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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Visitation

A story as old as the ages. Two expectant mothers getting together - a chat, comparing symptoms - one telling the other what to expect.

They're cousins - one too old for all this, one probably too young. That ironic exclamation - "Blessed art thou among women".

Blessed in what way, Elizabeth? To carry the weight of the Universe? - the hopes and expectations of the nations - to know the pain of a Christmas night, the brightness of that Christmas morning - the loss (and finding) coming home from Jerusalem - or that deeper loss and discovery - on a dark Friday afternoon and a bright Sunday morning?

You never saw your own son's passion, Elizabeth - so maybe you were the blessed one. What a two-edged sword is a blessing. How bitter became the Baptist's joy. But how bright Mary's son made the darkness.

(Luke 1:39-56)

Flag and Maracas Service

There's a lot of excitement about this morning's Flag and Maracas Service. But we've never had two such dangerous worship aids in one service before - or, at least, not since Marston's "Gunpowder and Itching Powder" service, and in retrospect that was just plain stupid.  And if maracas aren't an abomination then I don't know what is. But we've had so many requests. And the thing that over-rides doctrinal objections is always a fear of offence. So we're going for it. But please can you all adhere to the ground rules:

We're using the flags as a means of making our worship attractive to younger Beaker Folk - especially boys. So please ensure that your children's flags have rubber stoppers on the ends of the sticks. And, to be on the safe side, wear googles. And hockey goalkeeper's masks. I know it will look like Last Night at the Proms combined with Friday the 13th, but better safe than sorry.

Maracas are to be shaken discreetly, and if possible in time. Anyone trying to look even the slightest bit Latin American in their mannerisms will be ejected immediately. Anyone dressing up as a member of the 3 Amigos likewise. It's a Flag and Maracas service - not a spaghetti western.

Please do not wave a flag in one hand and shake a maraca in the other, that it may go well in the land for you. And do not shake a flag or wave a maraca - for that way madness lies.

Now I don't want to see any diving. Can anyone that's seriously hurt please just lay there quietly so we're aware. And we'll let's have a good time, and we'll sort out the minor injuries after the final blessing.

Monday, 30 May 2011

A Public Enquiry

There's been some talk in the Community about my decision to award BeakerFest 2020 to Dubai. A country with no tradition of Beaker religion, but a very large amount of money and oil.

I'd like to ensure everybody knows that I've investigated my behaviour in this affair very carefully. And I'm completely innocent. I'm sure everyone's minds are now at rest. And I've this message to those who are still in doubt: SHUT UP. My gaff, my rules.

Religion and Football

It's often been claimed that there is a strong link between football and religion. And of course in the case of the city of Glasgow, that link's considerably closer and more worrying than most of us would like.

But I've been having a ponder - and there's some undeniable similarities.

Such as the hope of a better time in the future - be that in heaven or next season.

The shared hope and dreams of a community with a common purpose.

Special food - although some would maybe think meat pies and Bovril don't make a foretaste of a heavenly banquet, they come quite close on a cold day in January.

Communal singing - with the obvious difference that at football, men sing as well.

Waving your hands in the air - although not in non-Charismatic churches, and not at Old Trafford as they'd drop their prawn sandwiches.

And to that, this week, I've got to add accusations of cover-ups, politicking and leaks and rumours. Whatever the truth of it all (and though the Church of England has a lot less money than FIFA, the Roman Catholic Church is  still probably richer).

But I guess the main difference is in the clothing. Although in both football and religion special clothing is worn by the more prominent participants, and although a person wearing black and laying down the rules is common to both, you very rarely find somebody in a pew wearing a Vicar replica strip. It would only confuse the issue.

The Pacific Age

I am grateful to that prolific and entertaining member of the Twitterati, Londiensis, for altering me to the news that Germany is planning to close all its nuclear power plants over the next decade. Apparently due to the Fukushima incident in Japan. This is a country that obtained nearly a quarter of its power from nuclear (and doesn't suffer from earthquakes). What strikes me is that if Plan A was at some stage nuclear power, Germany's not got many rational Plans B. It seems that Germany has a few options now. It can move towards greater energy efficiency at a stunning rate. It can once again start exploiting its coal fields. Or it can become dependent upon Russian gas. Or the people of Germany can sit in their cold houses on cold winter nights, having burnt down the last of the Schwarzwald to keep warm, and listen for the wolves of winter to close in. *** And, thanks to Peter Kirk, I should add that the current Plan B is actually to build loads of wind turbines. I apologise for a lack of research here, but think my point still stands - not least since the change in policy has brought the closure of the reactors forward by an average of 12 years.

We seem to be in a cleft stick. One where we want to continue with the consumption of our past - but we don't want to pay for it, either financially or environmentally. Yet we pay for pointless and inefficient wind turbines, which fail when the wind doesn't blow. And cover houses with expensive solar panels, which don't work when the sun doesn't shine. We can't burn coal because we don't want the carbon emissions, and we're scared of nuclear. In short, we've lost our nerve and our vision for the future. And we've no idea of a way out.

In the States, the problems seem worse and the solutions more gormless. The Government's response to a lack of growth is to pump more borrowed imaginary money into the economy. And yet, deep down - if the threat to the world is the consumption of resources - how can growth be the measure be which we drive our economies? Surely growth - the production of things from other things, using energy, which must be produced from fossil fuels or nuclear power, carried around by powered transport - surely growth is the enemy of the environment? Why are the visionaries of the West not putting forward their policies for the only rational strategy - a managed reduction in the size of our economies? How can growth, measured in the gross way it is, be good? And how could an economy like, say, Ireland's, based on debt and property prices, ever have been thought a success - even before the rug was pulled from under it?

Meanwhile there's China. A country with confidence. A country with faith in the future. A country that opens a coal-fired power station every few days. A place making itself rich producing the cheap rubbish with which we make ourselves comfortable in our fin-de-siecle, life-fearing, future-fearing decline. As the sun sets in the West, it's rising with a vengeance in parts of the East.

Those prophets of a quarter of a century ago, Humphreys and McCluskey, when they weren't annoying Ray Barnes with their dancing didn't just pretend to see what the future would hold:

The Pacific Age is growing strong
Its arms embrace with a killing grace
It shakes your hand as it takes your place.

Once our politicians were dreamers, visionaries, powerful people - people that could set up an NHS, fight a World War when the nation's back was against the wall, even - dare I say it - take on the Unions. Now they smile their shiny-faced smiles while they watch their country's decline. Ed, Dave, Nick - they're interchangeable, they're optional, they're not  much good. Just tweaking the crenellations on the sand-castle as the Pacific tide comes in. We've lost our vision, we've lost our way. We've no prophets - just the amusing, made-for-TV ones like Howard Campings. We've no real poets - just the re-hashers of old songs for Reality TV talent-show winners. We're not going crossing any deserts, because we've no Promised Land. So we'll drive miles to the bottle bank to recycle bottles, while we plan our next cheap plane flight for our next cheap holiday. Then we'll suddenly notice how expensive food's getting, and petrol, and wonder why. We'll play with our technology. We'll buy our smart phones. And we'll sit and get washed away with the rest of the West and no-one will miss us. And our children, assuming they can still afford food, will have to learn to make cheap clothes for the Pacific consumers of the future.

Sorry, bouncy happy thoughts will resume tomorrow. You know what it's like, a wet Bank Holiday.

Joan of Arc

Today we are celebrating St Joan's Day. We realise this might not be universally approved of. Not because of Joan's Catholicism - we, after all, welcome people of all faiths and none. But because she was undeniably French. However we do believe that as a cross-dressing freedom fighter and victim of a shocking miscarriage of justice she is worthy of anyone's respect.

We note that many rationalist theories as to the origins of Joan's visions have been put forward. And we reject them on the grounds, firstly, that they all appear to be hogwash. And secondly because this rationalist view of things is the sort of either/or attitude to life that we regard as unnecessarily divisive, in life as in society and in spirituality. It puts boring blokes in anoraks on one side and ranty, swivel-eyed blokes with odd moustaches and ranty leaflets containing apocalyptic fantasies on the other. We look across from the various "sceptical" and anti-religious movements, to the wide-eyed fundies on the other and say - a non-fatal, benign but hopefully slightly humanising plague on both your houses. We will stay with our Acts 17:28 based belief (a Pagan aphorism, brought into a Christian context) "In him we live and move and have our being." If the Divine Will determined that Joan could act as a channel of the Holy Spirit, through straightforward old-fashioned visions, through epilepsy, through tuberculosis (were they ever serious in suggesting this?) or through any other unprovable (and undisprovable) theories - that's fine by us. God can even speak through Drayton Parslow occasionally, so what more miracle do you need?

So Joan - young, innocent, inspired and brave. We salute you. And we rejoice that there's no way that Mel Gibson will ever be able to play you in a history-distorting film - "They may take away our baguettes - but they're never take away our Freedom!"

We note that the technical offence for which Joan was convicted was heresy, on account of her dressing as a man (Deut 22:5). I feel that if nothing else, it should make us careful about the way we look after nesting birds, anxious never to ignore wandering oxen, and careful in our sewing of tassels onto the corners of our clothing. Or possibly it should warn us to be more intelligent in the way we read Old Testament law codes.



