonit

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against people buying cycling helmets if they want. It's a free world. And I like it that way. If other people want to buy, wear or sell helmets that's absolutely fine.

But I'm finding something sinister about a bunch called "Put a Lid on It", who are crowdsourcing funds so Boris Bikers can buy cheap helmets. It's something about the way they use images like this:

"What is wrong with this picture?" It's obvious, isn't it? Wearing your glasses on your head is so 1980s. And if you stopped suddenly, and they slipped down onto your nose, and they were reading glasses, things would look blurry. And those Ugg boots must be murder for pedalling in. And then there's the way the text runs into the handlebars so you can't read it.

I'm being silly of course. The real thing that is wrong with that picture is that there is no decent infrastructure protecting that woman from that bus. If it unexpectedly veered into her and crushed her, a helmet would be as much use to her as those glasses. Why is she not being protected from the bus?

Then there's this.

"92% of Boris Bikers DO NOT wear helmets, that's crazy!"

Now here it's easier to see what is wrong. Using the word "crazy". It's a word that is used to attribute mental illness to people. And in the case of Boris Bikers, whether or not they wear helmets is not a matter of sanity. It's a matter of balancing the benefits of using a bike on the roads of London against the slight risk of accident, and the marginal mitigating effects of a helmet. It's complex stuff, is calculating risk. It doesn't involve slurs on anyone's sanity, including those people who actually have mental illness.

It's "fewer". 

But the main thing that worries me about this campaign is Julian. Julian appears to be part of the "team", and Julian has his own page dedicated to his habit of getting injuries.  Julian, it appears, is always falling off his bike. He's repeatedly been Smidsy'ed. He's flown over the bonnets of a Land Rover. He's crashed into cones and "Road closed" signs.

Three things I'll say about Julian. First is, he's a believer in magic:
"From that moment onwards I have never ridden without a helmet. I never had another accident riding in Belfast."
That's right. Julian puts having no accidents in Belfast down to wearing a helmet. I bet he has lucky underpants as well.

Secondly, it strikes me that, for a man who commutes in London, he's always going too damn fast.

Thirdly, read this:
"I was head down feeling really good and riding between 40-45kph along Embankment. I hadn’t realised there was a slight narrowing of the road layout due to a pothole." 
That's right. We're being advised on safety by a man who, by his own admission, does 30 mph through London without looking where he is going. Maybe wearing his magic helmet that stops him having accidents in Belfast also made him think he had super-vision? Julian does say, however,
"these hard lessons have served to make me hyper-vigilant and aware when riding"
I'm guessing it must have been the last one that served to make him hyper-vigilant? The one where he wasn't looking and rode into a road sign?

As I say, if you want to buy a helmet, that's up to you. If you want to try and sell other people helmets, good for you. But if you want to have safer roads - for cyclists and pedestrians -  that's a matter of engineering, infrastructure, reducing motor traffic (which Boris Bikes do), the Police actually prosecuting drivers who kill people, and juries returning verdicts that don't defy all logic.

And if you see Julian cycling through London, for your own sake and his steer clear. If you're very lucky, he may be looking where he's going. But I wouldn't bet on it.

How to Write a Climate Scare Story With No Evidence

Those species originating in Asia have probably been imported into the UK through the global trade in used tyres.These tyres can often be transported large distances along motorways, moving the eggs to new habitats and environments.Dr Medlock said that although no non-native mosquitoes had been detected in the UK so far, "a better system to monitor imported used tyres needs planning".
 It's a nightmare, isn't it? Foreign species of mosquitoes have invaded Britain in spare tyres. We know this because despite checking at sea ports and service stations we have never found any. How sneaky can you get?

Reburial of St Ænglebert of the Middle Angles

Few these days are aware of the sad history of the Middle Angles. We are so forgotten as an area of Olde England that those maps of the Heptarchy lump us in with the Mercians. Evil godless bunch that they were. Us and the Hwicce were subjugated by those Brummy gets, and passed into the darkness of the darkest Dark Ages. The Middle Angles had their own royal family and everything. But their great mistake was that, while the Mercian and Wessex kings could trace their family trees back to Woden, the Middle Anglians could only trace their kings back to blokes called Hans and Gerhard, living in leather trousers in a swamp in Jutland  With those kinds of disadvantages, independence was always doomed. And King Peada of Mercia swooped in and before we knew it we had to have amusing Black Country accents and drink mild. It was a terrible time.

Now, while digging the flower bed, Snodgrazz found what we believe to be the last remains of King Ængelbert of Middle Anglia. This is of course of critical historical significance. King Ænglebert, by a remarkable co-incidence with Richard III, was killed in a car park. Apparently it was a fight on the way home from a pub crawl in Bletchley. His crown was found later in the keeping of a lady of easy leisure called May, who said he'd swapped it for a strictly average time, what with the amount of ale he'd shipped that night.

