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July 31, 2005


Ozguru of G'day Mate is to be congratulated on his selection for training to the ministry of Acolyte in the Roman Catholic Church. It is something he has long felt called to do and at long last is undergoing the training for it. Well done, Oz, you will be a real asset to your parish, of that I am very sure.

I sincerely hope that you will have as rewarding a ministry in your church as I have in mine. It is an awesome and humbling thing to minister to one's fellows and it is a very challenging one as well on occassion. It is also a question of having sometimes to juggle priorities - and that can provide some interesting challenges - but it can also provide some interesting opportunities for ministry!

As a Licensed, rather than an Ordained minister, I treasure the Licence issued to me (and still valid) from the Diocese in which I first began to be a "Reader". It begins:

"Patrick, by Divine Permission, Bishop of Bloemfontein, to our beloved in Christ Patrick ....."

Enjoy your ministry - and above all, have fun doing it!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:53 PM | Comments (1)

July 30, 2005

A deliberate slight or an oversight?

An edict from the various Ministries in Whitehall to all their outposts and to Local Authorities recently required them to fly the Union Flag at half mast on the day of the funeral of Lord Callaghan, the Labour Prime Minister who followed Lord Wilson - and who was the leader of the Labour Party which presided over the collapse of the Pound, the Labour vote, and the "Winter of Discontent".

I wonder if anyone else noted that the same edict was not issued for the funeral of Sir Edward Heath, the Conservative PM who took Britain into the EU and who managed to lose an election which allowed Labour in to completely destroy the economy by 1979? Could this be a sign that this government is now so confident that it cannot be ejected from power that it is prepared to slight everyone who is not of their exclusive little "club"? Apparently the principle of honouring all our deceased Leaders equally, regardless of their political allegiance, is now a thing of the past; only Tony's cronies and mentors can expect due honours in future.

The question must be asked; is this a deliberate slighting of Sir Edward and his contribution to our nation?

It would certainly appear to be the case - and it is then further proof that our democracy is dead.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:35 PM

I blame Ozguru

He knows I can't resist these quizzes, and he's gone and linked to three of them! Anyway, it seems for all the fact that I am born in one of the former Dominion States of the British Empire, and now live in the "Old Country", with all my European antecedents I am .....

You Are 70% American
Most times you are proud to be an American. Though sometimes the good ole US of A makes you cringe Still, you know there's no place better suited to be your home. You love your freedom and no one's going to take it away from you!
How American Are You?

Hmmm, perhaps I better have another look at my passport? Nope, it still says British! And then again ......

Your Hidden Talent
Your natural talent is interpersonal relations and dealing with people. You communicate well and are able to bring disparate groups together. Your calming presence helps everything go more smoothly. People crave your praise and complements.
What's Your Hidden Talent?

Amazing what just picking a picture can tell you about yourself. I'm not sure my staff would agree about the compliments though! Or about things going smoothly - they tend to drop things in my lap when they aren't!

And just to add insult to injury ...

Your IQ Is 135
Your Logical Intelligence is Genius Your Verbal Intelligence is Genius Your Mathematical Intelligence is Genius Your General Knowledge is Exceptional
A Quick and Dirty IQ Test

Some gaps in my general knowledge obviously - the real surprise is the Maths! Alright, I'm done .....

It's all Oz's fault anyway ......

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:22 AM

July 29, 2005

Matthew in Beirut

A mix of fun and serious comment - with a few wacky bits thrown in for the heck of it.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:35 PM

One Party State in Britain?

The news this week that Blair and his minions have managed to embed their Commissars, as Peter Hitchins calls them, in positions of power over the civil service without Parliamentary scrutiny is really bad news for democracy and for this nation. This is unconstitutional, but then this government loathes the constitution anyway, and they have used a device originally from the days of the Sovereign acting "in Council", to implant their "Special Advisers" without reference to Parliament.

They have used the mechanism of "Orders in Council" to implant their "enforcers" with powers to overrule the Civil Servants who are supposed to "manage" Departments, and impose the will (one could say whim!) of the Minister or the Party. These people have no allegiance to the Crown or to the electorate; they are purely and simply Party Aparatchiks there to create a one Party State with the Labour Party as the only embedded Party. These Orders are a device intended to be used to allow a Minister of State to bring in a Regulation to address a specific problem - usually by amending existing legislation or regulations to encompass something new which poses a danger to the public. This time the device has been used to embed Party Enforcers in the Civil Service and thus to make the Civil Service an instrument of the Labour Party. No matter that a new government might want to dismiss them - they would need to bring in new legislation to do so, - but these Aparatchiks are now in a position to dictate who holds what post and where. The perfect setup to ensure that only Labour sympathisers hold all senior posts in the Civil Service in future.

Can anyone tell me what the difference is between this tactic and the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union? Or between this and Mugabe's corrupt regime? Or between this and Hitler's Nazi administration of the 1930's? All of these had or have "placed" their enforcers within the organs of government so that no matter what the truth the only thing the public are ever allowed to know is the Party Line. Even if it were possible to change the government, and Blair has made sure through changing boundaries and manipulating the electoral constituencies that we can't, these people are now embedded and will ensure that the Civil Service is now an exctension of the Labour Party. In short, the Conservatives, the LibDems, and everyone else is now irrelevant.

Our ancient Constitution is now in ruins - and Parliament is irrelevant.

Anyone out there still believe we have a Democracy?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:47 AM | Comments (2)

July 28, 2005

At last - a voice of reason from within Islam!

A recent edition of "The Times" carried a no holds barred leader comment [full text in the extended entry] by a gentleman named Amir Taheri. I have heard of this gentleman before, and I have also heard that he is considered, by those in a position to know at first hand, to be a forthright man and a very intelligent one with his feet firmly on the ground, to boot. I am equally sure that what he has said in his lead article will not sit well with the many in his community who will find his views uncomfortable reading!

First of all, he points out that the people of Egypt staged an altogether unprecedented demonstration against the extremists in their midst. Even more importantly they prayed for and made no distinctions between those of the Muslim faith who died and those of any other in their public prayers and mourning for the dead and injured. That must have sent a shockwave of fear through the extremist clerics who hide behind the ignorant and ill-educated many who take for granted their Imam's right to lead and to interpret the Koran.

Next he lambasts the many, including the leading Muslim clerics in this country, who have issued "fatwas" against the bombings in Sharm el Sheikh, while "deploring" the bombings in London or attempting to link those and 9/11 to the usual catalogue of real and imagined Muslim grievances. As he says, they do themselves and their faith no favours by playing semantics when what is needed is a clear and distinct distancing themselves and all true Muslims from the acts of a few who follow a perverted and frankly unacceptable version of the faith.

Most interestingly he attacks the wearing of the hijab and of the khaksari dress worn by the men who think it is a sign of piety. As he points out the hijab is not a sign of Islamic faith, it is not required dress in the Koran nor is the wearing of great bushy beards by the men. The hijab is worn by women in the Arabian deserts to protect their faces and skin from the harsh desert sun and wind and was adopted and "re-invented" in the 1970's as a symbol of the militant women joining the terrorist cells then growing in the Near East. The men's garb is even worse, it has nothing to do with being a pious Muslim and everything to do with showing support for the militant ideas of the founder of modern Islamic terror, one Abu Ala al-Maudoodi. So too with the beards, an Afghani fashion adopted by the Taleban and al-Qaeda followers of the Salafi ideology, thus all those wearing the hijab, the khaksari (literally "Down to earth) and the bushy beards are in effect declaring their support for the Salafi ideologues and the al-Qaeda and taleban perversions of Islam.

As he points out, the Prophet himself never wore a bushy beard - his style was a neat Van Dyke, nicely trimmed and combed and almost all paintings of his immediate successors and followers show similar neatly trimmed beards and moustachios.

Tellingly he finishes his article by stating:

"Islam must decide whether it wants to be a faith or a political movement. It cannot be both without being highjacked by the Salafis or the Khomeinists who have transformed it into a breeding ground for terror"

Therein lies the problem, the radicalisation of the Islamic faith does not go back to the Crusades or the Western expansion, it goes back to the radicalisation of the 1970's and the Cold War powers who exploited the tensions within Islam between Salafi-ism and Wahabi-ism on the one hand and moderates of all Sects on the other. Thanks to the power politics played out between the West and the Communists, the radicals won and have re-invented the grievances of history to support their campaigns of hate and blood with only one ambition. Power.

I am heartened by the likes of Amir Taheri, but I am also saddened by the complete lack of understanding of the realities of the tensions within Islam and between radical Islam and the West that lies at the heart of the present governments inept and frankly misguided attempts to "integrate" Islam into British society. Much of what they are doing will fuel the problem instead of disarming it precisely because they are creating new divisions instead of creating new bridges.

Let us hope that the likes of Mr Taheri can help overcome the entrenched ideologies and begin to restore common sense and reason - before the world goes up in real flames over these issues!

Copyright 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd.

July 27, 2005

Beards and scarves aren't Muslim. They're simply adverts for al-Qaeda

Amir Taheri

LAST SUNDAY, hours after the terrorist attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh, a few dozen men and women gathered in front of the local town hall to vent their anger against those who had transformed the resort into a scene of death and desolation.

With cries of “No to murderers”, they invited others to join. At first many hesitated — after all, Egypt has sweated under a state of emergency for 25 years. And the ordinary citizen has little incentive to provoke either the Government or the terrorists. Nevertheless, in almost all parts of Egypt people followed the example of Sharm el-Sheikh with symbolic funerals for the 90 or so victims of the tragedy.

Remarkably, in almost all demonstrations the participants also remembered and prayed for the victims of the suicide attacks in London. For the first time crowds of Muslims were condemning terrorism without making a distinction between the victims on the basis of their faith. So, is this the beginning of the long-awaited Muslim awakening to a dark force that threatens civilised world everywhere in the name of Islam?

