Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Coming to Their Census

As the great "who plays which role in the Nativity Play" crisis draws closer, at least little Celestine is making it easier.

I mean, I'll have to write another scene. But compared to having another wannabe  Mary? Especially when the Druid's grandkid getting that gig is always gonna be controversial.

Anyway. Celestine wants to be the one in overall charge, who gets the key characters to Bethlehem.

No, not God. Augustus Caesar.

I'm very proud.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Church of Not Thinking Too Hard

Yeah, it was a strange part of my early development. I spent a year in quite a fundamentalist church.

They regarded most modern learning with suspicion. You had to be able to read 17th Century English, of course, so you could read the Bible. But science was seen as deeply suspect. Mathematics was encouraged as how else could you calculate the end of the world? But you could forget anything approaching geology or human biology.

Greek and Hebrew were regarded as unnecessary, as the Bible had already been translated perfectly. And Modern Languages were generally held to be deeply suspect, as doubting the power of God as revealed at Pentecost.

And in fact it was the languages stuff that caused me all the trouble. It was a great internal struggle. I knew I would get disfellowshipped. I liked many of the people, and knew I would have to leave them. But, you know, in the end I knew I had to be true to myself, however horrified they would all be.

So I did it. I came out as bilingual.

Looking for  a Christmas present for the churchgoer in your life? Or are you in need of a book to make you laugh at and think about the church? Well you probably need "Writes of the Church  -  Gripes and Grumbles of People in the Pews" - a perfect stocking filler.  From Amazon, BRF and good Christian bookshops.
A queue of people at the vicarage door, holding letters. The vicar is hiding behind the curtains.
Writes of the Church - On sale now and perfect for Christmas

Monday, 16 October 2017

Shut Your North and South (or - My Kingdom for a Norse)

In the category of "Exciting News Only a Guardian Reporter Wouldn't Know is Old News..."

A historian has discovered that the divide between North and South may go all the way back to Viking days.

Let's have a think.

"Husborne Crawley."  Anglo-Saxon from start to finish.

"Derby". Danish.

Blimey. It works.

If only everybody else in the whole of history hadn't known about this before, it would be absolutely amazing. Except, in the broad sense, we all did.

Watford Gap, by the way, the place that he claims has a historical role going all the way back. totally fails as a place that divides the two.

"Watford", the village after which the Gap is named - is Anglian.

To the West are Kilsby, Barby,  Willoughby, Ashby - all Norse. Should be Saxon, according to this theory. Even Rugby is south-west of the Watling Street, for pity's sake.

To the East - sure, there's Long Buckby. But also the Haddons (Anglian), Winwick (Anglian), and - to the North East where they should definitely be all-Viking - the fantastically-named Yelvertoft. Anglian "Yelver", Norse "toft".

Proving that (a) life is always more complex than simple rules and (b) there are no measures historians won't go to, to get a grant.

Looking for  a Christmas present for the churchgoer in your life? Or are you in need of a book to make you laugh at and think about the church? Well you probably need "Writes of the Church  -  Gripes and Grumbles of People in the Pews" - a perfect stocking filler.  From Amazon, BRF and good Christian bookshops.
A queue of people at the vicarage door, holding letters. The vicar is hiding behind the curtains.
Writes of the Church - On sale now and perfect for Christmas

Of Sexuality and Surgery

Burton Dasset over-excited about the news that doctors will be asking patients about their sexuality.

Spent his whole time in the appointment giving the (female) doctor details of his sexuality. Including the disturbing degree to which she features in his mostly-imaginary sex life.

Apparently she was quite surprised, took a few notes. Said thanks but it was really only going to be for statistical purposes.

Unfortunately he ran out of time. So he'll have to get his ingrowing toenail looked at another day.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Flu and Flights of Fancy

I'm going to give you a warning. The link here goes to a Daily Mail article by Katie Hopkins.

You probably don't want to follow it, but it's right I source it.

To save you the trouble of reading it - it's Katie Hopkins telling us she won't allow her child to receive the flu vaccine because he's "fit and healthy." The article is a fine example of the power of anecdote over data.

Up to the 1918/9 Spanish Flu pandemic, influenza outbreaks followed the "U shape" of many diseases, where the very young and very old were most likely to die. Spanish Flu was different. It killed young, healthy adults. People drowned as their own lungs filled with blood.

Being young and healthy, given the wrong flu strain, is no protection. If the immune system of a young, healthy person turns against their own body it can be catastrophic.

I'm not saying this year's flu will be catastrophic. The Australian outbreak has probably told us roughly what it will be like. It's much like last year's but worse. But kids are abnormally good spreaders of disease, and the wrong rogue mutation could spread like wildfire.

I won't tell you what to do about flu vaccination - it's terribly complex. But I can tell you this - don't listen to Daily Mail controversialists who have to delete large numbers of tweets because they don't think very well.

They're not a very good example.

Looking for  a Christmas present for the churchgoer in your life? Or are you in need of a book to make you laugh at and think about the church? Well you probably need "Writes of the Church  -  Gripes and Grumbles of People in the Pews" - a perfect stocking filler.  From Amazon, BRF and good Christian bookshops.
A queue of people at the vicarage door, holding letters. The vicar is hiding behind the curtains.
Writes of the Church - On sale now and perfect for Christmas

When Worship Leaders Go Rogue

You know how it is with Worship Leaders.

There are some who are sensitive. Introduce the songs and/or liturgy and/or tea light ignition with appropriate sensitivity. Respond to where people appear to be. Listen to the Spirit. Generally encourage people to recognise God's presence. Then get out the way.

And there are others who just introduce the songs and crack on. That's OK. You're not introducing your personality into the service to any great extent. But then some people don't have the kind of personality you really want to introduce into the service. Should you have that kind of personality, and you're leading a service - just shouting out the numbers / titles is exactly what you should be doing.

And then there are are the others who use every space between items in the service to tell us about their previous spiritual experiences. To share their home-spun philosophies. To read great chunks of scripture out. In short, to just really let people know just what God really wants them to just really know. And to enable them to just really get close to  God in a way that is just really - you know. Real.

I'm not going to tell you what type of leader Jerbert is.

 Let's just really assure you that his knees aren't actually broken. I'm much better with a cricket bat than that. What does he think I am? An amateur?