Ængelbert was buried in Husborne Crawley, like all Middle Anglian kings except all the others, by the monks of Woburn Abbey. In the 16th Century, the Abbey was inspected by Thomas Cromwell's OfMonk, found to be failing and put in Special Measures. i.e. flogged off to the Russell Family so Henry VIII could fight the people of Yorkshire and declare himself to be Defender of the Faith, King of France, Danger to Shipping and Lord of Ireland. I believe he also took Jane Seymour for a few nights at the Old Palace Lodge in Dunstable, though he had to flog off the priory there to pay for the Stella he drank. It was a dark and worrisome time, when "God and his Angels slept".

So Ængelbert's remains have rested in the herbaceous border of Husborne Crawley Great House (formerly Harry the Hairy's Hermitage) until last Thursday. Naturally we had to think long and hard about what to do. Ængelbert's life was not peaceful. He drowned his brother in a barrel of Bordeaux - and it wasn't even a good year. He killed all the swans on the Ouse at Harrold on the grounds that "they look at me a bit funny, with their beady eyes and their beaks". And his hot-headed lust was such that, whenever he visited one of his subjects' villages, they would have to hide all the goats.

So having thought long and hard, we reckoned that what we needed was to reorder the entire Moot House in his honour, like he was some kind of a saint. We've added the animatronic "King
Ængelbert the Unhygienic Æxperience".  The Saint Ængelbert Willow Walkway will enable tourists visitors pilgrims to visit the new Ængelbert Arms mock-8th Century Inne, the St Ængelbert Coffee Shoppe and the Gift Shoppe, before visiting the Shrine of St Ængelbert, patron of Marston Vale and North Bucks. Brings a tear to my, thinking about it. It's that lovely rustling noise that tenners make. Ooh, it makes me all emotional.

Sure, there has been a certain amount of debate in the press about the precise reliquary in which we are reburying Ængelbert. Some say it's disrespectful. Some say it's a poor design. But we reckon the old Roses tin from Christmas is about right. After all, there's not much left of him.

I should point out that the archaeologists of the Open University, when we brought Ængelbert's remains to them, were not as keen as some more Mercian archaeologists to be involved in the reburial of a famous martyr/king. Their responses were respectively:

  • There is no evidence that Ængelbert ever existed
  • This is a random collection of badger, cow and chicken bones of the 21st and late 20th century
  • You're a bunch of bandwagon jumping idiots
  • Oo! 50 quid! Yes we will sing "Candle in the Wind" at the reburial!

So with full Beaker ceremonial, a choir made up of people with beards and sweaters, much willow and the full 5,000 tea light salute, we will be putting Ængelbert to rest this afternoon. And counting the takings for the rest of the week.

Sunday 22 March 2015

A Candle for the King

On the reburial of alleged child-murderer Richard III, in Leicester Cathedral, after a great fuss about getting the liturgy right. 

Goodbye Yorkshire Rose
Though I never knew you alive
You've been lying in Leicestershire
Since 1485.

They found you in a car park
And they measured out your skull
They treated you like a saint
Set the charges against you null.

And it seems to me we're gonna light
A tea light for the king
Even though you killed your nephew
And his brother too.

And I would have liked to have known you
But then I wasn't there
You were in in a car park - why
does anybody care?

Succession for the throne
The toughest role you ever played
They say you killed your nephews
And Bosworth was the price you paid

Even when you died
Henry Tudor still hounded you
They cut you to the ground
And found your crown in a thorn bush too.

And it seems to me we're gonna light
A tea light for King Dick
Even if you killed your nephews
Which still seems pretty sick.

And I would have liked to have known you
But then I wasn't there
You were in a car park - why
does anybody care?

Goodbye Yorkshire Rose
From the cynic with a tea light
To put Leicester Uni on the map
They wasted hours of telly Sunday night.

York Window at Fotheringhay

All Greek to Me

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” (John 12)

The "Greeks" who asked for Jesus were, I expect, Greek Jews. I expect they were there for the Passover. They wanted to see Jesus. And they found Philip. Philip is a Greek name. It means "horse-lover". Though not in the Biblical sense. That was very banned. So maybe he was also a Greek Jew - they shared the language well enough to ask to see Jesus. So Philip and Andrew go to Jesus and say, there are some Greeks want a backstage pass. And Jesus goes off about darkness and glory.

