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Sunday, 31 October 2010

Samhain - Raging against the dying of the Light

As the last embers of the Wicker Man burn out, and the hi-viz of the last Beaker Person is doused with water before he sustains any more fire damage, we can look back on another exciting Samhain.

I use the word Samhain, of course, not because it is the authentic Beaker word for the festival, but because we have no idea what the Beaker People would have called it. However I should point out that, being an Irish word, Samhain is not pronounced as it is written. It is actually pronounced "Halloween". I hope I've cleared up some confusion there.

But today, in a manner that won't send me screaming into the woods again, we fought back against the dying of the light. Like the folk of Egdon on Bonfire Night, we shake our fists at the night and say, "over our dead bodies". So we lit our wicca man, we bowled blazing tar barrels across the orchard (only losing three apple trees this year, and the extra light is always welcome), we pushed a blazing rowing boat out across the duck pond (unfortunately thereby singeing Duckhenge) and, a day early since it happens that this year Halloween is the day before 1 November, we lit the first wave of Xmas Bling. Nothing too religious - no Santas or reindeer or penguins, just some tasteful strings of white lights and the 45 foot illuminated trilithon.  And then we took the patched-up dragon from the St George re-creation this morning, soaked it in petrol and set it alight.  It's fair to say we've not generated so much light in Husborne Crawley since last time the Moot House caught fire.

The autumn fogs are another hazard of this time of year, of course. But I can't help thinking that, on this occasion, we may have caused it ourselves. After all, there's only so many particulates you can kick into the atmosphere without causing a general smogginess.

And we had a nice little dance in a circle around the sundial - anti-clockwise, as the clocks went back last night. While playing Enya's "Caribbean Blue", which to be honest didn't seem to have much to do with anything, but at least it's atmospheric.
I'm not sure why, but it's always good to dance around the sundial occasionally. Maybe it's the sight of all the traditional Hi Viz that takes you back to prehistoric times, when the original Beaker Folk would dance a lot quicker in case they were caught by a polar bear or something.
But all in all, I had a great time. And we've only got 5 days till we can do it all again on Bonfire Night.

Which is just as well, as I can't help but notice, as the lights of the Thousand Punkies die out across the estate, that the dark is creeping back in again...

A sharp fall in religious attendance

A sharp fall this morning, at any rate.

This was a Sunrise Service. The sunrise doesn't go back an hour.

Now I'm going to have to patch that dragon back up so we can slay it all over again later.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Harriet Harman's Racist Rant

Harriet Harman has used words about Danny Alexander that I shudder to repeat.
Surely people of the red-headed persuasion are entitled to protection as great as that offered to other ethnic minorities? Or, remembering who created the Harmanisation of Equality Bill, did she carefully exclude ginger people?  I'm not sure whether being red-headed relates to race or it's a kind of religion. But either way, I'm offended on Danny Alexander's behalf. Where do I complain?

The horrors of Halloween

In amidst any warnings you may personally be giving, or hearing, on the dangers of Halloween, can I recommend you read this by Margaret.

Children going round with pumpkins on their heads (Hnaef - can you check, have I got this wrong?) is slightly charming. Children banging on your door is a nuisance one day of the year. Parents who spend 364 days of the year telling their kids that all strangers are fiends, and then one day of the year encouraging them to beg them for sweets, are odd. That is all.

The barcode of the beast

Thanks, yes. I'm feeling much better this morning. It's always the same every year after my darkness sermon - it kind of eats into the soul. And I have to go off and burn everything I can see - within legal reason, of course - and then when the morning comes, the sun is out and warms me up again. And in the new light I see what a funny world it is for me, and all I'll ever be.

At which point I wander into the Moot House and discover that Burton Dasset has declared himself King of Controls and has barcoded every piece of worship paraphernalia in the place. Altars, Beaker Common Prayers, Tea lights, pebbles - pebbles, for goodness sake. Who barcodes a pebble? Not to mention the Little Sisters of the Holy Herring, the penguins who Young Keith is still training to be nuns. And the Community Zebras.

I'll be honest, that "act of black and white worship" was radical and challenging. It was Burton's attempt to change our stereotypes of black being bad and white good. It was well thought-through, cutting-edge and culturally sensitive. Apart from the zebras. Even the penguins - cute, amiable characters that they are - fitted in well with the general theme. But running a herd of zebra unexpectedly through the Moot House caused utter panic.

That is mostly water under the bridge now. Nobody got seriously trampled, and the hoof wounds are healing. But it has left us with a legacy of the Zebras. And of all the creatures that don't need to be barcoded, I would have thought the Zebra is top of the list.

But Burton went beyond even that. Looking more closely I discovered that every Beaker person and every weekend pilgrim had a barcode. Their cars were barcoded. The individual components of their cars were barcoded. Every item in their bedrooms - table lamps, mugs, kettles, toothbrushes - have all been barcoded.  Nobody was allowed in the Beaker Bazaar without a barcode - one on their forehead, and one on their hand. Presumably in case they lost either their head or their hand in an accident, and would still have one left. Nobody could buy or sell without the Number of Burton  on their head and hand.

I tell you, the place was in severe danger of being organised. What has that to do with spirituality?

So it's been an energetic half hour. After the application of a steel toe-capped boot to his financial fundamentals, Burton has promised never, never to try and run the community again. All round the Community, the sounds of happy, laughing Beaker Folk mingles with those who are having their barcodes scraped off. The zebra haven't noticed the difference, and all the penguins have refunded, having been sold in the Beaker Bazaar for the same price as doilies. All's well with the world.

Friday, 29 October 2010

When Treasurers Ruled the Earth

While everyone else has been down the pub, I've been doing some planning.

The Hnaefs have now gone off for the weekend to Brussels, Archdruid Eileen was last seen building a Wicker Person to get more light, and Drayton Parslow is refusing to come back unless somebody repents. And so, Dear Readers, it appears that I am still in charge of the Community. And I have been thinking about imposing some proper spiritual rigour. What we need is process. What a certified accountant sees, looking around this community, is a total lack of people filling in forms.

So from now on, every Beaker Person is to write a Spiritual Update each day. It must include the ways in which they progressed today, the ways in which they intend to progress tomorrow, and any spiritual blockers that may prevent them making that progress. I expect to see the Updates at 9pm promptly each night. Starting tomorrow, obviously. I shall be issuing a pad of forms to each Beaker Person in the morning.

It has also become apparent that we are terribly slack about the way we manage spiritual experiences. Currently any Beaker Person wanting to have a spiritual experience can just go and do it. No governance, no management, no control. So I am introducing form SE1 - Spiritual Experience Request. From now on, any Beaker Person wanting to have a spiritual experience, or feeling one coming on. must fill in an SE1. That SE1 will be approved by his or her Spiritual Auditor - a Spiritual Auditor being like a Spiritual Director, but with circular glasses and no share options. Once it is approved by the Spiritual Auditor, and I have counter-signed it (or another approved member of the Druidic Council) and presuming the moment hasn't passed,the Beaker Person can feel free to enjoy their spiritual experience. Afterwards, we will ask them to fill in either an SE2/E (edifying spiritual experience) or SE2/D (disappointing spiritual experience) or, in really extreme circumstances, SE2/F (frightening spiritual experience).

Likewise with the issuing of tea lights. From now on, anyone wanting to light one tea light for a minor spiritual lift will only have to fill in the SE3/TL form. On the other hand, someone planning a major tea light-related event, such as a tea light labyrinth or a cross, Celtic Knot or other spiritual tea light shape on the floor or focus table of the Moot House will have to fill in an ISE/1 (Illuminated spiritual event) form and have it approved by the Druidic Council.

From now on, there will also be no slackness over the counting of attendants at acts of worship. Two tellers will be assigned at every worship event, with the job of enumerating the congregation. In the event of any difference of opinion, we will lock the doors of the Moot House until we know the answer. We don't know what we will do with the numbers, but we will make sure they are right. In the same way that offerings in the future will be double-counted and safely put in the community bank account, instead of being thrown in an old yellow bucket labelled "Eileen's Slush Fund".

So that is my future for the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley. Tidy, methodical, and above all - measured. I can't wait.

The tealight is passed on... again...

Dear readers, such a day as I've had. I haven't seen such strife in Husborne Crawley since last time there was strife in Husborne Crawley.

In her desperate attempt to chase away the dark, the Archdruid has spent half the day in the stones 'n' tealights section of Morrison's. When they ran out she moved on to Dunelm and then Tesco. She's now in serious danger of burning down the doily shed with the thousands of candles she's purchased, and there's an overpowering smell of vanilla and clouds of lemonbalm and incense hovering over the place.

And then Drayton Parslow's attempt to instil some Baptist rectitude into us all was not a great success. This morning's three-hour sermon "Stop doing that and do what God says instead" mostly consisted of Drayton giving us the sordid details of all sorts of sins, which got some of the Beaker People quite excited. But Drayton then told them that was just the sort of thing they were all going to have to sign an agreement not to do. And interest evaporated at that point.

In the afternoon, Elbert spent the whole time at Drayton's "Science and Religion - why Scientists are Evil" workshop pointing out that Drayton's Creationism was rubbish, and why. In Elbert's words, "scientific evidence and rationality beat wishful thinking every time". Which, by the time they'd unpacked it, actually annoyed everyone even more than Drayton's claim that Stonehenge was washed from the Marlborough Downs and South Wales to Salisbury Plain by the onrushing waters of the Flood.

And then at 5pm the next of Drayton's services started. But the promise that, at the end, he would make us all sing "Just as I am" forever or until we all repented and converted, was the straw that broke the camel's back. Dear Readers, Drayton was locked in St Bogwulf's chapel and will be let out at supper time. Since he thinks he's being persecuted, he's quite happy. But that left us without an evening ritual - Eileen having taken the large Beakers we use for filling up and pouring out. She's filled them with petrol and is using them as rather dangerous-looking torches.

The Hnaefs had to nip off for their evening archery class of people with no thumbs. So they asked me to lead the  Folk in their evening spiritual devotions. Give them your testimony, they said. So I did.

And I explained how Accountancy is the Buddhism  of the Business world - how the Yin of Credit matches the Yang of Debit, and at the end all is equal. And I showed them how, through a depreciation here and an amortisation there, we can reach the perfect Finance Nirvana where all is written off, the sheet is balanced, the assets are registered and there are neither profit nor loss, but only bonuses.

Unfortunately, Dear Readers, such is my rapture when I expound on my calling and faith that, when I opened my eyes after discussing the capital treatment of software development (always a thorny subject), I found they'd all headed off for an early-evening Friday Night at the White Horse. So I'm going to get on with a little light auditing while I wait for them to come back. I hope Eileen cheers up soon.

Darkness Day - Revised Timetable

Ahem.

Before she rushed out into the night to light hundreds of tea lights and start building that giant Wicker Man we can see already making its presence known in Bottom Field, Eileen declared today Darkness Day - the day of fear and trembling when the world dissolves in ashes. The programme she'd planned for today was a little... strange. Therefore I've revised it in a more godly direction.

9 - 9.10 - Pouring out of Beakers
9-1 - Morning Service with extended sermon

2-3pm - Thinking dark thoughts
1 - 4pm - "Evolution as myth" - thoughts on the dinosaurs as victims of The Great Flood

5pm - Raging against the dying of the Light
5-9pm - Evening Service with extended sermon

6pm - Fenris Wolf eats the Sun
9.05 - Nice early night

11pm - Howling at the Moon 
11pm - We will all unfortunately be woken by Eileen, howling at the moon.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Annual Darkness Rant

Ragnarök. That's a very Norse sounding word.
It's never nice in Norse-land at this time of year. It gets dark early - i.e. round about lunchtime - and stays that way till April. It's all very well being able to play golf at midnight in June, but that's just the Yin side of Vitamin D deficiency.

So as we crash into darkness (any Southern hemisphere readers will have to bear with me at this point) we know that annual prefiguring of Armageddon. Loki breaks free from his prison, along with his companions Knocki, Flocki, Moomin and Rikki-tikki-tavi, the Mongoose of the Apocalypse. The Bunnies of Night hop across the dark lawn.  Fenris the Wolf swallows the sun, while the Great Gibbon does likewise to the moon. As Valhalla empties, gods and men fight across the face of the earth - a battle none can win, except Skrymir the giant and possibly Wagner the bearded wally off the X-factor.
Small children are mysteriously transfigured into characters with pumpkin heads and the face of George Osborne - rushing from Social Services department to Regional Development Agency and terrifying the inmates. Gimli Gloin's Son sharpens his axe, while Zephyrus, the god of slight breezes, gives us a very insignificant wind-chill factor.
And we face the void - no flowers, no leaves, no Pimms, no sunshine, no swallows, no cricket - at least until next month, when the Ashes can be seen on Sky Sports 1.


I think I'd better have a lie down.

Festival of Zealots and Failures

Simon and Jude. what a pairing. The Zealot and the Patron Saint of the Last Resort

So we decided to celebrate our Festival of Zealots and Failures. Personally I've always thought of Simon the Zealot as being a bit shouty and grumpy and angry about the Romans. So I asked people for a list of things that make them really angry and they came up with:
  • Getting stuck behind a slow driver wearing a pork-pie hat
  • Traffic wardens
  • Lorries overtaking other lorries up slight hills on dual carriageways
  • The M1 roadworks
  • People who try to go straight ahead on Milton Keynes roundabouts by taking a line that doesn't need them to steer round the corner.
  • Having people driving really close to your back bumper when you're out for a nice, safe drive while wearing your pork pie hat.
  • Tractors.
  • Cyclists.
  • People on horses on the road in the rush hour.
So we asked people to come up with some things that made them really angry, that didn't involve driving. They thought for quite a while, and then somebody said "George Osborne's grin". And for the first time in living memory, the Beaker Folk all agreed with one another.

Then we asked them to come up with some notable areas where they feel they have failed. I thought that would give us the chance to examine some routes to healing. And they came up with the conclusion that they were all a bit too humble sometimes.

Somehow, I feel like we're not really breaking through here.

Another failed outreach

It's been a stressful time for me. Which is worrying, as stress is a sin caused by lack of faith. As indeed is worrying, so this morning I am doubly sinful. Shortly, I must away and take a cold bath to shake my moral faculties back into line, and then spend the rest of the day repenting in dust and ashes. The dust and ashes because Eileen has put me onto the job of clearing out the pellet-burning boiler she had installed last month.

My Non-Comformist's Guide to Holy Evangelism told me that when carrying out door-to-door ministry you should maximise your target conversion (I hate the terminology, but that's what it says) by ensuring you call at a time when you're sure the target (i.e. the householder who is to receive the Good News) is in. So naturally I started knocking on doors at 1am, once I was sure everybody in Coffee Hall would be back from the pub. Yes, they were in. But you'd be amazed how many of them were really angry. It's all been most tiring, and I've only one new convert. A chap called Ernie, who suffers from insomnia. He was ever so pleased to have someone to talk to, and has agreed to come to my evening service on Sunday, as long as it's held at half past midnight.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

ἐν τούτῳ νίκα

I was all set up for our Festival of Religious Tolerance (and Irony) today.

And what a day for it. Just consider:
312 - Constantine has his vision of the Cross before the battle of Milvian Bridge, with his instruction "in this sign, conquer".
1553 - With Calvin's agreement, Michael Servetus is executed as a heretic. If he'd lived anywhere other than Geneva, it would have been Calvin with the fire-lighters around his feet.

1659 - Execution of Boston Martyrs, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephenson - who'd gone to New England to find religious toleration.
1838 - The Extermination Order demands that all Mormons leave the state of Missouri


So we were going to light some tea lights in honour of the victims of religious persecution, regardless of their faiths - and also of the irony that, through Constantine's victory, a persecuted faith eventually became a persecuting faith.

But Drayton Parslow wouldn't join us as, in his opinion, they'd all deserved it. The House of the Holy Hedgehog refused to join in unless we accepted that Mrs Tiggywinkle was a little spiny deity. The Moon Gibbon Folk were busy fighting the Marsh Gibbon Folk. And although we invited the Guinea Pig Worshippers of Stewartby, they replied that they weren't talking to us after we accidentally ate their gods thinking they were starters last year.

By the time we'd added up all the people who weren't going to celebrate International Religious Freedom Day, there were only five of us left. So I poured us each out a nice large glass of Jack Daniels and we toasted Michael Servetus.  It's what Calvin would have wanted.

All Saints' and All Souls'

Some Beaker Folk have been getting rather confused about the up-coming Saints Super Sunday. So here's the running order.

We regard those Beaker Folk who have day jobs as a special group. Obviously their lack of commitment to the activities of the fellowship is to be regretted, and we do our best to ensure they feel guilty, as clearly they are letting us down. But on the other hand they are our main source of income so we can't get them too seriously disillusioned or they might go somewhere more reasonable. So because they would miss the All Saints' Day festivities we have moved All Saints to the morning of Sunday 31 October.

Come dressed as your favourite saint. Although anyone coming as St Lucy this year is requested not to be too realistic. A few people passed out last year.

After the All Saints' celebration on Sunday morning, we move on to the All Souls remembrance in the afternoon. It's a strange, Catholic kind of observance, and really dependent on a belief in Purgatory as far as I can tell - which makes it ironic that so many of our community don't really seem to believe in everything at all. But hey, they have loved ones that they miss, so it goes down well. One tea light per lost relative or pet is the rule, and if you want to commemorate more there's plenty of web sites you can use.

We've got to whip through the All Souls Solemn Remembrance pretty quick, ready for the Halloween party. Now, I know that Halloween is technically the Eve of All Hallows, which we'll have celebrated in the morning. And I realise that in temporal terms we are, strictly speaking, mucking about. But it wouldn't be right to move Halloween to the day before, would it? That would make it Halloweeneen - and what sort of numpty would move an important festival to the wrong day?

So there we have it. I hope it all makes sense. I realise you may feel like we're rushing through this period of great festivity, but if we don't how are we going to clear the decks for getting the Christmas lights up on Monday?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The great Northants conker scandal

Two unrelated news stories from the past few weeks...

Ashton (N/E Northants) in conker shortage before the recent world championship

Kids in Weldon (N/E Northants) claim a record for collecting conkers.

It's about 10 miles from Ashton to Weldon.  Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Drayton goes ballistic

Drayton's been a little hyperactive today.

As our resident fundamentalist he's always liable to get a bit hysterical. But today he announced that most Christians in England belong to one of two types of heretic. Drayton being Drayton, he therefore decided he was going to do something about it.
He's spent the afternoon going round estates in Milton Keynes, knocking on doors and demanding of the inhabitants to tell them whether they're Arians or Docetists. Most of them told him they were Church of England. so now Drayton's decided that most Christians in England belong to one of three types of heretic.

Paul the Octopus

And on the subject of food-related disappointment...

Though Paul the Octopus has died, we still wanted to see whether England will win the World  Cup bid (although the FA currently seems to be diving and crying foul more than Didier Drogba). So we thought we'd check the entrails of a chicken at Filling Up of Beakers tonight.
Next time, we'll make sure it's defrosted first.

"Saint" Alfred's Day (899)

Really bad news about the "Saint" Alfred's Day celebrations.

Let's just say, I was baking some cakes...


The Safe Use of Essential Oils

Can I remind Beaker Folk that it is forbidden to use essential oils before working in the Doily Shed.

An overdose of lavender caused Marston to lose concentration. He now has a lovely snowflake pattern on his hand, where he pulled the pneumatic press down with one hand while his other was on top of the stack of doilies.

Much better, if the water in the bathrooms hasn't frozen, to take a lavender bath after work in the Doily Shed. That way you can remove the lint at the same time.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Crispin's Day

I was so looking forward to today's celebrations. Hnaef promised us a really good liturgical interpretation of the day. So I was looking forward to a good liturgical setting of the battle of Agincourt. I always think liturgy is best when combined with a serious battle re-creation, in the manner of the Batley Townswomen's Guild's recreation of the Battle of Pearl Harbour. And I was looking forward to getting the old longbow out.

So imagine my surprise when instead Hnaef gave us a celebration of St Crispinian. Not even St Crispin himself.  Hnaef, ever one to favour the underdog, wouldn't even celebrate St Crispin, preferring to think of his less famous but equally martyred brother.

So, as our commemoration of one half of the patron saints of shoes and shoemaking, we had a day-trip to Northampton shoe museum, followed by "the Crispinian exhibition" back in Husborne Crawley. Hour after hour of different shoes to look at, from sandals to wellingtons. Not by the longest stretch could even I try and describe this as liturgy.  After we felt we'd wasted our lives looking at shoe after shoe - with Hnaef shouting "Left!" and "Right!" before exhibiting each member of each pair - some of the more fractious Beaker Folk started throwing shoes around - mostly at Hnaef, but a few took it upon themselves to sling them at Drayton and Burton, simply because they were there. The targets decided to retaliate. Well, two of them did. Drayton turned the other cheek, just in time to intercept a Dr Martens boot with it. But Mrs Hnaef, Kylie and Kayleigh rallied to their defence. Soon the air was full of Toetectors and winklepickers, as the massed ranks of English bowmen massacred the flower of French yeomanry. In a dreadful conflation of Shakespearean battles, Young Keith and Marston Mortaine rushed once more unto the breach, to fill it up with their Italian shoes. And cobblers in Rushden now a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their lasting sheds cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us here on Saint Crispinian's day.

So the day ended up OK, after all.

SatRev 2 - The revenge

Just a couple more...

This Self-supporting Minister has managed to "fit in" a pastoral visit  between two business meetings.

This Methodist minister will never forgive the Youth Group for the trick they've played on her with the new Labyrinth. Although she will say she does.

This vicar is trying to get his head round the concept of - if there is universal salvation, what is the point of evangelism?

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Track your Clergy with SatRev

Tired of constantly asking what your priest, rabbi, rector, pastor or archdruid is doing with their time? Not sure they earn their massively over-inflated wages? Then wonder no more. Using the latest in space-age technology, Google Maps and the type of chip you use to identify your dog, tortoise or other household pet, you can enter the exciting world of SatRev.  Simply insert the identifying GPS/RF tag into the scruff of your clergyperson's neck, and you can use your desktop computer to track where they are at any time!

This rector has too many parishes. And on this Sunday, they all want Morning Prayer and Evensong from her.




This vicar is "on holiday" in the vicarage. He is sneaking out each day wearing dark glasses and an overcoat.



Having satisfied both of his parishes that he's off to the other place for the day, this minister has headed for the seaside instead.


Reaching her farthest-off parish to discover she had forgotten her reading glasses, this vicar was diverted by some unexpected roadworks and ended up in the Bedford one-way system. She isn't very happy.


Inappropriate uses for Comic Sans

Who can doubt the utility of the Comic Sans font? Suitable for all sorts of uses - such as advertising church youth groups, trying to sell motor-cycles or advertising Indian Head Massage at the sort of company (probably soon to go bust) that thinks that kind of thing is a good idea.
But personally I'd trust no organisation that conducted its normal communication in said font. Letters from a solicitor would not encourage me because they were in a font that said "hey! We don't take you seriously!" and you rarely see Comic Sans outside Fire Stations or doctor's surgeries.

Some more things that do not gain from the use of Comic Sans might include...

Death warrant of Charles I

Book of Lamentations
Warning signs

Gettysburg Address


The Pharisee and the Tax Collector - Luke 18:9-14

Truly was Our Lord right to castigate the Pharisee. For he stood boldly in the temple and declared himself righteous. And yet we know he was not so. For did the Pharisees not try to stand in their own strength? Did they not claim their own righteousness - yet still in their hearts they lusted after women (and possibly, for all we know, men) and desired wealth and coveted power and the admiration of others. So they were sinners, sinners, sinners and we know it and they knew it. Hypocrites and play-actors and dissemblers. And the publican - surely he was lost in his sin. Yet he knew his sin and confessed it, and stood in the temple and was justified in his confession.
Although if he went away and sinned again, of course, then his sin was the worse - for the possibility of repentance was still before the Pharisee, yet the publican had now received his chance (Heb 6:4-6).

And what for us? As a minister, clearly it is my responsibility that I show in public the perfect nature that can be attained by all those who are washed clean. I must not fall - and I do not mean in the sense that I demonstrated in Frisby on Soar, that day when I threw myself into the compost heap to avoid the doubles-entendres of Mrs Collins. No - I must be seen to utter no coarse words, to drink no alcohol, to avoid the lustful glance of the eye towards the hinder quarters of women of the opposite sex (and especially of Eileen, who would surely smite anyone she considered to be acting in base manner towards her, particularly if it were me). But I feel I can share with you for, while the presence of you honeymooning Slovakians brings up our attendance here to 3, representing 200% growth in two weeks, you don't speak a word of English, and you'll be off back to Zvolen tomorrow morning. So I can tell you that - although I work hard to be perfect in the light, yet in the darkness of my own house I often sneak more than the regulation number of Fox's Glacier Mints, a luxury I despise and yet love so much. How far I have fallen. Can I be forgiven? I strive with fear and trembling to repent. And yet the next day I'm off to the Glacier Mints again. Sometimes I am so overcome with my sinfulness with respect to my mint addiction that I can't even raise the energy to check how my Nestle, Halliburton and Ryanair shares are doing.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Minutes of the Meeting of the Moot

Hunter's Moon, 2010

Opening

The Tea Light was lit at 17:30.

Minutes of the last meeting

Ozkar claimed out that the minutes of the last Moot seemed to be different to what had actually been discussed. Specifically, wherever the Archdruid had been actioned to do something, it had somehow not been mentioned in the minutes, while Ozkar and a number of others had, according to the minutes, agreed to do the ditch-clearing this weekend.
A. Eileen asked if Ozkar was having trouble with his memory, and why he wasn't outside with the spade right now with the other members of the ditch-clearing posse. She had even specially named it a "posse" to make it sound like more fun. Ozkar replied that his memory was fine. Eileen remarked that Ozkar wasn't from round here, was he. Ozkar suddenly remembered that he should be busy clearing ditches, and left the meeting.

Naming of the Moon

Today being the full moon after Harvest Moon, Geldwell brought forward the proposal that the "Hunter's Moon" was not a terribly - well, nice - name for this moon in this modern day and age. Maybe it was a little outdated, and could be renamed the "Happy Moon", or the "Mushrooming Moon". Eileen asked if Geldwell had been on the mushrooms herself, and reminded Geldwell that New Labour wasn't in power anymore. Luzty, from the Fertility Folk, remarked that he quite liked the term "Rutting Moon" for the full moon. Eileen said that what Luzty called the moon was entirely up to him and his friends, but it was not the official name, handed down for generations.

Church Fate

All agreed that the fate of the Church was to hang on in quiet desperation until they all died of old age or fell apart in a giant squabble.

Church Fete

Re-introducing the agenda item with the correct spelling this time, Lohengrin said it had been nice of the Church to invite us to the fete, and what a shame the community had been temporarily closed at the time. Firgal recalled that last year's fete had been rather good, but Millvale said no, that was the year before, when the vicar put his head in the stocks. Firgal said Millvale was thinking of the chuchwarden, and that was 2007.  This went on for some time.

Ecumenical Relations

Radclive said that he had an aunt who went to the Methodists in the morning and Anglican evensong at night, and was she therefore an ecumenical relation? Eileen informed him that he was an idiot.  Egil said he also had a female relative who was a Methodist, but he couldn't remember if she were a 2nd or 3rd cousin. This led to a long and rambling debate in which many people commented on relatives of various denominations, to no particular purpose.

Approving Druidism

Eileen had been to another meeting of Approving Druidism. She is still unsure what exactly they are meant to be approving, but that they hate illiberalism. She thinks that wearing nice clothes and being kind may be quite important to the movement, but doesn't know why.

Anglican Societies
It was agreed that, although we are Beaker Folk, it would be nice to join the Society of Cardinal Cranmer. It would show solidarity with random Anglican brethren at this time of great debate and division, and also give us something to strop out of when we didn't agree with something.

Charitable Status

Aardwulf suggested that, now some druidic movements were being given charitable status, perhaps the Beaker Folk should consider it. Burton informed the meeting that Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley (Cayman Islands) is ineligible to be a charity but has nonetheless achieved a reasonably cost-effective form of tax avoidance.

Any other business

Dreardrie said that it was getting very dark in the evening, and could we put some Xmas lights up.

Closure

The Tea Light was blown out at 20.14. Archdruid Eileen remarked that it felt much later.

Wet dog physics

I am indebted to Entangled States for this link to an article on the physics of how a wet dog shakes itself dry. It shows how surface tension and the size of the animal combine to determine that shake frequencies decline to 4Hz for an ideal, infinitely large labrador. If there is, indeed, anything ideal about an infinitely large labrador. I reckon it would break the furniture.

When we read this, we see how something ontologically simple - a furry animal drying itself - becomes remarkably complex as we look at the interplay of the component elements - surface tension, a relationship based on a fractional power of the radius. And yet each of these components is itself terribly simple when broken down to Van Der Waals attractions etc.  I wonder myself whether the difference between the r0.5 relationship predicted by the researchers and the observed r0.75 might be down to electrostatic as well as surface tension forces. Drayton, of course, reckons the difference between the two formulae is down to some kind of supernatural intervention. But I reckon that's just the old "dog of the gaps" argument.

Friday, 22 October 2010

A Lament for Let-Down Lib Dems

Upon Shigionoth


Out of the depths of despair we cry
From the pit we call for help.

For the thing we feared has come upon us
and disaster has fallen upon us.

For surely we desired opposition
and to fight against all things regressive.
Knowing that opposition was easy
and cheap soundbites sweet to the ears.

So we cleaved unto our comedy leaders even when they were drunk
following their doddery footsteps when they were older than Methusaleh. 

But woe to us for we said we would work with other parties
and now our bluff is called.

For if we only said we would work with Labour then surely we should have joined them
and if we claimed to be "progressive" where else could we go?
But now to our right we see a smirking Osborne
and to our left David Cameron, stealing our clothes.

Yet we came not into politics to cut benefits
nor even to raise VAT.
Rather we would liberalise drug laws
and gladly scrap Trident.
Or better still wear our duffel coats
and march against tuition fees.

And yet where we thought we had libertarian friends
still they search the ISP records of our enemies
lest they should utter sedition
or accuse David Cameron of gaining weight.

Behold where we wanted to look after babes and sucklings,
yea surely we removed their benefits in the darkness of our hearts,
bringing quangos to ruin
and building aircraft carriers without planes.

Surely pointless wind turbines shall follow me all the days of my life
and I shall dwell in the House of Lords
we're all in it together
- forever.

Easy life

While the rest of the world is demanding we all knuckle down and work hard, Ozkar isn't needing to work any harder. It seems very unfair.
Ozkar is our resident political paparazzo. He spent a very happy ten years taking photographs of Cherie Blair looking slightly bonkers with her mouth open, and then another three of Gordon Brown looking awkward and uncomfortable. His latest job is to take photographs of George Osborne looking smug. We don't think he's going to be out of work, and we don't think he's going to have to work too hard. He says that sometimes he's got to hang around Westminster late at night, which can result in him having to spend long hours waiting in Lord Moon of the Mall. But, as he says, we're all in this together.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The wait is over

And a fond farewell to Graham Crowden, one of the great sit-com actors. The later episodes of Waiting for God degenerated into a series of cruel tricks played on Harvey Baines, so cruel even I winced. But in Tom Ballard, and in Dr Jock McCannon in A Very Peculiar Practice, he created two truly memorable - dare I say loveable - characters. And Tom and Diana in Waiting for God were two of the best role models for older people outside Last of the Summer Wine.

Bon voyage, Graham. We're sure the wait was worth it.

Gibbons Decline and Fall

The moon being one day off full, it can't really get much more gibbous. And I was just musing to myself about the old days of the Moon Gibbon Folk, who mis-heard gibbous as gibbon, and decided to worship the moon gibbon as a god. I can't say I really missed them. It's a lot easier when they're not around. But back last winter they renamed themselves "Forward in Ferns", announced they were off for a better life, and headed off into the cold on their own.

But as Roxy Music once said, nothing lasts forever. I was wondering why the same old faces appeared out on the gravel earlier, and now they have some new friends. These call themselves the "Marsh Gibbon people", due to a mis-reading of the Ordnance Survey map for North Oxfordshire (being near the Rollright Stones, they assumed that "Marsh Gibbon" was marking a shrine). I say "friends". Actually it's quite clear they don't really get on at all. After all, one group believes that the Great Gibbon lives on the moon, while the other group believes he lives in a pond near Banbury,. But they have worked out that, if they work together, they have sufficient numbers to sway Community policy.

Well, so they think, at least. They've forgotten that fundamental tenet of Beaker belief - "my gaff, my rules". I've heard of democracy, but I'm much happier when it's being inflicted on other people.

A chill wind that blows no-one any good

How quickly things can change.

The Archdruid noted last night that the French are striking - and the knock-on effects this will have on the Beaker Folk as they wander about in the dark, freezing cold. The French strikers are not just burning sheep and blocking British ferries as  they try to bring Stella Artois and cheap Burgundy across the Channel - no, they are closing down power stations and impacting on the nuclear-powered electricity to which the French have become accustomed. No doubt, if they could succeed where King Cnut failed, they would have stopped in the tide in the mighty Rance. Although one has to guess that, if the Marseilles pastis manufactories were to close, the French government could fall in an hour.

This is all so different to the summer, when a grateful United Kingdom doubled its use of French electricity - a glut of which was being produced.

But if the cheap French electricity is not to be found, then the prices in Britain will, eventually, go up. Ask not for whom the meter goes round, as the poet said - it charges thee.

Maybe if the French continue to revolt we will have to revert to alternative sources - not the useless ones like the wind turbines at Petsoe, as they stand there - presumably, for you can't see Petsoe from here - still in the windless environment of a High Pressure area. Maybe we will have to revert to the old days of the real Beaker Folk, as the smoke from 1,000 wood fires fills the air above Husborne Crawley, blocking out the full moon. Standing here in my wood, with the hide of an elephant and the cold-proofing of a breeze block, I feel for you.

Bling went the strings of my heart

After yet more grumbling and demands I've agreed to lay out this year's pre-Yule timetable. Subject, as ever, to the promised alternative energy supplies that the Grimleys have so kindly agreed to erect. I'm hoping that this isn't going to be like their arrangements of five years ago, when the power that was allegedly coming from the heat sink in the duckpond turned out actually to be an illegal tap into the high-tension lines.

So: from 1-27 November we will be celebrating "Lesser Bling". Some rather tasteful lighting that could be confused for general atmospheric lighting of the type that you see outside pubs even in the summer months. "Greater Bling" starts thereafter until Winter Solstice, and will be the familiar National-Grid-melting combination of dancing penguins, illuminated Father Christmases and exploding reindeer.

The astute of you will have noticed that this brings 1 and 2 November into the period of "Lesser Bling". I will be issuing the All Saint's related arrangements next week.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Cuts in a Cold Climate

Now is the winter of our discontent, made even colder by a bunch of Old Etonians.
The darkness of a Boreal autumn settles over Husborne Crawley, and even the Fertility Folk have come back in from the cold as their summer activities lose their appeal - or, at least, the outdoors aspect of them does.
And in the double-dip darkness of our frozen condition, I am aware that my switching on the heating only on alternate Tuesdays is not helping. And I thought I'd done such a good job in negotiating a cheap deal for French electricity. How was I to know that the French might go out on strike if someone tried to make them do some work? So I'm glad to provide some guidance on keeping warm.

1) Keep a hat on at all times. But not a baseball cap - it can make you look like the Foreign Secretary.

2) If you sew double duvets up into sleeping bags, they are remarkably cosy. But if you sew up all four sides from the inside, you're in real trouble. And if you try to hop down to breakfast still in your duvet/sleeping bag like some kind of surreal chintzy caterpillar, you're likely to break something. Although, on the bright side, the hospital may be slightly warmer than the Great House. Unless George Osborne has got to their fuel supplies first.

3) The other downside of sewing a double duvet up into a sleeping bag is likely to be a very irate partner. But don't worry, they'll go really quiet after a while, once they stop shivering.

4) Burning Community furniture in your room is against Community rules. You can chop up and burn your own furniture if you like, but not if it's varnished. It's bad enough all these people getting hypothermia without making them breathe in all those fumes.And burning cardboard boxes in your room is really quite stupid.

5) If you all sit round a 100W incandescent bulb to keep warm, the EU will come round and confiscate your light socket.

6) You can really get quite warm chopping up wood for my book-burning stove. Some people have complained that the Hnaefs, Drayton and myself are the only people allowed to have working

7) Helping Bernie in the kitchen will ensure you stay nice and warm. Although preparing all that roadkill may make you feel quite nauseous.

8) When the temperature in your room falls below 4°C / 40°F / 277K the Ice Alert will start flashing. There's no need panic, but you should just ensure you brake and steer more carefully.

9) If you're feeling really cold, think about the job cuts / family allowance / tax credits / person trying to prove you're not really ill. You should soon feel much warmer.

10) Warm radiators cause asthma, or ME or something. It's real science. Just read the research.

11) Stop wearing those hippy clothes and wear some tweeds and Barbour jackets. You'll feel a bit warmer and if you're lucky someone might mistake you for a member of the ruling classes.

The inevitable seasonal answers

Yes, it is a bit taters this morning.
Parky? I should say so.
Well, personally I wouldn't refer to those parts of monkeys made from that alloy, but yes I see what you mean about the weather.
Yes, the sun did rise later this morning.
Quite right about how quickly it got dark last night.

No, you're not putting that on the roof. It's not even November. Grow up.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Excuse waiver

What a dramatic Occasion this afternoon. The Excuse Waiver service, where we write down on pork-pie-shaped pieces of paper our excuses for the bad things we have done, and hang them on the Weasel Tree. A panel of Druids agree whether the excuses are plausible and, if they are, you can consider yourself not so much forgiven as let off with a caution.

I'm pleased to list below the excuses that were considered plausible, and those we rejected out of hand. Those whose excuses were ruled officially as likely as a Jeffrey Archer claim to fame, or as acceptable as a House of Lords' expenses claim, can continue to hang their heads in shame.  They know who they are. As indeed do Hnaef and I, as we've dusted the excuse pies for prints.

PLAUSIBLE

I was busy, and forgot her birthday
I forgot we'd moved to Kent
I had a 10-minute homicidal amnesia interlude. I'm sure it's never happened before...
The undiagnosed diabetes made me irritable
I'd forgotten it was loaded
I'd been ill

UNACCEPTABLE

I made the church my priority
How was I to know the absinthe would react with the prescription anti-histamines like that?
S/he doesn't understand me
I was worrying about my sick cat
Everybody else did it
Just because the Bible banned it doesn't mean you can't lie to people nowadays
I'd been wrapped up in my work
I was only wondering how fast the police car was going
I really thought they had WMDs

Monday, 18 October 2010

Blogging, textual criticism and making it up as you go along

Never before have so many oddballs had the ability to create the future for themselves. Or, at least, not since Sparks last made the charts.

It was UKViewer that suggested we needed a special Sunday for bloggers. But was he right? I have my doubts.  The idea of my Special Sundays was, rather like those in the wider religious community, to remind us of things that we don't think about very often or we may not think are important during our daily lives -Healthcare, Christian Aid, the Resurrection. That sort of thing. But bloggers are different. Bloggers don't need their special Sundays. Because tomorrow belongs to us, and those of our ilk such as the Tweeters.

As the dead-tree press withdraws its content behind its firewalls, something will take its place. In these parts that's currently the BBC.  But as the Age of Osborne roars forwards, even the BBC may eventually have to draw in its horns. Even now the BBC does not always want to cover everything the blogosphere wants to cover. The case of Katharine Birbalsingh, for example, has greatly exercised Cranmer but the BBC doesn't want to cover it at all, apparently.

So as the professional press withdraws from the Internet, a source of free news could take its place. The world of blogging and tweeting could well do it, bringing hot news from anywhere. How democratic, how egalitarian, how libertarian. But how unreliable it could be. Anyone thinking that they were collecting hot news from Smolensk when reading the doings of @konnolsky, for instance, would be in for a real shock if they actually visited Smolensk and tried to find Yuri and the gang. Apart from anything else, I believe that @konnolsky is actually a charcutier, not a bona-fide butcher.
But you can see how it works. If we have to pay for supposedly reliable information, or even the Telegraph, the day comes when we decide we're better off getting our news from free from any old blog or tweeter. And if we do that, then we're going to have validate our sources - otherwise you could end up lambasting an imaginary Fundamentalist Baptist for his view on women's ministry, or praying for the salvation of a fictional neo-pagan religious leader. And that would never do, would it?

After all, I could write on this notice board of Husborne Crawley life all sorts of things that I claimed were going on in Husborne Crawley, and you'd never know that I was making it all up. In the same way that nobody realises that Revd Lesley is actually a 1st class cricketer who just wishes to be a vicar, Clayboy is genuinely made of clay, David Walker is actually Ruth Gledhill making a few quid on the side now she's hidden behind the paywall, and the Church Mouse really is a mouse. So when I tell you that the Chapel of St Bogwulf has disappeared into a black hole, or that there really are wallabies grazing on the sides of the road round here - how would you know I was telling the truth?

We're going to need rules for how to assess the validity of a news source. A rough rule of thumb would be that the more sites comment on the same thing, the truer it might be - but the science of stemmology helps us to see how that might not work.  If one maniac in Trafalgar Square claims to have had a vision of a 65 foot tall Jeremy Paxman, and twelve people pass that information on - the next thing you know the 65 foot tall Paxo would be a well-established fact. And if somewhere down the line by a copyist's error or wishful thinking the Paxo becomes Brian Humphreys, this second family of information would be perpetuated, becoming the truth to the Humphreysites - in a manner familiar to all of us that are advised via Facebook and email of blasphemous theatrical productions, lost children or that "having no thumbs is not a condition, and people with no thumbs are just as good at twiddling their thumbs as those of us with thumbs".  No, the important thing would be to find the number of quantifiably different accounts of the same event - two or three witnesses being the minimum, one would imagine. And in this case to have two accounts that agree in outline but differ in fine detail would be more plausible than to have 100 accounts that are word-for-word the same.

The problem would then lie in the sheer number of feeds one would have to access in order to get something that was approaching the truth. One would have to compare the reports of Trafalgar Square Paxman to those of Humphreys, find the oldest, try to find the blog where the identity changed and then make one's own judgements. Some kind of Wikio-style aggregator would be required, capable of sorting and correlating reports into families, and weighting known, reliable sources.  Then the site would enable us to sift the true from the false, the genuine from the Labour peer expenses claim. Instead of having to trawl news from the web ourselves, we could go to one place and find out what was going on in the world, confident that we were reading something that approached the truth. Who knows, as time goes by we might even be prepared to pay for it.

When fundamentalist stunts go wrong

Big mistake by Drayton, that book-burning.

What he was doing reading "Joy of Sex" in the first place is beyond me. Though he claims it was a misprint and he was meant to be buying "Joy of Sax", in his pursuit of the perfect embouchure.  He claims.
In any event, he was outraged by the what he read, and more particularly by the pictures he saw. So he organised the book-burning. All his fundamentalist mates came round to join him, and cheered as the flames licked round... the Kindle. At least, as many have pointed out, the name is appropriate.

He's learnt his lesson now. Given that his congregation technically numbers zero, and there's no way I'm going to subsidise him until he gets a grip and starts banging the holes out of doilies like everyone else, I'm not going to give him any dosh for a new one. He'll have to read the extensive collection of Thomas Hardy in the Library just like everybody else. And if I catch him with any matches near those he's for the high jump.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

All the special Sundays

It was Catriona's blog, rightly and reasonably marking a special Sunday, that caused all the trouble. You see, the Beaker People knew about Easter Sunday and Palm Sunday but didn't realise that so many Sundays are "special" - Healthcare Sunday, Bible Sunday and so on.
They felt a bit left out.  So they demanded their own set. So what are you to do?  Stick to my firm principle, that's what - always allow democracy to rule on things that don't really matter (I stole the idea from the European Union, if truth be told). And Catriona's right, we're dead good at remembering doctors and nurses (and, I would add, missionaries, clergy and teachers) - but we forget the others.  Here, therefore, are the special Beaker Sundays for the next year.  You can feel free to use them if you like.

24 October 2010
Apple Sunday - when we remember all the special people that grow apples or make cider.
31 October 2010
"Out in the evening Sunday"
07 November 2010
Street sweepers' Sunday
14 November 2010
Fish & Chips Sunday, when we give thanks generally for all takeaway food
21 November 2010
People from Kettering Sunday, when we remember those less fortunate than ourselves
28 November 2010
Help a Hedgehog Sunday
05 December 2010
Fear and Trembling Sunday
12 December 2010
Last Judgement Sunday
19 December 2010
Let's give up on Advent and sing some Carols Sunday
26 December 2010
Skip the Service it's the Sales Sunday
02 January 2011
Back to work tomorrow Sunday
09 January 2011
Black Sunday (also known as "eight months till we get a holiday" Sunday)
16 January 2011
Supermarket Assistants' Day
23 January 2011
Post-it Notes Sunday, when we remember the gift of stationery
30 January 2011
Train drivers' Sunday (cancelled due to weekend engineering works)
06 February 2011
A day of prayer for TV Presenters who have no discernible talent
13 February 2011
Looking meaningfully at the cards in Tesco Express Sunday
20 February 2011
Still regarding our husbands in icy Silence Sunday
27 February 2011
Web developers' Sunday, when we give thanks for all the people, who with little reward, write websites
06 March 2011
U2 Sunday
13 March 2011
Rabbit and Guinea Pigs Sunday
20 March 2011
Tambourine Sunday (book a day off)
27 March 2011
Clown Sunday (a day of terror and/or embarrassment if any of our friends turn up)
03 April 2011
Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunday
10 April 2011
Stewardship Sunday, when the bloke in the suit comes round to tell us we're all doomed
17 April 2011
Palm Sunday
24 April 2011
Easter
01 May 2011
Dance around the Maypole in a pre-Victorian, Fertility Festival kind of way until the Police intervene Sunday
08 May 2011
People who maintain telegraph poles Sunday
15 May 2011
Eurovision Sunday (except Slovenia)
22 May 2011
Come to Church on a pogo stick Sunday
29 May 2011
Hospital visiting Sunday
05 June 2011
Dairy and related Bovine industries Sunday
12 June 2011
Day of prayer for people called Christian and Unity
19 June 2011
First nice day of the year, let's slink off to Sunny Hunny* Sunday
26 June 2011
Playing the banjo badly Sunday
03 July 2011
Short-sighted airline pilot's Benevolent Sunday
10 July 2011
People who live in Droitwich Sunday
17 July 2011
Biro manufacturers' Sunday
24 July 2011
First week of the holidays Sunday (congregation reduced to 4)
31 July 2011
County Cricket 2nd XI players' Sunday
07 August 2011
Garfield cartoon Sunday
14 August 2011
Be nice to an atheist, however repulsive you may find their anorak, Sunday
21 August 2011
Waiters and Waitresses Sunday
28 August 2011
Greenbelt Sunday
04 September 2011
Leylandii Sunday
11 September 2011
People who drive fork lifts and other warehouse workers' Sunday
18 September 2011
Ford Super-Sunday
25 September 2011
Nights are drawing in Sunday
02 October 2011
School cleaners Sunday
09 October 2011
Judy Garland day
16 October 2011
Harvest Festival
23 October 2011
Postal delivery people's Sunday

* Hunstanton, for those that don't know.