Thursday, 29 July 2010

Pickfords – the sequel

Yesterday I wrote a post about the unpleasant experience of a clergy family using Pickfords for their recent move. Today I am pleased to post the following comment that was left on my blog by a representative of the company:
My name is Charmaine Watts, I am responsible for Customer Service at Pickfords.
I noted with concern, your blog and the photographs that have been posted onto Twitter by our customer. On behalf of Pickfords, I apologise unreservedly for the incident, it was the individual failing of one person within our organization and is not representative of the service we deliver to thousands of families on the move each year.
I did not hear of the concern from the Reverend directly, but we have reacted quickly to your blog and have investigated the case this morning and interviewed the crew.
We were very disappointed with the conduct displayed by the concerned individual who has been immediately suspended for gross misconduct pending investigation and formal disciplinary action.
I will make contact with the Reverend directly to extend my personal apologies for this regrettable incident.
It is good to see the company responding so promptly and interesting to note that they monitor Twitter and the blogosphere. I wait to hear if their unhappy customers receive the promised apology and some appropriate recompense.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Pickfords – sign of the times (10)

The slogan of the Pickfords moving and storage company is: A move as individual as you are. Well, one clergy family found out what that meant when they had the privilege of being moved by Pickfords this week. Rounding off a generally unpleasant experience they discovered this witty epithet on one of the packing boxes.

moving box

A sad reflection of the contempt with which some companies treat customers who have paid good money for a service. Not clever really as clergy move quite a few times during their ministry and word soon gets around about which firms to use and who to avoid.

Photo courtesy of @Kneewax

Monday, 26 July 2010

7 links challenge

A few days ago The Church Mouse posted his response to the 7 Links Challenge and I was amazed to discover that he had mentioned one of my posts, having a punt, in his response. Anyway, I though I’d take up the challenge and have a go.

1. Your first post – My first post was entitled Lawnmower Reflections and explained the title of my previous blog. Sadly, for me if for no one else, the blog is no longer accessible so I can’t link to it. From memory I explained how the title was prompted by the fact that I seem to do my most creative thinking while mowing the lawn (so not very often) and that one of my favourite Genesis songs contains the classic line: ‘Me I’m just a lawnmower, you can tell me by the way I walk’ (Genesis: I Know What I Like from Selling England By the Pound). The first post on this blog was called Moving Home.

2. A post you enjoyed writing the most – I didn’t enjoy writing this post but it came together in the way I wanted it to and had the impact on some readers that I had intended. A tale of two homecomings contrasts the return of the failed England World Cup Squad with the arrival home on the same day of the bodies of seven soldiers from Afghan. I wept as I wrote it and several people commented that it had the same effect on them.

3. A post which had a great discussion – I try not to let outrage drive my blogging but with this post I couldn’t help it. UKBA Christmas Card was my response to the outrageous Christmas card sent out by the Border Agency boasting about their work in 2009. It was just plain offensive and a complete contradiction of what Christmas is about. I had a huge number of hits and many links from other sites, both Christian and secular. My blood still boils when I think about that card.

4. A post on someone else's blog that you wish you'd written – There is so much excellent material out there and I am continually challenged and inspired by other people’s blogging. However, I have gone for someone who does something I could never do. Dave Walker is a cartoonist responsible for the Cartoon Blog, as well as drawing for the Church Times. He is able with one picture to sum up some aspect of church life in a way that a post full of words could never do. He is funny and incisive, often making for uncomfortable reading and he has been known to wind up the most hard bitten hack; one Telegraph journo called him ‘the world’s worst cartoonist’. Here’s one of many I could have linked to: The Welcomers.

5. A post with a title that you are proud of – I’m not very good at thinking up titles and I get annoyed with blogs that have posts with arresting titles that don’t really relate to the post. I’ve gone for U-bend Theology my review of Slumdog Millionaire. I wasn’t very impressed by the film but one scene did remind me of an important theological truth.

6. A post that you wish more people had readPalestinian Walks: notes on a vanishing landscape. This was a review of a book I read following my sabbatical visit to the land of the Holy One. The book by Raja Shehadeh tells the story of his love affair with the landscape of his homeland against the backdrop of the unfolding events in Israel and Palestine. It’s very powerful and anyone who wants to understand more of the situation should read the book.

