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December 31, 2003

Politics free Honours?

Uuuuuuurgh! I am doing my best to resist the temptation to explode! All week we have had leaked evidence trickling out of how Blair and his cronies have abused the Honours system. We have been assured that it is a lengthy process, taking a minimum of 18 months or so for each candidate to be selected and Ministers do not "sex it up". Right.

So we are to believe that the England Rugby Team were in line for a Knighthood and several OBE's before they won the cup.

Despite the obvious hand of Downing Street, I must say that I am pleased to see these guys honoured. I just wish that they had been processed the way everyone else is supposed to be, then there wouldn't be a smell of nepotism and desperation to show how "sports friendly" we are. Right Tone?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:54 AM | Comments (4)

Happy New Year to one and all

I couldn't resist posting this picture of one of the big South African steam tugs in the harbour that I grew up around. She had an interesting and varied career, most of it served under the name of "E S Steytler", although she was launched as "Theodor Woker" in 1939 and actually set out on her delivery voyage from Greenock on the Clyde on the 1st September 1939.


The 680 gt E S Steytler in East London harbour. She was fitted with twin quadruple expansion engines developing 13,000 shp per shaft. Steam was provided by four Admiralty pattern water tube boilers and she carried just over 60 tons of coal in her bunkers. Crew was eight deck hands, eight stokers and a Master, First Mate, Chief Engineer and Second.

She was diverted to the sinking Donaldson liner Athenia and brought survivors back to the Clyde where she was immediately taken over as a Rescue Tug by the Admiralty who renamed her HMS Stalwart. She was also present at the Dunkirk evacuation - probably the only South African registered ship to have that distinction. Her sister ship, also awaiting delivery, the "T H Watermeyer", was taken over as HMS Watermeyer. In 1941 the Steytler was released back to her original owners and, after some repairs which sorted out some interesting damage and removed a 12 pdr gun from above her towing gear, steamed out to South Africa to spend her life in East London and Durban. She was broken up for scrap in 1980.

What's this got to do with a new year wish? Not a lot really, I just like the picture and wanted to share it ......

Hope you all have a great 2004.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:40 AM | Comments (5)

Earthquake victims

What a difference a bit of organisation makes. Recently we have had two widely separated areas hit by quakes. In the one an estimated 30 thousand people have died, in the other, the number is less then a handful. Admittedly, the earthquake in California was on a lower number on the Richter scale, and equally admittedly, the structures involved are a world apart in more than just the geographic sense.

Bam, in Iran, was an almost unique city in that it is a very ancient settlement and that it has been maintained as a heritage site built of mudbrick and is largely medieval. Even the more modern additions, had been built of the same materials and to similar designs so that the whole appeared to be of one period. Very few examples of similar age and style exist elsewhere, the majority being in North Africa or other remote parts of the Near East. This type of structure is not a good performer when the earth turns nasty. Similar structures built of less "Eco-friendly" cement brick or fired clay bricks would, in all probability have fallen as well, but those caught inside, might have survived in the spaces these harder materials leave when they fall over. Not so with mud bricks. They disintegrate very swiftly into their original component - dust.

Ergo, most of those caught indoors when this quake hit, have been suffocated in the dust of the crumbling bricks their homes and buildings were made from. This will have been a major contributing factor in the death toll - structures in California are much more capable of withstanding a quake, and if they collapse, tend not to turn almost instantly into dust. A secondary factor is starting to emerge to the anger of the Iranian people. Their Emergency Services have been slow to react and have not had either the training or the equipment to deal with the problem - a sharp contrast with the situation in the US where the quake area has been virtually swamped with equipment and personnel.

Given the difference in the construction and the materials, I seriously doubt if they could have saved any more people than those already saved, but they might have brought relief shelters and foods just a little faster and more efficiently than has been the case.

Spare a thought for those caught up in these disasters, particularly for those left homeless, bereft of friends, family and possessions, and who must now start out afresh to rebuild lives as well as everything else.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:21 AM | Comments (5)

December 30, 2003

Christmas - a different perspective?

At the risk of worrying a few of my imaginary readers, and perhaps some of the real ones as well, I would like to share with you the text of a sermon I delivered on Sunday, the Commemoration of the Holy Innocents. Those of you of a Catholic persuasion will be aware of the plethora of martyrs commemorated between Christmas and New Year, others of different church backgrounds may not. Those who do may have wondered why, and the answer is often not forthcoming as it is seen, these days anyway, as somehow "spoiling the celebration for the children."

I am prepared to risk that, as all too often Christianity is seen as being something rather effete and having no real guts to it. Those who would like to know what I said on the day should read on ....

A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

The early church fathers who set up the calendar that we still follow for the major feasts and commemorations, set us an interesting reminder that, even at Christmas, there is pain in the world. Herod the Great’s slaughter of the Innocents of Bethlehem is a part of the Christmas story which we tend to gloss over, if we remember it at all, hiding it behind the story of the Magi and the general razzmatazz of the Christmas celebration. We generally lose sight too, of St Stephen, whose feast is marked as “Boxing Day” – the day when we give presents to the servants and give them a day off! As for St Thomas Beckett, well, Thomas who?

Why do we need to remember such painful things as the martyrdom of Stephen and the Innocents – within the twelve days feasting of Christmas? Because, we need reminding that Christ’s coming into the world did not bring the completion of our salvation, it was merely the start. There is a long and sometimes hard road to be walked between the manger and the cross on Calvary for us all.

In our Gospel reading this morning, St Matthew is quoting and interpreting a passage from the Prophet Jeremiah who is in turn using the death of Rachel, wife of Jacob in childbirth at Ramah en route to Bethlehem, as his image of suffering. As Jacob mourned for Rachel and the stillborn child, so, says Matthew, did the mothers of Bethlehem. Nor should we forget that the event described here really happened, it is not some fairy story to frighten us – Herod the Great was just this sort of monster. His excesses, including the murder of children in Bethlehem around the time of Christ’s birth, are recorded by Josephus, giving independent corroboration of the Gospels.

Why would Herod have done this? Precisely because certain signs which appeared in the heavens in 4 BC were widely interpreted by astrologers and “seers” in the near and middle East to signal the birth of a new Jewish King or leader. These included a great conjunction between Venus and Mercury that occurs precisely every 480 years – significantly also coinciding with a number of other major Biblical events, which, taken with the appearance of Jupiter three times in the constellation of Leo (Associated with the Jewish nation) waswidely interpretted as meaning a new King being born to Israel. Such news would have been more than enough for Herod to act – he was completely paranoid about being overthrown.

For the first century reader of this account, it would have served to confirm the significance of this birth among all others that occurred within that period. If Herod could react in this way, then something very significant must be presaged by this birth in Bethlehem. Then, as now, the joy would have been mitigated by the tragedy. On the one hand we have the joy of knowing that our Saviour has entered the world in human form, on the other, we have the innocent slaughtered as the forces of corruption, greed and sin attempt to destroy him.

These same forces are still at work among us, still determined to undermine and overthrow the grace that God has bestowed in sending his only begotten son as our Redeemer. Nor has it ceased yet. We cannot forget our fellow Christian’s struggling to keep the church and the faith alive in the war torn and damaged streets of Bethlehem. We cannot ignore the pain of both Jew and Palestinian as each bomb and bullet tears yet another family apart, destroying lives and hope in the very land that gave us the Saviour of the world. Sometimes, of course, it is a lot subtler. In some places the innocent are no longer slaughtered, much more profitable to poison minds and lives by sowing doubt and playing up the things that the Church has got so very wrong in its history.

Whenever you hear of Nativity Plays banned from schools, or the banning of religious messages or images from Christmas Cards sent by public servants, you are hearing a new version of Herod and his desire to remain in control. To these and others who wish to compromise the very essence of the Christmas season I would say this, that I receive Christmas cards from Muslim friends and colleagues every year. This year I even got two from past students who are practicing Buddhists, if they can honour my celebrations, surely it cannot offend them if I celebrate something so fundamental to my faith as this? Does it compromise my faith, to acknowledge their festivals? Of course not, but it causes me great offence when those who are ignorant of everything to do with my faith, or for that matter any other, suggest that my celebration should in some way be hidden lest it cause someone else offence. Certainly we need to be aware of the sensitivities of others when it comes to religion, but we must never compromise our faith, and that faith contains both the joy and the sadness.

In Christmas we have the joy of the birth of the Saviour, but this is also a birth that leads inexorably to the destination of Calvary and the Tomb, and thence to the joy of the resurrection by which we are all made one in Christ. So, as we celebrate the joy of Christmas, our founding fathers of the church, have given us the commemoration of the martyrdom of Stephen and of the Innocents of Bethlehem to remind us of the pain to come.

The journey begins at Christmas and continues through all the trials and tribulations, the joys and the triumphs to reach its painful, yet triumphant, conclusion at Easter. Faith means embracing this and sharing in the joy and in the pain until we can also lay down the burden and rejoice in union with our Saviour at the journeys end.

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

As our Collect reminds us, we need to be working always to frustrate the triumph of evil and to work in faith and prayer for the coming of peace and justice to all nations and to all God’s peoples, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu. We are all part of God's creation, and we are all redeemed by his Son's death on a hill in Palestine 2,000 years ago.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:51 PM | Comments (6)

Doomsday weather ....

As I was a bit rushed earlier today as I tried to get my item up, I omitted to mention the source of the items I was drawing on from An Englishman's Castle and The Edge of England's Sword, both of whom point to an article in the Washington Post.

This item is worth spending a moment reading.

And for those who will no doubt rabidly defend the Kyoto Protocol, I hope your job isn't one of the 1 million or so that the UK's slavish adherence will cost. If we continue down that route of shedding jobs and massaging the figures to hide the unemployment rises, we will soon have only the burueacrats actually working - and we should remember who actually pays their wages, and the unemployment allowances for those on the DSS. Neither are productive, and neither actually generate real jobs which produce a GDP.

Have a happy new year.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:15 PM

A society in turmoil?

Reading through the posts on "An Englishman's Castle", a fellow countryman's blog, I am struck again by the feeling that we live in a society which is so torn apart by the politically correct and their psuedo-scientific and anthropological claptrap, that we are teetering on the verge of falling into the abyss! The rise of demands for "separate cultures" is being fuelled by a lobby who are more vocal than informed. Think carefully, these are the same people who, ten years ago were waving placards demanding the end of "apartheid". I wonder if any of them realise that this Afrikaans word means "Separate"? Somehow I doubt it.

An Englishman's Castle reminded me of the Afro-American Nationalist movement, no doubt spawned out of frustration with the injustice of some sections of society, which even gave rise to the creation of alternate feasts, welcomed by the liberal press, such as Kwanzaa. . I suggest anyone who even gives this passing thought as a legitimate concept (and there are those in the UK who think it should be!) would do well to read this post, under the title Why I won't be celebrating Kwanzaa"".

In similar vein, I wonder at the thinking which underlies the shibboleth that has crept into use in our legal system, that proclaims it is founded on the principle that "better ten guilty men go free than one innocent person be convicted." No legal system, and especially the English legal system has ever been founded on such idiocy! This is a canard that has crept in since 1945 and is now rigorously promoted by the bleeding heart faction that would rather see murderers (unless, of course, they happen to be householders defending their property!) given community service than be locked away for life.

