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December 31, 2005

Troubles downunder (or Upover if you prefer!)

I have often wondered if it is the heat that sets off certain bouts of public disturbance in communities. I noticed many years ago when I served in Southern Africa, that we always got real riots in the really hot weather, winter seemed to be to cool and wet - or at least tempers didn't get as heated. This often seems to be a feature here in the UK as well - riots tend to be more likely in heat than at this time of year when it is generally cold, wet and miserable.

Talking to Ozguru the other day I learned that they have been having quite a heatwave - around the Sydney area temperatures above 40* C for the most part. And, as many of you will be aware there have been some "troubles" in some parts, apparently sparked by "racial" tensions according to the news reports. Interestingly very few of the reports outside of Sydney actually mention what sparked them - a large group of young immigrant Muslim males who descended on the surfer beaches and harrassed the bikini clad women who frequent them. The surfers males responded by "teaching them to mind their manners" and things escalated from there.

Now I don't know about you, but if something offends me about someone else's culture - and there is a lot about several I have encountered that does - I recognise that I cannot change it - and avoid contact with it. In short, if I find the sight of young, shapely women in bikinis on a beach distasteful, I should avoid going to the beach! Thankfully, I do not suffer from such an exquisite sense of religious rectitude! I just wish I lived where I could enjoy the sights and the view!

It seems to me that the authorities in Australia now face a rather tricky problem. Do they surrender to the sensitivities of the Muslim minority immigrant population and ban the wearing of bihkinis on the beach? Do they perhaps ban mixed bathing and have "women only" beaches? Or do they do what anyone of any sense would do - call in the Mullahs and tell them bluntly, this is our country and our culture - if you want to live here, learn to live with it - or go back to whare you came from?

To complicate matters even further, there is a strong likelihood that many of the young men involved are born and raised in Australia and not in whatever part of the world their parents originated. Thus Australia is their country and their home. They too have a choice, live by the mores of their religion and accept the culture of their country is not in accordance with those mores, or go somewhere where they can live the mores and "enjoy" the sort of society and culture that goes with them - somewhere else. This is really the problem which lies at the very heart of the laudable attempts everywhere to embrace cultural diversity and to allow "multi-culturalism" to take the place of mono-cultural societies. The problem is that there will always be conflicts between them and a tendency driven by the purists on all sides, to retreat into ghettos of their own creation, to shut out the parts of the society they dislike, by building walls and fences instead of trying to find ways around the problems.

It would seem to me that the Australian "Beach Wars" could simply be a forerunner of a bigger struggle ahead in every country where "multi-culturalists" have tried to paper over the problems. Let's hope the Aussies find a solution which the rest of us can copy!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:48 PM | TrackBack

December 30, 2005

The Cat in Winter

Madam Paddy Cat is singularly unimpressed by the Winter cold and snow. She has adopted her Winter routine of finding warm, draft free places where she can hibernate between meals. The recent snow has impressed her even less - one disgusted look at the snow, an even more disgusted look at me holdong the door she had just demanded be opened, and a retreat to yet another of her warm and secure places while I got this weather business sorted out.

Madam occupies my comfortable chair - it's warm, it's safe - and there are no drafts here! Especially there is NO SNOW!

I have the distinct feeling that I am being held responsible for this unpleasant weather. Definitely not a Winter loving cat!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:42 PM | TrackBack

Carols with a difference ....

Ozguru has been running a wonderful series of Australian Christmas Carols on his Blog, G'day Mate. Several times I have thought "must link that" and have just been too busy to get round to it. So now I am.

Try these .....

Australians let us barbeque ...

Jingle bells (Aussie version)

Six white boomers ...

Deck the shed with bits of wattle ...

The twelve days of Christmas (Australianised version!)

Three drovers

and finally ...

The North Wind

Now, I wonder if I can persuade the Abbot and the Master of Choristers to try one or two of these next Christmas? It will be worth a try and certainly a lot of fun!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:23 AM | TrackBack

December 29, 2005

Don't mess with the tigers .....

Recently I heard from a former colleague about an interesting call out they had had from the local zoo. It appears that some of the local "smash and grab" specialists tried to rob the zoo manager and a member of his staff - but were interrupted by the arrival of the night security patrol.

The thieves made off with the guards in pursuit. One thief separated from the other and vanished, the second was eventually cornered and captured. He could not say where his companion had got to, all he knew was that his friend had scaled what he thought was the boundary fence and escaped. A search was made of the zoo when the police arrived and turned up no trace of the missing miscreant, so he was written off as having escaped and everyone settled down again for the night.

Mid-morning the next day (a Sunday, the - "what shall we do with the kids - I know, let's go to the zoo!" - day.) a rather upset father, with small kids in tow, arrived at the manager's office and demanded to know why they have let a man into the tigers enclosure. Manager denies giving anyone permission to be in the enclosure - and then light dawned! Summoning the police, the ambulance service, the fire service and all spare zoo personnel he rushed to the enclosure! These are not small cuddly toy tigers - there are four of them - a big mean old Tom and his mate and two daughters! The Bengal variety, 600 pounds of pussycat with claws like scythes! Of all the places to try jumping a "boundary" fence, our erstwhile thieves had to choose the section of the zoo that houses lions, ligers, tigers, leopards, panthers, wolves, bears and several other fairly large predators in rather roomy enclosures protected by fences, walls and moats. Not the most intelligent move, if one aimed at a successful and lengthy career.

The man had not been eaten, but he certainly now qualifies for a Darwin Award. He has definitely made his last robbery attempt. The big male had evidently dispatched him fairly swiftly and the daughters had apparently "played" with him for a bit, but evidently found him unpalatable for their fastidious tastes. One can only imagine what must have gone through his mind as the big cat launched itself at him - and I bet it wasn't a lengthy thought either.

It has been decided that the tigers are not to blame and no action will be taken against them. In fact they are now to be examined to make sure they haven't caught AIDS, something that can transfer to the big cats and which, in a feline version, is decimating Africa's wild lion population.

Why was the fire service required? Well, having persuaded the tigers to leave the enclosure and go back to their night quarters, it was deemed advisable to remove the body quickly the way he came in - and not carry "food" past the now upset and disturbed big cats in the sleeping quarters.

And you thought we only put out fires or annoy businessmen with our fire safety inspections.....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 28, 2005

Playing with numbers

Numerology is one of those areas where you can either get very excited about the way numbers can be added, subtracted, or otherwise manipulated to produce some interesting outcomes. Some people believe that there is a great deal of significance in the way certain numbers occur and recur in certain events. One such is the sets of numbers that arise when you assign numeric values to the assasination of Abraham Lincoln and John F Kennedy.

Another has just been forwarded to me by a friend. I have placed it in the extended post as it is quite a long one.

I have to say that, to me, this is a bit like saying that the world as we see it is all the product of some computer game (The Matrix?) and not real at all - just a set of binary type numbers (except the numbers in these things are seldom reduced to 0 and 1 - although they could be.) which dictate the actions of every living thing. Or, perhaps its a way of trying to say that God is really a giant galactic computer and we are simply electrons in the circuitry.

No, not even I buy that one! It is fascinating however, to see how these sorts of games can stack up in a strange way. Do try the suggested rendering of the Flight number at the end into Wingdings.

Subject: 11 - The new number of the beast..?! (This is unbelievable..!!)(Editors note - Not necessarily, some people believe Elvis is the Messiah!)

1) New York City has 11 letters

2) Afghanistan has 11 letters.

3) Ramsin Yuseb (The terrorist who threatened to destroy the Twin Towers in 1993) has 11 letters.

4) George W Bush has 11 letters.

This could be a mere coincidence, but this gets more interesting:

1) New York is the 11th state.

2) The first plane crashing against the Twin Towers was flight number 11.

3) Flight 11 was carrying 92 passengers. 9 + 2 = 11

4) Flight 77 which also hit Twin Towers, was carrying 65 passengers.6 + 5 = 11

5) The tragedy was on September 11, or 9/11 as it is now known. 9 + 1 + 1 = 11

6) The date is equal to the US emergency services telephone number 911. 9 + 1 + 1 = 11.

Sheer coincidence? Read on and make up your own mind:

1) The total number of victims inside all the hi-jacked planes was 254. 2 + 5 + 4 = 11.

2) September 11 is day number 254 of the calendar year. Again 2 + 5 + 4 =11.

3) The Madrid bombing took place on 3/11/2004. 3 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 4 = 11.

4) The tragedy of Madrid happened 911 days after the Twin Towers incident.

Now this is where things get totally eerie:

The most recognized symbol for the US, after the Stars & Stripes, is the Bald Eagle. The following verse is taken from the Quran, the Islamic holy book:

"For it is written that a son of Arabia would awaken a fearsome eagle. The wrath of the Eagle would be felt throughout the lands of Allah and lo, while some of the people trembled in despair still more rejoiced: for the wrath of the Eagle cleansed the lands of Allah and there was peace."

That verse is number 9.11 of the Quran.

Still unconvinced about all of this? Try this and see how you feel
afterwards, it made my hair stand on end:

Open Microsoft Word and do the following:

1. Type in capitals Q33 NY. This is the flight number of the first plane to hit one of the Twin Towers.

2. Highlight the Q33 NY

3. Change the font size to 48.

4. Change the actual font to WINGDINGS

What do you think now?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:15 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 27, 2005

Signs of stress?

Over the last couple of weeks I have watched international news casts on the rising tensions in Sydney and other parts of Australia between various ethnic groups with some alarm. Not least because I know - indeed have "family" - people living in some of the areas which seem to be affected. At this distance it is sometimes a little difficult to get a handle on what is really going on, what underlies it, and what is being done about it. One news cast spoke of the police being given "special powers" to deal with riots. Given that they are armed and are generally pretty tough types (even for Australians) I would not have thought that they needed much more. But, as ever with politicians, now that they have "a situation" to deal with, they will undoubtedly meddle and make it worse.

The Australians - the original settler Australians, you know, the one's we Brit's shipped out there in the 18th Century - are a pretty tolerant lot. Their record on absorbing immigrants is, on the whole, pretty enviable, but there is now a situation where European immigrants are a minority - in fact the original "First Families" of Anglo-Saxon descent are now a minority in the country they built. This has been a deliberate policy decision by the politicians over there, to "encourage" Asian migration and discourage Westerners. As ever, when things get deliberately slewed in favour of one group or another, the outcome is resentment in whichever group considers itself to be disadvantaged. This is, in effect, what is fuelling tensions in Britain and the EU at the moment, as "positive discrimination" is encouraged by "targets" set by the faceless wonders who serve their political masters in capitals across the Western world.