[Late edit: In reference to Ray's comments, below - this was all part of OMD's charm. I have pleasure in attaching a rather marvellous Guardian review, in which Andy McCluskey is described as "the last uncle standing on the wedding disco dancefloor". It also has this stunning quote, which describes the 80s to those of us who were there: "testament... to an odder era of pop when you could follow up a perky single about Joan of Arc with a gloomy dirge about Joan of Arc and make the top 10 with both of them." That we had anything like OMD's creativity today.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Badminton jumps the shark

News from the world of minority sports. The authorities for Badminton have back-tracked over their desire to insist that their (female) players wear skirts or "dresses". Apparently this was with the aim of "glamorising" the game.

Dear badminton authorities, whether your players wear skirts, dresses, Capri pants or bikinis, it's still badminton. It's still middle-class girls running around in a sports hall wearing squeaky trainers, while their male partner (if mixed doubles), an unexpectedly aggressive French teacher or local government official, tries to still his Inner Beast by hammering a feathery cork around the court. I believe men (and for that matter women) play the game in singles and doubles formats as well, but I daresay that's much the same except without the frustrated male partner. And if the women should be wearing skirts, what should the men be wearing? Village People outfits?

It's an interesting message to send. That they believe their sport needs "glamorising" suggests they don't think it's very good. Because Barcelona attracted a massive audience to their dissection of Man Utd yesterday, just by the simple process of turning up in baggy shorts and stripy shirts and being very good at a sport that is interesting. Sir Steve Redgrave never rowed, as far as I'm aware, in sequins. Paula Radcliffe never felt the urge to run in high heels. Basically, if your sport needs glamorising, it's not pandering to stereotypes you should be playing with. Maybe you should be wondering why, if you think it's boring, anybody else should find it interesting.  Even if the competitors are wearing skirts.

Rules for Spontaneous Musical Clapping

Some quick thoughts on the clapping that took place during this morning's rendition of "How Great Thou Art".

I'd like to say how good it was that clapping broke out. Firstly because it hid Burton's screams as he ran after the Land Rover. And when I say "ran after", I do of course mean "was dragged down the gravel drive by".
But secondly because the clapping that broke out was spontaneous and informal - just the sort of thing we want.

But spontaneity's no good unless you get it right. So please can you ensure you follow these instructions:
  • Teenagers should stand with their hands glued to their sides, resolutely looking at the floor and refusing to break their "cool".
  • Middle-aged Men should clap  on the 2nd and 4th beats of the bar, like the frustrated old rockers they are.
  • Small children should run around, clapping wildly and randomly.
  • Older folk should first of all refuse to clap at all, on the grounds that "we never clapped in Archdruid Elvis's days back in the 50s". However, seeing the fun their grandchildren are having, half of you must then change your minds and clap wildly like the kids. In extreme cases feel free to break out the Community's emergency chest of tambourines and shakers. But not the maracas. Please, please not the maracas.
  • Everybody else should clap on the 1st and 3rd beats, to prove that you ain't got no soul. Middle-aged women should additionally sway side to side - ideally clapping above shoulder height.
  • The Leadership team will refuse to take part on the grounds that it is undignified - until we realise that everyone else is clapping. At which point we will take part randomly and in an over-exaggerated manner to prove that we are leading the worship.
  • A nominated person should fail to realise the song has finished, and continue for another half-line into the non-existent next verse. A slight rueful smile will be allowed on the lips of everyone else. 
I hope this is all clear. Now I need to see an improvement in our spontaneous clapping. And if it doesn't get better soon we're gonna practice every Wednesday evening until it does.

Feast of the Restoration of Charles II (1660)

8 am - Erection of the Maypole

9 am - Period of gloating at the discomfiture of all miserable fun-hating ratbags*

10 am - Community game of Hide and Pepys (lock up your servant girls)

11 am - Dragging Cromwell around the grounds behind a horse (in the absence of Cromwell we'll use Burton. In the absence of a horse we'll use a Landrover)

11.30 am - First aid for Burton

Noon - Nuncheon

2 pm - Throwing tennis balls at the beetroot with a wig (traditional Liverpool game)

3 pm - Parade of spaniels

4 pm - Parade of mistresses (names of the mistresses' boyfriends withheld for legal reasons)

5 pm - Evening prayer with Plainchant (Archdruid's note: I've no idea how this crept in here, but it is so relaxing)

6 pm - Dinner (Cakes & Ale)

7 pm - Entertainment (Beer & Skittles)

8 pm - Setting fire to the Maypole

9 pm - Another rebellion (to the setting "Duke of Monmouth")

*If May 29 falls on the day after a European Champions League final, this may include a period of sorrow for the losers. Unless it's Man Utd, in which case it won't.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

On praying for football results

It's one of those eternal considerations among believing sports-people - which side will God favour if both teams are prayed for by their supporters?

And among thinking atheists, of course, the answer will always be "neither, as God doesn't exist". To which I will refer you to the fact that Brazil, a country with a large Catholic majority (and a rapidly-growing Pentecostal church movement) has won the World Cup 5 times. While North Korea, China, the old USSR and Vietnam, countries which were or are either officially atheist or have had restrictions on the practice of religion, have won exactly no World Cups between them. There you go, Karl Marx - the proletariat perform much better when they can believe what they like and have good coffee.

But if all the Beaker Folk are praying for Barcelona to win tonight, and Phil Ritchie is praying for Manchester United, how can we say which way the Almighty will go? Obviously, he will in normal circumstances back the underdog and natural-born loser - for that is his way - but Charlton Athletic aren't involved. The sophisticated types will say that God has other things to worry about than football, that he loves all footballers equally, that he won't be swayed by either side if both pray equally  - and that therefore he will ineffably let one team or the other win, without getting much involved. We would recommend that Canon Ritchie and his Man Utd fellow-travellers adopt the sophisticated approach. Which means that they need not pray at all, or should pray only for an entertaining  game. God doesn't need all that bothering about football.

Meanwhile we'll pray for Liverpool's superior European record to continue to be just as superior as it currently is, for one more season at least. God must love Liverpool fans. As if he didn't he probably wouldn't make us suffer so much.

Quantum Immortality and Nani's socks

Fascinated by the article in the Scientific American blog which disproves the existence of the soul by the use of a wave equation. The argument being that there must be some mathematical function that involves the soul if the soul is to be a repository of memory, personality and what have you after physical death. Fascinating from a historical point of view, at least, as it's the old "how do you weigh a soul" theory all over again. And interesting in that if your belief is that physics can measure everything that is to do with physics, then subject to Uncertainty (and even that has its limits, although we don't know what they are) then I'd totally agree.

Of course, the belief that the soul hangs around after death is in any case not a very Judaeo-Christian belief, in that the Biblical belief is that when you're dead you're dead - and the resurrection, not some floating disembodied consciousness, is what defeats death. But I look forward to the next bash in this series, when they attempt to include hubris and futility as part of a wave equation and work out how they inter-relate with mass and energy.

Which brings me onto the far more important question of Nani's socks.  As part of the BBC's ongoing programme to relativize religion - simultaneously trying to downgrade it while not offending anyone - we have this article, hooked onto the European Champions' League final, commenting on the significance of faith in sport. Apparently if you look carefully at Lionel Messi you may catch him crossing himself - while Javier Hernandez (pronounced "Chícharito") has even been known to pray. To the BBC this is a part of that wide world of oddity called faith - the customs of strange Latin persons, no doubt. And by the end of the article it is reduced down to about the same importance as Nani's socks.

But it's Nani's socks rather than the article itself that worry me - that kind of reporting from the BBC being par for the course. But this is important news. "Nani, the Manchester United winger, plays with his socks the wrong way round."

What on earth do they mean by this? Do they mean that Nani has the heels of his socks on the front of his ankle? If so, as good luck routines go it sounds terribly counter-productive, as it must interfere with him kicking the ball. Or are Man United socks chiral - that is, there is a left and a right sock? And if this is the case, does this non-interchangeability relate to their shape, or just to Man Utd having different emblems on different sides  - with an "inside" and an "outside" according to whether they carry the player's number on one side?

For myself, I will content myself with the old chemical fact that chiral molecules rotate polarized light in different directions.  Because I reckon that means that next time Man United play Liverpool, we merely have to beam strongly polarized light onto the game and  Nani will run straight off the pitch. And also reflect that my other team, Rushden and Diamonds, would probably have suffered less in their affairs were it not for some of their players' habit of putting their boots on the wrong feet, due to not having pairs consisting entirely of left ones.

For the record, this evening we will be praying that Chicarito wins. And we will also be praying for the rest of his team to get heavily beaten by Barcelona.

Friday, 27 May 2011

H.A.P.P.Y.

I'm trying to educate the Beaker Folk, after a long period when they seem to have believed that life is basically good and the world - against all available evidence - is in a perfect state, to realising that there is sadness and darkness in this world. These things have to be faced if you want to be a grown-up.

Clearly one way of allowing them to realise that there is darkness to be faced is to make them watch "The Apprentice". But that would be a form of mental cruelty. So instead I've been playing them the "bonus track re-mix with additional tracks" version of Kirsty MacColl's Kite album. Not the "divorce album" - Titanic Days - I'm not sure they are up to such strong meat. No, Kite has its light moments as well as the bitterness of What do Pretty Girls do  - but it should bring them up sharp on their current frivolous trajectory. This is real life - separation, anger, bitterness and that haunting fore-echo of death. But they look at me, their happy eyes glowing, and sing La Fôret de Mimosas as if it's a happy little French ditty.

If ignorance is bliss, should I really want them to be wise?

Calvin Shrine Genes

It has been the custom, more and more in these DNA-crazed days, for scientists to seek out the gene, or group of genes, that cause diseases or behavioural issues, or to determine sexual orientation, ability to play the banjo or any other of a list of attributes and preferences.

And of course the further you go this way, there's a necessary reduction. Especially in the area of moral responsibility. If there were an antisocial or illegal practice that could be proven to be totally caused by a person's genes then given they had no option, could they be held responsible in any way?

When you get into the belief in God, this becomes interesting for us Arminians. If there's a "God gene" that predisposes us to belief in God - then clearly it's been tied up with other related genes. In the same way that the gene for whiteness in cats also codes for deafness in many occasions, clearly the gene for religious belief also codes for intelligence, good looks and resilience under pressure. Unless you're a fundamentalist. But - if your genes decide whether you believe or not - then Calvin was right. And it is down to God whether or not you believe in God. And that strikes me as a bit unfair, although I'm sure Calvinists would be able to explain to me why it's not. Some argument along the lines of "God's gaff, God's rules", I would have thought.

I thought I'd bring this subject to your attention today as it's the anniversary of the old predestinarian's death. And therefore I figured if I made this a kind of memorial to John Calvin - a place to remember him if you will - and wrote on this theme, it would give me the excuse for the title of this blog post. It's just what he would have hated.

Looks like Reindeer

Fascinated by this story about the reindeer that can see in the Ultra Violet. Which explains many things - not least why you never see a reindeer that's not wearing sunglasses in nightclubs. And makes me wonder whether it was fluorescence, not bio-luminescence, that gave Rudolf his famous nose.

This would also give some theological chancers the chance to come up with an utterly strained analogy with spiritual blindness and sight. So it would be a shame to miss it. There's a running motif in the Gospels about light and dark; about seeing and blindness. It's like an invisible kind of spiritual light that shines, that only those that can see it, can see. Which would explain the tedious and futile debates about the existence (or not) of God. We can just see something that others can't - the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.

People can bang on about lack of scientific evidence, and we just won't care because they can't see the spiritual light. What's clear and obvious to you and me, believing friends- is opaque and invisible to them. In a way it's not their fault - any more than Rudolf should criticise us for being unable to see in a darkened sun-tan booth. Although as it happens reindeer are actually incredibly judgemental, and hate and despise us for what they see as our shortcomings - i.e. having a reduced visible spectrum and not likin' lichen. And they don't half leave a nasty smell in sun-tan booths.

Young Keith, who has his scientific moments, has called this "spiritual light" that I am describing the "Light of Infinity", by analogy with the light that breaks in at the last moment in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. This seems very sensible to me, as clearly this kind of spiritual vision sees all things in the light of the End of Times. Which, by another dodgy analogy, gives me the impression that the problem with certain End Days enthusiasts is that they are using a spiritual telescope (i.e. the world of Apocalyptic) and haven't understood that telescopes make things look closer than they really are.

What is less wise on Young Keith's part is that he has decided he now needs to create a Light of Infinity detector, to prove that it exists. I tried to explain to Keith that if I thought he could create an experiment to prove or disprove the existence of the Light of Infinity, I'd have never thought up the concept. But he just looked confused and went off to get another diode.

The greatest apocalyptic text ever written

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.
He has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Excited to get back

So, although I need to spend 4 weeks in the States, apparently, as part of my research project, the Archdruid booked me for two separate trips. One for 5 days, and the other for just under 3 weeks. Apparently this is "tax efficient" and "will provide the Community with many much-needed Air Miles". News to me, but she knows best. And I've never experienced Montreal airport transit lounge before, so that will be an excitement.

And, to be honest, it's a Bank Holiday, there's a cricket test, and we've scheduled a barbecue, so the weather's bound to be fantastic, and I wouldn't miss it for the world. In fact, the weather over here has recently improved (the week started off bad, and I've managed to avoid the tornado-hit areas), but I'm sure it'll be even nicer back in Blighty.

And it's certain to be worth the 2 and a half hour delay at the airport. Oh, yes.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The return of Spring

And such is the English climate.

We were revelling in the latest set of unprecedentedly warm conditions. In the belief that, even in mid-May, Summer had already set in. Before his latest trip to the United States, Hnaef had celebrated a whole series of barbecues. We haven't yet defined barbecues as religious festivals, but in the triumph they display of faith over evidence and experience, and the wholesale evidence of burnt offerings, we think that we may be on to something.

As I write tonight, the showers are glancing off the conservatory roof. Out across the Great Lawn, a few members of the Hnaefist Order of Beaker Folk are struggling to light a barbecue. That the tray is full to overflowing with rainwater does not seem to stop them. For a short while I considered getting the fires lit tonight - but I have decided to preserve the fuel until we really need a fire, in August

There is no doubt in my mind, as I glance at my mud-encrusted Wellington boots, that Spring is back. We celebrated summer i-cumen in on May 1, and now things are going backwards. It is often the way with the English weather, of course.

I look out of the East side of the conservatory, and I see the stalls that Drayton's people had set up for their Church Fete on Saturday being blown away and down into the brook. And I smile a little. We are in England. And everything is normal.

Homeopathic Hair Treatment

Forgot to mention earlier. Our new homeopathic hair treatment is our most successful. When I say successful, I mean financially of course. It's all profit, because we just dip the water out of the brook. And what makes it even better, we can charge for consultancy.

The Science and Spirituality of Hair Care Products

A correspondent reminds me of the absurd claims of shampoo and other hair care products. The expression that really got her goat was "nano-keratin" - as if keratin molecules could somehow be shrunk into a smaller size. The word "nano" relates to measurements of the order of 10-9m. So anything about the size of a molecule is by definition "nano". And it did cause me to reflect that the one area of advertising where no logical control of claims ever seems to be made, is in the manufacture of shampoo.

As a young pro-factor Archdruid, as the advertisers would probably put it, I remember the old VO5 adverts on Radio Luxembourg - "New apple V05 brings your hair alive and leaves it shiny, shiny, shiny as an apple". And that memory drove our early ventures in our "Natural Beaker Range" of shampoos in the Beaker Bazaar. There was Beaker Natural Russet for Brunettes, Henna & Somerset Redstreak for Redheads, and Golden Delicious for Blondes (or Blonds - we make shampoos for all genders and none). I remember there was a complaint from one woman after we turned her hair  bright yellow  - what did she expect, using Golden Delicious, for goodness sake? But other than that the shampoo was, as we promised, completely natural (and completely useless - how could apple juice do anything other than strip the covering from hair, it being mildly acidic?)

From there we went on to the Beaker Essentials range - basically, that was just boiled up fat and ashes - "Just as the Neolithic People would wash their hair". And we mixed that up with water from the Holy River Lea. Though we still put it in three different bottles - for "Bronze-Age Blondes", "Barrow-building Brunettes" and "Invading red-headed Celtic home-destroyers". Although that third range didn't sell so well.

But we thought we were onto a winner with our mixture of mock-scientific and rubbish spiritual claims for our shampoos. So our new "Astral Wave" and "Prehistoric Ecstatics" ranges promised that you could get a genuinely spiritual experience from the use of our products. And then we brought out the "Quantum effects" shampoo. A massive seller - we had a flood of feedback from people telling us they could actually feel those electrons, tunnelling into their follicles.  Although they didn't like the way that you couldn't tell what colour you were going to come out, until you had a look and the wave function collapsed.

We thought we were pushing it with our most recent shampoo - "Hyper-strings - takes your hair into the 18th dimension". And it turned out we were. Not with the scientific claim - people were quite happy to accept we were using a totally unproven quantum theory to make their hair clean. No. It was the word "strings" that upset them. Made them think that their hair might end up all lank and stringy.

Anyway, we've got the latest batch of ash, fat and perfume boiling away down in Young Keith's Lab. We're going to call it "Molecular Rapture - with micro-cleansers". Should be a massive top-seller.

The proper science bit

The important bits of shampoo - the bits that really exist - can be read on the back. On the whole, if you've water (or "aqua"), sodium laureth sulfate (which should be sulphate, but that's international rules for you) and salt - your hair will be clean. If you add in some perfume (chamomile is nice) then your hair will smell good as well.
Isn't it funny that there are international rules to control the spelling of the chemicals in shampoo, but nothing to stop you pretending it will rejuvenate your love life at the micro-level?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Imposition of Badgers

At this time of year, every year, somebody has much this idea. And we resist it as much as we can, but eventually, this year, we finally gave in.

The trouble is, people like badgers. Quick-moving, attractive, stripy little beggars that they are. They're the real characters of the English countryside - with the exception of the hedgehogs, whom the badgers regard as a tasty snack, of course.

Though clearly to use real badgers in the liturgy would be wrong. And probably illegal. So we ended up using a whole flock of life-sized badger soft toys. Not stuffed badgers. We don't know who stuffs badgers, but we wouldn't want to be accused of assisting in that trade. And, to be honest, I'm not really sure I'd actually want to meet anyone who stuffs badgers. I mean, if they wanted to shake hands with you - as my niece Alicia would put it, "meh". Or possibly even "euw".

So we got the toy badgers. And Young Keith inserted the 12V motors and the wheels - sorry, "bogies" as Burton reminded me - into their fronts. Neat job with the needlework - he's a real treasure, is Keith. And then we laid the track in the appropriate configuration around the Moot House. And then, realising dusk would be coming on during the Occasion, we fitted lights onto them. That's the great thing about artificial badgers. Even if it wasn't cruel and wrong (I stress for legal reasons) you'd never be able to fit lights to them without a real fight.

And then we filed in, sang "Brock of Ages" with just a few tea lights lit, and the Badger Parade began. 36 Badgers, in a beautiful arrangement, swept round the Moot House in awesome silence - the lights fitted into their eye sockets glowing beautifully in the gloom and lighting up, as their eyes swept the room.

Was it a spiritual experience we felt? I'm not sure. It was just something about the glow from those dead eyes - plus the silence and the gliding of the way they moved. It was - eerie, that's the word. So the Beaker Folk split into two camps. Half dashed out of the Moot House and ran screaming for the Great House to hide. The others - braver souls, I guess you could say - rushed the electric badgers and attacked them with pointy sticks and (in the case of one particular Beaker Person) a cricket bat.

In retrospect I'm not sure who's less proud of themselves. The cowards, or those of us who knocked the stuffing out of a load of cuddly toys. But believe me, you had to be there. Those badgers were uncanny.

Some more failed Doomsday Scenarios

Just to prove that scientists (and scientific journalists) can end up with egg on their faces when they put their minds to it...

There was the unfortunate - ahem - miscalculation with the date when the Himalayan glaciers would be 20% their current size.

There was the "cyanogen" scare with the 1910 visit of Halley's comet.  Incidentally, the Rational wiki page I'm quoting puts the "Young Earth" theories of comets in their "Comet woo" section (correctly) but not the cyanogen scare. Presumably because everyone dying in 1910 was based on good solid science.

There was the Newsweek article that complained governments weren't doing enough about Global Cooling.

There was the Y2K or Millennium Bug (although all proper programmers knew there was no problem - the Millennium changed over a long New Year weekend, so there was plenty of time to put in the long shift needed to sort it).

There was the fear that splitting the atom would destroy the world because the atoms wouldn't start splitting - and for this I quote from that seminal scientific work, "Right Ho, Jeeves" (Wodehouse, PG, 1934):
I was reading in the paper the other day about those birds who are trying to split the atom, the nub being that they haven't the foggiest as to what will happen if they do. It may be all right. On the other hand, it may not be all right. And pretty silly a chap would feel, no doubt, if, having split the atom, he suddenly found the house going up in smoke and himself torn limb from limb.
And I'm wondering whether the scientific community's way of dealing with these things is essentially very similar to the Protestant wing of the Church when it has a disagreement. Inasmuch as neither grouping has one central body - but rather has centres of excellence, people that are respected, and bodies with more-or-less authority scattered around the world. The reaction to a scientific theory is to examine it, check it, make sure the maths work, try to reproduce the experiments if any, and - if it's the wilder end of the spectrum, say a perpetual motion machine - mock it. (I love Wiki's optimistic belief that it is undisputed that such a machine would break the 1st and/or 2nd Laws of Thermodynamics. I bet you could find somebody, somewhere, calling himself a scientist that would dispute it). But that's how we move knowledge forward and find truth.

Which makes me realise that the problem with Harold Camping's theory wasn't the wishful thinking, the bad maths, the even worse original premise (so now the Rapture and Tribulation, those central parts of his theology, are optional?) - it wasn't the conning of gullible, innocent believers into sponsoring this utter eyewash. It wasn't the appalling power- and ego-trip involved (and the double think he has displayed since).

No. The only trouble with Mr Camping was, he hadn't been peer-reviewed.

That Eureka moment

Everyone knows about the original "Eureka" moment. That was when the Greek scientist Archimedes ran down the street, stark naked, shouting "Eureka" - the Greek for "Where's the servant who filled my bath with cold water?"

But by co-incidence - or maybe, for I ascribe nothing to chance - Dawkins-incidence, I read about such experiences twice this morning . Firstly in relation to the young Australian student who seems to have found the Universe's "missing mass".
Ms Fraser-McKelvie said the ‘Eureka moment’ came when Dr Lazendic-Galloway closely examined the data they had collected.
And the second was in relation to the BBC's report of  lost pyramids found by looking - ironically, in reference to the previous article - down from space at the earth.
"We were very intensely doing this research for over a year. I could see the data as it was emerging, but for me the "A-Ha" moment was when I could step back and look at everything that we'd found and I couldn't believe we could locate so many sites all over Egypt."
But I can't for the life of me see how either of these are really "Eureka" or even "A-ha" moments. For far from extolling instant inspiration and brilliance, what both these articles seem to be suggesting is that if you want a "Eureka" moment you need to put in the spade-work - metaphorically, if not literally - first.

Surely if we applied this to spiritual life, the whole Beaker ethic would be shot to pieces. Instead of chasing after experience, lighting tea lights and adopting increasingly "creative" liturgy, we would find our spiritual moments at the end of long periods of quiet prayer, helping others, giving what we possess to those that need it (in a sustainable, long-term, planned way - not an end-of-the-world kind of way) and generally being nice, holy people. And where's the instant payback in that?

No, give me some proper scientists, I say. Scientists who spend their evenings guzzling cider and blackcurrant, their afternoons on the cricket field and every week, just as a form of light entertainment, dash off the equations that explain the 19th dimension of physics. That other type are boring, and just find stuff out after loads of hard work. Not the same at all.

* First link thanks for the information, @Pekingspring. A prolific provider of scientific information - although with the occasional habit of tweeting strong language from outside London nightspots.

More tea musings

Oh, how I miss England. And tea. And Mrs Hnaef, of course. But tea, oh tea.

Luckily the US censor has failed in his (surely "his"? A female version would be a censtor, yes?) duties, and allowed a few true English sites into the country, such as "A nice cup of tea and a sit down" (http://www.nicecupofteaandasitdown.com/).

I sometimes wonder whether I made a mistake in buying Mrs Hnaef a nice coffee maker. I don't drink the stuff, of course, but it's created a barrier between us (well, usually a double strength latte, but you get the idea). No more tea in bed. One of us drinks coffee.

But, to return to the matter in hand. People here in the US seem to think you can drink tea with lemon.

What? I mean, I visited a church today for a service. They were very friendly, which is always worrying, but we got over that by bring a little awkward over the Peace. The priest was rather young and epikletic, but didn't overdo things. So, we finished the service, and he invited me back to the parish office. I know what you're thinking. Young, attractive American priest invites ruggedly handsome English Druid round to his place after the service: a few drinks, some antipasti, some more drinks, and suddenly we're condemning Arminians, Methodists and Funambulist Baptists. What could be more fun, more wholesome?

And I was about to accept his offer when I had a terrible thought: what if he drinks tea with lemon in it? So I declined. And that evening I could have spent still exists, unsullied, in my imagination.
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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The United States of Eccentricity

You know, it's kind of ironic, the way the English have always had the reputation for eccentricity.

Clearly, the occasional English person is a certifiable eccentric. There was my uncle Charlie, for example - Aunt Deidre had constantly to intervene to stop him ironing the shar pei, on the grounds that it was "all creased". In his more eccentric moments he used to send the butler out to  drill the squirrels, apparently under the illusion that they were a division of the Anglian Regiment. And of course he spent the last six years of his life convinced he was a parking meter in the Caledonian Road. Which was awkward. Especially for the traffic wardens, when he requested they collect the day's takings. But I digress.

When you consider the religious movements they engender, the people of the USA are clearly miles ahead of us. I can barely think of a decent act of religious daftness in England since the End of Days mania that surrounded the last days of John Mason. Oh sure, there was that rector in Northamptonshire that used to keep goats, but he was hardly trying to be eccentric in the great scheme of things.

Whereas in the States you can barely throw a brick in some built-up areas without hitting a bloke who's got his own theory on the end of the world - or some strange concept of how many wifes, or indeed goats, a man is entitled to. And you can barely shake a tree without a couple of survivalists falling out of it and looking suspiciously at you in case you're the Dark One, a commie or homosexual - or all three.

I'm pleased to say that Hnaef is a calm character, who will not be spending his time across the Pond shaking trees or throwing bricks. Instead, as the time passes until he realises I may not have been quite so altrustic in insisting he took his trip "before the ash gets here", he is watching and observing. And I think he may have found the answer to why here in England we barely get past a bit of an ironic comment on each other's religious traditions, and some devout ministers barely believe in God at all - while in the States there's a new date for Armageddon held by every Christian.

Tea.

Isn't it obvious? The English had the Reformation, burning of Protestants, the torture and judicial murder of Catholics as traitors, the Civil War, John Mason, the Popish Plot - and then we "borrowed" India for a while and started drinking tea. Whereas the Americans think tea is for chucking in harbours (or harbors, for our trans-Atlantic cousins). But they have access to South America, and drink coffee.

Tea it was that brought, in England, a peaceful Enlightenment. Indeed, judging by most church coffee, the ministers and church committees, instinctively realising the danger that coffee can cause, have gone out of their way to encourage people to drink anything other than coffee. Faced with church coffee, who's not going to drink tea?
Whereas the French, maddened by strong coffee and Gauloises, chopped their king's head off and renamed the months of the year. And the Yanks opened Starbucks and invented Nirvana and Friends.  How are the Americans, consuming coffee as it seems on every corner, ever going to keep a clear head and stop discovering new theories of the End of the World?

So, my friends - if you want to calm down the Americans, have them adopt fewer doomsday cults and a more restrained line in clerical vestments - encourage them to drink tea. And make sure they don't put the milk in first. Ugh.

American musings

I am in America at the moment, on a leave of absence, at the Archdruid's suggestion after the Anglican revelation, and have noticed that it is, in many ways, different from Husborne Crawley. Or even Luton.

For a start, it turns out that the drive on the wrong side of the road. And that, if the lorry (sorry: "truck") driver I met as I drove the hire car out of the airport is anything to go by, they have a large and expressive vocabulary.

But two things have struck me forcibly. And I am worried that there may be a correlation. First, Americans cannot, just cannot, grasp how to make a proper cup of tea. I have tried explaining, and even the hotel staff for whom English (though not the Queen's English) is their first language fail miserably to understand. And it's not as if there are Polish, Turkish, even French staff in Enhlish hoyels who have such diffuculties. I'm not being unreasonable. I'm not asking for loose leaf tea. Or even a pot. A bag in a mug will do. But please, please, I beg, pour the water straight off the boil onto the tea. Or it doesn't work. And I just want standard tea. Not a poor Earl Grey. English breakfast, or similar. With milk. Not, for the love of all things Beaker, "half and half".

Second, the average Episcopalian (yes, I'm indulging my Anglican leanings) congregation is enthusiastic, thriving, welcoming, generous and has a good proportion of people in it under 40. Under 30, come to that. This, as any regular Church of England churchgoer will tell you, is against the natural order.

Is there a connection? And if so, can I fix their errant Anglicanism by teaching them to make tea? I think I may have found a mission.
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The other Wesley

Hnaef tells me that as well as being Aldersgate Sunday (Methodist time) on Sunday, today the Anglicans also remember the Wesley brothers. A fine and fair tribute to men who went through hell and high water to preach the Gospel, both in spoken and sung word. But I wonder whether we are missing a trick here.

For who was the most important member of that family? Certainly the one who laid the foundations of her sons' piety and stubbornness in the face of adversity, I can't help thinking that the name "Susanna" is missing from a lot of people's thinking about the Wesleys. I find no mention of the older Mrs Wesley having a date in Common Worship (nor even in that more Anglican edition, "Middle-Class Worship"). Nor does she appear in the Catholic saints lists. Wesleyans mention her occasionally, as rightly they should. But the woman was a hero. She walked out of her father's church to join the good old C of E (TM Church Mouse). She had 19 children - 9 of them died in infancy, just imagine the grief of that. Her husband walked out on her for a year, got jobs with awful stipends, rowed with his patron, spent time in prison and wasted all their money on producing a book on Job. But she sowed the seeds that produced two of the finest Christian minds and two of the most productive English Christians in history. God bless you Susanna.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Decisive decision-making

Sometimes we can learn from history. Clearly, we learn best from that history we read in the pages of the Good Book. But other history also can have its uses. And today, in my "day off", I have been reading through the history of the last few ministers of my little congregation of Funambulist Baptists.

They all seem to have been men of God, holy and devout. And yet all, in the end, were asked to face a vote of confidence - and all failed to secure 50 per cent of the votes cast.

Mr Leyton Buzzard, my immediate predecessor, was put to the vote after his daughter was discovered wearing make-up in a built up area during lighting-up times. Which seems fair enough. But consider his predecessors.

In 1992, Mr Rose was thrown out by the congregation for being dictatorial. In 1995, Mr Cheshire was removed for failing to show strong leadership. In 1997, Mr Jones was considered too unambitious. While in 1999, Mr Arnold was voted out for trying to change things too much. In 2001, Mr Raynulf was removed for his lack of missionary zeal - but in 2003 Mr Eady, whose outreach doubled the size of the congregatioon, was rejected for neglecting his existing congregation's pastoral needs. Mr Roderick was removed in 2005 for his conservatism. While in 2007, 2008 and 2009 three successive ministers lost their jobs for failing to instil any stability.

I have kept my role here for several months - and with God's help may keep it for several more - but you do wonder how you could every keep the congregation happy. Not that that is my role - I am here to serve God, not Man - but how can I serve God as a pastor if I do not have the congregation behind me? And when I say behind me, I hope I can expect they will not be lining up there to take their turn to stab me in the back.

Celebration of the 90th Birthday of Humphrey Littleton

Archdruid: Holloway Road

Hnaef: Hammersmith

Marston: Westminster

Burton: Rome

Archdruid: Sorry, Burton. Ordinariate manoeuvre isn't allowed after Easter Sunday.

Burton: OK, Methodist Central Hall.

Mrs Hnaef: Archway

Stacey: Brixton

All:  Oooh! Cunning!

Drayton: I'm sorry, you're going to have to explain the....

Archdruid: What's your move Drayton?

Drayton: OK, Epping.

Archdruid: Epping? You having a laugh?

Drayton: Oxford Circus?

Archdruid: That's better. Mind, you've exposed your holding midfielder there.

Mrs Hnaef: Hospital Pass.

Hnaef: OK then. Goodge Street (handy for UCL and the Middlesex)

All: You're going home in a Heal's Ambulance!

Mrs Hnaef: Soho Square

All: Aahhh. Nice.

Archdruid: Morning Crescent.

All exit, muttering "Never saw that coming..."

God bless, Humph. We're missing you already.

England

And what a fine morning it is! The overcast sky, threat of rain and wind pummelling the immemorial leylandii reminding us that - thought bright sunshine endures for a night - in England rain cometh in the morning.

Today the outbreak of more English weather reminds us of those great Englishmen who have contributed so greatly to our culture. People like Cliff Richard, George Handel, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, Lucien Freud, St Anselm, Kevin Pietersen,  TS Eliot and Spike Milligan. I tell you, it makes me proud to be English.

Burton's Beer Tasting Notes - Thoroughly Modern Mild

Gadds Thoroughly Modern Mild. What can we say about this?

The obvious comment is that it is not a mild in any normal sense of the world. It is a hazy, pale beer like a golden ale. It is strongly bitter-sweet - and weighing in at 6% it has a strong alcoholic taste. In short it isn't very mild at all.
It seems to have more in common with a golden Belgian abbey ale in the Leffe line than anything else. But it is strong, warming and mor-eish. A total category error. But a nice beer. 6.2 on the Dirac scale.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Always next season

Dear Reader, I think we can consider the season over.

I speak as a dedicated follower of Luton Town FC, of course. A club with a fine history - the first southern club to go fully professional, indeed. And since 1891, when that notable event occurred, we have won - I would dare to say - several matches, including on one occasion the Football League Trophy (not be confused with the Football League Cup, which is a completely different tournament which happens to have similar words in the name. But entirely different sponsors.)

And over  the years, I have first sat in the Bobbers' stand as a young boy, then stood on the Oak Road end when that was for the home fans, and then latterly the Kenilworth Road end. Although, latterly, the Archdruid has banned me from attending as I have, as she puts it, "books to cook" on Saturdays. And she also suggests it is good for my mental health.

My love of Luton has of course only been strengthened by their habit of constantly getting relegated, going into administration, being run by power-mad or publicity-hungry fools, installing plastic pitches or banning away fans. Culminating in yesterday's heartbreak as the news filtered through that we had missed out on promotion from the Blue Square Conference National Premier Division. On penalties.

But there is always next season. That is the faith of the true football supporter. Next season we will win the league outright - or failing that, win the playoffs. Or failing that avoid relegation. Next season will be a year of consolidation, or the year we break through, or when we finally - against all the odds - win a game.  Next year the parade of over-paid carthorses we swore at through the muddy fields of February will be a Brazil-like outfit, stroking the ball through the dappled shade of September. Next year the gawky kids will, swan-like, glide around the hallowed acres of Kenilworth Road, and a host of unexpectedly wise signings will drive the team through the opposition. And we might stay out of administration. And one day, after 60 years of trying, we might finally get a new ground.

For this season, the broken  dreams are put away. The metaphorical straw hat is put in its box. We are left with memories of Eric Morecambe, David Pleat's jig of joy, Malcolm MacDonald, the marvellous Alan West and the Futcher Twins. And the hope of next season.

There's always next season.

Shattered dreams and reconstructing visions

I still can't get over the way my assumptions have been overthrown, my whole Weltanschauung made a mockery of by this turn of events.

I refer, of course, to the discovery of an Early Bronze Age battle site in Germany. Here at the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley we've always assumed that the people of the Bronze Age were gentle, wise and spiritual. Living in peace with their neighbours, the environment and themselves. We don't have any evidence for this, but it fits our philosophy on life. The discovery of the site of a major battle is a real shock. What on earth were these gentle folk doing, hitting each other with lumps of wood shaped like baseball bats and croquet mallets? I mean - it sounds like the last time we had an expressive-form Sports Day.

Even the belief in their respect for the environment is destroyed when I consider that they flung the bodies of the dead into the river - polluting the water course and depositing the bodies way downstream.

I have only two hopes to cling to here. The first is that this was the site of Beaker People defending their community bravely against some genuinely evil outsiders - such as the Corded Wear Folk, or the Guinea Pig Folk of Nordrhein-Westphalia.

But the other - well, this is an outside shot, but depends upon wishful thinking to such a degree that it may actually be true. The scientists have found evidence of "a millet diet". Would it be so far-fetched to think that these, gentle, peaceful Beaker Folk died defending their homes against an attack of evil giant budgerigars? Scientists have, so far, been unable to disprove this theory. So I think we can safely assume it's true.

Aldersgate Sunday

And so we mark Aldersgate Sunday. The Sunday when Methodists the world over remember John & Charles Wesley. (The Church of England, generous as ever, will also remember them - on the 24th, which is the actual anniversary of the insight at Aldersgate Street.

John, of course, was a prolific hymn-writer - famous for several hymns and many translations, although his translation "O God, thou bottomless abyss" could probably do with some re-working these days.

And Charles. What a great preacher he was. An immensely powerful and affecting speaker, whose preaching style was so dramatic and took such a toll on his frame that he had to give up and write a few hymns to make ends meet.

But of course, the thing that makes the Wesley's name so famous was John's organising skill. Without the classes, without the fellowships, without the chapels - he'd never have been heard of again. And Methodism would have been a strange half-remembered group that had met at Oxford - like the Bullingdon, but without the restaurant-trashing.

Aren't gifts fantastic things? And unexpected with it.

Back to Husborne

Just woken up from a couple of hours' fitful sleep on our annual Sleep Out. What a night. All that singing and carousing, and outrageous behaviour. You'd think my moral guidance has had no effect. Until you remember that I never give any, in case anyone thinks I'm being judgemental.

The thing that's been bothering me is that we were so pushed for time yesterday afternoon, and we're going to pay for it with the washing-up when we get back. We'd hung around at the fête far too long - I blame Burton, he was most taken with the contents of the Pimms tent -  and we were only halfway through eating our pre-outing tea when the coach turned up. We just had to leave everything on the table and go.  So - it's going to be all ingrained and stuck on the plates now.  I wish we'd all been ready.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The romance of the open air

Every year we do this. And every year I regret it.

Why do I accept this ludicrous tradition of a day out in tents in the Bedfordshire countryside? I live in the Bedfordshire countryside. And I live in a house. With walls. With space where you can clear off into when the neighbours get on your nerves. Whereas in this dark, down by the river, if you clear off into the open air they could quite likely end up fishing you out in Bedford.

So instead I'm in a tent. Sure, I've insisted on my own tent. Stacey Bushes did offer to share, but she was quite keen on "bringing a couple of guests round" later.

And what is it with religious types? Only put them in a tent and immediately the sounds of "Kum Baya" and badly-played acoustic guitars start to fill the air, wrecking the peace and quiet of the gentle countryside. Over in the Hnaefs' tent there's a fight breaking out - something to do with pour Daphne having discovered one of Hnaef's knitting needles in an unexpected corner. But Marston and Goldwort were getting very friendly earlier - which beggars the imagination, gives you a new respect for the effects of country air, and fills that same air with smooching noises. While the sounds coming out of Burton's tent - I tell you, the whole experience reminds you just how awful human beings are. I mean, they're OK in the mass - I love humanity - but the actual, flesh-and-bone real ones are another matter. The individuals - what a shower.

Anyway. I've put my headphones in now. It's Enya's calmest. And I've the cricket bat handy just in case. It's gonna be a long night.

Left behind

Such a shock. In some respects, I do not even know why am I committing this to an electronic medium - unless there is someone out there who wishes, with me, to piece together why it is that we have been Left Behind. Unless, perhaps, there is still hope and we can repent? For surely our repentance should not have been based on  one particular Day, but every day? Maybe I have had it wrong.

I was walking round to see Eileen and warn her that the Rapture, if it happened, would be taking place at 7pm (which is 6pm GMT - God works to solar time, and will not take advice on time from the European Union). But clearly it was my spiritual clock that was wrong. Because the Beaker People have all gone - taken, to judge by the food that remains on their plates and the cider still fizzing in its glasses, during their evening tea-time repast. The place is empty, save for the sound of the lost souls still locked in the dark Doily Shed. I freed them from their captivity so they can enjoy whatever we now face on this doomed earth.

Enough. I will sit down on the front steps of the Great House and repent in dust and ashes. And then I had better get the sermon written for tomorrow after all - if I have a congregation left to preach it to.

Fête Accompli

Husborne Crawley Fête is so English you expect John Nettles to turn up an any moment, or Bertie Wooster to come round the side of Crawley Park and ask if there's anyone for tennis. Maypole dancing, Pimms and coconut shy. The day things like an English country Fête don't happen any more, and the day the last English pub sells the last pint of real ale - that's when we will let the Americans have their Apocalypse. And not before.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Riding the Bow Wave of the Rapture

I've pondered some words Church Mouse tweeted earlier regarding whether it's right that people of faith should mock the people of the eBible Fellowship for their belief that the world will end tomorrow.

And looking back I've realised that one or two of the events of the past weeks in our Community might have given the impression that we were mocking that fellowship. Although, in mitigation, I would say that we've been mocking the  fundamentalist / evangelical / rapture-believing movement for ages. (But not a significant number of ages. Just a random amount of ages that nobody need read any significance into.) And the Rapture is a literalist interpretation nobody needs. Not least because Paul says "we" as if he's going to be raptured at the same time with all the other living people. And he's not. Cos he's dead. And we mock everybody else, including ourselves. So at least this blog has been consistent.

But there's a reason for this. And it comes down to my deep and abiding belief, which has been nurtured by an obsession with the End Times, my own fanatical faith in a single original resurrection and a future (but, in my scheme, way-way-future) general resurrection. And my other deep belief in the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. And it can be summed up in this concept:

The Revelation isn't to give comfort to the people on top. It's to frighten them.

When you live in the richest country in the world, and your existence is predicated on borrowing such eye-watering amounts of money that you could never pay it all back, and therefore your way of life is dependent upon a legal fiction that your money is somehow worth something - even though it clearly isn't - the Revelation isn't to give you comfort and hope for the future. It's to scare you.

When your cheap clothes, cheap games, cheap food and cheap petrol are dependent upon the oppression, suppression and exploitation of others - and the destruction of the world's resources - the Revelation's not there to give you the cheap thrill that, after a boring run of your favourite TV show, God will provide a bit of a finale with an appearance in the skies above Tupelo, Mississippi at 6pm Central Time. It's there to scare you.

For a 1st century Christian in a hostile world, whose friend had been executed for "heresy" and whose only hope was the story passed on by that very friend that his friend, Jesus, was raised from the dead - and when that Christian was wondering how the Empire that crushed all opposition would ever be opposed - the Revelation was for her.

When you're clinging on to faith against a repressive ruling order that hates your faith and diminishes your status and silences you with hate and violence and unjust laws - the Revelation was written so you can hope.

When you can actually see the Beast and know him for who he is, see the life-destroying force that can be wielded by the Powers of  this world - you'll know what the Revelation is all about.

When you can see the way the powerful oppress the poor, and call theft "trade" and unbalanced peace "just" - you'll know what Revelation is about.

And if your faith and hope resound to the heart-beat that goes "How long, Lord - how long?", because nothing else will help - and to act yourself is suicide, but you know the Spirit you can do all things - you'll know what Revelation is about.

The time of all oppressors is short. And empires fall. And the years of a man are - give or take - three score and ten (though the years of a woman are a few more). And the Mugabes and the Pinochets and the Mubaraks all eventually know that their day has come. And even the Western, capitalist, exploitative world will come to an end. And the Ancient of Days laughs at them all, enthroned as he is in Zion. And the caveat is always there - no-one knows the hour or the day. But the word echoes through the universe. And the word is "Soon".

Super St-John Shun

Every now and then we're blessed enough to get a copy of an early draft of one of the Gnostic Gospels. And this is a very lucky find. The Gospel according to St Eady was found just before the death of King Herod Herod Antipas. It was therefore written before the lifting of the injunction on the reporting of the facts surrounding certain events in the middle of his reign. It thus gives us an early glimpse of the conditions of secrecy under which early Christians had to operate, as they worked to share the gospel.


In that time, St JTB was thrown in prison by KHA. For KHA had married AB, a person of unspecified relationship to himself . And St JTB told him "it is unlawful for you to have your close but undefinable relative P's close relative by marriage. But KHA used to like to listen to what St JTB used to  say [editor's note - still under superinjunction]
But AB's daughter, SLME, came and danced for KHA. And he said "Tell me what you want, even unto half this unspecified kingdom." And SLME told him. But I'm not at liberty to share what it was. And KHA was most upset, but he had promised in front of all his guests [names withheld for legal reasons, apart from Silvio Berlusconi who was definitely there]. And so KHA had to give SLME what she asked for. And that's all I can tell you. Apart from JTB was a bit shorter the next time we saw him.  Now, I've said too much already.


St Eady later got into a lot of trouble, after breaking a super-injunction on revealing the hour and the day. That's one gagging order you don't want to land. And one Judge you don't argue with.

And we will build Jerusalem

Clayboy tells us about the underpants-wearing former vicar who warns all straight couples not to marry in church if they want to sing "Jerusalem".
Tripe. Not Clayboy, who talks much sense. But the underpants-wearing former vicar.

If you care that much about "Jerusalem", I suggest you ask the vicar - not the underpants-wearing former one, but the real one you're presumably meeting if you're getting married in church.  Before getting into the important questions about "obey" or not and Common Worship vs older language - ask does (s)he allow Jerusalem? If the answer is "no", tell him/her that (s)he is a communist-sympathising apparatchik of the New Labour state. Ask if they'd rather live in Russia. Realise what a stupid question that was, struggle to think of a currently Communist country, and walk out. Don't slam the door, that's just petulant.

The good news is, with the new rules there's a good chance that you'll be equally qualified to wed in at least one nearby church where the incumbent will allow this goodly song - and if not there's always the Methodists. And they're lovely, although a little short on 12th century church buildings. Honest, there's almost certainly no need for you to convert to being gay in order to sing "Jerusalem".

Here at the Beaker Folk we're particularly happy to sing "Jerusalem" at all times. For did those feet in ancient times not walk on Glasto's mountain green? If that's all eyewash (and some of us suspect it might be, in our darker moments) then the whole Beaker project is endangered by the suspicion that it's only powered by wishful thinking. And then where would we be? Broke, that's where. We're gonna stick by our principles no matter how hard that is - as long as we can keep turning over the handfasting ceremonies.

Helping those with IMIA

Jeremy was a successful systems architect. But one day, his wife asked him what he would like - something special - for his 40th birthday. Jeremy answered "A 1973 Fender Stratocaster".  For his 50th birthday, in desperation, he asked for some guitar lessons. Four years on from that, he still can only manage the first four chords from Smoke on the Water.

This is Jeremy's story.

Jeremy was one of the earliest identified cases of "Irrational Musical Instrument Acquisition". A debilitating condition, often striking those between the ages of 35 and 60 - and normally affecting men in that age group.

The symptoms are familiar - and yet so distressing to those that love the victims. Such as Jenny, the wife of Wayne. Wayne - a reasonable guitarist - left home one Saturday planning to buy a couple of new plectrums. He came home four hours later smelling of valve oil and carrying a flugelhorn. For months Wayne struggled to achieve the correct embouchure - but failed repeatedly.  Jenny tried to support him - gave him a book of Bmusic. But Wayne threw it to the floor, crying "It's no use. You're trying to turn me into a clarinettist". Three years on, he's no idea where to fit in the new drum kit that's arriving tomorrow.

Nor does IMIA only affect middle-aged men who can't afford a motor-bike. Elspeth, for example, acquired a woodwind obsession. A clarinet led to an oboe - and from there to a bassoon on the grounds that "it's just a big oboe". She may never be truly cured. Or, at least, not until the ocarinas are so numerous that she can no longer get into the house.

Or there is the story of Barry. Barry already had a Yamaha bass, a decent electro-accoustic, a Fender "Squier" copy and a Grade 3 distinction in Bb Trumpet or Cornet. What possessed him, that day in Milton Keynes, to buy himself an electric mandolin? Barry cannot explain  - merely rocking in his chair and muttering something about "the Misty Mountains".

Which brings us onto our most extreme case of IMIA. Chas realised that he'd developed a bad Electric Guitar habit in 2007. At its most extreme he was buying a Rickenbacker bass or Fender Telecaster every week. Running short of cash, he switched to a cheaper alternative. He came to us for help when he was on three ukeleles a day. Here at the Musical Rehab Centre, we've cut him down to the occasional banjo. But still there is a long journey ahead.

Can you help those with IMIA? Those people who, in extreme cases, will force themselves to learn three chords and join the local church music group - sometimes violently demanding they choose "Bind us together" as that's all they can play. All we're asking for is a load of money. Just £200 will buy Barry a series of lessons in the pentatonic scale - although, after ten weeks, he's unlikely to be any better. Only £2.50 will buy Chas a cheap plastic cricket bat that he can pretend is a guitar whenever he is desperate. Just £20 will enable us to pay a thug from Bletchley to go round Wayne's house and smash up his flugelhorn.

And you can buy Jeremy a new plectrum for just 30p. Although you can get four for a quid, which is a good deal. Some of them are such interesting shapes. And if you're a lead guitarist who occasionally plays rhythm you certainly need different ones. And while you're down there have you seen that lovely Les Paul copy hanging at the back of the shop?

Your money can make all that difference. Please give. Or we'll send them round to play outside your house.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Wandering worlds

"Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?"  
"Yes."  
"All like ours?"  
"I don't know, but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound - a few blighted."  
"Which do we live on - a splendid one or a blighted one?"  
"A blighted one." [Thomas Hardy - Tess of the D'Urbervilles]
I reflected on these words from the Master today, when I was reminded by a @MissFusion tweet about this news story. Hundreds of billions of planets are wandering loose in the Universe. Floating, dark and cold, through the interstellar voids.


Sure, some will achieve a moment's glory. They will wander lonely as - well, as planets - until they are dragged into the gravitational pull of stars and are not vaporised so much as plasma-ised. Others might be incredibly fortunate and end up in some sun's orbit. Some might - in theory - at some point - develop life. It seems a slim chance, but then that's a lot of planets and there's a lot of Time left.


But which is the blighted planet - the one which drifts dark and cold through space, awaiting the Final Judgement of the long, slow drift into Heat Death? Or the one that orbits a comfy star, in the Goldilocks belt, developing creatures that will inhabit it, mine it, exploit it, pollute it, destroy it?

I'm going for the latter being the lucky one, but then I'm not much of a Romantic. Yet I do cling to the hope of redemption. I am no rock, I am no island.

You can't trust experts

We're very excited to read about Stephen Hawking's comments on religious belief and, particularly, heaven. And I realise that in one sense we're none of us very qualified to speak on it, except inasmuch as I might speak about, say, New Zealand - a place I have never visited, and which I only know to a limited degree through watching Lord of the Rings. And I did meet a  Kiwi once (I mean an inhabitant who was working in a bar in London, not the bird. Although, in point of fact, he was unable to fly and did have a long nose).

But I take Philip Treehouse's point regarding Hawking's qualification to speak on heaven - i.e. no more than anyone else's. Whatever Professor Hawking's qualifications in  physics (and I'm not convinced that string theory isn't, ultimately, unfalsifiable, and therefore as invalid as the unfalsifiable concept of "falsifiability" itself) - he's no philosopher nor theologian.

No criticism there, and he's entitled to his views, of course. So I'm going to be inviting a few more "experts in the wrong field" to see if they'll get involved in instructing others in areas outside their expertise. I was thinking of the following:

A speaker from the Church of England Synod on snappy decision making.
Stacey Solomon on Astrophysics.
Ken Clarke will be teaching a special "Lord Chancellor Level" in Law (this is preliminary qualification to GCSE).
The Beatrice 'n' Eugenie Millinery course.
Manu Tuilagi on "anger management"
Fred Goodwin on running banks (had to get a whole super-injunction lifted for that...)
Harold Camping on camping.
The leaders of the nation's train operating companies on how to run parties in breweries.
Gordon Brown on economics.
And I will be running a new community course on car maintenance.

It all promises to be great. But not necessarily too informative.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Minutes of the Meeting of the Moot (May 2011)

The meeting started with the lighting of a tea light.


1. Apologies: Marston was very sorry.

2.  Matters arising from the last Moot: Nobody had actually done anything about any of them.

3. Discussion of the discovery of proven Anglicans in the Beaker Community: We discovered a minute dating back to 1934, in which a discussion had been held that concluded, after 56 sub-committees had been formed and a series of papers had been issued, that life was a rum old thing and we'd better have a bit of a think. Today's Moot endorsed this decision and suspended any further discussion until we'd had a bit of a think.

4. The light bulb in the Doily Shed: The lightbulb in the Doily Shed has failed. Marston proposed we bought a new one. Hnaef pointed out that the old one was a 60W incandescent bulb, and so we needed to replace it with a 17W energy-saving bulb. Glouria stated that she hated the new-style bulbs - she reckoned the mercury vapour interfered with the amalgam in her fillings. Eileen sympathised, although she said that she'd had the amalgam fillings removed and replaced with something less toxic, like Princess Diana did. Stacey Bushes commented that she missed Princess Diana, and it had been quite a sad day when we all watched over the A421 bridge to see the procession. Burton then reminded the Moot that the bridge Stacey was referring to was no longer the A421, due to the road improvement schemes, and we should correct the record. Hnaef asked what all this had to do with the lightbulb. Eileen asked what light-bulb was Hnaef whittering on about, we were talking about Princess Diana.

5. Mission: The Moot agreed this was a good idea.

6. Evangelism: Postponed on account of the threatened Rapture.

7. Finance: Eileen stated there wasn't enough, and in the light of the threatened Rapture could all Beaker Folk please leave their worldly goods to her today. Hnaef asked whether that would be enough to buy a new light bulb? Eileen asked why - did we need a new light bulb?

8. Children's work: We've now been told that children aren't really allowed to work. We will have to amend Community policies accordingly, and may have to hire a proper chimney sweep. This may also put a dent in the doily production, but then the doily business has not been great since the light bulb failed.

9. Ecumenism: Eileen asked was everybody mad? After the last debacle with the Guinea Pig Folk of Stewartby she was refusing to talk to anybody of any faith group. Although she admitted that as a result, her policy of only having conversations with atheists was getting her down. As the conversations mostly consisted of bright ideas on clustering indexes.

10. Trip to the Doily Shed: this had to be abandoned after three minutes of blundering around in the dark. Eileen asked why nobody had thought of buying a light bulb.

 Meeting Closed with the snuffing out of a Tea Light.

The unbearable lightness of Anglicanism

I was shocked at first, of course. But I'm just glad, really, that Hnaef has admitted to his secret membership of the Church of England.

To tell the truth, I'd had my suspicions something wasn't quite "right". And at least that it explains why he's so unaccountably posh. And tolerant of differing opinions. And why he's so fond of sherry. And jumble sales.

And, of course, why he never goes to church.

Coming out

I'm not sure how to do it, but think that there comes a time in anyone's life when you have to admit to those around you - those you work with, socialise with, even, in a few cases, respect - and to yourself who, or what, you are.

I've invested a lot of my time, my life and, come to think of it, my money in this Community, and I feel more at home here than anywhere else (except with a sturdy pole in my hands on the Cambridge Backs, but that's another story). I'm sure I'm not alone, but I hold a senior position amongst us Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley, and I'm not sure what my revelation will do to its cohesion, or its members.

Mrs Hnaef knows, of course: how can I hide it from her? She's been more understanding than I thought anyone - particularly a woman - could ever be. But I'm not sure what it'll do to the Archdruid.

I've always known. I was born to be, and, as soon as I was old enough, even proud to be, that most dangerous and destabilising of creatures: I say it out loud, "I'm an Anglican. And proud."

But whither now? And how to break it to the Community? And most terrifying of all - to the Archdruid?
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Nobody expects the Beaker Inquisition

I think I've mentioned before that Hnaef has a habit, in the morning and evening, of reading a thing called the "Daily Office". It seems to be some kind of religious newspaper, as it contains Biblical quotes. And every morning, Hnaef has a kind of discipline where he sets himself to live up to the readings of the day.

But after breakfast this morning, I found that he was wandering around looking very miserable. It turned out that his reading from Deuteronomy 10 was the following:
"So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being."
How, asked Hnaef, was he to live up to this? But being the wise Archdruid that I am, I pointed out that the Daily Office quotation is a bit like an exam where you can choose which question to answer. And knowing that the New Testament section is normally a bit easier, I suggested he tried that. And he read me this from Ephesians.
"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
Hnaef was already having a bad time. Yesterday evening I asked him to look into these reports of closet "Anglicans" in the Community and let me know who the people were. I figured that being a Cambridge man, he'd be better able to spot them - at Brasenose College Oxford, it was impossible to tell them apart from the Roman Catholics. But instead of leaping willingly to my task, he mumbled a bit and suggested that maybe it wasn't so much "either/or" but "both/and". A policy that normally I'm very willing to support, but really - in this kind of extreme case? Apparently these Anglicans demand that you spend all your time sitting in Committees, selling second-hand toys and books, and debating the replacements to windows and such like.

Anyway, this Bible reading business seems to have put the kybosh on Hnaef now. He's out on the Rocking Swing in the garden at the moment, kind of sobbing and rocking. It's very demanding, is reading the Bible.

Looking to the Future

I was shocked reading Penelope's post, to discover that she is already thinking about the summer holidays.
Just imagine - while in these rainy climes we still have a fortnight till what I will still think of as "Whitsun Bank Holiday", and then the happy inmates of our schools have another half-term of exams and other such fun to look forward to.

Yet to Beaker People, if we are in May then the summer cannot be too far away. Already we have harvested the first courgettes in the Community polytunnel. Already the tomatoes are forming on the vine. Soon the sun will be high overhead for the Midsummer lighting of the Wicker Man. And then the first wry comments of "soon be Christmas" will be heard. And the days will tumble downhill, shortening all the way to Yule. And the year will be gone, and we will be no wiser and so our lives slip away every day, each day that will never be again.

Sorry about that, you probably came here for something to brighten your day and cheer you up. But there you go. Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Some Beaker People "Anglicans"

It's been quite a strange day. I've made some discoveries, and I'm shocked and stunned. To put it briefly, it turns out that some Beaker folk - and even quite senior ones - are members of a little-known society called "The Church of England". And it seems that, even though these "Anglicans" are few in number, they've riddled English society. There's barely a community in the country without one of their secret meeting places. And yet so few know what their rituals actually comprise.

So I've been doing my best to find out what goes on in "The Church of England". Apparently, every Sunday small groups of people meet in special buildings and take part in unusual rituals. I'm not clear on how they keep other interested parties out - attendance seems to be by invitation only - but I reckon they have subtle methods for deterring undesirable outsiders. Some of them wear unusual clothes - for example it is not uncommon to find men wearing colourful dress-like garments, while old ladies are encouraged, for reasons I can't fathom, to wear dead animals on their heads.

I've referred to the men in strange clothing. What seems very sinister is that women are actually forbidden from the highest levels of the "Church of England" - and yet those men (and women) achieving a certain level of seniority have to go through a ritual at which they swear allegiance to a shadowy figure known as "The Queen". Their other suspicious activities are the belief in some kind of a Supreme Being, and the ritual eating of special food (quiche, crudités, instant coffee - odd stuff like that). The coffee is consumed from ancient ritual drinking vessels, bearing the name "Beryl" on their undersides.

I got my hands on a copy of the book containing the formulation of the Church's beliefs - the "Book of Common Prayer" and had a read through. I could  understand about one word in eight in there and had to get Drayton to translate for me. But it seems that according to  the "39 Articles", Catholicism, Anabaptism and Congregationalism are all wrong and dangerous to the soul. And yet if you ask the average "Anglican" in the street, he (or more likely she) will tell you that in fact they've got nothing against Catholics, Baptists or members of the URC. What are they trying to hide?

Harrold Camping

We're looking forward to this weekend's special outing. We're going camping in Harrold.
Some say we're asking for trouble. Some say the weather forecast is for plagues of frogs, volcanic eruptions and bowls of plagues. But I say phooey. They've never been camping in Harrold, which is a calm little place. The worst we can expect is a bit of flooding if there's too much rain - that's an awful big flood plain between Harrold and Carlton.
Others say there's no camp site in Harrold. And I say that may be true. But there's an awful big flood plain between Harrold and Carlton. What could possibly go wrong?

Gloating

Gloating is an unpleasant emotion, and not one of which I would wish to be accused. As a result, Mrs Hnaef and I decided to join the Mourning Lunch of Frugality which the Archdruid arranged in response to the news that Oxford had slipped to 2nd place in the Guardian's University guide, losing to Cambridge, including in important subjects such as theology, anthropology and law. Oxford managed a first place in chemistry, management and CDT (or whatever it's called these days). But still lost.

No figures were recorded for the number if Freemasons that each produces. Or if they were, they were kept secret.

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On Frugal Lunches

There is a tradition, shared by all well-meaning people (i.e. liberals and Christians) once in a while to eat something simple and give the money you would otherwise have spent to a worthwhile cause.

I remember, in my salad days at Oxford University, the Brown Rice Weeks.  At this long distance I can't remember whether Brown Rice Week was once a year, once a term or - as I seem to remember it - once a week. But the principle was simple. One paid for a standard dinner, and got a bowl of brown rice. The remainder being given to something I can't remember, but it was good.

Grown to later life, I came across the concept of the Frugal Lunch. On a similar scheme - one eats something cheap, and the money goes to a good cause. I'm not clear exactly what Frugals are, but I can confirm that they are normally used to make a kind of green, sludgy soup that you eat dried bread with.

So I've been up in the Archdruidical suite very early this morning, cooking a lot of bacon. I want to make sure that, when the Frugals are doled out, I've already got my fill of the proteins and complex carbohydrates so important to ensure good physical health in these trying modern times.

In many ways the Frugal Lunch sums up the important things about religion for me. Make sure it looks good. Do some good. And feel good yourself.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm just off to fry some more bacon.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Realised Inner Squirrels

Apologies for the late posting. Apart from anything else, missing that leap-moon left the entire notices for the week in disarray and it's been murder sorting them out.

But that's not the primary reason for my late posting. Oh no. The "Realising your Inner Squirrel" was what caused all the problems.

Everyone was most enthusiastic. But that was not the issue. The issue was - well, let me put it this way. In The Hand of Ethelberta by Thomas Hardy, Ethelberta is described as having "squirrel-coloured hair." So what colour was Ethelberta's hair?

You see?

We were supposed to be imagining serene woodland scenes, the majesty of immemorial horse chestnuts, the wind in the willows, all that kind of stuff. What did we get? Half the group decided they were going to be gray squirrels, and half red. I have never seen such an appalling display of racism in my life.

"They come over here with their gray hair, their flash gear and their nylons, and steal our does."
"Oi, you!  You've got the squirrel pox!"
"Grays, they're all the same. And they breed like groundhogs, you know."
"Who ate all the nuts, who ate all the nuts?"

And so on. Needless to say the fight, when it kicked off, went on for quite a while. Pots of Nutella and packs of dry-roast flying in all directions.

But that wasn't really what made me so late this evening either. It was when we gathered everybody together, and took a role call to make sure we hadn't left anyone lost in a ditch. Gorlia was missing.
We traced her down eventually by the sound of gnawing bark. She'd somehow managed to realise her inner squirrel far too effectively and was twenty feet up a conker tree. None of the Beaker Folk fancied climbing up there to rescue her, and even the Wodewose was stumped. He's seen a lot of funny stuff, hanging around in woodlands in Northamptonshire in his long life, but he's never seen anything like this.

She's down now, but it took hours. We had to wait till she got really hungry, then lure her down with a Topic. Someone did suggest a Snickers, but I told them to clear off. It was a Marathon when I was young, and I'm not using any poxy American names for chocolate now. After all - look what they're doing to our red squirrels. And they gave us Britney Spears and Dallas as well.

Actually, I'm just off for a peanut butter sandwich...