Sunday, 28 September 2008

Songs of Praise

Just watched an excellent 'Songs of Praise' on BBC1. Well, actually, we videoed it as we were out at a Harvest service when it was broadcast. If you don't know the format, it's a mix of a travel guide, interviews and Christian songs (aka hymns). Tonight's interviews were moving especially one with a former banker who'd become a full-time street preacher (not at all wacky) after losing two babies and facing God feeling completely broken. In fact all the people interviewed (a vicar, a dentist and an opera singer) had faith, intelligence and sanity - impressive. And I especially enjoyed Lou Fellingham singing 'Build this house' and the last song, 'And he shall reign'. Songs of Praise isn't always that good. It's often rather twee or something like a tourist advert. But this one was different, presumably affected by the presenter and the production team. Let's have more of the same - please.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008


This morning I received an email from Premier Radio: "I'm so sorry for the short notice. But last night we re-scheduled your interview. It will now go on air Friday at 3.20 pm. Apologies... radio's like that sometimes!" So, if you were thinking of tuning in tomorrow, postpone it 24 hours.

Yesterday was my day off, and we enjoyed a visit from our old friends, Rob and Lib Wiggs, who'd travelled three hours to come and see us. Rob's partly responsible for my being in this line of business (vicaring, that is). They're the sort of people with whom you can talk about anything, from the trivial to the profound, and know you won't be dismissed or condemned. You needs friends like that.

We also had fun organising a book launch party here in Stanford's own village hall for 25th October. I contacted the local donkey sanctuary in the hope that they might lend us a living illustration of the book's cover. We'll see about it. And yes, I am doing some work as well, like publicity for the visit of Henry Olonga, the Zimbabwean test cricketer, who had to leave the country after making a protest against the government. He also sings rather well. That's 7.30 pm on 4th October, also in our village hall. There are still tickets, I believe.... We should be in for a good evening.

Monday, 22 September 2008

To the studio

So today it was up early - for me. We had to get to Premier Radio's studios near Victoria Station for 11 o'clock. Because I'm slow doing everything, it meant an early breakfast (just weetabix and prunes, because toast takes too long) and then on the road. The jam on the M4 had cleared by the time we reached Reading East, but of course everything snarled up with the bus lane and it was slow going from then on. Why is it that taxi-drivers feel compelled to vent their frustration by honking their horns? To think it was once my ambition to drive a black taxi - when I was seven. Maybe those drivers have the emotional tolerance of 7-year olds. Not that some weren't very considerate. Anyway we reached Vincent Square, and there was a disabled parking space ready and waiting for us, with five minutes to spare to get round the corner to Chapter Street.

Then came the interview. Well, actually a wait came next, a cup of tea and a biscuit. And then Dave and 'B' (Bridgitte) issued forth and ushered us into the studio. I felt I didn't perform well, in that I didn't say what was on my heart and what I did say wasn't well expressed, whereas by contrast Jane was clear and concise. At the end she asked if they were likely to 'voice-over' me. They hedged a bit; so I suspect you may not have the joy of listening to my gravelly, slurred and monotonous tones. I thought to ask when it was going out. B looked it up in the diary. The answer is 3.20 pm on Thursday. Tune in live - or listen again on line.

Meanwhile we emerged into a balmy autumnal afternoon. Pupils of Westminster School (alma mater of my old friend Richard) were emerging from the playing fields in Vincent Square. When we reached Battersea Park, having taken a wrong turn, there was a busful of kindergarten children having their lunchtime break and office workers eating their lunches. Happy days. But we had to head home. Work beckoned. We'd enjoyed our city break. I'd didn't do much work when we got home. Sorry.

Friday, 19 September 2008

My Donkeybody arrives

I was excited when Sue the post lady brought a parcel from Monarch today, with two advance copies of my book. I'm really pleased with the job the publishers have done - thanks Tony, Simon and Paul. I trust their faith in me proves justified.

More thoughts on financial matters

Well, there's some relief tonight in stock markets round the world. Personally I wouldn't be too sure that it's all over. Until banks stop giving credit to people who can't pay it back (which didn't just happen in the sub-prime market in the States), we'll keep sliding into trouble. Building an economy on credit must be madness. Certainly the hundreds who've lost their jobs in the past five days must think so.

