Friday 30 October 2015

Daily Mail Readers, Know Your Limits

Much flusteration on Twitter after the Daily Mail publishes an article reporting research that people with "feminine brains" earn less than people with "masculine" ones. But don't go thinking, little ones, that just because you are a man you have a masculine brain, or just because you are a woman you are a feminine-brain possessor. Oh, no. Are you good with instruction manuals and maps? Do you make lists and spot trains? Do you honestly answer the question "does my bum look big in this?" These are the things that give you a masculine brain.

Bit baffled by the last one, to be honest. I don't know how often the question "does my bum look big in this" is asked in boardrooms up and down the country. But I bet it doesn't come up at the typical late-night emergency strategy session where everybody's looking tense and talking about upside risks and under-capitalisation and shouting "damn".

This is the report from Nick Drydakis at Anglia Ruskin that originates the Mail article. The abstract could certainly be - well, abstracted from its context to produce the Mail's article.
Whilst men and women in certain occupations might face positive wage rewards when they have empathising and systemising traits and work atypical of those common to their gender, it would appear that evaluating individuals’ empathising, systemising and brain type is perceived to be important for employees’ wage returns. 
I think it's applying the male and female concept that causes the concern. That being good at organising helps you up the career ladder to an extent is truism. The minute you suggest this is a male-brain thing you end up in the world of Harry Enfield's "Mr Cholmondeley Warner".

Before you know where you are, this diagram

..... has become this one.....

So here's some better advice.

  • If you have tend to worry about people you've never met because they're a different colour;
  • have stopped eating any kind of foods because they give you cancer;
  • think benefits are for lazy people
Then you have a Daily Mail brain. You will probably never get beyond middle management.

  • If you think a Labour leader wanting to win an election is an act of betrayal;
  • Have an unstoppable urge to tell other people they should believe what you do;
  • Are condescending about religious people, poor people and Conservatives
  • Eat only coffee that has passed through the digestive tract of small animals in a responsibly-managed clearing in a Balinese rainforest
Then you have a Guardian brain. Your best bet of employment is probably in academia (or the Church, ironically), as they really need things to work properly in business.

  • If you still think new evidence will come out about the death of Princess Diana;
  • Worry about the price of your house should a new Ice Age break out tomorrow;
  • Are obsessed with ISIS
Then you have a Daily Express brain. You'll never achieve much as you'll always be checking under the bed for terrorists or the Duke of Edinburgh

  • If you have a fondness for photographs of young women getting their exam results;
  • Still think we have an Empire;
  • Think that not enough people taking up the sport of rowing is a national problem;

You have a Daily Telegraph brain. You will probably end up as Chief Executive. Just as soon as your dad retires.

  • If you think the latest soap-opera stories are important;
  • Care who Ryan Giggs may or may not have slept with;
  • Stick a pen or cigarette behind your ear in case you need it

You've probably got a Sun brain. You may not achieve much, but then you probably never thought you would. You may be the happiest of the lot.

When you get beyond the middle-ranking, list-making, attention-to-detail ranks in business, you discover something. There comes a point when it's self-confidence, being able to get on with people and being the sort of person that is - yes - comfortable talking to new people that gets on. When you get to the point where you don't need to make lists because you have people to do that kind of thing for you, train-spotting skills are irrelevant. The skills you need from then on  are quite often what the report thinks of as "female" attributes. The numbers of women on FTSE company boards are rising - but a lot are non-execs and (anecdotally) women on boards still seem more likely to be in Marketing or HR than in IT or Operations. That's the real issue we need to address - enabling women to use their talents in whatever field they want, wherever their skills fit, and taking away the barriers that stop them.

It's not about psychobabble about "masculine" and "feminine" brains that we need to look. It's the walls in our own brains that stop us evaluating people equally and fairly for the skills and personalities they possess.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

As the World Turns

Now that Mocktober (the month when we are cruel to those less fortunate than ourselves) is coming to an end, we look forward to Brovember.

Brovember is when we remember - if we have them - our male relatives of roughly similar ages. Ideally brothers, but cousins, uncles, nephews - all are available to be celebrated.

My brother, of course, lives in the tunnels under the Great House, kept well under control by his nurse, Mrs Rochester. I'm not saying I like to see him - or why would I imprison him down there, let's face it - but it's nice to remember him. That is what Brovember is all about, after all.

Monday 26 October 2015

All-day Breakfast in Bed

Poor Burton Dasset. He signed up to an Ashley Madison account on a TalkTalk phone.

The woman who phoned him up to say she fancied an affair cleaned out his bank account. And before she did that, he took her on a date where he ate an all-day breakfast.

Now his details have been published online, including a photograph of a sausage that clearly couldn't be cured. Why do people have to take photos of their dinner?

I tell you, if Burton were married or had had more than 70p in his current account, he'd be in real trouble.

Why Are Some Atheists so Gullible?

A friend posted this witticism, from an American atheist association, on his Facebook page... It had 30-odd thousand likes on the association's page.

But you know there's a few little things wrong here.

In the first place, to a blind man the colour of the cat and room are irrelevant. The cat's existence is, but the others are no obstacle to the blind man.

In the second place, Oscar Wilde was a Christian. He was a David Cameron style of Anglican, often flirted with the possibility of going across to Rome, and landed safe on Tiber's side on his death bed. But, as I say, he always had been a believer.

Stephen Fry once played Oscar Wilde. Mr Fry is an atheist. I suspect the atheists have confused the two. They do, after all, have one thing in common. You're going to make me say it aren't you? That's right. They both studied Latin at school.

Then there's just one other thing about this quotation. Apart from it's not as clever as it's supposed to be and it's by a believer, I'm not convinced it's by Wilde. I've done all the research on it (ie I've Googled it) and there's no proper citation. No book or play quoted anywhere, no context, no date or place or time. Brainyquote is not technically a guarantee of a quote's authenticity.

So they're quoting something on the authority of a pretty picture on a poster. Previously I've mentioned the poster about an "atheist cathedral" which is actually the library of a college dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. I'm not sure why some atheists are so eager to accept things on authority with a lack of evidence just because they happen to agree with them. But I've got a theory. I reckon it's because they're gullible.

Here, have a real Wilde quotation. It's brilliant.
The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
And borne upon the necks of men I saw,
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.
Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendour and in light the Pope passed home.
My heart stole back across wide wastes of year
 To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
And sought in vain for any place of rest:
'Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,
I, only I, must wander wearily,
And bruise my feet, and drink wine salt with tears.'
Anyone lost a black cat? The blind man just brought it in. What a time to be delivering blinds. I was still in the bath.

Quick Edit: Thanks to Doug and to Mike P on Facebook.

About 5 minutes in.... (though the whole thing is pretty good)

Saturday 24 October 2015

The Dangers of Halloween

Time like an ever-rolling stream turns the page of mixed metaphor in the book of life, and so Halloween is nearly on us again.

And it's a time of year that parents and grandparents will naturally agonise over. Is it all lighthearted fun? Or is there a darker side?

I mean, take special Halloween sweets. You don't get that sort off blood-red colour without a host of additives, do you? And they're all stuffed with sugar. No wonder the kids have to wear flashing lights and garish outfits. It's to identify the kids that are suffering sweet-induced hyperactivity.

