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May 31, 2005

Lottery funding

Yet another farce in our "Cool Britannia" and a major reason that I have stopped buying lottery tickets is the latest scandal to hit the Lottery Grant Funding system. Recently we have seen a Lifeboat station turned down for a grant because they do not "help enough ethnic minority people or the disabled". The latest is even more bizarre: a village committee which sought a grant to helkp fund the replacement of a temporary building which serves as (and has done so since World War 2) the village hall. It is now in a dangerous state of repair and needs to be pulled down and replaced.

Their grant was refused. Reason? "It will not serve to promote ethnic minority issues, asylum seekers rights or those of other under represented groups." Quite, it is a rural village community. Maybe they should import a few asylum seekers, promote gay and lesbian events and build a range of houses suitable for attracting a population from one of the many ethnic minority groups that really wish to live in rural England. Perhaps the lifeboat station crew could do the same thing. Encourage the groups they have under-representation for to take to the water in all weathers, in dangerous and unsuitable craft so that the life boat can go and rescue them. Perhaps that would get them their grant.

It really is ridiculous to have millions of pounds of lottery money being handed out to terrorist organisations, asylum seeker campaign groups, and basically any group with a socialist or communist agenda - as long as it is not for the benefit of the majority population who have paid the money into the fund in the first place! Of course our great and good on the Quango that apportions the money deny that anything goes to terrorists - but they provide funds to organisations that support the Finsbury Mosque at which Abu Bakhri and Abu Hamza preach Jihad and openly recruit for al Qaeda.

Well, not with my money anymore. I will not buy another lottery ticket until these morons are removed and the funds are distributed on merit and not on political criteria.

I strongly urge all other denizens of this beleagured isle to do the same!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:03 AM

May 30, 2005

Time to stop this selection farce!

Since Mr Blair and his horde of idiot cronies came to power, the entire issue of access to a range of courses at universities has become a farce. The moronic mantra that everyone has the ability to go to university, that students from dismal State schools have to have preferential access to the best universities, has meant that selection for this, as with everything else, is no longer based on merit or ability, but on how "deprived" you are perceived to be. In short, the best students are now almost routinely rejected by the best universities - because they are not "deprived" or "under represented".

The classic case is reported in a recent Daily Mail article which identifies a student with a set of straight A passes in his A Level exams who is one of nine such students rejected by four or more universities for places on a medical degree course. The reason? They are all from fee-paying "public" schools and not from the "under represented" state school sector. So selection is now, thanks to Mr Blair and his cronies, a matter not of merit or ability, but of your schools status. The more of a failure it is, the more likely you are to get a place in a medical school.

This constant downgrading of the professions to suit a failed and frankly discrimnatory socialist agenda, is eventually going to result in even more problems for the health service among others. All universities are now guilty of selecting for failure, of lowering the standards of selection in order to meet the Whitehall criteria which require them to admit more people with lower or mediocre qualifications at the expense of those who have done well through having the benefit of attending a really first class school. Instead of praising the higher standard and rewarding excellence, the government is trying to destroy this by making it impossible to move on to university from a public school.

Instead of exposing this fraud, the university selectors toe the line and slavishly follow this blatant attempt at social engineering. The result will be to bring discredit upon their degrees, their programmes, and ultimately on those who have attempted to achieve improvement through them. The cost to the country will be huge.

This is yet another Poiltically Correct policy that needs to be exposed and debunked. It is something every right thinking person in this country should be up in arms over - after all it is our money these cretins are using and wasting! It is time to stop selecting on criteria which discriminate against the able and the bright and insist that Whitehall and its army of parasites have no place in setting these policies or criteria. Each university should be required to select on ability and merit only.

Anything else is merely a new and more pernicious form of apartheid!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:08 PM | Comments (1)

May 29, 2005

The Monk is moving ...

Sadly the Monk's host ever since he started blogging is having to close down his server. This is a severe blow and has been a hard decision for Ozguru to make, but it is time to move on. There are a number of factors that have brought this about including ongoing spam attacks, personal issues for Oz, and the demands of actually earning a living as opposed to having a fascinating hobby.

That was the bad news. The good news is that the Monk has a new home over in Munuvia and will shortly have a mu.nu address to replace his present one. I hope that you will all track across to find him there when this happens!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:16 PM | Comments (1)

May 28, 2005

More thoughts on yobs ....

My thanks must go to a commenter on my post on the Yob Culture affecting Britain. He has provoked some further thoughts which I think I should share. His comment can be found by clicking here, but I will reproduce some of it right here in this post.

Firstly, he disagrees with me that "poverty" is a factor in this yobbish culture we are suffering. In fact, he says:

".... there is no poverty in the UK. Poverty means not
having enough to eat, or not having rags to wear. Whatever factors have
influenced this behaviour, poverty cannot be one of them, because it
simply is not there."

I agree fully with his statement; our welfare society has in fact created a situation where even the most impecunious and idle are "cared for" by one of the many handouts available under the system of benefits. They can get housing, assistance with income, with their heating, lighting, and water. The money handed out in cash is sufficient to live on if you are careful and don't spend it on drink or drugs. Sadly, many are not so careful and will buy drugs or drink before food, but they are still able to make that choice! If they lived in the real poverty one meets in Africa or the Far East (for example), they simply do not even have the ability to choose between food and drugging themselves. Nor do they get housing or shelter - this they must make shift to do for themselves!

No, the "Charities" in the UK who make such a fuss about "poverty" in the UK and its being the root of all our social ills are using such measures as "do the children have a VCR, Mobile Phone, Game Boy, Designer Jeans" and so on as their measure of "poverty". What nonsense.

As my commentator says:

"Similarly if you go to poorer countries, countries with far greater
wealth disparity, countries where people are really poor you don't find
this delinquency."

You do find crime is a major issue in some of these, and banditry is a problem in others; however, you simply do not find the "yob" mentality. For one thing, many of these countries deal with such behaviour very swiftly and often harshly. The key issue is one of respect - respect for authority figures, respect for parents, and respect for those with more life experience or perhaps a more orthodox approach to life. That is what most countries as yet uncontaminated with the socialist "vision" of a world in which everyone earns the same, shares the same values and the same resources - all equally, of course with the exception of those running this paradise.

There has to be a recognition as well of the fact that "adult" crimes, committed by "young people" is still a serious "adult crime"! It cannot be treated as anything else, and the punishment has to reflect that. The boys who murdered toddler Jamie Bulger will live out their lives protected by the society that they rejected. Why? Why should a murderer be shown leniency? Recent studies have shown that children as young as 7 do understand the difference between right and wrong - and that they also know that the law cannot touch them! This needs to be recognised and addressed if we are to restore "respect" for the law. At present we have gangs of children who regard the award of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order as a badge of honour. They know exactly what it takes to get one and they think it is an achievement deserving of respect. This has to change. Poverty is NOT and cannot be the root cause of this behaviour; it is the result of an over protected criminal element which is encouraged to have no respect for anything and anyone.

I agree entirely with this view expressed by my commentator:

"The poverty argument is an excuse to hide the delinquency resulting
from the obvious failure of socialist control games with the family and
society."

"Poverty", particularly in the industrialised nations of the West, has become the smokescreen used to hide the complete paucity of the socialist dream. It simply cannot deliver and is based entirely on the false premise that everyone is of equal ability, equal initiative, and equally values the worth and contribution of all others. It is also a smokescreen which hides the failures of a "universal" education system, the rising destructive influence of bureaucrats, and "social workers" impacting on families, of cretinous politicians promoting "single parenting", gender dysfunctional parenting, and a host of other anti-family measures and concepts - all of which have failed miserably, and have contributed mightily to the rise of this disrespectiful underclass of young criminal thugs.

Interestingly, they seem to regard "respect" as their "right" - something again promoted by the socialist idealists who push the "no discipline" line. Respect is now not something to be earned, but something - in the view of the yobs and their supporters in the "protection" lobbies - which is theirs by right! You can get beaten up for "dissing" one of them - in other words for not showing them the respect they feel they can demand.

Respect is earned; it is not a right, whatever the politicians like to think. Until there is recognition of this, the situation will not, and cannot, improve.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:58 AM | Comments (2)

May 27, 2005

Corpus Christi

The feast of Corpus Christi is, for Roman Catholics, a Feast of Obligation, a day when all practicing Catholics are obliged to attend Mass. Why? And what is this feast really all about? The Latin title means simply "The Body of Christ", a name for both the Bread of Communion and for the Church in all its diversity.

As a friend pointed out recently, it is strange that it has kept, in all traditions that celebrate it, the Latin and not been "translated" into some other form or language. Perhaps it is fitting that it should, since it celebrates both the Church as Christ's body on Earth and His Body and Blood of the Communion. It will be marked in Roman Catholic Churches and in the Anglo-Catholic Churches of the Anglican Communion with a full Mass, said, sung or even High. Most will, at some point, also have Benediction, the blessing of the Parish and the congregation with the consecrated Host or "Body of Christ" from the Mass.

