Friday, 30 April 2010

More meanderings

Talking of books, this week I completed checking the proofs of I Choose Everything, and on Wednesday, after Jane had helped at Riding for the Disabled, we decided to deliver them in person to Lion Hudson rather than send them by Royal Mail. There's just something about knowing they're there. So round to the Jordan Hill Business Estate and Jane popped out and handed the envelope over.

Then it was time to celebrate. This time it was Aston Pottery, where we'd been in February, near Witney, in the heart of Cameron country. Not that there were many posters up - just one big six-footer. I couldn't help reflecting on the irony of the most English of the candidates for the top job having a typical Scottish name, while the most Scottish has a typical English name. Such profound thoughts show how demob happy I was. The sun was shining and the air was heady with the scent of the tubs full of blue hyacinths along the path from the car park. We headed straight for the tea-room for some lunch and unsuspectingly decided on filled baps - I think mine were prawn marie with salad in sun-dried tomato baps. When they arrived they were HUMUNGOUS. We could have had half each! But very nice they were too. Taking it slowly I completely finished it, not a crumb left. And then we had coffee. Excellent! You can see the view from our table, above. The chap facing is Stephen Baughan, who founded the business with his wife, Jane, in 1990. He's a potter and she's an artist. And they're very friendly.

It's grown from its small beginning into a sizable business - they employ 25+ people now. They're just launching a new size (1 pint jug) and had a wonderful display on the way to the tea-rooms, called the Auricula Theatre. Auriculas are exotic relatives of the primrose. We were given one when we moved here. All the jugs and plates are decorated with different coloured auriculas. But no item is exactly the same as another, as they're all hand-painted. This picture will give you an idea of the beautiful displays in the shop part of the Pottery. Very tempting. We wandered around, and were tempted - a little. A bonus was meeting old (not old old) friends there, and catching up with each other's news.

And so we came home. I did watch the last PMs' debate last night. I'm afraid I was frustrated by the lack of engagement with the serious issues and specific policies. It seemed to me that at least two of the gentlemen were more concerned about projecting image, and that, frankly, doesn't interest me. I admit the debates have apparently aroused people's interest in the election, but I think the cost will be too high if we decide our Prime Minister on how telegenic he or she is. By the way, I've still not had a reply to my letter from Mr Vaizey... How odd!

And á propos of nothing in particular, by way of light relief, here's that donkey story from Brian I promised you. 
Father O'Malley rose from his bed one morning. It was a fine spring day in his new Ballina parish.
He walked to the window of his bedroom to get a deep breath of the beautiful day outside.  He then noticed there was a Donkey lying dead in the middle of his front lawn.
Not knowing who else to call, he promptly called the local police station. 
The conversation went like this:
''Good morning. This is Sergeant Jones. How might I help you?"
"And the best of the day ter yer good self. This is Father O'Malley at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church. There's a Donkey lying dead right in der middle of me front lawn "
Sergeant Jones, considering himself to be quite a wit, replied with a smirk, "Well now Father, it was always my impression that you people took care of the last rites!"
There was dead silence on the line for a long moment and then Father O'Malley replied:
"Ah, to be sure, that is true; but we are also obliged to notify the next of kin."

May day (almost) meanderings

Tomorrow, I see, from the calendar is May Day, and so, to celebrate, here's a picture of the blossom on one of the apple trees we planted last year. It's sad that we shan't be able to let all the blossom turn into fruit. In the long term it will do better if we remove almost all of it this year. Maybe there's a moral there about pain and gain, or the Father pruning the vines....

