Wednesday 29 April 2015

Election ennui

I find that I have been avoiding the election campaign.  Perhaps the verbs are too strong - I am aware that I’m not attending to it.

In one sense that is odd.  Five years ago, I was the one asked to write the ‘it is important to vote’ column for the diocesan magazine and the one invited to chair the Churches Together organised hustings in Grimsby.

So why am I indifferent to the campaign going on around me?  It is because I don’t see any evidence that the candidates want to engage with the questions I might want to ask.

At one level this is simply obvious and explicit: my wife e-mailed all the candidates with questions about one issue and received replies from only two (Green and Lib Dem) and certainly not from the three theoretically electable in this constituency (Conservative, Labour and UKIP).

At another level, this is hidden by the noise of large numbers of questions appearing to be asked and answered; it is on this that I have been reflecting in particular.

For example, I would like to know from a Conservative or LibDem candidate why Coalition defence of the “bedroom tax” was always based on the freedom to move of the tenant when it was known from the start that there was insufficient supply of smaller properties for this to be true.

Putting a question like this, however, only ever provokes the appearance of an answer – the person questioned says what his or her party wants to communicate about benefits cuts.  A question on this topic has been asked and an answer on this topic given – but I am none the wiser about the point I wanted tackled.

A few of the candidates have put literature through my door inviting me to return a pro-forma indicating which issues matter to me.  I am supposed to feel that there is a genuine interest in my priorities – but I know it is data the party needs for marketing (in exactly the same way that supermarkets gather data via “reward” cards).

The most high profile indication of politicians’ unwillingness to allow the questioner to set any genuine agenda was the reaction to the House of Bishop’s public letter about the issues for this election. 

A Cabinet member was sent out simply to rubbish the idea of the Bishops setting any agenda.  He said that no such letter had been issued last time when Labour was in office - despite, as a practising Catholic, his being fully aware both that the Catholic Bishops issue such a letter each election and that the new Archbishop of Canterbury has been explicit about how much he values this expression of ‘catholic social teaching’ and wanted to follow this example.

This is, of course, exactly what happened when the former Archbishop of Canterbury tried to provoke real debate as the guest editor of an issue of the New Statesman in 2011.  Now the election has come, the parties have got their own planning grids of the issues to be raised – and simply dismiss anyone who seeks to explore any  agenda outside this grid.

Meanwhile, having found larch flower in Bradley Woods recently, we found ash flower when we were in Pickworth churchyard soon after that.    

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Joy Mullins

One of my brothers has scanning some photographs as background for my mother's funeral next week and the selection here date from 1955-1960 in Zomba.

The top one is her at the Zomba European Hospital.

The middle two are my parents on the day they met - someone took snaps of each of the Colonial Officers at the Queen's Birthday Parade at the Zomba Gymkhana Club - so, first, there is picture of my father and, second, there is a picture of a colleague of his which happens to have my mother in the background.

The bottom one includes me on the day I was baptised aged nearly one month.

Saturday 11 April 2015

Tipping the scales

I'm not sure how widespread wall paintings were in fourteenth century churches, but damage (routine, Reformation, Commonwealth) has deprived us of most.  We went to see Lincolnshire's best survivals at Pickworth yesterday.  

The destruction here includes the lowering of the roof line - so we see only the pierced feet of Jesus and the bottom of Mary and John beside him here.  It is the whitewashing over the whole set of pictures which actually saved them; they were rediscovered when a near-by German bomb shook some of the covering plaster down.  Here in the centre graves are being opened and people emerge.

To the right, many are herded away to damnation; top right of the most visible group there is a devil pitchforking another group into the jaws of hell.

To the left, less clearly, Peter ushers the saved to safety.

Meanwhile, the south wall is also particularly rich, including the three skeletons between the two top windows.

And also, almost best of all, including Our Lady tipping in our favour the scales in which Michael is weighing a soul (which is, of course, her job - 'pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death').

Monday 6 April 2015


One memory of our Lent Course is the way people homed in on the sense that Jesus had already spotted Nathaniel under a tree, the sense that he already knows us before we begin to notice him.  So Easter morning took me back to John’s sense that it was still dark when the resurrection was found already to have taken place, that he is at work in our darkness and not just when we begin to see the light.  Meanwhile, the photograph of a larch tree in flower was taken in Bradley Woods today.

Thursday 2 April 2015

Waiting at the foot of the cross

Sorry, we are still dealing with the mother.  Would you like some tea while you wait?  You can sit in our room behind the desk’.  So that is what I do.  I’d feel more use out there with them.  But they are too busy to stop and I’d be under their feet.  Through the open door, the work continues, audible, and partially visible.
In the back room, the names of five mothers are coloured coded on a white board.   The rest of the annotations are written in a further code I cannot break. 

The remaining wall space is papered with notices.  These admonish, encourage and remind.  But, mainly, they plead. 

It appears that both retaining funding and negotiating an audit of good practice depend on the pleading being heeded.  Sometimes the welfare of the mothers provides the rationale.  One merely cites the need to project a professional image.  

Neither ‘Kelly’s leaving do’ nor the ‘tea fund’ appear, to my unpractised eye, to have enough people signed up to make them viable.  

The light is harsh even in here, as are the beeps from calls and machines out there.  Every plug, socket and appliance has a serial number stamped or taped onto it.  The small fridge has its own, and has a bar code as well.  

Jammed in a corner, beneath the kettle and the toaster, is a robust plastic shopping bag with a picture of two large hamsters on the side.  A pair of wellies decorated with roses and a huge handbag spill out into the space next to it. 

A carved wooden sign hangs on a cupboard door: ‘live well, laugh often, love much’.  The message ‘I’ll miss you all’ has been scratched into it. 

There is mild concern out there about ‘twin two’ who is not inclined to feed.   Some paperwork has been displaced, but is quickly found.  The owner of the loudest voice, who disapproves of the mothers smoking, takes three sugars. 

Then the owner of a more confidential apprehensive voice reports a crying baby being told ‘you’ve only been here five minutes, and you’re already doing my head in’.

Finally a slim young midwife comes out of the room opposite.  She is in tears.   Her larger, older, non-smoking, three-sugar-taking colleague envelopes her.  ‘I know, Darl,’ she says, ‘it’s the worst thing about this job’.

It will still be a little while before one of them will say ‘Did you bleep an on-call Chaplain?’ and another will reply ‘Yes, a Vicar came in and he’s in the back room – shall I tell him things are clear now and he can go in?’     

The poor photograph was taken in a novice's cell at San Marco in Florence and is a Fra Angelico painting.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

Holy Week

Preparing for Good Friday, I've been returning to earlier reflections on the harrowing of hell, this time illustrated in my mind by two frescoes from among many highlights in our trip to Florence at the New Year.  Both clearly relate to the Orthodox icon of the Resurrection - the (about to be) risen Lord stands on the broken down doors of hell.  Both are clearly western art - the (about to be) risen Lord carries the banner which identifies him as such in most mediaeval representations.  Both clearly relate to each other - it is hard to think the first (Andrea Bonaiuto, c 1367, Santa Maria Novella) is not the model for the second albeit a mirror image (Fra Angelico, c 1440, San Marco) with the cave and with muli-coloured devils crushed beneath the door and cowering at the back.