It is fitting that it should be celebrated. As the alternative Communion invitation says:

We are the Body of Christ; for we all share in one bread.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:54 AM

May 26, 2005

Travel time

Recently I have had quite a workload, one which has certainly kept me out of circulation and restricted my blogging. It isn't going to get any better for quite a while, either, as I have a lot of serious tasks about to reach the crunch point at which time I will have to get at them to clear them away. My only problem is that the jobs are piling up a bit.

Anyway, I am taking a break with some friends next week - in Germany, for a few days, something I am looking forward to with some pleasure as it is far too long since I took a pleasure break. Much to my amusement (or chagrin - I'm not sure which at present!) I have just been advised that I am now to go to Hanover the day after I get back! Talk about mobility in the job! The reason for the new trip is a thing called Interschutz - a massive exposition held every few years in Germany at which all the world's manufacturers of fire fighting equipment are represented. For fire buffs, it's a "must do", so my employer is also there.

My travels recently have taken me to a number of interesting venues and countries, something I never cease to marvel at, as I never expected to have this opportunity in my chosen career. Just as well my first choice never came to anything, I suppose, as I would probably have ended up a very frustrated and possibly inadequate Parish Priest in a small and dwindling parish in South Africa somewhere. Instead I have had the opportunity to meet the most fascinating range of people and to make some really diverse and equally wonderful friends all over the globe.

Anyway, if I am a little scarce for the next few weeks, I hope you'll understand and keep an eye open for more of my travel pictures and thoughts - such as they are!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:27 AM

May 25, 2005

Youff, Yob-ism, and libertarian approach to discipline

The stark difference between the way some decent young people conduct themselves and the sort of worthless yobs who go through a cemetary and destroy graves and headstones, scatter the ornaments, and generally mindlessly desecrate things that have religious or special meaning to others, is so sharp in the UK that it is almost as if there are two different nations here. The first, the decent youth, are almost invariably the children of hardworking and strict parents who have raised their children to respect others and other peoples' rights, while the yobs are almost invariably the product of parents who followed the "don't discipline your toddler" thinking and instead went down the route of pleading with them to be good. Those that aren't from the world of parental discipline (or total lack of!), are from that end of the social stratum that also abrogates all responsibility, lives on benefit, and pleads that "poverty" is the root of all their ills.

This is encouraged by the "save the children" lobbyists who believe that all discipline "harms the child" and want to make it a criminal offence to apply appropriate discipline to a misbehaving child. It is further encouraged by the numerous "Trusts" who publish reports detailing "child poverty" and insisting that "poverty" lies at the root of all societies problems. I would agree that it is one part of a very complex and difficult puzzle, but by the same token, this argument is used to encourage dependence on state handouts, to encourage the destruction of families, and to excuse the sort of behaviour that leads to the "happy slapping" assaults these sick thugs indulge in when not destroying graves or people's homes and lives.

The net result is that we have a small number - and let's be fair, it is a small percentage - of young people who know of no discipline but their own, who acknowledge no authority but their own, and who know that the law is almost powerless to stop them. The much vaunted ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) is a joke to most of these kids; there is one in my area who is regarded by his "group" as a hero because he has FIVE of them! Have these stopped him? No, he sees this as some sort of recognition of achievement!

I hardly need to tell anyone that his family is extremely dysfunctional, the father a drunk, other children on drugs, and generally there is no parental discipline or authority. Which came first, loss of parental authority, poverty, or the problems with abuse of drink or drugs? Again, a complex question and I would suspect, as I have done for some time, that the Biblical injunction that the "sins of the father are visited upon the children unto the hundredth generation" may have more truth to it than many would care to admit. Once a generation goes bad, it tends to clone itself. It is the exceptional child who manages to break out of the mould and make a new beginning - and the current nannying system does not allow for this or encourage it.

Excuses no longer cut the mustard; it is time to get back to a proper balance on discipline and respect. Children do not have all the answers and are not yet wise enough or knowledgable enough to rule. Adults and the older generations do not have a corner on getting it right, either - but they do have the knowledge and the experience that the younger people lack. Unless we restore respect and discipline in our society - and I do not mean the sort of draconian kowtowing that goes with the feudal barony image - we are in serious trouble. The nannies and the do-goody "report every parent who smacks a child" time-wasters must be put firmly and permanently in their little cotton-wool wrapped boxes and made to stay there. How about making them responsible every time one of their "poor deprived, underprivileged" and over-indulged creations causes mayhem. That may focus their minds.

In the meantime, let the sensible people of this country start a campaign to restore the rights of parents to discipline their offspring. Reward good parenting and punish bad parenting, but take the measures and the control away from Civil Servants and Social Workers - neither have sufficient sense or brains to do it. Let it be returned to the commonsense of parents and take away the right of those cretins to interfere in families who are doing their best. Let them focus on the end of society which is causing the problems and not on those who are not.

Then, let us also campaign for a return to punishment as an element of justice. For justice to be effective there has to be an element of retribution; the criminal must not be seen to be rewarded or let off with some soft option - and all the present options from "Community Service" through to "Electronic Tagging" and "ASBOs" are just that, soft options. The injured party is often treated more harshly than the criminal - and children do and are committing "adult" crimes, a fact of which they are very fully aware! It is high time that the justice system was given back its teeth and the Judges made to use them. Only then will this disruptive and dangerously out of control culture of yob-ism be curtailed.

It is time to drop the nonsense of the Human Rights Act which gives the criminal more "rights" than the law-abiding citizen, and make them recognise what they are - outlaws. They have chosen to step outside the law; why should the law protect them?

If young people from the troubled end of our society can see that the law is powerless to stop them, then why should they show any respect at all. As for those who advocate and support their "rights" - make them pay the compensation and deal with the people whose lives those "deprived" children have wrecked.

Let's make this an "issue" for our politicians!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:30 AM | Comments (2)

May 24, 2005

Life gets complicated !!

Church Mouse has been enjoying her spring-time these days, with all sorts of budding, leafing, and growing sources of fresh food keeping her occupied with replenishing her larder with something more enticing than dried berries and odd scraps of cheese. However, it's a totally different story for The Monk. His day job has increased his work load to unbearable size, scope, and difficulties.

CM heard a plaintive cry [when he thought no-one else but Our Lord would hear him] for some kind of relief, so she offered to put up a wee post to permit The Monk to skip just one day to cope with his myriad problems caused by trying to give full measure to the day job and the same level of effort to his additional responsibilities at our beloved Abbey.

Please offer up your prayers to give him the support he sorely needs.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:38 AM

May 23, 2005

Natural gas

The western world's need for power and the fuel to generate it is creating the need for ever more ingenious ways to get the fuel from the source - in this case the Persian Gulf - to the end user. The ship in the picture below is one such solution. She carries up to 135,000 cubic metres of liquified natural gas in her specially designed and insulated tanks. In order to keep the gas liquid you have to do one of two things to it - place it under enormous pressure - or refrigerate it. There is only one more problem - how to get it down to -146 degrees Celsius!

0077.JPG
A large LNG carrier loading liquified natural gas at a facility in the Gulf.

The gas can be contained in the ship's tanks only as long as it remians refrigerated, the tanks will vent off the gas if the pressure rises due to a change in state or temperature, and LNG is quite volatile. Unlike Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), which is relatively easy to store under pressure, the nature of LNG makes it necessary to hold it under much higher pressures - or chill it to its liquifaction point, which just happens to be around MINUS 140 degrees Celsius. At this sort of temperature most metals start to get very brittle - in fact, at these temperatures you and I would freeze solid in seconds!

The ships are constructed to take account of this, and the tanks are heavily insulated and multi-skinned as well. To ensure that the refrigeration system doesn't fail they are fitted with two, one taking over if the other fails. As you would expect there are also a full range of fire defence systems fitted to the ship, and many of these can be remotely operated if necessary. The ship's structure is also heavily protected to ensure that the crew can evacuate safely before anything penetrates to the crew spaces, and there are multiple alarm systems fitted to warn of gas leaks and failures of the structure.

A new generation of these ships is being built as I write, and we will soon, in Europe, be hosting these as they increasingly carry our fuel to terminals along our coasts. This new generation carry over 150,000 cubic metres of LNG, each, and will become increasingly common sights in our harbours as our own North Sea gas supplies dwindle.

Perhaps the sight of them in some ports will occassion a rethink on the nuclear power debate!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:03 AM

May 22, 2005

Sunday's ramblings

As usual I have a full slate of services today, assisting at two and preaching at the third, while being the Church Warden for the one in between. This will be the fourth year that I have a sermon to deliver on Trinity Sunday, but, as you can see if you follow my link to the extended entry, I decided to avoid the obvious subject this year!

Perhaps I did; perhaps I didn't!

TEWKESBURY ABBEY
EVENSONG TRINITY SUNDAY 2005

+ May God be in my head
And in my understanding,
May God be on my lips,
And in my speaking,
May God be in my heart,
And in my every action.

Amen

"Unless I go away the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you."

This is the fourth year in a row that I have had a preaching slot on Trinity Sunday. Either I have upset Fr Paul, Fr Peter or Fr Charles mightily, or I have done or said something they thought would be repeatable the next time round! However, after last year's 1100 sermon, Fr Peter kindly informed me that to preach on the Trinity is to commit heresy.

So I won't!

Pity, because that cuts out all the fun we could have had in looking into such interesting heresies as Arianism, Docetism, Gnosticism and a whole lot more - isms that the Councils of the Early Church, not to mention Augustine of Hippo, St John, St Paul - and even the legendary Cappadociean Fathers spent years refuting.

So, what does one tackle for the Solemn Evensong of Trinity Sunday?

My text is taken from the second reading from St John's account of a conversation set in the latter part of Christ's ministry. Addressing his disciples fears of the future, he seeks to reassure them of the support they will continue to have through faith and through the strength provided by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, he tells them - and us - that the Holy Spirit, the "Comforter" will provide all the strength and support we need once He is Himself taken from us.

"when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth."

This "sending of the Holy Spirit" passage, has, itself created a number of difficulties for latter day students of scripture and for theologians, as it suggests that the Spirit comes, in our translation of the Greek, from an Incarnate Christ. It is this which has caused great dissention between Orthodox and Catholic usage of the "filioque" clause in the Nicean Creed. Clearly, the Holy Spirit "proceeds" from the Father on the initiative of the Son. The Spirit is sent to encourage, inform, and uphold us as we stumble through this world trying to find and to grow in faith.

The passages from St John which precede our reading tonight also contain some difficult translations in our versions. The older Authorised Version translated some of the Greek, particularly the introductory verse of this Chapter as "offended" and it is rendered "go astray" in the version I use for my daily reading. The word "skandalizo" in the Greek is one of the most difficult to translate because it conveys a sense of "surprise" in rather the same way as the springing of a trap would surprise. In other words, to be "taken unawares" by events. This is the background to Christ's address to his disciples - and, if you read a bit further, you find that He had "taken them unawares" - at verse 17;

"Some of his disciples said to one another, "What does he mean by saying, "In a little while ." and "Because I am going to the Father."

Clearly they did not understand that Christ was not just for them and their time, but for the world and for all time. Therefore, He could not remain among them in His Incarnate form as their mentor, "Comforter" and spiritual director, He has to move on, to fulfil His task in this world, but, in moving on, will not leave them unsupported. His Father in Heaven, with whom He is one, is sending the Holy Ghost to nurture, guide, and comfort all who believe in Him and seek to follow His teaching.

The Holy Ghost is not some "new" creation here either. Far from it, this is the same Spirit that is sent from God to act in the world from the beginning. We encounter Him in Isaiah, Ezekial, Samuel, and in Moses. The difference here is that Christ has now revealed Him to all who would see and hear. The Spirit is there to support us and to work actively in the world in and through God's people. You and I.

St Luke tells us that He came to the disciples as "tongues of fire" and in the sound of a mighty "wind" at the Feast of Pentecost. St John's account says that the risen Christ "breathed on" the disciples and then "went away". You and I have received the Holy Spirit in quieter and less dramatic ways through our baptism, through confirmation, in the Eucharist, and in prayer. He is there with us when we are distressed, when we need to face difficult tasks, and when we must do his work.

St John's gospel tells us that the Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth, through Him we all know truth, in Him there can be no untruth. Through Him we learn to know and understand God's purpose. As Christ told His disciples:

"The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."

Thus, the Holy Spirit is with us and upon us as both teacher and guide, as our support, and as our companion. We may not be able to see Him, but we can certainly feel His presence in our lives.

It is through the Spirit, according to the writer of Romans, that we are "set free" from the laws of sin and death. It is in Him that we understand these. To quote;

"those who live in accordance with the Spirit, have their minds set on what the Spirit desires."

As St Augustine is famously quoted as advising a new convert "Love God and do as you please!" You simply cannot fulfil the first part and still do evil. So it is for those who live in accordance with the Spirit; once He has entered your life, you are changed. As long as He remains a part of your life - and we can separate ourselves from Him if we submit to anger, spite, and the rest of the devil's armoury - we are changed, and we are His instrument in all we do.

To quote the hymn once sung at every Confirmation service:

Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
And lighten with celestial fire,
Thou the anointing Spirit art,
Who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart

Teach us to know the Father, Son,
And thee, of Both, to be but one,
That through the ages all along,
This may be our endless song.
Praise to thy eternal merit,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:40 AM | Comments (1)

May 21, 2005

Visitor from abroad

I have, for the last two weeks, played host to a young man from the US, a student on a "placement" with my place of work. He has been an absolute delight to host, full of enthusiasm, keen to learn and pleasant company. Everyone he has met and worked with during his time here has been impressed by his humour, and his politeness - something I fear that we, in the UK, have taught our young folk is "old fashioned" to our cost.

He has certainly been an eye-opener for some and a credit both to his family and to his university - they both can be very proud of him.

His manners and his politeness have opened up a line of thought, however, which I think needs to be further explored - in this country at least. Why have we allowed manners and standards of behaviour to slip so badly? What have we done that has made our young people - and it has to be said, not all of them - such louts. They swear constantly, they behave indecently and they disrupt peoples lives in the most appalling manner - yet our police and our schools seem unable to deal with it.

Could it be that the great "children are sacred and totally blameless" dabsters have got it wrong? Could it be that the concept, as practiced in the US, that children can and do understand the differences between right and wrong from an early age, could be right? Horror of horrors, could they be right that children do commit "adult" crimes and need to be treated as such when they do? Could it be that we need to rethink the idea that a child is a child until they are 16/18/21? I think we do.

My young visitor has been a breathe of fresh air. His respinses to some of the things he has seen in our cities have certainly been interesting, even enlightening. It may be that he is "an old head on young shoulders" and it may even be that he is unusual, but my own experience of his fellow students a few months ago suggest otherwise.

He has certainly showed me a new face of responsible and willing youth - one I hoipe we can recapture here in the UK. If we do not, we will deserve the nation the present yob culture will create in future.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:19 AM | Comments (1)

May 20, 2005

New legislation

The government is promising to bring forward new "Corporate Manslaughter" legislation - on the back of a raft of other things. I wonder if they and their usual crew of incompetent civil servants will get this right? It is a very difficult issue, one which the Health and Safety lobby have been trying to get for some time, and it has the potential to destroy small businesses and cripple big ones. It also has the potential to seriously damage the ability of the armed forces, fire and rescue services, and the police to act.

While I can see the rationale behind the proposal and the need to do it in some cases, what can easily get lost in this is the ability to use initiative in dealing with a fast moving and dynamically changing situation. If we are not careful there will be created a situation in which the fire and rescue services will not take action, the police will not respond, and large corporations move their "hazardous" operations offshore. They will do this because, in the case of the fire and rescue services, any action they could take carries a risk of injury (all their activities do!) and thus, the officer in charge will legitimately be able to say that he could not place anyone at risk lest he be charged!

Naturally, those whose "strategic" planning - or lack thereof - has created the situation where a fire fighter, a policeman, or a member of the armed forces is likely to be exposed through lack of the right equipment or the lack of sufficient numbers, will be "protected" - because they sit in Whitehall and will argue that it was nothing to do with them. Any law of this nature MUST contain a provision which allows the "fault" to be traced right back to the originating organisation, and that includes the Civil Service departments that control the money and strategic policy which the local authority officials must work with.

Somehow, given who will be drafting the new law, I doubt we will see it being that extensive. It is much more likely to be used to crucify any "capitalist" activities and to restrict the service offered by the police, fire and armed services.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:52 AM | Comments (1)

May 19, 2005

St Dunstan's Day

St Dunstan is an interesting man and "saint". He died in 988 as the Archbishop of Canterbury, having started out as a Monk in Glastonbury. He is the patron saint of Bellringers and is also the man responsible for the reform of the English Monastic disciplines and the pre-Norman reformation of the Church in England.

By all accounts a polite, modest, and somewhat retiring man, he could, when roused, be a very forceful figure indeed. He certainly made an indelible mark on his own age and his memory still echoes down the ages as a man who faced some quite difficult issues in a period of difficult politics, violence, and great uncertainty. He reputedly first came to prominence as a novice when, like St Alphage, he shamed his fellow monks into returning to their vows. Later, as Abbot of Glastonbury, he was the instrument behind several important synods which took decisions that would shape the future of the Church in the West and, indeed, its theology on a number of issues.

He was persuaded to leave his Abbey for Canterbury where he set about installing wider reforms which both encouraged the faithful and reshaped the Church in these islands, perhaps even laying the foundations for the reforms which would, some 600 years later, give rise to the present Church of England. I suspect, too, that he must have wished fervently at times for the peace of his glorious Abbey at Glastonbury and the distance it would have given him from the politics that inevitably surround the Archdiocese of Canterbury.

Then as now, Canterbury demands a strong man, one able in theology and wise in politics to steer the Church of God through the troubled waters of every age. As we remember Dunstan, so, too, we should pray for his successor, Rowan, also a man of the West.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:06 AM

May 18, 2005

One of those days ....

We all have 'em, one of those days when you wonder why you bothered to get up, why the h**l you bother even making an effort to do anything at all, and continuing to work at what you spent the last 30+ years of your life trying to achieve. Well, since the Monk's employers suddenly decided, around two years ago, to impose a new "development" system on the service he has been proud to be a member of for most of his working life, he's been having a lot of "those" days.

It's not so much the new system itself - it is, after all, just a glorified development of a system that is supposed to have been in place all along - it's the manner in which it was imposed without the proper support mechanisms and totally without consideration of the implications.

The system depends heavily on selection of candidates for development through a process of assessment of need, ability, and suitablility for task. That process is not in place, and will not be in place for some time to come - if ever. It is a grand scheme which is supposed to support an individuals development throughout his career, but it has been, and still is, unworkable in the organisation that piloted it (the management deny this and loudly insist that it IS working despite all evidence to the contrary!) and now it is being imposed for political reasons on the rest of the nation. Eighteen months down the road and the chaos is worsening - again despite denials by management in the face of mounting evidence - and one other aspect which the Whitehall Wankers overlooked - fragmentation of training delivery.

To make matters even worse, as a result of the strike, the fatally flawed, but ever so politically expedient Review of the Service, and the rushed-through "modernisation" programme, the entire management structure and rank/role structure is now linked to the the new "development" progression. This effectively contains several "glass ceilings" which are perfectly placed to destroy the opportunities for promotion available to any fire fighter with the ability and the leadership potential for promotion up the tree. This has been done deliberately so that "under represented" groups can be parachuted into the upper eschelons of the service without having to get the requisite experience or knowledge in the usual way. The results are now beginning to be apparent as one service now has as its "Chief" (called a Service Manager or "Chief Executive"!) a lady recruited from a large motor manufacturer with no fire service connection whatsoever. Let us hope that she does a better job than the Rover Group management have done with a knowledge of the car industry! Nor is she alone; there have been a very large number of such appointments to roles from Station Manager up to Deputy Chief Executive in the FS around the country. Again, what is being missed is the fact that "Strategic" policies and decisions impact on all matters related to service delivery and therefore on "Technical Operations" at the frontline. Ask the Army about the decision to have only one infantry weapon for all ranks and services. The SA-80 looks good, is very accurate, and may be super for certain types of warfare but is no damned good at all in hot sandy deserts! Nor are boots that melt in the heat - another example of "Strategic" decisions impacting on operations.

This country has had a good reputation for successfully developing its fire service officers from their fire fighter recruits - roughly 10% of the recruits have always had "leadership" potential - and through a central training organisation. This is now being destroyed, and each service is now being encouraged to source its "development" programmes away from the central organisation, which is accused by these clever people in Whitehall of using a "sheep dipping" approach. According to them it is much better to have each service "do its own thing" to "meet local need". As an incentive they have also saddled the central training organisation with a huge bureaucracy which substantially increases the cost of doing anything there. Then, as a final nail in the coffin, they created a "Trading Fund Agency" and insist that it must "pay its own way". Naturally it is now the most expensive provider of development programmes!

Just to make very sure they have killed it off effectively, they have also cut the budget to the fire and rescue services for "training" - you don't need as much if you are "developing" - and so, in order to meet their development needs, Development Managers (used to be called Brigade Training Officers - but we can't have Brigades or Officers anymore - far too Militaristic!) are forced to source their development programme provisions from the lowest bidder. It's called "Best Value" in Civil Service double-speak, but in reality it simply ensures that the services will increasingly lose their professional edge.

All of this is what the Monk has had to deal with on a daily basis for almost two years now, and he is approaching the point where something has to be done. In the next couple of days he has to deal with another little offshoot of the matters outlined above - namely the drop in student (sorry Delegate!) numbers from the police and fire services which is now threatening a very good partnership with the central police training organisation. They, too, have pressures and must condsider the future of joint training - and the breech could threaten a lot more than one set of programmes!

Is there any point in taking any of this up the tree to the Damagement? No there isn't; they are so far out of their depth that they haven't noticed that the ship is fatally holed and that the rest of us are so busy pumping we can't fit the patches anymore. Well, being career Civil Servants, they'll be OK when it finally sinks; pity about the rest of the staff though!

Redundancy or retirement is looking increasingly attractive!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:09 PM

May 17, 2005

Left, right, or centre?

Very interesting is the current debate on the bias of the BBC in its reporting. The BBC News team and its documentary departments all deny that they are biased, but report after report has stated that they are. So just who is right?

Well, let's consider the facts.

Watching BBC television news is a bit like watching a party political broadcast. The amount of "air time" devoted to what Mr Blair and any member of his government are thinking, to the latest pronouncements of any pro-unified Europe apparatchik from anywhere in Europe is saying, or to anything that makes either of the main opposition parties look divided and unfit to govern is quite apparent to even the most unscientific surveyor. Even more apparent is an obvious anti-American and definitely anti-Israel bias. It often seems that no effort is spared to make either Israel or the US look bad. Sadly, it is often also a very distorted view of the event reported.

Now a former BBC "insider" has written a book, exposing the bias, exposing examples of news being doctored, suppressed or otherwise misrepresented. The BBC's response? To impugne the reputation of the author, a former "star" reporter! Melanie Phillips, a columnist in the Daily Mail, yesterday wrote a leader page in which she quoted a number of examples of the blatant bias - a bias which has reached the stage that I, for one, find so nauseating that I regularly change to ITN (Biased!), CNN (also biased!), FOX, or even Euro News on satellite! Frankly it is disgraceful that our publically funded broadcaster - one whose "Charter" requires unbiased and factual reporting - can be so blatantly left wing in its views and get away with denying any wrong-doing!

Frankly, as I have said before in this blog, as they have now become the official propaganda media for the Labour Party, the Labour Party and its supporters should pay for it. There can be no justification for the continuance of the annual Licence Fee when I have to go elsewhere anyway to find unbiased reporting. Radio 4's "Today" programme, the Dimbleby "interviews", and all the "Panellist" shows that are supposed to allow debate and the airing of opposing views have become little more than an opportunity to air, as the "voice of reason", the Labour/Socialist supporters usual arrogant and unrealistic vision of Heaven on Earth.

Religion, especially Christian, is rapidly becoming, like anyone from any party deemed to be "right wing" by the guardians of Socialist "truth", something to be sneered at and belittled at every opportunity. At least there is hope on that score; the BBC recently actually admitted that they do portray religious figures as caricatures and see no reason why this should be objectionable! Don't hold your breath for any change in this attitude - they have also admitted that they think it's perfectly legitimate to do so. Christianity is now seen as something evil by this comfortable and well paid coterie in the BBC, so they feel no compunction in belittling anything about it and especially anyone who dares to admit that they have a faith. Even the flagship "Songs of Praise" programme sometimes slips into a mode of questioning which is supercilious and suggestions that the 30 second God-slot allowed on their Radio 2 programme early in the morning should include an Atheist were acted on - with the result that those of us who did find something useful in hearing the views of the many very good and devout speakers, were subjected to the abuse of one of the most negative and frankly unintelligent tirades I can recall. Sadly, I have now stopped listening to that programme, precisely because I found the views of the supposedly intelligent atheist offensive - but the BBC is still convinced that they are right and everyone else is wrong.

Herein lies the problem. The BBC has, through its policy of recruiting only those who read the Guardian - a paper I refuse to spend money buying - and even then only those whose views accord with the left wing anti-US, anti-Israel, anti-Capitalist, Socialist elite who now control it, that it is unable to even consider that their view is NOT the Centre of British politics. As with all Socialist "visionaries" - including Karl Marx - they are so wrapped up in their own superiority of vision that they cannot see that the lenses are rose tinted, or that there is another vision - which is not theirs.

The BBC's response to criticism is to attempt to rubbish the research, assasinate the critics' character and to deny all bias. Any halfwit can see what they refuse to acknowledge, that any politician who is not "one of ours" gets trashed in any interview, while any Labourite gets the silk sheet treatment. This extends to any foreign dignitary who comes from a party or government which the BBC Left do not approve of - and there are many - and many of us writhe with shame as this shameless bunch of arrogant bigots blatantly smeer the visitor, his or her country and their ideas. No wonder most US dignitaries decline the "privilege".

What is to be done? Very little at present, precisely because the only person with the power to do it is the chief beneficiary of this biased and totally unacceptable behaviour in our public broadcaster. But, as will certainly happen, as soon as another party is elected to power, this arrogant and unrepresentative body needs to be radically cut back - downsized and seriously pulled up short. Its recruiting policies must be changed, its entire management replaced, and its bias must be monitored and policed by an independent watchdog. Furthermore, its denizens must be made fully accountable for their suppression of "bad news for Labour" and promotion of twiseted and biased reporting.

Alternatively, privatise it, scrap the Licence Fee, and let's see how long the left wing bias survives in the harsh light of reality.

Update: Church Mouse has advised me that I would be most remiss if I did not give you this valuable link to The Biased BBC.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:16 PM | Comments (2)

May 16, 2005

New ministry?

A few weeks ago the Monk went and allowed himself to be nominated for the vacancy of the post of Church Warden in his beloved Abbey. It is a job he has never wanted - never even contemplated wanting! - and it was one of those "flattering to be asked" but "unlikely to be elected" considerations. Obviously Someone Else had other ideas - the Monk found himself being elected. So now he is one of two Church Wardens, responsible, among other things, for the maintenance of the "Fabric", furnishings, staff, and the conduct of "orderly worship"!

Last Friday night the Monk and a large congregation of other Wardens were all assembled in the Abbey - about 550 of them - and took their oaths of office. Then he and his fellow Wardens from the Abbey and its sister churches served wine and soft drinks to the assembly in the North Aisle. Sunday saw him having to assume his new ministry - that of looking after the congregation and their needs from the "other end of the church"!

It has been an interesting introduction into this "office" - a challenging one - especially with building works about to start to the tune of 3 million plus - a sum which needs to be raised as well!

Thank you, Lord! Are You sure I needed this experience????

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:42 AM | Comments (2)

May 15, 2005

Men in Church

An interesting item drifted my way from the Blog, "Baldilocks". I have read this blog in the past, perhaps not as frequently as I would have liked, but just recently I re-visited and found this post entitled "Men, women and the church". Reading it certainly rang a few bells for me, even though I am one of the few men in church week by week!

I think the whole problem started back in the 1960's when people first began to experiment with the liturgy following Vatican II. The idea was sound, move the Liturgical Ministry closer to the people, remind them that they, too, are "ministers" of God. However, the reality has, as ever with human intentions, become something different. It is almost a case of the baby having been thrown out with the bath water. Instead of looking at what the church did do well and then at what it didn't do so well, they threw out everything and began to rewrite it all. Vestments, music, liturgy, and the concept of "sacred mystery" was all thrown away, and the whole swung between "Sunday School Fundamental" and "Entrenched Traditional". Neither "label" being very helpful or very descriptive of the reality.

What tended to happen was that the "modernisers" threw away the bits that they did not like and introduced their tastes in music, liturgy, and prayer style. Anyone who disagreed was labelled a "die-hard reactionary" or a "traditionalist" and left outside of the "vibrant inner circle" until they eventually left. Ever since this first wave of "modernisers" hit the church, the attendance figures for men have been declining, perhaps for the very reasons "Baldilocks" has outlined. Far too often I go to Synods and hear the same bunch of aging "modernisers" still arguing for the retention of or conversion of others, the worship styles, minstry structures, and "children's services" they introduced back in the 1960's and 70's! They are now the "traditionalists" clinging to that which makes them comfortable and "relevant". But is this where the church needs to be for today's young people? Is it actually what needs to be addressed if more men are to find the church "relevant" and attractive to their needs?

I think not.

Ask why most men come to church. Generally they fall into two categories: one, they believe it's relevant and have a deep seated faith which they hold to, or they are able to be part of a worshipping community and belong because they have a role such as singing in the choir, serving, or ministering. In both these areas they are being discouraged by the present structures and movements. Where there is a choir and a fine music tradition you will frequently find that there are a good number of men. Where the services are "ad hoc" and have Karaoki style overheads, rock bands, and informal groups of singers, there will be fewer men. The same goes for servers and ministry - the less liturgical dignity the fewer men you have taking part in it. Speaking as a man, I find it deeply disturbing and very uncomfortable to be at a service where I am treated as if I were a ten-year old being expected to take part in "activities" and display my liturgical "joy". If that were all I had on offer - I, too, would be absent from the pews!

Every time I go to a meeting about how to get the message of the Gospel out to the world, the focus shifts almost instantly to "youth". "Young people are the key to the survival of the church!" is the battle cry, and the rest of the meeting you can guarantee will be self-absorbed in discussing how "we can make services more relevant to our young". Tragically, it always reverts from this point onwards into a discussion about making the worship "relevant" or "accessible" to the young. This usually includes suggestions of scrapping choirs and organs and introducing guitars and "free-form" music and worship. It makes my blood boil!

The reason most adult males do not attend church regularly is that there is nothing there for them. They do not like to listen to sermons on "social responsibility" because they already are doing that in their own ways; they do not like to be treated like Sunday School kids with a mental age of 6 because they are nothing of the kind. The problem is that we offer them no spiritual awakening and no spiritual development or growth. In short, there is nothing for your average male to get to grips with in a church service or community these days, and it is almost embarassing to have to admit that you are a church-goer!"

If the churches wish to make themselves more attractive and appealing to the 49% of the population that is male (we hear a great deal these days about the "inclusion" of the supposedly 51% that is female!), then we also need to look at its structures, at the way it presents the message of God, and the way it presents itself. Does it really want to have the "Telly Evangelist" image that is so often the parady portrayed on television? Is the heirarchy and legalistic structure of the Church of England and most other "Anglican" Churches appropriate? Does it encourage the image of a pompous and self centred community, or does it show a welcoming and open image? Is the structure of ministry realistic? It would be very interesting to see what came out of a debate on this in the open. Sadly, if it were raised in public debate these days, the anti-Christian lobbies and media would pounce on it and ridicule every effort to seek a way to move it forward. Then again, perhaps we should not be afraid of that, and should embrace it!

I am convinced that we need to get our heads out of the 1960's view that "youth" and "relevance" are at the root of the problems. What we need is a church that is able to show, in its members, people who live by the Gospel message. We need to broaden our worship patterns in every single community and congregation so that we offer every member and potential member a style of worship with which they can feel comfortable. And we need to look very seriously at the hierarchy and at the means of selection for ministry.

If the Gospel of Christ is to survive as a driving force in the world of the 21st Century, it is the church at large that needs to think really radically and outside of its comfort zones to find ways to attract people to its message. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for the holy huddle in any particular church. The Gospel is for men, women, and children - and not just for the young or the women who feel they have to be the anchors, the ministers, and the leaders. If we are to address the problem of the vanishing male, we have to find a way to promote the ministry of men, something we have neglected very badly in our drive to raise the status of women and to drag young people into the church.

It really is time to look seriously at these issues. Thank you to Baldilocks for raising this serious deficiency in the Christian Mission.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:18 AM | Comments (2)

May 14, 2005

Restoring national pride

The restoration of historical buildings in Eastern Europe is interesting and says a great deal about the pride these folk have in their history and their restored democracies. Slowly but surely the ghastly Soviet "utilitarian" eyesores - the ugly concrete bunkers favoured by socialist regimes everywhere - are being swept away and replaced by restored architectural gems such as this medieval City Hall (now a museum) in Poznan.

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The old City Hall in Poznan (Pomerania), Poland, has been restored, and its medieval decoration is a real gem. The ancient clock with its automata are also fantastic - the goats, by the way, are definitely male!

While the politicians would like to think that Europe can be united under a "supra-national" parliament and bureaucracy, I would suggest that it is unlikely to get beyond the state it is now. I say this because I see among all the newly freed members in Eastern Europe a rising pride in their nationhood, in their history, and in their cultural uniqueness. They have endured sixty years or more of the dead hand of bureaucrats and a political philosophy that impoverished them and tried to destroy their identity and their history; now that they are emerging and have thrown off those shackles, they are unlikely to vote for the sort of shackles Brussels and Strasbourg are trying to impose.

We should celebrate with them their rediscovered identities, and we should also work with them to make sure that our own are never taken from us by the aparatchiks of the left and the bureaucrats of Brussels or anywhere else.

For those contemplating a visit to Eastern Europe, don't hesitate - it is worth the effort, and it is certainly going to be a fascinating discovery. The languages can be a barrier, but many will welcome you and make the effort to speak English. Worth every agonising moment with a phrase book!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:10 AM

May 13, 2005

Kentucky wine

Kentucky used to be known for horses, Bourbon Whiskey, and tobacco farming - now they have dropped tobacco and are going for grapes. Not just any grapes but viticulture of the wine-making sort! Sampling some of the wines at this small and relatively recently established winery, I came across some very pleasant wines.

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The tasting room at a small vinyard near Richmond, Kentucky. The owner provides a good selection of his wines and certainly knows their characteristics.

Thinking on American wines, most people would identify those from California, some would speak of wines from South America, but not many I know, would have identified any from Kentucky. I will confess that I have not found them in any emporium of matters liquid that I frequent, but I suspect that we will soon begin to see some filling spaces on our shelves.

I look forward to the day!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:48 AM

May 12, 2005

Stress is good for you?

A recent proclamation in a number of the daily papers tells me that stress is good for me! Yup, stress will make me live longer, according to the scientists. Even the Scientific American has said so. Now I hate to be a party-pooper, but my stress levels have been that high for the last few years I think I am in danger of living well past my century! Maybe that's a good thing, maybe not. My kids will, by then, be ready, I suspect, to take me outside and drop me down some convenient well! I know I will be!

Stress is, of course, a fact of living; we all experience it at various times throughout the day in small doses; what is probably not good is constant and ongoing stress. This is when you run into all sorts of side effects like back pain, muscle tension, and even degenerative problems in the bones. Coping with stress is important, because our bodies are, rather like a cat's, geared to the constant tension between "fight or flight". Basically our psyche is made of the three questions; "Can I eat it?" "Can it eat me?" and "Can I outrun it?"
This is why stress sends a chemical mix into the nervous system and bloodstream that can give us the acceleration necessary to get high up a tree before the lion/cave bear/carnivore of your choice can get off the starting block. It's about survival.

What is not good is ongoing and persistent stress from which there is little relief. This is when all sorts of toxins start to build in the body and the bloodstream and can cause damage - including, I suspect, some cancers. When I outrun a tiger I have some releief when the tiger pushes off. I can't outrun dimwitted and cretinous managers who make decisions in a vacuum which make my job hell. This is when the stress knows little relief.

In many ways, this is also where my faith helps. It does give me an inner core of peace on which I can fall back. It gives me a place I can go to within myself that says the world does not matter, that the latest stupid decision is not going to make things any worse than they were and that I can trust in someone much more understanding and knowledgeable to get me through the swamp.

Thank you, Lord, for faith and for the grace of knowing you!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:02 AM

May 11, 2005

Proper fire protection

The Monk gets very angry when he hears supposedly intelligent people - particularly people in power, saying completely stupid things about sprinkler protection systems. The most common is the moronic "sprinklers do more damage than the fire!" Qualify that please! Surely you mean that the sprinkler discharge did some water damage, whereas, had the sprinkler not been there at all - you would not have a building left standing! It is this sort of stupid thinking that has allowed numerous developers to evade their responsibilities and not fit sprinklers to buildings that require them.

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A high discharge sprinkler head in operation as a demonstration.

It has to be said that the operation of a sprinkler system is something that the average person does not understand. Too many Hollywood movies have depicted the entire system in operation after a single head is triggered - it simply is not the way these systems operate! First of all, each head is independent in operation; each one is a small heat detector; it operates only when its predetermined temperature is reached! In addition, these systems are designed to have only a maximum number of heads in operation - open more than the designed number and the system will fail because it cannot get sufficient water to supply it.

The Civil Service frequently blocks attempts to require sprinklers in schools, hospitals, old age homes, public buildings, and the like using any one of a number of shibboleths they cling to like the idiots they think the rest of us are. You hear "sprinkler operation may cause the floors to be wet and hinder escape", or "sprinklers increase smoke density and may hinder escape", or "sprinklers are for the protection of property and do not contribute to life safety". Really? When last did anyone die in a sprinkler protected building? When last did a building fitted with sprinklers that were properly installed and maintained actually burn down?

Seriously, sprinklers are not the panacea to all ills, but they certainly do the job in 98% of cases, and they do protect both life and the economy.

This government claims to be serious about protecting life and saving life from fire. They have destroyed the fire services, so it's time they considered the alternative - every building will, in future, require sprinkler protection. If they are serious about protecting life from fire then let's see them make this mandatory.

Don't hold your breath, though - the Civil Service believes that burning things down is good for the economy. They must have shares in the construction industry.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:04 AM | Comments (5)

May 10, 2005

VE Day remembered

It has been good to see so much activity, despite Blair's minions decreeing that it should be "low key", to mark the end of hostilities in Europe. It is a pity that the same will not be done for the marking of the end of hostilities against Japan. Of course, by that time in 1945, the war-weary populace of the UK just wanted to get back to normal. The European theatre was secure, the buildings and shattered lives had to be rebuilt - and Japan was a long way away.

Already this ungrateful and frankly churlish government and their equally churlish civil service aparatchiks have decreed that we will not mark VJ Day in any special way - but there is to be a big show in July to mark both. Not unnaturally, there are a lot of WWII veterans, both civilian and services, who are not terribly happy about this. Certainly the Burma Star Association, and the surviving PoW's from that theatre and the Pacific Battles that raged on as the Europeans took stock quite justifiably feel neglected and rejected.

With Russia staging a spectacular display in Red Square for their VE Day, 9th May, attended by a large number of heads of state, including, for the first time ever, a US President, our Illustrious Leader is "too busy" to attend and has sent his performing gorilla, the charming Deputy Prime Misery. He, at least, should feel at home, since he has long been an admirer of the Soviet system, praising it, in his early days as a "model workers paradise". Pity he didn't go and live there.

How quickly we forget. How easy it is to forget that Labour could not wait for the end of hostilities in the Far East before forcing the country into a General Election in 1945. One which they won with a slim majority and immediately set about squandering what little remained of the nation's assets on their socialist programmes at the expense of rebuilding the country. They won that election, as they have won all their subsequent spells in government, through assidious and covert campaigns of smear, half truths, and empty promises. Whenever they have been challenged it always reverts to attacking anyone with a better grasp of reality or a better vision of the future.

As we celebrate this anniversary of VE Day, and hopefully VJ Day in its proper place, let us also remember that this government is not, and never has been, responsible for the economic stability we have enjoyed. They inherited a sound programme and a growing economy from the last Conservative government. They have squandered it miserably. and already the signs are there that the economy is tottering towards another recession. A pity it cannot bite as hard or as deeply as it will before they get too comfy in their re-elected posts!

In defiance of this shower of ungrateful and ignorant destroyers of our nation, we should salute those who gave their lives, and their health in many cases, for our freedom. Let us use it wisely.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:23 AM

May 09, 2005

Blair's minority?

Well, our Illustrious Leader got himself and his party of closet communists re-elected, primarily because he has succeeded in re-arranging the electoral boundaries to ensure a built-in majority however the country at large votes. The only ray of sunshine in this is that already the knives are out in his own party to oust him from the Primiership and Leadership - the dark prospect is that this will put Gordon Brown into Number 10 and one of his equally "Old" Socialist chums into the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Interestingly, our political leaders and would-be movers and shakers have managed to generate the sort of apathy that is almost unimagineable to anyone who has a truly democratic system to live with. The turnout for this election is an all time low - the last time it was anywhere near as low was 1919 when there was both a massive 'flu pandemic and the fatigue and disillusionment of the post war struggle to rebuild lives and livelihoods. Blair's "majority" vote is far smaller in terms of vates cast for him or his party, the lowest of any government on record. Hardly a resounding endorsement of him, his party, or their policies!

Wait for it,though - he will claim that he does not need to hold a referendum on the EU Constitution or on joining the single currency - something he seems to have quietly ditched - because "it was in the Manifesto and the People endorsed it." That other arch traitor Peter Hain seems to have done very well out of the re-shuffle and needs to be watched - he is not a man without ambition, and power is his game and his ambition.

It will be interesting to see how this shower of usurpers and cronies portray their "victory" in the coming months. I have no doubt that they will claim that their "majority" vote is a "ringing endorsement" for every stupid and ill-conceived policy and piece of legislation from now until the next opportunity we get to throw them out. Blair claims he will listen more closely in future. I doubt that; he is a man who hears nothing but the echo of his own voice and believes that it is the voice of the nation. Worse, those who will replace him believe that they are the nation.

We are now in for a very sorry five years. Let us pray for a miraculous deliverance!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:08 AM

May 08, 2005

The lie at the heart of Whitehall.

The true colours of this government and their "caring" image are revealed in this item from the BBC. So much for "equality and fairness", so much for their proclaimed intention to give the "best health care money can buy, free and equally to all"! Even our closet communist Chancellor, Mr Gordon Brown, has now been forced to admit a bit of "smoke and mirrors" on funding the NHS - and that he will have to cut spending on it after the election.

This disgraceful proposal by the usual bunch of Whitehall whallahs, "NICE", the so-called "National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence", to restrict treatment and drugs to the elderly, betrays the fundamental dishonesty which now pervades the entire Civil Service. Typically they propose to hit the very people this hugely expensive, mismanaged, and totally unworkable monument to the incompetence of Civil Servants and politicians was set up to provide help for! Naturally they will not themselves be affected by this! Senior Civil Servants (the ones making this proposal), and the political elite who will rubber stamp it are all protected by private medical care plans. Only they can afford it - Chancellor Brown has seen to that by his raids on pension funds, incomes, and stealth taxes on savings schemes - leaving the vast majority of middle income earners unable to make these same protective provisions.

The election will have raised hopes in the minds of a small minority whose grasp of reality is always going to be suspect that somehgow re-electing Labour, or perhaps voting in more LibDems - or, even more wildly - electing a Conservative Government, would change this. It won't. Whitehall exists entirely for Whitehall's benefit and no other. The elderly, those who make a commitment to work, to pay their own way, are the very ones this bunch of thoroughly dishonest and immoral bureaucrats have no hesitation in betraying at every opportunity.

Anyone who still believes that politicians or the Civil Service (another brand of politician!) have their welfare or interests at heart needs to check the number of moons they can see in the sky. They are probably not on the same planet as the rest of us!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:29 AM | Comments (1)

May 07, 2005

The seeds that we sow?

I am fascinated by the report out today that children raised in the over-protective environment our "child welfare" society has fostered are in danger from being "over protected"! Apparently children who grow up in this sort of environment never "grow up" mentally. The result is that they are indecisive, insecure, and unable to cope in a crisis. So what will they do when the present generation of "nannying" adults have to step aside (death comes eventually to everyone, after all!) and leave the products of their protective coddling, interference, and restrictive upbringing practices?

Or, perhaps that is the agenda. After all, a population comprised of individuals who are unable to cope with any crisis, unable to make decisions, and unable to fend for themselves are much more likely to follow meekly where they are led. They will not argue with anyone in a position of authority who promises treats for good behaviour, nor will they risk being deprived of the "protection" of conforming if it means having to fend for themselves. Ready-made servants for any dictator that happens by, in fact. Or ready-made compliants for the overweaning ambitions of our illustrious leader and his cronies and their supporters in the civil service - fodder indeed for those in authority who do not like to be challenged or threatened in their comfortable ivory towers!

In like vein is the other end of the spectrum, the element who refuse to recognise any authority but their own - and are protected in this by the very people who claim to be moulding a "better and non-threatening" society. The Yobs who beat up the elderly, peddle drugs, and have uninhibited sex in public places are just as much a product of this over protective and thoroughly unnatural philosophy as the "child adults" now being turned out of the middle class "caring" homes of Islington and elsewhere on the Champagne Socialist set's circuit.

I suppose that one ray of hope is the thought that, since it is this class of intelligent cretins - the same one that is usually to be found in a huge SUV 4x4 on the school run and on the "Environment" issue march, at the "Organic" food stall, or the Vegan meeting, that will eventually produce the sort of whimped-out off-spring that will succumb to being bundled out of power, the best jobs, and consigned to history. Pity it will take a little over 35 years.

The real problem is that the likely winners will be the yobs - they will be the only ones left with the balls to take advantage and take charge!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:14 AM

May 06, 2005

Educational visits

During his stay in Kentucky, the Monk made some really good friends, friends who took it upon themselves to ensure that his education in matters alcoholic did not go unattended. In fact, they took him on a tour of distilleries! On top of this, he got a really knowledgable introduction to the finer points of American wines - Californian, and some from the local vinyards as well. There's some damned good plonk in them thar hills!

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The Monk's friends and mentors in matters Kentucky Bourbon pose at the sign for a well known brand!

The Wild Turkey was the first place we visited; however, this particular distillery does not give tasters - but they do hand out rather nice chocolates made with bourbon centres! The fumes in the fermentation rooms, the distillation plant, and then in the whiskey warehouses were enough to give one a feel for it. Photography is banned inside these premises - with good reason; a spark could touch off a very interesting fire!

Just as well the Monk did not have to sample the Wild Turkey's wares - his friends made sure he got to sample some other whiskey at the next distillery and even ensured he had some to bring home. Not a bad drop at all, and they even spell it properly! For the record the Monk is a drinker of the Irish, normally, but will in future make an exception if it's from Kentucky!

Excuse me while I go and refill my glass - good call guys; only problem is I can't get any more here!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:44 AM

May 05, 2005

Whiskey, rye whiskey, I'll drink 'til I die ...

I shall probably get shot on my next visit to Kentucky for making that reference in my title to this post! Kentucky Bourbon is "Corn Whiskey" in that it must be 51% Corn mash in its fermentation process. In fact, it must have 51% Corn AND be distilled in Kentucky to get the accolade "Kentucky Bourbon". The remaining 49% of grain is comprised of a mixture of rye, millet, and wheat grain.

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Display at the "Wild Turkey" Distillery. Below the turkey is a display showing the colour shift in cask matured Bourbon as it ages. The first on the left is uncasked, the last is a 12 year old whiskey from the cask.

This mix was first invented by a Baptist Minister as a means for treating various diseases. It must have been a popular treatment, as the distinctive flavour of a cask matured Bourbon is quite something, even for those of us raised on either the Irish (Whiskey with an "e") or the Scotch variety (Whisky without the "e"). Most distilleries were closed during the prohibition years, their output converted to "medical alcohol" where appropriate. Many did not re-open after prohibition, but those that did soon saw their markets expanding.

Visiting the Wild Turkey Distillery was fascinating; tasting it was also good! But, - as the Irish say - it is something to touch the harp gently with!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:07 PM

May 04, 2005

Of shoes and ships ....

In my commentary on the contribution of the Colonial Armed Forces to the Empire effort of the World Wars, I mentioned the unusual class of ships called "Monitors". The term is taken from the famous Eriksen design for the US Navy in the Civil War, and denotes a ship designed for close inshore support for the army. They came in various sizes and they served in a wide range of theatres - although the largest of these had originally been designed and built at the behest of Admiral "Jackie" Fisher and the then First Lord of Admiralty, one Winston Churchill. Their original intention for using these was to launch an assault on German bases in the Baltic, one theatre they never actually served in!

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The 1916-completed HMS Erebus, which served in both the First and the Second World Wars.

Smaller versions were built between 1913 and 1919 which carried either a pair of 6 inch guns or a single 9.2 inch mounting. These smaller ships drew around 6 feet of water and 17 were built for service. Two of the earlier builds, and somewhat larger although still shallow drafted at 6 feet - HM Monitors Mersey and Severn - sailed around the Cape of Good Hope from the UK to the Rufiji River estuary where they were used to destroy the German light cruiser SMS Konigsburg in 1915. They were more heavily armed with 3 6 inch guns and 2 4.7 inch howitzers, having been originally designed and built for Brazil. These two ships remained at Simonstown after this feat and were still there in 1945, being sold for scrap sometime in the 1950's. The third in the class was the Humber. and she remained in "home" waters. In all, around 18 of the smaller "M" class were built, and one is still on display in Southampton.

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HMS Abercrombie, which, with her sisters Raglan, Roberts, and two of the Lord Clive Class fought at the Dardanelles.

In an altogether different league were the next class, the Lord Clive Class consisting of eight ships all carrying a pair of 12 inch guns in a single battleship turret and with 4 6 inch gun mountings and a pair of 3 inch for air defence. These were all completed in 1915 and saw service mainly in the Belgian coastal theatre. Three, the Lord Clive, General Wolfe and the Prince Eugene carried a single 18 inch gun in a fixed mounting trained to Starboard above the Quarterdeck.

This group were followed down the launchways by the next class, the Abercrombie, Havelock, Raglan, and Roberts. These carried a pair of 14 inch guns in a single battleship turret forward with 4 6 inch mountings and two 3 inch AA guns. Again all were completed and entered service in 1915, three sailing straight out to the Dardanelles and the ANZAC beaches to replace the battleships and lend support to the troops ashore.

Two more, larger and slightly better armed and armoured, followed in 1915. These were the Marshall Ney Class comprising the name ship and the Marshall Soult. Both carried a pair of 15 inch guns in a single turret mounted on a raised barbette, with 8 4 inch guns and 3 3 inch AA. Their armour belt was increased from the 1.5 inch decks of the earlier ships to a whopping 6 inches on the belt (over engines and magazines) 13 inches on the turret face to 4 inches elsewhere on the turret, 6 inches on the conning tower, and 5 inches on the main deck.

The final class of the "big" monitors were the Erebus Class which was completed in 1916. Erebus and Terror carried a pair of 15 inch guns in the same arrangement as the Marshall Ney Class, 8 4 inch, 2 3 inch and four 12 pounder quick firing AA. Their armour went even further than the Marshall Ney's and they had extended "bulges" which increased their beam considerably for anti-torpedo protection. They were also the fastest - at 14 knots - of all the previous classes, most of which could manage 7 knots at a fast waddle! At 8,000 tons they were 2,000 tons heavier than the Marshall Neys and 3,000 more than the Lord Clives and the Abercrombies.

With the length of a large destroyer and a strange superstructure arrangement these ships looked fairly nondescript from afar, unless you noticed the fact that they had the same beam as a battleship - and the forward "superstructure" was actually a large pair of guns! This did give rise to the occassional mistake by enemy gunners who discovered too late that they had taken a very dangerous foe too lightly!

By 1939 only the Erebus and Terror remained in service, both being used for gunnery training. They were hastily refitted and sent to bolster the Mediterranean fleet, where they did sterling duty running supplies along the coast to garrisons at Tobruk and other "cut off" posts during the early stages of the desert war. At Tobruk they would enter the port at night and in darkness, offload supplies and take on the wounded, then return to Alexandria and repeat the run the following day. In between they gave the Italian Army and later the Afrika Korps plenty of headaches. Their 15 inch guns could do, and did, a lot of damage to unsuspecting enemy concentrations.

It was on a return run from Tobruk shortly before it finally fell, that HMS Terror, loaded with wounded and having fired off most of her ammunition against earlier air attacks, succumbed to an attack by dive bombers from the Luftwaffe's Desert Air Flotte. She did, however, have one last moment of glory as she stopped a major assault dead in its tracks as she left Tobruk - backwards because wrecks in the harbour made it impossible to turn her - when she laid down a very accurate ten minute barrage on the German positions with her 15 inch guns.

Her sister, Erebus, survived the war, also having had a moment of glory when escorting a convoy to Malta from Alexandria when some Italian heavy cruisers got a very bloody nose when they ran into her massive firepower. She went on to support the landings at Sicily, Anzio, and then the landings in Southern France. She ended her days at Bikini Atoll as one of the "ghost fleet" destroyed by the H-bomb. A sad end for a hard-working ship.

A final pair of monitors were built between 1939 and 1942, named HMS Roberts and HMS Abercrombie. With a pair of 15 inch guns and a modernised set of 4 inch mountings, a large selection of AA weapons and a very modern design of hull, they served at Sicily, Anzio, and then D-Day. After the war they were used as Accomodation Ships or as Gunnery Training ships. Sold eventually for scrap, they were then hired back and kept for another ten years on lease as Accommodation Ships at Chatham and Portsmouth, before finally succumbing to the breakers in the early 1970's, the last of a line of strange but useful ships.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:17 AM

May 03, 2005

Kentucky Campus

The campus at Eastern Kentucky University is extensive and full of some wonderful buildings, works of art, and interesting surprises. One thing that strikes a visitor is the cleanliness of the site and the obvious pride that has gone into the planning of the layout and the design of the buildings.

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A statue of Daniel Boone graces this open space in front of the Administration Building and the Student Centre. The statue's toe is well polished - legend has it that rubbing his toe on the way to an exam ensures a successful outcome!

Open plazas and pleasant walkways link the various departments and the style of the original architecture is preserved even where new buildings have been linked to old ones. There is an obvious pride in the university's achievements and, as you would expect, huge support for its sports teams.

EKU has a good academic reputation, and from what I saw on my brief visit there - it is very well deserved.

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

May 02, 2005

Election fatigue

The Monk is suffering from election fatigue! If he has to listen to one more mealie-mouthed politician banging on about how much better they will make the country when everyone knows that, as soon as we elect them, they will simply do as they please, he will be ready to retreat to a desert isle somewhere! Lest he be provoked into committing mass extermination of politicians!

The real problem here is that everyone now realises that we no longer live in a democracy. It is an oligarchy ruled by a political elite and the aparatchiks of the Civil Service entirely for their own benefit. There is no way that Blair can be voted out - short of every Labour supporter failing to vote - thanks almost entirely to the tribal voting in Wales, Scotland, and parts of Northern England. It is a disgrace that Labour actually hold a built in majority thanks entirely to the fact that both Wales and Scotland have a disproportionate number of seats at Westminster despite having their own Assembly (Wales) and their own Parliament (Scotland).

A recent letter to the Telegraph from a Civil Servant attempting to defend the Civil Service as "productive" and "useful" and "impartial" has to be treated with the derision it deserves. For one thing, the author has failed to understand that the prime difference between any post in commerce or industry which is "unproductive" and a similar post in the Civil Service (the vast majority!) is that the postholder in Commerce or Industry can be rendered redundant while the Civil Service postholders have "jobs for llife" no matter how incompetent or unproductive. That is what must change if the Civil Service is to regain any sort of credibility with the public. With 5.8 million Civil Servants - and rising as they add more and more completely unproductive and totally worthless posts for things like "Diversity Monitoring", among others - the Civil Service has become a political power in its own right. That is unhealthy and completely contrary to the concept of an impartial and unbiased administrative executive. Coupled with the fact that an enormous number of them seem to be Labour sympathisers or Labour Party members, one soon realises that this is yet another organisation whose allegiance needs to be questioned. It is, afetr all, these jobsworths who write the laws and the regulations which have deprived so many of their rights to justice, empowered criminals, and excluded the British culture from its own nation. It is these faceless wonders who have proposed that all of our traditional badges and symbols be banned - because they cause offence to ethnic minorities!

The Monk will be casting his vote in the election, but he is yet to decide how best to use it so that it will actually count! The "first past the post" system in force here effectively means that any vote cast for a loser in the election is a vote wasted. The system of Party Whips further ensures that your candidate seldom votes for your interests, but always for the Party line. This is not democracy in action, and it is time it was changed.

In the meantime, I will continue to evade "Party Election Broadcasts", bin leaflets, and be rude to Party workers! Sadly, the sight of that smarmy and grossly insincere grinning mask that they call a Prime Minister celebrating his "victory" on May 6th is likely to make me want to leave these shores for good. I suppose I had better start packing.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:55 AM | Comments (1)

May 01, 2005

A day in the city

The Monk has recently become a "Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Firefighters", one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. The Company is a fairly recent addition to the long and distinguished list of Livery Companies, many of which trace their foundation to the early Medieval period. Then, these Guilds were a sort of Trade Union crossed with a Trading Standards Authority and a Charitable Foundation which took care of members no longer able to work or their orphans and widows. They were then, and to an extent still are, the real power in the city.

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The Guildhall in the City of London, the seat of the Corporation of the City and home to its Guilds and Companies.

The Guildhall is still the seat of the government of the City of London - never to be confused with the Greater London Authority run by Tony's great chum, "Red" Ken Livingstone. It is in the Great Hall that the Court of Common Council meets, and it is here that the Great Council meets with the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Councilmen all deliberating the business of the City and its governance. In the great West Window are displayed the names of all the Lord Mayors dating back to the first Mayorality, and the name of Richard Whittington appears three times under the reigns of four monarchs. On either side of this great window stand replicas of the medieval "pageant" figures of the mythological "founders" of the City of London, Gog and Magog, whom legend tells us were Trojan warriors who escaped the sack and destruction of Troy and settled here.

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The Mythical "Gog" - one of the pair of "Trojan" "founders" stands guard on the West Window.

The fine hammerbeam roof (a replacement of the one destroyed by fire bombs on the city in 1941) is decorated with the armourial bearings of the Livery Companies and Guilds. There is a fine distinction between a Guild and a Company which is quite important. Both have a role in the City governance of commerce and industry, but whereas a Company's members are "Freemen", a Guild's members may become "Freemen" by election. This dates back to the days when all craftsmen were members of a guild, but may well have been indentured or "bonded" to an employer. Members of a Company, on the other hand, were men whose "freedom" lay in their ability to venture capital and conduct affairs of commerce by charter or licence, neither of which came cheaply! Thus, Richard (Dick) Whittington was a "Freeman, Liveryman, and eventually Master of the Worshipful Company of Mercers".

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Part of the "hammerbeam" roof of the Guildhall with the arms of the Companies and Guilds displayed.

The ceremony of Declaration is held in the Alderman's Court, a small modern Octagonal chamber in the annexe to the Guildhall. The new member is admitted by the Liveried Clerk to the Court, approaches the Master, bows, and reads a Declaration which includes the words:

"I will do nothing which will be detrimental to the peace of the nation, to the sovereign, or to this city ...."

Once it has been made, the new Freeman is ushered to the Master's chair and both sign the declaration. The Freeman is then introduced to the assembled Wardens and Past Masters and welcomed into the Company. He must then make a short speech of acceptance and, after bowing to the Master again, withdraws to a seat in the doorway while the next candidate makes his Declaration. It is a short, but very moving ceremony, one the Monk enjoyed and which he will recall with some pride in the future. All Freemen can be elected Liverymen and the Master is chosen by rota from the Liverymen.

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The Alderman's Court where new Freemen make their Declarations.

While their original role was to protect the interests of the trades and professions that they represented, the modern role is somewhat different. The modern Livery Company combines charitable work with research and the promotion of ideas and ideals that will benefit the trade, profession, or service - and naturally, the best interests of the public. Thus the Guild of Firefighters promotes fire protection, fire safety, and fire education. It also funds some small research projects and seeks to assist in cases of the death or injury of members of the fire services.

It may well be an old and, to some eyes, quaint hangover from the medieval, but they still perform a useful and important function. Long may they continue to do so.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:18 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack