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Friday, 1 July 2016

The Somme: Elegy for a Great-Uncle

I could have known my great-uncle Ernie, had he lived. Tough types, those North Londoners - against all the odds, given their poverty, they all made it into their eighties. That's if they didn't die under enemy fire.

In 1916, he was just in his twenties. I have no idea what he looked like. Short, I expect. They were all short, that side of the family. Probably the result of being working-class, in the days when London overspilled all its boundaries, pouring out from the centre and washing over Kentish Town, Holloway and all points north.

His name is on the "Cromwell Road" memorial now to be found in Whittington Park, Archway - where his parents and his sister and his nephews and nieces lived, before it was flattened for improvements.

He died because an overstretched empire fought a frustrated one. Because rich men and politicians always want more.

He died because war was now mechanised. Men mere pawns to be pushed together in the centre of the board, swapped off until one side could gain an advantage - or ranged in defensive positions across the board, preventing progress.

He died because he joined a regiment from a long way from his home, and went to a battle field even further than that. Dying in a country whose language he couldn't speak, for an empire from which he had never benefited.

His was just one story - just one North London mother receiving the feared letter. One footnote, one corporal, one more laid to rest, unidentified, in a grave that nobody now knows. Remembered in Thiepval, and in a scruffy park in North London, where the kids smoke dope and the tough guys work out,

There is a corner of a foreign field which is forever Holloway. At the rising of the sun, and its going down, I will remember him.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Corbynite Clerihews

Shami Chakrabarti
Says there's not much wrong with the Labour Party
But Corbyn says Israel's devices
Ain't so different to ISIS.

Things as Yellow as Boris Johnson

1. A large bunch of bananas

Church-Seeking: Some Advice

It might be a sudden whim, an instant conversion, a pang of nostalgia or a desire for a quiet space. But you've decided to go Church.

What do you do now?

Well, if you live in a small isolated building in the English countryside, go out your house. See that building with the pointy roof or tall tower? Go there. But just check it's got some kind of sign outside saying it's St Somebody's or in the Diocese of Blogchester or whatever. Burton Dasset once spent a Sunday morning in a water tower. Said it was very peaceful but his trousers got wet. And the coffee was weak.

With a countryside church, your next problem is working out when the services take place. If you're lucky there will be a service rota posted outside like in the Trim Valley churches. And then all you need is a friend with an astronomical calendar and a degree in pure mathematics, and you can almost certainly work out when the service is - to a Sunday either side.

If there's no rota then you'll just have to hang around the churchyard on Sunday mornings from 7.30 until somebody turns up. If you're lucky you might only have to wait a few hours. If you're unlucky it could be six months. If you ignored the sign saying "redundant", your bones will be found by future archaeologists who will conclude that you were a ritual sacrifice.

Eventually when you get in and there's a service, then you will get to see what the vicar looks like. Tired, probably. As s/he will have got up stupidly early ready for the 8am, either the Pro Plus won't have kicked in yet, or else they'll already have taken services in all the other 8 churches you can see scattered across the horizon. On the bright side, you will meet with your Creator, meet new people, and acquire a new job such as cleaning or flower-arranging or the maintenance of an ancient building.

Of course you may not want a formal service, and simply want to sit quietly and meditate on things. So why not drop in during the week?

Because it's closed. That's why not. If you're lucky there will be a notice telling you the last known address of the person who had the key.

Then there's towns. The great thing about towns is the choice. You may be wondering where to start.

You could try the reviews from Ship of Fools. They have a tendency toward snark occasionally. But that's the way with personal views. And that's what they are - a personal view. The reviewer may say somebody died after reckless snake handling, and the release of mustard gas to replicate the End of Days was a little over the top - whereas somebody else might have gone away giving thanks for a thoughtful sermon, and tasteful music played during communion.

Then why not try the church website? As a source of architectural history, and pictures of people who have left the area in the last nine years, nothing could be more useful.

Then there's the Church of England's "A Church Near You". It's got the same information as the website without the pictures. The name of the last vicar but one. And a map which, by displaying the parish boundaries, is invaluable in working out where there was a hedge or ditch in the 12th century.

Look, if at the end of the day, you want to go Church - I suggest you try a few. One or two will be scary. One or two boring. In many of them the congregation will all be older than your grandparents  - unless you're over 60. But if you've got that calling, somewhere you'll find the right place. God will be there - God is everywhere  - but you'll also find Jesus's body, sitting about, singing, rejoicing, occasionally moaning, and possibly drinking coffee. Honest. It's worth sitting around wondering when they open.

Unless it's Husborne Crawley church and the heating's broken again. In which case come back when it's warmer.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

A Prayer of Repentance for the Leave Vote (with footnotes)

Archdruid: And so we pray forgiveness for the hardheartedness with which we1 have voted.

All: Knowing we have thrown our country into chaos, we repent of all our sins of thinking it was a good idea to give the ruling classes a good kicking.2

Archdruid: We repent of the arrogance that led us3 to reject Mrs Merkel and all her works.

All: And to teach the French a thing or two.4

Archdruid: And we repent that the old and gray have rejected the wisdom of the young5.

All: And we reject all accusations of racism6.

Archdruid: And so we formally promise that, if by some miracle we get another chance to vote on this, we will show wisdom, charity and courage this time7.

All: Amen8

1 Other people
2 At least, we did when we thought Sterling was going to crash and we'd all end up eating stale Pringles to survive. We've cheered up a bit now.
3 Other people
4 Though we're still quite pleased about that.
5 If only they'd looked up from their Xboxes we're sure they would have been very instructive.
6 We hope we still have visas for plumbers.
7 Questions are being asked about the way the petition for another referendum has more than 45,000 votes from Husborne Crawley.
8 We'd do it again. Not only have we upset the Germans, the French and the whole EU infrastructure - we've got rid of Cameron and might do for Corbyn as well. Just a shame about that embarrassment Farage.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Jeeves and the European Parliament

"What ho, Jeeves!" I said as I sauntered back into the restful abode, in Berkeley Mansions W1, in the quiet eventide.

"Good evening, Sir," returned the faithful retainer, looking across from the cocktail he was whisking up, to restore the Wooster fibres after a long day on the Continent.

"Well Jeeves," I remarked, flicking a speck of dust from the sleeve, "I certainly gave it to the EU Parliament, what! Told them they had been asking for the day when, armed with the Junior Ganymede club book and a load of lies about immigration, I would finally get Market Snodsbury to withdraw from the European Union. Told the lot of them they had never had a proper job!"

The faithful servant gave a soft, gentle cough. The sort of cough that a sheep might give when standing in a foggy field, watching GK Chesterton fall onto a sheet of tin.

"Well, out with it, Jeeves"

"I'm sorry Sir?"

"What do you have to say? I gather from that cough - and that expression like a stuffed Francois Hollande - that you have something critical to impart?"

"Sir, I have had your friends round to let me know what they think about your performance. I would not like to impart an opinion, but I personally think it was unwise. Oofy Prosser..."

"The Drones Club millionaire, Jeeves?"

"Indeed Sir."

"Oofy Prosser must be grateful that I've cleared the way for him to make an absolute bundle?"

"Oofy Prosser thinks you are an idiot who has put his investment fund at risk, Sir. Tuppy Glossop has asked to be removed from the list for your next birthday bash. Your Aunt Agatha says you are a boil. And Rosie M Banks..."

"The romantic authoress and wife of my old friend Bingo Little? She is always one for the bon mot. What aphorism did she come up with this time, Jeeves?"

"She said you are an arse, Sir."

"Jeeves," I said, and pulled myself to the full height. "This is not the way in which to address a preux chevalier. I put it to you that you have betrayed the Code of the Woosters. And you are severely lacking in the feudal spirit. This is the dear Master, Berties Wooster, whom you are addressing in this disrespectful manner."

"Far from it, Sir. I put it to you that you are, in fact, Lord Sidcup. Or - to give you your original name - Roderick Spode."

I looked down at the black footer shorts that I was wearing, where I had expected to see plus fours. I heard the cries of "Heil Spode" from the window. I drained the fragrant cocktail to the dregs.

"You have found me out, Jeeves. Will you call me a cab so I can depart to the Drones Club, there to have a few pints and bemoan the way in which, since I first appeared in the pages of PG Wodehouse, Britain has lost an empire?"

"Very good, Sir."

"Carry on, Jeeves."

Celebrating Peaceful Day

And so after the sound and fury of the EU referendum, the rally of the Socialist Workers' Party behind Jeremy Corbyn and the humiliation of a load of donkeys led by a donkey last night - we settle down to Peaceful Day.

Soothing sounds are being piped around the Community grounds. Images of ducklings and kittens are being displayed on the Moot House projector. But not images of ducklings with goslings. Now that's a photo shoot I'm not repeating.

People are being urged to tread lightly on one another's dreams. To whisper sweet blessings. To smile softly, with holy eyes. To stay away from Twitter. To be mindful. Above all, to be peaceful.

The idea for Peaceful Day came from today being the feast of Irenaeus - that famously peaceful man. He was a great opposer of heresies. So we won't actually mention him during any Peaceful Ceremonies. We don't want to upset any heretics. It wouldn't be peaceful

Sunday, 26 June 2016

His Face Was Set Towards Jerusalem

 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:51-62)

Two consecutive stories and at first I didn't see the connection. One story seems to be about hospitality and power. The other about commitment.

But I think the connection is the thing that Luke says twice: Jesus's face was set towards Jerusalem.

This was a Samaritan village. So it could mean that they rejected Jesus because they knew he was a pious Jew: if he was on his way to Jerusalem, they wanted nothing to do with him. He was probably on pilgrimage, he'd be wanting to go the Temple. He'd be all fussy knowing that they had the ability to make them unclean.

But I think Luke is being more theological, more literary than that. Luke 9 is the hinge point of the Gospel. Jesus does the great miracle of the feeding of 5,000. Peter declares that Jesus is God's Messiah. He predicts his death. He is transfigured. He predicts his death and again.

And then he sets his towards Jerusalem. From now on in, the Gospel of Luke is heading for the cross.

So I wonder whether the Samaritans are actually being quite cagey. If they sense that Jesus is going to Jerusalem for that confrontation with the authorities that will bring him death - maybe they don't want to be accused later of harbouring a heretic and trouble maker. If his face is set towards Jerusalem - let him go there. We've got two political parties today in the UK, after the EU referendum, where the more  senior members are going to be trying to make sure that they're on the winning side - or at least, that if they're on the losing side, they don't upset the winners too much. Maybe that's where the Samaritans are.

And then in the second story. People come to Jesus and say they want to follow him, one with reservations. One has an ageing father, and wants to stick with him until he dies - then he'll follow. One says he'll follow Jesus anywhere - and Jesus challenges him to realise how hard this is going to be.

You can't plough a furrow straight if you keep looking back - you'll keep misdirecting the ox pulling the plough, and end up all over the place. Same as you can't ride a bike or drive a car if you keep looking over your shoulder. You'll be a hazard to traffic.

Jesus knows if he looks back there's Nazareth, and a loving home. A steady job. Mary making his dinner and asking when he's going to settle down with a nice Jewish girl. If he looks back his path will be all over the place. Ahead there's rejection, pain and a cross. He's got to keep looking ahead so he sets his face towards Jerusalem.

I wonder about the way James and John wanted to blow the village up. They feel offended - and want to strike back. It can make you feel good, blowing up someone else's life - metaphorically - but Jesus tells them off and drags them on. Was that charity on Jesus's part - peacefulness? But also the knowledge that if we start scrabbling and squabbling  with people along the way, we're not looking forward?

If we're called to follow Jesus we're called to look ahead. There may be a cross there - or something like one. And behind us may be all sorts of comforts we wish we could cling onto. But what we're called to ahead, leads to the love of God and loving God, and knowing God forever. Our way is in the footsteps of the King - going forward in hope and love - and not looking over our shoulder.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Beaker Brexit Tent

Introducing the Beaker Brexit Tent.

You can go in, rock gently, and pretend the outside world isn't happening and other people are all like you.

You'll have to put your name down though. There's eight people packed in there. And another 46 in the queue.