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May 31, 2007

Guest posting

Slim Jim is an old friend, colleague and adversary in some things, and I welcome his agreeing to share some of his thoughts and occassional fishy tales with us on the Blog. The item below is (I hope) the first of many.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:27 PM | TrackBack

One never knows who one touches ....

My recent post on this blog, the reply to a request to sign a petition on the release of the two who murdered Jamie Bulger has had a surprising result. I was stopped today in the street by a member of the Abbey congregation who knows me and evidently reads my blog. The reason she crossed the road to talk was that she had, herself, received the same petition, and found herself in a dilemma, but said, after reading jmy thoughts on the subject, that she had found the answer and agreed with me. She found it comforting to know that, as a Christian, she was not alone in feeling that justice has not been served, is not being served and that the ethos of Christian forgiveness is here being abused and turned into something it is not.

Just goes to show, one never can tell who one is going to touch with one's own thoughts, dilemmas and solutions.

All I can do is to use the same language as my hero St Patrick

Ego Patricius, peccator rusticissimus et minimus omnium fidelium et contemptibilis sum apud plurimos.

Deo Gratias

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:03 PM | TrackBack

May 30, 2007

Fascinating research

As those who read this ramble regularly will know, I have been doing a bit of research into Roman Britain, specifically the period embraced by the 5th Century. Quite a number of things triggered this interest, not least my interest in the man behind the legend that is the cardboard cutout that we know as St Patrick. Researching that period has a number of problems, not least being the paucity of reliable records and accounts from then. We know quite a bit from studying what went on in other parts of the empire and even of what was happening in Britain itself, but there is almost no written evidence for any of the bits I am particularly interested in. I suspect that, if I were a Latin scholar, or even able to read the old Irish tongue, I might find something, but as it is I have to rely on translations and there are some interesting variations in those too!

Sadly, almost everything we have from this period is written down by someone at least two centuries later. And very often what they didn't know, they invented! Because several of the languages spoken in the 5th Century - and spoken by those whose "voices" we most want to hear - were not written languages at all, we have only the record of those who wrote in Latin and frequently theirs is a biased account. Then there is the political angle as well, because many of the accounts written in the 7th to 10th Centuries were about boosting the claim to primacy and therefore power of one group or another. That said, what emerges slowly and painstakingly from the plethora of information that one has to absorb and analyse to understand that period is fascinating in itself.

Several things I have learned about the collapsing Western Roman Empire are in themselves fascinating, not least because of how it gradually ceased to function and the former middle classes suddenly found themselves bound to the great magnates who emerged the ultimate victors, holding vast tracts of territory and almost all the wealth. I think I have remarked before on the interesting phenomenon of how certain "family groups" seem to translate themselves from one age to another wielding power and wealth as they go, changing shape, profile and sometimes title, but never actually losing that grip on power and wealth. The collapsing Roman Empire demonstrated this in more ways than one as the middle was squeezed out of existence and the lower classes found themselves transformed from "freemen" and slaves into peasants and serfs of the emerging states and their rulers.

The fifth century was remarkable for the fact that it is the transit period from the Classical World to the Medieval. One minute its citizens were living in a world where they had the leisure to run schools and teach children Reading, writing and arithmetic - and the next they had lost the ability to pass on their knowledge, and with it the ability to record their history and to enjoy their freedom.

A new book I am reading points out that the ever increasing bureaucracy of the Empire meant that the upper classes and the Emperor became ever more remote from the reality on the ground. To pay for this and for the hiring of mercenaries to replace the Roman troops they could no longer recruit internally, taxes rose and continued to rise until most people were faced with a simple choice - surrender their liberty and sell themselves to the highest bidder (slaves don't pay tax!) or be stripped of everything you possess and be hung for non-payment anyway. Then, later, as control slipped from the Emperor's fingers, the tax collectors, by now the only people with the money to hire lawyers and soldiers, simply waited until someone's property had been raided by marauding bands of brigands - and then descended to demand a mammoth tax bill be settled immediately - or the forfeiture of the property. Naturally, with the bully-boys to back it up if you argued about it.

No surprise that within seventy years of Alaric's sack of Rome, the whole facade just fell in on itself. The various "Prefects" in place across Western Europe simply turned their backs on Rome, kept the taxes and the land and engaged the soldiers to defend their own little patch. Look at the lineage of any of the noble families of Europe and I will guarantee they have at least one part of the family that stretches back to the senatorial classes in the collapsed Empire of the 5th Century. Interestingly one of the major reasons the written record is so hard to find for this period is that the Magnates put the bureaucrats to the sword in most cases, or kept just enough of them on to make sure they knew who owed them what - but for the most part, outside Rome (where most bureaucrats found themselves niches in the Church in Rome!), the bureaucrats were swept aside.

This purge of bureaucrats was no where more pronounced than under the Saxon invasion of England. The invaders had no use for the bureaucracy and so they basically drove them into the sea or chucked them out of office and burned their records. The amazing thing is that a lot of the books from the classical period in Britain found their way to Irish monastic communities set up after St Patrick and others established Christianity in Ireland and this knowledge and literature returned to Britain and Western Europe from this source almost three centuries later!

One of the most frustrating pieces of the puzzle that is St Patrick is trying to get past the corruption of the names of the only two places he mentions in his two authentic pieces of writing. Copyists have managed to render them both almost meaningless and unfortunately even the oldest copy contains errors - and it was made within a very few years of his death. That said, I am now convinced that we lost a great deal more in the 5th Century collapse of Rome than just the writings of its populace, I think we lost an opportunity to move humanity forward dramatically and the reason we did so was the oldest one in the book. Personal interests and greed among the ruling classes.

The greed of the great families in their pursuit of wealth and power ensured that all the benefit that could have flowed from the creation of a stable and technologically advanced state were thrown away in their desire to take more and more of the wealth for themselves and to ensure they remained in power. The lesson this has for our own age is there - for those who have eyes to see, or ears to hear. Don't expect a miracle though, we live with a political class today who believe that the past has nothing to teach us.

"He who forgets his past is doomed to repeat its failures."

One of Rome's great men of letters wrote that and it was the epitaph of his world, just as I suspect it will be of our own.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:00 PM | TrackBack

May 29, 2007

Global what?

Came across a fascinating piece on a 15 year old in a site called Newsbusters thanks to a visit to another blog I haven't visited in a while. It seems that the climate change boyos might want to look at the data a little more closely. As I have long suspected, most of their scare campaign is based on outcomes from models that don't analyse the complete picture. Really useful that is. Read the newsbusters piece and weep.

Oh, and Mausi tells me that she has it on very good authority (Someone who spends his days studying the sun) that solar activity is increasing at the moment after a long period of calm.

Who knows, the next ice-age could be just around the corner!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:44 PM | TrackBack

May 28, 2007

Some people just don't get the message ....

I note with interest that the new French President has stated that it is his intention to force through a "revised" constitution for the EU and threatened that Britain could join the fast track or be sidelined. Apparently the fact that it was his nation that rejected the last such treaty has escaped his notice. Either that, or in typically French fashion, he has decided to ignore anything that disagrees with his worldview. Now it is proposed that the national veto should be removed on everything and that Brussels and the Commision should have even more power. Considering that the Commission is entirely unelected and unanswerable to anyone but themselves and their bank managers, I do not think there will be many who will agree to that.

Britain in particular suffers under the Commission since it frequently seems that each of the Commissioners looks after their specific nations interests first and foremost. Almost every attempt by smaller British firms to gain a foothold in Europe has been blocked or sabotaged by one or another of the Commissioners including some of our own appointees. The classic is the Food Commissioner whose officials deliberately misrepresented their own rules in order to force a small UK firm out of the market that a large French and smaller Italian company wanted to monopolise. The Commissioner was twice beaten in court and refused to obey the EU's own court! Not only that, but they then demanded that our government issue an unconstitutional Statutory Instrument prohibiting the use of the specifically named company's products! Our spineless Minister caved in and tabled the Order in Parliament. The Lord's rejected it, but the Commons - with Blair's foot soldiers flocking through the lobby, forced it through. It is unconstitutional and plain wrong - but we have no recourse to redress because the Commission is above the law. To hand it more power as the French President is demanding would be folly in the extreme!

To crown the French demands for more power to Brussels, we now have the Japanese Chairman of Honda Motor Corporation threatening to withdraw his company and their investment from the UK if we do not immediately sign up to the Euro. Well, I hope his Sushi has been properly prepared, because I won't shed any tears if it isn't. What is more, it is a classic case of an industrialist attempting to dictate policy to a democratically elected government by threatening blackmail.

