Thursday, 24 December 2015

Although I am not particularly musical, if you do have a few minutes in your busy Christmas Eve to listen, I recommend this.

The above is also worth watching.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Godly wisdom

One of the lovely things I have discovered as my sons have grown up is that they have reached the stage where we can have a conversation and it always delights me when they discuss things in a way that shows their intelligence, thoughtfulness and conviction. My younger son likes to hover around when I am washing, cleaning, ironing (occasionally offering to help..) and talk through the things on his mind. These are usually related to Maths. It was during the summer holidays after his AS exams that he first started to try to explain to me some of the things he was interested in. I remember him holding forth about the Golden Ratio one day when I was trying to clean the kitchen. He even brought  me in some graphs and diagrams. "Aren't they amazing?", he asked. It was the first time that I really understood that people who study subjects like Maths can become as absorbed and delighted by them as much, if not more so, than I can by the themes of a novel or a moving and beautifully written poem. Of course, I had known this before, I guess, but I had never fully appreciated it - and that is a different thing.
Anyhow, my son is currently interested in the role of maths in  Artificial Intelligence. Fortunately he does not now even attempt to explain the maths to me but he does talk about some of the possible benefits, and very real problems, that Artificial Intelligence poses in that it could offer huge benefits but also enormous risks as effectively it is the ultimate Frankenstein's Monster, creating something that we do not fully understand or have control over. The example that my son gave was that we might ask a superior intelligence to come up with a solution to global warming and the answer might be:"kill all human beings", a solution which admittedly would cut carbon emissions! If then the superior intelligence could make decisions, chose to act on this and found means to do so, then we would be in real trouble (although I venture to suggest we already are, and perhaps a short swift end might be better than the more protracted agony which is facing us?)
I am not convinced that what we need to solve global warming is more intelligence. I think we know exactly what we need to do, we just don't want to do it. What we lack is not intelligence but other qualities such as the will to act, the ability to put long term interests before our short term desires, the ability to co-operate and work in harmony with each other, the willingness to relinquish our greed and our self interest. What we need is not intelligence, but a different kind of intelligence. What we need is wisdom.
Underlying the Christmas message, and the whole message of the Gospel, is the most profound wisdom. It tells us that God, who is all powerful, chose a path not of greed and loveless power but  of renunciation, humility, poverty. He walked with us in solidarity, as the hymn says put aside his majesty, and embraced sacrifice. One of the reasons I am a Christian is that I truly believe this message offers us the wisdom we need to bring about peace on Earth and goodwill (among) men.
 This Christmas I will pray for wisdom for our leaders in their attempts to find solutions to the many problems facing us at the moment. Although my hopes are not high, I will particularly pray that we will be able to act to do something about the problem of Global Warming. More than anything this Christmas, I want us to have a world to pass on to our children.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Into the darkest hour

It was a time like this
War and tumult of war,

a horror in the air.

Hungry yawned the abyss-

and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this

of fear and lust for power,

license and;greed and blight-

and yet the Prince of bliss

came into the darkest hour
in quiet and silent light.

And in a time like this

how to celebrate his birth

when all things fall apart?

Ah! Wonderful it is

with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.

Madeleine Engle

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Friday, 27 November 2015

That Friday feeling?

It is Friday night which usually means a trip to the gym. Tonight I am just too tired following two weeks in a row with parents' evenings and appointments that kept me at work until past nine o'clock. It is also just too wet and horrible out there, so I am going to settle down and do some reading or see if there is anything worth watching (unlikely!) I hardly ever do any marking on a Friday night, it is the one time in the week I reserve for "me". One other thing I would not contemplate doing today, given it is apparently "Black Friday", is venture anywhere near a shop. I was quite pleased therefore to see that Black Friday has been more like slack Friday this year- maybe people have some sense after all?
                                BLACK FRIDAY
         Their black is your red

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.

Thursday, 27 August 2015


I received an email this week from a student I taught a while back. She wanted me to know that she had been given an award for outstanding work from the college she is at and that the work she had produced had been inspired by a topic she had studied in my class while she was doing her A levels. She attached some samples of her work and I really did feel very proud of her- it is a funny thing but when a student achieves something you do feel a pride that is almost akin to seeing offspring succeed- perhaps because, though the achievement is wholly and rightly theirs, you feel you may have contributed to it even if only to some small extent. I was also very touched that this student had taken the time  to thank me and let me know how she was doing. It came at just the right time as, despite a really excellent set of results both from our whole college and our individual department, it is still easy to feel a bit weary at this time of year at the thought of a lot of intense work ahead.

We often forget the power of praise or  overlook the fact that there are people in our lives who might benefit enormously from encouragement.The bible says we build each other up through encouragement and it is true that praise can have the power to inspire us to go on and to continue to do as well or better than before. Positive feedback can help us to be the best we can be as well as to simply make us happy. Unfortunately sometimes those we could have the most positive impact upon through our kind words are often those whom we are most prepared to criticise or simply take for granted- such as our parents or our spouse. I am convinced we all have guilty moments on this score ( I know I do) and if we could just be more considerate we would all be happier! It is not always true either that Christians are any better at building each other up. I've heard plenty of criticism and carping in church, for example cliques or constant sniping at the vicar.
 This week I was encouraged and it made me resolve to try to say something kind and positive to someone every day. Maybe we should all give it a try.

Monday, 17 August 2015

A little friend

Over the last week or so we seem to have been adopted by this little white and tabby cat. She has no collar, seems thin but her coat is in good condition, so it is hard to know if she is a stray. She lets us stroke her but is too wary to allow us to put on the paper contact collar suggested on the RSPCA website. She is a sweet little thing but really we want a dog (in the fullness of time) and we don't think we can offer her a suitable home. I think I am going to try contacting the Cats Protection League as she has pretty  much taken up permanent residence in our garden.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Building up and breaking down

I've been reading recently about the case of Jeremy Timms, a lay reader who has been told by John Sentamu that his permission to officiate will be removed if he converts his civil partnership to  marriage, as he intends to do. Now in some ways this is no concern of mine as I am not a member of the Church of England, on the other hand it is as I know Jeremy and have stayed in his house in previous years when attending York synod. I am also a little surprised that Sentamu has reacted this way as, although the Church has always said it would withdraw PTO from clergy who converted civil partnerships to marriages, its official guidelines in 2014 made a distinction between clergy and lay discipline stating that, "Those same sex couples who choose to marry should be welcomed into the life of the worshipping community."It did make me wonder how you can welcome a couple and yet (presumably) make it clear to them they cannot be involved in lay ministry. I also wonder how welcomed anyone would feel seeing others treated in this way.

This story brought to mind for me the vote for gay marriage in Ireland where 62% of people voted "yes", an amazing result which led Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to say the church needed a "reality check" if it was to retain worshippers. I have no idea if the  Irish Catholic Church has formulated a more realistic view on subjects such as sexuality and contraception since then- personally I very much doubt it but I can't see that the Church of England is doing any better at the moment. It does all confirm what I felt in November 2012 after the failure of the women bishops vote. Even though this vote was later carried, this was largely due to the awareness of the disastrous consequences if it did not carry, not least that Parliament might take the step of removing the Church's exemption from equality legislation. It was also outrageous that it simply took so long for the Church's structures to be opened equally to both men and women; it really did all come too late.

Anyhow, as I say, I don't really know why I am concerning myself with this at all because it is none of my business and in any case I believe that God inhabits the secular world and the whole of life much more than a church or institution. We are told that, "the Lord God does not dwell in houses built by human hands". You cannot build a church with bricks but only through investing in people and values. I think the question the Church of England needs to ponder very closely at a time of rapid change might be what kind of a house they should build.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Feeling the pain

It was interesting to read this article by the Independent online which highlights the discrepancy between what voters think are the statistics on welfare and benefits and the reality. The piece brought to mind two conversations I overheard this week on the subject of the budget. One was at a family funeral when I heard a member of my family talking about how the Government have to crack down on benefit scroungers. I did have some sympathy; the said family member is a farmer who will be up by 5am facing a long working day and all the frustrations of decreasing prices and cut throat supermarkets  making every day life a struggle for survival. Meanwhile the media spawns articles and documentaries featuring families,usually obese and gobby, with at least thirteen kids none of which express any intention of ever getting a job, living in a luxury house, claiming £80, 000 in benefits, surrounded by flat screen TVs and play stations! I guess at some point the commentator will intone, "this is life in benefits Britain"; it really is calculated to incite outrage at a time when money is short and people are suffering. The other conversation was between Mr M and a shop manager (I was trying on a swimsuit) which was quite amusing as they started discussing the budget and Mr M is as left as they come while this woman was decrying everything from the new living wage, which she felt would force her out of business, to benefits claimants, immigrants and "foreign doctors" who speak with an accent.

