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November 29, 2003

Terrorists in our midst

The peace of Gloucestershire, usually noted for its bucolic accents and scenic beauty, was rudely shaken this week with the arrest of a young man in the city of Gloucester on terrorism charges. A search of his home has apparently turned up explosives and the area around it was evacuated for more than twenty four hours. A second man was arrested a few streets away in a flat that has also been thoroughly searched with a neighbours evacuated to a "safe" distance.

Both these young men are allegedly members of Al Qaeda or one of its surrogates, and both are apparently UK born, raised and educated, so why are they allegedly members of an organisation sworn to overthrow the state they live in? Why indeed, are so many young Muslims apparently so keen to destroy the Western ideals of democracy and individual freedom?

It will be some time, no doubt, before any case is brought to a public court, and such is the nature of these cases, that it is unlikely that the answers to any of these questions will really become clear.

There is, however, a worrying parallel with the past. In 650-ish AD, when Mohammed first set out to spread his vision of religious structure and belief, he was in direct conflict with a state sponsored church whose clergy were also the magistrates and governors. It is true that many of these were hardly spiritual leaders at all, and merely paid lip service to the message of the gospel while ensuring that the good things that their positions offered, came readily their way. This is probably why Islam was founded without any ordained clergy or leadership.

Small cells were soon established in many centres of the then Byzantine Empire which spread from Greece across Asia Minor and into Iran and Southwards to Egypt and the Rest of North Africa and the Arabian peninsula. For the most part these small communities were left in peace, many Christian Churches actually provided a plain chapel in an aisle or an apse to allow them a space to worship. All this changed at some point a few years after Mohammed's death. A new activism sprang up, grievances, real and imagined, were fanned into flame and insurrections followed. The State retaliated, and at first succeeded in checking these, then, out of the deserts swept raiders who converted whole towns by the sword. Arabia, then North Africa and finally most of Asia Minor fell to the armies of Islam. It was this that triggered the Crusades, and it doesn't take a genius to work out where that ended.

The parallel is beginning to stand out. In every country there is a growing Muslim population, the majority of whom are perfectly happy to live within the host society and enjoy the freedoms that that may bring. For a small and fanatical minority there is no satisfaction unless they wield the power. These people will stop at nothing to provoke a situation wherein they can proclaim a jihad and sweep to power at the head of an army of "true believers". They are, in effect, at work within every society.

The problem for us all is that you cannot reason with a fanatic of any persuasion. Rational argument is not part of their stock in trade. The bigger problem is that they can provoke a wider backlash against others who do not share their view. You need look no further than Northern Ireland to see the consequences of that! There is only one way to beat these fanatics, and that is to show them up for what they truly are; men and women of evil, whose objective is not the greater good of all, but the self glorification of themselves and their own small group.

I find it remarkable that those who elect to act as suicide bombers believe themselves destined for paradise, when the Koran clearly prohibits the harming of the innocent, expressly condemning such acts. Indeed, the Koran exhorts the true believer to respect and honour the other "true Believers" - the "peoples of the Book", the Koran's term for the Bible.

It is nothing less than a tragedy when a young man or woman feels compelled to strap on a bomb, make a bomb or plant a bomb in the name of a "cause". No cause is ever justified by the killing of the innocent. Let us all hope and pray that these individuals can be turned from their path of hatred of life and themselves and brought to realise that society is full of people of goodwill who are fair and just and who are all working in their own way towards the creation of a truly just society.

Even if you are not a praying person, I ask your prayers for the families that have to live with the knowledge that a son or daughter is such a fanatic, or those who have lost friends, sons, daughters, fathers or mothers to the bombers.

We live in uncertain times and an age of major upheaval and change, it can tip either way. Let us all strive for peace, justice and understanding.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:03 PM

Pandering to extremes

I suppose it was predictable that the Labour governments hatred of the Northern Ireland Unionist movement would lead them down the road of appeasing the IRA and its surrogates and mouthpieces. Petty revenge has a nasty habity of backfiring and I think this example just has. They seem not to have learned anything from the history of the last 50 years, or the several hundred before that.

Appeasing terrorists never works. Worse, it alienates the law abiding citizenry who suffer from the terrorists actions.

The Good Friday Agreement looks very good on paper. The devil is, as always, in the detail and the way this is applied. That is what has stuck very firmly in the craw of the Ulster Unionists and the electorate, who despite Mr Blair's attempts to sell them down the river and destroy the Union, have resisted this every step of the way. Blair and his cronies have done nothing but give way on every demand to the IRA and the Nationalists. If the Unionists protested, they were sneered at as dinosaurs and wreckers who refused to be reasonable. Now it has come home to bite.

The Devolved Assembly for Northern Ireland is now a definite non-starter. The Reverend Ian Paisley has been elected as the majority leader of the Assembly. Guess what? He will never, ever, sit down in the same house or the same chamber as Gerry Adams, one time Brigade Commander of the Provisional IRA for North Belfast and now Leader of the Nationalist Sinn Feinn party. For Sinn Feinn, read IRA Political Wing.

Why have the elctorate voted out the moderate Mr Trimble and elected Mr Paisley? Quite simply, because they are sick of Mr Blair's constant give aways to the terrorists who have now successfully bombed and shot their way to power - thanks to Blair and his spineless party.

Blair should have listened when Trimble warned him that the IRA merely saying they had decommissioned arms was not enough. The Assembly should have been given the details, but no, Blair had given in to the IRA demand that their decommisioning be kept "secret". The evidence on the street in Belfast and elsewhere is that decommisioning is a joke. Where do this collection of cretins that call themselves a government think all the hand guns and other lethal weapons now flooding into the UK in the hands of criminals are coming from? Do they really think that they can bomb Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and at the same time buy off the murderers of the IRA?

Now they have a nice mess to deal with. The majority of the Northern Ireland population feel that peace at any price is too high a price. That is why they have voted for Paisley and his hardliners, that is why the government is treated with scorn by the electorate in the the Province. Good luck to Blair with his sell out tactics, he could have a real tiger by the tail with this one, and tigers are not animals to arouse.

Peace in our time? Not as long as you keep giving way to the man with the bombs Mr Blair. Ask Neville Chamberlain.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:22 PM

November 28, 2003

Annual Christmas Card Inscriptions

I have been a very good person today! I have actually got down to work, stopped putting it off and wrapped and parcelled the present for the family in Oz and written all the cards for my overseas friends. Then I posted them.

Now I need to recover from the cost of the postage!

Why do I do it? Primarily because I feel it is important to say to all my friends and family at this time of the year, that I am thinking of them, that, even though we may not have seen each other for years, they are still important to me. OK, so I get a few cards back from them too, but that is part of the exchange process, it is what keeps us all in touch. It is also an opportunity to say thanks for the friendship and to celebrate something we all believe in.

I guess this urge to get on with it comes from all the stuff on the news and many blogs about Thanksgiving.

I have been following with interest and amusement some of the posts from the American bloggers on the subject of getting the family (and in some cases friends) together for Thanksgiving. Again, you could wonder why they do it. Cynicalcyn is a good case in point, with her tale of preparations which sound like a monumental task. For others such as Bear Left on Unnamed Road, it is more difficult getting all the family around the same table. The big question which sprang to mind for me at least, was why do it this close to Christmas? I guess the best explanation I can find is on Lynn S's page, others may find her comments helpful.

I hope that all the work that went into the Thanksgiving meals and which is still ahead for the Christmas celebrations, is appreciated by those who simply get to enjoy the product. Let's also spare a thought for all those who cannot be with friends and family at these feasts, because they are out there keeping the emergency and other services running.

Peace be with you all.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:08 PM | Comments (5)

More medical cogitation

Having reached an age when things start to break down, I have recently had a problem with my gall bladder. For those who have not experienced this - hope you don't! Anyway, today I had to go and have an ultrasound scan. An interesting experience, being the only male in a waiting room full of pregnant ladies for starters.

It was a relief to be told that I was not pregnant by the time my scan had been run! Even better was the news that I do not have a gall stone - just "some sludge" collected there. Now the further wait while the doctors try to decide what to do about it.

Hurry up and wait?

I know, I know. Who cares anyway, you all have more than enough problems of your own. At least I have lost a half a stone on the enforced "low fat" diet. (That's seven pounds to the imperial measures brigade and about 3.5 kg to the metricated among you!)

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:35 PM | Comments (3)

November 27, 2003

An Autumnal View

I felt I had to share this vision of an English Autumn afternoon with someone. It is taken from the West side of the Severn valley looking towards the city of Gloucester. The cathedral is the large tower structure showing the golden reflection on its stonework. Behind is the Cotswold escarpment.


Gloucester was made into a sea port by the Romans. It must have been interesting then, because the tides in the Bristol Channel/Severn mouth range up to 41 feet. The Cathedral was founded as a Benedictine monastery in 680 AD by Osric, King of Mercia. The present building dates to the late thirteenth century and has a magnificent East window of twelth century stained galss - the largest in England. The building was rebuilt over a century between around 1270 and 1370, during this rebuild the builders "invented" the English perpendicular style, described by architects as "more glass than wall".

Worth a visit if you're down this way.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:45 PM

Science fiction/science fact?

When Jules Verne wrote 20,000 leagues under the sea, his vision of a submersible capable of unlimited cruising while submerged and almost totally independent of the land, was treated with some sceptism. Yet today we accept the fact that most nuclear powered submarines are limited only by the endurance of their crews and the food stock they are able to carry.

Almost forty years ago, Arthur C Clarke wrote a science fiction story entitled The Fountains of Paradise in which his cast rode a "space elevator" from the surface to the orbiting space platforms from which their space ships operated. At the time Clarke himself admitted the idea seemed far fetched, but he answered the scornful critics by saying:

"It will be built fifty years after everyone stops laughing".

At first glance the engineering problems seem insurmountable, but are they? It would certainly be impossible to build this using a steel cable, primarily because steel cables of more than 3,000 miles in length simply snap under their own weight. What is needed here is a cable capable of spanning a distance of 23,000 miles - the distance needed to reach a geostationary orbital platform.

The December issue of "Astronomy Now" has a short piece on the feasibility of this project. Scientists now consider it possible to do this using a cable 90,000 miles in length, anchored to a point on the Equator and having three stops on the way out. The material they propose is a nanotube carbon molecule which has many times the strength of steel and can be spun (or extruded - I'm not sure which way the stuff would be worked!) into a cable long enough to reach the 90,000 mile mark.

It is interesting that these days, more and more Sci-fi writers are writing this concept into their books. It is even more interesting that there are scientists actually discussing the materials they would need to make it happen.

Some years ago I encountered a Lecturer at the University of Cape Town who had schematic plans of the Battlestar Galactica on his wall. Beneath them was the legend "Don't tell me its impossible! Prove it!" His subject? Geophysics. And his point was that almost all the major steps forward in science are made trying to prove someones theory is wrong!

I can remember thinking on the day the first space shuttle launched, that now it would be possible to build vessels like the Battlestar and to move out into the outer reaches of the solar system to explore. It may take a little longer yet, but we are on the way.

Todays fiction may well be tomorrows fact.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:24 PM

Humour or terminal decline?

Humour is always a very delicate issue. A friend of mine regularly sends me funnies - some of which I could not publish here! What is hilariously funny to one person, is not in the least funny to another. It may even be offensive! That said I offer these latest proofs that the human race may be in terminal decline; that perhaps terminal stupidity should be a punishable offence!

These are all genuine "health warnings" from a range of items on sale!

On a hairdryer - "Do not use while sleeping"
So somnabulation while washing and drying hair is not recommended?

On a bag of savory snacks - "You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside"
Is this an invitation to attempt to shoplift the product?