Well, I won't be buying anything French for a while and the thought of buying a Honda to replace my aging Rover is now off the agenda as well.

Wonder where I can get a reasonably priced VW?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 27, 2007

The evil in our midst.

This afternoon I opened my email to find one from a very dear friend, one which opens some serious questions. I am posting my reply to hers here, and the original e-mail which was forwarded, with her comments at the end, are in the extended post below. It may help to read them first.

It does encapsulate the evil at the very heart of our society and highlights the terrible dilemma we all face over these sorts of actions, and believe me they are far more common than simply this one. Remember Fred West? Well there are more like him out there and these two boys have just been licensed to carry on in his image - safely in Australia where the Australian public have no idea of the horror living in their midst.

I suppose I have a privileged view of this sort of thing, for one thing I had several years working alongside the police on murders involving fire and many of those were perpetrated by "children", kids under the age of 16. The frightening thing was that they knew exactly what they were doing and could justify themselves in doing it. This is one reason why if Peter Hain tripped and fell in front of me I would kick the living daylights out of him. One can only face so much horror.

Since the Bulger case I have had the privilege of working with three people who were directly involved in it, one a policeman who had to retire after it on stress, the HO Pathologist and the forensic scientist who provided the absolute conclusive proof of what these "boys" had done and how they had done it. All of them have been scarred by it - in fact all three say they had never before, and never since, encountered anything as evil as this. Their word not mine. What was not broadcast was that they had castrated him as well as everything else.

Then there is the matter of Justice. Little Jamie has not had justice and never will have it. What he has had is a media circus and the usual flurry of well-meaning libertarians who have campaigned to "protect" the two offenders from being confronted by their crime. Neither of the two has ever expressed remorse, and when the Psychiatrist who was responsible for the counselling advised the panel of probationary judges of this, he was swiftly removed from post and replaced by someone prepared to "make allowances for their age and 'tragic' background". I am told reliably that several of his colleagues have since refused to work with these boys at all and all have filed reports saying that they are manipulative and devious. None of this is supposed to be public knowledge, but the police are really worried about this and some of those most closely involved are quite openly saying that it is a travesty of justice.

For justice to be done, it must be seen to be done. The way these two murderers have been treated since their conviction has not shown justice at work. They have enjoyed shopping sprees, (reportedly) holidays abroad,the best private education, rather more luxurious accommodation than most prisoners get (or than they would themselves have had at home) and now have degrees and careers ahead of them. Little Jamie Bulger had his future, whatever it was, taken away from him in that single couple of hours spree of evil. During those few hours they cut off his fingers with scissors, rubbed paint into his eyes, forced foreign objects into his anus and castrated him before throwing him onto the railway lines so that a train would, they hoped, destroy the evidence. This is not "little white lie" territory, this is major calculated depravity. And our Justice system has failed to deal with it - continually fails to deal with others like this.

Jamie has not had justice and these two have not yet made any amends or apology for their murder.

The key here is that these two boys knew that they were doing something incredibly evil - but continued, secure in the knowledge that even if they were caught they would still "get away with it". That is the view of the psychiatrist whose report has been suppressed. Why? Who is trying to hide this and what do they hope to achieve by it? This "protection order" allows this pair to continue to get away with it - until one of them commits another crime, something, I am sorry to say, that is inevitable.

Lady Justice Butler-Schloss should be censured for her order, it is not justice that she has served here, but the narrow interests of the entire criminal fraternity and those who think they can "reform" them. She has now created a precedent which will be used to hide other murderers and criminals in our midst.

Like most people, I do have reservations about the death penalty, even though the one thing to be said for it is that it removes permanently any threat of a repeat offence, and it does reduce the murder rates despite the anti-captital punishment lobbies manipulation of the statistics. I have grave reservations about allowing Jamie's killers to live in the community surrounded by unsuspecting families, and I do not believe that they have been "rehabilitated". While I might not be prepared to see them hang, however much they deserve to, I do think they should be kept in detention for the rest of their lives and not allowed to enjoy the benefits they have had as a result of their crime.

I have seldom seen a hardened and very senior Detective cry, but I know one man who did - and he was one of those on the Bulger investigation. My good friend, the forensic scientist, doesn't talk about what he saw and had to handle, but he, one of the mildest and most gentlemanly men I know, has stated that he would be willing to pull the lever and hang both. The Pathologist is equally, though less pointedly, categoric about this case. Evil doesn't actually sum it up adequately.

Those two knew exactly what they were doing. That is what sets them apart in everyone's books. That is why they should not, under any circumstances, be released into the world again. Ever.

Now I know that this is all of it contrary to what my saviour tells me daily. I shall have to make amends for it to him myself when the time comes, but as I said, you can only take so much horror and then you want to rid the world of those who commit it. What prevents me? The knowledge that I would, if I once embarked on such a journey, I would soon be far more evil than they could even imagine. That is the thin line between morality and immorality.

Peace be with you,

I have just received the following, which is currently being forwarded via email in an attempt to put together a petition to overturn the recent ruling by Lady Justice Butler-Sloss. I have added my own thoughts at the end.
Do you remember February 1993 when a young boy of 3 was taken from a Liverpool shopping centre by two 10-year-old boys? Jamie Bulger walked away from his mother for only a second, Jon Venables took his hand and led him out of the mall with his friend Robert Thompson.

They took Jamie on a walk for over 2 and a half miles, along the way stopping every now and again to torture the poor little boy who was crying constantly for his mummy. Finally they stopped at a railway track where they brutally kicked him, threw stones at him, rubbed paint in his eyes, pushed batteries up his anus and cut his fingers off with scissors. Other mutilations were inflicted but not reported in the press. What these two boys did was so horrendous that Jamie's mother was forbidden to identify his body. They then left his beaten small body on railway tracks so a train could run him over to hide the mess they had created. These two boys, even being boys, understood what they did was wrong, hence trying to make it look like an accident.

This week Lady Justice Butler-Sloss has awarded the two boys anonymity for the rest of their lives when they leave custody with new identities. They will also leave custody early only serving just over half of their sentence. They are being relocated to Australia to live out the rest of their lives. They disgustingly and violently took Jamie's life away and in return they each get a new life!

Please. If you feel as strongly as we do, that this is a grave miscarriage of justice. Copy this entire email and paste into a new email then add your name at the end, and send it to everyone you can! If you are the 600th person to sign, please forward this e-mail to: cust.ser.cs@gtnet.gov.uk and attention it to Lady Justice Butler-Sloss.
Jesus said, 'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone'.

What these two boys did was unquestionably horrendous and a vile, murderous act. Yet, as it states in this highly emotive re-telling of the story, they DID understand that what they had done was wrong and tried to cover it up. Who wouldn't? How many of us have told the odd 'white lie' to get out of trouble? It goes without saying that what Jon and Robert did can never be condoned within the society in which we live. But I believe in forgiveness.

Undoubtedly the Bulger family should not have to fear ever meeting these two 24 year olds who devastated their family's life. Therefore the only thing that can be done is to give the men a new start somewhere else in the world. It is unfortunate that Australia has been publicised as this 'new start'. People will no doubt seek to reveal their true identities and begin a witch hunt. I spent two years of my life with Jon Venables in a Young Offenders' Institute less that half a mile from my house. I should not have been made aware of that!

A disgusting act, yes, but I sincerely hope that during their time in prison - over half their lives - Robert and Jon received the appropriate care and therapy, have come to terms with what they have done and can live with themselves.

No human has the right to take away life. As a mother I would be devastated if something like this happened to Hannah. I would want those responsible to feel my pain. But I would not take their lives away. That would be a great a crime as the one they had commited. To quote Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie was killed in the Enniskillen bombing on 11 November 1987: 'I have lost my daughter, but I bear no ill will, I bear on grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. ... I don't have an answer. But I know there has to be a plan. If I didn't think that, I would commit suicide. It's part of a greater plan, and God is good. And we shall meet again.'

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:05 PM | TrackBack

May 26, 2007

Gazebo Office

The garden is Mausi's favourite place in summer and the gazebo makes a lovely outdoor office.

Mausi's summer home office and dining room

Mausi should have been doing some work in here already yesterday but was very good at finding excuses, like the plants that arrived in big parcel on Thursday had to be looked after first, it was too hot at noon, all Mausi could bring herself to do was reading a few pages then drowsed off in the heat. Finally, in the evening when it cooled down a bit, Mausi got sidetracked by a tricky Sudoku. For those of you who think Sudokus are child's play have a look at the extended post below.