My friend Luke (not Lehman) sent me a reflective email on Wednesday. Part of what he wrote was:
'It is unsettling to now witness a company that has been part of the US bedrock, slip into the sand! I now feel grateful not to be so closely linked to their family. The free hand outs I would have come to expect, stripped away, my security for the future gone.
'Which brings my thoughts back round to the solid Rock, we believe in. The inheritance I can look forward to, with 'fullness of faith'.'

That reminded me of an old song which our children sang at their recent holiday club, 'The wise man built his house on the rock. The rain came down and the floods came up. And the house on the rock stood firm.'

Donkey bother

I was sent this story from a Belgian digital news service by my friend, Otto Veninga, who like me has an interest in donkeys. He's kindly translated it for me:

In Egypt a donkey had to stay in prison for 24 hours, after he had stolen a corn cob from a corn field. This was reported in the Egyptian media today.

'The animal was arrested at a checkpoint in the Nile-delta. The landowner, an agricultural research institute, had reported to the police that crops disappeared regularly.

A judge sentenced the donkey to the imprisonment. The owner got a fine of 50 Egyptian Pounds, the equivalent of almost € 6,00. The identity of the ungulate was not published.'

Poor donkey. I hope he (I notice) was well fed while he was in the clink.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Oops! Correction

Luke, a member of the Lehmann family, has put me right on the subject of Lehman Brothers, the investment bank: 'they really really have nothing to do with us, as they spell their name with only one 'n' at the end!!' It all goes to show I listen to Radio 5 Live too much - which although its presenters are very good and quite diverting doesn't tell you how to spell. So apologies all round. Another thing I wonder about with 24-hour news and the newshounds' propensity for gloom is whether the contagion of fear in the markets would be so rampant without it. However I suppose we had bubbles and crashes before the communication revolution. Greed and fear are not new!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Shares and showers

The BBC pronunciation department is clearly having trouble with Lehmann Brothers Bank: sometimes they say Leeman and sometimes they say Layman. Well, I could tell them, because I'm proud to count some of the Lehmann family among my friends - and it's Layman. I hasten to add they're not the merchant banking branch of the clan, just a loving family. But, wow, what's going on in the financial markets? Lehmann Bros going bankrupt, Merrill Lynch taken over, AIG in big trouble, and stock-markets plummeting. A few years ago a financial adviser advised me to move money into shares.... I wonder about that advice. The credit crunch wasn't their fault, of course, but we're all learning that even if moth and rust doesn't corrupt our treasure, borrowers, lenders, commodity traders and hedge-fund managers can do it just as well. And Jesus' financial advice not to lay up treasure on earth but in heaven is the best advice. I'm glad my friends the Lehmanns have the sense to follow his advice.

On a lighter note, today I've enjoyed a shower. It's not an easy operation, but if I want to stay clean it's the only option. As my balance and muscles went, baths became impossible. And so we replaced it with a walk-in shower, with numerous grab-rails and a shower seat. Once a week, on my day off - that's today - Jane helps me into the shower cubicle and there I sit and wash off a week or two's dirt - lovely! I don't often stop to reflect on how lucky I am, in a world where most people don't have access to clean running water. That puts matters of global banking into perspective.

Monday, 15 September 2008

'Know yourself'

From somewhere in my past classical education - of which I'm sure Boris Godunov, tsar of London, would have approved. Is it true he wants all the primary school children of the capital learning Latin? - I recall a Greek apophthegm, 'Know yourself' (or then it was 'Know thyself'). Self-knowledge was highly valued. So I suppose I should be grateful that I don't know when my book is coming out (some websites say 1st October, some 28th) and that its subtitle continues to be wrong on all the websites and that Amazon doesn't even have a PICTURE of it - still! I found myself becoming vaguely irritated. And then I had a moment of self-realisation. I am still a control freak. I like things to happen my way. Chill out, old man! Life's not like that. So I've been reminded that I'm still a work in progress.

