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Sunday, 31 May 2009

New Author Page on Amazon

Very thoughtfully Amazon has created an "Author Page" for me but it lists only my first novel, "Out of Time" and none of my other work fiction or technical. Probably a bit of a blessing with regard to "The enemy is within" as the new contract with the new owners of the publisher, Hallmark Press, specifically states that sales through Amazon do not attract a Royalty as the Amazon discounted price means the book is supplied to them at cost.

Still, it is nice to have the additional publicity from Amazon, I can but hope it brings in some additional sales from some of my other works as well. As some will know I have a range of short stories on Amazon US (Unfortunately not available to anyone outside of the US of A) but you probably won't know that I have two text books out there as well, one entitled "Marine Fire Studies" is on sale through the Institution of Fire Engineers and the other is a book on Fire Safety for the NEBOSH examination on Fire Safety Risk Assessment, though on that one I am the editor rather than the author.

And currently I have the next Harry Heron adventure in draft and looking for an agent or publisher..... Here's hoping it finds a market soon.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

How does my garden grow


With difficulty. The Monk does not have the green fingers of his forebears, or of his brother all of whom seemed to have had that magic ability to make things grow. Even Mausi seems able on her mountainside, to be able to coax things into growth where they take one look at the Monk's garden and pull their roots up. Or at least some things do.

Having planted three roses in different parts of the garden, the Monk finds that two have taken off like rockets and are now threatening to take over everything else - while the third keeps trying to commit suicide. Nurture, feeding, watering all seem to have little effect, although, now four years since it was first planted the solitary red rose seems to be trying to get itself going at last.



On the good news front though, the swallows have arrived. A few days ago this nest was damaged and empty, the owners evidently having not arrived with everyone else, or perhaps abandoning it. Today I noticed it had been repaired and this evening managed to catch a picture of the occupant. It seems they have arrived home and have lost no time at all in repairing the nest and setting up the furniture. Judging by the scolding and cajolling Mrs Swallow has already set up her nursery. Considering that this is on a North facing wall, they have chosen the spot carefully as it gets the late sun, yet is sheltered from rain and wind by the soffit and the protruding eave. As foir the construction of the nest, well, all I can say is it's amazing how much mud they have collected and placed to construct it.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Friday at last ...

Is I suspect what a lot of MP's are saying. Though I doubt it will give them any relief from the glare of the media spotlight. Is it just me though, or are there some aspects of this saga which are beginning to resemble the mobs we usually associate with anarchy and the rent-a-mob activities of protest groups?

Take the case of the MP for Bromsgrove, there is an extremely vociferous woman orchestrating a campaign entitled "Julie must go!" She claims to have over 3,000 signatures on a petition she and a small group have whipped up and doorstepped people in Newsagents and Chemist shops around the constituency to sign. Now my understanding of the majority of people approached in this way is that they will sign rather than cause a fuss - ergo, possibly half or a little more than half those signatures could have been obtained "under duress". Then one needs to look at the percentage of the vote that the signatures represent - 3,000 out of almost 90,000 (Or 3%) is not a very large percentage. Therefore the claims that "a majority" of her constituents want her to resign is not true. Then comes the revelation that the lady behind it all is a Party activist for a rival Party. Democracy? I think not, more like mob rule led by the media.

Yes, there is a case to answer by all those who have manipulated the system to their benefit. I wish I could get some assistance with my mortgage and there are certainly improvements I could make to my flat if I could get a subsidy to pay for it. Parliament does need reform, it needs to have some of its powers curbed for sure and we also need to look at Brussels/Strasbourg - the EU trough is, if anything, deeper and even more profligate, though there it is the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels and their equally unaccountable "Commissioners" who are the big beneficiaries. Their abuses make Westminster look tame - if we could but get at the information.

The trouble is "outraged" citizenry whipped up to a frenzy by a biased and none to innocent media is not the best way to achieve our reforms. We need an election so we can get rid of our NuLabour/Old Labour Communist/Socialist government. Then we need to make sure that we get -
- an elected Upper House, preferably limited to 33% Hereditary Peers, 33% Life Peers and the remainder Life Peers recommended by Industry, Commerce and Unions.
- The Lower House should be slimmed down - we don't need 646 MP's - and again we need to look at how they are elected. The first past the post system as currently operated is simply a recipe for perpetuating "tribal" voting. There are vast areas in inner cities where the Labour Party could put up any simian hominid and he or she would be elected.
- The Civil Service must be cut back. It is too large and too territorial, departments in Whitehall don't consult one another and won't co-operate. This is the Civil Service power base, divide the Ministers against each other and you control them. It has to stop and the Civil Service must be cut back to no more than 10% of the work force in UK Plc - it currently stands at 21%. We can't afford it and shouldn't have to put up with it.
- The issue of the Scottish MP's voting on English legislation must also be addressed. Labour won't, because that will instantly remove their majority - so, again, we must have a general election and the Scottish MP's should be removed or moved to another forum or permitted to debate or vote only on those matters in Westminster which have force North of the Border. After all, Scotland now has a vastly expensive Parliament of its own fully subsidised by the English taxpayers. Why should we pay twice?
- The tradition of "Yah-Boo- Sucks to you!" style political debate, amusing as it may be to the terminally stupid, has had its day. It' time the Parliamentary procedures were completely overhauled and the business of government dealt with in a more mature and sensible manner.
- The electorate is now more literate and, one hopes, better informed than ever before - the possible exception being those who read the "Red Top" daily papers - and it is time we were allowed more say in the business of parliament. All too often the excuse is trotted out that something contentious which we would like to argue "was in the manifesto". Since probably 90% of the electorate never see these wonderful and no doubt extensive (Judging by what is supposed to have been in the present government's) documents, I think it is time that the ballot paper include a full list of every candidate's manifesto wish list and the electorate should answer yes, no or maybe to each item for the vote to count. Anything not agreed by a majority must then be dropped from the Parliamentary slate.
- The Whips Office must go. It has no place in a Democratic society, all it is there for (and it is a remnant of the 17th Century system under Cromwell) is to ensure that the Members vote according to what their party and not their constituents dictate.
- Parliamentarians should be remunerated in the same way the rest of us are - a salary commensurate with performance and reasonable travelling expenses to and from their constituencies. Housing should be their affair, not the taxpayers - if I have to work away from my home, I have to make my own arrangements and claim back on an agreed scale - buying and furnishing a second home at my employers expense is not an option. One accepts that there will be expenses such as running an office for constituents and from which to conduct business - those can be covered by providing staff employed directly by the Palace of Westminster and rented from local councils. Some MP's seem to have rather remarkable offices from which to operate. I am pleased to say that mine seems to have a rather more modest set-up and certainly works hard in his constituency on behalf of those of us who operate from here.

Well, those are my thoughts on this matter, as I said in the beginning, the media frenzy is now beginning to look a little too much like a witch hunting mob for my taste. Mobs never make good governments and nor are the good arbiters of either justice or common sense. Time to back the mob off and redirect the pressure for change in more sensible ways.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The child protection monster.

I stumbled across an interesting article on Talking Politics, one of the "official" blog sites here, it asks the important question "are we destroying our children by being so obsessive about 'protecting' them from any sort of reality?" The article, entitled "Britain has an unhealthy relationship with its children" makes a number of telling points. Equally telling, sadly, are the numbers of commenters who simply cannot see anything wrong with our obssessive PC view that children are "innocence personified" until the reach puberty - when, of course, they magically become problem youth.

Everytime I am confronted by unruly and undisciplined children in public I reflect on the fact that the Dr Spock generation have one hell of a lot to answer for - not least the utter devastation some of their little darlings cause. So called "children's courts" are a sick joke and the kids that do get to see the inside of them know exactly how to play the system - yet dare to suggest that they would be better treated to the reality and you find yourself the target of vitriolic attacks from every "children's agency" and social damager available.

