Saturday 31 December 2016

The Archdruid's New Year Message

Obviously, in my position as a spiritual leader, I ought to be offering hope for the new year. We don't really get this gig to go around bringing people down. Nobody's gonna be heading for the Beaker Bazaar buying party poppers if I don't tell you all how great it's going to be.

But let's face it. It's not easy, is it? I mean - everybody is going on about how 2016 was so dreadful. But what happened? I mean really? An unexceptional percentage of celebrities died. The UK voted itself out of the European Union. And the US elected Donald Trump president.

Well guess what? Next year, Brexit starts happening. Trump actually gets his little hands on the keys to the nuclear suitcase. And a load more celebrities will die. That's what happens. People die. Get ready, it ain't gonna be easy.

If we're lucky, Trump's minders will keep him under some kind of control. The British government will realise that Brexit is so hard, we might be better off where we are. ISIS won't get their hands on a dirty bomb. And Marie Le Pen and Gerd Wilders won't be running two of the EU's most committed members.

If we're unlucky.... oh blimey.

This is where my Christianity comes in. Not in some belief that people are inherently sensible, and things will probably turn out OK in the end. Oh no. My belief is that, given half a chance, people will do something stupid and selfish and all hell will break loose. Fear will trump - excuse the pun - love. Somebody will do a "trump" joke, given half a chance, that is based on bodily functions rather than Contract Bridge. And we will end up in a mess. Looking at the world we created, wondering what the heck we've turned it into now.

And at that point, God comes to us and says, "You want to know what sort of mess you can make? You keep forgetting. You're such utter fools that I sent my Son to show you a better way to do things. And you killed him as well. Look up at that cross. See the broken body there? Six days ago you were eating a species of Central American poultry in his honour*. And he's there because of you, you numpties. You know what you deserve?

"You deserve everything he took in your place. Look, that's happened once. Let's call it quits, see how long this lasts before you blow the whole joint up - but he is with you through it all. Because he knows just how stupid you can be, yet he's joined to you by his heart and soul. Not my choice - he seems to think you can be made better."

We're all doomed. Maybe not in 2017, but one day. Let's walk through the valley of the shadow of death and know there's light out there somewhere. Maybe we can shine our own light in 2017. Because God knows nobody is gonna be putting themselves out to shine one for us.

Have a happy 2017. Let's pray we get through it in one piece. And keep your eye on the light of infinity. Iit's where we will all end up.

* Vegetarian alternatives are available.

Thursday 29 December 2016

Fifth Day of Christmas

Gold rings. Gold rings would have been nice.

Instead Grendel the Community Cat has left a "present" behind the sofa in my office. At some point, I guess, before Solstice. Smell was hideous when I went in there.

And other people's cats just deposit mice and voles. Why do I have to have the cat that brings home dead badgers? I've no idea how he got it through the cat flap.

Wednesday 28 December 2016

The Year of Dying Normally

Somebody called Fred put together the list of dead celebs this year.  Assuming you don't avoid Facebook for moral reasons, please go and check them out. I'm not sure what the copyright rules are for lists on Facebook.

It's a long list. It's also an American list, so I don't recognise them all. (They're not all Americans).

Couple of caveats, mind.

At least two of these people were famous for the amount of alcohol and/or other drugs they put into their bodies. One of them made a living out of other people trying to punch him in the head.

But then on the other hand, to become a celebrity generally you've got to stick around a little while. So this will tend to push the average up a bit.

Which gives us an average age of death, for the people in the list, of 77.

The average year of birth for the people in this list is (2016 - 77) which is 1939. Life expectancy at birth in 1940 USA was about 63,

They've done all right, overall. It's not such an odd year. You could argue that the UK is different but for every Victoria Wood or George Michael, I'll raise you a Liz Smith or Richard Adams.

To summarise. 2016 wasn't such a killer. It's just another year. But aren't there a lot of celebrities about?

Holy Innocents

Why did God send just one angel, to Joseph, telling him to run? Why not a bunch of them, to all the parents of young children in Bethlehem?

Why did Joseph not tell them to run? Or maybe he did and they didn't listen? If he did we're not told.
Babies, innocents, die all the time. To say this isn't callousness, it's sad and true. In this sense the issue is not that the Holy Innocents died. They're a specific instance of theodicy - why does God let bad things happen to good people? In this case it's not even a case of an "act of God", a natural disaster. The blood of the Holy Innocents is on Herod's head, and those of his murderers.

Peter Bruegel the Elder - Massacre of the Innocents

This is just - if you'll excuse that modifier - another massacre. Another slaughter. Another shedding of innocent blood, just like all the deaths from Able to Aleppo. This doesn't end - this is who we are. This is what men do in the name of religion, politics or their own power. To us, a vile mass murder. To Herod, just one of those nasty little jobs you have to do.

The one exception in this instance is that one baby with an unusual parentage and an odd set of presents. As that little town is not lying still but grieving, he's off out and heading for some precarious safety.

This is Jesus as Moses - and he so often is, in Matthew's Gospel. He is the one escaping the murder of the baby boys, just like his law-giving predecessor. This is Jesus as the people of Israel - going down to Egypt, and returning.

This is Jesus as remnant - one escaping to exile, as so many innocents die.

