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Saturday, 30 June 2012

Sarong and thanks for all the fish

Very disappointed in that new on-line sarong shop. The first order I made was the wrong size. Sent it back, and this time it's the wrong colour.

Just goes to show, two sarongs don't make a right.

An Eyeful After the Trifle

Of course, Drayton's blaming me for all this. But I blame Pidge, one of our regular comments providers.

I thought we'd try to get on a little better with Drayton Parslow's congregation of Funambulist Baptists. After all, some of them might be well off, and in search of a less strict form of worship. One involving tea lights and doilies. With a souvenir shop. So I invited them all round for a quiet evening with a bit of a buffet, and a sing-song afterwards. What could be nicer?

Of course I knew about the Baptists' teetotal ways. But I didn't know about Billy and Bertie Jones's rather remarkable dessert addiction. Charlii didn't know about the teetotalism, but she does now how to make a cracking trifle. I knew about the trifle, but not being a great dessert-eater I didn't know about the sherry. Being life-long teetotallers, the Jones brothers don't have a great tolerance of alcohol. But they doo have a rather literalist view on life.

After tea, I suggested that we sing a few choruses, maybe starting with the song Pidge recommended - "When the Spirit of the Lord is Within my Heart, I will dance as David danced". You could say we'd put in place the conditions for the perfect storm.

Two naked Jones brothers dancing around the Dining Room. I tell you, I didn't know where to look for the best. Our evening ended very shortly after that - and Drayton's church has now banned trifle, and dancing. And over-literalism.

Friday, 29 June 2012

How to Measure a Meme

This was quite a challenge, as experiments go.

Eileen - I'm sorry, I just can't bring myself to call her "Mum" - picked up on Tim's post in which he referred to people who thought memes could be detected using fMRI. For those who are unaware - and why should you be? - a "meme" is a Dawkinsian idea that a set thought-pattern - a religion, for example, or a belief in ghosts or antipathy to Nandos - that can be passed through a population. The problem with the concept is that it is what scientists technically refer to as a load of fetid dingo's kidneys, but the word has caught on.

Surely, I figured, if a meme exists then, when it comes into existence it must be possible to measure it? And clearly the simplest way to measure anything is to weigh it.

So I decided that what we needed was an experimental subject - or "victim" if you prefer - who had a mind clear of all ideas, suppositions and, for that matter, morality. Someone untroubled even by the knowledge of right and wrong. In short, we went to Hitchin and offered the first person we met a tenner.

So we sat him down on the weighing chair, and checked his weight. Then over a three-hour period we introduced him to views on sexuality, the existence of God, ghosts, phlogiston and the Horsehead Nebula. We told him dodgy beliefs about Richard Gere, Catherine the Great and Geoffrey Chaucer. We told him urban myths, true scientific theories, geographical tall tales and unlikely stories about women from Epping. And after three hours, we had given him 1,000 memes - a kilomeme, if you will. And we weighed him again.

He was 423g heavier. So we concluded that the meme does exist. And on average - because we've not delved into whether complex memes are heavier than simple ones - the meme weighs 0.423g.

Or, of course, it could have been the doughnuts.

Why Accountants like Psalms

Burton's always loved the Psalms. He tells me there's a lovely, double-entry kind of parallelism to their poetry. When he hears a line like:

"Oh Lord, how many are my foes?
   How have my enemies rose up against me"

he thinks of the first line as the debit, and the second as the credit. So after every couplet, in Burton's world, everything on the ledger is square.

Of course, some psalms have triplet paralellism. Something like:

"By day the Lord pours out his steadfast love
And at night his love is with me.
A prayer to the God of my life"
 
does his head in. It makes him all edgy. He tells me he wants to make a line up, just to make it all right. The praise ledgers are all unbalanced on his sheet.

It's not easy being an accountant. But then, it's no bed of roses trying to pastor them, either.

An odd request

What on earth was that all about? Drayton just came round to ask if I had any really strong elastic. When I told him I hadn't, he said he'd thought as much, and went off again.

Shaker Day

We're remembering Shaker Day today. A kind of semi-monastic community, allowing men and women to join, making money through the unpaid creation of craft objects, and ruled over by a woman with delusions of grandeur. I find them strangely compelling.

Shakers are notable for writing the tune to which another heretic set "Lord of the Dance", for dancing (presumably in the morning, in the stars and the sun), for celibacy, and for making Shaker furniture. One presumes that after all that dancing, with the celibacy rule in place, making furniture must have been a way of releasing some pent-up frustration.

The Shaker movement could not maintain its numbers in the traditional Catholic way, so instead was dependent on adoptions and conversions. Their decline came about when the American state banned religious groups from adopting. Although I reckon the discovery that you didn't need to go without sex to create Shaker-style furniture didn't help their cause. Also there was that schism when Mother Ann Lee's sister, Sara, set up her own cheese-cake-making community.

So today we will celebrate the Shakers by attempting to make some of their furniture. This will raise some much-needed Community funds, I hope. And will also act as a lived-out parable. With all those saws, gimlets and chisels around it should be patently clear that Beaker Folk aren't the smartest tools in the box.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

On the Cessation of Jiggling

I realise I have been quiet of late. Not that quietness is a sin - indeed, it can be golden, especially when allied to a rueful contemplation of one's most recent iniquities. But on this occasion I have allowed the flow of neo-pagan drivel from the soi-disant "Archdruid", Eileen to be uninterrupted because I have been involved in the important question of women's clothing.

It was a couple of weeks ago, at Sabbath morning devotions, that I noticed an unusual movement in the general area of Kayleigh's T-shirt. We were singing a most enlivening and spiritually war-mongering hymn, and there was a certain amount of physical movement in the congregation. And this was most noticeable, as I say, with young Kayleigh. Let us mince no words - there was jiggling going on. A word I hesitate to use, as it occurs nowhere in Holy Writ. And that, I would conclude, is because in Biblical times, women wore demure, womanly, godly clothing - clothing that would not excite or inflame the male libido. Except, of course, in the matter of the Moabite women, who would no doubt jiggle at a moment's notice. But their libidinous ways are condemned in such a way that there is no need for such detail. Whereas I encountered jiggling within those in my own spiritual care - and as such I must take action.

My first thought, I will admit, was to wonder why it was only Kayleigh that was involved in this unnatural activity - is Kylie not among the jigglers, I wondered? But Kylie is more slightly built, and although I watched her for a few minutes there were no extraneous movements going on. I did notice, however, that there was a certain amount of jiggling going on among the younger adult female worshippers - and I decided that it was the slight improvement in the temperature this last couple of weeks that had coaxed some of them out of wearing multiple layers of clothing, and led to this outbreak - nay plague - of jigggling.

And as I mused like this, Marjory jabbed me sharply in the ribs, and asked whether I was planning to stop looking at the chests of the women in the church, and preach the sermon. Which I did. But I realised action needed to be taken. And so, for the protection of the souls of the men in Bogwulf Baptist Church, I have decided to issue the following dress restrictions for women:

  1. A strict no-jiggling policy is to be adopted, by the use if required of stronger elastic and - if necessary - additional undergarments to provide additional damping.
  2. Women within Bogwulf Baptist Chapel to wear clothing that covers up to the neck. Ideally in a godly stout woollen material.
  3. No mid-riffs to be shown. Especially if the navel is pierced.
  4. Although there is no excuse for a pierced navel.
  5. No tight trousers.
  6. Skirt and dress hemlines to be between the knee and the floor - or, ideally, slightly longer.
But dress restrictions are alone are probably not enough. To guard against men being led astray by a female body being excited in - admittedly godly and probably blameless - worship, I would add the following movement restrictions:
  1. No swinging of hips during songs.
  2. Women who are carried up by the spiritual uplifting of a song may move one foot up to three inches laterally, and then back. But only on the first and third beats of the bar. Not second and fourth. We know who thrives on the offbeat.
  3. When raising hands in worship do so reverently, slowly, and assuring that sleeves remain in place.
  4. Nodding your head in time to the music is acceptable. Swinging your head so your long hair swishes across your face and shoulders in the way that Kylie did last week, is not.
I hope, if the women of the congregation can follow these simple, Biblical rules, that I may be able to sleep at night again. I mean, that the men of the congregation will be protected from unnatural concupiscence.

Discover your Inner Squirrel

A very unusual session today.

According to Prof Heide Ensiek, every human has a squirrel personality - or "squersonality", and a squirrel spirituality - or "squirituality".

The squersonality types are:

Red: Timid homebodies
Gray: Aggressive go-getters

While the squiritualities are:
Ground-dwellers: Tied to the earth, occupied by earthly things, never looking up.
Tree-dwellers: Happy to loop up - but traditionalist and still needing to cling to the trees.
Flying squirrels: Prepared to let go and see where you land.

Combining the two squersonalities and the three squiritualities gives the six squirrel types. So gray ground-dwellers will agressively defend their patch. While red flying squirrels are prepared to withdraw into the spiritual unknown - the squilderness - to avoid the noise and mundanity.

Prof Ensiek does not claim to be a zoologist.

The practical session dissolved into chaos. People were leaping from trees and smashing into the ground. Burton dug himself a burrow. And Stacey Bushes - who at least has a suitable surname - ended up clinging to a trunk 30 feet up, whimpering.