I wonder - is it the arrival of these people from a far off country that causes Jesus to say these words? Once wise men - Magi - came to greet him at his birth. Now, again, people from across the known world are looking for him. He has star appeal, does Jesus. He's making his name across Jerusalem, Judah and Galilee. He is being glorified - called a great teacher. Some say he's the miracle worker. And if he can gather the Jews that want a rebellion from across the Roman Empire - he could throw out the Romans. He could, at least, raise the flags of defiance against an oppressive Empire. He could take earthly glory.

Or he could take on the glory that he is sent for. He could actually live for his Father's glory. The shadow of the cross lays across the road before him. He will see darkness before he sees the light that he calls us to.

"...unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." In the autumn a few "volunteers" from the food bank had been planting bulbs down on a patch by the Great House window, and they'd piled up all the rocks next to the back door - I save them to throw at Morris Dancers on May Morning. But a few weeks ago, we were putting a trough with of rocks and sand for the Little Pebbles, to be their Lent desert display. So I picked up some of the rocks, and while I was doing it I noticed a bulb lying on the surface of the flower bed, where a bird had presumably dug it up and left it.

Not really thinking, I popped it into the sand in the trough, and I forget about it.

I was in the Little Pebbles' class room the other day, and I noticed a green shoot poking up through the rocks. I watered it quick - I'm now hoping that in a few weeks I will find out what that bulb was. Tulip, I'm guessing. If you don't plant a bulb you won't get a flower. If you don't plant a seed, you won't get a harvest. Stuff happens in the darkness beneath the ground. Stuff happens when things die, says Jesus.

And he tells us, if we are his disciples, we have to follow him. If he goes down to the darkness, we are to be there with him. This does not necessarily have to mean death in Jesus's name. Though, as our brothers and sisters in Iraq have faced over the last couple of years, it might. But if we follow Jesus - if we're where he is - it can mean darkness at times.

There's the darkness of rejection or opposition or ridicule - from our enemies, those who are against us for some reason, but also from our friends. There's also the dark times when we realise our own weakness and sin. It's a side effect of following Jesus, who is light, that he throws light on our own darkness. Compared to him, we realise where we fall short. We know where we have let God down. It's why, every week in the Moot House, we write all our sins on sheets of A4 and feed them through the sin-shredder as a symbol of our sinfulness being wiped away by God. Obviously, it doesn't work, even as an analogy. We've not destroyed our sins - merely spread them out in a form that is more difficult to manage. But we do it, nonetheless, because it's tradition. And where are we if we are without tradition? Milton Keynes, that's where.

"Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.""

As Jesus reflects on his ordeal to come - he runs through the options available. He's here now, in Jerusalem. He has come for a purpose. His last week is running out. But he could turn and run. He could pray for his Father to send his angels. But, no. The Son's job is to glorify his Father. He will stand and face the cross. And the Father responds that his name will be glorified. Even the eternal Son of God, when he walked this earth, did what he did - not for his own glory - but for the Father's. His life is one of obedience. He lives out those two commandments - love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself.

The temptation for us, is to live to our own glory. We look for our own promotion, our own little glories. As a priest, you can look to be the Pope in your own parish. If you're the church treasurer or lead the Ladies' Bright Hour, you can make your little corner of the Kingdom your own. You can glorify yourself there.

Or you might have to do what Jesus did - what some are called to - to suffer for the Kingdom. That's what our Lord did. Or you can do what Philip did. Philip could speak to the Greeks. He could also speak to Jesus. He wasn't doing anything for himself - he was helping some people, who wanted to see the Light of the World.

That's what we are supposed to do - build a bridge, light the way, interpret - we have the job of leading people to Jesus. I was in Bedford the other day and - as there often is in Bedford - there was a bloke preaching in the town centre. In principle, nothing wrong with that. We are sent into the world to preach the Gospel. But in practice he wasn't really preaching. He was shouting religious things while everybody ignored him. And in practice, when i stopped and listened - the problems he was describing, although a Christian would understand the terminology, were not problems that the people he was speaking to would understand. He used complex, evangelical terminology. He may be right that he was fallen into iniquity - lost in his sins and that, through washing in the blood he was redeemed. I rejoice for him. But to the people who passed him by he might as well have been speaking Greek.

And in case we are smug at this - at least he was trying. In a rather strange way, he was preaching the Gospel - trying to raise Jesus up - trying to bring people to him. Glorifying his name. When we talk to people about the things that in principle should matter to us most - about the new life God gives, about the love Jesus shows, about the reality that the Holy Spirit - God in movement, is moving in our lives - do they hear about love and glory and life? Or do they hear about furniture rearrangement and committee meetings and finances? Or do they actually hear nothing?

