Friday, May 26, 2023

A Sensible Conversation about Immigration

I ask hesitantly but do you think we might be about to have a sensible conversation about immigration? The rhetoric about the subject has been appalling for a long time but I notice that today, with the figures for immigration just published and showing a record level, the Daily Mail led with a piece about 'attention-seeking eco-warriors' ruining the Chelsea Flower Show. I don't have any eco-warrior chums but if I did I'm sure they'd be grateful for the attention they sought.

In 2016 there were a couple of pro-Brexit arguments that turned my head. One was the economist Paul Mason arguing that Brexit would give an opportunity for a socialist, renationalising regime to rule unencumbered by EU economic pressure. See The Leftwing Case for Brexit (one day) in the Guardian, May 2016. We came close in 2017. Mason himself voted remain because he couldn't see this happening.

The other was Giles Fraser arguing that the EU made us more generous to refugees and asylum seekers from Europe than the rest of the world and this was unfair. He had further reasons for wanting to leave but he hoped that post-Brexit we would be generous with our borders over which we now had control. It seems as if this is now what has happened although the nature of our recent governments is that it has happened through their inadequately applying their own policies, not through welcome and hospitality to the alien and stranger. Which is, of course, why the immigration figures are not on page one of the Mail. We have '...a regime that neither displays compassion towards those seeking refuge nor gives voters confidence that the government has migration under control' (Andrew Rawnsley, The Observer 28/11/21).

And it is about this that I want to talk.

Surveys of the people of Britain end up with a clear majority for reducing immigration. Take the survey one issue at a time and we find people in favour of more immigration for NHS staff, fruit-pickers, genuine refugees and to buy the wonderful education product at our universities. The treasury keeps quiet because it loves increases in tax-paying immigrants at a time when there are more jobs than people. So our survey shows that people want to reduce immigration but few of the individual examples of it.

Incidentally this theory holds good for tax as well. People are in favour of reducing tax in general but increasing expenditure in particular (NHS, education, defence, pensions).

And so we have an interesting opportunity for a discussion. Neither of the major parties will currently sponsor it because they are both wooing the racist vote, without which they cannot form a majority. Racists don't want any immigration but if they have to have some they would rather it was coloured white. At the 'New Conservatives' conference last weekend Danny Kruger said the Prime Minister '...has the opportunity to win big if he leans into the realignment of politics that happened at the last election' (quoted in the iPaper 22/5/23). I think that's a call for policies to support white, working-class Brits, isn't it? If carried out there would be quite a risk that more reasonably-minded people would find someone else to vote for.

But good questions to be asking now are:

  • What is the ideal population size for the UK?
  • Do we want to be hospitable and welcoming to the alien and the stranger?
  • And, because this is at the heart of the British character, I think - what would be the fair thing to do?

Friday, May 05, 2023

Me, I'm 52% Republican

Don't let the upper-case R in the title fool you. Titles require that but my republicanism is strictly lower case and definitely I'm-not-exactly-certain. I wondered, and that's all this is, a wonder, what a country might do to resolve this internal conundrum that I am surely not alone in feeling? Coronations water that particular seed.

If you want to hear a more vicious attack on the monarchy then Frankie Boyle can help.

The role of the King in our country's public life is complex and, let's face it, pretty weird.  Speaking of the monarchy Simon Jenkins said 'It's hereditary basis is defensible only in being elemental and in remaining scrupulously impotent.' (Guardian 10/9/22) Can we not do better than to burden a family with the opportunity to spend their lives opening things whilst vesting them with no more than scrupulous impotence?

I suggest our country needs to grow up. Maybe we could embrace some version of agreed republicanism and own a written constitution. It surprises many people that although we have government by laws and rules they are not codified in a single, written document.

As a Church of England priest I have sworn allegiance to the crown on a number of occasions. It happens at ordination services and at installations. In my case the allegiance was always to the late Queen, and her successors, in all things legal and honest. That final clause reminds us that the King is not above the law. Be ye ever so high etc. As an established church the bishops of our country act as the monarch's representatives in their diocese. Visiting royalty can play havoc with the episcopal diary. They call the shots.

I didn't make my oaths with my fingers crossed behind my back. I was loyal whilst reserving the right not so much to rebel but to tentatively suggest that there may be another way of doing things.

There are some difficulties in changing the mind of a country. People are reluctant to line up publicly behind a view that they guess may be unpopular. The advantage of voting, or referenda, is that they are secret ballots.

I recently listened to James Burke as a guest on the You Are Not So Smart podcast. I had forgotten his wonderful series of programmes on TV (and the book that followed) setting out not only the great scientific discoveries of the modern era abut also how they are linked together. In the interview with presenter David McRaney, Burke suggests that we could use the power of the internet to set out a tentative idea and keep refining it and resubmitting it for voting and discussion until something came along that had general support and could be voted into law. The exact opposite of divide and rule, which has too high a profile currently.

There are many problems. In talking to people under the radar I find that a common hesitation is 'the sort of people who might become president'. Granted this has a certain marmite factor to it, but then so does electing a government.

We recently had a huge learning experience as a country. We put an issue to a referendum requiring people to vote yes/no on a massive and divisive issue without ever clarifying what the vote meant. It went badly and led to seven years, and counting, of appalling confusion. Thanks to Brexit we now know exactly how not to do something of that magnitude.

We don't need a heated debate. It doesn't need to go in any party's manifesto, until it can go in every party's manifesto. Let's have a nice chat about it, eh?

Monday, April 10, 2023

Julius Caesar RSC Saturday 8th April 2023

This is to theatre what Penn and Teller are to magic. We are shown the working. We start as if watching the warm up exercises of a rehearsal and then, cast dressed in ordinary clothes, they breathe out a historical drama.

Gender is fluid. Disability is normal and included. The musical and FX director appears on small screens. That music is brooding industrial ambient with spells of louder noise and rarer tuneful noise. Occasionally a guitarist, trombonist and vocalist climb onto the black obelisk upstage (pictured). A smoke machine is used. Ides and portents are personalised. Blood is black (but sometimes actor’s shadows have a red tinge). After the stabbing a two minute countdown on big screen tells us how long JC will spend dying. Later the same counter is used for the interval. Back projection on that screen is full of incomplete images, at one point showing us bits of Caesar’s body from strange angles and extreme close-up. I called to mind the opening credits of Se7en. Other images are brooding but also occasionally pastoral.

In part two colour, until then only sported by the country-accented narrator, is used in the place of the dead, the bodies stacking up in a pen like discarded chess pieces, no longer wearing black and white. Occasionally they haunt.

That black blood. It stains the white stage, despite stage-hands on a fervent interval cleaning regime, and the cast. All are infected like in the old TV infomercial about germs. Power corrupts all around it. In the old evangelical sermon on sin, it spoils. It spreads. It stains. Everyone has black blood on their hands and clothes by the end.

And the murder? Step by step we are drawn into the plot. If Caesar is as they say he is he has to go. No other way out. Except the Caesar we have been watching isn’t like that. Not dictatorial. The asides say he refuses the trappings of power.

I did this play at school over 50 years ago. I’d never been back, the class read-round spoiling it for ever. Well, not quite ever. Thanks RSC.

Other reviews (linked after) will have more to say about the acting, which I'll leave to them. In any event the regular actors were not all available for the show we saw and my increasing deafness did the cast no favours.

This is the RSC debut by Director Atri Banerjee. Some people have buried this woke Shakespeare. I praise it. More please.


How to Clean a Conservatory Roof

The conservatory roof was covered in moss and the window clearer wanted £100 to clean it. I speak fluent window cleaner and this translates as ‘I don’t want to do that’.

