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'.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Inspiring radio

Probably a result of coming down to earth after a blissful holiday, I've felt a bit down. Occasionally you get moments like this - not surprisingly. I had a throat like gravel, which kept me awake on Monday night until I took a couple of paracetamol. However, on Tuesday morning I was listening to the new gismo which my lovely family had given me for my birthday and heard a programme on Radio 4, which really inspired me: The House I was grew up in, with Baroness Jane Campbell who has a degenerative condition of the nervous system, spinal muscular atrophy. But she is SO positive. And she had some trenchant comments about assisted suicide. Just listen to it! (

Don't panic...

... I'm still going. It's just we've been away 'en famille', as a posh friend put it, and 'outre de l'internet', or however our French cousins say it, in deepest Norfolk (not far, as it happens, from Great and Little Snoring - which I seem to remember as the setting of the classic children's books, The Little Fire Engine, and The Little Train, written by Graham Greene and illustrated by Edward Ardizonne).

Of course, while we were there, we, i.e. England, convincingly won the Ashes back. Ozzies, eat your hearts out. Unfortunately, we didn't do so well in the Belgian Grand Prix with both Hamilton and Button crashing out on the first lap. So the flying Finn in the Ferrari came in first.

Anyway we had a great week, good food and drink, good weather, plenty to see and do, and of course the best company!

Here we are enjoying the chef of the day's offering in The Old Cartsheds.

Bird-watching at Pensthorpe, home of Springwatch 2009, but no sign of Kate Humble or Chris Packham, I'm afraid.

The third generation went to the Norfolk Ark Wildlife 'Park' while the uncles slobbed back at the ranch.

Meanwhile Charis met her grandfather's namesake.

Blickling Hall had a motorised scooter which was great for me.

Some of us were inexplicably camera-shy.

Others were not.

Highly recommended - The Norfolk Riddle, in Little Walsingham - where we took refuge from pouring rain, and had an excellent meal to boot.

Packing up to leave in our different directions.