The Colours Purple

A long evening.

Having received an email from the vicar detailing the Advent programme, I got straight on the phone. Three hours, trying to put him straight.

The candles in the Advent Wreath are often in the  combination of three purple, one pink and one white (we will ignore those traditionalists who insist on 4 red). When they purple / pink variety is in use, the correct combination in which to light them, week by week, is purple – purple – pink – purple.  And then white for Xmas.

There are some odd people who insist on lighting the pink one fourth – claiming that it’s for the Blessed Virgin.

It’s not. Pink is not the Blessed Virgin’s colour. The generally recognised colour of Our Lady is blue. The pink candle is for the third, “happy”, Sunday when we have a bit of a relax in all the apprehension and foreboding. It’s not the candle for the Mother of God. If you think it is, you’ve got it wrong.

I know that, midst debates over gay marriage, women bishops and the possibility that one day we might all love one another, this may not seem very important. But compared to all the other issues, it’s easy to fix. All we need is for the manufacturers of Advent candles (there can’t be that many, let’s be honest) to number the candles – 1 to 5. That’s it. It’s all they need. Anyone can work that code out, surely?

Except, of course, for those who wonder where the other 20 numbers are. But you wouldn’t be able to help them.

Beating People up in Asda, and Swords into Ploughshares

Isaiah 2.1-5

This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
In the last days the mountain of the LORD’S temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more. Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.”

They’ve got a new excuse on the trains. London Midland was using it just tonight. “Poor rail conditions”. That’s what they said. “Poor rail conditions”. What, you may ask, does that mean? I asked London Midlands. They took a while to  comment. I thought it might be the same as the “slippy” rails that have brought other parts of the Midlands to a complete standstill. Burton Dasset phoned me, all of a dither, the other day to tell me that East Midlands had “poor rail conditions” when he went into London for a mass sad-in the other day.  East Midlands wouldn’t tell him what they meant, either.

The funny thing is, normally at this time of year they blame “leaves on the line” and we all laugh at them. But this year there’s been no mention of “leaves on the line”. Just “slippy rails” and “poor rail conditions”. What were these exciting new slippy rail conditions? In the end, London Midlands admitted it – it was leaves, all along! Nothing new! Just leaves. New, shiny name though.

As one desperate commuter asked, how can “slippy rails” break the Midlands? Are these people children? Are they goldfish? Every year, every Fall – I prefer the older, now mostly American word, so much nicer than the Latinate “Autumn” – down come the leaves, onto the tracks, forming a mushy sludge, and in this century when we can watch people in Australia eating cockroaches live on TV, you’d think we can do something about it. Yet every year we fail, and the Midlands break and all the commuters get home for tea late.

I’ve been reading about the plans for the High Speed Rail Service, HS2, which have been delivered to councils on the route to read. They’ve got 58 days to read and respond to the plans.  Which is just as well, as it’s quite thick. 28,000 pages thick. Although, to be fair, the technical documents haven’t been issued yet. They’re going to be 33,000 pages thick. The complete set stands 9 feet tall, and weighs getting on for a ton.  To build HS2, they’re going to move 92m tons of earth. 125 miles of cutting, 107 miles of embankment, 40 miles of viaduct and 50 miles of tunnels will be built. 1,180 buildings to be demolished, 9 rivers to be diverted. I thought at first this was just to get the planning document assembled, but it turns out that in fact this is for the railway itself. All to move people from London to Birmingham, 10 minutes faster. And it will take just one windy November day to blow the whole setup back to 1854.

Meanwhile, in ASDA, a marketing stunt copied off the Americans goes wrong. An attempt to kick-start Christmas with a “Black Friday” sale ends up in  riots across the country.

In an Asda store in west Belfast there were claims that heavily pregnant woman had been pushed and shoved and pensioners had been knocked to the ground. A spokesman from the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service had confirmed that they were called to the store to attend to a woman with a suspected broken arm.

“It was just a free-for-all. It was frightening,” said one woman who witnessed the scenes at the Westwood Centre. “People were getting trailed to the ground. People were arguing with people. Two of my friends were injured.”

The woman claimed her friend was kicked in the stomach by a shopper trying to take a TV from her. “The other one, who is disabled, was actually kicked to the ground and trampled on and now has a broken arm and is waiting to hear if she is going to need surgery next week,” she said.

Similar reports have emerged from stores in Liverpool and Bristol, with eyewitnesses reporting in the latter store that a man had to be restrained by security guards after becoming annoyed that he could only buy a single TV.  (The Independent)

I say, “went wrong”. I bet somewhere at Asda Towers, somebody in Marketing was figuring that this much publicity was great news for next year’s “Black Friday”. Imagine the publicity shots, last payday in November next year – people lining up outside Asda in the small hours, tooled up with baseball bats and cycling helmets – it’ll be quite the party atmosphere.

What’s wrong with us? What causes normal people – probably quite sensible the rest of the year – to go and kick a disabled person to the ground to get a good sale bargain? We can map the human genome, we can watch a comet crash into the sun. But we can’t control ourselves when there’s a telly going cheap, and we can’t even stop leaves stopping trains. The greater we think we are – the better we are at falling. And even good, middle-of-the-road Anglicans or Lib Dems, who basically think everybody’s got the potential to be nice and Charles Manson was just a misunderstood hippy who needed attention – even they have to stop every now and then and realise that what Francis Spufford calls the HPtFtU is alive, and well, and living in all of us. That we act on a gigantic scale but behave like incompetent children. And not nice children. Those nasty children from that council estate you warn your children to stay well away from. Because if you keep your children away from those children, then they might grow up to be respectable people – local politicians, or Methodist Ministers, or in charge of major banks or…. tell you what, let’s not pursue that line too far, eh? Send them down the estate to play with those kids. It’ll be safer in the long run.

And in the middle of that, in 8th Century BC Judah, as the Kings are running the shop as tyrants – and the country swings from good to bad, from Baal to Jehovah, as the nations around them gather for the next pop, with the Assyrians breathing fire and the Babylonians waiting in the wings, just over the North/Eastern horizon, Isaiah stands up and says – One Day.

  • One Day, the Lord’s Temple will be raised up above everything else.
  • One Day, everyone will see the light.
  • One Day, people will stream to worship God
  • One Day, they’ll all climb up on God’s mountain, to worship him there.
  • One Day, there won’t be fights in Asda over cheap tellies
  • One Day, there won’t be any more leaves on the line.
  • One Day, bureaucrats won’t produce 60,000 pages of documentation about a train line nobody in their right minds would want to build if their folly and pride wasn’t higher than the pile of railway specs.
  • One Day, people won’t need to go to Birmingham.
  • One Day, people won’t even make cheap cracks about Birmingham, like I just did.
  • One Day, things will be good, and human’s won’t mess the place up, and we will have ploughshares not swords – and we’ll have stopped David Cameron beating the ploughshares into rails, for his silly railway scheme.
  • One Day, all things will be well.

One Day.

Today probably isn’t One Day.

But it’s a day.

We can work towards that One Day. We can beat our own swords – the small, personal stabs we give to other people, the anger and the petty hatreds – into tiny ploughshares that break up the stony ground of poor relationships and allow seed to grow. We can look up to the Lord. We can raise him up in our hearts. We can set out to climb that mountain of the Lord – knowing that it will be One Day before we get to the top.

Or, at the very least, we can avoid punching people in Asda. Surely that’s not much to ask?

It’s not One Day. But it is, at least, a day.

Reasons to be Fearful (on a bike)

It’s normality a right-wing paper that pulls this trick.  Some member of a minority explaining how they’re all right,  it’s the other members of that category who are dreadful. Gay men explaining how they love football and death metal – it’s the other ones who are too gay. Black people stressing their stable marriages while bemoaning gang culture. I’d be surprised if, in the 1930s, the Daily Mail didn’t have an article by a bacon-eating Jew, remarking that his co-religionists are just so Jewish.

And so we find a new example of the genre in “Why I loathe other cyclists” in the Express. It’s pure click-bait, so don’t go there if you are of s sensitive nature.

I mean, as a cyclist who tries to keep the law, I tend to tut when another cyclist jumps a red light or rides on a pavement. But on the grounds that they are only a genuine danger to themselves, while daily deaths caused by motorised vehicles in the UK are frequently in double figures, I can’t raise myself to “loathe”. After all, where would that leave me to go for the genuinely evil? Nope, “love the cyclist, hate the cycling” is my motto.

It strikes me that Alex Rawlins is a liability on the road, in fact. In between gawping at red-light-jumpers, criticising people’s dress sense and hating bus drivers – not to mention confessing to using language unsuitable even for a cycling Cabinet Minister – it’s a wonder Alex has any time to look at the road or other vehicles at all. And his self-confessed traffic light-counting concerns me as well.  If it spreads to other pieces of road furniture, he’ll be all over the place.  The suggestion of “neon” clothing worries me as much as it confuses. Cycling is hard enough without connecting oneself up to fluorescent tubing and electric power supplies. There could be some nasty lacerations if you fell off.  Or if Alex Rawlins rode into the power cable – then you’ll be guaranteed a four-letter tirade.

But what really terrifies me is the comment from “maryjane” below the line.  Obviously, “maryjane” doesn’t understand that “road tax” doesn’t exist, and that electric and hybrid cars don’t pay the VED with which we try to encourage “maryjane” to stop polluting our atmosphere. So far it just goes with the territory.

But what really worried me is that “maryjane” has made all his comments in capital letters.

Just think about it. “Maryjane” is considered grown-up enough to pay Vehicle Excise Duty, and drive a car. But he doesn’t know how to operate the “shift” key on his computer.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t make me feel safe on the roads.

Daily Expressing Yourself in Worship – or – The Charismatic Gift of Overhead Projection

“Churches ditch a traditional Christmas: Hymns books are shelved for karaoke-style carols” says the Express. They reveal that churches are jettisoning the traditional paper-based worship to move to electronic projection of actual words of songs onto overhead screens.

Well, I nearly spat my gruel out. Imagine the words of hymns appearing on walls like that. What a miracle. Frankly, it’s a wonder nobody got burnt as a witch.

I remember the first time I saw the use of overhead projection in a worship service. It must have been 1989. It was a church at 2 Mile Ash in Milton Keynes, and some kind of combined ecumenical service had been taken over by the headbangers of Furzton Church. Equipped with two guitars, a bass and an overhead projector they were tearing the place. up.

I remember the operator – a chunky, balding young bloke with – as it turned  out – clerical pretensions. Clad in a red tea shirt and jeans – in Church! Can you imagine?  No three-piece suit? – he was doing his best to stay up with the music group.

The music group leader – a chunky, balding bloke in a sweater – a sweater! Not tweed! – had a habit of repeating verses or choruses, switching songs, jumping up keys and generally doing his best to be led by a combination of the Spirit, on-the-hoof creativity and sensitivity to the congregation. Through it all, the overhead operator – working on acetates with handwritten words, remember – stayed with him. Up to the point at which the worship leader said “and now we’re going to sing that great old song, “Alleluia”. He had a Cockney accent, like many in MK. His overhead-working friend pulled out a fistful of acetates with songs that started with “A”, and another bunch that started with “H”, and looked at him askance.

But my point is – that was the 80s. And even then, admittedly in avant-garde, cutting-edge places like Milton Keynes, they had the technology to project the words of hymns onto a screen or a wall. The acetate-jockey was generally recognised as having the spiritual gift of Overhead Projection, but this was not because he had any great technical know-how – it is because he had the ability to work out what the worship leader was going to do next.

And, when you think about it, when all is said than done, moving from acetates to Powerpoint (or “an iPhone App” – shock horror) is just as big a leap technologically as from hymn books to overhead slides. Goodness knows what the Express would have said if it had existed in the 15th Century (which, if you think about it, it couldn’t – at least not straight away), or when they brought in the new Psalter, or when modern technology changed other aspects of our life…

“Churches ditch a traditional Christmas as illuminated scrolls are ditched for Hymn Books”.

“Churches ditch a traditional Christmas as Sternhold & Hopkins are ditched for Tate & Brady”.

“Churches ditch a traditional Christmas as begging for alms is ditched for Social Security”

“Churches ditch a traditional Christmas as central heating replaces freezing in a hovel”.

You see, I don’t know about you, but when I think about a traditional Christmas: the candles, the nativity, the carols, the donkey, cow, sheep, ox, alligator and wolverine in the manger – mum cooking the turkey for a month to avoid food poisoning and the sozzled aunties and the Queen’s Speech and re-runs of seasonal editions of Last of the Summer Wine on Gold (same as the rest of the year, actually, that one) – and midst the caroling in frost air, the shiny things, the tree, the presents, the decs, the fake snow, the bling, the Dorchester hotel, the girls in slacks – sorry, wandered off onto a Betjeman theme there, centre, Eileen, centre – in amongst all that, I don’t think to myself – “you know, the thing that would really make this Christmas – a real, traditional Christmas – like Dickens wrote about – the one I thing I really need, is to read the words of the carols off a piece of dead, pulped, reconstituted tree.”

No. The materials used to present the words of the carols to my eyes are a very secondary matter. In fact, remembering that dreadful Advent carol service – long and merry ago now – when a young woman from my college set her big 80s hair alight while trying to balance a lighted candle, a hymn book, a service sheet, her handbag and the collection plate – I’m inclined to think that the fewer things we hold in our hands during worship, the better.  Obviously, you’d want to keep the handbag and the lighted candle. Otherwise some odd beggar might want to hold hands you during the Peace, and then where would you be? And let’s not forget that there are people – especially at Xmas – who don’t know how to operate hymn books, service sheets and – worst of all – the Common Worship book in all its hideous complexity. For them, the OHP screen is a blessing sent from the realms of glory themselves.

Overhead projection works for me. And the good news is that, in these Cromwellian parts, thanks to our Puritan forebears, we have whitewashed walls in our churches. I loathe the Roundheads with everything that is in me, but at last I have something with which to respond to the old ditty – “Civil War – huh – what was it good for?”  Old Ollie, the evil murdering get that he was, got something right. And four hundred years later, we can rejoice and save the money of a projection screen when modernising our churches. The people of past generations with the charismatic gift of Overhead Projection would have wondered what they’d been given it for. Their time has come – let’s enjoy it.

It’s The End of the World As We Know it – Because we’ve seen it Before

And so the ever-circling years have circled again, and the circle is completed.

In the myth-time, there is a Creation, and an End. God or the gods act, decisively, things start and then finish. We go from Eden to a New Jerusalem; we go through Ragnarok to the time when the All-Father sits down to feast with the warriors at rest.

But within the great Prince 2 Waterfall of Myth, there are embedded the workpackages (or, if you prefer, “sprints”) of time. Each just one year long, in which mythic time is recreated in little – birth, growth, death. The yearning, the arrival of Messiah, the working-out, the death and the new life, poured out abundant. The excitement of change, and the drudgery of living out life in  mundanity. The children of Adam and Eve are born, they reproduce, they die, and the world turns. And so the days they turn into years, and still no real tomorrow appears.

It’s the dilemma that the much-reborn Doctor faces. 12 – or is it 13? – regenerations now.  Yet still he is tied to the circles of the world. He comes back to life – he makes friends. He fights unthinkable foes, we are set up – yet again – for one last Battle to end all Battles. Skaro rises and falls. Gallifrey is threatened – is fallen – is hidden – is back again. The Daleks are wiped from the face of the universe, order is restored to the twisted skein of Time. And again the Doctor regenerates, and again the Master and Davros wait. For they know that, in this world or a parallel one, their time will come again. And again. And again.

For the Doctor, as for the Christian, the big day never really comes. We create it afresh – with new configurations – time and time again. We light the Advent candles, and wait for the End to come. And we know it’s coming soon – but just as the Doctor is trapped in an eternal circle – as long as there’s one last shark to jump, one final enemy come back unexpectedly through some implausible deus ex machina – so we know that, when the last candle is lit, and the nativity set is put away again, we’re back on that long, long haul towards another Stir-up Sunday. 

He’s not really the Messiah, he’s just like us, really. But we have this great advantage – we can be set free from the circles of the world. We know we will one day step out of the circle – break the cycle – jump out of the spiral and into the great Myth – the one where there are no more loops to loop, no more reappearing enemies to defeat – no more Definitely the Last Battle to end All Battles This Time. It’ll be good to get there. We could all do with an End, in the end.

A Wedding in the Offing

Bloody Young Keith.

Yes, jumping over a broomstick, or a handfasting, is fine for the punters. And when I thought it was a relatively temporary measure, best resolved through patience and non-legal ceremonial, I was quite happy.

But this is another matter entirely. Luckily I live in a part of the world where shotguns are quite easy to access. Although, in a breach of tradition, I’ll be pointing this one at my own son if he doesn’t get his act together.

I’m not sure I’m old enough to be a granny.

2 Jags Reveals – the Temperature Could Double!

My mistake. Wandered round to see Elizabeth. She pottered off into the kitchen to make a couple of gins, and I read the paper on her coffee table. It was the Daily Mirror. In particular an article by John Prescott on how David Cameron is scuppering Old 2 Jags’ attempt to save us from Global Warming single-handed. 

In the course of his self-glorifying, John Prescott reveals that, to save us from Global warming, he has personally flown to Geneva. He tells us about the shrinking ice caps – ignoring the fact that only one ice cap is, of current date, shrinking. 

And he tells us that 

The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, involving 90 governments and more than 1,000 scientists, said it was getting much worse.

It warned that increased carbon emissions were threatening a global agreement to limit climate warming to a 2C increase by 2050.

It is now possible the temperature could double!



The temperature could double. 

It’s hard to know how to respond to that. 

Is John Prescott thinking the temperature he’s describing is in Fahrenheit, Celsius or Kelvin? Makes a difference. If it’s Celsius, we’re way beyond anything even the most apocalyptic global warming scientist has predicted. If it’s Fahrenheit, we’re all unbelievably doomed. I mean, in the UK that would mean it was a balmy 60-odd F (18 or so C) in the winter, but a toasty 180F in the middle of hot summers. But if it’s Kelvin – well, on a hot day the temperature in Kelvin in John Prescott’s nightmare could reach 600K+. That’s no joke.

I suppose at least John Prescott can console himself with the thought that he can lay his hands on a seriously air-conditioned Jag, or fly off to Geneva and sit at the top of an Alp. Although even on the top of an Alp, the temperature could hit a serious 550K. These are the horrors that lay ahead of us.

I think I’ll stick to the Star. It may tell us that Princess Diana’s spiritual adviser is giving Duchess Kate diet tips, but at least its science is sound.

Do Pedestrians Deserve to Die Too?

Much of the usual cyclist / motorist outcry after the series of deaths on London’s roads.

The rational of Twitter have been out in force on the anti-cyclist side. The main weird argument I’ve seen basically argues that, because some cyclists jump red lights, the people who died had it coming to them.

To be fair, the argument sounds fatuous when put like that. But that’s only because it is fatuous, and it also really does seem to be what people believe. But if we extend that reasoning we get:

1. Because some motorists don’t signal, they all deserve to be crushed by steam rollers at crossroads.

2. Because some Labour politicians jump red lights, they all deserve to be fox-hunted.

3. Because some gypsies did not, in fact, abduct children, Nick Clegg should warn all the Roma in England to behave better.

Actually, I’m thinking number 2 has more than a grain of truth in it. But then we come to a group of people who actually do behave quite badly on the roads.

As every Central London cyclist knows, pedestrians are a terror. If the pavements are full of other, slow moving pedestrians, then the quicker walkers will often jump into the gutter and walk there. This is bad news for any cyclist who believes the attitude of some motorists – as some drivers actually reckon it’s cyclists who should use the gutter, as if it’s a very narrow cycle-lane. Unless a tipper truck needs it to do some wild right-turn, obviously.

And don’t talk to me about running red lights. The worst red-light runners in London – quite literally – are pedestrians. They’ll see the Green Person has turned to a Red Person on the pelican crossing. Then they check that the traffic lights still are on red. Then they reckon “No more than 30 yards? I’ll make that.”

Sometimes they’ll be stuck on the zig-zags, white with fear,  as traffic passes either side.

The results of which are much as you might expect. Pedestrian deaths make up the majority of deaths on the roads in London.

The stats for dead pedestrians look like this:

Pedestrians on a pedestrian crossing (25%)
Drunk pedestrians (23%)
Pedestrians not on a pedestrian crossing (19%)
Pedestrians hit by buses or coaches (17%)
Pedestrians hit by speeding vehicles (16%)
Pedestrians hit by HGVs (14%)
Pedestrians hit by motorcycles (7%)
Pedestrians hit by vehicles while on a footpath (6%)

A few things to note – one is that a pedestrian crossing is statistically a terribly dangerous place to be. Another is that there is no breakdown for those killed by cyclists in this list. If you drill into their stats on the report on pedestrians killed in London, you will find that is because none were killed by cyclists – despite the “some cyclists ride on the pavement so some others deserve to die on the road” argument.

Nearly a quarter were drunk. The hardhearted would argue they therefore deserved it. The more extreme anti-cyclers would no doubt derive from this that therefore some of the other pedestrians also deserved to die.

The largest number of pedestrian deaths were caused by head injuries. Therefore some campaigners would argue that all pedestrians should wear helmets.

Given 6% of deaths were caused by vehicles on the pavement, you could even argue to cyclists that not even the pavement is safe. (Pavements are rubbish places to cycle, as well – you have to give way at every junction, and they’re full of the most random of all road users, pedestrians.)

Overall far more pedestrians die on the roads than cyclists. And yet there seems to be no proper outcry. And I think this is because of a tribal issue. Cyclists, to a degree, identify with each other. They share the problems of getting soaked, getting their vehicles on trains, punctures. To a degree, they share a uniform – often, hideous Lycra that reveals far more than it should, hi-viz, increasingly those randomly and disputable useful helmets. Some of the more macho ones share an obsession with gadgetry – lights on their heads, incredibly bright lights, helmet cams – some look more like RoboCop than a human being. But it creates a bond. The more dorky the trousers they wear, the more they can exult in their common dorkiness. The more motorists hate them, the more they can hate motorists. They are other – and in big enough numbers these days that they have a voice.

But not pedestrians – we’re nearly all pedestrians. If a pedestrian dies, that’s just another person. No tribal link – just the nearly-meaningless bond of common humanity in ythe abstract. The locals will pile up flowers and, according to age, teddy bears. But to everyone else – it’s just another statistic.

And so cyclists share the advantage of pressure groups , hash tags, flash roundabout takeovers. Pedestrians just shuffle on.

And this helps obscure one more theme. Protecting cyclists properly with proper infrastructure is good. But the typical use of cars in modern Britain is ridiculous. Who burns 2 litres of fuel, and takes on the responsibility of moving a 2-ton metal box around, then finding somewhere to leave their metal box, for the sake of going into town to pick up some shopping? Pretty well everyone, is the answer to that. Who thinks that the streets of Central  London are a good place to manoeuvre tipper trucks during the day? Pretty well nobody, but it still happens. Why is the flow of people sitting in large tin boxes more important than the convenience of everybody else? Why does 1 mile of motorway cost more than the entire improvements to the annual cycling budget the Government announced the other month?

Is it because we’ve come to see motoring as the norm, as just a force of nature, rather than the exception it should be? Is it because politicians are so dependent on fuel tax and car VAT that they can’t afford to kill that golden goose, whatever wind-farm taxes they impose under the pretence that they actually care about the level of CO2 in the atmosphere? Is it because we’re all just too lazy?

To be sure, cars have their place. In the country, where journeys are infeasibly long and there is no economic way of developing public transport. But the less motorised transport we use, the more we advantage other ways of getting around, and the more we protect the cyclist and the  pedestrian – even the drunk, red-light-jumping pedestrian on the phone while listening to music and not wearing a helmet – the safer, happier and healthier we will all be.

People don’t kill people. Cycles don’t kill people. Motorised transport kills people.