Monday, 12 August 2019

Wedding labour

I took my first wedding on 10th August 1985 - having been carefully tutored in the tasks of equipping myself with ‘registrar’s ink’ and then writing out the details four times (once each in duplicate registers, then on a certificate for the couple, and then on a ‘quarterly return’ copy for the local Registry Office).  It was a laborious process then and has remained so on the four hundred or so occasions I have repeated the exercise since. 

On Saturday, another 10th August as it happens, I did it for what might be the last time.  I’m not now due to take another wedding until after the date on which new legislation may be implemented to abolish the eighteenth century registration system.  All church registers in current use would be due to be closed off.  In future a single marriage document will need to be prepared (possibly on-line) to be signed at the wedding.  It will be the responsibility of the couple to lodge it at the local Register Office themselves, and it will be Register Offices which then issue wedding certificates in future.

It is going to save the Government quite a bit of money publishing and securely distributing church registers, and soliciting and processing quarterly returns (there is a team of people at the General Register office who key in the hand written returns they receive) – although I can see quite a few of the new documents going astray before they are properly lodged.

Part of me regrets the passing of the old system – perhaps both historic nostalgia and the loss of an area of very minor expertise play their part.  Part of me is greatly relieved not to have to go on putting so much effort in.

I told the couple of Saturday that the 250 years or so the present system has run covers perhaps only a quarter of the 1000 years in which Christian marriages have taken place on the site.  The eighteenth century reforms arose in part because of Government concern about clandestine weddings (could we really be sure who was married?), and the secure production and distribution of standard registers may not have been a practical option much sooner.  The twenty-first reforms arise in part because of Government concern about sham marriage and identity theft, and on-line options are quite new.

One feature of the new document will be that it records the name of the couples’ mothers as well as fathers.  The seventeenth century style which we are just about to lose comes from an era when the bride was moving from being the legal responsibility of one male person to that of another, and moving on from that perception in the registration process was certainly long over due.

The older photograph is from the 1911 history of the Cross Roads Co-Operative Society and shows the first shop.  The newer one was taken today.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Not together burdened.

The demutualisation of Building Societies in the 1980s and 1990s feels like the great symbol of our fatal abandonment of interdependence. 

Many individuals might have enough resources to build or buy themselves a home.  Many others would not, unless what was literally their clubbing together generated the necessary capital.  Profit generated within many of those societies was not destined to be taken out but to be furnish further loans - until it dawned on some of those whose homes had already been built or bought that ‘terminating’ the club would mean they could have the accumulated capital for themselves in addition to their homes - cutting off the access of others to housing loans not inflated by the need to pay profit to bank share-holders.

Thatcherite legislation triggered this possibility by, on one hand, enabled commercial banks to make building loans and, on the other, Building Societies to operate as share-held commerical Banks.  So in the 1990s I twice received an unsolicited cheques or shares simply because I had money in a Building Society which was being demutualised.  I knew enough about why this mattered not to hold onto this dirty money but to give my windfall away to a housing charity.  But I did not know enough to forsee everything from the loans crisis which was to follow to the rise of ‘generation rent’.

I’ve been thinking about all this again as I’ve continued to reflect on interdependence – I now suspect that de-mutual is an opposite of sum-phero.  I also suspect that the absence of a societal appetite for mutuality is a symbol of the false binary of sovereignty / subjugation which may be part of what lies behind the country’s Brexit divide – something about which I’m preparing to talk.

And it is also at the front of my mind because I’ve been reminded of the origins of the co-operative movement – the modern English form of which was pioneered by Lancashire weavers eighteen miles away in Rochdale in 1844 when they secured more affordable groceries through a mutual society which operated without needing to generate an owner’s profit.

Within twenty years that movement had reached here.  The maps of Cross Roads in 1848 (a scatter of hamlets) and 1910 (the hamlets were coalescing into the present village, with the Parish Church built that year) come from the Golden Jubilee history of the Lees and Cross Roads Co-operative Industrial Society Limited founded in 1861; clicking on either image will enlarge it.   

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Hostile to Africa

I’ve just read on-line last week’s joint All-Parliamentary Groups report Visa Problems for African Visitors to the UK. 

African applicants are twice as likely to be refused as those from other parts of the world. 

Some of the individual case studies make me cry. 

Mauritarian applicants cannot apply from their own country so have to get a visa to travel to Morocco so that they can apply from there – something only those with particular levels of financial and time resources can contemplate doing. 

The London International Festival of Theatre was asked why it was not recruiting UK dancers when it applied on behalf of Congolese dancers explicitly invited to share their experience of Civil War. 

Some of those invited by the Government’s own Department for International Development have been refused or approval has delayed so long as to make attendance at the relevant events impossible. 

The rolling out of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s world leading work on preventing Ebola epidemics has been thwarted by a refusal to allow emerging local medical researchers to visit the UK.

I was blissfully unaware of all this when walking in the western end of the parish the day after the report was published.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Paul preaching in Rome

The middle picture is of part of the east window in the Brontë Memorial Chapel at St Michael's, Haworth which was tentatively identified to me as being Paul preaching in Rome; the very end of Acts says Paul lived freely with his one guard.  I've now enjoyed finding the other two images (ninth and fifteenth century) which seem to confirm the identification; among other things, I note the mothers with their children in the bottom image.

Friday, 12 July 2019

A proxy for justice

... in situations of war and violence, hospitality functions as a proxy for justice.  Such hospitality-as-interruption does not achieve justice but it stands in its place for a time and shows that justice is possible...

I’ve been spending time with this observation of Durham University’s Prof Anna Rowlands.  It comes from her reflection on those who live out an alternative narrative to the scandals of how we treat refugees.  She sources it to Simone Weil’s essay L’illiade ou le poème de la force.  ‘The tradition of hospitality,’ I find that Weil says, ‘persists... to dispel the blindness of combat’.

I’m struck by it as an illuminatingly simple insight.  I often fill up my own reflections with huge unobtainable pure concepts – things like forgiveness, grace, healing, justice, kingdom, love, mystery, numinous, peace.  I know I’m better off when I people my thoughts instead with obtainable hints – a conversation, a generous gesture, an act of hospitality, an unexpected kindness – stories which interrupt the unavoidable narrative of power and act as place-holders for other possibilities.

The essay’s title identifies it as being about force, ‘that x which turns anyone subjected to it into a thing’, ‘as pitiless to the man who possess it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims’.  ‘Only he who has measured the dominance of force,’ it almost concludes, ‘... is capable of love and justice’; subjugation to power’s reality is what she sees in Jesus’ Passion.

I’m used to reflecting that God cannot be treated as an object to be observed or manipulated, or that we drift into heresy when we do so.  Perhaps the parallel assertion must be that this is as true of those made in the image of God – those moments of attention and valuing recognise fully the way power has made us heretically relate thing-on-thing and briefly uncovers each of us instead as a subject rather than an object. 

I remember years ago a colleague telling me of coming away from a meeting at Church House, Westminster, finding a bereaved victim of Pinochet vainly protesting at the time of his brief arrest, and not ignoring her; they both knew Chilean Government power had been murderous; they both knew British Government power would nevertheless release him; they both knew their encounter said much more about her dead son and herself than those overwhelming facts.

The picture is of a huge scroll created at All Age Worship on Sunday, one feature of Paul’s handwritten postscript to his letter to the Galatians; you probably cannot make out the names which have been added in the spirit of ‘see what large letters I make’.