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August 31, 2004

A Canterbury tale?

An item in the Telegraph today gave a good example of just how easily a public figure can be misrepresented. The headline screams "Muslims can go to heaven, says Archbishop", a single line from a much longer and far more balanced message which can very easily be misinterpretted by those with a desire to do so. The rest of the message is quite important, and it has implications for Muslims as well as his Christian audience.

The Archbishop was speaking at the Greenbelt Christian Conference in Cheltenham this weekend, an annual gathering of mainly Evangelical members (Low Church tending to non-Conformist Churchmanship, theology, and Doctrine, for the most part), and he will have rocked a few boats there, for sure! I have no doubt that he will have rattled cages well outside of that forum, as well, by the time the Press have finished with this one. Yet, is the Archbishop actually adrift in what he is saying? Do Christians have exclusive rights to Heaven? What do we mean by Heaven, anyway? Some sort of Mega Butlin's with gold taps, room service, and harp music everywhere? Or the Muslim Martyr version with hordes of nubile "houris" waiting upon you hand and foot? (Actually that last one always raises in my mind the question of what do the female suicide bombers get? Hordes of male "houris"? Are there such creatures? I digress!)

When you look closely at what the Archbishop has actually said, it is very far from sensational - unless you are of the mindset that finds it hard to leave the Sunday School Kindergarten interpretations behind! I am personally pleased to see that he showed at least some of his anger at the behaviour of some sections of the Church on at least two important issues, one being Gay Clergy and the other being the debate on the impact of Islam. Despite my own reservations - and regular readers of my rantings will know that I have some very deep seated ones - we, as Christians, must recognise that Islam is a God-centred religion. We may believe it to be misguided; we may even believe that it is a threat. It is a fact of belief, and we cannot ignore it. We must in fact deal with it and with its adherents and find ways to seek God's purpose in this. This is definitely an area were "Jaw, jaw" and not "war, war!" is needed, yet, at present, Islam is in the hands of fanatics and bigots, and talking is not on their agenda. So, we have to find ways to get them to open up, to be persuaded by means other than bullets and bombs; we need the majority of Muslims to consider the truth of God's purpose in their religion and ours.

The Archbishop told his audience that neither he nor any Christian could control access to heaven.

"It is possible for God's spirit to cross boundaries," he said.

"I say this as someone who is quite happy to say that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except by Jesus. But how God leads people through Jesus to heaven, that can be quite varied, I think."

In an open and frank debate the Archbishop reflected his disappointment at the tone of the debate on homosexuality, and his dismay at the vitriol of many of the e-mails he had received.

"It is not so much that we have disagreement in the Church - that happens," he said. "It is more to do with how those disagreements are conducted. The dismissiveness, the rawness of the anger . . . need to be worked with."

Having met Dr Williams while he was still Archbishop of Wales, I must say that I have found him to be a man of deep faith, integrity, and a Christianity that is palpable - not the show kind, but the real kind, the kind that does move mountains. This is a man who deserves support in a job that has always been an almost impossible one for the incumbent. St Augustine found it difficult - in fact he petitioned the Pope to be replaced (it was refused!). Lanfranc was dumped into it after the Conquest and had a real tightrope to walk between his King, a vacillating Pope, and a Bishop of Winchester (Odo) who had the ear of the King and didn't hesitate to use it! Thomas Beckett was martyred trying to defend the Church against the secular state, Cranmer, Hooper, and others for their defence of it against the Catholic Mary I and Philip II of Spain (Mary's husband, in case you were unaware of the Spanish claim to the English throne!). The Archbishopric is always caught between the demands of an ever changing society and its changing mores and morals and the need to uphold the Gospels - but these, too, are seen by different factions within the Church in different ways.

The Archbishop needs our prayers and our support, not our brickbats and our bile. Take the trouble to read carefully all of what he says and then debate it with him. This is not a man who leaps to speak without a lot of thought and prayer. When he makes statement like this on the access to heaven, you may be sure that he is speaking from a position of having prayed and considered very deeply. And I am convinced that all of you - particularly those who truly try to follow the teaching of the Gospel - will see where he is coming from and are probably there, yourselves!

It is high time that the factions and distractions were laid aside and replaced with rational and reasoned debate on the true issues. The message of the Gospels is far too important to be trivialised in this way; it needs to be studied, understood, and applied as never before! Sexuality, gender, churchmanship - these are distractions, these are matters which detract from the Church of Christ (and I am deliberately using that title to include EVERY Christian denomination!) in ways that aid its destruction.

The Archbishop is right to be angry - it is time more of us got angry at the way the agendas are being set by small groups both inside and outside the Church for their own particular ends. Neither does the Church or the Gospel message any good at all.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:30 AM

August 30, 2004

The Titanic still making waves ....

I have recently watched a "documentary" which put forward, yet again, the theory that the RMS Titanic and her sister RMS Olympic had somehow been "switched" as an insurance scam. Even though this was admitted to have been disproved by the recovery of a number of items from the wreck site which bear the Yard Number 401 (Harland and Wolf's Build Number for the Titanic) the film makers had still got both their facts and their story wrong. The facts do, however, have a strange twist to the tail!

For one thing, there is constant reference to Titanic having only ONE sister, the Olympic, for another they make the mistake of labelling them "identical". In fact there were three sisters, RMS Olympic being the first to enter service with the White Star Line, RMS Titanic followed, and the third, RMS Britannic , would have followed the Titanic into service some twelve months later had her completion not been delayed by the necessity to remove workers from her to repair the Olympic after the latter had been damaged in a collision. As it was, the Britannic never entered service on her intended route, as the outbreak of the First World War saw her being commandeered while completing her fitting out, and her complete refitting as a hospital ship. She was sunk in this service in the Aegean in 1917 by a mine.

Of the three ships, the Olympic was the "odd one out" until after 1919, as the Titanic and the Britannic had been altered from the original plan to give an enclosed Promenade deck. Photographs of the Olympic show her with an open A Deck and she was known as a "wet" ship as a result. At sea she was prone to shipping spray and sometimes dollops of water onto this deck in rough weather. Titanic was modified as a result of the experience of this on Olympic's first voyages and so entered service with the glazed enclosure in place. Britannic was also modified and photographs of the two latter ships show that they, and not Olympic, were almost identical.

Ironically, both the Britannic and the Olympic were modified after the loss of the Titanic to bring their watertight bulkheads up to the main deck as they should have been designed to do at the outset. These had originally been designed to go only one deck above the full loaded waterline, which meant on some bulkheads a height of only 3 feet above the normal waterline. Both ships were also fitted with additional lifeboats, sufficient for the full crew and passenger list, a requirement even to the present day. This is an anomolous position however, because cargo vessels are required to have a lifeboat/raft capacity of 200% of crew and passengers, while the huge liners and cruiseships are required to have only a 100% capacity, which means that in any situation which renders some of the boats and rafts unusable you are back in the realms of the Titanic and 1912.

Of the three sisters RMS Olympic alone enjoyed a long and reasonably successful career, passing into the ownership of the Cunard Line under the banner Cunard White Star. She sailed as one of their fleet until 1936 when she was broken up for scrap. Part of her First Class saloon panelling is still to be seen lining the walls of a hotel in Merseyside. The Titanic lies beneath the Atlantic as Jack Ballard's team found her, and her only identical sister, HMHS Britannic, lies beneath the Aegean. In an even greater irony the mine that sank her struck in almost the same place as the iceberg that the Titanic hit. And the failure of the closing mechanism on the watertight doors (probably as a result of the explosion) ensured that one too many compartments flooded.

The facts are perhaps even stranger than the fantasies.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:45 PM | Comments (2)

August 29, 2004

Some more grave-robbing, Chancellor Brown?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Right (Dis)Honourable Gordon Brown, MP, Republican and Scottish Nationalist Member of the Labour Party (with Ambitions!), is planning a revision of the Inheritance Tax so that he can grab the Trust Funds many Middle Class families set up to protect their children's inheritance from this greedy and wasteful government. Now this unfair and wicked tax - set up to destroy the whole ethos of passing on any form of inherited estate - is to be used in this ghastly man's war on the Middle Classes, destroying their hopes for improving their children's chances of success.

The tragedy is that many of the Middle Class families most likely to be hit hardest by this will be people who will have voted for this malignant cretin out of misguided hopes that the Labour Party would deliver on the promise to be less sleezy than the Conservatives. Guess they now know what their reward will be. Brown has overspent in every direction, he has been incredibly profligate with the government's income from tax, spending (or promising to spend) far more than he actually gets. Now he has to find some more money and can't (because Tone won't let him) put up the Income Tax rates, much as he'd like too.

Despite repeatedly asserting that they will not raise taxes, have not raised taxes, have no intention of raising taxes - the average wage earner in the UK is now paying more than 40% of their income in direct and indirect taxes. What do we get for it? Not a lot. Six hundred and fifty-four MP's with their entourages and their featherbeds, five and a half million civil servants who do nothing productive, a shrinking military force, a fire service and a health service falling apart, while they add layer upon layer of Assemblies, Parliaments, and other hordes of space and time-wasting featherbedded political cronnies and their accompanying bureaucrats, that's what we get.

Will anything improve with this additional raid on savings? Did it improve when he robbed everyone's pension funds? Don't hold your breath - the only beneficiaries will be the politicians who will vote themselves yet another huge increase in salaries, "expenses" and perks - at our expense.

God help us all if he ever becomes the Prime Minister!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:06 AM

August 28, 2004

Science and religion

Read any book on scientific discovery written in the last two hundred years and you will learn that the Church has tried at every turn to defeat the inexorable march of science. You will read (in a book by Carl Sagan) that Pope Calixtus III ex-communicated Haley's Comet, that the Church promoted a "flat earth" theory with the universe revolving around it, that Darwin's theories were "attacked" by the Church, that the dinosaur bones were declared fake by the Church, and so on, but are any of these charges actually true?

The Pope Calixtus story of the comet is completely apochryphal and was first recorded a hundred years after his death - by a writer who was of the reformers' school. A precursor of the Age of Enlightenment. There is no record of the Pope ever having done more than observe the comet as it passed. The story, however, served as a very good propaganda tool for those of the "new" persuasion as an example of the manner in which the Church "repressed" scientific development. No one it seems ever considered that fact that you cannot excommunicate anything which is not:

1) a baptised and communicating member of the Church, and
2) by definition, a man or a woman!

Not even a medieval Pope would consider a comet human or even a human agent.

The anti-science debate is further weakened when you turn to the earliest recordings of scientific discovery, almost all of which were made by monks or priests studying and observing the world around them. The "Flat Earth" nonsense arises from a 17th Century interpretation of such things as the "Mappa Mundi" - a medieval depiction of the world which even its originator would have told you was not intended to represent the world as it was, but to show the relationships between lands, seas and Jerusalem - the centre of every Christian's religious "world" but not necessarily their vision of the "universe". Even in those days sailors knew - and many Christian Scholars agreed - that the world was round. Solon's original calculations as to the diameter of the sphere that formed the Earth was well known to Christian Scholars in the 12th and 13th Centuries - and they wrote treatises based upon it, fully accepting the "round Earth" concept.

Galileo's main problem with the Inquisition was that he argued that Comets originated in the Earth's atmosphere whereas a Christian scholar had written a very learned treatise based upon observation and the records of Haley's and other comet appearances, that placed them as originating "beyond" the Sun. Galileo was not banned from studying or publishing, but admonished for not checking what others had observed! He, himself, regarded his faith as being confirmed by his observations and discoveries.

Newton's "apple" was another example of a "myth" becoming a "fact". Newton himself never mentions an apple in his books or in his correspondence - within which lie the origins of his observations and other references which led to his fully developed theory. He himself saw all of this as exciting and confirming his faith - a fact born out by the support given him by the clergy in his own day.

Even Darwin had vast support among the clergy, but, as usual, only the handful of idiots got into the papers because this supported the then growing "Humanist" and "Scientific Philosophist" propaganda that religion = superstition; science = knowledge. This is a view that has its origins in Protestant countries around the late 17th Century and onwards. It must not be forgotten that the struggle to break away from Catholicism had engendered deep hatred in many minds, and this was translated into a hatred for the whole spectrum of religious beliefs. Anything which could "prove" religion to be "superstitious nonsense" while at the same time furthering the "Philosophy of Science" was a fair tactic - to hell with accuracy or truth. Darwin remained a Christian to his death - his main concern in delaying publication being that he might not have all the evidence he needed and that his theory might not be fully understood by his fellow scientists! You can check this by reference to his letters to various friends including members of the clergy.

The whole debate is not made any easier by entrenched positions on both sides. There are those who insist on reading the Bible as "history" and forget that there are large parts of it that are "folk lore" with a historic foundation. Then there are the other end of the spectrum - those who regard the whole as a work of fiction - a collection of "stories". Neither side is right, and neither do science or religion justice. Many of the scientific discoveries in the last two hundred years have actually furthered our understanding of God and of His creation and do not challenge traditional beliefs at all, but confirm them. Other discoveries show us that there is a heck of a lot that we just don't know - and therefore must take on faith!

It is said that history is written by the victors in any conflict, but this is not always so, and probably won't be in this case. There is a lot still to be studied, there is even more that needs to be reconsidered and possibly retracted in this case. I put it to you that the charge that the Church has been the opponent of scientific study and advancement is unfair. The evidence is, for the most part (and I accept that there are those in the USA who have attempted to fight court cases to prevent the teaching of scientifically proven explanations including Evolution) tenuous, mostly hearsay unsupported by any real proof, and certainly doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

I think it is high time that this trend was reversed and that it was recognised that the vast bulk of the scientific research done prior to the Reformation and the Age of Enlightenment was carried out by churchmen with the full blessing of their superiors. Some of this would certainly have been kept "secret" as it would not have been understood by the population at large; they simply did not have the education to even begin to understand such concepts as the Earth moving about the Sun and the Sun being but one among many such stars. You have only to look at the furor it caused post-Reformation when many of the so-called educated classes suddenly found themselves having to contend with this sort of information. Even today, it is all too often the delight of sneering "enlightened" promoters of Humanist Theory who perpetuate these and other myths against Christianity and Christians generally.

It's time the truth about the Church's role in the development of the sciences was put straight. It's time that Newton's Apple, Callixtus' Comet, and other popular myths were put away - and the real stories told, no matter how uncomfortable. I think that many will find that the truth is much more interesting, anyway.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:13 PM | Comments (2)

August 27, 2004

So is it over?

The Fire Service dispute is settled. Or is it? The employers and the Union have agreed on everything. But now Mr Raynsford's (Minister for Local Government and the Regions) poodles in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) have ordered that it must be scrutinised by their lawyers BEFORE it can be accepted by the Employers. So much for democracy and democratic responsibility!

These dishonest clowns now expect everyone to believe that they HAVE to do this in order to ensure that "Public Money is being Wisely Spent!" The only way to ensure that is to sack the lot of them. Complete house clearance, and throw out the politicians as well. Then start again - with a new batch of Chief Officers who are less supine, "management" oriented, and eager to please the politicians. It would also help if the Union were outlawed, as well, and a new means found of representing the true fire fighters - not the disaffected and disruptive lot that usually get elected to represent the "members" on the Union - purely because the real fire fighters couldn't be bothered.

What this clearly reveals is that the ODPM has a different agenda and does not want a settlement - unless it meets their agenda. But now they have a problem; three of the four "nations" that make up the Union have decided to act on their own. Almost 20 of the 43 Authorities in England have also declared that they will go down the Unilateral Declaration of Independence route as well. This leaves Raynsford and his minions exposed as the charlatans and "eminenses grise" who have been orchestrating this dispute for their own nefarious ends - and also as being the source of much of the garbage that has been spun in an effort to turn the public against the men and women who provide the best fire service in the world.

Let us hope that the "Legal Advisers" act with independence and honesty - and advise this poisonous little twit that he is out of order. It is time this dispute was settled; it is also time that this government was thrown out on their ears - preferably permanently!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:43 AM

August 26, 2004

Goddesses on parade?

These Goddesses would not win any prizes for beauty, but they might for function!

They may be almost 50 years old, they are certainly no picture, and they are very slow, but they can shift water - loads of it! These are the famous (or infamous) Green Goddesses which are used by the miltary when the local authority Fire Services go on strike. This is not what they were originally built to do!

These vehicles were designed to provide emergency fire fighting services after a nuclear strike on a major urban centre. They fell under the aegis of the Civil Defence organisation and were stationed in Fire Force Commands (based on the WW2 National Fire Service Fire Force Command structures and regions). Each Command had a number of "Columns" all stationed or housed outside of major urban areas were they could be manned, mobilised, and sent to whichever city had been bombed. The idea of the Column was that it would have up to 50 of these "Pump Ladders" (also referred to as a Type B Water Tender) which carried the essential fire fighting equipment, a 750 gpm Sigmund or Godiva Pump, a Coventry Climax Light Portable Pump and two 1 inch low pressure hose reels. They had a crew of Officer, Driver, and four fire fighters and operated alongside pipe layers which carried lenghts of 4 inch diameter steel pipe fitted with snaplock couplings (an agricultural pipe coupling which is quick operating) and could lay up to ten miles of pipeline in total, with a Goddess at appropriate intervals to boost the water along. The Column also included a number of "Bikini" Units which carried semi-rigid inflatable rafts which could be propelled through the water by mounting a Light Portable pump on it and using two Branches fitted into special steerable brackets as "water jet" propulsion supplied from the pump.

The full makeup of the Column included tents, recovery vehicles, mobile kitchen, command and communications vehicle, and equipment for a small field dressing station. From 1954 to 1964 Auxilliary, Retained and Wholetime fire fighters and officers received training in Column operations. After the disbanding of the Auxilliary Fire Service in 1964, this role fell to the Wholetime and Retained fire fighters, and then even that was withdrawn with the disbanding of the Civil Defence structures in the late 1960's (Guess what - all done by Labour Governments trying to divert money to their pet "causes"!). The Goddesses and their ancillary vehicles were "mothballed" until the mid to late 1970's, when some were sold off to collectors at home and many went abroad where they are still doing sterling service.

In 1977 they came out of mothballs and for nine weeks of the first strike by fire fighters in this country, served as the only fire fighting force, manned by the army, navy, and airforce. They re-appeared in 2003 during the latest (and still ongoing!) dispute between Whitehall, the "Employers", and the Union, and we hope that that will be the last time these now aging beasts are used in anger.

For the anoraks:

Bedford 7 ton military 4x4 chassis

Engine and drive train
Bedford 8 cylinder Petrol engine
Gearbox - 5 speed Full Crash (No syncromesh)
PTO's - Sandwich mounted transfer to Front Axle
Top Mounted Transfer to pump.
Fuel consumption in High Range 2x4 - 8 miles to the gallon
in Low Range 4x4 - 3 mpg

What brakes?

Water tank - 300 gallons

Sigmund/Godiva 750 gpm (Imperial) - PTO from Main Engine
Light Portable Coventry Climax (4 cyl Climax petrol Engine with crank or cord pull start) 125 gpm

Ladder - 10.5 meter extension.

Speed - 37 mph (Some say, unkindly, only on a downhill and the wind behind her!)

These pumps were well ahead of their time when first built, now they have done their time and like any faithfull servant, have earned their place in the history books and in retirement.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:40 AM

August 25, 2004

The downward slide to oblivion.

The Monk may face severe criticism for continuing to comment on matters relating to the armed forces, but there is a very interesting article in the Torygraph which points to the fact that only 18% of the UK population believes that the government can be trusted to adequately fund and support the defence forces. The same poll says that only 14% think the Secretary of State for Defence is doing a good job.

The poll found that 86 per cent of those questioned believe that the defence chiefs should be criticising the cuts. The vast majority did not believe they should resign in protest but 55 per cent felt they should be openly critical.

Mr Hoon has warned the defence chiefs that anyone taking such action will be forced into early retirement.

Major defence studies carried out by Jane's Defence Review also point up the fact that the percentage of GDP spent by this government on defence is, at 6%, considerably below what is considered the "norm" by experts.

There should be no surprise in this. This is, after all, a government of pacificists, closet communists, and "internationalists" who believe that the nation state, the crown, the national identity, and all matters relating to the heyday of the British people is evil, to be denigrated and destroyed. They are doing their damndest to destroy the "United" Kingdom by devolving parliaments to Scotland and Assemblies to Wales and Northern Ireland (in the latter case even making deals with terrorists to do it!) and by breaking England up into eight "Regions" - each with its own assembly.

It does not take a genius to work out that before long there will be eight mini-states in what was "England", all doing their own deals with the EU devil, all jockeying for a bigger slice of the EU handouts, and all peddling like fury in their own narrow directions. The United Kingdom will be no more. Score one to the Scottish Labour Party. It is equally obvious that, given tribal voting for Labour in the North East, North West, and Yorkshire Regions, the dominance of the Metropolitan areas in the Midlands and London "Regions", that Labour will have complete control of five of these Regional Assemblies, effectively entrenching themselves as the Party of Government. Nor is it a work of genius to recognise that, with power devolved to the Assemblies and their own bureaucracies to consume ever more of the national income, the spend on Defence will decrease still further. In fact, Westminster will itself become irrelevant as Brussels and Strasbourg become the effective ruling parliament and bureaucracy of "Central" government in Europe. At this point we will lose our independence, our armed forces, our police, and our identity and become part of the new Franco-German United States of Europe with no more influence than, say, San Marino or Lichtenstein. As a disunited group of provincial assemblies under an ever more totalitarian Party, this Nation, this Kingdom cannot survive.

Perhaps then, the deliberate underfunding and continual cutting back of the Armed Services under Blair and his incompetent Secretary for Defence is simply a cunning way of reducing the Kingdom to a state in which it is unable to prevent his handing it over, lock, stock, and barrel to the United States of Europe as soon as he thinks he can get away with it. After all, what more powerful argument can there be than that the Kingdom (remember it is FOUR fiercely "independent" nations - English, Welsh, Irish and Scots!) can no longer defend itself, no longer has control over foreign policy, defence policy, or national taxation.

It is no accident that this Kingdom became great when all its peoples worked together as one "British" people. It can therefore be no accident that it has fallen to this present state of supine and terminal illness through the fostering of internal divisions and suspicion by the filth that have subsumed the leadership of the Labour Party, ably aided and abetted by the vicious, trivial, and greedy ambitions of their incompetent and frankly dispicable rank and file.

Unless we can find statesmen and women who will throw out this scum, restore the Kingdoms pride in itself and rebuild our Armed Forces, we are probably doomed to becoming an insignificant backwater of the US of E.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:51 PM | Comments (1)

August 24, 2004

Drake he was a Devon man ...

One of the most flambouyant characters in Elizabethan England was a gentleman, son of an impoverished clergyman, named Francis Drake. I suspect that he would have been a difficult man to like in our present society and with our present ideas of morality, duty, and slavish obedience to rules and law. After all, he was a seaman, a man of his own age - an age when the men relieved themselves in the bilges of their ships and bathed when they got soused by a breaking sea on deck - a tough-minded and ruthless man with a temper to match his red hair!

It took an exceptional man to sail a 90 foot long, and none too seaworthy, ship around the world with only the most primitive navigation aids. It speaks volumes that the Spanish were convinced that he had to have the assistance of the Devil himself. In fact, some argued that he was the Devil Incarnate! His journal of the voyage round Cape Horn (the wrong way!) and up the West Coast of the America's makes interesting reading. Certainly his sacking of Panama and the capture of the treasure galleon from Manila gave the Spanish a number of problems. It gave Drake a problem, too, for it overloaded his already heavily laden ship quite dramatically. Somewhere near modern San Fransico, possibly in San Fransico Bay itself, he beached the Golden Hind, carried out extensive repairs and then reballasted the ship with the treasure - ditching his cannon shot and stone ballast to accomodate the treasure. He then sailed North turning back somewhere North of modern Vancouver and then setting off across the Pacific. When he ran aground near the North Australian coast, probably in the Coral Sea, he lightened the ship by throwing overboard a King's Ransom in treasure! And that was only what was in private belongings!

His arrival in England was unexpected, and a bit of an embarrassment, but Queen Elizabeth wasn't about to turn down the windfall! She gave him 24 hours to "secure" the Crown's Property - a euphemism for getting his and his crews share ashore before the arrival of the Taxman! That worthy had orders to seize everything for the Crown. The Crown got £6 million out of what remained aboard, Drake got a generous portion and so did his surviving crew. He bought Buckfast Abbey out of his share and established himself and his household there - it can still be visited, though now it is a museum to his exploits.

His career began inauspiciously sailing with his uncle. They fell foul of a Spanish governor who, having agreed to trade with them, then had their ships and their goods seized. Drake never forgot that slight and never forgave it either. He wasn't popular with his superiors, and contrary to popular legend, he played only a minor part in the defeat of the Armada, the fleet being actually under the command of Lord Howard, the Lord High Admiral. That worthy complained bitterly that Drake was not amenable to taking orders, and in fact disobeyed orders in order to seize a Spanish prize when he should have been harassing the rest of the fleet.

He finally met his end once more raiding the Spanish Main - in particular the Panama Coast, where it is believed he caught malaria and succumbed. He was buried at sea - in Nombre de Dios Bay.

Recently an attempt has been made to find the lead coffin he was reportedly placed within to be buried. I am not sure of the outcome and must make a note to search for information on this. In the extended post below, I have placed the poem by Henry Newbolt - Drake's Drum - a highly romantic version of his death and burial, but certainly reflecting the legend this rather small, very fiery and very determined man has left behind.

I wonder what he would make of modern England?

Drake's Drum

Drake he's in his hammock an' a thousand miles away,
(Capten, art tha sleepin' there below?)
Slung atween the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay,
An' dreamin' arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe.
Yarnder lumes the Island, yarnder lie the ships,
Wi' sailor lads a-dancin' heel-an'-toe,
An' the shore-lights flashin', an' the night-tide dashin',
He sees et arl so plainly as he saw et long ago.