Sadly, the answer cannot be better than: perhaps, perhaps not. The 7/7 attacks in London inspired some sympathetic comment throughout the Muslim countries. But even then many commentators could not resist taking a swipe at Britain for having “hosted Islamist terrorists” for years. A number of self-styled clerics, including 58 Pakistanis, have issued fatwas (opinions) that, on the surface, look like a rejection of terrorism. A closer look, however, shows that they still have a long way to go before they could be taken seriously.

Some self-styled clerics, including many in the British Muslim community, have used semantic trickery to hedge their bets. They condemn the attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh but when it comes to the attacks in London, all they are prepared to say is that they “do not condone” them. More disturbingly, their statements include the usual litany of Muslim woes about Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the assertion that “our youths” are right to be angry. The more they speak the more unspeakable they become.

In some cases sophistry is at play. For example, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian televangelist based in Qatar, has issued a fatwa pronouncing as “illicit” the murder of people who have “temporary or permanent accords” with an individual Muslim or an Islamic state; such as foreigners invited to work in a Muslim country. As for Muhammad Khatami, Iran’s outgoing President, it is “illicit” to murder “innocents”. The trouble, however, is that he does not define who is innocent and who is not.

Such people use ambiguities because a blanket condemnation of terrorism would extend to attacks on Israelis and Americans, whom they do not regard as “innocent civilians”.

But Muslims everywhere need to get to grips with a phenomenon that threatens all Muslim countries and Islamic communities in the West. This requires Muslim opinion-makers to take a number of steps.

The first is to discard the notion that anyone who is not a Muslim is an “infidel” and thus not a proper human being. Next, it is important to reject the belief that, since the goal of converting mankind to Islam is a noble one, any means to do so are justified. Muslims should accept diversity and compete in the global market place of faiths through normal channels, rather than ghazvas (raids) against “infidel” centres.

Since there is no power of excommunication in Islam the terrorists cannot be formally banned from the community. But the community can distance itself from them in accordance with the Islamic principle of al-bara’a (self-exoneration). This means that a Muslim must publicly dissociate himself from acts committed by other Muslims that he regards as sinful.

One way of doing this would be to organise a day of bara’a in all British mosques — and hopefully in mosques throughout the world — to declare that terrorism has no place in Islam.

Muslims could also help by stopping the use of their bodies as advertising space for al-Qaeda. Muslim women should cast aside the so-called hijab, which has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with tribal wear on the Arabian peninsula. The hijab was reinvented in the 1970s as a symbol of militancy, and is now a visual prop of terrorism. If some women have been hoodwinked into believing that they cannot be Muslims without covering their hair, they could at least use headgears other than black (the colour of al-Qaeda) or white (the colour of the Taleban). Green headgear would be less offensive, if only because green is the colour of the House of Hashem, the family of the Prophet.

Muslim men should consider doing away with Taleban and al-Qaeda-style beards. Growing a beard has nothing to do with Islam; the Prophet himself never sported anything more than a vandyke. The bushy beards you see on Oxford Street are symbols of the Salafi ideology that has produced al-Qaeda and the Taleban.

Some Muslims also use al-Qaeda and Taleban-style clothing to advertise their Salafi sentiments. For men this consists of a long shirt and baggy trousers, known as the khaksari (down-to-earth) style and first popularised by Abu Ala al-Maudoodi, the ideological godfather of Islamist terrorism. Muslims who wear such clothes in the belief that it shows their piety, in most cases, are unwittingly giving succour to a brand of Islamist extremism.

It would also be useful if Muslim preachers paid a bit more attention to God, which means doing some theology, rather than making speeches about Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq which are, after all, political, and not religious issues. The excessive politicisation of Islam has created a situation in which the best-known Muslim today is Osama bin Laden.

Islam must decide whether it wants to be a faith or a political movement. It cannot be both without being hijacked by Salafis or Khomeinists who have transformed it into a breeding ground for terror.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:07 AM

July 27, 2005

You could not invent this stuff as fiction ....

Just got this off the FBU news site; note the thinly veiled threat by the officer - one which, 20 years ago would have landed the same officer on a charge for "abuse of authority" under the old rules which Mr Blair and his shower of cretins thought too draconian!

The stage is set for row over fire play

'Lives were put at risk'

FIREFIGHTERS in Cambridge were taken out of action Friday, 22 July, to watch a play about modernisation.

And crews at the city's Parkside fire station have hit out at bosses who, they say, put the lives of residents in rural Cambridgeshire at risk by forcing crews from village fire stations to cover for the city teams.

But fire service managers accused a few dissident firefighters of resisting vital changes to the service and rejecting out of hand positive ways of discussing controversial issues.

The play is part of an effort by fire bosses to engage their staff in a discussion on how the 'modernisation of the fire service' is proceeding. Every member of staff in Cambridgeshire will see it with showings at Cambridge Fire Station yesterday (Friday, 22 July) and on Monday.

A source at Parkside said: "We're up in arms about this - we offered to come in on our days off to receive the training, if that's what this is, but we were told we will be disciplined if we didn't go along with it. The result was that villages will be without any cover at all as both our pumping engines will be out of action, and village crews will have to come to Cambridge to cover for us."

The News attended the first showing of the play, by professional drama group Dramanon, Friday, 22 July.

It features a modern and an oldfashioned firefighter discussing the merits of modernisation.

A number watched the play Friday, 22 July, but remained quiet throughout a workshop afterwards aimed at discussing the nature of the changes they are facing.

The latest row follows revelations in the News acute staffing problems were pushing depleted resources in the service to the limit
* often forcing fire engines and rescue vehicles out of action.

Dave Warren, Cambridge district manager, said: "We have a duty to provide fire cover, and we will. We also have a duty to train our people, and we will.

"We have a responsibility to train our employees, and we expect them to attend. No workplace would allow staff to pick and choose training about new legislation which affected their roles.

"People may decide they will not participate in the discussions - that is up to them - but it is a missed opportunity to have a meaningful discussion about the modernisation of the service.

"However, if there is a situation where people feel that they can't contribute because they feel intimidated by the attitudes of a dominant few, then we are dealing with a totally different situation, which is not consistent with equality and fairness in the workplace."

He said workshops were set up "to enable a full discussion" about changes within the fire service.

23 July 2005

All I can say is that 'damagement' have some very strange ideas about how to win hearts and minds in this debate - and worse, what constitutes a "full discussion". Frankly this really betrays the fact that the management of this Brigade know they have no valid argument to support what they are doing and know they cannot win any rational debate - so out come the threats, the blackmail and the browbeating tactics. Anyone who disagrees with us is attacked as "obstructionist, racist or any other convenient -ist", they can't present a rationale for what they are doing, so they attack the person who points out the flaws. The FBU are most definitely not my favourite organisation, in fact I would generally class them as one of the real enemies of the service I have been part of and loved for more than thirty years now, but they are pussycats compared to the idiots now "damaging" the service itself!

Welcome to the modern management technique as practiced by incompetent managers everywhere.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:42 AM | Comments (1)

July 26, 2005

Skipjack DOT info

Another of my interesting reads - a man who has served at sea, knows ships and thinks on many things.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:04 PM

Which part of "Stop" didn't he understand?

The death of the Brazilian electrician at the hands of the police seems to have been a tragic end to a series of misunderstandings or perhaps even the outcome of a silly game. Some reports state that the dead man may have been playing a game with friends and thought the shouted orders to stop were from them - a failure of reality that cost him his life. By all accounts he had a very good command of English, so the language barrier does not seem to have been a problem.

Then there is some unexplained behaviour to be taken into account - not least his reported vaulting of the ticket barriers (quite feat in itself!) and running down an escalator to dive onto a train. By this stage the police were probably alarmed that he might indeed be a bomber and not a courier! He had left a building that housed a number of suspects from the earlier bombings, and when he emerged on a relatively warm day in a padded jacket it will have raised fears that he had a device hidden under it. The decision to shoot will almost certainly have been made with the very real threat in mind that if he did have a bomb the struggle, or a deliberate triggering could cause a very serious incident. So the armed officer pulled the trigger at close range and - a death ensued.

All deaths are a human tragedy, especially those which could have been avoided. I do not agree though, with the lobby that says the police should be disarmed, charged with murder and all the rest of the liberal garbage they usually spout. Dealing with terrorists is not easy, dealing with homicidal terrorists whose idea of paradise is to blow yourself up in order to win a place in a heaven populated by "perpetual virgins" is even more difficult. There is, as the Israeli's can testify, only one way to prevent a suicide bomber from blowing up his or her bomb. You shoot them in the head.

Tragically, that is what our police thought they were dealing with. They got it wrong this time, but what if they had not been wrong? What if he had been carrying a real bomb and had got onto that train and blown it up?

Perhaps this is something those who are now claiming to have been "traumatised" should consider. My sympathies lie with the dead man's family and with the police officers who had to make a snap call under extremely fraught conditions. No one wants to see another person die, least of all a policeman, but sometimes that is what it takes to keep everyone else alive.

We should all pray for the victim, the victim's family - and especially for the policeman who pulled the trigger. They will all need our prayers in the coming days.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:50 PM | Comments (1)

Practical Penumbra

It was the title that first drew me to this blog, but it is the commentary on life, particularly the life of a cinema manager and her staff that keep me coming back. Oh, and the piratical kitten in the Title Strap.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:06 PM

Rev'd Mike's House of Homiletic Hash

Rev'd Mike is an interesting commentator on religion, politics, theology and life in general.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:03 PM

An Englishman's Castle

Tim, a quintessential English Farmer and commentator on life in "Cool Britannia".


Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:01 PM | Comments (1)

The move now accomplished ....

As those who stumble on this new addition to Munuvia will have realised, the Monk has been moved from his former domus at Guru-International, to the Blogland of Munuvia and is now settling in nicely. Even his Blogroll is being rebuilt (Memo to self - Find parchment with original links on it!).