I'm also humbled to learn that 'My Donkeybody' is in the top 10 hot future releases on Amazon's Religion and Spirituality list. I'm grateful for the trust. I hope when it's read that you feel it's justified. Tomorrow I meet one of the kind people who added their weight to the book with a generous commendation, the dynamic bishop of Reading, Stephen Cottrell. How he manages to combine his more than full-time job with writing books I don't know; but they're a good read.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Happy Birthday, Jess

Tomorrow is the official 10th birthday of our dog, Jess, pictured above trying to imitate a donkey (uncannily like the one on my book cover) and a lion and being herself. She has a touching story, being the illicit offspring of a cocker spaniel bitch and probably a blue merle collie (hence her disconcerting blue eyes). Her mother lived in a dogs' refuge centre, having been rescued from a welsh pound. Ten years ago she was adopted at a price by Jane, and came to Stanford in the Vale. Thanks to training by Bryan, she developed a great temperament - except in the proximity of hot air balloons, and church bells which make her howl. But, as they say, she's not doing badly for her age. If you see her, do wish her a happy birthday.

In church today we heard from Laurie Lintern about the launch of the Large Hadron Collider. He works on CMS, one of the detectors in the circuit. Wednesday was clearly an exciting day. Among other things he commented on how many top particle physicists are believers (in God). I agreed with him in thinking that God enjoys us exploring further and further into the wonder of the universe. Was it Kepler who described it as 'thinking God's thoughts after him'? One can only be amazed at the intelligence lying behind everything, I think.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Respect, Will Shakespeare

For one delirious night I slept proud in the knowledge that 'My Donkeybody' was TOP of Amazon's future releases under Christian living. However by this morning it had fallen to 2nd, but was still a creditable 12th in the Religion and Spirituality category - after a number of books on witchcraft and of course The God Delusion. It's a sad fact that there are vastly more registered witches than Christian ministers in this country. Which wouldn't matter if they were right or harmless, but they are neither.

I'm mildly sorry that my book's coming under those categories, as I actually intended it to be about living with a terminal illness and to be read by anyone and everyone. Naturally I can't keep my personal beliefs out of it. That would have been dishonest - and you can't have a condition like MND without questioning why it's happening and what dying will be like. I'd say those are not so much religious as UNIVERSAL questions. But I don't major on them. Mainly I just tell the story of how it happened, and what it's like - which is more fun than you'd think. So whether or not you think God's a delusion, I actually wrote this book for you, as well as for me! I hope you enjoy it.

Moving from the absurd to the sublime, we went to see 'The Merchant of Venice' yesterday at the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) in Stratford yesterday. What an incredible multi-layered play! And what a great production! We went with our very dear friends, Anthony and Ruth (pictured, with me and others, outside the Courtyard Theatre). For some the play's apparent anti-semitism is a problem, but the production never had Shylock demeaned, and I understood for the first time that the play is NOT about that. It's about law and grace. Let's face it, neither the christians nor the jews in Venice do themselves credit. In fact they're all as bad as each other. Shylock's critique of the christians is quite right. He's also absolutely right that Venice 's stability as a society depends on justice being upheld. The Duke's appeal for mercy is right too, if ineffectual. Karl Barth, the great christian thinker, might have agreed with Shylock: forgiveness is an outrage to the moral law. It's only with the intervention of the disguised (incarnate) Portia from Belmont, the beautiful place of love and faith, that mercy receives its full revelation.
'Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.'

Portia confounds reason, indicating an even profounder sort of truth, the truth of grace. It seems to me that no human being (Venetians), whether christian or jew, comes out well. It's actually God who's the hero of the play. That's why I had immense trouble holding back rather noisy tears on occasions, and had to keep my eyes down. MND brings emotion nearer the surface and the play was so painfully and beautifully profound. The production rightly ended with a dance which drew in even Shylock in an interweaving harmony, accompanied by an orchestra in the 'gods'. Bravo, the RSC, and Will Shakespeare.

Meanwhile, of course, the world was remembering the height of human barbarity on 9/11 seven years ago. That event and its aftermath reminds us, if we needed any reminder, that HUMANS continue to be inhumane to each other and all of us need rescuing from the vicious cycle of revenge based on raw justice.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Not quite - top of the pops

It's been brought to my attention that you can now preorder 'My Donkeybody' from sites such as Amazon. I'm told it's due out at the start of October. 'My Donkeybody' is officially a hot future release (in christian living books category) on amazon. It's a fair way down at the moment, but then it labours under a bit of a disadvantage having no picture with it (hint to the publisher!). So until then here's a reminder of the cover. And an offer: pre-order your copy, boost my ratings and I'll sign it - free of charge! (To be honest, I'd sign it anyway - but you get my drift!) See the link to Boost my ratings. Warning: please note you will be charged for orders.