Next week it's "What kind of Meerkat are you?"

I can't wait.

The Successful Blog

Anita Mathias is author of "Dreaming beneath the Spires", one of the blogs on the Right Hand Side blog-roll of our own little slice-of-life account here. Or, for those of you on mobile - another blog.  One well worth reading.

I was interested in Anita's post "25 Ways to Rapidly Develop Your Blog". Mostly, to be frank, because I've now broken most of the rules on it, as I have removed all traces of analytics from it. I had to. Burton was spending hours every evening watching the Google Analytics Real-time feed. I used to tell him to go out - meet other accountants. But he'd be busy telling me we had two visitors on the site - one from Oregon and one from Kent - and wasn't I excited?

But partly because I found myself wondering, why would I want rapidly to develop my blog? Is it because I want to save souls? If so I might be better closing down the site and sending the Beaker People to march, Flagellant-like, through the streets of Bedfordshire clutching tea lights and preaching the Gospel.

And I have no ads, so that is no reason. Goodness know it's not that I object to the idea of making a few quick from drive-by adverts. It's just I know, from the ads with which Google blesses me when I am posting, that they would all be for homoeopathy, books about the end times, crystals and holidays in Luton. I was amazed, on a solidly conservative Christian blog recently, to read an advert offering to put me in touch with my dead ancestors. And I'd hate to talk to them, to be honest. I reckon they'd still be livid over that hay-baler accident.

And one cannot measure one's worth in page-views and links. What does it profit you if you gain top-spot on EBuzzing, and yet lose your soul?  We can chase the cheap buzz of unique visitors and Klout ratings (which site probably can extract your soul) but if we mounted up all our hits at the end of our lives, what could we do with them? We couldn't trade them in like Nectar points for days off in Purgatory. Or, at least, if you can the Pope's keeping very quiet about it. Maybe he's getting the cardinals always to use his loyalty card when they're filling up the Popemobile, and doesn't want anyone to know why?

I notice that Anita is an author, and so I suspect that she can achieve some exposure to her works - in the same way that Eddie advertises the work of Wyclif, among other things - but who would give fourpence for the Beaker Common Prayer? Some of the celebrities in the calender have been all but forgotten now - a bit like the saints in the Anglicans' Common Worship.

And I regret that, since I imposed a stricter anti-spam policy on comments, I've lost one of my regular commentators. At least, I reckon I have. For all I know "Anonymous" was more than one person, who now comment under a variety of logged-in identities.

Perhaps the definition of a successful blog is to make you feel good when you hit the "publish" button? In which case I fail dismally. Hitting that button is, for me, like prodding that weak spot in my soul that fears that someone in any published blog there is a typo or Freudian slip that tells more than a thousand correct words. That is why on average I have Burton proof-read my posts 12 times after publishing, to ensure I have not accidentally revealed my inner soul.

So I shall have to conclude that there is no measure of what makes a successful blog. Unless it is, of a wet Thursday morning, to share my endless introspection with an uninterested world. But if you've got this far, then thank you for your attention. As Stephen Fry used to say under the cover of Donald Trefussis - "If you have been, then please stop."

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Are You a Troll? The Questionnaire

It's the question all sensitive users of Internet Forums and blogs ask themselves. Because you don't want to think you're blogging witty, imaginative comments to a thread when all along everyone else thinks you're a cold-blooded eater of halflings. So here's the ten key questions to find out if you're a secret troll:

1) When posting a controversial comment, other people can be concerned about offending somebody unnecessarily. But do you actually hope for a flood of abuse and hurt comments?

2) Do you post on the Gruadina's Comment is Free more than once a day?

3) Are you physically scared of people In Real Life?

4) Do you like eating hobbits?

5) Do you mostly seek out people holding other views to yours - not that you are open to new ideas, simply that you like to wind them up?

6) Have you ever expressed a view that you don't agree with, simply to get a reaction?

7) Do you have a lot of trouble with billy goats gruff walking over your bridge?

8) Are you either an extremely conservative Christian, or a very smug atheist?

9) Are your real-life friends apparently oblivious to your truly witty nature?

10) Do you live for the cut-and-thrust of virtual abuse?

If you answer "yes" to four or more of these questions, you're almost certainly a troll. I realise it's at this point I'm supposed to suggest you go and get some help, like these surveys normally do. But in fact you're probably beyond any kind of medical aid. The best I can suggest is that, to minimise the risk of turning to stone, you stay out of the daylight. But then that's probably the case already - you're already a child of darkness and shadows, leering at the light of your laptop as you await the next reaction. Can I maybe sell you some mail-order wart cream?

Geek St to Nerdington Crescent

Dear Readers, what a joy is the Transport for London page of Underground Maps! I have spent the day in rapt admiration of the beauty and simple logic of that elegant design.

And I have made a discovery, with which I hope to delight you. See below a very small extract of the map, showing the area around Euston and St Pancras.

The Underground between Euston and St Pancras

Do you see it, Dear Readers? If you need a bigger clue, you can click on the link I have appended below the image to see a much larger-scale image.

Obviously, I don't need to patronise you. It's obvious, isn't it? If you travel from Euston to Kings Cross/St Pancras on the Victoria line (light blue), you travel North. But if you travel from Kings Cross / St Pancras to Euston on the Northern Line (black) - you travel North.

I can see I will be spending a long night looking at Ordnance Survey maps.

Today's Twitter Stats


24 hours to 0600 GMT

Degree of lean to the Left: 74%

Overall self-centredness: 14%

Dead Celebrity Accuracy: 4%

Cat Cuteness Ratio: 7%

Percentage of Spambots whose Avatars are ugly Males: 0%

Average checking of Twitter popularity / unfollow / Klout rating nonsense: 27%

Trollage: 1.9%

Soccage + Pannage: 1.1%

Retweeting of Made-up Stats / Twop Twips / Newsbiscuit stories: 3%

Belief that by RT'ing something worthy you are changing the world: 18%

Displacement from reading / work / praying / real life that should be happening: 47%

Percentage in favour of Same Sex Marriage: 83%

Percentage in favour of Michael Gove: 2%

Deluded Green Beliefs: 17%

Humidity: 85%

Humility: 7%

Dodgy Medical Advice: 89%

Useful homoeopathy: 6x10**(-23)%

Justin Bieber: 9%

Justin Beiber: 9%

Chuck Norris jokes: 7%

Prayers promised but not said: 4%

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Some Initial Confusion

Some confusion for Drayton earlier. He wandered round to issue his latest anathema just as Hnaef and I were discussing the change in initials and terminology that caused "NSM" to become "SSM". Of course, in some denominations this is because "Non-stipendiary Minister" became "Self-Supporting Minister". It was felt this accentuated the positive (i.e. they pay for themselves) rather than the negative (they're not worth paying, or whatever the negative was meant to be). But this was before SSM took on a new meaning, and Drayton has waging a long pulpit campaign against Same-Sex Marriage. Naturally he assumed that NSM was therefore an alternative to SSM. Which led him, in a moment of rather rash self-disclosure, to tell us that No-Sex Marriage was good enough for him and Marjory, as two Bible-believing Christians. So he didn't see why anyone else should be having more fun.

A Poor Example of Inter-Faith Dialogue

A shaky moment this afternoon after our return from the barrel-rolling. I mean, we were pretty shaky already. But I was scheduled to do the "Circle Time" talk for Little Pebbles.

So we were doing Elijah and the Prophets of Baal. I had this lovely,state-of-the-art  presentation (Flannelgraph is long since gone round these parts, I can tell you).


And the kids say to me, so all the Prophets of Baal must have repented and realised that they were wrong, and turned to follow God, yeah? And I had to think about this. It struck me I had three choices:

(I) Lie, say "yes, they all lived happily ever after", and cut the appropriate verses out of every single Bible in the Community.
(II) Lie, say "yes, they all lived happily ever after",and tell them God never wanted them to read the Bible as long as they lived.
(III) Tell the truth, and then deal with a hundred questions I didn't really want to answer.

So I went for option (IV) - told them to ask their teacher, and then ran out of the room claiming the Moot House was due to receive a large delivery of eels. Which, as it happened, was true. And that's an alt.lit event I don't want to revisit, as well. But that's another story.

It strikes me that Elijah was a great hero of faith. But you wouldn't want him to organise the inter-faith barbecue service.

The Prodigal Returns

A man had two sons, and the younger said to him, "give unto me mine share of the dosh - shame to wait till thou'rt dead."

So he gave him the dosh, and he went unto a far country where he spent it on Krispy Kreme donuts and Stella Artois. And when he had spent all his money, he got a job tending pigs.

So one day looketh he unto the pigs, and saith to himself, "bother this for a game of soldiers". So he goes to his father and saith, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. Now make me one of your servants."

But his father brought him into his house, and called the servants, and killed the fatted calf (which had done no harm to anyone, btw) and there was singing and dancing.

But the elder brother, when he heard, said, "Verily this is what happens when you start messing about with housimng benefit."

Monday, 25 June 2012

Quick Barrel Racing Joke

As we remember the year's descent into darkness now we're past the Solstice, tomorrow's big event is Barrel Racing.