And so it came to pass that I spent a good chunk of last Saturday poking a long bamboo stick out of the bedroom window and then climbing a ladder to try from the other direction. Eventually the moss was clear but it needed washing down. From my new vantage point I met a new neighbour, whose garden backs onto ours. He offered a free and far reaching monologue on the abilities of the original owner of my house. That man apparently got a job lot of fence posts ‘off of the railway’ and then discovered there were no commercially available panels to fit the grooves but by then had concreted the posts in which is why the panels rattle in the wind. My new neighbour offered me a loan of his power washer.

As there wasn’t much cleaning to do now the moss was free I said I would take him up on his kind offer if the rain didn’t shift it. ‘That’ll be Monday’ said NN who has lived here thirty years and therefore knows about the rain’s plans.

All we needed were a couple of buckets of water to wash the debris down the roof and into the gutter. From my ladder vantage point I directed TCMT in the bathroom as to which panels needed rinsing and we had some success.

I need to digress for a moment here. TCMT and I have been married for sapphire years and together for 49. I know that she speaks mainly emotion and I speak if absolutely necessary and with some precision. I can have a spontaneous emotional discussion but I try to anticipate it and prepare. She, for her part, knows I like and use clear instructions. So what happened next is my fault. She had been pouring the water slowly, carefully and gently up to this point so my instruction, pointing to a bit we had missed, to ’Chuck some over there’ was meant to be about direction not power.

Instantly a whole bucketful of water was thoroughly chucked where I was pointing but, due to some science, that would not be the end of its journey. I was up a ladder directing operations and in a microsecond calculated that:
  • I was about to be soaked
  • I could avoid this by moving but that could only be down and fast and I might break a bit
I did what any sensible person would have done in the circumstances and shut my mouth. Two microseconds later my mouth was the only bit of me that did not contain water.

I repeat that this was entirely my own fault for being a cute systematising male. Oh, ‘acute’ is it? Sorry.

What is unforgivable is that the bucket wielder then began to laugh. Somewhat sympathetically and apologetically but uncontrollably nevertheless. The roof looks lovely. It is Monday and not currently raining.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Tubular Bells at 50

Tubular Bells, the first record released on Virgin Records own label, came out two days before I became eighteen. The music is on tour to celebrate its very significant birthday this year. Last night I saw the performance at Warwick Arts Centre, a fine venue on the university campus.

Virgin Records, Corporation Street, Birmingham was a very early branch of the chain. Hairy teenagers browsed racks of vinyl albums, occasionally being attracted by a sleeve and asking mates if anyone knew the music. There were four aircraft seats arranged back to back in the middle of the shop and thus four people could listen to music on headphones to sample it.

We once happened to find a set of headphones which had been deserted and enjoyed what was playing, so we enquired. It turned out to be Uriah Heap who were touring their latest album The Magician's Birthday. Coincidentally they were playing at Birmingham Town Hall that very night. We bought one copy of the record then went to the Town Hall and bought tickets. The gig was recorded and became part of a live album released later that year. I have a broken drumstick from the gig and me and my mates are part of the audience noise.

Walking back through the city centre with the distinctive black and white bag (and taking the same to school the following Monday) was a badge of honour. I love Shazam and Spotify but finding a copy of the unusual music you liked in those days had a much greater sense of hunting and killing.

Based on the audience last night I'd like to report that me and TCMT are in good nick for our age. For the most part bladders are weak, knees are knacked, hair is missing and weight has been added.

The gig, brilliantly written up from another venue on the tour by Peter Viney consisted of eight very talented musicians performing the album. Tubular Bells has indeed crossed over some line into the classical canon. As a largely instrumental work it can be performed and interpreted without the composer being present. I used to joke, to annoy classical snobs, that when they went to a performance they were going to see a Beethoven tribute band. I'll retire that now; its work is done. Anyway the unique difficulty of being a rock tribute act is that the vocal style of the lead singer is almost always distinctive in the best bands.

Part one of the show started with a segue of pieces of Oldfield's other works. Then two 'poppier' tunes for which he has writing credits. Moonlit Shadow, which we now associate with the Fast Show's Dave Angel and Family Man which I thought was a Hall and Oates song. Then a longer piece by keyboardist and musical director Robin Smith, which was delightful. Part two was Tubular Bells in full, the band demonstrating talent at more than one instrument and keyboard/samples filling in some gaps such as the introductions of the instruments to close what us oldies know as side 1.

I hadn't listened to the album in preparation and was amazed how I knew what was coming round every corner. Also, and this was unexpected, I found myself revisiting my life. This vinyl album, playing as I write, is now with me in its eighth home since I purchased it. It has raised kids, endured thirty seven years of ordained ministry and is now retired. It means something. A good night out.

Friday, March 03, 2023


I was born in Warwickshire. Some time during my early years I found myself in the West Midlands without moving house. I was given a post-code - B29 7HW. But I've always been a child of Warwickshire in my own eyes. I now live in Worcestershire but Warwickshire is 400 metres down the road. If I look poorly I've asked to be carried across the border.

I think, even by my standards, that reviewing a book published in 1936 is leaving it a bit late. But Warwickshire, in The King's England series merits a chat. I'm glad to have it because it feels like the sort of book that ends up on a pub bookshelf as decoration when the place gets post-modernised. Now it's a £3 investment in my rescue library.

This was a book I found in the wonderful Malvern Bookshop and, although I won't be reading it cover to cover, I will make a point of looking up every local place I visit. Why? Well a few examples will help but first let us see how it ended up in my house because it bears the evidence of having been a library book.

The proprietor told me that she often bought up collections so closed-down libraries were a key source. She was such a book buff that she kept behind the counter a book full of lovely sketch illustrations of dogs, 'I will only sell it to someone who promises not to remove the pictures and sell them separately', she told me. I don't know what the staining is on the inside cover page of my book and will not be finding out.

The copy I have is a 1950 reprint. I don't know if you can, offhand, think of anything that made a substantial difference to the appearance of Warwickshire towns and cities between 1936 and 1950 but the author could. Then chose to ignore it. Which, to be fair, is what makes the text zing. Every visit to a Luftwaffe drop-zone with this text reminds you of what the place used to look like. 

Let us head to Coventry. Or maybe the wonders of the clean air and dust-free buildings turn your thoughts to the Med? Did I say buildings? What buildings? It wasn't desirable to note that they are now missing.

But I am a child of Selly Oak. (My mother now pipes up from the grave reminding us, because she was a dreadful snob about this sort of thing, that I came from Selly Park, not Selly Oak.) Whatever, I have to say I failed to notice that I was in ' of the wonderful intellectual centres of England.' I had to walk half a mile into Edgbaston to get to one of the best schools in the country. And Selly Oak library warrants an illustration, although it is not of the building I remember which was black (from coal dust, probably), austere and next to a railway bridge.

The discussion of Selly Oak Colleges goes on the suggest that there is a possibility of a drinking vessel used at the last Supper being there. This interesting argument is slightly skewered by the inscription of the words of Jesus at that event on the goblet. Indiana Jones not heading our way.

My late Aunty Brenda was fond of saying 'I'm just going up the village' when she left the house to go to Selly Oak. It strikes me as a folk memory from a time before Birmingham came out and swallowed it, moving on in pursuit of Northfield, Rednal and Rubery

Although my favourite hard-to-visualise is the comparison of Sutton Coldfield's Parade with the famous Richmond in Surrey. Famous for being on-Thames I recall. Sutton what are you like? You misplaced the river.