As I understand it, the Australians have an additional problem, in that there are distinct tensions between Vietnamese immigrants and Cambodian immigrant communities. Add to this a large dosage of "Tong" involvement from the Hong Kong and other Chinese communities, a fully fledged Cambodian "mafia" and you have a recipe for "light blue touch paper and stand well back". In addition there seems to be a powerful group in Canberra whose guilt trip on "all white settlers are evil" and deprived the real Australians of their wealth, country and nation and you have a recipe for tensions being fanned into flame that could burn quicker than the legendary bushfires you get there.

Now, before I get accused of pontificating about the politics of a country I know only as a visitor and observer of the Australian lifestyle, let me make it clear that these are just my thoughts, assembled from observation and conversation over quite a period of time. It struck me rather forcefully that the malaise in "Liberal Western Politics" is not confined to any one country - the UK is a prime example of the sort of lunacy that is being forced on us all by well meaning ideologues who simply cannot accept that their burning desire to correct the "wrongs" of the past by meddling with the present and future, is not just compounding the problem, it is actively making it worse!

The last time I had the pleasure of visiting Australia I was amazed to discover that the politicians there have almost managed to create a new form of Apartheid for the Aboriginal population - who number some 300,000 in total out of a population of 17.5 million - by setting up a system which allows the Aboriginal population to "opt out" of anything they do not think fits with their culture. While I would never support the enforced separation of families and the policy of enforced adoption that was practiced there in the 1950's, I can see that the authorities were trying to bring the Aboriginal population into some sort of "mainstream" and to bring them into the 20th Century. It simply does not work to have two levels of civilisation occupying the same borders and my impression is that the Aboriginal "councils" have the power to stop major urban and industrial developments which are essential to power up the Australian econmy.

Coupled with that is the "positive" discrimination "immigration" policy, which has changed permanently the demographic profile of the population - as is happening in the UK - which is probably fuelling at least some of the tensions which have recently boiled over in Sydney. "Social Engineering" is one of the great evils of the 20th Century - it finds outlets in Hitler's "final solution", in "ethnic cleansing", in "apartheid", in "affirmative action" or "positive discrimination" - and all it achieves is to create a new set of disadvantaged players whose resentment boils over into violence against those they see as having been given an unfair advantage.

Above all, I hope that the Australians, one and all, new and old, can sort this out among themselves and at least make a start to working out a truly free and fair society, rather than one dreamed up by left-wing politicians for the sole purpose of entrenching left wing politics in power. That is the real threat to civilised society, not racial, ethnic or cultural differences, but the creeping imposition of left wing ideologues where they can distort the concepts of freedom and fairness to their hearts content without fear of ever being ejected from power.

Our society is under stress as never before - and it is largely due to the deliberate attempts to "engineer" it to create "fairness". You cannot force or legislate changes to attitudes or cultural differences, that road simply creates more anger and a hardening of attitudes. The only real soltuions in this are to create integrated societies where everyone has the right to succeed or fail on their own merits. No other society can work, certainly no society that tries to embrace cultures where bribes to officials to do their jobs can exist alongside one where bribing officials is not acceptable, is ever likely to succeed. That, unfortunately, si what has happened in many countries where the political masters have decreed "multi-cultural" societies are achievable. The result is that everyone finds themselves lumbered with the worst of all cultures - and conflict.

I am sure that time will bear this out, in the meantime, I hope and pray that the Australians can find a solution to their immediate problem and perhaps show "the rest of the West" how to manage this properly.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:35 AM | TrackBack

December 26, 2005


The Gray Monk's posting from December 11 'Searching for a spiritual meaning' set me off thinking what had been the heroes of my youth. Certainly not pop stars. We probably didn't have so many then. Instead I was absolutely fascinated with polar explorers like Roald Amundsen and many others. I read up every book I could find on them in the library and wished very much I could have taken part in a polar expedition myself. Even today I am dreaming about spending in year on Spitzbergen.

Well, at least I've made it to Greenland and was able to visit the birthplace of the famous Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen, who was born in Jakobshavn in 1879. His father Christian worked there as a parson and philologist. I am not sure the church of Jabobshavn today is still the one Christian Rasmussen worked in but it may well be.


Inside Jakobshavn church

Knud Rasmussen's playmates were mostly Greelandic people from whom he not only learnt their language but also their way of living and surviving. The Innuit always had a deep respect for him and called him 'Kununguak' which means 'litte Knud' for he couldn't have been more than five feet.

During his famous expedition from 1902-1904 he spend the winters among the Innuit in the polar region. From 1906-1908 he conducted ethnographic studies in the Nortwest of Greenland and founded the trading post Thule in 1910. Thule served as a starting point for seven further expeditions between 1912 and 1933 into the North as far as the Bering Strait.

Knud Rasmussen died in Copenhagen on December 21,1933. Legend says he had eaten a Greenlandic delicacy: birds are rolled up in big stripes of fat and buried in the earth. After some months they are dug up again and eaten. Obviously this time he fell ill after the meal and never recovered from it.

Today Jakobshavn is one of the 'bigger cities' at the West coast of Greenland Scandinavian style houses like the municipality building mix with rather ugly multi-storeyed ones as can be seen on the left of the photo below.


Municipality building of Jakobshavn

The government made Innuit people give up their traditional way of living and settled them in flats instead. That caused a lot of problems, at least twenty years ago. Two of them were unemployment and alcoholism. Apparently it is not as easy to change traditional ways of living as some well meaning bureaucrats think. Jakobshavn had (and probably still has) as fish factory. But they had trouble finding people to work there in summer. Because in summer people take out their boats and go fishing themselves. That way they probably earn less money than in the factory but have a lot more fun. Whoever would change a day out in the open among beautiful icebergs and the sun on one's face for a day inside a sticky and humid fish factory with no view at all?

Posted by Mausi at 05:10 PM | TrackBack

December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

'Tis the season to be jolly - and for most of us it will be, but we should also keep in mind the many who will be alone or neglected at this season. At the Abbey we have been trying to encourage everyone to check on who they know who will be alone - and to try to include them in at least one meal over Christmas. It seems to have had some effect as more and more families are combining and including single members of the congregation.

Our Lord was born in a stable, as the Gospels tell us, in an overcrowded "inn" (in the English translations of the story), but more likely the stables beneath the principle building of a "caravanserai" outside Bethlehem. As the majority of dwellings of that period were double storey structures with the stables, stores and cattle pens beneath and the single room "living" area above (some buildings like this can still be seen in the Middle East) it is most likely that, when Mary went into labour, the lower floor offered the only clear space and the privacy for the birth. Be that as it may, the child born on that night - and tradition rather than any real evidence says it was Winter - has changed the world in ways we still do not fully understand.

He came into this world as the "New Adam", and changed our understanding of God, of our relationship with God and of our life as children of God. I doubt very much that any of that was evident on the night, except to a very few who were present, or had a sense that something special had just happened. The Star, the Kings and the recognition in the Temple all come later.

I believe that St John has his finger firmly on the nub of it in his rather allegorical rendition

"He was in the world, and though the world was made by him, the world did not know him."

Later, during His ministry the world would learn to recognise Him, but the fear that that knowledge generated drove many to deny it. Again to quote John:

"In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."

As we celebrate this Christmas, we need to pause and consider, have we understood fully the impact that this child, born in that stable, in a dusty little town in the Middle East 2000 odd years ago, has had upon us and our understanding of life itself? Have we really considered the message of the Gospel He brought us, and the impact it can and does have upon those who choose to live by it?

May all who visit this site over the Christmas period, receive the blessings of the Christ Child at this season and throughout the comming year.

"The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth."

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

Frohe Weihnachten

There is not much I can add to what The Monk has already said today - just my own personal wish for a very merry and peaceful Christmas time for all of you out there.

Posted by Mausi at 09:21 AM | TrackBack

December 24, 2005

Christmas lights

Browsing a few of my regular read blogs I found an item at Hatshepsut's blog on the little seven candle lights now so popular as Christmas decorations. I knew they were based on the Jewish Hanukkuh lights - themselves a version of the great seven branch lamp that once graced the Sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem and the inner tent of the Ark of the Covenant before the temples were built, but the spread of the popularity and the route of their adoption, was a surprise.

Even more interesting is her account of how the little lights have become a very important feature of the Icelandic Christmas. It speaks volumes about just how far reaching the teachings of Christianity have been that the cultural exchange is now returning to its roots in many ways, not least in the rediscovery of the ancient symbology that once formed a vital part of the whole. It is fitting too, to remind us of the fact that our faith has deep roots in Judaism - roots we would do well to understand better.

In fact, we need to discover, as the Jews have done, that our faith is not about buildings, but about people. People, families, children and the teaching and traditions of worship and respect that go with them.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:55 PM | TrackBack

Death of the snowman?

Some people might find the photo below disturbing, but my friends in the BKA tell me that this was a mercy killing. It would probably qualify as such under the new murder laws in the UK at any rate. How come a mercy killing?

Well, you wouldn't want the snowman to die by burning would you?

Schneemann shot.jpg

The picture is taken in a ballistics testing tunnel using a xenon flash firing in milliseconds against a very fast film.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:58 AM | TrackBack

December 23, 2005

Education? What education?

The cracks are beginning to show in this sham government. Strangely over the attempts, half-hearted and, as usual, half baked, to repair the damage they have done to the education system with their years of denial that mixed ability classes and non-selection for schools has done. The cat is well and truly out of the bag when that complete ignoramus who cannot even string together two words to make an intelligible sentence, weighs in with the demand that the "Toffs" cannot have any privileges.

Lord, spare us this incurable moron!

The Comprehensive School system is fine for children of medium ability. It is useless for those of higher ability and absolutely useless for dealing with those who have difficulty adding up their fingers and toes. Add to this a lack of grouping of children in their appropriate ability ranges into different classes and you have a recipe for mediocrity and failure. The pupils who cannot keep up become disruptive or truants and disrupt the education for everyone else.

Not all of us can afford to send our children for extra lessons or private tuition as can every single member of that house of charlatans called the Palace of Westminster (all courtesy of the huge allowances they regularly vote to themselves at the taxpayers expense) or afford to send their children out of the borough in which they live to a better school, stripping places from the locals so their kids can get the education they deny everyone else. Yes, I do get hot under the collar about this as my children were prevented from taking places at the Grammar Schools in our home Borough, by the flood of Labour MP's kids sent in from the failing Boroughs all around us! They even took our council to court to demand they be given priority placement, something that also sticks very badly in the throat!

So, to have the bloated idiot who disgraces the title of Deputy Prime Minister and who has destroyed everything he has meddled with to date, now getting involved and threatening to lead a revolt against the reforms - half hearted though they are - is nothing less than proof positive that Blair is not in charge of a modern party at all. Rather, he leads a party of reactionary ideologues that is hell bent on dragging us back into some sort of Animal Farm scenario where the "Down trodden workers" can finally have control of the wealth that everyone else has denied them! The fact that half the problems now arising stem from the fact that the so-called Ministers these idiots have promoted are so far out of their depth that it is a wonder they have not yet sunk without trace.

