Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas cold

Just to let you know: I'm not blogging at present - not because I'm too busy, but because I have a monumentally stinking cold, which is keeping both of us awake at night - with my hacking cough - and me fairly antisocial in the day - with this befogging streaming cold.  It's not terribly good news with MND as you run the risk of chest infection.  So you'll not get any clever comments about the irony of climate change and the present classic British winter.  All I'll do is wish you a Joyfilled and Peaceful  Christmas, as we celebrate the extraordinary event that transformed history.  

Saturday, 19 December 2009


We were delighted to discover that our visitor this weekend, Tony, is addicted to 'Strictly Come Dancing' - which means of course that instead of an evening of polite conversation we'll be able to indulge our Saturday night habit of ignorantly commenting on the merits of the dancing celebrities.  Ever since I learned of Ricky Whittle's taking dancing lessons in preparation for the series and especially since Chris Hollins' highly entertaining Charleston, I've been rooting for Chris and Ola - in a passive sort of way (none of this wasting money on phoning).  I'm told they're the people's favourite 'because of the journey', whereas Ricky's the judge's favourite because of his skill.  Interesting that: reminds me of the phrase, 'not because of works lest any man should boast'.

Meanwhile on a rather different level of significance the fortnight-long UN summit on climate change has come to an end.  I suspect the hope of achieving 'a legally binding agreement' at the end was always a pipe dream.  With 190+ states wanting to protect their own interests, only the most optimistic idealist could have hoped for a universal agreement.  And I've always wondered what sanctions in law would have been imposed on transgressors.  So there are some people bemoaning the talks as a complete failure, while the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban told journalists: "It may not be everything we hoped for, but this decision of the Conference of Parties is an essential beginning."  Robert Bailey, of Oxfam International, said: "It is too late to save the summit, but it's not too late to save the planet and its people."
I was interested by the quasi-religious terminology he used.  Religious fundamentalism is an accusation often made by the climate sceptics, I've noticed.  "We're not allowed to question the scientific orthodoxy on the subject," they complain.  Well, personally, I agree with Ban Ki-moon in his determination to press on towards something more concrete.  It seems to me that having brought China, the USA, Brazil, India and South Africa into the mainstream process was no mean achievement.  And it's up to us to keep praying for our political leaders.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Preparing for Christmas

Things at home are beginning to shape up for our family Christmas.  It's quite a strange feeling, I must say, not being 'in charge' of a parish with three churches (not that I was in charge, I hope) for the first time for twenty years.  Not that I'm missing the strain; probably just the power!  And also, of course, the community.  Anyway we're hoping our neighbours will be coming round on Tuesday for mince pies and mulled wine - which of course means Jane doing the preparations.  And she's been dusting down our environmentally friendly artificial Christmas tree, which is now twinkling in the conservatory.  And bringing out the crib.  And putting up the cards on the trellis in the 'lift room'.  And doing the shopping.  And wrapping the presents.  And... meanwhile I sit and watch, and think of past years when we did such things as a team and of how much is falling on Jane's shoulders now.  But she doesn't complain.  In fact she says she's enjoying it - and I believe she is.  The truth is that we are celebrating the birth of the serving God - and gratitude makes drudgery divine.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

'The Shaming of the Strong'

I spent a gloriously miserable afternoon yesterday - thanks, Mary!  Or maybe I should say miserably glorious.  Jane wisely went out shopping while I finished the book Mary recommended, Sarah Williams' The Shaming of the Strong.  It is a magnificent book - vividly written.  It begins when Sarah has a scan which reveals that her longed-for third baby has a serious genetic abnormality which would mean it wouldn't survive birth.  The medics expected that she would have an abortion, but she and her husband Paul decided against and instead, with all their family, loved the baby Cerian to the end - at a huge cost, physically, socially and spiritually.  As you know, MND leaves you susceptible to emotion and at a lot of points I was very moved.  All I can say about my weeping is that Jane didn't leave me enough handkerchiefs.  And as for my wailing - you'd better ask Jess the dog, as she was the only witness.  However if you want an affirmation of the preciousness and value of life - even of the weakest and most 'useless' person - you really ought to read The Shaming of the Strong.  It's a beautiful book.  By the way, I wasn't the only one who cried on reading it.  Why do you think Jane went out?

Saturday, 12 December 2009

The other CAMRA

We had a knock on the door on Thursday evening.  It was the Wantage Silver Band playing carols.  We had a couple of verses of While shepherds watched and then a burst of Deck the halls with boughs of holly.  It was pleasant having carols played live, rather than the canned musac type you hear so much.   The trouble is with double-glazing you couldn't hear the carols; so we kept the door open while they were in the close.  

We've not decked our hall yet for a good reason.  When I worked on BBC Radio Oxford (actually I did a student attachment there during my ordination training, to be honest), the Sunday morning breakfast show ran a Campaign for a real Advent (CAMRA...).  The point of course was to stem the tide of celebrating Christmas too soon.  It was a bit like Canute, but I appreciate the sentiment.  Of course it's especially hard when schools break up and naturally want to have carol services and nativity plays for their children.  Not all do, of course - choosing instead to go down the politically perverse Winter Festival route.  I'm glad that my grandchildren have had the opportunity to be an angel and even Mary at a school which definitely hasn't taken Christ out of Christmas.  I heard of another production which included a policeman and a penguin.  I have a feeling it wasn't about the nativity.  Personally I think the waiting (and even some discipline) leading up to Christmas adds to the celebration, and when I was a vicar tried to keep carol services as near the day as was feasible.

Breaking my Advent fast, however, I enjoyed reading these top 3 classic kids' quotes from the school Christmas concert tonight regarding "what Christmas means to me": 1) "Christmas is not just about's about having fun as well!" 2)"I wake up early on Christmas morning and fill the house with Joy. Then I wake up mum and dad." 3) "I drink some Schloer. It tastes fizzy. That's what Christmas means to me!"  Thanks, Ellie.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Eco-warriors and peace-warriors

I thought
you'd like to see my two marching grandchildren with their mum at the Wave march in London on Saturday.  I'm immensely proud of them.  And love them.  I can't see why they weren't interviewed on TV.  But that's not important.  As Barack Obama has just said, 'We seek a better world for our children and grandchildren.'  That's as true about the environment as about peace - for which he's receiving his Nobel prize.  It sounds like an interesting discussion of the just war theory worked out in practice in the 21st century.  I'd better concentrate.  'The desire for peace is seldom enough.'  'Peace entails sacrifice.'  'We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals we fight to defend.'  It's quite something having such a thoughtful US President.  'Condemnation (of human rights' abuse) without discussion will do nothing to change the status quo.'  Interestingly he's linked peace with the need to preserve the environment.  'No holy war can ever be a just war.'  'Adhering to this law of love - do unto others what you'd have them do to you - has always been the struggle of human nature.'  'Let us reach for the world that ought to be, the spark of the divine that lies within our souls.'

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

www.Chinese whispers

Well, isn't that extraordinary? Between Brian and Jane, we've established that the quote, “You have chosen the roughest road, but it leads straight to the hilltops,” actually comes, not from John Bunyan, but from John Buchan's Greenmantle, chapter 1. And yet everywhere on the web you'll find it attributed to Bunyan. HE DIDN'T WRITE IT! He did, however, write the following, when Christian is faced with the Hill Difficulty:
"This hill though high I covet to ascend;
The difficulty will not me offend;
For I perceive the way of life lies here.
Come, pluck up, heart; let's neither faint nor fear" (The Pilgrim's Progress p 41). John Buchan of course is best known as ex-diplomat and writer of 'The Thirty Nine Steps'. He's a bit non-PC for these days - but so, oddly enough, is John Bunyan. But none the worse for that.
Anyway interesting example of internet Chinese whispers it seems! And thank you to detectives Brian and Jane. Now the hunt is on for the comparison between death and birth (Nouwen? Vanier?)

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

It's good to be generous

Yesterday morning Jane said, 'We must have a session sorting out presents on line.' I agreed. In our marriage it's a joint operation. I sit at the laptop and Jane makes suggestions, and then we look and decide. I don't remember where I read recently a refreshing defence of Christmas presents. You know, there's a sort of guilt about giving someone something nice simply to say, 'I love you.' But actually, if it's done for that reason, it's a beautiful thing. Remember the woman who poured the expensive perfume over Jesus' feet? And think of the world we live in - beautiful, isn't it? Isn't that a gift from the Creator to his children? And isn't Christmas about the most generous gift of all, and our gifts of love to each other can be expressions of thanks for Jesus - if they're given from love, not duty or guilt.

Anyway a few minutes later, we heard on the radio that it was 'Cyber Monday' or Super Monday, the M25 rush-hour of internet shopping. There are three Mondays of heavy shopping in the year, and this was the busiest. We speculated idly and briefly why it might be so, and how we had come to share the herd instinct - as it were, blind. I think we were fairly successful. There are a few things which we will want to buy from local shops which we like to support: such as our excellent Charlton Garden Centre and of course good old Cornerstone.