I've recently finished reading Living with Dying by Grace Sheppard. This is a book written from the other side of the fence from mine, as it were. Grace is the wife of the late Bishop of Liverpool and English cricket captain, David Sheppard, who died of cancer in March 2005. Grace cared for him until his death at home on 5th March. The book is an autumnal love story - not only about the last few years when he was fighting cancer, but looking back over the life they shared together, much of it in the spotlight of being public figures. Grace is very honest and very personal about caring for a dying person and grieving for him after his death. It's a tender account, shot through with beautiful threads. Every bereavement is different, of course, but I think reading this would help anyone facing the prospect of caring for a loved one. It ends with a long letter to couple preparing for their last years, which is a distillation of the wisdom gained from Grace and David's experience. As you'll gather, I think it's a lovely book, personal but not sentimental, faith-filled but not pious, life-affirming but not unrealistic - and I don't think it's because I'm biased (because Grace is my cousin!).
The book's published by Darton, Longman and Todd (DLT) - and coincidentally, I assure you, has a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, like I Choose Everything. We got our copy, of course, from Cornerstone, but you can also get it via the internet.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Out and about in Grove (part 2)

By popular demand...!

I apologise to those who have been impatiently waiting for the next episode - but there's something about deferred gratification sharpening the appetite. And to be honest, you need it, because on the whole Grove is quite bland - rather like custard. However my excuse is a good one, as yesterday I finished the painstaking task of checking the proofs, which was concentrated hard work. Last night we packed them up and they're ready for dispatch to Monarch this morning. It's a great feeling. Nothing more I can do!

Over the weekend we had a good friend from our days of camping with Pathfinders in Windermere in the 90s (I almost said in the last century - which is true, but makes it sound so long ago, doesn't it?). Lisa does signing for the deaf, and blind, and leads worship in her church. So when she came to VEC with us she automatically signed in the songs - which I love, it's so expressive. However she was here for a chill-out weekend, and so I went out on my own on a politician hunt on Saturday morning and caught one in the Millbrook shops.

To be honest, I'd had wind of him from the internet, but I wanted to do my bit of lobbying. I'd emailed four local PPCs earlier asking them to support the National Strategy for MND and to ask them how they'd vote on assisted suicide if it came to it. Only one, Adam Twine of the Greens, replied personally and promptly and, lo and behold, there's his name on the MND website. Good on him! Although two of the others subsequently expressed their support for better MND care, they've not bothered to sign up - which is a shame, as it lacks that same commitment. The fourth - HE KNOWS WHO HE IS - hasn't bothered to reply at all, even though I emailed two addresses. I'll leave you to speculate whether it's a case of complacency or of a lost cause. I'm afraid he's forfeited my vote, if he ever had it. Sadly but perhaps not surprisingly all three respondents sat on the fence with regard to assisted suicide. One would hope they had backbone enough to vote for protecting the vulnerable if push came to shove.
PPC Steven Mitchell talking to BBC reporter. My pal, Peter Gill, who's his agent, on the right.

Yesterday Benvolio landed in our garden and has been making his presence known. I assume he's the offspring of Benedict and Beatrice, our local blackbirds. He's really far too big to need feeding now, but dad seems to have a soft heart. There was a hullabaloo at 2.30 this morning. My guess is it was parents mobbing a cat out to get Benvolio. If so, they were obviously successful, as he's back large as life (perhaps his name is Adrian...).

Brian's kindly sent me another donkey / parish priest story. But that will have to wait.

(By the way, have you signed the MNDA National Strategy petition yet. At the conference we were told  the total was 8,000 - which to my way of thinking is not great. Surely there are more than that who'd like to see good care provided nationally for sufferers with MND?)

Monday, 26 April 2010

Out and about in Grove (part 1)

Not only has the sun brought the blossom out apace, it's also drawn me out of my lair. On Friday, St George's Day, we went for a coffee at Cornerstone. I thought you might like to see what this place is like which I like so much and where we're going to launch I Choose Everything in June. It's really an example of not judging by outward appearance, because, to be honest, it's not that prepossessing, not ye olde quaint tea shoppe. It's on the end of a parade of shops. But its heart is on the inside. 
Good disabled access takes me tantalisingly to the counter where the cakes are just at my eye-height. Anita, one of the geniuses behind the food, always seems to be cheerful, but it's clearly not because she's been scoffing it all.
 Here are the cakes that tempt me horribly, and then there's the lunch menu.Toys for the kids. Behind me there's the book and card bit. 

