Out Now!

Friday, 21 December 2018

Where imagination begins

Where Imagination begins

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 I'm done for 2018  : )

Friday, 14 December 2018

Hand-dryers, Miracles and St David's Cathedral.

It is hard to get drunk on a pub-crawl in St Davids, because there are only three pubs.
One of them, however, has an interesting hand-dryer in its toilets. It roars like a jet engine and flays the skin as it dries.

I enjoy hand-dryers – innocent enjoyments for simple minds, I suppose. I'm not talking about those where you slip your hands down into a glorified letter box. No, the ones I love are those that blast down on the hands.  These cause the skin to pucker and move; it’s like watching low dunes ripple in wind and beats much of what is on TV. Sometimes I linger longer than I should until my hands are super dry and I feel like I've just experienced a Turner Art Prize Installation. 

 But the one in St Davids was a different beast, with enough power to flay the skin from your hands as you watched. The skin rippled in sheets, puckered and rose into the air – or at least seemed to. I withdrew hurriedly and without shame, hands still damp but otherwise intact. But moving on from the trivial to the sublime. The landscape speaks for itself. So does the cathedral if you let it sink in. 
Most people know it was founded by St David in the C6th - the Dark Ages were hand dryers were in short supply. He was born in a storm from the womb of St Non, whose well is just a mile away on the coast. It looks unhygienic but has restorative properties, so they say. The Cathedral was constructed much later as were the legends  which accrued about him. My two favourites tell of him preaching, the ground beneath him rising so that those at the back could both see and hear him — a white dove landing on his shoulder as a sign of God's presences. The second legend tells o of how on his death the monastery was filled with singing Angels accompanying his spirit to heaven. 

There is something magical running on sand or diving into the sea - even on a cold say.

Part of the coastal path that encircles much of Wales

Wild horses. They are periodically rounded up and driven
to other areas of the coast where they keep grass and gorse
under control. 

                                           Posing pony. Watch out Kim Kardashian. 

A small herd . . . and is that Kim?

St Davids Cathedral

Stained glass commemorating the murder of
St Thomas Becket. 

The wooden roof and a man lost in his own thoughts. Medieval earth tremors and the naturally
swampy ground made a stone roof impracticable. Several pillars are already at a slight angle, and the weight of a stone roof would have caused the walls to buckle. Hence the beautiful roof of Irish oak, painted above one of the altars. 

The painted roof

Relics and bones of St David and St Justinian (reputedly)

Edmund Tudor's tomb chest. Despite being the grandfather of Henry VIII he was moved from his grave in Carmarthen Abbey during the dissolution of the Monasteries and ended up here. Much more salubrious, I think.

And finally a minor treasure. How to make a well known prayer even more magical.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Seagulls, chips and the question of God.

I read of a man beating a seagull after it stole one of his chips. He grabbed the bird by its legs and bashed its brains out on a brick wall. In the great scale of things, pretty small beer. Far more evil things go on in this world, but whether it’s seagulls or holocaust an assertion is made – an act of faith as much as anything else: There cannot possibly be a God to allow such things.

Without doubt, the holocaust and similar events far transcending the fate of a seagull have turned many into atheists. They pose the question:  how could God allow such a things to happen? And by doing so suggest that the presence of evil negates the existence of God. They highlight the apparent contradiction of God being both all-powerful and all good ie if God allows evil, he can’t be all good and, on the other hand, if he’s unable to prevent evil, then he can’t be all-powerful.

The traditional answer is that we were created with freedom of will and with it the responsibility of moral choice. We can choose to do good or bad things. Like bashing in the head of a seagull.
But, one could argue, there is nothing to stop God extending a feathered hand and protecting that seagull. The man lamenting the loss of a chip was given the choice to do a bad and foolish thing, but the seagull didn’t suffer from it.

The question then arises, what would happen if there were no evil in the world? And, on a social and political level, the further question. Who gets to define what is evil? — a pertinent point when drugs, microchipping and the possible spread of the Chinese concept of ‘social value.’ We all ready accept ‘credit scores,’ why not ‘conformity scores.’  Of course, if we were robots the concept of good and evil would cease to exist. We would do as we were programmed to do, truly ‘following orders.’ And in an alternative universe, God could have created us so. But creatures stripped of meaningful choice cease to be moral beings.

So, back to this world and the feathered hand of God protecting innocent seagulls. (Well, not so innocent. It stole a chip.) Where would it stop, this interventionist God? Are we to be protected from every consequence of a bad or foolish decision? From the consequences of every natural disaster or virus—God, clad in Lycra and cape, zooming from crisis to crisis? And if we lived in a world without crisis or challenge or meaningful moral choice, what exactly would we be?

Saturday, 1 December 2018

The Tennessee Cheese Wars

A few nights ago, I had the devil’s own job getting asleep. It happens now and again, usually in the small hours of the morning between two and four, so perhaps I should qualify that by saying ‘getting back to sleep’. No problem getting there. Returning is the problem. And I’m desperate to return, if only for the dreams.

Last night I dreamt of the Tennessee Cheese Wars. My wife, usually less trusting, asked me whether there ever was such a thing. No, I said. I’m fairly sure that there hasn’t. Then again, who knows in the future? Was it prophecy?  This world is getting crazier by the minute, and I might well head a flotilla of Tennesseans, furiously paddling canoes burdened with Edam and Camembert pursued by lactose starved, tomahawk waving Indians.

But those nights I can’t return to my dreams . . . I just lie there an hour or more, switching from one side to another, checking the clock, and uttering that age-old prayer: ‘Why me Lord?

I want to go asleep, and the process is akin to a slow moving football match. . . the goal is in sight but I’m shadowed by a tenacious defender. However I weave and twist and turn, it’s always there, soft and black and blocking my route.

 The worst bit of all is being on the verge, and in my experience there are two kinds of verge: the ‘cliff edge’ verge when you feel you’re so near the edge… you just have to roll off…and then some invisible but bloody-minded membrane bounces you back, and you open your eyes—shut them again quickly to find the cliff edge has vanished.

The other verge is what I term the ‘hammock.’ As the name suggests, you’re lying there comfortably warm when the bottom slips away taking you with it. That’s my favourite, the one I normally go to sleep by—but rarely at 2.39 in the morning.

On this particular night, seeking verge after verge, I finally got up 4.49 in the morning. It was fairly pleasant at first—a warm fire, hot tea and a third rate Stephen King book ‘Bag of Bones’. By ten in the morning I was a wreck and went for a bath.

That was weird in itself. I never have baths—well at least rarely—but there I was, lying in hot water and wondering what I was doing there. On the floor, I noticed a supermarket magazine – the Waitrose Weekend. Well, it had to be better than sitting in hot water staring at tiles. On balance, it was. I read Mariella Frostrup’s take on the menopause, Fi Glover’s opinion – I’ve forgotten on what, and learn’t many interesting recipes: sausage rings soaked in cider, stuffed with chopped apple and pine nuts, the best way to cook salsify, a recipe for Larb noodles with passion fruit chilli dressing, another for Hoisin Tofu and rice burritos. I was on the verge – the cliff edge one—but the water was cold and I got up.

I’ve kept the magazine for the next time I’m awake at 3.25.

Friday, 23 November 2018

A shiny mess of Potage

The Victorian philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore was once asked how much he was worth. His answer surprised the questioner who thought he must be worth much more than the answer given. Sir Moses replied that he hadn’t been asked how much he owned, but how much he was worth, and that he had given the sum he gave to charity each year. The message being, your worth should not be measured by what you own, but by how much you give away.

Christ would agree, deeming an impoverished widow putting a mite in the collection box as more worthy of merit than the rich man who gave a hundred times more. She had given all she had.
In the same vein, Jesus tells the story of the man who discovered hidden treasure in a field and who sold everything he had to buy the field and its treasure ie Heaven. He advised another to give all he had to the poor and follow him. Observing his reluctance, he observed how hard it was for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Sir William of Anhalt  took the lesson to heart, giving everything he had to the poor and himself becoming a beggar.

On a more trivial note, I experience just how hard it is to divest yourself of property every Christmas. Each year I give a sum of money to the Salvation Army, and every time I look at the amount given and compare it with what I spend on myself or on others. It usually resolves itself in the question: do I really need that extra bottle of malt? And each year the kingdom of Heaven holds its breath for the answer.

The message so far is about something greater than yourself, in this case Heaven, which for those who don’t believe can be reduced to what is right. The question is whether the EU can be equated with Heaven.

The Bible certainly didn’t approve of Esau who sold his birthright for a mess of potage, and I’m reminded of it when I hear the CBI obsessing over profit margins in arguing the case for remaining in the E U.

When I was young, we knew who ‘The Man’ was. You saw no demonstrations supported by big business, Goldman Sachs, George Soros, J P Morgan, the CBI and high finance in general. You saw no demonstrations in support of the establishment. And yet that’s precisely what we’re seeing now - which is strange, because the big corporations and lobbyists operate in the interests of profit, not people carrying blue banners covered in stars.

This was something the Labour Party once recognised and Corbyn remembers.

Brussels creates an illusion. With unlimited money, marketing expertise and a bought media, it exploits and harnesses idealism. In reality it is an undemocratic, bureaucratic and protectionist cartel working in the interests of global capitalism, and in Britain – but not Italy or Greece – we seem to be witnessing Turkeys voting for Christmas.

Europe is dressed up as something bright and shiny, much as in earlier times, we bedazzled those more primitive with baubles as a prelude to robbing them of their lands – or their birthright. It’s why history is important. When its rewritten or diluted or becomes something to be ashamed of, a birthright becomes disposable, perhaps sold for a shiny mess of potage, certainly not Heaven.