On a bar of soap - "Directions: Use like normal soap"
Is there any other way?

On a frozen meal: "Serving suggestion: Defrost"
As it is only a suggestion, it would appear that it could be eaten frozen if so desired ......

On a Tiramisu dessert: "Do not turn upside down" Just to confuse, this is printed on the bottom of the container!
Presumably the buyer should replace the one they have just inverted to read this notice, and take another?

On a Brand Label Bread Pudding: "This product will be hot after heating"
No kidding!

On the packaging for a famous make of clothes iron: "Do not iron clothes on body"
Tricky, but I suppose possible if you are suffering from terminal stupidity.

On a Japanese food processor (This may just be a bad case of translationitis!): "Do not use for the other use"
I don't think I even want to think about it!

And my favourites:

On a famous supermarket chains packaged peanuts: "WARNING: Contains nuts"

No comment.

On a Swedish make of chain saw: "Do not attempt to stop chain with hands or genitals"

My eyes water just thinking about that one!

One can hardly blame the manufacturers, this is the product of too many really stupid people doing things like trying to dry their pet kitten in the microwave oven, setting the cruise control in a brand new motor home and leaving the driving seat to make a cup of coffee and driving with a cup of hot coffee balanced in their laps!

Like I said, terminal stupidity ought to be a capital offence! Let natural selection take its toll - the gene pool can only get better without the people that need these warnings!

We can have a good laugh at the apparent silliness of these notices, but what do they say about the society in which we live?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:56 PM | Comments (2)

How green is my windfarm?

A comment on my tirade against wind generators from Matthew aka Skipjack included this link to an article from a Californian newspaper. The article makes ineteresting reading. It appears in the Tri-valley Herald under the title "Wind farm permits set to expire". Certainly confirms my point about reliable power supply and highlights one of the unforseen and undesirable consequences of attempts to harness wind power in this way.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:28 PM

Care and the community

Our newspapers are currently full of the court case involving the man accused of murdering two young girls, and his partner, who allegedly helped him to conceal it. In parallel was another multiple murder trial involving a man who was accused of murdering three women. This latter trial was dramatically halted when the accused changed his plea to guilty and confessed to the court the entire sorry story. The first continues and the defence is arguing that it was all a tragic accident. I do not wish to pre-empt the court on this one.

The second trial, which resulted in a change of plea has a worrying element to it, because it is yet another instance where a person suffering from a serious mental disorder has been discharged by the psychiatric team entrusted with his care, into the "community" where he is supposed to be able to "integrate" back into the society which is the cause of his disturbed state in the first place. The argument goes, that his mental condition has "improved" and is "controlled" by the drug regime. Fine, so as as soon as he leaves the hospital, who ensures that he gets the medication? Some poor social worker who is supposed to supervise a group of these people and who is not, in law, allowed to force them to take the pills!

Now most of the people treated in this way are perfectly harmless and will never be a threat to anyone other than themselves. It is a different story with those known to become violent or to nurse a particular grudge against a section of society.

It is this last group that are a threat to everyone they encounter and who should not, in my view, be permitted to be released if there is even the slightest question that a lapse in medication will produce a danger to any member of society. The case in the Old Bailey of the sick man who murdered three women simply begs the question. In our legal system, he is found guilty and sent to serve his time in a secure psychiatric hospital. Fine, so he is no danger then. Wrong, as soon as he is "controlled" again, and the public have forgotten what he looks like, he'll be allowed out to go shopping or to "socialise". At first this will be supervised, but later he will be allowed unsupervised trips.

What will happen if he simply fails to return after one of these trips? Who will be held responsible if he then attacks and kills another member of the unsuspecting public? Correct! No one. His doctors, parole officers, nurses and social workers will all hide behind their "risk assessments" and declare that there was no way of preventing this, or that it is not their responsibility, they were simply following the rules.

Nice little dichotomy isn't it. The power to release into an unsuspecting society a ticking bomb and never have to take the can when it goes off. As for all the pressure groups that insist on maintaining this dangerous practice, where are they when some family loses a daughter, a son, a father or a mother to one of these "victims" of society? Yeah, right, holding another press conference to defend the perpetrators rights.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:27 AM

Legislative excess

Somewhere back in the 18th Century one of the founding statesmen of the modern democratic system declared that governments should do as little as possible while ensuring the smooth flow of commerce and the continued well being of the nation and its people. A good sound principle one would think, and echoed in the Gilbert and Sullivan chorus from Iolanthe - In good Queen Bess' glorious days, the House of Peers did very little - and did it rather well!

So it's a pity that our Illustrious Leader, Tone the Cronymaker, doesn't believe in the same principle. Mind you, he does have almost 700 Members of Parliament, and about another 500 Members of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh National Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly and all their hangers on to keep busy. Part of the problem is that they can only demonstrate that they are actually doing anything to earn their obscene salaries, by "passing another little law".

The first item on this years agenda is to emasculate the Lord's. Now, whether you approve of unelected peers sitting in the upper house or not, is immaterial. What will replace them is nothing short of an obscenity. You got it; more of Tony's cronies. Poodles and "yes" men galore to replace the men of courage and experience (which Tone still hasn't got!) who dared to tell him when he was getting it wrong. Interesting, isn't it, that Tone and his pals in the power house, all draw very generous salaries and enjoy wonderful pensions (at the tax payers expense!) while the peers do it for "expenses only". The Lord's costs a quarter of the money to run compared to the Commons. I wonder why? Even the Monarchy, constantly under attack "for costing too much", costs less than Tone's entourage and about a third of what it would cost to have a President with all the elections and machinery required for that.

Another 23 (YES, TWENTY THREE!) bills will be rammed through by this shower of morons, even though his own backbench are up in arms about student fees for those attending university. There will be more tangled legislation on immigration, health and safety (it is basically now impossible to bend down and pick something up without breaking the H & S laws around here!), hunting with hounds, health services and anything else we can get our snouts into and make a complete pigs ear out of.

Some time ago I was surprised to discover that almost 80% of all current statute law in this country has been created in the last 40 years. Of that slightly more than 60% has been put on the statute books in the last 10! It looks as if Tone is going for a world record and wants to replace the entire statute book before we can throw him out in another election.

As for that Troll that masquerades as a Chancellor of the Exchequer, he harbours ambitions of being the next PM, but is a totally unreconstructed Socialist of the "tax them 'til the pips squeek" school of economics. He still believes that it is perfectly fair to strip the hard earned income of those who are prepared to work hard, to fund the excesses of his electorate, the feckless and idle.

This is where I have always had a problem with the entire Labour Party agenda. Their brand of Socialism is built entirely on teaching people to look at everyone else's achievements and property, as "ill gotten capitalist robbery of the workers". In other words, envy and jealousy. Instead of creating a society of entrepreneurs, we have created (or allowed the cretins who make a living passing laws and never worked a day in their lives) a society which thinks that they have some "right" to whatever anyone else has worked damned hard to build for themselves.

I firmly believe that society as a whole has an obligation to look after those who cannot, for reasons of disability, age or infirmity, look after themselves. This should not be to put them into institutions, but to give them the help they need were they need it. But, it should never be a carte blanche to every idle and unemployable sponger. This way lies the creation of a state dependency - a belief that I am "entitled" to handouts for not working, not trying to support myself or rendering myself unfit for employment. Half our demonstrations are made up of "rent a mob" clowns living on benefits and sponging on the taxpayer. And the sort of blanket "cradle to grave" state welfare that the Labour Party and others have set up here simply encourages this.

This legislative mania is what has created a system where justice cannot be done because there are too many loopholes, the police have to operate with both hands tied behind their backs, ordinary law abiding people are criminalised for defending themselves or their property from the louts Tone and his cronies encourage and fund, and employers are left unable to fund pensions properly, unable to expand their business successfully because of Whitehall red tape and interference and more and more voters are simply switching off from the entire process.

Tone should not forget that his mandate is hardly an overwhelming one. Only 40% of the total electorate voted at the last election. Only 28% of those who voted, voted for his party. The programme of legislation they are now proposing will be hugely expensive, not only in increased taxes (there aren't many more things he can tax by stealth - he's already stripping £5 billion a year out of pension fund incomes!) but in terms of REAL jobs, that is the ones that actually produce the goods, not the ones that shuffle papers and go round telling you that you have it wrong (but can't tell you how to make it right) or the ever growing army of consultants and advisers on "issues" addressed by the legislation.

There will be a reckoning, and it will be very interesting to see if the society that emerges from that reckoning will be what these cretins thought they were creating. I rather suspect that it will not.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:48 AM | Comments (2)

November 26, 2003

Sustainable energy sources

It seems to be my day for finding things to get steamed up about. The latest folly is the hugely expensive "wind farm" commissioned off our shores to "harvest wind energy and generate clean electric power". Yeah. Pity about the noise, the fact that they are an eyesore and that they don't actually generate anything when the wind is too light or too strong!

Which means they only produce power on about one hundred and forty days a year. Great, so the rest of the time, we have to fall back on open fires, candles, paraffin or gas lamps and clockwork TV's?

Erm, well, no. Not quite, we have to keep the nuclear and fossil fuel power stations on line as well so that we can make up the shortfall when the wind isn't right. Oh joy, oh b****y rupture! Guess who pays for this - again?

The best estimates of power available from this source at present are around 5%, not even the output from one existing power station. With power demand growing by around 2% a year and predicted to keep going up, can we really afford to waste money like this on expensive toys which don't provide a constant supply and have to be backed up by conventional power anyway?

Surely it makes better economic sense to invest in new, reliable technology and sources which are cleaner than those we have, reliable (as in supply a constant service!) and aren't such a blight on the landscape, seascape or wherever?

Not if you are a politician trying to prove your "green" credentials. We are to get more of these fiendish and expensive devices on sites around the country. Lead me to the barricades and pass me a pitchfork!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:20 PM | Comments (3)

Concorde - Requisicat in pacem

This morning, at precisely 1100, that most amazing of all airliners, Concorde, will land for the last time at Filton airfield in Bristol. Speedbird, as her callsign has been for the last thirty odd years, is dead. No doubt those who loathe anything that smacks of high technology will rejoice, but for most of us this is a sad reminder that this once great nation no longer has the guts or the ability to do anything innovative.

Concorde used to overfly my house on the circuit to Heathrow and I never used to have to ask when it was her, the distinctive howl from those baffled intakes to her engines, sent shivers up your spine. All the other aircraft circling overhead simply roared, Concorde howled. My dog used to go beserk, the cat used to retreat inside, I used to rush out to gaze in admiration.

A successor to this amazing plane was designed. It would have run on engines that did not polute and it would have been quieter. It was killed off by the Civil Service and the politicians who diverted the money, in much the same way that the Roman Senate did, to vote catching and "populist" schemes. So the HOTOL, a hypersonic transport capable of skimming the edges of space, never left the drawing board.

Modern, forward looking, innovative Britain? It dies with this dream bird, to be replaced by self interest, single issues and snout in the trough policies that will ultimately destroy us.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:53 AM

Whitehall and reality

If proof were needed that there is a major gap, if not a seperate universe, between the planet most of us occupy and that inhabited by the denizens of Whitehall, then here it is. How would you set about stirring up the ire and the passions of the Iraqi people, having already set about imposing your notion of government?

That's right, you send a militant feminist and her assistant to go and sort out the "gender and diversity" issues in that benighted country!

If there is a minefield with the potential to undo any good that could have come from the war in Iraq (and I am by no means against the overthrow of such a vicious and dangerous regime!), then this must be it. I am now convinced that the planet these folk live on has a different number of moons circling it to the one I inhabit! Some of these issues are ones right at the heart of some of the teachings from the Koran, and given that this lady, and the government she represents have not the slightest understanding of religion or religious beliefs, it is a given that she will find some way to cause real offence.