But today Mausi has run out of excuses. There was a thunderstorm last night with some badly needed rain. It has cooled down the air quite pleasantly and there's a little breeze blowing this morning. So, once this is posted, Mausi will be sitting down to do some real work. Sigh....

Have fun!


Posted by Mausi at 09:39 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 25, 2007

The source of all spam?

I think we have managed to track down the sources of all spam. My daughter sent me a link today which took me to a website which explains all! It is the report of a conference held in Abuja. Read this and weep!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:32 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Spamming along ....

The spammers are busy. In fact it is getting to a point where I might have to consider closing all comment and trackback facilities for my blog. I do get tired of sorting out the garbage that floods in daily, and have several times accidentally delted genuine comments along with the garbage.

Coupled with the TTLB Blogosphere rating system, I reckon that my blog should be one of the most highly rated if he counted in the spam I get.

Death to all Spambots as another blogger put it.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:16 AM | TrackBack

May 24, 2007

Selling books

My thanks must go to Cindy of Dusting my brain for a great idea. It is as simple as it is clever, she came across my book after seeing the link posted on Ozguru's blog G'Day Mate and has done me the honour of posting a piece on it on hers. Her suggestion is neat - if any of my readers are bloggers and would like to post a permanent link to the book on either the Amazon page for it and my short stories, or the Author House book shop for the book (or both!), I will provide them with a signed copy of the book free.

I can provide anyone interested with a suitably sized picture of the book cover and the links needed. All I need from you is an address to which the book can be posted. And it can be anywhere in the world, I am really serious on this.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:48 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

So I'm a Social Capitalist?

You Are 52% Capitalist, 48% Socialist
While you are definitely sympathetic to a free economy, you also worry about the less fortunate.
Wealth and business is fine, as long as those who are in need get helped out too.
You tend to see both the government and corporations as potentially corrupt.
Are You a Socialist or Capitalist?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:43 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 23, 2007

Little ship, large achievements

Tucked away in St Mary Overy dock, adjacent to Southwark Cathedral, is a replica of Sir Francis Drake's flagship on his epic voyage around the world 1577 to 1580. She is an exact replica in all her dimensions and when you see her you are compelled to wonder what manner of men would risk their very lives sailing her along the route they did. Even more interesting is the fact the Drake sailed north as far, possibly, as the island chain leading to the Bering Straits in an attempt to find a passge home across the top of the continent. When he was driven south again, he carried out repairs to his ship somewhere in the vicinity of modern San Francisco before setting off across the Pacific. He had captured so much treasure that he had no choice but to jettison his normal ballast (and cannon balls according to some accounts) and had the ship ballasted with the treasure. It is said that Queen Elizabeth the First received £6 million worth of treasure, having allowed Sir Francis to quietly remove his share before her commissioners (Tax Collectors) arrived. It is also said that his share was almost £1.5 million - in those days!

The replica Golden Hind sits afloat in her dock at St Mary Overy in London.

No wonder the Spanish King was a little upset with him. In fact the circumnavigation was a necessity as the Spanish had a fleet out looking for him in the South Atlantic and to prevent his return via the Cape Horn route.

The ship herself is very small, only ninety feet overall and the "Admiral's" cabin is certainly not on the scale of Nelson's quarters on HMS Victory, being in part shared with his other officers. Only the Master had a tiny cabin on the poop aft of the helmsman's position. The crew, again reputedly around 80 men and boys, slept and lived wherever they could find space, generally under the forecastle or - in really cold climates - in the hold itself.

One feature of these ships which we would find very difficult to deal with is the smell. Elizabethan sailors were required, under the Queen's Regulations for Ships being in fashion of War upon the Sea, was that half hogsheads had to be lashed to the gunwales and kept full of urine. Canvas "beaters" had to be kept near these to allow the crew to use them, soaked first in the urine, to extinguish any fire. With no toilet facilities it was common for the crew to use the bilges in bad weather for all other waste disposal. More than enough said!

The achievement in sailing a ship like this around the world, going the "wrong" way round Cape Horn is nothing short of Herculean. The prevailing winds and currents make it much easier to sail from West to East around the Horn, going the other way is simply asking for trouble. To do so in a single ship in the face of enemy ship's hostile locals and without a single friendly port to take refuge in in a crisis speaks of men of remarkable endurance and courage.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:16 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 22, 2007


G'day mate is moving slowly to a new Beta-blog (Whatever that is) though still on munu. I sympathise with his comment regarding the spam, I clear on average a hundred spam comments each morning. It is depressing ...


Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:14 PM | TrackBack

Can she be saved?

What goes through the minds of the morons who see something of priceless value and decide to destroy it? Vandal is the word that we apply to those who perpetrate such acts, but it may well be a misnomer, since we use it for a range of far less devastating actions by this small and virulent running sore of a minority that infest our inner cities. These are the same yobs that bring our nation into disgrace when they go abraod as fottball supporters, or visit themselves upon the Spanish resorts. These are the same mindless sprayers of graffiti who deface our buildings, our monuments and litter our streets with their vomit when they can no longer hold their liquor or the latest designer drug.

The magnificent Cutty Sark in her dock before the fire yesterday.

The one saving grace is that she was undergoing a complete restoration and had been stripped to a bare hull. Her masts and her deckhouses are currently at Chatham dockyard being stored or conserved so they are unaffected. Sadly however her original timbers on her decks and and the upper part of her hull are badly charred. While some of these can certainly be salvaged, it will be at a cost of loss of thickness and mass. More serious is the fact that this ship's uniqueness is in part down to her having been built in a "composite" form, that is, wrought irn frames covered by oak planking. It is those frames that have suffered most through the fire. If they can be straightened, then she can be saved and restored. If not, someone is going to have to be creative.

She had a budget of £25 million for the restoration. It now seems likely that she will need a further £10 million at least to correct the damage she has suffered through the fire. Perhaps we should ask the government to divert some of the money they waste each year keeping the most disruptive elements of our society spraying graffiti and swilling beer and drugs, to divert the money the yobs who do this sort of thing would have had, to the rebuilding project.

Nice thought, but most unlikely!

Will we see anyone prosecuted? Possibly, but don't hold your breath, if the perpetrators are caught, which is unlikely, they probably won't be prosecuted because they come from a "deprived" culture or background. Or, if they are, they will be given a light sentence (probably suspended) for the same reason.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:26 PM | TrackBack

May 21, 2007

Getting noticed .....

Getting yourself noticed is the most difficult part of becoming an author. A friend asked me the other day that most difficult of all questions to answer - "why do you write?" I suppose the short answer is "because I have a story to tell." The longer answer is quite involved and does really begin with "for my own enjoyment" and an even longer answer must include "to escape the harsh realities that surround us the rest of the time."

One of those realities is the battle to get your books published. Getting noticed is the hardest part of writing. First you have to convince someone, usually faceless at this stage, that you can write a good and saleable story. Next is to convince them that there is a market for the story, that it will sell enough copies to make a decent return (after all the publisher isn't in this game for the love of it alone - they have bills to pay as well!) and that it isn't just a new take on something that is already in print. Not easy to do, especially if you are not a sales person. And most of us do what we do because we aren't able to sell refridgerators to Eskimos!

Bill Gates' recent remarks on the subject of books is interesting because it does actually flag up something that marks a clear distinction between those authors seen as "published" and those who are seen as "vanity" writers. I would have to say that I am, presently, seen as one of the latter in the world of fiction in that I went down the route of having my book published myself. Past experience in the field of technical book publishing led me to believe that the fact that my technical works were published in this way, albeit in a specialist category, would lead to them being treated in the same way in the world of fiction publishing. That is not the case and there is clearly a distinction made in the retailers (some of whom happily sell my "other" work) between what they can buy from the mainstream publishers and what they label "vanity" publishers. Having explored some of the other work published in this way I can now see why.

Part of the problem in the UK is the limited number of publishers to work with. They tend also to limit themselves to a narrow range of "specialities" and to a known "stable" of authors represented by particular agents. Even so they are swamped with MS submissions every year. One publisher told me that they get over six thousand a year and accept and publish just under forty of those. This raises the problem of describing your work and fitting it into a particular genre. Those who have read Out of Time will know that it has elements which are historical, elements of science fiction and some elements that are probably best described as "Adventure". Is it General Fiction, Adult Fiction, Children's Fiction, Fantasy, Space Opera? What is the market? Does it have the potential to be another Harry Potter for the publishers? Very often these are the crucial choices, make the wrong one and you guarantee rejection slips by the truckload.

