Thursday, 31 December 2015

Despatched in 2015: Politics - Part 1












The popular phase is “hatched, matched and despatched”. I can’t think of any notable births in 2015, not anybody in particular, or for that matter, notable marriages.

On deaths, however, I was browsing the list in “The Week”, and reflecting on those who have died in 2015.

In politics, Leon Brittan, former Home Secretary, died in January aged 75.

A shadow hanging over his closing years of decline was a lost file, handed to him, detailing cases of suspected sexual abuse among MPs, handed over by Geoffrey Dickens MP.

The trouble, as Peter Preston noted in the Guardian in January 2015, is that no one knows what the dossier contained

“Was it, indeed, some forensic, masterfully marshalled dossier of damning evidence – or a ragbag of press cuttings and jottings pasted in an exercise book? Was it a few clippings in a used envelope? Since no one can find it, nobody knows: which is great for headline purposes.”

But in October 2015, John Mann MP was handed a dossier of evidence of an alleged paedophile ring which was believed to have been the one lost. It was provided by the same individual who provided it to Mr Dickens and now said he would be willing to speak to police.

"The files that are there, I know are valuable to their ongoing investigation," he said. "It may lead to new investigations as well. I would be surprised if it didn't, but that is a decision for them to make, not me."

The files contained some background documents and a list of alleged paedophiles in politics, but who they were, John Mann declined to say, as it would be for the police to investigate and bring charges.

That’s probably wise. Much as I think it is very important for people to be called to account, it is also important that people in the public eye are not subject to damaging witch-hunts. It is a very fine balance. There have been high profile prosecutions – Rolf Harris being a notable one, being exposed for a catalogue sexual abuse – and among MPs, it is beyond all shadow of doubt that Cyril Smith was guilty of sexual abuse, and in all likelihood part of a paedophile ring in Rochdale.

But veteran comedian Jimmy Tarbuck was been arrested over allegations that he sexually abused young girls on “Top of the Pops” and the case was dropped, as it was apparent that the allegations were false. He commented that they “claimed I had made inappropriate sexual advances during Top of the Pops in 1963, he said, noting that “Not only have I never met these women, I have never appeared on Top of the Pops – which in any event didn't start until 1964.”

This is a problem which really still challenges the justice system. Naming someone may bring survivors who can corroborate accounts of abuse. But it can also put innocent people through the mill. How do we obtain justice for those who have been victims of abuse, while at the same time, avoid a witch hunt of those innocent of offence?

Charles Kennedy died in June aged 55.

Tributes poured in about him, reminding me of “Yes Prime Minister” where Jim Hacker is berating his predecessor as Prime Minister, until told that he is dead, and then immediately starts to eulogise him.

That’s not to say that there was plenty of scope for eulogy. He led his party between 1999 and 2006 having been elected at the age of just 23. And his steadfast and vocal opposition to Britain taking part in the invasion of Iraq came at a time when it was unpopular to do so. The result of that stand on principle was a return of 62 MPs in 2005, the most successful election for the Liberals since the 1920s.

Despite that, he was toppled with 9 months by those new MPs whom he had helped to get elected. They saw his problems with alcoholism as a liability, and 25 MPs signed a statement calling for him to resign, including Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.

Graciously, he mulled over his position, and stood down without making a fuss, without any acrimony. Nothing showed the calibre of his statesmanship more than the manner of his leaving his position as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Unlike many politicians, he didn’t make mud-slinging resignation speeches, or sulk from the back benches.

On hearing of his death, Nick Clegg said that Charles Kennedy was “a totally decent human being” saying that he had “more political talent in his little finger than the rest of us put together” and Vince Cable praised Kennedy's courage and conviction. It’s a pity they didn’t also reflect on their own part in removing him as leader. For once, the Daily Express made a point when it said that “emotional political leaders crying “crocodile tears” over Charles Kennedy were the same men who used his alcohol addiction to destroy him and oust him as leader.”

It is an irony of history that the man who opposed a coalition, and showed principle, was ousted by one of those who became leader – Nick Clegg – who acquiesced in a lack of principle in making a U-turn over rises in tuition fees, and led the Liberal Democrats into the electoral wilderness.

Tim Farron, the current Liberal Democrat leader, said: "Charles Kennedy was very fired up to take part in the EU referendum. It would have been a great waste if he had not continued. I wanted him to be in front-line politics.". It should be noted that Farron kept his seat – and the election manifesto promises on tuition fees. Perhaps we will see a return to politics of principle.

E.J. Thribb, in Private Eye, had this to say, which was read by Ian Hislop at Kennedy’s memorial service:

“So Farewell
Then Charles Kennedy
Decent likable
Principled funny
And yet somehow a
politician”

“A man of great
Spirit. Though
Alas in the end
Too much of it.
Cheers.”

Kennedy - who said “Politics is much too serious to be taken too seriously; equally, there are many aspects of it so laughable as to be lamentable” – would probably have approved.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Reviewing the Year: February














Reviewing the Year: February

http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-jersey-way.html

William Bailhache speaks about reclaiming “The Jersey Way” as an expression of doing something well: “To me 'The Jersey Way' means doing something competently, with integrity, fairly and with compassion.”

Yet in the same paper which reported the William Bailhache’s words, there was a witness statement to the care inquiry about someone who went to the police with a complaint of abuse, and discovered later that one of his original complaints had been lost but recorded, and the other did not even seem to have been recorded. He had also been told that the Attorney General would explain to him that the reasons why the case would not be prosecuted, and then was told the Attorney General didn’t have time to see him.

There is not much in that account that displays competence, integrity, fairness or compassion. It does seem shabby. And it is not the only such case like that, of people treated badly.

http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2015/02/nothing-in-world-can-stop-me-now.html

The Waterfront moved ahead like a juggernaut. But note what Alan Maclean said in 2008 when he stood for Senator:

"I also like the idea of quality public spaces, especially the winter garden. The practical and economic case for sinking the road will join the Waterfront to the town and produce the funds to regenerate St Helier."

But there are no longer any Winter Gardens or "quality public spaces" in the immediate plans./

http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-waterfront-finance-centre-gardens.html

“At the heart of the JIFC is a new public park that will provide an attractive setting for the new buildings and a valuable amenity for the wider community. The park will be predominately soft landscaped showcasing the varying characters that the landscape of Jersey has to offer. The new park will include a number of semi-mature trees that will provide shade on sunny days and an array of foliage colour and blossom through the year.” (Waterfront Document)

My horticultural expert, Adam Gardiner said:

"The architects and concept artists always show a scene that is considerably overstated and in reality would take 20 years or more to achieve even assuming optimum growing conditions."

"While there are several species of tree that may suit the site, the chances of them growing to the dimensions and shape as often shown is at best hopeful. The soil can be ameliorated to give trees a good start, but beyond the reality is no one gives them any of the attention they would need to be able to achieve anything near their potential - as all too often depicted in concept drawings."

http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2015/02/bulldozing-ahead.html

Save Our Shoreline commented:

"The planning conditions that were approved with Building 4 have changed. If the temporary car park works (by the underpass) are done under the building 4 consent, then the JDC should be replacing the car park immediately, on the Esplanade, under the phasing plan they submitted with the building 4 application. The JDC are not replacing the car park, under the new phasing with building 5, now, and this will be at least 10 years before it is replaced instead of the one year promised."

http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2015/02/seven-deadly-sins-of-states-of-jersey.html

I look at The Seven Deadly Sins of States Members - see the link for all of them. Here is one:

Greed

The inability of the States to say no to pay rises, while simultaneously saying there must be pay freezes in the public sector, is a good example of greed. Of course, greed in the modern setting is dressed up in all kinds of excuses, such as having to obey the dictates of an independent body, however much they would like not to, and promises to give that increase to charity.

But there is also a kind of greed that invades everyone’s lives with stealth taxes (such as the proposed sewage tax), more “user pays” etc. That approach is the Treasury greedy for more revenue, the avaricious monster devouring our income.

Look for: more stealth taxes which will be described as “user pays” rather than “user pays twice, once by taxation”, which would be the honest description, and a lot of hand wringing when States members pay increases.

http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2015/02/some-recent-ministerial-decisions.html

"The current Shipping (Fishing Vessels Safety Provisions) (Jersey) Order 2004 replaced and slightly updated an old regime of triennial Regulations."

Perhaps prompted to finally get something changed by the accident when the Condor vessel struck and destroyed a fishing vessel, and one man died, Jersey is finally getting its act together. Apparently this has been a long time in consultation, but now is ready to go before the States. Much needed, I think.

The sea is treacherous enough, the Grey widow maker, as she is often called, and for once it is not health and safety gone mad, but very sensible regulations needed to keep crews safe.

http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2015/02/cinderella-is-bankrupt.html

Food security – while we have not got enough land area to wholly sustain the local population, it is important to keep at least a toe-hold in local produce. The island is dependent on imports, and it is not sufficiently realised that food chain is like a delicate jugular vein, easily ruptured. At present fuel costs have gone down, but as they go up, food prices will rise commensurately.

Education – not enough has been done to educate people about the wasteful nature of our food chain. Food is sourced from many miles away to ensure the same produce is available all the year round. The ethical concerns about this are kept very low key. For a start, long-distance food hauling releases harmful greenhouse gases. It is also incredibly wasteful of fossil fuels to transport food long distances. But while it is cheap to do so, and people buy it, the market trumps ethics.

Since Agriculture and Fisheries became part of Economic Development, it has become the Cinderella of Jersey. Finance has top priority, and tourism moved up with the Visit Jersey initiative. But when he was talking about the future to the Chamber of Commerce, Ian Gorst not once mentioned agriculture.

http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-centralisation-of-power-in-jersey.html

Guest Post from John Young

The way the trees'- removal was carried out with no advance warning despite a States scrutiny inquiry into the development shows just how powerful our government has become. The dismissive remarks of the chairman of SOJDC about the scrutiny review show that the executive is under instructions to press ahead with the Esplanade development, regardless.

There are other worrying signs, the support of the Council of Ministers for the proposed high-density development of the Gas Works site against the views of residents. They supported the Port Galots development which would have removed the last remaining open view of the Harbour and Elizabeth Castle from the residents of St Helier. It has taken a public outcry to put a`stop to it. We as taxpayers are left with the loss of £400,000.

http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2015/02/spock-remembered.html

Today's poem is an acrostic, written in memory of Spock, and the man who brought him to life, and imbued him with wonderful touches - the Vulcan neck pinch, the mind meld, and the Vulcan salute, and turned what could have just been any old alien into a real person. RIP Leonard Nimoy.

Spock Remembered

Live long and prosper, you used to say
In Star Trek, as through the milky way
Vulcan wisdom, imparted with a hand
Ever boldly going, towards a promised land
Looking back at your Jewish past, you said
Only Vulcans live long, but you are dead
Now we mourn your passing, Vulcan lore
Going where no one has ever gone before
And you will be remembered, the pointy ears
Never seeming to age, even in the Deadly Years
Dead, but not forgotten, in memory yet alive
Perhaps that is all we can every wish to strive
Reaching with a mind meld, enter another place
On the good ship Enterprise, trekking into space
Spock, a work of art, an acting masterpiece
Producer, director, actor, poet, you never cease
Easily as Spock though, that you stood so tall
RIP Leonard Nimoy, remembered by us all


Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Reviewing the Year: January 2015

Lee Henry conjuring up a return to the States













http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2015/01/jersey-international-finance-centre.html

January saw the battle heating up for the Jersey International Finance Centre, in which Lee Henry said:

“We have 2.8m sq ft of office space in Jersey but very little categorised as Grade A [prime]. We’re hopeful that by creating this dedicated district for finance we will attract a flow of new tenants.”

In fact, a flow of old tenants occurred instead! That may have been necessary to retain the businesses in the Island, but it would have been more honest to say so than to hold the raison d’etre as new businesses. It reminds me of a building for those attending loved ones undergoing heart surgery of various kinds at a UK hospital, which was sold on the basis of parents needing somewhere to stay to be alongside sick children.

In fact, it is mostly older adults and their more elderly parents, or spouses who stay there while heart operations take place. That’s not to say that’s bad, but the funding drive had very different advertising. And the JIFC has a similarly deceptive piece of marketing.

“It remains the position today based on independent professional advice that the JIFC scheme will generate a net return in the order of £50 million for the public.” (Lee Henry)

And what of the substantial returns? In January, I noted that:

“So far, the States Quango – the Jersey Development Company – has produced precious little in the way of returns from the existing Waterfront. The return last year was a paltry dividend to the States of £21,489, and the flow of fund back from the States (for instance in a subsidy on Liberation Station) exceeded that.”

Mark Boleat, who later resigned as Chairman, picked up £40,000 per annum for his 15 days work peach year for the JIFC, which shows that the JDC can make substantial returns, but just not to the States. He has now set up a special Think Tank to gather together the great and the good to come up with innovative ideas for Jersey, like no doubt new Quangoes which pay their Chairman a goodly sum..

http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2015/01/lies-dammed-lies-and-tourism-statistics.html

“The number of people visiting Jersey increased last year - with arrivals from Gatwick Airport and St Malo providing the biggest boost. A total of 1,069,265 people came through the Airport and Harbour between January and November 2014, a rise of 3.7 per cent on the previous year, according to figures released by the Economic Development Department.” (JEP)

In fact, Guernsey gets much better statistics because it counts people as they leave the island by sample surveys, and excludes those who are locals! And guess what – they use a Jersey company for their statistics.

http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2015/01/understanding-massacre-at-charlie-hebdo.html

A look at the Charlie Hebdo Massacre, small scale compared to the horrors that would hit France later in the year.

Dr. Haig Patapan, reflecting on Hobbe’s ideas, says:

“Glory seekers often pursue glory ‘farther than their security requires,’ creating the problem that some seek glory even at the risk of their lives. ... The difficulty of acquiring and maintaining glory, due to our inability to judge or “value” accurately, the problem of construing “signs” of valuing, and the need of the glory seeker to ‘extort a greater value from his contemners, by dommage; and from others, by example’ mean that the glory seeker is compelled to risk himself to show his power.”

The result – as Emmett Gilles notes - is that “the majority suffer from the strife brought on by the selfish competition, diffidence, and glory-seeking of uninhibited individuals.”

http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2015/01/images-of-prophet.html

A blog which looks at images of the prophet, and shows those which were permitted and accepted in Islam’s past.

It is important to realise that the prohibition of images of the prophet has not been universal, and that past depictions should not be airbrushed out of history. These are portraits by Islamic painters or scholars of the past, and to rewrite the past to fulfil the needs of the present is a principle which is dangerous.

http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2015/01/some-background-on-situation-in-france.html

A guest posting on the roots of a grievance:

All terrorism starts with two things. One is a sense of grievance, a sense that things could be better. The other is a sense that the existing methods of trying to reach that better state are unavailable or ineffective.

The situation running up to Charlie Hebdo is, by contrast, not in the gift of the government, but to a large extent in the gift of the people of France. The biggest grievance is that France does not practice equality and fraternity. The opportunities for a young person of Arab descent living in the Paris suburbs fall far short of those for those of native French descent. Tests have been done: identical CV and application forms submitted with an Arab and a French name repeatedly come back with a rejection for the former and a job offer for the latter.

http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2015/01/rip-brian-clemens-prolific-professional.html

RIP Brian Clemens:

Perhaps he was not a ground-breaking TV writer, like Dennis Potter, but what Clemens did provide was prolific entertaining drama. Here are a few of my own memories of the shows he wrote, and I still think they enriched my life, just as much as a Dennis Potter play. Not everything on TV should be realistic, or serious, and sometimes there is nothing better than to sit back, relax, and enjoy an hour of well-constructed drama.

And, for the most part, Clemens did construct his writing well, hooking the viewer, keeping them watching, wanting to know what happened next, and taking them on a journey which would be thrilling, funny, suspenseful and above all enjoyable to watch. Even when his shows were not quite as good as they might have been, with for example, The New Avengers, they still were fun to watch, and still are. 

Monday, 28 December 2015

The Soil will Save Us



















Today is a guest blog from Glyn Mitchell. Promessa Soil, as a recent JEP article mentioned, is attracting widespread. Farmers and growers across Europe are now sending their soil samples to Jersey to be tested by a local company which is developing natural composts. They are also talking to farmers in Malawi.

The company is also offering courses on creating natural composts. It is not a case of "we will do it for you", but "we will also show you how you can do it yourself".

We have only to look at the green sea lettuce in St Aubin's Bay to see how chemical nitrate fertilisers cause side effects. Drinking water can also be effected by run off from fields. Nitrate can get into water directly as the result of runoff of fertilizers containing nitrate.

What alternative is there? Having listened to Glyn on a number of occasions, and seen what he and his team are doing, it is clear that there is a viable alternative, and if we are going to have better agriculture in the future, I think this is the way to go.

I would recommend anyone interested to contact him, and see how it is already starting to transform the farming of some local growers.

The Soil will Save Us
by Glyn Mitchel

WHY NOW: Soil labs have traditionally been reluctant to offer soil biology tests, partly due to costly, complicated (and outdated) methods. Renewed interest in soil quality is increasingly motivating researchers and growers. “

For too long, its been believed that soil biology is of academic interest only – or an exclusive domain of organic growing alone. But now, evidence for the direct link of nutrient release with humus carbon turnover, a biological property, obviates this view. As Dr. Haney states: “why overlook free fertilizer?”

WHY TEST SOIL MICROBES: The quantity of active soil microbes – fungi and bacteria- can be represented by actual living carbon associated with “respiring (live) cells producing CO2 within a soil systems” – from Dr Haney and Brinton.

This living microbial consortia is associated with many positive properties such as transforming chemicals, aiding pesticide degradation, facilitating the release of nitrogen from organic matter and microbial food chain, all contributing to soil aggregation. The latter property alone may account for more than 50% of soils ability to resist erosion.

WHAT’S THE BENEFIT FOR JERSEY: Many people are demanding organic, based on political, nutritional, and environmental reasons. Implicit in the reason to return to natural production methods is the fact that beneficial organisms are killed by the use of toxic chemicals, restricting plant available nutrition.

This sets up toxic chemical users to need more and more and more synthetic fertilizers to maintain the system to the point that an addiction to those toxic stimulants is formed, soil degrades and growers go bust.

Simply putting down the highest quality, most expensive soil improver in your garden is not likely to result in great plant growth, unless the correct microbes are present. Beneficial bacteria and fungi are needed first to degrade any residual toxic chemicals in your growing environment. Then bacteria and fungi are needed to tie-up nutrients so those nutrients are not leachable, and thus are not lost when water moves through the soil. Finally, bacteria and fungi need to be eaten by protozoa and nematodes to release tied-up nutrients N, P, K into a plant available form.

If any of the species that do this processing in your soil are missing, then we need to get them back naturally. If life is missing in your soil, we need to give Mother Nature a jumpstart to help her reestablish the normal set of organisms, and thus, reestablish normal nutrient cycling.

EDUCATION: Clearly this process involves more than simply laying down a set of mineral nutrients. We need to educate people to understand that plants can, indeed, take care of themselves without people getting in the way. No need to have complex feeding schedules and mind-boggling mathematical calculations on rates of adding nutrients or adjusting pH. Through the Promessa Soil approach, we teach growers to produce their own nutrients and a diversity of microbes to transform those nutrients and the plants do the rest.

Microbes, then, hold on to nutrients and they no longer leach from the soil, the benefits for water quality and healthier food make the process essential for a healthier life style. Microbes also restructure the soil by creating air passageways and cavities that enable water and air to be retained within the soil, so you use considerably less water. You save money, time, and energy, and the health of your plants improve.

Plants contain more nutrients and have built up their immune systems to become resistant to problem pests and diseases, leading to higher yields and plants that grow bigger and faster and provide a better return.

Benefits to L’agritchultuthe

Today’s Royals are the result of combining the best of the old with the innovation of the new. To keep Jersey farming Promessa Soil offers not only Jersey growers cost saving solutions to unhealthy and expensive chemical farming practices, as the only recognised Biological Soil Laboratory in Europe, we support a growing range of European growing systems.

Promessa Soil SFI Laboratory: Phone +44(0)1534 747819.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 4












For the next weeks, my Sunday postings will be a transcript of the book "Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter" by the Jersey historian, the Reverend G.R. Bailleine (1873 – 1966).

Most of Balleine's books are either currently in print - as for example his History of Jersey - or online in the form of PDF versions. This book is not, so this is something different. As well as being a Jersey historian, Balleine was also a priest in the Church of England, and Ministre Deservant at St Brelade's Church for a time.

Here we see the first of Balleine's original ideas coming through - the notion that Jesus was short! And yet he assembles a fair amount of available evidence to show that this might be the case. And this is also confirmed by modern scholars who have given average heights in Biblical times at 5' 1" up to as tall as 5' 5". Around 5' 1" to 5' 2" seems to be the best consensus.

Writer William Harwood comments that “According to Flavius Josephus, a medieval Jewish historian, Jesus was an old-looking [some sources say “odd-looking”] man, balding, stooped, with joined eyebrows and approximately 135 cm (4' 6") tall.” But, says Harwood, this is based on the standard 46-cm-long regular cubit, an ancient unit of measure. Using the 53-cm special cubit, Jesus’ height would have been about 156 cm (5' 1").

It is also interesting to see how Balleine interprets the descent of the dove in a naturalistic way, as a possible event as well as a sign. For myself, I see a trajectory of physicality, with Mark and Matthew both having apparently just Jesus see the Spirit descending "like a dove", Luke having "in bodily form, as a dove", and John actually having John the Baptist witness the heavens opening, and the spirit in the form of a dove as an independent witness.

The Coming of the Carpenter
by G.R. Bailleine


SIMON's boat lay idle on the beach. He must soon resume his fishing or his children would go hungry. But he could not tear himself away from the Jordan, till the future became more clear. For what happened next our authority is the Fourth Gospel.

Early one morning Andrew woke him with the exciting news, `We have found the Messiah!' On the previous afternoon he had been with the Baptist, when a Stranger passed by, and John had exclaimed, `Lookl the Lamb of Godl' `

Lamb of God' became later a technical term among Christians, blending thoughts of a lamb's innocence and the lambs sacrificed in the Temple. `O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world!' But on the Baptist's lips it had quite a different meaning. In apocalpytic circles it meant the Messiah.

In the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (written about 105 BC) Joseph says, `There went forth a lamb, and all the beasts and reptiles rushed against it, and the lamb overcame them and destroyed them, for his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, which shall not pass away.' So, when John said, `Look! the Lamb of God!' he meant, `There is the Messiah.'

If he added, `Who will remove the world's sin,' he was thinking no Pauline thoughts of redemption. He meant, `Who will purge the world of sin by sweeping sinners to Gehenna.' Who was this Stranger, Whom John hailed as Messiah? He will be the most important person in our story. Indeed, without Him there would be no story to tell.

Simon knew nothing about Him. His name was Jeshua, or in Greek Jesus. His home was Nazareth, an inland village twenty miles from Capernaum. By trade He was a carpenter. He was over thirty, but had done nothing hitherto that would have made His name known in Capernaum. His upbringing had been much like Simon's : a cottage home, the synagogue school, the scrupulous Jewish religion; only instead of the fishing-boat there was a carpenter's bench. Carpentry in those days was more laborious than now.

The ancient carpenter bought his tree standing. He had to cut it down with primitive tools, and saw it into planks. It was work that hardened the hands and toughened the muscles. No carpenter was a weakling. Jesus made wooden ploughs and yokes, benches and kneading-troughs for his neighbours. And His trade may have brought Him in touch with wider circles. Sepphoris, the former capital of Galilee, was an easy hour's walk from Nazareth, and, when Jesus was about twenty, Herod Antipas began to rebuild it on a lavish scale. Labourers were gathered from neighbouring villages, and Jesus may have been one of the carpenters.

Only one description has reached us of His personal appearance, and this is so unexpected that it may be true. Pious imagination pictures Him as tall and stately; but early traditions say the opposite. Celsus, the opponent of Christianity, argued in the second century that, if Jesus was divine, His height would have shown this, `whereas men say that He was small'; and Origen, when answering him, did not deny this, but merely pointed to the radiance of the Transfiguration.

The apocryphal Acts of Thomas said, `The smallness of His body our eyes have seen; His greatness we acknowledge by faith.' Ephrem Syrus gives a definite figure, `God assumed human form with a stature of three cubits' (i.e. four feet ten inches); and this figure is also given in the Slavonic Josephus. An independent tradition points in the same direction. It said that Judas's kiss was needed, because James, the son of Alphaeus, was so like Jesus that it was hard to distinguish them apart; and James's nickname was `the Little'.

Indeed the fact that Jesus was short may stare us in the face in Luke, for, when we read that Zacchaeus `could not see Jesus, because he was little of stature', the `he' can grammatically easily refer to Jesus. How smilingly the words would come from someone below average height, `Who by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?'

Weeks before Simon had come to the Jordan, Jesus had made His way there. He had stood, an unknown figure, in the enormous throng; and He had been deeply moved. He said later, `In the whole human race there has never been a greater man than John.'

Yet no two men could be less alike. John was a desert dervish, Jesus a village artisan. John lived alone with the wild beasts. Jesus was one of a large family and loved companionship. John had a tongue like a whip. Jesus was friendly and gentle. But, as He stood and listened, He felt moved to make an act of self-dedication, to identify Himself with those who were consecrating their lives to the service of the Kingdom. He stepped forward and asked for baptism.

That Jesus was baptized by John is certain. This could never have been invented; for to Christians later it became a theological stumbling-block. How could One Whom they considered sinless join in an act of penitence? But this baptism was probably the turning-point in the life of Jesus, the moment when He became clearly conscious that He was called to be the Messiah. As He stood in the water, a Voice spoke to His heart, `Thou art My Son.'

The history of religion is haunted by mysterious `Voices'. Psychology would describe them as thoughts that flash so imperiously from the Unseen that they seem to be audible. A `Voice' in the Temple, `Whom shall I send?', made Isaiah a Prophet. A `Voice' on the Damascus Road revolutionized the life of Paul. A `Voice' in a meadow at Domremy sent Joan to liberate France. Bunyan, a stolid English Nonconformist, tells how a `Voice' sounded behind him, `so loud that I turned my head thinking some man had called me'. But no `Voice' ever had such results as the one that Jesus heard in the Jordan; for `Thou art My Son' meant in apocalyptic language, `Thou art the Messiah.'

The words come from the Second Psalm, the War Song of the Messiah, which told how the Lord's Anointed would smash the Heathen with his iron club and take the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession. Jesus, like every devout Jew, must often have pondered on that psalm. Perhaps He had wondered whether He might Himself be the Deliverer; for there was in His family a tradition of Davidic descent. No one could be more eager than He to see God's Kingdom established. Now, as He stepped out of the river, this hope had become a conviction.

Something else had also happened, as He stood in the water. Mark says that He saw a dove descending on Him. This we might have interpreted as a vision (for in Jewish writings the dove was often a symbol of the Holy Spirit), had not Luke said that the dove came `in bodily form'; and in the Fourth Gospel the Baptist declared, `I myself did not know Him,' till `I saw the Spirit descend as a dove and remain on Him.'

The Jordan Valley swarms with doves, and they were very tame, for, though Levitically clean, they were never eaten by Jews, and in Syria across the river it was a crime to kill one. So, as Jesus stood motionless in the river absorbed in prayer, one may have alighted on His head. If so, this would have seemed to John, and perhaps to Jesus Himself, a sign of supreme significance.

All this had happened weeks before Simon came to the Jordan; but John had had no chance to introduce his followers to Jesus. He had disappeared into the Wilderness immediately after His baptism. Staggered by His new-found destiny, He had fled to the wilds to think. There were many rival theories about what the Messiah would do. He must make up His mind which programme to follow. He rejected as devilish several plans that looked for a moment tempting. He then returned to the Baptist's camp, hoping to find there the right type of helpers.

This digression seems necessary in order to introduce Jesus, for He will now be the central Figure in this book. Apart from Him no one today would have heard of the Capernaum fishermen.

We now return to Simon. Andrew was the first of the-brothers to meet Jesus. He overheard the Baptist's exclamation on the day that Jesus returned; and with a friend, whose name is not given, perhaps because he did not permanently join the disciple group, he followed Jesus, Who turned and asked, `What do you want?' They hardly knew; so they stammered, `Where are you staying?' He answered, `Come and see.' The cliffs of the valley are pitted with caves, and in one He had found shelter. Here they sat and talked till the moon rose, and apparently they stayed the night. And Andrew was firmly convinced. This was the Liberator!

Early next morning he woke Simon, and took him to Jesus. Of what happened at that interview we know nothing, unless it was then that Simon was renamed Peter. On this point our authorities differ. The Fourth Gospel says that it happened now; but Mark and Luke do not mention it till the appointment of the Twelve; while `Matthew' places it months later, when Jesus had been driven out of Galilee; but, remembering that Mark had been Peter's interpreter, and must often have heard him asked, `How did you get your new name?', his date seems the most probable.

So, if we transfer this incident to the next chapter, we are left with no information about Simon's first talk with Jesus. On some points he was strangely reticent. He made no secret of his failings. We know all about his sleeping in Gethsemane and his denial of his Master; but about this important interview he remained as silent as he did about that other interview on Easter morning. We should like to know much about both, but we are told nothing.

One thing, however, is certain. The effect of that first interview was seen when a few weeks later he so promptly obeyed the call, `Follow Me.' His mind was already made up. When the call came, he would follow. Meanwhile he must return to Galilee and get on with his fishing.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Mother and Child













Mother and Child

Lost to their home, and driven out
As the soldiers come. No doubt
That those who remain will die;
Even the children’s bodies lie,
Bleeding on the war torn soil;
A snake unwinding from its coil:
Fangs full of poison. Strike! Strike!
Whatever name it comes: the Reich,
People’s Democracy, Islamic State,
Empire, Kingdom, all bring this fate:
Massacre of innocents, the dead child,
Their bloody regime not meek or mild;
And so they flee, the family. Left behind
A world of cruelty, unseeing and blind;
These are a people who flee from fear,
Lives losing hope, lives lost to despair;
Possessions mostly abandoned, they flee,
Seeking a land where they can grow free;
Not welcome: strangers in a strange land,
Who have fled across the desert sand;
Nomads not out of choice, moving on,
Wearily trudging along, hope almost gone,
But for one kindly spark, those who give
Kindness to strangers, that they might live;
Into the wilderness they fled, seeking where
They could settle, live life without the fear;
Foxes have holes, birds have nests, it is said,
But where can this mother lay a weary head?
Mother and child, refugees, and so despised:
But divine encounters here disguised.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Madonna with Child dismembered
















John V. Taylor, was Bishop of Winchester between 1975 and 1985, and there has never been his like in that See again since. Those who have followed in his footsteps have never been as inspirational.
















A poet, priest and prophet he urged the church to "go into no man's land, for the strange meeting, as Wilfred Owen would have described it". His writings are still in print - "The Go-Between God", "Enough is Enough", "The Christlike God", and show a startlingly original thinker.

Here is one of the poems that he wrote around Christmas, something to reflect on, and there is much here to reflect on, rather like an Icon, many layers of meaning and depth.

The iconography of mother and child has become very familiar, too familiar, so I have chose for this blog a piece of artwork which is a step removed from the halo festooned images.

Madonna with Child dismembered

They have taken away my Lord, those puritans
of evidence and meaning. Yet not they
with all their chiselling doubt could so disface him.
My subtle Lord has taken himself away,
driven still by his will to be one of us,
the nameless multitude who have no faces,
dare to bestow no presence each to other,
nor can meet love when it directly gazes,
trusting only its merest casual traces.
As when the sun, long down, fires the cold skies,
kindling the feathery drifts of upper air,
so, Mother, your deep ecstasy embraces
my godlessness. All Bethlehem's in your eyes
and in your peace I know your son is here.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Eve













Christmas Eve

It was wet, and the streets were full of people
Drenched with rain. Above the church steeple
Soared up high, gargoyles looking down upon
The crowd, perhaps weeping at this Bablyon
Of commercial profit. Yet not all is here greed
Gifts are tokens of love, show heartfelt need
And there is excitement in the wrapping paper
Fun and frolics, beneath the mistletoe a kisser
Steals a kiss, and the children wait anticipating
With eagerness, a magic night now deepening
Now the streets are empty, and almost bare
Only the homeless remain, seek coin to spare
It is a time for the homeless, sleeping rough
That the angels may say to them alone, enough
Come to the warmth, the church bells ringing
Come and take shelter, and enjoy the singing
And so they go, perhaps drunk, and enter in
The vaulted shelter, where the story of the Inn
And no room, no place to lay down their head
Resonates the more for those who have no bed
They will seek the streets until the dawning day
Shelter in doorways and passageways to stay
Just like another far off family in distant land
This is another echo, another linking strand
While others eat, and enjoy their Christmas roast
These travellers awake to hunger pains the most
They look for soup, and bread, such simple fare
But enough for hunger, and to ward off despair
If God is born anew on every Christmas day
Would he be here amongst them, as his way?

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Christmas Quotes













Some of my favourite Christmas quotes.

Have you seen the Harry Potter movies? Yes, of course. But have you read the books. There is more humour in the books than the movies, and somehow this never translates well to the screen. But the humour lightens the growing darkness, and shows that not everything in life is, or should be, serious. Here are two Christmas quotes:

“One can never have enough socks," said Dumbledore. "Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn't get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

“Mistletoe," said Luna dreamily, pointing at a large clump of white berries placed almost over Harry's head. He jumped out from under it.
"Good thinking," said Luna seriously. "It's often infested with nargles.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


Christmas, of course, is the time when A Christmas Carol is re-read, or seen in a movie, or performed at a theatre. It is a wonderful story, but rather like the Christmas story itself, we become so accustomed to hearing it that it can fall on deaf ears.

It is unashamedly political, but Dickens was not “left” or “right” in politics. His was a politics of morality, of right and wrong, in which justice and mercy meant the righting of wrongs. It is a voice that we still need to hear. Here is one quotation reminding us of those for whom Christmas is a time of trial, because they are poor and destitute, and that, of course, also includes those displaced from the security of their homes by war. The other quote is one about simple pleasures, and how joy is not found in possessions, but in the company of others.

At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. … We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices."
- Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol.

He went to the church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and for, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of homes, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed of any walk, that anything, could give him so much happiness.”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol


In the West, Christmas is close to the Winter Solstice, a dark, cold time of the year. Here is a quote reflecting that:

I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses...
- Taylor Caldwell


The story of the stable is one of reversals. Jesus is born, not among the kings, the great and the good, but among the poor and despised. These two quotes remind us what the real meaning of Christmas is about, not about presents and food, but about healing a broken world:

When the song of the angel is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost — To heal the broken — To feed the hungry —
To release the prisoner — To rebuild the nations —
To bring peace among brothers and sisters —
To make music in the heart.
- Howard Thurman


Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience


And this is also the subject of my final quote, which is the Bishop’s Sermon at the end of that wonderful film “The Bishop’s Wife”.

It brings together the giving of presents with a reminder of what stocking is left unfilled, and how we can ourselves fill it.

The Story of a Christmas Stocking

Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and with gifts.

But especially with gifts. You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled -- all that is, except one.

And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It's his birthday we are celebrating. Don't ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most, and then let each put in his share. Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Carry on Cabby? The Taxi Driver Dispute













The wild cat strike, causing massive disruption in St Helier, including delays to buses, cannot have endeared the taxi drivers to the general public. Clearly there was some degree of premeditation, and also equally clearly, it was decided not to inform the Transport Minister, Eddie Noel, until he heard it on the morning news.

So why did they not alert the public? When the bus drivers last went on strike, they gave adequate notice beforehand, so that alternative travel arrangements could be made, or travel postponed.

I suspect that the rationale behind not alerting the public – and in particular the Transport Minister – was to do with alternative arrangements that he might have made, if he had been given time to react.

For most of us, there seems little difference between picking up a rank taxi at the airport, and making a booking for a cab. A survey showed that over 50% do not know the difference. The car driver is paid to take us from A to B for a fare. But there is a difference in how they are regulated, and how they can operate.

A cab, like those in “Carry on Cabby” is a bookable service. They take a booking, pick up a customer, and drop them off. A rank taxi does not take private hire bookings, but waits at designated pick up points – the ranks – for customers to come and take one. If, for example, you arrive at the airport, it will be rank taxies which will be waiting for passengers.

This means there is a difference in fares. Rank taxi far are controlled by the States of Jerseyand the Taximeters are sealed. There are four fixed tariff rates depending on the time and day that the taxi is required. Public holidays are charged in accordance with the third and fourth tariff, according to the time that the taxi is required.

Cabs drivers on the other hand work for Private Hire Cab companies who run depots and employ operators, there overheads are higher and this is why they charge more to cover those expenses. Cabs can on occasion use hailed fares off the street, but not within 100 yards of a Taxi Rank, and if they do, they must charge rank rates.

In 2013, Michelle Hervieu, a public rank taxi-drive, in a letter to the JEP noted that “A private hire cab has a different fare structure than a taxi, and charge at least 30 per cent more than a taxi. A cab driver would be very reluctant to give a price. Public rank taxis have a fare structure controlled by the States of Jersey, so we have complete transparency of our fares.”

The changes which Eddie Noel wants would erode this difference between the two kinds of service. They would be phased in over the next three years, and would allow private hire cars to use the rank. They would also allow rank cabs to take private hire bookings.

The rationale for a wildcat strike might be that Eddie Noel, if he had sufficient warning, might permit and encourage the cabs to take up the absent ranks, perhaps from locations close enough to a rank to be visible, or advise regular users of the rank to book a cab. Alternatively, it might be that their patience had simply run out.

Of the changes proposed, some I think are good, but others are poorly thought out.

As Channel TV reported:

“In future 'taxis' will be the name of vehicles that have the right wheelchair accessibility standards which means they will be able to access public ranks. 'Cabs' are licenced vehicles without wheelchair access, which won't be allowed to access the ranks.”

This demand that all taxi drivers wanting to operate on the ranks in Jersey will have to be wheelchair-friendly by 2019 sounds good on paper, but as has been apparent, some drivers have recently invested in expensive low-emissions vehicles.

It would make better sense for any new or replacement vehicles to have to be wheelchair friendly, and perhaps any vehicles over (for example) 10 years old, rather than force expense on people who are already paying off loans on their existing vehicles.

The report on taxis did not look at the age of the vehicles in service, the cost of the existing vehicles, and the reasons for purchase (e.g. low emissions). That is an omission which should be rectified, and which should have been taken into account.

Moreover the early proposals were that taxi-cab drivers operating wheelchair access vehicles will have to have passed disability awareness training and be fit enough to use wheelchair loading equipment and help disabled passengers in and out of the car. This means that as well as being able to simply drive, they will also need lifting skills, and I’m not sure it is fair to penalise the drivers in this way.

Older drivers may have to retire younger because they are simply not capable of any extra physical demands upon them although they could provide perfectly good service for those who do not need wheelchair access.

In fact, allowing cabs to use the ranks if they have wheelchair access is a good idea in the proposal, and that would mitigate against all rank taxi drivers needing them.

But since the strike, some interesting and very confusing facts have come to light. Eddie Noel has said in yesterday’s press release.

“We have found common ground on the vast majority of the reforms to the industry, including clarification on accessibility for customers with wheelchairs. This means that all vehicles will need to be able to accommodate a folded wheelchair – not necessarily provide a ‘ride in’ service for customers.”

Now consider that last sentence again:

“This means that all vehicles will need to be able to accommodate a folded wheelchair – not necessarily provide a ‘ride in’ service for customers.”

This differs massively from his proposal document which said:

“Taxi-cab drivers operating accessible vehicles will be required to have passed disability awareness training and be fit enough to utilise wheelchair loading equipment, to be able to assist disabled passengers entering and exiting their vehicle.”

A folding wheelchair does not, as far as I am aware, require specialist wheelchair loading equipment. I know – I have managed to fit one quite easily in a Peugeot 106.

It is very different from the original proposals, of the kind of taxi that one would see on a London street, for instance. I think the Minister needs to be a bit more transparent on where he has changed his original proposals, and confirm that such changes have in fact been made. He is not quite the paragon of the virtues that he would like to appear.

Of some of the other proposals, they seem to effect cabs rather than rank taxis – for instance, the proposal that maximum fares will be set by the government, with fixed off and on-peak prices is surely effecting cabs as rank taxis already have those fares regulated. For hireable cabs there is no fare regulation and they command higher prices than controlled taxis. The new proposals will, however, allow a booking fee for cabs, as long as it is stated up front.

The problem with over-regulation, of course, is that it can lead to unexpected consequences. If regulation of maximum fares for a cab, despite booking fees, makes some journeys simply uneconomic to operate, then expect cabs to limit operations geographically.

In Guernsey, which introduced a one tier system for rank taxis and bookable cabs, a recent news story reported that” a lack of taxis at Guernsey airport is damaging the island's finance and tourism industry. Business leaders claim too often they are getting complaints about a lack of cabs, and long queues at the rank.”

With regard to other proposals, the one that all taxis will have to accept credit card payments, regardless of whether they use the rank or not, is fine as long as they can make the same extra charge for processing services that other companies – and of course the States themselves do.

The Jersey Taxi Driver’s Association, as well as apologising for the strike, has this comment to make:

“The Minister continues to argue we don't control the number of hairdresser or plumbers why should we continue to control the number of Taxis?' Our answer to that is you don't control how much hairdressers or plumbers charge either, but you do control our taxi fares!”

In fact, if they’ve been following the news, the opposite is the case. Registration cards have been impacting on the number of hairdressers and plumbers – as complaints from small businesses make very clear. What is not clear is how registration cards sit with deregulation of numbers of taxis, and that is also something the Minister needs to clarify.

While the strike caused gridlock, and will not endear drivers to the public, it probably flagged up concerns rather more effectively than protests in the Royal Square, which as we have seen, are singularly ineffective in getting Ministers to change their minds.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Christmas Carol Parodies



















That cartoon of course reminds me of the classic Marx brother’s sequence from “A Night at the Opera”

Chico Marx: Hey wait, wait. What does this say here, this thing here?

Groucho Marx: Oh that? Oh that's the usual clause, that's in every contract. That just says, it says, 'If any of the parties participating in this contract are shown not to be in their right mind, the entire agreement is automatically nullified.'

Chico Marx: Well, I don't know.

Groucho Marx: It's all right, that's in every contract. That's what they call a sanity clause.

Chico Marx: You can't fool me, there ain't no sanity clause.

But Christmas also reminds me of carols, and of parody carols, of the kind we used to sing at school. Probably the most popular parody was:

While Shepherd's washed their socks by night,
All seated round the tub
The Angel of the Lord came down
And they all began to scrub.

As television began to dominate the living room in the 1960s, this was updated as follows:

While shepherd washed their socks by night
All watching ITV
The Angel of the Lord came down
And switched to BBC

And of course with the Swinging Sixties, there was a parody of “We Three Kings…”:

We three Beatles of Liverpool are,
John in a taxi, Paul in a car,
George on a scooter hooting his hooter,
following Ringo Starr.

Meanwhile, the commercial side of Christmas also was apparent in the parodies:

Ding dong merrily on high,
In stores the tills are ringing:
Ding dong! Profits reach the sky
And filled with with owners singing.
Gloria, Bonuses in excelsis!

This next parody, however, shows the shape of things to come, with the larger stores squeezing out the smaller shops:

God Rest You poor small businessmen
Who've managed to survive;
Be glad in this e-con-o-my
That you are still alive;
Give shouts of praise at Christmas time
When folks who buy appear;

There's a chance...you'll break even for the year
For the whole year
There's a chance that you'll break even for the year

The chain stores and con-glom-er-ates
Have brought you to your knees;
High taxes, rent and labor costs
Have caught you in a squeeze;
The cost of goods keeps going up
Inflation's running on

So give thanks....you can buy cheap from Taiwan
Good old Taiwan
So give thanks that you can buy cheap from Taiwan!

But one I had not seen before, and one I like a lot came from Mike & Tracy Kazaleh, and is to be sung when the family pet decides that the expensive Nativity set in the living room is something to play with. It is a brilliantly inventive parody of "Away in a Manger..":

Away from that manger, you bad pussy cat!
You've spilled the Lord Jesus and knocked Mary flat;
You've scattered the shepherds and likewise the sheep
Away from that manger -- those things don't come cheap!

Away from that manger, you dirty old dog!
If you must chew something, go chew the yule log;
Don't dare lift your leg! now I'm warning you here
Or we won't hang a stocking for Fido this year!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 3


















For the next weeks, my Sunday postings will be a transcript of the book "Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter" by the Jersey historian, the Reverend G.R. Bailleine (1873 – 1966).

Most of Balleine's books are either currently in print - as for example his History of Jersey - or online in the form of PDF versions. This book is not, so this is something different. As well as being a Jersey historian, Balleine was also a priest in the Church of England, and Ministre Deservant at St Brelade's Church for a time.

What did educated Jersey clergy think in those days? This is a scholar study by a local clergyman who was also a historian, and one who had exception gifts in writing; few local historians can match his use of the English language to bring subjects alive. It shows also a scholar who was well acquainted with the best New Testament critics of his day, and who could also bring an independent turn of mind to the subject matter, sometimes surprisingly so.

The Prophet In The Wilderness
By G.R. Bailleine


PALESTINE was nursing a stupendous hope and seething with suppressed fury. Any spark might cause an explosion. But there was no leader. In olden days there had been a constant succession of Prophets; but for four hundred years prophecy had ceased. A late psalm laments, `There is no more any Prophet.' But everyone believed that this silence would cease. In the days of the Maccabees Simon was made Governor, `till a faithful Prophet should arise'. The profaned altar-stones were `laid in a convenient place, till there should come a Prophet to show what should be done with them'. A Prophet at any rate must appear to prepare the way for the Messiah. His appearance would be the sign that the crisis had come.

One day `in the fifteenth year of Tiberius' (i.e. between August A.D. 28 and August 29) a rumour ran round Capernaum that a Prophet was preaching in the Wilderness of Judea. This was the desolate region where rocks had been tortured into hideous shapes by volcanic eruptions, which stretched from the Dead Sea almost to the walls of Jerusalem. Pilgrims crossing it had been startled by a gaunt figure, wearing nothing but a leather loin-cloth and a camel-hair cloak. His food was rough Bedouin fare, such as sun-dried locusts' and wild honey. He had stopped them with the cry: `Repent' The Malkuth is at hand.'

They were deeply impressed. Here at last was a Prophet, a modern Amos, a new Elijah, a Messenger from God.

The Wilderness had many hermits. Greek self-indulgence had so leavened life in Palestine that it had caused in some quarters a reaction towards asceticism. Pharisees had begun to fast twice a week. The Nazarite vow with its teetotal pledge was revived. Settlements of monk-like Jews, called Essenes, had sprung up near the Dead Sea, with vows strict as those of Trappists or the Buddhist monks of Tibet. Even the worldly Josephus joined for a time a hermit named Bannus, who lived on berries in the Wilderness.

The new Prophet was one of these hermits. His name was John. He was said to be a young priest who had broken away from the Temple. His soul had revolted against the stately formalism of its services. Its ritual seemed stale and profitless. The very psalms he chanted flung down the challenge: `Thinkest thou that I eat bulls' flesh or drink the blood of goats?' He had fled to the Wilderness, and prayed and pondered, till, in the fine old Hebrew phrase, `the word of the Lord came to him'. He felt God had given him a message.

According to Josephus he began with `Jews who were training themselves in virtue', probably the Wilderness ascetics, and urged all `whose souls had been thoroughly cleansed by righteousness' to be baptized, `not for pardon of sins, but for purification of the body'. His early baptisms were apparently merely an outward sign that the soul had been purged from sin. A clean soul must be given a clean body to dwell in.

Washing is so obvious a symbol that we find it in most religions. In Greece bathing admitted neophytes to the Eleusinian Mysteries, in Egypt to those of Isis. In India the Ganges is black at times with pilgrims seeking cleansing. In Judaism proselytes were washed before admission to the Jewish Church. Josephus' teacher Bannus `bathed frequently day and night for religious purity'. And John laid such stress on Baptism that he was called `the Baptist'.'

[The Greek word baptistet means literally the `Dipper'. The Septuagint uses it when it says that Naaman `dipped seven times in the Jordan'. ]

His fame spread, and crowds flocked out to hear him. `There went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the Jordan district.' His message was: `The Malkuth is at handl Repent ere it is too late! Awful will be the fate of sinners, when the Day of Wrath dawns.' He said little about the Kingdom, but much about the coming Doom. The closing warning of the Old Testament was ever on his lips, `The day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and the wicked shall be stubble.' `Repent or perish,' was his cry,

`God will burn the dross out of the silver. He will burn the trees that are fruitless. He will sweep the chaff from His threshing-floor into unquenchable fire.'

The effect was terrific. `Many turned to John,' wrote Josephus, `for by listening to him their souls were mightily uplifted; and Herod feared lest his great influence might cause them to rebel, for they seemed ready to do whatever he suggested.' But the rulers dared not interfere, `for,' says Mark, `everyone believed John to be a Prophet'. They need not have been nervous. His aim was Repentance not Revolt. And now he found a new use for his favourite rite of Dipping. He could lash the people by his eloquence into a frenzy of fear; but he needed something that would register their resolve to start a new life, something to commit them irrevocably in their own eyes and in the eyes of others.

So he moved to the Jordan Valley. A public plunge beneath the water of the river would be a confession of uncleanness, an acted prayer, `Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow,' a death unto sin, followed by a stepping out to a new, clean life of righteousness. He called all who wished to be ready for the Malkuth to follow him into the water. `And they were baptized by him in the Jordan confessing their sins.'

When Simon heard this, he could not stay away. He and Andrew sailed their boat to the south of the lake and set out on foot to find the Prophet. The Jordan valley is one of the strangest spots on earth. `There may be something,' writes G. A. Smith,' `on another planet to match it. There is nothing on this.' It is a deep rift in the earth's surface, sixty-five miles long, which sinks 1,300 feet below sea-level. Much of it is jungle, through which the river rushes angrily. The time must have been winter, for, says Smith, `from each Spring to late Autumn the heat in this trench is intolerable'.

Somewhere near the hamlet of Bethabara, on high ground beyond the river, Simon found the great bivouac. Men of all types were there, priests and profligates, brigands and shepherds, soldiers and scribes. There was some opposition, the most dangerous being, `They said, He hath a devil.' But the majority were profoundly moved.

Simon stood and listened. Part of John's preaching thrilled him. He had often prayed that he might see the coming of the Kingdom. But, when John pressed for repentance, Simon shook his head. Gentiles, of course, would have a bad time when Messiah came. He would `dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel'. But Simon had always assumed that he and his would be safe. They were God's Chosen People. Pagan proselytes might need washing before they could enter the fold, but not members of God's Family! He sympathized with someone who shouted, `We are Abraham's children!' But the Prophet retorted: 'Abraham's children! Some of you are more like children of vipers. Pedigrees mean nothing. God can raise from these stones children of Abraham. Character, not genealogy, is the thing that counts. God wants better men than you to help build up His Kingdom.'

As Simon listened, old sins began to sting his conscience. If sinners were doomed, could he escape? When the crowd thinned, he went to John, and asked, `What can I do?' John made him confess his sins, and, when satisfied that he was sincere, he led him down into the river, and there, behind the gigantic thistles, where no eye but God's could see, with a brief prayer he plunged him under the water. This was an emotional experience that Simon never forgot. As he gasped half drowned, while the Baptist held him down, he felt that his old life was dying, his old sins were being swept away into the Dead Sea; and he stumbled back up the river bank determined to live a new life. Later he always laid tremendous stress on baptism. To the Whitsunday crowd he cried, `Repent, and be baptized every one of you.'

For some weeks he and Andrew remained with John. He, whose life was one long fast, taught his disciples to fast. He gave them lessons in prayer. But one thing about him puzzled them: How did he fit into the apocalyptic programme? From stray Old Testament texts Scribes had worked out a time-table. First would come a Prophet like Moses; then Elijah would reappear; then the Messiah would reveal himself. Was John the promised Prophet? or Elijah? Or could he be the Messiah?

He disclaimed all these titles. The only Old Testament title he claimed was `a Voice crying in the Wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord'. `I am nobody,' he said, `only a Voice. It is the Coming One you must watch for, whose sandal-straps I am not fit to unlace. All that has happened yet is only a prelude. The dramatic day for which the ages have waited is about to dawn.'

Saturday, 19 December 2015

An Invocation for the Darkest Night












As we approach the Winter solstice, the darkest night of the year, a suitably themed poem. The December solstice occurs on Tuesday December 22nd at 08:04 am. The druids will be a stonehenge to celebrate the rising sun. But what about celebrating the longest night itself? That's the idea behind this poem.

Darkness is often used in religions as a metaphor for evil, but darkness also is the time for sleep, when our bodies  can be at rest, and all the cares and worries are set aside for a few hours. In T.F. Powys "Darkness and Nathianiel", it is light which is ephemeral, and darkness which brings true peace.

An Invocation for the Darkest Night

Come longest night, praise the dark
Cover this land in your embrace
Before the dawn, before the lark
May you show your darkling face

Come longest night, bring us peace
The world in pain can go to sleep
Pray for wars and conflicts cease
May you give us blessings deep

Come longest night, chant the spell
Enfold in darkness of your gown
Pray all manner of things be well
Before you lay aside your crown

The darkness night, the turning year
Pray cast out our misery and fear

Friday, 18 December 2015

Guide Book: St. Ouen.
















Continuing through the 1830s Guide Book to Jersey, we look at Ouen, where there is plenty to see.

This is St Ouen's before the restoration of the Church. Canon Clement carried out great restoration was between 1865 and 1870. Balleine notes that:

"The unsightly galleries were swept away. The militia cannon were ejected from the home that they had occupied for centuries at the end of the south aisle. After long and intricate negotiations, that tested to the uttermost the Rector's tact and patience, the owners of the clutter of horse-box pews scattered higgledy-piggledy through the building consented to a uniform and orderly system of seating. The chancel was vaulted and lengthened eight feet. A new organ was provided. "

"When the work was started, the estimated cost was £700, but the final bill was £5,000, towards which the parish voted £2,000, and the rest was raised by voluntary subscriptions. In addition to this, private donors gave a new pulpit, font, and lectern, and filled the windows with stained glass. "

"The lengthening of the chancel had one unexpected result. As the altar now stood on unconsecrated ground, the Bishop's lawyers decreed that the whole church must be reconsecrated, and this was done by Bishop Wilberforce on 5th August, 1870. "

Guide Book: St. Ouen.
St. Ouen's.—this parish contains a population of one thousand nine hundred and sixteen persons. It occupies nearly one half of the Western coast, and is the largest parish in the Island. Within its district a considerable quantity of corn is grown.


The Church was consecrated on the fourth of September, 1180, and is situated in a lonely part of the parish, and appears as if sunk into the earth, as the principal entrance goes down two steps, and the door case is remarkably low. The only way of accounting for so unusual a circumstance is, by supposing the ground about the church to have been raised. The same winds that buried Les Quennevais in sand may perhaps have been the cause. The church has a very low spire; but there is not anything respecting this edifice worth particularizing, and yet,

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.

But knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll;
Chill .penury repressed their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of their soul.

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool sequestered vale of life.
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

St. Ouen's Bay.—This inlet sweeps from L’Etacq to the Southward of La Rocco, a tower erected on a rock, about half a mile below high water mark, though dry as the tide recedes; it is, however, at times, nearly inaccessible for several weeks, from the violent surf that breaks over the rough surface of low rocks, and that roars along the whole extent of this too frequently dangerous coast. In one part, and in only one, is a beautiful beach, free from the generally rugged character of this boisterous shore.

Who happy treads that desert bay below
Where ends the copse of yore. Fairer scenes
Than those that lie beneath the raptured eye,
This green isle knows not: ever varied, too.
Is the rich prospect ; vallies softly sink
And uplands swell, no level sameness tires;
While in the distance, happily disposed
Sweeps round the bold blue sea.

Part, if not the whole, of this extensive bay was once a fertile valley, in which grew a forest of stately oaks. Not possessing, like the Northern coast, a barrier of lofty rocks, a sudden eruption of the sea inundated the vale, or a portion of it. A breach once effected, it soon became wider: by degrees the waves stripped off the rich soil, and laid its sylvan honours prostrate. These were, doubtless, in the first instance, the effects of a tremendous storm from the Westward, to which point of the compass the whole bay is completely exposed; and, most probably, a succession of wintry gales completed the devastation.

The former existence of a wood is sufficiently evident. After violent storms the flat rocks are frequently bared: at these times, many trunks of trees are discovered, chiefly near low water mark. Those stumps still cling to the rocks by their roots that pierce the clefts. The length of one trunk was, when found, fifteen feet in the main stem, and it measured from nine to ten feet in the girt: it then spread into two branches, each of nearly the same length and substance as the stem itself. The remains of stone buildings are also sometimes disclosed. There is likewise a bed of peat in the bay; but over it the waves frequently deposit a covering of sand; it is, therefore, only occasionally visible.
Near this spot is St. Ouen's pond of fresh water, being a portion of large open meadows, overflowed by the junction of several rivulets, thus forming a lake, in which there is good fishing; part of this pond being reedy, affords shelter, during the winter season, to a considerable quantity of wild fowl.
In one of the meadows near the pond, are three large blocks of stone; doubtless, the remains of a Celtic monument, Two of them are erect; the other block lies on the ground, and is, apparently, only part of what it originally was: the end supposed to have been broken off, exhibits the appearance of a recent fracture.
Grosnez.— From St. Ouen's bay, we pass by L'Etacq to Grosnez, which constitutes the North-Western boundary tit Jersey; and, like other parts of the Northern line, its coast, notwithstanding a bluff appearance, is bristled with angular points. No other way leads down the cliffs in this quarter, than those airy, meandering, and doubtful paths made by the feet of a few straggling sheep, that here and there crop the scanty herbage; and the elevation of those cliffs is such that

              The murmuring surge
That on the jagged points thus idly chafes
Cannot be heard so high.

To those who have sufficient courage to descend, the aspect of the towering eminences is terrifyingly grand and awful. Masses of grey rock, spotted with hoary mosses, protrude in wild magnificence, and seem ready to overwhelm the daring foot that profanes their sacred recesses. The spiky grass that finds, in shelving spots, a slender hold, serves just to cast a less dusky tint over the venerable pile. Scarcely can the astonished eye presume to look up: it trembles at having ventured down so far, and shrinks with horror from the beetling acclivity, which seems to preclude every attempt to re-ascend from the chaos of broken rocks still below. Here no trifling object diverts the mind :—all is great—all is strikingly sublime. The precipitous cliff in solemn stillness frowning above, and casting' a gloomy shade around. The hoarse waves of an expanded ocean, robed in its darkest blue, roaring below, and exciting a tremulous motion in the solid rock. Destruction threatens in various forms and on every side.

The Castle.—at the extremity of the promontory are some trifling ruins that bear the name of Grosnez Castle.

One lonely turret, shatter'd and outworn.
Stands venerably proud—too proud to mourn
Its long last grandeur.

A small gate-way and two projecting angles, constitute the remains of a portal; but loose fragments of stone, which are scattered about, denote that the original circumference of the walls must have been extensive. It is not known at what time or by whom this building was first constructed, and uncertainty seems to attach to the whole of its history. Tradition, however, which has the weight of probability on its side, affirms it to have been occupied by Sir Philip De Carteret, as a defensive post against the Count de Maulevrier, when, after obtaining possession of Mont Orgueil and the neighbouring country, he attempted to gain the rest of the Island.

If castles made of lyme and stone decaye.
What suretie is in bodies made of clay.

Plemont.—From Grosnez, the next promontory is that of Plemont, which is so deeply intersected on each side, as to be joined to the main land by a very narrow isthmus: this has been cut down to a considerable depth, so that it is improperly termed an Island; over the deep fosse is a drawbridge, and close to it is placed a guard house, which, in time of last war, contained a small military detachment, to prevent any hostile access.

The rock, on one side of the draw-bridge, drops in nearly a perpendicular line to the sea; another, which is at least two hundred feet in height, is absolutely vertical; has a surface equally level as an artificial wall, and glows with a splendid variety of beautiful tints, when reflecting the brightness of a clear morning sun.

This place has long been celebrated for its caves; they are chiefly on the Western side of a small inlet, of which the Eastern point is formed by the promontory of Plemont. The usual descent to those caverns is on this side: the declivity is safe though, steep: that of the hill which covers them is seldom used, and is said to be dangerous.

The most remarkable caverns are at La Moye, Plemont, and Greve de Lecq. Few strangers make excursions to Jersey without visiting its caves; and the far greater number are directed to go at once to Plemont without even hearing that Greve de Lecq is a cavern much more extensive than any other in the Island.