Monday, 3 September 2018

The acceptable type of racism

“I am not against black people at all, but I do want retain my right to freely criticise all African states and their practices.”

“I am not against black people but I question the right of African nations to exist.”

“Well, we cannot believe anything the main stream media says at is completely controlled by the blacks.”

“I know there are a few racists on the left, but what about the Islamophobes in the Tory party?”

“Black people, with their desire to maintain their black identity, are not really British.”

“No, it is not a racist picture.  It is a satirical comment on the powers that control society, and just shows black gangs as an artistic medium.”

“I am not a racist but it is sometimes important to share a platform with racists, in order to move the discussion on.”

“I am going to boycott all black countries because they defy United Nation guidelines.  I am ok with Russia, the USA, the UK, China, and most Arab countries doing this though.  I don’t think boycotting will make a difference with them.”

“Have you ever noticed that Africans have no sense of humour or irony?”

I hope you are rather outraged by these statements.  They are outrageous.  But take out “black”, “African” and “racist”, and substitute “Jew” “Israeli” and “anti-Semite” and suddenly it seems to be acceptable to most people.  I think this is a problem.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Boris Johnson - carefully chosen offence

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the difficulties of whether or not to ban the burqa, and the conflicts such bans cause.  This week, following a court case in Denmark, Boris Johnson, former Foreign Secretary, wrote an article for the Telegraph in which he said women in burqas looked like "letter-boxes" or "bank-robbers" while still arguing against a ban. 

Naturally, these words have caused offence, and, indeed they are offensive.  But Johnson has been clever here.  They are in an article which attacks the ban, so he cannot be accused of outright hostility to Muslims.  They are offensive, but worded in such a way that, when criticised, he can play the "I meant it light-heartedly, and should not be shut down when I have said what most people agree with" card.  Johnson is a talented write and chose his words carefully.

Everything about Johnson is his career.  When Mayor of London, he acted as a nicer kind of Tory, being soft on social issues, pro-multiculturalism and friendly to Europe.  When a career enhancing chance came up with the EU Referendum, he abandoned this, and started sounding much more right wing, and headed up the Brexit camp.  Now he moves further to the right and portrays himself as the buffoonish champion of the ordinary man, a victim of metropolitan outrage.  He is the man standing by to rush in and rescue the country from a poorly executed Brexit, and ready to make Britain again.

These are clever tactics, and have a Bannonesque whiff about them.  If he is expelled from the Tory party, he will be a martyr, and might head off to set up a new populist party on the right, or revitalise UKIP.  Either way, his remarks were not ill-chosen words, but carefully judged.  Whatever happens in the next few days, this man will play a large part in UK politics for some time to come - and whether the nation profits from that or not, he certainly will.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Five Handshakes Away from Beethoven

A colleague at work retired recently, so yesterday we had the usual lunch out to bid him farewell.  As he left, he shook my hand (I then horrified him by hugging him, even though we are both English) and informed me I was five handshakes away from Beethoven.

My colleague was good friends with Felix Aprahamian (1914-2005) a music critic who lived up the road from him.  He often used to take Felix to concerts.

Felix Aprahamian travelled to Paris as a young man, and met Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937), the well-known organist and composer (his Toccata is very well-known and is often played at weddings).

Widor knew Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868), the famous composer, and Rossini met Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) in 1822.

So, next time you see me, shake hands, and you will be six handshakes from Beethoven.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

The best five (or 6) Eurovision songs

Here are my top five Eurovision songs:

5.  J'aime la vie - the 13 year old Sandra Kim sang this song for Belgium in 1983 and it won.  

4.  Making your mind up - Bucks Fizz sang this winner for the UK in 1981.  

3.  Rise like a Phoenix - Conchita Wurst with the winner for Austria in 2014.  This bearded lady sings a song that should be the theme for a James Bond film.  

2.  Amor Pelos Dios - Salvador Sobral wins for Portugal in 2017.  A Fado song, very different from the usual Eurovision fare.  

1.  Waterloo - Abba win for Sweden in 1974.  Probably the most famous winner, and the winners to have gone on to the greatest fame.  

Special mention must be made of Love, Love, Peace, Peace, a song that sums perfectly the Eurovision spirit:  

Monday, 2 April 2018

Dear Herod - Thursday 29th March

Dear Herod,

What a tiresome day!  I spent the day on high tension about the benchmarking report due at work.  I always feel the burden of such things very keenly.  I think the courses at work are largely taught well, with good teachers, are well planned, and that students get a good deal.  But the deal with these inspections is always in the admin.  Again, I think the administration at work is run fairly well, but that is not what inspectors are looking at.  What they want to see is that you can produce documents to show you understand what they are looking for.  And if I can't, I am at fault, and my careless interpretation of inspectionese could endanger my workplace.

The promised report was due today.  I sent an email checking all was in progress, and was promised it by the close of play (a hated term).  I was planning to finish at 3am, as I had worked quite early during the week, and was quite a bit over my hours.  It would be nice to go home early before the long break, and rest before setting off to a Maundy Thursday Supper.

It was not to be.  The report came at 17.45pm.  I was tired and hungry, and needed to click through the document (51 pages) before sending it on.  I arrived home feeling tired and frustrated.  Plus I had to cook an unexpected meal, being too late to go to the planned supper.  A little Bach soothed me, but the trials of the day, with having to deal with the social media battle for the left, the reports on the Brexit Calamity due one year on today, and I felt quite off-sorts.  Not a good start to a difficult weekend.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Book Review 2062 - The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

2013 English
Purchased: Kindle 2017
Read: 14th February to 1st March 2018

I loved this book, as I have loved Tartt's other novels.  Like them, it was long (I think the print edition has nearly 800 pages).  It took me a long time to read as I have not read so much in the last weeks.

The Goldfinch is a picture by an old Dutch Master, on display in a New York gallery.  Theo Decker visits the gallery with his mother, and a bomb goes off.  For some reason he decided to save the picture, keeping it in his rucksack, and then not knowing what to do with it.  He lives with a family that take him in until his indifferent father turns up and takes him off to a housing development on the edge of Las Vegas, where he befriends Boris.  Later, he moves back to New York, living with a friendly auction dealer.

There is enormous human detail here.  Tartt meticulously researches for writing, yet does not parade her knowledge.  There is time to get into the characters which makes them more human.  Theo is drawn with a sympathetic pen, and I found he thinks like I do in many situations.  The plot unhatches slowly and does not dominate the book.  It would make a splendid serial for Netflix, with a slow burn style.

I won't reveal the ending - it was mainly satisfactory.  I cared very much about Theo and what happened to him.  Boris is an unsympathetic but likeable hero.  Hobie is a wonderfully English character from an earlier period.  It is worth reading this - it is a long read, but not a difficult one.

Dear Herod - Wednesday 28th March

Dear Herod,

I finished off an important article today which is good.  I can now concentrate on some other things, and getting some genealogy stuff done.  I spoke to Mother who is improving greatly, which I am relieved about.  She even claimed she is eating more, although I will believe that when I see it.  I reminded her that I had cooked several meals for the freezer, and she declared her intention to take a macaroni cheese out for dinner.

I finally wrote my book review for the Goldfinch.  I am nearly ready to write another review.  I am reading too purposefully lately, and need to read more fiction.  I am very much enjoying Pope Hadrian VII, and then next up is Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which I dread.  I must try to get through it, but feel not in the least disposed to read it, especially after a recent dramatisation on Radio 4.  I will read a quarter of it, and then assess if I should carry on.

The guy from Flat 4 is enraged because a local transmitter is down meaning there is no BBC4.  He asked me if I had had any problems, and was incredulous when I confessed I only watch TV via the fire stick, so had not noticed it.  He would have been even more incredulous if I had told him that I don't think I have seen anything at all from BBC4 this year.  That said, I have been devouring Civilisations but that is a BBC2 programme.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Dear Herod - Tuesday 27th March

Dear Herod,

A peculiar coincidence happened on the way home today. I had visited Tesco for the purpose of garnering victuals, and, having crossed the main road, was proceeding homewards, when I thought I heard my name being called out. Immediately embarrassed, I put my head down to continue, and listen out for another call, which I would respond to. After all, I might have misheard, it might have been for another Nigel, it would be embarrassing to turn around and have everyone look at me and know my name.

But no, the call came again, and it was someone on the other side of the road. I peered across, and recognised Tenor Rep from the Chorus I used to sign with. I signalled to her that I would cross the road to speak to her, and hurried to the crossing just ahead. It turns out she moved in just around the corner (quite literally) in October. The marvvel is that we have not bumped into one another before. It was nice to see her; she is a friendly character. She has not sung with the Chorus for a few months, as she had fallen over and hurt her leg (and, indeed was still using a stick). I do miss singing with them - they have rebranded and seem to be back on track, but the fees are very expensive now (£324 a year) and I was put off by the prospect of doing drama which happened last time I was there. I do miss singing very much, and it was a friendly bunch. I might give it some thought, and give some thought to finding a classical choir to sing with, as it has been a while since I sang some classical items, and I miss it much. We don't get to sing that often at church any more, as we are too few.

I started watching a Netflix series called Magnificent Century (Muhteşem Yüzyıl), a Turkish series about Suleyman the Magnificent. My knowledge of Turkish history is limited to its interactions with European History, notably Mehmet II and the capture of Constantinople, and the decline of the nineteenth century. It is good to learn something more, and it is a gripping drama, and, being produced in Turkey which is a little more conservative, it is not a flesh-fest, focussing on the drama, rather than perked up sex scene, or gore.  I need to find a good book about the Ottoman Empire.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Dear Herod - Monday 26th March

Dear Herod,

Monday was the first day of the vacation at work, but there is a three day conference for an outside group.  This meant there were a lot of people milling around, and this would normally vex me as I like the quietness of the vacation after a busy term, and I am always busy at the end of term.  However, the visitors were a particularly agreeable bunch, and were little trouble.  It made the day go quickly too.

After work, I headed off to church, to meet Church Manager and talk about the storage of music.  There is a LOT of music in a lot of different places.  But I love to organise (despite my own lack of organisation) and a bit of consultation and moving things around, and things are definitely on the go.  As an award for coming in and doing it, I was treated to a pint at the pub opposite.  Two pub trips in one week, shocking! - still it is Holy Week.after all, and I am a non-conformist.  It was a most agreeable time - the first time we had really spoken and it was good to connect and muse on things over beer.  Perhaps I need to make sure more pub trips happen.

I was rather pensive in the evening.  After the conversation with Sister 3 last night, I was thinking about all my books at mum's.  They are going to have to go - I had hoped I would be able to bring them down to London, but I will never be able to live somewhere with a room for books.  I will have to sort them out - I am thinking of taking one box to fill with special treasures, but it is going to be really hard.  My beloved Penguin Classics, all my uni books, childhood books.  It will help me not to be attached to possessions I guess, so I shall try to be all noble and sacrificial about it.  I think I find harder the fact that I just afford to get by.  I shall never live in a house, or even a one bed flat.  I am content with what I have, but it is a pity there is no room for books.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Dear Herod - Sunday 25th March

Dear Herod,

I had a bad night last night.  I always do when I drink beer, and I always forget this.  If I drink wine, I sleep well, but beer might as well be packed with caffeine.  I therefore felt tired and rather sombre this morning.  It is Palm Sunday, so joy would be required at church, together with joyful songs.  I was not in the mood, so stayed in and read a sermon and thought a lot.  Being sombre is good for me, as I always feel like writing, so I sat down in the afternoon and got on with some more writing.  The research I banked up has proved useful, so I got quite a lot done, and have nearly reached my April deadline.  I shall then be able to spend all the lovely spring days at my leisure, and go for lots of walks, and get lots of vitamin D and lose weight.

I read a very interesting paper this afternoon on the Thirty Years War.  I need to get to grips with this period a bit more, and I now have some useful pointers.  It took the approach that religious fervour was the cloak for good old-fashioned land greed and jostling for influence.  I need to think about that a bit more, but I like the conclusion.

I cooked orzo tonight and made salad.  It was very good.  I was supposed to cook enough to take some to work for lunch tomorrow, but forgot, and then was hungry anyway.  This is tiresome.  I need to be more organised on the domestic front, and need to purge my place a bit.  I have not used the Instant Pot in ages, and wonder if I should pass it on.  Sigh.

Distressed email received today.  Not in the mood to reply.  Perhaps on Tuesday evening.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Dear Herod - Saturday 24th March

Dear Herod,

I was curious to find, in my "tweets you may have missed" timeline, a tweet from a friend referring to the royal family as the "House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha".  I have noticed that this is often used by people criticizing the royals.  I know of someone else who always refers to the Queen as Mrs Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg.  I feel uncomfortable with this.  I am reminded of Zac Goldsmith's mayoral campaign against Sadiq Khan, making much of his Islamic faith, and targeting Hindu voters with with leaflets about him.  It was nothing less than dogwhistle racism, and I fear this is true of my friend's tweet.  It got me thinking more about whether monarchy is or is good, which is a confusing issue for me.

In the afternoon, I went up to the city for a pint (three and a half, shockingly) with Welsh Pal.  I was surprised how full the tube was - it was a Charing Cross branch train, but, unusually, I sat at the front.  Perhaps it is always like that at the front.  There were people standing from Kentish Town onwards.  Maybe it is like this at 2pm on a Saturday.  It was a very good afternoon, with an easy chat ranging over all manner of subjects.  It is good to talk with someone who is moderate, informed, yet passionate and reasonable.  I particularly admired his position on Israel and Palestine.  I am frequently surrounded by people who have a less than helpful view in either direction on that question.  The raging anti-semitism of Momentum which is infecting the Labour party, the raging anti-Israeli sentiment in my church, and the overwhelmingly pro-Israel dispensationalism of the broader church are all guaranteed to continue the hatred.  As the Good Friday agreement starts being unpicked in preparation for Brexit, I am reminded that its commonsense approach, bringing together both sides, has delivered peace for a long time in Northern Ireland.  The Middle East needs a Good Friday agreement (although such a nomenclature would surely be most inappropriate).

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Dear Herod - Friday 23rd March

Dear Herod,

today is the last day of term.  It came upon me rather unexpectedly; I am usually counting down the days.  But today felt like another day.  And so it was. 

I remembered the cards I had picked up the night before.  The man on the driving licence did not appear to be on Farcebook or Twitter.  Google told me that the driving licence should be cut up and returned to the DVLA, and that national ID card should be returned to the Bulgarian embassy.  This seemed a nuisance, and did not solve the situation of the other cards.  So I looked up the company on the work card, and called the number, to find myself speaking to the unfortunate gentleman in question.  He was a builder and his van had been broken into the previous day.  He had lost a lot of tools and money.  He took my work address and turned up a couple of hours later.  He was palapably relieved to get the cards back, and most grateful.  I told him where they had been found, and he went off to check.

In the afternoon, several of the students were having a chat, and I sat down, and partly joined in.  Xxx was sating quite a few things that triggered the feminist in my, and I unwisely contributed a little.  At one point, he asserted that men didn't want to become primary school teachers because they were not allowed to discipline pupils, which OFSTED had proscribed.  I asked for the proof of this, and he pointed to the fact that there were so few male primary teachers.  The argument of the facts aside, I was irked that when I asked for evidence, I was provided with the result, not the evidence.  I doubt this particular student is on Farcebook, but it was obvious proof of the danger of fake news and dodgy statistics.  Such foolish use of rhetoric delivered Brexit to a deceived nation.

In the evening I watched an episode of Benidorm, a guilty pleasure I tend to keep secrets.  I am still smarting from Sister 3's assertion that I am like Gavin, and she imagines I would be just like him in Benidorm, despising the experience and offering acerbic commentary.  I smart because it is partly true.  I would loathe a holiday in such a place, but, unlike Gavin, I recognise that, for many, if not most people, it is what they would want.  I clearly need to cultivate a less curmudgeonly attitude.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Dear Herod... the diary of a Banbury Man

I have kept a diary for 34 years.  It started with a New Year's Resolution and a Christmas present from my grandmother, I think because she had seen me reading my brother's copy of A Secret Diary of Adrian Mole.  As a sorely misunderstood teenager, surrounded by Philistines who comprehended little of the difficulties of my existence, such a diary appealed.  I wrote it keenly,  writing a whole A4 page every day for a few years.  While at university, I began to type my diary on Herod, my manual typewriter, seeing it as a way of practising my typing.  I began writing Dear Herod at the top, affecting the Dear Kitty of Anne Frank.  Sometime later, the diary began to be computer based, and now it is in the cloud.

I have confided my deepest secrets and fears to the diary.  I have told it of my anger and my anguish.  I have committed to it the vicissitudes of my spiritual struggles, my emotional life, my work worries.  It has formed a travel diary, a commentary on the life and character of those around me, a journal of my nation, and my thoughts on the latest news.  While I do not write every single day, believing it should be a diary that serves me, rather than masters me, I write on average five times a week, and never less than three times a week.

Over the next month, I intend to publish extracts from my live diary - edited by me, and with attempts to preserve the anonymity of those mentioned.  I doubt this will interest anyone, as my life is quite humdrum, but I like the idea of doing this, and entertain the grand notion that someone might be inspired to keep their own diary.  I am very glad I have kept mine - it has calmed and soothed me, helped me to process complex matters, and been a useful reminder.

Extracts will appear a day or two after written.  Prepare to be stultified.

Monday, 26 February 2018

The Big Fat Theory - responding to fat-shaming.

Everyone who knows me knows I am big and fat.  If someone as asked to describe me, they would say "a big fat guy with a beard".  And they would be right.  I am big, I am fat, and I have a beard.

I have spoken about being fat before, here:

Occasionally, people do pass unkind comment, and I deal with it as I set out here below.

Yesterday, at church, someone in a group of people asked me how I was, knowing I had been unwell lately.  As we spoke, one person in the group piped up and said I needed surgery on my stomach, to make it flat.

I immediately asked why I needed such surgery, as I did not have a problem.  There was a very long and awkward silence.

Now, when such things are said, I am well within my rights to take offence, and point that out.  But I have found my approach above to be an effective one.  Without causing argument, or losing my temper, I cause awkwardness and embarrassment, that make it difficult for the person to contnue.

As has happened every time I have employed this method, the person concerned later came and apologised to me.  I explained that I had not been personally upset (which is true) but that what they had said was offensive (which is true) and that they did not know how I might take such a comment, and that comments like this can cause enormous upset.

Job done.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Don't they look lovely!

I was recently at a recital where five sopranos were performing, taking in turns to perform cabaret songs, accompanied by a chap on the piano.  At the beginning, the organiser got up to introduce the evening, and said, of the sopranos "don't they look lovely".

He was not wrong.  They were kitted out in lovely dresses, and were smart, just as one would expect a professional to dress at a classical recital.

Two weeks later, at another recital, this time, a cycle of Britten songs, there were four tenors/baritones, and a male hornist there.  The organiser got up and introduced the evening, but said nothing about their appearance.

The men were kitted out in smart black suits, with plain blue shirts (no tie).  They were all very smart, just as one would expect a professional to dress at a classical recital.

Now, if the organiser had said of the men "don't they look lovely" that would have seemed a little odd.  Smart might have been a more appropriate adjective, but, generally, we don't think it appropriate to comment on the appearance of men, unless there is something particularly unusual or striking.

So why is it acceptable to comment on the appearance of women?  Why did the sopranos look lovely, and why was it OK to say so?  Why did a former boss of mine used to describe men as "a good chap" or "a hard worker" and women as "a lovely girl" or "and pretty girl".  Why is such attention paid to the outfits Theresa May wears?

I want to point out that the organiser of these concerts is known to me.  He is a good man, and deeply committed to equality and inclusivity.  But I think his words, which meant no harm, betray something deeper down, even in those who strive for fairness.  The fact that I would have found it jarring if he had said "don't the boys look lovely" but found it less jarring that he said this about the women betrays that I have been accustomed to these societal norms.

I want to think more about this.  Using things said to women and transferring them to men often shows how inappropriate we are in the way we address women and their appearance.  This video shows the ridiculous way we portray women:

Lastly.  A girl is a young female child.  And older female is a woman.  She might be a young woman or an old woman.  But not a girl.

Sunday, 18 February 2018


I have always loved Frasier.  I came across it a couple of years into its run.  Straightaway, I recognised that this was no foolish American sitcom, such as was being shown during the nineties here in the UK.  It was clever, and it was humane.  Frasier's pomposity, his humanity, his rivalry with his brother Niles.  Niles' absent wife, and lines about his various therapy groups.  The unrequited love of Niles for Daphne, obvious to all except her.  Ros, a confident woman (at a time there were no confident women on TV).  Martin, the poor father, bewildered by his sons, yet loving them.  There were farces, yet a continuing story.  I was close to tears at the last episode.

It is on Channel 4 daily in the morning, and I often tune in, even though I have the full series on DVD.  John Mahoney, who plays Martin, died recently, and I found this splendid article that shows the central place Martin occupies in Frasier.  It really is very good.  Do read it.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Living Former Presidents of the USA and their wives

Today in 1945, George H W Bush married Barbara Pierce.  Today, they are still alive, and celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary.  What other Presidents and wives are alive?

The most recent ex-President, and the latest American leader of the Free World, Barack Obama and his wife Michelle are both still alive.  They married in in 1992, and had their silver wedding on 3rd October just gone.

George W Bush, son of George H W Bush, is still alive together with his wife Laura, whom he married in 1977.  They celebrated their ruby wedding a few weeks back on 5th November.

Bill Clinton is also still alive, together with his rather more famous wife Hillary, who ran for President in 2016, winning the popular vote.  They married in 1975.

His predecessor, George H W Bush, and his wife Barbara, are, as I said above, still alive.

Before him came Ronald Reagan who died in 2004, and his second wife, Nancy, who died in 2016.

His predecessor, Jimmy Carter, is still alive, 37 years after being President, which is a record.  His wife Rosalynn is also alive, and they married in July 1946.

There are no other former Presidents or First Ladies alive.  Ivana Trump, and Maria Trump, former wives of the incumbent Donald Trump are still alive.

This minute

A minute is a short period of time.  But one minute can change your life.  In one minute, you can be told you are dying by a doctor.  In one minute, you discover you are going to be a parent.  In one minute a phone rings and you hear someone you love has died.  In one minute someone says "I love you" and it makes you the happiest person alive for that minute.  In one minute you find out that a friend has been false, and is no friend at all.  In one minute you get the exam results which change the future direction of your life.  In one minute your car veers off the road into a tree.

Every minute is important.  Every minute marks the boundary between what has been and what will be.  Yet most minutes pass by without note, and are never remembered.  Each minute lasts for sixty seconds.  Yet some rush by, and others pass with a painful throbbing countdown.  Some minutes mark boundaries, and those boundaries mark the chapters of the book of our lives. 

What are you doing this minute?

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Living Ex-Kings

King Michael I of Romania, who became king of Romania 90 years ago, and played a significant part in switching Romania from the Nazis to the Allied party in the Second World War, died this week aged 96.  He was a close relation of Prince Philip, and more distantly related to the Queen.  Together with Simeon II of Bulgaria, and the Dalai Lama, he was one of the last heads of state from the Second World War.

There are now only two monarchs left alive from the former monarchies of Europe:

  • Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria, who was, extraordinarily, elected as Prime Minister of Bulgaria in 2001.  He served as Simeon Sxe-Coburg-Gotha, being of the same line as our own royals.  He was Tsar from 1943, being deposed aged nine in 1946.
  • Constantine II of Greece, who was deposed in 1973.  He won a gold medal in sailing at the 1960 Olympics.

There are, of course, some former monarchs in Europe who abdicated: Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, Albert II of Belgium, Beatrix of the Netherlands, Juan Carlos of Spain, and Pope Ex-Benedict.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Honduras General Election

On Sunday 26th November, there will be a general election in Honduras.  For the first time ever, the incumbent President is standing - the constitution in Honduras limits presidents to single terms only.  Last year, the current president, Juan Orlando Hernandez of the right-wing National Party won a court hearing to allow him to stand again for the party-s leadership.  Those who campaign to reform the election law can lose their citizenship in Honduras, and, not surprisingly, the opposition parties say that his standing for re-election is unconstitutional.

Honduras is famously corrupt, and an anti-corruption party, Opposition Alliance Against Dictatorship  (PAC) was formed by popular TV presenter Salvador Nasralla.  This party has joined up with the main opposition left-wing Libre Party, and the smaller left-wing Innovation and Unity Party (PINU) to contest the election under the leadership of Mr Nasralla.

Polls suggest a closer election than that of 2013, but with Mr Hernandez still the favourite to win.

Friday, 3 November 2017

The Man On The Train - Part The Second

At Brockenhurst, the lady with the crutches got off, and a fair few passengers joined the nearly empty train.  A couple, in their early twenties, got on the train, and sat in the table opposite Keith.  He was tall and thin and had a backpack on.  She did too, and was wearing a woolly scarf, although it had not been a cold day.  I had my headphones on and was listening to some Preisner, so could not hear what was being said, but Keith was holding his chest, the young man was looking alarmed, and the young lady was looking disgusted.  The guard came along again and sat on the table opposite Keith and spoke to him.  I paused my music, and heard him offer to get help at Southampton Central, the next stop.  Keith said he felt quite unwell, but wanted to press on for London, and could always go to St Thomas’ Hospital where they knew him well, as he had had two heart attacks, and they had treated him there. 
The young girl got up and tugged at the man, and they trundled off to a different carriage.

At Southampton Central, a busy station, a lot of people got on the train, so that every table or row of seats was now occupied.  A rather rowdy looking group of young men, came on and sat in the table by Keith.  They had beer, and I was fearful lest there was going to be a particularly noisy outburst on the way home.  I hastily tuned into some rather lounder Beethoven to drown out any potential noises.
“Where are you boys off to?” asked Keith.
“We are going up to London for a party.  But we are starting now” answered one.  Keith gripped his chest,
“I am having some chest pains.  I have had two heart attacks, you know.”
The boys looked alarmed.
“Shall I get the guard for you?”
“No, he knows.  I am pressing on for London.”
“Perhaps a drink would help.  I have some lemonade – it will be sweet, and that is good for you, and we have some ice.  The cold on your chest might help”.  They poured out some lemonade, and one of the lads offered him a packet of crisps, while another one produced a Mars bar.  Keith sat happily nibbling and sipping away, and I marvelled at the kindness of these rowdy boys, whom I had regarded so balefully when they first boarded the train.  They were chatting away very kindly, and Keith looked very happy.

The train was on diversion, so ran down through Fareham and Havant before heading up the line to Guidlford.  We stopped at Haslemere for about ten minutes – on the platform, but not as a station call.  Keith expressed concern that the delay could be dangerous if he was taken ill before we reached Waterloo, and accepted a small beer from the group of young men, reminding them that a little beer was good for the digestion and the heart.  I was engrossed in my book, and it was dark, so I had nothing to look at outside the window.  The journey seemed quite slow, and I read without paying much attention to proceedings, until we called at Surbiton.

I was rather irked to be calling at Surbiton.  Why would an express train from Weymouth stop at such an insignificant commuter station?  Surbiton is a busy station normally, but I did not consider it necessary for express trains to stop there.  I was musing this when the carriage broke out in song!  Keith and the lads were singing:
“One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock
Five, six, seven o’clock, eight o’clock rock….”
This all looked very merry, and the initial looks of concern and annoyance from all in the carriage, distracted as they were from their laptops, kindles, ‘phones and books, soon turned to the knowing shared smile that English folk have, which is used to declare
“I am a little bit annoyed at these proceedings, but I cannot help finding it mildly amusing in a patronising way, and am most anxious that it be not thought that I have a poor sense of humour”.

By the time we reached Clapham Junction, Keith was inviting us all to “twist again, like we did last summer” while the bemused lads, who clearly did not know that song, looked on and cheered.  Keith was in very lively form, and seemed to have recovered quite well from his malaise of earlier.  It was late as we approached Waterloo, and I was tired.  Part of me wanted to see what happened as they all alighted – would Keith try to go with the lads?  But I hastened to alight and make a swift journey to the tube, surmising I would be home in time to watch an episode of a serial I was following on DVD. 

I suppose Keith may well have felt uncomfortable and out of breath at the start of his journey, but, given the guard’s familiarity with him, and his recovery after being offered most unsuitable drinks, I suspect he was more concerned to have company.  I still feel a little mean in having spurned his efforts, especially given the better example of the young lads who had boarded at Southampton Central, but I suspect he had a much better time in their company than either he, or I, would have suffered in mine.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

500th Anniversary of the Reformation

On Wednesday 31st October 1517, a lowly monk, Martin Luther, trundled up to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and nailed a document detailing 95 Theses, or more properly A Disputation on the Power of Indulgences, to the door, and started off the series of religious, social, and political revolutions now known as the Reformation.  Let us ignore the fact that he may not have nailed them to the door, if he did it may not have been on that date, and that he was a professor of moral theology, and that he almost certainly did not envisage or intend such a revolution.  The fact is that the Reformation is enormously important in theological, social, and political terms, and its effects are felt even today.

The Reformation is seen in all sorts of ways.  Some see it as the glorious rediscovery of gospel truths, long smothered by a corrupt Catholic Church, a new Gospel Age after the darkness of the Middle Ages.  Others see it as a consequence and fulfilment of the Renaissance, with the shackles of Christendom thrown off, and as a precursor to the Enlightenment.  For others it is a social revolution, where the people can take hold of their own destiny, no longer subject to the hierarchies of church and state.  Others see a political movement afoot, where states formed new leagues and hegemonies, and the increasing dominance of Protestant northern Europe against the old powers of southern Europe, bolstering trade with a new ethic of work, and where kings and dukes controlled religion themselves, rather than Rome.  Others yet see it as the splintering of Christianity, with new groups and sects setting up, splitting the church, and causing wars and community breakdown that exists to this day.

There is some truth in all of these.  But for me, the single most important aspect of the Reformation is that it asserted the truth that the state of a soul is not a matter for the church, but a matter between man and God.  This is illustrated well in the matter of indulgences, the issue which sparked the Reformation.  The Catholic Church differentiates between mortal sin, worthy of eternal punishment, which can only be dealt with through penance, and venial sin, which must be punished for the purification of the soul, normally in Purgatory.  Indulgences[1] were a way of lessening the punishment of these venial sins.  Put simply, indulgences can purchase additional purification from these sins, lessening the time spent in Purgatory.  These can be purchased by good deeds, or by pledging money to the church, especially for dedicating new churches.  St Peters in the Vatican was built from the proceeds of Indulgences.  Indulgences could also be purchased for souls of the dead.  Needless to say, a huge and corrupt trade in indulgences grew up, and was the subject of much criticism towards the end of the Middle Ages.  There was a verse “As soon as the money in the coffer rings, that soul from purgatory’s fire springs”.

The whole issue is that the Catholic Church had effectively set themselves up as gate-keepers of the faith, and were deciding who was, and who was not, “in”, and was selling places in heaven.  The Reformation’s assertion that justification[2] was based on faith, not works, removed any man from being able to be the keeper of another man’s soul.  Gone is “Christendom” where the church ceases to be the worshipping community of Christians, and becomes a power in its own right.  Gone are the rights of priests to stand between humanity and God.  Gone is the sale of salvation.

The Reformation has had ill effects – there have been centuries of religious wars in Europe, the effects of which still rumble on in Northern Ireland.  From Calvin’s Geneva, through the 1662 Act of Uniformity, through to the over-reaching political aspirations of various Christian groups in the USA today, many reformed churches have hankered after the old powers of Christendom, and the desire to include and exclude at will.  Many reformed churches have abandoned good works altogether, failing to understand the biblical injunction that “faith without works is dead”. 

Yet for all this, the Reformation is something to be celebrated.  Today, we are permitted to read the Bible and can read it in our own language.  No man or institution holds the keys of heaven, and can lock us in or out.  The claims of the gospel are held out to us, and we may each respond without permission or payment.  No longer is truth the property of any man.  Truly, things have been re-formed!

[1] There was a Very Good sermon at my church on Luther and indulgences on 22nd October.  I shall provide a link when it is available.
[2] Being made “right with God”

Sunday, 29 October 2017

The Man on the Train

As the part of the train starting in Bournemouth pulled up, I went well up to the front, and waited by a door; it was my intention to travel in the quiet carriage, a very necessary precaution on such a long journey.  A little man approached and stood close by to me.  I inspected him out of the corner of my eye – he was a short fairly plump man, smartly dressed in a green tweed jacket and trousers with a lambswool brown jumper, check shirt, and tie.  He had little hair, being completely bald on the top of his head, but with short dark hair, with a short curl around the back and sides.  He was, I guess, in his mid to late fifties, and had a slight twinkle in his eye, rather reminding me of a short and plump version of Christopher Lillicrap.  I rather liked him, in the distant way necessary for those one meets on journeys.  He looked at his watch and tutted and then looked meaningfully at me.  It was exactly the time the train was due to depart. 
“Oh,” I said, “they won’t open the doors until the other part of the train arrives from Bournemouth.  I think it is running a minute or two late.  Once it gets here, they will attach it and let us on”.
“I am going to London,”he answered “Where are you going?”  I was slightly taken aback by the directness of the question. 
“London as well.”  I replied slightly curtly in order to convey a reluctance to converse, while still being polite.
“Do you live there?  I do.  I just came down for the day.  I went to Boscombe.  I walked there.  It seemed nice in parts, but I think I like Bournemouth better.  What are you doing for Christmas?”  Here was a rather dangerous question.  Clearly this man was rather eccentric, and I could see I would have difficulty in avoiding him.
“I have not really thought about it yet”, I answered rather untruthfully.
“I am coming down here.  I like it here.  It will be nicer than London.  I like the idea of having Christmas at the coast, and I have never had the opportunity to do it.  I have been thinking about it all year, and finally decided to do it.  I do hope it is the right thing.”  He stopped talking and clutched the right lower side of his chest.
“Are you alright?”
“I am having some chest pains.  I have had two heart attacks you know.”
“Oh, I should think it is not a heart attack.  It is the wrong side of the chest.  Perhaps you suffer from angina, or have you overdone it today?”  I felt mildly alarmed, but it seemed that there was nothing majorly wrong.  The other part of the train approached the platform. 
“Oh yes, I get angina sometimes.  And I did rush here from the beach to get the train.  I think I was too fast.  That must be it.”
“Do you have some tablets or spray for your angina?”
“I have GTN spray for under my tongue, but that never helps.  I will just have to get by and hope it is nothing major.”
“Well, maybe you should use the spray, as it might help.  Perhaps it would be good to sit down and rest and see how you are before you get the next train.”  I felt fairly sure there was nothing wrong with him, but was vaguely worried, and, I am ashamed to say, more worried at the prospect of having this man talk to me on a two hour forty five minute journey.  As the trains coupled with a jolt, I was wondering if I would be able to put my headphones on in an effort to dissuade him.  The train doors opened, and I stepped back and gestured for him to get on first.
He got on and started to make for the right.
“Which way are you going?” he asked.  I hastily turned to the carriage on my left (not my first choice!) and answered
“I was going this way.”  To my horror, he turned and followed.  I hastened into the carriage and took a seat in an airline arrangement further up the carriage.  He stopped and sat at a table setting about four rows away.  This was excellent – we would not be able to talk (and I put my unwanted headphones on to ensure this was the case), but I could see him, and hasten to his aid if he did appear to take ill.  Furthermore, a woman with a crutch came and sat on the table opposite him.
Feeling vaguely guilty lest he really was ill, and also for rebuffing his attempts to be friendly, I managed to find some music I felt in the mood for (Elgar’s Music Makers) and turned to the book I had started reading – A Room With a View.  The irony of reading this book at that time was not lost on my, and I felt myself wondering how Miss Bartlett would have dealt with such a passenger.  I could see him chatting to the woman quite a bit, and pitied her a little. 
The train was fairly quiet.  A rather prim young woman, who had hugged a man who looked like her father had got on with a small vanity case of the sort I thought had vanished decades ago.  She opened it and took out a make-up case, and began liberally applying make-up.  The man and woman were chatting as the guard came along, and I paused my music to hear what was happening.
“This man is having chest pains”.  The guard stopped and sat down.
“I remember you – you were taken ill on the train near Basingstoke” he said.  I realised that perhaps this man was a repeat offender.  He sat there holding his chest.
“I have some tea in my flask.  Would you like some?”  The woman took a flask out.
The guard asked the man if he wanted him to arrange help for him at Brockenhurst, but the man refused and said he wanted to get home to London.
“I am going to Brockenhurst” said the woman.  “I can keep an eye on him.”
The guard told them to be sure to summon him, or use the passenger alarm if the man worsened, and said he would look in on the man, who said, disappointingly, that his name was Keith.  Keith sat sipping tea and looking sorry for himself, while the woman looked very worried indeed.  I decided to keep quite an eye on things, rehearsing in my mind what I would do if he collapsed.

To be continued..........

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

A Close Shave at the Barber's

Today I went to the barber for a beard trim.  I do this about three times a year, often when I have let my beard get a bit too long.  The barber trims it very well, and it feels so tidy afterwards.  It is a fiver well-spent, and stops me feeling guilty for only having my hair cut twice a year (which my poor barber complains that if every customer were like me, he would be out of business )

I turned up, and the two brothers were sitting chatting.  My favourite one got up and directed me to his sation.
"Just a beard trim today", I said.
"Ah, I thought your hair was too short.  I only cut it a few weeks ago.  I hoped you had decided to become a regular customer".
I settled down as he wrapped me up, put up the special head-rest for beard-trimming, and readied the trimmer.
"All off?" he asked, to my horror.  He had clearly misunderstood!
"Oh no, just a trim, nice and short and tidy.  If you take it all off, there will be nothing for you to trim nex time.  A 3mm cut please!"

What a narrow escape!  Needless to say, I had my trim, got given some beard oil, and hurried on my way.  I shall be careful to be much more explicit next time.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Song for Saturday - One Voice

Here is a song for Saturday.  I have always enjoyed harmony, and this particular tune, the single of which was owned by one of my sisters, haunted my musical mind a lot when I was young.  I don't think I have heard it in a long long time.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Capricious Pasta Sauce

This is a different pasta souce.  You will not ladle this onto your pasta.  When you sample it while cooking, you will agree it is too herby, too salty, too spicy, too rich, too fishy.  It is capricious.

It is a sauce for mixing with pasta, to leave a comparatively dry mix.  Here is my rough recipe:

1.  Put your pasta on.  It needs to go into boiling water, with a little oil added to stop it sticking.  Do not add salt - this is an unnecessary addition favoured by chefs who oversalt everything.  Use any shape, but it works really well with twists or spirals.  Use a 500g bag.

2.  Chop an onion and soften it in oil.

3.  Add lots of garlic.

4.  Add a small tin of anchovies in oil, cut up, oil and all.

5.  Add a good dash of chilli flakes.

6.  Add a good shake of dried basil.

7.  Add a really big squirt of tomato puree.

8.  Add a tin of chopped tomatoes.

9.  Add a teaspoon of sugar, and a big grinding of black pepper.

10.  Add a handful of green pitted olives (I usually leave them whole).

11.  Add a couple of teaspoons of capers.

12.  Add a can of tuna fish (drained).

13.  Cook until the pasta is done.  Drain the pasta, but keep a good slosh of the the water.

14.  Mix the pasta in.  Add a bit of the water to slacken it slightly.

15.  Eat.  Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Queens and Prince Corsorts....

Prince Henrik of Denmark, husband of Queen Margrethe II, was in the news this week for saying he did not wish to be buried with his wife in Roskilde Cathedral, traditional burial place of the Danish royals.  He has, for some years, been unhappy at his role and title, even fleeing to southern France in 2002, protesting at being put behind his son, Crown Prince Frederik, in a ceremony.  Clearly, Prince Henrik is, perhaps, more sensitive than most about this issue, but it does highlight a curious anomaly.

When a male monarch, a king, has a wife, she is the queen, more specifically, a queen consort.  However, the husband of a queen in suo jure (in her own right) is not a king.  He is usually made a prince, and can be granted the title of Prince Consort, as Prince Albert had, and Prince Henrik himself enjoyed, resigning this position a couple of years ago.

Queen Mary II of England and Scotland did not want her husband to be a mere Prince, so made him joint monarch as William III - which, given their accession by revolution, and his close claim on the throne, worked well.  But Queen Anne's husband was just Prince George, and, in our own day, the Duke of Edinburgh is Prince Philip.

In the Iberian peninsula, male consorts are generally king consorts.  Isabella II of Spain married her cousin Francisco, and he was King Consort.  Similarly, Ferdinand, husband of Maria II of Portugal, was also King Consort (Isabella I and Maria I had both married men who were kings in their own right).  But this has never caught on elsewhere.

It seems to me that this inequality should be put right.  Furthermore, with more and more European nations adopting absolute primogeniture, where the oldest child, irrespective of sex, inherits, we will be having more queens than in previous history.  Indeed, the heirs to the thrones of Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain are all female.  Prince Henrik has spoken more boldly on this issue than many, but it seems clear that the rules, for once, favour women over men, when they are monarchical consorts.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Charlie Gard

For the last couple of months, the tragic case of Charlie Gard has been in the news here in the UK.  The 11 month old has encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, a rare disease, that has left him unable to move or breathe, and with severe incurable brain damage.  He has been at Great Ormond Street Hospital, the foremost pædiatric hospital in the UK, and doctors concluded that there is nothing more that can be done, that he may well be in pain, and that life support should be turned off.  His parents contest this and have raised over a million pounds to take him to the USA for experimental treatment.

You can read more of the ins and outs of the case in the link I give above.  I just want to say at this point, that I simply cannot imagine the grief and despair of his poor parents in all this.  They have a child who is terribly sick, and they fear losing him.  I had a cousin who lost a young son to a different mitochondrial disease, and it was simply heart-breaking.  I also want to say I deplore the attempts of the various interest campaigns to use this family as part of their cultural wars.  The "Christian" Defence Coalition, and even the Pope and Donald Trump have all, unhelpfully, intervened, and muddied the waters with their grubby attempts to exploit this family.

I do, however, wish to weigh in and make two points here.  First, I do think there has been a failure in care by GOSH.  By that, I mean in their care of young Charlie's parents.  At some point, communication has broken down and been replaced by distrust.  How did that happen  Did a specialist not take care in explaining a stage of Charlie's illness?  Was a consultant a bit patronising or dismissive of questions?  Did a doctor appear in haste, and not take time to hear the concerns of Charlie's parents?  Something happened to allow mistrust to grow to the point that the two sides are so far removed they are acting against one another in court.

Secondly, and I want to say this with compassion, parents do not always know best.  The fact that they have been put into such a tragic situation does not allow Charlie's parents the trump card in knowing and deciding what to do.  If parents knew best, doctors would be altogether unnecessary.  GOSH is a world-class hospital.  The doctors on this case are formidable experts in their field.  Expert advice, despite what Michael Gove asserted in the Brexit arguments, ought not be ignored.  Sometimes, an expert consultant knows what is best for a child, rather than a parent without medical knowledge, and with all the distractions of their emotional involvement and pain.

In all of this, a young life of suffering continues, and is artificially prolonged until the arguments are settled.  At the heart of all the discussions must be what is in the best interests of that young life.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Abdication now allowed for Japan's Emperor

A law has just been passed in Japan that will allow the Emperor to abdicate within the next three years.  Emperor Akihito, who is 83. has had significant health problems, Although modernised and having only a constitutional role since the Imperial Laws at the end of the Second World War, the Chrysanthemum Throne is still bound by many traditions.  Akihito is the 125th of his dynasty to rule Japan, and has been Emperor since death of his father Showa (known in his lifetime as Hirohito) in 1989.

The law says the Emperor must abdicate in the next three years, and it is believed he will step down in December 2018.  He will be the first Emperor to abdicate since Kokuku in 1817.  The Crown Prince Naruhito will succeed.

The Imperial Family of Japan was shrunk in 1947 to include only the male line descendants of Taisho, Akihito's grandfather.  Princesses may only marry members of the Imperial Family, and now there are no collateral branches, they must leave the Imperial Family, and lose their title when they marry.  Akihito's five sisters and his daughter all did this.  As women may not inherit the Throne, this means that there is only the Crown Prince, another son, and grandson of Akihito, and his brother left to succeed.  Prince Hisahito, who is 11, is the only one under fifty, and there has been a call to chain the Succession Laws to allow a woman to succeed, or even to allow succession to pass through the female line, although this is controversial as the 2000 year old dynasty has, hitherto, only passed through the male line, although allowing occasional Empresses.

If young Hisahito has no children, or only daughters, he could, in fifty years' time, be the only member of the Imperial Family.  Change is needed in this most traditional of monarchies.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Election 2017 - a difficult decision

Today, the UK goes to the polls in a General Election it did not want, and which its Prime Minister, Theresa May, had repeated said she would not call.  I have struggled greatly knowing how to vote:

1.  I could not possibly vote Tory.  I never have, and cannot imagine how I ever will.  Theresa May is seeking a hard Brexit, and has stood aloof from our European friends (promising to be a "difficult women" at the negotiations) while sucking up to Donald Trump.  She has continued to pursue austerity, winding down the NHS and education, and now promises to restrict human rights laws as a response to terrorist activity.

2.  I could not possibly vote Labour.  Jeremy Corbyn is incapable, tolerates antisemitism in the party, and campaigned lukewarmly in the EU Referendum, before lying supine before Mrs May's hard Brexit agenda.  Furthermore, his followers and disciples on social media are either rabid dogs who will insult me as Tory Zionist vermin for criticising him, or middle-class metropolitan types who believe he wold win, if only not for the BBC being biased against him.

3.  Maybe I could vote for the Lib Dems - they are the one major national party who are standing up for the 48% who did not vote for Brexit, and who want the population to vote on the deal reached.

But then I read the manifestos.  I liked Labour and the Lib Dem.

But then I thought about my constituency - only Labour has any chance of evicting the Tory here.  Furthermore, the Labour candidate is a Jew who has called Corbyn out on his tolerance of antisemitism, and he is a strong remainer.

But then I thought about the USA, and my annoyance with those on the left who felt they could not stomach Hillary Clinton, so either didn't vote, or squandered their vote on minor parties, so that Donald Trump won.

So, holding my nose a little, I shall vote Labour.  Corbyn is useless indeed, but more palatable than May.  Even a Corbyn-led government would not be as strongly Brexit as May's government.

I voted this morning.  I think the best way to vote in this election is to vote for the party with the best chance of evicting the Tories, and I hope you agree and will vote likewise.  But, above all, please do vote, especially if you are under 40.  Enough people did not vote in the last election to have significantly altered the result.  Not voting is an acceptance of the status quo.