Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Seasonal surprise

Oh yes. I meant to mention something exciting that happened on Christmas morning. In the full church were a number of old friends like the rising stand-up comedian of the north-west, Alan Dawes. Also there was a regional leader from the Torch Trust for the Blind, who told me there was a possibility of 'My Donkeybody' being added to their library of large print, braille and audio books - which I'd be delighted about. There are quite a lot of people who can no longer read conventional books, not least with MND, and who I think would enjoy MDB. So I'm really hoping my publishers will agree to Torch taking it on.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Seasonal 'upsets'

On Christmas Day we had a power cut here at about 12.30 pm. Inconvenient, you might think? Here it's something more than that, because most of the village isn't on gas. Turkeys in the oven.... and for the next few hours, there they sat, nothing happening. One family I know was OK, because their calor gas oven had eventually arrived and been connected on Christmas Eve; another family decamped to in laws a few miles away; another, in the absence of TV of course, played good old-fashioned games, until the power came back on. And of course central heating didn't work. People lit up their fires, but one family found jackdaws had nested in the chimney and the house filled with smoke. The only thing was to open the windows - and it was cold here, on Christmas Day. We were lucky, because for some reason - maybe because we're next door to the nursing home - our full power was restored within the hour, and our sprouts got cooked on a camping stove.

It WAS a minor inconvenience on the scale of these things. The last time something similar happened was about 15 years ago. But we've complained enough about it. Yet at the same time bombs have been raining down in the Gaza strip and rockets and mortars flying into Israel. The cholera epidemic still rages in Zimbabwe. Killing continues in Afghanistan, and everywhere of course.

Last night I listened to Radio 4's News Review of 2008, presented by that nice broadcaster, Ed Stourton (recently ousted from his seat on the Today Programme in a somewhat unseemly fashion). There were some highlights of course in the gloom, deepening since mid September with the credit crunch soon sinking into recession. People seemed agreed that the one piece of indisputable history would prove to be the election of Barack Obama as President of the USA. Poor man, talk about a crushing weight of expectation! Expected to save the US banks, car industry, to say nothing of the global economy; to extricate the US from Iraq; to solve global warming (remind you of King Canute?); and now newspapers reckon the Middle East is in need of his magic powers. Sorry, world, you're in for disappointment. He may be a remarkable man, but he's not a god. You need to look elsewhere for the answer. Give you a clue: Christ-mas.

Of course, there's not a simple solution to all that's wrong with the world at the moment. Well, there is, and there isn't. It's as simple as a change of attitude of 100% of humanity, and as improbable as that. If everyone looked out for their neighbours before themselves, things would be different. The secret is getting and sustaining that change.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Do vicars do nothing?

Or to be more exact, does THIS one never do anything? It's an accusation I sometimes hear from a special needs' teacher I know. I don't blame her, because when she comes to church here she does often find me sitting in the congregation.... And I suppose you, dear blog reader, might feel the same. 'Surely Christmas MUST give him something to write about. Has NOTHING happened in his little world?' Well, my excuse is I've just had too much happening. I've been too busy. I'm sorry if you feel neglected. Nothing personal.

Hopefully you'll have been following instead Aleem Maqbool's progress from Nazareth to Bethlehem in company with a donkey (or to be more exact five donkeys in succession) on the BBC. His favourite was No 3, the magic donkey, which I think he got onto in a couple of days having had bad experiences with his first two. No 4 wasn't much better, though she looked all right, and No 5 only had to get from the Donkey Sanctuary near Bethlehem into 'the city of David'. The fact that the Bible doesn't mention Mary and Joseph using a donkey doesn't matter, as the main interest turned out to be the ground level view at walking pace of that incredibly divided area. It's worth reading - and while you do, you might like to guess which donkey I identified with most!

However it's true I'm a lot slower doing all the stuff I used to plough through before Christmas. But we still had a good Christmas here. A nice country celebration, Carols by Candlelight, Crib Service, 'Midnight' Communion (actually ours is at 10 o'clock, dating back to when the Anchor's throwing out time was 11 on Christmas Eve - the church is on the main path through the village) and then a full house on Christmas morning. I don't know how many came through the church over the week. I guess about 350 to 400. Which suggests that faith isn't dead, or even dying. Which I hope gives some people who say God has had his day pause for thought.