I will be returning for further volumes.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Take Me To the River

I've written a bit about the local place names recently, catch up here. The name Harvington (where I live) is derived from old words for army, ford and village (settlement or farm). Thing is, the mighty Avon sort of rushes by a bit and it is over a mile away so it is hard to imagine anyone wandering across.

But on our Sunday afternoon constitutional today we walked down to the river and the low vegetation at this time of year enabled us to get right down to the bank. And there we discovered (OK, noticed) that there is an underwater paved surface before the weir. You can see in the photo a track running down to it on the far bank by the blue car, which stopped helpfully. There is a corresponding track where I was standing. The ford is roughly defined by the area where the water ripples.

Once over it is another mile to the oldest part of the village where church, pub and houses named after former tradespeople are situated.

But yes, the story makes sense. Here be a place where an army could once have crossed a river. It is probably the case that the human-made ford created the weir rather than vice-versa. It is ironic that there now has to be a lock to enable craft to get past this point. It feels like a metaphor for water travel giving way to road travel. Since the Harvington by-pass has been by-passed (A46 Stratford to Evesham section) this story may well run and run.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Delivery Slots

Forgive me accessing my inner Tim Dowling but this happened.

We bought a sofa bed. Quick tip. If you want a sofa bed demonstration in a furniture department and there are no partners (oops, what a giveaway) around to help, try doing it yourself, badly, and pretty soon you will be surrounded by advice.

We managed to purchase a product that was in stock, so delivery was agreed for next Wednesday which meant today.

'They'll text you the day before to give you a two hour window.'

Yesterday that text arrived and the two hour window was 7.00 a.m. - 9.00 a.m. The text also said they would message again when half an hour away.

'What shall we do?' asked Mrs Dowling (see how it works).

Now I know what the answer to this question is. If it had happened that I had been home alone to receive the delivery I would have set an alarm for 6.45 a.m., popped on some clothes, made a coffee and had a look at my phone to see if they had been in touch yet.

However anticipating that, as ever, there are two ways to answer a question such as this, my wife's way and the wrong way, I provided this answer aloud:

'You set your alarm and then bring me a coffee in bed.'

She looked a little sad for no reason but no more was said.

This morning I heard Mrs D get out of bed (but not her alarm) and a short time later a cup of coffee was indeed placed at my bedside. I popped to the loo (noting that the heating had not yet come on), came back to bed, had a sip of coffee and checked the time. 6.16 a.m. This, we note, is 14 minutes earlier than the earliest possible half hour notice text. I went back to snoozing.

At (I calculate) 6.31 a.m. a voice on the landing disturbs my slumber to say the delivery will be at 7.00 a.m. I go back to snoozing.

At 6.45 a.m. I find myself fully awake so turn on the light and grab something to read while finishing my lukewarm coffee.

I am collecting outrageous quotes from HTSI (The Financial Times' weekly guide to spending lots of money) and find this, 'If you want to achieve your dreams you have to hustle.' Suppose your dream is to be nice to as many people as possible?

At 6.59 a.m. I hear a van arrive in our quiet cul-de-sac. I get out of bed and put on some joggers and a t-shirt, insert my teeth and smooth my hair over.

At 7.00 a.m. there is a knock on the door. I wander downstairs and answer it (there is no sign of Mrs D). A man with a large box asks where I want it?

'Would upstairs be OK?' I ask.

'Sure', he says, far too cheerily for 7.01 a.m.

Mrs D joins us during the second box (of three). She whispers that she was in the loo (at precisely, precisely mind, the time they said they would be here).

I am now writing an amusing anecdote having wished five friends a happy birthday, prepared and eaten my breakfast, sorted out the washing, and read HTSI, Feast and the Church Times. I've even had an internal dialogue about Oxford commas. Not happy with the result.

I have never heard the sound of a sofa bed being assembled upstairs but I'm taking a wild guess. I am pressing P for publish whilst still within the two hour delivery slot.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Lenches

If you were creating four teams to play a game I wonder what you would be likely to call them. Maybe 1,2,3 and 4 or A,B,C and D.

Where I now live, the village of Harvington in Worcestershire, the church benefice consists of St James, Harvington and three others. It is called 'The Lenches Benefice'; because two of the other parishes have the word 'Lench' in their name and there are five Lench villages altogether. The fourth parish is Abbots Norton

Now you might expect that these Lench villages communities would consist of North, South, East and West Lench, or Upper and Lower Lench. Hold those expectations lightly. This part of the world thinks nothing of calling a village Slaughter or Piddle. So what are the Lenches called?

In no particular order they are Church Lench, Ab Lench, Rous Lench, Atch Lench and Sherrif's Lench. Let us visit this nomenclature and try to find sense.

Firstly the word lench itself. It is mainly agreed by historians that the word derives from an old English word (linch) for a ridge of high ground. We do indeed live in the Vale of Evesham where even relatively modest high ground appears prominent.

Church Lench was named because it was the first of the small settlements to have a church. Except there was a church at Rous Lench dating from roughly the same time. During some of the 13th century it was known as Lench Roculf after the manorial family (there is still a Manor House but it isn't that old). It is in the Domesday Book as Circelenz.

Ab Lench (for a while called Hob's Lench) was probably named after an individual, maybe an Aebba. In an effort to take the village upmarket it was renamed Abbots Lench in the 19th century and was thus named in the 1911 census. This didn't catch on with anyone except the Post Office who insist on its continued use even though they have changed their own name since and expect us to comply.

Atch Lench could refer to an individual called Aecci, or it might just mean 'east'. It is the most easterly of the settlements.

Rous Lench is named after a family who were Lords of that manor for 500 years. It had been called both Lench Randolph and Bishop's Lench. You will see other spellings such as Rouse and Rowse.

Sherrif's Lench was held by the Sherrif of Worcestershire.

So, if your four teams are called 1, B, East and Green the people of the Lenches will like your style and welcome you.

Now as to Harvington. I think we know that a ton is a farm or small settlement. The suggestion most commentators agree upon is that the Har bit is from 'here', an old word for army. And the Ving is a bastardised form of 'Ford'. So Herefordton became Harvington - a place where the army could cross the Avon (a word which means river so the river Avon is the river River). The Avon is not far from the south part of the village although walkers will need to find a safe place to cross the A46. Apparently the ford is still there but the river is now deeper, faster-flowing and has no road leading to or from. Not advised.

This has been fun so I'll do more as and when.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Quietly Getting on with It

Hey, Christians,

How do you feel when someone urges you to be more passionate for your faith? Maybe you are already pretty much on fire and feel 'This is not about me'. Perhaps you are nowhere near passionate yet and need an intermediate step before your funeral will be full of eulogies describing you as such. Or possibly you (and this is me, OK?)  don't particularly do passion in that way. You live your life with the passionometer slightly below central leaving you content in all things but rarely angry or enthusiastic. You don't tweet about your excitement before a gig or curtain up. You have never, knowingly, been stoked.

And how do you feel when someone tells you that the problem with men today is that we no longer know how to lead. They mean the family headship thing and 'they' is almost always a heterosexual man who goes to the gym but not to do CV, has at least five children and can hold his breath longer than you while his beautiful wife looks after the children.

And how do you feel when a leader describes their priorities in life as if they were on a things to do list? You know:

1. God

2. Family

3. Church

Having the word 'God' on that list confuses me. It is a category error. Why isn't 'breathing' on the list? Surely it's a priority, unless you're holding your breath for now.

This is stick preaching more than carrot. Or, if it is carrot it is from the Malcom Tucker playbook, who will use the stick to shove the carrot up his victim's arse.