Looking for  a Christmas present for the churchgoer in your life? Or are you in need of a book to make you laugh at and think about the church? Well you probably need "Writes of the Church  -  Gripes and Grumbles of People in the Pews" - a perfect stocking filler.  From Amazon, BRF and good Christian bookshops.
A queue of people at the vicarage door, holding letters. The vicar is hiding behind the curtains.
Writes of the Church - On sale now and perfect for Christmas

Paul Says, Sort it Out

My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be
known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in
everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be
made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (Php 4.1-9)
Quick quote from "Writes of the Church" if I may.....

Dear Sir 
The vicar has suspended me from leading prayers in church.  Just because instead of standard “confessions”, I read out the names of a number of worshippers, and what they needed forgiveness for.
Makes you wonder what he is hiding.
Dr Sandra Ireland
We don't what happened to make Euodia and Syntyche fall out. Paul is kind enough not to mention the actual problem. Maybe it was a disagreement over who was on the flower rota that Sunday. Maybe one or the other had, like Dr Ireland, decided she was going to announce the other's sins to the church. Or was it a row over who was most important?

Doesn't matter. Whatever the row was about, it had made it to Paul. And Paul is concerned. Because a Church is not meant to have such rows that they make it all the way across the Roman Empire.

What I don't think it was, was a clear cut disagreement about something that really mattered. You know, like Paul telling Peter he was wrong about the Gentiles. This is less important, less arguable and therefore more toxic. The disagreement of the organist that thinks he should pick all the anthems and the vicar's decided for him. Of the powerful chap on the PCC who wasn't asked to be on the Christingle planning committee. Of the priest who never got the nod when a vacancy for canon came up.

So Euodia and Syntyche sit there as a reminder forever that churches don't grow or fall by their precision of doctrine - or Paul would have told them the answer. They aren't broken by one piece of dodgy furniture or architecture - in Paul's day they didn't even have buildings. But they can be poisoned by the little stuff - the grumblings and petty ambitions.

And yet the better way is given. Stop moaning about each other. Sort things out clearly. Be gentle.

Then pray, and give thanks to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, can flow from us to others - if we just let it flow in, first.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Where the Wild Stuff Is

Scientists announce they have discovered half the missing mass of the universe.

A great achievement.

In late news, the remaining missing mass has been identified as:

  • Odd socks
  • Biros (thank you Douglas Adams)
  • Reading glasses
  • Fluff left in the bath
  • Alternative Service Books "just in case"
  • Brexiteers' Hopes
  • 20p pieces down the sofa
  • Jeremy Corbyn's home-made jam
  • Euro 96 caps
  • Garlic that's 12 months out of date in the fridge
  • Failed Brexit strategies
  • Old service sheets nobody could get round to throwing away
  • Arsene Wenger's unsigned resignation letters
  • The brushings from hipsters' beards
  • Cat fur shed on people's sweaters
  • Unwanted keyrings
  • Dork matter
  • Crusty bits off cheese
  • Unread books by Richard Dawkins
  • Unread poems by Rowan Williams

World Tea Light Day

It's dark outside, dull and gray
So celebrate World Tea-Light Day!

There's been a raft of World Days lately. I blame the Internet. In the old days if you had a bit of a limp, or liked making jam, you'd crack on with it.

But these days you'll find out through SocMed that it's World Year of Jam, or Unesco Walk With a Limp Day. Suddenly there is a hash tag, and people uploading pictures of their jam and/or limp onto Instagram. On any given day the "world", or that part of it with access to the # key, is talking about little else.

So I figured we might as well join in. Here at the Beaker Folk we're particularly tea light-focused this year. With Brexit just round the corner, we're boiling any dead livestock we find down to tallow, so at least we'll be able to get some kind of lighting after we plunge hideously from the EU due to the hideous dream of lost Empire of a Bertie Wooster lookalike and a philanderer with a mop on his head.

Sorry. Where was I?

Yeah. So it's getting darker in the evenings. The squirrels are working in the woods. Down the Parks Road, Oxford Chemists crunch their way to lectures through the fallen leaves. The Year dies around us.

It's just so gloomy. Light a tea light. It'll cheer you up. World Tea Light Day - raising awareness of something, without needing the slightest commitment!

Happy World Tea Light Day! Now held on the first Friday 13th after the Autumn Equinox, every year!

Tea lights under cc @ wikimedia 

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Christmas is Organised

The nights are drawing in. And so we thought we'd better get the Christmas services organised.

Well, not organised. That would imply a top-down, hierarchical approach. Instead, we have spent the evening thrashing out the governance needed to manage the various strands of the Christmas experience.

I should point out that this chart does not cover Christmas festivities of a non-worship-related nature - including the Yule Feast, Wassail, Xmas Dinner. Nor the Solstice activities, which mostly consist of standing in the cold and dark and wishing the sky were clear and we knew which way was south-east.

But for worship-related activities, this is the structure.

You need to click on the diagram to get the full beauty of the committee structure.  But to summarise the roles of each entity:

Druidic Synod: Now, we're a very bottom-up kind of organisation. Which is why it's really important, with all those grass roots, that we have a strong committee at the top to do the weeding.

Moot: The Moot is the meeting of elected Beaker representatives. They think they're in charge. But they're wrong.

Xmas Subcommittee: Strictly speaking, the subcommittee responsible for all of Christmas, except the social stuff. And the Solstice. And anything with "Yule" in the title. And the Nativity.

Carol Service Subcommittee: The Carol Service has exactly the same format every year. All this group needs to do is get hold of last year's flyers and service sheets, and tweak the dates. How they need to meet 24 times a year to achieve this is beyond any of us. 

Christingle Subcommittee (and its sub-subcommittees): All about answering the important questions. What order of service shall we use? How do we ensure nobody catches fire? Can you get those sweets all year round or only at Christmas? And shall we over-order oranges like last year, or massively under-order like the year before?

Adult Xmas Co-ordinator: Has the job of ensuring that adults aren't left out. Generally involves sherry.

New Year's Eve Planning Group: I have no idea what they do. New Year's Eve is the same date every year. And we don't have a party.

Beaker Quire: Although not strictly a Christmas group, they get really annoyed if we forget about them. So they manage their own "stream" of Christmassyness, cutting across the other Christmas-related activities, and let us all know what they're up to.

Nativity Subcommittee: Responsible for co-ordinating all Nativity preparation and rehearsals.

