« September 2007 | Main | November 2007 »

October 31, 2007

Monk in a Sandstorm

The Monk had a bit of fun yesterday. After enjoying the desert during a barbecue on Saturday the desert sent a fully grown sandstorm yesterday. Vast clouds of dust were driving and swirling and blazing hot wind straight out of the Sahara. Temperatures were rather high at about 26 °C. But apparently the Monk weathered the storm unharmed - Mausi bets he was finding grains of sand in the most astonishing places last night....Hrrrmmmmmppfffffffff!

Posted by Mausi at 09:09 PM | TrackBack

October 30, 2007

A quarrel of birds?

Every evening I walk from the 'Guest House' to the internet cafe and pass under a large Australian Gum tree. The tree is home to a large flock of starlings and an even larger flock of sparrows. The noise can be heard a half block from the tree in any direction, hence my title as 'flock' seems a woefully inadequate description of these denizens of the desert.

Mind you, spend any time in this society and you soon learn that a 'Quarrel" may be an appropriate description for any gathering here. Nothing is debated quietly, everything has to be discussed with animation. And none of this polite listen to the first speaker and respond - everyone speaks at the same time with much hand waving and gesticulation. Anyone not used to this can easily assume that it is an argument, but generally it is just a discussion of some finer point of something - anything in fact.

So, as I wander back to the house tonight and pass beneath the tree I shall watch with interest the third colony that live beneath its branches - the many feral cats, feisty, shy and generally scrawny, but I suspect the quarrelling birds provide a regular bounty for their patience.

Yes, the more I think of it, I see in this tree two quarrels of birds and a patience of cats ....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 29, 2007

Desert dessert!

The Monk's students decided to show him some true Libyan hospitality on Saturday and took him into the desert for a "Libyan BBQ." The site proved to be not far from the compound which is Mersa Brega, the whole town belongs to the Oil Company and everyone in it is employed by them. That said, it was along the coast amid what would be, anywhere else, the dune field on a beach. Here it is some distance from the sea, just visible in the distance. A surprise was the trees, not, as one would expect palms or desert scrub, but Australian Gum Trees! Yup, the shaggy bark variety complete with gum nuts and eucalypt leaves. Apparently they were planted some thirty years ago in an attempt to anchor the dunes and stop them engulfing the town, the refinery and the harbour. I'd say they were partially successful, but even Australia's hardy eucalypts struggle in this place!

That said, they did provide some wonderful shade and a screen from the sun, where my students set up their BBQ equipment, rolled out a huge carpet and scattered various rugs and mats. The meat was a variety of meats which included goat and sheep chopped up and grilled and salads which included a variety of fresh herbs, green chili, tomatoes and cucumber. The chili should carry a Hazard Warning label. This stuff has a bite that would make the Cobra's eyes water!

Shortly after arriving the call of the local Muezzin wafted over the dunes from the township about half a mile away - you don't want to be close to the Mosque when he calls the faithful to prayer five times a day .... And the assembled company excused themselves, washed hands, feet and heads and then formed up for prayer. I moved a way a short distance so as to leave them space for this and found myself using the time for my own prayers. I may not share their beliefs, but I do not see that as a barrier to prayer.

Prayer over the cooking commenced and this is serious business. Working with these guys has taught me that you can never have only one view - there are as many views as there are people and they all have their say, loudly, with much waving of hands and laughter. I can't remember ever seeing so many people having so much fun without alcohol of any sort. Then its time to sit and eat together, each using pieces of bread to acquire a chunk of meat and gravy. Great way to share a meal - and the chatter and jokes were by now flowing freely. Let's just say, that the humour can be very earthy ... but they way they tell jokes is almost as good as the joke itself.

The afternoon seemed to speed by, with various courses appearing at intervals - and then it was prayer time again. With prayers over it was announced that we would now have "noddles" - translated - macaroni in a spicey sauce, served on a couple of huge platters and the diners, each armed with a spoon, tuck in to the bit nearest them.

The sun was setting as we headed home again, and I would have to say that it is one of the best BBQ's I have ever attended. And I didn't even get sunburned ...

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:57 PM | TrackBack

October 28, 2007

Mass of the minority ..

Last Tuesday night I had the deeply moving privilege of joining a small congregation of some forty Christians, Catholic and Protestant, who meet together for a Catholic Mass celebrated by a little Bishop from Benghazi. Bishop Silvester is a gentle little Franciscan who celebrated a wonderful eucharist for us all, and though many chose not to take communion, he gave to all who did, of his flock or not.

Talking to him has been an education and certainly made me feel very humble. Christians here are a minorioty, and some thirty five years ago all Christian Chuirch buildings were confiscated and closed. Officially they are still allowed to meet and worship, but under no circumstances are they allowed to demonstrate any public sigfn of their faith, or to attempt to speak of it to any Muslim. There is also a very "low grade' campaign of harassment, ranging from the man with the keys to the school hall they are allowed to use for their once per month public service being "away" and the keys with him, to the local youth gathering outside to noisily "play" while the service is held, and then follow the congregation home as they disperse.

Bishop Silvester was staying in the "Guest House" with me, so I took the opportunity to walk with him and provide a larger presence refusing to the be intimidated when some of the youths deliberately blocked our way by simply moving to stand across the pavement. I suggested that they might like to move, got a filthy look for my pains and a "no spik English" rather belied by the fact that only minutes before they had been loudly discussing Manchester United - in English. The little Bishop has had his church burned down twice and was recently informed that he can buy back his cathedral now, but must restore it to its original condition himself. Having been closed for thirty years it is now in a ruinous state and the congregation is unable to raise the sort of money needed. There is also the fact that any donations to them must be declared and all mail addressed to them is opened and confiscated if it contains anything deemed to be proscribed by the state.

We in Britain and the West should take note of this, particularly as, if our politicians are permitted to continue their campaign of subversion of Christianity in our own countries and, particularly in Britain, to promote Islam, allowing a separate "Parliament' in Bradford for "Muslim Affairs" then we will shortly be changing our religion in a big way.