To set a responsible tone, last year we gave out apples from our organic, chemical-free orchard. Not only were we helping the kids' health, we saved money. Money which we could use to replace the windows which had apples thrown through them. Obviously the children had already reached the blue-Smartie stage of blood sugar and additive level. Or else we may have handed out cider apples.

Maybe we'll hand out organic dried apricots instead
Then there's the whole issue of letting children go around dressed as terrifying apparitions. Delving into those sorts of dark powers - it's not right. I mean, you may say it's just a bit of fun. But what is some poor innocent old soul going to think if, as is being requested this year, they get kids at their door dressed as Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May and George Osborne? Talk about being in fear of your soul. Last year, a child in a Russell Brand costume got followed around by members of the Press for hours until they realised that he had more sensible ideas than the real one.

And then pumpkins. You may think it's a harmless old game, to carve out some awful face and put a lighted candle into it. But are you telling me that you can get a vegetable grown that size without using chemicals? Little Dorozy comes out in a rash if she sees a picture of something grown with artificial fertiliser. And what if they've used pesticides? The moths could be falling out of the sky. They say peel the veg, but the whole point is that a pumpkin is supposed to have its peel on to be a punky. That time we peeled them first they looked absolutely rubbish.

Probably not free-range
So this year we're going to make punkies out of some organic courgettes from the kitchen garden. OK, they will look a bit kind of small and stretched. But I reckon if we can hollow them out we can just about fit a bike LED in each one. Although we won't be using batteries. They're not rechargable.

Friday 23 October 2015

Liturgy for a Car Parked on the Pavement

Beaker Folk encircle the car parked on the pavement.

Archdruid: Let us judge not, lest we be judged.

All: But let's face it, it's pretty tempting, innit?

Archdruid: Shall we risk walking out into the road to get round this selfish get?

All: Though the traffic is heavy and two of us have baby buggies.

Archdruid: For wide is the road that leads to destruction.

All: But it's a sensible place to park.

Archdruid: And narrow is the path that leads to salvation.

All: And that twerp in the Fiat isn't making life any better.
All may lay their right index fingers on the car.

Archdruid: Can you feel the selfishness?

All: It flows along our arms, like unto the water that runs down Mount Hermon.

Archdruid: Can you feel the stupid?

All: It burns! It burns!

All may remove their right index fingers.

Archdruid: Let us give the car a blessing, in the hope that the blessing will pass to the driver.

Beaker-bearers lift their beakers

Charlii: I pour out the Beaker of Grape Juice for fruitfulness.

Young Keith: I pour our the Beaker of Honey for sweetness.

Hnaef: I pour out the Beaker of Grease, for smoother starting in cold weather.

Burton: I pour out the Beaker of Milk, for youthful reactions.

Stacey: I pour out the Beaker of Tripe, for this bloke's judgement.

Kylie: I apply the Beaker of Fermented Fish Intestines, for better eyesight.

Kayleigh: And I apply the Half-eaten Kebab of Completing the Exercise.

Driver: Oi! What you doin' to my car?

Departing Blessing:

Archdruid: Quick! Scarper! 

Thursday 22 October 2015

In a Pagan Place

There's a wonderful track by those purveyors of wonderful music, The Waterboys. Actually, Mike Scott and his associates have made a remarkable number of wonderful tracks, mostly under the radar. The best-known of which, and the Beaker theme tune, being the sublime "Whole of the Moon".

Maybe actually sublimer than "Moon", on the subliminal level, is the supersublime "Pagan Place". Haunting, I think the word is. Obsessive, that's another good word. And I have to write the next bit carefully as there's another group - several, in fact - that use the word "pagan'. And I explicitly don't want to co-opt their own - sincerely held, often quite sophisticated - beliefs. But.

Why is the place that means most to the Beaker Folk the little Oxford/Warwickshire collection of limestone lumps, the Rollright Stones, not Westminster Abbey, Stonehenge or (close second) Walsingham? Because one frosty late October Saturday in 1983, very early in the morning, I passed the Stones while travelling down the little lane that leads from Little Rollright towards Great, and which is such a help to harassed middle-aged managers heading from the South-west to the Midlands.

At that time of the most evocative time of the year - redolent if not reeking with melancholy and the scent of decay - in a half-light, the Stones did not so much rest in their field as nuzzle against the fence. The old information shed wasn't burnt down that week, but its diagrams and archaeological information weren't terribly relevant. I wheeled the bike through the gate, went in and experienced a pagan place.

Why a pagan place? Firstly,  because on standard definitions that's what it is - a sacred place that was, we guess, dedicated to a divinity not defined by the Abrahamic religions. Not circumscribed by them, either. I'd like to say the word "numinous" at this point; if that's OK.

I was alone with a bunch of archaeological relics that I didn't understand - that nobody understands - there in the dawn light of a Cotswold ridgeway. And a presence was around me. A benevolent presence, sure. But not "a tame lion". A terrifying, wild, eerie presence. Just hanging there, in the air, kind of lurking. Like that presence always does.

But here's the thing. You want to know the thing that I (later) discovered is the nearest passage to the feeling I had that day? The passage I read and went "I understand that feeling"? It's in the Bible. Here in Genesis 15:12-21.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram...

And yes the last bit of this passage (not quoted) may have a bit of a genocidal implication. But I'm trying to focus on Abraham's experience here and maybe not that of the later writer who took what Abraham saw and wove it into a race history. It's Abraham, his God - the elusive, tricky, all-powerful YHWH - and a pagan place. A proper pagan place, where an elemental, awesome God makes the rules, not whichever sanctioned and established religion Abraham has been following up to now.

Then, for me, it's there again in  Matthew 14.

And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.

The "walking towards them on the sea" sounds kind of ordinary - just delivered deadpan like a hilltop in North Oxfordshire. Until Matthew drops the disciples' response in. The use of the word "elemental" seems obligatory here again. Memories of the Holy Ghost hovering on the waters of creation. The shock of an ordinary bloke doing something utterly - utterly - look, you know I'm gonna have to say "numinous" again, don't you? Here's the disciples in peril. Here's the power of nature. Here's God wandering in. In a pagan place.

I'd like to draw your attention at this point to the words of HG Wells' s narrator, in "The War of the Worlds":

"I had uttered prayers, fetish prayers, had prayed as heathens mutter charms when I was in extremity; but now I prayed indeed, pleading steadfastly and sanely, face to face with the darkness of God . Strange night! Strangest in this, that so soon as dawn had come , I, who had talked with God , crept out of the house like a rat leaving its hiding place— a creature scarcely larger, an inferior animal, a thing that for any passing whim of our masters might be hunted and killed."

So here's my theory. The nameless Dread; the lurking Other; the beyond-reason presence that I met on a Oxfordshire hilltop; CS Lewis' s concept of "joy', every good thing - every wild thing which is yet benevolent, even if scary - every stunning coming together of life and death, hope and despair - lightness coming out of dark - and yet even there, eternal and incomprehensible in "the darkness of God" is in fact our perception, in our place and situation, of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That the lurking presence, in a wood or on a hill or in a burning bush, is in fact the eternal "I Am".