So given the outcome of the General Election, perhaps it was unsurprising to hear Harriet Harman first jumping on the welfare bandwagon and saying Labour would back tax credit cuts. Maybe it was equally predictable that she would retract this after an outcry from party members. I feel Harman is entirely motivated by expediency rather than conviction, I have no sympathy whatsoever and no wonder Labour are in the shit! I just don't know whether to be depressed or just to react with bemusement as I did when overhearing the two conversations above.

In general things don't really look great, but at least the summer holidays have started for me- we go back mid August before anyone starts to rant about lazy teachers-  and also our younger son has just found out he has done very well in his first year exams. That will do for my feel good factor for now.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

The need for Grace

I suppose most people have heard or seen Obama's singing and oratory at the funeral of Clemanta Pinckney. I have to say I was impressed at how multi-talented Obama is- I could suddenly see him fitting really well into the role of a South Carolina pastor as an alternative career. Joking apart, the address really was quite moving, as has been the way that this church has responded with forgiveness and resolution in the face of pure hatred and ugliness. I suppose I wasn't the only one who watched this clip and thought of Martin Luther King and of the history of civil rights and of how the struggle against the irrational hatred still goes on.
We have seen an awful lot of hatred and ugliness in the news recently with yesterday bringing accounts of three atrocities. As always, the one given most attention in the media was the one that we could all imagine happening to us (funny that...), namely the attack on holidaymakers in Tunisia. Yet in a way, as Shakespeare wrote, even the freshest bad news, "is old enough... it is every day’s news." There will always be hatred, corruption, evil, atrocity. It really is every day's news. Yet grace, that quality of mercy that is unstrained and freely given and which enables human beings to access hope, healing and redemption even in the most painful and horrible of situations, although it does not reach the headlines so often, is also everyday's news- or it should be.
I published the clip above to remind myself of that fact.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Summer time...

I've become slightly obsessed by the weather recently simply because I am so sick and tired of the chilly, rainy days we've been having here.Today has been glorious (why does it only happen when I am at work?), the weekend was frankly a wash out although we managed a walk on Saturday afternoon in what was maybe the only dry spell. My garden, and especially my modest little collection of veg pots, seem to be suffering for the lack of sun. The radishes, which are usually the easiest things to grow, have failed to thrive, producing tall thin yellowing leaves and spindly little radishes as though craving some light and warmth - I feel their pain. The potato plants, all three of them, thrived better. I planted them in March and we have eaten two lots already. One pot was dug up early yielding a dinner of delicious little new potatoes which we had with quiche and partly homegrown salad- the early radishes did better. The second pot which I only dug up a month or so later contained some fairly large spuds and we still have some out in the garage. The final pot is the deepest so I am going to leave it as long as possible, maybe until the foliage dies, although I will keep an eye out for blight. I am growing lettuces in buckets and they seem quite happy with the gloom and drizzle, both the Butterhead and the Lollo Rosso are doing well. One lot ended up in a salad last week and I have another coming on. I have, without much optimism, planted some more radishes this evening which is sure to jinx the sun for a while...
Work is winding down a little as we come on towards the summer holiday. It should be winding down a little more, for instance I didn't get home until nine one day last week (an Awards evening) and I will be out until ten this week (an Open evening) plus we have had evening training one evening a week for the last three weeks. I am also organising several end of term talks (Higher Education stuff) and we are trying to write new schemes of work for the syllabus changes- A Levels are being reformed next year. This will unfortunately be an ongoing task through the summer as well. However, the huge bonus of this time of year is less marking as we do not set weekly essays as we do in the run up to the exams and no coursework marking. This has freed up more time at the weekend although it has not, I know, resulted in an increase in blog posts mainly because I have just lost the impetus. Anyhow, today has been lovely, and at least I got home early enough to potter, blog and plant radishes. Then it will be the holidays and I can enjoy more of my very simple life as well as a nice holiday to Turkey where we will at least be guaranteed to see some of the yellow stuff!

Lettuce- as yet untouched by the slugs

Monday, 15 June 2015


Yesterday we were given some homework in church which was to read one of the gospels afresh and think of how far our minds intersect with the mind of Christ. I will definitely read one of the gospels again, John has always been my favourite because of its reflective and metaphorical approach. I am not quite so sure about comparing my mind to that of Christ/ God. I was pondering this in church. At the moment I am grappling with quite an intense desire to get hold of a particular individual in my life and kick them into a bloody pulp. It is not a member of my family, and I can't say too much about it, but I am not sure it accords very closely with the idea of loving your enemies. Mr M on the other hand has a more generous interpretation and, pointing to Jesus among the money changers, suggested that the odd fantasy of kicking to bloodied pulp (as long as not acted on) is entirely Christ like. Any theological, or other thoughts on this would be welcome as I already seem at an impasse in my homework.
On Saturday (which was rather overcast and drizzly) Mr M decided to  try to cheer me up with a little window shopping. I'd told him I  wouldn't buy anything as I don't need anything at the moment and so it would be a waste; we would just look. Let me say now that this is a really stupid idea. There seems to be an unwritten rule that whenever you desperately need something there is absolutely nothing and whenever you resolve not to buy a thing, you suddenly find lots of things you love or they really suit you ... and so on.
On reflection however, if the only troubles facing me are the ones above, relatively speaking I am quite fortunate compared to over half of the world which lives in poverty and so many people in war torn regimes.
 I will let you know how I get on with my homework :)

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Tony Campolo

Statement from Tony Campolo, no need to add anything ...

As a social scientist, I have concluded that sexual orientation is almost never a choice and I have seen how damaging it can be to try to “cure” someone from being gay. As a Christian, my responsibility is not to condemn or reject gay people, but rather to love and embrace them, and to endeavor to draw them into the fellowship of the Church. When we sing the old invitation hymn, “Just As I Am”, I want us to mean it, and I want my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to know it is true for them too.

Rest assured that I have already heard – and in some cases made – every kind of biblical argument against gay marriage, including those of Dr. Ronald Sider, my esteemed friend and colleague at Eastern University. Obviously, people of good will can and do read the scriptures very differently when it comes to controversial issues, and I am painfully aware that there are ways I could be wrong about this one.

However, I am old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases for keeping women out of teaching roles in the Church, and when divorced and remarried people often were excluded from fellowship altogether on the basis of scripture. Not long before that, some Christians even made biblical cases supporting slavery. Many of those people were sincere believers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong. I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again, which is why I am speaking out.

I hope what I have written here will help my fellow Christians to lovingly welcome all of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters into the Church.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Everyday God

I had forgotten today is Trinity Sunday until I got to church. My favourite idea about the Trinity is that it is to do with relationship and that we too are called to relationship. If you understand the rest of it, you are doing better than me. I am posting this hymn again with all its beautiful reflections on the Trinity.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Biddulph Grange

Spent a lovely afternoon at Biddulph Grange. This beautiful Cheshire garden built in the Victorian era is full of little themed gardens to explore. It has a pond full of the most beautiful koi carp; the boys used to love feeding them in days gone by (when they actually were boys...) There are Chinese and Eyptian gardens, a woodland walk and lots of quirky paths, bridges, tunnels and statues. There were loads of families and children around and very pleasant atmosphere as the sun actually put in an appearance after this rather dull, cool and rainy week. Kev and I have National Trust membership and try to make the most of it, especially at this time of year. We then came home for tea and cake in our own  garden, not quite as grand but cheaper with unlimited top ups!

We didn't buy fish food !

View of the house

The Chinese Garden

Cute frog statue

Tuesday, 19 May 2015


This is  not so much a coherent post as an update. Every year, at some point, the shit seems to hit the fan at work and it seems there just aren't enough hours in the day. I can't say too much because I don't blog about work but it is the main reason for my absence.
Things should start to get easier (she says cautiously) from next week onwards and I will hopefully find a little more time to do the things I love. I want to do some gardening (my veg patch is making some progress despite the recent rain and gloom), maybe some baking, go for long walks with Mr M, get to the gym a bit more and resume a few activities which are possibly too infrequent to be accorded the term hobbies. Today I've agreed to do a speech at a Speaking Club dinner next month, so that is a start in doing something non work related.
 On Sunday I made it to the Quaker meeting, we have gone back to the beautiful 17th century chapel which I love, and last week I managed to get to Church so I am doing a little better on that front than for some time.
Of course the world has gone on as usual. We have another five years of the nasty party and all is doom and gloom economically and in many ways but life goes on and everyone has to just do their best. I do feel for young people in the current climate- and I worry for my own - but worry never achieved anything.
If anyone is reading this post, I hope all is well for you and yours and you are managing to do the things  you think are fun and spend time with the people that make you feel happy and whole.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Remembering Bess

A very sad day yesterday as we had to take our lovely little West Highland Terrier to be put to sleep. She has for some time been suffering with Westie Lung Disease or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a horrible condition in which the lungs become progressively scarred and breathing is more and more difficult. Bessie was diagnosed last year and the prognosis was that we would lose her around November/ December. The fact that she made it until April allowed her to have a few weeks enjoying some of the nice weather we have had recently; she thoroughly enjoyed sitting in her garden on sunny days and we even managed some walks down the canal although we had to go very slowly for her.

I feel incredibly sad today;  the house seems so quiet and empty without her. She was such an affectionate and sociable little dog and she was always by our side and  came to greet us, ears down and tail wagging when one of us came home. I do know however that we made the right decision yesterday as just over this last day or so she had deteriorated dramatically and was clearly struggling to breathe . I have already realised that there will be lots of reminders of Bessie but my main memory will be of her in her garden sniffing the breeze or walking down the canal, a place we all loved.
Sniffing slowly down the towpath

At the dog friendly cafe. We would have tea, the waiter would bring Bess doggie treats!

Water supplied

Waterside Cafe. Owners also welcome

Daffodils on our walk

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Easter Sunday in the garden

I've had, or rather am having a full day off work today. After church we took the dog for a walk, then the gym and the afternoon has been spent in the garden and enjoying the sunshine. I've planted out my little kitchen garden, which is comprised of several pots and containers on the patio with radishes, salad veg and potatoes. Kev has been started preparing the ground for a vegetable patch in the place of some trees he felled last year. It will be a bit of a project and I am unlikely to be able to plant veg in it until next spring I think.

 It has really done me good to have a whole day off. I really do have to work tomorrow if I am going to get through my coursework marking and preparation for this holiday, I've calculated I need to work eight  to nine days over the fifteen days holiday, either in whole days or half days. A full day with no marking or preparation has become a rare event recently as I am currently marking coursework for every single group I teach on top of other work related responsibilities such as organising awards evenings.
We were asked in church today what we need to change in our lives. I really need to change something about work, either to find different work or to find ways of coping with it more effectively. I saw this on facebook yesterday and it helped a little.

The weather should be nice this week so I am determined to work half days. If I can get up early and do a couple of hours sustained marking then I should be able to manage some afternoons out in the garden and walking the dog down the canal (hopefully planned for tomorrow.) After the boost a day off has given me today, I think it is essential.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Good Friday Hymns

I have always loved the above hymn "My Song is Love Unknown". It is in itself a beautiful meditation upon Good Friday. My only hesitation in posting it is that it jars with me somewhat that the hymn identifies Christ's oppressors as the other, not ourselves but  them.

They rise and needs will have 
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save.
The Prince of life they slay.

Leaving aside the possible anti-Semitic interpretations which are perhaps the greatest danger of this hymn, the identification as Christ, the victim as ours and the perpetrators as them deprives us of an understanding of ourselves as oppressors, perpetrators - as fully sinful.It is not until we can confront ourselves as just as sinful as others that we can be fully forgiven. Rowan Williams writes in Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, that the paradox of Easter is that "our victim is our hope" and that  none can access that hope without, "the prior recognition that I victimise".I wish we could  change the pronouns of this otherwise wonderful hymn  to "we" to allow it to make more sense theologically. 

We rise and needs will have 
Our dear Lord made away;
A murderer we save.
The Prince of life we slay.

Another hymn by John Newton "I saw One hanging on a tree", identifies the speaker as both cause and  beneficiary of the cross. In this Christ, the victim, is also our judge whose look "seemed to charge me with His death", and at the same time our hope, "I freely all forgive." I managed to find it on Youtube and, although accompanied by slightly schmaltzy pictures, it is worth reflecting upon, as indeed both these hymns are.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Holy Week

At almost the start of Holy Week, a meditation from a dog who says it much better than I can.

Thought for the day: If only human beings could be a bit more like dogs.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Ask not for whom the bell tolls

I am still struggling with what seems like never-ending coursework (the stuff is like a boomerang and keeps coming back) and it is now combined with timed essays I have been setting due to exams looming on the horizon. So weekends are being pretty much wiped out but yesterday I did get down the gym and while working out on the cross trainer I watched the procession of remains of Richard III through the streets of Leicester and their reception at the Cathedral.

I have mixed feelings about the whole matter and spent some time pondering the motives behind all the fuss. The cynical part of me was very aware of the commercial potential offered by ensuring a real show with all the media coverage, no doubt Richard's bones will draw tourists to Leicester. Then again there is the undoubted fascination of a historical figure, no doubt maligned for political ends. There is perhaps the sense of guilt from the historians and scientists who dug him up- and while there has been much fuss about him getting a "proper" burial, it is also true to say it matters little to him now and he was actually buried, albeit hastily, in the Greyfriars Priory after his body was recovered from Bosworth field. To read the media you might think he had been originally buried in a car park...

Yet despite all these doubts, when the procession reached Leicester Cathedral and the remains were officially handed over and the coffin entered the door, I suddenly felt a rush of emotion and the sense that, at some level, we mark death and life in this way, not for others whether they be Kings or commoners, but for ourselves - to say something about the importance and dignity of this life. As the coffin moved from the streets into the cathedral, from secular to sacred, I couldn't help but reflect on the power of religious ritual to mark that sense of human dignity and of the worth and beauty of life more profoundly than anything else. You may say this is ironic because religion can treat the living in ways that diminishes or even abuses human dignity, yet I think it is because of the belief in a God who values each of us that, despite its many flaws, religion and religious ritual breathes its power and through its power can breathe hope and meaning into death and failure.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Lent- a place to ask for help

One thing about the wilderness is that it is a place where you can ask for God's help.We often don't like to ask for help because we see this as a weakness but when we find ourselves in a bleak inhospitable place there is sometimes no other alternative but to overcome our pride. I've said before that I can feel uncomfortable with the idea of suffering and privation, not to mention the pseudo suffering and false humility, that can accompany Lent. Wildernesses, real or imagined, are not always the places of spiritual health and renewal that they are cracked up to be.

 I have been thinking that one of the messages of Lent is, rather ironically, that we are not alone. Before Jesus went into the wilderness he was assured of God's love and delight in him, after his temptations the angels came and ministered to him. Rather like the hope that remains at the bottom of Pandora's box, so the bleakness of Lent is shot through with grace. Its message is that help is not so very far away and that we need not be ashamed to need it and to ask for it.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Half term

I think I mentioned at Christmas that the next few months would be wiped out with marking mocks and coursework? Well the coursework marathon started this half term with work from every single group. I marked from Saturday until Wednesday which wasn't great. I did go to sleep at night (!) managed to fit in a few trips the gym, ate some pancakes Tuesday lunchtime and Mr M took me out for a curry on Tuesday evening to celebrate the start of Lent, otherwise it was pretty non stop. I prepared lessons yesterday, which is more fun than marking. I have now FINISHED completely and the rest of half term is pretty much my own.
So far the only Lenten discipline has been the amount of work I had- quite enough as far as I am concerned. Today was very definitely down time and I met a friend in Knutsford for lunch. I had a delicious seafood pasta dish followed by the tempting trio of puds featured above. We then wandered around Knutsford and went walking in the park. It was lovely to catch up with someone I haven't seen for a while and so good to just have some free time. I now have a whole work free weekend ahead, a luxury I intend to enjoy!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Red sky at night, lemon delight

Red sky at night, shepherd's delight,
Red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning.

That's how the old saying goes but I rather feel it has been disproved today as the picture above is of the sky last night taken from our study window and yet today has been cold, grey and foggy in our neck of the woods- although apparently bright and sunny elsewhere in the UK.

Grim weather notwithstanding, I've had quite a pleasant day. Having experienced a couple of broken nights recently (I am prone to insomnia), last night I crashed out and slept over ten hours at a stretch. I do feel much better for it. This afternoon I baked a lemon drizzle loaf, partly to use up some leftover lemons and a jar of lemon curd but also because baking while listening to "Poetry please" on Radio 4 seemed just the ticket given the dreary weather and general chill. The recipe below has to be one of the easiest cakes to make, you just bung it all in a food processor and it comes out perfect. The addition of the lemon curd seems to make it quite moist and- well- lemony actually. Who'd have thought?

·                           140g (5 oz) self raising flour
·                           110g (4 oz) caster sugar
·                             110g (4 oz) butter or margarine, softened
·                              2 eggs, beaten
·                            2 heaped tablespoons lemon curd
·                           Ingredients for topping
·                            2 tablespoons granulated sugar
·                             zest of 1 lemon
·                               2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 170 C / Gas 3, 150 C for fan ovens
2.      Put flour, caster sugar, margarine, eggs and lemon curd into a mixing bowl or food processor, and mix well together. Put into a greased or lined 900g (2 lb) loaf tin (or makes approximately 16-18 cupcakes).
3.      Place in centre of oven and bake for 1hour - 1hr 30mins (or 40-45 minutes for cupcakes).
4.      While in the oven make the topping: blend together the granulated sugar, lemon juice and lemon rind.
5.      Once cake is cooked, leave to cool still in the tin for about 2 to 3 minutes. Then while still hot to warm, pour over the topping so that it soaks into the cake. Leave to cool for about 1/2 hour then turn out of tin. Keeps well for a few days if wrapped in greaseproof paper and tin foil.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Stephen Fry and theodicy

" I don't know if God exists but it would be better for his reputation if he didn't. (Jules Renard)

 Stephen Fry's rant about how God "dare" to create such a brutal world is doing the rounds on YouTube and social media at the moment. I personally am not offended by Fry's view; the notion that theodicy, any attempt to account for a loving God in the face of a cruel world, is futile or even obscene is not a new one. The view he expresses has its validity and Fry has a right to his opinion even if it does not express my own world view.
I have blogged before about suffering and the way that Jesus's suffering and humanity helps me to begin to make sense (I don't claim to have wholly made sense) of a world in which human happiness  is blighted not just by man's inhumanity but by disease and natural disaster.
What would Jesus's answer be to the question about how he dare to allow a child to have bone cancer?
Well, I think he might explain that he was that child with bone cancer. That he was the man whose sight was destroyed by the parasite. That he was and is each and everyone of us who faces poverty, exclusion, cruelty and suffering. He might ask where were we when he was hungry, helpless and naked- in fact I think he has said he will? With regard to the child with bone cancer,  I think he might ask us how much we truly cared? Did we give all of our money away, as he exhorted us to, and do everything we could to eradicate the disease? Or did we keep a fair bit back to fund our pension pots? He might ask us if we sat by complacently not bothering to look for a vaccination to Ebola until we felt personally threatened? He might ask if to consider our disregard for our planet and the huge amount of suffering we are likely to be inflicting on future generations- our own children and their world.
We would do well to reflect that the world we live in has been made a thousand times worse by our actions. What a suffering world does give us is the opportunity to reach out to others and to heal and offer hope. Jesus came to earth to model this to us - have we followed his example? He taught us that we are blessed if we are poor in spirit, humble, peacemakers, yet haven't we persisted in egotism, selfishness and greed?
 So I think Fry's rant, although I accept is it his truth, is a little limited. I am never going to be complacent about suffering, and yet it is true that much of our greatest literature is tragedy, the exploration of human pain is deeply connected to our search for meaning in life.
I believe that we are put on earth partly to ponder meaning and to think about the answers to questions which are by no means easy - and that we then go back home and tell what we have learnt.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Libby Lane and the theology of taint

