Out Now!

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Llanthony Priory

LlanthonyPriory is one of my favourite places. It began as a small hermitage started by two men in 1100 and ended up as a major Augustinian priory. Such was the Age of Faith. The ruins make a wonderful amphitheatre for drama  or music. I have played with Welsh Dancers – musically rather than otherwise, and our band, the aptly named Devil’s Elbow once played there too.

 It’s also a place to just sit and stare. 
One thing though has always eluded me despite several attempts. Hatterrall Hill, the top of which allows stunning views of Herefordshire, the Black Mountains, and Wales. The ridge way eventually leads on to Offa’s Dyke. In the past company, or sheer lack of time, has prevented the full climb. This time, with my daughter leading the way, and my newly repaired lungs put to the test, we did it. The photos offer only a glimmer of what we experienced. 

 The Leader

Clouds sweeping over the sun

The Priory

Nearing the top

Wales and the Black mountains from the top

England from the top

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Vile and Crass

David Ward is a Liberal MP for Bradford East, a constituency with a large Muslim population. He recently tweeted ‘The big question is – if I lived in Gaza would I fire a rocket? – Probably yes.
In terms of maximising his vote in next year’s elections you can see where he’s coming from. A cynical view perhaps.  On another level it’s a ‘case of the bleeding obvious’. You’d have to have the empathy of a gnat not to be able to put yourself into the position of a Palestinian who has just lost a wife, or a child, a father or brother. ‘Probably’ doesn’t come into it – except for the morally blessed. Vengeance isn’t a pretty thing but it’s pretty much a core element of the human condition. And both sides of this conflict are tapped into it.

What is interesting, in my view chilling, is the blanket condemnation from the media and political establishment. In the words of the Labour Party: it defies belief that a Liberal Democrat MP should tweet something so vile and irresponsible. Nick Clegg must act immediately to disassociate his party from this comment.”

The Liberal Party duly obliged, referring to his comments as: “vile and crass”.

The Tory Party are equally appalled: “Appalling: No MP should tweet what’s essentially incitement to violence. Mr Ward must withdraw now. Completely irresponsible.”

I have no wish to write about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. It is complex. The arguments are out there, and no amount of words from me or anyone else is going to save anyone’s life today. I’m writing instead from a curmudgeonly sensitivity that free speech is being subtly repressed. If someone, quite legitimately, supported the Israeli side and had tweeted. ‘The big question is – if Hamas fired a rocket on me would I fire back? – Probably yes.’ Would there have been so much fuss? I hope not. Both are legitimate points of view. And I stress the word both. When one becomes ‘delegitimized’ something is lost. Freedom of speech.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Consistency in death

I’m all in favour of consistency, especially when it comes to death. When the Abortion Act was passed in 1967 the great and the good assured us we would be talking about only a trickle of 'hard cases.' The trickle has become a flood of 200,000 cases a year, and to accommodate this babies have been re-termed foetuses. There are many strong arguments in favour of abortion and many, heart-aching stories. There are others who argue babies die for social and economic convenience. There is truth on both sides.

A similar argument is being conducted with Lord Falconer’s Right To Die Bill, which will no doubt be passed. I accept it is much easier for the healthy to pontificate, and that my mind might change if I or a loved one found themselves as one of those ‘hard’ cases currently used to justify legalised killing. Then again it may be a case that hard cases make bad law.

When the Right To Die became law in the Netherlands 1,923 people were killed in 2006. The trajectory is 6000 – 7000 by the end of 2014. Rising at a rate of 15% a year one assumes they will eventually catch up with the abortion figures. In the Netherlands new classes of people are being offered the right to die including the demented and the depressed, the lonely and recently bereaved.  There are now mobile death units of travelling doctors trained to kill with minimum pain. Just in case not all have got the message, activists are campaigning for lethal pills to be made available to anyone over 70 who wish to die. In Belgium the service is offered to children.

There is consistency in this. At both ends of the spectrum the socially inconvenient are spared the horrors of life. At least though the aged have lived and are offered the choice, though, with familial and societal pressure one can assume the right to die will in time become an expectation, if not a duty -  at least for the poor, the easily swayed, or those seeking to do well for their children

Where then is the inconsistency? 

It’s raised in the question of how many supporters of abortion and the right to die are also opposed to the death penalty? It seems inconsistent to support the one and not the other. With ageing populations and spiralling national debts one can see the convenience in supporting the right to die. One can see the convenience in removing a mistake at the other end of the spectrum. Why then should the murderer be spared?

There are many familiar arguments against such a course:
a) It is barbaric. But then barbarism is a relative term and like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. In this case Humpty Dumpty had it about right:  'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean. Question is, did the barbarians see themselves as barbarians? Will people in the future see what we now take for granted as ‘barbaric’?

b) There have been miscarriages of justice? The thought of wrongly applied ‘Do not resuscitate’ notices placed on patients’ beds immediately come to mind.

c) The most puzzling argument is that the death penalty causes unnecessary pain. Why then are the old being offered medicalised death? If it is painless for them it should be painless for the convicted murderer. If it is not painless, then it shouldn’t be offered to the old.