I would like to suggest therefore that we have tried to tame this lion, through custom and practice.  We have tried to pin this erratic Spirit, this wandering Messiah, this invisible God, into rules of our making. We have domesticated what we thought was this wild God, who scatters atoms across space and makes a world that can contain deep love, works of heroism, beautiful flowers and yet viruses and sudden disaster also.

He's there though. In a child's sudden grasping of a truth. In a piece of bread or a sip of wine suddenly changed. In a prayer in tongues or a rogue good deed.

In a scary place where the Divine breaks into the ordered, the I Am is recognised and the door is opened and heaven sneaks into the ordinary world.

In a pagan. In a pagan.

In a pagan place.

Volvo Life Paint - Because you can't Trust the People Who Drive our Cars

Volvo cars are engineered for the ultimate in safety for their occupants. Designed to survive the most brutal of Scandinavian weather, they are rugged and resilient in almost any crash.

Given the warmth and security of a Volvo, who could blame the driver if they decided to relax, send a few texts, open a packet of biscuits - maybe hold a cocktail party. Or why not just kick off your shoes and have a little nap?

I know I would. And that's why we invented Volvo Life Paint.  Because glowing in the dark is the ultimate protection when hit by a 2 ton brick driven by someone who's trying to choose a different album on their phone while eating a Big Mac*.

By 2020 we want nobody to be killed or injured by a new Volvo car. Obviously the only way to guarantee this would be to stop making them. And that would be really expensive. Blimey, look at VW. So we thought selling glow-in-the-dark paint would help while we try to think of something better.

Volvo LifePaint. Because you can't trust Volvo drivers.

* Serving suggestion only. Other sandwiches and fast food sellers available.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Back to the Future Simulator

Brilliant idea of Young Keith's to simulate the "Back to the Future II" Experience.  We left 1985 at 88 mph, and arrived in 2015. Obviously, we had to hook up to a powerful overhead electric source.

Or, to put it another way, we got the Thameslink from Bedford to London.

A Night at the Opera

" While an inexact comparison, research by the Guardian has shown that the cheapest tickets to watch opera (Carmen, £11), ballet (Nutcracker, £14) and West End theatre (As You Like It, £15) in London are all less than the least expensive Premier League ticket (£23 at Aston Villa)."

Well I should think so. Have you ever seen opera? It only exists to keep Guardian journalists out the pub.

Still, I'm shocked that it's 23 quid to watch Villa. Surely they should pay you more than that?

Wasted Sermon Illustrations

You know how it is. The preacher spends 10 minutes explaining how we all matter - in God's Kingdom there are no red-shirts. Only gold ones. The congregation of elderly women and their grandchildren look at the (male, 55-year-old) preacher in blank incomprehension. The preacher wraps up by saying "and, after all, we must all be like children in God's Kingdom," sets photon torpedoes to full power and mentally takes out the back row, says the closing prayer, puts on his anorak and wanders out into the cold.

The illustration that nobody gets. Either it's too complicated, or it's a subject only the preacher could understand. Or it's aimed at the wrong people. Or even the preacher doesn't understand either the illustration, or the thing that is to be illustrated. So here are some examples of which areas of illustration not to use - and when.

Anything that itself needs explaining.

Army metaphors for the Christian Life that reveal your hidden desire to attack Belgium.

Astronomy except to say "Isn't space like really big?"

Contract Bridge - especially that tricky occasion you made 2 over on 3NT but everyone else went one down going for the slam.

Double Entry book keeping as an illustration for sin and redemption (or anything else)

Entropy - See "Quantum mechanics."

Fine Details of railway timetabling.

Giles Fraser's articles on the Guardian website. Not as well-known outside Social Media as you think.

... is a bit like the Trinity

Keith Lemon - unless the entire congregation consists of TV programming commissioners, nobody will have watched him.

Luxury Foreign Holidays

Monty Python's Life of Brian

Mumford and Sons lyrics except at "Hipster Church".

People in or known to the congregation - without prior agreement. "You know,  Angela was telling me what it's like suffering from piles, and I'm sure she won't mind me telling you..."

Richard Dawkins - see Giles Fraser

Quantum mechanics - unless the congregation is made up of physicists or chemists. Nobody will understand it.

Quantum mechanics - if the congregation is made up of physicists or chemists. As it will be discovered that actually the preacher doesn't understand it.

Reminiscences of Margaret Thatcher.

Science Fiction or Fantasy literature, unless at "Geek Church"

Things that show how clever the preacher is - as nobody will believe it anyway.

What it's like to be a bishop

Back to the Future Day

Archdruid: Welcome to a very special service of Pouring-Out of Beakers. Now does everyone know what day it is?

Hnaef: Is it..... [dramatic pause]... Agincourt?

A flight of arrows whistle through the Moot House, pinning Burton Dasset to the wall.

Archdruid: No, not yet

Hnaef: Mae'n ddrwg gen i hogiau, rhaid i chi ddod yn ol dydd Sul.

The tune Cwm Rhonda can be heard, mournfully fading into the distance.

Charlii: It's Trafalgar Day!

The prow of a first-rate ship of the line juts into the Moot House.

Archdruid: Far more important.

Nelson: Kiss me, Hardy!

Hardy: That kiss is gone where none can tell -
 Not even those who felt its spell: It cannot have died; that know we well. 
Somewhere it pursues its flight, 
One of a long procession of sounds 
Travelling aethereal rounds 
Far from earth's bounds In the infinite.

All: You've booked the wrong Thomas Hardy!

Thomas Mastermain Hardy: Avast, ye landlubbers! Set sail for Portsmouth, Mr Loveday!

Archdruid: Suddenly the Moot House seems to be full of the smell of herring. No, it's Back to the Future Day!

All: A day to celebrate the great things we've achieved.

Archdruid: Who needs hoverboards when we have drones that can blow up weddings, at the touch of a button from the other side of the world?

All: Who needs a fax in every room when your work is constantly on your smartphone?

Archdruid: Who needs Biff when you've got Katie Hopkins?

All: Why have self-tying shoelaces when you can melt the ice caps?

Andy McCluskey: The Back to the Future we anticipated has been cancelled.

Marty McFly: Doc, we've gotta get outta here. It makes the 80s look sensible.

Archdruid: Now we have a minute's silence as we remember that most of us saw the original at the the pictures.

Burton: I did think Kate Bush was sweet in the video they showed as a trailer.

Kate Bush: Cloudbustin', Daddy.

Hymn: Power of Love

Archdruid: You fools! That's the "Frankie" version.

Holly Johnson: I'll get me coat...

Final Blessing

Archdruid: Wherever you're from, whenever you wish it could be - it's here and now. It's all you can be sure of. Make the most of it and make it better.

Hymn: The Power of Love

Archdruid: Jennifer Rush! Get out of here!

Jennifer Rush: OK, Eileen. Doc, let's fire up the De Lorean!

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Sunrise Services

Can all Beaker Folk please note that from now on, our sunrise services will take place at sunrise. We will restore our "recorded sunrise services" at 8am each day in March. By then we hope to have purchased some more films of exciting sunsets from around the world.

It's gonna be a bit tough from Sunday on, when the clocks go back. Because suddenly the sunrise will be earlier again. We think. It's hard to work out. Maybe it will be easier?

Monday 19 October 2015

Moses Wouldn't Like It

Just run into Drayton Parslow. He was reeling from a visit to the new house of a young couple in his congregation, just back from honeymoon.

They asked if he'd come and say prayers for them as a blessing on their house. Obviously being a card-carrying puritan he didn't do that the fun way, with holy water, herbs and tea lights. Instead, soberly, orderly and respectably, he went round the house praying for each room.

Choosing to pray for the activities that go on in each room of the house was probably stretching the brief a bit - but "we pray for the meals that will be eaten in this room, for fellowship and a daily reminder of that Supper to which we are all called" seems fair enough.

It was in the master bedroom that this strategy, combined with Drayton's love of extempore prayer, spiralled into disaster. He seems to have asked - it's hard to tell, for he was a broken man -  for blessing on the holy activities of the marital bed, and for God to lead them away from unclean ones.

So far so excruciatingly toe-curling. But Drayton seems to have gone farther. And actually spelt out the list of which were permissible, and which God hates.

Apparently the young couple told him afterwards that they were grateful for a few suggestions, disagreed about the licitness of a couple of others, believed one is actually illegal, and reckoned two others are anatomically impossible and where did he get his information from?

I've given him a copy of the Beaker House-Blessing Liturgy. He's crossed out all references to holy water and joss sticks, and the "curse on all badgers",  but reckons it's still a safer strategy for the future.

Saturday 17 October 2015

Dr Fraser's Pill

Many have written scurrilous things about Dr Giles Beeching's plans to cut the rural Church of England down to size.

But few have had the chance to see the details. Luckily a friend of the Beaker Folk, at a South London fondue party, managed to get a photograph of his specific plans for the mid-Bedfordshire area.

Turns out that the plan is to close most churches in the area as they only run a service on Sundays. Husborne Crawley and Aspley Guise churches will be replaced with a bus service, which will spend an hour each Sunday driving around the other mid-Beds villages picking up parishioners so they can attend the 8am at Woburn.

Toddington, Chalgrave, Tebworth and Houghton Regis churches will all close, to be replaced by Houghton Parkway Church, a state of the art church in Giles Fraser's preferred "bus shelter" style, conveniently located on the Dunstable north bypass.

Ampthill church will no longer hold Church of England services. However there are plans for a restoration trust to take it over, and run Common Prayer evensong during the summer months for tourists.

The clergy will be concentrated into the towns of Bedford, Luton and Dunstable. These "minster churches" will be the bases from which the clergy will be able to drink coffee, fill in expense forms and reflect that Dr Fraser's pill may have been bitter, but it was clearly prophetic. As since the implementation of his reforms, nobody goes to Church anymore.

A Martian in Wessex

The Narrator of "War off of the Worlds" does not mention it, but at the ends of the first Great Martian War, one of the fighting machines was unaccounted for. In the general relief that London and the world were saved, few paid much attention. Any that wondered about the discrepancy assumed it had met a disaster and ended up at the bottom of a deep valley or on the sea bed - possibly a victim of the heroic charge of the Thunder Child.

But the London-centred press paid no attention to those in the counties west of the capital, who claimed that the last machine had struck out on its own, taking a route south and west and going through the literary discontinuity where Basingstoke unexpectedly becomes Stoke Bare-hills, and ending up on a heath in Mid Wessex.

And so it was that notorious local idiot Joseph Poorgrass, walking across shaggy Egdon after consuming a skinfull at Casterbridge Fair, spied two fighting machines advancing toward him. A quick look at the two Jan Coggans walking with him assured him that he was suffering from his old condition the "multiplying eye". The two rustics looked at the Machine, then each other, then ran like the wind towards Tranter Dewey's house north of Blooms End. The fighting machine sped after them, taking out  a stand of fir trees and drying up the ponds with the Heat Ray.

The rustics shoved Reuben back into his house, fearing the usual elaborate greeting, and all three dived into the side-pantry. They waited, terrified in the light of the horn lantern with which the revellers had been navigating, as they heard the Machine draw to a halt outside. There was a short silent stand-off, and then Joseph absent-mindedly sang three lines of "The Foggy Dew." They were found out.

A tentacle snaked in through the tranter's door, twisted into the pantry. The three pressed against the walls watched, as it gently felt its way round the small room, and then unexpectedly coiled round the hogshead of cider that stood in the middle. It pulled the barrel from the stand, and dragged it outside.

"That were a pretty drop of tipple! There's redstreaks and stubbards and Five-corners..." exclaimed Reuben. But the others shushed him.

It is known from the exciting account of Mr Wells that the Martians gained sustenance by drinking the blood of their victims. And maybe the alien assumed that the cider barrel was merely a different kind of terrestrial life - one with a strong exeskeleton and a hole through which sustenance were taken. In any even the evidence that the Martian consumed the contents is to be found in the way that, half an hour later, it floppd out of the machine and lay in Reuben's orchard, singing "The Barley Mow."

The cider, it later transpired, had a twofold effect on the Martian. In the first instance, it made it a convivial and friendly specimen, and one with a remarkable ability - given its many tentacles - to play a lively and complex bass viol part. The Martian was in demand for parties around the entire county. And the cider 's second lasting effect was even more remarkable. For, in accordance with the locals' theories about the beverage's properties, it gave the Martian lasting immunity against the viruses and bacteria that destroyed its companions. It lived a long and happy life, was three times Mayor of Casterbridge, and dedicated a row of almshouses to the poor of the town, "in memory of the lasting peace between our two great planets."

Friday 16 October 2015

The Instant MBTI for Christians

If you are clergy or a licensed minister....

Congratulations, you are INFP just like you hoped.

All the rest of you - nip off and do something productive. It's all wishful thinking anyway.

Worship in the Working Class Tradition - or How Marie Stopes and the Former Bishop of Southwark Tried to Poison London

It is well known in progressive liturgical circles that working-class people, or those I had better describe as the "not as nice as us" (NANAU) category, do not go to church. As long ago as the 1960s the church hierarchy in Southwark realised that their congregations relative to the population were tiny, that they were not relating to their working class parishioners. The poor, frankly, did not believe in God. The strategy of getting the Bishop to write a book explaining that he didn't believe in God either did not help in making contact. Maybe the working classes took opposing views to the bishop of the work of Tillich and Bultmann? We will never know, as the working classes never turned up at the cathedral to tell him.

I notice that the Diocese of London in recent years has had a strategy of clear communication, simplification, belief in God and letting people get on with things. How they expect that sort of thing to work is beyond me.

And so, in order to bring the sweaty masses to the pews, last night was our first "Worship in the Working Class Tradition".  Brilliant work by Pearly Queen Charlii for leading. Thanks to Grenville for his playing of the old Joanna, to Parquin for his virtuosity on the comb and paper, and Dezmelza for her attempts at playing the spoons. To be fair to Demelza, she is keen but maybe needs a little more practice. And a second spoon.

The bring and share working class finger buffet was frankly disgusting. Black pudding, fried lights, jellied eels. Frankly I don't see why anyone would want to be working class.  It's hardly a good career option. The only recognisable food was pie and mash. But someone had poured some kind of green poison on it. Bernie the chef said it was called " liquor" but it didn't look like whisky to me. I don't know who first had the idea of putting green poison on working-class food, but I suspect it may have been Marie Stopes. She made it her life's work to reduce their numbers. I have no evidence that she ever collaborated with John AT Robinson to deliberately rid South London of the working classes, as I think the good bishop liked the poor but didn't "get" them, but there's no doubt that it would have improved the percentage of his diocese's congregation that went to church. And some of them would have preferred the green poison to reading Honest to God, in my opinion.

At the end of the day, we had an exciting and informative Worship in the Working Class Tradition. We may do it again, and invite some people from Bletchley. And you may think that we have celebrated a rosy, stereotypical view of a group of people that weren't homogeneous, that we don't understood and who, in the idealistic form we have presented them, never existed. And you'd be right. But I have only two words to say to you. "Celtic Tradition."

Thursday 15 October 2015

Call me Maybe

Got a Facebook invite to a protest. Doesn't matter what it was. Irrelevant. It's not the actual protest matters - or other public event to which you could be invited. It's the tone of the response buttons.

Facebook invite response options
I suppose that "Don't want to", "Wouldn't if you paid me" and "Wouldn't be seen dead in a ditch nearby while dressed as Michael Foot's dog" were too big to fit the buttons?

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Encouraging Spontaneous Worship

I'd like to thank Grewzum for last night' s "meditation on pebbles".

During the meditation, my thoughts went back to the early days of the Beaker Folk. How we rejoiced in our discovery of alternative worship!  No longer shackled to the hymn sandwich, or even to traditional liturgy we were free - free to worship in spirit and truth, with creativity and devoutness unfettered by the chains with which other fellowships bound themselves. Even Tradition is no dead hand, if you can make your own tradition up.

That first year, it was all pretty much contemplation of pebbles. First there was regarding their beauty, their markings, their solidity - often, when someone had been to the seaside, their roundness, which so beautifully captured the concept of God having the whole world in God's hands.

Then in the autumn we were able to switch to conkers and hazelnuts - with appropriate health warnings - and then someone thought of marbles. But still, albeit they brought other connotations - of the natural world, or of childhood - they were pretty much pebble substitutes.

Then after twelve months of holding stones, comparing their weight to that of our sins and dropping them in bowls of water as prayers - for pebbles are infinitely flexible -  we figured it was all getting a bit samey. So we agreed to try some spontaneous worship. Worship back to basics. After all, we figured, there was no mention of stones in worship in the New Testament. But loads of references that could imply spontaneity, if you worked hard enough on your exegesis.

That first week, we discovered that spontaneity isn't necessarily the best approach for musicians. It wasn't so much that a group of reasonably talented musicians couldn't busk whatever the worship leaders unexpectedly decided to sing. Given a comprehensive set of music books, and at least agreement on the key and who was leading in, they could probably have coped with most stuff, fairly passably. Up to that memorable day when Herrreerr said "and now I feel God is calling us to sing the Lacrymosa from Berlioz's Requiem.  And it wasn't the long succession of burned-out Data Projector operators, who sometimes found themselves speed-typing songs that were in no known collection.

No, the real problem was the people who announced - reasonably, given the basic premise that God would bless our spontaneous, unplanned oblations - that they were just going to rock up and play instruments they had never learnt.

After that first week - that dreadful first week!  Who can forget the anguished scream of those bagpipes when I turned the blow torch on them. After that first week, we had to introduce the rule that you could only spontaneously ask for a song if it was in one of the 45 specified music books. And all wannabe musicians had to satisfy basic competency tests. Though somehow Nordix had discovered three chords that first week, and has been the backbone of the music group ever since. Though after week 3, we bought him a capo. Albeit that damaged what had been promising sales of tight trousers in the Beaker Bazaar.

Later on, we had to restrict spontaneity in other ways. After Gesmyn prayed the same spontaneous prayer every week for a month - and we discovered the people she was praying for didn't even have the conditions she was listing - we had to get spontaneous prayers written down and vetted a week in advance. This was a great relief to Burton Dasset, mind. He had absolutely no idea how he came to get pregnant, when Gesmyn's prayers alerted to his delicate condition.

Then we had to crack down on spontaneous Scripture readings, especially by people who didn't have Bibles with them. They were just frequently inaccurate. That whole Genesis reading where Bizmere mentioned the people laughing at Noah, the failure of the unicorns to show up, the sad demise of the trilobites (poisoned by an influx of fresh water, apparently) and the laying down of the Jurassic sediments was probably the worst. Though worryingly I was the only one who noticed. Of course the unicorns weren't left behind - they're just the King James word for rhinos.

So in the end we realised that the best bet was to write down absolutely everything people had to say spontaneously. And that was how we developed the Beaker Common Prayer.

And then after outbreaks of worship focuses that included giant hogweed (so we could contemplate God's wonders and yet awesome terror) and the day Chasleigh invited everyone to bring their own badger, we decided to get q bit of a grip on creative liturgy as well. And it's pretty well been pebbles 'n' tea lights all the way down since then.

Creativity and spontaneity are great. We embrace them whole-heartedly. You've just got to get them under control.

Sunday 11 October 2015

Pulling Camels Through the Needle

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom” (Mark 10:25)
You know, I'm not sure this is as scary for rich people as you might imagine. After all, surely the whole point of being rich is you can afford to buy stuff. Like, for instance, very large needles. And, if needed, you could pay some geneticists to develop a line of dwarf camels.I've got visions of the Acme Large Needles company springing up next to the Dwarf Dromedary Development Department on  the Oxford Science Park.

It's a good image, though - a camel through the eye of a needle. Tricky at the time. Presumably would have given the hearers a bit of a laugh. Although, in the case of the richer hearers, it might have been a thoughtful kind of laugh.

This whole passage - with the readings before it - seem to be about spiritual priorities. In the previous reading, they're bringing babies to Jesus and he is blessing them rather than looking after the important people and here we've got a very rich man coming up and saying - what do I need to do to receive eternal life?

And eternal life - life with God, forever - if you believe in that, it must be the most important thing in the world. It must outweigh all other things you should want. And the man who comes to Jesus - he's certainly religious enough, as we'd see it. He doesn't break the commandments. And maybe he's hoping that Jesus will say "you're cool then. You've passed your spiritual health check. Keep it up and you'll be there. Well done you."

But Jesus does nothing of the sort. He says, give away everything you have - and follow me. And the man goes away, broken. He realises that he can't do this. Because he loves his money more than he wants eternal life.

The good news for you is, God doesn't necessarily want you to give up all your money. Of course, the bad news is that I don't know how rich you are - or how much you love the stuff. The other bad news is that this might be because there is something else - your friends, your lifestyle, your telly or your public image - that you love too much, instead.

But there's good news at the end. And if the bad news in this story came from Jesus being kind - the good news comes from what sounds like a put-down to Peter. Peter rushes up and says - well look at us - we've given up everything to follow youi.

And it's like Peter is putting his good work up against the rich man's - sure he keeps the commandments but he won't give up his money. Look at me, Lord! I've given up everything! Not strictly true as it happens - we find out at the end of John's Gospel that they still have access to the odd fishing boat. And we find out from Paul that Peter is going around on missionary journeys with his wife. Peter's wife, that is. Not Paul's. We don't know where Paul's wife got to.