Donkey Subcommittee: Responsible for finding a donkey, or else two people prepared to share a donkey costume

Mary & Joseph Subcommittee: Joseph slouches and Mary has an accent so London you'd never believe she's the Mother of God. So they need a lot of coaching.

Angel Subcommittee: Unfortunately rather than being a harmonious heavenly choir, the Angels have broken up into rival groups according to self-styled rank. In vain the firstborn cherub tries to keep the others under control. So they have strictly separate rehearsals, coming together in chaos for the big day.

Miscellaneous Characters Break-out Group: This is where the more forgotten of the Nativity characters get together to sulk that they've not been chosen to be Mary or Joseph. They mostly just mutter "at least I don't slouch." The shepherds' collective has been known to walk out just for having to sit on a hillside.

Evangelist for Xmas: Not many people are aware of what Christmas is, or how to relate to it. Some people might just let it slip past without even noticing it. Sponsored by John Lewis, our Evangelist for Xmas ensures we all know it involves abseiling pandas, parachuting foxes, irritating badgers and a terrier called Phil.

Xmas Co-ordinator: Reports to the Moot on all Xmas-related activities. Tries to get them into a semblance of order, so the Beer and Carols doesn't happen at the same time as the "Advent Calendar on Stilts" and the first viewing of the John Lewis ad. Then discovers they're uncontrollable and goes off to sob in a corner.

Xmas Druid: Wears a red suit and big white beard, and says "ho ho ho" a lot. Asks us to call him Nick.

So you can see - we've got Christmas governance well and truly under control. In fact, we reckon we can get one organised by 2019 at the latest.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Miles Grocer: "Me and My Brexit"

Every week, a celebrity writes on their view of the Brexit process. This week it's not-quite-such-a-celebrity-as-Richard Coles, Miles Grocer. Miles is the vicar of St Jeremy's-in-the-Allotment.

As the weeks tick down towards the Brexit deadline, it's important to understand what we're heading towards, and what people voted for.

When I voted for Brexit, I was working on the basis that this would mean the UK leaving the European Union and all its related structures - the Single Market, the European Court of Justice, the Customs Union. This would mean that the UK could establish the Socialist system we need, without interference from Europe. At the same time, I wanted to keep complete free movement of people from around the world, ensuring that the kind of diverse community in which I live can be replicated right across the country, and not just in London.

Naturally when we won, I was expecting Jeremy Corbyn's Labour government to put this in place. But in fact, none of it has yet happened. All that happens is that Theresa May's Opposition keeps going to Europe, while International Capital tries to ensure we Remain against the wishes of the down-trodden British coopers, coal miners and wheel tappers.

Interestingly, when I ask people who voted for Brexit why they did so, they give totally different answers to my reasoning. They tell me they wanted to keep the benefits of tariff-free trade with Europe, keeping easy travel for holidays in Amalfi, only with fewer foreigners in England.

Clearly they are living in a fool's paradise. And equally clearly it's the job of decent, well-educated, middle-class white men to explain to both Brexit and Remain voters why they are all wrong, and I am right.

So far, they don't seem to be listening. A bit like with my Thoughts for the Day.

But I remain sure that eventually all shall see sense. They will realise I am right. Britain will stand as a self-reliant, confident Socialist republic, growing our own bananas and drinking British coffee, ground from British acorns, grown on the British oaks we will chop down to make way for the millions of people who will want to share our success.

And people say Christians don't really believe in heaven. Rubbish. We can believe in things far more unlikely than that.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

School for Snowflakes

I don't really use the term "snowflake" very often. Its use as a way of suppressing free speech makes it pretty meaningless. And if we're going to use it for "people who are unnecessarily offended by things that aren't really offensive" then, let's face it, Donald Trump is the Snowflake-in-Chief.

But I'm going to make an exception for the committee of Balliol College JCR that was responsible for effectively no-platforming the Christian Union at their Freshers' Fair.

Freshers' Fair, for the people that aren't familiar with this monstrosity, is where 2nd and 3rd year students arrange stalls in a hall in the hope of identifying the 1st years that are worth sleeping with. While the 1st years, imaginations full of Morse and Lewis, are looking for free drinks and prepared to lie about having an interest in yoga, Tai Chi or - heaven help us - wargaming.

Freddie Potts, JCR vice-chair - told the CU, "We recognise the wonderful advantages in having CU representatives at the freshers’ fair, but are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford.”

That's right. There is potential for harm to freshers in Oxford. The University where practically every college was set up for a religious purpose. There is a very real danger that they might come across religion. When almost every college has a chapel. Presumably that particular JCR committee is running round the colleges late at night, taping over the word "Chapel" wherever they find it on a wall. Trying to persuade people that Pusey House is a hall of residence. Stealthily removing Keble College Chapel brick by brick would also be possible, but then we're all in favour of that.

But where do we stop if "Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging"? What about football: a sport that has been involved in both sexual abuse and sexism? With a terrible history of racism and homophobia? A sport that, at the top level in this country, is pretty much bankrolled by sponsorship from the gambling industry? A sport where people are dying to build the World Cup stadiums of a country that blatantly bought the competition?  Have Balliol banned their football team?

What about political societies - always popular in universities. Have Labour been banned because of Stalin's purges? The Conservatives because of Mrs Thatcher's relationship to Gen Pinochet? The Liberals because of Cyril Smith?

What about the Science Fiction Society? An form of literature and entertainment that gave us Battleship Earth and Sting in Dune? Surely they should be banned from a three-mile radius of Carfax?

Do Balliol have a Wine Society? The consumption of alcohol has caused millions of deaths through history. And predominantly among the sort of people that use alcohol as a way to try and improve their reality. The marginalised, in other words.

Balliol has produced three UK Prime Ministers: Asquith,  Macmillan, and  Heath. I've got to say that's not a great track record. And I speak as an alumna of Brasenose. Given Asquith's taking the Empire into WW1, and Heath's record in abolishing Rutland - and MacMillan's just being useless -  I reckon the best thing to do is to ban Balliol College from Balliol College, for its record in killing the working class and wrecking our counties.

Thinking about it, I suspect this isn't actually about oppressed minorities at all. The people who banned the CU just don't like Christianity, do they?

You know, it strikes me that we need to consider what education is for. Balliol was founded by John de Balliol and the Bishop of Durham. All Souls Oxford was founded so the forty clergymen who were the inmates could pray for the souls of the dead. These were establishments that were intended not just to educate but to do good with an indefinite - indeed eternal - timescale.

