Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Retreat and advance

So Webber didn't win, but Button did, and our local man, Rubens Barrichello, held his 8th position.  Sadly I didn't see the race (which I gather was more eventful than Bahrain) mainly because of the time difference.  I'm blowed if I'm going to get up at 6 am to watch cars crashing, to say nothing of losing an hour's sleep with British Summertime beginning. (Did you know it's officially European Union Daylight Saving Time?)  Then we had a shared lunch at church to say goodbye to Laurie who's moving to Romania to set up a B&B - and so I missed the 1 pm repeat.  However some things are more important than even sport - of which people are one.

Meanwhile winter has returned, not with the ferocity of Scotland and Northern Ireland here, but I'm feeling fairly frazzled again. The parish church is open during the day this week in an 'Open Retreat' for Holy Week, which seems a good idea. Feebly, when it was pouring with rain on Monday, I chickened out of going down; there was a compensation in that a great friend turned up in the afternoon, while Jane was out.  She made me a cup of tea and passed on the Stanford latest. Then yesterday I managed to bash my wheelchair on the doorpost and the air promptly hissed out of the tyre. However Jane was made of sterner stuff and wheeled me down anyway. Afterwards we threaded our way through the estate via the greengrocer (one of the glories of Grove) to the Cornerstone Bookshop to have a cup of coffee. This time we met no less than six people we knew while there, including a couple who told us their granddaughter was going to have her wedding reception there in May. Now that's a good wheeze. This year I seem to have more connection with Holy Week than last year. Perhaps I'm not so drained.

This morning the engineer came round to mend the wheelchair - and fitted new solid tyres. So they'll never deflate and Jane won't have to pump them up ever again. Yippee! The engineer's not on call this weekend and was looking forward to spending time with his boys. He's a nice chap. This morning I've been working on my book. The editor, Tony, has just sent through the proposed cover. I like it. Utterly different from My Donkeybody!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Reader feedback

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.  It's a hugely significant time for all of us, but not least for people who are suffering.  Because of course it's the beginning of Jesus' journey to the cross, as the old Palm Sunday hymn has it, 'Bow thy meek head to mortal pain' - i.e. God himself is choosing to experience human pain.  It's simply untrue that God looks at our plight from afar.  Of course, Good Friday is when he died precisely to deal with our mess - which is why it's called good.

Occasionally I get a letter or an email from someone who has appreciated My Donkeybody.  This week I had a nice one from someone in Holland who has a type of Parkinson's.  He especially liked the 'Thumbs Up' chapter.
He sent a poem with an explanatory note.  I thought this photo of advancing spring was relevant.
Slow Dance.  
My correspondent didn't know the copyright holder etc but my friend Richard has pointed out that the account I originally gave when I posted this entry (about a girl on her death bed) was from hoax chain letter, and that the poem was actually written by David L. Weatherford and published by the Russ Berrie Company in 1991. Weatherford copyrighted the work with the Library of Congress in 2001. It starts:

Have you ever watched kids
On a merry-go-round?
Or listened to the rain
Slapping on the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight?
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?
You’d better slow down.
Don’t dance so fast.
Time is short.
The music won’t last.

You get the idea.  It's a nice, not a great poem.  The rest is in a similar vein.  Enjoy life; don't consume it.

Modern saints

What an eventful few days!  On Wednesday, I CHOOSE EVERYTHING received the final go-ahead from the publisher, and so it's now full-steam ahead for a July publication date - which is amazing.  I'm particularly pleased because Jozanne is so ill now.  The only change they asked for is a different sub-title, which is going to be more descriptive 'Two terminally ill Christians explore their experience of God's love'.  There's some sense in saying what it is about on the front cover, rather than in the small print.

On Thursday our two good friends, Des and Angela, from Croxley Green came over for lunch.  Although Angela who had stroke 8 years ago and I are physically somewhat changed - 'crocks together' - the years fell away as we caught up on news of old friends and of course our respective families.  We also reflected of course on the frustrations and blessings of weakness and dependence.  Angela is still able to sing - which she loves - and I'm still able to write, and if those go we'll still be able to enjoy the beauty of the spring and the kindness of people.