Of course popularity is no proof of truth, any more than voting on Strictly Come Dancing indicates the best dancer. Personally I thought Tom Chambers and Camilla Dallerup's show dance WAS a show stopper, ideally suited to him, even though I'd accept the judges' verdict that he wasn't the best all-round dancer. But the people voted with their 'phones. Coming back to Christmas, it stretches scepticism beyond reason to doubt the fact of Jesus' birth. And that's the foundation of the good news, that the creator of the universe lived a human existence. And it's good news for everyone, so the more get to hear it the better as far as I'm concerned.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

News this week

Just back from my one celebrity engagement, 'turning on' the lights of the Stanford Village Christmas tree, except of course my good friend Peter had to do the physical throwing the switch as I couldn't get to it. Still there we were on the Green, the handbell-ringers playing and the rest of us singing carols. Ah, village life.

If only life was all that simple. But it's not. Much of this week, it feels, I've spent thinking about assisted suicide, prompted by the film on Sky on Wednesday night of Craig Ewert dying in the Dignitas clinic in Zurich. He had MND, I guess his type was ALS as it was more aggressive than mine, though his speech was clearer than mine has been for a long time. Not having a dish I only watched the clips that Sky released for the news channels. I'm not sure I'd have wanted to watch the entire thing. To be honest, I don't think showing suicide of any sort on TV is helpful. I'd not want to make a judgement about those who take their own lives. I have a buried a number, and it always seems to me that we're not in a position to plumb the depths of such a person's mind and soul. I know that I don't want to choose that exit route and actually I don't think I'm entitled to, for reasons I outlined in the chapter 'Enigma' in 'My Donkeybody'.

It was a surprise on Wednesday when I received an email from my publishers saying The Independent would like to run an article for the next day on assisted suicide from my point of view. 'Wow!' I thought. 'I'm not sure I can be coherent enough. But better give it a go.' Fortunately the journalist who contacted me was very helpful and suggested cutting and editing extracts from the book, with additional bits to link it to the news items. So that's what I did, and it ended up on three pages, with the headline, 'I don't want the right to die.' What took me back somewhat was the reaction to the feature of commenters on the website. I thought Independent readers would read thoughtfully and argue rationally! Maybe it's just internet commenters who don't.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Correcting mistakes

I hope Rob from Sheffield won't mind my quoting at length his comment on my last post. He writes from experience of working with many people with Down's Syndrome, and although he agreed with my feeling that we are more tolerant of disabilities he warned against over-optimism:

'The problem seems to arise when families are no longer able to care for people who cannot independently cope physically and/or mentally. They then have to turn to charitable organisations or the State for residential care.

'Facilities are limited and a strong case has to be put forward for appropriate care. All to often people who have Downs are reliant on the determination and articulate presentation by parents, carers or advocates to get results! Like life, it is very much a lottery.

'Down's children are living much longer these days and whilst there are some, as with other disabilities, that can cope with life fairly independently to a good age, the infrastructure they/we rely on is not always that reliable!

'We have moved a long way with social integration, but there is still, in my opinion some distance to go.'

I take your point, Rob. It's well made and worth repeating.

And to be honest I think it's fundamentally more important than most that grabs the headlines these days - even than our economic woes, even though I must admit that I can foresee only increasing gloom on that front and a lot of personal misery, especially with those who can't afford it. It was with some astonishment that I heard about the troubles of the Large Hadron Collider (which I was so excited about, when it was launched). Apparently it was caused by a single electrical fault which caused a magnet to move, dislodging a whole lot more and releasing some helium. Repairing the damage is going to be long process and a costly one. 'A £14 million glitch' - some glitch! Quite like the economy, it occurs to me: bad sub-prime lending in the States triggers a domino-effect, engulfing the whole world. As John Donne said, 'No man is an island entire unto itself.' That repair will take a good while longer, I reckon.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Good news

Last week there was an excellent article in The Independent by Dominic Lawson provoked by a programme on BBC4 'Born with Down's' which revealed that there were more children born with Down's Syndrome last year than there were before widespread screening was introduced twenty years. Lawson has a daughter with Down's, called Domenica, who gives him immense joy. On the Today programme they were attributing the rise to the increased public acceptance of Down's. The headline of the article is 'Shame on the doctors prejudiced against Down Syndrome' (see the link), and he points out that there is still a presumption for termination in some parts of the medical profession not least on the spurious ground of cost to the NHS. When I heard the news item, it seemed to me one sign of resistance to the prevailing culture of eliminating any form of 'disability' from society, and as such immensely encouraging. If you've read my book, I quote from Angela Beise reflecting on the poverty of a world without compassion and the dangers of removing 'imperfections'. If it's true that we are welcoming those we used to hide away, that is very good news, in my book.