Friday, 28 August 2015

Goodnight from Him: A Review

Goodnight from Him: A Review

This was a Radio 4 comedy drama by Roy Smiles. Smiles has written past plays like this one, in which the central protagonists are real people. He wrote - Ying Tong (the Goons), Pythonesque (Monty Python’s Flying Circus) and Dear Arthur, Love John (Dad’s Army).

This play tells the story, not always in chronological order, of Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker from their beginnings in cabaret and repertory theatre, their first meeting at the bar of the Buckstone Club in 1963 and how they were chosen by David Frost for his new show The Frost Report (alongside John Cleese); it details what Barker calls the “extraordinary luck” of getting their own Saturday night BBC1 series The Two Ronnies in 1971 which ran for 16 years until 1986, topping the ratings, until Barker decided to call it a day and retire (although he was lured out of retirement to play Inch, Churchill’s butler, for one last performance).

We see the differences between the extrovert Corbett, able to ad-lib, and Barker, a shy introvert who needed characters to hide behind, and who also was a workaholic - he managed to find the time to write for the show under the –pseudonym Gerald Wiley. It also shows their great strength was that they broke the mould for comedy pairings – they were not a double act, comedian and straight man, as for instance Morecambe and Wise, Little and Large, Hale and Pace, etc – but rather two actors who did their own shows in between – Barker in Porridge and Open All Hours, and Corbett in Sorry.

One strength is the way in which it brings out Barker the perfectionist, calling it a day on all his series when they were still at their height. There were only three series of Porridge and a few specials. This is something notable about good comedies of the time – Fawlty Towers only had two series, To the Manor Born only had two series, Yes Minister only three, Yes Prime Minister only two - and while Dad’s Army ran and ran, it ended on a high note. More comedies that start on a high and go one and on and on – Are You Being Served, Allo Allo, My Family – run out of steam, and become tired parodies of themselves.

Speaking of parodies – Smiles uses parodies of some of their greatest sketches - Fork Handles, the Rude Man at Party, Mastermind from the Two Ronnies and The Class Sketch from The Frost Report, but I felt that these really did not work well.

A few of the parodies of the sketches came across fairly well, but on the whole, they seemed enormously laboured. The introduction and closure sequences, which involved fake news item jokes, fell particularly flat. The parodies were so bad, they made you see how extraordinarily good the Two Ronnies actually were.

Robert Dawes gave a very passable impression of Ronnie Barker, but Aidan McArdle’s Ronnie Corbett varied in Scottish accent, at some times passably like Corbett, but at others very different

Every so often McArdle reminded me of Tony Hancock’s Joshua Merriweather, of whom Patrick Cargill’s Producer said “It is never the same two performances running” (where Hancock incorporated bits of Welsh and impersonations of Robert Newton's 'Long John Silver'. Then McArdle would pull himself back, and we’d get that somewhat plummy Scots Corbett voice).

Addis with Cleese was more of a generic voice than anything, while James Lance as David Frost had little more than a run through Frost’s cliché’s “Great” “Super, Super, Super”. In fact, hearing those makes me wonder if David Nobbs actually cribbed them from life for his TV show Reginald Perrin – it is entirely possible, as Nobbs wrote for “The Frost Report”.

The bottom line: a genre than Smiles has made his own, if you really want laughs and a lighter touch than the heavy handed parodies, watch the real show. But in between the parodies, some good stuff about the two actors and their working relationship.

Ronnie Barker - Robert Dawes
Ronnie Corbett - Aidan McArdle
David Frost - James Lance
John Cleese - Matt Addis
Writer - Roy Smiles

Producer Liz Anstee

Thursday, 27 August 2015

A.C. Saunders: 1861-1938

A.C. Saunders: 1861-1938

In 2004, at a meeting of the History Section of the Société Jersiaise, George Langlois mentioned that A.C. Saunders gave his father an inscribed set of his four books on Jersey written in the 1930s and that G R. Balleine drew on them for his history of the Bailiwick.

Balleine’s History of Jersey is still in print, but Saunders is largely forgotten – and yet he incorporates details left out by Balleine. Currently I’m working through his Jersey in the 17th century for my blog to make it more widely available.

So who was A.C. Saunders? This obituary comes from the 1939 Annual Bulletin of the Société Jersiaise, Volume 13, pages 435-436, and gives some of his background; like Balleine, he was Honorary Librarian of the Société Jersiaise, a good place for research!