In the wider world, I listened with rapt attention as the first particles were released, like hounds straining at the leash, into the Large Hadron Collider for the first time this morning. A moment of history, folks.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Don't miss it

Don't miss out listening to Andrew White on 'The Choice' (BBC Radio 4 9.30 tonight). I listened this morning and it made me laugh and cry in equal measures. It's such an impressive and moving story. And he's such a good interviewee - utterly straightforward, self-deprecating and honest. Michael Buerk: 'What the hell are you doing (working in Iraq)?' AW: 'I'm mad!' As Stephen says, 'Rock on!' And I hadn't realised that the Church of England regards him as unemployable as a vicar because of his MS.' I was simply humbled to think he'd written the foreword for 'My Donkeybody'.

By contrast another Andrew (Murray) had a master-class from Roger Federer in Flushing Meadow. No doubt he's learned from it - if nothing else how to milk the crowd in a post defeat interview: 'The Arthur Ashe crowd is just great....' (or words to that effect. But I must say, much as I dislike the cliches, he did well, the laddie from Dunblane.

Talking of the flowers of Scotland, I want to say thanks to my friend Louise - she's Scottish - who's recommended the song 'I hope you dance' from the album by Lee Ann Womack to me. I'd heard it once before at Lee Abbey. As she says, great lyrics. One day we'll dance. I tuned in to the old film, 'My Darling Clementine', this afternoon. I enjoyed the scene in the outdoor church (they've not built a 'proper' one yet) and the lay preacher says, 'I'm not a scholar, but I've read the good book from beginning to end and back again, and no where does it say a word against dancing....' And he picks up his violin and the rest of the morning service consists a good old dance session! That's just fine!

Bon voyage in Kenya, Mark and Louise. Am I jealous....

Saturday, 6 September 2008

20th year

Oh Newcastle.... Our Kevin's gone then. Shame.

Yesterday Jane reminded me that nineteen years ago to the day I was inducted as vicar here. (Actually she wasn't sure whether it was 'inducted' (vicars) or 'induced' (babies) - not much difference in my case! I WAS pretty green.) I'm living proof that the superstition that the number of times the new vicar rings the bell is nonsense. I managed a feeble two and a half dings. Well, no one had told me to give it a tweak rather than a simple pull. Anyway, here I am starting my twentieth year....
What a lot has happened since then! I could write a book....

About twenty years ago, I gather, work began on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN near Geneva. If you want to have an entertaining introduction to what it's about, I recommend the LHC rap on You may not be much the wiser and you MAY get the impression that the scientists and engineers working on it are bonkers, but all I can say is that Laurie who's been involved in it isn't. I haven't actually asked him whether when it's switched on on Wednesday morning we'll all get sucked down an ever-growing black hole or be transmogrified into gooey strange matter, but I'm inclined to believe the scientists' reassurances. And even if they were wrong, I guess it would solve the credit crunch. And more excitingly open the door to Heaven - Bring it on!

It's quite a thought, come to think of it, that life might end on Wednesday. I heard someone say, 'Go and run up all the debts you want. You'll never have to pay them back!' But what if there were life after this, and what if we were held accountable for our actions now? What if we were to stand before a judge with the full database of all our actions playing out on a screen? What if what we did really mattered? Which, of course, it does. We would have to pay back our debts. It might be more sensible to pay off all our debts, and I don't really mean monetary ones.

Meanwhile today, while we were having our lunch, I switched on the opening ceremony for the Paralympics in Beijing. I'm not a great one for ceremonies normally, but I have to confess I found it quietly moving - apart from when Jane read out a newspaper report about a labrador in Fife whose stomach was making an odd noise, and when the vet opened him up he found 13 golf balls. 'He finds them like other dogs find truffles.' However, there were these disabled people from all round the world doing something really positive with their lives. They were cheerful, enjoying the moment, all together. It reminded me that no country on earth is immune from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It also reminded me of an account that Joni Eareckson Tada gives in one of her books of disabled people in Ghana, without even wheelchairs, praising God with wild abandon. It's possible!