Freddie Potts's view of education is that we keep people from anything that might upset them so they can be lawyers, politicians or accountants for 40 years and then they die. Not quite so grand.

On this basis, why should we waste our time with education? For 40 years of improved wages in the hope you might pay your loan back? Doesn't exactly concur with the great ambitions of the founders. Let the snowflake JCR Freshers' Fair Sub-Committee of Balliol get out and mine coal. It's a proper living and you don't end up in debt.

Church Dictionary - Interregnum

Interregnum (n)
1. Period between two reigns.
2. A subtle reminder that the vicar's in charge, even when there isn't one.

Nativity of Kirsty MacColl (1959)

No empty bench in Soho Square
No I don't know the reason why
I'll love you till the day I die.
But one day you'll be waiting there 
Come summertime in Soho Square
And I'll be painting stars up in the sky
Before I get too old to cry 
Before my birthday.

Monday, 9 October 2017

The Eve of St Kirsty

Soho Square
My Way Home
Fairytale of New York
Please note that we won't be having any Liturgical Dancing.

In these shoes?  I don't think so.

The LBC Phone-in for All Seasons

Welcome to LBC! The channel that used to employ Katie Hopkins until she turned out to be too ghastly even for us.

Now our lawyers tell us we can't be rude about black people, Muslims or gays. Even Nigel Farage has to stick to slurs and being slimy. But we really want to encourage hate against somebody. Obviously it can't be on grounds of religion, sexual orientation or race. But the good news is there's one group that's not protected in any way, and because they're not sitting in their cars in traffic all day they don't even listen to us!

So why not tune in to our phone-in this evening: "Cyclists. What a Shower of Gits."

Saturday, 7 October 2017

From a Height (Matt 21)

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: ‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’
Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes”? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. 

I know a church where this is the reading this weekend. And it's baptism week. This is a heck of a baptism text. This is not a happy reading. This is not really a good news reading. Given the typical baptism congregation, this is not even an appropriate reading for a baptism. Because the type of people normally turning up one-off for a baptism aren't fitting into any of the categories that are being dealt with here- not the chief priests, not the Pharisees - not even the "crowds" that they are  so scared of.

And this appears to be a bygone fight. This is the sort of passage that would have meant a lot to the early Church, as it scrapped with a Jewish establishment as to who was right and who was wrong.

But maybe not.

What were the Pharisees and chief priests doing? They were maintaining their own power over against others. They were using their positions to get others to respect them - whether or not they deserved it.

And we still see that in the Church - people who think their being in the right place, doing the right job, saying the right words, wearing the right things are what is important.

But the "crowds" following Jesus - they weren't interested in position or power or their rights. They'd not had rights in the first place. They knew there was something wrong in their lives - they were ill, or their families were ill, or they just needed loving or they were struggling with the concept of this thing called "sin" which meant they felt so far from God yet all the normal rituals and readings - or the pagan gods, if they were Gentiles - weren't able to bring them closer.

And this man appeared to have something else. He taught with an authority that seemed to come from God. He backed up his claims with wonders. He didn't care whether he was dealing with men, women, children - he'd even deal with Gentiles. He preached an acceptance they'd never experienced, a direct knowledge of God they'd not heard of - and they just wanted to know more about it. So they followed him.

And the Pharisees and chief priests saw him as a threat. They could see what everyone knowing God - unmediated, without the need for ritual priests - would mean. Hadn't they spent two thousand years doing their best to shut the prophets up? When the prophets kept demanding justice, hadn't they kept pointing people to order, to ritual, to good behaviour?

And here he was - another prophet - and in that parable claiming to be so much more than one messenger from God. He was claiming to be God's son. No wonder they were angry.

The "stone that the builders rejected," the psalmist cried, "has become the cornerstone." The builders - the people who laboured in Israel - Jesus identifies with the establishment. The stone - with himself. He's telling them - you will lose your positions, you will lose your rights. The Temple - the place from the which the priests gained their rights - would be lost. The Pharisees would regroup, would remake the Jewish people and faith in exile - would be the builders of the faithful Jews of today. But they'd never rule the roost again like they did, there, in Judah.

The stone, Jesus says, will crush them if it falls on them from a height. That height was a cross. In trying to protect their power, they would lose it. In 40 years, the powers of priests was broken - the Pharisees scattered, as what they had worked to preserve was destroyed by the Roman Empire.

The things they harvested, the things they kept for themselves - respect, offerings, earthly power - they should have given to God. The thing they should have hung onto - the true rock - they rejected. Jesus says to the Pharisees, to the Priests, to the crowds - and to us - what is important? Our temporary powers, our rights, our rules, our personal authority? All these things that will pass? Or the life of God, given from the Son, poured out by the Spirit, which will last forever?

No contest, is it?

Friday, 6 October 2017

The Ghosts of St James, Husborne Crawley

A church in Herefordshire is trying out glamping champing - a new idea where you can stay in abandoned churches overnight, in utter comfort with a wood burning stove and a loo.

Now St James's Husborne Crawley (the parish church of St Mary Mag's for reasons I can't even face) is not quite redundant. Albeit its "A Church Near You" page focuses heavily on architecture and doesn't waste its time on minor details like whether they have any services.

But it ain't exactly overburdened with ecclesiastical life. Which might make the dedicated champer from, as it may be, London or Luton, think it's a good place to stay.

But I'd be careful. There's a lot of ghosts in Husborne Crawley Church. And I'm pretty sure, should you stay the night, you'll encounter a couple.

Flattened Jake

Poor Flattened Jake. A parishioner during the Victorian period who told them they'd make changes to the structure "over my dead body". And was accidentally hit with a box pew.

Wally the Wallaby

When the Revd Stephen Trott killed a wallaby on the M1 at J13 in 2005, he thought he'd hit a "large white" kangaroo. Our suspicion is that he was confused by the appearance of the demised marsupial's ghost, as Wally the Wallaby hops around the church yard in the dusk of summer evenings, before heading across the fields to the motorway to re-create his sad end.

Mary Driscoll

Died of boredom during a two-hour sermon in 1694. Mary's spirit sleeps on the back pew, waking every ten minutes through the night to cry out, "Is he still going?"

William Slingsby

The minister during whose sermon Mary died.  After 323 years, he has reached point number 47,983 although he has had to start repeating words starting with "R" in his sermon point headings.