And Jesus kind of puts him down - yeah, yeah, yeah - give up family and farms and you'll get them back. But that's not important, just giving random stuff up -that's not what brings you eternal life. You can't earn it, Peter, any more than the rich man. You'll get it all back. But the important thing is that you do it for me and the Gospel.

And Jesus concludes by saying the first will be last, and the last first. The ones who thought that getting to heaven would be a pushover - the powerful, the respectable, the rich, the tidy - they're the ones that will have the trouble being in God's kingdom. They've got too much they want to hang onto here. But the last - the people who hang on lightly to what this world offers, the ones who don't value their belongings or their images - the ones who maybe aren't proud of themselves - they're the ones who can find it easy to follow Jesus, to hear a Good News that God is a welcoming, loving God - because they don't have much to weigh them down.

Quick quote, apparently from Bishop Desmond Tutu. Though I follow Mark Twain's motto, "don't trust anything you read on the Internet." Still - "God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low." I think that's pretty good news for all of us. It's not about showing you've got a tick list of all the things you've got right, it's not about earning your way into heaven. It's about loving God more than anything else - and knowing that God loves you even better than that.

Saturday 10 October 2015

Predicting Sexual Orientation 95% Accurately

Interesting study into a combination of genes that seem collectively to predispose to homosexuality (or not) in men. Apparently this leads to an algorithm with a 67% chance of predicting sexual orientation.

Trouble is, this kind of science reporting could lead to some fool developing an in utero test so as to offer selective abortion. You may think it would be outrageous but society seems to tolerate it for gender.

I should point out that there is a method that gives a 95% success rate in predicting sexual orientation. Which is to assume people are straight. I'm not advocating this, merely pointing out that the way society has thought since the Old Testament is actually more accurate than cutting-edge genetic science. I probably could think of something more sociological and progressive to use for a bit of satire, but last night's "Have I Got News for You" has convinced me that satire is dead.

Nativity of Kirsty MacColl (1959)

I'm an autumn girl, flying over London 
With the trees on fire it looks like home
I’m an autumn girl on the endless search for summer 
Cause I need some love to heat my frozen bones.

Thursday 8 October 2015

Life From Mars

Inspired by the latest failed apocalypse, I thought I'd read "War of the Worlds". I've not really paid any interest to it since I was Dancer #3 in the production of the musical version, at St Mitholmroyd's School for the Children of Distressed Gentlefolk. Anyone there may remember that Hayley (Dancer #2) and Tracey (Dancer #1) had to be dragged off-stage after spending five minutes waiting to start dancing while under the level of the dry ice smoke. There were questions about how it happened that the stage curtain failed, at that point, in that way. All I will say is that nobody ever proved I was near the handle at the time it was apparently sawn off with a hacksaw. And where would I have hidden a hacksaw? The answer, in a 1983 dance-based scenario, could well be in my leggings. I imagine.

In any case. I had forgotten to just what a degree War of the Worlds is set in the southern Home Counties. by a third of the way through, the Martians have already laid waste to Woking, Byfleet, Weybridge and Guildford. Which is a terrible experience for the people who lived there. And not great news for Waitrose.

"We reckon them big eggs have come from Sainsbury's"

Image from Wikimedia commons

The Apocalypse Will be Televised

And so another Apocalypse goes by and we're all still here. My personal theory is that we won't know which is the real one until Fox announces it's signed for the rights.

But you know whom I feel sorry for? It's the young woman in the picture in the Independent, wearing a T-shirt that reads "King Jesus Returns, May 11 2011. I mean, Young Keith is going around proudly wearing his Fu Fighters " Broken Leg Tour" T-shirt from the Bowl. And in years too come he'll be even prouder, as it gets more tatty, to wear it at other gigs.

But a T-shirt declaring the end of the world for a date in the past? I mean, you can't just rock up to the next forecast Apocalypse saying "yeah, I followed the return of King Jesus before it got trendy."

So I'm producing the "Apocalypse Tour" souvenir T-shirt. With every predicted end of the world, up to "E-Bible Fellowship, October 7 2015. Including " Halley's Comet, 1066; "Great Fire of London, 1966" and "Syria - arrangements to be announced shortly."

So get your Beaker Apocalypse Tour T-shirts now.

Limited offer while stocks last. When we're gone, we're gone.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

The Bitter-Sweet Taste of a Bake-off Final

Ah, a Great British Bake-off final. It leaves me with mixed emotions.

Obviously, it means that Beaker People will be insisting on watching Bake Off in the Room of Viewing tonight. Driving me out to watch the 48" telly in my room or possibly, in desperation, do some kind of religion.

And yet, and yet, there's another way of viewing this.

No more Bake Off after today!

There's a little piece of the apple of joy at the soggy bottom of the stodgiest cake.

Death of Edgar Allan Poe

If anyone has seen Mr Reynolds can they please let me know?

To mark the death of Edgar Allan Poe we will be releasing 166 ravens. In accordance with the Streeb-Greebling liturgy, we are supposed to get them to fly underwater. But after last year's disaster, we decided "never more." We'll let them out in the open air this year.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

People our hearts bleed for - The CEO in the Embankment Cycle Lane

From the pages of "sympathy for people who don't need it", in the Standard. A very rich person who likes to pollute Central London complains because their personal convenience is being sacrificed for the good of many, as a segregated cycle lane is built by the Thames.
"It’s ridiculous,” says one FTSE-100 chief executive who used to take that road to commute into the City. “I live in Chelsea but Embankment is just a disaster. My driver these days goes south of the river, drops me off in Southwark and I walk across the Wobbly Bridge to our office in the City."
Is your heart bleeding yet?

Let's take it a bit at a time.
"It’s ridiculous,” 
No - it's roadworks. They happen all the time in London, but when it's hundreds of tipper lorries on the latest redevelopment in Town to strip out its character and replace it with over-priced empty boxes for foreign speculators, the captains of industry are quiet.
"says one FTSE-100 chief executive who used to take that road to commute into the City." 
Well, don't. It's a stupid thing to do. There's not much space in London and the Embankment should be an attractive place to wander, not somewhere for your bourgemobile to clog up the path. Get the Tube. Or ride a bike. They're building a bike lane, apparently. That'll be handy. Or earn your money and get in early. You'll miss the traffic. Although, ironically, you'll still be traffic.
 “I live in Chelsea but Embankment is just a disaster." 
No, it's roadworks. London has them all the time. Often to benefit motorists or property speculators, sometimes for water and gas pipes and electricity and stuff, so this is a bit of variety for you.
"My driver these days goes south of the river, drops me off in Southwark and I walk across the Wobbly Bridge to our office in the City."
It's nice to hear you're getting some exercise these days. You'd pay a fortune for that at a City gym. Appreciate that lovely view up the River. Doesn't that take away the executive stress? And just think - if you're fit enough to walk across the Bouncy Bridge and up the hill into the City, you're probably fit enough to cycle from Chelsea. It'll be great once the bikes don't have to tangle with the coaches and City executives, won't it?

Monday 5 October 2015

A Prayer for those in Carrier Bag Chaos

Archdruid: For those who are now 5p poorer

All: We light a tea light.

A tea light is lit.

Archdruid: For those who want some shopping spontaneously on the way home

All: We light a tea light.

