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August 31, 2007

Goodbye Summer

Now we know for certain - summer has finally left us for good. Alright, alright it'll be the first day of the meteorological autumn tomorrow but still - one doesn't expect weather like Mausi encountered last Monday morning at this time of the year.

Early morning fog creeping over the fence

Mausi could hardly trust her eyes watching the fog taking possession of her garden at seven in the morning. Even the trees looked a bit sorry for themselves. Mausi is still hoping for a glorious Indian summer and probably a warm October. The only snag about Indian summer is that the days can be still warm but the evenings are a bit chilly and daylight is fading very early. Mausi loves long summer nights when she can sit ouside in the garden in the twilight and have a quiet read or watch the bats hunting. Fascinating creatures the way they dive through the air and perform the most astonishing manoeuvres without ever colliding with each other.

Ah well, we'll have to take life as it comes - summer was around in April, only nobody noticed then...

Posted by Mausi at 05:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 30, 2007

Post number 1662

For those who know the good old Church of England and its Book of Common Prayer, the number will be significant. Yes, that is the date of the BCP and for traditionalists that is the only date that matters in the church. Sadly, Cranmer's original attempt, the 1549, did not survive as it was deemed to Catholic by the Reformers.

It always amuses me to hear these same folks banging on about it being "Cranmer's" Prayer Book, the good Archbishop had been long dead by the time it was published, burned at the stake by Queen Mary I of England (Bloody Mary of infamous repute). The book certainly encompasses most of Cranmer's work, but with some notable changes. This book is modelled on the 1554 version which never received the ascent of Parliament and that, in its turn, replaced the 1549 Prayer Book which was an almost verbatim translation of the Latin Breviary, although here Cranmer's genius with words made a fine silk purse out of the rough translations.

There are several things in the 1662 BCP that are hang overs from the earlier 1554 book - notable for its extreme protestantism which is precisely what made it unacceptable to the majority. One of these is the practice of celebrating the Eucharist stood or crouched at the North End of the altar (Sorry! Communion Table to those who practice this strange stance.). This arises from the fact that in the 1554 version the Rubric for the preparations for the Communion stated that: -

"The table shall be placed in the midst of the Quire lengthwise, covered with a clothe of fair linen and the vessels for the communion placed at it's centre. The Minister shall stand at the entrance to the Quire and admit to the communion those whom he is satisfied are properly prepared to receive it and when all are entered shall stand upon the North SIDE of the table and commence the service of Communion"

Reading the actual rubric (I have 'translated' and paraphrased it here) it is clear that only a part of it was carried over into the 1662 version - just enough to make the instruction to stand on the North SIDE a complete nonsense. The key here is the word SIDE. If the altar is placed against the East wall the North side becomes the North End and it is extremely difficult to conduct the communion service from there. In fact I have never seen it done successfully - probably because seeing the priest trying to do it from there always makes me want to go and drag the "table" away from the wall and turn it into the place prescribed by the Iconoclasts who wrote that original rubric! It is also worth remembering that this moving of the table and standing on the North side was a political statement in 1554 and 1662 - it meant that there was a clear difference between the way the Roman Catholic Church celebrated the Communion (Or Mass if you prefer!) and that of the C of E. Again, it is my view that any politically motivated ritual is invalid and should be ignored. The Communion is about focussing on God and for that reason the East facing or West facing celebration of the Eucharist is accepted as the norm by most catholic and apostolic churches.

My second problem with that stance (and those who cling to it) is that they then ignore the rest of the Rubric which still requires the priest to "Admit to the communion only those persons who he is satisfied are duly prepared and in a state of grace to be admitted" and most tellingly, to exclude those he does not believe are suitable!

In my view you cannot ignore the one part and slavishly follow the other. Ergo, the whole is contrary to the intent and purpose of the Communion and should be discarded.

There, I have said my piece on the 1662 BCP, I love the language of the collects and the prayers, I love the Offices of Matins and Evensong, use the Prayers for those at Sea and love the form for Publick Baptism. There is a great deal of good in it - but the intent in the Rubrics for the Communion is contrary to the message of love and acceptance of those in spiritual need in the Gospels. By all means use the BCP, but take care what you do with the Rubrics for the Communion!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:17 AM | TrackBack

August 29, 2007

Now listen to Nanny children ....

I suppose it was inevitable. Now we are to have road signs telling us not to trust our SatNav devices. It seems that the Nannies in our councils, departments of state and government simply cannot stand the fact that we might think for ourselves - they have to tell us that occassionally the SatNav is a little "off beam". Nothing less than the outlawing of all GPS devices will satisfy this pack of morons who seem to think that it is safer to have the driver on his own reading the Route Instructions from a print out from Google Earth or the AA Routefinder.

Well I for one don't. My GPS is 98% accurate and a damned sight safer than my balancing a sheaf of papers or a map book on the steering wheel!

These idiots who spend a vast amount of money on these meaningless signs - meaningless to anyone with an ounce of common sense - simply cannot believe that the average motorist is a sensible person who doesn't need to be coddled in this way. The reality is that they simply hate the fact that we can find our way about - in fact they don't like a mobile population at all. Heaven forbid, you may just find out that the people on the other side of the hill are not two headed freaks and the world isn't flat. Above all they don't want you to be able to choose when, where and how you travel, they wanbt to regulate that and force you to go where they want and when they think you should. In short, this is another assault on private transport.

Tax payers in Wales should gang up and refuse to pay for these signs. Let the Nannies who want them pay for them, but it should not come out of our taxes at all!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:29 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Comment forum on Short Stories ....

I'm delighted to be able to report that my Short Story, "A ship of Heaven" has been e-published at Residential Aliens, an e-zine that publishes short stories and other work which has a "spiritual" or "biblical" twist to it. I can say that I am very flattered to be appearing alongside some of the other authors featured here. But now it's your trun to tell me what you think of my story - visit the Alien's Pub and leave a comment on your take on the story.

Go on, be a devil - it's free!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:58 AM | TrackBack

August 28, 2007

So when is a State a Fascist State?

I must say that I have noticed over the last twenty or more years an increasingly derogatory approach to our national image and the Defence of the Realm among the intelligentsia. I have often wondered if it was in some way connected with the socialist "global" or "internationalist" view, and now, it seems, I may have stumbled on something that suggests that I may be right. It seems that there are fourteen "tests" of Fascist leanings applied by certain political academics and commentators when forming an opinion of any government. Unsurprisingly this includes the level of support within the government of the military, of the "national image" and such national symbols as the countries flag.

The full list includes:

1. Continuing nationalism, such as flying the national flag everywhere and taking pride in the national identity,
2. Ignoring "Human Rights" ethics,
3. Martialling the electorate by identifying "enemies" and scapegoating sections or particular groups,
4. Influence of the military - measured by how much is spent on defence against how much is spent on "social" programmes,
5. Media control, whether by "direct" control or with control in the hands of "sympathisers",
6. National security having a high profile in policy,
7. Government is overtly religiously linked to a particular faith,
8. Protection of Corporate Interests,
9.Overt sexism, measured as "masculine supremacy" and "oppression of women",
10. Trade Union activity is restricted or controlled,
11. Denigration of Intelligentsia and or/ restriction or control of higher education
12. Emphasis on Crime and Punishment, measured as how harshly the criminal is punished and how much effort goes to "reforming" the criminal,
13. Corruption and cronyism, again looking at who gets what job, is connected to who and how the appointment is made,
14. Fraudulent elections - measured by the level of smear campaigning against opposition members and parties, dirty tricks and ballot box rigging to name but a few "tricks".