Old Shuck, the Black Dog

Notorious denizen of Bedfordshire lanes. Don't shout at it. Don't look at it. Do not, under any circumstances, offer it a biscuit.

Raine Later 

In 1927, said she wasn't leaving the church book stall until somebody bought something. 
She's still waiting.

Gabriel Elm

In protest at the old string quire being replaced with an organist in 1894, chained himself to the organ. Those early electric organs weren't as safe as later models. If you hear a hiss and a spooky smell of singeing hair in the wee small hours, that will be old Gab.

Jumbley Jane

Nobody remembers her real name. She gave her entire life to sorting jumble for endless jumble sales. In death, apparently she just couldn't leave it alone. On quiet nights of a full moon, Jane can be seen at the back of the nave, sorting through piles of second-hand underpants. It's not a great way to spend eternity.

The Phantom PCC

In 1936, an entire PCC died of exhaustion three days into an argument about what colour to paint the gate in the church hatch. They're still going, every 3rd Monday at 8pm. We're still waiting to find out what colour the gate's going to be. 

Still awaiting a lick of paint
The Duelling Curates

During the Oxford Movement revival, two curates argued over the precise distance they should place the candles from the edge of the altar. The argument was resolved with a duel in the churchyard. Being upper class types, after loosing 30 or 40 bullets at each other they had hit nothing apart from a few passing peasants. At which point the villagers got bored and clubbed them both to death. They continue their deadly encounter, firing wildly across the churchyard, on the Sunday after Michaelmas every year at 10pm.

A Bad Morning for the Jehovah's Witnesses

They don't come round here much, the Jehovah's Witnesses. But when they do they suffer.

Really bad for them today. Bearing in mind that the Community is made up of many buildings, with many doors, they tend to meet a fair number of Beaker Folk as they try to bring whatever they believe passes for good news.

So today they made the mistake of asking if we wanted any of their material.  Which I responded to by offering to sell them "Writes of the Church" or "The Beaker Common Prayer." Outflanked by this particular piece of cunning, they backed away. And went to the next door along.

Where Burton was just coming out from a few  hours of light bean-counting. When your heart is full of the details of the mis-translation of John Chapter 1 that makes Arianism possible, the last thing you need is a bloke with a degree in train-spotting and an obsession about double entry book-keeping. Apparently, in the event of the End of the World, you will still be able to value your company as a going concern. As long as the End of the World segues neatly into the new one, and your premises and staff have not been consumed in the sulfurous pit.

Next door along is the external door to Charlii and Keith's quarters. Young Keith was busy with house work so Charlii answered the door with Celestine.

So the poor JWs spent ten minutes having explained to them why "Jehovah" is not a valid representation of the Tetragrammaton, formed as it is from the consonants of one Hebrew word and the vowels from another. She's worryingly bright for a toddler, is Celestine.

So calling it a day, they wandered back off down the drive, only to meet Drayton Parslow coming out of the gate of his manse. They asked him whether he had ever thought about whether the latest lot of disasters might herald the end of the world. And he told them the date, the time, the astronomical alignments that would precede it, and his more detailed reflections on what it would feel like to be raptured.

As I say, they don't come round very often. I can see why.

Book Plug

The Beaker Folk have never carried 3rd-party advertising. Partly because it would spoil the clean looks of the blog. Partly because I never really believed it would bring any money in.

The "Writes of the Church" blog, on the other hand, does carry some limited advertising. That's because it's Wordpress and they don't have pots of money like Google so they have to make the most of it by getting some dosh in. So far it's not suffered from any of those "Milton Keynes Woman Loses 50 years by this one quick life hack that has Northampton dermatologists livid" type of stuff, so we live with it and it's free.

But on the other hand, we have got a book out. And lots of you are on mobiles so you don't see the discreet ad for "Writes of the Church" on the sidebar of the desktop version of this blog.

And it is a rather good book, I feel...

So occasional posts on this blog are going to have the experimental advert below for a while. I hope it's discreet. I know it's attractive, because Dave Walker drew it.

Can you do us  a favour though? If it looks rubbish on your mobile device, just let me know? Ta.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Don't Cast a Doubt Till May's Out

Just seen the video of my sermon yesterday at the Druids' Conference on Education.

Yeah, I know I said that the United Reformed Church is a front organisation for the KGB. And that Julian Assange is actually an avatar of Gary Numan. Neither of which is true. Nor is Husborne Crawley overrun by separatist mice with Boris Johnson faces.

But I'd got a bit of a cold. So I'd taken Vics Vapour Rub, Fisherman's Friends, Lemsip, Victory Vs and quite a lot of whisky. Which meant I stayed on track like Donald Trump at a rally. But at least I didn't cough.  On the contrary - my vocal cords were that relaxed I sounded like a bass who's been on testosterone.

Really unfortunate, the letters falling off the backdrop as well. It was supposed to say "Upskilling the Masses." Which I didn't think was great. But it was definitely better than "Up killing the  asses."

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Street Parsons vs Street Secularists

Bit of a barney on the streets - and I use the plural loosely - of Husborne Crawley last Saturday night.

The "Street Parsons" from the Beaker Folk have been wandering around with lollipops and flip flops looking for people to help since the start of summer. But they have a Christians-only rule. The Beaker Secularists got grumpy. So the Street Secularists were founded to wander around in hi vis on a strictly non-religious basis.

Come Saturday evening there were 21 assorted helpers wandering up and down School Lane. They negotiated an agreement whereby the Parsons would walk on the left hand side of the pavement while the Secularists would patrol the right. But it all broke down after someone crossed the road. Nobody had agreed the diplomatic status of Crow Lane, and a fracas broke out.

Thankfully the one and alone reveller walking home that evening stopped and negotiated a ceasefire. A couple of people had some nasty flip-flop shaped bruises. But other than that, nothing too serious.

Next week, we're gonna send the Street Parsons to the pub and let Bruce, the bloke who sorted it out, hand out the flip flops. It's got to be less trouble.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Thoughts and Prayers "Fail to Stop Death"

Once again, it turns out that "thoughts and prayers" do not stop people from shooting guns at other people.

More than 50 people have died due to a man with a load of guns. All the thoughts and prayers from the previous hundreds of mass shootings failed to stop the man getting a load of guns, or the guns from firing, or the people who were shot being injured and dying.

