Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Shadows: A Meditation for Samhain

A meditative short piece for Samhain...

I was walking on a path that cut though the meadowlands of the valley. Beside the valley was a stream, flowing over stones, crystal clear waters. I crossed a small wooden bridge across the stream. Drizzle drenched me; heavy clouds overshadowed the hills ahead.
I had been given directions, and looking at the map, I could hear the voice of the druid describing the journey that I was to undertake. He had spread out the parchment, crinkled and cracked, upon a flat stone within the cave. By the flickering torch, blazing in its bronze holder, I could make out the contours of the land, the stream, the hills, and my destination. It was a still night, the air fresh and clear, and it seemed so easy. But now it was a journey into shadows.
Down in the valley, the path seemed to twist and turn strangely, and my head was not so clear. I was feeling damp, drenched by the incessant rain falling softly on the land. The path divided into two, and I had to pause to recollect which route I was to take.
As I stood there, I noticed the ruins of a dwelling, but as I watched, they shimmered, and walls and a quadrangle appeared. On a tiled mosaic floor, I could make out the head of  Minerva-Sulis. Shadowy figures could be seen, and grew clearer yet. Their garb was at first unfamiliar to me, but as the shapes grew sharper, I could see the garments of a Roman family. They were embracing, and weeping, and I heard snatches of conversation, distantly. Then I heard the lady of the household say:
Farewell, and into exile now you go
We weep: such tears, like rainfall flow
This is a time of parting, of great sorrow
As you venture to dark night of tomorrow
Farewell, and into exile now you go
Cruel fate, to deal us such a blow
May household gods guide your ways
Alas! You are lost to us, for rest of days
Farewell, and into exile now you go
And in a thousand years, who will know?
Mourn your sentence, time to say farewell
And write of us, that someday one may tell
The mists came down over the dwelling, and the voices faded into silence, and I continued along the right hand path. Now it rose steeply, along the other side of the valley, and I was passing by many pine trees, the air damp and heavy with their scent. Huge yellow fungi grew by the trunks of the trees, and there was a carpet of pine needles on the forest floor. I looked up at one mighty pine, and the tapering form of the tree rose like a spire, and on its branches, I could see the seeds within the scaly cones, nature shielding them from injury.
I came across a clearing in the forest, and there, dancing in the grove, was a lady in makeshift green kirtle of leaves, with sleeves of light grey, cobweb, gossamer, fine, like wings. I remembered the druid telling me of the Oreades, the spirits of the pine trees, and how they would rejoice when the rain makes the trees to grow.
Now I recalled the overheard conversation of that Roman leaving for exile, surely a poet. There came to me the fragments of  his speech: "Richly robed in gorgeous finery, and richer still her beauty; such the beauty of the Naides and Dryades, as we used to hear, walking the woodland ways
And the lady turned to face me, and I saw her green eyes, as she intoned the story of her trees:
A forest rising upon the hills
Green amidst the winter chills
Towering high towards the sky
Branches draw the upward eye.
Here is Scots Pine, needle leaves
Make a canopy of natures eaves
Shelter amidst the winter snow
Pine cones as ornaments bestow.
Scots Pine wands show destiny
Reveal the true path that you see
Focus on purity, and the divine
Give insight into hidden sign.
Torches of pine once a light
For ancient Caledonian sight
Stone age temple, banquet hall
Fire from the wood shone tall.
In grove of pines, the borderland
Reach and touch with open hand
The branches part, a veil thin
Between your world, and fairy kin
The lady dances off, fleet of foot, into the forest, and I resume my path up towards the summit of the hill. The forest ends, and I am walking beside wild grasslands, wet with dew.
The mist still hangs heavy over the ground, and I can make out only shadowy shapes to the side of me. I hear the sound of digging, which suddenly ceases; then I hear the chink of coins being dropped into a hole in the ground. The shapes fade; shades of a people who came, fearful to this land, and buried their treasures, hoping one day to return. I know this is a time when the curtain between past and present grows thin, like a threadbare tapestry, and time breaks in, with glimpses of past stories half told. Here are no endings, only fragments, like broken shards of ancient pottery.
A wind is rising, and the mist clears. I look upwards at the starry night. There is Jupiter journeying between the horns of Taurus, not far from the bright star Aldebaran. The moon is past full, entering the dark half of the year. The Pleiades glitter, jewels of the night sky.
A voice cries out:
Cold the sky, the stars my destiny
A scattering of stardust on the land
Open your eyes, come now to see
So many galaxies like grains of sand
Now there are wooden poles in the ground, either side of the path, and on these hang lanterns made from hollowed-out gourds. Flames flicker through the carved sides, a yellow eyes and mouth grinning at all who came this way.
There is the Samhain fire ahead, surrounded by rings of dancing figures. I see people lighting brands from the fire, and running around the fields and hedges, boundaries drawn in light. Ahead is the bonfire, an island of light against the oncoming winter darkness, a beacon of hope shining in the night.
I take my place with those holding hands, and we circle the bonfire, calling for blessing and protection against the approaching winter storms.
And afterwards, we each take a handful of ashes from the fire, and all depart, sprinkling the ashes over the fields to protect them during the winter months, and give blessings to the soil. So mote it be!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

October - The Diary of a Country Parson

This year I'm looking at some of the entries in the "The Diary of a Country Parson". This was a diary kept by an English clergyman, James Woodforde (1740-1803). Woodforde lived in Somerset and Norfolk, and kept a diary for 45 years recording all kind of ordinary incidents which paint a picture of the routines and concerns of what Ian Hislop terms "the middling folk" of 18th century rural England.

A few notes on the text:

A Skip Jack, according to "The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue" by Francis Grose, in this context refers to "Youngsters that ride horses on sale, horse-dealers boys." The term "Lady Day" referred to in the same paragraph is the traditional name of the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (25 March)

Woodforde has toothache, and there is a rather graphic description of a tooth being removed. Dentist was a word only just coming into use:

The term 'dentist' first appeared in the 18th century. The French dentist Pierre Fauchard published his treatise Le Chirurgien Dentiste in 1728. This set out for the first time everything that was known about dental disease with full case histories and illustrations of how to deal with it. Never before had every aspect of dentistry been fully expounded in a single work. There were chapters on scaling the teeth, filing them, false teeth, extraction and moving teeth for orthodontic purposes. (1)

But extraction was still very primitive and painful:

Even those treated by the most eminent practitioners were in for an agonising time, according to a rare book about the dental techniques of the period.

Written in 1770 by Thomas Berdmore, who was considered to be the outstanding dentist in England, it makes eye-watering reading.  Addressing the subject of 'how to bring teeth which are ill into beautiful order', he wrote: 'Pass gold wire from the neighbouring teeth on either side, in such a manner as to press upon what stands out of the line.'  The alternative, Berdmore suggested, was to 'break the teeth into order by means of a strong pair of crooked pliers'.

Berdmore, known as 'Operator for the Teeth' to King George III, also recalled being summoned to examine a patient left in a 'terrible state' by a botched extraction.  He wrote: 'A young woman aged 23 went to a barber dentist to have the left molaris tooth of the upper jaw on the right side taken out.  ' On the second attempt he brought away the affected tooth together with a piece of jawbone as big as a walnut and three neighbouring molars.' (2)

Berdmore was, however, the first dentist to warn in print that sugar could be bad for the teeth, mentioned in his 'A Treatise on the Disorders and Deformities of the Teeth and Gums and the Most Rational Methods of Treating Them"(1768)

Woodforde wishes his sister - " Pray God! they may have a safe and pleasant journey." Journeys in the 18th century could be fraught with danger. The roads were often in a bad state:

"The roads grew bad, beyond all badness, the night dark, beyond all darkness, the guide frightened beyond all frightfulness" says Horace Walpole (1717 - 1797) speaking of a journey from Tonbridge to Penshurst. The roads, in many parts of England, were very bad. In Sussex they were generally so impassable in winter that the judges on circuit refused to hold the assizes at Lewes, the county town. They struggled down as far as Guildford or Horsham and waited there for prisoners, constables and jurymen to plough through the mud as best they might. In Devon there were no roads west of Exeter, which could be used for wheeled traffic. "This infernal road was most execrably vile with ruts four feet deep" is Arthur Young's description of a road between Preston and Wigan.  (3)

And the coaches were not spring-loaded. Travelling was a feat of endurance:

These old coaches had no springs, and what the jolting over those bad roads must have been we cannot conceive. People complained about them, delicate women would not travel in them, the poet Cowper, a timid man, begs for his friends' prayers as he is about to take a journey. (4)

Here then is October, as it was back in the 18th century...

October - The Diary of a Country Parson

OCT. 6. . . . My Maid Molly, I think, is a good deal better. Widow Greaves here again all Day and Night.
OCT. 7. . . . Jack told me this morning that he is advised to get another Place being too old for a SkipJack any longer. He wants to be a Plow Boy to some Farmer to learn the farming Business as he likes that best -- I told him that he was very right to try to better himself, and at Lady Day next he is to leave my House for that purpose. He has been a very good Lad ever since he has been here. Widow Greaves here again all Day and Night.
OCT. 10. . . . My New Maid (in Betty's Place) Sally Dunnell came here this Evening, which was sooner than we expected her by a Day -- but we contrived for her to sleep here &c. tho' my other Maid nor Mrs. Greaves were as yet gone. They all slept here to night. I published Bettys Banns for the last time this Aft: at Church -- I suppose she will marry very soon. My new Maid seems to be a mighty strapping Wench.
OCT. 11. . . . After breakfast paid my Maid Eliz: Claxton who leaves me to day, three Qrs Wages -- being 4. 7. 0. She breakfasted here and left us about 11 this Morn'. Paid Mrs. Greaves also for the Time she has been with us this Morning at 6d Pr Day 0. 5. 0. She had both Victuals and Lodging here also. She left us about the same Time. Mrs. Custance with her eldest Son made us a long Morning Visit from 12 till 2 o'clock. Gave poor old Mary Dicker this Morn' 0. 1. 0. She came to pay Rent for her House belonging to the poor Widows of this Parish.
OCT. 14. . . . Finding my new Maid (who came as Cook to us) to know nothing of her business, I therefore this Evening gave her notice that she must leave my Service and as soon as possible -- I believe her to be a good natured Girl but very ignorant.
OCT. 15. . . . My new Maid Sally Dunnell left my Service this Morn'. Gave the Maid as she was going away for the Time she had been here at 6d per Day 0. 3. 0. To Mr. Dade a Poor Rate for Land in hand at 10d 1. 5. 2 ½. To Mr. Cary for things from Norwich &c. for last Week 16. 4 ¼. To my Niece Nancy for things pd 0. 8. 6. Mr. Custance made us a long Morning Visit. Mr. Hall from Hampshire and a Mr. Fellowes of Haviland a Gentleman of great Fortune and Member for Andover called here on horseback whilst Mr. Custance was with us -- I went to them and spoke with them, but they would not get of their Horses -- having not time. My poor Maid Molly Dade, not so well to day as I could wish her, having somewhat of a Fever on her. She is one of the best Maids that ever we had and very much liked by us both and would wish to keep her but am very much afraid it will not be in our Power tho' we are both most willing to keep her. She is one of the neatest, most modest, pretty Girl[s] I ever had. She is very young, but tall, only in her 17th year. Ben went early this Morning beyond Dereham to buy me a Cow, now in her full profit, but could not. It was at a Sale of Colonel Dickens's near Dereham. Widow Greaves came to us again this Evening to be with us till we can get another Maid -- I sent for her.
OCT. 19. . . . I sent my Maid Molly Dade this morning behind Ben to Mattishall, to stay a few Days at home, to see if change of Air would do her Cough good. Her Sister Betty, continues in her Place. Poor Molly is as good a Girl as ever came into a House, I never had a Servant that I liked better -- Nancy also likes her very much indeed -- I wish to God she might get the better of her illness. Widow Greaves still with us and at present likely so to be.

OCT. 10. . . . In the Afternoon my Maid Molly Peachman left my Service, being to be married to Morrow Morning. I paid her for 11 Months Wages at 5. 5. 0. Pr Ann. 4. 16. 6. She paid me out of it, what I lent her being 1. 1. 0.
OCT. 11. . . . I went to Church this morning and Married my late Maid, Molly Peachman to one Js Shipley by Banns. Received for marrying them only 0. 2. 6. having had half a Crown before on publishing the Banns. Hambleton Custance, with his two Brothers George and William, with their Nurse Maid were present at the Marriage being a very fine morning.
OCT. 12. . . . I sent after my New Maid, Nanny Kaye, this Afternoon to Hockering, she returned home about 7 o'clock.
OCT. 22. . . . Had a Letter this Evening from my Sister Pounsett in which she mentions that Nancy's Brother Willm is coming into Norfolk to see us. My Man Briton had a new Suit of Livery brought home this Evening from Norwich, with a very good new great Coat of Brown Cloth and red Cape to it. I told Briton that I gave neither to him, but only to wear them during his Service with me.
OCT. 24. . . . The Tooth-Ach so very bad all night and the same this Morn' that I sent for John Reeves the Farrier who lives at the Hart and often draws Teeth for People, to draw one for me. He returned with my Man about 11 o'clock this Morning and he pulled it out for me the first Pull, but it was a monstrous Crash and more so, it being one of the Eye Teeth, it had but one Fang but that was very long. I gave Johnny Reeves for drawing it 0. 2. 6. A great pain in the Jaw Bone continued all Day and Night but nothing so bad as the Tooth Ach. To Mr. Cary for things from Norwich &c. pd o. 8. 8.
OCT. 5. . . . Gave Briton Leave to go and see his Friends at Reepham to day being Reepham Petty Sessions. About 1 o'clock Mr. Walker, with Mrs. Davy and her Daughter came to my House in a one Horse Chaise and they dined and spent the Aft. here, drank Tea at 5. and returned home soon after to Foulsham. A Servant Man came with them. We had for Dinner a Loin of Veal rosted, some hashed Hare and a Damson Pye. Mr. Walker looked very unwell as did Betsy. Briton returned home about 8 this Evening.
OCT. 16, FRIDAY. I breakfasted, dined, &c again at home. To a poor old man of Hockering by name Thomas Ram, having lost a Cow gave 0. 2. 6. Brewed another Barrell of Table Beer to day. Sad News from France all anarchy and Confusion. The King, Queen and Royal Family confined at Paris. The Soldiers joined the People, many murdered.
OCT. 24, SATURDAY. . . . Sent Briton early this Morning to Norwich with my little Cart after many things. Recd for 2 small Piggs of Tom Carr's Wife 12. 0. Briton returned from Norwich about 4 o'clock brought me a long and pleasing Letter from my Sister Pounsett, whom I thank God to find by her writing that she is better in health. She also informed us that my Brother John and Wife and Mrs. Richd Clarke, intend setting out for Norfolk in about a fortnights time to spend the Winter with us. We shall be very happy to see them. Pray God! they may have a safe and pleasant journey.
OCT. 31, SATURDAY. . . . Very high Wind with much Rain in the Night but about 5 o'clock this Morn' it was highest, it shook the House, but thank God we received no damage. It was a very strong N. N. Easterly Wind. It blew down a great many apples and split a large weeping Willow in the Rasberry Garden.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Andrew Marr's History of the World: A Review

I'm enjoying Andrew Marr's "History of the World" on BBC1 which has been rolling through world history at a cracking pace. Of course the problem comes with what to leave out and what to keep in. And the history can be a bit slipshod both in its presentation, and in how it treats what happened.

One case in point is the slave trade. The rise of the slave trade is highlighted, yet it is the British or French or Americans who are enslaving Africans; no mention is given of the fact that the slave trade operated though some Africans tribes capturing and selling off other African tribes people as slaves. The start of the slave trade was African enslaving African, and this continued even after America, Britain and France had outlawed the slave trade in their countries. And the end of the slave trade is presented as a triumph of enlightenment values about the rights of man, which in Britain it most certainly was not; it was a group of Evangelicals, the Clapham Sect, with William Wilberforce as their spokesman who led the fight against slavery and for its abolition. The philosopher John Locke, an enlightenment thinker if ever there was one - had a very profitable arrangement out of slavery and had several thousand dollars invested in The Royal African Company, as well as a slave trading company formed to develop the Bahama Islands.

Another case in point is Galileo. The Catholic church followed Aristotle in believing the earth to be the centre of the universe, which is given a religious slant although at that time, the Church had relatively recently rediscovered Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas had worked hard to mesh Catholicism with Aristotelian philosophy.

The primary argument which Aristotle had, which was very influential in the Middle Ages was the Tower. That had nothing to do with Tower of Pisa! It was a thought experiment. Drop a stone from a Tower. If the earth is spinning round,  the stone will not fall where you will expect it might, because between letting go, and it landing, the ground below must have been moving, so it would fall to the side of where you would expect. We know that isn't the case, and the reason is something actually counter-intuitive called relative motion. But the argument seems sound, and that - a rational argument - was the church position. In fact Galileo demonstrated problems with motion like this by throwing a heavy ball from one side of a ship to the other while the ship was going fast. The ball - on the Aristotelian argument - would have moved further down the ship, because the ship was moving along, and the other side would have moved while the ship was in the air. But, of course, motion is relative to a framework and it doesn't.

Galileo, we are told, could see the moons of Jupiter, proving that one planet had satellites rotating around it, not around the sun. The picture we are given on the TV is crystal clear - the moons rotating around Jupiter in high definition CGI. That creates an entirely false perspective for the casual viewer who wonders why the church could not see as well as Galileo! In fact, while he improved his telescope, it was still so poor that the planet Saturn was drawn with "ears" (rather like Andrew Marr's) on either side rather than rings.

And there is no evidence that is no evidence that Galileo ever uttered the words "eppur si muove"  - "and yet it moves" - this is very likely a myth. The first record comes from Giuseppe Baretti's Italian Library, in 1757, over a hundred years after the death of Galileo. That's an incredibly poor source, and most historians would be inclined to treat it with justifiable suspicion, especially as other mentions of the phrase derive from that one source.

Jenner's breakthrough with cowpox as a vaccine source for small pox is rightly celebrated, but what Marr doesn't tell us is that far from being welcomed with open arms, the medical world ridiculed and ignored him, so that he had to publish privately in 1798. The medical community still could not believe that a cure based on folklore, discovered by a country doctor:

Jenner needed more firm proof for his vaccine so he repeated the trial with many other children, including his own 11-month-old son.

Finally, he published all his findings into one booklet, known as, 'An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae; a Disease Discovered in some of the Western Counties of England, Particularly Gloucestershire, and Known by the Name of The Cow Pox', printed in 1798.

Still his critics were numerous and vociferous, particularly members of the Clergy, who felt it was unethical to introduce an animal's disease into a human. Jenner was the source of many jokes and cartoons which showed people he had inoculated as running around with cows heads.

Medicine, as a profession became more respected and more prevalent in society in the following 100 years, doctors became celebrities and the 7th International Medical Conference, held in 1881, gave medical practitioners a certain prestige. This was all to late for Jenner, who died in his home village in 1832, eight years before his vaccine became the government prescribed standard for the prevention of smallpox. (1)

It is also worth noting - as Marr does not - that Jenner did not make money from his discovery

Jenner believed the vaccine should be available for all and did not patent it, meaning he made no money from it. Doctors however, could still charge patients for the inoculation. (1)

Marr gives instead an account in which Jenner's discovery is at once published, and is immediately seen as the breakthrough that it was. The real history is far more messy.

I think that while the broad sweep of Marr's project is brilliant - the "big picture" approach is worth doing, it does have dangers that history can be glossed over. Do all revolutions follow the same pattern? Do all absolute rulers regimes follow the same path? This too is debatable; there's a strong cyclical history approach in some of his commentary as he tries to focus on past and present, and I wonder what might be missed out in those circumstances. Britain's change of government - the bloodless "glorious revolution" - gets a brief mention, but the bloodshed and carnage of the reign of William of Orange in Ireland is often glossed over, which is where Michael Portillo's "Things We Forgot to Remember" on Radio 4 is a good counterweight.

And there's also a striking lack of neutrality in some of his presentation. The Counter-Reformation suggests something wholly reactionary, which is why modern historians like Diarmaid MacCulloch use the term "Catholic Reformation", because while in part it was a reaction to the Reformers, it was also a reformation of its own internal practices and corruption as well.

All told, it is an entertaining series, but it is a pity the free booklet "How Do They Know That?" which Andrew Marr mentions at the end of each show wasn't supplemented by one entitled "And How Did They Get That Wrong?".


Sunday, 28 October 2012

Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt: A Review - Part 1

The toughest lesson life teaches is the difference between who you wanted to be and who you actually are. And it can take a whole life to teach it. (Richard Holloway)

Richard Holloway's book, "Leaving Alexandria" begins with the graveyard of the Society of the Sacred Mission at Kelham. It's is a shaded rectangle containing thirty-five simple gravestones, irregularly spaced, and he knows quite a few people buried there from his time at Kelham, at the start of a winding path which took him from a celibate priesthood in England and Africa, to married life in Glasgow and America, and becoming Bishop of Edinburgh before hurling his Bishop's mitre in the Thames and resigning.

That seems like a very turbulent journey, and indeed it is, but it is an inner conflict between faith and doubt which pervades this narrative. It is, of course, written after the end of his ecclesiastical career, it is also how he would like this journey to be seen. And yet it is a very honest narrative; he is aware of the changes that time has wrought in his life. As he says, walking among the graves, pondering his early years:

The hard thing about coming to this place is glimpsing the young man I was fifty years ago, brimming with ideals, taking this same walk, earnestly conversing with a companion - and completely unaware of the spring and drive of his own character and where it would lead him. He thought then he had chosen a high road and would walk it to the end, whereas I know now that roads choose us and what they unfold before us is not the person we want to be, but the person we already are, the person time slowly discloses to us. Yet in spite of trying to learn this lesson, I still regret roads not taken. Is that why I keep coming back here? Am I trying to discern the outline of an alternative past, the most futile of pursuits? What is certain is that I am so far into my own head at the moment that I am not paying enough attention to what's going on around me; so I have come too far and passed the graveyard. I turn back down the walk, identify the untidy gap in the tall yew hedge and enter.

He noticed that even in those days, there was something apart from his faith, fleeting moments of joy, which were quite different, and could not come on demand, but came, unbidden, when the sense of self was least, when concentrating on other matters:

Those were sweet moments, because they were fleeting. I learnt that pleasure was caught on the slant. Contentment, if it happened, came when I wasn't looking for it and was intent on something else. Concentrate on the something else, the matter I was engaged on, and a sense of wellbeing might strike like a flash of sunlight from a frozen river.

It's interesting how different that is from the New Age practices of meditation, of trying to find and capture something beyond from within oneself. Holloway finds those moments coming when not actively pursuing them, not looking inward, but looking into the distance.

Sent to Africa, he finally realised that he was not cut out to be a particular kind of celibate priest; his saintly ideals were more fantasy, not an ideal he really wanted after all, but an dream which didn't match the reality. As he notes:

It was in Accra that I finally lost the direction I thought my life was supposed to take. It was there I said 'No' to the great demand, there I realised what a disappointment I must be to God. And it was there I began to recognise how incommensurate my character was to my own ideals and aspirations. It's hard when you discover that the person you are is not someone you admire; not the person you want to be; not cut out to be a saint.

His return saw him assigned to be Priest-in-Charge, St Margaret's and St Mungo's in the Gorbals, Glasgow. Here he was actively engaged in matters of social concern as much as religious matters; for him, the division was an artificial one. He noted how the solution to Glasgow's housing had been imposed from above, with little care for the people who actually had to live there. The position after the the Second World War was truly terrible:

It was what came after the war that began the destruction. Glasgow's housing stock was in an apocalyptic state. An official survey established that 98,000 houses were unfit for human habitation. Most of the old tenements had no hot water, internal lavatories or baths, and they were all tired and dilapidated. It was the era of the slum landlord, most of whom were incompetent as well as grasping, and some of whom were actively criminal and warehoused the poor into derelict buildings of last resort when there was nowhere else for them to go.

But he felt the buildings were sound, and could have been modernised. After all, country estates were modernised and changed with hot water piping and indoor lavatories replacing chamber pots. The fabric of the buildings were sound, but they had been left to fall into disrepair. The solution was to impose a different way of living, and replace slum areas with high-rise flats. This was the era of "build high for happiness", where the planners were drawn to this partly as an architectural ideal (the latest fashion), and partly to save costs. The people who lived there had no say:

The streets of grey and red sandstone seemed organic to the landscape and climate of our northern nation. Even the cheaper ones were built to last, and they looked as though they belonged where they stood - and knew it. Why not keep them, improve them, modernise them? Had they been consulted, that is what the natives themselves would have gone for, but social engineers are famous for their indifference to the views of the subjects of their experiments. No one bothered to ask the people who actually lived in Gorbals. Glasgow wanted to do something dramatic to counter its reputation as the slum capital of Europe, so they opted for what they called comprehensive redevelopment, the complete flattening of the district and the erection of an entirely new housing pattern. They blitzed the traditional horizontal grid of streets and sent them into the sky in the famous twenty-storey high-rises.

Meanwhile, he worked within the slum areas, helping people living there to fight the slum landlords, who as Orwell noted, take advantage of the desperate need for houses: "people will put up with anything--any hole and corner slum, any misery of bugs and rotting floors and cracking walls, any extortion of skinflint landlords and blackmailing agents--simply to get a roof over their heads" (The Road to Wigan Pier)

It is here that Holloway was attracted to Christianity, not just as a social reform movement, but as a refuge for the outcast on society, those living on the margins, and those whom Jesus came to live among. It is like the BBC Nativity play, where the angel Gabriel tells the shepherd Thomas that the Messiah is born not for the high and mighty, but "for such as you".

Against this prophetic strand, Holloway sees the moralists, who want to make a codified Christianity, where mistakes are policed, and people kept in check by fear:

How could I explain that what attracted me to Jesus was his acceptance of those who saw themselves as failures rather than moral successes? There was a subversive tradition in Christianity that claimed it was sinners who got Jesus, people who couldn't mind their Ps and Qs, not the righteous. It was the hopeless prodigal who understood, not his upright and disciplined big brother. Where to start trying to explain all that? But the dissonance went even deeper. It may have been fear of being found out myself, but I actually felt a strong revulsion against the morality-policing aspect of religion that was such a strong element in the Scottish tradition. I was attracted to the prophetic voice of faith that spoke against structural or institutional sin and the way the powerful ordered the world to suit themselves. I hated the prurient kind of religion that pried into personal weaknesses and took pleasure in exposing them.

Karen Armstrong has also argued strongly that the Mythos in religion can be neglected for the Logos. Holloway sees this with religious institutions, that they become more rigid, and the religious longing is captured and chained up. This is where religion can become a vehicle for all kinds of nasty practices, from telling people who are dying of aids that it is God's judgement on them, blowing up people who deliver abortions, telling people who have had IVF treatment and have children that they are murderers, and talking about wars as "crusades" against evil. The corrupting nature of religious institutions was something than repelled Richard Holloway:

All institutions over-claim for themselves and end up believing more in their own existence than in the vision that propelled them into existence in the first place. This is particularly true of religious institutions. Religions may begin as vehicles of longing for mysteries beyond description, but they end up claiming exclusive descriptive rights to them. They segue from the ardour and uncertainty of seeking to the confidence and complacence of possession. They shift from poetry to packaging. Which is what people want. They don't want to spend years wandering in the wilderness of doubt. They want the promised land of certainty, and religious realists are quick to provide it for them. The erection of infallible systems of belief is a well-understood device to still humanity's fear of being lost in life's dark wood without a compass. 'Supreme conviction is a self-cure for infestation of doubts.' . That is why David Hume noted that, while errors in philosophy were only ridiculous, errors in religion were dangerous. They were dangerous because when supreme conviction is threatened it turns nasty.

And he notices how one of the worst kinds in modern America is the apocalyptic Christian fundamentalism, which sees the end of the world as divine, and something to be welcomed. What price peace, when you believe the prophecies tell of Armageddon coming in the Middle East? Or global warming, when you regard the world as disposable!

Bad religion can be comforting, a blanket that protects us against the chilly winds of an empty universe, but it can be dangerous too. Belief in the imminence of the Second Coming became the preserve of the Christian Right in America, where it fed the growth of a conspiracy theory that became one of the most powerful weapons in America's culture wars.

The dangerous thing about the movement is that, rather than looking for ways to address the problems that beset the world, the apocalyptic mind-set welcomes them as signs that the end is accelerating towards us. The late Jerry Falwell, a co-conspirator of LaHaye's, when asked about the growing degradation of the planet said it did not concern him. Jesus would be back soon to end the world, so we should use it before we lose it.

But he wasn't too taken by the Anglo-Catholic movement in Anglicanism either, where he described:

pale young curates could be seen gazing longingly into their windows at displays of mitres, copes and chasubles - and the dazzling futures they promised. There was little harm in any of this, though it did demonstrate the mysterious weakness of the human male for dressing up in elaborate uniforms and insignia. Though it was not a fatal vanity, it could be silly and precious; when it was done mischievously, archly, it could have charm and humour; but it was never without self-consciousness.

Discussing matters with Graham Leonard, one time Bishop of London (who later left the Church of England over the ordination of women priests and jointed the Catholics), he noted how often the arguments come after the positions have been taken, and serve as a kind of rational justification for those decisions which we have already made. He makes some marvelous points against the weakness and incoherence of Leonard's position:

What I came to realise in my discussions and debates with Graham Leonard was the role non-theological factors played in theological debate. In particular, we are all experts at finding intellectual arguments for decisions we have actually taken on temperamental or emotional grounds.

In the case of women's ordination, Graham Leonard paraded the supposedly theological objection, which was as simple as it was crass. Jesus was a man. At the altar the priest represents Jesus. Therefore the priest has to be a man. A number of rejoinders were possible to this. Jesus was a Jew. At the altar the priest represents Jesus. Therefore the priest must be a Jew. Jesus was circumcised. At the altar the priest . . . and so on. He would have none of it. But he was embarrassed by the arbitrariness of his own logic. It was then the tip of the iceberg bobbed above the surface, and it revealed the anxious nature of the conservative mind as it negotiates change and contemplates doing something for the first time.

In fact, he came to realise that for him, it was people that counted first, not the institutions and the rules, when they were used to oppress:

I was also coming to recognise that I could not privilege any institution above the individuals who composed it. When it came to a choice between them - which was usually when it meant applying the rules against them - I noticed that I usually came down on the side of the individual.

That's a position that I certainly agree with; it is often a matter where a choice comes up, and sometimes that involves rethinking principles and seeing if they are actually prejudices instead. That's not to say that rules are always bad; society needs some kind of rules to function. But religious organisations tend to be good at using their rules to exclude diversity - the heretic, the excommunicated, the backslider, the lapsed - all terms which suggest that the individual concerned is in the wrong, without perhaps asking why they have chosen that path.

I remember the Exeter Christian Union in the late 1970s among whom I had friends speaking of the dangers of back-sliding, and telling me of someone who had been their CU leader at one of the Halls of Residence who had left, drifted away. Curious, I chatted to her, and found that it was more a case that she had outgrown the restrictive demands of the CU. It was the institution which was causing people to leave because of its rules, particularly the misogynism where women were concerned, but those within just couldn't see that. They excluded, where I would always tend to include. I remained friendly with people within, as well as people without, but it opened my eyes to the way that an institution can bend the mind of its members to privileging its internal rules over individuals, whatever the problems there might be with those rules. 

Victor Hugo's masterpiece, "Les Miserables", is a narrative with a central thread - Jean-Valjean, who always takes the side of the outsider, reaching out with compassion, having been the recipient of compassion at a very low ebb in his life, a convict on parole - and Javert, the Inspector whose only rationale for life is bound up with upholding the smallest print within the law, and is unbending, without mercy. It dramatises that conflict, but it is one that, as Richard Hollow found out, does not go away.

In the second part of this review next Sunday, I'll be looking at Richard Holloway's later career and time as Bishop of Edinburgh.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Fall Back

Don't forget the clocks change tonight!

Looking back at summer, and summers past, as we come to colder times. Time for something melancholy...

Fall Back

The hour is changing, falling back
But what if we could move in time
Jump an hour past, along the track
Would we find fear or joy sublime?
I wish that I could visit times past
Moments more precious once again
But nothing remains, all ends at last
Once more sorrow, grief, and pain
The glorious days of summer hours
Basking in sunlight, walking lanes
Showers bring the scent of flowers
But present binds us with its chains
The fleeting moment, now expire
Burning up like winter fire

Friday, 26 October 2012

Grave Matters

A Jersey family say they're disgusted that they have to remove plants and personal belongings from their relatives graves. Alida Beason's brother and grandfather are buried at Les Quennevais cemetery, but she's been told by the parish only specific items are allowed there. St Brelade say it's to ensure the graveyard remains tidy and respectful, but Alida insists the move is bureaucratic. (1)

Now readers with long memories may recall that a year or two back this same Committee took the decision to refuse black headstones on the graves:

Danny Michel wants to put the stone in Les Quennevais Cemetery for his late wife Violet. But St Brelade Constable Mike Jackson said there was a clause in the rates book that said only headstones made of local material could be used. There is no black granite-type material available in Jersey so it would need to be imported. Mr Michel argues there are already 14 black headstones in the cemetery.(2)

In the case of Mr Michel, the decision was overturned:

Mr Michel's battle with the parish to have a black headstone for his wife's grave has been won. Yesterday the Constable announced that the St Brelade Cemetery Committee, who met for the first time in 5 years, would be willing to change to regulations to permit the stone to be erected. In an email to the Parish deputies and Senator Ferguson, Constable Jackson wrote: "The cemetery committee decided yesterday to agree to submitting a revised regulation to a Parish Assembly to permit black natural stone in the cemetery."(3)

That was eventually overturned after a public meeting and petition. So who is the Comite des Cimetiere des Quennevais? On the Parish Website the details are given except for the Churchwardens of St Brelade's Church, who are listed on a notice board inside the Parish Church:

Comite des Cimetiere des Quennevais
Le  Connétable - Steve Pallett
Le Recteur - Rev Mark Bond
Parish Priest of the Catholic Church - Rev Kevin Hoiles
The Methodist Minister
Procureurs du  Bien Public - Arthur Morley and Peter  Norman
A Church Warden - which must be either Brian Clarke or Eddie Cuthbert

All the Parish website has to say about the rules are as follows:

Every Parish has a cemetery and details are listed for this Parish below. Some Parishes may have burial plots that are not consecrated and there are areas reserved for Jewish burials and for Muslim burials in St Helier

A notice is posted on the cemetery, but I think it would also be helpful - in this day and age - to have the details shown online. People often walk past notice boards without really taking in what is on them, except when large warning signs are displayed.

Incidentally, the last set of online accounts for St Brelade as a PDF are for 2009! A revamp and update of the website is long overdue. The accounts, for the year ended 30 April 2009, have "Refilling of graves and general maintenance" -  £522, with the 2008 figure of 1,832, so perhaps someone is looking to reduce costs here.

There have been a number of angry comments, in particular, focusing on the fact that items on the grave were thrown away without notifying the relatives. One particular one sums this up:

This is disgusting. Who are they to say what can and can't be left on a grave? Stuart was a friend of mine and I know that visiting his grave and leaving beautiful flowers and plants is very important to Fiona and Stuart's family and friends. I am appalled that items have been removed and thrown away. How dare the Parish disrespect this.

And another shows that whatever policy there is, it is not applied consistently at all cemeteries:

Typical unfeeling nonsense from 'up top'. Jersey red tape gone mad again. My other friend died and his grave is covered in items and that's never been a problem, in fact it serves as a reminder of our good times. It's entirely personal. How dare these people even think to touch or remove them, or try to nanny us in yet another area of life.

Anything to do with death is likely to raise strong emotions, and it does raise the following questions:

Who is responsible in the day to day running of the cemetery. According to the BBC, when the Committee met to discuss the issue of black headstones, it was the first time they had met in five years. On that matter, Mike Jackson, former Constable remarked:

"Those earlier stones were granted on the basis of the previous practice but I soon after received complaints from the public about the black gravestones and thought the most practical solution and pragmatic solution was to stick rigorously to the regulations."

That gives the impression it was his decision but was it? How often do the committee meet? Do they have minutes of decisions made? Are these publically available, or kept in secret?

Or is the oversight of the cemetery delegated to the hands of one or two individuals, or even delegated further down the line to other Parish officials? Do they discuss infringements of the rules and ever look at changing them? When were the original rules drawn up, and what scope is there for interpretation? Are they being applied too rigidly.

Given the heavy handed, and somewhat tactless way the Comite des Cimetiere des Quennevais has operated recently, I think that these are questions that need answering.

However, the alternative viewpoint should also be considered. The rules were set up partly for aesthetic reasons, partly for maintenance, and partly so that the cemetery should be kept dignified. It appears that the grave of Alida Beason's relatives has virtually a miniature garden placed on it, with garden ornaments. This isn't just the placement of flowers. Where does that kind of decoration stop?

I do wonder perhaps if previous committees did not pay as much attention as they should to the rules, and gently reminding people what is not acceptable, thus making trouble for the future.

An example of something similar would be parking by St Thomas Church. For years it was ignored on Sundays and police turned a blind eye. At the special mass after the death of Pope John Paul II, suddenly they descended on the road and proceeded to book people with parking tickets while the service was just ending. That caused a lot of anger. It was another example of perhaps two wrongs - a tactless approach at almost conceivably the worst moment - and the problem caused by previous officers not being as strict as they should in the past.

So not all the fault lies with the Comite des Cimetiere. There are ground for enforcing the rules, even if this seems to have been done - as with the black gravestones - in a very heavy handed way. Perhaps the Comite des Cimetiere should take a course in etiquette and counselling.

Where people's loved ones have been buried, very intense emotions come to play, and a very gentle but firm touch is needed. Barging in, removing items, disposing of them (rather than just placing them for collection elsewhere) is not the right way to go about things. It comes across as uncaring, unfeeling and unthoughtful. A softer approach would be better, apologising for the fact that the rules don't allow this.

In the UK, there's an example of this from 2008:

A DISTRAUGHT mum fears she could be forced to move her daughter's grave because its decoration breaks cemetery regulations (5)

But while the rules don't permit this, the way of dealing with it has been very different - a lesson perhaps for St Brelade:

Staff have given her until November 15 to remove the garden or the items will be put in storage for six months and then be destroyed. A Salford council spokesman said: "Grave owners are provided with clear guidelines which operate for everyone's benefit. "Vicky purchased an ashes grave which is much smaller than a standard grave and therefore it has limited space for ornamental purposes. The extent of her garden is setting a precedent for others nearby."  Coun Keith Mann, spokesman for the environment, said: "We have every sympathy with Vicky and would like to seek a satisfactory solution." (5)

Where the black headstones were concerned, the precedent had been set, and the Comite des Cimetiere should have taken the initiative in actively regularising the situation. But where making a "grave garden" is concerned, with plants and personal belongings, this can be rectified, and possibly should.

Also most UK cemeteries have the regulations clearly online, and it is about time that St Brelade's followed suit. The Parish website needs updating to include that. Those often include reasons for the regulations, for example:

The use of breakable items (i.e. glass vases, glass containers, porcelain etc.,) is not permitted. Breakable items pose a serious hazard to cemetery visitors, our maintenance crew and their equipment. For the same reason, we ask that you not use wire, wire pins, or make holes in the soil to secure flower arrangements, or to place rods of any kind in vase or at the gravesite.

While we recognize that taste is an individual matter, we reserve the right to remove from graves sites any items which have deteriorated; which are contrary to cemetery regulations, or do not contribute to the beauty and dignity of the cemetery. We will not be held responsible for such items that may be removed. (6)

I hope that some improvement in the way the Comite des Cimetiere operates will come about, and improvements to the Parish website regarding cemetery rules. I have sympathy with them in this recent case, but not with the way it has been handled - Inspector Javert who rigidly enforced the law in "Les Miserables" would have been pleased, but then he is hardly held up as a model to emulate!

(3) BBC News Report

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Santa Smoker

A Canadian publisher is involved in a row about Father Christmas and smoking. According to The Daily Telegraph, the publisher removed a reference to Santa's pipe from the famous poem A Visit from St Nicholas, which begins: "Twas the night before Christmas". The publisher says "I don't think Santa should be smoking in the 21st century".

Santa is clearly in a bad way, it's obvious he is chain smoking his way around the world on the night before Christmas. Obviously they should add an extra verse, suggesting that smoking is bad for you:

Twas the night after Christmas, and told off by his spouse
In the rehab clinic, though he did grumble and grouse
The little old man, still madly puffing away
A nicotine addict, what would children say!

Other politically correct changes have taken place. And clearly some of them are quite justified. The Dam Busters' dog will be renamed for a new version of the classic war movie. A black Labrador was the mascot for RAF 617 squadron, and it was called "Nigger".

Stephen Fry is writing the film screen play and said: "no question in America that you could ever have a dog called the N-word". In the remake, the dog will be called "Digger" instead of "Nigger".

Another similar change came to Agatha Christie's novel "And Then There Were None", which was originally titled "Ten Little Niggers", published in 1939. In fact, even in 1940, the title in the USA, though not in Britain, was changed to the less offensive " Ten Little Indians". Less offensive, unless you were a Native American, of course, which is perhaps why it changed again to "And Then There Were None".

Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Indian boys travelling in Devon;
One said he'd stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in half and then there were six.
Six little Indian boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Indian boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Indian boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Indian boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two Little Indian boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Indian boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.

Of course, Agatha Christie had come across the Nursery Rhyme, and it suggested to her the plot for a story in which everyone mysteriously came to this Island in Devon, and died one by one, in such a way that the police and reader had no idea who had done it, despite the fact that the list of suspects seemed to be diminishing. The Hollywood movie rather spoilt it by having the villain unmasked, and not able to complete their fiendish task.

It's debatable how racist Christie was, and you find people blogging on both sides. As far as the book goes, she was simply on the look out for a suitable plot device. Nursery rhymes were a particular favourite of hers for book titles, so that's not surprising. In the book, one character Lombard abandoned some men in Africa to die, and another character voices this remark "They were only natives". However, Lombard has been judged by the mysterious person who has brought them to the Island, and sentenced to death because of this; it is considered a crime.

Many of those people Poirot encounters mistrust him as that little foreigner, often those being the snobbish country house elite, but we are not to take that seriously, rather the reverse. It is their attitude to Poirot, whose side we are on, which is repellent, not admirable.

We must be careful not to judge Christie by her characters motivations and attitudes which quite a few of those do, or mistake irony where it occurs. The primary sources must surely be her autobiography, and the personal account "Come Tell Me How You Live", neither of which displays any racism.

As one commentator remarks on a book:

"Murder in Mesopotamia was published in 1936, a full 10 years after the disappearance.  On its surface, it is a classic Christie murder mystery but it is also one of her finest novels, with layers of cultural and historical commentary that transcend the narrow focus of her English village mysteries.  It is a delicately woven tale of the English upper middle class tourist abroad in the wonders of the Middle East and it has many shrewd things to say about imperialism and racism.  Christie was a woman who understood both these evils.  Her best writing reveals she rejected them in her heart, although by and large her irony is misunderstood and underestimated by her critics on this point." (1)

Incidentally, Johnny Speight had a similar problem on TV with the character of Alf Garnet in "Till Death Us Do Part", where the irony was lost on many people, unlike the terrible sledgehammer approach of "Love Thy Neighbour", one of the most dreadful TV series.

"The Black and White Minstrels" would be completely unacceptable today, and "Mind Your Language" where foreigners are stereotypes would probably not go down well. "Allo Allo" managed to get away with the very broadly drawn stereotypes, because we sympathise with Rene, a Frenchman, and the Englishmen are silly-ass stereotypes.

In the area of religion, "Onward Christian Soldiers" has been changed to "Onward Christian Pilgrims" as being rather too militaristic, although the following verse does say "Marching as to War", not marching to war. That's possibly a less forgivable change, especially as Paul's Letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament extols the reader to "put on the whole armour of God", including the "shield of faith" and the "sword of truth", so the metaphor is deep seated within the New Testament.

One verse of "All Things Bright and Beautiful" is usually dropped

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.

Now that's clearly a reference to the parable of the rich man and the beggar (as Maurice Frost points out in a letter in her defence), where the rich man has duties to serve the beggar, and goes to hell for failing to do so. Mrs Alexander and her audience would have had that in mind, but we've lost that contextual familiarity with the New Testament, and so it seems to be promoting the status quo and class divide.

As Arthur Wallace points out, it is too open to misconstruction, which perhaps is also the case with "Onward Christian Soldiers", which can be seen as overtly militaristic.

Political correctness is a difficult issue, and what seems acceptable in the past may seem less so in the present. I suspect though, that the present has its own prejudices, which are probably too close for us to see them closely. So while we may reconsider Santa smoking, we should perhaps also look to see what the fashionable and acceptable vices are today - those that we don't consider vices.


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Misquoting Tibullus: An Investigation of Sources

As readers may know, I often end the day by posting a quotation on Facebook, which is prefixed with the sentence "And so to bed... quote for tonight is from X". Last night I posted one that I believed came from Catullus, a Roman poet (ca. 84 BC - ca. 54 BC), of whom Wikipedia notes:

Gaius Valerius Catullus was a Roman poet of the 1st century BC. His surviving works are still read widely, and continue to influence poetry and other forms of art. Catullus invented the "angry love poem."
This is the quotation:

"I myself have seen this woman draw the stars from the sky; she diverts the course of a fast-flowing river with her incantations; her voice makes the earth gape, it lures the spirits from the tombs, send the bones tumbling from the dying pyre. At her behest, the sad clouds scatter; at her behest, snow falls from a summer's sky."

After a few comments asking about it, I decided to research the context, but I couldn't find those words anywhere else apart from the Goodreads site in 2008 - where they were attributed to Catullus, and later postings on blogs. So where did it come from? Was it made up or authentic?

I decided to search thematically for elements rather than text - "Catullus, stars, summer, clouds, snow" and found a paper from 2012 on "Latin: Advanced Higher Interpretation". Under a section on "sky", it has the following references:
Ovid 8 day overcast with cloud, moon turned bloody, blood dripped from the stars; Ovid 6 pervigil in mediae sidera noctis, Lucifer; Ovid 9 apta . sidera; Ovid 12 stars not vanish, blinding cloud, the Moon, the sun rose; Ovid 20 sun wheeling back; Catullus 22 stars; Catullus 27 cry to the moon; Propertius 29 lure the moon from heaven, draw the stars with spells; Propertius 31 moon fleeting past the open shutters, the officious moon, gentle beams, the stars are put out; Propertius 33 full stars; Tibullus 37 dog star; Tibullus 38 drawing stars from the sky, drives the clouds, hides summer skies, calls snow, clear moonlight; Tibullus 39 sun's course, nature of the moon; Horace 43 moonless night; Horace 45 insensate stars (1)

But that has the basic form of the quotation - "drawing stars from the sky, drives the clouds, hides summer skies, calls snow" attributed to the Roman poet Tibullus and not Catullus. Yet the elements are so close that it seems unlikely that they occured in both Roman poets.

So I searched for the same theme directing it this time at "Tibullus, stars, summer, clouds, snow", and sure enough I found the context - part of a poem by Tibullus. Here's a larger extract:
The numbing cold of a winter's night brings me no harm nor the rain showering its vast waters on me.
This labour won't hurt me, if only Delia unlocks the door and calls me silently with the sound of her tapping.
Hide your eyes, man or woman whom we meet with: Venus wants her thefts to be concealed.
Don't startle us with clattering feet or ask our names, nor bring the light of glowing torches near us.
If anyone has seen us unawares, let him hide it, and deny by all the gods that he remembers.
Since if any turns informer, he'll find Venus is the child of blood and angry seas.
Still, your husband won't believe them, the truthful witch promised me that, with her magic rites.
I've seen her drawing stars down from the sky:
her chant turns back the course of the flowing river.
her spells split the ground, conjure ghosts from the tomb and summon dead bones from the glowing funeral pyre:
now she holds the infernal crew with magic hissing, now sprinkling milk orders them to retreat.
As she wishes, she dispels the cloud from the sombre sky:
as she wishes, calls up snows to a summer world.
She composed a spell for me, that you can deceive with:
chant it three times, spit three times when you've done.
Then he'll not be able to believe anyone about us, not even himself if he saw us in your soft bed.
Still you must keep away from others: since he'll see all the rest: it's only me he'll see nothing of!
What? Do I believe? Surely she's the same who said she could dissolve my love with herbs or charms, and purified me with torches, and in the calm of night a mournful sacrifice fell to the gods of sorcery. (2)
The same poem is also mentioned in the 1895 book on "The Evil Eye" by Frederick Thomas Elworthy, in the appendix:
The faith in the power of magic arts was simply unbounded, as is testified by nearly all the classic writers. Tibullus (Eleg. II. i. 43) says that a certain famous enchantress could not only draw down the stars from the sky, but could change the course of a river. Further, she could make snow to fall in summer. (3)
Who was Tibullus? Wikipedia tells us that:

Albius Tibullus (ca. 55 BC - 19 BC) was a Latin poet and writer of elegies.  Little is known about his life. His first and second books of poetry are extant; many other texts attributed to Tibullus are of questionable origins. There are only a few references to him in later writers and a short Life of doubtful authority... His status was probably that of a Roman knight(so the Life affirms); and he had inherited a considerable estate. But, like Virgil, Horace and Propertius, he seems to have lost most of it in 41 BC amongst the confiscations of Mark Antony and Octavian.
In a book entitled "The Elegies of Tibullus" by Theodore Williams in 1908, there's another translation:

Nay, even thy husband will believe no ill.
    All this a wondrous witch did tell me true:
  One who can guide the stars to work her will,
    Or turn a torrent's course her task to do.
  Her spells call forth pale spectres from their graves,
    And charm bare bones from smoking pyres away:
  'Mid trooping ghosts with fearful shriek she raves,
    Then sprinkles with new milk, and holds at bay.
  She has the power to scatter tempests rude,
    And snows in summer at her whisper fall;
  The horrid simples by Medea brewed
    Are hers; she holds the hounds of Hell in thrall
And there is more on Tibullus in the 1881 book by James Davies - "Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius", where he writes:

Lest such encouragements should not suffice to influence his coy inamorata, or her fears of offending the so-called " husband," who withholds her from him, should become confirmed, Tibullus adduces the assurances of a witch whom he has lately consulted to show that a way may be smoothed for their interviews as heretofore. Of this witch Tibullus gives a highly poetic description : -

" Her have I known the stars of heaven to charm,
The rapid river's course by spells to turn,
Cleave graves, bid bones descend from pyres still warm.
Or coax the Manes forth from silent urn.
Hell's rabble now she calls with magic scream,
Now bids them milk-sprent to their homes below :
At will lights cloudy skies with sunshine's gleam,
At will  'neath summer orbs collects the snow.
Alone she holds Medea's magic lore :
None else, 'tis said, hath power Hell's dogs to tame :
She taught me chants, that wondrous glamour pour,
If, spitting thrice, we thrice rehearse the same."

The services of this functionary Tibullus professes to have secured to throw dust in his rival's eyes, though for the matter of that he lets fall a hint that, had he preferred it, she could have given him a spell that would enable him to forget her. But that was not his wish, the earnest desire rather of a lasting and mutual love.(5)

It's interesting to see how different all of these translations are, even though the basic structure the same - and the same elements are there - stars, rivers, graves, the dead etc. It shows just how free and loose translations of the Roman poets can be from the original text. Note the present of milk, however, an important feature in ancient Roman magical rites.

In the original Medea features, and the text conforms to that of 1881 which retains in translation the term Manes - the  chthonic deities of Ancient Roman religion sometimes thought to represent souls of deceased loved ones, which has been "lost in translation" in the other versions. "Latin Erotic Elegy: An Anthology and Reader" (2002) by Paul All Miller notes that "Manes can mean either ghosts or corpses, though the former is more common".

Siquis et inprudens adspexerit, occulat ille
Perque deos omnes se meminisse neget:              
Nam fuerit quicumque loquax, is sanguine natam,
     Is Venerem e rapido sentiet esse mari.
Nec tamen huic credet coniunx tuus, ut mihi verax
     Pollicita est magico saga ministerio.
Hanc ego de caelo ducentem sidera vidi,              
     Fluminis haec rapidi carmine vertit iter,
Haec cantu finditque solum Manesque sepulcris
     Elicit et tepido devocat ossa rogo;
Iam tenet infernas magico stridore catervas,
     Iam iubet adspersas lacte referre pedem.          
Cum libet, haec tristi depellit nubila caelo,
     Cum libet, aestivo convocat orbe nives.
Sola tenere malas Medeae dicitur herbas,
     Sola feros Hecates perdomuisse canes.(6)

But where did the original come from? I haven't been able to trace it, but it is either a paraphrase of one of the translations extant, or possibly a fresh and extremely free and loose translation from the Latin.

How did it end up associated with Catullus and not Tibullus on Goodreads quotations? This is only a surmise, but in the history of the text, Wikipedia notes that:

Tibullus was first printed with Catullus, Propertius, and the Silvae of Statius by Vindelinus de Spira (Venice, 1472), and separately by Florentius de Argentina, probably in the same year. Amongst other editions are those by Scaliger (with Catullus and Propertius, 1577, etc.), Broukhusius (1708), Vulpius (1749), Heyne (1817, 4th ed. by Wunderlich, with supplement by Dissen, 1819), Huschke (1819), Lachmann (1829), Dissen (1835).
 If the source of this was a combined Latin text, it is easy to see how the muddle arose. But the translation takes many liberties with the original Latin, so it is probably either a very loose translation or a paraphrase of a translation made from a combined source.

Very loose translations or paraphrases from translations are more common in the 20th and 21st century. Coleman Barks has produced extremely free paraphrases based on extant translations. As Wikipedia notes:

Barks does not speak or read Persian therefore his 'translations' are technically paraphrases. Barks bases his paraphrases entirely on other English translations of Rumi which include renderings by John Moyne and Reynold A. Nicholson. In addition, while the original Persian poetry of Rumi is heavily rhymed and metered, Barks has used primarily free verse. In some instances, he will also skip or mix lines and metaphors from different poems into one 'translation'.
So in conclusion, one construction of the history of the text might be as follows:  (1) a combined Latin version such as that of Vindelinus de Spira, or possible a Schools Latin reader (2)  translation attributed to the wrong author (3) very loose paraphrase of original text (4) placement in Goodreads.
(5) "Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius", James Davies, 1881

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Bus Drivers Update

The bus drivers' dispute is 'in the process of being settled'. That is what Jersey's Transport Minister has told the States today. That's as the Unite Union in the UK makes a scathing statement on its website about the row. Questioned about the dispute over the transfer of the Connex staff to the new bus operator in the Assembly  earlier, Deputy Kevin Lewis said that a mediation agreement has been reached and that it is confidential to the parties involved.   He said progress is being made.

Meanwhile, Unite has said TTS needs to 'end its attack on bus drivers' pay' to resolve the dispute, saying staff are being forced to sign contracts slashing their pay by up to £12,000 a year - or face the sack. It says if the employers accept their 'exploiting morally bankrupt legislation' Unite 'can help broker an acceptable settlement'. (1)

The Unite Union is keen to show up the lack of any TUPE  -Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment - legislation, and in its full statement, it notes:

"Unite has offered to help broker a deal between the bus drivers who have taken unofficial action. Unlike other parts of the British Isles, Jersey does not offer legal protection to workers' terms and conditions who are being transferred to a new employer. The employer's conduct in this dispute has been morally wrong, it has allowed loyal staff to have their pay slashed while the Jersey government has continued to drag its feet on introducing TUPE legislation in line with the rest of the UK." (2)

It's worth noting that Deputy Southern proposed TUPE style legislation earlier this year, and comments were given by the States Employment Board on 9th July 2012. These range from the problems with the timetable being accelerated and pushing other items out of States legislation such as the discrimination law, to a discussion as to whether the whole concept of TUPE was viable for Jersey.

"The concept of a transfer on the same terms and conditions of employment may be challenging in practice. 'Same' as in the context of the ARD does mean the same 'i.e. not substantially similar or comparable in the aggregate'. Accordingly, compliance with UK TUPE for example, or the detail of legislation implied in Deputy Southern's proposition, will be obliged to replicate each and every benefit provided by the transferring company before the transfer (pensions excluded by UK TUPE and ARD) can be effected. This may be extremely costly, difficult and undesirable in practice to achieve given differing employment practices in organisations." (3)

It is also worth noting that the the Employment Forum on 21 February 2007 also had looked at the matter of business transfer and noted that:

"Since their introduction in the UK, the TUPE Regulations have been the cause of some of the most difficult and intractable employment law problems, which have mainly focussed on whether a transfer has actually occurred, who should be transferred and changing terms and conditions." (4)

But the same forum also recommends the following procedures:

"An employer who is transferring his business to a new employer must provide a specified set of information, listed below, at least 2 weeks before the transfer, to help the new employer to understand the inherited rights, duties and obligations in relation to those employees who will be transferred" (4)

This does not appear to be have happened between Connex and CT Plus, despite it being a condition placed upon Connex when they took on their contract. Kevin Lewis does not really address this failure at all in his reply. Indeed he is remarkable blasé about this when questioned at an earlier States sitting:

6.1.8 The Deputy of Grouville:
As it has been established that Connex are now reneging on their Service Level Agreement, could any
form of compensation that might be forthcoming be used to make... for T.T.S. to use alternative provision
to provide public transport in the interim?
Deputy K.C. Lewis:
That is something my officers are looking into.

The answer in the States by Kevin Lewis today also noted that:

The meeting took place on 10 October 2012 and was extremely constructive. At the meeting it was agreed that eligible staff would transfer with preserved continuity of employment, for future statutory redundancy, unfair dismissal and notice purposes. The transfer would be on the basis of new terms and conditions in order to ensure that the present needs of Islanders were met, in accordance with the provisions of the 2010 Sustainable Transport Policy. A number of changes were agreed to enhance the terms and conditions on offer.

On 19 October 2012, TTS reiterated to CT Plus that it was essential that all key terms and conditions (such as rates of basic pay) of transferring staff were either mirrored or improved upon. CT Plus agreed further to enhance the terms and conditions that were being offered to transferring staff.

There follows a note about extensive discussions between CT Plus and the union, and a not that "CT plus is now offering eligible driving staff employment on terms which include the following". Of these, the most significant is:

· No probation period will apply to transferring staff
· Staff transfer with preserved continuity of service for future statutory redundancy, unfair dismissal and notice purposes.

It also notes that:

For information, the 54 hour working week maximum being applied to this new contract has been introduced for health and safety reasons to protect both the public and drivers, in accordance with advice we have received from the Health & Safety Inspectorate. It is in accordance with recognised UK best practice and consistent with the Unite Union's current 'A Safer Way' campaign.

This still doesn't answer all of Deputy Geoff Southern's questions, in particular:

What evidence does the Minister have to support the following statements he has made in relation to this issue -
· "a workforce controlled by fear and favour";
· "despite the hindrance of the previous staff transfer. We must not allow the same political involvement to stifle a contractor again"; and,

Deputy Kevin Lewis just brushes these aside, and yet they made a very clear picture of current practice which was part of his speech in defense of TTS in the States recently. Deputy Southern was rightly pulled up when he called the Minister "a fool" in the States, and yet Deputy Lewis seems able to malign bus drivers without any evidence to support his accusations.

That's not to say he may not be right, but he offers no evidence to backup those statements. It seems to me that when left wing politicians make statements for which they offer no factual supporting evidence, they can be pulled up on it, but when Ministers do, no one cares about it. I'm personally against unsupported rhetoric of this nature whether of right or left.

It reminds me of the quote from Disraeli about Gladstone of "a sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination that can at all times command an interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and to glorify himself".

If there really is "a workforce controlled by fear and favour", there should be a proper investigation, and workplace bullying stopped in its tracks. He should ensure it is dealt with severely.

Gary Namie noted how "how bullying in the workplace can rise to the level of abuse whereby the abused employee is essentially in a domestic violence-type situation. He concludes that an employee suffering from bullying must address the issue with management because it is management's responsibility to manage the workplace environment. If the employee does not find help after reporting the bullying, then he/she must go higher up the management ladder."(6)

On the other hand, if it isn't true, Deputy Lewis should issue an apology for misleading the States. What he shouldn't do is avoid answering the question. If you make statements like that, you must be prepared to justify them.

(5) 5) EmploymentForumsReccommendationRedundancyBusinessTransfers%2020091211%20EV.pdf

Monday, 22 October 2012

Interim Report 8/10

The Interim Report of the Electoral Commission is now out, and I've just been reading it. It was surprising good in a number of places, and it will be interesting to see what Daniel Wimberley makes of its main principles, which I think are good ones.

. All electors should have the same number of votes.
. Constituencies should as far as possible be of broadly equal size.
. A candidate should generally require a significant number of votes in order to be elected to the Assembly.
. The electoral system should be simple, fair and easy to understand

It is good too, that the decision on the Constables rests, in part, with the people in a Referendum, although I would like the States - rather like a pre-nuptial agreement - vote to be bound by the results of the Referendum before it goes ahead.

Here are the points and my comments:

(1) That the number of elected members in the States be reduced to 42.

Almost all those making submissions to the Commission agreed that there were too many States members. The size of the States Assembly is greater than that of other legislatures with similar populations. An analysis of tasks performed by States members shows that the current system of government and scrutiny would work with 42 members although this would mean that there would need to be fewer Ministers and Assistant Ministers.

I do not think that the number of Ministries can be reduced easily unless there is enough overlap of function. Given the amount of overseas promotion the Treasury Minister does which was formerly done by the Minister for Economic Development (albeit by the same individual States member!), it would certainly be possible to subsume Economic Development as a department of the Treasury. There is a clear overlap of functions. But whether such a monolithic Treasury is desirable is another matter.

One of the key problems is that distinct departments were place together under Ministerial government, but continued to run pretty much as separate entities. The cliché of "joined up" government for improving administration by sharing resources has only just begun to take place, as with, for example, the Harbours and Airports. And it can lead to conflicts of interest. When an issue is both a planning matter, but perhaps there is a conflict with an environmental one as well, how does the Minister fairly effect the judgement of Solomon on the two sides?

It may be worth dovetailing the number of Assistant Ministers with the PPC review of Machinery of Government, which was asking if Assistant Ministers could serve on Scrutiny Panels that were not scrutinising their particular Ministry. That would avoid reducing the number of Assistant Ministers, and would provide greater overlap with Scrutiny. Effectively, this means that Scrutiny would resemble in some ways the old Committee system, and provide a training ground for members while not causing delays in the way Ministerial government operates.

(2) That the Island be divided into six large districts each electing either 7 representatives ("Deputies") or, if the Constables remain in the States, 5 representatives ("Deputies").

Guernsey has districts, but of 6 or 7 members. The aim is to get a best fit for electoral parity. If the boundaries proposed by the commission can do this with the same number of Deputies per district, I think it's a good idea, but I would warn against being to fixated on the same number per boundary, if the boundaries are grouped Parishes. Demographic changes, while minimised by larger districts, may yet mean that a better fit of electoral parity (each deputy representing x voters) can be produced with a difference of one.

For example, the current presentation has an average of 1,845 or 2,584 (for no Constables and Constables respectively) which yields a standard deviation of 152 and 213. Changing the pattern so that district 3 (the largest) gained one Deputy and District 5 (the smallest) lost one Deputy would give a standard deviation of 81 and 170. A low standard deviation indicates that the data points tend to be very close to the average (mean), whereas high standard deviation indicates that the data points are spread out over a large range of values. The difference between maxima and minima of the ranges would also reduce (from 415 and 582 to 243 and 457).

Given the small numbers involved, I think the benefits of the same Deputies per district probably outweighs that of a smaller deviation from the mean, but it is something a future boundaries commission might bear in mind.

(3) That the public should decide in a referendum whether or not the Constables should remain members of the States.

This is an excellent decision. I am (as my readers will be aware) in favour, for the time being, of retaining the Constables, but views on this seem very divided between voters, and it is to the Commission's credit that it has made this a matter for the public to decide.

The States should, however, vote before any referendum - that they will accept the result of the referendum as binding, otherwise it will be a waste of time, effectively an expensive opinion poll which States members can overturn.

4) That the decisions of the States to move to a 4-year term of office and a general election should be affirmed

This seems to have come through on most of the submissions I have seen, and it make a lot of sense, given that the longer Senatorial positions will be abolished. As I pointed out in a blog posting, the move to same day elections makes the position of Senator a risky venture, and one Deputy who had been planning to stand told me that she had changed her mind as a result of that change. It also ensures that Chief Ministers come from the recently elected, and the position whereby a Chief Minister could be elected part the way through a term of office (and in both instances stood down before facing the public on their record in power) must have contributed to public disillusionment.

5) That the introduction of a transferable voting system might ensure a fairer electoral system. The Commission will be undertaking further research into this matter in the coming weeks before reporting in December 2012.

This is an interesting change, and I think it would require some kind of electronic voting system to cope with the complexities involved. But perhaps it is time for a change, and for voting to move into the 21st century. Systems which were developed in the past, when time consuming counts by hand were the only option, should surely be reconsidered. In this respect, Pierre Horsefall's hearing with the Committee probably put the argument for transferable voting in its strongest and clearest form. If it was possible, and apart from initial costs, not expensive to maintain, it would be a good option. It is good that the Commission have not ruled this out.

6) That steps should be taken to strengthen parliamentary democracy and in particular to ensure that draft legislation is properly scrutinized before enactment. The Commission will also be undertaking further research in this area before making a final recommendation.

This holds two options, and I'll comment on one:

One means of ensuring proper legislative scrutiny would be to create a second chamber, or Senate, where a small number of members, acting in an honorary capacity, could perform this important function. In other jurisdictions it is said that a second chamber is a useful check and balance to the power of the lower house.

It can be, but the UK history - up to the time of the Parliament Act reducing the power of the Lords - shows that a second Chamber with too extensive powers can cause problems in impeding, filibustering or stopping legislation that may have a popular mandate and be practical for ideological reasons. This can also be seen in the USA, where Obama's legislative reforms such as improved medical care have met with resistance from the Senate.

How the members of the Second Chamber are elected, appointed, and what powers they may have is not clearly fleshed out in this proposal, and while the Commission wishes to give further consideration, I would recommend that the Second Chamber did not have an absolute ability to veto legislation. Also while "an honorary capacity" suggest no expense, in practice there may be an honorarium offered to cover expenses.

Clearly, if the Constables were excluded from the States, this would be an obvious place for them to be, to bring Parish insights into legislation, and might be no bad thing, always providing they were providing a scrutiny oversight to ensure that important Parish matters were not overlooked, and not able to impede or filibuster legislation.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

And so to bed 3

"And so to bed." was a phrase well known from the Diaries of Samuel Pepys, and I have been using it to end the day with a quotation on Facebook to ponder. Sometimes it takes around 20 minutes to find a suitable quotation, and I try to adhere to the following principles:

1) it must not be one of the interminable short quotations that are continually posted on Facebook, usually attributed (and occasionally genuinely) to Einstein, the Dalai Lama, Rumi, etc - so not a sound bite quotation. It must not be too short, but not too long either.

2) it must be genuine, and not a fake, properly sourced

3) Most importantly, it must be something that makes you glimpse the world through the eyes of the writer, and if you agree with it, it will not be because it is saying something that just chimes with you, like the sound bites, but a quotation that hopefully opens your eyes to a different vision, yet a vision with which you can also say "that is true", or "I never thought of that in that way, but now that I see it..."

So here is a third set of quotations for which I've ended each evening, for those who have missed them going out on Facebook

And so to bed... a beautiful crescent moon tonight, and a quote from Terry Pratchett:

What was supposed to be so special about a full moon? It was only a big circle of light. And the dark of the moon was only darkness. But halfway between the two, when the moon was between the worlds of light and dark, when even the moon lived on the edge...maybe then a witch could believe in the moon.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from J.R.R. Tolkien. I was exploring the power of myths at the time, and this speaks strongly about that:

We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Fyodor Dostoyevsky:

You see, gentlemen, reason is an excellent thing, there's no disputing that, but reason is nothing but reason and satisfies only the rational side of man's nature, while will is a manifestation of the whole life, that is, of the whole human life including reason and all the impulses. And although our life, in this manifestation of it, is often worthless, yet it is life and not simply extracting square roots.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Robert Browning:

The rain set early in tonight,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its best to vex the lake:
I listened with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up and all the cottage warm.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Keri Wyatt Kent:

The fields...are white already to harvest" (John 4:35 KJV), or as other versions put it, "ripe for harvest."...One part of the harvest metaphor we may have missed was the importance of timing - there is a season for both sowing and reaping, and sometimes there is a season of simply waiting and watering.

And so to bed.. quote for tonight is from Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

We say in our African idiom, 'A person is a person through other persons.' The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. I need you in order to be me as you need me in order to be you. We are caught up in a delicate network of interconnectedness. I have gifts that you don't, and you have gifts I don't--voila! We are made different so that we may know our need of one another. The completely self-sufficient human being is subhuman. Thus diversity, difference is of the essence of who we are.

And so to bed... quotes for tonight (several because short) are from St Francis of Assisi:

If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.

He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.

All the darkness of the world cannot extinguish the light of a small candle.

And so to bed... quote for tonight from Richard Holloway:

One of the most tragic things about us is that we commit irreversible acts with no power to undo them and no way to rewind to the moment before the event that may have stolen another's joy and destroyed our own peace of mind. The remedy for the irreversibility of our actions is the ability to forgive them or be forgiven for them. The most terrible effect of bad conduct is its ability to steal the future by trapping us in a futile loop that endlessly rehearses what was done to us or what we have done to another.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Mark Haddon (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time):

When people die they are sometimes put into coffins, which means that they don't mix with the earth for a very long time until the wood of the coffin rots.

But Mother was cremated. This means that she was put into a coffin and burned and ground up and turned into ash and smoke. I do not know what happens to the ash and I couldn't ask at the crematorium because I didn't go to the funeral.

But the smoke goes out of the chimney and into the air and sometimes I look up and I think that there are molecules of Mother up there, or in clouds over Africa or the Antarctic, or coming down as rain in the rain forests in Brazil, or snow somewhere.

And so to bed... quote tonight from E.F. Schumacher:

The Buddhist view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give a man a chance to utilize and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his egocentredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Robert Grudin:

There is a brief period of twilight of which I am especially fond, little more than a moment, when I see what seems to be color without light, followed by another brief period of light without color. The earlier period, like a dawn of night, calls up such sights as at all other times are hidden, wistful half-formless presences neither of day nor night, that draw up with them similar presences in the mind.

And so to bed... quote for tonight are from Robert M Pirsig:

You look at where you're going and where you are and it never makes much sense, but then you look back at where you've been and a pattern seems to emerge. And if you project forward from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something.

And so to bed... quote tonight is from George Eliot:

I like not only to be loved, but also to be told that I am loved. I am not sure that you are of the same mind. But the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave. This is the world of light and speech, and I shall take leave to tell you that you are very dear.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from J.B. Priestley, written during World War II:

We're not fighting to restore the past; it was the past which brought us to this heavy hour; but we are fighting to rid ourselves and the world of the evil encumbrance of these Nazis so that we can plan and create a noble future for all our species.

And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Stephen Jay Gould:

We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.