We need to be in the same position as Philip. Close to Jesus, but speaking other people's languages.  That's why there is a problem when the people of the Church say they'd never read the Sun or Daily Mirror, or rather smugly say that they don't use the Internet. They're not on Facebook or Twitter.  Because that's where people are. That's how they speak. That's how they make sense of their lives. That's where we can engage with them. I'm not saying that every 50-year-old Archdruid should be learning street slang and gettin' down wit' te yout. You'd end up rekt. But to the people around you - the ones who you meet every day, eat or drink or talk with - your life should be the glory of Jesus, but in their language.

Philip was able to speak the language of the Greeks - but close to Jesus. That's where we need to be. When Philip took the message to Jesus, and Jesus answered, some said it thundered. Others said an angel spoke to him. Jesus and - I presume - his disciples knew what God was saying. You can speak people's language, you can show them Jesus. After that, it's down to the Spirit, and to them, what they hear. You've done your job. You've seen God's glory. And you've been able to speak their language.

Saturday 21 March 2015

Fracas at the Food Bank

Our Beaker Food Bank has been getting increasingly popular. I'll be honest, I never realised that there were so many needy people around on the Beds/Bucks borders.

And our clients have always been so grateful. Many of them have kindly done odd jobs in the garden, a bit of litter picking, bits of painting, electrical wiring, putting in our new computer network, our auditing - little bits of help.

Received a letter today from the Revenue. Apparently what we call "charity", they have decided to redefine as "aggressive tax avoidance". I'm outraged. How dare they imply that a senior accountant with a local firm is not as entitled to use our Food Bank as some scruffy poor person?

And they call this the Big Society? Cameron's Broken Britain more like. I'm going to start a petition.

Friday 20 March 2015

Thought for the Day

Realised eschatology isn't the end of the world.

A Profit in Her Own Country

Bad news. Didn't manage to sell a single pair of the special Solar dark glasses I got just after the 1999 Eclipse. Saved them up all those years thinking I'd make a killing this time round. And it's only a matter of time before the Tellytubbies logos look a bit dated.

Good news. Managed to sell them to the BBC. Apparently the senior management will use them to look at the bottom of Jeremy Clarkson without going blind.

Feast of the Equinox Eclipse

Archdruid: Welcome, watchers of the skies!

All: Ooooooh!

Archdruid: All winter we've been hanging on in quiet desperation

All: In the English way.

Archdruid: The Equinox is upon us!  The Sun crosses the equator, bringing fun, fun, fun.

All: Mr Blue Sky is living here today,  hey hey.

Archdruid: But just as he crosses the half-way line, he will be taken out by the moon.

All: Like Martin Skrtel body-checking a striker who's been played through.

Archdruid: And behold - Hnaef climbs upon the Tightrope of Equinoctial Balance.

All: To plunge into the darkness of the duck pond

Archdruid: ...as the Sun plunges into the Void

All: The Void

Archdruid: The Void

All.... of Darkness

Moon Gibbon: As it is eaten by the Moon Gibbon!

Moon Gibbon Folk Run Screaming into the woods

Hymn: Equinox (Jarre)

Final Blessing

All that is now
All that is gone
All that's to come
and everything under the sun is in tune
but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.

Archdruid: There is no dark side of the moon really.

All: Matter of fact it's all dark

No Dogs, No Metric Measures

A UKIP policitian is under investigation for financial irregularities.'Party leader Nigel Farage told the BBC there would be an "immediate investigation as to what the truth of this is"."All I will say is, we have got the spotlight very much on us as UKIP," he said."We've got to behave absolutely properly and if we see anything we think is wrong, we will come down on it like a tonne of bricks."'

Dear BBC

I think you'll find that should be "ton".

Thursday 19 March 2015

The Feast of St Joseph

A nice piece from Quantum Theology on St Joseph. Well worth a look.

Making Sense in a Random Place

Interesting little article on the BBC website on the human tendency to make patterns out of randomness - and why our idea of "random" is actually better described as "roughly evenly distributed". Reminds me of my friend who complained her CD autoplayer wasn't truly random, as it regularly played songs twice in succession. I worked out for her that, based on the number of tracks she was playing, she could expect this to happen on average once an hour. Which was about the length of her commute.

It also reminds me of the story about the Founder of the John Lewis Partnership. It's said that some people visiting the Odney Club at Cookham, where the Partnership has a country house / training centre, saw the gardener throwing conkers on the ground. But half were painted, When they asked why, the explanation was that the gardener was planting a mixture of different coloured crocus bulbs and had to ensure they looked random. So he threw down the conkers until they looked random enough, and if they didn't look particularly random he threw them down again. Then planted the bulbs in their colours according to the paint on the conkers.