This crosses over into the whole ethos of "civil disobedience" by the vociferous minorities who always seem to have some axe to grind, usually at your and my expense. These people seem to have immunity from the penalties of breaking the law that apply to anyone else. Ergo, on the flimsiest of psuedo-scientific halfbaked theory, they are able to rampage across the countryside destroying crops "to protect" the countryside! The fact that most of them haven't the faintest idea of the science underlying anything at all, let alone the sheer hardwork that the farmer has to commit too in order to raise anything at all, doesn't seem to enter into the argument. Then you get idiots in the legal system who find them guilty of willful damage, and then commend them for their "public spirit"!

Other examples abound. Greenpeace's outright fabrication of figures to prevent the Brent Spar oil mooring and storage facility being sunk in a deep trench mid-Atlantic - which resulted in a hugely expensive and far more polluting dismantling ashore. We will live with the cionsequences of that for generations, but the safe alternative of sinking it, with all the naturally radio-active mud that came originally from the seabed still on board instead of having to extract it and expose workers to that and the other toxic material in it - all of it natural. The claims of thousands of tons of oil still being aboard they have now admitted were false - but only in small print on the back page of a newspaper.

Friend's of the Earth are at it as well, with the example of the so-called "Ghost Fleet" as a good case in point. Again, the hype of "thousands of tons" of "toxic" waste aboard, was trotted out on the flimsiest of information. Again, the mass media promoted the lies. I doubt we will ever hear the truth of this one, but I am inclined to believe the official estimates that put the amounts of harmful waste materials at under a hundred tons for the lot.

Any society which allows itself to be gulled into bending the rules for those who, no doubt believing they have a good cause, flout the laws which bind a society together, is in danger of having its legal system fall into total disrepute. This is already the case when it comes to burglary, the law apparently regards my property as a "cash and carry" outlet for any enterprising burglar who cares to break in and help himself. "Property" crime is not apparently seen as meriting police time. Just don't get caught driving your car 5 mph over the speed limit!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:32 PM | Comments (3)

Sentient appliances?

I become ever more convinced that some household appliances are sentient. They must be. How else would they know the exact moment when it is financially and physically the worst possible time to break down?

My washing machine decided to do this to me over Christmas. Naturally, I had a guest staying, and naturally, I was a bit behind on the laundry. So, halfway through the second load, it stopped. Now there is a procedure for getting a front loaders door open when it is full of washing and half full of water. It is easy if the machine is standing in the open and you can get at the drainage pipes and all the associated valves, etc. It is not easy when, because my kitchen is of a limited size (ie; typically compact - this is the UK!) it is actually built in under a worktop and between cupboards.

After half dismantling the cupboards and much sweating and swearing, the machine was extracted and the relevant pipes disconnected so that it could be drained. Naturally, this happens on a Friday night, and equally naturally, it happens in the run up to Christmas. Repair or replacement is going to cost. Getting someone who can repair said appliance in the week before Christmas is a bit like looking for hen's teeth! So, first task - find out why the pump is not working!

After a great deal of effort, I finally had sufficient water drained to actually open the door and retrieve all my shirts, still full of soap and in dire need of rinsing! Shirts removed to bath filled with clean water - cold, naturally! Find two different sizes of Phillip's screw drivers (there are two different sized screws holding on the back plate!) and remove the cover plate, locate pump and attempt to dismantle it so it can be removed. Another two screw drivers required for this task, plus some fancy Mole Grips and a circlip clamp, and bingo! - we have the offending object removed. Also the filters to see if that is blocked and affecting the pump.

The filter proved to be clear, apart from a deposit of soap silt that would make an African river look clean and clear, so it has to be the pump. Remove the retaining clips from the volute housing (OK, technical term from a Fire Pump - it's probably called something else by the washing machine fraternity!) and the problem becomes obvious. There isn't a heck of a lot of the impeller (the thingy that spins around and moves the water along!) left, and the shaft that is supposed to connect it to the motor which turns it, is also decidedly reluctant to turn. Right, new pump required. Problem, this machine is 8 years old, are there still spare parts available?

Move scene to the following morning. Yellow pages to the fore, Domestic Appliance Repairs, Washing Machine Repairs, track local technicians, try numbers, eventually one answers. "Nah, sorry Guv, can't do anyfing 'til after New Year." Try another number, and another, desperation is by now starting to set in - this is beginning to look like a major damage to the credit card to buy a new one! Finally, success, a man who says cheerfully, "Pump gone? That's unusual for that model, but, no problem, I can fit a new one for you. Monday OK?"

He did too! And without charging an arm and a leg. So washing machine sorted, we move to lunch preparation.

Place food in microwave, set controls to defrost, start microwave. Microwave starts - and stops without warning. Nothing persuades it to restart. Move to stove, stove refuses to heat up. Check all plugs, check all connections, check mains board.

The fuse for the stove circuit is loose. Don't ask me why, it just is. No one has touched it, no one has been near it. Push it back. Bingo, stove heats up, microwave starts.

Go out and buy burgers. This is getting spooky.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:48 AM

December 26, 2003

Marathon joke post

OK, so this is probably nepotism - and I'm late getting this posted. I'll plead I had other engagements!

Ozguru has done an amazing post of jokes as (I think!) a penance for not keeping up his blog (except that he is keeping it up!) Check them out for yourselves at "Marathon Index" Jon, I don't know where you got 'em from but some of these have been around a while. But the old one's are still the best ones.

Well done - you got it finished in grand style.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:14 PM

The twelve days of Christmas

Oh boy, I'm pooped. Evidence, if needed, is provided by my having prepared a posting - and then wiped it out by selecting "New Entry" instead of "Save"! Great thundering idiots!

I managed to complete my Christmas shopping by resorting to that great old standby - gift vouchers. Yep, I know, its cheating and it says that I really didn't give this present thing a whole lot of thought, but, at least I managed to find something useful for everyone.

As it was I got back just in time to rush off to the first of several services. The Christingle service is for kids, it centres around an Orange with a candle in the top, a red ribbon around its middle and four toothpicks with assorted dried fruit stuck in at the four cardinal points around the ribbon. It is supposed to represent the world, the Light of Christ and the worldwide nature of the Christian message. As a Fire Officer, handing these out to kiddies aged 2 - 16 feels like handing out primed handgrenades to the same age group. But, thanks to planning, supervision and hawkeyed guards at ever pillar, no one got burned, no one got hurt and everyone had a great time. With over 800 hundred children and adults in the church for this service, who says the church is dying?

Talking of which, we have had over 1,000 communions at three services (Midnight Mass, 0800 Said Mass and 1030 Sung Mass) in the Abbey and about a third more who came but did not communicate. Our sister churches around the town (there are seven other churches also reported full congregations for their services. In effect, more than a third of the population of this area attended a church service over the period Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, not a bad record for a country governed by cretins who keep trying to suppress Christianity, banning it from Christmas Cards, banning Nativity Plays in primary schools and "religious" themes from decorations in offices.

Funny isn't it, that I get several Christmas cards every year from Muslims and a couple from Buddhists who are perfectly happy to share in my celebrations with me, just as I mark theirs. It is really only the PC Thought Police in Whitehall who feel this deperate need to meddle, perhaps feeling, like Herod when he murdered the children in Bethlehem, that they might in some way be threatened by people hearing the message of Christmas.

Well, Christmas Dinner is now a memory, althought he wine I shared with the friend who spent it with me is worthy of a revisit (when I can find another bottle!), we can now start looking forward to the year ahead. I hope that it will bring joy to all of you and, for my own part, some resolution to some of the problems I have faced this past year.

Tomorrow I must do duty as a Chaplain and be available for those whose Christmas has perhaps brought something other than joy. It is sad to think that there are many who will have had a less than joyous occasion and I hope that I can help any who drift across my path to at least start to make sense of it all.

Well, better go - a bottle of wine, a friend and some TV programmes beckon. Thank God for the small pleasures of life, a warm and comfortable home, and friends to share it with.

May the peace of the Christ child be with you all.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:41 PM | Comments (2)

December 23, 2003

Christmas shopping ....

All my good intentions have gone down the tubes. Work pressures have ensured that I had to keep putting off the shopping trips and I have also now arrived at the point where I haven't a clue what to get my kids, friends or other family members. An expedition today resulted in plenty spent for little obvious return and I am only reasonably certain of one item being welcome so far!

Oh joy, oh rupture!

And I have just woken up to the fact that I have a sermon to prepare for Sunday, Feast of the Holy Innocents. Thinking cap time!

To all those who stumble across this blog, may I extend the wish that you have a truly joyous and memorable Christmas and a new year that brings all you hope for.

"The light was in the world, and the world knew him not."

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:16 PM | Comments (4)

Seafarers Christmas fare - 1805

Thinking of what to post while listening to my favourite radio station is probably not the way to select a topic - but, the wassail, "I saw three ships.. " made me think again of my visit to Victory in Portsmouth. I also remembered what the folk who served on her could have expected for Christmas dinner 1799 - 1814.


HMS Victory (104 guns) launched 1754 at Chatham, still in commision as Flagship Portsmouth as a permanent memorial to Nelson and the men of that age.

She might look pretty as a picture, but she would have been a harsh taskmistress and a really difficult ship to sail. All three deckers were reputed to go faster sideways than ahead, and it took an expert to sail one effectively. That, plus instant responses from her crew.

Christmas fare aboard? Oh yes, Boiled salt beef or mutton,
Boiled dried potatoes (if available)
Boiled cabbage (if available)
Ship's biscuit (weevils optional)
Plumb duff (Made of flour, Ship's Biscuits and any available dried fruit)
Half pint of rum
Two quarts of small beer.

A feast for the crew of 800, all battened down for the blockade of Brest, le Havre or the other French Channel ports.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:08 PM

December 22, 2003

Of shoes and ships and sealing wax .....

As you may have gathered I love ships. That is, I love the look, the motion and the promise of far away places they project. I also know enough about the life of those who man them to be realistic about the hours of boredom, the backbreaking work and the gut wrenching fear that being caught in the wrong place in a storm can produce. The picture below is one I painted from a photograph of a friend's ship - a 3,500 gross ton salvage tug named John Ross.


The Motor Salvage Tug John Ross at sea off the Cape of Good Hope in Force 8

The John Ross and her sister tug Wolraad Woltemade, were named after maritime heroes of the South African coast. John Ross was a 16 year old when he was wrecked on the Pondoland coast and found himself walking with the rest of the survivors North to try to reach what is today known as Maputo, then Lourenco Marques. To do this they had to cross Chaka Zulu's Kingdom, and Chaka was not renowned for his tolerance of white visitors. Basically he regarded them as an aberration.

John Ross had two counts against him - he was very fair skinned, and he had very red hair and blue eye's - all regarded with suspicion by Chaka and his witch doctors. It was the youth's courage however, first in standing his ground in the face of taunting by a Zulu Champion whom he felled with his fists, and then in bringing down a charging elephant with a muzzle loader, that secured both his release and that of his party. They were even escorted to the Portugese territory by a half Impi.