Victoria College also notes him as an entrant for the 1st Term 1875, register entry 1542:

Saunders, Arthur Charles. Son of C.B. Saunders, St Saviour’s Road. Brother of 1543. Afterwards. Avranches College (France) and at King’s College, London. Entered H.M. Customs. Served at Inverness, Ipswich. Collector Lowestoft (1900), Londonberry (1903), Collector Swansea 1908, Collector Portsmouth 1914, Collector Newport 1916. Retired 1921. Living at Cambrian Villa, Beaumont. Librarian of the Société Jersiaise.

A.C. Saunders: 1861-1938, Obituary from Bulletin
Arthur Charles Saunders, Honorary Librarian of the Société Jersiaise, died on June 23rd, 1938.

The son of Mr C B Saunders, whose Caesarea Nurseries, on Mont de La Rosière, St Saviour, were so justly celebrated in Victorian times, he became a pupil at Victoria College in 1875.

His education was continued at the College of Avranches, Departement de la Manche, and completed at King's College, London. He then entered HM Customs and was stationed first at Inverness and later at Ipswich.

On attaining the rank of Collector of Customs, he served at Lowestoft in 1900, Londonderry in 1903, Swansea in 1908, Portsmouth in 1914 and Newport in 1916. During the war he was given the rank of Commander. He sold the family home, Alphington House St Saviour, which he inherited from his father, in 1901.

In 1921 he retired from the service and settled in his native island. He became a member of the Société Jersiaise in 1926 and was elected to the post of Honorary Librarian in 1928.

Mr Saunders' long and active connection with maritime affairs inspired him to study the careers of many eminent Jerseymen who had spent their lives at sea.

Some of the results of his wide researches were embodied in articles written for the local press. Others, as the following list shows, were published in our annual bulletins:

1929 “Charles Robin. Pioneer of the Gaspe Fisheries”
1930 “The Corsairs of Jersey”
1931 “Admiral Philip de Carteret, Seigneur de la Trinite. Circumnavigator of the world, 1766”
1934 “Nicholas le Messurier, Master Mariner”
1939 “Vice Admiral Philip Durell, 1707-1776”
(This article was written early in 1938 but published posthumously).

In addition to all the above, he wrote:

“Jersey in the 18th and 19th centuries” Published by J T Bigwood 1930
“Jersey in the 17th century” Published by J T Bigwood 1931.
“Jersey in the 15th and 16th centuries” Published by J T Bigwood 1933
“Jersey before and after the Norman Conquest of England”. With an introduction by C T Le Quesne, Published privately, 1935
“Jean Chevalier and his Times”. With an introduction by Dr R R Marett. Published privately 1936

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Other Noted Jerseyman of the 17th Century by A.C. Saunders

Some more from A.C. Saunders “History of Jersey in the 17th Century”.

Other Noted Jerseyman of the 17th Century by A.C. Saunders

Among other Jerseymen who distinguished themselves during the 17th Century, we find the names of Philip Le Geyt, Philip Dumaresq, Dr. John Durell, Reverend Philip Falle, and Peter Monamy and others, and short sketches of the careers of these men, will no doubt be interesting to those studying the history of the period.

Philip Le Geyt

Philip Le Geyt was born in the parish of St. Helier, at Mont-a-L'Abbe in the year 1635, and like many other young men at that time he went to study in France, at the Universities of Saumur, Caen and Paris where he showed great promise. Returning to his native Island, his abilities and character were soon recognized, and we find him appointed the Greffier of the Court.

His father had been a Royalist, and was one of those who had sought refuge in Elizabeth Castle with Sir George de Carteret when General Haines landed in Jersey. During the siege, we hear that his house was broken into, and his furniture stolen, and that during Parliamentary rule he had to compound for his estates. Philip was twenty-three years of age at the time of the Restoration, and on the death of his father, he succeeded him as one of the Jurats of the Royal Courts of the Island. In due course he became the Lieutenant Bailiff. 

His judgments were always recognized as those of a learned and just judge, and he has come down to posterity as a great Lawyer whose work " Sur la Constitution, les Lois, et les usages de cette Ile " has in the past been recognized as a standard work by Jersey Lawyers. Le Geyt was much esteemed by his countrymen, and died much regretted on the 31st January, 1710.

Philip Dumaresq
Philip Dumaresq was the son of Henry Dumaresq and his wife Margaret Herault, and became in due course Seigneur of Samares. His father, Henry, had been a great friend of Michael Lemprière, and had followed the fortunes of the Parliament. 