Educational reform? Not likely under this shower so I wouldn't recommend holding your breath. Not until we hear of an ice age starting up in Hell.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:45 PM | TrackBack

December 22, 2005

Sleaze? Who, that nice Mr Blair?

Well, well, well. Our illustrious leader has been hiding his tracks again it seems. Having commissioned a report into ministerial kudos and perks, he apparently has sat on the report for over six months and is apparently about to act on its findings. Or is he? Well, actually, he's planning to ignore them - and abolish the sleaze watchdog body which blew the whistle on his government's sleazy activities.

Well, you surely didn't expect him to admit that his government has been the sleazyest ever did you?

No, in typical Labour Party fashion, having been caught out with their snouts firmly in the trough, they have taken the same action that the old Soviet regime would have taken. Trump up something on the messenger, suppress the report, dismiss the watchdogs and deny all impropriety. Taken with his behaviour over the Honours List - anybody who stumps up funds for the party or a nice little earner for any Labour apparatchik or their media campaigns gets a knighthood of a peerage - and his dismissal of the watchdog body that was supposed to guard against that behaviour, Mr Blair's 1997 election promises that his party would be whiter than white and more open, honest and upfront than any previous government is now exposed for what it is.

The biggest con trick anyone has ever seen. This is a party that is corrupt to it's core, hell bent on the Sovietisation of Britain and the destruction of everything that is decent in British Society. It is time they were thrown out on their ears and prosecuted for their abuse of our democracy and their blatant chichancery and abuse of the high offices they disgrace by their presence.

Time to go Mr Blair - and take your Civil Service placemen with you when you leave!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:30 PM | TrackBack

December 21, 2005


Recently my eldest daughter, who has had a number of difficult years since leaving school, was "let go" from a job she really enjoyed. In part this was due to a conflict between two "managers" to whom she reported. One treated her like a dogsbody and personal slave, the other made full use of her talents and often entrusted her with quite important tasks - even down to travelling to Europe on occassion to deliver valuable articles. In the end, no one can survive in that sort of conflict and the loser was my daughter.

The really good news is that she has succeeded in landing herself another position very quickly and will start in the New Year in her new job, with the prospect of a career before her and none of the conflicts of her old job to deal with. At least one of her former managers has given her a glowing reference - and the other doesn't matter any longer.

As you can guess, I am proud of her and the manner in which she has dealt with this crisis.

Well done my girl!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:24 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 20, 2005

Crime under control?

I came home a few nights ago to find a fire burning in one of the row of garages where I keep my car. These garages are owned by the local Housing Association and there is a long waiting list for the "privilege" of renting one, an essential on an estate where the same housing association, pleading "legal obligations" insists on dumping all the families who have been moved out of other areas that they control the renting in because of the problems they cause. Quite a number of these garages are filled with abandoned scrap, several are known locally to be used as drug dens, one has people sleeping in an abandoned car in it, and the local youff gang has made a den in another. Who pays the rent you may ask, it seems that the Housing Associations records are so poorly kept that they only know who is actually paying for the ones in "regular" use and simply ignore the rest!

Anyway, the local yobs apparently decided to get rid of a stolen motorbike by burning it - inside one of the "ownerless" garages. Add a few scrap tyres, some petrol drained from the tank, some other bits of rubbish and we have the makings of a bit of entertainment for the local delinquents as everyone else rushes about trying to ensure that their property isn't destroyed. I arrived before it had become quite such a circus and did what I consider to be the right thing - I called the fire service. Someone then rushed up to me and shouted "Better get your car away from here there are petrol tanks in there!"

Well, being what I am, and staring, at that moment into the flames, I could see that the only tank in the blaze was on the bike itself, and the flames spouting from the fuel pipe at the bottom and the open filler at the top, told me that explosions were unlikely. I thanked the lady and continued feeding information to the Fire Control. About six minutes later - pretty good for a retained crew - two pumps arrived from the local station and dealt with the fire. In the course of this they opened the adjoining garages and discovered a second one all primed to go. The derelict car in it has had all its windows smashed, it had been filled with rubbish and primed - but obviously they either hadn't got round to lighting it when the first attracted attention, or planned to do it later to spread the fun a bit.

Now you would think that the police would be interested in this, but you would be wrong. The fire service requested a police attendance, and were told the police would not be attending. Given that the fire service had found evidence of drug dealing and use in both garages, one would think that they would be interested, but apparently not. The police don't seem to be interested either in the fact that the Abbey is now regularly under attack by these young hooligans, who break into the enclosure around the scaffolding on the South Transept and climb it to steal tools, tear things off and throw them at passers-by. They are also not interested in the vandalism happening all around us in the local parks where the rubbish bins have been smashed, burned and sign torn down. Or the children's play area which has been graffittied and some of the facilities destroyed.

The local residents know exactly who the perpetrators are, we see them at it regularly yet are powerless to stop them because they are "under the legal age of responsibility". In other words, if arrested, an army of social workers and do-gooders immediately descend on the police station and start slinging accusation of "heavy handedness" or "police insensitivity" - then the kids get a "caution" and wander off in search of more opportunities for their vandalism. For these kids, being arrested or being given a behaviour order by a court is a badge of honour. There needs to be a serious look at why being destructive, being protected from the responsibility for your actions and the sense that unacceptable behaviour is somehow worthy of sympathy or respect and should be allowed to continue!

In truth, the problem with these kids seems to be twofold. First there is the fact that most of them are from completely dysfunctional families. One or more of the parents and syblings are in jail or have "form" with the police. In short, there is not role model at home they can look up to with anything like respect - respect is for anyone who can beat the living daylights out of you if you cross them! Is it therefore any wonder that the only thing these kids respect is lawlessness?

The problem is compounded by the social workers who defend the bad behaviour and insist on keeping these brutalised kids in brutalising "homes". They should be made to live in the communities afflicted with them! The same goes for the many psychiatrists and psychologists who come up with medical mumbo-jumbo which legitimises this behaviour. "Attention deficit syndrome" is always a popular one - "they do it because they are seeking attention in a deprived background" is the most common argument. Tell that to the people whose lives are made a misery by having their homes spattered with eggs, garbage emptied in their gardens, sheds set on fire, hedges destroyed, gardens trampled. Tell it to the elderly folk who no longer feel able to walk to the shops for fear of the yobs they have to walk past on the way - yobs of 11 - 14 who think nothing of snatching purses or "jostling" "old fogeys".

"Attention deficit syndrome" is a fancy name for complete lack of discipline. The real root of the problem is that no one is attemting to do anything about it. The blame is passed to the parents and they are expected to deal with it - and most of them are not sufficiently intelligent or sufficiently capable of dealing with it anyway - they have problems of their own, either alcohol or drug related! It must be stressed that it is not the same as something like Asperger's Syndrome which is a well recognised condition in which a child may simply not have the ability to connect cause and effect. Children in this group are not that common and are usually very bright as well, whereas those in the "ADS" group are usually associated with broken or "damaged" homes and fall into the mid-range group of IQ levels. There is definitely a connection, in this group, between the "nurture" they don't receive at home, and the nature they develop for themselves!

This is one of those very tricky areas where someone, somewhere, is going to have to rein in the do-gooders and put in place a sensible regime which removes these children from the environment which has created the problem, and puts them through a corective regime which will address, if not cure, it. Simply advising the parents who have caused it in the first place is not an option.

The real problem is, as usual, that this one is far to hot a potato for our politicians to tackle. It is much simpler to blame it all on "society" and the victims "lack of understanding" of the needs of the criminally inclined. I wonder how much tax income is generated by the proceeds of the crimes these yobs commit? That will probably give us an indication of the likelihood of anything ever being done to put an end to it!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:18 AM | TrackBack

December 19, 2005

Visiting forces

The harbour in Bahrain provided some interesting ships to look at, none more so than the flotilla of patrol vessels (couldn't photograph them without arousing a hornets nest!) moored along a quay obviously part of the Kingdom's Naval Base. On an adjoining quay lay an interesting mix of ships including a RN Type 23, an USN "Oliver Hazard Perry" Class Missile frigate (The pennant Number on her bow is 90, but I can't find her in the USN website!), an USN Hydrographic survey vessel and a medium sized Fleet Supply ship also from the USN.

US Navy ships in Bahrain with a RN Type 23 Frigate moored ahead of them.

The Type 23 and the USN Oliver Hazard Perry type pack between them an enormous punch and possess very good anti-missile defence systems. The Royal Australian Navy has several of the "Perrys" in service under the names of their State and Territorial capitals. (For my Ozzie readers, you might like to look up the RAN website where you'll find that HMAS Sydney is pennant Number 03) Both the Type 23 and the Perry Class have powerful gas turbine propulsion systems which allow them to achieve almost 40 knots (the actual speed is not revealed in most reference books) and both can get underway from a berth in around 30 minutes from alert. Manoeuvering is achieved using conventional power modules and the overall power output is further enhanced by being able to vary the pitch on the propeller blades.

Watching one turn under full power is interesting - better hope that no one was trying to drink a cup of coffee or anything else when they do it!

Fleet Auxilliaries such as this are an essential part of any modern fleet deployment - a sort of "one stop shop" for ships!.

By contrast the Fleet Auxilliary is basically a floating department store for ships. Get your fuel, ammunition replacements, food and spare parts here! These ships can steam with others abeam or astern and pass fuel and stores across without havng to stop or find shelter. They are an essential part of any fleet deployment - without them the fleet is tied to fuel ports and bases wherever they go.

The hydrographic survey vessel has multiple roles, but it's most important function is keeping charts and changes to seabeds, coastlines and sea data up to date. Essentially their function has grown from the voyages of the likes of Captain Cook and other explorers - most of whom would have been overjoyed to have some of the modern exploration tools to help them!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:08 PM | TrackBack

December 18, 2005

St Mary-le-Bow for a carol service

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the annual Carol Service of the Worshipful Company of Fire Fighters in St Mary-le-Bow in London. This is one of Sir Christopher Wren's churches, entirely rebuilt after being fire bombed and destroyed in the Blitz, with the reconstruction following Wren's original floor plan and decoration exactly. The famous bells were also damaged in the Blitz, but were recast and restored along with the church which was completed and rededicated in 1961. At that service the famous "Great bell of Bow" once again rang out and another generation of Cockney's could claim to have been born "within sound of Bow Bells".

The service itself was well attended by the Freemen, Liverymen and Masters of the Company and our guests, with the Bromley Ladies Barbershop Choir - despite their name a full choir of ladies voices - accompanying our congregational carols and performing a number of choir carols for us. As a new Freeman I was asked to read the first of the lessons chosen for the occassion - the Annunciation from St Luke's gospel - and this was followed by a lesson read by a new Liveryman (I have to serve for another two years before I can become one) and that in turn followed by a lesson read by a new "Clerk of Court".