Thoughts and prayers are very comforting. Yet guns keep killing people. 

Keep it up with the thoughts and prayers, America. 

But for God's sake do something about the Guns.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

"Our Town Was Better in the Past" Facebook Page

I'm pleased to announce we're going to create a new Facebook page - "Our Town was Better in the Past".

It will save all the admin of the plethora of Facebook pages dedicated to how medium-sized market towns looked in the past.
"A cracking pint of Whitbread Trophy"

The page will have special features:

"Before the Londoners got here"

"When there was still a woollen mill"

"Before we had to build estates to house everyone"

"When we still spoke in a strange dialect and burnt the man from Radio Rentals as a witch."
"Every apprentice had his underparts greased on his first day. Made a man of them."

Every picture of an old building will receive 1,000 responses of "Wasn't the town lovely then, when we still skinned monkeys for a living."

Stick a picture of the old hospital up, and everyone will reminisce about how the TB patients used to be wheeled out midwinter to enjoy the snow.

Every picture of an estate being built will be met with "that was when the Overspill arrived."

Every mention of the ring road will attract a host of hostile comments about travellers.

So please "Like" our page, "Our Town was Better in the Past."

Because apparently they all were.

Much Ado in the Trim Valley

Two items in the Trim Valley today.

The weekly notices and the monthly letters page.

And check out the book! It's funny.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

When Every Knee Shall Bow

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2.5-11)
Creeds. People fought over them for hundreds of years. People these days cross their fingers during the parts they don't like. I've known ministers and worship leaders choose the ones they disagree with least.

And yet the need to try to nail down and agree what we believe - and what we don't - goes all the way back to the pages of the New Testament. The expression, "Jesus is Lord" - the short statement of faith that Paul used in 1 Corinthians and uses here in Philippians - was as political as a religious statement - because if Jesus is Lord, then what was Caesar?

Creeds were important - are important. Because what God is like, is important. Because who Jesus is - is important. And who Jesus is - was and is controversial.

Here is a human who walked among other human beings - just like them.  Sweated and got hungry and tired and had a full range of bodily functions like anyone else. And who bled and died like any other man, when nailed to a cross.

And yet he did astounding things. Who made astonishing claims about where his authority came from. Talked about being one with the Father. Here is a human who went beyond human abilities. Who could walk on water; multiply bread and fish; turn water into wine; raise the dead. And, the Church claimed, came back from his own bloody death.

So the Church, over four centuries, fought over how the human Jesus and the divine Christ fitted together. And came to the conclusion that the man Jesus was also the eternal Son of God - equal with the father. The unchanging, eternal God was also the child that grew and learned, the man who healed, preached and died. And And Paul also came up with this creed in one Philippians - or is quoting someone else - a statement of faith in the nature of Jesus.

Paul says that Jesus was in the form of God. So entitled to all the authority, all the worship, that God is entitled to.

And yet did not need to claim equality with God. Being equal with God was a given. So Jesus did not claim any rights - he was born, the son of a Jewish girl, the step-son of a man who worked with his hands. He himself worked with his hands until he was 30 - the age at which a man could serve as a priest - and then he started his ministry.

He was obedient. He was the wholeness of a human being in obeying God's will. And he did not rebel - even when he was put to death.

And as a result of that death - God gave the human, Jesus, all the honour that was due to his Sonship. Raised him from the dead. Raised his human body to heaven - where a human now sits at the right hand of the Majesty, fully aware of what it is to be like us, praying to his Father for us, sending his Spirit upon us.

And the day will keep when every knee will bow - either through love, or through the grudging recognition of who he is.

But Paul is clever. Because of what he slips in, in front of this glorious creed. The instruction that we should have the same mind as Jesus. Not clinging to our own positions - if Jesus did not cling to his. Not worrying about our own glory - because who gave up more of that than Jesus? Not following our own judgement of right and wrong - if Jesus was totally obedient to the Father.

This does not mean submitting to what is wrong. Does not mean being doormats. I've been following the controversy in the States over sportspeople - mainly black - kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem as a protest against the discrimination that is still so prevalent there. Many of them will be Christians. And their faith will be part of what has brought them - remembering they're all pretty rich - to kneel in solidarity with so many others. And so they will, in part, be bowing the  knee to Jesus. And there's a man - a privileged white man - telling them they should stand up - because he thinks respecting the US anthem, or the flag, is more important than their consciences. But if you're bowing the knee to respect the least of Jesus's brothers and sisters - you're bowing the knee to Jesus.

It means that we are being made in Jesus's image. By accepting his position as a servant, we are following him. By not demanding a higher place, we are doing what he did. By remembering the least of our brothers and sisters - we are counting them as Jesus.

And there's an implicit promise in that passage. Because if our mind is like that of Jesus, and our attitude means we follow him - we will be among those who will bow our knee joyfully when we see him in Glory. And if we're brought low with him, we will be raised with him.

Christianity in Decline : Women to Blame

I reckon it's pretty much the nadir of the Church in this country when a bishop is addressing the UKIP conference. Not because they're anti-EU. Not because they're in favour of private enterprise or even limiting immigration. We can all legitimately disagree over these matters. But because they use fear of other people to drive their agenda.

But if this is a low spot, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali has identified where it all started going wrong. In the 60s, when mothers stopped sharing the faith with their children.

There's a lot of historical nonsense in that statement, and some implicit assumptions.

With the exception of a minor revival in the 50s, the percentage of practising Christians in the UK has been declining since Victorian times. Some have put this down to the First World War. In short, the lies sold to the working class - especially that sweetest of all, about dying for your country - led to a rejection of deference. And that deference was lost to walrus-moustachioed colonels, land owners, mill owners and the Church, as it pronounced God's blessing on a war that sacrified young men for dying empires.

By the Sixties, that process was in runaway mode. Car ownership, smaller families, increased the potential for leisure activities that were more attractive than sitting on a hard bench while someone with a plummy voice told you to behave better. But that decline had been running downhill for decades.

What actually happened in the 60s that the Bishop may implicitly be criticising? Women were finding they didn't have to be chained to the stove or nursery all day. They had jobs - either through choice or necessity. They had fewer kids - so more time for other things. In short, they did not have to be defined solely as wives and mothers. Their parameters were not so circumscribed by their menfolk. That's what happened in the 60s.

So to bring us back to the 60s, a Bishop talks at a conference where, according to the Sun, activists handed out leaflets comparing gay people to Hitler. A bishop who left Pakistan because his life was in danger, talks to a party whose referendum advertising included warning that migrants endangered the country.

Still, if you want the Church to thrive, tell women to get back in the kitchen and teach their kids about Jesus.

Friday, 29 September 2017

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - the UKIP Ending

And so Reepicheep found his way to the Utter East.

"Reepicheep!" called Lucy, "have you found Aslan?

"Oh good grief," replied the brave mouse. "No. It's the UKIP logo."

"We have control of our borders now," replied the logo, "so you can just naff off back to Narnia, you immigrant rodent."

Reepicheep turned round, and swam slowly off to the West.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Those Independent Anglican Denominations in Full

Gavin Ashdenden, formerly one of the Queen's hundreds of chaplains, has been ordained a "missionary bishop" by the Christian Episcopal Church - a denomination that is very keen to ensure we know they're in the Apostolic Succession and aren't like those nasty other Episcopalians. As well as having a neat line in pasting Times New Roman text into websites as images.

But just how many of these independent Anglican denominations are there? And just how gaudy are their coats of arms?  Well, we're here to help...

Free Church of England - As opposed to the Imprisoned Church of England, presumably. Unique among denominations that I'm aware of in having a donations panel on the front page.

Free Radical Church of England - Like the Free Church of England but with an unpaired electron.

Free Nelson Mandela - Not such a topical song as it once was.

Free Anglican Communion - something you'll be able to get with a box of cornflakes, the way things are going.

Anglican Free Communion - Seems to have the adjectives in the wrong order. Kind of weird, really.

Free Episcopal Church - Bringing together all the Free Episcopalians, I guess.

Anglican Church in North America - One of the many Anglican churches in North America (see above)

The Quivering Anglican Church - Focus on hellfire, damnation and cake.

The Continuing Anglican Church - Still going, against all the odds.

The Protestant Episcopal Church - Still has a lot to complain about.

The Caffeinated Church of England - Dedicated to Beryl crockery and decent coffee.

The Covfefe Church of England - The result of a terrible typo when they were trying to disaffiliate.

The Celtic Episcopal Church - Plays in green and white vestments. Expects you to have the right browser to view their web page, rather than vice versa.

The Rangers Episcopal Church - Went terribly bankrupt but hopes to get back on the straight and narrow.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Oxford English

Exciting news from the Diocese of Oxford, which is recruiting for a "Vision Programme Development Manager." Which I'm pretty sure is a job that replaces what used to be called "Prophet."

I feel you should just savour and delight in this sentence from the advert. And bear in mind this is actually one sentence.
This is an exciting opportunity for someone to join us who will coordinate and facilitate the discernment and implementation of the diocesan common vision and strategy process through a range of activities and hands on projects, by working collaboratively with others, informing decisions and deploying effective communication strategies to build engagement across the Diocese
No? You neither? And some people say the BCP is hard to understand.

Important Questions to Ask if You Want Church Growth

With thanks to our good friend, Bradley Hadleigh, of Great Tremlett. Inspired by the far more sensible Kelvin Holdsworth.
  1. Aren't you a bit crowded anyway? Apart from the pews in the front half of the church. And nobody wants to sit there.
  2. Do you really want another building project?
  3. Are you prepared to sit next to somebody you don't know? In your pew?
  4. Where is everyone going to park? The lanes round the church are already full on Sunday mornings. And the Archdeacon says you can't put parking on the graveyard.
  5. Do you really want to go to the trouble of getting to know new people?
  6. Those hymn books are out of date, out of print, and they're running short. What sort of process does your church have in place for selecting a new hymn book, and raising the money for an unspecified number?
  7. You're going to have to buy a new PA, aren't you?
    Do you really want these seats occupied? Think of the cleaning.
  8. Who's going to run all the confirmation / membership / Alpha courses? The Vicar's already maxed out. And now s/he has the building project to cope with as well.
  9. Are there enough cups in the church hall for post-service tea? Has anyone considered what they might cost if there's a revival?
  10. What happens if the growth brings enthusiastic people who want to change things? How will you stop them?
  11. Church growth might bring children. And Sally who runs the Sunday School is 98. How will she cope?
  12. Isn't God really keener on a remnant?
  13. Growth can be spiritual as well as numerical. And spiritual things are better than mere numbers. So what you really need is another hymn on Sunday mornings.
  14. If you are more welcoming, people might come along to more services. Can you cope with the effort of being welcoming every week?
  15. If you have more people singing each week, is the organ up to it?
  16. Can you remember the names of new people? Only if you can't remember them, it would be rude to have them there.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Henry VIII's Transition Period From Europe

Reflecting on the vagueness and emptiness of Theresa May's words in Florence yesterday.

Well, I say Florence. The lack of local interest and the clearly domestic targeting of the speech meant she could have been anywhere. As I came into the office, Burton Dasset was on a '"Florence Truther" reddit, trying to prove the whole thing was a mock up, and she was actually speaking in a Travelodge conference room in Slough.

But her two-year Transition Period, where we all pretend nothing has changed, got me interested. Firstly because that's another two years for this country's political elite (French word) to come to its senses and propose another referendum. Maybe one with a simple yes/no answer. Maybe with the question: 'Now you can see into the Abyss, do you think you were a bit foolish last time?'

But mostly because it caused me to reflect on the last time it happened.

In 1534, in order to legalise Henry VIII having sex with Ann Boleyn, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy. Henry VIII thereby became Supreme Head of the Church of England - in effect the English Pope.

Then Parliament passed the Act of Tithes and Firstfruits. In effect, taking back control of the 10% of English wealth that had been sent to the European bureaucracy. In fact, much of the tithes was actually spent in England on board and lodgings for priests and on the monasteries. But Henry didn't mention this in the slogan he painted on the side of a hay wain.

After a two-year transition period, in 1536 the Dissolution of the Monasteries began. I presume this two year period, during which England was effectively Catholic but with Henry in charge of the Church of England, was to allow the transferral of canon law with appropriate changes, and to thrash out a decent deal with Heaven and other third parties with whom we had previously negotiated via the Holy See. I suspect that England, with a population of a few million, actually had a weaker negotiating position than the Pope, which was why we had to move to Calvinist terms (grovelling and hoping) rather than the more flexible Catholic arrangements.

The 2 year transition period also gave a period of time for the English souls in Purgatory to arrange either an ordered transfer into Heaven, or resign themselves, in the absence of Masses for the Dead, to a long wait before getting heavenly citizenship.

Of course, after all the upheaval, England decided to rejoin the Catholic Church just a few years later. And then left again shortly after that. And to this day there are people who clearly have two allegiances - being English and yet also being enamoured of that of a circle of 12 stars. Not the EU flag - the image with Mary in it. Boris Johnson would not be impressed.

But then Boris Johnson is a privileged adulterer, whose aim in dragging Britain out of the EU was for his own gain and vanity. I guess nothing really changes.

A circle of twelve stars... 

Friday, 22 September 2017

Feast of Equinoctial Equivocation

Well, it's an early end to yet another Equinox celebration.

Why is that every six months, we allow Hnaef to try to tightrope walk across the Duck Pond? Every six months we - and he - forget he can't actually walk tightropes. And he plunges, every six months, straight into the dark and murky depths. Every six months. Without fail.

The inevitable song about Autumn got us down, as ever. Burton's rewriting of the Mamas and Papa's "California Dreaming" being such a good example of the problem:

All the trees are brown
And the leaves are dead
Summer is now over
It really does my head.

I'll be cold and wet
when December's here.
From September to mid-April
I hate this half of the year.

So we dropped a ceremonial leaf in the pond each, dragged Hnaef out, and everyone's headed for the White Horse.

In many ways we have been brought closer to each other, and to Mother Earth.

Shame it's all so melancholy. Still, only three months to Solstice. All downhill now.

Equinox Preparation

Beaker Folk are reminded that the Equinox is at 9.02 pm. Please be there sharp with handfuls of leaves, conkers, autumn crocuses and dead badgers.

As is tradition, Hnaef will be tightrope walking across the Duck Pond as a symbol of all things in balance. It doesn't normally end well, and it's going to be dark. So we've sprayed the rope with fluorescent paint and will be bathing the area in Ultra Violet. So be sure to bring dark glasses and sun block.

As usual we are expecting Hern the Hunter and the Piper at the Gates of Dawn to appear. Also as usual, due a GMT / BST confusion, they'll either be a day late or a day early. Be nice to them. Being forgotten deities, they get a bit lonely between major astronomical events.

It's going to be quite an evening.

This being the last day of summer - at least until 9.02 at which time it becomes the first night of autumn - enjoy a bit of Kirsty summer magic.

Writes of the Church - On Sale Now

The paperbook book of the Beaker Folk's sibling blog, "Writes of the Church" is released today! Available through The Bible Reading Fellowship, Amazon, and presumably many good Christian bookshops.

Join the congregation as they make their way onto proper printed paper, with some great cartoons drawn by Dave Walker.  How many times can Norbert resign as treasurer? Why is Romilly constantly cancelling the social events? Why would a tea towel cause a boycott of the church hall? And Melissa gets in with a couple of her uplifting poems.

A queue of letter-carrying parishioners at the vicar's door

And all just in time for Christmas....

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Getting Really Close to Nature

Really pleased to read Mark Boyle's Guardian article on living without the benefit of modern medicine and technology. At last someone has embraced the lifestyle we have been advocating through our "Ultimate Immersion Beaker Experience" retreat concept.

For a very reasonable rate, we've been letting idealistic people with lots of money live in the Lower Wood for up to three months at a time. During this time we send in "Beaker Lifestyle Coaches" to give them advice on important pre-industrial lifestyle tips. For instance - how to make tents out of fox skins, which herbs to use for broken bones, and how to tell whether you're so cold you will die of hypothermia, or whether you'll probably make it to morning alive.

The Immersion Beaker people spend their days foraging for berries, gathering moss and ferns to create sanitary products, and being sick after eating unwashed berries or drinking water out of the brook. Of course, foraging for berries in late winter and spring is always a bit pointless, so at those times of the year they mostly just sit around being hungry.

Lower Wood was always full of wildlife, so in principle a particularly keen Immersion Beaker  person could have had a decent Neolithic diet of muntjac, hedgehog and rabbit. In practice, of course, they were such idealists they couldn't harm a bunny-wunny, and careers as investment bankers and actuaries don't give you much idea as to how to create a decent bow or snare. And not having matches, they were strictly relegated to banging the rocks together to make fire. We caught someone using a bit of broken bottle to magnify the sun once. We had to confiscate his loincloth as a punishment.

Clothing was of course a real bugbear. Any Immersion Person going into the woods had to yield up all artificial fibres. And if any of their clothes then wore out or were so dirty they were unredeemable, they had to weave replacements themselves. In the absence of any cotton fields in Husborne Crawley this left them chasing sheep round fields and harvesting bits of discarded wool off the barbed wire.
Lacking aspirin, some extreme methods of obtaining pain relief were attempted
The ban on modern medical intervention did bite, though. Surprisingly, as they thought their natural lives would protect them from all illness. Not if you fall out of a tree while trying to hunt squirrels and break your arms, it turns out. All that feverfew didn't have the slightest effect. And Melanie was rubbish at foraging after that. Eventually, faced with her colleagues' refusal to call a modern ambulance to drive along modern roads to help her, she had to walk up to the Big House and beg for help. Where, true to the Neolithic principle, Burton Dasset gave her a backie to Milton Keynes General on his bicycle.

I remember the guy with terrible hay fever, who spent six weeks unable to see, let alone forage. His colleagues did try feeding him plantain leaves, but he didn't trust them not to have herbicide on them. He ended up sitting under a crab apple tree, eating the fruit whenever it fell on his head. Although to be fair, the raving state he got into was very definitely a religious experience.

Indeed, religious experiences become more common the longer you spent in Beaker Immersion. After a couple of months of near starvation, you end up seeing all kinds of visions. And most nights, if you walked past Lower Wood, you could hear people calling on God for help. And twice we had to intervene to prevent human sacrifice to ask Hern the Hunter for blessing. So a very big tick in the box.

But sadly, eventually the Beaker Immersion course had to be wound up. A group of particularly enthusiastic course members, with some awareness of Neolithic agricultural practices, went in for slash and burn. The Lower Wood ceased to exist one week in April. And then they realised they had no seeds, and no way of feeding themselves. They didn't get their money back, mind you. I felt they had had the ultimate Beaker experience.