Brian drew my attention to a late legal challenge to the 'Supreme Court' decision to instruct the DPP to draw up case specific guidelines about assisting suicide. It comes from Alison Davis who has complex disabilities and feels that the DPP's guidelines discriminate against the disabled and terminally ill. She's challenging on the grounds that Lord Justice Phillips later expressed a sympathy for one side which could constitute a bias. (
PS Just ONE WEEK for submissions to the DPP. (If you need a link, try this:

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The future of life on earth

Today two of my grandchildren, aged 5 and 4, are going on their first public demonstration in London, to do with climate change. So look out for them on the TV reports, with their mum, all wearing blue wigs, I'm told! And it's fair enough it seems to me. It will be their world that really suffers if we don't manage to curb our rampant consumerism. It's a pity, though not surprising, that the East Anglia University email leaks have proved that scientists are not always so objective and 'factual' as Prof Nutt and his supporters had us believe. Jonathan Sachs on the other hand did another good Thought for the Day on Friday, suggesting among other things we reduced our consumption by taking one day a week off. May not be an original idea, but it has supreme credentials. God knows what's best for the world.

As promised here is the letter I wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions about assisted suicide, or more specifically about his interim guidelines. I very much hope that there is no back-door alteration of the law as it stands. That, it seems to me, would be undermining the primacy of Parliament.

Assisted Suicide Policy Team
Crown Prosecution Service Headquarters - 6th floor
50 Ludgate Hill

Dear Mr Starmer

I’d like to respond to your Interim policy for prosecutors in respect of cases of assisted suicide. Before enclosing my replies to the questionnaire, I have some important preliminary points to make, which I hope will bear as much weight as my proforma answers.

First, I suffer from Primary Lateral Sclerosis, an uncommon and protracted form of Motor Neurone Disease. This means I come into all three categories of ‘a terminal illness, a severe and incurable disability and a severe degenerative physical condition’ from which there is, at present, 'no possibility of recovery'. Although I am not convinced that this gives me a peculiar right to be listened to, it does at least mean that I am among those whom this redefinition of the law is intended to benefit.

Secondly, it seems to me that the Law Lords, from the best of motives, have put you in the invidious position of effectively redefining the law, which is not your role. Whatever policy guidelines you enunciate ought, I believe, to define the present law as it stands and not in fact redefine it in such a way to change its original intention - which would be to create a new law. I realise that what you are seeking to do is to define what ‘public interest’ is in such cases, but I think you have been set an impossible task in doing that without changing the law.

Thirdly, there is a danger, I feel, that in attempting to deal with a hard case we will end up with bad law. There is no doubt that end of life decisions for people like Debbie Purdy and myself are hard cases. But those are decisions for us to wrestle with. The role of this law, as I understand it, is to protect the vulnerable. Any erosion of this protection would be an undermining of the law. It seems to me the guidelines especially run into this danger by specifying victims with terminal illness, permanent disability or degenerative conditions as public interest factors against prosecution, while avoiding it well in specifying minority and special needs as factors in favour. Would it not be better to leave the absence of terminal illness, disability and degenerative conditions in the factors in favour alone, rather than give the appearance of inviting people to assist the suicide of people with those conditions?

Fourthly, I am concerned by the use of ‘compassion’ as a mitigating factor. My reservation is not with the concept, but with the problem of definition. Although it’s a profoundly noble virtue (‘suffering with’), it can easily be debased to mean ‘feeling sorry for’ and even ‘not being able to bear watching any longer’. ‘I acted wholly out of compassion,’ seems to me too easy a defence, which is very hard to disprove. Although it will be probably be genuine in nine cases out of ten, I can see it being used as a pretext by the unscrupulous abuser.

Fifthly, whilst I can see the logic of the close long-term relationship of the suspect to the victim being a mitigating factor against prosecution, most abuse, I believe, takes place within domestic contexts, where it is never witnessed. Again the overriding need for the law to protect the most vulnerable is in danger of being compromised. (Incidentally I should have thought that there is some internal inconsistency between factor 7 for and factor 6 against, as a spouse or partner will normally benefit financially.)

So far I realise I have been negative in my comments, but as my completed questionnaire shows I’m not totally so! I agree with some of the factors against, and all for. For instance, I strongly agree that any business or campaign with the aim of promoting euthanasia should know it runs the risk of prosecution if it actively involves itself in ending an individual’s life. I am sure no one is more aware than yourself of the minefield you’ve been instructed to walk through. I must say that I have admired the way that you and your predecessors have handled this painful issue. Personally I am sorry that your judicious discretion is not being left intact. I very much hope that the deterrent effect of the law as it stands is not diluted. I believe that it’s important that we signal the ultimate value of life in every way possible. I wish you well as you work out the final guidelines.

Yours sincerely

Friday, 4 December 2009

Quote search

Can anyone tell me where this quotation from The Pilgrim's Progress comes from: “You have chosen the roughest road, but it leads straight to the hilltops”? And while I'm on the subject of looking for passages, someone showed me a quote comparing dying to being born a few years ago. I thought it was written by Henri Nouwen; or it might have been Jean Vanier. Has anyone come across it? Do let me know. I can't guarantee to acknowledge it in the next book, but I should be grateful.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Format warning!

I'm thinking of changing this blog's format - just thought I'd warn you in advance, in case you get worried that you're on the wrong one. Just my restless nature, but the content will be from the same urbane digital pen!

Shaming of the Strong

In her comment, Mary asked whether I'd read The Shaming of the Strong. I haven't, but this morning we went to the Cornerstone Coffee Shop (with bookshop - isn't it such a civilised thing to be able to have coffee and at the same browse through books?) and ordered one. Because oddly a couple of days ago, I received a letter SENT 13 MONTHS AGO (I kid you not!) from Alison Davis, coordinator of No Less Human. Looking on their website yesterday, there it was again, Sarah Williams, Shaming of the Strong. So I thought, 'I'm going to buy that.' It's the account by Sarah of being told that the baby she was carrying had a genetic abnormality and would die at birth, and what she and her husband decided to do. I came across this quote from it:

'Everyone hurts. At some stage most people find that life does not deliver what we expect it would or should, and sometimes, worse still, life damages us directly. Although we may use our strength to control what happens to us, often we have little power to prevent difficult things happening. What we do have, however, is the power to choose how we respond. Everyone can choose to turn towards God and to love him in spite of the difficulty and injustice, even in the midst of a situation. . . . All we would have without him is the illusory freedom of our own strength to protect ourselves and our autonomy to isolate ourselves' (Sarah Williams, The Shaming of the Strong, p 171).

I'm reading a book by Henri Nouwen which is new to me, called Our Second Birth. He quotes something Pope John Paul II said in his first speech in the USA: 'Nobody is too poor to give, and nobody is too rich to receive.' I like the NOBODY.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Consultation and Christmas

Today I sent off my submission to the Director of Public Prosecutions about his interim guidelines for prosecution in cases relating to assisted suicide. I'm thinking of putting my letter on the blog, but think I'll wait until he's received it. I don't care much for the prevailing custom of 'leaking' reports before their official publication, or telling the press the contents of a letter before it's been sent or received. It seems rude to me.

It must be 1st December. Delia's on TV talking about getting ready for Christmas. I'm glad she's not shy about talking about the real meaning of Christmas. Her book 'A Feast for Advent' is still the best devotional book for these weeks up to Christmas.

I've had quite a productive day on the new book today - writing about the unconditional nature of God's love. I love George Herbert's poem, 'Love bade me welcome', but I noticed something I'd never seen before. You'll have to wait for the book to find out this original insight! Or you can try and work out what verse 3 is about!

By the way responses to the DPP's guidelines have to be in by 16th December. So please think about doing it yourselves soon. Google the Crown Prosecution Service and you'll find Consultations. It's important.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Supreme Court

During the week our new 'Supreme Court' incurred the wrath of consumer groups by ruling in favour of the banks about overdraft charges. The court ruled that the Office of Fair Trading didn't have the power to investigate banks charging for unauthorised overdrafts. That means that they can go on charging - and won't have to pay back the £billions they've made from it. Personally that doesn't seem unreasonable to me. I don't quite see why savers should subsidise spenders. (I was going to say spendthrifts; but that wouldn't be fair on many who go into the red.)

Meanwhile Gary McKinnon's hope not to be extradited to the US for hacking into the Pentagon's computer in his hunt for UFOs has been disappointed with the Home Secretary's refusal to block the extradition. It may be that the extradition treaty is a bit unequal, but I don't believe he has less prospect of a fair trial over there than here. I hope that the judges listened to the Chief Rabbi's thought for the day on Friday ( 'In the long run a system must be fair if it is to survive' was how he ended. He was talking about justice. He said there's only one verse in the Hebrew Bible which tells us the reason for which God chose Abraham, from whom Judaism, Christianity and Islam all trace their belief in one God - which is Genesis 18.19 'For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment'. He said that the word judgment ('mishpat') means legal justice, but the word 'sedaqa' translated in the AV as 'justice' in fact has no exact English equivalent. It combines both justice AND charity. Another translation says 'righteousness', but that sounds a bit religious to me. It reminds me of Portia's speech in The Merchant of Venice,which I've mentioned before: 'The quality of mercy is not strained...It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.' I hope that his Asperger's Syndrome is taken into account whereever his trial takes place, that justice is tempered with mercy.

Today is Advent Sunday. Part of the collect (prayer) for today goes: 'that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal'. That must be the ultimate Supreme Court. It's good news that 'he' is Jesus Christ, who perfectly combines sedaqa and mishpat. The best thing one can do is to throw oneself on His mercy, I reckon.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

'For this relief...'

I'm glad to report that my experiences with my new dentist and the swine 'flu jab this week have been positive. The dentist, John, was genial and even reckoned I've done quite a good job at cleaning my teeth. I've become so used to being told off for not doing it properly that I made my apologies in advance. Anyway although I've got lots of fillings he said I kept them surprisingly well. And I didn't need treatment, apart from some scaling. He didn't recommend Corsodyl which I'd been told to use previously - discolours your teeth apparently. Just use salt and water. The best thing is that the practice is disabled friendly, and they're used to dealing with people like me. It was a good find.

As for the 'flu jab, I had my favourite practice nurse who was kind to me. She confirmed that I only need one jab. In the event I've not had any side-effects, no sore arm and fluey symptoms. Amazing. Rachel suspects my nose might be changing shape....

On Wednesday evening we went to the annual social of the Oxfordshire MNDA at the Bear and Ragged Staff in Cumnor. Jan and Joanne were there, and we had a good chat with them. So were a lot of other people, quite a number with MND too, and some who have got involved because of partners or relatives who have died from it. It was good to get to know a few more, though my conversations in a crowded pub are a bit limited. Chatted to Rachel Marsden, the nurse i/c of Oxford's MND Centre, about a meeting we're both involved in on 28 January for vicars-to-be about disability and terminal illness. She is an amazing person. Anyway it was a good evening.

PS The title of this blog comes from Shakespeare....

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Pearls before swine flu

I liked this pearl of wisdom from Sue Townsend, of 'Adrian Mole' fame. She's now registered blind and has had a kidney transplant. She's three years older than me. 'Be positive as you get older, or more dependent. Don't mourn the things you've loost. Concentrate on what you have and all you still can do. And accept help with good grace - it's quite fun being pushed round Selfridges in a wheelchair' (Times magazine). Good advice for grumps like me. (ST has just published 'Adrian Mole: the Prostrate Years. On the cover the 2nd 'r' is crossed out. I just thought I'd mention the book in case she'd like to mention mine on her blog....)

Busy couple of days ahead: meeting my new 'special needs' dentist tomorrow for the first time, and then the MNDA Oxfordshire Branch Social. Hope that Jan and her daughter will be there too. Today I've been summoned to have a swine 'flu jab on Thursday - which seems a wise precaution as with MND you have breathing complications. Although, Jane came back from a meal for Women of Worth (and who merits the soubriquet more?) last night with dire tales of people being off work at the JR for a week after having it. I'm hoping that prevention will be preferable to the real thing in my case!

On advice from a couple of my readers, I've begun following 'The Thick of It' on iPlayer. It's a contemporary equivalent of 'Yes Minister'. While it's quite an entertaining take on political life, it piles on expletives to make up for its lack of wit. I gather that there are two explanations: either the corridors of power may these days be full of four-letter words and that Malcolm Tucker, No 10's foul-mouthed director of communications (aka king of spin), may be based on a real life holder of that position - in which case it's another sorry commentary on the state of Briitish political life - or that this generation of comedy script writers lack the sophisticated vocabulary of their predecessors. Or perhaps I'm becoming an aging fuddy-duddy.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Good friends and specious slogans

Well, that weekend was pleasantly different. Sam the blogger and his family left this afternoon after a couple of days here. Jess enjoys the attention they lavish on her! It was the first time they'd visited us in our 'new' home - incredible to think we've been here for ten months already. But it's still fun to show off our home and area to new eyes. Yesterday morning we went to the local rec - which the children enjoyed a lot - and then we wandered through to the Cornerstone Coffee Shop, where we enjoyed their 'squares', coffee and drinks. By the time we got home, the rain was beginning.

A bit of rugby watching (in which Scotland beat Australia - respect to Andy Robinson, whom the English RFU must be regretting sacking now) , Cluedo (which I lost, or rather Sue won), dog-walking and Strictly (which Ricky Groves lost), and talking completed a good day. More food and fellowship completed a good weekend.

Rob pointed out to me the irony that Richard Dawkins has chosen two Christian children, unbeknown to himself, for his latest anti-religious poster campaign ( 'Please don't label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself' is the slogan. The first sentence is all right, but the concealed implication is that children can grow up without presuppositions. Or to put it another way that children live in a vacuum. Every responsible parent brings up their child within a moral framework, but that doesn't preclude their making authentic decisions as they grow up. Indeed a child brought up without a sound moral basis will actually be less equipped to make a valid choice than one who is brought up to value belief. It's naïve to think that any child is a blank page. But it's nice to know that even militant atheists identify Christian family-members as archetypes of free and happy children.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Random thoughts

Mary kindly answered my question in the Bach posting: 'No, not chance at all.' And of course I agree. I suppose I'd identify that as a major product of faith: life has meaning. It's not a random succession of chance events. Never was. Never will be.

Jane's made our Christmas cake today. The fruit was soaked overnight. This morning she mixed the rest. Remember when your mother let you scrape out the bowl? Well, Jane gave me a teaspoonful - not bad! And the new oven seems to have done a good job of the baking - nice and even. So now she's wrapping it in foil to mature until it's ready to be iced. Happy days! Talking of which we're looking forward to a visit this weekend from my fellow blogger, Sam, and his family. I hope they're not too disappointed with the new house - which of course is smaller than the vicarage, and chickenless. He and his sister Rachel enjoyed collecting the eggs every day. I fear feeding two goldfish won't be quite as much fun.

Yesterday Jane introduced me to the joys of shopping in Didcot, which were considerable, I must say. Much better than the tawdry mess that the centre of Oxford has become. Cornmarket is a shocking amalgam of styles and shabby shop fronts, or rather mainly coffee-bars and fast food outlets. Anyway found a great shop in Didcot, Robert Dyas, where we bought a wind-up front and rear light which I hope will fit on my electric wheel-chair for night-time journeys. One minute's wind will give half an hour's light. Sounds eco-friendly. We also ventured into son of Woolworths, Alworths, not as much, but lots of the old favourites, like Pickn'Mix sweets, toys and household goods. Seemed to me well-done. Rumour has it that the old Woolies in Wantage is going to be Cargo. It'll be nice to have something there again.

PS I have a feeling that it's Stir Up Sunday this weekend. That's pudding-making time. My Anglican readers will be reassured to know that I can still recite the OLD collect by heart. And talking of things Anglican I guess we attended a historic event last Sunday evening in the licensing of the redoubtable and unstoppable Barbara Webb as priest in charge of the parish of Shippon near Abingdon. I don't know quite how to explain the historic nature of the occasion, except to say that Barbara would have been entitled to retire quite a few times.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Scientists talking

I've read a couple of articles recently about eminent scientists, who said things which interested me. Here are couple of quotes:

He (Prof John D Barrow, Professor of Geometry (and formerly of Astronomy) at Gresham College, London) says that physicists tend to study the laws of nature: 'The laws are very mathematical but very mysterious. You cannot see or touch them. There are mysterious symmetries in the universe. It is no coincidence that biologists like Dawkins feel very uncomfortable with religion and unanswered questions because they are dealing with the messy complexities of nature. Physicists are very used to laws of nature that have no explanation of the same sort. They are used to dealing with uncertainty and being undogmatic. There is a real cultural difference between biologists and physicists.' (Cam Issue 58)

Prof Michael J Reiss (Professor of Science Education, Institute of Education, London): 'I see it as the whole of creation, for all eternity, being held in God's care. The whole of this world would cease to exist if God didn't continue to maintain it.' 'An acceptance of evolutionary biology is beginning to help Christians to answer questions that have previously been theologically troubling, such as the problem of suffering. In the evolutionary view, organisms that lack the capacity to suffer lead less successful lives - they die earlier and leave fewer offspring. Creation over countless years has evolved the ability to be sensitive. Theologically it means if we want a world in which we have joy, we may also have need of a world in which there is suffering.' (Christianity 10.09)

Monday, 16 November 2009

Bach to the rescue

Had a rather bad day yesterday - not physically, but emotionally. I was grumpy and touchy and didn't much feel like being polite to God, which was not good it being Sunday. So apologies to people I was more than usually rude to. Puzzling why it might be, my conclusion's been that John's death and the service affected me more than I was conscious of. I'm used to funerals and grief and so on, obviously; but our having shared MND and faith, I suppose, gave this added potency, or got a bit deeper. After lunch today I turned on the radio in the sitting room. It was tuned to Radio 3. It was a concert performance of Bach's St John Passion from Cleveland in the US given by Apollo's Fire (aka Cleveland Baroque Orchestra) conducted by Jeannette Sorrell and IN ENGLISH. * It was electric. And I just listened to it for the rest of the afternoon. In case you don't know, it's basically St John's account of Jesus' last hours from when he goes to the Garden of Gethsemane till his death on the cross, with poems and meditation on the way. It's achingly beautiful music, and was performed with wonderful vividness and intensity. There's one aria after Jesus' death where the bass sings with the chorus doing a backing track. The only version I can find is a bit quaint, but you'll get the point.

My precious Saviour, let me ask thee,
(Backing) Jesus, thou who suffered death,
Since thou upon the cross wast fastened
And said thyself, "It is fulfilled,"
(B) Livest now forever,
Am I from dying been made free?
(B) In the final throes of death
(B) Nowhere other guide me
(B) Can I through this thy pain and dying
The realm of heaven inherit?
Is all the world's redemption here?
(B) But to thee, redeemer mine,
(B) O thou, my dear master!
Thou canst in pain, indeed, say nothing;
Give me just what thou hast earned,
But thou dost bow thy head
(B) And sayest in silence, "Yes."
(B) More I cannot wish for!
More I cannot wish for!

Yes, indeed. I think I'm more human now. An odd thing is, unlike most Radio 3 broadcasts, you can't listen to that one again (presumably to do with rights). Was it just chance I tuned in?

*(I hate it when purists insist on music being sung in a language the audience can't understand. Sing Verdi in Italian in Italy, Janacek in Czech in Czech Republic - but allow us to understand it, please! Just don't be an elitist snob.)

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Farewell to John

Quite a week one way or the other. For one thing the grass seed has started coming up. Jane and Bryan sowed it at half-term, wondering whether it was too late to germinate. So maybe in the spring the lawn will a carpet of lush green. I ordered a Kozee Toze (sic) for my wheelchair at the weekend, and on Thursday night, while Jane was out, a UPS van pulled up outside and the driver brought a parcel to the door and rang the bell. Although I'd left instructions for it to be left inside and despite my rather feeble shouts, he stood there for a minute or two, and then just drove away. I was so frustrated! I sent an email to BenefitsNow, complaining - and then phoned on Friday morning.... Oh dear! They hadn't even dispatched it yet. So I apologised! Such is life. The mystery of the UPS delivery which hasn't been repeated remains

Book no 2 is steaming ahead, in between social events. I think I now need to some serious reading to sort out some of my thinking on what exactly I'm thinking about life after death. I'm wanting to start each chapter with a quotation from literature or something, like T S Eliot's 'the intolerable wrestle with words and meanings'. He was talking about writing poetry. But it aptly refer to the increasing difficulty of physical speech with MND - in which case you eventually lose it - but that doesn't mean relationships with others or with God have to be lost.

Something I read in today's notes set me thinking: '‘The truth is that the whole point of Jesus’ work on the cross is to make a way for us to know God (John 17:3). This isn’t a casual relationship – we’re welcomed into the family! Not only does God possess the power to do anything and everything he wishes, but he is also passionately interested in your prayers because he is passionately interested in you’ (Jonathan Bell in Closer to God)' Really? Do we really believe that?

Today we've been to the service celebrating John Walliker's life and faith. It was a bit hairy getting up the very undisabled-friendly (I mean, disabled unfriendly) steps of Quainton Baptist Church, and even more hairy coming down in my wheelchair carried by four very helpful men, slightly tipping forward. However we made it, and it was worth it. Four cracking worship songs (In Christ alone, Be Thou my vision, The Lord's my shepherd, There is a higher throne), personal family readings and memories, and a real sense of trust for the future both for him and the family. Jan was amazingly brave and together.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Check up

I had my four-monthly check up with Lesley, my lovely and second-favourite physio. As readers of MDB will know, after Jane, Lesley is my primary carer, and she's brilliant. She was here this morning, and found that I was a bit stiffer than before, especially around my hips; i e I tend to bend through my back rather than from my pelvis. It's not the best news, because once your muscles get shorter you can't stretch them longer again. So it looks as though I'm going to have to let Jane be as brutal with me as Lesley is. It doesn't half hurt when she really extends my muscles! But no pain, no gain.... Something else she noticed was that I have started to tilt my head a bit to the right. Nothing to worry about, but same problem about muscles. Jane and I reckon it probably goes back to when I injured my shoulder tipping over in my electric wheelchair.

I asked Lesley whether she ever found her job depressing, because she works mainly with patients with MS and MND - who obviously don't 'get better'. She clearly has found ways of coping with it professionally. But it sounds as if the Health Trust managers have little imagination about her sort of work. After all, how do you quantify the positive 'outcomes' when your patients have degenerative neurological conditions? Proportion of patients cured? Amount of hospitalization prevented? Amount of GP/consultant hours saved? Well, I guess the recovery rate speaks for itself. But the cost benefits for the NHS (physios don't cost much) must be huge, and the care benefits for the patients of physios, OTs, speech therapists etc is GINORMOUS. After all, they're the first line of palliative care, which must be a national medical priority now - since the alternative is unthinkable.

'It's not fair!'

I do wish Alex Ferguson, knight of the realm, would grow up - and get a sense of perspective. For the third time this season that I'm aware of he's had a whinge about the referee. He sounds like a petulant schoolboy, 'It's not fair!' said with sniffling whine. This time he was upset that his team, Man United, were beaten by a single goal by Premiership rivals, Chelsea. The experts seem divided on whether there was any off-side in the melée following free kick which led to the goal, but that's really not the point. Some decisions go your way and some go against you. Referees do their best - for a great deal less reward than players, and managers - and they do a good job. That's the way it goes, laddie. Just get on and stop complaining. Stop undermining them. And stop contributing to a culture of blaming everyone else except yourself. Life is unfair, we used to be told - and, although I believe it's ultimately profoundly untrue, it's not a bad working hypothesis to be going on with! Fergie old chap, many many people have worse things to complain about. It was Remembrance Sunday, remember?

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Days of rugby and sadness

Had a great afternoon yesterday watching the international from Twickenham with Peter. A glass of Dr Hexter's Healer - a very mellow brew, I must say - and some tasty oven-baked chips helped sweeten the pill of seeing England go down 18-9. I know 13 of our squad were out with injuries (which does by the way make you wonder about what rugby union professionals are subjecting their bodies to nowadays...), but I was pleased to hear that there wasn't too much excuse-making afterwards, certainly not from my companion, who knows his rugby. As Wales v New Zealand was on BBC, I was able to record that and watch it at home (round Strictly - Jane thinks rugby's a bit rough). That was a closer match and Wales COULD have won, or at least drawn, especially when Martin Roberts had an unpenalised high tackle near the end. I suppose because it was closer (19-12) Wales did more complaining - what with Leigh Halfpenny moaning about the pitch (Wasn't it the same for both sides?) and Warren Gatland, the coach, moaning about the officials being biased. The ref may have missed the high tackle, but I doubt it would have made a difference to the result. And I didn't see evidence of bias. Refs and umpires, like all of us, make mistakes, though remarkably few in my view. At school I used to be told, 'The umpire's decision is final,' and we then got on with game.

After an afternoon of escapism, I turned on the laptop and opened my emails. One had the subject 'John'. It was from our friend Jan. You may remember we met John and Jan in the spring at the MNDA Spring conference in Taunton, and then in July at Waddesdon Manor. A year ago John went to his doctor with a suspected stroke. It turned out to be MND. The email brought the message that John had died on Wednesday. It can be a vicious illness. John had an amazing degree of faith and courage, and a great sense of humour. We've lost a friend. But John would have said what my friend and co-author Jozanne says, 'Jesus is my hope and heaven is my future.'

This morning I tuned in to Morning Worship on Radio 4 ( 'On Remembrance Sunday, a programme specially recorded at Camp Bastion, the main base for British forces in Afghanistan, presented by army chaplain Rev Andrew Martlew'. It was, I thought, a far more moving picture of the real war than any others I've heard or seen. I suppose it was the measured reflection on experience by the professionals, which seemed to carry much more power and conviction than the breathless reporting of journalists or the shrill denunciations of phone-in programme contributors. Listen for example to the young soldier who gives mouth-to-mouth to a dying comrade within days of his first posting or the sergeant who lays out soldiers and children in the mortuary and reflects on his own daughter. I think it was the most potent introduction to Remembrance Sunday I've experienced.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


Yesterday morning I listened to a riveting edition of The Choice on Radio 4. Michael Buerk was interviewing Paul Moore, who hit the headlines as the whistleblower of HBOS's foolish policies which eventually contributed the banking fiasco last year. As The Times reported when he gave evidence to the Treasury Select Committee, 'Paul Moore, a former partner of KPMG and head of group regulatory risk at HBOS between 2002 and 2005, accused the bank of "a total failure of all key aspects of corporate governance" and said that he was repeatedly rebuffed and thwarted when he tried to register concern.' He was sacked by Sir James Crosby, the chief executive. It was a remarkable story of faithful witness in the highest reaches of corporate finance. I've no doubt there are others. What was special about this one was the contrast between the anything-goes culture of the banks and the integrity of their head of regulation - and also the rock-like faith of his wife. Well worth listening to:

Today we had our friends, John and Mary, to lunch. They are two of our oldest friends. We bought our first house 35 years ago in their parish in Hertfordshire, and have remained in touch ever since. John appears in 'My Donkeybody' as the person who reassured me about MRI scans. Although he had a brain tumour, he is still going strong. We had a good meal and enjoyed catching up. Time flew by. He always blesses me when we say goodbye - I suppose that's appropriate, since goodbye means 'God be with you'.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The solemn and the trivial

We returned to Stanford today for the funeral of local legend, Richard Speed. He was an unassuming but immensely talented man whose wide influence in the creative arts and education was witnessed to by the packed church. It was nice to see former curate and now vicar of Uffington, Rosanna Martin, presiding beautifully over the celebration, and to hear old friend, New Orleans jazz singer, Lillian Boutté, sing the Lord's Prayer and 'What a wonderful world'. We also enjoyed meeting, for the first time, my successor, Tim Rose, whom we liked.

On a querkier note, as we drew up in the disabled bay outside the village hall, we noticed, in the centre the ten-metre square patch of grass opposite, a new stake with a notice saying, 'Take away your dog poo', with underneath presumably the dire penalties for failure. As we left after the service, lo and behold, there was a man wearing a musty green gilet on which were the words 'Environmental Warden'. We watched him as he closely inspected the ground before driving away in his shiny white Vale of the White Horse District Council van. 'What would he have done if he'd found some "poo"', Jane mused. 'Taken it away for DNA analysis? And then had a DNA identity parade of all the dogs in the village?' I muttered something about the canine stasi moving in, as we drove home. I grow old.

Aspirin science

I thought I'd reproduce what John commented a couple of days ago, as I thought it was rather pithy:
"One of my favourite economists, not himself a religious man, wrote this about science and values: 'Why should one be frightened, I asked, of taking a stand on judgments which are not scientific, if they relate to matters outside the world of science? To recognise the claims of science in fields where scientific method was applicable was one thing; to attempt to claim scientific sanction for judgments of questions not capable of scientific proof was another. The one was an obligation on rational man; the other, the stratagem of spiritual uncertainty. Was it not only the timidity of an age which had lost all confidence in ultimate values which led us to attempt to claim "scientific" justifications for attitudes which in the nature of things could not be justified (or refuted) by appeal to laboratory methods?'"

We heard this morning that scientists have revised their advice about aspirin as a prophylactic against heart attacks, unless you've already had stroke or previous episodes. Not so long ago, I received advice to take half an aspirin a day from a doctor (not my GP) in the light of my chloresterol. The Drugs and Therapeutics Bulletin now reports the risk of internal bleeding offset any potential advantage. According to the BBC, 'Between 2005 and 2008, the DTB said four sets of guidelines were published recommending aspirin for the "primary prevention" of cardiovascular disease - in patients who had shown no sign of the disease.
These included people aged 50 and older with type 2 diabetes and those with high blood pressure.' Many thousands have, not unreasonably, followed the 'scientific' advice. 'But the DTB said a recent analysis of six controlled trials involving a total of 95,000 patients published in the journal the Lancet does not back up the routine use of aspirin in these patients because of the risk of serious gastrointestinal bleeds and the negligible impact it has on curbing death rates.' What do you know? The scientists have changed their minds.... Last night we heard Prof Nutt on the World Tonight pontificating on politicians' inability to grasp the difference between 'belief' and 'fact'. 'They believe it, and because they believe it, because they're politicians, they think it IS true. And that's why they think they don't need experts, because they think they know the truth, and they don't. They're confused. They think their beliefs are facts and they're not....' No doubt the advice we were given about aspirin - until this morning - was given because of 'facts'. Isn't it time for a bit of intellectual humility all round? One of my favourite quotations comes from the unlikely figure of Oliver Cromwell: 'I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken', which I think he said to his fellow Puritans.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Saints and science

One of the things I have to admit I miss about non Anglican worship now is the rhythm of the church year. So it was nice to wake up this morning to a rather good service on Radio 4 from Aberystwyth. It was marking All Saints' Day, and contained a fine explanation of saints drawn from the book of Hebrews in the Bible, as well as a good variety of music - which is sadly more than can be said 'Songs of Praise' this evening. Some dire musical performances which seemed entirely at odds with with the words and of course, by and large, the old stereotyped image of saints as specially good people. Actually they're simply ordinary believers - like the McFadyens who provided the most moving interview.

I came across this in an article today. It seems to me to be germane to what I said about Prof Nutt and the supposed absolutism of science:
'Throughout the report the authors pit the objectivity, rigour and precision of ‘science’ and psychology against the subjectivities of religion and ‘values’. In so doing the report ignores the social, philosophical and value systems that the psychological sciences themselves inhabit,.... The authors seem to believe that the ‘scientific’ evidence over which they preside allows them to police the boundaries of ‘normality’ and their apparent ability to attach values (‘positive’) to psychological observations has a degree of confidence that is breath-taking.' It was in 'Changing Sexual Orientation and Identity? The APA Report' by Andrew Goddard and Glynn Harrison, on the Fulcrum website. We need to keep insisting that even 'science' inhabits social, philosophical and value systems

Saturday, 31 October 2009

More from Baghdad

This has just come through from Andrew White:

Thank you so much for all of your amazing support on this very difficult of weeks, following the bombing of St George's Bagdad last Sunday. Your kind messages and financial support have been both humbling and deeply encouraging, and your prayers, both those uttered in churches around the world and in those spoken in the secret of your hearts, have been answered wonderfully.

In the space of a few seconds last Sunday, St George's sustained terrible damage, not only to the windows but also to the structure of the church and to the sophisticated medical equipment within.

Since then, our Iraqi church members have worked so hard to restore the church and clinic to its former glory. Tomorrow the church service will go ahead as normal. Next week the clinic will reopen. That is an amazing testimony to their hard work and to your generous support.

This week we received or were promised half of the money needed to complete the restoration. We are joining with the congregation of St George's to pray G-d will prompt donors to pool together and provide the outstanding $100,000 in the week to come, so that we can resume the usual essential services that the church and clinic provide.

For my part, I was very sad that I was not in Iraq at this time, to be with my people in their time of greatest need. In reality though, if I was not in the UK I would not have been able to find the funds that the people so desperately needed. G-d's ways are indeed not our ways.

Today is the eve of All Hallows day, or All Saints day, which is the day when we give thanks to G-d for the Saints. It's all about G-d and his faithful servants who have gone before us to heaven. I find it very difficult that so many Christians choose to celebrate Halloween. Christians should not keep this festival of darkness. Why not host a 'Light Party' instead, celebrating G-d's glory?

Season of Nutts and mellow fruitfulness

So Professor David Nutt has been sacked as the government's chief adviser on drugs, because he criticised the home secretary and the prime minister for not following his advice that cannabis should be classified as the lowest category C drug. I don't have much sympathy for him. Not that I'm disputing the evidence of the comparative harm of different drugs, though it's a bit naïve to compare drugs which have been legally available for centuries such as alcohol and tobacco with those that are illegal (and have a vocal lobby trying to make them legal). What the professor should be able to grasp is that advisers advise but politicians decide. And, as any afficionado of West Wing will appreciate, political decisions are seldom pure and never simple. He is quoted as saying: 'I’m not prepared to mislead the public about the harmfulness of drugs like cannabis and ecstasy. I think most scientists will see this as a further example of the Luddite attitude of this government, and possible future governments, towards science.'
As I recall, at the time of the classification of cannabis as category B by Alan Johnson's unfortunate predecessor, there was no secrecy about the advisory committee's contrary recommendation: in other words, his view was already well and truly in the public domain. And as Sir David King, the former government chief scientific adviser, rightly pointed out, it's not the role of an adviser in the pay of the government to criticise ministers - any more than civil servants may.

What struck me about Prof Nutt's comments is the dangerous subtext - that science should be all-powerful. If scientists say so, it must be true. If scientists say, 'Jump!' then we all have to jump. For one thing, scientists aren't always right, and the advice they give is not always ethical. They, like the rest of us, work within their own moral framework. No one, not even scientists, works without presuppositions. The idea that science is morally neutral is a fallacy, because it's carried out by human beings. And neither is 'Science' a moral absolute. That's because science is always provisional. The boundaries of our knowledge are continually expanding and yet always finite. Don't get me wrong! Scientific study is a wonderful thing. Personally I regard the urge to explore, research and understand as God-given, even as a form of worship - and if you don't think in those terms I regard them as the most human of activities. Like everyone with 'terminal' conditions, I hope that medical research will one day crack the code of MND and discover a cure. But actually that's not what life's all about, although it would be easy to think so. Life's about how we live with each other and how we care for each other - and that's not reducible to a statistical analysis or a formula. It's far more complex than that.

I'm sitting in the conservatory at the moment. I was inspired by Virginia Woolf to turn my comfortable chair round, so that I now look out at the back garden rather than through the house. I can see the results of Jane and Bryan's recent hard work. Autumn clearance is always tough because you have to be quite ruthless with the plants which haven't QUITE finished flowering, to make room for the spring plants. Actually we've left a few for the surprisingly late butterflies that have been hanging around. We're hoping there's enough warmth in the ground still to germinate the grass seed sown where the undergrowth was cleared away. I learned this week a new meaning of 'mellow'. Colin tells me that it's what his father used to call apples which aren't crisp - and he ought to know being from one of the local farming families. Anyway, mellow apples suit me, because they're easier now for me to chew and swallow than those horrible Granny Greens. I doubt whether that was what Keats had in mind when he talked about 'mellow fruitfulness' - but you never know.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

House of Lords' debate

Thank you to those of you who wrote to a member of the House of Lords about the introduction of an amendment last night to legalise assisted suicide. I'm glad to say it was withdrawn. As the Christian Concern for our Nation reports: "The amendment was opposed by a majority of those Lords who spoke in the debate.

"In giving concluding remarks, Lord Bach said that their ‘firm view remains that the Coroners and Justice Bill has never been, and is not now the appropriate vehicle for change in the criminal law as it applies to assisted suicide.’

"Baroness Campbell of Surbiton expressed her concerns with the amendment. She said:
‘If we support this amendment today, we say that terminally ill and severely disabled people do not deserve the very best forum and process to deliberate their life and death choices. The amendment has profound, far-reaching consequences, which strike fear — I am afraid it is fear — and apprehension into the lives of those who struggle to make society recognise that their lives have value and should be supported.’

"Lord Tebbit said that the law provides that we, as individuals, have no right to take life except in self-defence.
‘It provides that the state, in acting for society, may take life or license the taking of life only in defence of the state or society itself. In short, the right or obligation to take life, or to license the taking of life, is strictly fettered and confined, and I believe that it should be so,’ he said. ‘Many of those who regard humankind as no more than elevated animals are no less wary of fraying and fretting at those constraints than those who believe that life is God-granted and that the taking of life is to infringe on divine territory."

A parable for crackpots

John, a friend of mine with progressive MND, sent this on to me. It's not great literature but I echo its sentiments. Some might consider it too simple, but when you get it from a man who's acutely aware of his own brokenness it gains an added depth:

'An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on either end of a pole which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

'For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream. "I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house."

'The old woman smiled, "Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house."

'Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it's the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You've just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.

'SO, to all of my crackpot friends, have a great day - and remember to smell the flowers on your side of the path!'

Monday, 26 October 2009

Baghdad bombings

Sunday brought terrible news from Baghdad, where Andrew White is vicar of St George's Church, which is in Haifa Street. (You may remember he wrote the foreword to My Donkeybody.) Here's what Andrew wrote:
'I am very sorry to tell you that the two major bomb explosions in Baghdad this morning have done serious damage to the church compound, the clinic, the bookshop, the school rooms and the mothers' union buildings.
'The windows were replaced after the bombings on 19 August, but they have been destroyed again, and this blast hit the church much more powerfully. Even the window frames and the doors were blown out. All of the cars in the compound and the Danish Memorial were destroyed.
'And the clinic? The St George's clinic provides free medical and dental treatment to people in Iraq, regardless of their religious or ethnic background. It is staffed by a team of medics representing each of the Abramic faiths: Muslim, Christian and Jew. It contained high quality medical equipment provided by charitable donations to the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East. In a moment, much of this equipment has been destroyed, placing it permanently out of reach of the Iraqi people who need it so desperately.
'Outside the church, at least 132 people were killed and over 600 injured. Destroyed fragments of their bodies have been thrown through windows of the church, making the clean-up operation yet more unpleasant. Many of our staff and church members remain unaccounted for. Lay Pastor Faiz and I have been trying in vain to reach them by telephone.

'Today was a terrible day for us. But even in the blood and trauma and turmoil, there are things for which we can, and indeed must, praise our G-d. The carnage was terrible, but it could have been even worse.
- At 10.30am this morning, when the bombs exploded, there was no-one in the church. If the bomb had been just a few hours later, the glass from the windows would have ripped through the congregation causing terrible human damage.
- Yesterday an enormous tree fell down outside the church, which prevented the suicide bomber from detonating his explosives where they would have caused maximum damage.

'Some people ask us whether days like today make us want to give up. We have seen much of what we have worked for destroyed. We have seen people we love bereaved. But the truth is, it is days like today that remind us why our work in Iraq is absolutely essential.
'We must continue to provide a place of worship for Iraqi Christians. We must continue to treat the medical needs of Iraqi civilians. And we must continue to engage with the senior religious leaders from across the sectarian divides, working with them to challenge the belief systems that lie behind this terrible slaughter.
'We will not stop because of this. Will you stand with us and help us to restore what was destroyed?'

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Holiday viewing?

There was a rather smart TV in Willow Barn, and so I watched more television than normal which included the not very informative interview by Piers Morgan with Cliff Richard. Among other things we were treated to a single game of amateur tennis. The best bit was Sir Cliff's answer when Mr Morgan was probing about his sexuality. It went something like, PM: 'But what about your close friends? What do you tell them? You must discuss it -' CR: 'My real friends wouldn't even ask me about it.'

We didn't actually watch the much hyped 'Question Time' with Mr Griffin of the BNP. For one thing it's after my bedtime, and for another we probably wouldn't have got to sleep afterwards. But I did watch it on iPlayer when we got home. As one of the Strictly judges might have said, 'What a disaster.' I have seldom seen a worse-managed programme. If the BBC really did need to give a hearing to the half-baked populist views of the BNP - which I doubt - they could hardly have done a better job. Mr Griffin scarcely needed to say anything to portray himself as a pilloried martyr. Which, at present, is all that's required to further the unpleasant agenda of the party. 'Here we are, invited to take part in the "flagship" political discussion programme of the elite establishment; and they skew the whole programme to be an attack on us - on the grounds that the furore they've fostered has become the main and overriding news-story of the week.' The BBC should know, from Strictly Come Dancing, that the British public always votes for the underdog. If on the other hand they were being really impartial, they should have preserved the normal balance of the programme. And I'm afraid that the other panellists didn't really shine. 'Badly done, BBC, badly done.'

And finally I dozily listened to the Sunday programme this morning with an item about the Pope making it easier for Anglican priests and parishes who don't want to serve under a woman bishop to be welcomed into the Catholic Church. I suspect that it might be a timely invitation.

More Somerset

Thought you might like to see evidence of our break in South Somerset. So here are two pictures, one near the back entrance to the Stourhead estate.
(The car parks were so full the day we visited, we didn't bother to go in and had a picnic round the back. Jane went for a wander and took this picture of one of the wells in Six Wells valley: ?'St Peter's Pump'.) We've been to the gardens before - which were made by some of our friend, Charlie Hoare's ancestors.

The other one is at Barrington Court, which has nice formal gardens. Interesting place, rescued from dereliction in the 1920s, by a Colonel Lyle (of Tate & Lyle fame). It hasn't got any furniture in it - which means you can see the panelling etc. and then have to use your imagination.
As you can see, I had a classic-car of an electric scooter, which curiously turned out to be the most comfortable of the different scooters I've borrowed. Nice restaurant too where we had some lunch.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Helicopters and stealth bombers

We've just returned from a great week's break in the Vale of Blackmore (Somerset/Dorset border). We found Willow and Little Barns soon after I was diagnosed with MND and stairs were becoming difficult. They are both on one level, immaculately presented and warm (which suits me). Among the good things about Cucklington is the fact that it's bang in the middle of National Trust properties, like Stourhead. It's not far from Yeovil which is where Westland helicopters are made and Yeovilton where a lot are based. You'd think that there was a lot of noise, but... actually we only saw them overhead on our first afternoon. And it's a peaceful place. Funnily enough on Wednesday I was talking to my brother-in-law about the fact that it's pretty hit and miss finding disabled friendly holiday accommodation in the area where he lives, the New Forest. Anyway, Willow Barn is recommended:

Coming back, opened my 70 emails. One of them contained the great news that Memories Never Die will be launched tomorrow. It's the story of Del Deanus, who used to play with Spurs Youth and went on to football management, but contracted MND really young. He and a good friend Jerry Lyons have written his story, with a foreword by Nick Barmby who used to play with him. I've been following their progress since they started this spring. You can find a link on my profile.

Another email told me that there's about to be another attempt to legalise assisted suicide next week in the House of Lords. I suspect you didn't know about this attempt to sneak in under the radar another amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill. Lord Alderdice has tabled an amendment which may be voted on on 26th or 28th October. It says: 'Exceptions to offence of assisting suicide
Notwithstanding sections 53, 54 and 55, no offence shall have been committed if assistance, is given to a person to commit suicide who is suffering from a confirmed, incurable and disabling illness which prevents them from carrying through their own wish to bring their life to a close, if the person has received certification from a coroner who has investigated the circumstances, and satisfied himself that it is indeed the free and settled wish of the person that they bring their life to a close.’ So much for the protestations from the euthanasia campaigners that they want a full public debate on the subject! Send an email to your local member of the House of Lords to encourage them to vote. (You can find details on the Care Not Killing website.)

I'm sorry to keep on about this and asking you to do things. But it IS very important, I think. As well as the DPP's guidelines, you can also make your view known quite significantly on the University of Bath's website, because Lord Joffe, pro-assisted suicide campaigner, is giving a free public lecture entitled Assisted Dying: Rights, Choices and Palliative Care on Tuesday 27 October, at the University of Bath. Lord Joffe believes that there is an 'urgent need' to change the law to legalise Assisted Dying and will argue in his lecture that assisted dying and palliative care are essential and complementary aspects of care for people suffering from painful incurable diseases. The University has given the public a chance to have their own say on assisted dying and posted a poll on their site. The poll will close on Monday 26 October and the results will be published online.
Please vote below now (and, if you have a spare moment, why not leave a brief comment on their page too?)
POLL Should assisted dying be legalised for the terminally ill?
please follow this link, then click ‘vote now’ and vote NO. . That is such a positive opportunity to engage in real debate.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

New look garden



Well, the deed is done. No pain, no gain - as a former PM once said, and as I comforted Jane, when we viewed the scene. It looked rather like a vicious haircut. In fact, we're rather pleased at the job Tom and Mark of Workwood did today. The laburnum was taken down, dogwood gone, hazel coppiced etc - and you can see the result. There'll be replacements shortly, when we dig the holes - and grass, of course. I'm sure you'll be concerned to know how Romeo the robin has reacted. His initial response was favourable; he joined in with the work and enjoyed the pickings. Whether he'll find somewhere to perch to serenade us at night next year remains to be seen....

Meanwhile Sir Terry Tesco has been having a go at schools and teachers. Here we go again. Well, I suppose those immensely generous tokens which schools have to collect by the million to get books and computers give him some right. But come on, Sir Tel, get real. You have more than enough cash to train up your till-keepers, shelf-stackers and trolley-pushers. You could take them to Ph D. You could afford to cash-roll a whole university if you wanted. And I won't comment on how late Rachel got her Tesco home delivery a week or two ago.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Another celebration

This weekend ALL the family has joined us to celebrate - prematurely - Jane's birthday. It's always fun when we get together, even if I tend to be more of a spectator than of any use. So tonight it's another banquet from Wenhams inc. Hope Jane enjoys it. She will, of course.


Traditionally the summer months were known as the silly season for news stories. It seems that it's extending into autumn this year. For me the big one is the hullabaloo about Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize. I reckon it's a no-brainer. Even if nominations did have to be in a few days after his election, as I remember it even that soon he had changed the dynamic of global diplomacy from one of shooting from the hip to one of human engagement. It might be that the Iranians are not 'evil' and it might not be most productive to threaten to blow them out of existence. And he has redefined the US government's position on climate change. And started movement again on Israel and Palestine. Admittedly the fruits of his vision have yet to be realised. And, as I said when he was elected, there is a danger in pinning too much hope on one man. HE can't change human nature.

And then there's the media storm over Mr Anton du Beke's gratuitous use of a racist term - three weeks ago. First neither he nor the show deserve such media time. Secondly it should have been dealt with by an apology to Laila Rouass on his part, acceptance on her part, and leaving it behind by both of them. And the press hounds being told to get lost.

And there's the Grove Christmas tree, planted three years ago in the centre of the village - which was cut down by vandals, so everyone thought. It turned out in fact that county council arboriculturalists had felled it arbitrarily. Sorry! They've offered to replace it.

On a more serious note, I must say I agreed with Judge James Allen when he said it would be 'unconscionable' if Christine Gill, an only child, were not to inherit her parents' estate - in spite of the will assigning it all to the RSPCA. Apparently her father had bullied her mother into agreeing to the terms against her own wishes. There is a difference between animals and humans, and people should come first. Animal charities in this country are anything but underfunded. And great though the work of the RSPCA is, I'm really disappointed that they have said they will appeal. Have they, I wonder, been advised by predatory lawyers?

Friday, 9 October 2009

Code-breaking and book-writing

Some Bletchley Park codebreakers were presented with commemorative badges today by the Foreign Secretary to mark 60 years. Readers of my blog and of 'My Donkeybody' may remember that my aunt and godmother worked near the heart of Bletchley Park during the war. She received her veterans' badge a few years back, which she was pleased about. She died earlier this year, and I inherited her badge, which I'm quite proud of. There's going to be a roll of honour at Bletchley Park for the codebreakers who've died - most of them. So if you go there look out for (Diana) Susan Wenham in the list. (

Talking of books, my proposal for another one was considered by the editorial board of Monarch, the publishers, on Tuesday. My idea was to write it in conjunction with Jozanne Moss, the mum from South Africa who has MND. She's written about her experience and her faith, and I wanted to add some reflection about the Christian understanding of illness. I'd sent some sample chapters and an outline to my editor. We held our breath.... Happily the board was enthusiastic about the idea, though suggested rejigging the structure. In a way, it's back to the drawing board for me, though Jozanne's story should remain fairly intact.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

30 years old

Two days ago the MND Association was 30 years old. At our branch meeting last Friday two of the founder members were there, who you can see on the video produced to mark the occasion. It's intended to encourage people to sign up as volunteers, but gives you quite a vivid idea of how a few people can make a lot of difference. This morning we went to the great local Cornerstone Coffee Shop here (Savile Way, near the Coop), and Margaret came in and told us that a friend of hers, Roger Wakeford, has recently completed a sponsored motor-bike ride across Canada in aid of the MNDA. He's raised more than his target £3,000 (

Meanwhile we enjoyed our coffee and their excellent tiffin, watching the cars come and go in the tree-lined car park, while a red kite wheeled overhead. It's a real gem tucked away in what's an apparently unpromising situation - though actually as we walked (me in the wheelchair) home in the autumn sun we once again appreciated the benign way the estates are laid out: a series of greens surrounded by houses and linked by a network of snickets. We're liking it here. We've ordered our next project in the garden, clearing out the tree-stumps AND the laburnum and the dogwood. Then we're going to plant a gleditsia and an amelanchier, which should lighten up the right-hand side of the garden. The birds may feel bereft for a bit, until the trees get established.... Maybe Romeo the robin might be so miffed that he moves next door - here's hoping!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Some things to celebrate

On Friday afternoon, we went to the local MNDA branch meeting in the Holiday Inn on the Oxford ringroad. It was good to meet up with other people in the same boat. I was delighted to meet Peter Durkin who keeps a number of us smiling with his seemingly endless stream of jokes. Before MND hit him he used to teach geography. The main item was a talk by Rose Prince who writes about food for the Telegraph and judges the BBC's Food and Farming awards. She was refreshingly down to earth. She didn't have much time for all the latest food fads. 'Super foods' are bunkum! And I was pleased that she debunked the myth about butter being so bad for you. Did you know that in Dijon they have one of the lowest incidences of cardio-vascular disease in Europe - and one of the highest consumptions of butter? Not because of their red wine consumption, which is high, but because of the variety in their diet. I celebrated with a scone, cream and strawberry jam at the end. And I'm back on butter for breakfast. Yippee!

And, hallelujah! 'Songs of Praise' was back to its former best last night. After I posted about it on Facebook, Jules commented, 'I don't usually watch, but felt I should tune in last night, and I am glad I did! Wow! Wish all churches were as amazing at proclaiming the good news about Jesus as that one seems to be.Real life, real people, real testimonies, the reality of Jesus in their lives was great to see!' Couldn't have put it better myself. It came from Peterborough. Full of people enjoying worship 'vertically' as Noel Richards put it, but also 'horizontally' i.e. getting involved in making a difference in their community + a touching account of God transforming someone's self image. I've put the iPlayer link up. Give yourself a tonic and watch it. More, please, auntie Beeb.

I don't know if you caught the item this morning about Rachel Pooley in the Samoan tsunami. A real good news story. If you look at , and then the Breakfast Show chapter 3 you can listen to it. Rachel tells the story of how she and her boy-friend, Tolu Taranaki, got caught in their pick-up as the tidal wave swept over the island. Their car was hit by the water. Tolu smashed the window and caught hold of her hand; he got sucked out but she was left in the car as it filled with pitch black water. "I was trying to breath in the water," she said, mimicking a deep inhale of air, "so I was gulping down water.... Blinded by the wave and inhaling the salty sea, Pooley struggled inside the car to find a way out: "I don't even know how long it was, probably a few minutes, but it just seemed forever."
With no sight and no clear exit she lost hope and resigned herself to the inevitable. "I said to myself, Rachel, if this is it, this is it," she said. "If this is you're time to die, that's it."
Her body relaxed in the spinning car, she said a little prayer for herself and her boyfriend who had been pulled into the wave.
"Please let us get out of this," she said. "Don't let us die like this, we just can't.... Then the next thing I saw was daylight and I was able to get out." Commented Shelagh Fogarty, "Sounds like her prayer was answered!" Too true. I notice the BBC website headlines the story, 'Tsunami survivor recalls lucky escape' - listen to the lady, guys.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The DPP's guidelines

Anonymous writes: 'I agonise over the question of "assisted suicide"; it seems wrong that an unelected individual can decide whether or not someone should be prosecuted for breaking the law - but I know that many years ago a jury would, in spite of evidence to the contrary, find "not guilty" a young lad who would otherwise have been hanged for stealing a loaf of bread. There is room for compassion? For the person considering suicide it is a different matter; ultimately it rests with the Father?'

And you aren't alone, anonymous. It does seem odd that the DPP has the discretion whether to prosecute or not. Though, when you come to think of it, that's always true in criminal cases in that the Crown Prosecution Service decides whether there's enough evidence for a probable conviction. What's explicit in the Suicide Act is that the DPP alone has the discretion to prosecute. i.e. A pressure group can't insist on it - which is sensible. I guess he'd say that the same principles applied in his decisions about assisted suicide. In fact he did say just that in the Diane Pretty and then Debbie Purdy's various court cases. You could look them up! But generally he decided against prosecution on the grounds of there being insufficient evidence, its not being in the public interest or being unlikely to secure a conviction. What the Law Lords said in July was that the GENERAL CPS guidelines about prosecution were not sufficiently specific in the case of assisted suicide, and instructed the DPP to draw some up especially for that crime.

I think actually if his guidelines makes exceptions into rules, then that is a bad precedent - and not his job. Laws in our country are made by Parliament, and interpreted by case-laws, i.e. in the courts. I feel it was a bit craven of the Law Lords to put that pressure on him, rather than admitting it was a job for Parliament. One of the things I want to say in the consultation is, This is NOT the place to change the law, neither is it the DPP's job to. I think the argument IS about the person assisting, rather than the person who's died. And the issue is fundamentally, do we want to make it legal ever to take part in intentional taking of life? I think the word 'compassion' can be hijacked. There was a moving piece in the Times of 23 Sept by Rob George, a consultant in palliative care, who recalled a patient who'd received a diagnosis of inoperable cancer and insisted on her life being terminated then. I was struck by this bit:
'My deep concern with the CPS’s policy on assisted suicide is that during the phases of anger, fear and frustration that litter our life journeys a key safeguard has been undermined for both patients and carers.
'That safeguard has given the opportunity for hope to rise and transcend for so many of my patients over the years. It is not just the disabled and frail who are at risk, we all are.
'Being human means that we not only suffer, but we also hope — we have the wherewithal to see life as more than a disposable garment.
'Compassion — "bearing or suffering with", walking the road together, carrying the burden of witness — for me was real, that’s my job. For her living was made possible by our mutual protection from a law that says unambiguously that it is wrong to be part of killing another even if the person thinks it is in their best interest.' The patient survived longer than either she or the doctor expected. And was glad to have had the time. (

Sunday, 27 September 2009

The strictly ridiculous and the vitally important

Last night watched 'Strictly Come Dancing' and saw the nice Richard Dunwoody eliminated. First Martina Hingis, and now him. Another bad result! I was mildly indignant, and then I reflected that I hadn't voted once (or even x 5) for him or for anyone. So it's a bit unreasonable to complain. It's like people grumbling about the government when they've not voted in a general election.

Earlier in the week Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), issued his interim guidelines on the prosecution of assisted suicide. I haven't had time to consider them carefully enough, but there are some good points, I think, as well as some worrying ones. The most important thing is that people like you (and me) look at the guidelines and then submit your comments - which is not difficult as you can do it on line, and they even give you yes/no type questions. I frankly think that's a bit limiting, but they also supply a box for further comments. The website is: . There are some helpful comments on the Care not Killing website, and also on Christian Concern for our Nation's : , if the implications are confusing. Please have a look. I think the consultation lasts 12 weeks. If people do nothing about it, they can't complain if they don't like the final version.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

'I don't believe it'

Jess gets really put out when Jane answers me before her at 5.30, which is her mealtime. For example, yesterday, I needed to get to the loo. And Jess stood there in the kitchen door like Victor Meldrew with an 'I don't believe it!' look on her starving face. Hard cheese, doggie. That's life.

Talking of life, Jane drew my attention to something green that came through our letter-box, which included this amazing piece of information: 'In the average home over two million dust-mites feed on dead skin scales. They hide in your carpet, upholstery, curtains, mattresses, and pillows. Mites can double their numbers in ten hours, and they can produce ten to twenty pieces of faeces per day. You will get one hundred thousand dead bodies and thirty million pieces of faeces added to your home every day. We need to upgrade our standard of health. Mite faeces are so small that they can float in the air for hours. As you walk around your house you breathe it in, and it gets into your lungs. Eighty percent of Britons who suffer from allergies are allergic to airborne mite refuse. Fact: One tenth of the weight of a two-year-old pillow is dust mite faeces! Your home is a dust mite nursery, and you could be swimming in their unhealthy mire.' Would you believe it? Scary, isn't it? The moral of the story is, Open your windows, and let the dear little creatures fly away. In fact, the green letter was advertising a carpet and upholstery firm. With writers like the person who composed that piece, they deserve to do well.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Bishop of M & S

I woke up this morning with a nightmare realization: all those bishops, to a man + a handful of women, at Lambeth last year were wearing DRESSES! Beards and frocks - isn't there a fundamental cultural dissonance there, somewhere? I know they call them 'convocation robes', or if they're really fancy 'vestments', but that doesn't change the fact that they look like maternity dresses from the 1970s. The odd thing is, if you look at the group photo of the spouses at Lambeth, they seem a perfectly normal group of women (+ a handful of men) - even if a lot of them appear to buy their clothes from Marks and Sparks....

Our admirable local bishop, Stephen Cottrell - who, by the way, is the exception that proves the rule, apparently without a hair on his head (he's quite trendy, with what, I think, is a No 1 haircut) and certainly no beard - hit the headlines briefly. The BBC reported, 'A senior bishop has said the Church of England must shed its middle class "Marks and Spencer" image to target "Asda or Aldi" worshippers.' (Note to the reader: area bishops aren't normally ranked senior. I wonder if the BBC knows something....) Actually I reckon it needs to shed a bit more than an M & S image. That's not nearly so weird as bearded men wearing dresses and being enthroned to the accompaniment of Victorian music, like church princes. Why has no one the courage to break the mold? Do bishops make a promise not to rock the boat before they're appointed? Bishop Stephen hit the nail right on the head: 'Jesus got us started with church simply. Like this - sitting us down in groups on the grass and telling simple stories. Not simplistic. But certainly not complicated.' What on earth HAS happened? If the Church returned to the pattern that Jesus modeled, people might be impressed. Though I believe that means more than a change of image; it means a change of heart.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Beards, bishops, booty and books

Pat suggested that vicars wear beards because they are too hard-pressed to spare the time to shave. Sounds to me a bit like gardeners cultivating weeds because they don't have time to do the hoeing! Heard the Bish of Oxford on the radio this morning: he's another bearded one, I thought. Jane soon set me right. The only local bishop currently with a beard is Bish of Buckingham. Anyway I thought I'd do a bit of research, and so looked up the group photos at the Lambeth Conference last year. The one of the lot of them was too small, but a sample one showed about a fifth of them with beards, and in the middle one (nearest Archbish Rowan...) I counted 12 beards out of 26. Either way it's a seriously high percentage. So... if you're aspiring to being a bishop (for some weird reason) maybe facial hair's a good move. Meanwhile, I'm still able to shave myself - thank God.

This weekend there's a rally just up the road from here. There are flourescent pink signs to it, but none of them say what it's a rally of. Jane was walking the dog round the fields yesterday and reported hordes of people scouring the ground with metal detectors. So I googled and lo and behold, came on the Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club, who are holding a rally on 19/20 on 1000 hectares just north of here; I think the rate is £10 a day. No doubt a record of any finds will appear on their website in due course. I'm sure it's a fascinating and at times rewarding hobby. But I'll not give you the link, because, to be honest, I wish they were looking for treasure elsewhere 'where neither moth nor rust corrupt'. So many people look for treasure which, frankly, isn't worth it, like the millions spent every week on lotteries, whereas I could take them to real permanent treasure which you don't have to pay for (except with yourself). In fact if they'd come with us today to Millbrook School they'd have heard about it.

Meanwhile my and Jozanne's book is shaping up. She has written some amazingly deep and vivid chapters arising from her experience, while I'm trying to reflect on the theology a bit more. By the way, if anyone knows if Woody Guthrie's songs are in the public domain (other than 'This land is my land' for which he wrote an idiosyncratic copyright notice!) and if not who holds the copyright, I'd love to know.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Hairy vicars and angels

Today I was visited by two vicars who had beards - which set me thinking. Why is it that so many vicars have beards, including their boss, the Archvicar of Canterbury? And are there proportionately more hairy vicars than hairy bikers? Of course the advent of women priests has probably ruined the vicars' chances of winning! And I don't know the answer to the Why. Suggestions?

Last week we called on our friend Judy in the Cotswolds. There's one remarkable grandmother. On the way back we visited Buscot Park, thanks to our new National Trust membership. No sooner had we arrived in the car park and Jane had pushed me to the ticket place than an angel with a Yorkshire accent popped out and asked if we'd like an electric buggy. He even yanked me up to sit upright in the seat. We didn't see him again. But we had a picnic and a great afternoon going round the gardens. The funny thing is that we'd never visited them in the twenty years we'd lived just the other side of Faringdon.

Another event of the week was reading The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. What a stunning end! A deceptively simple story.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Catching up

Peter and Jeanette cycled over yesterday to enquire at my blog inactivity. Actually, to be honest, I think they ridden to Wantage to do some ecologically friendly shopping. As far as I know it wasn't to have a go on the dodgems or waltzer in the market square. Needless to say, I was delighted to see them, as was Jane who made them a cuppa. My excuse was that I've begun to write my next book, but it did prompt me not to neglect you, dear reader.

A week ago, on Saturday, we went to Stratford on Avon with Ruth and Anthony to see 'The Winter's Tale'. I don't want to sound patronising, but Shakespeare is such a GREAT dramatist. None of us had seen 'The Winter's Tale' before, but I was bowled over both by the play and the production. It's about the ravages of sin and the amazing power of grace. I can't tell you the twists of the plot. But Leontes, the king of Sicily, is seized with sudden irrational jealousy and everything falls apart. The production is quite straightforward (i.e. avoids gimmicks) but has great subtleties.

Afterwards we had a celebratory meal at the Brasserie Blanc in Oxford. I especially recommend the Celery and Walnut soup, and the chocolate mousse - mmm. Our very obliging waiter offered to take a photo.
So all in all an ace day!

I don't know if you've noticed how consistently BBC news reports any item to do with assisted suicide: there was the item about the start of the case in the Montana supreme court to decide whether it's a constitutional right; and then the Telegraph article by the head honcho judge here, Lord Justice Phillips, in which he said he had 'great sympathy' for the terminally ill who wanted physician-assisted suicide. The implication of the news item was that he supported the law being changed. In fact his article said precisely the reverse, though he did say he felt sympathy (as, I guess, 99% of people do) and that the legal situation is highly complicated (as, I guess, many people don't understand). As far as I know, the BBC didn't report the free performance by an independent community artist, as part of Antony's Gormley's 4th Plinth Project in Trafalgar Square in London, which I heard about: “Nikki… decides to spend her last hour charting the history of assisted suicide, from choice, through social encouragement, to mandatory solution for anyone who is no longer cost effective.” It was to entertain people with a play, through the eyes of a diary and to highlight the dangers of assisted suicide, with specific reference to the slippery slope of any relax in current legislation. Sadly I didn't see it... I was watching Grand Prix qualifying and forgot. Oh dear.

Meanwhile my successor, Tim Rose, is now in post as from Tuesday. Thanks, and God bless you.

By the way the working title of the new book is 'I choose everything'.