Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Pray for a kinder world

It was a friend I was visiting who told me the news of the murder of a French priest near Rouen and before she told me (she had just found out about it on the radio) she warned me to be ready for something "truly horrible".  Her reaction, looked at logically, is absurd, after all is the murder of an elderly man any more horrible than the mowing down of over eighty people, many of them children out enjoying an evening's entertainment? And yet, it is true that this latest atrocity is calculated to shock and outrage in so many of its details: the age of the victim, his office, the act taking place in front of an altar during mass and coming as it does to a nation still reeling from other recent atrocities. The mix of shock, distress, fear and anger this engenders is certainly dangerous,  France has said it is or feels "at war" and I cannot see how it can avoid increasingly wide spread demands for a radical response. Another friend of mine has recently moved back to France after many years in Britain and it depresses me to see on Facebook her blanket condemnation of all Muslims and her (very genuine) fears that there are thousands of jihadis just waiting for the right moment to "take over" France. Those have been her actual words and, although they seem extreme, the fear behind them is at least comprehensible given what France has faced since the Charlie Hebdo attack.

My facebook friend expressed her anger that "some people still defend Muslims" and yet it is clear, or at least it is to me, that it is right and proper to "defend" all innocent people who simply go about their business whether they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, of any faith or no faith. What worries me is that my friend's blanket condemnation reflects the prevailing attitudes in France, and that plays right into the hands of terrorists who wish to see political and social unrest and destabilisation which will lead to more radicalisation and more negative consequences for the country concerned. France has a long history of far right groups and activity and is a country very vulnerable in this respect.
Yesterday's atrocity certainly was "truly horrible" but what is also horrible is the repercussions of terrorism, the effect it has of creating fear and hatred in all of us and prompting us to be cruel rather than fair and equitable. I heard on the radio that recently Pere Hamel had written a parish newsletter about the recent terrorist attacks telling his parishioners to take time for themselves over the summer and to pray for a kinder world. I tried googling but I could not find that newsletter or any reference to it online. What my search  did return was a copy of the video presumably of the priest's murder as it contained a warning and an invitation to  sign up to receive newsletters from far right groups.
I think that says it all.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Maybe, maybe not

There has been some media interest in the fact that Theresa May is a vicar's daughter and, according to one source this "instilled in her the serious minded sense of duty she holds dear today." May herself has to some extent corroborated this, apparently saying that her father's work inspired her choice of a political career because, " you didn't think about yourself. The emphasis was on others."
It is an interesting idea, and there was a similar focus on Gordon Brown's history, to use the Scottish phrase, as a child of the manse  and Margaret Thatcher's upbringing as the daughter of a man who was a grocer but also a local preacher (albeit apparently with a dubious reputation.) In short, some people seem to suggest that the children of clergy tend to be more self-giving, disciplined, focused less on the material (although whether that describes politicians is debatable...), and that clergy children are primed to seek roles in later life that tend towards vocation or leadership.

There may be some truth in the idea, children after all often absorb and are influenced by the values of their parents and those around them; a friend of mine is a ballet teacher and her son is now a professional dancer, a friend is a consultant and his daughter is studying medicine. Overall though,  I am unconvinced by the argument that clergy children fall into some special category, after all we can find characters and lives as disparate of those of Jane Austen, Katy Perry and even Lucrezia Borgia among the daughters of the cloth, although it is only fair to point out that Lucrezia Borgia's father was a cardinal (later Pope Alexander VI) and that recent history regards her more a pawn than an agent in the political machinations that surrounded her.

It is also true that quite opposite stereotypes about vicars' children exist, namely the idea that those brought up with the constraints, expectations and public scrutiny that can accompany being a vicar's child often later rebel against this and go "off the rails." This phenomenon / stereotype (delete as applicable) is so entrenched that it has its own term- Preacher's kid syndrome. Again, I am not entirely convinced, other children rebel as well, maybe we just notice it more in certain cases, I think PK syndrome simply offers an alluring narrative, and who doesn't just love Dusty Springfield's Son of a preacher man in which a boy inherits his father's persuasive eloquence and puts it to use in very different ways.

As for Theresa May, the extent to which she will act in accordance with the Christian values of her upbringing remains to be seen. Her first Prime Ministerial speech dwelt on her desire to reach out and to serve, a few days later when asked if she would authorise a nuclear strike killing thousands of men, women and children, she did not hesitate to answer "yes". Well, politics is a tough and nasty business, Prime Ministers, perhaps female ones in particular, cannot afford to be weak or to be seen as weak; they rely on the reputation they create. And possibly that idea of reputation, that idea of brand image  lies as much as anything behind Theresa May (in common with Thatcher and Brown) pointing us to background as a reason for us to feel trust, respect or , almost bizarrely in this oh-so secular age, even reverence.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Feeling the heat

I've tried to get out in the garden today but at times the heat has driven me back in. I've had to put off quite a few jobs over the last few weeks, from weeding to washing just because it has been so wet and now it is too hot! I can't complain as I got out two lots of washing and also picked the first of the sweet peas, this year all the beaujolais seem to have flowered first. A few other colours are starting to bloom but only these were quite ready to pick and such a gorgeous colour that I didn't mind not having a mix. If you leave the sweet peas then the plant produces less blooms so I will try to keep picking them and  we should have plenty from now on.
I can't really say that the garden is flourishing that much though, I think the last few weeks of rain have left it feeling a bit dejected, the radishes have been distinctly puny although we have had a good crop of potatoes and the courgette plants have now started producing. Poor Mr M was at work today, however  he finished earlier than usual so that was a bonus. Son number one has been complaining of the heat and took himself off for a cold shower this afternoon. Son two in contrast went for a run at a local beauty spot, uphill all the way, and came back lathered in sweat. As for me, I skipped the gym this evening and am hoping tonight doesn't prove unbearably muggy. Still, let's make the most of it, there is always rain around the corner!

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Britain, Brexit and a Bloody difficult woman

It is a little bit worrying when you discover that you actually feel relief at the thought of Theresa May as Prime Minister, yet relief I did feel in comparison to the others, although you have to consider just who the "others" are... Boris... Gove...Leadsom. 'Nuff said really. Yet I found myself thinking that it was a good speech from Theresa May, one which at times might almost have come from someone who wasn't a Conservative at all...she even said she was thinking of all those struggling to make ends meet. Nice that they are being thought about now I suppose after over six years of Tory power in some guise or other...better late than never as they say.
Despite my scepticism, it is clear that May is determined to at least attempt the well nigh impossible task of uniting the country, of reaching out to those who are disaffected and hostile, of offering some leadership and semblance of stability.  If she is a bloody difficult woman, that could be just as well as she is going to need cojones of steel for what lies ahead. When I begin to feel hope though, I wonder if it might just be a kind of political version of Stockholm syndrome, that place of despair where you begin to believe that those responsible for whatever horrific predicament you are in are all you have to cling to. And in truth, with the Labour party imploding before our eyes, there is no-one else around.
Just stop and digest that one for a moment; it is really bad news, good opposition is vital to democracy.
Of course, we don't know what tomorrow will bring, so at the moment it is a case of wait and see and hope against hope that words a politician speaks might bear some resemblance to the truth or to their real intentions, that the other side might get their act together, that there might be something, somehow, light at the end of the tunnel, a cunning plan...
Only time will tell and I am sure you will forgive me if I reserve judgement for now.