I am humbled by the experience of sharing worship with these people. I am huimbled and shamed because we in Europe do not know the damger our politicians and civil servants have placed us in. I am humbled and ashamed that we care so little for our brothers and sisters in their hardship. I may never pass this way again, but I will never forget this little congregation of saints in my prayers either.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:53 PM | TrackBack

October 27, 2007

Update on The Monk

The Monk is still doing well. His students are very interested in the course and teaching them is obviously fun even if they are argumentative at times. Better that than getting no response, Mausi thinks.

Yesterday was Black Friday in Libya, a day of nationwide mourning. Everything was shut down even telephone and internet access. So the Monk had a quiet day to himself with only Harry and Ferghal, the heroes of the book he is writing at the moment, for company.

The Monk says he's slowly getting used to being excluded from conversation around him because hardly anybody speaks English and he has no Arabic. Quite a novel experience. Mausi supposes one can easily get used to the rest of the world speaking at least some sort of English. Must be nice to be able to go almost anywhere on business or on holiday and never having to worry about making oneself understood to the natives. During her stays in England Mausi has been accused of giving people funny, i. e. critical looks, when being talked to in German. Mausi didn't intende to do that she was just totally taken aback at being talked to in her mother tongue.

The Monk has by now served half his time and will hopefully find the remaining days as interesting as the first ones.

Posted by Mausi at 01:25 PM | TrackBack

October 26, 2007

Autumn tristesse

October is the month of golden colours and it has lived up to its name so far. The days have been filled with sunshine. It's funny, however, how colours change when the sky is overcast as it was today. It suddenly feels very much like winter and the end of the year.

071026_garten02.JPG   071026_garten01.JPG
One of the last coloured spots in Mausi's garden

Mausi had a day off from the office today and decided to have a go at her garden. Almost unnoticed the weeds threatened to take over, particularly one nasty bit of stinging nettle. Alright, Mausi knows it is much favoured by the butterflies. Mausi likes butterflies and has planted all kinds of other plants for them to feed on like buddlejas and a few others. If they want to come to this garden they'll have to make do with what is offered to them.

071026_garten03   071026_garten04.JPG
Mausi will be able to go round the gazebo again now. - Another of Mausi's favourite grass plants.

Mausi worked hard for a couple of hours always under the watchful eye of Mausi, the Cat, who took no chances today and didn't come inside for fear of being taken to the vet again. But her wound is healing nicely so there is no need.

Posted by Mausi at 04:53 PM | TrackBack

October 25, 2007

Expensive freeloaders?

Am I alone in thinking that we, the tax payers of the UK are being ripped off big time?

EIGHTY-SEVEN point FIVE MILLION POUNDS in "EXPENSES"? Between six hundred and thirty four MPs? What the hell are we paying for? A fleet of Rolls Royces to shuttle them from one public appearance to then next? Hot tubs and masseurs imported complete with gold taps and fake tans? Each and every one of these freeloaders is laughing their head off - all the way to the bank!

Definitely time to clean house, after all they are paid a wage which is more than generous, and an "allowance" for running their "office" which effectively doubles the salary. Then, those in "government" get "Grace and Favour" flats as well - and the basic MP's salary, let us just remind ourselves is GBP70k per annum! It is way past time this was looked at by the Fraud Squad and the Public Auditor. And it is time the whole damned house of cards was trimmed back dramatically. God help us, but you may be sure that the MPs in Scotland, the Welsh Assembly crew and every damned inflated hanger-on is deep in this gravy train.

And we are paying for it.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:51 PM | TrackBack

October 24, 2007

Poor little Mausi

Okay, okay, so I have been in a fight a couple of nights ago. Yes, there's a nasty wound on my forehead but you should have seen the other cat! And yes, I didn't feel quite the thing for a day and moved around slightly dazed, but honestly, wouldn't you too in my place? A bit of pus was accumulating under my skin and my face looked kind of lopsided but that's no reason to drag me off to the vet! I am a free and independent cat after all and can look after myself. And I do have nine lives - so what's all the fuss about? And, would you believe it? They keep driving me to the vet each day. For medication, they say. I call it medieval torture. Or would you like to have a syringe big enough for a horse been stuck into your head? And you should taste the tablets I have to take. Today they got the better of me by hiding it in a little ball of minced meat. I am not going to fall for that again tomorrow....


Me - not quite fully awake after a nap in one of my favourite sleeping places deep down in the book shelved

Posted by Mausi at 06:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 23, 2007

Ah, the joys of travel to the Near East ....

Libya is a land of contrasts, not least the weather. Day one was hot and sticky, Day two brought warm and then thunder and downpours, yesterday brought a gale and rough seas and today started rather cold with a strong wind from the desert. Mersa Brega is on the coast, tucked into the Gulf of Sirte, East of the city and west and south of Benghazi. It is a huge oil refinery and small port for tankers and gas carriers and the entire "town" - in reality three towns - is owned, and occupied by the Sirte Oil Company and their staff. Amenities are few and so is entertainment. The beach, the executive "Family" Club and the the desert is about it.

Laundry is a bit of a problem as there is one, but it caters for only a few items and certainly not those things that go under ones outer clothing. As the accommodation is "Guest House" - in other words a house in which visitors share a lounge, kitchen (But noticeably no pots or pans or anything remotely usable for cooking - and NO washing machine!) - it is basic. OK, so one gets taken to a dining room for meals twice a day, and can use a military style canteen, but it certainly isn't five star, four star, or even one star.

Oh well, the people on the other hand are fun and full of interest, so it sort of balances out. Did I mention that there is a supermarket? Great, ever tried shopping with every label in a totally foreign and alien script? Now there is entertainment for you - I have yet to discover whether or not the container I bought recently is coffee - or something else. I'll save that for Friday - which is a day of national mourning and everything (except the refinery) will be closed down. Including the Internet. I think I'll need something to make me laugh ....

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

October 22, 2007

Day Two

The Monk is settling down in his work far out in Libya. Weather is a bit rough and windy but the class is going well. His computer still refuses to play DVDs but has reconsidered talking to the mouse. Some imp inside must have decided to have a bit of fun with the settings - Mausi bets his last name is Microslosh Fortunately, there is another computer available for playing the DVDs. So the Monk can go ahead full steam again and all should run smoothly from now on..

Posted by Mausi at 05:13 AM | TrackBack

October 21, 2007

News update on the Monk

The Monk reached his final destination in Libya yesterday after spending a night in Tripolis. The place that will be home for the next two weeks is surrounded by the desert but only a few miles away from the sea.

Work has started to today, yes, on a Sunday. At the moment his biggest problem seems to be communication with the people around him. Apparently it is not a place where English is one of the better known let alone spoken languages.

Well, sounds like the Monk is in for a lot of interesting experiences and hopefully a bit of fun too during the next couple of weeks.

Posted by Mausi at 10:20 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 20, 2007

Time to go South

At least if you are a crane. For about two weeks now cranes have been flying south in their distinct V-pattern formation over Watzhahn, the place where Mausi lives. It is always fascinating to watch them. Last weekend they had even chosen this place as a meeting point and were circling criss-cross high up in the sky for almost an hour before finally getting into formation and taking off for good. Mausi always finds watching them fascinating. They are never silent. All the time they are chatting to each other and you can hear their soft and melodious "brrrrt, brrrrt" long before you actually spot them high up. Last weekend Mausi almost thought she could understand what they were saying:

"Has someone seen the family of X?"
"Who are you? Have we met before?" "I don't think so. We were invited to join this group by Y."
"A, B, and C will take the lead for the first leg of this year's journey." "Why us again? We did so last year."
"Mum. I am tired of circling! When will we start out?"
"We are not going before Z and his family has arrived."

Mausi wonders what they are really talking about. Whatever, have a safe journey all of you cranes who have passed over here and come back next spring!

Posted by Mausi at 07:24 PM | TrackBack

October 19, 2007

No beach party tonight

The Monk has safely reached his first destination in Libya. 29 centigrades and a hotel next to the beach with a view! What more could one ask for, especially when we had the first snow in the mountains here in Germany last night? To Mausi's question if he planned to go beach partying tonight he said that the security fence around the hotel was preventing him from even getting near the beach.

Reminded Mausi a bit of what her parents once told her from a visit to Vienna years ago. Her parents went to one of the many Viennese Cafes where they played live music - Wiener Walzer, of course. Mausi's parents felt an itch in their feet for it was a big establishment and there would have been more than enough room to waltz around, but the conductor nipped any attempts of the guests in the bud saying sternly: "No dancing please!" and pointing to a sign on the wall which said the same.

You know, ther may be compensations for the Monk tomorrow morning when he will be able to watch a glorious sunrise from the window of his room!

Posted by Mausi at 04:28 PM | TrackBack

October 18, 2007

Packing ...

Yesterday was spent chasing up to London again, in order to retrieve the passport and hopefully find a visa in it to go and do the work I have been commissioned to do in Libya. Pasport recovered, visa approved and issued, the Monk joined his eldest daughter for a bite of lunch at Hays Galleria. A pleasant spot, but I am sorry to say that the food, when we got it, was disappointing. At least we had a good chat and catch up, which I suppose made it worthwhile. Then it was time to find the way back to Paddington and return to the wilds of Gloucestershire.

Trouble is, that all this up and back to London has seriously disrupted another project so it was 02.00 before the Monk turned in this morning.

Now he is packing, something he always manages to leave something vital out of, and doesn't particularly enjoy. Oh joy, oh rupture - and its a 04.00 start tomorrow ....

If the usual service on this blog is a little patchy over the next two weeks it will be because I have not been able to get online from Libya. Mausi will do her best to fill the gaps, but she is in the process of moving offices and a full laboratory - and all the delicate and sometimes bulky equipment. We'll do our best to keep you all entertained ...

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:28 PM | TrackBack

October 16, 2007

Todays post ....

The Monk's visitation upon London went reasonably well - apart from having to start out for the Railway at an ungodly hour. Even the usually rather chaotic visa desk wasn't too bad, once one actually got there. But now I have to return to the Big Smoke again tomorrow to collect the said passport and hopefully the visa ...

Meantime the currently paying work also needed some urgent attention which has meant working until now. Normal service may be restored sometime soon.

I hope.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:31 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 15, 2007

Wrestling with another bureaucracy ...

I am supposed to go to Libya in a day or three. The flight is booked, the arrangements made - but the visa is another story. I was first told (and have the e-mails to prove it) that it was no problem and all arranged. I should have known better, I really should have, for now I have to go to London tomorrow in order to apply for a visa that has been granted .....

And then go back again on Wednesday to collect it.

I think bureaucrats must carry a gene which primes them to be bloody minded and bloody awkward for no other reason than that they can ...

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:43 PM | TrackBack

October 14, 2007

Sunday ....

Just got back to the Domus from the Abbey. It has been a long and rather eventful Sunday. Our Chapter meeting this afternoon covered a lot of ground - and then we had a Civic Service. Quite an interesting event really as the current Town Mayor is, like his Borough counterpart, a committed Christian. So are some of the councillors. These occassions always make me wonder about the way people encounter God, and sometimes how they will encounter God.

Recently I have had the opportunity to watch a number of "civic" style services and the thing that soon strikes you in these is how few of the people attending are able to say the Lord's Prayer. And then you realise that many of them have no concept of what it means or says, and they cannot sing the most common and popular hymns either. One can only hope that somewhere in the service something will get through, some word from a readingt perhaps, or something in a prayer will spark thoughts on what they do believe. For they do believe - but the question is, in what?

Sorting through the prayer requests on the prayer board for visitors and pilgrims can be a challenging experience and sometimes a revealing one. Like the person who left a prayer request that "Christians could be brought to accept Wiccan beliefs as valid expressions of God." Tricky one that, since the Wiccan movement is less than a hundred years old, was invented by a "gentleman" who went in for some odd practices with young and impressionable ladies which would probably get him arrested today for underage sex and pornography, and is largely founded on some of the zanier Victorian imaginative tales of pagan and druidic practices. The terms "ancient" and "God based" are not ones most people would consider in the same breath as "Wiccan". What these requests do show clearly though, is that people desperately want something they can believe in, something greater than their own intellect or ability, something bigger and more eternal than humanity and the mess it manages to create everywhere.

Civic Services tend to bring all of that into focus I'm afraid, since the bulk of the congregation on these occassions are there because they have to be and not because they necessarily want to be.

One can only hope that God can find a way to speak to them through it, and do one's best to make it meaningful and God centred for those who are there to worship and give God the glory. After that, it is in the hands of God.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 13, 2007

Peace on Earth?

The news that over a hundred and thirty of Islams most senior figures have addressed a joint letter to the Pope, the Leaders of the Orthodox Churches and the Anglican and other Christian denominations should be welcomed. The letter highlights their view that unless a peaceful path can be found between Islam and Christianity the world faces extinction should be taken seriously - especially with the weapons we now have available.

They point to the fact that our Faiths actually do share several concepts in common and should not, in terms of the guiding tenet of both, embark on conflict with each other. They claim too that the vast majority of Muslims do not share the violent aspirations of the al Qaeda factions, nor of the rest of the rabid minority, but genuinely want to live in peace with their neighbours.

The only problem I have with this is the enshrined tenet contained in one of the Shuras of the Koran - "It is permissible to lie to the infidel, if by lying to him, you may convert him."

I guess I will have to let others guide me on this and see where the Archbishop of Canterbury, York and the rest of the Anglican World lead us. But, as the Muftis point bout, never before in history have we had so many of different faiths living next to one another. Perhaps we should see what else they have to say before we make any judgement - after all, they are right, if we are to save ourselves we do need to find a way to live together ....

LONDON (Reuters) - More than 130 Muslim scholars from around the globe called on Thursday for peace and understanding between Islam and Christianity, saying "the very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake".

In an unprecedented letter to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders, 138 Muslim scholars said finding common ground between the world's biggest faiths was not simply a matter for polite dialogue between religious leaders.

"If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world's inhabitants," the scholars wrote.

"Our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake," they wrote, adding that Islam and Christianity already agreed that love of God and neighbour were the two most important commandments of their faiths.

Relations between Muslims and Christians have been strained as al Qaeda has struck around the world and as the United States and other Western countries intervened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Such a joint letter is unprecedented in Islam, which has no central authority that speaks on behalf of all worshippers.

The list of signatories includes senior figures throughout the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. They represent Sunni, Shi'ite and Sufi schools of Islam.

Among them were the grand muftis of Egypt, Palestine, Oman, Jordan, Syria, Bosnia and Russia and many imams and scholars. War-torn Iraq was represented by both Shi'ites and Sunnis.

Mustafa Cagrici, the mufti who prayed with Benedict in Istanbul's Blue Mosque last year, was also on the list, as was the popular Egyptian television preacher Amr Khaled.


The letter was addressed to the Pope, leaders of Orthodox Christian churches, Anglican leader Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the heads of the world alliances of the Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist and Reformed churches.

Williams said he welcomed it as "indicative of the kind of relationship for which we yearn in all parts of the world".

"The call to respect, peace and goodwill should now be taken up by Christians and Muslims at all levels and in all countries," he said.

A Vatican official in Rome said the Roman Catholic Church would not comment until it had time to read the letter.

Aref Ali Nayed, one of the signatories and a senior adviser to the Cambridge Interfaith Programme at Cambridge University in Britain, said the signatories represented the "99.9 percent of Muslims" who follow mainstream schools and oppose extremism.

"In Islam we have had a problem for some time now where the mainstream voices are drowned out by a minority that choose violence," he said.

Nayed said organisers of the letter had set up an ad hoc network among Muslim leaders that could lead to more cooperation in future.

"These people don't take their signatures lightly," he said. "We are trying to institutionalise this so we don't lose it."

The overture to Christians could be followed by similar letters addressed to Jews or secularists, he added.

Pope Benedict sparked Muslim protests last year with a speech hinting Islam was violent and irrational. It prompted 38 Muslim scholars to write a letter challenging his view of Islam and accepting his call for serious Christian-Muslim dialogue.

Benedict repeatedly expressed regret for the reaction to the speech, but stopped short of a clear apology sought by Muslims.

The new letter argues in theological terms, giving quotes from the Koran and the Bible that show both Christianity and Islam considered love of God as their greatest commandment and love of neighbour as the second greatest.

"The basis for this peace and understanding already exists," it said. "It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the one God and love of the neighbour."

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:40 AM | TrackBack

Congratulations and a Happy Birthday wish are in order ...

Yesterday got the great news from my son, currently in the US for a further course in flying helicopters, that he has passed his Commercial Pilot Licence for those great big lumps of metal with whirly things on top and at one end. You know the ones I mean - those things that aerodynamically should screw themselves into the ground, but for some inexplicable reason defy the laws of physics and actually become airborn.

Well done Nic, another ambition achieved, I hope it leads where you want to go.

And congratulations to my eldest daughter, The Postulant, who marks her birthday today. I won't embarrass her by revealing her age, suffice it to say that I can scarecly believe that I once held her in the palms of my two hands - and now she's a full grown and very striking young woman. I hope the year ahead brings you everything you could wish for my dear.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 12, 2007

Unhealthy Health Services?

The revelation that the NHS Trust which runs three of Kent's hospitals has actually killed ninety patients by allowing the spread of a deadly bug in its wards is bad enough, but then to have the facile moron mouthpiece representing them mouth "we're sorry - and apologise to ..." simply adds insult to injury. How, you may ask, does this come about? Quite easily, a combination of meaningless targets, underpaid and overstretched medical staff - the big salaries and money all go to the Bureaucrats who run the Trusts - a lack of any understanding among "managers" of the impact their "management decisions" have on the delivery of services and hospitals that are unfit for human occupation all contribute.

Then there is the revelation that patients were not taken to the toilets or given bed pans, urine bottles or the facilities to help themselves when bedridden - and you have beds covered in the ideal material to breed super bugs. Is this Trust unique? Not from what I have seen, nor from what I am told by one of my daughters who works in the NHS as a Nursing Assistant. She was recently injured when a large patient fell on her and the hospital now refuses to acknowledge that her injury is their fault. Believe it or not their Health and Safety Policy explicitly forbids her to prevent a patient falling (which is what she attempted to do), claiming that her injury is a result of her own disobedience of a written instruction. The fact that she was attempting to help a patient is, according the managers, irrelevant, she should have called for help to assist her to pick the patient up after the fall and not attempted to intervene.

Well, I would like to meet the "manager" that wrote that policy - and ram it down their throats. Our hospitals are a disgrace precisely because they are now run by morons who think that way and understand nothing but their own rules.

Now that the Treasury and the MoD have shut down the Military Hospitals and "awarded" contracts to the NHS to provide medical services for the military we are already seeing our troops on the receiving end of appalling treatment and abuse by the creatures that have been placed in charge of the Health Services. One young man, flown back from the battlefield in Iraq was told to remove his uniform because "it upsets some of our customers" by a bumptious A&E Manager recently. She failed to realise that he had just been flown in and, what is worse, HAD BEEN LEFT IN A CORRIDOR ON A GURNEY FOR TWO HOURS BY HER STAFF. He evidently wasn't considered urgent enough - after all he was only missing a limb, had several chunks of shrapnel in him and a saline solution drip .... No, HE must get up himself and remove his uniform because it upset some of the drug addicts lurking in the waiting area .... Her customers no doubt. There has stillbeen no apology for this disgraceful conduct by eitherv the Manager concerned or the Trust who employs her - and both should be forced to resign immediately. Fortunately a military doctor came a few minutes later and blew several fuses - but this would not happen if the military still had their own facilities!

There is only one cure for the Health Service. Scrap it. Scrap it before it kills off any more elderly people, any more of our military - and every single "manager" should be placed on a Blacklist and barred from employment for life.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:28 PM | TrackBack

October 11, 2007

Madam and Eve

A cartoon strip from SA that is sharp as a razor - and you don't even have to know the politics behind some of it ....


Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:10 AM | TrackBack

October 10, 2007

Constitutional referendum

Labour are, as usual, reneging on their promises. They know very well that any attempt to impose the EU Constitutional Treaty on us would be thrown out by the electorate. So the simple answer is - resort to their usual lies and half truths. Every other EU leader has admitted that there is almost no difference between the Treaty the French people rejected, and the new one, but Labour and our crop of traitors masquerading as Ministers of State, insist it is different and that "we have red lines to protect our Sovereignty. Well, Brussels let the cat out of that bag - those so-called Red Lines are totally worthless.

Brussels has stated again and again that the "opt outs" Brown and his bullies talk about are just chimera, worthless and unenforcable. Even our own legal beagles say so, but Brown's cabinet of arrogant failures still refuse to acknowledge that they are wrong. The truth is that they dare not hold a referendum. If they lost it, it would mean that all the horsetrading they have done and the secret deals they have made to keep themselves and their civil service cronies in power with Brussels would be undeliverable - and they would lose out completely.

We must force Brown into an election or a Referendum on this issue, failure to do so will see Westminster turned into an even greater irrelevance than it already is. Already 80% of our legislation is initiated in Brussels and not in Westminster. And once Brussels has decreed we must do something our Civil Service seize it gleefully and Gold Plate the resulting legislation. If we surrender to this "Constitution" we should bite the bullet and dismiss Westminster, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament - and the Civil Service in its entirety - and just let Brussels dictate. After all it would save us all several Billion in tax. Why pay a bunch of treasonous w*nk*rs to eat their heads off and do nothing for our nation?

I am not against the concept of the EU per se. What I am against is the interference from Brussels and the imposition of legislation which we, the people of Britain, have no control over. Our MEP's have no say in this either, it is all down to the whims and fancies of the unelected (and if the truth be told - unelectable) Commissioners and the so-called Council of Ministers, most of whom seem to to be nothing but poodles of the Commission and their bureaucrats.

We MUST have a referendum on this, it is not something that can be left to our Civil Servants and their arrogant, ignorant and self interested Cabinet of dictators. If you are interested in campaigning for a referendum please do visit the "I want a referendum campaign.com".

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:33 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 09, 2007

Busy times ....

The last couple of days have been entertaining in some senses and frustrating in many others. It has been wonderful to have my youngest daughter and her partrner to stay for a couple of nights. We have had time to catch up on a wide range of things and hopefully to help sort a few out that needed sorting. On the down side, my current project (whgich will pay a few bills) hasn't made the progress I had hoped for - in fact I have a meeting tomorrow which I have to complete a load of work for - and I still haven't managed to get all the information I need.

Ce la vie! Who needs sleep .....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:52 PM | TrackBack

October 08, 2007

No election this year ....

I am sometimes reminded of the Billy Bunter stories when contemplating the activities of our illustrious political classes. Most of the dialogue between politicians seems to be of the "Yah boo - sucks! to you" level, and the "debate" over whether or not to hold an early election is no exception. The oleagenous tones of Jack Straw this morning on BBC Breakfast almost had me spilling my cornflakes as he tried to tell us that an early election had never been under consideration, that it was all a "media fantasy".

Pity real live quotes from his own party conference give the lie to that, and it really shows the contempt our political class now holds for the average voter that they believe we won't remember them. They genuinely believe that our attention span is no longer than the proverbial gold fish. And it follows from that, that they will also genuinely believe that we don't remember that barely two weeks ago his party was beating the election drum and threatening to "annihilate" the Tories by calling an election in the Autumn. Some of his own cabinet members were loudly proclaiming that a snap election would destroy the Tories completely and "renew our mandate". Just shows, the Polls swing against them and suddenly they are terrified to ask us what WE think. So the sham of this government of minorities (Their last election "Victory" was based on a bare 50% turnout of voters and they took 41% of that - just 28% of the total possible vote!) continues.

England is now governed by the Member for Fife, a man with no constituency in England and no influence of the Parliament his own Party has provided to Scotland at huge expense to the English taxpayer. They are very right to be scared of our opinion.

Sadly however, this fit of cold feet means we will have to endure another two years of this bunch of sleazy, spin doctoring megalomaniacs and PC purveyors before we can throw them out of power - and even more sadly, the current Conservative alternative doesn't look any better!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:19 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 07, 2007

Organ Gala

How does one describe a couple of hours of stunning music performed by top musicians on instruments that are simply awesome? Not easily obviously. Last night we had the pleasure of listening to a programme performed by David Sanger, Carleton Etherington and Benjamin Nicholas on the three Abbey organs.

The Mighty Milton certainly strutted its stuff with a Bach Sinfonia "Wir danken Dir, Gott", a Wolstenholme "Allegretto", Franck's "Piece Heroique", Lloyd Webber's "Benedictus", Gardonyi's "Mozart Changes, Bingham's "Roulade", Egjebar's "Melody from Jarne in Darlana" and the "Finale" from Sympohonie VI by Widor all played by David Sanger. Carleton put the little Elliot to work and filled the Abbey with its gentler tones and Sweelink's "Ballo del Granduca" and partnered the Milton most effectively in the Concerto Op 4 No 6 by Handel. Anyone who has heard "The cuckoo and the nightingale" will recognise the form and the balance between the two instruments with Ben Nicholas on the Milton and Carleton on the Elliot was absolutely stunning.

And then there was the Glorious Grove - exuberant, brilliantly toned and magnificently played by Carleton and Ben. The hundred and twenty year old action certainly got a workout as they performed "Fantaisie in E Flat" by Saint-Saens (Ben driving) and "Concert Overture in C Minor" by Hollins with Carleton at the manuals.

The only problem I have with listening to such talented performers is this - I go green with envy at their ability to make such glorious music, and sick as a dog at the ease with which they apparently do it while I can't even play two notes together properly. Watching them perform is a treat, they play with feeling, yet are technically brilliant and at the same time pour their passion into the sounds they demand from these instruments. Carleton sits upright and focussed, his face immobile - but the passion pours from his fingers and resounds in the music, Ben throws his very being into the instrument and David Sanger plays with passion. What more can one say.

For those that do not know these instruments (What a treat you have instore when one day you do meet them!) the Milton Organ was first constructed for Magdallen College, Oxford by Robert Dallam in 1631 and most of that original piepwork is still in the instrument. It moved to Hampton Court in 1654 under the Commonwealth and was played there by the poet John MIlton before it moved briefly back to Oxford and then to the Abbey in 1734. Since then it has been rebuilt and enlarged by various famous organ builders including John Holland (1796), "Father" Willis (1848), J W Walker (1948) and finally Kenneth Jones in 1997 to reach its present size, shape and sound.

The Grove was built as an exhibition instrument for the 1885 Inventions Exhibition and is remarkable for the fact that it remains "as built". It was designed to be taken apart and moved from exhibition to exhibition as an advert for its builders Michell and Thynne. Unfortunately their business didn't succeed and so this unique instrument was sold and donated to the Abbey where it fills the North Transept. It has no "case" and all the action and pipes are on display with the console to one side - and the console is unusual because it employs four different types of "action" - intended to show prospective customers what they could have from the firm. The organists say it is difficult to play - but that is more than compensated for by the brilliance of the sound it produces and, if you want to see them angry, just suggest changing it!

The "baby" of the trio is the little Elliot. Built in 1813 by Thomas Elliot as a Chamber Organ for a grand house near here it was donated to the Abbey in 1918 and used in the "Mission Hall" until the 1950's. It has only five stops, but has one of the sweetest sounds and is frequently used to accompany small orchestral concerts as the "continuo" - a task it is often more than man enough to provide. On its own it can fill the Abbey with its sound, but it is more frequently used in the Lady Chapel where it can accompany the singing of a smaller congregation beautifully. Fully restored and rebuilt in 200-2001 it is now good for the forseeable future and many more concerts.

Which leaves only the Grove needing a major overhaul, something it has never had. Conserved in 1981, only some parts were "repaired" and the instrument cleaned. It now needs serious work and we would like to raise it around ten feet so that it stands at the same level as the Milton. The action probably needs to be completely rebuilt to make it playable with less acrobatics on the part of the organist (Some pieces require the organist to have two people to help him drawing "stops" when he needs a change of tone or pace in a hurry!) and the whole needs to have its windchests, pipes and all the many linkages fully restored. How much it will cost is a matter of speculation - probably over a million and that we haven't got at present.

All of that said - what a concert, what a performance and what talented organists! Heaven came through the music last night, all too briefly.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:36 AM | TrackBack

October 06, 2007

Remembering the floods

Today saw the Abbey packed for a service of thanksgiving and remembrance. It is now just over two months since the devastating floods that struck on the 20th July and our Bishop, the Bishop of Gloucester decided some weeks ago that we were the appropriate place to hold this service for the whole county.

Around six hundred people attended together with the Lord Lieutenant, the High Sheriff and the Sheriff of Gloucester, all the Mayors from all the towns hit by the flood and of course the many whose homes and possessions, businesses and treasures, however humble, were destroyed. Six symbolic candles were lit in the centre aisle by those bereaved or representing those who suffered loss and the service was broadcast by BBC Radio Gloucester. An ITV News camera was also present, so no doubt there will be some reports on the TV as well.

For those of us there, it was a very moving and well thought out service. For me particularly, it was great to see the sailors, soldiers and airmen there in their uniforms alongside the Police, Fire and Ambulance services, because it reminds people that our standing armed forces are not just about fighting, but about defending us in all sorts of emergency. For once the politicians had to take a back seat and listen to the people they will always claim to represent telling of how they worked for themselves, their neighbours and those whose need was greater than their own. It was truly humbling experience even for those of us that were there and involved in the whole unfolding tragedy.

Our prayers of thanks and our hymns of praise rang through the building, but, as our Bishop reminded us, now is the time to build on the good that came spontaneously during the crisis when we looked after each other, and to make it the way of the future.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:34 PM | TrackBack

October 05, 2007

New Anthology of Short Stories coming soon ...

Recently I have contributed several stories to an online e-zine Residential Aliens. Now the Editor of that has put together a number of his favourites and some completely new stories in an anthology which will be published on the 1st November 2007. To my delight (Its good for my ego at the moment!) two of my stories will be in it, one you may already have read, but the second is new, never previously published and one I am reall pleased to see going into print.

In the meantime you may want to look at the advanced publicity appearing on SF Reader and see what some other people say about the stories going into this collection. Personally, I can't wait to see the collection in print.

But then I would say that, wouldn't I.

Update: And I have had another Review posted on Amazon for Out of Time! Very encouraging indeed.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:47 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 04, 2007

Climate changing ....

The ice shelf in Antarctica has been extending again, reaching its greatest extent since 1979 when satellite monitoring began. And now there is a new theory about "Global Warming" which castes more doubt on the sequence beloved by politicians and eco-frenzies. The latest research shows that the last ice age ended when the Great Southern Ocean warmed and sent a flood of warmer water northwards through the Pacific. That event also triggered a rise in atmospheric CO2 - because warmer water absorbs less of the gas.

The extended post following discusses this in more detail and is taken from the online edition of Scientific American. It makes an interesting read.

1 2 next »

Image: NASA
ICY EDGE: The retreat of Antarctic sea ice led to the warming of deep ocean waters—and thus the end of the last Ice Age—according to new research.
Earth's climate can be sensitive, changing after a variety of events. A volcanic eruption or meteorite impact, for instance, can send enough particles into the air to block the sun and cool the climate. A thickening blanket of greenhouse gases can trap heat. And, more commonly, according to some scientists, slight changes in Earth's orientation toward the sun can cause it to cool or warm in so-called Milankovitch cycles (named after the Serbian engineer who first described them). Now, new evidence from a marine sediment core from the deep Pacific points to warmer ocean waters around Antarctica (in sync with the Milankovitch cycle)—not greenhouse gases—as the culprit behind the thawing of the last ice age.

Ice cores drawn from Antarctica and Greenland have shown that carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere began to rise at roughly the same time as the vast ice sheets began to melt. But it remained unclear exactly which came first: melting ice and warming seas released more CO2 or more CO2 led to melting ice and warming seas.

By studying sediment cores from the deep Pacific near the Philippines, paleoclimatologist Lowell Stott of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and his colleagues revealed that the temperatures of the deepest seas rose by around 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) at least 1,000 years before sea-surface temperatures. "Even accounting for the uncertainties of the age of CO2, the deep sea warmed substantially before the CO2 began to rise," Stott says. "The deep Pacific is such an enormously large volume of water that [this warming] reflects the input of a tremendous amount of energy into the global system."

Stott and his colleagues used the isotopes of oxygen contained within the remnants of microscopic surface and deep-sea creatures to establish temperatures; they then used a radioactive isotope of carbon to date their age. Combining the two techniques showed that deep-sea creatures dealt with a warmer climate long before their surface brethren did, they report in the online edition of Science.

Image: NASA
EDGE OF COLLAPSE?: Antarctic sea ice has been behaving differently of late, reaching a new record extent this year while also undergoing unprecedented collapses, like the loss of portions of the Larsen Ice Shelf pictured here.
Because such deep seawater circulates from the coast of Antarctica, this deep-water warming implies that the Southern Ocean drove the last major climate change. Stott notes that the periodic wobble in the Earth's rotational axis described by the Milankovitch cycles led to more sunshine falling on the Antarctic at the same time—a likely cause of the warming waters. "The amount of solar energy increased at the same time as this deep-sea warming," he says. "Sea ice around the Southern Ocean was withdrawing."

According to the marine core sample, a full millennium passed—enough time for both the deep and surface waters to entirely switch places—before sea-surface temperatures and global atmospheric levels of CO2 began to rise. The greenhouse gas then further warmed the changing climate, Stott says.

This year, the sea ice around Antarctica grew to its largest extent since satellite observation began in 1979—whereas the Arctic arrived at record minimum—meaning present climate change is a far different scenario. In fact, the Milankovitch cycles would predict gradual global cooling. Man-made greenhouse gases, primarily CO2, are unequivocally driving present-day warming, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "This kind of study discusses the natural cycle and could help define the likely positive feedbacks we can expect in the long-term future, [for example] as temperatures warm, the ocean will want to give up more CO2, or rather absorb less," says climatologist Gavin Schmidt of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies. "But it has no direct impact on attribution of 20th century warming."*

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:23 PM | TrackBack

October 03, 2007

Looking back

Today I celebrate one year of retirement. And I seem to have worked harder than ever before for most of it and now, in the run up to Christmas, there seems to be even more work coming in - no bad thing according to my Bank Manager. That said, a long running conversation with a friend has given me cause to look back at where I have come from and what I have achieved since I left school forty three years ago. And, as I said to her, I think I have to pinch myself to make sure this isn't some sort of idle dream.

I seem to have managed to pack in quite a lot of things somehow, much to my own surprise, and probably to the amazement of everyone who knew me at school. I was much more interested in sailing, swimming and surfing than in school work so I left school without a university bursary lined up and no idea of what I was going to do for a living - truth to tell I wasn't even sure how to go about getting a proper job anyway and I certainly wasn't prepared for anything at all. I had some vague ideas about the priesthood and had in fact been selected as an ordinand, subject to completing three years working and national service. So I landed a job, thanks to my father's boss with a bank. Banker material I was not and three years of that proved it. I did go to Theological College, but found that I was not in tune with the direction that required at that time (Again if the truth be told I was far to immature!) and so drifted out into the world again. Having been a Scout (Sea Scouts actually!) I had also drifted into being a Scoutmaster and then into the St John Ambulance Brigade, which in turn led me into the fire service .....

Looking back from where I am now I still find it quite amazing that I can now wave two degreees, seven diplomas and umpteen certificates that I have earned at anyone who is impressed by these things. Considering that I started out from one of the tougher and poorer quarters of a place called East London - and it's not the one on the Thames, but one further South on the Buffalo River - some of where I have been and done is simply unbelievable. Another reason I pinch myself regularly. No one who knew me then would believe that I have been presented to several Royals, taken tea with the premier uke in the land and his heir in their private library, hosted dinners as a Mess President for people who feature among the famous and for those whose achievements are perhaps known only within their particular profession. The high point surely being asked to Preside at a dinner for several hundred held in the Signet Library in Edinburgh.

I have published books, currently two technical titles and one novel. I have several more in preparation and hope to publsih many more. Even my list of published papers surprises me - what could I possibly have to say that in interesting?

Even more amazing is the travelling I have undertaken professionally and the matters on which I find myself being consulted. There have been many highs along the way and a few lows as well, but on the whole it was a very enjoyable journey, with many really great colleagues and a lot of friends of all walks of life and all types as well. It has been an amazing journey, one made all the more interesting and enjoyablke by those who have helped me to achieve it and who helped make me the person I am. I can think of a very large number of people who have been an influence in my life, particularly in my formative years. My parents, my maternal grandparents, the priest who prepared me for confirmation, people who lent me boats and taught me to sail, people who taught me values and respect for others. Some stand out, others are less easily identified, a few, a very few, were negative influences, but even they had an ultimately positive effect.

Yes, I have some regrets, things I have not achieved, journeys not taken. I wish I had become a priest, but who can say if I would ever have made a good one? No, what is done is now done, what I have left undone is probably best left that way too. And there is still time to achieve some more if I stop blathering on and wallowing in the past.

As I contemplate the end of my first year of retirement, I find myself thinking, "Is that me? - Nah, can't be, that dumb kid from the Quigney couldn't have done all that, he didn't have the brains or the drive." Or did he?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 02, 2007

What's up today?

Uuaaaagggggggh!!!! What's up today?

I have a feeling there's something I should have remembered today....

Bugger!! Wish I could think of whatever it was and go to sleep again ....

Hah, now I know!


Posted by Mausi at 05:19 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 01, 2007

Expensive night out ...

In Zimbabwe, if you can afford to eat, it can be expensive to eat out. The picture here was sent to me by a friend in SA and the restuarant manager is simply collecting the money for a meal for four. Nor was it an extravagant meal, a starter, a main course, desert, coffee and some beers. The price? Z$6 million. Way beyond the ordinary man in the street's pocket, and even expensive for those who have slightly better incomes. No problem for Robert and his cronies of course, who have stripped the countries treasury and built nice nest eggs for themselves in Swiss Banks. And definitely no problem for Robert who considers that, as President for Life, he can have everything he wants in any shop, restuarant or hotel for nothing. Oh, and that goes for his entourage as well ... Any suggestion that he might like to pay is dealt with by his Goon Squad.

Paying the bill for an evening out, Zimbabwe style. This Z$6 million in Z$1000 notes.

Considering that three quarters of the Zimbabwean population are starving in a country that was, until Mugabe started his seizure of farmland - which, far from being "redistributed" has been handed out to his cronies - was a net exporter of food, the world, and those who put Mugabe into power, should be ashamed. Those of us who remember Blair, Hain, Brown and the rest providing support and funding for this murderous psychopath should now demand an explanation for their rank disregard for the advice of almost everyone who had taken the trouble to look beyond the "struggle" and had taken account of Mugabe's known intention to exclude anyone who might have opposed him. In particular those in Whitehall and Westminster who put him in power should now be apologising to the families of those farmers who have been murdered so that their assets could be seized by Mugabe's Goons. They should be compelled to pay compensation to those who have been dispossessed out of their own assets - not the taxpayers money - and to make public apologies to those who tried to warn them of this man's psychpathic nature.

A pity they can't apologise to the forty thousand Ndebele men Mugabe's 5th Brigade slaughtered and hid down disused mineshafts within weeks of coming to power. That never got any media attention then, and they sure as hell won't give it any now. Forty thousand men from Zimbabwe's second largest tribe - Mugabe is a Shona - and all of them aged between 16 and 60, simply vanished in a well planned and executed bit of Genocide which the West condoned by its silence. Mugabe is a monster, surrounded by monsters. And the real reason the currency has collapsed is simple, Mugabe's policies have destroyed their agriculture, the treasury has been stripped of assets to pay for his luxuries and anyone who protests is simply visited by his Goon Squad and killed or jailed - and that in itself is as good as being killed, it just takes a bit longer.

Zimbabwe is a tragedy unfolding before our very eyes, but it is largely ignored and shunned by the media for the same reasons that Whitehall try not to talk about it - they too lauded this murderer and his cronies as "liberators" and "freedom fighters". Well now the result of their ignorance and stupidity is plain.

Z$6 million for an ordinary meal in a restuarant. For the same meal and number of people in this country I would have change from £60 in an equivalent restuarant. And in Zimbabwe there are people who cannot afford a half loaf of bread, never mind a night out.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack