Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Travellers' Tales

I've recently received a couple of emails about the dangers of travel. One told me about a scarey series of mystery deaths happening in South Africa, and then after international airline flights from India. Eventually, I read, some boffin had a bright idea and thought of a nasty little spider which hides away and nips you from beneath. 'The Civilian Aeronautics Board (CAB) ordered an immediate inspection of the toilets of all flights from India, and discovered the Two-Striped Telamonia (Telamonia dimidiata) spider’s nests on 4 different planes.' So it concluded with the life-saving advice to lift the toilet seat before use. I recommend the Myth Blaster website. Which tells you this is a hoary old hoax.

But the other email directed me to the BBC news website. I think this is a genuine mishap. You have to be sorry for the 26-year man who dropped his mobile down the toilet on the high speed train (TGV) in France and fell foul of its powerful suction system.

I'm afraid my traveller's tale won't be quite as colourful or entertaining, but on Friday I'm to be interviewed again for Premier Radio's Travellers' Tales. Whether it will be used remains to be seen, as my speaking voice is slurred and slow. But that's the nature of MND. Then there's a second book signing, before we have a break, leaving the house in very good hands and going to our favourite Somerset autumn hideout. Can't wait.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

The book is launched!

So here we are! This morning at 10.05 the first book is bought in Stanford Village Hall, and yours truly wields his trusty Parker biro to append his signature. And it was non-stop from then for two and a half hours.
What fun! Outside the two visitors from the Island Farm Donkey Sanctuary were there to greet people, with Linda and John.

The queue never seem to get shorter. But the catering team was magnificent. Cakes, biscuits, tea, coffee and old fashioned lemonade. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Young and old could be found sitting already reading their books. My favourite comment was from young Oliver, 'I've been running all round like a looonatic!' Prize for distance travelled solely for the event goes to Karen and Jon Large, with baby Esther, who came from St Albans.

The most frequent comment, as the morning wore on, was, 'You must have writers' cramp by now!' The remarkable thing was, I hadn't. It was altogether an enjoyable experience. With Ed as my right-hand man efficiently organising everyone, all I had to do was to practise my signature and hope everyone enjoyed the book, and be pleased that as a result the MND Association will be receiving a cheque. Thanks to everyone from 86 to 23 who helped - what a team!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Book launch

Jane is working her socks off getting ready for the weekend. IT'S THE GREAT BOOK LAUNCH - Saturday 10 to 12 o'clock at STANFORD IN THE VALE VILLAGE HALL (SN7 8HU). Signed copies of 'My Donkeybody'. Two of Benjy's cousins (not signing, possibly singing). Be there or ... Hope to see you then.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Benjy, Jane and me

Here's a promised photo of the three of us © K T Bruce at our photoshoot at Kingston Lisle a week ago.

Monday, 20 October 2008

A cautionary donkey tale

Yesterday we had tea with our old friend, Judy Freeman, Ken's widow. She was staying in the village with Sue Tobin and they honoured us by coming round. Conversation turned to donkeys. Sue recalled when there had been six donkeys at Stanford House just across the green from her home. Judy told us that when she was a girl growing up in Wicklesham her mother bought her a donkey and cart. She would drive it down the hill into Faringdon, the market town nearby. However, the donkey was always reluctant to go - away from her home. 'So I got a whip,' she said - and you ought to know that Judy is sweetness itself -, 'and I'd tie a carrot on the end, and dangle it in front of her nose. Then she'd move. She had it as a reward only when she got home again.'

I don't quite know what the moral of the story is. Possibly keep the aim in sight and you'll make it in the end . Perhaps more is achieved by carrot than whip (for legislators). Or no gain without perseverance (for financiers).

When Judy got engaged to Ken, the local sweetshop owner was heard to say, 'I don't give that more than two years.' They were married for very nearly 60 years....

Friday, 17 October 2008

Front page

Yikes! Benjy, Jane and I are all over the front cover of the Church Times today.

It's a good article, in my view, by Rebecca Paveley - click on Features, if you can't afford the £1.10. She's a journalist with an unusual degree of empathy, who seemed to probe into bits you'd rather hide as well as the more cheerful bits.

I might put the whole of the email interview on line sometime, but for the moment here's one bit about healing that didn't get in (and I DID have a lot to say!).
'How do you reconcile the terminal nature of MND and your belief God is able to heal, physically?'
The flippant (or profound) answer would be that all life is terminal in that sense, wouldn’t it? And in one sense having your days numbered for you is a privilege - so we may get ‘a heart of wisdom’ - isn’t it? And we don’t have hope for this life alone. But my theology of healing is that it’s a sign of the Kingdom, not a right of the Kingdom. You know how, when there’s a solar eclipse, you can’t actually look at it direct, but you can use a pinhole to project the image on to paper and see what’s going on. In a way, I think it’s a bit like that with physical healings in answer to prayer (which I know do happen): God gives us a tiny indication of his power, his personal compassion and his ultimate intention for redeemed creation. It’s a sign. I think that’s what Jesus was doing in his ministry, except he was saying, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ I’m really glad to worship a God who is able to do so much and who shows me what he’s like, but whom I can’t boss around. I’m glad he’s mysterious. But I look forward to the day when I shall know, understand, as I’m understood. I suspect my worship will be on a different plane then! I certainly hope it will.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

More donkey business

Yesterday, my day off, was unusually eventful. A photographer had been commissioned by The Church Times to take some photos for an article. I liked K T Bruce. She did after all tell me I had a lovely face to photograph! No one has EVER said that to me before. Well, it's a bit like being told your voice on the answerphone is attractive. Anyway the editor thought it would be nice to have a photo with a donkey (two asses together). There used to be donkeys around the village, but we scoured the countryside and drew a blank - until Jules who knows everyone got a tip-off which led to Sarah Bradstock, of Old Manor Racing Stables in Letcombe Bassett. Yes, they had a donkey, and yes, we could pose with him, after the horses had been exercised. So after the shots in the church, we drove off to the Blowing Stone and found Benjy and his equine pals in their paddock round the corner. Benjy's the old donkey who travels with highly strung horses to races. Sarah herself came and brought him, and there by the side of the road we had our second shoot. Sadly we forgot our camera, and so there's no picture to put up yet. But hopefully you'll be able to see one in the Church Times on Friday. Every now and then it occurs to me what a good thing it was I didn't call my book 'My Elephantbody'.

Then in the night just after midnight Jess, our dog, sounded off. Either she was barking 'Happy Birthday' to Jane or she was frightening off (or frightened of) the phantom fox after our chickens. She tends to hysteria, and thus won't stop until Jane goes and reassures her / tells her to be quiet. Which brings me to say, Happy Birthday to my gorgeous wife.

PS on M of V

I was thinking, in one of my wakeful periods last night, about 'The Merchant of Venice' - as one does. I talked to June shortly after the performance we saw. She thought it was a feminist production. Interesting, I thought last night. It's true that Portia is the epitome of filial piety, justice, mercy and faithfulness - interesting because Proverbs in the Bible personifies Wisdom, which includes all of that, as a woman (ch 3). (It personifies the opposite as woman too; so perhaps you shouldn't make too much of that!) 'But what do you make of the bit about the rings?' June asked. And it was that I mused about last night!

The bit of the play people remember and think of as the climax is the courtroom scene, where Shylock is awarded his pound of flesh, but not a drop of blood, and loses everything (except his dignity/pride faced with Christian ridicule in the Stratford production). However there's a whole act after that, which is 'the bit about the rings'. Is it just a bit of comic relief after the rather dark events of the courtroom? I don't think so. The courtroom has actually proved it humanly impossible to maintain a perfect balance between justice and mercy. Neither is actually upheld. So if justice or mercy are insufficient motives for human relationships, what else can be? Enter the commitment of love - symbolised by the rings. Here is a depth deeper than law. It's a covenant relationship freely entered into by individuals bound by something stronger and more sacred than law. Hence the rings are much more than a trifling hoop of metal. And Bassanio and Gratiano's surrendering them to the 'lawyer and his clerk' is a betrayal of the only motive which makes human relationships work. Justice alone won't. Mercy alone won't. They need a reconciling arbiter, and that is love. Which is of course what God is. The last word of the play is left to the arch cynic and joker, Gratiano, who, even if he can't resist a double entendre, at last has grasped the point:
'Well, while I live I'll fear no other thing
So sore as keeping safe Nerissa's ring.'

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Staightening the bias

I realise I could have appeared partisan in my last blog. So let me have another gripe about the other side. It seems a long time now since Gordon Brown reshuffled his cabinet and shocked everyone by bringing back the wily Peter Mandelson in either an act of statesmanship or desperation. No one that I've heard commented on the fact that two of the three Catholics in the Cabinet either gracefully retired (Ruth Kelly) or were given the heave-ho (Des Browne). Whether Paul Murphy was left with Wales because he's doing such a good job or because pushing all three out at one go would have been too obvious, I don't know. What I do know is that we need politicians in government who have the courage to dissent from the consensus party lines because of their religious convictions. And back in May the three of them did just that over embryo research and abortion. Personally I suspect it will be a bit more lonely for Mr Murphy, and there'll be more pressure on him to conform against his conscience. I hope I'm wrong.