In the best dystopian tradition the most consistent solution might be extending 'the right to die' to long term prisoners – in fact to all prisoners. I cannot see how anyone who champions the right to die could object. It would be a matter of choice and societal pressure. Equality within the law.

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Kindle Daily Deal

Some years ago I received an offer from the Daily Telegraph, which basically offered a full subscription for little more than £2 a week. I couldn’t believe it and, like the monkey who puts its hand in the narrow-necked jar in search of nuts, I immediately subscribed. Once the monkey closes its fists on those nuts it cannot escape without releasing the nuts. I don’t know how many monkeys ever escaped from such a devilish trap, but it was a close run thing with me.

Every day the letter box clicked followed by a soft plop on the carpeted hall. A dull thud on the weekend when the paper rivalled the size of a telephone directory.  And slowly the horror began.
I couldn’t keep up – not without sacrificing big chunks of the day. It was particularly bad because when it comes to reading I’m a bit OCD. Life has no meaning unless I read everything in front of me – even sports reports – and I hate sport. I even found myself reading a report on a Manchester United game. Enough said.
Great oceans of paper lapped and curled round my feet and every day there came another plop, sometimes a thud.

At last I had to give my almost free gift away, and by golly it hurt. I come from a culture that never gives anything away. 

And life improved on the instant.

Now I’m confronted with a new and more subtle threat. The Kindle Daily Deal. Sometimes its selection is generic and random and I sigh with relief and skim ‘delete’. Another sandbag against the flood of new titles is to read the one or two star reviews. That usually works. But more and more I’m sensing complex algorithms closing in on me as they measure my tastes. And more and more – for a mere 99p – I’m buying the damn things. The books are piling up, books I may/will never read.

If I was a clever monkey; if I was a monkey with just half a brain I’d delete the Kindle daily deal immediately and unread – better still consign it to spam. But Poo Bear has a better brain than I do when it comes to deals too good to refuse.

How many books does a kindle hold? How many years have I left?

Friday, 4 July 2014

England is the paradise of women. So now you know

I was leaning against the wall radiator in the staffroom when Mike Bouchier sidled up to me with the air of a man in a shabby brown coat and one or two dirty books to sell. An unfortunate image – he was the Deputy Headmaster. Thing is, he did have a book to sell – not just one but an indefinite number of them. He wanted me to join the Folio Book Club. I’d be committed to buying four books a year and he’d get a free book.

I now have a fine collection of Folio books, most of which are beautifully produced reprints of works you can no longer find – at least not easily.

Marriage, children ended my relationship with Folio. The books, though beautiful, are not cheap. They do though hold their value in second hand bookshops. You can imagine my delight when I spotted the Folio edition of ‘Fuller’s Worthies’ in a second hand bookshop that was closing down. It was in Ross and Wye and he was selling it for a mere £5.

So what is ‘Fuller’s Worthies’? It’s a fascinating and plum-pudding rich insight into C17th England. Almost an encyclopaedia - eccentric though and more entertaining.

Fuller describes the various counties of England under various headings such as proverbs, famous men, soldiers, manufactures, produce, wonders and sayings, amongst others. It’s a fascinating snapshot of C17th England and reveals much of its prejudices. He was a contemporary of Pepys and John Aubrey. As Richard Barber writes in his introduction: “For if we would like to walk the streets of London with Pepys, or sit in an Oxford Tavern, drinking with Aubrey, with Fuller we would want to dine with leisure. He is a comfortable writer, marvellously entertaining, and well informed.”

I turned a page at random and came upon this – it is a proverb from Berkshire:
England is the paradise of women, hell of horses, purgatory of servants.

I had to find out why.I had to read on.

According to Fuller ‘ women, whether maids, wives or widows, finding here the fairest respect and kindest usage. Our Common Law is a more courteous carver for them than the Civil Law beyond the seas, allowing widows the thirds of their husbands’ estates along with other privileges. The highest seats are granted to them in feasts. The indentures of maid servants are cancelled by their marriage, though the term be not expired; which to young men in the same condition is denied…and we men, so far from envying them, wish them all happiness therewith.’ (Such fat-headed complacency.)

With regard to England being Hell of horses he seems less complacent more confused as to whether the Spanish are worse. On the one hand he condemns the Spanish for having horses for show rather than use, and so making ‘wantons’ of them. The English however use them but are ‘over-violent’ in their riding, racing and hunting. He urges more consideration because ‘the good man regardeth the life of his beast.’ (Much as he does with his woman)

With his purgatory for servants Fuller plays a waggish trick on his readers. First of all he denies England could ever be a purgatory for servants, we treat them so well. And since ‘Purgatory’ is a mere Popish invention, both concepts are equally false. Oh, my sides cracked. 

But now another Folio lines my shelves and who knows, I may share more of Fuller’s insights in the future. You have been warned.