At present the old link will still work and visitors will be transferred to the new site in the manner of Star Trek and the transporter device, but that will come to an end when Guru closes down permanently in the next few weeks. If you are a frequent visitor and intend to stay in touch, please update your blogroll and your bookmarks to the new web address.

Thanks, I'll look forward to seeing you all in my new place!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:15 AM


An interesting mix of views on politics, events, religion and even some fiction.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:14 AM

The Laughing Wolf

Another frequent read - and another of the Lupine family!


Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:08 AM

On The Third Hand

Proud members of the League of Bellicose Women and Men. What more can one say?


Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:05 AM

Dusting my Brain

Another of my frequent reads, frequently funny and thought provoking.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:01 AM

Da Goddess

Often acerbic, frequently funny.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:37 AM

Cynical Cyn

A lady with an interesting view on many things


Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:36 AM

All agitprop all the time

A guy who frequently makes me chuckle.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:32 AM

Byzantium's Shores

A read I enjoy from time to time


Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:29 AM

July 25, 2005

Entry Number 800

It seems strange to think that this is the 800th entry I have typed into this blog since I started blogging in November 2003. It's all Ozguru's fault!

I have made a lot of good friends since then, and I hope I have also given a few of you a little to laugh at, to think on, or simply to enjoy. It is fun; it's also quite demanding and very time consuming one way or another, but it is very cathartic in that I can at least share my hopes, fears, and frustrations with whoever bothers to read my ramblings.

So, for a bit of fun, let me share a joke I heard recently:

Indian Joe walks into a diner, dragging a reluctant bull bison. He orders a coffee, sits at the counter and drinks it, then pulls out a rifle and shoots the bison at pointblank range and walks out.

Next day he's back with a fresh bison. The staff are still redecorating from the day before and when he orders a coffee again one of them says, "Hey Joe, what's this all about? Can't you see we're still cleaning up from yesterday?"

He replies, "Sure! But I'm on a Senior Management Course, and I'm doing my practical exercises! I have to walk in, order coffee, shoot the bull, and leave to let everyone else clean up the mess!"

Thanks for dropping by. The next 800 entries may be of higher quality!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:44 AM | Comments (2)

July 24, 2005

Abbey under repair

The Monk's beloved Abbey is showing its age in a number of ways, not least in decaying stone on the West and North faces of the tower and on the North and South Transepts where originally the walls were protected by "Out Buildings". This stone must now be repaired or replaced, and the Abbey cngregation faces the task of raising around £2.5 million to do it. It won't be a short task either; the tower (the highest Norman Tower in England at 135 feet) is slowly dissappearing under scaffolding both internally and externally. This will remain in place for at least the next six years while stone masons carefully cut out the decaying stone and replace it with new.

Fortunately the Abbey was built with local sandstone - from Stanton Quarry near Stanway - and we can get and match the stone perfectly, as a result. Already the surveys have been done, and we know exactly what must be renewed, what replaced, and plans have been made to tackle it in stages which will undoubtedly reveal other lurking defects. This was certainly the case when we tackled the repair of the great West window - £25,000 of releading, cleaning and resetting turned into nearly £250,000 - when it was discovered that the stone mullions were crumbling and being split apart by wrought iron rods installed in the 16th Century to fix the window in place!

So, we are launching an Appeal. This will be managed by a professional campaign manager and will be targeted mainly at financial institutions, charities who look after ancient buildings, and wealthy donors. Of course the congregation will be making their own contribution as well; we have a target of £250,000 for ourselves to raise, no easy task as we are almost all working folk who have other demands on our funds as well. Many think that the government pays for or, at least maintains, the building. They don't; we have to pay for everything ourselves with the help of a group known as "The Friends of Tewkesbury Abbey", whose sole purpose is to maintain the fabric of the building and its contents. Everything else is the responsibility of the Church Wardens and the congregation.

Given that this is one of England's best kept and important historical buildings, (It was the last Abbey to be dissolved and is the only one bought by the townspeople and preserved in its entirety), it is worth keeping and supporting. Perhaps we can even shame the "Heritage Lottery Fund" into coming up with some cash to support the changes we must make to provide for the disabled and wheelchair users - something the Norman architects didn't consider at all.

So, I am making an appeal to all who read this to give us a hand with this. Even the "Widow's Mite" will be useful; it all adds up remarkably quickly once the ball starts to roll. Even if you don't want to make a donation, buying something from the Abbey Shop - some of its goods are now available online - will give us a boost as well.

I can certainly commend to you the two DVD's entitled Deo Gratias and Welcome to Tewkesbury Abbey, both the work of a resident film-maker and member of the congregation which tell you about our life and work in the Abbey Parish and the money from these goes entirely to the Abbey's funds. Even your prayers will be of help.

Thank you all.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:28 PM

July 23, 2005

Undermining the Armed Forces

Another of Mr Blair's grand ideas coming home to bite him is his eagerness to sign up to the "International War Crimes Court" or whatever grand title this idiotic offshoot of the UN is called. Now that he has signed up to it, he had to quickly introduce legislation in our own parliament or allow our treasonous legal beagles to drag our troops into a foreign court at every opportunity. So now we have another piece of meddling legislation which allows charges to be brought by enemies against our troops for doing their job in a war zone and as a cover up for the real guilt which lies right in the heart of Whitehall - in Downing Street, the Palace of Westminster, and in the Ministry buildings of Whitehall. It is these people who should be in court and not the soldiers they are so free to throw at every conflict they can find.

The US had the good sense to refuse to sign up to this, and the even better sense to hold onto the principle of having separate Military Law and Justice. Not so Mr Blair and his shower of cretins - "Civil Law" is better than Military Law and can cover everything Military Law can. That is as may be; what it can never address is the lack of competence in Civil or Criminal Courts to test decisions or actions made on a battlefield under battle conditions - and the ending of formal fighting in enemy territory is far from being the end of hostilities! As Iraq has proved, it is only the beginning of a new phase - but that is not what Whitehall or the gravy train passengers of Westminster would ever understand.

So now we have the spectacle of civilian lawyers trying to press charges against soldiers serving in Iraq and against their commanding officer, a holder of the Distinguished Service Order, usually awarded for exceptional bravery in the face of the enemy - under this cockamamie Act for "War Crimes". And the smirking civil servants behind it are the ones who should be in the dock alongside Blair - for high treason.

As some distinguished Noble Lords, all ex-Chief's of the Defence Staff, said last week, this will undermine morale, it will undermine recruiting, and it will undermine discipline. But, perhaps that is what Whitehall and Blair want. After all, it will be much easier to roll over and surrender to the terrorists if we have no armed forces to call on, won't it.

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

July 22, 2005

The Bombers are back

Exactly two weeks to the day since the last set of bombs in London, we had another set. In fact only the day before, the last underground carriage, the one from Russell Square/King's Cross, was removed for further forensic examination - and now the psychopaths have struck again. Or perhaps that should be, have attempted to strike again.

This time they seem to have got their bombs wrong, but it is worth noting that they nearly got away with it again, albeit that at least one of them didn't particularly want to go up with his device. He threw it into the train and ran for it! Big, brave, bomber? No, bigoted, cowardly, murderer. Interestingly the people on the station gave chase and I cannot help but wonder what they would have done if they had caught him.

Somehow another man got very, very close to Number 10 with a fire arm - but by then the police were thicker than flies on a manure pile and we were treated to TV images of them arresting him with guns drawn, cocked and ready. That'll give Mrs Blair and her colleagues in the "Human Rights" gravy train lots to rant about and to plead about in court - at huge fees paid by the British taxpayer. No doubt they will find some way to say that this idiots "rights" have been breached by the public way he was stopped and arrested.

The pigeons are definitely coming home to roost for this government and their Civil Service cronies. The Human Rights Act has opened doors for every murderer and terrorist to abuse this country's laws to enter through the loophole of the "asylum" system. This is a joke, pure and simple as we have just learned when a leaked report shows that over a quarter million "failed" asylum claimants are still here - and unlikely to be removed. Other restrictions on the police and the immigration - and the moronic imposition of the policies which "prefer" people from non-Christian and non-caucasian backgrounds has opened our borders to an unprecedented influx of escapees from every unstable regime on the planet.

Now Mr Blair is having to resort to measures to restrict civil liberties and adopt methods for the prosecution of these murderous twits with their bombs and guns that a very short while ago he and his party were fighting to prevent. Now he wants to allow the use of telephone taps in court - previously forbidden - and a raft of other restrictions, including the banning from entry of anyone who has written or published anything that could be designated likely to "stir up or incite terrorism."

Funny how, just a few years ago this same shower of cronies were falling over themselves to call terrorists "freedom fighters" and welcoming them into Britain. Funny how things change - especially when you see how some of those same "freedom fighters" now treat the populations Mr Blair and his party aparatchiks helped to put under them. Robert Mugabe is a good example.

We have not seen the last of the bombers, nor have we seen the last that Blair and his cronies will put in place in their desperation to stop them. As the Chinese saying goes, "He who sows dragons teeth; must deal with the dragon when it springs up, fully grown." Somehow I don't think Blair has the stuff required to take on dragons.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:43 AM | Comments (1)

July 21, 2005

Steam tractors anyone?

Like modern trucks, cars and tractors, steam traction engines came in a variety of shapes and sizes for an equal variety of purposes. One that is almost "multi-purpose" is the steam tractor, and it is easy to see where the modern farm tractor got its shape and basic design from!

Traction power.JPG
A younger entrant drives a powerful quarter sized tractor into the arena.

One drawback was the weight and the fact that they could not be readily used in ploughed lands or over soft ground - so a variant of this is the steam plough which carries a large cable pulley under its belly and a large drum of cable. Two of these set up on either side of a field could pull a plough, guided and steered by a seated man riding it, back and forth across a field - and suddenly modern farming is possible!

Traction power 2.JPG
Giving every impression of its power, a half sized model steam tractor rumbles toward the show arena.

There were several models of the "plough" variant at the show - unfortunately I could not get a picture that showed the plough mechanism! Never mind, there's always next year!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:11 AM | Comments (2)

July 20, 2005

Tracked traction?

Some unusual traction engines turn up at this rally from time to time and the one in the photograph below is no exception. It is, despite its "battleship grey" paint scheme, actually a replica (half sized) of a traction engine built for Canadian Lumberjacking Companies. It obviously was a useful engine because photographs I have of my grandfather's unit of the Royal Garrison Artillery have something remarkably similar (but a lot bigger) stood behind their 7.2 inch Howitzers!

Log hauler.JPG
Looking remarkably like the gun tractor it either was, or became, this half sized replica is of a traction engine used to haul logs in Canada.

The "tracked" wheel system on this unit has obvious advantages in soft or loose ground such as would be found in forests or off "made" roads. I suspect that this technology was probably considered as soon as someone decided to build a mobile armoured gun and troop platform!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:02 PM

July 19, 2005

Inspiration from the past

I must thank Byzantium's Shores for the link and comment they left on my post regarding the bombs in London. I must also thank him for the text of the speeches by Henry V and Winston Churchill. They may have been centuries apart, but they certainly capture the spirit of the English when someone takes them on in order to destroy the things they hold valuable.

They still inspire today and should send a warning to all those who think they can frighten us or threaten our culture or our heritage. We may be tolerant in the extreme, but there comes a time when we will go no further. Mr Bin Laden and his supporters and the appeasers may be about to discover that the limit has been reached.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:55 PM

July 18, 2005

Military action and civilian law

The recently collapsed prosecution of a young soldier for actions taken in the heat of battle in Iraq flags up the very real problem of the military being judged and "managed" by incompetent morons who have never, and will never, wear a uniform or defend their country. The MoD's legal wizards decided, after a military investigation had already recommended no further action, to try to bring a prosecution in the Old Bailey against a soldier for doing what he considered necessary under threat of enemy action.

It is gratifying to see and hear some very senior and very experienced old soldiers, sailors, and airmen now gracing the House of Lords, as they attacked the government for its determinedly crass and plain bl**dy stupid efforts to undermine the morale of every single uniformed member of the armed forces. Mr Blair and his chums are quick to hide behind the troops when they need to, and very quick to take the credit for the work these lads do under appalling conditions, with frankly poor equipment and under threat of constant reviews and cuts. Our fleet is now woefully under strength, our army is dependent on the Part-timers of the Territorials to meet its commitments, and the Airforce has more transports than frontline fighters and bombers, yet Mr Blair and his cronies have "reviewed" defence budgets and strength downwards every year since they came to power - and they are at it again.

Yet, the same sauve Minister who assured "My Noble Lords" that the country had never been better defended, was unable to answer the challenge of a retired Admiral who threw down the gauntlet and demanded to know whether or not the civilian lawyers who now infest the MoD were aware of the damage to morale done by their lack of understanding of the realities of a battlefield rather than the niceties and luxury of being able to cerebalise events in a court room. All the Minister could do was bleat that "The MoD's legal advisers have learned a great deal from this experience."

The Admiral's quiet "I bet they have!" was all but missed as he gave a grim laugh at this response!

After all, we are talking about the same bunch of utterly worthless and incompetent Whitehall Wallahs who cut spending on the armed forces to "save money" and "pay for improved frontline equipment" (The boots that melted in the desert and the rifles that stop working if it gets too hot or too dusty!), cut the Fleet from 104 ships to 89, and then spent the equivalent of the price of a newbuild Type 45 Destroyer on "refurbishing" their office block and buying special chairs at ?1,500 each for the 3,000 papershufflers who now fill it. I never ever thought I would see the day come when I live in hope that the senior officers of the Army, Navy, and Airforce tell their political masters and the civil service cretins who carry out the damage, to "fight your own damned wars or go and keep the peace in Baghdad yourselves, our boys and girls are coming home and you bastards can clear up your own mess!" Sadly, they will not, because their professionalism and their sense of duty will not permit them to mutiny, for that is what it would be.

Civil law is not and never has been the way to judge the actions taken on a battlefield. To even consider doing so is little short of lunacy; no civilian lawyer, no matter how intelligent is ever going to be able, in the dry and rarified atmosphere of a courtroom, to understand the pressures on a young man or woman in the heat and stress of battle. That is not to say we should permit or overlook atrocity; I am saying that civilian courts and lawyers are not competent to judge it!

All power to the noble Lords who have stood up and defended the troops. Let us hope that they have started the first stones rolling of an avalanche which will drive these parasitic civil servants and their equally worthless political cronies out of power! At least let us start by throwing out the cretins who decided to bring this prosecution in the first place - identify them and sack them. Their actions have done untold damage to our troops' morale, and they have undermined the excellent work of the services under conditions that are entirely the responsibility of Whitehall! Let them pay the price with their cushy jobs - the troops are paying with their lives!

Si vis pacem, para bellum!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:31 PM

July 17, 2005

Damned spam!

The quaint and supposedly Arabian curse comes to mind in relation to the spammers currently bombarding my blog - upwards of 80 Trackback Pings a day - which I have spent well over four hours stripping out of entries.


May the flees of ten thousand desert camels infest their most delicate regions - and their fingers turn to claws as they try to scratch!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:52 PM

July 16, 2005

Common Sense Has Died

This was far too good not to spread further. I found it on a UK-based union Chat Room/News Website. Someone has hit the nail on the head - my thanks go to the person who posted it on the News Site - one Miss Whiplash, believe it or not!

Common Sense Has Died

To Whom It May Concern,

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Mr. Common Sense.

Mr. Sense had been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.

He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm and that life isn't always fair.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn) and reliable parenting strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

His health began to rapidly deteriorate when well intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place: reports of a six-year boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, these only worsened his condition.

Mr. Sense declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer aspirin to a student; but, could not inform the parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Finally, Common Sense lost his will to live as the Ten Commandants became contraband; churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense finally gave up the ghost after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot, she spilled a bit in her lap and was awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son Reason. He is survived by two stepbrothers; My Rights and Ima Whiner. Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If you still remember him, pass this on; if not, join the majority and do nothing.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:55 PM | Comments (3)

July 15, 2005

Icons of our age?

Four images stand out from the weekend just past.

First, the ongoing saga of clearing up and investigating the bombings in London. The images of emergency services and police working on the surface will be as nothing to the scenes underground as they try to penetrate the debris of the blast in the deep tunnel beneath Russell Square. With no trains running there is no ventilation, so heat and fumes - and Carbon Dioxide levels - will be rising steadily. Even using fans to force air into the tunnels will have little effect unless some really big ones are sited at several points and run continuously at full power. Even then, the conditions in which the search and recovery teams, and now the forensic examiners are having to work will be horrendous.

Second, the images of huge pantechnicons carrying the remains of Muslim men, women and children from the mass graves around Srebrenica where a decade ago over 700 were murdered in a UN "Safe Zone", and the world is still not sure what the final toll really is. At least these bodies have all now been identified and given decent burial in a specially prepared site with a memorial. The leaders of this outrage are still at large and have yet to be brought to justice.

Third, another suicide bombing in Bagdhad killed another 20 Iraqi citizens early on Sunday morning, bringing back into focus the fact that genocide and murder in the name of a cause is still with us - only the places and the faces change. That said, the bombers in Iraq are now fighting their own people as much as anyone else because they do not share the vision of a free and fair society in that benighted country.

What this really all boils down to is power. Who has it and who exercises it. The bombers and murderers want to seize it so they can impose their vision of a perfect society on everyone else, and to take power away from everyone who disagrees with them. This is the stuff from which dictatorships are born.

The Battle of Britain flight over The Mall and Buckingham Palace - at the centre the Lancaster Bomber, flanked on her left by a Spitfire and on the right by a Hurricane.Courtesy of and by The Daily Telegraph

The Fourth image must be the sight of the crowds in the Horse Guards Parade as the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh reviewed the veterans who fought the dictatorships led by Hitler, Mussolini, and Japan. Most of these men are now in their late 70's or early 80's, yet they managed to represent the quiet determination which is still visible in their descendents as they, in their turn, face up to those who use terror and tyranny to suppress those whom they disagree with. There can be very few sights (or sounds) to equal that of a Lancaster bomber escorted by a Spitfire and a Hurricane as they thunder up The Mall above central London, then the bomber's bomb doors open and a cascade of red poppies drop from the sky - over a million of them.

Poppies instead of bombs. The Poppy has been a symbol of the slain since the end of the First World War - and is itself an icon "In Flanders fields the poppies grow, Between the crosses, row on row .... "Courtesy of and by The Daily Telegraph

In each generation it seems we must continue the fight against men and women whose greed for power has corrupted their minds and their thinking to the point where they can justify any act of evil as "for the greater good" or even as "the will of God". Neither statement is ever true, yet it is seductive - especially to those who feel excluded or threatened.

If we are ever to break this cycle of viciousness, violence, and - yes - pure evil, we need to address the root causes of exclusion and embitterment. We need to find ways to share scarce resources and to involve all our peoples in an informed way in the business of government. Barriers need to be removed, not created by faceless bureaucrats and self-important politicians, and there needs to be much more accountability for the actions of the ruling elites - and that includes the civil servants everywhere.

So, I leave you with the images of our present age - the terrorist bombs, the genocide - and the proud veterans who have stood against tyranny - and the Poppies of the Slain. We must never betray the sacrifices that have been made to keep the world free, but we must also find better ways to keep it free!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:34 AM

July 14, 2005

Waking up to responsibility

It is encouraging to hear and see the leaders of the Muslim community here in Britain, and many of their community actually condemning the bombings in London. The leader of the Muslim Council of Great Britain has joined a platform of Christian leaders, politicians, and other religious figures to express outrage at the bombings - even going so far as to declare that the bombers "are not following Islam" when they carry out such attacks on innocent people.

