Thursday, 31 December 2009

Time's Choice

This was written by Annie Parmeter in 2003.
Now her ashes are down by a lily pond, and she is forever young.

A suitable poem for an end of an old year, and the start of one that, for her, will be forever new.

MA.15. 04/01/03
On a quietly respectable corner of a quietly respectable street
The old house stood, its darkly staring windows
Tightly shaded against the light
Vacantly and vicariously
Watching the world pass by
How long had it relentlessly stood here
How long had the sun relentlessly baked its peeling walls?
A tortoiseshell cat stretched languorously upon the verandah.
Like generations before her she kept a tidy house
Polishing her keepsakes, cherishing her memories
Every day, every day, in the same old way
Keeping the legacy alive.
Finding herself in the faces on the mantelpiece
Cold-eyed and tyrannical
Unfeeling dispassionate ghosts.
Long fingers kept a tight grip on her soul.
But who was she, where did she belong
How long could she be sustained
By subtly shifting memories?
Day after day reciting the inventory
Building her world all over again
Desperately hoping it would turn out the same
Trapped like an ant in amber
In a tomb of her own construction.
Deep in her heart a quietly insistent voice called,
'Oh cease to lament for what could have been!
To what place have your memories brought you?
Without knowing you have changed them
To suit your own view of your life
And thus you have rendered them void,
Seeking to protect yourself from time
How old you have become.'
'Discard your routines, your inventories and history
False props against uncertainty
They serve only to burden you with their care
Rendering you vulnerable to their loss
Alone to wallow in rose-tinted grief.
By looking back you have hoped to avoid
The terror in the face of the unknown
And the challenge that lies in becoming.'
Deep in my heart a quietly insistent voice calls,
'Leave with me now, come into the day
Leave this house, its history, its legacy.'
Today its darkly hopeless eyes
Will look jealously upon me
How easily will it give me up?
One part of its structure removed
How long will it take to fall?
Out through the garden and down to the river
I shall bathe in the waters of life.
Only once to look back with a smile
And witness the memories dissolving
In an eddy of feelings and voices
The dust of dry bones scattering on the wind.
No longer held in my care
They dissipate into nothingness.
Now the sun shines on a new day
Lilies grace the riverbank with their perfume
I smell each flower as if it were the first
The fingers of a fresh breeze caress my cheek
Skylarks sing in the bright shining meadows
All this so familiar
And yet never seen before
For at last, truly I am young.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

In defence of Father Christmas

According to Joanna Moorhead, writing in the Guardian (Wednesday December 20, 2000), "more young people associate Santa Claus with Christmas than they do Christ." She comments that: "We love the idea that they believe in this godlike figure who sweeps through the whole world bringing good fortune to all because, in our hearts, we mourn the fact that we don't believe in him any more: we love the simplicity of the tale because, in an unfair and complex world, the story of Father Christmas is a powerful parable about equality, justice, and putting children first."

But there is a hazard, which is mentioned in the article "The Teaching of Christianity by Parents", that "If Father Christmas is not true, how can I know that Jesus Christmas is true?" was the rather agonised question of a child of five who discovered that no flesh and blood old Father Christmas came down the chimney.

Following this line of argument, the Reverend John Eich suggests that teaching a child about Santa can backfire. "When a parent says "Yes, there really is a Santa Claus and his reindeer can fly,' he is no longer playing a game. The parent is lending his personal authority as a parent to the myth, giving it the ring of truth. When the child later finds out that there is no Santa, she may doubt other parental teachings, including the parent's religious beliefs. "

This was phrased succinctly on the Usenet newsgroups by a writer who said: "I don't believe there is any place in Christmas for Santa Claus, think about it, you are LYING to your children, what kind of example is that? Certainly not a Christian one. Can you only have "fun" on Christmas when you introduce worldly things?"

I think that these arguments fail and several counts, and I would like to argue that there is a positive benefit to belief in Father Christmas, and even to the idea of Father Christmas when we know it to be untrue.

With regard to the matter of "lying to your children", this assumes that all that a parent tells his children is the truth, and I would suggest that it is exceedingly unlikely that no parent is so honest that they do not tell a lie at any time to their children. The portrayal of the parent is as a perfect purveyor of truth is fictitious, and sooner or later the child will grow up and find that the parents are deceitful, but in more subtle ways; it could be argued that when that happens, the image of the parent will collapse, just as surely as if the child had learned an earlier, and much less painful lesson that the parent is not always right, is not the ultimate arbiter of truth.

On the matter of fact and falsehood, it has been noted that the discerning the falsehood of Father Christmas is part of the formation of the child, passing (in William Blake's terminology) between innocence and experience.

As children learn and understand more about the world, they gradually work out that a real Santa could not deliver all those presents or know what every child wants. Yet they are rarely upset or disappointed; it has been found that they are actually pleased to have learned this for themselves, to learn that not everything is to be taken at face value.

To return to the question ""If Father Christmas is not true, how can I know that Jesus Christmas is true?", to avoid Father Christmas is to remove a means of deeper awareness and experience of truth. The part of the question "how can I know that Jesus Christmas is true?", will not go away because the parent's tell the child they tell the truth. The time will come when it must be faced, and the loss of Father Christmas actually provides an opening for exploring truth and falsity in belief at a deeper level than was possible.

But I also would argue that to call "Father Christmas" a lie also betrays an extremely literal and materialistic idea of truth. It is noteworthy that it tends to be the more fundamentalist ends of the spectrum of Christianity that argue that belief in Father Christmas is bad, because that (as James Barr pointed out in "Fundamentalism") takes its arguments from a materialistic reading of the Bible, in which historical facticity is given priority, and the only truth is truth in fact.

It is surely no coincidence that materialistic atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, boasted that he tried to tell a six-year-old child that Father Christmas didn't exist. His argument was that Father Christmas would not be able to climb down all those chimneys and tiptoe noiselessly to the bedsides of hundreds of millions of children, all in one night. There simply wouldn't be enough time. This is to ignore the mythical element of Father Christmas, and how that functions, and whether from a Christian or atheistic perspective, is a form of reductionism.

The idea of Father Christmas as mythical truth is most succinctly stated by G.K. Chesterton, in his book "The Everlasting Man", when he writes about the imagination of the child, and the importance of this element in experience:

"Father Christmas is not an allegory of snow and holly; he is not merely the stuff called snow afterwards artificially given a human form, like a snow man. He is something that gives a new meaning to the white world and the evergreens, so that the snow itself seems to be warm rather than cold. The test -therefore is purely imaginative. But imaginative does not mean imaginary. It does not follow that it is all what the moderns call subjective, when they mean false. Every true artist does feel, consciously or unconsciously, that he is touching transcendental truths; that his images are shadows of things seen through the veil. In other words, the natural mystic does know that there is something there; something behind the clouds or within the trees; but he believes that the pursuit of beauty is the way to find it; that imagination is a sort of incantation that can call it up."

I would note especially the idea of "transcendental truths", the idea that truth can be conveyed by fiction, and that even when the fiction is known to be fiction, the truth conveyed can still remain, and be in many ways as potent as ever. This can be seen in responses to fictional tales, particularly with a strong mythical element.

"Father Christmas" is in many respects a weak mythical character. There is an overlay of commercialisation that we have to scrape away before we can see the true meaning of Father Christmas. There can be a tendency to mindless greed, to seeing Father Christmas as a means to the child to get all manner of toys. And yet even at the commercial end, there are lessons that can be learnt, that Father Christmas cannot always give what is asked for, and he has his own agenda with presents which also can surprise and delight the child with the unexpected.

But it is in fiction, that Father Christmas can recover his mythic strength, and the commercialised tinsel subverted. Let me give just a few examples.

In "Miracle on 34th Street", a drunken shop Santa is ousted by an elderly man with a beard, who calls himself Kris Kringle, and who claims to be the real Father Christmas. It is a film full of apparent coincidence, and leaves it ambiguous as to whether Kringle really is Father Christmas or just believes himself to be so; nonetheless he embodies and brings the "spirit of Christmas", of warmth, and caring and generosity, and calls forth those qualities from others.

In "Mickey's good deed.", a very early cartoon, Mickey is seen playing Christmas carols on his cello with a cup on the ground for money. People pass by and drop stuff in it. Mickey later empties it and sees they're nuts, bolts, and screws. Mickey is poor and he sells Pluto (even though he doesn't want to) so that he can buy gifts for a poor mother's children, who life in the barest single room. Mickey dresses up as Father Christmas, and brings sackloads gifts (food and toys) for the children. Mickey may not have had anything better happen to him at the end (except getting Pluto back who brings him a turkey), but the clear message comes over that Father Christmas is a bringer of gifts and joy to the poor, and we, like Mickey, may "play" that part.

In this respect, Christmas is an ideal opportunity for children to learn about giving (as well as receiving) and they can be encouraged to give presents of their own to others (for instance parents, or siblings). Cost is not important; what matters is that each child is asked to think about other people. As well as developing caring attitudes, giving presents helps children appreciate their own gifts even more.

In "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe", the land of Narnia is described as "a land bewitched so it is always winter but never Christmas", and so when the White Witch's hold on Narnia weakens with the coming of Aslan, it is notable also for the arrival - as a visible sign of this - of a real Father Christmas, like and unlike the fictitious version of our world, who bears special gifts for the children.