This latest folly, while I have no doubt is well intentioned, is the equivalent of pouring petrol onto a fire. It will provide all the proof the fundamentalists need that Western nations are anti-Islam and wish to destroy it. That will fan the flames as nothing else could. Under Saddam, the state veered between secular and religious dictartorship - depending on what suited the regime. In the vacuum that has been created by his removal we already have fundamentalist Islamic movements struggling to seize the ascendancy, and this will really give them a leg up.

As an example of woolly headed liberal do-goody meddling it would be hard to beat. It is typical of the sort of blinkered and self righteous single issue agenda that is so beloved of the so-called "liberal" - who is usually anything but. Naturally it is loudly supported by Tony's Cronies in the Fabian Society (who measure child poverty in terms of DVD players, Video Games, VCR's and designer clothing - if you haven't got them you're poor!) and the Civitas think tank - another government quango stuffed with his pals at the taxpayers expense. This is, after all, the same bunch of clowns who, at vast and ongoing expense to the taxpayer, attempted to turn the celebration of the start of the third Christian Millenium, into a "multi-faith" celebration. Then they were surprised when the leaders of all the other faiths asked why they should celebrate Christianity. So we ended up with a secular event which flopped. I was one of the millions that failed to flock to the biggest mockery anyone could have devised - Disneyland would have been a much more worthwhile visit. So, having insulted the Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindu's, they then attempted to exclude the Christians as well. Pretty good track record so far? Let's see how the Iraqi's respond.

As usual the perpetrators of this will have ignored all expert advice and listened only to those who sycophantically agree with everything they say. I suggest that the rest of us start to take precautions now.

This entire debacle serves to confirm what is being discussed on Dean's World under the title of "An alternative view" and I would like to say I agree entirely with Dean. The "liberal" agenda has been highjacked by extremists and anachists whose tactics in attempting to seize the moral high ground, are straight from Dr Goebels book on propaganda management. A half truth is more powerful than a lie.

Goebels must be ever so proud of his protege's

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:38 AM | Comments (2)

Time travel?

A late post tonight I'm afraid, as I have just returned from a trip to London and needed to unwind before turning in. So, a little look at one or two blogs and then ......

Reading the installments on Aussie Couriers wedding day, I noticed that Ozguru and family almost didn't complete the day. Their lucky escape is described in Wedding Trip 4. With the back end of their car radically remodelled by a ute's bullbar, we can be grateful that no one was injured. Makes my trip today tame by comparison, but motorways in Britain are a complete lottery.

Driving to London always takes longer than the return trip I have discovered. I cannot figure this out, as, logically, it should be quicker going East, but it isn't. It's almost an hour longer going than returning.

In truth, I don't actually go to London, but to Bromley which is in the South Eastern part of the great M 25 loop. If you live in Bromley then it is always referred to as "Bromley, Kent", but if you are Red Ken Livingstone, Robber Baron Mayor of Greater London and Chairman of the Greater London Authority, then it is Bromley, Greater London. A case of perspectives I guess.

This morning I took the route through Oxfordshire and down the A34 to the M 4 from my home. This is a rather scenic route and today paid off rather well. I had hardly any traffic congestion to deal with, even on that well known parking lot, the M 25. I arrived in Bromley slightly earlier than I had allowed for, which was useful as it gave me a chance to catch up with my son and his activities as well as having the main purpose of the trip fulfilled, which was to spend some time with my youngest daughter, aged 19 and going through one of those rough patches with boyfriend, life and the world in general.

We had a very pleasant afternoon together, an excellent meal and I left her at her home afterward and set off across London (Congestion charging stops at 1830!) to pick up the M 4 Westbound and avoid the M 25 altogether. This time I took the direct route to Swindon, leaving the M4 there and using the A 419/417 through Cirencester into Gloucester and thence up the A 38 to home. Total journey time returning? Two hours and fifty minutes - and I didn't break the speed limit either! The outward bound leg was just under four hours.

OK, the traffic outbound was slightly heavier but I managed to maintain an average cruising speed on the M 4/M 25 of 65 miles per hour (+/- 110 kph to you metricated types) which means that I encountered no congestion on the motorway. Amazingly there was only one bit of roadwork to slow down for and it wasn't on either of the motorways. In terms of mileage there is nothing to choose between the routes taken and even when I have used the same route out and back I have noticed the time taken to return is always less than the outbound journey.

Conclusion: It is time to get a Molecular Transport System going. "Beam me to ...." makes much more sense than driving on motorways populated by juggernauts, nuts who lane hop and now speed cameras on every gantry. Oh, and perhaps Commander Spock could explain the time differences to me?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:31 AM | Comments (4)

November 24, 2003

The door into summer?

I stumbled across an entry on Bear left on unnamed road entitled Winter of our feline discontent which reminded me of the Robert Heinlein SF book "The door into summer". The introduction to the book explains the title - Heinlein wrote it in New England over a winter sharing a house with seventeen doors to the outdoors with a cat. The cat was convinced that one of the doors opened into summer ...

When my wife and I moved to the house we currently occupy we had no cat. Two days after we moved in we met the REAL owner. She moved in, demanded to know what we intended to do about her feeding requirements and has settled us nicely into a routine that suits her perfectly.


She has one trait that can be difficult. Ever tried typing around a cat? Paddy is extremely talkative and in no doubt at all that the humans in her life are there for her convenience. She is also very endearing and knows just how to twist people round her paws. Like Heinlein's cat, at this time of the year, she is also convinced that we have hidden the sun and deliberately arranged the rain.

Pratchett, in a book entitled "The unadulterated cat" gives a wonderful word picture of the moment the first cat moved in on humans ...

"There you are, brow ridges like a set of terraces and just getting to grips with this new thing called 'fire', on the food chain for almost every kind of predator, and in walks this miniature version of the worst of the predators, rubs itself against your legs and starts to make this rumbling sound ....."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Cats are not everyones favourite pet. I must admit that I have never set out to have one as a pet. But, I have had a number attach themselves to me and each of them has enriched my experience of life in some way. There have been tabbies, tortoise shells and black and white moggies. One tabby was a cross with something definitely not domestic - he was bigger than a normal cat and had pointed tufts to his ears. But he moved in and soon had our dogs, pet rabbits and other assorted livestock firmly under his control. Heaven help any outside dog that crossed his path. He gave way to nothing and dealt out punishment even the vet found difficult to believe.

One of the black and whites loved travelling in a car. He would drape himself across the back of the drivers seat and comment loudly on the passing scene - dogs, other cats, motorists and his favourite, pedestrians. Oh, and he liked to play with dogs. The bigger the better. He could clear the vets surgery waiting room in seconds. Not many dogs came back for a second round.

Then we had a silver tabby. She was also a talker. She moved in as a kitten, and took about twenty seconds to put both our cross breed course haired terrier and the golden spaniel bitch so firmly in their places that they never argued with her again. If they went walkies on leads, she was right there with them. Other dogs only tried to chase her once, MacGinty, the terrier, took care of any interlopers. As far as he was concerned she was one of "his" family.

Paddy talks to us. Sometimes its like a Monty Python skit, much "Nyang patang! Patang, patang". This can be interspersed with "Meeyup", "meyowp", and variations in sound, volume and tone. There are times when it sounds like Russian. She can definitely pronounce "Nyet!" And means it! After a while you get the message. Especially as a great deal is conveyed by tone and body language.

Living with a cat is never dull. It may be intensely frustrating, it may be limiting, but it can also be amusing and it is certainly an education!

Heinlein's book? Well worth the read, even if you are not a normal SF fan. The cat plays an important part in the story and it has a couple of very interesting twists to the plot. I won't spoil it for those who wish to read it. Enjoy, you won't be dissapointed.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:14 PM

Only the French

Today the denizens of Number 10 welcomed none other than M. Chirac, President of France to our parlour. The purpose was to discuss the wholesale sell out of our armed services and NATO to our glorious ally and EU partner, M Chirac.

To put us all at our ease, M Chirac declared that Europe had just won the World Cup.

Quite so, and of course, France won World War 2.

Exactemont, m'seui!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:07 PM

November 23, 2003

Developed versus developing

I see on the African Pundit's page that the Church of Nigeria has now formally severed relations with the Episcopalian Church in the US over the consecration of The Right Reverend Gene Robinson. I suspect that several others will follow suit and this highlights a very important difference between "Developed World" values and those of the "Developing" world. Just because it is now acceptable to be openly gay in the US or Europe, does not mean that it is, or should be, the norm anywhere else.

Don't get me wrong, I am not a gay basher or anti-gay, or anything else. All I am saying is that our morality and cultural values are not necessarily applicable anywhere else. Africa has huge problems just to meet the basic needs of a fair society. Their concept of justice or morality is not necessarily ours and we should not expect it to be - yet. Democracy is not something that has been developed in these areas, nor is it a concept that is properly understood. It is not in their history and it is a European or American implant - one which has no foundation or roots and will struggle to gain an effective foothold. Civil liberty and the idea that morality is a flexible norm is not something likely to be well received in any country where average incomes are below subsistence levels, where justice is concept understood to be something which springs from the barrel of a gun, or where women are the property of a husband or father.

Then there are the other pressures on all faiths in this sort of environment. The Christian Churches in West and Central Africa bordering on Muslim countries are under direct attack by Muslim Fundamentalist preachers and proselytisers and simply cannot afford to be seen to be going soft on any part of their "scriptural" heritage - particularly as the Koran is even more specific about homosexual relationships. There are also issues in this region of slavery, usually Christian minorities targetted (particularly in countries bordering the Sudan) with women and children carried off into slavery, justified by their being "infidels"; ie: non-Muslim.

The Church in its many guises has certainly managed to get a lot wrong over the last two thousand years, but it has also managed to get a lot more right. It was, after all the great Christian thinkers who finally shut down the slave traffic between Africa and the America's in the 19th Century. It was the British Empire, driven by the Church of England, that shut down slavery in East Africa and much of the Middle and Far East. Since the rise of a more egalitarian society in the "Developed" world, the influence of the Church in these areas has been forgotten, belittled or undermined. The leaders of the African Churches, and we must not forget that they are fully fledged African institutions in their make up and style of worship, leadership and liturgy, recognise this and also recognise the risk this poses in a society where the elders are still the leaders, the majority of the population is illiterate and dependent upon authority figures for leadership and guidance.

Recently I had the privilege of teaching a group of Nigerian officers and discussing some of these concerns with them. Most were Christian but two were Muslim and even they were adamant that any weakening of the moral teaching of the Church in Nigeria would have very serious consequences indeed. It was pointed out that already the militant elements of the Islamic movement in the Northern Provinces was using this as an excuse to attack Christians.

There are some very hard questions in this for us all. I do not pretend to have any answers, but I do recognise that this is something on which we will all need to do a lot more thinking, praying and talking. There is a lot of hurt on all sides, there is no easy answer and there never will be. Of one thing I am absolutely certain. We in the "Developed" world need to have a far greater understanding of how our actions, cultures and the exercise of our "freedoms" affect those we seek to help and develop in the "Developing" world. Only when we take proper notice of their concerns and aspirations can we really hope to help them move to where they need to be - which may not be where we think they should be going.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:02 PM

Memorable events

A visit to Lynn S's site set me thinking. Her piece on the assassination of JFK made me wonder what it is about certain events that make them so particularly memorable. I know that I should be able to recall (at least I am told that I should!) what I was doing or where I was for a fairly large number of such events, but the fact is that I can't.

