Tuesday 30 March 2021


 Two days in and welcome to the season of Judgementtide. When people take to Social Media to criticise people who are doing what they're allowed to do.

We can expect from now till the end of Judgementtide complaints that people couldn't go to the park because there were so many people in the park; that people out jogging where literally surrounded by people out jogging; that people on the beach can't believe that so many other people go to the beach. 

Meanwhile Daily Mail photographers will be hitting every public space to take photographs of other people in the public space, to prove how selfish they are.

If you are someone who celebrates the season of Judgementtide, please don't.

Wednesday 24 March 2021

Beaker Brexival of Britain

 Delighted to say that the Beaker Folk have won our bid to host an attraction at the 2022 Brexival of Britain. We're running the "Cake Zone".

The Cake Zone lures you in with 3D holographic images of a massive cake. The cheerful song over the Tannoy will tell you that you can both have your cake, and eat it.

When you get through the one-way doors into the Cake Zone, you discover that in fact you have to make the cake before you can have it and eat it. But you figure it's an interactive Zone, it's a fun zone - it's hands-on - you knuckle down and you mix and bake a cake.

Three hours later, you come back to the Cake Zone. To discover that Jacob Rees-Mogg and Dido Harding are eating your cake. When you complain that it's your cake, Mogg tells you it's a very happy cake. A British cake.

When you get home and look at your credit card bill, you discover that the cake ingredients cost you £2,000. And Jacob Rees-Mogg's nanny has dropped a note through your door letting you know it will cost the same next year as well. And every year.

But good news. At least it was a cake. It wasn't a brioche.

Annunciation Eve

 Tucked away in the story of the Fall, just so you notice it without noticing it, are a tiny little couple of verses with a huge promise.

“Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen 3:14-15)
Blink and you'd miss it. But it's there. It's a promise worked out before time began. As our mythical ancestral mother, streaks of Fruit of Knowledge still on her cheek, is told she's barred from the Garden, yet then God announces in code how one day we'll get back. When that serpent from before time, from force of habit, will strike at the wrong heel. And the Son that was always to come from Eve's line will crush his head.

It's a lovely reversal. Just as sin first entered the world through a woman's disobedience - and then the man followed, in his gormlessness - so redemption first comes into the world through a woman's obedience. Mary's "Yes" to God reverses Eve's "It wasn't my fault. The snake made me do it." Where Eve let sin in, Mary will let in its cure.

And I like to think, when Mary's Son smashed down the doors on that Holy Saturday in Hell, that Eve wiped the apple juice from her face, grabbed hold of Adam and said, "Come on then. Our lad's done it. Just like his Father said." And marched on out behind the descendant she was promised. Heading for the garden she lost so long before.

Saturday 20 March 2021

Celebrating Vernon Equinox

And so, as we stand around the smoking ruins of Duckhenge, looking out across the fetid waters where Young Keith drove the sit-on mower during his ritual First Mow of Spring, and as the Little Pebbles learn about proactive environmentalism by dunking mallards in soapy water - we remember the sad life of Vernon Equinox.

When Orton Equinox married his blushing bride, Summer Solstice, back in Yule 1964, they had no idea of what might befall little Vernon, the cause of their rapid wedding. 

Born in March 1965 young Vernon was a dreamy child. He made it his habit to see the sun rise over the Rollright Stones each day. This was inconvenient to his parents, who nearly killed themselves driving there from their home in Leeds.

As he grew up, Vernon Equinox became increasingly frustrated with people who confused his name with that of the first day of astronomical spring. Googling his own name - a natural hobby for those wanting to know what people think about them - only turned up pages of badly-informed reddit posts, Canadian Chevrolet garages, Beaker Folk pages making the same joke every year, and terrible poems. And the ever-mocking question: "Did you mean Vernal Equinox?"

 Vernon had to make his own name. For a while he changed his surname to Junction. But people thought he was a village in Buckinghamshire, and asked him if they could still get to Ramsgate.

Eventually Vernon decided show biz was the way. He painted himself green, put a giant flower over his head in the manner of Peter Gabriel, and went around town centres as a dancingdaffodil - the living embodiment of Spring. But he found himself involved in a turf war with a bunch of itinerant Morris Dancers from Cleckheaton.  In keeping with West Yorkshire tradition, their battles were fought out in local food. Many a Morris Dancer came to grief under the weight of Vernon's mum's heavy-battered Yorkshire pudding. And one skirmish - outside the fish shop in Garforth - he won by throwing a large cod with plenty of vinegar at the ringleader. But they came back in larger numbers. Bought a special meal deal with a can of cola. And Vernon had had his chips.