Yesterday we drove to Bristol for the funeral of one of the great figures in our life.  Netta Milnes was 94.  She came from the far North-east of Scotland, and was a bright and tough cookie.  While doing her nursing training in Aberdeen, she found a living faith which never deserted her.  She cared for her eldest brother who was very ill with MS until his death.  Her faith led her to medical missionary work in Peru, where she married an English doctor.  I first met her when they came to visit my parents with John and David their two sons something like 52 years ago.  They went to the same school as us, spent holidays with us - and John ended up being my best man and marrying Jane's bridesmaid.  When David and Netta Milnes retired, he found work as a hospital doctor in Bristol.  He died 22 years ago, but Netta continued to live and was well-known for the fact that she continued to ride her moped around the hills and streets of Bristol to visit and encourage people until last year.  And I know she regularly prayed for me and our family.  The church was packed for her thanksgiving service - not surprisingly.  A modern saint.

After the excellent lunch, we made our way to see Bryan's new pad, which he shares with three others.  Set in an up-and-coming part of Bristol, with views over the city, it's a des res.  He arrived back from work just as we were parking, and we had a cuppa Miles West Country tea (recommended) before heading home.  Came home to find the news from South Africa that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has agreed to do the foreword for our book.  What a privilege!  Such good news.  Spent the evening writing to ask a couple of people if they'd do an endorsement as well.  It's a big ask, as obviously you tend to ask people who are already busy.  Of course publishers like such things.

And today - Qualification for the Australian Grand Prix and Rubens Barrichello is 8th on the grid for Williams, our local team.  Well, we're working up.  I suppose I wouldn't mind Mark Webber winning this one.  I gather he's a nice chap.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


There's nothing special about the weather today.  It's overcast and a bit drizzly, but... I sat in my riser-recliner in the conservatory, listening yet again to Laura Hackett, and looked at this corner of our garden over by the fence.  Isn't it beautiful - just waiting for the sun?  So I asked Jane to take a photo to show you.

And let me pass on these links to you - which are connected, in that they are both celebrations of life too.  They were posted on comments by Stephen and Mary respectively.
'A couple of programmes to make one happy about the Beeb:

Frank Cottrell Boyce on Desert Island Disks:

Simon Russell Beale's series on Sacred Music: '

'Did you see this? Very moving. What a lady is the baroness.'

The Desert Island programme is repeated on Radio 4 at just after 9 on Friday morning.  And Baroness Finlay is quite a lady.  Because of her stand against euthanasia, she incurs quite a bit of vitriol and hate.  We need to pray for her. 

Monday, 22 March 2010

Birds and bishops

Yesterday I woke up early to hear a blackbird singing very quietly inside my left ear.  It was a very peculiar sensation, because normally blackbirds don't fit down one's ear hole.  But however I turned my head it certainly wasn't outside in the garden.  In the end I put my finger over the ear and - silence!  So I deduced I was deaf in my right ear, only as a result of a build-up of wax, probably a result of not cleaning them properly.  (I blame the MND, of course!)  It's become a recurrent temporary problem lately.  It made me repent of my lack of sympathy for friends who are becoming 'hard of hearing'.  It is both disorientating and inconvenient.  In my case there's a simple remedy; but most people aren't so fortunate.  It can be a real disability.  Anyway this morning I bit the bullet and we phoned the surgery.  'Oh, that'll be the new nurse,' we were told.  Jane wasn't convinced that was good news, but in my experience new nurses can be less brutal.  The first time I had my ears syringed the nurse blasted freezing cold water through the ear canals.  It took two goes, as I remember, to shift the blockage!  Nowadays they prescribe two weeks of softening up with olive oil first.

The news broke this morning that the bishop of Reading is being promoted to Chelmsford - presumably in the summer.  It's back to his roots for our Stephen Cottrell.  He was brought up in Southend and will be one of the few bishops educated in the state system, I believe.  We used to like him in Stanford, which was saying something - He's a good people person and communicator of the good news.  Funnily enough months ago, a friend of mine from Chelmsford rang to ask what he was like as a bishop - part of the discreet consultation process before appointment.  I'm not saying it was my recommendation made the difference...  no, no, no!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Sundry Sunday thoughts

Well, I was right.  He wasn't wearing purple.  But no, he didn't have a beard, though Jane pointed out he had good thatch of hair (I imagine by contrast with mine).  Geoff Feasey preached about the neglected New Testament gift of refreshment (1 Corinthians 16) - by which he didn't mean a pint (in spite of the old joke about Paul reaching the Three taverns... where he took courage - Acts 28).  