Spedan Lewis also gave away a great fortune by making his employees Partners in his shops. Which means he was a genius and/or a madman. But it shows the power of pattern making in our minds. We take apparently - or actually -random things and coincidences and try to make sense out of them. Maybe that's why humans developed magic, religion and science - ways of trying to make sense out of what is the totally random around us. 

Sometimes, a strong act of a confident person based on what is actually a random event can make a giant leap forward. I think, for example, of the scientists who noticed a bunch of sick ferrets. They concluded - correctly - that influenza can transfer between species. A really important piece of knowledge, informing us of the way that the disease mutates and disseminates in the wild. And all based on poor evidence, as the ferrets actually had canine distemper. But it just goes to show - we make patterns and, if they're strong, we act on them. I mean, the sheer chance appearaance of the words "In this sign conquer" to Constantine caused him to assume that God was, in some sense, on his side and of course to become Emperor.

It's our pattern-making that contributes to our humanity. It can also lead, like a badly-coded piece of DNA, to some fairly odd conclusions. Take tomorrow's supermooneqinoxaurorapoceclipse, for instance. Obviously we have some American fundamentalists telling us that it's a sign from God of our evil ways. That's what fundamentalist self-appointed prophets do. Interesting that they blame things like gay weddings and the rise of Islam. God never does these things to warn us that we're half-enslaving half the world to make our cheap blouses and shoes. Nor that the reason why the population of Northen Europe is being supplemented by so many Muslim guests is because their good ol' boy evangelical George Dubya, together with our war-obsessed Catholic convert, bombed the hell out of Iraq so Yanks could have cheap oil, and their successors followed up by destabilising the bits of the Middle East that were left.

On the whole, frackng would have been better. Less trouble all round.

But the point is, if God wanted to use a fairly rare line up of events to warn us of our evil ways, to tell us we're on the slippery slope to liberal vicars conducting gay weddings for Muslims in every parish in South London - well,  he's had this programmed this in since the Moon first orbited the Moon. All these facts could have been forecast decades ago - the eclipse in particular has been known for ages. So God must have known we would be particularly evil a long time ago.

So why didn't the evo prophets of doom? These are all perfectly calculable events. They could have told us we'd all be evil years ago, given us the chance to repent then. Not left it till this week.

But there's more, I think. 

Forecasting how things will pan out on earth by looking at what is happening in Space isn't really a prophetic method in the New Testament - or even the Old. And although the methodology of forecasting supermoons and eclipses is part of astronomy, working out what they mean isn't. I think that's actually called astrology. The Wise Men in Matthew's Gospel did it once, but I think they got away with it. If I were an American fundamentalist prophet, I'd look very carefully at the patterns I was discerning. And then worry who my companions were.

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Even More Calorific Burgers

The Daily Mail (if you follow the link, you know what you'll find)  tells us about the "10 Most Calorific Burgers".

Which is, in scientific terms, ridiculous. Within 20 minutes of reading the post, Bernie, our master of roadkill cuisine, had produced something even more calorific: the BadgerBurger. Just spit-roast a badger and then put it between two halves of a bun.

Or, to go one better, the Badger King. That's a badger, wrapped in bacon, with a slice of gherkin, in a bun.

Or the Elkburger. A moose, between two slices of white bread. Although making it an Elk Monsieur, with an added poached egg, goes better again.

I've no idea how he got it in the freezer, or on what stretch of the M1 it died, but Bernie claimed that the Blue Whale Burger he whipped up later, at about 2 million calories (they're high in protein), is the biggest burger you can get.

Yeah. Good theory.

But I added a Kraft cheese slice.



Knackered today. Spent all night watching out for the aurora.

Didn't see it. But I'm sure, if the fog on the Tyne cleared, then the Northern Lights were in the eyes of the people of Lindisfarne. Whereas we in Bedfordshire only get aurorae when there's a blackout due to having an enormous war with Germany. And I'm not convinced it's quite worth going to all that trouble.

But the terror that the aurora drew from the Beaker Folk was as nothing compared to the combined Spring Equinox, Solar Eclipse and Supermoon we're expecting for Friday. The Gibbon Moon Folk have already fled into the woods, convinced that the Moon Gibbon, having already eaten the moon, is going to have a munch on the sun also. The Independent - of all papers - has told us that "a Supermoon, or perigee moon, happens when the full or new moon does its closest fly-by of the Earth, making it look bigger than it normally does."

A new moon - like we will have on Friday - can't be seen. How terrifying can you get, ask the Gibbon Moon people. A new moon that looks bigger than normal. Their minds, being very small, boggle.

 All this, happening on top of the aurora, can only mean one thing. The Internet will be awash with fundamentalists and the Daily Express telling us the world is at an end, the earth's magnetic poles will flip, Louis Van Gaal will show signs of understanding football tactics, and Jeremy Clarkson, Alistair Campbell and George Carey will admit they were wrong all along. About everything.

Already the signs of the End of the Age are moving into place. Tony Blair, after a run of success as Middle East Peace Envoy that is rivalled only by Richard the Lionheart and Osama Bin Laden, is going off to spend more time with his money. All over England, yellow flowers are springing up. And, as the Independent points out, rare celestial events - including the equinox, of which we only have two a year, and a supermoon, of which we only have six or so - are going to break out. And I mean, how often do we get a budget in the Spring?

It's too much. We've issued tin foil hats  to all the Beaker Folk and instructed them all to paint themselves green and adopt a prone position until Saturday. It won't help, should Armageddon break out, but at least it'll give us a laugh.

This Charming Man

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before.

We've been having psychic trouble with poor Snodgrazz since the 80s Revival Service (mullets and Our God Reigns) as he claims he is now channeling the Spirit of the 80s.

Specifically, he's looped back into his adolescent Smiths phase. I asked him if he could at least come out to Pouring out of Beakers - see if the quiet spirituality could touch his soul - but he tells me he hasn't got a stitch to wear. I blame this whole episode on his trauma when, after a long period on Jobseekers, he obtained employment but then realised he didn't like it. Heaven knows he's miserable now. And it's changed his view on animals. He won't eat his favourite wallaby stew - says meat is murder.  I said - us living near the M1, and it being cheaper - that it's roadkill, but he says what difference does it make?

So we sent his best mate, William, round to see him on Saturday - see how he was feeling - but he told him that it was really nothing. In some respects it was just as well he stayed in, given it was Electro Revival Night, and after what he said he would do the DJ if he played any more "Heaven 17". And I feared collateral damage. I wouldn't want to be responsible for the death of a disco dancer. Instead I sat with him and we discussed former Liverpool managers - how they compare to Brendan Rodgers and who we think the best is. Frankly, Mr Shankly was the conclusion.

But it's really unnerving late at night. Hearing the sound of "Girlfriend in a Coma" echoing round the building, to the rhythmic accompaniment of Snodgrazz  banging his head on the wall. He tells me it's because he can't sleep. But then, it must be tricky for him, sleeping in a room when he insists there is a light that will never go out.

Anyway, we've sent Sheila, the Community's resident retired (and therefore unpaid) nurse round to see him. She tells me he's still ill. And he's insisted he take one of his rather weird hair bow collection with her. He buys one every week, in memory of the girl who jilted him in 1986 and who was fond of this particular item. It's a real obsession, and he swore he'd stop when there were no more different bows in the local haberdashers shop. But the cunning shopkeeper, realising he had a potentially endless income stream, has sourced a different bow every week from around the world. Poor Snodgrazz has started something he couldn't finish.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Liturgy of St Patrick's Day Appropriation

Archdruid: Top of the Morning to Ye!

All: To be sure, to be sure.

Hymn: Lord of the Dance (Flatley)

Archdruid: Ah; Irish dancing. Like an antidote to Charismatics.

Voice from the back: What about the Charismatic Catholics?

Archdruid: Sssh.

Hymn: My Lovely Horse

Archdruid: We've got to lose that sax solo.

All: Drink!  Drink!  Drink!

Archdruid: You lot been drinking already?
All: Ted - we mean, Eileen - we've been drinking like mad eejits.

Archdruid: Now a time of reflection as we consider all that has happened since last St Patrick's Day

Hymn: What's another Year? (Logan)

Child who asks Liturgical Questions, a bit like Passover Only Obviously We're Not Jewish: Why do we celebrate St Patrick's Day when we're nearly all English?

Archdruid: O "Child who asks Liturgical Questions, a bit like Passover Only Obviously We're Not Jewish" - the answer is clear. St George was a Turkish knight who killed a dragon in Egypt and is celebrated in England and also Georgia. As such he is multi cultural, a symbol of the great melting pot of acceptance and tolerance that is modern England.  And deeply boring on the same count. Whereas Patrick is Irish...

All: Actually, no. He's English. May even be from Towcester, would you believe.

Archdruid ...As i say, Patrick is Irish. And as such, a symbol of fun, craic, being at ease with oneself and yet simultaneously being aware  of deep spiritual truth. We English - devoid of spiritual heritage apart from singing psalms in a technique we don't understand in cold buildings - we look into the well of our spiritual emptiness, and throw everybody else's spirituality in to make ourselves feel spiritually authentic.

All: Ouch. Do you mind if we play some bodhrans to cheer ourselves up after that piece of painful truth?

Archdruid: To be sure. And don't forget to pick up a blow-up Leprechaun from the Beaker Bazaar. Double price while St Patrick's Day lasts.


May the sun beat down on your head, unless you're thin on top in which case wear a hat.
May the snails not crunch under your feet on foggy days.
May catering lorries give you a wide enough space to cycle safely.
May the black stuff be black
And your whiskey spelt with an "e".
May the craic flow
And gentle winds blow
And the gentle rain not seep in through your eaves, causing a persistent and annoying damp problem
Until we meet again.

Monday 16 March 2015

Being Grant Shapps

I'm really shocked. I always thought that Michael Green was one of our better-behaved Beaker Folk. Quietly working away as a web marketing guru, not one of us guessed he was an MP and Tory Party chair.

Anyway, now his cover is blown he has had to leave our little Community. Which is bad enough. But now it turns out we've also lost a number of other residents - Lord Lucan, Princess Diana and Vladimir Putin. And the guy down the chip shop who swore he was Elvis Not to mention the Community's beloved retired horse, Shergar.

You don't think.....? We never saw them in the Moot House together.

Stonehenge on Stilts

Ah me. Another day, another radical theory about the use of Stonehenge.

The trouble with most radical theories of Stonehenge, like this one, is the assumption that the ultimate configuration of the monument - with a complete sarsen circle, but before half of it disappeared - is what the original builders had in mind. As if the Saxon builders of a church said to each other, "in 1200 years time, just our tower will be left - but it'll be the perfect counterpoint to the 1984 loos and the pink chairs the vicar will replace the Victorian pews with." No. Stonehenge was a living building - knocked around, no doubt with people declaring it didn't have bluestones when they were a child, for a hundred generations.

The other trouble with most radical theories of Stonehenge, like this one, is that there's no evidence. That the Pope used to be carried around is not a proof. Sky platforms on which sky worshippers could conduct ceremonies would require infrastructure to support them that simply hasn't left any evidence of existence.

Maybe the whole theory is wrong. Maybe they used the flat tops of the trilithons to expose the dead, collecting up the bones as they fell. We can all play this game. 

The latest serious theories see Stonehenge, connected by the Avenue and the Avon to the wooden Durrington Walls, as the place of the dead. Durrington, with its midwinter hog roasts, was the place of the living. So looking up could be totally the wrong direction - the south-western horizon is where to look. The place where, bringing warmth and light to the dead - clustered in barrows around the landscape - the sun comes itself to die.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Greyfriars Blues

On the demise of the old Northampton Bus Station

Stop the temporary clock, ring a brutalist knell,
Pause and salute the closing of the Mouth of Hell
Silence the traffic and with some efficient cops
Evacuate the town centre, till the nightmare pops.

Let aeroplanes circle over Sywell
Scribbling on the sky - "you'll have to drive to Twywell",
Put crepe bows round the necks of Bridge Street drunks
Worry that the noise might wake the long-dead monks.

You could get to North, or South, or East or West,
Commute to work in the morning, or home to evening rest,
Our day-trips, our journeys home, on drunken nights our grief;
We thought Greyfriars would last for ever: Imagine our relief.

The buses are not wanted here: let them to Northgate roam;
Let them block the Mounts; take hours to get you home
Let Health Service workers fret in three-hour queues.
Or head to the Olde England, and turn to the booze.

Bus Hits Bridge - Bridge Not to Blame

Excitement in West London today as a double-decker bus hit a bridge.

Newspapers reported that the bridge "came out of nowhere", was not wearing hi viz and had not been wearing a helmet.

Forecast a Daily Express Headline

"Will Solar Eclipse Cause Widespread Power Cuts,Tidal Waves and a Killer Heatwave?"


Mothering Sunday

I always look forward to Mothering Sunday. It is not the English equivalent of the American "Mothers' Day", let's be clear. Oh no. In fact it has nothing to do with human mothers at all. It does in fact go back to the days under Henry VIII or some other evil autocrat, when for reasons that are unclear everybody had to live in the village next door. Then on Mothering Sunday you got the Sunday off to go back to see your Mother Church - ie the one in the village that you grew up in. And you'd hope to see your family.

Of course, this would only work for sister and brothers. You wouldn't see your parents, as they would have gone back to the village they grew up in, to find that their own parents, if they were still alive, had gone back to the villages where they grew up. So every year people would pointlessly scurry around the countryside, not seeing the people they were hoping to see, in a fever of unproductive relocation on which the Methodist Church later based its ministerial deployment strategy.