So in light of his terrible failure, the Beaker Folk mark this day in honour of Vernon Equinox. A man doomed by his name. A man who embodied the way each bright new year fails in the pitiless light of the summer sun, and dies in the bitter cold of winter. And most of all, a reminder to us all. Never get in a butty fight with a Morris Dancer.

Wednesday 17 March 2021

Zoom and Tea Lights

 I'd like to apologise for the certain amount of chaos that broke out during today's Filling up of Beakers on Zoom. 

The first issue was during the "Howling at the New Moon" when my PC decided to install updates. I thought it had finished, but it turned out that as a result of some kind of driver clash, I got the sound back but no picture. And that's not much use in such a visual service as Filling up of Beakers. I mean, if all you're getting is the sound of flowing liquid and no visuals, you might be thinking it's like that time Burton Dasset accidentally pocket-dialled the conference call number from the toilet, when we were holding the "Over 90s Quite Bright Half-Hour". That was a terrible time.

Set them all off, as well. It was nearly three hours by the time we got everyone back together.

So I knew I needed the video. So I got the session up again using my phone. But then I got feedback. So I switched the PC off. Only the PC was the host. So I had to boot it up again. And this time I had the video but no sound. 

At which point, Grendel the Community Cat, angry at being ignored, started knocking the left over palm leaves from last year's cancelled Palm Sunday craft activity off the top shelf. Falling beautifully onto the ring of tea lights on the hearth. So I jumped over to stamp the palm leaves out when they caught fire.

As the free Zoom 40 minutes expired, I am aware that the visuals weren't great. All that any Beaker Folk could see was me, with my fluffy "Brian from Family Guy" slippers on fire, surrounded by burning palm leaves. Screaming silently while Young Keith and Charlii threw beakers full of water over me. 

It was truly the most urgent Filling up of Beakers we've ever held.

But maybe not the most spiritually fulfilling.

Of Greeks and Seeds

Some Greeks had gone to Jerusalem to worship during Passover.
Philip from Bethsaida in Galilee was there too. So they went to him and said, “Sir, we would like to meet Jesus.” 
Philip told Andrew. Then the two of them went to Jesus and told him.

Jesus said: "The time has come for the Son of Man to be given his glory. I tell you for certain that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat. If you love your life, you will lose it. If you give it up in this world, you will be given eternal life.  If you serve me, you must go with me. My servants will be with me wherever I am. If you serve me, my Father will honour you." (John 12:20-26, CEV)

A popular poem at funerals, I'm told - though I've never used it, it shows up on the Internet lists of good poems for funerals - is "Death is Nothing at all", with the line "I have only slipped away to the next room".

It's a poem with an interesting history, as it was originally part of a sermon in which the preacher said basically, it's nice to think that death is nothing at all - but that's not the case.

A friend of mine died a few weeks ago. Same age as me. Mid-50s. No particular health issues that I was ever aware of. A real shock. She was a lovely woman with a huge heart and real care and love for people. For those of us who hadn't seen her for a couple of years, but still been friends online - you're left with that kind of dull ache.And where she's gone, for her loved ones, there will be a huge hole. "Death is nothing at all" doesn't cover it. Because she's not slipped away to the next room. Believe me, if she had, I could hear her talking about curtains. She loved talking about curtains.

Some Greeks come to see Jesus and we're not clear on why - they're up in Jerusalem for the Passover, and maybe they think that he's one of the sights. So they get Philip, and he gets Andrew and they both go and find Jesus. And Jesus - whatever it is that the Greeks want to know about - decides he wants to talk about death and life.

And he says a very odd thing about death - and in particular his death. He says it's necessary. A grain of wheat has to go into the ground and die. It ceases to be a grain of wheat in the ground - the moisture gets to it, and it starts to open up. But if it doesn't go in the ground, it doesn't grow.

Death is very serious indeed. It cuts us off from friends, family, sunlight and noise and laughter.  But it also sets us free. Jesus says "if you give up your life in this world you will be given eternal life." Thomas Hardy's poem, "Friends Beyond" imagines all the people of the village who are now dead, rejoicing that they're not worrying about worldly stuff anymore. They don't care who's got their belongings or who owns their houses.