On the streets there is a real fear among Muslims that the likes of the BNP will use this as an excuse to attack anyone who does not meet their ideas of "Britishness". That fear is well founded, and such attacks are to be condemned, the perpetrators caught and punished - this is not the appropriate response to an act of barabarism carried out by misguided fanatics who are no more representative of the Muslim population than the BNP is of the population of Britain.

It was interesting this morning to hear a young Muslim woman saying on TV that she felt it was right that Muslims should defend one another and support the struggle for recognition and their religion - but at the same time declaring that the bombers were soiling the name of Islam. She represents the dichotomy that all adherents to Islam face - the Koran specifically commands that they support and defend each other against "the infidels". It also states categorically that no "believer" - ie; any Muslim - is bound to give allegiance to any "infidel" or any government of "infidels". In other words, and this is enshrined in the Sharia Law, any Muslim living in a non-Muslim country owes it no allegiance. This is a major reason why, in any Muslim country, you will find no Christian (or any other religion) in the Civil Service or in any position of authority over any Muslim.

This seems, at last, to be penetrating the collective consciousness of the majority of British Muslims, you cannot enjoy the benefits of living in a country without respecting its legal system and the rights of all those who share the country with you. It is a small step, but it is an important one, nonetheless. For this is at last a recognition that this creation of a society within a society simply fuels distrust and creates divisions.

There is still a long way to go on this yet, and I suspect that there will be many more incidents to deal with before the rank and file of Islam begin to reject and expel the fanatics among their number who refuse to accept that the world is no longer in the 7th Century and is not prepared to go back to it.

We should not forget, either, that it is not just Muslim fanatics who are a threat - all those who hide behind fundamentalist religion of any sort - Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or anything else - are a threat to peace, to harmony among the nations, and an affront to God. I welcome the expressions of horror and disgust from the religious leaders, and applaud the Muslim leaders particularly. They are risking more than anyone else, given the entrenched fanaticism that they must try to moderate.

Let us hope that sense and God prevail against these evil acts.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:32 AM | Comments (1)

July 13, 2005

Responding to hatred

Sometimes when I have to write a sermon I find myself struggling. The words just do not fit what I need to say, the images in my mind are not the ones that should be leaping to the fore, and the message is not the message I think it should be. Perahps that is a reflection of my own spiritual state, perhaps of my own prejudices. Perhaps it reflects my own doubts, uncertainties, and fears. Prayer and inspiration born of desperation often saves me from this, but this week has really presented a few challenges!

I preached at Evensong on Sunday - and this sermon was a tough one to shape.

How does one respond to hatred on the magnitude reflected by those who hope to bomb their way into God's favour? How does one respond to those who suggest that "love" will cure even this hatred. What are Christians supposed to do under these circumstances.

None of the answers are easy, and sometimes there simply isn't a direct answer. My sermon, such as it is, can be read in the extended post!

7th Sunday after Trinity 2005

Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?

May the Lord be in my mouth,
May He be in my mind,
And in my understanding;
For Jesus Christs sake.

I am sure that many of you were as distressed and dismayed as I was when the news began to filter through of the terrible events this week in London. I suspect that you, like me, felt enormous anger at the perpetrators of this senseless act of mass murder, for that is what it is, and despair for those killed and injured. For myself, I can say that there was an anxious few hours following the news before I received confirmation that both my son and elder daughter had not been directly involved in any of the incidents. It is at times like this that one is tempted to use Davids question in a different sense to that which it has in our lesson this evening.

Recently I read an article by a Rabbi, who postulated that we Christians have got Christs message wrong. Nowhere, says the Rabbi, does the Bible, or Christ in the New Testament, tell us we have to tolerate or love evil. Nowhere does He tell us to forgive evil. The commandment is to love one another, and to love our enemies, not Gods and not someone elses but our own.

Now this flies in the face of the understanding we have and which is described in books such as The foolishness of God. We are taught that we must not hate anyone or anything especially those who wish us ill. But is this really what the Gospels tell us to do? I will stick my neck out and say that I do not think that is what Christ tells us; I think the Rabbi has a point.

I may feel compassion, no, I should feel compassion, for those misguided individuals who fall into the trap laid by the Devil, and succumb to the temptation to use violence to achieve their twisted and warped vision of Gods Will. Perhaps I should see them as the victims of those men and women whose understanding of God is so twisted and warped by their own personal desire for power that they will use the gullible and the simple-minded to perpetrate these despicable acts of violence in the name of God. Perhaps I should feel a Christian compassion, but it is difficult to do so not least when some of your own loved ones are standing exposed to this danger.

This came to a head again for me on Thursday, when faced with the real possibility that my son and elder daughter could well be among those affected.

These are not new problems; these are, indeed, the same problems Christians and the Jews themselves have had to face since God first revealed Himself to our forefathers. No doubt our children will face similar challenges in their time and their children after them. When we look at the story of King David, we find a man who was himself at one time a terrorist, hunted by King Saul and his men and fighting a guerrilla war to stay out of the Kings clutches. In his own reign David faced similar problems with some of his own sons, yet the key element is there for us if we choose to see it. Forgiveness comes from the wronged in each case. Saul forgives David after David spares his life in the wilderness, David forgives his son when the two meet in battle. The interesting point about both is that there is acknowledgement of injustice and of right on both sides more interesting is what is missing from the story. Neither King hated their rebellious adversary, therefore the operating emotion is anger tinged by sadness not the blinding anger engendered by hatred.

Hatred is, in my understanding, the true mark of evil. Hatred is not just the opposite of love; it is the absence of love. True hatred leaves no room for compassion, no room for mercy, no opportunity for reconciliation. Worse, it eats into the person bearing the hatred, poisoning them and doing as much harm to them as it does to those they hate. This is where the Rabbi and I disagree. I do not believe that God calls upon us to hate the evil doer; I do believe that He calls upon us to resist evil in all its forms. To shun it and to hold it in revulsion, possibly even, if one of you were to do me some harm, to forgive you that act, but I cannot forgive on your behalf or you on mine. Equally, I cannot forgive the enemies of God because they are Gods enemies, and He will deal with them as He sees necessary. This is where I disagree with the author of The foolishness of God.

Davids prayer in tonights reading arises from his relief at being given a breathing space from the enemies that beset him from within and without the Kingdom. Just as we are now beset by the threat of violence by those who loath and despise us, who loath and despise our way of life and our understanding of God, so we should pray to God for guidance in how He would wish us to respond and how He would wish us to rise above the temptation to hate. It would be very easy to fall into the trap of hating everyone associated by religion or race, with the bombers and it would be terribly wrong to do so.

It is perhaps fitting that this weekend we are also marking the end of hostilities in the last great global war, a war fought to free the world from the sort of evil that arises whenever man submits to hating others. Perhaps then it is not so strange that we see a rival of the concept of the hero who can go out and battle, day after day, night after night, destroying evildoers wherever they encounter them without ever themselves becoming evil. This idea that we can have some super human someone with powers transcending the ordinary and who is absolutely just and absolutely good. This is a theme explored in many science fiction films and stories and it ignores an important weakness. If you hate, even if you hate evil, there is a very fine line between doing good by destroying the evil and becoming yourself a part of the evil. This is a part of the theme in the Star Wars story the Dark Lords must first be Jedi Knights in order that they can be subverted through anger into the powers of darkness through rage and hatred.

The events of Thursday have been a terrible reminder that we live in a world torn by faction, torn by greed and desire for power. Within that is the hand of the Devil using the weak, using the angry, and using those without knowledge and true understanding of God to bring pain, death, and, yes, hatred to us all. We must resist that. While we may find it difficult to understand these terrible acts, while we may wish to see revenge through justice or even through military action, we must remember that the Evil One is Gods enemy. We must shun him and his works, trust in God, and have compassion for those who have given themselves to the power and to acts of evil, without giving ourselves to hatred.

Much as a part of me wants to see these evil men and possibly women punished by God for their actions, I know, indeed, it is my only hope that God is compassionate and may forgive even one of these who repent of their crimes. I would not wish to find myself in Jonahs shoes as God reminded him of that fact outside Nineveh.

Our calling as followers of Christ is to find ways to do Gods will and work. He has called us to His service, not as His armed response unit. Our response to the events of this week must be compassion for the victims, compassion for those so lost to evil that they believe that they and they alone have right on their side, but firmness of purpose and firmness of resistance to the temptation to descend into hatred.

I will never love any terrorist. I find them and their methods, irrespective of their cause or the rightness of their cause, utterly repugnant. Nor can I ever find it in me to forgive them their actions and the pain and misery they wreak in the name of their cause. But I may show them compassion for their separation from the love of God and His mercy.

As we heard in our second reading, as Jesus approached Jerusalem he wept over it, for He knew what was to come. He knew what awaited Him at the hands of its rulers and its citizens yet He still had compassion for them. To me it is clear from the passage we heard tonight that Jesus feels sorrow, compassion, for the people of Jerusalem, He has offered them the opportunity to turn from their abuses and have the forgiveness so freely given, yet it is also clear that they wont.

As David prayed, so must we pray;

Lord what am I to you, and what is my family, that you have brought me to this? Davids prayer is one of hope, he sees an opportunity to do something for God, something which will also help to establish his people firmly. The building of the temple was as much a political statement of determination as it was an act of worship.

If we are to overcome the forces of evil that underlay the acts of hatred we have seen this week, we must be firm in our faith and show by our actions our determination to continue unhindered and above all not succumbing to their debased level. We should pray; What do you wish us to do, and how do you wish us to address the suffering in our midst that gives rise to the hatred which fuels these acts of evil?

Today is the day that I mark as the anniversary of my having first encountered God, the beginning of my spiritual journey in this great faith, yet I mark it again with more questions than I have answers. I can only pray that God will provide them as I need them.