An interesting list, but I find it a little puzzling. The authors of this list have looked only at the regimes they considered "Fascist" in compiling it. Their list included Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, President Suharto and a number of South American Juntas. Notable for its absence are the Communist regimes all of whom subscribe to thirteen out of the fourteen - and probably, if one looked really closely, to number 9 on the list as well. Even our Illustrious Departed Leader's bunch of closet communistas subscribe to a minimum of twelve of them. In my book, that makes them Fascists and Gordon Brown's assuming the leadership will simply exacerbate it. Even number 14 is a bit misleading since, in any "party" election, the public do not truly have a say - the party selects the candidate (cronies) and the candidate doesn't represent those who don't vote for his or her party, but his or her party. There is a difference!

Even more ironic in this is the fact that these very same intelligentsia all come from that privileged Upper Middle Class band of the population, parents of professional background, well educated and represented in the professions, they are also the people stuffing the boardrooms of the Corporate paymasters of all the parties. Take another look at Number 13 and then at our own government - all the top jobs are filled by people with connections. Outsiders haven't a prayer! And that extends through the entire Civil Service as well, it is never what you know or how good you are, though that is always trotted out as the explanation, it is always who you know and who knows you. The ticket to every Boardroom is a spell in Westminster/Whitehall - and of course, the right "social" attitude, connections and old school tie help.

It never fails to amaze me how the intelligentsia of the Left in any society always blind themselves to the failings of their own political vision. Anyone who does not subscribe to their idea of Utopia must be a Fascist just waiting to herd people into gas chambers or line them up for shooting practice. Ironically this is not a new debate at all - in fact it is very clearly echoed in the Senatorial debates of the mid 5th Century in Rome when Senators argued that letting the Barbarian Hordes into the Empire and allowing them to take over control of the military (WE don't want to sully our hands with that darling!), local colonia and of letting them establish alternate legal practices and systems while arguing it was "good for the renewal of Rome" all came to nothing on 410 to 476 when Rome simply fell apart because no one was interested in holding it together any longer. I am fascinated to see these debates being raised in the US and across Europe again, it seems we never do learn that there is a moderate path in this, one which is not unreasonable and which does ensure that our society is not destroyed and re-invented every five hundred years.

Reading the reports on the advance of Fascism in government I was amused to discover that the authors of the list I have produced here are Democrats and are accussing President Bush and the Republican Party of Fascism. I find it amusing because their own party has subscribed for generations now to draconian immigration controls - far stricter than some of the really represive states I have visited. I find it very amusing that the list could be just as easily a list of the flaws of the Left and Socialism as it is of Fascism (And frankly I see little to choose between the two - certainly having lived under one really Fascist regime and seen the damage done by Marxist/Socialists on the other!), yet the authors seemingly refuse to admit the case.

To me it proves beyond doubt that my Political Science lecturer back in the 1970's was absolutely correct. There is no Left or Right. Politics is a circle, veer to far in either direction and you find they are the same.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:54 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 27, 2007

I've been Googled!

Well, I suppose it could be the start of greater things, I hope so anyway! But I have recently discovered that my book Out of Time is on Google Books. Helpfully you can access sample pages and all the suppliers from there as well.

Now there's a spur to getting the sequel published!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:39 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Greek tragedy

One could be excused for wondering what has gone wrong in Greece. The Peloponnese seems to have gone up in flames, and while a lot of it is probably, as suggested by the Greek authorities, down to arson, the overall catastrophe is not just the single act of a few stupid idiots. The overall piucture must be seen, and it is not an encouraging one. Firstly, this part of Europe has been in the grip of a heat wave for several months. Just as Britain has been under water, so the Eastern part of Europe has been without it. The vegetation is tinder dry and just needed the proverbial match.

Now we have the spectacle of watching the Greek forests go up in smoke, and must mourn those who have lost their lives and those who may have escaped the flames only by sacrificing everything else.

There is much in this to commend the Australian approach to a risk of bush fire, they use a scale of assessment and put out a Fire Hazard warning across the states. When the risk is particularly high they have an outright ban on any sort of out door fire - including any BBQ. It doesn't stop the moron with a match or lighter and the sort of terminal stupidity to think it a good laugh to set fire to some grass, but it does limit the potential for other sources. And the penalties for starting such a fire are harsh enough to really hurt the perpetrators when they are caught, and the Aussies have a good record on that too.

Watching the TV news two things have struck me rather forcibly on this occassion, first that the Greek Fire Services outside of the cities haven't the resources to deal with anything on this scale, second that by the time they started water bombing it was probably too late. The one good thing emerging from this is the mutual aid flowing across borders from their European neighbours and the Balkan states. A Greek tragedy has become an opportunity to build bridges for the future.

Pray for those involved, they will need our spiritual and physical support as this tragedy continues to develop.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:10 PM | TrackBack

August 26, 2007

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

No its probably my son driving some VIP on some motorway. He is now a qualified high speed pursuit driver and drives for a very special agency. The training is unbelievably thorough and involves a number of manoeuvres that make your hair stand on end, and probably require changes of underwear for the passengers. Mind you, the cars they are driving are far from standard in everything except appearance. But the exterior apart, you probably wouldn't recognise the rest of it even if you drive the supposedly same model.

The training has been tough, it has been demanding and he has come through with flying colours. As we probably all knew he would - but you never tell your kids something like that now do you?

To say I am proud of his is probably an understatement.

Oh, and his other speciality is flying helicopters. That is what he really wants to do, but the car thing is a good substitute and from my perspective doesn't involve hanging several tons of machinery inherently unsuitable for flying off a single bolt ......

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:37 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 25, 2007

Gun free Britain?

One of the most stupid and disasterous moves ever made by our bunch of idiots and do-gooders infesting Westminster has to be the ban of all lawful ownership of handguns. Coupled with Labour's outright refusal to put the criminal community at risk of any sort of punishment or retribution by granting the law-abiding citizens - sorry, subjects - of this benighted land the right of self defence without qualification and obfustication, we should not be surprised that gun related criminal activity has gone through the roof.

The latest blatherings of the current Blair-babe (Sorry that should be Brown Babe) disgracing the office of Secretary of State for the Home Office, claiming that gun crime is falling to an "unprecedented level" and the fact that in the last four days one boy has been shot dead by another teenager for no apparent reason other than machismo and four other men have been wounded, one wonders which planet she is living on. Mind you, the way Whitehall counts or fails to count things for statistical purposes, its not surprising she thinks gun crime is falling. I suspect it is one of those figures that is subject to a considerable amount of "false accounting" by the civil service to produce a figure the minister can wave in triumph. Truth it most certainly isn't.

We have had a biker shot dead on a motorway. And the M40 is a motorway that isn't just busy, it's crowded! We have had a boy shot dead in Liverpool, we have had two bouncers at a nightclub shot and seriously wounded, we have had the police fiured on by a motorist they stopped for dangerous driving (He then drove off at high speed and escaped!) and we have had another shotting incident in which no one was hit, but which certainly put the wind up those involved. According to the Home Secretary, gun crime is down. Well it is if you don't count people who weren't hit by the bullets.

The truth is, if Whitehall and Westminster weren't such strangers to the truth, that illegal gun ownership is way up. Owning a gun has become a fashion accessory for every teenage gang member and for most of the criminal fraternity. And the law abiding subjects of this country are the first to be arrested and dragged into court accused of manslaughter or murder if they dare to defend themselves in any way at all.

A writer called J T Edson, ironically a one time British postman, wrote a series of very popular and successful "Westerns" one of which was entitled "A town called Yellowdog". The basic plot involved a man being killed by outlaws who had taken over the town of Moondog somewhere in Texas. This had happened after the twon council had voted to outlaw the carrying of or ownership of guns by the citizens of the town. So the townspeople found it much easier to simply do as they were told and let the outlaws have it all their own way. Until the wrong man got killed and his friends came looking for his killers. The clean up was, as I recall, bloody, but thorough and the angry young men who cleaned it up renamed the town for the cowardly streak that ran through its soul.