It's a great experience. We go to the top of Dunstable Downs, wrap the competitors in foam, shove them into barrels and then, when they're all prepared in a long line, push them down the hill to see who hits the fence round the Gliding Club first. People ask why we do something this risky and pointless, but I tell them - that's how we roll.

Newly abolished words

In honour of George Orwell's birthday I'm doubleplusunsad to announce the following abolishments of words and phrases, and their replacements. 


"Unhappy" to be replaced with "challenged", "differently inspired" or "fine".


"Dreadful" to be replaced by "Truly meaningful" (as in "that's a truly meaningful worship song you've just written, Agnes".


"When there are women bishops" to be replaced, yet again, by "if there are women bishops".  This may be reversed again on Orwell's 110th birthday.


"Moaning whingers who just look for things to complain about" to be replaced with "loyal members of the fellowship". But you know what we really mean.


"Worship leaders" was replaced last year by "lead worshippers". This year we're gonna lose them both. We're not replacing them with a new word. We're just gonna drive out into Cambridgeshire somewhere and lose them.


"Leadership" to be replaced by "Enablement". Going against the principles of Newspeak, this won't make any difference to how we think and act, but it just feels less patriarchal, don't you think?


"People who are praying for you" to be replaced by "friends".


"We just really" to be abolished, with no replacement.


"Why can't your preaching be more inspiring, like at Spring Harvest?" To be replaced by "why can't the congregation be more inspiring, like at Spring Harvest?"


"Liturgical Dance" to be replaced by "Prancing Around".


"Modern Liturgical Styles" to be replaced by "Hippy Nonsense".

"Sunday School" to be replaced by "Sunday Club" to be replaced by "Younger Church" to be replaced by "That empty room next to the kitchen".

"Finally" to be replaced with "Just twenty minutes to go."

Aunty Spume Massage

I have the following message from my IT Security consultant, Officer Crabtree. I felt it was better that you received the message directly from him, as his communications are already scrambled so as to confuse snoopers.

Good Moaning.

It is my sud ditty to unform you that Orcdruid Aileen has usked me to enfuse fill sick oratory on this blig.

Frome noo on you mist lag on with a Bligger or ether ooser name to love cements. We are surrey this will mork A Ninny Mouse revile their secrete odontity - bit we are gitting tow much spume.

We lurk to kip Hisborne Curley as Eipen as pissible. But we err affried that we hid no chase. We hoop this will nit detar you from loving your cements. Coop corm and curry Anne.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Finding God Where You Aren't

And so, once again this morning, my peace was shattered as Drayton Parslow's "Baptibus" headed off to parts unknown beyond Olney and Northampton. It takes its grand circular journey, collecting people whom Drayton has evangelised with the promise of a free trip and biscuits - oh, and the Gospel, of course. Though it's the holes in his exhaust that cause me most grief, at 7am of the typical Sunday.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm as big a fan of pilgrimage as the next medium-sized religious community leader. Or even the next leader of a medium-sized religious community. Walsingham, St Albans, the Rollright Stones, Thomas Hardy's Birthplace, Compo's Grave - I've been to them all. But I don't go to them every week. That would be odd. We go to these places to breath the sacred air; to connect; to buy tacky souvenirs. (Did you know you can get a St Alban drinks coaster? That's always seemed wrong to me, putting your coffee mug on a saint's face like that). Except at the Rollrights, of course. Where the hut keeps disappearing. Not a miracle - more vandalism.

But the point of going these special places is that it's special. We regard them, if we are of that tendency, as "thin". And we envy those whose role it is to mind them.

Whereas taking a long journey every week, to go to a specific congregation because it's the one we like - that seems odd. Sure, if it's one's family church and it's part of the weekly familial visit then I can see that. But is the Gospel so much better proclaimed by Drayton that they'll sit in that rusty death-trap for an hour to hear it? Are there no prophets in Buckingham, that Sid the minibus driver has to go all the way out there on his rounds? Why travel from Luton - which is full of places of worship - all the way out here, because Drayton's brand of Creationism says the world started on a Sunday in August rather than, as some heretics claim, March? I don't get it.

It's not like the evangelicals of the world think these are proper "thin places". They have been known to go specific places to where the Spirit is working. But why would the Holy Spirit decide she's going to act more evidently around one area then anywhere else? Or, given God's sovereignty, why would we make the assumption that, if she did, she'll keep that up when we arrive? Maybe it's us blighting the spiritual atmosphere in the place where we live, and deciding we're going to rock up with hope in our heart and a well-worn version of the NIV might be just the thing required for the Wind to "blow where it will" somewhere completely different.

So I'll be out next Saturday night, helping God to work his wonders right where people live. Or, to put it another way, I'm gonna stick a potato in the exhaust pipe of the Baptibus. I need the peace.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

First Female Archdruid Elected

"Elected"? What sort of idea is "elected"? That would leave you open to all sorts of random results.

For goodness' sake.

St John's Eve

On the Eve of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, as Thomas Hardy reminds us in The Woodlanders, the young men and maidens of rural country villages would rush out into the fields to - ahem - engage in some traditional midsummer activities. The normal way of things would seem to be that they'd keep this kind of things up, on and off, until such time as a couple had proven their fertility, at which point they would become abruptly married. Apart from the clergy, people don't seem to have thought this such an unusual way to go about things, and no particular blame would be attached to the blushing bride, as long as bride she became.

In some rural spots (Dunstable springs to mind) around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries it could happen that a young couple could have four or five children before they agreed upon what was causing it, and finally got wed. An interesting thought, given we consider the Victorians to have been a buttoned-up, hypocritical bunch. No, they were a church-destroying, colonising, smug, self-aggrandising, orphan-exploiting bunch. But it was really only the middle classes and above (of whom there were proportionally very few) that seem to have gone in for the hypocrisy. The lower classes (i.e. most people) seem to have been as cheerfully vulgar as they ever were or are. Hence the Victorian clergy and squirearchy's obsession with toning-down maypoles, sanitising Mummers and turning Morris Dancers into the rather sad spectacle we have today.

This St John's Eve, the Beaker Fertility Folk tell me they are not celebrating in their usual way - i.e. by leggint it into the woods. They say that running out in all weathers is playing havoc with their arthritis. Turns out even the Beaker Fertility Folk are a graying part of the population. So they're having a bridge evening and a quiet night in. The church ain't what it was.

OK Computer

It's not been a bad morning, dodging the showers at our "Turing Day Fete". But the "Turing Test" demonstration has not been a great success so far.

Burton's been in that big box all morning, and still, based on his responses, nobody believes he's a real human being.

Nativity of Alan Turing (1912)

Today we remember that quiet hero of the Second World War, Alan Turing. A man who would often have caught the train between Cambridge and Bletchley on the "Varsity Line". And so, as he would have travelled through Husborne Crawley each time - possibly encountering my great-granfather, heading into Bedford or Bletchley for the Peasant-Hiring - I like to feel that he is a kind of honorary Beaker Person.

My great-grandfather, before that unfortunate accident with the hay-bailer, was apparently a man of what might be called traditional morals. In short, had he known of Turing's sexual preferences, he would have beaten him out of the railway carriage with a horse-whip. Indeed, he always carried a horse-whip with him specifically for this purpose. Family history records the frustration he suffered that, in fifty-five years of train-travel, he never manage to spot a "thorough-going, grade-A, plainly-identified nancy-boy" on whom to express his moral disapproval. But I may be sharing too much family history here.

Maybe Alan Turing was born half a century too early. Were he alive today, with his Cambridge education, quirkiness and fierce, alternative intelligence, he would have been a satirical comedian. Or maybe the country's finest tax accountant. Or he might have been the geeky keyboard-programmer in an 80s pop band.

But his generation helped preserve this country and Europe as a place where we could let tolerance - slowly and unsteadily - take root. We live in a country where gay people are not criminalised, locked away or chemically castrated. Where people of non-European origin are not regarded as second-class.

So maybe he was born at the right time. Maybe we have enough comedians and tax accountants. Maybe if it had not been for Turing and his colleagues, there wouldn't even be comedians and tax accountants in England today.

Thanks, Alan Turing. We hope that there are plenty of problems to solve where you are. And we'll light an artifical-intelligence, computerised tea-light in your honour.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Love in the Air

Dear Readers, what a day I've had!

I will admit, I was rather scared as I floated away from Husborne Crawley, hanging onto the Altar Stone of a helium-filled Stonehenge. I clung on as the wind swung unexpectedly from to the south, and I was driven along a route parallel to the M1.

It was a terrible night. Clinging to my stone, I was drenched with rain, buffeted by winds and terrified that there might be inflatable spirits among those inflatable stones.  At a height of 5,000 feet above the East Midlands, I narrowly missed the Northampton Lighthouse as dawn broke, and continued towards Market Harborough. Crossing the Welland Valley, I could sense that the replica stone circle was descending gently, as the helium escaped.

I landed in the middle of the town of Coalville - a place of whose inhabitants Drayton had previously told me, in hushed tones of dread and horror. The locals, assuming I was an alien who had crashed a megalithic space-craft, went off to get the necessary implements for burning me. But as they surrounded me with pitchforks, I was rescued by a kind woman riding a tandem. Outrunning the Coalvillians, we pedalled back to her house in a village in Leicester's northern suburbs, where Susan kindly gave me lunch. She explained that she was riding a tandem on her own because her former boyfriend left her. Apparently her hobbies of train-spotting, double-entry book-keeping and Unix systems administration had got on his nerves.