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Happy days

As my son would say, happy days! Sunshine and warmth in the conservatory... this is the view from my riser recliner where I sit and check over my proofs. You can see Jane's handiwork (some of it) in the garden right in front of my nose: including the seedlings waiting for the frosts to go. The best bit is the tub with tulips and pansies, which, close to, is a riot of colour. Not bad!

And of course there's Jess wondering if I'd like to come out and play - which of course I would.... But it's not a bad office, is it?

So here I sit working and reworking through the proofs. I've chosen to set this book out in a bit of a complicated format; so it's not as straightforward as My Donkeybody, but I think it will look good as well as being a good read - in my opinion! I got really good news via my good friend Louise in Sydney that Jill McCloghry is happy to be quoted in I Choose Everything. Hers is such a moving story. 

Last night we went to Cornerstone Coffee Shop for a church quiz night. Our team did quite well. Officially we won, but I'm not sure we really did. I think they were being nice to the clergy. How many King Kenneths of Scotland were there? That was a pure guess - which we got wrong. Still it was a fun evening. Life's not bad!

Monday, 19 April 2010

David Morris

I was planning to write an entertaining piece about the Wembley turf, but I've just found out from a disabled friend that David Morris, the senior disability adviser for the Greater London Authority, died suddenly last night. I never met him, but he was due to appear on Care Not Killing's dvd on assisted suicide, on which I appear too. He was a great champion of the disabled, being severely so himself, but letting that stop him from living a full and active life himself. You might well have seen him on Newsnight and other news programmes when the  subject of euthanasia raises its head. He was very thoughtful and expressed himself very clearly. I believe that he was currently involved with working to make the Olympics inclusive. He was a good example of strength in weakness - and will be a real loss. I think he should receive a posthumous MBE.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Peace on Sunday

Had a good service at church this morning. Visiting speakers, David and Greta Peters, are based in Auckland, New Zealand. They both lost their spouses a few years ago, and then remarkably met each other through the shared significance of the Redman song, Blessed be your name, for them.
It's a favourite of mine too, for similar reasons. 
... blessed be Your name
when I'm found in the desert place
though I walk through the wilderness
blessed be Your name

Every blesssing You pour out I'll turn back to praise
and when the darkness closes in Lord still I will say:
blessed be the name of the Lord!

Matt & Beth Redman © Kingsway Thankyou Music etc.  
They talked about the valleys of life and how God brings us through them. It rang with a lot of truth, as far as I'm concerned.

Sadly Williams did not prosper in Shanghai - no points at all. Hopefully they'll do better in Barcelona. They at least seem to have a talent for spotting promising young drivers, like Nico Rosberg. Perhaps their next young driver, Nico Hulkenberg, will come good for them. Still that didn't spoil my sunny afternoon. We sat out in the garden having our coffee, listening to the collar-doves and goldfinches - and the occasional passing car.  A red kite circled overhead. No sign of the volcanic ash which has been giving such angst and such peace in seemingly equal measure. We don't really notice the difference here, except foe absence of the high altitude vapour trails because our major aerial noise comes from the helicopters at RAF Benson. They don't seem to have been affected. Why, by the way, couldn't they fly beneath the ash cloud? Having lived under Manchester's flight path I can imagine the delight the residents of SW London had in uninterrupted hours of peace. When's the panic buying of bananas and mangoes going to begin? That's the question! And more seriously, when will our friends stranded in South Korea and Venice be able to get a flight home?

Saturday, 17 April 2010

A day at Celtic Manor

And in case you've not heard of it, it's the very posh hotel which is hosting the Ryder Cup in June. I took my camera with me, but was so intimidated by the place I didn't dare take any pictures. (Actually I just forgot.) So these are from the website.
One has to admit it's some place. The place with two trees in it is the entrance lobby. We were there for the MND Association Spring Conference - and as this one seemed the easiest for us to get to we got up at crack of dawn and headed west along the M4 for Newport. When we drove up the mountainous approach to the hotel, it wasn't obvious where we should park, and so, being a bit late, we drove up to the front entrance, through the chaps heading off for their morning's golf. Immediately a suited gentleman emerged from the front door and asked if he could help. We explained. 'If you'd leave your car there,... it will be parked for you, madam. Can I help with sir's wheelchair?' This is the life, I thought. 

