Sunday, 12 November 2017

Yesterday I sat on a sofa with a 90-year-old man who'd just lost his wife - we were about to attend her funeral. He held my hand, and talked about things from long ago, repeatedly, because his dementia doesn't let him live in the present. Maybe it spares him what it would feel like to know you are alone again after 53 years of marriage.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

An amusing little quiz for couples

Who's older? Him
Age difference? Six years (but he's still in his 30s)
Who was interested first? Both
Who's taller? Him
Worst temper? Him
Most sensitive? Me
Loudest? Him
More social? Him
Most stubborn? Hard to call
Falls asleep first? Him
Cooks the best? Me
Better singer? Him
Most adventurous? Him
Who enjoys traveling the most? Haven't really done any
The most organized? Me
Stresses the most? Me
Best driver? Me - but I don't. He's good at parking.

Friday, 3 November 2017

TYLER

“So, that’s Giles! What do you think?”
“He’s great, great cook, brilliant host, really nice with you”.
“There’s a “but” coming”
“It’s kinda rude, and not right to ask, but do you really fancy him?”
“Yeah, I do. Crazy, isn’t it?”
“He’s got to be older than your parents”
“He is, lots”.
“What would they say?”
“Who cares? This is about me and Giles, not them”
“Mine would slaughter me”
“Yours would slaughter you for being gay, no matter how old your boyfriend was”.
“Sometimes, Fred, you make going home so nice”.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Thoughts on a Working Week With Fraught Bits

It was rather a nice weekend. One of my former fellow-students at Ruskin College was celebrating her graduation in her Social Work degree. Walking there and back in the dark was a bit spooky, but it was a charming welcome and a lovely place to be. Her youngest son in particular took it upon himself to teach me about Pokemon cards, and we spent quite a long time not really learning these mysteries. I wanted to take him home with me. In the brief term we were students, she had relatively few good words to say about family life, but her partner and children seemed to me a pretty good deal. I guess it's the stress of being away, when you've been at home. It must be so hard to feel on top of things, when you've always been there.

And then the week's work began. We're having new doors. Thirteen of them. Possibly more. They have a tendency to breed - the original plan was for six. And some of these doors are going to have video-entry intercom permission, and all are going to be on a single programmable system (by me!), and there's CCTV as well, and goodness knows what-all. Those of you who know me well will know about the Inner Stalin. I have never slaughtered a kulak, but I do like being in control of stuff. Agendas, minutes, keys, doors, cupboards, diaries, calendars .... This is how Stalin took over the Soviet Union. The others were too busy with the intellectual stuff, and left the drudgery to him. By the time they turned round from their boffin thoughts, he'd taken over the whole thing, and everyone appointed was his lacky.

Now, I'm not quite like that. But I do like to know what's going on in my building, and in my key safe, I've tried out most of the 90 keys, and I'm pretty sure there's nowhere I can't get into.

And then it was Tuesday, the day of the opening of the New Westgate Shopping Centre. At the church meeting previously we'd been given the choices of staying up all night to offer refreshment and relief (let the reader understand) to the waiting Mammonite masses, or start at 6 a.m. with Radio Oxford. We went for the morning. And, a little bleary, there we were - two deacons ahead of me, and others soon after. The vast crowds we were promised didn't materialise. One of our number arrived a little late, loudly apologising "I overslept!". I replied "we're over-staffed!". But it was a good morning, and it got better. We saw people we'd not seen before. There was the chap who used to have a hurdy-gurdy (I have no idea if that's the right word) in Cornmarket Street thirty years ago. And another who'd come to be with his girlfriend as her London job was re-located to Oxford (the closest she could afford to live was Bicester), but no, he had no plans to come here too, and they were going to schedule their weekends. I could see the parish matrons thinking "that's not going to work". And there was the homeless guy who had got so close to the top of the fortnightly council house lottery, within the top ten the last few weeks, he was sure he'd get somewhere to live. He was a widower. He was scarcely half my age (51).

Wednesday was spent trying to catch up on all the things that Tuesday wasn't, and then it was Thursday. Arriving early to work (I took the bus, which I hate doing, but my sleeping patterns are shot and this was the only way to get there in time) I saw the
CCTV people putting in the 4th and last camera in not quite the place that had been agreed by the grown-ups. But it was there.
Installed, in the sandstone wall. Of the listed building. The view it gives us is magnificent, and much better than the one planned. So I said "leave it be, and let's see if it becomes a problem". This isn't really my place to decide. But that's the
catch with works chosen by a committee of organ-grinders, and just the monkey on-site.

Friday was a new dilemma. A church funeral, for John, our organist, a serving deacon, fifth generation of the church for ever, and someone of whom I was personally very fond indeed, was fixed for a day when something else was fixed.

I had to unfix it. It was for the street homeless who have died this year. It was an uncomfortable thing to do (thinking to the widower I'd met on Tuesday morning), but the deacons have backed me. For my own part, I was thinking of the day five years ago when I was walking with my mother and six diaries (none of them family) trying to sort my father's funeral, and thinking how collapsing it would have been to be told No, after all. The homeless will do their thing at a nearby church.

And then it was the joyful stress-free weekend. And I remembered the November Prayer Diary, which begins on Wednesday. So, after much delay, off into town I go. There are few things I truly hate more than Oxford city centre on a Saturday. Add, opening of New Westgate Centre, and half-term, and you have the 6th pit of hell. I say that only because one must always, as in a filing cabinet, leave space for a 7th. And thus and so it was. A few cute legs - we're getting to the end of the shorts and thighs season, which I'm personally resisiting (the end, that is), but not to the delight of those others who are doing the same. Children everywhere for half-term. And then the monster of the New Westgate. Goodness. Well, goodness doesn't really come into it. It has shop after shop, restaurant after eatery, John Lewis on three floors (but not the corkscrew I wanted), a roof terrace and lovely views of the city. In fact, mainly lovely views of my college, but that's actually a pretty good deal.

But it was people, people, people. I was so glad to get out onto what I call "the coast road" out of town. It's the ring road, but I think the ebb and flow of the traffic is very like the waves on a beach. It's quite soothing.

This afternoon I headed into Headington mainly in search of milk from Waitrose - I have this notion that their cows are happier. Also some more sausages to replace those that are going to be turned into toad-in-the-hole (about which Ricardo is disgracefully rude) and I had this loony idea I might find an aloe vera plant. For that, I was too late, even if such a thing exists. I read somewhere that they give out good vibes. I could do with that.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
October 2017


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Another bonkers quiz from FB

19 random FACTS about yourself that may surprise people.

1. Do you make your bed everyday?

No. Nor never.

2. What's your favourite​ number?

Three for the Trinity, or whatever's next if bottles and glasses are involved.

3. What is your dream job?

Chancellor of the Exchequer. Or Curator of London Zoo.

4. If you could, would you go back to school?

No.

5. Can you parallel park?

No.

6. A job you had which people would be shocked that you worked at?

Skivvying at a night shelter, perhaps.

7. Do you think aliens are real?

No.

8. Can you drive a stick shift?

Yes.

9. Guilty pleasure?

Don't do guilt.

10. Tattoos?

None, ghastly things.

11. Favourite colour?

Blue.

12. Things people do that drive you mad?

Not answering the bloody question.

13. Fear?

Being stuck like this for ever.

14. Favourite childhood game?

Didn't like childhood, generally don't like games.

15. Do you talk to yourself?

Endlessly. But I don't listen.

16. Do you like doing puzzles?

Yes, especially simple crosswords and Sudokus.

17. Favourite music?

Cole Porter

18. Tea or Coffee?

Gin

19. First thing you remember you wanted to be when you grew up?

A wizard.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

CAN YOU FILL THIS OUT WITHOUT LYING? Go on then...

1. What was the last thing you drank?

Rosé wine, right now, an autumn picnic.

2. Where was your profile picture taken?

The Facebook one, at our wedding, the blog one at my desk.

3. Worst pain you've ever had?

Earache when I was a child.

4. Favorite place you've ever travelled?

New York.

5. How late did you stay up last night?

About 2ish.

6. If you could move, where would it be?

The North Sea coast, maybe East Anglia.

7. Which Facebook friends live closest?

Robin and Debs.

8. The last time you cried?

Whenever I watch a film.

9. Who took your profile pic?

Friends in America for FB, Ricardo for the blog.

10. What's your favorite season?

This year, Autumn.

11. If you could have any career, what would it be?

Writer and broadcaster.

12. Longest distance you've traveled from your home?

Foz do Iguacu in Brasil.

13. Favorite childhood memory?

The day I saw a kingfisher catch a fish, with my Dad, on the Isle of Wight.

14. Thing you are most afraid of?

That the insecurity of the present will persist into the future.

15. Who do you think will play along?

A couple of game old coves.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Do I love my country?

My instinctual answer to the question is, "No". What is there to love about a political entity with a dubious history, at least part of which pitted my ancestors against each other (in Ireland). I see its tremendous flaws - the corruption of its politics, more by vanity and indolence than by money, as few people are able to get into politics unless they are already rich; its class-ridden snobberies; its failure to integrate its parts and regions into one nation; its contempt for intelligence, science, the arts, the hinterland of the mind and the sense of wonder; its new-found disdain for the poorest in its society; its short-termism and "can't do" mentality; its faddish conformity in all things from coffee shops to tattoos. But .... would I leave? No.

So, what is there to love about this land? Here's a random sample, in no order of priority

1. The land itself, and this autumn, the landscape of trees and hedgerows in particular;

2. Euphemism and understatement that falls only just short of outright deceit;

3. Graveyards of our ancestors, almost all in unmarked graves;

4. Parish churches everywhere proclaiming in stone and brick the Divine love and pastoral care that the Church of England no
longer feels;

5. Uniforms - for schoolchildren, medical professionals, clergy, black tie diners;

6. Gardens and allotments tended with such care;

7. A filthy sense of humour which is generally denied;

8. The shipping forecast;

9. The priority of dogs and cats over people;

10. The weather;

11. A Monarchy and House of Lords which have absolutely no right still to be there, but which have clung on through evolution;

12. Free public museums and galleries;

13. The way we all know the aspidistra is part of our national heritage, but few could identify one;

14. "Just a Minute" and "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue";

15. The Lord Privy Seal;

16. The Thames and the Tyne;

17. Birdlife, from wrens to kites to kingfishers even in suburban Barton;

18. Bluebell woods;

19. The NHS;

20. "The Archers".