I think Jesus is saying - we can achieve that this side of the grave, first up. We can know that everything in this world is God's - enjoy it, use it, help others with it - but don't cling on to it. Know that we give everything into God's hands, so we can utterly depend upon God. So the things you love now - maybe some you need to give up. Most, you need to offer up to God, give thanks for them, and use them to his glory. You don't have to give up stuff you like to follow Jesus - but you do have to give up stuff that gets in the way.

And if we depend on Jesus, if we follow Jesus - we can follow him into the grave, then follow him back out again. Our hope for the future goes beyond death. It goes out through a reopened grave, into a world where Jesus is the light that gives light to everyone. Where all things are made well. Where all our pains and sorrows are healed. Where we will be with God forever, and love him as he loves us.

Friday 12 March 2021

Here is Your Mother

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27)

In the middle of an utterly heartbreaking passage - the death of Jesus on the Cross - is this utterly heartbreaking interlude. Mary stands at the cross. The son she was promised by an angel, risked her marriage and name for - the son she wondered at - who she lost then found in the Temple - the son who she's loved and has followed out on his travels to try to persuade him to come safely home - she's watching as his life ebbs away on the Cross. This is it then, she thinks. All those promises from God - were they false? Was the only true prophecy the one made by Simeon, in this city, 33 years and a few weeks ago - "a sword will pierce your own heart"? 

The hymn "Stabat Mater"says it so well, of course:

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last. 

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing, 
all His bitter anguish bearing, 
now at length the sword has passed. 

And as he hangs there, Jesus shows his love for both Mary and his "beloved disciple". This disciple is generally regarded as being John the son of Zebedee. And I'll go along with that. In his own loss and suffering, Jesus ensures that they both have someone to look after them. He also, in my opinion, commits the care and the devotion of the Church to his mother. But maybe another time.

This has been the second Mothering Sunday in succession that is plain odd, verging on cruel. Children that would normally be with parents are separated. Some haven't seen each other since the late summer - or even since before last March. Many people have lost loved ones without even seeing them - for the protection of others, but at such personal cost. 

Stained glass of Crucifixion, Chapel Brampton

It's so easy to be jealous of others who have been more fortunate - able to find bubbles that work. To go beyond jealousy to resentment when we think others are breaking the rules we've been so carefully keeping. The press has certainly kept us entertained with photographs of people in parks. A pub landlord in Bedford was surprised to get a visit from the police when he was just having dinner with his family - apparently he was breaking lockdown according to whoever reported him. That will teach him to eat dinner in the lounge bar of his own home. Complaints about who's gone for a walk where, for how long, have been many. And reporters have been out in crowded streets, to report on the sort of irresponsible people who crowd streets - with no sense of irony. 

 But Jesus's words here on the cross tell us a better way. When we are in times of sadness and challenge - be kind to each other. Look after each other. This isn't, as they say if they don't understand that rocket science is very simple, rocket science. But it's easy to forget in such stressful times. Don't judge. Appreciate each others' struggles. Carry each others ' burdens.

 As he had said just the previous night - which must, at this point, have seemed so long ago - love one another. So it's not earth shattering, new or the product of revolutionary thinking. But it is radical - in the sense that it gets to the root of things and makes things totslly different.

Let's go out into the world and be kind to each other. And let's all look forward to a better day. It is coming.

Thursday 11 March 2021

RIP John Polkinghorne

Cambridge Professor of Mathematical Physics

Anglican Priest

Writer of some stuff on science and religion that even vaguely scientifically-literate Archdruids could understand.

Man with a brain so big it could warp gravity.

At last he is face to face with Someone who knows more about science and religion than he does.

I think he'll be thrilled by that.

Tuesday 9 March 2021

Good Morning Brian

Brian Finnigan: Good morning, Brians everywhere.

Brian Madeley: It's a lovely day. After the show I'll be going off to a house party with Laurence Fox and Nigel Farage.

Brian Finnigan: Which should put an end to it being a lovely day. 

Brian Madeley: But more importantly, we're going all over Britain today saying Good Morning Brian.

Brian Finnigan: That's right. It's like Good Morning Britain, only with Brians.

Brian Madeley: We'll be talking to Brian May later about his badger, Brian.

Brian Cox: And Brian Cox will be telling us how everything is amazing. But in the meantime - let's get out into Great Brian and talk to some Brians! 

Brian Madeley: So over to Brian in Dorset. Good morning, Brian.

Brian in Dorset: Good morning, Brian. Good morning, Brian.

Brian Finnigan: Good morning to you, Brian. 

Brian Madeley: And now  we have Brian in Chesterfield on the line. Good morning, Brian.

Brian in Chesterfield: Good morning, Brian. Good morning, Brian.

Brian Finnigan: Good morning to you, Brian. 

Brian Madeley: Brian in Newry! Good morning, Brian.

Brian in Newry's wife: Good morning, Brian. Good morning, Brian. Unfortunately Brian is out queuing for eggs.

Brian Finnigan: Good morning to you, Brian's wife. Now, we've got someone on the line...  Is that Brian from Caversham?

Brian from Caversham: Yes. I'm Brian, and so's my wife.

And "in the kitchen" this morning we've got that inspirational Bake Off star, Mrs Williams!

Brian Madeley: Hang on, she's not a Brian.

Brian Finnigan: No, but she's Brian-y.

Brian Madeley: Well, sounds OK I suppose... 

Briony Williams: Hello to you both. Isn't this basically just "Good Morning with Brian and Brian"? Aren't you actually Richard and Judy?

Brian Finnigan: We were. Now for contractual reasons we're Brian and Brian.

Briony Williams: But don't you think it's a bit repetitive, just going around saying "hello" to people to Brian?

Brian Madeley: A bit. But at least it's not as boring as Piers Morgan banging on about Meghan Markle.

Saturday 6 March 2021

Liturgy for Laurence Fox Running for London Mayor

 When we heard Laurence Fox was running for London Mayor* we rejoiced.

We cried with joy in the streets of Husborne Crawley**

For he is representing those silenced

those whose voices have not been heard.

The white upper-middle-classes

Old Harrovians

Members of acting dynasties

RADA graduates

Former spouses of Doctor Who companions

People who've been on prime-time TV regularly for their entire adult lives.

Telegraph journalists

and friends of Toby Young.

For who hears from these people

and who gets to hear their opinions?

They are ground down by the system

and excluded by the Woke.

Like the Israelites in Babylon

they cry by the rivers 

they are dropped by their agents

and know the Morse franchise won't be extended to a fourth incarnation.

And so he will count his money

gnash his privately-educated teeth

wear a suit jacket with tattered jeans

like Richard Hammond in 2005

and put himself up for election.

Where he will sink like a stone

like Jonah in the sea

or those that descend to a political Sheol

and we would like to say he'll never be heard of again.

But no such luck.

* Not worth paying for the paywall.

** While on permitted daily exercise

Thursday 4 March 2021

Zen and the Art of Vicarage Heating

 On a cold and grimy winter's day like today, when spring still seems far off, my thoughts meander over to my old friend, Revd Tucker McJackson.

During his active vicaring career, Tucker was a wonder of the art of church reordering. He specialised in moving to a benefice with half a dozen churches, somehow persuading everyone that they needed to remove some pews to create a "flexible worship space", and then getting the faculty through.

What gradually became more evident, as time went by, was that he left each posting after he had achieved the last reordering - and that, on average, he managed one church conversion per year. Then he'd move on to another multi-parish benefice, and do it again.

A nosy rural dean noticed that, whenever he moved, Tucker always managed to land a parsonage with a wood-burning stove. And, upon closer investigation, it was discovered that his bills for oil heating were pretty much zero. But all the stoves he left behind were totally knackered from intensive use, and the flues were clogged with pitch pine resin.

So it wasn't the liturgical dance that had motivated Tucker to remove the pews. It was keeping warm for free. 

A church where a third of the pews have been replaced with chairs
"That'll keep us going till January, at least"

After that the bishop took an interest in Tucker's job applications, and steered him into a role where all the pews had already been removed.

Then Tucker started to take an interest in replacing hymn and service books with more trendy versions. And his churches had an outbreak of all-year-round Christmas Tree festivals. By the time he retired, he had put more fine particulates into the atmosphere than a year's traffic on the M25.

Once he didn't have the chance to strip biomass from churches on a professional basis, he took to hanging around after services, collecting up the notice sheets. The lockdown has really set him back on that one. But he's switched his tactics again. Now he goes into churches that are open for private prayer and pinches the hand sanitiser bottles. You know the way many open churches have people sat in them all day? They're not really monitoring where you're sitting so they can spray the pews down with Dettol. They're keeping an eye out for Tucker.