Finally, mention must be made of a "Christmas Carol", with its invention of "the spirits of Christmas". It calls forth a response, awakens the imagination, and also demands a moral response. Nowhere does it display an overtly Christian message, and yet the implicit background is clearly that of the gospels - it considers the plight of the poor and needy, but without being patronising, and it demands of the reader, as of Scrooge, a moral revaluation of life away from those characteristics which so deaden Scrooge's existence, and towards the true richness in life of the Crachetts, or Scrooge's nephew. The spirit of Christmas, embodied so well in the almost pagan "Father Christmas" like figure of Christmas present, is one of warmth, generosity, of life, of giving both in material terms, but equally importantly, of one's own self.

Monday, 28 December 2009

A Place to Remember

A Place to Remember
The sea flecked with foam, white
As wind tears at the sandy beach
And I look over the wall, a sight
So close, yet so far out of reach
Gravestones mark the bodies here
Beside the wall, grass in between
I know your absence, oh my dear
Not here, but gone to dust unseen
But here your name upon a stone
A place to remember, and I weep
You are not here, no ash or bone
But gone to that eternal sleep
I stand beside the wall, and smile
Remembrance is so worthwhile

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Boxing Day Scrooge

If you park in St Helier in any car park or road where you normally need to display a parking ticket, you needed to on Boxing Day. This is because the Monday next and not Boxing Day (26th) is the bank holiday.

In England, Councils are divided. Some follow this rule, others decide to waive it and allow both days as parking free, which also stimulates the economy with sales.
In Jersey there is no division. One rule for all, and the spirit of Scrooge is alive and well! To paraphrase Dickens, using the law in this way seems a poor excuse to pick a pocket. Would loss of parking revenue for just one extra day this year really make this much difference? And wouldn't that be outweighed by the general goodwill generated by the generosity of the States?

But "the law is the law", as Inspector Javert said in Les Miserables, and for the moment we are stuck with the rigid unbending system as it stands. Victor Hugo's novel points up the difference between the law and justice, and how the law can be wrong.

Sometimes this is over large matters, but just as significant can be the small things. It may not be much to give a little slack over parking rules, but the kind of thinking that will not is the kind of thinking that writ large, may also be incapable of distinguishing between what is legal and what is right, and, like Inspector Javert, sadly conflates the two to the detriment of justice.

Verses often read at Christmas are the cheering verses from the prophet Isaiah (Isa 9:6-7):

A child is born to us! A son is given to us! And he will be our ruler. He will be called, "Wonderful Counselor," "Mighty God," "Eternal Father," "Prince of Peace." His royal power will continue to grow; his kingdom will always be at peace. He will rule as King David's successor, basing his power on right and justice, from now until the end of time. 

But what is not so often read is the verses only a paragraph or two further, when it is explained why "right and justice" needed, when Isaiah pronounces how well the legal system of Israel operates:

You are doomed! You make unjust laws that oppress my people. That is how you keep the poor from having their rights and from getting justice. That is how you take the property that belongs to widows and orphans.
(Isa 10:1-2)

Something to ponder that is not so often mentioned as part of the Christmas message!

Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas Chesterton

"Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!" (Thomas Gradgrind, "Hard Times" by Charles Dickens.

Christmas - commercial, secular, and a dying institution.  Or so it may seem. Richard Dawkins says that belief in God is like believing in Father Christmas, something to outgrow. But Chesterton argues that Father Christmas embodies something essentially visionary in his essay "The Shop of Ghosts", and he argues that this mythical element is always present, but always being killed off by "the scientific men, the innovators", for whom myth is something to be outgrown.

There have always been those who wanted just "facts", and reason, as seen by them, has no place for myth. They cannot understand that the mythical is not that which is untrue, it is beyond that kind of truth. Thomas Reid, the Philosopher of Common Sense, criticised David Hume's philosophical reductionism. One of his "commonsense" arguments, and I think it is a good one, is that no one ever lives their life as if a reductionist philosophy is true, as if we are some kind of biological machine, incapable of free will, and the universe is either deterministic, or (since Quantum theory was brought into the picture) entirely random, and life has no meaning; it is an illusion to believe that it has. No one really lives as if that was what life was all about, at the extreme end of reduction. Richard Dawkins does not behave like a vast gene machine, but behaves like a human being, and enjoys carols. We are not just Logos. We are also Mythos.

So welcome to the realm of mythos, and of "The Shop of Ghosts"....

I went into the shop and tried to buy wooden soldiers. The man in the shop was very old and broken, with confused white hair covering his head and half his face, hair so startlingly white that it looked almost artificial. Yet though he was senile and even sick, there was nothing of suffering in his eyes; he looked rather as if he were gradually falling asleep in a not unkindly decay. He gave me the wooden soldiers, but when I put down the money he did not at first seem to see it; then he blinked at it feebly, and then he pushed it feebly away.

"No, no," he said vaguely. "I never have. I never have. We are rather old-fashioned here."

"Not taking money," I replied, "seems to me more like an uncommonly new fashion than an old one."

"I never have," said the old man, blinking and blowing his nose; "I've always given presents. I'm too old to stop."

"Good heavens!" I said. "What can you mean? Why, you might be Father Christmas."

"I am Father Christmas," he said apologetically, and blew his nose again.

The lamps could not have been lighted yet in the street outside. At any rate, I could see nothing against the darkness but the shining shop-window. There were no sounds of steps or voices in the street; I might have strayed into some new and sunless world. But something had cut the chords of common sense, and I could not feel even surprise except sleepily. Something made me say, "You look ill, Father Christmas."

"I am dying," he said.

I did not speak, and it was he who spoke again.

"All the new people have left my shop. I cannot understand it. They seem to object to me on such curious and inconsistent sort of grounds, these scientific men, and these innovators. They say that I give people superstitions and make them too visionary; they say I give people sausages and make them too coarse. They say my heavenly parts are too heavenly; they say my earthly parts are too earthly; I don't know what they want, I'm sure. How can heavenly things be too heavenly, or earthly things too earthly? How can one be too good, or too jolly? I don't understand. But I understand one thing well enough. These modern people are living and I am dead."

"You may be dead," I replied. "You ought to know. But as for what they are doing, do not call it living."

A silence fell suddenly between us which I somehow expected to be unbroken. But it had not fallen for more than a few seconds when, in the utter stillness, I distinctly heard a very rapid step coming nearer and nearer along the street. The next moment a figure flung itself into the shop and stood framed in the doorway. He wore a large white hat tilted back as if in impatience; he had tight black old-fashioned pantaloons, a gaudy old-fashioned stock and waistcoat, and an old fantastic coat. He had large, wide-open, luminous eyes like those of an arresting actor; he had a pale, nervous face, and a fringe of beard. He took in the shop and the old man in a look that seemed literally a flash and uttered the exclamation of a man utterly staggered.

"Good lord!" he cried out; "it can't be you! It isn't you! I came to ask where your grave was."

"I'm not dead yet, Mr. Dickens," said the old gentleman, with a feeble smile; "but I'm dying," he hastened to add reassuringly.

"But, dash it all, you were dying in my time," said Mr. Charles Dickens with animation; "and you don't look a day older."

"I've felt like this for a long time," said Father Christmas.

Mr. Dickens turned his back and put his head out of the door into the darkness.

"Dick," he roared at the top of his voice; "he's still alive."

Another shadow darkened the doorway, and a much larger and more full-blooded gentleman in an enormous periwig came in, fanning his flushed face with a military hat of the cut of Queen Anne. He carried his head well back like a soldier, and his hot face had even a look of arrogance, which was suddenly contradicted by his eyes, which were literally as humble as a dog's. His sword made a great clatter, as if the shop were too small for it.

"Indeed," said Sir Richard Steele, "'tis a most prodigious matter, for the man was dying when I wrote about Sir Roger de Coverley and his Christmas Day."

My senses were growing dimmer and the room darker. It seemed to be filled with newcomers.

"It hath ever been understood," said a burly man, who carried his head humorously and obstinately a little on one side (I think he was Ben Jonson) "It hath ever been understood, consule Jacobo, under our King James and her late Majesty, that such good and hearty customs were fallen sick, and like to pass from the world. This grey beard most surely was no lustier when I knew him than now."

And I also thought I heard a green-clad man, like Robin Hood, say in some mixed Norman French, "But I saw the man dying."

"I have felt like this a long time," said Father Christmas, in his feeble way again.

Mr. Charles Dickens suddenly leant across to him.

"Since when?" he asked. "Since you were born?"

"Yes," said the old man, and sank shaking into a chair. "I have been always dying."

Mr. Dickens took off his hat with a flourish like a man calling a mob to rise.

"I understand it now," he cried, "you will never die."


Thursday, 24 December 2009

O Little Town

O Little Town

Barbed wire enclaves, barricade
Fears of exploding hand grenade
O Little Town of Bethlehem, how
Has this come about, who did allow
These holy streets to be so bound?
Herod would laugh, his mirth abound
At the plight of those trapped within
What is their crime? No special sin.
Only to be caught within the fear
Of how the stranger can so appear
To others as a menace; reflected hate
Pray to the world that it should abate
These days, there is room at the inn
For none can enter, no pilgrim begin
An act of love, of reaching hand to hand
Instead soldiers patrol, the military band
At night, the gates are locked, but in pain
Are lives of those within, who still remain
Their homes, a prison camp in all but name
Can none in power end this? Is there no shame
Among the mighty, those who believe in right
But cannot humble themselves to other's plight
Beneath these darkened streets, let hope arise
Tell out of this to the world, do not despise
One small town, for acts of love start small
It is only pride that rises huge before a fall
And let reflected glory come once more here
Driving out the darkness, love fighting fear
On Christmas eve, when stars shine bright
Let goodness come again, reveal the light.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Dalai Lama and the Mantra

"Lord Buddha was himself a scientist in the way he taught about the way of bringing the mind under control for leading a healthy life. Mind is formless and beyond matters, yet it controls everything," (The Dalai Lama, December 18, 2009)

I've just received (and am happy to have received) the "Dalai Lama Mantra". It is a powerpoint presentation, begins:

This is a nice reading, but short. Enjoy. This is what the Dalai Lama has to say for 2009. All it takes is a few seconds to read and think over. Do not keep this message. The mantra must leave your hands within 96 hours. You will get a very pleasant surprise. This is true for all - even if you are not superstitious - of whatever religious belief.... faith.