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Snippet

Caspar: but did you want a younger guy from the start?
Giles: no, never have
Fred: I chose him
Caspar: so have you done that stuff, like, done it all?
Fred: I wouldn't ask you
Cam: Casp, I think you should shut up now

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Fallen tree

“You’re not yourself, Giles” I said, as we sat on a fallen tree in the copse. “Have I upset you, did I go too far earlier?”

“I think ….” And he paused, and stammered, a lot, and then said “I think I’ve fallen in love with you”.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

An Excursion with Old Friends

"Friends" might be over-stating it a bit, but a few months back in 1988-89 John and Muriel Sutters were very friendly to me and my first ex. John was a retired priest who assisted at the parishes of Saint Frideswide and Saint Thomas, either side of the railway station in Oxford. Back then, I was a server, living along the Botley Road I tried to be a good Anglican and worship in my parish church, which was Saint Frideswide's. That suited me fine. The vicar said that parishes are like sherries, and "Toggers" as he called it, was an olorosso, whereas "Friggers" was a fino. I don't think he let the parishioners know what he called them, although occasionally they noticed the sherry.

John was a man of great erudition, and also humility, and the latter might perhaps have got in the way of his doing more powerful things in his career, but he was a parish priest, and a teacher of ordinands, and a private scholar - I still have his book on Saint John. Muriel was attentive, caring, and businesslike, the person to notice what the men had not, in those days before women were ordained (of which John approved, but the vicar didn't, yet they didn't fall out about it).

I remember two occasions on - I think - a Tuesday night when John was saying mass for us when the vicar was on holiday. The first was a great kerfuffle because the keys to the safe had been mislaid, and there was no access to the customary wine and wafers. "I'm only round the corner", said the helpful churchwarden, "and I could bring a bottle and I'll quickly iron a slice of bread ...." John was withering. Then the other churchwarden said "What about a nice little evensong?" "The people have come for Holy Communion!" Eventually the key was discovered in the bottom of someone's handbag, and all was well. I was new to church life back then, and it was a fascinating little glimpse.

Another time I was again serving for him at the altar, kneeling to one side, with a rather lavish lace altercloth right in front of my nose. I loved listening to John saying mass, he knew it all almost off by heart - including the collects ("no, I sha'n't be needing the book for that, thank you"). And in the intercessions, with utter sincerity and kindness, he said "Father we pray for those poor dears in the Sudan". It totally cracked me up. The altarcloth was shaking.

They invited Richard and me (yes, my first ex had the same name, really bad planning) to dinner. We spent ages choosing a bottle of wine to bring, which instantly disappeared into their cellar, because, of course, John had already chosen the evening's wine. That took us aback a little, but we were wet behind the ears in the ways of society. At the end, they asked us to sign their visitors' book. That was a new thing, too. We penned our names many pages after Dorothy L Sayers in the 1950s. They were rather proud of that one.

I knew John had died a few years back as he'd had an obituary in the Church Times, but was pleased to meet Muriel at an event at Saint Frideswide's not long after I came back to Oxford. And a few years after that, I was walking through Saint Thomas's churchyard, and saw her name had now been carved with his on their headstone. I saw it again today.

For John (1915-2003) and Muriel (1920-2015) Sutters, Deo gratias.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Accidental diamonds

A drop of rainwater on a blade of grass, just opposite from my collapsing park bench, shimmering in the sunshine that had just returned, refracting the rainbow colours like the finest of diamonds. Here it was, on Barton Meadow, for anyone to find, and no one to keep.

Monday, 28 August 2017

My Families:

If you have an ancestor with any of these surnames, it's just possible we might be cousins!

Haggis
Gillingham
Thurborne
Wigmore
Bucke
Chapman
Salmon
Hebden
Philpott
Stokes
Terry
Page
Baker
Minter
Pettit
Wood
Young
Hayward
Belsom
Speed
Sharp
Patterson
Waterson
Knights
Jinkerson
Bonner
Robson
Loriccio
Pisani
D'Urso
Manzi
Russo
Dawson
Bradshaw
Dennell
Rigby
Wynn
Thomas
Aston
Bevan
Whittle
Gray
Donne
Foley
McHugh
Shanly

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Hospital clip

"I saw him, that old man, Giles, with his hands all over the boy"
"Come on, you've made that up"
"Arms round him at least"
"Men are much more demonstrative with each other these days"
"There are some things they didn't ought to demonstrate"

Sixty Years On

THE LAST 60 YEARS: BBC Radio 4's "Today" programme is wondering how things have changed.

I'm nine years short but here are some ideas:

1. The infinitely divisible old pound.

2. The ability of a working man to pay a mortage and keep a wife and children at home on a single wage.

3. Quietness. On the bus, walking down the street, in the shops, there is endless noise, from the telephone or the radio.

4. Cars, everywhere.

5. Politicians who resigned on principle, not because of scandal.

6. Longevity. 90 is the new 70.

7. Civil Rights. Gay people exist in law now, rather than being condemned by it.

8. Religion: has quietly committed suicide and disappeared from the scene.

9. Childcare: women are now despised not for having children out of wedlock, but for staying at home to care for them.

10. Money: we talk about it endlessly, and yet it's less fairly distributed than ever.

On being, this day, fifty years a Christian!

"MY" CHURCHES:

S. Andrew's, Cobham - baptised, 27th August 1967
Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford - confirmed, 1st March 1986
S. Frideswide's, Oxford - server, 1988-89
Fairacres Convent - visitor, retreatant, celebrant, 1989-
S. Margaret of Antioch, Binsey - first service, evensong, summer 1989
S. Peter's, Wolvercote - 1990-93
Lincoln Cathedral & Theological College Chapel - student, 1993-95
S. Edward the Confessor, Romford - curate, and priested there, 23rd June 1996, 1995-98
Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge - chaplain, 1998-2000
S. Giles-in-the-Fields, London - curate, 2000-2003
Holy Trinity, Chelsea - curate, 2004-2006
Londrina Cathedral, Parana, Brasil - blessing of rings, July 2005
SS. Mary & Nicholas, Littlemore - server, PCC member, 2008-13
S. Andrew's, Old Headintgon - 2013-
New Road Baptist Church - administrator, 2016-

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Launch Night

“Your girlfriend?”
“No, I’m with … oh, I can’t say”.
“I think I’ve guessed, it’s OK. I’m not really allowed to say myself. Everyone knows Heather’s gay, but no one’s allowed to say so in case it gets back to her mother”.
“Even now?”
“Yup. She’s not ready yet, so I have to keep quiet”.
“When I hit sixteen I’m shouting it from the rooftops”.
“Your folks are OK about it?”
“I’m not telling them yet, in case they try to spoil it. But on my birthday …”
“It must be so difficult for you – keeping the secret, knowing there are people who could do you real harm – for us it’s just surface, Heather’s career will be fine, she can’t be hurt, although her mother might have a stroke, but you two live with something much harsher hanging over you”.
“I don’t feel it so much, but Giles does. He worries all the time, about everything. I couldn’t believe he invited me here”.
“I think that says he trusts you”.
“And I just told you!”
“Not in so many words, you just allowed me to guess, you didn’t say if my guess was right”.
“I can’t handle all this clever stuff with words, I just want to be me, and not worry”.
“Your time will come …”
“Shit!”
“What? The guy on the other side, Patrick the Publisher, he’s just put his hand on my knee. Shit. What do I do?”.
“I’d slam your knee up against the table and give his hand a bash, do it before he wanders lower, which he will”.
“Won’t that make a noise?”
“They’re all too drunk and shouty to notice”.
I did it. It worked. She raised her eyebrows in a question, and I smiled back. I liked Eloise.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Revelations with Tyler

"You won't believe it - Tyler asked to come and meet you."
"Is that so bad?"
"He was a complete shit to me after he saw us going to London."
"But hasn't he moved on? You said he thinks he may be gay.
We can't turn him away."
"You're so bloody tolerant, Giles."
"He was only spiteful to you because he was afraid of who he was."
"You know he fancies me?"
"Who doesn't?"
"That isn't the point."

Monday, 14 August 2017

Christmas Lunch, with the grandparents

"What about the sex?"
"What?"
"Sex, there has to be sex, in a relationship, what about that?"
"Grandpa, maybe now's not the time ...."
"It was on National Service! You wouldn't believe what we got up to!"
"Ned, that was a long time ago"
"Nana's right, Grandpa, it was a long time back".
"But it's now for the youngsters, isn't it? Now for Fred, and his, well, not quite so young man! I mean you no offence, but you're not in the first flush are you?"
"No, indeed I'm not, but Fred seems to like me"
"Grandpa, it's OK, we're OK, we're doing our stuff, and it's all legal"
"More fun when it wasn't".
"Dinner Is Served". And Sandra put an end to it.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Brotherly Love

"Adam - welcome!" He said. I was in the kitchen. Not sure what this visit was about, really. I didn't think Giles liked his brother. But it was "Hey ho, and this is Fred ..."

You could see the joins. Giles is much thinner, I think Adam dyes his hair, but there's something in the eyes that says they're brothers.

Giles made us lunch. We were alone in the conservatory, with drinks. Adam asked "Are you two a fixture?" How do you answer that?
"I love your brother, if that's what you mean".
"But you're very young. Things might change".
"No they won't."

And then he changed tack.