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Andrew White 'The Choice'

I gather that the programme featuring Andrew is NEXT Tuesday (same times 9 am/9.30 pm). Don't miss it!

What about Manchester City then?

Well, I don't know. It seems to me that some people have more money than sense. Not that I have anything against Man City or Manchester itself. Second happiest place to live in Britain, apparently - after Powys in deepest Wales. I mean I'm a bit miffed on behalf of some Chelsea supporters that they've pinched Robinho with their new found oil money, but then fair's fair, Ashley Cole.... But if the Abu Dhabi sheikhs had some money to throw around, WHY NOT NEWCASTLE!? I speak as a Geordie. What IS going on there? Buy out Mr Ashley and give KK a couple of billion to invest. Then we'd see something. Failing that, I suppose Mark Hughes and Man City is as good a club as any. Well, I've already mentioned my partiality for underdogs; and they seem the Manchester underdogs - for the moment.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008


Sorry! My information was obviously wrong about The Choice with Andrew White - which wasn't on today. I'll post when he's going to be on. Or I'll try.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Andrew White on BBC

You'll remember I mentioned Andrew White, from Baghdad, has written the foreword for my book. Well, tomorrow and next week you can hear him on the radio. So you can find out why I'm so pleased to have his name on the cover of 'My Donkeybody'.

'Next Tuesday (2nd Sept) and the following Tuesday (9th Sept) there will be a major BBC Radio 4 interview with AW. The presenter is the famous Journalist Michael Buerk. It goes out on 'The Choice' programme at both 09.00 and 21.30 on the 2nd and the 9th. It can be listened to on the internet anywhere in the world and also via the archive if you miss it @
"At some point most of us are faced with a single choice that irrevocably alters our lives. Michael Buerk talks to people from all walks of life about that kind of choice and takes them through the whole process from the dilemma, through the risks they faced, to how the choice was made and living with the consequences. Canon Andrew White talks about his decision to work in war torn Baghdad."'

Meanwhile back on the ranch

So it's been back to work nearly as normal last week. Meetings in the evenings, planning for the next year, trying to raise money for building repairs and improvements in the three churches here.... But the party mood has persisted on and off. The children's holiday club welcomed about 60 children to mornings of teaching, worship and craft activities. New this year was the appearance of Rusty and Tommy, the beachcombing puppets, and Clyde, the upper-crust camel. I'm waiting for Arthur the ass....

Partying began again on Saturday with a wedding which ranks with the best: Vikki Cranfield and Tim Eltham. 'The bride wore cream and midnight blue....' The couple were nervous, as normal couples are. But it was just an enjoyable day. We got to the reception just in time to see Tim and Vikki smooching under the glare of the cameras in the first dance. I wish them as long and happy a marriage as my in-laws.

Talking of very different parties, I hadn't realised until watching the news in the week that the unofficial symbol of the Democratic Party in the States is the donkey. I'm a tad bothered in case all my potential Republican readership will be put off by the title of 'My Donkeybody'. Perhaps I'd better call my next book 'Elephant Memories'. I liked this bit from the Democrats' website: "The Democrats think of the elephant as bungling, stupid, pompous and conservative -- but the Republicans think it is dignified, strong and intelligent. On the other hand, the Republicans regard the donkey as stubborn, silly and ridiculous -- but the Democrats claim it is humble, homely, smart, courageous and loveable." I'm not taking sides!

More parties

And then we had Jane's parents' diamond wedding anniversary down in Sidmouth. Diamond - that's sixty years! The Queen sent them a card (or one of her secretaries did), which was nice of her - though she did need reminding! They had a lunch party to which they invited 50 friends and family. They are a remarkable couple, both in their 80s, still going strong. Dennis had made their anniversary cake (a craft he took to in retirement), and Audrey had iced it - a bit of a work of art. Their eminent son, Christopher, was recuperating from an operation, and so Jane had to step in to the breach and take up public speaking to propose the toast. (See picture with her youngest granddaughter, Faith, looking on in admiration - and well she might! It was a moving moment.) It was a celebration of a great achievement.