One of the commenters made the valid point that, as a youth worker, he or she is terrified of coming closer to any child in their charge than the magic 1 foot without having to worry about being accused of abuse in one form or another. The article is right - Britain has taken leave of its senses on the matter of child welfare and has gone so far that children are now completely divorced from adults, in fact are taught to show them disrespect and with suspicion.

Children are not innocent as anyone who has raised them knows. They can be devious, manipulative and viscious - ask Jamie Bulger's killers - and as any posychologist worth his or her qualification now knows, they don't have the mental wiring sorted out and won't get it sorted out until they have become adults. What is worse, by the time they do they have developed a wide range of "issues" including "anger management" problems and an inability to actually form lasting relationships.

Dr Spock and his cockamamy ideas on child raising and his slavish followers who refuse to even consider the evidence growing around them that they are wrong in spades have a great deal to answer for. Tragically the demise of our society is a likely outcome - but, from what I have heard some of these idiots saying, that is what they intend and want. I hope they like the world their indisciplined and aggressive "children" create.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Ain't technology wonderful .....

Except, of course, when it drops you in it big time. For some time now I have used a Hewlett Packard PDA as a diary and as a note book. It was always backed up to Outlook on my PC and even though it had previously crashed twice I was always able to retrieve my appointments and my address book by connecting it to the PC and reloading the data. Then I upgraded my Microslosh Office to Office 2007. Initially on the cheapest option for that package. Mistake, the Office 2003 suite conflicted with it and so, in a moment of sheer stupidity - I uninstalled 2003!

Wait for it - that removed Outlook which I had not acquired in the 2007 bundle. No problem thinks I - I'll just reinstall that and reconnect the PDA. Except something in the PDA Synchronising prgramme no longer worked. It would not reconnect and would not share.....

So I contacted Microslosh and discovered the problem, I had the wrong programme package. More cash changes bank accounts and now I have the righ package installed. Except the PDA still won't talk to the PC.... OK, so now I need to contact HP to get the programme changed, in the meantime praying that the PDA wouldn't have a wobbly. I should have known, the PDA crashed today, wiping out my appointments, my address book and every note I have mdae in it. Nothing I can do will make it talk to anything else (I did have some of the information backed up on a laptop - but the PDA won't talk to that either!) and now I have to try and contact everyone I can recall having an appointment to meet and everyone whose address I can recall being in the damned thing - and try to get the information back somehow.

I guess it just proves, yet again, how dependent we have become on these electronic gadgets - and how helpless we are when they drop us in the doo-doo. At least I'm not entirely alone - I see the Gorse Fox is having a Technoclasm as well.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

I wonder ....

According to the BBC website today in history saw the following events -

On this day (26th May):

· 1679: The Habaeus Corpus Amendment Act requires the showing of 'just cause' for imprisonment over 24 hours.

· 1868: The last public execution in Britain - the hanging of murderer Michael Barrett - takes place at Newgate.

· 1948: The Afrikaner National Party wins the South African general election and introduces 'apartheid'.


Now it may be just me, but I think they've been rather selective in their 'events'. Habeus Corpus I would agree is a good piece of law - unlike the majority of the laws imposed in the last twelve years in the UK - and we can probably do without public hangings. Mind you, a few of those would probably put an end to some of the street gangs and mindless violence among some sections of the community. The final one though is hardly as earth shattering an event as the Left try to make it out to be. In fact it ignores the fact that the apartheid laws were based on the 1910 Constitution that was written for South Africa here in Whitehall - against the advice of the South African politicians. And the laws establishing apartheid were certainly not enacted or enforced from the same day as the election. Perhaps it is just another attempt to paint anyone who doesn't follow the accepted "liberal" mythology of humanist "goodness" as Fascist. I note that none of Lenin's, Stalin's or Mao's excesses are ever commemorated or mentioned by this coterie and there is an outright denial of the fact that Fascism was a response to the excesses of socialism in its most virulent form - communism.

So, to redress the balance a little here are some of the other events which occurred on this day in -

1894: Tsar Nicolas II crowned Tsar of All the Russias.

1805: Napoleon had himself crowned King of Italy.

1637: Captain John Mason attacks a Peqot village and wipes out 500 women and children among the Indians.

More recently -

1924: President Coolidge of the US brings in immigration restrictions in the US as a deliberate isolationist policy.

1940: Operation Dynamo begins - the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk

1972: Thomas Cook passes from State Ownership to a private Consortium in the first step toward dismantling the socialist theft of private enterprise.

The list is quite impressive for today, if you want to read more The History Channel website gives some pretty comprehensive and somewhat less selective results.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Abbey Fete


Today was the Abbey Fete and the nave was turned over to its medieval use as a market place. In the picture, the Town Crier has just called for silence to introduce the Vicar who is introducing the Town Mayor who opened the fete. They are stood in front of the Rood Screen which separates the "Church" from the "Nave".

The view down the nave from the clerestory was spectacular as always and it was great to see the Abbey come to life as a centre for the community it serves in this way. We are fortunate indeed to have such a versatile space and such a beautiful one.

The day has been a great success and the hard work and effort everyone put into it has made a huge contribution to the annual income we need to generate to keep ourselves afloat financially.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

As others see us ...

Found this link to a hilarious comedy show from the US which gives a view from across the water of the scandal in Westminster. Its a few minutes in length, but worth watching.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Support Da Goddess

Da Goddess is a lady who supports causes. She has been through a rough time herself lately and now needs a little help in supporting one of her favourite causes - servicemen and women. Like me she believes this woprld is a safer and better place because there are men and women out there who are prepared to join up as soldiers, sailors or airmen and fight for our values and freedoms. Now she is asking us to help her. So, when I got this message I decided that I would do so.

As some of you know, I was accepted into the Operation: Love Reunited program as one of their photographers. There are many of us, but not nearly as many as we truly need. When I first signed up, the waiting list was long and I was told it would be months before anything would be reviewed. I figured I had ample time to get my business a little more active and profitable. You know what they say when you start making plans, right? God laughs and then hands you a challenge. Financially, I'm not up to the challenge on my own, but with your help I can be. So here's the deal: Have a read. If you feel this is something you can promote, I'd be happy. If this is something to which you can contribute, I'd be honored. If this is something you believe in and decide you'd like to be a part of, too, I would be thrilled beyond belief! For everyone who makes a donation: please indicate it is for OpLove and let me know what name you'd like on the thank you card I include in the albums because I want to recognize your efforts as well as prove to our troops that we do care. I've already heard from one reader who would like to donate a prize to those who donate to the fund. We'll be drawing a comment number at random on June 7 (the first big event is June 13 and that gives me plenty of time to purchase all the albums I'll need). If you're interested in seeing what the item is, it's part of the post. If you're interested in winning, please leave a comment. If you're interested in donating another item to be raffled off, WOW! You totally rock! And now, before I sign off for the day, I would like to remind you that this weekend is Memorial Day. While you're preparing the grill and the food and the beverages, please take a moment to say Thank You for all that you have because of those who made it possible.

Thank you!


I hope you'll join me in supporting her.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Reforming the House

I have long argued that NuLabour's reforms of the House of Lords and their constitutional anarchy showed that the House most in need of reform was the Commons itself. Simply shaking out the abuses of the Expenses isn't enough, the whole system of government has to be reformed, restructured and revised - and that inclkudes not just the House of Commons, but the Lords and the entire Civil, Service oligarchy.

Mr Blair ripped the heart out of the Lords and stuffed it with his sycophants and cronies - its time to throw them out and make that an elected Upper House, perhaps making only Peers eligible for election. Why do we need 646 Members in the Commons? In particular why do we need to Scottish and Welsh MP's now they have their own Parliament in Scotland and an Assembly in Wales? That chops out roughly 150 MP's who vote on matters which do not affect their constituents - but impact heavily on England and the English from whom they have no mandate at all. As the majority of these are Labour that would effectively consign the Labour Party to third place in any future Parliament.

We need to reign in the power of the Civil Service, so I propose that all Civil Servants should be subject to public scrutiny and should have a maximum term in office of ten years with a review of performance after five. Likewise MP's should be restricted to a maximum of two five year terms and the Prime Minister should be subjected to election by the two Houses and not just an automatic appointment for being head of a party. The Whip should be abolished and all voting should be "free" on any matter before the Houses and MP's should be obliged to take note of their constituents wishes on any matter unbder consideration in Parliament. Any matter of Constitutional importance, or which affects our rights, sovereignty or security should be subject to an automatic referendum as it is in Denmark and not be simply nodded through in a Parliament that knows it can get away with murder.

The Lisbon Treaty must be subject to a Referendum as soon as possible and our sovereignty guaranteed. No one in Britain, except the terminally stupid and blind, trusts Brussels to manage our Defence, Security or Economy for the benefit of the British People and we are certainly not major benefactors of being "in Europe". We could just as easily be a member of the European Free Trade Zone and do even better. We didn't need the Euro until Brown sold off our gold to prop it up and we certainly didn't need it afterward until the same buffoon dergulated the banks and encouraged the financial boom (Having first destroyed our industrial base and all other commercial activities) which led to the bust we now face with a devalued and, I suspect, terminally weakened Pound.

Our Navy, our Army and the RAF have all been cut back to the point of collapse and control of them has been gradually passing to Europe. The Civil Servants running the MoD are a party to this and the corruption, dishonesty and incompetence is now so systemic that it can be desctribed as "Institutionalised". All of this needs to be reversed and reversed quickly if we are to have any hope of surviving as a democracy and as an independent nation.

It is not too late, but first Brown and his dishonest Party must go.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Country pursuits ....


Clearing out my mobile phone memory I found a whole lot of photos I took last year at the Saul Canal Festival. Among them one of England's quainter pursuits - Morris Dancing. This team was all women, unusual as the Morris is traditionally a male pursuit, as much, so I'm told, about the beer taken between dances , as the dance itself.

The Morris Dance was probably originally a fertility rite and has a number of forms including a "Rapper" and a "Sword" formation, the swords actually being a form of thatcher's knife. There is a "Black" Morris as well, with the dancers dressed in a sort of black motley sometimes with blackened faces and a "hunting" Morris with a Huntsman on a "Hobby Horse" as leader. In it's modern form it comes from the revival during the late 18th Century of "Country" pursuits encouraged in the 18th and 19th Century as suitably "rustic" activities for the labouring classes and further refined to its present form in the 20th Century where it has become an activity enjoyed by a lot of professional people who get a kick out of letting their hair down in this way.

Oh, and Pratchett makes much of the dancing of the "other" Morris, about which no one will speak or reveal how it is done - and it is never danced for an audience of mortals ....

It's all good fun, it's energetic and enjoyable to watch. Very "rustic" indeed.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Harry's birthday


Today would have been the real Henry Nelson-Heron's 109th birthday. He was born in Downpatrick at 11 Saul Street and rather inconveniently while his mother was doing the family laundry. His father had departed only two months earlier with his Regiment, the Royal Irish Rifles in which he held the rank of Colour Sergeant (Regimental Sergeant-Major), for the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa. His sister, then aged two years, was encouraged to go to the nuns across the road - something she was not usually allowed to do - and the nuns baptised her new brother as they did not think he would survive.

HNH had other ideas and clung on with a determination that was to be his trade mark. He was a born survivor, a man who seemed to be able to take the hardest knocks and yet keep going. The picture here shows him aged around 6 at the Infants School in Newtownards.

At 15 he ran away to join up for the Great War and had to walk to Enniskillen in order to be beyond the area in which he or his father were known to join. Had he tried to join anywhere near his home he'd have been given a wallop round the head and sent home for his father to deal with - but instead he managed to get signed on the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers with which Regiment he went to Flanders and went "over the top" on the first day of the Somme. It was to be his first and last battle as an infantryman - he and his best friend (also by then just 16) were wounded within minutes of each other and lay in a shell crater for the next two days. Their wounds were so bad they could not move and , when rescued, were not considered likely to survive. They did, thanks to maggots having got into the wounds, and were eventually reassigned to the Royal Garrison Artillery.

At 17 he was a Sergeant. At 19 he returned to civvie street and found work in Belfast and at 21 found himself taking shelter in a gutter in Belfast while an IRA gunman machine gunned a bus queue. There and then he and his best friend (still at his side despite everything) decided they would emmigrate to South Africa, a move inspired by a poster advertising the Union Castle Line's regular sailings from Southampton. And so, at the age of 21 he stepped ashore in Cape Town and carved out a little place for himself there. In 1925 he married Hector Mary Hopkins (And yes, it IS Hector - another story) and their one and only child, my mother, was born the same year.

He died in 1977, not a man of wealth, but one whose generosity was astonishing and an inspiration to me. Funny thing is that I never really got to know him properly until after his death, when I had to sort out a lot of his affairs. One day perhaps I will be able to tell him how much I have missed him.

Toppled from his perch at the trough ...

Mister Speaker resigned yesterday afternoon, the first Speaker to do so for 300 years. The last was impeached for taking bribes. In a sense Mister Speaker Martin is the victim of his own incompetence and as the scape goat the other 646 Dishonourable Members hope will be sufficient to defelect public attention from their misdemeanours.

Considering that Blair swept to power on the promise to "Clean up Politics" and his NuLabour Cool Britannia experiment has ended in the usual Labour overspending, economic ruin and the biggest expose of corruption for more than a century, one could say "I told you so". The tragedy is that nothing will change - Labour has, as usual, wrecked everything by meddling where they should have left well alone.

Let us hope they reap the full reward of their utter folly and incompetence. And in case you wondered, there is a map at Shoot Hill which gives a complete breakdown of the expenses for each of our MP's. Click the link, then click the constituency and the information appears. It makes one want to weep.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Good bye Mister Speaker....

Mister Speaker is compromised, there can be no doubt of that. He has presided over the scandal regarding the MP's expenses, and done so rather ineffectually. It transpoires that it was his efforts to prevent the publicatioin of a league table of their expenses, that triggered the release of the details.

At some time this week we are led to expect that he will either resign or be pushed out sometime soon. Easy for those on the barricades throwing stones - but it doesn't change anything. It certainly doesn't get my tax returned.

Mister Speaker's departure will be a welcome start to sorting out that House for the future.

Monday, 18 May 2009

English Heritage and restoration....

I find A N Wilson, a critic who writes for the Times, often a little too critical and abrasive. But recently he wrote a crtique of the show which was supposed to showcase the work of English Heritage.

He brands the organisation as encapsulating everything that is most loathsome about this island of nostalgic self-regard. Now I could take issue with him on some, at least, of that statement, but I think his ire is actually directed at their desire to "preserve" everything that is anything to do with our heritage as if the island were some sort of museum to be locked into a sort of ideal and nostalgic period past. Among their most ludicrous demands in recent years have been the court case over the restoratiion of an Elizabethan farmhouse that had been much abused over the centuries with rooms subdivided to the point of uselessness, casement windows replaced with 1950's steel windows and the oriuginal thatch replaced with something, quite possible asbestos. Did they applaud the new owner who peeled away all the inappropriate steel windows, the impossible and badly built partitions and restore the roof to something more in keeping?

No, they dragged said owner into court and demanded that the house be "restored" to reflect the "architectural heritage" of the ages. It went to several appeals and as far as I am aware eventuually was settled in a compromise when a judge ruled that he was in sympathy with the owner, but had to uphold the law, even though he felt it was being misapplied. Nor is this an isolated example, anyone who has the care of an ancient building can quote endless horror stories of dealings with EH's army of Gaulieters who seem to have only two criteria - to ratchet up the cost of any repair or restoration by adding at least three noughts to the actual cost, and to prevent you doing anything that might make the building usable or even more like it was originally. They hate the fact that buildings are used by ordinary people, especially they hate churches and congregations who might want to make their building a little more usable for modern liturgy.

As far as they are concerned "Heritage" means that it must now be kept in whatever state it is in today regardless of how unusable that makes it or how unusable it will make it in future. Nothing, nothing at all must be allowed to change. It is a given that as soion as they become involved you can forget normal costing and just think of silly numbers and keep adding noughts. English Heritage isn't going to pay for any of it and simply abuses its legal status to further the goals and agendas of it's army of footsoldiers and "advisers" - none of whom are in the least bit interested in helping the owner or custodian of any such building make it usable, or habitable. "Its listed" means forget the pratctical aspects and get used to living in a museum over which you have no control even though you must pay through the nose for the privilege.

I am a great believer in preserving our heritage - but I find the English Heritage stance on restoration obstructive and incomprehensible. The current mantra is "reversible" - in other words any repair must be identifiable as a repair and removable should the technology become available to "restore" whatever the original material was. Equally, this fetish for preserving the ghastly and the hideous and refusal to allow sensitive and loving restoration to an original form - because it isn't original - is garbage. When I visit the magnificently restored, in some cases rebuilt, heritage buildings on the continent and see the painstaking work that has been done to exactly copy the techniques, materials and methods of an earlier age in order to recreate something that has been lost, I can only marvel at the dedication and applaud the finished product. Yet English Heritage will not allow anyone to do the same here - they would rather see a building derelict than allow it to be repaired and restored.

Perhaps A N Wilson is right when he says "English Heritage marks the death of originality, progress and hope. It will kill of the future faster than Global warming." It is time, I think, to trim their powers and place a check on their ability to demand enormous expenditure when what is needed is sensible maintenance. Time, perhaps, to remove the right of veto from them and return them to their original status as advisers and managers of key sites. They are now stifling the use of the very buildings they are supposed to help protect.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Rogation Sunday

The wild weather of the last few days hit our usual plans for Rogation Sunday today and the intermittent downpours meant we had to be contenbt with indoor processions. Rogation Sunday is traditionally a time for remarking the bounds and praying for calls to ministry. Well, we may not have marked the boundaries, but we did pray for everyone considering a call to ministry at this time.

It has been a packed weekend all in all, with the Archdeacon's Visitation on Friday, the Diocesan Confirmation Service yesterday presided over by +John of Tewkesbury (Suffragan to the Bishop of Gloucester) and todays festivities.

And now, I must be off to Evensong. Wonderful worship and some really wonderful music to accompany it.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Moving on

Last night I formally handed over the position of Church Warden to my successor. The Archdeacon's "Visitation" saw several hundred other Church Wardens, PCC members and Sidesmen make their "Declaration" and receive the Archdeacon's Charge. Unfortunately for some as yet unknown reason, the sound system failed to make this audible to everyone present and I can only put this down to the user and operator.

The irony is that they didn't use the pulpit microphone, instead choosing to use the lapel microphone, which I suspect was clipped to his robes on the side away from the direction he addressed. If you aren't speaking more or less across the mike - it is hardly fair to blame the equipment. The second problem is that the pulpit has a different acoustic to the floor level. For one thing you are roughly ten feet above the congregation and most visitors try to "speak up' - causing the operator to lower the microphone volume, which means that the echo and the speakers fight each other. And that raises another problem - looking at the average age of those whoc complained they couldn't hear the Archdeacon, and where they were sat, I would suspect that many of them are having hearing difficulties and don't want to admit it. You learn to recognse the symptoms, that slight turning of the head so the 'good' ear is toward the speaker, the watching of the speakers lips, the lean toward the speaker and the slightly raised voice. Wish we could hand out some sort of personal earpiece as they came in ....

The battle to edumacate the users and operators continues....

The Charge apart, the service went very well indeed, superb music, some good singing and good hymns. It always fascinates me to watch a group like this in the Abbey, some are obviously intimidated by the space, some obviously love it, the evangelicals do their thing irrespective and the rest try to follow whichever tradition they think is expected in such services. OK, so that's a bit naughty, I should focus on the service and not the people.

Being Church Warden has been a bit of an education in many ways, some things I have enjoyed and some not. I don't enjoy playing the political games that some people seem to live for. It irritates me to have some individuals on any committee who have entirely their own agenda and try to run it against everyone else. Frequently, when they don't get their way, they adopt tactics intended to undermine everyone and everything they regard as standing in the way of their objectives. And sometimes it gets quite unpleasant. On the upside, having access to the Abbey's hidden spaces and having charge of its maintenance has been a huge privilege, one I will miss. As I will miss the ability to meet visitors and show them some of the little hidden things that bring the past and the builders to life.

But its time to move on, to find a new ministry I can exercise in this place. I can't believe the last four years have passed so swiftly. Tempus does indeed fugit .....

Friday, 15 May 2009

Out of touch ....

Our politicians really have lost the plot. Westminster is now stuffed with professional politicians and their civil service stooges to the extent that they simply have no contact at all with the reality of how their machinations, taxes and perks impact on the rest of us. That much has become very obvious as each day brings new revelations from the expenses.

The supreme irony must be that the laws these same MPs have made regarding tax and the rest of us preclude us from claiming anything even approaching most of what they can. I have the HM Revenue quibbling about a docket for a £6 burger lunch taken on a motorway, yet an MP can whip though a claim for several thousand for wining and dining without batting and eye. I suppose the reason I get grilled by HMRC is that someone has to pay for the MPs expenses and the Civil Servants enormous salaries and perks. Rural England has become the retirement camp for the ex-Permanent Under Secretaries and their chums from Whitehall, one of whom is currently pursuing a a village cricket club through the courts to get them banned from playing on a cricket pitch they have used for 164 years - because he feels the risk of a cricket ball hitting him in his garden is too high. Considering that the cricketers are paying his pension along with every other worthless civil servants salary, I'd say he has a bl**dy cheek. I hope the courts send him packing.

I am pleased to see that there is a move now starting with a pressure group in favour of low taxation, to bring private prosecutions against some of the higher profile abusers of the "expenses" system in Westminster. I applaud their effort, it will at least make our so-called elected representatives sit up and take notice. But what are the odds they will now try to rush through legislation to give themselves immunity from prosecution? Pretty good I would think.

There's an election coming up soon, for the EU Parliament, just as big a drain on rescources and an even bigger gravy train or pig trough. I'm contemplating voting UKIP at present, if only to send a signal to the mainstream politicians that I have had enough. Doubling the tax on my miserable pension is one thing, ripping the backend out of everything I earn in secret taxes on top of it is too much.

The last week has shown beyond any shadow of a doubt that Westminster is now out of touch and out of control. Worse, it is an expensive and dangerous irrelevance. Time to call stumps and kick them out - all of them.

Left brain: Right brain?

Brain Lateralization Test Results
Right Brain (42%) The right hemisphere is the visual, figurative, artistic, and intuitive side of the brain.
Left Brain (42%) The left hemisphere is the logical, articulate, assertive, and practical side of the brain
Are You Right or Left Brained?
personality tests by similarminds.com


Both equally.....

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Yes, Minister

Recently I got Mausi the complete "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" series, telling her that it explained the British Civil Service with Documentary accuracy. She has been watching it at home, treating herself to an episode per day and now tells me that it is not just the UK Civil Service but the German one as well.

Today she got an invitation from another Institute in her homeland inviting her to a seminar on "leadership in management" at which the principle speaker will be the very successful head of the BMW Corporation. Having studied the programme carefully she has decided it would be nice, but probably a waste of time. The problem is that she works in an organisation managed by Civil Servants...... The trouble is that she now daily sees the Sir Humphrey ethos at work in every department in which civil servants are located as "administrators" or "managers". To the frustration of the scientists who work there every request, every idea is met with obstruction and circular arguments to prevent anything happening which does not create more civil servants. It has to be a genetic defect in the human genome that produces these people.

Sir Humphrey's German equivalent is just as determined to prevent any change as their UK counterparts. Leadership is not something to be encouraged. Leaders may find themselves having to allow change or worse, to make decisions for which they could be held responsible and that clashes directly with the ethos of every civil servant.

Mausi assures me that she can now prove that Yes Minister is not fiction, it is a documentary and she now proposes to take it to the seminar and show it there so that she can explain why everyone is wasting their time devloping their leadership. In fact she suggests it should be compulsory viewing to anyone joining any organisation run by civil servants so that, from the start, they don't have any illusions about the aims and purposes of the Civil Service.

We have to find that civil servant gene and eradicate it or we are doomed!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Westminster exposed

Well I suppose we should be grateful to the Torygraph, though I doubt our Lords and Masters in Westminster are. At least we now have some idea of just how deep the trough we, the over taxed taxpayers, are shelling out to keep the Westminster mafia in the manner to which they have become accustomed. I think I'd mind a little less if I wasn't having to work so damned hard just to pay my own bills without having to contribute over 40% of my earnings in direct and indirect taxes to keep that lot in a style I cannot even dream of. And since most of them are professional politicians who have never done a days real work in their lives I think we have a right to take exception.

Its all very well for the Party Leaders to be apologising and making noises about "it won't happen again" and "the system must change". Its a bit late for that, the damage is done and the rules were written by them in the first place (Actually by the Civil Servants who screw everything up!) and there isn't likely to be any change now. Do turkeys vote for Christmas (Thanksgiving in the US)? Not likely, and Westminster and Whitehall are unlikely to make any changes to a system which maximises their wealth at the expense of everyone else unless there is a real threat of public lynchings and hanging them from lamp posts. And even then, you'd only get a change of face at the front row on both sides of the House.

The "Damage Limitation" machines are now in full swing in all Party HQs so watch this space. Methinks the fight is abouyt to get very dirty and very underhand. Any bets on their trying to nail someone for the leak?

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Publisher update

After a period of great uncertainty over the fate of my publisher, I am pleased to say that I have today spoken to the new owner and had the reassurance that all is in order, the company is afloat and will continue. In fact the book is selling, several more copies have gone to Amazon in the last few weeks and hopefully it will continue to sell steadily.

The link in my sidebar is still very much active and the book can be bought through it. I hope you'll enjoy it and the sequel which is now in an advanced stage.

New Titles to regrade .....

Gauteng is making itself respectable and it's our duty to help as far as we can. Therefore, job titles will be "upgraded" (as was approved in parliament) and we have to familiarize ourselves with these titles just in case some foreigner is listening when we are talking....

NEW JOB TITLES IN THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA in preparation for 2010!!!

Murderer : Population Stabilizer
Orphan : Independent Youngster
Beggar : Financial Gatherer
Cleaner : Hygiene Specialist
Rapist : Senior Practitioner in Sexual Practices
Gardener : Landscape Executive and Animal Nutritionist
House Maid : Family Environs Upkeep Manager
Messenger : Business Communications Conveyer
Window Cleaner : Transparent Wall Technician
Temporary Teacher :Associate Tutor
Tealady : Refreshment Overseer
Garbage Collector : Public Sanitation Technician
Watchman / security : Theft Prevention and Surveillance Officer or Wealth Distribution Prevention Officer
Prostitute : Practical Sexual Relations Officer
Thief : Wealth Distribution Officer
Driver : Automobile Propulsion Specialist
Maid : Domestic Operations Specialist
Employee without Portfolio : Administration Manager
Cook : Food Preparation Officer
Do Not Forget: Unemployed :Township Management
Gossiping :Research Management

Monday, 11 May 2009

Nothing is impossible for the one who has faith

Last Sunday Mausi's youngest niece, Emma, was confirmed in the Markuskirche.It was built in the early 20th century and the layout had to fit the site. It is basically a rectangular shape but the vaulting inside lets it appear almost circular. Originally it was fitted with a High Altar (in the true sense of the word) and wooden pews. The church took some bad hits during WW II and was extensively restored afterwards. The pews were replaced by more comfortable chairs and the original altar by a more simple altar table. As many other churches the Markuskirche is struggling because fewer and fewer people attend the services there. The chairs only fill half of its vast space. But for the confirmation it was packed with people. Families and friends of 33 candidates were quickly filling the place. Most of us had to sit on folding chairs.

Nevermind, the folding chairs turned out to be quite comfortable. And the service was certainly a very interesting one. It was conducted by the parish priest and a deacon, which is a lay person in Germany. Three of the confirmands from last year also took part in it reading psalms and prayers.

One of them was Emmas sister. One of Emma's godmothers is a musician and she and her husband played several duetts (mandolin and guitar) during the service which sounded in extremely well in the church.

During his sermon the priest touched on how the confirmands had prepared forthis day. In Germany Lutherans undergo up to two years of teaching and
preparation. During this the confirmands had to draw a line which represented their life. Then they had to write down their ups downs and comment on where God had been for them in those moments, rather close or far away. Quite an
interesting exercise.

Each confirmand chooses a saying with which he or she is admitted into the Lutheran community. The favourite one this year was obviously "Nichts ist unmöglich dem der glaubt" (nothing is impossible for the one who has faith).

The servide ended with taking communion. The confirmands were called forward in groups of six or sevens and the respective friends and families were invited to come forward as well. We would all form a circle and were given the host and wine. The priest tried to discourage people from taking the host and dipping it into the chalice, saying, that this was not the idea of
sharing a meal. But he was not very successful.

The music during the service was mostly modern including a piece called "Nada te turbe". It is a Spanish song from the 16th century with a fairly simple melody but a syncopated rhythm which as well as the Spanish words made it difficult for the congregation to sing. There was only one traditional church song in the beginning which Mausi recognised but the rest was completely unknown to her and performed not by the organ but by a young group of musicians playing piano, bass and percussions and a girl that sang. They were quite good but Mausi had some difficulties taking communion while jazz-like music was played. It somehow sounded a bit out of character but then Mausi's own confirmation was ages ago. The main thing was that the young confirmands liked the service and that it was an experience for them which they are not likely to forget that soon.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Evensong Sermon

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love us,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
Amen

Revelations 3 v 8; I know your deeds. See I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.

I confess that the Book of Revelations is not my favourite book in the whole biblical canon, it doesn’t even come anywhere close to being my choice of reading from scripture. It is a book that challenges, it is misquoted, abused and a favourite among every fundamentalist sect you care to name. It is here that you find all the most frightening images of heaven, of hell and of the last judgement. It is here that many of the New Age re-inventors of all kinds of strange religious and irreligious expression find encouragement and fuel for their sometimes alarming religious thinking. Frankly it’s the one book that could possibly make me agree on some issues with Richard Dawkins.

The Book of Revelation is often used by those who seek to denigrate Faith by portraying its imagery as being somehow the working of a deranged fanatic. A man of unbalanced mind probably high on some substance which would, in today’s society, be proscribed. But is this a fair assessment of it? Uncomfortable the book may be; but does that mean it is automatically either the province of the terminally fundamental, or something to be discarded and discounted? I suggest to you that we cannot discard or disregard it and neither can we leave it to the fundamentalists to abuse. We have to embrace it and discern its message for ourselves and our generation – and to do that requires a lot of listening to the Spirit and a willingness to grow in faith.

What is often not understood about the book is that it is in a long Jewish tradition of apocalyptic writing. It belongs in the same class of Old Testament scripture as Job, Daniel, Esther and several other books. The writer uses allegory to mask his condemnations aimed at the secular authorities of his day, a necessary device in a state where critics did not enjoy longevity. Even in our own society, much of William Shakespeare’s work and not a few others spanning the Tudor and Jacobean periods employed allegory to get their criticisms of the state and the government across to a wider public. In our age, used as we are to a much more direct approach, we often forget this and fail to look at what the allegory is really saying, for very few can be literally interpreted. Even in the time of the Council of Nicea, there was doubt as to the authenticity of this book and it was included in the New Testament Canon only because the very aged St Boniface attested that his teacher, who had been a pupil of a disciple of John himself, had spoken of his teacher having been among those who wrote what the then dying John dictated.

Yet, when we look past the allegory and the grim imagery, we find that, as in so much of scripture there is a really important message waiting to be seen. Certainly in the letters to the seven churches of the Revelation that is very much the case. My text is taken from the letter to the sixth church and each letter has a different story to tell. Philadelphia, modern Alacehir in Turkey, is not one of the wealthy congregations, nor one of the most influential or authoritive, yet they are praised for their faithfulness. By contrast, the wealthy church at Sardis is damned for its apathy and complacency.

Which are we? I look around me at a magnificent building, one famed for its music, its liturgy and its beauty, but do we show the kind of faith which the congregation of Philadelphia obviously held? Are we complacent in our faith, or do we strive to grow, to try new ideas, accept new visions and new understanding – or coast along nice and gently without seeking any excitement to spice up our spiritual life?

When I look back at my own spiritual journey – as I have had to do in recent weeks as I prepare for the Selection Conference and undergo some pretty intense and rigorous interviews with my Spiritual Director, Bishop John and the DDO – I find that there have been numerous points along the road where I have been coasting, just going with the flow. There have been times when I have refused to confront my own prejudices and accept that there may be valid reasons to make changes. Some of you may well recall that, not that many years ago, I would have been among those very reluctant to even attend a Mass celebrated by a woman in Orders – yet this week I served at a Mass celebrated with Bishop Mary. Does this mean my faith is alive and someone else’s isn’t? Emphatically no – it simply means that I have found the Holy Spirit moving me and pointing things out to me that someone else may not yet have encountered. I am still in as much danger of falling into complacency as anyone else, or worse, of becoming so self-righteous that I fail to help someone else find their way into spiritual growth.

Complacency and pride were the great sins of Sardis, complacency that they had received the Word and needed to do no more than meet for worship, argue their understanding of their faith among themselves and ignore everything and everyone else. No wonder John writes;

“You have a reputation for being alive; but you are dead!”

To the Christians of Sardis this must have come as a shock – how could he praise Philadelphia – so much poorer, so simple in their worship, so inadequate that they couldn’t afford to build a grand church in which to meet. Not long ago we heard in our lection the reading of the King who divided his wealth between three slaves giving a hefty sum to one, a goodly chunk to another and a good slice to the third. The first two put the wealth to work and made even more of it; the third sat back and didn’t even try to use it. This is very much the image that springs to mind when reading the letters to the churches; and in particular those to the wealthier churches who seem reluctant to use their resources effectively and beneficially for the whole church and not just for themselves.

Complacency is a major enemy in everyone’s faith. The call is for us all to strive for the gospel. Each of us has a gift or set of gifts with which to work and we are all expected to put them to work for the Lord and for the Church – and by the Church, I do mean the whole community of God, not just this building or this congregation, but the whole of God’s Christian Church in the world. We must all become soldiers of Christ and do our bit to bring the gospel to all the nations. It is a terrible indictment of our Church and our faith that all my Muslim students at the Fire College have a deeper knowledge of the Bible and of the Gospels than the majority of my supposedly Christian colleagues. We have become complacent, we have sat back and done nothing to promote biblical understanding or study and left that most precious resource to the fundamentalist movements to use and abuse. What would St John write to us?

But, there is more in these messages to the Churches, for we have, as Bishop Mary reminded us on Wednesday evening, to learn to listen effectively. We have to hear what is being said to us and not be selective in that hearing. Sometimes that means having to hear what we do not want to hear because it makes us go where we do not want to go, or opens memories and fears we do not want to face. That is something I have to struggle with on occasion, some of the things in my childhood were painful and have left a mark, many things in the twenty years I served actively in the South African Fire Service left scars. But sometimes I have to confront those things and hear what they teach when dealing with new situations or confronting the need to grow and change or to shed dearly held and comfortable precepts so that I can make room for something new. I am not alone in this, we all have things which make us uncomfortable or uneasy and we all have different ways of dealing with it. St John of the Revelation tells us that we cannot swim with the tide all the time; that sometimes we have to confront our comfortable selves and deal with the uncomfortable. It is not an option; it is a condition of faith.

Recently I have read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s little book, Silence and Honeycakes. It looks at what the so-called Desert Fathers have to say about our society and our lifestyles. To a modern reader some of these men are decidedly odd, some eccentric and others possibly paranoid. They have widely different approaches to their spiritual growth and most admit to “running away” from the world. But the key question then becomes, what were they running too? If I run away from something, where do I go? Where do I hide? As children, we run to our parents when we are hurt, afraid or threatened. As an adult that is no longer an option, so the question remains, if I run away, where do I run too? Or more importantly, who do I run toward?

In his gospel account St Matthew gives us an answer to that:

“Come unto me all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”

The Book of Revelation looks forward to the Coming of the Kingdom and John is determined that those he has taught and brought to faith in Christ will be prepared. We cannot now interpret this book without looking carefully at the situation its original readers faced. It seems likely that it was written soon after the Roman sack of Israel and the destruction of the Temple, much of its imagery reflects this, yet it remains fresh and pertinent to ourselves, since it speaks graphically of the dangers of arrogance and complacency. Each of the “seven letters” is in fact an introduction to different sections of the book. Clearly some of the churches were struggling with persecution while others weren’t. Clearly the struggling churches seem to have built a stronger faith than those not being persecuted and there is certainly a lesson there for us. It can be no accident that the strongest faith today is often found where there is the greatest adversity and where Christians often experience persecution for practicing their faith.

A joke sent me by a friend sums up some of the complacency in our society rather nicely. It tells of three men enjoying a drink in their local. They spot a man with an annoyingly familiar look sitting alone at the other end of the bar and spend some time trying to identify him. Is he a celebrity slumming it? A football star? A cricketer perhaps? Eventually one, an Irishman, says, I think it’s Jay-sus. The others argue for a bit but the barman confirms it, so they club together and send him three pints, a Guiness, a Fosters and a pint of Bitter. He smiles and accepts their gifts, drinks them and comes over, shaking hands with the Irishman he thanks him for his Guiness and the Irishman exclaims in delight that his arthritis is cured. Next he shakes hands with the Australian and that man is cured of his bad back – but the third man refuses to shake hands saying – “Back off mate! I’d lose my disability benefit!”

If we are not to receive the letter that went to Sardis, perhaps we need to consider, are we content to nurse our disability and preserve our benefit – or do we seek the healing that comes with growing in the spirit and accepting that, while we may lose something, we stand to gain infinitely more? Let us pray for the courage to recognise our complacency and dismiss it. Let us pray for the courage to challenge our comfortable certainties and explore the uncertainties. Let us pray for the gift to hear what others say and the listen when God speaks and finally, for the courage to follow where he leads us, to surrender our own hopes, fears and comforts and walk with him in the uncomfortable places we all strive to avoid.

Let us hope that our letter begins:

“I know your deeds; see I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.”

Busy Sunday

I am just preparing myself to get down to the Abbey. This morning I am Liturgical Deacon for the first two Masses of the day and tonight I am the preacher for Evensong. But it's a beautiful day out and there can't be a much better way to spend it than to do so in worship and with friends.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Making a commitment

Today Mausi is off to Hannover to attend the Confirmation Service at which her youngest niece is being confirmed in the Lutheran Church. Emma is a serious young lady who has had a rough ride lately and I hope that this step helps her along the way.

Confirmation is a serious step and, as I have learned recently, the Lutheran Church prepares its candidates very thoroughly indeed for it. Nor is it a case of classes leading to confirmation and then dropping off the edge - now you're in and that's that - but there are ongoing classes for the period immediately post the service. Each candidate is called upon to make a public declaration and sometimes even to make a short speech or statement about the things they found most helpful or stimulating during the preparation classes.

I hope that you will join me in bidding Emma welcome into the full communion of the church everywhere.

Yesterday's tests....

Well, I have been scanned and the lady doing the work assures me that there is no evidence of a DVT in my leg. So that means its all down to valves in the veins wearing out. Now I wait to hear what treatment the specialist plans to recommend.....

Thanks for all the prayers and thoughts.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Hospital visits ....

OK, I'll confess, I don't like hospitals. I don't like visiting them and I don't like being in them, possibly a little strange since a great deal of my early career was spent fetching people too and from them. But then I have also spent a fair bit of time in them as a patient for one reason or another, not something I have particularly enjoyed - and that is not a criticism of the treatment I got or the staff.

In fact, I'm not sure why I don't like them, I just feel very uneasy and uncomfortable inside most of them. It could have something to do with the fact that I don't particularly like having to spend time surrounded by other sick people when I'm sick and the NHS seems to specialise these days in crowding as many people as they can into small badly ventilated waiting rooms. Presumably its good for business - it probably helps to keep infection rates high.

Anyway, this morning I have to go and spend a couple of hours in the Cheltenham General. They want to do an ultrasound scan of my legs so they can figure out what is causing my varicose veins to be so bad. I have a pretty good idea - and I don't like the prospect of having it confirmed. Your prayers please.

I'll keep you posted .....

Thursday, 7 May 2009

An evening with the Bishops ....

Last night was spent at the Abbey with our Diocesan and Bishop Mary of El Camino Real. In a wonderful Eucharist Bishop Mary Presided at the High Altar and over a hundred people crowded into the Quire to share in this important celebration. Now, I have to confess that I had some severe reservation about woman Bishops and about the impact on the wider Christian community, but I will say this, if the women who become bishops in the next few years are in the model of +Mary, the Church will be the richer for it.

The press has made much of the controversy within the American branch of the Anglican Communion and talked up the opposition from Africa and the Archbishop of Sydney among others, but it is noticeable that they make no mention of the good work and the growth that is occuring in the US. While I suspect that many will still have difficulty with the concept of women in Orders, it is worth noting that the role of women as we have had it has more to do with the strife between the Gnostic philosophy and the Trinitarian understanding of the Apostles. In fact, there is a strong suggestion that women were in ordained roles including the bishopric, in the first three centuries.

I'm pretty sure that this debate is far from over, and even that I am likely to encounter someone in the bishopric who will raise serious doubts in my mind and possibly even give my faith a serious challenge. But I hope that will be the exception.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Pictures at an exhibition .....

Mausi can always be relied on to produce top quality pictures when we visit places and her pictures at Chatham are a case in point. She captured several on HMS Gannet that give a really good feel for what the ship is like. My little Fuji Finepix camera does a reasonable job, but doesn't have the capability of Mausi's much more sophisticated rig. It doesn't have an operator with the skill or the eye for a great shot either!

This picture, taken from the Quarterdeck, nicely shows the whole length of the ship. The raised
 bulwarks are pierced for small guns and topped with the hammock 'nettings' in which the crew were required to stow their hammocks during the day. These also provided some protection under fire for the deck crew from small ar
ms fire and splinters from shells.

Travelling with my Iranian students and friends gave plenty of opportnities for some fun pictures and Nasir wanted this picture with a 'knight' at Chepstow Castle. 
The arrow is from a longbow and the 'knight' is using a sword, having just demonstrated that it could be used in a number of creatively different ways to maim, kill or simply injure an opponent. 

The enthusiasm with which these guys threw themselves into every new experience was hugely amusing and very, very worthwhile.

Everything was photographed by them, camera phone, pocket camera and, of course, Mausi's lens caught a lot of the fun.

The top of the Abbey tower proved to be a perfect opportunity for lots of pictures of the surrounding town and of each other. Hard work answering all the questions and keeping up with all the excitement as they explored.










But, for me, the best time was being with Mausi as we explored some of our favourite things and places.  
Like this unusual shot across the transepts which captures the top of the Grove organ and looks across at the Milton. Not a view that many people can get to see, but one we both enjoyed.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Pandemics.....

The news at the moment is full of the Swine 'flu epidemic, though, from the numbers being published, "epidemic" is perhaps an abuse of the word. But that doesn't mean it won't become one. The great danger is of course in direct contact, person to person, or in being in close proximity to someone 'sharing' the virus with everyone else in close proximity. The closure of several schools in London is ample proof of the risk posed by children transferring the virus to their school chums.

But this is also where our current campaign by politicians and greenies is setting us up for the best possible transfer of the virus and its spread. Yes, I am having a go at the campaign to drive us all into mass transport systems and out of our cars. The buses are probably marginally better ventilated and therefore less infectious than the trains, which also tend to carry larger numbers and be more crowded. But London's Underground system has to be the most efficient environment for the transmission of Tuberculosis, Influenza and a wide range of other airborne bugs and diseases. I am reminded of this every time I have to travel on that system surrounded by coughing, sneezing or spitting fellow travellers. If you wanted to create a system guaranteed to promote a pandemic, packing the maximum number of people into a small poorly ventilated and poorly cleaned carriage in a tunnel ventilated by the movement of the train itself and you have it.

Looking back at the 18th and 19th Century living conditions in the UK, one is immediately struck by the fact that diseases tended to become epidemics very rapidly - because too many people shared too small a space in their homes, in the filthy streets and without proper sanitation. Even into the 20th Century tuberculosis was a major killer for the same reasons - and now it has made a strong return, and mass transport systems guarantee its spread. Someone actually needs to look carefully at this and, while I agree that 'public' transport is probably the only way to move the numbers of people we must in our cities, perhaps another strategy is needed to deal with the infection risks it brings.

But don't hold your breath, I can hear the civil servants already lining up to tell the relevant Ministers that it will cost too much and that it will annoy the Green Lobby or derail the Green Policy if they change anything. And frankly, the Ministers responsible, career politicians to a man and woman, haven't a clue anyway.

So let the pandemic roll, the government is all geared up to protect themselves and the rest of us can get sick. Some of my readers may recall a Treasury statement some years ago which argued that it was cheaper to kill people in fire than to rescue them and treat their injuries. They are a little more devious about it now, but the recent disclosure that they have spent millions on 'window dressing' for trying to show the emergency services can "mass decontaminate" thousands in a dirty bomb event is a case in point. The best defence against the spread of disease is prevention, but we are seeing precious little of that so far. In the meantime the lack of joined up thinking in Whitehall will allow the virus to spread rapidly through the transport system.

Makes me glad I don't have to use it anymore.  

Monday, 4 May 2009

To see ourselves as others see us ...

Earlier today I rang a friend in South Africa who is waiting to go into hospital for cranial surgery - again. We talked for quite a while - my telephone provider will be rubbing their hands in glee - and did quite a bit of catching up. Among many other things we discussed a few things from our childhood and here I had better explain that she came from the "upper crust" end of town and I came from very much the other end. We reminisced about our parents and some of the things we did as kids, very much centred on the Yacht Club our parents belonged too. Mine ran the Rescue Boat, hers owned and sailed yachts. The picture below is of me at the time of this story.


To my surprise she ventured that her father had always had a very high opinion of me even though he didn't approve of my parents. That left me a little nonplussed as I had never realised this and I asked why he would have had that view. She reminded me of an incident that had occured when I was around twelve. Her father's boat had capsized in a dangerous position. The Rescue Boat was already engaged in retrieving another boat and crew and so could not respond immediately. Her father's crew was a man with a disablity and, weighed down by a windcheater that had filled with water and couldn't be removed he couldn't clamber back into the boat, instead, he had swum to the short breakwater where he had managed to get a grip on a jutting piece of metal and hung on for his life.

As she talked I recalled the incident. No I didn't jump into the water and perform a brave rescue, I ran instead to fetch a life bouy and line, and then scrambled back over the foundation blocks of the breakwater to where I could throw this out to him. He grabbed it, got it under his arms, and managed to stay afloat. It was at this point that the Rescue Boat arrived and my parents retrieved him and the bouy - my attempt to pull him round to the blocks I was on had failed - and apparently it was thought that I had saved his life.

Now the funny thing about this is that I can recall the incident, I can even recall that there were a lot of boats in trouble that day which was why I hadn't been allowed to crew for one of them. I don't have any memory of anyone actually saying anything to me about my actions, though I recall my mother ticking me off for having gone onto the broken blocks along the base of the breakwater - something she considered very dangerous. Looking back I think it might have been nice if someone had actually said, "Well done."

Never mind, I seem to have made a career of dealing with other people's emergencies, so I guess it must have been in my blood anyway.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

In the Brown stuff?

With a Cabinet Minister now breaking ranks and suggesting our PM isn't the all seeing, all knowing saviour his propaganda machine has spent all these Nu Labour years telling us he is one does wonder how they got away with it this long. Interestingly now the Online newsletter, Standpoint Online, carries an article by Nick Cohen. As someone who has an "inside" view of the media and the media people around Gordon Brown and the No 10 Propaganda machine what he reveals isn't pretty.

The tragedy as I see it is that those in the media who should have opened this particular dirty washing bag several years ago, didn't. I can only think that they didn't because they felt that anything which keeps this socialist regime in power is legitimate, a view that Gordon Brown and his gang of propaganda thugs obviously subscribe too. The simple truth is that the media is now run by and staffed by socialist propagandists who simply cannot bring themselves to admit that socialism is wrong headed and benefits only those who can finagle their way into positions of power inside the civil service or in any of the plethora of 'elected' jobs for the boys and party apparatchiks socialists always create.

All I can say is thank God for the likes of Guido Fawkes who blew the lid off this dirty government and exposed their sycophants in the mainstream media. It is fascinating to see just how desperately the news media are working to bolster up this vicious bunch and keep these socialist Fascists in power. Frankly, its disgraceful.

And, in case you wonder how I can describe Socialists as Fascists I would say that you need only to look at the manner in which this government has behaved in a dictatorial fashion, imposed ideological correctness, stifled debate and used propaganda to create a false and misleading picture of their opponents and you will get my drift. Neither should anyone forget that National Socialism is not somewhere on the extreme Right of politics - the political spectrum is a circle. Go far enough in either direction and you end up on the other side. That is what our present government has succeeded in doing.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Quoting Marx

Some time ago and on my old blog I posted a "quote" supposedly from Marx. Needless to say I soon had a very superior commenter pointing out that the quote is in fact not from Das Kapital at all. He helpfully supplied several links (One of which no longer works) to support his rather aggressively put case. Fine, I don't mind being corrected on matters of fact, but I have now spent some time going over my references from a Public Administration degree course and find that there are a number of things in similar vein that Marx did say, though not quite as clearly as the "quotation" I posted.

There is a very good exposition on this and the possible origins of the "quotation" on The John Birch Society blog. I suggest it is worth a read, particularly as it makes some interesting points in regard to the present banking crisis and the origins of the drive to get banks to take on the so-called "toxic debts".

Capitalism isn't a perfect system, it never was and it probably never will be, but from what I have observed in former communist states I have visited and from what I can see happening around me in Socialist Britain, I can say that I prefer it to the centrally planned, centrally controlled and centrally allocated system that pertains in the so-called "workers paradise" of a communist or socialist state. One has only to look at the destruction of the Aral Sea by the Communist Planners who diverted the rivers feeding it to create an irrigation scheme to create agricultural land - land now poisoned by the salts irrigation has leeched from the soil - to see one of the evils this system brings. Desk wallahs sat in a remote Capital and dancing to the tune of the ignoramuses that make up the political profession these days are not and never will be the best people to decide how best to conserve, use or improve the natural order. As for their ability to produce a "fair" or "just" society, forget it.

Marx and his fellow "socialist" thinkers missed an important point as my lecturers were at pains to point out. Put simply, they worked from the premise that society was a "fixed" structure, that the "worker" would always be a "worker" and that "wealth" could not, in ordinary circumstances, trickle down to them without some direct intervention. Hence the socialist taste for "Tax and Spend", except that anyone with half a brain can tell you that some 60% of any "budget" to operate anything, is absorbed in wages, salaries and perks. And this is as true of any bureaucracy created by socialist ideologues as it is of anything else and, as the bureaucracy grows, it absorbs more and more of the "wealth" it is supposed to "redistribute". Marx failed to notice that the hardest workers soon reaped the reward and managed to rise above their fellows.

My principle objection to any and all forms of socialism is that, as a system, it promotes the mediocre, rewards the lazy and robs the hardworking of their just reward in order to pay for it. In addition, "Socialism" in all its guises, has been the root of every major conflict of the 20th Century and will undoubtedly be the cause of the collapse of Western Society in the end. As the post I referred to earlier points out, President Obama rode to power on the back of an organisation which campaigned for and got an Act which imposed on banks the requirement to lend money to sections of the American society who would not or were unlikely to be able, to pay them back. Now that it has caused a major crisis he and his supporters want to blame the banks for doing what the politicians demanded they do. That is typical of socialist politicians - the UK Labour Party is a prime example of it.

Socialism is, at the most basic level, about teaching people to regard anyone better off or harder working and better rewarded, with envy. It is about teaching us to covet one another's wealth, prosperity and well-being in order that those who orchestrate it can ensconce themselves in power and syphon off as much of our wealth as they can get away with for themselves while pretending to redistribute it more "fairly".

I have said it before and I'll repeat it here again: You cannot be Socialist and Christian. The very principle of regarding someone else's wealth or possessions as "unfair" breaks the 10th Commandment and its practice involves breaking the 9th. Perhaps that is why most Socialists in Britain and elsewhere are so vehemently anti-Christian.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Struggling at the moment to get my head around course design and course materials for a short course I have to give in Ireland next month. Its a bit like clutching at ephemera, just as you think you have it sorted someting else moves and you've lost the thread. Part of the problem is that this is for a mixed group - some fire officers, some consultants and some civil engineer/fire officers. Now you may think that should make it easy, but in fact it complicates things no end. For some I'll have to explain the concepts and for others some of the explanations will be too simplistic .....

As it's a "bespoke" course, the other challenge is to find support notes and materials which will give the content I have to deliver without having to write it all myself. All of this takes up an enormous amount of time - in fact it is often said that to prepare an hours lesson takes four hours of preparation. Well try the maths to work out how much time is absorbed by trying to put together 35 hours of tuition.

No wonder my head hurts. And I already know the "preparation" time isn't built into the fee .....

Sigh.