There are one or two that stand out. The first was the assassination of H F Verwoerd, South African Prime Minister and architect of apartheid. I can recall where I was, but not the date or anything other than the delight of the adults around me at the time - all white and all South African and against apartheid - as to place, I was preparing to sail in a dinghy race at the East London Yacht Club. (East London in South Africa - not the other one!)

When the Cuban missile crisis blew over I was at school, I can recall a teacher interrupting our lessons to convey the news to the master taking the class. Again, the date escapes me except that it must have been around 1960 and the subject was mathematics - not one of my favourites! Equally, the assassination of JFK. Again I was at school and the class was interrupted, but now I cannot recall either the date or the subject being taught. From Lynn's blog I learn that it was 1963 and the 22nd November, but I doubt I will remember that for very much longer.

Even the fall of the Berlin Wall I can recall watching on TV, but couldn't tell you when it happened other than vaguely in the late 1980's!

September 11th on the other hand is something I can recall in very fine detail. I can tell you exactly what I was doing and were I was at the moment that the news started to come in on this one. So what is the difference between these events, and why do I recall one so clearly and not the others?

Quite clearly the events of September 11th are much more recent, but I suggest that there is another element at play here. I am, as I have said before, a member of the emergency services. It could have been me and my crews under that rubble. The Prime Ministers been assassinated? So what? Will we still be sailing the race? Missiles in Cuba? Is this a threat to us in South Africa? Some one shot the US President? Is my date with my girlfriend going to be cancelled because of this? The Berlin Wall's come down,? Oh good, now is the mortgage interest rate likely to go up or come down?

It seems to me that the impact of any particular event is directly related to the manner in which it impinges upon someone's own life. The events which occurred while I was at school were remote, in a country (apart from Verwoerd's murder!) that had little apparent communication with where I lived or the life I was living and were therefore of little personal importance. Likewise the Berlin Wall. It hadn't directly affected my life so was therefore a case of "Good show! It was a gross abuse of peoples rights, now its gone. Great, what's next?"

On the other hand, during this same sweep of time, other events have burned themselves into my psyche, events I was personally involved in or which impacted directly on me or my family. These include a school classmate who was killed by a shark on Nahoon beach while swimming in a group of friends. Several of them beat the shark off with their bare hands and dragged Geoffrey from the surf. Others of us were swimming at the same beach a bit further away and only became aware of the problem when a life guard started to order everyone out of the surf. Another friend killed in a hit and run accident on a pedestrian crossing also sticks in mind, as does the death of two fire fighter colleagues killed when a stack of newsprint rolls, each weighing a ton, collapsed during a fire and crushed them against the only solid wall in the warehouse. Another would be the phone call from a neighbouring Brigade when, as the senior Officer on duty, I was advised that our Chief had just been killed in a serious motor accident.

These and other events impinged directly upon me and those around me. They are memorable and come back in the "hour of the wolf" - that wakeful hour when all the world seems to be resting on your shoulders and you really need to sleep.

Conclusion? It is not necessarily the major world shaping events that stay in any individual's mind, it is much more likely that the event which makes a really indelible mark is one in which the person has a personal interest or stake. Thanks anyway to Lynn for the reminder - and for the date of JFK's assassination.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:16 PM

November 22, 2003

Musical choices

One of the fun bits about blogging is reading what other folk think of a wide variety of matters. One I have recently stumbled across is Lynn S's Reflections in D Minor and her piece on the selection of "cool" and "uncool" classical and other music amused me and made me think. Lynn's comments are worth a read.

Tonight I have the opportunity to hear a concert in our 900 year old Abbey Church by the Abbey School Choir and a range of other artists. The concert is primarily to celebrate the Abbey School's 30th anniversary of its founding, but it will also give us the opportunity to hear works by Handel, Vivaldi, Walton, Ridout and Britten on organ, harpsichord and piano in accompaniment of the voices of the choir and visiting artists Lucy Bowen, Sophie Miller, James Bowman and James Mustard. Benjamin Nicholas Conducting with our own Carleton Etherington on the Chamber Organ and Nicholas Chambers at the harpsicord. Superb.

So what music do I like. OK, I'll stick my neck out.

A great deal depends on my mood. I like a wide range of music, both contemporary and classic. I like some folk and some pop. I like brass and I like the flute, oboe and clarinet. I like Jazz, I like African gospel and I like steel bands. So the purists don't like my taste?

Tough! Let the music roll.

As Shakespeare is recorded as writing; If music be the food of love, play on!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:16 PM

Rugby World Cup

This is where I have to be very careful. I am married to an Australian (this blog comes to you courtesy of an Australian server!). I was born and grew up in South Africa. I am English by descent (some could rudely say; and still descending!), I have Irish blood, and Welsh and Scottish. The English lineage goes back a long way (reliably to 1428 - fantastically; further ...) and includes a lot of Norman alongside the Anglo Saxon and Dane that we also have in the family tree (or perhaps bush!).

So do I celebrate or commiserate?

Depends on whose company I'm in I guess! South Africa got knocked out early, as did Ireland. France we won't mention (except to say - Remember Agincourt!), Wales fell by the wayside and I can't recall the Scottish effort at all, so well done England, well played Australia. Now the Rugby's over, can we get back to living in something like harmony?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:53 PM | TrackBack


Today my youngest brother in law and his fiance tied the knot. It has been planned for almost a year and they have worked hard to ensure that everything necessary was in place for the big day. I should have been there, but, as is often the way, other things have also been in play and, at the end of the day, I could not make the trip. As is often the case, man proposes and God disposes. Sometimes I just wish He would let me in on the plan.

By now, it is yesterday in Canberra and the family will be all either on their way home, or asleep in various hotels if they are making it a weekend away. Most will have come from much further afield than we in the UK are used too. I hope that everyone had a fabulous day and wish the happy couple every happiness for the future. I hope I will soon be able to congratulate them in person.

Marriage is a huge commitment and one of the most stressful periods in anyone's life. This is not because we aren't properly prepared, but rather because, no matter how well we know each other, we still have a huge amount of adjustment to make to fit ourselves around each others likes, dislikes and foibles. It takes time and it takes a huge amount of effort and patience to do it successfully. St Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthian Christians, "Love is patient, love is kind. ..... Love does not keep score."

Whether you are a Christian or not, that last point is one on which many relationships are wrecked. It is in our nature to nurse our wounds and harbour grudges and if we are to make a success of any relationship it is the first thing we have to lose. There is no competition in love, there can be no score. If the relationship is founded on solid mutual respect, attraction and genuine love (and I do not here mean the "Eros" form of love as in the Greek original, but the "Philo" - the love of anothers spirit.), then there can be room for growth and the ongoing excitement of constantly rediscovering each other.

The initial stress in any marriage comes from the expectations we all bring to the relationship. We all have a vision of what we think the other wants, thinks and feels about a range of issues, and frequently we are dissappointed to discover that the other partner in this is not of the same mind, indeed has a range of their own expectations of us. Love is patient, love is kind. Once we learn that our expectations are not quite as the other sees us, then we have to learn patience, and allow each other to grow, all the time being there for each other, all the time trying to make sure that, as we grow, we do not grow apart.
It is given to very few of us to always be in perfect accord and there are always times when it is tempting to make a harsh retort or to start "keeping scores". This way lies bitter dissappointment and unhappiness for all.

Sometimes one will have to carry the other and vice versa. Sometimes we all laugh together and sometimes we weep. We should never laugh at each other or take pleasure in anothers pain. Paul's letters dwell on this in a number of different guises, but one which springs readily to mind, is "then abide these three, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love."

I hope that you will all join with me in wishing this happy couple a long life together always in love, even when not in harmony!

Ye Gods! A sermonette! Fetch the smelling salts!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:39 PM

November 21, 2003


Today is the fourth anniversary of my mothers death and I would have to admit that she is still missed.

I was in the Philippines on business when I got a message to say that she had a blockage of the bowel and had been taken into hospital. Some frantic phoning around for a change of flights to come home earlier produced very little alternative to staying with the one I was on, and the hospital advised that the operation had been successful. My brother had managed to get there from Cape Town and I was assured that I could stay with my original flight plan and see her when I got back.

I arrived back home to be greeted by a tearful wife, and my elder daughter and son with the news that Mum had died at 0200 that morning, having been "a little feverish and tired" the day before. My son drove me to London immediately as, following a 19 hour flight on which I had not slept well, I was in no state to drive.

Now I could be very angry about her death. OK, she was 74 and very frail. She had a heart problem and breathed with difficulty thanks to having smoked most of her life. About eighteen months earlier she had taken a bad fall - again just by pure luck my brother had been staying with her and found her - but I had to threaten to sue the hospital when, after twenty one hours, she still had not been given the operation she desperately needed! Her death is given on her death certificate (in medical jargon) as heart failure due to a pneumococal infection.

Now these don't just happen, they are always a risk after surgery and the older you are the greater the risk. So why wasn't she seen by a Doctor for more than 36 hours before she died? Even my brother (with no medical training!) could see that she had some sort of infection and was feverish. Why wasn't this spotted by the medical staff? The nurses dismissed his fears, saying "its normal - always a reaction after surgery". Strange how her medical notes vanished as soon as I asked for them. Yes, I could be angry. I try not to be. At 74 her quality of life was deteriorating and she had lost most of her close friends to age and illness, but she was someone I could talk to when I was feeling down and was never too busy to welcome me and listen to my woes. I hope that I can be the same when I have to slow down and stop being busy.

In all I have lost four members of my own blood family and not been there when they "left the room" as the old tract has it, all of them people on whom I had been dependent at one time or another and to whom I owed everything. Yes, I feel guilt at not being there when they left this life, and part of that is the feeling that I could have done so much more for them all while they were alive if I hadn't been so busy with my own life and needs. For all four it has fallen to me to make all the funeral arrangements and to close off the legal issues surrounding a death, including disposal of some very personal things like papers, furniture and clothing. It is never easy and once or twice I have been accused of being uncaring or callous by those who have not understood how difficult it has been to do this. But, again, it means that I cannot mourn until it is all done - and sometimes that is too late.

Within months of my mothers death, my father in law slipped away from this life and my wife, I know, still feels that she should have been at his bedside. I know exactly how she feels, and the anger at oneself for having failed someone who has meant everything to you through your life.

Being a Christian helps in one important area. Without being trite, I know that my mourning and sense of loss is a personal one. I am feeling sorry for me, not for the person who, I firmly believe, is now in a much happier state. It is still a wrench to have to let go of the one you love, and this state of being is a finite one, a fact I am reminded of as I get older and find that things I used to be able to do now are a lot more difficult to achieve and seem to take considerably more effort.

So I turn now to celebrating Mum's life. She had many faults (who doesn't?), she had many strengths. She was a survivor and a battler for what she believed in. She could be a lioness in defence of her family when necessary. Life was not kind to her and she had to struggle through to the end. My brother and I both miss her, but know that she is never far away, even now. Tonight I will raise a glass in her memory.

Cheers Mum, until we meet again, rest easy, we will manage as you showed us the how too.

Ecclesiaticus 44 - 9 & 10 "And some there be that have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them. But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten."

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:28 PM

November 20, 2003

Demonstrations again

So G W Bush has arrived safe and sound. The protestors have been raging and fuming and marching and so far as I can see he hasn't seen any, and they haven't done anything except cost a huge amount of taxpayers money and cause massive disruption of traffic in central London. Will anyone take any notice? On previous record, probably not.

It seems to me that we need to completely rethink the whole democratic process. The tools exist for wider consultation and including the populace in the process of governing. Its called the internet. But, it seems to me that no politician will ever admit that the populace at large should be given a wider say than just who sits in these expensive talking shops called parliaments. Good grief, it might mean their gravy train hits the buffers!