A century earlier Wolraad Woltemade, a farmer in Cape Town, performed a spectacular rescue of several men from a ship wreck in Table Bay, riding his horse into the surf and dragging six men at a time to safety ashore. Both he and his horse died on the third trip to the wreck, being swept out to sea and drowned. Woltemade's name is also preserved as a decoration for outstanding bravery.

The purpose of my rambling on about this? Well, the stormy weather of the last couple of days, and the weather predictions for the next week or so, reminded me that we should also remember "those who go down to the sea in ships and do business on great waters" at this time. Every year, the storms, the cold and the poor maintenance on a number of ships take their toll. Our luxury goods and our comfort is often provided at a price we do not necessarily see.

Consider the seafarers at Christmas and if you have a mind too, consider a donation to the Mission to Seafarers. A visit to their site will show you that they are about all faiths and all seafarers - not just those who share Christianity - and they are often called upon to do far more than just pray for the men and women they serve.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:28 PM | Comments (2)

Musical musings

Last Wednesday evening I partook of my annual treat, this time with a friend, recently returned to the UK, who has not heretofore had the opportunity to indulge in this feast of aural pleasure.

We went to hear the St Cecilia Singers (also known as the choir of Coventry Cathedral) and the English Symphony Orchestra sing and perform the Messiah by our old friend Georg Frederick Handel in the confines of the Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin, Tewkesbury. The 900 year old walls of Caen stone rang to the glorious voices, the solo trumpet and the swell of the orchestra, transporting us to the realms of the sensual feast, which is Handel performed in its proper setting by a group the size of which reflects the music as written. Stunning! And I'll be there again next year - if I am spared another year.

Last night I was treated again to some fantastic music when our own Abbey choir performed a range of Christmas music in our annual carol service. This takes a similar form to the familiar nine lessons and carols, but with a major difference, the readings come in pairs, one scriptural and the other a related piece from either a poem or another work of prose. Thus we have scripture mixed with Elliot, Auden, Kipling and others. In between we have the congregational carols and choir only pieces. Last night, the choral selection was fantastic - and makes me wish I could have recorded some of it and put it up on the blog! Some old, some new, some spirituals from the US, some African and all in the Abbey setting where the stones themselves seem to sing in harmony with the voices and instruments. Despite the cold - it was down to -2*C outside and not much above 10*C inside - we had a full nave (about 600 seats) and more in the Quire seats in the Presbytery.

I am fortunate to be able to enjoy this feast of music season by season and week on week as part of the worshipping life of the Abbey congregations. I have oftebn reflected that, had there been no God, no church, then we would have had to invent them in order to enjoy music in these settings. Thank God we have both.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:29 PM | Comments (3)

December 21, 2003

Thoughts on a Sunday

Having started this post yesterday, something went wrong and I got booted offline and then couldn't get back into this page. The Technodemon strikes again! Still, I persevere!

Surfing briefly I am flattered to find comments from a number of bloggers I regularly visit on some of my ramblings. Thanks Cyn, Ron, Susie and Paul, Matthew and Ozguru. I must also include a new reader "Rocket Jones" aka "Ted" whose image of a Basset all powered up is worth a visit all by itself!

Ron, on Bear left on unnamed road, has a very thought provoking piece on relationships under the title "Long after the boys of summer have gone " and its well worth the read. Thanks Ron. This is an area of our lives that we all too often enter with expectations which are not only unrealistic, but potentially damaging for both parties. It is as well to consider the realities and to accept that two people will always be two different spirits, even though there is an attraction and a bond between them.

I have also discovered that I have been linked to a web journal in Louisiana named Crab Apple Lane where I am posted as blog of the day! Also thanks to Susie who has linked me to her page at Practical Penumbra. Nice surprise, thanks!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:14 PM

The glories of technology ....

Well, the www is supposed to speed up communictaion. Mostly, I guess, it does, but every now and then, it seems to revert to runners with cleft sticks. Yesterday was such a day. Could I get into the server and page I need to access to do any blogging? Not a chance!

Time out message after time out message. The reason seems to be that, as I am located in the UK and the server is in Oz, the signals must adopt one of three routings. Undersea cable to Oz, satellite ditto, or undersea or satellite through the US and then on to Oz. The cable to Oz was busy or out of action, the satellite link wasn't coping to well either, so it was all going the long way. Too slow by half.

Ain't technology wonderful?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:44 PM

December 19, 2003

More discoveries ...

Having to wait for an office "dinner party" has its advantages. Work out of the way, I can catch up on some blogs I have discovered. One affording me some insights at present is that of a lady titled "Practical Penumbra" with some pithy comments on a wide range of issues political on the US scene. Her tale of plumbing woes at her place of work is hilarious. Sounds like the male equivalent of Harry Potter's ghostly "Moaning Myrtle" is at work.

On a more serious note, it is nice to find that I have a compatriot who agrees with me that a great deal of the BBC's supposedly "objective" debate is not objective at all. Read it for yourself at "An Englishman's Castle" - I agree entirely with his sentiments at the crass stupidity of the pseudo-intelectual b*ll*cks that can smilingly compare Jesus Christ with a suicide bomber. It is deeply offensive and the perpetrator should be prosecuted under the new law against "stirring up religious animosity" or whatever its called. Try saying something like this about any other religions most sacred person - you'll be in court so fast your feet won't touch ground!

Ah well, come the revolution ......

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:19 PM | Comments (3)

From unthinking idiocy to Big Brother ...

My thanks go to Cynical Cyn for some amusing or irritating items she has commented on in her posts. In one she gave me a good laugh at the idiocy of whoever created the new name for the power company I buy my electricity and gas supplies from. I shall have to reconsider now, because it seems their supplies come with unforseen side effects! Read the post for yourself under "From Sandy Price ..."

A further post stirred me to comment, this is titled "Ho ho ho, Oh No!" and Cyn has drawn our attention to the latest attempt by the animal liberation lovers lunatic fringe to poison the minds of children with complete barbage. They are apparently urging children to leave Santa a glass of soya milk (Uuuuurrrrrrrgh!) instead of the real thing, because cow's milk will make Santa impotent. Lovely abuse of the truth there in the name of free speech.

In the same vein, enjoy her post on the Christmas memo.

Only a week to Christmas? Don't let the Humbug Party spoil it for you all. Enjoy.

Put on the Vivaldi Gloria, crank up the volume, lie back - and enjoy!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:51 PM


Well, its Friday at last. This has been one of those weeks, packed full of demanding teaching on two different courses and subject areas, plus all the stuff I have to "manage" on the side. It's a challenge, but I got to the end of it in one piece, without ripping some idiot's head off or ripping out his jugular with my fangs because he provoked a violent response. That's always a plus.

Now its POETS day. Push Off Early, Tomorrows Saturday, and I'm outa here at lunchtime - and not back at my desk for two whole weeks!

Mind you, I'll be blogging from home, so worry not, my faithful and imaginary readership - I'll be there!

And now - to work. This rubble pile (called a desk) needs clearing.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:45 AM

December 18, 2003

Darwin Awards

My thanks to Pete of Aussie Courier fame for the URL that leads to the website for the Darwin Awards. I had a hard drive die on me a few months back and had lost it, but, like many things, never quite got around to looking for it again.

There are some priceless attempts at self destruction on it, so go too and enjoy. Let's face it, the gene pool needs to improve, and at least most of these have saved some one else the trouble.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:19 PM

Wot? No constitution then Jacques?

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! OK, I'll admit to putting off commenting on the collapse of the latest attempt to create a United States of Europe, but I can't resist it.

Poor Tone will have to put off his elevation to President of the USE. I guess this means he can't have the status and trappings enjoyed by his former buddy Bill Clinton and his current best buddy GWB. Those dreadful Poles and other Eastern Europeans have torpedoed this ghastly French creation which would have left the member states almost entirely at the mercy of the Franco-German axis in the EU. On the surface it didn't look that bad, but, as ever, the devil lies in the detail. And it was that detail that our friend and illustrious leader Tone B wanted to avoid at all cost the UK public getting to hear about or having a say on.

The voting system proposed was rather complex. Veto's would go, replaced by a system which allowed each member state to caste a vote with a majority carrying the motion. That is the simple explanantion, but, this being French and Brussels in origin, it isn't quite that straight forward. Oh no, the total population of each voting state came into this as well, so, a French "No", carried more weight than a Dutch "No".

Thus, with 80 million population in Germany and about the same or slightly more in France, these two on their own account for about a third of the total population of Europe. As the voting required a majority of States AND a 51% majority in population terms, a "Yes" from the two most populous states, accompanied by a "Yes" from Italy, Spain and one other state having around 5 million population would give the 51% population. Thus a Yes or a No lead by the Axis is almost unstoppable.

Well done the Poles and their supporters, derailing this stupid attempt to create a rival power to the US, is probably the best thing they could have done to protect their hard won democracy.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Disposing of Saddam

In many ways, its a pity he has been captured alive, but, let's all be thankful that at least we now have the b*st*rd. Judging from the many posts on Truth laid Bear I would say that they reflect fairly accurately everyone's dillemma with this guy.

Reflect for a moment folks. To the many militant types still out there bombing and shooting at US and UK troops, he is a hero - and potentially a martyr. No matter who tries him, no matter how fair the trial, his supporters,the al Qaeda mob and the many more who simply hate everything Western, will see him as an Arab martyr to Western Imperialism. This is not rational, nor is it sensible, but it is the way these people will see it.

My gut reaction, like everyone else's I suspect, is string him up high - preferably doing with his remains what the Israelis did with Eichmann - cremate them and spread them over a large piece of empty sea. But, the moment we do this, he will be elevated by his followers to the status of Martyr and Hero.

It may well be better to put him away safely and let him die the death of being forgotten and eventually just slipping quietly out of sight, psyche and this life.

Whatever happens now, in the short term he will be termed the hero and martyr by those who cannot see the evil for their hatred of anything they do not understand. Remember the Arabic proverb: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend - for this moment."

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:30 PM

December 17, 2003

New critical element discovered

My Chemistry Tutor colleagues have advised me of the discovery of a major new element. It is denser than Plutonium and around five times as dangerous. Although technically inert, it can be extremely reactive, it is not a radiation source, instead it seems that it sucks up all inititaive and energy around it, producing a state of stagnation and terminal decline.

The new element has been named Governmentium by its discoverers who are still working out its Atomic weight and number. This is difficult as it depends on a number of variables including geographic location.

The element as it occurs in Britain has been reported as follows.

A major research institution has recently announced the discovery of the heaviest chemical element yet known to science. The new element has been named 'Governmentium" The element has 12 Principle neurons, 13 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy parliamentarions ( a newly identified particle which attaches to the neutrons at the centre of the atom) and 11 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 654. These 654 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of governmentium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete when it would normally take less than a second. Governmentium has a normal half-life of 1 to 16 years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neurons and deputy neurons exchange places. In fact, governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since reorganization causes some morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

The characteristics of moron-promotion leads some scientists to speculate that governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as "Critical Morass". You will know it when you see it!

Further research suggests that this element is capable of producing what may be spontaneous mutations to produce elements tentatively identified as "Assemblium" and "Bureaucratium", although these share many properties of Governmentium, there are some differences to the weight and properties. These are the subject of further study at present.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:44 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 16, 2003

Dei gratia, gloria mundi ...

For those who wondered, the Monk is in this picture. He's the one on the right facing the camera.


The vestments seen in this photo are made of Clothe of Gold, that is, they have gold wire running lengthways down the clothe and gold coloured silk across. They are used only for important feasts such as Christmas and Easter and are as heavy as you would expect. My nephew thinks its cool he has an uncle that dresses up like something out of Harry Potter!

The origin of these vestments lies in first century Rome, the Tunical and Dalmatic worn by Deacon and Sub Deacon (and sometimes the Cross bearer as well, but without adornment) are the outer garments of the Roman citizen, the Chasuble, worn by the Priest is originally the garment worn as a weather proof "poncho" by soldiers and sometimes the citizenry. It is symbolic of the Priest's duty to fight for the spread of the Gospel and to be a Soldier of Christ.

Yes, such vestments cost a small fortune, but these are the gift of the people of the church to the glory of God. These particular ones were given between the wars as a memorial to a family's fallen sons, and I can think of no more useful monument.

Interestingly, Henry VIII and the King of France met, on the Field of the Clothe of Gold, in 1520, both dressed in Clothe of Gold, in tents made of it and all their courtiers arrayed in it. It was reportedly a very hot day, and the gold clothe dazzled the eyes of onlookers. A King's ransom turned into clothes for a bit of Statesmanship a la Tudor!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:05 PM | Comments (7)

No man is an island

A couple of people have asked for the full text of this famous passage by the poet, adventurer and clergyman John Donne. It expresses ideas far in advance of the theology of his time and it is all the more remarkable for the fact that he was born a Roman Catholic and converted to Anglicanism - probably for political reasons - yet managed to meld the best Catholic thought and the best Protestant, bringing into being a range of theological expression and thinking that we are only now beginning to appreciate.

A meditation on the state of man
John Donne
Dean of St Paul's Cathedral London c 1621 - 1640

(Originally part of a sermon delivered in the Cathedral)

Perchance he for whom the bell tolls may be so ill that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The Church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptises a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to the Head which is my Head too, and engrafted into that body, whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: All mankind is of one Author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation; and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that Library where every book shall lie open to one another: As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come; so this bell calls us all....

No man is an island, entire of itself; everyman is a piece of the continent, a part of the man; if a clod be washed away by the sea Europe is the less, as well a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were: Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

c 1623 following the death of a friend.

Just for the record, it was the custom, and still is in some areas, for the Tenor Bell (the heaviest in the ring of bells) to be tolled for a death (though now it is usually for the funeral). A man is marked by the ringing of the Nine Taylors - nine strokes of the bell, a pause, followed by the number of strokes equal to his age. A woman gets seven strokes, pause and her age. For the equality minded it is worth remembering that seven is the "perfect" number in Jewish scatology!

On hearing the tolling bell, it was the custom to send someone to the tower or the church porch to discover the name of the deceased.

"Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:49 PM

Hors' de combat?

Catching up on my reading at lunchtime, I almost fell off my chair laughing at a couple of items in Cynical Cyn's blog. Read them for yourself, the strangely named Chinese laundry, the Rules of Engagement and the item on "quickies" - enjoy.

As for the Mayoral blushes after her saucy poses were copied off her computer and circulated - well, I guess she asked for it.

Well done Cyn, keep 'em coming.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:24 PM

Thought for the day?


God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine -
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet.
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law -
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And, guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word -
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

-- Rudyard Kipling

Written at the close of the 19th Century, perhaps we need to look again at some of our "values" as it seems to me that this poem speaks just as much to our generation as it did to the Victorians.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:03 AM

Life's alotted span

It is a biblical passage that says that to each of us is alotted the span of years three score and ten, but it would seem that this is an average and not a rule. An item on Bear Left on Unnamed Road entitled "If I could save time in a bottle" is worthy of consideration by us all. Our time on this planet is not infinite and there does come a point when, however reluctantly or unprepared, we have to leave.

It is at this season that a lot of us lose our older relatives, and some of us have already started to lose contemporaries. I was reminded of this sharply last week when, just as I prepared to leave for Poland, a friend and fellow Server, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. He was only a few years older than I. My father died at 57 - the age I have just reached - and my only comfort in that is that I do not smoke and have not had some of the damage he inflicted on himself. My first encounter with the death of a friend was a boy taken by a shark when I was in my early teens. Next was another friend who died playing hockey aged just 28. And there have been others, "cut off in their prime" as the Book of Common Prayer puts it rather sucinctly.

Recently at our Abbey Church we have had a spate of burials of young men who have managed to kill themselves in motor accidents, tragic losses all to their families and friends. And this really highlights our dilemma. When will it be our turn to make that final transition?

Probably fortunately, it is not given to any of us to know the exact hour, or the nature, of our departure from this life. This is where people of faith have at least some hope of life beyond the termination of this existence, but, sadly, for many this is seemingly bound up with a vision of something which closely resembles the very material society in which we live. I'm afraid I cannot subscribe to that view.

It is my belief that, in death, we are transformed into beings of spirit, unbound by the parameters of three dimensional existence. The part of us that is the "image of God" is freed to exist with God and in God. Consider being with God, in a form of pure spirit. Consider the unlimited nature of such an existence where you can be everywhere and everywhen.

As John Donne wrote in the 17th Century, "No man is an island, entire unto itself ..." and expands his thesis to show that the death of any person of our acquaintance diminishes us. The absence of that person from our daily, weekly or hourly existence must affect us. It is not as though we can directly or tangibly share any of our little pleasures or moments of triumph with each other any longer, but, we can look forward to eventually (in our due season) being once more able to be in touch in a very different and much more complete way. The loss is therefore temporary and not a permanent thing.

Like Ron B, I try to stay in touch with those whose love, life and fellowship is important to me. After reading his piece I will also try to be a little more in contact with my family even though we are scattered across the country and the world, and I thank him for reminding me. I cannot know the hour in which I will be called to make an account of my life to my Maker, but I can at least try to ensure that those I leave behind know that I cared enough about them to have tried to never leave unsaid anything that will have made them feel good about our relationships.

Cecil John Rhodes, the architect of modern South Africa, the man reviled for his vision of a united country in which all it's peoples could enjoy the benefit of its wealth, once said, "So much to do, so little time!" He was dead at 47, of consumption, yet he had achieved almost all that he set out to do, dying eventually in the comfort of his faith.

We are all given much to achieve, some of us achieve it and leave behind a legacy which our families and friends can rejoice in, others, for all sorts of reasons, apparently don't achieve their goals. But who are we to say what these should or should not be? Perhaps their purpose here was fulfilled and they need to move on to something greater, we cannot know this either.

Our society has come to expect that death can be indefinitely postponed, or at least regulated in such a way that we can expect to carry on living as long as we like, yet it is not that long ago in human terms, that this was not the case. Perhaps we need to look again at our values and at our expectation of life. After all we live in a dangerous universe and are exposed to all manner of risks even in our own homes.

In all our planning and our hopes we can only really be certain of two things. Death and taxes, and Death is the one we all fear most precisely because it is a transition into the totally unknown.

I know that many of you do not share my faith or even subscribe to the notion of a life beyond this one, and I am saddened by that knowledge because I believe that sooner or later we will all meet in that life and have a lot of sorting out to do!

Pax vobiscum.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:40 AM

December 15, 2003

Variations on a theme ...

The music from The Lord of the Rings trilogy has made tremendous inroads into the collective psychies of those of us who listen to a certain commercial Classical music radio station here in the UK. Barely a couple of hours go by without something from this film, or from that other ongoing saga, Harry Potter. Both have some really good music in them and I hope that it continues to be popular, our age has produced little else of really lasting beauty.

I must, however, sympathise with Lynn S in her piece entitled "Christmas canon" regarding the highjacking of some well known classical music by all in sundry to provide a theme or tune on which they then reconstruct something they can claim as their own. I can well remember playing a tape (in those days a rarity in a car!) while driving a group of Sea Scouts to a meeting. On it was Bach's D Minor Toccata and Fugue, which was instantly recognised by one of the boys - as the theme from Rollerball. He thought it actually sounded better on an organ than it had in the film! As I have never seen the film, I cannot comment - presumably it was played on a synthesizer or something similar for the film.

The problem is, of course, that the great composers of yesteryear are no longer protected by the copyright laws. Ergo, their music is up for grabs in the minds of some. WARNING! Some of this music is held by Trusts which DO have the copyright protection!

Still, I guess the fact that their work is being used in this way is an acknowledgement of their genius. Now I shall return to listening to the wonderful Cantique du Jean Racine, courtesy of Gabriel Faure.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:35 PM

December 14, 2003

Christmas outlawed

The latest bit of PC garbage from our cretinous political elite is the banning of Christmas cards from any member of the Scottish parliament and their employees which bear a message which refers in any way to Christ, the Nativity or anything else which might be construed as a "Christian" message. This is already in force at that other great House of the Utterly Incompetent and Irrelevant - Whitehall.

The ban is a decree from Ministers who claim that any "Christian" message on the cards may offend members of minority religions! It is still - a recent poll revealed that more than 50% of the population still consider themselves "Christian" even though most do not go to church - a "Christian" country, and even the leaders of the Muslim, Hindu and other faiths consulted could not understand what these morons we elected think they could find offensive. The leader of the Muslims even observed that many in his community keep the festival, giving gifts and having a family gathering, though they do not, of course, mark the religious significance of the festival.

While I accept that the festival has become overly commercialised and is becoming very secular, I find it deeply offensive that a bunch of complete and utter ignoramus' can have the effrontery to, at the tax paying public's expense, have printed a variety of totally inane cards with completely secular images (angels and other religious images are offensive!) with an equally anodine message which could be used to describe the Summer Soltice.

Christmas is one of the two most important festivals in the Christian calendar. It celebrates an event which has changed the face of the world, and it began in a smelly stable, in an overcrowded caravanserai. The event that this festival marks, (and I am well aware that it is celebrated over the period formerly the Pagan festival of Beltane!) is the birth of an individual whose message changed forever the course of history. Whether we have the vehicle or the mechanism right is irrelevant. In about 6 BC a boy was born to a Jewish family in that stable who set in train a movement that has shaken empires, framed our legal systems and created the world we now live in with our values of right and wrong, of personal responsibility and of a responsibility for one another and for our planet.

Consider for a moment, even if you are not a person who belongs to a church or subscribes to this view, and even if you have a particular beef about some of the mistakes and - yes - attrocities, committed by MEN in the name of that faith, what could possibly have made this birth (and surely there must have been hundreds that night - whenever it was!) so very different that it has been so influential. This is something that is inexplicable, unless you are prepared to accept that this child was exactly who he said he was. What else could have inspired those struggling first believers, the people who walked and talked with him and with those closest to him in this life, to face prison and death rather than surrender their faith. A faith founded on their absolutely unshakeable belief that he was indeed the Word made man. It was this that drew the Emperor Constantine to adopt the Christian faith as his own - and we should not forget that he had considered a number of other seemingly equally valid options including Mithraism, an early form of Zoroastrianism and, according to some sources, Buddhism.

So, is Christmas important to Christians? You bet! It is therefore deeply offensive and insulting to all of those who call themselves Christian, to have this important feast highjacked by this bunch of ignorant psuedo-intellectuals attempting to use it for their own political purposes while insulting the faith of several million of their electorate.

The prize though for the ultimate insult to all who call themselves Christian must be the Buckinghamshire County Council's ban on a poster advertising a carol service in the Parish Church. It seems that they have a selective policy on religion. Posters for Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or New Age Pagan festivals are permitted to be displayed in their libraries, Christian ones are not.

Multi-cultural Britain? Meet the new Apartheid. Cromwell and his Presbyters must be really enjoying the triumph of the new iconoclast movement.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:29 PM

Darwin Awards - Disqualified candidates

I have commented before that I think terminal stupidity should be a capital offence. This tale from the latest collection of Darwin Award candidates should fall into that category. By the way, they have been disqualified by the Darwin judges on the grounds that they survived ….

Two local men were seriously injured when their pickup truck left the road and struck a tree near Cotton Patch on State Highway 38 early Monday morning.

Woodruff County deputy Dovey Snyder reported the accident shortly after midnight Monday. Thurston Poole, 33, of Des Arc and Billy Ray Wallis, 38, of Little Rock are listed in serious condition at Baptist Medical Center.

The accident occurred as the two men were returning to Des Arc after a frog-gigging trip. On an overcast Sunday night, Poole's pick-up truck headlights malfunctioned. The two men concluded that the headlight fuse on the older model truck had burned out.

As a replacement fuse was not available, Wallis noticed that the 22-caliber bullet from his pistol fit perfectly into the fuse box next to the steering wheel column. After inserting the bullet, the headlights again began to operate properly and the two men proceeded toward the White River Bridge. After traveling about 20 miles and just before crossing the river, the bullet apparently overheated, discharged and struck Poole in the right testicle.

The vehicle swerved sharply right exiting the pavement and striking a tree. Poole suffered only minor cuts and abrasions from the accident, but will require surgery to repair the other wound. Wallis sustained a broken clavicle and was treated and released. "Thank God we weren't on that bridge when Thurston shot his balls off or we might both be dead" stated Wallis.

"I've been a trooper for ten years in this part of the world, but this is a first for me. I can't believe that those two would admit how this accident happened," said Snyder.

Upon being notified of the wreck, Lavinia, Poole's wife asked how many frogs the boys had caught and did anyone get them from the truck. (Way to go, Lavinia.)

Beggars the imagination really.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:49 PM | Comments (3)

A Polish interlude ....

The conference in Poznan was one of the best organized I have attended, and I must compliment my hosts, the Polish Fire Service College staff in Poznan. Everything ran to time, translation services were excellent (they needed to be – we had papers in Russian, Lithuanian, Polish and English.) and the three speakers from "Western" Europe (or the EU if you prefer!) were treated like Royalty. My fellow EU guests included a lady Doctor from the Federal Investigations Bureau of Germany (Bundes Kriminalampt or BKA), a lovely lady who gave a really interesting paper on the use of dogs in fire investigation in the German Federation, and Doctor of Engineering from the Svent Istevan University in Budapest, Hungary. (OK, Hungary is technically Eastern Europe - but it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a very long time and considers itself "Western" even though the people are Magyar - from Mongolia!) Both these last speakers gave their papers in flawless English, easing the task of their interpreters immensely – particularly in Laslo’s case, as Hungarian is even more difficult than Polish to learn or speak!

Poznan is a fascinating place, situated in what has been called (and still is in places) Pomerania. It has a chequered history and has suffered tremendous damage in both World Wars. It is an ancient city even by European standards, having been founded around an island citadel in the confluence of several rivers. Over time the citadel became a monastery and is now the site of the rebuilt cathedral, seat of the Archbishop of Poznan. The cathedral houses the tombs of the first two Kings of Poland, making this the city in which the Polish nation was first formed


The modern cathedral, which replaced the medieval building destroyed in World war 2, stands on the site of the original 9th Century cathedral. It is the twin towered building in the centre of the picture.

One of the glories of the cathedral, which, by comparison with the Baroque Dominican Convent church in the Old Town centre, is quite stark, is the Golden Chapel at the East end. This is Baroque gone riot, how it has survived the destruction is a miracle, but the walls and ceiling are covered in gold leaf. Here lie the sarchophogii of the first Kings of Poland in regal splendour. It was created in the 18th Century by a wealthy nobleman and has survived all the intervening wars.

We were reminded too that it was in Poznan that the last King of Poland lost his country and his throne to a Prussian army in the 18th Century. Poland has been a country in the mind of its people only since then, enjoying only a brief revival between 1919 and 1939 until it finally obtained its freedom from foreign control in the Shipyard Revolution which brought Lek Walensa to power. Through the long years under Prussian, Swedish, Russian, German (1860-ish to 1918, and again 1939 - 1945) and finally Soviet rule, the people have preserved language, culture and sense of nationhood through their food, their folk music and their folk tales. At times persecuted for refusing to adopt their rulers ways and at other times simply left to their own devices, they have every right to be proud of what they have achieved and of what they are currently doing.

All around, and particularly in the old town, are examples of Polish architecture and the rich history of the place just seeps out at you. A great deal is being done to restore this and preserve the character of these buildings and their importance as living history. There is also ample evidence of the Communist "utilitarian" era as well, with horrendous concrete blocks of flats, and ugly squat concrete structures which do nothing to blend into their surroundings. The Poles are for the most part keen to dynamite these and replace them with new buildings where necessary that blend in to their surroundings or are more in keeping with Polands rich tradition. Some examples have already been built and make an interesting contrast. Then, of course, there are others who feel that some at least of these should be kept as a reminder. I'm on the side of the "dynamite them" lobby!

I look forward to going back again, and perhaps, next time, learning to master a few words of the language. You certainly need to be able to say a little more than “Yes” and “Good health!”

Although some would say that being able to say yes to a drink and then raise the toast is sufficient!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:44 PM

A traveler's tale

I returned last night from the city of Poznan via Copenhagen, leaving Poznan in a sort of misty drizzle that was trying to be snow and arriving in the Danish capital in rain. Having been told to proceed to the Gate for the connection and sitting in wait for a little more than an hour, we were told that the flight was delayed - by the weather in London! It appears that the weather at Heathrow was being disrupted by a fast moving front, and, after a gate change to a larger aircraft, we duly took off.

Arriving in London in clear skies and mild temperatures! In all honesty though, we had passed through the offending front somewhere over the North Sea between Amsterdam and the English coast and several people were caught with drinks leaving glasses or cups in a near vertical trajectory! Happily, I wasn’t one of them – my mouth was still full of the last “glug” when we took the first drop. Now I know what the Astronauts training on the “Vomit Comet” must feel like.

To be honest, this is not the first time I have “enjoyed” turbulence of this sort. One forgets ……. Still, can’t complain, we got down safely, I got home, the cat was ever so pleased to see me ….

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:21 PM

December 08, 2003

Interruption of normal service ...

Well gentle reader, this is it until Saturday - I have to be up at 0345, in order to get to where I am to be collected by a taxi, to go to Heathrow in order to catch a flight to Poznan at 0915.

To where? Poznan, Poland, about 200 miles West of Warsaw and I gather colder than Siberia. The thermals have disintegrated through lack of use and so I shall be making other arrangements - or not venturing outside! It promises to be an interesting conference with a wide slate of speakers from a number of countries mainly in Northern and Eastern Europe. Subject? Fire investigation. Not a bundle of fun if you have to go out and do it in sub-zero temperatures, but, hey! It's a living and I will confess that I get a real buzz from getting it right. Especially if it's been done to hide a more serious crime.

Anyway, more of that when I get back. For now, take care in the snow for the thermally challenged snow belters, slip, slap, slop for you sun bathing beauts down under and move over Ivan, I need that heater!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:35 PM | Comments (3)

And now for something completely different ....

Some puns are worth the money, and some are, well, just punny.

1. Two vultures board an airplane, each carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at them and says, "I'm sorry, gentlemen, only one carrion allowed per passenger."

2. Two boll weevils grew up in South Carolina. One went to Hollywood and became a famous actor. The other stayed behind in the cotton fields and never amounted to much. The second one, naturally, became known as the lesser of two weevils.

3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, but when they lit fire in the craft, it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it, too.

4. A three-legged dog walks into a saloon in the Old West. He slides up to the bar and announces: "I'm looking for the man who shot my paw."

5. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? He wanted to transcend dental medication.

6. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?" they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said, "I can't stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer."

7. A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named "Ahmal." The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him "Juan." Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband and that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, "They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."

8. These friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to "persuade" them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that Hugh, and only Hugh, can prevent florist friars.

9. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him ....what? .... a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

10. And finally, there was the person who sent ten different puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. Unfortunately, no pun in ten did.

My thanks for the above relief in an otherwise disasterous day to my former colleague in South Africa. Keep 'em coming buddy, I'm gonna need something to keep me smiling ....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:31 PM | Comments (1)

Tommy Atkins

Thanks to Skipjack for pointing me to a site that had the whole of this poem by Kipling. Follow this link to see the site and the comments the poem has attracted. Obviously this touches a nerve in a lot of peoples hearts, so I am unashamedly posting the poem here as well. See if you agree with the sentiments expressed.

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

-- Rudyard Kipling

For the record, the "widow" is a reference to Queen Victoria and Tommy (or Thomas) Atkins was a name used by many recruiting sergeants filling in the form for the illiterate lads enlisting.

You may also want to read another of Kipling's poems - Recessional, written in 1898, which contains the words in the second verse

"The Fighting and the tumult dies,
The Captains and the Kings depart,"

and continues to describe the fading of national pride as the leaders and the people turn away from honesty, decency and faith. As soon as I can find the copy I have in my computer, I will post that too.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:24 PM | Comments (2)

December 07, 2003

Back to work.

Oh joy, oh rupture! Three weeks leave has slipped away and tomorrow I must return to the grindstone. I used to enjoy my job, but lately it hasn't been fun. I think I have commented on this before, but, at risk of repetition, I'll say it again. We have a plague of Managers. People who haven't the faintest idea what we do or how we do it, but they've been parachuted in to manage it.

Oh well, at least I will only have to endure one day of them. Tuesday I go to Poland for a conference. I have spent part of my leave working up the presentation because our lovely managers kept piling on the workload so that I couldn't get it done during work time. But then, that's normal I guess.

Anyway, I am looking forward to seeing a part of the world I have never seen before and meeting colleagues from a wide range of countries and disciplines. It will be an education and I know I will come back feeling that I have gained both knowledge and friends.

I could just wish it was going to be summer time there ...... Where did I put my thermal underwear?

For those who find amusement on this site, I should warn everyone, that I shall try a post tomorrow - but will then be "offline" until next Saturday. See you then!

Salah gashle! Stay well, as they say in Zululand.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:24 PM | Comments (2)

Self defence? Guilty your honour!

Another story that has got my hackles up today, is the case of an old soldier - a former paratrooper - whose life has been made miserable over several years by a group of uncontrollable yobs who have targetted him, his home and his family. This is a man who has fought for his country, serving a number of theatres on behalf of this nation's "freedom", and now he can expect the full force of the law to bear down upon him.

Why? Because he dared to apprehend one of the gang that has made his life hell over an extended period. Was he commended by the police? Don't make me laugh! He was threatened with CS gas and then cautioned for affray! Who had called the police to the scene? He had. Why had he grabbed this little toerag? Because our stunningly efficient police force had failed to respond effectively to a single call out in more than 30 instances. That's right 30. All within the space of 4 months. Had any of the youths been charged with affray, breaking and entering, assault, criminal damage or any of the many other things they could have been charged with? Of course not.

This has been ongoing for some four years, intensifying in the last few months. In that time these yobs have slashed the victim's car tyres, smashed his windows, torn down his fence, set fire to his front door, threatened his family in the street, thrown eggs and other offensive objects at his home, beaten up his son and threatened to storm his house and "get" him. Sum total of police activity? One youth received a "reprimand" from a police sergeant after the assault. Some deterrent!

The Police and the Crown Prosecution Service have demonstrated once again that the law has been turned on its head. They are now there to protect the criminals right to take what they like, destroy property and attack and intimidate the law abiding public. Anyone who thinks otherwise is living in a fool's paradise. Yet, it isn't all the police's fault. They are now so bound up in well meaning rules of engagement that it is easier to charge the law abiding citizen with defending himself unreasonably than it is to make something stick to the street-wise criminal youth whose social worker and self appointed (and State funded) lawyer will be there before you can even sneeze to defend him/her. The victim rapidly becomes the offender - it's much easier - they usually haven't got a lawyer in their mobile phone list and don't know their rights anyway!

Another top score to Mr Blair and his friends and cronies in the law society. Presumably all of these yobs are below the age of "responsibilty" - deemed it seems by the legal profession as anything under 65 if you are "deprived".

If this is the left's idea of a civilised society, bring back the Vikings. They knew how to deal with these idiots.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:12 PM

Honouring achievement

I guess you know when a system has been abused. It stops functioning effectively and becomes a source of contention. For almost a Century now, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (It was set up in the closing days of Empire in the early years of the 20th Century) has been a means of honouring ordinary people who have contributed to their communities or to the nation that little bit more than was expected of them in the ordinary course of events. On the whole it has worked well. The great and the good got the important gongs and the titles handed out in the Honours Lists, the "little" people such as Postmistresses, Firefighters, charity workers, community workers and so on, got a MBE or, if they were really lucky, an OBE.

Then came this rotten to the core bunch of media obsessed Blairites. Now what do we get? Alongside those who really do deserve recognition we get the "luvvies" from the theatre and cinema, we get so-called "poets", we get party hacks and more civil servants who've never contributed a d**ned thing to society all lining up to be decorated - or to get a load of free publicity by pre-empting the awards with rude, and downright disgraceful public refusals of an award.

The latest is an ex-jailbird and drug user who refuses to accept an award of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) - because of the rape of his "foremothers" by said Empire. What complete and utter garbage. Who the h*ll put his name forward anyway? More important - WHY? For a Fire Officer to get an OBE would require him or her to have reached the rank of Chief Fire Officer, probably in a large metropolitan Brigade, to have put in a vast amount of time and effort on rafts of committees arguing for improvement and change in a whole range of areas. They would have had to keep all the politicians sweet on the one hand and the troops on board on the other, have dedicated a huge amount of effort to charitable work and promotion of community involvement at their local and at national level. They would probably have been awarded some other minor gong before this and then; if a committee of civil servants working to the Cabinet Office, allocated him or her sufficient merit points on their secret scale, they MIGHT have been put in the list to get the OBE.

What the h*ll did this incoherent clown do to get into even being considered for this award?

Of course, his objection has now triggered a flood of half witted sympathisers sending their MBE's and OBE's back. Oh, and a demand that the Order be renamed. Well, why not. At present rate of descent, the Order of the Undeserving Twit will be about right - Blair has presided over enough totally undeserved Honours to his cronies to have devalued it completely. Perhaps Her Majesty could graciously create a special one for all Tony's cronies, so that those who deserve the honour can feel proud to have accepted it again. Then he can do as he d**ned well pleases without offending all those who have earned a mark of recognition and would like to be recognised by the award of MBE, OBE or even CBE.

All power at least to Helen Mirren, who graciously accepted an award of Dame of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire - the ladies equivalent of a Knighthood. She, at least, has enriched our lives by fine acting and a huge amount of work done for charities over her career.

My great aunt, who at 22 took a group of St John Ambulance Nurses to Flanders in 1916 entirely on her own initiative from Northern Ireland, had to wait a long time for an honour. She and her volunteers set up a field dressing station in the zone immediately behind the front and worked for several months without pay, just on the charity of the people at home and the French villagers, before, finally, the army recognised how much use they were being and formally adopted them. She went on from there to run a small post office and to do a tremendous amount of work for the families of the Royal Irish Rifles (her father's former regiment - now wiped from history by Blair's poodles of PC and appeasement!) who had been left in hardship by the death in action of fathers, brothers and uncles. Widowed herself, she received an OBE in 1953 in recognition of her work. The award made almost 40 years after the events!

Blair and his coterie have dishonoured women and men like her whose contribution to this country and the world was recognised, not in wealth or fame, but in the quiet award of the Order in one of its grades.

I ask again - what did this so-called poet do to earn such an award?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:40 PM | Comments (2)

Declining capability

I see that All agitprop, all the time is sounding off, in the post "You know, I did warn you... ", on a pet theme of mine - the general rundown of western defence capability.

Our armed forces are stretched to meet the commitment of the Iraq situation, they are also in Sierra Leone (though why particularly eludes me - why not Zimbabwe, or would that be to expose our fine political leaders party as the major payroller and apologists for that pustulant dictator?), in Afghanistan and several other places. Now they are facing further cuts in funding as our genius of a Chancellor and his morons at the Treasury try to save money so they can throw it away on more social tinkering.

Several more of our Regiments are to be axed to meet the constant demand for more "savings" from Whitehall. Am I the only person who wonders why a cut of say 1,000 men from the armed services always results in the employment of a further 3,000 civil servants?

An interesting set of statistics points to a very interesting answer to that question.

In 1914 the UK's armed forces had 9 men in uniform for every 1 civil servant nationally. That balance was maintained when the armed services were expanded massively to meet the demand of the first World War, but changed when the forces demobilised and shed manpower in 1919 - 1922. It dropped to a ratio of 5 servicemen to 1 civil servant. It dropped again in 1929 - 1930 to 4 to 1.

In 1939 the ratio remained 4 to 1 as the services (and the civil service!) expanded to meet the needs of the second World War. In 1946 the ratio fell to 2 to 1 as demobilisation reduced the armed services, but the civil service made no reductions, in fact, many "hostilities only" positions suddenly became permanent. Through the 50's and 60's the ratios gradually changed until, by 1964, the ratio had reversed and become 1 to 2. It is currently 1 to 9 in favour of the civil service.

In 1945, the RN had 3,000 plus ships in commission, it now has just over 100 ships, of which only a third can be permanently manned.

The Secretary of State for Defence, who has never served in any armed service anywhere, claims that the navy's modern high tech ships are capable of fulfilling all the tasks formerly requiring more ships. The civil servants who fed him that garbage either believe that themselves - or maybe they have some top secret device allowing the same ship to be in three places at once?

Somehow I doubt it. And now, they want to hand the whole lot over to Europe so the French can defend us - just as they won WW2.

Pass me my longbow.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:17 AM | TrackBack

December 06, 2003

Snow in the city

I guess one thing to be thankful for in these damp islands is that we have the Gulf Stream keeping us a little too warm for snow to settle and last any length of time. OK, so every now and then we get a big freeze and the whole place grinds to a halt because our trains, roads and all forms of transport are not designed to cope with it.

I read with some amusement Squip's item "Weather or not". It sort of blew out my probably optimistic notion that the good ol' US of A had these things better sorted out than we did. I guess not, but it sounds as if there may be one or two good reasons for battening down the hatches, breaking out the Whiskey (No, I haven't misspelled it! That's the right sort to drink! Mine's a single malt, thank you. No ice and hold the water.), putting the feet up and reading a good book while appreciating the central heating inside one's own home. Like my cat, I am reluctant to venture out in this sort of weather.

That said, the good news according to a programme on Channel 4 recently and on Discovery Science a while back and articles in the New Scientist among other eminent journals is that the mechanism which supports the Gulf Stream could be about to shut down. No Gulf Stream means no flow of warm (or warmish!) water from the tropics to the frozen North. Apparently it can happen suddenly and has done so in the past - most notably about 50,000 years ago.

Get the picture?

Yep, break out the igloo making materials, the sable fur clothes and learn to make walrus, seal and killer whale pie. It could get cold for a longish period.

Or not, as the case may be. Guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:49 PM

Life colour?

OK, so I couldn't resist taking the test I found on Ozguru's page under the guise of "What colour am I?". I'm not sure of this at all, there must be a gimmick somewhere, but I can't spot it.

you are cadetblue

Your dominant hues are green and blue. You're smart and you know it, and want to use your power to help people and relate to others. Even though you tend to battle with yourself, you solve other people's conflicts well.

Your saturation level is lower than average - You don't stress out over things and don't understand people who do. Finishing projects may sometimes be a challenge, but you schedule time as you see fit and the important things all happen in the end, even if not everyone sees your grand master plan.

Your outlook on life can be bright or dark, depending on the situation. You are flexible and see things objectively.

the spacefem.com html color quiz

Hmmmmm ........

Guess I'm not in the all Blue class then. Presumably much more like average. I'm also not clever enough to copy the whole neat little box into this page.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:25 PM

December 05, 2003

Tempus fugit ...

I find myself without a great deal of time to do a blog today. I have a visit to look forward to from my eldest daughter and her partner, driving up from Canterbury, and beds to change etc. The cat has just reminded me its lunchtime and I have food to prepare, she wants attention and the phone has just gone - work wanting information only I can apparently provide. This is the third call today, can't it wait 'til Monday? Apparently not.

Just time then to mention a few items I have gleaned in passing, such as an amusing advertising take on shaving at Kingsley's site. Apparently Gillette are trying to sell a new twin blade razor "that can be used in still water" on "infrequently shaved beards". As a life-long user of a flat, double edged "safety" razor, I for one would not be persuaded to change.

Some interesting comments have been added to the post on All agitprop, all the time on the subject of the French Navies difficulties with their nuclear carrier FS Charles de Gaulle are worth looking at as well.

Bear left on unnamed road provides some serious science for the mathematically inclined. It seems to have cost a lot to come up with a fairly obvious solution to a question perhaps best answered by observation!

And finally, trust the British, and thanks to Cynicalcyn for this last piece of amusement. Cyn informs us that the oldest fossilized male has been found by British paleantologists. It must be something that I, a resident in the UK, have to learn of this from an American blog, who got it from an American newspaper. The news here has ignored it - focussing instead on those living fossils that occupy Westminster and Whitehall.

Ce la vie! As the French would say.

Given that scientists are also predicting that the world will be without genetic males in around 125,000 years, apparently because the male Y Chromosome is unable to repair or renew itself, I'd say we'll all be interesting fossils before to much longer!

Well, guess I won't be around to see it either.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:26 PM

December 04, 2003

Only the French - again?

I wish I'd spotted this one earlier! The FS Charles de Gaulle, France's one and only nuclear carrier (the older Clemenceau was an ex-RN Collossus Class sold them after WWII) is giving so much trouble they may lay her up. My thanks and eternal admiration go to All agitprop, all the time for this priceless piece of French bashing news. Please visit his site and read the item for yourselves at "It's funny when it happens to them".

I love it. The idea of the French having to buy into another British carrier design has made my day! Now I shall go out for dinner and drink the Trafalgar toast.

"Confusion to the French".

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:04 PM | Comments (6)

Curiosity and lifelong learning.

My kids are often surprised by the range of things I read. I have already confessed to being a sci-fi buff and I have particularly enjoyed the Babylon 5 series as well as Next Generation and will even confess to having found Battlestar Galactica a "must watch". Guess I just never got over childish curiosity.

The latest issue of New Scientist has an excellent write up on the latest work done using the Hubble telescope. Today I picked up the latest National Geographic which has an article which covers the Hubble view on the outer edges of the universe. Exciting stuff, my only regret is that it is unlikely that I will live long enough (at current rates of progress) to see the human race become true children of the universe as we spread out into the vastness of space.

Look at how much we have learned in the years since Niel Armstrong first stepped onto the surface of the moon. How much more could we have done or learned had we been able to follow that up with a permanent lunar base? Just looking at what the Hubble telescope is unfolding for us, I find it astounding that we are not making even more efforts to find solutions to the remianing problems. It is our insatiable curiosity that drives us forward into new discoveries and it is people whose vision is so limited that they can see no more than cost or todays activities, concerns or limitations that hold everything back.

Challenger taught us caution, Columbia taught us that we have a long way to go yet, but look at what the men and women on those missions and on those that have gone off without problems have achieved. Look at what we have learned through their efforts and sacrifice!

In my own service, our breathing apparatus, our fire protective clothing and even our training have all benefitted from what has been learned from the space missions. In the field of fire protection in buildings as well, materials developed for space have found applications on earth which are less costly to be sure, but nonetheless effective. Even in oceanography we have benefitted hugely, as we have done in ecology and even in our understanding of the great machine we live on, this fragile planet which we are so utterly dependent upon and which will not last forever.

When I look out at night (when we aren't covered by clouds!) or when I look at the photographs of the distant stars and galaxies and consider the time that has elapsed in their making and in the time taken for the light to reach our puny cameras, I find myself stunned by the sheer excitement of the things we are seeing - and wish I could travel out into the stars to see them for myself.

The more I look upon these things, the more I appreciate that we really have only the most childish concept of God, whatever our religion. I read the opening verses of St John chapter 1 verses 1 - 6 and am amazed at how the first century writer (because John is actually quoting an earlier work) has managed to condense the unimaginable into something approaching the human scale. Likewise the writer of Genesis 1 ( the word "day" in the English versions is a mistranslation - it should read aeon or era) in producing an explanation of the Big Bang theory and the evolutionary concepts of Darwin, in words understandable by nomads, herdsmen and agriculturalists with no formal education and no scientific background, to whom the stars were mere pinpricks of light in the night sky.

The more I look, the more I see, the more I think I understand, the more I discover I have yet to learn.

OK, that's my serious bit for the day.

Good night.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:39 PM | TrackBack

Community care - with a difference

Another item on Cindy's blog that caught my eye was her Thanksgiving activities. It used to be something that a Jewish service organisation did in South Africa every Christmas and Easter - they would take over the duties of Christian (and any one else who wanted to have time out with families) workers in hospitals, ambulance services and even on some fire service staffing. You could suddenly find very senior general practioners or specialists acting as nursing staff in a hospital or shop keepers, bank managers and the like manning other emergency services.

It was always hugely appreciated and I am convinced that if we all had a bit more care of our fellows this world could be a much better place. Well done Cindy, I must look around to see what I can make a useful contribution doing in my community now that I no longer ride the big red lorries.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:47 PM | Comments (2)

Back to work ......

My annual leave is rapidly coming to an end. I look back and wonder where it went, I seem to have spent most of it pottering about the house, doing odd things and a couple of day trips. Oh yes, I also marked a pile of students projects for Higher National Certificate or Diploma submissions, prepared a presentation I have to give in Poland next week and had the loft insulated. Come to think of it, I'm going back to work for a rest!

At least I have managed to sort out a range of things that I have just not had time to tackle in the last year or so. Pity the garden is now a mess, because the very dry autumn meant that the grass didn't grow, so I mothballed the lawnmower and, having done a tidy up of the flower beds, etc., just left it. Then the rains came - and the weather warmed up. Now the grass is growing, the weeds flourish and the leaves are everywhere! But now its too cold and wet to deal with it! Must be global warming to blame ......

Even the cat has given up on outdoors. She asks for the door to be opened, then gives me a filthy look and stalks off to find somewhere out of the draft. Ah well, next week I am back to the normal grindstone for one day and then to Poland for the rest of the week. The cat sitter will have to convince her its not all my fault. I keep telling her I only work to keep us both fed and warm.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:34 PM

Growing up?

Thanks to Cindy for her spot on item "Todays musing". I agree! I want to do this too! Pity about the mortgage, the heating bills, the phone and all the other things that I work to pay for. At last an answer to the ageing process - let's all just resign from adulthood!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:23 PM

December 03, 2003

More on the Portsmouth visit ...

After visiting HMS Victory, we walked around to where HMS Warrior is berthed and the contrast between the "wooden walls" of Nelson and the technological leap forward of the armoured iron ship, is quite striking.


HMS Victory mounted 104 cannon in broadside batteries, ranging from 12 pounders on the upper tier, through 24 pounders on the middle gun deck and 32 pounders on the lower gun deck. She also had 68 pounder "Smashers" or Carronades on her fo'castle. These last were short range weapons firing a 68 pound hollow iron ball filled with musket balls or scrap iron. It burst on impact. I leave the rest to your imagination. Suffice it to say that one shot from one of Victories carronades struck the French flagships mizzen mast directly above the French Admirals staff. Its my guess that Villeneuve lost the battle at that point.

HMS Warrior, by contrast has fewer guns, but a heavier broadside. She is equipped with 68 pounder muzzle loading iron cannon and breech loading 110 pounder Armstrong guns at either end of the main battery and one of these monsters on the fo'castle and one one the quarterdeck. These can be trained through about a 150* arc. They are also rifled guns making them a great deal more accurate at longer range than the smooth bore muzzle loaders designed for close in smashing power.

But, it is in the engine room that the greatest contrast strikes you. Here there are ten boilers, producing steam for the huge two cylinder horizontal engine. It was this that made this ship the giant revolutionary leap forward. The engine develops enough power to drive this ship at a speed of 14 knots without the wind. Even under sail this ship could (and did) achieve speeds of up to 12 knots. This is four knots faster than ships like the Victory could achieve in ideal sailing conditions, and under her engines, 6 knots faster than most sailing vessels she was built to replace.

We then crossed the anchorage to Fort Blockhouse and the Submarine Museum. Here the contrast between the ships we had just seen was even more marked. Our first stop was with the preserved "Holland 1". The Royal Navy's first operational submarine. Ironically she survives because she sank on tow to the breakers yard and was not worth salvaging. A further irony is that she was built to a design by an Irish emigrant to America who hated the British and had developed his designs for the Fenian Society - a group dedicated to destroying the British Empire. Holland fell out with them and sold his designs to the British. Perhaps, when all is said and done, not such a rebel after all.

Having walked around this craft and gone into it, I am more than ever convinced that the men who sailed this tiny boat and her successors were either certifiably insane, or the bravest men imaginable. Alongside the preserved Holland 1 is an even tinier boat, X-24, one of the "midget" submarines developed for penetrating enemy harbours and planting two four ton "charges" under the hulls of enemy battle ships. It was three of these that irreparably damaged the Tirpitz and left her at the mercy of the RAF and their 12,000 pound "Tallboy" bombs, it was another of these that sank the Japanese heavy cruiser Takao in Singapore harbour in 1944.

When I looked around me at the obstacles that the men who manned these ships had surmounted and at the achievements of the nation and the peoples who made up that nation in creating the technology and the traditions, ethos, and heritage of which we are the inheritors, I felt an immense pride to be a part of that lineage.

I also felt a huge sadness at the the thought that all their hardship, all their achievement is today being denigrated and wasted by an ignorant and arrogant bunch of political wastrels and a civil service whose only purpose is to preserve to themselves the power they have seized from the electorate.

The men of HMS Victory would have had to sail their clumsy and demanding ship, in cramped conditions and living on one hot meal a day, made from dried vegetables and rotting salted meat, around the Cape for six to nine months to reach the Far East and Australia. It was no mean feat and explains a great deal about why the Europeans felt it necessary to secure their trading arrangments at the end of such a voyage. It was on their efforts to secure the trade, and upon their successors efforts to secure the freedom to trade that we all depend today. We dishonour them if we forget this, and we throw away a vast heritage if we become so self absorbed that we do not continue to build upon their achievements.

Where now are the inventors, the innovators and the madmen prepared to risk everything to try out their seemingly lunatic ideas?

It was stunning to see in the same dockyard, HMS Victory, HMS Mary Rose (Henry VIII's flagship!), HMS Warrior, Holland 1, HMS Alliance (Diesel electric submarine), HMS Invincible (Aircraft carrier) and assorted missile Frigates, Destroyers and Mine hunters, with, slipping quietly and unobtrusively into a berth, Holland 1's ultimate successor, a truly submersible Nautilis from Jules Vernes, one of the newest Nuclear Submarines, in port for a brief training visit.

Long may our Naval tradition survive, despite the ravages of politicians and self seeking civil servants.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:49 PM

Some thoughts on getting older

A friend and colleague in South Africa has recently sent me this amusing preces on the aging process. I wonder who he could possibly mean - after all he's only a year younger than I am!


1) Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.
2) Forget the health food. I need all the preservatives I can get.
3) When you fall down, you wonder what else you can do while
you're down there.
4) You're getting old when you get the same sensation from a rocking
chair that you once got from a roller coaster.
5) It's frustrating when you know all the answers but nobody bothers
to ask you the questions.
6) Time may be a great healer, but it's a lousy beautician.
7) Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.

I think I'll stay with the mandatory bit, growing up is such a bore.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:58 AM | Comments (3)

Down to the sea in ships ...

I have just returned from another of those lunatic drives across this overcrowded island, this time to and from Portsmouth. In fairness, the traffic wasn't that bad and the trip was done in less time than I had anticipated. It was also worth the effort.

Portsmouth is the home of the Royal Navy and is soaked in the history of the maritime traditions which made this island the centre of the greatest empire the world has ever seen. And before anyone attacks that bit of history, lets just ask ourselves what it did achieve which was of benefit. Quite a lot in the longer term of things, like democratic governments, infrastructures, justice systems and a host of concepts of the rights of the individual which still influence a vast sweep of the globe.

The purpose of the visit to Portsmouth was to do something I have long wanted to do, and never really made the time for. I wanted to visit HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson's flagship at the battle of Trafalgar. Also there is the first all iron armoured battleship built for the Royal Navy (or any other for that matter) and the Submarine Museum, located across the harbour at Gosport, in the former HMS Dolphin base.

HMS Victory is still in commision, although now almost 240 years old and permanently dry docked. She is an impressive ship, already 40 years old at Trafalgar, she retains her sense of power, yet she is shorter in length than both HMS Warrior or any of the many modern Frigates berthed around her. She is still the base Flagship and proudly flies the flag of the Port Admiral, yet she is brought to life as a ship of Nelson's navy by the ex-RN guides who know her history and her features as well as any of the ship's they have served in.

Pictured is the restored HMS WARRIOR

A tour of the ship, once home to a crew of over 900 officers, men and Royal Marines, makes one conscious of just how privileged we are in our lifestyles and our creature comforts. And we owe it to the men who manned ships like this in fair weather and foul. I am a mere 6 feet 2 inches in height, but I can only stand upright between the deck beams on the middle and lower gun decks. In the orlop, where the Midshipmen lived and Nelson (and many more) died, I cannot even stand straight between the beams.

HMS Warrior, afloat in a berth a short walk away, and built in 1860 is, by contrast, huge, yet the accommodation is not that different. What is immensely improved is the deck space - and having a powerful steam engine driven screw propeller, she is independent of the wind. She is both longer and the space from deck to deck is much greater. I had no difficulty standing upright anywhere.

Technology advances by leaps and bounds - Warrior was out of date a mere 10 years later with the introduction of armoured turret ships. Less than 40 years after that, the seeds of the demise of the battleship were sown by the launch of Holland 1, the RN's first submarine boat, and the flight of the first powered aircraft.

As Pratchett remarks in "Small Gods"; "De chelonia mobile".

Good night all.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:29 AM | Comments (3)

December 01, 2003

Matters literary

I have just stumbled across a really interesting and thought provoking piece on Byzantium's Shores, under the title of "Of matters canonical". As someone who has a very wide range of reading, both for work and for pleasure, I enjoyed the observations on what makes good literature and couldn't agree more!

A lot of the more recent writers I have tried, don't seem to be able to hold my attention or my interest. One reason for this is that they don't seem to be able to build a narrative in a compelling way. Some authors do. There are some, thast you simply cannot put down - they draw you in and hold you gripped in the narrative as if you were part of it. One of my favourites is Douglas Reeman in both his own name and in his guise of Alexander Kent. When this guy describes a ship at sea or under sail, you can taste the salt and feel the deck heave under you. His battle scenes have you ducking the shell, shot or splinters. There are one or two more that I have discovered recently that do this for you as well, but it is becoming harder to find someone who can grip your attention that well. Or maybe I'm just getting picky.

As I said, my taste is wide. I read Terry Pratchett, Elizabeth Moon, Tolkien, Reeman, O'Brien, King, Koontz, McCaffrey, C S Forester and C S Lewis and a wide range of the classical authors and poets. I have even tried Archer. I also have to wade through masses of technical stuff and have my particular favourites in naval history, world history and theology. But, it all needs to be well written or it doesn't stand up to scrutiny and it certainly doesn't hold you attention. Pratchett is dangerous to read on public transport. You can find yourself being led away at your destination by the guys in whitecoats because you have been observed shaking with uncontrollable laughter by your fellow travellers - the one's Pratchett has described so well in some of his books!

Favourites? Depends entirely on my mood. My thanks to the Byzantium team, I will be visiting again regularly! One day I'll even find out how to build permanent links into this page - perhaps when the PC stops throwing wobblies at me!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:06 PM

Ain't technology wonderful?

I begin to think that my PC has taken on a life and character all its own. For no apparent reason it hangs up. As in; stops dead and won't respond to anything - not even threats! I have had it checked by the experts, I have had it virus checked, purged, reloaded and all the other major things that can be done without a chainsaw and hammer, and still it does it. Usually just as you finish a long document or critical piece of work. Which, naturally, you haven't saved recently ......

The latest, is a strange difficulty with accessing my blog editing system, which, as some of you will have gathered, is run from Oz. Now why run a UK based blog from OZ? Because said UK based blogger is a complete technophobe and wouldn't know how to set up and run a server. So there! The problem I am told is a difficulty in communications links between the UK and Australia. Yeah? So how come my phone works without problem?

Anyway, the strange problem is that it takes ages to contact the server and then as long again to load the page. Those of you who run with AOL as a provider, will have experienced the frustration of having AOL decide that it has taken too long to contact the site, and simply cut you off! Or even better, to declare that you have been "idle" and then shut you out. I'd change providers, but I have discovered that disabling the AOL programme and uninstalling it will mean a complete reload of most of the programmes I run on here. It is easier to stay a bit frustrated and just find ways to beat the system than to do that.

Another little problem arises with my new CD writer. It works. It writes the files to the CD. Then it won't let me read them. I can see the file on the directory, I can read its size. I can't read the file! I am told this is because I am not "closing" the CD when I write something to it. Oh yeah? And how do you do that? There isn't anything on the tool bar with this programme that allows you to instruct the thing to "close" the CD! Even my tame expert has been baffled by this one.

Ain't technology wonderful? What would I do for amusement without it?

Pratchett's ant farm driven HEX at the Unseen University at least gives a message that makes a great deal more sense than the sudden death one that Microslosh have installed in everything. You know the one:

"This programme has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down!"

How do you plead? Guilty of being a geek who'se stuck with Microslosh!

HEX at least says it has an * Out of cheese error - Reboot from start *. Makes much more sense.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:18 PM

In praise of Teddy Bears

OK, I know, this may seem a strange topic for a blog, but the humble Teddy Bear is a much under rated force in our lives.

As a parent, I can vouch for the effect of a missing Teddy Bear in a little girls life. I have driven a round trip of one hundred and four miles to retrieve a Teddy Bear left behind at the yacht club where we had spent the day. Said daughter was inconsolable when it was discovered that Teddy had been left behind. Try reasoning with an overtired, overwrought four year old. Dad got in the car and drove back to the club, retrieved Teddy and drove home. A small hand emerged from under the duvet and snatched Teddy into a tight hug, the now consoled owner promptly dropping off to sleep with Teddy Bear installed.

Pratchett makes this same parallel in the book Hogfather. The Unseen University's computer (I guess it must be a mainframe - it couldn't be a desktop!) asks the Hogfather ( Played by Death - don't ask - read the book yourself!) for a present. Right at the end you discover that it is a Teddy Bear, and HEX, the computer, throws a wobbly if the Bear is removed. HEX has to be TBE'd before it will function. TBE? Stands for Teddy Bear Enabled!

My youngest daughter once accompanied the rest of the family aboard the Massey Shaw fireboat for a Thames Day which ended in a massive and really spectacular fire work display. We were playing safety boat to the firing crew in the barges doing the firing and had a grandstand view. Youngest decided she wasn't going to be part of this - her reasoning was flawless even at four and a half - all that stuff going up, has to come down again, she wasn't going to be under it. This meant that someone had to forgo their watching the display to stay with her below decks. Teddy Bear to the rescue. A Teddy Bear was found, and youngest was convinced that Teddy needed to be looked after as he was scared of all the bangs and flashes. A check below about fifteen minutes later revealed missy sound asleep with Teddy tucked up next to her and a coat pulled over them.

It does not surprise me at all that children involved in motor accidents and needing comforting are immensely less stressed when a Teddy Bear can be produced and presented to "be cared for". Some years ago "Trauma Teddies" were introduced by some fire services, with great success. It is something that has been continued in various forms since then, but it is expensive and needs sponsors. Speaking from personal experience, I can vouch for the calming effect that a Teddy Bear has on an injured and frightened child and the healing process doesn't end there either, that is merely the beginning.

Of course, Teddy Bears are no longer purely the preserve of children, many adults now collect them, and there are now a wide range of collectable makes available. The most famous is probably Stieff, but there are all shapes and sizes from countires around the globe.

What started this train of thought? An appeal for knitted Teddy Bears to be given to an aid agency that has found that they make ideal gifts to children in hospitals with incurable or serious illnesses. Apparently the bears reduce anxiety and improve recovery rates.

Not bad for a simple stuffed toy.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:08 AM | Comments (2)

A God slot

Over this weekend I have had the pleasure of attending two Advent Carol Services. The first was last night, and is an annual event in Tewkesbury Abbey. It is provided by two choirs, one, The Abbey School Choir, sings the weekday offices of Morning and Evening Prayer through the week and the other from the Bluecoat School in Birmingham includes a large number of choristers from other choirs in the West Midlands and Warkwickshire.

The service is a form of Thanksgiving which began around 1946 as a way of saying "thank you" to the people of Tewkesbury from the children (and their families) who had been evacuated to Tewkesbury to escape the bombing of the industrial centres further North. A huge number of people come from all over the country (I counted six coaches in one coach park) to attend this service and, even for those who never go to any other, it is well worth the effort.

The Abbey Church is a large space and the service makes full use of this liturgically. The Choirs move about in it, sometimes in procession, and sometimes as a quiet move from one area to another. The high vault and the stone walls allow the sound to bounce and fill the space in creating an amazing aural feast. Motets, chorales and familiar Advent carols poured from these well schooled and musically gifted voices to lift the five hundred or so of the congregation to another plane altogether. The experience of having two choirs on oposite sides of a building like this and singing responses to each other is something that has to be experienced to be believed.

The Advent Carols Service I have just returned from was as different as it could be, yet, here again, a superb choir did more than ample justice to the music and the setting. This time it was the Choir of Malvern College Chapel, and these young people have something to be really proud of. Their voices blended into a rich palette of tones that sent the spirit soaring with the angels. Even a very difficult piece by Benjamin Britten, "Hymn to the Virgin", which requires a "choir in echo" was ably performed by these school boys and girls.

Altogether an uplifting and thoroughly spiritual experience. For the curious vist the Abbey website, there are pictures and information on the building, the worship and other events.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:34 AM

Only ze Frinch!

As the famous Agent Crabtree (always disguised as a Gendarme) in the spoof "'allo, 'allo!" was wont to say in his mangeled Franglais, "Eet eez aymozing! Noo oui con toll the tim in decimools!" Oh yes, only the cafe owner could ever decipher his statements.

In the latest issue of New Scientist is an article covering some of the zanier attempts to "modernise" or "rationalise" some fairly immutable things. One is time. It seems that the Committee for Public Safety attempted, during the French Revolution, to impose a "metricated" system of time keeping. Clocks were actually made and issues which showed the new system. This divided the day into ten hours, each of a hundred minutes. But it went further, it also divided the week into ten days and the month into three weeks.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it failed because of public resistance - they simply ignore it - and because it did not , in fact, work. Time is regulated by such mundane things as the rotation of the earth, the lunar cycle and, of course, the "atomic tick".

I find it fascinating that a committee of non scientists would even contemplate trying to change this - but then again, why not. They were politicians, right?

Just to really amuse, the original calculations which have given us the period of rotation as twenty four hours of sixty minutes to each hour, in turn having sixty seconds to each minute, are generally attributed to the Chaldeans - around 4,500 years ago.

Not bad for guys using an abacus!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:08 AM