Wine and mince pies followed the service and we had time to catch up with old friends, renew acquaintances, make new ones and generally share the fellowship that goes with our profession.

St Mary-le-Bow is an interesting building for a variety of reasons, for one, it has two pulpits - called Ambos when doubled - and is almost square in plan. The organ, a magnificent instrument, is mounted on a gallery at the West end and the layout reflects very much the churchmanship of the early reformation years in England. The Wren Church replaced a Norman one, the crypt of which is still there, having been restored. It is the crypt chapel which gives rise to the name of the church, for it has Norman "Bow" arches supporting the floor above. It is in this chapel that the Court of Arches meets to elect new Bishops and to confirm the choice of Archbishops of York and Canterbury.

The Court of Arches is a council of ecclesiastics which includes the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Bishop of Winchester, London and several other of the more ancient Sees. Technically, they may "elect" a Bishop, but the final assent comes from the Crown itself.

All in all, if one is visiting London, a little detour down Cheapside to visit this beautifully restored and historic church is well worth the effort.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:35 AM | TrackBack

Messiah by candlelight

My annual Advent treat is the English Symphony Orchestra and St Michael's Singers (Coventry Cathedral) rendition of the Messiah by Candlelight. Absolutely stunning performance with a sell-out audience in the Abbey, branches of candles between the huge Norman drum pillars and soft lighting in the aisles and over the high altar. I sat among the 600 or so people and listened yet again to the glorious sound of Handel's masterpiece.

One of the most effective parts of this performance each year is the trumpet passages - from the West end of the Abbey in Part 1 and then from the pulpit in the recitative "And the trumpet shall sound!" The building resonates to the clear notes of the trumpet and picks up beautifully the rich blend of the orchestral backing to the soloists and choir.

My batteries are recharged, and now I am ready for the Christmas onslaught!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:17 AM | TrackBack

December 17, 2005

Napoleon revised?

A year or so ago, I recall reading a book published by a British historian who argued that the Napoleonic wars had been fought, much like the war in Iraq, on misinformation and the self-interest of the titled and landed ruling classes. He argued that, had Napoleon and the French Revolutionary principles triumphed, the world would have been a much better place. Well, according to a new book by a French author, that may have depended on who you were, where you were in the hierarchy of society and how "French" you could claim to be. Certainly it did not apply to anyone who was black, Russian, or from the peasantry of France!

It seems that the great Napoleon is being reviewed and some of what is now emerging from his letters, papers, journals and other archived resources is far from being a pretty picture of a great leader, reformer and enlightened governor. Recent finds of mass graves from the great retreat from Russia in 1812 - during which he managed to "loose" 450,000 to starvation, sickness and capture by the Cossack cavalry who harried them - show that many were teenage conscripts, large numbers simply froze to death and many were actually eaten by their compatriots in an effort to stay alive themselves. His General and Governor in Sainte Domingo (Haiti) ordered that all black rebels be shot, no prisoners taken and even went so far as to order that the executions were to be carried out in a manner "to strike terror into the hearts and minds of all who witnessed them". He also ordered, and there is evidence that Napoleon was fully aware of this, that women and children were to be slaughtered as well - as blacks they were obviously "giving succour" to the rebels. His orders were explicit - everyone over the age of 14 was to be killed. Genocide on a grand scale.

His treatment of the nations he overran in Europe was not much better, despite the image we have been given. More and more attrocities are coming to light in the Baltic States and the Rhinelands where his troops marched across into Poland and the East. Even worse was his record in his campaign in Egypt and the Holy Land, with the wholesale slaughter of the inhabitants of Jaffa on the beach to the North of the city. To save bullets the defenceless men women and children were bayonetted and drowned by his troops at his orders! Capping the murder of some 4,400 people in this way, was his treatment of his own troops when, a week after the massacre, they contracted the plague. Despite his imagery of "compassion" and the personal exposure - he may well have had some immunity from having contact with another form of the disease in his youth - there are indications that he had the disabled poisoned and may even have hastened the deaths of many who might have survived the plague itself.

Even in France his record is hardly one of compassion or enlightenment. He was absolutely ruthless in dealing with any insurrection or enemy. His famous pronouncement that the way to deal with the Paris mobs was to give them a whiff of grape, was hardly an invitation to a glass of wine. Rather it was a reference to the use of "grape shot" - bags of musket balls fired from a cannon with the same effect as firing a very large calibre shot gun - into any demonstrating crowd. This is how he "saved" the corrupt Revolutionary Directory and manoeuvred himself into the position of First Consul and then Emperor.

According to the new book, Napoleon Bonaparte is best compared to a certain Mr Hitler on his record of "enlightenment". In fact, the author sums up his Napoleon's feelings for his soldiers by quoting the end of the "bulletin" he issued to announce the fate of the Grande Armee in 1812. It rambles on about betrayal, enemies undermining morale and then concludes with the statement "but the Emperor's health is unimpaired!" Roughly six million people fell victim to Napoleon's world ambitions - a remarkably poignant number for a variety of reasons, not least because this is the number of "civilians" killed in his wars. The military losses are something totally separate!

Most of this will come as no surprise to anyone who has studied the history of the Napoleonic Wars, the real surprise is that it is the French themselves who are now airing these views on their national "hero". Even more ironic is the fact that this book is published just as the British celebrate the - to quote Churchill - "end of the beginning" for Napoleon in the battle of Trafalgar. Even more surprising is the revelation that this was planned by the author and his publishers and supporters. Perhaps we should also look again at the question of his death in captivity on St Helena. Perhaps the murder theory is, after all, correct, but perhaps we should look at the French connections again to see if there was perhaps someone who wanted to put an end to the scheming and ambitions to free him to return to France!

The real irony in all this is that our own politcians and those of almost all the rest of Europe have fallen for the Napoleonic vision - one shared by Bismark, Hitler and Kaiser Wilhelm - of "uniting" Europe under one government. So all the wars to retain our freedoms and our democracy have ultimately been undermined by the very politicians who have always started the wars! What a pity the chosen form of government is the unelected Napoleonic model of rule by decree - even if they are today called "directives"!

One thing is for sure, the new view of Napoleon will blow some academics of revisionist British History into a real flutter to defend their views. It will also not be popular in some quarters in France, but it is refreshing to have some of the nastier side of the Napoleonic "achievements" out in the open.

Maybe the likes of Nelson, Marlborough, Rodney and Wellington weren't such evil power hungry men after all!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:14 AM | TrackBack

December 16, 2005

Icy Colours and Shapes

As I have said before icebergs are pieces of ice from a glacier that have eventually travelled to the open sea. Glaciers are usually white on the surface as the one below.


Glacier near Nassarsuaq in the Southwest of Greenland

While moving down the mountain this glacier had formed several small hollows at its 'belly'. So we were actually able to climb underneath the glacier.


Picture taken from underneath the glacier

At this point the pressure from the all the ice above is turning the bottom layer into water thereby creating a sort of film on which the glacier gently slides downhill. Ice that contains a certain amount of liquid water turns blue. It was quite a magnificent sight there underneath all that ice.

The blue colour can also be observed on icebergs that are dissolving. The one below looks a bit sorry for itself already.


Dissolving iceberg

Icebergs also come along in all kinds of shapes. We encountered


a distant cousin of Nessie ...


... and a playful Ice Horse (at the front).

I know icebergs can be a serious hazard for ships and off-shore platforms but they do make the sea look a lot more interesting!

Posted by Mausi at 09:44 PM | TrackBack

December 15, 2005

More Brussels power grabbing.

The average person in the UK is - or was - blissfully unaware of the fact that Brussels has managed, despite the rejection of the "EU Constitution", to sneak in it's grab for overall control by the backdoor. Well, we were in ignorance, that is until a series of leaks this week revealed the full extent to which our civil servants and the present government have surrendered power and control to the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.

Even Prescott's famous "Regional Assemblies" were a part of the overall Brussels plan to break up strong "national" ties and replace them with puppet Assemblies which could be controlled by Brussels and Strasbourg. Anyone who thought that the vote rejecting the Constitution and the even more outright rejection of the "Regional Assemblies" in the North East would see an end to the matter should think again. Now Prescott and his bureaucrats have "appointed" their toadies to run "Regional Boards" - actually they did this sometime ago in anticipation of getting their way with the "Assemblies" - which are now slowly but surely assuming the powers of Regional Government by stealth. When next we look we will find that our Police services, Ambulances, Health care and Fire Services are all run by the Regional Board and not, as at present, by the Local Authority. Nor is this all, even the "great" Departments of State are slowly becoming mere agencies of Brussels. The Ministry of Defence has now all but surrendered control of our armed forces to the "European Defence Agency" and the Environmental Agency - supposedly answerable to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, is in reality an agency of the European Environment Protection Directorate based in Italy and answering to an EU Commissioner.

Our fisheries policies, agricultural policies, policing, judiciary and immigration is increasingly in the hands of the totally unelected European Commission and their poodles and not under the overpaid and worthless Ministers who pretend to control our destiny. In effect, thanks to Blair's obssession with being President of the United States of Europe one way or another, we, the British taxpayers and voters, are being effectively sidelined and disenfranchised. Our elected MP's, Local Councillors and despised civil servants are no more than frontmen for the real rulers - the Eurocrats in Brussels.

I suppose we should have seen this coming, it hasn't, after all, happened overnight. Quite what can be done about it now is a very open question. Certainly it does go a long way to explaining why Blair is so keen to stifle any debate and to hang onto power at all costs.

Ironic is it not, that the Carolingian Empire has been stealthily recreated, not by force of arms, nor even by force of persuasion, but by assimilation and deceit, both internally and externally. The one enlargement of that empire is the inclusion of the UK and of Denmark, both of which stood outside of the original Empire ruled by Charlemagne. He never succeeded in invading these isles or of penetrating into Denmark, but the bureaucrats in Brussels have achieved it with weazel words and empty promises.

Just proves the epithet - the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

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

December 14, 2005

Congratulations to the Fire Fighters!

The Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service deserves some plaudits - as do the many services who have contributed personnel, appliances, foam stocks and equipment to dealing with this blaze. These fires are never easy to deal with, sometimes you get lucky and can extinguish it quickly without getting other tanks, pipes and bunds involved, but not always. There is the ever present risk of further leaks, vapour ignitions or explosions - and there is an element of uncertainty about the contents of some tanks, how full they are or what the actual behaviour of the contents is likely to be.

In the Buncefield incident, I would suspect that almost all of the required fixed protection systems which the service would normally be able to use to assist in fighting the fire, will have been damaged or destroyed in the initial blast. That, in itself, makes fighting the fire a great deal more difficult since it means that personnel will have to be exposed to the heat and flames - and the risk of vapour ignition behind them as they advance - in order to put the necessary equipment in place to tackle it.

On this occassion, the service has had to take a step by step approach to fighting this fire, first setting up a containment system to ensure that nothing else joined the fun and that what was already on fire, didn't go anywhere else! While that is going on there is a need to assemble all the foam concentrate supplies needed for the attack and to ensure that all the equipment that will be needed is on site and can be deployed to where it will be effective. Once all that is in position, the attack an commence. You cannot start the attack until you have sufficient foam concentrate on site to ensure that once you start to pour foam you will be able to continue pouring until the last flame is dead. Any interuption can result in a "burn back" where the foam already applied is burned off and the fire jumps back to the start point.

In effect this means that, in order to successfully attack a fire like this you need a water supply that will not dry up or lose continuity and you need the quantities of foam which will enable a seamless pouring operation to commence, before any attempt is made to fight the fire itself. To put this in perspective, the water usage since the atack started has been 32,000 litres per minute. Put another way the fire fighters have thrown 32 tonnes of water a minute at the fire. To that must be added 2,000 litres of foam concentrate per minute (2 tonnes per minute) which must be fed into the water streams so the foam cannon and handlines can "pour" foam onto the surface of the burning oil.

One thing which has helped the fire fighting here is that the tanks do not seem - from the photographs - to have collapsed and so the fires are, at the present moment, still contained in the damaged tanks and are thus separated. This has allowed the service to attack along a perimeter and extinguish one area at a time successfully. Had any tank collapsed it's contents could have been released into a bund, threatening the collapse of any adjoining tanks by increasing the burning surface and thus the heat output from the fire.

Even so, the service has achieved a major success on this and deserve the congratulations of everyone for their achievement. Perhaps too, that fat toad who has, with his equally culpable civil service poodles, now leave well alone and stop the further reduction and destruction of a service whose members have performed this feat. Somehow I suspect only a fire of this magnitude in the heart of Whitehall will actually get the real recognition the service deserves from the denizens of Prescott's little empire at the ODPM.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:06 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 13, 2005

Hell on earth?

The fire at the Buncefield oil terminal is now being fought. It will take some time to put it out as the original explosion probably damaged the fixed protection systems, and the fire resulting from that will most likely have destroyed anything that remained functional by now. For interesting pictures of this fire - said to be the largest since the second world war - you need to visit the BBC's news site.

At a guess, the initial explosion seems to have been caused by petrol vapour igniting, but there remains some doubt as to where this had collected and what the source of ignition was. As is the nature of these things, it could be any number of initiators and the vapour could have been released from a number of sources and accumulated in the right mixture in some low lying area due to the unusually still air conditions and the low temperature. The bang when it ignited was certainly spectacular - look at the picture of a car apparently flung some distance from the site by the blast on the BBC site! There are claims that it was heard in Belgium and it is reported to have measured 2.4 on the Richter scale at the seismology recording station in London.

Spare a thought and a prayer now for the fire fighters who must now face the inferno and try to put it out. This will be a long, hard and very dangerous operation.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:00 PM | TrackBack

December 12, 2005

Architectural simplicity

Throughout the Middle East mosques are as prominent as Churches in Europe or the US - possibly even more so. The architectural style of the mosque tells the informed observer a great deal about the patrons, the particular branch of Islam it represents and the status of it's congregation. Those in Bahrain fall into two main categories, with several "sub" categories falling out of these. The ruling family and their supporters are Sunni, the bulk of the populace is Shi'ite. Thus, the small mosque tucked away inconspicuously in a backstreet and painted blue or green and largely unadorned is probably Shi'ite and serves a small and not particularly well endowed congregation - probably fishermen originally, but most likely now "guest" workers from the Indian sub-continent.

A Sunni Mosque in central Manama showing the simple, but decorative, architecture favoured for these, with understated decoration.

Elsewhere, however, one encounters richly decorated mosques, one in particular that I passed frequently but could not get a worthwhile picture of, had a fully tilled dome of vivid greens and blues with rich Arabic texts on the plinth in gold (Yellow) ceramic tile. This was a wealthy Shia congregation and not far from this one another, larger mosque in plain white finish with geometric decorative detailing along it's capitals and architraves, proclaimed itself to be a Sunni establishment.

Outside the city, one finds gloriously palatial mosques within sight of humble mudbrick structures - all very tidily kept and well maintained - in small rural communities. The National Mosque in the centre of Manama is a huge affair, obviously built to show the wealth, status and power of the nation, just as, in earlier centuries, Cathedrals and churches were built across Europe with the same intention.

The Mosques I have encountered here are an interesting pattern, usually having a large open area for worship, the floor covered by carpets and the roof supported by thin arcaded and decorated pillars or columns. This space is approached through an ablutions area where worshippers can wash feet, hands and face before prayer, and frequently surrounded by rooms for study, reading or meeting. Most have a portico and some - the more lavish - and forecourt usually surrounded by a covered "cloister". Men and women worship separately and some have the main hall divided by a screen for this purpose, others have a separate hall for the women.

All mosques have a tower or minaret of some kind, although in this age of technology, most have a powerful PA system through which the Muessin calls the faithful to prayer. Gone are the days of his having to climb the tight spiral stairs to the top to shout above the wind to be heard.

Just as churches differ across countries and Christian persuasions in the West, so mosques tell their own story in the Middle East. All in all, the architecture is fascinating!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 11, 2005

Sunday's sermon notes!

With my additional duties as Church Warden, I have been somewhat relieved, of late, to have less preaching to do. So, it was with a bit of a time pressure that I have had to put together my thoughts for a sermon for Sunday evening.

The week has certainly given me plenty to consider, some of which has filtered through into my sermon notes in the extended post below. It picks up on the thoughts I had earlier this week on the subject of the search by many who are "unchurched" for something spiritual to hold onto. It is a tricky area - and one which, I suspect, the Christian churches have helped to create by their emphasis on being "saved" or "unsaved" depending on whether you are inside a church or not.

As we run towards the Christmas celebration and the reminder of the birth of the child Jesus, we should all be asking what have we done, and what can we do, to help those who seek the Lord, to find the path to His grace.

Peace be with you all in this Advent tide.

Evensong Advent 3 2005
Tewkesbury Abbey

+ May I speak and may you hear in the Name of Him who was born and who died for us, the same Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world.

Ps 68 verse 19 “God is for us the God of our Salvation: God is the Lord who can deliver from death.”

This week I seem to have spent a lot of time waiting. For a delivery to my home yesterday, for a train to get home from London on Friday night, for visitors, lecturers, students and management meetings of one kind or another. While doing so I have had ample opportunity to ponder on the phenomenon of what seems to be a growing form of cult worship centred on celebrities – usually dead ones! Consider the way in which John Lennon’s death has been marked during the last week, or the way the death of Princess Diana is marked by her devotees each year. What is going on? What is that these “followers” seek? What drives their devotion?

The prophet Malachi speaks to a people whose leaders had begun to deviate from the path God had directed. Certain practices had begun to fall by the wayside, religious observance had fallen to a mere tokenism among many and certainly the “tithes” due to the Levites and the temple were not being paid in full. The argument was “we have waited, we have prayed, yet the Lord has not come to help us.” An argument we hear today every time some natural disaster strikes somewhere in the world and causes devastation. “Ah ha!” Cry the Humanists and Atheists – “See; there is no God or he would have prevented/stopped it!”

Now, as then, there are none so blind as those who will not see! Malachi answered his generation with the charge –

“You have wearied the Lord with your words.”

Malachi was dealing with a generation that had become self satisfied, materialistic and somewhat detached from religion. In fact somewhat like our own generation, as the doubters cried “Where was God?” whenever anything threatened their cosy world, and some even tried to portray evildoers as “good in the eyes of the Lord”. In essence a generation who had lost the heart of their faith and were now adrift looking for something to believe in.

In the week just past I found myself pondering anew the fact that as the gospel message has become less and less heard in the streets and workplaces of our nation, our young people – and some older ones – have begun to search for a new spirituality. I listened in amazement at the scenes of what one can almost describe as religious worship at various shrines set up to commemorate John Lennon to mark the 25th anniversary of his death. Look too at the numbers of devotees of the Elvis Presley cult, some of whom actually do believe that he will return from the dead! Then there is also the annual outpouring of grief for Princess Diana, whose devotees seem to me to get more bitter and more strident as the years pass.

What do they seek? What do we seek as we mark the passing of this Advent season? Do we expect the Lord Jesus to return in some Apocalyptic form, at the head of a host of warrior angels? Or are we simply in the habit of marking the shopping days to Christmas and the fun of exchanging gifts, separating the kids as they squabble over the latest video game, without any real expectation that the march of the seasons will radically change our lives? If so, we need to urgently rethink our faith! As Malachi told his listeners -

“Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.”

In this last week, those who have followed the lections set for daily worship, will have noticed that it was a little difficult to get away from John the Baptist at times. He seemed to be in every set of readings, even today, we are reminded of his mission with Asperges at 1100 and the passage in our first lesson that reminds us that God will send his messenger and that the Lord is Himself a messenger! Both seek to bring us to the fountain of spiritual refreshment so that we need no longer seek but may know the salvation and comfort that awaits all who turn to God for refreshment.

It struck me as I waited and listened or read yet another report on the way people were flocking to mark John Lennon’s death, that this is where our society has begun to suffer the same problem that Malachi’s generation knew. If the spiritual development of the nation is stunted, or in some way restricted, then soon enough, other forms of spiritual search begin to take precedence over the established religions. If the people who remain in the churches, synagogues or temple are not practicing what they preach, if they are not setting an example that inspires and makes others hungry to share in the banquet, they will go elsewhere. I put it to you, that, in our generation, the Baal totems and idols have been replaced by the John Lennon’s of pop fame or the George Bests of football, by home-made quasi-religious philosophies borrowing from Humanism, Jainism, Hindu-ism and even from 20th Century re-inventions of Druidism.

In this mishmash one does indeed find that there are those who defend the doers of evil by claiming that the evildoer is good in the eyes of the Lord and He is pleased with them. But, more importantly, what does it say to us? What does it say of us and of how we have managed our stewardship of the message of God in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? Can we be called good stewards when we do nothing in the face of increasing secularisation? Can we be called good stewards when our schools ban any representation of our faith? Can we be good stewards when there are those who will be alone this Christmas and who face a year without the warmth of friendship or in hardship?

I confess that it seemed to me to be a little strange, to find that the lectionary links the reading from Malachi to a buoyant message of hope in Philippians, until I looked more closely. “The Lord is near” says Paul to his readers, and in Advent this is especially true.

Advent is the time of the messenger, the time in which we should, as Paul puts it, “present our requests to God.” The messengers have been, all the old testament prophets, the patriarchs and the Apostles. John the Baptist came as, in the words from St John’s gospel:

“a voice crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord,”

And we know that in John’s lifetime Our Lord Jesus did indeed follow and bring about the fulfilment of the prophecies. Now it is our turn to play the messenger and carry the message. As we wait his coming in Glory, as is promised and predicted; we must, in our turn, proclaim the good news and bring those who seek spiritual nourishment – even those who don’t know what it is that they seek – to the Lord.

If we are to call ourselves the people of God, then we must be the people of God. If we believe that our Lord Jesus is the Christ, then we must proclaim it and show it in our lives. We dare not fall into the same trap that seems to have ensnared Malachi’s generation and become smug in our faith, for then it is no faith. Impatience is a difficult thing to deal with, it becomes more so in a generation who live by sound bites and visual stimulation, we need to engage their hearts so that we can give them the direction they need in their spiritual search. If we are to be the effective messengers we should be, we must be fully prepared to embrace all that this demands of us. We need to be prepared to engage with those who seek; to find ways to show them how Jesus is the hope and the life that they seek. That Christianity is relevant to this world and to our society. We need to show them the way to find God in His Son and not through pop-stars and other celebrities.

Malachi charged his hearers with the reminder:

“Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?”

Advent is our time when we need to remind ourselves of this and to prepare, lest he come upon us unawares and we fail to recognise him. That would be frightening indeed. We need, instead, to make sure that we are prepared, that we do carry the message of the gospel faithfully, helping others to find the truth and the path. And we need to prepare ourselves, so that, when he appears we both recognise him and he us. Perhaps, even more importantly, we need to make sure that we are the effective messengers He asks us to be.

We prepare for his coming and live in hope that

“the peace of God, which passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”


Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:36 PM | TrackBack

Searching for a spiritual meaning?

Listening to the radio recently, I was reminded that it is 25 years since John Lennon was shot. What surprised me was that there are still people out there who make an annual event out of remembering him, that they arrange special "remembrance events" such as the one to be held here in the UK which will see the release of hundreds of white balloons with "messages to John" tied to them. This is on a par with the annual sackclothe and ashes performance of the press (whose smoking gun is still smoking!) and the Diana Cultists who gather to revile the Prince of Wales and other Royals while indulging in a display of grief at their loss of the "Fairy Princess".

I am constantly amazed at the cult that has grown around Elvis Presley as well - there really are people out there who believe he will make a "second coming" and return if only his fans remain faithful. Then we have also just seen the huge outpouring at the funeral of George Best, a man the press were reviling only a few months ago for having had a liver transplant and then returned to his alcoholism. Anyone would think that we had just witnessed the burial of some truly remarkable person, a saint perhaps, certainly someone of the stature of a head of state or possibly even a leader of a religious movement - not an alcoholic footballer who, however good he was on a playing field, was destroyed by the trappings of his success.

Look around at the various "fan clubs" that gather around pop-stars, film-stars and sportsmen, many of whom have real problems dealing with reality and many are also very poor examples for young people to model themselves on. Strangely, this is the modern "culture" we have created - or allowed those in power to create - based on secular "values" which are founded more on a set of "ethics" and "moralist" principles which one could be excused for thinking, are based on no particular religious teaching, yet borrow from many. In fact they are the atheistic "Humanist" moralist ideas which assume that the human being is the ultimate creation, the pinnacle of life "born good, but everywhere debased by evil". For "evil" in this thinking read any form of Judeo-Christian teaching.

I find it increasingly difficult to come to terms with the mindset that preaches "religious freedom", but restricts Christianity, while promoting other religions in schools, universities and in all matters cultural. A recent example being the school which excluded a teenager for refusing to take off her crucifix - she is a practicing Christian - on the grounds that it is NOT a religious symbol as it is not "required symbolism". Sikh scholars, on the other hand are allowed to wear all the religious jewellery including a small dagger and Muslims are allowed to wear the Hijab and any other mark of their faith at the same school. Surely this is an assault upon the girl's faith and upon her "Human Rights" as well? The wearing of the cross is not a requirement of any Christian denomination as a mark - I wear it anyway as it is marked on my forehead from my Baptism and Confirmation even though it is invisible to the human eye - but it is a matter of religious freedom to do so if I, or anyone else, wish!

Even stranger is the fact that more and more of the sort of activity that the Lennon fans seem to be engaged in is attracting more and more of a following. It is almost as if the medieval attraction to pilgrimages and the visitation of "shrines" has been recreated. I find myself wondering if it is perhaps a manifestation of a deep human desire to believe in a life beyond this rather short, frequently difficult and - if you are poor and starving - often miserable existence. Look back in history to pre-Christian times, almost from the very dawn of civilisation there is evidence of a search for "spiritual" life rather than the reality of the everyday grind. Is this new creation of the cult of stardom perhaps concealing something that our politicians and "thinkers" have overlooked? Could the spirit of God be breaking through in a new way and stirring people to look again at the secular creation which promotes the idea that there is no life beyond this one? If so, can we, in our beautiful and emptying churches, afford to ignore what is happening?

I do not suggest that we jump on any of these bandwagons, frankly the thought of canonising John Lennon, Elvis Presley or George Best is enough to drive me out of the church, but surely we, as people who claim to be spiritually seeking through scripture and worship, study and prayer for the truth of God and the life to come, should be looking at how we have failed to preach the gospel effectively, to show it in our lives in ways that would provide those who seek reassurance in their present search for the spirit or essence of their heroes, how to come to Christ and find what they really seek? Where is the St Paul to go out among them and proclaim as he did to the Atheneans, "I come to reveal to you the Unknown God to whom you have erected an Altar in your temples".

It seems to me that there is a desperate search among our young, our not so young and even among the elderly who have never been given the gospel or the spiritual understanding that goes with real teaching of the Christian message, and the Churches really need to look at why they are failing to get the message of the Gospel across. It is a question I will be taking back to my congregation and it is one I will keep teasing with them until we find a way to answer it.

"Feed my sheep", said Our Lord, and He wasn't talking food for the stomach but food for the soul. Are we doing it? The signs seem to indicate that we are not getting the spiritual food to the spiritually starving! We had better look carefully at why this is so!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:01 AM | TrackBack

December 10, 2005

Singing Icebergs

A few days ago scientists of the Alfred-Wegener-Institut found out that icebergs could sing. Although the frequency of these sounds is too low for the human ear the noise made by a large iceberg (30 x 50 km) could be recorded at the Neumeyer station in Antarctica. The scientists believe that the sounds are caused by the movement of water in crevices of the iceberg under high pressure. This leads to vibration of the walls. These vibration are very similar to those of vulcanic origin. Scientists now hope to be able to use these seismic vibrations for better prediction of the time of a vulcanic eruption in the future.

This note about the icebergs took me straight back into 1982 when I spent my summer vacation in Greenland and fell in love with icebergs at first sight. So much that I came back again the next summer. They are truly beautiful as you can see below.


A truly majestic specimen

Icebergs are fascinating things. They are all pieces of "debris" from a glacier which eventually make it to the sea. That means they also contain of certain amount of air entrapped in the ice. There's nothing like the popping sound of melting little iceberg cubes in your night cap whisky in front of your tent after a long day of hiking through a breathtaking landscape.

The fastest moving glacier is the Jakobshavn glacier on the west coast. In 1985 it moved about 6700 m/year (18 m/day). It slowed down to 5700 m/year in 1992, picked up speed again in 1997 reaching a travelling speed of 9400 m/year in 2000 and even 12600 m/year (34 m/day!). The tongue of the glacier reaches into a long fjord which is packed with ice.


Jakobshavn ice fjord in 1983, view to the East towards the glacier

The ice in the fjord gives an illusion of being a solid surface which could be easily crossed. This is not the case, however, there are quite big gaps and channels between the pieces of ice.


View to the West towards the sea

The fjord gets shallower towards its mouth which causes the icebergs to get stuck. Only when the pressure inside the fjord gets big enough because the glacier never stops pushing new bits into the fjord at the other end are the icebergs released into the sea. A number of them pops out at the same time and - viewed from the sea - make a most impressive "skyline".


Icebergs popping out of Jakobshavn fjord

Posted by Mausi at 08:23 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 09, 2005

Immigration charades

Yet another revelation of the double standards practiced by our Ministers and their Whitehall poodles, the Civil Service. A leaked memo from the Home Office Immigration chiefs to all Immigration Officers at our Ports and Airports. Let through all the dodgy asylum seekers and illegal immigrants. Don't stop them, don't check on them, encourage them to "disappear" while you look the other way.

Why? Because our "Detention Centres" are full of failed asylum seekers and until these have been "sent home" there is no room for anymore. Does Whitehall consider the obvious? Speed up the bureaucratic and vindictive pursuit of failed asyklum seekers (Frequently people like the Oxford Graduate woman who, after arriving here as a child aged 10 has taught herself English, succeeded in passing through the State School system and won a place at Oxford on merit) and expel them from the country? No, of course not. They instead opted for the easy option - simply open the floodgates and let anyone who wants in while they look the other way. This, of course, solves two problems at a stroke - first, it reduces the statistics on asylum applications to almost zero, and second, it allows them to claim that we no longer have a problem.

This is not the first time I have said this, and it probably won't be the last, but if any private individual, company director or manager behaved in this way on anything to do with the operation of any private concern - they would be charged under any one of a number of laws. Why then, is the Civil Service, in particular the Civil Servants who undoubtedly cooked up this fraudulent scheme, not treated in exactly the same way?

It is about time that those in Whitehall who sit in their plush offices at the expense of the taxpaying public, where made fully answerable for their actions and charged with offences when they order underlings to ignore or break the law. The fact that they are the architects of this debacle in the first place makes them doubly culpable and it is about time that they paid the price of their incompetent fraudulent behaviour.

Let's see justice done - for once, let's see a minister and his coterie of civil servants ignominously dismissed from their posts and stripped of their pensions into the bargain.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:38 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 08, 2005

Once there was sea ....

Along the Eastern shore of Manama there are a number of huge land reclamation projects in progress. In fact the whole of the area which is now covered by new development was once under the sea, and the shore line is being extended by a further half mile to a mile to the East. The original "Gate of Bahrain" which once stood on the shore, is now about a half mile from the sea and this will no doubt continue as the Kingdom's economy expands and the demand for "sea shore" locations continues to grow.

Taken from the top of a newly completed 43 storey tower's helipad, the scene shows the reclamation works which have left an abandoned dhow nearly 500 metres inland in her own shrinking "lake".

The dhow in the picture above, long abandoned and now marooned a long way from any sea access by reclamation work, will be recovered in due course and mounted as a preserved "decoration" when the "lake" she is currently in is finally filled in. This entire area will eventually be covered by high rise blocks and landscaped gardens as the mega-rich move to newly completed apartments, offices and marinas which are slowly rising from these newly created lands.

To the left of the last picture, the extent of the reclamation can be seen, with the first of a number of luxury tower blocks rising in the foreground.

A considerable amount of money, time and effort has gone into studying the effects of the reclamation work along this shore and its impact on the environment. The open channles which will eventually criss-cross it are all designed to allow the free flow of tidal movement and ensure that silting is minimal, but already there is an unforseen impact further offshore as the outlying reefs are showing signs of silting, assumed to be the result of offshore dredging. Further studies have shown that this tends to reverse once dredging stops, so perhaps the damage will not be longterm.

Bahrain has considerable experience of this sort of work, as the nations pride is that it has linked itself to the Arabian shore by means of a 25 kilometre long causeway and two artificial islands to Saudi Arabia. This feat of engineering was achieved in the 1980's, again with considerable study of the hydrographic effects it would have and has, thus far, had only a minimal impact on the ocean it traverses. The tides flow freely, thanks to the long bridge spans, and the fish stocks, shell fish and other reef life has seen improvement thanks to a large conservation effort and investment.

The causeway between Bahrain and Saudi stretches across the intervening sea. This picture was taken from the observation tower on the artificial island created at the midway point between the two nations and shows the Bahraini side.

Perhaps, after all, the reclamation, can be positive for the environment, certainly, talking to those involved in this work, the knowledge gained in each of the studies and in the actual project itself is teaching us more and more about the environment and the forces which affect it.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:59 AM | TrackBack

December 07, 2005

Nice for some.....

Well, well, well. Our illustrious politicians have their fingers caught in the till again? Trying to sneak through a nice little package to give themselves a rather generous 22% pay rise - even if, as they vehemently protest, it would be spread over two years, it is still way too generous for a bunch of failed lawyers, businessmen and women and trade union organisers! They should pay us for the privilege of representing us, not the other way around!

Let's face it, boosting their already generous pay packages - an MP can claim the full "salary" plus a generous "allowance" which could total as much as £250,000 per year - to a new "high" of £72,000 per annum plus the full package of allowances, is really ripping the a**e out of the electorate. Not only do they get the most generous "pension" of any scheme on being thrown out of office - if we can persuade their usual "tribal" voters to rebel - but they have also had time and the opportunity to line up several nice "non-executive" directorships which pay rather handsomely and usually go on to offer their services to "lobbying" companies at generous fees to get these entree to the hallowed halls and corridors of Westminster and Whitehall! Most of them retire very well off indeed, never mind on the pittances they expect everyone else to survive on.

For a government that preached "moralism" and "fairness" in both the last two elections, this latest revelation is nothing less than proof that they are rotten to the core, interested only in feathering their own nests and to the devil with the taxpayers. At the next election we should insist on a health warning on all their posters -

Caveat emptor - let the voter beware!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:27 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Citizen or subject? Now there is a question!

Wandering across a few blogs I came across this question on "One happy dog speaks" and it made me think. In Britain we have traditionally been regarded as "Subjects", although Mr Blair is more keen on the term "Citizen", but what is the reality?

I don't necessarily agree with the rather crude definition that it means I own a gun, but it does mean that I enjoy an number of freedoms - freedoms Mr Blair and his closet communistas are determined to remove, control or take away. Read Happy Dog's summary and think about the matter that really underscores our status in this Kingdom - no right to self defence, no bearing of arms (not even pen knives with a blade of more than 3 and a quarter inches!) and now our freedom to express our religious views, our freedom to say what we think of the behaviour of cultures that are free to attack ours and even our freedom to bring our children up as we believe they should be have all been removed.

So, are we free men and women and "citizens" of our island fastness, or prisoners of Blair's "modern" Marxistic state and "subjects" of his army of Thought Police? You decide.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 06, 2005

St Nicholas, Bishop of Smyrna

Today is St Nicholas' day, the saint responsible for the frenzy of gift giving we indulge in at this season. According to the legend he was passing the home of a family which lacked the wealth to pay the dowry for the daughters of the house to marry and so secretly made up purses which he then had delivered to the house as a gift to each daughter. The legend has grown a little in the telling, but the fact is that he was known in his own time for his generosity to all in need and his willingness to give even what he needed to someone he judged in greater need than himself.

He was Bishop of Smyrna, now part of modern Turkey and is regarded as one of the best examples of Christian living of his time. Interestingly, in some parts of Europe, including Holland, St Nicholas' Day is the day on which gifts are traditionally exchanged and Christmas is kept as a feast dedicated purely to the Christ Child.

May St Nicholas give to everyone the gifts they need to deal with the year ahead.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:06 AM | TrackBack

Lines of grace

The dhows of the Arabian Gulf come in a wide range of sizes, but all share the same basic design and shape. There are small ones for use by a single man for fishing which can be rowed or sailed, there are the larger versions capable of short seagoing voyages and used for fishing, short sea trading and pearl diving - and then there are large versions which trade across oceanic distances between Arabia and India. In the days of sailing vessels - in fact right up to the mid-twentieth Century - these sailing dhows used to trade along the East African Coast, and across the Indian Ocean/Arabian Sea to India, Ceyl;on, Burma, Thailand and down the Indonesian Island chain. Some still do, but now are powered by large diesel engines as the one in the phot below was until it was abandoned where you now see it.

An abandoned dhow shows the graceful lines and shallow draft which give these craft their speed and ability to sail swiftly in shallow waters around the islands.

The sailing dhows carried either a single mast on the smaller vessels or a double mast arrangement on the large ocen going vessels. The lateen rig is not the handiest if you need to drive the vessel to windward by means of a series of "tacks", which requires the ability to change the side on which the sials are "set" in order to make the most efficient use of the wind. This was a major disadvantage of the "square" rig common on European vessels during the age of exploration and expansion, but it was more efficient in that it allowed a rapid change of direction which did not, as in the lateen rig, require the sails to be struck, hauled over the top of the mast and the long angled yard, and then reset on the opposite tack, a manoeuvre possible only where there was plenty of sea room or the vessel could be brought to anchor while the change was made.

A beautifully detailed model of a twin masted trading dhow showing the arrangement of the twin masts and the manner in which the sails are set.

As I could not get to a place where there are reputed to still be some fully rigged dhows, I have had to resort to a photograph of a presentation model of the double masted rig. Even on this scale the simple grace of the lines of the hull and of the rig show its simple beauty. While European sailing vessels of the 16th - 19th Century lumbered around the world at an average speed of 4 - 8 knots (around 5 - 10 miles per hour!), the dhows could regularly notch up speeds of 10 - 15 knots (11 - 17 mph) sailing along the monsoon winds between India and Arabia and between Arabia and the East Coast of Africa. On a broad reach these craft have a distinct advantage with a good wind as the hull form and the shallow draft allow the bows to lift and the ship adopts a "planing" attitude which reduces drag and increases the speed which can be achieved. The deep hulled design of European ships required considerably more effort to achieve anything like the speds the dhows could reach.

The rather sadly decaying timbers of this abandoned dhow show the inherent strength of the hull design and its yacht like lines.

A remarkable feature of the dhow design is that it has not changed a great deal in over a thousand years. You will not find any drawings for the design in any of the "yards" where they are still built, the design is all done by eye and experience and they vary individually as a result in dimensions, hull form and size. All in all, a remarkably durable and efficient design which has stood the test of time very well indeed.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:12 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 05, 2005

How many moons?

With crime rising and certain types of crime at an all time high, our new Lord Chief Justice has announced that "young" muggers should not be sent to jail. On the contrary, according to him they do not "intend" harm, and may simply be desperate! Two days after he published this latest piece of idiocy, we have seen two "young" men (one 17 and the other 24!) sent to prison for a racially motivated murder of a young black man whom they attacked for no other reason than his skin colour. Perhaps the Lord Chief Justice would have felt that they too, didn't mean any harm?

The two in question admit going out to "look for a fight". One claims not to have "intended" to kill. So that was why they took an ice axe with them? In summer? In Britain? They were obviously going to climb a convenient glacier in the local park with this impliment!

Thankfully the Judge who heard this case decided that they had intended to kill and that they deserved to go down for the mandatory "Life" sentence of 25 years. Sadly they will be out again on "License" in just over 12 while their victim and his family will really have the life sentence.

One is forced to wonder sometimes just what goes through the minds of our most senior judges. I have to say that I have come to the conclusion that they either do not inhabit the same planet or even the same universe/dimension as the rest of us. I'm sure that, wherever it is, it must be a fabulous place, peaceful, crime free, forever sunny and pleasant - and probably has more than one moon to light up the night sky!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:03 PM | TrackBack

December 04, 2005

More fame?

A pleasant surprise on Monday night was to arrive home (eventually - after a nightmare journey taking three and half hours to cover a 45 minute drive!! Another story for some other time!) to find an unexpected package. It contained a newly published book, in Italian (which I don't read or speak!), on ship types and their development. It is, from what little I am able to decipher, a "Compact Guide to Ships and their history." The title is "Navi e Velieri" published by DeAgostini and edited by Ricardo Magrini.

Now you may well ask why I would get a copy of this book. The simple answer is that it has a photograph in it of the preserved Victorian "Iron Frigate", HMS Warrior, which I took a couple of years ago and shared on this blog. The book's Illustrations Editor, Valeria Camaschella contacted me by e-mail via the blog, and asked for permission to use the picture and for a fresh copy. Flattered I gave my consent and a copy of the picture, asking only that I receive credit for it! I am flattered that they have not only done this, but provided me with a copy of the book as well.

HMS Warrior moored in Portsmouth.

Just goes to show, perhaps the readership of this site is wider than I thought!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:26 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 03, 2005

Pension? What pension?

Lord Turner's report on the pensions crisis is finally published and, surprise, surprise, so much of it has been leaked already that it is almost a case of "what publishing date"? Equally, it does not seem to have so much that is radical about it - apart from a recommendation that every one should, by 2050, work until they are 68 or 69 before drawing their old age pensions. As by then I will be 110 I hardly think that this is going to have a radical impact upon me, but it will affect many of those currently entering the workforce.

One aspect that does seriously annoy me however, is the suggestion that every employee should in future have to pay a further 4% of income into a compulsory saving scheme "designed to provide them with a pension at retirement age". That is precisely what we are all already paying 12% of income in "national insurance" for! That "National Insurance" is supposed to fund the NHS, Pensions and that even greater economic "Black Hole" - the Social Welfare Blair and his cronies so love to proclaim as a "model" for everyone else.

The Turner Report proposes that everyone should contribute 4% of income, topped up by a further 3% paid by employers and 1% added from the Treasury. This is already done in National Insurance, since every employer pays an amount matching the employees contributuion into the NI fund. So, if we have 22 million workers all paying National Insurance, and let us assume that the mean average is £3,000 per person per annum (based on the Treasury's "average" National Income of £25,000 per annum) then the employers amount would be at least £3,000 per employee, making £6,000 per annum for each one of the 22 million employees. My calculator tells me that this means the Treasury is getting £132 million a year pouring into the Treasury's coffers. The real problem is that this is not enough to pay the NHS, bloated as it is with bureaucrats and Damagers who contribute nothing whatever to the delivery of medical treatment or care to the patients, indeed, it is they who create the waiting lists and whose cost has shut down wards, created a shortage of beds and is now closing hospitals. So, patently, the NHS cannot be funded from this sum.

Nor can the even more bloated "Benefit" industry run by the Department of Social Security and Pensions. Like the NHS a vast amount of money is spent on bureaucracy and paper shuffling intended to ensure that anyone classed as "rich" - ie: you own your own home or have a few pounds tucked away in savings of one sort or another - does not benefit from anything they have contributed too, while the layabouts and terminally dependent (and I am not counting Old Age Pensioners and the genuinely disabled among those) are kept in the manner to which they have been promoted by the likes of Blair and his henchmen. Ask only what the Chancellor means by "Means Testing" and you soon discover that the prudent and hardworking are excluded from almost everything they have paid for through their working lives, while Blair and Brown's feckless supporters milk it for everything they can get.

Even allowing for the fact that the amount I have used as a rough guestimate will have been considerably lower than that in the first years of it's inception, had it been invested, we would not have the present crisis. Instead it has always been treated by the tTreasury as simply another element of the overall "tax" income taken from hardworking people to fund the lifestyles to which our Bureaucrats have always been accustomed. In short its name is a total misnomer and it is simply a form of income tax which has nothing at all to do with paying our pensions, the NHS or the Social Security it is supposed to be funding. It cannot, it is not invested, it does not earn interest or generate income, it is simply money poured into the economic black hole that is Whitehall.

If Lord Turner's suggested 4+3+1% was invested in a Trust Fund that was Treasury proof, I might consider this a good idea. As it stands, if it is to be collected and administered by the Treasury, it is nothing more than another tax on incomes and should be rejected out of hand. It is the Treasury and its refusal to invest money for the future, and the politicians who see every pot of money coming into "their" hands as a cash cow to be squandered on whatever scheme is flavour of the Budget, who have created this disasterous situation, but you will notice that they have not been required to reduce their very lucrative and entirely non-contributory packages to provide "fair" and "affordable" pensions for anyone else!

This is a thorny issue to be sure, and it will not be resolved by politicians or their aparatchik civil servants unless they have the courage to grasp the very simple point that you cannot take £8 billion a year out of the incomes generated by invested pension contributions in the private sector and still expect them to pay their pensioners. You cannot take money from today's contributors to pay today's pensioners and still expect to be able to pay those whose contributions you have taken today and spent today, the pensions they have paid for tomorrow! If you or I tried this trick in a private venture we would very soon be enjoying Her Majesty's hospitality in one or other of the overcrowded jails our judges like to fill with middle class types who dare to defend themselves when attacked by Blair's yob voter constituency. Perhaps that is the solution, let's bring the government and the Treasury officials who are responsible for this state of affairs to court on charges of false representation, misfeasance and fraud, for that is precisely what it is - on a national scale! And we need to acknowledge that it is not just that crew, because this is the same situation which has arisen in Local Government pensions - particularly the Fire Service Pension scheme - and in many "private" schemes where the money has never been "invested" to provide income for payment of pensions, but has been used instead to fund road building, parks, gardens, schools and probably a few things that, if looked at critically, could be very dodgy indeed. Nor is it just this government or Party that is guilty of this, it is every political party who have subscribed to this and misused the money in this way. They are all guilty of misfeasance in respect of the way that they have managed the pension scheme they are supposed to have set up.

It is no good their complaining that people live longer, or that they retire too early, the real bottom line is that they have stolen the money - rather like that other great supporter of "New" Labour, Robert Maxwell - and spent it on things they felt would attract votes, now the pigeon has come home to roost the last thing any of them want is to have to acknowledge that it is they and they alone, who are responsible.

The only problem is that, as usual, it is the hardworking who will now have to work longer and pay more into a fund, which, if it is not set up in an entirely different way from the start will be in equally poor state long before Lord Turner's target date of 2050!

I predict that nothing will change except the retirement age - and that is likely to rise to 70 before long and perhaps even further to 75 - and those who have paid into these funds all their working lives will eventually find that they are not entitled to the benefits under the Chancellor's "Means Test" criteria, because these will be set to exclude anyone he considers "rich", that is anyone who owns anything, has any savings and pays tax!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 02, 2005

Music for Advent

Advent marks the Church's New Year and the Tewkesbury Abbey Advent is a busy one, as befits the Catholic tradition. Last Saturday evening saw the annual Advent Carol service in the Abbey performed by three choirs as a moving feast as they move about the Abbey to sing singly, jointly or in counterpoint. The service began in 1947 as a joint thanksgiving for the pupils of the Blue Coat School in Birmingham and the Prebendal Singers from Worcester for the hospitality received when many of their members, as children, were evacuated to Tewkesbury for the duration of the war. The three choirs now involved are the Blue Coat School Choir, the Prebendal Singers and the Abbey School Choir and they combine to produce a stunning musical entree to the season of Advent.

The service begins with the Church lit by candles and some subdued lighting in the nave and aisles. The Blue Coats and the Prebendals assemble in the South Transept Lady Chapel with the Abbey School Choir in the North Transept at the Grove Organ. The Crucifer, two acolytes, a Cantor and the Vicar assemble before the High Altar and process slowly down the Quire and into the Nave while the Cantor sings the verses of the "Royal Acclamations of Christ" and the choirs respond with the chorus of

Christus vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus imperat

which is alternated between South and North as the procession moves down the church, Cross, Acolytres and Ministers in the centre nave, the choirs in the North and South Aisles led by four Acolytes and a Priest or Deacon on each side and keeping pace with the Cross in the nave.

Exaudi Christe, Ecclesia sancta Dei, supra regnorum fines nectenti animas: salus perpetua!

One can feel the presence of the old monks as the latin is intoned!

At the West End, between the font and the Entrance doors, the choirs assemble facing each other and the Abbey School Choir sings the Matin Responsory, "I look from afar", which is adapted from a version of the "Magnificat" used only in Advent. This is followed by a reading from Isaiah 2 v 5 - 11 read by a member of the Blue Coat School and this is followed by the Prebendal Singers singing a Motet, "O Lord, I lift up my heart to thee" by Orlando Gibbons. A second reading from Isaiah 40 v 1 - 11 follows read by the Headmaster of the Blue Coat School and then a congregational carol is sung as the Cross and Acolytes lead the choirs up the central aisle to the Choir screen.

In the area in front of the screen, the choirs turn to face the congregation and the Abbey School Choir sings "Adam lay y' bounden" to the Warlock setting (Not the version used by the Medieval Babes!) and that is followed by the Blue Coats and the Prebendals singing the Motet "Rorate coeli desuper!" a Scottish Traditional hymn set to music by Stephen Wilkinson. The third lesson is read by a member of the Abbey School Choir from Zechariah 2 v 10 - 13 and this is followed by the Carol "Tomorrow shall be my dancing day", and English Traditional Carol set to music by Karl Rutti, and another congregational carol, "Hark what a sound, to divine for hearing".

The fourth lesson is read by a member of the Prebendal Singers from Isaiah 11 v 1 - 10 and the choirs then move into the Lady Chapel (Blue Coats and Prebendals) and into the North Aisle at the Beauchamp Chantry (dedicated to St Mary Magdalene) while the organist plays the introduction to "Wachet auf!" Once they are in position, the choirs sing the two verses to this lovely hymn one verse from the Lady Chapel and the other from the North Aisle, the effect is stunning! This is followed by the fifth lesson read by one of the Abbey Church Wardens, and is the Annunciation passage from Luke 1 v 26 - 38. Only one hymn or carol could possibly follow that - "Velut maris stella.", the words from the latin canticle written in 1300 and set to music by Benjamin Britten in a mixture of English and Latin. That is in turn followed by the Motet "Ave maris stella" and the Carol "Gabriel's message does away".

During the singing of the next congregational carol, "Once only for this troubled world", the choirs move into the Quire proper for the final lesson, taken from Mark 1 v 1 - 11 read by the Headmaster of the Abbey School. The combined choirs then sing the Anthem from Handel's Messiah "And the glory of the Lord." The congregation then join in singing the carol "Long ago, prophets knew" while the choirs move to the steps of the High Altar for the saying of the Advent Vesper Responsory and the prayers which are followed by the final Anthem sung by the combined choirs, that great Advent anthem from the 3rd Century, "Hail gladdening light, of His pure glory poured".

The Blessing is followed by the Recessional Hymn and the Cross, Acolytes and clergy precede the choirs to the West End where the final "vestry" prayers are said.

The only thing left to say is that the whole was topped off by our organist delivering a flawless rendition of Widor's "Allegro" from Symphonie VI! Advent well and truly announced!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:24 PM | TrackBack

December 01, 2005

How old is the Moon?

Do you know? I've learnt a few day ago that is 4,527 million years old - give or take 10 million years that is. At least that is what a team of scientists from Münster and Köln in Germany and Oxford Great Britain say. But how do they know?

They analysed the content of the metal isotope Wolfram-182 in a number of rock samples taken during various Apollo missions. During the first 60 million years of our solar system Wolfram-182 was partly formed by the radioactive decay of Hafnium-182. But being a very instable isotop Hafnium-182 vanished completely within these first 60 million years. That means that if variations in Wolfram-182 content are found in rock samples the rocks must have been formed within the first 60 million years. If the rocks had been formed after the first 60 million years one would expect no variations in Wolfram-182 content of the rock samples because in that case Hafnium-182 would not have contributed to the Wolfram-182 content.

Variations in the Wolfram-182 content were indeed detected in the rock samples from the Moon. These enabled the scienstists to calculate that the Moon must have been formed 30 to 50 millions years after our solar system, i.e. 4,527 million years ago. The Moon itself is most probably the product of a collision between the so-called proto-Earth and a marslike object as described in the "Giant Impact Hypothesis". According to this hypothesis the Earth as we know it is as old as the Moon. The oldest rocks which are found on the Earth are at least 500 million years younger than the Earth itself and therefore useless for exactly determining the age of the Earth. But now the rock samples from the Moon, which contain information about both Earth and Moon, will certainly open up new insights into the hour of birth of our own planet.

Posted by Mausi at 12:29 PM | TrackBack