That brings me back to Bill Gates. My short stories are published here on Amazon Shorts - another form of self publication (vanity again?) - as e-stories. It would seem to me that Bill Gates is essentially saying that this will be the case with ALL future publication. In short, all authors will have to take the self publishing route. There may have been a time when I might have agreed with him - in fact it is something my present publisher suggested when I was exploring publication - but now I am not so sure. A little research suggests that there will always be a niche for the written and printed word. Many folk like me may buy an e-story, but we then print it off. Why? Simple really, it is difficult to scroll back and forth when trying to study a text, but turning the pages back and forth is much easier.

That's the tricky bit. So, what am I doing in the meantime. Well, a lot of research for a new book I am planning, it has also had to do with discussions with publishers, several in fact and the glimmer of hope of finding the right one is starting to look as if the tiny flame of ignition may yet become the fires of hope. That and there is an agent looking at the folio of work as well. Hope springs eternal as they say, but it could well be that perserverance is beginning to pay off.

Oh, and the sequel to Out of Time is now in final draft form and with the said publishers and agent. It is just possible that I might just have managed to get noticed .....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 20, 2007

Harry's birthday ....

A bit of photoshop style retouching has removed most of the damage to the picture I posted on Friday. I have now taken this cropped version for today for a special reason. Today would have been his birthday. He died in 1977, sixty years after this picture was taken. I remember him as the best grandfather a boy could have, generous, loving and always there when I needed him.

HNH Dec 1917 repaired.jpg
The taller man is Bombadier Henry Nelson Heron - the real Harry.

May he rest in peace, he and his friends have more than earned it.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:57 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 19, 2007

High Speed Dogs

Last week Mausi attended the Annual Meeting of the German Accelerant Dogs and their handlers. In Germany the accelerant dogs belong to the police and not to the fire service as in Britain. Therefore they often have two jobs - search dog and guard dog as well. The preferred breed is the Malinois, a Belgian Shepherd. They are extremely playful, lively and smaller and swifter than a German Shepherd. And they make very good guard dogs as well. Mausi sometimes thinks that on a fire scene a smaller and lighter breed would be more useful but then - who would be impressed by a small spaniel standing guard over him?

One of dogs rushing back to its handler after having successfully completed a search. With a Malinois in action hardly more than one foot ever touches the ground at the same time.

These meetings are always good fun. Mausi is always impressed by the eagerness and dedication the dogs show in going about their work. It never fails to make Mausi smile to see a dog being ordered to sit down before it is being send off to search. You see the dog lowering its bottom but it is not quite touching the ground and as soon as the dog thinks the handler isn't looking it creeps forward a few inches. Most dogs seem to rush about the place during their search at high speed although the more experienced ones have found out that going about the search more systematically is often more successful and lets them get their rewards much quicker. Sometimes even young dogs are just naturals as that lovely young bitch, a silver-grey German Shepherd, who always seemed to wrinkle her forehead while searching the ground very methodically. It gave her an air of deep concentration, which was funny to watch but she was also very successful in completing her tasks.

Well, apart from all the fun it was good to see how effectively the dogs and their handlers work together, which makes ones own work at a fire scene very often so much easier.

Posted by Mausi at 08:10 AM | TrackBack

May 18, 2007

Fragments from the past

The photograph below came to me today from my brother. It gave me quite a strange feeling since it shows my grandfather and several of his friends, one in particular, the model for Ferghal O'Connor in my books. The picture was takken in December 1917 in a professional studio, probably in France. Three of them are wearing the cap badge of the Royal Garrison Artillery which means that this was probably taken on either the Somme Front or near Ypres. Why did it give me such a strange feeling? Well, I have photographs of myself in a similar pose, but in a different uniform - and it was like looking in a mirror.

Bombadier Henry Nelson Heron is the man on the left, partly behind the shorter man in front. His best friend is the man stood next to him. They were 17 when this picture was taken - but they have the eyes of men who have been to hell and back.

This pair ran away in 1915 and joined the the Fusilliers in Enniskillen, part of the 36th Ulster Division. They were committed to battle on the Somme in July 1916 and they spent three days, lying wounded in a shell hole in no-man's land, having fallen on the first day to the machineguns. They survived only because the flies swarming on their wounds laid egs which hatched and the maggots ate the necrotic flesh. They kept their injured limbs (my grandfather lost most of his right thigh) only because the doctors didn't expect them to survive. Once recovered, they were sent to Winchester to recuperate, then found to be unfit for service as infantry - so were re-posted to the RGA.

I had not appreciated just how alike we were in looks until I showed this to a friend who knew me at the same age. On Sunday, I will remember 'Ada as we, his grandchildren, called him. It would have been his 107th. He gave his youth for our present, and what have we done with it?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 17, 2007



Ascension Day to the rest of us. And my abiding image of the Baroque Church in which I first came face to face with the 18th Century vision of the Ascension is of a cloud covered apse - with a pair of sandalled feet protruding from the clouds. It is pretty arresting - and then my schoolboy sense of humour kicked in with a too literal interpretation of the German word for journey.....

It is an important day in the churches year, the day on which the risen Christ parted company with his disciples and was "taken up into heaven". The words of the angel to the disciples spring immediately to mind whenever I think of that pianted Baroque ceiling, "why stand do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

The Ascension is the final act in the drama that is the crucifixion, resurrection and appearances to his followers. In his departure there is the promise of a return. That is why the Church marks this as a Day of Obligation.

Strange then, that the UK, almost alone of all the EU, does not have a Bank Holiday to mark it. Secular France does, so does Germany and most others, but not the UK. Napoleon had it right when he called us a Nation of Shopkeepers. if you tried to have the day declared a holiday now you would have all the Boards of all our companies screaming that it would cut their profits. Maybe it is time they did - after all, it won't actually damage their annual profits and might even boost them if just occassionally, they did something for the benefit of someone like their workforce instead of for themselves.

The Ascension is something we should all mark with thought and prayer. Have a blessed Ascension Day.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:35 PM | TrackBack

May 16, 2007

Google nonsense?

I guess that several things I have been sent recently about some wonderful twists in the popular "Google" search engine prove that a computer is only as intelligent as the person programming it. Or, perhaps that it is possessed of a sense of humour - or the programmer is. Its a lot better than listening to a bunch of political commentators wittering on about how Gordon Brown is more popular than David Cameron. Damn it all - anybody could be more popular than David Cameron.

My daughter recently sent me this gem from the Google debate.

ARE the folk at search engine Google a bunch of misogynists, or is it just their algorithms? This, believe it or not, is the subject of a debate raging on websites such as Reddit and Digg, after a Google user discovered that a search for the phrase she invented prompted the question from Google: Did you mean: 'he invented'? Suggestions that this was based on the fact that more people search for the latter were met with an argument killer: a search for he gave birth returns 23700 results. Even worse, Google does not suggest the obvious alternative: she gave birth.

Even better is asking Google Earth for directions if you place the start and destination on different continents.

Try this little test ....

Follow these steps:

1. Go to www.google.co.uk

2. Click on maps.

3. Click on get directions.

4. Go from " Atlanta " to " Paris , France ".

5. Scroll down in the directions to number 22.

6. Laugh and then re-post this ASAP so other people can enjoy... before they change it

or try this link: http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en&tab=wl&q=

Or if you don't like to go through the whole process, it simply tells you when you hit the end of the Pier. "Swim across the Atlantic Ocean. - 3,472 miles" and gives the estimated journey time and distance. Any bets that some idiot will try it - and then sue Google after failing to make it?

Don't you just love our technology?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:21 PM | TrackBack

May 15, 2007

Mayor making

The things the Abbey gets involved in. Yes, we did host the Mayor Making for the Borough Council, and then a bun fight after in the side aisles. Quite entertaining really when you see the assembled masses of the "Chain Gang" drawn from all the town, Parish and neighbouring Boroughs attending to see the new Mayor installed.

It is on occassions like these that you realise just how much tradition and ceremonial impacts on our lives. After all, you could probably all go to the council chamber and swap seats at the appropriate moment. Everyone there would know who the Mayor was and no one else needs too. Or do they? The fact is that we do like to be able to pick out the mayor, the PM, or Commandant General or the Sovereign in a crowd. And it is important to know that it is the result of an electoral process, that the new mayor swears an oath of office and that the chain of office links him to all the previous mayors. Where the aldermen wear blue robes with black trimmings and the Sergeants at Arms carry maces in front of the Mayor, they wear black and gold with 18th Century cocked hats - and their maces are the signal, when laid on the tabvle in front of the Mayor that the council is now in session. The Mayor himself (or herself!) is decked out in red and black with the chain and a cocked hat of equally impressive proportions and what I do find amusing is that the left wingers are just as pedantic about being properly tricked out as the right.

After all, it is important that the voters and tax payers actually recognise you, the councillor, for what you are - their representative.

Now some may wonder at this all happening in the Abbey itself, well, there is certainly a precedent for it. Tewkesbury got its Town status and charter back in the 1300's - and the North Porch was the first council chamber! Later they used to hold town meetings in the nave. That stopped after the reformnation when the reformers felt that this was improper - and started the separation which afflicts us still with the insistance of separating the church and its building from peoples' daily lives. So it is right and proper that the governors of the Borough should have their installation inside the nave of the Abbey and swear their oath of office and allegiance in these hallowed walls.

The church is about life and living, it should be "in the community" and for the community, not standing aloof. A point well made to several politicians tonight as they found themselves inside the Abbey for something different to the usual funerals and weddings they attend.

It was good too, to have several councillors from Germany with us tonight, peoiple from the Rhine Pfalz and from Bavaria who have civic links with Tewkesbury. They found it to be an unusual and most impressive experience and want to come again for a proper visit and to experience the worship here. God does indeed work in strange and wonderful ways.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:12 PM | TrackBack

May 14, 2007

When forests walk...

The Mok's privett hedge has got a bit out of control this year. He put off cutting it a tad too long methinks for now it is thriving with the rain ..... It has increased its overlap of the fence by at least twelve inches in the last couple of weeks. It seems to be a takeover bid, because the street side is pushing people off the pavement.

Time to get out the hedge trinner and set aside a day to cut, clear and haul to the tip.

The Monk's privett in need of a trim.

And I better do it as soon as there is a rain free day - otherwise it will have taken over the garden, the road and who knows what else.

Machete bwana?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:56 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 13, 2007

Frantic Sunday....

Today is Rogation Sunday in the calendar. That usually means processing round the Parish and letting the children beat the boundary markers with willow lathes. It used to be a case of visit the boundaries and beat the kids so they remembered them, but now we just beat the boundary markers. Fun. If it's dry. Today it is hissing down with rain, so the procession went round the interior of the Abbey. We got through eighty saints in the Litany of the Saints, but we did miss the Venomous Peter's version which included the odd St Oyl of Ulay and the Blessed Alice Faggot, mother and grandmother, daughter of Theobald the Celibate, several members of the congregation, thinly disguised, and all his brother clergy, the Readers and the Churchwardens ......

But, with the change of route several other things had to change as well. At least it was dry indoors.

Tonight the Monk has to lead the Choral Evensong and we are singing Sanders setting for the Preces and Collects. Not too bad, except the Monk doesn't read music, so if he gets it wrong in his memory, the choir has a problem, second he is a bass and the note is A below middle C. Now that is pushing the Monk's voice even when he isn't suffering from stage fright, hayfever and all that goes with it. Blessed Saint Patrick, pray for me .....

Time to go and take the Hayfever medication.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:33 PM | TrackBack

May 12, 2007

Farewell Blair; but the nightmare is not yet over ...

So Blair has finally announced he is leaving Number 10. Many will say about time too, those who feel he should never have been allowed to darken its door in the first place will, no doubt, feel that some, at least, of the darkness of this socialist era is beginning to lift. They may be premature. If anything his successor is even more inclined to micro-manage and to impose blanket solutions than the unlamented Blair.

History will no doubt judge this age harshly, undoubtedly this ten years will be recorded in future as the period when this nation lost its will to continue as a nation state, lost the ability to see itself as a nation rather than a group of pampered and spoiled individuals dependent on the State for everything and responsible for nothing. That is probably the hallmark of our age, but Blair and his sycophants and Gauleiters have managed if anything to accelerate it. No one is now individually responsible, we can all hide behind a "rule" book dreamed up by some clown in Westminster or Whitehall - no doubt with the best of intentions - which allows us to abbrogate our personal responsibility for anything. Health and safety, child protection, driving, even walking down a street - failure to pay attention to our surroundings can all be blamed on "but I was following reasonable rules", or on "but the council knows that this is dangerous" or someone does anyway. Fish ponds now have to be fenced - in case some parent fails to recognise that a child could drown in one.

As a child I fell into numerous fishponds. I never managed to drown myself - some would say mores the pity - mainly because my parents taught me from a very early age how to extricate myself from a pool of water, and more importantly, they taught me that certain things were dangerous and not to be tampered with. Sometimes the lessons had to be re-inforced with a short sharp smack on the rear end - but the lesson seldom had to be repeated. I learned to take responsibility for myself and for my actions. I learned that any action has consequences and to weigh up those consequences and make sure that, if I did something utterly stupid, I was the only victim. Like the time I shot the tip off my finger or stuck a sword point into a teacher's rear end. Both had consequences and I should have seen both coming. I had, after all, been trained the handle a fire arm properly, and didn't, and I knew swords were not toys and indulged in some horseplay which could have killed a friend - instead it got me a caning, and a very well deserved one.

The last century has seen the rise and rise of a society and political philosophy that will destroy Western civilisation. Blair is the pinnacle of that ideology, and by now it should be obvious to anyone with any brain at all, that it is an ideology which cannot deliver. In short, it fails at every level to acknowledge that individuals though we may be, we are not capable, like ants, of forming stable and homogenous communities (even ants can't - but they are good examples of entirely enslaved populations.). We cannot be forced to all conform to a single idea or a single philosophy. Bishop Tom Wright writes in the introduction of his book "Simply Christian" that the twentieth century, particularly the latter part of it, is the most moral age in human history. I would disagree, even though he goes on the qualify that statement by saying that we have more awareness of morality, more awareness of injustice and more determination than ever to redress the wrongs - acknowledging that there is still, probably because the morality is being driven by a small and extremely vocal minority currently in power, a huge imbalance and injustice in the world. While the good Bishop is talking about a religious desire and ethics, once you take the element of faith out of the matrix and impose it as a political ideology, you find yourself only a hairsbreadth from the Hitlers, Stalins and Pol Pots and their desire to control everyone and everything.

To me the great mark of Mister Blair's period in office will be the level of power he has handed to those who, like Dr Goebels and Lenin's propagandists, have perverted education so that our children are being fed a daily diet of half truth, half fact and untruth as "history" and "morality". History has been "reinvented" to give the biased and bigoted picture these shapers of the "new" morality wish to present to the world. I would like to agree with Bishop Wright that we do live in a more "moral" age, but I find I cannot. The truth is that thanks to Blair and his predecessors who have peddled the Socialist myth for the last century, we now live in an age run by an elite, for that elite. An age in which "democracy" is the excuse for every excess, in which the criminal has more rights than the victim and in which the law abiding citizen is at the mercy of a draconian and ever growing state which subsumes to itself more and more power over every aspect of our lives. It is not a "moral" age, it is an age now driven by the prejudice of the elite and not underpinned by any faith system in the world. Morality which is not founded on faith is not morality, it is merely a system of control.

As Blair departs, watch his successor who is even more of a control freak than Blair. I confidently predict that three things will happen very rapidly under Gordon Brown.

1. Personal taxes will rise, either directly or indirectly.
2. Personal freedom will be further curtailed and additional restrictions will be imposed on freedom of choice for scholling and probably even upon the practice of religion.
3. The Civil Service will increase in size dramatically to exercise the "new" powers - but this will be masked by a promise to "axe" many jobs from the public service (exactly as his famous promise to axe 100,000 civil service jobs actually translated into employing and 600,000!)

I can also predict that we will see more meaningless targets imposed on the NHS, Schools, Police, Ambulance and every other "public" service. And a continued decline in what is actually delivered by any of them.

And the Illustrious ex-Leader? Well, he'll have his nice fat pension (Over £100k a year at last glance) and a nice cushy job in the EU or the UN - all paid for by us his unwilling paymasters. Oh, and his nice little world tour at our expense to share the joke with all his chums around the world while he has the chance. I suppose it's to much to hope for some Divine intervention to rid us entirely of him and all his party while he's at it.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:45 AM | TrackBack

May 11, 2007

Ah, the good life ....

I have to thank my brother for this, it had me (and a number of my friends) in paroxysms of laughter! It is one of those gems that is too good not to share.

Life in the Australian Army...