I feel I've been a bit negative in my past few entries; so here's something I recently received from Andrew White, vicar of Baghdad, to encourage those of you who think the younger generation are the pits and to challenge all of us.  The church runs a clinic and feeds a lot of the Christians in the city - which means an eye-watering monthly budget.

'So first Joanna..., a 9 year old girl who goes to the River Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. A great church led by Kyle Horner where I spoke just two weeks ago.
'As I often am, I was slightly worried about how we would feed our people in Iraq next month. It is such a significant season as Easter is the most important time of the year for Iraqi Christians.
'Faiz, our lay pastor, told me he did not think we would have enough money next month. I told him that somehow our Lord always provides. At our staff meeting when I got back from the USA I was told about our terrible financial situation.

'Kyle Horner then contacted me to say that little Joanna in his congregation had given her life savings for the children of St. George's Church. She was saving to buy a dog and she had collected $80 she gave it all.
'I was so moved by this. Not the widow's mite but the little girl's. I told her story to several people and they started to give money. I do not know exactly how much was given in response to the story about Joanna. It has been thousands of dollars and we now have enough to feed our people this coming month. In addition to this I have been given $500 for her to buy a puppy.
'This morning I had an email from her. She said that she had been learning about George Müller at school and how the Lord provided for all the needs of the Children's Homes he ran. She told me she wondered how our Lord was going to provide for us.

'It is a wonderful story of how the Lord provides for those in need. It is also a wonderful story of how the Lord responds to our generosity. Joanna has given her everything to G-d. He has given in response more than she ever could.'

Andrew added: 'If you want to give in response after reading this, please specify that it relates to Joanna's story.' There's a link to his website on this page.  

Finally, I'd appreciate feedback on this idea.  I'm a bit fed up of banging on so much about assisted suicide.  Obviously it's something I feel strongly about, but my original intention with this blog was to give an idea of what living with MND or Lou Gehrig's Disease is like - hopefully honestly but not too negatively - not be constantly campaigning.  For one thing, that's not what my life is about.  Crusading doesn't give me a buzz or a purpose for living, as it does some people.  Life is given us to enjoy.  And for another thing, I wonder whether you, dear reader, groan inwardly and say, 'Not again,' when you see the subject coming up again.  And I'd hate to lose you in an outburst of, 'Boring!'  So when this weekend The Times returned to its campaign to get assisted suicide legalised with no less than three articles in the one issue, I thought, 'Oh no, not again!  Am I going to have yet another go at explaining the dangers?' and then I wondered whether to set up a separate blog devoted to ethical and socio/political issues and reserve this one to being an everyday story of disabled life.  

I'd be interested in your reaction.  I'm not sure I'd be able to sustain two blogs.  And I suspect as my physical life gets more limited my mental life will become the substantial part of my disabled life anyway.  Anyway, meanwhile be aware that The Times does have a positive agenda to promote euthanasia, and that the best website for the opposite - and ethically sound - view is Care Not Killing Alliance (  

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Disappointing evening

Were it not for Brian Boore, lawyer and commentator, and of course the result, I'd have enjoyed watching the England v France rugby match tonight.  But why do the BBC have to employ the ex-England hooker to commentate?  He's rugby's equivalent of Mr Boycott, only without the excuse of age.  He spent the whole match complaining about the referee.  'It's not fair!'  He sounded like a whingeing schoolboy.  One of the pleasures of rugby is that you don't have a culture of arguing the toss with the ref.  There's a healthy acceptance that refs are not biased and do their utmost to give fair decisions.  So for the BBC to be party to undermining that culture is regrettable, to say the least.  I have to admit that fellow commentator Eddie Butler did his best to moderate Brian, though he made the telling comment after half time that only 5% of what the boore had said about the referee during the break was repeatable on air.  It was a tough attritional match, in soaking conditions, played with incredible commitment.  Sad that we weren't allowed to enjoy it as such.

Jiminy!... Cricket!

I've just discovered the Indian 20/20 cricket on TV.  Great!  What fun!  I can now watch cricket on terrestrial television.  All right, it's not the white flanneled fools playing 'on the Close tonight'.  Far from it.  Bright blue and red and gold clothes, big screens flashing up 'Not out!!' etc, fanfares and pom-pom girls cavorting whenever a boundary's scored.  But still you can watch Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis, and Shane Warne in action, masters of their art.  And there's something to be said for being able to watch a whole match in half a day.  And for a relief from the normal diet of cold muddy sports.