The evils of Empire caught him in the end. Just a few miles from Bethlehem. His contemporaries were sad memories by then in the hearts of ageing parents. But he joined them. He got there in the end.

God took on that planned and prophesied role. The holy Innocent dying at the hands of frightened men of power. The Servant suffering with every innocent victim of injustice. God the bereaved parent, knowing the pain of the people of Bethlehem.

And Mary stood at the foot of the cross, joining her tears to Rachel's, refusing to be comforted, because her child was no more.

Tuesday 27 December 2016

Octave of Christmas Not Being Over

And so we enter the Octave of Christmas Not Being Over. Which lasts until next Tuesday when people have to go back to work and can't switch the fairy lights on the monitor back on because they left them on last Friday and they'd have to schlep down Tesco to get some more batteries and it's not really worth it.

In this Octave of Christmas Not Being Over, the Beaker Folk adopt a form of reverse Puritanism. Anyone caught trying to do their tax return, or tidy up or take 2 or 3 hundred bottles to the recycling centre, will be reminded that Christmas is not over, and told to get a gin and tonic.

Carols in the Moot House are compulsory. People will ask, poetically, "and is there turkey still for tea?" (Answer: yes. It's curry tonight.)

The truly radical believers in Christmas Not Being Over actually are heading over to the recycling centre. Not to throw anything away. Just to give the evils to anyone dumping Christmas trees.

So here it still is, Merry Christmas. Somebody somewhere must be having fun. It's only just begun.

Monday 26 December 2016

"Through the Bible" With Nigel Farage

Welcome to our special liturgical event. Readings from the Bible, with brief reflections from Nigel Farage.

Isa 24: Behold, the Lord will lay waste the earth and make it desolate,
    and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.
And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest;
    as with the slave, so with his master;
    as with the maid, so with her mistress;
    as with the buyer, so with the seller;
    as with the lender, so with the borrower;
    as with the creditor, so with the debtor.
The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled;

    for the Lord has spoken this word.

Nigel Farage: Ignore all negative messages from the Prophet Isaiah and have a great day! Happy Christmas!

Matt 2:  Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him. Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

Nigel: Ignore all negative messages from the Apostle Matthew. This is the kind of free movement that means kings like Herod are unable to control their borders and murder the Messiah. Was Egypt equipped to accept this wave of migrants?

Rev 18: ‘Alas, alas, the great city,
    Babylon, the mighty city!
For in one hour your judgement has come.’
And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives.

Nigel: Ignore all negative messages from John the Divine. We can look forward to enjoying a free trade relationship with Babylon the Great once we are freed from the restrictive yoke of the European Union.

Luke 7:  ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.'

Nigel: Ignore all negative messages from Jesus. Did you see me in the golden lift with Donald Trump? I should be the bloody ambassador, I should.

Deut 10: For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Nigel: Ignore all negative messages from Moses. We are a Christian country with a Christian constitution and a Christian monarch. Happy Christmas!

Sunday 25 December 2016

The Archdruid's Christmas Sermon

Feeling a bit tired, to be honest. Obviously, I've led 136 different services since 1 December. All the way through Advent (ie about 5 days in) followed by Carol services, Beer 'n' Carols, Cheese 'n' Carols, Carol singing in the street, in a tent, in a fridge, in a goose farm - tasteless, I thought. Then Crib services, Christingle, Nativity, Puppet Nativity, "Come Dressed as a Wise Person" Nativity, Donkey service, Christmas Eve Tea Light Spectacular, 9pm Midnight service, so I get to do another gig to save people staying up. Then 11.15 Midnight service because it's so lovely. Then Actual Midnight service for chronological pedants. Then 12.45 "People on the way home from the pub" service, 8am Dawnlight service, and now 10am Morning Service with Father Christmas and the extra verse from "O Come All Ye Faithful".

And I'm not saying I've had much sleep. Though I have eaten more mince pies and drunk more sherry than Major Dumpling on a mince pie and sherry binge.

So here we are. 10 am service. The end of the Winter Sleep Deprivation Marathon. This is Christmas, as John Lennon sung on one of his terrible records. And what have we learnt?

Well, the Whos had been waiting for a saviour. Not the Whos. You know - the other ones. O Come O Come, Emmanuel and all that. The Jews. Not the Whos. Totally different bunch. And then the saviour came. Not a Grinch in a palace. Not Grinch. King. King in a palace. Not Crystal Palace. Herod's Palace. It's been a long night.

And then Three Wise Men. Or at least three. Could have been dozens. I mean, what's the collective term for Wise Men? A Magi of? Were they all men? Everybody that knows anything about the Ancient Middle East says yes, And yet, in the interests of a sermon, I might argue, no. Maybe - and we have no archaeological evidence, let's face it - maybe there were women. Maybe Cybil Shepherd was in the fields abiding. Yeah, she's an actor by day. But she could have moonlighting. Moonlighting geddit?

And so we come to the non-existent stable, as thoroughly dismantled by Ian Paul. And what do we see as we look into it? Well, nothing. Obviously. If it were there we might see something. But if it ain't there, where's the Little Drummer Boy? And did he get his drum for Christmas? And if he did was he really annoyed because he really wanted a Hatchimal? And if there wasn't snow that year in Bethlehem did Mary complain and say it didn't feel much like Christmas and everybody gave her that look because she said it every year?