After a blissful afternoon, sharing dreams, hopes and kisses, she ran me down to Leicester for the train, and so I am home. But we have exchanged phone numbers and Twitter accounts, and agreed to meet again next week. I am spell-bound by our instant attraction, and indeed so is she.

Wouldn't you agree, maybe Sue and me have a Groby kind of love?


The Secret Plot to Convert Richard Dawkins

A commentator on this morning's post reminds us that Richard Dawkins is a fan of the King James Version of the Bible. Indeed I believe (though it's only faith - I can't be bothered to find the evidence) that he was a fan of Michael Gove's absurd scheme to put a copy in ever school in the land.

It's good to know that the Good Professor has fallen into our trap, cunningly-laid over 400 years ago. For it is a little-known fact (because so few read it) that the Bible has a secret message coded into it. This code tells those "in the know" that worshipping God is a good idea, and that faith in Jesus will bring you salvation.

Sure, I know everyone who reads the Biblle superficially thinks it's a self-help book, a guide to the End of the World, contains prophecies of the Rise of the Nazis and the story of how Jesus married Mary Magdalene (leaving a heart-broken St John) and settled down in a bungalow in the Dordogne.

Some, of course, think it's just the pinnacle of the English language (along with Shakespeare and Down With Skool) But nevertheless, the code's been there all along. You've just got to know how to find it. One day soon, Prof D, you mark my words...

In other news, Burton Dasset has called to say he's landed safely. In the sort of unlikely co-incidence that suggest there may be an awful pun posted later on, he drifted due north and landed on the northern fringes of Leicestershire. The bad news is that he'll be home soon. While the good news is that the people of Coalville have adopted Beaker-style worship. They've now got the chance to revive their digging skills by raising long barrows over their dead. Nothing, in the end, is lost.

The Inevitable Post-Solstice Joke

Archdruid: Nights are drawing in.

All: Soon be Christmas.

Dawkins and Bacon

I was fortunate enough - if that is the right word - to hear Richard Dawkins being interviewed by Richard Bacon yesterday afternoon.

The Good Prof had a book to plug - and it sounds like quite an interesting one. It would have been nice to hear all about it. Unfortunately he had to spend quite a lot of time swatting Bacon's attempts to get him to attack belief in God, which the Good Prof clearly wasn't there for. Dr Dawkins is clearly a good time manager. In his diary, yesterday was clearly marked as "Push the Book", not "Attack Religion (Tuesday)" or "Reminisce with Lalla about how great Douglas Adams was (Friday)". I didn't make notes (as that is illegal whilst driving) but some of the conversation went a bit like this. Apologies for any minor discrepancies.

RB: You're talking about the wonders of science. But some religious people don't believe in Evolution, do they?

RD: No educated person doesn't believe in Evolution.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, for example, believes in Evolution. Now, about my book...

RB: But Christians have to believe in the Resurrection and the Virgin Birth, don't they?

RD: Some of them do. But that's a different debate. Have you read my book?

RB: But you can't believe in God and Science can you?

RD: what's that got to do with my book? Can we get back to the point? I've got a book to sell and I'm talking to somebody more intelligent than you in 8 minutes. Look - there in my diary - "Plug book with someone more intelligent than Richard Bacon".

And so on. Bacon came across like an over-excited fanboy meeting Gary Numan in a data processing centre in Walsall. Prof D came across as an intelligent, reasonable man trying to sell a book. I'm going to buy it. Or, at least, borrow it off Richard Bacon.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A Surprising Outbreak of Work

Massive amounts of productivity in the doily sheds, and vastly improved attentiveness at seminars and meditation workshops this evening. The Twitter outage has resulted in a 100% reduction in people tweeting about how other people using social media is putting them off.

It strikes me that Twitter are missing a trick with their Twitter Status site. Surely if they let users leave messages on it? Then maybe reference each other's User IDs? To save over-use of bandwidth they could always restrict messages to 140 characters.

So my only problem now is - how am I going to publicise this post? Myspace?

Inflate your own Stonehenge

You can't blame Young Keith too much. He meant well.

Considering how glum I was about the rained-off Solstice, he took inspiration from the inflatable Stonehenge that's doing the rounds and thought he'd create one for our afternoon devotions.

I presume, however, that the one in the news is like a bouncy-castle idea, blown up with a giant hair-dryer. Not filled with helium gas.

Needless to say, it slipped its moorings when Burton had a bounce on it. I've had to apologise to Cranfield aerodrome after a prehistoric monument, complete with terrified Burton, floated across their air space. It's been a rotten Solstice.

Liturgy for Solstice Morning

Archdruid Eileen: Where have you been, exactly?

All: What time is it....?


Archdruid: I've been up for hours. You know the sun - is it on the horizon? Have you captured the fragile moment - that tender first limb of the sun climbing above the Amazon Warehouse? Have you gasped at the moment when the sun makes his most northerly appearance of the year? Have you my right elbow...
Not an accurate representation of Husborne Crawley this morning

All: Doesn't matter. It's raining.


Archdruid: But it's the first tender rain of the Solstice morning! A time when heaven has poured out its benison on the grateful, thirsty earth.

All: Doesn't need to. Ground's saturated. Drought's over. We're going back to bed.


The Piper at the Gates of Dawn approaches, accompanied by Morris Dancers. Stones may be thrown and curses spoken.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

News from New Zealand

As we prepare to celebrate the longest day, in anticipation of howling wind, pouring rain and flash-flooding: spare a thought and a prayer for Christchurch, New Zealand in midwinter.

Britain and Europe

I had this discussion on Facebook, but I would like to ensure other people realise this important fact regarding Britain's position with respect to Europe.

If you look at a map of the world, you will notice Europe is a peninsular on the western edge of Asia.

Britain, on the other hand, is separated from this landmass by the Channel.

I hope that makes the situation, and the average English person's attitude, clear.

FIFA to Introduce "Tax-Dodging Technology"

Sepp Cameron has astounded the world of tax-dodging by announcing his plans to introduce new tax-dodging technology. He is introducing systems to detect when someone has gone over the arbitrary line between decent, law-abiding minimisation of tax payment and things that are "frankly morally wrong".

"It was quite simple," said a spokesman I've just made up, "in the days when tax avoidance going 'over the line' was benefiting large companies and Conservative Party donors, we believed there was no need to introduce this kind of system. But now we've realised that satirical comedians are able to dodge taxes in exactly the same way, it's more important to spot when it has gone over the line."

"In the past we depended on blokes who didn't have a clue to oversee this kind of arrangement. But now I've realised that we need to put in place ways of stopping it. Frankly, it's morally wrong."

Unnecessary Diagram of Policing an Arbitrary Line

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Ecumenical Matters

Now I'm grateful for Young Keith organising this evening's event. I just don't see it as worship.

You know me. I'm as reasonable as the next person in a hi-viz vest. But how could that be worship?

Just putting up two large-screen TVs in the Moot House, so the Beaker People could see the England-Ukraine and France-Sweden games at the same time. It was gripping, it was boring, it was frustrating. Ultimately it was exhilarating. But it wasn't worship.

And what has Wayne Rooney got glued to his head? It looks like Lamb Chop has a new straight man.

Liturgy for a Sunny Day

The Beaker People stagger outside, amazed at the unfamiliar yellow object beaming from the sky. Soggy wildlife awakes in the unaccustomed light and wonders.

The swifts exult across the sky. The wodewosen perform their lumbering "dance of the oaken-folk" as, for the first time in these seven years, the female wodewose suspects it may be the mating season.

Elven folk sing their Summer Carol in far-ancient tongues. Their eyes, born of the first light Anthony Eden saw play, are ancient - but their hearts, in this shimmering air, are young once more.

Creeping through the plantation and down to the brook, we see a young figure, sitting still by a pool. We watch, in reverence, as Narcissus is turned to a flower.

All: That'll be that global warming.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Loving the Alien

I just realised the mistake we've been making. We keep confusing James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis, with HP Lovecraft, the creator of Cthulu - easy enough to do, given their names.

That's why the Beaker Folk believe that if we keep burning fossil fuels, we'll be invaded by evil soul-sucking monsters. They'll all be really relieved when I tell them we're all going to die from food shortages, drought and rising sea levels instead.

Reverent Disposal

I noticed this advice on dealing with worn-out missals this morning. It is an interesting thought - that things we invest much in, when they are beyond use, require disposal. Of the printing of different translations of the Bible there is no end, and when, at the end of some (normally evangelical) life we discover that the dear departed has collected about 130 Bibles, many of them falling apart from age - what do we do? Although we are not bibliolaters (if that is even a word), we may feel a certain reluctance to dispose of precious things. His Hermeneuticalness's suggestion of reverent recycling seems very sound. While our own method of dealing with the mountains of laser-printed service sheets that get produced every day - i.e. storing them up then burning them - is equally good for the environment.

After our experiences with the Hamster of Atonement, we have avoided the re-use of any worship-related material in animal bedding. In the case of poor old Rubbles, it was having bedding made entirely of shredded paper with sins written on it that upset him - causing him to become remarkably shifty and unfriendly before his brief career as an investment banker - but I'd be very wary of the impact of using shredded service sheets of any kind in future. After all, use the remnants of the Julian service we held the other week, and the new Community Hamster, Wiggy, might find she's got ideas buzzing in her head that her little brain can't cope with. Certainly I couldn't - especially when the "thing the size of a hazelnut" that got handed round turned out to be a pistachio. It wasn't the small size and fragility of the world I couldn't get my head round - it was the massive crack in the shell that worried me. Has the state of the environment really descended so far?

For more permanent objects used in praise and worship - hymnbooks and the like - most British churches recommend that, when they're worn out or hopelessly outdated, the best thing to do is send them to a church in Africa. This has the advantage of clearing our conscience and moving the problem to another country. What the African Church is doing with the wave of copies of Sounds of Living Water that must currently be breaking across the continent is another question. But thankfully it's their question. Drayton Parslow tells me that he has sent all the worn-out King James Versions in the Bogwulf Chapel (and the copies of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer he found in a cupboard) to a small village in Burma. There are rumours that when he sent a group from his church out on a mission visit, they discovered an entire community in the jungle speaking 16th-century English.

There is also the reverse process. This is where an item formerly used for commonplace household purposes - such as a sofa, or an old non-digital telly - is to be replaced by a new one. Recognising the sanctity that this object has acquired through long use, people often donate them for either the Church or Manse. Sometimes, bundles of newspapers can be donated "in case the Sunday School wants to make papier-mâché". In the Extremely Primitive Methodists chapel that I grew up in, this practice grew to such proportions that the minister had to build an extension just to keep all the old armchairs and bookshelves he'd been donated. And it became a squeeze getting into the chapel on a Sunday morning, because of the piles of chairs and tables laying round the place. On the bright side, since the Extremely Primitive Methodists eschewed all unnatural forms of heating, on cold winter mornings we used to burn the furniture to keep warm.

Finally, I'd like to observe that there actually appear to be laws in the US on how to dispose of their national flag. The site I found this on has an ironic side - the text itself is very respectful, while the adverts in the side-bar are for a series of waste-disposal companies. I like to think this is why America exists - to combine solemn patriotism with the profit motive.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Random Hugs and Thumped Mugs

I was aghast at Revd Claire's blogpost on Random Hugs.

Of course, in this modern touchy-feely world, hugging is just another of those "informal" things - like holding hands during the final blessing. In theory I'm fine with this - it breaks down barriers, gives one a feeling of solidarity, and generally puts off the kind of blokes who might be overly possessed of testosterone.

But on this occasion, I'm with Revd Claire. I remember last time somebody tried to hug me during the Beaker "Snog of Peace". He's never played the piano since. These days I avoid this sort of unpleasantness by wearing the hi-viz with the special message written on the front - "Please do not hug me uninvited, as a smack in the mouth often offends".

Fathering Sunday

Just a reminder. We imported the idea of calling this day "Fathers' Day" from the Americans. Until then it went by its traditional name of "Sunday".

So in  a back-formational piece of linguistic engineering, the Beaker Folk are henceforth calling this Sunday "Fathering Sunday". This makes it feel older and more traditional, divorces it from Americana, and yet puts the pressure on the fathers. It does however have the downside of recalling that the verb "to father" means "to cause to be conceived". Which is not what we will be encouraging, except within the ambit of a loving relationship - however defined. In which case, that's fine.

But according to the new Beaker tradition, which I just invented, Fathering Sunday is now the day on which women will say, in exasperation, to their children "You're just like your father". After more than twenty years of waiting, I have been looking forward to using this expression on Young Keith. Except that I currently don't know where he is. Which, to be fair, means he is indeed just like this father.

And I think this highlights my real point this morning. The United Kingdom has imported this daft idea of "Father's Day" from the States, and as a result we in the Church in particular have emptied a whole load more egg-shells onto the floor, on which to walk on this special day. We already had this problem when we started giving flowers to mothers on Mothering Sunday - and now we've got it again. All over the country, last-minute checks are going on as preachers are ensuring that when they crow-barred some references to God as Father into the Sermon on the Seed, they didn't do it in such a way as to upset someone who's lost a father, someone who's been raised by wolves, someone who's divorced and never sees his children, and so on.

Although another point also strikes me. Given a story about a man who scatters his seed, and then wanders off and forgets it, paying no attention to whether or how it will grow, or indeed where - we're back to the whole concept of "fathering" again. When I catch Young Keith he's in real trouble.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Archbishops of Canterbury XI

It's the question they're all asking as the European Football Championships progress - what would your best all-time team made up of Archbishops of Canterbury be? Well, we've all got our opinions, and obviously it's impossible to test out - at least outside the bounds of Archbishop Manager 2012 - but this is my suggestion. I reckon it could take on any XI from Rome or Alexandria, no questions asked.

I realise that some might say that packing the midfield like this is quite un-English, but then to be fair so are a couple of the Archbishops. I justify it on the grounds that in the C of E it's always important to grab the central ground. Wherever you happen to think it lies.

In a shocking display of sexism, you will note there are no women in the team. That's because men and women aren't allowed to compete on a level playing field. If you think this situation should change, I suggest you contact Sepp Blatter. Or stand for the General Synod.

Beckett (GK)  
Carey                                                    Coggan
Berhtwald        Laud 


W Temple (C)         Augustine                Runcie     
    
      Lanfranc                                                           Williams

Cranmer


Notes: Becket is a shoo-in as goalkeeper - widely regarded as a safe pair of hands, and only going down under some particularly brutal challenges.

Williams is naturally lining up just left of Runcie (who in his turn was often well to the left of Thatcher in the 80s). Who can forgot that great midfield line-up in those days: Tebbit, Thatcher, Runcie, Scargill?

William Temple's dad was captain before him, so naturally he gets the job. Berhtwald was a great organiser, so will be a great central-defensive partner for  William Laud - a man whose vision and stubbornness are a great asset, though he has a tendency to lose his head.

Lanfranc, as a man appointed by William the Bastard, murderer of half of Yorkshire and all-round nasty get, is out on the right wing.

I'm going to suggest Stigand as manager. Like all such people his reign eventually ended in disgrace. But was Archbishop through the reigns of Cnut, Edward, Harold and William, while recovering from repeatedly being excommunicated. So I reckon he could handle today's press. 

Quick Informal Christianity Course Joke

Our new boy, Arthingworth, is an interesting type.

He's been with us for ten weeks. When he first joined, he told us that he's into low-pressure, informal Christian initiation. He's spent most of his time here asking if people would like to explore the meaning of life. But instead of letting them explore it, he's issued them with his own map. Every week he invites us all to his candle-lit lasagne meal (which his wife, Dingley, cooks).

Some say Arthingworth is a really decent bloke. But I reckon he's a typical Alpha male.

The Progressive Causes Quadrant Diagram

I was watching "8 Out of 10 Cats" last night. A fascinating programme. The tone of the programme seems to come from sneering at things - or "satire", as I suppose you could call it - and from a generally left-wing direction. Personally I watch it because I find Sean Lock and Jimmy Carr very funny, whatever you may think of Carr's deliberately-odious personality. I've a theory that a lot of Jimmy Carr's persona is put on - in the same way that I suspect all of Ricky Gervais's personas actually to be Ricky Gervais.

Last night's programme spent a fair amount of time taking the rise out of the Church of England, on the grounds of the response to the consultation on same-sex marriage. That they didn't understand what the Church's response had been, and assumed that the "greatest threat in 500 years" quote was from the church and not from a journalist, probably wasn't surprising on a programme where the main intellectual analysis of the subject was that provided by a woman off The Only Way is Essex. And I'm sure that the view that, since most members of the Church of England are over 50 its views can be ignored, will be a great comfort to Sean Lock when he turns 50 next year.

But it did make me think. I've had Burton do some analysis (I've locked the Counting Shed from the outside, so he's got little else to do until he's finished his cash-flow forecasts), and we've established that there are four groups into which we can categorise the way people respond to "progressive" issues.

I've been careful with the use of the word "progressive". I think we all know what I mean. And I think we all know that not all "progressive" things are good. Some diseases are "progressive". If you're waiting at a level crossing when a train goes across, to be "progressive" would be foolish. But some progressive things - equal voting rights, abolition of slavery, universal education - are clearly good. I'm not making any judgements on which modern-day progressive issues are right or wrong here. But if we break people down into how much they care about "progressive" issues, and then by whether they are for or against them, we reach the following groups:

So clearly if you care a lot about things, but you are not in favour of change, you are going to write a letter to the Telegraph. As a contrast, to show your aggressively modern attitude to life, you will go on Twitter and hope your scathing 140-character epistles will get endlessly retweeted. Committed conservative people will, on the whole, not go on Twitter as they just end up getting ink on the screen of their newfangled monochrome 380Z monitors - while terribly progressive people won't write to the Telegraph as, overcome with loathing at the photographs of 18-year-old middle-class girls getting their A-level results, they ever get past the front page. 


Clearly if you are in favour of progressive causes but can't be bothered to get off your backside, you'll watch 8 out of 10 Cats. But who is dedicatedly against all change but can't be bothered to do anything about it? I've a suggestion, and it's based on the approac of the Wellingborough MP, Peter Bone. Who, despite his otherwise impeccably right-wing credentials, launched an intolerant attempt to force cyclists to wear helmets - where a more progressive approach would have been to impose five-year penalties on "SMIDSY" drivers.

Now I know people in Wellingborough who drink in pubs, and they assure me that they've never encountered Peter Bone in any of them. They suspect he may actually go down the pub in Rushden, which may explain the odd views he encounters. But whenever I hear Peter Bone on the radio - as it may be explaining that the Lib Dems should be horse-whipped, or we should invade France, or the Euro should be replaced with Flanian Pobble Beads - he always precedes his comments with "the people I meet down the pub..."

So we have a pub full of people with the most remarkable right-wing views, who don't really care too much. Instead of marching through London to demand the revocation of the Human Rights Act, they go down the pub. Seeing the latest example of Political Correctness Gone Mad, they go down the pub, and hang around hoping Peter Bone turns up. It's gonna be an odd pub, that.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Blessed are the Accountants

Dear Readers, how blessed are the accountants - for they can truly count their blessings!

This is a little example of the sort of humour that we of the accounting community like to indulge in of a winter's evening, as we sit around a warm monitor sharing tales of finely-judged asset valuation and other kinds of derring-do. But it also highlights a fact about accountants that few ever consider. For truly accountancy is the most spiritual of professions - beyond the wildest dreams of arc-welders, systems architects or dental hygienists.

I believe a lot of this comes from our innate understanding of balance - what our Taoist friends mean when they speak of "yin" / "yang". For in  the double entry book-keeping world, every yin has its yang and every debit a credit. It is not enough that a quantity of doilies has been created - a balancing number of blanks must have been consumed. A third of the value of a laptop has gone after 12 months - there will be a corresponding impact on the P+L.

This natural balance leads us always to take the long-term view of human life. A man or woman may measure their nett worth in terms of their possessions; of their good name or their reputation as a raconteur. But we remember that all flesh can be expressed in grass. If the valuation of the assets of any business is as a going concern, then when the Final Liquidation takes place, what is that worth? I don't need to draw you a T-ledger, do I?

Dear Readers, I know there are two sides even to this equation. For if the nett value of one's earthly goods are written off in the Great Stocktake, then so also are one's outstanding liabilities. For surely we come into this world with nothing, and we go out with nothing.

But we are told there is another ledger. It would seem that if we debit our worldly wealth now - our money, our standing - we can transfer it to an eternal account. Our earthly wealth is amortised across our remaining life - and merely treated as Shrinkage in the end, when we wonder where our time has gone. But the credits on our heavenly account will last forever. So what will it profit a man to credit the whole world - if the debit is his soul?

On Chaos, Creation and Catastrophe

You know, sometimes I forget the shocking consequences of believing in evolution (properly, not in a cissy "ascent of Man" kind of way) and also believing in the existence of a Creator.

It means that all those thistles and thorns, the painful births and all the rest of it aren't the vindictive actions of a God who's grumpy that a couple of naturists ate an apple without a licence. Oh no. God's not that arbitrary. God prepared the thistles, thorns and painful births up front. All the chaos and catastrophe - they're not retrospective punishments, they're part of the plan, laid down - to whatever degree - in advance.

I don't know why, but this gives me a deep sense of comfort. It's nice to think there's a purpose - however it works out.

A Fragrant Morning of Early Summer

I have enjoyed a ravishing walk this morning!

The fledgling Sun, caressing the earth with its warming fingers, has coaxed a sweet mist from the rain-blessed grass. Dancing in the sunbeams, the very molecules of water vapour cry out the greatness of our divine Maker.

The young rabbits frolic in the unaccustomed light - nibbling the sweetness of the new grass as an unexpected delight. The swifts exult in their acrobatic endeavours, while the Bedfordshire rooks - solid, awesome, as old as these sandstone hills - contemplate for one last time our fragrant landscape, before lumbering into the sky to visit those chalk downlands to the south.

In the woods, the joyous dance of the dryads can be seen, while the laughter of the nymphs echoes up from the lively, carolling brook. Nature sings the praises of the One who made it.

Meanwhile, I have even greater blessings this morning. With the end of June coming up I've got to get those cash projections in line. I've shut the blinds in the Counting Shed - it's probably better that I can't see out. Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live - and he spends most of it ruled by numbers.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Elegy for Fallen Wellies


It's a sad little cluster of monuments that mark the last resting place of Bill Owen, aka Compo Simmonite.

The wellies remind you that Bill was a much-loved character actor. Somehow he brought the nature of a street urchin to an 80-year-old reprobate.

But the tribute from his family reminds you that behind the character(s) was a normal bloke - one who loved his family, fought with friends and enemies and is missed at a personal level as well as for the character he brought to life.

Overslept

Bovver. Just got up to discover the sunshine. Hope I've not missed Summer.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Stripes

A great technical achievement for Burton and Young Keith. With a combination of pure geekiness and a bit of technical know-how, they've produced the first laser zebra scanning tunnel. Not the barcode labels produced by Zebra the printers - proper zebras. Stripy horses.

The theory is that, like human fingerprints and snowflakes, all zebra stripe patterns are unique. Therefore it is possible, given a laser or photo scanner, uniquely to identify all zebras.

Possibly unwisely, but on the grounds of keeping down the computing costs, they went for a laser scanner arrangement. Unfortunately this means they have to fit the zebras with sunglasses prior to pushing them through the scanner, which tends to slow the process down. Still, they've got the ability to capture the salient stats of every zebra they encounter. Now all they have to do is think of a use for it. Possibly as a self-scanning aid in a zebra supermarket, but we reckon that's a fairly limited demographic.

It's just worth noting that it doesn't work for penguins. Penguins are a lot harder to identify. I suspect this makes them better criminals than zebras, but that's a whole new piece of research.

A Very Strange Alternative Universe

There is a very strange alternative universe.

It's one where the people who join together, on Sunday or during the week, to break bread or read God's word mostly go away at the end of it thinking they've done something pretty worthwhile - both on an eternal and on a finite, local level. Where they try to live out Jesus' example without necessarily thinking that their way of doing it is uniquely right.

Where people visit the sick in their houses. Set up small groups to give company and hope to people in prison. Set up charities to assist the homeless. Give moral and sometimes financial support. Make sure the streets have somebody who cares hanging around on them, of a Friday or Saturday night.

It's a place where, in the great scheme of things, people aren't that fussed by other people's sexuality - as long as it's not lived out too graphically in public, and it's not illegal. Where the vast, vast majority of church leaders are in fact pretty comfortable with their own sexuality as well - and neither to be feared nor pitied. And where some people may think it's new or unusual to have women in leadership - but mostly they figure they'll live wirh it. Where children will be blessed or baptised regardless of their parents' marital status, and people welcomed into the fold in a likewise uncondemnatory manner.

It's a place where mostly nobody cares about your politics - whether you're right or left - as long as you're not wearing a pillar case over your head or planning to nationalise the font. Either way you'll still be expected to put your hand in your pocket, or go knocking on doors, whenever Christian Aid Week comes round.

Over all, it's a place of some great joy, a few niggles, and a lot of good work. It's a strange little place. But of course it must be an alternative universe. Because otherwise, surely we'd have heard about it?

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Marriage - some other definitions

An institution...

.... used by Charles II so his mistresses' husbands could bring up his children.

.... which people in rural Bedfordshire used in the early 20th century, once they'd proven they were fertile (though sometimes they'd have three or four kids first, just to be sure).

.... ordained by Edward the Confessor and his wife to avoid having sex with anyone.

.... which the rich could have annulled while the poor could put up with it.

.... which would have little meaning to bees. Don't know why I mention this, it just struck me.

.... which the South Africans had to redefine to allow black people to marry white ones.

.... although some American states weren't too far ahead.

.... which Henry VIII didn't redefine at all - he merely had a row over the terms of an annulment.

..... which is crying out for a decent definition, dependent neither on Natural Law arguments nor on the emotions generated by Richard Curtis films. A definition that is reached slowly, carefully and sensibly.

Looking forward to the Solstice

I'm wondering.

After all, it's only ten days till Summer Solstice, and a couple more till Midsummer's Day.

If the weather keeps on the way it is, will I be able to sue God under the Trade Descriptions Act?

Wild Goose Chase

Now I'm not sure whose idea the "Chasing the Wild Goose" Event was. But it wasn't mine, and it's not happening again.

As ever, that presumption that a bunch of hairy Celts hanging onto the edges of Britain somehow knew all about spirituality is the root of the problem. That and the assumption that a Celtic (allegedly) term is somehow deep and meaningful almost by definition - ignoring the historical fact that Celts were best known for going into battle naked and dying their hair blond(e).

So after the other week's dove-related debacle, something like this was always bound to happen.

Canada Geese don't like being rounded up. And they're apt to try and mug you on the off-chance you've got some bread. Oh - and, quite important, this - they get edgy in confined surroundings.

When the decision was made to swtich this morning's gathering from Duckhenge to the Moot House, due to the threatening weather, we shouldn't have been surprised by the way things went. People being chased in circles, geese flying at your throat, feathers flying in all directions - and it was the feathers made it worse, as needless to say Edith Weston turned out to be allergic to them and went into an eruption of sneezing. This further enraged the geese, who promptly mobbed Burton - presumably on the grounds that he's the one looks most like a badger.

Eventually I managed to shut the sluice, and flooded the Moot House. The geese swam off back to the pond, and the whole event calmed down. Next time someone wants a water-fowl-related activity, I suggest we follow the advice of the Good Book. Go down to the pond, and cast our bread on the waters.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Leaving Keith in the Pub

I've left my child in the pub.

Easy to see how it happened, in retrospect. Charlii was playing pool with Stacey while Keith watched, I was in the more lounge-like side of the White Horse, arguing about whether the precession of the Earth's axis is anything like the Trinitarian analogy of perichoresis (it isn't, in my opinion. But Burton's theory is that if two things he doesn't understand have long names they must be similar). I went home, assuming Keith was still with Charlii. Meanwhile, Keith had paid a call of nature and Charlii, noticing that I had gone and Keith had disappeared, assumed he'd gone home with me.

Obviously, I blame myself. Actually, I don't. I blame Charlii, but it sounds better to blame myself. We're both a bit worried now - after all, he's only 24. Having said which, I don't think he'll be found helping the staff. Except by, effectively, paying their wages.

Still, it's a good idea for Charlii and I to keep banging on about how worried we are about Young Keith. It's a lovely distraction from the questions the people on the Moot have been asking about how I got the Husborne Crawley Advertiser to run all those nasty articles about Drayton Parslow.

Barnabas the Encourager

Looking up from his ePiscopal app, Hnaef informed me over breakfast this morning that it's the feastday of Joses aka Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement. He rather pointedly points out that Barnabas was known for his generosity, for binding up the broken-hearted and taking pity on the losers. In particular, consider his treatment of John Mark. Paul, an apostle who had a more reasonable attitude to this type of waste of space, wanted to leave him. But Barnabas stuck with him while Paul pushed on, presumably rejoicing from the reduction in drag.

At which point Burton butted in, showing a lack of social skills and theological knowledge that would be astounding if that wouldn't make Burton interesting. Burton stated that if Barnabas had displayed the same level of encouragement that I do, we would today only have three Gospels.

Well, how to start picking the bones out of that? With the concept of "canon", the whole Marcan priority / "Q" theories, or else demanding to know what he meant by saying that I'm not encouraging? So I hit him with the bread-board. Leaving Hnaef to bind up the broken-headed, I came away to my office to work out the new Beaker Encouragement Policy. Which I have outlined below. Let's hear Burton claim I'm not encouraging now.

1. No member of the Community is to say anything derogatory about any other member of the Community. Unless it's justified.

2. All Beaker People to go around giggling and skipping like schoolgirls on a trip to see a pony. Unless they're not feeling that cheerful.

3. The punishment for suggesting we sing "Brother, Sister let me Serve You" to be commuted to life imprisonment without parole.

4. Anyone pointing out another Beaker person's character flaws must preface their criticism with an unrelated piece of praise, and the word "but".

5. All attendees at Moot House occasions to listen to music on their headphones, and tell the Beaker Quire afterwards that "the music was lovely". It may not be quite true but at least it's encouraging.

6. The words "div", "wally" and "idiot" (and all related concepts that I can't even print) to be replaced by the phrase "misunderstood genius". As in "did you see Marston trying to play the bagpipes? What a misunderstood genius."

7. Everyone to greet everyone else with "How can I help you?" And replace "goodbye" with "missing you already".

8. If anyone has been truly, sincerely and unfeignedly encouraging, the encouragee is to drop a Beaker Bead into their encourager's "Barnabas Bucket" in the Moot House - in the manner of the charity giving buckets in Waitrose. At the end of the day, if any beads have been deposited at all, the most encouraging person is recognised by being called "Barney" for the evening

9. All grumbling to be ruthlessly stamped out by the "Barnabas Police" (Hnaef + Young Keith).

10. Archdruid's decison is final. No correspondence will be entered. No purchase necessary.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

On Christian Media

UCB have apparently been putting out sad tweets regarding a poll that apparently said 80% of Christians think Christian broadcasting. They've been asking what we think about it.

Now, I've racked my brains over this. And the honest truth is that I've no idea what Christian broadcasting - at least in England - is like. I've seen American televangelists, long and merry enough ago now, who would ask you to put your hand on the screen to be healed (while putting your other hand in your pocket). But what is broadcasting this side of the Pond like? I've no idea.

But I've a stereotype in my mind. And maybe that's their problem. The stereotype has cheesily grinning, fresh-faced Christians - like well-scrubbed Simon Mayos - cheerily telling us how great life is, in between playing Matt Redman records and interviewing Delia Smith. And the funny thing is that (a) I'm sure that's just my deluded idea and (b) I quite like Simon Mayo, Matt Redman and Delia Smith. But I still couldn't bring myself to tune into UCB.

In fact, being honest and just between you and me - I've no idea whether UCB hasa radio station, TV channel, both or neither.

I have another sneaking suspicion, which is that if there's a Scottish Christian broadcaster, it's probably Strict Presbyterian Broadcasting - twenty-four hours of stern lectures on sin and guilt every day, followed by an epilogue where they tell us it's actually a sin to own a radio. And it won't be much better in Hell.

The only consolation I have is that if there were an Atheist Channel, it would be even worse. Blokes in anoraks and failed comedians - and even comedians in failed anoraks - telling us there's no point to life, but don't touch that dial as there'll be another bloke in an anorak telling us life is futile after the break. But due to the boring nature of the broadcasting, there won't be any adverts - just some trailers for upcoming futility. 

On the whole I think I'll stick to Eastenders. It is also futile, but at least they won't put on cheesy smiles.

Trouble at the Naming Ceremony

I know I broke with convention. I disregarded Rule 37 from the Big Book of Beaker Rules. But I feel I was justified at this morning's naming service.

Merlot Gehenna Cerise is not a suitable set of first  names. Whatever his parents may have thought. I'm sure little Bradley will thank me when he's older.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

When Bodies Collide

A former CERN scientist has written a steamy novel about physics goings-in


Their eyes met across a refraction grating. Or, at least, one of their eyes each did. The others ended up gazing at the floor and out of the window respectively. He felt a wave of excitement. Or was it a particle of excitement? It all depended how he looked at it.

"Ulrich", she said, "all my life I've only met dull scientists  - geeks who sit around drinking cider and black and talking about the Claisen Condensation. Or those media physics types - the ones who think a flash of white coat is all it takes to melt a girl's heart. But with you - it's different. It's like we're...."

"Entangled? You know, wherever you go - wherever I go - we will always be in a correlated spin state. Nothing can keep us apart - not even the speed of light."

"But there's Erwin - you must know that I have to take his feelings into account."

"Typical of an expert in wave mechanics. Always interfering."

Her boson heaved. "You don't understand. It's not that I still have  any feelings for him...."

"Julia - there are three people in this relationship. And that's not stable. We either need to lose one or gain another seven."

"No - it's all over between Erwin and me. It's just taking him a while to come to terms with it."

"But what about the presents he bought you? Didn't he give you a cat?"

"He did. But I never dared open the box."

Ulrich shook with rage.

"He sticks like gluon," he exclaimed. Who does he think he is - the God particle? At least that would explain why, when you were together, you never saw him."

"Ulrich - do I sense the blue-eyed monster?"

"Don't you mean the green-eyed monster?"

"Not travelling at this speed."

He swallowed hard, and looked at her again - the diffraction patterns making the depths of her eyes dance.

"I want this to be the real thing, Julia. Not just two protons passing in the night. And then, shortly afterwards, passing again. And again. And again. And...."

"OK, Ulrich. I get the metaphor. But surely the point of going round forever is that eventually our souls will collide. But will we then be one? Or will we instead shatter into a million parts - photons and gravitons and muon... muon... muon..."

"Neutrino?"

"Bless you."

Ulrich gazed recklessly towards the Large Hadron Collider, which seemed to epitomise the enigma that was Julia. She made his head spin. She was deeply magnetic. But was her heart super-cooled?

The Folk and the Flame

I was fascinated to read Catriona's blog today. I'll be honest, I've not paid any attention to the progress of the Olympic Flame. But now I'm thinking maybe we've inspired the whole event.

What Is and What Will Never Be

Another futile evening spent at an inter-faith barbecue with the Guinea Pig Worshippers of Stewartby. I say "futile", inasmuch as you know how cave-man many blokes get over barbecues. They want to be in there with the skewers, tongs and novelty aprons, roasting slices of dripping auroch over the hot coals.

But the Guinea Pig Worshippers won't let any Beaker Folk near the barbecue. Just because Dominga, our Peruvian visitor, inadvertently cooked a previous generation of their gods a few years ago under the impression that they were the starters. You'd have thought time, the great healer, would have done its work by now.

You know, we keep pretending that we have things in common, that there are many routes up the mountain, that we're all looking at a different part of the elephant. But do you know my theory?

I reckon the Guinea Pig Worshippers are wrong. Their squeaky little gods aren't gods at all. They're rodents. The Great Guinea Pig himself, if you thumped him in the ribs, would probably stop making stupid squeaky noises and instead curse freely in Cockney. It's all a giant con, just so the Great Guinea Pig can keep himself in free corn.

And I reckon, as long as the Moon goes round the Earth, we will never achieve organic union with the Guinea Pig People. We're just pretending we respect them because we're nice. Or patronising them because we're hypocrites. But as long as they think edible rodents are divine, we're always going to think they're idiots.

That's what I reckon. Ecumenism? You can keep it.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Blessing of Squonks

A strange Occasion all round.

You know, we get asked to bless some odd things. Various types of relationships, of course. But also Harley Davidson motorbike, a DVD of "Love Actually", a cricket bat, Thursday, Bruegemann's "Texts Under Negotiation" and Corby, to name but several. But Squonks?

It all came about because "Filling Up of Beakers" had been declared pointless, as the beakers have filled up all on their own in the rain today. So naturally, with time on my hands, I asked if anybody wanted anything blessed. And somebody said - why not the Squonks?

Well, as it turns out, there was one particularly good reason why not the Squonks. Being particularly ugly creatures, they don't understand why anyone would want to bless them. So we explained it was because they were God's creatures, just like the creature with the horns and the tail that Young Keith mysteriously turned up with the other day. But the Squonks assumed there was some nefarious reason why we wanted to bless them. So when I got near them with the Blessing Bowl, they ran away. Naturally we ran after them with the Net of Aspergement, and eventually succeeded in catching them.

But, of course, you all know the problem with catching Squonks.

You feel such a fool, sprinkling blessed water onto a puddle of tears. 

Rules for Choosing "Traditional" Liturgy

There's been a lot of debate regarding the use of what people are calling "Traditional" liturgy. Drayton Parslow has even got involved, coming round to tell me that Independent Baptists reject all tradition, and have been doing so since 1609.

So I thought it was best I laid down some ground rules, to help those organising our daily "Happening" to get the best out of their slot.

Basically, if it sounds old it's probably OK. As long as it doesn't sound like it's part of the English tradition. Unlike other nations and races, whose traditions sound exotic and other, English liturgy all sounds a bit same-y, don't you think?

The ancient Celts and Beaker Folk left nothing in writing. Rather than being a cause for despair, we should see this as a great opportunity to make money. The Beaker Common Prayer -Everything in Threes Supplement being a great example. By endlessly invoking triads (sun/mooon/stars: girl/matron/crone; rose/lily/daffodowndilly; uphill/flat/downhill) we give a sense of great completeness - of coming at things from all angles. The lack of any genuine clue as to what people were like should not dissuade us from trying to get to the essence of their cultures. Instead, lighting a tea light and wearing an ethnic stole will give suitable clues. If in doubt, use a traditional drum.

Anything you don't understand must be deep. So a Syriac Morning Prayer, being in the language Jesus spoke (although after spending so long in England's Green 'n' Pleasant Land he probably had a Somerset burr), gives great depth. Singing songs in Swahili, particularly when dressed in floral prints, is terribly ethnic and therefore rooted in the earth. Though not our earth, obviously. But Book of Common Prayer Evensong, being in 16th Century English, just doesn't mean anything. You might as well dress up as John Major or a Morris Dancer, cycle to Mass through the mist with your maiden uncle and be done with it.

I"m pleased to say that this morning's Pouring Out of Beakers will be in the Easter Island tradition. Lacking the facilities to build those giant statues, we've buried Marston up to his neck in the Orchard. Though there was a moment of panic when we remembered that he should have been feet-down. We will be singing song-settings of the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the ancient Aztec language, and then afterwards, in keeping with tradition, a massive war will break out between those with long ears and those with short.

Ah, I love a bit of tradition. As long as it's someone else's.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Gove Vanity Bible - Accessibility Update

In the latest wave of complaint to arise over Michael Gove's Bible (or the MGB, as I feel we should now call it), it has been pointed out that the Bible he's sending out has small print and very thin pages.

Well, naturally. That's to keep the cost and size down. Bible-readers have long been used to this. It's the compromise required to make what is a rather large book available in a format that fits neatly into a woman's handbag or man's inner jacket pocket (or vice-versa, according to choice).

I suppose the alternative would have been to send out those massive Bibles you get in old churches, but I'm sure even Mr Gove's sponsors would have baulked at the thought of also having to send every school in the country a lectern in the shape of an eagle and a large chain, to complete la toute ensemble. So you get the economy version, and nobody will read it.

I mean, let's be clear here. In many respects, it is a truly equal-opportunity Bible. Those that can read won't read it, those with special needs won't read it. Those with dyslexia will get as much out of it as those without. Those who read best on a pale green background (the words, that is, not the readers) will benefit just as much as those who only read red text on a black background. Frankly, those with no arms will turn the pages as much as the able-bodied.  Nobody's going to read it. In practically no time at all it will be in a school tea-chest, whiling away the decades with the photograph of the Bedfordshire Schools Quiz Team 1981 and Fotherington-Thomas's wilting bunch of flowers from the Jubilee party.

Someone from the Department of Education has been very keen to assure us they are supporting those with reading and sight difficulties by "providing digital versions of texts so schools could adapt them for use by making the print larger, changing colours of text or backgrounds for dyslexic pupils, or changing them to audio files".  Let me save the Government some money. There are digital versions of the King James Version, should you really want to struggle with the language, here, here and here. If you want the option of reading other, more comprehensible versions, you can go to the Bible Gateway. You can make your browser text settings bigger or smaller according to choice. You can play it with Narrator or some other suitable screen-reading software. You can copy and paste it into a word-processor and convert it to Wingdings, if that's your font of choice.

The King James Bible is one of the great triumphs of faith and the English language. It's a shame it's turned into a football.

The Age of Aquarius

Some have been asking why the Beaker Folk paid so little attention earlier this week to the Transit of Venus.

Now, don't get me wrong. It's not that we were unaware. And we are as full of excitement as the next bunch of pseudo-traditionalist tree-huggers over the discovery that when a small rocky object goes in front of a big shiny object, it makes a small dark dot.

But our belief-system says that we should treat these astronomical phenomena with the same awe and respect that our Beaker foremothers would have done (Beaker forefathers, of course, did what they were told).

And that amount of awe and respect was - precisely none at all. Lacking the simplest set of welder's goggles, the ancient Beaker Folk would never have watched it. Clearly they couldn't have used a Camera Obscura as even the words are Latin.

Besides, it was wet and it was cloudy. We'll wait for a decent astronomical event, like the International Space Station going over. Now that would have awed the Ancients.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Taking the Service Off

The mistake I made, in retrospect, was thinking that today it would be a good idea to sit back, be ministered to rather than ministering. Just kick off the spiritual shoes, so to speak, sit at the back and let it all flow over me.

You know how it is - you can't help it when it's your job. You pick up on all the little frayed edges. The way the segue from"Orinoco Flow" to "Abide With Me" went through that unnecessary diminished chord. What were the band thinking of?

Hnaef and his "Quire from Scratch" performed a beautiful polyphonic version of "Abba Father", of course. But what was Charlii doing, standing to Hnaef's left at an angle of 65° instead of the standard 45°? And Marston's hi-viz was a real mess - the left side a good 3 inches lower than the right.

As ever when things are just that little slap-dash, it was the tea lights that really let them down. Six white, but the seventh was slightly beige. It had spent a while in the Worship Cupboard, clearly And was it my imagination, or was the fourth candle just slightly more than the regulation 4 inches behind the third and fifth?

All in all I didn't relax at all there. I'm obviously going to have to put more time into making sure things are just right in future. Maybe I'll take another service off in six months, once I've got them all better organised.

EU Rushes in a Banking Solution

I note that the EU's come up with some new ideas to stop runs on banks impacting on governments, and therby protect the Eurozone.

It's a bit light on detail, and it's due sometime in or after 2018.  Which is a bit like watching a horse bolt, and thinking to yourself that you really must buy a lock for the stable door next week.

D-day +68

Remembering the lads who landed on Sword Beach (and the others, of course) 68 years ago. And the poor sods on the other side who faced them. Two armies fighting over the mess that an evil man and his ghastly mates had made.

May those who died rest in peace. And since most of those who came through it have died since, may they rest in peace also. English, Polish, Scottish, Welsh, French, Canadian, German, Irish, Dutch, Belgian, American, Commonwealth and all the rest - may they all rest in peace.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Godliness on the Increase in America

I am heartened by reading the survey on American belief in evolution vs creationism.

For it turns out that more Americans are creationist  than 30 years ago! The number that believe in evolution have also increased, and only those Laodiceans who believe in some kind of God-guided evolution have decreased.

What could be greater proof of our master plan? By making the rejection of evolution an article of faith, something the fools in the United Kingdom's so-called "mainline denominations" have failed to do, the Godly have forced people into making a choice. The primrose path of compromise that leads to perdition - rolling gently as it does, the third option between the narrow path that leads to blessing and the gap in the hedge that leads straight off a cliff - I tell you, that primrose path is no longer such an attractive route as it was! In America, to a greater degree than 30 years ago, we know the ones who are with us - and the ones who are truly against us.

Fools like the Archdruid next door would insist that this is not an either-or question. But then she also believes that, contrary to reason, subatomic particles can also be waves. She has sold out completely to the world - and now has had the judgement of discovering that, 22 years ago, she had a son out of wedlock. What more proof could she need that her views are wrong?

We of the godly must now press home the debate in this country. Is it God or evolution? One cannot have both.