It really is good news that the Reverend Libby Lane will become Britain's first female bishop tomorrow and I think that it is a really positive move for the whole church and for so many men and women, but particularly women, who have waited so long for this.I feel a bit guilty that there is a conspicuous lack of detail on my blog about the politics and events in the Church of England, it is just that I have simply lost interest. Back in November 2012 I took some time out to think about where I was going in terms of all Church related things. I decided to pull out of some of the activities I had been involved in, such as representing groups at Synod, not just because I was appalled at the impasse over women bishops but also because I could not see much hope for the inclusion of gay Christians, given the global nature of the Anglican communion and some of the tensions seen there.
I'd also become increasingly disillusioned with what institution does to religion. It is a terrible cliche to say you don't believe in institutionalised religion, I would prefer to say that I rejoice in the way that grace, the Church's best kept secret, manages to do its work despite the strangle hold of institution. From a personal point of view, the decision to bow out was absolutely the right one and , although it was precipitated by the vote of Synod, I had reached that point well before and it had been a long time coming.
Anyhow, there has been a bit of a kerfuffle (predictably) because Philip North, who holds traditional Anglo-Catholic views on the ordination of women, will be consecrated in February and Sentamu has said that he will exercise "gracious restraint" and not lay hands on the said Father North because Sentamu will have laid hands on Libby Lane and Sentamu's hands may not now be able to impart the real McCoy in terms of making North a real, genuine, no-kidding bishop in the tradition of male, apostolic succession (or some rubbish like that, I don't know, I wasn't really paying attention...)

 I suppose I should be outraged at the theology of taint or something like that but it is possibly a mark of how completely I have disengaged that I am not feeling terribly exercised over it all. It is, of course, the theology of taint, and it seems to me to be the complete opposite of what we learn from Jesus, who would touch anyone. I also think that those who believe in this sort of "pure blood bishops" stuff are a bunch of weird crazies- having said this,religions are generally full of weird crazies, it attracts them. So what did you expect? The best thing about indifference is that it lends you a wonderful objectivity and an amused shrug of the shoulders is much better for your blood pressure than getting worked up.

But indifference, rather than internal difference of opinion, is the Church's real problem at this moment in time. With increased secularisation, the British public lost touch with its faith decades ago and we now see the working out of this in falling numbers and emptying pews. The tragedy of this is that when people stop looking to and listening to the Church, they no longer hear the message of the gospel. Perhaps the Church should think harder about the fact that those it needs to reach are largely ignorant of, rather then indifferent to, the good news it has to share.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Marking the mocks

The entire weekend has been devoted to marking mock exam papers for my teaching groups. I have two weekends (plus evenings of the coming week) to get through this pile... and I allocate myself targets and try to exceed them slightly. This weekend I have marked pretty much non-stop. My target was to halve the load, so I am pleased to have whittled away at an extra ten. The slight drawback is that marking so intensively makes me feel sick. I mean this literally. I actually start to feel nauseous and can reach a point where I just have to stop and go and lie down.  Marking can be a soul destroying task. Of course there are those which are cogent, perceptive and well structured, they don't quite compensate though for the ones that make me  tear out my hair over the quality of thought and expression and wonder if I should just throw in the towel. It is also just horrible to lose the entire weekend to marking the stuff. The only down time I had was a visit to the gym yesterday evening and a walk around the park in the snow, featured below, this morning.

The snow transformed everything today. It was so cold and crisp and beautiful in the sunlight and I took some bread and fed the ducks, and also the gulls who were so hungry that they dive bombed into the water for bread and  sometimes caught the falling pieces mid air, thus depriving the ducks whose quacking seemed to my imagination to take on an increasingly indignant tone with every piece of bread which was intercepted in this way. It is sad to say that this was the highlight of my weekend.

If I can do just a few scripts every evening this week, next weekend might just be bearable.