Naturally, when Cromwell took over, the whole thing was banned as a Popish superstition - that is, a superstition that was actually invented by the poet Alexander Pope - and everybody had to stay where they were, every Sunday, until the Industrial Revolution.

It was the Oxford Movement that reintroduced Mothering Sunday to England. Newman, on holiday in Morwenstow, was excited to discover that local vicar Mr Hawker had, under the influence of cocaine, invented the Harvest Festival. Newman wanted to invent a festival of his own - one that would enable him to wear the new Rose-coloured vestments that his own doting but increasingly colour-blind mother had knitted him. Hawker said to him, why not celebrate his mother's rather odd gift on the fourth Sunday in Lent - the date on which the parcel had arrived - by reintroducing Mothering Sunday? Newman went back to Oxford a changed man.

The re-invention of Mothering Sunday by Newman had the medium term effect of causing him to leave the Church of England, as the colour of the vestments was regarded as deeply suspicious in a country that had only recently made Oscar Wilde illegal. But after he left, it was realised by the liberal wing of the Anglican Church that in fact Newman's new tradition was a godsend. It enabled the sort of people who worried that others might take offence at things to worry that people might take offence. And those sorts of people love that. Specifically the people they were worried about offending included: 

  • People whose mothers had died
  • People who were adopted
  • People who were grown to full term in a test tube
  • People who never really liked their mothers
  • Men who said "how come there's not a Fathering Sunday?
  • People who couldn't be mothers
  • People who wouldn't be mothers
  • People who had any other mother-related issues
  • People who were offended that all the people above were offended
  • People who just like being offended.
  • People who were still stuck in the village next door under Cromwell's laws
And so began the tradition of explaining that Mothering Sunday is about the Church as mother. About God as our mother, in the more progressive congregations.
And about Jesus having had a mother, but not mentioning her too much, in churches of the more evangelical tradition. Yes, he had a mother, but there was nothing special about her. Except  for her being Jesus's mother. And being there at his birth - obviously - death and - presumably - immediately after the Resurrection. And being called "blessed" by an angel and all generations. Let's move along shall we? Nothing to see here.  After all, Jesus said that we're all his mother. But not in a sense that men are really women. Oh no. Tell you what, let's junk the rest of the sermon. It's getting a bit involved. Floribunda, please can you, Posy and the other children hand out the potted primroses? NOT TO FRANK! He's a man.

And so, as we approach this Mothering Sunday, we remember all the people that could be, are or aren't mothers. And we remember that, when all is said and done, it's important that we deliberately don't inadvertently offend anyone.

Keith had better have bought me a card and a bottle of gin, that's all I'm saying. Decent gin. Not that own-label rubbish I got last year.

Friday 13 March 2015

Rowan Atkinson's Funniness Index

Ah, the wonder that is this most holy of Comic Relief nights. The night every year when we express our hope that aging comics can resurrect their careers. When we remember when Griff Rhys Jones was hip and not whinging about property taxes in Central London.

But Comic Relief is also a biennial event when we remember how old we are getting. We express our age in terms of how funny the most recent appearance of Rowan Atkinson is - with the sketch where he walkeed into a tree as the baseline..

It's not looking good.

We must be getting very old.

Or that joke isn't funny any more.

Thursday 12 March 2015

Jeremies - A Guide

Terry Pratchett RIP

Beaker Folk assemble disconsolately in Octarine hi-viz, bearing the legend "We stole a lot of  our stuff from you." 

Archdruid: Mort, you little sod.

All: Amen.

A luggage wanders miserably counter-sunwise round the Moot House on its hundreds of dear little legs, followed by three witches. The librarian of Unseen University swings dolefully from the bookcase. Far off, the setting sun makes the edge of the Diskworld nearest it quite warm, before dropping to bestow its rays on an ancient star-turtle. Great A'Tuin continues the endless journey, knowing that somehow there's not as much joy in the world as there was.

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Jeremy Clarkson - A Lament

(Warning - mild bad language)

Woe is our week
And empty the weekend before us
For there is no Top Gear
Just a period of programming that is void and without form.

O how we rejoiced when we watched the Star in a a Reasonably Priced Car.
Though the star was normally someone we'd never heard of.
Or Ed Sheeran.
Which is much the same.

But now our enjoyment is spoilt by a fracas
And we don't know whether to rhyme that with "car" or "arse".
Since the programme normally features both
Normally one sitting on the seat of the other.
So either would work, in context.

But we shall not weep and lament
And not remain downhearted.
Instead we shall sign the petition
And demand the BBC bring back Clarkson

After all, though we don't know precisely what Jeremy Clarkson has done*
It can't be as bad as what Jihadi John has done. **
And he's still getting on the telly.

* allegedly
** probably