Tomorrow we meet our church's equivalent of a bishop - with a rather prosaic title like area superindendent.  But that's all the Greek word from which bishop comes means: episkopos - over-seer.  So I suppose it amounts to moreorless the same thing.  I'm sure he'll be nice - but not dressed in purple.  I wonder whether he'll have a beard - let the reader understand.

By the way, I am enjoying Laura Hackett's worship.

Friday, 19 March 2010

I Choose Everything

On Wednesday my editor, the inimitable Tony Collins called round at tea time, very dapper in a pin-striped jacket, button-down collar shirt and natty red tie.  He was very positive about 'I CHOOSE EVERYTHING Embracing life (even when it doesn't make sense)'.  It looks as though we're heading for publication fast.  Jozanne and Dave, her husband, have been working on getting a foreword.  I'm now starting on getting permission for quotations I've used.  So it's getting quite exciting.  Keep praying.

Today, predictably, the BBC have run another story about people NOT being prosecuted.  Personally I think not prosecuting Boudicca and Caractacus Downes is a sensible decision - but a headline story?  Non-story, more like.  Something not happening.  Any more a story than the thousands who are not asking to have their lives terminated?  I think not.  Did they read my letter?

Thanks to a link on this blog, I've discovered the young worship-leader, Laura Hackett, from Kansas City, and bought her debut album on iTunes.  Now that's a relief.  My favourite song so far is 'Beautiful Mercy'.

A seriously good day

Now that was a seriously good day!  Being Tuesday we thought we'd have a day out and combine a visit to our good friend John with a long-promised visit of the revamped Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.  As they say, the day dawned fine and sunny.  Had the weekly shower and monthly pedicure!  After a late breakfast, we took to the road and thanks to the blue badge parked right outside the museum's grand façade.

The wheelchair symbols are very posh, I must say, not the usual white and blue signs but rather elegant brass ones.  There are some huge glass revolving doors in the entrance - not designed for wheelchairs!  But there's are smaller glass door on the right, which one of the helpful young custodians remotely opened for us.  We wandered past the ancient Greek and Roman sculptures to find the lift.  We were looking for the Impressionists' rooms, and also the exhibition of Roger Wagner.  I'd picked up the news that our old pal was showing pictures from his new Book of Praises in the Ashmolean.

We found the temporary exhibition on Floor 3.  As well as the 21 beautiful small paintings and the actual book with Roger's psalm translations, there was also his huge 'Menorah' (the great painting of the crucifixion in front of Didcot power station) and a new painting 'The Road to Emmaus'.  There's a new departure in two of the paintings - he's used gold leaf in 'The Sanctuary' and 'The Redemption' - reminded me of icons.  We could have spent all our time there.  I loved the Emmaus painting, which is wonderfully thoughtful and crafted.  The icing on the cake was when a tall chap quietly came in and picked up the sheet about the exhibition.  It was none other than the artist himself.  We hadn't seen him for more than twenty years.  We'd been in the same home group before moving up north.  It was such fun to see him again and catch up with each other.  You can see the paintings on his website: .  But there's no substitute for seeing them for real.  If you possibly can, GO AND SEE IT YOURSELF.  You won't be disappointed.

We had some time before lunch and so we threaded our way through the groups of school children, causing their teachers heeby-jeebies by poking valuable paintings with grubby fingers.  Looked at the Pisarro collection and the 19th/20th century rooms, and then the music instrument collection.  It's impressive in a gloomy and confusing sort of way.  No doubt there are great instruments there, but you had to read the little labels quite carefully to find out what was what. Hopeless if your eyesight's poor.  There's a display which is meant to show you how a violin is made - which confused me, I must say.  A shame considering the fabulous amount of money that's been spent on the rebuilding project over all.  While I'm being a bit negative, I wasn't that impressed with the disabled toilet in the basement.  I suspect the architect designed what he/she thought disabled people need.  For example the lock wasn't as easy as might be; there were no grab rails by the basin, and grab rails only on one side of the loo itself.  Disabilities differ, of course.  So my advice to architects would be, talk to a number of disabled people about your design and listen to what they say, before you do anything rash.