That I suspect is the problem with our present society. We tolerate to much from our cowardly legislators and their jobs-worths civil servants. We tolerate a legal system that is not about justice but about protecting criminals and we do so because it is easier than speaking out and running the risk of being made to appear "Right Wing" or "reactionary". What will it take to change this?

Probably nothing less than an armed insurrection.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:13 PM | TrackBack

August 24, 2007

Newquay fire ...

The discovery of more human remains in the rubble of the Penhallow Hotel will be upsetting for those involved and for the relatives, but it will also bring an end to the uncertainty and to the pain suffered by knowing that someone is "unaccounted for". As an ex-firefighter I know that some at least of the first arriving crews will now be asking themselves the questions, "Could I have done more? Could I have saved them?" These will never go away, if you have been there while someone was dying in something as ghastly as this, these questions haunt every dedicated fire fighter - and the UK Fire and Rescue Services still, despite the circus that is London, have more dedicated men and women who are thoroughly professional about what they do than of the sort I described in my last post on this subject.

I ask that you pray for all those involved in this ghastly fire, they will need those prayers in the days ahead, both the victims/guests and the fire crews who attended it.

Those investigating the fire will need your prayers and support as well. There are a number of features of this fire that should give us all some disquiet. Whether or not it was arson is immaterial, this fire spread very rapidly, suggesting that the structure had some features which may have helped it spread. That raises questions about the fire protection and the generally accepted concepts of "passive fire protection" and its effectiveness. In my experience it is, only if it is maintained and tested in realistic conditions which take account of the size and type of fire it is likely to be exposed to. Then, in an old building which has undergone numerous changes, a lot of the integrity will have been compromised - creating channels for the fire to spread in hidden spaces and in unpredictable ways.

And on top of that, the investigators must tread carefully as they look for the remians of any other victims who may be still missing. All of our prayers will help sustain them.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:06 AM | TrackBack

August 23, 2007

Editor's reports .....

Well, I have the latest Editor's Report on "The enemy is within!". As Churchill once remarked, "It is not the end, nor yet the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning."

I felt a bit like that as I read the report. Essentially this one is far more positive than the first and even the second. It has highlighted a couple of weaknesses, which will take some work to iron out, it has made some further suggestions on improving the flow of the text and of the story, all of which is very positive. But the bottom line is, it is not "Publisher ready" yet.

One area I have to work on is to make the "villians" less Black and White and more "Grey" so that they are not entirely "Bad" versus "Good" and it is rather a case of "Grey" versus "Grey". That is not so easy to do, but it is doable with some re-writing. The point that the Editor makes here is that my "good" guys clearly have a three dimensional existence with moral dilemmas to resolve whereas the "bad" guys seem to exist only as immoral and therefore "bad" guys. The report does make one exception - it points to the fact that one of the "bad" guys is now almost pitiable .....

But the good news - I have just had another Royalty cheque from my publisher of "Out of Time". It isn't on the scale of J K Rowling's pay cheques, but hey, thanks to all those of you who have bought the book, helped sell the book or told someone about it.

Right, back to the keyboard, and the effort to resolve the issues with The enemy is within!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:51 AM | TrackBack

August 22, 2007

Off to the M25

Today the Monk must mount his trusty steed and tackle the journey to the edges of that territory enclosed by the dreaded M25. He is actually going to visit a place just outside it, but it is a prospect he seldom relishes. Travel times vary wildly, one trip may run smoothly and be accomplished with relative ease, another may get bogged down in endless tailbacks ....

Let us hope the the appropriate Guardian Angels are on duty and will smooth this trip to the edges of Surrey. Reigate or bust?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:34 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 21, 2007

War on spam

My little battle on the spambots seems to be having some success, the junk pouring in is easing, the posts attacked are getting older and older and the number of spam "comments" I delete daily has dropped from a hundred or more to no more than ten. Irritating is the fact that I am now having to close comment acceptance on my sermon posts and most of those with a religious content, they seem to be the prime target for a rather unsavoury porn site.

For those who would like to comment on any of my theology posts, drop me an e-mail and I'll find a way to insert them without giving the spambot a chance to sneak something else in. E-mail gray.monk@btinternet.com

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:05 AM | TrackBack

August 20, 2007

Tragedy in Newquay

The fire on Friday night at the hotel in Newquay has, inevitably, raised a number of questions concerning the principal of "Integrated Risk Management Planning" or IRMP as it is known in Whitehall speak. It is slowly emerging that the fire cover in this area, whose normal population numbers some twenty thousand and rises to one hundred thousand during the holiday periods, has been cut back. Only one "pump" (the primary response unit of any UK Fire and Rescue Service) was able to respond immediately, a second was available but, thanks to the cut backs, could not be manned. Worse, the only high reach appliances in the protected area were bot out of commission - we don't know why - and the only available unit had to be sent from Plymouth some fifty miles away.

Now, to be fair, it must be said that the old system of a prescribed number of pumps to be available within a specified time for a series of risk categories was onerous and could be wasteful of resources, particularly in the larger cities where it often meant having duplication of resources within spitting distance of each other. In rural areas the picture has always been radically different - and Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service is a good example of a small rural service facing some difficult risks and terrain with minimal resources to begin with. Under IRMP the removal of the professionals from determination of the best way to provide the protection needed, by placing the political head - the Chairman of the Fire and Rescue Authority in overall charge - and by the use of a statistically based computer game to determine where your resources should be and what is required, has seen the available manpower and the equipment cut back below what most professional fire officers (Another term Whitehall has insisted be removed - everyone is now called a "Manager" to hide tha fact that many of the "new" "managers" know nothing at all about fire fighting) would consider either safe or adequate.

Yes, they eventuially mustered a hundred and twenty five fire fighters to fight the fire and twenty two pumps, but the critical time which determines whether the fire will be small or large is the first ten to twenty minutes. If it is not contained within the compartment of origin within that time, you have lost the war. Now it better also be explained that that first strike window is further narrowed by the fact that there is always a delay in first of all discovering the fire - much depends on the type of alarm system - and then in responding appropriately. Human instinct is always to try and deal with it first, only when it is already taking hold will the occupier think to call the fire services. Now enter a further "buggery factor". Thanks largely to the complete incompetence of most senior officers now in London, the fire service has become the focus of the "crew safety overrides all other considerations Brigade." Which means that the first strike against a fire may be delayed for up to twenty minutes before the officer in charge - and nowadays his crew are able to refuse to take orders if they disagree with them - may decide he has sufficient safety cover for an entry to be made. By that time there is little point in attempting an entry in most cases - the building is already a goner. And, anyone still inside it is a likely to be retreived eventually as charred flesh and bone.

I recently walked away from a circus performance in London that would have had the Keystone Cops in tears. The first pump arrived on the scene while the fire was still small and visible on the ground floor. The crew argued that they could not risk entry becauise there wasn't a second pump, which arrived, then a second argument ensued because there weren't enough "resources" on the ground. The fire meanwhile had spread internally and was now visible on the first floor. More resources arrived and the fire spread happily to the third floor and through the roof. Twenty five minutes after the first pump arrived the fire entered the adjoining properties through the roof and I walked away, sick to the stomach at what the service I had once been proud to be associated with has become. The sight of a fire fighter sporting dreadlocks and arguing with a senior officer was just too much for me. I hope the London Fire and Rescue Authority is sued for its back teeth!

One thing I am certain of is that already those responsible for this stripping of the fire and rescue services will be covering their tracks. You may be sure that the blame will be placed on the fire fighters or on the unwillingness of the service to "embrace new thinking" - a favourite Whitehall canard which conceals the fact that the fire and rescue service no longer has any professional guidance form Whitehall, all policy is now decided on cost and cost alone. The Fire and Rescue Authority in Cornwall will blame "Treasury Cuts" or "lack of government funding" for the parlous state of their service and any deficiencies uncovered during the investigation of this tragedy will be expunged from the report lest it embarass the "modernisers" and new non-professional Chief Officers.

None of which will bring back the lives lost or comfort those involved. And it will not change a thing in the "new" fire and rescue service which no longer enters buildings to fight a fire, nor is fire fighting its concern. The new regime is a major con trick, since the focus on health and safety, no risk fire fighting means simply that, if you have a fire in your home, the FRA does not expect its fire fighters to extinguish it, but to watch it burn. IRMP has reduced the fire protection provided by the Fire and Rescue Services, and it has allowed the politicians to spend money on glitzy and almost worthless projects aimed at "prevention". While I am a strong advocate of prevention I do believe it must be done professionally and not through comic books and showy demonstrations.

There is a second thing about this fire which should be called into question and that is the whole concpet of "Risk Appropriate Solutions" which allow the user to decide what protection is adequate - quite often without the slightest understanding of what they are actually dealing with. The FRA's are no better, several have dispensed with professional fire officers auditing this important work and engaged unqualified people as "Code Enforcers". In other words they believe that a building which "fits the book" is a fire proof. Nequay is a prime example of one that wasn't and there are thousands more around the country. For this regime to work, every hotel and every public building has to be sprinkler protected and there has to be a legal obligation on the water suppliers to maintain the pressure required for these to operate. For far too long the Wankers in Whitehall have resisted the requirement to fit sprinklers to these buildings and talked up the cost. It is time to fire the lot of them out of their cushy "no-blame" posts and expose their lies on this head - and their incompetence to "manage" anything.

If the politicians want to go down the route of a dumbed down, under equipped, non-professional fire and rescue service they have no choice. Sprinkler protection is an essential for every public building from here on in, schools, hospitals, hotels, shpoos and shopping centres are just the tip of the iceberg. Private homes should no longer be built without them either. The politicians, the civil servants and the "modernisers" in the FRS management have lied about fire and fire safety, now they stand exposed. Let us hope that this tragedy triggers another look at how the service is managed, staffed, regulated and organised.

But I won't be holding my breath - there haven't been enough deaths yet.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 19, 2007

Sunday Sermon

This morning I am the preacher at the Sung Eucharist. I will confess that the Gospel reading for the day is one of those which fills most preachers with dread because it seems to contradict almost everything we would like to think our faith is about. Read it yourselves at Luke Chapter 12 verses 49 to 56.

My text is taken from the Epistle set for today, Hebrews Chapter 11 verse 29 to Chpater 12 verse 2 and I have used Hebrews 12 v 1. For the full set you had better read Jeremiah 23 verses 23 to 29 as well. When you have read them perhaps you will understand the little story I begin with ....

Not an easy set of readings to use, but, in the Grace of God's own guiding, I think I have made a little sense of it.

Tewkesbury Abbey
Trinity 11 2007

+ May the words in my mouth be inspired by the Holy Spirit, guided by the teaching of the Son and blessed by the Father. Amen

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us."

When I read the lessons set for today as I sat down to prepare this sermon I was reminded of a famous incident which took place in the great fortress harbour of Gibraltar in 1941. A battlecruiser attached to Force H stationed at the Rock returned from a difficult patrol of the Western Mediterranean to be greeted by a signal that she would have to refuel, rearm and return to the patrol zone as the Flagship could not take her turn on patrol due to a breakdown. On departure, the battlecruiser passed close to the flagship, her Royal Marine band assembled on her quarterdeck playing a tune to which there were very rude and uncomplimentary words. Immediately the Admiral signalled, “On leaving harbour, who selects the music for the band?” Back came the reply, “Normally the bandmaster, but on special occasions the Captain.” Naval signal logs are also famous for their use of Biblical quotations to convey special messages, but enough of that for the moment.

The writer to the Hebrews is making a powerful point in his address to the readers, a point no less important to us today than it was to the original recipients. The early church had an immediacy to their expectation of the second coming, it was believed that it would happen within their own lifetimes and it is something we should take to heart and consider ourselves. For it is something that could happen at any time, no matter how cleverly we arrange to manage the ordering of our lives. Some things we can plan for – but, as we were reminded last week, storing up great wealth on earth can be a slightly fruitless exercise if our life expectancy can be curtailed at any moment. That was certainly true of all walks of life until a little over a hundred years ago when medical science began to make great strides and extend our life expectancy enormously. In effect, it has disconnected us with death – and the expectation of a better life in the hereafter.

Where death was a constant and familiar companion to our forefathers, that is no longer the case, and we have lost touch with the focus that familiarity gave to the promises of our Saviour in the life to come such immediacy in the first century.

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that faith is the key. It was the faith of the Hebrews that allowed them to cross the sea and closed it over the Egyptians. It is faith which guided Jeremiah and the prophets and faith which must now guide every true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, some still living among us and many, many more who have died in that faith and with whom we are once more joined in the Communion of the Saints as we profess to believe when we sing the creed. That is the promise of the resurrection and of the faith which we profess, that all who truly come to Christ are to be numbered among the saints – and I would hope that I am here among saints for that is what we are all called to be.

Turning to our Gospel reading today however, we find a stark warning – one which reminds us that the message of Peace will not be received in peace. Those of you who have satellite television will know of the forthcoming programme by the author of “The God delusion” to be broadcast soon. Entitled “The enemy of reason” it purports to “prove” that there is no God and that all religion is a lie and a deception. Well, I suppose he is entitled to his opinion, though I personally find the hype and the promotion of these arguments as being “scientific” offensive, because they are not. Humanism and philosophy are merely materialistic forms which attempt to replace faith. As Christ says in today’s Gospel –

“When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, it is going to rain; and so it happens,”

In a desert land, easily predicted, but who can answer his second charge –

“You know how to interpret the earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

It takes greater faith to stand and declare “there is no God” than it takes to believe that God is real and present in everything we do, so why is our faith so shaky? Why is it the cause of so much dissension?

There is an important clue in the closing passage of the Letter to the Hebrews, one which picks up on a passage from the Gospel. In Luke 12 v 30

“Do not set your heart on what you will eat and drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your father knows that you need them.”

In essence, as another passage tells us – “take no thought for tomorrow!”

Now, if I am honest, I have to admit that there are a number of things in my possession that I am rather attached to, in fact that I would find it difficult to live without, but the real truth is that I can live without them. And it is amazing how liberating it is to know that and to recognise it.

I took as my text the closing sentence of our epistle for today, but now I would like to turn again to Luke’s gospel, again to a sentence preceding our reading for today.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be demanded.”

Our Lord is not speaking of the material things alone here, but of all our gifts, material and spiritual just as the writer to the Hebrews is. As we assemble to celebrate the Communion of our Lord in the presence of that great cloud of witnesses, we should take stock of how we will account for those gifts and our stewardship of them when we the Lord comes to demand it of us.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:30 AM | TrackBack

August 18, 2007

Spam, spam and more spam

Thanks to Seth (Hard a Starboard) and Skipjack, One Happy Dog Speaks and all the others who have offered suggestions on dealing with the bombardment of spam. I will be looking into protecting myself with some of the software suggested, but for the moment at least the closing down of comments on the older posts seems to be helping. At least the spam comments are thinning out a bit as the spambot hunts for ever older posts.

As John Paul Jones is said to have proclaimed - "Sir, I have not yet begun to fight!"

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:45 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 17, 2007

Spammer update

Following on from my post of yesterday, I have tried to identify what the posts targeted have in common that would attract a spambot. I am a little disturbed at what I find. Now I know this is not scientific, and I know there is probably some other mechanism at work - I certainly hope so - but I'm sure that this is a part of it. A computer software friend tells me that the fact that all the spam has the same series of false e-mail addresses means it is probably coming from a computer that has been cloned. In short, some corporation out there has had their computer taken over by someone else to run this spamming programme and doesn't seem to be aware that they are hosting a rogue programme. That is a bit scary.

Secondly, looking through the most commonly targeted posts I found they have the following words in common, though, obviously, not all of the words appear in all of the posts.
politics and politicians,
Jesus Christ,
religion and religious.

The list is quite extensive and that is a sample. Obviously not all of the words appear in all of the posts, but enough are "common" to make me wonder what the spammer who set this up is trying to push. One of the worst hit posts is "Guest Post" which has a large selection of words in it which appear to be common to all the other posts that are being hit - and one very disturbing aspect is the post that I put up only four days ago, entitled "Letting go" is already a prime target for this scum. Why am I disturbed by this? Primarily because it has a number of the key words including "Parents", "children", "parenting", "teaching" and "love" among others. Could it be that this purveyor of porn is trying to target children or sell child pornography?

And yesterdays post was hit within hours .....

Regretably I will be forced to close down the comments on that post if this continues - I have already had to close comments on a very large number of older ones, a time consuming and very annoying task at the best of times. Equally obvious is the fact that accessing the MuNu server is becoming very difficult at times - and a quick check shows me that the number of spam comments arriving in my "Approval" bin coincide with these periods. Draw your own conclusions.

One of my more radically inclined friends has suggested that the whole spam bot thing is actually being run by various government secret services in an effort to drive bloggers out of the internet. Frankly, I doubt any civil servant would have the wit or the ability anywhere in the world, they are parasites, not original thinkers wherever they are. But I certainly wouldn't put it past some of our political masters and media barons to want to try it. After all, while there are many blogs that don't rock the boat, there are many more that do publish reports and information our politicians and media do not want publicised. A nice theory anyway.

My own feeling is that this is simply a mafia style operation being run from a convenient Developing Country and designed to make money for its originators. Pity it has to be so difficult to beat and so damned irritating.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:11 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 16, 2007

Spam attack

I am under a constant bombardment at the moment from a spam generator. The "e-mail" address on all of these is Pakerson@mgmail.com which is obviously a false address. Up to now I have been able to contain this quite simply by deleting everything and then closing the comments on the post they were targetting. Now they are targetting posts almost as soon as I have put them up.

It could be funny I suppose, but I really do not appreciate being targeted to post links for porn sites, particularly those of a more marginal nature.

If this continues I will have no option but to close all access to posting of comments - and I'm pretty sure that it is only a matter of time before one of these damned spammers finds a way to bypass your login for your blog and start posting directly. I recently posted an item in which I mentioned the fact that a lot of blogs I used to enjoy have disappeared - and from the feedback I have had, spam comments and trackbacks are a major reason. I get fed up with having to clear out hundreds of spam comments every day and have several times contemplated giving up the struggle. Then I noticed that particular posts seemed to attract more spam than others and that led me to the conclusion that these things obviously hunt for a "key word" and attack any post with those words in them.

Well, for now I will continue to close down comments on the older posts and hope that has some impact. For the rest I shall just have to hope that Pixymisa and Co can find a way to install that clever system that makes a commenter enter a code .....

That seems to work.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:19 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 15, 2007

Short Story publication

My latest Short Story has been "e-published" at Residential Aliens, the new e-magazine. The story is entitled "Ship of heaven?" and I had a lot of fun writing it. I hope that you will enjoy reading it.

These stories have been an exercise in trying to "get into the mind" of my characters, something that is quite important when you are trying to write believable fiction and create believable characters. That is the secret of Pratchett's characters, you know them, you even recognise them when you bump into them in a shop or in the street.

In writing the short stories about them though, there is a small danger that you become so familiar with them, and the characters become so much a part of you, that you fail to carry this over into the stories themselves. I hope that this one will wet appetites for more. Four others are available on Amazon.com and I have several more either finished and waiting to find a publisher or in draft and waiting on my attention. They are intended to be fun and I hope that they give as much pleasure to the reader as I got out of writing them.

Terry Pratchett once remarked that writing was the most fun you can have on your own. I agree with him, it's unbeatable.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:02 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 14, 2007

Letting go ....

Is probably the hardest thing any parent has to face. What provoked this line of thought? An exchange with a fellow blogger whose eldest son will be launching forth into the great big pond outside his own home yard and learning to cope with the bigger pond that is the school room and school yard in the Autumn. It reminded me of the first day at school for each of my own three and, perhaps to my own surprise, the first day I spent at school myself. As I recall the first lesson I learned on that day was that "friends" I knew in my neighbourhood and who were slightly older than me, weren't "friends" in the School playground. There they were not prepared to associate with a junior. That said, I was not one of those who cried when my mother left me in the care of the teacher on that first day, and I recall a feeling of slight superiority as I watched other kids succumb to that urge. I wonder what that says about me then and now?

At each stage of growth our kids present us with challenges. But the main things is the joy they give us, for the joys generally far outweigh the disasters that inevitably accompany the growing up process. Looking back I think I must have been a real trial to my parents. I conformed in many things, and ran amok in others. Homework happened to other people and I rarely completed mine, something I am quite ashamed of now. I have never been good at self study and there was no one home to ensure I actually did it - so I did the minimum necessary to avoid a caning. As one of my former School Masters told me many years later - "We could see the lights on and the intelligence there; but you evaded every attempt to engage your interest in what we were teaching!" He was flattered to learn that he had succeeded in teaching me a great deal more than he thought he had.

Children grow very rapidly once they hit school and from Day one they start to grow away from us. Suddenly Mum and Dad are not the only people who know stuff or can show us stuff. There is a whole new range of interesting and sometimes scary people out there suddenly impacting on us in different ways. As soon as we learn to read things more complicated than "Janet and John" there are other influences pouring into our heads. As parents we forget just how blank a slate a child's head is when we wave good bye at the bus stop or the school gate - and we are sometimes alarmed at what gets written on it and by whom! Suddenly our influences seem to diminish rapidly and the child seems to almost run away from our control as they learn to admire a teacher, or to hero worship one of their peers. Most of the influences from thsi will be good ones - provided we have ourselves prepared the 'slate' carefully and properly, teaching the difference between right and wrong; teaching respect for others and the rules of common courtesy and decency. These rules they will not get at school, these rules they have to have already learned when they enter those gates.

But, once we have started to widen their world, once they enter the school enivironment it often seems that we, as parents, become less important to the child. This isn't really so, but they do have so many new influences to deal with they do not give the same amount of time to us any longer. The chrysalis in which we placed them as babies is about to be torn open. We forget too that for much of human existence, childhood ceased at age six or seven and adulthood commenced at around fifteen. We have prolonged childhood and we have prolonged education, both good things to have done, but we have also forgotten that there comes a time and a point at which these fledglings have to learn to fly on their own. That is the hard bit.

This was brought home to me as I listened at the weekend to the latest exploits of my son. It is true that the "apple does not fall far from the tree" and it is sometimes uncomfortable to be confronted with another version of myself. Different, but comparable in so many ways .... But, he is an adult now and must make his own mistakes and his own decisions, as must both my daughters. That doesn't mean I love any of them any less, just that, hard as it is, I have had to learn to step back, to be there when they want to confide in me or cry on my shoulder - but I cannot fight their battles or steer their lives any longer. I have to let go, to learn to take a new role and position, one which I hope allows me to remain a friend, a confidant and - on those occassions when the family aversion to advice isn't in the ascendent - to offer advice.

Letting go is the hardest thing every parent has to face .....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:39 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 13, 2007

Monday ....

It's nice to start a Monday with something positive I always think, so it was a pleasure to wake to sunlight and a gentle warm breeze. I am also informed that Residential Aliens will be creating a new issue of their online magazone later this week and my story may be published then. All good stuff to look forward to.

My son has spent the weekend here as well and is, even now, packing to go back to his training course. It starts at 16.00 and will run through the night tonight, then another two weeks of daytime evolutions and classrooms, four weeks in all and he seems to be having a lot of fun on it. He certainly likes his job and enjoys working with the majority of those he deals with - but, like his father, is a cynic to the core and knows just how little those he deals with consider anyone but themselves. And, yes, he does deal with the great and the good, the civil service and the politcians. At least I can say he has a healthy cynicism when it comes to anything they promise, say or do. It has been great fun having him here, but I suspect both of us could have given our beds a little more time, we seemed to have so much to catch up on or discuss.

Well, it is Monday, time I got off to try and convince the client that I am worth taking on board, if only because it will stop the bank manager needing to ask me to bank with them again and not him banking with me. Can't understand his attitude on that, after all, I pay him far more interest when I am holding and spending his money than when I let him keep mine. There you go, funny old world really - and just think how easily it would all come crashing to the ground now we are so dependent on the technology .....

Happy Monday!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:25 AM | TrackBack

August 12, 2007

So just how committed am I to this blog thing?

Thanks to VW Bug at One Happy Dog Speaks I now know thw awful truth ....

62%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Mingle2 - Dating Site

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:24 PM | TrackBack

August 11, 2007

New story outlet .....

I was flattered to be approached for permission to republish one of my short stories recently. It will appear soon in the online magazine Residential Aliens specialising in sci-fi stories with a Christian or spiritual twist. The story I have sent them at this stage is entitled "A ship of heaven?" and is a "Ferghal's eye view" of his arrival on a Star Ship four hundred years into his future in my book "Out of Time".

It was great fun trying to put myself in his position and gauge his likely reactions to the situation he finds himself having to cope with so unexpectedly. After all, he and his companions were about to engage an enemy with their cannon. Is he alive? Is he dead? Is this heaven or hell?

I hope that you will try the magazine and read the story.....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:43 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 10, 2007

Church Notices

Church Notices are a minefield, which is why at the Abbey all our bulletins are checked by two independent people to make sure they all read correctly. Even so, the occassional glitch slips through the net, fortunately, so far, we haven't managed any quite on a par with the list my eldest daughter, The Postulant, has sent me today. Some of them lend credence to HRH the Duke of Edinburgh's assertion that Bipediorthodontology should be recognised as a medical condition.

Some of the examples collected so assidiously probably said all the right things at the time to the writer, but English does have that wonderful trap for the unwary - the double entendre.

Subject: Church Bulletins...

They're back! Church Bulletins: Thank God for the church ladies who type them. These sentences actually appeared in church bulletins or were announced in church services:


The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.


The sermon this morning: "Jesus Walks on the Water." The sermon tonight: "Searching for Jesus."


Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.

----------------------------------------------------------------- ----

The peacemaking meeting scheduled for today has been canceled due to a conflict.

--- ------ -------------------------------------------------------------

Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community. Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say "Hell" to someone who doesn't care much about


Don't let worry kill you off - let the Church help.


Miss Charlene Mason sang "I will not pass this way again," giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.


For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

------------------ ----------------------------------------------------

Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.

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The Rector will preach his farewell message after which the choir will sing: "Break Forth Into Joy."


Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.


At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be "What Is Hell?" Come early and listen to our choir practice.

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Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

--------------------------------- -- ----------------------------------

Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

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The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.

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Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM - prayer and medication to follow.


Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B. S. is done.

---------------------------------------------------- ------------------

The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.


The Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.


The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.

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Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.


The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new tithing campaign slogan last Sunday: "I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours".

For those wondering: Bipediorthodontology - The ability to open your mouth and place both feet in it. See also; Opening my mouth only to change feet; Taking the digger into the hole with you; etc....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 09, 2007

The changing face of leadership

Leadership is one of the most fascinating human attributes, and it is fascinating precisely because we cannot stereotype it. Look at the models of leadership we are most familiar with and you could be excused for thinking they are typically seven foot tall, built like Arnold Swartznegger, with that steely eyed expression that brooks no nonsense. Yet is that a good picture of a "leader".

Sir Winston Churchill certainly could not be accused of conforming to that mold and neither could Admiral Lord Nelson or Admiral A B Cunnigham, much less Sir Francis Drake or Queen Elizabeth the First. They were all small people who walked large on the world at the appropriate time, yet most of the time you would probably have been hard pressed to recognise them in the street. Sir Winston is perhaps the most poignant example of a leader whose skills of leadershjip were most evident at a particular moment - and not at others. Sir Winston was a political outcast right up to the moment he - to quote the late President J F Kennedy - "mobilised the English language and sent it marching out to war." Certainly Elizabeth Tudor would have recognised the skills he displayed and the foresight and depth of insight he brought to leadership of this nation during the war. Some of his decisions would not have been popular - and still rankle in certain parts of the former Empire - but they were the right decisions in the long run and they were often made in the full knowledge that they did not and would not meet the populist perception of what should be done.

Some are born to leadership roles and grow into them, others find themselves having to assume the mantle and either make a decent job of it, or are destroyed by their inability to carry others along with them. Nelson's "magic" was his ability to attract to his Flag those who were willing to venture ideas, opinions and tactics and have him adapt or reject them as he considered appropriate. He built teams of leaders - and leaders can be the very worst members of any team - in such a way that he was able to borrow their strengths and use them to best advantage. That was why they were prepared to follow him and to play according to his rules. Admiral Cunningham had a similar magic. He could be "one of the gang" without anyone ever assuming that this meant he or she was on an equal footing, but, when the moment required it, he could assume the full mantle of command and knew that his "team" (Like Nelson, the whole of his Fleet) would do their utmost to fulfil his expectations of them.

Being the "leader" is a nice balancing act - a tight rope between being one of the team and taking full and unreserved responsibility for its success or its failure. This is not a "committee position". Yes, he or she may have to consult their team through a "committee" forum, but, at the end of the day they, and they alone, are responsible.

I was struck recently by an item in the Scientific American concerning the changing concept of leadership which suggests that successful modern leaders are those who play by populist rules and fulfil populist expectations. To me that is not leadership, that is politics - and the two are very, very different. Sometimes a leader must be prepared to make a decision and act on it which flies in the face of populist sentiment precisely because that will be the fairest and least damaging choice. A populist leader will avoid making such a decision entirely and instead follow the crowd thereby abdicating all claim to being "the Leader".

My leadership training emphasised several aspects which I will try to summarise here:

1. Leaders listen, they listen to their team and they take on board the individuals needs, concerns and ideas,
2. Leaders use persuasion to carry their teams along with them, they communicate effectively and clearly, avoiding "buzz" words and phrases, slogans and other meaningless jargon when talking to their people. They NEVER ever talk down to a member of a team.
3. They know their people, their strengths, their fears, their weaknesses and play to these, never asking someone to do more than they can offer, but encouraging them to stretch their own limits and grow.
4. No leader ever asks a committee to make a decision for them. They consult, they may even delegate a part of the planning process and they will certainly persuade and enthuse - but the final "lets do this" is the Leader's alone.
5. A good leader is able to outline what they want the team to achieve and then stand back and let them do it. They don't micro-manage, set targets and demand returns and constant reports on progress, they set out the objective and the deadline, then let the individuals get it done.
6. Finally, a Leader is one who knows how to do the thing "right" according to the "rules", but will also know when doing the "right thing" is FAR more important than doing it "right".

Unfortunately most of the "studies" done on "leadership" in the last century have been done by men and women who have never been in a position of true leadership. Many have managed staff but they have never had to lead a team through adversity, through survival in a liferaft, through attack by an enemy when short on ammunition or shelter. That is when the real leaders emerge, when the youth everyone has teased and chided suddenly becomes a man and takes charge, leading the wounded to safety or extricating the family from the edge of disaster. It is not something that can be quantified, measured or even, as I said at the outset, stereotyped. And it is the error of our age to confuse "Management" with "Leadership".

Management is a function of leadership, not its equal and we would do well to remember that.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:36 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 08, 2007

Tidy up time!

Buying a new printer has meant having to sort out my "office" corner to free up the space to install the thing. This purchase was necessary because I found myself having to pay a lot to print reports on my inkjet printer which runs out of ink fairly regularly. So, the answer was to buy a laser. Duplex.

OK, so now I can print large reports quickly and economically. But fitting it into a small working area has been an interesting and entertaining experience. Not.

The one good thing is that all the sorting and tidying I have been putting off is now done. And I will be late for my dinner appointment if I don't hurry. Trouble is I'm tired enough now to nod of during the soup course.

I better not snore.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:16 PM | TrackBack

August 07, 2007

Foot in mouth?

So, after the floods comes the plague. Now we have Foot and Mouth again - and a rush of politicians and Civil Servants all eager to demonstrate its not their fault - really.

The most likely source of this outbreak seems to be a laboratory occupied jointly (it was once a Government Lab but has been partly "privatised" by the Treasury) by a Civil Service laboratory unit (Defra Managed!) and a private company. Already the Civil Servants are blaming the company with the usual claim that "Our Procedures have been followed to the letter." The problem with the "Procedures" is that, like any so called Quality Control system, it measures only certain things and ensures consistency of the measured parts. Thus, if the product is ordure, and everyone knows it is ordure, the ordure can at least be said to be absolutely consistent. The Procedures do not ensure that anything is improved or protected or even identified as being a potential risk. They just make sure that whatever they apply to is always handled in the same way.

So where is the problem in that you may ask. Simply this, if the procedure was written forty years ago, and is not updated or rewritten to take account of new knowledge or better methods of doing/protecting/safeguarding something all they will do is tick the boxes. They will not actually do a damned thing more. Procedures need to be flexible, they need to be written by people who know what they are doing and what they are dealing with and they need to be reviewed by people who know it as well. Any Procedure written by a non-specialist in non-specialist language to be interpretted and understood by jumped up filing clerks who call themselves managers isn't worth a damn.

I'm prepared to bet that the Commercial Lab side will get the blame for this - after all the Civil Service is investigating the leak so they won't find anything wrong with THEIR procedures now will they - and the politicians will try to tell us how well they and their Civil Servants have done to contain it. Will it get as big as the last outbreak? I doubt it, for one thing Whitehall daren't let it and the finger of blame from the last lot would now be pressed to their heads very much more firmly.

The real losers are again the British farming community, the British taxpayer and everyone whose livelihood depends on our livestock industry. I should think this outbreak will be it's deathknell.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:39 PM | TrackBack

Random 8 response ...

Skipjack finally got a chance. His selection makes fun reading ....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:52 AM | TrackBack

August 06, 2007

Young warrior

My brother has kindly forwarded a copy of another old photograph, taken on the eve of the Battle of the Somme, it shows my Grandfather and his friend aged sixteen just before they were sent into battle on the Somme. Part of the 36th Ulster Division, the Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers, in which they were serving, were committed on the first day. Henry Nelson Heron and his best friend fell side by side in no man's land and spent three days there in a shell hole unable to drag themselves back to their lines. When finally recovered, they were not expected to live. Thanks to maggots and the fact that the medics felt they would die if their damaged legs were amputated (they were dying anyway according to the senior surgeon!) they did not lose their limbs and they survived, but were subsequently deemed unfit to continue as infantry and were sent to the Royal Garrison Artillery.

Ada Eve of the Somme.jpg
Fusillier Henry Nelson Heron in 1916

Nelson, as he was known by his friends and family, went on to emigrate to South Africa in 1920 and carved out a career for himself. He was always a man of huge compassion and generosity and lived according to a set of values he gained from his father and mother and forged into a code by which he lived. He loved passionately his family, never turned a friend away in any need and never demanded repayment, but he was not a man to be taken for a fool either. That you did at your peril.

As I have unearthed more of his story in this last year I am amazed at just what he achieved and how much he gave to us, his grandchildren. Truly a man to be very proud to have known.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:30 PM | TrackBack

August 05, 2007

Musica Deo Sacra

The annual festival of Musica Deo Sacra at Tewkesbury Abbey had to be cancelled this year, for the very obvious reason that, following the flood we could not provide hotel or any other accomodation for the expected visitors or the visting musicians and choristers. This has been a severe blow to everyone, particularly those who have worked for months to bring it all together, but not least to those who had looked forward to attending it.

MDS is a dual event, it is a celebration of music yes, but more importantly, it is a celebration of scared music used for the purpose it was intended - worship. MDS is not a week of concerts, it is a week of magnificently sung services with the musicians and choristers sometimes spending months learning the music for some stunning settings. Today we would, in other circumstances, have celebrated the Solemn Eucharist with Schubert's Mass in B Minor, the West of England Players would have accompanied an enlarged choir of professionals and ammateurs to sing it with Byrd's Ave verum Corpus as the Communion Anthem and Voluntaries by Buxtehude performed on the Milton Organ to begin and end the worship. The floods have reminded us that "man proposes, but God disposes" in a rather spectacular fashion.

We will not have Schubert or the choir today, instead we will have a congregational setting (Marbeacke) and our usual worship, but at the Mass we will also be remembering all those who have suffered far mreo than the loss of a festival. We will remember the three who died, all of them in the vicinity of our great Abbey church. We will be remembering those whose homes have been destroyed or damaged and those whose businesses have been damaged. All of us have been affected by the flood to a lesser or greater degree and some will be a long time recovering.

But, while we will be remembering those who have lost so much, we will also be giving thanks for the many good things that are now flowing from the experience. A new spirit of fellowship, an outpouring of help both spiritual and material for those who need it and, of course, for the strength that sustained the emergency services, the hudreds of volunteers and the men and women who have worked without ceasing to restore the water and electricity supplies. It may be a long time before all is back to normal, but it will be restored and we give thanks for that.

And we will be working to try and build on the good that has come from this time of trial.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:46 PM

August 04, 2007

Here's another nice mess?

Living in rural surroundings the prospect of another outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease is not one to contemplate with any pleasure. The response from our lords and masters in Whitehall has, however, been commendably quick on this occassion, perhaps some of the lessons of the last debacle have penetrated the corridors of power after all. We are told that the Dour Leader himself is on the way home from his hols to deal with it and his Agricultural Secretary is also homeward bound from Italy to be on hand.

Wisely, perhaps, the French and the rest of Europe have closed their borders to British meat. But I would suspect, from where this has occurred, that it may already be too late. More importantly perhaps we need to know where it came from to get here!

Last time the blame fell upon a pig farmer not cooking his pig swill either long enough or hot enough, I wonder who or what they will find to blame this time? Equally, perhaps it is past time to innoculate all animals against this terrible disease. That will, of course, be resisted by the farming community because they know that if they do so it will mean a permanent ban on their products across the EU, but should it? Why, if the animal has been innoculated, should it be seen as a threat? Surely the purpose of innoculation is to ensure that the disease is eradicated and does not spread or infect others?

No one wants to see the great pyres of slowly burning carcasses we saw up and down the country last time. That is too ghastly to contemplate. So let us hope that there is a quick and less drastic solution this time - and particularly let's have a dose of common sense to support the farmers affected by it. Now is not the time to start a "blame game" now is a time for solutions. Let's find some and let's not have all the usual spin and meaningless statements from Whitehall's chinless wonders.

I think it is long past time that the politicians stopped meddling and trying to 'manage' things they know nothing about and focussed instead on how they can get the sensible precautions that are needed to prevent the spread of this ghastly disease properly recognised and used. We cannot hide our heads in the sand and declare that we are not affected by Foot and Mouth, the fact is that we are.

So let's deal with it.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:09 PM | TrackBack

August 03, 2007

A Glimpse of Medieval Life

Mausi and the Monk went adventuring and paid a visit to the remains of Tintern Abbey in South Wales. It was once part of a Cistercian monastry, founded here in 1131 by Walter fitz Richard of Clare, Lord of Chepstow. The Cistercian movement started in 1098 when the abbot Robert of Molesme, who was dissatisfied like many others with the way The Rule of Benedict (a practical plan for the way of life and organisation of a monastic community) was observed in European monastries, left his prosperous Burgundian abbey set out with some like-minded to search for a physically austere location where they could 'live more strictly and perfectly according to the Rule of the most blessed Benedict'. They found the ideal spot near Dijon and founded the Novum Monasterium (the New Monastry) which later became known as Cistercium. Today the place is named Citeaux. During the 12th and 13th centuries the Cistercian movement spread over Europe and in Britain alone some 86 monastries were founded.

Tintern was the perfect place to apply to the Cistercians' idea of an existence in poverty and seclusion. It is situated in the narrow Wye valley, surrounded by steep hills covered in thick forest. We've seen the place in broad sunlight but I bet most of the year it was damp and foggy.

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Tintern Abbey (seen from the South East) and the East window

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South Transept and a view towards the South West part of the abbey

The Cistercians strike me as a very strange order and not a very Christian one either. At least not in the sense that I understand Christianity which is rather to live and work among the people. But the Cistercians had no interest in the outside world. They led a secluded live inside the monastry. Work on the outside fields was done by lay brothers who were kept separately from the monks. The lay brothers were illiterate and had to stay that way. Their way of serving God was doing manual labour. Other orders had lay brothers as well but none as many as the Cistercians.

The abbey looks very grand now, even if it is in ruins. Especially the east window must have looked stunning. But it was never intended to be used as one big room. A stone screen separated the monks' choir from the nave where the lay brothers were allowed to be. The monks even had a separate entrance from their living quarters into the choir, which is the staircase at the south transept. So they really could keep themselves to themselves.

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The Warm House (right entrance) and a view of the Chapter House (front) with the Infirmary Cloister behind it

Life for the Monks must have incredibly hard when they started out at Tintern. The Warm House was the only room apart from the kitchen and the infirmary where a fire was allowed. And you can just see the Monks huddling in there for warmth. Their clothing was made of undyed coarse wool and they denied themselves any kind of underwear! No wonder they needed quite a big infirmary bits of which can just be seen on the right side of the infirmary cloister. The infirmary was used to look after sick and dying monks.

The Cistercian Monks have lived at Tintern for about 400 years until the monastry was dissolved. Most of the time they must literally have lived at a construction site. It took at least 10 years to build the first church. The cloister and other buildings were added. From then on a constant rebuilding and adding-on process followed. In the 13th century the church was completely rebuilt. This time the head mason was obviously given a free hand and in contrast to the very austere and simple architecture of the first church elaborate stone carvings and ornaments were introduced into the building.

Over the centuries the abbots also sat themselves apart from the community of the ordinary Monks. Their living quarters became much more spacious enabling them to receive and entertain benefactors of the monastry. This is quite in contrast to the original Cistercian idea of poverty which also forbid to accept gifts or money from outside. As it is with all societies that start out as a community of equals - after some time a few members become more equal than others.

Anyway, Tintern Abbey is well worth a visit and Mausi and the Monk had a most interesting time there. Mausi, however, is still trying to figure out what kind of mindset is needed to shut yourself off from the world in the middle of nowhere and lead a life of incredible hardships in God's name.

Posted by Mausi at 09:54 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 02, 2007

Random 8 Fun

Well I tagged VW Bug, The Gorse Fox and Skipjack. They in turn have tagged various friends and some of the results have been hilarious.

The Gorse Fox was the first to respond and came up with his 8 Random items, but then tagged Boston IT Party .... whose response under "Tagged" has to be read to be appreciated.

VW Bug at One Happy Dog Speaks came up with her 8 and tagged a friend named Tink at Tink's Tribulations.

And Skipjack has promised to give it some thought when he finally returns from a month on the move.

Good fun - and it's amazing what we learn about ourselves in the process.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:44 PM | TrackBack

August 01, 2007

After the flood

Mausi's arrived in Tewkesbury last Saturday for another visit. The waters were already receding steadily but the Abbey couldn't be reached on foot on the footpath Mausi usually takes from The Monk's place until yesterday.

The waters are falling quickly now leaving behind mud and silt and smell...

Walking along there yesterday morning Mausi had a closer look at the devastation left behind. The grass will take some time to recover here. A distinctive smell like an outgoing tide hung in the air and masses of dead earthworms were lying around. Obviously during the high tide last week the locks on the Severn had been opened and the salt water had been pushed up all the way to Tewkesbury. Amazing!

In town people are busy clearing out and trying to dry the rooms where the water got into. Everywhere you see piles of destroyed furniture, carpets and other household goods. Some shops and restaurants are also badly hit. The whole floor had to be taken up in the restaurant where Mausi enjoyed here birthday dinner only last April. But at the least the weather forecast is good for this week, it's mostly sunny and there's even a little breeze which will hopefully speed up the drying process.

Seeing all the boats piled up on top of each other on the river Avon just tells you what forces have been at work when the floods reached Tewkesbury. But then the water had reached up unto that little bridge in the background.

River Avon with Tewkesbury Mill in the background

People have been doing a tremendous job around here. Apart from sandbagging their own and their neighbours' houses when the flood struck, hundreds of people had be looked after and cared for who got stuck in Tewkesbury Friday night a week ago and couldn't leave the town because all the roads were under water and closed. But since the middle of last week electrical power has been restored. And people have access to tap water again since the end of last week. Although it still not fit for drinking and has a greenish tinge to it when filling the bath tub, people can flush their toilets, take a bath and run their washing machines again. Outsiders can hardly imagine what a relief that is.

Having been through a few floods and discussions how close to the river buildings should be allowed in Germany as well during the last 10 years Mausi can only hope that British authorities will reconsider their plans of allowing buildings in areas which are in danger of being flooded. In Germany they've learnt it the hard way that you can't fence in water and even the dykes will give way at some stage. Now areas along the big rivers like Rhine and Oder have been turned into flood plaines where no building of houses is allowed at all. It took a bit of convincing politicians as for example at the Rhine Cologne usually gets most badly hit by the floods. Cologne is in the federal state of Nort-Rhine-Westfalia. In that state the Rhine runs along the famous Rhine river valley - no opportunities to have flood plaines there. So the flood plaines had be farther upstream in the Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinum although those states never had a flood problem. But for once common sense took over.

Posted by Mausi at 06:18 PM | TrackBack