I feel the 'this doesn't apply to me' thing so much in the face of evangelical preaching these days. Even in the midst of doubt I am not discontent.  I am accepting of the fact that it is me who is doubting  - dubitatio ergo sum - which proves my existence and would please Descartes if not the Alpha Course.

No. In the routine, grass roots of life and faith I am content. It is OK to stumble through the long grass finding occasional paths and much local beauty. Not everything is a competition on doctrinal precision. Not everything is divisible into man task and woman task. Quiet inner peace is not a passion fail.

Occasionally my church commitments have meant disappointing my family. They are nice people. They understand. They certainly do not want to be on any list that includes my work tasks.

Welcome News

Good morning and welcome to St Whatsits on this beautiful spring/summer/autumn/winter morning.

Good morning and welcome to St Whatsits. It's a (dull/wet/miserable/god-forsaken) day out there but we have a warmth of fellowship in here.

Heard those? I have a bit of trouble with the gushy sentimental opening line of a church service - well intentioned I'm sure - which suggests it is wonderful to worship the Lord on a day when the sunshine lifts our spirits or that the worship is an antidote to gut-sapping weather.

My problem? My spirit is not particularly bound to meteorology. Granted this England has provided consecutive weeks of summer greyness, which is the teensiest bit depressing although mainly because I like shorts and T-shirts. Other times I am longing for rain after weeks of drought and the 'beautiful summer morning' line feels insensitive. And when I have hay-fever I want the weather outside to be frightful and the fire so delightful and I don't care who disagrees.

So many more things than weather come into a church service with me and affect my capacity to worship. I'm a big fan of 'Good morning and welcome to St Whatsits' followed by a singable hymn/song and a few minutes for the liturgy to do its work. Then I might be able to get in touch with how I actually feel, regardless of the rain and its sweet memories.

And I don't know where you put the notices either.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Found Poem

This is called Pure Gym Wall Words:

Access code
Black box 18
Black box 24
Black box 38
PT zone
Meet the experts

Cleaning station
Brilliant stuff
Hydration station
Ignite your fire
Emergency help point

Everybody welcome
Polite notice
Lifters' code
General waste

Flex 'til you feel good
Safety station
Train safe
Impress yourself
Could you do that a week ago?

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Losing It

In the mid 1990s I was helping to set up a stand at an exhibition and the hall had no heating on. So I went to a 24/7 Tesco megastore in Manchester and bought a fleece. I recall asking  my colleague, Clive, what sort of person shopped at Tesco at midnight and he looked at me and said 'You'.

I came very close to losing it the other day. It wouldn't have been the fault of the checkout assistant at Pets at Home but it was in front of him.

Those of you who know me will probably now be wondering what sort of pet I have. I don't. I simply wanted to recharge the garden bird feeders. There is no local independent pet shop like Aaron's in Nailsea here, so I had to go to the out of town retail park world where Pets at Home lives.

I found what I needed and took it to the counter. Assistant looked at me and asked 'Do you have a loyalty card?' I kept it together and managed to say 'No'. What I wanted to say was 'Do I look like the sort of person who has a f***ing Pets at Home loyalty card?' Offered a 10% discount on my peanuts, suet balls and sunflower hearts if I signed up then and there, I agreed to get one. 

He asked me a number of questions including 'What sort of pet(s) do you have?'

'None' was not an answer the computer could stomach. He put 'bird'.

I now have a Pets at Home app. It's a VIP card and is accessed, I kid you not, though a Pawtal. And if I want a good deal on, cages, mirrors and perches it's only a click away. Just in case I forget, I get weekly emails reminding me of this plus invites to join Vets4Pets or Companion Care.

What sort of person has a Pets at Home loyalty card and app? The same sort of person who buys a fleece at an out of town hypermarket at midnight. Me. Loser.

There were no birds visiting our new garden. I've counted seven species so far. Redemption. Not quite Falling Down territory.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022


We've been down-sizing. Naively we thought moving to a house half the size of our big vicarage meant only taking half our furniture. If you read no further paragraphs and want a single take-away from this piece please note that furniture designed for big rooms can't make that journey. Doing what we have done you will need to get rid of most of your furniture and purchase smaller pieces.

Over the years we have collected several items in pine and these created the theme of our last two homes. I wrote only this summer about the lovely old ironmonger's counter units we had procured, with the stated hope that we could keep them. In fact we gave two to our younger son and his family and brought two with us. A couple of weeks into living here in our new home and we worked out they were too big for the space. Also, surprisingly, it turns out that a big part of liking them was the space in which they lived. Without wishing to sound pretentious, this is not a pine house. It has a sleeker, more modern vibe. No carpets downstairs. Wood painted black,. Blinds not curtains. And the usual modern bathroom accessories that are a triumph of style over function.

Our last two houses have been big. Our Victorian terrace in Leamington had three floors,  many rooms and decent high ceilings. Our modern vicarage in Nailsea had a couple of huge spaces in which ordinary furniture got lost. Our conservatory alone had a four seater corner sofa, the biggest of the old counter-cupboards and a dining table that seated twelve, comfortably. There were two further sofas in the lounge. Fate of the older one is pictured.

There is a modicum of truth in the saying that clergy are middle-class people in upper class houses on lower-class salaries.

One of my main sources of joy in an ordinary week is the FT Weekend glossy supplement HTSI. It used to be called How To Spend It which is a big clue as to what it might be like. The first six pages are usually double-page promotionals for watches. No, not Swatches.

It is not devoid of ideas for the cute use of space, something we are working very hard on just now. This week there was a special focus on someone who has chosen to live in an open-plan cave. Not an actual cave but a purpose-built one. The pictures of the accommodation are beautiful and could probably manage well enough without being described as ' organic celebration of the curvilinear.' We learn that open-plan living 'requires a robust approach to one's ablutions'. Yes folks, in this space everyone can hear you stream. Anyone got the number for Private Eye's Pseuds' Corner?

The HTSI subjects have a lot of space.  We don't. So we have spent five weeks carefully monitoring dead space where things might be kept. We need to lose one more pine unit completely and a huge pine dresser which we spent real  money on in 1984. One further shop display case can stay but needs painting to blend in. The last of the four old counter units is going in the garage as useful storage.

Yesterday we threw more money at a bespoke shelving solution (sorry, I've caught pretentiousness now) than we spent on each of our first three cars, even allowing for inflation. Turns out that making things small, compact and beautiful is expensive. And meeting a wonderful local carpenter gave us a couple of ideas for space-saving which we hadn't thought of. Can't quite afford Scooby Doo wardrobe doors but they are enticingly cool. Thanks, James Adcock.

Carrying with us our Arts and Crafts mantra and thus trying to have nothing in our home that isn't useful or beautiful (don't ask how I made the cut) we have entered the world of sofa-beds, integrated kitchen appliances and flat-screen TVs. We do already have some pleasing quiet corners though, with a few more to come.

Minimalism is a bit of a reach from here, see kitchen picture, but the next month sees the premier of Ruthlessness II; this time it's serious.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Constant Deterioration

There is a joke told about a vicar who has just announced he is leaving. 

An older parishioner is talking to him in the coffee queue later. 'We'll never find another one as good as you' she says .

The vicar acknowledges this apparent kindness and suggests there are plenty of fine candidates out there.

'No, no' she says 'I've been here through five vicars and every one's been worse than the previous one.'

I thought of this joke during the budget. 