And then Herod came down from his mountain and stole Christmas.

And so as we come to the end of 2016, I've done a quick count of the number of celebrities we've lost and mourned on Twitter, and I reckon we can't have any left. At least, let me put it this way, we've got Christopher Biggins under guard in the Moot House for his own good and we're not letting him out. At least, not till he promises never again to go on another show with the word "Celebrity" at the front of its name. Well I thought it was Christopher Biggins, but on reflection it was Timmy Mallett. Still, at least someone is safe till next year.

And so, staggering through the discarded jewel cases of festive editions of Last of the Summer Wine, and the bottles of Baileys that lie deep and crisp and half-drunk around the Great House and its surroundings, we hope that global warming does not result in Santa having to live in a bubble under the sea and having to be protected from harm by Troy Tempest. We light the Yule Log with the Christmas wrapping and then discover we've incinerated the chocolate one, not the lump of oak we've been keeping safe since June specially for the day.

  • So this is Christmas, and what have we done? Apart from quote that appalling self-centered hippy twice. Eaten three chocolate selection boxes for breakfast in a desperate attempt to keep my blood sugar levels up after the disturbed night in which I dreamt that Boris Johnson, dressed only in LEDs and a Santa hat, was singing "Blue Christmas" and going round the houses of Europe, taking enough presents from each house to equal £375M per year and handing all the socks, scarfs and novelty reindeer slippers to the NHS.

I NEED SOME SLEEP! Why do we persist in celebrating our religious festivals by insisting everybody gets so little sleep they confuse tiredness with mysticism? Surely on that Silent Night, of all nights, I can expect a full eight hours?

So a merry Easter. And God bless us every one.

Saturday 24 December 2016

Fairytale of New York

A Happy Christmas to you all.

Look out for Matt Dillon....

Scapegoat of the Year

Been a while since we chose a public Beaker Scapegoat. Since 2011, we mostly just blamed Burton Dasset or Drayton Parslow for everything.

But now, in the manner of the BBC's SPOTY, we thought the best bet was to do a grand end of year award and appoint the annual scapegoat, to blame for everything up to New Year's Eve 2017.

First up is part  time beard wearer and full time Nottingham academic, Ian Paul. He has a habit of writing stuff that wrecks our dearest, most cherished illusions. His latest blog post suggests that Angela Tilby might be wrong, and Kate Bottley may be upholding patriarchy - just as an example. Certainly whenever the Little Pebbles ask "Why is Jesus asleep in a manger in the living room, and the Wise Men have turned up in a Ford Cortina?" - we answer, "blame Ian Paul".

The second nomination is Jose Mourinho. His collapse from witty arch-tactician to miserable bus-parker is nearly complete. Everything - from Hurricane Barbara to the continuing employment of Marouane Fellaini - can plausibly be blamed on Jose. And these days he'd probably just shrug.

The next losing nomination is Katie Hopkins. Instead of blaming this self-obsessed hatemonger for everything that goes wrong in 2017, we should see her more as a sidebar ad to the main news, the Greek chorus rather than the drama itself. She doesn't start the fire, she just dances in the embers, ending up with pinhole burns in her self-woven clothing of hate and lies.

The Metropolitan Liberal Elite are going to get a lot of the blame next year. Particularly if the Guardian keeps producing whining, self-justifying articles such as this from Jonathan Freedland. As the old song has it - if nobody likes you and everybody hates you, go and eat some worms. But the Beaker Folk can't hate the MLE. Because that's our core readership.

Which takes us on to the prime losing contenders. What could be more Metropolitan Liberal Elite than a Dulwich schoolboy turned stockbroker? Or a man with 4 foreign grandparents and a foreign wife, who lives in the centre of New York and had his own prime-time TV show? Men of the people?Nigel Farage is generally regarded as a Spode-like character, and probably was only surfing the wave that threw us out of the EU. Whereas, to be fair, Trump probably really will be the cause of everything that goes wrong next year.

But in the end there was only ever one candidate for Scapegoat of the Year. And it's the year itself. The year 2016 which has mown down celebrities in its wake, seen the destruction of Aleppo. Brexit and Trump - just two of its tricks. Terrorism, both polls melting, the rise of the Right across Europe and Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. When, next year, somebody says "Why isn't Mary Berry on Bakeoff?" The answer will be, "2016 did it." It reaches into the past, telling us the London 2012 Olympics are tainted - and points, like the Ghost of Christmas Terrified, to a ghastly future where we celebrate our sovereignty, while having to eat Nissan cars because we can't afford to import food.

If the chickens get through the wire and are all eaten by the Wodewose, if the ocarinas are out of tune, if there's a snap general election which is won by  the Libdems, if Katie Hopkins wins "Strictly" - 2016 will be to blame.
A wise man once said, don't worry  about tomorrow - today has enough problems of its own." Maybe he'd forgotten that 2016 was coming.

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Drawing the Line on Christmas Card Writing

Right. I think that I've written all the cards now.

Obviously I have to draw the line somewhere.  I can't write cards for every Beaker person. So I write them for the other members of the Druidic Council. But then if I do that, I've got to write one for Burton Dasset or he might refuse to do his job for nothing in the New Year.

And then once I've opened the door to non Druids, everybody else who does a job around the place starts expecting a card. So that's the cleaners, the bloke who melts the wax out of the candle holders, the tea makers, the flower arrangers - and you don't argue with them - and the Beaker Quire. The people who run the Beaker Bazaar know I've bought the cards for the others so I have to write them cards.

But then some of them only work an hour or two a week, and other people start noting that they put out the chairs occasionally or threw water over the tea light stand after that meltdown the other week. And so I end up writing a card for every registered Beaker Person.

But some of the Beaker People don't come to the Moot House for worship because they live far away. And there's dedicated regular worshippers who aren't registered, but they come along and give generously and we don't want to lose them.

But how do you define "regular"?

So I've now written a card for everybody who has ever, at any point, in any way had anything to do with the Beaker Folk. 1,312 cards in total.

That's 2015 done then.  I'd better start this year's.

A Solstice Reassurance

Can Beaker Folk please calm down. I realise our 'Winter Tenebrae' service - in which we gradually extinguished all the torches until everybody was blundering around in the Orchard in the dark, terrified - was quite powerful.

But however solemn the crashing of dustbin lids, signalling the death of the year, the sun will rise tomorrow.

Almost certainly.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

The Pagans Who Moved Yule to the Nearest Saturday

Have been astounded  by a pagan friend from Devon

As all good Beaker Folk know, tomorrow is the Winter Solstice. That magic moment when the sun stops dying. There is a solemn stillness in the air as we wait for the days to lengthen, and the laughing sun god to take its place once again.

Except in Devon. Apparently for pagans in Devon, a midweek Solstice was a bit inconvenient. So they moved Yule to last Saturday.

Pagans, eh. They're basically just Catholics with twigs in their hair.

Monday 19 December 2016

Achieving a Balance in Syria

A really gruelling session as the Beaker Folk wrestled with the thorny problem. We have come to the following conclusions:

ISIS and Al Qaeda are nasty.

Bombing civilians is wrong.

Something must be done.

Thank goodness it's not us having to do something.

We feel much better now. Always good to be on the side of right.

Baptist "Loses Access to Government" over Criticism

Firebrand preacher John the Baptist faces a backlash over his attacks on King Herod.

The Baptist has repeatedly criticised Herod for abuses of power and having sex with his brother's wife. But leaders of the Sanhedrin have said that John's policy of "speaking truth to power" will leave him outside the palace inner circle.

"You've got to decide what is more important," said High Priest Caiaphas. "Is it access to important men who, whatever their sexual misbehaviour and ghastly political strategy, are extremely powerful - or the kingdom of God?

Do you want influence here on earth, where it matters - or in heaven which is, let's face it, a wholly less likely proposition? Surely we can overlook a few minor issues with sexual morality and dictatorial tendencies, in order to ensure that we get ourselves heard at high table?"

John the Baptist was unavailable for comment.

Sunday 18 December 2016

British Oaths for British People

It has been suggested that we need a "British values oath" for public servants.

Can I suggest we just make them sing the first verse of "I Vow to Thee, My Country"?

Its exaltation of one's country above all other earthly things - human love, truth, justice, freedom, for instance - seem to fit into the modern populist patriotism quite well. Why would you need any of those when you've got British Values? Which should mean democracy, sense of humour and self-deprecation. But these days probably means hatred of foreigners and a general sense of grievance.

The One in Which God Becomes the Most Vulnerable of All

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matt 1:18-25)
And so God, the Creator of this whole Universe - the great Author of our cosmic story - is written into the narrative.

God enters our story as that tiniest, most vulnerable thing of all. A single human cell, packed with all that potential and yet in such hazard.

And the manner of God's arrival adds yet more vulnerability. A young woman pregnant, not by her fiancé. The punishment for adultery in the Jewish law is death. Of course, they're not going to catch the father. So it'd be the woman pays alone. And so the Saviour, and his mother, are in line to suffer from what today we'd call - ridiculously - an "honour" punishment. Putting Mary into the situation of the women punished for being "unchaste", a category that is still being applied by men to women today. At that key moment for the history of salvation, Joseph is faithful to the Law - but he's a decent man. He decides he's best to just keep things low-key - keep Mary alive but not take responsibility for any child he didn't father.

So a vulnerable child, and a vulnerable mother. Members of the race that has probably been most hated through all history. Living in a nation that has been conquered by a cruel, vile empire that looks likely to last forever.

Many Anglican churches in this country have a coat of arms somewhere on the walls - an attempt to remind us who, after the English Reformation, was meant to be in charge?  The Chinese government allows Christian churches - as long as they do what they're told. The Church is an institution - and institutions  wield their own power, and are involved in others' power games. It's easy to align with the ones that can give you influence; make life easy; help you keep going, or get you the grant you need.

When Mary first carried Jesus, she carried him in her fragile body vulnerably, precariously. She depended on a decent enough man - but above all on the protection of God. She is a model of what the Church should be. Depending not on earthly influence but on God. Taking a great risk - so that God can come into the world. Not worrying about influence - she had none. Not caring what people thought - she carried God's son.

In parts of our world, the Church is exactly like this. Weak, vulnerable, subject to murder. And yet faithful. They will receive crowns, because they have carried God into the world. And so the least can be great, and the mighty thrown down and our failing, confused, squabbling, suffering Church can be the Bride of Christ. And a pregnant unmarried Jewish teenager can be the Queen of Heaven.

Anniversary of the Loss of Kirstie MacColl (18 December 2000)

It’s alright until the night when you can’t forget she went away
An empty bench in Soho Square (but not the empty bench)

A song drifts along from a bar where a jukebox plays
And triggers the memory of happier summer days
Drive to the beach, sun on the water
Love was in reach and you never saw that
The sun was sinking and love was fading away.

Friday 16 December 2016

Infancy, Infancy

In his excellent blog post, "Bah - Humbug", Eddie Arthur tells us how there was not necessarily a Bethlehem donkey, and links to an equally liberal literal site that tells us the manger (which, it concedes, is mentioned in the Bible) may have not been in the stable.

Obviously, here at the Beaker Folk we have a problem with this sort of reconstructionism that would make a 19th Century German Form Kritik blush. Firstly because where else you gonna put a manger? The Nativity scene is gonna look pretty crummy if Jesus isn't out there not crying cos he is tucked up warm in the front room. But also because it flies so strongly against the evidence of our own eyes.

Not necessarily accurate

For do we not have, in St Dobbin's shrine, the earthly remains of the holy donkey itself which - returning from Glastonbury Tor one last time with Joseph of Arimathea - collapsed under the weight of souvenir dream-catchers and "goddess" paper weights, and was buried here in Husborne Crawley on the last leg of Joseph's trip to Walsingham?

We have many related relics. The horns of the ox in the stall. The bell that the Innkeeper rang to call "last orders" on that holy night. The can of Tennants Super that Shane MacGowan  dropped on Kirsty MacColl's toe in 1988*. And the metacarpal of the Little Drummer Boy. Though there is some doubt on this matter. Based on carbon dating, some archaeologists now think the Little Drummer Boy may actually have been Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones.

Frankly are you  going to not believe everything Eddie Arthur tells you? Would you not jump off a cliff if he told you not to? If so it's gonna be a dull old world. Instead get yourself down to the Beaker Bazaar. We've got some lovely souvenir models of the Six Wise People. I especially like Mindy, the priestess from Essex , bringing her gifts of white socks.

* when asked if her foot hurt, Kirsty is said to have replied 'In these shoes?"

Thursday 15 December 2016

How to Bake a Bedfordshire Clanger

Each part of England seems to have its own local food. The oat cakes of Staffordshire - brilliant with a bit of friend breakfast. The wonderful cheeses of Leicestershire. The Cornish pastie.

And the Bedfordshire Clanger. Long and merry ago now I remember the Clanger-eating competitions at Caddington village fairs. Like all such local specialities, it has become harder to find Clangers in local Bedfordshire bakeries. So in a hipster mood of local, hands-on craft endeavour - here's how to do it.

First catch your Clanger.

This isn't easy. Being womble-like creatures that live on satellite, they're not just knocking around the place. You have to wait until the Moon Gibbon runs amok on a blood moon, and then some get thrown to earth. If the heat of re-entry doesn't kill them, it's best to despatch them by hitting them over the head with a dustbin lid. It's how they like to go.

Skin the Clanger. The best bet, I find, is to make a couple of cuts in the skin with a sharp knife and then drop them into a mug of hot water. Works just like tomatoes.

Wrap them in shortcrust pastry. Obviously you could make the pastry yourself, but what do you think Tesco is for?

Stick some jam in one end. We have no idea why. Then bake at 200C for half an hour. For a big clanger you might want to parboil first.

Obviously if you don't live in Bedfordshire, this recipe is a waste of time. You'll have to bake something else instead.

Why 2017 Will be a Crunch Year for the Church of England

Gay people.

Something about Gafcon.

Evangelicals, Catholics, Liberals.

New business-style leadership.

Opportunities from immigration.


Basically, see 2016

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Lament for a Newbie Minister Who Arrived too Early at a Crematorium

Woe is me, for I am two hours early for this Crematorium service.
I wanted not to be late. And I know the traffic on the A14* is a bit dodgy.
So I set off with plenty of time to spare.
So here I am.
10 minutes after I left.
I could go back home but then the traffic on the A14* might kick in.
Therefore shall I stay here.
Looking holy.
But a bit nervous.
Only two hours to go.

I shall take me to the notice board and look at the funerals before mine.
And ensure my one is on the list.
And I'm at the right chapel.
For they are twain.
And I wonder to myself who Alderman Mick Boswell was, to get a chapel named after him.
Other than an alderman, obviously.
But he's hardly St John of the Cross, is he?
Though he probably judged a few Fruit and Veg exhibitions in his time.
And probably voted in favour of the Kettering / Ridgmont / Chiswell Green** bypass.
Have mercy on his soul.

And who was Mrs Fitzstanley-Williams when she was at home?
And what did she do?
Hope she did something in her own right.
And let's face it with that moniker she could have done.
Hate to think she was the wife of Alderman  Fitzstanley-Williams
And just baked scones.

And now I'm worried about Alderman Mick Boswell.
Is his chain of office a crown in his life beyond the curtain?
Or more like Jacob Marley's affair?

Oh. Yeah. The curtain.
Hope I remember to press the button.
Or the organist does if I forget.
I've heard bad things about this organist.
Apparently if the sermon goes over time he starts playing the theme tune from "Star Wars."

Better check the hymns.
Is "The Lambeth Walk" really a hymn? It's been so hard to tell since we've replaced hymn books with data projectors.
And Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines?  I mean that's unsuitable in general.
But Elsie was 92.
Still, my incumbent tells me Elsie was a big fan.

I need to have a word with my incumbent.

She's dumped me with two dodgy "hymns" and a congregation of seven
At a Crem next to a dual carriageway.
While she's got the proper service
For a life long churchgoer
With a thousand friends
In the village church
With a still-open churchyard.
Nice day for it.

Still, I shall rejoice.
Elsie may have hated children
And eaten small mammals for lunch
Refused to talk to her family
And left all her money to the English Defence League.
But at least she was C of E.

One hour 55 to go....

That's a nice hymn the current service in "Mick Boswell" are singing. Must be Methodists.

Oo there's a swivel chair in the vestry.

I wonder how dizzy I'll be if I spin round on it for one hour and 43 minutes?

* The Newbie may substitute "A6", "Standing Way", "A404" or any other suitable road

** Delete as appropriate

Tuesday 13 December 2016

Festival of Light

On the feast of St Lucy we were glad to switch on another 5,000W of assorted bling. We figure if you're gonna celebrate Advent properly you need some decent illumination.

Anyone got a shilling for the meter? It's all suddenly gone really dark round here....

Sunday 11 December 2016

Liturgy for Unpacking the Christmas Lights

Song: The Knot There's no Untying

Archdruid: How tangled are these Christmas lights?

All: In the dark places have they been knit together.

Hymn: Light up the Fire

Archdruid: Oh Lord, how tangled is our flex.

All: Our neighbours say "aha!" as their lights shine on their garage. Their see-saw Santas pour contempt on us.

Archdruid: But I am staring at a cardboard box full of hideously knotted plastic and wire.

Young Keith: I carefully wound them last January...

Archdruid: It's not you. It's physics.

All: No! It's the evil spirits that creep into lofts during the summer and ties up Christmas lights into impossible knots. We think they work for Wilkinsons.

Archdruid: Does anyone know how to untangle this terrible mess?

All: It's a Gordian Knot.

Hnaef: Rejoice! For I have a classical education! I know how to deal with a Gordian knot!

All: No!  They're plugged in.....

Hnaef cuts the Gordian knot with a bread knife.  There's quite a lot of light for a short period of time. Then the circuit breaker cuts in.

Archdruid: Not again. Not four years running. Little Hnaefs, go and get your dad a brandy. Charliie, Keith - can you nip down to Wilko's and get some new lights?

Song: Bling out Solstice Bells

Public "Will Not Accept Brexit That Makes Them Worse Off"

In other news....

Lemmings demand Isaac Newton revises the Law of Gravity.

Turkeys look forward to a happy Christmas.

Man Utd fans expect Premier League Title.

Sampson demands improved building regulations for Philistine temples.

Americans expecting no irrational incompetence from next President.

Jumblies wonder why their feet are wet, sue sieve-makers.

Saturday 10 December 2016

Adventopocalyptic Carols

That eternal dilemma, ain't it? Trying to balance the "here" and "not yet" of Christmas - where people are wanting to sing carols but it's still September.
Do they know it's Christmas?

Here at the Beaker Folk we have done it this year by having an alternative Christmas songs evening. Basically we pushed all the Beaker Folk into the Moot House, and played them the worse Christmas pop songs of all time.

A hard challenge, of course. Let's start by eliminating the five good ones. We have the two, proper bitter-sweet Christmas songs - "Fairytale" and "I believe in Father Christmas".  And then the two feel good funny ones from the 70s, from Slade and Wizzard.  And then "Stop the Cavalry". But all the rest is pretty fair game for something awful.

Still, we got there. We started with the least offensive, and worked up to the most ghastly. By the end people were coming out shivering, pale and wasted - convinced there are worse things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our Beaker philosophies.  So at least it worked.

10.  Little Drummer Boy: Yeah, it's nearly worth it for the idea that Bing just thought Bowie was some random weirdo who'd wandered in to sing along.  But it's still awful.

9. Hallelujah: In which Alexandra Burke managed to combine something that was vaguely spiritual sounding, yet vaguely secular, yet vaguely intended to bring the money rolling in.

8. The Lord's Prayer to the Tune of Auld Lang Syne: Not a phrase anyone should ever hear.

7. Mistletoe and Wine: "Children singing in Christian rhyme?" Did Our Lord bring us new forms of pentameter? Was it all blank verse before the Shepherds arrived?  What? What?

6. Mr Blobby: Noel Edmonds believes in the power of positive thinking. But then, who knows what he was thinking this time?

5. Do They Know It's Christmas? In which, every ten years or so, people who make more money that we can imagine make us feel guilty because they spared the time to sing one line.

4. Earth Song: The one in which Michael Jackson revealed his Messiah complex.  No, Christmas wasn't about you, Michael.

3. Father Christmas, do not Touch Me: By those long-haired funsters, the Goodies. Time has not dealt well with Christmas songs about indecent approaches by old men to young women.

2. Pipes of Peace: A song that mostly seems to exist to prove that Paul McCartney could produce something worse than Shakey's "Merry Christmas Everyone". Pipes of Peace? Pipes of Pants, more like.

1. Happy Xmas (War is Over): Frankly I'm surprised even the ghastly fraud Lennon and his coat-tail-hanging wife dared release this pile of drivel. It's sickly, it's rubbish, it's got a sing-song chorus and it's not true. If he hadn't made "Imagine" I'd think this was just a terrible one-off.

Friday 9 December 2016

Christmas With the Quivering Brethren

It's been nice to spend a couple of days with the Quivering Brethren of Brent.

In these days of the decline of Western Christianity, the Quivering Brethren have found - like many small sects-  that London is the best place to keep the true faith going.

The great thing about London is that people can travel from all over Town to join with like-minded weirdoes. And so even when the Brethren of Howling have ceased to meet  - and even "Beyond the Woodshed" no longer posts - still the Cockney Brethren are going strong.

Of course, every Advent they have a problem. They get four weeks of woe.  But say what you like about the Brethren, Christmas Day is a massive celebration. A whole year's woe is sublimed into two hours of wild excitement.

But the Tube don't run on Christmas Day. The dispersed Brethren of Penge, Cheam and Kilburn can't get to Church. So instead they stay at home and have a quiet quiver.

There is no brandy butter in Hell.

Thursday 8 December 2016

They that go down to the Sea in Ships

Quick note after yesterday's walkout during our rendition of "Lo he comes with Clouds Descending."

It's "deeply wailing", not "deeply whaling".  It was a type on the Powerpoint.

To counter last night's wild rumours, the Beaker Folk are not seeking an exemption from the International Whaling Commission rules. And we are not "going after the rare whales on the sea bed."

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Advent Book Club

Inspired by the assorted Advent Book Clubs, we've been studying Rowan Williams's book, "Lost Icons."

We're well through the first page, and hoping we may have covered the whole of Chapter 1 by Christmas.

Not the theology, obviously. We're hoping to understand all the sentences, though. Or, at least, all the words.

Tuesday 6 December 2016


Sometimes you just need a break from Advent. And going off staring at all the bling isn't enough.

So I'm pleased to say that today's 3-hour KittenFest, in which we projected a different amusing or cute kitten on the wall every 30 seconds, was a great success.

Sure, the poor weren't helped; the hungry are still unfed; the prisoners were left unvisited.

But we all feel a lot better about that, now.

Sunday 4 December 2016

Overthrowing Elites

New Living Translation (NLT) Matthew 3: 
In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’” 
John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. 
“You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire. 
“I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire."
There's been a lot of talk about elites this year, in various countries' political systems. The main person talking about elites in the USA is a man who has a skyscraper with a golden lift, in New York. And in this country it's been a stockbroker and public schoolboy.

When John the Baptist preaches, the ordinary people of the countryside come out to see him. But then, when he's getting popular, out come the Jewish people's own elites - the Priests and the Pharisees.

They are the ones who have the religious control - the Priests control the Temple, and the Pharisees - through their dedication to enforcing the Law in everyone's actions - they control everyday lives. And out here in the desert there's a challenge to their control. And he's one who has directly rejected their power - John is  the son of a priest, he's entitled to hang around awaiting his turn to minister in the Temple. But the power of then priests is compromised - the role of Chief Priest is a stitch-up.

So John's out in the desert, greeting them as vipers. And he has a two-fold message: to us. Maybe to him it's just the one point.

  • Repent and produce good fruit.
  • The judgement is coming, through the Messiah.

John's saying our actions have consequences. Obviously they have consequences now - if we do a selfish thing then we may feel good, but someone else will suffer. If we do a good thing, it may or may not be good for us - but someone else will benefit.

But at the Judgement - in a time to come when Jesus reigns in glory - then those actions will still be there. And if they're good, and good for others, and they're living our lives for Jesus - then they're going to be stored up in barns - safe as grain for a heavenly feast. But if they're bad, selfish, hurtful - then they're going to whirl in the wind like chaff, burnt up as refuse in  fire.

And all the elites really will be torn down in that day - because we will account for what we have done, face to face with our God. And it won't matter who we are - only how we saw Jesus in oir neighbours.

And if you think that's terrifying, that's fair enough. I know I do. I know the pile of grain will be small, and the chaff so big, and will have to cling to Jesus's cross to be saved. But because I believe in him, maybe the grain pile will be a bit bigger, and the chaff a little less. So help me, Lord Jesus, to turn and follow you again and again.

Saturday 3 December 2016

Throwing Oranges at the King Penguin: Those Obscure Christmas Customs

Ah, the traditions of Christmas. And while everyone knows that Prince Albert introduced the traditional Eastenders bloodbath to England, many lesser-known Yuletide customs are being reintroduced as part of the current rising tide of English nationalism.

1. Staffy decorating

In Northern English housing estates it used to be traditional to dress the household Bull Terrier up as a Bolton Wanderers player. It always used to be Nat Lofthouse but in these more culturally diverse times, it is now quite often Sam Allardyce.

2. Vicar Rolling

Common in the Wensleydale area, where Christmas was never complete if you had not tipped the local  clergy downhill.

3. Throwing Oranges at the King Penguin

In the Anglo Saxon Sagas, there is mention of the "King Penguin": an evil being who has sworn enmity with Father Christmas. The King Penguin flies over the rooftops on Christmas Eve looking to tip up Santa's magic sleigh. So the children of the Cotswolds used to throw oranges over the roofs of their houses to disrupt his flight path.

3. Election of the Snork Maiden

In the Forest of Dean, the Snork Maiden was elected by the Rangers of Cinderford on St Nicholas's Day, and would be entitled to a rugby ball each day until Candlemas. It is believed that Tove Jansson made use of this tradition when she created her Moomin mythology. It seems no coincidence that all the men in the Forest are bald with big noses.

4. Time-trialling Round the Town

On Friday nights in Advent the youths of Wellingborough race each other round the one-way system in battered hatchbacks.
They do it the rest of the year as well.

5. Bringing in the Yule Log

The Mayors of some towns on Salisbury Plain each year dress up as Yule logs and dance around the Market Squares singing songs from the shows. If this is a fertility ritual it ain't working.

6. Vanity Resignations: The Taming of the Zac

In parts of South West London, the sons of well-to-do philanderers would hand in their notice at Michaelmas, expecting to get their jobs back in time for Christmas. These men - known as "Zacs" would be the talk of the village for a few weeks and then, when they found their job had been taken by someone else, they had to make a living as the Village Idiot.

7. Village Finding

In parts of Somerset at this time of year, it is customary for villagers to come home from the fields to find their homes have once again disappeared under water. They wander the Levels in coracles, poking the ground beneath with long sticks, while singing songs of hatred for the Environment Agency.

8. Finding Excuses for the Church Being Empty in Advent

Every week up to Christmas in Lincolnshire, the Church Wardens try to come up with  reasons why there's so few people at Church on Sunday. These will include shopping trips to Newark, Christmas Markets, the weather, or kids playing football. The real reason the regulars aren't there - because they're all dead - is rarely mentioned.

9. King / Queen of the Bling

In the former council estates of Derby, the person putting the most house lights up is declared to be Queen or King of the Bling. The local gang chief will arrange for them to receive a giant turkey on Christmas Eve. And East Midlands Electric will send them seasonally-coloured bills in the new year.

10. Cabbage Eating in Bury

In Bury, Lancashire, it was traditional to eat all the cabbages in the house on Old St Nicholas's Day. The belief was that cabbages harboured evil green spirits which would cause mischief all through Advent otherwise. Nobody believes this anymore, of course. So these days nobody in Bury eats any veg at all.

Friday 2 December 2016

Liturgy for the Loss of Andrew Sachs

Archdruid: We are sad to have lost the wonderful Andrew Sachs.

All: Oh rats.

Archdruid: They're filigree Siberian Hamsters.

All: Crackers anyone?

Archdruid: And what we want to know is - was Manuel's first language Spanish or Catalan?

All: You'll have to excuse him. He's from Barcelona.

Archdruid: A man who played a range of parts on stage, TV and radio.

All: Not bad for a bloke from Barcelona.


All: Yeah he was. Basil Fawlty said.

Archdruid: That wasn't real. It was fiction.

All: Oh like Donald Trump?

Archdruid: In real life, Sachs was a half-Jewish German who fled the Nazis and came as a refugee to this country...

All: Not just taking the jobs of our hardworking British waiters then?

Archdruid: No!

All: Oo. Do we still have time to change our vote in the Brexit?

Archdruid: No.

Archdruid: Oh you didn't....

All: Well Boris said we'd save all that money we could spend on an NHS which would suddenly be staffed by all those fully trained British nurses and doctors....

Archdruid: I'm gonna need a bigger Ritual of Confession...

All: Can we burn the  effigy of Russell Brand now?

Archdruid: No. We did that last Guy Fawkes. And Brand was small fry.  Andrew Sachs had to escape Hitler.

Ken Livingstone: Hitler? Did anyone say Hitler? I love to say Hitler.

The Major: Reminds me of when we landed on Sword. Pointed the cannon in the wrong direction, took out the Canadians' tea trolley. Dreadfully drunk of course. I thought the Colonel was a massive dragonfly.

Manuel: What is dragonfly?

Basil: The name of my horse, nitwit.

Manuel: What is witnit?

Basil: Oh, I could be having this conversation for the rest of my life. Try to remember before one of us dies.

Archdruid: May he be lifted on wings like a giant dragonfly, and eternally have a decent view out of his window. In the place where we will dine forever on food that does not have rats in the cracker tin, and which wasn't built by O'Reilly Men.

Thursday 1 December 2016

Is it Time to put the Church Xmas Tree Up?

Are the nights drawing in? If so then is there an M in the month? Then is the School Nativity Play due in church? If so it's for the kiddies. Are the altar cloths gold and white? Then definitely. Else only if you really want to.

Advent Adventure

Yeah this should have happened Sunday but we forgot.

In any case, "Bertrand's Brilliant Bling" has turned out to be a total failure. We insisted that the lights be carbon neutral so he made them solar powered. But then we worried about batteries exploding so he fitted them with no storage. So they only work during the day time.

And then we fitted them to the Community Wind Turbine but with all this calm weather it's not generated anything in a fortnight. Which is why it's been tea lights wall to wall in the Moot House.

Still we shall shiver in the Moot House, clutching a tea light against the dark and an out-of-code mince pie for warmth, and dream of summer.

Have a happy Advent Adventure.