Drake he was a Devon man, an' ruled the Devon seas,
(Capten, art tha' sleepin' there below?)
Roving tho' his death fell, he went wi' heart at ease,
An' dreamin' arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe.
"Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore,
Strike et when your powder's runnin' low;
If the Dons sight Devon, I'll quit the port o' Heaven,
An' drum them up the Channel as we drumm'd them long ago."

Drake he's in his hammock till the great Armadas come,
(Capten, art tha sleepin' there below?)
Slung atween the round shot, listenin' for the drum,
An' dreamin arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe.
Call him on the deep sea, call him up the Sound,
Call him when ye sail to meet the foe;
Where the old trade's plyin' an' the old flag flyin'
They shall find him ware an' wakin', as they found him long ago!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:50 PM | Comments (1)

August 23, 2004

Scream! The "Scream" has been stolen - again!

Why anyone would want to have that particular painting hanging on a wall anywhere, I cannot say. Why, having had it stolen once and recovered, the museum hasn't had the sense to adequately defend the damned thing just beggars belief. I suspect that both thefts are to order, but who the lunatic is that wants to have this ghastly depiction in their collection beats me.

They must have several screws loose for starters. It is not a painting you can like. It certainly isn't something you would enjoy. I suppose it may have some value as a curiosity, but it is also so well known that you could not display it publically anyway! Anyone seeing it on your wall would know instantly that it was stolen - and that a BIG reward may be forthcoming to the person who shops the thief. So, that means it has to live in a bankvault or some similar secure place - which raises the question, if you can't display it, can't sell it, can't view it even privately - what the hell is the point of having it?

And that returns me to my original point. Who the hell would want to have that ghastly image on the wall anyway? In a museum maybe. In a private collection? No way!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:10 PM | Comments (1)

August 22, 2004

RIP for a Christian Poet

The death of the poet Charles Causley has left a gap in the writing of theologically provocative poetry. Causley's poems were apparently simple, but have a depth which makes one think a bit more deeply about what one believes!

Recently one of my colleagues quoted the poem "The ballad of the Breadman" in a sermon. That prompted me to go and look up the full text, and it makes a very good point. A friend that I read it out to said that it makes more sense when it is read to you - I know what she meant, but it makes as much sense when you read it and ponder on it.

So, my contribution to this Sunday's thoughts about our God and His Son, our Saviour, is this - read the poem in the extended post below!

Ballad of the Breadman

Mary stood in the kitchen
Baking a loaf of bread.
An angel flew in the window
‘We’ve a job for you,’ he said.

‘God in his big gold heaven
Sitting in his big blue chair,
Wanted a mother for his little son.
Suddenly saw you there.’

Mary shook and trembled,
‘It isn’t true what you say.’
‘Don’t say that,’ said the angel.
‘The baby’s on its way.’

Joseph was in the workshop
Planing a piece of wood.
‘The old man’s past it,’ the neighbours said.
‘That girls been up to no good.’

‘And who was that elegant fellow,’
They said. ‘in the shiny gear?’
The things they said about Gabriel
Were hardly fit to hear.

Mary never answered,
Mary never replied.
She kept the information,
Like the baby, safe inside.

It was the election winter.
They went to vote in the town.
When Mary found her time had come
The hotels let her down.

The baby was born in an annexe
Next to the local pub.
At midnight, a delegation
Turned up from the Farmers’ club.

They talked about an explosion
That made a hole on the sky,
Said they’d been sent to the Lamb and Flag
To see God come down from on high.

A few days later a bishop
And a five-star general were seen
With the head of an African country
In a bullet-proof limousine.

‘We’ve come,’ they said ‘with tokens
For the little boy to choose.’
Told the tale about war and peace
In the television news.

After them cam the soldiers
With rifle and bombs and gun,
Looking for enemies of the state.
The family had packed up and gone.

When they got back to the village
The neighbours said, to a man,
‘That boy will never be one of us,
Though he does what he blessed well can.’

He went round to all the people
A paper crown on his head.
Here is some bread from my father.
Take, eat, he said.

Nobody seemed very hungry.
Nobody seemed to care.
Nobody saw the god in himself
Quietly standing there.

He finished up in the papers.
He came to a very bad end.
He was charged with bringing the living to life.
No man was that prisoner’s friend.

There’s only one kind of punishment
To fit that kind of crime.
They rigged a trial and shot him dead.
They were only just in time.

They lifted the young man by the leg,
Thy lifted him by the arm,
They locked him in a cathedral
In case he came to harm.

They stored him safe as water
Under seven rocks.
One Sunday morning he burst out
Like a jack-in-the-box.

Through the town he went walking.
He showed them the holes in his head.
Now do you want any loaves? He cried.
‘Not today’ they said.

Charles Causley

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:06 PM | Comments (1)

August 21, 2004

An age of contradictions .....

Is it not strange that at one and the same time we have a rising demand for fertility treatment as more and more young women find themselves unable to conceive naturally for a variety of reasons - and at the same time the NHS can conduct nearly 200,000 abortions, annually? It would seem to me that there is a really twisted-up 'logic' at work here, especially in light of the debate as to when a "life" actually starts! Our "enlightened age" seems to have its priorities well and truly tangled on this one as the "age of free love" occasioned by the advent of the "Pill" has been replaced by the "Age of free sex" supported by the "Morning-After Pill" and abortions.

This change in behaviour has seen a huge rise in infertility and in sexually transmitted diseases. We are now almost back to the problem of the late 19th and early 20th Century when venereal disease was endemic, and it was almost a rite of passage to contract syphilis!

The problems do not end there, either, as many women who have had a pregnancy terminated will testify, for they suffer huge problems with feelings of guilt, feelings of remorse, and depression. There is also a rising tide of destructive behaviour in which we see young women behaving in a far worse manner than the young men that used to be the cause of problems with drunken and riotous behaviour. The fine line between "having fun" and "vandalism" has been crossed, seemingly permanently.

This week a senior Coroner, sitting at an Inquest into the death of a teenager who died after taking a mixture of Ecstacy, Cannabis, and Amphetamines, stopped the proceedings on two occasions to correct witnesses who made reference to "Recreational" drugs. The Judge has now put it on record in his judgment that there is no such thing as a "recreational" drug. I wonder if Mr Blair and his chums will take any notice as they continue to go ever softer on drug abuse and the rising criminal behaviour that accompanies this? It seems to many of us that this is a society hell bent on self destruction - a society that is committing suicide!

Birth rates across the industrialised nations are falling; those in the poorer nations continue to rise. bringing with them the twin traps of poverty and famine. The wealthy and "compassionate" developed nations have spawned any number of "charitable" "Aid" agencies who rush to the rescue with food, tents, water purifiers, and the medicines necessary to pull these communities back from the natural mechanisms which have limited populations for centuries (if not millennia!) and so compound the problem into the future. Already desertification is increasing far more rapidly than can be blamed simply on climate change. The sheer weight of populations trying to wrest a living from limited water supplies, limited arable land stocks, and limited game stocks is now driving this change at an ever increasing rate. It won't be long before this hits the developed nations as well - you need look no further than the profligate extraction of water from the Snowy River in Australia, reducing it to a dry creek in its lower reaches, and the water "features" at the San Reno in the Nevada desert around the gambling haven there. All that water is extracted from a river which is now struggling to supply the dams and lakes downstream which supplied Los Angeles and other coastal cities. It simply can't continue!

Returning to the abortion question, there is another worrying statistic which needs to be considered, and here I know I am on very delicate ground! Alongside the rising infertility rate and the abortion rate, we also have the survival rate of increasing numbers of severely malformed infants who would not survive childbirth or post-natal incubation if it were not for the intervention of modern medicine. The rising number of whole body organ transplants is testimony to the nature of the problem, as is the rising number of food allergies. These are undoubtedly genetic malfunctions, but we do not know what is causing them or how to address the problem. Many argue that these deformities should be "celebrated" and the children encouraged to "celebrate their differences". That piece of poppycock invariably comes from those who do not themselves suffer from these defects! I have worked with children born with some of these "congenital" defects and while I would state that they are usually wonderful children - many immensely gifted - they themselves would much prefer to have been "normal". And I have wished many times that I could work the miracles that Christ did in healing bodies as well as souls! I hope I have helped those that I have been able to work with; my poor faith obviously could do no more.

So we have a society which on the one hand proclaims that it values this life above all else; on the other it permits the termination of a healthy foetus because it is merely inconvenient. We proclaim our "compassion" by rushing to deliver "aid" to the latest human "disaster" site, yet we make no effort to address the real problem which underlies it in these places, knowing full well that it will happen again in another few years. (Anyone notice how the cycle seems to be happening much more rapidly now than before?) We have a society that "celebrates" disability and yet encourages it by encouraging the abuse of alcohol, drugs, and our bodies. We encourage women to be independent, to be "hard", and to be "one of the lads", then we offer abortion or a life of dependency on state handouts and state housing when she finds herself alone with a baby, her hopes for a family, a career, or something better in ruins. Then we wonder why we have lost the art of "nurturing" children.

At the other end of the scale we drive young able women to compete with men in the workplace and on the career ladders, postponing the process of raising children until almost the end of their fertility cycle - then offer them fertility treatment!

Somewhere along this road we have lost the "moral" pathway. Morality doesn't necessarily mean living like a hermit or practicing celibacy or trying to behave as if we are not sexual animals. It means observing a whole set of natural rules which govern the regulation of order in society, of not tolerating wildly aberrant behaviour, and bringing the miscreant back into line. Of ensuring that while everyone has enough on which to live and to enjoy the pleasures of life and that they also have the opportunity to make a worthwhile contribution to society. It means being able to interact in a way which does not injure anyone else, of being able to value everyone and not place the "rights" of one above those of another. Sometimes it also means making tough decisions and NOT tolerating certain behaviours, if necessary administering a suitable "punishment" rather than a "slap on the wrist", of being prepared to defend what we believe in, of being prepared to admit that we cannot be God.

The society in which we live seems to be in its death throes. Morality has been highjacked to mean whatever is the current flavour of the month with the "Left Intelligentsia". They promote the principle that there is no God, but show their "tolerance" of those who persist in believing in one by promoting their concepts of "multi-faith" and other stunts. All the while insidiously promoting the idea that the human philosophic development of "morality" is superior to any religious revelation in any religion. The result is plain to see - we proclaim the "right" to life, but allow abortion, we proclaim the "right" to freedom while restricting it to those we deem "under privileged" or "disadvantaged". We render aid in vast quantities to countries being destroyed by population pressures and ignore the corruption and the real causes of these human tragedies. We rant and rave about the morality of genetic studies, cloning, and genetic engineering which could provide prevention of many cancers, prevent birth defects and many disabilities - and then proclaim that we must celebrate someone's disability, playing God while proclaiming that we cannot!

It is an age of contradictions, an age in which it is difficult to see a way through the twisted 'logic' and equally twisted 'morality' being promoted by the political classes. Let us hope that the internet and the opportunities it offers for the transfer of ideas (good and bad) and the transfer of real information, will help to break this spiral and save us from the "dark" age that invariably follows the collapse of any civilisation. Let us hope that it at least gets people thinking again!

We stand at the threshold of an exciting future, but it could equally be a frightening one if we allow the continued dominance of that twisted logic and morality that seems evident today. It is our choice, and ours alone.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:31 PM

August 20, 2004

A silly season ....

Over the last few days there have been a number of examples of news reporting that reflect the fact that, at least in Europe, our political masters are off enjoying their summer hols. First of all, there is the cartoon depiction of "Super Prezza" leaping to the rescue in all manner of strange circumstances dressed in a "Superman" type outfit with his Y-fronts showing. This arises from his having been involved in the rescue (while out on a white water boating jolly in the Welsh Mountains) of another canoeist. One wonders who was in charge in Downing Street while the Deputy Prime Minister was out on this little jolly.

Then there is the report carried in a couple of papers which always seem to have something of this nature to report, of the Norwegian swimmer who found himself with a large Norwegian Grass Snake inside his swimming shorts. Even the curator of the Oslo Museum seemed to be unimpressed by this - mind you, I suspect, given the temperature of the water in the Norwegian Fiords even at the height of summer, that the snake would hardly have been able to find anything to damage! At least we haven't had the usual crop of "Elvis seen alive on the Moon" stories, but I expect it's only a matter of time!

On a more intelligent note, there is a report [unfortunately dead-tree version, only] of the discivery of several huge craters under the Antarctic Ice Sheet. They are all from one asteroid strike - the object was reportedly six kilometres in length - and hit at a time when Homo Erectus was still strutting his stuff and avoiding being eaten by most of the carnivores he reputedly shared caves with. The big question is why, when this strike was at least as big, if not bigger, than the one which hit the Mexican Gulf and wiped out the dinosaurs, did this not lead to a mass extinction? The scientists think that it is because the one in the Mexican Gulf resulted in a huge fireball and flung ash and debris into the atmosphere generating a "nuclear" winter, while the one in Antarctica hit and vapourised ice, showering the atmosphere with water vapour.

In the latest health scare, researchers have discovered what they claim to be a link between living near a petrol station and leukemia. It seems that children living near a filling station are more likely to develop this disease (I am never sure about calling any of the "cancer" family a "disease" - the triggers do seem to be genetic rather than anything else) due to petrol vapour - particularly the benzene ring aromatics that are now so prevalent in "unleaded" petrol.

Still on the scientific, the Cassini probe now circling Saturn has found some extra "moons" in the rings and has taken some fascinating photos (with another load to come on a closer pass) of Titan, the largest lump of rock in this corner of the Solar System and rated at about the size of Mercury, although, as it orbits another planet, it is classed as a moon. There is some speculation about what the Cassini probe will find when it gets closer; some think it may show up lakes of hydrocarbons - oil to most of us - which sort of begs the question of the origins of this material. Certainly if it is the result of degradation (as some argue) of carbon based "fossil" materials (such as vegetation and animal remains) then this raises a few questions about life forms on this strange little world. If not, then we may need to rethink some of our concepts of the origins of our hydrocarbon "fossil" fuels and its sources!

Finally, I guess we have to mention the still rumbling fire service pay dispute. Amazing how quiet its gone now that all the politicians are on holiday, isn't it? Trouble is, of course, that this is the lull before the storm, and it hasn't gone anywhere. The Union is both right and wrong in pursuing this, even though the Bank Holiday working argument is a nonsense, and both sides know it. In the end, it will be a settlement that will satisfy nobody, serve the public not at all, and the only winners are likely to be those whose ambition is to get the top jobs in the fire service even though they hold no qualification for them and know even less about what it actually does or how it does it. As one politician put it before all this blew up - it's the one public service everybody wants to be associated with. Give it another five or so years and see how everybody is wondering what went wrong.

Well, lets enjoy the respite while we may. All too soon, "cometh the hour" - who knows what the "man" may be like.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:20 AM

August 19, 2004

The "blood libels" re-emergence

I found a link today which once again fills me with despair and rage! On Dodgeblogium, under the title of "How charming" I found the link to a translation of extracts from an Egyptian Government sponsored daily paper. The venom of this despicable rag is unbelievable in this day and age - and equally unbelievably it is sold openly in the UK - perhaps because it is in Arabic only, their sycophants in government hope no one will notice ...and thus it goes unchallenged.

What has raised my ire? The fact that a "respected" Muslim Cleric - one of their most "learned academics" - has resurrected the ghastly forgery which was created in the 1890's by the Tzar's Secret Police, to justify the ethnic cleansing of Jews in Russia. This same trash was used by Hitler and the Nazis and, it must be said, by a lot of Left Wing parties in the 1930's to justify seizure of property and the targetting of Jewish shops and businesses by mobs incited to anti-semitic behaviour by political rabble-rousers. Now it is being cynically revived again and very deliberately used to further inflame hatred for Israel and the Jewish people within the Muslim world. Worryingly, it is not being challenged by our anti-Christian and anti-Jewish Left/Liberal political elite (who can't seem to separate their hatred of Israel from the Jewish people elsewhere) and who seem content to allow this poisonous filth to be promulgated in Arab language newspapers, on Arab language radio and television, and in Mosques in this country.

These venomous libels were created in a climate of anti-semiticism in the latter part of the 19th Century and rely on a number of forgeries for provenance. The article cited today makes reference to "Neophytus the Convert" and "secret" confessions this supposed convert from Judaism made to the Spanish Inquisition. It has been known since the beginning of the 20th Century that the person did not exist, and the document he is supposed to have signed is a forgery. The book from which this vile cleric has taken his "evidence" is also known to have been a forgery from the same period. It purports to be the secret minutes and plans of a "World Zionist" group bent on the subjugation of the world and the enslvement of all non-Jews to their service.

It is time the people who persist in peddling this trash where dragged out into the open, stripped of their credibility by the exposure of their paucity of truth in their sources and their lack of ability to distinguish between fact, and the twisted fantasy they prefer. Perhaps the phrase used at On the Third Hand, "Too tightly twisted turban crowd" ™) is an accurate reflection of the actual academic ability of these vile and despicable cretins so blinded by their own venom that they have lost all claim to being followers of any God but Satan himself. I hope he has a special place for them in Hades; they ought to enjoy the full benefits of their hatred.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:54 AM

August 18, 2004

Worship, liturgy, and music ....

These three things could almost be mutually exclusive in some circumstances. Worship is about showing our love for God in the most appropriate way we can manage, liturgy is about making that worship structured - and then there is music to enhance it or to wreck it.

Someone called Mark, whose blog is interestingly named "Vomit the Lukewarm" - from Revelations, I think, and the references to spitting out the lukewarm - has written a most interesting piece on the difficulty of using "Folk" style music in worship. While I think he is certainly correct in identifying the difficulties inherent in using music not written for use in the Catholic Mass, there are one or two examples which have worked very well. One now forgotten setting of the Anglican Mass, used the Dam Busters March as the setting for the Paternoster immediately following the Great Eucharistic Prayer. Others which I have experienced include African settings for the Mass, but these are purpose written - not something adapted to a use for which they were not originally intended.

At the heart of the Liturgy lies the mystery; the music must draw out and enhance that mystery or it will have the effect of obscuring it and at worst destroying it. Liturgy is the vehicle within which the act of worship is performed, the music must be appropriate to both the solemnity and to the awe in which we should hold God. As Mark has stressed, the Christian Faith focuses on the fact that the God whom we worship has a Tripartite existence - The Father, the Son (the Word made flesh to dwell among us and show us the way to salvation), and the Holy Spirit who works among us and through us in all things. It is a faith that may be expressed at some levels in such folksy ballads as "Here I am, Lord," - actually one of the better "modern" liturgical ballads - but these soon either lose the mystery or become just too "folksy" to be worship. The mystery gets swamped in an all too childish (note that Christ did not say his followers should be childish - but have the faith of a child, which accepts a mystery and doesn't worry about it) that we reduce God to a rather fun figure dressed in a nightshirt and parked on some convenient cloud. No mystery, no awe, no wonderment at his grace and bounty to us, his wilful and rather stupid creation. Without mystery, without awe, all is mundane and not worshipful - so why are we gathering to call this "worship"?

I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience a very wide range of forms of worship and to explore their impact on the worshipper. In some congregations "chorus" style hymns are the only ones they will use - anything else to them is anathema, old fashioned, or simply boring. In other congregations you find that if the setting isn't performed to concert standards there are those who will consider the entire act of worship has been invalid as worship.

The real trick is to find a balance, where the music enhances the spiritual and this combines within the liturgy to give an act of worship which is appropriate, is understandable, or at least comprehensible to any stranger wandering in for the first time. They should feel that this is worth exploring again, not leave thinking, "what the heck was that about?"

Perhaps the Orthodox Churches have something to offer on this - they permit no musical instruments of any kind in the worship. The only music permitted in worship is that which is produced by the human voice, and the complex harmonies they produce to enhance their worship reaches into the very soul and compels you to worship the one true and living God. Much the same effect can be achieved by much of the purpose written music for the Mass, but this can easily be destroyed in the Western Traditions by interspersing "jolly choruses" for the children or the congregation. Nope, Mark's right. The Music must be right - or should not be there at all!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:25 AM

August 17, 2004

The Tiger in the house ....

Madam la Paddy Cat has just come in to complain loudly that it has started to rain outside - something I have obviously arranged to vex a Pussy Cat! How dare I allow it to wet her fur! How dare I allow it to rain on her when she wishes to sit outside in the breeze?

It is at times like this that I am reminded of Terry Pratchett's description of First Cat and Early Man. As he puts it - "there you are, brow ridges like balconies, worrying about the length of the ice-age and the environmental impact of this new thing called fire, on the food chain for just about every predator, when in strolls this miniature version of the worst predators - and rubs itself dry against your legs, while making a noise like a growl mixed with a disturbed hornets nest." All of which reminds us that the domestic cat is not a tame animal at all. Certainly not in the same manner that a dog, a goat, sheep, or cow could be called "domesticated". Cats are always half wild and half symbiotic, never domesticated!

It is at times like this that Madam reminds me very strongly of her much bigger cousin, several of whom I once had the pleasure of meeting up close in very controlled (if such can ever be said of meetings with the BIG cats) circumstances. I have always had a soft spot for tigers, and Madam is in many ways just a miniature version. But, this reverie on the character of the Cat is as good an excuse as any I can think of to introduce the poem by William Blake, simply called "Tiger" - one of my favourites as a child and one I can still recite, verbatim. I reproduce it here -

TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Terrific imagery, and a terrific description of one of the world's noblest beasts. Pity we are, as Hobbs once said in answer to Calvin's question -

"Why are we humans here?"

Hobbes replies: "Tiger food."

Sometimes I think that in her tiny way, Madam thinks that is all I am really here to do - provide her with her food. But then she surprises me with a display of pure love and a talkative display of affection - quite unlike any of the charactersitics normally attributed to the species!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:44 AM

August 16, 2004

The "reasonable" face of tyranny.

How do you recognise a tyrant? Show someone the names of Hitler, Stalin, or Himmler, and they would respond that they were tyrants, even photographs of them, Pol Pot, Kim il Jung, Mao Tse Tung, and one or two others and most would identify them as "tyrants". But, as I was reminded while watching a documentary the other day on the last days of Hitler, tyrants come in many shapes and sizes. Not all of them are instantly recognisable - our response to certain names or photographs is conditioned by our knowledge of their actions - and many go totally unnoticed until it is far too late. Show most people a photograph of Blair, Brown, Cook, or Prescott and they would laugh and dismiss them from the list of tyrants, but would that be right? By what evidence is the charge dismissed?

Almost every biography of Heinrich Himmler touches on the fact that this man was a loving husband and father. He was soft spoken and always appeared to be reasonable, presenting his arguments in such a way that you found yourself at a a loss as to how to disagree with his case. To his children and his wife, a hero, to the rest of the world a monster. This was explored very interestingly by J. Michael Straczynski in the epic sci-fi story Babylon 5, where he places one entire episode in a single room with just two people, the hero and the inquisitor. The episode, Number 18 of Season 4, explored the mind of the inquisitor, a man who goes home to his wife, his family, his grandchildren, yet during the day is engaged in destroying the mind of whoever is placed before him. There are no limits to the man's inhumanity as he tries to break the hero's will and coerce him into a false confession.

Terry Pratchett explores this theme in a number of his books, most notably and obviously in Small Gods, where he has the "exquisitors" swopping their family holiday "iconographs" and experiences while they inflict unspeakable pain on some poor wretch who has incurred the wrath of the leaders of the Church of Om.

Today's tyrants are even more subtle. They dress in smart suits and pose as democratic representatives. They present themselves on TV and Radio and in the press as the voices of reason. They have image makers and spin doctors whose task it is to ensure that the message concerning the latest restriction on liberty, the latest assault on parenting, or on freedom of speech, sounds and looks like a good idea. A Reasonable idea, one which will make this a "better", or "fairer" society. One which will ensure that children are free to "enjoy" their "rights" irrespective of what their parents think. Anyone spot the parallel here with Heinrich and Adolf? With Joe Stalin and a certain Mr Lenin? Yup, you got that one right, they all restricted arguments and allowed only the presentation of their concept of what was "reasonable".

Reasonableness is a very difficult thing to define. It is one of those "value" calls and what is perfectly reasonable in one set of circumstances may not be in another. Thus, what is reasonable under fire on a battlefield, sounds completely unreasonable in a court of law. Perspectives have changed. For one thing, the noble Judge, the Barristers, and the jury haven't got the crump of exploding mortars, the nasty zip of bullets, and the terrifying whine of richocets in their ears as they pass judgement on those who were on the field of battle. Even the dreadful Mrs Hodge with her "reasonable" change to the law which would enable her to force middle class and perfectly reasonable parents into "parenting classes" sounds reasonable when viewed through the peculiarly tinted (one almost says tainted!) spectacles worn by Whitehall, "to redress the balance and ensure that this group is equally represented in these classes".

In my own work I see the same thing, Whitehall targets are set by Bean Counters who have no concept of what the particular service or function actually is or does, they just pick a number based on the statstical information in front of them. As they do not understand the numbers anyway (most of them are just numbers, and have no actual meaning on anything), deciding that a 10, 20, or 30% reduction (or increase) on any given set of figures will show that some impact is being made on something. It may be altogether the wrong thing, but it shows someone is looking at it.

The problem is further compounded by the fact that consultation is now restricted by this new breed of tyrants (following close in the footsteps of the old type of tyrant!) and they only consult or take advice from those special interest groups or individuals who agree with whatever their agenda is to begin with. It is always presented as the "reasonable" response. This is why we now have more regulation than at any time in our history. We also have more agencies enforcing them than at any time in our history. Each little inspector sits clutching his precious "Code" or "Guide" or "Rule Book" and all zealously enforcing their version of whatever is this week's "target". One reason for this is that there are 654 MP's all desperately trying to justify their bloated salaries and perks, another is that arch bureaucracy - the EU.

Each of these individuals thinks they are being entirely reasonable, yet the fire service recently had to take a man to court for refusing to produce his "fire safety risk assessment". In court he produced it, and was asked why he had refused to do so when the inspector asked for it. Then he explained that he ran a small business. He employs just over 20 people and is the sole owner/manager. When the Fire safety Inspector called he had had a run of eight previous inspections by various agencies and had had enough. He felt it was worth being dragged into court by one of them to make his point and to hit back at what he saw as a petty tyranny. And there lies another problem, when is "petty" tyranny no longer "petty"?

It may be presented as reasonable, but remember that the British Constitution is written (or not written!) in such a way that it allows anything which is not forbidden. Ergo, if there is a law which forbids an action, then you may not do it. Until recently this worked well, then along came the Politically Correct brigade. The plethora of regulations, acts and other instruments of law which have descended upon us in the last 30 years have removed almost every "freedom". Now we are proscribed in almost every action. In fact we have reached the point where the legislation required by one agency is frequently in conflict with another's!

All tyranny starts with one person imposing upon another their concept of "fair" or "reasonable". All tyranny ends with the exclusion of fair and reasonable. This country seems to be teetering on the brink of tyranny, with increasing imposition of ruthlessly enforced 'politically correct' agendas.

Welcome to Orwell's world of 1984. He was only 20 years out.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:28 AM

August 15, 2004

Sermon preparation

Preparing a sermon is, for many of us, a bit like resitting an exam. You have to study the chosen lessons, you have to look at the Season or the Feast, and then you try to say something, if not original, at least fresh about the message of the readings and how that relates to the seasonal theme or the Feast and its commemoration. Some preachers don't prepare, some can get away with that, most can't. I find I spend several hours thinking about the themes and the readings, doing a little background research and reading - and then sit down at my keyboard and spend about 2 hours composing a sermon of about 10 minutes duration.

My good friend and Spiritual Director, The Venerable (Sometimes aka The Venomous - purely after the book "1066 and all that" which refers to "the Venomous" Bede) Peter, likes a little challenge when preparing a sermon. He reckons to spend an hour for each minute of his sermon on the preparations for it. And, when I think about it, this is about right. But Fr Peter likes, as I said, a challenge, so various people suggest a word or phrase that they challenge him to include in his sermons. Talking to him last night, as he prepared to preach on the Assumption (also known as "The falling asleep of the Virgin Mary"), today's Feast - the day that Mary died, and, according to legend, was taken up whole into heaven. It is often confused with the Annunciation, the day the Angel came to Mary and informed her that she was the Chosen One, chosen to bear the child that would be the Son of God, the man who would be that part of God whom we know from St John as "The Word", he shared with me his 'test' for today. Indeed, this confusion is easy to understand since the one is inextricably associated with the other.

I shall await with interest to see how he works his Churchwarden's latest challenge into the Assumption theme. The phrase he is dared to include today? "Septic tanks". It should be a hoot, but, knowing Peter it will be relevant, and there will be a serious message underlying his humour.

The Assumption is one of those feasts in which you find yourself asking a number of questions. The most important one is probably "what if Mary had refused?" After all, God does not compel, He invites; He does not force, He offers. Mary could have said no. She could have spared herself the lifetime of whispers - visible in the Gospels by the references to "Son of Mary" and "Son of Man" among others. She could have spared herself the threat of death by stoning and the shame on her family when it became known that she was pregnant and that her espoused husband was not the father.

Had she refused, it is very likely that God would have approached another, and another, until He found someone willing to be mother to His incarnation in human form.

You have to admire the courage of this young woman, and recognise the contribution she has made, the example she has set for us all to follow. Where God called, she followed, even to the foot of the Cross, and the ultimate, the empty tomb. How terrifying it must have been, how difficult to deal with. She would not have been supported by any Rabbi, the Pharisees would have shunned her. Only her immediate family provided the support and the comfort, even if they didn't understand the full import of her condition.

The Gospels give us a sanitised version of her story. A vision that is almost all "sweetness and light", but if we read carefully, we learn that she suffered for her faithfulness, often in ways we can never understand. According to the Orthodox tradition, she was rewarded on earth by never aging, in their tradition, she was taken up into heaven still the young maid the angel addressed at the Annunciation.

It is right, therefore, that we should acknowledge her, celebrate her faithfulness, and give thanks for her sacrifice. And I feel it is right to quote from the angels greeting to her at the Annunciation:

"The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God."

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:37 AM

August 14, 2004

Forces of nature ...

As a chemistry tutor colleague is fond of reminding us, if the Oxygen levels of our atmosphere were just 4% higher, the planet would self-combust. The universe, he reminds us, is radioactive, and we are all being bombarded by radiation all the time. Life is a dangerous enterprise; nature is not soft, caring, and cuddly - it's pretty much ineffable and does as it likes.

There used to be comic books in the 1950's and 1960's (OK, so now I've effectively dated myself!) which predicted "climate control" and weather control - all from satellites circling the planet and providing us with perfect weather and climatic conditions in our cities all the time. They believed then that science would soon be able to do this. Well, as soon as people started trying to do it - refer back to the efforts to control rainfall or make rain using silver nitrate "salting" of clouds and other "interesting" experiments in that field - and you have the beginnings of the science that now at least tells us that we don't really even begin to understand what forces are at work in creating the weather we are subject too.

The forces unleashed in a tropical thunderstorm are awesome; those in a hurricane, cyclone, or typhoon are almost beyond comprehension of anyone not into the science and study of these phenomena. Having actually experienced, in the course of my very varied career, several cyclones and one super typhoon, I can say that even there, the difference is something you find hard to put into ordinary words! When you see a huge container crane - over 150 feet from wheel trucks to the boom carrying the lifting gear - propelled along its trackway in defiance of its brakes, and tipped off the end of the quay by wind forces acting on it, you begin to appreciate the difference between a tropical storm and a cyclone! When you get right down to it, once the atmosphere starts to generate one of these storms, there isn't a lot we humans can do except take shelter and hope for the best.

Even here in the UK we have our moments. In the last week we have endured torrential downpours as the dying remnants of a Huricane which missed the US had its deaththroes over this small island. Some will recall the 1987 hurricane that arrived unannounced overnight and which our weather forecasters are still trying to live down. The lightning was spectacular and the rain a torrent, but we were fortunate not to have the full force of what must have been quite a storm.

Look at the forces stacked against you - lightning running at millions of volts and amperes, wind running at speeds which generate pressure waves, and vortices which can blast out windows, rip off roofs, and overturn vehicles, rain falling as a deluge which can overwhelm drains and by sheer weight collapse roof structures. Then add the effect of such forces acting on the surface of the sea. Not only do you get huge waves generated - particularly in the shelving waters around a coast, but it tends to pile up in a great "lump", or "bow wave" on the leading edge of the storm, and this can cause flooding and devastation all on its own even if the rest of any given structure or infrastructure survives intact. No wonder our forefathers called these storms "an act of God".

Personally I do not believe that God is deliberately doing this to us; to a very large extent it is our own doing that puts us in the way of danger from these natural events.

Watching the television pictures on CNN and Fox News channels I am frankly amazed, and it says a great deal about the forward planning of our American friends, that the death toll is as low as it is. The damage this storm has done is immense, and I am also aware that a number of bloggers are caught up in it. It says a lot about their resilience and response to the emergency that they are taking it calmly and constructively and working together to restore normality as swiftly as they can. Spare a thought and a prayer for those caught up in this, and for their safety. One friend who is right in the thick of it is Kathy Kinsley of On the Third Hand. Her area is currently almost totally without power, computer, clean water, and telephones - even the mobile phone system is down due to damage to masts - but I hear "at third hand", appropriately, that she is fine and just getting on with fixing what she can and waiting for others to fix what she can't.

Personally, I am glad we live in an area where these storms are rare. For now, please keep those injured, killed, threatenmed, or whose lives have been affected by Hurricane Charley in your prayers. The days ahead will be difficult; there are other storms building in that area which may decide to come their way. That is the chance you take living in the tropics. Looking at Charley's route, there were a number of strange changes in direction, and it seems this storm, now working its way up the coast, is still swinging left and right on apparent whim. I am sure that some at least of the climatologists and weather experts will be able to explain at least some of that, and it will be interesting to hear what they suggest. For me, it is simply evidence that we are a long, long way from being able to predict these things accurately - never mind control them.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:06 PM

August 13, 2004

Time to pause and think this one through carefully ...

Perhaps the Bishop of Hulme would like to ban this one, too. Set to music by Gustav Holst, who lost both his sons in the slaughter of the battlefields of Ypres and the Somme.

Turn back, O man
Forswear thy foolish ways
Old now is earth
And none may count her days
Yet thou, her child
Whose head is crowned with flames
Still will not hear
Thine inner God proclaims

Turn back, O man
Forswear thy foolish ways
Earth might be fair
And all men glad and wise
Age after age their tragic
empires rise
Built while they dream
And in that dreaming weep
Would man but wake
From out his haunted sleep

Turn back, O man...
Forswear thy foolish ways
Earth shall be fair
And all her people one
Not till that hour
Shall God's whole will be done
Now, even now
Once more from earth to sky
Peals forth in joy
Man's old undaunted cry
Earth shall be fair
And all her people one!

Words are by Clifford Bax (1919) and the Anthem setting is by Gustav Holst. It appears also as a hymn (in the extended post) sung to the "Old 124th". The Holst setting is one of the most moving I have ever heard. There are several recordings of it, and it is worth listening to it if you can find a copy.

Perhaps the Bishop and his coterie of trendy lefty friends with their liberationist theology and their abject denial of everything which has made this country something to be proud to be associated with would like to bury this sentiment as well - because it might remind people of a need to actually subscribe to a set of values which are above human creation?

Next thing you know he'll be suggesting we ditch the 10 Commandments. Let's see now, because they're too Jewish? Might offend murderers, adulterers and thieves, robbers, and other sundry offenders?

The Hymn version is as follows:

Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways.
old now is earth, and none may count her days.
yet thou, her child, whose head is crowned with flame,
still wilt not hear thine inner God proclaim,
"Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways."

Earth might be fair and all men glad and wise.
age after age their tragic empires rise,
built while they dream, and in that dreaming weep:
would man but wake from out his haunted sleep,
earth might be fair and all men glad and wise.

Earth shall be fair, and all her people one:
nor till that hour shall God's whole will be done.
Now, even now, once more from earth to sky,
peals forth in joy man's old undaunted cry:
"Earth shall be fair and all her folk be one!"

Words: Clifford Bax, 1919


The Oremus Hymnal

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:00 PM

I vow to thee my country ...

As a Christian, and a man unashamed to be an Englishman both by descent and by naturalisation (My birthright was removed by a law passed by Labour in 1949), I am neither ashamed to be associated with the hymn I reproduce here - nor to proclaim the theology which places God's Kingdom above this earthly one. If the Bishop of Hulme and his fellow left liberal coterie think it is inappropriate to proclaim it as an act of faith and worship in a multi-cultural society, I would like to know why. Especially since the proclamation of Heaven as another and higher existence is in accord with just about every religion I would regard as having any sort of spiritual credibility.

I vow to thee, my country
all earthly things above—
Entire and whole and perfect,
the service of my love;
The love that asks no question,
the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar
the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters,
the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there’s another country,
I’ve heard of long ago—
Most dear to them that love her,
most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies,
we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart,
her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness,
and all her paths are peace.

These words were written in 1918 by a highly respected and deeply Christian British Ambassador to Washington (1912 - 1918), Cecil Spring-Rice.


This gentleman (in every sense of the word) was an accomplished poet and a superb diplomat - and deeply religious. He wrote the poem in the aftermath of the slaughter of World War 1 and in particular the second battle of the Somme, Vimy Ridge, and Pascheandal. It was intended as a tribute to the self-sacrifice of the 767,000 men of the Empire Forces who died in that conflict.

Perhaps that is what the dear Bishop is objecting to!

It is set to a tune renamed by Gustav Holst "Thaxted" but which is actually a part of "The Planets Suite".


Holst lost two sons in the conflict and wrote a wonderful anthem (now seldom heard) entitled "Turn back, O man" as a tribute to them and all the other young men slaughtered in that conflict. Remember that he was a Czech by birth and heritage, but supremely proud of having become British by naturalisation and education.

This is offensive "right wing" jingoism, more suited to Hitler's Germany? Excuse me? Which of the planets do you inhabit, Bishop? How many moons could you see that last time you looked?

The Church of England needs to be reclaimed by those who are proud of their heritage and their Christian background and history. We cannot afford to allow this slide into oblivion, and only the people in the congregations can and must change it. Challenge the vicars who promote this sort of claptrap, demand the patriotic hymns, and let's sing them with pride in our hearts and in praise of the God we love. You cannot change the Church standing outside throwing stones. After all, it is only the vehicle which carries the Gospel message; it is not the message itself. If you want to help create a better and more relevant model, join us inside and help to drive out the Politically Correct, guitar-strumming crowd who peddle this sort of halfbaked theology.

They, too, have a place, but at the moment they seem to have the steering wheel and no map. Get onboard and help the rest of us rein them in. The Church is worth saving, if only because if it is allowed to continue on this road it will die altogether, creating a vacuum you may be certain the Ayatollahs of the extremes of Islam will rush to fill with their poison and hatred.

If you honour the sentiments in the hymn - make your presence felt in the congregations of Churches and help change the tune.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:02 PM | Comments (3)

August 12, 2004

Almost enough to make one weep ....

On the same day that a senior Judge has created uproar in the Civil Liberties (The "it's OK to be a terrorist and kill people; the justice system can't do the same to you" crowd) coterie by decreeing that evidence of terrorist activity obtained by means of "torture" at Guantanamo Bay is acceptable in court, we have that Islington lefty who presided over, and covered up, a failing Social Services Department in Islington, seeking to launch through a Green Paper, compulsory training for parents on - you guessed it - how to raise (ie: ruin any hope of their being useful and responsible) children. And we have the Bishop of Hulme proposing to ban the singing of "I vow to thee my country" - just about the only patriotic hymn the majority of non-churchgoers know and certainly one of the most popular!

· The good Bishop feels it is too Right Wing and expresses sentiments "more in keeping with 1930's Germany"! Well, Bishop, I will continue singing it. It was written in 1918 as a tribute to the brave men and women who fell in WW1 defending the right of the complete morons who now make the sort of statements today's papars are full of. Enough said!

· The Judge is now under fire for his very sensible view that the evidence could probably not have been obtained any other way, and that there is sufficient hard evidence to make the case anyway. He has upset the likes of Anmesty International and their ilk by refusing to declare that the case should be dismissed because of the "torture". Do these cretins deny that the people involved shot and killed others? Do they deny the fact that they received training in making bombs? No, they make excuses for it. It's all the fault of us nasty developed world capitalists, of course. It's us who should be on trial; being a terrorist doesn't make you a bad person apparently, just another "victim of Western Injustice and torture".

· Then there is Mrs Hodge (sorry that should be Ms, I gather her marriage doesn't count) and her belief that parents who go out to work, make careers, and do their damndest to raise their children decently need to be re-educated to show them how badly they are failing in this. Pretty rich coming from the person who headed the Islington Child Protection units which failed miserably, then investigated themselves and covered it up, finally attempting to whitewash themselves when it was exposed. Now she wants to extend an already existing system of compulsory (that is; by order of the court) programme for parents of truants and persistent young offenders to include middle class parents. Why? Because apparently some moron in Whitehall has pointed out that there aren't many children or parents in this category attending these courses! Well there's a surprise!

So now Nanny Blair and his army of interfering half-baked cronies and their equally inadequate Civil Service hangers on are going to give themselves powers to re-educate every parent in the land on how to be a "good" parent. Of course, their definition of "good" parent is someone who provides designer label trainers and clothes, indulges the childs every whim, never administers any sort of discipline, and turns up to bail the little oiks out of trouble whenever necessary. Oh, and teaches the kids to vote Labour. Don't forget that now, will you.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:58 AM

August 11, 2004

Eco-musings .....

The more we learn, the more we discover we do not know, or at least so it would seem to those who, like myself, approach a lot of things with a reasonably open mind. (OK, OK, I have a particular blind spot called the Civil Service and Politicians!) But, in recent weeks (I wonder why all the more entertaining "Global Disaster stories always surface when the politicians are on holiday?) we seem to have had more than a few stories about the looming demise of our planet than usual. First it was the usual Global Warming, then it was the sun was about to zap us with a burst of radiation, (which, to be fair it did!), then it was New variant Creuzfeld-Jakob disease was about to strike more than half the population and so it goes on.

I have recently discovered a wonderful site called "Junk Science" which has some really fascinating stuff on it. Everything from giant intelligent jellyfish to PCB mimic chemicals in farmed fish. It has a serious message underlying it all, which is, put simply, we really do get ourselves worked up about the wrong things almost all of the time.

As Russell of RussBlog pointed out in a comment to my previous post on the subject of Global Warming, the data on which all this hue and cry is based is hopelessly flawed, and until we can get some really quality data which covers the entire planet as opposed to 25% of it, we may never know. Ice cores from Antartica seem to suggest that this sort of cycle of heating up and then freezing down is a natural one linked to the sun changing whatever it's doing. We now know (or at least think we know) that there is life, oxygen, and water on this planet because it is located in a "temperate zone" just far enough from the sun to be warm enough and not too far to be too cold. It helps, too, that we have a rather large planetoid called the moon stabilising our tilted axial spin, otherwise the extremes of winter and summer could be lethal, anyway.

Life is a risky business, it is extremely fragile, and it is so heavily interwoven with so many things that we do not yet understand fully how it will be changed or destroyed by whatever happens in the next few thousand years. Political visions seldom run longer than five years, and when they do, the vision of five years ago has usually been abandoned in favour of the latest fad or scare by the time the first five years is over. The problem faced by many "Green" groups is that they simply refuse to accept any evidence which runs counter to their particular political thesis. This is what is really holding back advances which may actually benefit the entire eco-system in the longer term - that, and the fact that the media really do not want to promote anything which may not be "popular" with their "friends" in the Green camp.

Kyoto is a classic case of a bunch of politicians being fed information from a bunch of very selective organisations who employ only the "research" done by scientists who are on their bandwagon and then set "targets" which are unrealistic, taking no account of changing circumstances and the needs of any given society. It is more about branding the developed nations as "eco-destroyers" and "capitalist oppressors" than it is about any scientific solution to a problem we cannot even define at the moment. Yes, it would be good to reduce emmissions, for one thing the air would smell a lot better in a lot of these places, but you cannot achieve this by simply setting unrealistic targets.

No, to find the way forward for the entire human race we actually need less campaigning, more serious thought, and a great deal less of the scare stories the Green activists and their supporting scientists like to release in order to frighten governments into funding their research. We also need to keep much more open minds on the whole issue of science and its role in understanding life on this or any other planet!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:37 PM

A bird in the house?

Came out of the bathroom this morning to find Madam Paddy Cat in "pointer" pose at the bedroom door. She makes one heck of a pointer since her bird detecting radar had a lock on a small bird clinging to the edge of the lightshade!

As I saw the bird, it fluttered away in alarm and made a rather pathetic attempt to find a safe place to cling to as far from me as possible. Madam moved like lightning, eyes locked on target, and I only just managed to grab her as she streaked across the bed! Shades of the CD a friend has given me in German translated from the book "Diary of a Killer Cat" sprang to mind as I ejected her. I could hear the Cat in the story, in a bored German drawl, saying "OK, OK, Ich bin ein katte!"

Shut the bedroom door, hooked curtains out of the way, opened window to its widest and then tried to shoo the bird towards it. Birds in a panic do some damned stupid things, don't they! Common weaver birds in a panic seem to take some prizes! It eventually got the message and took the gap, whereupon I secured the window and opened the door. Madam came in at the gallop and plainly thought that I had caught said bird, and would now share it with her.

Kitty treats just aren't the same!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:10 PM

August 10, 2004

A lack of trained inspectors?

One thing which has always alarmed the Monk is the fact that many in the fire services and in the fire industry refuse to recognise that fire safety inspectors need to understand fire behaviour and fire spread more than they need to understand what it says in all the various guides and codes. The recent fire in Paraguay is a very good case in point. Paraguay does have fire regulations. It also has access to Spanish language versions of the US-based NFPA Codes and Standards. So how did a situation arise in which 409 people can be killed by a fire?

Simple, no one was responsible for inspection. Enforcement at building regulations stages was, as in this country, considered to be sufficient to ensure that fire safety was ensured. The problem is that what is approved at Building Plan Approval stage is an empty shell. The moment people move into the building it is not what was approved. People "manage" their environment and constantly change it. This is especially true in buildings where the fire loading (the quantities and distribution of flammable and combustible materials inside a building) can change from day to day and even hour to hour. It is this which politicians and civil servants always refuse to recognise. It gets in the way of their neat and tidy idea that you can approve something now and it is the same thirty or more years on.

It couldn't happen here is the cry I am hearing around me now - and my response is I am willing to bet that it can! Our system of inspections is in the process of being removed and replaced by a different regime of "self compliance". Now I will be the first to say that responsible employers/managers will do their best to comply with fire safety requirements, but do they actually have the specialist knowledge to understand the problem. The simple answer is no they don't, and this is self-evident when those of us who do visit various premises and find situations which could give rise to serious and very rapid fire spread, which our clients have not understood. This includes such obvious things as storing oxidisng agents in the same rack (often above) other materials which are strongly reactive and which will ignite fairly readily in the presence of an oxidiser.

That in itself would not be so dangerous if the fire and rescue services were maintaining a cadre of experienced and qualified inspectors. Sadly they are not. Many Chief Officers are now "civilianising" their Fire Safety Inspection teams with people recruited from outside the service. With the best willl in the world, these folk do not have that crucial understanding of the way fires behave to be able to recognise the real dangers. Their Chief Officers argue that as long as they have a Code of Practice or a Guide to work to they can ascertain that the "means of escape" is adequate. Well, Asuncion proves that that is not the only part of the equation which needs to be inspected! Indeed, it is only about one tenth of the total equation.

The reported deaths of seven French teenagers in an Equestrian Centre set on fire by lightning, recently, also highlights the need for adequate safety provisions. Lightning frequently strikes exposed buildings; does it have to also lead to the death of those inside if it also starts a fire? It would seem from the somewhat sketchy report of this that this was a large structure which should have had more than one exit. A fire in the roof should not have killed the teenagers or the horses. So who is responsible for inspecting these structures in France? It would seem that it is left to the Building Inspectorate - who are not interested in "agricultural buildings"! And even that varies from Prefecture to Prefecture and from Communaut to Communaut! The French Fire Service has little or no input into fire safety at all - and it shows. Perhaps it is as well that the French do not keep central statitics on fire losses and deaths.

The presumption by many who have never had the opportunity to perform or to study the full panoply of Fire Safety that it can be addressed simply by reference to a set of standard "guides" addressing everything is a fallacy. Worse, they very often fail to see the links between Fire Safety requirements, fire prevention, fire risk management, fire fighting operations, and public education (now called "Community Fire Safety"). Again, all the current money and resources are being focused on one small area of this big picture and drawn away from enforcement and inspection - which in one Brigade, at least, is now being carried out by operational staff who do not have the "expert" understanding of the holistic approach to fire safety in buildings. These inspectors, through no fault of their own, are being sent out as simplistic "code readers" and this in turn is leading to a "make it fit the book" approach instead of applying professional understanding and judgement to find a solution.

I can, sadly, predict with confidence, that in about 5 - 6 years time, when the last of the "professional" fire officer inspectors has gone, we will start to see increasing numbers of incidents involving large buildings like the one in Asuncion being involved in serious fire incidents - and very likely deaths - resulting from a similar combination of actions, policies, and lack of compliance. It will almost certainly be compounded by the routine granting of a waiver by Building Control Officers and Approved Inspectors of requirements to fit sprinkler systems to these buildings "because our risk assessment shows it is unecessary".

Perhaps my future career is already secured - as a witness for the injured, deceased, and traumatised to point the finger of blame in regard to weaknesses, failures, and lapses in fire safety provision - all because someone somewhere decided it would be a good idea to do it cheaper without the professional expertise. Sadly not even the litigants will win, and the once highly professional service I have had the privilege to be a part of will be steadily reduced in both professionalism and prestige.

Sic transit gloria mundi. So passes the glory of the age.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:14 AM

August 09, 2004

Global warming?

Being a follower of matters scientific (I have been known to read New Scientist, Amercian Science, and a range of other magazines of that ilk), I have long wondered at the specious arguments from Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and other pseudo-scientific bodies (whose footsoldiers all seem to be dropouts from school or university) who argue on the basis of some very dubious science that man is entirely responsible for the current rate of climatic change. Apart from anything else all their climate models use data from weather measuring stations located in the densely populated Northern Hemisphere and ignore a range of things including anything happening more than a mile above the ground. The other problem with their arguments is that the model does not actually reflect what is happening in the Soiuthern Hemisphere even when fed the data from that neck of the woods.

The other thing which seems to have escaped our Green Lobby is that there is a huge amount of data showing that the sun is actually heating up! Now that is significant, but it's inconvenient because it rather knocks the legs out from under any argument for a return to a pre-industrial Utopia!

The effect of deforestation and of the loss of the nice fluffy and very white clouds that used to blanket the Northern Hemisphere - due almost entirely to high Sulphur Dioxide content - and which reflected a great deal of the sun's increased heat away, has probably helped to make the change much more noticable. That is not to say that acid rain is to be preferred, but it is one of the many things our Green friends overlook in their annual pursuit of the destruction of the means for global trade, sustained civilisation, and the means for actually trying to find workable solutions to the world's primary problem - which is overpopulation! Short of a lot of genocidal activity, we are stuck with that one, unless we can find a way to restrict further expansion and/or find a means to support the population as it increases towards "standing room only".

As reported recently, the warming of the climate in the Northern Hemisphere is already encouraging the arrival of jelly fish and some species of shark and fish which more usually occur in tropical climes. An interesting take on that can be read at Dodgeblogium under the heading of "Man of Cthulhu?". It underscores the fact that we live on a volatile planet in a dynamic universe which is changing and evolving all on its own. To think that something is miniscule as ourselves can have much more effect on our planet than to give it a temporary rash is evidence of an arrogance way beyond our fragile reality. Off this planet it is an extremely hostile universe, and short of finding another like it, we have little chance of surviving the next 10,000 years as the climate gradually heats up under the influence of the sun.

So why is this information not making the headlines? Well, partly because those arch polluters the Russians were the main suppliers of the data - and partly because, I suspect, it would blow away all the lovely research funds that flow towards those shouting "Global warming" and raising scare stories every year when the finances for research are being discussed. Face it, folks, if the sun heats up, the very narrow zone of tenability which this planet happens to occupy at present is about to start to shift outwards towards Mars. I doubt whether that planet could be brought back to life, even if it did find itself once more in the "tenable zone". For one thing, it is now all but stripped of atmosphere, and unless there is some very clever mechanism for having drained the oceans into subteranean ice caverns, there will be little usuable water. No water = no life.

Well, some may argue that we have 10,000 years to find a solution, but somehow, unless we start now to invest in some bigtime space exploration and space travel programmes, we are basically on a hiding to nothing. More sunblock won't help, and neither will any of the "organic" and "green" farming programmes. The evidence is there, the technology can be developed. What we need to do now is stop wasting time with trying to put the clocks back and move forward to find an option which will save the human race and as much of our planets life as is possible.

Sound strange coming from someone with a religious bent? Well, I happen to think that this may just possibly be one of the reasons God gave us the brains and the ability to do it in the first place!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:11 PM | Comments (2)

August 08, 2004

Sunday essentials ...

It has been an interesting Sunday. The Monk was scheduled to preach at the Sung Eucharist and to lead the Office of Evensong this evening. The choir being on holiday, it is always a case of using music which the congregation knows for both - unless we are fortunate enough to have a visiting choir. Today we had the added complication of being short staffed in the Server department as well - and that compounded by one of their number going sick just after processing in!

It is often said that one of the things which makes the Abbey such a special place to worship is that its ministry team - the servers and the musicians - cover the gaps and make it look so easy. This was one of those occassions. The Monk was Verged to the pulpit, preached, and then did a loop round the Ambulatory to change robes and reappeared at the offering of the Peace to replace the Crucifer. At the end of the service, another quick shedding of Processional Cross and Crucifer's Tunicle - and the Preacher reappeared at the door to take the brickbats from his sermon.

Well, we do have a building that allows us to do these things; it would be much more difficult to get away with in the vast majority of parish churches. But then, they may not have the need to!

Evensong went extremely well - although choirless - we had enough people who are, have been, or were simply visiting choristers to make a merry noise to the Lord - even managing the harmony to the Ferial Chants. For those interested, the notes for the Monk's sermon are posted in the extended section below.

+ In the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Ghost
Amen +

"God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able; but will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."

I suspect one rarely thinks of God putting temptation in our way, yet our translation of the Lord's Prayer includes the passage "lead us not into temptation" and as a child I often wondered why God would want to tempt me! Surely there were quite enough other things around that did it even more effectively? I still haven't found a complete answer and I suspect many others have wondered the same thing.

Temptation comes in many forms; some are relatively easy to put aside; others less so. A story I stumbled across some years ago in the biography of the first Bishop of Cape Town, Robert Gray, serves to illustrate my point quite nicely. The Bishop and later Archbishop had as a diocese all the lands between the Cape and Cairo except for West Africa. Patently there were parts when he was appointed in 1847 that had not been explored and opened up to travel, but he did his best to reach all parts that he could, which meant traveling between Cape Town and the Goldfields to the North, and between the Cape and Natal to the East. A lot of open, "uninhabited", and sometimes frankly hostile territory lay between towns and budding cities. Nothing daunted, the good Bishop set off to walk to those parts of his diocese he could not reach by sea. And, as he tells us, sometimes temptation walked beside him in the veldt. Frequently this was no more than the temptation to linger in one place, or to turn back in foul weather or in the face of opposition, but sometimes he faced other challenges as well.

For a lot of the time he was, as he considered himself, alone, just a servant to carry a bag, a tent and any other items he might need. It was his custom, when he found himself near a farmhouse as night fell, to stop and ask if they could provide a room. He was never refused, but on one notable occasion the farmer and his wife insisted he share the only bed in the house with them. The details are glossed over, but one gathers the Bishop took care to ensure that he was not next to the Farmers wife. However, he awoke in the morning to find that the farmer was a very early riser and had gone to tend the stock - leaving his sleeping wife and the Bishop alone in bed together!

The Bishop did not tarry.

It is only fair to add that Mrs Gray accompanied her husband on his travels wherever she could, and it is she who left the legacy of fine Victorian Churches - all very much in the tradition of the Oxford Movement. Such are the workers in Christ's fields that we have followed. One wonders what our legacy will be.

In addressing the Corinthians, Paul is attempting to address a number of issues that inevitably arose for the wealthier Christians living in a Pagan society. For one thing, almost all meat available in the markets came from the temple sacrifices. How could someone eat meat, without actually taking part in the sacrificial "meal" such an offering suggested. As Christians we cannot partake of our Lord's sacrifice - and the sacrifice made to an idol. Yet there was a further complication for the tradesmen and merchants - the Guilds met in rooms often beneath the sanctuary of the pagan temples - and feasted on the sacrificial offerings. It must have been hugely tempting to wish to stay within the companionship of the guild and eat convivially at such functions, yet how could one? To Paul it is obvious, if you do not know that you are eating a sacrificial offering, you are not partaking of that act of offering, if someone tells you it is an offering - you need to be firm and not partake.

One aspect of Paul's letters that I find fascinating is the fact that you can see the development of his ideas. We tend to forget that Christian theology was being invented as these letters were written, thus some of his thoughts in the early years of his ministry did not survive into his late ministry.

One which did is this concept that God will always provide a "let out", an escape route for someone under temptation. He is always there to lend you his strength and to provide you with the will to deny self and refuse temptation, but it remains your choice.

In our Gospel today, we see a somewhat dishonest Steward apparently being commended for his frankly dishonest actions! Yet it is not the dishonesty which our Lord commends, but his astuteness in taking an action which ensures that those he has helped will help him. Here too was a man obviously tempted to "fiddle the books", presumably none too wisely or he would not have had to embark on a further fiddle to ensure his own future.

That put his master on the spot, since he was actually embarked on waiving usurious contracts - something frowned on by the Law of Moses. Thus, to denounce the steward would show himself to be an unjust man, so his only course of action is to praise the man and endorse what he has done!

In the tailpiece to the Gospel it almost appears that Christ is advising His listeners to take similar action to cover their unjust dealings, but this is not the case. In fact, He is commending us to use our wealth wisely in almsgiving and charity, so that we may lay up a heavenly treasure. Then those that you have helped will welcome you into heaven.

Here, too, lies a temptation, one which is almost as bad as the lusting after earthly wealth. Since we can in no case "earn" our way into grace, we must not be tempted to "lust" after it.

As St Paul reminded the Corinthians, temptation takes many forms, some obvious, some not so obvious. Where Bishop Gray may have been tempted - and he certainly didn't say - he chose the safest course and left swiftly!

We are all subject to temptation - sometimes it's a little thing, sometimes it's a big one, and sometimes it's something which burns within us - anger, loathing, contempt, or even hatred. These are insidious temptations and we need to rise above them as well. It is no longer a problem for us as to whether or not the meat on our table came from a temple or not, that age has passed, but we must now face new temptations, just as subtle and insidious. Are we prepared to face them and deny them.

"there hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it."


Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:50 PM

August 07, 2004

Testing Meme Propagation In Blogspace: Add Your Blog

This posting is a community experiment that tests how a meme, represented by this blog posting, spreads across blogspace, physical space and time. It will help to show how ideas travel across blogs in space and time and how blogs are connected. It may also help to show which blogs (and aggregation sites) are most influential in the propagation of memes. The dataset from this experiment will be public, and can be located via Google (or Technorati) by doing a search for the GUID for this meme (below).

Please join the test by adding your blog (see instructions, below) and inviting your friends to participate—the more the better. The data from this test will be public and open; others may use it to visualize and study the connectedness of blogspace and the propagation of memes across blogs.

The GUID for this experiment is:


The above GUID enables anyone to easily search Google or other search engines for all blogs that participate in this experiment, once they have indexed the sites that participate, which may take several days or weeks. To locate the full data set, just search for any sites that contain this GUID.

Anyone is free to analyze the data of this experiment. Please publicize your analysis of the data, and/or any comments by adding comments onto the original post (see URL above). (Note: it would be interesting to see a geographic map or a temporal animation, as well as a social network map of the propagation of this meme.)


To add your blog to this experiment, copy this entire posting to your blog, and then answer the questions below, substituting your own information, below, where appropriate. Other than answering the questions below, please do not alter the information, layout or format of this post in order to preserve the integrity of the data in this experiment (this will make it easier for searchers and automated bots to find and analyze the results later).

REQUIRED FIELDS (Note: Replace the answers below with your own answers)

(1) I found this experiment at URL: www.guru-international.com/gday_mate/

(2) I found it via “Newsreader Software” or “Browsing the Web” or “Searching the Web” or “An E-Mail Message”: Browsing the Web

(3) I posted this experiment at URL: http://www.guru-international.com/gray_monk/

(4) I posted this on date (day/month/year): 07/08/04

(5) I posted this at time (24 hour time): 16:00

(6) My posting location is (city, state, country): Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, UK


(7) My blog is hosted by: Guru-international.com

(8) My age is: Old

(9) My gender is: Male

(10) My occupation is: Senior Tutor/Instructor/Fire Officer/Inspector

(11) I use the following RSS/Atom reader software: NetNewsWire Pro (the best one in the market)

(12) I use the following software to post to my blog: MovableType

(13) I have been blogging since (day, month, year): 18/11/2003

(14) My web browser is: I-explorer

(15) My operating systems are: MSDos

Just for the record, I got it from G'day Mate - me best Ozzie Mate!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:51 PM

A message from Madam Paddy ...

Madam settled onto "her" corner of the computer desk.

Madam Paddy Cat wishes to thank all her admirers and assure them that she is now comfortably settled into her new abode, and the training of her housekeeper man is coming along nicely. Whenever he is at the computer she finds she can supervise him from this position, commenting on his typing, the lack of attention, and any telephone interruptions.

We have established Dominion over the small garden, the local cats (who are a lot smaller!), and the various new items of furniture. In short, we have made ourselves very much at home.

Cats rule, OK?!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:31 PM | Comments (1)

A small ramble...

In spite of the difficulties of the last week, the Monk has finally taken the time to do just a little bit of web-crawling to see what others have to say. Over on Dodgeblogium he has discovered that there are three posters there who echo many of his own sentiments about the deteriorating political and governance situation in the UK. You would do well to read these three recent posts, for they have more than a few of the same thoughts as he.

Tim at An Englishman's Castle is having a few thoughts about the size of the English democratic vote - by this he means, the Monk gathers, votes cast for independent and anti-EU candidates. So it would appear that the writers on Dodgeblogium are not the only ones exercised about the state of our democracy.

With most of the US bloggers occupied with considerations of electing a President, there isn't a great deal for someone not involved to comment on. Personally I think Kings and Queens are so much more economical - you only pay for the funerals and the coronations - and they just happen without having to mess about with an electoral process which costs a fortune and doesn't (if some writers are to be believed!) change a great deal. Just the faces in the front and back rows according to some Romanian friends.

Ah well, at least the sun is shining, the grass has riz - and the Monk better go and find the mower.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:19 PM

August 06, 2004

One of those days ....

We all have one of THOSE days from time to time, but this week I have managed to have three of them. To a large extent this is due to matters outside of my control, but that doesn't stop me from being very annoyed by the stupidity of it all. Stupidity which has ramifications far beyond the declared purpose, and which, if considered carefully by rational and honest people would cause them to think very carefully before leaping into action.

Unfortunately we are not in the hands of rational, honest, or even well-informed people.

Reference to the news probably won't provide you with any more information, either, because what is being said in public has been carefully sanitized to make the Union look like the villain. The truth is that we are now at the mercy of nasty vindictive little tyrants who are determined to destroy the Fire Service in order to bring to heel the trade Union which has exposed their true colours. Let me be clear, I carry no torch for the Fire Brigades Union. In my view they are a bunch of rampant Trotskyites little better than an unruly mob. Their original pay demand which led to the first strikes since 1977 was ill-judged, ill-managed, and frankly quite ridiculous. No one in their right mind enters into negotiations with a demand for that sort of pay rise. So, to a large extent they are the architects of the mess we are now in. But are they? Are they really the villains? Or was there someone feeding them the encouragement to think they would receive a sympathetic hearing if they brought their demand to the table?

It can be no secret that the employers (mostly fourth or fifth rate hacks in town and county halls too thick to be entrusted with anything they could actually break) have wanted for some time to change the pension rules so that they could get themselves out of the hole they had created by never actually investing the 11% contributions for superannuation made by the fire fighters. Instead they have spent the money subsidisng vote-catching schemes which Central Funding would not provide for. Now that they have to pay the pensions, they have a problem. They have to find the money - and they have spent it. They have also resented the uniforms and the ranks - because those people made them realise just how inadequate most of them are. Then there is the vexed question of Bank Holidays and "rest" periods. Well, outside of London, very few stations have entirely undisturbed nights; in fact it is really only in the big Mets that you find stations that quiet being wholetime as the norm; in the shires they are usually retained, so beds and stand down periods at night in the smaller shire brigades is hardly an issue.

As the Union pointed out, we now have a situation where a few London Boroughs are calling the shots across the entire service and for everyone. In fairness to the Union, they agreed to drop their objections to most of the proposals regarding rest periods and pay on Bank Holidays last week. It should therefore have been a rubber stamp exercise on Monday, but no, someone in Whitehall (please note that Mr Raynsford MP, Minister for Local Government and the Regions emphatically denies that he or his office ordered the London Labour Councillors to break the agreement!) had other ideas. Suddenly the quorum on the employers side rose by ten members - the majority of whom did not even know what was in the agreement they were voting on. Personally I am disgusted to learn that Conservative Party councillors sided with the neo-Stalinist Labourites to vote down the agreement and force a confrontation.

Barely was the dust from this in the air than the Chairman of the Employers Group representing the Local Government Association was sacked - but not before she had told BBC Radio 4 listeners that she had resigned in disgust at the tactics employed by her Labour Party colleagues. Classic "did she fall or, was she pushed?" stuff. Nor was that all; with cheerful disregard for the provocation or for the disruption, certain other measures have been instituted which will almost certainly gaurantee the escalation of the dispute. Personally I have no doubt that this is deliberate; it is becoming increasingly clear that the government wants to humilate the Fire Service, bring it to its knees,and reduce it to an unqualified and unprofessional service, alongside refuse collection and street cleaning, as a local authority service, under the control of equally unqualified civilian "managers".

The Union has been neatly painted into a corner with only two choices. To strike and accept the fact that this will give Ministers the excuse to impose a solution which will almost certainly include the use of their "emergency" powers to dismiss the entire workforce - and then re-employ them on a new and somewhat less favourable contract, rates of pay, and so on, just as was done in New Zealand 9 years ago. Alternatively, not to strike - and face the fact that the negotiating mechanism is now in tatters and there is no way to negotiate anything at all except the surrender terms and the signing of new contracts as per Option 1.

So why have I been having "One of those Days"? Well, I have had to spend the last two days putting in place contingency plans to limit the damage to various programmes that decisions made in Whitehall will have on the functions we are employed to deliver. As I said, I am not a Union man; I will be one of those left in the "middle" if there is a strike - and I will have to ensure, with a number of other colleagues in the same boat, of making certain that the services we deliver are continued in spite of the best efforts of the civil service and the Minister to destroy any goodwill and opportunity to maintain any normal function.

It is blatantly obvious that the government will stoop to any dirty trick it can to ensure that it gets its way. Even if that means destroying totally one of the most professional fire services in the world - all for the sake of ideology and a spiteful desire to destroy a trade union!

Please, Lord, deliver us from these evil and despicable men and women!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:34 PM | Comments (2)

August 05, 2004


The Monk has to be extremely careful these days about what he writes in his blog. The reason is that the rules have been adjusted and can now be interpreted in so wide a fashion that it could almost be a disciplinary offence to comment on the state of the weather - if the information regarding the weather came from a work related source. Since much of what drives me and my opinions is related to work, this creates something of a dilemma. Do I do a Horatio Nelson - "I see no such signal, Captain Blackwood" - or do I risk losing the very small and entirely inadequate (but a damned sight better than nothing) pension the politicians and the civil service begrudge me?

I am therefore forced to apologise to my readers for the bland nature of my posts of late. Once the present pile of ordure has been cleared from the respective fans, I hope I shall be able to resume the right of freedom of speech which so many brave soldiers, sailors, and, latterly, airmen have fought to preserve in this supposedly "free" world.

Sadly, I am forced to the conclusion that we are no longer free to speak as we find; we are under threat at all times since we are now "managed" by bullies at all levels; and here I include the supposedly elected ones as well. This will get very ugly before it is finally settled, but, at the moment, I cannot see it being settled at all.

There it will have to rest for the time being.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:11 PM | Comments (4)

August 04, 2004


Today I made the arrangements for my trip to South Africa where I grew up and went to school. Quite a good school, too, as I have indicated before on this blog. The Selborne Schools have a very good reputation in SA, which is saying something for a state school. It has a proud history as well - not to be compared with Eton, Harrow, or any of those ancient establishments, but for a young country its history goes back to the beginnings of the small city it is part of.

I had the good fortune, by something of an unusual twist of circumstances, of being the third generation to attend the schools, my Grandfather (born an "Army Brat" at Fort Glamorgan in 1882) having been among its early pupils before, even, the Primary and College became the Selborne Schools. My father followed almost a generation later - he being the last of a family of four brothers and sisters and twelve years younger than the oldest brother, and, by coincidence also born in what had now become East London. The original Fort Glamorgan, a military outpost guarding the military landing beaches at what is now South Africa's only river port on the Buffalo River, having become Port Rex and then the thriving "city" of East London by the turn of the century.

The schools had been renamed in 1907 after the then Governor of the Cape Colony, Lord Selborne (his decendents still farm at Selborne in Hampshire) becoming Selborne Primary School and Selborne College. In the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 - 1902 boys from the school had provided support for the troops passing through the port, and some had gone on to serve in the local Regiment, the Kaffrarian Rifles. Others, like my Grandfather, had been recalled to the regiments they had been members of for the duration of that conflict. Again in 1914 - 18 the school provided many volunteers for service in the Army and the Navy, and boys/young men from Selborne College fought in German South West Africa, in Tanganyika, and in France and Flanders. The Schools War Memorial and the Ceremony of the Key still bear mute testimony to the lives lost in that conflict. Lives given willingly (South African forces in both World Wars were all volunteers) in the belief that they were fighting to preserve something worthwhile and to make it even better. This was repeated in 1939 - 45 when there was no shortage of volunteers from this school to serve in Burma, The Far East Theatre, Ethiopia, North Africa, Italy, and even Normandy.

This year I and my fellow matriculants of forty years ago are gathering to remember our days there and to honour those of our fellows who have not survived as we have. Some have died defending causes they believed in, others have been victims of accidents or illness. We will also be there for the annual Ceremony of the Key, remembering our predecessors (my generation are the children of the men who fought World War II) and those who gave their lives to give us the opportunities we have had.

It is certainly interesting looking through the list of the ninety or so of us who finished on that hot December day forty years ago. Some have done extremely well for themselves, some have done very well for others, and some have made a permanent mark. Others have passed through life much as they passed through school. There are clergy, there are businessmen, bankers, doctors, professors, artists, accountants, lawyers, teachers, a firefighter, actors, journalists; those who have made their mark in sport, and those who have not. One way or another we all have had a good start and will hopefully be able to say at the end of the journey that we made good use of it.

We won't all be there because many have scattered abroad, as the hymn says, and cannot, because of the costs and other ties, make the trip back. All have been contacted and most have responded. It will be good to see people I have not seen for all of that forty years, and to renew acquaintance; it will be even better to be able to renew friendships that I have maintained even at a distance.

The programme consists of several informal functions, the Founders Day Ceremonial at the War Memorial, a formal dinner, and a church service of thanksgiving. I wasn't sure about going at all when I started looking into this, but now I am glad I will be able to be there and to meet these friends once more. That is what makes us humans special; we form communities, and within those communities we develop special bonds. In those we find our roots, wherever we may be.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:57 PM

August 03, 2004

Sunday reviewed

Finally managed to just sit and think about the Sunday services at the Abbey, and still have difficulty putting into words the feast for the senses that it carried. A first class choir, supported by an Organ and an Orchestra, singing in the Abbey's accoustics on a lovely day, with the rich smell of incense and the golden and multi-hewed beams of sunlight through the glass in the clerestory windows, is almost overpowering.

The Bruckner Mass setting is beautiful, especially in the context for which it was written. The French Horn and Trombone passages in the Kyries, Gloria, and Creed are fantastic and the whole is just stunning.

The Orchestra is a group who come together every year just for Musica Deo Sacra and call themselves "The West of England Players". They are mostly professionals who do this for their own devotions, and the balance are amateurs in the top league or instrument scholars from various universities. For this service, the orchestra and choir occupy the West End of the Nave and the Choir Stalls East of the Screen are opened to the congregation. The first part of the service therefore takes place "in the round" with the Sacred Ministers stood between the Nave and the Choir Screen.

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, preached an excellent sermon which rather nicely tied together all that we had heard from other preachers through the week. His prime theme was the need to "take time out" for worship, a lesson that Martha of Bethany had not quite learned when Christ stayed with her and her sister Mary. He touched on the ministry of worship and the inspiration of music and how this was as much a gift of the Spirit in that it provided refreshment of the senses and the soul. Something that was certainly confirmed as the service moved on and Bruckner's setting worked its magic on us. Who can equal a motet by Byrd as an accompanyment to the Communion?

The Solemn Evensong with Benediction to end the week was an equally moving and joyful setting. The music included Howells, Leighton, Elgar, Purcell, and Blairstow and gave us plenty to enjoy. The Lord Abbot's sermon was sharp, to the point, and focused on carrying out into the world the value of worship, the value of knowing God, and trying to bring His Word and will to the world through our faith and our joy in worship. The Benediction which followed Evensong, accompanied by O salutarus hostia and Tantum Ergo to music by Elgar and Henschel provided the perfect ending to a busy but fulfilling week.

So, we have an end to our festival week. The memory will sustain me for the next few months at least. For those who would like to be part of this next year - mark the last week in July in your diaries now!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:09 PM

Interpreting Whitehall

I just had to share this one with whoever stumbles across this blog. I found, on Samizdata a wonderful take on the "downsizing" of the UK Armed Forces. I howled with laughter reading it, but sadly it's all too true.

Equally sadly, it reflects with unerring accuracy how the Civil Service actually sees all public services.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:54 AM

August 02, 2004

Back to reality?

Oh dear, where to start? So much insanity, so little time to expose it!

For starters, I offer this translation of an item published this week by a Muslim "Scholar" at the institution the Archbishop is due to address [on that most innapropriate date]. The organisation whose web page provided this story is NOT the one perpetrating these obscene ideas, but is merely ensuring that what is said in the Arab and Islamic press is reported accurately in English. Personally I find these articles, cartoons, and sentiments disgracefully offensive - and some of them are on sale here in the UK, implying that our Illustrious Leader and his toadies are lending it their tacit approval. I make no comment on this item at all, other than to offer the information that every one of the sources this so-called "scholar" has quoted or used has been discredited, and is discredited by well documented and authentic records. One of the authors of the sources used, in fact, was lucky to escape the guilotine in France as he was later identified as having been one of those involved in rounding up Jews for shipping to Germany. Only the then French Government's keeness to hush up France's shameful collaboration in the "Jewish Solution" got him off the hook!

Then there is the interesting revelation that the settlement between the employers and the Fire Brigades Union is likely to be scuppered - by vengeful senior Labour Party councillors who are angry at the Union's having withdrawn its financial support for "The Party". Thanks to the Independent for this news. So much for us all being egalitarian and cuddly. This is bully boy tactics at their worst - but absolutely typical of that neo-Stalinist Party.

Finally, again thanks to a friend who knows how much I enjoy someone else suffering from the same sort of nonsense as I, there is a gem of a post on The Policeman's Blog about "global" corporate e-mails and the lack of ability to make sense in "official" directives. I'm glad the Fire and Rescue Service is not the only sufferer of the civilianisation madhouse syndrome.

And so, dear Reader, to a close. When I have recovered from my Mondayitis, I will try to think up some way to say something about the week's spiritual high which ended yesterday evening with the most wonderful service of Solemn Evensong and Benediction. For the moment I cannot think of adequate words or word pictures.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:20 PM

August 01, 2004

Justice seen to be done?

You know the lunatics are running the asylum when you run across something like this item from the Scotsman. I wonder why our English National dailies aren't shouting about it? Could it be complicity?

I wonder how their Lordships in the Appeal Court can consider this either lawful or reasonable. Four men sent to prison for life 18 years ago are finally cleared by the Appeal Court and their sentences quashed - but then, a part of their compensation is withheld for their board and lodging while in jail! One of the four is dead - presumably the Home Office will try and claim his funeral expenses as well. In a similar case, another man also jailed for murder and cleared after ten years by the Appeal Court is also being made to pay for the board and lodging he "enjoyed" in jail. To me this is compounding the injury, this is not justice, this is not even a parody of justice, this is outright injustice and manipulation of a set of rules dreamed up by some Whitehall incompetent to save his and his bosses' hides!

I am appalled that their Lordships upheld the Appeal, brought by Lord Brennan, the Home Office's QC, on behalf of the Home Secretary.

It is the equivalent of the hostages taken in the Lebanon in the 1980's being sent bills by their kidnappers for their "holiday accommodations" or even of al Qaeda sending the bill for their murdered hostages' ritual slaughter. It is sick, it is a disgrace upon our society, and the perpetrators of this injustice should be exposed and thrown out of offices and posts!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:22 AM | Comments (2)