During Sir George Carteret's tenure as Lt. Governor of Jersey, he had been tried, and condemned to be hanged as a traitor and his property confiscated. He had returned to Jersey in 1651, but his son Philip, who was born about the year 1650, did not follow in his father's political footsteps but joined the Navy and eventually became a Captain in His Majesty's Service. He was a great friend of Philip Falle the historian, and just before his death he gave Falle his map of Jersey which he had drawn on a large skin of vellum.

His naval training stood him in good stead when he retired from the Service, for he spent his time in writing a description of the Island with its bays, rocks, currents and possibility of defence. This manuscript was considered of such value that it was treated as a secret document, and Dumaresq presented it to King James II in the year 1685.

Dumaresq was elected a Jurat in 1681, and Sir Edward de Carteret complained that when Sir John Lanier was appointed Governor he became very" acquainted one Philip Dumaresq, otherwise called Saumaresq, which your Majestie doth know that his father was hang'd in Effigie according to our laws as a Traitor, which said Dumaresq gave him such Councell that has caused all our defferences."

In the chapter on Sir John Lanier, we realized that the Bailiff and the Lt. Governor were not getting on very well. They carried their disputes to the Council Chamber in London, where Sir John, supported by his Secretary and Dumaresq, lost their case. Sir John, before Sir John Nicolls (probably Secretary to the Privy Council) said to Sir Edward de Carteret. " You and I will decide this business presently, and took me (Sir Edward) by the hand, and soe down we went to the Court, where he told me we will take a coach and goe to Hide Parke, and coming to Whitehall gate I call'd a coach and opened the door of it, when presently Sir John Lanier, his Secretary and Dumaresq leapt therein and did run away and left me behind."

However no duel was fought. The Lord Chamberlain, hearing of the quarrel, sent first for Sir John, and then for Sir Edward, and forbade them " in His Majie's. name to give noe challenge to anybody nor to receive any."

But whatever Sir Edward had to say about Dumaresq, Falle, in the preface to his history of Jersey, acknowledged the valuable information he had obtained by the perusal of Dumaresq's manuscript on the defence of the Island.

Durell in his notes doubts whether Falle ever saw the manuscript. It was kept as a very confidential record until the time when Admiral D'Auvergne, Duke of Bouillon, was in charge of the naval forces in the Channel Islands, when it was sent to him for his information. The Admiral allowed several copies to be made, and it was considered by those who had the privilege of seeing it, as containing the most valuable and practical suggestions for the defence of the Island.

Dumaresq died quite young, in the year 1690.

Reverend John Durell, D.D.

Another distinguished Jerseyman was the Reverend John Durell, D.D., who belonged to one of the principal families in the Island. He was born in St. Helier in the year 1625.

At the early age of fifteen he was student at Merton College, Oxford, but times were very unsuitable for study, and, when in 1643, the town was besieged by the Parliamentarians, Durell went over to France. On the 8th July, 1644, he took his degree as a Master of Arts, at the University of Caen. From Caen he continued his studies at Saumur, and returning to Jersey in 1647, eventually became Chaplain to Sir George Carteret at Elizabeth Castle.

Evidently Sir George thought much of Durell, for when the Castle was besieged by General Haines, and matters were looking very black for the Royalist cause, he sent his Chaplain to the young King in France, to ask for assistance or instructions as to what should be done. The King could not grant what he had not, and Durell returned to the Castle and told Carteret that the King advised him to surrender on the best terms possible.

So Elizabeth Castle ceased to be a Royalist stronghold, and Durell started on his travels, and after many vicissitudes of fortune, he became Chaplain to the Duke de la Force, father of the Princess of Turenne. He remained there until the restoration, when he returned to London and was appointed to the newly established Episcopal French Church in the Savoy. Durell was a man of great personality backed by considerable ability, and he soon was appointed Chaplain in ordinary to the King, a prebendary of Salisbury Cathedral, a Canon of Windsor, a prebendary of Durham Cathedral, and on the 27th July, 1667, he was installed as Dean of Windsor.

He translated the Book of Common Prayer into French, and by an Order in Council dated 6th October, 1662, it was directed that the book should be used in all the parish churches, and chapels, in the Islands of Jersey, and Guernsey, and the French church at the Savoy. The King gave him authority " to have his booke printed in what place, by whom, and in what volume he shall think fit and forbidding any other to print the same booke."

Here we have a foreshadowing of the Copyright Act, and his prayer book helped to keep his name before his fellow islanders as a great and distinguished Jerseymen. He was reported to have been a man of great learning, and very charming manners, a great courtier, who was held in great favour by those who held high office in the State. He died in the fifty-eighth year of his life, and was buried in one of the chapels at Windsor, and the following inscription can he read on the marble stab over his grave :


Reverend Philip Falle

We now come to a man who was the first known historian of Jersey. He was born in the year 1656, in the parish of St. Helier of a respectable family. At the age of thirteen he was entered at Exeter College, Oxford, and, after obtaining his degree, was ordained in 16 77. Sir John Lanier presented him with the Rectory of Trinity in the year 1681 with the stipend of forty pounds per annum.

His parish work did not prevent him being tutor to the son of the Governor, who in 1689, presented him with the Rectory of St. Saviour, then one of the best paid livings in the Island.

The people of Jersey about this time were very much troubled with rumours about the French preparations to invade their Island, and it was decided to send a deputation to London, to submit to the Privy Council and ask for sufficient forces to be sent to the Islands so that they could repel any possible invasion. The States appointed as their representatives, the Reverend Philip Falle, and Advocate Durell.

Evidently King William was favourably impressed with Falle, for shortly after the deputation had arrived the King appointed Falle one of his Chaplains, and, on the death of Queen Mary, he preached her funeral sermon.

When in 1700 he was appointed a prebendary of Durham, he ceased his connection with Jersey as a member of the States and resigned his living of St. Saviour- He became Rector of Shirley, a very well endowed appointment.

It is said that Falle wrote his history to support the application before the Privy Council from the Royal Court in connection with the possible dangers of invasion, and, for many years, his history was the standard work on the subject. 

It is an extraordinary thing, that living as Falle did, so near those wonderful years when first one side, and then the other was in power, he gives so scant an account of the doings of those days, but he knew his Jersey and her laws, and we are indebted to the historian who first told us the story about our forefathers. 

The first edition of his book was printed in the year 1694, and is now very scarce. In his later years, he remembered his native land, by presenting his collection of books to the States of the Island, and thereby enabled our Jurats to start a public library.

He died on the 7th May, 1742 at the age of eighty-six, after a long and useful life.

Peter Monamy
In the loan exhibition of pictures from the Macpherson Collection held at the Guildhall in London, in the Autumn of 1928, there were no fewer than eight pictures by this Jersey Artist. Among them was one which attracted considerable attention " Sundown, Man of War Saluting." It is a picture of wonderful balance, and the sea, the two men of War and other vessels are very true to life. He painted many vessels belonging to the Navy, and was considered a master in detail.

Peter Monamy was born in Jersey in the year 1670. Early in life his parents moved to London, where the son was apprenticed to a house and sign painter near London Bridge. We do not know how long the apprenticeship lasted but Monamy's attention was evidently fascinated by the movements of vessels passing up and down the River and in his spare time he acquired that knowledge of ships which was to be so useful to him in his after career.

He probably tried his hand at painting ships as they lay at anchor, and thereby earned small sums of money from those masters or owners who wanted pictures of their vessels. He possibly may have watched the Van der Veldes and other marine painters at work. It has been suggested that Monamy was probably a pupil of one of the Van der Veldes, but the elder died when Monamy was only 23 years of age and most probably at that time Monamy was still at work as a house painter.

In the illustration of a picture now in the possession of the Societe Jersiaise, we have a typical specimen of his work. There are several Monamies at Hampton Court, and other collections, and in the Old Vauxhall he was employed in painting scenes depicting Admiral Vernon's victories.

In 1731 his portrait was painted by H. Stully and shows him at 61 to be a man of good appearance and intelligence. However he does not appear to have been a good businessman, or perhaps the prices paid at that time for his pictures did not do more than support him, for, when he died at his house in Westminster in 1749, he was a poor man.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Busy weekend for Jersey RNLI lifeguards

Photo shows RNLI lifeguards and Jersey Fire and Rescue Service helping a teenager who fell from rocks at St Brelade’s Bay. Credit Jersey Fire and Rescue

I've received this press release today from the Jersey RNLI (see below), which I'm putting out on my blog about incidents this weekend, with a few comments first about safety:


The teenager who fell at the weekend was "coastering". The relatively new adventure activity of coasteering is all about getting wet swimming and jumping and scrambling round rocks. It’s also a great way to experience the wonders of the natural coastline.

The Website "Safe Water Sports" says:

"Coasteering is a wild fusion of rock climbing, scrambling, swimming and cliff jumping and a full on adrenalin activity guaranteed to get the heart throbbing and the blood rushing. It is a primitive activity with no equipment such as ropes or climbing harnesses, just basic safety wear, enabling total freedom of movement."

"Coasteering is potentially very dangerous if not carried out under the supervision of qualified and experienced instructors and should not be tackled independently."

Please take note!

Rip Currents

I've seen someone in difficulty in St Brelade's Bay caught out by a rip current one Easter, and it was only the swift action from a lifeguard from L'Horizon's Swimming Pool which stopped the swimmer being dragged out to sea.

A rip current, commonly referred to simply as a rip, or by the misnomer "rip tide", is one specific kind of water current that can be found near beaches. It is a strong, localized, and rather narrow current of water. It is strongest near the surface of the water, and it moves directly away from the shore, cutting through the lines of breaking waves.

Rip currents can be hazardous to people who are in the water. Swimmers or floaters who are caught in a rip and who do not understand what is going on, may not have the necessary water skills, may panic, or may exhaust themselves by trying to swim directly against the flow of water. 

Because of these factors, rips are the leading cause of rescues by lifeguards at beaches, and in the US rips are responsible for an average of 46 deaths from drowning each year.

As the press release says, talk to the lifeguards on duty about the sea conditions before going into the water.

Press Release: Busy weekend for Jersey RNLI lifeguards

RNLI lifeguards in Jersey had a busy few days this weekend, going to the aid of a teenager involved in a coasteering accident and rescuing seven people from strong rip currents.

On Sunday (23 August) RNLI lifeguards were alerted by the Coastguard that a 15-year-old girl had been injured after falling around 10 metres from a cliff top at St Brelade’s Bay landing on rocks below.

Lifeguards Ford Ramsden, Tom Buttel, Nathan Fogg and Cara Mallory-Vibert were first on the scene and managed to stabilise the casualty.

Jersey Fire and Rescue Service arrived at the scene in an inshore boat with a paramedic who administered further first aid, before the casualty was transported to the boat on an RNLI inshore rescue board. She was transported back to the bay to a waiting ambulance.

Rob Stuteley RNLI Lifeguard Supervisor said: ‘It was not a straight forward rescue, so the team did extremely well and responded to the incident quickly. The services worked well together to ensure the casualty was safely removed from the rocks and taken for further care.’

On Saturday (22 August) RNLI lifeguards at St Ouen’s rescued seven people after they got into difficulty in strong rip currents. Lifeguards were afloat on the rescue watercraft (RWC) for three hours guiding bathers away from the rip currents and back into the red and yellow flagged area.

RNLI Lifeguard Supervisor Will Glenn said: ‘With temperatures in the high 20’s the beaches were very busy over the weekend and there were a lot of people in the water. Lifeguards rescued a number of bodyboarders and surfers who got caught in rip currents and brought them safely back to the shore.

‘The rip currents at St Ouen’s can be very strong at times. We would advise that people talk to the lifeguards on duty about the sea conditions before going into the water and remember to swim or bodyboard between the red and yellow flags.

‘If you become caught in a rip current on a bodyboard, stay with your board, wave your hand and the lifeguards will come to assist.’

The RNLI’s Respect the Water campaign is running throughout the summer. To find out more about the dangers of the coast and how to stay safe, visit or search #RespectTheWater on social media.

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 230 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and has more than 180 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK. 

Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved 140,000 lives.

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Politics of a Tyrant State

Islamic State militants have destroyed Palmyra's ancient temple of Baalshamin, Syrian officials and activists say. Syria's head of antiquities was quoted as saying the temple was blown up on Sunday. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that it happened one month ago.

Last week, it emerged that the 81-year-old archaeologist who had looked after Palmyra's ruins for four decades had been beheaded by the militant group. The group has also published photos of what they said was the destruction of two Islamic shrines near Palmyra, which they described as "manifestations of polytheism"

-- BBC News

The destruction of shrines by Islamic extremists is a demonstration of power, of the ability to take over the world and mould it in their own image.

But it is also a sign of fear. The very existence of anything which could contradict the strict puritanical variety of Islam is something they fear, because it shows that people at different times have believed different things.

That’s why they also go to lengths that actually pervert Islam, beheading an 81 year old. What could he do? He could speak. He could tell people about the past.

There is a sense of deja vue. If you look at the old photographs of party officials and leaders in Russia, particularly in the Stalinist era, you will see that photos are touched up to change history to the official line. History is rewritten to erase the past, just as is happening here.

That, of course, is picked up in Orwell’s 1984, where people who fall out of favour become “non-persons” and are erased. It is a world where there is only one way to think, no dissent is permitted, as Orwell notes:

“It is a stifling, stultifying world in which to live. It is a world in which every word and every thought is censored. . . . Even friendship can hardly exist when every . . . man is a cog in the wheels of despotism. Free speech is unthinkable…. You are not free to think for yourself. Your opinion on every subject of any conceivable importance is dictated for you.”

And like 1984, there needs to be someone to hate – in the case if ISIS, anyone different, including - let us not forget - other varieties of Islam.

There’s another interesting comparison, pointed out in an article entitled “Islamic State’s ‘medieval’ ideology owes a lot to revolutionary France” by Profession Kevin McDonald. He points out that the originator of the term “Islamic States”, Abul A’la Maududi, looked to the French Revolution for inspiration “which he believed offered the promise of a “state founded on a set of principles” as opposed to one based upon a nation or a people.”

“This universal citizen, separated from community, nation or history, lies at the heart of Maududi’s vision of “citizenship in Islam” (Islamic Way of Life). Just as the revolutionary French state created its citizens, with the citizen unthinkable outside the state, so too the Islamic state creates its citizens. This is at the basis of Maududi’s otherwise unintelligible argument that one can only be a Muslim in an Islamic state.”

And there are other similarities, which are just beginning to reach the outside world. Like the Terror, internal dissent is stamped out, but what counts as dissent is sifting as internal power groups vie for control. As one source revealed in June 2015:

“ISIS militants are divided into several competing groups: Some are extreme hardliners originally attracted by the harsh application of Sharia law; others are Syrian militants who now complain that they bore the brunt of the months-long fighting over the border town of Kobani and are reluctant to be used to reinforce ISIS units in neighbouring Iraq. Still others are Gulf Arabs jealous of the power held by hardcore Iraqi militants who form the inner coterie of the ISIS leadership around Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The Gulf Arabs, many of whom are veterans from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, feel excluded from overall decision-making.”

There have been quarrels and executions internally. An example is the following:

“North African recruits say they have been used as cannon fodder, especially in the battle for Kobani. Last week, four Tunisian recruits who joined ISIS months ago were executed in the neighbourhood of Rumaila in central Raqqa, say opposition activists. They were described as traitors. Two other Tunisians, possibly along with family members, were executed in the Eddekhar neighbourhood of Raqqa.”

Jamie Dettmer comments:

“The quarrels and executions trigger more cycles of revenge as commanders and groups compete and jockey for power and survival.”

Some terror groups face an internal crisis and survive . As Martin Kramer observes: “All Islamist movements have such potential conflicts. Hezbollah, for example, was a coalition of Shiites from two very different regions of Lebanon (Bekaa versus South), but it never split because Iran mediated the differences.”

But Dettmer asks: ““The question is who within ISIS is mediating differences and whether internal conflict-resolution can contain the terror army’s mix of multiple groups and nationalities.”

Sunday, 23 August 2015

And Was Made Man

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
(from The Nicene Creed)

Right from the start, the notion that Jesus is in some sense not a real man, but a god like being who has disguised himself as a man has been present. Of course, the Pagan gods, such as Zeus, could do this all the time, appearing in a human form, but that being an illusion to deceive the sense of mortal man.

And it is perhaps hardly surprising. The gospel stories abound in strange tales, tales that seem to belong more to the realm of legend than fact. While the healing stories are something common to other human beings, stories in which Jesus turns water into wine, walks on water, or feeds the five thousand with a few loafs and fishes, are not commonplace even by the most remarkable of ordinary men.

The notion that Jesus was somehow a divine being in disguise was called the Docetic heresy, and elements of it still pervade Christianity today.

A modern form for a scientific age is Superman,, and it is informative to compare Batman with Superman. Batman is simply an ordinary man, well trained in methods of fighting, aided by gadgets, and a crime fighter; he hides himself beneath a mask, but beneath that mask is a normal man. Superman, on the contrary, hides himself as Clark Kent, an apparently normal man; his real appearance is an alien from the planet Krypton, imbued with super powers by earth’s sun. Clark Kent is a façade, disguising the being with superhuman powers beneath.

And that, in a nutshell, is like the docetic heresy. Jesus appears like a man, but every so often, he gets out his superpowers and does those clever miracles like a Harry Potter wizard.

Here is a second look at a very different portrayal of Jesus, that in the play “Son of Man”. Dennis Potter’s Jesus is very different. There is only one “miracle”, driving a demon from a woman, and this is seen as if it could be healing of a psychological disorder. But elsewhere, lest we forget it, Jesus is human. He is not a fake. He is not Superman in human disguise as Clarke Kent. There is no halo visible.

Where he is man, he is true man, and Potter hammers this home, probably in ways which caused Mary Whitehouse to want him prosecuted for blasphemy, because Potter does not skate delicately over those bodily functions which we all have as human beings:

JESUS: The son of man must be a man. He must be all of a man. He must pass water like a man. He must get hungry and feel tired and sick and lonely. He must laugh. He must cry. He cannot be other than a man, or else God has cheated.

JUDAS: But Jesus - if -

JESUS [urgently]: And so my Father in Heaven will abandon me to myself. And if my head aches he will not lift the ache out of it. And if my stomach rumbles he will not clean out my bowels. And if a. snake curls into my thoughts, then the fang will be in my mind. If I were to have no doubt I would be other than a man.


And God does not cheat.

That’s the great strength of Potter’s Jesus. When asked how people will know, what sign he will give, he won’t do anything special. You have to take him as he is, and see him for who he is, and that insight, that moment of clarity, is the miracle of faith. It is the holiness of the man that is the sign. God does not cheat.

Mark Lee comments on Jesus that why might glean from Son of Man: “He was man as to his conscious thought, and bodily desires, needs and sensations: and being a man he was vulnerable to all human weakness and frailty to which we are all inclined. But, according to this view, also being inwardly God, his soul was divine and this meant he had the divine goodness, wisdom and power of his inner self to resist all selfish desires and impure thoughts.”

Over it all, as in the previous part, is context: a cross present, a sign of what the Roman’s do, of someone else’s death, rather like in England there used to be a scaffold at crossroads, which might have a hanged felon on it, or would stand as a stark warning. It is in fact something we don’t see or hear about in the gospels until the end, but here, it is present, although as Potter notes, it has become so much part of the landscape of the people under Roman rule that they don’t see it for what it is, just as someone passing the empty scaffold would simply see it as part of its surrounds.

This act finishes with a note of irony which I rather like, because Jesus knows where he is going, and he and Judas both know the threat of the cross, and we also get a reminder that Jesus is a carpenter.

God does not cheat
An Extract from "Son of Man" by Dennis Potter

JESUS: Love God your Father above all things. And love your neighbour as yourself.

JUDAS: Who is my neighbour?

JESUS: The man next to you. Or him in the corner of your eye. [dryly] You can't miss him.

JUDAS: I try to follow the Commandments.

JESUS: Good.

JUDAS: What else must I do?

JESUS: Go home and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor.

JUDAS: Or to the Temple?

JESUS [bitingly]: The poor!

JUDAS: And then?

JESUS: And then follow me. Give up everything else - family, friends, money, security - and come with me. We are about to - illuminate this land.

[JUDAS suddenly sinks to his knees.]

JUDAS: Yes, I will follow you.

[JESUS smiles and touches JUDAS' head.]

JESUS: What is your name?

JUDAS: Judas Iscariot.

JESUS: Welcome, Judas. [He embraces him.]

JUDAS: MyL - l - lord --?


JUDAS: Jerusalem is full of rumours about you. Some even dare to say that you are - [He stops.]

JESUS [quietly]: I am that I am.

JUDAS: That you - you are the - Messiah.


JESUS: Is that what they say?

JUDAS: Are you?


JESUS: I am that I am.

JUDAS: But - Jesus --?

PETER: Leave him be!

JUDAS: Jesus - !

[JESUS, strangely agitated, has gone to the cross. It is as though he has just seen it, just realised what is there.]

[With urgency] Jesus - Be careful. Please be careful.

[JESUS throws back his head and roars with laughter.]

JESUS: Careful I Have you trekked out all this way to tell me to be careful!

[The four others join in his laughter.]

JUDAS [shrilly]: They'll nail you up on the Cross!

[The laughter dies.]

[Embarrassed]: If you put a foot wrong - it's that horrible thing...

[He points at the cross. The others, except JESUS, automatically cringe back from it.]

ANDREW: I didn't even see it - I didn't even...

JESUS [harshly]: It is part of the landscape.


JAMES [agitated]: Come on. I -.suddenly I don't like this place.

ANDREW: Me neither. By God, no!

[But PETER, who has been glaring at JUDAS, suddenly bursts out angrily at the newcomer.]

PETER: What do you want? Eh? What do you have to say that for!

JUDAS: It is a warning.

PETER: Well stuff your bloody warning --

JESUS [interrupting]: Peter I

PETER: Well - he comes out here, all poshed up, and starts -

JESUS [severely]: Peter!

[JESUS looks closely at JUDAS, who lowers his eyes.]

[Quietly] I understand where you are from. I understand what you are saying. But what is written is written. What is foretold is foretold.

[The others are out of it; this is between JESUS and JUDAS. They listen, but only half-understand.]

JUDAS: Then you are He?

JESUS: Perhaps. [A little smile.]

JUDAS [imploring]: Don't you know?

JESUS: God does not cheat.

JUDAS: I don't understand - ?

JESUS: The son of man must be a man. He must be all of a man. He must pass water like a man. He must get hungry and feel tired and sick and lonely. He must laugh. He must cry. He cannot be other than a man, or else God has cheated.

JUDAS: But Jesus - if -

JESUS [urgently]: And so my Father in Heaven will abandon me to myself. And if my head aches he will not lift the ache out of it. And if my stomach rumbles he will not clean out my bowels. And if a. snake curls into my thoughts, then the fang will be in my mind. If I were to have no doubt I would be other than a man.


And God does not cheat.

[Pause. ]

JUDAS: Then how shall we know?

JESUS: By what you see. By what you hear. How else?

[Again JUDAS points at the cross.]

JUDAS : Then you know - that thing ! You know it waits for you.

JESUS [very calm]: It waits.

[Silence. The others want to go.]

JOHN: We don't like it here, Master.

PETER: That thing!

JAMES: Let us go down into the village -

ANDREW: Please. Jesus -

JOHN: We don't like it here!

[JESUS's calm is shattered by their whimpering. His own fear bubbles to the top. He rounds on them, almost savagely.]

JESUS [with harsh mockery]: `We don't like it here, Master.' Too bad. Too flaming bad, my friends. Just look at that cross. Go on! Look at it!

PETER [Angrily]: Why should we?

JESUS: So that we can keep it in our minds. [He taps angrily at his forehead.] Keep it in here. Keep the shape stinging behind our eyes. And let one little splinter of that bloodied wood stick and fester in our brains. Right? [He strides up to the cross and holds the upright beam, clinging to it.] God won't let me alone. Not now. I am His. Oh, oh. He burns inside me. He tears at my chest. He lights up my eyes. He tugs at my clothes. Oh Holy Father, you have hunted me down. You have opened the top of my head. I have heard you. I have seen you. Dear Lord God on High - shall I show a man a chair, or shall I show man the truth of your justice and the path to your Kingdom?

[Feverish now, and impressive. The others kneel, except JUDSASs, who stares wide-eyed at JESUS]

Oh, oh, He burns inside me! The Lord God is in my head and in my eyes and in my heart and in my mouth. Yes, in my mouth. He has told me what to do, what to say. I am His. I am His. I am His. I am the Chosen One. I am the Way. I am the Messiah. Yes. Yes!

[Pause. JESUS lowers his arms. Now he is calm and matter-of-fact.]

Go into Jerusalem all of you, one by one. Tell the people about Jesus of Nazareth. Tell them He is the One. The One they have been waiting for. Tell them that in three days I shall enter the Holy City on an ass, so fulfilling the prophecies of our forefathers. Tell them to greet me as they would their King. But it is the Kingdom of God I come to honour. Go now! Do as I say! Go! Go!

[They rise and move off, and JESUS turns back to smack at the cross.]

[Smiling] Ach! You should have stayed a tree. A tree. [Slight pause.] And I should have stayed a carpenter. A carpenter.

[Pause. Then he follows the others. The light fades.]

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Corpus Hermeticum

This poem takes its starting point on two Hermetic texts, the Corpus Hermeticum XIII.18 and the Corpus Hermeticum XIII.11. Those following the work of Iamblichus, a philosopher of the 4th century, in what was known as "theurgy". Alongside Plotinus and Porphyry, he was a founder of Neoplatonism.

Theurgy (/ˈθiːɜrdʒi/; from Greek θεουργία) describes the practice of rituals, sometimes seen as magical in nature, performed with the intention of invoking the action or evoking the presence of one or more gods, especially with the goal of uniting with the divine, achieving henosis, and perfecting oneself.

Henosis (Ancient Greek: ἕνωσις) is the word for mystical "oneness," "union," or "unity" in classical Greek. In Platonism, and especially Neoplatonism, the goal of henosis is union with what is fundamental in reality: the One (Τὸ Ἕν), the Source, or Monad.

As I've currently been studying a number of Neoplatonic writings of the 4th century, it seemed appropriate to fashion a poem; I have, however, attempted to given it a local Jersey feel, hence the dolmen!

Corpus Hermeticum

Powers within me, sing a hymn
Sing to the One and to the All
Open up both mind and limb
Open portal, break down wall

Now sing together with my will
Hymning light, the joy of mind
Within the dolmen, on the hill
Open inner eyes so blind

Sacred knowledge, join with me
Enlighten me, all you powers
Earth and land and sky and sea
As I gift the offering of flowers

Throughout heaven, earth, water, air
Make Wisdom give her blessing here