Sadly, the conference was in the corporate bowels of the hotel, which while not having the glamour of the upper floors still were no slums. Coffee and pastries on arrival, coffee and cookies at 11, lunch in the Denbeigh Suite (two courses), tea and griddle cakes at the end - and in between talks on what the MNDA offers, on its developing support systems, an update on research and finally a session on the National Strategy for MND, especially campaigning at the general election ( We were encouraged to ask canvassers and candidates whether they'd sign 'the pledge' (to support a national strategy). By the way, did I mention the petition about it? Have you signed it?
However, the best thing was meeting people. In fact the first people we bumped into (literally) were Norman, who sometimes comments on this blog, and his brother. There were three other people we knew there. We met a number of new people as well, including a nice coordinator from the Midlands, who recognised me from My Donkeybody. The only downer was that it was a glorious sunny day, and there we were, indoors. I suppose we could have explored the grounds at the end, but we could sense Jess calling for her supper; and so we headed home.  A good day.

Actually it's been a pretty good week for us - if not for G Brown and D Cameron esquires! I think it was quite a revelation quite how well N Clegg esq performed on Thursday night. I guess three things were in his favour: one was being seen on an equal footing with the other two; secondly not being rendered inaudible as he usually is in the bearpit of Prime Minister's Questions, and thirdly having nothing to lose. But give him his due, he answered questions specifically, appeared sincere and smiled, at least looked relaxed. I guess the other two will be a bit more wary of him next time. However I did think of  Brian's joke as they promised their goodies... 'we were campaigning then...'

But I was talking about our week. I suppose, beside the sun coming out, the big thing again was I Choose Everything. On Tuesday we went in to Cornerstone and talked to the manager, Mary, about the possibility of holding the book launch there in July. She was meeting with board members that evening, and upshot is we have a provisional date booked for late in the month. In the meantime Jenny who's handling the nitty-gritty editing at Monarch, the publishers, sent an email saying she had posted the proofs to me for proof-reading. They arrived on Friday, by the same post as a letter from the Very Rev Dominic Milroy who'd read the book and sent a nice comment about it. So now the job of reading through the book as though someone else had written it has begun. I must say you feel a definite sense of progress when it's set up in the final format.

However, tomorrow's a day off, which will be welcome. We'll discover whether Williams can improve on 8th which is their best result so far, in tomorrow's Chinese Grand Prix. Sadly they're further back on the grid than before at 11th and 16th.... Still, after 3 races Barrichello has 5 points, only 34 behind the leader. Hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

MPs' judgement day approaches

The following is not a theological document. As readers of I Choose Everything will discover, its picture of heaven is seriously flawed. However it made me laugh, and these days when everyone is trying to convince us how seriously competent they will be at bringing us Shangri-La, it's a good antidote. (I'm indebted to Brian for the story.)

'While walking down the street one day a Member of Parliament is tragically hit by a truck and dies.
His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St Peter at the Pearly Gates. 
'Welcome to heaven,' says St Peter.
'Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see MPs around these parts; so we're not sure what to do with you.'
'No problem, just let me in,' says the man.
'Well, I'd like to, but I have orders from higher up. What we'll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity.'
'Really, I've made up my mind. I want to be in heaven,' says the MP.
'I'm sorry, but we have our rules.'
And with that, St Peter escorts him to the lift and he goes down, down, down to hell.

The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him.
Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the people.
They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and champagne.
Also present is the devil, who really is a very friendly and nice guy who has a good time dancing and telling jokes. They are having such a good time that before he realizes it, it is time to go.

Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the lift rises....
The lift goes up, up, up and the door reopens on heaven where St. Peter is waiting for him.
'Now it's time to visit heaven.'
 So, 24 hours pass with the MP joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing.  They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone by and St Peter returns.
'Well, then, you've spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity.'
The MP reflects for a minute; then he answers: 'Well, I would never have said it before, I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell.'

 So St Peter escorts him to the lift and he goes down, down, down to hell.
Now the doors of the lift open and he's in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage.
He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as more trash falls from above.
The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulder.
'I don't understand,' stammers the MP. 'Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there's just a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What happened?'
The devil looks at him, smiles and says,
'Yesterday we were campaigning.. ...
Today you voted!’

Brian commented, 'If only I wasn't so cynical....' Well, it's hard not to be, isn't it? A pastor I know writes all politicians off, so that you think, 'I might as well not vote.' It's true there's a limit to what they can achieve, but it's not true that they can't do any good or change society for the better. That's why we're told to pray for those in authority. Personally, I'll be asking canvassers where their man or woman stands on assisted suicide and care of the dying - you'll not be surprised to know. I was sent details of the Westminster 2010 Declaration which lists some major moral issues for our politicians to face; it's based on the premise that our society is based on Christian values and that we're in danger of losing them ( 

And I must say, as a counter to cynicism, there are those in Parliament who are not in it for the power or the money but 'to serve and not to seek for any reward save that of knowing that they do your (God's) will'. I guess we should pray and vote for them!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Sunny days

What’s more from Stanford they were being sent to the estate in the north of Abingdon. It was obviously more an administrative blip! Well, to err is human. Not surprisingly, our (former) local MP, Ed Vaizey, managed to make political satire at the Lib Dems’ expense out of the 40,000 mistakes. Not immensely logical but all’s fair in love and elections, I suppose.

You may remember I got a bit heated a year ago with Mark and Sparks about the lack of imagination of their delivery men when we ordered a wardrobe. A nice troubleshooter in the big boss’s office had said we’d get a ‘goodwill token’, but it never arrived. Then, out of the blue, last month I received an email explaining that for some reason my order hadn’t been recorded as complete on their system but to ignore their next notification which do the business. I thought, ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So sent an email back saying, ‘Perhaps it’s incomplete because I never received that promised goodwill gesture!’ To my surprise, one came back from Victoria C. of Customer Services and due course a £50 store token followed. Which is what took us to Newbury on Friday last week. 
Another warm sunny day - we drove over the Downs, passed Snelsmoor Common with its primroses and down into Newbury. Previously we’ve gone round and round the houses to park. This time we reckoned following the disabled shopmobility signs was a good bet. And so it proved. We ended up in a multi-storey, next to the main shopping precinct. But even better, it lured us into Shopmobility for the first time. This is where you can hire out mobility scooters to go round the shops. I’ve avoided it in the past as I didn’t trust myself with a scooter weaving in and out of display stands in the shops, but we discovered they also lend out powered wheelchairs, which I’m used to. So we signed up and the very jolly man brought a wheelchair from their extensive store - and off we went. For the first time, on a shopping expedition, Jane didn’t have to put up with me whinging, like Smallweed in Bleak House (‘Shake me up, Judy!’), every time I wanted to see a different rail (‘No, over there, Jane!’). 

We enjoyed spending Sir Stuart’s money - and more, regrettably, and then sallied forth to Waterstone’s down the road. They were a bit short on Trollope, but I found The Last Chronicle of Barset and Sathnam Sangheera’s Boy with the Topknot (which I’ve wanted to buy for some time). This time it was thanks to a book token from the clergy of the Vale of the White Horse. 

Altogether an excellent expedition. As was Saturday’s. What an incident-full life we lead! It was the AGM of the Oxfordshire Branch of the MND Association, and the first time we’d managed to get to it. It was at the Holiday Inn on the edge of Oxford. It’s an impressive group, many of them having lost wives, husbands or parents to the disease, now devoting themselves to caring for others and raising money for the association. For example our friends, Jan and Joanne (who’s doing the Great North Run in September, in memory of her father, John, whom I wrote about last year : After the business meeting, there was a sandwich lunch, and then a talk by Professor Colin Blakemore (who’s now president of the MNDA, and one of our top men on the brain). He’d a few weeks before given the Ferrier Prize lecture of the Royal Society, on ‘Plasticity of the brain: the key to human development, cognition and evolution’! We didn’t get a rerun of that lecture - quite - but we did get an incredibly comprehensible insight into the marvels of the human brain, and then into some of the advances in research most of which have been made recently. He wasn’t focusing on MND, but I don’t think anybody nodded off in the traditional graveyard slot. It was fascinating. I thought, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