Text of a letter from a kid from Eromanga to Mum and Dad. (For Those of you not in the know, Eromanga is a small town, west of Quilpie in the far south west of Queensland )

Dear Mum & Dad,

I am well. Hope youse are too. Tell me big brothers Doug and Phil that the Army is better than workin' on the farm - tell them to get in bloody quick smart before the jobs are all gone! I wuz a bit slow in settling down at first, because ya don't hafta get outta bed until 6am . But I like sleeping in now, cuz all ya gotta do before brekky is make ya bed and shine ya boots and clean ya uniform. No bloody cows to milk, no calves to feed, no feed to stack - nothin'!! Ya haz gotta shower though, but its not so bad, coz there's lotsa hot water and even a light to see what ya doing!

At brekky ya get cereal, fruit and eggs but there's no kangaroo steaks or possum stew like wot Mum makes. You don't get fed again until noon and by that time all the city boys are buggered because we've been on a 'route march' - geez its only just like walking to the windmill in the back paddock!!

This one will kill me brothers Doug and Phil with laughter. I keep getting medals for shootin' - dunno why. The bullseye is as big as a bloody possum's bum and it don't move and it's not firing back at ya like the Johnsons did when our big scrubber bull got into their prize cows before the Ekka last year! All ya gotta do is make yourself comfortable and hit the target - it's a piece of piss!! You don't even load your own cartridges they comes in little boxes and ya don't have to steady yourself against the rollbar of the roo shooting truck when you reload!

Sometimes ya gotta wrestle with the city boys and I gotta be real careful coz they break easy - it's not like fighting with Doug and Phil and Jack and Boori and Steve and Muzza all at once like we do at home after the muster. Turns out I'm not a bad boxer either and it looks like I'm the best the platoon's got, and I've only been beaten by this one bloke from the Engineers - he's 6 foot 5 and 15 stone and three pick handles across the shoulders and as ya know I'm only 5 foot 7 and eight stone wringin' wet,but I fought him till the other blokes carried me off to the boozer.

I can't complain about the Army - tell the boys to get in quick before word gets around how bloody good it is.

Your loving daughter,


Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:35 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 10, 2007

Rhymed version of Pangur Ban

I and Pangur Ban my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men,
'Tis to sit with book and pen:
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

'Gainst the wall he sets his eye,
Full and fierce and sharp and sly:
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I,
All my little wisdom try.

Often times a mouse will stray,
In the hero Pangur's way:
Often times my keen thought set,
Takes a meaning in its net.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect at his trade:
I get wisdom day and night,
Turning darkness into light.

This version is available as a rather fun poster from the Trinity College Library Shop, Dublin and at 3.50 Euros plus postage a real snip.

For me the most important aspect of the poem is that it puts me in touch with the people of the early church - real people with real humour and real lives, not the cardboard figures so often presented to us in the written histories. One can only guess at the row when the monk who penned the poem had his work discovered - defacing some important treatise on theology. Yet the little poem survives, giving us the name of the cat, but not the author.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:19 PM | TrackBack

May 09, 2007

The garden awakes .....

Well, the climbing rose is climbing, the bulbs have been and gone and now other things, like the late bulbs are starting to surface. Unfortunately, so has the privit hedge - which has decided to go beserk after the local yobs spent most of winter trying to destroy it. It has woken with a plan of vengeance in it's heart. Unfortunately, its me that will have to try and tame it before it closes the sidewalk, the road and probably the rest of my garden!

In the meantime I can take a little time out to admire this beautiful bloom - which, not being a gardener and not having kept the label, I cannot identify!

Back to the Scriptorium Brother!

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

May 08, 2007

Not quite Pangur Ban ....

She isn't little, and she isn't white. Pangur she may well be, but certainly not "ban". Madam Paddy Cat has emerged from the winter a little older, a little stiffer in her joints and a little more demanding, but still very full of character. Mind you she did give me scare over the weekend when I arrived home to find she had been sick quite liberally everywhere. Then she found a hiding place and curled up - and refused to acknowledge me, respond to anything or even show any interest in food. Of course, the vet wasn't available either ....

Madam informing me that she is now fit and well and would appreciate some food.

For the next twenty four hours she remained completely uncommunicative and definitely not interested in food, a little water occassionally thank you, but nothing else. Then, when the vet is finally available, she strolls into the kitchen loudly demanding her breakfast, than you very much.

I suppose at fifteen years, she is entitled to a little ill-health now and then, but I wish I knew what had brought this on. It is worrying that we still don't know what upset her, but then - we are a cat; it is what we do.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:54 PM | TrackBack

May 07, 2007

Labour's legacy?

It's probably too early to say. But it does begin to look hopeful for those of us who detest Labour, their politics of envy and control freakery and BIG bureaucracy. Perhaps it is, as Sir Winston Churchil once famously said, "Not the end, nor even the beginning of the end, but perhaps, at last, the end of the beginning. The SNP is now the largest party in the Scottish Parliament. I could rejoice at that and even at their forming the next administration in Scotland but for two things. First, they have honed and refined Labour's propganda of hatred for their English fellow travellers on this small island and secondly that they have the avowed intention of destroying the very thing that made Britain Great. I am, of course, talking about the Union. This is the legacy of Labour's politics of envy, the mantra that has kept them in power in every area promoted as "victims" of the perfidious English for far too long. Perhaps the split is inevitable, it is certainly the legacy of Blair's era and of his party of incompetents driven as they are by prejudice, "class" hatred and ideological shibboleths.

The trail of destruction is unmistakeable and unprecedented. The Royal Navy reduced from a fleet to a squadron, the army reduced to a small collection of regiments created by the destruction of the originals with their proud history trampled under the feet of the vast horde of parasites called civil servants that Blair thinks will defend our shores with their masses of pointless targets and shuffling of paper. Even the Royal Air Force has been cut back to an air defence unit without the aircraft or manpower it really needs in this uncertain age. But the real legacy this government leaves us is a society which is now utterly spineless, "protected" by lawyers who rush to accuse anyone of "racism", "sexism" and a plethora of other "-isms" unable to discipline itself, addicted to pleasure and devoid of responsibility. This is the legacy of years of denigrating the military and depriving it of the proper respect, resources and status it deserves.

Everything is now run by "managers" the vast majority of whom have not the faintest idea of what the people they "manage" actually do, and often only the vaguest idea of what the organisation they "manage" is supposed to be doing. Look at the "Mission" Statements put out by the various Public Service Departments. Rarely will you find any reference to serving the taxpayer or the people they are supposed to be serving. What you will find is a lot of tosh about "respect", "equality", "ethnicity" and "value for money". That last is the biggest laugh of all, since, as every contractor on the Treasury "Preferred Supplier" list knows all too well, anything the Civil Service buys, automatically costs 40% more than it would if it was properly specified (That would mean hiring people who knew something about the job they do!) and put out to open tender as it is supposed to be. (But that would break up the cosy little nest egg building exercise the top civil servants have going for retirement and that comfy directorship.)

We may see the back of Blair at long last in the next few weeks. He was a charlatan in 1997 and he is still a charlatan. His successor is likely to be Gordon Brown, the man who has stolen our pensions, destroyed initiative and created more stealth taxes than any Chancellor in our history. He is also a Scottish Labour MP - whose Scottish MSP is now an SNP man. What irony, we could be the first country in the world to have as our Prime Minister, a man who represents a constituency technically in a foreign country.

Labour's legacy? Look around you and see the destruction, an economy based entirely on "finance" and fueled by stealth tax and government borrowing. Can it last? Not likely, and then we too will be reduced to the same state as the once mighty Romans - living on the fringes of things and masters of nothing. Well done Mister Blair.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 06, 2007

Sunday sermon

Tonight I am the preacher at Evensong. The lessons are from Daniel 6 and Mark 15: 46 - 16:8. Both deal with the fact of the resurrection, although in Daniel it is his incarceration in the lion's den that presaages Christ's rising from the tomb and is thus a different form of resurrection.

The reading from Mark ends at the point of which we have the most reliable copies of Mark's original, the remaining verses have been added at a later date since the original had evidently been damaged or destroyed to the point it could no longer be read or copied. Critics of the Christian story have long pointed to this and claimed that it was destroyed because it did not speak of a resurrection. We cannot, of course, know exactly what it did say, but, since Matthew and Luke used Mark as a common source and Mark himself used Peter as his prime source, we can be sure that it probably did discuss the resurrection and that it most likely did so in at least some of the detail contained in the other synoptic gospels. Certainly Peter gives us a hint of this in his letters (See 1 Peter 1: 3) and as Mark was Peter's companion and disciple it is very unlikely that he would not have held the same belief.

The resurrection is central to Christian belief and so I shall be saying later today.

May I speak,
And may you hear,
In the name of our Lord and saviour
Jesus Christ.

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus body.”

This sentence tells us perhaps more than any other in the story of the crucifixion, just how rushed and chaotic was Jesus burial. Crucifixion was not a pleasant way to die and the victims were often denied proper burial. Jesus body was, in fact, saved by the intervention of Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus both of them members of the Sanhedrin. Their intervention also tells us something of the position of Jesus family and their social standing in the Jewish society of the first century. Certainly no ordinary citizen would have had access to Pilate in the way we are told Joseph had.

Why were the women there at all? Well, if you have come across the Jewish burial process you will know that the women of the family, but usually not the wife or mother, are the one’s who wash the body, wrap it and prepare it for burial. It is the men who must dig the grave, receive the body and bury it with all the family and friends joining in the prayers and the task of carrying the body to it’s final resting place. Obviously, in this case the body had not been properly prepared and possibly even the proper prayers had not been said, so the women had set out to do the preparations so that the proper observances could be made later. We can only imagine their horror on discovering that the body has gone.

The second point to infer from the passage is a perhaps obvious one – that it was the women who first discover that the body is gone. Sadly, Mark’s Gospel, in the most reliable copies of the original that we have, ends at verse 8 so we have to turn to the other gospels, Matthew, Luke and John, to see how the story continues. In these we learn that the Sanhedrin, suspecting that something like this might happen – that the body would be stolen and concealed – had posted a guard. Mark makes no mention of that, but he does tell us that the women were confronted by a young man they did not recognise, dressed in white, who tells them that Jesus has gone to Galilee.

The physical reality of the missing body would have raised all sorts of suspicions, particularly in the minds of the Sanhedrin. It must have been even worse for those close to Jesus as they would have had to confront the accusation that they were responsible for its disappearance without being able to prove that they were not. In Luke we learn, however, that Christ has risen, his body is not concealed, nor is it stolen, he is risen, yet, in some way so changed that many of his own don’t recognise him.

Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener, Cleopas and his companion encounter him walking to Emmaus and don’t recognise him and so it goes on. So what had changed?

Well, by the sound of it and the evidence of the Gospels quite a lot. And not necessarily so much in his appearance, after all, would we recognise someone we met walking along the street if we knew we had seen that person die in front of us and been party to their burial? I think perhaps not.

Yet, the fact of the resurrection is central to our faith. We have just confessed it in the creed when we said together,
“I believe …. The resurrection of the Body and the life of the world to come.”

Do we really believe this? What “proof” have we that it happened? If his own did not recognise him how can we be sure it wasn’t all a clever trick, someone made up to look like him? After all, they do it in the movies and on television all the time, why not then? What, after all is said and done, does it really offer us?

Examine again the evidence of the gospels and you do find that there is a compelling argument to say that Christ did indeed walk out of the tomb, showed himself in physical form to his disciples and loved ones on several occasions – and then departed from their sight in what can only be described as a miraculous fashion. The evidence, if tested in a court of law would have to be accepted on balance of probability and the statements of eye witnesses, as acceptable and reliable. Therefore, we should conclude that Mark’s account read out this evening is a true statement of the event.

It did seem to me, as I pondered on this sermon that we should also see the calling to ministry in this, for that is what the women were doing when they went to the tomb. Their ministry was, on this occasion, to the dead, yet the dead body they sought was gone and they are given a new ministry, this time to be the first to take the word of the resurrection to the world. A point that we should perhaps give some more thought to as we welcome Sarah into our ministry team here in Tewkesbury and Twyning.

So, given the evidence that the resurrection happened, that it is central to the Christian faith, what does it, in fact, mean to us who profess that faith and in so doing declare that we believe in the resurrection?

I cannot put it better than Archbishop Michael Ramsay when he told a bumptious interviewer that the Faith of the Church gave the world Hope. Without the resurrection there is simply no hope for any of us. Without the resurrection there is no future, no life to come. This, in fact, is it! And well you may then ask, to what purpose do we bother to worship? To what purpose do we set ourselves moral rules?

The resurrection challenges us in many different ways. Like Thomas the Twin we were not there, we did not see. Unlike Thomas the Twin we have not had the opportunity to place our hands on his wounds, how therefore should we believe, as we must, in this central plank of our faith?

And there is the word that holds the key. Faith. We have no choice but to take the resurrection on faith. We have declared that faith this evening, in fact some of us declared it several times today – sometimes several times each day. We take the resurrection on faith because we know that it happened, we are told so by all the Gospellers and, if we really look around, by others as well. We are a resurrection people, our faith is founded on the fact of the resurrection and in that lies our hope of life beyond this one.

When I look about me at the secular world I see a world that has lost that wonderful thing called faith and with it, it has lost its sense of direction. In faith we look forward with hope, without faith we look back with regret and forward with fear.

Luke’s account of the resurrection tells us that: -
“When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.”
Even then there were the sceptics, even then there were the doubters, yet it was the faith of the few who did believe that has brought down to us, across the ages and with many twists and turns along the path, that same joy that the women felt when they discovered the truth of the resurrection.
Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

He is risen indeed Alleluia.

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

May 05, 2007

Iron and Steel

Last week Mausi and about 30 of her colleagues had a day off and went to the Saarland, the smallest of the German federal States, to learn more about iron and steel works. Their destination was 'Saarstahl', a company that produces a variety of different steels, as for example one for the Ariane rockets. Until 1986 they also produced the iron they needed for the steel. The iron works have since been turned into a museum and it has even become a part of the UNESCO world cultural heritage. Mausi and her group were given a guided tour and spent a fascinating two and a half hours around and on top one of the giant blast funrnaces.

One of the blast furnaces, hidden behind the chimney

The blast furnaces were used to continuously produced pig iron which was then transformed into steel in another part of the factory. This kind of labour must have been incredibly hard even in the 20th century. The furnace was stoked with alternate layers of ore and coke. Preheated air was blown into the lower part of the furnace. While the ore was melted and travelled downwards, then preheated air travelled upwards, burnt the coke to carbon onoxide which in turn reduced the iron ores to metallic iron. The whole process is of course much more complex but this very simplified description shall do here. The ore was transported to the top of the furnaced on a sort of conveyor belt construction which can be seen on the left side of the photograph above. Tubs, each filled with one ton of ore,
would travel up that construction.

Two of the reddish brown tubs can just be seen inside the steel construction

Sometimes, the chemical process inside the blast furnace would not go according to plan and residues would form would form a big lump which attached itself to the brickwork inside the furnace. Such a lump which could weigh several hundred kilos was called a 'bear'. And it had to be killed! For this purpose restoking was temporarily stopped so that the filling sank below the point where the bear had attached itself to the wall. Then 3 m of sand were added to offer a minimum of heat protection because several workers had to enter the furnace and locate the exact spot where the bear was hiding!

The manhole through which the workers had to enter the furnace

Temperatures were still around 1000 Centigrade or more and maximum exposure time was 90 seconds for each worker. It is impossible to imagine what they must have gone through inside the furnace. Our guide said he had to do it once 40 years ago and the experience is still giving him nightmares. I can well believe that. Once the bear
was located, holes were drilled into the furnace from outside and the bear was killed with small amounts of TNT. Depending on the size of the bear the number of holes could come up to 70. Afterwards a bigger hole was cut into the furnace to rebuilt the inner brickwork and then the hole was closed again. We saw several of those marks on
the furnace.

From a certain height downwards the furnace was cooled by a thin film of water running down on its outside. The water would also wash down dust that had settled on the surface. The resulting mud would collect in the pans that can be seen on the photo below.

Pans to collect the mud that is washed down with the water

Each furnace had about 3000 of these pans. They had to be emptied continously by two people working on each shift. The pans were emptied into buckets, the full buckets had to be carried down by hand and the empty buckets up again by hand. Apparently there was no possibility to use a rope or something to lower and lift the buckets. You certainly build up muscles climbing up and down the furnace all day and night.

From the 1960's to 1986 the place must have been humming with activity. At peak times about 17000 people worked there. Each had only access to a very restricted part of the plant. Nothing was dreaded more than industrial spionage. Only now that the iron works have become a cultural heritage are the former workmen allowed to see and visit the rest of their plant.

Nature is alredy trying to take over

Part of the original iron works have already been turned into a museum. But there is still much left to be done. Nature is already trying to take over. But even as it is now it is a fascinating place and if you have the opportunity to visit the 'Völklinger Hütte' you should do so by all means.

Posted by Mausi at 11:25 AM | TrackBack

May 04, 2007

Blair's legacy?

OK, I can't resist. I don't like David Cameron, primarily because, like Blair, he is not what he seems and worse, he isn't a Conservative. He represents to me the the very worst of the current crop of politicians, lacking in vision, lacking in statesmanship, all spin and no substance. Blair has presided over the biggest expansion of bureaucracy in our history, he has eroded our traditional freedoms on an unprecedented scale and he has sold out to every terrorist currently seeking power. The Iraq war is a shambles because he and his ministers don't have a clue and interfere in military matters constantly, the "War on Terror" is a sham because he has terrorist sympathisers in his own government.

The meltdown in their control of Local Government continues apace and not a minute before time. The Conservatives have lost several tricks here because many of my age group (born between 1943 and 1949) see him as a young upstart who is going to do what our parents generation of politicians did to us in excluding us from the top jobs and positions of power (You're too inexperienced!) and then handed it over our heads to the Blair generation (born from 1950 onwards) We were working when they were smoking pot and strumming guitars - and paying into the pension funds Mister Blair and Mister Brown have now robbed to destruction. Am I glad to see this shower getting a hiding? Yes, but as far as I am concerned it isn't enough yet. I want to see them thrown out and their ideology discredited and destroyed completely. I want to see the voters of the world wake up to the fact that it is the socialist ideology that is destroying our civilisation and our nation. I want the voters to see that our present political system is no different to that operated pre- the Reform Act of 1836 in which the only way to advance in government was to have the patronage of someone above you. That system still operates but it is now the established means of promotion in the Civil Service as well. Promotion is not on merit in politics and it certainly isn't on merit in the Civil Service. It is all down to patronage. The right patron and you're in, regardless of your knowledge of the job or your ability.

The only reason this country prospered under that system before 1836 was that those who exrecised patronage then knew the importance of promoting protege's who did know what they were doing. Blair does not.

What a pity we have to wait another three years before we can throw Labour out of power completely in Westminster. Their losing power in Wales and Scotland is something of a sop, but we still have to endure yet another Scottish MP ruling the English and handing our money to the Scots and Welsh in order to bolster his parties power bases. It is a disgrace and it will not be addressed until the English are free of the overriding control of Labour's foot soldiers from Scottish and Welsh Constituencies. They have their own assembly and their own Parliament they should have no say over the English, just as we have no say over them any longer.

Let us hope that this swing in the voter choice continues - and Labour vanishes from our political landscape.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:56 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Spring is sprung ...

In contrast to the pic I put up yesterday, I have this one from my friend Slimjim who took it in the woods near Evenlode yesterday. The carpets of blue bells in all our woodlands are really something to see this year, a little earlier than usual to be sure, but still beautiful.

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The blue bells form a magnificent carpet near Evenlode in Gloucestershire.

The more benign face of nature.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:25 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 03, 2007

Power of nature

Nature in its awesome glory can be a wonderfully beautiful thing to behold - or utterly terrifying. A friend sent me the phorograph below today. It was taken by some brave (and very good) photographer of the storm surge which accompanied Hurricane Katrina as it hit the Gulf Coast. The settlement from which this was taken and a neighbouring one were erased from the maps - 14,000 people rendered homeless until their towns could be rebuilt. Such is the power of nature.

Katrina Storm Surge.jpg
This apparent "mountain" is in fact the wave front of a storm surge. All credit to the photographer, I can only guess at how he or she survived.

There is nothing quite like the awesome power of nature when she is angry.

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May 02, 2007

They are definitely among us - but where do they work?

I walked into a shop with a buy-one-get-one-free coupon for a sandwich. I handed it to the girl and she looked over at a little chalkboard that said "buy one-get one free". "They're already buy-one-get-one-free", she said, "so I guess they're both free". She handed me my free sandwiches and I walked out the door.

They walk among us and many work retail.


A friend of mine bought a new fridge for his house. To get rid of his old fridge, he put it in his front yard and hung a sign on it saying: "Free to good home. You want it, you take it." For three days the fridge sat there without even one person looking twice at it. My friend decided that people were too untrusting of this deal. It looked too good to be true, so he changed the sign to read: "Fridge for sale 50." The next day someone stole it.

They walk among us. (Usually for the Treasury!)


One day I was walking down the beach with some friends when one of them shouted, "Look at that dead bird!" Someone looked up at the sky and said, "Where?"

They Walk among us! (Mostly working in the Civil Service!)


While looking at a house, my brother asked the real estate agent which direction was north because, he explained, he didn't want the sun waking him up every morning. She asked, "Does the sun rise in the north?" When my brother explained that the sun rises in the east, and has for sometime, she shook her head and said, "Oh, I don't keep up with that stuff."

They Walk Among Us!! (Those not in the Estate Agencuies work for the Civil Service!)


My colleague and I were eating our lunch in our cafeteria, when we overheard one of the administrative assistants talking about the sunburn she got on her weekend drive to the shore. She drove down in a convertible, but "didn't think I'd get sunburned because the car was moving."

They Walk Among Us! (Definitely working in the Civil Service!)


My sister has a lifesaving tool in her car designed to cut through a seat belt if she gets trapped. She keeps it in the trunk.

They Walk Among Us! (Another Civil Servant!)


I was hanging out with a friend when we saw a woman with a nose ring attached to an earring by a chain. My friend said, "Wouldn't the chain rip out every time she turned her head?" I explained that a person's nose and ear remain the same distance apart no matter which way the head is turned.

They Walk Among Us! (A Civil Servant definitely!)

I couldn't find my luggage at the airport baggage area, so I went to the lost luggage office and told the woman there that my bags never showed up. She smiled and told me not to worry because she was a trained professional and I was in good hands. "Now," she asked me, "has your plane arrived yet?"

They Walk Among Us! (Confirmed as a Civil Servant!)


While working at a pizza parlor I observed a man ordering a small pizza to go. He appeared to be alone and the cook asked him if he would like it cut into 4 pieces or 6. He thought about it for some time before responding. "Just cut it into 4 pieces; I don't think I'm hungry enough to eat 6 pieces."

Yep, They Walk Among Us! (Has to be a very senior Civil Servant!)

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:17 PM | TrackBack

May 01, 2007

Back to the saltmines ...

Saturday afternoon Mausi's three weeks holiday came to an end. Mausi's had a great time during these weeks on the British Isles, and - as always - they were gone much too quickly. Mausi likes Birmingham Airport, it's much smaller than Frankfurt in Germany, much less busy, and check-in never is a problem. Except that big backpacks have to be carried around to the oversize luggage counter because the straps get hooked and mess up the automatic luggage transport system - but okay, the airport is not very big so it's no real problem.

Passing through the hand luggage control was quite entertaining. Having to take out one's laptop of a tightly packed little rucksack and squeeze it in again afterwards is a bit of a nuisance. But it got even better. Mausi had almost to do a complete striptease: coat, jumper, belt, wristwatch, pocket contents, even her shoes had to through onto the conveyor belt. At least she passed the metal detector without problems. Then she had a great time watching fellow travelers passing through the metal detector gate. Some must have been wearing quite an amount of jewellery under their clothes for the gate never stopped beeping.

The plane back to Frankfurt was only half full and Mausi had a row of three seats all to herself - unexpected luxury! Apart from a few turbulences the flight went well and on schedule. The pilot, however, was one of those no-nonsense persons who believe in coming down straight and swiftly onto the runway and then hitting the brakes full force. While the plane was rattling on to a stop Mausi asked herself if they hadn't missed the runway altogether - it decidedly felt like going cross country.

Mausi's garden has used her absence to grow into a wilderness.

The little bear can hardly peer out from under the Bleeding Heart, also known as Dutchman's Trousers

Suddenly everything seems to have exploded into blossom, except for the rhododendrons. They always take a little longer around here. But the wild lilac and the snowball make more than up for it.

lilac.JPG   snowball.JPG
Wild lilac and a snowball called 'Eskimo' in full bloom

Their scents are overpowering. Thinking of 'Eskimo' will hopefully help Mausi make it through the present heat wave. Temperatures here were between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius during the last weeks - and it is only April. What will summer be like?

Anyways, Monday it was back to the saltmines and Mausi's stuffy little office. But she can always close her eyes for a moment and recall the incredibly green hills of England to her mind, can't she?

Posted by Mausi at 02:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack