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July 31, 2008

A busy day

Today I have been busy building up business for a group that I work with. It involved a lengthy drive starting out early this morning to Swindon and the Andover. The result is that when I got home I had a lot to catch up on and some work that needed attention.

Hopefully some more interesting posting will start up again soon!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 30, 2008

Installing an Abbot

Today's feast of music and worship has included the Mass this morning, an Organ Recital this evening and Compline to finish the day. The Mass setting was a modern one by MacMillan, a very unusual setting indeed and I will be honest, not exactly to my taste, though it did have some interesting moments. That said, the musical cogniscenti in the congregation loved it, so I guess if it floats their boats, then it has achieved something.

The stunning performance of works by Bach, Vaughan-Willians, Messiean, Dupre and Nielsen on the Milton Organ played by Carleton Etherington was, in my humble opinion, unsurpassable. I am not normally a Messiean fan, but Carleton's rendition of his "Communion" and "Sortie" almost convince me to change my view. And, as usual Carleton found a few Stops I have not heard before on that instrument. One part of the "Communion" counterpoints the highest note on the instrument - just audible at the top of my audio range in my aging ears - with the lowest. Well, I reckon there are some puzzled bats out there tonight - and some worried moles!

Now to my title! You were wondering weren't you? Well, ever since the Dissolution of the monasteries in the British Isles in 1537 - 1541, the "English Congregation" of the Benedictine Order has appointed "Titular" Abbots to the "lost" monasteries. We learned a year or so ago, that our "titular" had recently died and his successor was to be Father Aidan, a former Abbot of a Monastic community in Washington DC. A letter was sent inviting him to visit us and to preach for Musica Deo Sacra - but unfortunately last year the floods prevented this happening. So the invitation was sent again this year.

So, for the first time since the Abbey was surrendered to the King's Commissioners in 1541, we welcomed the Titular Abbot to our Abbey and his. The Vicar installed him formally in a Stall in the Choir in the presence of the congregation and of representatives of his House and his Order. As the Vicar said, we hope and pray that this small gesture will help to further the fostering of good relations between our two churches and between Christians everywhere. The Abbot then preached a very good sermon, one we hope will soon appear on the Abbey website. Keep an eye out for it at www.tewkesburyabbey.org.uk There may be further pictures and reports on MDS there too!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:27 PM | TrackBack

July 29, 2008

Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it

Those were the opening words of yesterday's sermon during Solemn Evensong the start of the MDS week.They not only reminded everyone of last year's devastating floods in and around Tewkesbury but also set the motto for this week. It was a real pity Mausi could only understand about half of the sermon delivered by the Dean of St Albans with the sound system at the Abbey obviously not feeling quite well last night.

The music sung by a first class choir is something one has to be experienced in person to really appreciate it. It was all the Monk had promised Mausi it would be. There is nothing like a choir to make the building come alive for it was built for music like that. The whole atmosphere inside turned distinctly medieval and Mausi could almost see the Monks of former times standing there instead of the choristers.

Another hightlight is the organ voluntary which is given at the end of each service. Last night we had Fantasia and Fugue in G by Hubert Parry. Very impressive! Mausi is certainly looking forward to the rest of the week.

Posted by Mausi at 05:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 28, 2008

Musica Deo Sacra

This week sees our annual feast of music in the Abbey. Musica Deo Sacra (MDS for short) means Music Sacred to God. And it is a real feast of sacred music, sung in the context of the services it was written to enhance by visiting choristers, both professional and amateur from all over Britain and some even from Europe and elsewhere.

It kicks off tonight with a Solemn Evensong and includes music by Messiaen, Johnson, Byrd, Ireland and Parry. Tuesdays Mass in Honour of our Lady is accompanied by the music of Messiaen, with the setting by di Lasso and pieces by Biebl, Blinko, Moore and Buxtehude. Wednesday has a similar line-up of fabulous settings and so does the Friday Requiem. Saturday has a Solemn Matins and the climax on Sunday has a Sung Mass with the West of England Players accompanying the enlarged choir.

It is a real treat, especially as we had to forego it last year due to the floods.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 27, 2008

Some funnies ....

One Happy Dog Speaks is always good for some funnies - typically on a Wednesday. But this list of matters of ettiquette is priceless.

My favourite? Try its tacky to take a removal van to a funeral - even if you are in the Will.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 26, 2008

Lambeth - hot air or real debate?

Rapproachment. I think we need some of that following on from Lambeth and all the debates about "the plain meaning of scripture" in relation to women priests, gay clergy and a host of other "matters of faith". The difficulty I have with some of that is that the same biblical books which are so passionately against homosexual relationships also condone slavery and a range of measures which could be described as "anti-women" or, at the very least, discriminatory. While I do agree with the traditionalists that culture should be modified by faith and not faith by culture, I find I cannot ignore the scientific findings, reported in the Church Times, that suggest that homosexuals do not have a "choice" in their sexuality. Does this place them outside of God's all embracing love? I don't think so, so the question is not "can they be active members of the church?" but, can the church find ways to recognise their existence and their right to the Gospel?

I feel for the Archbishop of Sudan when he tells the Conference that the leaders of Islam in his country seize upon the openly gay activities of the Church in the US and Canada to condemn him, as a member of the Anglican Church as "Apostate and the enemy of God". The fact is, in my view, that if they did not have that excuse these same Muslim clerics would find another. That said, the Church in the US and in Canada does need to take account of the impact of their activities outside of their own little sphere - that is the essence of St Paul's letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 10: 32 - 33) - if something causes offence to other Christians, don't do it! If it causes difficulties for others - in Paul's words, whether Greek, Jew or something else - don't do it! Which probably means that the General Synod may need to revisit the recent decision on Woman Bishops ...... A letter in this weeks Church Times suggests that the House of Laity opponents to the creation of Women Bishops without legal safeguards for those unable to accept their oversight is growing and even worse, a poll of laity suggests that the the "people in the pew" are not behind this move either.

There is a serious question underlying most of this. It concerns the ministry of women, traditionally seen as "nurturing, child bearing and home centred," but it seems that it may not have always been so. There is evidence that women, certainly in the first years of the church (Up to around 400AD) may have had roles as Deacons, Priests (Then called Presbyters) and possibly even as bishops. Why are there no records of this? Probably because the creation of a heirarchy from 313AD onwards saw it become increasingly a reflection of the dynastic ambitions of the landowning and political classes. The entire Papal structure is a direct descendant of the Imperial Roman administration, yet it was not until the early 600's that the Bishop of Rome managed to persuade everyone to follow his authority and even then the Eastern branch of the Church refused to do so. Of course the Papal claim to being the supreme ruler of the Church is based on the words of Christ, "You are the rock on which I shall build my church ..." but there is little evidence to support the view that the intention was that anyone beyond Peter would have the same status. In fact, there is little evidence to suggest that the other apostles took any notice of what Peter was doing or wanted as they fanned out across the globe spreading the gospel.

So, back to Lambeth. This Conference is the first on record to not have any major resolutions on the table. Some would say that the reason for that is to avoid a damaging and permanent split, a typically Anglican fudge. This is probably close to the truth. The fact is that many "traditionalist" Bishops simply aren't prepared to make any accomodation - and the liberal Bishops are in the same boat. They cannot admit that their liberal approach is causing a problem for anyone else without recognising that it has probably alienated many in their own flocks. And it is certainly not helped by the openly "humanist/socialist" secularising agenda of most of the media and the political classes here and in other Western countries.

Can a real debate on these issues take place? I sometimes doubt it, entrenched views are very difficult to break down and almost impossible to change, but I do pray that those attending Lambeth (And some at least of those who stayed away but attended the Jerusalem alternate) will actually shut up and listen to one another. If they do not, they, and not the "people in the pew" will become increasingly the cause of the demise of the Anglican church in all its diversity. This is evidenced by the manner in which the debates in General Synod have gone recently. Far to often one hears the expression "we recognise your views and feel your pain, but ..." as yet another unpopular motion is rammed through without compromise or even attempt at compromise. Real debate seeks compromise or at least explores common ground and many feel that this is not happening either at Lambeth or in General Synod. Two weeks ago the Church Times ran a leader article which said "save us from the anoraks" - suggesting that far too many Synod members are there because they have an agenda or issue which may, or may not, have anything to do with the Gospel.

That, of course, is the weakness of any elected system of governance, not least in churches. Lambeth stands outside of that arena in one sense, though, outside of the Church of England, Bishops are generally chosen by their Diocese and elected by the Electoral College of the Diocese. That too is open to abuse, but generally works reasonably well. So, when over six hundred Bishops gather to discuss the matters which concern the mission of the Church throughout the world, one hopes above all else, that the Holy Spirit is opening their ears and their eyes to the matters which really affect the mission and ministry of the church. I agree in one thing with the Archbishop of Sudan, what we do in England affects the church in Sudan, in Australia and everywhere else. Likewise what is done in the name of Christ and his Church in the US and Canada affects us all. We have to be more alert to that and we do have to recover the concept that faith alters culture - not the other way round.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 25, 2008

An outlet for my Short Stories

I have signed up to a site called FanStory. A number of my short stories can now be read FREE at this site. Some are linked to my books and others are on a different theme. The collection will grow.

Go ahead, try it, you may find other authors you like while you're there. In fact, for starters, try Peter@Poole - he has some very good writing on this site.

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

Over the Rainbow

For those who might not have been able to track this event, we in Tewkesbury here in Gloucesretshire, held a service to mark the first anniversary of the day our town was almost washed down the Severn. The BBC has a video clip of a part of the day which can be accessed through the link.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 24, 2008

A measured response ...

A few months ago it was widely reported that a hundred or so Muslim clerics or scholars (Since Islam is officially a religion without clergy!) wrote to the leaders of some twenty-seven Christian Churches including the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Plus Rowan has now responded with a seventten page reply in which he says that Christians and Muslims should enter into discussions on the difference in our understanding of God - but he stresses, wisely, that we should not rush this. The letter is entitled "A common word between us and you" and is a very carefully thought out and argued response.

In his response Archbishop Rowan sets out some of the areas of "understanding" that need to be addressed and not least among these is the Christian understanding of the Triune nature of God, something the followers of Islam do not accept. As the Archbishop says in his letter, the Trinity is not to be understood in human terms, it is not a "physical" thing, but rather a manner of presenting in the world. The "name" God, is not a name as of a person, it is rather a term for a life beyond our understanding, eternal and self-sufficient. As a Rabbi once told me, we must consider God as being at the beginning of time and at its end - and everywhere in between at the same time.

I commend to you the Archbishop's own words rather than mine - please do go to his website and read the letter for yourselves. If a true dialogue can be started between the faiths, who knows where God will lead those willing to follow where He leads!

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

July 23, 2008

Yesterday today .....

The week is being demanding, there is an awful lot demanding my attention and next week will be even busier with guests in the house. One at least will be easy - Mausi isn't a guest, she's 'family'!

My apologies for a lack of posting!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 22, 2008

A long and tiring day ....

I had lot's of ideas for a post - in fact I have one that I simply must get to writing soon. But I have had a very long day, one which started early and ended late. As I write this I have another early start tomorrow and then a meeting in the evening which will likely go on late ....

So please excuse my lack of sensible posting today. Its been a long day and I have several more to come. And I will get the big idea posted soon. I promise. And yes, I do know that the road to the other place is paved with them ....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 21, 2008

Over the rainbow

Yesterday was exhausting for all the Abbey team. It marked the first anniversary of the devastating flood that hit our town an our county last year. This year the rain stayed away, although the north wind was cool and occasional clouds did hide the sun from time to time. Work for this began at the beginning of the week with teams from sound engineers and a fireworks display crew preparing our Abbey to be the centre piece for a party to celebrate our recovery and, perhaps more importantly, our rediscovery of the community spirit necessary to overcome the huge problems the flood brought.

The service in the Abbey was a thanksgiving and a remembrance - three people died during the floods and many more had businesses and homes destroyed - yet the town has largely bounced back. It has been no small effort to do so and for many it is still traumatic. Yesterday provided an opportunity to celebrate recovery and to give a party for everyone in the town. The Church was packed for the service and the crowd remained afterward to surround the Abbey in a "Hug" to replace the image of the Abbey surrounded by water with one of it surrounded by people. In the grounds many local organisations set up stalls to advertise their activities and a local funfair provider set up some fabulous inflatable and other rides for the kids.

In the Pageant Meadow to the south of the Abbey a huge enclosure was created and a large covered stage set up. A variety of bands played throughout the day on this, in counterpoint to the Jazz Ensemble playing at the entrance to the Abbey on the north side. The day concluded with a fabulous fireworks display over around and on the Abbey itself, supplemented by a light display and accompanied by music played over the sound system rigged in the tower. Carleton Etherington thundered through the fireworks on the Magnificent Milton to be followed by the Pirates of the Caribbean and several other well known pieces with the Abbey bells bringing the whole to a ringing conclusion.

What a party, not a single problem or incident of disorderly conduct, a wonderful atmosphere and a really grand day out for the town. Everyone involved deserves congratulations and the town deserves a year ahead in which it recovers those last few homes and lays the last few ghosts.

Pictures can be found on the BBC Gloucestershire website. I'm afraid I was too busy to get any myself...

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 20, 2008

Far Right and Lambeth Conferences ...

I am increasingly aware that, in the eyes of the liberal/left dominated press to be either a Christian or to object to some part of the liberal left agenda is to be labelled "Far Right" and even "Fascist". The latest group to attract this label are a Flemish Group of teachers who have lodged an objection to what they see as the Islamification of their cities. They point out, reasonably in my view, that the over six thousand mosques built in the last twenty years in Europe have provided a focus for the Islamification of neighbourhoods with the European populations gradually being forced out or forced to live under Islamic rules. As this is evident to anyone who cares to take an objective look at several British cities - why is it "Far Right" to object to this? I wonder what they will make of the Italian Court that has ruled that it is OK to describe Romanies as "thieves and layabouts" - apparently on the grounds that they are.

Equally notable is the fact that the Lambeth Conference, which attracted a lot of negative press in the run up to it, has had almost no coverage that I can find since it began last week. Perhaps its because, after all the hype about the Anglican Communion being so divided it was about to fall apart, the presence of 650 out of 880 Bishops of the Communion rather spoils the image of a dying or fragmenting church? And even of the possible 230 not attending, some 60 of those are not there because they have retired or died or their Diocese currently have no Bishop. Given that Lambeth (Which is actually being held in Canterbury) is discussing some far reaching issues affecting many aspects of everyday life as well as some pretty thorny theological issues you might have expected some press coverage - but perhaps its too "far Right" for the luvvies in press and television.

That said, I wouldn't have the job of Archbishop of Canterbury for all the tea in China. He simply can't win. Unlike the Pope he has no authority outside his own See, he is simply the Senior Archbishop among equals. That is in fact, the model of the early church, the church before the Bishops of Rome declared themselves to hold the Imperial Authority over the Church. And not all Bishops agreed to accept that for at least six hundred years after Leo VI declared himself head. Poor Rowan frequently makes a lot of sense if you bother to read what he has actually said or written instead of the usual biased claptrap the press paraphrase it too.

At lest the Lambeth Conference is getting some important issues discussed. Whether the Church outside the UK, Europe and the America's will agree on all of them is a matter for God. I do note with interest that the extreme Evangelical Archbishop of Sydney who has absented himself seems to be alone in that stance as all his brother Archbishops and Bishops from the rest of Australia are here. Likewise, many of the African Bishops have turned up leaving only a few who have found other things to do.

So, being a Christian of the Anglican persuasion, I pray that our Bishops will find ways to keep the dialogue going, to keep the Communion in communion and to further the work of the Gospel. And if that makes me a member of the Far Right in the eyes of the media - so what. It is time Christians of all persuasions stood up and objected to the liberal left agenda of destroying Christianity by importing Islam.

There, now I have put myself out to the Far Right.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:41 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 19, 2008

An interesting admission ....

Has been made this week by our Chancellor of the Exchequer. He's admitted that taxpayers are "at the limit" of what we can bear. Oh dear, especially as the best estimates of what the government needs to take out of our pockets in order to pay for their continuing expansion of the Whitehall Wastrels and bureaucratic garbage suggests that our taxes should rise on average another 2% each. So will they reign in their spending? Of course not, our MP's have retained their slush fund that allows them to furnish second homes and pay the mortgages on prime property, they have given themselves a nice pay rise and the Whitehall Wankers have benefited because their pay is linked to MP's. Meanwhile Local Government workers (Bin men, teachers, etc.,) are on strike because councils are offering a below inflation pay rise and accuse their workers of "fuelling inflation". That's a bit rich coming from a bunch of parasites who rake in almost limitless amounts of "expenses" from the tax payer to supplement their incomes.

How can I say that? Quite easily, one Labour MP claimed expenses last year in numbers that took the breath away - and justified it by claiming that this was "correspondence" and "information to constituents" in the form of telephones, travel to constituency etc. From memory a six figure number was involved - on top of a "salary" of over £60k and a further £40k for "running an office". Now I don't know about anyone else, but running my own small business these days, I certainly can't claim back these sorts of numbers for staying in touch with my clients - and there's only a small proportion of it that can be offset against my tax. But even this only masks the bigger problem, the fact that this government has expended the Civil Service to make it the single largest employer in the UK - roughly 21% of all workers are directly employed by the Civil Service. And I am well aware of the charade that they employ to disguise this, by claiming that people who work for Government Agencies, certain "Public Services" and other "agencies" aren't Civil Servants. Yeah, right, and the taxpayer isn't paying vast amounts of money to employ "consultants" to do what used to be done by specialists in Whitehall. If Mister Darling really wants to save money let's see some real savings across the civil service where there is a now a culture which is protecting incompetence on a breathtaking scale among the senior managers of all departments.

Despite government claims, inflation at the moment is being driven by the price of fuel, just as it was in the 1970's. Again, despite the government's protestations, the fuel price is further inflated by their tax system which sees tax on tax to escalate the cost to us the users. The "enemy" on this is not the oil companies and suppliers, but the producer countries and our very own government.

I confidently predict that over the next few months we will see the following "campaigns" by this bunch of charlatans:

- we will be told that the Royals cost far to much and are extravagant,
- we will be told that the government cannot reduce fuel duty "because this would be contrary to an EU Directive";
- we will be told that Whitehall has to be further expanded in order to deal with the "world energy crisis"; and
- we will be told that we have to pay more in order to pay for the "green" energy developments this government is wasting money on.

In short, we can expect tax to continue to rise, costs to continue to rise and inflation to continue to rise - because Westminster and Whitehall cannot - perhaps dare not - admit that their own policies lie at the heart of this problem. In short, high taxes fuel the inflationary spiral by pushing everyone's costs higher. The so-called "green" taxes are nothing other than another deception since they hit the lowest paid and the non-political classes hardest.

It's time to call Whitehall to account - and their stooges in Parliament with them

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 18, 2008


One thing I guess I am not short on is memories, good and bad, but I would have to say mostly good. I was clearing out some files recently and came across the papers for my trip to Belgrade now almost three years ago. Several things stand out about that trip, not least the degree of warmth with which I was met at every level, even in the streets. I was reminded also by the fact that I recently had the pleasure of showing three young men from Serbia around the Abbey, so when I found this picture while looking for something totally different, I realised I should put it up as today's post.

The decorated dome of a small Serbian Orthodox Church which stands in the shadow of what will eventually be the largest Orthodox Church in the world.

The Serbian Orthodox Church, like their Romanian cousins to the East, is heavily influenced by the Byzantine style. The iconography is very Byzantine and the decoration follows a similar pattern.

I have been invited to spend a holiday there with a friend, Professor of Engineering at the University of Belgrade, and must find his address. Its time I visited him again.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 17, 2008

Medieval banqueting - 21st Century style

Last night we held a banquet in the Abbey. That's right, in the Abbey, candlelit and seated at a great U shaped table in the Nave. Our Refectory cooked a truly medieval meal - a sort of chicken stew served on trenchers of bread and washed down with wine or beer. Father Abbot said the Grace (In Latin then repeated in Vernacular English) at the invitation of our Lord of Misrule for the evening, the Editor of our local newspapers. The organiser was none other than the lady wife of our Lord Lieutenant - who turned up in a full medieval costume and looked resplendent as he raised to Loyal Toast. And just for those who don't know, the Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire is one of the four "Marcher Lords" who defend England from the Welsh raiders across the border. The Lord Lieutenant in every county is the Queen's personal representative and, in her absence, is the Sovereign.

Now, before all the purists, iconoclasts and puritans among you start throwing your toys out of the pram let me point out two important things. When this building was built, this was only one of the uses that the Nave was regularly put too. The Nave of any church at that time served as a public meeting hall, occassional market place and a place where civic banquets could be held. The "Church" part of the Abbey begins at the "step" where the Monks Quire Screen stood and which shut off the Nave from the "Presbytery" - another name for the "Church" or "Sanctuary". I have no doubt at all that many of those who attended the Jerusalem Conference ahead of the Lambeth Conference will condemn this - but the interesting thing is this - if you go back to the origins of the "Church" you discover that this is how they met for their worship and to celebrate the Eucharist - in a meal. And those who feel that this is an inappropriate use should think carefully on this - nearly half those attending were not church goers, yet most said that they were now considering joining since the church wasn't as "stuffy" as they had been brought up to believe.

Our meal was accompanied by a group of musicians playing medieval instruments, shawms, serpentines and several stringed instruments whose names escape me and they sounded exactly right in this glorious building. The group call themselves Bubonic Wind and they are very good indeed - especially in the magical accoustic of the Abbey. This ancient building has witnessed many things, but hopefully will recall this one with joy and hope.

Will we be doing it again? You can bet on it!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:40 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 16, 2008

The Physics of Electromagnetic wave transmission

I have to admit my eldest daughter sent me this link - and it is hilarious. As an explanation of electromagnetic transmission, it may be a little off the wall, but it has got some amusing insertions......

Physics is, for most of us, a "Dark Art", one we would like to think we understand, but rarely have much more than a 'surface' knowledge. Spend any time in the presence of a Physicist and you suddenly discover that a whoile range of things you thought you had a reasonable grasp of, unravel before your very eyes and you begin to doubt everything you ever learned. Quantum is a good example. To most people "Quantum" means to big to grasp - it actually means very, very small!

Oh, and don't ask a Physicist how electricity is transmitted through cables.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:56 AM | TrackBack

July 15, 2008

Madam Paddy's visit ....

Madam had to visit the vet yesterday. It transpires that she has picked up a bug which is causing a little problem but it is, apparently, one which is easily cured so she got a shot of long depot antibiotic and a lot of fussing and sent home. Apparently her new vet thinks she's gorgeous, to quote, "Quite the prettiest cat we have on our books."

Well we got home, I got scolded, and then she demanded her treat for behaving well throughout. What could I say, she had behaved well and she didn't growl, snarl, claw or bite anyone even though she probably had provocation.

Madam got her treat.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:23 PM | TrackBack

July 14, 2008

Deliveries, vets and housekeeping....

This morning I had to wait in for a delivery - a new easy chair to replace one that is not good for my back. In the process I tackled the usual Monday chores - laundry, vacuuming, sorting out the previous weeks detritus, and discovered that Madam Paddy Cat has a tummy problem. She regularly has hairballs, and being old, suffers from a Potassium deficiency, but now she has blood showing where it shouldn't. So, a call to the vet. I will not be popular later when I pour her, protesting, into her transport basket. I will be even less popular when I pour her out of it onto the vets examination table.

In the meantime I will have to hope that it isn't something requiring a drastic solution.

I am also trying to sort out how to get rid of an old armchair. There is nothing wrong with it that a good clean wouldn't fix. The cushions are still firm and the frame is good - its just too low a seat for my current back problem which the doctor tells me will worsen with age. Thank you doctor. You would probably not believe how difficult it is to get rid of a comfortable piece of furniture with years of life left in it. This was an expensive piece of furniture when new - but no one, not even the furniture recycling charities and other charities who help homeless people to find furniture for their 'new' homes - seems to want it.

Perhaps sticking it on the pavement with a sign - £50 and its yours - round here it would probably vanish within the hour.....

Maybe not. I've just found a man who does house clearances. He'll take it for £25 - me pay him - and no doubt clean it and sell it on at a profit.

So now to the vet ........

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:52 AM | TrackBack

July 13, 2008

Medieval madness?

My fellow Church Warden and I, in a moment of madness, offered to give tours of the roof spaces of the Abbey. These proved far more popular than we bargained for and I am now exhausted - four trips up the stairs into the roof, round the roof, through the South Transept and down the Night Stairs with parties of between five and ten a time. My fellow CW did as many trips as I.

I would probably have done five trips, but I was asked to show several people the Clarence Vault - and for a small consideration, I agreed. The problem was I ended up with around thirty people wanting to see this small vault that now houses the small glass box containing the mortal remains of George Duke of Clarence (Poor perjured Clarence in Shakespeare) and Isabella Despenser, his wife. The floor of this vault is covered by medieval acaustic tiles, though they are covered by a fine powdering of sediment as the vault floods every time the rivers rise beyond a certain point. The bones themselves have weathered badly with age and - due to the dampness of the vault - have a light covering of mould. We are considering re-interring them in a small stone coffin made for the purpose which will be left in the vault.

The roof is another matter, the top of the beautiful lierne vaulting is not half as attractive as the decorated underside, yet the structure is in itself amazing. The vault is in effect created by a convergence of thin arches and the gaps between these is then filled in using 'rag stone' - undressed stones - in a manner similar to that used for drystone walling. When the stones are placed and the 'key' stone is inserted, the forces are transmitted sideways through each stone to the wall and the vault 'locks' in place. The gaps are filled with lime mortar and the inner face plastered with a lime plaster - and then painted and decoration added. But above rubble is simply piled on the increase the weight and this secures it as an immovable mass, Over the vault the huge timber trusses span from wall to wall, each truss created by mortice and tenon joints and these are locked with wedges and trenails - wooden pegs inserted through drilled holes and then driven home with a mallet. The marks of saw, chisel and even the workmans scored lines for his cut and hole boring are still visible on some of these ancient timbers.

Elsewhere the stones show the signs of workmanship, sometimes revealing that an error has led to a stone being discarded for its original purpose and used elsewhere. Masons marks, graffitti and numerous small 'personalised' details bring the whole thing to life. As one vistor said when faced with beautifully detailed carving on a pillar's concealed face in the clerestory - "Why? Who would know it wasn't carved on this side?"

The answer is "God and the mason would know" and for that reason alone, no mason would ever leave work unfinished.

Madness? It probably was madness that inspired us to offer to do this, but it has been a very rewarding experience. One of the re-enactors left a small posy on the Clarence repository, quietly and without saying anything at all about it. Another man, a carpenter, went into raptures about the beauty of a joint in one of the roof trusses while someone else was moved by a piece of unfinished stone carving simply used as a block in the wall in an unseen part of the building. Everyone apparently found something in what they have seen today that set them thinking.

God does move in some interesting ways to touch peoples hearts and minds.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 12, 2008

Medieval Tewkesbury

This weekend we have a medieval camp and fair in Tewkesbury - and a re-enactment of the battle fought here in 1471. I Have to admit that it is a bit weird to walk down High Street and be confronted by Medieval Lords, Ladies, Knights and Peasants all in correct clothing and some even wearing hefty swords. Notably Mister Plod and his consorts don't try to intervene on that aspect - mind you, I wouldn't particularly want to argue with someone carrying a pole axe either!

The Fair is an experience. There are booths for armourers, fletchers, sword makers, furniture makers and even tent makers. There are New Age crystals, incense and food for vegetarians. There are musicians, stuntmen and "Fools" - and everywhere there are soldiers of the two armies, in their hauberks, armour and accouterments.

An Armourer with his wares - anything from a full suit of armour to a replacement greave.

The stall holders make a living from their wares, many coming from very far afield to be here. This year I have encountered people from Germany, from Poland, from Hungary and the US. Though I have to admit that I did blink when confronted by an man in chain mail and the surcoat of the Duke of Gloucester (Later to be Richard III) speaking with a strong Mid-Western accent!

An armoured knight explains his weapons and his armour to admirers.

Most of the Re-enactors take their roles seriously and the realism includes "getting into the part" completely. So from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave they try to camp in the same way as their medieval counterparts, they try to cook medieval food and even their tents are wonderful medieval concoctions completely furnished with the sort of camp furniture used in that period - and if you think it was rough and ready, think again. Some of it would do very nicely in a modern house, better designed and better built and looking than much of what you can buy in the furniture stores.

What is a Fayre without entertainment - this Black Morris were very good indeed. The Black Morris is supposed to be a representation of Moors, but other authorities say it arose after the Black Death.

Morris Dancing is a very ancient tradition and is really a fertility rite. The Morris has its origins in a rite supposed to be performed at Lughnassad - 1st February - which marked the start of Spring and signalled the lambing season and spring planting. Now it is performed mainly at Fayres and through the summer at numerous country pubs - sorry Village Greens - to amuse and entertain the tourists. But secretly, so the dancers can track down the best ales in the country.

All in all, the medieval festival is a lot of fun and swells the population of this town by a considerable number. Long may it continue.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 11, 2008

Let the music speak ....

Last night the Abbey rang to the music of the Estonian Philharmonia Choir. Unaccompanied, their voices filled the Abbey enthralling the capacity audience and bringing the stone walls to vivid life as the sound made them ring. This is what the building was designed for, the unaccompanied, un-amplified human voice. It is a sound that has to be heard to be understood.

The varied programme included works from the English canon of early music, modern pieces by Finnish composer Arvo Part and Estonian composers. They gave us an encore as well - a Russian Orthodox piece that I know well - and they outsang the recording I have.

And tonight we have the Philharmonia Orchestra for a gala concert with the Philharmonia Choir .....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:59 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 10, 2008

Medieval weekend

This weekend Tewkesbury slips into a timewarp and a big chunk of it slips back 500 years - to 1471 in fact. Each year we have a huge group descend on our town from all over the world. Most dress in medieval costume, some even bring armour and they re-enact the battle between Queen Margaret and her son Edward of Westminster and Edward IV, his uncle, for the throne of England.

The actual battle occured on the 4th May 1471, but it is usually far to wet and cold at that season to attract camping or visitors, so they hold the re-enactment now, on the second weekend in July. Naturally the Abbey forms quite a large centre piece to all of this, pertinent too since the battle ended in our nave with the Abbot driving the soldiers out and denying the King entry with the threat of eternal damnation. His only weapon, the Ciborium containing the consecrated Host - the bread of communion. Abbot John Strensham was obviously a man to be reckoned with since he remained Abbot even though he had probably offended Edward IV, a man who did not take challenges to his authority, or slights to his will, lightly.

The King did get his way in one particular though, he demanded and got, on pain of the sequestration of the Abbey, the surrender of all the Lancastrian nobles who had taken refuge in it. In this he was within his rights, for the Abbey was not a licenced "Sanctuary". The Duke of Somerset and all the Queen's chief supporters were removed and promptly tried and beheaded at the market cross the following day. The Abbey Church itself was closed for almost six months for cleaning, purification and repair, being reconsecrated by the Bishop of Worcester in October 1471.

But one part of the story remains shrouded in mystery, for a little over a hundred years ago, workmen found toys, household goods and even some childrens shoes and other apparel in the roof of the nave and the two great aisles. These were stuffed into a box and deposited at the County Museum, where a hundred years later they were identified as being from the 1470's. Study of the history of the battle reveals nothing of the townspeople, and the Abbey records, such as still exist, reveal little - except that food consumption seems to have been remarkably high for a few days. It appears that the Abbot had concealed the towns women and children in the roof, giving them refuge while the town and its people lay open and vulnerable to the depredations of two hostile armies. There is certainly room in there for several hundred people, but one can only imagine what it would have been like without light, dependent on others to bring food or water - and no toilets!

The re-enactment is always fun, though one does get the odd surprise turning a corner or entering Markus et Sparkus' emporium to be confronted by folk in medieval garb. The camp sweels the towns population by about five thousand and the day visitors bump it up even more. We at the Abbey will be joining in the fun, welcoming those exploring this ancient building and even opening up the roof and a few other places not normally seen by visitors for those fit enough and active enough to see them. Our Parish Eucharist will be celebrated on the Bloody Meadow in the midst of the camp, bringing the message of the gospel to all those who are there and remembering those, known and unknown, who died there in 1471.

Do join us if you can.

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

July 09, 2008

Bonekickers ....

This evening I caught a part of the new series, much hyped by the BBC, entitled Bonekickers. I was looking forward to this as I enjoy archaeology and was hoping for something a bit more balanced. I have to admit, that after a short while in which I managed to get the drift that the Crusaders were evil sadists and the Muslims were innocent victims living in peace (Pity about the Christians living in poverty and starving in the streets, but there, why let inconvenient facts get in the way of the ideology of the moment?), I turned it off. As usual the Templars were the guardians of some mystical secret which would destroy Christianity if it were revealed ....

And all the rest of the usual Anti-Christian drivel the BBC seems to love pumping out these days. Disappointing really in one sense, purely because it is so blatantly pro-Islam and so anti-Christian. For this sort of insulting drivel I am required to pay a large "License Fee", much of which vanishes into the Black Hole called Whitehall.

No doubt all Labour's anti-Christian Secularist and Humanist sycophants will enjoy it. I fail to see why I should pay for it. Its badly written, badly researched, badly filmed and is probably going to get rave reviews in the Press.

One does get tired of being portrayed as a blood-thirsty lunatic whose faith is entirely responsible for all the problems in the world. I guess it says it all when Andrew from Dodgeblogium - who isn't (So I'm told) a member of any particular faith takes offence at the manner of its portrayal.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:41 PM | TrackBack

July 08, 2008

Crisis? What crisis?

The recent spate of knife murders in London and elsewhere in the country are a tragedy, but one, which, with a little forsight should have been seen coming. In my own teenage years I always carried a knife, not for self defence or even because I wanted to look macho, but because it had many uses. With my sheath knife I could cut wood to make a fire over which to cook the meat and vegetables I had cut up using, you guessed, the same sheath knife. Every Boy Scout carried one, and to the best of my knowledge never dreamed of sticking it between someone elses ribs or into someone's arm, leg, neck or stomach. One didn't, the knife was a tool, not a toy; we were taught to use it properly and safely and even if we weren't carrying a sheath knife, we had a pocket knife with us for the same essential reason.

There was one other thing we were taught, sometimes with a well deserved clip on the rear end, which modern youngsters are not. We were taught to respect our elders, our fellow teenagers and to exercise self control or self discipline.

Today if I were to appear at a Scout Camp with the knife I still have packed away in the loft on my belt I would probably be arrested and charged with threatening the public safety or some equally nebulous formula. The proponents of "lets disarm everyone" fail to realise that it is not the weapon which is at fault. True, if no one had a weapon you could argue that no one would get hurt, but that simply isn't borne out by history or facts either. Usually it is the boy who isn't armed who is attacked. Reason? He's a soft target, unlikely to have the means or the skills to defend himself - so let's go for him. We banned guns after Dunblane, but what no one seems to be willing to admit is that there were several million guns in private ownership - yet one rogue owner is taken by press and politicians (And I am always suspicious of any politician who wants to disarm the public!) as proof that ALL gun owners are a threat to the public. One of the most ridiculous things I have seen recently is a statement by a police spokesman that a twelve year old displayed an "inordinate interest in guns". Of course the kid does, most boys are fascinated by things that make loud noises and look cool - and any news bulletin contains at least some shots of weapons in action in Afghanistan or Iraq at present. Video Games contain violent (and totally impractical weaponry) in abundance - but perhaps it is convenient to overlook that. Even more ridiculous is the woman who called out the Anti-terror SWAT team because she saw a kid in the street playing with a toy pistol. And I'm sorry, but any 'trained' police officer who can't tell the difference between a real weapon and toy needs to be retrained.

Yet, to return to my opening on knives and the so-called "knife crime" currently in the headlines we really do have to ask ourselves an important question. If the problem is the misuse of knives, why is it now becoming so accute when a generation ago it wasn't a problem? There are two possible answers, one is that the media now hype it a great deal more than they did, and the other is that our youth have no respect for each other or for law and order. I think that it is probably a mixture of both, with a great deal of emphasis on the latter though because we are now seeing the children of the 60's "Free Love" "Anti-discipline" generation - the children brought up on Doctor Spock's discredited theories which they now loudly and incessantly proclaim to be the only way to achieve peace and harmony.

Well, I know what my recipe for peace and harmony is, and I know what I al;so know that it cannot be achieved by derogating all responsibility to the Whitehall nannies, by banning normal usage of everyday items or by passing yet more laws restricting our rights. There has to be a sea change toward bringing up children to respect discipline, to know how to control their own emotions and to respect others they may encounter. We don't need more Whitehall and Westminster solutions, we need less restrictions on decent parents to do the job properly and less support for the criminally incompetent or criminally irresponsible which simply feeds their bad behaviour and perpetuates it into the next generation.

Crisis? Well we may have one, but, given that the media now hype bad news to the skies, how big a crisis? Given too that Whitehall has a magic way with bad statistics - keep changing the way they are presented or simply change what is measured or collected - and you simply cannot verify whether the situation is any better or any worse than it was. Personally I think there mnay well be a problem, not as big as the press appears to make it, but certainly a problem. But the problem is not the knives or the guns, but the people who carry them without a vestige of responsibility or any form of self discipline or, indeed, understanding of the consequences of not exercising it.

We have to re-introduce discipline into our world, or it will descend into a free for all in which only the lawless and armed will prevail. Tacitus wrote; Si vis Pacem; para Bellum.

If you seek peace; be prepared for war.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:53 PM | TrackBack

July 07, 2008

Conferences and narrow boats ...

Last week the Monk attended a conference in Blackpool for three days at a very posh hotel which apparently does its best to appear not to be in Blackpool even though you can see the famous (or infamous) tower from the car park. I have to say, that the staff both at the hotel I was staying in and the Conference venue were among the nicest and most cheerful young people I have had to deal with in a long time. They were friendly, helpful and polite - and always smiling, no matter what happened.

One very funny moment occured when a group of us went for a meal in the restuarant adjoining my hotel. We are all long standing friends and colleagues and we "take the mickey" out of each other, tease, and generally give as good as we get. The waitress who came to take our order watched the banter and the arguing over whether or not we would have wine with this, whether it would be red or white, or just stick with various beers in something like amazement. Finally she asked, "Are you guys all family? You sound like one!"

THat set the tone for the rest of the conference and I suspect for some time to come. You see, we may not be related at all in the sense of "blood" ties - but we are all members of one of the best "famillies" on earth. The Old Style Fire Service.

Conference over, I took myself home and then on to Saul Junction for a part weekend afloat on a Narrow Boat called "Haere-Mai" at the Saul Junction Festival. I was there to help a friend, the owner of "Haere-Mai", make sure no one burned anything down. It rained, it blew like crazy, but that didn't stop a lot of people having loads of fun in the Folk Festival, on the water or just meeting up with old friends and old boats. There will be some pictures of all this eventually, I just have to find time to download them, down size them and post them. As we did our rounds of our fire points and checked no one was doing anything silly with some of the goods on sale, we found ourselves rubbing shoulders with every branch of British Eccentricity. Morris Men, Morris Women, people in pirate outfits, people in Motley, kids with their faces painted, big beards, big hair and even the odd medievalist.

Being boring of course, I was more interested in the boats ..... Oh, and the 100 year old steam traction engine hauling a trailer with people up and down ...... And the display team of Barge horses ........

Pictures, pictures, pictures ......

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

MuNu back to normal ....

It seems that MuNu has recovered, everything so far seems to be working again. The details of the problem can be found here at Munuviana. It seems that the servers were having a bad day a week or so ago, and decided to share that with everyone using them.

Hiho - the joys of the electronic age.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 06, 2008

Erratic posting

MuNu seems to be having problems, I can usually get into the MovableType menu and write a post - but the "Save" button then is either missing or doesn't work.

Please bear with us, I hope to be able to resume normal service as soon as Pixy Misa and MuNu resolve the problem whatever it is! An example of what happens when you do manage to post anything is: -

Internal Server Error The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request. Please contact the server administrator, webmaster@mt3.mu.nu and inform them of the time the error occurred, and anything you might have done that may have caused the error.

More information about this error may be available in the server error log.

Additionally, a 404 Not Found error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.


Apache/1.3.39 Server at mt3.mu.nu Port 80

I'd be delighted if I knew what it was ....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:24 PM | TrackBack

July 03, 2008

A Cat's Sufferings

As if life weren't hard enough for a cat these days - yes, how would you like to have to walk around in a black-and-white furcoat at 30 Centigrad in the shade,pray - one of my human slaves had to make life extra uncomfortable for me last week.

With all this global warming around all you can do is trying to find a shady place and cool your tummy down...

So, okay, I had a cyst on my back and it was filling up and discharging all the time, and yes it was get bigger, starting from the size of a pea it had now reached the size of a table tennis ball. And true, there was a little wound on my lower jaw and something was growing out of it - but still, that's no reason to drag a cat to the vet if you ask me. And I absolutely resent the way it was done. I came walking into the house one evening and stayed on for a little nap, which I don't usually do at this time of the year. I prefer to spend the nights outside. My human eventually closed the shutters on the windows and went upstairs to bed. That's not a big deal, I know, I only have to go the bedroom and ask politely to be let out. Which I did, after a couple of hours. No reaction! I went downstairs hopefully but no one followed. So I tried again, sotto voce - no reaction! Next time I entered the bedroom I decided to change tactics - I jumped onto the bed and tried a long PUUURRRRRRRRRR! right into the ear. She didn't even stir!

At four o'clock in the morning I finally gave up, went downstairs and made myself comfortable on top of a big pile of freshly laundered bedclothes that awaited ironing. Serves her right!

And guess what - when my slave came downstairs eventually I still didn't get breakfast and she didn't even tell me off for lying on that pile. That was when I started to smell a rat. My suspicions were confirmed when she put me in that wicker basket. She usually takes me to the vet in that one, but it was not the time of the year to have my tetanus shots and the like! I was not in a very good mood when we arrived at the vet. I felt very hungry.

I didn't know then that I would feel a lot worse when my human picked me up again at lunchtime. Gosh, I felt as weak as a kitten and as sick as a dog. First thing I did when we got home was that I threw up in her front garden. Serves her right! All afternoon I tried to recover from the drowsiness and the loss of balance. Believe it or not - for hours I couldn't walk in a straight line. I felt extremely sorry for myself.

Poor me!

By four o'clock that night I had recovered enough to leave the house on my own paws. This time she let me out. But I hadn't forgiven her yet, oh NO. I refused to come inside the house again for two days and insisted on being served my meals outside in the garden.

After a week now I feel quite well again. I still have that wounds on my chin and back, all stitched up but it doesn't bother me too much. I only hope the fur will grow quickly again. Although it is a relief to have a bit of it off in this weather but in my experience bald patches never show off to your advantage. I have a strong suspicion we'll have to go to the vet again soon and have those stitches out. Well, this time I'll be prepared. Watch out, humans!

Posted by Mausi at 04:53 AM | TrackBack

July 01, 2008

Word Power

I received a 'Round Robin" type e-mail earlier today which set me thinking. The message is essentially a reminder from the Bible that the tongue is a vicious weapon - perhaps one of the most dangerous in the world. The message set me thinking as I drove north to Blackpool and the conference I am attending this week.

Looking back at history, one is very quickly aware of the number of occasions when words spoken in anger, or simply in ignorance, have launched wars and misery for millions. Reading the book "The Rubicon" one is very soon aware of just how little politicians have changed since Roman times, and of just how cleverly they can use words to destroy one man (or a group) and raise another. Nothing much changes. Unfortunately it isn't just the politicians that use words to hurt or damage - we all do at some time or another, and yes, I do hold my own hand up on that one.

Part of the trouble is that what we say, and what others hear may be two different things. A lot depends on how we say something, how we present the statement in 'body language' and in the inflections in our voice. Sometimes we respond with a flippant comment or remark when the other half of the conversation is hoping for something more affirmative or sensitive. Perhaps we even meant it to be heard that way - but the way we said it is misheard and distress may be the result. This is often the case in disputes within families - one person is having a bad day and another wants approval or encouragement. Words are misheard or misinterpreted and the result can be a family rift that lasts a lifetime.

We all need to be careful what we say and how we say it - most particularly when we talk about others to anyone else, including themselves. It is all to easy to say something hurtful without intending to do so - and once said, the words cannot be unsaid.

As Omar Kayyiam, the 11th Century Persian poet wrote - "The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on; And not all the tear, nor all the sorrows, can change one line of it."

The same applies to everything we say - it cannot be unsaid and the words have the power to destroy someone's confidence, to inflict wounds that, for all they cannot be seen, still cut deep. Words have power and we need to remember that we have two eyes, two ears, but thankfully only one tongue. One should never speak in anger for that is when we are most likely to say exactly the thing that will do the most damage. Once said, an apparently small comment has the power to cause decades of hurt.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack