Saturday, 28 February 2009

still twittering

Decided to give Twitter a go last week and am still twittering. It doesn’t take long to get used to the conventions etc. and I have found it to be a useful complement to blogging.

The main benefits for me have been:

  • Convenient method for highlighting and communicating links to articles and posts which I have found interesting.
  • Useful source of material; e.g. one of the people I am following is tweeting a wide range of resources for Lent (from New Zealand).
  • Having a Twitter feed on my blog enables me to post comments, observations, news which I wouldn’t bother to put in a full blog post. My blog posts are also fed as a link through Twitter.
  • The technology is easy to set up and use and the resources are free.
  • It’s fun to follow people and particular subjects of interest.
  • Short feeds on breaking news, footy, faith …
  • Accessibility - you can Twitter from a variety of sources.

Haven’t got into TwitPic yet but can see the advantage for letting family and friends know what we are up to on holiday.

Monday, 23 February 2009

access course co-ordinator

St Mellitus College is seeking to appoint an Access Course Co-ordinator.

SMC is embarking on an exciting new venture, offering an access course in theology. We are looking for someone with experience in adult theological education and proven organisational and administrative skills to co-ordinate the new course.

The post is for 2 days per week: Salary £21,000pa pro-rata.

Further details about the post and application form are available from Revd Dr D Hilborn: . Tel: 020 7481 9477.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

grubby - english cricket

Grubber is a cricketing term for a ball that bounces unusually low and is therefore difficult for the batsman to hit. Underneath grubber in the cricketer’s dictionary should be a new term; Grubby. Grubby just about sums up the state of English cricket following the Stanford affair in which the ECB sold its soul to a Texas billionaire whose financial empire seems to have collapsed amidst accusation of massive $8 billion fraud.

The Stanford affair is only the latest episode in the sorry tale of English cricket. For me the real rot set in when the ECB decided that home Test Matches would no longer be shown live on terrestrial television. This followed England beating Australia and winning the Ashes in 2005. Set aside the embarrassing spectacle of England cricketers staggering around London for several days in a drunken stupor (can you imagine the opprobrium that would have been heaped on footballers behaving in such a manner). The ECB ran straight into Sky’s arms and, at a time when they could have drawn in millions of new fans and grass roots players, they guaranteed that the majority of potential fans wouldn’t be able to watch test cricket. O.K. there would be a short highlights package on Channel 5 but you couldn’t even receive this channel in some parts of the country; my relatives in Devon for example. What on earth the government was doing not including test cricket in the 'crown jewels' of protected sporting fixtures I do not know but I guess the cricket authorities persuaded them it would be a revenue winner.

English cricket’s lowest point came, however, when Stanford flew into Lord’s Cricket Ground in his helicopter and pulled out $20 million. You can read about the whole sorry affair here. In summary the ECB agreed to play a Stanford series in the Caribbean, the highlight of which would be a 20/20 tournament with the winning side standing to win $1 million per player. Look at the figures, $1 million per player for half a days work. Now imagine how the members of the England squad left out of the side would feel watching their team mates raking in the dosh. What effect on team moral would this have? The ECB have effectively said that the England cricket team is up for sale to the highest bidder. There is only one word for it; grubby.

As it was, the match was an embarrassment and England truly pathetic, being trounced by the Stanford team. The only good thing to come out of the event was that some not so wealthy West Indies players received a welcome income, though the news following Stanford’s collapse is that several of them reinvested their winnings in his businesses. Events around the tournament were cringe worthy but the ECB didn’t seem to care because Stanford was pouring money into the English game through sponsorship and the county chairman lapped up the money. The players looked and sounded humiliated; torn between chasing the cash and not wanting to appear as money grubbers. It wasn’t their fault as they were put in this invidious position by their bosses, the ECB.

And now the chickens are coming home to roost. Stanford’s empire is collapsing and the ECB has belatedly withdrawn from the partnership. English and county cricket has already received substantial payments from Stanford’s sponsorship and is struggling to explain how they didn’t conduct due diligence before entering the partnership. Actually the ECB board claims it did conduct due diligence which by all accounts amounted to little more than checking Stanford had the money, not questioning how he got the money. The U.S. authorities claim they’ve been investigating Stanford’s businesses for years, yet, everything smelled of roses to the ECB.

As I write this I’m listening to Gary Richardson on Radio 5 Live grilling a county cricket chairman on Stanford and it is embarrassing to hear the prevarication, equivocation and self justification. There are a few exceptions amongst the county chairmen, most notably Neil Davidson of Leicestershire who has called for resignations. What is becoming clear is that no one is prepared to take responsibility for the debacle and the board’s chairman, Giles Clarke, and chief executive, David Collier, are refusing to stand down.

Stanford may have bowled English cricket a grubber but the way the England and Wales Cricket Board has batted has been truly Grubby.

Saturday, 21 February 2009


Prepared for much grief from colleagues as I’ve decided to give Twitter a go. I reckon it will take me a few days to get the hang of it and see what the benefits are, though I’ve already come across some interesting contacts and useful resources. Many thanks to Bishop Alan Wilson for helpful information about Twitter and tips on useful gadgets etc. I was pleased to discover that my preferred user name was still available and the enterprise was very easy to set up. Needless to say my wife is unimpressed. You can follow me on Twitter here.

Friday, 20 February 2009

restless - william boyd

Just finished Restless by William Boyd and it was an excellent read. I can't decide whether Boyd or Ian McEwan is the best English fiction writer around at the moment. What both authors have going for them is a mastery of the craft of storytelling allied with wonderful prose. It always takes me longer to read their books because I can't just dash through the plot, I want to enjoy the writing.

Anyway, the plot of Restless is a cracker. The story interweaves events during WWII in Europe and the U.S.A. with England in the summer of 1976. The two central characters are very strong females, sympathetically drawn against the backdrop of the dark world of the spy. Can't say too much more without spoiling the story but I highly recommend it. What's more I got my copy in Oxfam for £1!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

bible in motion

Interesting article on the Today programme this morning about the problem that a lack of Bible knowledge is causing for the reading and study of English Literature. The Poet Laureate Andrew Motion and Professor John Mullan from University College London discussed the difficulties of teaching literature when students don’t know or understand the source material of the Bible and the Classics. Mullan teaches a course to bring students up to speed with some of the key material. You can find the discussion here. If you think that Motion and Mullan are exaggerating then watch an episode of University Challenge and see the students struggle to answer the most basic of questions about the Bible.

This is nothing new. In the early 1980s I studied English Literature at A level and was amazed at the way my fellow students missed references and imagery that I took for granted. Again and again our teachers had to explain a story from the Bible to which the author was alluding. It was essential for the older texts like Shakespeare and Chaucer and for the more modern texts of authors such as Joyce and Golding. The same was true during my Theology Degree at Durham. I took two papers in Literature and Theology with the English department, on a course developed by Dr Ruth Etchells, and many of my colleagues studying English Lit didn’t have a clue about the background primary texts for many of the works we studied.

Even more worrying, I find in my present role developing curricula for various education and training programmes that assumptions about basic student knowledge of the Bible can no longer be made. Every couple of years I have to look at where we start the courses and ask if we need to include more foundational material. At a Course in Christian Studies introductory day a few years ago there was one group of about fifteen students doing an exercise based on a passage from the Old Testament. At the end of the session the tutor came and told me that not one of the students had recognised the story of David and Nathan and where it came from. I do find myself wondering what is going on in some parishes when people don’t know the story of King David.

With the above in mind we developed some Access courses in the Diocese of Chelmsford for parishes to use, which cover the basic content and genres of the Bible and how to read the Bible both personally and with others. This Lent the diocese is running two Saturday courses called Walk Thru The Bible and these have already proved popular judging by the number of people who have signed up. If anyone is interested in these courses details can be found here and there is still time to book.

Jonathan Evens has posted more material on the topic here.
The Guardian has an article about Andrew Motion's concerns here.

Monday, 16 February 2009


Great to see a feature in The Church Times last week on Pleshey, the Chelmsford Diocese Retreat House. Pleshey holds a special place in many people’s hearts and I have attended retreats and other events there for over twenty years. I live only six miles away but don’t visit nearly as often as I should.

My first experience of Pleshey was my deacons’ retreat in 1987. The retreat was both encouraging and challenging and was expertly led by Sister Carol. My second experience was the retreat before ordination as a priest and that was horrendous. Our retreat leader shall remain nameless but I gave up on the Saturday and headed to my brother’s house in nearby Chelmsford to watch the Republic of Ireland v England in the 1988 European Championships (Ireland won 1-0). I think the powers that be thought I had done a runner and didn’t want to be ordained so I had some explaining to do.

Events I’ve attended over the years have included a Clergy Leadership Programme and other CME events, leading various lay and clergy education and training events, diocesan working groups, committee meetings and Reader pre- licensing retreats. However, the most memorable times at Pleshey for me have been moments of silence in the garden, walks around the village and surrounding area and opportunities for quiet contemplation, prayer and worship in the chapel. Other highlights involve the two village pubs; The White Horse and The Leather Bottle.

Sunday, 15 February 2009


Are we rapidly becoming a society devoid of the concept of personal and corporate responsibility? I cite some recent examples.

Listening to the radio a few days ago I heard a financial expert explain how the bankers weren’t to blame for their profligate casino style practices; it was the fault of the regulatory authorities who should have stopped them. Well yes, our financial regulatory authorities have been exposed as inadequate, though we should remember who screams every time even the mildest regulatory reforms are proposed. But the regulators didn’t actually indulge in the activities which have nearly bankrupted the nation, the bankers did. The argument seems to be that it’s not our fault if we behave irresponsibly or illegally but the fault of others for not stopping us.

At a personal level the same argument is applied. ‘It’s not my fault that I have racked up huge amounts of debt maxing out my credit cards and taking out a massive mortgage which I never had any hope of paying off. It’s the fault of those willing to lend me money.’ This is the cry being uttered every day on radio phone in programmes and vox pop news items. Of course the bankers shouldn’t have been lending this credit (and are now reaping the whirlwind) but they didn’t force people to take the money at gun point did they? Presumably people applied for the credit, decided to take out the mortgage, had some grasp of the fundamentals of mathematics that tells them how much they earn and how much they owe?

A further example is the argument surrounding the banning from this country of Geert Wilders the controversial Dutch politician and maker of the film Fitna. Wilders strikes me as an extremely unpleasant character, at present facing charges of inciting racial hatred in his country, and the film is a nasty piece of work (yes I have seen it). But what I find extraordinary is the claim, made by politicians in this country, that Wilders should be banned in case by his presence he incites people to acts of lawbreaking. The claim seems to be that Wilders’ film is offensive to Muslims and therefore there is a risk that they will behave badly, so they need to be protected from their own uncontrollable emotions. Are these people really saying that Muslims are incapable of controlling their responses to offence? I have rarely heard such condescending rubbish. Do people not realise how patronising this is?

Why was the same argument not applied to the BBC showing of Jerry Springer The Opera? Many Christians found it offensive but I didn’t hear any politician say it shouldn’t be shown in case Christians took to the streets. This is presumably because, though some Christians might exercise their right to free speech by complaining, the authorities didn’t expect Christians to start rioting. Why the presumed difference in response, unless there is an underlying assumption that the Muslim community is incapable of controlling its response, which strikes me as being a racist generalisation. If the authorities really believe that Muslim relations with the rest of society and the rule of law are so dangerous that the risk of offence couldn’t be countenanced, then the central thesis of Wilders’ film is shown to be true.

Suppose it were true that members of the Muslim community were likely to react illegally in response to offence given by Wilders’ presence, then the authorities have been blackmailed into banning him. People have a responsibility not to break the law, even if they are upset by the presence or actions of others, and that needs to be stated clearly by those charged with upholding the law. We’ve been here before with Salman Rushdie and The Satanic Verses. There is an excellent comment piece by Catherine Bennett in the Observer which recounts the shameful response by politicians at the time to the fatwa issued against Rushdie by the Ayatolla Khomeini in 1989.

I recognise that there are situations where freedom of speech and movement may be curtailed for the common good. Part of my childhood was spent growing up in Belfast and I remember the Marching Season all too clearly. I can understand why at times it has been felt that, in order to avoid stirring up sectarian tensions within communities, it has been considered sensible to restrict the marching routes. It has always seemed a shame to me that this was necessary; far better that the marchers voluntarily select routes through their own communities but I guess that would defeat part of the purpose of the exercise. In 2006 the Racial and Religious Hatred Act was passed. This law recognises a restriction on freedom of speech and it will be interesting to see how this Act is enforced over time. However, freedom of speech is not the focus of this post and further consideration of that issue will have to wait for another time.

My contention in this post is that we each have a responsibility for the consequences of what we say and do and we also have a responsibility for how we respond to the words and actions of others.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

that's why I love football - chelski

I’ve been resisting the temptation to blog about footy in recent weeks but now that the game has scaled new heights of absurdity I can resist no longer. The catalyst for this post is the latest machinations at Chelski. Here is a side that three years ago threatened, or at least talked about, world domination but who are determined to become the laughing stock of the national game. Only a few months ago Chelski were one penalty kick away from winning the Champions League and then up stepped John Terry; the rest as they say is history and my beloved Man Utd took the European crown. I confess that at the time I had mixed feelings as my two brothers, both Chelski fans, were in Moscow for the final and had endured the travel and the rain only to be denied that moment of glory right at the end.

There is one incident from that evening that sticks in my mind and sums up so much of what I despise about the beautiful game. The losers went up to collect their medals and leading the way was their chief executive Peter Kenyon. He was handed a medal and had the nerve to put it round his neck. He had a smile on his face while behind him stood the players looking as if their world had just imploded. Some could barely look at the trophy so nearly within their grasp, while others could only raise an exhausted arm to wipe away the mixture of rain and tears streaming down their faces. Who could not feel sorry for this brave band of sportsmen who had completely spent themselves over 120 minutes and a penalty shoot out? Here were lions led by a donkey (Chelsea’s emblem is a lion by the way). In contrast Sir Bobby Charlton led the victors up the stairs to receive the trophy and when handed a medal shook his head to indicate he didn’t deserve it, stood out of the way and let the players take all the glory. If ever anyone could have justified putting that medal round his neck it was this knight of the game who is a legend of both club and country. But written into Charlton's DNA are the true values of sport that meant he couldn’t wear the winner’s medal.

What a contrast between the two men that says everything about the direction football has taken. Ironically, Kenyon had previously been chief executive of Man Utd and had boasted of his life long allegiance to the club. However, money talks and BS walks so when Abramovich (owner of Chelski) came calling Kenyon sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. Here is the true face of football at Stamford Bridge. Not John Terry, who was inconsolable after his penalty miss, nor my brothers who hauled themselves around the country supporting their team even in the dark days of relegation and Ken Bates as chairmen. Instead, a suit with an inane grin and a loser’s Champions League medal round his neck who has seen the club entrusted to his stewardship go through five managers in six years. This week Chelski revealed that they have paid out over £23 million in compensation in the last financial year to managers and coaching staff that they have sacked – in one year! This figure doesn’t even account for payment to the latest casualty Luiz Philipe Scolari, who, despite managing Brazil to a World Cup win and creating a fantastic Portuguese national team, is not considered good enough to manage Chelski after only a few months in charge.

The reason for my vitriol is that Chelski should be more than just the play thing of a billionaire Russian oligarch. They are a club with a proud tradition of stylish football: the swagger of the King’s Road, the heart of steel represented by heroes like Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris and the safe hands of Peter ‘the cat’ Bonetti creating a platform for the flair of Osgood, Hutchinson, Hollins, Hudson et al. The first F.A. Cup Final I remember watching was Chelsea v Leeds – the beauty verses the beast. They may have won two Premier League titles under ‘the special one’ Jose Mourinho in recent years but at the same time they have forfeited the affection many held for them and their style of football. And now it looks like the owner has closed the cheque book and the one thing Chelski still had going for them, an inexhaustible bank balance, is disappearing; the Roubles going over the Urals as it were. They are outbid in the transfer market by the second biggest team in Manchester, with an aging squad and divided dressing room, the possibility of missing out on the Champions League next season and having just employed a part time manager doing a favour to the owner.

Chelski stand as a stark warning to football in general – a club run by people who know the cost of everything but the value of nothing. This great club’s tradition and supporters deserve so much more.
Check out Marina Hyde's article to see the same sorry tale being played out at Manchester City.

Thursday, 12 February 2009


As part of my job I read and mark students’ assignments up to diploma and degree level. One thing guaranteed to make my heart sink is to look at the references and bibliography for an essay and see that the source cited is Wikipedia. An incident this week highlights the reason for my concern. Gordon Brown and David Cameron had one of their weekly spats at Prime Minister’s Questions and Cameron ridiculed Brown over the age at which the artist Titian had died (I can’t be bothered to explain the background to this matter so crucial to the wellbeing of the country that it merited mention at PMQs).

Academics disagree over the exact age of Titian when he died but, in an attempt to give support to his leader’s claim, a Conservative party worker changed the details of Titian’s Wikipedia entry. I won’t comment on what this says about the maturity of those who work for political parties, however, the incident exposes the problem with using Wikipedia as a source; it simply cannot be trusted.

A couple of years ago I read an article by Mike Scott of The Waterboys in The Guardian. In the article Scott complained about inaccuracies in his Wikipedia entry and the problems with trying to correct the errors. Scott is actually quite complementary about Wikipedia but his experience underlines the problem. I like Wikipedia and the concept behind it. I enjoy using Wikipedia for general information, for example, about my favourite musicians. It is a useful resource for sources and links on a topic; the sources cited can be followed through to check their veracity. Yet, the fact remains that, because of what Wikipedia is, it cannot be trusted as a primary source. As Titiangate shows, there is always the possibility that some little grunt has got their dabs on an article and edited it for their own, or their master’s, self serving purposes.

Monday, 2 February 2009

snow - james joyce

The kids were up early this morning demanding I check to see if their school was closed due to the heavy snow fall overnight. It is, along with other schools across the county and my two were straight out into the garden like many children up and down the land.

Whenever it snows like this I think of the James Joyce short story The Dead from his collection Dubliners. The story was made into a film by John Huston featuring his daughter Angelica. It was the last film Huston directed and was released after his death. Critics have written thousands of words on Joyce’s use of the image of snow but I love the lyrical beauty of his prose.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Outside the front door

From the garden

Sunday, 1 February 2009

fry's language

Yesterday I spent a very enjoyable hour walking the dog and listening to a superb podcast by Stephen Fry on the theme of language. I make no apologies for being a fan of Mr Fry. His reading of the Harry Potter series on audio cd has guaranteed our family many hours of hassle free travelling in the car. He is an occasional reviewer and blogger for The Guardian technology section and his observations about new gadgets and innovations (e.g. Twitter) are helpful because he writes as an everyday punter. I enjoy watching Q.I., which he presents for the BBC, and his acting in films as diverse as Gosford Park and V for Vendetta.

Anyway, Fry’s latest podcast is a celebration of the pleasure of language. About half way through he slips into a rant against the pendants who expend their energies campaigning for the proper use of language and asks why they don’t do something more creative with their time. Fry suggests that these people are no more the true guardians of language than the Kennel Club is of dogs. For Fry language is constantly evolving and he argues that we should luxuriate in using it, not hedge it in and crush it with ‘rules’ which in most cases are no more than conventions.

There are times when the rules of language are important. My wife is a lawyer and is trained to use language in a very precise way; a misplaced comma can make all the difference to the interpretation of a contract. Fry accepts this yet argues that all to often those upholding the rules do so not out of a love for language or because the context demands it but out of an over inflated sense of their own importance and to denigrate others. These people do not love language, they are squeezing the joy and pleasure out of language.

One of my delights at the moment is reading my young children’s stories and listening to them explore language in conversation. My son is continually asking what words mean and my daughter pushing the boundaries of her vocabulary in her writing. I guess in this I am no different from many parents though I have to remind myself not to take it for granted. When my son was very young and attending the health clinic for a check up, my wife was asked whether he had started to construct simple sentences like ‘that is a dog‘. Kate didn’t have the heart to tell the questioner that on the way to the clinic my son had looked out of the car window and said ‘look Mummy there’s a Dalmatian over there’. Occasionally I sigh at my children’s misspelt words or inaccurate punctuation and then I stop and rejoice that they want to experiment in their use of language. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want them to learn how to spell or to understand grammatical rules, simply that those things are tools to be used in serving their love of language and not chains to bind and restrict them.

Fry recommends Guy Deutscher’s The Unfolding of Language but concludes his podcast with the following:
‘Don’t feel the need to study language as a subject. The sheer act of reading, writing, talking and listening is enough.’