"What do you see in him?"
"He has serenity"
"What's that?"
"Peacefulness, like most people don't have. Giles has it."
"I was hoping you were going to say something else!"
"Yeah, well, he has that too, but when you have your arms round Giles, it's peace".
"Trust my brother to corner the market I can't even buy into!"
"I think he said you'd been married three times?"
"Yes, three disasters, one with gorgeous daughters"
"Do you see them?"
"Too little. It just doesn't work when you're not on site. I try."

Then again

"Did you know your ... path before you met Giles?"
"I stalked him!"
"Seriously?"
"Yeah - home, work, day by day. I really wanted him"
"I'm really happy for him, for you, but I just can't see the appeal!"
"You're not gay, you don't have to".

And then Giles appeared.

"Grandpa's lasagna!"
"You always got that right!"
"And a whole lot of salad he wouldn't really have approved of!"

They were quite cute together. Maybe Adam would get used to me.



Being On The Edge

BEING ON THE EDGE: it's often said of bishops and other leadership types that they've "reached out" to or otherwise communicated with communities on the edge, the margins, the minorities.

It's only in Church of England terms that I feel on any edge at all. In the Baptist church where I work, I feel right in the centre. The C of E could grow up about sexuality at any time. But it chooses not to, whilst praising those who behave as if it might.

In the real world, I live on the edge of poverty - the common story of too little income and too much rent. That's a much harder thing to put right. Or rather, it's easily resolved, but it's hard to find anyone with the political will to do it.

Thinking out loud.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

WILDE (1997): tonight's film

WILDE (1997): tonight's film. I was sure it was in the collection, but my friend Alan said it was on the box, so I watched it there, because I couldn't find it on the shelves.

Hard to tell if Stephen Fry is playing anyone but himself, but then did Oscar Wilde? Maybe that makes it an excellent casting. I'd forgotten the role of Robbie Ross, so much the nicer and better lover that Bosie Douglas. And the bewildered kindness of his wife Constance, who beat him in the race to the grave. From such a distance it's hard to comprehend the soul-destruction of scandal in that kind of society.

I've seen it before but what struck me afresh was the children. I remember reading his shorter fiction (OUP, I think) and finding the stories mawkishly soppy, but deeply affecting. And that was then, when I was a harder and nastier brute than I am now. Sentimentality comes very easily to me, especially when it involves children, and I was left wondering whether that first part of his adult life was lived in order to have small people to tell stories to, and to be loved by.

I'm older now than Oscar, or Constance, or Robbie Ross, lived to be. And I've no small people to tell stories to.

It was a less fluffy experience than I was expecting. But worth it.
On being given the once over: "that'll be titanium" said the local tattoo and piercing parlour manager about the plate in my once-broken wrist. "Top quality stuff".

My late father would have agreed. He was a scrap metal merchant, and could identify titanium from its sparks.

I'm wondering if I should put it in my will.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Kyle & Fred

"I was married. Got two daughters."
"I had no idea."
"No reason why you should."
"Did you love her?"
"That's not what guys ask."
"But did you?"
"A bit. Enough. Not enough."

Saturday, 5 August 2017

You notice a newcomer, in the congregation. It's not obligatory on a vicar's wife, but I do it anyway. I don't suppose there are many of us left. But then there's not much congregation left, either. So, on behalf of Marcus, and one of his six other churches, I said "hello - are you new here?"

"Yes, just moving in, Yew Tree Cottage, on the front. I'm Giles, Giles D'Urso".

"Caroline Bonner, I'm married to the vicar, who's looking after another church just now - you should come and have a drink with us some time"

"yes, lovely, that's very kind"

"What about tomorrow night? Monday? At 6?"

"That would be charming".

"I'm afraid you'll get the tribe in all its noisiness"

"I used to teach them, now I rather miss them, so noise is Ok".

"Of course you can "bring a friend"!"

"He's not due until next month".

"Well, when he's about, he's most welcome too".

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Ten things to do when I retire ....

10 THINGS TO DO WHEN I RETIRE: (in the unlikely event I live so long, and in fortunate circumstances)

1. Spend more time with my money; lots of it
2. Keep bees
3. Plant trees
4. Visit all the places I know my ancestors lived, from
Salerno to Widnes to Macosquin
5. Write a memoir of things only to be published after my
death
6. Do those things
7. Grow gladioli
8. Become a citizen of Brasil
9. Celebrate our ruby wedding anniversary
10. Make provision in my will for my macaw

Brazil - tonight's film

"Brazil" (1985): tonight's film. Yes, they were right, a must-see. Not the sort of thing I normally go for, don't like sci-fi, futurism, or fantasy, but somehow compelling to the end.

It careered between "1984" and the cartoon parts of Mony Python drawing a picture of a dystopian world of bureaucracy gone mad (I guess what the eejits thought they were voting against last summer) in which the briskest efficiency only brings about unhappiness.

A few lines and scenes made me double-take, though.

"Thirteen years of war against the terrorists. Minister?" "They're beginners".

"Happiness - We're All In It Together".

Men watching real violence on their screens and thinking it was just another game.

And the sinister business of "we didn't kill the wrong man; he was the right man, wrongly labelled. Not our department".

Alternately savage, surreal, cute, unhinged, it's over-long, evidently struggling to find an ending, but well worth it.

Monday, 31 July 2017

The Communion of Saints

The Communion of Saints

"The definition of a saint is someone whose private life has been under-researched." So said a former colleague, a church historian.

Since coming to work and worship with you at New Road, I've been teasing the deacons and others in the "hierarchy that isn't" by noting the saint's day on my endless e-mails. I know full well that keeping saints' days isn't a reformed-church thing, but it's something that appeals to the genealogist in me.

As with children, and cats, we're not meant to have favourites, but we can't help it, we do. Mine include John the Baptist, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, and Seraphim of Sarov. They all make God either surprising, or warm, or both, and it’s the example of their intimate relationship with God that can help to draw us closer too.

And it's not just the ones who made it into the official Kalendar. There was Grace, another mystic, from my first congregation in Romford, who had visions and said at the church door one morning "you know that bit in the service "with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven?” Well, I looked up, and there they all were! Wasn't that nice, dear?"

The “Communion of Saints” is something Christians affirm in the Apostles’ Creed (BWP 424), and by it we celebrate our fellowship not only one with another, here and now, but with brothers and sisters unseen and unknown all over the world, and with all those who have gone before us in the faith, ever since the time of the Apostles (the Orthodox go further, and include the Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament). In the Baptist tradition too, those who lived the Gospel and cared for the people are remembered – think of John Bunyan Church in Cowley, or the way that Richard Tidmarsh, James Hinton, and Ronald Hobling are honoured in the rooms here – not forgetting George’s Cupboard.

Most of us would be uncomfortable claiming to be a saint right now, preferring perhaps to be seen as a work in progress, but there are saints among us all the same, and here’s an interesting test. It is from a sermon by Rowan Williams based on the novel (although more of us had seen it on the telly) “Brideshead Revisited”. He contrasted Lady Marchmain, full of good works, endlessly concerned for the welfare of others, most of all her children, and doing her best with some force, to direct them in the right way, with her younger son, Sebastian, who is dissolute, lazy, decadent, gay before it was legal, and yet blessed with a sense of wonder that brightens the lives of all those who know him. “What’s the difference between a good person and a saint? Good people make you feel worse. Saints make you feel better”.

So, you’re bound to know a saint or two. And from time to time, you might even be one yourself.

Richard Haggis

Saturday, 29 July 2017

The boy wasn't turning out right

THE BOY WASN’T TURNING OUT RIGHT

Sandra and I didn’t have kids of our own. We thought about it, but I wasn’t so keen, and she’d already got two, so I tried to be a dad to the ones we had. They never took my name. They never called me “Dad”. But I did care for them, look out for them, try to teach them rules and manners and riding a bike and stuff. Sandra often worked in the evenings, so I did bathtime and bedtime too. I wasn’t hands-on, Fred was 6, Nikki was 11, when I arrived, I just tried to keep order.

Well, there was no worry with Nikki – she had her plan. School – Uni – Lawyer – Money! Fred was another case. He didn’t much care for school, I understood that, I didn’t either, but he had to do something. I let him be until he started to grow up, and then I got him booked on my card at the gym. Caxton’s great for things like that – there’s even a swimming pool. I guess he was about 12 when I started to make a fuss about it. He was a weedy little bugger. To start with, I showed him how to use the machines. But he didn’t like me there. I guess that’s a kind of privacy thing. I used to check out how his muscles were developing, but there came a time he didn’t like that either.

It was about the time I started to notice a change in him. It’s hard to explain it. He seemed happier than ever in himself, but totally down on everyone else, wanted nothing to do with us. Sandra was hurt. Nikki was at Uni, but I’m sure she’d have got the same treatment.

Then one time I was walking back from the shops across Caxton Mead, and there was Fred in the distance, with some other guy. I couldn’t see clearly, and Fred was leaving – maybe because he’d seen me? – but I think he kissed this guy. Fred had gone, and as I got closer I saw it was an old guy, well, much older than me. My blood was boiling. I just knew something was wrong. He was a scrawny, grey-haired, middle-aged bloke, with a beard. Posh. “I see you were talking to my son”, I said. I always called him my son. Except when he was listening. “Fred? What a nice lad – a credit to you!” “What was he doing here?” “I’m often here after work, he sometimes keeps me company between the gym and home – he’s not in trouble, is he?”. “No, he’s OK”. I walked on.

He was not OK. I had no proof, but this man was taking my boy. I knew it.

South Park: Tonight's film

On the TV for once, but we do have it in the collection.

For music, word-play, and utter filth, it cannot be faulted.

Satan's unrequited love for Saddam Hussain? Genius.

And actually its heart is in the right place - they do stop the bombing of Canada, and the execution of Terrance and Philip ....

I loved every moment.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Another bit of Conrad

“You’ve obviously got questions”.
“Yeah, kinda, hard to express”.
“Just say it”.
“Well, I left my boy when he was five years old. And now he’s sixteen, and he’s with you, and you’re older than me. Did I make that happen? Is it my fault?”
“Is it a fault? I’m not his Dad – you are. He’s not looking for you, he knows where to find you.”
“But …. Why …. You?”
“You’ve got to ask Fred that. I don’t deserve him. And I’ve said he is always free to go, if he comes to his senses and realises that being with this old crock just isn’t working.”
“He’s not going to go. He’s told me that. Not ever.”
“Then you’re saddled with me as your son-in-law!”

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015): tonight's film.

A festival of love and misunderstanding. The characters felt more warmly drawn than in The First, which gave it less edge and more soppiness, but that's OK, I'm getting used to soppiness. The age of most of them lends itself to lines which are true for any of us at any age:

"I just want him to give me more time". "How much time do you have?"

and

"there's no present like the time".

So, let's receive time like a present, and live in its moment ...

Highly recommended.

Niki's Visit

“And there were ten years between Rob and our Mum”, and I was sorry the moment I’d said it. I was trying to say why we’d not liked her third husband, and here I was walking into a trap with my little brother and his much older boyfriend, in the conservatory of their crazy love nest in the countryside. “I guess I’m not one to judge on age gaps”, Giles said, with a smile. Fred gave me a glare. “Rob was a shit”, he said, “nothing to do with his age”. Giles was far older than Rob. I hoped the other guests would turn up soon.”

The next morning we had a late breakfast. “Brunch” my friend at work would have called it. But really it was just a builders’ breakfast with bloody marries. And bloody good they were too!

I was meant to be packing, but I went down to the conservatory, and then out to the garden, in the rain. There they were. On the beach. Hand in hand. I could see Fred laughing. You can just tell when he’s laughing. And he hugged Giles. And they kissed each other. And they walked down to the sea.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Thank you, Fog

Notes from a Homily for Holy Communion
with the Sisters of the Love of God
Fairacres Convent, Oxford
Tuesday, 19th of July, 2017

Readings: Exodus 3:1-6, 9-12; & W H Auden "Thank you, Fog" (below)

+ May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Today's reading made me think of a conversation we had last week at the Baptist Church in town where I work. Someone with a strong sense and understanding of the Jewish tradition had written down "G_d", which I remember first reading in the words of a rabbi in a newspaper - the holy name of God is not to be said, nor to be written, not in full.

Today's Old Testament reading has two names for God and that takes you back, if you've done the course, to early Bible Studies. There's "Elohim", which is "God" and there's, well, we don't quite know. It's the name that's given to Moses in the passage after the story we had this morning, and which doubtless you'll have at mass tomorrow. Interestingly, although Moses wasn't told it until tomorrow, it's used today. The Biblical writers had no problem with this. In Hebrew, without its vowels, it's YHWH, "the tetragrammaton", the original "four-letter word". And this is the name God gives to Moses, and it becomes so sacred that the ancient Hebrews won't use it. They substitute different vowels, and they call him "THE LORD", which is how those four letters are rendered even now in many modern Bibles. It is as though God is reaching out to us, making friends, telling us his name - the name for his chosen people, just as the other peoples round about have names for their gods - and yet we recoil from the intimacy, we don't want it, we'd rather give him a title.

And so English Christianity has related to its God as a sort of minor aristocrat. He told us his name, but we'd rather call him "The Lord".

I used to tell my students that this moment in the history of our religion was more like "call me Stan". My more religious students struggled with this, but the others sort of got it. This is God reaching out to us, being intimate. At the macro level, this is immanance and transcedence. We've tended to prefer Lordly transcendence.

And because of this, we've lost the holy name of God. The ancient Jews fitted it with other vowels, and gradually it was known no more. "Yahweh" is how most modern writers think it should be. The Jerusalem Bible boldly used in the 1960s - and the ASB boldly wouldn't use extracts from those bits in 1980, because it was a theory, or a guess. My Old Testament tutor, John Barton, a friend to this place, I think, and supervisor to Sister Edmee for her thesis, said in a lecture I went to in Chelmsford "it might just as well be "Yahoo", but somehow, that didn't catch on".

This not knowing the name of God I think leaves us free to call God by our own choice of name. The conversation in church last week made me think of a collection of poems I read as an undergraduate - I have it here, not the one I read then, which was in Christ Church library, and signed by the author, but by W H Auden, his last collected poems, "Thank you, Fog". The fact that it's the title for the collection, and the first one, gives you a small glimpse into the depth and breadth of my literary understanding. I don't think it's meant to be a religious poem, but he was a religious man, and I can't be sure. The fog is addressed as "You" with a capital letter.

I love fog and mist. My father grew up in the days of the London "pea-soupers" in the 1950s that got the Clean Air Act passed in 1956. He would walk to school with a white handkerchief over his mouth, and it would be black by the time he got there. Fog and mist are rare in these parts, these days, but we have rain, and the last couple of weeks, we've had some glorious rain for a strange person like me to go walking in, and sitting on a park bench, literally soaking it up. It envelopes you, holds you, shields you from the wider, noisy, busy, demanding, world, it lets you be, all alone, yourself, with God.

When I first read this poem, for me it was about God. And "Fog" has been my name for God ever since. When I say thanks for my evening meal, it's "thank you, Fog". And at its end, Auden speaks of the awfulness of life, and the troubles of the world, and how they've been forgotten in the Wiltshire fog of this joyful Christmas meeting. Today is a day of remembering for me, but instead of dwelling on young lives lost, I shall lose myself in the mist, and for them, and for all the blessings of this life, no matter how brief, echo Auden's last words "Thank you, thank you, thank you, Fog".

Amen

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
July 2017



Thank You, Fog by W.H. Auden

Grown used to New York weather,
all too familiar with Smog,
You, Her unsullied Sister,
I’d quite forgotten and what
You bring to British winters:
now native knowledge returns.

Sworn foe to festination,
daunter of drivers and planes,
volants, of course, will cause You,
but how delighted I am
that You’ve been lured to visit
Wiltshire’s witching countryside
for a whole week at Christmas,
that no one can scurry where
my cosmos is contracted
to an ancient manor-house
and four Selves, joined in friendship,
Jimmy, Tania, Sonia, Me.

Outdoors a shapeless silence,
for even then birds whose blood
is brisk enough to bid them
abide here all the year round,
like the merle and the mavis,
at Your cajoling refrain
their jocund interjections,
no cock considers a scream,
vaguely visible, tree-tops
rustle not but stay there, so
efficiently condensing
Your damp to definite drops.

Indoors specific spaces,
cosy, accommodate to
reminiscence and reading,
crosswords, affinities, fun:
refected by a sapid
supper and regaled by wine,
we sit in a glad circle,
each unaware of our own
nose but alert to the others,
making the most of it, for
how soon we must re-enter,
when lenient days are done,
the world of the work and money
and minding our p’s and q’s.

No summer sun will ever
dismantle the global gloom
cast by the Daily Papers,
vomiting in slip-shod prose
the facts of filth and violence
that we’re too dumb to present:
our earth’s a sorry spot, but
for this special interim,
so restful yet so festive,
Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Fog

(W H Auden, 1974, the year after he died)

Sunday, 16 July 2017

"SYLVIA" (2003) ~ tonight's film

The dismal tale of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, played by Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig.

Unlike Mr Craig's thighs, it lacks depth. We're not given a reason for Sylvia taking her own life, when she has two children in tow (maybe they were part of the cause, this is still left open). She speaks of feeling hollow, and that I can relate to. Of empty unbelonging.

It's good so far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough.

"I AM MICHAEL" - last night's film

"I AM MICHAEL" (2015) ~ last night's film.

I noticed this in Asda in Cowley a week ago, and was surprised to see it there. Not quite so surprised to see it still there yesterday, when I'd decided to buy it, and walked the three miles to do so.

It's a story of a young man who's a vociferous campaigner for gay civil rights, and lives the dream (not sure it is a dream, more a nightmare, of a threesome with two other guys), and then gets religion. And he converts. Away from his boyfriend(s) and away from the work he's doing. He wanders from Mormonism to Buddhism to something more recognisably Christian. He finds a girl, and wants to become a pastor.

I bought it thinking I'd hate it, but it might be good for me. It felt like it had been made by people who didn't really believe the story, but thought it should be heard. It was engaging. The lead, James Franco, bears a tangential but compelling resemblance to my late father, which was disconcerting.

It leaves us with unanswered questions.

It was a good choice.

Friday, 30 June 2017

And another bit of Fred

He looked up at me when I said “with your looks”, with a quizzical expression, as if wondering if I was genuine. But maybe he was wondering something else, because then he said, “the thing is, I don’t think I really want a girl at all”. Now I was feeling very out of my depth. “I guess if it’s a boy you’re after, the beefing up might help, we’re notoriously superficial”. Not that I was a boy, of course. But he knew what I meant. “All the boys at school are jerks. Some are nice-looking, some aren’t even stupid, but they are all jerks”. “Really? All of them?” “Every last one. I don’t like my age group. I go for older guys, but they aren’t going to look at me, because I’m too young and I don’t know anything”. “How young are you?” “Fourteen, but I’ll be fifteen in June”. “Well, that’s kinda on the young side for most men who are older, it’s a bit of a legal problem, you know, the age of consent thing”. “Yeah, I know. I hate that. How can they tell me what I can and can’t do? And anyway, who says I’m leaping into bed with anyone? I just want a guy to be with, to hold”. “Be patient, you’ll find someone”. Which sounded pathetic. “Yeah, but when?” And I had no answer to that.

We sat in companionable silence for a few minutes, on the bench, in the rain. It was early March, and he wasn’t really dressed for the weather, just his school blazer and a thin white shirt. I was going to say cotton, but probably polyester. Snob that I am. Then he started to shiver. “You’re getting cold”. “It’s OK, I don’t want to go home yet.” “I haven’t got anything to warm you up”. “Can I sit closer?” “Er …. Sure”. And he snuggled up against me. I couldn’t help putting my arm around his shoulders. He shuddered, but not in recoil, and not from the cold, either. When I say “I couldn’t help …” I know that’s a lie. I could have said “go home, keep walking, warm yourself up”. But I didn’t. I put my own arm round him, to warm him up. And it was exactly what he wanted. He rested his head against my neck. And I started to feel I had accidentally walked into a really dangerous place. And a bit of me, not all of me, really wanted to be here.

