Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Growing up with the Doctor – Part 7

Growing up with the Doctor – Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989)
I was overjoyed when Doctor Who was returning, as the Trial of a Time Lord had been rather a muddle, but the start of Sylvester McCoy's time as the Seventh Doctor – "Time and the Rani" – was quite frankly an embarrassment. There were a number of good actors – Wanda Wentham, Mark Greenstreet (fresh from the BBC Classic serial "Brat Farrar"), Donald Pickering, and of course Kate O'Mara.
But while the effects and the alien costume design was effective, the script was a travesty of spoken English. It was horrible. The actors struggled to overcome its limitations valiantly, and it was easy to see why Andrew Cartmel, the new script editor, was deeply unhappy at the curate's egg that he had been saddled with.
Rani: Prepare the Doctor's cabinet for occupation.
Mel: Well, that'll be a waste of effort. You've got to find him first and then catch him.
Rani: I need neither find nor catch him. The bumbling fool's ready made as a sacrificial lamb.
Mel: He's shrewder than you think. Underestimating the Doctor is a common fault.
Rani: Really?
Mel: He's got qualities you'll never have.
Rani: Such as?
Mel: Something I'd call humanity.
Rani: Huh. You're as sentimental as he is. Get on with your work.
The late Kate O'Mara manages to do a very funny impression of Bonnie Langford at one part of the story, but it was a sad swan song for her in Doctor Who. She is probably better remembered for her role in Dynasty, the American TV show, but I fondly remember her in Triangle, a British drama about a passenger ferry company, which had a ferry, some sea, a very small crew, Kata O'Mara, and virtually no passengers! No wonder the show stopped; the ferry company must have gone bankrupt!
The first season with Sylvester McCoy was patchy. There were moments of greatness in Paradise Towers, Delta and the Bannerman, and Dragonfire, but also moments that made me cringe. And sometime the script had large holes in it. The cliff hanger in Dragonfire was dire, and so was some of the dialogue that Sophie Aldred had to say. And who heard of a villain who, while searching for a power source for a thousand years, decides to run a freezer centre?
But there was a potential there – Sylvester McCoy was settling into the part, and showed he could bring a strong presence to the Doctor. Sophie Aldred was more promising than previous companions.
The year of the first Season, 1987, was the year that the Great Storm hit Jersey and the South of England. Trees were uprooted. Roofs blown off. I remember driving home on the night of the storm – having just co-produced the opening night of the Grouville Church history pageant – and thinking it was hard to drive at 11.30 at night.
The wind was tugging at my mini (and no power steering back then) and I was going along Victoria Avenue at a steady 20 mph. In the morning, the scene was like the Blitz. Trees uprooted everywhere. Huge roots sticking in the air; huge holes in the ground. Broken water pipes gushing water. While we have recently experienced very turbulent weather, the number of trees felled in that one night has yet to be approached.
Season 25 in 1988 was a brilliant opening with Remembrance of the Daleks. The script and effects played to Doctor Who's strengths, and even now, it still stands out as a fine piece of television. Sylvester McCoy shows how good he can be, with the right script, and so does Sophie Aldred as Ace. Suddenly, we have a sea change in the series, and a companion who would not be out of place in 2005 – feisty, independent, with a real character of her own, and not a screamer. The Daleks return to 1963 London, Coal Hill school, but there are two factions, still hating the unlike as Daleks have since their inception, but also hating each other for being different.
And this is a story about race, about prejudice with "No Coloureds" on the windows of lodging houses, and a wonderful vignette when the Doctor talks to a Jamaican about the nature of choices over whether or not to take sugar:
Café: (The sign says open, but there are no lights on and no customers. A Jamaican man comes out from the kitchen.)
John: Can I help you?
Doctor: A mug of tea, please.
John: Your tea. Sugar?
Doctor: Ah. A decision. Would it make any difference?
John: It would make your tea sweet.
Doctor: Yes, but beyond the confines of my taste buds, would it make any difference?
John: Not really.
Doctor: But
John: Yeah?
Doctor: What if I could control people's taste buds? What if I decided that no one would take sugar? That'd make a difference to those who sell the sugar and those that cut the cane.
John: My father, he was a cane cutter.
Doctor: Exactly. Now, if no one had used sugar, your father wouldn't have been a cane cutter.
John: If this sugar thing had never started, my great-grandfather wouldn't have been kidnapped, chained up, and sold in Kingston in the first place. I'd be an African.
Doctor: See? Every great decision creates ripples, like a huge boulder dropped in a lake. The ripples merge, rebound off the banks in unforeseeable ways. The heavier the decision, the larger the waves, the more uncertain the consequences.
John: Life's like that. Best thing is just to get on with it.
This doesn't advance the plot, but it adds background and texture to it. Remembrance of the Daleks is very good at that, and apart from the smallest lapse – "rice pudding", it is a strong opener, and shows how much promise there could be, even in a series where CGI was still mostly in the future.
And 1988 was a year of new beginning for me as well. I met Angela, who was to become my wife, and went on a trip with Rosemary and Mark Hampton to the Festival des Remparts (a Medieval festival weekend) in Dinan as a kind of recce to see if we could do something historical over there. We never did, but it was fun wondering about dressed in medieval clothing – I was in a brown friar's outfit!
1989 was the year I was married in Grouville Church, with my friend Terry Hampton officiating. It was a time of change.
And that year, Doctor Who changed as it began its final season of the "classic" era, with some fine stories, of which "The Curse of Fenric", especially now it has been re-edited with missing material reinstated, is one of the finest of the McCoy era.
This is a much darker, more manipulative Doctor, more sombre, and Ace, as before, continues to excel as a companion, becoming much more of a character in her own right rather than a mere foil for the Doctor.
ACE: There's a wind whipping up. I can feel it through my clothes. Is there a storm coming?
LEIGH: I wasn't expecting one.
ACE: The question is, is he making all the right moves or only going through the motions?
(Ace leads Leigh away around the corner, and the Doctor runs across the open space unseen into the guard room. The keys to the cell are in a desk drawer. The Doctor frees Sorin and they leave.)
LEIGH: What are you doing here?
ACE: You have to move faster than that if you want to keep up with me. Faster than light.
LEIGH: Faster than the second hand on a watch?
ACE: Much faster. We're not even moving yet. Hardly cruising speed. Sometimes I move so fast, I don't exist any more.
LEIGH: What can you see?
ACE: Undercurrents
But all too soon, as the year drew to a close, the final episodes of Survival were shown, and the Doctor and Ace disappeared into history.
DOCTOR: They've been taken back to the wilderness. The place is different but the hunt goes on. You know all about the hunt, don't you, Ace?
ACE: I felt like I could run forever, like I could smell the wind and feel the grass under my feet and just run forever.
DOCTOR: The planet's gone, but lives on inside you. It always will.
It was also the year (at its close), when our son Martin was born, in mid-November. And although it was later corrected, it was still a shock to know that he was born with talipes, more popularly known as "club foot". We felt joy and grief combined. Just as Doctor Who had grown darker, troubled with stories of pain and loss with Ace and her past history, so had our own personal world of the future, as well.

But the story continued, as the Doctor and Ace left to go into the sunset. I didn't know if it would ever be back. But I hoped that it would. Hope is the expectation of things yet to come; we all need that in our lives.

DOCTOR: There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Dear Fellow Resident

I've recently seen a missive sent out to the residents of St Brelade's Bay, and it paints a very misleading picture of certain proposals by Deputy John Young. In effect, by linking his proposals to Coastal National Park, as a quick reading of the JEP suggests, it makes a case for virtually any development in the bay to be permitted, including revision of plans to increase sizes of dwellings considerably, or development of large and inappropriate properties.
In fact, contrary to what the letter tells us, the JEP says that John Young is concerned about the impact of future development on the "beachfront" following "plans submitted for a ten-bedroom house on the former Zanzibar site". There is no indication in any thing that he wants the whole bay to be protected in such a stringent way, only the "beachfront" area.
What else is notable about this letter? It is anonymous. It has been put through the letterbox of residents living in St Brelade's Bay, but the writer clearly wishes not to be known. One has to ask why. Is it because they are planning a development of the kind that residents might well oppose, and don't wish to be identified? Is it because they are already the subject of criticism for a new development within the Bay? Either way, it seems very cowardly to take pot-shots at Deputy Young, and not reveal who you are.
Here is the start of the letter, which conveys most of the central arguments:
"Dear Fellow Resident"
"As reported in the Jersey Evening Post, Deputy John Young is calling for greater restrictions to existing homes and businesses in St. Brelade's Bay. "
"His call for Coastal National Park restrictions are unnecessarily emotive and unwarranted given the level of protection already afforded to the beach front through existing planning polices. The Coastal National Park policy of the Island Plan is due to be debated and amended by the States of Jersey in June this year. The amended policy will restrict householders and businesses, preventing even the most minor of changes, without a .planning application, and setting the strongest presumption against all forms of new development for whatever purpose. Designation of St Brelade's Bay as Coastal National Park would, in particular, mean:"
"1.    Every householder's permitted development rights being restricted or removed meaning planning permission having to be required for all minor alterations to existing buildings, driveways and other forms of hard landscaping, accesses, fences and walls and satellite dishes (and signs, advertisements or flagpoles for businesses).
2.    The strong presumption against new ancillary buildings such as garages, sheds and outbuildings
3.    Presumption against the replacement of your house with a new building if an increase in size is desired or required, notwithstanding how well designed it is.
4.    All extensions would need to be subservient to the main house seriously restricting the size of extension you might desire, notwithstanding how well designed it is.
5.    Extensions could not be built to provide a granny annexe for a dependent relative or child.
6.    Presumption against the redevelopment of existing businesses for other employment or non-employment use.
7.    Proposals for new leisure and tourism buildings are unlikely to be favourably considered."
Now contrast this for being misleading. From the letter:
"As reported in the Jersey Evening Post, Deputy John Young is calling for greater restrictions to existing homes and businesses in St. Brelade's Bay."
And from the JEP:
"The beachfront at St Brelade is 'vulnerable' and should be protected from future development as part of the Coastal National Park, according to one of the parish Deputies."
Notice how the "beachfront" is conveniently left out of the letter!
And in fact, the purpose of the public meeting is not quite how it appears even in the JEP. His exact words are:
"Greater protection required for St Brelade's Bay in Island Plan, have arranged public meeting 29 April 7.30pm at Parish Hall to hear views"
This is not any sort of formal proposal. He is just inviting public views.
A careful reading of what Deputy Young is saying indicates that the whole issue is not about preventing or opposing all development, but about controlling it. It is about ensuring that changes fit into the beachfront, and improvements and refurbishments build on what is there. It is an exercise to retain all that is good and avoid rampant re-development - such as the one on the old Zanzibar site - just because a building or part of the bay's infrastructure has become tatty or derelict.
While in recent years there has been a slump in the tourist industry which put paid to any more major commercial developments, there has been a gradual creep in a different kind of building. With the advent of the finance industry and big earners, the bay has become a target for the wealthy who want their modern Mediterranean style houses - and thereby are changing the character of the bay. So, it is not being anti-development, but needs to be careful and considered development.
In short, this letter is a piece of scaremongering by an individual (or group) who wish to ensure that there can be inappropriate development within the bay, and that, in fact, anything goes.  It is a developer's charter!

Monday, 28 April 2014

Harbour Dues

I've had a piece of correspondent from my friend Adam Gardiner, about Rob Duhamel's suggestion to turn the Old Harbour into a communal swimming pool. It rather takes apart the suggestion piece by piece and shows that while the good Deputy is excellent at "blue sky" thinking, when it comes to practical details, and thinking things over a bit, weighing up the "pros" and "cons", he seems sadly deficient.
We do need fresh ideas - and some States members seem bereft of any new ideas at all. I'm still trying to think of any ideas, propositions, or questions asked by Deputy Susie Pinel of St Clement, or for that matter, if she has ever spoken in any debate. St Clement seems to have a tradition of electing "trappist" deputies - her predecessor, Ann Dupre was also taciturn, and I knew a Deputy in the 1970s who never spoke once during his entire time in the States, although he was a very nice chap.
But ideas need testing as well, and preferably by the individual proposing them. If they survive critical scrutiny, then they are worth while. If this has not been done, don't release it to the public.
Remember Tony Blair's humiliating retraction of a "blue sky" and off-the cuff suggestion that offenders could be taken to cash point machines by police, and forced to pay the fine on the spot. He managed to spin out of that, and it is largely forgotten today. But it is a classic example of how not to air ideas before taking them through with other people, who may see gaping flaws.
Adam Gardiner here exposes some in Rob Duhamel's ideas.
Taking the Plunge
By Adam Gardiner
The Old Harbour turned into swimming pool. A realistic idea or total nonsense?
Let us examine it in detail.
The harbour which he is actually talking about is one in front of Normans and Iron Stores. This is one that has the barrage that keeps boats afloat at high water. So is it big enough? Yes.
But is that vision just to shift the boats out and for everyone to take the plunge? Surely not. Harbour water is filthy -  full of all sorts on nasties from fuel oil to stuff that we don't want to talk about. So he must have some other vision
We are again lacking detail here, some clarity of thought about the practicalities let alone the implications. So the questions I would like to put to the Minister:-
Minister - a 6 part question:
1. In your vision is this a fresh water or seawater pool?
2. Whatever the answer to Q1, will it be covered or enclosed in some way?
3. If yes, what are the projected costs of this project?
4. If not, we must surely assume very limited use, so can you justify:
(i) the loss of year round marina space?
(ii) the loss of revenue from those moorings?
5. And if saltwater, how would it be kept clean and fit for swimming?
6. And if freshwater, could you explain why the need to lose a harbour at all?

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Alfred Tennyson, 1809-92: Part IV: Conclusion

I've been trawling through the archives at the library again, and in particular for Sundays, "The Pilot" which was the monthly magazine for the Church of England in Jersey for many years. Every month, there would be pieces from the minister of each church, along with various other articles of interest.
In 1995, the Reverend Tony Keogh began a series of articles in "The Pilot" under the umbrella title "God and the Poets", beginning with a four part look at Tennyson. I thought it was a shame that it should be buried in the past, so I've transcribed it for my blog. Here is part 4.
Tennyson's In Memoriam can be read at    
And there is a discussion of Tennyson and the poem with Melvin Bragg on "In Our Time" at:   
which can be listen again, or download as Podcast.

God and the Poets:
Alfred Tennyson, 1809-92: Part IV: Conclusion
By Tony Keogh

Throughout his life, Tennyson was attracted by certain aspects of mediaeval Catholicism and its cult of chivalry, also by the monastic life that could lead to union with Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom, as in "St Agnes Eve." His great friend, particularly in his middle years, was Sir John Simeon, a Catholic convert from Tractarianism, like Newman, but, unlike him, fierce in his ultra-montanism, the name given to the tendency in the Roman Catholic church which favoured the centralisation of authority and influence in the papal Curia, as opposed to the national or diocesan independence.

The declaration in 1870 by the Vatican Council that the Pope was infallible marked a substantial triumph for Sir John Simeon and his fellow ultra-montanists. Tennyson deplored such movements. "The thunderstorm that rattled the Roman rooftops during the vote on infallibility continued to re-echo in his verse," stated Levi in his biography. Tennyson was fundamentally liberal, both in his politics and in his theology.

"In Memoriam" (1850) is his greatest religious poem. Composed over many years, as he told a friend, it "begins with a funeral and ends with a marriage - begins with death and ends with the promise of new life; a sort of divine comedy - cheerful at the end." The marriage was that of Edmund Lushington to Cecilia Tennyson, his youngest sister, in 1842.

The orthodoxy of the poem's beginning and end, intermittent in its one hundred and thirty-one sections, was due to his own bride's influence before publication. "Christianity is tugging at my heart," he said in Cheltenham, just when marriage seemed a genuine prospect. Emily Selwood, his intended bride, had hesitated because of religious differences.

"In Memoriam" deals with human grief at the death of a dear friend, Arthur Hallam, and what time does to that grief. It deals with the questions it raises and how, in the end, there is emergence from tragedy and devastation to hope that this death is not a sign of the futility of life and existence on earth, but the presage of immortality and what Teilhard de Chardin was to call the "Omega Point of Creation."

Tennyson, in the later part of his life, set to and arranged his poems written over many years in chronological order, so that his collected works become, in the words of T S Eliot, "the concentrated diary of a man confessing himself." It is a passionate and moving record of how Tennyson coped with grief through long years in which it was partly healed through other experiences of love and friendship.

In the works of Tennyson, there was always the Victorian danger of sentimentality, "The good tears start," as Browning put it; yet in his tragic sensibilities, he never lost the true sense of the joys of human love or a faith in the God who sees a sparrow fall.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Guernsey Holiday

Back from Guernsey, and Saturday  poem this week is a breezy narrative romp through our travels. We went on the Tuesday, returned on the Thursday, and packed quite a lot in!

Guernsey Holiday

Over to Guernsey, from Jersey we came
That island of Toilers of Sea to its fame
We went across on the ferry, fast as can be
To the jewels of islands, scattered in sea
As Victor Hugo once said, now he is dead
But his spirit lives on, there's a bust of his head
And in Candie gardens, a large statue looks out
To Herm and to Sark, his figure so stout

Over to Guernsey, from Jersey we came
Me walking with stick, as I'm a bit lame
My girlfriend beside me, walked hand in hand
Up to the tea rooms, a Victorian band stand
Through Candie gardens, by flowers so bright
And by the statues of fauns, a Pagan delight
Up cobbled streets, of old St Peter Port Town
Like the Grand Old Duke, then we came down

Over to Guernsey, from Jersey we came
Wednesday was raining, a bit of a shame
So into the museums, and history to see
We really did like Guernsey's own tapestry
Back into the Town, but still raining away
Katalin played music in Town Church that day
As rain fell outside, there was music within
And then we went out, got soaked to the skin

Over to Guernsey, from Jersey we came
Caught a bus to the bridge, now only by name
Into St Samson's Church, from downpour to hide
And met my friend Tolly, who gave us a ride
Out along country lanes, to coast at L'Ancresse
To Dehus Dolmen, and Gran Mere to bless
And Icart Point cliff tops, a beautiful sight
Rainfall replaced by sun's gentle light

Over to Guernsey, from Jersey we came
A wonderful Island, we had to exclaim
Saw the oldest pillar box in the British Isles
Katalin remarked how it brought out my smiles
But all too soon, our holiday time was over
Time to return home, for the sea faring rover
And a good time was had, despite so much rain
And of all that we did, sweet memories remain.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Jersey Goons How

The following clever pastiche came my way, and by way of amusement, I thought I'd share it with my readers. It's a light hearted piece of amusement at the expense of local politicians, full of some rather groan worthy word play (which I adore). If you have never heard of the Goon Show, it probably will not be as funny, and you should acquaint yourself first with the madcap antics of Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe to enjoy it properly.
The Jersey Goons How
The Jersey Goon How is an Island comedy programme, based on the celebrated Goon Show series produced and broadcast by the BBC Home Service from 1951 to 1960. The original Goon Show's chief creator and main writer was Spike Milligan aided and abetted by Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers and Michael Bentine.
The scripts were a mixture of ludicrous plots with surreal humour, puns, catchphrases and an array of bizarre sound effects. Many elements of the show satirised contemporary life, parodying aspects of show business, commerce, industry, art, politics, diplomacy, the police, the military, education, class structure, literature and film.
The Jersey Goons How recreates the comedy of yesteryear for a contemporary audience.
Principal Characters/ : played by:
Neddy Seagoon: E. N Gorse (Chief Monitor)
Eccles: Rob Hugh-Dammel (Monitor for Planking and Embarrassment)
Bluebottle: Ozzy Philips (Monitor for Treachery and Racecourses)
Henry Crun: Alan 'Mick' Lane (Monitor for Esoteric Embellishment)
Minnie Bannister: Donald Farmhand (Asst. Monitor, Esoteric Embellishment)
Hercules Gryptype-Thynne: Phillipa Backache (Monitor for Eternal Frustrations)
Count Jim Moriarty: Ian Le Beancan (Monitor for Homes and Fairs)
Major Denis Bloodnok: Dame Pam Ryke-Spooner (Monitor for Help and Bombshell Impunity)
Minor Characters / : Played by:
Spriggs: Shawn Leigh Powers (Chairman, Planking Appreciation Panel)
Little Jim: Jerry Masson, (member - Planking Privileges and Panel Procedures)
Throat: Fergus Sanderson (Suspect Accounts Committee)
Music by:
Le Gobbledegooks
featuring Tadfort Montier and 'Mad' Sam Zemac
Produced by:
Wewuzdone Productions
In association with
Ringbinder Enterprises
(The State of Jersey Company)

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Incinerator

This blog is taking a few days off for the Easter Holidays.

Before I go, however, I leave you with a soliloquy that is a pastiche of William Shakespeare's "All the World's A Stage".

This is about our wasteful society.

The Incinerator
All the world's a tip
And all the men and women merely dumpers;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time fills many bins,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Using many thousand disposable nappies
And then the whining school-boy, with his crisps
And coke cans dumped, dropping his chewing gum
On the roads to school. And then the lover,
Leaving pizza boxes and discarded beer cans
Drunk with his girl. Then a driver,
With gas guzzling cars, cigarette smoked at speed
Thoughtlessly thrown onto pavements as he goes
Even in the road sweeper's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
And dustbins full of empty vintage wine bottles
Full from Vin d'Honneurs and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the obese and slipper'd pantaloon,
Leaving dog mess on green paths as it has always done
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too short
For his vast shank; and his big manly voice,
Lost in grunts as he sits on the sofa, eats
And channel hops the day away. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is house clearance to incinerator of lifetime junk
False teeth, contact lenses, moth balls, and everything
Excepting the deceased, burnt himself elsewhere.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Is Britain a Christian country?

David Cameron has stirred up trouble from some disaffected atheists by calling Britain a "Christian country", and in turn they have said

"We wish to object to his repeated mischaracterising of our country as a 'Christian country' and the negative consequences for our politics and society that this view engenders."

"Politicians have been speaking of our country as 'a Christian country' with increasing frequency in the last few years. Not only is this inaccurate, I think it's a wrong thing to do in a time when we need to be building a strong shared identity in an increasingly plural and non-religious society."

But in fact David Cameron makes a specific reference in that regard which addresses that very issue:

"Being more confident about our status as a Christian country does not somehow involve doing down other faiths or passing judgement on those with no faith at all. Many people tell me it is easier to be Jewish or Muslim in Britain than in a secular country precisely because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths, too."

And he went on to say:

"Crucially, the Christian values of responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, and love are shared by people of every faith and none - and we should be confident in standing up to defend them."

Now when we look at those values, it is not clear that they are specifically Christian. I think they emerge as part of Christian influence, but it is an influence on the margins. It has nothing to do with creeds. It comes from the history and culture as much as from the faith of the people.

Tolerance has not, after all, been a specific Christian virtue, and indeed for much of the past two millennia, Christianity has been marked by either intolerance and subjugation to those of other faiths, or by tribal warfare within. But it grew out of Christianity nonetheless. The seeds can be seen in Elizabeth I, who decided that how people behaved was a matter for the State in matters of religion, but how they believed was their own affair - "I have no desire to make windows into men's souls."

But it was the English Civil war, above all else, that brought religious tolerance to the fore. It was a time of political intolerance, and there was still marked antipathy to Catholicism, and even Anglicanism. Notoriously the Puritans abolished Christmas. Yet they had to tolerate within their ranks, a blossoming of many religious flowers - Shakers, Quakers, Levellers, among them.

So while it is assumed that tolerance is a particularly enlightenment value, associated with such luminaries as the philosopher John Locke, I prefer to take a more Tolstoyian view of history. It is the broader sweep of events which sowed the seeds of tolerance, rather than individual figures. While Locke certainly promoted tolerance in some respects, he also invested heavily in the slave trade.

A good deal of actual belief by people is not post-Christian, or non-Christian, it is what I would term "folk Christian". These are the values enumerated by David Cameron, not the values believed in by those who profess creeds, and talk of a living faith in Jesus Christ.

These are the people who sing carols, who enjoy nativity plays, who go to church at Christmas, and know the story of the shepherds and the three wise men, and the stable. It is also presents, Christmas cakes and Father Christmas.

A Christmas Carol by Dickens is this folk-Christian par excellence - full of compassion, generosity, love, blessing - against greed, intolerance, and the purely material. But there is actually very little Christianity in it, apart from Church bells, and singing hymns. The nearest in comes is when Tiny Tim speaks of how it would do people good to see a cripple like him because it would remind them of he who made blind people see, and the lame walk.

They may go to church at Easter, but Easter is associated with chocolate eggs as much, and hot cross buns. Lent is marked by pancakes at its commencement rather than Lenten fasts. Giving up something for lent is like a New Year resolution, it is not specifically religious, but it comes from Christianity nonetheless. September is Harvest festival, harvest supper.

June in Jersey is pilgrimage to Elizabeth Castle for St Helier's day, and like Chaucer's pilgrims, I would imagine that some people go because it is an event, a ritual journey. It is like the many people who came to the beach maze in St Brelade's bay. Then there is Remembrance Day, wearing of poppies, symbols of a desire for a world of peace, and thankfulness for those who gave us our freedoms with their lives.

And newborn babies are christened in Churches. Weddings and funerals take place in Churches. They are places for rites of passage. People don't, as a rule, go to church, but they believe in some kind of afterlife, and some kind of deity.

All of these come from the trunk of Christianity, but they are offshoots. That is where the atheists fail to connect. They cannot appreciate the deep roots of the folk-religion. It appears a very superficial matter, something left over once Christianity has largely gone. But they are wrong. It is in fact something that has always been there in one form or another.

"Pride comes before destruction, and arrogance before a fall" says the proverb in the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. Too wordy, and the folk Christianity pulls it into our culture, and collapses it to "pride comes before a fall". It is in many was symbolic of how folk religion works. It works by taking part of something that is already there, and forgetting the rest, or adding to it.

Stories change over time, but they are told and retold, and survive in different forms. Fairy tales are banished to the nursery, but movie makers are going back to them, because there is a raw power in the mythical. George and his dragon may be less told today, but Arthur is still popular. And he fights for good against the forces of evil.

In a sea of rationalism, there are strong counter currents of romanticism. Hence the popularity of psychics, of Druidry, Wicca, the Celtic past, all of which are seen as New Age revivals, bringing back something old from a semi-mythical past. But this home-grown diversity is, by and large, engendering more tolerance in today's society.

David Cameron was not entirely right when he described Britain as a "Christian country", but he was not entirely wrong either. There is a folk-Christianity, which may not have quite the sharp specifics of a photograph of Christianity, appearing more like an impressionist picture of Christianity, rather fuzzy, but it is still very influential, and permeates our society more than we may realise.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Resurrection of Osiris

There have been attempts in the past to link the resurrection of Jesus to that of Osiris, but apart from the superficial picture of a god dying and rising again, there are no similarities. The fine details of the Osiris myth are quire different from the Gospel resurrection narratives. George Frazer's Golden Bough was probably quite responsible for this kind of argument; as an example, he conflated different fire rituals together when the only common element was that they were fire rituals.
In this poem, I have taken the myth of Osiris very much as a conflict between elemental forces, the ordering of nature, and the chaotic elements in nature. The chaotic, as we see with climate change, can be very devastating, but spring still comes, and the green shoots still rise from apparently dead soil. There is a cycle of death and rebirth mirrored in the story of Osiris, and in that way, it does echo the Christian idea of resurrection, when Paul talks of a seed having to fall into the ground and die before emerging to new life.
The Resurrection of Osiris
Awake, awake, O king, from death
Open the underworld's dark door
Wake from slumber, take a breath
A spark of life within once more
From your loins, Isis gave birth
With Thoth and his healing rod
Gives joy in heaven and on earth
Reborn in Horus, god from god
Set was raging storm and fire
And tore the body, into pieces
Osiris scattered, end of desire
War of gods, it never ceases
The seed of Osiris flowers still
Hope for mankind to yet fulfil

Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Death of Osiris

There are different versions of the death of Osiris, and this poem is drawn from some of those. In this version Osiris is the king, the power of order in nature, and Set the power of the chaotic in nature. As climate change takes hold, it seems the chaotic is coming out once more.

The Death of Osiris
Over Egypt, Osiris was the King
Descended from the mighty Ra
On his hand, an turquoise ring
In the heavens, a brightest star
Isis was his consort, his queen
The child of the earth and sky
By the Nile, land grew green
Gone was parched soil so dry
Set was strife in wind and rain
Sealed Osiris in a box of lead
Into the Nile, bound by chain
Until the mighty king was dead
Egypt laments the god who died
Into the underworld, our guide

Friday, 18 April 2014

Presidential Politics

Is Jersey moving towards a Presidential style of politics?
There are two proposals which give rise to concern, especially in a small jurisdiction, where power is delicately balanced between two bodies - the Council of Ministers and the States Assembly.
From time to time criticised, it is the Troy rule which helps to keep the balance between the two and ensures that the Executive cannot run roughshod over the Assembly. There has to be a degree of consensus in the way the States operates.
This has, however, been reduced in part by the ability of Ministers to make decisions without having to bring them to the Assembly. It is to the credit of Ian le Marquand that there was a proposition on the introduction of tazers, and a debate by the Assembly. It could quite easily, and quite legally, just slipped through as a Ministerial decision.
Ministerial decisions can be viewed on the website, but you have to go and look for them. It would be helpful, I think, if a list of them were prefixed to Hansard, like the written questions and answers, so that they would be instantly available. Otherwise, they have a tendency - as happened with the change of IT policy - to slip through under the radar, undebated, not scrutinised, and for the most part unreported. This is not good for democracy.
The States has the ability for members to bring a private proposition to rescind a Ministerial decision, but this is rare. Guy De Faye's attempt to allow a private developer to dig up private gardens to provide access to mains drains was the last such, and it was slapped down very quickly, But on the whole, decisions are not noticed, not because they are uncontroversial, but because their reach is more global; in the case of Deputy de Faye, it was only the sharp eye of Senator Ben Shenton which prevented it being carried out.
Now the Chief Minister has a proposal which would permit the Chief Minister to present the Council of Ministers as a "slate", and on a third rejection by the Assembly, his final "slate" would automatically be approved unless a vote of no confidence was made in the Chief Minister himself; as he would have only just been elected, this is unlikely in the extreme.
So the Assembly's ability to decide who is Minister is severely curtailed. I would be in favour of the Chief Minister putting forward candidates individually for election, rather than the Assembly being able to nominate them, but this presents an "all or nothing" scenario, with a force through on the third undertaking. That reminds me of the Parliament Bill which can force legislation approved by the Commons through the Lords, but here it seems to operate in reverse; by giving the Chief Minister this power, it is akin to the Lords being able to force legislation through the Commons.
The Chief Minister will also have the power to "hire and fire" or even reshuffle recalcitrant ministers, and alter the remit of Ministries. This is a good deal of power and patronage, and with a newly introduced "collective responsibility", which ensures that the Council of Ministers brooks very little dissent.
While it has been the case that Ministers have at times behaved with scant consideration of any opinions or discussion with the Council of Ministers, it is questionable whether strengthening control at the centre is the best way. This opens the way  not to government by consensus, but government by control, where the Minister who steps out of line can be forced into adopting policies foist upon him by a majority of the Council of Ministers.
If it had to be unanimous, that would provide better protection, and I could see the point in that. But as it is, it means that power blocks within the Council of Ministers - and this was identified back in Frank Walker's time by Ben Shenton, hardly someone on the left - can push their agenda through. History has demonstrated that given the opportunity, an "inner ring" invariably develops, and to give this more power under "collective responsibility" is a mistake.
But now there is a proposal which also gives monetary incentives to appointments. It has been suggested by Senator Philip Ozouf that Ministers should receive more monetary reward for their services than backbenchers. He states: "The current level of remuneration cannot attract individuals to stand for the States and fulfil different roles with different time commitments."
Coupled with a power to "hire, fire and reshuffle", this would provide the Chief Minister with monetary incentive as well to keep Ministers in line. In a large assembly like the UK, where most members are backbenchers, that is not so significant. In a small jurisdiction like Jersey, it wholly changes the structure of the States, and upsets how it works.
A Minister may work hard - or delegate lots to his or her Chief Officers, and scarcely put in appearances. And yes, I won't but I could name some of the latter, in previous assemblies and the current one. Those in the States probably know who they are anyway. Some Ministers and Assistant Ministers are very diligent; others far less so.
And for research, when backbenchers put together a proposition, they may spend hours or even days researching, where the Minister delegates to their officials for information for a reply.
Ministers have the support of vast army of civil servants and at CEO to do the donkey work - and that's certainly what some of them do or have done in the past. A former Minister once said that that the good thing about being a Minister was that he had to do very little actual work. Most of his work entailed PR, attending meetings with other Ministers and 'briefings'.
Now differential salaries would mean a marked change in the balance of power. The ability to "buy" and give patronage is a tremendous stick to keep people in line, and coupled with the proposed hire / fire/ reshuffle powers proposed by the Chief Minister, will concentrate power massively in the centre.
I would hope that the backbenchers generally would see this and vote against both propositions. If not, they would effectively put themselves out of government albeit still being part of it - on paper. Their influence would be almost demolished.
And of course, let us not forget the allure of power - and financial reward. There will also be an incentive to support the executive by some backbenchers in the hope they too would be elevated to the ranks of the elite at some point - and gain a big increase in salary to go with it!
"The reality is that the current single-level salary is not commensurate with levels of remuneration for similar senior posts available in the private or not-for-profit sectors" says Philip Ozouf.
When I read that, I think of the "Yes Prime Minister" episode "A Real Partnership":
Hacker: Where's the one-page summary for the Cabinet?
Sir Humphrey: The Janet and John bit? Here it is. It's more or less the same as last time. Comparable jobs in industry.
Hacker: On whose salary are the comparisons based?
Sir Humphrey: The directors of BP and IBM, naturally.
Hacker: You don't think that might be challenged as untypical and above average?
Sir Humphrey: No. Of course, we don't mention them by name. Just ''typical industrial firms''.
Or indeed, in Philip Ozouf's phrase "similar senior posts available in the private sector"!
The States may decide that some States members are "worth more", but I think that to a disillusioned general public, seeing States members pay rise in a recession, and allowances slipped by, the phrases "gravy train" and "snouts in the trough" will be well used come the next election if the States pass this proposition.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Maundy Thursday

 "The 1948 Palestinian exodus occurred when approximately 711,000 to 726,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1947-1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine and the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The exact number of refugees is a matter of dispute. But around 80 percent of the Arab inhabitants of what became Israel..Later, a series of laws passed by the first Israeli government prevented them from returning to their homes, or claiming their property. They and many of their descendants remain refugees." (Wikipedia)
Thinking about the plight of the Palestinians prompted this poem. The decision to expel them may not have taken place in an upper room in Jerusalem, that is a matter of poetic licence, but it probably did take place behind closed doors.
It is one of the ironies of history that the Jewish peoples, in exile for so many years from Israel, should in turn send the Palestinian people into exile, especially as they are genetic cousins. And sadly power games still dominate Middle Eastern politics today, as they did outside an upper room two millennia past.
Maundy Thursday
Upper rooms in Jerusalem
And behind closed doors
Talking about "us" and "them"
Hate leaves residual spoors
Palestine behind barbed wire
An exiled people, driven out
In poverty they live so dire
Why do not the hills cry out?
Upper rooms upon one day
Washing feet, a servant song
Another choice, another way
Instead another path so wrong
These power games forget the poor
When will it end, and be no more?
Notes on Genetics:
Tomas Rees commented in 2009 that:
 "The genetics of Arabs and Jews have been pretty extensively researched. The classic study dates to 2000, from a team lead by Michael Hammer of University of Arizona. They looked at Y-chromosome haplotypes - this is the genetic material passed from father to son down the generations. What they revealed was that Arabs and Jews are essentially a single population, and that Palestinians are slap bang in the middle of the different Jewish populations."
"Another team, lead by Almut Nebel at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, took a closer look in 2001. They found that Jewish lineages essentially bracket Muslim Kurds, but they were also very closely related to Palestinians. In fact, what their analysis suggested was that Palestinians were identical to Jews, but with a small mix of Arab genes - what you would expect if they were originally from the same stock, but that Palestinians had mixed a little with Arab immigrants."(1)
The geneticist Harry Ostrer showed more linkages:
"The Law of Return, the Israeli law that established the right of Jews around the world to settle in Israel and which remains in force today, was a central tenet of Zionism. The DNA that links Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi, three prominent culturally and geographically distinct Jewish groups, could conceivably be used to support Zionist territorial claims -except, as Ostrer has pointed out, some of the same markers can be found in Palestinians, distant genetic cousins of the Jews, as well. Palestinians, understandably, want their own 'right of return'."

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Side Street Blues

"Jersey's main shopping high street is trading at full occupancy. Footfall is up compared to last year and there are signs sales are picking up.
The Town Centre manager says St Helier is ready for summer visitors and none of the shops are empty. " (CTV News)
I have a comment by Adam Gardiner about the CTV article in which the Town Manager said he was very pleased about "full occupancy" in the high street. The full article can be read in the link above. Adam says that:
"You will note that the full occupancy to which is referred is limited to 'main shopping street'. It conveniently ignores the rest of St. Helier, and the island which still has many closed shops and others in the throes of closing.  It's like saying there has been no road accidents on Victoria Avenue this week! While that may be true it hardly paints an accurate picture of road accidents in general."
"I am sure that we are starting to emerge from the recession, but we still have someway to go yet. The town manager who put out the above suggested footfall has increased on Kings Street/Queen Street is rather guilty of a bit of spin. We are in any event talking about the run up to Easter. So we should be seeing the first tranche of visitors arriving on the island - the visual effect of that may be the perception of more people traipsing our main shopping street but that is a seasonal effect and to be expected. I would be very surprised if say compared to January, February and March we were not seeing more footfall on our 'main shopping street'. I would nonetheless like to know how he actually measures that!"
"As they say, one swallow does not make a summer. So what if there is 100% occupancy on King Street/Queen Street. There always was - until GST was introduced and Data Protection and other States bureaucracy started to eat in trading 'bottom lines' of genuine Jersey company's - who have been gradually pushed off our 'main shopping street' and out of business - Amy's being the last. The 100% occupancy on King Street/Queen Street is not that surprising when you consider that vast majority of the retailers are UK owned/operated and therefore zero-rated for tax. They must be laughing. Apart from the jobs they provide, there is, all said and done, very little benefit our economy gets from them."
"Not much for the town manager to sing about in my opinion."
And here is a comment posted yesterday on my blog about Colomberie, which is also worth noting - Colomberie has always been something of the poor relation to the rest of town.
"I have a shop in Colomberie (Snow Hill end) and this street has several empty shops, some show no sign of life, others are being worked on. The Town Parish have managed to reduce its number of parking spaces in town for public use and never seem to replace them. Green Street will soon be out of action due to adding to the floors to accommodate the ridiculously placed Police Headquarters. No other multi storey car park has been build for decades. We are about to lose the Esplanade parking but still no sign of new car parks."
"What about free parking on a Saturday or Free-After-Three as used in some UK towns like Chester. We need the government to make town a pleasurable place to visit again so people will think twice before they rush to the hand of mammon (Amazon). They have to do something before we all die off."
"And to anyone who keeps trotting out the "retailers have had it too good for years" tag or "rip off Jersey" tag; stop trying to compare a local independent to the largest retailer on the planet, it is not like for like and is unfair on the many fair traders on the island. Us so called "rich business owners" are actually putting many more hours a week into our business than our staff, often 6 or 7 days a week. If we were rich; why would we even be working on the shop floor? Masochism? "
Adam Gardiner again:
"It is shameful the way Colomberie has been forgotten - pushed onto the back burner. The same is true of other parts of town. Minden Place area for example. If it were not for the Coop, I expect that would have much less footfall in that area. There is a constant exchange of retail premises - and a couple empty as I write. As you say, Bath Street is all but dying too and a wander off the main byways sees even more empty premises."
"Relaxing current parking at weekends and after 3pm on a permanent basis is certainly one option that needs looking at as is car parking in general. But that is an altogether different argument - the outlandish rents that are being charged is the main one I feel. Can we regulate them, should we regulate them, what can be done to make rents more realistic?"

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Occupancy in St Helier: Don't Be Complacent

"Jersey's main shopping high street is trading at full occupancy. Footfall is up compared to last year and there are signs sales are picking up. The Town Centre manager says St Helier is ready for summer visitors and none of the shops are empty. Richard Mackenzie says the town is ready for visitors from France and the UK over the summer months. "We're very lucky, we walk along this high street, there's not one closed shop.  "There's a shop waiting for re-development but there's not one closed shop so we're very positive on that." A recent report has just come over from the UK, from Deloitte say that they have one in five shops in the UK high street are closed." (Channel Television News)

That's all very well and good, but move down Don Road, just off the high street, or down Bath Street, around Halkett Place, or any number of the roads which are offshoots from the high street, and the picture is very different. There are empty shops, some of which have been empty for a considerable amount of time.

It's a bit like a human body. Poor circulation tends to effect the extremities first, rather than the heart at the centre. But poor circulation in arms and legs is a symptom which should not be dismissed because the heart is still beating away, in a regular pattern.

So far from sounding a note of triumph, I think the note should be one of caution. The fact that some shop fronts have been empty for over a year, and in one case at least, over three years, should give us pause.

That shop in question is far from the high street, but it is in a fairly good location. It used to be Gaudin's Bakery, and it is next to the Millennium Park. It was empty before the park was built and has remained so; a white boarded up shop front.

The shops around that area have not done particularly well either. Blockbusters is gone, and the shop beside it, having been a variety of outlets – travel agent, furniture shop etc. – has now settled down into that most ubiquitous of outlets – the turf accountant.

The "bookie" seems to be the one shop that is thriving in a recession – there are four in St Brelade alone – but do we want so many of our empty shops to become book makers, simply because they are profitable?

In the actual road beside the park, the same area used to boast a small Portuguese café, and that lease expired in the year the park was completed. The shop front, along with the Le Seeleur buildings next door, remains unused, despite a popular venue for locals – the park – on its doorstep..

That the Le Seeleur buildings remain empty is a scandal. They were gifted to the States, and the States have just sat on them, letting them decay, year after year. Now there is scaffolding on them, but that, as far as I am aware, is just to get them back to a safe state of repair. It is a scandal.

I walked up Don Street, along Burrard Street, along Bath Street, along Halkett Place – there is at least one empty shop front in each street, and some quite large, as well as empty office space – refurbished but vacant. There is not full occupancy.

I do not wish to sound a sour note to the story, but while the high street has no closed shops, stray from there, even along roads just branching off it, as visitors might, and the picture is not so rosy. The high street is a start; it must not be the end. Don't let us be lulled into a false sense of security, and rest on our laurels.


Monday, 14 April 2014

A Penny for the Poor?

I have a few items for Monday. First, a note about an independent project called which has been launched to reach out to students, graduates and young professionals and engage them in the political process ahead of this year's elections.

See more at:

If this is something that would interest you, please like, share and follow the following pages on Facebook and Twitter.

You can also find out further information at the following website
And secondly a guest post on the recent rise in States members allowances, and how a changing in Telecoms billing enabled an increase in expenses to slip under the radar, and why this sets a dangerous precedent.

A Penny for the Poor?
by James Rondel

States Members shamelessly agree to a new method of remuneration for IT equipment

This may not be the most important thing that you read about on, and it may well not be the most interesting, but to me, this conflicted and brazen act of self-interest goes some way to demonstrate just what is wrong with our current States Assembly.

So what has happened?

States Members used to have their internet bills paid for them directly, but due to a change to Jersey Telecoms' ("JT") billing system, it is no longer possible for JT to 'void' the bill directly. States Members had also received the use of a States laptop that was "[1]periodically … [up]graded".

Due to the change in JT's billing system, and the fact that the States Remuneration Review Body had already met and made their recommendations for the year, the Privileges and Procedures Committee ("PPC") chaired by Deputy Macon came to the "uncomfortable"[2] decision to divert the £31,000 allowance that was previously held by the IT Department directly into the hands of States Members; providing they requested it.

This begs us two questions to ponder. Firstly, did PPC only realise that JT would be unable to 'void' States Members internet bills after the new billing system was introduced? And could our States Members have delayed any decision making until after the elections in October?

I presume that whilst internet bills would have to be paid during this period, it is questionable whether their technology would have needed a 'periodical upgrade' during this 7 month window.

So why does this matter?

It is my opinion that the actions of PPC, which were endorsed by the Chief Minister, matter for three reasons; Precedent, Accountability and Apathy.

i) Precedent

It would appear that the decision taken to make the £31,000 IT budget directly accessible to States Members sets a precedent 'through the back door' in that far from deciding how best to cover Members' internet expenses, the PPC Committee have decided to do away with the uniformed, and centrally administered States Laptops, and create a situation where it is the individual Member's choice as to how they want to spend their share.

I would assume that the "old out of date laptop"[3] was cheaper to update (periodically) than the £31,000 budget that States Members now have direct access to.

If this is the case, then it is wrong to suggest that it is not costing the tax payer any more money. There is a vast difference between having a set budget, and under-spending, to having an annual allowance being made available to all States Members.

Indeed, in his answer to a written question on this very topic, Deputy Macon conceded that, "To date, 23 States members have requested an allowance, totalling £12,650"[4]. Nearly half of our members have claimed a proportion of their allowance in only a matter of weeks!

If this isn't bad enough, PPC, and the Chief Minister, have inadvertently tied the hands of the States Remuneration Review Body into how their IT expenses should be administered in the future. For those of you who think I have made an assumption, I wager a coffee that the Review Body will not be prepared to reverse the decision, particularly when Deputy Macon pointed out on Facebook that "IT suggested that it would be better for them and States members to get members to buy there own devices [sic]"[5]. There is seemingly neither political will, nor departmental will, for our civil servants to shoulder the responsibility of fulfilling our States Members electronic requirements.

ii) Accountability

Having established why the change has occurred, how much it is going to cost the tax payer, and how PPC have set a precedent for this level of spending to continue, we now need to consider what controls there are in place.

Taking into consideration that this is the same Assembly which selflessly refused to debate the possibility of a pay freeze, due to the inherent vested interest of Members discussing their own remuneration, I was surprised to discover that PPC took to making this decision prior to the next sitting of the Review Body.

I am concerned that this policy has a deficit in accountability. Deputy Macon stated in his answer to a written question that, "Members are not required to prove that the money has been spent on information technology"[6].
Simply put, it is not acceptable to implement such an opaque policy during the era of transparent and open governance. 

The electorate need to be able to see how members have spent which amount on what product.
In the same way that we need to be able to see how decisions are made, and who makes them, we need to be given this information, as it is the only deterrent to corruption.

iii) Apathy

The expenses saga in Westminster is seemingly endless. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Right Honourable Maria Miller MP, is the latest in a long line of politicians who have been discovered to have abused the expenses system.

When we couple this with our low voter turnout, and the general apathy towards politics in Jersey, it doesn't take a political scientist to tell you that the decision to hand IT allowances directly to Members, is not going to play well with the public.

Rather ironically the Committee charged with raising voter turnout amongst the populace, is the same Committee who made this decision, and it is the same Assembly who graciously accepted a 10% rise to their expenses allowance in 2012.

I fear that the expense culture is creeping its way into Jersey politics, and that this would be the death knell for the already demoralised Jersey voter.

We need a new untainted Remuneration Review Body that removes any decision completely from the hands of States Members. It needs to be comprised of people from a broad background, and not remain its present retired middle class male demographic. It also needs to be more responsive and engaging with the views of the electorate through mechanisms such as social media.

Until we make these changes our elected representatives will remain figures of ridicule, and I fear that if they retain the new method of claiming IT expenses, it will inevitably lead to a system that will cost more money to the electorate, be open to abuse, and lead to greater despondency amongst voters.


[1] Deputy Jeremy Macon, Chairman of Privileges and Procedures Committee, Facebook, 17/03/14, 11:41
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[5] Deputy Jeremy Macon, Facebook, 17/03/14, 11:41

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Alfred Tennyson, 1809-92: Part III: Marriage and Fame

I've been trawling through the archives at the library again, and in particular for Sundays, "The Pilot" which was the monthly magazine for the Church of England in Jersey for many years. Every month, there would be pieces from the minister of each church, along with various other articles of interest.
In 1995, the Reverend Tony Keogh began a series of articles in "The Pilot" under the umbrella title "God and the Poets", beginning with a four part look at Tennyson. I thought it was a shame that it should be buried in the past, so I've transcribed it for my blog. Here is part 3.
Tennyson's In Memoriam can be read at   
And there is a discussion of Tennyson and the poem with Melvin Bragg on "In Our Time" at:  
which can be listen again, or download as Podcast.
God and the Poets:
Alfred Tennyson, 1809-92: Part III: Marriage and Fame
By Tony Keogh

After the tragic death of Tennyson's youthful friend and companion Arthur Hallam, he sought solace, not in any out-ward show of grief, but in restless travelling.
He journeyed extensively throughout England and Scotland- With his widowed mother and family still at home, he moved from Lincolnshire, with mixed feeling of grief and relief, to Hertfordshire, to Kent and to Cheltenham. He flirted somewhat, wrote verses to attractive women of his acquaintance, but never descended to the low life, though once it was only fear of being seen by some journalist which kept him from going to Holborn Casino, but this, one has to say, was out of innocent curiosity, almost like Graham Greene's Monsignor Quixote.
His heart seems to have been stolen early by Emily Sellwood, four years his junior, though there were gaps in their relationship. A fairly plain looking woman, she was gentle and good. After a while, she and Tennyson became engaged but the engagement was broken off through her father's opposition and they did not marry until 1850, by which time he was established as a great poet and had been made Laureate in succession to Wordsworth.
Prone to depression and a victim of financial mismanagement, he had some severe hydropathic treatment in Cheltenham in 1840, but his poetry rarely faltered. W H Auden summed up his years from his marriage and recognition, "From then on he led the life of a famous author. He bought a house in the Isle of Wight at Osborne, he built another house in Surrey, he went on writing, he visited the Queen at Windsor, he was gazetted to the peerage, he still wrote. On 8th October 1892 he died and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
His first child was stillborn. Thereafter, he had two sons, Hallam, called after Arthur, to whom he was particularly close and who become his secretary; and Lionel, who pre-deceased him as a young married man.
He was a "Great Victorian" in the charmed circle of Carlyle, Thackeray, Browning and Gladstone. He combined imperial patriotism and loyalty with Dickensian indictment of injustice and the state of the poor. "City children soak and blacken sense in city slime," and amid his hopes of "one far-off Divine event to which the whole creation moves." Perhaps he had some premonition of 1914 and the horrors of our century.
Unlike his wife, he seldom went to church. He did not need the benefit of clergy or involvement in institutional religion, sacraments or sermons. In this, he was typical of great sections of middle and upper Victorian society. They often saw the sense of the stability of an established church, but could not always understand what being a member of the Church of England had to do with going to church.
He did, however, enjoy breathing in the spiritual and intellectual atmosphere of his time as he did the air of Lincolnshire or Cambridge or the Isle of Wight, and this in the age when bishops and theologians
were at home in the salons. He had a faith which, every now and then, gleamed forth in Christian affirmation, but paid lip service also to Victorian agnosticism and "honest doubt," though his reaction to the modernist crisis of the 1860s was to learn Hebrew.
His was an evolutionary creed before Darwin and he wrote of "The Higher Pantheism" for the somewhat curious Metaphysical Society. This poem contains the lines: "Speak to Him thou for He hears, and Spirit can meet .Closer is He than breathing and nearer than hands and feet."
His was an inward vision, often blurred through personal sorrow and his struggles with the fact of death and nature, so indifferent and, at times, ruthless. He did not believe in hell and in "The Lotus Eaters," implicitly attacks Christianity for committing some to "endless anguish." Personal relationships were at the heart of the universe and each individual was of incalculable value, in spite of evidence to the contrary. He cherished the hope of immortality, though "dimly." He prayed, though in his last days, he sometimes felt that God was not listening.
His belief in prayer was mystical rather than prophetic or intercessionary. After reading his "Holy Grail" to a woman friend, he said that there were moments "when the flesh is nothing to me when I feel and know the flesh to be only a vision. God and the spiritual the only real and true ... depend on it - the spiritual is the real."
These are lines written at Aldworth, his Surrey home:
"Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower - but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is."
That is not dissimilar from a famous passage of Julian of Norwich, the fourteenth century English mystic. The Lord showed her "something small, no bigger than a hazel nut lying in the palm of my hand, and I perceived that it was as round as any ball. I looked at it and thought: What can this be? And I was given this general answer; It is everything that is made."
Julian's faith is more convincing and deeply Christian. The hazel nut lasts because God loves it. Her work "Shewings" is about the Passion of Christ in which is contained the whole meaning, not only of life, but of the life of God, the Blessed Trinity.
Tennyson is not a poet of the Passion, like Herbert or Hopkins, and the Trinity passes him by. The "Holy Grail" contains the precious blood, but this is the mystic prize of the human quest for purity through chastity and discipline rather than the token of the self-giving love of God for human kind, streaming over all the earth, descending into hell, washing away sin, praying to the Father for us.
Postscript: I have been asked about books on Tennyson. The most recent and probably the best biography is by Peter Levi, published by MacMillan. There is an excellent book of selected poems in the Penguin Poetry Library Series.

Saturday, 12 April 2014


A rather sad poem, prompted by BBC Radio Jersey interviews about the growing numbers of older people with dementia.

I have received this comment on the poem: "My poor nan has this condition, I think you have portrayed with dignity the indignity of this dreadful blight to our dear elderly family members who suffer with this relentless disease.".

And another comment from the UK: "It does reflect the agony of dementia... We have just had a course on spirituality and ageing with a very good session on dementia and alzheimers. Would you give me permission to send your poem to the editor of our parish magazine, please? I think a lot of people would feel it reflects their sadness.".

My aunt also had Alzheimer's disease, and it was dreadful the way she lost the ability to read, remember, and what little memory she did have became confused and muddled. It was a cruel illness, and it was so sad to see such a bright intelligent lady lose all those faculties.

In memory of all who are suffering, and their families and friends...


Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
Memories fading, thoughts do not abide
Neurons failing, speech and language flee
Reaching for help, please abide with me.

My past life is ebbing, going day by day
Childhood is dim, school days pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
Fragments remain, to abide with me

Words go, one by one, every passing hour;
I am aware still, of memory's fading power
And of the future, of indignities to be
So cruel the loss, self awareness lost to me

I fear all foes, my life becomes a mess
All that remains, is tears and bitterness;
There is no cure, doctors have no victory
Motor functions failing, breath is lost to me

Evensong of life, darkness before my eyes
Unfinished symphony, dusk and darkened skies
Personality gone now, self's last shadows flee;
Mourn me, remember, now I am not me.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Paradise Towers

"Build high for happiness" was the catchphrase used by the residents of Paradise Towers, in the Doctor Who story of that name. It would have been appropriate for Deputy Rob Duhamel who was sharing with the Chamber of Commerce his vision for St Helier's urban future.

The title seemed promising enough, and if it had been the Constable, Simon Crowcroft, giving the talk, I would imagine we would have had some very positive and realistic ideas put forward for the Town. Instead, we had a panorama of different buildings, some very modern styles, some very unusual ones, and alongside this, by way of soundtrack, Deputy Duhamel taking the audience on what can only be described as a journey Over the Rainbow to the Land of Oz, in which the boundaries of St Helier should be delineated by planting nut trees.

Building high was one of the Deputy's few realistic proposals, as he said this would avoid urban sprawl outwards. But then we had the idea that flats should become more centres of community, and more personalised. They might have green bushes growing up their walls. New flats might have a communal swimming pool. Quite who would pay for all this and maintain it never seemed to cross the Deputy's mind.

I know some flats have been too small, and there are good grounds for stipulating minimum sizes for internal spaces, but while the Constable was talking about this on BBC Radio this morning, that aspect did not appear as much a priority in the Deputy's remarks as he took us on his tour.

Although my concentration was drifting at that point, I'm pretty sure about the communal swimming pool. I know that the flats in Paradise Towers had such a facility, and it seemed strange that the good Deputy should be thinking along the same lines. There should also be spaces within buildings, and to the side of buildings, and balconies, and bright, bold, colour schemes. And urban farms, or something urban where green things grow. And the buildings would be tall, to avoid urban sprawl. Although not 30 stories, which is what he said was really tall. 10-15 stories, I assume, would be fine in the Deputy's vision.

Presumably we would be able to avoid the tall ugly buildings that stand out along St Clement - Les Marais Flats. The Deputy's vision, to go by the pictures, would have large rounded corners, curved surfaces, lots of sparkly glass surfaces, or if square would have multicoloured walls, and not look anything like Les Marais.

But would St Helier really take avante garde designs, and would they be liveable in? Would transporting a pastiche of Valencia modern architecture to Jersey work? One can, by the way, see why the Deputy is enamoured of Dandara's reflective glass design for offices.

Of course, most of us live in the real world, and there, buildings get run down, with broken lifts, and need maintenance and cleaning. Urban farms on rooftops would require even more. And spaces beside buildings are ideal places for trapping litter. Bold colour schemes need repainting, and would they really be that nice?

I know people say that the vivid custard yellow of Normans has grown on people, but I can number at least several dozen people who still think it is something to tolerate. That is not so important for a brand image. Go-compare gained notoriety by having an advertisement that everyone hated. And the same is true of buildings selling a brand. But would you want to live in something that colour?

Meanwhile, Deputy Duhamel was telling us that people now identified where they lived by postcode, and needed to regain a sense of place. I don't know what strange people he has been talking to, but while I may identify my address by postcode when online entering forms, if I want to give someone directions for where I live, I would say 24 Moonshine Apartments, Gloucester Street, and not 24 Moonshine Apartments, JE2 4QX.

People don't as a rule think of where they live by postcode, but Deputy Duhamel seemed to think they did. Perhaps he'd been reading too much science fiction. This talk about "personalising an address" did not chime with how people in the real world behave, although I could imagine such a scenario in Isaac Asimov's "Caves of Steel". Is the Deputy confusing fiction with reality, I wondered, as I know he is an aficionado of Asimov's works?

He went on about the fact that we needed to rethink places like the Central Market as they declined. Clearly, he doesn't visit the Central Market much. It is bristling with stalls, and to use his favourite adjective, is vibrant. Fruit, vegetable, flower stalls, places for snacks and refreshment, the Red Triangle stores, chocolate shop etc. It still has charm and character. The main threat to the Central Market is the idiotic scheme to knock down the short term shopper's car park at Minden Place, which I believe is still somewhere in the future planning stage.

Now St Peter Port'sMmarket did need to be rethought and revitalised. It was quite different. I remember going to Guernsey, and it became steadily more run down, more empty, until it closed. It had a great disadvantage; it did not have a central fountain, and a great canopy of a roof, and was more long aisles with stalls one side or sometimes both. It lacked the character that St Helier's market has.

St Peter Port has urban sprawl, but it also has a very attractive town centre, with cobbled lanes, and a harbour that is delightful to look out on. While the Deputy (and Simon Crowcroft this morning) criticised the urban sprawl all the way to St Samsons, they didn't say much about the charm which the centre of St Peter Port has, and which is rather missing from St Helier.

And along went the Deputy, churning out clichés and truisms as if he had pillaged an entire dictionary. One man's meat is another man's poison. We are all different. None of us are the same. We are all individuals. And as the Old Harbour is no longer a trade port, how about removing the boats which have lost their raison d'etre for being there (as they are not commercial), filling in the Old Harbour and replacing it with flats. I suppose you can't expect a talk by Rob Duhamel not to have trademark lunacy somewhere there.

This was a build up to the grand finale, in which he showed us a photo montage from above of what "La Collette Village" would look like with St Malo superimposed on it. There's all that reclaimed land, it's just warehouses, it is ugly, and it could be a whole community of buildings for people to live in. The incinerator could be build elsewhere when it needs replacing. The fuel farm could be moved elsewhere. We were not told where. That's the kind of messy detail that spoils a fantasy.

By this time, the talk had rambled probably far over an hour, and most people, as I looked around, seemed to have lost concentration, fallen asleep, or were using their smart phones. Deputy Sean Power obviously thought it was a good time to catch up on the news about RBC and the waterfront, and tweet on it. Events were overtaking Deputy Duhamel's visions, and even Senator Philip Ozouf's vision of an International Finance Centre.

The Deputy eventually came to the end of his talk, and there was a moment for questions. There wasn't a question, but one person did speak up to say they didn't agree with the Deputy's vision, and that some of us had work to do rather than spending something more like two lunch hours at the event. No questions, because people were desperate to get away, and back to their offices!

The event was packed, but I suspect if the Deputy speaks again, it will be the long haul for those with stamina, and the numbers will be considerably less. The Chamber clearly needs to set firm guidelines in place for a talk, or people will simply stay away.

There are going to be workshops, and other seminars to look at a "Future of St Helier" strategy, with a hash tag #futuresthelier. Unless they are radically different from the contents of this talk, I can't see much in the way of attendance. Talking shops are all very well, but as Simon Crowcroft said this morning, there are a lot of good ideas already in the pipeline which need addressing.

The problem with the Deputy's ideas is that they present very large pictures, but have no fine details at all. It's like looking at mountains, and thinking it would be nice to climb them, but without looking at training and gear. It lacks feasibility.

What would I like to see on the table for the future of St Helier? These are rapidly sketched ideas, and may not be much good. But they are all feasible. They look at what is there, and how we can work with it, and develop it.

Parking - getting short term commuters in and out, and also parking for office workers who, after all, often use St Helier's refreshment facilities during lunch times. Minden Place should not go until there is a replacement catering for the same number of cars. Congestion was also mentioned by the Constable this morning; it was scarcely touched upon with any realistic suggestions by the Deputy.

Blended design - where there are modern buildings of glass and steel, more will blend in. But where there are older historic buildings, modern ones unless designed to fit, stand out like a sore thumb.

Older buildings - these are often now multiple flats, and some are kept well, flower beds, while others are positively tatty. Something needs to be done to address this.

Civic pride - any festivals, bands marching down King Street (I remember that was daily in the Summer) is not only good for tourists, but instils a sense in which St Helier is a place to be proud of.

Rentals and leases - a look into high rentals and terms of leases in St Helier. Despite assurances, there still seem to be a large number of empty shop fronts.

Revitalised harbour - buses, café - where did they go? It is a scandal that the Ministers responsible  - EDD and TTS - haven't done much about this at all beyond shrugging shoulders.

Keep fit walks - leaflets giving historical and / or spotters guides - good for tourists, good for locals to keep fit and go different ways through town in lunch hours. Younger children would appreciate an "Eye Spy" leaflet, especially if it ended at one of the parks.

I'm sure other people can come up with better ideas, and if I get enough, I'll do another blog!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

March Retrospective

Top of the posts from March was "The Bald Truth: A Global Brand"

This looked at all the other Bald Truth blogs and Tweeters out there – apart from former Deputy Trevor Pitman's own blog. There are a surprising number, and not all about hair loss! And not a mention of corrupt judiciaries either, although there is another political tweeter out there!

There are life coaches who can turn your life around, especially if facing great upheavals in your life, and there is one fervent atheist as well. But my own favourite was the chap who complained about discrimination because of his baldness – something the Discrimination Law will probably never deal with.

"And then on the last day, when they brought us in to give us our review and whether we made it or not -- then they were just casual enough at that time to say, 'you know, the image of our company does not have room for a bald head. We are dealing with young people, you are going to be associated with young people, and baldness is kind of associated with more mature people. We need our company to be represented by somebody that has hair."

I can help feeling sorry for him, although it is almost the kind of situation you might expect in a TV comedy like The Office rather than real life.It is a pity Trevor is not in the States to ensure it could not happen in Jersey; he would be the ideal person to bring an amendment to the Discrimination Law.

The death of Tony Benn has seen a spike on "Tony Benn on Religion - Some Quotes" which was a posting from 2007, and is really just a compilation of quotes from the man himself. Just out of the top ten was my review of one of his last books.

Next in popularity was "Leah Goodman and her Visa" from 2013, perhaps having a rise as the good reporter has gained a certain notoriety over her scoop in Newsweek which apparently identified the creator of Bitcoin. The jury is still out, but from what I have read, the evidence is stacking up against the claim. I can't see a jury convicting someone just on a doorstop confession, especially when they have also used the term "bitcom" rather than "bitcoin".

There was a contested election in St Brelade, and I blogged on the role of Procureur, and what that office entailed, and also on the background on the person I thought was the best man for the job in "Vote Peter Norman for Procureur"

In "Shaping the Future of Tourism in Jersey", I presented a guest post following my own critical assessment of the Tourism Shadow board's report.

States members have their own smart phones or tablets anyway, and don't need the States laptops anymore, so why not give them an extra £600 partly for their phone bills, but partly to go towards their own devices – which they have anyway. And they don't even need to prove the money is going towards a smart phone, tablet or laptop! And no consultation with the States Remuneration Body is needed beforehand!
This was the subject of "More Questions on the £600 Claimable IT Expenses", which was a follow up on my breaking the story (later taken up by the JEP, Bailiwick Express and BBC Jersey).

In a one off special, the satirical "News from Nowhere" returned with news about treason, hangings, filming, the airport, and a new political party – "Infirm" - started by two new States members, Nigel Corn-Beef and Steve Mezzotint.

My comments on the Tourism Shadow board were made in "Shadowy Proposals" when I looked at how little substance there actually was, and also raised a few questions about the Minister's political oversight of the Jersey Tourism Bureau.

And finally, a look at autism, and some observations made using tools from linguistics to analyse patterns of speech in the case of my son Martin, in "Some Observations on Speech and Language in Early Years Autism"

One of my correspondents added a few interesting observations of his own about another autistic child.

We found some specific traits with [name redacted] (who was also mute until she was about half-way to her fourth birthday):
- words mean only one thing (so verbal humour doesn't work)
- words that describe shade and tone are ignored (burgundy, crimson, scarlet do not exist - they are all red)
- once saved to memory, words are immutable (thus [name redacted] misheard the word "bikini" aged 11, and 22 years on a two-piece swimsuit is still a "Lamborghini")

And there were quite a few comments on Facebook, which was also good. I was actually quite surprised at the positive response about what, to some extent, is a rather dry and academically written article (and in fact appears cited in an academic article).