Well, Paul (St of that name) tells us to pray for those in government, and he was writing at a time of a repressive totalitarian Roman empire. So I guess we'd better do the same. It's not a fun job just at the moment, even though our Gordon seems to be relishing it a bit more than he was.

On a lighter note what a lovely weekend we've had in the main. Pity about Lewis Hamilton. However no stock markets open, and so no falling FTSEs. Just blue skies and falling leaves. Pictures of Hannah Smith (aged 2 weeks +) down the line - a truly charismatic baby. Also of my friends, Louise and Mark's trip to Kenya, which took me right back to my gap year. And the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sachs, reminding us of Soren Kierkegaard's definition of happiness: 'The door to happiness opens outwards.' Man, that was one deep Dane.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Marmite madness

It must be the sea air. First it was Bridlington; now it's Ceredigion, but not feeding ducks this time, but Marmite. Ceredigion County Council, I hear, are not allowing parents to give their children Marmite to smear on their toast at school breakfast clubs. There's a list of approved toppings, apparently, things like jam (low sugar) and marmalade (presumably also low sugar), but not lemon curd and not Marmite. There was a time when I'd have thought having marmite for breakfast, rather than marmalade, was plain perverse, even though it must be better for your teeth. But now, with MND, I'm prone to cramping in bed - which is blinking painful, especially as I can't reach my feet to pull my toes up. And I remember my wise mother recommending marmite for cramp, and so I've got used to having it on my breakfast toast. In fact I like it. And it seems to work. I really can't believe that as part of a balanced diet it's less healthy than jam (low sugar) on toast. Is the school ladling on the salt elsewhere? Or perhaps, being by the sea they reckon kids breathe in excess salt in the sea mist... Anyway it's worrying when local government limits parental choice in something as fundamental as food.

I used to think that Telegraph columnist, Boris, was a buffoon, clever, witty but harmless. I guess that reputation must have rankled, secretly. And like a bright schoolboy made praepostor when he reached the dizzying height of Tsar of London he determined to prove everyone wrong. And so he sacked the highly effective Chief Constable of the Met, Sir Ian Blair - I suppose because he wasn't in the Boris/Dave gang, and had ruffled a few journalistic feathers. 'That'll show 'em. They can't mess with me,' chortled the new Tsar. A pity, I think, to sacrifice a good man to prove a point.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

History in the making

Politicians and bankers all over the world are busy trying to restore 'confidence' in the market. This morning Alastair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced an astronomically huge support package for British banks - and even said that if we had savings in, he'd bail us out. Someone I know said, a bit incredulously, 'Does that mean, he'll just give them all their money back?' Apparently, yes. I'm not sure life's like that. I think if you hit an iceberg it's pretty well impossible to save the ship. And so stock markets continue to slump. They say it's fear. They may well be right. But if money's your god and it's suddenly revealed to have feet of clay, you're right to be frightened. You're on your own, buddy. It's better worshipping the real God. He's the same yesterday and today and forever - which is as good a security as you could wish. You're never on your own.

From world history to something more local. It's autumn (fall) again and the leaves are beginning to turn. There's a beautiful maple in the churchyard here, and the edges of its leaves have started to turn. So it's a kaleidoscope of greens, gold and red. Mark you, some trees on the road to Pusey aren't so decorative. They're young horse chestnuts whose leaves, instead of the usual variety of autumnal colour, are a uniform dull brown. I fear they have this disease which is beginning to decimate the chestnut population in this country. Perhaps this area will soon be devoid of another great species, just as the elm was eradicated in the 1970s. If you look at old photos of the church here there were several great elm trees surrounding it. One rotting stump only remains.

And next year we won't be here either. This week I announced to the church here that I am going to move on at the end of January next year. A very minor piece of local history. In a few years' time, you'll be able to tell we lived here only by the little framed list of vicars of this parish going back to Thomas de Roqel in the 1200s or something, and perhaps the two oak trees grown from acorns by my nephew, which we planted in the vicarage garden when we arrived nearly twenty years ago. (No, it's not the vicarage in the background - just the most beautiful house in the village, Rectory House.)

Thursday, 2 October 2008


'Does he take sugar?' is a classic question when you're in a wheelchair, or have any disability. If the Paralympics didn't dispel the myth that the disabled are somehow lesser people, the video clip 'Amazing Dance' (see link) should finally do the job. At the moment it's no 1 in the most viewed for the month (Amazing Dance - you will cry). It didn't actually make me cry but it IS very beautiful and moving. Again I'm indebted to Otto for putting me on to it.

Preparations for the book launch are going on here, hall and donkeys booked.... 10-12 o'clock on 25th October at SN7 8HU (Stanford Village Hall). Meanwhile, however, 'My Donkeybody' should be out and winging its way to bookshops and internet distributors around the world. Yes, I admit, I am quite excited and very grateful.