It was also nice to meet up with a number of friends whom we don’t often see, like Peter Durkin, the seemingly endless source of jokes, such as:
A woman walked into the kitchen to find her husband stalking around with a fly swatter.
‘What are you doing?’ she asked.
‘Hunting flies,’ he responded.
‘Oh...! Killing any?’ she asked.
‘Yep, three males, two females.’
Intrigued, she asks, ‘How can you tell them apart?’
‘Easy. Three were on a beer can; two were on the phone.’ !!!
Peter writes his jokes now, as he finds speaking much more difficult than me. But we’re still able to laugh together.  

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Polling day gridlock

The end of the first week of campaigning... It didn't get off to a very auspicious start. Labour called the Tories a bunch of toffs. The Tories said, 'Not another five years of Gordon!' The Lib Dems said, 'A plague on both your houses!' Not exactly the height of political engagement. Meanwhile our local council (or its printers) has excelled itself. We were somewhat surprised to receive our polling cards which told us our polling station was in Kingston Bagpuize (about 10 miles away), while Rachel who lives in Watchfield found hers told her to go to Abingdon on 6th May (15-20 miles away). Jeremy Clarkson might approve, but I suspect the Greens would be sucking lemons. Apparently the printers made 'a mistake'. One has a picture of cars crisscrossing the district in a mad gridlock on general election day - or else a massive abstention of apathy!

To be continued...

Friday, 9 April 2010

A very good day

In fact yesterday was too good a day to blog on. Jane pulled back the curtain on a cloudless blue sky. I didn't exactly leap out of bed, though you might say I did spiritually. It's extraordinary how external factors can affect us sophisticated creatures, but on Facebook in the UK there's been general rejoicing.

For me there was the double bonus of my ear-syringing appointment. 'You've got wax, in both ears?' asked the nurse, adding sceptically. 'Have you had them examined?' 'No, but I've had it before,' I said. 'I'd better have a look,' said she, taking her otoscope and peering down my right (better) ear. 'Ooh, yes!' she said eloquently and satisfyingly. 'You have, haven't you?' A new self-calibrating pump has replaced the inflated icing syringe they used when I last had it done, with water at the right pressure and temperature. And so my ears were unstopped. The upshot is I now once again inhabit the world of 3D hi-fi sound. And I'm so grateful. I can hear the traffic, and also birdsong, and music, and of course, best of all, my wife's every word. I hope I shan't forget what a weird and frustrating world people with impaired hearing inhabit, with no easy cure ahead of them.

In the afternoon Jane worked in the garden, while I sat in the conservatory. There was a bonanza of butterflies: two commas, a tortoiseshell, a yellow brimstone, a red admiral and a peacock (these photos are courtesy of © Cathy McKinty and © Peter Eeles). I think brimstones are the first butterflies of spring; and we've never seen a comma with its ragged scalloped wings so close up. One came and landed on the conservatory door blind. Meanwhile in the conservatory we've had an Old Lady moth, which apparently overwinter in porches and similar places.

At about 4 we went down to the Coop for some milk, and then made a tour of the whole of the close. We reckon we live in the nicest part and in the best house! Anyway we have a great sense of contentment with everything. The only spoiler on a great day was when we sat down to watch the rom com Fifty First Dates, which I'd recorded on the digibox - only to find halfway through it had been interrupted by the news and the second half wasn't there!! Doh! We knew the ending, but it was a bit of an anticlimax, though not enough really to spoil the day.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

They're off!

Well, that's what we needed to hear. No more phoney election, just one month of campaigning, and then the vote. Can I get in my plea quick, viz that you look at, which is the MND Association's push to persuade the next government to adopt a National Strategy for MND. 'A National Strategy will ensure people with MND receive high quality care and support from the NHS and social services, no matter where they live in the country. Help us raise the awareness of MND with those people who have the political power to make a difference.'

Having seen the 'chancellors' debate' a week ago, the parties don't seem to have much room for manoeuvre on the economic front, but there are quite a number of other important issues. Especially for those with faith, but not only, there's another site worth looking at, Christian Concern for our Nation, which flags them up. Old habits die hard, and so I'm not likely to be using this blog as a party campaigning medium. I enjoyed, however, an interview with the 77-year old Michael Heseltine yesterday by Jim Naughtie about news coverage of political campaigns. He said in effect, 'You (journalists) try to elicit a gaffe first thing in the morning (eg. on the Today programme), and then you run it as the main news story throughout the day...' (and, thought I, you concoct it in the case of the Archbishop). And being a wily campaigner, he refused to be drawn on his divergent opinion on Europe from the main Tory line. 

And yesterday there was another Cambridge victory, when Emmanuel College trounced Oxford's St John's, in University Challenge! In terms of the boat race Oxford would have been at Hammersmith Bridge when Cambridge were finishing. I tried not to gloat, though I did join in the admiration of geekish Alex Guttenplan who seemed to combine a compendious general knowledge, lightning intellect with a disarming willingness to say, 'We don't know.' I imagine he'll end up a professor. I suspect the General Election will be somewhat closer, but this year's Oxford/Cambridge clashes augur well for the outcome...!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Happy Easter

Saturday dawned and I looked forward to a quiet day before the Easter Vigil in the evening. Turned on the Today programme and heard their first headline: 'The Archbishop of Canterbury has said the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has "lost all credibility" over the way it dealt with paedophile priests.' 'Hmm!' I thought. 'That doesn't sound much like the Rowan Williams I know and respect. I can't see him undermining a sister church like that.' Of course it was based on one sentence taken out of context in a programme to be broadcast two days later on Radio 4. A misquoted sentence what's more. The Archbishop is very careful with his choice of words. He is both a poet and a Christian of immense charitableness. 

The headline and news item gave the impression that he thought the Irish Church had lost all credibility. I decided I'd listen to the programme this morning. Meanwhile I wondered who decided this would lead the news the day before Easter when the broadcast would be not be till Monday, and I remembered the Ray Gosling incident which didn't become news until after that broadcast. I know I mustn't get paranoid, and at least the BBC continues the custom of playing one verse of 'When I survey the wondrous cross' at 7 am on Good Friday. But still....

By Easter morning the BBC was still running the story with different wording: the Church was 'losing all credibility', but the story now was the indignant reaction of Catholic bishops. Of course he'd been quick to apologise to the Irish Archbishop Martin for the offence his words had caused. Actually, he wasn't saying he thought the Catholic Church was totally discredited in his opinion. He was describing the way it felt in public perception. Funnily enough in the programme itself today, 'Start the Week' with Andrew Marr, he appeared with two atheists, Philip Pullman and David Baddiel, and Professor Mona Siddiqi, the Muslim scholar - and he was full of graciousness. Condemning others was far from his spirit and far from the spirit of all his comments, including what he said about Ireland. I couldn't help thinking how remote was the possibility of the BBC apologising for misquoting and, more importantly, misrepresenting him. If not mischievous, it was careless.

Saturday afternoon: The boat race - Cambridge, the underdogs, won!!! 

In our light blue car that evening, Jane and I drove into Oxford at 8 and parked next to the University Athletics Ground. It was raining; so we sat in the car until Stephen and Luke Lehmann, the rising young hairstylist from London (, arrived and we made our way to the fire outside Greyfriars for the lighting of the Paschal candle. When the procession went up the steps into the church, Jane pushed me round the side way into the darkened church.

It was an emotional service, both the celebration of Jesus' resurrection with light bursting into the darkness and the renewal of baptism vows, and our son being welcomed into his new church. Afterwards, wine and warm cross buns and friendly talk in the refectory. What a great start to Easter! And so home by midnight. 
Christ is risen. Alleluia, alleluia!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia, alleluia!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Good Friday thoughts

I didn't quite get the sequence of The Passion of the Christ right yesterday. Washing the disciples' feet is in fact cut into Jesus' scourging, that barbaric torture of being lashed with rods and flails. Through his eyes we see the soldiers' feet splattered with his blood - and then cut to another sandalled foot which he is about to wash. The implication is it's not just the disciples whose feet he's come to wash (i.e. friends to die for). You can find the scene on YouTube.

It strikes me as a good image to put against yesterday's spoof poster. After all, prime minister just means 'first servant'. Aspiring politicians could do with keeping this picture in mind. This is what service means. Jesus says a lot about wanting to be first; even more he showed it... at what cost! (How about using this as an advert for the election with the slogan: 'Wanted - Prime Minister'?)

Today, Good Friday, is the anniversary of the first service we went to in Grove - the united service on Millbrook Green. We'd been to communion at our church before, which has an appropriateness on Good Friday. In The Passion of the Christ the flashbacks to the last supper are placed in the crucifixion. The bread and wine are more than symbols of his death. And here we enter mystery, which you either reject or accept, in my view.

Like last year it was cold and beginning to rain, but it was nice to realise we recognised more people, including our neighbours, Paul and Alison, playing in the silver band. In fact for me that was the best bit because the amplification was downwind and not very powerful - and I'm still half-deaf (and becoming increasingly sympathetic to my many friends with the affliction permanently) and so heard very little. However, as Jane said, as we hurried home, it was at least an offering (which is what worship's about). We arrived home to find we'd missed our pal Mandy who'd left a card and a book Jesus - a Portrait of Love. It's about the Issenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald. Of which one side is, I think, the first realistic portrayal of the agony in Renaissance Art:
And so we come to the 'end' of the story. One of the aspects of The Passion which struck me this time was the intense yet restrained portrayal of the grief of Mary, Jesus' mother, and Mary Magdalene, who with John the beloved disciple, formed a still point in the milling mob and then at the cross. The pain of looking on and being unable to do anything to help is unbearable and yet has to be borne. All they can do is wait and receive his body at the end. But of course it's not the end...
Michelangelo's Pieta

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Maundy Thursday

There's now a Facebook fanpage for 'I Choose Everything'. It's got rather a long link address, and so I've put a link here. Just click on it and you'll be there. I'm sure you'll want to become a fan; it will keep you up to date with the progress towards publication.

Today's 1st April and I enjoyed learning about Shakespeare's French mother, Mary Ardennes (not Arden, you see). The Today programme reported that a locket had been found in his house in Stratford.... But I particularly enjoyed the Guardian report of Labour's supposed seven new adverts: 'Labour strategists look set to embrace the PM's reputation for anger and confrontation with a national billboard campaign.'

On the subject of politics, I was pleasantly surprised by Channel 4's potential chancellors' debate on Monday. It wasn't a tiresome 60 minutes of point scoring. It was actually a substantial discussion of how to deal with our current economic plight. I hope the election campaign doesn't descend to 'Punch and Judy' politics, which politicians once vowed to eschew. 

Meanwhile more seriously I gather my former colleagues went to the cathedral for the Blessing of Oils. It's a custom on Maundy Thursday to get oil for anointing blessed by the bishop. I'm not sure why. I think it's to do with priests renewing their vows. I used to like the Maundy Evening service, the last communion before Easter morning - the institution of the Lord's Supper, when I used to wash people's feet, recalling Jesus' new command (mandatum, hence maundy) to love each other as he loved us.  

I was thinking about that this afternoon while watching Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. It's not a comfortable film to watch; in fact it's a long time since I've seen it. Canon Winkett says it has gratuitous violence. I suspect the Romans were gratuitously violent - think of gladiators, and crucifixions. But today I noticed the way it was cut between Pilate's handwashing and Jesus washing his disciples' feet - and then the cutting between crucifixion and last supper. And I love the ending: the stone rolled away, letting in the sunlight, and the restored body sitting there and then walking out into the new day, just a nail mark showing in the hand. It's powerful, the film and even more so the fact. No wonder people react so strongly for or against.