7. Your most visited post ever – I’ve already listed the most visited post which was the UKBA Christmas card (see 3). In second place was Gossip: cancer of the community. This post was about the press coverage of the process for appointing the Bishop of Southwark. The post seemed to touch a raw spot because a well known journalist at the Telegraph responsible for breaking the story started attacking me via Twitter!

That’s me done. I enjoyed looking back and reviewing the posts I am proud of and those that in retrospect didn’t really work. I look forward to other bloggers’ responses.

I’ll tag Sam Norton, Jonathan Evens, Maggi Dawn, Steve Griffiths, and Dave Walker for this one.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Advice for Life – sign of the times (9)

A friend pointed out this sign in the High Street yesterday. I’m a bit confused because Jessops is a camera shop and I wasn’t aware they had turned into a counselling centre. I was tempted to go in and ask ‘what must I do to be saved?’ but would probably have ended up with a new Nikon. What next, Currys running Alpha courses?


Friday, 23 July 2010

A Klingon blessing

We’ve been watching reruns of the consistently excellent Frasier. Last night I saw an episode I’d not come across before and it ended with Frasier delivering a blessing at his son’s Bar Mitzvah. The only problem was he delivered the blessing in perfect Klingon rather than Hebrew. You’ll have to watch the whole episode (Star Mitzvah 2002) to understand how it came about, but here’s the blessing. Priceless.

Here is the translation:
The English version:
"My dearest son, each day you redeem me. May your journey be filled with the same joy, wisdom, and purpose you have given mine."

The Klingon translation is:
"puqloDwI' le'qu': Hoch jaj choquvmoH. lenglIj lutebjaj lengwIjvaD bel rap, Sov rap, ngoQ rap je Danobpu'bogh."

A phonetic version of what was spoken on the show:
"Pookh lod wih le koo. Hach jahj cho-koov-moakh leng-lidge loo-Teb-jahj leng widge-vahd bel rahp shoave dah-nobe-poo-boagh."

NB. Klingon is the language spoken by the Klingon warrior people in Star Trek. You can find out more about the galaxy's fastest growing language from The Klingon Language Institute.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Praise and Blame

There’s been much comment in the music press about Tom Jones’ latest offering Praise and Blame; not least from his own record label. David Sharpe, vice president of Island Records, was reported to have sent an angry email to colleagues declaring the record a ‘sick joke’ and went on to say: ‘We did not invest a fortune in an established artist for him to deliver 12 tracks from the common book of prayer (sic).’ Some have speculated that this is just an elaborate publicity stunt to attract maximum attention for the album’s release, but I suspect Island are genuinely very nervous.

I’ve now had a chance to hear Praise and Blame and I really enjoyed it. The production by Ethan Jones is ideal for showcasing the deep rich tone of Jones’ vocals and the stripped back ambience is perfect for the gospel, blues and spirituals repertoire. The album reminds me of T Bone Burnett’s work with Robert Plant and Alison Kraus on Raising Sand and includes the track Nobody’s Fault But Mine which Plant recorded with Led Zeppelin. This version is more like Plant’s reworking of the song with Jimmy Page on No Quarter and some of the guitar playing on the album is also reminiscent of Page’s slide work.

The album starts with Dylan’s What good am I which sets the tone in both pace and mood; though occasionally Jones’ rocks out a bit more on tracks like Burning Hell and Lord Help the Poor and Needy. There are confessional moments when it sounds as if Jones’ is genuinely baring his soul. Commenting on his motivation for recording the material Jones revealed: "We thought, 'Let's look for some spiritual things, uplifting things, things that mean something.'" He also reflected "So these spiritual songs, the gospel songs on this album, that's very natural to me. It's not like stepping into an area that I haven't tried yet. I know what these songs are; it's my cup of tea if you like. This is stuff that I listen to, that I've always liked." "When I heard it, I thought, 'This is me, this is my meat, this is where I come from.'" 

Sunday, 18 July 2010

I love my job

The last month has been fairly manic but in the midst of it all have been several reminders of what I love about my job. A couple of weeks ago we celebrated our diocesan lay education and training programmes in Chelmsford Cathedral; it was a great occasion with a real sense of joy. Last weekend we held our Reader selection conference and met some gifted, faithful candidates offering to train to serve in this important lay ministry of preaching and teaching. It was particularly encouraging to see the diversity of candidates in age and background.

Then yesterday at St. Paul’s Cathedral staff and students of St. Mellitus College gathered together for our Graduation and Valedictory Eucharist. We said goodbye to recently ordained deacons and the Chelmsford Readers who were licensed last autumn. This cohort of students is the first group to study together from the two constituent parts of the college; North Thames Ministerial Training Course and St. Paul’s Theological Centre. ISt Mellitus graduation 1t has been so encouraging to see the way the students have integrated, studied, worshipped and grown together in formation for ministry. They have modelled SMC’s commitment to generous orthodoxy.

The students graduated from Middlesex University, St. Mellitus College’s validating body; the ordinands receiving their BA in Contextual Theology and the Readers a Dip He in Ministry. The awards were presented by Dr Claude Pehrson on behalf of the university’s Dean. Claude is a good friend to SMC having been involved in the validation of our various programmes and we wish him well as he retires this summer.

SMC banner During the Eucharist the students presented the college with a banner they had commissioned, a creative working of the St. Mellitus College logo. Each of the students was also presented with a certificate by Revd Dr Graham Tomlin, Dean of SMC, and myself as Director of Lay Ministry Studies. I was particularly proud of our Reader students, four of whom had received distinctions in the Dip HE. Following the service and some photographs at the West door of the cathedral we headed off to St Bride’s Institute for some lunch.

Other highlights of the last month have included chairing a diocesan working party on authorising local preachers; preparing and planning to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible in 2011 and several visits to deanery chapters to talk about SHAPE, part of our diocesan vocations initiative. There’s a fair amount of routine in my role with lots happening on a cyclical pattern, but at the heart of it all is the opportunity to support and resource Christians and churches in their ministry and mission and that is a real privilege.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Still beating

I was interested to hear that Bobby Harrison, former drummer with Procul Harum, will be joined by keyboard player Matthew Fisher to perform A Whiter Shade of Pale at Holy Trinity church, Rayleigh in Essex on Saturday August 21st. This is the first time the two will have played together since the 60s and the gig follows Fisher’s successful legal battle last year for recognition as a composer of the classic song.  bobby-harrison-2008

The venue may be a surprise to die hard rock fans until one discovers that Harrison now plays in a band called Journey, a Christian band based at Thorpe Bay Baptist church. Harrison’s career following Procul Harum included a spell with Snafu supporting top 70s bands including; ELP, the Doobie Brothers and The Eagles. After a struggle with cocaine addiction Harrison moved back to Essex where he became a Christian. Speaking of his faith the drummer comments, ‘I am now in the grip of a gentle giant, the Lord Jesus Christ, where I am happy to be.’ Of the forthcoming gig he says, ‘God certainly moves in mysterious ways and it’s going to be the first time we have performed this song since the 60s’.

Harrison is not the only drummer from the classic rock period still playing in Essex. T.Rex drummer Bill Legend now lives in Chelmsford and plays regularly in a worship band at the Elim Christian Centre. Legend is the only surviving member of T.Rex so no chance of any reunions there.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Rank: World Cup 2010 (10)

On Tuesday FIFA announced the rankings for the teams performing in the World Cup 2010. England were ranked 13th, their worst performance in any World Cup Finals.World-Cup-trophy No surprise there for anyone who had the misfortune to watch England’s performances against teams rated much lower in the world. England were turfed out of the tournament in the second round, beaten 4 – 1 by Germany and it was their biggest World Cup defeat.

Then on Wednesday came the extraordinary announcement, again from FIFA, that England had actually gone up in the World team rankings; from 8th to 7th place! The reason is the even worse performances of several other top teams including France, Italy and Portugal. England played very poorly and yet managed to improve their ranking. Bizarre.