A tea light is lit.

Archdruid: For those who are balancing their shopping down the street

All: We light a tea light.

A tea light is lit.

Archdruid: For those who have mixed fresh meat with a tin of soup and got charged anyway

All: We light a tea light.

A tea light is lit.

Archdruid: For those who are carrying hot chips home from the chippie in their hands after failing to understand the law

All: We light a tea light.

A tea light is lit.

 Archdruid: For those who bought loose eggs in Manchester, tried to carry them home, and got so angry they started throwing them

All: We light a tea light.

A tea light is lit.

Archdruid: For the 250th employee in a small retailer, wondering whether it's them or the free bags that will be going

All: We light a tea light.

A tea light is lit.

Archdruid: For live goldfish, who are now a preferential option over fish fingers

All: We light a tea light.

A tea light is lit.

Archdruid: For the people who make paper bags, who may have to work ever so hard

All: We light a tea light.

A tea light is lit.

Archdruid: For forgetful people, who will end up getting charged all the time

All: We've run out of tea lights

Archdruid: Chezza, can you nip down the Bazaar and get some tea lights?

Hymn: You'll Never Walk Alone (arr: Rodgers)

Chezza: Sorry Eileen - didn't have enough for the tea lights.

Archdruid: I gave you 2 quid.

Chezza: Yeah, but they say it's 5p for the bag.

Archdruid: Chaos! It's chaos!

Triffids at the Pet Service

Combining the Pet Service with our Celebration of Psalm 8 turned out a bit fraught.

Can I remind Beaker Folk that triffids are not pets? Once again, they're a valuable oil source. But we can't have them receiving blessings in the Moot House. It made the alpacas uneasy. And now we know what alpacas do when they're uneasy. And it's not fun to clean up, Burton tells me.

But Young Keith's creative liturgy for Psalm 8 was impressive. Who would have thought of building a scale of the Moon and putting it into low orbit like that? And although the RAF did shoot it down, what a fantastic display of shooting stars we got! Or so I'm told. With the triffids feasting on alpaca droppings, last night was definitely not the time for watching meteors.

So everyone woke up this morning screaming that they couldn't see anything. I had to explain to them that there's no cause for alarm. It's autumn. The sun just hadn't risen yet.  Same talk I have to give them every year.

I'm expecting them to be out round the ornamental maple later, wondering what illness has made its leaves go red. Every year the same.

Sunday 4 October 2015

We Reveal the new Liverpool Manager

I was confused. Why have Liverpool sacked Brendan Rodgers, after a perfectly respectable result? A draw away at Everton - nothing wrong with that.

And then I started musing. Why now? Why sack him now? Who is suddenly available?

And then it struck me.

Marty McFly. Of course.

And that means we can bring Mario Balotelli back.

After all, we'll have self-tying shoelaces now.

The Man With the Child in his Eyes

 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”  
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.  (Mark 10:2-16)
Whenever someone tells us that Jesus took the weight of the Old Testament Law from our shoulders, in my experience at least, it is unusual for them to mention at the same time his teaching on divorce.

Also, when somebody says that gay marriage undermines the sanctity of their own marriage, they rarely mention - if they are American evangelicals - that the presence of divorced and remarried people in their own congregations -in direct conflict with Jesus's teaching in this passage - may mean exactly the same thing. Because of Jesus is saying that marriage is a lifelong bond between two people, then surely somebody demonstrating its dissolubility is weakening the meaning and therefore everybody else's marriage? I should make an honorable exception for the Catholic Church at this point. They can say that gay marriage undermines other marriage, because they don't allow divorce either. I'm not saying they're right - but they are consistent.

This is a hard teaching. In a way it's a teaching that is more equal than the old teaching. Because the Old Testament laws specified how a man could divorce his wife - but a woman could not divorce her husband. So Jesus is putting both on an even footing.

But even so it's a hard teaching. Before divorce laws were introduced and then liberalised in England, people would be locked into loveless marriages. Women could be trapped with abusive partners - even abandoned but still unable to start their lives again.

It is clearly an ideal that two people stay together for life. It's what we all hope for when we marry, or why would we ever do it!? It forms a basis for a solid home and start for children - for showing lasting commitment. But sometimes, it seems to me, some marriages get so hard, some relationships so broken, that we have to accept that it's the case and do something about it. It seems to me that when that's happened - and people can never be back together - that to divorce is the kindest, and for people to remarry later is a reasonable thing to do. Our Lord gave us some commandments that are not so much hard to live up to as ideals, and I'm not going too cut my own hand off if it offends me. So I hope Jesus is offering the ideal but will still look at us, when we're fail, with mercy.

Which brings us on to the little children. The disciples don't want them near Jesus. Well, you know kids. They disrupt the worship. They're noisy - when they're tiny they scream and when they're a bit bigger they clatter around shouting. They get in the way, between us and Jesus. That's why the disciples don't want people bringing them - there's important people coming to see Jesus. And at the front of the queue, instead of the well-heeled merchants and people with Government contacts, the ones who might fill the money bag for the mission or put a word in to get Jesus a plush preaching gig at some trendy synagogue in Jerusalem - there's a queue of sleep-deprived parents and their snotty-nosed kids.

But Jesus gets angry - he does occasionally, you know - and says no, let them to me. The Kingdom of God belongs to ones like that.

And you know, it would be easy just to treat that saying as if Jesus was just putting up a nice theological saying, so 2,000 years later some middle-class English preacher could say "now what did he mean by that? Did he mean that you've got to have a child-like belief in him? That you've got to be unsophisticated? That you've got to be a whole lot of innocent things - unselfish, generous, simple, loving - that in fact real children actually aren't? I remember Celestine - on a night when Young Keith and Charlii had gone away for a few days' peace a few months back - at 2 am bawling inexplicably, refusing to be pacified by milk, food, songs or videos of " In the Night Garden " - looking at me for one moment with a look of utter victory and contempt.

No. I reckon that the Kingdom belongs to such as children simply because Jesus loves them. He knows kids are snotty and selfish. He knows they've no dignity. He knows they've nothing to offer. No money, no useful contacts, no good behaviour they can trade. He knows this and he loves and welcomes them just the same. Psalm 8 gives us a sense of how high the heavens are, how great our God is, how we're have nothing to offer. And yet "he makes us a little lower than the angels." Nothing we can do on our side. Nothing to offer. Nothing to bargain. No dignity that can stand up before the maker of the universe. Yet he loves us to bits, if we will just come to him as we are.

So you want the Kingdom of Heaven to be yours? This Kingdom you were meant to be a citizen of, yet which - like Monaco - you could never afford to belong to? Go to Jesus as a little child. Not clever, not dignified, not holy. Just as you are, trusting in his love. Because his love transcends all the rules and he loves you to bits.

Saturday 3 October 2015

Who will Jose Mourinho blame this time?

  1. Arsene Wenger
  2. The referee
  3. The bloke who marks the white lines out
  4. Sepp Blatter
  5. Kevin McCloud
  6. The guy works down the chip shop who swears he's Elvis
  7. Ronaldo
  8. Richard Dawkins
  9. Branislav Ivanović
  10. David Moyes
  11. The FA
  12. The Fourth Official
  13. Dr. Carneiro
  14. Boris Johnson
  15. The media
  16. Jan Vertonghen
  17. Sunshine
  18. Star players
  19. Title rivals
  20. Jeremy Corbyn
  21. Ridiculous mistakes
  22. The pitch
  23. The ghost of Dick Turpin
  24. Luis Garcia
  25. God
  26. The moonlight
  27. The assistant referee
  28. The bloke who puts the goals up
  29. Rafa Benitez
  30. Parents
  31. John Terry
  32. Women everywhere
  33. The good times
  34. John Motson
  35. An impossible save
  36. UEFA
  37. Tiredness
  38. Vicente del Bosque
  39. John of Gaunt
  40. West Ham
  41. All the girls he used to know
  42. The boogie
  43. Agents
  44. The physio
  45. Old Father Thames
  46. George Best
  47. Rats
  48. The defence
  49. The weather
  50. Jose Mourinho? How did that happen?

People with Guns Kill People

It's always tricky when we say things are like other things. It's powerful but it doesn't have to be right or accurate.

An example at the moment being the idea that the argument for Britain keeping a nuclear deterrent, is the same argument given in the United States for having a gun.

Well, I don't get that comparison. The reason we in Britain mostly get away with having very few mass murders is that the laws against just anyone owning just any gun, are backed up by a police force who can do something about enforcing the laws. By criminalising guns, we make it much harder to buy them, sell them, get hold of them. And we assume that the police will remove them from people who get them - with the use of superior force, if required.

On a worldwide nuclear scale, there is no such police force. Wanting nuclear weapons as a deterrent is actually the equivalent of somebody in the Wild West wanting a gun. And when I say the Wild West, I don't mean Bristol. I heard of a Bristolian who used to take a gun hidden in his coat when he went out in the evening because "there's so many nutters about". I apologise for the language, that is what he said. And I can't do the accent, of course. All I can say is that certainly there was one person out in Bristol in the evenings that you would do well to steer clear of.

If we had a worldwide police force, capable of detecting and confiscating nuclear weapons, the comparison would be valid in my opinion. We don't. The UN is ineffectual a lot of the time, and incapable of developing nuclear-weapon-removing technology. Let's face it - they couldn't even find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which is something the old West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad could probably have done in their sleep.

All of which is not to say we should or shouldn't have nuclear weapons. Just to say that the comparison is invalid. Now let's look at America.

You see, the thing is, Americans do have a police force. Quite a well-armed one. Probably too well-armed, but then the problem for the American police is that there are guns all over the place. No wonder they need arming. The could be less well-armed, and less trigger-happy in some cases, if only the general public themselves were less likely to be armed.

But they're not, are they? In parts of the country, the public are armed to the teeth. If you asked them why, they'd say "protection". Not gathering that, if guns in general were seriously restricted, the need for protection would largely go away.

I guess I'm not saying anything that isn't obvious - nor anything that the average American gun lobbyist would completely ignore on the grounds that they have a right under God to arm themselves with shotguns, AK47, missile launchers and anything else they feel they need for protection. They got this right so their militias could protect them from the British, I believe. But honestly, we really don't want them back.

If you want to know why so many Americans die in mass-murders in places of education, there's two components. One seems to be a kind of narcissism that says that somebody who gets their name attached to a massacre is not a useless, pathetic, half-arsed loser, but some kind of celebrity. And the other is that if you give a useless, pathetic, half-arsed narcissistic loser a gun, you give them power and the ability to get what the crave.

A useless, pathetic, half-arsed narcissistic loser armed with anything other than a gun is gonna last about three minutes before some jock puts him in an arm lock. Think your gun laws are protecting you, strange American gun lobbyists? No. They're just putting your children at risk from losers. What an odd view on life you have. People with guns kill people. Even pathetic people with guns can do it. People without guns have a much harder job.

Bloody Heroes

At least three workers for MSF reported to have died in Afghanistan.

Others from the charity are on the Med, rescuing those who are, as the hymn puts it, "in peril on the sea".

Meanwhile they and others put their own lives at risk in places many of us wouldn't dare go, to help others. They're at danger from some of those whom they try to help, some that see anybody as a target and, as today, from those who mean them no harm but cause what is called " collateral damage" - a euphemism for "missed again."

They're bloody heroes. I salute them and pray for their safety.

As a humanitarian agency involved in search and rescue, MSF does not have a mandate or means to assess the immigration status of the people we assist. We provide medical care without judgment and strongly believe that no human being should drown when the means exist to prevent it.

Friday 2 October 2015

Not in the Whirlwind

Sometimes the world is so frenetic. In this  whirlwind, active England of ours - even out in the sticks, where you'd think we were more civilised - people are constantly shouting - through action, through clothing,  through sheer noise - "look at me!" And you get the suspicion that the increasingly Big-Brother-ish (in the Bazalgette sense), X-factored drawing of attention to oneself is a desperate attempt to attract to the shell of people - for fear that there may - in these days when response times are measured in nanoseconds, and you are the sum of your instant reactions - be just emptiness within.

Social media has plummeted - If it ever climbed in the first place - to similar attractions. People over-sharing for attention - for are page impressions not a form of love? An outbreak of virtue-signalling on Twitter that dwarfs everything since the gentry started putting their names on their almshouses.

I figured that, since value-signalling is a form of structured information, I could use it as a source of energy. So I got Young Keith to build me a Twitter-powered model aircraft. Had to ground it with technical problems, unfortunately. This terrible whining kept coming from its left wing.

And I am grateful to Ian Paul for his article on why pushy men get the top jobs - because they're pushy, it turns out. Though his article is so thorough that I got lost trying to work out his view on how humble men lose out to pushy women. For what it's worth, any of my sympathy for humble men will be put on hold while I await the findings on why there are so few "showy" females. Probably because if you get to be called "gobby" or accused of using sex as a career progression technique or have to be twice as pushy to get as far as less-talented men, you're at risk of deciding that being "humble" is a better career option. Still, pushy wins every time.

So in the midst of a value-signalling, attention-seeking, image-projecting world I made my little oasis of fuzzy thinking here. A place of quiet and reflection, where we could let silence drive out the murmurs of self-will. And what do I find?

An average of twenty meetings a week. Sixteen separate rotas. Acts of worship that become about the planners, the leaders, the person whose folksy ten-minute links between songs just became fifteen minutes. The people who tell you that if you behave like them, smile like them, tilt your head to a 27° angle when you hear any kind of sad news like them - then you can know a true form of self-realisation, and not worry about the emptiness and the fear that, one of these days, the whirlwind outside will break your shell.

Down by the side of the main road, an old bloke sits looking on a pile of newspapers and watches the traffic go past - all day. And someone sits alongside him. In the Med, a boat is hunting for sinking dinghies and struggling to save the people on them. And someone is walking alongside them. In a bombed out street, a girl struggles to cook a meal for her younger brothers. And though they don't know it, someone is at the meal with them. Not in the whirlwind? Maybe.

Thursday 1 October 2015

One Giant Hole in St Albans, Hertfordshire

To all the Beaker Folk saying there's a "thin place" in St Albans, save yourself the trouble.

That's not a thin place. It's a sinkhole. Stacey Bushes nipped down a put a load of tea lights round it, but the police dragged her off in the end.