The “Mother of the Bridegroom” Speech

Ladies, Gentlemen, friends, members of the human race, members of the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley – it is not, I know, traditional for the bridegroom’s mother to  make a speech at a wedding. But then, let’s face it, it’s not traditional for the groom to be given away, rather than the bride, nor for the bridegroom to have a black eye that he received from an irate, costumeless, French Mickey Mouse. There are many good things about tradition, but let us not be bound by it.

But tradition can be good at times. That’s the best inter-family wedding fight I’ve known in years. But still, we’ve moved with the times. In the old days you had to wait for the reception for that kind of punch-up. Not getting out of the church before it all kicked off was a real achievement. And I was really pleased to discover that Charlii’s family are all Quakers. And I’m sure we all wish Charlii’s dad uncle well as he recovers from that broken jaw.

Now, first I would like to turn to my own son, Keith. Young Keith, as we still persist in calling you,  you’re an irresponsible, self-centered, awkward beggar. I’m proud to call you my son. I can only wish that, on this special day, your dad was here. I really wish he was  Then I could smash his face in – the oily, double-crossing, fake get.

And Charlii. Funny, clever, strong-minded, with a dangerous streak of aggression. I’m so pleased to welcome you into the family. I think of this wedding as not so much losing a son, as gaining a full-time, unpaid assistant. Family firms are great, aren’t they?

I’d like to thank Revd Nathan for his part in the service. It was really good of him to let me preach, and to allow a traditional Beaker 25-tea-light salute. Nathan would like to be here with us this evening, but unfortunately he’s got seven sermons to prepare, and a couple of people who need him to visit because it’s Christmas. One of them isn’t even housebound, but she’s off to Brighton on Monday, so thought he’d better get round quick.

I’d also like to thank the providers of the Marquee, the celebrated Marque Marquees, Marquee providers to the Marquis of Tavistock.  It’s a great marquee. If the Daily Express’s predictions are to be believed, it will all be blown halfway across Warwickshire by the morning. But I reckon there’s actually at least a fifty-fifty chance of it still being here in the morning. Good news for the Beaker Folk, who will be sleeping here once the dancing’s over and everybody else has gone home. Although, if it blows away early enough, at least you won’t have to deal with the army of badgers that patrol these parts at night.

So, now the legalities are legalised, and the knot there’s no untying is tied, I can safely unload both chambers of the old shotgun, go back to the knitting needles, and relax. God bless you both, and, on this Winter Solstice, may Charlii grow larger – at least for the next five months or so. God bless us one and all.

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.

The Spurious Use of Pseudo-Science in a Marketing Purpose – or Getting a Bit of Wiggle Room

I’m going to reproduce the graph below, using the defence of “fair use”, before this post disappears.

The Wiggle editor has added a disclaimer to this post which wasn’t there before, to sort-of-distance themselves from the piece after the #boycottwiggle campaign got into gear (ho-ho). Instead, the charity behind the post has been pushed to the front of stage on this one. And I’m pretty sure the blogger’s pseudonym has changed since I read it earlier. 

But it’s still there. An article using a deeply dodgy piece of pseudo-science to try and claim cycling helmets should be compulsory. Odd that a company that sells cycling helmets should try and get them made compulsory.

The questions of whether or not helmets are a good idea at all, and whether they should be compulsory, are complicated and nuanced. I’m not going into them here. You can have a read of this, for assorted similar stuff.

But look at this graph, of deaths in the States while cycling with or without helmets, and the sentence that follows it:


“With so much evidence to show that helmets save lives you would think that everyone would think that compulsory helmets are a good thing right?”

You know, it knocked me over, did this graph. For a minute I thought, if helmet use makes you so much more safe, we should all wear them.

But you’ve probably seen the flaw in it already. The graph shown is absolutely meaningless, without a vital piece of contextual information. And that piece of information is – the proportion of Americans cycling while wearing helmets.

Do you see? The proposition is expressed as a binary one – people wearing helmets vs people not. Therefore we assume that the rate of wearing vs not wearing helmets must be similar. And so the graph is shocking. But we don’t get told what the ratios are – we’re left to deduce it. And notice the way the number of deaths while wearing helmets jumps towards the end – is that because helmets suddenly became dangerous, or because more people were wearing them?

Let me take a similar example. If that graph were deaths while cycling bare-headed, versus deaths while wearing (it’s America , so let’s go native) 10-gallon hats. We would see far fewer deaths while wearing 10-gallon hats. So 10-gallon hats should be mandatory. Or how about cycling while dressed as the Native American from the Village People? I reckon that would be no deaths. So that’s far safer than cycling without a feathery head-dress.

In fact, if you think about it, if everybody in the USA wore a helmet while cycling, 100% of cycling deaths would involve people wearing helmets. On which basis, helmets should be banned to make everybody safer.

So my moral here is – get the context when someone presents what looks like a scientific argument. Or run the risk that your government insists you have to stick gladioli up your nose before getting on a bike. Nobody with a gladiolus in each nostril died in a cycling accident. It’s a scientific fact. So let’s take no more risks – let’s legislate.

Twitter Bug Divorce

I note from an article on the BBC website that twerking girl Miley Cyrus and her fiance have broken up.

Furthermore, the article reveals that people knew because “Cyrus stopped following Hemsworth on Twitter, which led to various reports in the media that they had split up.”

Which is a little worrying, and more widely than just two actor/singer/whatevers – however sad their own breakup may be. Because Twitter users have long claimed that there is an “unfollow” bug, causing users to unfollow people they really wanted to keep following.

You can see the see the problem. Celebrity A is following his / her beloved partner, Celebrity B and vice versa. Suddenly, Twitter unfollows A on B’s behalf. Somebody in the Media notices that B no longer follows A  (just how sad is it, checking to see which celebrity is following which?)  And so the news that A  has been dumped by B hits the world public, causing great sadness for people they’ve never met.

But it could be worse. Perhaps A notices the unfollow and, being unable to express their thoughts too well, unfollows B in revenge. B phones A up, demanding to know what A is doing. A  asks what B think they’re doing. Accusations fly and, from a situation where everybody was happy, a relationship is wrecked by a rogue piece of code.

If that unfollow bug really exists, I reckon Twitter better fix it fast. Before it’s cited as cited as co-respondent in a celebrity divorce case.

Two Lesbians Walk into a Church

The title comes (adapted) from the blog formerly known as ” What does the Prayer Really Say” which concludes that this is the reason the Church of England is dying.

The obvious response to the request from the two young women who wanted their baby baptized, given a sensible incumbent, would be “Yes of course. The baptism register is a bit rubbish for these circumstances, however – so we’ll have to write your names small. And as for a baptism certificate – let’s knock up one suitable for the occasion”. The C of E baptizes babies whose parents are in all sorts of odd situations, and never carries out DNA testing on the person claiming to be the father. So it’s not like there’s a strict “heterosexual, biological parents living in a married relationship at the same house” rule as it is. And the baptism register isn’t like a marriage register (or even a birth certificate). I seriously doubt that John the Baptist, having carried out this most beautiful of sacraments for Our Lord, handed him a candle at the end. And he probably didn’t kick up a fuss about the uncertainty over who to put in the box marked “Father”. And when Jesus had to fill in the initial form, what on earth did he give as the “Father’s occupation”?

What has happened here is that the irresistible force of God’s grace has come up against the immovable object of an Anglican “interregnum”. The (retired) priest, standing in during a vacancy, has considered the situation and panicked a bit. Can you redesign a baptism certificate during an Interregnum? What precedent is set by writing two names in the “mother” box? Canon law isn’t always that clear. Would the priest be leaving the parish in the situation where they insisted that every baby had to have two mothers and no fathers?  They’ve been known to do odder things in following precedent.

The correct response at this point is to consult with the Archdeacon – archdeacons being, in my experience, people of great flexibility and common sense. As was proved here.

If you strip away the possibility of political grandstanding, the confusion of the priest, smug shouting from the sidelines and even the question of whether you think active lesbians are committing a sin – what’s left is a baby, and the format of a legally pretty meaningless piece of paper.  One is of eternal worth, and one is a piece of paper.  That is all.

I Promise that I Will Just Be Me

No, really. I think it’s great that Victoria Coren gets all the hits on her article in the Guardian. And probably, in the Guardian’s Topsy-Turvy world off economics, where you steadily head into  financial oblivion while advocating that the Government does the same, got paid for it.

Even though I wrote something similar two months or more ago. And used the comparison with the X-factor. And suggested a better new promise.

Just because she’s younger, more famous, better-connected and prettier than me. And put it better. But truth will out eventually.

It’s worth remembering that the  line comes – as most commonly used in English – from Shakespeare. From a speech by Polonius to Laertes. And that, as Stephen Fry pointed out in – I think – a Telegraph column around 1990, Polonius is a fool. It’s worth quoting Polonius here:

This above all: to thine ownself be true,
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Absolutely right. Unless you’re a liar, in which case you can be false to anyone and still true to yourself. Sergeant Troy in “Far from the Madding Crowd” was true to himself. Left a trail of broken hearts, promises and lives behind.

We’re always true  to ourselves. David Cameron wanting to bomb Syria is true to himself. A bad architect building a skyscraper that is unstable is being true to themself, as a bad architect. Jamie Oliver patronising poor people in a Mockney accent is true to himself.  Whatever we do, that’s ourselves.

Women Bishops Steering Committee

The existence of the Women Bishops Steering Committee has come to my attention.

I reckon it’s hard enough becoming a woman bishop as it is (emigration to New Zealand being required, apparently.  And then you’ve got that whole “fighting with orcs” business to deal with). But then, after all that,  having some committee steering you?

How many times do we have to say this?  That whole “women have no sense of direction” thing is a rubbish stereotype. Women bishops don’t need a committee to steer them.

Not least because, assuming there were any men on the committee, they’d all be arguing about which direction they ought to be steering anyway.

Are Most Young Male Anglo-Catholics Gay? And does it matter if they are?

OK, it made a great title in the Daily Mail/Express tradition of the answer being “no”. But according to this blog, the answer is “yes”.

Frankly I don’t care whether any given person is gay or not. I care more about the football team they support in some ways – as the evidence that somebody is a Man Utd fan will always make it harder to have genuine, selfless, Christian love for them. But let’s suppose it’s true.

I believe in “One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church”. And I tend to regard “Catholic” in this sense as being for all people and nuns, regardless of race, gender, sexual inclinations and taste in icons. So if there is a genuine shortage of heterosexual male Anglo-Catholics, and this dearth has been ongoing – for the article implies that this situation has always been, since Anglos first became Catholics – then the implication is that to be Anglo-Catholic is to be other than Catholic. For a tradition that, for whatever reason, excludes a sizable chunk of the population, can surely not be Catholic. It can only be a part-of-the-whole-story-that-makes-up-Catholic.

Just a thought. Maybe somebody can put me right?

Driving Under the Influence of McDonalds

While I’m on the subject, this article on cycling through McDonald’s drive-throughs caught my eye.

When all is said and done, a drive-through burger joint is facilitating people who may be planning to eat while driving. Which is trickier with one of them big burgers (where you might end up dripping mayonnaise all over the shop) than a bag of chips. Sorry, fries. Chips are thicker and taste like potato. And you’ve got to reckon the retailer knows that a decent proportion of those driving through its portals, are going to be heading off down the motorway balancing a soft drink or cup of coffee in their cup-holder while wolfing high-GI nutrition.

So, does this mean drive-through coffee shops and restaurants are encouraging or assisting people to break the law? if a motorist has a crash and they had a fried fish in one hand and a pink milkshake in the other, is the retailer an accessory before the event? Do they have any kind of moral responsibility? Could the insurance companies come after them if they have been recklessly encouraging people to eat burgers while on motorbikes? (Don’t do this – you’ll get lettuce all over the face guard). 

Just wondered. 

Thinking Big and Failing Hard

A couple of interesting pieces from Christopher Booker in the Telegraph. I know for a fact that Old Jeb is livid about the idea of a badger cull. He’s been living off badger roadkill as his only source of animal protein for years. Says the last thing he wants is some fool killing off his favourite food. Jeb says he learnt to prepare and cook squashed badgers from his dad, Old Zeb. Interesting character, Zeb. Last man to die of anthrax in the village.

But I was more interested in Booker’s views on HS2, and his comparison of it to  Edward Heath’s idiotic scheme to build an airport island in the Thames Estuary,

What is it about politicians that they have to go for the big and the stupid schemes, rather than the small effective ones?

HS2 is a ludicrous scheme. Apparently we will spend £20Bn (according to the Government) or £40Bn (according to the IoD) on this folly. And all to get to Birmingham 20 minutes faster, if you happen to live somewhere near the station in London. I do wonder whether they could just make it faster in one direction. And I will trust the IoD over the Government, as (a) Government estimates are always stupidly low, because they’re created by people who want to do the things involved and (b) the IoD is made up of people who can actually run things.

So I’d like to draw the parallel between HS2 and Syria. The things they have in common is that they are big, dramatic ways of approaching issues that should be dealt with in a small, sensible manner. I know little of international politics, but I do know that a few bombing raids on a Middle Eastern country gives the chance of action shots of people climbing into planes in East Anglia, visits to air bases by the PM and the Defence Secretary looking all encouraging, and in these online days, the chance for video-game-quality shots ready for the evening news, And if the PM is really lucky, it will only be foreigners that die. Quick, simple, dramatic and the chance to “stand alongside our partners”. And if it works you look a hero. Just like Tony Blair in… oh, yeah. So much more effective in the life of a busy PM than engaging in all that tedious diplomacy with that bloke who looks like Dobbie and runs Russia, or the Chinese, or – even worse – the Syrians.

And then there’s HS2. Let’s suppose – against everything that history teaches us – that it only costs £20Bn. We will rip up the fine rolling hills of the Chilterns and Banburyshire, and all to enable Brummies to come down to London 20 minutes quicker. And for what? Meanwhile the extra funding for cycling infrastructure that was announced will equal just under £100M – that’s one two-hundredth of HS2. For 20Bn we could make cycling safe across about the whole of the British Isles, make our towns and city centres quieter, less polluted, more pleasant and yet – at the same time – busier with people. We could have more space on the road for those that need to drive. We could have a healthier population. Mostly we could do this by creatively using existing road space and widening roads where required. It would require small-scale changes, but joined-up thinking. Again, that tedious combination that produces results without heroism. Instead, what was being proposed last year? 

Bikes in the sky, that’s what.  That’s right. A huge, grandiose plan of the sort that architects and big politicians like. So in years to come, people can point to the empty bike lanes up in the air (as the cyclists continue at ground level, where they don’t have to pay a bloody toll) – and wonder at what point the politicians will start banning cyclists from the city roads to get them up in the air and help the bike ways to pay for themselves.

People, it seems pretty clear to me. The simpler and bigger a scheme is, the more likely a politician will like it. The more it requires hard work and detailed thinking or negotiation – and without, at the end of it, the recognition of your heroic inspiration – the less likely it is to appeal. Who would want to be the politician who joined-up the cycle lanes and banned cars from carefully-chosen roads? Who would want to be the installer of 1,000 bike shelters? When you could be the man who put giant cycling tubes in the sky? The great ripper-up of Southern England so people could see Birmingham in under an hour? Who’d want to be the person who quietly let the diplomats haggle with the Russians, to nudge Syria to a better way, rather than the man who let slip the dogs of war?