There follows some very beautiful illustrations, each with a selected maxim, for example

Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
When you lose, don't lose the lesson.
Follow the three Rs:
Respect for self
Respect for others and
Responsibility for all your actions.
Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

Unfortunately, it does not originate with the Dalai Lama.

Snopes (the site specialising in bogus emails and the like) notes that the same one has been going around for some time. In an earlier incarnation, it said:

This is what The Dalai Lama has to say on the millennium, all it takes is a few seconds to read and think. Do not keep this message. The mantra must leave your hands within 96 hours. You will get a very pleasant surprise. This is true even if you are not superstitious.

Snopes comments that:

Neither this chain message nor its "Instructions for Life" originated with His Holiness. The "Instructions for Life" are a truncated version of a much longer list that worked its way around the Internet in 1999 in conjunction with an ASCII art representation of a "Nepalese Good Luck Tantra Totem" (the list was also sometimes identified as being a "modern Japanese good luck tantra"):

One of the singular things about its maxims is that they are not specifically Buddhist. There is nothing on the Four Noble Truths, yet when the Dalai Lamai was speaking in India on 19th December 2009, he delivered a discourse on "The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism", and also made reference to Buddhism in his talk:

The Dalai Lama said that utilization of human intelligence and wisdom for attaining the purity of mind and for one's advancement was very important in Buddhism. He made it clear that his discourses are not mere ritualistic nor religious but the ocassion should be treated as an educational seminar. The Dalai Lama at the end of the discourse gave opportunity to the audience to ask questions. He replied to all the questions and invited even arguments on important issues.

The Dalai Lama said that the distinction of Buddhism from other religious cults was that it does  not believe in atma. This similarity could also be found in Jainsim. He said that there are certain cases of rebirth which he himself had come across and it was for the science to investigate these cases. He also asserted that the big bang theory of scientists goes very well with Buddhist phitlosophy as it doesn't believe in the theory of creation of something by someone.

In fact, on 1 September, 2009, the Dalai Lama was in Taiwan, and there was a mantra chanted:

Awaiting the spiritual leader's arrival, members of the audience chanted om mani padme hum - the most commonly recited Buddhist mantra - in unison...The leader led the audience in reciting Buddhist chants and commented on the teachings of the Buddha.

So there is a strong Buddhist theme running through his teachings, and it is from these roots that he finds the source of his wisdom, so that he can say:

In regard to this, there is a statement in the great Shantideva's Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds which says, As long as space exists, and as long as there are migrators in cyclic existence, may I remain removing their sufferings. I have that wish in this lifetime, and I know I had that wish in past lifetimes.

And from these roots, he speaks out to the shared humanity of all peoples. Here is an example from his question and answer session on his website, which is a good way to end this piece, and a good message for Christmas:

All human beings are the same. We all want happiness and do not want suffering. Even people who do not believe in religion recognize the importance of these human values in making their lives happier. I remain committed to talk about the importance of these human values and share them with everyone I meet. Secondly, on the level of a religious practitioner, my second commitment is the promotion of religious harmony and understanding amongst different religious traditions. Despite philosophical differences, all major world religions have the same potential to create better human beings. It is therefore important for all religious traditions to respect one another and recognize the value of each other's respective traditions.


Tuesday, 22 December 2009

People, look east

People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.

People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.

People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.

People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.

People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.

Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.

People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

Words and Music: Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965), 1928

"People, Look East" was written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) and was first published as "Carol of Advent" in The Oxford Book of Carols, 1928, using the tune from the French carol "Besancon". It is a strange carol, for while it looks to Advent, and the coming of Christ, it does not use stock religious imagery, but breaks free with new forms.

She had another well known hymn to her name. Percy Dearmer suggested to her that she should write for his "Enlarged Songs of Praise" (1931), and "Morning Has Broken" resulted from that, set to the Gaelic melody "Bunessan". Like "People, Look East", this is not a conventional hymn, theology heavy, but a lyrical almost mystical song of creation, which is perhaps why, with Cat Stevens singing, and an arrangement of its tune by Rick Wakeman, it found its way quite remarkably onto the popular music charts, and is still very popular today.

Eleanor Farjeon was London born, and in1951, became a Roman Catholic. She regarded her faith as "a progression toward which her spiritual life moved rather than a conversion experience".

However, her faith was not conventional. She was a contributor to Orpheus, the journal of the Art Movement of the Theosophical Society, produced in London between 1907 and 1914, and which was on the fringes of the Woman's Suffrage Movement. The editorial of the journal stated, "We are a group of artists who revolt against the materialism of most contemporary art." . Possibly some of the poems from this period were compiled in her book of poetry "Pan-worship : and other poems" (1908). This is a brief extract from the title poem:

The noise of the world Is shut about with silence ! If I kneel,
Bend and adore, make sacrifice to thee,
If to thy long-deserted fane I bring
Tribute of milk and honey then if I snap
That loveliest pipe of all at the spring's margin
And let the song of Syrinx from its hollow,
Nay, even the nymph's sweet self O Pan, old Pan,
Shall I not see thee stirring in the stone,
Crack thy confinement, leap forth be again ?
I can believe it, master of bright streams,
Lord of green woodlands, king of sun-spread plains
And star- splashed hills and valleys drenched in moonlight!
And I shall see again a dance of Dryads
And airy shapes of Oreads circling free
To shy sweet pipings of fantastic fauns
And lustier-breathing satyrs . . . God of Nature,
Thrice hailing thee by name with boisterous lungs
I will thrill thee back from the dead ages, thus :
Pan ! Pan ! O Pan ! bring back thy reign again
Upon the earth ! . . .

The nature worship is still present in her greatest hymn, Morning Has Broken, but now it is redeemed:

Morning has broken,
Like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken
Like the first bird;

Praise for the singing,
Praise for the morning,
Praise for them springing
Fresh from the Word.

Yet while Dearmer looked for this fresh inspiration for his songs of praise, the hymn has always sat uneasily among some of the professionals. John Ewington, general secretary of the Guild of Church Musicians, said that "It's a lovely poem, but it's not a 'liturgical piece' as I would call it." Robert Canham, of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland criticises it for not saying anything about original sin, and notes that "It's certainly not specifically Christian, echoing some sort of harmony with Judaism and Islam, I'd imagine."

Neither probably would like "People, Look East" for the same reason. These hymns stand out, rather like the Bosdet Window in St Brelade's Church which depicts the Parable of the Sower. and for that reason, unlike all the other stained glass windows, has two figures without haloes, and is not conventionally religious. Sometimes, we need to look beyond the outward trappings.

She also had two significant loves in her life, an infatuation with Stacy Aumonier, and a friendship with the poet Edward Thomas, both married men for whom she wrote a series of sonnets (published in 1947). She remained friends with Thomas' wife after his death in the Great War. She never married, but - for the time - has an unconventional but contented thirty year relationship living with an English teacher, George Chester Earle (who was separated from his wife) and after his death in 1949, a long relationship with actor Denys Blakelock, who wrote a memoir, "Portrait of a Farjeon"

Her journey of faith took her to the Catholic Church, yet in July, 1951, she wrote a troubled letter to Father Richard Mangan, the priest who was instructing her, and included 12 typed pages of her doubts and thoughts on many aspects of the Catholic faith. "Sin" was an element that caused her anxiety:

"If I become a Roman Catholic, I would have to believe many things are sins that now I do not. How can I acquire a sense of what Sin is, among things that for so long have seemed to me sinless? Here are some of them: I don't feel it is a sin for two people to live together, if the choice is made with love and respect and a sense of true union . I don't feel it is sinful for an unmarried woman to have a child. I don't feel it is sinful to save a mother's life in childbirth at the child's expense. I don't feel it is sinful for a man and woman to cohabit without having children. None of these things seem to have evil in them, in themselves. Evil may be brought into them (as to the same things within marriage) by the nature of the persons involved."

Perhaps this came from her family background. James Hammerton explains that while there was much that was joyful, so much so that she drew on her childhood roots for inspiration, there was also a darker side to her family background. A marriage was no guarantee of love or respect:

"Eleanor Farjeon's literary family, to all intents and purposes joyous, fun-loving and child-centred, dominated, according to her, by a generous, domesticated husband, Ben Farjeon, was increasingly consumed by her unpredictable father's irritability, the 'dominant mood in the family'. Furious outbursts would follow trivial accidents - 'small breakages, forgetfulnesses, a dozen of the minor mistakes we all make every day' - so that the family took the risk of concealing them from him. Outbreaks of temper could at any moment follow 'Mama's failure to lay out his studs for the evening, to pack the blotting paper when going for a holiday, to send the carving knife to the butcher to be ground.' "

"Eleanor Farjeon was later haunted by her childhood memory of lying in bed, listening 'to the tone of the talk in the dining room underneath'. If the quiet murmur continued she slept peacefully, but too often 'the strong voice grew excited, and the gentle voice silent. Then I did not sleep till nearly morning.' Little wonder that her mother became accomplished in the art of avoiding conflict, submitting even to the most absurd commands to keep the peace."

Eleanor herself, in her memoir, "A Nursery in the Nineties", also shows this element of fearfulness at times spreading to the children:

"So terrified was he [my eldest brother] of being caught, by chance, in a false statement, that as a small boy he acquired the habit of adding 'perhaps' to everything he said. 'Is that you, Harry?' Mama might call from the drawing-room. 'Yes, Mama-perhaps.' 'Are you going upstairs?' 'Yes, perhaps.' 'Will you see if I've left my bag in the bedroom?' 'Yes, Mama, perhaps-p'r'haps-paps!"

Given this background, it is not surprising that she saw through the moralising about family life, so often deployed under the guise of theology in hymns she would have known

And through all His wondrous childhood
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

That simply doesn't compare with "People, Look East", or even one of Eleanor's Christmas poems, the Shepherd and the King:

The Shepherd and the King,
The Angel and the Ass,
They heard Sweet Mary sing,
When her joy was come to pass;
They heard Sweet Mary sing
To the Baby on her knee.
Sing again Sweet Mary,
And we will sing with thee!

Earth, bear a berry!
Heaven, bear a light!
Man, make you merry
On Christmas Night.

The People in the land,
So many million strong,
All silently do stand
To hear Sweet Mary's song.
The Child He is a man,
And the man hangs on a tree.
Sing again Sweet Mary,
And we will sing with thee!

Earth, bear a berry!
Heaven, bear a light!
Man, make you merry
On Christmas Night.

The Stars that are so old,
The Grass that is so young,
They listen in the cold
To hear Sweet Mary's Tongue.
The Man's the Son of God,
And in heaven walketh He.
Sing again Sweet Mary,
And we will sing with thee!

Earth, bear a berry!
Heaven, bear a light!
Man, make you merry
On Christmas Night.

References:The Presbyterian Hymnal Companion, LindaJo K. McKim, 1993, p. 323.
(Note: this wrongly gives the date of her Catholicism as when she was 17)
The English Hymn: A Critical and Historical Study. J. R. Watson, 1999, p526.
The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928., Elizabeth
Crawford, 1999, p287
Cruelty and Companionship: Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Married Life.
James Hammerton, 1992, pp137-138.
Harlequin; Or, the Rise and Fall of a Bergamask Rogue. Thelma Niklaus, 1956,
A Nursery in the Nineties, Eleanor Farjeon, 1935

Web Links

Monday, 21 December 2009

Sun Return

Sun Return
(A Tale for the Solstice)

It was cold, and a soft flurry of snow had drifted across the settlement, lightly dusting the rooftops. Ayesha's knuckles ached with the cold, and her joints felt stiff. Life was a struggle, she reflected, as she trudged across the hardened earth towards the greenhouses.

The greenhouses were doing well. They had salvaged glass, and metal frames, and built them in the summer. They were the key to the difference between mere survival, the subsistence economy, and being able to begin the slow climb back to civilisation. But, she thought, as the wind bit savagely into her face, there was still much drudgery and painstaking hard work to be done.

Nearby, on the other side of the hill, lay the ruins. This was the legacy of their civilisation; a source to pillage for items which could no longer be renewed. How far they had fallen, she pondered. All the shining metal toys, all those wonderful gadgets, now all gone, or useless with the limited power available to the community. They had salvaged a small generator, powered by the icy winds that swept across this mostly barren land, but that was all.

Would they return, Ayesha pondered, as she watered the plants. Or would she live and die here, bones buried beneath stones, for the ground was too hard to dig in winter time? Yet green shoots did grow, their farming was beginning to flourish, and the earth, enriched by the earthworms with which they had seeded it, was turning into a rich fertile loam.

The watering was done, and she returned to supper. By the smoky glow of the burning oil, the family sat in silence, and ate hungrily the warm stew. And then it was time, this day, the festival of sun return. They left their cottage and joined the other families in their small settlement, and climbed the hill top. At the top, they stood, and looked out, down the steep cliffs, across the roaring spray and waves, as the ocean reflected the bright moonlight, and dark seabirds flew high, casting giant shadows onto the white foam.

Idris, eldest man of their community, took the taper from a candle, and lit the bonfire, as was his right. The soft orange thread moved slowly across the wood and leaves, growing, until bright yellow flames flared out in the night, and smoke soared above them. Then they began to chant the tales of old, of how Prometheus stole the sacred fire from the gods. After that, there were even older stories, of how this world began, with light flaring in the dark, so brightly that it was painful to watch, and how they had lost their green and pleasant land, and now had to toil with the soil to restore their lost Eden, and make their slow return.

And there were songs, of green hills far away, of shining streets, and royal cities, and love unknown, and dancing when the earth was young, and they sang in glory at the memories come alive. Then Idris took bread, and broke it, and they all ate. And then stood, holding hands, in the dark, beside the embers of the dying fire, in silence.

For this was the shortest day of their year, and the darkest night, and that was why they had climbed this hill. And the time was very nearly there, and the most precious and sacred telescope was passed from hand to hand. Ayesha took hold of it, and placed it to her eye. This was the hope, the sun return, and she was filled with exhilaration and a fierce joy!

As she peered into the mass of stars, she could clearly make out a golden yellow speck, twinkling so many millions of miles away in the vast ocean of the night. She lowered the telescope and passed it on, looking down in the moonlight, at the great silver wreckage of their star ship, and wondered if her children would return to their home, their sun, and walk again on green fields; a memory they kept alive now only by the festival of sun return, and the songs of distant earth.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Thesaurus Memories

The last of the second hand book shops, Thesaurus, has finally gone.

I remember when it started out, as a few rooms near Sand Street Car Park. I used to go in on a Saturday morning to browse the books, and chat to Simon Crowcroft, who was working there on and off at weekends. It then moved to much larger premises in Burrard Street, and had at one time three floors of books to browse. Paradise!

It was not the only bookshop at the time. I remember there was also Hilgrove Books, which had local books mostly downstairs, and some good second hand books upstairs, and I used to chat to Mr Pipon who was running that one. When Hilgrove closed, I managed to get a half price copy of Balleine's Biographical Dictionary, and the Cartulaire of Jersey. Most of the books left then were taken on to fill extra space at Thesaurus.

Then there was the SPCK in Waterloo Street, which had its own back stairs up to the standard dusty room where gold could be found in out of print copies of books I sought, such as G.K. Chesterton or C.P. Snow.

And finally, in St James Street was the second hand bookshop run by the Jersey Democratic Movement, where Norman Le Brocq would sometimes be behind the counter, but more often Stella Perkins, whom I used to chat to quite a lot about the state of Jersey back then.

Sadly, it did not last. The SPCK closed, after a brief revival as Waterloo Books. Hilgrove Books went. The JDM bookshop closed down. And after the death of Kevin Creaton, Thesaurus downsized to a single room, then moved to slightly smaller premises over the road before becoming largely a card shop.

I suppose that in these days of the internet, when out of date books can be found on Amazon or eBay, there was bound to be pressure on second hand book sellers. Those that survive in England often are linked as Amazon Marketplace sellers or eBay shops, so that the powerful search engines of those sites find their stock with ease, and they have in fact a wider market than before.

Also in Jersey, the rise in popularity of car boot sales and charity shops did a lot to take away custom from a fixed shop, with rent to pay. But - apart from the Guide Dog's for the Blind booksale - I have not found the vast range of choice that I once found in the second hand bookshop, from the popular paperback to Chesterton's "Ballad of the White Horse", or older authors like Robert Heinlein, Michael Moorcock, John Brunner etc. What one finds is mostly the most recent books sold, the bestsellers like the Da Vinci Code (all over the place), the Romance novels, recent cookery, travel, gardening books. All second hand, but usually nothing really old.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Clergy Cutbacks 2

I've had a very strong and spirited defense of the clergy system in Jersey by email from the Dean, who has graciously agreed to let me post it on my blog. I had not contacted him beforehand as I was concerned about how busy he might be, and this gives a much more positive picture than the article in the Jersey Evening Post did. It certainly puts me straight on a number of issues, so I am glad of his correction, which I print here in full. I'm not always right!

From Robert Key. Dean of Jersey:

Dear Friends,
I always read Tony's contributions in the expectation that he will cast some light on things but, in this case, his writing falls somewhat short of that. I have to say that if he had done me the courtesy of asking me I could have given him the full situation. I am sure that folk don't have much time over Christmas to read long articles from the Dean so let me make just a few points and leave it at that. Of course my door is always open to anyone who wants to make constructive contributions to my thinking.
The parish system is at the heart of Jersey life and is, of course, linked to our relationship with the Crown. I am Her Majesty's Dean and appointed by her Letters Patent. The Constables insist, rightly in my view, that a separate Rector for each parish is Jersey's heritage and tradition. It is also built into the law of the land through the Canons of the Church of England in Jersey.
Secondly comparisons with Lincoln, Liverpool, Stockholm or anywhere else is rather like comparing apples and oranges. Islands are different and recognised as such. So let me compare us with the other Crown Dependency, the Isle of Man. By historical quirk they have a full-time Bishop and a half-time Archdeacon in addition to their priests. if we had clergy in the same propiortion as the Isle of Man (population for population) we would have 22 or so.
Thirdly, Ministry is not just about how many churches each Pastor pastors. That would be like comparing a Minister to, say, a golf club steward whose work is focussed on the needs and demands of members. The C of E  in Jersey is responsible for everyone whether they come or not. Any Islander can get married at their Parish Church or have their funeral taken by their Rector or Vicar. It is not about maintaining religious clubs it is is about the Mission of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Fourthly, as financial reality hits the churches (all denominations that I know of) we are realising that Ministry has to be paid for by the living not subsidised by those who have gone before us to glory. Each unit, be it ancient pairsh or Victorian District,  has to be financially viable and pay for the ministry it receives unless it is a tough mission area and is subsidised by other churches in the Island.
Fifthly, we have already been imaginative in Jersey. St Mary's has its own Rector on a house for duty basis as does St Martin de Grouville and we have actually improved the number of clergy in the Island in the last four years including a prison chaplain and a second chaplain at the hospital. We have also launched out in Fresh Expressions in schools (through St Mark's) at the Royal Yacht (through the Town Centre Missioner) and at a pub (through St Brelade's)
Sixthly. The Ministry Division of the C of E, is asking every area (including Jersey) to decide, long term,  how many clergy it can deploy and afford to pay. That is an exercise Jersey will undertake prayerfully and imaginatively.
Seventhly and lastly. The research that I have seen shows clearly that where you cut clergy, or have very long gaps between appointments, the church declines. Many denominations have been in managed decline for the last few decades. I don't know about you but I believe I am called by God to do everything I can to reverse that trend.
Let me take this opportunity of wishing all those who read this a very happy Christmas and God's richest blessing in 2010.
Yours in Christ,

The Very Reverend Robert Key
Dean of Jersey


Clergy Cutbacks

THE number of Church of England clergymen - including parish rectors - could be reduced following the announcement that the diocese of Winchester has to make cuts of £1.6 million. The Dean of Jersey, the Very Rev Bob Key, said that dioceses across England were having to reduce the number of clergy, but he added that 'the jury was still out' on whether Jersey would have to follow suit. Mr Key said that people would have to get to grips with the reality that the church did not have 'millions stashed away'. Mr Key, who attended a meeting on Monday on funding shortages with the Bishop of Winchester, the Right Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, said that the Island could only deploy the clergy that they can afford to pay. Mr Scott-Joynt recently announced a budget reduction for 2010 that would address the effects of the recession. He said: 'The Diocesan Synod, the diocese's decision-making body, has agreed what we believe to be an equitable budget. It should ensure that we sustain our vision and resource our mission appropriately in 2010.'(1)

A few facts are useful by way of background. A report on the diocese of Winchester as a whole notes that:

Ecclesiastically the Diocese is served by 411 churches grouped in 203 benefices; 13 deaneries and 2 archdeaconries on the mainland, and two deaneries in the Channel Islands. There are approximately 240 stipendiary clergy serving in the diocese; three Bishops, a Cathedral Dean, two archdeacons and a Dean for each of Jersey and Guernsey.(3)

So in terms of paid clergy per church, around each member of the clergy looks after 1.7 churches. Now there are some churches with clergy "doubling up", such as St Matthews Glass Church and St Ouen in Jersey, or St Brelade and St Aubin, but equally, there are churches such as St Marks, St Luke, St Andrew and St Paul which have just one member of clergy. If one looks at the total number of paid clergy in Jersey, and number of churches, my calculations are that on a proportional basis, there should be only 11-12 clergy at most in the Jersey over all the Anglican churches.

Of course part of the reason for the high numbers of clergy is the historical links between Parish and the 12 Parish Churches. The Rector is automatically a member of the Parish Roads Committee, is thereby involved in the Branchage inspections along with other Municipal duties, and on the other side of the equation, the Parish often maintains or helps to maintain the Rectory and Church financially.

This is a historical link, but it is not a necessary one. In England, for example, as in Jersey, the Church of England is the "established" church, but this does not necessitate either the automatic involvement of Rectors as part of the local Municipality, or of rate payers funds for Church fabric or clergy residence.

This should also be part of the equation. As far as the Diocese of Winchester is concerned, it should be aware that it is, in effect, subsidised in Jersey by the rate payer, and any reduction in clergy, especially on the numbers of rectors, might lead to increased costs by breaking that link.

Equally, however, as far as Parishes are concerned, should the Church of England have a privileged position (over other denominations) where ratepayers' taxes are concerned? I have no objection to my rates being used this way, but I think as a matter of justice, the position should be reassessed. But if it is, will the Parish or the Island take responsibility for maintaining historical church buildings? And would the Rector also not be required to take part in Parish matters? These are all questions which should be perhaps considered.

An interesting report by Trevor Cooper on Church Buildings gives notes on in Lincoln, a rural diocese:

The diocese of Lincoln has 647 church buildings... About two-thirds (65%) of these buildings are listed Grade I or II*; fewer than one in ten (9%) of the churches are unlisted. These churches are served by about 200 full time parochial clergy, averaging more than three church buildings per cleric.

Where is report is useful is that it shows how reduced paid clergy can by supplemented by non-paid clergy and other forms of ministry, which is a change which has already happened in Jersey in some Parishes:

To cope with its particular pressures, Lincoln has developed innovative forms of nonstipendiary leadership and ministry. There are a large number of people with such roles, including nearly 200 people accredited to minister at church services, and a further 230 lay readers, organised by deanery groups.

The report also looks at the old Victorian churches in Manchester, and comments that:

There is often no relationship now between the physical size of church and the population of the parish. This is not surprising. Not only have there been large movements of population in the last two hundred years, but the Victorians often built churches larger than the parish needed, sometimes assuming that a popular church would attract those from outside the parish... Indeed one can start to question the whole notion of a parish in  today's urban environment, and some dioceses are looking at ways of creating more fluid geographical groupings.

Rather than just closing churches, some of the space in these Victorian churches (often with relatively small congregations to the number of available pews), can be redeployed in innovative ways, especially where they are close to a centre of population, and do not have their own church hall.

At the simpler end of the spectrum - and much more commonly - there are changes such as the provision of basic catering facilities in the church (e.g. at the rear of the nave); the opening up of space by removing pews (often at the rear or in an aisle); the use of screens to create new rooms (for example, enclosing a transept); or the building of an extension, attached or unattached. Not only does this type of change allow worshippers to congregate more easily after the service (outside the scope of this section), but also allows the church building to be used for a wider variety of purposes, such as a mother and toddlers group or occasional concerts. Some churches have been more imaginative: one holds a regular Farmers' Market in the nave of the church building, and another has a village shop in the vestry.(2)

One of the people whom Trevor Cooper spoke to says that there can be resistance to change, sometimes  from the church members themselves:

Another problem is that many PCCs won't relax the use of church buildings. Some have - realising that the only way to keep the church alive is to have it open and to have it used for functions other than the one-hour Sunday service. Others shut their doors and have the Sunday Club mentality - at their peril.

We need to get away from the 'static' mentality - one should not try to preserve buildings in some time bubble where they never change and yet have to be used as working buildings. While conservation bodies fear that we may lose these buildings because of some Victorian holocaust of 'restoration', we risk losing them anyway.(2)

He also looks further afield, and quotes a correspondent from Stockholm, who notes that:
In Stockholm it was a delight to find most churches open, often with a small open-plan office area with computer and phone manned by members of the congregation or students. In  return for this free office space, people sold postcards and answered queries from visitors and took messages for the clergy. It is a bit odd to hear a phone ring inside a church but better that than being locked up six days out of seven. Every Stockholm church I went in had at least one other person in it, and often many more. People with armloads of shopping sat down for five minutes, taking a break from the retail experience.(2)

I know that churches are often locked when not in use because of problems with vandalism and theft, which is why many churches in England are closed. When I visited Southampton a few years ago, all except two of the city's churches were locked up, and those that were not were manned by volunteers. This is also true of some church in Jersey, such as St Luke's, which is even locked up on Sunday afternoons. Yet the report by Trevor Cooper looks at a survey on "how do you think of your local church/chapel?", which came with the answer:

Place of worship 83%
Quiet place or sanctuary 73%
Local landmark 59%
Social / community venue 56%
Historic place 53%

If a church is locked up when not in use, it can hardly function as either a historic place - and Jersey churches should surely be more on the the Tourism map - or as a quiet place or sanctuary. Often, like many other people (73%) in the survey, I have stopped for a few moments quiet and reflection inside one of our churches, and this valuable spiritual function (often not noted in congregational statistics) is lost when churches are forced to lock themselves away from the outside world.


Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The Curious Absence of Christine Herbert Online

When I was at school, my history teacher impressed upon me the danger of making over-generalisations. I was reminded of that when I read Christine Herbert's piece in the Jersey Evening Post, which managed to place all bloggers on Jersey politics on the same footing, i.e., mischievous troublemakers and bullies who are not accountable or responsible.
When I write various pieces, such as the piece I wrote on "Name and Shame", I take great care to research the issue thoroughly before putting pen to paper, and where possible, to provide details of all the sources I quote, so that it can be checked if I am taking them out of context. They might not be up to complete academic standards, because I don't have the time to fully annotate these, but it does take time to look up, research and read on these subjects, and what ends up on the blog is what I would certainly regard as a responsible paper. I don't just use Google or Wikipedia, I source peer reviewed academic journals and books as well.

In fact, some of my postings critique the Jersey Evening Post's sensationalist handling of statistics, where either they fail to give sufficient caveats (e.g. about average wage being used instead of the median) or pick the statistic likely to cause the most alarm (burglary up by a massive percentage - which is really because the figures are so small). It is what I regard as a failure of their presentation to be sufficiently thorough that prompts the articles.
I also write the satirical News from Nowhere, which is mischievous, but no more so than Helier Clement, when he pokes fun at some politicians. It is full of stock politician jokes - lawyers are more concerned with golf than law, and the odd swipe at local politicians, but as a "send up" in the style of "Yes Minister", with the occasional burst of "Spitting Image". Political satire has a long history, and I show no favouritism in my writing - all the politicians can appear equally silly, as in fact, some people think they do! All the characters are caricatures anyway, and are amalgams of real people and fictions, so that the education minister always appears to be uneducated, whether Peter Piaget or Hedley Weed, just as in "Yes Minister".  No one had ever accused me of this being "bullying", and it is very mild compared to UK satire. I keep well clear of issues that I regard as sensitive like child protection, and have very clear ethical principles on what I can and cannot satirise.
While I certainly don't imagine a vast establishment and media conspiracy (unlike some!), I nevertheless find it curious - hence the Sherlock Holmes punning title - that neither the article by Christine Herbert, nor the letter pointing out it's weaknesses - has appeared in the online edition of the JEP, where bloggers can read it. That is rather odd, especially as articles by Christine have appeared both before and after that article, and all the other letters from that letters page appeared online.

I can't locate the paper copy of the original article, but I think Dave Rotherham's letter deserves a wider showing.
Not all bloggers are bullies
From David Rotherham.

I WAS astonished at Christine Herbert's assertion that 'blogs in general are often little more than a licence to victimise and bully' (JEP, 5 December).

Although I can think of one particular one that is notorious for doing that, blogs in general are nothing of the sort. Apart from that one, which I am coming to take with ever larger pinches of salt, the ones I read are mainly the same kind of stuff that newspapers such as your own publish, from columnists like her and correspondents like me. While there may not be any quality control on the publishing side, nobody ever has to make a second visit to a bad blog. On the other hand, the unread author of the bad blog can be happy that he has had his chance to be read, and not been silenced by 'them'.  

Forum sites; much more open and less personal than blogs, do attract `trolls' with bad intentions, and the trolls often get a hefty dose of bullying in turn when the other users lose patience with them. That, however, is a somewhat different matter, even if there was a link between the downfall of a particularly unpopular Jersey troll and That Blog.

In conclusion, I find the general condemnation of blogs both unfair and inaccurate.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Name and Shame - States Members Voting

Proposition: Young Offenders: naming by the media.


Some curious voting on this proposition. On the original proposition, only
the two Pitman's voted. The amendment was for "name and shame" for children
of 16 or 17.

For (Pour)
Deputy Trevor Mark Pitman
Deputy Shona Pitman

Young Offenders: naming by the media (P.148/2009) - amendment


Several States members suddenly appeared by magic, and the vote was larger. Curiously, the Pitmans both voted against it, which seems a complete abdication of logic - after all, if name and shame was a good principle, why vote against an amendment which went some of the way towards what they desired?

But to name and shame those voting in favour:

Senator Paul Francis Routier
Senator Ben Edward Shenton
Senator Bryan Ian Le Marquand
Connétable Silvanus Arthur Yates
Connétable Graeme Frank Butcher
Connétable Peter Frederick Maurice Hanning
Connétable Juliette Gallichan
Deputy Carolyn Fiona Labey
Deputy Kevin Charles Lewis
Deputy Jeremy Martin Maçon

We'll have to wait until Hansard is eventually published before we find out the exact reasons given by those voting in favour. I think some may have been swayed by the idea that young people of 16 or 17 now had the vote, and should therefore be brought more into line with regard to criminal matters. This is of course, not entirely logical. No one is going to vote to reduce
the age at which people can drive to 16, or to reduce the age at which they can buy cigarettes, or drink. I suspect those were skimmed past at speed by those 12 States members.

It is interesting that Ian le Marquand voted this way. He was so careful in restrictions for sex offenders, so that the law as it stands does not allow a single parent in a new relationship to check the new partner, and the notifications list of sex offenders is firmly kept away from the public domain - because it would prevent rehabilitating sex offenders back into the community. Yet it seems fair to stigmatise and name young people, which may also cause problems with what might be youthful indiscretions. Is this right? There is a senior centenier in St Brelade whose early and only criminal record of theft was over 30 years in the past, and whose appointment was queried on that basis by the judiciary, which seems an over enthusiastic response to the failure with Roger Holland, whose sexual offenses were much more recent.

I would argue that the only valid link for voting age is not "name and shame", but payment of taxes. The American Revolution established a pretty solid precedent which was pithily summed up in the aphorism "no taxation without representation", and as payers of income tax in full time employment, there is a good case for voting at 16, because it is taxpayers money the States spend.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Digital Mayhem

Terrestrial television in the Channel Islands is provided by the Fremont Point transmitter in Jersey and seven 'relay' masts in Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney. All of these transmitters will switch from analogue to digital TV in a two-stage process starting in November 2010. The exact dates will be announced nearer the time. At the start of switchover, BBC Two will cease broadcasting in analogue and the first group of Freeview digital channels will become available. Around two weeks later, the remaining analogue channels will be permanently switched off and replaced by additional digital services

I was speaking to a relative in the UK, and he said the shortest period of overlap between analogue TV and digital TV is around three months, with six months being more common. This allows time for people to get set top boxes to receive digital transmissions, and test if they need those or freesat. In Jersey this time for testing will be a bare two weeks, and I would be most surprised if chaos did not ensue. Two causes of chaos:

1) People who have bought digital boxes and find that they will not actually work in their locality, which they can't do until the changeover takes place, and then have two weeks to get the alternative freesat in position, as well as being left with what, for them, is essentially junk.

2) People who do not want to risk that, and wait until the signal is broadcasting, then cause a rush on all local stores, which will probably sell out, and if they get someone to test the reception of the signal first, cause overload on demand on TV installer services.

My relative thought the Jersey change in such a short period was complete madness, and no district in the UK would put up with it. I'm inclined to agree with him. I suspect it is something to do with the limited number of transmitters, but I wish they would be more up front with the public, who can of course check on the overlaps in the UK and make their own comparisons.

In fact, Jersey because of its closeness to France, is not getting a complete freeview package, which is in fact sneaked into the FAQ:

After switchover, virtually all Channel Islands households will receive approximately 20 of the most watched Freeview channels and text services. These will include the public service channels BBC One, BBC Two, ITV1, C4 and Five, plus associated digital channels such as ITV2, E4 and BBC Three.

Ryan Morrison, of BBC Radio Jersey, answering a question, made this much clearer - why didn't he write the FAQ!

Jerry - without getting too technical it's all about available frequencies and because of our close proximity to France - we don't have enough in Jersey to have a full Freeview service available. Jersey isn't unique in this though as a number of areas of mainland UK will also only have a public service package available. However, what you will get in Jersey is a full public service - service. You should get all the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five channels as well as radio stations and digital text. If you have a satellite dish you will also be able to receive a lot more channels (most of what's available on Freeview and then some) through Freesat without a subscription.

It also seems apparent that digital radio will not be available. As Ryan (who certainly knows his stuff and is very informative) notes:

@First Mike - As far as I'm aware there are no current plans to move to digital radio in the Channel Islands.
Chris - the simple answer is no as radio probably isn't going all digital for a while yet so your FM or AM radio will still work fine.

This makes me wonder why the breakfast show this morning, at around 7.20 am, had a advertisement on it for the wonders of picking up the BBC on Digital Radio, suggesting a Digital Radio was an ideal Christmas present! Someone goofed there, I think!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Displaced People

Displaced People
It was the usual wait, the queues formed;
She pulled the shawl round, barely warmed;
And they stood in line, in another land,
She with her husband, holding his hand,
Wondering where they would stay tonight;
In the meantime, this bureaucrat's delight,
The usual paraphernalia, the tables laid out,
And the laws laid down, never to flout,
The engine of government, taking notes.
While people shuffled by in ragged coats,
None daring to flout this law, or disobey;
So far from her home, so many miles away,
And few possessions, her clothes, little more,
No certainty of resting place, no open door;
They were displaced people, counted here,
But they didn't really count, that was clear;
And all her hopes seemed of another time:
Where was blessing here, or anything sublime?
How she wanted rest, but strangers came to stay,
Like them, were frowned upon, hints to go away;
A silent night, a locked door, an unfriendly face,
In the dark streets, no shining welcome, no place,
So she was thankful for the cave, the hay, the straw;
And who would come to this stable, see the awe,
Amidst livestock smells, upon this cold night?
A child born, cries beneath the stars so bright.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Tax Havens Spooked

The Spy drama "Spooks" yesterday focused on banks, and on money salted away in tax havens. Switzerland, with a fictitious "De Witts" bank became the main focus, but Monaco, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, the Isle of Man, and Jersey also had a few mentions as places where unscrupulous people would stash cash to avoid paying income tax. Despite the efforts to "talk up" the Island with the IMF report, it would appear that popular culture still regards Jersey as a safe haven for illegality.

This may be more difficult after the UK budget. The Telegraph reports that:

Those who fail to declare cash kept in tax havens will face paying a fine of 200pc of the back-dated tax owed on the income, up from a 100pc fine, the Chancellor unveiled in the pre-Budget report. (1)

The article also mentioned the OECD's efforts against tax evasion, although it failed to mention that Jersey was on the "white list. The Bahamas are still on the grey list.

There are now 59 countries on the OECD's "white list" of jurisdictions that have implemented internationally agreed tax standards while 28 remain on the "grey list" having not fully implemented them.  The pre-Budget report said all new offshore bank accounts in these "high-risk" jurisdictions have to notify the Revenue or face fines. (2)

Returning to the reporting requirements, it is clear that while the signing of TIEAs initially seemed to have no effect, as argued by Richard Murphy, because details about accounts were needed before any request was made, this new change in the UK makes monitoring who has a bank account in an offshore jurisdiction a lot easier. Unfortunately, it doesn't mention onshore jurisdictions with banking secrecy, such as Luxembourg, Austria and Brussels, but it is starting to show that TIEAs can have teeth:

As part of the new measures to clamp down on tax avoidance, UK residents will also be obliged to tell the British tax authorities when they open certain foreign bank accounts. The new reporting requirement will apply to UK residents opening accounts in "certain" offshore jurisdictions, with heavy penalties of up to 200 per cent of unpaid tax for those who fail to comply...."Currently individuals are only required to report the interest from an offshore account at the end of the tax year," says Richard Proctor, partner with Grant Thornton. "But this new requirement means the Revenue will have information at the start of the process. It means tighter surveillance."

Accountants believe the new rule is likely to be applied in tax havens, such as the Channel Islands, a popular financial centre for UK residents.(4)

Elsewhere, one of the measures against tax havens is significantly like that deployed in "Spooks", where an ex-employee of a fictional Swiss bank stole hundreds of suspect account details. The Associated Press reports that:

The Germans and the French have brandished the threat of exposing tax cheats after securing their names and account numbers from rogue employees in Swiss and Liechtenstein banks.

On Wednesday HSBC confirmed that an ex-employee stole confidential data involving a small number of clients in its Geneva private banking branch. These names appear to have fallen into the hands of the French finance ministry, which nonetheless vigorously denied it had paid to secure them.

In August the French budget minister announced he had a list of 3,000 names of French citizens who had stashed money in Switzerland. He warned that they risked prosecution if they did not come clean under a government amnesty for tax evaders, due to expire at the end of this month. In 2006 Germany's secret services paid a rogue employee of Liechtenstein's LGT bank €4.2m for a list of several thousand big clients. (2)

And in America, President Obama is also making waves regarding foreign investment, but unfortunately not yet putting the same rules to Delaware when foreigners hide money there. Again reporting requirements makes TIEAs more effective:

The crackdown on tax havens would impose new reporting requirements on foreign financial institutions doing business in the United States and on American advisers who help U.S. residents make investments overseas. Foreign firms that don't comply would be hit with a 30 percent withholding tax on income from their U.S. assets.(3)

In "Spooks", the banker at the heart of the crooked deals was led off to prison, which was certainly an exercise in wish fulfilment! It also suggested that secret services like the CIA would stash funds in tax havens to pay criminal operatives and mercenaries to do contractual work for them, which is one of the uses of tax havens which surprisingly has not surfaced in Richard Murphy's blog!

It seemed very plausible, but it should be remembered that  "Spooks" is a work of fiction, which engages tangentially with the real world, and seems to provide Britain with a secret service of a mere half dozen agents, which would be extremely good value for money, if true!


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Burning issues

Price hike repays cremation fees The cost of cremations in Jersey is to rise by 69% in 2010, following approval by the treasury minister. The move will see cremation costs rise from £317 to £535 at the Westmount Crematorium, St Helier. It follows a request by the health department, which said cremation charges had been below the actual cost of the service for several years.  The department said the increase would recoup the losses, without putting costs above those of a burial.  Charges had been due to increase by 10% a year, but this had not included some overheads and depreciation, which the health department said it needed to account for quickly.(1)

£535 will be the new cost of a cremation - Philip Ozouf's price hike up from £317, which means that it is actually cheaper to get cremated in some parts of the UK than in Jersey! Carlisle, for instance, charges £510, whereas Wakefield charges only £455.

At a time when people are grieving, and in a credit crunch, this is pretty insensitive. It is being justified by the fact that it had not increased for some time, but it seems a poor time to do so when public sector pay is frozen, private sector employers are also looking at cut backs and freezes. Why not wait until the economy recovers? An alternative would be to phase in an increase over a few years so that it is not such a great rise at once.

There are, at present, no alternatives apart from a traditional burial, and the State has control over burial and cremation.

There is at the moment an investigation into a site suitable for woodland burial, but the main problems (according to Tony Keogh when I spoke to him last weekend) are twofold - (1) policing it in some manner, to ensure that it is not vandalised in any way or simply treated disprespectully (as a general park), and (2) ensuring that bodies are buried deep enough so that dogs do not dig them up.

The United Kingdom is seeing more challenges to its own control of funeral rites, as it becomes more multicultural, although at present, this has been resisted (in 2009)

THE High Court has rejected the argument that the prohibition on open-air cremations in the United Kingdom amounted to a violation of human rights. The judgment, issued on 8 May, affects those who believe that failure to have their bodies burned on an open pyre would have a devastating effect on them in the afterlife. Davender Kumar Ghai, an or­thodox Hindu, said that funeral pyres were an integral part of the trans­migration of souls, and that the ab­sence of pyres in the UK had led bereaved Hindu families to suffer remorse. He said that dedicated grounds for open-air funeral pyres were the only safeguard for sincere religious observants. He sent an "earnest request" on behalf of the Anglo Asian Friendship Society to the leader of Newcastle upon Tyne City Council, asking for the provision of land about ten to 12 miles from the city and adjacent to flowing water for
traditional open-air funeral pyres.

Under the Cremation Act 1902, and regulations made in 2008, it is a criminal offence to burn human re­mains other than in a crematorium. A crematorium is defined as a build­ing; so all that is required is that cremations take place in buildings. The design of the building and its internal arrangements are not pre­scribed. The Secretary of State for Justice, who appeared as an interested party to the proceedings, argued that others in the community would be upset and offended by open-air funeral pyres, and would find it abhorrent that human remains were being burned in that way. The judge, Mr Justice Cranston, said that this was a difficult and sensitive issue, and for that reason those democratically elected, with the legitimacy that election conferred, were better-placed than a court to decide where the balance lay. It was a matter where opinions reasonably differed, and the balance struck by elected representatives was entitled to be given special weight. It was within their remit to con­clude that a significant number of people would find cremation on open pyres a matter of offence. In the judge's view, the prohibition on open-air funeral pyres in the 1902 Act and 2008 regulations was justified.(6)

And yet this was not an extremist, but simply a devout Hindu:

Davender Kumar Ghai, the devout Hindu at the centre of the case, fits no one's idea of a radical minority-rights activist.  He has lived in Britain since 1958, is the founding president of the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society and the holder of a Unesco Peace Gold Medal and an Amnesty International lifetime achievement award.(6)

The blog, the Daily Undertaker, has commented that a secret open air Hinda funeral had in fact taken place a few years ago:

Three years ago, in a secluded field in Northumberland, The Times witnessed the lighting of Britain's first open-air funeral pyre since the Home Office authorised one for a Nepalese princess at Woking in 1934.  The mother and sister of an Indian man who died aged 31 were among a small group of mourners, led by Mr Ghai, who watched as his body, covered in a white cloth, was placed on the wooden pyre.  A Brahmin priest led chanting as flowers were thrown into the consecrated fire. Incense burnt, water from the Ganges was sprinkled and an earthenware pot smashed to symbolise the soul's release and rebirth.  The ceremony was held in secret because Newcastle City Council had ruled that it was outlawed by the 1902 Cremation Act.(4)

One writer, Charles Cowling, commented that:
"As a point of interest, I visited Carl Marlow, the UK funeral director who undertook the most recent (2006) open-air cremation over here, on the day when he had retrieved what he could from the burnt-out pyre. There were some small bones, no more than a few inches long, and not unsightly, I think, or likely to shock. But he had used a good deal of coal under the wood."(5)

It is ironic that Hindus are not permitted to have open air cremations, because cremations came about as legally permissable because of an open air funeral.

Dr William Price (1800-1893) who fought and won a court case for the right to cremate his son - thus ensuring that cremation was permitted in English courts - forced the issue into the courts by attempting to burn the body of his dead infant son on a pyre of coal on a hillside overlooking Llantrisant. Because there was no statute against cremation, he argued that it should be permissible, and won his case, which was a landmark victory - before that cremations had been regarded as illegal, even though no test case had come to court. Dr Price himself himself was cremated on a pyre of two tons of coal in 1893. It was only in 1902 that cremations were brought into State control and State run crematoriums.


Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Name and Shame: Some Reflections on Restorative Justice

With the recent call for naming and shaming defeated when it was brought as a proposition by Deputy Trevor Pitman, it is perhaps time to take a closer look at young people, crime, and the notion of shame as in restorative justice, and how it differs considerably from Trevor Pitman's idea.

The 2003/2004 British Crime Survey found that a degree of anti-social behaviour was more a matter of perception than fact. The most commonly experienced form, the survey found was "young people hanging about". It noted that this is more how they are perceived by others, than any real criminal intent:

...much of this consisted in them 'being loud or rowdy on the street' or just 'being a general nuisance'. The authors of the study note that it is debatable whether the latter should be described as a problem and confirm that in 36 per cent of incidents, respondents who perceived there to be a problem, acknowledged that the young people concerned were 'not deliberately being anti-social'.(1)

Sean Hier, in an article in Theoretical Criminology, places the perception of young people as disruptive in the context of Stanley Cohen's ideas about moral panic.

In Cohen's assessment, every moral panic has its 'folk devil': a person or group of people, a condition or episode, onto whom (or which) public anxieties are projected. For Cohen, 'folk devils' are susceptible to recognition as 'unambiguously unfavorable symbols'(2)

Cohen studied the 1960s mods and rockers phenomenon, and found that there was a complex chain of social interactions, which involved people making claims about young people's behaviour, those who saw themselves as self-appointed moral guardians of society, and the media, who also raised the level of panic, with fear associated with random crime, and the risk of being a "potential victim" , and general anxiety over unruly teenagers and inattentive parents.

The scaremongering statistics in the JEP, are an example of this. They often display a rise in youth crime as a startlingly large percentage - because it is a rise in very small numbers, and not as a percentage of young people themselves, or crimes per member of the population. These headlines often fill the front pages, and suggest that youth crime is making the Island a dangerous place.

Hier sees how these "volatile moralizing discourses" alter public perceptions, while not really addressing problems of youth crime, or attempting to understand why it occurs, instead just blaming young people and their parents. As an example of that, he cites the the "Name and Shame Campaign" in Britain, presented in the News of the World as representing an extreme form of this rhetoric; locally, of course, we have Deputy Trevor Pitman.

What kind of young people do commit crimes? This can be seen in the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales which published an initial evaluation of the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme (ISSP) undertaken by Oxford University. This was:

a rigorous form of intervention involving a minimum of 25 hours a week contact in the early stages of the programme with additional surveillance, most commonly in the form of an electronically monitored curfew.(3)

It is perhaps unfortunate that Jersey has recently opted, as a cost cutting exercise, to phase out electronic curfews and monitoring, when rather than it being used in general, it could be used for young offenders in particular as long as it was also linked to a programme of intervention.

The survey also reveals the kind of offending, and the general background. While it is simplistic to blame the actions of a criminal wholly on environment, it is certainly clear from the kind of social background of the offenders that most came from the poorest sections of society, and unless the social roots of crime are tackled, there will continue to be a fertile soil for learning criminal behaviour.

The evaluation confirms that ISSPs have successfully targeted serious offending with the most common current offences leading to referral to the programme being burglary or robbery. In addition, it is clear that young people involved are characterised by multiple disadvantage. Nearly half were recorded as living in a deprived household; almost 60 per cent had been or were involved with social services  departments; 30 per cent were thought to have experienced abuse; 9 per cent were known to have attempted suicide; and 15 per cent were deliberately self-harming. The average reading age for young people on the programme was five and half years below their chronological age.(3)

It is perhaps pertinent to comment that the "blame and shame" campaign often also focuses on parents who should be punished by society for not controlling their children. This demand is usually made by people who do not have teenage children themselves, or whose children have long grown up, and who believe that the old fashioned "virtues" of the 1950s approach - spare the rod and spoil the child - can still be applied today. They are living in the past. Parental control today, if that is the correct term, with a fifteen or sixteen year old, is a matter of consensus, negotiation and persuasion, and the skills required for success are much more demanding than the simplistic solution of applied violence. In fact, physical abuse of teenagers to control them is more likely than not to introduce them to idea that violence is a commonplace, and strength lies in being violent. Those who are abused, often learn to abuse others.

The survey shows that the result was a mixed success, as the programme was not always completed, but where it was, there was a clear reduction in reoffending, and a shift towards becoming productive members of society.

Around half of young people failed to complete their programme for one reason or another, and almost a third of those breached for a first time received a custodial sentence. Where the programme was completed however, the evaluation found statistically significant levels of positive change across all of the risk factors measured by ASSET except substance misuse and mental and emotional health.(3)

Part of the reason for failure was the limitations on curfew, and it was thought likely that the duration was too short to be effective. Consequently, changes have been made, and it will be interesting to see if this improves the outcome:

Schedule 2 to the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 extends the maximum length of a range of requirements which can be attached to a supervision order from 90 to 180 days. The legislation also increases the maximum duration of a curfew order, for a child under the age of 16 years, from three to six months. (Six month curfew orders are already available for young people aged 16 years and over.) The intention behind the legislative change is to allow ISSPs to be made for 12 months in place of the current maximum of six. Guidance issued by the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales indicates that the longer programme will comprise four months' high intensity (minimum 25 hours contact a week), two months' medium intensity (minimum 15 hours per week) and six months' low intensity.(3)

Returning to the issue of "Name and Shame", Melissa Lonergan sees this as trying to balance the needs for society to be protected against the opportunities for the criminal to be rehabilitated back into society. She asks:

What are the implications for offender rehabilitation and reintegration, if the public is unwilling to accept someone who has already breached societal bonds, 'back into the fold'? ...This conundrum is evidenced by the pre-eminence of the 'name and shame' debate. The question remains whether a balance between community protection and individual rehabilitation can be achieved, or if punishment and rehabilitation are mutually exclusive goals (4)

Which brings me to the area where "shame" is used, but in a quite different context to the public moralising on young people. The West Yorkshire Probation service has piloted a scheme based on Braithwaite's ideas about "restorative justice" for a mutually voluntary mediation between victim and offender. The authors of a report on this, Jane Wynne,  and Dr. Imogen Brown, explain how this works:

Braithwaite's' concept of reintegrative shaming has provided a theoretical base for the practice of mediation. This concept was developed following observations of the family group conferencing programmes based on traditional Maori justice, where victims and offenders, their families and supporters, met together to discuss the offence and its effects on their community. Offenders are held accountable and encouraged to feel shame, but the aim of conferences is to resolve conflict caused by the offence rather than inflicting punishment.(5)

'Shaming is a more effective sanction for unacceptable behaviour than punishment, provided that it does not
impose rejection and stigma for its own sake, but comprises measures which reintegrate the offender back into the community. (5)

This has been applied in the Leeds scheme, and notice that the shame involves two parties, the victim, and the offender, but not the public at large.

In the Leeds scheme, mediation is defined as a process of communication conducted through a neutral go-between, which allows victims to express their needs and feelings, and offenders to accept and act on their responsibilities. There is a continuum of possibilities for contact between victim and offender: from exchanges of letters and information, or audio and video tapes, to face-to-face contact.(5)

The aims of the Leeds Scheme are simple, but profound:

To offer an opportunity for voluntary mediation to victims and offenders;
To challenge offenders with the results of their offending behaviour;
To involve victims in the criminal justice process;
To influence the criminal justice system to become more restorative.

Participation is voluntary for both parties, but rather than gaining acknowledgment of their hurt by "having their day in court" as William Bailhache put it recently, it allows the hurt to be acknowledged directly, as the offenders come to see what the results of their crime have been:

Through participation, victims acquire information about the progress and outcome of the case; can get answers from offenders; have their hurt acknowledged; and negotiate some form of reparation, if appropriate. Offenders come to understand and accept the real impact of their behaviour in terms of harm or distress caused to others; and can try to make amends by apologising or through reparation. This may act to change their offending behaviour, and make them feel better about themselves; it may also assist with reintegration into their local community. (5)

The voluntary nature is important, unlike the "name and shame" campaigns. This does require the offender to want to enter mediation, and it might be thought unlikely that they would. But in fact, a number do want to participate:

Mediation must always be voluntary for both parties. It would be quite easy for a skilled mediator to push either victim or offender into taking the process beyond the level at which they feel comfortable, but the result would be dissatisfaction or eventual non-compliance with the process. West Yorkshire Probation Service's assessment of success includes participants' satisfaction with the process. In mediation, neutrality means treating people with equal respect. This is not to deny guilt on the part of an offender, but rather an acceptance of that guilt and of the offender's wish to repair harm where possible.(5)

This is not just talk; there is also sometimes a request for reparation to be made, so there can be a cost to the offender to not only acknowledge the offense, but to do something to try to repair the damage caused:

Sometimes victims have a specific request for reparation: a sum of money to compensate them for loss, or a specific piece of work to be undertaken by the offender. Experience has shown that reparation required by victims in serious cases is often at a more personal level. Victims want to know that their offenders accept responsibility for their behaviour and its outcome. The most requested reparation often seems to be assurance from offenders that they will change their behaviour. However, in some cases, financial reparation of even relatively small amounts can be important to victims and has to be negotiated. The smallest amount given to a victim has been £5, and the largest amount £25,000 in a case of theft from employer. The mediator usually
supervises any practical work agreed. If voluntary financial compensation has been agreed, the mediator will personally deliver it to the victim.(5)

The conclusion of the report is that this is an alternative which may well not apply in cases where offenders or victims do not want to take part, but where it has been used, both parties have in fact been pleased with the outcome, victims especially so. It is an attempt to break the cycle of crime, and the distancing of the crime from the victim of that crime:

The usual criminal justice process is one of public humiliation and shame. Where mediation differs is that offenders are offered a way to put the offence behind them by doing something to help their victim, and thus feel better about themselves. Whilst it is painful for offenders to hear about the effect of their behaviour on their own victims, that pain is acknowledged and offenders are praised for doing something so difficult on a voluntary basis. The personal recognition by each party helps break down stereotypes but, more importantly, offenders can no longer pretend that no-one got hurt or the offence is 'just a job'. The mediation work done properly helps to reintegrate offenders back into, rather than alienate them from, their communities.(5)

(1) 2003/2004 British Crime Survey
(2) Sean P. Hier, Thinking beyond moral panic: Risk, Reponsibility and Politics, Theoretical Criminology 2008; 12; 173
(3) Youth Justice News, Tim Bateman, Youth Justice, Dec 2004; vol. 4: pp. 220 - 230.
(4) Probation Journal 2006; 53; 85, Melissa Lonergan, Options for an Insecure Society
(5) Probation Journal 1998; 45; 21 Can Mediation Cut Reoffending? Criminology and Criminal Justice Research, Alternatives to Prison: Jane Wynne, Co-ordinator of the Leeds Victim/Offender Unit, and Dr. Imogen Brown, Research and Information Manager in the West Yorkshire Probation Service