There is another definition of the word rank: a strong or offensive odour or flavour. This seems to be a more appropriate description of England’s performance; it was rank. It left a sour taste in the mouth and a foul aroma in the air.

The other team that put in a rank performance were the Dutch. After some good displays in the run up to the final they completely lost the plot and played as if they were in a remake of the Kung Fu classic Enter the Dragon. A team who had previously developed a reputation as proponents of Total Football gave up trying to kick the ball and dedicated themselves to kicking their opponents.

Congratulations to Spain on winning the World Cup to add to their 2008 European Championship trophy. The Spanish put on a solid rather than spectacular exhibition throughout the competition, with only flashes of their flair and skill. However, they were worthy winners of what turned out to be a disappointing tournament.

The hosts South Africa delivered the goods in running the competition and proved the peddlers of doom and gloom wrong. The highlight for me was Desmond Tutu’s dance of joy at the opening ceremony. It was a shame that Tutu’s fancy footwork wasn’t matched by so many of the top ranked players who, almost to a man, failed to enhance their reputations as masters of the beautiful game. Most put on brilliant performances in their sponsors’ adverts but were frankly woeful on the pitch. And that may well be the heart of the problem for football; over paid journeymen with their eye on their bank balances rather than the goal.

So that’s it. World Cup 2010 came to an end with few memorable highlights. Roll on Brazil 2014.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The Histories: Beach books (1)

Thought I’d offer a few suggestions of books to read on the beach, by the pool or stuck in the airport during BA’s latest strike. First up some historical novels. I’d be interested to hear other suggestions.

 The Shardlake Series: C. J. Sansom
Set during the reign of Henry VIII the series follows the fortunes of Matthew Shardlake; much maligned hunchbacked lawyer, disillusioned reformer and occasional investigator for the crown. A powerful evocation of the atmosphere of Tudor England, with complex plots and fascinating characters. Each book explores an issue relating to the politics and religious controversies of the times against the backdrop of Henry’s marital travails.There are four books in the series so far and another coming out in September. Check out +Alan Wilson’s review of Revelation.

The Falco Series: Lindsey Davies
Marcus Didius Falco is a gumshoe in downtown Rome during the rule of Vespasian. The series follows Falco across the Roman Empire on various private commissions and assignments for the Emperor. During his travels he is accompanied by his longsuffering partner Helena Justina and assorted members of his extended family. Davies has a wicked sense of humour and captures something of the dark underbelly of downtown Rome in the AD70s. ‘The whole thing is splendid. It has everything, mystery, pace, wit, fascinating scholarship’ – Ellis Peters. 20 books and counting.

The Cicero Trilogy: Robert Harris
Robert Harris’ first dabble with antiquity was his well received Pompeii. He then began his trilogy based on the life of Cicero. The subject gives Harris all he needs to explore contemporary topics in the context of the ancient Roman Republic. Here we are presented with a plethora of political and military characters; huge competing egos; unstable alliances and self serving coalitions; enough backstabbing and financial chicanery to make a back bencher blush and the hubris that so often accompanies power. Much more effective than The Ghost, Harris’ rather predictable and unsubtle savaging of the Blairs. The second in the series, Lustrum, has just come out in paperback, but I’d recommend starting with Imperium.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Mr CatOlick’s guide to General Synod

For those of you who have struggled to follow the deliberations of General Synod over the last weekend in York, fear not, Mr Catolick has produced a set of videos explaining what happened.

h/t The Church Mouse who I suspect found watching these videos an unsettling experience and even gets a brief mention at the end of the last video.

Bishop Tom bows out

Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham, gave his final speech as a bishop at General Synod today. +Tom will be returning to university based work in the near future, taking up a post as Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Andrew’s. This video shows +Tom making a barnstorming contribution to the debate on Women Bishops. Best line, quoting a London cabbie: 'If God raised Jesus Christ from the dead then everything else is just rock n roll, innit!'


+Tom is a leading Biblical scholar and his return to the academy gives him the opportunity to continue his prolific output of writing. He publishes his more popular works as Tom Wright and his more academic material as N. T. Wright. I for one am looking forward to him completing his major series: Christian Origins and the Question of God. The House of Bishops' loss is the academy’s gain.

The video was recorded by Ruth Gledhill of The Times and I am very grateful that she captured this significant contribution to the debate and that she is happy to share the recording.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Gossip: cancer of the community

Earlier this year a new Bishop of Chelmsford was announced. I can’t be bothered to go through all the steps in the process of the appointment, which started last summer and hasn’t finished yet, but want to make some general comments in the light of recent publicity over the appointment of the Bishop of Southwark. If you want the details of the process for appointing a diocesan bishop go here. I ought to declare an interest; my godfather Roy Williamson is a former Bishop of Southwark so not surprisingly I’m interested to see how things turn out the other side of the Thames.

Anyway, what I want to say is that the process for appointing a diocesan bishop involves a great deal of consultation but is also confidential. I was one of over 140 people who met individually with the Prime Minister and Archbishops’ appointments secretaries as part of the consultation and there was also an open meeting that anyone could attend. Because of complaints about lack of publicity for this part of the process, which coincided with the school holidays, the consultation period was extended to ensure anyone who wanted to contribute had an opportunity to do so. By the end of this process no one could complain that they hadn’t had their say.

Then the Crown Nominations Commission began its series of meetings to consider possible candidates. Two things need to be said about this part of the process. Firstly, I have no doubt that those serving on the CNC committed themselves to prayerfully seek the right person, guided by the Holy Spirit. Secondly, these meetings were confidential and those who served committed themselves to keep that confidence. In the case of Chelmsford I believe that confidentiality was honoured. I happened to meet two members of the CNC on the train after what turned out to have been their final meeting and they said not a word about their deliberations.

However, the confidentiality of the process didn’t stop the gossip. I remember sitting in meetings where someone would declare that they knew who had been appointed. Bit of a surprise really as I happened to know that the CNC hadn’t finished meeting at that stage. Try as one might to point this out some were insistent that they knew what was going on and what the outcome was. Others intimated that they had the inside track from other ‘sources’ about who was still in and who had been ruled out.

The process ran its course and I turned up to work in the Diocesan Office one morning to learn that there was to be a press conference an hour later at which the new Bishop of Chelmsford would be announced. That was the first time I was aware an announcement was to be made; those  who of necessity had prior knowledge maintained the confidentiality. I was delighted to attend the conference where Bishop Stephen Cottrell was introduced as our new bishop. I blogged about his appointment here.

And so to Southwark and the process of appointing another diocesan bishop. Over the last few days we have been treated to a constant stream of press reporting based on leaks and speculation. Bloggers, Twitterers and other commentators have picked up on these stories and shared their opinions on the basis of what they have read. I have a general rule with press reports like this; if they are based on a leak or unattributable source I ignore them because they are likely to be even more inaccurate or slanted than the less publicised speculation that did the rounds over the Chelmsford appointment. If someone has been leaking from the CNC then they will have to answer to God for their dishonesty and to their colleagues on the commission for their betrayal of trust.

Some brief reflections:
The press do not appear to have the best interests of the Gospel at heart. They have a story to tell and the more salacious the material the more likely they are to get it passed their editor and into the pages of whichever chip paper they work for. Even the more respectable are not averse to sinking to the despicable. If they depend on gossip, the breaking of confidences and title tattle for their information then that speaks volumes about the quality of their work.

Too many Christians have been quick to dash to comment on the basis of gossip and speculation. I am particularly dismayed with the comments of some clergy, so quick to judge without the facts and in some cases quite clearly with little knowledge about the processes. Of all people they should know the damage that rumour mongering causes a Christian community. They will have been on the receiving end of it enough in their own ministries; if not yet then they will be in the future. The process may not be great but that’s no excuse for some of the bile that has spewed forth.

No one has been well served in this story. Certainly not Jeffrey John whose life and ministry have been hijacked as a cause celebre by some and used as the excuse for ecclesial infighting and point scoring by others. Certainly not ++Rowan Williams. I have only spoken to the Archbishop briefly, though I have heard him speak on quite a few occasions. When I read the stuff that’s written about Rowan, I think of how Jane and the children must feel. I’m sure they feel the same as any of us would feel when witnessing their loved one being lambasted on the basis of innuendo. What is even more galling is that some of the vitriol is piled on by the very same people who on Sunday will lead prayers for the church and for her leaders, including the Archbishop. How can we pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ on Sunday and then slag them off mercilessly on Monday?

As for the Gospel of Christ. Well we can’t expect the press to treat the precious Good News with respect when we are so poor at doing that ourselves. In what way has what has been said and written on this affair commended the mission and ministry of the church to the wider community? The press have every right to turn round and say to us ‘don’t complain about our splinters when your chucking your own logs at each other’.

Update: Excellent article in The Guardian by +Nick Baines on the process of appointing a diocesan bishop.

Update 2: Very poor article in The Guardian claiming that Bishop Stephen Cottrell could be the next Bishop of Southwark. Difficult as he was appointed Bishop of Chelmsford back in April. A sad refelction on the quality of journalism covering religion in the national press.

Dancing in the chancel

It isn’t often you get to see bishops, archdeacons and canons dancing in a cathedral but it happened last night. Chelmsford Cathedral was packed for the annual service celebrating our diocesan lay education and training courses. Over 80 students received their Course in Christian Studies certificates and 13 Pastoral Assistants and 7 Evangelists also received certificates for successfully completing their training.

The Bishop of Bradwell, Laurie Green, welcomed students, family, friends and congregations from across the diocese and reminded us all that this occasion was a springboard to future ministry and service. Annette Cooper, Archdeacon of Colchester, preached on Jesus sending out the disciples (Matthew 10) and focused on the themes of diversity and complementarity in sharing the Good News. A few were rather nervous when Annette began her sermon by exclaiming ‘sound the vuvuzelas’ but the call captured the sense of joy and achievemenccs the peacet which were important features of the service. The music was led by Dry Bones , something of a fixture at these events, with just the right balance of prayerful meditation and praise. Things really kicked off following the sharing of The Peace as the cathedral resounded to the sound of We are marching in the light of God and that’s when the dancing started.

This service is one of the highlights of my working year and it is a great reminder of some of the really good things that God is doing in the church. I am so grateful for all the colleagues who work with me in delivering our lay education and training programmes and very proud of the students who have shown so much commitment in their studies and growing discipleship in Christ.

Now where did I put my vuvuzela?

Bicknacre ccsStudents of the Bicknacre CCS centre proudly display their certificates

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Schools should be palaces

There is a wonderful scene in an early episode of The West Wing. Sam Seaborn, the White House Deputy Communications Director, is trying to ask Mallory out on a lunch date. Mallory is a teacher and the daughter of Sam’s boss Leo, the Chief of Staff. Sam and Mallory get into an argument about a paper Sam has written on school vouchers; Mallory is vehemently opposed  to voucsam and malloryhers and is a committed public (state) school teacher. Things don’t look good for Sam until he reveals that he is as opposed to vouchers as Mallory and that his position paper was simply written to reflect the views of the administration’s opponents. Sam goes on to declare his commitment to education with the following statement:
Mallory, education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don't need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That's my position. I just haven't figured out how to do it yet.
Sam’s words came to mind yesterday, as I listened with horror to Michael Gove in the House of Commons announcing that the government is to abandon the Building Schools for the Future gove programme as part of their slash and burn approach to debt reduction. I accept that the scheme could be more efficiently administered and savings could be made, but to suspend the proposed building projects for 715 new schools is absurd. Anyone with a modicum of insight into education knows that poor school buildings and facilities have a direct impact on teaching and learning as well as significant implications for the wider community. This short term, knee jerk and what increasingly looks like an ideological decision is going to damage the education of children in our society for decades.

I have served for many years as a school governor in a variety of schools, including as Chair of Governors. I have chaired school appeals panels for a London borough. I have two young children at school and am grateful for the significant refurbishment their schools have undergone in recent years. I’ve seen first hand the difference major school improvements make to learning. The quality of our school buildings speaks volumes to the children, staff and wider community of the value we ascribe as a society to the education of our young people.

David Cameron enjoyed the privilege of going to etonone of the most  expensive privately funded schools in our country. I don’t begrudge him that, but I want to hold him to words he uttered when campaigning to become Prime Minister: I know how lucky I've been to have the chances I had. I want every child to have the chances I had. That is why I'm standing here.

Well Prime Minister, there are two ways to fulfil your aspiration; either you’re going to have to build a bigger Eton Wall or you’re going to have to fund the state education system to ensure that every child gets the education they deserve; in school buildings which are the best our society can provide.

The West Wing: Six meetings before lunch (2000)

Monday, 5 July 2010

Simulation: World Cup 2010 (9)

Sadly and predictably this year’s World Cup has been marred by excessive diving and feigned injuries. The most blatant act of cheating, amongst many contenders, was perpetuated by Keita during the match between Ivory Coast and Brazil. Keita ran into Brazil’s Kaka, fell to the ground and rolled around hkaka offolding his face. The referee, who didn’t see the incident, booked Kaka and sent him off. Replays clearly show that Kaka didn’t raise his arm and certainly didn’t strike Keita in the face.

It has been pointed out that this is a case of Brazil being on the receiving end of something they are also guilty of. The best example is the 2002 World Cup when Rivaldo went down clutching his face having had the ball kicked into his legs at a corner during a match against Turkey. The Turkish player Unsal was sent off, though FIFA later punished Rivaldo for ‘simulation’.

So what’s the answer? Well here’s one possibility.

h/t Bishop of Bradwell

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Pundits: World Cup 2010 (8)

I’ve lost count of how many people the BBC and ITV are employing as pundits out in South Africa for the World Cup, however, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon. The wisdom and insight offered about the World Cup is in inverse proportion to the numbers commenting and commentating on it. And so yesterday we had these stunning observation from Lee Dixon, formerly of Arsenal and England: ‘To win the world cup you have to have a good team’ and ‘Germany didn't start the competition great’ (they won 4-0!).

Commentators never let ignorance get in the way of opening their gobs and sharing their stupidity. During Germany’s destruction of Argentina on Saturday (at least England scored two against the Teutonic maestros) the camera focused on an attractive women in  the VIP section of thCharlize-Therone crowd. The BBC commentator opined: 'I'm not sure who she is, but I'd guess she's a WAG'. I am sure the Oscar winning actress Charlize Theron would be delighted to hear herself described as a footballer’s latest squeeze. Charlize is South African and helped with the World Cup draw in December. Ms Theron has a sense of humour because at the trial run through she announced Ireland in the draw, a not so subtle reference to the tragedy of Ireland being knocked out by the hand ball cheating France.

Many of the pundits rubbished the European teams in the competition on the basis of the early matches. The siren voices pronounced that we could have all South American semi finalists and went on to explain how these teams shamed European football with their skill and tactics. Now it is true that certain European teams were rubbish; England, France and Italy sought to outdo each other in the crapness stakes. What these teams have in common is aging squads packed with overpaid and technically challenged players. But now the quarter finals are completed it turns out that three of the four teams left are… European; Germany, Spain and the Netherlands (yes ITV it is the Netherlands not Holland as you insist on calling them). Suddenly the same pundits who rubbished Europe are telling us that they always knew Brazil and Argentina had dodgy defences and would struggle when faced with real opposition.

Who do we turn to for in depth analysis and reflection on who will lift the FIFA World Cup Trophy? Should we rely on some ex international footballer lacking the guts or the gifts to take on management of a team? Should we turn to an ex England manager who seems very good at seeing all the things he was blind to when running the nation’s team (yes Graham Taylor I mean you)? Should we turn to some back page tabloid hack who never kicked a ball except in some pro-celebrity charity shindig? No, there is only one fount of wisdom we can really trust.

Paul the Oberhausen Aquarium Octopus has predicted Germany’s results throughout the competition with unerring accuracy. His tentacles reach out to indicate the outcome of each match and he is even sensitive to the ambiguities of some results. PaPaul-the-Oberhausenul indicated Uruguay to beat Ghana last week, but was clearly tentative about the result; no doubt uneasy about the manner in which the cheating Uruguayan defender Suarez would take over Maradona’s mantle as the new ‘Hand of God’.

So bring on the World Cup semis and final; I’m off to gaze into my pond for informed commentary and forensic analysis.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Body matters

The BBC had to apologise to British tennis player Laura Robson after their commentator David Mercer referred to her ‘puppy fat’. The sixteen year old was playing in the second round juniors match at  Wimbledon when Mercer made the comment. Having seen Robson play and the pictures of her I can’t work out what Mercer is on about. However, even if she was slightly heavierlaurarobson, so what? She is a teenager growing up and her body is changing and developing all the time; the last thing Laura needs is some sixty year old man going on about her body weight. Robson is now through to the semi finals, so she can’t be that unfit!

Why did this comment rile me so much? During my time as a parish priest I ministered to a family whose teenage daughter became anorexic following a hurtful remark about her body weight. She was a perfectly healthy young girl who transformed before our eyes into little more than a skeleton looking much older than her age. Eventually she was admitted to hospital where I visited her regularly and after an extensive period of treatment she overcame the illness and returned to being a healthy normal teenager. The pain and anguish she, her family and the wider church family experienced was terrible.

My father-in-law Professor David Mattingly, who died last year, was a brilliant physician and a leading contributor to research on Anorexia. The focus of his work was on the physiological aspects of the illness rather than the psychological and he published a very influential work titled The Diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa with S. Bhanji in 1982. David worked with and treated many young women who were starving themselves to death because of their perceptions about their bodies.

I have a young daughter who will soon be entering her teens and I am very aware of all the pressures she faces in a society which places so much emphasis on appearance. She and her friends are continually bombarded with images, often digitally or surgically altered images, of what a young woman should look like. The sexualisation of childhood, the forensic analysis of female celebrities’ weight by the gossip magazines, the physiologically absurd shape of Barbie dolls and certain models, are just part of the context in which girls are growing up. They will be naturally self conscious enough about their bodies as they change without ill informed and potentially damaging comments about how they should look.

I realise that there are challenging issues around obesity facing our society, with potentially serious consequences for individuals and for the wider community. However, I can’t help feeling that there is a certain amount of body fascism around which would decree that women like Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe were seriously overweight in their prime. Our young people need to hear words of affirmation and love at a time of uncertainty, self consciousness and change during puberty, that they might join with the psalmist in declaring:
‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.’ Psalm 139:14

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Canada Day

In celebration of Canada Day, a song from one of her greatest sons Neil Young.

I saw Neil at the Kent Hop Festival in 2008, pure genius. My review of the concert is posted at Shakey still rocking.

A tale of two homecomings

On Tuesday two planes landed in England, returning two groups of young men to their home country. One plane landed at Heathrow and taxied to a discrete area of the airport so that the men could disembark, away from sight of public and press. The area is normally used by royalty, heads of state and celebrities. The young men were transferred to a set of expensive cars, waiting to whiskengland heathrow them off to various parts of the country from  where they would travel on to their luxury holidays with family and friends. These young men are some of the best paid people in their profession, earning more in a year than most people will earn in a lifetime. In a few weeks time they will return to the work they love and to the adulation of crowds around the country. Household names, feted by the public and press, idolised by youngsters who wear their heroes’ names on the back of replica shirts.

The other plane landed at Brize Norton. Seven young men disembarked, taken to a group of specifically designed vehicles and driven in a cortege through the streets of the Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett. No one saw their faces, nor their bodies because each of the seven had been killed in Afghanistan within the space of 72 hours last week. They lay in coffins over which were  draped the Union flag in the back of hearses. They were not returning to meet family and friWootton Bassett paradeends, not returning ready to depart on a holiday, not returning ready to take up their chosen profession in a few weeks time. The crowds who lined the streets did not cheer or chant but stood in respectful silence while loved ones wept.

The names of these young men, mentioned in the news bulletins for a few hours, will soon be forgotten except by those who knew them and loved them. They are: Lance Corporal David Ramsden; Colour Sergeant Martyn Horton; Private Alex Isaac; Private Douglas Halliday; Sergeant Steven Darbyshire; Lance Corporal Michael Taylor; Marine Paul Warren.

Two planes, two homecomings, two groups of young men who represented their country. And there the similarity ends.