Let us pray.

Lord, in your mercy, give to us your servants understanding, compassion and the knowledge of your will that we may be your servants and serve you as you would have us serve; we ask this in the name of your only Son, our saviour, Jesus Christ.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:01 AM | Comments (3)

July 12, 2005

A moral argument or yet another anti-enterprise stunt?

I have no doubt that Bob Geldof and his fellow "artistes" meant very well and do feel very strongly about what they see as the "immorality" of the "Developed World" and the poverty in Africa. What they simply refuse to acknowledge is that it is a far more complex issue than simply "fair trade", whatever that may be, or "making poverty history"! I do find it very interesting that here are a group of people whose fortunes have arisen from their ability to earn obscene amounts of money from their "talents" in our rather effete and self-indulgent society, who seemingly honestly believe that they and their vast wealth can be sustained while everyone else must pay the price of transfering wealth from our societies to those, they seem to be saying, that we have "stolen" it from.

There seems to be a belief that all trade is inherently unfair, that enterprise, that wealth generation, is somehow at the root of all the world's problems. It is this simplistic approach which sees our benefit-subsisting "rent-a-mob" beseiging the G8 summit and deliberately seeking to disrupt the lives and the towns they descend upon in order to disrupt the meeting of this important group. Mind you, it must also be recognised that the members of the G8 Group have contributed to this sort of anarchist approach by creating a political system in which, once they are elected, they feel they can safely ignore all the voices in the electorate.

What I find most disturbing about all of this is that the moralism of the Pop Culture is, at best, shallow and based on assuaging personal guilt feelings. These pop stars feel that they are above the common herd and, as a result of their transient popularity, also feel that they can speak for their adoring fans. Well, let them give back to their fans the obscene wealth they strip from ordinary wage earners with the inflated prices of their concerts, records, tapes, and CDs. Let's see them give some of the vast fortunes that allow people like the Beckham's (Posh Spice and her footballer husband) to own several mansions in several countries, to earn obscene amounts of money for entertaining "the masses".

Why do I detect the reek of the last days of ancient Rome in this? There, too, in the closing days of the Roman Empire, the gladiators suddenly became the "pop stars" earning huge fortunes and buying up huge estates from impoverished families.

Frankly, the circus of rent-a-mobs that go around the world these days attempting to prevent/disrupt or simply create mayhem on the grounds that they wish to point out the "immorality" of the G8 and that "globalisation" is an abuse of our much vaiunted "freedom" of expression. This shower of cretins would not have the liberty nor the "dole-in-pocket" to do this if we were not the affluent society we are.

Yet there is also a warning here, one our so-called leaders are reluctant to admit. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, now so often portrayed by the liberal left as having "enslaved" the "working classes", each subsequent generation has been able to look forward to a better standard of living to that enjoyed by their parents. That is no longer the case; the trend is now inexorably reversing. My children will, in all probability (unless they can pull off a meteoric transition to pop stardom or become - God forbid - politicians!) enjoy a lower standard of living to that I have enjoyed - and worked damned hard for in the face of stiff opposition from the likes of Mr Blair and his fellow "Socialists!". They, in their turn, will almost inevitably also enjoy a better standard of living to that their children can expect. One reason for this is almost certainly the fact that there are now far too many people chasing too few real jobs and too few opportunities for improvement.

Basically, if you are born into one of the small number of global families who control 70% of the world's wealth - you're OK. If not, you're on a slippery slope which will only get worse as the likes of Bob Geldof and his well-meaning fellow musicians grab the attention of the politicians (who now have a nice niche in controlling access to and retention of wealth) and devise new ways to strip the hard working and tax-paying population of as much as they can to "redistribute" it into the Swiss Bank accounts of all the tinpot dictators such as Mugabe.

Personally, when I see the Swiss Bank accounts of these thieves who masquerade as "Presidents" and their cronies emptied and the money returned to the national economies they have stolen it from, when I see the likes of Bob Geldof and his fellow "touchy-feelys" actually setting up hospitals, creating jobs, and building schools, I might be more inclined to support their efforts. As things stand, I do not think that forgiving African Debts and pouring in more "aid" will change the root cause of the problem. The African lands are overpopulated and unable to support themselves with food production. The assets of these nations have been stripped and deposited in the personal bank accounts of the small rulling elites installed by the likes of Blair and other "liberal" Left wing politicians - who now refuse to acknowledge their complicity.

When those assets are returned to the people of Africa (most of which came from Western Government Aid, anyway!) and the infrastructures of these countries start to get the benefit of that injection of cash - then, and only then, should more money flow. Giving more food is not the right answer, either. We can feed a man today for today, but if we give him the means to take care of himself we give him both dignity and the means to feed himself today, tomorrow, and for all time.

That, and we better get a grip on the declining opportunites for our own populations - tomorrow will be far too late. By then they will be the basket cases that we now see in Africa - and no one will be there to organise a Pop Concert on their behalf. Blair and his "luvvies" will have fled - taking their wealth with them.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:00 AM | Comments (2)

July 11, 2005

More steam power ....

Some of the engines on show at the recent steam rally were real beauties. I confess to a fondness for the magnificent "Showman's Engines" - probably because the funfair that used to visit the city I grew up in had a magnificent beast that stood in the centre of the funfair hissing and shaking as it generated the power for all the funfair rides and the bigtop itself! It was a stunner - green, gold, and black, gleaming brass, and the great flywheel spinning with long belt drives from that to various bits of equipment and, of course, the huge generator sat on its boiler front!

Showman engine.JPG
A half sized replica of a Showman Engine - this one provided the electric lighting for the campers at the rally and for the evening BBQ.

These engines usually towed a string of caravans and trailers, and in their heyday it would not have been unusual to see a travelling show in convoy with three or four of these, a couple of more ordinary "tractors", and a couple of Foden lorries all towing trailers and caravans as they made their way from pitch to pitch. Their pace was sedate to say the least, with a rated top speed of around 12 mph, they actually travelled under load at speeds closer to 5 - 8 mph, probably safer, given that braking systems are manual! Like their lorry counterparts, they are "open feed" systems so need to top up with water regularly.

Showman engine 2.JPG
The nearside of the Showman Engine showing off the big flywheel and the decoration.

Half the show for small boys in my youth was the traction engines - far more attractive than today's white vans and lorries!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:48 AM

July 10, 2005


Every year there is a pilgrimage to Glastonbury - no, not for the pop music - where there is a ruined Abbey which sits deep in the soul of English Christianity. It is here that the legendary King Arthur and his Queen lie buried - according to legend. This is believed to be the first Christian foundation in England and in the nearby Parish Church's garden grows the descendent of a Jerusalem Thorn tree reputed to have grown from Joseph of Arimathea's staff when he visited this place after fleeing Jerusalem.

The Abbey here was founded on the original hermitage, and that in its turn had been founded in a Christian community dating to the Roman occupation of these hills. Several English Saints have their origins here, the most well known being Saint Dunstan, one-time Abbot of Glastonbury and reformer of English monasticism and later Archbishop of Canterbury. He is today the patron Saint of Bell Ringers.

The remains of the great chancel arch give an indication of just how magnificent this Abbey Church must once have been.

The "Great Church", whose ruins we now use during our pilgrimage services, was completed in 1250, although, as with all such buildings, embellishment and expansion continued almost to the time of the dissolution in 1539. An interesting feature is the Lady Chapel whose ruins lie at the West end of the Church instead of at the East. This position was presumably adopted because of the rising ground to the East and it creates a large "Galilee" porch between the chapel and the West end of the Great Church. West of the Lady chapel lie the remains of the foundations of a small square - and probably much older chapel - known as Saint Dunstan's chapel.

The interior of the Lady Chapel looking East to the Galilee porch. In the crypt can be seen the modern altar used for occassional Eucharists.

On this weekend in July, pilgrims from all over the UK walk, bus, or otherwise travel to this ancient sacred site and join in a great celebration in the remains of the Great Church. We celebrate our faith, in particular the joys of the year since we last met and the sacrifice made by our God in sending His one and only Son to redeem us. Several hundred people gathered yet again this year - despite the remedial works being carried out in the former quire, we were able to celebrate a superb Sung Mass and follow this with a Solemn Benediction later.

The services began with a march of witness through the town and into the Abbey grounds. Then followed the Sung Mass, a superb and very uplifting service, before we all broke for a belated lunch under the trees. A short rehearsal followed lunch - and then it was time for the Benediction.

All in all, a day of food for the soul.

Laus Deo!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:10 AM

July 09, 2005

With a little help ....

Some stretches of the Rhine are narrow and swift, and another hazard is the ever shifting banks of gravel and sand. These create some interesting variations in the currents, so some of the barges make use of the many small tugs that wait at the signal stations located at intervals along the river.

A heavily laden barge is assisted up the Mannesheim reach toward the Museturm by a small but powerful tug.

During a very pleasant trip - nicely cool even in the bright sun and general humidity - we passed several of these "powered tows" with tugs assisting laden barges through difficult or tricky stretches of the river.

The aptly named Lorelei powers past, her barge under tight control as she negotiates the swift water approaching the Museturm.

The tug has a dual purpose in this, as she holds the tow's "head" or bow steady againts the eddying currents, allowing the towed vessel to use her engine power to hold against the current and not waste power with constant steering corrections.

Next trip - a Rhine Cruise for sure!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:34 PM

July 08, 2005

In the name of God?!

What can anyone possibly say in defence of the evil monsters who perpetuated yesterday's attack on the commuter population of London? What could they possibly have hoped to achieve? And how long will it be before they have another go?

All of these, and more, are questions I have spent much of yesterday and most of last night asking myself. Even after having spent a large part of my career dealing with this sort of mindless, evil, and totally unacceptable activity, I am still moved not to compassion for the "cause", whatever it is, but to blind rage against the perpetrators, their sycophants and apologists like George Galloway and Peter Hain, and against whatever their supposed "cause". It is at times like this that I find living my Christian faith very, very difficult. Especially after spending several worried hours trying to find out whether or not two of my three children had been caught up in any of the blasts!

God be praised, they were both safe, but now I weep for the injured and the dead and dying! If this is, and it is still an "if", a case of suicide bombers, then I sincerely hope and trust that they and their paymasters rot in the worst part of Hell that the powers of Heaven and Hell can devise. In short, I curse them, in the ancient tradition of the Celtic Church, to a "living death, that they may know only pain, despair, and the ultimate severance from the grace of God, until they pass from this life to the eternal damnation reserved for the Evil One and all his minions."

For those evil men of violence who will this morning meet outside the Finsbury Park mosque - because they have been banned from entering it by the sensible Muslims of that community - Abu Hamza and his equally evil chum, Abdul Baqri - I hope that the Metropolitan Police will now arrest them the moment they open their mouths to preach this morning. I have no doubt that they will proclaim this evil act as "Jihad" and urge their followers to join the struggle. They should be arrested and charged immediately under the "incitment to religious hatred" legislation Mr Blair has brought in to silence Christian concerns about the violent agenda preached by these men and their followers.

To Mr Blair and his coterie of legal parasites who have wrecked the criminal justice system in this country with their demands for unrealistic "proofs" and nit-picking at the "rights" of criminals, I have only two questions. Where are the four men recently returned to this country after being held in Guantanamo Bay? You let them out because you refused to allow the use of the evidence gathered against them because you said it had been obtained by "torture". If they have now proved their thanks by carrying out this act, facilitated it, or assisted the bombers by providing the training, will you now come clean to the public and deal with them - admitting your culpability? You don't know, do you? Nor will you ever admit culpability will you? That, Mr Blair, puts you in the position of having been party to this atrocity!

Last night, I sat down to write a sermon. Anger is not a good muse, nor is it conducive to living my Christian Faith. So I have binned my efforts and will now try again when I have managed to bring the berserker blood currently surging through my veins back under control.

In the meantime, may I say to all those of you who have e-mailed expressing your concern and your prayers - thank you. Please pray that our Lord will provide comfort to those who have been bereaved, to those who will die in the coming days, and for all those touched or injured in this monstrous act of purest evil.

"May the souls of all the departed,
through the mercy of God,
and the grace of His son Jesus Christ,
rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen"

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:03 AM | Comments (5)

July 07, 2005

Steam power anyone?

An annual event in my neck of the woods is the Model Steam Traction Engine Rally, held on the Rugby Club field quite near my domus. Being something of a fan of steam propusion - especially in ships and in traction engines - I ventured a visit and took some pictures.

Foden lorry.JPG
A quarter-sized model of a Foden Steam Lorry in all its splendour.

The models are all hand built from castings and original drawings - some are available as "kits", and each one is finished in an original operators livery. Although all these models are smaller than the original, most generate proportionate amounts of power, in fact some are as powerful as the real one, because of the nature of steam power itself. It is said of steam engines that they are the only form of engine which gives you 100% of its power torque at 0 revolutions!

Foden steam lorry.JPG
The little Foden showing its paces in the show ring with driver and crew aboard.

These lorries were once the juggernauts of the rural highways and our cities carrying deliveries of manufactured goods to all corners of the country at the magnificent speed of 12 miles per hour! The single boiler is fed from a water tank on board and stoked through an opening in the floor of the cab. It is an "open feed" system as used on steam locomotives - in other words the steam goes to waste from the cylinder. On ships it is usually a "closed feed" system with the steam being recondensed and fed back to the boiler. This open feed system meant that these lorries and their traction engined counterparts needed to draw water at regular intervals to refill their tanks, one drawback which was never completely overcome.

Foden lorry front.JPG
A larger model Foden lorry - this is a one-third size!

Technology and the "infernal combustion" engine as Sir Winston Churchill once famously called it brought the use of these magnificent machines to an end. By the 1950's only a small number of road rollers and the fabulous "Showman's Engines" remained in service.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:19 AM

July 06, 2005

Devolution - Democratic or Bureaucratic bonanza?

According to the former editor of that eminent purveyor of news North of the Border, "The Scotsman", Mr Blair's "triumph" of demographic reform since 1997 - Scottish and Welsh Devolution - has, to quote Mr Luckhurst verbatim, "created the most bloated public sector in the developed world. And you fools in England are paying for it!" He has written a scathing piece in that right wing paper that Blair's media spinners actually named in an effort to take the sting out of the reports the paper was running, the "Daily Mail".

According to the line fed to parliament and to those of us South of the Border and East of that other border, this would increase democracy and ensure the stability of the Kingdom by creating a "group of equals" among the four nations. He forgot to mention then, and still denies, that it would be the English who would pay for it all the way, and he also quietly tried to break up England into eight so-called "Regions" so that he and his party of gerrymanderers could be entrenched in government by virtue of the sheer demographic breakdown with the rural constituencies lumped in with the mainly Labour voting Urban ones. Smart move, it makes sure you have a built in majority - and the other function of the Regions was to split up the "English" nation so that they can be more easily controlled by the Labour party's Scottish and Welsh majority. Because therein lies yet another rub. Scottish and Welsh constituents now have double representation - and what is worse, not only do they have the power to say how Scotland or Wales will or will not be governed, but they have a voice over English affairs as well. Naturally, the nasty oppressive English may not have any say over their affairs (such as student fees!), but must pick up the bills and pay for their profiligacy with the tax payers money.

One reason this is costing so much is that where we once had one set of paper shuffling civil servants to pay for, we now have four. Where we once had one set of expensive interfering passengers on the parliamentary gravy train - we now have four. Leaving the Scottish Parliament aside for the moment, let us look at the suspended Northern Ireland Assembly. It has a number of "elected" members, who are still drawing their "parliamentary" salaries even though they are not in fact "sitting". The reason for this?

Well, the fact that the imposed Good Friday Agreement - imposed by Blair and his sycophants in revenge for the fact that the Labour Party is totally unelectable in the Province - basically attempted to sell the Unionist population down the river. Blair thought that he and his cronies could get away with doing a deal with Sinn Fein and their terrorist buddies the IRA (as long as Blair was not seen to be actually dealing with the IRA!) which they could then use to make the Unionist side look to be the unreasonable obstacles to peace. Naturally this also meant destroying the extremely effective Royal Ulster Constabulary by imposing the usual "quotas" for recruitment, changing the name and the uniforms, and then planting Sinn Fein (IRA Political Wing) members on the governing Authority which oversees the Force.

Now that it has all gone horribly wrong for him and is demonstrably unworkable, the solution is more regulation imposed from Whitehall - at huge expense - and still more sops to the Sinn Fein terrorists.

Whitehall is no better - Sinn Fein managed to win seats in Westminster in the previous elections - but refused to take the required Oath of Office. Blair's solution? Attempt to remove the Oath (after all his entire Party have perjured themselves in taking it anyway!) and then, when Parliament refused to let him do that (probably for fear of the real constitutional crisis that would cause!) he gave these terrorist representatives office suites in the Palace of Westminster itself where they have access to all the most sensitive communications, all the files, and to the very heart of the nation! They are still there, still refusing to take the Oath of Office and still having ready access to Number 10 while the Unionist side of that debacle are refused access. Blair does not believe in democracy - the Northern Irish population is not, as he supposes, "an oppressed Catholic Republican majority" - these people represent less than 12% of the total population of Northern Ireland - and in the South attract only around 4% of the total vote.

Turning to the Welsh Assembly briefly, a whole new Civil Service has been brought into being in Cardiff to service the "needs" of the Assembly there. So a population of around 3 million Welsh now have around half of all those employed in Wales working for their Assembly. Who pays the bill for the wages? You guessed it - not the Welsh, primarily because they can't raise sufficient tax revenue there to pay for it. Ergo, let the English pay!

Mr Luckhurst's outburst at the folly of it all is most welcome. The tragedy is that, until the English can regain control of their Parliament, resisting the Labour Party's attempts to create Regional Soviets to further split up the English and remove them permanently from power in their own country, nothing is likely to change - and the English taxpayers will continue to pay for the extravagances of the Scottish and Welsh Socialist systems.

The tragedy for all of us is that the belief in the majority of Scottish and Welsh voters that BIG government is somehow much better than freedom of choice and freedom of enterprise will continue to hold this charlatan and his Party in power. Until the English have had enough.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:20 AM

July 05, 2005

Genographic survey results

Some time ago I wrote that I was taking part in the National Geographic Society's Genographic Survey. My results are finally back. They seem to be saying that I really am a dinosaur! I am a member of Haplogroup R1B (M343) and my DNA ties me back to the M168 marker which orginates in Africa. Apparently I am carrying the DNA of "Eurasian Adam", an individual whose Y chromosome DNA dates back plus or minus 60,000 years to a location just North of lake Uganda. This individual is the male ancestor of all Non-African people alive today!

The survey tracks the DNA of males and females, looking at the Y-chromosome DNA for males and the mitachondrial DNA for females. The migration maps show some interesting departures with female DNA following sometimes very different routes to the male lineage that forms the modern population of any given area.

His descendents migrated from Africa about 60,000 years ago (they are identified as M168) and their original journey took them to the Saudi Arabian Peninsula. From them came the next "marker", M89, the carriers of which moved North into Israel/Palestine, Jordan and the modern Middle East. They in turn gave rise to the next "marker" I carry, that labelled M9 - whose bearers moved East into modern Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and then over the Himalayas and into Kazakstan and gave rise to the next Marker, M45.

The carriers of this "marker" moved into the Central Eurasian steppe area, some going East into Mongolia and modern China, others West into modern Russia. The Western branch gave rise to my next "marker", M173, the carriers of this marker moved across what is today the Caucas Mountains and the Urals and into modern Poland and Northern Germany. Some doubled back into Southern Byelorus and the Caspian Sea. The Westernmost members of this group gave rise to my next "marker", the final one, M343, whose carriers moved fully into Europe through modern Germany, the Low Countries, France and into Northern Spain where they sat out the Ice Age. As the Ice receded, they moved North again and their descendents colonised England, France and most of the Northern European lands.

Carriers of the M343 marker are direct descendents of Cro-Magnon Man, the first modern Europeans whose arrival 35,000 years ago signalled the beginning of the end of the Neanderthals. Contrary to popular belief, it would appear that the Cro-Magnons were simply better at adapting and surviving than their predecessors and their culture seems to have been more developed and much more able in the fields of technology - they wove clothing from fibres while their fellow inhabitants struggled with cut skins and cruder tools.

The movement of this line across the continent has also been interesting to read - starting out between 79,000 and 31,000 years ago in Africa, the dating to the Markers is as follows:

Eurasian Adam M168 - Upper Paleolithic Period - probably 60,000 years ago

M89 - 45,000 years ago in Northern Africa or the Middle East arising from M168, this marker is carried by many in the Middle East as far North as Anatolia and the Balkans. The M170 marker also arose from this group and reached Europe through Anatolia, the Black Sea and the Romanian area ending in Austria. Another marker, M201 travelled South through Iran and populated Pakistan, the Indus and West side of India. Yet another, M172 reached Italy via Greece!

M9 - 40,000 years ago in the Middle East arising from the M89 strain. This marker is carried by most Indians and Europeans. This marker also gave rise to M20 and M175, M20 being the principal marker moving into cenrtral India and M175 continuing through Burma, Thailand and on into Malasia and further East. An unusual marker, LLY22G, moved off from this strain and populated Northern Russia, Siberia and Finalnd and Sweden!

M45 - Appeared between 40,000 and 35,000 years ago and defines the movement into the Northern Steppes where they even survived the Ice Age. The marker arising from this one - a single marker, M242, which moved East through Mongolia and China and into North America is partnered by four parallel female markers, and seems to be the "father" of both the Northern Asian peoples and the American "Indian" population.

M173 - Arrived in Europe around 35,000 years ago showing the Westward drift of the Steppe peoples carrying M45. The presence of the Ice sheets across Northern Europe meant that they travelled along a fairly confined area in very harsh conditions - something which may have helped speed the movement and the next development, the arrival of the next marker M343 which is found in Europe from 35,000 years ago until the present day.

The M173/M343 markers are still predominant in Europe today, the descendents of these early settlers moving North as the ice cleared and settling the newly available hunting and agricultural lands available to them. These peoples crossed into and settled in Britain as little as 8,000 years ago - and may well have had to retreat again for a while as the ice advanced again. Permanent settlement does not, according to the experts, appear to have been possible here until it became an island around 6,500 years ago.

What I have found fascinating in studying this material is the speed with which new markers seem to have appeared as the populations expanded. Equally fascinating is the map showing the movements of human colonists from these early hunter gatherers as they fanned out to populate and colonise the globe. If you have not already done so, I recommend that you visit the National Geographic's excellent site and explore the human journey!

We have been a remarkably successful species - let us hope that we have a real future and that our descendents prove as hardy and as durable and adaptable as those distant ancestors whose genes have shaped us!

All in all, it has shown me that our journey has been a fascinating one - and it isn't over yet. I wonder what the next such survey will produce?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:15 AM | Comments (1)

July 04, 2005

The Lorelei

Approaching the St Goar reach of the river Rhine, one must negotiate the Lorelei, the legendary site at which beautiful water maidens were purported to sing and distract boatmen, luring them onto the treacherous rocks below the headland. As can be seen from the picture below, it does not take much to wreck a vessel here - the currents are very swift, tumultuous, and sweep the underpowered across the river toward the Lorelei with or without the famous "Lorelei" singers!

A double barge negotiates the turn at the Lorelei - the huge headland in the background.

The river at this point is narrow and the deep water channel is close to the Lorelei itself. Herein lies at least part of the problem; the currents here are very tricky, and the unwary boatmen is drawn towards the rocks at the base of the headland unless he (or she) is aware of the danger and very careful in negotiating this pass. It is probably not helped by the fact that the narrowness of the channel forces the traffic into close proximity with each other, and another phenomenon comes into play which sees larger vessels drawing smaller ones towards themselves. I suspect that most Captains negotiating this stretch heave a hearty sigh of relief when it is safely past!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:17 AM

July 03, 2005

Classic Rhine Cruise Ship

The now elderly - and famous - Rhine cruise ship "Goethe" pictured near the St Goar/Lorelei reach. Her paddlewheels are mainly decorative although powered; her main propulsion is a pair of screws tucked under her ornate stern. A Revell model kit is available of this ship and can be bought in most stores along the river.

The beautifully preserved "Goethe" showing her style.

Numerous cruise ships ply the Rhine, some starting in Amsterdam and going all the way up to Lake Constance, others only covering part of the journey. Some go for the "modern" look and others for the simply functional; all offer "river view" staterooms, superb viewing decks and restaurants, and lots of opportunities to go ashore on escorted tours.

A modern cruise ship - as can be seen, some Staterooms will offer superb water level views!

The ultra modern Viking Maiden - a floating hotel from Amsterdam!

There can be few more pleasant ways to travel than on the water, and there can be few journeys as full of interesting sights to see as the Rhine!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:17 AM

July 02, 2005

Marienberg Castle

Würzburg lies below the Marienberg Castle, the fortress home of the Fürstbischofs of Würzburg. This site has been a church, and a seat of religious learning and power since it was first established by Saint Killian, a missionary martyr to this part of Germany. Killian and his two companions were killed here by invading Vikings, and their successors re-established the church under the Holy Roman Emperor (Otto I - I think!) and were then authorised to "defend the Burg" against invasion.

The "Scherenberg Gate", so named after the Prince Bishop who "modernised" the castle. This is now the inner gate house - there are two "outer" gates and a squeeze approach to negotiate to get here!

The Marienberg dominates the landscape at this point, sitting atop its mountain; it puts one in mind of the hymn "Ein feste Berg ist unser Gott!", and it would certainly have taken a major seige and very costly assault to storm this one. The outer bastions are of "recent" date - 1670 - 1780 - with lots of extensions and reconstruction. While the inner fortress is a very early model of a courtyard fortress and keep, the outer works are modelled on the "star" bastion concept, with each outer wall dominated from behind by an inner bastion and each curtain wall enfiladed from the projecting bastions. Later additions saw these curtains pierced and strengthened to take heavy artillery pieces, and the records show that the normal garrison was 200 men with fifty tons of powder, arquebusses and shot, crossbows and bolts, catapults of various sizes, and provisions sufficient to feed the garrison for a year without relief.

The Baroque Well House stands next to the circular church of St Mary (Maria + Castle = Marienberg!) and its odd looking Baroque Choir. The oldest extant part of the castle is the high circular tower.

The well, in the innermost courtyard, is a triumph all on its own - it is over 100 metres deep and tunneled through solid rock - granite, in fact - to reach the water seeps that feed it. It was dug by hand sometime in the 1100's! The Marienberg church is circular and has a Baroque extension which is out of character with the older circular structure, while the interior is a baroque riot.

At the very heart of the castle stands the original guard tower, the central "keep", a tall circular structure which once had a wooden walkway encircling its crown. The lowest portion of this tower was originally a prison; now a door gives access to what was once a chamber which was a final destination for anyone placed there. This tower predates everything else one sees today with the exception of the original part of the church.

According to the history guide, the church has been reconstructed several times, but has retained in each reconstruction the original "double circle" design. The present dome is a baroque enlargement, replacing a conical roof.

Well worth the journey to see - and worth every minute of the six hours we spent there!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:56 AM

July 01, 2005

Chickens coming home to roost?

One part of the Civil Service may have blown the whistle on another - and on this government's lies and spin. The National Audit Office has revealed that the Royal Navy, already cut to a mere rump (from 80 ships to 39 in the "Defence Revue"), is unable to maintain its ships in a state of readiness because the money is being stripped from the fleet along with funds from the Royal Airforce to pay for the Army's needs in Iraq!

Essential repairs such as weapons systems and detection gear are not being carried out as there is no money. The only repairs they are doing are those that would otherwise allow the ships to sink! Sonar, radar, and weapons systems faults are not, according to the same shower of complete cretins in Whitehall - the ones who bought boots that melt in the desert, insufficient ammunition for the troops, insufficient body armour, but could afford to spend 345 million (the price of a Type 45 Destroyer) on the refurbishment of their offices: essential repairs!

Where is Martin Tromp when you need him! For those who do not know their history - this is the Dutch Admiral who burned the fleet of Cromwell and Parliament when they laid it up prematurely in the Anglo-Dutch War of the 1670's - and sailed into Amsterdam with a broom tied to his mast and the English flagship in tow. The same argument was used then that is being burbled about now - save money, we don't need the fleet anymore!

So now we have armed forces that have boots that melt, weapons that seize up in heat and sand, aircraft with guns that can't be fired because they are only there as ballast, ships with no sonar, no radar, and weapons systems that won't fire. But, it's all alright because the Minister says we have the highest level of spending on the armed forces for a decade. So we do, but it is an inflationary rise that has done this, not "additional" money, it is purely and simply inflationary rises due to the average 3% inflation we have had since this shower of cretins took charge. That and the fact they have hired more civil servants to shuffle more paper while cutting troops, airmen, sailors, and the equipment for fighting. But, that's OK, too, because all our Civil Servants now have high-tec chairs to sit in at 1,500 each, nice open plan and airconditioned offices, loads of artwork, and the very latest computers which crash every few days.

Our armed forces in better shape to cope with the threats of the 21st Century? You have to be joking!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:22 AM | Comments (1)