In 2010 we had a Conservative led coalition which decided on austerity. Showing his working the appalling David Cameron announced that it was always good to fix the roof when the sun is shining. Then he took all the extra money he and his journeyman chancellor collected and put it away to use to fix the roof on some future date when roof-fixing was more expensive. In his metaphor the roof was debt not infrastructure.

Coming to the end of his five years (remember the Fixed-term Parliaments Act?) he then made a reckless promise which he never expected to have to keep because the sound of the boos of the crowd when any member of his team presented Olympic Medals must have still been ringing in his ears. Unexpectedly winning a small majority he was stuck in a corner with the promise of an in/out referendum on EU membership. This led to the first stirrings of Boris, probably not because of his enthusiasm for democracy but the idea of some in/out action. Meanwhile Cameron insisted that the government would act on the result of the referendum.

We are familiar with 2016 and the marginal, probably rigged, referendum which divided the country and even some families. Reminds me of the old joke about a stranger being approached in Belfast during the troubles. 'Are you a Protestant or a Catholic?

'Actually, I'm an atheist.'

'Yes, but are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic one?

Are you a remainer or a brexiteer?

Neither, we've left. 

Yes, but are you a...? Well it doesn't quite work but it should.

Cameron resigned, because he was a staunch remainer, humming a little hum as he went and the obvious choice for replacement was someone who had campaigned for remain as he had. Theresa May's big idea was to get the country behind her so she held a General Election and lost her slender majority. Nevertheless she got to a point where she had a deal with the EU but her party voted it down. She resigned and Boris Johnson replaced her, immediately going to the EU and negotiating a worse deal than the one just rejected. He took this to the electorate in 2019 and got a majority back for his 'oven-ready' deal which his party then approved. Ian Duncan-Smith told us it didn't need any more scrutiny because every line had been scrutinised over and over again. Never over-estimate the ability of a quiet man. Shortly afterwards Johnson and Co decided it wasn't very good and tried to put it back in the freezer. Sadly no-one has yet invented an uncooker.

Meanwhile the world got Covid 19 and our under-invested (austerity, remember) healthcare providers and government of all the finest minds that thought Brexit was a good idea, were a bit slow to act and a lot cronyist in their contract allocation. During this time Johnson lied again and again to his colleagues, Parliament and even the late Queen. His home became the most-fined address in the UK having broken lockdown regulations.

It took just over two years for the nakedness of the new emperor to become apparent to his colleagues and then there was a bit of a wait for the letters of no-confidence to arrive with the entire cabinet acting like naughty children. Almost everyone had a go at being Education Secretary.

So Johnson was forced out and the single transferable vote system to find a new Conservative leader (yes, even they use it) gave us another Remainer who alleged she had seen the light and said she would be making unpopular decisions but wasn't sufficiently clear that this was because tanking the UK economy is, by and large, unpopular with everyone. As I write our savings are looking precarious, our rivers full of shit, our mortgages unaffordable, our hospitals in meltdown and I really have no idea who is Education Secretary without googling it. Our Home Secretary rejoicing in the idea of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is not only cruel and unpopular with almost everyone - it seems to have persuaded India to pull out of a trade deal. Our PM failed to be immediately clear that the French were our allies, when asked. I've lost count of how many Tory MPs are currently suspended while sex crimes are being investigated. The Truss weeks (she can't survive months, surely?) feel like we are being used as the toys of someone who fancied playing with a country to see what it was like. Get UK22 for the PS5 and see if you can do better. If you press the 'Blame Brexit' button you have to start again.

This has been the worst twelve years of UK management I have experienced in my life. I think it's going to get worse. I'd love to be wrong.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Introversion and Royalty

Enough has been written about the Late Queen Elizabeth II in the last 48 hours. I was determined not to say anything unless I had something original to add.

I want, for a moment, to ask if we are really getting our empathy right.

Quite a few times I have read the critique of Johnson's Downing Street mob that they partied while the Queen was forced to grieve alone. Now I will stand aside for no-one in the queue to denigrate that ghastly government. It's part two of the sentence I want to get us to think about.

If you google 'Queen's personality type' you find many links to the idea that she was ISTJ:

I = introverted and therefore energised by her inner world

S = relied on the information provided by her senses rather than intuition

T = preferred to think things through rather than work off feelings

J = chose an ordered approach to life rather than a 'let's see what happens'

S, T and J make perfect sense and suggest a good match with her duties.

But in these sorts of profiles the words 'introvert' and 'extrovert' are used in a specialised way. Introverts make great actors. More than half the clergy are introverts. Introverts can do people skills and enjoy it. But they are not energised by it. Energy is recovered alone and in private later with reflection, space, peace and maybe a book as the maximum stimulation.

The opposite is true of extroverts who can sit quietly alone for a while but then recover their energy with company.

Introverts don't like small talk, crowds and parties. Take a moment to reflect on the dutiful service of a monarch who was an I and served for 70 years.

I am not ashamed to admit that as an I myself there was something extremely blessed about Covid 19. No meetings or parties. A daily hour long walk by myself. Time to sit alone and read, think or reflect.

Please feel free to be sad with everyone who has lost a loved one. But please do not assume that being forced to sit alone at a smaller-than-expected funeral was a burden. Being the chief mourner at a funeral is a tough business. You are on caring-for-everyone-else's-grief duty. However much I  hated having to do that job a couple of times it is surely amplified a hundredfold for a dignitary. May I dare to suggest that the pictures of a masked Queen, sitting alone in the choir stalls at Prince Philip's funeral, may be pictures of her doing something the way she would have chosen for perhaps the only time in her life. 


Friday, August 19, 2022

Introversion and School Days

There was a history master at King Edward's School (KES) who took us at A level. He was called Charles Blount. Wore waistcoats. Bit of an upper crust accent. His teaching style was to lecture, with occasional pauses when he would question someone about something he had either covered before or reckoned should be part of the general knowledge of an Edwardian.

He went round the class in turn with his questions. Those of us who tended more to general ignorance than knowledge dreaded the moment our turn came. We could concentrate on little else as the geography of the enquiries reached our vicinity.

My first ever question in this context was 'What is anti-clericalism?' You may sense some deep prophetic undertone in this. You'd be right. Being poor at history but reasonable at vocabulary I took the phrase apart in my head and gave the answer 'A dislike of the clergy'. 'That's right' said Charles. I enjoyed the sense of relief that it would be a lesson or two before my turn came again and, furthermore, I had answered a question on a matter not yet covered. General knowledge demonstrated. Smugness.

Several weeks later, with no recollection of having answered a question correctly in the meantime and having achieved a mark of 5/20 for my first essay, there was a lesson in which the questions were getting nearer. If I was lucky I would be saved by the bell. I was not.

Then came my question. I couldn't believe my ears. 'What is anti-clericalism?' The very same, although this time it was a matter we had covered and I knew a bit more about it than could be achieved by parsing. Nevertheless I gave the same answer as it had worked before. I was shocked to hear 'No, it's more than just a dislike of the clergy, anyone else?'

Although I remained silent at such a brush off my inner monologue was raging. What is the point? Some of us are born to be wrong. I give up. I think I may have resolved that I would lose less face if I answered 'Don't know' to all further questions. Remarkably, history was my best A level and I enjoy reading history now.

There was an English master at KES called Tom Parry. He taught my class English, and history, at O level. Very Welsh. I got good grades in both subjects but he didn't seem to like me. Took every opportunity to belittle me in front of the class and was reluctant to admit I didn't need special measures.

One day he asked us, out of the blue, what we were reading for pleasure. I used to read all the time at home and had always got a novel on the go but the terror of how my personal taste would be received by my friends made my mind go blank. I ended up mentioning a couple of Ian Fleming's James Bond books and was told most people grow out of those in primary school. The Parry plaudits were saved for one who had been reading Dostoevski. KES had that sort of 15 year old.

