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Monday, 28 February 2011

Casting Nasturtiums

I've picked up on Sally's comments about people heaping opprobrium, odium and Imodium on each other in an argument which appears to be over a book that hasn't been published yet.  I have to say that if Malcolm McLaren were alive to day he'd be impressed at the pre-sales that Rob Bell will have stacked up by now. A free publicity campaign on a grand scale. Not since Origen wrote his ground-breaking "The devil - is he really all bad?" has a book of popular theology caused such wild excitement.

We in the Beaker Folk are similar to what Sally has described. But, since arguments tend to break out at dinner time, we find that everybody starts throwing ladles around. And while sticks and stones may break my bones, ladles leave quite a nasty mark. Especially if you get the handle in your eye. Please don't try this at home.

Shamelessly using music to manipulate the emotions

Now, this is a subtle and contentious subject. Music is a powerful force. Like scents and colours, it can hit us straight in the emotions. Which is why we have to be careful about where encouraging people to worship - or setting the mood - or even "sensing where the [S/s]pirit is leading" - shades into emotional and psychological manipulation.

Normally you might be using some storming, rocky music for a time of spiritual warfare. Well, you might. Round here I like to keep things on a gentler, less overtly masculine footing. So we might choose a set of songs that are generally uplifting and cheering, for a happy kind of congregation. Or maybe something calmer, if you wanted a relaxed and generally open congregation. Or something slightly edgier, with a few minor chords thrown in, if we want a thoughtful congregation. Or something more even and meditative for a time of pondering meditatively on the goodness of things without any real existential challenge.

But this afternoon we carried out a little test. We chose the following song list, to see what effect it had on the congregation:
Introit: Flower's Grave by Tom Waits, from Alice

After the opening prayers: Waiting for the Worms , from Pink Floyd's The Wall

After the meditative reading (Stevie Smith's Not Waving, but Drowning) we "did" Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me by the Smiths. With a very nice ocarina solo, in my opinion.

Played "over" the prayers for healing (always a very effective arrangement): The Verve's The Drugs Don't Work

And to send us out in the right frame of mind, the recessional was Radiohead's Creep.

So the question is, did it work? Can the use of depressing music also be used to manipulate the emotions? We were going to get everyone to fill in a questionnaire, but they're all hiding under their beds and refusing to come out of their rooms, or standing in the garden gazing into space. So I think we can only say the results are "inconclusive".

Feast of St Hilarius

We rarely recognize proper saints - let's face it, most of them are dead so we don't meet them that often. But we feel that we should set aside a moment for this short liturgy dedicated to the patron saint of things that aren't quite as funny as you feel they should be.

Archdruid:Who's that pope who fought against the Emperor Anthemius's proposed toleration of schismatics?
AllFought against the Emperor Anthemius's proposed toleration of schismatics? That's Hilarius.
Archdruid:No, it's not funny at all. It's an important milestone in the development of the institution of the Papacy.
AllWe'll get your coat.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Road Goes Ever On

In my darker moments - and occasionally I have them, although I know I should not, for perfect love should cast out fear - but in my darker moments I sometimes think that the Baptibus is not such a great idea.

Eileen has been very kind. She not only allows us to borrow the Shuttle from her Community (at a reasonable price) but she has even agreed to us applying temporary transfers to the side each week. They read "Bogwulf Independent Baptist Church - climbing the tightrope to Heaven". But with the price of the transfers, and the rental of the Shuttle and the sheer amount of diesel involved...I am not convinced, Holy Brother (I need not refer to the weaker and more easily swayed sex here, as these are deep matters of accountancy and stewardship of Church money, with which they should not be worrying their heads) - I am not convinced that it's worth the offering we get back in.

Not that we should measure the cost of a soul in the price of the fuel to save it. But by my reckoning it costeth us about £100 each Sunday to collect just seven people, who between them contribute maybe £7 to the coffers. Now, I know what you are saying brethren - again, I refer only to the Brothers, as this is a matter of teaching and exhortation - you are saying, what profiteth a man who saves £93 a week but loseth his soul? And this is a sound question. But I do wonder - in the grey of the morning, when my mind becomes confused - surely there must be some, relatively holy, fairly orthodox Baptist church they could attend, where they might still be saved and we wouldn't have to invest all this time and effort in collecting and returning them.

Still, I can enjoy the rest of this Sabbath in peace. It is over for tonight. I have returned all seven worshippers and come back to the Manse for a refreshing cup of water. It is not easy, driving all over Bedfordshire to deliver people to their houses in many different villages. One could easily lose the path - which is, indeed, often narrow. So often the broad and easy way is the way that leads to Milton Keynes, and then one would be truly lost. I am often ruefully grateful for that insistent voice in the car that tells me repeatedly when to turn to left or right, how far away the destination is and even - quite impressively - can warn me when I am driving too fast - although sometimes you're tempted to tell it to be quiet. But on balance I really don't know what I would do without Marjorie.

Getting the wrong end of the hockey stick

Sometimes with Burton Dasset you've got to explain things very carefully.

I told him I was a mild sceptic on the basis of anthropogenic climate change. So he brought round some TCP.

Fundamentalist dissonance

Poor Drayton Parslow. He wandered into Bogwulf Baptist chapel this morning to find the fruits of yesterday evening's Ikon Workshop hanging round the walls. Personally I think that 82 icons, many representing Biblical saints (although a few appeared to be members of the cast of Eastenders), is a beautiful thing, baby. The glowing colours - the light reflecting off the gold of the icons - the way the eyes follow you around the room - they're like a portal to another place.
But Drayton thinks icons lead you to a completely different other place. Walking into the chapel expecting the usual green-sand walls (which he's had whitewashed) he saw the host of heaven gazing towards him and passed out.

Thankfully Young Keith was walking past and, with his legendary presence of mind, he's whipped all the icons out and re-hung them in the Moot House. Drayton came back round, assumed he'd had some kind of vision, and he's still preaching away as well as ever.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Battle of Nevermore

As evenings of worship go, our liturgical "Battle of Evermore" was, well, interesting.

There were all those people demanding to vote on who should be the Queen of Light, for starters. If recent events  in the Middle East have taught us anything, it is surely that when people start wanting a say in things that's when the trouble starts.

Hearing the drums shaking the chapel wall, Drayton turned up, declared that the whole event was pagan nonsense, and stomped back to his Manse. Then he jumped on his bike and went off to shout at some people at a party in Aspley Heath. So I think it is fair to say that the Dark Lord rides tonight.

Then we heard the horses' thunder down in the valley below - eerie, unearthly - an act of genius. Or, at least, it was until the horses came crashing through the Orchard, where we were dancing in the darkness and waiting for the Eastern Glow. Beaker People scattering in all directions, and one of the Angels of Avalon ran straight into a tree. Went off in a right hump, as well. They've got no soul, those Angels of Avalon.

Speaking of Avalon of the Apple Trees, we drew a bit of a blank on the "apples of the valley". There's a  bit of a dearth of native apples around the place at the minute, what with us having pulped them all into cider back in the autumn. So we had to buy a load in from the market. Burton got a job-lot cheap at clearing-off time on the fruit stall.  So when Mr Plant sings of the sky being filled with good and bad, I reckon he's referring to the giant apple-fight that inevitably breaks out, when a bunch of frustrated worshippers are wondering how to fill in time until the Eastern Glow. That would also explain why the apples turn to brown and black, and Tyrone's face went red.

And what we thought were the Ringwraiths riding tonight, turned out to be the Towcester Area Motor Bike Society coming down to the White Horse for their monthly general knowledge quiz. They might have been scary twenty-five years ago, but these days they just want a pint and a  bag of pork scratchings.

Oh, well, the night is long - the beads of time pass slow. And we figured we wouldn't be seeing any Eastern Glow for absolutely hours. We should have done this at midsummer. So everybody sloped off for a pint. If anyone gets up early enough, they can catch the Eastern Glow in the morning.

Anyway, to cheer myself up I'm watching this version of the real thing. Personally I prefer it to the Led Zeppelin versions doing the round on YouTube.

Ikons

No, you're all wrong.  It's called an Ikon Worskshop. I've looked it up, and Ikon is definitely the authentic name. On account of the letter "kappa" being a "c" and a "k" in Greek. Which is why, round these parts, we refer to Burton's beloved Dawes as a "kukle".

The Ikon workshop starts in ten minutes.  Although "ikon" seems a bit pretentious for referring to them in practice. So while it's an Ikon Workshop, the things we'll be producing will be "icons". We're authentic but not necessarily consistent. I hope this is all clear.

We've not actually got a proper iconographer, if that's the right word, but Andii went to Zakinthos once, and he reckons he knows how they work. The plasterboard's all been cut to the right lengths and we've lit a few tea lights.

It's going to be a very reverent evening.

De-frag your congregation™

Worship not warming up so quickly in the mornings? General sense of apathy? Nasty grinding noises at the congregational meetings? Things over-heating?  Maybe things are getting a bit fragged-up. It's time to De-frag your Congregation™ .

This is a newly-formatted congregation. The loyal worshippers are up the front to hear the preacher, packed in closely to show their spiritual unity.

As members join and leave, the congregation becomes more fragmented. Empty seats start to appear, where worshippers used to sit but no longer do.

Some "bad sectors" can form, while other types of worshipper can appear and start to interfere with the smooth operation of your congregation. Things are becoming increasingly fragmented.The performance of the worship group starts to degrade.

This is when you need to De-frag your Congregation™.  De-frag your Congregation™  goes through the fellowship, re-arranging it into a more efficient format. The Bad Sectors are grouped out of the way (ideally making the coffee), where they can't do any more harm . Worship is once again efficient - and you'll be glad you used De-frag your Congregation


If you're happy with De-frag your Congregation™ , Church Mouse has suggested to me that you also need the Biocidal handwash. If Swine flu comes back, you'll be glad of the extra virus protection.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Friday, 25 February 2011

Virtual Church - the Logical Conclusion

The response to the Doxomultiplexageddon has not been, as I expected, that everyone would join together for worship involving respect, compromise and  charity. Oh no.

No, there's been a move in the opposite direction. Beaker People have been used to listening to praise CDs in their cars, or tuning in to Celtic Spirit and such like on last.fm. They have been known to enjoy the religious programming on Sky (goodness knows, someone's got to) or even join in the lusty singing on Songs of Praise.

Now all of them have come to the logical conclusion. They've decided that there's no point in meeting together, as the "quality of the worship" apparently isn't so great in Husborne Crawley as it is in Anaheim or in a Hillsongs gathering. And Drayton and I aren't as inspiring at preaching as Steve Chalke, and definitely can't shout that loudly. And Hnaef is apparently an Archdruid in "The Moot in Second Life".  And if they stay in their rooms they don't have to meet people they don't like and pretend they get on.

So they're all watching Spring Harvest DVDs and playing Matt Redman. They've asked if we can just arrange to get pizzas and tea lights delivered from time to time.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Excuses

A number of community members have been into the office today to apologise for their behaviour at the service, insisting that, like the Libyans (http://m.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/24/libya-rebels-control-gaddafi-oilfields?cat=world&type=article) someone had spiked their Nescafé with hallucinogens. This is a ridiculous suggestion: Eileen won't allow anything but Fair-trade (sic) through the door. And as for the other suggestion: pure fantasy.

On a different note, I'm glad that Young Keith has removed those mushrooms he'd been air-drying in the kitchen. They were getting to be a Health & Safety hazard.
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Doxomultiplexageddon

Oh boy. That's over then.

The soundproof partitions turned out not to be as soundproof as we thought. So the solemn silent Requiem meditation people were overwhelmed by the sounds of "I will dance (undignified)" coming through the wall. So they responded by singing Verdi's Dies Irae really loudly. So that upset the "Waiting on Whale-Music" people. Who decided to morph into the "Bashing corrugated iron with a mallet" collective. And that distressed the "Third Church of John Cage" - who in principle were happy to hear random environmental noises as they believe God speaks through them, but were most distressed to hear someone bashing corrugated iron. And yet strangely grateful that it drowned out "I will dance (undignified)".

So the "Third Church of John Cage" decided to experiment with the theremin and feedback. Leaving everyone deafened in a slightly uncanny kind of way. The people with the mallet and corrugated iron got a sledgehammer, then found out they were drowned out by the unexpected introduction of a 200W bass amp plugged into "Sponge Bob Square Pants". So they used the sledgehammer to break down the partition, only to be blown back into the far wall by a concentrated wave of sound. The Requiem Meditation people switched to Ride of the Valkyries, and started throwing the bags of flour they had unaccountably brought with them. At which the people taking part in the traditional service of Pouring Out of Beakers, who had managed to stay out of the whole business, decided enough was enough and started throwing water from the Holy Spring around.

The people singing "I will dance" at this point discovered that their dancing wasn't as practical as they thought, due to them now trying to dance ankle-deep in flour-and-water glue. On the bright side, it's true to say they were now genuinely undignified. Stuck to the spot, they were defenceless as the remaining partitions were demolished by a combination of people with high-intensity sound-generating devices and sledgehammers. Bits of partition bounced off their heads, followed by a selection of Whale music CDs and assorted stray divas. And a load of doves that someone had planned to release at a suitably profound point in something or another. Then Hnaef and I had no choice but to intervene, turning the high-pressure fire hose on the lot of them to calm them down and clean the Moot House of flour-and-water paste.

The Doxomultiplex has been a bit of a disaster, to be honest. We're going to have to go back to collective worship. It may require compromise, charity and flexibility. But at least no-one's likely to get a dove stuck to them with glue.

Pete Waterman and the Railway Line

I was fascinated to read that Pete Waterman is all in favour of the High Speed Rail Link.
Obviously if I want to know whether or not a multi-billion pound infrastructure project is going to give us sufficient benefits to outweigh the environmental degradation, planning blight and noise pollution, the first person I'm going to ask is an ageing pop producer in a Paddington Bear duffel coat.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Mobile Use and the Brain

I was fascinated by this article on mobile phone use and its impact on the brain, from the BBC website.
Apparently using a mobile phone affects the brain's consumption of blood sugar. But a scientist also remarked "Much larger fluctuations in brain metabolic rate occur naturally, for example during thinking."
The implication seems to be that the act of thinking is completely different to using mobile phones. Which, I suppose, explains some of the conversations I hear on trains.

Doxomultiplex

I am pleased to announce the coming into being of the Beaker Doxomultiplex. The answer to all those issues where you have different traditions but wish to preserve a semblance of unity, without anyone actually having to encounter anything they don't approve of. It's kind of like the Church of England, but without separating different traditions by the length of a parish.

The Eastern Quadrant of the Moot House is now to be given over to Pebbles 'n' Tea Lights. The South Quadrant to Smells 'n' Bells. The West to Praise 'n' Worship. And the Northern, to Drum 'n' Bass. I'm not sure about the Drum 'n' Bass, but Hnaef has convinced me that it's just the thing to attract the bright young things.

The great thing is that those who are passionately attached to one kind of worship can stay in the one place - meditating on a pebble, or enjoying the aroma of incense according to preference. On the other hand, in the interests of "fluid worship", you can wander from quadrant to quadrant, chilling or raving or falling flat on your face as the mood takes you. So if you're bored of pebbles, get your hits with the Non-stop Undiluted Praise Party! And then when your arms ache from being in the air too long, go and join in some Gregorian Chant.

Due to the modular way in which we designed the Moot House in the first place, it's just a matter of installing the soundproofed partition units in place. It could be a long night, so please ensure you're all equipped with hard hats, hi-vis, safety boots and Thermos flasks of builders' tea (6 sugars).

In the interests of satisfying all worship demands, we have also pitched a special Sydney Carter Tent. It's in Leighton Buzzard.

Who knows, if this goes well it could be the future of Church. If that's the right word.

A great day for Protestants. And Catholics. And shirty Frenchmen.

1455 - the printing of the Gutenberg Bible, the first Bible printed with movable type. Although the movable type must have caused problems. Turn your back and it was printing "Eskimo Nell". That's the problem with movable type, it's got a mind of its own.

1846 - John Henry Newman joins the Catholic Church. A great man, leaving a great institution, joining another one.

1898 - Emile Zola found guilty of libel for writing "J'Accuse". A letter challenging the government and accusing it of acting illegally, and of anti-Semitism.

Newman's work is lovely. And he lived out a relatively quiet life. Gutenberg got 2,000 litres of wine a year tax-free. Nice work, if you can get it. Zola risked his life and freedom, and may have been poisoned for political reasons.

The votes have been counted. Zola wins.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Full support

I have been asked by the Archdruid to record that not only does she have my full support, but also the support of everyone in the community.

Not only has she asked me to do this, but, as far as I can tell, it actually seems to be true. Everyone I asked responded, "Yes, yes, we'd prefer to keep her, not that, please not that" to the carefully neutral question I was asking "do you wish to maintain the status quo with our Archdruid maintaining order, or would you like her trusted lieutenant [I pronounced this "left-tenant", of course] to take over the reins of power and assume the mantle of responsibility for the running of the community?"

I even received the same response from Mrs Hnaef.

Maybe she doesn't want me to overburden myself with the stresses of leadership.
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Gaddafi heads for stage 3

I see that Col Gaddafi is now between stages 2 and 3 in the Dictator's Downfall model.
Stage 1 says "It may have happened in Tunisia but it won't happen here. My people love me too much / they're too scared of me / I'm the Father of the nation".
Stage 2 is "How can they do this to me? I shall crush them". This is accompanied by sending the troops out on the streets. In severe cases you get your armed forces to shoot anti-aircraft missiles at unarmed civilians, thus combining evil-beggarness with extravagant impracticality.
At Stage 3, you start to offer reforms. Then you say OK, you'll leave but not just yet. This was the strategy employed with such success by Gordon Brown until they finally prised his fingernails from the doorframe at No 10.
Stage 4 is where normal people would go into depression. But in evil dictator circles, this is replaced by the "squirrelling away your money" phase.
Stage 5 can go one of two ways. Either you get away before they hang you, or you don't.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've some trouble-makers of my own to deal with. I can't believe that they're serious, after all the work I've put into making this a place of spiritual fulfilment and refreshment. I kicked Drayton Parslow in the shins earlier, but they're still moaning at me.  Still, I'm going to hold new elections to the Druidic Synod as soon as possible - which will be in the summer, once the Referendum's over and everyone's calmed down.

Nativity of Kenneth Williams (1926)

Archdruid: OK you post-modern praise-mongers. Are we going to play this funny or tortured, self-hating and angst-fuelled?
All: Oo-er, Matron.


Archdruid: Looks like it's funny again, then. For the 7th glorious year. OK. Friends, Romans...
Hnaef: Countrymen.
Archdruid: I know.

Gradual: The Ballad Of The Woggler's Moulie

Confession 
Archdruid: Talk for Just a Minute on "Sins I have committed" without hesitation, repetition, or....
All: Ooh! Matron!

Absolution 
Archdruid:  Stop messing about!


Mutual Benedictions 

Archdruid: May the benevolence of the god Shivoo bring blessings on your house.
All: And on yours.
Archdruid: And may his wisdom bring success in all your undertakings.
All: And in yours.
Archdruid: And may his radiance light up your life.
All: And up yours.

Recitation of old patter that is unexpectedly topical
Hnaef: They will die the death of a thousand cuts!
Mrs Hnaef: Oh! But that's horrible!
Hnaef: Not at all my little desert flower, the British are used to cuts!

Archdruid: It's an enigma, matron. An enigma.
All: I'm not having another one of those.


Dismissal


Archdruid: Infamy! Infamy!
All: They've all got it infamy!

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Day of the Theremin

Is it just me, or can the use of instruments in worship go too far sometimes?

I agreed to Electra organising the music today. She's always been reliable in the past, with a streak of creative unconventionality. Well and fondly I remember the 100-ukulele accompaniment that made such a difference to our rendition of "Just as I am" a few months back. And of all the instruments that might make a spiritual impact on our meetings, the theremin seemed just the thing. How could it go wrong?

Well, to be frank it was just un-nerving. We were halfway through a reading of one of our "Deeply Moving Spiritual Pieces" - I think it was Miss Joan Hunter-Dunn by Betjemann - and suddenly this unearthly noise set up.Yes, it moved us to a new spiritual place but I'm not sure that "freaked" is such a good spiritual place.
And then we got into the more serious processional liturgy - and again, getting the idea that there's a 1960s Cyberman following around as you take part in the Solemn Clockwise Procession is not going to help. Everybody's supposed to keep their eyes forward - in the general way encouraged by Sydney Carter's abysmal "One more step along the world I go" but without the ghastly music. But compared to that spooky howling going on through it all - well, you could almost want Carter back. Until you remember that hitting yourself over the head with a frying pan would be better.

So now the main service is over. And silence falls along with darkness across the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley. Except the sound of a few literalists hitting themselves over the heads with frying pans. And somewhere, nagging at the back of your mind, reminding you that Fenris Wolf hasn't let go yet for this winter - the sound of a theremin.

Will you excuse me? I just need to go and put some Brotherhood of Man on the Community PA system. It may just drown out the theremin.

Travelling over land and sea to make a disciple

If the Pharisees could do it then surely we could? Especially since, unlike their results, we were aiming to make people into children of heaven.
I have just returned from the longest-distance Baptibus exploit we have ever done.
Justin had promised us that he would definitely come to chapel this week. But, it being half-term, he was away on holiday. So Marjorie agreed to go and get him.
Sadly, Justin being in Hunstanton, he and Marjorie missed the service - turning up at half-past six smelling of rock and doughnuts. He stayed around, and joined us in an evening prayer - and then Marjorie suggested I might like to drive him back home.
My, there were a lot of tractors on the road between Wisbech and King's Lynn. I wonder what they were all doing out in the middle of the night like that?

In any case, I am now off to bed. Normally I would want to redeem my time to the utmost. But on this occasion i can barely see to type, let alone preach the good news.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Time Team - the Disappointment

Yes, it was a bad day.

Tony Robinson and his friends (is it me or do the Time Team archaeologists get younger and more female as you get older?) came along and at first were very excited.

The lovely Greensand they knew about - a sandstone layer that is a gorgeous green when first hewn. And that, of course, makes the church look so lovely. But the "Husborne Crawley layer" - small stones, with an intermixed organic matter showing signs of burning - they assumed at first that it was proof that the Late Stone Age Husborne Crawley (populated by the original Beaker People) had suffered a shocking invasion, and was burnt to the ground.

Sadly not. Further investigation revealed that the small stones were from our "Encountering the Spirit of the Pebble" service a couple of years ago, while the burnt organic matter was deposited by the "Night of a Thousand Tea Lights" explosion. There's some very grumpy archaeologists headed back off down the A421 towards the Rollright Stones, and we're not gonna be on telly after all.

The Hoopoe / Lapwing Debate

I have been having a debate with Young Keith ever since his experiments with hoopoe cookery. On the strength of the King James Version of the Bible,  I made it quite clear to Young Keith that the bird described as not to be eaten in the Good Book is the lapwing, not the hoopoe.

Indeed, we have a lapwing in the grounds of our cottage. (I should tell you that I have had to take down the sign saying "Manse". Eileen, in that "amusing" way of hers, kept telling me it was sexist and writing the letters "Wo-" in front).  Living as we do on the edge of arable land, it is quite quite popular with lapwings. And this particular one seems to have found a particular niche where it can find a rich source of insects. I've become quite fond of it, indeed. 

But after that discussion about cookery, I've become a little worried. Not a lot worried - for that would be a sin - but  a little. I just came home from chapel, to find Young Keith leaning over the fence with a hungry and thoughtful look on his face. And I reckon he's looking at my bird.

Young Keith Cooks... the Hoopoe

... an occasional series in which Young Keith cooks.
The Hoopoe - barmy yet protected
There's been much debate on Twitter about the hoopoe. A bird that is described as "unclean" in the New International Version of the Bible. But not in the King James, which instead refers to the "lapwing".

I've done a bit of research into why the hoopoe might have been regarded as unclean. One possibility is that they are great eaters of insects and pests. Which might make them either slightly poisonous or protected by the Bible because they protect crops. Or maybe God just liked the crest on their heads and their slightly barmy look?
But after some serious study I can tell you, the reason why the hoopoe is not a bird you want to eat. They're rubbish. Too small to roast, too fiddly to fillet and if you deep-fry them like whitebait the bones are all crunchy.


*Archdruid's note. The Hoopoe is a protected species in some countries, and an unclean animal according to the Bible (except the KJV). Probably best if you don't eat it. Young Keith does these experiments because he is an idiot. So you don't have to.

*image by Luc Viator, from wikipedia commons

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Rainy day Ritual

Our "full of the joys of spring" ritual was, in all senses of the world, a washout.

I blame myself. Once again I applied the Met Office's "global warming determinator" to the weather forecast. Based on which, given that we have seen a warming trend since mid-December, I assessed that it was never going to rain again. How wrong I was.

Turned out the only spring flowers to be seen were the ultra-early daffs, the snowdrops and crocuses.
The liturgical singing of "I'm walking on sunshine" in procession transpired to be one of the wettest experiences we've known since the Moot House flooded.

Gathering Rosebuds has been put off to when we may. It's officially still winter.

BBC, Belgium and Imperialism

I have been alerted to the double-standards that the BBC apply in their way of referring to foreign place names. Since I have included the word "BBC" in the title of this posting, I had better swiftly explain that "foreign" is not in any sense meant to be pejorative. Although the Asturias principality of northern Spain, for example, is "foreign" to me - it is not "foreign" to the Asturians, who no doubt think of their fine region as "home" and are rightfully proud of its long and interesting history, its sidra production and diet rich in sea-food.

But I digress. The Asturians, noble as they are, are not the subject of this morning's comments. No, it is rather  the BBC's odd way of referring to places that are abroad. In these enlightened post-imperial times, they call Bombay "Mumbai", Madras "Chennai" and Peking "Beijing". The first two of these being interesting judgement calls themselves - as "Mumbai" is so-called in Maharathi and Gujarati, yet "Bombay" in Hindi and Urdu - while Chennai and Madras are the shortened names of two locations in the modern conurbation, one of which has been favoured over the other.

And yet - the noble and brave people of Poland are quite clear that their capital city is called Warszawa - with the pronunciation of the "w"s as "v" in that fine Polish way, no doubt. To the people of Greece's capital city, their town is spelt Αθήνα - yet not a sign of that from the BBC, either written or spoken. And the capital of France, while spelt the same, is pronounced "Parree". Yet no recognition from the BBC - when for genuine authenticity and respect of the French,  newsreaders should pronounce it correctly while shrugging their shoulders, and perhaps sneer a little in that Gallic way. Oddest of all is the German football team, normally referred to as "Bayern Munich". When for the sake of consistency they should either be "Bavarian Munich" or "Bayern München" - the latter, of course, being the way they call themselves.

But today I am more concerned with the BBC's naming of towns in northern Belgium. Flanders, as the BBC call it, although Vlaanderen would fit better with their policy with regard to Asian or African areas. But then, the Flemish (or Vlaams?) are better off with a vaguely anglicized name of their region than what the BBC does to their place names.

For consider - the town of Brugge.   Even a Google search sends you to the Wikipedia entry for "Bruges" - so why would the BBC get it right? Or Antwerpen - referred to by the BBC as "Antwerp". Or Gent. Which the BBC insist on calling "Ghent".

There are 6.2 million Flemish-speakers in Belgium and 3.3 million French-speakers. I ignore the allegedly bilingual Brussels/Bruxelles (or, for the Flemish, Bruxelles/Brussels). So why does the BBC insist on giving the whole country French names? They don't call Liège "Luik" and pronounce it "lœyk".

I would argue that the BBC are engaging in a deliberate policy of belittling the Flemish. Knowing that the French-speakers traditionally held the political supremacy in Belgium, and fearful of encouraging the conservative North, who speak an arcane Germanic tongue rather than the flowing French that resembles the beautiful Latin that BBC executives learnt at their schools. The BBC are clearly engaged in propping up an ancien régime (or oude regime, as the Flemish would properly call it).

It is time to say it loud and clear - BBC, keep your nose out of Belgium. Your unwarranted involvement in the politic-linguistics of that country have been found out. And if you want to be consistent in your naming of places, just refer to everywhere that's not in the UK as "abroad". It would be in keeping with our proud island traditions, and treat everyone "abroad" equally.

Good works

Whatever your views on the Epistle of St James on whether Good Works help you in the Hereafter (and, believe me, you don't want to get Drayton started on this subject - or any other, come to that), I've found that performing highly conspicuous good works in particular people's directions can bring Peace In Our Time [tm], though it's sometimes somewhat short-lived.

To this end, given the Archdruid's recent pogrom against lycra, I have introduced her to Bobbin Bicycles (http://www.bobbinbicycles.co.uk/ - I rather fancy the bowler).

I also made Mrs Hnaef a (rather strong) Irish coffee this morning, and am taking her out to the Pictures this afternoon. I thought that a nice quiet film would be a calming and romantic occasion, and have chosen what sounds like a gentle, slow-moving romantic comedy (Mrs Hnaef does like her RomComs) for some special time together: just us, a box of maltesers (I'll bring some cotton wool along to stop them rolling around too loudly), and a few like-minded couples (one half of whom also neglected to be home for Valentine's Day). Bliss.

I'll try to remember to provide my review of the 2pm showing of "Tangled - 3D" at a later juncture.
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Friday, 18 February 2011

With great big strings attached

Poor Drayton's hopping around with painful shins tonight.

He went down to London and saw someone asking for money. Told him silver and gold had he none, but he'd let him have a fiver's worth of sandwiches. Wasn't going to give him the money as he'd only have wasted it on drink or cigarettes.
So the bloke let him buy him the sandwiches, then kicked him in the shins. He said Drayton wasn't going to play power games with him, and who did he think he was?

Drayton's back in his cottage now, pulling bits of lettuce out of his cardigan, where the guy stuffed the sandwiches down his neck. Drayton says he doesn't understand it. He thought that the giver had the right to decide the gift.

He's obviously never read Proverbs 31. And I don't like to tell him he's been acting against God's word all this time.


With thanks to Gurdur for the reminder.

Informal Warship

When Young Keith put up today's programme, I assumed it was just a typo. Turns out not, he's just capitalised on some Big Society decommissioning.
The duck pond's never gonna be the same again.

Up Pericope

I have been reading with interest (after Eileen pointed it out to me) the article by "Clayboy" on the Woman Caught in Adultery. Of the story itself, of course, I find little interest in one way. Effectively those around Jesus are living out David's lament that "there is none that doeth good, no, not one." And do we not see this every day? People blundering into perdition, turning from the right path, narrow as it is - onto the superhighway that leads unto destruction. People having tattoos, against the strict Word of God. "Sugababes" - whatever they are. All I know is, judging by the name, they're not something I would include in a godly diet.
But no - what interests me about Clayboy's posting is when he says the "story is a free floating piece of Jesus tradition which is canonised as much by lectionary as a later manuscript editor". Free floating? Maybe in my special waterproof rubberized version of the Good Book, which I use for reading in the bath. But I thought that Clayboy was trying to suggest that the passage itself was of indeterminate location.
I rushed straight to my King James version of the Bible. There the story is, in John 8 - just where I expected it. But maybe, I thought, Clayboy - if that is his real name, which I doubt - means that the passage has wandered about over time? Maybe in earlier versions of the Bible it was somewhere else? So, with great fear and trepidation, I dusted off my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Obadiah Parslow's old King James Bible - opened only for the recording of Parslow family births and deaths.  And then only gently and wearing special gloves. At John 8 - I found the story of the woman caught in adultery. With, written in the margin, the comment from Obadiah himself that I remember so well from my childhood and which has guided me in my life - "she still deserved a good stoning, though". Definitely, definitely in John 8.

So what could Clayboy mean? In a fit of modernist liberalism, I turned to the passage in the New International. Which told me that the earliest manuscripts and many other witnesses do not have this passage here in John. I should point out that I was actually looking - may my soul be preserved from danger - in "Today's New International Version", which I am surveying for my forthcoming pamphlet on Gender Confusion. I can only note my surprise that it was still a woman who was being threatened with a stoning, rather than a person of indeterminate gender and sexuality. Indeed, I was half-expecting that the men might be referred to as "those sexist beasts". But the key point here is that - in its attempt to sow doubt in the hearts of the faithful - the TNIV has referred to manuscripts earlier than the King James. And therefore this has no impact on its status as Scripture or indeed in its rightful place in the Bible, in John 8. Because it is right where God (and His Brittanic Majesty, King James, acting on His behalf) put it.

I feel that it is settled. And now if you must excuse me. I am still on the What Would Jesus Eat diet. This morning I have eaten sour grapes and they have put my own teeth on edge. And would that it were just my teeth.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

What would Jesus Eat?

Sometimes there is something so obvious that you miss it. It is like an ink-smudge on a piece of paper, which - when you focus in the right way - turns out to be a perfect profile likeness of Charles Spurgeon. A miracle, and one that does not involve the Virgin Mary.
But this was like a bolt from the blue. A sudden grasping of the facts, as when you realise that the history and science of the world really are determined by the book of Genesis.
Marjorie and I have been discussing the best way we could lose a few pounds. Not that I would accuse Marjorie of needing to lose a few pounds - that would be tantamount to a suicide. Which I believe, in what I call my state of assurance (although Eileen calls it "a total lack of empathy") to be a sin.
But I have realised that if one is to reach a truly godly shape, one should eat a truly godly diet. And therefore Marjorie and I are adopting the following rules. Essentially, if it is mentioned in the New Testament (under Grace) it is permitted. Otherwise it is an abomination. I am sure we will soon be healthier and holier.

Permitted Forbidden
Wheat Tares
Grape Juice (or "wine" in the NT Greek) Real wine
Lamb Black Pudding
Bread Pizza
Grapes Figs (cursed by The Lord)
Loaves and Fishes Bread made from stones.
As mentioned in the past, pomegranates are out of the question. They are referred to in the Old but not the New Testament, and are far too exciting when referred to in the Song of Solomon. I'm not sure Marjorie would trust me with a pomegranate.

Targeted Prayer

There's a rumour been spreading among the Beaker People that "Targeted Prayer" is a good idea. By this they mean that general, non-specific intercession isn't much use. Because how would you know if it was answered? Or, at least, without careful gathering of data and double-blind analysis. So they would want, for example, to pray that Rumwald's knee be healed - but at 3.20 on Saturday. Or that the people down a particular road have a good day - on March 2nd - and that they have 6.5 hours of sunshine.

But Gilburt took it to extremes today. Praying for all the inhabitants of a road in Bletchley was fairly detailed, albeit took quite a long time as he named them individually. But the detail he went into on their medical conditions was very worrying. Borderline obsessive, clearly. But also revealing a serious breach of the Data Protection act.

So please can we keep it nice and general in future? Something along the lines of "let people in general just kind of feel a real sense of warmth and peace". Unmeasurable, insusceptible to statistical analysis, and not so easy to confuse with stalking.

Patriarchy and Sacred Texts

I have read with interest Revd Lesley's discovery that a sacred text written in a patriarchal period has implicitly assumed that men are the active ones who are in charge, and the women are the objects, rather than subjects, of the commandments. And Lesley asks who we identify with in the story of the woman caught in adultery. Well, personally I've always identified with the bloke with the stone who still insists that, just because he's not without sin, doesn't mean he can't chuck a rock. And who is then dragged off by his embarrassed mates with "leave it, she's not worth it".
But I feel I have revealed more of my inner thoughts there than I should have. So I will return to what should have been my theme - the role of men and women in sacred texts. And I have examined my own sacred texts.

It is notable that in the works of Thomas Hardy, about the only strong, good characters - I have the possible exception of Gabriel Oak here - are the women. Elfride Swancourt, Thomasin Yeobright, Marty in the Woodlanders - and of course particularly Tess are all notable for being women. The bad men are largely dashing bounders - Alex D'Urberville, or Sergeant Troy spring to mind. While the "good" men are the boring, useless ones - Clym Yeobright and Angel Clare being the obvious ones. Clare, while supposedly embodying the modern virtues, is a useless beggar who causes the death of the women he claims to love through his own Victorian censoriousness and uselessness.

Likewise, in Last of the Summer Wine - the women and strong and a bit scary, while the men are mostly a bit useless. Which, come to think of it, seems to be the case round here as well. So, on the whole, I approve.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Rules for Cyclists

It's not often these days a Methodist minister causes a national storm. After all, they've adopted to a world of female ministers without the formation of any new groups or parallel jurisdictions. They're generally quiet and ill-inclined to anathemas. But Dave Warnock has caused a major upset with his views on cycling in dorky trousers or Lycra.

It strikes me that Beaker people have much in common with cyclists. Not least because of our common use of hi-vis. And so it was a joy today to declare an official Ceremony of Disparagement of the following:
  • Lycra
  • People who park across bike lanes
  • People who drive in bus lanes
  • Dorky padded trousers
  • Drivers who overtake when there are Keep Left signs
  • Drivers who overtake and then turn sharp left in front of you
  • The inventor of the road sign "Cyclists dismount"
  • Drivers who "squeeze up" when another car is coming the other way - getting closer to the cyclists because they're less likely to dent the bodywork when there's a collision
  • Cyclists who jump red lights - even if they think "it's OK when you're turning left"
  • People who put in 10 yard long cycle paths
  • Town planners who put in "traffic calming" solutions that use cyclists as the hapless "calmees" when the roads are abruptly narrowed
Our Bonfire of Lycra was a marvellous sight. Although I have to apologise to the neighbouring three counties for the toxic fumes we billowed across the countryside. We really have to get rid of Lycra. Or at least find some way of banning it on "serious" cyclists over 11 stone in weight.

Personally I look forward to the day when, through appropriate speed limits and traffic calming solutions, heavy taxation and an integrated and well-planned cycling policy on the railways, we have driven all the Pandas, Focuses (or is it Foci? I always wonder), Seats and Suzukis into redundancy. When happy, smiling children can cycle to school, and scruffy balding middle-managers ride to work, happy in the knowledge that they will get there in one place, without seeing some wally in a beaten-up Alfa Sud coming towards them down the middle of the road.

Then the streets will be clear of unnecessary cars. They will be wide, clear and uninterrupted. 

And, finally, I might be able to get my Beamer X3 round the streets of Woburn Sands and Bletchley without a load of peasants in their cheap cars getting in the way.

Well, I can dream.

Theatre

I went to watch a play yesterday. At least, I think it was a play. There were 2 people who were being different people at different times. These "actors" pretended to each other that they were people other than who they were. Or other than the people they were pretending to each other they were pretending to be. Or were they just pretending to us? I was never quite sure. And there might have been 2 people who they were pretending they actually _weren't_ pretending to be. There was a whole play within a play thing going on, as far as I could tell, which was also very confusing. In the end, one of them turned put to be Mrs Hnaef's sister! Imagine my surprise!

We should do plays in Husborne Crawley: imagine the excitement!
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Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Dangers of Social Networking

I've just got back from a long day away, but even in the sodden air of Husborne Crawley this soaking evening I can feel the frost over the Hnaef household.

I blame Hnaef's obsession with Social Networking. I mean, he goes off finding these "friends" on Facebook even though he doesn't actually know them. Then he has a "tweet up" with them (or whatever the Facebook equivalent is - a "face off" or something, I dare say). Then he discovers they're a different gender, or a 6'3" sheet welder called Dorothy or something.

You know what the trouble is when you start getting increasingly into this virtual, social networking world?  You get deeper into it. You find all your friends on it. You life revolves around it. You can't drag yourself away from it.  Eventually you find out that you don't have any existence in real life at all. But will Hnaef listen? No. He's too busy talking to Ann Boleyn on Twitter. I ask you. I might as well be imaginary, for all the notice he takes of me these days.

Friend of Dorothy

Mr Hnaef was in London last night and told me was going to an 'archaeology meet up.' I had a very pleasant evening rearranging the votive candle cupboard. I was very confused to pick up a rambling voice mail on my mobile phone this morning from Mr Hnaef. He sounded very emotional and was muttering about cocktails and his sadness at not having worn his favourite red pants. He then went on to say that I was not to worry, that he loved me very much and that he was just a friend of dorothy. Whatever could he mean?
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St Becher - Patron Saint of Mild Fondness

Today we celebrate St Valentine’s younger and less dramatic brother, St Becher- the patron saint of slight fondness.
Eschewing the urgent and pressing passion of his elder brother, St Becher would dedicate his time to bestowing a mild regard upon people.  Happy with the lot of somebody who would never suffer from overwhelming passion, Becher escaped martyrdom because the Romans regarded him as “quite a nice bloke for a Christian. Doesn’t get all shouty”. He whiled away his days in a prison under the Coliseum.  Here the Roman guards would provide him with comfy cushions and nice cups of tea, while the Christians would go to their rewards wondering who the nice bloke was in the cosy cell.
When Becher died the Roman Empire declared an official day of mild interest. Nobody went to Becher’s funeral, but a few remarked that it was a shame, as he seemed a decent guy. Nobody bothered to mark his grave, but a few of prison guards wondered from time to time where he had got to.
Today, Becher has also been adopted as the patron saint of unmarried aunties, female church ministers and other people’s poodles.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Archaeology

Having to spend some time in London, I decided to catch up with a friend on the "Facebook" some. Like me, he enjoys archaeology and numismatics, and meeting up for a quick half in South Kensington seemed like a harmless way to pas an evening.

It turned out that:
a) people wearing red (I wasn't) were entitled to a free shot at Janet's bar this weekend.
b) other cocktails are £9.50 _each_ in this part of London
c) it's Valentine's Day today
d) the archaeologist is blonde and fairly leggy
e) his name is Dorothy
f) she's not a he
g) I'm in all sorts if trouble if Mrs Hnaef finds out
h) we both agree that the amphitheatre at Termessos is one of the finest surviving examples in Asia Minor.
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Liturgical Fashion

This morning while sulking in the Library and listening to my collection of “Smiths” music, I was pondering again Canon Phil Ritchie’s comments on the fashionable ways of wearing dog collars. And reflecting that, in the Beaker Folk, these issues tend not to apply.
I am very fond of donning my Archdruid’s pointy hat, but this is strictly for important ceremonial occasions. I would never dream of wearing it in public – not because I want to be some kind of “stealth” Archdruid, but because small boys have a habit of pelting it with stones or, according to the weather conditions, snowballs.
Likewise, being the traditionalist that I am, I would prefer to restrict the wearing of the Beaker hi-viz to liturgical purposes only. I note from the Bad Vestments site that some Anglican and Catholic priests and bishops are just a short step from wearing hi-viz themselves at some services, which is why I emphasise the distinctiveness of Beaker liturgical wear. In particular, I’ve had many heated discussions with Burton, as I’ve tried to persuade him not to wear his reflective waistcoat for cycling.  I just feel it is debasing the specialness of the liturgy. Honest.
Steel toe-capped safety shoes are our traditional footwear, but I see no reason why we should always reject the fruits of progress. Kevlar toe-capped shoes are lighter weight and actually stronger. While they are considerably safer and less encumbering to liturgical dance during our annual “Celebration of Strong Electromagnets” festival.
So overall I see no place in Beaker liturgical clothing for fashion or embellishment.  It’s hardworking, reliable and reverent. There are those who say I should declare the specialness of my Archdruidical status – for those I may meet in the street, or wherever, for whom a glimpse of an Archdruid may call them to confession of some covert sin or for spiritual advice and wisdom.  And to those I will point out the motif on my special Archdruid’s Sweatshirt, with its simple and yet discreet identification of my status  - “I’m the Archdruid – don’t mess”.

Valentine's Day

This morning the Arrival of the Bouquets, part of our annual Valentine's celebration, will take place at 9am. This will be followed by the Procession of Fluffy Bunnies. The Celebration of Undying Love will be at 11 in the Ballroom, followed by Love-hearts at 12 prior to the  Romantic Lunch.

Personally I'll be celebrating the Feast of SS Cyril and Methodius in the Library with a single malt. And I'm not even going to be celebrating that very much, as Cyril and Methodius were notoriously men as well. Still, at least they weren't some swine who led a girl's heart astray on a Greek island in 1987 and then cleared off leaving a false address, and who later, thanks to the work of a private detective, turned out to be a dentist from Solihull who was married and had four children.

Valentine's Day? You can keep it.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Over the Mountains but under the Sea

An unfortunate example this afternoon of people attempting to pour in some additional spirituality, but causing  inconvenience and anger in the process.

Marston's idea was lovely. He recognised the power of the chorus "Over the mountains and the sea". The great thing being that it combines maximum gooey feeling with minimum theology. But he thought it would be nice to emphasise the sense of "your river runs with love for me". Now you may remember that the brook is channelled through the Moot House under a lovely glass path - symbolising something or another that seemed important six months ago. So seeing the potential of this for his own spiritual purposes, Marston blocked up the outlet through which the brook exits the Moot House.

At first it was rather nice, as the River of Life rose above its normal route and meandered across the floor. But as the Moot House started to fill up, and we learnt that Marston had over-ridden the electronic door controls to ensure the water couldn't escape, people started to panic.

The Beaker People discovered that if you have the need to stay above water, forming a pyramid isn't the greatest idea. Or, at least, only for the people at the top. So any kind of organisation was abandoned as we all thrashed around in a panic to keep our heads above water. Anyone trying to sing of God's love forever got a serious mouthful of water.

Thankfully, there are windows in the roof of the Moot House, so we can see the phases of the moon. So we made our escape by treading water until we could get out through the roof - falling to the ground as we dragged ourselves out through the Lunar Portals. But a little bruising, compared to a mass charismatic drowning event - we reckon it could be worse.

But in  the meantime all the tea lights won't light, the walls of the Moot House are covered in mud and all the lovely bean bags are ruined. Worship will be moved to the Dining Hall once again, until we manage to clean the place down.

Hate and Lust and Rock & Roll

I really wish Hnaef would stop bringing to me little gobbets of the Bible from the Anglican lectionary. Especially this morning. He's sat there over breakfast reading Matthew 5. Apparently if you even look in a lustful kind of way at someone you're not married to you are guilty of adultery. The Beaker Fertility Person we sat next to was full of it, of course. He said we may accuse them of lecherous and loose behaviour - especially of a full moon -  but turns out they're no worse than the rest of us.
Personally, given the numpties I'm surrounded with round here there's no danger of any lustful thoughts. Which brings me on to the other part of Hnaef's reading-matter. Apparently, if I regard the gullible wallies around me as fools, or insult them in any way, I'm in danger of Hell Fire. Which, to be fair, has given me a new determination. A new determination to keep on not believing in Hell.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

The Giant Tortoise Pie and the Grumpy Archdruid

Eileen's livid. She says if Hnaef wants to serve up deceased Community pets for dinner on Saturday, the least he can do is take the shell off. Although she's very impressed he managed to defrost it that quickly. She reckons the Hnaefs must have one heck of a microwave down there in the Dower House.

Rats

Heard that the Archdruid wants some rats for supper. Not quite sure why. Seems unlikely.

And unhygienic. However, as she clearly wants something different, I've decided to defrost Linford. He (well, she, we discovered after the egg-laying incident) died a few months ago, and we froze him in case, well, I'm not sure why, but he was at least 150 years old, and it seemed a shame just to bury him.

So, I've defrosted him and made him into a pie. Don't think he'll taste of rat, but small, short-lived mammal vs ancient, enormous reptile: who's going to know the difference? Surely not the Archdruid.
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Darwin's Birthday

I've just been reminded by Gurdur's blog that today is Charles Darwin's birthday.

Rats. I'd been planning something special for dinner for the occasion. And it's too late now. Where am I going to get Giant Tortoise at this time of night? Tesco's may be open till 10, but they're not Waitrose.

The Melton Road Run

Dear Readers, it was the esteemed Mr Warnock of Syston in the county of Leicester that alerted me to the possibility of writing a blog post about cycling. He posts on little else, I should alert my readers, and there is precious little on other exciting and manly subjects such as barcodes or amortisation. Still, you can't have everything.

It is a little-known fact, except possibly in the town itself, that Syston is the home of the Pukka Pie. And it was my great delight this week to undertake the journey from Husborne Crawley to Syston, to visit the factory. Now I know some people who think, "that Burton Dasset – typical accountant. No imagination, no interests beyond counting beans and writing down train numbers". Well, I can tell you this is sadly to underestimate me. Yes, I do like counting things. And I have a fine collection of train numbers. But beyond that, I have a passionate interest in the visiting of Pie factories. Well I remember that day when I stood sadly outside the Saxby’s factory in Wellingborough, on the day before they started pulling it down to build a housing estate.

But this week was a time of happiness. I was planning to drive up to Syston, take a few snaps of the Pukka Pies factory, and then come home. When Eileen suggested to me that I might want to go on the train, and check out the cycling conditions in Leicester.

So what more encouragement could I need? I put on my trendy cycling Plus 4s and hi-viz Pac-a-mac, mounted my 15 year old Giant hybrid (steel construction – I find it so much more sturdy) and headed for Ridgmont station, thence to Bedford for the mainline.

I had a few issues with the journey to Syston. I had placed my cycle in the area at the back of the train – what fun I had, trying to guess which end of the train the cycling carriage was. It transpires that it is at the opposite end to First Class, presumably on the grounds that if you can afford First Class you can afford a taxi to the station. The train (a 222 Meridian in 5-car configuration, as you will be enthralled to hear), seating at a rough guess 250 or so people, was adequately equipped with space for four cycles. There were eight cyclists on the train – so what laughs we had as we all tried to remove them at Leicester!

Syston has its own station, on the "Ivanhoe Line". And I won't pretend that I wasn't tempted to add to my collection of branch lines visited straight away. However I knew I could delay that delight until the journey back, and it was my dearest ambition, Dear Readers, to essay the famous Melton Road. And so, in a fit of optimism and a light drizzle, I set off.

It would be too easy for me to detail every inch of the path, dear readers. From Charles St through Belgrave Road and thus onto the main Melton Road. Too easy, but the joy of the 300 photos I took en route might over-gladden your hearts. So let me restrict myself to a few passing comments.

The first is that Leicester is beyond doubt, as it claims, a Cycle City. Indeed, so keen are they on cycle paths that the Melton Road has no less than six or seven. And, wonder of wonders, some are on the road, some on shared parts of pavement, some in their own separate areas! Some just stop dead when you least expect it, and some (such as the bridge over the Newark Road into Syston itself) drop you straight into the road. What variety and excitement they have planned for the Leicester cyclists!

So much do they love cycle paths that some are only ten yards long - how keen they must be! What sorrow they must feel for the miles in between, when there is a stretch of road with no cycle paths - and "keep left" signs down the middle of the road that make it difficult for lorries to overtake cycles. Although, to give the lorry (and bus) drivers their due, they overtake anyway.

And then there is the physical and spiritual stimulation that they provide to cyclists towards Thurmaston! Not for cyclists the smooth, even-rolling road that the cars have to struggle with. Oh no. Our cycle path is made up of concrete slabs - lifted up by the roots of the shadowing trees. Indeeed, so uplifted is one of the slabs of concrete that from the top you can see 4 counties. It is rumoured to be the highest point in the City of Leicester. But the great advantage of this uncertain surface is that one is kept constantly alert, while the regular shaking enables cyclists to build up their upper-body strength. And should you catch an uplifted slab at the wrong angle, then the Feast of India  buffet restaurant is beautifully placed for you to eat a snack while you await the ambulance - should your injuries be such that you are still able to drag yourself across four lanes of traffic .
And then on the Troon Way junction, the traffic comes from so many different directions that, without the provision of pedestrian or cycle crossing lights, one finds oneself much deeper in prayer than is normal on a cycle ride. Indeed, one moment of inattention and one might find oneself much closer to one's Creator than was planned.

And so I found my way to Syston. Of Pukka Pies itself I need say little. For what more enjoyment is there in life, Dear Readers, than to see a pie factory gently steaming in the late-winter sunlight? And of my journey home, I believe the Archdruid has already written. Locked accidentally in the cycle storage section of the train, I eventually escaped at St Pancras. And while the journey home was arduous - especially given my accidental orbit of the M25 - Eileen was so kind, and allowed me to go to bed just as soon as I had finished the month-end calculations for January.

Woodland Morning Liturgy

A wonderful start to the day. Rushing outside to the Orchard, we washed our faces in the newly-fallen rain, scooping it from the grass. We lit a fire from fallen branches to celebrate the rising of the sun on this newly-given day, and danced round its strengthening flames.

We wove our coloured ribbons through the trees to symbolise the human passage through life - multi-coloured and yet so delicate, fluttering in the wind to show that we are so fragile.

Then we gathered stones from the field, and built them into a cairn to celebrate the permanence of our relationships - as solid as stones and and as permanent as the hills, and yet each as individual as the stones themselves.*

Taking pebbles from the side of the brook, we each cast our own into the water - and reflected on the ripples that tell of the passing of time, sailing away and never coming back.

Then we closed by wending our way through the stony Labyrinth in the Woods, to the point where we reached today's Worship Focus - a beautiful snail, hand-carved in the 70s from the wood of a dying elm. A thing of wonder and beauty and life, rescued from the disaster of Dutch Elm disease.

And so we wandered back, refreshed and yet moved and slightly saddened.

But I have to reflect. We do seem to be veering dangerously close to common modern practice in the Church of England.

* for health and safety reasons we've taken it down now, of course. We don't want anyone tripping over it.

Friday, 11 February 2011

The Never-ending Synod

Sometimes these Druidic Synods do my head.

The Press just latch onto the interesting headlines - "Archdruid attacks the Gnu Atheists". Of course, the Press takes no notice of context. Indeed, most of the Press don't live anywhere near Woburn Safari Park. They don't understand gnus.  They don't talk to gnus. They don't realise the depression engendered by believing you're only there to be eaten by lions, with the entrails mopped up by jackals.  They don't realise just how many gnus are atheists. Which, of course, explains why you see so many gnus wearing anoraks and wondering why they're so lonely.

What the Press and the public don't realise is just how much of the time at Druidic Synods is spent in debating stupid amendments. And amendments to amendments. And amendments to those amendments. Endlessly voting on amended amendments to amendments.  To the point where you can't remember where you started or what the motion was, and you suddenly realise that you're voting in favour of human sacrifice, but only if there are scented tea lights and the Property Committee has a  two-thirds majority in favour.

But today took the biscuit.  Somebody introduced a recursive amendment - which is permitted in the Beaker language, although I believe COBOL struggles with it. The amendment was "that this amendment requires amendment". Which, if it is passed, requires another amendment. Whereas, if it is rejected, proves that it does indeed require amendment, and we have another amendment to it.

I realise that there is a logical way out of this. But I'm not philosopher enough to know what it is. So after three hours of futility, I introduced the Guillotine. And the Synod realised they'd better get out of the place, before I used it.

Service of Thanksgiving for the return of an accountant

We're going to skip the Pouring out of Beakers this morning, in exchange for our Service of Thanksgiving for Burton's safe return.

As forecast, he had managed to lock himself into the bike compartment on the train. Arriving in London, he panicked when he realised his ticket was only from Ridgmont to Leicester return, raced through the barriers pretending to be "an Accountant on Call", and then pedalled all the way home. Even then it should only have taken three or four hours, but he'd lost all rational sense of direction and went round the M25.

Still, it's nice to have some genuine emotion to celebrate. Saves all that generating spiritual feelings. And though he's been up all night cycling, he's still got all those invoices to lose before he gets off to bed.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Burton Missing

Thanks for all those asking. Yes, I am rather worried that Burton Dasset is missing.

He set off this morning with his bike saying he planned to go to visit the famous Pukka Pies factory. And he's not back yet. He's missed the last train on the Marston Vale line from Bedford, so either he's going to have to cycle back from Bedford, or he's got himself locked in the bike storage area on the train again.

A new approach to religious music

What with cleaning down all that meringue, Hnaef never had the chance to tell me about this yesterday. That and the frequent cold stares he received from Mrs Hnaef for what we now refer to around the Community as "That   Pavlova Pun".
But he's now alerted me to this verse from 1 Chronicles 15.

In the NIV it's "Kenaniah the head Levite was in charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because he was skillful at it."
While in the NRSV it's "Chenaniah, leader of the Levites in music, was to direct the music, for he understood it."

Either way, it's gonna be a real problem for the music group if we start applying criteria like that to the leadership of the music group. It seems that, on Biblical mandate, three chords is no longer enough.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Sleeping through Meetings

In many ways, the meeting is to modern life what the Ague was to 19th Century Fenland. Nobody likes it. It sucks the life out of you. Yet sometimes you can't avoid it.

A typical middle manager in business now spends more time in meetings than their nominal working hours. Through the power of Exchange scheduling, you end up with invitations to meetings squeezed into every spare minute of every spare day. You realise that the only time you can actually do any actual work, is out of work hours. But then people realise you're one of the keen ones that work late, and start inviting you to meetings at 5.30 in the evening or half past seven in the morning. So you work even later, to fit some real work around the meetings.

You may think that, tired of your workaday life of middle management or web content management, you can escape the wall-to-wall meetings of secular life by finding a call to the ministry. But even there you will find that between PCCs or their equivalents, Circuit Stewards' meetings, Elders' meetings, Sunday School planning meetings, Deanery Synod (which always sounds like a gathering of the fairy-folk in a woodland grove, but is actually rather grimmer), School Governors' meetings, supervising trainees/lay ministers/people with loneliness problems, you are actually still spending the best part of your life in rooms full of people who apparently have nothing better to do. But are all actually thinking the same thing about you.

There is a way to recognise those people who actually do go to meetings because it's their idea of a social life. They have volunteered for mid-level ecumenical meetings. Not the ones at ground level, where people from actual churches in the same town get together. Nor the ones at high-up level, where bishops and superintendent ministers presumably try to discuss strategic stuff - or else moan at each other for sheep-stealing. No - the ones in the middle, where you're neither doing important stuff nor real stuff. If you're on a county-level ecumenical meeting, the chances are that, if you ever had the time to have kids, they've left home.

But I digress. My real agenda (hem hem) today is to share with you tactics for getting through meetings. I will take it for granted that if you are not the chair/chairman/chairperson/chairwoman (for we welcome meeting facilitators of all genders and some) then you will adopt the simple tactic of just going to sleep. Unless you are meant to be taking the minutes. In which you should go to sleep, then afterwards get a vague impression from the chair about what happened, then make the minutes up - giving important actions to yourself and dull, unimportant ones to people you don't like.

So these are really tips for the chairperson, on days when you'd rather be asleep than be at the meeting. If you feel offended by my hierarchical assumption here, then don't be. I suggest you have a kip and forget about it.

Very long prayers: This doesn't actually shorten the meeting, but at least gives you the chance for a power nap. Pick the most verbose wannabe-preacher, and explain to them that it's very important that the whole agenda - including Any Other Business - is "covered in prayer". You should be able to get a good half-hour of sleep in.

The pain principle: Get the person sitting next to you to stab you in the thigh with a knitting needle at regular intervals. Given that's probably going to be a churchwarden, chief steward, Assistant Archdruid or similar, they'll normally be only too pleased to help.

Fake eyeballs: This technique, as long as you are blessed with people who ramble on, can enable you to sleep right through. Paint fake eyeballs on your eyelids - then when you close your eyes, you still look as though you're awake. And in certain more fundamental circles, the unwavering, unblinking stare can easily be taken for honest, God-fearing fanaticism. Drayton could adopt this trick no questions asked, if he wasn't so full of zeal that he doesn't need it. In some circles that pride themselves on having "dudes" for clergy you may get away with dark glasses on the same principle - and with the added advantage that you won't terrify your partner when you get home.

Chin Rest: If you're the sort of person whose head sways around when you're dozing off, you need a little stand (available in the Beaker Bazaar, World of Woad at Woburn and Euro-Beaker-World in Paris) that clamps to the desk, with the other end finishing in a gentle, padded cup that your chin can rest in. Keeps you steady as a rock.

Pre-emptive Grace: Turn the thermostats up high. Given the temperature in the average church hall, about 15C (60F) should feel like the balmy outskirts of the Thai forests. Put a few lavender oil burners on, and stick Enya or the collected speeches of John Major on in the background. Everybody else should be asleep in fairly short order. Then put the clock forward a couple of hours, and very loudly declare the Grace or appropriate closing blessing. In their sleep-befuddled state, everyone will blunder off outside and be half way home before realising they've been had. The chances are they'll be sufficiently grateful that they won't come back - and even if they do, you'll have made sure that you've locked up, got home, drawn the blackout curtains and are watching the telly with headphones on before anyone gets back to tell you your "mistake".

Wear a balaclava:  That way if you're the sort of person who dribbles when you fall asleep, nobody's going to notice.

Caffeine drinks: You probably don't want to drink too many at the sort of time most church meetings occur, as you're not going to be wanting the "buzz" in an hour's time when, soothed by your camomile tea, you're trying to get to sleep. But I recommend taking a case of caffeine drinks with you anyway. Then if anyone bangs on too long, you can throw the cans at them.

Controlling the minutes: Above all, as noted above, control of the minutes is the most important thing - even in meetings where you actually manage to stay awake. Ensure that the secretary emails the "draft" minutes to you - it'll give you an idea what you missed, and you'll be able to decide what really happened.

Sleep talking: This requires planning and dedication. Every night when you go to bed, play yourself a loop containing the words "That's one for the archdeacon", "It didn't happen like that in Archdruid Ernest's/Fr Patrick's/Revd Lucy's Day","We'll have to refer that to the Property Committee" and "That would be an ecumenical matter" ( ©  Father Ted). Then when you doze off you can be quietly assured that you will have a word of wisdom for any eventuality. If, on the other hand, you have a habit when asleep of screaming that you are being chased by Andy Gray armed with a  haddock, you're probably better off staying awake.

Any other Business: Finally, this can cause despair in the heart of the most doughty meeting-goers. You've got through an hour and a half of tedium, and you can see the light of the closing prayers and a cup of something that resembles coffee. When AOB comes up, and twelve people bring their personal hobby-horses out of the cupboard.
I deal with AOB in a simple way. I insist that all AOB be notified to me in person by 5pm on the previous day - and then I take the day off and go to London.

Seeing an old friend

Not everybody may be aware that I am friends with a famous actor! Being a fan of the television series Star Trek (particularly the first incarnation), despite the egregious split infinite at the beginning, I was very excited to make the acquaintance of Walter Koenig in a corridor at a specialist Convention a few years ago.

I've been in contact with him with increasing frequency over the past several years, and have received a growing number of communications from him. So I sent him a special invitation to join us last night. I decided that as Walter (or "Walt", as I know him!) used to play the character of Chekhov, and despite the restraining order, the occasion of the Meringue Service would be a good opportunity to have Pavel over.
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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Meringue Service

I'd like to thank Snorkwald for her brave attempt at a Meringue Service. It can be a struggle, planning creative worship when somebody's already pinched every other bright idea, and it's so easy to fall back on Pebbles 'n' Tealights. Or even Tealights 'n' Pebbles, for a change.

Obviously no creative worship has integrity without some attempt, however botched, to draw an analogy with whatever props are being used. Snorkwald's reasoning was sound. She explained that the egg-white mix represents  our earthly lives in their natural, godless state - messy, organic, unnaturally sweetened to try and make ourselves feel better. But when the meringue is exposed to a flame (as in a gas oven) it will rise to the occasion, being strengthened in the process.

I thought the combination of meringue and Godly Play (which she renamed "Yolkly Play") was quite nice. Although when she separated the whites from the yolks, saying "I wonder what Mr Egg thinks of that, children" in that soporific voice was a bit creepy. And her eggy recreation of the Battle of Armageddon was, to say the least, messy. Eight rows of Beaker People covered in yolk and bits of broken shell. And doing a Yolkly Play recreation of the Rapture by throwing a dozen free-range up in the air is just irresponsible.

Still, so far so good. She even picked appropriate songs - "Let God arise", of course. And "He is egg-salted". But the problem was "In Majesty he comes". As we reached the line "We shall rise - we shall meet him in the air", Snorkwald realised she had forgotten about the giant meringue she was cooking over the charcoal pit, which was - true to the song - rising fast. A look of panic ran across her face, but she reacted too slowly and ended up pressed against the Moot House wall. It was a nightmare, I can tell you, hacking with a wood-chopping maul through layers of meringue to free Snorkwald. We got halfway through to discover - horror of horrors - that she was actually making a giant Baked Alaska. We lost the use of three Beaker People at this point - one to frostbite and two because they wouldn't stop eating the ice cream.

Anyway, we got her detached from the wall in the end, and dusted off the bits of meringue. And she was still feeling well enough, surprisingly, to preach her Meringue Sermon. But sadly people weren't over-impressed with the sermon. They said it was a bit light on the yolks.

Period dress

Please note that the "What to do with a problem like Mary?" session will be in period dress. We are hoping that Lord Webber will appear as the Virgin Queen - no sniggering at the back - and there will be boot polish available at the door for teeth blackening.

Death of Mary, Queen of Scots (1587)

Today we remember the execution, not so very far away in quiet Fotheringhay, of Mary, Queen of Scots.

We recall that two cousins, who should have been tied by bonds of familial affection, were instead separated by religion, politics and ambition. And that religion, politics and ambition caused the death of Mary after, intentionally or not, she encouraged plots against her cousin.

And so we will spend today recalling all the times that religion, politics or ambition have broken the natural bonds of love between friends, within family (I hope you're reading, Mr Miliband), or between  colleagues and within societies and teams (likewise, Senor Torres).

This could take a while so we're doing it in shifts. We've got from now till 3pm lined up just for religion as the causes of division. And even then we've split the Moot House into 3 for "Personal Experiences" and "English" and "World" history.

This is a solemn day, and not one for levity. So we're holding the "Was Mary Really Guilty" vote in the TV room.    Where we'll also be re-screening Gazza's goal on a permanent loop.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Preaching by Numbers

Some kind of levity broke out yesterday mornin as I preached on the topic of Balaam and his talking ass. I realise that it is a tricky and unusual passage. But nevertheless, I expected rapt attention as I unfolded the important question of why God spoke through a donkey, and how even a magic-working unbeliever could be compelled to hear the word of the Lord. But I ended up preaching through a barrage of sniggers. I passed this information on to Eileen when I saw her later to discuss the rental for the use of the Shuttle, but she went off giggling.

I was more thin-skinned than normal yesterday, perhaps. Indeed, I felt as much use as a £50million Spaniard in West London. For I received a text from Marjorie while she was still somewhere in the borderlands between Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire, on her way towards Husborne Crawley with a Shuttle-load of converts. The text read "We've just found a Baptist church. We're going to check it out for heresy. We'll see you later."

Marjorie eventually arrived at 3pm, and I had to drive them all home again as Marjorie declared herself to be rather tired after a prolonged harangue at the preacher. The others declared that they had had a fantastic day, heard the Gospel preached superbly - by Marjorie, and wondered whether they could have a travelling service every week.

I did offer to run them home after the evening service - explaining that I was going to preach on "Some lesser-known aspects of household discipline during the Babylonian Exile". But they said if I wasn't going to do the joke about Balaam's ass again, they'd rather go back straight away.

Still, they have given me much to consider. I wonder where I could find a 40-seater coach with a fitted pulpit?

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Superbowl Sunday

Superbowl Sunday, Wimbledon Fortnight and the Boat Race. Three events that have in common that a number of people in the United Kingdom suddenly start watching a sport they've no interest in, for no obvious reason.

For those that have missed it in the past - well done. But if you're daft enough to want an explanation:
It's a little like the old Japanese game show Endurance. Before the game, and at half time, the competitors have to endure extreme psychological torture. This can involve the singing of somebody called Timberlake, or people from Glee, or the unexpected revealing of parts of the anatomy of the Jackson family that nobody really wanted to see. After this the "footballers" run out onto the pitch.

Their main job is to stand around while people throw "flags" (coloured hankies) onto the pitch. Every now and then they form two rows opposite each other, and then run into each other.  It's essential that everyone wear enormous amounts of body armour, as underneath it they're all about 4 foot 3 and weedy, and the cameras wouldn't be able to pick them up very well.

The game is non-stop. Or, at least, the television is. The game itself stops all the time while people look at all the flags that were thrown around last time, or somebody explains the rules, or there's an ad break, or Celine Dion makes yet another attempt to sing a song before being wrestled to the ground. If  Celine actually sings a song, this is called a "down" as that's how everybody feels.

Sometime after the Superbowl starts, it ends again. Someone will have won. Nobody will care, as they will have filled themselves with low-calorie, low-taste American beer that is comprised almost entirely of rice. And also as, while the fault-lines of tribal allegiance run deep in Britain over such matters as proper football, in America the teams are soul-less franchises like MK Dons.  The male of the household will go to bed and explain to his sleep-befuddled and indifferent partner the difference between a linebacker and a tight end, like it matters.

For a few days before and after the event, normally sane middle-aged men walk around talking about the Packers' "shotgun" and the Steelers' "Hail Mary" as if they know what they mean. Just ignore them. It will only be a few months before they start lambasting Andy Murray for "foot faults", or complaining about no-balls as if they understand the change from the back- to the front-foot law.

Still got the blues

It's been a bad year for rock heroes. I'd been clinging to the hope that this one was a Twitter rumour. Turns out that sadly it wasn't.

Cheers, Gary Moore. We've still got the blues.

The CCM Songs Meme

Now I've never been quiet on my views of Contemporary Christian music.

Sydney Carter is banned in this Community. His particular blend of syncretistic heresy and drivel is firmly of its time. Which I suspect may well be the Times of Tribulation for those who've been Left Behind. They really are gonna wish they'd all been ready.

Anything "Celtic" immediately gets my back up, of course.
And anything with so little theological content that, as with Gwilym in Dylan Thomas's "Peaches" you can change the subject of the song from God to a girl's (or boy's) name will always make me suspicious.

But all that said, context is everything. There is a place for most things.

But if  I'm going to pick the CCM song I really dislike I am going to choose "I want to be out of my depth in your love". It has a strong slice of "Jesus is my Boyfriend", I'll give it that. Or it would, if it mentioned the Godhead at any stage in any way.  It has no Biblical basis that I can notice. Indeed, being "out of my depth" in the Psalms is generally regarded as a bad thing rather than a good one. But given its depth of emotion and plinky tune, I can still see why some people might want to sing it. Not 20 stone hairy panel-beaters called Eric, on the whole, but some people. Some people who've already been through "I will dance(undignified)" and are wondering what is left.But no, I shall quote just the last verse.
Things I have held so tight,

Made my security;
Give me the strength I need
To simply let go.
Can you see it? There it is - see? Look! A totally unnecessary split infinitive. Surely between the collective brain cases of the imaginative and amusing Doug Horley and the slightly more sentimental but still creative Noel Richards - surely they could have come up with a closing line that didn't split an infinitive? Let's face it - it didn't even need to rhyme. In my view, this wins.

This from Banksy and so many others.