Thursday, 29 November 2012

November - 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:


Woodforde travels along by "Post Chaise". A Post Chaise was a:

four-wheeled, closed carriage, containing one seat for two or three passengers, that was popular in 18th-century England. The body was of the
coupé type, appearing as if the front had been cut away. Because the driver rode one of the horses, it was possible to have windows in front as well as at the sides. At the post chaise's front end, in place of the coach box, was a luggage platform. The carriage was built for long-distance travel, and so horses were changed at intervals at posts (stations). In England, public post chaises were painted yellow and could be hired, along with the driver and two horses, for about a shilling a mile. The post chaise is descended from the 17th-century two-wheeled French chaise. (1)

It was the more or less standard vehicle for families which were "respectable", but not extremely wealthy" , and the difference between the
postchaise and the chaise was that it used rented horses, and in England it was yellow:

The postchaise was always yellow and was sometimes referred to as "a yellow bounder." It was controlled by a postillion [A man who rides the left or lead horse of a pair] riding one of the horses. The "hack" post-chaise used by Mrs. Long in Pride and Prejudice was itself rented. (2)

Roads in that period were pretty dire:

The state of main roads in England remained fairly dire for many centuries. Parishes were responsible for the upkeep of roads within their boundaries and usually managed basic repairs to enable local traffic such as carts to proceed, but there was no central organisation or standard of maintenance throughout the kingdom, nor indeed the knowledge or skill for the upkeep of major highways. (3)

Turnpike trusts were introduced in 1706, and these were essentially toll-roads, where the user paid at the turnpike, and the road was maintained from the fund:

By the 1720s and 30s, several Trusts existed to manage roads around local towns, for example by 1726 Worcester had 76 miles of turnpiked roads. However there was little co-operation between neighbouring Trusts, and travellers would notice a distinct change from "improved" to "unimproved" surfaces along a stretch of road. (3)

Infant Mortality:

Woodford buries a young child of 16 weeks. Infant mortality (death during the first year of life) was high in this period. Infant mortality rates rose to around 300 to 400 deaths per 1,000 live births in the 18th century, while we see only seven per 1,000 today:

One measurement of health in early modern England is revealed in the statistics of the number of deaths kept by church parishes. From these records historians have gleaned that infant mortality (death during the first year of life) was approximately 140 out of 1000 live births. The average mother had 7-8 live births over 15 years. Unidentifiable fevers, and the following list of diseases, killed perhaps 30% of England's children before the age of 15 - the bloody flux (dysentery), scarlatina (scarlet fever), whooping cough, influenza, smallpox, and pneumonia. (4)

But there were changes in mortality taking place over this period, as Malthus noted:

Malthus believed that there had been a major shift sometime in the eighteenth century. 'We do not know indeed of any extraordinary mortality which has occurred in England since 1700.' Certain diseases had declined, others had risen. He noted 'the extinction of the plague' as one significant change. The other was 'the striking reduction of the deaths in the dysentery.' On the other hand, 'consumption, palsy, apoplexy, gout, lunacy, and small-pox became more mortal.' Nevertheless, the total balance had shifted towards a lower general mortality.(5)

The Madness of King George III

Woodford prays for the King in November 1789. It was on November the 5th that the King was diagnosed as madness beyond all doubt. Dr. Warren and Sir George Baker, his physicians, took a gloomy prognosis but Dr. Francis Willis, whose special field was the treatment of insanity, predicted a rapid recovery , and he was right. The madness subsided and bulletins were discontinued. The King, unfortunately would have other bouts of madness in years to come.

The first real sign of George's madness happened when his servants happened upon him in the grounds of Windsor Castle shaking hands with a tree whom the king believed was the person of King Frederick the Great of the Prussian Empire! Apart from the fact that Frederick the Great never had bark, branches or leaves on his person there was also the rather inconvenient fact that by 1788 Frederick the Great had been dead for two years! It was now that royal physicians really began to worry! (6)

November - The Diary of a Country Parson


Nov. 8. . . . Went down to Lenewade Bridge this morning to attend at Dr. Bathursts Tithe Audit, dined there and stayed till near 6 o'clock this
Evening -- then returned home safe (thank God) with the Cash. All but one Person attended which was one Neale. Had not been home much more than an Hour before Nancy's Brother Willm came on horseback to our House from the West -- he supped and slept here. He came thro' London, called on his Brother Saml who will also come to Weston in a few Days.

NOV. 10. . . . To John Pegg for Land Tax, &c., &c., pd. 5. 15. 0. About 11 o'clock this morning Mr. Press

Custance called on me in a Post Chaise, and I went with him in it to Weston Church,. clerically dressed, and there buried in the Church Mr. Custances youngest Daughter Mary Anne which was brought to Church in their Coach and four with Mrs. Alldis the Housekeeper and the Childs Nurse Hetty Yollop --  only in it besides the Corpse. The Infant was only 16 Weeks old. After interring it -- I recd from Mr. Press Custance 5. 5. 0. wrapped up in a clean Piece of writing Paper. I had also a black Silk Hatband and a Pr of white Gloves.

Nov. 19. . . . As I was dressing for Dinner, Nancy's Brother Saml from London came here in a Chaise, and he dined supped and slept here with his Brother -- He sat out of London, last Night at 8 o'clock, travelled all night in the Mail Coach -- came here about 3 this Afternoon.

NOV. 20. . . . Nancy and her two Brothers, Willm and Saml, breakfasted, dined, supped and slept again at Weston Parsonage. I read Prayers and Preached this morning at Weston. Mr. Micklethwaite at Church -- none from Weston House. It gave me much pleasure to see Nancy and her two Brothers appear so happy here -- and so in each other.

NOV. 28. . . . Between 2 and 3 o'clock, Mr. Custance sent his Coach after us to go and dine at Weston House. Nancy my two Nephews, and self went in it, and dined and spent the Afternoon there with Mr. and Mrs. Custance, Mrs. Collyer Senr, and Mr. and Mrs. Collyer of Dereham. -- After Tea and Coffee we got to Cards at Quadrille at which I lost 0. 4. 0. About 9 this Evening myself and Nephews put on our great Coats and walked home to Supper, as there was no Moon and too dark for a Carriage. Nancy was left behind where she supped and slept. Recd of Ben this Evening for 2 Piggs sold to his Father 1. 2. 0.


Nov. 8. . . . Mr. Walker breakfasted, and spent the Morning with us, and at 1 o'clock set of for Norwich to go in the Mail Coach this Afternoon at 4 for London.

Nov. 11. . . . Two Men from Hockering by names, Bugdale and Ames, called here this Morning to see 8 Piggs, Shots of mine which I have to sell, I asked 10 Pound for them, they offered me 8 Pound. I then told them that they should have them at 9 P. but they would not give that, so we parted. Brewed a Barrel of small Beer to day. Reported this Day at Norwich that our good King was dead, pray God it might not be true.

Nov. 13. . . . About 2 o'clock I took a ride and Briton with me to Mr. Du Quesnes and there dined and spent the Afternoon with him, Mr. and Mrs. Custance, Mr. and Mrs. Jeanes, Miss Davy and Miss Woodforde, the 2 latter went and returned with Mr. and Mrs. Custance in their Coach. After Coffee and Tea we got to Cards. I lost 0. 1. 6. We had for Dinner Cod and Oyster Sauce, boiled Chicken and Piggs face, a Saddle of Mutton rosted and Roots --  2nd Course a brace of rost Pheasants, 1 duck rosted, the Charter &c. We returned home about ½ past 9 o'clock and on our return found Mr. Walker at Weston Parsonage, who is returned from London in pursuit of his Portmanteau which is at present lost. He supped and lept here. He came in a Post-Chaise from Norwich, which went down to Lenewade Bridge with the Driver, and to
take up Mr. Walker to Morrow Morn' back to Norw. The report this Day, is, that his Majesty is better.

Nov. 14. . . . After breakfast Nancy, and Betsy Davy would go to Norwich with Mr. Walker, and there they dined at the Kings Head and returned home to Tea about 6 o'clock and Mr. Walker instead of going to London as proposed returned with them. A pretty expensive and foolish Scheme indeed -- I was not pleased. To Neighbour Case for Pork at 4 ½d pd. 0. 2. 3. After Tea this Evening we got to Whist lost 0. 3. 0. The News relating to the Kings Health this Day at Norwich, was, that he remains near the same, by no means better -- still in the greatest danger. Mr. Walker paid me what I lent him at Cards 0. 2. 6.

Nov. 15. . . . Mr. Walker breakfasted here and then sat of for Norwich in my little Cart and Briton with him, who is to bring back News &c. Mr. Walker goes by the Mail Coach this Aft. for London. Briton returned about 5 o'clock this Afternoon. Brought me a Letter from my Sister Pounsett to let us known that Nancys Brother William was gone of with Miss Jukes to be married, and that they were at Portland Island. Briton also said that Mr. Walker did not go to London this Day neither, and that he would return to my house again this Evening, which he did to Supper and also slept here again. It was after 12 before I got to bed this Night. Mr. Walker brought us a brace of Pheasants.

Nov. 16. . . . I read Prayers and Preached this Afternoon at Weston Church -- none from Weston House at Church. Nancy, Betsy Davy, and Mr.
Walker also from Church. I prayed at Church for our most gracious and truly beloved Sovereign King George the third. I did it out of my own head, no prayer yet arrived.

Nov. 17. . . . Mr. Walker went out a hunting this morning and did not return to us till near 6 o'clock this Evening. At Whist this Evening lost 0. 1. 6. So that Nancy owes me now only 0. 12. 6.

NOV. 20. . . . To one Platten of Hockering sold 8 fine Piggs, littered in April last for 8. 8. 0. I gave him for good luck out of it -- 0. 1. 0. Mr.
Jeanes made us a morning Visit and brought us some fine Prawns just arrived from Hants. Miss Woodforde rather pert this morning.


NOV. 7, SATURDAY. . . . Very melancholy News on the Papers respecting the Ships wrecked and lives lost at Yarmouth and near it by the very high Wind early in the Morn' Saturday the 31. of October. May those poor Souls lost be O Lord better of. And send thy divine Comfort to all their Relatives. Mr. Custance sent us a brace of Partridges. Billy Bidewell brought our Newspapers from Norwich to day. We had no Letters whatever. We were in great expectation of hearing from Somersett, as we now daily expect my Brother and Wife, and Mrs. Richd Clarke, to be with us.

Nov. 11, WEDNESDAY. . . . To James Pegg this morning paid 11. 2. 3 that is, half a Years Land Tax 6. 0. 0, Half a Years House and Window Tax 2. 15. 0. Male-Servant Tax, for half a Year 1. 5. 0. Female ditto, for ditto 0. 10. 0. 0. Horse Tax, for ditto 0. 10. 0. Additional Horse Tax, for 1 Quarter, 0. 1. 3. Cart Tax, for Half a Year 0. 1. 0. Bottled of Mr. Palmers Rum this morning, it is strong, but nothing near so fine flavoured, as what we had last from Mr. Priest of Norwich. Sent Briton early this morning to Norwich with my little Cart, for many things from thence but more particularly for Letters as we are in daily expectation of seeing my Brother &c. Killed another fat Pigg this Morning, and the weight was 9 Stone and half. Briton returned home from Norwich about 4 o'clock this Afternoon, brought me a Letter from my Brother John, informing us of the Death of Mrs. James Clarke on Friday Sennight last, 'pray God she may have a happy change'. I sincerely pity the 2 infant Children that she has left, and likewise her disconsolate Husband poor Doctor Clarke I heartily pity him. My Brother also informed us that himself, Wife and Mrs. Richd Clarke intend being at Norwich Friday.

Nov. 13, FRIDAY. I breakfasted, dined, supped and slept at Norwich. Nancy breakfasted dined &c at Norwich. About 11 o'clock this Morn' our Somersett Friends my Brother and Wife and Mrs. Richd Clarke arrived at Norwich from London in the Expedition Coach after travelling all night. We were very happy to see them arrived safe thanks be to God for the same, considering their great fatigue they all looked very well, they breakfasted, dined, supped and slept at the Kings Head.

Nov. 19, THURSDAY. . . . About 10 o'clock this morning my Brother and Self took a Walk to Mr. Townshends Plantations where we met Mr. and Mrs. Townshend and Mr. Du Quesne and we took the diversion of coursing all the Morn' and till near 4. in the Afternoon. Very fine Sport indeed we had, both my Greyhounds were there and they beat the whole field, I suppose there were 12 Greyhounds out and as many People on horseback to beat for us. My Greyhound Bitch, by name Patch, met with a sad accident towards the end of our Coursing in running after a Rabbit, by breaking a large Ligament in the off hind Leg in jumping over some paling, we all thought at first that she had broken her thigh. We sent her home immediately, and Dr. Thorne who by chance happened to be there, said, on examination, that she might do well, and that we should bathe it with Vinegar and Brandy. Mr. Townshend was very much concerned at it. We got home about 4 o'clock, rather tired. My Brother
complained of a Pain in his Stomach was afraid that it was a gouty Pain. He was rather better before he went to bed. Mr. Townshend gave us a hare.

Nov. 27, FRIDAY. . . . Mr. Custance very kindly called on me this Morn to enquire how I did, he did not stay long as he was going on to Mr. Townshends on a Visit. I thank God had a better night of rest than I have had the 3 last Nights. Had no Cramp at all. My Brother recommending me last Night to carry a small Piece of the roll Brimstone sewed up in a piece of very thin Linnen, to bed with me and if I felt any Symptom of the Cramp to hold it in my hand or put it near the affected part, which I did, as I apprehended at one time it was coming into one of my legs, and I felt no more advances of it. This I thought deserving of notice, even in so trifling a book as this is. My Brother and Wife, Mrs. Richd Clarke and Nancy went to Mr. Du Quesnes to dinner. Mr. Du Quesne sent his Chaise for the Ladies and my Brother went in my little pleasure Cart with Briton. I privately named a Child of John Reeves's this Afternoon at my House by name William. I was not well enough to go with my Company to day and therefore begged to be excused. They returned home to Weston Parsonage about 9 o'clock, very well pleased with their Jaunt. I had only a little mince-Veal for Dinner and eat but very little of that. Mr. and Mrs. Jeanes were at Mr. Du Quesnes and dressed in high Style indeed as they told me. Mr. Priest of Reepham was also with them.


Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Eye on the News

Bus fares are set to be reviewed, according to the manager of Jersey's new service. Kevin Hart said the £1.70 maximum fare would not change when CT Plus Jersey takes over from Connex on 2 January, but it would be reviewed later. He said fares may rise but the firm was also introducing a smart card system that would offer discounted rates. New buses have been arriving in the island ahead of CT Plus taking over. Mr Hart said: "You may see the cash fare rise. "But with the multi-deals that we will do on the smart cards as we progress through the year the people of the island will see a huge benefit." (1)

I welcome the introduction of smart cards and deals on them. Carrying just the right amount of cash, or close enough not to annoy the bus driver has long been a nightmare, and it's about time Jersey joined Guernsey, which has had them for some time. But I'm not altogether surprised that fares will rise - I suspect that the smart card deals will probably enable users to access the same fares as before a price hike!

It's wonderful the way the possible rise is phrased - "You may see the cash fare rise". Having just got their feet in the door, they probably don't want to lose out on their honeymoon period, but "You will see the cash fare rise", is probably more likely. I'd place odds on the summer timetable being the time when this happens.

A Jersey politician says taxpayers shouldn't have to shoulder the burden of buying the Plemont headland. A private developer has already been given permission to build houses on the site. But, next month the States are being asked spend up to £8m to buy the land and hand it over to the National Trust who'd return it to nature. But Deputy Geoff Southern says if the proposal is approved then the Trust should have to pay the States back. (2)

Most politicians are either for Plemont being bought by the public, or against it, probably with more than a few casting an eye on the mood of the electorate. Will it bite them at the next election? That's not to say there are not firm convictions, but I suspect that there are also some undecided. On the one hand, it would be wonderful for the future generations. On the other, it is a time of austerity, and when States workers are called for pay restraint, and large capital projects loom - police station, hospital etc - it seems very unwise to spend money that might be better used elsewhere.

Geoff Southern however, is a law under himself, and has probably decided to alienate both constituencies. The supporters of Plemont will say the National Trust is already pledging over 2 million, and can't afford it, while those against will think that this will still have to be spent first, and the timescale for any payback will be unrealistic to help the need for funding for other projects. ""I don't think we can afford, in times of recession, to spend £8m or more on this project", he says. This is, of course, the politician who says we can give States members all an £818 pay rise - in times of recession.


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Winter Visitors

Well, I have just finished helping pack up La Baguette for the festive edition. It's now over a year since I've been helping write articles for La Baguette, working with the editor Jeff Hathaway, which has been a most rewarding experience. There are discussions over possible articles, people to interview, photos to take, events to report on. Of course, the bulk of the work is his - the clever layouts on the desktop publishing software, getting the advertising, writing articles himself to ensure it is all filled, and getting in material from contributors. I'm just the assistant editor, adding bits and pieces. But it is fun planning it, seeing it take shape, getting the variety of interesting articles, and gradually seeing it come together. There's nothing quite like working in a team, even if I go off, research, interview, write and email in the material. And the Christmas edition is now heading off for distribution to all Parishioners in St Brelade. It's quite amazing, when you stop to think about it.

Unlike other Parish magazines, the format is not long articles, with pages of advertising, but short articles each with a photo. It's for the casual reader, who wants a "Reader's Digest" in short form of Parish matters, and I think it also has a nice diversity, and for those who like puns, Jeff has made an art form of punning story titles! The Christmas edition has several lighter articles, including one that I hope people will chuckle when they read - on "Mother Christmas".

Here's one of the first stories I did back in 2011, where I emailed Mike Stentiford (who has just supplied an interesting article on robins) and Bertram Bree, and collated their replies in an article about Brent geese. Surprisingly, lots of people mistook Greylag geese for Brent geese, despite their clear differences, and thought they were here all year round - the Brent are migratory, the Greylags are local, so it was a good chance to explain and inform, and put the record straight:

Winter Visitors
by Tony Bellows

ST. AUBIN'S Harbour is where you might often see geese, but what may not be realised is that there are two different species who live there. One local and permanently resident, and the other seasonal, choosing Jersey as their winter holiday destination.

Jersey is already well known for being host to Dark-bellied Brent geese who travel from their nesting sites above the Arctic Circle and the plains of Siberia making an 8,000 mile journey. They start arriving in Jersey generally during October and November and by January their numbers are often in excess of 1,000 individuals. "The first record of them in a Jersey history book was way back in 1694" says local conservationist and bird expert Mike Stentiford. "They are attracted to the sea grasses growing off the island's coast. But they don't stay at St Aubin's harbour. The harbour area is instead temporary home to Pale-bellied Brent geese during the winter, and although they look similar, they actually fly in from Canada."

Mike Stentiford says: "This is what makes them so special as there are only a half-dozen other areas (in France and Ireland) where these Canadian immigrants winter. Because of the muddy waters around the periphery of St Aubin's harbour, a perfect food source can be found such as eel-grass, seaweed and mussels."

But what about the geese seen during our summer months at St Aubin's harbour? The ones whom Mike says "have a bit of an 'avian club' whereby life is all about loitering with little intent!"

These are Greylag geese, who at some time in the past escaped or were let loose by their owner. They can be easily distinguished from Brents by their orange bills. Local birdwatcher Bertram Bree says stray Greylag geese are also quite commonly found on the French mainland close to us. Once domesticated, many have now become wild. The Greylag Geese, however, have their own importance. Bertram notes that it was this species of geese which formed the basis of famous zoologist Konrad Lorenz's work on 'imprinting'; this is where younger geese 'imprint on their parents' as goslings, latching after them and following them around to learn their habits.

In St Aubin's Harbour, they sometimes seem to 'imprint" on the people, when they wander up the slipway and into the road after them, looking for hand-outs.

Pale-bellied Brent geese are the smallest of the goose family and color rings have been used to plot their departure from Canada and arrival in St Aubin. They are darker than the Greylags, and have distinct white bellies, and usually around 40 of them, arrive in September. But they can also be distinguished by their feeding habits. Mike comments: "Whereas Brents are specialised feeders, the feral Greylags have a fairly open mind on what they eat - scraps from the public and anything they can find on the seashore."

Monday, 26 November 2012

Jersey Charity Auction - Appeal for Lots

Can you help with lots for auction for the Jersey Charity Auction?

The Jersey Charity Auction started on BBC Radio Jersey in 1984 and has been broadcast every December since then. It is part of the Jersey Christmas Appeal and more than 250 prizes are up for auction - all in aid of local charities. It is run collectively by Rotary, Rotary de la Manche, the Lions Club of Jersey and the Soroptimists. The money raised will buy fuel vouchers, food vouchers and toy vouchers for needy families in Jersey.

Last year the Jersey Charity Auction raised £43,188 for the annual Christmas appeal, the highest amount ever raised in the event. The total included £32,108 from the auction as well as donations from islanders and £6,020 from "pledge a wedge". Lots ranged from stilt-walking lessons to a tour of the police headquarters.

The annual Jersey Charity Auction this year will be on Sunday 9 December 2012. You can listen on the day to BBC Radio Jersey (88.8FM, 1026MW and online), live from 09:30 until 16:30 GMT on Sunday 09 December.

Murray Norton, who is Auction Organiser, has asked for help publicising the need for lots. He contacted me and I offered to put his message on my blog:

"I wonder if you could help me help local families this Christmas with another donation of a lot for the Radio Auction. It'll get promoted in the JEP running order (if I get the confirming emails by 3rd Dec) and of course on BBC Radio Jersey who are broadcasting the auction on Sunday 9th December. Time is of the essence so please email me back with the wording of the lot you wish to donate asap.

You can email or or Murray Norton on Facebook... the auction is Sun 9th Dec but I need the lots with wording from the donator via email by the 3 Dec!

Many thanks for your support.

Kind regards Murray Norton
Auction Organiser."

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Gods and Monsters: A Review

Tony Robinson's series "Gods and Monsters" concludes its run this week with a look at the gods (and goddesses) of ancient Britain. This week he looked at:

1) Lindow Man, and the ritual killing of people when harvests were bad.
2) The Wicker Man, the mass killing of people in times of desperation, perhaps warfare.
3) The cult of goddess Cybele and the story of Attis, and the ecstatic rituals in which self-castration of men featured strongly.
4) Beserkers, the Viking Warriors who were prepared to die for the gods, and enter Valhalla.

He has a host of experts on the period to interview and guide him through re-enactments. And these are not fringe people, they are well-known experts in the field such as Miranda Althouse Green and Sir Barry Cunliffe. So why does the presentation seem so bad that what originally was a show on Channel 4 has now been tucked away on More 4?

One commentator on Facebook said: " It is almost deliberate attempt to frighten folk who don't know their history into fearing paganism." And they have a point. Robinson is contrasting Christianity as a system of mercy and compassion, which has no sacrifice because Christ is the final and once and for all sacrifice, with Pagan sacrifices, which he depicts as a contract with the gods? But is that fair?

Certainly human sacrifice did play a part in a number of Pagan societies, but we have to place it in its context. Let's look at Robinson's examples:

1) Lindow Man, and the ritual killing of people when harvests were bad.

Miranda Althouse Green takes Tony Robinson through a re-enactment of a ritual sacrifice, with the casting of lots to choose a victim, and then the theatrical ritual slaughter. It's very graphic, and when Robinson is to cut the throat of the victim, we see blood splatter, then cut to her fallen, unmoving on the ground. But just because it is re-enacted like this, it doesn't mean it happened this way. There are no texts describing this sacrifice, so there's a degree of imagination in any reconstructions. We must be extremely careful not to make assumptions and rule out alternatives.

A good example of bad interpretation is the "goddess figurines". The stone age Venus figurines were first described as stone images of the goddess, which they may have been, but to assume they must have been is to display a blindness to the interpretative framework brought to identify them as a "mother goddess" whereas they may have been fertility icons or amulets, or  emblems of security and success. We just don't know, and we don't have any extract texts. TV doesn't deal with this kind of ambiguity well. Bettany Hughes recently presented the viewers with them as images of a goddess for worship.

With regard to Lindow Man, Robert Connolly, senior lecturer in physical anthropology at the University of Liverpool, and Ronald Hutton, professor of history at the University of Bristol and the author of Witches, Druids and King Arthur have both cast doubt on whether Lindow man does represent a ritual sacrifice.:

Mr Connolly believes that the man may have been murdered in a violent attack. "This isn't an elaborate death," he said. "He was clubbed to death. A small group of people believe it was a ritual killing, but it makes a better story. With respect to my archaeology colleagues, they like ritual sacrifices. The museum and several other people just want it to be a ritual sacrifice."  The two men say that many of the wounds could have been inflicted during peat-cutting activities or from the man having been trampled by a horse.  They argue that Lindow Man's throat cartilage shows no sign of the trauma associated with strangulation and that the decorative necklace, being made of animal sinew, probably shrank in the wet so that it looks like a garrotte.  Mr Connolly said: "We do not have evidence from this body of ritual sacrifice in Iron Age Cheshire. We mustn't write it into the books until we have evidence. That is disrupting history. That is not historical evidence. It wouldn't stand up in court." (1)

But even if Lindow man does represent a sacrificial rite, we have no way of knowing how widespread that was. To say this was what the Celts did is to make a major generalisation about the uniformity of Celtic culture. To take a modern example, some societies, taking their legislative framework from Christianity, have abortion as illegal in the law of the land. Others have abortion as acceptable.

The recent and tragic case of an Indian woman who died of septicemia after giving birth to a still born child, because doctors in Ireland interpreted the law that way does not mean that every society whose legislation comes in part from roots in Christianity would have the same result; even in Ireland, it is now being disputed as to whether the medical team in fact acted properly within the law. The rule is that some instances do not constitute a general rule, and where the evidence is scant, and lacks documentary backing, there is even more need for caution before taking sacrifice as widespread.

In fact, the way in which law developed in Ireland, with the Brehon laws, and the fact that Ireland - a Celtic heartland if ever there was one - had so few witch trials, along with other Gaelic speaking areas - the Isle of Man (one case), the Gaelic speaking Highlands of Scotland, Wales - is suggestive that there may have been a certain antipathy to that kind of propitiation of the gods in Celtic territories, even if it occurred in places.

Robinson is also very deceptive in his presentation of Celtic society as a rural farming one, by implication, almost a society of yokels. While there certainly was farming, Francis Prior has also noted (in Britain BC), the elaborate metal working from this period. The sophistication of the Celtic society is being overlooked.

2) The Wicker Man, the mass killing of people in times of desperation, perhaps warfare.

Regarding the Wicker Man, the evidence here is again patchy.

Caesar's Gallic War, which mentions "figures of vast size, the limbs of which formed of osiers they fill with living men which being set on fire, the men perish in the flames", and Strabo in his Geography, who mentions "a huge figure of straw and wood, and having thrown cattle and all manner of wild animals and humans into it, they would make a burnt offering of the whole thing". Aylett Sammes (c1636-c1679) gave the first illustration of a Wicker man, and this imaginative construction formed the mould from which all other designs have been drawn, as with the film. However, Strabo is probably deriving his material from Caesar, and Caesar is only describing practices in Gaul, so it is dangerous to extrapolate from this to a widespread practice. Virgin sacrifice is not mentioned in this context, but only introduced by Frazer.

But clearly sometimes such an event did take place, what we don't know is how often. Barry Cunliffe made great play of how the screams and the smell of roasting flesh would have been terrible, but let's again remember that in the 16th and 17th centuries a supposedly Christian society cheerfully burnt -  or in England hanged - people as witches - as many as 40,000-60,000 perished in this way. This is well documented, and in Jersey and nearby Guernsey, while some witches were exiled, there was still a savage amount of burning. Burning of witches was not propitiating the gods, but it was seeking explanations for misfortunes and looking for scapegoats. It was very like an act of propitiation; it was a purging of society of evil, in the hope that God would look kindly and not condemn it for its sins.

The lack of records about a Wicker man may mean simply that the sources have been lost, but it could also mean that it was an act of desperation, a kind of ritual propitiation to the gods, on an occasional scale. We just don't know.

3) The cult of goddess Cybele and the story of Attis, and the ecstatic rituals in which self-castration of men featured strongly.

I've come across this one in the 1970s when I was at Exeter, and reading Frazer's Golden Bough on a particularly dull evening, although Frazer actually gives two accounts, while Robinson only tells the one about a pine tree:

Two different accounts of the death of Attis were current. According to the one he was killed by a boar, like Adonis. According to the other he unmanned himself under a pine-tree, and bled to death on the spot. The latter is said to have been the local story told by the people of Pessinus, a great seat of the worship of Cybele, and the whole legend of which the story forms a part is stamped with a character of rudeness and savagery that speaks strongly for its antiquity. Both tales might claim the support of custom, or rather both were probably invented to explain certain customs observed by the worshippers. The story of the self-mutilation of Attis is clearly an attempt to account for the self-mutilation of his priests, who regularly castrated themselves on entering the service of the goddess. (2)

What I hadn't seen before, which was very interesting, was the instruments with the figure of the goddess used to perform an act of castration, which was very ornate, and quite remarkable. Tony Robinson makes a lot of the cult of Cybele, and suggests that this was pretty terrible. We wouldn't do that now, or would we?

Of course, he neglects to say that our own Christianity society had a practice of emasculating young boys so that their voices could be preserved. These were the castrati:

A castrato (Italian, plural: castrati) is a man with a singing voice equivalent to that of a soprano, mezzo-soprano, or contralto. The voice is produced by castration of the singer before puberty.

This is well documented, and first appeared  in mid-16th century, but the practice shockingly continued to the 19th century, and was only banned in Italy in 1861. Some sang in churches, but the main impetus was opera - in the 1720s and 1730s, at the height of the craze for these voices, it has been estimated that upwards of 4,000 boys were castrated annually in the service of art:

The last Sistine castrato to survive was Alessandro Moreschi, the only castrato to have made solo recordings. While an interesting historical record, these discs of his give us only a glimpse of the castrato voice - although he had been renowned as "The Angel of Rome" at the beginning of his career, some would say he was past his prime when the recordings were made in 1902 and 1904 and he never attempted to sing opera. He retired officially in March 1913, and died in 1922. (3)

Of course, again, what we don't know is how widespread and popular the cult of Cybele was. We know it was an import from Asia Minor - Robinson misleadingly suggests it was Roman in origin. In fact, while it did have a certain popularity, and became almost a craze for a while, most Romans were vehemently against it:

A traditionally conservative people, most Romans took a dim view of such behavior. The Roman Senate was repulsed enough at this behavior to issue edicts condemning and criminalizing its "bacchanals." So, in spite of their gratitude to Cybele for her help in defeating the Carthaginians, this was just not a way the majority of Romans were willing to comport themselves. Still worse, the priests who oversaw Cybele's worship were eunuchs, men who'd been castrated when they joined the cult. That was definitely not something Roman mothers dreamed of for their boys. (4)

4) Beserkers, the Viking Warriors who were prepared to die for the gods, and enter Valhalla.

It's likely that political sensitivity meant that Tony Robinson did not note the most obvious modern counterpart to the Beserkers. While looking at their ferocity, and frenzy, and appearing amazed that they'd be willing do die, and reach Valhalla, he didn't look at Muslim suicide bombers, who expect to go to Paradise. It's a good comparison, because not only is it very close in terms of psychology, it also demonstrates something else. Most Muslims are law abiding citizens, and don't try and blow themselves and others to kingdom come. Likewise, we must see the Berserkers in context. They may have been some of the warriors, but they certainly did not represent Viking society as a whole.

In the same way, the crusaders were hardly paragons of Christian virtue. In the Fourth Crusade, they sacked the Christian city of Constantinople. Speros Vryonis gives an  account of the sack:

The Latin soldiery subjected the greatest city in Europe to an indescribable sack. For three days they murdered, raped, looted and destroyed on a scale which even the ancient Vandals and Goths would have found unbelievable. Constantinople had become a veritable museum of ancient and Byzantine art, an emporium of such incredible wealth that the Latins were astounded at the riches they found. Though the Venetians had an appreciation for the art which they discovered (they were themselves semi-Byzantines) and saved much of it, the French and others destroyed indiscriminately, halting to refresh themselves with wine, violation of nuns, and murder of Orthodox clerics. (5)


Ancient paganism did practice ritual acts that we would find quite revolting, and that's something that is perhaps too easily airbrushed away by modern pagans looking for pagan antecedents. The Middle East, which is a region I've studied, had bloodthirsty empires slaughtering people in war on a grand scale, and also animal and human sacrifice, as well as slaves being put to death to follow rulers into the afterlife. There was certainly some barbaric sacrificial rituals in Britain. It wasn't all tree hugging sweetness and light.

But not all ancient paganism was like that, and human sacrifice, I think, was probably more exceptional that Robinson suggests, especially in Britain. Tony Robinson's rather lurid presentation distorts the past by just focusing on those areas where it was like that.

His contrast with Christianity as a religion which did away with sacrifices is fine on paper, but the historical record tells a very different story. Certainly people did behave in terrible ways, but let's consider a Robinson style history of the last five hundred years - what might loosely be termed Christian civilisation:

This is Christian society over the last five hundred years: 60,000 witches burnt at the stake in Europe. People hung for stealing a sheep. The ultimate spectacle - prominent people hung, drawn and quartered so the crown could see. Public hangings. Castrati. Slavery and the slave trade. Licensed piracy - privateering. Child labour down mines, up chimneys. The mass slaughter of a push in the First World War. Mass murder of thousands with the atomic bomb.

If someone drew up that as a record of early modern society, we'd be tempted to say it was a distortion to just focus on that, and it did not do justice to the complexity of society, and the way in which it changed and developed over time. That would surely be right. But Tony Robinson has done something very similar with the ancient world with his Gods and Monsters, producing a picture that is a gross distortion of those he calls "our ancestors", as if everyone was involved in those kinds of rituals.


Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Portal

I decided to write a different kind of poem this Saturday, which is perhaps more mystical and existential than some of my others.

The Portal
Life is the kick inside, waves in the womb
A crystal note, a sounding bell at birth
Then slowly dying, until we reach the tomb
Ashes sprinkled high to fall on earth
Black and white is how the child sees out
And life teaches us varying shades of grey
But don't miss the heart, a rainbow shout
And floating on the wind, a different way
Remember the magic, and never give up
And remember the way to love so much
But love means sorrow, drink this cup
And a last supper, and a sunset touch
So much light, I pray, in darkened pew
And hear: Behold, I make all things new

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Numbers Game

St Helier spends £800,000 to make walkway to Town Park. Parishioners in St Helier have agreed to spend £800,000 to buy a residential building in Belmont Road to improve access to the Town Park. The Roads Committee and Procureurs du Bien Public, which oversees parish spending, recommended the purchase to create a public walkway. The property, 32 Belmont Road, is currently owned by Jersey Gas. At a parish assembly on Wednesday night, 28 people voted in favour of the purchase and 17 voted against.

Once purchased, work will start on refurbishing the four flats in the building, before selling them on. A spokesman for the parish said it was hoped the walkway would make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists to get to the park. At the moment cyclists have to dismount in Bath Street.(1)

I should say at the start that I think this is a good proposition, and in fact, it is more like a loan of £800,000 - if you read the story carefully, the flats will be refurbished and sold on, so the Parish hopefully will at least break even, and have a footpath as well.

But I'd also note that only 45 people voted on the matter. There are around 26,860 eligible voters in St Helier, so that amounts to around 0.16% of the voting population  That's a very small proportion to make big decisions.

And even if everyone wanted to come who could vote, they could not. The Assembly Room has a capacity of around 270, which means that at most around 1% of the St Helier electorate could be accomodated.  The same problem besets other Parishes, and it is why when Bob le Brocq was Constable, one acrimonious assembly on the high rates and what was thought to be excessive spending by the Constable was held at the Gloucester Hall. Likewise, a tempestuous assembly in St Brelade in the 1980s had to be held at Quennevais School. Even though these venues accommodated more people, they still could not accommodate all the electorate.

G.K. Chesterton once noted that the House of Commons could not hold all the Members of Parliament, if they all turned up. He said that "it is a very good example of what we call the anomalies of the English Constitution. It is also, I think, a very good example of how highly undesirable those anomalies really are."

And he went on to note that:

When people have grown familiar with an anomaly, they are prepared to that extent for a grievance; they may think the grievance grievous, but they can no longer think it strange. Take, if only as an excellent example, the very matter alluded to before; I mean the seats, or rather the lack of seats, in the House of Commons. Perhaps it is true that under the best conditions it would never happen that every member turned up. Perhaps a complete attendance would never actually be. But who can tell how much influence in keeping members away may have been exerted by this calm assumption that they would stop away? How can any man be expected to help to make a full attendance when he knows that a full attendance is actually forbidden? (2)

What was proper and workable for a different age when St Helier had a population the size of St Mary today is simply not workable in practice. It won't do to say that if people wanted to vote differently, they could turn up and do so. If 500 people turned up, many would have to be turned away, or to stay at different points in the Town Hall until a vote was called then come, vote and leave. If the 717 people who voted for Judy Martin turned up, there would be serious difficulties. If even 20% of the electorate turned up, the whole matter would be impossible.

At St Brelade, the parking at St Aubin would be swamped as well. The Parish Hall belongs to an age before the demographic adjustments of housing estates at Quennevais and in the more Westerly parts of the Parish were built, and parking is poor. More of the Parishioners live closer to Quennevais than St Aubin, another example of how time has displaced traditional locales that were fine when St Brelade was largely a smaller farming community.

Perhaps it is time to look at better ways to engage the public. A recent report in an American Law journal looks at how the internet can improve civic engagement:

Sociologist Barry Wellman took another approach to understanding the Internet as help or hindrance to civic engagement. Sharing a concept called "networked individualism," Wellman argues that new technologies are shifting the core of communities from physically fixed and bounded groups to social networks.

These dynamic online tools are also being used by government at all levels to increase citizen feedback and participation. The Benton Foundation's publication, Using Technology and Innovation to Address Our Nation's Critical Challenges, stated that the Internet as "tremendous opportunity to reenergize government, making it more efficient, transparent, accountable, and open to the active participation of the citizens it serves, while generating cost savings in the billions of dollars."

Stating that civic engagement is the "lifeblood" of our democracy and the "bedrock" of its legitimacy, the National Broadband Plan offers concise recommendations that bring people closer to government, and government information and tools closer to the government's constituents. (3)

Perhaps what is needed is some kind of pin code and password method by which people can engage and vote on Parish distances from their own homes. It would be a good entry into civil engagement, and a scheme which might lead to electronic voting at States elections, and it would act as a good starting point for civil engagement. After all, if banks can use such schemes for secure access to secured sites, why can't Parishes start to do this? Voters could come to the Parish hall, show identity much as they do nowadays for States elections, be crossed off the electoral role, and pick up a sealed envelope with random pin and password on it.
The key difficulty would be preventing voters who moved out of the Parish from voting, but if one stage of voting included entering the electoral number, that would be as least as accurate as the position regarding votes for States members - in which, it should be noted, several people appeared in St Brelade No 1 and St Brelade No 2, of whom around 5 were at the same address in both districts!

Details about propositions could be placed on the Parish Website before hand, and submissions regarding voting for and against placed there as well, so that the public would be better informed than the bare bones of a question on which to vote.

Unfortunately, inertia tends to prevail, unless there is someone with a more dynamic frame of mind who would look at bringing it in, it probably won't happen for a long time. There may also be resistance because generally activitists don't like giving any say to those who are not activists themselves. Their notion of democratic means that voting is restricted to those with the time and ability to go to meetings and vote, and they have time on their hands, whereas other people might just have other more pressing commitments.

America has a site on "Online Town Hall Meetings: Exploring Democracy in the 21st Century":

Online Town Hall Meetings: Exploring Democracy in the 21st Century is a report summarizing the findings and recommendations from an academic study of 21 online town hall meetings between Members of Congress and their constituents which were facilitated by the partners of the Connecting to Congress project. The report is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and contributions from Harvard's Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

These are at present just discussion related groups, not voting groups, but the results are very interesting, especially when it comes to engagement in the political process. It noted that:

Our findings strongly suggest that the sort of online town halls which we facilitated can actually reduce existing inequalities. Of the seven characteristics that traditionally predict participation in partisan and activist politics, six of them had the opposite effect for participation in the online town halls. Only level of education had the same effect. A multivariate analysis reveals that younger people, racial minorities, and lower income people were significantly more willing to participate in the town halls, all of which are reversals from traditional participation patterns. Similarly, women, less partisan people, and non-church goers - also demographics traditionally less represented in political participation - were slightly more likely to want to participate. Perhaps most interesting of all, constituents whose responses to the survey questions indicated they were generally frustrated and cynical about politics were especially eager to participate. (4)

But Estonia is already streets ahead, having had systems in place since 2005, and allows its citizens to vote in the comfort of their homes - via the Internet:

Using an identity card and computer, Estonians can log on to an election website and cast a vote. Should they change their mind, no problem: they can log on again and re-submit their vote before a certain deadline. Only their last vote counts.

"It's a very normal and useful democracy service," said Liia Hanni, program director at Estonia's eGovernance Academy, a nonprofit organization that has advised some 20 governments around the world on technology. A key to the system's success in Estonia is citizens' wide acceptance of a digital identity and electronic chip-enabled ID card. Essentially a digital signature, the ID card is also used for checking out library books, paying bus fares, and even keeping track of medical data. While voting via the Internet, the ID is inserted into a card reader that is plugged into a computer. Identification - but not the actual voting - can be also done through a mobile device via a special SIM card. (5)

Elsewhere new patterns of online participation are coming to the fore. A referendum can be a costly business, but Swiss voters can do some online:

Swiss voters have been able to vote over the Internet in some referendums since the federal government and some cantons (states) began experimenting with electronic ballots a decade ago, and this year 12 cantons were authorized to use online voting during federal elections in June. (5)

With all the rhetoric about Jersey leading the way in modern electronic communications that comes (mostly from Economic Development), isn't it about time we actually provided proof that we can do so?

(3) The Challenge of Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Age. Nicol Turner-Lee, Federal Communications Law Journal. Volume: 63. Issue: 1 Publication date: December 2010.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Eye on the States

Sarah Ferguson asked a number of questions about GPs claims, such as

What checks and measures were made to ensure only legally allowable claims were made? How frequently have these checks been made in the last 10 years and in what form? Has evidence of other practices been looked for or found? If so, what action was taken?

The reply by Ann Pryke, Health Minister didn't reply directly to the bullet points of Sarah Ferguson's question, which is always a bad sign, indicating that there is going to be something missing which should perhaps be looked at more closely. I've noticed that Ministers are quite good at evading issues like this, and the Health Minister seems to do it a lot of the time.

Claims are checked automatically using embedded business rules within the Department's IT system before processing and invalid claims are rejected, according to those business rules. These rules include automatically rejecting multiple claims for the same consultation and alerting the Department if a patient has more than one visit/claim within 24 hours from a single surgery. In the latter scenario, payment is not made unless the surgery can confirm that it is a genuine instance of 2 separate claims. When claims are rejected, this information is provided to the GP, as each batch of claims is paid.

And she also notes that:

The claims submitted by GPs include information on the identity of each patient and the date and time of their consultation. If a GP were to falsify claims, this might amount to fraud and could be referred to the Police for investigation accordingly.

But here's the bombshell, buried in the depths of the reply. One tiny sentence, with no extra details:

Between 1 October 2011 and 30 September 2012 2,438 claims were disallowed

Now claims can be disallowed if out of time - six months is the time frame that Social Security works with or there could be multiple claims because of bad accounting. It's not fraud, but 2,438 claims disallowed (which admittedly is a small percentage of the whole - more than 400,000 over that period, although that wasn't mentioned in the written reply, and also we don't know the total value of these claims) suggests extremely poor and lax management at medical practices, and we have no idea from the very bland reply why that is. This is a written reply, so there is really no excuse at all for that lack of information, or for that matter, what steps are being taken to improve matters. After all, if a lawyer you dealt with suddenly sent you invoices dating back years on time on their records, would you regard it as acceptable, even if it only happened with a small percentage of cases? It's only £8,000 - nothing to worry about! But apparently doctors may be doing this with late claims over six months, or bad accounting and claiming twice!

Sarah Ferguson also asked about the Liverpool Care Pathway raising concerns. The reply noted the following:

The training covers 4 main areas which are ( in bold) communication and the need to discuss and engage with relatives at all times, to support a shared agreement in care, to provide support to relatives, to establish points of contact.

To date 23 patients have been cared for using the Liverpool Care Pathway within the General Hospital. There have been no complaints since its introduction.

It seems pretty amazing that this could be given out as a reply without addressing what certainly seems to be a very clear complaint. As Leah
Ferguson reported on Channel Television:

Islander Alan Booth says doctors forced his wife, Sue, to die, by withdrawing food and water for two days, without the family's consent. Although Sue had battled breast cancer for 7 years, she'd been told her cancer was under control. Alan Booth says, "The doctors murdered my wife. She didn't die naturally, she didn't die of cancer. She was put on a Pathway which is designed to kill. That was professed to be 'care'." "Her lips were dry and cracked and her tongue was completely solid - she was completely dehydrated. It was very disturbing to see her like that."

Reading that "the need to engage and discuss with relatives at all times", and "there have been no complains" seem a very hollow reply. At a time when the new Health Secretary in the UK, Jeremy Hunt, has announced an inquiry into the Liverpool Care Pathway, the Health Minister just doesn't seem in touch with what is going on here and elsewhere. I was speaking to a doctor who I know and they said they had very serious misgivings about the pathway. Why doesn't Ann Pryke? It looks very like a knee-jerk reaction to defend her department without actually looking into the matters except to get assurances from her medical team.

My own concerns about the Pathway are noted here:  

Stripped of its euphemistic covering of "peaceful, pain-free, dignified death", a patient is put into a near comatose state with drugs, and it appears that often liquids removed, which the official documents say is not a necessary part of the procedure, but appears to be what is happening in practice. Death obviously follows fairly quickly.

I'm reminded of Boxer, the horse in Animal farm, carted off to the knackers' yard at the end of his life. "Three days later it was announced that he had died in the hospital at  Willingdon, in spite of receiving every attention a horse could have."  As ever, George Orwell punctures the way in which rhetoric can so easily deceive.

Deputy Higgins was asking a question about the cost of vehicles used by the States of Jersey Police, and there's some interesting facts in the reply:

The States of Jersey Police currently has forty nine vehicles, a reduction of ten since last December. We anticipate a further reduction in the coming year. Of the forty nine vehicles, twenty eight are marked and twenty one are unmarked. The unmarked vehicles comprise of six vans, three bespoke dog vans and 12 cars, which are utilised by departments including firearms, roads policing, crime scene investigation and plain clothes units such as CID and financial crime. For obvious operational reasons, the Chief Officer is unwilling to disclose any further details of the unmarked vehicles.

So alas, we don't know what the unmarked cars are like, although most of the marked cars are either a Skoda or a Volkswagen, so I'd suspect if they bulk bought, it could be the same model of car. Or it could, of course, be the Ford range of cars, so beloved of the Sweeney!

And the spirit of Dixon of Dock is alive and well! As well as four motorcycles, they also have six marked police pedal cycles which are used by
uniform 24 hour response departments. Mostly in St Helier, I assume. Cycling off to the wilds of St Ouen would not be exactly fast response, but it's an interesting initiative, as cycles can often get past traffic jams and to locations around Town speedily. Do they have specially marked police cycle helmets is a question I would love to know, purely as a matter of trivia!

A reply to the question asked about the Electoral Commission noted that if the Constables were retained, that they would be elected on a Parish basis, not a district basis, in fact, just as they are at present:

All voters in St. Helier would elect and be represented by a 'whole' Constable, not half of a Constable. The fact that the parish would be divided into two districts for the Deputies elections would have no bearing upon the election, or representation, of the Constable. Under the present system, for example, there is no misconception that the electorate in St. Saviour District No. 3 is only represented by one third of a Constable. They are represented by the Constable of St. Saviour and their elected Deputy.

There's something rather comic about this idea of half a Constable representing a Parish! It conjures up a Jekyll and Hyde image of a Constable whose right half side votes with the Establishment, and whose left half side votes with Trevor Pitman, Geoff Southern, etc. It's like that Steptoe and Son episode where they split the house in half, and each saw half a TV set. But if you are sitting in the States Chamber, which side is the button to vote - your left or right? Obviously we need to know which half-Constable has the vote!

Incidentally, I notice that there are arguments on the left against a referendum. Sam Mezec says "The worst part of a referendum is that it accepts the principle that issues should be decided by the majority. That is not democracy. Democracy is about much broader principles than just doing what 51% of people want.  It is about inclusion, freedom and choice." I'll come back to that in a later blog, and his "straw man" argument that follows, but I sense that Plato's philosopher king, who knows what is best for the people, is lurking in the wings.

Gerard Baudains was asking about flooding particularly at high tides. It's a wonderful question, because of the curious historical reference in it. Is he talking about recent floods? No - 1812, of course! I've not been able to trace any details of the 1812 floods myself.

Can the Minister advise whether his department still acknowledges that in the event of, for example, severe southerly storms coinciding with a high spring tide (as happened in October 1812), certain southern areas of the Island would become a 'disaster area' and, if so, would he further advise whether this area includes the Green Street car park?

The reply by Deputy Kevin Lewis noted that there were problems, but

I acknowledge that in extreme weather events which coincide with high tides, areas of the Island are susceptible to coastal flooding which can cause varying degrees of disruption and damage. This most recently happened along the southern coast in March 2008. Whether the results of these events are considered "disaster areas" is subjective and depends on the severity of the event.

Alas, no further mention of  the past in his reply to Deputy Baudains 1812 overture! Actually, most dictionaries have a very similar definition, which is not really subjective at all - "An area that officially qualifies for emergency governmental aid as a result of a catastrophe, such as an earthquake or flood."

And finally from the 5 November 2012 Hansard, about a hole in the decking at the play area at Plat Douet School, Senators Farnham and Ozouf became briefly a comedy double act:

Senator L.J. Farnham: A very brief point of clarification, has the hole been fixed or not?

Senator P.F.C. Ozouf: I am advised that as of yesterday, because it had not been reported, it had not been but if it has not by lunchtime, then the Assistant Minister and I will go down with our hammers and solve it ourselves.

Does he go everywhere with his handy hammer? I think we should be told!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Devil's in his hole

The wonderful blog A Holiday in the Sun used to blog in 2008 on political issues in Jersey, sometimes with detailed comments, and sometimes with sharp pithy little notes, such as this one:

A Quick One

At a press conference yesterday Frank Walker spoke of political U-turns, asking "What sort of government and what sort of Council of Ministers would we be if we did not respond to changes?" I think you'll find the answer is simple, Frank. Exactly the same type of government who habitually ignore the views and wishes of the public.

But there were also historical features, which have sadly been lost as the blog is no longer extant. So with thanks to Holiday in the Sun, here's a a re-run of his piece that was presented on that blog in June 2008 on Led Zeppelin in Jersey. It's a vivid and lively story you won't find in Balleine's History of Jersey! And the Rolls-Royce tale unforgettable!

Led Zeppelin In Jersey
(from A Holiday in the Sun blog)

Here's an interesting fact that most local people seem completely unaware of. Unlikely as it may seem, in 1975 the Rock band Led Zeppelin lived in Jersey. Back in the 70's the island was still a premier holiday destination, and as such (combined with its tax haven status) attracted big spenders and money-makers. Many of the popular stars of the era  holidayed on Jersey, but Led Zeppelin arrived through rather less fortunate circumstances.

In early August of 1975 Zeppelin's vocalist, Robert Plant, was severely injured in a car crash whilst holidaying in Greece. As a result the band were forced into hiatus, cancelling a planned 1975-1976 world tour. Partly for taxation reasons, and partly because Plant had friends on the island, he headed to Jersey to recuperate - with fellow band members John Bonham (drums) and Jimmy Page (guitar) in tow.

At Jersey Airport their time on the island got off to an amusing start. As fellow passengers disembarked the flight in the normal manner, a heavily plaster-castered Plant had to be removed from the aircraft by a fork-lift truck!

The first and only order of business to take place following Zeppelin's arrival on the island was a press conference, given to the international media to announce the cancellation of the forthcoming world tour. With this duty out of the way the band could settle down and relax.

Whilst Plant stayed with friends, Page and Bonham rented accommodation. Bonham lived in the St Peter's area of the island, and liking a drink or ten, frequented the Victoria pub in St Peter's Valley. Richard Cole, Led Zeppelin's Road-Manager, wrote a book about his time with the band which included an account of an incident that took place outside the Victoria. An upper-class gentleman taking a Sunday afternoon stroll saw Bonham washing his Rolls Royce in the pub car park. He paused to chat, making the assumption that Bonham was simply a hired hand cleaning his master's car. The conversation took a downward turn when the gentleman refused to believe that such a long-haired and loutish looking young man could be the owner of such an expensive and prestigious vehicle. According to Cole, the sneered phrase "Well I've never seen a man wash his own Rolls Royce before" flicked a switch in the head of the notoriously wild Bonham. The drummer walked to the boot of the car, removed a hammer, then began to mercilessly pummel the vehicle, pausing only to shout at the astounded gentleman "Well I bet you've never seen a man smash up his own Rolls Rolls before, have you?!". History does not record the response of the upper-class gentleman...

For evening entertainment John Bonham and Jimmy Page would often go to a nightclub on the seafront of St. Helier, just a few of doors up from what is now The Cosmopolitan (The club in question was called 'Thackerays', 'Tigers' and 'The Buzz Bar' in more recent times. I have no idea what is was called in 1975). On one occasion the pair arrived whilst a local band were playing, and spontaneously joined them onstage. That evening the punters had a free performance from 50% of one of the world's most in-demand Rock acts. The impromptu set included Blues and Rock and Roll classics. The nightclub was demolished about ten years ago and a Bank now stands on the site.

In September of 1975 John Bonham and Jimmy Page flew briefly back to London to attend the Melody Maker awards ceremony. At that time Melody Maker was the top selling UK music weekly, and Led Zeppelin scooped an unprecedented seven awards in their annual readers poll. They were voted International Band Of The Year, International Live Act Of The Year, and individual members picked up assorted awards for their vocal, instrumental and compositional talents. 'Physical Graffiti', Zeppelin's then current release, was voted best album of the year.

Led Zeppelin's residence in Jersey came to an end in October of 1975, whereupon they relocated to Malibu to continue a combination of resting-up and working on material for their next album.

In December the band returned to the island to play a surprise free gig at Behans (more recently known as The Inn On The Park), a venue situated on the seafront at West Park. Their set lasted 45 minutes, with Robert Plant on crutches and a stool, still suffering from his car crash injuries. Just 350 islanders were lucky enough to attend the gig.

The show was the band's first in 6 months. They performed a mixture of their own material and Rock and Roll covers, with a friend of the band,
Normal Hale, sitting in on keyboards for renditions of Jailhouse Rock and Blue Suede Shoes.

Speaking of Behans in a later interview, Robert Plant said "It was like a dance hall that was like some place 10 years gone by, in the best old English tradition. Guys with dicky-bows and evening jackets ready to bang your head against a wall if you stepped out of line, and chairs and tables lined up in escalation. Chicks wearing suspenders and stockings....and a lot of rock and roll."

Just a handful of months later, in March 1976, the band released their seventh album, 'Presence'. It made number 1 in the both the US and UK charts. Its opening track, 'Achilles Last Stand', contains the line "the Devil's in his hole". A Jersey reference? You decide...

As for Behans, after having operated under a number of names, the venue permanently closed its doors in the mid 1990's. Following what can only be described as a case of disgustingly wilful neglect, over the next decade the building fell into a state of dereliction. Despite heavy protest from locals, it was demolished, and the land sold to a property developer. Expensive art-deco style apartments now grace the location.

The band returned briefly to Jersey in 1980. On September the 25th of that year John Bonham had been found dead at Jimmy Page's home in Windsor. His death was alcohol related, he was just 32 years old. Shortly after the funeral the surviving 3 members of the band met on the
island to discuss the future of Led Zeppelin. Upon returning to London they released an official statement:

"The loss of our dear friend, and the deep sense of harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were".

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Where does the Pathway lead?

There are concerns in Jersey over a controversial end-of-life care system, where dying patients are denied food and water for days.  The Liverpool Care Pathway is a recognised model of care during the final stages of life, designed to ease suffering. But in the UK, many families have spoken out against the Pathway, saying they were not informed that their relative had been put on the regime. Now some Islanders are criticising the method of care as cruel and unethical.

Islander Alan Booth says doctors forced his wife, Sue, to die, by withdrawing food and water for two days, without the family's consent. Although Sue had battled breast cancer for 7 years, she'd been told her cancer was under control. Alan Booth says, "The doctors murdered my wife. She didn't die naturally, she didn't die of cancer. She was put on a Pathway which is designed to kill. That was professed to be 'care'." "Her lips were dry and cracked and her tongue was completely solid - she was completely dehydrated. It was very disturbing to see her like that." Although the words Liverpool Care Pathway were not used by doctors in this case, withdrawing food and water is a common method of that system. The Health Minister says she cannot comment on individual cases - but she does say the Pathway regime would never be used without the consent of family members. (0)

But it has been used without consent of family members, and that's clear from evidence emerging in the UK. Why should Jersey be immune?

There are lost of conflicting reports about the LCP, with various cases such as that cited about showing that the care is not what people might expect. The Telegraph reports that:

Some 1,300 have signed a letter in support of the procedure, which is meant to help staff give terminally ill patients the most comfortable last few days of life. (1)

But there are clear problems over informing relatives about this, which doesn't surprise me, as the above anecdote shows that the procedure can be very distressing to family members. Whether or not it helps the patient, the need to press ahead may lead to shortcuts being taken, and it's not the first time this kind of practice happens:

The Liverpool Care Pathway was developed in the 1990s by Marie Curie Cancer Care for terminally ill cancer patients. It has been adopted for use in general hospitals and rolled out rapidly throughout the NHS. However, an audit by Marie Curie and the Royal College of Physicians last December found in six per cent of cases, patients or their families were not told of the decision to use the LCP. (1)

And of course, there is also an incentive to hospitals in terms of financial rewards, which is never a good thing:

During the recent debate it has also emerged that most hospitals in England are being given financial rewards worth millions of pounds to place patients on the LCP, a situation described as "absolutely shocking" by critics. However, many doctors say these incentives are merely a reflection of how the NHS works and nothing more sinister. (1)

"A reflection of how the NHS works" seems a very poor answer to this kind of practice!  The drive for the MMR, whatever you may think of the controversies which surrounded that, was also driven by financial rewards.

Tunbridge Wells Community Health Council in Kent found that, while the doctors supported parents' right to refuse the controversial triple jab, they feared failing to meet official targets on vaccination would mean a loss of income that could have a serious impact on their practices....GPs earn higher payments for immunisation, but only if 70 per cent of their child patients are given the full range of vaccines, including MMR. (2)

It certainly seems a very bad practice to do this. After all, if a medical practice is a good one, shouldn't that be sufficient reason for doctors to want to do that? It would seem proper to ensure that if the practice is more expensive than its alternative, then some kind of recompense be provided so that doctors do not decide on the matter of cheapness, but on what is best. In the case of the MMR, however, the inducement was for a triple jab which was clearly more financially cost effective than the single jabs, so that certainly didn't apply. The ethics of providing an incentive is very shady indeed.

What of the LCP? The danger is that parts of it can be taken - including overlooking family consent - because it is a cost effective option which gives hospitals extra funds by its use.  In other words, what is set out in principle to help patients and their families may mutate into a practice which takes those parts that are easy to follow, but ignore those parts which are just as important, but harder and more costly. What started off with the most noble of intentions can become a way of easing the elderly who are dying out of hospitals to gain more bed space. A cancer specialist has made this criticism:

Professor Mark Glaser said the pathway - in use across the NHS as a way to ease the suffering of the dying - is employed by Health Service managers to clear bed space and to achieve targets that bring more money to their hospitals....'It's not really active or passive euthanasia, it's negligence. But it is right that all the managers want the bed space and they will take down drips weeks earlier to get people out. That is a scandal.' (3)

It is in many ways, a slippery slope to euthanisia, as many patients die soon after being put on the LCP:

A centrepiece of the NHS programme for 'end-of-life care', it involves removing life-saving treatment from patients considered to be dying. Commonly, patients are heavily sedated and tubes providing nutrition and fluid are removed. Typically a patient dies 29 hours after being put on the pathway. But families have complained that loved ones have been put on the pathway when they were not dying and senior medical figures have said it is impossible to predict when a patient will die. (3)

Writing in "The Human Life Review", Wesley Smith looked at some of the statistics involved:

16.5 percent of patients who died in 2007-08 expired while under "continuous deep sedation," i.e., an artificial coma. That figure struck me as exceedingly high. I have spoken to several hospice professionals about "palliative sedation," as it is sometimes called, and all claimed that it is rarely necessary to treat pain or to relieve other distressing symptoms. And in those few cases in which a patient must be rendered unconscious, the measure is undertaken so late in the disease process that it is generally not the cause of death.(4)

This raises the suspicion that more dying patients are rendered unconscious in the U.K. due to the Pathway than would be warranted if each patient were treated based on his symptoms. If so, the Pathway protocols may be being applied in some cases without regard to proper proportionality of dosing based on each patient's need, and without adhering to Hippocratic standards of individualized care - both of which are important ethical concerns. Indeed, this practice raises the suspicion that the Liverpool Care Pathway may have become a platform for backdoor euthanasia. (4)

He also raises the spectre, which anecdotal cases demonstrate to be the case in some instances that "while it is suitable for patients who do have only days to live, it is being used more widely in the NHS, denying treatment to elderly patients who are not dying."

In September this year, a very prudent call for investigation was made by the Archbishop of Southwark who wrote to the Secretary of State for Health urging him to launch a "thorough and urgent investigation" into the controversial care pathway:

"It does seem to me that a thorough and urgent investigation needs to take place, examining the evidence on which the criticisms that have been made of the LCP rest, so that conclusions can be reached as to whether any corrective action is needed." Archbishop Smith added: "If the allegations that are being made can be substantiated, there is serious cause for concern either that the LCP is in some way structurally unsound and needs to be modified or that some doctors and nurses are failing to implement the guidelines as intended. "Equally, if the allegations are without substance, dying patients and their loved ones are at risk of being caused needless anxiety as a result of which they may well seek to avoid treatment and care from which they would benefit."(5)

And Dr Anthony Cole, the Catholic chairman of the Medical Ethics Alliance, said: "The LCP is inherently hazardous and it is also unnecessary. Excellent end of life care can be delivered without referring to the LCP framework. It is time for an inquiry by the Department of Health into how the LCP is actually operating."

In October 2012, the Department of Health rejected the Archbishop's call for an enquiry issuing a bland restatement that nothing was wrong, and the LCP was best practice. But in November 2012, barely one month later, in a U-turn typical of the UK Goverment, Jeremy Hunt ordered an inquiry into the Liverpool Care Pathway, and says patients and relatives must be consulted. Heather Richardson, a supporter of the LCP says she:

 "believes that the LCP has played an important role in improving the experience of people who are dying and we support the use of this tool where staff have been trained appropriately in its application. (6)

But as William Oddie, writing in the Catholic Herald points out, "where staff have been trained appropriately in its application" is something that is very questionable at the moment.

There are also serious concerns raised by the Medical Ethics Alliance. They say that "The Statement supporting the Liverpool Care Pathway from the National End of Life Programme was published under multiple signatories. We have a number of serious reservations and questions about the working of the Liverpool Care Pathway." Among other matters they note the following:

"The Liverpool Care Pathway .is not a treatment".

This statement belies what actually happens once a patient is signed up onto the LCP. The fact that morphine, midozelam and glycopyrrolate are prescribed makes the LCP a treatment protocol.

  "The Liverpool Care Pathway .is.a framework for good practice."

In the twenty-first century all good clinical practice is evidence based. Good clinical practice has always traditionally involved a close doctor-patient relationship  and the management of symptoms in the best interest of the patient, as and when they arise. The LCP is more than a framework. It is a pathway that takes the patient in the direction of the outcome presumed by the diagnosis of impending death. The pathway leads to a suspension of evidence based practice and the normal doctor-patient relationship

"The Liverpool Care Pathway does not..hasten death."

It is self evident that stopping fluids whilst giving narcotics and sedatives hastens death. According to the National Audit 2010-2011, fluids were continued in only 16% of patients and none had fluids started.

The median time to death on the Liverpool Care Pathway is now 29 hours. Statistics show that even patients with terminal cancer and a poor prognosis may survive months or more if not put on the Liverpool Care Pathway.

Your statement fails to mention the relief of symptoms at all. We think this is a serious omission. The question of consent is not mentioned either. (7)

And Dr Anthony Cole, Chairman Medical Ethics Alliance, writing to the BMJ notes:

An open letter to NICE calling for central monitoring of complaints from relatives over the implementation of the LCP was not even acknowledged.  Blanket assurances that the it conforms with "gold standards" or "quality statements" will no longer suffice. It clearly does not do so. (7)

(4) Hazardous Pathway, Wesley Smith,  The Human Life Review. Volume: 35. Issue: 4 Publication date: Fall 2009.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Muddy Waters at the Waterfront

Work to change the Esplanade quarter into the Jersey International Finance Centre could start next year. Lee Henry, from the Jersey Development Company, said it would take a decade to transform the 520 space car park into a finance hub. The States-owned firm wants six office blocks with underground car parking and public pathways between the buildings. Mr Henry said drivers would be able to park on the land next to the Radisson when the work starts. Three years ago plans were made to remove the Esplanade car park and replace it with offices, flats, bars and shops. (1)

There are a number of questions unanswered by this which I am sure will emerge in the fullness of time:

a) Initially the new plans were said to be temporarily shelving the sunken road idea. Is that still on the table for some future expansion or are these plans making that redundant? Remember the sunken road came with a price tag in 2009  of 1/2 million pounds a year in maintenance, which has probably risen in the meantime, and really is not something one wants anytime, let alone in times of austerity. Can we finally breathe a sigh of relief, or is there something nasty lurking in the wings, waiting to spring out? Some certainly here would be good; waffle and vagueness would not.

b) Is there going to be any revenue at all coming back to the States from this development? Previously, WEB (the predecessor to JDC) developed different parts of the Waterfront at no cost to the taxpayer, but with no yield to the taxpayer either. They were ceded land at nominal value, and their income disappeared in consultants, managing directors fees, legal fees, wages, and all manner of general overheads. No revenue stream went back to the States.

In fact, the States were worse off, because they were funding the rental of the Liberation Bus Station, which had its rent increased by WEB, and so the States were paying WEB for use of their own land (in a round about way). As Kevin Lewis, Minister for TTS noted in a reply to Gerard Baudains:

I can confirm that Liberation Station is leased from the Waterfront Enterprise Board (WEB) by the Public through Property Holdings, and can respond to the Senator's specific points as follows:
(a) The current lease commenced on 30th September 2007 and is for a period of 9 years, terminating 29th
September 2016.
(b) The 2010 rental liability is £100,000.
(c) The lease agreement provides for a 3 year rent review cycle

Isn't it wonderful! The States pay £100,000 for the privilege of leasing their own land, which amazingly was not quite enough to be consumed by the gargantuan salary of Stephen Izzat (MD for Waterfront at that time)! And I assume this leasing arrangement was simply taken over when WEB became JDC.

So is there any proposed revenue that will come back to the States from this new development? Or just more money leaching out? That's something which I think we ought to know. Preferably with some dates and figures rather than more vague promotional sounds of the kind that Alan Maclean is good at spouting.

c) What's happening with Harcourt? In March 2012 they were suing the States for millions over aborted plans. It's gone very quiet on that. Have they dropped their claim? Are matters progressing to an out of court settlement? All we have on record so far is a judgement on 15 October 2012, which relates to claims made against the Treasury Minister, Philip Ozouf, which has been adjourned for a month:

This is an application by the second defendant ("the Minister") to strike out the Order of Justice in so far as it contains claims against him.  The application is brought under RCR 6/13(1)(a), (b) and (d) and the inherent jurisdiction of the Court on the grounds that the Order of Justice discloses no cause of action, is scandalous, frivolous or is otherwise an abuse of the process of the Court. (3)

Any news? The media seem very quiet on this one, but some Court case must be still on the agenda. Perhaps some member of the States might raise the matter?

And finally, I was pleased that Lee Henry mentioned not going ahead until enough leases had been pre-signed up for the development. At least we won't get empty office blocks, and it seems that we can give one cheer for common sense.


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Slogan Theology

We cannot understand. The best is perhaps what we understand least." (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed)

It's amazing how a folk culture permeates Christianity, what on blogger calls "bumper-sticker theology". I came across it this week in the phrase "God will never give you more than you can handle".

This probably derives from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians: "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with your testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it"

But this is completely taken out of context. Paul is warning the congregation at Corinth about idols, and about the temptation of worshiping idols - this is the "test" - temptation, in this context would probably convey the meaning better. If we put in the verses before and the verse after, the passage takes a quite different meaning,.

In the cloud and in the sea they were all baptized as followers of Moses. All ate the same spiritual bread and drank the same spiritual drink. They drank from the spiritual rock that went with them; and that rock was Christ himself. But even then God was not pleased with most of them, and so their dead bodies were scattered over the desert. Now, all of this is an example for us, to warn us not to desire evil things, as they did, nor to worship idols, as some of them did. (1 Corinthians 10:2-7)

If you think you are standing firm you had better be careful that you do not fall. Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out. So then, my dear friends, keep away from the worship of idols.  (1 Corinthians 10:12-14)

In this respect it is an encouragement to keep hope, but not be too proud to think you will succumb to temptation. Suffering has nothing to do with this passage. Paul is saying that temptations will never be too great, but if you are proud enough to think that you will not give in, you might. It's a call for humility as well. But one way of reading the bible - and probably one of the worst - is to take "proof texts", which are texts taken wholly out of context to support a particular position.

People who commit suicide, to take just one example, are a clear case of people who could not handle life any more. And that can happen to anyone, and does, I've known a committed Christian who, a few years ago, killed himself by an overdose. One blog has a piece about suicidal feelings. The writer says that what you don't want to hear, and what is no use at all, are people whose "idea of 'helping' you is spouting some cliché like, 'God never gives us more than we can handle.'"  This, they say, is not looking on the real world at all, which they say is "a world where people believe it is easier to die than to be looked upon with the stigma of mental illness."

There's a site on grief, and several of the phrases listed that are unhelpful related to the same theme:

The Lord never gives us more than we can handle. (That is not how I feel right now).
It was God's will. (Many people already feel angry with God and this won't help at this time).
It all happened for the best. ( This can feel shockingly painful).
Time heals all wounds. (Time doesn't heal all wounds, although healing takes time).

A caustic comment from another blog shows up how this phrase sounds to people who are suffering hardship and deprivation:

God isn't lounging around up in heaven doling out precisely what He thinks people can handle. He's not at an executive mahogany desk with a list of toils and snares saying to Angel Gabriel, "Yeah, those folks in Thailand are pretty solid. Let's toss them a tsunami. They can handle it. Oh, and that Mrs. Jay is a tough one. Let's give her cancer. She can handle.

Even worse is to couple this with the notion that God is somehow using suffering to help us. That natural disasters help bring people together, and bring out the best in people, and we learn through suffering. This is armchair theology, it's an attempt to justify the suffering in the world by saying that there is a final purpose, not that the world is a mess, and not as intended.

The Kabalistic notion of the Jewish thinker Isaac Luria, that the universe comes about through "the shattering of the vessels", and is therefore damaged, broken, fragmented, is a much more realistic and honest one. And Luria was part of group of Jews undergoing persecution in the Middle Ages; he knew a world of suffering and hardship. He went back to the roots of the second creation story of the expulsion from Eden, and the cosmic one at the start, and from those he wrought a much more nuanced interpretation of the world, and incidentally, one that coheres very well with the big bang. It's interesting that it has been embraced by some Christians - for example, the late Bishop John Taylor. And as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks demonstrates in his book "To heal a fractured world", we can derive very positive ethical teaching from those ideas.

We have a tendency to ascribe agency to accidents, we hate to have no purpose, no sense. Tony Robinson in his programme last night on witches, showed how the early modern worldview had to ascribe causation where there appeared to be done. They dealt with the problem of sickness and natural disaster by ascribing that agency to the image of the witch, and fueled by this fantasy, the witch crazes of the 16th and 17th century burnt around 60,000 people as witches, of whom around 80% were women.

But if that door is shut, then making sense of a world which often seems devoid of meaning leads to justifying those events as having some higher meaning that we cannot see. And it is from that, and the contradiction between that and the idea of a good God, that all kinds of special pleading takes place to somehow reconcile that with the idea of a good God. I think that honest agnosticism at this point, even by Christians, would be a better response (and is after all, what we are left with at the end of the book of Job), but the desire to fit everything into a coherent framework often take priority. What emerges is a "best of all possible worlds" argument that gives rise to such trite phrases as "God will never give you more than you can handle" which I've heard bandied about by people who should know better.

There's an article about suffering by Tig Notaro which really lays the notion of "God will never give you more than you can handle" to rest. She had to cope with her cancer, her mother's death, her pneumonia, and her breakup, all over a few months. What she does is to take that slogan, and show how utterly absurd it is:

What's nice about all of this is that you can always rest assured that God never gives you more than you can handle.
When you've had it, God goes, "All right, that's it."
I just keep picturing God going, "You know what.? I think she can take a little more."
And then the angels are standing back, going, "God, what are you doing? You're out of your mind!"
And God was like, "No, no, no, I really think she can handle this."
"Why, God? Like, why? Why?"
"I don't know, I just, you know, trust me on this. She can handle this."
God is insane, if there at all.

Further reading: