Thursday, 30 July 2009

Debbie Purdy's appeal

Well, Debbie has won her appeal in the House of Lords. I've sent her an email saying well done. But, I must say, when I saw the outcome of her appeal, with its unanimous instruction to the Director of Public Prosecutions to clarify the grounds on which he would or would not prosecute someone like Omar accompanying Debbie to take her own life at the Zurich apartment known as ‘Dignitas’, I had mixed feelings. I was pleased for her, because she has put her life on hold trying to exorcise the fear of either going to die alone or risking Omar’s prosecution. And now, as she said, she can get on with her life. Yet at the same time, I was aware that it is part of a bigger campaign. Accompanying her in front of the cameras was a representative of Dignity in Dying. This is not merely about accompanying someone to commit suicide abroad, even though that is what the Law Lords’ ruling was about. It is about the whole issue of assisted suicide.

From his initial comments, it sounded as if Keir Starmer QC, the DPP, is intending to issue interim clarification for Debbie (and presumably similar cases) by September, and then to hold a public consultation in the autumn with a view to issuing a definitive document in the spring of next year. It seems to me that we should welcome that - and participate in the consultation. This is an occasion to do something. You know what they say about good men doing nothing.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Have you heard...?

the one about swine 'flu:
I rang the swine flu hotline today, but all I got was crackling.

And the one about life:
Life is a sexually transmitted disease with a terminal outcome.

I'm grateful to a research doctor for the first and a retired professor for the second.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Friends and family

Oh no, 'Lord of all hopefulness' sung by a choir dressed all in black - Songs of Praise has done it again.... Interviews all right, the ones I saw, but oh dear! No wonder it's rated at a measly 5.4 in my television guide. Whereas there was rather a good morning service on Radio 4, this morning, with a particularly good talk from Amy Orr-Ewing ( I recommend a listen.

We have spent a very happy couple of days with our family from 'up north' and at various points all the others. Faith was teething which disturbed her night's sleep, and her parents', of course. But we enjoyed our time in the park with the three girls, and hopefully Paul and Penny were able to get SOME rest. It's a full-on job being a parent.

On Friday afternoon, we went to the Oxfordshire MND Association Friends' meeting at Millets, our local garden centre. After wandering round for a bit, we ended up in the restaurant and were given a huge and very good cream tea. A number of us with MND were there, representing three of the four variants, I should think. It was nice to meet them, and the 'visitors', as well as some of the committee. Being with others who are in the same boat helps.

I was naturally disappointed to hear the news on Saturday morning that the Royal College of Nursing had changed its official line on assisted suicide to a 'neutral' one, after polling from 1200 of their members. The percentages were 49% were in favour of assisted suicide, and 40% opposed. To my calculation that's under 600 of their total membership of 400,000, hardly a resounding mandate. But, as I've said before, this is not a matter of numbers; it's a matter of deeply complex issues which need the wisest of people to discuss. It's not just to do with individual choices; it's to do with the kind of society that is best for humans to live in. I'm inclined to agree this much with Dr Peter Carter, RCN's general secretary, that a Royal Commission would not be a bad idea, BUT it would need to address fundamental issues, not just the presenting symptoms.

It occurs to me that The Times poll, published the same day, and commissioned in the immediate aftermath of the much publicised deaths of Sir Edward and Lady Downes in Zurich, is rather like patients diagnosing their own symptoms. The newly opened swine flu hot line crashed on Friday, I gather, because it was overwhelmed with 9 million calls on its first day. I also gather that in the west Midlands, when they were still testing for swine flu, only half the tests turned out to be the virus. We are easily frightened by things outside our control, and that's most true about suffering and dying. If only we could control it, we'd be happier, we suppose. The Times poll purported to show, besides a big majority in favour of legalising assisted suicide, that people were quite sophisticated in the understanding of the issues. Well, I wonder: for example they were asked whether they favoured assisted suicide for the terminally ill. There was no definition of 'terminally ill'. Am I terminally ill? In one document, I recall, the MNDA warned us not to describe ourselves as with a terminal illness when applying for holiday insurance. Is cancer a terminal condition? MS? And so on. I suppose technically I have a terminal condition, but it doesn't often feel like it and I don't intend to dignify it with the label. As Paul said to me on Saturday, life is a terminal condition. Sorry, but it's true.

Which set me thinking on two lines. One is that the difficulty of defining 'terminal' should be a warning against weakening our present prohibition, because of the shadowy territory we would enter. And the other is, why should it be more legitimate to take the life of a terminal patient than a non-terminal one? Is that life of less value? Because it's shorter? Because it's hard? Because it's costly to maintain?

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Old habits

It's strange how old habits die hard. When I was working, Tuesday was my day off. Retirement seems not to have deprogrammed me. So this week, Tuesday came... and off we went to the Outlet Village. On the way, I listened to a chap being honest on a phone-in and then being done over by an angry listener, two 'experts' and the presenter. OK, what he described was not a good example, but his honesty and the insight we got was. So unusually I turned it off, and we made for the shopping mall. In the car park, Jane, as she sometimes does, took the shortest route to the disabled bays, while I shut my eyes. Well, we got safely there, and soon a uniformed man popped out of the office and I held my breath. 'Hello,' Jane got out of the car. He'd come over because it was raining to hand her the yellow free exit ticket. 'What a nice man!'

The main thing I wanted was a short waterproof jacket to wear in the wheelchair, and Jane needed a reasonable pair of shoes. Since I walk so little, of course, I rarely need new shoes, whereas Jane does all the walking for two of us, including pushing me. In the end we did quite well, I think. I came back home to find that Bradley Wiggins was doing remarkably well in the Tour de France, not up with Alberto Contador, the little Spaniard, but up in the top five. Now the Tour is a real test of endurance, it seems to me. I don't know how many miles they cycle, but it's basically three weeks with a couple of rest days. On Sunday they'll be streaming up the Champs Elysées in Paris. I think it's the single sporting event with the most spectators, even though the spectators may see the riders for little more than seconds or minutes.

Today we had a visit from Jean, one of the trustees of the MND Association. She has the variant known as PMA (Progressive Muscular Atrophy), and is still able to walk with difficulty. She is the most dynamic person. She coordinates the newsletter which links people with the rarest forms of MND (PMA and PLS). She travels round. For example she was up in Sheffield two days ago for the groundbreaking ceremony of the new Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), researching into MND and other neurodegenerative diseases, headed up by Professor Pamela Shaw, one of the world's leading experts in MND. There's a long way to go but a dedicated research centre is a good start.

Monday, 20 July 2009


They did it! The first time for 75 years England beat Australia in a test match at Lords. It doesn't mean they've won back the Ashes, of course. There are three more test matches, and England have to have a winning margin to regain the little pot, but it's a start. Credit where credit's due.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

The other visitor

Well, Sproggy, what do you reckon? She might have come down the chimney, peeping out in front of the elephant. But she's not a squirrel. Have another look!

Her name is Shiloh, and she's a Teacup Chihuahua. And Rachel was looking after her for the afternoon. As I said, Jess wasn't that impressed; but once Shiloh had stopped zooming backwards and forwards like a loose cannon (a tiny one) they got on all right, as you can see. Though Rachel was careful at keeping the peace.

Meanwhile the Ozzies are still holding out, but they must buckle tomorrow, unless it rains. And I must say I was sorry Tom Watson lost out on the last green in the golf. Wow, I really thought he'd made it. Well, at least he showed that we're never too old, even when you're virtually eligible for a bus pass. And Stewart Cinq did play well in the play-off.

Oh yes, on the eve of the moon landing anniversary, some more evidence of dodgy dealing in a comment or two back: 'Well interestingly enough, I heard something on the radio that might support Len's theory. Happens the original video of moon landing has been erased...
Wonder what Len would think of that?!' Very interesting, Rachel. Fascinating reading. So all we have is copies, not the original - which is just like ancient manuscripts. But there probably was an original.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

History at Lords?

Now we really have got them over a barrel. It's only day three of five, and it looks as if we've got the Wallabies licked this time. What is it - 521 runs ahead with 4 wickets standing, and still two days' play left. Presumably Strauss will declare early tomorrow, perhaps letting Flintoff have a bit more of a bash. And then it's up and at 'em. They don't stand a chance, do they...? The only Ozzie fly in the ointment might be that Tasmanian with a name out of 'Postman Pat', Mathew Goggin, one off the lead in the Open Golf at Turnberry, equal with Englishman, Ross Fisher. The amazing Tom Watson, who's the same age as me, is in the lead. Now if he were to win the Claret Jug tomorrow, he'd make history in a number of ways, not least by being the oldest winner. Maybe we ought to hope that he will by way of giving the US a consolation for Andy Roddick. But if Mr Goggin won, that would spoil a great day, wouldn't it? But they're only games, after all.

While all this excitement was going on in different ends of the country, we had a rather interesting visitor. Well, Jess thought she was. However that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Historical lunacy and a literary gem

I was at a barbecue last week, and for some reason we fell to talking about the Apollo 11 moon landing - which was, as we're constantly being reminded, was 40 years ago. Len - well, let's call him Len - said, 'It didn't really happen, you know.' Of course it did, everyone said, we saw it on TV, or those who were too young had seen the recordings. 'Think about it,' said Len. 'Kennedy had told NASA that America had to have a man on the moon by the end of the decade.' We thought about it. It's true - the home of Hollywood - no problem in faking it. 'And what about: "One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind", don't tell me that's not a script!' 'And the near disastrous Apollo 13! Sounds too like a Hollywood story-line.' A giant conspiracy? How can we tell? Well, I guess most of us reckon it's taking historical scepticism too far. There are too many witnesses still alive with their different angles on their involvement.

And yet, it occurs to me, that some people have similar scepticism about the death and resurrection of Jesus, which I admit we don't have on film (except in reconstructions) but we do have in the equivalent of their day including direct or indirect evidence from a whole variety of witnesses. Well, it seems to me that people who dismiss that evidence are of the same ilk as Apollo mission conspiracy theorists - historical lunatics.

Meanwhile, we've had my cousin staying here a night. She is very nice. She writes books too. She's working on the final drafts of her next one, which is due out at the beginning of next year. Look out for it, 'Living with Dying' by Grace Sheppard (DLT). You heard about it here first.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Sad coda

On Friday Sir Edward and Lady Joan Downes took their own lives in the Dignitas apartment in Zurich - a sad coda to a distinguished musical career and marriage of 54 years. Their son and daughter were with them at the time. Lady Joan had advanced cancer, and Sir Edward was going blind and deaf, and according to the radio couldn't conceive of living without her. I'm not going to break my habit of refraining from judging, but it's worth noting a few things in the light of the event.

The reporting of their deaths was striking: not long ago it would have been described as a 'suicide pact', because that's what it was. Downes' manager Jonathan Groves said the couple were inseparable and would have reached the decision together, I read. I notice how the media are allowing language to be rewritten, like calling Dignitas a 'clinic' which my dictionary defines as 'a place in which patients are given medical treatment or advice'.... Another feature of the articles is the detail of the reporting of the death bed scene - which is odd, since physician-assisted suicide is being rebranded as assisted dying; and normal deaths are not described because they are intensely private. Is it a normal death, or extraordinary? Is it plain dying, or physician assisted suicide?

And of course the mere fact of the deaths and their reporting is a reminder that, although the Falconer amendment was defeated in the Lords last week, that was by no means the end of the matter. It's not the end of the campaign by Dignitas in Switzerland and Dignity in Dying in the UK to get our laws on suicide changed. It should give us a jolt to work on improving, if possible, our laws surrounding the end of life.

A tangental thought: it's a pity that a myth such as that disability or suffering spells a diminution of viable or valuable life has such prevalence. In fact, it can be the source of prodigious beauty. Beethoven wrote most of his great symphonies, late quartets, Missa Solemnis etc in spite of his increasing deafness. At the performance of his 9th symphony he had to be turned round to see the tumultuous applause of the audience, as he could hear neither that nor his music. He wept. But he never gave up, though he must have been agonisingly tempted. What the world would have missed if Beethoven had believed the modern myth! It's a lie.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Thoughts for the day

Lesley, my physio, came yesterday morning and was quite pleased with how I'm doing. She reckons my speech is no worse and my walking all right. Mark you, I WAS trying to impress her! There's been a delay in trying muscle relaxing drugs, to stop my knees knocking, as there's a warning in the instructions if you have epilepsy. So we're consulting them that know. Anyway she says it's not urgent. Before she left, she asked if we'd thought about what we'd do if either of us, particularly Jane, went down with swine 'flu. I'm ashamed to say that it hadn't occurred to me as a problem. I suppose I think of Jane as indestructible. But it was a good point. I gather I'd be a priority for vaccine when it comes on stream, and one would hope that Jane would be too as I'd be up a gum-tree without her. I'm amazed at how soon a vaccine has been developed, probably being authorised for September. But the point, of course, is that in a pandemic social services would be so stretched that normal emergency cover would be virtually non-existent. We were sent via a friend something from the county council about ''flu friends', which recommends having a number of people you can contact if you're diagnosed (by phone) as having it. They recommend having a number. What a good idea, I thought! And then I thought, That's what the Church is for, isn't it?

I read in 'The Telegraph' today (not my usual paper, I hasten to add) that the BBC in the person of Mr Mark Damazer, controller of Radio 4 - I wonder if that title is meant to be reassuring, shades of Thomas the Tank engine's Fat Controller - is considering axing or altering or 'opening up' Thought for the Day on the Today Programme. Apparently it's too 'religious', and out of place in a flagship current affairs programme. Actually although I'm not a great fan, it would seem to me to diminish the programme to take away the three minutes of reflection from the headlong rush of news and comment. As the Supertramp poet said, 'What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare...?' Mr Terry Sanderson, militant president of the National Secular Society, is quoted as saying, 'The majority of people are not even religious and they want to hear a point of view that reflects their own.' Hello! Have you read the 2001 Census recently? '14.6 per cent in England and 18.5 per cent in Wales (state they have no religion).' That's a new definition of majority.

I don't want to sound censorious, but last week it was the press's turn, wasn't it? Bit like the pot calling the kettle black, it felt. Having spent weeks telling us how corrupt MPs are, we now discovered that phone-tapping is the stock in trade of the News of the World and, it is alleged, of the press in general. Maybe not directly, but via private eyes.

PS Guess what colour the singers on Songs of Praise were wearing this Sunday!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Rampant Ozzies

I held my breath at 6.40 this evening. It was surprisingly exciting listening, considering England was fighting to avoid an ignominious defeat in the cricket. At one stage we were 70 for 5... and there was Geoffrey Borecott saying how useless Hauritz was: 'even my dear mother could have done better' (than Pietersen). Well, he took 6 wickets, Geoffrey, - which says something about the English batting. Anyway, respect to Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar who held the Ozzies at bay until close of play. So it wasn't a complete wipe out. Just a draw. Though I suspect the Australians would claim a moral victory. Earllier of course Mark Webber knocked Jenson Button well and truly off the podium in the German Grand Prix - and, in case you don't know, although he lives in England he's an Ozzie, cobber.

Friday, 10 July 2009

The Big Day out

Waddesdon Manor on first sight

Yesterday we spent a very good day with John and Jan. We met up in the gardens of Waddesdon Manor. Jan and John live just down the road from the monument to the Rothschild banking fortune, and so have often been there; in fact before John got MND it was their favourite walk. But we'd never visited it. It's now owned by the National Trust, which does well for disabled visitors: admitting the carer free, and providing a lot of reserved parking.

Anyway, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are some.

Discussing the conundrums of MND

John and Jan in front of the Victorian aviary

Beside one of the extraordinary organic sculptures, appropriately this one's a robin (but with a green breast).

In the rose garden. The roses had suffered in the rain, but the lavender avenues were beautiful.

In front of the façade, not of our house, thankfully, but the Manor.

It was a tiring day for all of us, but we enjoyed it. John's MND was diagnosed last autumn, but has already advanced further than mine. There's no denying it's hard, but they both have faith which gives them amazing peace.

Thursday, 9 July 2009


Two comments have been left on my last blog. 'Your Jane is a saint,' says Brian. Don't I know it? And Paul asks, 'Any comments about the rather disappointing second day of cricket at Cardiff?' To be honest, for reasons I'll explain tomorrow, I've not been following the cricket today apart from the beginning. But looking at the final score this evening, probably the least said the better: two undefeated centuries. I'm no Geoffrey Borecott.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The night before the night before

Had a different night on Monday. We camped in the sitting room. You see, the lift got stuck. This time it wasn't a mechanical breakdown; it was the occasional thing that happens. We forgot the electric chair (which lives in the lift) was on charge, and we called it down and suddenly heard an ominous clunk. Jane rushed to the controls, pushed the red button and it shuddered to a halt three inches from the floor, with the chair suspended by its cable and the cable trapped in the lid. Jane managed to release the chair, which leaped down with a bang. She had to release the lift with button in the emergency box outside. The trouble was the cable wouldn't be pulled up into the bedroom - until Jane had a brainwave, which was to cut through it. Snip! Then she pulled it up. However even then it wouldn't respond to the 'up' button. It was well and truly stuck.

So the only remedy was to sleep downstairs, me on the sofa, with my feet in the air, and Jane on the sofa-bed. I slept surprisingly well, Jane not so well. But we proved it was possible. In the morning we rang the engineer, who rang back and talked her through various procedures - and then, suddenly, lo and behold, it took off and was back in action. Last night we were back in our bedroom - bliss!

The day after the night before

I listened to the end of the Lords' debate on the Falconer amendment last night (in fact I watched on line). In the event it was defeated by 194 to 141 - a bigger majority than when Lord Joffe's Bill was debated in 2006. To be honest, I heard the result with mixed emotions: mainly relief that a bad piece of legislation hasn't gone any further, but also sadness for Debbie Purdy who had great hopes personally that she could be free from concern for Omar, her husband, if she ever went to Zurich to die. From what Lord Falconer said in his summing up I think she can be free of that as it is: ' The current situation is that the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) has made it clear that he will not seek out these cases to investigate. If the cases come before him, he will ensure that they are properly investigated and, as long as he is satisfied that there is good motivation, he will not prosecute.' I hope she believes him, because I have no doubt about her good motivation, much as I regret where she feels it leads.

However, I trust that this is not the end of the discussion. Oddly enough, I think an article in Monday's Independent by Lord Lester, one of the amendment's supporters, might be a good place to start again. In it he said, 'Like many others, I believe that we need a legal framework which would allow doctors and nurses to be able lawfully to treat terminally ill patients to relieve their suffering as well as pain, even though it would be a virtual certainty that the treatment would shorten their lives.' To which I would say, 'I agree - depending on what you mean exactly.' For example, what do you mean by suffering? A large element in suffering can be fear - and a lot of fear associated with dying can be unnecessary on a purely physical level. Not all 'suffering' is negative. For example, unresolved conflicts can greatly disturb a terminally ill person - but the remedy for them is not premature death but positive resolution. The 'legal protection' we need is both for the carers and the cared for. It's there at the moment, imperfectly but effectively. Doctors fear litigation if in good faith they administer pain relief which has the effect of shortening life; patients fear being precipitated into death instead of receiving potential life-prolonging treatment. There's work to be done.

There's one other caution, I think, we need to make and that is, some things go beyond laws. I seem to remember that was a point Michael Sandel made in his last Reith lecture. You can tinker with laws till you're blue, or red, in the face; but unless we have a shared attitude in society, not just on issues, but about the sort of society we want, i.e. the underlying values we believe in, we are on to a loser. That's the real agenda.

Monday, 6 July 2009

One of my favourite things?

Apropos of the picture below, Stephen asks why Big Al is wearing a 'sash'. Well you may ask! Did he win the accolade of outstanding ordinand of 2009 (the OO factor)? Or maybe it's just one of 'his favourite things' - in his case white satin sashes? In fact 14 out of the 17 of the deacons were all wearing pale cream bandaleros (or stoles, as they're known in the trade - which I think means an item of clothing (stola - Latin)). So probably the question to ask is why the others WEREN'T wearing them. But to be honest, they don't seem to serve a useful purpose, except to give employment to seamstresses. Maybe it's the difference between wearing a tie and an open-necked shirt. I'd recommend the latter, as some people get hot under the collar about what vicars wear.

On a more serious note the Lords are due to be debating Lord Falconer's amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill TOMORROW. Personally I trust that they decide to give the whole issue of assisted suicide a fuller debate, rather than just think about the few who can afford or want to go to Switzerland.

Three, two, one

The three deacons

Or should that be beacons? Signals of light bringing good news to a frightened dark nation. The one on the left in soft focus (caused by a finger-print on the lens - sorry) is Big Al, centre, and right are Jo and James, the dynamic duo, a real bargain at two for the price of one. In all 17 deacons were ordained in Guildford (deacon comes from the Greek for servant, in case you wanted to know). I don't know why they are told to dress up in those peculiar clothes; it really doesn't do anything for them. Personally I don't think it does anything for the credibility of the Church either. But it's true, it wasn't so long ago that I was dressed something like that. I just wish they'd change the rules soon. Sometimes being in a wheelchair has its advantages and yesterday I enjoyed them: parking right next to the Cathedral, and a prime position to see the ceremony. To be honest, I didn't find the building as impressive as some people. It's tall and big and uncluttered, but it just didn't do it for me, I'm afraid. Not like the hotch-potch of humanity with whom Jesus intended to replace the Temple building.

Well, it was a long day, and Jane who drove both ways was tired when we got back, but at least Federer and Roddick were kind enough to extend their epic struggle in the Finals so that we could watch a good chunk of it. It was appropriate that breaking the record was achieved at such a cost, but I did feel sorry for Andy Roddick who had given everything and come so close to winning. But the hard fact is there could only be one winner - and congratulations to Mr Federer, who did not give up.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Triple whammy

Well, I listened to the Lions today. Sounds as I was right: the Lions' pride (Get it?) restored. They fairly walloped the Springboks. On fact their total points in the Tests were more than South Africa's. I know that doesn't count, and it's only a game! More exciting than the Ladies' Final at Wimbledon which was happening at the same time. But I did see most of the Men's Doubles, which was a humdinger. By the way if you wanted to see the game of tennis being enjoyed to the full, the best was the old men, Bahrami and Leconte against Armitraj and Fitzgerald - it was sheer skill, good humour and entertainment. It was men playing for the love of the game. Sport.

Tomorrow, we're back to more solemn matters, but no less enjoyable, I hope. We're off at an early hour to see three friends being 'ordained' in Guildford Cathedral - three in one go, not bad! Ordained is like being made an NQT (newly qualified teacher) in the vicaring business. They're Alan, James and Jo - all of whom gave up perfectly good careers for this poorly paid vocation. Well, it must be - a vocation, mustn't it? And by the way, they aren't over 50 either. Which also proves my point, doesn't it?

Thursday, 2 July 2009

MacTrebor mania

In case you're wondering whether I've been watching Wimbledon this year or not, I have to admit I have. I fell asleep one afternoon. There's something soothing about the pop-pop of the ball interrupted by the occasional squeak. The games I don't much like are those accompanied by chauvinistic hysteria in the stands. I've taken a self-denying ordinance not mention Robbie MacTrebor in my blog. So I'm sorry if you were hoping for it. I will not be moved.

Bits and pieces

First a bit of good news and an apology. The wheelchair people arrived at 9.30 am on the day they said they would. So I take back my whinge (in practice if not in principle - I still think it's not beyond the wit of management to give SOME idea of time). However that pales into insignificance compared with what a friend has told me about her husband who's in a nursing home, with dementia. The wheelchair he went in with was used for all and sundry, and soon trashed - footplates gone, brakes broken. I well believe it. It's an all too common occurrence. So she ordered a comfortable replacement with footraising, head rest etc so that he wouldn't have to be confined in the home's rather hard chairs all day. That was last February. It's still not come, and when she rang recently she was told there'd be at least a 30-week wait. So I want to apologise for giving the impression that things are all rosy in the health service garden. If you read Al's last comment, you'll discover that's far from the truth. I must say it irks me that because I have MND I seem to get good and rapid attention, whereas people like my friend's husband, whose condition is just as acute as mine but without the 'terminal' tag, get treated as non-urgent. I know it's 'a matter of resources', but bailing out the banks, replacing Trident, paying MPs fat pensions... how many wheelchairs and technicians could you get for all that?

I had something of a bitty Sunday. It started off OK with the young people at our church leading worship, five long-haired teenagers (male and female), exploding the myth that churches are full of people aged 50 and above and cubs and brownies. It just ain't true.

Then in the afternoon I kept out of the sun and watched the test match between the British Lions and South Africa. Peter had recorded it for me on Saturday, but hadn't told me the result. What a game! Talk about hammer and tongs - and some other instruments of torture. It wasn't the fairest match, but was the firiest I've seen for a long time. And what an ending - heart-break! Watch the Lions hit back on Saturday. Compelling viewing.

Which is more than can be said for 'Songs of Praise' these days. What HAS happened to it? Is it sponsored by the British tourist boards? It seems a cross between scenic photography and the myth-making I was talking about just now. On Sunday it was from Belfast. Where was REAL church? The adults looked as though they were dressed for a funeral, all in black, or purple, or dark turquoise. I've NEVER seen a congregation like it. And as for their singing that great modern song of praise, In Christ alone (good choice!), it was like a dirge. And the kids, who looked considerably happier, from the junior choir of the year were all neatly posed beside the prettified Belfast dock. It seems the programme needs a consultant who really knows where it's at in the contemporary church. Even the interviews seem to have become rather banal too. Shame.

Then came 'Revelations' on Channel 4, which was about the Alpha course, the introduction to Christianity which has become a worldwide phenomenon. It was filmed in Oxford; in fact Jane and I were at St Aldates Church on the last day of filming. The result was a curate's egg, good in parts. It wasn't as dispassionate as it purported to be. There were odd inbalances, such as a long time filming a participant exploring the supermarket skips for bargains, and the curious incident of the unrecorded loss of temper, and the tangentially connected archive film from Toronto. I admired St Aldates for allowing the crew in, unlike 10 other churches, we were told. Whether they regret the final result I don't know. But you do put yourself at the broadcasters' mercy when agree, as we found, though I suspect we fared better. (Maybe it's the difference between the BBC and independent companies.)