And then it was off to lunch with my best man, John.  His mother, the redoubtable Netta, aged 94 and still on two motorised wheels, has recently died.  It was nice sitting in the sunny back room of his house, along with his daughter, over a bowl of his homemade soup and bread and cheese.  A time of warm companionship.  The only snag was in pushing my rather fine chair back to leave we managed to break its leg.  John was very gracious about it.  He is a very skilled carpenter by training and trade -

Then it was home for tea and chilling out.  John sent us an email later saying the chair was mended.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Media bits

When I was at university, Private Eye had a column called Pseuds' Corner.  It might have still.  Anyway, I came across an item for it today.  It's part of a review of recommended wines.  'There is pinotage and pinotage.  This is the latter....'  (Jane MacQuitty, The Times)

A couple of days ago I received my long-awaited reply from the BBC.  It came of course not from the Director General, Mr Thompson, to whom I'd written.  'As you will appreciate...' he receives more correspondence than he can deal with personally, so the letter came from Ms Bower of BBC Complaints in Glasgow.  I wasn't so much complaining as observing.  I imagine the four pages were a fairly standard response to complaints about bias about assisted suicide.  It basically chronicled the balance of viewpoints presented in news coverage of related items - which wasn't my concern.  My point was about the power and balance of story, not about arguments.  I actually said that I thought the BBC did balance comment well.  It seemed as if my letter hadn't been read properly, just scanned and put in the 'anti' pile.  I was disappointed, and reminded of Hamlet's, 'Methinks the lady doth protest too much.'

This was my letter:

'Dear Mr Thompson

'Without doubt assisted dying is among the most important issues in the news at the moment.  I am concerned that the BBC’s presentation particularly of ‘news items’ connected with this issue does not appear to be even-handed.

'I am sure that everyone from management to producers and presenters is acutely conscious of trying to balance opposing views in the debate.  Clearly this is most easily and successfully achieved in studio discussions, where I think presenters do conceal their own views professionally.  However, I have two areas of concern. 

'The first is that the news agenda seems largely driven by stories of individuals who favour assisted suicide, such as Edward Downes, Debbie Purdy, Kay Gilderdale, Terry Pratchett and Ray Gosling.  Having Motor Neurone Disease myself, I have wrestled with the conundrum of why these are so much more newsworthy than the thousands with disabling and terminal conditions who choose to live their lives with trust in their doctors’ professional skill.  Is it because they are being fed to the media by particular lobby groups?  The impression given by highlighting these exceptional cases is that we are queuing up for physicians to assist us terminate our lives on demand, which is not true.  I understand that the ‘everyday’ is not news, and that the struggle to survive does not make dramatic headlines - and yet it is remarkable and should enter the public arena. Otherwise a skewed picture of reality is being presented.

'And here I come to my second area of concern.  Balance is not achieved by telling a story and merely getting people with opposing views to comment on it.  For most of us, story itself  has an emotive power which argument doesn’t carry.  That means that true balance is achieved by balancing stories as well as debate, and I don’t think I’ve seen or heard a news-story with an ‘I’ve decided to live’ slant in the past year - with the exception of the short item on Alison Davis on Newsnight last night (and something similar on The One Show last year) as a response to two stories on the other side.  Even that in terms of time was uneven.  Certainly it was nothing comparable to the ‘documentary’ on Kay Gilderdale on Panorama a couple of weeks previously.  There are stories of disabled or terminally ill people who have either never wanted to die, or who once wanted assisted suicide but now no longer do, which deserve proper airtime, such as Alison’s, or Matt Hampson and Bryan Davies, the paralysed rugby players, or Michelle Wheatley with locked-in syndrome, and equally of partners and carers who have nursed sufferers to the very end.  Many of them would not wish to be campaigners, but their stories deserve to be told to the nation - partly for their own sake and also for the sake of a true representation of the way things really are.

'At the moment the assumption underlying editorial decisions seems to be that, if allowed, people would rather cease to be a burden and be helped to die than suffer pain and dependency and live.  It’s a reasonable position for someone to hold, but not the neutral one which one would expect of the BBC.  At a time like this and in a matter of such moment for us all, isn’t it vital that our public service broadcaster is, and is seen to be,  even-handed in its presentation of facts as well as opinion and to be vigilant lest a subconscious agenda dictates policy?

Yours sincerely'

I'll refrain from boring you with the long reply as well.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

A short diversion

Just back from 26 hours with Jane's parents down in Devon - another very mellow time, helped by beautiful sunshine.

Her mother wrote and illustrated a multitude of children's stories (published by Medici), meticulously researched even as far as flying in a Tiger Moth biplane for Freddie in Flight which has an aerial view of our old home in Stanford...  Almost all of them feature animals.  She's become a miniaturist of great skill.  Her great grandchildren enjoy listening to the stories, and of course now feature in her miniatures!
We left The Italian Chapel which I've mentioned before for Jane's father to read.  You may recall it's the story of the Italian prisoners of war on the Orkneys who had to assist in constructing the Churchill barriers joining the islands together to protect the Atlantic fleet from German submarine attacks; they're still in place today, as is the beautiful chapel they created out of two nissen huts.  As I said before the book is a really good read; it's particularly moving because it's largely true, but more because it shows how good and beautiful things can come out of the most unpromising of circumstances - including friendship between enemies.  Anyway, we thought he would enjoy it; and it turned out that the first voyage he had made after signing up in the Navy in the 2nd World War was in the brand new HMS Paladin from the Clyde to Scapa Flow where the fleet was based in the Orkneys.  They hit the most horrendous storm on the way.  The destroyer lost various bits on the way, and the seaman were all dreadfully sick...!

My in-laws live on the Jurassic coast of Devon in a lovely chalet bungalow overlooking the valley.  It's well nigh perfect - except the path to the front door is steep and long.  Well, at least it feels like that to me.  One day, presumably, I won't be able to make the slow ascent, but I did it again on Tuesday between Jane and my stick.  I still feel a sense of achievement.  Going down, I submit to the wheelchair.  It's safer.  At least in the house I don't have to go up the stairs to the spare bedroom, because those two generous octogenarians give up their ground-floor room for us.  You can see they're not the in-laws of popular myth!  They've acquired a tv for the first time since I've known them, and I spent a couple of happy hours watching the old BBC production of Barchester Towers with the odious Mr Slope and the good Mr Harding.  I reckon there are similarities between the latter and my father in law.

On the way back we'd learned our lesson on the A303, which we'd discovered on our way down was entirely blocked at Mere.  They didn't give sufficient warning for you to take an alternative route, and so you were forced to take the official diversion through Shaftesbury.  Returning we took our own diversion on familiar roads round Stourhead and saved 20-30 minutes.  As a result the dog didn't have to wait too long for her supper.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Multi-faceted love

What a good weekend!  Mellow, I'd call it.  First thing Saturday our friends Tony and Jimmy who fitted our new kitchen last year came round to advise us about our misted up double-glazed window panes and some other ideas I've had about tidying up the house.  It's nice to have people you trust.  Then the family from Manchester arrived and settled in, followed by Bryan from Bristol; by Sunday lunch all the family had arrived.  Yes!!  I got them practising hauling me to my feet so that Jane doesn't always have to do it. We always get a Saturday paper when they're here.  This week it was The Times, and unusually it had an excellent article by Simon Barnes, their football correspondent who does Nature Notes as well, about his son Eddie aged 5 who has Down's Syndrome.  It's called something like, 'My Life with a tiger cub'.  I've quoted from it below, and put the link up on the list.

All good things have to come to an end of course, and now they've all gone back to their week's work.  It was a sort of early Mothering Sunday, because sadly next Sunday clashes with the start of the F1 Grand Prix season - and we have our priorities, you know - only joking!  

We stayed in to watch 'Songs of Praise', which was about prayer.  Although the music had reverted a bit to the all-in-black dull concert style, the interviews were above averagely good.  I'd been sounded out about the programme, but I have to say three of the interviews - with Rowan Williams, Desmond Tutu and Jane Grayshon - were all outstanding.  I don't always feel that our Aled is really engaged with the subject but this time was an exception.  Archbishop Tutu talked about prayer in terms of a relationship of love.  'It sounds almost like marriage,' said Aled, 'for better for worse, in sickness and in health.'  To which Tutu gave one of his chuckles in agreement.   Jane Grayshon has had acute chronic pain (which is treated in a hospice) for 35 years, and she made no bones about how difficult it was.  'Is it hell on earth?'  'Yes.'  I can't imagine living continuously with acute pain.  It must be the worst thing.  A good programme.

Later that evening I read Simon Barnes' article.  It is full of both parents' love for their son.  He asked a question our society needs reminding of, especially these days when some are being told they are useless 'burdens' on society:
'What is Eddie for? A question worth asking, I think. The Nazis sent people with Down’s to the ovens, because they polluted the purity of the race. And before we shudder at such barbarity, we should remember that most women pregnant with a baby with Down’s syndrome choose to abort. It’s clear that many people believe that a child with Down’s has no point: that such a being is extraneous to human needs, a mere burden on society and, in particular, on the parents. Best get rid of them.
'The reality of Eddie’s life contradicts all that. At school, he is held very dear. The headmistress has said that her school is a better place for his presence: because Eddie is there, the school’s small society has become more caring, more gentle, more at ease with itself. At the end of the last school year, Eddie won the Peace Prize, voted for annually by the entire class. The prize is given to the kindest, most generous and most helpful child....'
He talks about people's reaction to Eddie in public places - and it is universally positive. But he asks:
'Is that enough, though? Shouldn’t an individual contribute something to society? Eddie’s function is to be loved, and to love in return. Perhaps that is everybody’s ultimate function. Eddie enriches the lives of his family and enriches the lives of those he comes into contact with outside. That seems to me to be a life right on the cutting edge of usefulness.'

Friday, 5 March 2010

Desert Island Discs

I sometimes listen to the old favourite radio programme, Desert Island Discs.  But I don't think I've heard a better one than today's.  I mentioned the castaway a couple of weeks ago; she was the highlight of the Valentine's Day Songs of Praise, the actress, June Simpson (Peggy Woooley of 'The Archers').  She's an incredible 90 year-old - still broadcasting.  I mentioned the fact that her radio persona echoes her own experience of having had a husband who developed dementia.  That isn't the only tough experience of her life - including an invalid mother and a son who died tragically.  And yet she is the most delightful and positive person imaginable.  When you listen to it, make sure you listen to the end and her final choice of disc.  It is a wonderful statement of faith.

Today's been fine and so we went out - twice!  I suppose you could say we were celebrating the publisher's initial welcome of Jozanne's and my book - which we're excited about.  This weekend the family are going to be here.  We love these times.  They are such fun and great people.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010


Sadly, spring seems to have had a relapse today.  East wind, and grey clouds.  Oh well, such is the English weather - which, I gather, from  Radio 5 Live, some would consider unpatriotic and others endearingly self-deprecating.

I need to make an apology about 'media bias'.  My friend Richard pointed out that the Stephen Nolan programme on Sunday had an impressive interview with Elizabeth Shepherd whose son is disabled:  It was at midnight, but credit where it's due.  

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Signs of spring

There was frost on the ground first thing, but at this moment, I'm sitting in the conservatory, looking out at Jess the dog lying on the patio, listening to the sounds of urban traffic rumbling by.  Sparrows, starlings and a robin are making their noises, AND ... a red admiral is resting on the kitchen window-sill having been doing a tour of the garden.

Not much nectar available at the moment, I'm afraid, just a few winter pansies and some primulas.  It must have come out of hibernation, I reckon, and must be a toughie to have survived our 'coldest winter for thirty years'.  Most, though not all, of our red admirals are summer migrants, arriving in May and June, and they like brambles, ivy and buddleia for their nectar, I see, while their caterpillars eat nettles, which is why you should leave some in your garden....  Normally the first butterflies of the spring are yellow brimstones, those sulphur yellow ones with rounded wings, but they're a good deal later.  Still, 2nd March, the first butterfly of the year: is Spring sprung at last?

Monday, 1 March 2010

Dawn twitterings

Romeo is back at it in the earliest hours - but someone else has taken over two hours later: Benedict the blackbird starts at 4.30 am.  Even that's a bit early for the dawn chorus, a good hour or so before it's beginning to get light.  Funnily enough, Lucy Winkett told me something about this I didn't know before.  Not only are birds singing at night because of the light pollution, but in cities they're also affected by noise pollution.  Scientists have found that they sing higher, with less variation, and faster, and more loudly than their cousins in nearby forests.  As Ms Winkett says, what appears to happening is that they're singing like this and in the dark 'in order to make themselves heard over the human noise of low-pitched, monotonous, relentless sound.  Night has become the new day; the urban world is inside out.'  I suppose here we're on the fringe of the urban world, in English suburbia.

You can tell that Canon Winkett is the exception to the old joke about can(n)ons: 'The bigger the gun, the bigger the bore.'

We had lunch yesterday with my distinguished brother David (now why he's never been made a bishop, let alone a canon, I fail to understand) and his wife Clare.  He's the one who's just written the book you really need to read when P Pulman tries to fantasise about Paul and Jesus.  This morning she sent us a diverting link of silent monks singing the Hallelujah Chorus... we enjoyed it! ( )