Monday, 30 November 2009

An Unappealing Chairman

I've just heard on BBC Radio Jersey an interview with Edward Trevor, who is Chairman of the Joint Christmas Charities Appeal this year. The news report before mentioned how he had criticised and harassed people collecting for an Aids Charity, because it is World Aids day this week, and threatened to get the police to remove them from the streets. (1)

Part of his discomfort is understandable. He thought that they were collecting at a time (the period with the run up to Christmas) when the Joint Christmas Appeal had the sole monopoly on collecting in town. He discovered that this was not so, and the Bailiff had given them permission.

But what is extraordinary, and quite damaging to the Joint Christmas Appeal, is that when interviewed by BBC Radio Jersey, not only did he make his annoyance at this clear, which was a valid argument, but went on to call the Aids charity "a so-called charity", said he wouldn't give to them because he didn't agree with their aims, and that "in the West, people with Aids brought it upon themselves".

This is an extraordinary bigoted statement, and while he may have such views, it is not wise for him as Chairman of the Joint Christmas Charities Appeal to make a statement which gives the suggestion that the supporters of the appeal would mostly agree with him. I think he should apologise for not making it clear that he was speaking just as an individual, and stating views that were his own, and not in any way a reflection of the Joint Christmas Charities Appeal.

I was at school in the same year as two people who died of Aids. One of those suffered from hemophilia, and in the 1980s, a lot of the blood clotting agents used was imported to Britain, and was infected. This was a scandal that Lord Winston called "the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS"(2). I imagine that if his parents heard the Edward Trevor's views they would be both appalled and extremely and justifiably angry.

The other friend of mine went into acting, and was openly gay. Clearly he had picked up the infection from his lifestyle. And yet is that a reason to turn away, and say that nothing ought to be done? I remember his funeral well, because it was at St Brelade's Church, and his parents came, grief stricken, for it must be so hard to lose a son while you are still alive, and he was their only son, and only in his thirties. But the church was packed with people, because he was much loved. Would the only crumb of comfort that Mr. Trevor had to offer be that "he had brought it on himself?"

In the 1980s, I wrote a celebration of the Life of St Francis, which was performed at Grouville Church, and produced by Rosemary Hampton. Leprosy was the great fear, the AIDs of the time, and Francis was afraid of lepers, yet he overcame his fear, and embraced the leper. We know today that leprosy is not a result of a person's sin (as indeed the wise book of Job said long before), but in the Middle Ages, it was seen as a result of the individuals sin, as a curse brought upon them because of bad living. Have we progressed so little that some can still see Aids in this way?

Voice: Francis! Francis! All the things you used to love in the world, and wished to enjoy, you must now hate and despise if you wish to do My will. And those things that made you afraid will bring you My joy, and the love of Good Lady Poverty.

(Music plays, special lights off, normal lights on. A bell rings. Francis comes to, as if waking up. )

(The bell rings again. A white-faced leper comes into sight from the shadows, dressed in. rags, bent over, moving with a shuffling gait. )

(Bell rings (cue voice) )

Leper: Unclean! Unclean!

(Francis shrinks back away from the leper in horror. The leper stretches our a white hand and Francis flinches away, to avoid the touch. )

Leper: Take pity! Take pity on one of God's poor!

(Francis loses his fear. He moves forward, slowly taking out his purse. He holds the leper's hand and places coins in it. Then (impulsively) moves forward and embraces the leper. )

(Song; Good Lady Poverty (2 soloists begin singing (consecutively), and the congregation join in the last verse. ))

(Francis moves off with leper (arm around his shoulder) )


Sunday, 29 November 2009

Agenda for Amos Group, Wed Dec 2nd

Agenda for AMOS GROUP of  CHRISTIANS TOGETHER IN  JERSEY on Wed. Dec. 2nd at 5.15 at  Pastoral Centre

1.  Opening prayer 
2.  Income support scrutiny panel
3.  Response to the Whitehead report on social housing   Poverty and Homelessness Week is 30th Jan to 7th Feb.
4.  One World Group event  re STT and follow-up.  
5.  The Jersey Link, comments
6.  Set date of next Amos meetings
7.  AOB
8.  The Grace

All That Remains

This is a poem of Annie's that I've just been given a copy of. It is an extraordinary and beautiful poem, and has really brightened my weekend up!



Until all that remains is the breath

as it ebbs and flows on the tide of consciousness.

Dreams and thoughts pass and go

until all that remains is the stillness.


A minute passes, an aeon passes.


I feel every cell in my body,

each one is familiar and present.

My roots are grounded in the russet earth,

and I know what it means to belong.


Betwixt the roots lies the nest of twin serpents

I feel them beginning to stir,

Slowly awakening from their long sleep.

Little by little they raise up their heads,

and tentatively initiate their timeless courtly dance.

Winding and twining round the column of my spine

in perfectly mirrored movements,

writhing upwards in the haze of a ruby.


Higher and higher they rise

sharing intimacy

in the light of a sweet amber moon.

I know how to share with another.


Onward and upward, curling and twirling

and into the light of the sun.

Into the fire that burns in the City of  Jewels,

fanned by the breath of forever.

I know what it is to have will.


Slither and slide in the grass of the garden

where compassion springs flowers on every tree,

where emeralds shine in the heart of forgiveness.

I know what it is to have mercy.


Ride on the thermals, and soar with the condor,

high above the peaks of Volcan.

Glide……. into azure……………..

purified, rarified, sanctified,

my voice gives meaning to chaos


Across the last bridge and the serpents

lie quiet in the Wheel of Becoming.

Amethyst mist is lifted

and my eyes raise the Veil of Illusion.

I see how to know without thinking.


Smooth in the groove into violet velvet

a lotus grows forth from my crown,

a thousand petals open into glory

and the sun meets the moon in fulfilment.

The might of their union

sears through each layer of my being

until I am one with creation

and shine like the birth of a star.

All at once I am all that I have been

and all that I am yet to become

This mortal shell is shattered

and scatters its atoms across space,

blasted by the force of the sublime,

it reaches the place in the universe

where the end and the beginning are one.


All that remains is peace,

and I find eternity

in a moment.



Thursday, 26 November 2009

Wave Power: The World's Your Oyster!

A study into the feasibility of tidal power in Jersey has been commissioned. The Environment Department is measuring the tidal flow off the north east coast of the island and finding out whether the seabed is suitable for turbines. Mike Taylor, from the Fisheries and Resources Advisory Panel, said plans to use tidal power to generate electricity were only in the very early stages. He said tidal power in Jersey was "a long way off" and more technological advances were needed. Mr Taylor said the panel wanted to build a tidal power plant that was entirely underwater, with turbines on the seabed that generated electricity as the current passed through them.  It's just a germ of an idea and might not happen at all. "At the moment the idea is that you would see no structures coming out the water." But he said no such structure currently existed anywhere in the world. "So one would have to see how technology pans out," he told BBC Jersey,  "It's just a germ of an idea and it might not happen at all. "If it was to happen it might be 15 or 20 or 25 years away when energy prices possibly are much dearer," he added. (1)

I heard the substance of this with the interview Mr Taylor gave to Roger Bara this morning. One thing struck me, because it was repeated twice on BBC Radio Jersey, that Mr Taylor said "no such structure currently existed anywhere in the world".

Yet reported two days ago, on the 24 November 2009, a news story broke that:

Aquamarine Power activated the connection of the Oyster in the waters off Orkney, marking one of the few ocean power devices to be producing electricity.  The device is a hydraulic pump operated by a "hinged flap," where a large metal piece moves back and forth from the motion of the waves. The movement moves a hydraulic piston that pumps water underground to a hydro-electric turbine that drives a generator to make electricity. The peak power output of the Oyster 1 is about two megawatts, depending on the location. The company, which received research funding from the U.K. government, is now working on a second-generation device. There are a number of technologies being pursued to convert wave or tidal energy into electrical energy, including underwater generators. The advantage of the pump design is that it's relatively simple and many components, such as gear boxes and generators, are not exposed to the water. Twenty Oysters, which are attached to the seabed at about 10 meters of water, could produce enough electricity to power 9,000 homes in the U.K., according to Aquamarine Power. (2)

Why the Oyster is significant is because there are a considerable number of technologies being developed to use wave power, they haven't been used commercially. The research and development is coming on line, but nothing currently exists apart from the Oyster in the commercial field. It is linked to the electricity grid and is producing power now:

Research in ocean energy is active, with most of it done in the U.K. There are a number of pilot projects in the works which, if completed, would total 650 megawatts of electricity production. That's roughly the size of one coal or natural gas power plant. But charting the course from prototype to grid-connected generator has proven tricky, according to a number of speakers at an event last week hosted by the UK Trade and Investment initiative, Flagship Ventures, and Greentech Media. "The challenges have been greater and the timelines have all slipped. It hasn't been an easy ride so far," said Andrew Mill, CEO of the U.K.'s New and Renewable Energy Center (NaREC). "Most of the devices to date haven't actually reached the water." (3)

The Oyster is different because "it is currently the world's only hydroelectric wave energy device producing power"(4). It has mad the leap from experimental prototype to commercial application. That is not to say that there will not be others devices, but it does mean that Mike Taylor's knowledge is just a tad out of date, because it was officially launched by Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond MP, MSP at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney last week.