These stories came back to mind as I read Susan Cain's book 'Quiet Power'. It is a follow-up to her best-selling 'Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking'.

Whilst not an extreme of the type I am introverted by personality. I didn't know that as a teenager although my parents observed I spent a lot of time alone and Mum thought it was odd. Dad didn't. He often took himself away to a quiet corner for a cigarette and a look at the newspaper.

Introverts find it hard to interact in class, are often listening when they don't look as if they are, and hate being jumped on with questions when they are unprepared. Susan Cain's follow up book is about people such as me, growing up. It is aimed at teenagers but has a chapter for parents and one for teachers too. I was the kid who needed time alone after school, or to visit a local, undemanding friend to play football or cricket in the garden, or a board game in winter. Thanks Steve. School was emotionally draining but I didn't know.

Susan Cain sees introversion as a super-power, thinking as desirable and quiet as normal. But if this quote represents you then, however late it is, you might find her two books helpful:

'Sometimes, by the time we think of the thing we truly want to say, the discussion is already over.'

Nobody is more surprised than me that I ended up with a career which involved much public-speaking. The secret, if it is a secret now I'm telling you, is this. We can do it if we're ready and prepared. I now challenge myself to do some talks unprepared without notes. It's still cheating because it is usually on a subject I've been discussing for over 40 years. Hardly unprepared. But straight after a new piece of input I won't know what I think and won't be able to discuss it. But I will be able to lead a discussion and, whilst listening to this, I will clarify my thoughts.

Fine book.

Monday, August 08, 2022


One of the changes I made in my last two parish posts was very subtle, and I doubt if it was noticed or has lasted. It was certainly never commented upon. They were both places where, on arrival, I learned that the habit of the service leader on a Sunday was to say 'Good morning everyone' and then wait for a reply. 

Now, there is a way of making it clear, although you need some timing skills, that you expect a reply. If you don't have those skills the response will be a bit hit and miss and you will not be sure if the congregation is with you. At this point comedy value can be extracted by doing the pantomime thing of saying 'There's nobody here. I'd better try again.' Any children in the congregation will now shout back, at minimum.

For an example of expecting a reply when you have no communication skills try the Liz Truss cheese speech (I found it by googling that word string, so popular it has become).

So I always begin services with:

'Good morning and welcome to <name> church. If you are a visitor, newcomer or just passing though it is great to have you with us.' No reply required.

I thought of this because I now attend a church where each of the first three people to stand up front tends to say good morning, although few are looking for a reply when they do it. The service leader says good morning and welcomes the notice-giver who says good morning who quite often then introduces a second notice-giver who then says good morning and it is not unknown for further good mornings to be issued by the lesson reader and the preacher. One service leader also regularly includes some weather-based commentary and yesterday some how-to-behave-in-the sun advice. Amazingly it is not a place where people are often late yet we usually don't start the service within ten minutes of the advertised start time. At my last parish 25% of the congregation arrived after the welcome.

The thing I love most of all is that I am now retired and this is not my problem and does not annoy me. It's a local church full of local people being normal. What's not to like? Good morning.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Stump Speech Needed

This is a bit stream-of-consciousnessy so don't murder me on the detail. But if I had an opportunity to vote for a leader of our country I would vote for the person who got closest to saying this:

Since 2010 a lot of mistakes have been made.

It was a mistake to force five years of austerity on the UK when record low interest rates offered a unique opportunity to invest in the future.

It was a mistake to tie a future Conservative government to a referendum on EU membership.

It was a mistake (and divisive) to agree to act decisively on a result that was little more than 50/50.

It was a mistake to fly in to an aggressive and hard Brexit, upsetting our international friends and turning the country into a place where people mocked each other for their referendum vote.

It was a mistake to say no deal is better than a bad deal when ‘No Brexit is better than a bad Brexit’ might have made more sense.

It was a mistake to tell people a Brexit deal was oven-ready in 2019 leaving us in a place where the almost-former PM is praised for getting Brexit done whilst a priority for the future is to sort out Brexit.

It was a mistake to suggest that anything other than Brexit could now happen. Even people who had not voted for it felt, at minimum, that we should not go against a democratic decision.

It was a mistake to dismiss all the so-called 'remainers' from the Conservative Party unless they recanted.

So where are we? We are probably, as a country, compelled to be committed to remaining. Remaining, that is, outside the European Union. We should all be that sort of remainer now. And yes, we should mess around with the language. National Living Wage anyone?

We must honour the current solution to the land border with the EU on the island of Ireland until someone has a better idea. Trust must be restored with our friends in the EU that they can be sure signed agreements will be honoured.

It was a mistake that we did not invest in the infrastructure to reduce our country’s reliance on fossil fuels earlier. Climate change should be at the front of all we do from now on.

It was a mistake to make the task of seeking refuge here harder. People who need asylum should be welcome. We have jobs that need doing. People wanting safe refuge could even do them while they wait.

It was a mistake not to put traffickers out of business by making it easier to get here

It was a mistake to confuse going first with leading. Mr Johnson as Prime Minister praised himself for his vaccine roll-out and Ukrainian interventions. Other nations have now got a greater percentage of their population vaccinated. A co-ordinated approach to Ukraine and Russia will have more power. 

It was a mistake to announce a 'war on woke'  whilst, at the same time, committing to uniting people. Since many of us interpret 'woke' as we interpreted 'political correctness'—a desire not to see any discriminated against—we do not feel much unity. 

It was a mistake to campaign against coalitions. Recently we have seen the single transferable vote used to decide a new Conservative leader and Prime Minster. Why can't we use it to choose our MPs? The Conservatives, the right, are a coalition in one party. The left are not. Proportional Representation will fix this. Who can argue that a few more green MPs would not be useful. But even a slightly fairer voting system would help. We are almost the last country in Europe still using FPTP. Leadership, anyone? 

Say that taxes are good. Say that education is good. Say that free health care is good. Say that rules and regulations to protect conditions at work are good. In fact say that you think the job of a government should be to arrange to provide things people acting individually would not pay for, including the armed forces.

You want my vote? Deal with this and I'll listen. And work out how to unite a country that consists of me and my ilk and another Steve who says this on our local town Facebook Forum:

‘It was just a freak wind that blew the heat up from the Sahara. Climate change is just another way of screwing every penny out of people. It’s all a load of rubbish and no I am not a conspiracy theorist just someone with common sense that don’t believe everything the media preaches for the large company owners and governments who control them’
(On the 7/22 high temperatures)

‘If Boris can pull off the Rwanda deportation of the non war torn illegal aliens, and let’s be honest there’s plenty of them, then despite all of his faults he will get my vote at the next general election. France is not a war torn nation’


Thursday, June 30, 2022

Holiday Reading Recommendations

Here are a few books I read on holiday, or recently completed, which I feel might be good away-from-it-all reads. The score out of 10 is by no means justified in any other way than the level of poolside/beach escapism each provided:

Graeme Macrae Burnett
Case Study

This story is so realistic and convincing that I joined the vast number of people who have googled 'Collins Brathwaite' to see if the novel was based on a real person. Was this charismatic counsellor a regular guest on 1960s cult TV programme 'Late Night line Up'?

This is a cracking yarn. Narrator 'GMB' (the author?) blurs the line between fiction and faction beautifully. The story examines whether a controversial psychotherapist could have caused someone to take their own life. The deceased's sister adopts a false identity to become a patient and investigate. It does her head in.