Think about it. At present you have a vote which may or may not be a crucial tool in selecting who is elected to govern. But, once elected they are a law unto themselves and have little obligation to take any notice of you until the next election. This, I believe, is what motivates the demonstrators. If, on the other hand, the government had to have an approval vote on every item in their manifesto at the election, and anything outside of that had to go to a plebiscite - which could be electronically managed and taken - the politicians would find themselves actually having to listen to the electorate.

On second thought it would never work. Politicians listen?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:42 PM

Catching up - slowly

What happened to yesterday? Well, it started out very early - I had to be in Coventry at 0830, which meant a trip up the M5, along the M42 and then onto the A45, some of it at the "rush hour" start up. So, left home at 0630 and actually beat the rush - which gave me half an hour to hang about. Ever tried to find an open coffee shop at that time of the morning? Not in Coventry I can tell you!

The award ceremony went off very well, except for a guy acting as MC whose job was to call out the names of the recipients and generally keep things moving. He made a hash of the name calling - especially as Coventry (like UNSW!) has a pretty good reputation among foreign students and attracts a lot of them from the Middle East, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Indian sub-continent. Some of these folk have some difficult names to get your tongue around, but one would have thought that a little forward planning would have given at least "an idiots guide" to pronouncing them.

The first few mangled attempts were quite amusing, but then it just got irritating and then downright embarassing. I hope that the students concerned took comfort from the fact that the rest of us were squirming in embarassment. At least we are all now duly capped and gowned.

For myself I have to say that it was great to have the day and to have the acknowledgement of having achieved the award. I guess that's my 15 seconds of fame as Warhol once put it.

Dare I suggest to any who contemplate visiting these shores (and those who live here but have never visited Coventry) that you add this Cathedral to your list of things to see. Spend a little time just contemplating what has been created here and what it represents. It certainly has something to say to us all.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:29 PM | Comments (2)

November 18, 2003

Sent to Coventry

The City of Coventry is famous for many things, not least for Lady Godiva and her protest ride through the city. Post 1940, it is probably as well remembered for the terrible destruction wrought by the fire storm that followed the Luftwaffe's visit which destroyed the Cathedral and most of the city. Yet some parts survived, and the ruins of the old cathedral stand alongside the modern one as a living monument to faith and reconciliation.

Today I visited the city for the first time. It was a reconnaisance run to check the arrangements and find the locations for my Graduation tomorrow. It gave me the opportunity to see at first hand the old and the new. Far from being a sad collection of ruined and damaged walls, I found the old cathedral strangely moving, a place of peace and of prayer still.

As I left, descending the steps to the entrance of the new cathedral I was struck by the image reflected in the window before me. I share it here with you.


Since 1940 Coventry has been rebuilt and now stands as a beacon for reconciliation. The Cross of nails, first found in the smouldering ruins of the burned out cathedral has come to symbolise the efforts of this community to put behind them the horror of what happened to them and to share their healing with others who have suffered similarly. Replica crosses have gone to various cities devastated in war including Hiroshima, Dresden, Hamburg and others.

Reconciliation is probably one of the most difficult areas of Christian lving since it requires the desire of both parties to have reconciliation. It cannot occur in any situation where one side harbours a desire for revenge, it must come from a genuine desire on both sides to put aside the pain and the past - not to forget, but to move on in hope and remembrance.

The former nave is still used for worship, its focus, the former high altar now surmounted by a burned cross made of roof timbers from the fire and the words "Father forgive" carved into the wall behind.

A moving place and a place of hope amid the ruins.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:46 PM

November 17, 2003

They that go down to the sea in ships ...

Massey Shaw.bmp

This photo of the ex-London Fire Boat Massey Shaw (named after Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, the LFB's second Professional Chief and a Victorian Society character) shows just how little free board she has and the narrow beam in terms of overall length. In a sea way she tends to bury her nose and the only thing keeping her upright is six tons of bronze centrifugal pumps and five tons of engines all mounted low in the hull. The white plume is steam from her coolant discharge which is through the exhaust system and forms a vital part of the silencer fitted to each engine. For the technically minded, her Glenifer engines are original, 8 cylinder in line marine engines with a long stroke and large bore. The engines idle at around 400 rpm and top speed is a magnificent 900 rpm. With 30 inch three blade screws she can work up to 15 knots at top revs. The engines have rotary air starters fitted and need 300 psi on the air cylinders to start. A 2 stroke Russell-Newbury engine provides power for the air compressor and a 110 volt generator and 12 v dynamo for the ships systems.

Control of the engines is from the engine room with telegraphs from the wheel house to signal engine movements to the engineer. In 1940 there was no wheelhouse, merely a screen and canvas dodger around the wheel and command position forward. The present wheelhouse was constructed in the 1960's with the original screen as its foundation and encloses the original steering and command position.

She is one of the larger "Little Ships" you read of having made the cross channel trip in 1940. The flag at her Jack Staff foreward is the flag of the ADLS - St George's Cross defaced by the badge of the Community of Dunkirk.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:47 PM | Comments (1)

Studying the Bible

For many people “Bible Study” has connotations reminiscent of fundamentalist preachers expounding upon a text selected from a Book learned almost by heart and quoted liberally in support of his or her view and interpretation. It’s a pity that this is so, because studying the Bible can be a most rewarding experience since it is, in its language (even in modern translations!) and in its sense of narrative almost as compelling as some of the great literature of the English language. The problem for most of us is that we are unable to see it in its proper context, something I was fortunate to learn quite early and from possibly the most authentic of teachers of scripture – a Jew!

Read the extended article for all the details....

Studying the Bible
A view from a Reader on the foundations of our Faith.
Some thoughts on a big subject!

For many people “Bible Study” has connotations reminiscent of fundamentalist preachers expounding upon a text selected from a Book learned almost by heart and quoted liberally in support of his or her view and interpretation. It’s a pity that this is so, because studying the Bible can be a most rewarding experience since it is, in its language (even in modern translations!) and in its sense of narrative almost as compelling as some of the great literature of the English language. The problem for most of us is that we are unable to see it in its proper context, something I was fortunate to learn quite early and from possibly the most authentic of teachers of scripture – a Jew!

Much of what we believe in our view and understanding of the Bible, particularly the New Testament is clouded by our vision of it in the context of the society it has created – which is not the society it was created in. This becomes even more relevant when considering the Old Testament, since we are separated from the events described in Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Leviticus by at least 3,000 years. Add to that the fact that, for most of us, our understanding of the civilizations, peoples and customs of that period is a sanitized one and even that is pretty shallow. How many of us actually understand the background to the events which led to the Exodus or the establishment of the Jewish way of worship. Reading Leviticus you could be excused for feeling slightly queasy with the rivers of blood and the gory detail of how and why sacrifices were to be made. Yet, in the midst of all of this gore, lies the origin of the Eucharist, in the form of the Peace or Fellowship Offering in which the sacrifice is consumed by the priests, their families and the worshippers together.

Why is the understanding of the context important if one is to make sense of the Bible? Quite simply to attempt to understand the bible without understanding the context of its writing, is a bit like trying to make sense of a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the picture it makes actually looks like.

Much of the argument today that is leveled against its historical accuracy or its divine inspiration is done from the standpoint of challenging the non-contextual interpretations that many people insist on using. We have all had the experience of being “door stepped” by the Jehovah’s Witness’ missioners and their interpretation is frequently based on literal, but non-contextual, interpretation of given passages. For example, their argument against blood transfusion is based on Paul’s stricture to newly converted Christians in Corinth, that they must not join in the romps in the pagan temples on feast days during which the blood of the animals sacrificed was frequently drunk by devotees and temple clergy. Because Paul does not bother, or perhaps, as a Jew, could not bring himself to spell this out, the text refers simply to “partaking of the blood, which belongs to God”.

Recently there has been much debate about the supposed differences between “evolutionists” and “creationist” theories and whether or not the latter should be allowed to be taught in schools. Leaving aside my opinion of the politicians making those assertions, and indeed, of the people who cannot see the hand of God in science, I cannot see what anyone who has read Genesis with an open mind (and a good translation!) can see as being conflicting between the two versions of the creation. If one leaves aside the use of the word “day” and uses instead a word such as era or aeon, the first chapter of Genesis actually describes pretty well the “big bang” and subsequent “evolution” of the universe and life on this small planet. Bearing in mind that it was written by people without our vast array of scientific instrumentation or sophisticated analysis – much less our understanding of the nature of the universe – for simple folk who were largely concerned with raising crops, gathering fire wood and making sure the next village didn’t steal the cattle or the goats, it is difficult to beat as a simple explanation of a vastly complex subject. Even the subsequent Chapters make a great deal more sense if one realises (and this comes back to my original point!) that it was common practice in pre-Exodus times for names to be passed from father to son, so that “Abraham” could quite possibly be seven or eight generations worth of people and not just one incredibly long lived man. It pays to remember that these were nomadic people who moved about, wrote little down and recorded events of note in folk story and song.

Turning to the New Testament it becomes even more important to appreciate the norms of the period against which the entire ministry of Christ is set. One needs to see the events described in the Gospel in the context of the period and not try to measure them, or worse, interpret them against the norms of our own society. This does not detract anything from the message, if anything it enhances it and makes it all the more compelling. Why should this be so? The writers of the New Testament in particular left out a great deal of information which they considered their audience would know and understand! It was not essential to the narrative in their own time, because they were talking to people who were there, or knew people who had been, or simply would have understood certain practices, actions or customs which were then prevalent. To take one very contentious point; were there women present at the last supper? Even a modern Jew would not bother to ask that question since the answer to them would be “of course!” An eve of Sabbath meal without the womenfolk of the household and of the invited guests is simply inconceivable and, if, as St John suggests, it was a Passover meal, then there would simply be no other way for it to be done, than for all the family to be present. Read the instructions in Deuteronomy and Numbers for the holding of the Passover meal. There is a grave danger of interpreting the scriptures using “gentile” and “western” norms to fill in the gaps in information in what is, essentially, a very Jewish story. To see how this may mislead, read the book of Numbers and you get the clear impression that it was quite a small group – until you realise that they have followed the Egyptian norm of counting only the men of military age. Once you then add in a figure for women of the same age, under age children and men and women above the age of fifty, you suddenly find that you are dealing with a population of at least two million on the move. No wonder Pharaoh was worried. Think of the effect that would have on an economy!

Another little wriggle in the story of the Exodus is the dating and the names of the Pharaohs involved. Well, the Pharaohs weren’t above spin doctoring either, so their records aren’t that reliable and we do know that Ramses reign saw a number of campaigns into Canaan and Syria, not always turning out as Ramses wanted the world to believe. So whose record is better? One thing I have found fascinating and I would love to be able to give a complete answer, is this. The organization of the tribes into an order of march in the Exodus, as described in detail in Numbers, is an almost exact copy of the orders for Pharaoh’s army marching into Syria. The detail of who is where and when they move, how they maintain contact and the direction of travel smacks of a very good military commander. So; was Moses a renegade Egyptian General? Perhaps even a deposed Pharaoh? We will probably never know, but it is fun exploring all the possibilities and uncovering the amazing manner in which God has wrought His most wonderful purpose - sometimes using the most unsuitable people!

If you have a desire to study this amazing book of books in more detail, I suggest that you should start by acquiring the Lion “Handbook to the Bible”. Add to this Anderson’s “Living World of the Old Testament” and Gooder’s “The Pentateuch”. For the New Testament you will need a good series of Commentaries – I find Tynedale’s as good as any as a source for foundation information. Then you need to read history – lots of it. Covering Ancient civilizations and religions and particularly the history of the first century. You may even find some military history useful, particularly when reading about the warfare of the Old Testament. Boring? Not a bit of it!

May peace and understanding come to you as you read, but above all – enjoy it.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:16 PM

November 16, 2003

Democratic demonstrations

Democracy and demonstration are two words which seem, these days, to come in for both use and abuse. Could someone tell me when demostrations became democratic? Surely this means that those on it have allowed someone (presumably themselves, since I don't seem to get asked) to vote on what will be said, done, shouted or perpetrated on a demonstration? And when did the demonstrators assume the right to speak for anyone not on the march? By what authority do they suddenly have the right to declare that anyone who dares to have a different view, is a Fascist?

This question has once again reared its head, in my mind at least, as I have watched the usual bunch of straggly bearded, arrogant and supremely dictatorial twerps trotting onto television to declare that President Bush is the greatest threat to world peace, stability, the environment, democracy and freedom since Adolf Hitler or Ghengiz Khan (Funny, they never mention Uncle Joe Stalin). It amazes me that they, in the name of democratic rights, can claim that they have the right to refuse Mr Bush entry to the UK or anywhere else. To listen to them, you would be forgiven for thinking that they were addressing the problem of some violent dictator invading the country to spread some radical right wing political agenda.

Now I know that there were some interesting questions about the election that brought him to power, but those are, in my view a matter for the American people, not for a bunch of supposedly left wing liberals in this country. By the very complex voting system used in the States to elect a President, Mr Bush is the man the Americans elected. They can have another shot at voting him out in a couple of years.

I used to wonder what the anti-apartheid (most of them couldn't even spell it!) mob would do when the apartheid regime went. Now I know, now there is a racist, facist, chauvinist and ony other kind of -ist under every (pardon the pun!) bush. Every company, organisation or institution is "institutionally" racist, sexist or something else-ist. Express a view in dissent of any view promoted by this all powerful lobby and you are likely to find yourself being crucified as something left over from the Nazi Party of 1933 - 1945! There is no debate permitted, no reasoned argument, you are simply howled down by the raging mob, egged on by the ranting of the bearded geniuses who are always on hand when a mob needs some pseudophilosophy to encourage it. The arrogance of these agitators is nothing short of breathtaking, they are good with words, weasel words, always appealing to "reasonableness", and "human rights", and "democratic" process, but there is never a ballot paper, much less any reasoned debate, in sight when it comes to quoting a "majority" view.

These are usually based on a "representative" sample in some street corner poll. The problem with these is that if you stand on a street corner and ask a thousand people if they think that the hunting of foxes should be banned, most will not wish to be exposed as "uncaring", so they will give what they think is the answer the pollster wants, ie: Yes. Most reputable poll taking companies acknowledge this and frame their questions very carefully to allow for it and screen it out. This is not, unfortunately, true of some organisations who engage in this activity!

I once refused to sign a petition that was being rather forcibly promoted in Trafalgar Square. In full view of a policeman - and undoubtedly within his hearing - I was treated to a stream of verbal abuse and threatening behaviour by the lout demanding my signature. The abuse stopped when he made the mistake of calling me a facist, racist pig. My reply was "It takes one, to know one!" I walked off while his jaw was still dragging on the ground in surprise.

It is this that really annoys me about these people, you are now automatically accused of being reactionary when you do not identify with their cause, yet are their "causes" actually of benefit to society as a whole? Usually not. This is one of the biggest problems with "single issue" politics. It simply does not recognise that things inevitably are interwoven, move one domino and you have a cascade. The final state may well not be what was intended, but it is too late to stop it.

We are supposed to live in a democracy (actually we don't, but THAT is another debate altogether!), and the dictionary definition says that this means that we exercise power in government through elected persons who represent our interests. Nowhere can I find a definition which says that unelected demonstrators have a mandate to argue for banning foxhunting, live animal transport, visiting heads of state, new road building, airport runways or mobile phone antennae. Nor can I find anything that gives these people a mandate to burn trucks, bomb research establishments, release hordes of non-native mink into our countryside, cripple horses and attempt to kill huntsmen, sabotage earthmoving equipment and generally obstruct highways. Yet the law seems powerless (or perhaps the politicians are to gutless) to stop this mayhem and instill sensible order. Indeed, it seems to go the other way - if you are the target, don't even consider defending yourself, the law in the form of the entire constabulary and the courts will be down on you like a ton of bricks for daring to interfere with the "right" to attack you.

Perhaps what we need is a new law that requires the demonstration organisers to have a secret ballot of the inhabitants of the area they plan to hold their demonstration in. If the vote goes against them, then the demo is off! Simple solution to a costly problem. And its democratic too!

There are many causes that get my hackles up and there are many that I would be prepared to take up arms for, but they do not include matters dealt with in the ballot box at a local or national level. Nor do they include any matter in which there has been an opportunity to present a reasoned and rational debate on the pros and cons for any issue. However, most of the demonstrations I have witnessed since my mis-spent youth have been led by anarchists who did not believe in reason or debate. Their attitude seems to be that there is only one point of view and it is theirs. I wonder if they realise how undemocratic that is.

One of the most important lessons I have learned about poltics is that there is no "left" or "right". It is a circle and go far enough towards either extreme and you find that there is no discernable difference between them. So, Stalin was Left wing and Hitler was Right Wing. Or were they? Seems to me that both operated secret police, some pretty extreme policies on dissenters, gipsies and others they didn't like, both kept the state under massive degree of centralisation and both headed puppet "democratically elected" parliaments. Both operated death camps, both operated massive slave labour organisations for "the greater good" of the "masses". Clue number two, anyone who refers to his or her electorate as the masses is not to be trusted with the trappings of power! At the end of the day the only difference between them was the scale of the murders they committed. Hitler 10 million, Stalin 40 million. Oh, one other difference, Stalin was on our side so, according to some, he was a "good guy". So, apparently, was Saddam. At least in the minds of those who will be out throwing things at G W Bush and fighting with the police for their "democratic right" to prevent him from coming to the UK.

Anyone who thinks we live in a democracy should maybe take a look at the original model. Then go and look up the meaning of "Oligarchy".

So, can anyone tell me who gave the demonstrators this mandate to speak for the nation?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:53 PM

November 15, 2003


Just so everybody knows - I am still finding out how to do things with this blog. So, if you want to link to me, I will be happy to reciprocate - just as soon as my mentor, guru, and general instructor tells me how! Folks, you are dealing with some one here who can crash his computer by typing and pressing "control" instead of shift!

Bear with me, I'm getting better! The dried frog pills help.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:21 PM

Waterside show

This afternoon I took a walk along the riverside, something I find very pleasant and enjoyable, particularly as a would be boat owner and long time "messer abouterer in boats". At this time of the year, of course, there are few boats out and about, but I did pause to admire a large, obviously newly acquired, gin palace grumble up to the lock.

Then the fun started and rapidly descended into something the Marx Brothers could possibly have used. For those that have never tried to bring a large craft alongside in comparatively shallow water or into a lock cut, there are a few tricks you perhaps ought to know first. One is that there is always a current running out of the lock cut which is often complicated by the associated weir. If the weir is upstream of the lock, and the lock entrance is at an angle to the main river, you can have quite a vicious courrent across the lock channel. Woe betide the coxswain who doesn't allow for this. Believe me, there are usually indications if you watch the water surface, but they can be deceiving.

Anyway, this skipper obviously hadn't tried this particular approach before, or had not tried it in this type of boat. His first mistake was to allow the boat to swing in the cross flow, which he then tried to correct with full helm and more power. Bad move, the boat swung wildly and careened off the wrong side of the entrance marker post. Much swearing and falling about.

Boat now firmly lodged on the putty. Puts crew to heave against the marker post (which is now conveniently hard against the upper rubbing strake) and whacks engines to full power astern! Massive wash, lock keeper runs across to tell him to ease off, just as boat comes out of the putty like a cork from the proverbial bottle and dumps crew over the side in the process. Crowd begins to gather as the show starts to heat up with boat now in the grip of the current and the movement from the engines as it charges back towards some moored canal barges. Barge owners now frantically putting out fenders and yelling advice.

Skipper succeeds in stopping reverse charge by throwing everything the other way and careers off across the river in the direction of the opposite bank and the restricted approach to the weir. Crowd waits with bated breath - but, he's in luck! The combination of current, shutting off power and the resultant loss of forward way avoids a second attempt at the putty. What now? He is now alone on board and in the middle of the river. To get alongside, he needs to bring it in gently and get a line onto a mooring point sharpish. More yelled instructions from the lock keeper, his crew (presumably his lady wife, although this is now difficult to gauge under the combination of mud, weed and sodden clothing) and one or two other "helpful" boat owners from respective boats.

Generally, it all put me in mind of a naval signal to a destroyer skipper who had made a mess of coming alongside the refueling berth. It read: "You may reattack the Oiling Berth at this tide, or berth at Berth 15 and be warped to the oiler when the tide slackens." In naval terms, that's pretty insulting language.

Our hopeful skipper, now much more cautious, managed on his second attempt to get his nose into the cut and then to allow the cross current to push him against the wall where his waiting crew grabbed a line off the deck and secured him to the applause of the watching crowd. I felt a pang of sympathy for him. Its not much fun handling a large and unfamiliar craft in confined water, especially when there are hidden currents.

As I walked on I reflected ruefully on one that I nearly got wrong spectacularly a few years ago. I used to coxswain a preserved fire boat "Massey Shaw" - a Dunkirk "Little Ship" (Check this site Association of Dunkirk Little Ships <>) credited with bringing off no less than 600 men to other ships and 104 herself all the way back to Ramsgate. She is 78 feet long and 13 feet 6 in the beam and draws only 3 feet 9 fully laden. You've guessed, she was NOT designed to operate at sea! In fact, she makes a fair impression of a submarine in any sort of sea over about three feet and can roll to an unbelievable angle. (Tried it - took her to Dunkirk with twelve other blokes in 1990 - 50 years and all that!)

Anyway, one day I was asked to move another boat moored with us, a former Motor Fishing Vessel which, despite the name, had never been a fishing vessel, she had been built for the RN as a fishery patrol vessel and harbour duties craft.

Taking her off the mooring was no problem. She handled much more easily than the Massey and I thoroughly enjoyed taking a turn around the West India Dock with her. Nice pair of Gardiner Diesels driving her twin screws, well balanced rudder and generally nice and handy. Putting her back was another story. It is a berth you have to back into. I am used to handling boats with outward rotating screws, this little beauty had screws that rotated INWARDS. OK, so I may have to explain that to some readers. The ship has a tendency to swing its stern (the back end) in the direction the screw rotates. When you are driving forwards the screws would normally be rotating so the left hand one is running anti-clockwise and the right hand running clockwise. When you go astern this is reversed.

Now, by playing with your engines, you can make her swing her tail to the left or the right using the "torque" of the screw and engine and this helps to control the direction as you back up. If you are used to them running one way, and now take over a boat that has the opposite .....

Well, it took me about 20 seconds to figure out that there was something wrong when I tried to line up as I backed into the berth. It took three seconds to cancel engines astern and get myself out into the main dock again. Then I rang the engineer and asked which way his props rotated. "Inward rotation Skipper, sorry, thought you knew!"

Well, I knew now. The second attempt was much more orderly, but I was in a closed dock, no currents and plenty of water to play with. I must have got something right that day, the crew reckoned I handled her better than the regular skipper. Flattery got them a pint later.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:16 PM


It really doesn't pay to mess with things bigger than you are!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:00 PM

November 14, 2003

Economies of scale

Ever since the late sixties the Civil Service mantra has been that "bigger is better" and provides "economies of scale". Well, that is at least partly true, provided you are selective in how you measure these things.

If you close all the small schools in a district and combine them all on one site, you certainly have economies of scale in the maintenance of the buildings as you now only have one set to maintain instead of several. But this is one of those "cost" versus "value" equations which accountants, civil servants and politicians hate. You save money on the one hand by centralising everything, but then you discover that a bus service is now needed to bring all the kids from the schools you closed. Wastage goes up because, with a bigger inventory to manage, little things slide off the scale and get lost in the big numbers elsewhere. Then you have the breakdown in relations between teachers and pupils to deal with, because, where in a small school, the teachers know all the pupils and vice versa, in a big one drawing pupils from everywhere, you don't. Result is breakage due to vandalism rises, and so do maintenance costs. The problem is that no one is in a position to actually measure the REAL cost because the figures weren't kept in the same way in the past and cannot therefore be checked against what is now happening.

This argument has raged for some time, but the Civil Service are an arrogant and powerful bunch and no argument prevails against them. The Minister may have a different view, but what happens is what the Civil Service causes to happen. The Minister takes the can if it goes wrong and the Civil Servants responsible get promotion.

Now it is being done to the fire services in the UK. The same "economies of scale" argument is being trotted out to defend it, but now there is a small problem. You see the fire service is good at numbers. Especially at numbers involved in running the service - and we have had to be, because this same bunch of parasites have been short changing the service for years. I just hope that someone with more political clout than I can bring to bear stumbles across the information I am about to share with whoever reads this tirade.

In the last seven years in Wales, the former seven brigades have been crunched into three. "Economies of scale" trumpetted the new Regional Assembly. Ah, well now, perhaps they would care to explain this little "economy". In one of the "new" brigades, the cost of the three that have now been combined was, prior to merger a combined figure of £35 million for all three. Since the purpose of the combination of services was to save money, you, the tax payer would quite reasonably expect that the new figure would be less than that. Wrong. It went to a cool £70 million and is still rising. Are you getting a better service? No, it is the same service as before, it just has a lot more "administration" than was previously needed to run three independent brigades, and a lot more politicians with their snouts in the trough, and even more civil servants with their featherbedded and highly paid posts.

Now they want to do this all over Britian. Its such a success isn't it? God help us, we voted for them! Count de Magpyr and his vampire army is alive and well and living in Whitehall. Where is Granny Weatherwax when you need her?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:28 PM

Infallible banking

Towards the end of last month I ran out of money before I ran out of month. Now this may not seem that unusual - especially to me - but on this occassion it was. I had been carefully keeping a tally on all my outgoings and figured I should have had a fair bit left. Anyway, the usual advisory note arrived on the last day of the month in time for the matter to be addressed by my salary being deposited so it presented no urgent problem. However, it did make me look closely at the statement that arrived this week.

Bingo! Spotted the problem on page 1.

Earlier this month, moved by the advance of Anno Domine and the prompting of friends to attend (only for the second time in my life) a school reunion next year for all those who Matriculated with me (Its 40 years - you've GOT to be there!), I had signed up to join the Old Boys Association. Hell, it is 40 years, and all the people who really gave me uphill then have faired no better than I have or done worse.

So, off I go to the bank and request the transfer of the appropriate sum in SA Rand to the bank in SA. Simple.

Not quite. The bank read the Rand Amount as Pounds Sterling. With an exchange rate of £1 = SAR11, the OSA got a lot more money than they bargained on and I had a hole in my budget. OK, now try to reverse this!

Phone bank. Very helpful, if somewhat alarmed. Can't retreive from their end, I must contact recipient and ask them to send it back. No charges will accrue. Really? And who do they think is paying for this anyway?

So I contact the Old Selbornian Association (Look them up on the Selborne Schools and they very kindly have agreed to send back the difference to my account. Guess what? Today the mail brings a letter from my esteemed bankers asking me to "contact them urgently about the transfer of funds to South Africa". The letter arrived this morning while I was at work. I get home in the evening. The bank does not work on a Saturday.

I guess it will be Monday before I can make any further progress with them. I wonder if I can persuade them to refund my original transfer costs? Worth a try!

Trust me, I'm a banker.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:19 PM


I knew braking for livestock would get me in trouble one day!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:00 PM

November 13, 2003

Expert definitions

Just in case anyone thinks I'm far too serious and take myself to seriously here is a definition of what I do for a living/have done for a living for the better part of my career. Don't know how I've got away with it this long really ......

Fire Safety Engineering

The art of installing and modelling materials, equipment and processes we do not wholly understand, into installations and functions we cannot accurately analyse, to withstand forces and conditions we cannot properly assess, in such a way that the public at large has no reason to suspect the extent of our ignorance.

There, and you all thought it was done by numbers. Trust me, I'm a Fire Fighter.

Another thought from the wisdom of the Emergency service is this gem from a thirty year man listening to a talk on Vocational Qualification and Competence ..

"Experience is what helps us to make a different mistake the second time around."

Sleep well.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:32 PM

Junk Mail

Every day the postman arrives at my door with a collection of letters, most addressed to me or my wife, but some to previous occuppants and some to "The Owner" or "The Occupier". Now SPAM I can handle - Select - Block - Delete - usually works just fine and the rest is easy. Even emptying the helpful little "Recycle" bin on my desktop is as easy, but what do I do with the flood of hard copy dropping through my door on a daily basis? Now it even arrives in my mail tray at work from my Union, my professional bodies and a host of companies who supply equipment or materials that the servce might vaguely have a use for.

It litters my work top, fills up my rubbish bin and if I am not careful - since they helpfully include a lot of Personalised Application forms in them, I wind up with Credit Cards I don't have control over (someone else has helpfully applied for it in my name) or loans I didn't want. I have to physically destry the blasted stuff before I can throw it out which means I have to open it to see what other damaging material it might contain in terms of bank details, names, dates of birth and so on. Where do they get this from?

You've guessed it! That's right, there is big money to be made in selling on client lists, so, every time you buy something you get on a list. And every list gets sold. Ah! But wait a minute, you can opt off those lists can't you? Yes, but some of these are not that evident to start with. Famous line, "Good evening sir/madam, this is a telephone survey" means we're checking our list and you've just confirmed they have the right name and address. Riiiiiiiiiigggghhhhht! More junk mail on its way.

Even the government are in on this racket, they will sell off the Voters Roll for any Parish, Borough or County and you'll be on it - unless you elect to have your details withheld. OK, so you do that this time (the first time you've had the option!) but the gaps can still be plugged by simply checking the last one!

Half my wheelie bin is filled with torn up junk mail each week. Save the planet? Force junk mailers to plant rain forests to replace the piles of paper they're burying us under.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:47 PM | Comments (1)

November 12, 2003

Remembrance Day

Yesterday saw the dedication in London of a rather belated, but nonetheless splendid, memorial to the ANZAC forces who gave their lives in two World Wars. It is something the denizens of these small islands overlook that their Colonial cousins probably made a greater sacrifice in terms of population than anyone else. Certainly Australia, New Zealand and South Africa fielded all volunteer forces and usually got put into situations everyone else couldn't manage. Often without the right weaponry or support.

The South Africans lost an entire Division at Tobruk, after being sent in to relieve the Australian Division without anti-tank weapons and without ammunition for what they did have. Guess what, it was actually a big administrative error - the weapons were available, but someone in Cairo hadn't signed the paperwork to allow it to be sent to the front. Rommel certainly found that a useful ommission when he attacked. Even so, the South Africans held out a lot longer than anyone thought possible.

Some years ago, I visited the Menin Gate at Ypres. The "gate" is a memorial to the fallen of the first World War and is inscribed with the names of those who died on this salient but whose bodies were destroyed, lost or never found. Again, I was appalled at the numbers of South African and ANZAC names recorded on it - until then I had had no idea they were even there! For those who are interested, this salient includes the area known as Paschendal, a small village that was wiped from the face of the earth during the fighting. I find it somehow very fitting that the Last Post is sounded at the Gate every afternoon at 1600 - by buglers from the Ypres Fire Brigade.

The slaughter in this conflict was horrendous on all sides, and I still find it very moving when I visit some of the small churches in Gloucestershire to take services, to see the lists of names on their memorials where you can see, fathers, brothers and sons all listed as killed. It is no wonder that rural Britian changed forever after this conflict. Interestingly only two villages in England have no memorial and one is in the area I used to serve. The reason is that they lost no one in both conflicts even though they went off to fight as everyone else did. Upper Slaughter has a roll of those who served in the Parish Church - giving thanks for their safe return.

Those who would like to rewrite the history books, or who would like to decry the need for the war, should consider the world under Hitler, had he not been stopped, or the world under the likes of Stalin. My father, who returned from the Far East with nightmares and a deep loathing of the enemy he had fought for two years in that theatre (in 1944 he turned 21 and he had joined up at 18 in the RN), was in no doubt that the war had been necessary. I gave his diaries from the Arakan Campaign to the South African Defence Force Museum some years ago and even in their cryptic form they were enough to give you the shivers in some places. Particularly when describing what they found on entering Rangoon and one or two other places.

My mothers father had served in WWI and been almost killed on day 2 of the Somme, the day the Irish Division ceased to exist. After a lengthy recovery in which he was lucky to keep his leg, he returned to the front as a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery on a 7.2 inch howitzer. He never claimed the medals he had earned for his war and suffered into the 1950's from "gas boils" which could incapacitate him for days at a time. My other grandfather had served in the forces as well, but being older, had fought in earlier wars - some of that alongside my mothers grandfather who fought in the Anglo Boer War and several other "Colonial skirmishes".

I have been fortunate, according to some, in having never been called upon to fight in a formal war, but have, instead had to deal with the aftermath of those who plant bombs in cars, wheelie bins, on railway stations and other public places for some extreme "cause" or another. There are no medals to commemorate these campaigns and those of us in the emergency services are told that it is our job to just get on with it. It has left me with a deep contempt for anyone who styles themselves a "freedom fighter" - the real name is murderous moron - and for the political system and the systems administrators who tie themselves up in so many "rules of engagement" that it is impossible to deal effectively with such threats. You have only to deal once with a maimed, burned or wounded child, grandparent or mother to know that these perpetrators are not worth worrying about and their so called cause is anything but "just". No cause can ever justify attacking the innocent.

These days I specialise in teaching people how to investigate these scenes, and it is my fervent hope that if enough people can be shown how to do it effectively and correctly (the "rules" again!), we can put the perpetrators away for a very, very long time.

OK, that's my Remembrance Day thought. The more I study the history of these and other wars, the more I realise just how big a debt this generation owes these men and women. I will continue as long as I live to be proud of them and to honour them whenever and wherever I may be.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:16 AM | Comments (1)

November 11, 2003

How dark is the age

Ever wondered why the period 600 - 1100 AD is referred to as "The Dark Ages"? I frequently do, especially when I am confronted by evidence of some of the fantastic artwork produced in this period.

Recently there was a TV show on the "Viking Age" which discussed and showed some of the fantastic achievements the Celts, Anglo Saxons, Danes, Swedes and Norwegians produced. Contrary to popular (mostly Victorian) belief they weren't all cut throats. The majority were actually traders. That said, the term "Viking" is translatable as "raider". Again they are not a particular people, but a group which worked from the Scandanavian area (including Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) who travelled widely in search of trade.

But I digress, what sparked this thought train was the showing (it is now available electronically from the British Library) of the Lindisfarne Gospels. Stunning. The work of one scribe, it is absolutely amazing and probably took him 10 years to do. The vellum on which it is written comes from 150 cows and the filigree work decorating the covers is the work of an amazingly skilled artist. So for that matter are the decorations in the text.

Then there is the Scandanavian end and the amazingly complete ship which was used as a coffin for a woman. That's right, a woman. And it wasn't a war vessel although it was big enough to be - it was a yacht. In about 900AD. The decorative scroll work on the stem and sternposts, on the barge boards and gunwales is breath taking and it was recovered with all the grave goods and its own fittings intact. It needed 30 oarsmen to row it, but this was the toy of a high status "Viking" woman. Perhaps not so dark an age after all.

Its an interesting fact that when you look at the British Isles, there are no longer any pure English, Welsh, Scots or Irish. The fact is that over the last 2000 years there have been so many intermarriages between Celt and Anglo Saxon, Dane, Norwegian, Spaniard and Norman that we are a real mixed breed now. Recent studies of Regional accents and local word use also suggest that the North East, for example, still has closer linguistic links with Denmark than with the rest of the UK.

Having been born in South Africa of British parentage when I look at my family tree I find the only way to describe myself accurately on a racial monitoring form is as "African Anglo Saxon Hybernian Norman English. And there's some Welsh in there too alongside a large dose of Scot. I wonder if our Dark Ages forbears ever thought it would come to this when the Venerable Bede was writing at Jarrow of the "English speaking peoples". Which brings me back to my original point.

There has been an excellent documentary on the Adventure of English and I was amazed at just how much of the early English and Anglo Saxon I could understand. Then it clicked, it is a Dutch root language and being able to speak some Dutch it didn't take me long to tune in to the pronunciation - hence being able to follow the speech. It was also the language and the age of a first flowering of some of the most amazing poetry. What a pity only fragments survive of most of it. Skills abounded, and a walk through the roof of the Norman Abbey Church I have the good fortune to worship in always leaves me amazed at the workmanship even in the "hidden" places. This abbey was built in 1102 - 1141 and although the Conventual Buildings are gone, the Abbey Church is intact. Have a look at if you are interested. It has stood for 900 years almost unchanged apart from the demolition under Henry VIII and the restoration work done in 1840 - 1843. Our modern stone masons have had to learn the skills of the Norman masons to keep up the restoration work - which is never ending!

OK, so the Vikings were a bit of a disaster for most communities, but I can't escape the feeling that, in the main, the Dark Ages were not all that bad. They have certainly left us lots to think on. Ever wonder why the Raven is regarded as a bird of ill omen? The Vikings used to carry a cage of them on the raiding ships. When they thought they were close to land, they'd release one. If it could see land it made for it, if it couldn't, it came back to the ship.

If you were tilling your fields/minding your sheep/decorating your latest book and a raven came hurtling in off the sea - you knew you had about an hour to put some distance between you and the rather nasty bunch following the bird.

There you go, another bit of useless information to dazzle/bore your friends with.

And so to sleep.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:20 PM

Joys of national health and other social ills

Having had an enforced few days at home thanks to a bad attack of hiatus hernia and now inflamation of the gall bladder, I have once again had to run the gauntlet of the NHS. You may be doubled up with pain and seeing double as a result, but you still have to go to them and not the other way round. Then you also have to wait while your doctor writes (that's right - a letter not an e-mail!)to a specialist somewhere else to make an appointment so you can have an ultra sound to check if you need an operation. It shouldn't take more than about a month I'm told. Not that many years ago, and in a different country I would have been seen by my own GP, blood samples taken and referred to another clinic immediately to have the scan. But, this is progress - and purportedly unfair, because you see I had to have medical insurance for it.

I also didn't have to pay an inordinate amount of money in so-called "national insurance" which is supposed to pay for health and pensions, but is, in reality, just another Treasury cash cow. It has recently gone up dramatically for people like me but we are not entitled to most of the benefits it is supposedly funding. It is a bit annoying when you see on the news a couple who draw £50k in benefits every year, tax free! Thats almost £20k more than I earn in a rather high stress position before tax. Someone tell me there is justice in this somewhere!

Talking of pensions (and being fairly close to be able to draw one) we have a rather interesting situation here. Ever since this bunch of Vampires fastened their teeth into the nations throat we have had a raft of very stealthy tax rises. This is supposed to pay for things like more nurses, more teachers, more policemen. What is happening in reality is that for every policeman, nurse or teacher hired, there are almost two extra paper shuffling civil servants hired. If anyone can actually tell me what most of these people do that contributes to the productivity of the nation I would be glad. Perhaps if we didn't have to hire them, there would be no need for the Chancellor to steal £5 billion a year from pension funds, a situation that is causing most firms to close them down. The Chancellors raids, coupled with a poor stock market performance means that most of these funds now do not have sufficient income after tax to pay their pensioners.

Well done Mr Brown, can't have these wealthy pensioners living off the fat of the land while all your cronies need extra handouts now can we.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:31 PM

November 10, 2003


I work for a government agency, our function is to provide training - sorry, in New Speak, that's Personal Development - for the Emergency Services. I have spent the best part of 32 years in various roles and ranks within that service and have to say I enjoyed every moment. Until now.

One of the benefits of living in a country run by Sound Bites and Spin Doctors is that everything is now described in Buzz Words. Hence we have an Integrated Transport Policy, and Integrated Health System, Integrated Government (means it expands exponentially while you aren't looking) and the latest gem to hit the service I am involved in "Integrated Personal Development". What used to be a simple matter of acquiring skills and knowledge as you moved through the service has now become as self perpetuating bureaucracy. Made worse by its being seen by the politicians as the perfect vehicle to hang all their more lunatic politically correct wish lists on. So now I am a Senior Facilitator. Oh joy! I always wanted to be one of those! I still do the same job, for the same money, but now the workload has shot through the roof because I am expected to do a personal assessment on each student. Twenty four to twenty eight per Programme (that used to be Course) and upwards of twelve Programmes per year. Good stuff, but it gets better. You see I have been a fan of Terry Pratchett for years, and now I know where he gets his inspiration.

Yep, we are now run by something called "The Hub". The denizens of this place are as strange a collection as those who inhabit Pratchett's Cori Celesti. Dunmanifestin has nothing on these guys - or the new management. Only the Civil Service would consider it appropriate to appoint someone from the Department of Social Services (Housing Division) and someone from the Department of Prisons (Probation Service) to run a Training College. Or maybe I'm missing a trick here. Anyway, those of us who actually deal with the students, sorry, delegates, have dubbed our end of the organisation "The Rim". Anyday now we plan to erect a Circumfence, to stop any more things from drifting over the edge while our "Management" wonder what it actually does.

A recent read of the "Wee free men" and "Monstrous Regiment" had me rushing to the bookcase to reread "Carpe Jugulum" (he got the New Labour strategy to a "T"!) and the the even funnier "The Last Hero". I like Cohen's style, pity I can't get him to do the same for our Hub. Oops, now I had better go and do some penance. That's the problem with being a christian, you feel guilty about being angry with people who really annoy you!

Anyone who reads Pratchett will know that you need to read him at least twice for each title to really see what he is driving at. The first read is funny, the second makes you go Hmmmmmm, and the third sometimes makes you sit back and look for another planet to go and hide on.

OK, so I am a bit weird in the humour department, but I actually like to be challenged - to be made to think about what I have read and why I find it funny. Pratchett does that to you, and perhaps that's why he works outside of the UK just as well - even though those who are not familiar with the UK may miss some of the very parochial issues he holds up for ridicule.

These days, whenever someone really annoys me, I sit back and try to imagine what Pratchett would do with the character - trouble is, he usually already has! I now work with guys who make me think of the UU faculty, Lupine Wonse, Mr Slant, Count de Magpyr, King Verence, Mrs Ogg, Carrot Ironfounderson, Sam Vimes, Sargeant Colon and Nobby - and all the others. Sort of difficult to keep a straight face sometimes. I wonder what character they cast me as ...

If you haven't read Pratchett, it's not to late to start.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:23 PM | Comments (10)

Pavanne for a dead Princess?

Is it only me that feels that it is high time the late, and in some areas seemingly overly lamented, Princess of Wales, the Lady Diana, was allowed to slip quietly away from the public scrutiny? I have to say that I am heartily sick of the hype that surrounds this otherwise unremarkable woman whose sole talent was to manipulate the media and those around her to a really remarkable degree. No miracles have as yet been reported at her grave, she was not a particularly strong believer in anything as far as we are aware, and the Pope is unlikely to subscribe to her elevation to the same status as our Lord's mother! So why won't her fan club let her lie? Why is she accorded in some quarters the same status as a goddess?

This one is as bad as the mania associated with the late Elvis the Pelvis. The only reason I can see for keeping them both going is that someone,
somewhere, is making money out of it. Interesting, that - I see from various press reports that the Earl Spencer is doing quite nicely out of the pilgrimage to the graveside of the Princess, and I guess the Presley Foundations must be doing very well out of their promotions.

As far as I can see Diana was a very strange lady, nice when she wanted to be, as nasty as all get out when she didn't feel it worth being nice and not terribly intelligent in between. No I am not a Diana fan, and I am even less of a fan of the mob who keep trying to make out that her death was something extraordinary. She was out for a romantic weekend with her latest flame and he was a pretty spoiled playboy type as well.

What has triggered this rant? Well, partly its down to having to listen to some new "revelation" about what the Prince did, or didn't do, how badly he treated Saint Diana, and how her seemingly endless tape recordings of private conversations could sink the monarchy - or not as the case may be. Since all the tapes have turned out to be somewhat less than damning or to have ceased to exist since they were supposedly made, I find myself somewhat less than excited about them. Besides, you do have to ask what she planned to do with them. Blackmail seems to have been the only motive here, and even for the sort of Machiavelian behaviour she seems to have adopted, that is going a bit too far for my liking.

OK so she was the mother of the future King William V, but she doesn't rate the hype and she surely isn't going to return from the tomb to mend all the worlds ills. From the look of the people who seem to go to worship at her tomb, I would guess that many of them are just trying to find the meaning of life. If orgainsed religion isn't their bag - then get on with looking to the living. If you need spiritual guidance there are many other ways to find the road, the dead Princess isn't one of them.

For my part I hope that she has found rest, like all of us she was a flawed human being, as subject to the temptations of the flesh and the weaknesses of the mind and body as any of the rest of us. May she rest in peace, and may her children cherish the memories of the best times she shared with them. For the adherents of her Cult - get a life!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:37 PM | Comments (1)

November 09, 2003

New Toys

Being new to the art of "blogging" is something of a challenge, not least in wondering what the heck to muse over. Strange isn't it, that only a matter of 16 years or so ago, my closest encounter with a computer was a small and rather primitive desk top that ran off a cassette tape and used a portable television as a display screen. As you had to write your own programmes for this object of desire, I was a non-starter on it!

Later, my employers bought one - it sat (for most of us lurked!) in an office and again, it needed someone who could write the magic programme or it just sat there. That was an Apple MacIntosh - some would say moving up in the world, but it may as well have been a stone chisel for all the use it was to most of us.

Then I moved to the UK, and Lo! My new employer proudly showed me the new computer he expected me to use in my work! An Amstrad 1640 with all of 16 MB of disk space. It took me several days, a demo and much swearing as I read the impenetrable gibbersih of the manuals to eventually be able to produce some documents in the word processing programme. It took about another six months to master the basic spread sheet in it! Technophobe? Me? I hate to say this, but by the time I left there after two short years, I was hooked. Utterly dependent, can't work without it now!

The next step was to master the technical programmes for analysis of sprinkler systems, gas extinguishing systems and the like! Oh joy, Oh Rupture! More hours of sweating, swearing and crashing programmes. This was a gigantic mainframe based system - and it didn't have the sort of memory that the average laptop now carries!

Moving swiftly on! The next hurdle was the internet. Well ........

Ever wondered what we would do if it all came crashing down and stopped working? Even for a couple of days?

Doesn't bear thinking about! I have enough trouble just trying to find the files I know I have created, without worrying about what I'd do if I couldn't retrieve them ever again.

And so, to sleep, perchance to dream.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:02 PM | Comments (2)