A bit more Fred

I was asleep. I often sleep after lunch these days. The sound of the motorbike on the gravel in the drive woke me. Conrad was expected at 4, this was only 1.30. I opened the door as he was taking his helmet off, and instantly I knew who it was. The resemblance to his son was astonishingly strong. I held out a hand. He dithered. For a moment I wondered if he’d come to fight. How many times was I to be beaten to a pulp by Fred’s menfolk? But tentatively, he took it, looking me in the eye with a quizzical face.

“We were expecting you a bit later, but you’re very welcome – Fred’s not back until 4ish”
“I was up and doing, and just wanted to hit the road”.
“Have you eaten? I’ve got some lunch. And how about a drink?”
“I don’t want to be a nuisance”
“It’s no trouble – our kitchen’s always open. Come through – mind the wildlife”.
“Fred told me about the animals, he always wanted pets when he was little. Told me about your gins too”.
“Nelson’s his favourite – the Norfolk terrier. [And I took the hint.] And a little gin’s coming up, I’ll have one myself”.
We went through to the conservatory. It was a bright, sunny day. Conrad’s fair hair shimmered in it. Like Fred’s. As I turned my back to him to sort the drinks out from the fridge and the freezer, I briefly thought “am I fancying the father too?”
“This is a nice place – even bigger than I was expecting”.
“Size isn’t everything ….” he made a face “… but we’re very happy here”.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Fred

My bubble of isolation was burst this wet Monday when a youngster – I’m no good at ages, but a teenager, taller than a child, and with fluff on his chin that ought to be stubble – sidled up and asked “Do you mind if I sit here, Sir?” I’d been looking the other way and hadn’t seen him coming, so I was taken aback by his sudden appearance, and also by his manners. They weren’t big on manners on the Caxton estate. “Sure, it’s a public park and a public bench, help yourself” I said, as warmly as I could, whilst thinking I’d have to shift in a minute or two, but not wanting to offend him by leaving straightaway. He looked rather glum, in his bedraggled school uniform, his fine fair hair soaked, and raindrops on his elegant cheekbones like tears. I notice faces, and bodies, and form. How people turn out fascinates me – I’ve known the children of friends – and my brother’s – grow up to be plain when they started beautiful, and vice versa. I have a theory that everyone has a decade when they look absolutely their best. I’m still waiting for mine. I’ve had five.

“I’ve seen you here before” the boy said. A variant on “do you come here often?”, I suppose. “I’m surprised anyone notices me! I usually stop off after work before home. It’s nice to sit outside in the weather”. “Even the rain?” “Oh yes, I like the rain best”. But I wasn’t going to tell him why, as that might come across as rude, given that he was invading my space. “And you – just home from school?” “School, and the gym. Not a nice day”. “How come?” “Had to take the bus, and the guys there were taking the piss. And school was boring. And I hate the gym”. I didn’t know where to start with that – all I could connect to was school being boring, which for me it was, until the sixth form, and my guess was that this lad wasn’t there yet. “Why do you go to the gym if you hate it?” “My step-dad makes me go. He paid for membership. He thinks I need to beef up to get a girlfriend”. “I shouldn’t think a chap with your looks needs to beef up at all to get a girl, and I’m not sure the sort of girl who’d be impressed is the sort of girl you’d really want”.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A Vignette on a Walk back from Town on a Warm Day

The streets were awash with people. I'd had a bad couple of days, and not been able to get into work until late, so I was leaving at after 6, but even so, there were people everywhere. Many were in "sub-fusc" which is the official kit of the university. Many others were wearing shorts. In quite a few cases, this was pleasing.

On Mesopotamia Walk I overheard a scrawny young man say to what I imagined was his girlfriend "So, the other six gave me a breast exam ..." And I thought, well, that's a rum thing.

And then I passed a handsome young fellow, much sturdier in the thigh than Mr Breast Exam, and obviously my eye had roved too visibly, and his hand moved as if to protect his crown jewels from burglary. Time was, I'd have been affronted. Today, I was a little flattered that he might have thought me capable of breaking in.

Mount Tabor & the Transfiguration

My friend Ann has been entertaining us with a travelogue on FaceBook about her journey to the Holy Land, and she's just reminded me of my one and only trip there, in 1996, the year I was ordained priest.

The scheme with Mount Tabor (which may or may not have been where the Transfiguration may or may not have actually happened) was that we went up the hill in cabs. Ours was a school party - I went along as a spare adult when a teacher had dropped out - so I was squeezed into the back of a cab with four or five strapping Kentish lads. With Mount Tabor, you go round and round, until you get to the top, and they drive fast, and near the edge of what looks like a sheer drop, from the inside of the cab.

Sandwiched between teenage boys, I had nothing to cling onto - on my part for health and safety reasons, and on theirs, for safeguarding - so we swung to and fro until I couldn't help muttering "if this keeps up, we're going to get a transfiguration of our own a lot sooner than we thought".

Then one of the boys said "don't look now Sir, but have you noticed the driver's only got one arm?"

"O Jesus!" I said, and it really was a prayer for deliverance, not a blasphemous expletive.

But he got us safely to the top, we enjoyed the views (the church sites themselves mostly lack a certain something in the Holy Land), and amazingly got us down safely too.

Untransfigured.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Voting

VOTING ~ FOR THE CHANCELLOR OF OXFORD UNIVERSITY: "Are you interested in the election?" said the bishop. "Oh yes". "And who do you plan to vote for?" "Well now, that's interesting, because Lord Bingham's wife is godmother to my godson's mother, and I reckon that makes Lord Bingham my great-aunt, so I'm voting for him, for family reasons." ""Hmmm" said the bishop.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

the legalities

Permission to Officiate: this is the thing that bishops withhold from people like me: Nasty people. Who get married. They can do so without giving cause, without allowing protest, or defence, without appeal. They think this is just.
The C of E is just a heap of crap.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

On this day

On this day in 1999 I was in the Three Greyhounds in Old Compton Street, in Soho. It was a Friday, and I was down from Cambridge, having a drink with the husband of my friend Yvette, whose birthday it was, and waiting for her, and my boyfriend Daniel. We were going out to dinner.

The bomber, David Copeland, had already set off nail bombs in Brixton (Afro-Carribeans) and Brick Lane (Asians), and we knew that the next would be either Golders Green or Soho.

Old Compton Street has a lot of cellars (some of them full of the most outrageously naughty stuff) and when a bomb goes off, the cellars transmit it. We felt the explosion first in our feet. Then we heard it. Then there was the smell.

And we knew exactly what it was - hate.

Three people died. Seventy were injured.

We carried on, and went out to dinner.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Childhood memory ...

... and back then I didn't know to associate it with Alfred Thomas Haggis, my trigamist great-great-uncle.

There was an old party of Lyme
Who married three wives at one time
When asked "why the third?"
He said "one's absurd
and bigamy, Sir, is a crime"
Things the next little palace, our own one, must have:

Cleo and Ruby

A dishwasher

A cooker with gas hob and two electric ovens, one fan-assisted

A blue-and-gold macaw

A pond with koi carp and water lilies

All our pictures and prints framed and on the walls

A proper dinner table and chairs

A book case for my Everyman P G Wodehouse Library collection

A book case for my Anchor Bible Commentaries

A library step-ladder

A study with space for my roll-top desk, an armchair, and the above

Surface space in the kitchen for all gadgets and a kitchen step-ladder

Lights in the fitted cupboards and wardrobes

Orchids on every window sill

A DVD player that reads films from all over the world

Proper curtains

A window in the bathroom - and every room

Persian (and possibly more modern) rugs

A poly-greenhouse

Off-street parking

A Manchester terrier

Hens

A radio, dictionary, and clock, a notebook and a pen, in every room

Caller display

Key hooks by the front door

A notebook by the telephones

Pens

Candles

A cellar

Icons

More than our own tomatoes

Lovebirds

Trees and shrubs planted in the garden

A visitors' bedroom

Wooden lavatory seats







Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Memory of a happy summer holiday in Ohio, August 1994:
My father's cousin Joyce's second husband, Rod; a great big fellow, high and mighty.

"Last time we had visitors was two guys from Europe. Stayed with our neighbours. Nice young men they were. Married, too. To each other....

(pause while born-again Cousin Joyce looks away)

... they seemed awful happy. Musta been the first year".

Saturday, 4 February 2017

"I believe ... in suffering"

Book of Common Prayer

Apostles' Creed

"suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried"

Nicene Creed
"and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried"

Athanasian Creed
"who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell ..."


Alternative Service Book

Apostles' Creed
"He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucifed, died, and was buried"

Nicene Creed
"For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death, and was buried"

Athanasian Creed
None


Common Worsip

Apostles' Creed
"suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucifed, died, and was buried"

Nicene Creed
"For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death, and was buried"

Athanasian Creed
Refers to book of Common Prayer

Friday, 3 February 2017

P. G. Wodehouse - The Everyman Wodehouse

Title First Published Acquired Read Themes

Love Among The Chickens 1906 2016 2017 Ukridge
The Prince And Betty 1912 2015 2015 unique
Leave It To Smith 1923 2016 Psmith
Summer Lightning 1929 2016 Blandings
Louder And Funnier 1932 2017 Essays
Uncle Fred In The Springtime 1939 2015 2016 Blandings & Ickenham
Mike And Psmith 1953 2017 Mike, Psmith & Cricket
Jeeves And The Feudal Spirit 1954 2016 2016 Jeeves & Wooster
French Leave (Herbert Jenkins) 1955 1986 (inherited) 1980s unique
Cocktail Time 1958 2017 Ickenham
Jeeves In The Offing 1960 2015 2015 Jeeves & Wooster
Ice In The Bedroom 1961 2016 Widgeon
Plum Pie 1966 2016 2016 Stories & Articles
A Pelican At Blandings 1969 2015 2015 Blandings
Aunts Aren't Gentlemen 1974 2015 2015 Jeeves & Wooster




Oscar Winners for Best Film (and whether we have a copy)

The year is when the film was released. The Oscar was awarded the next year.

Year Title In Collection or Seen

2015 - "Spotlight"
2014 - "Birdman"
2013 - "12 Years a Slave" Got
2012 - "Argo"
2011 - "The Artist"
2010 - "The King's Speech" Got
2009 - "The Hurt Locker"
2008 - "Slumdog Millionaire" Got
2007 - "No Country for Old Men"
2006 - "The Departed"
2005 - "Crash" Got
2004 - "Million Dollar Baby"
2003 - "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" Got
2002 - "Chicago" Got
2001 - "A Beautiful Mind" Got
2000 - "Gladiator"
1999 - "American Beauty" Got
1998 - "Shakespeare in Love" Got
1997 - "Titanic" Got
1996 - "The English Patient"
1995 - "Braveheart" Got
1994 - "Forrest Gump" Got
1993 - "Schindler’s List" Seen
1992 - "Unforgiven"
1991 - "The Silence of the Lambs" Seen
1990 - "Dances With Wolves"
1989 - "Driving Miss Daisy" Got
1988 - "Rain Man" Seen
1987 - "The Last Emperor" Got
1986 - "Platoon"
1985 - "Out of Africa" Got
1984 - "Amadeus" Seen
1983 - "Terms of Endearment"
1982 - "Gandhi" Got
1981 - "Chariots of Fire" Got
1980 - "Ordinary People
1979 - "Kramer vs. Kramer"
1978 - "The Deer Hunter"
1977 - "Annie Hall"
1976 - "Rocky"
1975 - "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest" Got
1974 - "The Godfather Part II" Got
1973 - "The Sting"
1972 - "The Godfather" Got
1971 - "The French Connection"
1970 - "Patton"
1969 - "Midnight Cowboy"
1968 - "Oliver!" Got
1967 - "In the Heat of the Night"
1966 - "A Man for All Seasons" Got
1965 - "The Sound of Music" Got
1964 - "My Fair Lady"
1963 - "Tom Jones"
1962 - "Lawrence of Arabia" Got
1961 - "West Side Story"
1960 - "The Apartment"
1959 - "Ben-Hur"
1958 - "Gigi"
1957 - "The Bridge on the River Kwai"
1956 - "Around the World in 80 Days"
1955 - "Marty"
1954 - "On the Waterfront" Got
1953 - "From Here to Eternity"
1952 - "The Greatest Show on Earth"
1951 - "An American in Paris"
1950 - "All About Eve" Got
1949 - "All the Kings Men"
1948 - "Hamlet"
1947 - "Gentleman's Agreement"
1946 - "The Best Years of Our Lives"
1945 - "The Lost Weekend"
1944 - "Going My Way"
1943 - "Casablanca" Got
1942 - "Mrs. Miniver"
1941 - "How Green Was My Valley"
1940 - "Rebecca"
1939 - "Gone with the Wind" Got
1938 - "You Can't Take It with You"
1937 - "The Life of Emile Zola"
1936 - "The Great Ziegfeld"
1935 - "Mutiny on the Bounty"
1934 - "It Happened One Night"
1932/1933 - "Cavalcade"
1931/1932 - "Grand Hotel"
1930/1931 - "Cimarron"
1929/1930 - "All Quiet on the Western Front"
1928/1929 - "The Broadway Melody"
1927/1928 - "Wings"

Monday, 30 January 2017

WHEN YOU'VE BEEN STRONG FOR LONG ENOUGH: it fools no one, everyone sees the brittleness underneath.
Does it even help those you think you are being strong for?
But there is work to do, and the heart must wait until it's done.
I don't know any other way.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Money - it depends what you're brought up to expect

A friend of mine was once a Tory MP. A nice Tory, one of the good guys, lost his seat in the Commons in 1966 and, realising the mood of the party was swinging about his kind of Conservatism, he said "I had no money, a wife and children, I had to find something to do". This rung in my ears afresh when he brought me a bit of paper to sign, to vouch for him - as a clerk in holy orders - to continue owning a couple of shotguns. "I don't use them, they were my grandfather's, antiques now". And I thought, "so you had no money, huh?"

I was born in 1966, and my parents was struggling to pay the mortgage on a two-up, two-down, house in the backwater of Cobham. One year my godparents gave them a ton of coal for Christmas, and it was the best present they ever had. They had no money.

Being a nosy sort of person, after he died I did a little research. He was born in 1930. The grandfather with the shotguns - I assume, but of course he had two - left £138,000 in the late 1930s. His own father died during the war, leaving £74,000. Both estates may well have been highly taxed, but unless there were many pockets to fill - and by the time his father was born, the upper classes were aping the middle classes, and having fewer children to make the money go further, or last longer - there will still have been plenty left by 1966.

Or plenty by my standards.

My friend went into the shipping industry, and it was his proud boast that the workers in his companies were the best paid in the trade, and I believed that, and I believed it to be morally important to him, because he was a good Christian man.

When he died, he had a spacious flat that overlooked Hyde Park, a house in Nice, went on holiday as many times a year as he pleased, gave immense amounts to charity (including me), and had things set up for his children and grandchildren, all privately educated, and with no fear of university debts.

"I had no money". Of course he had no money. By comparison with what he expected.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
January 2017

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Film Catalogue on DVD

OUR FILM CATALOGUE ON DVD

About A Boy
The Age of Innocence
Air Force One
a.k.a.
Alan Bennett At The BBC
Alfie
Alice In Wonderland
All About Eve
All The Queens Men
Amelie
American Beauty missing
American Gun
American Psycho
Anchorman
Anastasia
Angels And Demons
Animal Farm
Anne Of The Thousand Days
Apocalypto
Apollo 13
Aristocats
As Good As It Gets
Asylum
O Auto Da Compadicida
Avatar
(25)

Babe - Pig In The City
Bad Boys II
Baghdad Café
Band Camp
Barton Fink
Batman Begins
Battleship
Bean - The Ultimate Disaster Movie
Mr Bean’s Holiday
Beautiful Mind
Beautiful Thing
Before You Go
Behind The Candelabra
Being John Malkovich
Belle
Bend It Like Beckham
Benjamin Button
Bent 1995
Beowolf
Bertie & Elizabeth
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Billy Budd
Billy Eliot
The Birdcage
Black Beauty
Blade
Blood Diamond
The Bodyguard
Borat
The Bourne Supremacy
Braveheart
Breakfast at Tiffany’s Hepburn collection
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Brief Encounter
Brokeback Mountain
Bruce Almighty
Bruno missing
Bucket List
Burlesque
(38)

Cabaret
The Cable Guy
Cambridge Spies on loan
Capote
Carol Emma & Siobhan
Carrington
Carros
Carry On Camping
Casablanca
Casino
Casino Royale
Cast Offs
Cathy Come Home
Catwoman
Cellular
84 Charing Cross Road
Chariots Of Fire
Chichago
Chuck & Larry
Citizen Kane
City of God 2003
City of Men 2007
Cleopatra
Close My Eyes
Collateral
The Constant Gardener
Constantine
The Best of Peter Cook & Dudley Moore
Crash
Crimson Tide
Cry Freedom
(31)

An Audience With Dame Edna
The Danish Girl
The Da Vinci Code
The Darling Buds of May
The Day Of The Jackal
Days That Shook The World
Dejavu
The Devil Wears Prada
Diana
Die Another Day
Doctor Zhivago
Donnie Darko
Dorian Gray
Doubt
Dreamcatcher
Driving Miss Daisy
The Duchess
Dumb & Dumber
(18)

East Is East
Eat Drink Man Woman
Eat The Rich
Edward The Seventh
Edward & Mrs Simpson
Elizabeth 2007 Blanchett
Elizabeth I 2006 Mirren
Elizabeth R 1971 Jackson
Elizabeth - The Golden Age 2007 Blanchett
Enid
Eragon
Evan Almighty
Evita
(13)

Face/Off
A Father’s Revenge (see Storm & Sorrow)
Fawlty Towers
Felix The Cat
A Few Good Men
Fiddler On The Roof
The Final Countdown
Final Destination
Finding Nemo
A Fish Called Wanda
Flash Gordon (& Plague Dogs) 1997
Flight 93
The Foreigner
Forrest Gump
Four Weddings & A Funeral
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Free Fall
Free Willy
Frida
Fried Green Tomatoes
From Hell
The Full Monty
Funny Face Hepburn collection
(23)

Gandhi
Gangster No. 1
Garfield 2
Gaslight
Gatsby
Gattaca
Gay Vicars
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Gods and Monsters
The Godfather (parts 1-3 + supplements)
Goldfinger
Gone With The Wind
Good Morning, Vietnam
Good Will Hunting
Gorillas In The Mist
Gormenghast
Gosford Park
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Grease
Green Card
The Green Mile
Grimsby
The Guru
(23)

Hannibal
Happy Feet
Harry Brown
Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows (part 1)
Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows (part 2)
Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone
Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban
Heat
Hello Dolly
Henry VIII
Heroi
Hidalgo
Hiroshima
The History Boys missing
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Holding The Man
The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey
Horrible Bosses
Hostage
Hot Fuzz
House of Cards
Housewife , 49
Huck Finn
Human Traffic
Hyde Park on Hudson
(28)

I Am Divine
Ice Age 2
Ice Age 3
Idiocracy
I Fought The Law
Imitation Game
Imposter
An Inconvenient Truth
Inside Man
The Interpreter
Iris
Iron Lady
Island
The Italian Job
(14)

The Jacket
Jarhead
J Edgar
Jeeves & Worster 1990-1993
Jennifer 8
Jesse James
Jesus of Nazareth
The Jewel In The Crown
John Q
Johnny English
Jumper
The Jungle Book
Just A Question Of Love
(12)

K19
Kes
Killing Car
Kind Hearts And Coronets
The King and I
King George and Queen Mary, The First Windsors
King Kong
King Lear
The King’s Speech missing
Kiss Of The Spiderwoman
The Krays
Kung Fu Hustle
Kung Fu Panda
(12)

Labyrinth
Ladies in Lavender
Lady Jane
The Ladykillers
The Lady Vanishes
The Lake House
The People vs. Larry Flynt
The Last Emperor
The Last King of Scotland
The Last Line of Defense
The Last Temptation Of Christ
Latter Days
La Vie En Rose
The Lavender Hill Mob
Lawrence of Arabia
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
League of Gentlemen - Apocalypse
Legally Blonde
Legally Blonde 2
Leon
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Life of Pi
Lincoln
The Line Of Beauty
The Lion In Winter
Little Britain - Live
Little Britain - The Complete Third Series
Little Miss Sunshine
The Lives Of Others
Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels
Lolita
Longtime Companion
The Lord Of The Rings - The Fellowship Of The Ring
The Lord Of The Rings - The Two Towers
The Lord Of The Rings - The Return Of The King
How To Lose Friends & Alienate People
The Lost Prince
Love Actually
Love Is The Devil
Lucy
(40)

Madagascar
Madagascar 2 - Escape To Africa
Made In Dagenham
The Madness Of King George
O Magico De Oz
A Man For All Seasons
The Man In The White Suit
The Man Of La Mancha
Man On Fire
Marie Antoinette
Mars Attacks
Mary Of Scotland
Matilda
Maurice
Meet Joe Black
Me, Myself, And Irene
Mighty Joe Young
Milk
Minotaur
Miss Potter
Mr Turner
Monster Pies 2013
Morgan
Moulin Rouge
Mrs Brown
The Mummy
The Mummy Returns
Munich
My Beautiful Laundrette
My House In Umbria
My Own Private Idaho 1991
My Uncle Silas 2001-2003
(32)

The Naked Civil Servant
The Naked Gun
The Naked Gun 2 ½
The Naked Gun 33 1/3
In The Name Of The King
Narnia - The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe
Narnia - Prince Caspian
Ned Kelly
Nicholas & Alexandra
Nil By Mouth
1984
Notes On A Scandal
Nuns On The Run
(14)

Ocean’s Eleven
An Officer And A Gentleman
Oh What A Lovely War!
Oliver
Once Were Warriors
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
102 Dalmations
On The Water Front 1954
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
The Other Boleyn Girl
Oscar
The Others
Out For Justice
Out Of Africa
(14)

Paddington Bear
Pan’s Labyrinth
Parting Glances
Paris When It Sizzles Hepburn collection
A Passage To India
The Passion Of The Christ
Passport To Pimlico
Pedro
The Pelican Brief
Peter’s Friends
Philadelphia
Philomena
Phoenix
The Pianist
Pierrepoint
The Pink Panther 2005
Pirates of the Caribbean ~ The Curse Of The Black Pearl
Pirates of the Caribbean ~ Dead Man’s Chest
Pirates of the Caribbean ~ On Strange Tides
Pirates of the Carinneam ~ At World’s End
Plague Dogs (see Flash Gordon) 2004
Planet Earth
Porky’s
Portrait of a Marriage
Precious
Pretty Woman
Prick Up Your Ears
Pride missing
Private Benjamin
The Producers
Prophet Of Evil
Psycho
Pushing Hands
(32)

Quantum Of Solace
Quartet
The Queen
Queer As Folk
Queer As Folk 2
(5)

Race To Witch Mountain
Railway Children
Rainman
Ratatouille
Remains Of The Day
Rio
Rio 2
The Riot Club
Risky Business
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Rogue Trader
Roman Holiday Hepburn collection
Runaway Jury
Run, Fat Boy, Run
(14)

Sabrina Hepburn collection
Salmon Fishing In The Yemen
Scandal
Scarface
School Of Rock
The Settlement
Seven
Severance
Shadowlands
Shakespeare In Love
Shaun Of The Dead
The Shawshank Redemption
She’ll Be Wearing Pink Pyjamas
Shrek 2
Shrek the Third
Shrek The Final Chapter
Shriek
Silent Youth
The Simpsons ~ Greatest Hits
The Simpsons ~ Movie
Sin City
A Single Man
Six Feet Under (Series 1,2,3,4,5)
The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Sleepers
Sliding Doors
Slumdog Millionaire
Snow White & The Huntsman
Soft Lad
Solaris
Some Like It Hot
The Sound Of Music
Stealth Fighter
Storm & Sorrow
Dr Strangelove
Strictly Ballroom
Suddenly, Last Summer
Surf’s Up
Sweeney Todd
Sylvia
(40)

The Talented Mr Ripley
The Complete Talking Heads
Talk To Her
The Catherine Tate Show ~ Series 2
Team America
Tea With Mussolini
Terminator 3
Testament Of Youth
Thelma & Louise
The Theory Of Everything
This Is England
300
Three Kings
The Three Musketeers
Timecop
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy ~ & Smiley’s People 1979/1982
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 2011
Titanic
To Kill A Mockingbird
Torch Song Trilogy
Tranformers ~ Revenge Of The Fallen
Transformers ~ Age Of Extinction
Troy
Training Day
12 Years A Slave
(25)

Up The Junction
(1)

Vera Drake
Victim
(2)

Walk On Water
Wallace & Gromit
War Of The ~Worlds
Watership Down
The Wedding Banquet
Weekend
The West Wing (Seasons 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
We Were Here
Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?
What Lies Beneath
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
When Harry Met Sally
Where The Wild Things Are
White Mischief
Wilde
The Winter Guest
The Wire
Withnail & I
Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
World Trade Center
(27)

Yes Man
Yes, Minister (Series 1,2,3)
Yes, Prime Minister (Series 1,2)
Young Victoria
(7)

Zookeeper
Zorba The Greek
(2)

397 in total

Friday, 13 January 2017

By the light of the silvery moon

The other night, there was a full moon, large and looming in the sky. It was cold, and I was tired after a lot of walking, but I dropped off my baggage at home and went out to the park to sit on a bench and look at it.

The night sky is full of stuff, but nothing captivates like the moon. The stars are just so many lights, of varying brightness and even (or is this just my eyesight?) colours, but the moon is a place where the Clangers and a soup-dragon could live.

One of the unforgettable moments in my life was whilst staying with friends at Montauk, the last, and naughtiest, of the Hamptons on Long Island. I decided to meander back from an emergency run to the "Liquor Store" along the beach, and was met by the most glorious sight, as the sun was setting, and the moon rising, over the water of the Atlantic Ocean. Long Island is famous for its sunsets, but this was a double-helping of celestial beauty, as both sun and moon shimmered their reflection into the breaking waves. I stood there a good long while, and the moon was firmly in command, the sun long since sent to waken others elsewhere around our little globe, by the time I clanked home with my swag.

The astrological witchcraftmongers say that the moon, and silver, are things associated with my birth sign (Cancer - not a very popular word in my life just now) and it's true that I have inherited from both my parents a liking for silver things. When I was ordained priest, I was given by friends a Pyx, a silver box for carrying consecrated wafers to take communion to the sick, and by the parish, a tiny silver chalice and patten for home communions. They sit on my desk as I type.

What's charming about silver is that, unlike gold, it tarnishes - oxidizes in the air and starts to look grey or even black. It's soon polished off, and if you wear a ring, you do it almost automatically. When I collected coins, some of the silver seemed to be exceptionally beautiful - I remember an Edward VII florin, and a George V sixpence that was my Auntie Margaret's in particular. I made a point of acquiring a "silver penny", England's basic currency for centuries, and the reason why a pre-decimal pound had 240 pennies - that's how many you could smash out of a pound of silver. Until I started to look into it, I was sure that sterling silver - 925 parts per 1,000 was the same as sterling gold, but I was wrong. Gold sovereigns are made of 917 parts per 1,000, so silver currency is in fact the more pure, and you can see from the coins themselves that it is, even so, considerably more hard-wearing.

Maybe that was the idea behind the "Silver Ring Thing", an American Fundamentalist idea to persuade teenagers that sex is a bad thing - to mark their commitment to chastity before marriage, they would be given a silver ring they could discard when they acquired the gold of a wedding ring. Marcus Brigstocke commented "if they want to wear a ring to show the world they aren't having sex, why can't they just get married like the rest of of us?"

Of the trials and tribulations of my broken wrist, the worst, beyond pain, discomfort, and incapacity, is not being able to wear my silver engagement ring. A thoughtful nurse suggested removing it before my arm was put in plaster. Three months later, my finger is still too swollen to put it back. We were in town in Londrina one afternoon on my first visit to Brasil, and HL asked if I preferred silver or gold. Then he nipped into a jeweller's and a few moments later, the rings were ready. They are engraved with the date "01 - 07 - 2005" and mine has his name, and his has mine (or his would, if he hadn't lost it). We didn't wear them at first, and thought we might exchange them when we were both back in England - he was staying on longer to be with his family when I had to return to work - but at Sao Paulo airport, on the 12th of July, under the city's smog and the watchful gaze of the black urubu vultures circling overhead, we exchanged them just before I came home.

The silvery moon makes me think of these fond things, and also of this silly song:

"By the light of the silvery moon,
I want to spoon, to my honey I'll croon love's tune,
Honeymoon keep a-shining in June,
Your silvery beams will bring love dreams, we'll be cuddling soon,
By the silvery moon."

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
January 2017
If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone,
Nor when I'm gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known.

Weep if you must,
Parting is hell,
But life goes on,
So sing as well.

Joyce Grenfell

Monday, 9 January 2017

Mrs May & Mental Health & A Little Walk

"Fine words butter no parsnips", as Kenneth Clark (OM)'s grandmother used to say, and Mrs May has talked much about mental health, and injustice, and ignorance and prejudice, and so on. All very good. No money has been offered. So, nothing will happen.

But I'm not a knocker, I have an idea, and I wish to share it with Mrs May and those involved in our benefits and fiscal system. Yes, I know that's not about health, but when it comes to mental health, your financial security is absolutely essential, whether it's knowing your home is secure, or the freedom from the fear of the bailiffs, and the terrifying brown (increasingly white, the tricksy devils) envelopes that accumulate on your doormat, and remain unopened precisely because you can know exactly what's in them, and you can do nothing about them.

Work is one of the three keys to fulfilment and mental health (according to Jung - the other two are love, and faith) and work for people with mental sickness is very tricky. I'm guessing, much though I'd like to belong to a more interesting and exclusive club, that the most common form of mental sickness is mine, depression. There was a time when we could be signed off by our GPs for years on end and receive Incapacity Benefit to live on, and help with housing and council tax costs, because we were deemed unable to work. Our GPs had made a judgement that whilst there might be some work we could do, some of the time, the requirement to find full-time work, or face constant sackings (and evictions and deeper poverty) for declining into sickness again, or endlessly to seek jobs we wouldn't get, would actually make our health worse, not better.

Then Atos and Maximus came along. Atos is a French-owned, for-profit, company that managed the "work capacity test", which tested not whether you could hold down a 40-hour-a-week job, but whether you could do any work at all. My mental health was subjected to the intense scrutiny of being asked whether I could walk across a room. I happened to be using a walking stick that day, as I'd just sprained my ankle. I don't think the examiner had paid attention to her notes, nor to my GP, nor my psychiatrist. Like most people sent to Atos, I was deemed fit to work, because my mental state didn't stop me walking across a room (are there many jobs which solely involve walking across rooms?). And like most people thrown off Incapacity Benefit and onto Jobseekers Allowance and fortnightly - or more frequent - attendance at the Labour Exchange, I didn't contest it. I didn't have the emotional energy. I figured I could live on £30 a week less.

And this is where the Labour Exchange ("Jobcentre+" - never could work out what the "plus" was) and Maximus come in. The government makes you sign on for a year, and then the toughnuts are sent to Maximus, an American-owned for-profit company which claims to find people work. I had to walk into town 5 times a fortnight - it's 4 miles each way - once to sign on, and twice to look through the online job columns of "Daily Information" which I could as easily read at home. And I had to apply for jobs. Lots of them, whether or not there was the faintest chance of getting them, which wasted not only my own time, but my non-potential employers'. Also, if a realistic job came up in an outfit to which I'd made a futile application for another, having a distinctive name, I reckoned it was actually queering my own pitch to write such rubbish.

They don't actually help you, unless you are illiterate. I asked to go on a computer course - they didn't make me, and I went, but like everything else, it was provided by a for-profit company, "Learning Direcct" and tailored very precisely to a particular bunch of products. They provide computers. Their computers do not give you access to websites of things like churches - like the church for whom I now work. Sometimes their staff get ratty - "I could force you to come in five times a week", said handsome young James, one time. "And I've forgotten more than you'll ever know, you ignorant little pig", I didn't respond. You have to be kind and to charm, even when the internet is down and you've walked four miles for nothing.

And here's a little thing - the reason I don't need antidepressants is that I walk. I discovered this for myself - walking makes me feel better. But walking needs to be at least in a neutral mood. Going somewhere horrible to be abused, isn't a therapeutic walk. Idle meandering is the best walking of all. Going there was hell, coming home was OK. My psychiatrist said "so really, they are getting in the way of your cure". And they were.

The job I got, as I said, was with a church. It was a part-time one. I figured after 8 years out of paid work (not idle - I'd been walking, reading, researching, writing, caring for cats, shopping, cooking, doing the laundry, tending to plants, burying the dead, and trying to be a friend, all along) that a 40-hour week would send me back to madness. They told me my new job would leave me £70 a week better off. They lied. In a way, I'm glad they lied because the job is great, the people are kind, there are things that really matter to do and I'm getting them done. But low-paid, or part-time, work doesn't reward you financially.

The lie was because they didn't factor in council tax, for which you receive 100% remission whilst on incapacity benefit or JSA, and for which you cop the whole bill no matter how little you earn when you're in work. So, for a time, my council tax was 9% of my income, when I paid no income tax at all. This month I am having a pay rise. This now means I do pay income tax - and my actual income will fall. It's only 12p a month, and the treasurer says he's blowed if he's changing the standing order for such a pettyfogging amount. But the system is wrong.

So, Mrs May, if you really want to help us, let us work a half ticket when we're not the full ticket. Tax us fairly if we find work. Don't bully us into applying for jobs we'll never get. And let us walk - where we want to go - because actually, in this matter, we really do know best.


Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
January 2017



Sunday, 8 January 2017

Homelessness and the Housing Crisis

At the Baptist church where I work, plans are afoot to make one of our halls available for rough-sleepers to be warm and safe when the freezing weather returns. It's called the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) and it will involve a major upgrade of our fire alarm system so that we have detectors to counter-balance the risk of human error if a fire occurs. There's a certain irony in being prevented - for the time being - from trying to stop people freezing to death in the streets, where it is freezing every year, because they might burn to death by fire in a building that has never had one.

As someone at the beginning of his sixth decade who has only ever lived in other people's houses - my parents', my colleges, friends' and private landlords' - the question of housing is an important one to me. The few people we see sleeping rough on the streets are not really the essence of the housing crisis, and many of them are there not because there is no space for them, but because they really don't want it, have never seen the point, or have made themselves so obnoxious to others that they are not welcome. The housing crisis is more to do with the immense expense of accommodation - 66% of my normal income is rent; for the next few months because of council tax arrears being taken from my wages, 82% - and the over-crowding this causes. Dwellings which were designed for two parents and two children to live comfortably are now commonly occupied by five adults; boxrooms have become homes; and routinely adults into their 30s and even 40s stay with their parents because they cannot afford to exercise their right to a home of their own.

And I do believe it's a right. For those with particular needs, it's a right which should be met to the highest and best possible standard. For those who work, it should be affordable (not the government's fake definition of "affordable" as 85% of the inflated market price. For those without identifiable needs, and who won't work, a decent basic minimum.

There are various reasons why this doesn't happen. The "right-to-buy-at-discount" scheme for council houses is a part of it, as is the embargo on councils using even the bargain-basement money they raise from this to build more. This means the social housing stock is much depleted, and in many parts of the country, there is no alternative than the private landlord - which for the owner, is money for jam, capital appreciation plus income, for negligble effort. But maybe a bigger element is the banks. Governments have tried to encourage "first-time buyers" (this is not a literal description, they need to be younger than me) to get mortgages, and the banks have quietly sucked up this donation of effortless profit thanks to the taxpayer. More council housing would put the money in the hands of the councils, not the bonus-makers in the banks.

And then there's the cultural and demographic shift. In the 1960s when my parents bought their first house, a man, on his own, doing an ordinary job, could pay a mortgage with one week's wages a month, and afford for his wife to stay at home and look after their children. This is no longer possible. A friend of mine in the 1970s, when she went to buy her first house, was required to bring a man - her brother - to stand surety for her. That's all gone. Now women can have mortgages, and given that most people become couples, the banks, and the estate agents, have astutely worked the market so that two incomes should be necessary to afford the price of a mortgage, and up go the prices accordingly - no extra work, but the percentage yields a bigger absolute profit on the deal. Once the mortgages go up, the private landlords, especially the buy-to-let characters, cash in on the deal like vultures.

Economically, the problem is that this is dead money. Most British people have next to nothing in the way of savings. They expect to retire at 65 or 66 or 67, and then be supported by whatever work pension they have, plus the state old age pension, unti they die 20 or 30 years later. For care in the frailty of physical decay or dementia, there is nothing set aside - because it's all going on bricks and mortar actually paid for years ago, which produce no income, and create no work. A home is not an investment, and the expense of a home stops most people from making proper investments in their future.

The problem is easily solved, but there is no political will to do it. "More council houses mean that more people will vote Labour", say the Tories. Labour doesn't have an idea in its head. Only the Greens have social housing as a commitment - and they have one MP. It would be a disaster for the banks if a government did address the problem - as happened in the early 1950s when Harold Macmillan as housing minister promised, and delivered, 300,000 new homes a year. And he delivered them. The Tories have changed. Why upset their friends the bankers? Although they could make new friends of the builders, who actually produce something useful, and the local authorities, housing associations, and almshouses, who make it available at a reasonable rate.

But even if a government were one day to see sense, and re-order our economy so that it meets the people's need for housing at reasonable levels of profit for providers, that won't solve the rough-sleeping problem. When I worked for the Oxford Night Shelter a decade ago, I came to understand that for most of our inmates, they weren't homeless in the sense that you or I would be if we were evicted and had nowhere to go. They had never known a home, never known in childhood the security of warmth and nourishment and a bed where you were safe from predators. The ethos of the place was to restore them to a bourgeois normality to which they were strangers. Sometimes it worked, more often it didn't, and all we could do was keep them warm and fed - which was all most of them wanted - for over £300 a week. I have never been able to afford £1,200 a month in rent, but that's what the state - then - forked out for the care we provided. Some only needed food and a room, others benefitted from personal attention to more serious and deeper needs.

If, as an economy, we squandered less on this over-priced, racketeered, commodity, there would be more to invest in the real needs of those homeless people who might be able to grow into what the ruling class consider more normal lives. And for the "gentlemen of the road" at least warmth and food. And adults in their 20s and 30s and 40s wouldn't be infantilised by having to live with the parents into their middle years, and anyone prepared to earn would be able to save for old age.

It's win-win - except for the banks, who must lose. But after what they did to us in 2007-2008, they deserve to, they are not our friends.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
January 2017