John le Carré

A retired MI6 agent uses a bookshop in a sleepy seaside town as a front for some clandestine stuff. All the usual dialogue-based plot advancing we've come to expect from the master in his final novel, plus a few fine lines of political observation, '...poor, toothless, leaderless Britain ... still dreams of greatness and doesn't know what else to dream about.'

Sarah Moss
Summer Water

I really enjoyed 'The Fell'. This, her previous book from 2020, has the same sense of foreboding and dread that something bad is going to happen, but who to? And what? It is a short, but slow, read until the final pages, which you will read too fast feeling like your roller coaster has hit the first drop. Then you'll go round again to be sure you know what happened.

Anne Tyler
Redhead by the Side of the Road

So it's just possible that the person on Micah's doorstep claiming to be his son is telling the truth. More interesting is the impact this revelation has on the life of someone who lives by routine, once it gets thrown. Short and nicely observed.

Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Sympathizer

People of my age all have the filtered and edited story of Viet Nam in our heads. It was in the years after the end of the war that the questions began. In 'The Sympathizer' Nguyen addresses these issues through a narrator who is part French, part Vietnamese, a communist trusted by the south who ends up in America. Time in the film industry leads to many discussions about the depictions of the Vietnamese in the movies. When he, nicknamed 'the bastard' because he belongs to no-one, returns to his home country he is needlessly tortured, not for secrets but to admit his own lack of knowledge and identity. Leaving us with the question 'What was all that for?' Funny, moving, gruelling, complex and thrilling. Won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016.

John Banville

My previous experience of Banville is of beautiful, but slow, writing. Here he gives his attention to the death of a priest in a country house murder mystery set in Southern Ireland in the 1950s. DI Strafford (always irritated when the first R is omitted from his name) feels the December cold as he investigates. It is not one where the bodies pile up but where the slow graft of investigation through conversation in the age just before easy mass communication reaps rewards. Splendidly done and well paced.

Broken Ghost
Niall Griffiths

My best read of the holiday. Three people experience a strange spectral vision on a Welsh mountain top. One blogs about it. It goes viral. The place of the experience becomes a place of commune and pilgrimage. Ironically this is at the same time as the actual rehabilitation community nearby loses its funding. The three characters, one closely associated with the commune, return to their chaotic normality - for one alcohol, another sex and a third violence.

I found it easiest to read by giving a voice I knew to each main character as the chapters chop and change between them, and the narrator. So in my world:

Cerys Matthews played Emma
Iolo Williams narrated
Rhod Gilbert was Crawley
Jamie Carragher was Adam

This book is hugely important in its acknowledgement of social problems and authority. It is quite sad but very real. Redemption is dangled and reached for. Who can hang on?

The Appeal
Janice Hallett

This is a very unusual page-turner. A Head of Chambers asks two Junior Counsel to read a file of evidence - mainly messages, emails and transcripts with the occasional post-it note. He asks them who they think was murdered, why, who went to prison and whether that was the right decision.

We read the same documents as them.

They have a stab and are then given some more info. The context of the crime is members of an Amdram society putting on a play at the same time as raising money for a sick child.

Some of the insights into village life are extraordinarily perceptive and funny. But do enjoy solving the case. I picked up a couple of clues but did not piece it all together until the denouement.

Also recommended this year:

T.J.Newman - Falling (page turner airplane hijack thriller) (7/10)
Abigail Dean - Girl A (forensic exploration of siblings rescued from abusive parenting) (8/10)
Steve Cavanagh - The Devil's Advocate (courtroom and thrilling - the new Grisham) (7/10)
Steve Cavanagh - Twisted (7/10)
Chris Brookmyre - The Cut (murder, mystery, thriller) (7/10)
Dave Eggers - The Every (trying to stop big tech taking over the world) (8/10)
Danile Wiles - Mercia's Take (life of a Black Country miner in the C19th) (9/10)
Amor Towles - The Lincoln Highway (road-trip in the wrong direction; beautiful characters) (10/10)
Tim Weaver - No One Home (three couples, one hamlet, all missing) (8/10)
Colson Whitehead - Harlem Shuffle (furniture shop owner does petty crime on the side then gets caught up in something bigger) (8/10)

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Lessons from Ironmongery

I have been quiet on the blogging front recently. Many of you know that I retired in January. Circumstances have conspired to leave us renting our old home until a much-delayed new one is ready. Looks like September now.

The good bit of this is that our older son, who came back to live with us last year, has a little more time to find a new home in Bristol. And the rush to downsize and get packed and moved whilst winding down and handing on my job has been much more relaxed. Whatever your position on the map of faith most kind people would agree that 37 years as a clergyman might have been a bit gruelling. I have now been retired for longer than any period of sabbatical or study leave I have ever had so my psyche is beginning to realise that it doesn't have to go back to work on Monday.

Back in the autumn, when we still imagined we would be getting out in the New Year, we went round the house looking at our possessions, especially the larger ones. Stuff had to go, as the contents of a five bedroomed vicarage prepared to be poured into a three bedroomed home.

Figure 1
We used a three-colour traffic-light label system:

Green = like it or need it, take it with us

Red = hate it or don't need it, dispose

Amber = can't decide yet

If you like my four box diagrams, which I developed during my time as a professional trainer and find usually help explain almost everything, then I have designed one (Figure 1).

Thing is, I was amazed by how little of our stuff I actually liked. All our new wooden storage-type furniture could go as far as I was concerned. Likewise  the dining room table and chairs. It is functional, plain and middle-aged. As indeed was I, once. We have a nice big leather sofa which will fit in our new lounge and a few other pleasant and comfy chairs. The chair my Dad used to sit in at the end of my family dining room is with us. I've known it since 1955. It doesn't match anything but it means something.

We agreed about keeping any books we  loved, would recommend or re-read. My vinyl and musical instruments were a deal-breaker. We are all being ruthless with our wardrobes and one or two pieces (not mine) are doing well on E-bay. Free-to-Collect Nailsea has been a way our functional stuff can help others.

Figure 2
Liz used to work for a homeware retailer called Cargo. Lots of our functional furniture came from there, discounted because it was end of line or damaged. Their stuff was a godsend when our combined incomes were struggling to furnish a big Vicarage. We will hand it on, as we will the fifty sets of crockery and cutlery we don't really need any more.

But the best deal we ever did with Cargo was the counter units. Back in the day, Cargo took over a rather traditional ironmongers called J. W. Carpenter. These shops had wonderful, made-for-purpose pine counters. Cargo chose to replace them with sleek modern plastic and stainless steel jobbies and the old units were flogged off. We offered £100 for four. And they have lived with us for over 20 years since.

Figure 3
The one covered in filing trays and a printer (Figure 2) is in my being-dismantled office. It was once my stationery cupboard and its surface where I put things that I needed to take with me next. Tip to clergy retiring. If you are not moving at once, try and change the vibe of the room that used to be your office/study.

The next one (Figure 3) became the TV stand. It also houses birthday and Christmas wrapping paper. On the right hand end (by the yellow cushion) are two protruding nails at an angle. They used to hold the counter supply of paper bags. We left them there. I love that they have history from before they met us. All the drawers are a bit wonky but move smoothly, polished by the retail transactions they witnessed. 

'Can I have a pound of number 8 woodscrews Mr Carpenter?'

It is not beyond the bounds of probability that one of the drawers once contained candles and a customer asked for four.

Figure 4
All the doors are held shut by slightly different catches; they were probably an afterthought.

The third one holds a random collection of OS maps, DVDs, photographs and instruction manuals. It sits in a room that was once a little lounge (we called it a snug) which was great when only two of us lived here and one was running a meeting in the bigger lounge. That room has now become a place where things are sorted before leaving. My piano is a bit nomadic in our house. It's currently there too.

And the fourth, the biggest, sits at the end of the conservatory (so it is a bit sun-drenched) and houses the aforementioned 50 sets of crockery and cutlery.

Figure 5
Regular guests at our house for food-based events would often start laying the table without being asked. I love that level of hospitality where guests become family.

These are all coming with us if possible, or we will make arrangements to keep them in the family somehow. 

It's strange what possessions mean. Do your things tell any stories? Money has bought us very little which we truly value. Circumstances, memories and people however have been generous.

Why do I keep waking up with a red label on my forehead?

Thursday, April 28, 2022

In or During

I've left it a while before posting this and have checked back regularly to see if anyone else has done it. I'm not aware they have.

It's going to be about the Prime Minister and his first appearance at the Despatch Box after what is known as #Partygate began being discussed. Remember? If you don't then it is helpfully on the Guardian's web-site where they list the seven occasions (up until 11/1/22) that Boris Johnson denied breaking Covid rules. Take a look at the first video. Listen carefully to what Johnson says.

Now, the Guardian gives us the text of what he said on the same page:

'What I can tell the right hon and learned gentleman is that all guidance was followed completely in No 10.'

Is that what you heard? I didn't.

We need to stop for a moment and remind ourselves of Johnson's style. He is a gifted orator within the character of bumbling-persona he has deliberately created, quick-witted and brilliant at bouncing from the interviewer's question to a related, but irrelevant, reply and then pursuing the subject he has diverted to.

I have upset two of my near neighbours, one because he likes Boris and didn't therefore like the BBC and I defended it in a sermon. The other, admittedly slightly the worse for drink on the day, who lectured me and a friend on how Boris was 'just a human being'. The implication being that we all sin so he should be allowed to. Obviously I am not party to the amount of leeway politicians of other parties are given. But I will never change the minds of these two. They are so wedded to their love of the man that any questions trigger their flight or fight response. When Trump said he could shoot people in the street and not lose support he was talking about people like this.

In the video in question what Johnson says is:

'What I can tell the right hon and learned gentleman is that all guidance was followed completely (during) No 10.'

And after the word 'during' there is a mini-beat. As I said, he is quick-witted. The questioning was about parties and illegal gatherings and a good interviewee always avoids accepting the premise of the question if it is awkward. What would/could have followed the word 'during' if he hadn't caught himself? Meetings? Gatherings? Parties? He stopped himself going there. But he knew. He knew. Something had happened that clearly didn't ring quite right with the regulations and guidance and if he pulled on that thread his whole outfit would unravel. As Allegra Stratton said in the now infamous leaked practice-briefing video, 'It was cheese and wine; is that alright? It was a business meeting.'

Johnson's own goals and gaffs reel is so long, and updated so regularly, that there isn't time to revisit them in detail. I think this one was particularly informative.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Two Types of People

There are many ways in which the world divides into two types of people. My most recent observation of the phenomenon is the difference between those who are aware of their surroundings and those who are not. You can find the latter type blocking two aisles simultaneously in the supermarket with a trolley whilst they search for something. Avoiding inconvenience to others is simply not on their agenda. Such a person will not register someone coming in the other direction until after they have looked at the view/tied their shoelace/finished their conversation.

One of the ways we now learn that the world does not consist of two types of people is in gender terms. We now understand the old male/female distinctions as being inadequate. There is spectrum, not a division. That said the world does divide into those who are prepared to grapple with the necessary learning and change in order to understand and try to use pronouns properly and those who stick with the old ways.

The danger, if that is the right word, is to identify all these two-nesses as right and wrong. That way lies divide and rule, the top line of the would-be dictator's play book. In this world anyone who says 'Hang on a moment, what about this minority who will suffer when you do that' is dismissed as woke. Or wokey-woke, the insult of choice now being used by the raving right round here. I felt the enemies of the loony left needed a name. And of course there are two kinds of people. Those who feel that woke is an insult and those who would gladly pick it up and wear it as a crown (that thought ⓒ West Wing Season 7 - presidential debate episode).

Our current UK Government is made up of two types of people - those who thought Brexit would be a good idea and those who didn't but were prepared to ignore that for a cabinet post. They are now discovering that more is needed from a government than to allow themselves to be used by Russia to destabilise Europe.

Me or you? Us or them? Maybe the world divides into two types of people - those who like dividing the world into two types of people and those who do not. Perhaps we should all be a bit slower to run to one side or the other.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Get the Reference

I am reading The Cut by Chris Brookmyre. He used to write very dark crime dramas bordering on science fiction, full of contemporary social commentary and black, black humour, as Christopher. Now, as Chris, it is all a little more tempered and very plot-driven. Often who-dunnits or what-have-they-duns.

A few books back he dedicated one to Billy Franks. I discovered we shared a love of Billy's (RIP) 1980s' band The Faith Brothers. At the beginning of The Cut there is an unacknowledged quote from a Faith Brothers song. I got it. I got the reference. Throughout the novel the two protagonists joust with movie references. Not being such a movie buff I missed a lot. But I felt I had been invited deeper into the book's world than others, for which I was grateful.

In my final appointment in ordained ministry one of my tasks was to be Vicar of Trendlewood Church in Nailsea. Its birthday was Palm Sunday 1989 and so yesterday it was 32. Many churches have saintly dedications, some stranger than others. I enjoyed St Leodegarius (Basford, Nottingham) the most, until I met St Quiricus and St Julietta in Tickenham. Who they? I know now. You can google them too.

More common church dedications are to All Saints, Holy Trinity or Christ Church. There's one of each of those within a mile of my house. Really. I guess Trendlewood would have to call itself the Church of the Triumphal Entry. Unlikely.

Yesterday there was a procession between the two churches of the soon-to-be Harbourside Benefice of Bristol we have been attending since I retired. We walked from HTH (Holy Trinity, Hotwells) to St Stephen's, Bristol, pausing to pray at the boundary between the two parishes which made us late. I enjoyed not being responsible for the lateness whilst failing to avoid noting the things which had caused it. Old habits.

The thing that made me ponder was that we were invited to give palm crosses to any who asked us what was going on. I reckoned that a palm cross was a visual aid, of course, but the answer was considerably longer and wrapped in Christian heritage and tradition, missing donkeys, Pastoral Measures and Scripture. And that's the thing. You needed to get the many references.

The telling of the Palm Sunday triumphal entry into Jerusalem by Jesus in the Gospels (it's in all four of them) is littered with references. If you saw a man entering on a donkey you may not have known this was referencing Zechariah 9:9. You may not have recognised the shouts of praise were from Psalm 118. You might have known that crowds were encouraged to line the street when Roman dignitaries came to town but that, thus-forced, they often remained completely silent or even turned their backs. The comment that, if silenced, the stones would cry out references this. The extended metaphor of Jesus on his ass was not for all.

I have always subscribed to the school of Christianity that is a little timid about worshipping on the street corners and would rather Christians referenced acting justly and loving mercy as interest-gathering activities. Look how the Maundy Money thing has become about the Queen not about the poor.

There isn't long enough to explain how we got to processions, parish boundaries and palm crosses in the time it takes for one person to walk past another. You have to hope that interest is piqued and eyes are opened. But what a joy it is to discover you are deeper inside a fabulously mysterious story than others because the author has posted a riddle of an invite and you got it.

Welcome to Holy Week my friends.

Take your shoes and socks off; it's right around the corner.