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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Meta-blogging

I read with interest a blogpost on eChurch Blog. But I'm not going to tell you which one. Yet it does make me reflect that some of the missives on this, our own humble corner of the blogosphere, that had the biggest response were about social networking and those that do it rather than the descriptions of normal daily life in the Beaker community which I more typically write.

It strikes me that there's nothing a blogger likes so much as blogging on blogging. And there's nothing a blog commentator likes commenting on so much as a blog post about blogging. Which I guess would accurately be defined as "meta-blogging" - blogging that describes blogging.

So, I suppose, in a slightly strange way, this is a meta-meta-blog post.

Now there's three ways of looking at this. One is that we're all gazing at each other's navels. And we all know how disconcerting that can get after a while. Another is that, like bacteria in a dodgy butcher's, we're living on the cutting-edge - so we're having to investigate and challenge what we do constantly, to understand where we're up to - a bit like rock songs that are about rock and roll.
A third possibility is that none of this really matters. I'm still going with the third, at the minute.

I should point out, in the unlikely event that anyone comments or links to this blog post, particularly if comparing it to another similar one, that they'll probably be meta-meta-meta-blogging.

Let's face the music and Liturgical Dance - Spontaneous Self-Expression

Maybe I'm going soft, but I'm starting to get into all this spontaneity. Really sets the liturgy free. So when Charlii announced this evening that she had a song to bring to the meeting, I let her go for it. We even let her take the squirrel costume's head off for the second verse, so we could hear her properly.

And as Charlii sang so beautifully, I was only too glad to take up Blodwyg's offer to express the song through the medium of worship dance. It seemed deeply right - as though a Hand was guiding our paths.

But in retrospect, I don't think we got it quite right. "Bridge over Troubled Water is a beautiful, spiritual song. And I'm not sure the Can-Can added that much to it.

Feast of Transferred Festivals

To allow us to focus on my sermon series, "What is the Song of Solomon about?" next week, we celebrate today the Feast of Transferred Festivals. We're taking Lammas Day and the New Moon, the Nativity of Fred Quimby, the birth of the emperor Claudius and of Herman Melville and Lionel Bart and we're celebrating them all at once to get them out the way.

To be honest, this is also at least partly because of the "Lammas" problem. We know it's got to do with bread, it's traditional and it's very important. But once we've made and baked the Giant Loaf, carried it around ceremonially and sung theme from "Bread", what else is there to with it? Other than make toast.
So today instead we have two Beaker people dressed as Tom and Jerry to act as loafifers. Charlii will of course be introduced as Jerry's pal, the visiting red squirrel.

As the loaf is carried to its place as the Worship Focus, the Whale Choir will sing "Food, Glorious Food". Then the Palace Guard will announce that Nero is dead and Claudius will announce, in a stunning piece of historical inaccuracy, that we need Bread and Circuses.

Thankfully, given we have a team of people dressed as cats, dogs, whales and a squirrel, the Circus will be easy enough to arrange. After which we will carry the Great Loaf up to the paddock, to the strains of the Largo from Dvorak's "New World Symphony". From there on in, the liturgy is to be conducted in fake northern accents (clue - pronouncing "the" as "t" and "grass" as "gr-ass" will make you sound convincingly Yorkshire).

We will close the Ceremony by eating the Giant Loaf. When all that's left is the crumbs, we will join in the Lammas New Moon Declaration: "The Loaf is gone - just like the moon". At this point the Moon Gibbon Folk will run screaming into the woods.

Obviously, given the deep spiritual significance and degree of technical excellence required today, spontaneity is strictly forbidden. We don't want to take any chances.

Also, can Beaker People please note that, to liven up the Children's Area / Holding Pen, someone has filled it with coloured plastic balls, and added a spiral slide and climbing frame. This has made the whole concept of a Children's Area more interesting. But has shifted the effect from being a place where parents dump their kids so they can go off and worship, to that of a place to dump your kids while you go off to have a drink. Afraid this whole "children's activities" concept is still very much a work in progress. We may have to get Charlii the Red Squirrel more involved in this whole area.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Spontaneity breaks out

Don't get me wrong. I really think Hnaef's conversion to the spontaneous is a good thing. Too often we button down our activities, leaving no space for the spirit to move or for the day to be seized. And although I sometimes wonder if a God who has had all eternity to prepare something good is really likely just to throw things together at the last moment, on the other hand I can appreciate that the thousand-page Beake Book of Rules can stifle that fickle spark of inspiration occasionally.

But I think Hnaef over-did it a little bit. Sure, spontaneous singing - even in tongues - can be a wondrous thing. But just launching into the Lachrymosa from the Berlioz Requiem - I'm afraid there was no way the rest of the Community were going to be able, spontaneously, to join in with that. And Hnaef nearly gave himself a rupture trying to do it all himself.

Spontaneity - a new idea

Mrs Hnaef was out this morning, doing Things Which Do Not Concern Me, so, as is my wont, when the temperature is between 9-32 Celsius, the wind is under 20 km/h and I've consumed fewer than 8 units the night before, I went for a bike ride. And afterwards, as I am Instructed To Do, I had a shower. And I ruminated on the Archdruid's Rules of Engagement as I stood in the steady stream of hot water. And then I decided to get out. And as I did, an astonishing thought hit me. A thought which has never hit me before. And it was this.

What if, just from time to time, we seized the day (carpe-ed the diem, as 'twere), rejected hide-bound tradition, and did something new?

It shocked me, as I am sure it is shocking you. But what if we dispensed with, oh, I don't know, slow boring hymns with bad theology that no-one really likes but the organist can at least play, or vestments for a few services, or honorifics for non-lay-people, or only allowing adults to pour out beakers? Maybe some of the stories that Jesus told about leading sheep aren't meant to suggest that we're the sheep, but that we should be doing some leading? All of us?

Maybe we should be (and I had to think about this for a while, because it's a word I've not used for nearly 15 years now) spontaneous?

Normally, these sorts of ideas hit me when I'm in the company of Drayton (who drains the idea from me), the Archdruid (who reaches for her cricket bat) or Mrs Hnaef (who just looks at me in the way she does), and they vanish as the noon-day. But this time, I was alone. And I did it. I was spontaneous. As I stepped out of the shower, I reached for Mrs Hnaef's towel. Without asking. I am My Own Man. I can be new. I can be exciting. I can be spontaneous. What differences will this new Hnaef bring? We can but dream.

Rules of Engagement for Worship Time

As all Beaker Folk will know, I'm not a great fan of rules. I prefer to trust in the innate gooodness of humanity. OK, this means I'm always disappointed - but that's the risk you take when you trust people.

There are, of course, some rules we would need even if we lived in a perfect world. Such as driving on the left. Imagine the horror if everyone just drove where they liked. Or even, unimaginable as it might be, on the right.

But still, I feel it's time to remind Beaker People of the rules we do need to follow at times of worship.

1.  Air horns are forbidden at all times, except during the Liturgy of Air horns, when they're compulsory.

2.  Any act of worship or social event we advertise as for "over 50s" is actually intended for those much older. Please don't attend if you're under 70 or so. You won't enjoy it.

3.  At the other end of the age spectrum, we welcome children at all Occasions. However there is a serious risk that they will find everything extremely tedious. Children don't seem able to resist boredom as effectively as those who've had 40 or 50 years of it. And we find that enjoying our own spiritual moments is difficult when we're worshipping with a background of running about, crying and fighting - which can only be made worse if there are children around. So that's why at the back of the Moot House we have a kind of holding pen. It's full of grubby soft toys and unmatched game pieces, and some furniture which wasn't good enough for someone's house but was good enough for the children of the house of God. So shove them in there, and if they're still noisy despite these delights we'll Glare at you.

4.  When the Procession enters the Moot House please stand up out of respect. I'd like to say that this isn't because I'm better than you. But actually it's because I am.  Please don't shout "she's behind you!" at the acolytes. It's an old joke, and it also puts them on edge.

5.  The comfy seats are in the front rows to encourage you to sit at the front. If we'd wanted all the comfy seats moved to the back, we'd have put the Worship Focus and Important Seats at the other end of the building.

6.  Violins and guitars in the Music Group must always be excruciatingly out of tune. I know this is an odd kind of rule. But if I make it compulsory, at least I'm giving the impression that we have some kind of control over the situation.

7. We have been suffering, during times of Open Prayer, with people banging on for hours bringing in all sorts of stuff only they know about, and on one occasion giving Bible references and quoting the original Greek. So note that contributions to Open Prayer are limited to one minute. With no hesitation, deviation or repitition.

8.  Party poppers are strictly banned at candle-lit services.

9.  Singing out of tune, too loudly, is an offence against the human rights of hearing and happiness. I'm introducing a "three strikes and you're out" policy.

10. All of the notices are on the notice sheet. And on the website. And on "A moot near you". In order that everyone knows what's going on, I will therefore read them all out at the start of each Occasion. And then there will be special reminders at the end if there's anything we don't want you to forget.

11. We scrapped the OHP because it was so shockingly behind the times. That's why we moved to a data projector. But please can Beaker Folk refrain from making shadow puppets. It's a real distraction from singing the latest, most meaningful love song to our Lord if it takes place while playful bunnies hop across the screen.

12. Chairs
a) The first person to sit on a row of chairs must sit on the second chair in. Sitting on the very end looks very antisocial, while sitting in the middle looks very needy - almost like you want someone to sit next to you.
b) Non-related people in the same row must sit at least two chairs apart. If on adjacent rows, only one chair diagonally is acceptable.
c) Do not sit in the same row as another person while empty rows are still available.
d) When starting a new row, do not  sit directly behind the only person in the row in front. It tends to freak them out.
e) If when you arrive there are no chairs available that are not next to people you're not related to or best friends with - go and find another place to worship.
By following these rules, we will ensure the optimal packing ratio of one Beaker person to every 4.7 seats.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Getting to Know Your Right Brain

Yes, I know what we did wrong now.

I've always believed that the Left Brain is all calm, cerebral balance and logic while the Right Brain is spiritual, creative, emotional. So if that is the case, we thought that the "Getting to Know Your Right Brain" session following on from the Hemispheres session this morning would be a great idea. I thought we'd all end up Cygnus-like beings of great balance, creativity and godly poise.

Now I don't want to reveal the precise techniques we used to suppress the left sides of people's brains down a bit. Let's just say it involves sensory deprivation, magnetic fields and patchoulli. But we made a discovery that it would have been easier to make by doing a bit of reading first.

These are the things the left side of the brain is good at:
- Controlling the right side of your body
- Logic
- Language
- Literacy
- Optimism

While this is the list for the right side:
- Controlling the left side of your body
- Spatial awareness
- Incoherent rage
- Running amok
- Despairing.

Turns out, a right brain's not something you'd go out for a drink with, or take home to meet your mother. Within a matter. of minutes, we had a load of people charging around the place, trashing furniture and screaming. And doing it all left-handed. While hopping. And then alternately sitting down and telling us it's all desperately, desperately sad. And then trashing things again.

So I really don't want to get to know my right brain. My right brain's even scarier than the left. But amazingly, it's all really cathartic. Everybody's wandering around in a really good mood, now they've got the rage out. It's like the sunshine after a thunderstorm.

We do these experiments so you don't have to. And because we're really stupid. Don't try this at home, even if you've already bought the special equipment and everything.

Hemispheres

To celebrate the Nativity of Geddy Lee, this.  morning's re-enactment of side 1 of the album "Hemispheres" will take place at 9am.

Now I wasted over an hour last night trying to explain the concept of "side 1" of an album to some of the younger Folk. Just take it from me that, like the sides of the human brain, an old vinyl record had two sides. If it was a single, these would normally express the qualities "quite good" and "don't even bother listening". In the case of the album at issue this morning, the sides represent "pretentiousness" and "knowing, ironic pretentiousness". (It's still good, though).

Now the Dionysians this morning, representing unrestrained human emotion, will be led by Mrs Hnaef. Daphne's in a bit of a mood with Hnaef after he and Young Keith sang a selection of Betjemann's poems set to music in the garden last night. So I'm hoping she'll manage the emotion of "rage" quite well. She'll be assisted by the Moon Gibbon Folk, who'll be doing "fear", and Charlii (joy, incredibly - the woman has endless supplies of energy). However the team is a bit short of numbers as that crack team of Dionysians, the Fertility Folk, headed off into the woods last night and haven't come back.

The Apollo Followers will be led by that possessor solely of a left hemisphere (or at least that's the rumour), Burton Dasset. He will be joined by, among others, the Beaker Secularists.

The Paddock is wired up with dry ice, smoke bombs and a massive sound system. So I expect a great and dramatic sight as battle rages amidst the Pomp Rock and special effects.

But it was hard work to find the person to play Cygnus, bringer of balance. The one who restores peace and order to the troubled land. Who, I wondered, could play such a key and diplomatic role? And them I realised I had been looking outwards, rather than inwards. Honestly, I'll forget my own name next.

So I shall, as Cygnus, be entering the fray with my healing and holistic views round about 11.15. That will also give me the chance to go back to bed for a while before I am required.

At the end, when peace is restored to the broken earth, we will sing the happy, hippy song of holisticness:

The sphere: a kind of dream

We can walk our road together
If our goals are all the same
We can run alone and free If we pursue a different aim

Let the truth of love be lighted
Let the love of truth shine clear
Sensibility
Armed with sense and liberty
With the heart and mind united
In a single perfect sphere.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Transferral of holy days

A big time for Holy Days coming up. Most importantly, Lammas on 1 August. One of the Great Beaker Days. It has the great advantage that it's traditional, but nobody really knows what it's for. So we can argue it's some kind of fertility festival. That's always the best line to take when you don't know what something's for. But first there's New Moon on 30 July. St Martha, patron saint of fretting, on the 29th of course. And 2 August is the date when we remember the death of Don Estelle, God bless him.

I'm hoping the weather's getting a bit better now. And we're all hoping we can spend some more time out in the gardens. So I'm moving all the feast days for the whole of August to Sunday night. It'll be a great Sunday evening, and then we can take it easy all month.

Anathemas all round

Hnaef is most upset about a church that has pronounced an anathema on Anglicans everywhere. I've been trying to calm him down by pointing out that they have also pronounced anathema (or is it anathemas? I've never been quite sure) on just about everybody else. All these churches are more liberal with regards to homosexuality than said Orthodox Catholic Schismatic Ukrainian Church.

But now it's me that is upset. For the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley have probably more active members than the Ukrainian people (I count as "active members" everybody who has visited this website in the last 12 months, a bit like the C of E Christmas count). And yet we're not worthy to be included alongside the Scottish Presbyterians, the German Evangelicals, the Mormons, the Bishops' Council of the USA and the Uniting Church of Australia.

So I'd like to state for the record our view that gay people are made in God's image, impaired as it is, just as much as everybody else. And sexual orientation is no bar to anyone being Archdruid of the Beaker Folk. Although I suspect that a mere liking for the music of Liza Minnelli might be enough to get an anathema from this lot.

Camp Woebegone

Whatever happened to Camp Quest? Asks Phil. A good question.

I guess the problem is that ironic disbelief is so last year. All the invisible unicorns have been captured. The Genie got out the bottle, went for a wander around, then realised that being out the bottle isn't all it's cracked up to be.

I hope both the young people going to the various Camps Quest have a good time, surrounded by anorak-wearing well-wishers as they will be. But if I were 14 again I'd rather be playing football or hanging with friends or looking in a confused and uncertain manner at the opposite sex, rather than being educated in the joys of sceptical rationalism.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

John Stott (1921-2011)

When I was young, and just learning the skills of barcodology, I was a frequent visitor to three London places of worship. Just two of them need bother us here. One of them was All Souls Langham Place, where Richard Bewes and Kim Swithinbank continued the great work that John Stott had established.

The other was the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, at St Peter's, Vere St. Where on many a Wednesday lunchtime I was privileged to hear the words of an articulate, devout, intelligent, rational evangelical Christian. Five adjectives that go together less frequently with the noun "Christian" than they should. A man who proved that Christianity was not insane, nor unreasonable. And that Christians could live good, holy, dedicated lives without being total wombats.

God bless you, John Stott. And we'll see you again one day, in the presence of the merciful, rational, loving Jesus you followed.

What is wrong with Leaders

OK. These things normally make hard reading. But it's important that I take stock, listen to the people, all that other rubbish.  In short, and reading from left to right, I've got the results of the survey "Issues with Local Leadership" (or ILL).

75% said that religious leaders are too fond of acronyms.

64% said I'm not interested in the people under my care, while 79% said I'm too needy.

33% said our music is "too modern". Another 33% said it is "too old-fashioned". 5% (the music group) said it is "too limited by the constraints the Archdruid puts onto us". The rest said it is "too awful for words".

57% said we should do more evangelism. However 88% said evangelism isn't their gifting, but they will pray for other people who are evangelising. 64% think that it's my job, but to be fair everybody else thinks there's enough sadness in the world already.

57% say I don't do enough visiting of Beaker Folk at home. Although most of these were quite clear that it's other people's homes I need to visit, not their own.

74% wondered why I didn't let "that nice Trainee Druid" do more around the place.

41% said the sermons are too short to provide any useful teaching. 7% said they were too short to allow for any useful sleeping. 42% believe they are too long. And 10% say they are a crime against humanity.

84% say we should engage more with the local, non-Beaker community. Although 77% think that "we" means "the Archdruid".

81% want to see more children's activities. Although 89% want someone else to be involved in the organisation. And 79% don't want the children to shout, laugh, play, run about, fall over or, indeed, be children.

Most Beaker People said I was "too authoritarian". But about a third said I was "far too authoritarian". Still, there's a bright side. A few thought I was "terrifying".

Nobody ticked the "about right" box for anything.

Still, do not let it be said I don't listen. Except by the 84% of Beaker People who said exactly that. I am listening. I will act. And I ensured that I put a serial number on each survey form, so I know exactly who gave which answer. Oh yes, I will definitely act.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Immortal by not dying

A Steve Taylor lyric of the 1980s came to mind this afternoon:
"Immortality's what I'm buying
But I'd rather be immortal by not dying."
It was the death of Robert Ettinger that reminded me. The sort-of-late Robert, in case you're wondering, was the founder of the cryonics movement.

 Mr Ettinger's theory is - to say the least - coldly logical. If he weren't by now deep-frozen, he would have no chance of living again on this un-reconstituted planet. Whereas he now has the chance to be revived by friendly futurenauts who will - he hoped/s - reprogram his DNA, reverse his cell damage, soup him up and fit him to live forever.
Obviously, the "forever" is a slight over-estimate. Nothing in this current universe lives forever. Time's arrow just keeps on pointing forwards, until the point at the extremes where the energy would not be available to repair the machines to keep Bobby E's body lasting forever. A resuscitated Ettinger would hypothetically last a long time - an unimaginably long time - but Anno Domino would still win out in the end.

All round it strikes me as more likely that, at some future point of civilisation breakdown, you'd be thawed out due to a long-term power outage, at which point you might make a TV dinner for some desperate 22nd Century post-Apocalyptic survivor. Or just melt and rot. Either way, it wouldn't matter much, what with you being dead and everything. But in my mind, the cryonics movement is most strongly associated with Dennis Potter's shocking, imaginative Cold Lazarus. And if you've seen that spooky closing work of Potter's, you'll understand the worry that, if you came back, you'd find yourself floating in a tank, wired up while TV producers try to make a documentary out of you. Or some wally bringing you back to life, just to say "I am the Ultimate Prankster! I have power over Life and Death! And you're not one of the lucky ones..."
http://www.channel4.com/programmes/cold-lazarus
And not to mention the unfortunate tale of Trygve Bauge's granddad...

It's a very modernist view of life, and death, that Mr Ettinger had/s. That infinite progress would one day eliminate death - and that the people of the future, against all the evidence of the 20th Century, would be benevolent with their technology. It's a view that already looks touchingly dated. Still, good luck to him. For myself, I'm going with the immortality that you might gain by dying everyday, and I'll hope along with the closing thoughts of Daniel Feeld.
Will there be any stars, any stars in my crown
When at evening the sun goeth down?
When I wake with the blest in the mansions of rest
Will there be any stars in my crown?

Trainees

I was musing on the rather surprising picture of what I presume is the Revd David Cloake on his site. Not the first picture - the second. And then pondering on the title of his blog, and remembering that he's not going to be a vernacular assistant curate any more, it occurred to me to wonder how our own trainee was getting on.

I've adopted what I believe is the traditional induction process with Charlii, adopted by those responsible for trainees in godly ministry the world over. That is, I've declared her to be the perfect person to deal with "youth" matters. Which means that, when I finally caught up with her while she was limewashing the Moot House earlier, she was covered in a nasty red rash. It turns out that she's got a nasty allergy to the squirrel outfit she's been wearing for "youth" services and this week's first Holiday Club of the summer. Unfortunately she overheated a bit, and some of the four-year-olds ran off screaming when she took her costume's head off. We've had to convince them that it's possible to heal decapitated giant squirrels, given sufficient prayer and some super-glue. But even so I don't think some of them will ever sleep again.

But as I pointed out to her - the role of Trainee Assistant Druid brings with it the requirement to wear distinctive clothing. Our Big Book of Rules doesn't prescribe what that distinctive clothing should actually be - but I think that a giant red squirrel outfit fits into specification quite well.

Turns out that Charlii's been wearing it so much, she forgot to take it off one day and attended the Ladies'  Bright Hour still wearing it. It's been a long time since we've had to sedate so many Bright Ladies on one occasion. Although Deidre still clings to the belief that they were in fact visited by a genuine giant red squirrel, and is very worried that next week they may have to deal with a gang of gray squirrels coming after it. She had a bad experience with a G.I. during the War, and she's never really trusted Americans since.

Still, I think Charlii's really getting the concept of "servanthood" cracked. Although not an Anglican or Catholic deacon, or even a Baptist one, I've managed to persuade her that the concept of "diaconate", involving as it does waiting on tables, is a valuable one. And she's been first out every morning on the ditch clearing exercises. It's fair to say that, in every way, Charlii's becoming more and more humble. Which has got to be good for the soul. Mine, not hers, obviously.

But I am aware that, with all that trouble over the number 5152 and the last Full Moon and the summer celebrations and everything, I've not been giving Charlii the quality time a trainee needs from the one responsible for her development. So I've organised a slot once a month in the evening, when we can go through the Training Lists. It's a great routine. Every month Charlii is going to keep a log of all the activities she's done. And then when we get together I can think of a load more things to add to it, to ensure she's getting new experiences all the time. And then we'll light a tea light and sing "Orinoco Flow". It's important that we build up her spiritual dimension as well as her heart for service.

Holding up Banners in crowds

Bless Timoon. He's worthy but slightly gullible, and has a hobby of going to sporting events and holding up a banner saying "John 3:16". Which I thought for a while was a message to his mate, indicating the time to pick him up, but it turns out not.

Yesterday I persuaded him, as he got himself ready for his big day at Headquarters, that if John 3:16 was a good message, then 2 John 3:16 was gonna be twice as good.

I'm feeling bad now. After all, I am meant to be his spiritual leader. But at least someone pointed it out to him. At some point during the Lunch interval, the "2" was crossed out. And emphatically replaced with a "1". Timoon meanwhile is really humpty with me. He says it's all my fault that no-one was saved all yesterday morning.

Monday, 25 July 2011

5152

I'm gonna have to shake Drayton Parslow out of his "famous ex-blogger" status - or at least his delusions of grandeur. As it is, I'm having to describe his various idiocies for him.  And I'll be honest, I'm fearful of guilt by association.

Drayton has had a dream. And in that dream "the number 5152 did appear, its number written in fire. In Trebuchet font."

I was putting these odd dreams down to his giving up the 21st century. I reckon there was some dodgy mold growing on the old potato skins Marjories has been cooking for him now his garden has run out of produce. But Drayton was - as usual - convinced it's something to do with The End of All Things. Could it be, he asked, the number of years from the Creation to the End? I pointed out to him that, even on Archbishop Ussher's reckoning, which  is of course pure eyewash, 5152 years from the Creation is actually 1149 AD. So if it was the End, he's missed it. And nothing of much interest happened in 1149. OK, said Drayton - maybe the 5152nd verse of the Bible gives us the key to life, the universe and everything.

OK. So based on this website, the 5152th verse of the Bible is in Deuteronomy. Like Drayton, I thought it would be later. Clearly there are more verses in the Bible than  we imagine. Interestingly it's the 700th verse of Deuteronomy - some kind of a significant number? Anyway, it's Deuteronomy 8:14 - "Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage;" which, as suggestions go, doesn't strike either of us as great.  You'd want a better Key to Everything than being encouraged to forget the LORD thy God. And incidentally (and totally unrelated) the Top Verses Website claims to have sorted the Good Book's verses with the most popular ones first on the ground they're "top". I'll leave you to consider the utter bizarreness of this approach to the Good Book.

So Drayton's gone off to do some more calculations, based on the Number of the Beast, the Square Root of the Beast (25.807) and the numbers 2,3 and 37 - the Factors of the Beast. He won't get anywhere, as he's using the wrong number. And in any case, I've a simpler suggestion.

The number "5152" is above all else a very easy number to remember, and pattern to enter, into a phone or other numeric keypad. I reckon that Drayton has simply been having nightmares based on his PIN number. Probably from the stress of trying to keep it from Marjory since she confiscated his bank card (as it's a modern invention, clearly he shouldn't be using it). Being a good scientist, I'm going to be testing this theory. Or, at least, I'll encourage Marjory to. After all, she is his wife. He did promise to endow her with all his earthly goods.

Ulysses unbound

I think of all the Epic Cycle of Greek mythology, my favourite episode is where Odysseus returns home.

It turns out that Tyresias's prophecy of non-inflationary constant expansion was rubbish. Ithaca is running a massive debt, as a result of investing in a giant wooden horse - despite still claiming subsidies on the olive groves they'd cut down to make it. The Greek Central Bank declares that Ithaca needs to make its books balance, otherwise it could bring Corinth, Athens, Thermopylae and Sparta (the "CATS" group) down with it.

Odysseus himself,  having been "offshore" for twenty years, is accused by Athens Uncut of tax avoidance. In particular they note that the entire Trojan Horse venture has been written off, and the losses set against tax.

Having seen the mess into which his country has descended, Odysseus realises he'll have to "take a haircut'. Literally - he's not had one these last ten years. Then he runs back to sea, figuring that even living with the Cyclops is better than this. At least, by living off stranded seafarers, they manage to balance the budget over the economic cycle.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Now that's what I call a boring sermon

Serious news coming across from Bogwulf Baptist Chapel.

Apparently Drayton Parslow's sermon this morning was so boring, the congregation's snoring even woke up Drayton himself.

Now that's boring.

Too deep for words

On an ironic level one could point out that to a British tabloid, the importance of one famous British woman is about the same as 90 Norwegians (especially when there's a "nutter"), which is about the same as unknown thousands of Somalis (especially when they come from a pariah state, and they're all Moslems). One could also add that in one sense artists dying young and Africans starving aren't "news" - we've been taught that this is what they do - whereas the shock comes where Scandinavians start killing each other. This doesn't fit our model of the world.

But you can't add up human beings like counters. You can't estimate the relative value of numbers of people. The worth of one human being is infinite. And you can't add infinity to itself to see which is more infinite. Amy Winehouse was precious - the centre of her own life, and close to many. Let her stand for a week of the shocking, senseless loss of life. Not because she was more or less deserving of death but because for us in Britain she was known. And though she made the papers and occasionally made a fool of herself, she too is loved.

Shocked by long-term suffering, sudden loss and senseless waste we stand aghast - unable to comprehend. We could give up on making sense of this maddening world. Or we could make sure aid agencies have the tools to do their job. We could ensure that cheap hate is not on our lips. And we can ensure that we cherish the brittle, talented ones among us knowing that they are gifts, but they are also so, so fragile.

And if praying is also our response, but our prayers are struck to silence, then remember:

"And as well as this, the Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness, for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words." (Rom 8:26)

A good day to remember this verse.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Dinner Party Meme

I have caught this from Sally and Sam.

Rules: you have to have 12 people, including yourself. Of those there need to be at least four men, at least four women, at least four known to you personally and at least four who are "famous". You're not allowed anyone who has passed on to the great hereafter - that would be a rather different sort of party. It needs to be one that might plausibly 'work' (ie don't just pile people together). You also need to choose a place/ style of food.


The Rules are a great shame in one sense. I would love to be round the dining table with Kirsty MacColl, Samuel Pepys, John Wesley, Linda Smith, Thomas Tresham, my old Nan, Buddy Holly, Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth I, Jane Austen and Mother Julian of Norwich. Not least because I might be able to help Julian with all that food she wouldn't want.  But that's against the rules. I just mention it in passing.

So instead I'm going for the flow of reason, argument and irony you'd collectively hope to get from this bunch:



Me
Victoria Wood
Dave Warnock - as he could have a good row with 
Jeremy Clarkson
Elvis Costello
John Polkinghorne (although we might be struggling for someone to understand him, so I'd invite 
Natalie so someone had a chance.)
Kate Bush
Sally as given some of the above she could pour oil on troubled waters (probably essential oil, and probably the water would be poured from an earthenware jug or Beaker)
Hnaef, of course
Carol Ann Duffy
and Ronnie Ancona.


Dinner would have to be at Efe's Turkish Restaurant in Great Titchfield Street and the survivors could visit Kirsty's Bench in Soho Square afterwards.

This ain't a love song

I'm feeling misunderstood.

I was off down the White Horse for a quick pint. As you do. Although in Hnaef''s absence this was more in hope than expectation of a decent chat. But at least, I thought, I might have a nice pint, sit out the front, and watch the world go by - or watch people driving in and out the car park. The Archdruid has been glued to the telly most of the day, but I've not been interested. Let's face it, cricket's a load of people in white trying to hit a piece of cork with a stick, when you boil it all down to essentials.

So I was strolling across the lawn just now, and passed Eileen as she was coming down to her "5152 Awareness Group". The official start time of the group was "just as soon as the Indians are all out". And I was playing the music of a modern pop group on my phone. I know Eileen doesn't like this habit - but I was  on my own, and out in the open, and unlikely to annoy anyone else.

"Hello, Keith, where you off to?" asked the Archdruid, "And what's that row you're playing?"

I made the mistake of answering the second question first. And the answer to the second question was "Scouting for Girls". Except that Eileen thought that was the answer to the first, if you see what I mean. And explained that I couldn't call them "girls", which is disparaging - nor "ladies" - but must say "women". And "scouting" was not the sort of word she expected in this context.

I've now got  a Sexism Awareness course lined up, and have had to agree that I am actually going to the pub on an "endeavour to meet an unspecified person - probably of the opposite sex - with an aim to developing a meaningful relationship." Which is all very well, but all I wanted was a pint.

A very rude man

I was busy watching the television just now. I'm very keen to see if I can spot Hnaef at Lords. Although trying to pick out a posh bloke in a blazer and silly hat is proving more difficult than I was expecting.

And then the phone rang. Now I don't know what the custom is in your parts, but round here we tend to answer the phone when it rings. And a voice at the other end informed me that he wasn't trying to sell me anything.

Which was a good start. I hate it when people try to sell me things. But naturally when he asked me how I received my television signal, I presumed he was asking for a proper explanation, so I told him about how information can be transmitted through the modulation of radio waves. I was just getting onto an explanation of the whole concept of an electromagnetic spectrum, when he butted in and asked was I a home owner, private tenant or council house occupant. So I assured him that yes, I was.

It's always nice when someone takes an interest and doesn't want to sell you anything. So you can imagine my disappointment when at this point he hung up on me. How rude. And I thought he was being so friendly.

Testing times

Yes, I'm leaving Mrs Hnaef today.  Just for the day, you understand: I wouldn't dare risk her wrath (and the wrath of Mrs Hnaef's mother)  by leaving for any longer.  But today I'm off to Lord's to watch the 3rd day of what looks like a great test match.

Despite her protestations, and assuming I can still fit into it, I'm going to wear the college blazer that I bought some *cough* years ago, and which barely fitted me even then.  I think I also still have a cricket cap from the debating/drinking society of which I was also a member at the time.  I shall also wear that.  I'll look scintillating.  Although that isn't either of the words the Archdruid or Mrs Hnaef seemed to mumble when I told them my plans.

Now that I've found them, I think I'll design a Test liturgy.  A liturgy for Test matches, you understand: not a liturgy that will need testing (that's most of the ones we use in the Community, to be honest).  And I think we all know what the vestments will be.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Burton's Beer Tasting Notes - Cocky Blonde

A lovely golden ale, this. Jennings can be proud of another great production.

A light golden colour, a certain briskness about the initial taste. And then all those lovely, lovely, bitter hops. Enjoy on a summer evening with a decent book on Steam Locos. I'll give it 5152 milliSchofields.

#5152

That's a strange number that somebody's written up on the whiteboard in the Doily Shed. I wonder what it meant? I don't think it's the record number of doilies made in a week.

A beautiful morning

To summarise the Bard of Birmingham, Sun is shining, and it's a beautiful new day, hey-hey.

It does look rather lovely out there. So let's get out, gather our rosebuds while we may (watching out for That Dog), make hay while the sun shines and Carpe Diem, as Horace would forcibly exhort us.
Anyone peering out their bedroom window and claiming "it's all downhill from here" is a wet blanket. And that's coincidentally exactly true, as I've authorised the fire sprinklers to be activated in any room still occupied after 8am.

So let's get out, face the music and dance! God is in his heaven and, while all is far from right with the world, we can make the most of the bits that are.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

On being a ghost in one's own lifetime

Hardy's Wessex
I went back to my old college the other week. Just a quick visit, nothing planned, on the way through to visit a site in Hardy's Wessex. And a shock it was - both Old and New Quads devastated by massive building works as they refurbish the Hall among other things. How, I asked myself, will this year's Freshers play croquet? On which lawn will the Most Annoying Fresher be staked out with croquet hoops, to be eaten by the ferocious College Ants? Oh, I reflected, had I only known, that could have been Young Cameron and not the late RJP Stephens-Sonntag BA (Seriously Aegrotat). Even at the time there was only one vote in it.
Radcliffe Square
But it's an odd thing, to return to one's alma mater, if I may slip into the traditional lingua franca of the vetus locus. Obviously to have the lawns of the quads removed (apart from the lovely, ironically named Deer Park) is a temporary thing. And some of the pubs have changed names - the Temple Bar, the Queen's Arms, the Cape of Good Hope and the Albion, to name but four. Although I realise that, two of those pubs having been "townie" in my time, most of my generation of students won't even realise they've gone - or, indeed, where they were.

But it's more that - you wander across Radcliffe Square, remembering the day you cycled your bike down the stairs in Frewin Quad after Finals. And the people wandering around the place are the same old ones you always knew - except they aren't quite the same. The place is the same - but you've changed. You're just one of the punters that wander around the place. You may as well go the whole hog, and photograph some poor bunch of students as they wander, embarrassed, down the High to the Schools in sub fusc to sit some exam. After all, when you're facing the most stressful 3 hours of your life it's best to have some gorm sticking a camera in your face. It's character-forming, after all. And the college coffee shop is called "Gertie's" after a college servant of yore. But you - you were served tea at the hands of Gertie herself.

Old Quad, BNC
The stones that make up the colleges are themselves millions of years old, of course - limestone laid down in Jurassic seas under the Jurassic Sun. And the stones and the buildings and the sun are the same, in a relative way, but you're older. Shorter of breath, and a quarter-century closer to death. It's all stayed the same - give or take a bike lane - but you're the one that's not. You may have been Tennis Club captain, star hockey striker, Maths First or Queen of the JCR. But after all these years, you're just a ghost. You flit through, and nobody knows who you are.

It's a lovely place, though. And it's solid, and steady, and will last forever. It's just we that change.

The tweet-life of social media

I've chosen a dodgy analogy here to give myself a nice title.

But  the recent blogdown in Christian has given me pause to ponder the growth and death cycles of social media.

It's worth a thought perhaps, if only to remind ourselves that a thousand webpages in God's site are as but a tweet that endures for an evening. As a wise man once said - how fragile we are, how fragile we are.

If we consider Paul's Letters - after 2,000 years they are read more than they have ever been - if only because there are now more Christians in the world than there have ever been. Albeit probably no more in Ephesus now than there were when Paul allegedly didn't write to it.

How long might Paul have expected his Letters to last? Maybe a couple of years as they were passed around Asia Minor, Greece, and those parts of Africa around Cyrene? Yet here they still are - in hundreds of languages and more translations produced every year.

When Thomas Hardy and Dickens wrote their monthly serials, did they think that 150 years later, every year there would be a fight over whether they should be on the GCSE syllabus? When Hardy was writing about those wonders of his modern age, the steam train and the electric telegraph - did he ever dream that through amazing enhancements in telegraphy and electronics, one day we would be able to read his complete works from a Kindle while sitting on a train waiting outside Euston Station due to a points failure in the Tring area?

Or take Private Eye. Initially printed on loo roll by a bunch of enthusiastic Oxford types - did they ever dream that one day people would advertise in the back pages of that Organ, for back issues of what is, after all, a topical magazine?

In a related field - the hundreds of thousands of newspaper editions fly by. Who can remember what Polly Toynbee was being self-righteous and naggy about last week, as opposed to this? Who remembers whether it was Dora from Dagenham or Kimberley from Keighley, who opined on Page 3 that the BBC received too big a licence income? What was that bloke - Rod somebody, is it - who resigned from the Today programme - you remember - what was he being drily whimsical about last Sunday? And who cares?

And so we come to our beloved Social Media. When the Universe dies, over trillions of years, not much will happen as it all trends away towards maximum entropy. Even the Black Holes will one day dry out. And so a retired blog sits there, accumulating pointless Alexa rankings and Google searches until it is as if it were no more. That would appear to be a three- or four-year process.

A blogpost - one that goes really viral - may take a week really to go round the world. But its peak readership probably numbers a few or ten thousand, and after a few weeks it is like the people of long ago, whom we remember no more.

A tweet is but for the moment. Except when someone - ironically - announces they want to blow up an airport, in which case the #hashtag can last a few weeks, until there's a footballer to name in the Next Great Twitter Campaign for freedom. Which will last a week.

So, Social Media-ites. Our chosen medium is not even medium-term. Perhaps we should rename it a "short" instead. And yet there is One who backs up all tweets, who indexes all blogs. Who hears all answer phone messages -and I don't mean Rupert Murdoch. And On That Day (tm) when our timelimes are read back we will know what was of value, and what was but dross. And in that day we will know as we are known. We will no longer see through a glass darkly. And we might even know who the Church Mouse is.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Mendelian predestination

All the Mendelian genetics today has got a few Beaker people down a bit. Isn't it all a bit deterministic, they ask - if at the statistical level we're doomed to break out, as it were, 25% purple - 75% yellow - then what shall be shall be. Especially since once the die is cast our genes determine our behaviour and therefore our eternal destiny. Once again, there's a huge swing to the Calvinist view. And with an impressionable bunch like mine, within minutes they're dressed in black, going around with gloomy looks and planning to set up new Colonies in the New World.

But hang on just a mangetout-picking minute, I tell them. This may work at the statistical level but that's not the level you live at. Each of you is a complex throw of numerous genetic dice. OK, I'm not saying that's necessarily appealing for me. But then that's only my problem. After all, it's me that has to look at you. You don't have to look at you. Add in the random effects of ionizing radiation - that can tweak genes to new and unexpected outcomes. Or, to look at it another way, cheer up - there's a good chance you're all mutants.

Amazingly this makes them all much happier. Before I know it they're all wearing bright Arminian clothes, smiles have broken out and they're boldly demanding the right to make their own decisions. And I begin to wish I'd left them Calvinist.

I tell you, this kind of spiritual power is a real responsibility. But I'll try not to let it go to my head.

Nativity of Gregor Mendel (1820)

Today we celebrate a great monk and scientist.
We have hunted for evidence that he lost his faith, gave wild parties, or once employed a former journalist from the News of the World. Unsuccessfully. We reckon he was just a good guy and a decent scientist (albeit one who accidentally created a race of killer bees).

Young Keith won't be joining us, he's in the Stretching Room trying to create a race of long-necked spiders. Some people won't be told.

Introit: Four Peas - a Jolly Good Fellow

Confessional: The Gene Genie

Gradual: Don't be silly, this is genetics,.not blending inheritance.

Offertory: Runny from the bee

Recessional: All we are saying, is give peas a chance.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The plagued turtles

So having watched Richard Hammond's Journey to the Centre of the Planet something's occurred to me.

It doesn't matter whether the science programme is zoology (Richard Attenborough), astrophysics (Prof Brian Cox) or Geology (eh... Richard Hammond). They all end up on a beach looking at a turtle.

Turtles are now outnumbered on their native beaches by television science presenters. At the current rate of growth, every turtle in the world will have been accidentally trodden on by a science programme camera operator within 5 years. It's a disaster in the making.

But this is really good, by the way...

Set the controls for the heart of the dimness

In desperation while Drayton Parslow is boycotting the modern world, Marjory asked if she could come round and watch the telly with me. No worries, except Drayton turned up as well. It would appear that using electricity is fine, as long as it's on my bill.

We were watching Richard Hammond's Journey to the Centre of the Planet. Quite a fun little science programme, albeit with the totally unnecessary addition of Hammond's name to the front of the title and a certain amount of Top Gear macho-ism by anthropoid geologists scooping lava out of the mouths of volcanoes.

And we were watching the CGI effects of the earth folding as tectonic plates collided, pushing the mountains up. And Drayton watched open-mouthed with awe at this evidence of the wonder of Creation.

"Marvellous," he said. And do you know, I really thought he'd got it. I thought he'd understood something of the way the world was made, over aeons of geological time.

"To think," he said, "that all that happened in just 6 days. It really makes you wonder, doesn't it?"

I rang to have him removed from my presence, of course, but before Ardwulf could get up to my suite Marjory had already chased him out the building. It must be so embarrassing having him around, sometimes.

Jeeves in the Hacking

We are honoured today to have a guest-post from the Hon Bertram Wooster. "Bertie" and I go back a long way to when we were at Oxford together. In many ways our journeys to get there were rather different - I had worked hard to get high "A" Level grades, while Bertie won his Exhibition at Magdalen because his father owned most of Dorset.

"Well, Jeeves, I'm stunned," I announced as I lay in the bath, inhaling the needful early morning oolong.
"Indeed, Sir? Have you once again been watching Geordie Shore? I have warned you before, you may recall, against getting too interested in the activities of the rougher element."
"No, Jeeves. I'm aghast at all this stuff in the papers about Bobby Wickham. I mean - imagine her getting herself arrested?"
"I am afraid I can say little - as indeed can she - due to her potential case being sub judice."
"But, Jeeves, according to the Market Blandings Advertiser she is alleged to have encouraged Tuppy Glossop to listen on the telephone extension while Gussie Fink-Nottle and Madeline Bassett were discussing the secrets of their relationship."
"Indeed, Sir. I remember the headline - 'Stars are God's Daisy Chain', says Bassett". I can only remark that ladies of Miss Wickham's particular hair colour can be of a... forceful and impulsive nature."
"True, Jeeves. Think about that time she got all the oiks in the village to burn down the house of that innocent old cove, when she said he was a podiatrist. Or was it a philanthropist? One of those coves who look at your feet, wasn't it?"
"Something like that, Sir."
"And now, Jeeves, Homer Cream, the press tycoon, has admitted that members of his staff paid Constable Oates for information. No wonder Aunt Agatha always knows when I've been banged up."
"Indeed, Sir. And Stilton Cheesewright has had to resign because instead of carrying out an investigation, he just went around saying "Ho". And now it seems people are asking questions about Roderick Spode."
I gave a visible start, causing the rubber duck to leap from the soothing bubble-b. Spode is, of course, a much less successful Dictator since he became Prime Minister.
"Good grief, Jeeves," I expostulated. "He's not stolen Sir Watkyn Bassett's cow-creamer has he?"
"No, Sir. At this stage it is merely alleged that he has been closer to Miss Roberta Wickham and Mr Cream than he should have been."
"Well, of course, Jeeves. Being in the same circles, naturally they are often part of the same house parties. As, indeed, am I."
"Indeed, Sir. Now - about your - ahem - appointment today - will we be wearing the pin-striped or the dark suit?"
"Well, Jeeves, I think for meeting the Met the old Mess Jacket with the brass buttons?"
For a moment a look of pain played across Jeeves's face. And I felt a sense of Impending Doom.

Monday, 18 July 2011

St Jane Austen (1817)

Period Costume. As befits an upper-class Anglican, Hnaef may wear preaching bands and a superior look.

Hnaef: Archdruid, it is the Marquis of Cholmondeley-Warner to see you.

Archdruid: The Marquis of Cholmondeley-Warner? But I am wearing my second-best collection of petticoats. Kitty - you must see him for me.

Kitty: Your Marquisity. The Archdruid is sad to inform you that, due to her getting wet feet she has had an attack of the vapours. But she says if you want to ask her to marry you again, the answer is "no". You are a sullen man, whose brooding and miserable exterior conceals a heart of flint. You may own Rutland, but what is all of Rutland if one must live among its sybaritic pleasures without true love? And what is that vile practice that you practise in its second-largest town?

Marquis: Uppingham?

Kitty: Precisely. You are a libertine and a trifler with women's hearts. Now begone, your Marquisitry.

Marquis: I shall be gone indeed, after I have swum around the lake in a sultry and mysterious manner.

Kitty: You'll find the duck pond over there, Your Marquisness. Afterwards you may change in one of the Marquees.

Marquis: You have more than one Marquee?

Kitty: Indeed, Your Marquisticity. The one on the left has been erected for tonight's Janeite Ball. The one on the right is the one we keep for visitors from Devon. We call it the Marquee of Tavistock.

[The Marquee - sorry, Marquis, may leave at this point]

Archdruid: Ah, Hnaef. What shall we do with all the gels?

Hnaef: Well, now your foot's better I'd put the Ibuprofen one away...

Archdruid: Not the medical creams. I'm trying to say "girls" in an upper-class manner, like Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Hnaef: Like Lady Catherine de Bourgh? No, I do not like Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She is a miserable old crone who makes the lives of those who swing into orbit around her a tapestry of interference and misery. And have you heard her nephew Chris sing? Shocking, I tell you. And such eyebrows - he has them made up in Town by an eyebrow-monger, I believe.

Archdruid: No, Hnaef - I mean, when will we ever see the young gels of the Community all married? Dolly, Kitty, Bessy, Molly and Stacey?

Hnaef: You are forgetting, Eileen. Dolly is shacked up with a bloke from Eversholt. Bessy is hanging around with a student from Cranfield University. You attended the Civil Partnership of Kitty and Molly last week. And Stacey just wants to have fun.

Archdruid: Ah, yes, Hnaef. It's not 1805 anymore.

Hnaef: That is a truth universally acknowledged.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Festival of Hedgehogs

After this morning's Tree-Hugging we thought it would be nice to continue the Woodland theme with a Festival of Hedgehogs.

Nationwide, the hedgehog is in terrible trouble. And whether you blame cars, pesticides, badgers or foxes, it's not good when one of our funniest, quietest national wild animals is increasingly endangered.

So we thought we'd have an awareness-raising service. This involved the singing of the "Hedgehog song". And the Curling-up exercise where we all had to curl into balls on the floor while Marston (representing a predator) randomly poked people with sticks. And then the modified game of British Bulldog, where you had to run across the Moot House while people drove electric buggies around at high speed. And then everybody had a nice bowl of bread and milk - I know you shouldn't give this to hedgehogs, but we stuck with it because it was nicer than cat food or a bowl of slugs and woodlice.

We're all a lot more aware now. So I feel much better about the plight of the Hedgehog. I can't wait to do it again next year.

Tree hugging day

Can all Beaker People be in the Spinney for 9 sharp this morning.

A few words of advice:

Trees are the big wooden things with branches and the bark still on. I know that lamp-posts can seem similar to those of you with urban upbringings, but you'll get no spiritual benefit from hugging a lamp-post. Likewise, if you hug a telegraph pole. It'll take you hours to get the creosote off, as well.

Try to avoid hugging Holly. It's not that she has Issues. She just finds this habit of going around hugging other people at random a bit strange.

The Elder trees felt a bit left out last time. I know they're smelly and leave green marks on your clothes - but have a think about the words to "Will you come and Follow Me".

OK.  Let's get out there and HUG SOME TREES!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

A mystery solved

It's been preying on my mind, but thanks to a surreal experience, I now understand the whole series of injuries I've picked up.

First there was the sprained ankle and stubbed toe from kicking that Piper. Then I gave myself a touch of Tennis Elbow, lighting so many tea lights for this evening's "Rather Lovely Service". And then I strained my side trying to get out of the Archdruidical rocking-throne to switch the telly off.

And then there was a knock on the door. And Morton Harket was there, demanding back the shin-armour that he'd lent to the Piper this morning. And it all became clear.

I now know why I've suffered a whole string of random and yet debilitating injuries.

I'm owing a-ha greaves.

Armourial pun

Well, after the incident with the electro-magnet, the Archdruid (who's a great fan of P. G. Wodehouse, of course) decided that the Piper should let bygones by bygones, and should give up his shin protectors. She immediately had them fashioned into digging implements: rather along the lines of swords into ploughshares.

I know what you're thinking: "What, hoe-greaves?".

I'm sorry.

A lesson from rain

I'm just sitting here with my feet up in the Conservatory. I was recommended that to deal with the spraining of my ankle associated with the earlier Piper-kicking, the best bet was frozen peas and elevation. But to be honest the peas tasted disgusting. And then I got bored going up and down in the lift after half an hour. And when your foot is a bit poorly, you don't really want to go jumping on and off a Paternoster lift anyway.

But the thing about being in a conservatory on a day like this is you get to meditate on the rain.

Rain is one of those phenomena that show you just how perfectly-placed and beautifully-sized this planet is. That water can go through an endless "cycle", as we learnt interminably at school, means that even plants on the tops of hills get access to water. That the drops that fall on the gravel outside will percolate their way, via the brook and then the Ouse, all the way down to the Wash and out into the Great North Sea- that's quite a thought.

Rain is one of those illustrations we use for the Holy Spirit. Most famously, in that way that Pentecostals have of assuming every latest thing is the definite sign of the Apocalypse, is the use of "The Latter Rain" as a metaphor for the end-time pouring out of the Spirit - as, for example, here. Like the Holy Spirit, rain brings newness. It washes away dust. It brings life out of barrenness. It freshens and enlivens. Little wonder, then, that most of us get under cover the minute it starts. Well, you wouldn't want to get wet, would you? Or, if there's too much rain, out of your depth.

Boots on the Other Foot

Thanks to all those who were concerned enough about my foot to laugh. Nothing serious, however. A stubbed toe and injured pride.

In other news, I just summoned the Piper to a special meeting in the Moot House. I felt it was important that we made some progress as I hate it when arguments develop to the point where people are hurt. No, sorry. I put that wrongly. I hate it when arguments develop to the point where I  get hurt. And did you know about the amazing power of electromagnets in attracting steel greaves? the Knight Shop International tells us that greaves were to protect the legs during the "vicious kicking" that went on during battle. Well, when their shins are clamped onto the Moot House wall, it turns out that Pipers aren't as immune to vicious kicking as they imagine. I think the noise he made could best be described as "skirling".

A pre-emptive apology to Pipers

I know we rarely apologise to Pipers of any Ilk, but it has occurred to me that I posted this morning in haste.  And in doing so, I may have unintentionally insulted innocent Pipers (if any such exist).

I referred to the performance of the Piper as "skirling".  To be honest, I'm not sure if that is the correct term.  When the Archdruid referred to "that skirling Piper", she may have been being just, um, descriptive.  So sorry to any sensitive non-Piper readers (the chances of there being any sensitive Piper readers seems remote).

The dangers of forgetting your boots

Oh, dear.  I've had to send The Archdruid off to Milton Keynes General for someone to look at her foot.  She seems to have hurt it this morning.

You may remember that we had some problems with a Piper recently, and that the Archdruid got somewhat upset.  Well: he was back this morning.  Really rather early.  Really very, very early.  The Archdruid had decided to have a late Pouring Out of Beakers service to celebrate Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury's day.  She only announced the change late last night by putting a note up on the Moot House door on her way back from quite a late night with Mrs Hnaef, wine-tasting.  Although I thought that wine-tasting usually only inolved having a single sip, and not a couple of bottles each.  Anyway, when the Piper decided to have a pre-Pouring skirl an hour before the dawn, the Archdruid was less than happy, threw on some clothes, and went to kick the Piper's shins.  As is her wont.

But the Piper was prepared, and had got some shin-protectors on.  And not the usual type you get for hockey or football, but some "borrowed" from a local museum, which is presumably missing the bottom sections of a suit of armour.  And he'd put them under his socks to hide them.  All would have been fine if the Archdruid had been wearing her usual steel toe-capped boots, but in her hurry, she'd put on her slippers.

And so, after some choice invective which woke up the rest of the Community (those few who hadn't been roused by the Piper), followed by a triumphal skirl by the Piper, followed by yet more invective by the Archdruid, I commanded Young Keith to take the Archdruid to A & E.  I do hope none of their chaplains are around at this time in the morning: I don't think she's feeling very ecumenical today.

Mustard Seeds and Tares

Drayton is still fuming over the potato cakes. And I must say, so am I. We've run out of waxed paper and had to start wrapping the Ginger Nuts in tin foil, and that's really losing that homely touch I was hoping for.

But he's a strange character, Drayton. He decided, at the start of the spring, to act out a living parable in his garden. So he mixed up a mixture of mustard seed and a load of poppy seeds, and planted them all in the vegetable patch. He told me that he was going to let them grow as a reminder that, though the poppies grow up amongst the mustard trees (which become as tall as trees and the birds of the air come and shelter in them) he would leave the poppies to grow amongst them - even though they are weeds - and only at harvest time would he sort the mustard from the poppies, and burn the poppies on the fire.

This was wrong on so many levels.

For one thing, the white mustard isn't so tall the birds can shelter in it. Frankly a budgie would have trouble finding a perch. And for the other, the mustard's an ugly plant.

And the poppies are blooming now, and look absolutely lovely. So Marjory's on at Drayton to root up the mustard so she can enjoy the poppies without "those useless oil-seed rape looking things" spoiling the view. Drayton's trying to explain to her that the mustard must remain until the end of the summer, when he will burn the poppies in the fire and gather the mustard into barns. Marjory's asking him what he thinks he's going to do with a load of tatty brassica plants anyway? And the kids keep nipping over the fence trying to work out which part of the plants to squeeze to get the mustard out. There's a rumour going round that you can get it by squeezing the tap roots very hard, so to add to Drayton's worries there are now dead mustard plants (or, in Drayton's word, "trees" lying all over his backyard). That'll teach him to mix his parables.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Beaker Biscuits

Excited to take a wander round the Woburn Abbey Garden Show. It's always nice to see how the distant relatives are doing. Especially when they give me such good ideas as they did today.

It wasn't the flowery type of stuff that inspired me so much.  More the food stalls. You know how the food stalls of today merge the aspirational and the spiritual. And sometimes it can even taste nice, although that seems fairly secondary to the image. I reckon you could sell Duchy Original cow-pat biscuits, provided you made it clear that they were organic and picked dew-fresh by a Cornish maiden.

And so, partly because it's going to make some money, and partly because it's another nail in the coffin of Drayton giving up the 21st Century, I'm delighted to announce a new product at the Beaker Bazaar.

Beaker Biscuits are made to an old recipe dating back to Beaker times. The potatoes are as near to wild as you can imagine - picked from a Baptist minister's back garden by moonlight. No sound is ever made when harvesting the potatoes for Beaker Potato Biscuits - as we might wake Drayton up.

After being washed, the potatoes are fed into our Industrial Pulverizer, smashed into something approaching plasma, then poured into our hand-cast biscuit moulds. They are mixed with our special recipe of spices, and lovingly-collected Beaker Honey (which we collect, lovingly, own-label from Tesco in Kingston). We bake them in a traditional Beaker Oven - a clay, beehive-shaped oven that stands in the Bottom Field, whose fire is fed exclusively with bits of twig we pick up off the ground in Aspley Heath. When the Beaker Oven collapses under its own weight, we look at the charred, useless fragments of Beaker Potato Biscuits and throw them away. Then we hand-wrap McVitie's Ginger Nuts in waxed paper, carrying a traditional Beaker Image.

Beaker Biscuits. You know they're good. Because we didn't really make them.

Equal passport rights for Christians

Drayton round bright and early, wanting to know why, if Austria can change the rules so a Pastafarian (i.e. nerd in a colander) can have his photo like that - colander and all - why can't Drayton get the rules changed on British passports?

"I am always smiling, because my faith has filled me with Inner Joy" he told me, "and yet the evil powers of secularism won't allow me to smile on my passport. The rules should be changed. I may appeal to Europe."

"Drayton," I said, "the reason you're always smiling is because you sang the hymn "Trust and Obey" once and you think that mandates you to go around like a grinning loon. If your simple, gormless soul considered for one moment the depth and width of sorrow that grips this blighted Earth - and the infinite physical and spiritual agony that was undergone so that even your pointless, twerpish soul might be saved - you would rather fall on your face and weep in torrents of horror and gratitude, than smile.

So anyway, he's gone off grinning. He's going to petition the Home Office.

Pastafarian Away

I was relieved when I saw the man who has won the right to having his picture on his Austrian driver's licence with a straining bowl on his head. Niko Alm wants to assert his right to wear his own religious headgear on his licence, as a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

But I was worried that, when I saw a picture of him, he might turn out to be some kind of starey-eyed loser who's just doing this to win nerd-points from his nerd mates.

Thank goodness that wasn't true.

The Pipes of Peace

Peace at last. It was harsh, but only right.

Mind you, Daddy's twelve-bore always made such a hole in things. And it has done this time.

In the pipes, of course.  That's the last time we'll hear Amazing Grace played that badly.

Mind - it's interesting to note that the kilt really does give free movement for running very fast.

The pipes go ever on and on

Fine. So the Piper has managed, through some Celtic magic possibly involving the consumption of a number of haggises and a pint of Buckie wine, to play all the way through our July Midnight Full Moon Festival.

There's nothing for it, it's going to need Daddy's old 12-bore.

Piper at the gates of midnight

That's right freaking me out now.

Angry at being banished from the Moot House, the Piper is outside skirling away in the gloaming. Well, not so much the gloaming. But there's a fair amount of light from the full moon when the clouds aren't sweeping past.

He's up there, silhouetted against the moon, blaring out the Fair Lass o'Gowrie or some such Scottishness. He's apparently done this thinking he'll put us off our Midnight Full Moon Festival. Well, he's wrong.

He's forgotten about BST. We're not gonna be out there for another hour yet. Let's see what his stamina is like.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Uillean Pipes

It has been suggested that I might like Uillean pipes, if I'm going to ban the more familiar Scottish-type pipes. And there is a point I like about them.

It turns out that the Uillean pipes have a concept of the "practice pipes", which are a kind of sawn-off set with less functionality to make them easier to learn. And I approve. In future Beaker people are allowed to use Uillean pipes, as long as they use the pipes without the bag. Or the bag without the pipes.

Not intended for worship

You see, this is why we have abjured all things Celtic Christian.

Yes, it's all very easy to get suckered in. They lure you with the smell of heather and the Coolins a'pulling you away and the haunting tone of the violin and the rhythm of a bodhrán.

And so, in a moment of weakness, full of the spirit of the Ancient North and West, you say OK. Have your Celtic worship evening.

And what do you get?

Bagpipes. That's what. Bagpipes.

That's it. I'm not being fooled again. Celtic liturgy is banned again.

John Keble's Day

Hnaef takes great delight in pointing out to me that today the Anglicans celebrate John Keble, the patron saint of ugly church architecture.

It warms Hnaef's thin, light-blue blood to consider that my alma mater was responsible for burning several people in the Calendar, who came from Cambridge. And those who went to Oxford whom the Anglicans remember - the Wesleys, bl JH Newman - they are most famous for their preference for other denominations.

And here we have John Keble, Oxonian and true-blooded C of E. And how is he remembered in Oxford?

With a chapel so ugly it could have been built by a Presbyterian. I need say no more.


Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Pope in his own Chapel

Drayton Parslow is starting to get on my nerves. No, check that. Drayton Parslow has always got on my nerves. But he's worse at the moment.

Having given up the Modern World on moral grounds has left him with so much spare time. I just met him wandering down School Lane, humming "We will overcome".

I've tried to accuse him of pride - told him that he just wants to be a famous ex-blogger, like Church Mouse or the mysteriously-productive Phil Ritchie. Then I turned it round, and told him that if you want to be a famous ex-blogger you need to be a famous blogger in the first place. But he smiled that sickening, beatific smile of his, and went off singing "O for a thousand tongues to sing".

I saw Marjory a bit later, knitting some potato peelings into a nice cardie, and she gave me the distinct impression of being a formidable woman who wants her creature comforts back. I don't think it's long before Drayton is back with us in the 21st Century. That's the thing with these people in believe in Male Headship. It's all very well doing that at Church. But it's never going to work in the Real World.

Drayton Bans Everything

What a lesson it is to us never totally to close ourselves off from the world. For if, like the ungodly monks of the Romish religion, we were to lock ourselves away into (strictly segregated) monasteries and nunneries - we would miss out so much news with which we can educate ourselves.

For example, I have been hearing about  the people who, not content with boycotting the News of the World before it closed, are now boycotting all things from News International.

I was already refusing to buy any of News International's wares. The Sun because of page 3. The Times because Crosswords, being cryptic and arcane, are works of darkness. And all satellite TV because of Keeping up with the Kardashians. But then in the Parslow household we also shun the Guardian for its smug liberalism, the Telegraph for its pompous Toryism, and the Daily Mail and the Express because their health-scare stories bring on Marjory's hypochondria.

In more recent times, I have been studiously avoiding supermarkets. Do you realise, oh my brothers, that these brightly-lit dens of inquity sell - under the same roof - bottles of wine, boxes of chocolate, and packets of contraceptives. They are clearly encouraging the people of this country to debauchery.

Clearly I would never, under any circumstances, enter an off-licence - that is if any are left, now that the supermarkets' debauchery-under-one-roof  strategy is in place. For in the old days, a libertine would have to visit an off-licence, a chocolatier and a barber's to accumulate his full nefarious shopping list.

Which reminds me. I am boycotting the barber's. When I was young, I used to think those boxes bearing the words "Safe, Effective Family Planning" was to do with creating a diary to co-ordinate one's children's out-of-school clubs and sports. But when I became a man, I discovered that these fiends with combs and Brylcreem were trying to encourage extra-curricular activities of a totally different kind. So from now on Marjory shall be giving me my six-weekly cut and blow dry.

I am also boycotting menswear shops on the grounds that they sell the kinds of low-slung jeans that the youth of today wear. And chemists, for all the above reasons more or less.

And so I find that I have boycotted nearly everything. Thankfully this year we can live off the fruit of the land - although Marjory is getting rather tired of raspberries and rhubarb, we have a fine crop of potatoes. But I have just realised, my brethren and their suitably-guarded womenfolk, that I am attempting to communicate with you through the medium of the Internet. That bastion of all things ghastly. And yet all this time I have been using its tainted telecommunications wires. Maybe it is time I decided to

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Moot live feed request

There's been demands once again that we make the full-moon Moot meetings available via a live feed into the Room of Viewing, so that interested Beaker Folk can see what's going on.

I think the idea is flawed for a couple of reasons - not least that if these people were so interested in what goes on at Moot, they could join the Moot. We're not exactly overrun come the Hustingsmoot each year. In fact, you'd think Beaker Folk had no hands, so swiftly do they all sit on them when the call for candidates goes up.

But I've agreed we will produce edited highlights. But for reasons of people not thinking we're idiots and trouble makers, we'll be removing any of the following:

A) Comments about how we did things in Archdruid Moomin's day. As if something merely happening a long time ago made it better.

B) Back-biting.

C) Anyone arguing that we tried something in the past and it didn't work.

D) Anyone saying the children are our future. When they're quite clearly also our present.

E) Anyone arguing against our involvement in Social Media on the basis of something they read in the Daily Mail. Or heard from their friend Alice who heard of someone advertising a party on Facebook and 800 people turned up and stole the house.

F) Settling personal scores.

G) Any more than the first ten minutes of a discussion about what rating a replacement light bulb should be.

H) Anything ill-informed, or informed only by prejudice.

I) Anything where the speaker refers to "people" thinking something, where "people" clearly means the speaker.

I reckon when we put out the edited highlights next week, they should come in nice and snappy. Round about ten minutes. And if we're really lucky, someone might even mention God worship or mission.

Ecumenism in song

You know, I'm often asked about my attitude to ecumenism. And when someone asks me about ecumenism, I always quote that lovely hymn:

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down
where we ought to be

A song, of course, by the Shakers. That notorious bunch of heretics. It just goes to show, you can't trust whimsical words and a folksy tune. Especially when you've just paid £500 for a dining-room suite and one of the chairs has a wonky leg.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The happiest places on earth

I'm unsurprised by Anita's list of the happiest countries in the world. Not that she compiled the list - she is merely passing it on.

Some might point out that all these countries are well-fed. Some might reflect that Belgium has now been twelve months without a government - which has got to be good for the inhabitants' general well-being. And some might contemplate reporting Disneyworld, which is not on the list, under the Trades Descriptions Act.

Personally, given the preponderance of countries at extreme latitudes, I am prepared to conclude that this is simply proof of the old sociological theorem, that blond(e)s have more fun.

Four-tiered anthropology

Dear Readers, I've had something of a revelation. It's of great personal significance and, given I've never had anyone explain it like this to me before - perhaps it is of worldwide import.

Maybe you, like me, have always considered the human person in terms of a 4-tiered architecture. The body is the equivalent of the hardware and OS in a computer system. The memories and the deepest thoughts - the database. The personality would equate to the logic or, if you will, business rules layer. And the way we act with respect to the outside world equates to the presentation layer - whether that is the mere CSS of a set of clothes and a haircut, or the rendering of html and javascript to define the actual way we behave.

Now, to me, the most important layer was the Database layer. That, I believed, was where the true Burton resided. Tucked away from the world, containing neither redundant data nor duplicating keys - that is how I truly am. The behaviours I wrapped round my personality were just the presentation layer - to be changed at will, always provided the data forms I needed to process or display were already designed into the database. I know that some think of me as merely a bland and boring finance systems auditor. But to me, being the master of the spreadsheet was merely my outward display to the world, to be re-skinned as soon as I found a better visual designer.

But I have begun to doubt. I can't help but think that if the presentation layer defines how I react to and treat other people, and is my only interface to the real world - whatever that means - then is my entire personality stack upside down? Have I prized the pristine nature of my inmost thoughts and neglected my W3C accessibility and webservice error handling? When people think that I have something wrong with me - is it possible that it's not just because they handle the Javascript badly? Maybe - in short - the way that I am rendered is more important than the way I am stored?

It is, I am sure you will agree, a disturbing thought. But I exempt my interactions with the Archdruid from these ponderings. Whatever my own problems may be, that's one personality that's still running IE6.


Democracy

Reading accounts from the General Synod of the Church of England, I was reflecting on the difference with the way Beaker People do things.

At the Moot, people get angry. People share. People oppose. But eventually through this process we come to the right decisions - ie the ones Hnaef, Daphe and I have previously agreed.

It many ways, it's like the British system of government. Only without the Australian press baron.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Social Networking at Beaker Meetings

After much electronic ink was spilt over the last two days regarding the ban on social networking, mobile phones and laptops in the public gallery at the Church of England Synod, I would like to reassure Beaker People that this won't happen at the next Moot.

Although, due to the electromagnets in the Moot House, you will find that phones are very unlikely to get a signal - a fact that saves a lot of embarrassment during worship - I can guarantee that the wireless access is excellent.

However Beaker People may find a slight delay of a few minutes between tweeting or blogging, and their posting actually appearing on the Internet. This is due to the relativistic effect of all those magnets, I promise - and has nothing to do with the PC to which Young Keith will be glued all evening. I can assure people that it's called the "Censer PC" - because Young Keith often burns the Community joss-sticks. The label saying "Censor PC" was a misprint.

Seed and the sower - music guide

Bizarrely our MoSCoW service plan for today threw up a "Won't" for having the sermon, but a "Must" for having hymns appropriate to the sermon. So we'v MoSCoW'ed the songs and ended up with:

Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" album
"3 Lions" by the "Lightning Seeds"
"Light Up the Fire"
"Windmills of Your Mind"
"We Plough the Fields and Scatter" - although we always struggle with this, as the tune is in German.

Being MoSCoW we choose each song as "Must" from the list as we go along. Bad news is that makes Tull the first one. And we've got to get off sharpish to drive some tractors along the A5 between MK and Towcester, while there's still a chance of catching the Silverstone traffic.

So it looks like it's Tull and then the blessing. I hate Agile worship-leading.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Sowing Seed

Our MoSCoW (Must/Should/Could Worship) analysis for tomorrow has unexpectedly thrown "a sermon" up as a strong "Could". And so I thought I'd do a little preparation, through the excellent "Text this week". I actually got the recommendation for this site from Drayton Parslow. Well, when I say recommendation - he said there was no real godly discipline over the links on the site, and they allowed all sorts of liberals to provide suggestions. So I adopted much the same method as when I needed a good solicitor - I used the one Drayton's first wife had employed.

But I'm a little concerned over the choice of texts that the Common Lectionary has put together for tomorrow. The Gospel is the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, and the New Testament reading is Romans 8.

Obviously no problem with the Epistle reading itself - a powerful exposition of salvation and resurrection to come:

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death....But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you."

But I'm thinking of this canonically. If my Beaker Folk stay awake through both those readings, they're going to decide that they're the good seed who are now growing to eternal life. And they're gonna be shouting "we want to be those seeds for you, Lord!" Then they'll light a tea light, kick off their shoes and settle in for a nice quiet life of blessedness.

But where's the hundredfold return on that? Or, from my perspective, the knock-on sales? If the existing Beaker Folk were high-yield customers, that would be great. If they were. But I need a better marketing - sorry, evangelism - strategy than that.

It may get me hauled up before the Big Lectionary Committee, but I'm gonna say it. I think they should have teamed up the Sower with Romans 10 -
"'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'"

That's a better match. Now they've got some imperative. Now they know they've gotta get out and sow. And maybe I'll get my hundredfolk return.

I think the Sower sheds a little light on the Church of England wedding fees debate as well. The Sower cast his seed to the wind, and it fell where it fell. Today, we have a variety of tools at hand to be more scientific. Where the soil's good we can use a precision seed drill. Where there are weeds we can use organic methods to remove them. And when that fails, there's glyphosate. Where the soil's rocky we can use a dirty great mechanized plough to break it up. And where it lands on the path, we can throw the "Public Byway" sign in a ditch and let the seed grow on undisturbed.

But the proposals on wedding fees are the equivalent of declaring that all fields are a light, sandy loam - and then issuing every farmer with a rake.