Who knows - perhaps Jersey may benefit from a different kind of Oyster industry?


Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Stirred But Not Shaken: A Review

I've been enjoying "Stirred But Not Shaken: The Autobiography"(2009) in which the late Keith Floyd reflects on his varied life with food and television.

Floyd begins by reflecting on life at home, and how in 1950s austerity Britain, his mother managed to produce a wonderful variety of different meals from basic but fresh ingredients, and inspired him with his lifelong love of food. He knew that you boiled beetroot before peeling it, and when handed a beetroot as a test when he applied for a job in the kitchen of a prestigious Bristol Hotel, he passed and was hired. Unfortunately, the food was cooked badly, with duck being overcooked, then reheated and covered with sauces; the Lobster soup, as he recounts with dismay, came from tins.

So it was not surprising that he left to set up his own restaurant, and had three in the Bristol area. Yet while a good cook, he was unfortunately not good at finances, and ended up being taken for a ride by his partner when the restaurants hit financial problems. Financial problems on his restaurants was a pattern to be repeated throughout his life, and one wonders why he did not learn from his mistakes, and ensure he had a good manager who could keep the books, balance budgets and control his finances. Instead, when the Maltsters Arms in Tuckenhay, Devon was closed and the receivers brought in, this led to personal bankruptcy in 1996.

His first BBC TV series Floyd on Fish led to fame, as his unconventional manner, glass of wine (as a means of giving himself time to think - it was all unscripted), and asides to the cameraman, breaking the "third wall", was in marked contrast to the carefully scripted "recipe by numbers" approach of the conventional cookery programme at the time - now, of course, it is more commonplace, and chefs such as Rick Stein have borrowed the television grammar which Floyd created almost by chance. At first, the local TV station would not contemplate a nationwide broadcast for a cookery programme in which the presenter swigged a glass of wine, but David Pritchard, the producer went to BBC in London to pitch for the show, and it got nationwide coverage on BBC2.

Floyd was a big fan of rock group The Stranglers, and their music became his well known zany theme tune for his TV programmes.

In Floyd on Food, he travelled around Britain, and one episode was set in Jersey, where he ate Jersey royals sitting outside at a table in a field with the President of the Agricultural and Fisheries Committee, a young Pierre Horsfall, and they discussed the accident of the "Jersey fluke", with Pierre Horsfall tending to pontificate. After that he went to a house (I think that of Francis Le Maistre) to cook ormers with, as he put it "a real Jerseyman, and not a politician doing a commercial", which was rather a neat put down on the previous segment! He ended up doing a barbeque of skewers of different fish at millionaire inventor Ron Hickman's house. in the early evening.

Not much of a cook myself, and not one for most cookery programmes - I was like Ria in Butterflies where her copying of the steps in food preparation led to disaster - I was inspired to try cream sauces, throwing in onions, peas etc and experiment with food after watching Floyd. It didn't matter if it wasn't perfect; Floyd's own slapdash way, always with fresh ingredients, showed that enjoyment of cooking was the key. My sister, who is a professional cook, loved the way in which he celebrated the way in which people cooked a diversity of different foods across the world, entering into their cultures, and let the food take centre stage.

He never criticised other cultures, and often went out of his way to explain the background of ones challenging to Western sensibilities. As an example, in "Far Flung Floyd" in the far east - he saw live frogs having their legs pulled off for a stir fry, and the bodies dumped in a tub; as he explains in this autobiography, while it may offend us, for their culture, it shows that the food is fresh, which is important for them.

This is an extremely candid book, in which he describes the failure of his four marriages, and his troublesome reliance on the bottle, as he sought to fight the lack of confidence in his "Floydy" TV performances, and suffered increasing ill health as a result of alcohol abuse, including several strokes. He began to look dissipated, many years older than he was.

In the end, he found happiness with Celia Martin, a lifelong friend, and the widow of his friend Dave Martin (the Bristol scriptwriter who created the Dr Who dog "K9" with writing partner Bob Baker). It was at her home that he died of a heart attack at 65.

Marco Pierre White said  Floyd "inspired a nation", and it was true.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Luxury Yachts - A Local Loophole in GST?

CHANGES have been made to GST rules to encourage more super yachts to berth in the Island. It has been agreed that yachts owned by non-residents should be allowed to stay in the Island for an extra six months without incurring the three per cent tax. Until now, yachts owned by non-residents could stay in Jersey ports for up to a year without GST being charged. That time has been extended to 18 months. The new rules also allow the 18-month time period to restart if the yacht leaves Jersey waters for a period of longer than 14 days before returning.(1)

The subject of large yachts has come up in the States several times, and Phil Rondel, the Deputy of St John, highlighted the benefits of these to the economy:

We have seen this last week down at the docks with the Harbours bringing in their new policy on allowing super yachts to come here with the owners. We are talking about mega money here and they will be spending large sums of money, we are talking in the millions, on investing in the Island basically because they will be carrying out their victualling, their fuel, their bunkering, their purchasing of goods for keeping their vessel in good order. The vessel that came in this week alone will be spending approximately £1 million-plus on maintenance of that vessel, 10 per cent of the value of the vessel, and the more business like that we can attract the better for this Island.(2)

On the adverse side, these large yachts are also bringing a share of pollution, and it does not seem right that the Islanders should subsidise this for the benefit of the increased trade. The yachts must pay their way, and surely learn that they cannot pollute without incurring some penalty in the form of environmental taxes. As Connétable G.F. Butcher of St. John noted:

At sea on a calm day, on a summer's day... you can see the pollution out there and that is caused by large luxury yachts; not motorcars, large luxury yachts. I think if you are going to bring in an environmental tax it should be much wider based than is being done.(3)

The lack of GST on marine fuel suggests that this is unlikely to come about, and when it comes to balancing fairness (that the polluter should pay) against the economy (but if they do, maybe they will go away and we'll lose money), it looks as if ethical considerations go out of the window for the sake of short term profit.

Of course the main change to the law noted in the news story is that it makes it wonderfully easy for Jersey residents with large and expensive yachts to avoid paying GST on the same. For what happens if Jersey residents have yachts owned by Guernsey companies (or companies in other jurisdictions, or via trusts), and - for the purposes of the law - registered elsewhere? They will not then be liable for Jersey GST unless they are here continuously.

Yet now all they have to do is berth in Guernsey or elsewhere for a mere 15 days and return, and they have another 18 months without needed to be subject to GST as an import into Jersey. That is really just a short holiday away, and hardly constitutes hardship.

Is there any way to prevent this loophole? I'd be interested in knowing if there was.


Monday, 23 November 2009

Commodified Fantasy

I've been trying to work out what it is I like about the fiction of Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), C.S. Lewis (Narnia), Ursula Le Guin (Earthsea), Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere) and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) and others that I just don't find in a lot of the work that is imitative of their kind of fantasy genre. The other books, which usually come in - at the very least - thick paperback trilogies - just do not have that magic, they don't transport me, while I read, to the "other world". They may have plot and fantasy, but there is something about them that just lacks the magic.

In "Tales of Earthsea", Ursula le Guin, in a postscript, puts into words perfectly what I was trying to grasp, and couldn't find the words to express. Here is her comment on our times, and I think it is extremely perceptive, and accurate:

All times are changing times, but ours is one of massive, rapid moral and mental transformation.... It's unsettling. For all our delight in the impermanent, the entrancing flicker of electronics, we also long for the unalterable.... So people turn to the realms of fantasy for stability, ancient truths, immutable simplicities.
And the mills of capitalism provide them. Supply meets demand. Fantasy becomes a commodity, an industry.
Commodified fantasy takes no risks; it invents nothing, but imitates and trivializes. It proceeds by depriving the old stories of their intellectual and ethical complexity, turning their action to violence, their actors to dolls, and their truth-telling to sentimental platitude. Heroes brandish their swords, lasers, wands, as mechanically as combine harvesters, reaping profits. Profoundly disturbing moral choices are sanitized, made cute, made safe. The passionately conceived ideas of the great story-tellers are copied...advertised, sold, broken, junked, replaceable, interchangeable.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Memory of Stone

The Memory of Stone

The memory of water, of cleansing rain
Of gently flowing streams, easing strain
Of sea crashing on rocks, memory keep
Of tears, falling softly, in grief so deep.
The memory of air, of the fresh winds
Of freedom released, burden rescinds
Of breezes, gales, and blowing free
Of a lightness of heart, in joy to be.
The memory of fire, of warm flame
Of burning out the guilt and shame
Of a winter warming in sun's rays
Of candlelight, of nights and days.
The memory of earth, hard and cold
Of ancient burials, of tombs enfold
Of the soil seeded, in depths with life
Of wheat and weeds, struggle, strife.
The memory of stone, sacred space
Of water, wine drunk in this place
Of earth, and bread, to take and eat
Of fire, air, spirit, a joy so sweet.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Swine Flu

We are not vaccinating our children at the moment, and this somewhat controversial blog posting (which no doubt will get some criticism) details the reasons why.

Please note that it is NOT saying that people should not have the vaccine, or have their children vaccinated. I am simply stating the special circumstances in which our children are not.

Different circumstances would have applied to my late partner, whose heart disease was of such severity that her immune system was totally compromised and any additional impact of a vaccine, however slight, (or for that matter even a common cold) could have tipped the balance, and accordingly her doctors never suggested it to her.

Last Friday, we received a letter in the post, informing us of the need for children at a local school, which I will designate School X, year ten, to have Tamiflu at Le bas Centre on Saturday, and for those children who did not receive Tamiflu, to stay away from school until Wednesday. I think it is only fair to detail a small part of our thinking on vaccinations, by way of explanation.

Our son (who is at School X) has siblings who are both on the autistic spectrum, and he himself has had a diagnosis of aspergers. We have noted in the past, that with our children, particularly two of them, there appears to be a degree in which their immune systems are compromised, and they can react badly to vaccinations.

While the vaccination programme is safe, we do not accept that it is within the bounds of probability that it is 100% safe, and the lack of proper information about small subgroups or individuals experiencing side-effects (or for that matter the protocols for VAERS and giving patients vaccine batch numbers) suggest that the complete scientific picture is not available (studies of side effects, sample sizes, statistical measures as one would find in, for example, a peer reviewed medical publication).

This is understandable because if 99% of the population benefit from the vaccination programme, political considerations make it expedient to use the vaccine; it would be foolish not to. But that does not mean that there are not a small percentage in the population who may be at risk from side effects, and accordingly, on our judgement that our son may be in a risky population for the same, he will not be participating in the programme.

In addition, in the past, on one occasion (in 1989), a batch of vaccine given to our eldest son was withdrawn on safety grounds. When we tried to get hold of details, not only was no adverse reaction noted (which he had), but also when the hospital records finally came up with a batch number and manufacturer, it turned out that it was a different manufacturer who had provided that batch number. With such inept record keeping, unless it has improved (and I'd like to know how well batch numbers are recorded against individuals in this mass programme), I have very little faith in the ability of the authorities to keep good enough records to provide a profile of the kind of group that is at risk from adverse reactions.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Rown Williams on Economics

There is a brilliant address by Rowan Williams to the TUC Economics Conference, made on 16 November 2009. Here are a few extracts, which I think highlight important points that he makes.

I like his speech because it shows how he takes economics back from some kind of abstract discipline, and places it, very much where in my generation, E.F. Schumacher did in "Small is Beautiful", which was of course subtitled "Economics As If People Mattered".

There is a link to the full address at the end. It is worth reading in total.

'Economy' is simply the Greek word for 'housekeeping'. Remembering this is a useful way of getting things in proportion, so that we don't lose sight of the fact that economics is primarily about the decisions we make so as to create a habitat that we can actually live in. We are still haunted by the dogma that the economic world, 'economic realities', economic motivations and so on belong in a completely different frame of reference from the sort of human decisions we usually make and from considerations of how we build a place to live. And to speak about building a place to live, a habitat, reminds us too that we look for an environment that is stable, 'sustainable' in the popular jargon, a home that we can reasonably expect will be an asset for the next generation.

If we are not to be caught indefinitely in a trap we have designed for ourselves, we have to ask what an economy would look like if it were genuinely focused on making and sustaining a home - a social environment that offered security for citizens, including those who could not contribute in obvious ways to productive and profit-making business, an environment in which we felt free to forego the tempting fantasies of unlimited growth in exchange for the knowledge that we could hand on to our children and grandchildren a world, a social and material nexus of relations that would go on nourishing proper three-dimensional human beings - people whose family bonds, imaginative lives and capacity for mutual understanding and sympathy were regarded as every bit as important as their material prosperity.

Practically speaking, this means that both at the individual and the national level we have to question what we mean by 'growth'. The ability to produce more and more consumer goods (not to mention financial products) is in itself an entirely mechanical measure of wealth. It sets up the vicious cycle in which it is necessary all the time to create new demand for goods and thus new demands on a limited material environment for energy sources and raw materials. By the hectic inflation of demand it creates personal anxiety and rivalry. By systematically depleting the resources of the planet, it systematically destroys the basis for long-term well-being. In a nutshell, it is investing in the wrong things.

Goldsmith observes that 'the overwhelming bias in the current tax system is for indiscriminate economic growth, with among other things vast tax breaks on fossil fuels'; and, challenging the objection that tax ought not to be an instrument of change, he insists that taxation is never neutral. Bias is always there, and so we need to decide where we want the bias to be.

Whether we are thinking about investment or taxation, the important thing is to keep the focus on our ability to decide: the worst thing that can happen is that we give way to a fatalistic assumption that our choices don't matter. One of the paradoxes in the whole situation (and I'll touch on this again later) is that our current economic ethos both tells us that the resources for material growth are infinite -and thus that we shouldn't bother too much about the limits of living on a small planet - and at the same time paralyses us when it comes to thinking about actions that might cross the boundaries of what looks possible. It both pretends that we have unlimited possibilities and discourages us from discovering real potential for change.

But this is where things get a little more complex and interesting. To decide what sort of change we want, we need a vigorous sense of what a human life well-lived looks like. We need to be able to say what kind of human beings we hope to be ourselves and to encourage our children to be.

Human beings all begin their lives in a state of dependence. They need to learn how to speak, how to trust, how to negotiate a world that isn't always friendly. They need an environment in which the background is secure enough for them to take the necessary risks of learning - where they know that there are some relationships that don't depend on getting things right, but are just unconditional. The human family as a personal not just a biological unit is the indispensable foundation for all this.

And a culture, especially a working culture, that consistently undermines the family is going to be one that leaves everyone more vulnerable and thus more fearful and defensive - potentially violent in some circumstances, or turning the violence inwards in depression in other circumstances. In the last couple of years alone, research has proliferated on the long-term damage done by the absence of emotional security in early childhood and the need for a child's personal growth to be anchored in the presence of stable adult relationships...  An atmosphere of anxious and driven adult lives, a casual attitude to adult relationships, and the ways in which some employers continue to reward family-hostile patterns of working will all continue to create more confused, emotionally vulnerable or deprived young people. If we're looking for new criteria for economic decisions, we might start here and ask about the impact of any such decision on family life and the welfare of the young.

I also mentioned people's imaginative lives. We are not only dependent creatures, we are also beings who take in more than we can easily process from the world around; we know more than we realise, and that helps us to become self-questioning persons, who are always aware that things could be different. We learn this as children through fantasy and play, we keep it alive as adults through all sorts of 'unproductive' activity, from sport to poetry to cookery or dancing or mathematical physics. It is the extra things that make us human; simply meeting what we think are our material needs, making a living, is not uniquely human, just a more complicated version of ants in the anthill.

And this is actually very closely connected with my third item, understanding and sympathy for others. If you live in a world where everything encourages you to struggle for your own individual interest and success, you are being encouraged to ignore the reality of other points of view - ultimately, to ignore the cost or the pain of others. The result may be a world where people are very articulate about their own feelings and pretty illiterate about how they impact on or appear to others - a world of which 'reality television' gives us some alarming glimpses. An economic climate based on nothing but calculations of self-interest, sometimes fed by an amazingly distorted version of Darwinism, doesn't build a habitat for human beings; at best it builds a sort of fortified boxroom for paranoiacs (with full electronic services, of course).

From this point of view, the importance of the family isn't a sentimental idealising of domestic life or a myth about patriarchy; it is about understanding that you grow in emotional intelligence and maturity because of the presence of a reality that is unconditionally faithful or dependable. in religious terms the unconditionality of family love is a faint mirror of the unconditional commitment of God to be there for us. Similarly, the importance of imaginative life is not a vague belief that we should all have our creative side encouraged but comes out of the notion that the world we live in is rooted in an infinite life, whose dimensions we shall never get hold of - so that all the reality we encounter is more than it seems. As for the essential character of human mutuality, this connects for me specifically with the Christian belief that we are all dependent on one another's gifts, to the extent that if someone else is damaged or frustrated, offended or oppressed, everyone suffers, everyone's humanity is diminished.

I'm not suggesting that without Christian doctrine you can't have the sort of commitments I've described as essential for a three-dimensional humanity; that is obviously not true, if you simply look around you. My point is that, now more than ever, we need to be able in the political and economic context to spell out with a fair degree of clarity what our commitments are, what kind of human character we want to see. Politics left to managers and economics left to brokers add up to a recipe for social and environmental chaos.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

A Year in Suspension

It is now a year since Graham Power was suspended as Chief of Police for the Jersey Police Force. Since that time, there has been little or no movement on this matter, almost as if it is intended to simply suspend him until his contract expires next year, and he will be let go by default.

These matters are of concern.

Reviews: Although the suspension is supposed to be reviewed every month, there are no public announcements on what is happening, how the review is conducted, and how it is moving forward.

Secrecy: There are no changes in place to alter the States policy of sitting "in camera" when debating this issue, although the States of Jersey is about the only government in the world which indulges in this practice. Elsewhere, if questions are raised (as for example in the House of Commons), no one would conceive of emptying the public gallery. The fact that Jersey is a small jurisdiction means that it can do this, but Guernsey - while it could potentially also do so - has never done it - I've checked. It is about time that the laws were changed. 

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Adaptations of M.R. James

M.R. James (1862-1936) was a noted mediaeval scholar, and Provost of Eton. It was in the latter capacity that he began the tradition of scribbling and reading out ghost stories to the boys; these, duly polished and written out, were published, and are some of the finest ghost stories written. James knowledge of antiquarian minutiae meant that he could convey the world of old manuscripts, strange documents, odd artifacts with considerable authenticity. Into this world came malevolent ghostly figures, never fully described, but only hinted at, which were, naturally, much more frightening than any total description would have been.
On television, there have been several versions of the Ghost Stories of M.R. James. Of these, "A Warning to the Curious" is available on DVD. It was one of a sequence at Christmas which included "Lost Hearts", and the "Stalls of Barchester Cathedral" and the "Treasure of Abbot Thomas". It captures MR James very well, and there is a lot that is not seen, or suggested in outline, or at a distance, which is more effective for that.
Now it is probably best known for Clive Swift (well known in Only Keeping Up Appearances, a sitcom) who was Dr Black, not in the original stories, but introduced as a narrator in this one and "Stalls of Barchester". The setting of the treasure hunter played by Peter Vaughn (a sympathetic performance from an actor who was usually cast as villainous) as someone out of work in the 1930s depression is also new to the TV story, but works very well in giving it that period feel. There are indications of this - the newspaper about people being out of work, the threadbare shoes etc.

All these 4 stories kept period settings, which was very effective, being a strength of the BBC drama department. A Dickens's story - the Signalman - was also produced at the time by the same team. They are occasionally repeated on satellite.

"Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You" was quite different; it was produced by Jonathan Miller, and takes a few liberties with the text, but is very atmospheric, and the black and white quality helps enormously. Its feel is very different, as Miller is definitely an auteur in his stylish presentation.

A later TV adaptation , "Casting the Runes" is in fact the second take on this story.
The first was a Hollywood Film called "Night of the Demon" which followed the story very well but had to show the demon at the start (forced on the producer by Hollywood). That is still is brilliantly spooky, and apart from the start, using subtle suggestions to build up a sense of impending menace.

The TV version is quite different, being placed in a modern setting; it takes more liberties that the early 1970s stories, but still works quite well. The character of Dunning was made female, and the whole setting modernised. Still spooky, but lost a lot of the MR James ambience. For a short story adaptation, whole chunks of the material was left out, which was a shame. James would have turned in his grave over the runes themselves - not only do they not resemble runes in this adaptation, but instead of being Nordic, they are "Old Teutonic derived from Greek", picking two alphabets that have almost nothing in common. Iain Cuthbertson as Karswel, the villain, was alright, but disappointing compared to his sinister performance  in other occult stories such as ITV's Children of the Stones. Contrasting it with the film version (Night of the Demon), in the TV version, Karswel hardly appears, whereas in the film, Niall MacGinnis, has a lot more to get his teeth into in the character.

There were also TV versions of The Ash Tree, and View from a Hill (about binoculars that could see into the past), but I've not seen them.

Two TV version have been produced which presented many of the stories in a brief 15 minute narrated form. One was by Robert Powell, and used woodcut style illustrations to great effect. The other had Christopher Lee, and was more of a Jackanory style presentation, which the camera on Lee who narrated, still to good effect, as he is known for his strong commanding voice.

There have also been 15 minute radio narrations which were very good, and a play "The Midnight House" involving MR James as a young man, suggesting the inspiration for some of his tales.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Grey Ghosts

Grey Ghosts
It is wet, raining softly, I walk the street
And I miss you, my dear, this windy day
Tears in my eyes, a sorrow so sweet
I wish that I could walk to you and meet
Just for one moment, just for one delay
It is wet, raining softly, I walk the street
You would always struggle, no to defeat
Fight valiantly against our mortal clay
Tears in my eyes, a sorrow so sweet
I wish to be beside you, on a park seat
But it was not to be, and now I pray
It is wet, raining softly, I walk the street
Memories return, grey clouds greet
Yet there is a rainbow, the sun's ray
Tears in my eyes, a sorrow so sweet
And now you run, so fast and fleet
I see your ghost often, a shadow grey
It is wet, raining softly, I walk the street
Tears in my eyes, a sorrow so sweet

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Roger Bara on Jersey Telecoms

When Bob Lawrence, the MD of Jersey Telecoms, was greeted by "Morning to you", on BBC Radio Jersey, I knew there were some tough and aggressive questions to answer. Usually Mr Bara begins with "Good morning to you", or even "A very good morning to you".

This was an interview about 80 planned redundancies over and above the 35 voluntary redundancies by the company in a bid to save £7 million pounds (1)

Of course, Bob Lawrence was asked some searching questions, and of course, prevaricated with "sound good" waffle. One of these was of course about the bonuses paid to chief executives, although Mr Bara only picked up on the bonuses - bad enough if the company is supposed to be cost-cutting, and not the staff pay freeze as well:

TOP executives at Jersey Telecom will get paid a total of £340,000 in loyalty bonuses later this year. The cash will go to seven directors of the States-owned utility company at the end of October. It is not known exactly how it will be shared out. Chairman John Henwood said that the payments were essential to keep the best managers at JT in the face of unprecedented competition, and that they had proved to be very successful in achieving that aim. However, the news has not gone down well with some staff members, especially as it is understood that some JT employees did not receive a salary increase this year.(2)

If it was even, it would be a cool £48,500 each. It is supposed - according to John Henwood - to be "essential to keep the best managers at JT in the face of unprecedented competition". Much easier, no doubt to cut staff pay and staff costs. That argument is one being heard again in the UK, as once more banks start to pay massive bonuses, and in recessionary times, it simple does not stand up. There will be people with sufficient expertise who are looking for work - and how much expertise really warrants huge differentials in salary anyway? It is the engineers, the support staff, who have the technical know-how, and all the training and expertise, after all, without which the pen-pushing men in suits would be quite superfluous.

Coming back to those front-line staff, Roger Bara also asked if services would suffer as a result of a loss of 80 staff. When told by Bob Lawrence that they would not suffer in any way, it was natural enough, but rather good, to hear Roger Bara go straight for the jugular: if the loss of these staff would not lead to a loss in services, what were they doing anyway then in their present jobs?

The reply was more bluster about savings made by technology, with no precise details as to how this suddenly impacted on the company's efficiency. Of course, technology can lead to manpower savings, but unless there has been some pretty significant piece of kit, be it software, hardware or both, the sudden loss of 80 jobs is hard to explain; and if it was that significant, as for instance when newspaper printing moved from hot metal to digital publishing, one would expect to see evidence of the change - as was the case with the newspaper revolution.


Does God Exist?

Looking for a "punchy" blog title for today, I settled on the above. But as readers of this blog may well suspect, I am not going to come out with an answer one way or another! Instead, what I want to do is to explore the way in which I think belief or in God (or gods) is unprovable, one way or the other, and the kind of logic which might apply if we are looking at this.

So here are a few thoughts on what is provable or not, and why we have to make assumptions, and why reductionism can be bad for you (and not scientific anyway).

Even a scientific basis has to take for granted "unprovables", or axioms. If one "steps back" to the metaphysical assumptions that we make about the world, we can see that there are various assumptions that are simply taken for granted. Chesterton put this better than me:

Every sane man believes that the world around him and the people in it are real, and not his own delusion or dream. No man starts burning London in the belief that his servant will soon wake him for breakfast. But that I, at any given moment, am not in a dream, is unproved and unprovable. That anything exists except myself is unproved and unprovable.

All sane men believe that this world not only exists, but matters. Every man believes there is a sort of obligation on us to interest ourselves in this vision or panorama of life. He would think a man wrong who said, "I did not ask for this farce and it bores me. I am aware that an old lady is being murdered down-stairs, but I am going to sleep." That there is any such duty to improve the things we did not make is a thing unproved and unprovable.

All sane men believe that there is such a thing as a self, or ego, which is continuous. There is no inch of my brain matter the same as it was ten years ago. But if I have saved a man in battle ten years ago, I am proud; if I have run away, I am ashamed. That there is such a paramount "I" is unproved and unprovable. But it is more than unproved and unprovable; it is definitely disputed by many metaphysicians.

Lastly, most sane men believe, and all sane men in practice assume, that they have a power of choice and responsibility for action.

Now that does not mean that "God exists" is an assumption like those Chesterton considers, because he is looking at universals which can be taken as a starting point.

But working on this kind of thinking, we can see an analogy with Euclidean geometry, which itself proceeds from axioms (which are stated in terms of constructions).

1 To draw a straight line from any point to any other.
2 To produce a finite straight line continuously in a straight line.
3 To describe a circle with any centre and distance.
4 That all right angles are equal to each other.
5 That, if a straight line falling on two straight lines make the interior angles on the same side less than two right angles, if produced indefinitely, meet on that side on which are the angles less than the two right angles.

To work with Euclidean geometry, one has to start with axioms, but the ancients - including Euclid - spent a good deal of time seeing if there was a way in which (5) which relates to parallel and non-parallel lines can be removed from the list. We now know that is not the case, and geometries can be constructed where (5) does not apply - non-Euclidean geometries.

Gödel's first incompleteness theorem showed that it is not possible to prove or disprove the parallel postulate from the remaining axioms.

I would argue that looking at the existence or non-existence of God is axiomatic in the same way as the parallel postulate, where science cannot provide a decision one way or another. It is beyond the scope of scientific proof. But then so are a good many things, which as Chesterton pointed out, we have to take for granted.

To reduce matters to science is the approach of logical positivism, which your friend seems to be veering towards. In this approach:

1 A proposition is meaningful only if it is verifiable.
2 A proposition is verifiable only if it can be proved or disproved or can be deduced from other propositions which are verifiable.
3 Statements that are not verifiable are cognitively meaningless although they may possess emotive meaning.
4 To argue about truth or falsity of statements that do not permit verification is a waste of time. Examples of metaphysical statements are 'there are angels' or 'the devil does not exist.' These sentences cannot be proved or disproved, they are meaningless.

This position of course has the great advantage of removing whole swathes of mathematics, such as the parallel postulate (which cannot be verified or deduced from other propositions)! It also has the wonderful plus of not being able to be verified itself; this it cuts off its own branch, because it is a set of metaphysical postulates which are not themselves verifiable according to the rules which they give for verifying rules - which was partly the basis of Karl Popper's critique.

Popper set out instead to differentiate between science and non-science, not science and nonsense (as the Positivists did), and noted that (in Conjectures and Refutations) that

And as for Freud's epic of the Ego, the Super-ego, and the Id, no substantially stronger claim to scientific status can be made for it than for Homer's collected stories from Olympus. These theories describe some facts, but in the manner of myths. They contain most interesting psychological suggestions, but not in a testable form. At the same time I realized that such myths may be developed, and become testable; that historically speaking all-or very nearly all-scientific theories originate from myths, and that a myth may contain important anticipations of scientific theories. Examples are Empedocles' theory of evolution by trial and error, or Parmenides' myth of the un-changing block universe in which nothing ever happens and which, if we add another dimension, becomes Einstein's block universe (in which, too, nothing ever happens, since everything is, four-dimensionally speaking, determined and laid down from the beginning).

I thus felt that if a theory is found to be nonscientific, or 'metaphysical' (as we might say), it is not thereby found to be unimportant, or insignificant, or 'meaning-less', or 'nonsensical'. But it cannot claim to be backed by empirical evidence in the scientific sense-although it may easily be, in some genetic sense, the 'result of observation'.

This is definitely an awareness of the limitations of science, and also how myths themselves may generate scientific theories. Not all will be - there is not a "myth of the gaps" theory here, because Popper is also aware that some theories may not ever be testable in a scientific sense, and he is very careful to note that this does not mean they are necessarily unimportant.

Lastly, I'll finish this section with an eye-opening off-the cuff speech by Douglas Adams, which again is a vote against being to quick to apply reductionism to our thinking - under the guise of "science", although really, as I suspect, a lurking logical positivism. This is not about the existence or non-existence of God, but it does show how such beliefs may play an important part in our thinking, in ways we are not fully aware of. Something, perhaps, to explore in another piece of writing.

I want to talk about Feng Shui, which is something I know very little about, but there's been a lot of talk about it recently in terms of figuring out how a building should be designed, built, situated, decorated and so on. Apparently, we need to think about the building being inhabited by dragons and look at it in terms of how a dragon would move around it. So, if a dragon wouldn't be happy in the house, you have to put a red fish bowl here or a window there. This sounds like complete and utter nonsense, because anything involving dragons must be nonsense - there aren't any dragons, so any theory based on how dragons behave is nonsense. What are these silly people doing, imagining that dragons can tell you how to build your house? Nevertheless, it occurs to me if you disregard for a moment the explanation that's actually offered for it, it may be there is something interesting going on that goes like this: we all know from buildings that we've lived in, worked in, been in or stayed in, that some are more comfortable, more pleasant and more agreeable to live in than others. We haven't had a real way of quantifying this, but in this century we've had an awful lot of architects who think they know how to do it, so we've had the horrible idea of the house as a machine for living in, we've had Mies van der Roe and others putting up glass stumps and strangely shaped things that are supposed to form some theory or other. It's all carefully engineered, but nonetheless, their buildings are not actually very nice to live in. An awful lot of theory has been poured into this, but if you sit and work with an architect (and I've been through that stressful time, as I'm sure a lot of people have) then when you are trying to figure out how a room should work you're trying to integrate all kinds of things about lighting, about angles, about how people move and how people live - and an awful lot of other things you don't know about that get left out. You don't know what importance to attach to one thing or another; you're trying to, very consciously, figure out something when you haven't really got much of a clue, but there's this theory and that theory, this bit of engineering practice and that bit of architectural practice; you don't really know what to make of them. Compare that to somebody who tosses a cricket ball at you. You can sit and watch it and say, 'It's going at 17 degrees'; start to work it out on paper, do some calculus, etc. and about a week after the ball's whizzed past you, you may have figured out where it's going to be and how to catch it. On the other hand, you can simply put your hand out and let the ball drop into it, because we have all kinds of faculties built into us, just below the conscious level, able to do all kinds of complex integrations of all kinds of complex phenomena which therefore enables us to say, 'Oh look, there's a ball coming; catch it!'

What I'm suggesting is that Feng Shui and an awful lot of other things are precisely of that kind of problem. There are all sorts of things we know how to do, but don't necessarily know what we do, we just do them. Go back to the issue of how you figure out how a room or a house should be designed and instead of going through all the business of trying to work out the angles and trying to digest which genuine architectural principles you may want to take out of what may be a passing architectural fad, just ask yourself, 'how would a dragon live here?' We are used to thinking in terms of organic creatures; an organic creature may consist of an enormous complexity of all sorts of different variables that are beyond our ability to resolve but we know how organic creatures live. We've never seen a dragon but we've all got an idea of what a dragon is like, so we can say, 'Well if a dragon went through here, he'd get stuck just here and a little bit cross over there because he couldn't see that and he'd wave his tail and knock that vase over'. You figure out how the dragon's going to be happy here and lo and behold! you've suddenly got a place that makes sense for other organic creatures, such as ourselves, to live in.

So, my argument is that as we become more and more scientifically literate, it's worth remembering that the fictions with which we previously populated our world may have some function that it's worth trying to understand and preserve the essential components of, rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water; because even though we may not accept the reasons given for them being here in the first place, it may well be that there are good practical reasons for them, or something like them, to be there.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Darkness Visible

This is remembrance day, and here is a poem about the cost of war and the suffering of the innocent. For it is always the innocent who suffer.

In so many wars and conflicts, neighbour turns against neighbour, as happened in Rwanda, in Bosnia, is still  is even now happening in parts of Thailand, where Buddhists and Muslims who have been neighbours for years now are polarised against each other. Elsewhere, the fight for power, as in the Congo and Sudan, leaves millions displaced in starvation conditions.

Today is a day for remembering those who died to make the world a safer place, and I would not belittle that, but it is also a day for remembering the innocents, caught up in conflicts that are not of their making, but for which they have to pay a heavy price.

Darkness Visible

War torn, rockets raining down
Upon the innocent, here a crown
Of thorns on many heads; times
Of fear and courage oftentimes
Entwined into a tapestry of days;
And where will come the rays
Of dawn? Here darkness visible
Across the land, an intangible
Shadow falling in some hearts
As these grow so cold in parts:
Hardened against reaching out,
Instead, enraged, they shout
Their anger. Cain killing Abel,
His own brother. Another fable
Tells of Babel, of many voices,
But no listening, so no choices,
As each person rants unheeding
And so very deaf to the pleading
Of the mother, of the small child
Crying out in pain. They are defiled,
And innocents massacred once more,
By those who wage a bloody war,
By those who claim to be so right,
They will not cease an endless fight.
They claim that God is on their side,
But it is untrue. For he does hide
Among the poor, who suffer hurt
His face, starved, ravaged. Assert
This: not in brute power his grace
But bleeding, with a wounded face.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


This is another of Annie's poems, written during a holiday in Egypt in 2002.
The end of yet another blessed day
Sun descending behind purple hills
The heat and dust of the day
Ascend to heaven in a palpable rosy haze.
Swifts and swallows rise and fall
Swooping low out over the river,
Dark against the sky
The fringed heads of palms chatter with birdsong
And somewhere, the Imam begins the call for sunset.
Egypt nov/02

Monday, 9 November 2009


Warning after firework hits car. Throwing fireworks could have "serious consequences". A car was hit by a firework thrown from another car on a Jersey road, according to police. The incident happened at 2130 GMT on Tuesday on Victoria Avenue, St Helier. Officers said they had two separate calls about it, and the police had since spoken to and given "words of advice" to the driver.  Following two other incidents where lit fireworks were put through letterboxes, police in the island are warning people to use them in a responsible manner. "To distract someone while they are driving by throwing fireworks, particularly in the weather we are having at the moment, could have serious consequences," Insp Martin Buckfield, said. "Throwing a firework into someone's home could result in injury or death, though it may seem like a harmless prank. "It is of concern to us that a minority of people are choosing to use fireworks in this way." The police are urging parents to be aware about children buying fireworks and how they might use them. Insp Buckfield said: "We would urge anyone who experiences problems with fireworks being used abusively to call us. "We would reiterate that we will deal firmly with people who choose to cause distress and upset to others through their behaviour."

Having read this locally (and also see below for a catalog of recent incidents this year!!), I think it is time that fireworks were restricted - like firearms - to people with proper training. You need a licence to have a gun, but everyone over 18 can just go out and but fireworks - surely a recipe for a tragedy. It would be terrible if - as the Inspector notes - there was injury or death, and it would surely be better to be wise before, rather than after, the event.

It is not a question of a "nanny state" but of reasonable safety. Once anyone could get in a car and drive. Now we have to pass a driving test, because driving a car if not trained can be extremely dangerous. If I own a gun, I need a gun licence. And yet anyone can buy and set off these explosives!

In fact, since I began this, a tragic case in Cornwall where deaths ensured has come to light; it is the last two news items in this blog. Will we wait until something like that happens in Jersey? Or will we just be wise "after the event"? Why not "wise-up" now?

Part of the problem is that while the law can take action against indiscriminate use of fireworks, it is mostly ineffectual, because it is almost impossible to track down miscreants. They can casually pass by a house on a dark night, or set off fireworks across a road, and the culprits have long gone before the police can arrive at the scene. It is absolutely no good the police "acting firmly" if they can't catch anyone.

I think that Angela Epstein, writing in the Manchester Evening News, puts the absurdity and danger of the situation extremely well. Like her, I am not against proper organised displays; there was an extremely well policed and organised one in St Brelade's last night, with fireworks lit by professionals who take due safety precautions.

Only recently, the MEN carried the awful story of 11- year-old Prestwich schoolboy Callum Wightman who was playing near his home when some thugs deliberately launched a rocket which exploded in his face.

How could any parent not shiver with horror at the thought of an innocent child being maimed for life, simply because he had the temerity to play with his pals within the orbit of mindless rocket-toting yobs.

Do your children play outside? Do they walk to and from school? Why should they have to plough through these pyrotechnic landmines to do so? It continues to astonish me why the sale of fireworks hasn't been banned in this country. In the wrong hands – from bored hoodies with a thirst for mischief to religious extremists throwing them through the letter box of an anti-cause target – they are lethal weapons. Yet no government has yet had the stomach to set the legislation in motion.

I'm not a killjoy and realise the pleasure they can bring at organised displays, or even in back gardens where careful adults put on a magical treat for children. And I appreciate it seems unfair that the responsible should suffer because of the actions of the irresponsible. But in this case the price is simply too high.

Year after year, we hear about terrible bonfire night injuries.

It seems ludicrous that you cannot take a can of cola through airport security because of its potential risk to passenger safety. Yet any 18 year old – or younger if the shop assistant is dozy enough – can get their hands on such dangerous devices.

How can we, as a civilised society, allow the continued sale of explosives, without any thought of the dangers they pose to innocent individuals who have the misfortune to stray into their path.

How often do we read of whole communities who are rocked by anti-social behaviour and marauding yobs. So why do we literally light the fuse of the ASBO culture by allowing fireworks to be available over the counter?

Here is just a selection of other stories from UK and Eire in the last week.

A WOMAN had a lucky escape when reckless vandals pushed a lit firework through her letterbox.
The incident happened in Bedford Avenue, South Shields, on Tuesday evening when the homeowner found the firework – which didn't go off – in the passageway of her home. As police and fire crews are gear up for Guy Fawkes Night, all rest days have been cancelled and neighbourhood policing teams will be out patrolling their beats – some carrying hand-held cameras to capture bad behaviour on film which can be used as evidence in court.  

FIREWORKS shoved through letterboxes in the Ballycolman estate on Halloween night could have fatally injured someone.
That is the claim from one resident whose letterbox was destroyed in the attacks. Eamon Doherty was not at home when the vandalism occurred. Speaking to the Chronicle on Tuesday, he called for those involved to consider the consequences of such actions.

He told us, "The attack occurred sometime after 10pm. When I arrived home at 4am I noticed the damage straight away. "The metal part of the letterbox from the inside was blown right into the kitchen area. The outside part was completely destroyed, which indicates that this wasn't some ordinary 'banger'.  "The massive force suggests that it may have been a few 'bangers' tied together. "I have a curtain behind the letterbox and nine times out of ten my girlfriend would pull the curtain when we leave the house. It was fortunate that she didn't do it on Saturday night because it could have caused a serious fire. "For parts of the letterbox to end up in the kitchen area it indicates the massive force of the fireworks. It doesn't bear thinking what could've happened to someone, especially a child, if they were in the hall at the moment of the explosion.  

A BOOTLE mum and her six month old baby were rescued from a house fire after a rocket was fired through their letterbox on Mischief Night.

Laura Caveney, 18, was asleep in her bedroom with her six month old daughter Olivia, when she was startled by a bang followed by a red flash which lit up the house on Ash Street. The rocket exploded in the hall setting fire to the stairs, carpet and wallpaper. Thick black smoke billowed from the hall up to the top of the house, and the young mum quickly realised she was trapped upstairs with her baby. Laura, who has been living in Bootle for four months, grabbed the mobile from under her pillow and dialled 999, before banging desperately against the window in a bid to attract attention. A passing girl soon spotted Laura and tried to kick open her front door, before Merseyside Fire and Rescue arrived on the scene a little after 10.30pm. Officers wearing breathing apparatus knocked down the front door and reached the stranded mother and baby upstairs. Laura was told to put a coat on and cover her baby's face before she was led downstairs through the smoke to safety.  

Since the middle of October, firefighters have been called to deal with 57-separate firework related incidents. These include people throwing fireworks, pushing them through people's letter boxes and injuries caused by them.  

POLICE are hunting yobs who fired a rocket flare into a family's living room at their city home. A mother and son were in the house as the powerful firework smashed through a double-glazed window and started a blaze at their home in Wonford. And terrified neighbours feared the worst when they heard a loud bang and saw black smoke billowing out of the house in Rutherford Street. The incident has prompted a stark warning from fire chiefs on the eve of Bonfire Night that the misuse of fireworks will not be tolerated.  

PEOPLE sleeping in a house in Exeter escaped unhurt after pranksters put a lighted firework through their letterbox in the early hours of Sunday morning.  The firework caused slight fire damage to the ground floor while the rest of the house was heavily smoke-logged. The occupants of the house, in Monks Road, Polsloe, were woken up by a smoke alarm.  Fire crews used a positive pressure ventilation fan to clear the smoke  

A GREENOCK mum feared she could have been killed after a firework was put through her letterbox. Joan Ogilvie, 39, was watching television at home when she heard a hissing sound and jumped to her feet and ran to the door. She said: "I was screaming - I saw the smoke and the sparkling colours of it. The door was locked and I was looking for the key. "I opened the door and the next minute I saw a boy running along the road. I chased him but he was too fast." Luckily the firework only left a scorch mark in the hall but Joan and her husband Daniel, who have a teenage son and daughter, say the incident could have been a lot worse. Joan said: "The electricity meter is in a cupboard in the hall.
"If a fire started there we would have been goners and so would the people in the houses on either side as well."
Joan is furious youngsters are buying fireworks to cause a nuisance She said: "I'm totally disgusted - where are they getting them in the first place?  "I thought they could only be bought for organised displays - I'm totally scunnered."  

Islanders are being asked by Guernsey's firework consultative group to limit Guy Fawkes parties to 5 November in the interests of safety. The group includes the emergency services, the Health and Safety Executive, animal welfare groups and Age Concern.  The group said private celebrations should be finished by 2100 GMT.  It suggested people should show consideration for neighbours, the elderly or those on their own.  Safety leaflets will be available in the run up to Guy Fawkes' Night. The Fire and Rescue Service and the Guernsey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will visit schools to give advice for safe celebrations for people and animals.  

House insurance claims are expected to rise by 270% on Halloween, according to Axa Insurance, while Saga claims 3.6 million homeowners will face damage to their properties as some revellers go too far with nasty pranks aiming to deliberately cause damage.

It is not just Halloween that has insurers on standby: bonfire night (5 November) is also notorious for malicious damage claims, many the result of firecrackers being pushed through letterboxes. Kidd said: "Although it is difficult to avoid someone putting something through the letterbox, people should take extra care to ensure windows and doors are locked, garden gates are secured and outbuildings, such as garages and sheds, are locked." Axa said that following bonfire night last year the average claim for damage caused by a firework or firecracker pushed through a letterbox was £1,000.  

Already this year, northside city councillor Maurice Quinlivan, Sinn Fein, has reported illegal bangers being pushed through people's letterboxes, causing fear for both residents and their pets.  Inspector John O'Reilly, Henry Street Garda station, called on parents of young children to educate them on the danger of fireworks and anti-social behaviour.  New offences and penalties for the illegal possession and use of fireworks were introduced under the Criminal Justice Act 2006. The penalty for these offences is a fine of up to €10,000 or five years' imprisonment - or both.  "I would urge all parents to monitor the activities of children to ensure their safety in the event of attending any firework displays. Young people may go out and play some pranks, but I would ask all parents to sit down and talk with their children to ensure nothing is done that is illegal," he said.
Police in Cornwall todayappealed for more information after calling on the people involved in a firework-related house fire that killed a woman to "do the decent thing and come forward".

Mary Fox, 59, died after helping her youngest son, Raum, 17, who has learning difficulties, to jump to safety from an upstairs window but was overcome by the blaze before firefighters could save her.

Firefighters arrived within minutes of a 999 call at around 7.15pm on Thursday and found Fox dead in the room from where her son had escaped.

After leaping from the three-storey house, Raum ran to alert neighbours that his mother was still trapped inside.
He was taken to Treliske hospital where he was treated for smoke inhalation and is now staying with his eight brothers and sisters.

Police began the investigation after the remains of a firework were found behind the front door of the home in Bodmin.

POLICE have opened a murder inquiry into the death of a mother of nine in a house fire that started when a firework was pushed through her letterbox.

Mary Fox, 59, died after helping her teenage son jump through an upstairs window to save him as flames engulfed the house in Bodmin, Cornwall. Neighbours said Raum Fox, 17, was being targeted by bullies.

The fire started at 7.15pm last Thursday after fireworks were pushed through the door. One neighbour said yesterday that he had seen three children, aged 12-16, shouting "shame, shame" as the fire enveloped the house. Locals said the children were well-known troublemakers in the neighbourhood.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Referendum - A Clarification

As I have been misunderstood on the Referendum on  the Constables, just to put the record straight, I didn't actually say that (as has been suggested) that:

(1) I thought it was a good idea to remove the Constables from the States

only that

(2) it was a good idea for the whole Island to decide rather than just States members - which was Montfort Tadier's proposition.

There is a considerable difference between the two, and I do not wish to belittle the role the Constables make.

I certainly think that Simon Crowcroft, in particular, does a marvelous job, and various Constables in the past, have also made considerable contributions to Island life. I remember when Max de La Haye was Constable of St Brelade, if I emailed him on any Parish issue (which was not that often), he would get to me - on the phone - within a day.

I think the move to change the Constables elections to a single day has made a great deal of difference in raising the visibility of the election process. Before that, Constables would be re-elected on a very ad-hoc basis, and often the elections slipped under the radar. It has to be remembered that it was the Constables themselves, on their own initiative, who made this move.

I personally think the far more important issue for the Constables is not whether they should be in the States or not, but how they can improve representation at Parish Assemblies, where, as I mention, there may be 40 people who can make a Wednesday night at 8.00 taking decisions that can effect thousands in the Parish. I think there should be some kind of mechanism for ensuring that more important decisions can receive a wider electorate - for instance, a  simple postal application available to pick up, sign and drop back or post before an Assembly for those on the electoral role to enable them to vote by proxy. It is not good enough to say that people should make the commitment - the elderly, those with young children, those housebound, carers etc often cannot do so, through no fault of their own, and are thereby disenfranchised.

Regarding Guernsey, the Constables and Parish system is considerably different there and has been for many year. There are two constables for each Parish - a senior and a junior. The Constables had not been members of the States for many years, long before the recent reforms. In fact much of this goes back to the post-war years, when Guernsey's policing system was rationalised, and effectively their honorary system dismantled. The history of the Guernsey police says that:

"During the War years it became apparent that in the interests of justice, law enforcement and efficiency it was impracticable to have so many policing systems. As a result, on 5th August 1919, the subject of an Island Police Force again came up for discussion before the States of Deliberation. On that date a resolution was passed which was confirmed in November of the same year, that all duties in matters criminal, and law keeping in general, would be transferred from the parish Constables to an Island Police Force. The Projet de Loi entitled: "Loi ayant rapport a la Pohce Salerie en I'le Entiere" was registered on 10th January 1920.  However, it must be noted that on the establishment of the Island Police Force the Parish Constables were not deprived of their policing powers, but they are seldom, if ever, called upon to exercise them."

So the Parish system has always been weaker in Guernsey, and not simply because of the superconstitiences, as has been mooted, although that may have weakened it further.


Statistical Notes - Referendum and Votes

The vote on Montfort Tadier's proposition took place today, and unfortunately did not succeed.

This was to let Islanders decided in a referendum whether they want the Constables in or not.

Deputy Angela Jeune put in an amendment that the referendum should be binding -  on condition that the turnout is greater than 50%, no doubt to stop making the referendum a pointless exercise if the States decide to ignore the results anyway.

But even though this proposition failed - both Montfort's proposition and Angela's amendment - they raised some significant and instructive points on the statistical background involved in referenda, and in voting in general.

Any election or referendum is essentially the same as a self-selecting opinion poll, i.e., although conducted in a more formal manner to make sure that only legitimate voters vote and once, it is the same statistically as a JEP "text in what you would like poll". It is not a random sample, and statistically may not represent the views of the population as a whole. It represents the people who choose to vote.

People who do not vote may not vote for a variety of reasons, which is why there is a UK electoral reform group NOTA, which suggests that voting slips should have "none of the above" on any list of names, to allow a protest vote to be heard as there is no mechanism in our voting system for that. Obviously in the case of the constables staying in the States, where there is a yes or no answer, there undoubtedly would not be the equivalent of this - an undecided vote. The "don't cares" can be certainly assumed not to vote, and there is no easy mechanism (apart from compulsory voting) to count them.

Voting is about making decisions - who gets in, what is to happen etc, and is not a random sampling mechanism. It is judged that people can choose not to vote, but that is their choice, and only those who vote can have a say.

Obviously, in the case of the referendum, the larger the sample size, the more representative it will be, because the less exclusions there will be. Actually the same is true of any vote be it for a referendum, or a vote for any election, which is why a poor turn out gives an implicit message that those voted in have not quite a good a mandate as they should have. The lower the turnout, the more it represents "activists" rather than everyone, and politicians instinctively know this.

Parish Assemblies - with no postal voting - are often the very worst example of this, where 40 people can decide and "rubber stamp" on one evening what a Parish of thousands should do. The move to have both postal and day long polls at Parish halls for Procurers du Bien Public etc is a step in the right direction.

An example of voting size will demonstrate why - for a self-selecting population - a greater size is better. Suppose we conduct a survey or phone in about the Fort regent swimming pool, and 100 people phone in, of which 90 say keep the pool, and 10 say do not. And now suppose that 20,000 people phoned in, and 55% of those (11,000) say keep the pool, and 9,000 say do not. With such a difference, it is easy to see what is true statistically, that with a working population of say 40,000 or more, the second result is more representative of the whole even though it is self-selecting.

So Angela Jeune's 50% is more significant than 33% because it means - if we look at the vote and non-vote - that 50% of the total island population care one way or the other, and only 50% we are not sure of - while on perhaps 33% turnout (which is often the case), the missing 66% of the total island population may well just not care or have no opinion one way or another. The missing figures cannot be assumed to be representative of those who voted.

The alternatives are either random sampling or stratified sampling. Random takes a purely random and statistically large enough segment of the population, and polls them completely at random. Stratified sampling (often used by statisticians) tries to take a random sample but weights it by the same ranges within the population as the last census (same age brackets, income groups, male/female etc)

Interestingly there was a random sample which was very well conducted a few years back - when there was an idea to have a massive and extraordinary bridge to connect the waterfront to the rest of town - connection being a perennial idée fixe among certain politicians - a statistical sampling company was appointed to make a significant random phone sample of the population, which had quite the opposite result to the JEP's self selective survey, and came up with a clear "no" to the project, much to the disgust of the politicians!. The only weakness, but it was a small one, was that while it included all numbers - phone book and ex-directory, and different times of day - not to miss selected people - it of necessity polled only people with landline phones.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Annie Parmeter on Counselling

This is, of necessity, a long post, but it is one of Annie Parmeter's final essays

In it, she doesn't mention any clients by name, and there is nothing identifiable about this, but she does draw upon her own experiences, and this autobiographical and reflective element, coupled with the way she integrates this with her counseling skills, to prove a framework for living, makes it what I think is one of her finest essays - full of clarity and perception and honesty.


This essay is concerned with the exploration and evaluation of the Humanistic Therapeutic model both from a professional counselling perspective and from the way in which the philosophy surfaces in my own life.

I first came across the Humanistic method as it took its place amongst other theories used in the Integrative counselling style of a practitioner who was not only my therapist but my employer and friend. Sadly she died some years ago but she left me with a great legacy, namely the inspiration to become a therapist myself and memories of her very special gift which allowed one as client to leave each session with her feeling incredibly valued and special. I think this gift was rooted in the Humanistic tradition of listening to a client with warmth and empathy and the genuine wish to assist them towards growth and personal empowerment.

My next encounter with elements of the Humanistic method came in my practice of Re-Evaluation Co-Counselling, a non-time limited and mostly non-directive model which includes the ideas of listening to the client with full and undivided attention, cultivating the ability to recognise one's own reactions to the client's story and be congruent about them, but then to bracket them for a later session of one's own, also encouraging the client when necessary to focus in on the feelings being experienced in the here and now and to experience and explore them without intellectualising about them. However, I would not venture to label this type of counselling as purely Humanistic as it does also contain elements of Cognitive and Psychodynamic therapy.



More than any other model, the Humanistic values the client/counsellor relationship, the importance of which lies at the heart of its philosophy, the idea of healing through relationship. I understand this in terms of the contradiction that it offers to the experience of everyday life, where usually we do not give others our undivided attention, we listen with half an ear whilst continuing to follow our own agendas, we harbour assumptions and judgements about the person who is talking to us and let this influence our attitude towards them, sometimes we don't even look at them, we seldom really engage with others. When we do manage to 'lay our selves aside' something almost magical can take place.


The practical methodology of this model involves the deployment of three key components, which Rogers named the Core Conditions and he believed that the presence of these conditions alone would be enough to bring about progress for the client.

Unconditional Positive Regard.

From a personal point of view the ideal of non-judgement is one that can be hard to live up to, our patterns lead us to judge even at a subconscious level; we also judge ourselves through internalised oppression the consequence of which is that we place artificial limits on our lives and our thinking. Healthy thinking allows us to view ourselves with UPR freeing us from the fear of taking responsibility for our lives to make real choices, if we can't accept our mistakes and move on, we cannot learn from them.

As a client UPR is a powerful contradiction to our everyday experience of worry about how others might judge what we say or do. Within the counselling relationship we are liberated from this self-censorship and conventionalised interaction and become free to explore our own issues in depth with openness and honesty, all of which facilitates the path to clarity.

As a counsellor I like the way that UPR can work wonders just on its own, the client is offered the view of a possible world where they are accepted as they are, free from the burden of pretence, the relief is sometimes almost tangible, at last the client can be who they need to be.


"Congruence was believed by Rogers (1961: 61) to occur when; 'the feelings the therapist is experiencing are available to him, to his awareness, and he is able to live these feelings, be them, and communicate them if appropriate." (McLeod p.174)

Congruence is about openness and self-honesty, a most liberating and laudable quality but tricky to achieve, for no matter how 'real' we think are being there is so often some baggage-ridden old pattern still running at some not-quite-tangible level, or even if we are in touch with it have we truly broken it? Some of the most congruent people I have met were amongst those with various forms of dementia who resided in the care home where my father (who had Alzheimer's) lived out his final years; their congruence, although not generated by conscious means was so refreshing, free from the usual social inhibitions and removed from conventionalisation they would just 'say it how it is'. I often found it a real culture shock when I returned to the so-called real world.

As a client, to have congruence modelled to you by your counsellor, to me almost brings a sense of relief, the space to really start to tackle some of nitty-gritty of one presenting issues within the safety that is devoid of pretence.

When counselling however I find it necessary with some clients to take baby steps towards congruence as too much too soon can be a bit scary for some clients, beginning perhaps with a style of honesty delivered with kindness and charm providing encouragement to them to feel safe about being more open.


Empathic understanding is described by Rogers as the ability of the counsellor to 'indwell' in the worldview of the client without being sucked into it. Reflection back to the client of this understanding can give them the sense that someone is really listening and taking an interest in their story possibly for the first time, they may begin to feel safe within the relationship and perhaps a little more encouraged to take risks associated with further disclosure and explore previously threatening ideas. It is indeed a quality that I would recommend to bringing to everyday life but we are so often preoccupied by the logistics of general living, pressed for time and generally stressed by modern living that we don't always have the required emotional stamina to do so. A pity as there is great reward, not least the chance to improve interpersonal relationships and move towards a greater level of closeness and intimacy with loved ones.

To be on the receiving end of empathic understanding seems to provide a safety net which makes me feel more confident to explore my difficulties with my counsellor, as if there is a secure attachment to them and that they will truly listen and try to understand.

To place oneself in the position of another person whilst still maintaining that 'as if' quality demands of the counsellor a relatively high degree of self awareness in order to distinguish and maintain the difference between their position and your own, also to be able to have sufficient self discipline to recognise and 'bracket' one's own feelings for the duration of the session.


Another of Rogers' key notions was that it is the client who knows what is best for them and that it is the therapist's job to provide the right environment for change to take place and to support the client while they find their own way through their difficulties.

When I first contract with a client, apart from the practical aspects such as timing of sessions and confidentiality for example I also like to add something about what to expect from the Humanistic style of counselling, namely that as counsellor I am not there to blame or judge, that I am not 'the expert' but rather that I will walk beside them on their journey.

This presents a wonderfully liberating and empowering contradiction especially when working with clients who have previously been used to being told what to do, by parents or partners or certain authority figures, for these clients it may be the first time they have truly felt that an opportunity for growth is available. I have sometimes worked with clients who almost can't believe their 'good fortune' and have become quite emotional as they put it in the context of the oppression they have endured.

I experience a sense of ethical and moral 'rightness' about this approach as it represents a fundamental respect for the client's autonomy.

There can be however certain drawbacks with this approach, for example clients who are habitual manipulators might find it very easy to manipulate the counsellor who believes that ultimately the client knows what's best for them thus rendering the therapy pointless.

Some clients can benefit from 'lovingly being told the truth'. I can recall instances from my own experience as a client where this has helped me greatly. One of my counsellors once told me he thought I was obsessive about making arrangements whereas I just saw it as being organised, however when I really gave the matter some consideration I remembered how obsessive my father was about the same issue and a lot of other matters as well, so after a session involving the Gestalt technique of 'the empty chair' I experienced an almost immediate 'letting go' and haven't looked back; I now have a much more relaxed attitude and only make firm plans when absolutely necessary, attending class and hospital appointments for instance.

One must also consider that some clients can indulge in quite destructive behaviour both towards themselves and others and they may benefit from being from being confronted with the consequences of their actions rather than just gently challenged.

Other clients may need a more structured approach from which they can gain a sense of achievement from more measurable success. Some may benefit from being taught new coping mechanisms with which to manage their difficulties. For my own experience as client I found that the freedom afforded by Humanistic counselling was very well complemented by also attending a series of sessions of CBT, both styles of therapy presented me with advantages that the other did not.


Within this concept I always see a message of hope. The aim of therapy for Rogers was for the client to reconnect with the 'fully functioning person' that they really are. This should not be defined as some ideal fixed state but rather as an ongoing process, which I happen to find more realistic as it allows for mistakes and therefore learning to take place. So what is the 'fully functioning person'? An idea that has much in common with Maslow's 'self-actualising person'. Rogers' definition "identifies what he sees as some universal directions of the process. These include letting go of facades and becoming more real and transparent, acquiring greater awareness of one's total inner experiences, listening to and trusting the guidance of one's organism, rediscovering and accepting those parts of oneself that have been 'disowned', learning to live fully in the now." (Clinebell)

In counselling practice I find this can be used as a wonderful contradiction, especially for those clients with low self-esteem. For my own part the feeling generated when being reminded by a counsellor that underneath all of those nonsensical and redundant patterns of thinking I am an intelligent being fully connected with the totality of myself is just unbeatable, it makes me feel a renewed vigour and immense hope along with a sense of reassurance that 'everything will be alright'.

What the concept requires however is a belief in the fundamental goodness of human beings and it is just a belief which takes its place alongside the Jesuit saying of give me the boy before he is seven and I will show you the man and the Catholic idea of original sin. In order to be truly congruent within Humanistic therapy therefore, it is necessary to choose to hold onto a certain faith in human nature whether full time or for the duration of the counselling practice.


Rogers suggests that over and above basic needs for food and shelter etc. human beings not only possess the drive to self-actualise but also need positive regard from others. If during childhood this regard is only given conditionally then our self worth will also become conditional and our locus of evaluation will become externalised. Once these patterns of conditional self worth have been recognised then the client's self concept can shift towards a more positive autonomous place that does not rely on the judgement of others.

This notion on the formulation of the self concept and the origins of mental disturbance appeals to me as it acknowledges the power of patterns laid down in early years and their subsequent reinforcement, it highlights the havoc and suffering that can be caused by frozen needs and how these can be played out over and over again in adult life. I have come across this with many clients who have become ensnared in an unhealthy loop where recognition of the pattern is required along with awareness of its effects. Learning to say goodbye to a need that will never be met and move on is a most liberating experience.


If I am to evaluate this model from a professional point of view I find it to be particularly ethical in respecting of the individual's right to autonomy, its phenomenological approach of avoiding over-intellectualisation by describing feelings in the here and now holds integrity in 'keeping it real' and in terms of its accessibility, it has merit in the encouragement of positive self regard and personal growth although as counsellor one should be wary of collusion with patterns of narcissism.

On a personal level I find that the philosophy lends itself very well to the formulation of en ethical framework by which to live one's life for the same reasons that validate it as a professional model. As a client it has afforded me the time and space to work through my own difficulties at my own pace and in my own way whilst feeling nurtured and supported.

As a counsellor it has taught me patience, the ability to' bracket' my own feelings until an appropriate time, being congruent enough to express them if required without being sucked in by them. I have learned something of the resilience of the human spirit and that often truth really is stranger than fiction!