Monday, 23 November 2015

Lady in the van

This weekend Mr M and I headed out to do some Christmas shopping before the crowds get too horrendous. We have instituted the £20 pound rule again this year (hooray!) and so fortunately it didn't take too long and we found we had time to go to the cinema. It was a choice between Suffragettes or The Lady in the Van; Mr M is all for equal rights but still said he would opt for a batty incontinent old bag over a couple of hours in the company of a mob of seriously pissed off women (I guess he is joking here, right?) so we opted for the former.  Mr M found it funny, I thought it was mildly amusing. We were both agreed that it was very moving as well as that part of the fascination is a glimpse into the life of Bennett himself. Catholicism took a good bashing, but what's new there really? I do recommend it.

Monday, 16 November 2015


Here’s what you need to do, since time began:
 find something — diamond-rare or carbon-cheap,
 it’s all the same — and love it all you can.

It should be something close —
 a field, a man, a line of verse, a mouth, a child asleep —
 that feels like the world’s heart since time began.

Don’t measure much or lay things out or scan;
 don’t save yourself for later, you won’t keep;
 spend yourself now on loving all you can.

It’s going to hurt.
That was the risk you ran with your first breath;
 you knew the price was steep,
 that loss is what there is, since time began
subtracting from your balance. That’s the plan,
 too late to quibble now, you’re in too deep.

 Just love what you still have, while you still can.
 Don’t count on schemes, it’s far too short a span
 from the first sowing till they come to reap.
One way alone to count, since time began:
 love something, love it hard, now, while you can.

Rhina Espaillat

Saturday, 14 November 2015


Like pretty much everybody else, I heard the news about Paris last night on the ten o'clock news. It sounded like there was going to be a high death toll and, although nothing had been said about the motives, everyone knew there was a fair chance that some form of Islamic extremism would lie behind it. The retreat that I used to go to every year attracted a fair number of Europeans, several of whom were French, and I was struck today by the range of reactions posted by Christian friends on Facebook  from expressions of absolute hatred and anger against Muslims/ immigrants to pleas for hope and peace to overcome hatred and conflict. How differently people who ostensibly share the same faith can react to the same situation.
It is very natural for us to react strongly when we feel or can imagine ourselves or those like us threatened and very easy for us to react with equanimity or indifference to atrocity or injustice affecting others. Paris is not the only place recently subject to violence and atrocity but it is maybe the closest to us, we tut when we hear of ISIS murdering innocents in Syria but we are shocked and angry when in happens closer to home- not to "them" but to "us".  Our ability to divide people into them and us and feel a lack of compassion towards the ones we have designated as "them" runs deep. Ironically it lies behind the actions of extremists such as ISIS and behind so many acts of cruelty.
  So what do we make of Jesus's advice to love your enemies and do good to those who hate you? It is something I would find very difficult to do if personally affected by a situation but I thought of it only this week when I heard James Foley's parents say that they found "no solace" in the death of "Jihadi John" and read that they have set up an organisation which, as part of its action, works to provide underprivileged youths with access to education. I don't mean to say that we should not take punitive action against terrorism,yet terrorism aims to bring social conflict and instability, and to instill a fear and hatred that then breeds more fear and hatred. Sometimes we have limited power over what others do to us, and no power to change what has already happened. The only thing within our gift is how we react and respond.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Jesus and all that jazz

The results into a survey by the C of E, Evangelical Alliance and "Hope" showing, among other things, that 40% of people do not think Jesus was a real person and that 59% of them find others talking to them about faith puts them off finding out more, really shouldn't come as a surprise- or at least not to any literature teachers. Most years I do a lesson on some basic Christian ideas that students are likely to come across in the texts we study. It starts off with a quiz tailored to whatever we are studying (Blake, Shakespeare, Marlowe) that checks students understanding of  basic concepts such as the Fall, the Ten Commandments, even hell and devils (think Dr Faustus.)
Now, we have a thriving evangelical church near to college and if you happen to have members of our Christian Union in class then this usually helps enormously. It is not unusual to find the whole class has a secular background though and these are some examples of things which have surprised me in recent years:

- A whole class unable to complete the sentence,  "Jesus told stories known as p________." Attempts included "prayers" and "preaching".

- Lots of students unable to relate a single parable. Attempts included the story of Noah's Ark as one of the parables.

- A class only able to come up with three of the Ten Commandments.

- A student who thought Jesus was crucified because he was a thief. "There were two thieves, Jesus and this other guy (couldn't remember his name) and they let one the other one off just because they felt like it..."

- Whole class who did not know about the 23rd psalm even when referred to as "The Lord's my Shepherd." We played it on Youtube, still all faces were blank (time for more repeats of the Vicar of Dibley perhaps?:)

- One student who asked,"Isn't sin meant to be something good? Like with Weightwatchers, it's a  treat for if you've been good?" Understandable perhaps.

What they are still pretty good on is the Nativity story, although it has a few additions such as the donkey, innkeeper and wife. Moreover, some students still have a fairly detailed knowledge, but , in general, including among articulate and able students, knowledge of key Christian beliefs, concepts and stories is poor and seems to have declined significantly over the last decade. In addition, there can be a resistance to any kind of religious ideas or content- which is a real problem when studying literature.When you ask them about RE lessons, where they are meant to cover the tenets of the major religions, you  often get responses such as:
" Nobody pays any attention in RE lessons","it wasn't a real subject", "it didn't make any sense", and " I switch off when it's anything to do with Jesus and all that Jazz."
Synod is apparently going to discuss the trend and look at ways to get the message across (without putting off the majority.) I think it may be a tough call.

Friday, 30 October 2015


Just sometimes the work stops and Mr M and I go away and enjoy ourselves! We've just come back from two nights in Amsterdam. We arrived at 1.40 on Tuesday and our flight back wasn't until yesterday evening, so we got a good two and half days. We opted for a pretty basic hotel as we were going to be largely out there hitting the night spots... (hahahaha) Seriously though, we just needed somewhere to sleep and a base. My feet do now ache as we did lot of walking; we also managed a fair bit of sitting, drinking and eating in cafes and restaurants by the canal. The weather was lovely, really warm, especially on Tuesday and Thursday. We visited a few sights, some free places such as gardens, others cultural, the Royal Palace in particular and we also queued for ages to go round Anne Frank's house. I last visited Amsterdam when I was about twelve and remember wanting to go to then but not getting the opportunity, so having waited for... quite a few years...waiting a bit longer seemed fair enough:) Mr M spent a fair bit of time sampling cheese in one of the many shops devoted to that product and deliberating between the choice of mustard, cumin or pepper. In the end he bought a large round of cheese to bring home, despite my reminders that it is not good for him :) He says the cheese is all his...
 One luxury of going away is the chance to eat food that you don't have to prepare, cook or clear up from. Our first evening we had lamb shank, seared sprouts and carrot and parsnip puree followed by buttermilk pancakes, poached pear and ice-cream. It was delicious but the meal was on the pricey side for us. The second evening we headed off to the Red Light District for Thai food at The Bird,  reasonable prices and huge portions which were absolutely delicious, I recommend it. We finished off yesterday with a breakfast of  tea, coffee,pastries and cookies in Vondel park and a midday meal of tomato soup, weiss bier and bitterballen in the sunshine at the Dutch Table restaurant. I am glad I do not know how many calories we managed to fit into two and a half days. Let's just say that, apart from a largish cheese which needs eating, it is back something a bit more abstemious now!

Vondel Park right next to the hotel so it was our breakfast spot

In the Royal Palace

You see outdoor chess sets so often on the Continent. We didn't have time to play,

Rijksmuseum gardens

Monday, 26 October 2015

Tax credit reforms defeated in Lords

I know that we have to cut the deficit and I am all for reducing welfare dependency in ways that help people take responsibility for their lives, but I am overjoyed that the Lords has voted against the Government's proposed changes to tax credits as I feel these hugely and disproportionately would have affected the poorest and most vulnerable in society. My concern is that this is only a delay. My hope is that it will lead the Government to genuinely reconsider and craft changes that are more carefully thought out. I don't like the threatening noises about the role of the Lords at all.
I have been following the debate this evening and, for the time being, I am glad and thankful. Plus it is very satisfying to see George Osborne looking so riled...

Monday, 31 August 2015


I've been teasing Mr.M all day about how this morning I woke up next to an OAP (yes, today is his 65th birthday.) He doesn't seem to mind as he is more fixated on how George Osborne is going to have to give him some money at the end of the month. On a more serious note, having a husband who is older than me has made me think about the future and my hope at the moment is that I may be able to give up work, or at least swap my current job for something less full on, in a few years time. I know that I really do have to stay in work for the time being (or try to) as we happen to be paying a son through university, but three years up the road it is possible that I might be in a position to at least change my working circumstances in order to enjoy a "retirement" or semi retirement with my husband.
As with any dream like this, you do need to think through the logistics, for example the effect on the work based pension I will receive in later life, before taking any decisions. You have to be realistic, yet at the same time there is more to life than money and sometimes you just have to follow your dreams.So think of me while I think and plan things out. Also spare a thought for the younger generation who at the moment seem to look like having a raw deal in terms of pensions, retirement age, students loans and less generous welfare support when they need it.I know I feel for and worry for my own children as they face a more onerous future than the one that I faced when I was their age.